clown -- A Clojure/Script Outliner with Notes

Questions about note-taking are very popular on Hacker News. I am always interested in the responses. It seems like developers are always interested in the best tools and methodologies. Me too. I’ve been researching and using different approaches for decades. Over all that time, I’ve written thousands of notes, both short and long. Most notes become uninteresting after awhile and are just erased. But thousands have persisted for many years because I still refer to them.

My Note-Taking Journey

I’m surprised by how often questions like this come up on HN, but I always find the responses interesting and educational. What I Want Non-negotiable items include: Low Friction: A little initial setup is ok, but just taking a note should require no more than a click or two (whether clicking a mouse or a pen). Open source. Aesthetically Pleasing: I’m tired of looking at ugly stuff. Has to handle LaTex.


Changing jobs in 2005 caused me to switch from taking notes on paper to doing it electronically. My new employer provided a tablet PC with a stylus running Windows and OneNote. Taking notes on that system with excellent handwriting recognition was a revelation. The tablet was pretty clunky by today’s standards, but it worked well. It was particularly useful for generating meeting notes in real time and projecting them during meetings.

Moving Away from Collate Notes

Collate Notes has received my praise in the past. I even paid for it. Shortly after that unusual event, development seems to have stopped. And it still has numerous shortcomings. The most annoying problem is that periodically, it says my trial period has run out, and I need to enter the activation code (again). And since it’s closed-source, I have no recourse but to submit bugs and make feature requests to a developer who seems to have gone silent.

More Note-Taking Goodness - Collate

Last time, I wrote about some of the really nice note-taking apps available nowadays. Since then, I’ve come across another great one I just had to tell you about: Collate. It has just about everything I could want. I’ll let you read about all of its features on its web site, but some of the things I like most include: It’s cross-platform, capable of running on Windows, MacOS, and Linux.

An Embarrassment of Riches for Note-Taking

Ever since dumping Evernote, I’ve been looking at alternative note-taking apps. I’ve been usingtiddlywiki, but, surprisingly, it has grown a bit slow. Probably from the sheer volume of notes that I’ve imported from Evernote. Maybe time to look some more? I’ve also been writing a lot of program documentation in Markdown. I like the wiki format just fine, but it seems like Markdown can do more. Both markup languages have a plethora of dialects, usually incompatible.

De-Activating My Evernote Account

I’m kind of sad today. I erased all of my notes from Evernote and then de-activated my account. I had been a Premium user for years and had thousands of notes. I used it on the web (when using Linux), on the desktop under Windows, and on my iPhone and iPads. I liked that the data was available on all of those devices. I really liked the web clipper. But the killer feature that got me started on it in the first place was the ability to search in images.

My Favorite Pens

Sure, this is a technology site, but sometimes you have to get a little retro. That is the case for my preferences in note-taking. I tend to do a fair amount of writing into paper notebooks. To do that, I use a pen. Fountain pens are pretty pieces of art, but too messy and fiddly. Ballpoints are OK, but feel a little harsh as you write. Roller balls are OK too, except the quality of the ink is a bit “smeary” for my tastes.