How best to take discreet private notes on a not so private computer?
April 24, 2008 2:34 AM   Subscribe

I want software which will allow me to capture text thoughts at work, to a remote web location - quickly, discreetly and privately.

I work at a computer which is visible to co-workers and is sometimes used by others at short/no notice, so I would like to make the following senario a reality.

1. At work I have a non-work related thought which I wish to capture.

2. I input a keyboard shortcut and am presented with a simple command line interface. Something similar to the google desktop quick search if you have seen it, but perhaps even a little more discreet if thats possible.

3. I type the thought and hit enter/esc and the input screen/command line disappears.

4. The text I entered is not stored locally but sent to some remote web location (I am willing to pay for this service if necessary) where it can be reviewed and edited by me at a later time.


Additional Info:

I am using Windows XP.
A physical notebook and pen is not what I want.
I have had a Palm and did not like it.
I do not want to have to open a web browser.
Have tried using Yahoo Notepad with widget but it is not what I want.
I lose USB memory sticks too often for that to be a reliable method.
A local text file fails the privacy test.
I would prefer not to have to install software but would be happy to run an exe, if it did the job and was safe.
I do not wish to use my cell-phone.
I would like to be able to capture the thought almost as soon as I have it and then return to work immediately.
This is not related to GTD and I do not wish to do any more than input shortcut, type though, hit return.


I have checked lifehacker, ask mefi and similar sites for what I want but can't find precisely what I want.
posted by therubettes to Computers & Internet (41 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
 
Maybe the latest version of Evernote? It may not be as discrete as you're hoping for, but should satisfy your other requirements. I haven't tried out the new version yet, but there was a portable (non-installation) version with the previous one.
posted by JaredSeth at 3:01 AM on April 24, 2008


"I do not want to open a web browser" + "I would prefer to not have to install software", when taken together, appear to rule out most of your options.

Plus, one more bit of devil's advocacy: If your desired solution is indeed as simple as a keyboard shortcut or desktop icon, then the people who occasionally use your computer on short notice will have just as easy a time using it as you.
posted by jbickers at 3:04 AM on April 24, 2008


You could use the free Tada List from an Apple iPod Touch or iPhone with a wi-fi connection.

It meets all your criteria except for opening a web browser, although if you add a bookmark to Tada List on to the device's Home Screen, you can go directly to the site. Just visit the site, hit the plus button at the bottom of the screen, and choose “Add to Home Screen”.

When you want to enter a thought, click on the Home button, press the Tada List icon and enter your thought. When you're done, click on the Wake/Sleep button to disconnect the device from the site and put the device to sleep.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 3:13 AM on April 24, 2008


"I do not want to open a web browser" + "I would prefer to not have to install software", when taken together, appear to rule out most of your options.

In terms of not opening a web-browser I was hoping for something like google desktop quick search. CTRL-CTRL gets a textbox with a simple border and a cursor ready to go.

As for installing software I would be willing to if necessary.

In terms of co-workers accessing it I was hoping for a very specific keyboard shortcut as opposed to a desktop icon. And even if they did discover the shortcut by accident it would only allow them to add a note not view existing notes.

I fear I have been so specific that I may come off as a crank and I hope I am not, least I dont think so. What I want is minimalism of visibility, time, effort. Thanks for the other suggestions I will check them out.

Shortcut, type, esc!
posted by therubettes at 3:16 AM on April 24, 2008


Too many restrictions. No text file. No web browser. No USB drives. That makes it tough.

Maybe check out jott.com where you actually just speak your thoughts and they are immediately delivered to email of your choice transcribed into text - with a link to your actual voice message. Depends on your being able to have some privacy while you make the call. It's very easy, btw.

LockNote? Simple no-install executable that you can keep as many notes as you want inside the file (fully encrypted).

You throw us a tough one with the restrictions.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:16 AM on April 24, 2008


I do not want to have to open a web browser.

Would a text-based web browser do the job? Links or Lynx.

How secure do you need - if it needs to be encrypted while leaving the network, you need either an https server or an SSH server at the other end.

What I'd do... option 1:

Put the following line in a batch file:

copy file.txt+con file.txt

Double-click the batch file, type some stuff, type CTRL+Z and ENTER to exit. Use gmail to email the contents of file.txt to myself once per day. This stores the file on the disc until you email it out, of course.

option 2:

A web form consisting of a text entry box and a submit button, on a [secure] web server. You talk to the web form with a text-based browser (which has your submit page as its homepage), and the web form emails whatever you submit to a private email address. A script that does this is a 5-liner, I'm sure someone here would be happy to throw it together if you want it.

option 3:

A cheap/free shell account, connect to it with PuTTY and a public key (no need to enter a password that way), that dumps you straight into a vi session where you can start typing, or into a script that emails you whatever you type. Again, lots of people here can probably point you in the right direction.
posted by Leon at 3:16 AM on April 24, 2008


How secure do you need?

Just not stored on the computer if possible, in terms of security when the info is in transit not so important. It will be of no use to anyone else just embarassing to me.

Leon thanks for those options I will certainly investigate them. Again I am not trying to be awkward but perhpas I am.

One of the main aims is to get the thoughts out of my head with an absolute minimal interruption to my work.

At work.
Thought.
Shortcut (no mouse click or window minimizing).
Type into single textbox.
Escape.
Info zapped to secure out of office location.
Resume work.
posted by therubettes at 3:35 AM on April 24, 2008


Now, not even any window minimizing? That cuts ouy my other thought I returned to post.

Maybe you should just use index cards or a small notebook and keep it in your pocket. Oh wait, I just looked and you said no pen and paper.

Maybe just remember your ideas and write them down when you get home? Your restrictions are just weeding out all the possibilities.

Still, I wish you good luck.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:51 AM on April 24, 2008


Ok... the key feature seems to be the shortcut. here is a list of shortcut managers, found via Google. Can't comment on the quality of any of them. Possibly a shortcut that brings up a web page with nothing but a text entry box might do the job. Enter to submit the box, ctrl+w to close the window again.
posted by Leon at 3:54 AM on April 24, 2008


Notes on your cell phone?

Text an AIM client sitting elsewhere?

Any phone with SMS supports AIM over SMS now.
posted by disillusioned at 3:55 AM on April 24, 2008


Why not send yourself an email? Surely you could set up your email program to do this with no fuss, especially if you don't keep a draft of the outgoing message.
posted by OmieWise at 4:01 AM on April 24, 2008


Now, not even any window minimizing? That cuts ouy my other thought I returned to post.

I'd love to hear it, you can minimize real quick with the keyboard.

As I said previously I will check out each recommendation and report back.

Judging from the answers so far I am eliminating each with some part of my requirements.
Its just that what I want sounds so simple, I might even try do something myself with my limited programming experience. Though I wont get into that now.
posted by therubettes at 4:03 AM on April 24, 2008


I was thinking something along the lines of Leon's idea. Maybe Launchy to a Mozilla Prism app that brings up a single page with a text box and submit.

So, the keyboard shorcuts would be: Windows-Q, type out shortcut to Prism app (which you could cut down to two letters), enter, type, tab, space (for submit), alt-F4 to close app.
posted by tcv at 4:08 AM on April 24, 2008


tcv: we can collapse "tab, space (for submit), alt-F4 to close app" to "enter" with a dash of javascript.
posted by Leon at 4:11 AM on April 24, 2008


Check out www.evernote.com. It is not exactly what you are looking for, but it might give you enough features.

If you want an invite, PM me your email address. (Please don't PM invite requests me unless you are the OP.)
posted by JintsFan at 4:12 AM on April 24, 2008


Now that I think about it, notes like you describe are exactly what I use my cellphone notepad for (as suggested by disillusioned).
posted by JaredSeth at 4:13 AM on April 24, 2008


Why not set up a private twitter account? There are lots of little Twitter applets, and you can use Enso to open them with a shortcut. There are lots of other ways to send to twitter, including via IM, so it's probably the easiest way. It will limit your thoughts to 140 chars, but that -- amazingly :) -- isn't one of your limitations.
posted by bonaldi at 4:13 AM on April 24, 2008


If you have a little programming experience, and can use something like Visual Studio, I think this would be easy for you.

I envisage a program running in the background (like GDS), waiting for the keyboard shortcut of your choice, at which point a single-line textbox appears in the top-left corner of the screen. The width of the textbox is minimal, and it grows as you enter text into it. When you press enter, it vanishes and sends the data.

I wrote such a program a while back. It sent the data to another person's computer and displayed it on a little chat window (that they could hide!).

What does "send" mean for you? Would storing it in a text file on your work computer be acceptable? If not, perhaps you will send it to a web service you are hosting somewhere?
posted by hAndrew at 4:21 AM on April 24, 2008


What a great response from everyone thanks - this is my first question btw.

I dont have time to evaluate all your suggestions today. But I will certainly update this thread when I do for those who are interested and mark a best answer(s).

JintsFan thanks for your kind offer, I will have a look and see how it might suit, dont want an invite unless I will use it.

Thought.
Shortcut.
Textbox.
Type.
Escape/Enter.
Done.


It sounds so simple. Like hAndrew says maybe I might try to write a program myself! A webservice hosted elsewhere might be the perfect answer. I dont mind spending a few buck on hosting or some time on writing. Unless someone pops up with the solution in the meantime!
posted by therubettes at 4:31 AM on April 24, 2008


Ok, I think I've got a pretty minimal answer. Have you got Firefox on the machine?

Firefox allows you to set keywords for searches. An example:

Go to Google, right-click on the text entry box, select "Add a keyword for this search..."

Call it "Google Search" and give it the keyword "g".

Now, you can type "g some search words" in the URL bar to search Google for "some search words".

You can apply the same principle to any one-field web form... so we set up a simple PHP script that emails you, bind it to the search keyword "xy", and now whenever you type "xy my secret stuff" in the URL bar of firefox, it gets emailed to you. No additional programs, text-only, and one-way :)
posted by Leon at 4:37 AM on April 24, 2008


pencil and paper?
posted by HuronBob at 4:37 AM on April 24, 2008


What the hell. Here's a PHP script that works with my "search keyword" solution above:

<?php
if (isset($_POST['t'])) @mail('you@example.com', $t, '');
else echo '<form method="post"><input type="text" name="t"/><input type="submit" value="Go"/></form>';

That's all you need. It's at risk of being abused for spam, so put it on an obscure path and don't link to it from anything else. It leaves you with a blank open page when you're done, so you have to hit ctrl+w.
posted by Leon at 4:52 AM on April 24, 2008


somee.com has free ASP.NET hosting and appears to support web services.
posted by hAndrew at 5:06 AM on April 24, 2008


Leon, I dont have firefox but I will put it on at the weekend at home and see how your suggestion works. Thanks again for your help and efforts.

Maybe I should explain the reason for my awkard preconditions again.

Like everyone thoughts pop into my head when I am working.
I cant help it.
I want to capture some of these thoughts as they occur and return immediately to whatever I was working at.
With the absolute minimum amount of disruption to my workflow. I am talking seconds.

Anyway......I am starting to remind myself of Tim Robbins in The Hudsucker Proxy. "Y'know for kids".

on preview hAndrew thanks for the hosting tip!
posted by therubettes at 5:09 AM on April 24, 2008


I know several blog solutions allow posts via email or text message. Somehow figure out how to set up a launchy solution that will allow texting or emailing to a blog account, and set the blog to private.
posted by JonnyRotten at 5:49 AM on April 24, 2008


It's a shame you're not using a Mac; Quicksilver would be perfect for this. Let me know if you ever switch; I could whip you up a solution in 2 minutes. :-)
posted by wyzewoman at 5:49 AM on April 24, 2008


With this many requirements I don't think you're going to get anything but a DIY solution without compromising on something. I would probably do this in Perl/Tk and then use PAR to make an EXE, but if you don't have any programming experience it's fairly simple:

- Download Visual Basic Express 2008 at home.
- Create a simple form with just a text box, customize it however you like
- Go dig up some VB examples for doing an HTTP POST (scroll to the full VB example at the bottom)
- Hack it into an app that POST's the contents of the text box to the PHP Leon suggested above (which you could probably get away with hosting at some ad-supported, PHP-enabled web host) and closes.
- Compile and bring to work.

I should point out that your company is probably logging outbound web traffic so they could theoretically see what you're sending out in plain text. I would recommend encryption, or at least some method of obscuring it.

If you decide to go this way and need any help, feel free to Mefi Mail me.
posted by saraswati at 5:56 AM on April 24, 2008


Thanks for the offer saraswati. I agree DIY is likely the way to go.

I will have a stab at the weekend and let you all know.

Cheers

Ruby
posted by therubettes at 6:04 AM on April 24, 2008


There's a couple of great keyboard launchers for Windows, including Colibri and Launchy. Launchy in particular has plugin called 'Runny', which allows you to set up command prompt operations. With minimal tweaking, you could do anything from posting to a private Twitter stream or even appending a new line to a self-hosted text file on your own website. Plus, it has a legitimate usage workwise as an application launcher, not unlike Quicksilver.
posted by Happy Dave at 6:05 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Whatever method you decide on, it may be possible to use AutoHotkey to simplify the interface.
posted by No Mutant Enemy at 6:19 AM on April 24, 2008


Perhaps the most discreet option would be to use a customizable application launcher (which would have work uses) and set up some custom commands in it. For example, this Lifehacker article talks about how to integrate Launchy with Twitter, amongst other things. This way you avoid the possible embarrassment of potentially having to explain the presence of a non-work tool on your machine.
posted by tomcooke at 6:19 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Like Happy Dave, I think Launchy, in combination with a few other things, will be the closest to what you want. I'm using it to do almost exactly what you're talking about, except that I am mostly setting up reminders on I Want Sandy (which stores just regular notes too) via Twitter. See this Lifehacker post. I just use I Want Sandy in place of Remember the Milk in this article. It's a little complicated but once it's set up it's a lifesaver!

Here's what I do to send a reminder (or a note) to Sandy:

Alt-Space -> Type "iws" -> tab -> Type "Remember xxxxx" -> Enter.

That's it. Launchy disappears and there's no trace of the note I just sent.

There's also this method to use Launchy to open the Gmail compose window. If you don't want a web browser at all, this won't be an option. However, if the reason you don't want to open a web browser is because you don't want to have to click a shortcut... wait... go to URL... login... go to compose screen... etc., then this my be a good solution.
posted by jluce50 at 7:03 AM on April 24, 2008 [1 favorite]


Looks like tomcooke beat me to it. Guess it pays to read all the responses before replying... :-)
posted by jluce50 at 7:05 AM on April 24, 2008


Do you have a computer at home that can be setup for remote SSH access? If you make a shortcut to PuTTY somewhere, then edit the options to make it open by keyboard shortcut, you could have it run an "append this text to my notes" command instead of a shell. Plus, if you set up key-based logins, you can achieve your "shortcut-type-done" goal. To make this more secure, I'd make the user you login as with the keys only able to run the note-taking command and not a shell.

2. I input a keyboard shortcut and am presented with a simple command line interface. Something similar to the google desktop quick search if you have seen it, but perhaps even a little more discreet if thats possible.
This is exactly the way it will happen.

3. I type the thought and hit enter/esc and the input screen/command line disappears.
Once you do the keyboard shortcut to run putty which runs the note-taking command, all you do is type your thought, hit CTRL-D, then the command window disappears.

4. The text I entered is not stored locally but sent to some remote web location (I am willing to pay for this service if necessary) where it can be reviewed and edited by me at a later time.
The text you type is stored on your server. If you have a computer at home, the you shouldn't have to pay for anything. Your thoughts will all be in plain text files that can be edited by your favorite editor (probably not notepad though, because there might not be CRs in the file).
posted by philomathoholic at 8:31 AM on April 24, 2008


I am using Windows XP.
PuTTY works on XP. The note-taking command (which can be anything, by the way, including append to this text file, create new text file, mail to me, etc., basically anything that can be run on your remote computer) will work on whichever OS you'd like.

A physical notebook and pen is not what I want.
I have had a Palm and did not like it.
I do not want to have to open a web browser.
check

Have tried using Yahoo Notepad with widget but it is not what I want.
I lose USB memory sticks too often for that to be a reliable method.
A local text file fails the privacy test.
My solution meets these requirements.

I would prefer not to have to install software but would be happy to run an exe, if it did the job and was safe.
PuTTY is a download-able stand-alone executable, all you need to do is make a shortcut to it (you can store the shortcut anywhere: you definitely don't have to put it on the desktop).

I do not wish to use my cell-phone.
I would like to be able to capture the thought almost as soon as I have it and then return to work immediately.
This is not related to GTD and I do not wish to do any more than input shortcut, type though, hit return.
check, check, check
posted by philomathoholic at 8:41 AM on April 24, 2008


philomathoholic - thanks for your comprehensive response. From the sounds of it you have met all the criteria, I will investigate at the weekend.

I am hoping that this app will help me be to more productive at work while providing an outlet and repository for thoughts/ideas which otherwise be lost.
posted by therubettes at 8:51 AM on April 24, 2008


Another option you could investigate in combination with Launchy: Todoist. Yes, Launchy would be a software install, but it's useful for other things too, and it's pretty lightweight.

It would go something like this:
- Create your Todoist account
- install Launchy on your computer
- get the Todoist Launchy plugin (available here)
- Input your web service token from your Todoist account into Launchy, so it can talk to the account
- Learn the Launchy syntax, which is: launch Launchy (!); start typing todoist; hit tab; type whatever you want to document, as much or as little as you want; hit enter. Launchy disappears when you are done.
- Whenever you're ready, go to Todoist and find all the notes you have sent.
posted by librarina at 9:38 AM on April 24, 2008 [2 favorites]


A local text file fails the privacy test.

Have you considered encryption?

I use my handheld computer (a Zaurus) to take notes, using a text editor. I encrypt the text files on it, using OpenSSL (which is available for Windows), in case it's ever lost or stolen.

To edit a file, I use a batch script which prompts for a password, decrypts the file and runs a text editor, and then re-encrypts the file using the same password. You could easily do the same thing on your local PC.
posted by russilwvong at 10:42 AM on April 24, 2008


russlmvong's answer reminded me of Message Vault. It's an html file that holds both the javascript that encrypts your message and the message itself. Nothing to install, but you'll have to use your browser.
posted by philomathoholic at 11:00 AM on April 24, 2008


I mentioned this before, but why not LockNote? That solves the privacy issue of a text file. It's much like MessageVault, mentioned in the post above, but it's not done through the browser. It's a single executable file (no install) that you open with password, you add/remove/whatever to the text and every time you close the file it is saved with 256 bit AES encryption. It couldn't be any easier to use - it's just a file. (312kb!) It was developed by Steganos, and is still available through them, but is now open source and maintained at Sourceforge.net.
posted by Gerard Sorme at 3:32 PM on April 24, 2008


Just a quick update for any of you who may be watching this thread. I have not had a chance to program the program yet, other things too over the weekend, but I will let anyone interested know when I do.
Thanks again.
Ruby.
posted by therubettes at 1:05 AM on April 28, 2008


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