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[tlug] Personal information management

Jonathan Byrne <> writes:

>>Handa-san(?) suggested an emacs-wiki/planner presentation, but that's
>>probably going to bore all the non-Emacs users. <laugh>
> So port it to vim already ;-)

It seems that vim people favor keeping a ~/TODO or something similar.
It's easy to either mark completed tasks or delete the entire line
(the dd gesture is very helpful). I think they'll probably also have
shell scripts to make adding stuff or finding outstanding tasks easy,
but it's really all just an echo or grep away.

Embedded /* TODO: */ (or other tags like XXX) comments are useful in
code. I'm not sure how many people use them for non-code things like
remembering to return a call. It seems like too much work.

I find the vim outliner project interesting. This lets you have
hierarchical task lists, and will even calculate completion status.
Pretty funky.

Vim doesn't seem to make it easy to integrate with other things,
although I could be mistaken. For example, the mutt+vim combo is fun,
but how do you make it easy to jump to a mail message from your
~/TODO? Maybe the problem doesn't really come up because vim people
don't work that way.

Does anyone find these descriptions familiar? Dead wrong? I'm curious
about how other people do these things.

> What is this information management of which you speak? :-)

There are actually several areas under PIM, I think. It overlaps with
information retrieval, too, so my description's probably a little bit
fuzzy. (This is pre-masters'. Ask me again when I get a degree, or at
least finish writing my statement of purpose. ;) )

One area focuses on managing lots of information, like unifying your
RSS/email/documents so that searching works across all these data
sources. We're used to the idea of explicit searching because of
search engines and grep, but implicit searching (aka just-in-time
information retrieval) are cool, too. Remembrance Agent and Dashboard
monitor what you're doing and try to retrieve relevant info, like the
way we remember related things when doing something. Check those
projects out sometime. ^_^

I'm more into the day-planning kind of personal information
management, though. I'm not sure what that area is officially called.
I'm particularly interested in how people manage their tasks,
appointments, notes, and other data they need every day. It could be
as simple as post-it notes stuck on the monitor (or virtual post-it
notes stuck on the desktop), a TODO file in your home directory, or
e-mail in your inbox. It could be as complex as trouble-ticketing or

(Cory Doctorow's notes at
explore reasons why geeks like using plain text. Nice read.)

People use very, very different methods. People change methods, too.
My current way is not the same as the way I used when I started
noticing these things. It's probably not the best way, either, and
it'll change again as I find things to improve.

I'm interested in those kinds of changes. You could start with a
simple system, like pen and paper or a plain-text TODO. Most of the
work gets done in your brain. After a while, you'd probably tweak your
setup so that you don't have to think so much about it. For example,
instead of having to fire up vi to add a line to your TODO, you could
write a shell script that just takes the current arguments and sticks
it at the end (or the beginning) of the text file. In terms of pen and
paper, you might discover that a highlighter is a pretty useful tool.
(I didn't learn that until fourth year college.) These are just small
improvements, but they add up.

> Actually, I mostly use a 1999 TRG Pro (a Palm III clone with an
> internal CF socket), and at work use Kontact, but really mostly only
> for email. I have a pretty empty calendar, usually just one meeting
> a week :-)

You aren't alone. <laugh> According to some PIM usability studies, a
lot of people use e-mail to plan their day. They remind themselves of
pending tasks and upcoming appointments by e-mailing themselves, or
keep stuff lying around in their inbox. Reasons included the
complexity of PIMs and the fact that e-mail's the one thing they check

I'm curious about how people plan their day and how they'd like to
plan their day. It's hard to imagine something radically different
from the way we currently do things, but if we change things bit by
bit, we'll eventually find at least a local maximum. <laugh> Comparing
notes with other people also helps us get a better idea of what might
work for us.

At this point, you might be wondering if I spend too much time just
thinking about doing stuff. ;) Don't worry. This info dump is the
result of a number of little tweaks here and there. I really enjoy
getting my PIM to fit the way I work, and I like getting it to fit
other people, too. There's still so much I want to learn, though, and
that's why I'm planning to go for further studies after my training
ends in February. =)

(Sorry about the long mail. Feel free to reply to bits of it. Of
course, you could also reply to everything... ^_^)

Sacha Chua <> - open source geekette
interests: emacs, gnu/linux, making computer science education fun
wearable computing, personal information management - PGP Key ID: 0xE7FDF77C

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