Welcome to my digital garden

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
How does your garden grow?
With new ideas and wonder
And possibility all in a row

I’m about half way through the Roam FM interview with Maggie Appleton. Maggie has just described her digital garden as a placeholder for ideas to grow and ripen in public. That struck me as very much what the garden in Quantum Gardener has always meant. It’s never been a place for me to write the perfect words. I don’t have time for that and the value isn’t there.

My digital garden has always been a place for sharing ideas that I have in the hope they trigger ideas in others. A place for conversation, reflection and thinking. In conversation we never hold back for the right words before speaking (though sometimes we should) otherwise we would never say anything.

Whenever I was reorganising or curating my PersonalBrain the term I would use was "gardening".

I’m hearing lots from people using Roam Research as a staging area for collating ideas before publishing. I can understand that as an academic you need to do that with a high degree of rigour. For many others however, perhaps Roam is your garden shed with seeds and once you’re ready you can take them to your garden for your ideas to grow in the sun and be enjoyed by others. Even a budding seed can be full of wonder.

The Wickedness of Covid-19

"In planning and policy, a wicked problem is a problem that is difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognise. It refers to an idea or problem that cannot be fixed, where there is no single solution to the problem; and "wicked" denotes resistance to resolution, rather than evil. Another definition is "a problem whose social complexity means that it has no determinable stopping point". Moreover, because of complex interdependencies, the effort to solve one aspect of a wicked problem may reveal or create other problems." Wikipedia contributors. (2020, June 17). Wicked problem. In Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved 09:12, August 3, 2020, from https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Wicked_problem&oldid=963013201

This sounds exactly like our response to Covid-19. Some will no doubt argue that actions taken or not taken are correct – from the point of view of their professional knowledge; but no one person or body can comprehend the full social/economic/menta/wellbeing effect of it all.

Even when this is done and dusted, we will never know if we’ve taken the right actions. All we can do, as at any point of decision, is make the best decision we can at the time.

They Gave Us Laughter (revisited)

This is a revisit of a post originally from May 20th, 2012.

The world has moved on once again and we’re now in uncharted territory. At a time when my daughters are coming into adulthood I’m conscious of a wave of experiences they are missing out on and will never have a chance to regain. But they will have different positive experiences in their lives. Of that I’m sure.


I love things that make me feel a strong sense of nostalgia. Many of us do. Yesterday I watched The Muppets after missing it in the cinema earlier this year (twice in fact). My post on Facebook said it all.

I laughed. I cried. I spent most of the movie doing both.

A can of TaB took me back to my uncle’s house when my brother and I would holiday there. The sound of a modem dialling had me laugh out loud and attract the stares of my girls who didn’t understand what I found funny. Most of it it was the Muppets themselves. Sometimes we don’t realise we are missing something from our lives, and how important it was to us at the time, until it returns. Time travel happens when we least expect it.

But, as Roland Deschain says so frequently in his quest for The Dark Tower, the world has moved on. And I have moved with it. I wonder what my daughters will have for nostalgia in their future?

We are just starting this Covid-19 journey in Australia. Don’t think it’s anything otherwise.

Today the number of confirmed Covid-19 cases in Australia has crested 16,000. In my home state of Victoria, cases have been rising steadily from the start of July with today a country record of 700+ new cases in a day, and the number of deaths reported daily increasing as well.

These are not as severe as many other places in the world and for that I am glad. However, there is a prevailing attitude, pushed by the media, that we are in a "second wave" which is sure to peak soon (ie. tomorrow) and that afterwards everything will be fine.

A basic analysis of the numbers involved show this can’t possibly be the case.

There are 25 million people in Australia. A statistic I heard early on was that 80% of the population would be infected. That’s 20 million people. If it’s 8%, 2 million people and at 0.8%, 200,000 people. By now we’re 1% of the original 80% statistic so pretty conservative.

16,000 of 200,000. There is a very long way to go.

Remembering the small tasks too

I’ve been a proponent of the Getting Things Done methodology for many years and I use OmniFocus as my implementation tool. Each day it presents me with 2-3 focus projects and a list of recurring tasks for that day.

It works well, except I’m conscious there are a lot of small tasks that I am missing. Not missed in the sense that I forget to do something, but missed in the sense of not taking small actions to move projects forward.

With the large tasks there is often a component that takes several hours of work. I’m wondering today if I should cut that back by an hour — these tasks often not that time dependent that I can’t — and focus on smashing out a number of the small tasks instead.

Moving from TheBrain to RoamResearch

Last week, long time personal knowledge management fellow traveller, Matt Mower, introduced me to Roam Research. Over 20 years or so we’ve been crossing paths looking for a personal knowledge management system that gives more than it takes. The best candidate for that so far is the recently launched Roam Research and as I’ve written about in the past, the only way to really trial any kind of software is to throw yourself into it and put yourself in a position where you rely upon it.

To that end, and based on what Roam Research offers, I’ve decided to withdraw my investment in TheBrain‘s way of doing things and shift my content to RoamResearch.

This is not going to be an article on why I am changing. A quick Google search will show there are plenty of people spruiking the benefits but if you really need something, start with Nat Eliason‘s video What’s So Great About Roam Research.

A quick primer on TheBrain

The core concept that drives TheBrain is that of the Thought, a node that links to parent thoughts, child thoughts and jump thoughts (same level). Each thought can have notes and files attached, and be typed.

Relationships between thoughts are show as connecting lines in the Plex and as you build connections some thoughts become more central than others. When you select a thought all related ideas are shown as well.

It sounds good and it is but there are some problems with the technical implementation. I have been a user of TheBrain (previously PersonalBrain) since about version 4. It’s now 11. The notes editor is kludgy and on two separate Macs, performace degrades quickly after any extended period of use. Ideas do come together over time, but compared to Roam Research, require more effort. Linking thoughts to text notes is slow. Things have improved, including sync and mobile, yet the software now has the feel of multiple parts that don’t quite fit being held together with some difficulty.

Brain Surgery

Pulling apart my existing brains, requires

  1. Individually dragging each file associated with a thought to a folder

  2. Deciding to load those files into Roam Research or to leave them external

  3. Creating pages in Roam Research to copy notes into

With several thousand files that’s a bit of work (shows how impressed I am with Roam Research doesn’t it). That list doesn’t sound a lot to do technically and is the same you’d expect moving from any one personal knowledge management system to another.

What did I learn from doing this?

There is still a lot to be learned from the "simple" mechanical process above.

  • I had created a lot of hierarchy still in TheBrain. Much of this was hierarchy to provide organisation where organisation wasn’t required. I had groupings for Types of Technology, Types of Scientific Discipline, Types of People and they weren’t ever used.

  • There is a tendency to add knowledge that I know. What you say, isn’t that the point? Yes, but I know who wrote Harry Potter and David Copperfield. There is no need to track that relationship in TheBrain or any similar system.

  • Files are a problem. My approach will be to organise into broad category folders on the file system and use OneDrive shared links in the new system to access them in-situ. With OneDrive, if you move or rename a file, the link remains the same. Too often I need to access a file outside of the personal knowledge management system I’m using. My current categories are:

    • articles – and books
    • instructions – manuals, how to etc
    • memorabilia – ticket stubs, school reports
    • finances
    • personal – items other than finance needed to operate in life