What Does That Testimonial Even Mean?

I don’t have an Elevator Pitch. Those are so 20th Century. It’s more fun to wave my arms expansively, mutter some technical terms and then blurt, “BAM! Out comes this neat document.”

Seriously, though, I try not to pin myself down when I am offline. Just because the Web requires hyper-vertical niches doesn’t mean that a description of my work has to fit in a tweet-size box. In fact, marketing experts tell us that we will have a chance to explain all of the other things we do once the prospect has gotten more comfortable with us.

But, what if somebody stumbles upon my testimonial page and sees something like this?
Excellent work ! Great communication ! Very pleased! Recommend to everybody !

I appreciate this client’s enthusiastic support and I don’t wish to imply that this testimonial is not as near and dear to my heart as any other hard-won praise. However, I don’t want the new visitor to do an eye-roll and bounce away. So, I link the testimonial to a page like this to draw the visitor in.

Roman had hundreds of automobile descriptions pasted from websites. He needed a way to automatically extract specific keywords from each description. Aliases had to use the same keyword and the output had to be in a single Word document. He required the ability to add and delete keywords whenever he wanted.

I built a VBA macro that included a tiny, dynamic keyword database from Roman’s supplied keyword file. This database is created each time the macro runs, so he can make changes and apply them immediately. All he had to change for me was to add a marker at the end of each description (we agreed on ###.)

I’ll let the collage tell the rest of the story.
Keyword Extraction with Predefined Database
Thanks, Roman!

How Do You Eat a Digital Elephant? One Byte at a Time!

Evernote is one of those products that really needs to come with a choking hazard warning label. If you start off without a solid plan for organizing your notes, you will experience pain changing your setup later. I found this out when I took on this monster task of simplifying my 3,000 plus notes.
There's no more difficult a subject to photograph Bo Nash via Compfight


Ironically, I did a bit of research on best practices, only to find that none exist. That is the beauty and the bane of Evernote: you are not forced to use an organization style that doesn’t suit you; however, you can wind up with a mess of tags, stacks and hard-to-find notes if your style is chaotic or too simplistic.

Elephant in the Room

Anyway, what’s done is done. I gamely exported my notes into a massive file that may actually be too big to process as I had intended (with Excel). I’m sure that attachments account for a good portion of the bulk. The thing is, if this massive file is supposed to be converted into a new import file, I can’t exclude the attachments.
Here is a collage of the action:
Evernote Export
Evernote Export
I tried to open the file with XML Notepad, but it complained. I laughed at the offer to open with Notepad, before pressing No.
Can't Open Evernote File
Choking On Elephant

Pass the Spoon

With no way to examine the file, I can’t formulate an attack plan. So, I am going to experiment with exporting a single stack (collection of related notebooks, sort of like a subfolder.) If I can find a stack with no attachments, I will be able to open it up and examine the structure.

Further Reading

While this series might be entertaining and maybe even educational, if you happen to be looking for a way to get started the right way with Evernote, I recommend that you purchase Integrate: Evernote. Read it before getting too deep into your note taking habits.
Integrate: Evernote
Integrate: Evernote, written by not one, but two Evernote Evangelists!

The reason I suggest this useful guide is that you get real-world examples of Evernote in action. Plus, the authors show you neat ways to organize your account. If you study this from the beginning, you’ll have a better idea of the pros and cons of the different methods for storing your notes and attachments.

Taken Out of Context

I do a lot of text processing. Think for a second of the images conjured up by the terms food processor and paper shredder. That is how I think of text processing. Many times, I don’t care what you feed me, I just grab it, churn it up and regurgitate a report.
Oliphaunt garlic pornCreative Commons License Chris via Compfight
For example, if a client needs a tool to extract email addresses, I don’t care if the file is email from Outlook, customer contacts from a spreadsheet, or the Quaker Valley Quilting Bee membership list. As long as the email addresses look like name@domain.com, the tool will find them.

For this Evernote consolidation project, I will test the limits of context-free text processing. By exporting the notebooks into a specially formatted file, I can write a utility to parse and manipulate the key elements: titles, tags and stacks (Evernote’s implementation of a notebook within a notebook.) Even though it would seem that some conscious effort must be made to categorize, tag and regroup my notebooks, I believe that the tool can be designed to automate that effort.

Evernote itself is built upon the very foundation of context-free frameworks: XML. Validation is the hallmark of XML’s lack of contextual constraints. By that, I mean to say: XML is used to examine documents based upon its definitions! This magic trick is possible because XML validation only ensures that the documents are well-formed. It is left to the content consumer to decipher the message carried in the documents. (Read more about XML validation)

Here is a screen shot of part of the Evernote export format Document Type Definition:
Evernote export format DTD
Evernote export format DTD

To be honest, it looks rather generic. That’s a bit like dismissing a parked Ferrari – I know there is more to Evernote exporting than meets the eye. Still, the initial plan is to treat the exported Evernote file as one continuous stream of text.

I will refer to my own previous Evernote project for inspiration. Later, I will dig into some code provided by Marty Zigman and his readers, as they attempt to import Excel data into Evernote.

Digital Dust Bunnies and Electronic Elephants

I have been doing some thinking about all of the disorganization in my digital life. Instead of repeating what has been so eloquently covered by Brandon Pittman, I decided to start an Evernote housekeeping project. Maybe this will take my mind off of the mess I’m making of my Cloud / Backup initiative.
IMG 0728 Mayu Shimizu via Compfight

Motivation for this Project

Why Evernote? Simple. I use it every day. I have tools that automate my note collection, from the Evernote Web Clipper to the PowerBot extension for Gmail. These tools and my need to keep notes on so many different topics have led to a proliferation of notebooks, notes and tags. Consequently, I’m always thinking about things in terms of Evernote!

  • Automating Evernote
  • Earlier this year, I did a project for a client that needed 400 totally random Evernote entries. Before I bid, I exported some of my notes to see how they are stored. It turned out to be XML, so I figured it would be a breeze. It was more like a stiff gale, but I managed.

  • Evernote Templates
  • Later, I discovered a website called KustomNote, where Evernote devotees can design and use form-filling templates. I use the site to save my freelance bidding activity.

  • Consolidating Notebooks, Notes and Tags
  • Finally, in a fit of frustration, I Googled site:evernote.com pile vs. tag and stumbled upon this discussion. A link to a mind-boggling suggestion by one of the participants really helped me to bang the rocks together. This suggestion is Evernote Organization without Organizing and it is so close to how I use KustomNote that I feel I’m on the right path to information transcendence!

The goal is to simplify Evernote through automation and consolidation. A by-product will be, if successful, a nifty template system that I can use instead of – or in addition to – KustomNote.

Stay tuned.

Dark and Stormy

It was a dark, stormy night and the roads were deserted. I had just pulled up to a red light when I heard it. Lucy gurgled painfully and exhaled with a deep finality.

“Well, that’s that,” thought I. I called the emergency room to cancel our unscheduled visit. I would never forget how easily my mind slipped gears, almost in tune with the death mobile. For that’s what it had become, a stark, rolling reminder that the light is not always green on the other side of the street.

Indeed, that night, the stupid light had chosen that moment to malfunction. I sat for ten minutes, as the last echoes of eternal hope sprang away into the mist. I had finally stopped listening for a resumption of Lucy’s ragged breathing and, only then, focused as I was on “the arrangements”, did I realize that the light hadn’t changed.

Funny thing, that light. Years later, I rolled through that same part of town, as a police officer. I no longer cared about such pedestrian conventions as red means stop. A flick of a switch and I would be rolling. So, yes, I was rolling through that intersection when I heard it.

The phantom echo of my true love’s final breath.

The vignette above is based on a writing prompt from Girl Who Reads .