Daily Notes for 2023-06-22

ยท 1388 words ยท 7 minute read

reMarkable sync seems faster ๐Ÿ”—

It shows up as a thing in the latest release notes and it seemed to be true when I looked for it this morning: Sync on the reMarkable between desktop app and device is a lot faster. Not sure it’s “instantaneous,” but it’s in the range of “wrote a note on the device downstairs, it was on my desktop by the time I got upstairs,” which is a vast improvement. No idea if it will be consistent.

I sort of wonder about reMarkable, generally:

They just dropped 25 percent off the cost of their expensive keyboard accessory, and they’re trying to herd users into annual plans. There are a lot of similar devices on the market, including stuff from Amazon and Kobo that combine note-taking with ebook reading. If I’m doing the tradeoffs, the things that might count as “nice” on a reMarkable have to compete against the combined utility of a device that lets me read all my stuff from their respective stores, and take notes.

Personally, if I could make the thing go away and pocket $200 for it without dealing with assorted Craigslist randos who’d try to trade me for a kayak with a hole in it and a moldy bag of weed I’d take that deal. It has never really found a place in my workflow that has lasted. I won’t say I regret it, but it just doesn’t work for me.

Obsidian, again ๐Ÿ”—

I knew that once I had a new job things would begin to change for me. Stuff I previously felt like messing around with would seem less fun to mess around with, and my assessment of a given tool would take a harder edge.

This week was my first week at work where I was in “full engagement” mode for the balance of the week: Back-to-back days, ad hoc meetings, just needing to get stuff done quickly. I wanted to do stuff like “take this free 15 minutes to go downstairs, drink a glass of water, and look at the four todos I just added to my list before starting the next call.”

It was all very clarifying. For instance, these general things about writing notes all occurred to me:

  • Mobile matters, both for writing and reading.
  • If I have a spare few minutes to hack in a feature, I’d rather do it in JavaScript than elisp.
  • I prefer sync infrastructure be somebody else’s problem.
  • It turns out that if life were a Richard Scarry book, for eight hours of the day I would be, like, a bear with spectacles and a neck tie who does business stuff. Markdown is sufficient for “businessman notes.”
  • Future-proofing matters to me.

These things about Emacs occurred to me:

  • I like sitting down and writing longer-form stuff with it.
  • I am grateful for it as my daily driver text editor for programming.
  • Given Doom and very modest customizations, Emacs “just works” for me.
  • I am better off as a “slow Emacs” person, not a “fast Emacs” person.

On that last, it means that I do better with Emacs when I am doing things that I tend to configure once and never mess with again. Like, it’s enough to have Rubocop and LSP working for my Ruby coding. Done. It’s enough to know how to preview a Markdown file, and I don’t care about any other stuff I could do with Markdown mode. Done. Electric modes for the things where I care? Great. Done and done. That’s all “slow Emacs.” Figure it out once, take your time doing so, then never think about it again.

Fast Emacs stuff tends to be whole workflows, and I am constantly tweaking those. I can’t stop. I hate wasted motion, I hate having to remember three words separated by hyphens when I can remember two letters led by a spacebar. If I can turn on a preview server and open a tab to it in Safari in a single command, I’ll figure out how to make that work. If I get an idea in my head about how to optimize something, or come to believe that something is taking more time than it absolutely should, I can’t quit worrying at it. Fast Emacs. Constant, rapid iteration on little things meant to shave seconds or keystrokes or conserve brain storage.

When I am using Slow Emacs stuff, I am in a very focused, calm place. Emacs feels steady underfoot, stuff “just works,” I quit noticing the tool.

When I am using Fast Emacs stuff, it doesn’t feel as steady. More stuff goes wrong. I end up dropping a paren and blowing everything up when I restart. Weird little things go wrong because I missed an edge case. It’s over-automation, and I know something about that because I did two IT tours and one engineering services tour dealing with over-automated teams. I’m not, like, Rock-Ribbed Business Guy on the job, but the waste of constantly getting bit in the ass by things someone made to make work easier and more efficient that become sources of mysterious failures and lost days of refactoring and debugging sort of grinds me. When I’m doing Fast Emacs stuff, I’m doing that to myself.

So that’s Emacs. These things about Obsidian occurred to me:

  • When I took away some things I liked about Denote and implemented them in Obsidian, it took very little time and four community plugins (one of which is just there to provide an API for another one).
  • Setting up capture templates for my common use cases involved 30 minutes of reading and poking and then maybe five minutes per use case.
  • When your plugin loadout is light, Obsidian feels very sturdy. With a decent theme, it feels pleasant.
  • Trying to do Fast Obsidian — heavily automated workflows — feels so self-evidently wrong that I don’t even bother. I see people doing it, it seems janky.
  • Slow Obsidian – simple little keyboard shortcuts, macros, etc. is dead simple to do quickly. Those kinds of quality of life plugins are usually pretty good.
  • I cannot imagine writing long-form stuff in Obsidian. I’m glad you wrote your book in it, but there is something about it — probably the busyness of the UI — that prevents me from considering it.

And these things about my free time occurred to me:

  • Tool-specific subreddits are Satanic. Obsidian and Emacs both invite an endless wander among the plugins and packages interspersed by the occasional dipshit trying to pick a fight by complaining about their inability to learn something new, triggering both the hardened Tool Warriors and the soft-hearted, enabling evangelists. You’d think by now I’d be resigned to the whole “baby newbie with a broken wing” cycle, but any kind of brand or consumer identification is grotesquely fascinating to me, and the ability of someone wandering in off the street crying about how hard elisp is to suck all the air out of the room never ceases to amaze.
  • I like my new job, but I knew going in that parts of it were going to be a challenge, and that’s proving out. So during the day I want to do the easiest possible thing to do things that are helpful but are not the core value I provide (like taking notes, storing information for later, and connecting this thing over here to that task over there). I don’t want to mess with those things. They need to just work. And at the end of the day, I want to be done with things that would remind me of work, which I am enjoying but want to keep in its place so I can keep enjoying it.

So after a week of living the Obsidian-but-configured-to-make-files-like-Denote life, I got into my config.org file, disabled large swaths of the configuration that have to do with Fast Emacs, and reconfigured Denote to produce markdown-yaml files in my Obsidian vault, so if Obsidian ends up bothering me, my fallback position is already in place.

  • Plain text
  • A little more future-proofed than Obsidian’s loose default behavior thanks to Denote conventions
  • Solid mobile experience with reliable sync
  • Markdown’s spare markup
  • Fewer moving pieces

As long as a certain software company from Minneapolis doesn’t come and buy this place, too, I’ll reclaim my free time to screw around with something else.