Notes, Part 2

When I first got my iPod Touch, I looked around for a program that could hold all of my notes from my Palm. Apple’s built-in Notes app wouldn’t do categories and only had magic marker font (they got rid of that in a recent iOS update, but categories are still out). So it had to be able to import the 400+ notes, categorize them (or put them in folders), and then sync with my computer so they could be backed up. I wound up paying $1.99 for MemoBook which did all of that and not much else, though actually one neat thing is it lets you assign multiple categories to a note. This was pretty helpful because I assigned a category “Most Used” to the handful of notes I use the most and they are easier to get to that way.

MemoBook was updated once for some kind of stability issue, but otherwise doesn’t seem to be being developed actively. And it is a little clunky. If you want to edit a note, you have to go the note and then click Edit. When you are done, you have to click Save. That doesn’t seem like a big deal, but what’s the point? It’s not that easy to accidentally edit something on an iPod (and if you forget to click Save before leaving the app, the change is lost). Also, no matter what note you are in when you leave the program, it always opens back up in the list of categories. It would be better to open in that note or in the category where you were last (like the Palm did). Most of my notes are in the category Personal, so that is an extra step to get to a note. And part of the whole problem with the iPod is there are already a lot of steps and swipes to get anything done. So I turn on the iPod, swipe to unlock it, swipe to get to the correct screen of apps, and then click the MemoBook app, wait a second or two for it to start, click my category, click the note I want, click edit, make the change, and click save.

Also, although I can save my notes back to an archive on my computer, I can’t really do anything with the notes on my computer. With the Palm, there was a program on your computer, Palm Desktop, where you could edit notes and they would be synched back to the Palm. There is a program called EverNote that some people like that will sync with a website and then you can edit files through the website. The EverNote app is free, but there is a yearly fee of $45 to use the EverNote web account (!!!). So that’s out. Then there are Google docs, but I don’t want to get all into that. Google docs are more complicated than I really want to deal with. For complicated docs I can sync with my MS Office docs on my computer via DocsToGo, which also has to be manually synched because Apple doesn’t want to share iTunes with developers.

Anyway, I started to look at SimpleNote which is kind of like EverNote in that it syncs with a website. The free version has ads or you can pay $5 to get rid of the ads on the iPod, $12 per year to get rid of them on the website too. It allows you to add “tags” to notes which are essentially categories. I downloaded and tried it out and it seemed pretty good. The program opens in the last note you were in, which is good. You can assign multiple tags to a note, too.

So I started to look into how I would get the notes out of MemoBook and in to SimpleNote. There is a free third-party desktop app for Simplenote called ResophNotes that lets you import notes from an Outlook CSV archive, from individual text files, or from one big text file with some kind of separator between the notes. Then it syncs with SimpleNote on the web and with the iPod.

I’d never thought about how I would get my notes back out of MemoBook, but when I would back them up it would give me a CSV file (comma separated values, in a text file). By default this type of file is associated with Microsoft Excel, so I open the file in Excel and did not get the results I wanted. Every time there was a hard return in a note, Excel thought it was a new record. The CSV format deals with hard returns and commas by putting text fields in quotation marks, so Excel should know better (then if you have quotation marks, it doubles them up to know they are not the end of the text field). So that was no good.

MemoBook exports a note with at least five fields: 1. title, 2. note, 3. created date, 4. last modified date, and 5. the category. However it has multiple categories, it just keeps adding fields to that record.

Next I thought I could get rid of all the hard returns by opening the file in a text editor and swapping hard returns for xxx so that a note would all be on one long line. But maybe the commas were messing it up, so it still didn’t work right. I even tried converting the CSV file to tab-separated by replacing “,” with a tab (the first quotation mark being the end of a field, then a comma to separate the next field and then a quotation mark for the start of the next field). Separating records would be a quotation mark, then a hard return, then another quotation mark. But first I had to get rid of the tabs already in the file by replacing them with ttt and also finding all the converted quotation marks that were double-quotes. Anyway, this didn’t work either and I was also crashing my text editor (Homesite) which couldn’t deal with so much text and so many find and replace actions (it would say out of memory) so I wound up doing some of this in Microsoft Word then copy and pasting it back into Homesite since I don’t trust Word to save something as a plain text file.

It still wouldn’t go into Excel, so I thought maybe I could get it into Microsoft Access. And I was able to import the tab separated values file that way, though it didn’t like the format of the dates from Memobook, so those were lost (no big deal really). But I still had all the ttt and xxx snippets in there representing the tabs and returns.

Then I got the idea that maybe Access could just import MemoBook’s original CSV file and do better than Excel. Now we’re talking! This worked really well except that I got some weird stray character at the end of the title of the notes. Really the title of the note is just the first line of the note, which is how I had it on the Palm, but I had to convert it to an actual title field for MemoBook. But some of my notes are just one line, so they were kind of funny to deal with.

So now the notes are in database form, but they still aren’t in any kind of form that SimpleNote or ResophNotes can deal with. I was thinking I could write a VBA routine in Access that would write records to a text file, but hoped for a solution that wouldn’t require any programming. So I went to Outlook to see what kind of CSV format it uses for notes. A note in Outlook’s file has 5 fields too, but they are different: 1. Note body, 2. Categories, 3. Note Color (a number; 3 is the default of yellow), 4. Priority (default is “normal”), and 5. Sensitivity (default is “normal” again). Okay, so I can make an Access query that will combine the title and note body into one field (with a hard return separating them, which I have to do by combining a Chr(10) and Chr(13) between the two fields), then the category, and the default values for the other 3 fields. Then I can export this to a CSV file and SimpleNote should see that as the same as an Outlook file. And this actually worked. All the notes were imported no problem. But not the categories. To test the Outlook import method, I made a couple of notes in Outlook and assigned categories, created a CSV file, and imported that and the categories were lost even with a file generated by Outlook. Ugh.

Then I had to find a way to delete all of those uncategorized notes. You can’t delete them all at once. So I found out that Resoph notes stores the notes in an XML file in Application Settings (or something like that) in a .resphnotes folder. Meanwhile you will want to turn off the automatic sync to the web or you won’t be getting rid of them afterall.

You can assign a tag in SimpleNote if you want, but only one note at a time. I thought maybe I could import one category at a time and then take all uncategorized notes (the ones I just imported) and assign them to the category I wanted, but I don’t think you can do that either. Nor can you highlight more than one note at a time. So it would pretty much be a process of opening each note, assigning a tag, saving, opening another note, assigning a tag, etc. I don’t know if that is something I want to do, though I guess I could probably get rid of a lot of the notes I don’t use anymore.

SimpleNote is good because it automatically syncs to the web. And the web and desktop sync whenever I open the desktop program. So it is definitely a step up from MemoBook, but I think for now I will stay where I am. It is amazing to me that there are so many apps and none of them do the very simple things I want for a reasonable price.

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