Thoughts on notes/wikis/markup/wikitext

I’ve been looking for years for that one app/program, that allows me to do all of my knowledge base and note taking requirements. I need it to be cross platform, allow for linking between notes, easy to use (no complicated markup/markdown to learn) and free from too many keyboard commands (org mode Im looking at you).

I’ve come to the conclusion that such a tool doesn’t exist.

There are a lot of tools out there that almost work for me in areas but then are let down by several things.

  1. Cost – I can’t afford to spend too much money.
  2. Linking between notes etc isn’t possible or is so hard it isn’t worth it.
  3. Data is kept in some obscure format on their server (in the cloud)
  4. Privacy – honestly does anyone actually think these days?
  5. Ease of use, I want a rich text editor, is that too much to ask in 2020?
  6. Cross platform – why can’t I have it on my phone as well as my laptop?
  7. Export data – I want to be able to take my data out and keep the structure.
  8. Bookmarking – I want a browser extension to bookmark sites and keep a reasonable facsimile.
  9. Highlighting – I want to easily highlight some text. By that I mean with yellow highlighter.
  10. Spell checker – UK English. Not hard right? Apparently it is.

How I use Org Mode

I’m going to apologise in advance for this post. Firstly it is a very geeky post with lots of techniques and products being used that are NOT AT ALL suitable for most people. And secondly I started drafting this post three years ago.

Also I want to point out that in no way am I suggesting that anybody try to emulate how I use these products or my working techniques. These techniques have developed over many years and are now so customised and arcane that anyone else trying to implement this would have to spend at least a year learning how to use them before they became productive. You have been warned. However, I now feel that I am more productive and streamlined in my working practices despite using some software that many people would consider out of date, ancient even. Some people reading this will say “Just what?  Why?”

Screen Shot 2016-09-02 at 14.18.00
Obviously this screen shot was taken a few years ago…

The software in question runs on top of Emacs, and is called Org Mode. Emacs at its core is a text editor, however it has been so extended with add ons that it has almost been regarded as an operating system in its own right. If you want Emacs to do something, then if you dig deep enough you will find that someone has done the hard work for you and done it before, and not only that they have made a mode for Emacs that makes it all happen for you. Org Mode is such a thing. In this case it is organising things, mostly TODO tasks, but also folded text.

“What the hell is folded text?” I hear you shout, “You cant fold text!”

Yes, you can fold text. Folded text allows you to make sections in your text, think of them like sections in a document, that you can “fold away”. And these sections can have subsections, and so on. This makes Org mode very handy for taking notes, or beginning the early stages of a document, when you don’t want to worry too much about how it looks but is nice to put some structure in. There is also an exporter, that will take your structured text and output a fully professionally typeset PDF document. Or Ebook.

But the text editing parts of Org mode aren’t why I started using it. Org mode has a powerful mechanism for allowing you to add simple, and sometimes not so simple, TODO lists and items. And because it is extensible and flexible, you can arrange your stuff the way YOU like it, not the way some app designer likes it. And once you get it set up, it’s not going to suddenly change one day just because someone has decided that it’s now done in a different way. Now I’m all for products like OneNote and EverNote (and Apple Notes) and use all of these as well, but when the chips are down and real work needs to be done to a punishing deadline, there is something in my head that makes me take notice of Org Mode TODOs in a way that Microsoft TODOs just dont.

I will post more about Org Mode tomorrow when I get more time.

Another more recent view of TODOs

Theme changes

Warning. The first thing that I usually do when setting up a new blog is to thrash around changing themes and really pissing off the people that come to look. So don’t expect this site to look the same the next time you come here! I can be annoyingly inconsistent.

Why ‘No added sugar?’

Well, I wanted a blog to moan about stuff that was away from my main artist blog Chloe Gilbert and also somewhere where I could post technical articles, and that didn’t seem appropriate on the other site so here we are. As for the name, the blog system was asking for a name so I looked around me and there was a bag of cat treats (the dog likes them) and for some reason that statement was the thing I laid my eyes on first so here it is, an objet trouvee of a blog title.