Stepping Outside the Garden of Emacs
For the last couple of decades I have been using plain text for all of my organizing, note-taking, journaling, and writing, nearly always in Emacs. This works pretty well since Emacs is available on every desktop platform I’m likely to come across, and unless the state of computing changes radically I’m guessing that state of affairs will continue indefinitely. Text is relatively future proof and doesn’t rely on proprietary programs, and in the hands of a powerful editor like Emacs it can be stretched into quite a few application domains.
But now I have a tablet, an Acer Iconia A500 running Android “Honeycomb”. There is no Emacs for Android, and I’m not sure how you would use it on a touch screen anyway. So now I find myself trying to maintain a similarly future-proof and application-agnostic means of keeping track of my work, while being able to easily write and take notes on the tablet. Here’s what I’ve come up with so far.
For notes I am using the SimpleNote cloud syncing service with Notational Velocity (actually a fork called NValt which has a few more features) on my Macs and Flick Note on Android. (There are other SimpleNote clients on Android, but Flick Note seems to work the best, despite not being tablet-optimized yet.)
Notational Velocity takes a search- and tag-based approach to organizing notes, and keeps them in a directory full of text files; SimpleNote uses essentially the same data model and has an open API with clients for many platforms in addition to a web application. In addition, SimpleNote and many of its clients (including NValt) support Markdown formatting in notes, which I am already using quite a bit.
In addition to text notes, I have begun using mind maps for outlining and brainstorming. A touch screen is an ideal interface for a mind mapping program, and on Android the one I am using is Thinking Space. It uses the same format as FreeMind, a popular open source, multi-platform mind mapping application, so my mind maps should be relatively future-proof. I use Dropbox to keep these files in sync, of course, just like everyone else.
And finally, there is writing. I may not have published any of it, but I still do it, and up until now it has all been Markdown files in my Dropbox. I’ve finally decided to take the plunge and start using Scrivener full time; I’ve owned it since the initial release but never quite convinced myself to hide my text inside an OSX package full of RTFDs. But version 2.0 has added a feature that should prove very useful for mobile writing: synchronization with a folder (perhaps in Dropbox?) of plain text files, or with SimpleNote. And of course, Scrivener supports Markdown with export to LaTeX, so I can use a mobile editor or even Emacs to work on the actual writing, while using Scrivener for organization and exporting.
I’m not sure this is the best way to accomplish what I want to do, but I think my Android tablet (which I’ve only had for a week and a half) just got a whole lot more useful.