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.

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.

My day so far in Roam and/or Emacs

A quick rundown the chaos in my head around Roam and Emacs and how it has affected my day so far.

6:00am Realize on the way to work that Roam just isn’t a great idea for holding my (hopefully) long-term “second brain”. $30/month forever in a proprietery blah-de-blah? Nope, and by the way org-roam is perfectly suited for this. I want long-term stability and control for this sort of thing and what could be more long-term-stable than Emacs and plain text files, right?

7:00am Tweak Emacs a little and settle in. Move some of the things I “accidentally” wrote in Roam yesterday into org-roam. You see? Now _everything_ is in Emacs and I can stop thinking about it. This will be fine.

11:00am After spending 90-minutes down a rabbit hole trying to get better at managing tables in Org mode and then fumble-fingering a couple commands that messed up my file because my Emacs keybindings are a mess, I decided that NO! maybe Emacs isn’t the best tool for the job and Roam is made for this, for crying out loud. Also, Airtable is great at spreadsheets, why suffer the pain (and admit it, it’s painful) of tables in Org mode when I can just paste an Airtable link into Roam? Best tool for the job, yada yada.

11:30am Go to lunch and think about all this the entire time even though I just want to enjoy my damn lunch.

1:00pm Quit Emacs in anger and put all my notes from this morning into Roam and my tasks into OmniFocus where they belong. Right!? Tasks are way simpler in OmniFocus anyway and it hooks right into email and so on. My second brain is basically useless when it’s nothing more than a bunch of text files. Notes need to be used to be useful. They aren’t useful if they are just written once and forgotten. You know what makes my notes useful and is nice and easy to use? Roam!

2:00pm Realize I’m doing it again. I kind of knew I was, but now it’s become obvious so I jump into another tab and start writing so I can share this nonsense with everyone because everyone wants to read post after post of me whining about how indecisive I can be.

The Future No one knows, the day’s not over yet!