Cleaning House

our clean house
Our clean house

We have cleaners who come to the house every two weeks to do a thorough cleaning. We started this several months before the Littlest Miss was born because our lives had gotten hectic and it was the state of the house that suffered for it. We’ve kept it up ever since with the same cleaners. They do a fantastic job and the house always looks and smells great when they finish.

The cleaners came the week before we headed on vacation. Then we told them we’d be away for 3 weeks and there was no need to come. They didn’t come last week when we were back because it wasn’t part of our regular cycle. That meant that for five weeks, we got to witness entropy in action. Of course, we tidied things up now and then when we were here. But honestly, the house was a mess.

However, the cleaners came first thing this morning, and when they were finished and I walked back into the house, it was such a relief! The house was clean. Really clean. It looked clean. It smelled clean. It was clean.

The finished up around 9:30 this morning and the first of the kids got home from school around 2:30 this afternoon. That meant Kelly and I had abouta 5 hours to enjoy the pure cleanliness of the house before entropy–aka our three kids–returned and once again began running things down.

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Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 14: Migrating Notes from Evernote to Obsidian

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Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

When I started this series, I talked about how I was looking to see how Obsidian would work as an alternative to Evernote as the place where I “remember everything.” I’ve spent quite a bit of time describing how I’ve been using Obsidian’s functions and features to works toward this goal, but so far I haven’t really touched on how I have been migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian. That’s what I’ll talk about today. It might be useful for folks to review Episode 3, where I talked about how I emulate some of Evernote’s features in Obsidian.

Slow but steady wins the race

First off, for those thinking I have some magic solution to export all of my notes from Evernote and seamlessly import them into Obsidian, I have some bad news for you: I don’t. But I wouldn’t want this either. Part of my reason for doing this is that I don’t need to be 100% paperless. That was a big lesson I learned from my years going paperless with Evernote. It was, for me, impractical. There was a lot of noise cluttering the notes and that made it more difficult to find what I was looking for. Then, too, when I was putting every piece of paper into Evernote and then not using those notes ever, I was wasting a lot of time.

My goal in migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian is to curate the notes–pick and choose the ones that I really need, and leave everything else behind. This is a slower process than a one-shot migration, but there is a lot of value in that curation step. The way I do this curation is through a hierarchy of needs, or an order of operations.

Order of operations

Here is order in which I am migrating notes from Evernote to Obsidian:

  1. Migrate the notes I use frequently in Evernote.
  2. Migrate notes that I know I want to keep in digital form.
  3. Migrate other notes only when I happen to need them in the context of some event in my life.

Migrating notes that I use frequently in Evernote

There exists a fairly small (50 or fewer) set of notes that I frequently access in Evernote. These are things like official documents (birth certificates, car information, etc.). These are things that I frequently access when filling out forms, for instance. Fortunately, I have a note in Evernote that collects all of these together making this initial migration pretty easy. That note links to many other documents so it provided a quick guide for documents I wanted to move right away. I also took the opportunity to reformat the note from how I had it in Evernote to make it a little easier for me to use. Here is what it looks like:

There is a section for each person in the family. Each section has a “Basic Information” section which has things like birthdates, SSNs, phone numbers, driver license numbers (with a link to the scanned drivers license document). You can see that in the Documents section, there are important documents related to the person. This provided a guide for which notes for me to migrate right away.

There is also a “Family information” section which has information that applies to the whole family. Finally there is a “Vehicle information” section listing our cars and the frequently accessed information (license plate, VIN, title, registration) with links to those documents. The cars also link to a note I have for each car which acts as a kind of service history for that vehicle.

I have also starred this “Form Data” note so that I can find it quickly when I need it. It seriously speeds up the process of filling out forms, which anyone with kids in school knows is an almost constant activity.

Migrating notes that I know I want to keep in digital form

There were also notes that I knew I wanted to keep in digital format. Fortunately, I had tagged these notes in Evernote in such a way as to make them easy to find. For instance, I had a tag for “scrapbook” for notes that had things like my art and writing when I was a kid, as well as my kids’ art and school work. I had a tag for “contracts” for story and article contracts that I wanted to keep for my records. I used these tags to begin the process of moving notes over from Evernote that I wanted to keep in digital form, even if I didn’t access them frequently. I’ve got much of the scrapbook migrated at this point, but I’m still working on the contracts because I don’t access those nearly as much as I used to.

Migrating other notes only when I need them

The first two groupings above accounted for maybe a few hundred notes at the most (out of more than 12,000 notes I have in Evernote). For everything else, I haven’t been migrating until I need it. That is, until it comes up in context. A few months back, for instance, Kelly needed a copy of our older daughter’s report card from 4th grade. I went to Evernote to get it for her, and when I did that, I migrated it to Obsidian since it was probably something that was useful to have. But I didn’t go back and migrate all the other kids’ reports cards yet because so far, I haven’t needed them.

Tax season is coming up and when it is time to gather all of the (digital) paperwork for our taxes, I will take that opportunity to migrate all of the tax information I have in Evernote into Obsidian. In a case like this, I don’t just migrate the notes but I look for ways to improve how they are formatted in Obsidian to make them more useful.

Over time, I suspect I will be going to Evernote less and less because more and more of what I need and use will have already been migrated to Obsidian. But I still plan on keeping Evernote around for the foreseeable future, in case there is something there that I need that hasn’t yet been migrated.

Migrating a note

So how do I got about migrating a note from Evernote to Obsidian. Typically, my process works something like this:

  1. Copy the text out of the note in Evernote and paste it into a new note in Obsidian. I talked about creating notes back in Episode 4. If I have a template for the note, I will use that template. This is also where I will potentially review the format and organization of the information of the note to see if I can improve upon it. I will also adjust the Zettelkasten ID in the note title to match a date that appears on the note, if such a date exists.
  2. If the note contains a document like an image or PDF, I move the attachment into my attachment folder and then create a “document note” as I described in Episode 1.
  3. I’ll tag the note with a tag that makes sense based on my current note taxonomy.
  4. Finally, I tag the note in Evernote with a “MIGRATED” tag so that I know what I have migrated to Obsidian.

As I said, this is a slow process. But by prioritizing how I move the notes from Evernote into Obsidian, I’m getting what I use most frequently right away without migrating in a bunch of noise. I am also using the opportunity to clean up and clarify the notes so that they are more useful to me when I do need them. This is working pretty well for me. I suspect that by the end of 2022, at the rate that I’m going, I will have migrated 99.9% of what I really need. The rest is just noise that I’ve never looked at and will likely never need again. Migrating what is useful and not everything is what I think of as the practical part of going practically paperless.

Prev: Episode 13: My Daily Process for Staying Practically Paperless
Next: Episode 15: Daily Notes as an Index to My Life (coming 1/25/2022)

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Reading Challenge, 2022

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Since 2018 I have participated in Goodreads‘ annual reading challenge. I do this more for fun than anything else. Reading itself is a pleasure for me. The challenge is always how much can I possible read in the limited time that I have. The Goodreads challenge is a fun way to help me focus on this, the way a FitBit challenge can be a fun way to exercise.

In the last four years I have completed the challenge twice. In 2018 I set a goal of reading 120 books and I read 130. In 2019 I set a goal of reading 110 books and read 112. In 2020 and 2021, I didn’t complete the challenge. I read 88 books in 2020 (out of 110) and 79 out of 100 last year1. I’m not disappointed when I don’t complete these challenges. After all, 81 books in a year is still a lot by any standard.

The challenge counts books and that is a hard thing to estimate in advance since so many books vary in length. I have a tendency toward longer books, and if you look at the list of books I’ve read since 1996, you’ll notice that I don’t count the pages read, but instead, I made up a statistic I call “Book Equivalents” or BEq for short. BEq is based on the average book length I’ve read over the last 25+ years, which turns out to be 410 pages. A 410 page book, therefore is equal to 1 BEq. A 600 page book would be equal to 1.46 BEqs while a shorter, 200 page book would be equal to 0.49 BEqs. This allows me to normalize how much I read and compare from year-to-year more readily than the number of books I read. Goodreads, of course, doesn’t track reading this way and on their challenge, I count a book as a book regardless of my book equivalents, but it is the BEqs that really matter to me.

For instance, though we are not quite halfway through January (as I write this), I have not yet finished a book. According to the Goodreads challenge I am 3 books behind schedule. There are two reasons for this. The first is that I did almost no reading during our final week on vacation while we were at Walt Disney World. The second is that the book that I started at the end of 2021 (I count a finished book by the date I finish it not the date I start it) was Gore Vidal’s massive United States: Essays 1952-1992. This book is 1,295 pages, or 3.16 BEqs. As I will finally finish this book today, you see that, based on BEqs, I’m right on par for the year, even though Goodreads counts this massive tome as a single book. (Fair enough.) Indeed, this book is the third longest book I’ve read in the 26 years I’ve been keeping my list. The two books that are longer? The Power Broker: Robert Moses and the Fall of New York by Robert A. Caro, coming in at 3.28 BEq which I read in 2018; and Gotham: A History of New York City to 1898 by Edwin G. Burrows and Mike Wallace, which stands at the top at 3.47 BEqs. I read this one way back in 2006.

My reading frequently comes in waves, often driven by the butterfly effect of reading. I’ve read as many as 20 books in a single month (once) and there have been months (long ago) when I read no books. These days, I usually get through between 5-10 books per month, but things that throw me off. Last year, I was distracted for two months by listening to back episodes of the Tim Ferris Show Podcast when I would normally have been listening to an audio book. I don’t regret this, but it explains why my reading was so low in the spring. Here is what my book counts and BEqs looks like since 1996. You can scroll in the window to see more years.

In 2022, I am attempting once again to read at least 100 books. As I tend toward longer books, this is frequently a challenge. To do that, I need to finish a book every 3-1/2 days. Given that an “average” book for me is 410 pages, that means reading 120 pages every day of the year. Most of the reading I do is through audio books, and I frequently listen to audio books at 1.7x. Take the case of United States. The book is 1,295 pages. The audio book is 60 hours long. One hour of listening time is equivalent to about 22 pages of text. However, because I listen to the book at 1.7x, the book is really 35.3 hours of listening time for me. That means 1 hour of listening time covers 37 pages of text. Assuming my average read to be 410 pages, the 120 pages I need to get through each day requires 3-1/4 hours of listening time. I usually aim for about 3-4 hours of listening time throughout the day, so this goal seems achievable to me.

For those who might want to follow along in my reading challenge in 2022, you can find me on Goodreads. Of course, I’ll also be updating the list of books I’ve read since 1996 as I finish each book so you can always check there. And if you have a reading goal for 2022, I’d love to hear about it in the comments.

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  1. The image below shows 81, but I think I have 2 books in my Goodreads data marked as finished that I haven’t actually finished. I need to go and correct that data.

A Book By the Fire on a Long Snowy Weekend

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I’m making my way through Richard Rhodes’ charming biography of E. O. Wilson, Scientist today. It is the middle of a long holiday weekend. Everyone is home. The snow predicted for the weekend has started. There is no reason to go out to the store or run errands. I’ve got a fire in the fireplace and am sitting in front of it on the couch with my book in my hand.

There is something delightfully comforting in all of this. It is the middle of a long weekend, so although today is Sunday, we don’t have work tomorrow and the kids don’t have school. We’ve got dinner cooking in the slow-cooker. I can feel the warmth of the fire from where I sit, even as I can see the snow falling. I’ve still got half of the book to finish before the day is out. It is wonderful, and yet another reason why I love living in a place that has four seasons.

reading kindle in front of fireplace

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Gathering in the Hall of Presidents

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One afternoon during our recent trip to Disney World, we stopped into the Hall of Presidents. This is a frequent rest stop after a long day of walking around in the heat, when we need time off our feet to cool off and relax. The Hall has changed over the years, adding new Presidents, changing the story of the presidency that is told over the years. For some reason, this time, I was particularly moved by the final part of the show, where the curtains reveal all of the past (and current) presidents sitting or standing before you, being introduced and acknowledging their introduction.

Perhaps it is because I have read a lot of U.S. history and especially presidential biographies, but the scene sort of took my breath away. There on that stage were the 451 people to ever hold the office of the President of the United States. Of course, they weren’t the real people, but they appeared lifelike, and they were all there on the stage. Over the years, I’ve heard plenty of criticism of this person or that not being qualified to be President. Based on my reading of U.S. and presidential history, no one has ever been qualified for the job. It is an impossible job to begin with. Consider, there are only 45 people ever to have held this job. That doesn’t make it unique, but it comes awfully close. Sitting there in the air conditioned auditorium, facing those 46 simulacrums of U.S. presidents, I suddenly realized just how few people have ever known the burdens of that job.

My mind began to wander, and I began to wonder: what if all 45 U.S. presidents could appear together on a single stage. I imagined them wandering onto a stage, perfectly content in their surroundings, in the way that the players from the White Sox wander into the Iowa cornfield to place baseball. Instead of tossing a ball around, they toss around thoughts and ideas. They discuss the problems of the job with the only other people who have known those burdens. t would be fascinating to listen in on this gathering in the Hall of Presidents. What would Adams and Jefferson think of the party system that emerged out of their presidencies and what it has become? What would Truman have to say about the responsibility of the President and where the buck seems to stop today? What would Theodore Roosevelt think of the sound-bite? What would John Quincy Adams think of the House today? Would he even recognize it as a body for the people?

I could imagine Barack Obama asking Adams (the first) about the development of the Constitution–get it from the horse’s mouth, so to speak. I could imagine Jefferson (shyly) asking about modern farming and modern technology. I could imagine Lyndon Johnson glad-handing everyone, especially FDR. I could imagine Ronald Reagan telling Kennedy about the moon landings, and later, the space shuttle.

Except, none of that would happen–not at first. There would be an odd divide and a kind of two-tiered clustering of Presidents. All those who came after Abraham Lincoln would rush to him to greet him, they would shake his hand, they would surround him. There would be tears in their eyes. Those who came before Lincoln would wonder what this deference was all about. Eventually, the Civil War would emerge in the discussion, and the fears of the founders will be confirmed. And yet, the nation remains (so far) in tact and soon, Washington and Adams and Jefferson and Madison and Monroe and the ten additional presidents who came before Lincoln would understand his role and his sacrifice.

If they were smart, the current leaders would consult with those who came before them, not because they can solve the problems we have today, but because they are the only ones who can understand the weight of responsibility for those problem.

Eventually, the curtain descended and my reverie was broken, but ever since, I was left with that image of those 46 men standing on that stage and wondered what they would think of one another and the bond that they share across more than two centuries.

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  1. There are 46 numbered Presidencies because of Grover Cleveland’s non-consecutive terms, but 45 people have held the office. Hat tip to reader Mark for pointing out this error in my counting.

Reading for the Week of 1/9/2022

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This year I started using a new format to my Daily Notes file in Obsidian: a single file in which I try to capture all of the relevant “factual” part of my day. (For those who follow along with my Practically Paperless series, there will be more on this new format in Episode 16 coming on February 1). On of the things that I track is what I read each day–articles, posts, etc.

I thought I would post a list of what I read each week with some brief commentary for those who might be interested. Some of these articles may require a subscription or be behind a paywall. I’ve tried to include a tag with each item to give a sense of the topic. Here is what I read this week:

Books

Articles/posts

Any recommendations for books, articles or posts I should read? Let me know in the comments.

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Fast Talkers

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All of a sudden it seems that my kids are fast talkers. They have something exciting to tell us and I find what they are saying incomprehensible. They are talking way too fast. I hear them talking like this with their friends. (The girls frequently have their friends over after school, and frequently hold their frenetic discussions right outside my office.) I find myself staring at them when they speak, then glancing around to see if anyone else is having trouble understanding what they are saying. Kelly doesn’t seem to be bothered by this, but she has super-hearing.

I’ve asked the kids to slow down when they speak. Kelly finds this amusing. “Aren’t you the one who listens to audio books at 1.7x normal speed?” Indeed I am the one who listens to audio books at that speed. Every now and then, while taking one of the kids to some event, I’ll have an audio book on in the car and the kids will ask how I can possibly understand what is being said with the narrator speaking so quickly. It would be a good lesson in irony if I wasn’t on the verge of apoplexy.

Still, Kelly’s comment bothered me. So did the kids’ observation about my audio book listening habits. Is it me? Something about my hearing maybe? I pondered these questions (as I often do) in the shower, and I think I finally settled on a satisfying (to me) answer. Why is it I have no trouble understanding an audio book narrator speaking at 1.7x normal speed, and my own kids sound virtually unintelligible to me when they speak? Well, consider…

The reason I listen to audio books at higher than normal speed is because the narrators are instructed to speak slowly and enunciate. Each work is spoken clearly and distinctly. A clear recording played faster is still clear, just faster. With my kids, on the other hand, things are different. First, they speak lightning fast without enunciating clearly. One word doesn’t quite finish, but instead blends into the next which doesn’t quite start. They are somehow not saying the complete words, but instead providing a gist of the word. Second, there are the barrage of thought-placeholders like “um” and “like” and “literally” that increase the noise in the signal. I don’t blame them for this. I was (an occasionally still am) a big user of “like” when I speak. But it does add to the mass of audio data that needs to be filtered out. Finally, they seem to speak entire paragraphs without taking a breath. Because of this, their words get faster and faster in a race for that final whiffs of dwindling air in their lungs.

None of this is true with audio book narrators. These days, when I listen to an audio book at normal, 1.0x speed, the narrator often sounds as if they are on quaaludes. They. Speak. So. Slowly. It. Is. Painful. But they speak clearly and that is the key. Speed them up, and it is clear speaking, faster. If my kids could speak more clearly, maybe, you know, say a complete word like “dude” instead of “due..” I’d understand them better when they spoke faster because it would be clear. Sometimes, after they’ve spoken an excited paragraph or two to me, I feel like I’ve been hit by a truck.

Well, that’s my rational as to why I can understand audio books at 1.7x speed and why it sounds like my own kids are speaking South Martian to me. There are probably other explanations, not the least of which is that I am just getting old.

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Two Posts A Day Keeps The Stress Away

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I set a goal for myself in 2022 to write two blog posts each day. This is a step up from my 2021 goal of publishing one post every day of the year. Note the subtle difference: in 2022, the goal is to write two posts per day, not necessarily publish two. As far as publishing goes, I still plan on one-a-day as my baseline, with some days having more. I was motivated to do this as our vacation wound to its end because I had pre-written three weeks worth of blog posts so that I wasn’t stressed about missing a day while on vacation. It got me thinking about the value this writing has to me. There are two parts:

  1. Writing is a form of meditation for me. When I sit down to write, stress is temporarily abated. Sometimes it is because I am writing about things that stress me out and doing so acts as a kind of relief valve. But mostly, the act of writing is calming.
  2. Having a goal of publishing a 600+ word post every day of the year can, itself, be stressful. Writing two posts a day can help alleviate this stress by ensuring that if there is a day that I don’t feel like writing, or don’t have time to write, there will still be posts scheduled in advance.

Because of vacation, I started on this goal on Sunday, and since then, I have written two posts every day, scheduling them out one per day. I am writing this post on Tuesday morning (January 11) but you won’t see it until Friday or Saturday (I sometimes move things around). What I find interesting about this is that if I keep it up through the month of January, then I’ll have all of February’s posts written by the end of this month. And by the end of June, I’ll have a year’s worth of posts written.

Of course, this doesn’t mean that I won’t write an ad-hoc post to comment on something timely in the news, or even have multiple posts in a single day on some days. It turns out I did that quite a bit last year. But the main goal for me is to write two posts each day and build up a lead.

I’ve gotten pretty good about jotting down ideas for posts. I tag these ideas in my daily notes file and when I review that file each evening, I assign myself two ideas to write the following day. The posts I write aren’t always the ones that I assign myself. I am not that disciplined. Indeed, this post was not on the list of posts to write today, but I thought it would be interesting to write so I wrote it. The second idea I was going to use today I’ll push to tomorrow instead.

There will be days when I don’t have time to write, or don’t have the motivation or ideas. I find that the latter (motivation and ideas) come in waves. So in reality I suspect my average “posts written per day” in 2022 will be somewhere between 1 and 2. In 2021, this number was 1.24 posts per day. I’m hoping that I’ll be closer to 1.75 or above in 2022.

One interesting side-effect to this that I learned while on vacation is that I don’t always remember what posts are coming, especially the further out they get scheduled. So the posts that appear that day become a kind of surprise for me as well.

Do you have any writing goals for 2022, blogging or otherwise? I’d love to hear about them in the comments.

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50 in 2022

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Later this year I will turn fifty. That seems almost impossible to me, but I imagine that is the way many people feel as they approach fifty. While I sort of celebrated my approach to forty a decade ago, I’ve becoming increasingly wary of birthdays as I get older–my birthdays in particular. These days, my approaching birthday makes me feel uncomfortable, and I’d rather pretend it was just an ordinary day, with no special recognition. Last year, I got my wish in that regard. We drove down to Florida for spring break, and we left on my birthday. I spent ten hours driving from our house to Savannah, Georgia. My family was with me so I wasn’t alone, and we were heading on a break. But there wasn’t a lot of fanfare, and I appreciated that.

I warned Kelly that I didn’t want any fanfare this year for my fiftieth birthday (even the word “fiftieth” is a difficult word to type): no surprises, no big party. I know that fifty is a milestone, and I can appreciate that without a big celebration.

When I was very young, I thought that fifty was impossibly old. My grandfather was 52 years old when I was born. That means that I am nearly two years shy of the age my grandfather was when I emerged into he world. Shakespeare died at 52 and he was considered pretty old at the time. (Did they have big fiftieth birthday bashes in Shakespeare’s time, I wonder?) Now, I keep telling myself that fifty is still young. I told myself the same thing when I turned forty. I imagine that when I turn sixty, I’ll tell myself the same thing. There has to be a point, however, when you can no longer deny your age. Did Betty White consider ninety “still young” when she hit that milestone?

Signs of aging are all around me. I look at my desk and see the medications there (most of them temporary, fortunately). My right knee has been giving me trouble and I’m seeing a doctor this week to figure out what can be done about it. I’ve put on more weight than I am comfortable with because I don’t move around as much as I used to. I tend to feel bad about these things because I know they are not a requirement of age. Satchel Paige played baseball into his fifties. My brother, just two years younger than I am, is probably in the best shape of his life. But age does more than introduce physical decay. There is decay of the will as well. As much as I’d like to get myself into better shape, I can’t quite drum up the willpower to do it.

There are milestone birthdays that I can appreciate. Turning 18 allows one the franchise. Turning 21 you can buy alcohol. Turning 25 makes you eligible to be elected to the House of Representatives. Turning 35 makes you eligible to run for President. Turning 59-1/2 makes one eligible to begin drawing on retirement savings. Turning 62 makes one a senior citizen. There is nothing, that I am aware of, that happens when one turns fifty years old. It is a Hallmark birthday, a half-century mark worthy of a speciality card with the number 50 on it. It represents 7 billion, 480 million miles traveled around the sun.

Apollo 17, the last which landed on the moon, took place late in the year I was born. Turning fifty this year also means passing a sad milestone: the end of 2022 will mark a half century since humanity has been to the moon. Compared to a fiftieth birthday, a new moon landing would really be something worth celebrating.

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Blog Post Titles

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Apparently there is a science to titling blog posts to maximize the number of readers you can attract. Many sites that give advice on building blog audiences talk about the importance of choosing the right title. You want a title that hits all of the SEO buttons. You want a title that will hook potential readers. You want a title that implies lists of things (which people like to read). You want a title that uses buzzwords. Do this, apparently, and the content of the post doesn’t matter. You’ll get more readers than you can possibly handle.

This may explain why I don’t have millions of daily readers. Advice on blog titles is on piece of advice that I generally try to ignore. A lot of what I learned about the business of writing came from Isaac Asimov’s essays and memoirs, and he influenced me heavily on the question of titles. In his memoir, I. Asimov, he wrote:

I’m pretty careful about titles. I always believe that a short title is better than a long title and I like (when possible) to have one-word titles such as “Nightfall” or Foundation. What’s more, I like to hav a title that describes the content of the story without giving it away, but which, when the story is finished, is seen by the reader to take on an added significance.

This is generally how I think about blog titles. I prefer simple titles, like “Blog Post Titles.” I am sometimes swayed by the mass of voices that cry out for more “optimized” titles, and you can skim through the thousands of posts here to find quite a few where I’ve bent to the SEO will. More and more, however, I like choosing a simple, memorable title. It turns out that these titles are also good for searching and can lead to the elusive evergreen post. Back in 2009, for instance, I wrote a post about the best order (in my opinion) in which to read Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series. I titles the post, “If you are planning on reading Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series…” This has been a perennial best-seller (in terms of views) ever since.

I generally don’t like deceiving readers with bait-and-switch titles, which are what SEO titles often seem to me to be. I abhor what I call “authority” titles. You’ve seen these titles before. They say things like, “I am a doctor and here are the 5 things I’d never do in a doctor’s office.” Adding the “5 things” provides an additional bonus because everyone likes lists of things and wonders, “what will those 5 things be?” Not me. I ignore these posts. (Although they permeate my attention enough for me to write about them in a blog post on blog post titles.) I also ignore clickbait titles like “Here’s the One Change you Need to Make to Become and Instant Millionaire.” This is just another form of deception. I don’t know how readers can stand this.

I prefer titles like “On Travel By Train” or even just plain “Trains” to something more romantic like “The Romance of Train Rides.” Simple, clear titles seem to produce results for me, regardless of what the rest of the Internet says. When I wrote about “The Death of Marigold Churchill” back in 2014, I came up with the title because it was the shortest possible way I could describe the subject of the post. Even that post had (and continues to have) a surprising number of views. I think it is because simple titles are easy to find. The titles reflect the way people thing. Someone wondering about the death of Marigold Churchill is likely to type “the death of marigold churchill” into a Google search. When I do this, guess what appears on the first page of results?

When I wrote about my bad habits, I used a simple, clear title. That post, too, has bucked the tide and been surprisingly popular.

All of this tells me that I should continue to resist the advice to SEOify my blog titles. While occasionally, such a title slips by my internal censor, more and more I avoid them in favor of simple, straight-forward titles. I’d rather my titles by honest and direct and accrue fewer readers, than be misleading and annoy many.

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Practically Paperless with Obsidian, Episode 13: My Daily Process for Staying Practically Paperless

clear light bulb
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Welcome to my blog series, “Practically Paperless with Obsidian.” For an overview of this series, please see Episode 0: Series Overview.

So far in this series I have tried to provide a step-by-step framework for how I am working toward a practically paperless lifestyle using Obsidian to capture a lot of the “paperless” part. With that basic framework in place, I want to describe how I try to stay practically paperless on a day-to-day basis. It turns out that today’s topic is a good one for me to write about at the beginning of a new year because I have made some changes to my daily process for staying practically paperless that I am testing out.

In Episode 12, I talked about what goes paperless. Not everything does. There are some things, like ephemeral notes I jot in my Field Notes notebooks, or my journal entries that stay on paper out of practicality and preference respectively. There are other things that I don’t bother scanning in because I can readily find them elsewhere in digital form when I need them, and other things still that I used to scan in but no longer do because I never ended up needing them. What remains–the practical stuff–is what goes paperless these days.

Daily Notes as the centerpiece of my practically paperless system

My daily process for staying practically paperless begins and ends with my daily notes. Last year, I wrote about how I automated my daily notes so that a new note is generated overnight each night, and includes my agenda and some other basic information already contained in the note. Each day had its own note.

Beginning in 2022 this process has changed. I started using a single file for all of my daily notes. I was impressed by Jeff Huang’s post on “My productivity app for the past 12 years has been a single .txt file” and decided to start an experiment this year to see if a single text file for my daily notes would work for me. I’ll have a lot more to say about this in Episode 15.

One benefit I’ve found from using a single file is that it is easy for me to jump around in the file and search for what I am looking for without having to jump through a bunch of different files. Another benefit is that the single daily notes file acts as an index to my life.

The downside (or so it may seem) is that my daily notes file is no longer automated. But I see benefit in this as well–similar to what I found by de-automating my reading notes in Obsidian. I am better about thinking and organizing my day doing it by hand than when it is automated for me. Here is what these single-file daily notes look like:

I start my day in these daily notes and finish it there as well. I live in them most of the day when I am sitting at the computer. I refer to them frequently on my phone. They are the centerpiece to my paperless system.

An integration of paper and paperless

One convenient side-effect of this new model is that is provides a mechanism for me to permanently link paper and paperless items. For instance, I still use my Field Notes notebooks to captured to-do lists, shopping lists, post ideas, and other short-term memory notes. In the past, I haven’t done much with these notes, but now, when I review my daily notes in the evening, I will often take the opportunity to transfer key notes from my short-term memory (Field Notes) into my daily notes on Obsidian.

For instance, on our recent vacation, I recorded what we did each day at Disney World in my Field Notes notebook. I’ve been doing this for years. Here is what our day at Epcot looked like on January 3:

Our day at Epcot in my Field Notes notebook

Because I care about this info and would find it useful in planning our next trip, I captured this in my new daily notes file. There, it looks as follows:

Making my daily notes the index to my life has also changed the way I have been using my journal this year. In the past, my journal entries frequently recorded the events of the day–the “facts” as I saw them. Now, these “facts” are recorded in my daily notes. There is no need to repeat them in my journal. Instead, I can write about my thoughts and feelings about those facts. Indeed, that is what I have been doing. And because I have, for the last 4+ years, given every journal entry a unique index number, I can refer to journal entries I write in my notes by the index number. So my daily notes may have a line like: “For some thoughts on our trip to Disney World, see #2118”–where 2118 refers to the entry number in my paper journal on this topic.

I could have done this with my daily notes when they were individual files, but having everything in a single file seemed to open my eyes to this. It’s convenient to be able to scroll up and down the daily notes file, search it, split the screen to look at two different parts of the file, etc. And I try to keep things together in the context that they happened.

Capturing documents in Obsidian

My daily notes file grows throughout the day. At the same time, I may accumulate paper throughout the day that is related to the notes in my daily notes file. Using the guidelines I discussed in Episode 12 for what goes paperless, I will scan in any documents I want to keep in paperless form at the end of the day. I use my daily notes to help make this decision.

For instance, for the last several days I’ve had an ear ache. This morning, I went to have my ear checked and found out that I had a minor ear infection. At the end of the appointment I was given a printout summarizing the visit. You can see in my notes for today that I captured some notes about the appointment. This evening, when I review my daily notes and come to that section, I will decide whether or not it is worth scanning that summary. If I do scan it (after determining if it is readily available elsewhere), then I’ll add it to Obsidian and also add a link to the new note from that section of my daily notes so that it is available in context when I review it. This is useful. Next month, when I have my physical, I can tell my doctor that I had an ear infection and if he needs more information, I can scroll that that part of the note, and then open the scanned document to get more info for him.

I do this scanning and linking at the end of the day because I have all of what happened that day in front of my in my daily notes file. I will also add additional details to my notes, or clarify things that I jotted down quickly.

Summarizing the overall process

  1. I start each day adding a new date to the end of my daily notes file. I look at my calendar and add the relevant appointments. Notes related to those appointments will eventually become sub-bullets of those items in the file. I use this time to do things like determine the important things to get done that day, or to clear my calendar of things I don’t need to do.
  2. I live in the daily notes file throughout the day. I use the same file for personal notes as well as work notes, separating them (for convenience) by different headings.
  3. At the end of the day, I review my Field Notes notebook pages for the day and see if anything needs to be transferred to my daily notes file. Then I review the daily notes and see if there is anything that needs elaboration or clarification. I scan in any documents I think are worth keeping and link to them from the daily notes. I reference any relevant journal entries.

I’ve been doing this for about 10 days now, and so far, is is working really well. Will this continue to work for, say 12 years, as it did for Jeff Huang? Certainly there will be refinements. But like my entire “practically paperless” effort, this is part of an experiment. I’ll keep what works and adjust what doesn’t along the way. It will be interesting to see how things look, say, one year from now. Remind me to do that then.

Prev: Episode 12: What Goes Paperless?
Next: Episode 14: Migrating Notes from Evernote to Obsidian

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2021 Through Field Notes Notebooks

four field notes notebooks I filled in 2021

I filled four Field Notes notebooks in 2021, which is about average for me. Some years I’ve filled more, some less. I started the year with a National Parks edition (Acadia). One of the first notes I have for 2021 was a list of my favorite books from 2020. It is interesting to see the order I jotted them (from memory) and the order that I finally put them in when I wrote about them. There is also a note reminding me to watch the Cobra Kai series, which I really enjoyed. (And I just finished watching the newly released season.) There are lots of shopping lists and notes for post ideas. There are also things I jotted down that might have been for posts but which I never ended up using (at least so far). One of these is a note that reads: “Autocorrects are the bloopers of texting.” I think there’s something in that.

Next up was a United States of Letterpress edition. That notebook begins with notes related to migrating this blog to WordPress.com (from a self-managed installation of WordPress). There are also lots of notes in that notebook from our summer road trip through upstate New York to Cooperstown, Seneca Falls, Niagara Falls, and places in Pennsylvania and Ohio. There is a page with a list of rides we rode when we took the Littlest Miss to Dutch Wonderland for her birthday. And there our notes from our long weekend in Rehoboth Beach, where a waiter in one of the restaurants we ate at saw my Field Notes notebook and referred to me as a C.I.A. guy because I was jotting things down on paper.

Then there is a Trailhead Edition (Appalachian), which continues with notes from our time in Rehoboth Beach. Lots of notes in this one recording scores for fall soccer games as well as notes from parent-teacher conferences. Also is a note with the names of our new neighbors. I always try to jot down the names of people when I meet them. Jotting them down almost guarantees I will remember them later.

I wrapped up the last part of the year with a Workshop Companion edition (Wood Working version). Lots of notes on this one on vacation planning, and especially, planning out the 21 blog posts I wrote in advance of heading off on our recent 3-week vacation. This one contains a rare sketch I made (sitting in church on Christmas Eve, waiting for the service to begin) as well as my score for a round of mini golf I played with the family (2 over par). This one spills into 2022, but three-quarters full already and I suspect I’ll be starting a brand new notebook in a week or so.

Sketch I made waiting for church to begin
Sketch I made waiting for church to begin

I still have a large supply (probably around 100) blank Field Notes notebooks to choose from. And I get more each quarter as part of their annual subscription. I gave away quite a few notebooks as gifts to friends and family. I haven’t decided which one I’ll go with next, but the Heavy Duty edition is a personal favorite so that one is a possibility. Stay-tuned.

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