LYT Solution Log

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Example of what I create

My Solution Log History

As a software engineer, I have been a believer in a solutions log -- a place where you record the solution to a really sticky problem you had ,or a surprise that you didn't expect. My solution log started in Evernote, became a bunch of OrgMode files, then got filtered down and I started writing them into large OrgMode files based on subject, and then I discovered the idea of a Zettelkasten and put everything in org-roam. More recently I discovered Obsidian and converted all my files from org to Markdown and moved them into an Obsidian folder.

Note that these files are used a bit differently than a "normal" Zettelkasten note. Most of the time a Zettelkasten system is used as an insight for research and putting a paper or article together. Most of my notes are used for reference -- like dealing with the BOM character when parsing CSV files in Python! I have it written down so I don't have to memorize it. I.e. use my internal brain space for something else.

Regardless my Knowledge Base (what I call my personal solutions log) was mixed in with my other Zettelkasten notes all in one folder. It got really unwieldy. To me, the Knowledge Base was a different -- it was mostly reference material and, sure, things linked to each other were mixed up with insights I was documenting. I needed a folder structure and felt that I wasn't going to come up with a good one on my so I started searching. And I found Nick Milo's LYT Kit which gave me some new things to think about and a workable arrangement.

Linking Your Thinking (LYT) is Nick Milo's paradigm for Zettelkasten and has some great videos to show you his ideas. Anyway I decided go from my "everything in my folder" idea to something more rigid like "LYT".

My Setup

I won't go into too much detail on the set up of LYT, but I will say that I created a folder under "Spaces" called "Knowledge Base" and started to copy all the files from my old vault into my LYT vault and then tweak them. After a bit of doing that I decided to stop and instead I made a new space called 'Unruly Forest', copied all the remaining Knowledge Base files in there. And then, when I read one again, I can take a minute to move it to the Knowledge Base space. This makes things a lot easier and I still can find the note that I need when I need it.

One concept that really drew me into LYT was the Map of Content, or MOC in LYT-speak. Basically it's a common file that all you link to move up. But really they are so much more than that. Bob Doto describes it well:

MOCs behave as work stations, places to examine how notes interact. They're far more than records of already established connections. Instead, MOCs are places to challenge notes, to see whether notes need to change, cleave, or resolve. Rather than being a representation of previously made connections, MOCs are where connections are made anew.

My Knowledge Base folder has a file called "Knowledge Base MOC" that all my knowledge base files link to in the top as an "UP" category. This makes navigation easy -- I can click 'up' to navigate to the MOC. What do you put in that MOC file? Anything you want! I'm not to the "change, cleave, or resolve" in my Knowledge Base yet -- I simply put in a DataView table in my Knowledge Base MOC that displays my post used tags in my Knowledge Base and displays the count of each one. It looks like:

TABLE length(rows.file.name) as numfiles  FROM "Spaces/Knowledge Base" 
flatten file.tags as tag group by tag 
sort length(rows.file.name) desc limit 10

As I started using my setup, I found a lot of notes still in the large files that I originally wrote in Org in Emacs. Again — instead of breaking those big files up, I instead use those file as kinda Subject MOC. For example all the Django notes I make link back to the main Django note. That helps keeps things “linked” together. In that file, I have a DataView table created with a tag, like so:

table file.mtime as Updated from #django  sort file.mtime desc

I haven't refactored my "large" files yet.. and that's ok! I will when I get to them.

The next issue was search... I mean this is a Knowledge Base so I need to search the contents of the files to find what I need. I was struggling with search for a long time but recently discovered the Omnisearch plugin which happens to work really great for finding the right file.

Actually writing the note

I used to write really short snippets and then try to link to notes that this item reminded me of. But I stopped that and tried to make things more conversational - like explaining the situation, or if I think this solution could be better. The guideline I follow is "write" a blog post to yourself". So I kinda write my note like I would have liked to find in a blog post but I'm coming at it assuming that someone knows the context. I got this idea from Andy Matuschak. He didn't' state it like I do but perhaps better

When it’s a topic I understand well, I can write notes for both myself and an audience simultaneously. But that sometimes produces the false impression that I can pull this off all the time! To avoid that false impression, I’ll write notes for myself “by default,” and only “opt into” writing notes for an audience explicitly.

Even though I don't necessarily write these notes for connectedness and find-by-exploring, I do try to make it so I could. I make sure that I do these things:

  • tag with the tag of the project I'm working on when I get stuck
  • Link it to the Project MOC of what I am working on
  • Otherwise link heavily -- for example, make a link to Python if the note is anything to do with Python. Link it to JavaScript if is it javascript related. Both of these are really Subject MOCs
  • Add thoughts to the note. I.e don't copy straight out of StackOverflow

This seems like a lot of rules but really they are very simple to follow. Why? Because my note is conversational but having a conversation with myself. I avoid the easy method simply of linking to and pasting from the Internet and walking away. I mean, I do that but I wrap some context and opinions to it -- and link to them freely. I feel that I can have a deeper understanding of what I just did as well as having methods to find it when I need it -- even if it's not the exact solution I'm working for! Sometimes I find something similar enough in my knowledge base to a solution to a problem I didn't think was similar.

Like most of my Zettelkasten workflows, this is always a work in progress. Always more tweaks or perhaps removing some layers. But now I have something that works for me, even after carrying files from one place to another. I do plan on keeping Obsidian for a long, long while however.

Category: productivity Tags:

How I use Nix

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About a year ago I started playing with Nix and it has become as essential as Docker and Emacs for my local development environments. I switched from a world of direnv and virtualenv based environments to one with direnv and nix. The Nix part seems complicated but it's really not. I really just uses a sliver of what Nix does and I'm fine with it. See what my friend Marty wrote for a good discussion on what Nix is, how to install it and several reasons why it's awesome.

As I said above, my setup is pretty basic but it does everything I hoped it could do.

In the Direnv file I have usual environment variables, maybe a couple PATH settings for scripts and then at the end:

use nix

and... that is it for direnv.

Then I make a file called shell.nix that creates the python environment

{ pkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {} }:

pkgs.mkShell {

  buildInputs = [
    pkgs.python38
    pkgs.poetry
    pkgs.black

  ];

}

That is a simple one. Here is some that is Python and a few more things:

{ pkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {} }:

pkgs.mkShell {

  buildInputs = [
    pkgs.python3
    pkgs.poetry
    pkgs.python3Packages.pip
    pkgs.pgcli
    pkgs.postgresql
    pkgs.libxml2
    pkgs.libxslt
  ];

}

This is a lot like previous one, but with some Postgresql helpers and the XML libraries are there because some Python libraries I use needed them.

Then do the direnv allow ... and you have your environment setup. Nix handles the install and maintance of what I specified in my shell file. Which you can see when you look at the Python executable:

➜ which python
/nix/store/df2vs5yxfwj2flslf6ng0a0w8swdwgp7-python3-3.9.9/bin/python

After that I go into the folder and/or open my project with Emacs.. and my environment is set up. I can use plain Poetry commands and it will be a "normal" Python project... because it is a normal Python project! With just the executables setup for Nix.

My examples above were all for Python but it's really for any type of dev platform. Here is a React project that I have setup:

{ pkgs ? import <nixpkgs> {} }:

pkgs.mkShell {

  buildInputs = [
     pkgs.yarn
     pkgs.nodejs-14_x

  ];

}

No messy rvm or anything -- just set your version and let Nix do all the work

Category: tech Tags:

My Weekly Prep and Review

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the setup

Every Saturday, I try to wake up before anyone else. With the house quiet, I make some coffee, shuffle to my office and shut the door. I open my bullet journal, my Obsidian notes, and Todoist list and start the most important 20 to 30 minutes of my week. I call it "my Weekly Review" but it's really more of a "Weekly Review and Planning session". I helps me figure out if what I did last week helps me with my goals and then what do I need to do for the next week to get closer to my goals.

I know that a few people will read this and think that I am really good at this process and, to be frank, I feel like I am really bad at it. I really started it because I felt I wasn't getting enough done or not working on the right things. I get into this state of being that I call The Rut but what I am learning is that the The Rut is really a sign of burnout called productivity dysmorphia, which is simply defined as "a decreased sense of accomplishment". So, in my quest to accomplish more, I'm realizing that I'm really accomplishing enough. Regardless, it's a process and I'm still in the midst of it. This planning process has helped me feel that I'm getting enough done and am focusing on the right things.

Let me be clear about something else -- I didn't come up with this. Most of this is from this GTD Review checklist (pdf) which I got from this great comment on Reddit. It's really those things that helped me piece this together

I'm pretty specific about what software tools I use for this. I have used and struggled a lot and have a pretty good system going now. But hey this is always evolving. Right now, as I write this I am using

  • Todoist as the todo-list
  • Obsidian is where I put notes -- both project descriptions and quick notes/links for later. I used a plugin to easily make a Todoist item from a note
  • Fantastical for an overview of my events as well as my tasks
  • Friday.app -- the newest one to the list. I use mostly as a daily dashboard/ aggregator of my various calendars and my Todoist list

I also use old fashioned pen and paper. It's faster and things really stick to your mind better.

You ready? Alright -- let's get started .


1. Get Clear

Get “IN” to Zero Process

I have a tray on my desk where I set papers as the week goes on -- mostly mail but sometimes other notes that pass my way. I take care most of it during the week but on Saturday I sort through what is left and finish taking care of it. Some I put back -- maybe it's a document that needs physically returned so I add to to my Todo list. But other items like tax forms are filed in my cabinet, dog vaccinations are scanned and saved, etc. etc. By the end of this Zero Process, the Inbox Tray is dealt with, if not ideally empty.

I also go through my notebook to make sure I didn't leave anything there that isn't in Todoist (for something I need ) or Obsidian ( for a note I want to remember). I'm usually good at getting those out of my notebook towards the end of the day that I write it, but I want to make sure.

Then I go through my quick notes in Obsidian. I have a series of Daily Notes that I used during the week. I quickly share a link or sometimes just a thought about something into a daily note. During my review, I do a quick review of each note and figure out if I really need it or not. If I do, I put it in it's own note, or merge with another and make a Todo so I get back at it later. Or I decide that I don't care after all and simply delete it. Once I finish dealing with the contents of the note I immediately delete the note itself . I move on and deal with the next day's note. If I spend more than five minute on an entry, it's way too long.

Empty head

In a notebook, I put in new ideas, new projects and "This is what I need" or "This is what I am waiting for". Why a notebook and not in Obsidian ? Because it's faster to use short-hand to jot the note down quickly and then move on.

Ironically, this doesn't generally take me too long to do. As stated above, I generally have a notepad by me when I work for quick notes or I keep track of ideas in Obsidian and Todoist as the week goes by. But sometimes I don't have things down like I should have -- this is my last ditch effort.

2. Get Current

I have a different notebook specifically for this part - totally separate from the notebook I used during the week and used above . I like having the reviews as a series of pages, one after another for reviewing them.

Review Action Lists

I use an IFTTT Recipe that logs each Todoist task that I complete into a Google Sheet. When I look at the spreadsheet, I make note of the Todoist project or tag to give me the context that it was completed in and I put a tally mark behind it in my notebook. The definition of "context" is squishy -- sometimes I remember the why of it and one item gets tally marks by two contexts, because that made sense to me. I also don't count routine items like "Take out the Trash" because they aren't necessarily part of a larger goal.

This next part is perhaps the most important thing in this whole review -- I look at my tally marks and compare it with my goals from the review prior. Did my completed tasks match what my goals were? If not, why not? Do I need to adjust something from this week to the next?

Review Previous Calendar Data

This doesn't take me too long because I have notes already from previous meetings but sometimes I remember things I missed. It's usually in my notes that I need to flesh them out. Anyway if I find I have other things todo, I make Todoist items on them and schedule them.

Review Upcoming Calendar Review

I have a love/hate relationship with calenders. Besides the work calendar, which things can creep in, our family shares a Google calendar for all our appointments. So things can sneak in there too, or there are events that don't really effect me. Sometimes I usually just need to know something is happening. I used to put each upcoming Calendar item in it's own, separate Todist project but Friday.app has stopped this -- now it's in my daily dashboard so I will see it. Friday also solves a problem that my review couldn't solve -- it also reports new calendar events that gets put on after this.

This is also the time I use Fantastical to look at my week and try to even things out. Fantastical really is the best way to look at Todoist items for a week at a time. If I see some days are heavily-loaded, I used drop and drag them around to even things out. In case you are wondering, yes, I do usually make a Todo item and throw a due date on it that sounds good at the time. This is when I adjust those items to fit into deadlines, to avoid being overburdened, and just general sanity's sake.

Review Project (and Larger Outcome) Lists

This is when I look at each project and evaluate if things are schedule by priority, what is schedule on the right days or even if anything is still valid. Also this is when I set goals Wisdom tells me that I should make a goal or target for every project every week, but I have found that to have disappointing results. I tend to pick out two or no more than three goals and put those in big letters in my notebook. And then make sure (again) that my priority list matches them, and adjust accordingly.

3. Get Creative

This is probably the step I'm the worst at -- some of it because I do this through the week (a la my daily notes) and also by now my brain is tired by all this reflection. But this is where I am supposed to brainstorm and put down wild ideas. I do look at at this list as the week (or weeks) go by and see if there are any patterns that emerge. Those patterns are the goals I turn into projects.

Review Someday Maybe List

This is where I review projects that, yeah, maybe I want to schedule a few things for, some I decide are no longer decided are no long relevant.

Be Creative and Courageous

This is supposed to be "Any new, wonderful, hare-brained, creative, thought-provoking, risk-taking ideas" to added at a high level. Some of this was done as the week went on and reviewed in my notes, others are ridiculous. That said, I will take some down.

Category: productivity Tags:

State of the Apps 2021

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It's pretty simple to figure out that Cortex is my favorite podcast. In fact, it's really the only podcast I make sure to listen to when the new episodes come out. Every year they review the apps they are using on their phones (and Macs) and call it State of the Apps. After they published this year's I thought about making my own. If you listen to them very much you will realize that I have been very much influenced by them this year.

Todoist

This isn't a new item but it's a central item of my life. Really Todoist runs my life... there are very few non-routine tasks that aren't in Todoist. And really most of my routine items are there too. With my own weird version of GTD, Todoist lets me rapidly put in my task with a due date (sometimes it arbitrary ) and then I don't worry about it until later. I really talked about Todoist here and I basically run it the same way -- that filter that I use has really worked out well.

In the next apps I talk about next, you will see a common theme -- I use some sort of Todoist integration in all of them. That is how important Todoist has become to me.

Toggl Timer

This is a Cortex-influenced decision and I really don't know what took me to long to try it. Basically I tell Toggl a task and a project and it starts the timer. And when I'm done, I stop the timer. And then I can do reports, etc from this data. And make my timesheet for work from this. But this works so very well and it's cross-platform. Literally -- I can start the timer on my Mac via the web and stop it on my Android phone via the Android app.

Also, Toggl integrates with... well, just about everything. If you install the Chrome plugin, then you can tell it what webapps you want to integrate with Toggl. So if you use Asana and Todoist integration, then you have a Toggl button on tasks there. Click it, set the project on the Toggl dialogue in the app and the timer is started. Clean, easy efficient.

Obsidian

Obsidian is the notes app that I have been waiting for. Basically I can have the same notes on all my devices and edit them and they are sync'ed. Furthermore they are all Markdown files -- so just plain text! And the files reside on my system, not in the Obsidian cloud! And search works! And I can link between files! It's really marvelous.

I'll throw out that this isn't perfect... I would rather have Emacs everywhere and write in OrgMode . Honestly I do think that Orgmode is a better format for this than Markdown but (at least on my Mac) I can use Emacs on my Obsidian files and they work just fine. The d

Obsidian has their own sync service but you don't have to use it... I don't because... well partly because I'm cheap and partly because I have to do things complicated. Between my Mac and iPad, iCloud Drive works nicely. To my Android phone, it's more work but I finally ended up with Syncthing between my Mac and phone. So, basically my Mac is the "server" for both of my mobile devices.

Obsidian by itself is good but really what makes is great is all the plugins. You can really customize it the way you want to work (so really that makes it like Emacs) and your plugins and configuration syncs over! So I install the plugin on my Mac and that plugin is sync'ed to my other devices. Once in a while I've had to enable it on my devices but the configuration is there when I do. I can live with that.

I'm not going to get in deep to my Zettelkasten ideas here... but Obsidian really makes it work.

Plugins that I like:

  • DataView -- which lets you create queries on your nows and displays tables on it. I use it for Dashboards to get at things easily.
  • Daily Note -- Generally I sometimes I find a link that I'm reading and think "I want to read this later" so Daily Note gives me a quick place to dump it into for later. Sometime later I will go back, read it, take some notes and put that into it's own note.
  • Todoist plugin -- You can display Todoist items in Obsidian but I don't use it for that. Instead I use a shortcut that makes a Todo from a note. I use this for projects where I make notes of what I need to do and then make a Todo out of it -- my resulting Todoist item links to my Obsidian note so I have all my context... and after I finish, I still have access to what I was thinking or doing, in case I want to go back to it.

I use many more but the three above are really the essential to my workflow.

Spark

I'm a really bad email user.. I tend to look at a subject and perhaps a preview on an email and leave it alone -- sometimes I take action on it (without opening it up) and sometimes I know it's something I don't need. In either case, I don't even open it up. This is what causes my Gmail to have 30K unread messages (no that is not a joke). This worked... fine? Okayish? for a long time but then lately I realized that I missed some email that I really needed to look at. So I needed to change my bad email ways.

I knew a few people that used Spark and Myke on Coretex has been recommending it and so I decided to give it a shot. And again... what took me so long? I love out is auto-categorizes my messages so I know what I need look at and Notifications and Newsletters that perhaps I can leave for later (or just delete).

Lots of people like the "Snooze" feature of Spark but honestly.. I'll just make a todo out of it's Todoist integration. Once setup (all you need is your API key), you click a button, put in your Todist info in the pop-up and your todo has a link to the email in Spark. I wish the Spark modal did natural language or, at the very least wasn't so clunky putting in the right project or a label.

Tabnine

Tabnine is different than the rest.. it's not an app, per-se, but it's a code-completion helper. Basically it's a little server that runs and connects to plugins to your text editor and/or your IDE and it supercharges your completions. Like just not auto completing variables but in context, lines of code. I've had it complete full streams calls in Java code with no problem. And it works just as well in Intellij as it does in Emacs. This is one tool that works in the background and I really kinda forget about it, yet I use it all the time.

Vivaldi

I had used Firefox for a long time and I liked it sync on my desktop, Android phone, and iPad but I had problems with a few important sites... well, some of it was with the security settings I had more than the browser than the browser itself. That said, the world is getting more and more embedded with Chrome. So I started looking for an alternate. I had read things about Vivaldi but hadn't tried it in a long while. And really it's fantastic. It does lots of things with tabs and my current favorite tab feature is to tile tabs in the windows which is nicer than you may think. I also love Quick Commands, which is like a Spotlight search within the browser. Bring up a tab, bookmark, command, etc with ease.

Category: tech Tags:

Why do I Write This?

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A little while ago I ran into someone and we ended up chatting about this blog. He asked an interesting question – "Why do you write the blog?". I didn't have an answer then and I'm not sure that I have one now, but I'm writing about it anyway.

A day or two after that conversation I read Katie Baker's article about the death of Google Reader and the real Internet and it reminded me of the "Why blog?" question. They seem related and really that's the real reason I am writing this.

Let's start with this – I've always fancied myself a writer. Even in my grade school days, I did well on my writing assignments and, dare I say, I was good at it. At times I fancied that I was going to write novels someday. Well that feeling is gone but it's still something I enjoy and something perhaps I will always do, in one way or another. Sönke Ahrens wrote in his book How to Take Smart Notes: One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers:

If there is one thing the experts agree on, then it is this: You have
to externalize your ideas, you have to write. Richard Feynman stresses
it as much as Benjamin Franklin. If we write, it is more likely that we
understand what we read, remember what we learn and that our thoughts
make sense.

so, in a huge sense, I write mostly for me. To remember things, to process informartion, to sort things out in my brain. But do I write blogs posts for me? Well… sometimes? But that is something different, which I'll probably get to in a different post.

In another sense, I started my blog simply because I like the other blogs that were out there, especially help in more technical issues but also hearing about things from different people's perspectives. I think that was why blog readers were essential. You found a blog that you were interested in and you followed it. Then you only had one place to go to. It wasn't unusual to have 100 blogs to follow. Of course now I still follow blogs. Very few are updated daily, some (I guess like mine) aren't even updated monthly. But that's fine. Perhaps the most important reason that I write is to be a part of the larger web conversation, even if there really isn't one and I'm typing this to the ether.

I remember thinking once that I didn't need Google Reader anymore – I had Twitter and I didn't need to follow anyone else but I could see what the current conversation was. How naive! The early days of Twitter were fun (anyone else remember TweetUps and Tweet Lunches?). But that didn't last long… soon there was so much noise and very little content. I rarely use Twitter anymore. But how am I going to learn and be exposed to new ideas if there is so much noise in the "noise" in the public forum. Now I'm back to using as RSS reader a lot and even though blogs aren't as active as they once was, there is some great stuff out there.

I don't blog because I want to be a professional blogger. Honestly, I don't care about traffic…I don't even keep track. Maybe no one will read it. I'm fine with that. Maybe this is more online journal for me than "wow someone will find is useful." But I do want someone to find it useful. Maybe not you but perhaps someone still stumble on to this and think "wow, that helped me more than StackOverflow" or "I never thought of it that way."

Basically – I blog for me and hope that other people find it useful as well.

Category: blog Tags:

Emacs as your RestClient

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A few weeks ago, I was surprised when I was asked to demo a webservice that I wrote. Since I didn't prep a Postman config for it (because I don't use Postman unless I have to, like during demos ) I got out Emacs and opened the orgfile that I had used to test the service. Suddenly the Architect piped in and said, "Emacs? Who uses Emacs to test services? I really can't stand people who use command line tools!". What he didn't know is that I wear comments like that as a badge of honor. So let me teach you how use Orgmode as a RestClient to annoy your co-workers just like I do!

There are lots of links out there how to set this up and how it works. Mike Zamansky has a great post/video of the basics of RestClient. For the OrgMode part, you basically need to use the Babel functionality and ob-restclient. This sounds like a lot of work but Doom Emacs (the config distro that I'm currently using) has all of this included.

At it's most basic, you can just do this:

#+begin_src restclient
GET http://openlibrary.org/api/volumes/brief/isbn/9781429992800.json

#+end_src

Enter Ctrl-c Ctrl-c (or C-c C-c as an Emacs person would write it) anywhere in that source block and it will execute. The result will be a long-winded response around a #RESULTS: section that magically appears below it. OpenLibrary has a nice API in that you don't have to specify a content type (or even an API key). Here is how you set some headers, via this sample API.

#+begin_src restclient
GET https://airport-info.p.rapidapi.com/airport?iata=OMA
x-rapidapi-key: <some key>
x-rapidapi-host: airport-info.p.rapidapi.com


#+end_src

You will then get the information of the Omaha airport back. Note that the headers appear directly below the GET url line. Note that you can also replaced GET with POST, PUT and etc.

If you need to put in a payload, you don't need to do fancy JSON things, just put in the string with a blank line between the headers and the payload, like so:

#+begin_src restclient
POST https://airport-info.p.rapidapi.com/airport
x-rapidapi-key: <some key>
x-rapidapi-host: airport-info.p.rapidapi.com

{'iata':'OMA'}
#+end_src

(Note that the above won't work, but it's still a good example)

All this is well and good, but isn't very real-world. What if you have to authenticate? What if you have to specify a content type? Well you can send the results of one evaluation to another. That document is hard to follow but essentially you can evaluate an OrgMode source block and put the results in another. You basically put it in a variable that you carry from block to block. And it doesn't matter what language the blocks are written in.

So here is an example of using Python's requests library, which makes getting an oauth token pretty easy. Note the :results token in the header – that declares a variable to put the result in.

#+begin_src python :results token

import requests

data = {"client_id": "<client id>",
"client_secret": "<some creds>",
"grant_type": "client_credentials"

}

r = requests.post('https://some-url/oauth/token', data = data, verify=True) #False if you have weird SSL stuff
return r.json()["access_token"]

#+end_src

And then you declare the token as a variable on requests and use it in the block – note the :token in the Authorization header:

#+begin_src restclient :var token=token
POST https://some-app-url/path/to/api/thing
Content-Type: application/json
Authorization: Bearer :token

{'stuff':'bar'}

#+end_src

So run C-c C-c on the first (python) source block and then again on the second. Boom – your call to the service it authenticated . I find this a lot easier than using alternatives.

Category: tech Tags:

Advancing my Todoist

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My previous post about my bullet journal got me thinking of rapid logging, and got me thinking about how projects in Todoist aren't just working for me – and suddenly I found myself in another Todo App Crisis.

I have a friend that that shares the productivity bug with me and we chat a lot about idea. He sent me the link to The PARA Method which really screwed up my thinking but I felt like it gave me the permission to look at using more than one app to accomplish what I wanted. I then tried both Trello and OmniFocus and figuring out how they can fit into my paradigms of what I wanted to achieve. To make this shorter: I gave up looking at other apps and dug into the Todoist help a bit more. My final decision is to change how I am using Todoist.

I won't want to belabor points about Trello and OmniFocus – this is really on how I can start using Todoist better.

Use the web, dummy

I am now of the opinion that the Web App for Todoist is far superior than either the mobile or the Desktop apps, which is funny to me because the "apps" are really Electron apps so you would think they would be the same. But what I figured out is that the web app gives me so much more.

Rapid logging, for example, is so much easier through the browser:

  1. Type each task, one a time in a text editor, using the DSL if you want
  2. Copy all those lines to your clipboard
  3. Find the label or project you want those tasks in – or Inbox if you want
  4. Paste – the app will ask you if you want one task per line

And… that's it. If you wrote 100 tasks in the text editor, you now have 100 new tasks in Todoist.

But managing tasks is also easier on the web version simply because of the todoist-shortcuts add-on which basically puts the GMail shortcuts into Todoist. Obviously you can only do this in the browser.

One trick that works both on the desktop and in the browser is to Shift-Click on several tasks and you can edit many on once. What a time-saver!

Labels over Projects

One of the mind shifts that I had to change is that every task had to be in a Project and have a Due Date. I will say that most things do need to have those things, but I found that some things I just want to get done, and maybe one task will take me a few days (say, like writing a blog post). Do what to just keep moving the date? Is that a project instead of a task? Well I had to really think about it.

I experimented with this before but now have started in earnest – using Labels instead of throwing things in a project. This way I can put a bunch of stuff in at once and not worry what project it goes into. Instead I give it a label right away. If I want to do it soon, I can leave it in the Inbox. If I don't want to, I can deal with it later by setting a due date. If I think it belongs in a project later on, I can do that too.

To do that, you have to harness the power of Filters. I've played with them long ago but now I really dug in and think they are the key to my effectiveness. Here is an excellent unofficial guide to writing a Todoist filter. My default view is now a filtered list called tasklist that is simply :

overdue | (no date & #Inbox) | ( next 2 days )

I use that as my default view on my phone and as the default view in the Android widget (which is my usual default completion device). Works great – I can see the tasks without a Date and things due in the next couple of days.

Completed tasks

One thing I did want from PARA is to keep track of my completed tasks. Todoist's interface doesn't make it easy to browse through completed tasks and that makes sense – it's not something you do often. But as PARA said – how can you review what you accomplished without have access? I found a IFTTT recipe that records each completed task into a Google Sheet with a link to the individual task in Todoist. I was going to do something fancy with that, but really having it in a Google Sheet is perfect – you can slice and dice it from there.

Onward

This seems to satisfy my changing needs .. it helps me put and manage a lot of tasks and helps answer my questions like "What have I done in the last year?" when I do my yearly job evaluation.

I stumbled onto a currently maintained cli for Todoist written in Go and I think I could use a lot of things in there.. but I had to compile it and then get an exception while running the initial sync. I'll keep mucking with that to see if I can get it going and how I can use it.

Category: tech Tags:

Handwritten Notes

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1

If 2020 was the Year of Taking Notes, then 2021 is turning into the year of handwriting notes. And if you know me this is quite a change – I have been proudly typing things out for years, leaving writing things by hand proudly behind. A big part of it is my handwriting is deplorable and always have been. And really it's gotten worse. I also tend to lose the pieces of paper I written things on. The later is really organization problem and not a handwriting problem. And the organization problem really that is what I ended up solving, even if it was by accident.

But how did I start down this handwriting path? Simply because it's faster. But it turned out that I remember things better if I write them out as opposed to type it. And with some organization I can say "I know where that is!". And not only do I remember it better, I tend to be more thoughtful when I put it down. As long as I have my little notebook nearby, I can quickly jot things down, not worry about them again until I need them.

I was the Apple Pencil that started me on it. I bought it because I thought it was cool and then I got a copy of GoodNotes on my iPad.A bunch of things suddenly just clicked. I started drawing and filling out PDFs. This is very handy for print-and-play games like Bargain Basement Bathysphere and Utopia Engine: Beast Hunter. I can easily erase, don't have to worry about printing things out and keeping track of paper. I found that once I got used to the Pencil (which did not take long) I really liked this style. But I didn't want to keep everything in my iPad… gee, am I going to start writing things by hand?

Through a long series of looking at random things, I somehow stumbled into the concept of a Bullet Journal. This video is really the best overview and currently my journal looks a lot like that, as opposed to a work of art.2 I don't follow it fully, which is really on of the beautiful things about the system – you don't have to. Honestly my Bullet Journal is mainly headings and lists. I don't do the "rapid logging" part of a Bullet Journal, but instead instead I focus on The Collections to brainstorm and rapid collection of ideas into a collection and then turn those into tasks in my Todoist. While that seems like a lot of work, it actually works great.

Ironically I could do all of this in a Bullet Journal but, however, it's hard for me to leave Todoist simply because I always have it with me, via my phone. I could do all this list management into Todoist and have tried it before. The problem is that I tend not be able to find things again and entering a bunch of items in a brain dump is not very fast in Todoist. For example, my wife would come up with ideas for the new house and I couldn't keep up in putting them into Todoist. With my bullet journal, I just found that collection, grabbed the pen that I always have in it, and we record things as fast as we say them.

Basically, my workflow is like this:

  • my Bullet Journal is for ideas, lists, brainstorming, and facts (you know, like what address you're new house is at)
  • When I'm ready to put things into action, I open my journal and Todoist and start moving things over.
  • it's important that everything in Todoist has a due date… or I will never find it again.

This has started me on a strange path of being picky about notebooks and pens. What I ended up choosing is this notebook which is dotted, not lined (non-negotiable), has a bookmark ribbon, a sleeve for the pen and has a band to keep it closed. I've had this notebook in my living room table, in appliance stores, etc and it's held up well. I think the paper is a little thin so a dark pen will bleed through. I've settled on this Pentel pen which I had used before. I like it because it writes thin (so my handwriting is more legible) and doesn't bleed through. This arrangement is … OK. I think I would like better quality paper but do not want to sacrifice the closing band or the pen holder. Decisions, decisions…

It's strange about how I've fallen back into low-tech habits in the time of COVID and that I am keeping those habits around.


  1. And yes that is actually my journal index. Ugly, isn't it?

  2. When I first saw this video, I laughed my head off. Not only does my journal not look anything like that, I would never put that much work into how it looks. It's 100% function over form.

Category: notetaking Tags:

New House

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The idea of the new house started when we moved into the old one. It was a concept, an idea that we joked about. "Well in our next house we want… "" and then we would chuckle. I mean there were things that we didn’t like and so we changed them. We got rid of some dark, 1970’s chic and made some more space.

Then it became less of joke as years went by. “There are too many steps to get into this house” and “It’s a long way to carry groceries to the kitchen” and “our backyard is too big” and then there was “these rooms are so small.” There were things we could do and we did a lot of them — but frankly we couldn’t move the garage closer to the kitchen. Or take out the steps to get into the house. But we dealt with it. And did more stuff… we redid the kitchen! We redid a bathroom! But still the laundry room is off the kitchen. And the kitchen is floor and half a house away from the garage.

We made a list of what we wanted. Zillow weighed heavily in our browser history but we didn’t like what we saw. Not enough hit the must haves. We had a realtor come and he gave us a list of things to do to sell. Another bathroom changed! New flooring! Lots of things move out! And we cleaned. But Zillow still didn’t show us anything we were happy with.

But then Zillow started showing up some brand new houses… “Hey this is done, why not look at it?” So we walked through a couple model homes.. hm, close but not quite. We drove further to walk through another model. Wait… this.. is perfect! Big rooms! Nice basement! Smaller yard! No deck! Laundry by the bedrooms! Um… so… we are going to build. Never our plan. Building was always a ephemeral idea and then became permanent. Contracts were signed, money changed hands… and an old house was fixed. Or tweaked. And then put up for sale… and quickly purchased.

We moved to an apartment…cozy but comfortable. And we go to our patch of dirt and see progress. And hey we do see progress.

Category: misc Tags:

Puzzling

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It was a long time ago when I first discovered Sudoku. I do remember it well… I had a long flight ahead of me and this was before I had a smart phone..I had some books (like printed) but wanted something else in case the books made me lose interest. I picked up a book by Will Shortz and made sure I had a couple of pencils with me. I'm not going to say I was good at it, but I enjoyed it and it helped whittle away the hours (yes, hours) of flights I had.

I toyed with it off and on for years but waned in my interested of it. Fast forward to last week and I saw someone mention that Microsoft (yes, that Microsoft) has a good mobile app on both Android and iOS, so I put it on my Android phone and took it for a spin. And hey I really liked it – and I was better than I remembered being! Oh and then I tried a hard puzzle and that humbled me a bit. There were ads on the MS version and I didn't feel like paying a monthly fee to get rid of them. And it was small on my phone screen. Oh, but I have an iPad…

After some research I found lots of people like Good Sudoku. As I loaded it up and noted it was by the same developer as Spelltower, another game I enjoy, even though I really don't always like word games. And Good Sudoku is aptly named – and it has taught me how to get better. At first I thought the first few puzzles were hard (certainly harder than MS's version) but then I realized I was playing Advanced puzzles… oops. So I went to the beginner and played a bunch, and then went into the tutorial where it talked about note taking. That really helped my Sudoku game. Now I see more patterns, how to utilize notes, etc. Of course, now it's hard to go back.

So, if you need something to occupy your time during Zoom meetings while zoning out to TV, why not fire up a Sudoku app for a bit?

Category: misc Tags:

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