How I journal today

I keep this blog for non-theological issues, last writing last September about disaster preparedness. That’s weighed on me lately, with the floods here in the East, volcanoes in Hawaii, fires in Greece and — above all — the unresolved crisis in Puerto Rico as the new hurricane season ramps up. So I’ll be writing up how I am preparing for emergencies and why. Something more than pointing at the Ready.gov site (though it is useful).

Which means keeping notes and writing some documentation, which I do best by logging my days. “Blogging” is a coy contraction of “web logging” so I could log my days online, but that would hamper candid thoughts. I could log in a book like generations have done before me, but I have a pile of half-written blank books to show that’s futile. I’ve decided to journal in a text file, then produce it as a web page that I can read locally (that is, from my own computer) through a web browser. (Could I read the text file? Sure. Am I drawn to reading web pages? You bet.) Here’s how I do it.

I treat each month as its own document, and (should I keep this going) each year as its own “volume.” So I created a set of nested folders: “2018” within “Journal” within Dropbox, so I can also see and edit these files from other Dropbox-connected devices. I have a folder within “2018” called “assets” for keeping images files: think “scrapbook clippings”.

In the “2018” I’ll have a file for each month; I’m calling July’s 2018-07_journal.md. The “.md” is for Markdown, a light way to markup my texts that I can do on the fly. Above all, I don’t want to be distracted by a word processor; you can write with Markdown in a terminal (as I do at home) or on a text editor on a phone. Remember Microsoft Notepad? That would work too. For the sake of this example, putting one underscore on either side of a word _like this_ makes italicized. One or two pound signs or hash marks (#) makes the line a level one or level two header, respectively. That’s how I divide the journal into weeks and days, respectively. Starting a line with a > makes a block quote. Once you get used to Markdown, you can do more, like add images.

(If you know Markdown, I use the kramdown variant and use a YAML header: title and author only. If that means nothing to you, don’t worry because it’s what’s another program will use to make the HTML web page.)

Pandoc is a tool to convert documents of one format to another, in this case Markdown to HTML. It runs on the command line, but there are graphic interfaces like this , but I’ve never used them. (This page helps Windows users.) It’s the command line that makes Pandoc fast and thus preferable. I can select options within Pandoc, too.

Here’s the command I run to regenerate my journal:

pandoc 2018-07_journal.md -s --toc -H bmfw -o 2018-07_journal.html

The -s makes the HTML document a stand-alone, self-contained single webpage. The --toc gives the page a table of contents, in this case each day of the month so I can jump any given day. The -H bmfw pulls in a file called bmfw (more about that later) to supply CSS, to style the page to make it more readable. The -o outputs the HTML to a file called 2018-07_journal.html. That I open with my preferred web browser, Firefox.

Journal page as it appears in firefox

I was inspired by this blue-named site for my format, thus the bmfw file above. I fiddle with it as I like, say, making the text monospaced for now. This is what the beginning of my journal looks like. The “July 2018 Journal” and “Scott Wells” come automatically from the YAML header I mentioned above, but are not required. But what did I do to get it? At the beginning of my 2018-07_journal.md file I typed


---
title: July 2018 Journal
author: Scott Wells

---

There’s a blank line after the second ---. So the beginning of my journal looks like this:

Opening text in terminal window

I hope that gets you started.