Category: Thoughts

Introducing Book-Notes – my notes and highlights from the books I have read

Today I’m releasing Book-Notes – a collection of my notes and highlights from the books I have read.

Screenshot of Book-notes

Reading a book is awesome. Blazing past books at break-neck speed is awesome for only so long. To enjoy the book more, to internalize and chew over what the book has to say, I realized that slowing down and reviewing might be key. So, I started marking out highlights and taking notes when reading inspired by folks like Derek Sivers, Ryan Holiday, Maria Popova (listen at the 31:45 mark) and Tim Ferriss.

This taking notes and highlights is convenient and easy when reading an e-book: on a kindle or the kindle app, or on the Google Play Books app. If I’m reading a paper book, I use the index method: I lightly mark the start and end of the highlight on the page and create an index on the very first page of the book. The index is just a list of page numbers which has these highlights and maybe notes.

I download the Kindle highlights from the Kindle – Your Highlights page using Bookcision. When reading on Play books, it stores the notes on a Google Doc in my Google Drive. Paper books are slower/harder/better/nicer/more-painful. I write down the marked highlights and erase the pencil markings as I go) into my Livescribe book – which gets transcribed and then moved to OneNote.

And now, these notes converted to JSON and will start appearing on the book-notes section of my website.

So, if you are interested in what I’m reading, what I think is thought-provoking in the books I read, come back here regularly to check for new notes and highlights (and some older ones which are being transcribed).

What I used to build book-notes

I used React – using Create React App to build book-notes. It is hosted on my shared hosting space at Webhosting Hub. The code lives in Bitbucket. The design is heavily inspired by Derek Sivers and the Kindle – Your Highlights page. Fonts used: the serif Alegreya for body copy and and the sans-serif Gandhi Sans for headers. Logo is from Flaticon.

VS Code – A tool for writers

Can this be? VS Code – A tool for writers?

Writers use various tools to write. For digital words, we have many options of text editors, word processors and apps. I have used OneNote, Evernote, Google Keep, the WordPress built-in editor, 750 words — in addition to the old-school style of college-rule notebooks, yellow pads and Moleskine journals — for various kinds of writing — blog posts, free form writing, brainstorming or stream-of-consciousness dumping.

However, till now, I had not used a text editor. So why not try to use VS Codethe coding editor I have fallen in love with?

But what exactly are my needs for a writing editor?

  1. A distraction free writing environment
  2. Should count words
  3. Awesome if it can count characters
  4. Spell Checker
  5. Markdown support
  6. Markdown Preview when writing would be so awesome
  7. Auto-save constantly
  8. Lives on the cloud – accessible from all devices

So are these requirements met with VSCode? VS Code – A tool for writers?

1. A Zen mode and a Fullscreen mode (this shows the word and character counts).
2. VSCode has plugins for Word counter and character counter and spell checkers.
3. It has beautiful themes (I’m now enjoying the yellow pad looking Solarized Light Theme). I can install fonts (enjoying Hasklig with ligatures).
4. Markdown support and Preview with Auto-Open Markdown (opens in a preview window side-by-side when writing) and Instant Markdown (opens in a new browser) plugins. Even a plugin to convert markdown to pdf, html or text exists.
5. Auto-save – yes.
6. To save on the cloud, I’m going with the nerdy git + bitbucket. And for the truly obsessive, you can sync bitbucket to Google Drive via Zapier.

So yeah, VS Code is really awesome!

So what does VS Code not have, that I miss? Flashy Distracting Features That I still love like from:

  1. OneNote: I love the feature where different text boxes can be moved around like a bunch of stickies on a piece of paper. But admittedly, that is not a distraction-free environment. Great for brainstorming – not so great for distraction-free writing.

  2. 750 Words:
    I love the distraction free environment, the simplicity of the interface.
    I love the badges
    I loved the word counters and the notification when you reach 750 words.
    I love the statistics.
    I love the Seinfeld style – Don’t break the chain strip which counts the days you have shown up to write and met your goal.
    I loved that it use the text-analysis system called the Regressive Imagery Dictionary to calculate the various emotional content of each day’s entry

The nightly review

Over the years of listening to Tim Ferriss Podcast interviews, reading Ryan Holiday, reading Seneca, reading a lot of articles on meditation, productivity and being profoundly influenced by certain philosophies from Stoicism and Buddhism – these have led me to develop a night routine. As a part of this nightly routine (when I’ve not fallen off the wagon), before I go to sleep, I do my “Nightly Review” in my everything-book.

The questions I ask are

What did I do right today?
This can be a highlight reel of my accomplishments of the day, or just a list of tasks I did. Sometimes, it is a short list of keywords, sometimes I wax lyrical. I almost always answer this first – to start on a positive note.

What did I do wrong today?
This can be an emotional landmine or a wake-up call. This is the section where I list/write about tasks I didn’t do, goals I didn’t reach. More importantly, this is the section I take stock of my behavior for the day – especially the unsavory behaviors – was I mean? gossipy? was I distracted? was I angry? frustrated and vengeful? This is the log of my human foibles, to try to recognize them and better myself tomorrow.

What is left undone?
What needs to be done tomorrow? What should have been done today but didn’t get done? What was started today but not finished today. A launch-board for tomorrow.

Did I choose courage over comfort today?
This is a Brene Brown question which has made a big difference in what I tend to look for in my day. A way to push past my natural inhibitions and reservations. To be more generous, to step out of my comfort zone. I try to have at-least one occasion every day where I choose courage – so I have an answer when I face this question at the end of the day.

I also engage in an evening meditation, just before going to bed. This takes the form of a Marcus-style philosophical diary (not for publication!), during which I revisit the events of the day, asking myself the three famous questions posed by Epictetus: What did I do wrong? What did I do (right)? What duty’s left undone?
– Professor Massimo Pigliucci in this New York Times article

On time-luxuriousness

“Stopping = white space. Stopping = room to run free and create from the deepest place of being without restraint or compromise. Stopping = more time for what matters most. You know how to go, go go. Stopping, however, is the stuff of smiley Zen masters with all the time in the world.”
– The Fire Starter Sessions, Danielle LaPorte

What is the word to describe this:

the stuff of smiley Zen masters with all the time in the world

We have time-starved, rushing, busy. But what is the opposite of that? What is the one word for that? The best I can come up with is time-luxuriousness.

January 2017 Reading Log

Here is my reading log from January 2017. It has been a year since I last updated my reading logs here. But I am back. And with a new and improved clickable HTML table – as opposed to the images I was posting last year. Now, clicking on the book titles will take you to their Amazon pages via my affiliate link.

The best fiction book I read in January is Throne of the Crescent Moon by Saladin Ahmed. The world building is amazing. The plot is quite different, and the setting is muslim / arabic / desert. Something I just don’t get to read often. Very highly recommended for those who like well written, beautiful stories with unorthodox heroes. I am now eagerly waiting for the next instalment in this series. A very close runner-up was N.K.Jemisin’s The Fifth Season – again, the first book in the series.

For my fiction pick, it has to be The E-Myth Revisited by Michel E.Gerber – just because of the sheer amount I learnt about starting and running a small-business. Practial, eminently useful and the timing for this information was just right – and so this book won over both Sapiens by Yuval Noah Harris and
Spark Joy by Marie Kondo
, both excellent books which I will be re-reading.

January 2017

Sunday Monday Tuesday Wednesday Thursday Friday Saturday
1 2 3 4
Sebastian Junger
(library book)
5 6 7
8 9 10 11
Yuval Noah Harari
12 13 14
15 16 17 18
The Fifth Season
(library ebook)
19 20 21
22 23
Spark Joy
Marie Kondo
(library book)
24 25
Throne of the Crescent Moon
Saladin Ahmed
(library book)
The E-Myth Revisited
Michael E. Gerber
27 28
29 30 31

You can find all my previous Reading logs here