Damien Gonot
Home Blog Notes About

🧠 Uploading my brain to the internet

written on 2022-05-20

Introduction

I'm publishing my notes! They're accessible from the top menu or directly from this link.

There are close to 80 different pages, some longer than others (Computer Science, Finance, Psychology…). Quality (and quantity) varies a lot depending on my knowledge of the subject.

I've been gathering them privately over the past few years and decided that there were no reasons to keep them private and not making them available to anybody online.

Why take so many notes?

Task tracking

It all started with task tracking. If you work at a software company, you've probably used Kanban boards before.

Everybody need to track tasks of some sorts. Most people probably manage just right with their memory only. But sometimes it gets a bit too complicated and you need to write your own little to-dos, outside of work.

For me, this manifested the most during immigration processes (like applying for a new work permit) or when moving between apartments (switching utility providers, telling everybody who has your address that it changed, tracking deposits/first month of rent…).

Journaling onset

In August of 2019, I had a bike accident that resulted in a concussion. I was so afraid of memory loss that I felt the urge to document everything.

To be fair, this habit had started a few days before that, but the post-concussion syndrome symptoms really made me stick to it, to an even greater extent.

I had started journaling using Notion just a few days before the accident. I believe I had initially heard colleagues starting to use Notion internally to manage their team's documents. I tried it myself and was instantly hooked.

I have the tendency to not keep up with those habits (tried journaling with jrnl.sh in the past and quickly abandoned). If it wasn't for my accident, I probably would have never stuck with either journaling or Notion.

I'm getting close to 1,000 daily journal entries now, so I will probably write a dedicated blog post about my journaling practice, but it is closely linked to my note taking experience.

"Second brain"

So we have task tracking, journaling… What else is missing? Well, according to me… Everything else.

Let's say you watch an interesting YouTube video or read a fascinating book. What do you do with the knowledge that you just acquired?

You're reading a programming tutorial and trying to wrap your head around a new concept… What do you do so you can efficient learn about this new concept and remember about it the next day?

Again, most people probably don't take any notes and try to remember everything by heart, but this is quite inefficient. There is value in having everything at one place, written in your own words.

Why publish them online?

I've had this idea of creating my own personal "university" for a while. The term "university" is a bit pompous so I decided to simply name it "notes" because it's basically what it is.

A more or less organized network of notes on subjects that are usually taught by universities. But there is very little research, no assignments, no knowledge check…

Nowadays, knowledge is easily available, often free and constantly changing. Education should never stops.

The main target audience of those notes is… me! I mainly do this for myself and only decided to publish them because it was so easy to export them to HTML.

Introduction to Personal Knowledge Management (PKM)

What is PKM?

The concept behind Personal Knowledge Management is that everyone should have their own organized thoughts around the topics they want.

Why do PKM?

The benefits that I personally see are:

Modern tools used for PKM

Notion

One workspace.

Every team.

We’re more than a doc. Or a table. Customize Notion to work the way you do.

ProsCons
Free for personal useClosed source
Very customizable, have different views availableHosted by a third-party
Database concept is pretty cool
Great mobile support

Roam Research

A note-taking tool for networked thought.

As easy to use as a document. As powerful as a graph database.

Roam helps you organize your research for the long haul.

ProsCons
Linking system is niceDifficult to use on mobile… though mobile apps just launched
They helped open source ClojureDart which is very coolClosed source
Not free

Obsidian

A second brain, for you, forever.

Obsidian is a powerful knowledge base on top of a local folder of plain text Markdown files.

ProsCons
Free for personal useClosed source
Plain Markdown files 👍Plain Markdown files 😩
Great plugins (vim mode, git auto commits…)

Logseq

Connected thoughts to increase understanding

Logseq is a privacy-first, open-source knowledge base that works on top of local plain-text Markdown and Org-mode files. Use it to write, organize and share your thoughts, keep your to-do list, and build your own digital garden.

ProsCons
Plain text filesMobile app is iOS only for now…
Amazing support for Org-mode files!
Open source

Org-roam

Org-roam

A plain-text personal knowledge management system.

ProsCons
Plain .org files!Forces you to use a weird ID system…
Open sourceHave to learn Emacs

Conclusion

ToolOpen sourcePlain text filesEasily editable on mobile
Notion
Roam Research🫤
Obsidian
Logseq🫤
Org-mode (plain or with Org-roam)😛 only if you're willing to run Emacs on your phone!

My personal history with PKM tools

The beginnings

During my time in University, I basically took zero notes. I would go sit in the class, look at the slides, actively listen to the Professor and try to remember as much as possible. When it was time to take the exam, I would simply go over the slides again and try to re-do the exercises.

Trello & Google Keep

I had a love-hate relationship with Trello.

I first hated Trello, but quickly realized when I first started to use it by and for myself, that I wasn't hating Trello. I was hating on how little control I had over it when I was using it at my job.

I since made peace with Trello and used it for a while for more organized tasks / projects.

Google Keep was used for quick notes, especially good on mobile. Being able to take quick notes on mobile is very important to me.

Notion

As we saw earlier I started using Notion a few years ago. It is an excellent tool and I really enjoy using it. This is still what I use whenever I need to work on something collaboratively with other people.

It finally allowed me to combine Trello, Google Keep, and even a little bit of Google Spreadsheets and Google Calendar, all in one very well designed tool.

But I had some issues on keeping personal data hosted there and their availability in case of outages (like dreaded DNS issues).

Obsidian & GitJournal

Liked that I was able to use plain text files (potentially encrypted) and that I could them sync using Git.

Having a vim-mode plugin available was also greatly appreciated.

For mobile, I was using GitJournal as Obsidian mobile apps were not available at the time, which works really great!

But I still felt like something was missing…

Org-mode using Emacs

Now we're getting to Org-mode. My ultimate productivity tool. What managed to make me switch from Vim to Emacs.

This is how Org-mode is described on orgmode.org:

A GNU Emacs major mode for keeping notes, authoring documents, computational notebooks, literate programming, maintaining to-do lists, planning projects, and more — in a fast and effective plain text system.

To put it more simply, Org-mode is an extension of a Text editor (Emacs) and it has a lot of features:

And the best of all… It works perfectly fine on Android using Termux! On iOS / iPadOS, it's possible to SSH to a Raspberry Pi or VPS and use Emacs there.

Honourable mention to Logseq

Org-mode is my endgame but I need to mention Logseq.

I believe it is one of the best tools out there and this is what I would probably use it if I hadn't learnt how to use Emacs.

I actually sometimes use it on top of my existing Org-mode files for the knowledge graph feature.

How are my notes published?

All of those pages are initially Org-mode files. I have a script written in Julia that uses Pandoc to export .org files to HTML. Emacs also has some exporting capabilities but I liked Pandoc's customization better.

The script is open source here: https://github.com/mewfree/static-personal-website/blob/main/build.jl

Once the .html files are generated, the whole site is hosted on Netlify.

My inspirations and influences

Gwern

Gwern's website is quite amazing.

There's a wide array of articles, everything is treated very deeply and the attention put to details is incredible.

Xah Lee

I think I deserve to mention Xah Lee's website here. I discovered his website by searching for Emacs Lisp tutorials.

Like Gwern, the covered topics are very diverse. But there is especially a lot of Emacs, keyboards and math stuff.

Molecular Notes from Reasonable Deviations

A recent article from the excellent blog Reasonable Deviations described a note-taking system that resonated a lot with me. Too bad their notes are not publicly available 😉.

Conclusion

I've been meaning to do this for a while so I'm very excited to finally have it available. We'll see if this has any impact at all, people might appreciate it, people might not care about it at all, I might regret it, I might wish I did it sooner…