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.

I enjoy processing film

There are things that I dislike about shooting film, but processing isn’t one of them. I actually enjoy it.

I shoot a roll or two of film each week and process it in my bathroom darkroom. Developing black and white film is quite simple. I have gotten to a point where the process is muscle memory. I shoot mostly the same type of film (HP5 Plus) and develop it in HC-110. I know the dilutions and I know the time, temperature, and agitation schedule.

It takes me about 20 minutes to develop a roll of film. I have to pay attention for five minutes in the developer, one minute in stop bath, then five minutes in the fixer. After that, it’s a hands-off ten-minute wash, a quick dip in Photo-flo, and that’s it.

Standing at the sink during the processing steps is meditative. I can stand there and just let my mind wander. It’s usually silent, but sometimes I have music playing. And there’s nothing like seeing the images unfurl when taking the roll off the reel. Magic.

Scanning, on the other hand, is ????.

The Kodak Retina IIIC

Kodak Retina IIIC

My dad called me from Florida and said that one of his neighbors had died and left a bunch of camera stuff to be given away or sold. He mentioned there was “some old Kodak” and wondered if I was interested in it. I said “Sure, why not” and he said he’d send me a box with the camera and some other stuff that came in the box.

The box arrived yesterday and I was thrilled to find a working Kodak Retina IIIC inside. I didn’t know much about the Retinas except they were around for many years and were very high quality cameras, which isn’t something Kodak is known for.

The last of the Retinas, the “Big-C” IIIC was made from 1957-1960. I assume that mine was made somewhere late in that range, based on the serial number. It doesn’t have the absolute latest changes, so let’s guess 1959.

I was surprised by how nicely the camera is built. It’s dense and feels very solid. All the movements, from focusing to folding the lens, are smooth and dampened well. It’s not quite Leica-level build, but much closer to it than I expected, especially considering the price.

I put a roll through it immediately and everything appears to work perfectly. Not bad for a 60-plus-year-old camera.

Black and white self-portrait

One of the lauded features of the IIIC is the 50mm f/2 Schneider-Kreuznach Retina-Xenon lens. I haven’t shot enough to get a good feel, but even after one quick roll I can see that it’s no slouch.

For more details about the camera, there are a few good resources. I enjoyed this Retina IIIC review by Kurt Munger . For everything you need to know, Chris Sherlock has a ton of info on the Retina series .

I don’t know yet how often I’ll use this new camera, but it’s certainly not going to spend the rest of its days on a shelf.

Here’s the camera’s page on my wiki

The Daily Notes Dilemma

You see, I have a nice wiki , and for a couple of years, I have written a new entry in it (nearly) every day. These “daily notes” have been interspersed and interlinked with the rest of the wiki’s content. It works, but I don’t love it.

Writing in TiddlyWiki is fine. It’s super easy, but it’s also a little clunky, which quickly becomes friction. And the experience for visitors is weird if you’re not familiar with TiddlyWiki. Also, there’s no RSS feed. I sometimes consider this a feature, because it’s nice writing freely and knowing it’s not “going anywhere”. On the other hand, if I were someone wanting to follow along with me, I’d want a damn RSS feed.

So, I periodically waffle between writing my daily posts on the wiki and on a “real” blog. One thing that has kept me in the wiki is that I can easily link things from my daily notes posts to the more permanent entries. This helps build a network of links. I love the ideaof all this linking back and forth, but in practice, it’s not as useful as I’d hoped. TiddlyWiki works better when each distinct idea or thing is created as a separate “tiddler”. I’ll create a new tiddler about something, link to that something, and then transclude the tiddler in that day’s daily. And then I almost never actually take advantage of all that work. So why bother? I mean, it’s not as if I’m trying to build some sort of Zettlekasten here.

I love writing in Emacs and keeping everything formatted as Org-mode files . I like Hugo for blogging and I like the way the rendered site looks. TiddlyWiki is easier overall but Emacs/Org/Hugo is more fun for me and I believe it results in a nicer experience for visitors.

All that to say I’m once again back to using a “real” blog for my daily notes. I’ve committed enough to this that I’ve added a link in the navigation here. You can follow along at daily.baty.net .

An RSS feed for daily.baty.net is available both on its own and as part of my Everything Feed .

UPDATE (May 19, 2022): The wiki is once again seeing most of my daily notes posts.

Highlighting in notebooks

One valid criticism of using paper for notes is that searching through notebooks is rather difficult. With my poor handwriting, scanning for certain information in a wash of squiggly lines can be painfully slow.

For a couple of months now I’ve been going back through my notes periodically and highlighting key words and phrases. I’ve found that if I emphasize the most relevant bit of each note, I can find most things fairly quickly. It also helps when simply perusing old notes. Usually, I want to skip anything “meta” like which pen I’m using or the regular “Why am I still using paper?” fluff. Zipping over the highlighted phrases makes quick work of it.

Someday this could also help with building an index. If I ever decide to bother, that is.

So yeah, highlighting my paper notes is useful and I recommend it. I wish I’d thought of it sooner.

Music: Stream or buy?

Which is right for me, streaming or buying my music?

TL;DR: Both

Phil’s recent note about streaming vs “owning” caused me to review how I think about it. My attitude about “owning” music continues to evolve.

One advantage I may have is that I don’t think of streaming services as music that I “rent” and that can be ripped out from underneath me any time. To me, streaming services are $10/month commercial-free radios that let me play DJ. I never worry that, if they disappear, I would no longer have access to that music. The most I’d lose would be my playlists and an educated AI. That doesn’t concern me at all. I don’t make playlists. I almost always listen to albums, as god intended.

I use Roon for music. Roon is (far and away) my favorite way to browse and manage my music library. It can also hook into Tidal or Qobuz and magically combines my local library with one (or both) of those streaming services.

Roon doesn’t work outside my LAN, so when I’m not home I use Apple Music. It’s fine, and it comes with my Apple One subscription, so it’s likely I’ll keep it.

Speaking of subscriptions, Roon costs money. And the service I choose, Qobuz, also costs money. Subscription Fatigue is real, and I’ve been evaluating the things I’m paying for every month.

The good news is that I paid for a lifetime license to Roon years ago, so that’s no longer costing me anything. Qobuz is around $11/month. I like the service, but it might be the least “necessary”. What if I were to cancel? I’d have to rely on music I own, on my hard drive. I’ve decided that this is OK. Preferable, even.

My digital music collection is sparse, and it sucks. Mostly bad CD rips from 90s. Can’t get too much Chalk Farm, right? But then, in comes Bandcamp , and kind of changes the game. I can buy great new music in a way that gets me immediate, permanent FLAC copies that don’t cost too much. Also, the artists get an average of 82% of every purchase. Everybody wins.

This means that if I buy one or two albums a month on average from Bandcamp, I’m about even with what I was spending on Qobuz. And I “own” the music. And I get to use Roon.

I have two modes when it comes to music. The first is that I just want to have some music on. For that, I can stream Apple Music. The other mode is deliberate listening. I want this to be high-quality and under my control. Purchased music that I own and manage is perfect for that.

And don’t forget, for when I’m all-in, I have a nice vinyl collection.

So, I’ve settled into a comfortable combination of both streaming and owning my music.

Starting with a clean desk

My workspace

My home office environment was getting out of hand, clutter-wise. They say that a messy desk is the sign of a creative mind. Maybe so, but I’m more of a tidy desk person.

I’ll sometimes notice that I’m easily provoked, frustrated, or otherwise feeling edgy. Then I’ll clean my office and I always feel better.

The worst thing for me is to set something on my desk because I don’t yet know where I’m going to put it. Then it just sits there, for weeks, nagging me out of the corner of my eye. Drives me nuts. Or, I’ll knock something over or cords will tangle or I’ll be unable to find something because it’s under something else. Aargh!

My workspace doesn’t need to be a minimalist, Instagram-worthy setup. It just needs to be organized and tidy. I cleaned my desk yesterday and have been in a better mood since. ????

Visual Meditation

I’m not sure I’ll ever be capable of sustaining an ongoing “meditation practice”.

The idea of regular meditation is compelling, but after many attempts I’m starting to think it may never stick. This is likely because I’ve not practiced long or consistently enough, but my brain just refuses to stay quiet or focused.

Instead, I’ve been making daily drawings. Or, more precisely, “doodles”. I find that mindlessly drawing random or repeating patterns soothes me. It’s a relaxing form of perhaps, if not meditation, mental relaxation. And calling them doodles helps me to avoid the feeling that they are “bad” drawings. It doesn’t matter.

Drawing may not have the consciousness-altering effect of consistent meditation, but it helps clear my head and lets my mind breathe a little.

Holding a Leica M camera

Self-portrait with Leica M3, 2021. (Leica MP. HP5 Plus)

I’ve used many wonderful film cameras from many different systems: From Nikon F to Hasselblad V to Linhof, Olympus OM, etc.

They are all great in their own ways, but none of them comes close to making me feel the way I feel when picking up a Leica M camera.

Sure, every film camera is essentially “a box for holding a lens and some film” but calling a Leica M “just another film camera” is to me like calling Jesus Christ “just another homeless dude”.

OK, that’s probably an exaggeration, but you get my point. The way a Leica M is built and shaped fits my hand and the way it works fits my brain like no other camera. And no other camera makes me want to just pick it up and hold it, even if there’s no film in it.

The only time that “The best camera is the one you have with you” is when the one you have with you is an M ????.

I mean, just look at this MP! Tell me you don’t want to pick it up and fondle it a little.

Leica MP (Black Paint). Photo by Leica Camera

Sold the Leica SL2-S and bought a Leica M10-R

M10-R for sale

The Leica SL series of cameras are special, but not unique. I had an original SL and then bought the SL2-S when it was released. It’s a capable, well-built, beautiful camera. But, if I’m being honest, it’s just another mirrorless camera system. And it was very expensive. Purchased today, my kit, consisting of the SL2-S and the Leica APO Summicron 35mm and 75mm lenses would run close to $16,000. Um, who do I think I am?

I thought I’d shoot more video with it but haven’t. I thought I’d do more portraits with it, but I haven’t. Hell, I thought I’d use it a lot, but I haven’t.

So, I sold it all.

Leica’s menu systems are wonderfully simple. The SL2-S feels like a tank. Its EVF is far and away the best I’ve ever looked through. The images are terrific. It feels good in my hands. On top of that, the APO-Summicron-SL 35mm lens is the greatest lens I’ve ever had the pleasure of using. I mean it. I’d often unload a card and actually say, “Wow!”.

All that great stuff is great stuff, but I still wasn’t using the camera enough, and I felt guilty having that much money in camera gear just idling in a camera bag. As I said, it’s really just a (very nice) mirrorless system. I could pick up a used Nikon Z or Canon R or Fuji kit for much less and get basically the same features and capabilities, if not the same experience.

The other factor that weighed on me was that I missed the M10-R. I know, I know, I justsold an M10-R to fund the Q2 Monochrom. Here’s what I said about that move only a month ago:

The M is a slow, manual-focus, deliberate camera. It’s not really suited for just having around taking snaps. It only focuses down to like three feet. Manual focus means that every shot requires two hands. It’s very very expensive, so letting it just dangle around my neck while not paying attention to it is a terrible idea.

The M10-R has left the building

All that is still true, but now I have the Q2M for “just dangling around my neck” when I’m out and about. What the M10-R offers is the Leica M shooting experience. It’s a beautiful, iconic, delightful rangefinder camera. The Leica M series of cameras fit perfectly in my hands and my brain, even if they’re “harder” to use.

Plus, I can now focus on one system and use the fantastic M lenses that I’ve loved for so long. And everything works exactly the same on my film Ms, which reduces a lot of mental overhead.

I’ll miss the SL, and maybe one day I’ll end up with an SL3 or whatever, but I have to admit that right now it’s good for my brain to only deal with one camera and lens system again.