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.

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.

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.

What makes a good family photograph?

Aidan and Gail chatting on the couch

The above photo is a good family photograph. Why? Because it doesn’t just capture members of the family, it captures a family moment. So many family photos are smiling selfies taken at arm’s length. Selfies say, “Here these people are.” but not much more. They’re fine, but ultimately not much more than basic record-keeping. I much prefer photos showing family simply living and interacting in their natural habitat. Here’s another from the same roll:

Gail and Alice (2021)

These were both taken with a film camera in low light, so required a slow shutter speed and wide aperture. This meant missed focus and some motion blur. I don’t care. It’s the moment that counts, not the sharpness. And being film photos, it means I’ll forever have the original negatives on my shelf. Of course that doesn’t make the photo better, but it does make me feel good.

The shitty camera with you

The best camera is the one you have with you. Unless it’s a shitty camera. In that case the best camera is the one you left at home. Idiot.  

– Jack Baty, Twitter 2010

A tweak to the photo workflow

I’m trying to stick with the Adobe suite for processing, editing, and managing photos.

I prefer Capture One’s editing process, but Lightroom Classic has everything else going for it, (ecosystem, tooling, ubiquity, etc.) so that’s where I’ve settled for now.

But I’d love to take advantage of Lightroom CC on mobile and my laptop. CC and Classic will sync, but if not handled properly the whole enterprise can quickly turn into a mess. What I was doing is to import into Classic, edit, export, then add the “keepers” to a synced catalog (or “all synched photographs”) so that those photos would be available everywhere. The problem is that this takes diligence and consistency. It takes work. I’m not good at consistency, and I end up frustrated and bailing on the whole thing.

So here’s what I’m trying. I’m reversing the process and importing directly into Lightroom CC instead. I cull and rate the photos there. I do simple edits and enter captions. For any images I’m more “serious” about, I launch Lightroom Classic which automatically syncs all the images from CC. While I’m there I copy the files to my usual places on the filesystem and rename if desired. All this can be done in Classic and the photos still remain synced and available in CC.

One downside is that when syncing from Classic to CC the photos don’t count toward my subscription’s storage, which is nice, but going the other way takes up space. I think this will be OK. If I do come home with cards chock-full of images I’ll just start in Classic instead.

This also means I can enable auto-import from my phone’s library and have everything show up automatically. I have to be careful here, because if I want to keep Apple Photos app as my final library (for sharing, showing people, and ease of OS integration) I can end up with duplicates this way.

Lightroom CC is a more pleasant place to live than Classic, so for 80% of the time it’s good enough. For the other 20% I head over to Classic.

Update July 11, 2021: I’m mostly back to only using Lightroom Classic. Too many moving parts trying to wrangle both.

A visual thinker using text-based tools

Yesterday I was asked something about a project I’d worked on two years ago. At that time I’d used Curio to help manage the project. I opened the Curio project and within thirty seconds of just looking at the workspace I had a handle on the project and easily found an answer to the questions I’d been asked.

Whenever I revisit something that I’d created in TheBrain or a mind map or Curio or Tinderbox , I find the spatial layout of the information to be instantly useful.

And yet I use Org mode in Emacs for nearly everything. You can probably tell that I’m having another one of my moments.

I love plain text. Or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I love the idea of plain text. Nearly all the arguments for using plain text are good arguments, but that doesn’t make plain text any more useful for me.

Plain text’s usefulness depends on what it’s for. As an example, a simple log of things that happen throughout the day makes sense as plain text. It’s almost always going to be accessed via search, and text is made for searching. Journaling can be done in plain text, although it’s made better by including images.

The way text is presented can make all the difference. An example is the display of backlinks in Roam and Logseq. Those tools use a nicely-formatted display, including context. Compare it to something like org-roam, which, as powerful as it is, can’t compete visually. It’s hard to parse backlinks in org-roam just by looking at them. And that’s a problem system wide. A wall of text is less useful than a purposefully-arranged and formatted visual display of that same information.

Anyway, I launched Curio and Tinderbox and TheBrain and now I’m in big trouble.

Using Zotero as a bookmarking and read-later service

I’m almost certainly using Zotero wrong.

Instead of for citations and research, I’m using Zotero as a bookmarking tool and read-later service, and it’s working really well. Is no one else doing this?

I’ve used many tools meant for saving links for later, from del.icio.us to Pinboard to Instapaper to Pocket to Raindrop. All of them are fine. Some focus on social bookmarking, some on archiving, some are meant as “read later” services. And all of them are prettier than Zotero. And yet…

I installed Zotero while tinkering with an Org mode note-taking workflow. Soon after, I installed the “Save to Zotero” Safari extension and started using that instead of my usual “Save to Pinboard” bookmarklet, just for something different. I was surprised to find that this has become my default.

For free, I get smart metadata parsing and tagging along with old-school hierarchical organization. I get full-page offline snapshots and sync. I get PDF annotation and storage. Oh, and I get citation management I can use if I ever want to sound smarter than I am.

It’s only been a month or two, but it feels like I have a good start on building a nicely-organized reference library as a byproduct of bookmarking things to read later.