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Beginning to see the light with org-mode

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Posted by zoe
Sep 8, 2015 at 07:55 PM


I have long been interested in the power of ConnectedText. However, I find the closed-database and lack of mobile support and data portability to be a dealbreaker.

For years I’ve heard about the power of Emacs org-mode. The superficial aspect is that .org files are plain text, and Emacs interprets them and works with them according to its own settings. However, digging deeper into the functionality (http://orgmode.org/worg/org-tutorials/org4beginners.html), it’s clear that there are many very powerful features that are similar to those found in ConnectedText.

I’m finally starting to push beyond the initial Emacs learning curve, and I can see why people are fanatical about org-mode. It is really an elaborate way of showing and hiding pieces of plain text files of arbitrary size. There is no database, however it’s possible to insert inline images and links to other files. The data in the .org files remains portable, transparent, and human-readable. Exporting to HTML is a joy.

This is the antithesis of “user-friendly,” to be sure, but the rewards seem great for those willing to put in the time!


Posted by Dr Andus
Sep 8, 2015 at 10:03 PM


zoe wrote:
>I’m finally starting to push beyond the initial Emacs learning curve

Respect! :) I never got past the first video by one of the gurus (his name escapes me), though I’m intrigued by the system.

Out of curiosity, how do you solve the mobile support and data portability issue? Do you save the files in the cloud?


Posted by Mick S
Sep 8, 2015 at 10:06 PM


Like many regular posters on this forum, I’ve spent years trying to perfect my work-flow. There are only two pieces of software that have stood the test of time for me: Emacs org-mode and Ultra Recall (Directory Opus gets a special mention).

The major advantage of both is that data can be stored as plain text and accessed from almost anywhere. I typically keep data as plain text, organised on disk in a folder structure synced to a UR database.

While this is perhaps not quite as user friendly as some other approaches, it’s unbeatable in terms of power and flexibility. I also rely quite heavily on Directory Opus to help keep things tidy.

Org-mode is incredibly powerful and with a little work can be made to fulfill an amazing range of tasks with relative ease. I’ve been a long time lurker on this forum and have often thought to myself when reading of some poster’s data management tribulations “what this person really needs is org-mode”. To be sure, org-mode does have a fairly steep learning curve but I’d say the same for Connected Text and many other popular applications. I can’t edit a Connected Text file on my phone or tablet but anything that can read plain text can deal with org-mode to at least a basic extent.


Posted by Lucas
Sep 9, 2015 at 05:26 PM


I have dabbled in org-mode and see the potential, but here’s my take, for what it’s worth: I see potential in any of the following 3 scenarios:

1. A user-friendly GUI front-end for org-mode
2. More sophisticated plug-ins for text editors like Sublime Text or Atom that could achieve similar functionality
3. Totally new programs that achieve the same ends but maintain files in plain text.

With any of these three options, what I would want to see would be, for instance, the ability to have “smart folders” or “saved searches” or “filters”, whereby clicking on the smart folder shows all lines of text for a given set of criteria. A great model of what I have in mind is the Mac program The Hit List. I would love to see something approaching The Hit List in terms of functionality but based on plain text. It just seems so much more efficient to have permanent smart folders than to have to scroll around or re-type search strings all the time. I realize, of course, that it’s not entirely straightforward how such smart folders get saved in plain text, but there is currently a good filters plun-in for Sublime Text, so I’m sure this could be done.


Posted by MadaboutDana
Sep 10, 2015 at 12:09 PM


Well, Ulysses is your app of choice here, with filters that can use multiple keywords (tags), text or dates, either inclusively or exclusively. And can be restricted to various levels of the hierarchy (assuming you’ve set up folders). In fact, Ulysses goes a long way towards being a top information management app. There are just a few shortcomings at the moment - notably the lack of linking between notes, and the lack of some kind of tag hierarchy (although you could easily set up your own, using smart filters - they can be duplicated, edited and reused; you could also set up ‘anti-tag’ hierarchies, i.e. showing all entries that **don’t** contain (a) certain tag(s)).

And that’s before you look at the very neat, very fast search function (with highlighting), which can be restricted to certain folders, but also to specific filters, i.e. you can search within a filter to narrow down results still further. Oh, and filters can be “nested”, too, just as folders can (i.e. you can see the contents of child folders/filters as you move up the hierarchical tree - an extremely useful feature shared by very few other apps. In fact, only one Windows app occurs to me off the cuff: GoldenNotes).

Plus Ulysses looks nice, which is more than can be said for emacs, sublimetext or atom, I fear!


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