Technomancer Tools: Pepperminty Wiki

It's been a while since I've written a technomancer tools article. In the intervening time some things have changed; I've discarded a few tools because they didn't really work for me, or I didn't need them anymore. As you might have surmised (I didn't until I sat down to write this article, which should not be much of a surprise) it seems that I've been compensating for my ADD all this time. While medication has helped there are still a few deficiencies that effort, not phamaceuticals help with. Effort is good but a few tools don't hurt.

Anyway, you've also probably guessed by now that I haven't taken my medication during the time I wrote this article. It was an experiment while I was on vacation, to compare "extended period of time on adderall" with "extended period of time off of adderall" to get a feel for the differences. But nevermind.

Point made, let's get on with it.

I tend to use Tiddlywiki to keep notes for certain projects because I can check the file into the associated Git repository, and I use it at work to keep notes shared with my team through Google Drive. For the longest time I used Joplin to keep unstructured notes, kind of like a portable stack of sticky notes. However, I gave up on Joplin about a year ago because the later releases are just too slow to use anymore and no progress is being made on the underlying problem. It was completely unusable.

What I've found worked well for me was something wiki-like in operation. Mediawiki, the software which powers Wikipedia seems like the gold standard but what little Mediawiki admin work I've done in the past was mostly combatting wiki spam, and I'd much rather use my note-taking apparatus than admin it, if that makes sense. So I did some digging and presently discovered Pepperminty Wiki, a lightweight wiki which consists of a single PHP file, the better to run in my Dreamhost account. My use case consists of "something to take notes with that I can access on any of my devices" so I don't need much in the way of features or plugins. As an experiment I cloned the Git repo, built it (./build.sh build) and uploaded the build/index.php to my Dreamhost account. Setup and configuration were remarkably easy; tweaking the theme was more difficult because of the web design skills I do not possess.

Pepperminty has all of the wiki features that you would expect, including internal and external hyperlinks, tagging, and searching on both titles and page contents. It can also be set up so that you can only access the contents of the wiki if you're logged in, which is great for privacy. The trade-off in my use case is that the data isn't encrypted on disk, but additional security measures were implemented to help mitigate that. The thing that I really like about Pepperminty is that it stores each page (as well as older revisions of pages) on disk as individual text files written in Markdown.

A brief digression on Markdown: Because the files are just text files you can edit them with your favorite text editor if you need to. Also, Markdown is sort of the lingua franca of web applications today. There are many different implementations of Markdown out there (though there are a few slightly different dialects) so something you wrote in Markdown can be copied and pasted into another application and it'll render as one would expect (most of the time - nothing's perfect). I particularly like it because it looks a lot like the way I take notes on paper anyway:

This is a sentence.  Pretend this is a paragraph.

* This is a bullet point in a list.
    * This is a list sub-entry.
* This is another bullet point.

1. This is a numerical list entry.
2. This is another numerical list entry.

This is pretty much the technique of note-taking pounded into my head in middle and high
school, which is why I prefer it.

Copy-and-pasting note pages out of Joplin into Pepperminty was annoying, back-breaking work because of how slow Joplin was but in the end it was worth the time and effort spent. Plus, I only had to do it once. Because data stored in Joplin is also formatted as Markdown, almost no editing or reformatting had to be done. I don't think I've ever been able to say that before. I've been using Pepperminty for everything from note-taking to saving articles I refer to often to scratch padding code to work on later.* Pepperminty is pretty mobile friendly but editing pages on a cellphone really sucks no matter what, but that doesn't mean that you can't browse or search. I also use the Android app on my phone and tablet because it caches the contents of my wiki on the device. This is ideal for times where data connectivity is lousy (like when I'm on vacation) but I need access to some stuff (like frequent flyer club membership information) or cheatsheets I've put together for myself. It's also very easy to back up, just copy everything and you're done.

I can safely say that I recommend Pepperminty Wiki without hesidation. It's been so useful that it's one of the tabs that opens automatically on all of my desktop browsers for over a year.

* Just not work stuff. Notes and suchlike that pertain to my day job stay on work-related devices.