"My Notes Keeper": the best, most useful, most reliable piece of software ever written in the history of the universe?

Mary Dean

Yes, it is.

With my very first blog post I will sing the praises of my all-time favorite piece of software: a little shareware program called "My Notes Keeper."

It's made in China. It costs $29. It only works on Windows. And it was THE reason I came back to Windows after after an awkward year of trying to become a Mac person... I just couldn't find anything else like it.

What is it? And why is my best digital buddy?

It's an outliner. Yes, an outliner for taking notes, and more importantly, for organizing your notes. And keeping your notes organized over time so you can easily come back to them. It is simple and fast. It lets keep as much information as you want, in outlines as deep as you want, with single entries as long as you want, in files that can have as many tabs as you want, which can hold as many entries as you want. I've been using since -- I don't know -- 2009? 2010? I have individual outlines that are half a gigabyte in size, containing thousands of pasted-in photos and all kinds of formatting, outlines that would use up a ream of paper if I ever printed the whole things. Yet they pop right open if I want to add more to them.

And get this:

I've never once had anything get lost or corrupted.

Repeat: I've never once had anything get lost or corrupted.

I can't say that about Evernote.
I can't say that about OneNote.
I vehemently can't say that about Microsoft Word's horrible outlines, to which I loss a year's worth of graduate work.

What's more, I don't worry about my data ever being lost or unreadable because MNK quickly and easily exports to rich text, to PDF, to Ebooks, Kindle books, and well-organized websites with collapible, multi-level outlines.

And it's solid as a rock.

Before I show it to you, let's address that very painful topic...

My Notes Keeper: a simple example

I'm one of those people for whom my computer is an extension of my brain. I must have been 20 when I got my first "luggable" PC, with two 5.25" diskettes, a fold-down keyboard, and a bright orange-on-black screen that I blame for ruining my night vision. The only program I remember having was WordPerfect

Before we go any further, let me show you an example. This is my outline from my very first programming class, an online Ruby class back in 2014:

Notice how the entire class -- 6 months worth of class notes, homework, and programming code -- is neatly organized under a single heading.

If someone were to ask me, "Hey, Mary, would you happen to know how to write a procedural (as opposed to object-oriented) Blackjack game in the Ruby language, using only ascii graphics?" I would literally be able to locate such a program in less than 30 seconds.

And just for fun, I will now export that outline to HTML and put it on my server.

Click here

When you make the decision to launch a new career at the age of 50, with a brain that's a bit soggy, and everything you are studying is difficult and complicated, your first and most pressing question becomes:

How the hell am I going to remember this stuff?

It's hard. You work your way through tutorials, do the exercises, pass the quizzes, and two days later you can't remember how to even start the program. You take a class and write a fun, interactive game as your final project, and a year later, your code is buried somewhere in an Eclipse folder that got deleted. Or someone mentions a great web resource and you jot it down on a piece of paper, only to find it in your purse a month later: "pixabay free pho" What the heck does that mean? Toss.

The problem of learning about the web is the problem of the web itself. How do you organize all that information? How do you not get overwhelmed? How do you "scaffold" your skills and knowledge from one level to the next higher level when you are drowning in an ocean?

Most people people forget most of what they learn. As you get older, that ratio only gets worse. So, when you take a programming class, they will tell you: "It's the concepts that count, not the specifics. You can always google anything you really need to know!"

But following that philosophy is a good way to waste years of your life and not be able to "DO" anything.

Back in high school, I was the girl who copied her biology notes onto graph paper and illustrated them with colored pencils, and I still have those notes 35 years later. I was always a "slow learner," the kindergartner who filled dozens of pages with digits 1..9 while everyone else was counting past 100. In college I took meticulous notes in spiral notebooks, only to have them all thrown away when someone helpfully (NOT) decided to clean my attic. In graduate school,

In fact, I have been thinking there should be a category in the DSM for data loss disorders. Is there anyone who has worked with computers in the past 30 years who hasn't been genuinely and deeply traumatized by the loss of a file, a folder, or an entire hard drive. If it doesn't exist yet, there should be something called "Post Data Loss Stress Disorder.) At my age, I can't risk that kind of loss.

The point is, I couldn't really make the leap into becoming a programmer until I solved the problem of taking notes... organized notes. I want to learn things once and have that knowledge at my fingertips forever. To that end, I tried:

* Microsoft One Note... a nice way to organize large amounts of information, but way too proprietary. Getting your notes out is almost impossible without totally losing the structure.
* Evernote... a great and useful program that I am using right now to write the rough draft of this article, but it's not an outliner. After a certain mass is reached, the only way to find things is to use a fast text search. 
* Microsoft Word's outlining features... horrible, just so horrible they should be ashamed.  (horrible! After so many years they should be ashamed), and finally stumbled upon a little program called "Action Outliner". What a great and useful little program. [ActionOutline.png]