Obsidian PKM Personal Knowledge Management

My Current PKM Stack

My PKM Stack as of September 2023

I’m enrolled in cohort 2 of Mike Schmitz’s Obsidian University. Mike is an excellent educator and he’s developed considerable expertise in Obsidian. His first two sessions are deep dives into setting up a personal knowledge management (PKM) system. The first session was about philosophy, the second about specific tools he uses/recommends.

I’ve been using Obsidian pretty heavily since I first started playing with it in May 2022. I’ve got lots of notes collected and have a workflow that’s been working for me in terms of capturing information I want to think about later. Here’s my basic workflow:

  1. I’m doing all of my browsing in Safari on Mac, iPhone or iPad. I have used Instapaper as my read-later service for years and articles I find while browsing that I might want to save I’ll capture in Instapaper. I like Instapaper’s “clean up” approach – taking all of the extra stuff out of web pages and distilling them down to the essence of the text on the page.
  2. A second source of capture is Feedly which I’m using as my RSS reader and in which I also capture articles to Instapaper.
  3. Sometime later I’ll open Instapaper and read through what I’ve captured. If I find an article I want to add to my Obsidian vault, I will email it to Drafts using its recently added mail drop feature. Once it’s in Drafts, I used an action to save the article to my Obsidian Inbox folder which is stored in iCloud.
  4. Later, I’ll open Obsidian and review my Inbox folder and open each item in turn, add metadata properties to the top (using an Obsidian template that I’ve created), and – once I’m finished editing it – I’ll move the note to my Zettlekasten folder in Obsidian which is where I store all of my notes.

That’s it.

I also use Drafts from time to time to just capture text that I either write or dictate – and process that later in the same fashion.

What I’m still trying to figure out how to do better is taking advantage of the notes I’ve captured – revisiting them, summarizing them, using them as the basis for a new note or a blog post, etc. In other words, creating some useful output from all of the input I’ve been adding. This is very much a work in progress!

By the way, sometime that’s important to learn before or while you’re learning Obsidian is the Markdown text format. It’s a simple, easy to learn way to “markup” text and it’s important to become fluent in using it with Obsidian.

Note: in addition to Mike Schmitz’s Obsidian University, I’ve also purchased David Sparks’ Obsidian Field Guide which is also a useful educational resource for learning the ropes of Obsidian.

AI AI: Diffusion Models AI: Large Language Models AI: Transformers Futures Living

Navigating the Infinite

We will soon, if not already, be drowning in the Sea of Infinite Content!

It’s become clear that we’re heading into a world of infinite content – as if we aren’t already drowning in that sea of meaningless, automatically generated content. What was once a seemingly manageable stream of books, websites, and media is becoming a overwhelming tidal wave, threatening to erode the shores of human creativity. The age of innovation is impacted.

What’s moving us from today’s world of “just a lot” to our future of “way too much”? Why do I say we’re drowning in a sea of infinite content?

In two words: generative AI.

Since the launch last fall of ChatGPT (and many similar tools), it’s become increasing clear that we can now use these tools to churn out endless repetitive, low quality content. Indeed they can create spammy nonsense for themselves, with no regard for truth or diversity. All that matters is predicting the best next word.

The focus is on quantity over quality. So much garbage is being produced that it’s becoming harder to find meaningful information and creative art amidst the noise. Useful voices are being drowned out by the drone of algorithmic imitation of what’s already popular.

There is also the risk of misinformation as fake AI-generated content spreads. Propaganda and radicalization loom as nefarious actors exploit these tools. Jobs in creative fields disappear as AI replaces human creators and artists.

All this tidal wave of endless content needs is electricity. Power. And ever more semiconductors.

Where does this path lead us? What will become of creativity and originality if AI takes over? We must question how to harness infinite content ethically to serve humanity, not overwhelm it. The age of human innovation cannot be allowed to end under a sea of meaningless artificial content. We cannot lose what makes us human.

How can we ensure these technologies are used responsibly? How can we stem the tide before it’s too late? The debates must begin now.

And where will all of that power – and all of those semiconductors – come from?

Black and White iPhone 14 Pro Max Menlo Park Photography - Black & White

Sunday Morning Zen

On my morning walk this morning, I came across this young woman sitting on the pavement adjacent to pond at Sharon Park – looking across the water to the fountain and a sunny Sunday morning sky.

The fountain in the pond was just re-activated a few days ago – and it adds so much to the image by creating a point of interest where otherwise there’d just be negative space. It was blessed with great timing – both her being there and the fountain now active again.

There’s a walkway behind where she was sitting which is elevated by about four feet so I walked around behind her on to that walkway and snapped a few photos with my iPhone 14 Pro Max. This is the most peaceful and Zen-like of them – and I opted to post-process into black and white to remove all of the color and focus the eye on just the contrast between light and shadow.

Hope you also enjoy this image!


Giving More

There’s a lovely new interview of Kevin Kelly on YouTube as part of David Perell’s How I Write series. These are all such graceful and insightful conversations – I so appreciate Perell sharing them with us.

One of the comments Kelly makes on this conversation is “the more you give, the more you get”.

Kelly calls it one of the weird paradoxes of the universe “that makes no sense whatsoever. … It doesn’t make sense that the most selfish thing you can do is to be selfless. That if you really were aiming to get a lot, that you have to give away a lot. That’s a fundamental paradox, but that is so reliable.”

Generosity. Reminds me of Adam Grant’s notion of the world being made up of givers and takers. Be a giver and you’ll be a whole lot better for it. A constant reminder to self.

This whole interview with Kevin Kelly is another one of his gifts. I love the motto on his website: “Over the long term, the future is decided by optimists!”

Note: I usually listen/watch YouTube videos or podcasts at 1.5x or 2x speed – but not these videos that David Perell is doing. They need to be savored – and are so enjoyable.

Productivity Work

The 90-minute Hour

Hourglass with dollar banknotes and stationery on table

Earlier in my career, I had a high-pressure job with many demands – including endless meetings. I would race through each day, finding it nearly impossible to take even a 5-minute break!

Luckily, I had an amazing executive assistant who noticed how these constant meetings were affecting me. She also knew how much I valued “think time” – uninterrupted time to work and concentrate.

One day, she suggested dividing my schedule into 90-minute blocks, while booking meetings for only 60 minutes.

This simple change was magical. Now I had a buffer between meetings – a chance to prepare, reflect, and recharge. It was the most impactful productivity hack I discovered in my career.

If you’re feeling stretched thin by back-to-back meetings, try converting your hours into 90-minute blocks. You’ll appreciate having that extra breathing room. If you do, let me know how it goes by leaving a comment below.

AI AI: Large Language Models Claude

Projects vs Efforts

a person typing on a laptop
Photo by Daniel Thomas on

As part of his introduction of the new Ideaverse sample vault for Obsidian, Nick Milo has focused on the difference between projects versus efforts – and has settled on using the Efforts name for one of the folders in his new ACE folder structure. Efforts are different from projects and Nick believes that name is better suited to be part of a PKM system. In his fourth video introducing Ideaverse Nick Milo noted: “Why do some projects get done, and other projects get stuck? It might be because projects don’t work well with ideas.”

Of late I’ve enjoyed bouncing ideas around with Claude, the chatbot from Anthropic. I asked Claude to help me understand the differences between projects and efforts by writing a musing on that. I found Claude’s response quite useful:

Projects and efforts both require time, energy, and focus to accomplish something, but they have some key differences. 

Projects are more defined, with a specific scope, timeline, and set of objectives. They have a clear beginning and a desired end result. Efforts are more open-ended, without rigid parameters. An effort may continue indefinitely as part of an ongoing process.

Projects follow a linear progression, with planning, execution, and completion phases. Efforts evolve organically, with starts and stops, detours, and gradual refinements. Projects aim to produce a deliverable, while efforts may have less tangible outcomes.

Projects can be handled individually or by teams. Efforts often involve loose collections of people contributing in diverse ways over time. Projects have project managers overseeing them. Efforts lack that formal hierarchical structure.

When projects finish, they are done. Efforts may pause or change direction, but they often persist in some form. We celebrate project launches and project completions. Efforts reflect continuous investment without fanfare.

Both projects and efforts require diligence and group coordination. But projects allow for more top-down control to keep work narrowly defined. Efforts rely more on bottom-up participation, following passion and drawing in a wide base of support.

In essence, projects impose structure on objectives, while efforts supply energy to ambitions. Both are vital and mutually reinforcing. A singular project can advance an expansive effort, just as an ongoing effort can spawn many delimited projects over time. By balancing closed-ended projects and open-ended efforts, we can direct our limited resources toward achievements with lasting impact.

Inverness iPhone 12 Pro Max Photography Photography - Black & White

Brock’s Boathouse in Inverness

For many years, I’ve enjoyed seeing this old boathouse sitting out in Tomales Bay just off Inverness, California. In November 2020, we were staying nearby and I couldn’t resist pulling over along the road and snapping this photo with my iPhone 12 Pro Max. Note the white heron in the water near the right side of the boathouse!

This black and white version was first processed in Lightroom using some filters and then into Snapseed with the Drama filter applied to the lower 3/4 but not to the sky area.

Here’s the original photo from which the black and white version was cropped:

Amateur Radio Bolinas Point Reyes Radio

Back on Radio Road to KPH at Point Reyes

A year ago this month, my friend Doug Kaye and I spent a Saturday touring the old KPH radio sites at Bolinas and Point Reyes, California courtesy of the Maritime Historical Radio Society.

During our visit last year, we had a great tour of both the old transmitting site in Bolinas and the receive site at Point Reyes. The station continued to operate until June 30, 1997.

One of the treats for me during our visit was seeing a Vibroplex Blue Racer “bug” used for sending Morse code. These “bugs” were mechanical – with a long vibrating piece of metal that vibrated back and forth to generate the dots while you used your thumb to generate the dashes. There’s a small adjustable weight on the metal rod that you could adjust back and forth to adjust the speed of the dots you were sending.

Back in my younger days when I was just starting out in amateur radio, one of my big purchases was a Blue Racer – and it was my pride and joy until I eventually moved on to a keyer and, ultimately, built my own keyboard keyed. Ah, those were the days. Sadly, after many moves and many packed boxes of old gear, I have no idea where my old original Blue Racer has ended up! But seeing that Blue Racer still in action at KPH was a special treat for me!

See my post from years before about looking down Radio Road at Point Reyes.

AI AI: Large Language Models AI: Prompting Bing Chat ChatGPT Claude Google Bard Haiku

Crafting Effective Prompts for Your AI Assistant (Claude, ChatGPT, Bard, etc.)

webpage of chatgpt a prototype ai chatbot is seen on the website of openai on iphone or smartphone
Photo by Sanket Mishra on

Interacting with an AI assistant like Claude is a two-way conversation. To get the most out of your digital assistant, you need to know how to provide useful prompts that set it up for success. Follow these prompt writing tips when chatting with your AI:

Be Direct and Clear

Don’t beat around the bush when posing questions or requests to your AI assistant. Vague or ambiguous prompts will lead to vague and ambiguous responses from the AI. Get straight to the point and be as specific as possible about what you want it to do. Break down complex instructions into simple, step-by-step prompts to guide the AI.

Provide Sufficient Background

Don’t assume your AI assistant has any implied common sense or knowledge about your request. The AI only knows what’s in its training data! Give sufficient background and context in your prompts to set the AI up to respond appropriately. If you’re asking about a specific person or event the AI isn’t likely familiar with, give a brief explanation.

Ask Focused Questions

Open-ended questions can sometimes lead your chatbot down useless tangents. If you want specific info, ask specific follow-up questions rather than overly broad ones. You’ll get better results by being laser-focused on the information you need.

Check Responses and Follow Up

Your AI assistant is learning all the time. Check its responses to see if they actually provide what you were looking for, and follow up if it seems off track. You can rephrase your original prompt or ask clarifying questions to get the AI back on a useful path. Consider it a collaborative process.

Test the Limits

Feel free to get creative in testing the limits of your AI assistant’s capabilities. Novel prompts encourage the AI to expand what it can handle. Just be sure to provide plenty of guidance and background if you’re requesting something unusual or complex.

Give Your AI a Role to Play

When chatting with your AI assistant, it can be hugely beneficial to explicitly give it a role to play, such as teacher, travel agent, cooking assistant, or even friend. Defining a role provides necessary context that your AI needs to adapt its responses and language appropriately.

Without any framing, your assistant has no way of knowing how to act or what kind of information you need. A vague conversation with an undefined AI assistant can quickly go off the rails. But when you assign a clear role, it focuses the dialogue and reduces misunderstandings.

The role you give your AI doesn’t have to be rigid or limiting. Think of it as providing a general framing, tone, and personality that fits your needs for that particular conversation. Just tell your assistant “Act as my tutor and explain this concept to me.” Or “Pretend you’re a museum tour guide and describe this painting.”

Taking on a role allows your AI to access the right knowledge, terminology, and communication style to have a productive, natural dialogue. With the power of role-playing, your AI assistant can become an even more effective conversation partner!

Some Prompt Examples You Can Try

To see your AI assistant’s skills in action, give some longer, more descriptive prompts like these a try:

  • “Imagine you are an art museum tour guide named Sam leading a group through the impressionist gallery. In an enthusiastic but professional tone, explain the key characteristics of Monet’s painting style and describe what makes his Water Lilies painting a quintessential example of impressionism.”
  • “Act as a friendly chess tutor named Alex teaching me, a novice player, strategies for the first 10 moves as white in a classic game opening. Use simple, straightforward language to clearly explain the objectives of different standard openings and why they are solid foundational openings for white.”
  • “Pretend you are a home repair specialist named Jamie and I’m a customer needing help fixing my broken kitchen faucet. Walk me step-by-step through how to remove the faucet handle, disassemble and inspect the internal parts, replace any faulty washers or O-rings, and reassemble everything to get the faucet working again.”
  • “You’re an accomplished pastry chef named Pat teaching me how to bake chocolate chip cookies from scratch. Explain in a warm, patient tone the key steps from mixing dry and wet ingredients properly to getting the baking time and temperature right. Share any tips to ensure the cookies turn out perfectly chewy.”
  • “Imagine you are a professional genealogist named Gene helping me trace my ancestry. I’ve hit a roadblock finding records about my great-grandfather who I believe was born in Ireland around 1885 before immigrating to New York City. In a warm, encouraging tone provide step-by-step guidance for how to locate passenger manifests, naturalization records, birth/marriage/death certificates, and other documents that could shed light on his origins and immigration journey. Feel free to ask clarifying questions if you need any additional details from me. Your role is to patiently coach me through breaking through this genealogy brick wall using targeted record searches.”

Prompt for Haiku

To showcase your AI’s creative writing skills, try a prompt like:

  • “Write a haiku poem about viewing cherry blossoms in spring. Describe the delicate pink flowers blooming on branches and scattering in the wind. Convey a tranquil, reflective mood. Follow the 5-7-5 haiku structure with 3 lines and appropriate season word.”

This provides context about the haiku’s theme, asks the AI to use descriptive language and imagery, gives guidance on mood and structure, and defines the specific creative writing form. Framing poetic prompts in this way allows your AI to tap into its artistic expression. You can guide it to compose haiku, limericks, sonnets, and more on any topic you choose!

See also my post about writing haiku with ChatGPT.


Giving longer prompts with more conversational detail and specific instructions allows your AI assistant to generate richer, more natural responses. Don’t be afraid to really set the scene and adopt a persona when framing your requests! For even more, see my post Multi-step prompting for Claude.

Please share what you’ve learned about effective prompts that you’ve discovered!

Credit: Drafted with the assistance of Claude, an AI assistant created by Anthropic.

Berkshire Hathaway Business Warren Buffett

Remembering Blue Chip Stamps

While I was going to college in the late 1960’s, Blue Chip Stamps became quite a presence in California. I was listening to a podcast with Jacob McDonough (TIP 573) on my morning walk this morning as he discussed the early years of Berkshire Hathaway – and that brought memories for me.

It was amazing to watch the arc of Blue Chip during the 60’s and 70’s. Our family moved to California from Ohio where S&H Green Stamps had a significant presence. But Blue Chip seemed much bigger in California.

Back in those days, gasoline service stations and supermarkets were the major distributors of these trading stamps – making a very nice business for Blue Chip and S&H. As gas stations competed for business, they started offering multiples – like 3X or 5X stamps on your purchases. Lots of stamps!

In 1970, Berkshire began investing in buy the stock of Blue Chip. One of the companies purchased by Berkshire back in those days was Blue Chip Stamps. Wikipedia quotes Warren Buffett in his 2006 letter to Berkshire shareholders, Blue Chip had 1970 sales of $126 million as about 60 billion “stamps were licked by savers, pasted into books, and taken to Blue Chip redemption stores. When I was told that even certain brothels and mortuaries gave stamps to their patrons, I felt I had finally found a sure thing.”

Similar to insurance companies, these trading stamp companies were getting cash in the door from selling stamps to retailers to pass along to their customers for their loyalty while not having any actual expenses to incur until those customers pasted the stamps in their little booklets and traded them in for actual merchandise. And, along the way, some of those stamps might just disappear – “breakage” helping enhance the financial returns.

Berkshire knew a lot about insurance businesses and clearly found the trading stamp business at Blue Chip had a lot of good similarities. As with many things, the trading stamp business was good while it lasted – but it didn’t last. No worries for Berkshire however as Buffett made a very nice return along the way on his investment in Blue Chip.

Memories of old times!