Amazingly useful plugins keep getting made for Obsidian. Plugins that help reduce friction to getting my material from other sources into flat markdown files that I then can edit, rework and do with as I see fit. Earlier I mentioned the Zotero plugins to extract PDF highlights and Zotero links into Obsidian. Today I started using the Kindle highlights plugin. It connects either to your Amazon account or you feed it your myclippings.txt file from your Kindle device.

It then pulls in your highlights into one note file for each book. You can edit the template for that note, to make sure it includes the information and metadata you want. Each highlight has a link directly to the highlight in your book, and when I click it opens my Kindle app on my Mac and jumps right to it.

Previously I would either download a CSV through the export notes function on a Kindle device which mails you your notes, or copy the myclippings.txt.

Using myclippings.txt is still the only way to get highlights from a book you did not add to a Kindle through Amazon (e.g. a direct upload from my Calibre library).

With one click, upon my first sync I now have about 100 notes with highlights from books I read. I never was a heavy highlighter, because of the friction of getting those highlights to a place where I could use them. That may now change.

Image: a screenshot of how highlights from one of my books now show up as notes in a markdown file, using the default template.

De allereerste Nederlandstalige meet-up van Obsidian.md gebruikers was interessant en leuk! We waren met z’n vieren, Sebastiaan, Wouter, Frank en ik, en spraken bijna 2 uur met elkaar. Leuk om te vergelijken waarom en hoe we notities maken in Obsidian, te horen over de (vaak lange) historie die iedereen heeft met notities schrijven, met de hand of in een reeks tools. Het gesprek ging vooral over onze werkwijzen bij het toevoegen van notities, en in mindere mate over het gebruik van die notities.

Dat gebruik is zeker iets om over door te praten een volgende keer, en voor mezelf om bewuster bij stil te staan. Ik merk dat ik nog vooral in de modus zit om mijn collectie voldoende te laten groeien, en minder in het bewust raadplegen van mijn materiaal als ik met een onderwerp aan de slag ga, of iets wil maken. Tegelijkertijd merk ik wel dat ik nieuwe verbindingen leg tussen notities, en (omdat ik mijn oude weblog postings tot notities verwerk) tussen oudere en nieuwere gedachten waarover ik heb geblogd. En dat ik in het afgelopen half jaar een paar blogpostings en twee presentaties heb gemaakt die direct voortkomen uit het samenbrengen van bestaande conceptuele notities. Dat soort productieve uitkomsten is al heel nuttig, maar ik ben nog op zoek naar het een grotere rol geven van mijn notities in het reflecteren op een onderwerp, in het nadenken over vragen etc. Dit allemaal ten aanzien van conceptuele dingen dan, want m.b.t. mijn uitvoerend werk zijn mijn notities het werk als het ware.

Daarvoor is in ieder geval regelmatige blootstelling aan mijn notities nodig denk ik. Enerzijds door beter te weten wat ik er in heb zitten, en anderzijds door me in mijn workflow vaker bezig te houden met wat ik over een thema al heb bedacht, verzameld en geschreven. In de afgelopen weken ben ik daarom meer index-achtige notities gaan maken, emergente outlines. Door anderen wel maps of content genoemd, ik noem ze olifantenpaadjes. Zo’n notitie verwijst vooral naar bestaande notities, met wat zinnen er bij waarom ik die links bij elkaar plaats. Zo’n verwijs-notitie helpt me makkelijker de weg te vinden in mijn digitale tuin. Ik maakte eerder al emergente outlines maar die waren niet op navigatie gericht maar op het samenbrengen van notities in een ruwe verhaallijn, dus meer op schrijven gericht.
Een andere manier van blootstelling is via spaced repetition de inhoud van mijn notities voorbij laten komen, in de vorm van Anki vragen bijvoorbeeld. Sebastiaan liet gisteren zien dat hij een plugin aan het maken is die dat binnen Obsidian zelf doet, niet gericht op vragen of onthouden, maar gericht op herlezen.

De belangrijkste ingang voor hergebruik van mijn eigen materiaal is vaker mijn notities raadplegen als ik met een vraag aan de slag ga. Te veel leun ik op mijn eigen actieve herinnering, en dat leidt vaak tot reconstructie van dingen terwijl ik die al keurig heb uitgewerkt in mijn notities.

Wouter schrijft veel met de hand, en liet zien hoe hij al die handgeschreven pagina’s scant en in zijn Obsidian vault opneemt. Op die manier kan hij ze raadplegen en er naar verwijzen als hij er dingen uit tilt en in een notitie opneemt. Dit is een interessante manier. Al schrijf ik veel direct digitaal, ik maak ook veel handmatige aantekeningen, en er ligt hier een stapel A5 notitieboekjes. Nu heb ik ook een staande scanner met voetpedaal van CZUR, en die leent zich goed om snel notitieboekjes te digitaliseren realiseerde ik me na de meet-up. Daar maar eens mee experimenteren.

Tot slot, was ik blij met hoe prettig mijn Jitsi server werkte zo met z’n vieren. Benieuwd hoe dat gaat als je met een grotere groep bent. Alleen het scherm delen had een rare bug waarbij de bovenste strook van een scherm bleef hangen op het eerste beeld.

Wil je ook met andere Obsidian gebruikers in het Nederlandse praten over je ervaringen? Kom dan naar het #nederlands kanaal op de Obsidian Discord server.

There is a new community built plugin available for Obsidian: Journey.

It’s a tool that figures out the connecting path between two notes. When you give it note A as starting point, and B as destination it will show the notes between that build a path from A to B. There are settings to exclude specific folders, backlinks, or not use #tags as connecting pivot, or ignore notes that have more than a certain number of links (your indexes, tables of content, outlines etc). It’s a useful way to let myself be surprised by connections through my notes and notions, to see how my thinking is linked. That is valuable when asking questions of my notes, and interacting with it to further my own thinking. It also has ‘I’m feeling lucky’ button that selects two notes at random to explore if a path exists between them.

Some discussion about the Journey plugin with feature descriptions and screenshots is in the Obsidian forum. To install it, you can find the plugin by searching Community plugins in Obsidian’s settings.

(found through Frank Meeuwsen‘s daily automated e-mail with the latest Obsidian discussions from the Obsidian Forum and the subreddits for Obsidian, Zettelkasten and notetaking.)

Writing my Notions and notes these past months as part of my revamped personal knowledge management system, I realised as the collection grew that using the collection as a thinking tool also requires remembering more of what is in there. Not to make the notes superfluous but to have more top of mind material that serves as a starting point in interacting with the notes I have, as well as to be able to weave that more easily into current tasks and work. I also expect it to aid creativity, as a large chunk of creativity is recombination of previous elements, and remembering more elements lowers the threshold to new combinations.

Both in Andy Matuschaks notes and in this long article by Michael Nielsen about his use of Anki, spaced repetition is discussed in the context of note taking, and it got me thinking (I write ‘thinking’, but it was as much working through the mentioned material and distilling the concepts key to me from it, as it was chewing on it mentally and adding that to those same notes. Thinking is more interacting with my PKM, rather than sitting down looking into the middle distance as per Rodin’s bronze).

Anki is a tool (on laptop and mobile), that allows you to train your memory with flash cards and spaced repetition. I’ve used it in the past, e.g. to increase my vocabulary in French and to better read cyrillic script, but not with much energy or effect. It felt uncomfortable to be using card decks made by others for instance. Making my own flash cards from scratch always seemed a daunting task as well.

With my now much better set-up of notes however I have a great starting point to create my own decks of flash cards. As I am obviously not the first one to realise the potential of notes collections for flash cards, there is already an Obsidian plugin that pulls out questions and answers from my notes, and puts them into Anki. It comes with a wiki that documents how to set it up for yourself, including how to mark various types of questions and answers in your notes.

The key feature is, that I can add a question and its answer as a part of any note, and the plugin will pull it out and export that to Anki. It means I can e.g. end a note on three key aspects of distributed applications, with an Anki question and answer about those three aspects, which will get exported to Anki. Better still, I can add multiple questions in different forms about the same thing to that note, e.g. a follow-up question for each of the three aspects. Having multiple versions of basically the same question means I can phrase them for different memory hooks in parallel. This will enhance my own understanding, and allows me to place notions in specific contexts for instance.

I have now installed the Obsidian to Anki plugin in Obsidian, and the Anki Connect plugin in Anki (so it can ‘listen’ for automated input).

Some things I hope this will yield benefits for is:

  • making it a more deliberate choice what I want to remember long term
  • making it easier to remember the basics of a new field of interest
  • making the effort to remember a habit
  • improving my skilled reading
  • using remembered material to better connect new notes to the existing corpus
  • making it easier to internalise new / relatively new material

The way I’m approaching it is to have all my flash cards, whatever the topic, in the same single deck. This as I see my notes collection and all the stuff I remember as a interlinked network of topics and material. Splitting it up in some sort of thematic structure precludes a whole range of potential connections and associations, and is artificial in that it makes a current perhaps logical distinction the norm forever.

The coming 12 weeks or so I’ll work on two habits:

  • adding questions to my notes as I work on those notes, and
  • using Anki daily to review those questions.

Over the past few weeks I have described how my usage of Obsidian has evolved since I first used in early July. This is the final post in the series. Where the previous posts described my personal knowledge management system, and how I use it for daily project work, task management, note taking, and flow using workspaces in this final post I want to mention a few more general points.

These points concern first my overall attitude towards using Obsidian as a tool, second its current functionality and third its future development of functionality.

First, what is most important to me is that Obsidian is a capable viewer on my filesystem. It lets me work in plain text files. That is my ‘natural’ environment as I was used to doing everything in text files ever since I started using computers. It’s a return of sorts. What Obsidian as a viewer views is the top folder you point it to. The data I create in that folder remains independent from Obsidian. I can interact with that data (mark down text files) through other means than just Obsidian. And I do, I use the filesystem directly to see what are the most recent notes I made. I add images by downloading or copying them directly into a folder within the Obsidian vault. I use Applescript to create new notes and write content to them, without Obsidian playing any role.
Next is that Obsidian allows me to rearrange how I see notes in different workspaces and lets me save both workspaces and searches, which means it can represent different queries on my files. In short Obsidian at this moment satisfies 3 important conditions for decentralised software: I own my own data, the app is a view, interfaces are queries. Had any one of those 3 but especially the first been missing, I would be exchanging one silo (Evernote) for the next. Obsidian after all is not open source. A similar tool Foam is. Foam is currently not far enough along their path of development to my taste, but will get there, and I will certainly explore making the switch.

When it comes to current functionality I am ensuring that I use Obsidian only in the ways that fit with those three conditions. There is some functionality I therefore refuse to use, some I likely won’t use, and some I intend to start using.

I refuse to use any functionality that creates functionality lock-in, and makes me dependent on that particular feature while compromising the 3 key conditions mentioned above. Basically this covers any functionality that determines what my data looks like, and how it is created (naming conventions, automatic lay-outs etc). Functionality that doesn’t stick to being a viewer, but actively shapes the way data looks is a no go.

There are other functions I won’t use because they do not fit my system. For instance it is possible to publish your Obsidian vault publicly online (at publish.obsidian.md, here’s a random example), and some do. To me that is unthinkable: my notes are an extension of my thinking and a personal tool. They are part of my inner space. Publishing is a very different thing, meant for a different audience (you, not me), more product than internal process. At most I can imagine having separate public versions of internal notes, but really anything I publish in a public digital garden is an output of my internal digital garden. Obviously I’d want to publish those through my own site, not through an Obsidian controlled domain.

Other functionality I am interested in exploring to use. For instance Obsidian supports using Mermaid diagrams, a mark-down style language. This is a way to use diagrams that can port to another viewer as well, and doesn’t get in the way if a viewer does not support them.

Mermaid is a way to describe a diagram, and then render it. Seen here both from within Obsidian.

Future functionality I will explore is functionality that increases the capabilities of Obsidian as a viewer. Anything to more intelligently deal with search results for instance, or showing notes on a time line or some other aspect. Being able to store graph settings in a workspace (graphs now all revert to the default when reloading a workspace). And using the API that is forthcoming, which presumably means I can have my scripts talk directly to Obsidian as well as the filesystem.

I’ve now been using Obsidian for 122 days, and it will likely stay that way for some time.

Replied to Weeknote - 25 October 2020 :: Off the Top :: vanderwal.net (vanderwal.net)
I’m finding with what Obsidian offers I’m able to really get a lot of crosswalks between ideas, sources, authors / creators, and structures that I just didn’t have access to before. Already it feels a bit like I have a James Burke long transfer system in the works that is part of the structure of his Connections series.

Thank you for mentioning the James Burke and Connections in your week notes Thomas! And using it as a metaphor for your Obsidian usage. Some timely serendipity while working out some notes related to theories of change in my own Obsidian vault.
Btw, I’ve been documenting some of my Obsidian experiences in the past week or so, the first of which describes my pkm system, and how Obsidian supports parts of it.