[LFR] Letters from a Roaman - Letter LII

Happy Tuesday friends,

If you’ve been around the Twittersphere for the last few weeks, you may well have seen the recent splash that Tana is making, with a number of prominent (and former?) Roamans sharing their excitement as the tool comes out of its “stealth” phase and, with echoes of the early days of Roam when the gates were temporarily closed, the desire of others for the coveted invitations to try it out.

By way of PSA, and to hopefully save my email inbox from further deluge, while I do have access to Tana, unfortunately, I don’t have any invitations to share with others at this time.

I shall be sharing my thoughts on Tana in due course when I have given it a fair shakedown, but for now, while it’s an already well-polished system, Roam remains my daily driver. I will continue to evaluate Tana for my use cases, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it develops.

I do have to say that my interactions with the Tana team so far have been hugely positive, and they are open to learning and quickly iterating on user feedback. With its arrival, along with other similar graph-based outliner tools like Logseq and Athens, I’m sure that more competition will drive further innovation in the field and make sure that no one can rest on their laurels.

With that said, there's still plenty of momentum in the Roam eco-system.

Around the Roaman Empire

Game Film

In this Loom video, Matt McGann demonstrates a practical example of the new embed-path feature, which almost makes the Context RoamJS plugin redundant.

Tracy Winchell shared a 10-minute Loom video demonstrating her use of RJ’s work log system with Fabrice Gallet’s Elapsed Time extension.

Improving your mental health

Interstitial Journaling is a great way to shorten the feedback loops in getting better at your work and becoming more aware of your habits and rhythms in general.

Mental health is not something that tends to be covered much in the note-taking/PKM world, but tools like Roam can actually be extremely helpful in managing it through awareness, reflection and cultivating more gratitude.

Next Tuesday, [[October 18th, 2022]] Tracy is running a workshop called “How to respond when gratitude is hard to find”.

If you’re having a tough time lately, perhaps you’re overwhelmed, grieving loss or struggling with anxiety, Tracy’s workshop could be very helpful for you.

The best of Roam Depot

David Vargas has continued to improve and consolidate his RoamJS.com plugins into Roam Depot. The Charts extension has been migrated into the Query Builder extension, so you can now easily visualise your query results.

Roam42 reached Roam Depot last month, renamed WorkBench. If you have been a Roam42 user, you’ll no doubt have had messages to migrate to the new version. If you haven’t yet had the pleasure, now that it’s in the depot, it’s trivial to install and take advantage of.

Vlad Sitalo has also moved his long-time date improvements code into Roam Depot - search for “Date UX improvements”. It’s particularly useful on mobile to quickly adjust dates as well as provide faster date manipulations and navigation via your keyboard.

If you’ve ever wished for an easier way to use footnotes in Roam, check out Fabrice Gallet’s Footnotes extension that’s now in the Roam Depot. It automatically manages the numbering for you as you add and remove them in your text.

John Yeung brings an AI partner to Roam with his Roam AI extension in the Roam Depot. The initial version allows you to generate more text from the current block, create a label for the parent block given some children, and play devil's advocate to get you some new perspectives.

There’s also a second version in review as I write this, which adds some further capabilities and more configuration and control.

While I think this is a great direction for tools for thought to go in, as I covered extensively in my recent series on data ownership (see Letters XLV, XLVII, XLIX), it’s important to be aware that by its nature, it’s sending data from your graph to OpenAI to process.

At the moment, there’s no indication within Roam Depot that this is the case. I hope that the Roam team adds some more information to the extensions to make it clear to users exactly what happens with their graph data, so they are fully informed before installing extensions.

Mark Lavercombe has been a busy bunny lately, bringing many of his existing SmartBlock plugins and new extensions to the Roam Depot. Two of the most useful are Workspaces and Export Document.

Workspaces let you define specific configurations of page and sidebar layouts which you can save and restore very easily. Check out the Loom video for a quick demo.

Export Document allows you to quickly export the current page to either PDF or Docx format choosing whether to export blocks flattened and include linked references.

Quick Roam Tip

Have you wished for Roam to have a simple timer to keep track of how long you’ve spent on something?

Well, turns out it’s had one for some time. Thanks to William Njau, he revealed that all you need to do is enter into a block:

A big tip of the hat to Wilbert for pointing me to this 🎩

Brief Thoughts for Tools

Maggie Appleton shared a really interesting article by Holden Karnofsky called Learning by Writing which outlines a rigorous approach to learning and which I think that tools like Roam are well equipped to help with.

MIT Press has released a free 700-page PDF eBook containing algorithms for decision-making. It’s a dense, math-heavy tome that provides a broad introduction to algorithms for making decisions under uncertainty. I haven’t yet had time to really dig in, but I’m hoping to find and distil some patterns that can be extracted and made useful within tools for thought.

You can find more information and download it via the website https://algorithmsbook.com/

Eirini Malliaraki of Deep Science Ventures shared an article describing the Outcomes graph they have developed, which is designed to help people quickly get to first principles and communicate across domains rapidly.

It’s built using Roam Research and uses the Discourse Graph extension. It’s a shining example of what is now possible.

Dan Allosso released a free short book called How to Make Notes and Write. It “offers a simple and effective way to make effective notes on sources and your interpretations of them, then turn those thoughts into clear and compelling output.”.

Rob Haisfield’s presented the Scaling Synthesis research he did with Joel Chan and Brendan Langen in a recent Tools for Thought Rocks session which you can watch on the original event page.

Given the ripples that Tana is making, it’s also a great chance to see it in action as Rob uses it to present his research.

Thanks for reading. And don't forget you can give me your feedback by replying to this email. I read and appreciate them all, even if I cannot respond to everything.

Until next time,


P.S. I enjoy writing these newsletters, but they take up a lot of my time to curate and write. I don't seek to monetise them, but the software does cost me real money to send them out. If you enjoy my work and find value in the ideas I share, please consider contributing to my running costs. I accept donations via Buy Me a Coffee, where you can now also become a member to support me regularly and get a few perks into the bargain.

💖 Thank you to Melody, Kate, Bob, Wackslacks, Bronson, two anonymous donors and, of course, my regular members; I really appreciate your ongoing support.

Finally, if you'd like some help or guidance for making the most of Roam in your note-taking practice, I offer a few private 1-1 Roam coaching sessions.

Andy Henson

I write Letters from a Roaman, curating community news and resources primarily around Roam Research, though I also include other information applicable to other tools for thought and the area in general. I also share my thoughts on a wide variety of tools for thought topics.

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