Weeknote, Sunday 26th February 2023

Looking through some old documents, I rediscovered Cory’s notes on a talk that Danny gave at Notcon in 2004 on todo.txt (I might even have been there, who knows?) Todo.txt was (and still is) a text-based format for task management designed to be incredibly simple to use and — most importantly — to be completely portable. The bare bones details of it are, of course, on Github, and there are apps around that support it for every platform you can think of.

I have grown to love systems like this for a bunch of reasons. First, tools which start off with the simplest and most human-readable file formats are likely to have longevity over ones which hide their content inside a database. The popularity of formats like Markdown (which I am of course, writing this in) demonstrates that. Todo.txt is 20 years old and still bubbling under. Can you still access your to-do list from 20 years ago?

(Although, of course, the inevitable rejoinder to that is, “and why would I want to?”)

Second, they are canonical examples of creating tools that are capable of being used in incredibly simple ways to start with. You can start using it with just a text file, any editor you like, and a list of tasks with no fancy bullets. You don’t even have to add prioritisation if you don’t want to, although that’s a good place to start! You can use GTD-style projects and contexts… or not. And of course, if you want to add your own metadata, you can.

That’s the opposite of tools like Things, Todoist, Microsoft To do or the million and one other apps which promise to sort out your productivity through the power of technology. Nothing can do that — the only thing that can is you writing things down, reflecting on them, and hopefully somewhere in the middle of those two activities doing whatever you need to do.

In other digital archaeology, I also found that Maelstrom 3.0 is available for Mac, Windows and Linux. Damn, where did that week go?

At the start of the week, I was also doing quite a bit of thinking about AI tools like the new Bing Chat (which Microsoft is now trying to reign back into being just a conversations search tool) and how they will impact on publishing. Short version: they will encourage a race to the bottom in quality, but that will mean a premium gets put on what you might call “handmade content”. This has been the story of every technology so I don’t think writing will prove to be anything different.

You never know. Maybe the inevitable profits from this will go to universal basic income and a four day work week rather than lining the pockets of capitalists. Ha ha who am I kidding?

Stuff I’ve written

I have basically written a big update to my article on how to get Scrivener working on Linux (I’ve found a reasonably reliable way of making it work on Fedora too) but need to do an edit before I post it. It’s basically a ground-up write and much improved.

Stuff I’ve been reading and watching

I had thought that Twitter’s decision to limit SMS-based 2FA was stupid because they retained a notably insecure authentication method for paying customers, but Ricky Mondello’s article on it changed my mind: it’s stupid because they aren’t retaining it for everyone. Ricky works for Apple on stuff like the iOS/macOS password management features, so they know what they’re talking about.

This week I made a quick canter through Robert Heinlein’s Starship Troopers. I had forgotten quite how little the book is satire and quite how much it’s a distillation of Heinlein’s political ideas written into what we would now call a “young adult” novel. I loved that book as a kid for all the reasons that kids love good YA fiction: it doesn’t patronise, and it makes you feel like you’re reading something just a little more grown-up than you should.

Fortunately, I also read M John Harrison’s The Centauri Device around the same time, which is very much not a YA book but had an equal and opposite effect on my young politics. I must be due a read of that again soon.


  1. I know lots of people love Scrivener, although it never grabbed me personally, but isn’t it the opposite of todo.txt in that it locks you into a particular platform? These days thats enough to send me elsewhere.



    1. Yes, to a degree (if you poke into the internals of Scrivener files, most of it is actually just RTF). However, there just isn’t anything which comes anywhere near it in terms of capabilities. The open-source options, like Manuskript, are far too clunky. Options that are closed source but produce standard formats (like Obsidian) are bare bones. So getting Scrivener to run reliably on Linux is probably the least-worst option at the moment, if you want something with its capabilities.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.