Friday, November 30, 2012

Hour challenge 11/30: nanote, a terminal note-taking app

I'm fairly stone age when it comes to productivity software - I keep track of notes, my calendar, etc. in plain text files on Dropbox and edit them with nano (yes, I use nano and sometimes gedit.) I've decided there's no excuse for this anymore, so I'm going to spend some time developing (open source) productivity tools that I can use from the terminal that are a bit more sophisticated.

Of course, I want to get something out of this, and I don't want to sink a lot of time into development. So, I'm starting a weekly "hour challenge." Every Friday afternoon, I'll be setting aside an hour to develop a specific terminal-based productivity app, and releasing the source on Github. I'll report on my progress here.

I was originally going to develop a terminal interface to Google calendar today, but I discovered gcalcli which fits my needs perfectly and there's no need to reinvent that wheel. So, this afternoon, I'll be developing a terminal-based note-taking system similar to Tomboy notes. I used to use Tomboy, but it frequently caused problems syncing with Dropbox and I constantly lost work, and it uses XML which makes trying to restore after conflicts prohibitive. My notes will use a simple markdown-based text format and allow easy linking to other notes and hierarchical note organization using directories. I'm going to borrow functionality from Nano and call my app "nanote." I'll be learning how to interact with the ncurses library in Python.

The rules: I'm allowed to look into what libraries to use, plan, etc. for one hour prior to starting to code. I won't actually start coding until exactly 1:00 PM, and at 2:00 it's pencils up. Obviously, I'll probably keep coding for a little bit after the fact, but at the end of the hour I want to have a bare bones, functional tool.

I've created an hourchallenge Github organization for storing these projects, so drop me a line if you want to participate! Suggestions for future tools are also welcome.

Shortly after 2:00, I'll update this post with the results and a link to the repository.

Update (2:00): I didn't make it, partially due to not enough planning/familiarity with ncurses and partially due to suddenly being offered free pizza. I'm giving myself another hour! I can definitely finish this off by 3:00.

The code so far is live at

Update (3:00): I got close! It's more or less functional: you can edit text, save, and link to other notes. I'll probably end up spending another couple hours filling out the missing functionality. Hey, I think this is pretty good for a two hour development sprint.

Update (12/1): after 24 hours, it does just about everything I wanted it to, and supports Markdown formatting. Mission accomplished!

So, in summary, I utterly failed to develop something in an hour (and maybe this project was too ambitious for an hour coding sprint) but I'm still pleased with what I was able to do. Tune in next week when I take another crack at it.

If you have an idea for a tool that you'd like to see developed, or want to develop a tool in an hour yourself, let me know!

nanote is now available on the Python Package Index, so "pip install nanote && nanote" should get it running.


  1. Very cool. I really like this idea and I'm going to try to start doing this myself next semester.

    Given your interest in CLI productivity apps you might also like Todo.txt if you haven't seen it already.

    1. Todo.txt is pretty nice. Something I should seriously ponder: I have no problem spending hours of my own time developing my own productivity apps, but I just can't make myself spend $2 for the Android version of Todo.txt.