of the system

Systems. This is an extension of exploratory writings about information management, and related ideas. When I talk about "systems," I mean whatever technological or intellectual methods we use to store information and get work done. If you use Microsoft Outlook and Word with an Access database for citation management, that's a system, what I've hacked together for myself with git, BibTeX, emacs, LaTeX, org-mode, and Markdown is a system. There are others.

Many are pretty bad, as computer tools are designed with a task in mind, and the truth of the matter is that what most of us need isn't exactly what they do. With a few exceptions. Like a lot of people use Excel but most of us use to make lists of tabular data, but few of us use it to store numbers, let alone do any sort of calculations with that data. [1] And lets not get started talking about Microsoft Word [2] or any of the myriad of task management organizational software packages.

So when I say "the system" I'm really talking about that magic step between the world your trying to represent in some sort of software application. And we all do some crazy stuff here, like scheduling appointments to manage tasks, or using a system of filters and secret email addresses to take notes. Not that I've done either of those things. Ahem

This set of practices and informal logical rules are interesting, not intrinsically but insofar as they are at the heart of the human-computer (cyborg?) interaction. While this isn't specifically a problem of open source/free software/hacking, thinking about cyborg-issues dovetail with the software-freedom ethic of knowing your technology: so it makes sense.

Playing around with different systems, is one of those things I do, and have done for a while, but it's something that I try to avoid. Because it takes a lot of time, it gets in the way of getting things done, and while I derive some perverse pleasure in it, I like to keep from being quite so meta. But the sad truth is that as we learn about new tools, as technology develops, as our projects develop, as we learn more about ourselves and our work-flows systems need to change.

Sometimes this is as simple as moving some files around (changing the informal logic) or getting a new system and importing data. Sometimes it's more intense.

My blogging about org-mode recently, is as part of one of these system changes. I'd been using a private wiki for most of the last year, and while I really liked the system, it got to be non-trivial to adapt he system (my internal representation the organization of the files) to add content to the wiki in a way that made sense. Maybe other people are a bit better at this than I am, but after many weeks of just not touching the files, I realized that I needed a better system. So I'm trying something else. It's a good thing. Not to happen casually, though. The good thing that happens when you do a "system review," is you get a chance to clear out cruft bad or antiquated logic from your system, and that's almost always a good thing.

I'll be in touch.

[1]I'm speaking generally rather than specifically. I know lots of people use excel for what it was intended for, and maybe you've worked with different people than I have, but I'd say the vast majority of the spreadsheets that I deal with mostly have text in them.
[2]It's a document preparation tool. For laying out shorter documents. It doesn't have a lot of (good) support for structured writing, and it provides functionality for displaying and formatting your text, but it's sort of limited along the lines of things that help writing (search capabilities, notes management, block folding, and so forth)
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