Weeknote - 3 September 2022
You are asking, “Where are you? Are you okay? Are you still blogging?”
In TikTok parlance, “Great questions. Let me tell you.” First, this standard TikTok pattern is one I find really interesting. It fills in he politeness / nicety gap that has become common in the last decade or two, where people jump into answering questions. This nod to thanking the person asking encourages questions and puts people at ease who asked a question (speaking up is often not something most people are comfortable with). But, the pattern has been used so much and is just a common / required custom, it starts to come off as forced or canned, much like required legal disclaimers. None-the-less, it is a good practice.
Well this was a long “week” (parts of this were in an end of March weeknote that needed finishing, so now edited and updated). Things on the work front got incredibly busy and hectic. I’m going to treat this “weeknote” as a catch-up of things that have held my attention over the past year.
I’m hoping to get back to posting regular weeknotes and blogging. My other blog Personal Infocloud has been quite for a long time, but been waiting for about 2 years for SquareSpace to fix a defect that impacted styling and showing full posts. I have a lot of older content I’ve long used in presentations and workshops, that I’m working to turn into videos of some of the pieces of them that are clearer for understanding in video / animated form. I’m also back working on the 70 plus set of social / complexity lenses I’ve been working on for around 14 years with that label, but around 20 years all together going back to the Model of Attraction (still a foundation for a lot of thinking and framing).
With my son off to college, I may have a little more time to write and share. I’m also looking at a digital garden model (see the last section) and as of recently Massive Wiki for a collaborative or commons approach of moving the Lenses forward (well outward).
I have been deep into cataloging, reading, and using the heck out of Obsidian since trying it out in June of 2020 and going all in at the end of July 2020 and it is now second nature. But, this built on my 10 or so years of taking markdown notes in a directory, which I had 8 to 10 year of text notes in that same directory (which were bulk renamed to markdown). My approach and use of aliases and front matter have changed how I do things, but more on that in the Productivity section below. Many of my issues in a quick test of Roam proved to save me from that path and set of problems, Notion not being mine and not a standard file format so I can reuse the notes easily has stopped being used, I use DevonThink but its backlinking and attempt at other Obsidian functionality was clumsy in my source archive (and I just pull in my directory that Obsidian sits on top of so search is relevant with resources saved), and with Obsidian now having iOS capability I’m really using it a lot on the go. I have a seriously strong preference for having the notes be separate from a system that wrangles and provides organizing for and around them. Having used nvAlt for nearly 10 years when it broke badly and wouldn’t open, all of the 2,500 or so markdown (and text) notes that sat under the app in a directory (and linked with file metadata tags). Putting Obsidian in the same notes directory and crating that directory as a vault things just continued on, but now with far more functionality.
One irony is my use of Obsidian, and in particular my daily notes (Daily Dump), has me posting and sharing here less. It is ironic as I write in the Daily Dump as if I am writing to others, but the notes are just to myself (for now - this may change if I can sort out how to keep some of the reading, learning, observations, etc. separate from work or formative observations. The Daily Dump was partly intended to capture things that could be shared back out in a weeknote. Things like the Personal Operating System, which I found insanely insightful (read below), things from Sentiers and The Near Future Lab (particularly around Generalists, which I find quite similar to a bumping into a brightline for polymaths, but also bumps up against Jane McConnell’s book The Gig Mindset Advantage (more on these later as well).
With Obsidian having tags (used to aggregate related things, as a hook metaphor I’ve used for 18 years or more) and the backlinks to use as bridges to move to related materials and ideas much in the way any hypertext environment functions. I used VooDoo Pad on my Macs for roughly 15 years, but it not easily working across iPad and phone to easily read, edit, or add to the corpus had it shift out of my main workflow. I also use Drafts for quick input from mobile and sometimes iPad.
Obsidian has been amazing with its pace and quality of development over the last 2 years. The iPad version is pretty solid, but I’m usually in reach of my iPad so I’m not leaning on it all that much at the moment. This past week there were large changes to the insider build for 0.16 (it was reworking some underpinnings to improve many of community built plug-ins, themes, and templates), but it was the first time the updates broke things in my workflow rather badly. Normally updates cause no problems, but only offer benefits and improvements, with occasional bumps that are resolved in 5 to 10 minutes. But, with the bump this week, I still love it for thinking through writing and note capturing and interlinking. There isn’t anything out there that is close to it.
While I am not a huge fan of newletters (mostly the part that they arrive in email and not RSS, but the ones that also have RSS feeds are the ones I have been sticking to). Many of these arrive on Sunday, but I really wish it were Friday night or early Saturday morning so I have Saturday and Sunday mornings to get through them and follow the links and devour what is there, but Sunday mornings many arrive and I spend the week going through them.
The one that I am a huge fan of from a general purpose is Patrick Tanguay’s own newsletter Sentiers, which I find to be a real gem. I lost track of Patrick for a while after his Alpine review stopped publishing. I would love to see his Sentiers grow to be a bit more as I find it to be such a good offering. I have been reading it regularly for about a year or a bit more and Patrick has been popping up on podcasts I follow (Near Future Lab (now mostly moved to a Discord for and The Informed Life - more on these later).
Others I really enjoy and tend to link to things that open more browser tabs are: The Marganilian by Maria Popova; Curtis McHale’s PKM newsletter; and Monocle Weekend Edition newsletter (there are many times of late were the newsletter is a bit off target, but the balance for me mostly entertainment).
The Gig Mindset Advantage has been a gem, mostly as it is very familiar as it is pretty much my natural (unintended) MO (modus operendi).
The Map of Knowledge, by Violet Moller has become one of my favorite books. It quickly turned into a slow meditative read as it broke some of my prior understanding of the world of knowledge and creation of advanced math, sciences, and philosophy. This refactoring of my understanding was around the realization that most of the “great books” and works that are the foundations are just very tiny slivers of knowledge that made it through an insanely fragile process of keeping paper copies. A book would need to be hand-written to create a copy and that copy on paper would only last 50 to 80 years before it would heavily decay. I knew well that most of what Western Europe used as fodder in the Renaissance for advancement were works from ancient Greece that had been kept alive through the great libraries and education systems in Persia, Near East, Middle East, Arabian regions, North Africa, and Moorish efforts in Spain. The realization that were may not be looking at the best thinking from the “classics”, but just those that made it through time.
While I had a decent understanding of the vast contributions advancing math, sciences, medicine, and philosophy that are the foundations of much of western thinking, I didn’t know much of the who, when, and where. The Map of Knowledge goes into these areas with a very good level of understanding. The book also does a great job laying out the cycle of life for advanced learning and libraries in each of the regions and progressions through time. One of the common cycles that causes the downfall in many regions was gap in the civilization between those with advanced knowledge and learning and those in power, as well as regular poeple. That chasm between the advanced and those not caused a lot of friction, most often leading to the destruction of libraries and institutions. Many of the civilizations never returned to anything close to the advancements. But, the libraries and learning institutions dispersed and found new benefactors and locations to continue moving forward.
Violet Moller has certain given me a good foundation to learn more.
Gillian Tett’s Anthro-Vision was a book, well a chapter in that book, I’ve been waiting for for many years. The chapter on “Financial Crisis” where Tett had been researching financial markets using her background as an anthropologist for a new role at The Financial Times. Tett followed the paths of understanding in the way a good ethnographer / anthropologist does looking to understand the quiet, and seemingly foundational, areas that seem to be out of focus. This area was that of credit swaps in financial loan markets, which were what caused the 2007 housing market collapse and in 2008 at the massive meltdown of the financial markets. The model for building understanding is one that should be common, but sadly isn’t. The remainder of the book is quite good as well.
The biggest thing around productivity is my use of Obsidian continues, as mentioned above. In a couple chats recently I have found other have brought up the backlinking / crosslinking as the most valuable feature. For those of us who have been using Macs for a while we find it reminiscent of not only wikis and their power, but in particular VooDoo Pad, which was light weight and everything was easily interlinked and backlinked and search was incredibly good. VooDoo Pad ran locally on your Mac (eventually it also could sync and run on iOS devices, but it needed a special application to run it). The genius bit about Obsidian is it is just markdown notes with an app that acts as an over watcher to connect and index things, but leaves the markdown notes fully usable by any other app or service that can use Markdown.
Having been taking notes in one directory (and its sub-directories) for some 20 years the ability to always get to my notes and use them is highly valuable. I have run through numerous other apps (particularly cloud based) that just die or go away as they are no longer popular or the owners have the wonderfully tragic combination of being ignorant and arrogant. I can pick-up any of my notes in markdown that have backlinks and they also function in Drafts or other programs. The principle of Small Apps Loosely Joined still has resonance and deep value.
Along with Obsidian and the backlinked notes, I have also been keeping a keen eye on Digital Gardening (Maggie Appleton explains this really well and had links to others also diving deeply). At some point I also stumbled upon Software for your second brain - The Stack Overflow Podcast with Alexander Obenauer talking about his quest for creation of a “personal operating system”, which he shares out in his Lab Notes. Much of Alexander’s quest became refocussed on Obsidian as it was doing a lot of what he needed and was trying to frame out so to build it. He has crated extensions to Obsidian to close some of his perceived gaps, but the underlying principle is data portability and a concept incredibly close to the Small Apps Loosely Joined.