PICC: pragmatics of intellectual consumption and creation

There’s a better way to do it - Find it.
Thomas Alva Edison

Managing one’s intellectual appetite in these times of information (and noise) excess is quite an ordeal. Given superior tooling and methods to plough through dense knowledge forests, coming up with the right set of tools for oneself is still a commendable task. In this post, I sketch out how one could go about making such choices practically, from why you should bother, to what tangible actions you can get started with.


The following is of no use to you if you aren’t a little info-hungry and are just the “when I cross that bridge” guy : any pursuit today requires maintaining efficient intellectual pipelines and I hope this isn’t an after-thought for you.

With that out of the way, …

Why bother ..

.. finding the best tools and methods for your needs when generic-solutions are good-enough and allow you to get started without an extensive setup?

I’d say this is a short term play and doesn’t take into account the future you’s convenience. You might get a project’s knowledge base maintained via one set of principles but that’s not the only one you’ll do throughout your life. You might wish to port ideas between projects maintained with different methods or would even like to maintain generic notes that don’t fit any project. It’ll be a large unelegant mess if you don’t actively invest some effort into getting things right before you begin. Although it might slow you down for the sprint, you’ll be better off in the marathon. Efficiency in the wild isn’t about linear progress but phases of waxing and waning. You might ultimately reach a ceiling that is way beyond your expectations from when you started out. You’ll have your past self’s grit and obsession with productivity to thank for then. However, rather than going all out right away, easing into this idealogy of a controlled obsession will keep you in the game longer.

Before proceeding towards the specifics, understanding …

.. When ..

.. to cash in your profits and cut down on your proverbial “time” loss is tricky to figure out - you might fall for the trap that sophisticated procrastination is. I personally prefer learning aggressively during rests between major projects and then incorporating what meta-skills I learned actively into the next project. These intermittent consolidation phases give me a break from what would otherwise be a pretty boring and unidimensional intellectual life.

What ..

.. core activities should you focus on when getting started with this pursuit?


Well, text is the common medium that can represent all that we wish to, with considerable completeness. An image might be better suited to certain individuals dependent on their work but text is complete and more potent than images. Relevant charts and graphs can be easily generated with minimal code which is more efficient than touching the mouse (eg: mermaid with org-babel).

I’d suggest being digital all the way for your over-all store than having some hand-written notes due to obvious reasons. Quills and parchments (and derivatives thereof) are romantic, no doubt, but highly impractical. When completely digital, you have the opportunity of setting up custom pipelines and triggers between tools if you wish to be a little more serious in this endeavor.

Basic IO

On the context of digitizing your knowledge forest, optimizing your interaction with computers and documents with some meta skills like speed reading (for screens and not just books) and touch typing might be a decent choice.

I personally invested around 45 mins a day for 40 days following the book “Breakthrough rapid reading” by Peter Kump around two years ago. I sped up from 200 wpm to 500 wpm for moderately complex material without sacrificing comprehension. As of now, without practice, I can lazily achieve 400 wpm simply due to the habits I learned then. When I’ve slept well and focus explicitly, I might even clock in a respectable 800 wpm.

As for touch typing, you may refer any one online platform that demands a relatively measly 10 minutes of practice a day for around a month : from this point forth, you’ll be proficient enough at this point that you don’t need to explicitly carve out time to practice touch typing. This is an important step as you’d definitely be ditching the mouse soon, given you like speed. You can expect speeds of upto 100 wpm when cognitively fresh. You’ll probably never be thinking this fast when programming.

Albeit, It’s good to ensure that you aren’t IO bound when note-taking/generating drafts when reading technically dense material.


Now that you love keyboards and text, I’d suggest you learn vi (even if you use vanilla emacs) and get pretty good at it: vim was my main dev and intellectual ecosystem (with the unix utilities) for around 18 months and I’d recommend you have a few main goals when doing so:

  • understand the philosophy of modal editing and the semantics for specific binds (most of them are pretty intuitive).
  • understand why you’d like to customize your setup and what are the limits of something that looks so basic and is decades old (I was personally amazed initially as to why ancient software (without extreme philosophical upgrades) is still in active use and development today (referring to vim and emacs)).

Some resources that I used if you’d like to explore this a bit further:

Vi pays off that initial investment in dividends every day till the day you stop using a computer. I use evil emacs, vim keybindings in my gui browsers, within VS code when I need a quick temporary dev setup for work and the first thing I check for any programmer oriented tool is if it follows a similar modal philosophy and doesn’t force the mouse on me.

If you’ve reached this point, you’re already pretty satisfied with yourself and may consider thinking you’ve found your sweet comfy efficiency optimum for eternity. Well .., fortunately .., you haven’t. You might still be relying several distinct pieces of programs to get stuff done, held together with generic glue that isn’t aware of what you’re doing or is based on assumptions you explicitly assert anywhere… This is the time you should start thinking about having a cohesive …


Context switching between different tools is a pain and for the next big leap, you need something to be able to bring it all together in a neat, sophisticated package - a unifying philosophy that doesn’t just works - it hypnotizes you into its doctrines. I found my unifying ecosystem 2 years ago with emacs and I’ve never regretted that initial lack of productivity incurred when porting my work environment from vim.

This post isn’t meant to describe the tooling in depth but just serve as an index, as a potential roadmap…

With that being said, I will be posting a lot about Emacs in the future and how I use it - I’ll take you as my padawan and be glad to initiate you to the dark side.

Now that you’re equipped to blaze past all those blogs, papers and the internet, you should stop and consider ..

.. Whether ..

.. you should be consuming all that you do. Most of the noise (aka news) is shoved down your throat and isn’t a choice. Some primitive steps you can employ to avoid choking from whatever falls upon your retina and ear drums:

  • be disciplined in your pursuits : there is a fine line between curiosity and being distracted -> I struggle with this from time to time and have only recently grasped what balance is.
  • delegate the work of finding quality content to the wisdom of the crowds (stabilize your sources: I use https://news.ycombinator.com/ and RSS(really simple syndication) for some specific sources)


With all that I’ve indexed, I hope this post inspires you to look at your consumption/creation pipelines in a new light and sparks the same enthusiasm I harbor towards regularly sharpening the proverbial intellectual axe - do chop away : I’d be glad to read about your epistemological anvils and furnaces.