Tag Archives: software

A wee bit technical⤴

from @ wwwd – John's World Wide Wall Display

At work I get emails about scratch. I often miss these or don’t pay enough attention. There is also a scratch blog on medium. I thought I could subscribe to that in an RSS reader. Couldn’t see a rss link so I searched for more information. Ironically the first two medium articles I found needed a paid account to read. Eventually I just pasted the link into Inoreader which did auto discovery. I also found the email archive on mailchimp and subscribed to that too.

It seems to me that it is getting harder to be a wee bit technical. Like hiding full URLs in the address bar, or making it difficult to find an episode page for a podcast to link to. No RSS link buttons or links to audio files. These changes may have been made in the name of simplification or to make pages a bit stickier but cause frustration here.

Zettelkasten, or connecting ideas⤴

from

I have been struggling with stuttering engagement with reading in my PhD, with the consequence that I feel as if I do not yet have a coherent overall picture of the concepts I am trying to master, nor that I am making meaningful connections in the literature. A friend and colleague introduced me to the notes and ideas tool Obsidian, based on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten, or card index system of connecting ideas (Schmidt, 2016; Schmidt, 2018).

Capturing information

The point of reading, at least in the context of a research project, is to assimilate interesting ideas and findings into your particular context. For the researcher, this context may be defined by the research question(s), or the topic of a literature review. Early attempts at this might involve highlighting passages of interest, or making marginal notes or underlining in the text. These “captures” are not much more useful than merely downloading interesting papers as pdf: all you end up with is a large collection of files, at best organised in folders. Referencing tools like Mendeley offer the ability to store notes with the files, which still avoids the intellectual engagement required to make sense of a broad literature base, or indeed, of trying to identify what is not there – the elusive “gap in the literature” that the research aims to fill. More is required: key ideas are needed to be processed and understood in order for meaning to be made.

“One cannot think without writing.” – Niklas Luhmann (Ahrens, 2022)

Capturing thought

This processing requires effort and the deployment of language: ideas from reading may be paraphrased and meaningfully summarised as short notes. These are more than a simple statement of the “essence” of a paper, although this may be considered the minimum example. One academic has described as “thesisable prose”, the notes taken from a reading, paraphrased and restated within the reader’s context. This infers that what you write down at the time of reading needs to make sense at the level you are working, not only to others but also to your future self. How many times have I read my own notes and cursed myself for being too terse, too clever, or too sloppy? The advice I have from my supervisors is to read with the research question in view – to help sustain focus and avoid rabbit-holes, but also to keep the questions themselves under constant critical evaluation. This advice is meaningful at my early stage of a research project like this.

The discipline of metadata

Organisation and structure of this library of collected thoughts and summaries is crucial for it to become useful. The usefulness goes beyond simply offering rapid retrieval of ideas and a tidy desk: it offers a reflective surface with which to interact, to provide deeper understanding, to make new meaning, to notice and make new connections, and to see your topic in the literature more comprehensively, complete with its gaps and inconsistencies.

Descriptive words may be used to categorise and group notes: academic readers are already familiar with title, abstract, author and keywords as descriptive metatdata about a published paper. Hashtags are a modern take on this, to associate information and ideas around a theme. These tags make searching easy, collecting #birds of a #feather together. A unique number or code for each note allows them to be referenced in other notes, connecting ideas.

Zettelkasten

In Niklas Luhmann’s method of making such notes, each is written on a uniquely-numbered paper slip (in German: zettel) and placed in order in a box (kasten, plural kästen). Although Luhmann’s card numbering was used only to uniquely identify each card1, the numbering used may suggest a hierarchy of ideas; cards may reference others by the number of the referenced card; tags may be applied to collect and group ideas across hierarchies.

The numbering system of Zettelkasten is illustrated by (Schmidt, 2016):

1/1 Card with notes 
    1/1a Card containing notes referring to a concept/idea from card 1/1 
    1/1b Continuation of notes from card 1/1a 
        1/1b1 Card containing notes referring to a concept/idea from card 1/1b 
        1/1b2 Continuation of notes from card 1/1b1 
1/2 Continuation of notes from card 1/1

The design of this is to deliberately avoid imposing structure on the notes as they are made, so as not to force thinking into a one-time-and-for-ever way of thinking. The principle is to allow the author to have a conversation with the collection of ideas, as they are made, and later, as they connect to existing thought. Luhmann called the system his “secondary memory” (Schmidt, 2016) to almost infer a thinking partner in the process of reflecting on and interrogating his own ideas.

Luhmann was famously very productive, writing over 60 books over 40 years, from 90,000 hand-written notes which he organised in boxes, and indexed. The index or register provides a list of entry points for each topic or keyword and is the first of four kinds of links used in the Zettelkasten system, only two of which are useful in a digital implementation. The other type of link is card-to-card, or hyperlinks between related ideas. This makes the cards, texts that refer to other texts: they are hypertext (Berners-Lee, 1992).

Obsidian

There are several programs with which one may use Zettelkasten but I was specifically pointed at Obsidian and so tried it. The cards in this program are individual Markdown files, which sits well with my existing working habits. All of the written work I do, pretty much is in markdown (including the document you’re reading). I already have 20,000 words in my PhD files in the form of markdown, so this provided a rapid leg-up into Luhmann’s methodology, although not as immediate as I thought at first. This is because one the principal features of Zettelkasten is its atomicity: each card holds a single piece of knowledge, if you can picture such a thing. The cards are not chapters of books, nor papers on a topic: they are ideas, which may be linked to other ideas or classified in some meaningful way. The first task I had to do with (a copy of) my various pieces of writing around the subjects in my PhD is the break them into little pieces, each piece a detail, or aspect, of something larger: the hard work in creating and sustaining this workflow, and which Luhmann said occupied much of his productive time, is in connecting new cards into the exisiting deck. Here we can see that the process of engaging with reading is not a trivial task at all, but one in which all of one’s mental faculties are brought to bear.

Luhmann added references directly as he created a new card (Schmidt, 2016) but also regularly refreshed and updated them. There were “hub” cards which arise where cards have a higher number of links to other cards: we might picture these as nodes in the Obsidian graph view of our collection of ideas.

This image was a screenshot from the mobile version of Obsidian, which allows me to use the program in the same way as I do on the desktop: I can edit, link and even dictate new notes on the fly: it’s not necessary to buy the Obsidian Sync subscription if you work in the same virtual space: for Apple infrastructure users, this means the iCloud Drive 2. My Zettelkasten is pushed from there on the desktop to its home in a GitHub private repository. The program does quite a lot of the work for us, without excusing the author from tending to proper tagging and referencing. An example from my own “card” collection:


## Chronotope
William Benjamin recognised the significance of time in his [radio pedagogy](Radio%20pedagogy.md), as an essential part of the power of the medium. The setting of a story in space and time has been called the chronotope [@Bakhtin1981 119].

 #chronotope

Next steps

This has been just an introduction for me to this “way in” to better writing productivity in my PhD. The tip came at the right time for me, at a point where I was struggling with momentum. I am thankful to Ramsey Affifi for sharing his practice with me, and to Sönke Ahrens, whose book has just arrived and is the subject of my close attention for the next few days.

Later (edited November 2022)

I ditched using Zettelkasten after a few weeks. I found that building and maintaining the kasten to be the main focus of my energy instead of reading and writing. I became more focused on form than function and quickly, this method got in my way. Because I am very much a part-time researcher (I have very much a full-time job), this was wasteful. I still largely agree with Luhmann’s quote above, that “One cannot think without writing”, so when I do engage with my research project, I am doing just that. I am glad I tried this approach though, it certainly looked useful for some projects.

Further reading

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten
  2. https://sociologica.unibo.it/article/view/8350/8272
  3. https://zettelkasten.de/introduction/
  4. https://www.sloww.co/zettelkasten/
  5. https://luhmann.surge.sh/communicating-with-slip-boxes
  6. https://takesmartnotes.com/, companion site to Sönke Ahrens’ excellent book (Ahrens, 2022), now in second edition.

There’s also more information in this blog about my PhD Workflow if you are interested.

References

  1. Schmidt, Johannes. 2016. “Niklas Luhmann‘s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.” Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53: 289–311. https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/download/2942475/2942530/jschmidt_2016_niklas luhmanns card index.pdf.
  2. Schmidt, Johannes F.K. 2018. “Niklas Luhmann’s Card Index: The Fabrication of Serendipity.” Sociologica 12 (1): 53–60. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.1971-8853/8350.
  3. Ahrens, Sönke. 2022. How to Take Smart Notes : One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking.
  4. Berners-Lee, T.J. 1992. “The World-Wide Web.” Computer Networks and ISDN Systems 25 (4-5): 454–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/0169-7552(92)90039-S.

Footnotes

  1. A relational database is made up of tables of records; each record in a table may be uniquely identified by a key, often an ID field. The database tables are boxes or kästen and each record in a table is a card or zettel. Seeking patterns and relationships in a relational database management system (RDBMS) demands skills in SQL. Databases are behind billions of websites and computer systems in use today. 

  2. Be careful that iCloud doesn’t get stuck syncing. You can tell this by the presence of the little dotted cloud icon in Finder, which on mouse-over, tells you that the file or folder is “Waiting to Upload”. The program that gets stuck is bird, the backend process behind iCloud Drive, which can be unstuck by typing % pkill -f 'Support/bird' in a terminal. Give it a minute and all should sync OK. 

Zettelkasten, or connecting ideas⤴

from

I have been struggling with stuttering engagement with reading in my PhD, with the consequence that I feel as if I do not yet have a coherent overall picture of the concepts I am trying to master, nor that I am making meaningful connections in the literature. A friend and colleague introduced me to the notes and ideas tool Obsidian, based on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten, or card index system of connecting ideas (Schmidt, 2016; Schmidt, 2018).

Capturing information

The point of reading, at least in the context of a research project, is to assimilate interesting ideas and findings into your particular context. For the researcher, this context may be defined by the research question(s), or the topic of a literature review. Early attempts at this might involve highlighting passages of interest, or making marginal notes or underlining in the text. These “captures” are not much more useful than merely downloading interesting papers as pdf: all you end up with is a large collection of files, at best organised in folders. Referencing tools like Mendeley offer the ability to store notes with the files, which still avoids the intellectual engagement required to make sense of a broad literature base, or indeed, of trying to identify what is not there – the elusive “gap in the literature” that the research aims to fill. More is required: key ideas are needed to be processed and understood in order for meaning to be made.

“One cannot think without writing.” – Niklas Luhmann (Ahrens, 2022)

Capturing thought

This processing requires effort and the deployment of language: ideas from reading may be paraphrased and meaningfully summarised as short notes. These are more than a simple statement of the “essence” of a paper, although this may be considered the minimum example. One academic has described as “thesisable prose”, the notes taken from a reading, paraphrased and restated within the reader’s context. This infers that what you write down at the time of reading needs to make sense at the level you are working, not only to others but also to your future self. How many times have I read my own notes and cursed myself for being too terse, too clever, or too sloppy? The advice I have from my supervisors is to read with the research question in view – to help sustain focus and avoid rabbit-holes, but also to keep the questions themselves under constant critical evaluation. This advice is meaningful at my early stage of a research project like this.

The discipline of metadata

Organisation and structure of this library of collected thoughts and summaries is crucial for it to become useful. The usefulness goes beyond simply offering rapid retrieval of ideas and a tidy desk: it offers a reflective surface with which to interact, to provide deeper understanding, to make new meaning, to notice and make new connections, and to see your topic in the literature more comprehensively, complete with its gaps and inconsistencies.

Descriptive words may be used to categorise and group notes: academic readers are already familiar with title, abstract, author and keywords as descriptive metatdata about a published paper. Hashtags are a modern take on this, to associate information and ideas around a theme. These tags make searching easy, collecting #birds of a #feather together. A unique number or code for each note allows them to be referenced in other notes, connecting ideas.

Zettelkasten

In Niklas Luhmann’s method of making such notes, each is written on a uniquely-numbered paper slip (in German: zettel) and placed in order in a box (kasten, plural kästen). Although Luhmann’s card numbering was used only to uniquely identify each card1, the numbering used may suggest a hierarchy of ideas; cards may reference others by the number of the referenced card; tags may be applied to collect and group ideas across hierarchies.

The numbering system of Zettelkasten is illustrated by (Schmidt, 2016):

1/1 Card with notes 
    1/1a Card containing notes referring to a concept/idea from card 1/1 
    1/1b Continuation of notes from card 1/1a 
        1/1b1 Card containing notes referring to a concept/idea from card 1/1b 
        1/1b2 Continuation of notes from card 1/1b1 
1/2 Continuation of notes from card 1/1

The design of this is to deliberately avoid imposing structure on the notes as they are made, so as not to force thinking into a one-time-and-for-ever way of thinking. The principle is to allow the author to have a conversation with the collection of ideas, as they are made, and later, as they connect to existing thought. Luhmann called the system his “secondary memory” (Schmidt, 2016) to almost infer a thinking partner in the process of reflecting on and interrogating his own ideas.

Luhmann was famously very productive, writing over 60 books over 40 years, from 90,000 hand-written notes which he organised in boxes, and indexed. The index or register provides a list of entry points for each topic or keyword and is the first of four kinds of links used in the Zettelkasten system, only two of which are useful in a digital implementation. The other type of link is card-to-card, or hyperlinks between related ideas. This makes the cards, texts that refer to other texts: they are hypertext (Berners-Lee, 1992).

Obsidian

There are several programs with which one may use Zettelkasten but I was specifically pointed at Obsidian and so tried it. The cards in this program are individual Markdown files, which sits well with my existing working habits. All of the written work I do, pretty much is in markdown (including the document you’re reading). I already have 20,000 words in my PhD files in the form of markdown, so this provided a rapid leg-up into Luhmann’s methodology, although not as immediate as I thought at first. This is because one the principal features of Zettelkasten is its atomicity: each card holds a single piece of knowledge, if you can picture such a thing. The cards are not chapters of books, nor papers on a topic: they are ideas, which may be linked to other ideas or classified in some meaningful way. The first task I had to do with (a copy of) my various pieces of writing around the subjects in my PhD is the break them into little pieces, each piece a detail, or aspect, of something larger: the hard work in creating and sustaining this workflow, and which Luhmann said occupied much of his productive time, is in connecting new cards into the exisiting deck. Here we can see that the process of engaging with reading is not a trivial task at all, but one in which all of one’s mental faculties are brought to bear.

Luhmann added references directly as he created a new card (Schmidt, 2016) but also regularly refreshed and updated them. There were “hub” cards which arise where cards have a higher number of links to other cards: we might picture these as nodes in the Obsidian graph view of our collection of ideas.

This image was a screenshot from the mobile version of Obsidian, which allows me to use the program in the same way as I do on the desktop: I can edit, link and even dictate new notes on the fly: it’s not necessary to buy the Obsidian Sync subscription if you work in the same virtual space: for Apple infrastructure users, this means the iCloud Drive 2. My Zettelkasten is pushed from there on the desktop to its home in a GitHub private repository. The program does quite a lot of the work for us, without excusing the author from tending to proper tagging and referencing. An example from my own “card” collection:


## Chronotope
William Benjamin recognised the significance of time in his [radio pedagogy](Radio%20pedagogy.md), as an essential part of the power of the medium. The setting of a story in space and time has been called the chronotope [@Bakhtin1981 119].

 #chronotope

Next steps

This has been just an introduction for me to this “way in” to better writing productivity in my PhD. The tip came at the right time for me, at a point where I was struggling with momentum. I am thankful to Ramsey Affifi for sharing his practice with me, and to Sönke Ahrens, whose book has just arrived and is the subject of my close attention for the next few days.

Later (edited November 2022)

I ditched using Zettelkasten after a few weeks. I found that building and maintaining the kasten to be the main focus of my energy instead of reading and writing. I became more focused on form than function and quickly, this method got in my way. Because I am very much a part-time researcher (I have very much a full-time job), this was wasteful. I still largely agree with Luhmann’s quote above, that “One cannot think without writing”, so when I do engage with my research project, I am doing just that. I am glad I tried this approach though, it certainly looked useful for some projects.

Further reading

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten
  2. https://sociologica.unibo.it/article/view/8350/8272
  3. https://zettelkasten.de/introduction/
  4. https://www.sloww.co/zettelkasten/
  5. https://luhmann.surge.sh/communicating-with-slip-boxes
  6. https://takesmartnotes.com/, companion site to Sönke Ahrens’ excellent book (Ahrens, 2022), now in second edition.

There’s also more information in this blog about my PhD Workflow if you are interested.

References

  1. Schmidt, Johannes. 2016. “Niklas Luhmann‘s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.” Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53: 289–311. https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/download/2942475/2942530/jschmidt_2016_niklas luhmanns card index.pdf.
  2. Schmidt, Johannes F.K. 2018. “Niklas Luhmann’s Card Index: The Fabrication of Serendipity.” Sociologica 12 (1): 53–60. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.1971-8853/8350.
  3. Ahrens, Sönke. 2022. How to Take Smart Notes : One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking.
  4. Berners-Lee, T.J. 1992. “The World-Wide Web.” Computer Networks and ISDN Systems 25 (4-5): 454–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/0169-7552(92)90039-S.

Footnotes

  1. A relational database is made up of tables of records; each record in a table may be uniquely identified by a key, often an ID field. The database tables are boxes or kästen and each record in a table is a card or zettel. Seeking patterns and relationships in a relational database management system (RDBMS) demands skills in SQL. Databases are behind billions of websites and computer systems in use today. 

  2. Be careful that iCloud doesn’t get stuck syncing. You can tell this by the presence of the little dotted cloud icon in Finder, which on mouse-over, tells you that the file or folder is “Waiting to Upload”. The program that gets stuck is bird, the backend process behind iCloud Drive, which can be unstuck by typing % pkill -f 'Support/bird' in a terminal. Give it a minute and all should sync OK. 

Zettelkasten, or connecting ideas⤴

from

I have been struggling with stuttering engagement with reading in my PhD, with the consequence that I feel as if I do not yet have a coherent overall picture of the concepts I am trying to master, nor that I am making meaningful connections in the literature. A friend and colleague introduced me to the notes and ideas tool Obsidian, based on Luhmann’s Zettelkasten, or card index system of connecting ideas (Schmidt, 2016; Schmidt, 2018).

Capturing information

The point of reading, at least in the context of a research project, is to assimilate interesting ideas and findings into your particular context. For the researcher, this context may be defined by the research question(s), or the topic of a literature review. Early attempts at this might involve highlighting passages of interest, or making marginal notes or underlining in the text. These “captures” are not much more useful than merely downloading interesting papers as pdf: all you end up with is a large collection of files, at best organised in folders. Referencing tools like Mendeley offer the ability to store notes with the files, which still avoids the intellectual engagement required to make sense of a broad literature base, or indeed, of trying to identify what is not there – the elusive “gap in the literature” that the research aims to fill. More is required: key ideas are needed to be processed and understood in order for meaning to be made.

“One cannot think without writing.” – Niklas Luhmann (Ahrens, 2022)

Capturing thought

This processing requires effort and the deployment of language: ideas from reading may be paraphrased and meaningfully summarised as short notes. These are more than a simple statement of the “essence” of a paper, although this may be considered the minimum example. One academic has described as “thesisable prose”, the notes taken from a reading, paraphrased and restated within the reader’s context. This infers that what you write down at the time of reading needs to make sense at the level you are working, not only to others but also to your future self. How many times have I read my own notes and cursed myself for being too terse, too clever, or too sloppy? The advice I have from my supervisors is to read with the research question in view – to help sustain focus and avoid rabbit-holes, but also to keep the questions themselves under constant critical evaluation. This advice is meaningful at my early stage of a research project like this.

The discipline of metadata

Organisation and structure of this library of collected thoughts and summaries is crucial for it to become useful. The usefulness goes beyond simply offering rapid retrieval of ideas and a tidy desk: it offers a reflective surface with which to interact, to provide deeper understanding, to make new meaning, to notice and make new connections, and to see your topic in the literature more comprehensively, complete with its gaps and inconsistencies.

Descriptive words may be used to categorise and group notes: academic readers are already familiar with title, abstract, author and keywords as descriptive metatdata about a published paper. Hashtags are a modern take on this, to associate information and ideas around a theme. These tags make searching easy, collecting #birds of a #feather together. A unique number or code for each note allows them to be referenced in other notes, connecting ideas.

Zettelkasten

In Niklas Luhmann’s method of making such notes, each is written on a uniquely-numbered paper slip (in German: zettel) and placed in order in a box (kasten, plural kästen). Although Luhmann’s card numbering was used only to uniquely identify each card1, the numbering used may suggest a hierarchy of ideas; cards may reference others by the number of the referenced card; tags may be applied to collect and group ideas across hierarchies.

The numbering system of Zettelkasten is illustrated by (Schmidt, 2016):

1/1 Card with notes 
    1/1a Card containing notes referring to a concept/idea from card 1/1 
    1/1b Continuation of notes from card 1/1a 
        1/1b1 Card containing notes referring to a concept/idea from card 1/1b 
        1/1b2 Continuation of notes from card 1/1b1 
1/2 Continuation of notes from card 1/1

The design of this is to deliberately avoid imposing structure on the notes as they are made, so as not to force thinking into a one-time-and-for-ever way of thinking. The principle is to allow the author to have a conversation with the collection of ideas, as they are made, and later, as they connect to existing thought. Luhmann called the system his “secondary memory” (Schmidt, 2016) to almost infer a thinking partner in the process of reflecting on and interrogating his own ideas.

Luhmann was famously very productive, writing over 60 books over 40 years, from 90,000 hand-written notes which he organised in boxes, and indexed. The index or register provides a list of entry points for each topic or keyword and is the first of four kinds of links used in the Zettelkasten system, only two of which are useful in a digital implementation. The other type of link is card-to-card, or hyperlinks between related ideas. This makes the cards, texts that refer to other texts: they are hypertext (Berners-Lee, 1992).

Obsidian

There are several programs with which one may use Zettelkasten but I was specifically pointed at Obsidian and so tried it. The cards in this program are individual Markdown files, which sits well with my existing working habits. All of the written work I do, pretty much is in markdown (including the document you’re reading). I already have 20,000 words in my PhD files in the form of markdown, so this provided a rapid leg-up into Luhmann’s methodology, although not as immediate as I thought at first. This is because one the principal features of Zettelkasten is its atomicity: each card holds a single piece of knowledge, if you can picture such a thing. The cards are not chapters of books, nor papers on a topic: they are ideas, which may be linked to other ideas or classified in some meaningful way. The first task I had to do with (a copy of) my various pieces of writing around the subjects in my PhD is the break them into little pieces, each piece a detail, or aspect, of something larger: the hard work in creating and sustaining this workflow, and which Luhmann said occupied much of his productive time, is in connecting new cards into the exisiting deck. Here we can see that the process of engaging with reading is not a trivial task at all, but one in which all of one’s mental faculties are brought to bear.

Luhmann added references directly as he created a new card (Schmidt, 2016) but also regularly refreshed and updated them. There were “hub” cards which arise where cards have a higher number of links to other cards: we might picture these as nodes in the Obsidian graph view of our collection of ideas.

This image was a screenshot from the mobile version of Obsidian, which allows me to use the program in the same way as I do on the desktop: I can edit, link and even dictate new notes on the fly: it’s not necessary to buy the Obsidian Sync subscription if you work in the same virtual space: for Apple infrastructure users, this means the iCloud Drive 2. My Zettelkasten is pushed from there on the desktop to its home in a GitHub private repository. The program does quite a lot of the work for us, without excusing the author from tending to proper tagging and referencing. An example from my own “card” collection:


## Chronotope
William Benjamin recognised the significance of time in his [radio pedagogy](Radio%20pedagogy.md), as an essential part of the power of the medium. The setting of a story in space and time has been called the chronotope [@Bakhtin1981 119].

 #chronotope

Next steps

This has been just an introduction for me to this “way in” to better writing productivity in my PhD. The tip came at the right time for me, at a point where I was struggling with momentum. I am thankful to Ramsey Affifi for sharing his practice with me, and to Sönke Ahrens, whose book has just arrived and is the subject of my close attention for the next few days.

Later (edited November 2022)

I ditched using Zettelkasten after a few weeks. I found that building and maintaining the kasten to be the main focus of my energy instead of reading and writing. I became more focused on form than function and quickly, this method got in my way. Because I am very much a part-time researcher (I have very much a full-time job), this was wasteful. I still largely agree with Luhmann’s quote above, that “One cannot think without writing”, so when I do engage with my research project, I am doing just that. I am glad I tried this approach though, it certainly looked useful for some projects.

Further reading

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zettelkasten
  2. https://sociologica.unibo.it/article/view/8350/8272
  3. https://zettelkasten.de/introduction/
  4. https://www.sloww.co/zettelkasten/
  5. https://luhmann.surge.sh/communicating-with-slip-boxes
  6. https://takesmartnotes.com/, companion site to Sönke Ahrens’ excellent book (Ahrens, 2022), now in second edition.

There’s also more information in this blog about my PhD Workflow if you are interested.

References

  1. Schmidt, Johannes. 2016. “Niklas Luhmann‘s Card Index: Thinking Tool, Communication Partner, Publication Machine.” Forgetting Machines. Knowledge Management Evolution in Early Modern Europe 53: 289–311. https://pub.uni-bielefeld.de/download/2942475/2942530/jschmidt_2016_niklas luhmanns card index.pdf.
  2. Schmidt, Johannes F.K. 2018. “Niklas Luhmann’s Card Index: The Fabrication of Serendipity.” Sociologica 12 (1): 53–60. https://doi.org/10.6092/issn.1971-8853/8350.
  3. Ahrens, Sönke. 2022. How to Take Smart Notes : One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking.
  4. Berners-Lee, T.J. 1992. “The World-Wide Web.” Computer Networks and ISDN Systems 25 (4-5): 454–59. https://doi.org/10.1016/0169-7552(92)90039-S.

Footnotes

  1. A relational database is made up of tables of records; each record in a table may be uniquely identified by a key, often an ID field. The database tables are boxes or kästen and each record in a table is a card or zettel. Seeking patterns and relationships in a relational database management system (RDBMS) demands skills in SQL. Databases are behind billions of websites and computer systems in use today. 

  2. Be careful that iCloud doesn’t get stuck syncing. You can tell this by the presence of the little dotted cloud icon in Finder, which on mouse-over, tells you that the file or folder is “Waiting to Upload”. The program that gets stuck is bird, the backend process behind iCloud Drive, which can be unstuck by typing % pkill -f 'Support/bird' in a terminal. Give it a minute and all should sync OK. 

Chicago author-date with ibid⤴

from

One of my supervisors recently suggested:

“Just a stylistic thing going forward, but where you have recently cited the same author, you can use Ibid (e.g. (Ibid: 2) or similar), rather than include their names again”

This is great advice and something I had seen before. I use Mendeley Desktop as my academic library and reference manager, which plays nicely with my writing workflow. I am used to using the so-called “Harvard” citation style, otherwise known as “author-date” because it looks like this: (Cartier-Bresson, 1999) but had not worked out how to have the software automatically detect when ibid. is appropriate.

The key to it is in the citation style or .csl file that tells your typesetting program how to format citations. There are thousands of these, publicly accessible over at the Zotero Style Repository or Github. I wanted to use a popular csl style using the globally recognised Chicago Style Manual but the use of ibid has been deprecated there. They favour the use of a short form citation which is well suited to the numbered footnote alternative to author-date.

With a little leg work I found that it is quite easy to adapt the current Chicago author-date .csl file to include the ibid feature from its numbered footnote sister.

The adaptation

Starting with a copy of the author-date .csl file (obviously change the name), find the <citation> tag and merge the equivalent code from the fullnote with ibid .csl file. It should look like this:

<citation et-al-min="4" et-al-use-first="1" disambiguate-add-year-suffix="true" disambiguate-add-names="true" disambiguate-add-givenname="true" givenname-disambiguation-rule="primary-name" collapse="year" after-collapse-delimiter="; ">
    <layout prefix="(" suffix=")" delimiter="; ">
      <group delimiter=", ">
        <choose>
        <if position="ibid-with-locator">
          <group delimiter=", ">
            <text term="ibid"/>
            <text macro="point-locators-subsequent"/>
          </group>
        </if>
        <else-if position="ibid">
          <text term="ibid"/>
        </else-if>
        <else>
            <group delimiter=", ">
              <text macro="contributors-short"/>
              <text macro="date-in-text"/>
              <text macro="point-locators"/>
            </group>
        </else>
        </choose>
      </group>
    </layout>
</citation>

It is also necessary to pull in the point-locators-subsequent macro. Paste it below the other macros in the .csl file.

Usage

All that is required now is to point the rendering software to the style file, in my case, by editing the yaml header in my markdown document, or the _config.yml file for this site.

I don’t feel that I should push this back to the open source repositories because it’s just my own hack that works for me, but you can download my version of chicago-author-date-with-ibid.csl to adapt for your own use.

References

  1. Cartier-Bresson, Henri. 1999. The Mind’s Eye : Writings on Photography and Photographers. New York, N.Y: Aperture.

Chicago author-date with ibid⤴

from

One of my supervisors recently suggested:

“Just a stylistic thing going forward, but where you have recently cited the same author, you can use Ibid (e.g. (Ibid: 2) or similar), rather than include their names again”

This is great advice and something I had seen before. I use Mendeley Desktop as my academic library and reference manager, which plays nicely with my writing workflow. I am used to using the so-called “Harvard” citation style, otherwise known as “author-date” because it looks like this: (Cartier-Bresson, 1999) but had not worked out how to have the software automatically detect when ibid. is appropriate.

The key to it is in the citation style or .csl file that tells your typesetting program how to format citations. There are thousands of these, publicly accessible over at the Zotero Style Repository or Github. I wanted to use a popular csl style using the globally recognised Chicago Style Manual but the use of ibid has been deprecated there. They favour the use of a short form citation which is well suited to the numbered footnote alternative to author-date.

With a little leg work I found that it is quite easy to adapt the current Chicago author-date .csl file to include the ibid feature from its numbered footnote sister.

The adaptation

Starting with a copy of the author-date .csl file (obviously change the name), find the <citation> tag and merge the equivalent code from the fullnote with ibid .csl file. It should look like this:

<citation et-al-min="4" et-al-use-first="1" disambiguate-add-year-suffix="true" disambiguate-add-names="true" disambiguate-add-givenname="true" givenname-disambiguation-rule="primary-name" collapse="year" after-collapse-delimiter="; ">
    <layout prefix="(" suffix=")" delimiter="; ">
      <group delimiter=", ">
        <choose>
        <if position="ibid-with-locator">
          <group delimiter=", ">
            <text term="ibid"/>
            <text macro="point-locators-subsequent"/>
          </group>
        </if>
        <else-if position="ibid">
          <text term="ibid"/>
        </else-if>
        <else>
            <group delimiter=", ">
              <text macro="contributors-short"/>
              <text macro="date-in-text"/>
              <text macro="point-locators"/>
            </group>
        </else>
        </choose>
      </group>
    </layout>
</citation>

It is also necessary to pull in the point-locators-subsequent macro. Paste it below the other macros in the .csl file.

Usage

All that is required now is to point the rendering software to the style file, in my case, by editing the yaml header in my markdown document, or the _config.yml file for this site.

I don’t feel that I should push this back to the open source repositories because it’s just my own hack that works for me, but you can download my version of chicago-author-date-with-ibid.csl to adapt for your own use.

References

  1. Cartier-Bresson, Henri. 1999. The Mind’s Eye : Writings on Photography and Photographers. New York, N.Y: Aperture.

Chicago author-date with ibid⤴

from

One of my supervisors recently suggested:

“Just a stylistic thing going forward, but where you have recently cited the same author, you can use Ibid (e.g. (Ibid: 2) or similar), rather than include their names again”

This is great advice and something I had seen before. I use Mendeley Desktop as my academic library and reference manager, which plays nicely with my writing workflow. I am used to using the so-called “Harvard” citation style, otherwise known as “author-date” because it looks like this: (Cartier-Bresson, 1999) but had not worked out how to have the software automatically detect when ibid. is appropriate.

The key to it is in the citation style or .csl file that tells your typesetting program how to format citations. There are thousands of these, publicly accessible over at the Zotero Style Repository or Github. I wanted to use a popular csl style using the globally recognised Chicago Style Manual but the use of ibid has been deprecated there. They favour the use of a short form citation which is well suited to the numbered footnote alternative to author-date.

With a little leg work I found that it is quite easy to adapt the current Chicago author-date .csl file to include the ibid feature from its numbered footnote sister.

The adaptation

Starting with a copy of the author-date .csl file (obviously change the name), find the <citation> tag and merge the equivalent code from the fullnote with ibid .csl file. It should look like this:

<citation et-al-min="4" et-al-use-first="1" disambiguate-add-year-suffix="true" disambiguate-add-names="true" disambiguate-add-givenname="true" givenname-disambiguation-rule="primary-name" collapse="year" after-collapse-delimiter="; ">
    <layout prefix="(" suffix=")" delimiter="; ">
      <group delimiter=", ">
        <choose>
        <if position="ibid-with-locator">
          <group delimiter=", ">
            <text term="ibid"/>
            <text macro="point-locators-subsequent"/>
          </group>
        </if>
        <else-if position="ibid">
          <text term="ibid"/>
        </else-if>
        <else>
            <group delimiter=", ">
              <text macro="contributors-short"/>
              <text macro="date-in-text"/>
              <text macro="point-locators"/>
            </group>
        </else>
        </choose>
      </group>
    </layout>
</citation>

It is also necessary to pull in the point-locators-subsequent macro. Paste it below the other macros in the .csl file.

Usage

All that is required now is to point the rendering software to the style file, in my case, by editing the yaml header in my markdown document, or the _config.yml file for this site.

I don’t feel that I should push this back to the open source repositories because it’s just my own hack that works for me, but you can download my version of chicago-author-date-with-ibid.csl to adapt for your own use.

References

  1. Cartier-Bresson, Henri. 1999. The Mind’s Eye : Writings on Photography and Photographers. New York, N.Y: Aperture.

Reading iCal in R⤴

from

Being organised is an important habit for anyone in these days of scope creep – the tendency for more and more to be done as part of the job. We’re all trying to maximise our capacity, so eliminating duplication of effort is one way to avoid wasting time doing unnecessary admin. Productivity tools like email and calendars have replaced the memo and diary of pre-Internet days, but there are many brands and infrastructures, often competing with each other. The result can be that we end up keeping several email accounts, and several calendars with the inevitable double booking and confusion.

My policy is wherever possible to keep one master data source: documents are configuration managed and stored safely, checked out and checked in when updated and with a visible, reversible change history. Calendars for each project are aggregated in a suitable viewer from master files in iCal format, allowing them to be easily shared and syndicated.

Planning for next academic year, I wanted to display a simple GANTT chart for students of the overall course structure. This, because I had previously been duplicating weekly details from the master calendar. I wanted a way to automatically generate mini-GANTTs for each week in the Virtual Learning Environment (VLE) from the course calendar. Here’s how I did it: the VLE is written and published in Bookdown.

Fortunately, there is already a package for reading and manipulating iCal files. You may need to install this first.

> install.packages("calendar")

So, firstly we want to grab data from the iCal feed. This is the path to an .ics file or the ical data for the calendar: make sure it’s not just a link to a web interface for the calendar.

> mydat <- readLines("https://www.gov.uk/bank-holidays/england-and-wales.ics")

It’s worth checking that this has returned something useful: the head() function returns the first few lines and an iCal file should look something like this:

> head(mydat)
[1] "BEGIN:VCALENDAR"                     
[2] "VERSION:2.0"                         
[3] "METHOD:PUBLISH"                      
[4] "PRODID:-//uk.gov/GOVUK calendars//EN"
[5] "CALSCALE:GREGORIAN"                  
[6] "BEGIN:VEVENT"       
> 

We can use ic_dataframe() to organise this flat file into something more structured, again peeking in at the first few column header names in the data frame:

> mydf <- ic_dataframe(mydat)
> head(names(mydf))
[1] "DTEND;VALUE=DATE"   "DTSTART;VALUE=DATE" "SUMMARY"           
[4] "UID"                "SEQUENCE"           "DTSTAMP"                          
> 

Selecting the information you need from that is a matter of applying filters. A new data frame using the first 3 columns:

> set1 <- data.frame(mydf["DTSTART;VALUE=DATE"],mydf["SUMMARY"])
> head(set1)
  DTSTART.VALUE.DATE                SUMMARY
1         2016-01-01         New Years Day
2         2016-03-25            Good Friday
3         2016-03-28          Easter Monday
4         2016-05-02 Early May bank holiday
5         2016-05-30    Spring bank holiday
6         2016-08-29    Summer bank holiday

Selecting only Jubilee holidays using the logical form of grep:

> set2 <- subset(set1,grepl("Jubilee",set1$SUMMARY))
> head(set2)
   DTSTART.VALUE.DATE                       SUMMARY
54         2022-06-03 Platinum Jubilee bank holiday

Adding new headings using setnames from the data.table library, then removing row numbers and displaying as a table.

library(data.table)
setnames(set1, c("Date","Event name"))
set2 <- subset(set1,grepl("2022",set1$Date))
knitr::kable(set2[order(set2$From),], caption = '2022 Holiday Calendar', row.names = FALSE)

Which will yield a table in your book(down):

Table 1: 2022 Holiday Calendar

Date Holiday
2022-01-03 New Year’s Day
2022-04-15 Good Friday
2022-04-18 Easter Monday
2022-05-02 Early May bank holiday
2022-06-02 Spring bank holiday
2022-06-03 Platinum Jubilee bank holiday
2022-08-29 Summer bank holiday
2022-12-26 Boxing Day
2022-12-27 Christmas Day

Conclusion

I now have a way of automatically updating the calendar in the VLE for my course, my only having to rebuild the site after a change in the master calendar. This is hugely useful within my workflow and reduces the risk of redundancy or error when there is more than one master. Next steps are to make this produce a GANTT chart.

Manjaro Linux on a MacBook Pro⤴

from

This is how I set up Manjaro XFCE Linux, a lightweight but robust and stable version of Arch Linux, on an old (2009) MacBook Pro past its service life. The idea is to try living with it as a device for research, data capture and analysis and writing up of a PhD thesis (with a view to buying a better machine).

There is plenty of information on how to get Manjaro on to a USB stick and then onto your hardware, so I will not go into details of that. I will instead focus on how I got that basic system working with my writing workflow.

Software management

There are tools built in to Manjaro for managing, installing and maintaining a good range of software but not everything I like to use: fortunately, there is a large community of developers and supporters for Arch and Manjaro who work to bring a lot more software to your installation. This can be found at the Arch User Repository (AUR). To use it, the base-develop package is installed, as well as git:

sudo pacman -Sy --needed base-devel git

Whilst it is possible to install software all over your new system, I like to keep the source in one place, where I can find, update and remember it. Installation is simple enough from there, starting with Google Chrome (not Chromium, by the way, because I work across multiple platforms and require the sync of Google bookmarks, for example).

mkdir Software
cd Software/
git clone https://aur.archlinux.org/google-chrome.git
cd google-chrome/
makepkg -sri

The same method can be used to install other useful packages and tools like slack-desktop, rstudio-desktop-bin (be careful to get the right version of RStudio) and mendeleydesktop.

Mendeley

For my library and reference manager Mendeley, I like to use the watched folder feature of the desktop app, although this may not remain as Elsevier develop the Mendeley suite of applications. At the last Mendeley advisor’s meeting (4th May) we were told that there are no immediate plans to withdraw the desktop app, although it will eventually go. Create the folder and locate it in the app:

mkdir ../Desktop/Mendeley\ drop

Dropbox

I use Dropbox to keep copies of literature, bibtex and other cross-platform files. This will not install without setting up the gpg keys thus:

git clone https://aur.archlinux.org/dropbox.git
cd dropbox/
gpg --recv-keys 1C61A2656FB57B7E4DE0F4C1FC918B335044912E
makepkg -sri

Thanks to yan12125 on AUR for that particular tip. It’s worth, when installing from AUR, having a quick read through any comments in the repository to check how problematic, or indeed, well-maintained, it is.

Setting up workflow

Now we have some basic tools, we can pick up development workflow on the new machine. I created a working folder within Documents into which I can clone my repositories.

Jekyll

The first project I did any work on was the one you are reading: my technical blog, which is hosted on github and served by jekyll. That didn’t go too well, and I was temporarily stuck in a login loop, in which my password was accepted by Manjaro but the login prompt was continually re-presented. I found the cause of this to be a problem with bundler-exec. How I got there:

pamac build jekyll
jekyll s -d docs # threw error, unable to find bundler
pamac build bundler-exec
jekyll s -d docs # threw another error, missing gems
bundle update
nano Gemfile	# to add a suitable gem repository source
bundle install # to install missing gems
jekyll s -d docs

Rebooting overnight, I returned to the machine and couldn’t log in using the GUI. Thanks to weixin_39958100, I located the problem in the .xsession-errors log, by logging in to the terminal using ctrl-alt-fn-F2. It was easy then to remove the script throwing the error that was blocking the log in:

cat .xsession-errors
sudo rm /etc/profile.d/bundlerexec.sh 

Microcast 5: Choices⤴

from @ John's World Wide Wall Display

IMG_7438.jpeg

Some thoughts about making choices about the software and systems you use, they may have hidden positives or negatives.

Featured image, iPhone screenshot, edited in snapseed