January 9, 2008

Writing plans for the chapter on managing notes

January 9, 2008 - Categories: emacs, org, planner, wickedcoolemacs, writing
- [ ] Keeping Notes in Emacs Structured vs Unstructured (outline, free-form) Flat vs Hyperlinked Private vs Public File structure (one file, daily, snippets) In this section, you'll learn about the different kinds of notes you take, and you will be able to choose one or two Emacs modules to start learning. - [ ] Capture and retrieve - Remember, search Getting the ideas out of your head and into your note-taking system; searching your notes (basic), searching your notes (specific) Wicked cool code: Remembering to different note-taking systems, searching different note-taking systems - [ ] Outline Notes with Org, Blorg In this section, you'll learn how to keep outlined notes using Org.  You'll be able to create headings, sub-headings, and text notes. You'll also learn how to manage outline items by promoting, demoting, and rearranging them. These basic editing commands are covered in the Emacs Org manual, so I'll just give a brief summary.. You'll also get tips on how to capture text quickly (M-x remember, dabbrev), work with large outline files (split windows are useful), and search your notes efficiently (searching headings or text). Lastly, you'll learn how to publish your Org file as HTML or LaTeX. Wicked cool code would be: searching, how to import to and export from Freemind, a graphical mind-mapping program. - [ ] Daily Notes with Planner In this section, you'll learn how to write a day-based journal using Planner. In addition to free-form notes on the page, you'll also be able to keep semi-structured notes typed in manually or captured using Remember. You'll also learn how to publish the resulting pages as HTML and RSS, and how to customize the output. Wicked cool code would be: searching notes and displaying matching headlines, private notes, publishing note headlines, and publishing a note index. - [ ] Hyperlinked Notes with Muse In this section, you'll learn how to create a personal wiki using Muse.  You'll learn how to create pages, link to pages, and publish your wiki. Wicked cool code: Capturing notes to specific pages using Remember and keyword matches, private pages, publishing pages when you save them. - [ ] Snippets with Howm In this section, you'll learn how to manage random snippets of information using Howm. - [ ] Blogging from Emacs - WordPress, LJ, Blogger,Muse-Blosxom, EmacsAtomAPI In this section, you'll learn how to use Emacs as a blogging client for many popular platforms. This is mainly for keeping other blogs in sync, although I'll also talk about the possibility of using planner-rss + something like Feedwordpress. - [ ] Encrypted Notes (full file, segments) - MOSTLY WRITTEN In this section, you'll learn how to encrypt your notes. Actually, this will probably be split up into the different tools...

Note-taking: Random notes, journal entries, outlines, and hyperlinks

January 9, 2008 - Categories: emacs, notetaking, wickedcoolemacs
I take at least three different kinds of notes, and I need to manage them differently. Here are some rough thoughts on the different kinds of notes I work with and how I manage them. I'd love to hear about your note-management strategies in comments or e-mail!

Random notes

When I worked on my thesis, I filed hundreds of lines from my literature review. I needed to quickly pull together just the notes matching a certain keyword or belonging to a particular section. I also needed to be able to properly cite each note. Lastly, I structured my notes so that I could get a random note, which turned out to be really helpful for breaking me out of writing ruts and for helping me see creative connections. Writers and public speakers keep similar databases of story ideas and great quotations. They need to be able to search their databases for matching records, and they might not think of these categories ahead of time. Random information management isn't just for word geeks and researchers. If you've got scraps of paper or a text file with notes from meetings, clips from interesting articles, and thoughts to yourself, you're already managing random information. You just might not have a good system for capturing and searching the information. Important things for a random information manager:
  • You should be able to easily capture information.
  • You should be able to easily search for information.
(An ideal random information manager might even suggest relevant entries. Come to think of it, I should find out if I can get the Remembrance Agent running again. That was really cool.) I started using Howm for this before. It was a great random information manager for Emacs. I haven't been using it lately, though, as I hadn't set it up on my work laptop. I might do so soon.

Journal entries

Journal entries tend to be short, chronological notes. They can be private or public, or a mix of both. They can be also be retrospective or forward-looking. Journal entries are more structured than random information snippets because they're associated with a specific date and are generally about activities, experiences, or goals. My blog is an example of a journal. It has public and private entries. The private entries are removed from the blog before publishing. Important things for a journal manager or a blog:
  • You shouldn't have to enter date and time yourself.
  • You should be able to flip through your entries or search them for keywords.
  • You should be able to get an overview of your notes for a time period.
I use Planner for this because Planner makes it easy to publish day pages and RSS. I also write some entries directly on a WordPress blog, which also imports my Planner blog entries.


Some notes belong to a bigger structure. For example, if you're drafting a document, you might work on different sections that will ultimately be merged. Random information management and journals are not enough because you need structure. An outline helps you see how things fit together. The draft for this book is an example of an outline. I sometimes work top-down by starting with the headings and defining more detail. I also work bottom-up by writing blocks of content and then fitting them into my outline. Important things for an outline:
  • You should be able to structure your notes into headings and subheadings.
  • You should be able to promote, demote, and rearrange those headings quickly.
  • You should be able to quickly get an overview or drill down into detail.
I use Org for outlined text because Org makes it really easy to manipulate outlines.

Hyperlinked Text

The structure of hyperlinked text can actually be applied to the other three types of notes. Random notes benefit from freely-defined hyperlinks, where you can specify keywords that will automatically be linked without needing to edit each note where the keyword occurs. Journal entries can link to other journal entries or to topic-oriented pages. Outlines and other documents may allow people to jump to related sections through hyperlinks. Hyperlinks allow you to work with more freedom than a strict hierarchy of topics would permit. An example of a hyperlinked note system would be the way the posts on my blog are often linked with plan pages that focus on specific topics. (These links are only on my hard disk, so don't worry if you don't see them!) Topic pages allow me to review my topic-related notes as well as other freeform notes I've added. Important things for hyperlinks:
  • You should be able to link to resources outside the note-taking system.
  • You should be able to link to other notes in the note-taking system.
  • You may want to be able to link to other sections of the same note.
I tend to use Muse with Planner for hyperlinked pages, but I've also tried it with Howm.


A note-taking system good at capturing journal entries may not necessarily be good at capturing and searching random information or managing outlines. It helps to have different note-taking systems, each optimized for different tasks, or a tool that adapts to what you need at that time. A search that spans your different note-taking systems is also a great help. Currently, I don't have a unified search system. Well, aside from grep... This is one of the things I plan to work on while writing this chapter. =)


Do you keep other types of notes, and/or do you have tips for managing notes? Please share them here so that I can think about how Emacs can be tweaked to support them!

The grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence

January 9, 2008 - Categories: Uncategorized
The grass is not, in fact, always greener on the other side of the fence. Fences have nothing to do with it. The grass is greenest where it is watered. When crossing over fences, carry water with you and tend the grass wherever you may be.
Robert Fulghum (1937-), It Was on Fire When I Lay Down on It, cited in http://www.quotationspage.com/mqotd/2008-01-04.html

Yes, I write too much

January 9, 2008 - Categories: writing
Post stats for your viewing pleasure. =) ~646,802 total published words from 4,255 posts Someday I'm going to make pretty graphs. I'd like to visualize my posts according to time/day of week/topic/whatever. Anyway, the data is out there. Enjoy!