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As our lives become more and more computer/internet centric, I think technology can help us manage our lives better. I have a personal wiki where I maintain lists and note down things I need to remember or keep track of: like the exact procedure for paying UT academic fees online (a complicated bureaucratic procedure), tracking the state of my linux box, maintaining a compilation of how-to guides which are easy to look-up for my use. I also like to maintain some math/physics related notes online for quick-reference, which I will keep editing and updating. I've been exploring convenient software to do these things and I think I now have a setup that I've settled into and am comfortable recommending.

Zim

Zim is a personal wiki, with a gui frontend for a wiki based on flat files, and can also implement version control in the backend. It supports a variety of text formatting and also has rudimentary math support (LaTeX equations are rendered as PNGs). Another nice feature is that it has a simple webserver to let you display your pages online. I use Zim for stuff other than physics notes.

Installing Zim should be a cinch. It has packages for most popular OS distributions. Once installed, it's usage is easy to figure out from the GUI.

Gollum

Gollum is the software powering github wikis. It has a nice web frontend and a couple of features that make life easy: markdown and mathjax support built-in. It has a backend consisting of text files, version controlled using git. Files can either be edited through the web frontend, or in your favourite text/LaTeX editor and managed like any git repository. The wonderful thing about having your files in a git repository with content in Markdown+LaTeX is that if you'd like to move to different interface for using your wiki, it should be quite easy. You can just use this git based folder as your wiki backend. Another advantage is that you can have your stuff backed up easily, on Github or BitBucket (which gives you private repositories, and even more goodies for academic accounts).

For physics purposes, I prefer mathjax based math rendering which looks much nicer than PNGs or MathML. Also, I would like to put my notes online so that I can access them from anywhere, rather than only through my computer. Gollum serves these needs perfectly, while keeping things simple.

Installing gollum is also quite easy (at least on linux). Ensure that you have ruby and rubygems installed. Then, simply typing gem install gollum on the command line should do the job. To use gollum, create a folder inside which you'd like to base your wiki and from inside that folder, run gollum. It has a few nice optional command line arguments which I find useful, like --mathjax for mathjax support.

Some other stuff

I've also used the notepag.es service to type notes online. I can then save that link and access/edit that note in the future, and later copy it somewhere else if I want to. I recently came across Wikid which seems to be very simple to use as a wiki, or to put up a simple webpage. There are also a couple of blog like solutions I find easy to use: ruby-based Ruhoh (which I've posted about before) and python-based Pelican.

Needless to say, all the software I'm talking about is open source. They are each quite popular, which should speak for their ease of use. There is also no worry of storing all your content inside some SQL database blob. You always have these text-based files with your content. If you'd like to move over to some other system, it's as simple as copying these files. You can also set up the vcs repository to back-up your content, as I've done with my blog.



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Published

2013-01-26

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