My Obsidian Setup

I use Obsidian on a daily basis for my office work and frequently for personal notes. Recently, my brother discovered Obsidian and we started talking about setup and usage. So here’s my Obsidian setup, for his reference and mine –

  • My office Obsidian syncs with Google Drive. This is not actually for syncing but for backups. My personal Obsidian syncs with iCloud Drive, which makes it available on my phone as well as my laptop.
  • I use a lot of folders and frequently need to move files into different folders. For this purpose, I’ve overridden the Cmd + M hotkey from minimizing Obsidian to “Move current file into another folder”. This pops up a nice folder selection interface.
  • I also use File Properties a lot, primarily to track whether the file is “done” or not. So I use the Obsidian preferred Cmd + ; hotkey to add a property.
  • I use Obsidian also for Task tracking, so I have my Tasks file pinned too. I’ll talk in a minute about how I use the tasks plugin.
  • I have the AnuPpuccin theme installed and set to Dark mode. Most of the settings for this theme are set using the “Style Settings” Community plugin, which I’ll talk about in a bit.
  • I have most of the Core Plugins turned on. The ones I use are –
    • The very first one is the Word Count Core Plugin. That’s a great feature for me, specially when I’m writing emails.
    • I also use the Daily Notes Core Plugin religiously. For every meeting, I hit the little Daily Note icon and then add the meeting name/details to the title of the file. This let’s me hit the Daily Note icon over and over and just keep my meeting notes organized and easier to find.
    • I also use the Templates Core Plugin religiously. I have a type of meeting for which I’ve made a template and simply use the Cmd + p hotkey to open the Command Palette and go to “Insert Template” and insert my one created template.
  • I also use a LOT of community plugins. Here are the names along with specific settings and reasons for using these plugins –
    • The very first plugin I installed was Style Settings, in order to customize the AnuPpuccin theme. This is based on the recommendations on the theme GitHub page as well as someone’s blog post which I was following to setup Obsidian the first time. The main setting I turned on is under Workspace -> Rainbow Folders. I set the Rainbow style to “Simple”. The idea here is that the names of the folders change in a beautiful rainbow colors gradient. The more folders you have, the prettier it looks. If you set it to “Full”, the entire block of the folder changes color. That might be desirable to some. So test it out and let me know!
    • I also have plugins to “Send to Ghost” and “WordPress”, which let me publish to Ghost and to my WordPress blog. In fact, I’m writing this blog post in Obsidian and will be using the WordPress plugin to post to my blog.
    • I also use the Tasks Community Plugin which is a powerful tool. It took me a while to learn about it. You can use it to create tasks in every file you create and have them all collected in a single file. Basically, this plugin takes over the - [ ] markdown task pattern and lets you add due dates, priority, etc. You can also use the Command Palette and “Create or edit task” and it’ll pop up a very nice interface to deal with the creation process. Then, you can create a specific Tasks document as specified in the plugin docs to collect all of your tasks from across your vault and view them in one place. The best part is that each task is linked back to the file where it comes from.
    • I’ve also installed a plugin called “Various Compliments” which allows for a Fuzzy Search of text for autocompletion. You can choose to use only the current file or the entire vault, or even a custom dictionary as your source for autocompletion. This plugin is so useful that I don’t know how I was surviving before it! It does come in the way once in a while, since I’ve turned on autocompletion instead of only offering autocompletion options. But like with everything else in Obsidian, this is a choice and you can choose what to do here.
    • I also use a plugin called “Paste URL into selection”. By default, if you select some text and paste a URL on it, Obsidian just overwrites your text with the URL. This makes the UX closer to how we’ve come to expect web interfaces and markdown to be – it creates a link with the selected text as the anchor.
    • Lastly, I wanted to use a plugin called “Enhanced Copy” but it’s not released into the Obsidian plugins list. It’s only available through the GitHub repo. The plugin simply lets me control the behavior of how Obsidian copies out text from my notes. Usually, it only gives me 2 spaces for bullet point indentation. I prefer 4. This plugin let’s me make those changes.
    • In order to install the “Enhanced Copy” plugin from GitHub, I had to install a plugin called “BRAT”, which stands for “Beta-Reviewer’s Autoupdate Tool”. It lets you install beta plugins from GitHub repos. Though I wonder if people using it are reviewers at all. I’m not.
  • Now, on to how I use Obsidian –
    • I make a new file for every meeting using the Daily Notes button. Then I rename the title to be “date – topic”.
    • I organize my notes at the end of the day or at the end of the week into topic-specific folders. I use properties as a means of reminding me of certain tasks I need to perform before considering a note as “Done”.
    • I use Tasks extensively, though I often move the dates around. The idea is that I should check into that file daily or multiple times a day to see what’s up next from my ToDo.
    • I also keep some running topics as Pinned because I need to work on them slowly.
    • Also, this post was written in Obsidian and published through the WordPress plugin. 🙂

Refreshing my RSS feeds list

Welp, I’ve done it this time. I was fiddling with some settings in my current feed reader of choice – Fiery Feeds – and I hit a sync button that’s meant to download everything from iCloud and rebuild the database. Turns out, iCloud is, as usual, not good at actually saving important data. Part of this is my fault. I have had some 14,000 unread items in there, and about 900 feeds. Sync would often time out and almost never complete.

So I lost all my feeds. As I stared at it dumbly, waiting for the feeds to come back, a calm came over me. This is what inbox zero feels like. When, after multiple forced syncs later, nothing happened, I was relieved.

I thought about it. The last OPML export I have is from December of 2019. I’ve added maybe 20 feeds since then, which are now lost. If I import the OPML, I’ll get back my starred items and general state, but I’ll not get back the calm.

So, I’ve decided to do an overhaul of my feeds. I know a lot of sites I’ve subscribed to either don’t exist any more, or haven’t updated in a while. So it’s time to shed the load.

Working through this large an OPML file is a chore. First, I tried to do it manually. Too much work. Then I tried to find tools to help. I found a six year old github repo to find dead feeds. It found a few, but mostly got it wrong. Instead, I’ve imported the OPML to my Firefox LiveMarks extension. It’s not the perfect solution, but at least I’m able to go through the list faster and cull it satisfactorily.

Other than the feeds that are dead, I’m also striving to shed some weight. At some point, I subbed to some GTD and Productivity feeds. Deleted those. It’s no longer my area of interest. Older still are feeds related to Network Engineering. It’s what my MS is in, but it’s no longer my main area of concern. So I’ve removed those. I’m also removing webcomics that haven’t been updated since mid-2019. There are quite a few of those. Frankly, it’s fine if the authors want to take a break. I, too, don’t update my blog often. But there are other ways for me to discover their content. Tapas and Instagram are doing a good job, so I’m going to lean on those for my comic needs. This doesn’t mean all webcomics are going away from my feeds. On the contrary, I’m keeping most of them, specially long-running stories that I follow keenly, like Gaia comic, and Slack Wyrm. But others are out.

At some point I also subscribed to a lot of programming related blogs. Those are nice navel-gazing, but ultimately worthless to me. I’m not a programmer, I’m a scripter. I’m not into deep programming concepts even on the languages that are my bread, butter, and jam – python and JavaScript. So for me to sub to serious computer scientists and programmers was a mistake then, and is a mistake now. It’s not that I won’t glean something off them, just that I don’t need to, right now.

This is tough work, but it’ll be worth it in the end. Recently, I found out that a friend has a very strict gate on who she follows on Instagram. She has a roster of 99 people and whenever she has to follow someone new, she forces herself to remove one person from the list. I’ve never, ever removed a feed from my list. This is the same list I’ve been carrying around since my first RSS feed reader – Fever – and some items are even carried forward from Google Reader. I’ve always thought that at best, the feeds that die are not much extra weight than some processing cycles, and at worst, the items I don’t read get deleted at the end of my 15 days, one month, two months, 90 days limit. That moving limit is part of the cause of all this trouble I’m in.

But the largest forcing function is my feed reader. Fiery Feeds is an awesome piece of software and Lukas Burgstaller is an exceptional dev, and a highly responsive support person. But I made a conscious choice at one point to move away from all server-side RSS feed services and use Fiery Feeds’ native, on-device accounts. I’m paying for the app because I love and want to support it, so I might as well use the biggest feature Lukas has introduced. But this on-device, synced-via-iCloud system has its drawbacks, and this means that I can’t be an ignorant buffoon about my feeds any more. I have to shed, cull, strip, whatever you want to call it.

One very interesting thing I’ve done over time is to use to the best of its abilities. I do not like newsletters, but there’s a LOT of content that’s going to email newsletters exclusively nowadays, and that sucks. Kill The Newsletter converts these emails to RSS feed items. It’s not a perfect solution, specially since it’s a bit of a blackbox, but it works just fine for now and it’s FOSS, so I’m happy. So, these are a guilty pleasure I’m not getting rid of. We’ll see how this decision pans out. Maybe I’ll have to figure out a way to merge all newsletters into one RSS feed. Or use a dedicated app to read newsletters on my iPhone. There are a few of those out there now.

All in all, this is an exercise in refreshing and rethinking what I consume online. Hopefully, it’ll lead to a better feed reading experience for me.

Sourcing information

We all do most of our browsing on our phones. When we come across something we don’t know about, we google it to find out more. More often than not, the link that gives us the most information is either Wikipedia or a news site.

If it’s current affairs, it’s a news site. If it’s general information, Wikipedia. Then why do we still google the thing? Why waste time on the middleman? Is it force of habit? Is it because we believe that google will give us the most comprehensive information and links? Is it just laziness?

Perhaps it’s all of the above. Google is our one stop shop for all information. Whether we’re looking to buy something, looking for a website which we don’t often go to, looking for some news, or solving some mystery on the web, google will give you the knowledge you’re looking for. That’s a great product, regardless of any other implications on privacy, advertising, politics etc.

So why should we opt to change this excellent workflow? (Need information, ask google, get information)

Because it’s worth it to go to the source.

  • Google often scrapes data from Wikipedia, but most of the time, it’s incomplete. It’ll be the first line or paragraph in a topic that’s complex and needs some more study to understand. Or, google will tell you a part of the information, expecting you to select a link to learn more from. So why not go to the source directly?
  • When the topic is a current affair, Google will show you links that it judges to be of your interest, or of value to them (advertising, collaborations with sites like twitter which will be surfaced above others). Instead, if you go to a solution such as Apple News (or Google News perhaps) and search for the topic you’re looking for, you’ll see a more balanced perspective because all Apple News is doing is collecting links from various news sources and presenting those to you. Notice that I didn’t say you should go to a particular news site for this, because if you want real news, you’d better be looking at more than one source.

Now, how do we make this easier? How do we give up our google habit and go to the source? On mobile, the simplest way to do this is to move your apps around. On my phone, the Wikipedia app sits on the main home screen and the Apple News app sits inside a folder on the dock (most of the time, I end up searching for the news app on spotlight search, but I’m trying to get rid that habit too).

This is not ideal. In an ideal world, I would not have to go to each app individually to search for the topic at hand. I would be able to select a word or phrase and use the share sheet in iOS to jump to Wikipedia or Apple News, neither of which seem to support this simple functionality.

But those are the technical details, which may change at any time. What matters is where we source our information from and why. I recommend that you start cutting out the middleman and go directly to the sources, sites, and services that you trust, because those are the same ones your middleman trusts too. As for the why, well, start doing this and you’ll see a change in how you receive information and perceive the news. Search is good, but search algorithms may very well not be.

Some Windows tools

I’ve been using Windows as my choice of office OS for a long time. I have a Mac at home, but for office work, Windows seems like the best choice. But not Windows itself. It is the apps that make it my go-to OS and often I find myself looking at OS X and thinking, “well I’m glad I have Windows too!”

Here’s a small list of Windows apps which I use on a daily basis –

  1. Sublime Text 2 – the less said about this, the better. This is the King of code.
  2. WinSCP – you know how you want to find a simple tool to send files to your servers and just can never get the workflow right? Or you want to quickly edit your linux VPS’ .bashrc and hate ssh-ing, then opening the file in vim/nano/emacs/pico/whatevs? This is it. Easy to use and manage. Right-click-Edit to open any editable file in the right editor (mostly Sublime Text for me). Or move files in and out of servers with ease. When I want to look at large log files and can’t be bothered with the CLI, I open them in Sublime Text through WinSCP.
  3. mRemoteNG – I have yet to discover all the awesome features this tool has. Manage your SSH/Telnet/RDP/VNC connections in the same app, organize everything into folders and export the connections as a file in Dropbox for ultimate portability. I recently discovered that if you punch in and connect using HTTP/HTTPS, mRemoteNG fires off its in-built browser for your convenience. Woah!
  4. Rebex Tiny SFTP Server – recently, I got a Windows VM that I needed to send some files to. It was hooked up to the network, but not really setup. I looked for a solution and found rebex through this site. This thing works like a charm! I fired it off and started the default session (username: tester, password: password). The next moment, I had connected to it using WinSCP and was throwing files at it like a pro.
  5. CLink – I’ve only recently added this to my workflow. It makes the Windows command line so much better. The most important thing I needed in there is a persistent history, which Microsoft has till now ignored. CLink does the job and then some!

Notice that I’m talking about a very specific environment here. I’m in the networking-software testing world. But if you’re ever in a fix about what tool to use to edit code on Windows, or fling files between two networked but not truly connected machines, or are looking for a way to SSH into your servers across the world, these are the best tools out there.

I may add tools to this list as I go about discovering what else is out there. But that’s all for now.