Workflow

Cal Newport on tool selection

The Any-Benefit Approach to Network Tool Selection: You’re justified in using a network tool if you can identify any possible benefit to its use, or anything you might possibly miss out on if you don’t use it.

Cal Newport, “Deep Work”

I don’t know what I want

This has been a tumultuous week for me, photography-wise. Early in the week, I made this silver gelatin darkroom print of a 35mm frame of HP5 film.

On my walk. Ada, MI Silver Gelatin print (Leica MP, HP5)
On my walk. Ada, MI Silver Gelatin print (Leica MP, HP5)

It’s a photo of some weeds I took while out walking. That’s it. But I made it using my favorite camera and it’s a “real” chemical photograph on actual paper. I like it very much.

Then yesterday, I took the following self-portrait using my new Fujifilm X-T5 digital camera in my home studio.

Studio Self-portrait (digital)
Studio Self-portrait (digital)

Here’s my dilemma: I like them both, but never equally or at the same time. One moment I love everything about shooting film with my Leica and printing using only light and chemistry in the darkroom. It feels like making art, even when the objective technical quality is lacking. In fact, the lack of technical quality is what I look for when shooting and printing film.

Then, a moment later, I can’t understand why I’d bother with all that when I could simply shoot digitally and easily produce a clean, sharp, colorful self-portrait using strobes and backgrounds without all the finger-crossed guessing and expensive failures.

What all this means is that I don’t think I’ll ever be able to commit to a single form of photography. There are too many fun and exciting options to limit myself to just one. It also means I’m unlikely to ever develop the “Baty Aesthetic™” that I always think I should have. It means I’ve no “vision”. Oh well, it’ll have to be OK that I’m all over the place, creatively.

DEVONthink or EagleFiler (or Finder?)

One of the many things I waffle about is the choice of software for managing my many PDFs and other files. I often wish I could just keep everything in organized folders and use my Mac’s Finder to manage it all. That sounds great on paper, but never sticks.

I’ve used DEVONthink for years because it is so mature and powerful. I continue to find new features or techniques even after all this time. It does everything!

EagleFiler comes into play when I’m feeling overwhelmed by DEVONthink. EagleFiler is much closer to the metal, so to speak. It’s basically a thin, smart layer over a set of folders. Everything is accessible “natively” and its capture and organizational features are simple and useful.

But after using EagleFiler for a while, I start to wonder why I’m not just doing everything in Finder. I mean, if we’re going to mess about with files in the filesystem, why not just do that then? What was EagleFiler offering me, again?

After a short time, I end up back with nicely organized files and folders and it’s such a relief not needing to deal with databases or any of that nonsense!

Except it’s harder to get things into the right place using just Finder. It requires me to, for example, save a PDF to my Desktop then find and open the destination folder, then drag it on in. This makes quickly capturing stuff cumbersome. Search is fine, but harder to use than in the other apps. And I miss the way DEVONthink would intelligently sort and rename files for me. So always return to using DEVONthink, until I end up back at the beginning.

Where are we today, then? Today, it’s DEVONthink. My feeling right now is that if I’m going to abstract myself away from the actual files, I may as well use the tool with the coolest, fanciest ways to do that.

However, I can feel the pull of a simple set of folders and files. I am thinking about ways of making 2023 the Year Of Less Software, so stay tuned. 🙂

It was meant to be a workbench but has become a writing desk

My “workbench”

I put together a workbench in the basement after moving into my wife’s house. It has all the things I might need for minor repairs or electronics projects. You know, in case I ever feel the urge to fix or build something.

I often imagine myself as someone handy with tools. Someone who is not just creative, but can actually implement his ideas. Or someone who can repair things. It’s fun to imagine myself as that person, but I am not that person.

Since the “maker” urge hasn’t arrived, instead of using my workbench as a workbench, I’ve been using it as a standup writing desk. I have my notebooks and paper-related doodads within reach on a shelf to my left. My pens and stamps and pencil sharpener are on another shelf in front of me. It’s working out well, so I don’t mind that it isn’t used for what I intended.

Posting from iA Writer

This post, in iA Writer

Sometimes I feel like changing things up a little. I get bored writing the same way using the same app for everything. Today, for example, I’m typing this in iA Writer. Writer is a very nice, simple, lovely app for writing Markdown that can post directly to WordPress and is a nice change of pace.

Beyond the Infinite

I collect a lot of “stuff” on my computer. I’m one of those lazy people who just drop most of it onto my Desktop and assume I’ll figure out what to do with it later. The problem is, I rarely actually figure out what to do with most of it.

Late last year I created a folder on my Mac’s desktop named “Beyond the Infinite” 1. Anything that ends up on my desktop that isn’t important enough to file away but is something that I’d still like to keep, “just in case,” gets tossed into Beyond the Infinite.

It’s become a minor treasure. It’s like a journal of things that barely matter at the time, but become valuable later. Screenshots, text snippets, URLs, etc. I love it.

Printing web pages

In 2020 I wrote,

I no longer try to read longer-form articles right away. I instead send them to Instapaper and, after a day or two, review the inbox, delete the ones I no longer care about, and print the ones I do.

Reading Long-Form Web Articles By Printing Them First

I still print web pages for later reading, but I’ve updated the way it works.

I’ve replaced Instapaper with Zotero as my read later service. Zotero is overkill for this, but it’s free, local, and makes the articles I save usable as references if needed.

When I’ve found an article that I want to print and read, I visit the page and use the excellent Markdownload web clipper extension. Markdownload grabs the meat of the article, converts the HTML to Markdown, and (optionally) adds front matter and metadata to the document. Here’s an example:

---
created: 2022-11-12T08:40:29
source: https://www.wired.com/story/tweet-dying-revolutionary-internet/
author: Paul Ford
documentclass: scrartcl
classoption:
- twocolumn
---

# A Tweet Before Dying | WIRED
source: ([www.wired.com](https://www.wired.com/story/tweet-dying-revolutionary-internet/))

> ## Excerpt
> The revolutionary internet is over, and we don’t have much to show for it. A new start is out there, somewhere.

---
i find it a good philosophical exercise to imagine the last tweet. It could come centuries hence, when a cryptobot offers a wistful adieu to another cryptobot, or in 2025, when Donald Trump, the newly ...

I add the documentclass and classoption front matter manually. These options are used by my pandoc template 1 when converting the Markdown file to PDF using Pandoc. The rest is handled automatically by the extension.

Once I have the Markdown file, I convert it to PDF either via a BBEdit script or pandoc-mode in Emacs.

Here’s what the PDF looks like:

Screenshot of printed output

After that, it’s off to the printer.

Admittedly, the setup for this took me some time, but now that the hard part is done I can go from web page to a typographically beautiful printed document in about a minute. It’s been totally worth it.

Personal Knowledge Management is exhausting

I’ve been testing the hot new Tana app for the past week, and I’m exhausted.

First, I don’t need a Zettelkasten. If you’re being honest, you probably don’t either. And yet, we spend hours or days learning the “proper” way to build one. Then we set up our new system, using paper or digital or both, roll up our sleeves, and waste time putting stuff into it.

The worst part isn’t the putting of stuff into my PKM (Personal Knowledge Management) system. The worst part is all of the tinkering around where to put stuff and how to classify/tag/organize it.

I made the mistake of reading “How to Take Smart Notes” by Sönke Ahrens and browsing the forums and that sent me on a spiral of worrying about atomicity, what to do about “fleeting” notes, how big is a Zettel? and so on. In other words, I was more concerned with finding the proper method of managing my notes rather than focusing on what was actually in them and what they were for.

This week’s tinkering with Tana hasn’t helped. Tana is the next iteration of tools based on things like Roam Research, Notion, etc. I like it. It’s a bit like TiddlyWiki and Tinderbox in that it allows for additional attributes to be associated with each node and makes these ontologies easy to search, link, parse, summarize, etc. It makes some complicated workflows pretty easy to implement. I think a lot of people will dig it.

The problem is that this flexibility leads to a lot of hand-wringing over the best way to utilize all this power. The Tana Slack channels are teeming with questions about workflows and structure and attributes and on and on. It makes me tired just reading about it.

I’m not sure I need a system around, for example, the best way to surface the minutiae from interstitial journaling. In fact, just using the phrase “interstitial journaling” is a dead giveaway that I’ve already been overthinking it. Settle down, Jack!

Anyway, I’ll keep playing with Tana for fun, but I’m probably not going to continue using it for my notes. It’s not something I will benefit from, especially considering the amount of effort I’ll put into setting it up and getting everything “right”. I’m exhausted and I think I’ll go back to using paper. Or maybe Emacs.

C-x C-c

I rage-quit Emacs this morning. By that, I don’t mean that I hit C-x C-c really hard, although I did do that. I mean I stopped using Emacs.

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