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I continue to find Scrivener and Ulysses so interesting, as they solve the same problem of long-form writing in different ways: how to work on a large and complex project, but in smaller chunks? These two applications address this in different ways. Scrivener uses rich text, Dropbox syncing, and powerful (but fiddly) options, while Ulysses uses plain text, iCloud syncing, and far fewer options. Scrivener is very mature (in fact, the recent version pruned some things), while Ulysses is still young.
Dropbox sync is renowned for its power and reliability, while iCloud sync has had a bad reputation in the past. For various reasons, Scrivener uses Dropbox to sync projects across devices (if you have one device, you can totally ignore this). But the Scrivener sync via Dropbox is a bit painful. You must always quit Scrivener so as to not have multiple instances open at once, and you have to wait for the sync at the beginning and end of launch. This is especially noticeable on iOS, where there’s a good 15 second launch and sync wait, which feels interminable in today’s computing world. Part of this is Scrivener’s ability to store many file types. Ulysses only uses and syncs plain text, and it’s instantaneous. Total win for Ulysses.
Ulysses’ plain text is also much simpler, in that all your text looks exactly the same. There are no mis-matched fonts, for example (I wish Scrivener had the option to force this, so that only one font was permitted, ever). But this font unanimity in Ulysses does lose a bit of functionality, especially for academic writing. You just don’t want to see a book title with asterisks around it, it’s a bit annoying. For blogs and things it’s fine, but it does hide a bit too much of the final product. So this is a draw; I like Ulysses’ simplicity and clarity, but I do like Scrivener’s rich text power. (What I would really like is something in-between, a rich text that forced one font and font size on the project).
Scrivener is more robust in footnotes, compiling, and options. Although it can get fiddly, it is so powerful. It is rare to want an option in Scrivener and not be able to find it, and the app does try to hide the options in many ways. But it’s still tempting to mess with options instead of write. For example, you can work with the project in terms of a cork board and notecards, an outline, or as a list of documents, which is powerful but also distracting. I think Scrivener wins here, but with a bit of a caveat.
Ulysses has a wonderful search and jump to feature – command-O lets you search and go. This is incredibly useful. If you think of something, or want to check something, You can very quickly jump to it with a small sub-menu search result (it’s a bit like Google, Sherlock or Launchbar in terms of returning results). Scrivener has a more traditional approach like a Finder search, with part of the window pane turning into a list of results. This is powerful in many ways, but also a bit more slow and daunting. Yet Scrivener does have a back-arrow feature, where you can go back to a recent file, manipulate it, and then go forward to where you were. (The main benefit to these kinds of apps is being able to work on a long document in pieces, and move quickly among these pieces). Ulysses lacks this, and I miss it.
Scrivener also tracks your progress in some powerful ways. I like being able to see my word count for today, for example, and Ulysses oddly omits this. Ulysses does have a cheesy goal setting for a document’s word length, displayed as a weird kind of circle (sort of like the Activity app on the iPhone), but that’s it.
There’s a certain indie developer feel with Scrivener; it has the fingerprint of a thoughtful, dedicated programmer. The program is delightful in many ways, as is the manual. Keith Blount, the mind behind Scrivener, wants to get it totally right, and I really admire that. Ulysses feels a bit more of a committee project. It’s great, beautiful, powerful, it works and has unity, but doesn’t have the compassionate intensity that Scrivener does.
As I’ve noted before, the mistake with both apps is to create lots of sheets or documents. It’s very tempting to have also sorts of placeholders for things you think you will include, and then the project becomes way too unwieldy. I’ve spent far too much time condensing and pruning.
Having used both apps for 6 months or so (I actually put 3 chapters in Scrivener, and 3 different chapters in Ulysses), I do think Scrivener is more mature, and is better for academic writing. But Ulysses is great too, and can work for academic writing, and in some ways excels. But Ulysses is a better platform for blog posts, class notes, and presentation notes that don’t have footnotes don’t need more complex exporting. So I have moved everything back to Scrivener for my book project, but I’m writing this blog post in Ulysses. Whatever you choose, happy writing.
Inspired by Marco and Tiffany Arment’s Top Four podcast, I thought I would list some things from this year that make me happy.
- Gas-powered leaf blower. It’s like a vacuum cleaner for the patio! In 6 minutes things look tip-top. So much better than the annoying corded one that finally died (good riddance).
- Sonos speakers in multiple rooms. It just feels so futuristic to have the music playing everywhere.
- Selling unwanted things on eBay. I’m at the point in life where I get rid of things, and things valued over $20 are worth your time to sell on eBay, especially with eBay’s postage calculation and printing service. A good pro tip is to not sell it at auction, but a set price – if it’s sitting in the drawer doing nothing, let it sit online, keep a few boxes on hand, and then print and ship away.
- Getting rid of stuff in general makes me happy. I like things, but, in the spirit of Kon Marie, only the the things that I really like. Anything else that I don’t like, don’t want, or is broken, I take to the charity shop or the trash can.
- Having an iPhone to quickly capture videos of the kids . It’s so magical to capture silly moments and events, and then to re-watch them later. What will it be like for my kids, who have all this material from their lives? In contrast, I have no such videos of my own childhood.
- Sitting by our firepit. We invested in a patio and firepit for our backyard, and we’ve used the heck out of it. It’s very peaceful to sit out there, or have friends over. Fires bring people together.
- The sink disposal in the kitchen. With a family and children, it’s so great to make the leftovers disappear. It’s like magic!
- Apple’s AirPods. I used to carry wired headphones, and I spent forever trying to untangle them. Apple’s headphones always pulled out of my ears, given time – I think the cord weighed and pulled them out. The AirPods solve all of those problems. They don’t get tangled, don’t get pulled out, and they work well with all my devices. Such a great invention.
I’ve now used the Full Focus Planner for 3 months, so it’s good to review something that is, itself, about reviewing things. I praised it when I first began exploring the system (although, looking back, most of my praise was really for the concept of an analog notebook versus digital). Will I order one for the next quarter?
The answer is no, despite my respect for the FFP. There’s a lot to like: a handsome cover, inviting pages, the idea of a Big 3 for your day (your big 3 goals to accomplish, that should be important and not merely urgent), a guided weekly review, a template for an ideal week, goal-setting that includes rewards and analysis. I do find myself drawn to a written planner, after years of being all digital.
But there’s several drawbacks to the FFP that make it, ultimately, a mixed product. It’s simply too bulky, too heavy to tote around in a bag or in-hand. I think about 20% thinner would be about right. Worse, though, is its failure to stay open, which is sort of the point of this kind of planner – it is supposed to stay out, open, and usable throughout the day. Yet mine would always slowly shut itself closed (kind of ironic, isn’t it?). There is a recommended book spine breaking-in system that Michael Hyatt walks you through, and I followed that precisely, but it still totally failed unless I weighted the book down somehow. Worse, there is an official facebook discussion group for the FFP, and many others had the same complaint, so it is a somewhat systemic issue. It’s kind of embarrassing, I think, for a former publisher to produce a book that fails in a significant way.
Finally, having done some reading on notebooks and planners, I have come to realize that the FFP draws much inspiration from the Bullet Journal system. Yes, this says a lot of sad things about me, that I’m trying another system, and I am willing to own that. (In my defense, as Taffy Brodesser-Akner writes about dieting, all we can do is struggle since the alternative is worse). But the Bullet Journal system is a more lithe version of Michael Hyatt’s system, and it’s worth exploring.
I will miss some elements of the FFP. Many of its tricks can be replicated (you can create an ideal week and Big 3 within any system, really), but the FFP makes it clearer and easier, and does force you to work through a very intentional review process. Many of its ideas have shaped my thinking. It’s a great system that will doubtless evolve given its early stages, but I found that its frustrations ultimately overwhelmed its innovations.
Here are some of my notes from my three favorite sessions at 2017’s AAR.
Louis Ruprecht, “Plato's Tragicomic Ascent of the Soul”
- Plato’s cave is more skeptical than we normally acknowledge.
- Socrates builds a word-picture with his invocation of “let us make an image.” Glaucon’s response of “I see” is, therefore, highly ironic, given the theme of sight, shadows, and images.
- Plato is condemning images ironically, through an image (much as, elsewhere, he condemns writing in writing).
- It is not pity that motivates the former prisoner to return to the cave, but it is much more of a doom, and inability to escape. We are all in the cave, it is only the gods who can see the true sun.
- Philosophers are the unhappy folk who are trapped yet aware in the cave. All philosophers really know is the pain of shadows to light, and vice-versa; a disturbed eyesight, for it is the same dizzying experience, to move into light or into darkness.
- Education attempts to distinguish enlightenment from a growing twilight; it is an awareness of a disturbance in your sight.
- To re-enter the cave, as the prisoner does, is first comedy, then tragedy.
Kevin Grove, “Exercises in Wayfaring: Augustine’s Expositions of the Psalms of Ascent as Communal Explorations of Exile and Migration”
- For Augustine, a peregrinatio is a wayfaring, a purposeful journeying, a pilgrimage, and a migrancy. It is a spiritual pilgrimage, towards an unknown but intuited destination, the City of God.
Simeon Zahl, “Tradition and Its ‘Use’: Theological Retrieval as Ethical Drama”
- Particular people encounter law and gospel in the embeddedness of their lives. The same law or scripture can be experienced differently, depending on their personal encounter, experiences, and location.
- A saint experiences the law differently than a sinner.
- A thing can be true but still ethically or personally disastrous.
- Ultimately, Luther relativizes substance, things no longer have an independent, Aristotelian existence (where purpose is inherent in it), but a relational ontology, a relationship to us.
- Any text can be idolatrous or a guide. For Luther, St. Augustine was a guide. Luther, like Augustine, has a suspicion of settled things, if something is settled then it is potentially idolatrous.
Do we need dedicated, complete online backups anymore, considering Dropbox, iCloud, and Google? A few years ago, I would have said absolutely yes – we need complete, offsite backups of our hard drives so that, if something terrible happens to your machine, you don’t lose vital things such as photos, purchased music, files, and contacts.
But much has changed. With music streaming, photos stored in the cloud, and files online, I’m not so sure that is as absolute as it used to be. Mobile devices and SSD drives have led a move to online storage and synchronization that is simply amazing. To have all your photos online, reachable and editable, is staggering. What would you lose, if you lost your device? If you are using online services, probably less than your think. (The hardest challenge is still home movies and ripped DVD files, due to the size of the files – these are the files that should absolutely be stored offsite as well as on local backups.)
I’m not saying you don’t need to backup anymore. You should still have good quality backups, through Time Machine or another system. I also have cloned drive that gets updated weekly, and I use Arq Agent to also backup online. But with files in the cloud, and cloud sync being pretty stable these days, the issue of offsite storage has changed.