Making My Notes Easier to Reference

I made a man-like tool to reference my notes. It’s great.

I am a big fan of online documentation. I prefer using man to Google, perldoc to search on CPAN, and go doc to A big part of this is because it “feels” closer to me. There’s no internet to get in the way; as long as I have the right software installed, I should be able to see all the reference material.

With that in mind, I recently got annoyed that looking at my own notes either meant reading the source in vim, (which is easy, just open the persistent notes window and type something like :Epost markdown) or look at it in my browser (similarly easy, as the rendered data is in the sole persistent tab pinned to my browser.)

In any case, I wanted something that would fit into my workflow a little better. With that in mind I “built” (more like assembled) note. Here’s the entire source, right now:


pandoc -s -f markdown -t man ~/code/notes/content/posts/$ |
   man -l -

Running note markdown produces a document something like this:

Markdown()                                                              Markdown()

   · reference (


          ![alt text](https://url.png "Logo Title Text 1")

                                 2019-02-27T19:08:30                    Markdown()

The header and footer are a little annoying, but as it stands it serves the purpose and works just fine. On top of that I added autocompletion; here’s the source of $HOME/.zsh/fn/_note:

#compdef note

local curcontext="$curcontext" state line
_arguments -C '*:: :->options'

case $state in
      local -a notes
      local dir=$HOME/code/notes/content/posts

      notes=( ${notes#$dir/} )
      notes=( ${} )
     _describe -t notes "notes" notes

And here’s what it produces:

$ note m«tab»
machine-learning  manual            meta              misc-tech
management        markdown          misc

I have to be honest that I cargo culted this from some of my own autocompletion code that I wrote years ago. I understand most of it, but the _arguments bit is not at all obvious to me.

If you’re interested in diving deeper than is probably wise in writing shell scripts, you should check out From Bash to Z Shell. The book has in depth coverage of all of the major POSIX shells and their non-POSIX features.

The UNIX Programming Environment is one of the most inspiring software engineering books I’ve ever read. I suggest reading it if you use UNIX either at home (Linux, OSX, WSL) or at work. It can really clarify some of the foundational tools you can use to build your own tools or extend your environment.

Posted Mon, Jul 15, 2019

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