Posted in: Technology/Software

Using HEY for email

Last week I posted my First impressions of HEY email. Today, I paid the $99 for the next year, so I guess the pros beat the cons.

Sometimes it’s best to just let things go. For example, the idea of “Inbox Zero”. I’ve come to think of Inbox Zero as yet another thing to punish myself about when I fail to achieve it. I don’t need more ways to feel bad about myself. HEY does a good job of making me not care. No unread icons, no notifications by default. Just a list of new emails that fall down into a list of “previously seen” messages once I’ve read them. No rush.

That “previously seen” list represents something else I need to let go of… archiving. It’s taken a few days, but I’m learning to not worry about archiving messages. They just drop out of sight. If I don’t want to lose track of a particular message, I just “set it aside” and it sticks. Or I can put it into the “Reply Later” collection.

Email clients are really just fancy file managers.

I’ve seen many reactions to HEY that claim “HEY is just a bunch of fancy filters, I can easily recreate the experience in Gmail.” While that’s true, sort of, HEY is more than a few clever filters. It’s the less obvious features of HEY, and, along with the general workflow, that are worth such a disruptive change for me. A few examples…

Renaming threads. The ability to change the subject of incoming emails is terrific. Message lists now read like a collection of notes I’ve taken rather than a list of whatever every individual sender blurted out. I now rename half of the messages I receive. I hadn’t realized how many emails I get with hard-to-parse subjects. Now I can fix them, and everyone else still sees the original subject, so this doesn’t confuse anyone.

Merging threads. This is great. I no longer need to manage multiple related threads. I merge them so replies to any of the messages in any thread end up in my merged thread. Everything behaves normally for everyone else, though. Handy.

Bundling senders. There are some senders from which I receive lots of messages. Things like Gitlab, Basecamp, etc. Now I “bundle” those senders and no matter how many messages I get, they only take up one one line in my Imbox (still don’t like “Imbox” but ¯_(ツ)_/¯).

Sticky Notes and Notes to Self. This is huge for me. I often want to add a quick note about an email, so what I used to do was link or copy the message into whatever note-taking tool I’m using and write the notes there. Now, I do it right in the email thread. Before HEY, I only did this with emails that really needed notes, but now I do it all the time because it’s so easy. This is also much better than creating a bunch of draft replies around for keeping notes.

I don’t like that HEY is its own thing and not a “real” email service. And it remains to be seen how well this works once I get a lot of history in there; I’m used to the fancy searching features in Mu4e or MailMate. I can export an mbox file any time and have all my messages local for searching with whatever, so that might work if needed.

I may not be able to fly through my inbox like I used to; tagging and filing and flagging and building new smart mailboxes. On the other hand, HEY makes it so I don’t have to.

Posted in: Technology/Software

First impressions of HEY email

When Google’s Gmail went beta in 2004 I desperately wanted to try it. So much so that I traded an extra camera (A Canon Canonet GIII, no less!) for an invitation. Gmail was doing something different with email and, at the time, the trade was worth it.

There haven’t been many true innovations in how we deal with email since then. The plethora of iOS apps claiming to revolutionize email probably count, although I haven’t liked any of them. More recently, Superhuman has been making a bold attempt. I tried Superhuman but for some reason it made me feel like a self-important twat, so I decided against paying $30/month for an exclusive, fancy Gmail wrapper.

And now there’s HEY from the Basecamp team. I’ve only been using HEY for a few days but I can already tell that this qualifies as a New Thing.

Email gets a bad rap, but it shouldn’t. Email’s a treasure.

It feels great to get an email from someone you care about. Or a newsletter you enjoy. Or an update from a service you like. That’s how email used to feel all the time.

So good news, the magic’s still there. It’s just obscured — buried under a mess of bad habits and neglect. Some from people, some from machines, a lot from email software.

I still love email. Efforts to get rid of email often make things worse by basically creating yet another inbox. Email is still the best way to reach someone (as opposed to everyone). And I own it.

I’m enjoying using HEY for email. They’ve really thought this through. Here are a few quick notes I’ve been jotting down while using it, in no particular order.

  • Imsorry but “Imbox” is stupid. I get why they don’t want to call it “Inbox”, but still. I doubt I’ll ever get used to it.
  • Merging threads is super useful
  • I love the ability to change the Subject line, and that the change is only visible to me. I no longer have to constantly run a translator in my head for badly named emails.
  • Every sender requires an opt-in from me. A sane default, without the harshness of whitelists, etc. Also, I can give people a code along with my email address and it’ll get them right in.
  • The Feed takes some getting used to. Not sure how to use this yet. Plus, it needs some keyboard shortcuts.
  • I sometimes fear doing the wrong thing. I know it’s all reversible but still, I worry that I’ll accidentally train HEY badly and lose stuff.
  • Not having an Archive button is so weird and is going to take a while to get used to.
  • I want to search Screened Out emails in case I can’t find someone and wonder if perhaps I accidentally screened them out. It would be fine if that search worked in the Screened Out view only.
  • I like automatically having a separate page for every sender. Feels a little Roam-like.
  • Generating a public link for specific threads has already come in handy.
  • Links to emails are just web URLs. No need for message: handlers or anything.
  • Adding notes to emails is great. There are two kinds: “Stickies” that can be added to the list of messages in the Imbox or “Notes to self” that can be added anywhere within a thread. I would ask HEY to find a better name than “Sticky”. I had trouble finding the feature because I assumed “Sticky” meant something like “Pin”.
  • I love that I can “bundle” chatty senders (like Github notifications, etc.) into a single line.

HEY is pretty nice, and I love what they’re trying to do. However, if I’m going to consider moving my email there, I’ll have to get over a few things.

  • HEY is not normal IMAP. This means it’s a standalone thing that doesn’t work with the 30-year old standard. This is not a trivial distinction and makes me rather nervous.
  • I can’t use my own domain (yet). They spin this and talk about “a fresh start” but moving to a @hey.com email address is no small thing. Do I really need jbaty@hey.com when I already have jack@baty.net?
  • Apple may not allow the iOS app into the App Store. That would suck, since I can’t just use some other email client on the phone to read my HEY email (See the first point).
  • HEY won’t import my old messages. Again with the “Fresh start” spin, they promote the idea that I can simply leave my old messages where they were. But what if I’m moving from another service into HEY? There may no longer be a “where they were” unless I want to continue paying for the old service forever. Sure, a lot of people will be migrating from a free Gmail account, so less of a problem for them, I guess.
  • Once I move to HEY, my choices drop to one. I can’t use MailMate if I’m feeling geeky or even Mu4e if I’m feeling really geeky. Everything has to be done the way HEY wants me to. Can I live with that?

For now, I’m going to continue using HEY, and if I still love it after a week or two I’ll have a decision to make. I’ve been a happy Fastmail customer for years, and this is the first time I’ve seriously considered anything else.

Posted in: Technology/Software

Iceberg editor for WordPress

When using WordPress, I often use a separate app for writing, editing and publishing posts. This can be anything from MarsEdit, iA Writer, Ulysses, or even Emacs. I prefer writing in a nice editor, preferably in Markdown. In fact, when using a statically-rendered blog engine such as Hugo or Blot, I must use a separate editor.

I switched from a static publishing system back to WordPress for this blog because I prefer being able to edit posts right where I’m reading. In other words, if I’m reading something and want to amend it or fix a typo, I can simply click the “Edit” link, make the change, and click “Update”. With a static generator I first need to find and open the post locally, make the change, and republish. There are convoluted ways to make this easier, but then that doesn’t really make things easier.

What I dislike about editing in WordPress is the Gutenberg editor. Actually, Gutenberg isn’t bad. Block editing can be quite handy when adding images, quotes, formatting, etc. But for just dumping words into a post, Gutenberg gets in the way. Writing in Gutenberg doesn’t feel good.

This is where Iceberg comes in.

Iceberg is a beautiful, flexible writing editor for crafting posts with the WordPress block editor.

Iceberg allows you to write within the WordPress block editor in a way that feels much more natural than working with “blocks”. Our goal is not to remove blocks, but rather to deemphasize them – and any non-essential elements within the editor – to promote a focus on writing.

Here’s what Iceberg looks like for me editing this post right now…

Not bad, right?

The important difference between Iceberg and external editors is that it is actually using Gutenberg’s block editor underneath. It just hides it away. This means I can use the available slash “/” commands when needed, but the rest of the time I’m in a much more pleasant environment than the default WordPress UI.

Iceberg is a WordPress plugin and costs $49. I’ve been investing in my writing, publishing, note-taking setup lately, so I was OK paying what seems like a lot for something like this. I’m writing this post with it, and enjoying it.

Posted in: Technology/Software

So, I went with Roam Research and am a True Believer

I discovered Roam in December, 2019 and thought, “Wow! This is exactly the thing I’ve been looking for” even though it was buggy, less than pretty, and still too new to count on. And yet, the more I dug in, the more I liked it. I remember telling people that “this thing pays dividends on your notes!” I’d finally found the ultimate tool for my Personal Knowledge Management System. (I don’t call it a “Zettelkasten” for two reasons. First, the way I use Roam isn’t really as a Zettelkasten. Second, I can’t help but think that Zettelkasten is kind of a show-off word so it puts me off.)

Then I heard they were going to charge $30/month for the privilege of using Roam and, although I would be able to pay, it made me pause. I got over the “But you don’t own your data!” problem, but $30/month for the rest of my life made me twitchy.

At the time, the only real contender for me was TiddlyWiki. I love TiddlyWiki. It’s what made my Rudimentary Lathe wiki possible (and fun). TiddlyWiki does transclusion, can do backlinking, is a single HTML file that I control. And not long after Roam started making waves, TiddlyWiki fans started improving TiddlyWiki to emulate some of Roam’s most notable features. We ended up with Stroll, and it’s very nice. I didn’t see using it for everything the way I planned to with Roam. I don’t know why, really. Just a feeling. So, I kept looking.

Until Roam came along, I took most of my notes in one of two places, TheBrain and Org mode. Org mode kicks the ass of everything else for general note-taking, text processing, task management, you name it. But after a few weeks with Roam, I’m no longer interested in writing notes in anything that doesn’t include bi-directional links. Backlinking is key, this is why I’ve loved TheBrain for so long. That’s all it does (ok, not true, but it’s what it does best). But I dislike taking notes in TheBrain, and I never really get into the flow. There’s a lot of friction getting stuff into TheBrain. This is why I’d link stuff with TheBrain but would take notes in Org mode. Not ideal.

Suddenly, Jethro Kuan created Org-roam. Now we were talking! Org mode with terrific backlink support, titles rather than file names, aliases, never-ending customization options, and a solid database cache behind it all. It’s so very good. But, it means I’ve got to use Emacs. I love Emacs, but I tire of the mental overhead it causes me. I wasn’t sure that I wanted my “Second Brain” to be stuck in an editor that often hurts my first brain. And as great and powerful as the org-mode format is, Markdown is easier, ubiquitous, and works with just about every modern editor. I felt myself wishing Org-roam used Markdown. It doesn’t, and it shouldn’t, so I hesitated.

Then, of course, someone linked me to Obsidian, “A second brain, for you, forever.” Nice. Let’s see, Markdown files on my own device. A fast, capable editor, backlinks galore, a built in graph, support for Daily Notes, and a plug-in system that could take me who-knows where. I spent a week with it and thought I’d found what I was looking for.

Except, it’s not an outliner. I really missed Roam’s outliner based editor. I missed the block-level references and transclusion from Roam. I missed that it was just a tab away from where I was usually already working. I liked that Roam is automatically everywhere I can fire up a browser. I don’t have to decide how to use the thing on my iPad. It’s just a website. Mostly, I missed the flow Roam somehow makes possible. I can’t put my finger on it, but Roam is the most pleasant, easiest, and entirely capable option for a PKM.

Roam isn’t the choice I wanted to make. I wanted to use Org-roam. Still do. I also find Obsidian compelling. But, I had to stop losing sleep thinking about it, so I made the decision to go all-in with Roam. It’s the outliner, simplicity, and block-level references that clinched it. Many will say that I don’t “own my data” but I kind of do. I export the entire DB as JSON daily and could probably recreate the thing in Obsidian or something else in a few hours. I don’t feel locked in, but I’m sure some people disagree. Good for them, that’s what Org-roam and Obsidian are for.

Roam Research opened the waitlist and introduced pricing yesterday. I could still use Roam for free for a while, being an early beta user, but I needed to commit. To that end, I paid $500 for the “True Believer” plan. It’s a 5-year license that includes a few perks like early access to new features. That qualifies as a commitment, I’d say. Now I just need to stick with it.

Posted in: Technology/Software

Running CloudReady on the 2008 iMac

Patrick Rhone posted a link to a post by Steve Best titled New Life for an Old iMac. Steve had installed Neverware’s CloudReady OS into an old iMac.

CloudReady makes our little iMac feel like a new computer again.

I had never heard of CloudReady.

Based on Google’s Chromium OS, the same open-source architecture as Chromebooks and Chrome OS, CloudReady provides unparalleled speed, simplicity, and security without hardware limitations, whether your computers are brand new or 10 years old.

It so happens I had an ancient iMac gathering dust in a closet, so I dragged it out, dusted it off, and set about installing a weird, new-to-me OS.

I created a boot USB, fired up the iMac, ran the installer, logged in, and I was up and running. I’ve never used Chrome OS so the whole thing is new to me, but I now have a 24-inch screen running a simple, fast OS on hardware that was never going to run a modern version of macOS so I’d say it’s a win.

The Magic Keyboard paired nicely. The Magic Mouse, while it paired, would not scroll, so I grabbed an old wired mouse until I can figure out why the Apple mouse didn’t work. Wifi worked, and so far everything else seems to have worked as well.

I’m not sure what I’ll use it for, but it’s fun to tinker with.

Posted in: Technology/Software

A quick tour of my Tinderbox Daybook

I’ve been keeping a “Daybook” using Tinderbox since at least 2008. My Daybook is basically a collection of outlines and notes. Here’s a quick overview.

The main sections are:

  • Daybook – This is a daily log/journal, organized by month
  • Meal Log – I log what I eat, when, the type of meal, and a quality score
  • Media Log – I record books read and movies watched
  • Weight log – Most days I enter my weight.

At the end of each month I export the Daybook outline for the month as Markdown, which I also then convert to PDF and print. From there it gets punched and put into a 3-ring binder.

There’s a simple dashboard “Map” view showing aggregate metrics.

Tinderbox lets me add any metadata I want to notes. For example, the Media Log contains the following:

  • StartDate – When I started a book or watched a film
  • EndDate – When I finished a book or film
  • Rating – I rate things on a scale with 1 (I didn’t care for it), 2 (It was fine), and 3 (I enjoyed it)
  • Media Type – Currently this is either Book or Movie. I thought would include Podcast and TV but have not done that
  • URL – Usually a link to Goodreads or Letterboxd
  • Authors – Book author
  • BookTitle – Full title of the book
  • PublicationYear – Year of release
  • ISBN – for books
  • Genre – Fiction or Non-fiction

Outline titles can show not only the note’s title, but any other metadata as well.

The thing about all this is that with minimal input, I can get all sorts of interesting output and insights. I’ve tried other ways of keeping a Daybook like this but nothing has come close to the utility and flexibility of Tinderbox.