What’s the deal with note-taking apps?

DISCLAIMER: Technically, I am talking about personal knowledge management (PKM) tools, which act like your own little personal Wikipedias, and not just plain note-taking apps. My main purpose for using a PKM is note-taking, though, and I make the rules here! Am I using a hammer instead of a screwdriver? Probably. Read on, anyway!

I love fiddling around with new stuff. It’s why I have three mice sitting on my desk (computer mice, not the living kind) and a bunch more stored away. It’s why I have more keyboards than I could ever need in five lifetimes, stuffed into drawers and scattered about my place.

And it’s why I’m a sucker for a shiny piece of new software, which leads to this post’s topic: note-taking apps.

Even if you have absolutely no interesting in note-taking apps, you probably still have one, anyway, whether it’s Notepad on Windows, the Notes app on Macs, or some built-in app on your iPhone (Notes again) or Android device. They are ubiquitous. And now, with the whole second brain1Go ahead, try looking up what a “second brain” is. Your actual brain will explode. thing being the new hotness, note-taking apps have started popping up like bunnies. Note-taking bunnies.

I noticed that after expressing some interest in technology on Medium (via my preferences), it started offering me stories on note-taking apps. I believe there are roughly a trillion of these articles on Medium, which nearly matches the number of note-taking apps themselves.

I thought to myself, “Self, you need to be more organized, somehow. For some reason. You need a note-taking app that will let you consolidate all your notes in one place, so you never need to figure out where your notes are. This future of unparalleled organization will be awesome.”

It’s a good theory. My notes were previously scattered all over. I used:

  • Paper. Actual paper, like cave people used to do
  • Drafts. An app on my iPhone that can send to other apps.
  • OneNote. I kind of stopped using it a few years ago and I’m not sure why.
  • Microsoft Word. Because I had it, so why not?
  • Apple’s Notes app on various Apple platforms. Because it’s there.
  • iA Writer. Not really built for notes, but…
  • Ulysses. See above, plus a subscription. Ew.

There’s more I’m forgetting, and this was all before the current explosion of note-taking apps. Since then I’ve tried:

  • Craft
  • Notion
  • Obsidian

And contemplated a million others, while absolutely only positively ruling out a few, like Evernote, usually due to what I deem excessive pricing.

For a time I thought I had settled on Obsidian. It supports markdown, is free, can work between Mac, PC and (somewhat) with iOS (it really wants you to use iCloud for your “vault”). On (virtual) paper, it provides everything I’d need in a note-taking app and also has all the second brain stuff, like backlinks and things.

I feel like I’m grossly under-utilizing it by not making proper use of links (back, forward or any other direction), tags and other means of keeping things organized. I mean, look at this guy wax poetic about how useful Obsidian is. It makes me want to install it again right now!

While I’m clearly not tapping into Obsidian’s potential, I am big on bullet lists, because I love lists. So now, as I think about whether to stick with Obsidian or not, I wonder: Why do I take notes? The answer is in a list. Right below!

  • Track ideas. These can be ideas for:
    • stories
    • blog posts
    • game design
    • comics
    • drawings
  • General reminders (I have moved these to actual to-do apps)
  • WIP stuff on my newsletter (five issues so far, published very intermittently)
  • Book and movie reviews (that get posted to my blog, Goodreads or elsewhere)
  • Random tips and tricks, usually associated with tech
  • Everything that doesn’t fit into the above

And Obsidian has worked reasonably well here. I’ve added plugins to expand on what it can do. Look how organized everything appears to be (I have redacted a few items, but it’s nothing scandalous, like panda porn or something, just stuff regarding the condo or other personal yet banal items):

And yet I feel like:

  • I am underutilizing Obsidian to the point where I probably could just use Notepad, for all the difference it would make
  • Maybe I don’t have the kind of personality to connect the dots, or in this case, the notes?
  • Maybe I actually don’t have a compelling reason to use backlinks and I’m overthinking things, as is my way

But it all seems so useful. There are so many articles! I want to do more! Yet I am not feeling there is a yawning chasm in my life because I have only clicked a backlink maybe once in Obsidian, and that was just to see if it worked (it did).

Anyway, have a look, there’s plenty to choose from!

  • 1
    Go ahead, try looking up what a “second brain” is. Your actual brain will explode.

It’s the second day of September, here are random thoughts

In list form, because I like lists:

  • Favorite interpretation of Apple’s September 7, 2022 “Far Out” event: Refers to pricing of new devices to be unveiled.
  • Summer 2022 early review: It’s not the heat, IT’S THE HUMIDITY AAAAAGGGGHHHHH
  • Weight loss 2022: Going way better than previous attempts in the past few years!
  • Running: Back in the groove, with potential injuries, humidity and bears being ongoing concerns
  • Cats: I kind of want a cat again, but also kind of like not having the responsibility of having a pet
  • Dogs: Why are there so many of them? Do people want kids and get dogs as kid substitutes?
  • Dog owners: Why are so many of them so bad at being dog owners? Am I living in a part of the world where people just don’t understand how dogs work?
  • Diablo 3: Why did I start playing again? WHY?
  • This list of random thoughts: Why did it evolve into a list of questions?
  • Upcoming blog posts I’m committing to right here:
    • Mac vs. PC, 2022 Edition
    • Apple Watch as running watch: The 7-year review
    • R.E.M. albums ranked (again) with mini-reviews of each
    • Maybe the same for ELO
  • Ugh, it’s only 10 a.m. and already 21C. WHY.
  • WHY
  • That’s all for now

Random things I find weird

Earrings are weird when described literally:

Punch holes into your flesh, then hang shiny metal objects from the holes.

close up photo of gold colored latched back earrings
Photo by Dima Valkov on Pexels.com

Boxing:

Two people put on gloves and punch each other repeatedly in the head and upper body. Wearing gloves magically converts this from assault to entertainment.

men doing sparring fight
Photo by Pavel Danilyuk on Pexels.com

Wiener dogs:

If you want an idea of what humans will do when genetic manipulation evolves further, consider the wiener dog.

relaxed cute dachshund dogs sleeping on cozy bed
Photo by Dominika Roseclay on Pexels.com

My Demotivation Pal

When logging into My Fitness Pal to record my food and exercise for the day, I see this under the section for food entries:

The idea that I’ve earned one whole extra calorie to burn as I see fit amuses me. I could make a list of things to do with that single, precious extra calorie:

  • Exhale
  • Blink my eyes once or maybe twice
  • Shift slightly in my chair
  • Think hard for several seconds

(After a minute or so, MFP synced with my watch and bumped the calorie burn up to something with four digits instead of one.)

Run 694: For the first time in two days, another 10K!

View from Cariboo Dam, just prior to starting the run.

It was forecast to get up to 28C today, so I opted for a mid-morning run to beat the heat. Here’s my run report in handy list form, because I like lists.

  • Good News: I ran another 10K. Yay! I can now say it’s been two days between 10K runs, instead of 988 days.
  • Less-Than-Good-News: Around the 5K mark, an upper left thigh muscle began to twinge a bit. It settled after a few km and is fine now. I blame my body for being weirdly asymmetrical. It may also not surprise you that I am also left-handed.
  • Bad News: None, really. This run felt a lot harder than Monday due to the warmer temperatures (though they were not bad), but mainly the still-high humidity. Humidity is like a superpower designed to drain all energy from your body. It works very well!
  • Fun Fact: For whatever reason, I mistype “humidity” almost every time. I didn’t this time because I was concentrating hard enough for Mavis Beacon to sit up and notice.
  • Trail update: They are putting the final touches on the trail resurfacing near the dam. Where will they resurface next? (Please please please be the trail along the athletic fields.)
  • Sensitive subject: A few years ago I had a weird issue when running if my chest got wet, whether through perspiration or precipitation–my nipples would become strangely sensitive. It almost feels like this might be making an unwelcome return. It’s both weird and annoying. So far it is only hinting. I will give it a hint to go away and see if that works.
  • Award time: I got an award in the Apple Watch Fitness app for most calories burned in a running workout, 723. I find this somewhat odd that it didn’t happen years ago. Maybe I have more calories to burn now.

Award:

Finarly I did it.

Stats:

Run 694
Average pace: 6:12/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CW)
Start: 10:00 a.m.
Distance: 10.02 km
Time: 62:08
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 22-25ºC
Humidity: 64%
Wind: light
BPM: 150
Weight: 165.6
Total distance to date: 5085 km
Devices: Apple Watch Series 5, iPhone 12, AirPods (3rd generation)
Shoes: Brooks Caldera 5 (198 km)

The incomplete list of things I could learn to do properly and the odds of it happening

I do some things quite well, like breathing and walking. Others I do moderately well, like avoiding donuts, and some I’ve resigned myself to never being that great at, like math. Math is hard.

But there is a group of miscellaneous things that I have attempted to become better at and, for various reasons, have failed to do so. Here’s a short list of some of these things, along with the odds that I might actually become better at them:

  • Ice skating. I am not terrible at ice skating, just a bit wobbly, especially when required to move in a not-straight line. I very rarely ice skate, though. Odds of improving: Close to zero.
  • Swimming. I have long described my swimming technique as “not drowning” and after taking aborted swimming lessons, discovered that part of the problem was having an actual fear of water, or at least water’s potential to snuff out my life in the right circumstances. I rarely go in water, though I am sometimes near it. I’d have to overcome the fear before trying lessons again. Odds of improving: Slight, but better than winning the lottery.
  • Typing. I never learned to touch type. How can someone who dreamed of becoming a writer never learn to touch type? I do not know. I even got my own typewriter as a kid. I’ve tried learning with Mavis Beacon and it did not go well. I’ve dabbled a few times since. This would clearly benefit me, yet I never seem to get enough momentum to keep pushing through. I need a magic typing pill. Or just start using dictation. In fact, I’m going to dictate the rest of this post! Odds of improving: Slim, but possible.
  • Losing weight. I am in the process of losing weight now and have actually seen some success, so I am somewhat positive that this will be a thing I can actually achieve. Odds of improving : Good.
  • Drawing. Over the last couple of years I have started to draw more, and I am seeing improvements by doing so. I have taken actual lessons on things like perspective, shading and so on, and some of those lessons have actually stuck! Odds of improving: It’s already happening, woo.

I’ve now turned auto punctuation on for the dictation, because it was doing weird things with the periods and commas. Let’s see if it works better now. So far it seems to be working better. Who knew? Computers are just so darn smart. Maybe I’ll let the computer write the next post.

It’s time for some lists

My List

  • Your kiss

Top 5 Theme Songs for May 2020, Metro Vancouver Edition

  • Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head
  • Here Comes the Rain Again
  • Singin’ in the Rain
  • November May Rain
  • Rain is Falling

Bonus (maybe, hopefully): Here Comes the Sun

The Best R.E.M. albums, ranked yet again by me

  1. Automatic for the People
  2. Lifes Rich Pageant
  3. Murmur
  4. Monster
  5. New Adventures in Hi-Fi

Previous list (which I did not check before writing the current one):

  1. Automatic for the People
  2. Lifes Rich Pageant
  3. Monster
  4. Collapse Into Now
  5. Murmur

I swapped out their final album Collapse Into Now for their 1996 release New Adventures in Hi-Fi. It’s really close, though. Collapse is actually a really good R.E.M. album, especially considering how bored the band had seemed by the earlier Around the Sun. I don’t listen to Murmur much these days (R.E.M. joke) but when I do, it still seems kind of magical. It’s an amazing debut album.

Random things I like

  • Sugar peas
  • Taking pictures of things
  • Getting lost in a drawing
  • Watching something that makes me laugh (that doesn’t involve someone taking a ball to the crotch)
  • Walks along trails (often done in conjunction with #2)

That word

HISTORICAL NOTE, April 8, 2022: This post was saved as a draft on August 18, 2015, but never published. I think I wanted the list to be longer. I no longer feel this need, so enjoy!

Words that don’t mean what some people may think they mean:

  • Bemused. It sounds like “amused” so maybe it’s a synonym. It means perplexed or bewildered.
  • Penultimate. Some may think this means “uber-ultimate”. It actually means next to last.
  • Arid. This one gets confused with arable (fit for cultivation) but means pretty much the opposite in that it refers to land that is very dry. Like a desert or all of California, for example.
  • Inflammable. This is perhaps the perfect example of crazy English. If you think it’s like invisible and thus means “not flammable” you’d be wrong because it actually means flammable. What does flammable mean, then? The same thing. Why? English! Actually, you can blame the Latin origins, which treat the words similarly.

Things I wish I had more of

These would be nice, but not essential.

  • Hair. In a way, having a shaved head is nice. It’s very low maintenance. I can’t have bad hair days. But a big, lush head of Robert Plant hair would be nice to tousle in slow motion. Until I had to wash it, and you know, actually take care of it.
  • Money. Would lots of money turn me into an evil, hedonistic monster? I’d be willing to find out.
  • Better taste in clothes. I’m not horrible, but I’m not great, either. I wear (nice) sweatpants with little shame. I can’t see where exactly this would help me, but it seems like something that would be nice to have.
  • Patience. Everyone can always use more of this, right? Not to be confused with the Guns ‘N Roses song, which is okay and does not try my patience.
  • Passion. Passionate people are weird and scare me, yet I long to join their wild-eyed club. My passion is more like a warm bowl of soup. It’s fine, but it doesn’t last and you can only re-heat it so many times before it gets kind of gross.
  • Muscles. Who doesn’t want to be big and brawny? Well, me, actually. But to have nicely-toned muscles, to have a body that makes people notice without immediately thinking, “Loser must live in a gym”? I could handle that. What I can’t handle is the exercise necessary for getting these muscles.
  • More as they cross my mind.

2021: Well, that was a year

photo of cats near a green dumpster
I was looking for “dumpster fire” but I think I like this image better. Photo by Betül Balc? on Pexels.com

As the final days of 2021 draw near, and we look forward (?!) to 2022, let’s reflect on the year that was. And it was a year.

Unlike previous posts, I’m mixing everything together–personal victories, political nonsense, the state of the world and so on. Let’s call it Earth Blend, available for $11.99 at your local Starbucks.

The Good

  • I left a job I had come to actively not enjoy (hate is too strong a word)
  • I did three and a half months of drawing prompts to start the year
  • I did an Inktober prompt. Yes, one. Hey, it’s better than nothing!
  • Summer forest fires, while bad in general, only led to a few smoky days in Metro Vancouver, down considerably from previous years
  • I ran a lot more than in 2020, even with a late start of August
  • I got a mirrorless camera (Canon EOS M50) and have had oodles of fun taking photos with the telephoto lens (nothing pervy, just naked birds)
  • Dodged getting sick for another year
  • I kept blogging. Funny cats, hooray!
  • Contributed art and a trailer to an actual video game that will be for sale on Steam soon™
  • Trump is no longer president
  • The world did not blow up

The Bad

  • Will no one rid me of this meddlesome pandemic?
  • The COVID twins of Delta (“more people will get infected”) and Omicron (“everyone you know will get infected”)
  • My weight is basically unchanged. It should be down. I blame myself and salty/sweet snacks.
  • The heat dome (seriously, I never expected it to be hotter locally than the times I travelled through the Mojave Desert in the summer). 42 °C is pretty warm.
  • The frozen dome. Yeah, that’s what I’m calling it. -14 °C is actually probably easier to manage than 42 °C, but it’s still, you know, rather chilly for these parts. We shattered temperature records at both ends of the thermometer in 2021. 2022 will reveal if this was a fluke or the start of a fun new climate trend.
  • My fiction writing was, uh, moribund-though I did one writing prompt, so that’s a start!
  • I didn’t read as much, since I no longer have a commute. This is both good and bad.
  • I got a DisplayLink adapter, so I could fudge using my MacBook Air with dual displays, and have yet to get it working. A minor thing but still technically bad.
  • I’m ending the year with sinus issues, possibly related to the cold weather, but likely not related to COVID-19
  • U.S. democracy is looking a little beat-up after four years of Trump, the January 6th riots, and 40+ years of Republicans pushing for one-party rule

The Rest

  • I still haven’t seen a movie in a theater since watching Onward in the first week of March 2020 and can’t say I miss the experience. I love being able to pause and go pee. It’s especially handy now that the average movie is ten hours long. To clarify, I go pee in the bathroom, as civilization expects.
  • Justin Trudeau smelled a majority government within reach and instantly doomed any chance of it by calling an unnecessary election. The result was a Parliament virtually unchanged from before the election, proving the whole thing a waste of time. You’d think Trudeau might learn a lesson from this, but…we’ll see.
  • Discovering a prominent anti-vaxxer was living in my building and later died of COVID-19 was a little weird
  • I still like lists

The Great No Soda Experiment

It’s actually more modest than great.

The plan is, starting tomorrow, to not drink any soda for the next week and see what happens. What will I drink instead? Here’s a list:

  • Goat blood
  • Motor oil
  • Liquid soap
  • Molten lava

No, wait, that’s the list of what I won’t be drinking. Here’s the actual list:

  • Water
  • Chocolate milk (after a run)
  • Tea

I am curious to see if anything at all noticeable happens. And if I can resist the siren song of that delicious1For relative values of “delicious” diet soda.

I will report back in one week with the results, possibly presented in chart form or as some kind of multimedia extravaganza.

  • 1
    For relative values of “delicious”