May 2023

Comments on Substack

I was going to react to something a commenter on William Hogeland's post about Hamilton said regarding the perception that Alexander Hamilton was more "relatable" than the other founders. I think Hogeland was right to push back on this statement. Jefferson has been the most relatable for generations, in spite of Sally Hemings. I think the new interest in Hamilton is 1000% due to the genius of Lin-Manuel Miranda. Ron Chernow's biography is apparently the source of Miranda's excitement over Hamilton, just as it is probably the source of most of the bad history in the narrative. But of course the musical reached an order of magnitude more people than Chernow's book. Unfortunately, I was unable to comment because that is a privilege reserved for paid subscribers.

I wonder if it makes sense for me to unsubscribe from substacks that limit comments to paid "members" of the community. At the very least, my immediate reaction of extreme annoyance and a desire to unsubscribe is probably a good indication to me that I should never limit comments -- at the very least not on posts that unpaid subscribers can see!

In any case, I'm about to take a week away from screens and go on a family vacation. When I return, the first full week of June, I'll be using some of these observations to develop my own substack practice. I'll begin posting on note-making, historical primary sources, open education, my own research, and a blog covering random topics. One of the things I might do in the blog is occasionally react to other things I'm reading in substack and elsewhere. Way back in the beginning of “weblogging”, the medium was imagined as both a place to write original content and a place to curate, comment on, and develop relationships with other bloggers. So we'll see how that goes, this summer.

See you soon! --Dan

LYT Discussion of Obsidian Book Club

Last week I did a Zoom meeting with Nick Milo during his Linking Your Thinking Conference, to talk about and demo the Obsidian Book Club (which you can find here). This is a group that meets on Saturdays, from 10 AM for me, but that's 8 AM for my friends in CA, even earlier in Hawaii, afternoon in Great Britain and Western Europe, and evening in the Middle East. We regularly have members join from these locations. In the past we had several people in Asia and I actually ran two meeting times each weekend. This was a bit much for me, but I suppose it's the price of living on a planet.

The Book Club bounces back and forth between reading about notemaking and reading about history or politics or economics, usually with a goal of understanding the current world situation. Members come and go depending on whether they're interested in the current book. Right now we're in the 9th book, Kate Raworth's
Doughnut Economics, which was nominated by a couple of members and voted on by the group.

My demo for Nick was a little scattered. I hadn't really taken that much time to prepare, since it was the end of the semester at my university and I was a bit swamped. But then the Book Club is pretty informal and the shared Obsidian vault is a work in progress; so I think this wasn't entirely inappropriate. The ability to create a shared space where we can carry on discussions that extend the conversations we have on Zoom is the main benefit for me. Putting a folder in Dropbox and giving members full access to it has really not produced the types of problems you might expect from a bunch of people all working in the same "space". Part of this may be that we don't all work in the vault simultaneously (although I have seen some people moving around in it while I've been in there), and especially that we are only rarely working on exactly the same file. Since we are each responding to the texts in our own ways, we are typically working on our own notes. Sometimes we comment on the notes another user has made, but rarely in realtime, when the author of the note is still "there" and watching.

We do have a Community Notes page and a Vault Changelog which require a little more care. We timestamp and "sign" notes we add to the Community page, and they're visible as a chronological stream. The Changelog creates "Conflicted Copies" if I leave it on, so I typically turn it on when I visit the vault and it captures all the changes that have been made as I'm adding things or making an entry in the Community Page. Then I turn it off again when I'm ready to leave, like turning off the lights.

Dropbox does a very good job of archiving backups of the folder and I have been able to restore uncorrupted files from an automatic backup the
one time we have ever had a problem. Previously, I had been backing up by simply duplicating the entire folder from the Mac finder. That works well too.

My overall conclusion is that Obsidian works great as a shared, collaborative space. I suppose there are other tools out there that do as well. At work we use Microsoft and I know a lot of educators use Google Docs. My feelings about those are that Microsoft is a very expensive commercial platform, and even so it doesn't really seem to know whether Teams of Sharepoint is the way to go. Google is free, but in the classic sense that if you're not paying, you're the product. I don't feel comfortable doing any work in a Google space, even if it's work I'm ultimately planning to give away with a CC license on it. My Obsidian vault, even the shared Dropbox one, belongs to me and is available to my friends. I'm a bit more comfortable with that, in the long run.

Link to YouTube: