Tinderbox Meetup Sunday 7 JAN 24 Video: With BRYAN JENCKS

Tinderbox Meetup Sunday 7 JAN 24 Video: With BRYAN JENCKS

Level Beginner
Published Date 1/7/24
Type Meetup
Tags 5Cs, 5Cs Learning and Knowledge Management, Additive Tagging, Autism, Backup, Change Control, Collectors Fallacy, Computer Engineering Problem, Dyslexia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Fitness, Fuzzy Search, Kinesiology, Link Reference, Linux, Maps of Content [MOCS], Markdown, Nested Tagging, Neuo divergency, Obsidian, Personal Knowledge Management, Plan Text, Progressive Filtering, Social Engineering Problem, Software Design, Terms: ADHA, Transclusion, Version Control, Yaml, YouTube DL, Zettelkasten
Video Length 01:25:44
Video URL https://youtu.be/nLa2KbL4iJ8
Example File N/A
Chat Chat.txt (8.9 KB)
TBX Version 9.7
Fasciltator Michael Becker

What a way to kick off the new year! In this Tinderbox meetup, we were joined by Bryan Jenks, a digital expert with deep insights into personal knowledge and data management. Our discussion today was inspiring; Bryan shared with us his own approach to knowledge management and methods he has applied within our world of neurodiversity. Specifically, he walked us through his Obsidian personal vault and how he manages inputs and outputs to generate his contributions (Just look at the key terms above and the resource links below; we discussed a wide range of topics).

Also noted

Notable Quote

  • “What’s really missing in this world: Really, really good tech that is really, really poor explained.” @mwra
  • “Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.” [Clarke, A. C. (1962). Profiles of the Future: An Inquiry into the Limits of the Possible. Indigo Paperbacks.]
  • Paraphrase: everyone in tech needs to know markdown, backup, peer review, version control, and enforcement to teams designated fundamental processes @Bryan
  • Paraphrase: while some people look at bricks, I look at the grains of sand for the brinks and then strive to show how all the people come together

Keys to Bryan’s Process

  • He is not dogmatic about his tools, he focuses on efficient workflow, not a specific app, but does use
    • Obsidian
    • Linux
    • Zotero, research tool
    • Backups (required multiple distributed copies)
    • Raindrop.io, All-in-one bookmark manager (send articles through raindrop)
    • Readwise
    • YouTube DL
    • Mermaid diagram sync, sort of
    • Draw.io, open source drawing tool
  • He’s built “a system that I can build once and that will scale forever.” “I don’t want to have to refactor all the time…start from scratch when things change.”
  • Embraces common conventions and standards, builds his own and enforces them with his teams
    • e.g., loves ISO 8601 date stamp
  • Does everything in plain text
  • Prefers evidence-based vs. humanities-based discussions
  • Focuses on inputs (tweets, articles, books, videos) and outputs
  • Recognizing the ephemeral nature of the Internet, it is an issue. “It’s always someone else computer.” Bryan brings everything to local files and has a robust multi-node backup and versioning control system in place.
  • Uses a nested tagging structure, leverages symbols/emojis, dates, names, tags, and colored flags to support fuzzy search
    • ! = digital communications (e.g. Tweet) -( = Article -{= Book
  • Prefers a separation of concerns and uses a variety of tools to accomplish this: articles in Raindrop, academic papers in Zotero, books (kindle, physical copy), and notes in Obsidian.
  • Keeps storage, retrieval, discovery, and application in mind
  • On exporting his processes, he keeps the skillsets and willingness of the people he engages in mind
  • In the end, he “Look at everyone else’s words”, and then “I add to the note-this is what I think about it.”

What Bryan Likes about Obsidian

  • Write your own plug-in with javascript
  • Unix operates on plain text files
  • Interoperability of plain text
  • Sandbox community plugins, over 1,000
  • You can build whatever you want using plugins and templates for specific domains.


Please comment

Please help with the development of future sessions by answering the three questions below.

  • What were your top 2~3 key takeaways from this lesson?
  • What do you want to learn next? Learn more about?
  • What exercises would help reinforce your learning?

To help contextualise, where I’m quoted above, I was reflecting the value of version control and the fact that it’s really poorly explained to anyone without a background in code—especially when an initial step is to take all your most important files and put them … somewhere invisible. That doesn’t pass a basic common sense test. Informally, that sort of disconnect is why I’ve witnessed a lot of non-tech folk quietly giving up on using version control.

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I think J. Nathan Matthias might have some insight into more general use of version control.

The Pragmatic Programmer volumes was also pretty good on version control for writers.

I also think modern git clients like Tower are better than they used to be.

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I didn’t want to derail an interesting discussion, but this is very wrong: the humanities are the origin of evidence-based reasoning. It is easy, however, to lose sight of that — especially when studying results that are well known. (It’s easy in the sciences, too: Organic Chemistry textbooks, for example, simply lack space to discuss how we know what we know. There’s too much to know.)

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At the risk of speaking for Bryan, I don’t think he said what he meant. In one of his YouTube videos he speaks of doing research into Autism and ADHD and clarifies that he means reading articles in peer-reviewed academic journals and the like, and not looking at a few YouTube videos peddling wild ideas that have no backing in science – and we know there are lots of those. I think he was trying to say that he prefers to study material that has hard science behind it, rather than (perhaps) something like Freud or Jung, which is difficult to tie to any hard science, even if some of their ideas seem pretty convincing. But as I say, that is just me interpreting what Bryan might have been trying to get across.

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Indeed, they are. But, politely, that the tools aren’t the problem—or immidate solution. I’ve sat through a number of inductions recently and watched well-meaning tech folk give truly useless explanations to new staff students about version control. He explanations are long on the value of the use of VC tools, short on how to do it. Plus many clearly need some spaced repetition learning. The nature of programming mean coders using VC tools are engaged immediately. Others will use it less frequently (certainly until the personal benefits show), so don’t get the repeats often enough to make the learning stick.

Much tech looks like a religion from the outside—the adherents simply cannot comprehend that their faith is not obvious to others. Not everyone ‘just’ believes from one exposure and no explanation.

The ball’s in the tech domain’s court. If they want the wider world to adopt these tools—central to their own work but tangential for others, they really need to adopt a more inclusive approach to teaching it. I learned the latter from consulting: you can’t simply tell and walk away.

I’ve sat in multiple teams where the coders bemoan lack of uptake of tools like git by other team members—who frankly don’t need it, but could benefit from it. Sadly, the result is always to blame the learners, never the teachers. I don’t see why tech folk get a free pass on this. Better teaching aids better/faster learning. </soapbox>

@eastgate, I don’t disagree with you; however, if we consider the source and context of the comment, to me it makes a lot of sense. Bryan was exposing a personal belief, one grounded in the lens that he uses to thrive in the world. I don’t believe he was dissing the humanities as much as he was saying–again for him–that he found it more comfortable to ground his knowledge management journey in what he considered “hard evidence” as it was more empirical. I don’t think this statement is binary, this or that. I think it was a statement of preference on a continuum. Frankly, my mind often goes this way, too. It could be something linked with neurodiversity.

I agree. :slight_smile:

I totally agree… unfortunately, in my experience, far too often in consulting, I’ve found that people really only want to pay for the result; they actually don’t want to pay for (i.e., cover the costs) the effort that it takes to get to the “successful” [successful being subjective and often a moving target] result.

Bryan recommended the Logi Master 3S mouse during the session. I got one. It is fantastic. Tons of customizable buttons. Really smooth.

Here is Zoom’s AI Companion unedited transcript from the talk with Bryan.

Quick recap

The meeting covered a wide range of topics related to personal knowledge management tools and practices. Bryan emphasized the importance of using plain text for its future-proof qualities and compatibility with various operating systems. He also discussed the use of special characters in file names and the advantages of using ISO 8601 date stamps for chronological sorting. Bryan also shared his note-taking process, which involves using tags and robust names for his notes. He emphasized the importance of interconnectedness in information management, noting that information should not be disconnected. The discussion also touched on the use of Devon Think and other similar tools, with Bryan sharing his experience and Mark Anderson discussing his struggles with dyspraxia. Towards the end of the meeting, Bryan demonstrated the use of an iframe plugin in Obsidian to display diagrams created in Draw.io, an open-source web-based diagramming tool.


Personal Knowledge Management Tools and Task Management

There was a discussion about personal knowledge management tools, with a focus on Obsidian. Bryan expressed their preference for this tool due to its plain text approach and its compatibility with their Linux system. They also highlighted the thousands of community plugins available. There was also a conversation about managing tasks with different tools. Michael shared their experience with a tool that they found beneficial for accomplishing tasks, while Bryan emphasized the importance of experimenting to find what works best. The meeting also touched on the topic of personal projects and individual approaches to managing knowledge, with Michael sharing their experience with using Tinderbox for managing their ADHD and dyslexia.

Data Storage and Management in YouTube and Research Papers

Bryan discussed their efforts to simplify YouTube and the challenges of data storage and security. They emphasized the ephemeral nature of the internet and the importance of backups, noting that they uses applications like Raindrop.io for information management. Bryan also expressed concern about data loss, particularly for ephemeral content like YouTube videos. They discussed their use of Zotero for managing research papers and their preference for plain text due to its future-proof qualities. Bryan also shared their preference for using Raindrop for managing their inputs and their current work process, primarily relying on Obsidian due to its useful plugins. They concluded the discussion by emphasizing the importance of having multiple backups for data, using the phrase “one is none, two is one, three is two”.

YouTube DL, Data Limits, and Diagram Tools

Bryan discussed their use of YouTube DL to download videos from the internet and local files. They shared their experience of receiving a strike on YouTube for discussing the use of such tools. Bryan also mentioned their habit of using YouTube DL to download entire YouTube channels and their long-term project involving systematically working through 300 videos they downloaded from a YouTube channel. They also discussed their extensive notes on fitness, nutrition, and health and their experience of receiving a warning from their ISP for exceeding their data limit. Bryan expressed concern about the situation and resolved to finish all their downloads within the month to avoid extra charges. The meeting also touched upon the use of a city in Canvas and a possible use of a free, open-source web browser-based diagram tool. However, the specifics of these charges remained unclear.

ISO 8601 Date Stamps and Data Management

Bryan discussed the use of special characters in file names, highlighting both problems and advantages of using ISO 8601 date stamps. They emphasized the importance of sorting information chronologically and the strength of the ISO 8601 format. Bryan also discussed the need for a system that can manage large amounts of data and sort it effectively. They shared their intention to build a system similar to IT architecture that can be scaled and adapted. Bryan also discussed the concept of maintaining a higher-level perspective in communication and the potential of opening up a modal search in Obsidian. They also discussed the concept of searching for specific content using highlighting features and the need to adapt and refactor to ensure growth and maintain functionality. Bryan expressed a need for a system that allows items to be placed in multiple folders without the need for extensive organization. They also discussed the potential of adding code to search results for improved relevance and the ability to customize results. Finally, Bryan discussed their note-taking process, emphasizing the use of tags and robust names for their notes.

Tagging Systems and Information Management

The meeting focused on discussing tagging systems with Bryan explaining their approach to their system, which is not dependent on file names. They noted that most applications use two useful systems of tagging. Bryan also discussed the concept of additive tagging, which eliminates the need for nested tagging, allowing users to customize their system. They explained their use of nested tags and emojis in their work and their approach to handling inputs in their system. Bryan also discussed the importance of interconnectedness in information management, emphasizing that information should not be disconnected. They mentioned their work on the Sprintle application for sponsorship, focusing on their approaches to additive search tags. However, the transcript was unclear and disjointed, making it challenging to summarize accurately.

Psychology, Autism, ADHD, and Obsidian Zotero Integration

Bryan discussed their interest in psychology, particularly in relation to autism and ADHD. They shared their method of organizing notes, which involves creating interconnected trails of information. They also mentioned their intention to create more writing, particularly articles, and their current research on autism. Bryan also discussed their process of gathering different inputs and thoughts on various topics, including vestibular and coordination related issues, tactile aversions, cognitive differences, and visual effects. The conversation also touched upon the idea of transclusion and how it can be executed in various applications, not just in Obsidian. Bryan also mentioned their plans to finish reading all the books on their bookshelf and their method of compiling their own content. They also discussed the importance of a particular topic in their journey and their development of the Obsidian Zotero integration plug-in.

Tinderbox, Devon Think, and Career Progression

There was a discussion about the use of Devon Think and other similar tools, with Bryan sharing their experience and Mark Anderson discussing their struggles with dyspraxia. Mark also compared Tinderbox and plain text, highlighting the benefits of Tinderbox for those less comfortable with plain text. There was a discussion about the rapid availability of affordances and the possibility of exporting them. Mark Anderson observed a trend where people are abandoning other tools for Tinderbox due to its flexibility. Towards the end, Bryan shared their personal experience about their career progression and expressed their frustration and apprehension about a new assignment they had taken on.

Software Design, Version Control, and Accessibility

Bryan discussed the challenge of minimizing workload while maximizing benefits for the team. They stressed the importance of optimizing for search and using plain text due to the ease of tool implementation. Bryan expressed concern about the lack of interaction with the system, which they described as appalling. They encouraged the team to learn and offered resources, including a video, to assist them. Bryan also discussed the technical orientation of a material and mentioned that most of it was put into the YAML front matter of marked on documents. They emphasized the importance and ubiquity of Markdown in software engineering. Bryan also highlighted the necessity of version control, particularly using Git, to maintain the history of their work. They noted that they currently lack version control on their technical notes, but it was decided that they would begin using Git moving forward. Bryan and Michael had a conversation about a lengthy response that Bryan made. Michael appreciated Bryan’s explanation, mentioning that they loved it and found it awesome. The discussion primarily focused on the topic of software design for people with ADHD and autism. Mark Bernstein discussed the potential for designing software that could cater to the needs of these individuals. However, Bryan interjected, hinting at the complexity of the issue and suggesting that many people in the field might have some level of expertise. Bryan explained that the application utilizes default voices from whatever is installed on the user’s system, such as Mac or Python. They also noted that the application’s standard modules are used in the systems built in voice sounds. Towards the end, Mark Bernstein inquired about the adequacy of the built-in voices, to which Bryan responded that the application is already better than any they’s ever used. Bryan expressed satisfaction with the current situation, which Mark Bernstein agreed to.

Personal Lives, Work, and AI Tools

Michael and Dennis discussed their personal lives and work. Michael shared their progress on their doctorate, their upcoming open session on their Patreon Channel, and their appreciation for tools like Tinderbox, Grammarly, and ChatGPT. They also shared their plans to write a book about their experience and emphasized the importance of integrity in the research process. Michael also discussed their dissertation on the adoption of personal information management systems. They talked about their plans for after completing their dissertation, which involve consulting, teaching, possibly joining a company, and continuing to advise trade groups. They also mentioned the possibility of working with the Ostrom Institute in Indiana University. Later in the meeting, Michael presented a new AI tool for generating meeting transcripts and discussed a minor issue with document identification that was resolved by Mark Bernstein. The meeting also involved discussions about knowledge management and personal productivity tools.

Knowledge Management Tools and Practices

Bryan and Michael discussed their knowledge management tools and practices. Bryan expressed their preference for Obsidian, a plain-text application, for its interoperability and customizability. They also highlighted the importance of backups and data retention, using Raindrop.io for managing articles and other non-academic content. Michael encouraged Bryan to share more about their toolbox and how different tools complement each other. Bryan also mentioned using Zotero for academic research and noted the importance of separating concerns in their tool usage.

Digital Workflow and Note-Taking Practices With Bryan

Bryan discussed their digital workflow, highlighting the use of Readwise for automatic note syncing and space repetition, and their preference for evidence-based podcasts for note-taking. They also shared their experience with the loss of data due to an app’s disappearance, reinforcing their preference for plain text notes. Bryan also mentioned their use of Obsidian for managing videos and scripts for note-taking. They shared their habit of downloading entire YouTube channels for detailed study. Finally, Bryan demonstrated the use of an iframe plugin in Obsidian to display diagrams created in Draw.io, an open-source web-based diagramming tool.

Information Management and Retrieval Strategies

Bryan and Michael discussed the importance of effective information management and retrieval. Bryan emphasized the need to structure information systems to be robust and scalable, using specific symbols to categorize different types of media like books and articles. They explained their preference for the ISO 8601 date stamp for chronological sorting and how they uses special symbols to filter and search information within their system. Michael inquired about how Bryan makes sense of the vast amount of information and how they manages the curation process. Bryan also stressed the need to avoid collecting information for the sake of collecting, but to focus on how the information can be used to create value.

Information Management and Tagging System Discussion

Bryan discussed their personal system for managing information, emphasizing the importance of flexible and robust search methods. They explained that they uses file names as a search tool, and tags for linking information. They also shared their preference for nested tagging in their system, using emojis for a more visual approach. Michael asked about the use of controlled vocabulary, which Bryan explained as not being applicable to their system. David further clarified that controlled vocabulary involves restricting terms used in a discipline. Bryan confirmed that they uses a robust tagging system that allows for both additive and nested tagging.

Note Organization and Output Creation in Autism Research

Bryan discussed their note organization system, which uses color-coded squares to indicate the stage of processing. They also mentioned a tagging system that uses emojis to categorize notes. Bryan’s system is largely additive, with one tag filtering to inputs of specific types. They also mentioned the use of “maps of content” for high-level organizational structure. Bryan also outlined how they creates outputs from this system, such as videos, articles, and consolidated summaries of their research, particularly in the field of autism. However, they admitted that they have been unable to produce as much output as they would like due to limited executive function and other demands.

Processing Inputs and Note-Taking Tools

Bryan discussed their recent method of processing inputs, including books and papers, on various topics. They explained that they creates notes on specific topics, incorporating highlighted content and thoughts from different sources. Bryan emphasized the importance of this method in helping them gain a comprehensive understanding of a subject. They also mentioned the use of Obsidian, a note-taking tool, in this process. Michael inquired about how Bryan links these notes with references, leading Bryan to explain the use of the Obsidian Zotero integration plugin, which allows them to link Zotero content with links back to the Zotero content for each highlight.

Devin Think, Dyspraxia, and Open-Ended Tools

Bryan and Michael discussed their experiences with Devin Think, with Bryan expressing a lack of connection with the tool. Mark Anderson shared their thoughts on the challenges of dyspraxia, the importance of plaintext systems, and the potential for open-ended tools. Bryan shared their experiences optimizing systems for searchability within their team at a government agency, emphasizing the importance of considering user skill sets and willingness to interact with a system. The question of whether their personal structure is readily portable to another person was raised, with Bryan noting that while not all concepts are applicable, the ones that work can be applied in different contexts.

Technical Documentation Tools and Standards

Bryan emphasized the importance of using plain text and Markdown for technical documentation due to their ease of optimization for search and wide acceptance in the field. They also stressed the necessity of using version control tools like Git for managing technical notes. The discussion also highlighted the importance of peer review processes and the enforcement of common standards. David, Michael, and Chuck agreed on the importance of change control in software development and documentation management. Mark Anderson pointed out the need for better explanation and wider teaching of these tools, as they are often seen as complex and exclusive to the tech club.

Software Design for ADHD and Autism

Mark Bernstein initiated a discussion about software design for people with ADHD and autism. The conversation then shifted to Bryan’s home server rack, which they uses for video production and data management. Chuck inquired about the electrical expenses associated with the server rack, to which Bryan responded that the income from YouTube covers the costs.

Network Setups and Data Storage Solutions

Bryan detailed their home network setup, which includes an enterprise-grade switch and a network video recorder connected to their house’s security system. They also mentioned their extensive storage system, which they expects will hold around 278 TB of data once fully configured. Chuck shared their own network setup, which includes a VMware installation and Vsan for storage. Towards the end of the meeting, Michael questioned Bryan about the scalability of their solution. Bryan confirmed that they have around 4,300 notes but has seen others manage up to 40,000 without any issues, suggesting that the scalability is quite high.

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My eye was caught by (mis)use of singlular/plural pronouns. Either the AI is aggressively Gen Z or its grasp of written English is less good than supposed. I guess reading is going to get harder as our robot overlords take control of the media and we have to tease apart social signalling from actual meaning.


VSAN or vSAN, not Vsan

they use

…etc. Careful copyediting produces long-term value.