Denote conventions and Obsidian legibility

I added the Icon Folder plugin to Obsidian and it works really well with Denote-formatted notes thanks to the ability to use filename-based rules for icon assignments.

Denote’s _tag1_tag2_tag3 file naming convention makes it easy to make rules based on tags for assigning an icon and optional color to notes. That makes a list of notes a lot more scannable, and has an interesting additional effect of telling a little story about your day: 1:1s get an icon, regular meetings get an icon, RFCs get an icon, conceptual notes, etc. etc. so just scanning down the list of notes in the file explorer reflects a kind of rhythm. That makes it easier to keep a sort of noisy naming convention in place — things are just more scannable, and that reduces the temptation to do things that make the file names more human-readable at the expense of long-term portability.

I was feeling a little wobbly about keeping strict Denote compliance, but I’ve got a Templater template set up to rename files based on their YAML frontmatter, and I’ve got that wired up to a Linter on-save action, so when I change the tags or name of an Obsidian note and save it, the Templater action updates the tags in the filename:

const file = tp.file.find_tfile(tp.file.title);
const {update} = app.plugins.plugins["metaedit"].api;
let identifier = """ + tp.file.creation_date("YYYYMMDDTHHmmss") + """;
let date = tp.file.creation_date("YYYY-MM-DDTHH:mm:ssZ");
let title = """ + tp.frontmatter["title"] + """;
await update("date", date, file);
await update("identifier", identifier, file);
await update("title", title, file);

The net effect is that my filenames stay Denote-compliant and reflect current note metadata in the frontmatter as I update them, and that supports the consistency of the icon assignment rules.

I’m trying to keep an eye on my plugin and configuration budget for this stuff. To maintain this level of automation I’ve got:

  1. Quickadd (kicks off the templated note creation process)
  2. Templater (lets me put logic in the note creation)
  3. MetaEdit (around solely for its API: supports frontmatter hygiene)
  4. Linter (cleans up notes – especially their frontmatter)
  5. Icon Folder (assigns icons to notes based on rules around their filenames)

When I think about what would happen to the workflow if I pulled any one of them out, three are essential; the bracketing ends of the workflow (note creation and icon labeling) are nice-to-haves that don’t impact the future-proof-ness of the collection.

The one remaining thing about Obsidian that concerns me generally is the plugin ecosystem. I’ve learned to click through to plugin repos, read the README for “can’t maintain this anymore” messages, check the last commit date, and check the amount/age of issues. I’ve seen a few where developers specifically mention Obsidian API changes affecting their ability to maintain their work.

I guess I feel about that the same way I feel about my web publishing toolchain: It was painful to go from WordPress to Jekyll. It was trivial to go from Jekyll to Hugo. It was painful to move my last Obsidian setup to org-mode, and from plain old org mode to Denote. It was trivial, given a simple Python script, to move from org-based Denote to Markdown-based Denote. And it has been trivial to configure Obsidian to maintain that corpus. Tools are ephemeral, conventions are … not forever, but more durable. The simpler, the more robust and the more portable. Sure there’s a lot of squabbling about how expressive Markdown should be, but the YAML-in-Markdown convention turns up in a bunch of tools. Key names change — Hugo developers don’t coordinate on frontmatter keys that serve the same function — but you’ve got a fighting chance to automate through change when you start from YAML (or TOML).

A lot of thought for note taking. I think it is a work-related habit I don’t mind having. I’ve noticed a shift in how I think about work that involves shrugging off a little of a sort of open-endedness that was very, very normal when I first joined Puppet, then became increasingly … quaint? … as the business changed around me.

The acquisition was a little disappointing because I’d found myself getting better at weighing what needed reinvention vs. what simply needed to be decided and done. The job hunt and some good interview processes sharpened that further. Sort of the way muscle memory seems to consolidate after you take a break from something after intense learning. If Puppet was ten years of repeatedly beating my head against a boss round, then getting tossed out and having to make a case for myself to strangers was the surprising ease with which that boss goes down if you just set the controller down, get some sleep, and come at it the next morning.

“Five Stars or Bust”

Getting rid of Amazon Prime and hence disengaging from Amazon in general was surprisingly easy once I took the time to think it through. Dropping delivery services has been a harder habit to break. We’ve made a lot of progress but sometimes we lapse. This post on Uber ratings reminds me that it’s about more than saving money. It’s about disengaging from a sector of the economy that thrives on precarity, and whose management wants to take its not-employees-but-actually-employees back to 19th century labor practices so I can have treats delivered.

Strangeness of being new somewhere

When asked if I’m a “half empty or half full” person, I get confused. That particular saw has never made a ton of sense to me for reasons I’m not going to get into, but sometimes do in a way that probably causes people to wonder if there are any other parts of the social contract I’m unable to understand.

I was nearly tossed out of the army for refusing to sound off to gruesome baby-killing cadences — cadences banned by name at Ft. Liberty (Ft. Bragg at the time) my last week in the service. But I’ve got a taste for hyperbolic and violent metaphor that people have told me becomes charming over time.

I go into most interactions with as curious, trusting, and open-ended a mindset as I can manage; but when I’m sending out a minion I’ll brief them on misaligned incentives and wooden nickels.

Like everyone, I’m a bundle of contradictions, inner monologue/outer affect mismatches, and blindspots.

With a few exceptions that I no longer allow to keep me up at night, I think most people get used to all that, same way I get used to all their weirdnesses.

But it is sort of strange to start fresh somewhere, knowing I’m a way’s away from “oh, that’s just Mike.”