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Interview: Father Moses

November 30, 2005 — Eric Böhnisch-Volkmann

I met Orthodox Christian monk Father Moses of the Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery in California, USA, and talked with him about life at the Monastery and how DEVONthink Professional helps him concentrate on the really important things instead of organizing bits and bytes.

Father Moses

Father Moses lives as a monk at the Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery in Northern California, USA.

Father Moses, what is the Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery and what is your role there?

Saint Gregory of Sinai Monastery is a small Orthodox Christian Monastery in the mountains of Northern California. The Monastery has been in existence for about 20 years and currently has ten members. Five years ago we acquired 300 acres of undeveloped land, which we have been developing since.

I am a monk of the Monastery and have a number of roles here: I handle most office work and am the business manager for our three business operations which help to support the monastery – an icon painting workshop, a greeting card business, and a fledgling olive farm and olive oil company. I also work in the icon painting studio as a painter, and oversee various aspects of the liturgical life.

How does your Monastery use information technology in general?

We use information technology very much like other people and businesses do: for accounting, e-mail correspondence, word processing, digital photography and audio, website design and sales, etc. Some of us here work with computers a lot, such as myself, whereas other monks never have the need to touch one – it just depends on our responsibilities and what the best tools to carry those out are.

Which products of ours do you use in your daily work, and how?

I use DEVONthink Pro. My use of DEVONthink is continually evolving but I use it essentially as a digital filing cabinet, a place to put clippings from the web, PDF files, notes I take, etc. I came across it while looking for an application to store web research I was doing for Monastery building projects. Because DEVONthink can handle so many file types, and has powerful organizational tools, I soon started putting a lot more into it than just web research. It is now the core repository for all digital information that I think I may need to reference again in the future.

How did you organize your work before you discovered our products?

By using the Finder mostly. I had no successful way to store my web research prior to DEVONthink. I had tried other applications, but found the interfaces cumbersome.

How large is your database? And what kind of data do you store?

By many user’s standards it is not very large. My database has over 3.6 million words in 378 groups. It is about 235MB and is made up mostly of RTFs, PDFs, images and HTML archives. The content is extremely varied, from files pertaining to the making of olive oil, to purchase receipts, to articles about fresco painting, to notes from phone conversations, to thousands of pages of liturgical texts.

Which application features do you value the most, and why do you like them?

First and foremost, the “Take Rich Note” service hot key, which I use all the time to quickly send selections of text from other applications into DEVONthink. The split views, so I can view a list of documents with their content in one window. Replicants, so I can file documents in multiple locations without duplicating. The Classify button, to help me quickly file documents away. And of course the Search feature so I can find and review information quickly.

Do you have developed usage strategies you want to share with your fellow users?

I use a “To Be Filed” folder and the Classify button for quicker filing: I have set the preferences and modified several of the import scripts to put all incoming material into a “To Be Filed” folder at the top level of my database. When it fills up I open the folder in vertical split view, then open the Classify drawer and from the top start filing each document to the appropriate place. I usually already know exactly where I want to file it, and the artificial intelligence functions of DEVONthink are smart enough that it almost always lists the group I want as one of the choices in the Classify drawer. This is a lot faster than dragging and dropping or any other method of filing I have found. I also make heavy use of replicants: for instance, for quicker retrieval of documents or projects I am currently working on I use replicants to keep documents and whole groups in a “Current Projects” folder at the top level of my database.

What don’t you like?

This is somewhat of a “hidden” aspect of DEVONthink, but the current set of import preferences and various ways of storing and interacting with the data I find is very confusing for most new users, and even many experienced ones. In my mind, this is currently the single most needed improvement to DEVONthink and one the developers say they are overhauling for version 2. In my opinion, the proposed changes will turn DEVONthink into a more mature application, one I will feel more comfortable recommending to others.

And finally: Which feature do you miss the most?

A more complete outlining feature. It doesn’t need to be fancy, but the current approach is extremely limited. I’d like to stay in DEVONthink for most of my outlining needs.

Father Moses, thank you very much for your time.