BrowserNotes great for on the fly research

Here’s the bottom line for readers who want to get the gist of this between the time they order their coffee and the time they pay for it. Skip everything after the bullets and before the big subhead. It has nothing to do with BrowserNotes which is one of those limited but really useful apps.


  • Lets you surf the web and take notes from the same app
  • Lets you save files for later reading

It’s only weaknesses are minor, except for the last one:

  • Transferring notes is clumsy
  • The browser itself is pretty limited with
  • No bookmark features (you’re on your own for that)

Before you go out and buy, however, you might want to wait for tomorrow’s blog when I review a similar app called Desktop.

In addition, I spout off on the fine line between comedy and offensive writing using many more paragraphs than is necessary, clogging bandwidth and managing to serve no useful purpose other than to pad the length of this blog.

The other day I grabbed Carol by the hair and tugged, ever so slightly. It was very gentle, nothing like what the cats do when they see this tangle of Cherokee curls spilling out from under the covers and mistake her for a scratching post.

“What are you doing?” she snapped.

“I’m mistaking you for a hat.” I said. As readers probably are painfully aware by now, Carol and I spent a recent Sunday afternoon at a chamber opera, The Man Who Mistook is Wife for a Hat (and missing the World Cup finals, which went 118 minutes without a score—boring for most Americans, nail biting excitement for soccer fans).

Yes, three weeks later and I’m still brooding on that. But back to the dialogue.

“I was just being funny,” I added.

“No,” she politely informed me, “you were being an asshole.”

Sadly, this conversation describes the comedy writers eternal plight: It easy, very easy, to go from being funny to being an asshole without even realizing it.

Of course, the other danger is that some people have no sense of humor at all. They simply assume you’re being an asshole. I spent years of training as a comedian in high school, working out my timing and the absolute best bits. Half my classmates thought I was a real funny guy, the others didn’t get the joke and my teachers inevitably sent me to the principal’s office for misbehaving (which is teacher talk for being an asshole in class).

During the years since, I’ve also discovered that the difference between being funny and being an asshole is also who’s in my audience. For instance, every time I tell George Bush jokes to my bleeding heart liberal friends, they crack up. My tight-cheeked conservative friends used to think I was an asshole, but now they just want to pretend there never was a President Bush.

On the other hand, if I crack an Obama joke around my liberal friends, they think I’ve betrayed the cause. My conservative friends, by contrast, are very easy to please. The joke doesn’t even have to be funny. I simply make it sound like the joke’s at Obama’s expense and they laugh hysterically without really understanding why.

Which may be a good thing because it’s really hard to come up with good jokes about Obama. Clinton was easy, and Bush was even easier. He seemed to walk around with a “mock me” sign on the back of his suit jacket. But Obama just isn’t funny, even when they do him on Saturday Night Live. Something about him just sucks the humor out of the room and fills everything with gravitas.

The one thing I learned in all my experimenting was, it doesn’t matter how funny it is, sooner or later something I say is bound to offend someone. But it’s not just me. Sooner or later everyone, from Pollyanna to sweet Laura Bush, is bound to offend someone.

Carol offends people and she doesn’t have an offensive bone in her body. She tries to be nice to the rednecks in half-ton pickup trucks who cut in front of her Honda to get through a yellow light. She’s not as good about it as she used to be—twenty-five years with me were bound to rub off on her—but there are a lot of words that could be said, loudly and prolifically, and she keeps them to herself.

Two cat rescuers could be arguing about a new shelter policy (and, trust me, they can argue as passionately as any Baptist). Carol could suggest that everybody step back and consider what they’re saying before things get ugly. Both rescuers will think she’s taking the other rescuer’s side and resent the implication that anything they could say would be “ugly.”

She could thank the checkout person in the grocery for their help and the person behind her will say, “Quit gabbing, will ya? Some of us are in a hurry.” She could help someone load their car with pet food and that someone will say, “I bet you think you’re a good samaritan, don’t you?” She and a friend once drove two hundred miles to rescue three dozen cats as a favor to someone, who immediately took insult when Carol said she had room to shelter a couple of the rescued cats. “You think I should cut you in on my adoption fees?” that person complained.

And I offend her without meaning to as well. I’ve seen her get pissed off at me for telling her what a great game she missed on TV while she was carting a dozen cats to the vet, hauling fifty pounds of litter from the feed store and mowing the lawn because I’m allergic to grass. Do you see how easy it is to offend people for perfectly innocent comments?

That’s why it’s tough to write comedy.

So I realize that sooner or later something I write will really be offensive. Trust me, it isn’t intentional. Usually. At least sixty percent of the time.

This actually has nothing to do with the review, at least not yet. But after posting blogs about carnage in cat games and considering what I will be saying about Train Conductor 2 and an app called Wasted Time next week, I thought I’d clear the air.

A nifty research accessory

I decided to write the bulk of this blog from inside BrowserNotes, just to see what the experience of typing notes and browsing at the same time felt like.

BrowserNotes is one of a new breed of browsers designed to provide multitasking options the iPad lacks. If you’re researching a topic you can actually follow two windows at once, or keep a separate note window open. This allows you to copy and paste data from a web site, add your own annotations and save the file to transfer to your home computer.

You never have to leave the browser until it’s time to move your notes to a word processor.

BrowserNotes offers the user the ability to split the browser window into two panes. Either pane can contain a browser window or a notes window. You can open two browsers at once should you need to, browse in one window and type in the other, or hide either pane to focus on a single task.

You can browse and take notes at the same time.

Browser notes is ideal for writers who have to spend a lot of time researching on the web, or students who need to take notes when viewing their instructor’s online presentations (unless, of course, those presentations were produced in Flash).

You can save your notes and access them at any time in the browser window or email them to yourself for instant access in your word processor.

You can also download any PC and Mac supported files linked to a web site. If the site contains PDF or long text files, you can download them from either window (you can’t download the HTML page itself, however). In addition, you can drag and drop any PDF and TXT file into BrowserNotes through iTunes.

You can capture and save PDF files to read later.

For what it is, BrowserNotes is a pretty nifty app. I used to write for several informational web sites with strict requirements for referencing other sites. Even on my MacBook Pro it was sometimes a pain switching between Safari and my word processor. An app like this could have come in handy.

I should point out a couple of noticeable shortcomings, however.

No URL shortcuts

As with many browsers developed for the iPad, you can’t simply type the site name into the address bar. You at least have to add the extension (.com, .org). This can be a little aggravating, although not nearly so aggravating as browsers that require the full address.

Moving notes isn’t as simple as you might like

If you need to refer to your notes from your word processor, that’s a different issue. You can keep all of your notes in a single file and copy and paste your notes into your word processing app, which might be fine for quick online look ups. But if you need to keep your notes organized over several files, your other iPad apps can’t access your files.

You can synch your files with your home computer using iTunes and then move the files into the folder for your word processing app. Or you can email each file to yourself one at a time and open the attachments in your word processor.

It would be nice if BrowserNotes could access iDisk, but since Apple didn’t get an iPad capable version of iDisk running until a couple of weeks ago, it may be a while before that happens.

Crippled browser

Unfortunately the browser capabilities are pretty bare bones, not unlike the old days when the original Mosaic was the hottest app on your Mac or PC. The browser includes a search bar, reload button, forward and back buttons, and that’s about it. Forget tabs and browser histories. BrowserNotes remembers the last page loaded when you quit the app, and that’s about it. And when you want to bookmark a file, don’t look for a bookmark button. You can keep track of frequently researched sites, but it’s a pain.

Clumsy bookmarking

Well, actually, there is no bookmark feature that I found in the app itself. But the app itself provides a workaround in the notes section. You can keep a file of commonly used URLs in your BrowserNotes folder.


Saving a bookmark to the file is easy. Simply load the page you want to access in the top browser window. Then click the “Insert URL” button to insert the address into the text file. I would recommend putting a couple of carriage returns between each address because loading the bookmark is much more clumsy. You have to copy and paste the URL from the text file into the browser window.

On the other hand, how hard would it be to add bookmarks and histories?

Jenny Manytoes rates

Jenny Manytoes purrs over BrowserNotes. It’s far from perfect, but it’s solid for what it does.

The Jenny Manytoes Rating System

Jenny Manytoes, our polydactyl cat
  • When Jenny makes biscuits on a product she thinks she’s in heaven.
  • When Jenny purrs over a product she’s very happy.
  • When Jenny naps next to a product it’s okay with her.
  • When Jenny bunches her tail she can live with a product, but she has higher expectations.
  • When Jenny leaves it in the litter box….I don’t think I need to explain this one.

iPad Envy is created entirely using apps from my iPad
iPad Envy.


About Phillip T Stephens

Phillip T. Stephens disappeared into the Bermuda Triangle twenty years before he was born, creating a time travel paradox so confusing it remains unspoken between physicists and sci-fi writers to this day. Follow @stephens_pt
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