On writing with pen and paper

Very quickly: I love Baron Fig notebooks, both the larger, hard-cover Confidant, and the smaller, soft-cover Vanguard.

After a few years of trying different styles, I realized I vastly preferred white paper with light dots to either plain paper or ruled paper or grid paper, and simply will not use either of them again.

While we’re here, you can’t go wrong with a simple Lamy Safari to write with.


Continuing adventures in Tinderbox

Been using Tinderbox, in fits and starts, for a bit over a year now. I use it for all sorts of different stuff and the crazy bit is that I haven’t even scratched the surface,

Screen Shot 2018-06-14 at 9.19.11 PM
A sort of high-level daily work to-do pane .


I’ve used it for daily writing, for brainstorming, for just taking notes, and slowly but steadily trying on more of its feature set. The above shows an adornment for each day, with notes on them, and “task notes” outside, with todo/done states (based on a simple boolean done attribute), both of which are based on prototypes. The entire bunch is part of a composite within the main doc (yes, there’s a bit of vocabulary in the beginning).

The closest parallel I can think of, in a meta-sense, is Emacs — in the sense that it seems to have a huge learning curve and seems a bit useless at the outset, and unsophisticated, compared to a dozen other better-looking, niche tools.

And yet, both are completely programmable. You can define simple rules for the color of a note (as above, toggling between red and green based on a checkbox I added), or more complicated agents that gather notes based on arbitrary criteria.

It’s hard to even make a case for using it — though The Tinderbox Way is the closest I’ve found so far. I’d strongly recommend, on a day when you feel you have an especially open mind, to giving the free trial a try out.



On personal technology

I’ve slowly standardized on a few apps I use all the time; I was talking to someone about this and realized it might be generally useful to someone else (if nothing else, to save a few years of looking around).

I still check out new apps from time to time, but I almost never feel like anything else offers something that I’m missing.

Going back five to ten years, there were always things I wanted to do and tried various tools over time to fill that need, but couldn’t find anything that really stuck, so I’m quite happy that I found tools that have become invaluable over the last two years.

Journaling: Day One

I journal all the time, every day, and can’t imagine ever going back. The way I use this is a bit like “a Facebook account for myself” (yes, I’m not active on Facebook). It’s on my laptop, and on my phone, so there’s never an excuse for not doing it.

It’s a simple concept, but a really good idea. I often find myself wondering, when I write my “end of day entry” what exactly I did that day, so just forcing myself to recollect gives me a better sense of how I spent my time.

What really made a bigger difference was adding a weekly, monthly and even quarterly journalling period, but that can wait for later; just writing something down at all makes a huge difference!

Dumping ground: DevonThink (Pro)

This is something that you need but just don’t know you need 🙂

Finding stuff is hard. In the beginning I tried saving stuff in email, sending myself an attachment. Then I tried putting everything in Drive, or Dropbox. Then I tried making a nice file “hierarchy” to organize stuff.

This isn’t special stuff I’m talking about, just average everyday stuff. Letters, records, passwords, screenshots, scans, notes, that sort of stuff.

You can survive without a tool for this, but being able to instantly look up what you need, and instantly capture new stuff for later, is a whole another experience.

(In case you’re curious, I did use Evernote for this in the past, but I’ll have to talk separately about why it wasn’t good enough for me. Yes, I even tried the paid subscription.)

Task manager: OmniFocus

I have trouble remembering stuff. I know I’m not alone in this, but I have a worse time of it than most.

I started with plain old Reminders, ended up at Wunderlist (which was almost good enough). In the middle I even tried Trello (and Asana) but that was just not my use case at all.

Again, nothing special, just normal stuff: working on taxes, getting a picture framed, getting a car wash. Some things you need to do are routine things and things, others are “mini-projects”, some things can be done this week, some have to be postponed, some can be done at home, some need a shopping trip … and you don’t want to see one big bag of everything either, you want to see little bits of the whole picture at at time — Omnifocus helps me do all of this.

Finally, yes, I know Things exists, it’s cool, but I’ve seen screenshots of the OmniFocus version coming out later this year and it looks quite promising. Still, if you use nothing right now, just pick any one of the two.

Other stuff

I wanted to stick to a “top three list” here, but there are other apps I use too. There are also past alternatives that, for one reason or another, didn’t quite work out, and it might be worth mentioning them all later.

But just as a “basic starter kit”, these three are invaluable. I spent years figuring out the right mix for me, and my life would be miserable without these tools to rely on.

Setting up ZSH on a Mac

I’ve been using the excellent Fish shell for the last few (three? four?) years, but every once in a while I need bash-compatibility, and Zsh seemed like perhaps a sweet spot between the two.

If you’re in a similar spot, this is a two-minute (almost) guide to getting up and running with Zsh on OS X.

Step 1: What does brew have?

~> brew search zsh
==> Searching local taps...
zsh ✔                                zsh-autosuggestions                  zsh-git-prompt                       zsh-lovers                           zsh-syntax-highlighting
fizsh                                zsh-completions                      zsh-history-substring-search         zsh-navigation-tools                 zshdb

Step 2: Just install the main product

So brew has a lot of packages, but I just need zsh for now.

Step 3: Use it!

I used to have this two step process of first adding it to /etc/shells and then calling chsh -s on it, but there’s a better way to do it:

sudo dscl . -create /Users/$USER UserShell /usr/local/bin/zsh

Step 4: Configuration options

Here you can either create .zshrc files manual, or through the startup menu, or … use Oh-my-zsh/Prezto.

I went with the last one, but here’s what the “first time menu” looks like:

Please pick one of the following options:

(1)  Configure settings for history, i.e. command lines remembered
 and saved by the shell.  (Recommended.)

(2)  Configure the new completion system.  (Recommended.)

(3)  Configure how keys behave when editing command lines.  (Recommended.)

(4)  Pick some of the more common shell options.  These are simple "on"
 or "off" switches controlling the shell's features.

(0)  Exit, creating a blank ~/.zshrc file.

(a)  Abort all settings and start from scratch.  Note this will overwrite
 any settings from zsh-newuser-install already in the startup file.
 It will not alter any of your other settings, however.

(q)  Quit and do nothing else.  The function will be run again next time.
--- Type one of the keys in parentheses ---

Step 5: Prezto

Pretty straightforward to install, and you can keep tweaking later, if that’s what you want.

git clone –recursive https://github.com/sorin-ionescu/prezto.git “$ZDOTDIR:-$HOME/.zprezto”

And then

for rcfile in "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}"/.zprezto/runcoms/^README.md(.N); do
  ln -s "$rcfile" "${ZDOTDIR:-$HOME}/.${rcfile:t}"

That’s it, open a new terminal and enjoy your new shell!