The Weekly Review

by Chris Bowler

Getting started with the Zettelkastën

I’ve been wrestling with the usage of the Zettelkasten method for months. At first, my interest was merely piqued. Then I started to consider how I could benefit from using this method. Finally, I started to consider how to get started.

That eventually led to purchasing How to Take Smart Notes, which has been an enjoyable read (I’m currently about 75% finished). The problem? The focus has been very much on why you should use this method, but hardly much at all has been said about how you use it. Or rather, how one gets started.

This has led to a lot of review of previous blog articles I’ve read previously, then a lot of Google searches. Finally, I ended up back at Zettelkasten.de, landed on their curated article overview, and started reading through every post mentioned there.

Under the topic of what to store in your first note, this thought well captured the mental state I found myself in:

Starting your Zettelkasten note archive can be confusing at first. Getting it right first seems so important to some folks that they get stuck completely – paralysis by analysis.

Thankfully, I found inspiration in one of the other posts mentioned near the top of the overview. In a discussion of why categories are a bad idea, Christian states the following:

If you’re stuck setting up your knowledge management system, stop setting up anything at all. Just add information to it. Store text in files of your liking and put them in a folder if you’re uncertain which software to use. Starting is always better than not doing a thing. You can’t analyze your way into the perfect system without getting your hands dirty. Only experience reveals where the bottlenecks are, and whether you are really going to use (or miss) the oh-so-awesome feature X of the super expensive app Y.

I hope to have more to discuss in the coming weeks.

Regarding notes, this update from the Ulysses team caught my eye.

In addition to that, version 18 will bring the ability to use Ulysses’ own file format in external folders. This is bigger than it sounds, as it removes almost all of the limitations when working with these folders. You’ll not only be able to use all of Ulysses’ Markdown XL tags, but also to add writing goals, images, keywords and notes. Dropbox will therefore become a serious alternative for anyone who can’t – or doesn’t want to – rely on iCloud for synchronization. We’re happy about willing testers for this one, too.

As I’ve thought about adopting the Zettelkasten method, I’ve wondered whether Ulysses was a good choice. One concern with these types of things in lock-in: if I invest a lot of time putting notes into Ulysses, what happens if I ever stop using the product? Can I easily get my notes out of it?

Using Ulysses with external folders was a thought I had. This news that the advanced formatting Ulysses provides would be available for use with external folders caught my attention as it’s not currently possible. My research continues.

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On Cloudsurfer

Once you begin to run regularly, you discover that you can go through 2–4 pairs of shoes in a year. My last pair of shoes were great — Saucony Clarions that I put on almost 1,000 km. This time around, I decided to get two pairs: one pair for trail running and one for the usual road training.

The trail shoes were another pair of Brooks (the Cascadia 13). I’ve gotten Brooks before and loved them as well. However, I decided to try something different for my road shoes and purchased my first ever pair from On Running.

These shoes are not like any I’ve purchased before. The experience starts with shopping — their website is top-notch and a joy to use. You can choose your shoes based on your focus (road vs. trails), how much support you need, or for training vs. racing. They arrived two days after ordering, and the packaging was far superior to what you’d be used to purchasing at your big box sporting goods store.

And while they cost a good bit, they’re not that much more expensive than other shoes. And On pays the shipping cost to almost anywhere in the world.

What about the experience of running in these? As you can tell from the picture, the design of these shoes is different. The sole is not comprised of all one piece. Maybe other shoes have a similar design inside of what appears to be a solid sole — I’ve never taken any shoes apart to get a look. But these feel a little different.

The build quality feels very solid. During my first session with them, the cushioning felt firm and solid, but not stiff. I felt slightly elevated compared to my other shoes … mini-stilts was the closest description I could think of. But it’s too early to tell how good (or not) these are.

I’ll be curious to see how they feel after a half-marathon or greater distance.

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Bloat

It’s been sad to watch what started as a very focused and very well designed tool try to be something more. I lamented about this change this week:

Dropbox Paper started off as a focused tool: a collaborative writing tool with version control. Now it feels that features are added for the sake of adding features.
Example: the persistent menu now takes up precious vertical space on my laptop screen: https://dsh.re/b2bcb4

Paper was an excellent tool in its early days, focused on one thing: helping teams write together.

Over the past year to two, the Paper team has added a lot of features that detract from the writing experience. Elaborate timelines, nagging requests to add documents to folders, integrations with dozens of services. And that annoyingly persistent toolbar that takes up precious vertical space.

Maybe there are a lot of teams out there that use these features. Me? I just want a nice environment where our team can work on written materials together. My appreciation for focused tools only increases as the web and all our tooling options seem to grow more complex.

However, a product does not become bloated simply because new (unwanted) features are added. It’s only when those features get in the way of the core value that it’s a problem.

Launchbar is a great example. It’s an incredibly powerful tool with hundreds of different features. I probably use 10% of what it can do. However, my use of it to open applications, manage my clipboard, resize images, and various other things are not hindered at all by all the other features it offers. They’re there if I want to try them out, but otherwise, it all just stays out of the way.

Launchbar isn’t trying to force me to use it more. But the Paper team? It feels like there’s a push to get people to make it the hub of all their work, rather than just write collaboratively. Helping people get more value from a product is fine and understandable.

But it should never be done at the expense of the very thing that got people using it in the first place.

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