Hall & Oates Concert October 2021 featuring Squeeze at the Hollywood Bowl

Background and the Pandemic

I originally bought tickets for this show at the Hollywood Bowl on January 25, 2020, but the pandemic obviously delayed the original show date of May 29th. In a fit of optimism on July 16, 2020, the show was rescheduled for October 1, 2021. I really didn’t expect the show to stick. It was my second major crowd outing since the start of the pandemic.

I drove to the Pasadena park and ride location which had just closed because the last bus had just left. They indicated the Zoo location was still open and would have buses until 7pm. So we drove to the LA Zoo bus stop and parked and rode from there. Doing this, even with crowds well masked, was certainly a lot less taxing than sitting in crazy traffic or worrying about parking. The two way fee was a much lower $6 whereas I expected it to be $12 per person.

We got to our seats a bit after the opening act started because of the COVID-19 check-in lines. The lines were miserably managed and social convention went out the window for people cutting in line and generally shifting around.

While vaccination cards or negative tests were required for entrance, they weren’t well organized about it. It would have been all-too-easy to sneak around the COVID check and get directly into the ticket/bag check area which was much more closely guarded and well executed.

Once past the checkpoint not many people were wearing masks. There was approximately 60% masking in public areas outside the Bowl itself, but once seated with a nearly capacity crowd at a sold out show, there was only about 20% masking. I kept a mask on the entire night. Knowing that this would be the case we didn’t take the traditional Hollywood Bowl picnic basket or food.

The weather for the evening was about as lovely as one could have hoped. Not to hot and not too cold which is notable when October evenings can be uncomfortably warm with temperatures in the high 80s to mid 90s.

Opening act: Squeeze

Purple lights illuminate the bandshell with the band name Squeeze projected behind the band

I think I enjoyed the opening act most this evening. They played a few of their hit songs certainly, but I enjoyed the more experimental late 70’s material they played that fell into the vein of Pink Floyd and The Alan Parsons Project as part of the New Wave movement. It was very much the sound of the late 70’s and they recreated it wonderfully in a way that took me back to that space and time. While there were some nice flourishes and musical improvisation sprinkled in, it was closer to their studio/album work in sound and flavor, particularly in comparison to Hall & Oates. Their material generally matched the mood of Hall & Oates’ She’s Gone.

I almost feel like this performance wasn’t as flashy as it may have been in the day. It would be quite something to see them in a more intimate setting like the Troubadour.

The day was one of the band member’s birthdays, so the entire crowd sang happy birthday to close out the performance.

There were a number of women in their 50s standing up and singing and dancing to every number which was interesting to see.


I could only recall Mussels, Cool for Cats, Tempted, Annie, Black Coffee, and Happy Birthday from the top of my head as I didn’t keep a written setlist like I did for Hall and Oates. The list below is courtesy of setlist.fm, but all the big pieces appeared in the order that I remember.

  1. Take Me I’m Yours
  2. Up the Junction
  3. Hourglass
  4. Is That Love
  5. Departure Lounge
  6. Slap and Tickle
  7. Pulling Mussels (From the Shell)
  8. Please Be Upstanding
  9. Cool for Cats
  10. Tempted
  11. Annie Get Your Gun
  12. If I Didn’t Love You
  13. Black Coffee in Bed
  14. Happy Birthday to You (Mildred J. Hill & Patty Hill song)
    (Sung to bassist Owen Biddle; each band member took a solo spot)

Main Act: Hall and Oates

Starting at 8:50 PM and finishing out at about 10:30 PM


  1. Maneater
  2. Out of Touch
  3. Method of Modern Love
  4. Say it Isn’t So
  5. You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling
  6. She’s Gone (High on Consolation)
  7. Sarah Smile
  8. Is it a Star (according to setlist.fm, I didn’t catch the title at the time)
  9. Back Together Again 
  10. I Can’t Go For That (No Can Do)
    —- Encore —
  11. Rich Girl
  12. Your Kiss is on My List (with a slick transition to)
  13. Private Eyes (10:10 PM)
    —- Band introductions —- 
  14. You Make my Dreams Come True (10:20 PM start)


  • Shane Theriot (Guitar)
  • Eliot Lewis (keyboards)
  • Klyde Jones (Bass)
  • Brian Dunne (drums)
  • Porter Carroll Jr. (Percussion)
  • Charles “Charlie” DeChant (Saxophone)

Brief review

The concert was generally solidly produced. The opening was electric and the crowd gave them a lot of early energy in a nearly packed Bowl. Unfortunately the energy waned within a song and a half. Daryl Hall took about three songs to really warm up his voice. Prior to that I was worried about what I was in for. For someone in his mid-70’s it was a solid performance, but he’s definitely not got the energy of the early 80’s. Late in the program he moved to keyboards and did alright for his age, but there were some obvious rough spots in his solo play.

Given their spot in the Yacht Rock pantheon of highly produced music, I expected to hear more of the polish of their 80’s work, but there was a lot more Jazz and R&B influence on their performance. This was probably great for the Hollywood Bowl regulars where there’s often quite a bit of Jazz programmed, but it just wasn’t the 70s experimental material or the Rock/Pop I was either hoping for or expecting.

Hall’s patter was a bit stilted for me. The quote of the night came between Sarah Smile and the lead into Is it a Star with a drug culture reference:

“I think all the 70’s were experimental.”
—Daryl Hall

Panorama of the Hollywood Bowl at night

Mudstels: the new rage in car colors

A new category of colors perhaps? Cars for the last couple of years have been coming out with a muddy, grungy sort of color palette. In contrast to the more colorful, Easeter-y pastel colors, I’ve been calling this new palette of colors mudstels. They’re usually in shades of blue, green, grey, and tan. There are a few rusty oranges out there, but I’ve yet to see any red, purple, or yellows in the series.

One might call these new mudstel colors a tone, but instead of adding grey to the primary colors and variations thereof, it’s almost as if they’re mixing in a muddy brownish gray. They seem low value and medium chroma to me. Perhaps I should delve into some color theory to better categorize these?

In any case, I’m seeing a lot of them on the road over the past couple of years. Some seem reminiscent of the sorts of industrial colors one would have seen in public schools in the 1940s and 1950s on 20 gauge steel furnishings.

On Note Taking: Putting Ideas into a Crib

I mentioned the word incunable the other day, and a comment on it reminded me that I personally refer to my initial notes on what I read as incunabules. The original Latin (incunabulum, incunabula) translates as “into the crib” and is often used to mean swaddling clothes.

I use incunables in much the same way others in the personal knowledge management space might say fleeting notes. Ideas are born and written onto a page where they are kept in proverbial cribs. Some may grow and and develop into young adults others into old age. Some flourish and later senesce. Ideally one or two outlive me.

As is typical of many species, the care and feeding of the adolescents can be a trying time.

Featured image: LEGO Babies: Nonuplet Nursery flickr photo by cproppe shared under a Creative Commons (BY-NC) license

An Index for My Digital Commonplace Book

In reading about the history of commonplace books, I figured it’d be nice to have a full listing of all the categories and tags on my website for public reference. So I’ve now added an Index page.

I must admit that with a tiny amount of research and set up, I’ve now got something that even John Locke could be jealous of.

For my future self or others interested, I’m using Multi-column Tag Map which has a variety of short codes for implementing various forms of output. Sadly it wasn’t tagged with the word index, so it took some time to find it.

I’ve always had my own administrative interface for this data as well as search and even programmatic tag completion which makes writing and posting easier. However since a lot of what I do is in the public, perhaps it will be useful for readers to have access to the same full list instead of the abbreviated ones that appear as tag clouds or in various sidebars on the site?

Currently I’ve got over 9,000 different tags on the site. Perhaps displaying them publicly will help motivate me to curate and manage them a bit better. I already see a handful of repeated versions based on spelling, spacing, or typos that could be cleaned up. Let’s go crazy!

We’re Not All That: High School is America in miniature

High school is just a bunch of scared people pretending they’re not.
—Cameron Kweller portrayed by Tanner Buchanan in He’s All That (Netflix, 2021)

While not exact, this quote is incredibly similar in tone to a quote from a columnist in June 1928, which has been oft repeated and slightly modified since including versions by Will Rogers and in Fight Club.

Americanism: Using money you haven’t earned to buy things you don’t need to impress people you don’t like.
—Robert Quillen, The Detroit Free Press, Page 6, Column 4, Detroit, Michigan. June 4, 1928

It’s all about image and being what we’re not.

Apparently the message of the original film She’s All That was completely lost. I’m not sure the current incarnation of this remake will be an inflection point either.

Gardens and Streams II: An IndieWebCamp Pop-up Session on Wikis, Digital Gardens, Online Commonplace Books, Zettelkasten and Note Taking

Event Details

Date: Saturday, September 25, 2021
Time: 9:00 AM – 1:00 PM Pacific
Event page: https://events.indieweb.org/2021/09/gardens-and-streams-ii-pPUbyYME33V4

We’ll discuss and brainstorm ideas related to wikis, commonplace books, digital gardens, zettelkasten, and note taking on personal websites and how they might interoperate or communicate with each other. This can include IndieWeb building blocks, user interfaces, functionalities, and everyones’ ideas surrounding these. Bring your thoughts, ideas, and let’s discuss (and build).

This will be a continuation of the ideas from the Garden and Stream pop up session in 2020. Everyone is welcome and need not have attended prior sessions.


We’ll try to do something between a traditional all day IndieWebCamp and a single session pop-up over the span of several hours so that we can accommodate a brief introduction and three BarCamp topic related sessions. Feel free to brainstorm session ideas in advance of the mini-camp, but we’ll choose session topics the morning of the event.

Tentative Schedule

All times Pacific.

  • 9:00 AM 30 minute introduction & IndieWeb building blocks
  • 9:30 AM 20 minute session pitches and scheduling
  • 9:50 AM 10 minute break
  • 10:00 AM 60 minute Session 1 (including 10 minute break)
  • 11:00 AM 60 minute Session 2 (including 10 minute break)
  • 12:00 PM 50 minute Session 3
  • 12:50 PM 10 minute closing remarks
  • 1:00 PM pop up finished

Hack day? Yes, we’ll all gather the following day for 3 hours at roughly the same time with a short demo session to follow for folks to show off what they’ve been working on. Details for this will be forthcoming.

Everyone is welcome to attend.


RSVP (optional)

And if none of the above methods means anything to you or you can’t log in to use them, don’t worry about it; just show up on the day!

Questions? Concerns? Volunteers?

Feel free to ask in the IndieWeb chat: https://chat.indieweb.org/indieweb/ or post a question below or on the call for volunteers post.

Social Media, Fast and Slow

I like the differentiation that Jared has made here on his homepage with categories for “fast” and “slow” posts.

It’s reminiscent of the system 1 (fast) and system2 (slow) ideas behind Kahneman and Tversky’s work in behavioral economics. (See Thinking, Fast and Slow)

It’s also interesting in light of this tweet which came up recently:

Because the Tweet was shared out of context several years later, someone (accidentally?) replied to it as if it were contemporaneous. When called out for not watching the date of the post, their reply was “you do slow web your way…”#

This gets one thinking. Perhaps it would help more people’s contextual thinking if more sites specifically labeled their posts as fast and slow (or gave a 1-10 rating)? Sometimes the length of a response is an indicator of the thought put into it, thought not always as there’s also the oft-quoted aphorism: “If I Had More Time, I Would Have Written a Shorter Letter”.

The ease of use of the UI on Twitter seems to broadly make it a platform for “fast” posting which can too often cause ruffled feathers, sour feelings, anger, and poor communication.

What if there were posting UIs (or micropub clients) that would hold onto your responses for a few hours, days, or even a week and then remind you about them after that time had past to see if they were still worth posting? This is a feature based on Abraham Lincoln’s idea of a “hot letter” or angry letter, which he advised people to write often, but never send.

Where is the social media service for hot posts that save all your vituperation, but don’t show them to anyone? Or which maybe posts them anonymously?

The opposite of some of this are the partially baked or even fully thought out posts that one hears about anecdotally, but which the authors say they felt weren’t finish and thus didn’t publish them. Wouldn’t it be better to hit publish on these than those nasty quick replies? How can we create better UI to solve for this?

I saw a sitcom a few years ago where a girl admonished her friend (an oblivious boy) for liking really old Instagram posts of a girl he was interested in. She said that deep-liking old photos was an obvious and overt sign of flirting.

If this is the case then there’s obviously a social standard of sorts for this, so why not hold your tongue in the meanwhile, and come up with something more thought out to send your digital love to someone instead of providing a (knee-)jerk reaction?

Of course now I can’t help but think of the annotations I’ve been making in my copy of Lucretius’ On the Nature of Things. Do you suppose that Lucretius knows I’m in love?

Humanity is the medium. Humanity is the message.

While contemplating orality and indigenous cultures and how they used their own memories, conversation, and dialectic as a means of communicating and storing their knowledge, I thought about Marshall McLuhann’s idea “the medium is the message.” In this framing, indigenous cultures certainly got things right: Humanity is the medium. Humanity is the message.

Life imitates art. We shape our tools and thereafter they shape us.
— John M. Culkin, “A Schoolman’s Guide to Marshall McLuhan” (The Saturday Review, March 1967)

Culkin’s framing also makes humanity its own self-contained tool (hopefully for the greater good). We shape our brains and thereafter our brains shape us. While we may use technology and tools, props, and crutches to help us do more or do faster, we shouldn’t loose sight of our humanity. It may be our greatest technology. Perhaps we need to remember to pull it out of our toolbox more often as it’s better evolved and often better fit for more jobs than the tools we’re apt to turn to.

Hypothes.is + Obsidian = Hypothesidian for easier note taking and formatting

Anyone who knows me knows that I love Hypothes.is for all my online highlighting, annotating, and general note taking. They also know that if one isn’t actively using their notes to some better end, then it’s likely not worth having taken them at all, so I store mine in markdown in Obsidian for future-proofing and portability.

Hypothes.is + Obsidian

A while back I came across RoamHacker’s work to dovetail Hypothes.is for use in Obsidian and finally managed to get it up and running with my Obsidian vault. I’ve previously outlined a method for pulling in my notes from Hypothes.is using RSS, however this doesn’t give one any formatting capabilities and it also doesn’t provide any of the Hypothes.is tags as RSS has no layer for taxonomies.

RoamHacker’s work, which leverages the Templater Plugin for Obsidian, fixes both of these problems. I suspect that I’ll keep my prior method in place to create the individual notes, but use this additional work to clean up my fleeting notes from Hypothes.is in my actual commonplace book. Since there’s no server involved, it’s harder to automate the entire process so that every time you create notes they’re automatically ported across either in real-time or in batches every few hours.

Formatting your notes

I did spend some time last night to modify some of RoamHacker’s code to re-format the annotations to better suit my current notes format and layout. I’m excerpting the most relevant part below, but the entire Gist can also be downloaded or further modified for easier copy/pasting into one’s own vault for the needed set up.

I’ve only modified the section of the original Gist at the bottom that follows the line:

The changes still keep all the relevant data fields, but reorder them and add a bit of formatting to fit the layout and the way I use my Obsidian notebook. I changed the formatting so that tags in Hypothes.is are turned into [[wikilinks]] rather than #⁠hashtags as in the original. (The original also doesn’t do so well with multi-word tags, which I use quite a lot.)

Hopefully the small changes I’ve made and comparison with the original Gist will allow those who aren’t as code-savvy to better understand the template and potentially let them make changes to suit their own needs.

if (tp.file.content.length==0) {
  //likely a new document, insert front matter
  tR += `---\n`;
  tR += `fileType: HypothesisAnnotations\n`;
  tR += `creationDate: ${tp.date.now('YYYY-MM-DD')} \n`;
  tR += `annotationDate: ${articleAnnotations[0].created.substring(0,10)}\n`;
  tR += `uri: ${articleAnnotations[0].uri}\n`;
  tR += `---\n`;

tR += `# ${articleAnnotations[0].title}\n`
tR += `URL: ${articleAnnotations[0].uri}\n\n`

for( a of articleAnnotations) {
  let tags = '';
  let user = '';
  if(a.tags.length>0) tags = ' ' + (a.tags.map(t=> '[['+ t + ']]')).join(' ');
  if(insertUser) user = ' _(' + a.user.replace('acct:','').replace('@hypothes.is','') + ')_';
  if(a.text) tR += `${a.text}\n—[[${user}]]\n\n`;
  tR += `## Source \n`;
  tR += `> ${a.highlight}[^1]\n\n`;
  tR += `[^1]: [${articleAnnotations[0].title}](${articleAnnotations[0].uri}) | [syndication link](tk) \n`;
  tR += `\n---\ntags: \nlinks: ${tags} \n- broader terms (BT):  \n- narrower terms (NT):  \n- related terms (RT):  \n- used for (UF) or aliases:  \nconnected ideas:  \nMOC:  \n\n---\n`;

Differentiating online variations of the Commonplace Book: Digital Gardens, Wikis, Zettlekasten, Waste Books, Florilegia, and Second Brains

A fluorescence of note taking tools

Over the past three or so years there has been a fluorescence of digital note taking tools and platforms.

Some of these include:

Open source projects like Org Mode, Logseq, Foam, Jupyter, Trilium, Databyss, Athens, Dendron, Anagora, and Hypothes.is.

Closed sourced projects like: Roam Research, Notion, Knovigator, Amplenote, RemNote, Memex, Nototo, nvUltra, and Are.na.

Some are based on earlier incarnations of note taking and writing tools like OneNote, Evernote, Simple Note, TiddlyWiki, DEVONthink, Scrivener, etc.

This brief list doesn’t take into account a sea of other mobile apps and platforms in addition to a broad array of social media platforms that people use for similar note taking or annotations.

My particular interest in some of this note taking field comes in the growing number of people who are working in public and sharing their notes in online settings with others. This has been happening organically since the rise of the internet and has happened on blogs within the blogosphere and on personal and communal wikis.

As was highlighted (pun intended) at the recent I Annotate 2021 conference, the note taking space seems to have been coming to a new boil. With the expansion of the ideas of keeping a zettelkasten or a digital garden, these versions of notebooks seem to be a significant part of this new note taking craze.

One thing I have noticed, however, is a dramatic lack of continuity in the history of note taking within the longue durée of Western civilization. (Other cultures including oral cultures have similar traditions, but for our purposes here, I won’t go into them except to say that they’re highly valuable, spectacularly rich, and something of which we should all be aware.)

Many of these products are selling themselves based on ideas or philosophies which sound and even feel solid, but they’re completely ignoring their predecessors to the tune of feeling like they’re trying to reinvent the wheel. As a result, some of the pitches for these products sound like they’re selling snake oil rather than tried and true methods that go back over 2,000 years of intellectual history. I can only presume that modern education is failing us all dramatically. People are “taught” (maybe told is the better verb) to take notes in school, but they’re never told why, what to do with them, or how to leverage them for maximum efficiency. Perhaps the idea has been so heavily imbued into our culture we’ve honestly forgotten the basic parts and reasoning behind it?

Even Vannevar Bush’s dream of the Memex as stated in his article As We May Think (The Atlantic, 1945), which many of these note taking applications might point to as an inspiration, ignores this same tradition and background, so perhaps these app creators and users aren’t all to blame?

Delineating Online Forms

I’ve been doing some serious reading and research into these traditions to help uncover our missing shared history. I’ll write something longer and more specific about them at a later date.

In the meanwhile, I want to outline just a bit about the various flavors as they relate to some of the more public online versions that I see in the related internet spaces. I hope to help better delineate what they have in common, how they differ, and what they may still add to the mix to get us to a more robust version of Bush’s dream.

Other’s thoughts and comments about these various incarnations and their forms and functions are both encouraged and appreciated.

Commonplace books

Historically commonplace books are one of the oldest and most influential structures in the note taking, writing, and thinking space. They have generally been physical books written by hand that contain notes which are categorized by headings (or in a modern context categories or tags. Often they’re created with an index to help their creators find and organize their notes.

They originated in ancient Greece and Rome out of the thought of Aristotle and Cicero as a tool for thinking and writing and have generally enjoyed a solid place in history since. A huge variety of commonplaces have been either copied by hand or published in print book form over the centuries.

Most significant thinkers, writers, and creators throughout history have kept something resembling a commonplace book. While many may want to attribute the output of historical figures like Erasmus, Newton, Darwin, Leibnitz, Locke, or Emerson to sheer genius (and many often do), I might suggest that their works were the result of sustained work of creating personal commonplace books—somewhat like a portable Google search engine for their day, but honed to their particular interests. (One naturally can’t ignore their other many privileges like wealth, education, and time to do this work, which were also certainly a significant factor in their success.)

Many people over the past quarter of a century have used a variety of digital forms to keep digital commonplace books including public versions on blogs, wikis, and other software for either public or private consumption.


Florilegia are a subcategory of commonplace book starting around 900 CE but flourishing in the 12th and 13th centuries and primarily kept by theologians and preachers. The first were a series of short excerpted passages often arranged in order of their appearance in a single text, but eventually were arranged systematically under discrete headings. Medieval florilegia where overwhelmingly, and often exclusively, concerned with religious topics from the works of scriptures, the moral dicta of the Doctors of the Church, and—less frequently—the teachings of approved, classical moral philosophers. The idea and form of florilegium generally merged back into the idea of the commonplace book which had renewed interest and wide popularity during the Renaissance.

These didn’t add any new or innovative features over what had come before. Perhaps, if anything, they were a regression because they so heavily focused only on religion as a topic.

Few (if any) examples of florilegia can be found in modern digital contexts. Though I have seen some people talk about using digital note taking tools for religious study, I have yet to see public versions online.


Born out of the commonplace tradition with modifications by Conrad Gessner (1516-1565) and descriptions by Johann Jacob Moser (1701–1785), the Zettelkasten, a German word translated as “slip box”, is generally a collection of highly curated atomic notes collected on slips of paper or index cards. Zettelkasten were made simpler to create and maintain with the introduction of the mass manufacture of index cards (and card boxes and furniture) in the early 20th century. Slips of paper which were moveable within books or files and later on index cards were a significant innovation in terms of storing and organizing a commonplace book.

Generally zettels (or cards) are organized by topics and often contain dates and other taxonomies or serialized numbers as a means of linking them to other cards within the system. The cross linking of these cards (and thus ideas) were certainly a historical physical precursor of the internet we have today, simply in digital form.

Almost all the current references I’ve seen online to Zettelkasten mention Niklas Luhmann as their inspiration, but none of them reference any other well-known historical examples despite the fact the idea has been around and evolving for several centuries now.

This productivity system and sets of digital tools around it came to greater attention in Germany in 2013 with the exhibition “Zettelkästen: Machines of Fantasy” at the Museum of Modern Literature, Marbach am Neckar and in 2014 with the launch of the zettelkasten.de website. A subsequent boost in the English speaking world occurred following the publication of Sönke Ahrens’s book How to Take Smart Notes – One Simple Technique to Boost Writing, Learning and Thinking – for Students, Academics and Nonfiction Book Writers in February 2017. The recent ability to use platforms like Roam Research, Obsidian, Notion, et al. has helped to fan the flames of their popularization.

More often than not, most of these digital tools (like their card-based predecessors) are geared toward private personal use rather than an open public model. Roam Research and Obsidian Publish have features which allow public publishing. TiddlyWiki is also an excellent tool for this as its so-called Tiddlers have a card-based appearance and can be placed in custom orders as well as transcluded, but again not many are available to the online public.

Waste books/Sudelbücher

This sub-genre of notebooks comes out of the tradition of double-entry book keeping where accountants often kept a daily diary of all transactions in chronological order. These temporary notes were then later moved into a more permanent accounting ledger and the remaining book was considered “waste”.

In the commonplace book tradition, these books for temporary notes or (fleeting notes in a Zettelkasten framing), might eventually be copied over, expanded, and indexed into one’s permanent commonplace collection.

In modern digital settings, one might consider some of the ephemeral social media stream platforms like Twitter to be a digital version of a waste book, though to my knowledge I may be the first person to suggest this connection. (To be clear, others have certainly mentioned Twitter as being a waste and even a wasteland.)


Inspired, in part, by Apple’s HyperCard, Ward Cunningham created the first public wiki on his website on March 25, 1995. Apple had designed a system allowing users to create virtual “card stacks” supporting links among the various cards (sound familiar?). HyperCard was designed as a single user system.

Wikis allowed multiple users to author and edit pages on the web with a basic web browser. They were also able to create meaningful links and associations between pages, whether they existed or not using [[WikiLinks]]. They were meant to allow the average visitor to participate in an ongoing process of creation and collaboration.

Here there is some innovative user interface as well as the ability to collaborate with others in keeping a commonplace book. Transclusion of one page into another is a useful feature here.

Personal wikis have been used (as have many blogs) for information aggregation and dissemination over the years in a manner similar to their historical predecessors.

Second brain

Second brain is a marketing term which stands in for the idea of the original commonplace book. It popped up in the note taking context in early 2017 for promoting the use of commonplace books techniques using Tiago Forte’s expensive online course Building a Second Brain which focused on capturing, organizing, and sharing your knowledge using (digital) notes. It is a platform agnostic method for improving productivity wholly using the commonplace underpinning.

Google searches for this term will be heavily mixed in with results about the gastrointestinal system being the body’s “second brain”, the enteric nervous system, second brain tumors, a debunked theory that dinosaurs had two brains, and other general health-related topics.

Some websites, personal wikis and other online versions will use the phrase second brain, but they generally have no innovative features that are missing from prior efforts. Again, I view the phrase simply as marketing with no additional substance.

Digital Gardens

Informed heavily by their cultural predecessors in commonplace books, zettelkasten, and wikis, digital gardens are digital first note collections which are primarily public by default and encourage the idea of working in public.

Digital Gardens arose more formally in 2019 and 2020 out of the work and influence of Mark Bernstein’s 1998 essay Hypertext Gardens: Delightful Vistas, Ward Cunningham’s Smallest Federated Wiki (which just celebrated it’s 10th anniversary), Mike Caulfield’s essays including The Garden and the Stream: A Technopastoral as well as some influence from the broader IndieWeb Community and their focus on design and user interface.

Digital garden design can often use the gardening metaphor to focus attention on an active tending and care of one’s personal knowledge base and building toward new knowledge or creations. The idea of planting a knowledge “seed” (a note), tending it gradually over time with regular watering and feeding in a progression of 🌱 Seedlings → 🌿 Budding → 🌳 Evergreen is a common feature.

There are a growing number of people with personal digital gardens in public. Many are built on pre-existing wiki software like WikiMedia, the Smallest Federated Wiki, or TiddlyWiki, static site generators like Jekyll, note taking platforms like Obsidian Publish and Roam Research, or even out of common blogging software like WordPress. A growing common feature of these platforms is that they not only link out to resources on the open web, but contain bidirectional links within themselves using either custom code (in a wiki-like manner) or using the W3C Webmention specification.

The Future?

With luck, application and platform designers and users will come to know more about the traditions, uses, and workflows of our rich cultural note taking history. Beyond this there are a few innovations, particularly in the public-facing arena which could be useful, but which aren’t broadly seen or available yet.

Still missing from the overall personal knowledge and note taking space is a more tightly integrated version of both a garden and a stream (in Mike Caulfield’s excellent framing) that easily allows interaction between the two arenas. Some of the more blog-based sites with notes, bookmarks, articles and IndieWeb friendly building blocks like Webmention, feeds (RSS, JSON Feed, h-feed), Micropub, and Microsub integrations may come the closest to this ideal.

One of the most fascinating recent entrants on the scene is Flancian’s Anagora which he uses as a personal commonplace book in a wiki-esque style. Over other incarnations it also has the ability to pull in and aggregate the notes of other digital commonplace books to create a larger marketplace of ideas. It also includes collaborative note taking space using Etherpad, which I’ve seen as a standalone tool, but never integrated into a digital commonplace book.

Ultimately, my dream—similar to that of Bush’s—is for individual commonplace books to be able to communicate not only with their users in the Luhmann-esqe sense, but also communicate with each other.

Niklas Luhmann apparently said:

Ohne zu schreiben, kann man nicht denken; jedenfalls nicht in anspruchsvoller, anschlussfähiger Weise.

(Translation) You cannot think without writing; at least not in a sophisticated, connectable way.

I think his conceptualization of “connectable” was much more limited and limiting than he might have guessed. Vannevar Bush, as the academic advisor of Claude Shannon, the godfather of the modern digital age, was more prepared to envision it.

(Luhmann’s “you” in his quote is obviously only a Western cultural referent which erases the existence of oral based cultures which have other ways to do their sophisticated thinking. His ignorant framing on the topic shouldn’t be a shared one.)

This post has grown out of my own personal commonplace book, portions of which are on housed on my blog, in a wiki, and in a private repository of which I hope to make more public soon. Further thoughts, ideas and expansions of it are more than welcome.

I’ve slowly been updating pieces of the history along with examples on shared commonplaces in both the IndieWeb Wiki and Wikipedia under the appropriate headings. Feel free to browse those or contribute to them as you would, at least until our digital commonplace books can communicate with each other.

I’d also invite those who are interested in this topic and who have or want online spaces to do this sort of thing to join us at the proposed upcoming Gardens and Streams II IndieWebCamp Pop up session which is being planned for later this Summer or early Fall. Comment below, stop by the page or chat to indicate your interest in attending.

Planning for Gardens and Streams II: An IndieWebCamp pop-up session on Wikis, Digital Gardens, online Commonplace Books, and note taking

Following this past week’s I Annorate 2021 note taking sessions and the original Gardens and Steams IndieWeb pop up event last year, I thought it wold be a good idea to have a structured and open follow up.

I’ve sketched out some ideas on the IndieWeb wiki at https://indieweb.com/2021/Pop-ups/Sessions#Gardens_and_Streams_II. Feel free to share your ideas there or indicate your interest and preferred dates. If you have ideas for discussion sessions within the pop up, feel free to start sharing those as well. These should be discussion oriented. Depending on interest/demand we can add additional tracks, days, and times as necessary.

You can also use the IndieWeb chat as well. See their chat page for other methods for joining the chat using your favorite platform.

This will be a volunteer-led BarCamp style online event, so help in organizing and executing is greatly appreciated. The more help we get, the easier it is to do and the more we can potentially accomplish. Participants must agree to abiding by their Code of Conduct.

Course Announcement: The Art of Memory

I’m teaching an upcoming course on the Art of Memory. It’ll be an hour a week for five weeks starting on July 10th at 10:00 am on Saturday mornings. I’ll be using the online learning platform Hyperlink.Academy. I hope you’ll have the chance to join me and a group of people interested in exploring the topic.

I’ve had a personal memory practice since I was about eleven years old. I started with an old correspondence course from the 1940s that I found on my parents’ bookshelf. I remember thinking at the time that it was pretty expansive. I’ve realized that the original system I learned was only a small fraction of some of the powerful techniques that humankind has created and evolved over the last 20,000 years. Sadly, the majority of this knowledge, which was once commonplace, has disappeared in Western culture.

As a kid, I used the techniques as they pertained to magic and parlor tricks like counting cards and Rubic’s cubes. Later I learned how to bend and apply them other methods. I learned new methods and used them to memorize material for classes. I discovered I could remember vast troves of information both for pleasure and for work.

Since then, I’ve been researching into the history of mnemotechniques in Western culture. I’ve been uncovering the practice in other oral and indigenous cultures. As a result, I’ve seen and experimented with dozens of other methods. Some are better and more flexible than others.

It’s rare that I encounter people familiar with even one or two of these methods. There are lots of books and internet fora dedicated to some of them. They’re generally esoteric, incomplete, or both. On the whole, they’re difficult to discover, and often even harder to learn—much less practice.

In 2011, Joshua Foer ignited some interest with his book Moonwalking With Einstein: The Art and Science of Remembering Everything. He describes the magic of some of the extant systems and nibbles around the edges. But he doesn’t detail how to enter the space and leaves the topic as esoteric as he began. His book motivates the “why”, but doesn’t describe the practical “how”.

I have seen and read scores of hucksterish and facile approaches. They usually outline a handful of memory “tricks” which some people use intuitively. Most touch on only one or two aspects of a much larger and richer memory tradition.

I’ve also followed some of the bigger memory-related sites online. They discuss many pieces of the whole. But they don’t help newcomers get a bigger picture of what is possible or how to start a practice. Most people want something more practical for daily life. Many start out with interest, but they don’t get very far before abandoning the idea because they don’t find the benefit.

I know there is an easier way.

Based on my experience, I’d like to provide a solid overview and history of the topic. My goal is to give beginners a practical entry point. We’ll look at and practice the bigger and most useful techniques. We’ll also discuss some of the lesser known methods and where they can be applied.

I encourage students to bring a practical list of things they’d like to memorize for use in the course.

After a few weeks, students should have a solid base of knowledge upon which to found a regular memory practice for the rest of their lives.

Those interested can read a copy of the syllabus. If you have any questions about the course or want to discuss if it’s right for you, please reach out.

If you can’t join us for the first cohort this summer, I’ll likely offer it again in either the Fall or Winter.

I look forward to seeing everyone in class.

Jake Reeder’s Return to Cinder site and related Databyss platform

The coolest thing I think I saw at I Annotate 2021 today was Jake Reeder’s commonplace book for his reading notes and annotations. It’s very IndieWeb in some of the coolest ways.

He apparently began collecting his notes and annotations of Jacques Derrida using paper and pen, but transferred them into the cleverly named website Return to Cinder.

The site ultimately grew to include additional writers and works (thus also making it a personal library of sorts. It ultimately became valuable enough to Reeder that, with the help of Paul Hine for development they turned his site into a note taking platform available for other people called Databyss, which appears to be a silo note taking platform that allows users to:

Write and cite, research and re-search, and never get lost in Databyss. Welcome to your new word processor.

Users can register for a free account which includes hosting and storage, though doesn’t appear to allow custom domain names. I’m not clear what the potential business model is or may be, so be sure you’ve got the ability to back up and save your data elsewhere just in case. The interface looks very similar to Roam Research and some of the similar products in that same niche, though in this case the result is online rather than necessarily a private local repository or a private space in the cloud.

While the lack of end game for Databyss might worry me, the user interface examples of Jake’s personal site and the bigger platform are fascinating for the overall space. It would be cool to see how other IndieWeb building blocks might be included in these platforms to expand the space of both personal libraries and digital gardens.

Some brief thoughts on I Annotate 2021 from today

I both learned and had a lot of fun at I Annotate 2021 today. Since annotation is something I do literally on a daily basis (pun intended), it’s nice to devote some significant time to thinking about the idea and the process as well as to see and hear how others practice it in a wide variety of settings.

For those catching up, I’ve posted a number of items, bookmarks, reads, notes, and annotations to my website today under the I Annotate 2021 tag. You can find copies of most of it mirrored on Hypothesis (along with others using the same tag) at #⁠IAnno21.

I’ve also started a Twitter list of folks who are participating there as well if you care to either follow the list and/or quickly follow other participants. Drop me a note if you know of some I’m either missing or ought to add to the list.

One of my favorite parts is seeing a variety of non-education specific people joining in the conversation.

I can’t wait to see what Ward Cunningham and others have to say about the Future of Note Taking tomorrow. It portends to be my favorite topic of the conference though I’ll reserve judgement until the end.

I can’t see a good/convenient place to arrange a Birds of a Feather (BoF) note taking hallway discussion in the Lounge in tomorrow’s schedule unless we do it at the very end of the day. This would mean potentially missing some people from Europe who I know would like to participate. Perhaps I’ll put something together either for Wednesday morning before the official program or during the 2:30-3:00 PM slot between some of the bigger sessions? Let me know if you’d like to participate. I’m also not sure about the potential limit of 4 people at each of the Lounge areas; if we need more space, perhaps we’ll adjourn to Zoom or a similar platform?