Return of the Bullet Journal

Notetaking has been a theme here for a long time and it’s interesting for me from time to time to take a longer view of my tools and workflows. In general, for a given season in my professional and personal careers, I settle into some set of tools that for the time being, simply work. As the setting or tasks shift, I tend to experiment with tools, old and new, until I reach a new equilibrium.

A few years ago, I read Ryder Carroll’s Bullet Journal Method and incorporated some of his conventions into my note taking. Nothing too formal, just the idea of mixing To Dos, longer form thoughts, event logging and planning into a stream of consciousness format in a dedicated notebook. Last year, I actually transitioned, more or less, to a Bullet Journal for tracking the monthly calendar events and planning my day. In the end, I was frustrated with how a bound notebook mixed up planning for the year, month, week and day which were separate sections in my old Hobonichi, so I moved my new Bullet Journal style into a ring binder from Plotter.

Moving book notes into a dedicated notebook or the Kindle Scribe has had mixed results. For detailed note taking on the substance of a book, for slowing down and really digesting a text, it’s been great. But it takes discipline to get those notes into a usable digital form, mostly because my summaries, reactions and personal takes on subjects get buried among the notes on the text itself. I don’t generally need to go back to those text notes, I’m more interested in my take aways and my own ideas. So I took a cue from something that Cal Newport has mentioned regarding lowering friction in taking book notes. Now Cal is one who highlights and writes notes in his books. I’ve never been comfortable with that since I find that my interest the first time through a book is often different than later, finding my highlights and notes interferes with my interaction with the text.

So I now have a second note taking flow for reading notes in which I simply jot down ideas using the BuJo “rapid logging” approach. These are not long narrative notes as I’d use for journalling, not summaries of the book contents and arguments but an abbreviation as to source and the thought in brief, just enough to trigger a recollection of the idea. Sometimes even a page number if I want a reference for later.

This faster style of note taking has has allowed me to speed up my pace of reading of interesting non-fiction as I explore some new areas around the neuroscience of decision making.

A Few Notes on the Apple Vision Pro

I picked up my reserved Vision Pro yesterday morning and just had time to get it up and running at home before I needed to prepare for a business trip. So I won’t get anymore actual usage until Friday at the earliest. In the meantime, while there are some great reviews out there, here are a few quick observations I think are important.

  • I don’t think its been fully realized that this is the first “halo” product for Apple. The demo slots were full at the store all day and the Apple employees all agreed that the Vision Pro was going to be driving store traffic like crazy just from those who are curious and want to check it out. One couldn’t demo Google Glass or any of the many generations of VR headsets. Apple stores have clearly driven sales and relationship with users. This is a big attraction and certainly will help move other types of products big and small even if most don’t actually buy this first gen product.
  • The fit is fiddly. I had lots of light leak from the suggested face measurements and moved to a more narrow fit. But a fit I now realize is a better seal at the bottom, but not quite as comfortable.
  • The video pass through is great to have as it prevents the claustrophobic disconnected feeling I’ve gotten with VR headsets. You have a setting in which the information is being projected. But it’s by no means Augmented Reality in that the video quality isn’t good enough to use for tasks in the real world while augmenting the activity with projected information. The interface, video and photos are shockingly clear and real. The real world is diminished. So if I were a surgeon, I’d need a video feed of the operating field to look at, not the pass through video. My impression is the EVFs (electronic view finders) on my cameras are better video, but then I never try to read text on paper through an EVF.
  • The diminished quality of the real world and the astounding quality of the computed world is why for now this is device to immerse in, using the video pass through just for environmental awareness. If not using apps, looking at video, one would immediately want to take it off.
  • And when you do take it off, it’s true that the real world seems somewhat diminished. I know that my iPad screen has the same resolution. It’s just removed. I’m in the real world, not immersed in it. The world of the Vision Pro is one of hightened immersion.
  • And yes, we’ve been through this before. The Mac with a single floppy. The iPhone with no apps other than Apple’s. This is a better experience than we’ve seen before and will be interesting to see how it evolves.
  • I’m thinking about the Vision Pro as “headphones for the eyes”. There’s a Steve Jobs video clip I’ve seen where he makes the point that headphones are a portable great sound system substituting for the room, speakers and big devices. The Vision Pro adds vision to that mix. It’s a display device with control by gesture. Nothing more or less.

Google Bard Is the Perfect Chef’s Assistant

If you look at my instagram feed, you’ll discover what’s really important to me. At least what I want to share in public through images. In between the puppy pics, hiking views and my personal photography are food images. Some restaurant images, but most often my cooking.

I’ve played around with the AI tools that we’ve all been hearing so much about, but I didn’t want to pay for ChatGPT and found the Microsoft offering underwhelming and often just a regurgitation of Wikipedia like summaries. Or search like links to the many, many ad based cooking sites that

But in the last few weeks, I’ve discovered Google Bard. Tried it for some medical background information with references and found it pretty accurate. Used to summarize some excerpts and it was pretty good.

But it’s become indispensable for cooking advice. I treat it as an experienced advisor.

It works well in a conversational approach where you ask it about techniques, variations and alternative approaches.

For example, today I brought home a whole Black Sea Bass that I want to bake. So I started a conversation with Bard about how to bake it. It started with simple butter and lemon techniques, so I had to ask it about how to bake without using butter. I asked it about oven temperature, using convection roasting and then broiling. Bard actually warned me away from broiling an turning as an experienced chef might:

Turning the fish:

Turning the whole fish during baking isn’t necessary for even cooking. The high heat and covered environment typically ensure even cooking throughout. However, if you’re concerned about even browning, you can carefully baste the top side with pan juices halfway through baking.

So, skip the broiling and focus on these techniques for a deliciously crispy skin without butter: high-temp baking, patting dry, scoring the skin, high heat oil, and potentially salting and lemon juice. Enjoy your baked black sea bass!

So far it’s helped me with a Moroccan Lamb Stew and a boneless chicken thigh sauté with fennel. Each time there we variations or techniques that Bard suggested that I didn’t have in my toolbox. It’s breaking me out of decades long habits of cooking.

Reading 2023 In Review

This was the first year I ever kept track of my reading. I ended up with a total of 44 books or more. There are a few photography and dog training books that I never toted up, so it probably was around 50. But 8 or 9 of them were long audio books of 48 hours each or more, mostly Stephen King’s Dark Tower plus Under the Dome and The Stand. Books of Jacob was also a long book and not a quick read.

The audiobooks have been a revelation for me. They are available very easily by borrowing them from my Public Library with the Libby app. They play directly on the iPhone making it easy to “read” while in the car or engaged in simple activities like cooking or straightening where video just doesn’t work. Libby’s discovery mechanisms are rudimentary compared to what we have in the world of streaming music and video, so I need to go in with a list of titles or authors rather than category or type. This is one reason why I’ve been binging book series like The Dark Tower or now the Iain M. Banks Culture books. Oddly, Libby only has the first 3 or 4, so I may need to buy some, probably in the Apple Book app. I need to see whether Audible would actually be more economical. I should note as well that availability in Libby for big authors audiobooks is spotty, so it’s easier to stick to big names like King.

I struggle a bit to fit other reading into the day’s schedule, but it’s an ongoing project to map out the day and get priorities in. Reading for pleasure tends to be one of those activities that ends up toward the bottom. Priorities, I found, tend to reveal themselves in the choices we make rather than result from intention.

Reading 2024

Currently Reading


Reviving Classical Liberalism Against Populism</em> by Nils Karlson (Open Access)


All the Pretty Horses by Cormac McCarthy

Pet Cemetery by Stephen King (Audiobook)

The Pursuit of William Abbey by Claire North [On Hold]

Deciding Better:

The Rigor of Angels: Borges, Heisenberg, Kant, and the Ultimate Nature of Reality by William Egginton

The Invention of Tomorrow: A Natural History of Foresight by Thomas Suddendorf, Jonathan Redshaw, Adam Bulley. [ON HOLD}

Jewish Studies:

Shaarai Teshuvah (The Gates of Repentance) by Rabenu Yonah

2024 Reads


Ballistic Book 3 in the Gray Man Series by Mark Greaney

The Books of Jacob by Olga Tokarczuk, Jennifer Croft (Translator)


None yet.

Reading Plan

I’m continuing the plan from 2023 more or less unchanged. I ended up neglecting my updating of this page. I’ve got four categories of reading: Fiction, Nonfiction general reading, books related to the On Deciding . . . Better project and my Jewish Philosophy reading. The idea is to have variety but focus on finishing a book in each category. Always having a few ready on deck of course.

In fiction it’s worked out well to alternate between genre fiction (thriller, SciFi and Fantasy) and what’d call literary fiction.

The nonfiction category is for general information, filling in gaps in my understanding of the world. It’s been physics, politics and creativity for the most part. Choice is based solely on serendipity and seeking variety.

Next is my project specific reading for this project, On Deciding . . . Better which has been going on 25 years now. Last year, I spent time on the fundamentals of statistics and Bayesian reasoning. I really wanted to catch up more on the neuroscience side, but spent way more time than expected on theory and philosophy of probability purely out of interest.These books get written and then reviewed for note taking as I described here.

Finally, I spend time every morning on a work of Jewish ethics and philosophy. Having read through some recent commentaries over the last few years, I’m going back to sources. Last year I finished Nefesh Hachaim and I’m now about halfway through The Gates of Repentance which is not about repentance per se but rather how to be better broadly adhering to the religious and civil guidelines and laws of Jewish Life. Now this doesn’t generally so directly enter my notes here, it is foundational to my thought and personal growth. I take notes as I read, filling one page of notes every morning as a reading quota.

Why I’m Giving Up the Hobonichi for a Plotter Notebook

It’s a strange feeling going into a new calendar year without a transition to a new Hobonichi planner. I’ve been writing about Hobonichi use almost yearly when I switch to a new planner book for the new year. But this last year’s book now sits on a shelf, just half filled and I’m not in transition mode.

These Hobonichi Years

As I’ve written about before, the Hobonichi has served as a planner in the most literal sense. Most mornings, I record the day’s appointments and essential tasks to accomplish whether errands or work deadlines. In the spaces around the calendar, I take some notes or some observations as impromptu journaling. At this point, it’s been about 10 years of using the Hobonichi to organize my days, weeks and months.

Over the years, I’ve been troubled a bit using the standard, small A6 size Hobonichi. While the page is too small to hold notes in addition to calendar events, many of the pages remain blank because the usual routine has been interrupted by travel, holidays or other events. Sometimes I’d use those blank pages as journaling space, but mostly they were dead weight. In the same way, most of the pages from past and future months weren’t really relevant since my focus was on the day and the calendars which served as longer range planning tools. In general, the planner was used in the morning and only rarely consulted once the day’s planning was done. It was a case of planning the work but then getting into a calendar driven day, not a case of working the plan.

After I started a separate Bullet Journal, I saw the value of journaling the day’s activities. I included some longer form journaling including reading notes on. I eventually moved the reading notes to a separate notebook plus the Kindle Scribe.

Between the Hobonichi, Scribe and Bullet Journal, I was lacking a way to incorporate Getting Things Done style lists into the journals. I tried pages in the Bullet Journal, but flipping pages to find this list or that plan seemed awkward. I thought about upsizing my Hobonichi to the larger A5 size, but realized that would provide some room for brief notes, but not for other content such as lists and notes.

Moving to a Ring Binder

I realized the reason it was hard to integrate reference material into a Bullet Journal was the linear, bound character or a Journal. Whether the Hobonichi, Bullet Journal, or Reading Journal, these books seem destined to be filled from to back and browsed that way- flipping through the days to review recent events and planning for days to come. There are good work arounds with indexes and tabs to note where the

While I had never tried it, I recalled that one of the basic setups for GTD systems going way back to analog days is a ringed binder. It’s easy with a binder to move pages around, replace pages when updated or full, and create sections based on project or context. Prior to digital devices like the Palm Pilot, I used a Franklin Covey ringed binder as a planner. Even in Medical School, my “peripheral brain” was a binder filled with protocols, drug doses and medical reference.

Plotter Journal

I’d been intrigued by the Plotter Journals that had been introduced to the US a few years ago by Midori, a company whose paper products I’ve used in the past. These are upscale (that is to say pricy) binder and refills that come as 6 ring binders in sizes ranging from A5 to pocket size.

For the last six months I’ve used an A5 Plotter as my daily notebook for planning, basic bullet journaling and capturing GTD lists of Next Actions. The system is still under development since some note taking is clearly better suited for the linear journal that a bound notebook provides.

The plotter sits by my side while working, allowing me not only to plan, but to record against the plan so that I can see more clearly how I spend my time and how I can adjust to ensure that I use time productively.

Intimate Landscapes, Still Life

L1000312 23 08 04 LEICA M11 Monochrom

In my organizational system, these images go in the “Intimate Landscape” folder. It’s a term I first saw describing Eliot Porter’s work. As I walk through the landscape, whehter its surburban, a city, or a trial in the forest or park, I look for these little assemblages that remind me of still lives. An arrangement of shop and gesture is all, created by the light.

In his book, How I Make Photographs, Joel Meyerowitz describes how creating a group of representative photos for a project help keep the project alive and on track by providing a prompt to think about what’s working and what’s not as well as where the project can go. A photographer doesn’t have a book manuscript generally, they have a big body of work with developed themes and projects. Shows and publications are the product of the work, very unlike the act of sitting at a keyboard and typing out the product.

These intimate images are a constant theme of mine, an endless source of motivation to see potential photographs out in the world. Better to see and have a camera ready, I’ve found.

Put an Apple Airtag on Your Camera So It Nags You About Leaving It Home

L1000541 23 11 07 LEICA M11 Monochrom 1

I put an Apple Airtag on my Leica M11 Monochrome so that if I leave my house without the camera, my phone nags me about leaving the camera at home. Best strategy I’ve found to make sure I take it along when out for a while. And then of course I look for images since I have a camera.

Plausible Reasoning and Probability

I’ve been diving deeply into an exploration of Jaynes and Polya’s exposition of probability as plausible reasoning. It appears to be at the core of how our brains model the mathematics of probability, which Polya calls “the long range frequencies of mass phenomena”. To us, this process of induction by which we understand the world is “plausible reasoning” where we evaluate conjectures of all types and assign them credibility in between absolute truth and falsehood.

It’s been fruitful but a long project that’s taken up the time I have for this particular project of Deciding Better. But it was where, in my book manuscript, I felt I was not doing justice to the link between probability theory and human judgment.

I’m coming to the end of the process of summarizing my detailed notes on the Polya books. Next I’d like to revisit some of the fundamental neuroscience of decisions and be sure that I have that solidly grounding in this idea of probability as plausible reasoning.

I know I’m getting toward the end of this deep dive because other areas are grabbing my attention, since recent events in the world have me think once again about the ecology that is created by an individual both living within and shaping their information environment. The stir created by Bob Sapolsky’s new book denying the existence of free will. We’re about the same age and we had some good conversations back in the day, but he’s a way more interesting character than I’ll ever be.