4 min

Online notebooks

July 3, 2013 Hacker News discussion that points to this wiki:

The above notes also exist at github:

From the HN chat:

- It's just a set of reference notes I mainly keep for myself, but it's not really private - I share it as-is in case others can extract value from it.

- I would love to hear something from the author of the wiki about how he uses those notes, because I have mostly the same feelings, it looks like a CS tumblr, a hodgepodge of random concepts from random areas. I took some similar notes in the past (but nowhere near the volume) and I benefited little from them. Today I think I would just go for large sheets of paper and basically prepare cheatsheets for myself from the areas I do some work in at least from time to time. You really have to put in the effort to organize it clearly and have some focus or learning-related note-taking becomes a waste of time in my experience. I do use Emacs with Org mode for notetaking daily though, for throwing together todo lists, organizing links, keep track of learning sessions etc.

- I basically use these notes as a reference from time to time, esp. when revisiting an area I haven't worked in for a while - stuff like seeing a summary of what insights/tricks were used for successful collaborative filtering models or reviewing worked-out examples of different concurrency memory models or recalling my comparisons of different Linux monitoring systems.
The act of writing stuff down helps me organize thoughts and juxtapose related things as I'm learning them. There's definitely some content I haven't looked up again after that, but I surprise myself with how easily and thoroughly I forget something I once mastered, and how frequently I want to look up things exactly as I wrote them. I rely primarily on search for subsequent lookup. (Similarly, I'm also surprised at how frequently I Google for a question only to find that I had posted it years ago to a mailing list or StackOverflow - makes me feel very glad that I asked!)
I guess it depends on what you do, but as a generalist software engineer, I feel there's just too much crap to know, and I could never keep it all in my head.

- I love your wiki! I do the same on https://wiki.thingsandstuff.org . Same reasons here, note taking and knowledge outlines. Mainly for Linux, making websites and other tech, but various misc. things I'm also interested in. Fairly organic and often incomplete, but hey, that's a wiki for you. It ties in with a bit of constructivist learning theory also, helping frame things, though I know I need to refactor more to smooth out how much each article covers.

- Any thoughts on using a Wiki system like this to organize notes, thoughts, etc.? I've always used EverNote but it isn't as organized as I would prefer.

- If you are comfortable with/living in vim anyway, you could give the vimwiki [0] plugin a try. You can use markdown as the markup language, which makes it easy to convert to whatever format you want to have using pandoc (or similar tools). Having the stuff in plain text lying around in a folder makes it very easy to search for using grep/ack.
This guy [1] describes how he's using vimwiki as a lab notebook (HN discussion here [2]). I used that as a reference for my own and I'm pretty happy with that for some months already and started to use it as a personal knowledge management system as well.
0 https://github.com/vimwiki/vimwiki
1 http://www.stochasticgeometry.ie/2012/11/23/vimwiki/
2 https://news.ycombinator.com/item?id=4822796

- I started using gitit since I had already kept my notes in a bunch of git-versioned text files (formatted in Markdown/Pandoc), so it was a convenient way for me to publish them for others to consume. It features feeds, TeX math, various output format generators, etc. I actually don't leverage much of the other wiki functionality (cross-ref linking, multiple users).
Markdown's a great format for most of the notes I keep (text, outlined text, quoted text, code snippets, links, etc.), but I have yet to find a system that beats LyX for writing TeX math. And of course both are useless if you want to just draw/scribble a diagram (Xournal covers that) or clip images you find (I use EverNote). Such is the scattered state of note-taking as I know it.

- wiki's tend to grow into undifferentiated masses with lots of duplication everywhere. One approach is to simply give up on structuring your data, cut your data into small, cohesive docs as best you can (40-80 words), throw into database and index with sphinx, SOLR or elastic Search.
Alternatively, searching for better tools/software: this guy's topic map blog is good (but prolific): http://tm.durusau.net/

I'll use JotHut to store my notes and thoughts.


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