Nicole van der Hoeven published one of her videos on using Obsidian on the topic of the ExcaliBrain plugin. The plugin is made by Zsolt Viczián, the same creator as the Excalidraw plugin which brings easy visualisation to Obsidian. I use Excalidraw within Obsidian with some regularity (I’m mostly text oriented).

It’s not mentioned in the video, but the ExcaliBrain plugin is clearly inspired by The Brain software, both in terms of types of links between notes, and how it shows them (even the placement of the little circles where links attach). The name suggests so too, and the plugin author names The Brain as source of inspiration in the github reposository. I used The Brain as desktop interface from 1997 until 2004-ish, and this plugin seems to bring The Brain as a visualisation layer to my notes. That alone is enough to try it out.

The plugin can both infer relationships between notes, through existing links, much as the general graph view in Obsidian does, but does so in a more navigable style. This I hope allows it to be used as a visual navigation interface to notes, something the graph view does not meaningfully, as The Brain so usefully did for me for a number of years.

You can also set explicit relationships by adding named links to your notes, for which it uses the inline data fields (yourfieldname::) that the DataView plugin makes possible. I already use that plugin so that’s not an extra step for me.
I disagree with Nicole van der Hoeven on her suggestion to comment out explicit relationships so that the plugin will visualise them but the note won’t show the links, except in edit mode.
The notes should always show all links I explicitly set, that’s the whole point of links.
Machine inferred links are a different matter, which deserve a toggle as they are suggestions made to me.
Links are my own and real work in my notes.

Setting explicit links (parent, child, friends ExcaliBrain calls them) is similar to how I already create links. When I write a new note I aim to link other notes in the way Soren Bjornstadt describes in a video of his touring his Zettelkasten. I make three links, if possible, from a new note. One to a higher level of abstraction note, one to a lower level of abstraction but more concrete note, and one to a related note at the same level. This creates ‘chains’ of 4 notes with a content-based implied order.

For example: a note on the role of public transport might link to urban mobility and the liveability of car-free city centers as higher abstration concepts, to a note on urban rail systems or bus networks as a lower abstraction level, to the German 2022 summer reduced fare scheme as an example, and to another communal public service like urban public internet as a same level but different type of note.

I strongly dislike the parent-child-sibling(-friend) vocabulary Excalibrain introduces though, as it implies an order of creation. Parents exist first, children from parents. This means for the way I described creating links in notes that abstract concepts come first. This is not how it mostly works for me. Abstract notions are often created from, intuited from, less abstratct ones. The scaffolding created by less abstract notes and concrete examples is what leads to them. Overarching concepts and insights emerge from linking lower level items. Thankfully the terms you actually use to denote such connections between notes can be freely chosen in the plugin settings. That is a design choice by Zsolt Viczián I greatly appreciate.

Nicole van der Hoeven in her run-through of ExcaliBrain also talks about this implied hierarchy, and mentions a higher level type of use, which is adding more semantics to links using the renaming options in the plugin settings. For instance to express lines of argumentation, and how material reflects on eachother (e.g. Note A reinforces / contradicts Note B). This is the type of linking that Tinderbox allows you to do visually too, which I’ve used a lot. She hasn’t used it that way herself yet she says, but suggests it’s likely the most valuable use case. I think that rings true. It’s where linking becomes the work you have to do yourself again, as opposed to lazy or automatic linking between notes.

I very much want to experiment with the ExcaliBrain plugin.


A screenshot after activating ExcaliBrain of the vicinity of a single note

Andy Matuschak has an interesting site where he publishes his notes collection as it grows. He does that as an experiment in ‘working with the garage door up’. One thing that makes browsing his note collection pleasant is how he uses sliding panes. When you follow a link to a new note it becomes a pane that slides over the one you are coming from. It means jumping back and forth between notes that form your path through them is easy. A kind of breadcrumb trail but one that keeps the content, not just the page links, available at a glance. This allows you to maintain an overall view while you browse his site.

For Obsidian there’s a plugin that provides sliding panes ‘Andy Matuschak style’ to my notes collection. I’ve installed it to see if it reduces friction that I currently feel if I want to quickly branch out into several notes, while not actually leaving the starting note or having to add panes in a way that easily results in a hard to grasp ‘tree map‘.

As I was looking at repurposing my local WP install on my laptop in light of the wiki experiments I mentioned yesterday, I wanted to add the Category to Pages plugin I use on my blog to my local WP instance. Turns out that plugin was closed 18 months ago. I never noticed, as a WordPress install does alert you to plugins that have updates available, but clearly doesn’t warn you if a plugin is no longer being maintained. It seems the developer has closed down all his WordPress activities, with accounts deleted, his domains let go (except for his main one).

I use the Category to Pages plugin on my blog to be able to use Pages as a one-person wiki. The categories provide navigational structure, and make having hub pages easy (through category archives). There is one similar plugin that has been maintained in the past six months, which possibly is a replacement. I would need to check if it can take over seamlessly from the previous plugin, or that I need to recreate the categories and tags for pages that are currently in use. Alternatively, although the old plugin can’t be downloaded anymore, I can copy the old one over to my local WP instance for now. But probably better to have both WP instances use a plugin that is maintained.

Alan Levine recently posted his description of how to add an overview to your blog of postings from previous years on the same date as today. He turned it into a small WordPress plugin, allowing you to add such an overview using a shortcode wherever in your site you want it. It was something I had on my list of potential small hacks, so it was a nice coincidence my feedreader presented me with Alan’s posting on this. It has become ‘small hack’ 4.

I added his WP plugin, but it didn’t work as the examples he provided. The overview was missing the years. Turns out a conditional loop that should use the posting’s year, only was provided with the current year, thus never fulfilling the condition. A simple change in how the year of older postings was fetched fixed it. Which has now been added to the plugin.

In the right hand sidebar you now find a widget listing postings from earlier years, and you can see the same on the page ‘On This Blog Today In‘. I am probably my own most frequent reader of the archives, and having older postings presented to me like this adds some serendipity.

From todays historic postings, the one about the real time web is still relevant to me in how I would like a social feed reader to function. And the one about a storm that kept me away from home, I still remember (ah, when Jaiku was still a thing!).

Adding these old postings is as simple as adding the shortcode ‘postedtoday’:

There are 3 posts found on this site published on December 3

  • December 3, 2019
  • December 3, 2006
    • Presence Means Combining Cyberspace with Meatspace In Ambient Findability, the author Peter Morville talks about how The Sea of bits is rolling onto the shores of the land of atoms. This to me is at this point one of the most interesting and promising areas of web development, and a logical next step of the direction webapps took with social software. […]
  • December 3, 2005
    • Never delete anything says Google…. (above used to be an image on Flickr of a Gmail inbox above the allocated size, at url https://www.flickr.com/photos/cyprien/69534389/ since removed.) Unless of course if you’re Cyprien. Like he said: Worrisome.