Unsubscribe Rule for Apple Mail

I’ve been making a point lately to take back my inbox and actively unsubscribe from websites which send me unwanted email, and I’ve come up with a great trick to make doing that easier. All I did was create a new Apple Mail rule called “Unsubscribe” which looks at incoming messages for the word “unsubscribe” in the message content, and then set the color of that message to orange. I could probably go crazy and write an AppleScript to automatically create a new action in OmniFocus, but I don’t get so many of these that it feels worth the added effort.

Unsubscribe Rule

Hipster Ipsum

Artisanal filler text for your site or project:

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Choose “Hipster with a shot of Latin” or “Hipster, neat.”

Migrating From Octopress to WordPress

After several months of running this blog using the static blogging system Octopress, I‘ve moved back to self hosted WordPress. There’s a lot of things I liked about Octopress, and there’s a lot of things to not like about WordPress, so like everything, it really it just came down to which tradeoffs I could live with.

The main benefits you hear about when moving to a static system like Octopress are:

  1. Your site won’t go down when you get Fireballed.
  2. Your published site is all static files, so it loads really fast.
  3. You get to write in Markdown, and your files get stored that way.
  4. Easy to keep posts under source control.
  5. The default theme is pretty nice (on Octopress specifically).

Some of this, I think, gets oversold, and no one ever seems to focus much on the disadvantages (some of these apply more to Octopress than other systems):

  1. Your posts all get saved and stored as plain text — which is great — but because of that if you ever want to move to another system that doesn’t happen to use static files formatted exactly the same way, it’s non-trivial to get them into that system.
  2. If you’re not a Ruby developer, setting everything set up and working correctly is probably going to be a pain in the ass.
  3. Using an app like MarsEdit probably isn’t going to be an option. I tried a couple times and could never get OctoMars working correctly.
  4. It’s going to be pretty hard to blog from your iPhone/iPad unless you set up some kind of Rube Goldberg machine involving Dropbox or SSH-ing into a server. That’s adding a lot of friction.
  5. If you don’t like the default theme, there’s a lot less out there to use, and I found writing one from scratch to be pretty inscrutable.

Of course, a lot of this applies to just me. If you’re not worried about migrating out of a static system later, don’t have a favorite blogging app or don’t care about being able to publish from your phone, most of this isn’t really going to apply. And, for what it’s worth, a few of my other issues — including the fact that Octopress hasn’t had a major update in two years — probably would have not have been an issue had I chose Pelican instead of Octopress.

Octopress to WordPress Migration Script

If you search for guides on how to migrate from WordPress to Octopress, you’ll get a lot of results, but not so many the other way that describe how to actually migrate a large number of posts the other way. I also had to think of someway to maintain a bit of my nerd cred, and so I wrote a script to do the migration.

What it does is parse an Octopress _posts directory, reads the YAML front matter and content, and then sends it to a WordPress blog using the WordPress XML-RPC API (there was a good Python module for this part). I can’t guarantee that it‘ll work in your specific case, and it won’t retain categories from Octopress, but it did work for me. I’ve put the script on GitHub for others to use and improve.

Back to Google Apps

About a month ago, I posted about how I was switching my work e-mail from Google Apps to Fastmail, and how it was just super. Well, after a month it wasn’t, and a couple of nights ago I switched back.

Ultimately FastMail had a major issue I didn’t see any easy way to get around: the spam filtering. It just isn’t nearly as good as Gmail. There’s two ways spam filtering can fail: it can let spam into your inbox, or it can mark things spam that aren’t. Between the two, I can live with spam making it into my inbox occasionally, but I can’t live with it marking important things I want to see as spam. The other issue I had that it would greylist messages it thought might be suspicious and cause them to be delayed by up to an hour.

The biggest thing that I was hoping to get out of switching was to use something that worked better with Apple’s mail apps than Gmail, and it did in the way that there was no concept of labels to contend with, but I think the better solution is just to suck it up and use a native iOS client for Gmail and its web interface when I’m on a Mac. The side benefit is that I’ll never send work e-mail from my personal account and vice-versa this way. It also turns out that there’s some pretty great Mail apps for Gmail on iOS I had no idea existed. The biggest downside is that I don’t have direct access to my regular address book through Gmail, but maybe separating work and personal contacts isn’t the worst thing I could do anyway.

From Gmail to FastMail

Late last week — due to nothing wrong with Google’s services — I turned off my Google Apps for Business account and switched my work e-mail over to FastMail. The reasons for switching weren’t that Gmail had done anything wrong, but that I valued the better OS integration of Apple Mail more than the features of Gmail, and that Apple Mail really sucks as a Gmail client.

Why do I think it sucks? Well, the fact that labels in Gmail aren’t really directly comparable to mailboxes in Mail is annoying, but not show-stopping if you stay away from the web interface. The biggest reason was that archiving works differently on Mail for iOS and Mac with a Gmail account, and does so in an incompatible way. On iOS archiving means always sending messages to “All Mail” — even if the label is hidden — and on Mac it means always sending it to a mailbox named “Archive”.

And so — after doing some research and finding out what other people were using — I switched to FastMail. If sending calendar invites with a Google account worked on iOS, I’d probably miss Google calendar, but I’d already been using an iCloud calendar because of that anyway. Archiving also still doesn’t work right between the two platforms: for some reason Mail on iOS can only send messages to an “Archive” mailbox if you’re using an iCloud account — which is insane — but there’s nothing I can do except hope it’s fixed in iOS 7.

One thing that FastMail makes a lot easier is automatic forwarding to another address. So, for example, I use Tender for my support, which has a feature that lets me forward support mail send to a specific address to Tender in order to create support tickets. In Google, I either had to route it through an account, or set up a Group that forwarded to it, either of which was a pain. In FastMail I tell it “support@mydomain = address@tenderapp.com,” and it works. In general I feel like a lot of these most common tasks are easier with FastMail, because it doesn’t seem so focused on the idea that I’m managing a really large business, rather than a small one with a few e-mail accounts.

If you’re happy with Google, stick with it. If you’re not, FastMail is working out really well for me so far.

How and Why I’m Using Evernote

I’m not sure what triggered it, but all of a sudden it seems as though the nerd world has gotten into — or back into — Evernote. Merlin Mann talked about it on his recent visit to Mac Power Users, Brett Terpstra said nice things about it on on Systematic recently, Gabe Weatherhead has been posting about it on MacDrifter and I’ve been obsessed with it the past several days as well. It’s also possible that it’s been that way all along, and I just never noticed. Like I bought a blue Volvo station wagon, and now I’m seeing them everywhere.

There are two reasons that I’ve sort of always shied away from getting too into Evernote in the past:

  1. Afraid of being locked in. Finder and text files have no lock in.
  2. I hated all of the apps.

Lock In

Evernote makes it pretty easy to get my actual files out as attachments (PDFs, images, etc). It’s also got full AppleScript support, so I don’t think getting my text out would be all that difficult either. I’d probably lose any RTF formatting going to something else, but I don’t use a lot of formatting, so I don’t think that’d be a problem for me.

The Apps

The last time I tried Evernote — about a year ago — my experience was basically like this:

  1. Install the Mac version of Evernote.
  2. Drag a PDF onto Evernote.
  3. Watch it crash.
  4. Uninstall the app.

Fast forward to now, and the apps are between good and great in terms of stability and user interface. It seems like version 5 was a big update that fixed a lot. Some of how you get around in the Mac version is a little confusing, but not terrible, and nothing I can’t get used to. As just a way to quickly enter and find text based notes, it can’t really compete with nvALT, but you get a lot for what you give up.

Why Use Evernote

Fiddling is fun, but I’d like to avoid the temptation to switch every time someone comes out with a new app update. There’s a few things Evernote offers that no one else really can.

A Shareable Bucket for Everything

Besides Finder, Evernote is the only app I know of that you can really just throw anything at — PDFs, images, text notes — everything. And it’s not just that you can put everything into it, it’s that it treats most of those things the same way (through OCR), so that doing a text search is going to bring up results from all of the above.

I’ve put this to a lot of use already. For example, every time I buy a new bag of coffee now I take a picture of the label and put into a notebook called “Coffee Beans.” So I can now search for “Guatemala” and have all the bags of Guatemalan coffee I’ve bought show up. Or search “Stumptown” and have every bag of Stumptown beans I’ve bought come up.

Another use might be looking for a new apartment. Create a new notebook called “Apartment Hunting” and share it with your significant other/roommate. You can now both add pictures of “for rent” signs you saw out and about, or web clippings from Craigslist. All of the pictures you took are now automatically tagged with the location, and if you want you can manually add location data to the web clips as well.

Add-On Apps

I noticed when Evernote bought Penultimate and Skitch, but since I wasn’t using either of those apps a lot at the time, I didn’t put much thought into it. Now that I’m looking at them again, the ability of both apps to sync with Evernote has made them both really attractive. Penultimate plus a Cosmonaut stylus is combination I could see actually using for sketching app ideas besides paper. Since Skitch is now available on iPhone, iPad and Mac, it means that if someone sends me an app to test, I can take a screenshot on whatever device I’m on, mark it up with design notes, and send it back to them.

The other add-on apps I’ve been using are Evernote Food and Hello. Food let’s me search recipes from within the app, but also sync against any existing recipes you’ve already got in Evernote. It also lets you make a note of whenever you’ve had a meal somewhere, or search for any restaurant and save a note on it. And of course it saves the location, and often even has the menu for the place you were at. I’ve been using it to back fill places I liked in San Francisco, Montreal, Denver and New York so that the next time I’m in any of those places I don’t have to try and remember where it was I had a great vegan panini.

I’ve played with Hello less — because I haven’t been to any conferences or meet ups this week — but I tried it out at home. What it seems to do is let you take a picture of someones business card when you meet them, it can then pull their data off using OCR, sync it with your address book, and keep a running log of when you’ve met this person. I’m kind of excited about actually trying this out.

How I’m Using It

The biggest thing I’ve learned is that — like butterflies — notebooks are free. It’s usually easier for me to create a new notebook on a topic than to try and fit it into an existing one, so I’ve just been creating as many as I need, as I need them. I add one for every project or area of my life, and then if any seem very closely related, I drag them together to create a “stack” (Evernote’s concept of a folder). I’m doing more or less the same thing with tags, although I’m trying to stick with using tags for items that could potentially be spread across multiple areas, and notebooks for items which probably aren’t. Sometimes there may be overlap, but I’m not too worried about it. The best plan seems to be adding whatever contextual information you think would help in terms of title, tags and notebook, and then using search to find it later.

Another lesson is that Evernote really works best if you put as much as possible into it. For things which are strictly bookmarks, I’m not going to stop using Pinboard, but I’m giving it an earnest shot for text notes. The way I differentiate between things that go in Pinboard vs Evernote vs Instapaper is actually pretty simple. Pinboard is for something where I want to actually visit the site later (knowing it might change), I might make a web clip in Evernote of something if I want to capture it exactly how it is right now (like a recipe), and Instapaper is for things I want to read later.

Because I’m putting as much as possible into it, I now have one place I can look on any device for almost anything via a text search. How cool.

QuickRadar

Every iOS developer who’s ever complained to an Apple engineer or evangelist is familiar with hearing “file a Radar.” Unfortunately, Radar’s web interface is pretty clumsy. QuickRadar is a free menu bar app you can install that lets you easily file new bug reports to Apple via a global key command.

My New iMac

Since February 2010, I was waiting for Apple to release an update to the iMac, and on January 31 of this year my brand new 27″ iMac arrived — with a broken screen. Thankfully AppleCare got me squared away within a day or so, sent me a free USB SuperDrive for my trouble, and I was in possession of a working one within a few days.

On Hold

While I was on the phone with AppleCare trying to get everything worked out, I had a few thoughts. First was that even the best phone support kind of sucks. It took more than a couple of hours on the phone and a couple of callbacks to get a DOA machine replaced, a lot of it on hold. To their credit, everyone there was genuinely helpful and understanding of my situation.

The other thought was that there was no reason to be upset about anything since it wouldn’t make it go any faster, and really I had no choice. If they sent me five machines, each more defective than the last, I really have no vector of recourse beyond being a jerk to a customer service representative. I mean, realistically, what am I going to do, start learning C# and order a HP?

These are the sort of thoughts listening to hold music while staring at a broken iMac can apparently spur in me.

The Working Machine

It’s wonderful. I upgraded to a 3.4GHz quad-core i7, 16GB of ram, and a 3TB Fusion Drive. It’s really, really, fast. The last non-portable computer I owned was a dual 1.6 Power Mac G5 I bought used that I’m pretty sure had faulty ram. Since then I’ve owned a white plastic MacBook, the first unibody MacBook Pro, and a 2011 MacBook Air.

I’m excited to have a machine that can run Aperture respectably, and also has a drive large enough to keep my library on. Dropbox and iCloud make keeping everything else in sync easy (mostly Dropbox).

The Two Best Things

Fusion Drive has been completely invisible to me, and since nothing has been slower than on my Air with the SSD, I figure it’s doing what it’s supposed to. I don’t know when we’ll eventually have large, cheap SSD’s, but this feels like a great solution so far. Also, the kind of solution only Apple could easily provide, with their integrated hardware and software.

The screen is noticeably nicer to look at than the 27” LCD Cinema Display I’d been using. Laminating the glass to the LCD improves it just as much as it did with the iPhone. I can’t even remember what I was giving up by them doing this, only that it sounded stupid when I heard it, and that this screen looks awesome.

Thin

Something that I think is cool, but that doesn’t really affect me that much is the thinness. When I mentioned ordering it, a couple of non-Mac using people I know had said they it was silly that Apple would bother with making a desktop machine thin (remind me to try and take a dump all over the next thing you drop thousands of dollars on and are excited about).

My response is that they didn’t make the machine crappier in other ways that I can tell, I don’t seem to be paying more for it being thin, and it looks cool when you catch it from the side. Technology surrounds me everyday, and I see no reason why it should be any less designed or beautiful than the chair I sit in, the guitar I strum or the coffee maker on my counter.