RoamFM Transcript: Aravind Balla: Gatsby-theme-Andy, Learning Curve

Transcripts Sep 05, 2020

Please enjoy this transcript of my interview with Aravind Balla!

Aravind Balla is a software developer working remotely from Hyderabad, India. He loves JS and CSS, and is the co-host of the Learning Curve podcast, sharing his findings, discoveries, and, his learning journey with fellow host Bretik.

In the #roamcult community he is known for creating Gatsby-theme-Andy, a digital gardening theme inspired by the works of Andy Matuschak and is based on Gatsby-theme-brain.

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Transcript

Norman Chella: [00:00:35] In this episode, we talk with Aravind Balla, who is a software developer working remotely from Hyderabad, India. He loves JS and CSS likes to build stuff, document his process online and share the knowledge he gains. He's also the cohost of the Kearning Curve podcast, sharing his findings, discoveries, and, his learning journey with the other host Bretik.

One of the interesting things that Aravind has created is the notable Gatsby-theme-Andy, which is inspired by the works of Andy Matuschak and is based  on Gatsby-theme-brain, essentially a digital gardening theme with horizontal scrolling in pages. Based on Gatsby, which is fantastic. We talked about quite a variety of topics in this episode, ranging from Aravind's note-taking workflow, how the roles of Notion and Roam differ in his work, the history behind the makings of Gatsby theme Andy and his process in creating content for the learning curve podcast, its origin stories, and much more.

We even dived into the nitty gritty with Aravind, giving examples of his evergreen notes, his templates using Alfred and much more. So without further ado, if you want to find out more about this interesting note taking journey, let's dive into my chat with Aravind Balla.

Norman Chella: [00:01:57] First of all super bad ass name, can you imagine like someone. Calling it a doctor's office, like Mr. Balla, right. That's so cool. Like, Oh my God. Like I'm so I'm so excited to like, do the intro for you. Like just say like mr. Balla. Ah, ah, that's pretty awesome.

Aravind Balla: [00:02:18] Please do it that way.

Norman Chella: [00:02:19] I will, I will. So might as well get right into it.

Mr. Aravind Balla. Right.  Welcome to RoamFM, how are you doing?

Aravind Balla: [00:02:29] I'm doing great. How are you, Norman?

Norman Chella: [00:02:31] I am doing fantastic. And I am also really excited because we have you on this show finally, because I know that you've been doing quite a few things, helping out people with your amazing static sites. I've seen your Andy's notes, Gatsby packages.

Yeah. Which is Whoa. Amazing. Seeing all of this activity coming from you. And I got to see it because through Roam, I saw your profile on Twitter and I was like, Whoa, this is fantastic. So it's nice to see that you are here and that we get to meet. So let's talk about that. If we do a little bit of time travel, back to the dark times, because I know that you're using Roam right now, Rome and Notion, if you could confirm dose two.

Yep.

Aravind Balla: [00:03:15] Yeah.

Norman Chella: [00:03:16] the dark times before you stumbled into the tool, uh, what were you doing and how did you discover Roam?

Aravind Balla: [00:03:24] So I got into like note-taking way earlier, like three to four years ago, and I was using Evernote at that time. And these concepts of like second brain and note taking all these things started when I started using Evernote. From then it like traveled to like different apps. The main thing that was, I was doing with Evernote was like capturing things from the internet.

So hoping that it would help me in the future. It's just capturing stuff from the internet. Nothing. I wouldn't do any post-processing on them. I would rarely go back to those notes, but I was capturing a lot of information in Evernote. And then suddenly Notion comes up, like three to four years later.

I mean, in the recent times that I've discovered Notion like two years ago, Notion comes up and it has these beautiful templates, where if I want to write a blog post, I can like have a template, which, has some meta questions for me. Meta questions, as in, whom do I want the audience to be, or what is the point that I want to get across?

So Notion helped me with all these things, all this templating stuff. And then, yeah. So that's why I stuck to Notion for a long time. I still use Notion, like for the planning, all the projects with teams, because the collaboration on Notion is very good. And then now on Twitter, I discovered Roam. And then that took me to exploring these toolss. And I had a huge thread on Twitter saying why Roam is different from all the other note-taking apps that are there, uh, which the point mainly was you don't need any, uh, categorization. You can just write thoughts as you get, and that's how your brain is.

It doesn't have a structure to it. Evernote has this notebooks note structure, and then you can use tags, and then Notion also has unlimited notebook structure. We can call it that when you compare it with Evernote and then Roam doesn't have any of this. It can be, as you wish, or without any structure, that would get a little overwhelming.

But yeah, that it can be that way. Uh, so that's how I discovered Roam. And then I liked it a lot and like trying to stick with it.

Norman Chella: [00:05:45] And now currently you're using both Notion and Roam. Where does Evernote go? Is it just, does it just go in the bin? You're just completely.

Aravind Balla: [00:05:54] Yeah, I took an import, I took an export from Evernote. Uh, put it everything in Notion so that if I want anything, if I can search for stuff in Notion pretty well. So if there are any notes that I want to search, all the content is already there in Notion, so I don't really use Evernote at all, but, there is one interesting feature of Evernote, whereas you can mail things to it.

So you can export your Kindle highlights, uh, to a mail or you can mail them to Evernote. So it gets a good copy. So like I once in the past month, I've used once Evernote to like copy things to Roam again. I feel a lot of software should be as a bridge between a bridge in the sense, connecting your workflows.

So, it should have a good import and export options so that it doesn't require you to stick with a certain tool.

Norman Chella: [00:06:52] Yeah. And we're seeing that really well with Notion, especially because, I discovered notion a year ago, I believe. Yeah. I think it was a year ago and the immediate feature that caught me other than the really pretty design and the way that you can really format these blocks to make like a really pretty, what seems like a static page.

But, you know, you can always edit it over time is the import function. And there are so many different formats too. That Notion can support when it comes to importing and, you know, for like yourself, like you made use of the Evernotes. I also make use of, uh, Evernote imports and I also made use of Google docs.

So those were really, really important because I, I had a lot of friction from using Evernote and then I switched to this like G drive, Google doc formatting system sort of like a prototype of PARA I made my own version and then I found Notion I'm like, Oh, this was much better. And then all of a sudden I was blinded by the light and here came Roam, uh, the, the wonders of this magical tool.

And I'm curious, you did mention that we shouldn't be confined to note taking systems. So we should have really good import export features. Was it really jarring to have an import feature from Evernote to Rome because if you put this on the spectrum of rigid note-taking systems, Evernote is one of the most rigid softwares ever made because it, it, you have to use a certain way, the notebook and the tagging system, and an all of a sudden you have to throw it all away, change your mindset, and then import that into this free form space that is Roam. Was it difficult to go from something as rigid, as Evernote into something as Roam?

Aravind Balla: [00:08:40] Uh, I don't feel that. I mean, I didn't face that because maybe I went to Notion in between and then came to Roam. I don't have all of the Evernote stuff in Roam yet. I have  them in Notion. So. Uh, I don't feel that, uh, rigidness, because I've used Notion and Notion is also kind of a free form tool where you can have your unlimited nesting and you can make it work for you basically.

I don't think the rigidness has impacted me in Roam and I am using Roam for that specific feature, I mean not being rigid right. I mean, it is a free flow software.

Norman Chella: [00:09:18] Yeah. It's like one of the most exciting parts about it that anything can go in and it's free flowing. And whatever that you see on the screen is the result of what you think. And I think it's closest to the shape of our thoughts, which is really fantastic. I mean, I'm sure that's why we love the tool.

Just a quick question. What is your workflow in Notion? I'm really curious about that.

Aravind Balla: [00:09:38] Right now I use Notion for team projects. I mean, to collaborate with other people on Notion. So on a daily basis, I use Roam. I have a day template using Alfred. So I type in dash dash R D and a day pops up using, uh, Asking me a few questions like the morning pages, evening pages and what I want to do  that day.All these questions and Notion is now more of a collaboration tool for me.

Norman Chella: [00:10:10] Ah, okay. Okay. So you've now defined the roles of these few apps where Notion is more front-facing with other people and Roam is more just on you.

Okay. Okay. This is interesting because I came to that same conclusion myself. This is going to be, people are going to kill me for this as the host of RoamFM.

I do the same. So for Notion, I, I use that for my clients. So we would have a shared page. And anything front facing or anything output based, I would just post it up there and I can just share them the, you know, copy paste the link and be like, Hey, this is what I did. You can, you know, do a checklist or whatever.

And then Roam is more for my own private things. Um, that's what makes it interesting. And I'm really curious about the future of Roam, where they might be able to replicate that collaborative activity, but we'll see.

Aravind Balla: [00:10:58] I mean that's one of the pain points that Roam has because, uh, it takes up time to learn initially. That spinner, uh, and for, and for like people like me who live in a low network connectivity areas, uh it's sometimes it's forever. So that after that initial start, it, it all works out fine. You can navigate very easily when it is loaded, but the initial load takes time.

So if you want to share client briefings or client meetings with others, Notion does this very good thing that it, it is loaded instantly. And I take it from the notion is like prettier than Roam. Without any configuration, right? So yeah, public facing notion is better. Uh, and Roam has its own advantage when it's just you using it.

I mean, that's the same reason that I have for not creating a public Roam database. Because I don't want people waiting. I already feel the pain of refreshing Roam or closing the tab and opening it again. I don't want people to face that.

Norman Chella: [00:12:18] Yeah. Yeah. I'm seeing that friction a lot. Uh, especially when there are others who have their public Roams or their digital gardens done through Roam and it's already painful enough to have the Astrolabe spinning, uh, staring into your soul as you're waiting to get access to your thoughts. And it's another thing to have that same experience be presented to somebody else who's interested in reading about your notes.

Yeah. Um, if we can get that fixed, that will be pretty interesting. And now that you brought it up, being in a low connectivity area means that, I'm assuming you really do have to change your routine around accessing Roam in a certain way. Do you just, when you turn on your MacBook, do you just have Roam, like one Chrome window dedicated to Rome open and then you just wait five minutes while doing other things, like grab a coffee or something like that?

Aravind Balla: [00:13:09] There is a good part to Roam as well. Well, once it is loaded, if you don't close the tab, it never dies. So I never turn my MacBook off. I only do it if there is an update pending, and I know that there is an active internet connection, so it's a pretty good that Roam does this because they are planning to like work completely offline.

Make the app work completely offline. And this is a very good thing that you don't need internet or oncee the page, or once that initial load is done. And it is a very good sync also because when I turn off the internet. It has, it shows that these many changes are pending in your local, the machine and, uh, the remote server has been updated last at this time stamp or not? So it works pretty well offline, but that just that initial start is a little painful.

Norman Chella: [00:14:05] Maybe it's the excitement from getting access to our Roam that is making it a lot longer than it actually is the impatience of trying to get access to your graph. And then just staring at this thing that is just laughing at us by spinning, uh, and definitely these like these like 23 inch rims that are black in color and just staring back at us.

It's a, it's a crazy, so let's talk about your workflow. So once this Roam is finally loaded, you go past the spinning astrolabe and you now get access to your Roam, you have  your Alfred day template ready, you have your morning pages and you have the things to do. Could you tell me what goes into your Roam?

Like what are the different kinds of information that goes into your Roam? Does it range from like books to podcasts or is it mainly through, uh, things and information or knowledge related to your current work?

Aravind Balla: [00:14:53] So the main part is all the books and the podcast notes that I take. Uh, so I have a page for each book that I read. And then, I take notes while reading the book, not directly in Roam, but in other apps, like Simplenote, if I'm on Android or if I'm on an iPad, I scribble using Notability. All this stuff.

In the morning I try to spend at least half an hour collecting all those fleeting notes and getting back into Roam and try to create permanent notes. Or as Andy calls it evergreen notes. This was a very good shift for me when I read this book called How to take Smart Notes, which is pretty popular in the roamcult, uh, so I wanted Roam on every device and being in this low network connectivity.

It wasn't possible because if I don't have internet, mobiles are not great at keeping a browser tab active. So it would trigger the reloads, and things would be lost. So reading this book like gave me an understanding that there are two types of notes. One is fleeting notes and one is  permanent notes.

So fleeting notes can be everywhere anywhere and if you want that fleeting note to be useful, that should come back to your knowledge management system or your Roam. And then like in a way, be a permanent note. So I try collecting all my fleeting notes and getting  them back to Roam. And I see if I have, I had, uh, I had similar notes and I try to interconnect them.

And yeah. So if, sometimes I don't even spend half an hour. Sometimes I just spend five minutes. If I have a lot of things to do at work, then I just spend 5-10 minutes writing. My morning pages morning pages is basically a way for me to clear things out of my head. And it's like a wind screen to wipe off all the things and would give me a clear focus for the day.

So that helps. And yeah, so basically the routine is converting those fleeting notes to permanent notes.

Norman Chella: [00:17:06] Do you convert all of your fleeting notes or is there a percentage of fleeting notes that just gets thrown away? Because I guess at first glance you're like, Oh, this seems like a really nice note to take. And then, you know, at night you come back and you're like, what the hell was I writing here?

Aravind Balla: [00:17:21] That that happens. When that happens, I just copy paste things here. Uh, like, hoping that I will come back to them in the future and, uh, like working on them. But yeah, that happens. That happens quite often.

Norman Chella: [00:17:35] Okay. And, uh, well, if we let's talk about recent notes, then what are some of the interesting permanent notes that you've created, if you're okay with that? And I know if it's like too private or something.

Aravind Balla: [00:17:49] So I was reading this book. How to take smart notes.

If you hear some keyboard clacks, then that's my keyboard.

Norman Chella: [00:18:02] Ladies and gentlemen, you're hearing the sounds of the Keychron with Brown switches. Uh, definitely a highly recommended mechanical keyboard by the roamcult. I'm not I'm noticing. No, no one is actually endorsing it. I'm just, it's, it's just a keyboard that I'd be looking at as well, but yeah, please.

Aravind Balla: [00:18:18] Yeah. So when I opened this book, I have a few evernotes. evergreen notes. One says, write notes in your own words, which, which means, uh, We, I used to collect a lot of information, so I just copy paste things and then forget about it. But I realized when I type things on my own or have a copy from the original source, but try to translate that into my own words, then that basically helps me remember and also understand it better.

So that was a evergreen note that is in this book.  and then the audio book that I was listening to is Linchpin. Uh, it is a book that talks about work culture and how to become a good all-rounder at work, indispensable at work. So I've been here listening to this book, and I have two evergreens in this book, which is, develop emotional skills to become a linchpin. What this taught me is normally we try to develop technical skills that help us at our jobs, but that is very not, I mean, everyone can do that. If you have only technical skills and nothing else. You will just be a, you you'll be replaceable easily. You'll just be a cog in the wheel. But to become an actual linchpin, you should add emotional labor to it. Emotional labor is, like doing the extra thing or doing that extra part, talking to people about it or thinking about the, product that you're developing from a customer's point of view.

Norman Chella: [00:20:01] Like elements of empathy.

Aravind Balla: [00:20:02] Yeah, yeah, exactly. Having that empathy towards your work. So that is a part of emotional labor and that helps you become a better, employee or become a linchpin. And one more thing is that recommendations are more valuable than resumes. So if you are a linchpin, you wouldn't need a resume because your work will talk for itself.

And people who work with you will be having enough resources to recommend you to your future employer. Probably that you're working publicly on Twitter and you share a lot of things. And then when people look at your Twitter profile, they come to know the work that you've already done.

And the, what resume does is the initial qualifying for an interview, right? To get, uh, to get that conversation going. But your work has potential to do that. And that is what this evergreen note talks about.

Norman Chella: [00:21:07] Hmm.

Aravind Balla: [00:21:08] So these are the recent ones that I had.

So say if you have your show learning curve and you bring someone on as a guest on the show and you ask them about their evergreen notes on linchpin. How different would it be or how much would they agree or disagree with the same potential notes or main points that you would touch on? See you, what's the magic that comes out of that conversation.

I'm really, I'm really curious about that because I think that that would lead to some very fascinating rabbit holes that we can get into.

Aravind Balla: [00:21:58] That's why I like, publishing parts of your notes online. Because that has the potential to strike ideas in the person who's reading it. And maybe those ideas get remixed and something fascinating. It's created out of it. So that's the reason I have a part of my, uh, evergreen notes or part of my notes, public at notes.aravindballa.com.

And I use my, like the theme that I created, the Gatsby theme for creating it.

Norman Chella: [00:22:36] Of course, one of the most popular, Gatsby themes, uh, because it is quite a really good replication of Andy Matuschak's, public notes page. If that's the best way to call it. But let's, let's talk about that because there, there are two parts to since one, you built the theme, which just mind blowing because I feel, or I think that Andy hasn't really released anything about that.

Aravind Balla: [00:23:01] Yeah. I mean, the source of that project is closed.

Norman Chella: [00:23:05] Yeah. So I'm not sure how technical are we going to get into this, but, uh, let's, I'm just gonna go straight into it. How did you build that?

Aravind Balla: [00:23:15] So I would say it's, uh, I didn't build things from scratch, but I could curate, things that are already built and may get this working, uh, power of open source, it's curation at its best. So I discovered Andy's website through Max Tobia. Uh, he works at Gatsby and he built his own notes website.

I think he got the source from Andy and then he wrote, wrote his things, but he was trying to like figure out a way to build it using Gatsby. Uh, so when he talked about it on Twitter, I came across this team from Angus. So he created Gatsby team brain. Which is a bit to let you use the double bracket notation that Roam has and interlink your, uh, webpages in your website. So when this came out, I was really excited to stitch that together and replicate Andy's website, but it wasn't completely possible. I could just get the, note previews work. When you hover on a internal note, it, you get a preview of what's in that page. So I could get only that working, but then, uh, another guy called Matthew came in and he had a trick to put the pages side by side without like losing the context or horizontally scrolling the pages.  when all these are combined what you got is Gatsby theme Andy.

Norman Chella: [00:24:55] Oh, okay, cool. So this is the result of a combination of people working in public. And striking up these ideas or striking up these potential connections. Cause without, without Max, like getting the source or talking about trying to replicate the, uh, the Andy's notes in a different language and into Gatsby specifically, you wouldn't have even tried or even knew about the website in the first place.

Oh, okay. Okay. This is pretty interesting. Oh, okay. So when all of the members contributed. So not only you and also Matthew and Max all put it together and you gave birth to this amazing, uh, theme, what was the feedback by people who, you know, were trying to do their own digital garden, or just had this fascination with Andy's notes.

What were some of the responses?

Aravind Balla: [00:25:47] Yeah, I realized Andy had a lot of following. I mean, many people were fascinated by his style of a notes website. And I, I mean, I really wanted to get it working, but I didn't know that it would have a lot of people who wanting their own website, or, I mean, as Andy's website. And, uh, when I tweeted the output, or are the working, uh, snapshots, uh, Max was really excited and Max was sharing or retweeting my tweets. And that's how I got a lot of people interested in my work. And most of the followers that I have now are from that. And I got invited into this, telegram channel called digital gardeners. Uh, so all the good things that happened were because of the work that happened in the Gatsby team Andy.

Norman Chella: [00:26:40] Oh, wow. Oh, I like this. This is like the architect of people trying to start off their, uh, their first ever digital garden because they see this amazing shining example, done by Andy. And you could make it and essentially make it a lot more accessible to the public. Since I'm assuming the setup is pretty simple or at least it doesn't take that much to set it up and you just need your Markdown files.

And from there.

Aravind Balla: [00:27:04] Set up is like simple now, earlier, it didn't, it wasn't because, I mean, what I did now is that, you get basic Andy's team by default, without any configurations, you could just put your markdown files there and build a website out of it. But earlier it wasn't the same thing. You had to write a few styles to make it look like, Andy's theme.

Now, whatever it is, those styles come by default. And if you want extra features or like a different colors, dark theme, you could do that by adding a few things. I've like made, made it like that now. So this would like help people to start off easier. Even if you're not completely technical, you could follow the steps as is and get a website work.

Norman Chella: [00:27:50] Yeah, I'm going to need to do that because I'm going to need to have my own digital garden out there. And I've been, I, I wanted to, I want to do the leap of faith and have my notes out there in public. I'm a bit afraid still at that stage, but we'll see. So I really do appreciate that, uh, that you could make a theme that is really accessible, especially for nontechnicals.

Uh, I'm definitely in that, uh, group. Hey here, here's one thing though. Cause I know that you have your own. You're using the theme and you have your own notes that are, you know, drafts or in progress or they're unfinished, or they're not as, shall we say, refined as a full blog post or anything like that.

Could you tell me what goes into your notes? Like what's considered publishable onto your notes and what are the different kinds of things that you actually talk about?

Aravind Balla: [00:28:38] So take it from me. Nothing is concrete yet. I mean, I don't have a strategy working strategy yet. So what I tend to do is if I find something interesting, I start recording a thought in Roam, uh, probably tweet it as well. And then if I have a bunch of thoughts on a topic or the permanent notes that I already formed, these go to my public notes website.

Norman Chella: [00:29:05] Oh, okay. Okay. I see.

see

Aravind Balla: [00:29:07] Uh, all the like evergreen notes or the permanent notes and, uh, some things that I've been thinking from long ago, all these things and go to my notes website. And if I think a note has gone under a lot of refinement and,  it's, it's on my mind for a really long time and I have a lot of content around it.

Then I turned that into a blog post. For example, I've been thinking about second brain a lot. Uh, so I have a few notes in my notes website. I tweet a lot. I have a few podcast episodes, uh, on that topic. One is like, what is the second brain? And one is how to organize your second brain? So I have a lot of content on second brain, so it's hard.

Why don't I like segregate all these things into one place and make a blog post out of it. So now I have a blog post in my actual website aravindballa.com. So I think that's the process and this is subject to change. I don't have a concrete or a proper workflow yet, but yeah getting there.

Norman Chella: [00:30:18] Oh, okay. Yeah, no, it doesn't have to stay. Um, you know, your creation process. It doesn't have to be the same as long as it works right now. I find it really interesting that you start off from a thought in Roam, it becomes a thread. Then maybe it gets published on Twitter or it gets turned into an evergreen note or a permanent note that gets published onto your notes. Does that mean that every evergreen note or every permanent note is on the notes or is it only a select few?

Aravind Balla: [00:30:48] Right now it's a select few, but I think. All the permanent notes can be public. If I don't have anything personal in here, I think it can be public, but, but it's been a long time. I've updated my notes and I'm guilty for that.

Norman Chella: [00:31:06] Well now we have this episode coming out, so I'm pretty sure you'd want to update it. Look a little bit more, uh, uh, dense, full of information. Okay. So that means that's it. This is interesting because I really want to dive into that. Um, the standard of a permanent note or the standard of an evergreen note.

It seems to me, at least from my understanding of how you're looking at it is that once you put that tag on that note, it is presentable on your notes.

Aravind Balla: [00:31:35] Yeah it is presentable and, uh, people who look at it should understand without any background or without any context, it should speak for itself. That's how I define an evergreen note.

Norman Chella: [00:31:49] Okay. So how long does it normally take for like one messy fleeting note to become permanent or evergreen?

Aravind Balla: [00:31:58] Depends a, I don't know. I don't have those many evergreen notes because I've, I've gotten into this system of note taking very recently. So I think I have. Five to 10 evergreen notes now, and everything is still evolving. I don't have presentable ones here. And by when the time I developed the Gatsby team Andy and I had a few notes, I like didn't know this concept of, uh, uh, evergreen or permanent notes and fleeting note so all these things were discovered very recently.

So a lot of things that are on that notes website are thoughts basically and then no categorization as permanent or fleeting. They are present and that's it.

Norman Chella: [00:32:48] Oh, okay. I see. So pretty much a really good collection of the ones that you have taken some time into, uh, even if you have more evergreen notes in your Roam, it's only a select few. Okay. Okay. Right. No, I like that. It seems like it's a pretty good filter because. Maybe we set certain rules on ourselves when it comes to doing a digital garden in that every single evergreen note must be published or all evergreen notes have to be done level of standard.

And that's when it gets pretty subjective because there are no rules for a digital garden. So even I'm finding it a little bit gray when asking anybody really about their public notes, like what's considered publishable, um, how many words minimum, right. Even if it works by itself, does it have to be a strong case or can it just be a thought, right?

Can it just be like random mindless wonderings so. I'm sure that's, that's something that, from how you were seeing other people use your theme will result in a myriad different kinds of notes. So that would be a pretty fascinating.

Aravind Balla: [00:33:58] I think at the end of the day it's your garden. And, uh, it can be, however you wish you can have rose plants. You can have creepers, you can have decorative plants. I mean, at the end of the day, it's your garden and it's your wish to grow it in the way you want.

Norman Chella: [00:34:19] Now to backtrack a little bit. You mentioned that one of the ways that you would deep dive further into a topic or into something that you've just been thinking about is to make a podcast episode about it. So of course, I'm going to be talking or asking questions about your podcast seeing as how we are on RoamFM, the  podcast for the roamcult.

So let's dive into this. Your show is called Learning Curve podcast. And, uh, could you just tell me a, you know, like a brief summary as to what is the learning curve and how did you get the name?

Aravind Balla: [00:34:56] It's an interesting question. So I have this friend called Britek, who is the cohost of learning curve podcast. And I met him like two, three years ago at a coworking space. I work remotely and I used to go to a coworking space when the times were good.

We met there and, whenever we talk, we used to have this feeling of like things clicking in or resonating a lot with each other. And whenever we had long chats, we wished, oh, they should have been recorded. And because, I mean, you have that good feeling when you, like talk and then immediately resonate with the other person.

Right. So we used to have this a lot. And we had plans of starting a podcast, but we didn't. And suddenly one day we met at a cafe, uh, like just to sit and work, and then he asked me if you, if I wanted to start a podcast with him, then like, it's like, I didn't even like think for a second, but said yes, so that how it was started.

And, we were, searching for names, uh, I mean, there were a lot of options, I guess. Uh, one was, uh, afternoon talks like late night chats, uh, all this, but, uh, we ended up calling it learning curve because we feel we are still, uh, everyone has a learning curve. And what we do mostly on that podcast is share our journey and our experience with the things that we are learning each day.

So learning curve made a lot of sense. And then we, when we searched online for good domain names, learningcurve.dev was available and guys that's the, uh, that's where you can find that podcast it's on learningcurve.dev.

Norman Chella: [00:36:54] Aravind going hard with the, with the plugins. Uh, Oh, that was, that was pretty good. I have to say it was quite smooth. I was going to put your, your, your show, uh, in the shownotes of course, links to everything will be in the public RoamFM graph and now we are affiliated to, into a certain degree with the learning curve podcast.

So I'm sure I can , point potential listeners your way. This is interesting because the serendipity or the what's, what's the word for it. There's a certain euphoria behind a very interesting, great conversation. And you felt this really well of created with Brittik and, and all of a sudden you're regretting the fact that some of these conversations were not recorded.

So you decided to start a podcast out of it. I'm really curious. Now, wait, first of all, does Brittik use Roam?

Aravind Balla: [00:37:46] He uses Bear.

Norman Chella: [00:37:47] He uses Bear? Boo. No, no I'm just kidding, but, but, but to a certain degree, he does care about note-taking. So that's, that's already a fantastic, and it's nice to know that you're able to have conversations with someone while on air so that the rest of the world can appreciate that and gain the same level of wisdom.

So I really do like that. Here's the thing though. Do you get that same feeling with Brittik as you do with other roamcult members?

Aravind Balla: [00:38:15] Uh, I have not talked a lot with the roamcult members. I mean, you're the first person that I've having a long conversation with. So yes, I do.

Norman Chella: [00:38:26] Yes. Okay, awesome. Yes, I'm setting the example. Uh, and of course, really, um, a lot of the roamcult members are really up for talking. Lots and lots of talking, going the full range. I call it mental agility. So the ability to jump from topic to topic and not really being tired of it, because we can go from, Gatsby to JS to Andy's notes to Roam, to the future of Roam and roamcult members.

And I'm pretty sure that from the outside, looking in, if I'm jumping from field to field like this. I would sound crazy, but for some reason I trust you well enough that you can keep up with me or you can even be even faster than me jumping from topic to topic. And I'll be like, Whoa, it's so cool. Okay.

Aravind Balla: [00:39:15] That's roamcult for you. I like the term mental agility. I just made a note in my Roam.

Norman Chella: [00:39:25] Awesome. Okay. I hope to see that note in your digital garden with my name on it somewhere, the RoamFM stamp on the side, but yeah, it's, I'm, I'm sure I'm sure that term is used somewhere else. It's just a, I just conjured up that, that definition. Um, because it, it serves as a really good filter because we have many different kinds of conversations that we get throughout the many different individuals we meet, these conversations can range from one topic for a really long time or one conversation for a really long time, but many different topics. And that doesn't really detract from someone's level of intelligence or level of thinking or anything like that.

It's just that can they jump from topic to topic, right? That's just another dynamic to think about. And. I'm sure that, you know, someone who is really, really passionate about one topic and then you switch to another one. You're like, Oh, I don't know what to do. And that's when it can get a little bit difficult, but here's a very interesting question for you and I'm sure that you can play.

Since I'm the very first roamcult member that you've talked with. Before we've talked, what do you think a roamcult conversation would be like?

Aravind Balla: [00:40:41] I expected almost the same because, we are, I think people in Roamcult, the members of  roamcult are interested in note taking, and that's what is tying all of us together. So as a cult, I, uh, I expect a lot of discussions on improving, thinking on taking better notes and how your notes can help you in the future, basically  how your thoughts can help you in the future. How your thoughts can surprise you, all this kind of things. So, yeah.

Norman Chella: [00:41:18] Yeah, I can see that happening a lot. Um, which is really interesting because that field is very universal. Even if we have different specialties, even if we have different backgrounds or walks of life. And when it all comes down to it, all of these fields that require a certain level of note taking.  Another way to put it, because note taking you can seem like a pretty simple activity, like just writing something on pen and paper, information capture. Information capture, and knowledge synthesis, right?

Those are the big two. And serendipity is basically the environment in which these two thrive. And whatever that comes out of it is a unique representation of who you are. And in this case, like you acquired knowledge synthesis from all the people that you've seen their work in Gatsby, and you have this amazing information capture system that you want to see replicated either online from seeing somebody else.

And all of a sudden you have this amazing theme that everyone's using, which is like so cool. It's mind blowing. It's nice to see, like I could like visualize the dots where like all these things connected. Um, so it's nice to see that Roam. Is really mimicking that inter connectivity between people's efforts.

So yeah, I would love to see more of that happen.

Is there anything that you want to see more from Roam when it comes to your specialty, which is Gatsby and JS and all of that, do you think that there's something that can happen as a result of marrying these two together in the future?

Aravind Balla: [00:42:48] I'm very, like keen for the API to rollout. So I don't have to export things and build a Gatsby website out of it, but I can just like with the push of a button, a script automatically fetches things from this Roam API and filters, all the notes that can be published and publish them. So I'm like waiting for API to be released.

That would actually not only help the Gatsby side of it, but it would have a lot of advantages for. I mean, there are a lot of possibilities. People can start building apps out of it, without even Roam people or Roam actually rolling out an app, third party apps can be built. The community apps, I mean, that's the power of the cult right. Maybe people can come out with Web Clippers when there is an actual API. I mean, we have hacky things already, but, uh, with the API things would get more robust. Alright. So the API has a lot of possibilities and I'm waiting for that.

Norman Chella: [00:44:01] Is that the one thing that you want to build? That streamlined a script to easily publish your own version of. Okay. Okay. Yeah. I would love that to happen as well. Um, we're, we're seeing a lot of alternatives when it comes to exporting notes from Roam into say a markdown file system, and then they are connected via bi-directional linking, which is fantastic. Right? Which is fantastic. We see a lot of these amazing softwares and applications and, or, uh, tools pop up that cater for that. But once the API comes up, there is going to be quite a, shall we say a shock in what is possible. And even if we have the majority of the roamcult being nontechnical, I might be completely wrong.

I'm sure there's a lot of people who are technical, but let's just say that there's a lot of people who are nontechnical in Roam to talk about potential ideas and or interfaces and or scripts or APIs, or even processes that they want to see happen from that same one graph that will lead to something that you've experienced, which is you see something on Twitter and you're like, I want to build that.

And it will be the same for somebody else who may be, can do something better or even prettier. Um, but it's all from the same thing, which is Roam. I, so I I'm really excited. I would love to see a lot more applications being made. I, I'm not sure what's the correct term for it, I guess, interfaces, uh, or pseudo applications.

Um, but yeah.  I asked you about your podcast, but I never actually asked you what's your workflow for trying to plan an episode. So could you tell me, uh, how does a learning curve episode get planned and published through Roam?

Aravind Balla: [00:45:48] We don't have a solid process for this yet, but what we do right now is we get on a call and talk about interesting things that we learned recently. And, uh, like it is like mutually interesting for both of us. Then we plan out a episode out of it. Yeah. Like we, uh, we record things locally. We don't record on zoom calls or anything because both of us have bad internet.

So we record things locally and send over the files and get things edited. But the planning process, it more looks like things that we are learning on a day to day basis. If it is the case that I am completely new to the topic, then, uh, in that episode, I'll have Brittik explaining me about that topic.

And if it is something that Brittik doesn't know and I have figured out, or I've discovered, and I'm really excited to tell it to him, we do it on the podcast. There were a few episodes that we planned in the beginning, uh, where we already talked about it. Because, uh, I mean, we had this feeling of, uh, not having our chats or our talks recorded, right?

So we wrote down a bunch of topics and the first episodes were like that. We knew that these were a set of topics that we wanted to talk about are we have already talked about, and then we would, uh, write down a few like headings or, uh, the outline of how the episode should look like. And then we would go record. We are not perfect in this because there are a lot of times when we messed up, we would record episodes two or three times, uh, because we thought that the episode would be well, but the structure was very confusing when it finally was recorded. So we plan to rerecord it. So all these were learnings that we had while planning an episode, and now we have a very good structure to planning in the sense of, we like, at least talk about the outline of how an episode should look like. And, uh, we like after planning, we take a day gap and then, um, Start recording. Usually that is on, in the early mornings because we don't have a lot of environmental sounds. Yeah. So that's, that's how we come out with an episode.

Norman Chella: [00:48:28] Okay. I see, right? Yeah. Yeah. So a combination of, as long as you have an outline, a general direction, the rest of it is free form and whoever is more informed of the topic can probably lead the conversation. I like that. That's a pretty good dynamic because it's quite flexible, especially on a podcast about your journeys and learning something.

It's going to be different every week, since the both of you might be learning about something completely different or learning it together, but you have two different perspectives. Okay. Interesting. Interesting, right. Yeah. Okay. I, I like listening to people's workflows, especially when trying to create a podcast because we have different ways to do it and there's a different rationale to it.

Right. You're like you have your amazing dynamic with Brittik and, uh, it's, it's nice to hear that. That's how you balance out co-hosting. And to wrap up this conversation, because I know that we are very busy in our times, uh, being on our private roam graphs, uh, thinking and synthesizing more knowledge, I would like to close off this conversation with a couple of segments, uh, Aravind. I'm sure that you have potentially over prepared for these questions, but just in case I will ask you anyway. So the first question is how would you describe roam to someone who hasn't started using it yet?

Aravind Balla: [00:49:48] I would say it's more of a thought-taking tool. Thought-recording tool which will surprise you in future.

Norman Chella: [00:50:00] A thought tool that will surprise you in the future. Okay.

Aravind Balla: [00:50:05] And then, I mean, uh, this can potentially get the conversation starting when you are, uh, speaking about Roam to people who haven't used it yet. So, and then, because if you straight away go to, uh, features like backlinking, uh, all the good things that we have in Roam, people will not get it because, uh, obvious questions will be like, why do you even need a backlinking?

Why can't you just take notes on a paper on another app. So I think the most, uh, important feature, or I think the best thing to describe it as, as it is a thought taking tool.

Norman Chella: [00:50:47] Okay. A thought taking tool. Okay. Alright. Another interesting perspective, especially when we don't want to overwhelm people with features, that's one big thing. Cause I can throw you, like I can throw at you like 30 different features of Roame and if you're not a user, you're just going to be like what why. Um, yeah. Y right. Yeah. Like an iPhone has a billion features, but how people market iPhones is that it looks really pretty and you will feel, or you will gain a certain identity or a brand that you resonate with. If you buy it, that's all you talk about, right? You, you buy the why behind the product.  As long as we communicate that to someone, when we're trying to introduce the tool and not just bombard them with how to guides on publishing in public and all that. Um, that's, that's when it gets, uh, really great, uh, and to add more people to the cult, because there's nothing wrong with that. Totally. I am not being heretical or crazy in any way, shape or form and now, the second  and final question , what does Roam mean to you?

Aravind Balla: [00:51:48] Roam is a tool that lets me, uh, think better and synthesize all the information that I consume. Because prior to Roam, I just captured thoughts, captured information, but never a planned, or never like had to like revisit them and think how that fits in, in my life. But with Roam, I do it. I think it's just a mental shift, but the Roam has enabled me to do that earlier to Roam.

I never thought backlinking would be so powerful. Our block references would be so powerful, but, uh, like Roam and the roamcult, uh, you're seeing how people use it has really like gotten me into thinking better, is what I would say.

Norman Chella: [00:52:45] All right. Fantastic. And that is a great note to end on the mental shift from just randomly or mindlessly capturing something. And instead taking a lot more effort into actively try to apply it, uh, either to knowledge, uh, if you look at it from a different perspective, an element of emotional labor into all of the notes that you are taking.

So fantastic to end this on Aravind. If we want to contact you to talk to you more about, uh, your themes or anything that we talked about in this conversation, what is the best way to do that?

Aravind Balla: [00:53:23] Twitter. Twitter would be the best. Please send me a DM. I'd be happy to answer. I'd be happy to talk. And even if you want help with setting up the theme and creating your website, I'd be happy to help.

Norman Chella: [00:53:37] Fantastic and Aravind's Twitter. And the theme itself, as well as the learning curve podcast and your personal website and the notes. Oh, so many links. All these links will be in the public RoamFM graph down below, so Aravind, thank you. And I will see you on Twitter.

Tags

Norm

Norman Chella is the Podcast Rainmaker, Polymath in Progress and a very strange writer. His creative pen name is N.T. Cloever. You can find his words right here.

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