During the PKM Summit last week I saw Zsolt Viczián do several amazing things with his Excalidraw plugin in Obsidian as part of his visual thinking efforts.
I’m very much a text person, but do recognise the role of visual elements as part of my thinking process. Shifting concepts around, thinking about connections, clustering etc. It engages the spatial parts of the brain, and humans are good at that. As most tools do either one thing or the other, when a tool can do both as just different perspectives on the same thing that draws my attention. It is why I’ve used Tinderbox and e.g. The Brain. Zsolt showed me how Excalidraw in Obsidian can do both too. Any Excalidraw-in-Obsidian image can have a regular note on the other side, and you can switch between them. All this because it’s just one note in markdown with some parts interpreted by Excalidraw and other parts by Obsidian.

A sketch of the elements needed to post my own slidedecks in a nice viewer, now that I’m no longer satisfied with how I’ve ‘brought slides home‘ the past four years.

The same file but now shown as text, where I’ve written a few tasks as part of creating the setup I’ve sketched in the image. Zsolt calls this the backside of the image. I’m more reminded of Tinderbox where you could see something as outline, as timeline, as tree map, as canvas etc. all interchangeable.

Zsolt very much gave me a great nudge to play with this more, and relearn that I do care about visual elements in my notes, and that it’s just that it wasn’t easy enough to build into my routines in making notes.

Bookmarked Opening Space to Remember Harrison Owen by Nancy White

The originator of the Open Space technology, Harrison Owen, died March 16th. I am very grateful to Harrison Owen, as Open Space has been a key element throughout my working life in the past two decades. Open Space has allowed me to collaboratively set the conditions at various events for interaction in a way that fosters inclusion, allows all present to be heard, and works towards outcomes that are carried by all involved. You can find resources on Open Space at Openspaceworld.org. I first encountered Open Space as a format in January 2004, and was immediately convinced of its value. Since then I’ve facilitated it in a huge variety of sessions, that included our BlogWalk series 2004-2008, many conference side-events, Barcamps, IndieWeb camps, and the birthday unconferences E and I have hosted over the years. At times opening and especially closing the space can be an emotional experience. “Coming down to earth from creating and surfing the group’s collective energy and shared attention, from weaving the tapestry of the experience togetheras I wrote two years ago.

…the person who birthed OST, Harrison Owen, who passed away earlier this month…

Nancy White

One of the guidelines of Open Space posted on the wall in our living room as nudge and reminder for the participants of our Working on Stuff That Matters birthday unconference in 2010.

A little over a decade ago I was at a small conference, where I happened to share the stage with a British lawyer, Polly Higgins, seeking to internationally criminalise ‘ecocide’, alongside various other speakers. One of those others was a self declared rationalist running a data driven research start-up with billionaire funding. He believed the trickle down innovation trope that usually ends in pulling up the ladder behind them, which can be readily found around all things tech-singularity. And he called himself a futurist. After the talks we as speakers stood on and in front of the stage chatting about the things that had been presented. The futurist, addressing me and one other speaker, chuckled that ‘that eco-lady’ had a nice idea but a naive unrealistic and irrational one that obviously had zero probability of happening. At the time I found it jerkish and jarring, not least given the guys’s absence of expertise in the fields concerned (environment and international law). It’s one of the key moments I remember from that conference, as the condescending remark so strongly clashed with the rest of the event and atmosphere.

Meanwhile we’re some 10 years into the future of that conference. The futurist’s efforts collapsed soon after the conference it seems and there are no recent online traces of him. Polly Higgins is no longer alive, but her cause has very much outlived her. On 26 March the final step in the legislative path of a renewed Directive on the protection of the environment through criminal law has been taken, when the Council of the EU formally approved the text agreed (last November) with the European Parliament. In that new ecocrimes directive preamble 21 uses the phrase ecocide to describe specific crimes covered in the Directive (PDF).

Criminal offences relating to intentional conduct listed in this Directive can lead to catastrophic results, such as widespread pollution, industrial accidents with severe effects on the environment or large-scale forest fires. Where such offences cause the destruction of, or widespread and substantial damage which is either irreversible or long-lasting to, an ecosystem of considerable size or environmental value or a habitat within a protected site, or cause widespread and substantial damage which is either irreversible or long-lasting to the quality of air, soil, or water, such offences, leading to such catastrophic results, should constitute qualified criminal offences and, consequently, be punished with more severe penalties than those applicable in the event of other criminal offences defined in this Directive. Those qualified criminal offences can encompass conduct comparable to ‘ecocide’, which is already covered by the law of certain Member States and which is being discussed in international fora.

Good work barrister Higgins, and the Stop Ecocide organisation.

A photo taken by Polly Higgins of me as we had fun together driving an all electric ‘motor bike’ around the venue’s hallways at that conference in 2013.

Polly Higgins about to take the e-chopper for a spin through the venue.

A who’s who in current personal knowledge management and tools for thought convened in Utrecht, where I was at the PKM Summit the past two days. It was loads of fun, I learned new things, and the atmosphere was great with participants from a dozen countries.
I’m a pkm practitioner, not usually given to missionary work around it, nor part of the various business models around it. I do like discussing practices and tools with others though, especially in the context of learning and agency (rather than mainly about focused productivity). And that is what I got at PKM Summit. It was my kind of conference. Where speakers were just regular participants and everybody interacted with everyone else. Where everyone of the 150 participants just geeked-out on each other’s pkm practices. Whether you’d been doing it for decades or days. There was also plenty space in the schedule for people to suggest additional sessions, an opportunity that was well used. Also by the invited speakers, who did sessions together too.

That it worked out that way wasn’t entirely a surprise to me, because I had volunteered in the run-up to help bring in speakers and curate the program with the hope of it having that effect.
That for instance Harold Jarche, Nicole van der Hoeven, Chris Aldrich, Beth McClelland and Zsolt Viczián were part of the program was a result of that. And some organisational aspects I had suggested to the organising team based on my Reboot and Open Space experiences (as participant and organiser respectively) also were adopted.
That Nick Milo would be there in person, as would David Allen of Getting Things Done fame were pleasant surprises I learned of in the days before the event.
The informal setting of Seats2Meet, the high quality of the catering, and above all the enthusiasm of the all-volunteer team (some of whom also took the opportunity to do a spontaneous session on the program), brought it all together. The meet-up that Nick Milo hosted in the evening of the first day at the Green House was fun to chat with a wide variety of people including some who weren’t at the conference.

I’m happy four of my colleagues came along and had an equally good time.

A next edition was announced for 14 and 15 March 2025. It might be hard to top the synergy and novelty of this edition though. Also because what caused surprisal and excitement this time, might become expected and the subconscious baseline next time.
Still there were plenty of people that I reached out to who couldn’t make it this time, and hopefully can be there next time. Like Beat Döbeli, Bianca Pereira and Bob Doto.
The way to pull it off once more I think lies in the strength(ening) of community. To keep building and deepening the connections made, to nudge and have space for self-organisation, and keep putting mutual learning and exploration first.

A big thank you to Lykle, Kim and Martijn, and the many volunteers around them for two great days.

Bookmarked Timeline of some of the intellectual history of pkm by Chris Aldrich

Today was the first day of the European PKM Summit in the Netherlands. With all the momentum around novel digital tools for thought, I thought it important to also create room for a discussion of the deep history of most of the methods that we are re-implementing in our current crop of tools. Especially since large groups assume there is no such history. At best in tech the origin of PKM like stuff is pinpointed to Vannevar Bush’s Memex. Whereas tagging, commonplacing, index cards all have their centuries or even millennia of history. Chris Aldrich has researched that history in great detail. And as Chris and I know each other through our IndieWeb efforts I reached out to involve him in this personal knowledge management conference.

Here’s a version of the timeline of some of the intellectual history I presented today at the PKM Summit in Utrecht.

Chris Aldrich

I have been interested in personal knowledge management (pkm) for a very long time. I have been an avid notes maker ever since I learned to write. Digital tools from the late 1980s onwards have been extremely useful. And a source of nerdy fascination, I confess. I am certain personal knowledge management (pkm) is of tremendous value for anyone who wants to keep learning and make sense of the world around them.

On March 22 and 23 the European PKM Summit is taking place in Utrecht, Netherlands. I have helped invite speakers and workshop hosts for this event. I am donating a ticket for a student in the Netherlands to attend this two day event.

Are you a student in the Netherlands with a strong interest in personal knowledge management (pkm)?
Is your interest in pkm to strengthen your personal learning and deepen your interests, rather than increasing (perceived) productivity?
Would you like to go to the PKM Summit on 22nd and 23 of March in Utrecht, but as a student can’t afford the 200 Euro ticket price?

Then I have one (1) conference ticket available! Let me know who you are and what fascinates you in pkm or attracts you to the event. If there are several people interested I will choose one. I will donate the ticket by March 8, so state your interest before then.

The single condition is that you attend the event on both days and participate actively. There is a session on the program that may be of interest, focused on pkm for students and teachers for learning and research contexts. It would be great if you would share some of your impressions of the event afterwards, especially if that is something you’d normally do anyway.

Interested? Email or DM me (in Dutch or English)!