I’ve had a number of smaller technical tasks piling up over the course of the year and decided to dedicate my free time in December towards getting my shit together. It worked out rather nicely and I can start 2014 with a clean slate1.
I’ve been running my day-to-day backups using Time Machine and a swappable hard drive in an IcyDock enclosure. The IcyDock has been handy, allowing me to swap out for a second drive once a week for a full mirroring. My daily drive failed in November, most likely due to the dock’s lose data cable and its positioning on my keyboard tray. I ordered a replacement drive, promptly returned it, and got a working one. I also moved my dock so that it’s connected directly to my router. Hopefully the safer positioning lets this drive last longer.
When Google Reader had its plug pulled over the Summer, I never really got around to finding a replacement. It wasn’t a huge loss for me, since news comes via so many more channels these days, but I do miss flipping through articles with my morning coffee. I’d set up Fever back in the Spring, but it never really worked out the way I’d hoped it would. I wound up choosing FeedWrangler as my news service. My client, Reeder, didn’t give me any feed management options, so I wound up adding Mr. Reader to my iPad workflow. Mr. Reader has a lot of nice features, my favorite being able to set the default view (RSS/web/Pocket/Instapaper) for each feed.
Reeder clearly had a lot of thought put into the UI, and I really miss that. Mr. Reader does feel quite clunky and I often find that a swipe doesn’t do what I expect it to or that a button is positioned just out of reach. If someone combined Reeder’s UI with Mr. Reader’s functionality, I’d buy the shit out of it.
For the past 5 years, I’ve been hosting my sites on a KnownHost VPS. It was quite stable, but since it was based around CentOS with CPanel, I found it unwieldy for my limited sysadmin abilities. Plus, it was costing me around $20 each month, which while reasonable at the time I’d signed up, is far less so these days.
After recommendations from several friends, I decided to ditch KnownHost for DigitalOcean and I’m really liking the change. The admin UI is fantastic, and allows me to do most of what I want to do quite quickly, and I get to pick from several different options for my OS. I’m able to quickly spin up VMs for smaller tasks or to test configuration. It’s allowed me to move my ZNC service off of my local machine and serves up my 2 smaller Plone sites quite smoothly, for only $10/month2. I also took the opportunity to consolidate I all of my domain names under one registrar.
I’ve been enjoying David Sparks’ podcast, Mac Power Users, for some time now and decided to try out his new Email Field Guide. I wasn’t sure how much I’d get out of it, but it turned out to quite helpful. The Field Guide covers a lot of the basics of using GMail, Apple’s Mail, and mobile devices. David is really focused on preventing email from being a constant distraction and I really appreciated how well he tied that together. This book made the best use of the iBooks platform of any I’ve seen; screencasts accompanied each chapter and interviews with power users about their workflows really helped to make me think about my own relationship with my email.
One of the first things David’s Field Guide convinced me of was processing email through my own domain. When I left Penn State two years ago, I spent a lot of time dealing with the transition away from an email address I’d held for eighteen years3. I’m subjecting myself to that migration once again, but hopefully for the last time.
GMail required me to upgrade to a paid account to use a custom domain, so I began looking for substitutes. It feels a bit silly to think that I was looking at paid services to avoid paying for GMail, but there were enough other little annoyances that’d been piling up that it felt like a good time to make the jump.
I lose out on GMail’s tagging system, in favor of properly implemented IMAP folders. I missed the flexibility of having one message show up in multiple places, but it’s proven to be less of an issue than expected thanks to both Fastmail and my mail client’s incredible search features.
Subscribing to SaneBox was the toughest decision of the month. It costs a lot, it’s something I could do by making my own mail filters, but damn it’s made my life easier.
The biggest change SaneBox4 introduced to my workflow has been to admit to myself that there are large batches of email that I only need to think about once a day or week. It’s liberating. Initially, I’d fought against their recommended setup, trying to fit my old workflow into their system. After a week of that, I gave in and wiped all of my trainings and it made a big difference. I now have a folder that I look at hourly, another I check daily, and two others that can easily wait a week.
The only hitch I’ve run into was that I couldn’t convince it to drop specific emails to a mailing list. It sort of worked, but wound up tripping a bounce warning from the listserv software and unsubscribed me from the list every few days. I gave up on that and SaneBox support was very helpful getting everything sorted out again.
I’m currently on the “Lunch” plan, adding the News and Bulk folders, SaneBlackHole for that extra-persistent spam, and SaneTomorrow and SaneNextWeek which allow me to quickly defer messages until later.
It’s just filters, but it’s filters I don’t have to spend time setting up. I work with my email instead of managing it — that’s an important change.
I loved Sparrow. It was a beautifully designed mail app. Sparrow took a very minimalist approach to mail and made it so simple to go in and process my inbox quickly. I could blow through 300 messages, deleting the meaningless, archiving the need-to-knows, and paring down to a list of important messages in a matter of minutes.
Then Google ate it. They… man, fuck those guys.
Since then, there have been a number of other projects that have tried to emulate Sparrow. And by “emulate” I mean “blatantly copy”. But they all fell into the trap of thinking that Sparrow was good, but it just didn’t do enough. Minimalism is great, but how much better would it be with more buttons, right? Every time I opened one of them, it was a reminder of what I’d lost. It was being slapped about the face by a guy screaming “HAHAHA I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’M DOING WHEN IS GOOGLE GOING TO GIVE ME MY MILLIONS?”
Fuck those guys too.
So, I went in the opposite direction. If Sparrow was a sleek imported sports car, MailMate is a dump truck with a crane attached. And maybe a cement mixer. Or a backhoe. Let’s go with both.
I also wanted to take some time to teach myself Markdown syntax. MailMate, GitHub and my day job’s ticket tracker, sprint.ly use it and I was flailing trying to remember the proper syntax for links and images. Markdown Tutorial was, obviously, a Markdown tutorial and provided a quick lesson on what I needed to know. I wound up purchasing Editorial for writing on my iPad and Marked 2 for previewing on the desktop. Editorial may be one of the most well-made iOS apps out there. I’m really loving its method of showing both syntax and style simultaneously. The scriptable workflows should allow for quite a bit of fun extending it.
So Technical Debt December was a success. I spent a bit more money than I’d intended, but found savings in other areas. Most importantly, I was able to clear up a number of items on my backlog, and made my life a good deal simpler.
Blogging January, however was obviously a complete failure. ↩
They’d probably run just fine on one of the $5 options, but sizing down now would require me to transfer everything to the smaller VM manually. ↩
I feel silly admitting it, but “keep my email address” was one of the biggest items in my “stay” column. ↩
This is a referral link. I usually hate doing that, but it’ll get you $5 off your subscription too. Because you’re worth it. ↩