Adam Smith

Adam's Life Hacks Part One: Personal Wiki Time!

December, 2010

Warning: personal wikis are much less useful today because we all use smartphones, and editing Mediawiki pages through the mobile web is too difficult. I now use my personal wiki to reference older content, and regretfully use Evernote for everything else. Evernote leaves so much to be desired!


I would start with a story about how bad my memory is, except for the small fact that I can’t remember any such stories. Suffice it to say that any significant other of mine can always pull a trump card over me by invoking the “You don’t remember when we XYZ?” But now I'm venting. : )

I use a mixture of methods to keep track of things in my life.

At any given time I have todo items in my email, a Christmas card list scribbled on a piece of paper blotted with chicken tikka marsala sauce, and some note in my head that it’s time to take the car in for an oil change.

And somehow that oil change never happens. (With apologies to my whip.)

Long term personal storage was always tough, though.

Email isn’t good for long term storage because it’s cluttered with lots of other data, and it’s not editable. Paper notes aren’t scalable enough. And so on.

Enter the personal wiki.

I inaugurated my personal wiki two and a half years ago. Since then I’ve created 480 pages and made 4,046 revisions which works out to over four edits per day. I’ve found it to be incredibly useful.

Now lots of other people have written about personal wikis, so I’m going to just assume that you understand the basic idea, and talk about my tips on how to effectively use one.

  1. Use MediaWiki. At least as of 2008 it was by far the best.
  2. Turn rich text editing off. Use the text-only markup editing mode.
  3. The only markup you need to know is: ===A section title===, [[Page Link]], [ HTTP Link], __NOTOC__ to disable a table of contents, start lines with a “* “ to get bullets, and use two blank lines to get a blank skip line.
  4. Split your Main Page into two columns, like so,


  5. Avoid hierarchy of pages. Especially if you’re an engineer. Your Main Page should be the only page that is just a bunch of links to other pages.
  6. You must have the following pages:

    • People to see in different cities
    • Meeting Notes
    • Archive (where you keep links to pages that are now unused)
    • Logins (where you keep airline mileage account numbers, special passwords, etc)

  7. The following pages are recommended but not required:

    • Startup Ideas
    • Potential Future Investors
    • Potential Future Hires
    • Grocery Shopping List
    • Mentors
    • Local Businesses
    • Useful Software
    • Places to travel to
    • People I met while traveling

  8. Hosting: set up SSL and make your site https only.
  9. Security: disable account creation, and disallow anonymous browsing.
  10. Register a domain name that is dedicated to your wiki, that only you use.
  11. Run the wiki on a fast server. I started on shared hosting and found that my page load times were multiple seconds. I now run my wiki on an old desktop machine, but an Amazon EC2 micro instance does just fine!


That is it for us today, I’m Adam Smith. Thanks again for reading. We’ll leave you with Sting, and a cut off his new album*. Take it away.

* Rather than Sting, I’ll actually leave you with a censored list of pages I keep on my wiki, or at least the first few alphabetically. Take it away.


  • "Bookmarks"
  • 10 Years of Software
  • 2008 Q2 Review
  • 2008 Q3 Planning
  • 2008 Q4 Planning
  • 2008 Review
  • 2009 Q1 Planning
  • 2009 Q2 Goals
  • 2009 Q3 Goals
  • 2009 Q4 Goals
  • 2010 Birthday Invite List
  • Academic papers read at the beginning of Xobni
  • Acronis Easy Migrate says "Error: partition configuration changed" on Lenovo
  • Acting There Will Be Blood
  • Addresses to change when moving
  • Apartment hunting 2008
  • Apartment Party Post Mortem
  • Apartment Recurring Tasks
  • Apartment Setup
  • Apartment Warming Party 2008
  • Archive
  • Art I Like
  • Attending a Concert, How To
  • Audiophile
  • Beijing Trip Thoughts
  • Better Focus
  • Birthday Dinner Planning 2009
  • Biz School
  • Blackberry: Curve 8900 or Bold
  • Blog posts to write
  • Blog Todo
  • Board Meeting, Oct 2008
  • Books That Have Shaped How I Think, Tim O'Reilly
  • Books to Read
  • Budget Sept 2008
  • Budget thru end of June
  • Budgeting
  • Burning Man
  • Burning Man 2008
  • Burning Man 2010
  • Call with [XYZ], 29-apr-09


...okay you get the idea.

Please leave any tips of your own or other thoughts in the comments!



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