Entry points

When I began trying to understand how a Slipbox would work for me, I think I was most stuck on the idea of entry points: Where and how would I find myself going “into” the Slipbox?

Turns out, I’m “in” the Slipbox a lot simply because I’m often adding things to it. So of course I run into other slips and ideas inside the Slipbox.

But I’ve had a lingering concern: What happens when I want to locate something in particular within the Slipbox?

All the instructions and guidance I see caution one to not try to structure the Slipbox from the beginning; cautions against trying to incept the perfect categorization of all the stuff you don’t yet realize you are going to want to add… They are correct; that way madness lies. And so I set off creating top-level slips, (slip address “6” is an ambitious, “Mastery Projects,” because I wanted to add a slip 6a1 about “concept shaped holes”.)

But still that lingering concern: What happens when I want to locate something in particular within the Slipbox?

And so I’m stealing a trick from the even-older-than-Slipboxes/Zettelkastën methods of creating commonplace books: How to create an index on physical media (journals, blank books, or little paper cards going into a Slipbox!)

slip 4c is “Slipbox indices”
slip 4c1 is “people by last name”

Here I’m hacking the Slipbox addressing system. Yes, I’m leaving room for a later 4c2 that could be another index, by topic. But mostly, I’m making sure that the slips under 4c1 can then be letters— 4c1a, 4c1b, 4c1c and so on.

And here’s the hack from commonplace books: To Build an index that doesn’t get out of hand, take the first letter and the next letter which is a vowel.

Constantine > “co”
Washington > “wa”

Easy. But the following are not under “an” …

Anka > “aa”
Antisthenes > “ai”

And…

Armstrong > “ao”
Curie > “cu”
Einstein > “ei”
Epictetus > “ei”
Gracián > “ga”
Irvine > “ii”
Twain > “ta”

And so on.

If you’re wondering, that means there could be 26×6 slips in this index. (a-z gives 26 first characters, times a, e, i, o, u, y gives 6 second characters.) But in reality I’ve reached about 40 slips and I’ve not had to add another for a while now.

What’s on each slip? Just references to other slips in the Slipbox…

4c1wa has
Ward, William A — pj4.28
Wayne, John — 4a7
Ward, Bryan — 4b21
Washington, George — 4a19

It’s not sorted. It’s simply in the order I added those names. If the card overflows, I’ll add an identically addressed 4c1wa since the items on those two 4c1wa cards aren’t in any particular order.

What? Is it worth it? …yes. I’ve already gone in to add a person, only to discover they are already in the Slipbox somewhere completely different and that’s a connection I hadn’t noticed before…

BOOM! There’s the other part of the Slipbox I wondered about: How is this thing going to make new things fall out of my thinking.

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slip:1c1

Commonplace notebooks

Continuing my train of thought from On knowledge systems and Push and pull, today I want to dive into something called a commonplace book. (For the third time: no denouement today.) In line with more modern language usage, I’m going to prefer commonplace notebook; books are today commonplace, and we use the word “notebook” for the ones we create privately.

Settle in, this is about to get tangential.

I first encountered this idea at 8am, November 13th, 2020. Literally. I’ve never heard of the idea of a “commonplace book” previously. And here I am in the midst of finally pulling on a thread which I’ve been calling a quest for a knowledge system… trying to solve a problem which is as yet ill formed. I’ve been reading through the entire Farnam Street web site; it’s like 5,000 non-trivial web pages skimming a few every day for well over a year. This November 13th a little before 8am I happen to reach, John Locke’s Method of Organizing Common Place Books. Which, probably is not worth clicking through. First off, “common” modifies “place” so we can drop “common” without fundamentally changing the meaning—so sayeth grammar. Therefore Locke’s method is for organizing books about places. I very nearly didn’t even skim it. But I did. And realized it’s his method for organizing commonplace books. Oh my god Becky, that’s completely different. Wait, what’s a commonplace book? (There’s a link in that post about Locke’s method.) POW!

Commonplace books are personal knowledge libraries; notebooks full of collected ideas and bits of wisdom all mixed up together. Here, we take a look at their history and benefits.

~ from https://fs.blog/2014/07/networked-knowledge-and-combinatorial-creativity/

Am I on Candid Camera? This is so apropos of my recent thinking, it’s H.P. Lovecraft level eery.

Zooming out…

The knowledge system I’m seeking is not simply a repository into which I want to toss everything. For example, Evernote is not a solution that will work. It’s too easy to put things in. (Likewise for any home-grown version I might cook up with documents or cloud storage.) Sure, Evernote and other solutions are eminently searchable—that’s a good thing. But I continue to avoid such tools because… well, because I don’t want simply a giant collection of everything. I don’t want to simply amass everything I’ve ever been exposed to. (We already have an Internet. We don’t need Craig’s Internet assembled within the other.) But, I’ll call these desirables the “power” features.

I’m intrigued by the commonplace notebook solution as it requires a good bit of effort to add things. Effort is required to evaluate each new idea to be added. Effort is required to see how it “hangs together with” the rest of what I know, at the time when I encounter the new thing. This suggests individual, manual and mental labor, [meaning I have to do everything, possibly even including manually writing things down on paper] is also a desirable feature.

Some combination of those “power” and “manual” features feels like a sweet spot.

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