It feels like we are experiencing a renaissance of knowledge management. I find new apps and services everyday. Today, I discovered another one from MeisterLabs: MeisterNote. It sounds a lot like Craft with some super powers. I generally like what MeisterLabs makes, even though they are webapps.1 Their designs are playful and it feels like they actually use what they make. I really wish MeisterLabs would do a better job showing what their apps do instead of explaining in text and cartoons.
I know. I drone on about digital notes and apps like Obsidian and DEVONthink. But, I also love writing on paper. I always have. I was the weird kid in high school using graph paper to take notes and it’s not much different today. My preferred style of note is the Cornell method. I learned this by accident in college. Through trial and error I started dividing my pages into the the primary note body and the meta data sections and then I discovered that there’s actually paper designed for this purpose.
I’ve enjoyed using Craft app for the past few months but I’m not thrilled with the incomplete markdown support and the lack of end to end encryption. Like every other nerd, I’ve watched Obsidian rise to the top of new age text editors. This article is my reflection on using Obsidian as a note manager. Let me start with the baseline. I am using version 0.12.5 of Obsidian on macOS. I prefer the subtlegold theme in dark mode.
I recently mentioned MarginNote as part of a list of Mac apps that I enjoy. It’s a very good app with powerful features like mindmap creation and research tools. There’s just one big problem. MarginNote does not embed annotations in a format I can use. Many other PDF annotation tools embed the content as a PDF meta layer. Opening the PDF in any other app means the annotations are still there.
I’m skeptical of any proscriptive system that claims to solve the problem of information capture and recall. At one time the Franklin Covey system was the “fix” for a busy schedule. Then there was the miracle of the PDA that attempted to replicate the function of paper with the power of search. Today’s reinventions on new hardware, like the laptop and the mobile device make some additional improvements. After years of working with all of these things I accept that there is no single best way to do any of it.
I’ve been reading a bit about the Zettelkasten system and there are some interesting opinions about meta data and how best to think about information. This old blog post by Christian Tietze about categories is thought provoking. Creating categories is a top-down process. You start with the structure and then file the material away. Notes will have to fit the structure. If they don’t, there’ll have to be a compromise.
The Archive is a new plain-text writing and reference application for the Mac.1 It’s made by people that are super-nerds about plain text and has a lot that looks familiar and a lot that is new and clever. This is not a review. It’s a highlight of what’s neat and innovative. The Archive is designed around what Notational Velocity and later nvALT brought to the Mac: Fast, reliable search with ease of creation.
I happen to agree with the good Dr. regarding Linea for iPad. It’s a very good app for drawing, especially with the Apple Pencil. But, I have much less of an urgent need for annotating images with the app. That’s because I mostly use PDF Expert for that sort of thing. I start a new document in PDF Expert and then insert the image I want to mark up. From there, I have a full toolkit available to make annotations, add text notes, and generally get my ideas down.
This blog post is a hand crafted artisanal production. well, its hand crafted at least. That’s because I wrote it by hand, long-form in the iPad app MyScript Nebo, Nebo works with the Apple Pencil to convert hand writing into text. It’s one of the best digital handwriting experiences I’ve had anywhere. The ink performance on the new iPad Pro feels like real ink. It tracks the pencil perfectly. This is inno small part, to Apple, but N’ebo is taking advantage of the technology in ways no other app does.
I still use paper and pen. It’s the most efficient and least distracting kit for taking notes in a meeting with non-nerds. Bringing out a computing device invariably results in some discussion about the technology. But I work in plain text files for everything before and after the meeting. Here are some options for commingling those two worlds. Evernote Evernote is very good at instant capture. At the end of a meeting, I snap photo notes into Evernote of the whiteboard and my paper notebook pages.