Posted in: Technology/Software

A quick tour of my Tinderbox Daybook

I’ve been keeping a “Daybook” using Tinderbox since at least 2008. My Daybook is basically a collection of outlines and notes. Here’s a quick overview.

The main sections are:

  • Daybook – This is a daily log/journal, organized by month
  • Meal Log – I log what I eat, when, the type of meal, and a quality score
  • Media Log – I record books read and movies watched
  • Weight log – Most days I enter my weight.

At the end of each month I export the Daybook outline for the month as Markdown, which I also then convert to PDF and print. From there it gets punched and put into a 3-ring binder.

There’s a simple dashboard “Map” view showing aggregate metrics.

Tinderbox lets me add any metadata I want to notes. For example, the Media Log contains the following:

  • StartDate – When I started a book or watched a film
  • EndDate – When I finished a book or film
  • Rating – I rate things on a scale with 1 (I didn’t care for it), 2 (It was fine), and 3 (I enjoyed it)
  • Media Type – Currently this is either Book or Movie. I thought would include Podcast and TV but have not done that
  • URL – Usually a link to Goodreads or Letterboxd
  • Authors – Book author
  • BookTitle – Full title of the book
  • PublicationYear – Year of release
  • ISBN – for books
  • Genre – Fiction or Non-fiction

Outline titles can show not only the note’s title, but any other metadata as well.

The thing about all this is that with minimal input, I can get all sorts of interesting output and insights. I’ve tried other ways of keeping a Daybook like this but nothing has come close to the utility and flexibility of Tinderbox.

Posted in: Hardware

Why do I try so hard to use an iPad for everything?

I’ve been trying very hard to adopt the iPad as a tool for Serious Work since at least 2013.

I’m not sure why.

It probably started when Federico Viticci (@viticci) started writing about switching to using an iPad only. He claimed to love, and actually prefer it, even though his posts were full of ways he’d learned to work around shortcomings in iOS and how everything was “fine”. Still, it sounded fun.

Many people seem to get along well with only an iPad. I envy them, but why? I’m not at all unhappy with having a desktop Mac or two, and a Macbook or Air or whatever’s relatively portable. What’s the rush?

I’ve had several iPads, starting with the original in 2010. I now have the latest 12.9″ iPad Pro and it’s a wonderful, powerful, beautiful machine.

But…

It’s not a viable full-time device for me. Here’s why1.

The iPad doesn’t multi-task well. “Yes it does!” you exclaim. No, it doesn’t. Not really. What it does is pretend to multi-task by letting me glue two apps side-by-side. That doesn’t count, unless your definition of multi-tasking is quite different than mine.

There’s no terminal. I don’t enjoy working on a device that doesn’t offer me a reasonable set of tools available using the command line.

I want a filesystem. I know, we’re supposed to be in a post-files era, but I’m not ready for that yet. Sending files between apps has gotten better, but it’s still awkward, slow, and inconsistent. Having to import photos from a card reader into one specific app just to get them where I wanted them in the first place is crazy-making.

The software I rely on isn’t available on iOS. Software such as…

  • Tinderbox. There is nothing like Tinderbox, anywhere, on any platform. Tinderbox alone is enough to keep me forever on macOS.
  • Capture One Pro. After flirting with Capture One several times over the years, I finally went all-in last year and it’s fantastic. Why would I want something so much less capable just so I can use an iPad? I wouldn’t.
  • BBEdit. There are some nice, surprisingly powerful text editors on iOS, but they’re nothing like BBEdit. (or VS Code, or Atom, or Vim, or Emacs, or…) for dealing with text.
  • DEVONthink. Yes, there’s DEVONthink To Go, which is nice and I rely on it on the iPad, but mostly as a way to get at the stuff I put into the macOS version. I use templates and AI and scripts all over the place in DEVONthink Pro. I would be worse off without them.

It’s not all bad, of course. I really love my new iPad. Here’s why.

Taking meeting notes and annotating PDFs with the Apple Pencil is fantastic. Once I learned to use Notability and LiquidText on the iPad, I’d never want to go back to doing those things on my Mac.

Photo retouching is more fun on a touch screen. I know I said that I rely on Capture One for processing photos, but for actually retouching them, the Pencil and fingers make great tools. I’m looking forward to doing more of it, but until there’s a way that I can reasonably manage photos on the iPad, retouching them there will be more work than it should be.

I’m doing a little drawing with Procreate. I have a soft spot for real sketchbooks and pencils, but the ability to freely experiment digitally is pretty great, especially since I’m not very good at drawing.

The iPad is great when I just want to go somewhere and write something. Calling the iPad “distraction-free” isn’t accurate. I’m always just a gesture away from many of the same distractions available on the Mac, but it’s just a little harder to get to them. On my Mac’s 27-inch screen I can often see three or four app windows at the same time2. One of them is bound to hold something I can use to keep me from doing whatever it is I’m supposed to be doing. The barriers to multi-tasking on the iPad make for a “distraction-reduced” environment. And a darn fine environment at that.

All this to say that for me to do the things I want to do on a computer, the way that I want to do them, I still prefer using a Mac. The number of things I prefer doing on the iPad continues to increase, and some day it may reach a tipping point. Today, though, I’ll continue using both devices for the things each is best at. There’s no reason to push so hard at switching. It doesn’t have to be one or the other. I’m not sure why I find it hard to remember that.

Posted in: General

First impressions of the Kobo Forma eReader

I tend to try each new generation of Kindle from Amazon and that remained true with the newest model, the 7″ Oasis.

I don’t love the Oasis. Its metallic finish feels cold in hand. And sharp, somehow. I do like the larger 7″ screen. It has hardware buttons for turning pages, which is a requirement for me.

I don’t have strongly negative feelings about buying from Amazon other than they’ve gotten a little big for their britches.

Lately, I have been buying “real” books from local independent bookstores and that feels good, so I started looking at non-Amazon eReader options. The only viable choice looked to be the Kobo series, so I bought a Forma.

I’ve been using the Forma for about a week and here’s a quick list of my first impressions, comparing it to the Kindle Oasis.

Pros

  • I like the large, 8″ screen
  • It’s quite comfortable to hold
  • Landscape mode is interesting, but I’ve only used it a short time
  • It makes me feel good buying books from someone (anyone) other than Amazon
  • Library support (via Overdrive, but of course my library doesn’t use Overdrive, so I can’t test this)
  • I didn’t have to pay to remove ads (at least directly)

Cons

  • It feels a little cheap (Could be the price I pay for non-metallic finish?)
  • It’s quite expensive, which is emphasized by its cheap-ish feel
  • The hardware buttons are “mushy”. The power button is especially finicky to use
  • Hardware buttons are too far apart. I have to reach to hit the top one.
  • No Goodreads integration
  • Discovery in the Kobo bookstore isn’t nearly as easy as on Amazon

I’ve read two books so far, and my overall impression is positive, but I’m not sure if I’ll stick with it or pass it on and return to the Oasis.

Posted in: General

TiddlyWiki

I’m infatuated with TiddlyWiki again. I’ve tried it a few times over the years, but it’s never stuck. One reason was that TiddlyWiki is a single, self-contained html file, and Safari has trouble saving itself to the file system. In order to save the thing I had to basically do a “Save As…” each time. Too much friction there.

Another snag has been that it’s kind of weird. Not weird in a bad way, but weird in a ‘what do I do with this thing?’ way.

A week or so ago I decided to dive back in. The first thing I learned is that TiddlyWiki can be run as a Node app. This means that each “tiddler” is stored separately as a plain text file.

So something like:

npm install -g tiddlywiki
tiddlywiki mywiki --init server
tiddlywiki mywiki --server

Visited http://127.0.0.1:8080/ in a browser and I was off and running. That solved the Safari problem. It also makes it possible to edit the wiki using whatever my favorite text editor is this week, if I were so inclined.

Getting over the strangeness of TiddlyWiki has been a matter of jumping in and using it. I’ve been thinking of TiddlyWiki as a Zettelkasten1, and each tiddler as a “zettel”. This has helped frame things in a way that makes sense to me. Each tiddler represents a single topic or thought or idea.

I’m not sure how far I’d take TiddlyWiki as a Zettelkastan, though. If I were thinking of building a long-term Zettelkastan, I’d probably use something like The Archive.

The other thing I’m learning is that TiddlyWiki is more powerful than a casual look would indicate. Macros, plugins, filters, etc. allow all sorts of custom behavior. I’ve only scratched the surface.

So for fun, I’m occasionally entering stuff in a local wiki, saving the file, and publishing the result at http://wiki.baty.net/. I do this with a small Makefile that looks something like this2

PUBLIC_DIR=output/
SERVER_HOST=static.baty.net
SERVER_DIR=/home/jbaty/apps/wiki
TARGET=Static

deploy: commit push
    @echo "3[0;32mDeploying updates to $(TARGET)...3[0m"
    mv ~/Downloads/Jack\ Baty\'s\ Wiki.html ~/Downloads/tiddlywiki.html
    rsync -v -rz --checksum --delete --no-perms ~/Downloads/tiddlywiki.html $(SERVER_HOST):$(SERVER_DIR)


build: clean

    @echo "3[0;32mBuilding site...3[0m"
    tiddlywiki ./ --render "[!is[system]]" "[encodeuricomponent[]addprefix[output/]addsuffix[.html]]"

commit:
    git add -A
    git commit -m "Build wiki `date`"

push:
    git push origin master

clean:
    rm -rf $(PUBLIC_DIR)

.FORCE:

TiddlyWiki is fun to play with, but I don’t know yet whether I’ll ever use it consistently. So far it feels like I’m using it to write a blog, and the last thing I need is another blog. Still, it has potential.

Posted in: Life

How about dinner?

My ex-wife passed away recently. We’d been divorced for many years and haven’t kept in touch, but we share a daughter, so we never completely lost contact.

While going through her mom’s things, my daughter found the sign that started our whole relationship. I was working construction in her neighborhood at the time. She would drive by a few times a day and we’d make eye contact. Eventually, I gathered all the courage I could muster, wrote “HOW ABOUT DINNER” on the back of a blueprint, and held it up as she drove by. She stopped, and the rest is history.