How to incorporate handwritten notes into Emacs Orgmode

Bala Ramadurai (his/him, bala@balaramadurai.net)

In this talk, Bala Ramadurai shares how he takes handwritten notes and includes them in his Org Mode files. Afterwards, he will handle questions over BigBlueButton.

The following image shows where the talk is in the schedule for Sat 2022-12-03. Solid lines show talks with Q&A via BigBlueButton. Dashed lines show talks with Q&A via IRC or Etherpad.

Schedule for Saturday Saturday 9:00- 9:05 Saturday opening remarks sat-open 9:05- 9:25 Emacs journalism (or everything's a nail if you hit it with Emacs) journalism 9:45- 9:55 Back to school with Emacs school 10:05-10:15 How to incorporate handwritten notes into Emacs Orgmode handwritten 10:45-11:05 Writing and organizing literature notes for scientific writing science 11:25-11:35 The Emacs Buddy initiative buddy 1:00- 1:20 Attending and organizing Emacs meetups meetups 1:40- 1:55 Linking personal info with Hyperbole implicit buttons buttons 2:15- 2:40 Real estate and Org table formulas realestate 3:00- 3:25 Health data journaling and visualization with Org Mode and gnuplot health 3:45- 4:05 Edit live Jupyter notebook cells with Emacs jupyter 4:50- 4:55 Saturday closing remarks sat-close 10:00-10:15 Tree-sitter beyond syntax highlighting treesitter 10:25-10:45 lsp-bridge: a smooth-as-butter asynchronous LSP client lspbridge 10:55-11:15 asm-blox: a game based on WebAssembly that no one asked for asmblox 11:25-11:35 Emacs should become a Wayland compositor wayland 1:00- 1:25 Using SQLite as a data source: a framework and an example sqlite 1:50- 2:30 Revisiting the anatomy of Emacs mail user agents mail 2:50- 3:10 Maintaining the Maintainers: Attribution as an Economic Model for Open Source maint 3:35- 3:40 Bidirectional links with eev eev 3:50- 3:55 Short hyperlinks to Python docs python 4:05- 4:35 Haskell code exploration with Emacs haskell 9 AM 10 AM 11 AM 12 PM 1 PM 2 PM 3 PM 4 PM 5 PM

Format: 8-min talk followed by live Q&A (https://emacsconf.org/current/handwritten/room)
Etherpad: https://pad.emacsconf.org/2022-handwritten
Discuss on IRC: #emacsconf-gen
Status: Q&A open for participation

Times in different timezones:
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~10:05 AM - 10:15 AM EST (US/Eastern)
which is the same as:
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~9:05 AM - 9:15 AM CST (US/Central)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~8:05 AM - 8:15 AM MST (US/Mountain)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~7:05 AM - 7:15 AM PST (US/Pacific)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~3:05 PM - 3:15 PM UTC
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~4:05 PM - 4:15 PM CET (Europe/Paris)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~5:05 PM - 5:15 PM EET (Europe/Athens)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~8:35 PM - 8:45 PM IST (Asia/Kolkata)
Saturday, Dec 3 2022, ~11:05 PM - 11:15 PM +08 (Asia/Singapore)
Sunday, Dec 4 2022, ~12:05 AM - 12:15 AM JST (Asia/Tokyo)
Find out how to watch and participate

00:02.200 Introduction 01:41.080 Org Mode 02:29.520 Handwriting 03:42.167 Combining Org Mode and handwriting 03:59.720 Step 1: Write the notes by hand 04:14.420 Step 2: Scan them 04:23.640 Step 3: Store the document 04:42.300 (Optional) Step 4: Convert the notes 05:02.280 Using touch devices 06:30.920 Options



Research suggests that note taking is most effective when done by hand. Yes, handwritten notes. Certainly, typewritten or typed out notes are more efficient, however notes written by hand are retained by the human brain much longer.

Integrating handwritten notes into a computer leaned productivity workflow is tricky. Also, in terms of hardware, if all you have is a smartphone, then we need to deal with the situation a bit differently.

This talk will introduce to you a simple system to integrate handwritten notes into your org-mode (Emacs) based productivity workflow.

  • Gist of the problem of dealing with handwritten notes
  • Advantages of handwritten notes
  • Emacs org mode workflow
    • Option 1: Hardware for handwriting not available
    • Option 2: Hardware for handwriting available


Can you recognize this building?

[00:00:08.080] Some of you may have recognized this. This building is called the John Hancock building. This is in Chicago. I recently bought this building. Isn't it nice? Heavens no! I am in my home in Pune in India. I am Bala Ramadurai, an author, professor, and an innovation coach. Hello and welcome to my talk on “How to incorporate handwritten notes into Emacs Org Mode” Now, why did I show you this building? The name is of interest for this talk. In the US, someone's signature is also referred to as their Hancock. Your handwriting is pretty much part of your identity. It is as fundamental as that. Of course, there is a movie by that name too, Hancock. I could have started with a clip from that movie, but in spite of Will Smith and Charlize Theron, both my favorite movie stars in the movie, I hated it. [Clip from Hancock (2008)] But I digress. Handwriting has been a fascinating topic for me.

[00:01:44.200] However, note-taking has always been on my computer, in particular, in the Emacs Org Mode system. It is so easy to note down anything, add a schedule, add a deadline, search anything you want, link anything you want, export it to any format, track what you've been doing, clock your tasks, and on and on and on. It's such a squeaky-clean system to track everything and link it to anything from the digital world. Sharing the original notes is still a pain in the rear, but for personal stuff, it's awesome. But then what about handwriting?

[00:02:32.640] Research seems to suggest that handwritten notes can enhance clarity of thought, retention, sometimes even getting rid of your worries.

[Fried, C. B. (2008). In-class laptop use and its effects on student learning]

[Speaker displays articles on Note-taking] My experience seems to agree with that too. As a professor, my fear has always been this quote, “Lecturing is that mysterious process by means of which the contents of the notebook of the professor are transferred through the instrument of the fountain pen to the notebook of the student without passing through the mind of either.” Hmmm... So, question — How do we combine

[00:03:45.680] the efficient Org Mode system with the effective handwritten note-taking system? Merge the systems together. Absolutely. How do you do that? Step 1: Write the notes by hand

[00:04:03.680] on a notebook. Pen, pencil. Keep some convention for yourselves for tracking tasks like a star or an asterisk. Step 2: Scan them using

[00:04:16.400] your favourite mobile app. I recommend Adobe Scan or Dropbox. Step 3: store the document as a JPG file

[00:04:30.000] into a folder called Inbox. Make sure this syncs into a cloud storage folder and your Org Mode system has access to this folder. (Optional) Step 4: convert the notes into text

[00:04:45.920] using Google Keep or just type the damn thing one more time. Then you can process that in your Org Mode system as you always do in whatever is there in your inbox. But, three steps or four before I get access

[00:05:06.120] to my notes and into my Org Mode? What a precious waste of time. I'd rather be tinkering with my config file in that time, correct? Boy... Get or buy or gift or convince your partner, parent, or anybody else to gift yourself a touch-enabled large device. Then use an app like OneNote to write notes on the device and link the handwritten note directly into Org Mode by copying the link. You can use a shortcut like Ctrl-1 to mark the todos, but that means it remains only on OneNote ecosystem, the todos. You can use the same app to also convert the handwritten note into text just by the click of a button. As a bonus, you can even include screenshots from your online meetings.

[00:06:30.920] I like both my options. Option 1: use a regular notebook, scan and process them into my inbox. Option 2: write the notes in a digital device and convert them into text. Or, third option, I appeal to thee, oh great community, can you please build a package inside Org Mode that recognises handwriting to export it into our Org Mode, Emacs Org Mode. Thank you so much for your attention. Bye.

Questions or comments? Please e-mail bala@balaramadurai.net