Posted in: Technology/Software

Iceberg editor for WordPress

When using WordPress, I often use a separate app for writing, editing and publishing posts. This can be anything from MarsEdit, iA Writer, Ulysses, or even Emacs. I prefer writing in a nice editor, preferably in Markdown. In fact, when using a statically-rendered blog engine such as Hugo or Blot, I must use a separate editor.

I switched from a static publishing system back to WordPress for this blog because I prefer being able to edit posts right where I’m reading. In other words, if I’m reading something and want to amend it or fix a typo, I can simply click the “Edit” link, make the change, and click “Update”. With a static generator I first need to find and open the post locally, make the change, and republish. There are convoluted ways to make this easier, but then that doesn’t really make things easier.

What I dislike about editing in WordPress is the Gutenberg editor. Actually, Gutenberg isn’t bad. Block editing can be quite handy when adding images, quotes, formatting, etc. But for just dumping words into a post, Gutenberg gets in the way. Writing in Gutenberg doesn’t feel good.

This is where Iceberg comes in.

Iceberg is a beautiful, flexible writing editor for crafting posts with the WordPress block editor.

Iceberg allows you to write within the WordPress block editor in a way that feels much more natural than working with “blocks”. Our goal is not to remove blocks, but rather to deemphasize them – and any non-essential elements within the editor – to promote a focus on writing.

Here’s what Iceberg looks like for me editing this post right now…

Not bad, right?

The important difference between Iceberg and external editors is that it is actually using Gutenberg’s block editor underneath. It just hides it away. This means I can use the available slash “/” commands when needed, but the rest of the time I’m in a much more pleasant environment than the default WordPress UI.

Iceberg is a WordPress plugin and costs $49. I’ve been investing in my writing, publishing, note-taking setup lately, so I was OK paying what seems like a lot for something like this. I’m writing this post with it, and enjoying it.

Posted in: Technology/Software

So, I went with Roam Research and am a True Believer

I discovered Roam in December, 2019 and thought, “Wow! This is exactly the thing I’ve been looking for” even though it was buggy, less than pretty, and still too new to count on. And yet, the more I dug in, the more I liked it. I remember telling people that “this thing pays dividends on your notes!” I’d finally found the ultimate tool for my Personal Knowledge Management System. (I don’t call it a “Zettelkasten” for two reasons. First, the way I use Roam isn’t really as a Zettelkasten. Second, I can’t help but think that Zettelkasten is kind of a show-off word so it puts me off.)

Then I heard they were going to charge $30/month for the privilege of using Roam and, although I would be able to pay, it made me pause. I got over the “But you don’t own your data!” problem, but $30/month for the rest of my life made me twitchy.

At the time, the only real contender for me was TiddlyWiki. I love TiddlyWiki. It’s what made my Rudimentary Lathe wiki possible (and fun). TiddlyWiki does transclusion, can do backlinking, is a single HTML file that I control. And not long after Roam started making waves, TiddlyWiki fans started improving TiddlyWiki to emulate some of Roam’s most notable features. We ended up with Stroll, and it’s very nice. I didn’t see using it for everything the way I planned to with Roam. I don’t know why, really. Just a feeling. So, I kept looking.

Until Roam came along, I took most of my notes in one of two places, TheBrain and Org mode. Org mode kicks the ass of everything else for general note-taking, text processing, task management, you name it. But after a few weeks with Roam, I’m no longer interested in writing notes in anything that doesn’t include bi-directional links. Backlinking is key, this is why I’ve loved TheBrain for so long. That’s all it does (ok, not true, but it’s what it does best). But I dislike taking notes in TheBrain, and I never really get into the flow. There’s a lot of friction getting stuff into TheBrain. This is why I’d link stuff with TheBrain but would take notes in Org mode. Not ideal.

Suddenly, Jethro Kuan created Org-roam. Now we were talking! Org mode with terrific backlink support, titles rather than file names, aliases, never-ending customization options, and a solid database cache behind it all. It’s so very good. But, it means I’ve got to use Emacs. I love Emacs, but I tire of the mental overhead it causes me. I wasn’t sure that I wanted my “Second Brain” to be stuck in an editor that often hurts my first brain. And as great and powerful as the org-mode format is, Markdown is easier, ubiquitous, and works with just about every modern editor. I felt myself wishing Org-roam used Markdown. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, so I hesitated.

Then, of course, someone linked me to Obsidian, “A second brain, for you, forever.” Nice. Let’s see, Markdown files on my own device. A fast, capable editor, backlinks galore, a built in graph, support for Daily Notes, and a plug-in system that could take me who-knows where. I spent a week with it and thought I’d found what I was looking for.

Except, it’s not an outliner. I really missed Roam’s outliner based editor. I missed the block-level references and transclusion from Roam. I missed that it was just a tab away from where I was usually already working. I liked that Roam is automatically everywhere I can fire up a browser. I don’t have to decide how to use the thing on my iPad. It’s just a website. Mostly, I missed the flow Roam somehow makes possible. I can’t put my finger on it, but Roam is the most pleasant, easiest, and entirely capable option for a PKM.

Roam isn’t the choice I wanted to make. I wanted to use Org-roam. Still do. I also find Obsidian compelling. But, I had to stop losing sleep thinking about it, so I made the decision to go all-in with Roam. It’s the outliner, simplicity, and block-level references that clinched it. Many will say that I don’t “own my data” but I kind of do. I export the entire DB as JSON daily and could probably recreate the thing in Obsidian or something else in a few hours. I don’t feel locked in, but I’m sure some people disagree. Good for them, that’s what Org-roam and Obsidian are for.

Roam Research opened the waitlist and introduced pricing yesterday. I could still use Roam for free for a while, being an early beta user, but I needed to commit. To that end, I paid $500 for the “True Believer” plan. It’s a 5-year license that includes a few perks like early access to new features. That qualifies as a commitment, I’d say. Now I just need to stick with it.

Posted in: Life

The Lost Satisfactions of Manual Competence – Cal Newport

Cal Newport:

Instead of manifesting ourselves concretely in the world, we endlessly pass digital messages back and forth, taking breaks only to talk to each other about these messages over cramped video conference screens.

There’s something uniquely misery-making about days spent in a Makework Matrix of ceaseless digital communication that doesn’t seem to generate much beyond additional digital communication — we’re simply not wired for this as a species.

There was a lot of vigorous head-nodding going on while reading this. Makework Matrix is a new term to me and I love it.

Posted in: Life, Photography

Jeff and his RC boat

As the stay-at-home situation eases a bit, we look for things we can safely do outdoors with friends. Last night we visited Jeff and Shelley for drinks on their deck. Jeff had just bought a new remote controlled boat and couldn’t wait to take it out for a spin. 70 miles an hour on a small pond requires fast reflexes. He only flipped once.

I had the Leica Q with me so I took a few snapshots.

Posted in: General

I’m an RSS Spammer now

The few of you subscribed to 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: Photography

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 4×5 formats. A roll of 120 in the Hasselblad is only 12 frames. And 4×5 is practically as fast as digital. (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).

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

My 4×5 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 4×5 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). 4×5 Speed Graphic. HP5+

One thing about 4×5 is that I can still make prints if I don’t mind simple contact prints on 5×7 paper, like the print shown above.

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.