My Post-Evernote Life

Few months ago I wrote about my decision to move away from Evernote. Recently, few readers1 emailed me to ask whether I actually stooped using Evernote, and if I did, what’s my alternative solution.

Continue reading My Post-Evernote Life

Quotes: Little Gidding

Couple of weeks ago I was vacationing with my family at DR. In one of the nights, at about midnight, I was lying half asleep in-front of the TV, watching some show about Vietnam in the only English channel (Discovery Channel, I remember that), while my ears caught this quote:

We shall not cease from exploration, and the end of all our exploring will be to arrive where we started and know the place for the first time.

This line stirred me up so much, that I rose up, took my iPhone and googled the few words I was able to recall. It turned out that this line was taken from T.S Eliot’s poem – Little Gidding. The next day, I read the entire poem. It wasn’t an easy read1, but several more parts of it moved me just as much. Here are couple of them:

… last year’s words belong to last year’s language And next year’s words await another voice.

Let me disclose the gifts reserved for age … Second, the conscious impotence of rage At human folly, and the laceration Of laughter at what ceases to amuse.

Mysterious are the ways of knowledge and inspiration… one should always be willing and ready to absorb more of them…

Footnotes:

1

Here’s some analyses and commentary, in case you would like to get deeper.

Thinking With Words

I want to capture more thoughts in text. I have lots of ideas and thoughts lately, but I forget most of them, let alone follow up or act on them.

Well, I’ve started moving at that direction – a year ago I wrote nothing; now I write something almost everyday, even if most of what I write isn’t being published, and at best added to my growing draft section.

Anyway, I built an infrastructure that enables me to think-write efficiently. I leaned touch-typing, so now I can, potentially, disconnect my hands from my conscious side of the brain, and let my thoughts transcribe themselves directly into text. I still type slower than I think, and that will probably always be the case, but I can already let my thoughts flow with less friction.

I also sorrounded myself with editors and tools that are there for me whenever a new thought emerges, so I can quickly log it. Here’s a short list of those tools:

  1. Emacs – this is the main editor I use on my laptop. I still have to make some tweaks so I can start a new note from anywhere (and not only from within Emacs).
  2. Drafts – I use it on my iPhone to quickly jot notes on the fly.
  3. Editorial – a richer iOS editor. I use it to edit existing documents, though I rarely actually do it (edit existing files on my phone, I mean).

One set of tools that is missing from that list is, well, pen and paper… Regardless of how many editors I have at my disposable, I still miss the immediacy and flexability of a simple notebook that takes whatever I throw on it, without having to think about format, syntax or styling. If I want to sketch something, I should be able to just take a pen and draw it. If I want to create a quick chart, I don’t want to start looking for the right tool for the exact type of chart I want to illustrate. For some reason though, I can’t find a way to incorporate pen and paper in my writing workflow.

But that’s not the only reason why I still don’t have an efficient way to capture my thoughts1. I also lack self-discipline. I don’t insist on capturing things – too often, when an idea comes up, I tell myself that I should log it and expand on it late. That later never comes… This post, on the other hand, is an example for how I should do it. I started to think about why I don’t capture more thoughts, and insisted on writing this thought live, as it happans. Not sure if anyone but myself can read the outcome or find something valuable in it, but it’s a start.

Now I need to train myself to do it more often, and get better in it, for two main reasons:

  1. To be able to capture things, I should avoid creating a backlog of half baked scribbles. The more partial thoughts that I accumulate, the higher the chance that I will never get back to them.
  2. When I do capture a thought, let my sub-conscious lead the writing, and edit what I came up with later, I tend to screw up that outcome. My thought is being mutilated by my conscious self to the point it makes no sense anymore, and. If I get better at capturing a thought as it appears, I will need less post-processing, and the thought will remain fresh and true to its original meaning.

So, to summarize, what I want to be able to do is capture a meaningful thought when it shows. The write up should be legible. It can take any form, and be in any format – digital or analoge.

The KPI I can monitor to measure progress is the time it takes from a “meaningful thought” to a published post. It means that I should capture the time when a thought or an idea emerged (12/28/15 9:05am for this one), and the time it went live (in this case – 10:50am, which is probably a record!)

Footnotes:

1

Obviously, I don’t intend to capture every thought that pops randomly, only those that are “capture worthy”.

I Can Live Without A Mac

Couple of months ago I listened to an episode of the technical difficulties podcast. In that episode Gabe Weatherhead (macdrifter.com) and Erik Hess hosted Dr. Drang and talked about the history of computing.

At some point 1, Gabe asked Dr. Drang what will he do if he can’t use Mac anymore. I don’t remember exactly what Dr. Drang’s answer was, but for awhile, the question kept echoing in my head. The thought about Mac not being around at some point was terrifying. I can’t go back to Windows. Never. And Linux never seen as an adventure I would have like taking.

Since then, though, much have changed.

At first, I was reintroduced to old fashion mechanical keyboards2. I bought a couple of them; one for home and one for my office. Suddenly, typing using my laptop’s keyboards 3 feels awkward and unsatisfying, and I now do it as little as possible.

Then, I took a step into the rabbit hole of Emacs, the timeless editor which is backed by a strong and lively community. It’s built around the keyboard, so I stopped using the Apple’s “magic” mouse as much as I used to.

Lastly, since Emacs requires tinkering with Mac’s internals, I got more comfortable and familiar with the terminal application, and with “UI-less” experiences.

Slowly, I’ve learned that my Mac is nothing but a strong processing device with a Retina display. With that realization, the idea of using a different platform, Windows is still not an option, stopped scaring me. To the contrary, that thought sparks curiosity in me…

While switching away is still not an option, I feel as if I was cured from Apple’s spell. I regained my ability to think critically on its products, and look more objectively on their alternatives.

It’s probably only me, though, cuddling with the past. Most users are probably welcoming the intersecting paths of Mac and iPad into a comp-let mongrel that will lock developers out of its internals. But now, at least, I’m less anxious about that trajectory. I will be able to find my way elsewhere…

Footnotes:

1

Here’s a link to this section in the podcast.

2

Typing on mechanical keyboard makes me not wanting to stop writing… I learned about them in yet another podcast – Cortex

3

Except for the Apple Extended Keyboard. I actually bought one, and am loving it.

Bunch of Emacs Tweaks

Comment\Uncomment a Line

Few useful commands for commenting\uncommenting lines in emacs. Taken from the Emacs tutorial. Sure, I can go back to the manual, but I want to ducument and keep them here, for quicker referrence.

M-; Insert or realign comment on current line; if the region is active, comment or uncomment the region instead (comment-dwim).

C-u M-; Kill comment on current line (comment-kill).

C-x ; Set comment column (comment-set-column).

C-M-j M-j Like RET followed by inserting and aligning a comment (comment-indent-new-line). See Multi-Line Comments.

M-x comment-region

Mastering this command takes me one step further into Emacs, as it used to be one of those funcionalities that keeped drawing me back to Sublime Text.

Quick reload of init.el file

I’m constantly customizing my emacs. I have an init.el file, but most of the configuration in a more literal way, in an org config file.

When I make changes to Emacs settings, I need to reload the init file activate the changes. So far, I typed C-x C-f to find the init file and then M-x [RET] eval-buffer to reload it. Repeating this flow hundreds of times became annoying.

A quick inquery in IRC, and now I know that I can call load-file and give it the name of the file I would like to load. Having a function to load a file, means that I can wrap it with my own function, and reload my init file with a customized keybind.

And with the help of this answer at stack-overflow, I came up with the following shortcut to reload my Emacs configuration:

(global-set-key (kbd "<f6>") (lambda() (interactive)(load-file "~/.emacs.d/init.el")))

New line bellow

I wondered if there’s a command to creat a new line bellow the line my point is on. Here’s what I found in superuser:

C-e C-m – go to the end of the line, create a new line and move the point to that line.

or

C-e C-j – same as the command above, only that the point will indent if neccessery.

There is also a keybind for creating a new line above the current line, and move the point to that line – C-a C-o.

Quick Open a specific file

Now days I start most of my writing in my draft file. I need a quick way to access this file, whether I’m in Emacs or any other application. I know Emacs has the concept of registers, which are special memory slots, that can be accessed with a command. Those registers can store any type of data, such as strings, integers, files and paths.

It’s time to learn how to work with them. When thinking about it, there are other files that I would have liked to access quicker, such as the init.el or config.org.

Google’s first search result was EmacsWiki. Again, it proved to be a great source of information, had I wanted to confuse myself. So I passed. The second result was from Emacs tutorial, which again proved to be clear, concise and informative.

Here are the commands for storing a filename in and loading it from a register:

(set-register r '(file . name))

For example,

(set-register ?r '(file . "~/Dropbox/Notes/posts/pages/posts_drafts.org"))

To load this file, I should type C-x r j r

In the code examples above, r is the name of the register. It can be replaced with any character.

And to see what’s stored in a specific register:

M-x view-register RET r

Again, r is the register I’m querying.

Change cases

Keybinding Action
M-l Convert following word to lower case (downcase-word).
M-u Convert following word to upper case (upcase-word).
M-c Capitalize the following word (capitalize-word).
C-x C-l Convert region to lower case (downcase-region).
C-x C-u Convert region to upper case (upcase-region).