The Emacs and LogSeq excursions

Once I had my Linux box up and running with Regolith and i3wm, I wanted to integrate it into my developing Zettelblogging workflow.

First, I explored the world of Emacs. There is a wonderful community around Emacs currently with great YouTube videos and blogs. I’d be remiss if I didnt’t mention Prot, Sachua and David who served as guides to integrating Emacs into my workflow. It took a program called SyncThing to hook the Linux box into my Apple-centric iCloud workflow efficiently although seeing folders from the Mac over my home network is pretty easy in Linux, particularly having the Gnome tools available.

In the end, Emacs, like Linux itself, is a high customizable environment that was engaging but in the end just didn’t bring that much utility to the actual work. In fact, both act as potent distractions to actual research and writing.

Next I explored LogSeq, which is one of the new generation of note taking apps like Roam, Notion and Craft. I kind of liked it and found it more straightforward in use than I had imagined with its backlinking and autotagging style. But in the end it was too much a self contained system and really not easily integrated with the Drafts/DEVONthink/text/PDF workflow I had built up over the years.

So I’m back using the tools on the Mac and iOS where each piece of software is a bit more opinionated and fits a particular use case while all working well together. Suprisingly, the Kindle Scribe is my latest useful tool, giving me a nice way of reading PDFs in depth. I’m hoping the notetaking side becomes better integrated, but for now my notebooks and fountain pens are just as good as a digital notetaking tablet. Notes are an initial step in input and my goal is working in public on that input.

Why Linux captured computing and not the desktop

It’s clear that the Linux desktop failed even as Linux became the single most widely deployed OS behind the scence. And as Linus Torvalds, the creator of the OS knows, the reason is the fragmentation of the user experience.

Even knowing this abstractly didn’t stop me for spending a good bit of the first half of 2022 building a PC and playing with Linux, I’ve built a few PC with my youngest son as gaming rigs. I fell in love with the Teenage Engineering mini-ITX case they call the “Computer-1“. So when they became available again at the beginning of last year, I bought one and then the parts to put together a Linux box. Just Intel on chip graphics since the case is too small for a high powered graphics card and I wasn’t looking to use the build for gaming or other graphics uses.

What I wanted was a fast, minimal system not filled with distractions and extras. Since Linux runs fine on hardware ranging from my Raspberry Pi to multiprocessor servers, I figured that a well configured box would be about as fast as possible on standard tasks like text editing and browsing.

My biggest motivation was to really try a tiling windows manager. One of my biggest frustrations with MacOS is how inconsistently windows are spawned and so randomly placed. Working with two large external monitors multiplies the problem. I’ve mostly dealt this this by using a utility called Magnet which quickly allows screen tiling. And the new Stage Manager OS approach actually helps a bit. But using a minimal system with a tiling WM is just another experience altogether.

So I used a Linux distro called Regolith which integrated the I3 tiling windows manager with the Gnome System Mangement tools on Ubuntu. Sounds complicated already, doesn’t it. These distros on Linux are absolutely necessary because of the complexity of putting together a full suite of system management tools. There are literally dozens of distros. I found it pretty easy to find a distro and get it loaded on my newly built machine. But when something goes wrong or you want to add a functionality and keep it updated, it starts taking time to look up how to install or change some settings file to get things right. So far from the experience of running MacOS or Windows.

I can see how if one were running a certain configuration and just wanted to maintain function, it would be a reliable way to go. But as a user, there’s just so much friction that I can see how any casual user would be detered from continuing. Lets just say that to run Linux as a user, one needs to be at “Hobbyist” level. Willing to invest time into running the machine to learn how it all works and customize an experience.

So I got my Linux machine up and running. In the end, I ended up with a full Gnome install running with I3 loaded as the window manager at startup. That was just the start of the journey though, as I spent more time after that going down the Emacs and LogSeq rabbit holes. But I think those are tales for another day.

First book read of 2023: London Rules

Finished my first book of 2023, London Rules by Mick Herron. It’s the 5th book in the Slow Horses series which has been made into a series streaming at AppleTV+.

I watched the first season and was taken by the story as well as the way Gary Oldman’s brought the character of Jackson Lamb to life. As I’ve often done when given a choice between book and show, I stopped watching the show and read the source material so that I could enjoy the reading experience without having to substitute the show’s cast and choices for my own construction of the story. I think it was Game of Thrones that served as my first introduction to the problem. After watching the first season on HBO, I read through the books, only erasing with difficulty some of the actors from my mental images of the characters.

The first 4 books were a nice diversion during 2022 from my usual reading habits which haven’t included spy thrillers too often. On the other hand, after my accident, I read 6 or 7 of the Harry Bosch series by Michael Connely, all library Kindle downloads. This too was inspired the show Bosch on Amazon Prime. Now there I had already watched several seasons, well binged several seasons, and so Titus Welliver will always be my mental image of Harry Bosch.

The Hobonichi Year that was 2022

I’ve written summaries of my Hobonichi use in some previous years: 2017, 2019, and 2020. This Japanese daily journal is a popular Instagram and Reddit subject as it’s part of the larger craft journaling scene, like the Bullet Journal.

This year my Hobonichi has served its customary purpose as the tool to plan my day every morning. I always buy the Japanese version of the planner as the layout just suits my use a bit better than the English version, even though this means that the daily quotes on each page remain mysteries to me. Each morning, I block out the day’s calls, errand times, times to fit in the daily training ride and make some notes on what really needs to get done that day.

For me it’s a planning exercise. It’s rare that I refer back to the Hobonichi after the planning is done. My work calls are driven by the Microsoft Outlook calendar and when the slots open up for the ride, errand or appointment, I’m ready for it. The next morning, I’ll glance back at the previous day for a quick assessment as to whether there’s some impact on the coming day.

I also use the monthly calendars for long term planning- particularly holidays, business trips and cycling events. Even though it’s all duplicated on the phone/iPad/PC calendars, I’ve long relied on doing the planning and thinking on paper- just because I can’t see the big picture on a computer calendar for whatever reason.

The biggest change this year has been adding more special purpose notebooks to capture reading notes. This was kind of a breakthrough for me this year, finding an efficient way to take notes on reading. As I mentioned, this was based on a reread of Ryan Carroll’s Bullet Journal Method. I now read a text straight through, then go back, skimming for the purpose of rapid logging the main points I want to record.

Since it’s now been 3 months, I think I can say I’ve added a daily Bullet Journal habit to the morming Hobonichi ritual. So at times during the day, I make some progress notes in the Bullet Journal. If I’m taking notes on a book, those go into the the same notebook.

Unfortunately, while analog note taking has been a success this year, on the digital side I’ve still not really developed a good methodology for my current needs. I’m using DEVONthink as a hub more consistently to store documents, but the input really just isn’t there- seems like too much work. So my aspirations to funnel notes into DEVONthink and then out into this website have just not panned out as hoped. I know that the key is to keep friction down and the efforts casual. I’m drawn to thinking with pen on paper, so the formalization of typing it in is the friction that holds the process back. Small steps, always just the next action and no more.

Thiebaud Nine Weeks

I’ve gotten my big autofocus Leica SL2 out of the cabinet to photograph my little friend here. Just too hard to grab focus with my M11’s manual focus rangefinder. Classic Lab.

The Puppy: Week 1 in Review

This is some old style blogging.

Our Labrador Retriever puppy is now 9 weeks old. It’s been quite a project onboarding her into our home. I grew up with dogs at home (Pugs) and had a great companion for all too brief a time after moving to Baltimore in the mid 80’s for my Neurology training at Johns Hopkins. That was Cajal, named after the Spanish neuroanatomist. She was a gentle, but enthusiastic Frisbee dog. A Lab and Shepard mix from an accidental litter. So after many years, we’ve brought in this baby animal to be a companion. She comes from a fine line bred at Viklan Labradors in West Chester, PA.

Dog training and management has changed dramatically since I adopted Cajal. Back then, training was largely aversive using negative reinforcement to guide the dog into desired behaviors. Thiebaud is seeing play and reward and is responding quite remarkable. She shows powerful place preference for a red fleece mat that I’ve reinforced her on with food, just dropping kibble on it when she brings all 4 paws onto it. She’s happy in here crate since most of her food is thrown into her crate, door open or closed. She’s already retrieving toys, bringing them back to me just for more play and engagement, not on any command. She comes running on cue as she’s expecting some kibble in my hand.

This dog has enlarged and shrunk the world simultaneously. Enlarged it of course since I have this rapidly developing puppy becoming devoted to her humans. Everything good comes from us- food, water and play. Shrunk it, since it’s a big project taking many hours a day. Learing about training methods, play, management. Fortunately, she settles down quickly after a play session and snoozes, so there’s time for work, cycling training and blogging.

Kindle Scribe- Initial Impression

I put in an early preorder of the new Kindle Scribe and it arrived last week. I’ve only had a few days of use, but have only seen review site discussions and no real user comments.

I had thought about buying one of the other e-Paper tablets like the Remarkable 2, but just didn’t see the value for digital handwriting only. I’ve also given the iPad and Apple Pencil approach a try over the last few years, but it never stuck. It’s a combination of not liking the stylus on glass feel and the availability of distraction when reading documents.

Since I’ve been successful with book reading on the Kindle, I wanted to try the Scribe. And as it turns out, the Scribe is a big Kindle with stylus input added.

This means the device is quite modal in use.

Readiing Kindle books or any document in the Amazon format provides the standard Kindle experience plus stylus. So you can highlight and add sticky notes. Just the notes can be typed or handwritten. The addition of handwriting is nice as it makes casual use away from a desk much easier. Solving one of my issues of note taking for reading away from the desk.

PDFs get to the Scribe via sharing with the Kindle app or via a website for sharing. But now there is only highlighting and writing on the PDF itself. And since many PDFs have minimal white space for writing, it’s really mostly highlighting and a few words in the margin as guides, not real notes. I’ve already seen that PDF templates are going to be a useful addition. There are already some being created for daily agendas and Bullet Journal layouts.

Finally, there are independent Notebooks which can use a handful of supplied templates. The templates are limited and really not very good. The lines and dots are both too big and too dark to be usable the way a paper notebook is or even nice iPad apps like GoodNotes. For now, it’s not much use for me. I’d rather use fountain pen and paper since I can quickly scan a page with my iPhone and GeniusScan if I want an archive online.

So far for me the value is a large format, distraction free PDF display with easy highlight and margin notes as if I had a paper printout. Exactly the way the Kindle has served as a paperback size book substitute. I’ve also done some reading in books with handwritten notes. We’ll see if the handheld nature of the device is worth giving up a notebook and pen.

In summary, many of the tech site reviews have captured the device quite well. It’s a reading device with supplemental pen input. At least at release. Amazon has tended to just focus and incrementally improve its Kindle software and my expectation here is similar. I’ve got just a few immediate needs for improvements- sticky notes or more room to take notes on PDFs. A more compact export of notes and highlights from PDFs. A quick way to switch from book or PDF to Notebook mode. But overall, a solid start with some refinement needed.