Today I came to the realisation that my ‘x years ago on this day you blogged…‘ widget is a great way to every day do a recap of those postings and capture the ideas in it in my notes. In a year it would mean all readily apparant ideas mentioned here since 2002 would be included in my notes as well as their interconnectedness, in two years it would mean I’d have had a second iteration on it.

I also realised that after a year (or two), having processed my blog that way, I could do the same thing on the thus emerging collection of notes themselves, as I have a way of surfacing all notes from e.g. July 12th in any given year.

This is akin to how I am my own blog’s most intensive reader already, reading back and forth, following links etc. But it could now be aimed at capturing some of that in a different form than the blog’s timeline.

Probably I could do the same for my existing Evernote collection, although I suspect it would be much less fruitful. My blog is my own writing, output resulting from my own thinking, doing and curation. A large chunk of my Evernote is a snippet collection from around the web without much context. Except for elements I already marked during note taking for action or as ideas, those would be easily findable.

Yesterday I wrote in Getting to Like Obsidian

The combination of Obsidian and Zotero, which I started using for reading references, even looks like something to replace Evernote with. This is the first time I’ve thought that in the past 4 years for longer than an hour.

Coincidentally today was my annual renewal of my Evernote subscription. I guess that I now have a year to remove myself from Evernote 😀

Today I moved my daily notes (a bullet list of things I do during the day) to Obsidian from WP. It was a frictionless change. A next experiment will be to take a random recent note and a random recent bookmark from my Evernotes and see how I can add them to the Obsidian/Zotero combination in a meaningful way.

Start the count down! 😉

In the past days I have been both exploring my process for second order note taking, and part of that is evaluating tools. I’ve been trying the note taking process in both WordPress and Evernote. In parallel I have also been looking at other tools for note taking. I’ve looked at a few tools that say to have implemented the Zettelkasten method, but I don’t want tools that assume to shape my process. I want to shape my tools, based on my routines.

In terms of tools that support me, I want tools that increase networked agency. Tools that treat data as fully mine, the tool itself as a view on the data, and its interface(s) as queries on that data.

Between WP and Evernote, the first does that, the second most definitely not. At the same time Evernote makes note taking much easier than WP can ever do. This is not surprising as WP is a blogging tool that I am using as a wiki on my local host while Evernote was designed for note taking. From the other tools I looked at, Joplin and Obsidian stood out, both tools that use markdown. Joplin because it is open source, allows easy import from Evernote, and can save webpages locally, can sync with Nextcloud allowing easy mobile access. It does store notes in a sqllite database which makes accessing my data more difficult.

Obsidian is still in beta but already looks pretty amazing to me (similar to Roam it seems). It operates on text files in a folder, thus allowing direct access through my file system to any data I add. It provides a view on that data that allows easy linking between notes, and you can split off any number of panes in the interface with whatever content or query. This means you can have a variety of notes open, pin them, see what links to what etc. There is also a graphical view, that allows you to explore notes based on the cloud of links they form. That makes it look a bit like the Brain of old. It’s all in markdown, so easy to use on mobile with a different client if I sync it through Nextcloud. I added the same notes I previously added to WP and EN in Obsidian, to experience differences and commonalities. In comparison with the other notes tools I tried a key difference is that I left this app open since I started it up this morning. A key difference with WP and EN is that I want to add notes to this tool. It does mean I need to relearn markdown, which has gone rusty since I last used markdown (in a locally hosted wiki), but of course it was easy to make a note and pin it to use as cheat sheet.

Obsidian screenshot, list and search pane on the left, a graphical overview middle top, a note middle bottom, and my markdown cheat sheet on the right

Having used Obsidian for a day, I am now wondering if I still need my local WP instance. The combination of Obsidian and Zotero which I started using for reading references even looks like something to replace Evernote with. This is the first time I’ve thought that in the past 4 years for longer than an hour.

I’ve been exploring my note taking, trying to shape it as a more deliberate practice. As part of that exploration I’ve been reading Sönke Ahrens ‘How to take smart notes’ on Luhmann‘s Zettelkasten (now digitised). More later on that book. What stands out in all things I find about note taking is the importance of taking time to process. Going through notes iteratively, at least once after you created them first.

My own main issue with a lot of the stuff I collect, is just that, it’s a collection. They’re not notes, so the collection mostly never gets used. Of course I also have a heap of written notes, from conversations, presentations I attended etc. There too a second step is missing, that of going through it to really digest it and lift the things out that are of interest to myself and taking note of that. Putting it into the context of the things I’m interested in. The thing I regularly do is marking elements in notes I took afterwards (e.g. marking them as an idea, an action, or something to blog), but that is not lifting them out of the original notes into a place and form where they might get re-used. Ahrens/Luhmann suggest to daily take time for a first step of processing rough notes (the thinking about the notes and capturing the results). Tiago Forte describes a process of progressive summarisation, every time you happen to go back to something you captured (often other’s content), for up to 4 iterations.

There are different steps to shape in such a process. There is how material gets collected / ends up in my inbox, and there’s the second stage of capturing things from it.
I started with looking at reading non-fiction books. With my new e-ink reader, it is easy to export any notes / markings I make in or alongside a book. Zotero is a good tool to capture bibliographic references, and allows me to add those exported notes easily. This covers the first step of getting material in a place I can process it.

The second step, creating notes based on me digesting my reading, I’m now experimenting which form that should take. There are several note apps that might be useful, but some assume too much about the usage process, which is a form of lock-in itself, or store it in a way that might create a hurdle further down the line. So, to get a feel for how I want to make those notes I am first doing it in tools I already use, to see how that feels in terms of low barrier to entry and low friction while doing it. Those two tools are a) Evernote (yes I know, I want to ditch Evernote, but using it now is a way of seeing what is process friction, what is tool friction), and b) my local WordPress instance, that basically works as a Wiki for me. I’m adding key board shortcuts using TextExpander to help easily adding structure to my notes. I’ll do that for a few days to be able to compare.

I made 7 note cards in the past 2 days, and as the number grows, it will get easier to build links between them, threading them, which is part of what I want to experience.

We visited “O’Hanlons Heroes” yesterday, in the local natural history museum (Twentse Welle). In this exposition by Redmond O’Hanlon, in parallel to a previous tv series, he follows in the footsteps of all his 19th century explore heroes.

19th Century Notebook
19th century explorer’s notebook

What jumped out for me, once again, from all the displays, is that taking notes of each and every thing is a key habit. Because you never know what will have meaning afterwards, or which patterns jump out at you when you take a step back.

A good reminder that all those notebooks, the 20.000+ photos, all the stuff in Evernote, 12 years of blogging isn’t useless. Even if for most of the time I never look at it. It is raw material. Taking notes are for taking note.