Sacha on External Brains

Back in September, I wrote about Jeff Terrell’s excellent video on using Emacs and Org Mode as an exocortex. “Exocortex” for these purposes means an “external brain” of some sort that is used for off-loading thoughts and plans that aren’t pertinent to whatever you’re working on or thinking about at the moment.

Sacha Chua has an excellent post on the same ideas. As the busy Mom of a toddler, she needs to keep track of lots of things such as tasks that need doing, child development milestones, activities and the time spent on them, notes, and finances. Like me, she is inveterate record keeper and has developed strategies for easing the collection and recording of all that data.

Her on-the-go note collector is Momento Database on her Android phone. It’s a very nice app that allows her to record timestamped entries of notes for later inclusion in other applications. I have the same needs but my solution is not nearly as nice. I use the Notes app on my iPhone to maintain a “memo book” in which I record my current activities and notes. I have a bit of Elisp that reformats the data and imports it into an Org mode table. I run that every month. That’s pretty easy because the Notes are automatically synced across all my Apple devices.

There are a couple of problems with this scheme. First, I have to manually enter the timestamp for each entry because Notes just records free-form text1. Second, I want to add some of those entries to my Journal, which means I have to copy (and reformat) the data into my journal. Chua has inspired me to look into better solutions. There’s an iPhone app called Momento that doesn’t appear to be related to Momento Database but does the same sort of thing. I haven’t had a chance to investigate it in detail yet but perhaps it will offer a better platform for my memo book.

My data collection and storage routine is like a Japanese garden: it’s an ongoing project that is never complete. I’m always evolving and tweaking it.

In the mean time, if you’re a data junkie like me or just want to get your life better organized, be sure to read Chua’s post. There’s a lot more in it than just Momento Database. It’s full of good ideas.



That’s not quite true. It has other capabilities but none that help with my memo book needs.

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  • polytropos123

    To have (automatically) time-stamped entries you can try to setup a google form. They're usable also from a mobile device and store your data in a spreadsheets that you can export to various format.

    • Yup, Google Sheets (and Google Forms) was the avenue I first started down for my structured data entry, and the main reason I'm using Memento is that it synchronizes with Google Sheets while giving me offline data entry on my Android. I've come to like its filtering and export features as well. If I can sort out structured data entry and review using something that synchronizes with Org, though... =)