Dear Diary: In the footsteps of Sam Pepys and Queen Victoria

Posted on by Mike Evans

One thing I’m pretty good at is keeping a record of my expenses. In common with most of us, though, I’m a disaster when it comes to that hoary old New Year resolution—starting and maintaining a diary, or journal. Samuel Pepys was a past-master, and also a dab hand at recording his daily cash expenses. And Queen Victoria scribbled throughout widowhood with copious underlinings and very strong opinions.

There’s always been something particularly appealing  to me about writing the thoughts of the day into a leather-bound journal with gilt page edges and a seductive ribbon as placemarker. Yet it has never worked for me. I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve started a diary only to have it peter out after a week or two. Maybe a computerised journal would be more easy to maintain, I thought, and I’ve certainly tried a few of them, including MacJournal and Chronories. Both are excellent at what they do, but I’ve never managed to keep the words flowing with either. This is a reflection on me rather than on the applications.

Per Se, newcomer

Per Se is pretty. Keen eyes will note that in Sam’s day 18 April 1668 was a Saturday. The computer now tells us it was a Wednesday. The reason for this is that in the 17th century Britain used the Julian calendar and changed to the modern Gregorian as late as 1752. Notice the way Samuel keeps his accounts in the margin. Some of the prices are interesting. A 3-shilling coach ride is the modern equivalent of £19 while we can only speculate as to why “my maid Bridget” was advanced the equivalent of £125, the best part of three years’ wagesThis week there’s a new addition, Per Se from Sprouted, which I’ve downloaded for a free trial, just to see if I can keep it up for more than three days. Per se has a gorgeous, traditional journal feel and, I have to say, beats the competition hands down in appearance. There are lots of customisable features, several themes, the ability to add photos, videos and voice entries and, they claim, “easy writing and rich formatting.” I like it on first sight, although this overview is written before I’ve had a chance to get to grips with the Per Se.

MacJournal, old faithful

MacJournal has a typical Mac interface with sidebar and split entry pane. Less pretty, but very functional and it syncs between devices (from Mac to Mac via MobileMe, from Mac to iOS by local network WiFiMacJournal is a venerable and rock-solid contender and looks like a real, traditional Mac app, unlike Per Se and Chronories. It is extremely functional, has a bewildering array of features, including the facility to send entries direct to a blog (although I prefer Mars Edit for this). But if you want to blog your daily innermost thoughts, MacJournal is a good start. Again, this isn’t intended to be a review, merely an overview of what’s available.

MacJournal does have one overwhelming advantage as a journal keeper. It can be synchronised via MobileMe, so is available on all your Macs and is thus always up to date. Applications for the iPhone and iPad synchronise with any of your Macs over WiFi—not the ideal solution, but at least you can sync. Because of this, MacJournal is the most comprehensive choice if you want to jot down your thoughts anywhere. I keep hoping that the two iOS applications will eventually sync through MobileMe.

Chronories, big brother is watching you

The third application I’ve tried is Chronories and it’s quite unlike the other two. In fact, it automatically collects a vast amount of information to illustrate your day and the actual journal of doings is almost an afterthough. Chronories tracks your computer usage, telling you which applications you’ve used and for how long, it lets you snap your photograph, add your location, your mood, it collects the contacts you’ve made, music played, desktop screenshots and all the RSS headlines. There’s not much it doesn’t record, so you need to be careful with those xxx websites.

Chronories works automatically. Adding your daily doings is an optional extra, but without intervention the application will log your activities, perhaps a little too accurately for comfort

Synium Software’s Chronories is a triumph in my opinion and when I first installed it I thought it was the bee’s knees. Unfortunately, simply because it does do so much, it is computer specific. It works on one Mac and it’s not the sort of application you could share across several Macs, let alone with your iOS devices. In these days, when only a proportion of the daily work is done on one single device—much of the day could be spent on another Mac, on the iPad or even on the iPhone—Chronories is limited in appeal. But if you have just one computer and are happy to sit down and write your journal entry in one go at the end of the day, Chronories is a wonderful choice. Quite apart from diary keeping, it could be used exclusively for logging daily computer activities and is worth checking out for that alone.

Above all, the one thing you need to get the best out of any of these three apps is application, in the traditional sense of the word. If you cannot apply yourself, you won’t keep it up. Nevertheless, I suspect both Mr. Pepys and Queen Victoria would have welcomed a bit of computerised help.

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