Moving my journal to (mostly) digital

For years, I’ve kept a paper notebook at hand. I always have a Moleskine-style bullet journal or a Field Notes pocket notebook or a Hobonichi Techo nearby. Sometimes all three.

Lately, I’ve been feeling hampered by keeping my journal on paper. My handwriting is terrible unless I write very slowly and deliberately. I worry that personal journaling suffers from too-slow, overly-deliberate writing. I spend too much time deciding between and playing with various writing instruments. I love my fountain pens, but I’m left-handed, and fountain pens are not ideal. The ink and paper must be just right, and that’s hard to arrange.

Eleven years ago I started using Day One, a journaling app for macOS and iOS. Day One is a fantastic app, dedicated to journaling. I’ve used it intermittently ever since. I’m now using it all the time.

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Use what you have

I have some pretty nice things. I’m fortunate enough to have more “stuff” than I could ever need. And yet, it seems as if I’m always buying something new. It’s just that I like to try new things, whether it’s tools, software, gadgets, or what have you. I want to see what different things feel like to have and use.

The photo above is from my dad’s garage, taken this year. I took it because I’m always amazed at how little it changes. My dad rarely buys anything new. He just uses what he has.

Recently, I have been striving to be more like my dad. Whenever I start looking for some new thing to help me do some old thing, I say to myself, “Use what you have!” It’s working pretty well. I have not purchased anything new if I already have something similar that will do the job. No gadgets, cameras, pens, notebooks, computers, etc. I already have all those things, and they work great.

I need a new film scanner

My Epson V750 Pro, purchased in 2009, has scanned thousands of rolls of film, slides, and prints. After making strange grinding noises recently, it has finally ground to a halt.

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The West Wing Productivity System

The last time I rewatched “The West Wing” I was once again impressed by how good people were at their jobs. How productive everyone was. I wondered how I could be that productive.

I noticed that the entire process used by the staff seemed to be carrying around folders full of paper and barking things like “Get me the file on senator Jones and the notes from our briefing!” Within minutes they would be perusing a bunch of photos and papers scattered about a desk and they’d develop a plan right then and there. Awesome!

So, I started organizing all of my projects in manilla folders. One folder per project. I called it the “West Wing Productivity System”. I’d print meeting notes, mindmaps, emails, etc and put them in the appropriate folder. I kept a single summary sheet clipped to the inside with contact information, summary info, budgets, etc.

Whenever I needed to work on a project, I’d grab the folder, spread its contents across my desk, and get to work. It was nice knowing where everything was. It was nice being able to see everything at once, if necessary. (I had a big desk).

On the other hand, it was a pain when I needed to share something with colleagues. Search kind of sucked. And if I happened to be at home without the proper folder in my bag I was screwed.

It was fun for a while, but this was nearly 10 years ago. I still use folders, just not quite so deliberately. Just for the hell of it, I’ve brought back the system for some of my home projects. There’s not a lot of risk and I get to shuffle papers around again like I’m Josh’s assistant or something.

Some unremarkable pens the Internet made me buy

I’m an impressionable young man, and when I notice someone on The Internet raving about something, I want to feel that way, too. I often order whatever that thing is, only to be disappointed. For example, here are a few of the pens I bought after being told how remarkable they are. They’re not that remarkable.

Configuring the org-download save directory

When I drag and drop an image into Emacs, I want the attached file to end up in ./img/YYYY/. This is how I tried configuring org-download in my setup (I use Doom Emacs):

(setq org-download-method 'directory
        org-download-image-dir (concat "img/"  (format-time-string "%Y") "/")
        org-download-image-org-width 600
        org-download-heading-lvl 1)
(setq org-download-method 'directory
        org-download-image-dir (concat "img/"  (format-time-string "%Y") "/")
        org-download-image-org-width 600
        org-download-heading-lvl 1)

For some reason, org-download-method was being reset from 'directory to 'attachafter loading, and this broke things. I thought maybe I needed to set the variables afterorg-download was loaded, so I did this:

(after! org-download
  (setq org-download-method 'directory
        org-download-image-dir (concat "img/"  (format-time-string "%Y") "/")
        org-download-image-org-width 600
        org-download-heading-lvl 1))

That didn’t work. At startup I was seeing this error:

Error (org-mode-hook): Error running hook “org-fancy-priorities-mode” because: (void-variable org-download-image-dir)

Huh. I guess not everything can be set after org-download, so I tried only setting org-download-method

(after! org-download
  (setq org-download-method 'directory))

This worked. The other settings are done in the (after! org block.

It feels like I have to fight Doom too often, but the details and refinement of Doom is worth the trouble.

Feelings about the Leica M10-R

I’m feeling twitchy about owning the Leica M10-R .

The M10-R is an astonishingly good camera. World-beating build quality, timeless design, and a fantastic 40-megapixel sensor, all in a small, beautiful package.

Still available new in 2022 for an eye-watering $8,995 (I bought mine used), the M10-R is also a ridiculously expensive camera. Buying one is a big deal and a significant investment.

I am fortunate enough to also own Leica M film cameras, and being able to share lenses between those and the M10-R is very handy. And OMG those Leica lenses! The control layout and handling are the same as well. It’s like having both a digital and film platform for using 70 years of tiny, wonderful Leica lenses. I can carry a full film and digital arsenal with 2 bodies and lenses in a tiny bag.

So, why am I feeling twitchy?

I worry about having such expensive, relatively delicate equipment swinging about around my neck. It makes me nervous. It’s hard to relax and make photographs when I’m so worried about losing or breaking the camera I’m carrying.

Unlike film Ms, digital M cameras depreciate steadily in value. Not as quickly as other digital cameras, perhaps, but still, the trend is downward.

But mostly, I feel guilty having such a fine camera because I’ve barely used it. I’ve been shooting mostly film for the past month or so, leaving the M10-R idling in the bag. I can justify the expense for something I’m using all the time but to have the M10-R sitting in the bag “just in case” is hard to stomach.

Still, I love the camera and I’m keeping it. At least for now. I know me, and I know that the digital-film pendulum will swing back the other way soon enough, and when it does I’ll be glad I have the M10-R.

I love this boring photo of a lamp

My wife bought an awful, kitschy plastic lamp and set it on one of the floor speakers. I, of course, balked.

That was a week ago and somehow the lamp is still there. I hate the lamp, but I don’t mind the light that it throws against the wall, and my wife loves it and thinks “it’s adorable”. Who am I to judge?

I took a photo of it. It’s just another boring snapshot by a film photographer looking for excuses to finish the roll. It’s exposed the way I intended and it’s composed nicely, but it’s not a great photo. I love it anyway.

I love the photo because it makes me smile. It makes me smile because I love my wife and it reminds me of one of the many reasons why. That’s the best kind.

Adding an RSS feed to my wiki

TiddlyWiki is a single static HTML file. It does not generate an RSS feed of new entries. It doesn’t generate anything.

I treat my wiki at wiki.baty.net more like a blog than a wiki, so not having an RSS feed feels like an omission. Most of the time I consider this to be a feature. I like that I can write any old nonsense and it doesn’t actively go out and bother anyone. It’s my little secret, that you can read if you want.

On the other hand, I find it annoying when I’m interested in someone else’s writing and they don’t provide any feeds. So, I’ve decided to make it easier to follow me. I suppose if you deliberately subscribe to the wiki’s feed, you want to be bothered by the stuff I write there.

My solution is based on this article . The short version is that I created a new tiddler named “RSS Feed” containing the following:

This tiddler runs a filter finding the last 10 tiddlers tagged with Feed and renders them as RSS-formatted XML.

Extracting the rendered text from that tiddler out to an RSS file is done using my Makefile using the TiddlyWiki node.js module . The command is as follows:

tiddlywiki --load index.html --render "[[RSS Feed]]" "rss.xml" text/plain

This generates a file at ./output/rss.xml containing the rendered RSS text/xml. Later in the Makefile, I rsync rss.xml up to the server along with the rest of the wiki files. Here’s the complete Makefile:

SERVER_HOST=server01.baty.net
SERVER_DIR=/home/jbaty/apps/rudimentarylathe.wiki/public_html
PUBLIC_DIR=~/Sync/wikis/rudimentarylathe/
TARGET=server01.baty.net

.POSIX:
.PHONY: checkpoint deploy

build:
        tiddlywiki --load index.html --render "[[RSS Feed]]" "rss.xml" text/plain

checkpoint:
        git add .
        git diff-index --quiet HEAD || git commit -m "Publish checkpoint"

deploy: build checkpoint
        git push
        @echo "33[0;32mDeploying updates to $(TARGET)...33[0m"
        rsync -v -rz --checksum --delete --no-perms $(PUBLIC_DIR)index.html $(SERVER_HOST):$(SERVER_DIR)
        rsync -v -rz --checksum --delete --no-perms $(PUBLIC_DIR)output/rss.xml $(SERVER_HOST):$(SERVER_DIR)
        rsync -v -rz --checksum --delete --no-perms $(PUBLIC_DIR)files $(SERVER_HOST):$(SERVER_DIR)

All this means is that you can now subscribe to the daily posts at wiki.baty.net using the following URL: https://wiki.baty.net/rss.xml .

The odd thing is that I normally create each daily post first thing in the morning and update it throughout the day. I’m not sure how different RSS readers will handle this, but it’s a start.

I haven’t added the discovery links yet, but should. I also don’t think the RSS tiddler needs all those non-breaking spaces so I may play with that later.

Update March 11, 2022: Saq Imtiaz sent a link to his experimental plugin for generating RSS and JSON feeds . Worth a look!

Plain text can’t save you if you lose the files

Derek Sivers suggests, in a much-linked-to post , that all your stuff should be in plain text files, and I (almost) agree with him.

Most of my notes are in some form of plain text format, but not for the reasons Sivers lists. My notes are in plain text because I prefer editors that use plain text by default. I suggest you use the tools and formats that are most useful to you now. If that’s plain text, then great.

The fear of not being able to open or otherwise read files, someday in the future, is overblown. File formats last a long time. Email, PDF, even Word documents can be opened decades later. Mine can, anyway. But what about in 100 or 200 years? My response is, “Who cares?” I mean, c’mon. My digital notes are going to be tossed in a dumpster along with the rest of my shit by my family like 20 minutes after I die, anyway. Your notes may be more important to the world than mine.

The thing I worry about isn’t “lock-in” or lack of portability or any of those. What I worry about is losing the actual files. This happened to me recently. I try to keep methodical backups, but I was careless with a folder full of Markdown files that were used to render a blog and they are all gone. Hundreds of them. I thought I knew where they were and I thought I’d made backups and a combination of cleaning up and switching machines and poof! All gone. Fortunately, I have the rendered HTML files but my point is that, whatever their format, all files are useless if you lose them.

So, back up those Word docs and PDFs and Mindmaps and Powerpoints. And back up your plain text files, too. At least that way you stand a chance of having them “someday in the future”. You can worry about how to open them then.