May 30, 2020

I may take a break from 35mm film

As much as I love using my old 35mm film cameras, I haven’t been enjoying film lately. I’m trying to figure out why that is.

My hunch is that I have grown impatient with the delay between shooting a frame and being able to see/print/share that frame. Having been under stay at home” instructions for months, I don’t have the creative gumption to shoot 36 frames around the house of the same people and things. It can take weeks to finish a roll, during which I lose interest.

The confusing thing is that although I’m finally set up for darkroom printing, I am only able to print from 35mm negatives. It doesn’t seem wise to get everything configured just right and then not use it, but here we are.

It’s not film itself that I’m uninterested in, but rather the long wait between exposure and print. To help with this I may limit myself to 120 and/or 4x5 formats. A roll of 120 in the Hasselblad is only 12 frames. And 4x5 is practically as fast as digital1.

The Hasselblads are fantastic, and have recently been CLA’d and work like butter. No problem there.

My 4x5 cameras are another story. The Speed Graphic has a light leak and the Crown Graphic (1947) is covered in gaffer tape, has no rangefinder, and is a beat up mess. This has me shopping for a Linhof or similar. Something more modern, less flakey.

90% of the time I shoot 4x5 on a tripod, but once in a while I do it handheld, which is silly. And yet, I often go back to the following photo. It was taken with the Speed Graphic, indoors, low-light, handheld. I love it. It’s sharp, has terrific dynamic range, and looks how I like my film photos to look. I want to make more of these.

Fusionary (2013). 4x5 Speed Graphic. HP5+Fusionary (2013). 4x5 Speed Graphic. HP5+

One thing about 4x5 is that I can still make prints if I don’t mind simple contact prints on 5x7 paper, like the print shown above.

  1. Well no, it’s not even close. What I mean is that I am able to expose a frame and develop it immediately. This removes the time waiting for a finished roll.

Photography Film 4x5
May 29, 2020

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.

Org-roam Emacs Roam
May 29, 2020

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.

Org-roam Emacs Org-mode
May 18, 2020

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.

May 12, 2020

When I was a smoker

Me smoking and looking impossibly cool (mid 1980s)Me smoking and looking impossibly cool (mid 1980s)

I was a smoker from 1983 until 1996. I loved smoking and I was good at it. I’ll probably start smoking again the minute lung transplants are an outpatient procedure.

It’s been so long since I smoked that I barely remember it. I hate to admit that what I do remember about smoking, I remember fondly. Except maybe the addiction part. It’s a wicked addiction. It took me at least a dozen serious attempts over several years to finally quit.

I failed many times at quitting. It would start with a night of chain smoking at a bar until all hours. I’d wake up hungover, cough a few times, and say, That’s it, I quit!” I’d last a day or three and then something I didn’t like would happen in my life. Maybe a girl dumped me. Maybe it was a rough day digging ditches (I worked for a trenching company). Anyway, something would happen and I’d sit in a gas station parking lot for 20 minutes before finally saying Fuck it” and buying a pack.

A girlfriend around that time allowed herself to smoke only on weekends. I envied her ability to regulate it like that, but I couldn’t do it. For me it was two packs a day or nothing.

I started out smoking Camel Lights, but that changed because of Don Johnson. Miami Vice was popular that year, and I tried pulling off wearing what I called Don Johnson outfits”. I mostly just looked stupid and I never heard the end of it from my friends.

Smoking in the motel room with some new friends during Spring Break (1985)Smoking in the motel room with some new friends during Spring Break (1985)

While in Florida during spring break in 1985, I was wearing one of those infamous outfits when my friend Wayne went out for cigarettes. Instead of my regular Camel Lights, he came back with non-filtered Lucky Strikes. You want to be Don Johnson so badly, here you go!”. (Johnson’s character smoked Lucky Strikes on the show.) I was drunk enough at the time so that the harsh draw of a non-filtered cigarette didn’t bother me. The next day I finished the pack, learned to love the harshness, and it was Lucky Strikes from then on.

In the 90s smoking started becoming less fun. Restaurants frowned on it until eventually they kicked us out for good. At one point I had a cubicle job in a confined office space and smoked all day right at my desk. How terrible that must have been for all the non-smokers. I still feel guilty about that. Once I started with Fusionary, I had to go outside to smoke. I’d become one of those people who stood shivering in the snow many times a day while enjoying” a cigarette. Gross. I finally gave them up out of frustration.

Smoking with Robin (1992)Smoking with Robin (1992)

The above photo of me and my ex-wife Robin may be the last record of me smoking. I plan on it staying that way

I joke about starting again, because I actually miss smoking. I really was good at it. I carried a Zippo and could do that flip-snap-light move with it. I loved the way I could use lighting a cigarette as a way to pause before answering a difficult or uncomfortable question. I loved coffee and cigarettes in the morning. And it’s true that smoking after sex is wonderful.

I’m old enough to have smoked on an airplane. My dad tells me that when I was born, they brought trays of cigarettes around to him in the hospital. In the hospital!

I miss smoking, but I hope I never do it again.

May 12, 2020

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 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.

  1. I’m using Org-journal for journaling with no intention to change that, although Day One waits eternally in the wings.

Notetaking Roam TiddlyWiki Emacs
May 11, 2020

Memex of a Matriarch - Violeta Kristof

Violeta Kristof:

I make a case for doing family caring as a nerdy enterprise. Nerdily and ambitiously aspiring to become a good matriarch, regardless of the moral case for it. And matriarchs need databases. I’m making mine, with Roam Research, to grow into the Memex of a Matriarch, an enlarged intimate supplement to [my] memory“.

Another interesting use of Roam

Roam Memex
April 30, 2020

Scanning film negatives with a digital camera

Scanning film negatives with a flatbed scanner is a pain. All scanning software sucks. Every one of them. Fidgeting with negative holders is a joyless, tedious drag. And the whole process is slow. So very slow.

I’ve been experimenting with scanning film using a digital camera. I’ve processed a few rolls this way and it’s working quite well. Here’s my setup:

They key to this is a combination of the MK1 Film Carrier and Negative Lab Pro.

The MK1 Film Carrier from Negative Supply makes quick work of scanning a full, uncut roll of 35mm film. I feed the roll into one end and turn the knob to reveal each frame in turn. The film is held nice and flat and it operates smoothly. I was part of the Kickstarter campaign so I didn’t pay the full price of $329, which is good because although the device is nicely designed and made from machined aluminum, that’s a lot of money for what it does.

Negative Lab Pro is a plugin for Lightroom Classic that handles conversion of the original Raw scans”. It’s really meant for color film scans, but I also use it for black and white. I originally used it for processing color negative film scans from the Epson scanner and it did such a great job with those that it became an integral part of my workflow. It even adds a metadata section to Lightroom for adding Exif data like camera make, model, lens, film stock, etc to each frame. This is very handy and replaces my command line version which I frequently forgot to run anyway. I don’t use Lightroom for my normal Raw processing, but I keep it around just for NLP.

The other components of this new scanning workflow are a small lightbox, a Fuji X-T3 with the 7Artisans 60mm Macro lens, a copy stand, and Capture One Pro.

The 7Artisans lens was a cheap Macro option for the Fuji and it works fine. Capture One Pro does a great job at tethered capture so I can make sure focus and framing are spot on for each frame as I work through the roll.

This method of scanning a roll of 35mm film is fast! I used to have a Pakon scanner that was even faster and easier at the actual scanning process, but was expensive, unsupported, cumbersome to get working, and required that I maintain an old Windows XP laptop.

My new digital film scanning process looks like this:

  1. Feed the film into the MK1 and check focus
  2. Use Capture One Pro on the tethered MacBook Pro to capture a frame
  3. Advance the film to the next frame and repeat
  4. Import the scans” into Lightroom
  5. Crop and rotate the first scan, then copy and paste those adjustments to all remaining frames
  6. Select all scans and open Negative Lab Pro
  7. Convert and save TIFF copies

This entire process takes maybe 15 minutes and the results look good to me.

Photography Analog Film
April 26, 2020

No excuses not to create something

Tools at the ready…unusedTools at the ready…unused

I have never been an artist, but I used to at least create things. I would draw, paint, write, photograph, you name it. None of these things have been happening lately and I’m not sure why.

Maybe it’s because when I was young I imagined that I might actually be (or become) good at something. Now, I know better. I am at least capable of advanced mediocrity on a good day, but that’s about it. Still, this shouldn’t be an excuse for doing nothing instead. Shitty art is still art. And all the better if it’s my shitty art, no?

Boredom may also be a factor. With a computer and an internet connection I never feel bored and that’s a shame. I used to do things when I got bored. Now I just keep clicking shit, knowing I’ll soon find something to distract me.

And it’s not like I don’t have time while sequestered. I have time. What I don’t have are valid excuses for not doing anything remotely creative.

So I’ve put drawing and painting tools right out on my desk…immediately available. I have no excuse not to use them.

April 20, 2020

TiddlyBlink on Glitch

Tom Critchlow:

While Anne-Laure’s post walks through how to self-host or set up a local instance easily none of the web options for TiddlyWiki seemed very satisfying so I went fiddling… I quickly discovered this excellent TiddlyWiki reference project on Glitch from Thomas Elmiger. So all I did was remix this project - install TiddlyBlink and hey presto it works out of the box!

He’s right, it does work right out of the box. I made this in 2 minutes…

It requires authentication in order to edit anything, but allows for anonymous access otherwise. An ideal configuration for a public hosted wiki with next-to-zero setup. It’s stock TiddlyWiki with the Roam-like backlinking features of TiddlyBlink pre-installed.

I should spend more time in Glitch.

TiddlyWiki Glitch