Org-roam vs other Roam-alikes

As you probably know, I struggle with where to keep my notes. For a few months now it’s been a battle between Org-roam and Roam. Org-roam has been in the lead, mostly due to Roam being unstable and (soon to be) expensive. Also, my infatuation with Org mode is on again.

Using Emacs takes work on my part. It takes mental energy. I’m nearly always OK with that, because Emacs has Org mode and Org mode beats everything at what it does. On the other hand, sometimes I’m lazy or tired. I just want to lean back and point-and-click my way around. That’s not how Emacs works. I wrote earlier that, “Getting to a link I have stored in Org-roam takes me about five seconds longer than the same link in Roam.” In other words, Emacs with Org mode (and by extension, Org-roam) is better, but it’s a lot harder.

Yesterday, I tried the Roam-alike, Obsidian. Obsidian could be, for me, a viable replacement for Roam. It looks good, has all the necessary features, uses local storage only (by default), and is based on Markdown. I played with it for only a couple hours, but I really liked it. It’s easy! Well, crap. Now what?

I took a breath and thought about it. Honestly, Obsidian shifted the battle lines. Now, it’s Org-roam vs Obsidian. I can live without block-level transclusion and queries in Roam. I can, reluctantly, live without an outliner. I can certainly live without founders I’m uncomfortable with.

But, I don’t think I can live without Org mode. My ~/org directory has everything. It’s not just my notes repository. It’s my Journal, my todo list, my authoring environment, my reference manager, my time tracker, my PDF viewer/annotator, and sometimes my email and RSS client. I love the idea that I can ripgrep in ~/org and find anything. I love that everything always behaves the same way (bindings, editing, file handling, etc.). I love that it’s all local and free and is more likely than any of the alternatives to be around for decades.

Yes, Emacs can be difficult and frustrating. It is a tweaker’s dream and at the same time can be a nightmare for someone trying to just be productive. This is crazy-making if you’re both of those people.

So right now, Roam and the other Roam-alikes will have to sit on the sidelines. I’m writing this on Friday, May 29, 2020. Just making a note.

Keeping Org-roam Daily Notes in a separate folder

Org-roam continues to impress.

I use org-roam’s “Daily Notes” feature every day as a frictionless place to put notes that may or may not need to be moved or otherwise dealt with later. It’s the Org-roam version of a similar feature in Roam.

One thing about it I didn’t care for was that the Daily Notes .org files were starting to pile up in the root of my ~/org directory.

Most of the time, file names and locations do not matter in org-roam. Everything is easy to find/browse right in Emacs. There are times, however, when I’m poking around in my org files using Dropbox or the Finder. All those daily files started getting in the way, so I decided to try moving them into their own ~/org/dailies/ folder.

Trouble was, the way I get to or create daily files is by using org-roam-dailies-today and that function creates the file in the root org-roam-directory folder. I asked about the possibility of a new setting for where to store dailies, but it turns out that the capability is already in org-roam with org-roam-dailies-capture-templates. This is an org-roam specific version of the org-capture-templates feature. Jethro helpfully sent me the following snippet for my config:

(setq org-roam-dailies-capture-templates '(("d" "daily" plain (function org-roam-capture--get-point) ""
                                            :immediate-finish t
                                            :file-name "dailies/%<%Y-%m-%d>"
                                            :head "#+TITLE: %<%Y-%m-%d>")))

And poof! new daily notes files are created in ~/org/dailies.

But what to do about the 3-months worth of existing files? They are full of links to other org files and those are all relative to the root ~/org directory. Moving them would break all those links. I had seen some comments about proper link handling when files are moved using dired, so I tried that. I fired up dired, marked all the daily notes files using %m2020-, and moved them to ~/org/dailies. I then deleted the org-roam.db database and ran org-roam-db-build-cache and guess what, all of the links and backlinks were updated and everything worked.

Now, all my “dailies” files are nicely tucked away in their own folder.

So cool.

I'll be using Org-roam for the time being

It’s been a challenging week for me using Roam. For the past several days my Roam database simply wouldn’t load. I’d see the spinning Astrolabe forever. Deleting the site data in my browser and restarting would help for a time, but then it would happen again.

What I’ve come to learn is that I need my Roam database available to me all the time. I understand that Roam is still in beta, but here we are.

While I wait for Roam to figure things out, I’m back to using Org-roam. This means that I’m dependent upon Emacs for useful notes, and I was trying to avoid that, but at least I can get at my notes were something to break. You know, text files and all that.

I prefer “real” Roam, but Org-roam is pretty great, and is improving so fast it’s hard to keep up with it. Of course Org mode is just so good anyway. Oh, and it’s stable, so it’s got that going for it.