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Colin Devroe

Photographer. Podcaster. Blogger. Reverse Engineer.

Using Spotlight and Shortcuts to create daily notes in Simplenote

While trialing Obsidian I became fond of a core plugin it had called Daily notes. Activating the plugin adds a button in the interface that creates a new note with a name based on today’s date. It makes keeping a daily log extremely easy.

Since I primarily use Simplenote I wanted the same thing on both iOS and macOS.

My DailyNote Shortcut on iOS

On macOS I was able to do this with a rather simple AppleScript that opens Simplenote, sends a keystroke of CMD+N, types in “Daily note:” followed by the current date. I’ve put the source of this script in a gist if you’d like it.

Saving this script as an application using Script Editor on Mac (I chose the name DailyNote), and then giving this app Accessibility permissions (System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Privacy > Accessibility > +) will allow you to run the app via Spotlight and then voila … a new note in Simplenote with today’s date in the title.

On iOS unfortunately Simplenote hasn’t yet added many options to the Shortcuts library of commands so while I was able to create a quick “New Note” action on my phone I wasn’t able to automate typing in the day’s date. At least not exactly.

What I was able to do (see screenshot) is set a variable for today’s date, copy it to the clipboard, open Simplenote, create a new note, and then I have to manually paste in today’s Date. You can get the Shortcut here. Not ideal but good enough for now.

Thanks to Matthew Cassinelli for his guidance with all things Shortcuts.

But she’s a girl on Obsidian

But she’s a girl…:

I wanted something that operated on plain-text files kept in a local folder, and that also had a graph view: that was the feature in org-roam that really made the difference between me just writing notes and seeing how they fitted together and building ideas out of them. Obsidian has both of those plus a very active community and rapid pace of development, so that was what I went with in the end.

Really great post on her thought process in choosing to give Obsidian a try. I swear, y’all are trying to get me to go back to Obsidian!

Obsidian didn’t stick, for me

Back in May I came across Obsidian, a knowledge base app that stores your information in Markdown files.

I used it a bit here and there until, in July, I stumbled onto Ton Zijlstra’s post about Obsidian which motivated me to try it in earnest. I was excited to have a note taking app that would store its data in files that I could keep myself.

Over the last several months, I’ve tried and tried to make it my place to store notes. It just hasn’t stuck. I believe there are 3 main reasons:

  1. Mobile – I sync Obsidian’s Markdown files via One Drive and can use any Markdown editor on my phone or iPad, however, that experience isn’t very good. I find myself in countless meetings or conversations during the day where I need to quickly jot something down and sometimes the only device I have on me is my phone.
  2. Speed – Obsidian is fast at what it does, but not nearly as fast as opening a new note in Simplenote. If I’m in the middle of a presentation or a meeting, and I need to take notes on my laptop or phone, I find myself opening Simplenote. Perhaps there is a workaround for that that I’m missing? (yes, I have a pinned note that is a “scratch” area, similar to my method from 2016)
  3. The opposite of flat – The UI of Obsidian sort of begs one to put notes into folders. Which is really nice on one hand, but debilitating on another. I find myself much more of a tagsonomy man.

I’ve tried workarounds where I use Simplenote in the moment and then move those notes into Obsidian. But that just adds more work.

Perhaps I’m trying to use Obsidian for something it wasn’t intended – a note pad full of simple scratch notes that eventually become to-do lists, emails, blog posts, etc. It should be used to build a knowledge base – a collection of information that rounds out a subject. I just simply don’t do that type of note taking.

Zijlstra, though, seems to have hit his stride.

After over 100 days of Obsidian my use of it has expanded to include a much larger part of my system. Along the way it made my use within that system of Things, Evernote and almost Excel obsolete. It also means I sharpened my system and practice of using it again.

Good for him. However, I’m left wishing I had an app that did exactly what Simplenote does except that it stores local files rather than cloud files. And works on mobile. Even Apple’s own Notes app doesn’t do that.

If you have any recommendations please forward them along.

Decentralizing all of my data

A few days ago I came across Ton Zijlstra’s post about trying out Obsidian. I didn’t have the time to read it just then so I quickly stored it in Unmark (shameless plug alert) to read later.

After reading his post I realized he is attracted to Obsidian for the same reasons that I was to give it a try. It stores your notes in a format that keeps the data local, readable, and accessible to any text editor. I really like Simplenote but it only stores notes in Simplenotes cloud service and not as local files (although, it did before Automattic acquired the service many years ago).

As the capabilities of cloud services get more and more robust I find myself drifting back to the early days of my computing where I wanted complete control of all of my data. Even though I can have all of my data accessible from any device, anywhere in the world, doesn’t mean that I want to rely on those services to provide me that data. And, I certainly don’t want the data to be locked into any single app.

Web 2.0 addressed this issue by pushing for accessible APIs that allowed data to be imported or exported in a variety of standard formats. Which is great! However, I find that it is the storage that should be standardized and not the method by which you can move data around. And text notes are just one example. I’ll give another example in a moment.

Zijlstra links to another one of his posts regarding “networked agency” that leads to a super interesting post by Ruben Verborgh titled Paradigm shifts for the decentralized Web.

I need to spend more time digesting Verborgh’s post (which I somehow missed when he published it late last year). However, the principles that are mentioned within it really land with me. One that stands out:

As apps become decoupled from data, they start acting as interchangeable views rather than the single gateway to that data.

This is exactly what I want for so much of my personal data. Any note taking app should be able to read notes written in any app – making the app’s interface simply a view into my note data. Like email. I can choose any email app for any email address. And switch whenever I want.

I’m currently working at building the very same capabilities for my photo library. In the past, I’ve written about why Photos for Mac isn’t a good long term storage solution for our photo libraries. As I write this I’m creating a set of tools and a workflow for my photo storage that allows me to store my photos in a readable format and structure while retaining the ability to use an app like Photos for Mac as a view into that library.

I still have more work to do, and I plan on writing a post sometime in September on what I’ve made so far, but it is a challenge to be sure. My overall goal is to have a photo library that does not require an app, but that an app enhances the experience of browsing my library. And, that all metadata related to a photo (EXIF, tags, faces, etc.) are stored within the file itself and not only within a photo management tool’s database. This will not be easy but I’m determined.

Notes and photos are not the only data that I wish I had in a standardized readable format. My links from Unmark are important to me. Unmark can already import from a variety of services and formats, and it can export into a JSON file. But I’ve recently started working on an export process for Unmark that will spit out a standardized HTML file so that people can export their links to be ingested in any browser or app they desire. This is, of course, the Web 2.0 approach.

I’m glad I read Zijlstra’s post. It has reinvigorated me to continue my effort to decentralize as much of my personal data as possible.