Building a personal note-taking tool

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© Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

© Photo by Robert Anasch on Unsplash

Article from Issue 253/2021
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If you're tired of the privacy problems and feature bloat of high-end note-taking utilities, try rolling your own.

For many people, online note-taking and time management tools are useful and sometimes essential, but they come with a potential privacy cost. I decided to try to build a usable replacement for the services I had come to rely on using some simple Linux tools and a Raspberry Pi.

If you are like me, your phone is a constant companion in both work and free time. I work as a sys admin and part-time writer, and I have come to rely on "free" note-taking apps to keep track of work, jot down ideas, and generally manage my life. I started out with the now-defunct Catch Notes in the early '00s; the ability to write a quick note on my phone and have near-instant access to it on my PC via a browser (and vice-versa) made Catch Notes an invaluable tool. I could write a note on my phone, then open it on the PC to paste it into a document or follow a link, without having to manually save or import anything on either platform. Being able to add a simple reminder to to-do items was handy too.

Sadly, Catch Notes went the way of so many '00s startups and shut down. Forced to look elsewhere, I exported my notes and imported them into Evernote. Although Evernote was undeniably useful, it was a noticeably more commercial tool that was moving away from the simplicity I craved. Moreover, it began to worry me that my data – my precious shopping lists, ideas for a novel, and other random jottings (but nevertheless MY data) – was being held on someone else's computer and could in theory be lost if Evernote went out of business.

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