Posted in: General

Thinking about keeping Daily Notes here

Here’s what I’ve been thinking.

You may have noticed that my Rudimentary Lathe wiki has evolved into a blog. 90% of new content is simply added to that day’s “Journal” entry. It got me thinking again about consolidation. I mean, I have a blog, right? You’re reading it now. I wonder if it’s possible to create Daily Notes posts right here instead.

The trick is that there’s an RSS feed, and the day’s post would show up in the feed as soon as it’s first published. Not ideal. I don’t actually want the daily posts to show up in the main feed at all, so I suppose I’d need to categorize them and exclude them from the feed.

I also want today’s post to be “pinned” to the top, even if I add other posts that day.

Ideally, the Daily Notes post would be a collection of microblog posts, collected into one entry. Somehow. That should allow for permalinks to be created for each microblog post in addition to the one for the enclosing post. This is secondary, but feels important enough to consider.

The best example of what I’m looking for is Dave Winer’s http://scripting.com. Also see Colin’s blog. And to a lesser degree, my wiki.

I’m running this site on WordPress (again) now so I’m betting this is all possible. Just need to find the energy to try it.

Posted in: General

I’m an RSS Spammer now

The few of you subscribed to copingmechanism.com via RSS probably saw a bunch of duplicate posts fly by today. I apologize for that. I changed the blog software again.

TL;DR this site is now back on WordPress.

I know, I know, but I was hit by a strong bout of Text File Fatigue this week. That, combined with growing tired of swimming upstream all the time, made me decide to go with the flow and fire up a copy of WordPress. It’s not a long story, but you’ve heard it before so I’ll just stop there and say that I’m sorry for the annoying RSS noise…again.

Sorry for the RSS noise

Posted in: General

Org-roam vs other Roam-alikes

As you probably know, I struggle with where to keep my notes. For a few months now it’s been a battle between Org-roam and Roam. Org-roam has been in the lead, mostly due to Roam being unstable and (soon to be) expensive. Also, my infatuation with Org mode is on again.

Using Emacs takes work on my part. It takes mental energy. I’m nearly always OK with that, because Emacs has Org mode and Org mode beats everything at what it does. On the other hand, sometimes I’m lazy or tired. I just want to lean back and point-and-click my way around. That’s not how Emacs works. I wrote earlier that, “Getting to a link I have stored in Org-roam takes me about five seconds longer than the same link in Roam.” In other words, Emacs with Org mode (and by extension, Org-roam) is better, but it’s a lot harder.

Yesterday, I tried the Roam-alike, Obsidian. Obsidian could be, for me, a viable replacement for Roam. It looks good, has all the necessary features, uses local storage only (by default), and is based on Markdown. I played with it for only a couple hours, but I really liked it. It’s easy! Well, crap. Now what?

I took a breath and thought about it. Honestly, Obsidian shifted the battle lines. Now, it’s Org-roam vs Obsidian. I can live without block-level transclusion and queries in Roam. I can, reluctantly, live without an outliner. I can certainly live without founders I’m uncomfortable with.

But, I don’t think I can live without Org mode. My ~/org directory has everything. It’s not just my notes repository. It’s my Journal, my todo list, my authoring environment, my reference manager, my time tracker, my PDF viewer/annotator, and sometimes my email and RSS client. I love the idea that I can ripgrep in ~/org and find anything. I love that everything always behaves the same way (bindings, editing, file handling, etc.). I love that it’s all local and free and is more likely than any of the alternatives to be around for decades.

Yes, Emacs can be difficult and frustrating. It is a tweaker’s dream and at the same time can be a nightmare for someone trying to just be productive. This is crazy-making if you’re both of those people.

So right now, Roam and the other Roam-alikes will have to sit on the sidelines. I’m writing this on Friday, May 29, 2020. Just making a note.

Posted in: General

Keeping Org-roam Daily Notes in a separate folder

Org-roam continues to impress.

I use org-roam’s “Daily Notes” feature every day as a frictionless place to put notes that may or may not need to be moved or otherwise dealt with later. It’s the Org-roam version of a similar feature in Roam.

One thing about it I didn’t care for was that the Daily Notes .org files were starting to pile up in the root of my ~/org directory.

Most of the time, file names and locations do not matter in org-roam. Everything is easy to find/browse right in Emacs. There are times, however, when I’m poking around in my org files using Dropbox or the Finder. All those daily files started getting in the way, so I decided to try moving them into their own ~/org/dailies/ folder.

Trouble was, the way I get to or create daily files is by using org-roam-dailies-today and that function creates the file in the root org-roam-directory folder. I asked about the possibility of a new setting for where to store dailies, but it turns out that the capability is already in org-roam with org-roam-dailies-capture-templates. This is an org-roam specific version of the org-capture-templates feature. Jethro helpfully sent me the following snippet for my config:

(setq org-roam-dailies-capture-templates '(("d" "daily" plain (function org-roam-capture--get-point) ""
                                            :immediate-finish t
                                            :file-name "dailies/%<%Y-%m-%d>"
                                            :head "#+TITLE: %<%Y-%m-%d>")))

And poof! new daily notes files are created in ~/org/dailies.

But what to do about the 3-months worth of existing files? They are full of links to other org files and those are all relative to the root ~/org directory. Moving them would break all those links. I had seen some comments about proper link handling when files are moved using dired, so I tried that. I fired up dired, marked all the daily notes files using %m2020-, and moved them to ~/org/dailies. I then deleted the org-roam.db database and ran org-roam-db-build-cache and guess what, all of the links and backlinks were updated and everything worked.

Now, all my “dailies” files are nicely tucked away in their own folder.

So cool.

Posted in: General

Part One of My Battles with Emacs – macosxguru

macosxguru on learning Emacs:

There was no good reason to do this. Absolutely no damn reason.

and a little later…

Like I said. This was a bad idea.

But then…

I am learning. I am having fun. Also tearing my remaining hair out. Frustration is a part of the learning curve. It is the most geeky thing I have attempted and the little successes add a tremendous amount of pleasure to my quarantined soul. This series is going to be continued…

I’m looking forward to it.

Posted in: General

Take lots of notes – but where?

Once again, I am struggling with the decision on where to take notes. I apologize for making you sit through yet another round of this navel-gazing process, but I need to type it out. It helps me think.

Let’s, for the moment, ignore journaling 1 and consider only the current contenders for my “Second Brain”, or “Personal Knowledge Management System”, or even “Zettelkasten” if we’re feeling fancy and want to abuse the term a little.

The contenders for my PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) system are:

All three tools work well for PKM. All three handle backlinks. All three are terrifically searchable. So, which to choose?

My current though is that Roam is the easiest, cleanest, fastest way to keep a PKM.

  • Daily Notes pages are a terrific way to reduce friction when I need to just write something down and scrolling through recent Daily Notes can trigger new thoughts
  • Outlines are awesome
  • Block level references and transclusion are killer for surfacing and reusing existing notes
  • Search results are pretty
  • Shift-clicking a link to view it side-by-side with the current note is a great way to keep an eye on different things at the same time.
  • Backlink context is precise (block-level) and is filterable
  • Fancy query syntax may be useful one day, even if a bit fidgety.
  • It’s easy to embed images and PDFs
  • Creating links and new pages could not be simpler or faster

But I have issues with Roam

  • It’s terribly unstable right now. This, I’m sure, is a diminishing problem, but data loss is unacceptible.
  • It’s cloud-first and in a format not immediately accessible
  • I’m not a privacy wonk, but I pay attention and Roam isn’t the greatest option when privacy is a concern.
  • The author can come across as a bit of a too-cocky know-it-all and has terrible bedside manner. That in itself isn’t a deal breaker, and he’s a smart guy with a vision, but I’m concerned that our cultures may clash.
  • I don’t want a shared, multi-user PKM linked or editable with others. I worry that the authors are heading that way. Again, culture clash.
  • $15/month is pricey for a note-taking tool. (Even a great note-taking tool)
  • Future-proofing it is going to be a challenge. There are exports, but still.

What about Org-roam?

Org-roam is what I want to use for everything.

  • Daily notes are included. Not automatically, but it’s easy enough.
  • Umm, it’s Org mode, which is the greatest thing ever for notes, writing, tasks, publishing, everything.
  • And since it’s Emacs, all of it can potentially be tweaked to my liking.
  • The entire thing can be managed in Git with complete version history
  • Plain text is hard to beat as a future-proof format. Some might argue that it’s not technically “plain” text but if I can open and read it easily in, say Vim or BBEdit, it’s plain text.
  • It leverages my existing tools, namely, Emacs. The same editing tools, bindings, etc are all there.
  • The community feels smart without sounding like it’s trying too hard to sound smart.
  • The authors “think” like I do. Without presuming to read minds, I feel like our goals are aligned.
  • I could easily generate a website from content in my database, where I of a mind to.

So what’s the problem with Org-roam then?

  • Even though it’s all plain text, it’s text that’s much less useful outside of Emacs. I worry about depending on Emacs for the rest of my life. I may anyway, but what if I don’t?
  • It’s harder for me to use. I consider myself fairly well-versed in Emacs, but I still stumble over key chords and window/buffer management. There’s friction in dealing with the system.
  • I can’t use it on the iPad. I don’t want to jump through the hoops it would require. I don’t live on the iPad, but I do use it and I currently jot things down in Drafts and paste into Emacs when I’m back at the computer.
  • Org mode can be used as an outliner, and while it’s pretty fancy, it’s hard to use as an outliner (compared to, say, Roam)
  • Notes in Emacs aren’t pretty, making them harder (or maybe just less fun) to read.
  • Viewing multiple notes at once is challenging. This is probably due to how Emacs windowing is configured, but still.
  • I like to scroll back and look at prior days. This isn’t easy in Org-roam.

And then, there’s TiddlyWiki.

  • All my notes live in a single, future-safe HTML file. Easy to back up, share, version, etc.
  • Speaking of sharing, I can simply email a copy of a TiddlyWiki file to anyone and they have everything, and can do with it as they wish. Or I can drop it on a web server, making it available to everyone. See mine at rudimentarylathe.org for example.
  • The TiddlyWiki community is friendly, helpful, and resourceful
  • The notes look good. Each tiddler stands alone.
  • The “story river” makes side-by-side viewing of notes easy (although technically it’s over-and-under :))
  • Linking and backlinking are easy and flexible.
  • TiddlyWiki is like Emacs, in that it’s sort of written in itself. There’s no end of ways to tweak it.

Are there downsides to TiddlyWiki?

  • I have to use specific tools (e.g. Firefox with the Timimi extension) for editing the HTML file. Saving is a pain otherwise.
  • A few plugins are required to get the Roam-like features.
  • The editing/writing experience isn’t great, which is a significant drawback for a note-taking tool.

Where does this leave me?

I wish I had a final answer, but I don’t. That’s why we’re here today. There are two decisions that need to be made.

  • Do I use Org-roam or Roam for my PKM/Zettelkasten/Second Brain?
  • How do I decide what goes in the PKM and what goes into my wiki?

You’ll notice that the above questions imply that I’ll be continuing to use both TiddlyWiki and the winner of the Roam vs Org-roam decision. I don’t see a path to getting it down to just one tool.

The PKM is for ideas, notes, acquired knowledge, and CRM. TiddlyWiki is for work notes and publishing my wiki. I used to feel that everything, including personal and work notes, belonged in the PKM but I’m beginning to think that’s not a good idea. While they overlap, work notes are more of an event log and have a specific life span. The PKM contains evergreen notes so the requirements are slightly different. At least I think of them differently, and separating them feels right.

As for deciding which notes go where, I’m afraid that will always be a struggle for me. Currently I’m putting the thin version of topics into TiddlyWiki but they’re fleshed out more thoroughly in the PKM system. I’m not sure this is sustainable, but I do think having a lot of this stuff out in my public wiki is useful.

I’ll keep you posted. Thanks for letting me think this through.

Posted in: General

Curio 14 public beta

Curio is one of the nicest, best-looking, useful, and thoughtful apps I’ve used. George, the developer, is insanely responsive and helpful.

I started using Curio in 2006 and never stopped for more than a month or two at a time. Here’s why I sometimes stop using Curio:

  • I think I’ll be going all-in with the iPad (there’s no Curio for iOS)
  • I decide that plain-text only is the way to go
  • What if I switch to Linux?

I come back each time because Curio is so good. It’s just so damn pleasant to use. I’ll open a Curio document I created for some project from years earlier and after just a few seconds I am able to wrap my head around everything related to the project. It’s all about the free-form visual layout. No matter how much I want to just write everything down in, say, Emacs, I end up admitting that I’m a visual thinker. Curio excels for people like me.

There’s a public beta of Curio 14, so of course I’m trying it. Version 14’s tentpole features most interesting to me are “Journal” and “Auto scoot”. The Journal is just a handy way of creating a date-based tree of idea spaces with specific templates. Here’s what one of the built-in templates looks like.

Curio’s Creative Planner journal template

Or there’s the “Meeting” template

Curio’s Meeting journal template

Of course these can be customized as desired, and they are still idea spaces that can be used like any other in Curio. I’m looking forward to giving the journaling features a spin.

The other feature I’m excited about is called “Auto scoot”, which I must admit is an adorable name. If I have a text or other expandable object in a space, and there are other objects below the text object, those objects below will automatically move (scoot) down and out of the way. This sounds minor, but is kind of a big dea.

Curio 14, as with every update, contains dozens of thoughtful and useful new features and tweaks.

Check out the Release notes.

Posted in: General

My wiki is more Roam-like thanks to TiddlyBlink

I’ve finally gone and added TiddlyBlink’s modifications to my TiddlyWiki-based wiki at rudimentarylathe.org. This gives me a little of the automatic backlinking functionality of Roam but in TiddlyWiki

This was inspired by Getting started with TiddlyWiki: a beginner’s tutorial. I’m not a complete beginner, but seeing TiddlyBlink’s use mentioned in the context of “getting started” made me feel a little more comfortable trying it.

One of the cool things about TiddlyWiki is that content and feature enhancements can be installed by simply dragging and dropping from another wiki, right in the browser. To install TiddlyBlink, I dragged the tb tag from the TiddlyBlink sample into my wiki and clicked “Import”. This brought in a couple dozen custom tiddlers and I immediately had all the features of TiddlyBlink and more.

It’s the “…and more” part that caused a bit of trouble. A few of my own customizations were overwritten, such as…

  • Default Journal tiddler titles was changed to YYYY-0MM / 0DD / 0hh:0mm:0ss / which is just way too long for me. I changed it back to DDD, MMM DD, YYYY since I only create one Journal entry per day. My default regular tiddler title is set to <<now "YYYY.0MM.0DD">> - which I prefer.
  • The styles were changed to an inverse of the grey vs white of my theme. Changed it back to “vanilla”
  • Default tiddlers shown in the Story River was changed to [[TiddlyBlink home]]. Nope, I had mine set the way I like it for a reason.
  • Lots of toolbar items were changed and had to be reverted.
  • Story View setting was changed to “zoomin”, which I don’t like. Changed it back to “classic”

For someone starting fresh, the above changes are probably beneficial. For me, they were invasive. Not a huge deal. I spent maybe 20 minutes finding and fixing them.

A few benefits that came along with TiddlyBlink were…

  • Automatic linking when typing [[. This is helpful, and makes linking feel more like Roam.
  • A different tiddler can be shown in the sidebar, for side-by-side comparision. Not nearly has handy or easy as the way Roam does it, but it could come in handy.
  • Handles sources when tagged properly. Have to play with this.

I’ll need to tinker with all this to see how (or if) in improves things.

Posted in: General

I’ll be using Org-roam for the time being

It’s been a challenging week for me using Roam. For the past several days my Roam database simply wouldn’t load. I’d see the spinning Astrolabe forever. Deleting the site data in my browser and restarting would help for a time, but then it would happen again.

What I’ve come to learn is that I need my Roam database available to me all the time. I understand that Roam is still in beta, but here we are.

While I wait for Roam to figure things out, I’m back to using Org-roam. This means that I’m dependent upon Emacs for useful notes, and I was trying to avoid that, but at least I can get at my notes were something to break. You know, text files and all that.

I prefer “real” Roam, but Org-roam is pretty great, and is improving so fast it’s hard to keep up with it. Of course Org mode is just so good anyway. Oh, and it’s stable, so it’s got that going for it.

Posted in: General

Thoughts vs Records

UPDATE: After writing this I realized what a jumbled mess it became. I’m posting it anyway because it really is intended as a way for me to think this through. I apologize for the rambling you’re about to be subjected to.

I work mostly with two kinds of notes: Thoughts and Records. 

Thoughts are meant to be used as raw materials for new thoughts. Records are for logging events. Thoughts are most useful right now, but will also be used in the future. Records are only useful in the future. Thoughts work better as easy, visual notes. Records can be kept in a simple, permanent, plain-text format. 

The difference here is that Thoughts should of course be as permanent as possible, but permanence is not their defining feature. Permanence is secondary to usefulness. 

I struggle with note-taking tools because I always want it both ways. Bear with me while I think this through.

Here are the kinds things I write down. Of these, some are Thoughts and some are Records:

  • What happened today? (Record)
  • How am I feeling? (Record)
  • Purchases (Record)
  • Plans or ideas for the future (Thought)
  • Project notes (Thought/Record)
  • Notes about people (Thought/Record)
  • Events related to people (Record)
  • Notes on various topics (Thought)

Thoughts don’t work for me as a wall of plain text (Markdown, Org mode, etc). For example, while project notes usually contain Records, they are mostly Thoughts. I need to see them, sometimes one at a time and sometimes all at once. Ideally, I’m able to easily rearrange them. This is where plain text falls short. A bunch of short, specific notes (ala Zettelkasten) can be useful when kept as a folder full of Markdown files, but they don’t help me think. They don’t as often spark new ideas. I don’t learn as well. I become fatigued. They’re not as fun, you know?

Records, on the other hand, excel as plain text. I have text files that just keep growing with year after year of “Here’s what happened” notes. If I need to know when I last had a cold, a quick search and I’m done. And I know I’ll be able to look this up in 10 years if I need to. There’s no specific app needed. That’s comforting.

How does this relate to tools? Well now that’s the question, isn’t it? It’s the thing that causes me to waste inordinate amounts of time.

What about permanence?

Text files are permanent. They work with any OS and just about any app that deals in text. They’re easy to back up, version control, and manage using only the operating system’s file manager. They’re great! But, as I’ve described above, they aren’t as immediately useful for Thoughts.

So what formats or apps are most useful for keeping and managing Thoughts? Here are my favorites: CurioTinderboxRoamTheBrain.

I can open an area or document from any of those and quickly get a handle on everything about that topic that I’ve written. This is terrific and useful. But, how permanent are they? That depends on your definition of permanent. None of them are permanent in the their current form if the app goes away, but all of them can be exported to a format that I can use to find information using other tools if I had to.

All of this is great, but it means I should use different apps for Thoughts vs Records. I don’t want to do that. I want the One True Place™ for notes. If I prioritize permanance, that would mean Org mode or maybe Markdown text files. If I prioritize usefulness I’d want to use one of the others.

Do any of them work for everything?

Right now I’m going out on a limb and putting my money on Roam. Here’s why:

  • Roam is designed as a place for everything. It works for both Thoughts and Records. It works very well for Thoughts.
  • It’s browser-based so accessible from any device by default. Mobile app will come, but I’m not in a hurry for that. Roam’s author, Conor White-Sullivan, is not a fan of using mobile apps for writing or thinking, and neither am I, so we’re aligned there.
  • Everything is easily exported to JSON or Markdown. Currently, neither of these formats are very useful, but I expect tools to be written that will do magical things with the JSON export.
  • Some open source version of this will probably be released and I could potentially self-host, which would alleviate my privacy concerns.
  • It’s said that they’ll be charging $12-$15 per month once it’s out of beta. That’s expensive, but could help with sustainability.
  • Lots of very smart people are into Roam, and doing cool things with it.

Roam needs offline support, an API, and lots of refinements. I expect those to appear over time.

What about Org-roam? Org-roam is a fantastic pseudo Roam that leverages Emacs and Org mode. It’s very good and has been neck-and-neck with “real” Roam recently. The difference is that “real” Roam is simply easier to use and better at being Roam than Org-roam is. 

So Roam wins this round of me searching for a “Second Brain”