July 6, 2020
Daily Posts Are Moving Back To “The Lathe”
I tried, I really did. The pull of having nearly everything I write all in one place is hard to resist, so I succumbed and stopped writing on my wiki, thinking I’d consolidate everything here on my blog. I made it two weeks, but now I think I’ll be moving my “Daily Notes” posts back to the wiki.
Why? Honestly, it’s because creating random silly posts is more fun with TiddlyWiki. It’s easy and flexible. It feels playful and almost like it’s a secret. Know what I mean? And having fun is more important than having proper RSS feeds or consistency, or whatever other excuses I make up to convince myself to consolidate.
I apologize to the few of you who preferred the updates here. As a compromise, I’m thinking about writing regular (weekly?) summary posts here as a reminder that there’s stuff going on over there.
In the meantime, I’ll see you at “The Lathe“.
July 5, 2020
iPhone SE OG
iPhone SE. Isn’t it adorable?
Look what I found in a drawer! It’s my favorite iPhone, the original SE. I preferred the flat sides, smaller size, power button at the top, and Touch ID. Oh, and a real headphone jack. It’s such a great phone.
In the above photo, the home screen is arranged for using the phone in a way I aspire to, meaning hardly at all.
iPhone SE and iPhone X
The thing about using a minimally-configured SE is that it feels liberating right up until it becomes frustrating. Using Maps, for example, is much less useful on the SE’s tiny screen. The camera is pretty bad (although I don’t use my phone’s camera often).
It would be unnecessarily limiting for me to swap the sim card from the iPhone X into the SE. On the other hand, it feels so good in hand and using it would be fun, right?
I’m going to try it.
July 19, 2020 Update: I used the SE for about 10 days and loved it. However, I tired of running into times where I didn’t have some app I needed like a parking app or the Orbi app so I went back to the iPhone X. That lasted two days. I hated how big it felt and FaceID is useless with a mask on and, really, the small one-handed operation enabled by the SE made me go back. Now what? I’m stuck with a phone with no future? Guess so.
June 29, 2020
I should just sell the big iPad
My big, beautiful 12.9″ iPad Pro with the fancy new Magic Keyboard sits on a shelf, almost all the time. I should probably sell it.
I don’t sell it, because I occasionally get a wild hair and decide to “do more with the iPad”. This seldom lasts more than a week. I know there are many people who adore their iPad-centric lives (I know this because they never shut up about it 😍), but I find it difficult to do anything substantial on iOS. This could be because I’m an Old, but there it is.
I buy apps that I hope will encourage me to use the Pencil more, but I hardly ever use the pencil. Taking notes on the iPad is nothing like using paper. And it offers nothing for me that improves upon writing on paper and, optionally, scanning. Drawing on the iPad feels like cheating, so that doesn’t happen often either.
One would think that I’d use the iPad more just farting around at home, given the giant dimensions of the 16″ MacBook Pro that I choose to lug around instead. I don’t. I always grab the big MBP. Because it has and does everything and it’s easier to use in most settings.
Last year I gave away my iPad Mini and I miss that little guy. I used the Mini as a pseudo Kindle all the time and loved it. It was the same size as my A5 notebook so carrying both was easy.
It sounds silly, but I might rather have an iPad Mini and a MacBook Air as the portable version of the 16″ MBP.
It’s unlikely that I’ll actually sell the iPad. It has so much potential and someday I might figure out how to realize more of it.
June 27, 2020
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
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.
June 21, 2020
My iPod Shuffles Off This Mortal Coil
My 3rd Generation iPod Shuffle no longer holds a charge. It’s not like I’ve used it much lately, but still. It’s so tiny!
3rd generation from 2009
June 20, 2020
Nicotine toothpicks created by Wayne DeWitt
My good friend Wayne tried to quit smoking for a minute once or twice. He didn’t like gum so he invented cinnamon-flavored nicotine-infused toothpicks. I think this was in 1993. The idea was that having a toothpick soaked in nicotine in your mouth was more like smoking a cigarette than chewing gum or wearing patches and would therefore be more likely to reduce the urge to smoke.
He called them Nic-A-Pics. They never saw actual distribution but he got as far as this prototype. I thought it was genius.
Wayne passed away unexpectedly a few years ago, so finding this pack of his toothpicks was a pleasant reminder of some good times.
June 20, 2020
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 email@example.com when I already have firstname.lastname@example.org?
- 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.
June 18, 2020
Thinking about keeping my Daily Notes here
Here’s what I’ve been thinking.
You may have noticed that my Rudimentary Lathe wiki has evolved into a blog. 90% of new content is simply added to that day’s “Journal” entry. It got me thinking again about consolidation. I mean, I have a blog, right? You’re reading it now. I wonder if it’s possible to create Daily Notes posts right here instead.
The trick is that there’s an RSS feed, and the day’s post would show up in the feed as soon as it’s first published. Not ideal. I don’t actually want the daily posts to show up in the main feed at all, so I suppose I’d need to categorize them and exclude them from the feed.
I also want today’s post to be “pinned” to the top, even if I add other posts that day.
Ideally, the Daily Notes post would be a collection of microblog posts, collected into one entry. Somehow. That should allow for permalinks to be created for each microblog post in addition to the one for the enclosing post. This is secondary, but feels important enough to consider.
The best example of what I’m looking for is Dave Winer’s http://scripting.com. Also see Colin’s blog. And to a lesser degree, my wiki.
I’m running this site on WordPress (again) now so I’m betting this is all possible. Just need to find the energy to try it.
June 13, 2020
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.
June 11, 2020
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.