Self Wright

Category: Tools Page 1 of 3

On to-do apps


I have been using OmniFocus for over five years now.

I started with version 2, moved on to version 3 and have even beta-tested the new version 4 on my phone for a while.

A lot of cruft has accumulated over the years, and this year I decided to “clean house”.

While doing this, I was open-minded about trying new apps — after all, a lot has changed in the last five years.

Different apps

I liked a lot of different apps.

Things was clean, simple, minimal.

Todoist was full-featured, flexible, integrated with everything.

Sorted had a novel hybrid task + event approach.

No app

Over the last two weeks, I spent a couple of days playing around with each of these.

There are advantages and disadvantages to each, and it’s easy to get lost in the “but, but, but, which is the best?!” trap here.

Instead, I decided to pick nothing for now.

Maybe a calendar app, and a notes app are all I need?

And if I do experience a need, then I can think about how to meet it, instead of deciding

“Getting the right things done in right time” should matter more than “using the right app”!

P.S. if pressed, my ideal app here would be some mix of Things and Sorted.

Roam stays

Much as I tried to quit Roam previously, I’ve been back to using it the last quarter.

It’s good enough, and “doesn’t suck“.

It is more fluid and immediate than the alternatives for what I need, when I need.

So, it stays in my toolkit.

(in the context of an end-of-year “app house-cleaning“, where I try to rationalize what I need, what I’m using, and what I can get rid of)

Posting flow

I made the previous post using my phone.

It’s annoying that I can’t use the WordPress app with self-hosted sites (which is what this is), but the “mobile web” experience for the same is not too bad.

I can’t write in that web interface, for whatever reason, but that’s okay as long as I can copy-paste in content.

I use Drafts heavily now on my phone, which works very well as a “staging point” for all text.

So, writing there and then using the mobile web to just add it in, and click “publish” works for me.

Tiling managers

Switched to Rectangle on my macbook.

It’s a “tiling window manager”, and I hadn’t used one for over six years now, ever since I stopped using a Linux laptop for personal/office use (I used i3, and xmonad before that, and … I forget what came before that)

This is what its keyboard shortcuts look like (I selected the recommended set, and then disabled a few)

Most of these are Ctrl + Option +…

Other options considered were

  • Magnet (very similar)
  • Amethyst (reminiscent of Linux tiling managers, but, I don’t need that “feel”)

There were various others with configurability that I don’t care about right now.

I just want to snap windows easily, without a lot of pointing-and-clicking.

Notebook requirements

Here’s what I want from a paper notebook:

  • Tomoe River Paper (with an exception for Midori MD)
  • Grid (i.e. not plain pages, not lined pages)
  • Page numbers (a new addition)
  • Size (A5 or A6 or B5)

P.S. I can imagine using journals as notebooks (and the year doesn’t matter, I’m using an old Hobonichi for this right now!) because they do have some sort of indirection.

P.P.S. I’ve probably mentioned this before but WordPress doesn’t make it easy to reference and update past entries, so until I switch to an Obsidian or Logseq workflow, mentioning it is sufficient.

An old television

Saw this “for pickup” on the sidewalk recently.

I can’t imagine who would use something like this, but it was pretty high-end in its time!

RCA “ColorTrak 2000” television

This is as old as me! The style then was to “embed” these into large cabinets (I’m guessing), hence the simulated woodgrain.

Here is a view of the connections at the back, which really show its vintage (“look, it’s stereo! you can even turn the left and right speakers on and off!”)

Here is a 1985 newspaper advertisement for it (link courtesy Wikipedia).

Tools for thought

A quote from “Tools for Thought” by Howard Rheingold, from the chapter titled “The loneliness of the long-distance thinker

  • Harry Truman was President and Sputnik was a word that only Russian language experts knew when Doug Engelbart first thought about displaying words and images on radar screens, storing them in computers, and manipulating them with levers and buttons and keyboards.
  • To hear him tell it today, both the computer establishment and the computer revolutionaries still fail to understand that the art and power of using a computer as a mind amplifier are not in how the amplifier works but in what the amplified minds are able to accomplish.
  • Engelbart realized, as had Vannevar Bush, that humankind was moving into an era in which the complexity and urgency of global problems were surpassing time-honored tools for dealing with problems. He also began to understand, as did Licklider a few years later, that handling the informational by-products of problem-solving had itself become the key to all the other problems.
  • The biggest difference between the citizen of preliterate culture and the industrial-world dweller who can perform long division or dial a telephone is not in the brain’s “hardware” — the nervous system of the highlander or the urbanite — but in the thinking tools given by the culture. Reading, writing, surviving in a jungle or a city, are examples of culturally transmitted human software.
  • While Engelbart was, in fact, suggesting that computers could be used to automate a low-level task like typewriting, the point he wanted to make had to do with changes in the overall system — the capabilities such an artifact would open up for thinking in a more effective, wider-ranging, more articulate, quicker, better-formatted manner. That is why he distinguished his proposed new category of computer applications by using the term augmentation rather than the more widespread word automation.
  • Even the chewing-gum-and-bailing-wire version Doug was attempting to get off the ground in 1968 had the ability to impose new structures on what you could see through its windows. The symbolic domain, from minutiae to the grandest features, could be arranged at will by the informationaut, who watched through his window while he navigated his vehicle and the audience witnessed it all on the big screen

From the beginning of “A Conceptual Framework for the Augmentation of Man’s Intellect” in 1963:

  • Increased capability in this respect is taken to mean a mixture of the following: that comprehension can be gained more quickly; that better comprehension can be gained; that a useful degree of comprehension can be gained where previously the situation was too complex; that solutions can be produced more quickly; that better solutions can be produced; that solutions can be found where previously the human could find none.
  • We refer to a way of life in an integrated domain where hunches, cut-and-try, intangibles, and the human “feel for a situation” usefully coexist with powerful concepts, streamlined technology and notation, sophisticated methods, and high-powered electronic aids.

Tomoe River Paper

A few years ago, when I first came across it, it was hard to find a notebook that I liked that contained Tomoe River paper.

It’s thinner than any other paper, it’s strong, and it doesn’t bleed through. One of those “you believe it when you use it” things.

My best option, one that I still use, and can recommend is the “SevenSeas” notebook from NanamiPaper.

If that sounds obscure, it’s because this used to be the only way: an “independent binder” procuring the paper, and assembling a notebook.

However, it is much easier to find alternative today.

JetPens carries an alternative, the Kanso Noto (320 pages for $20)

GouletPens carries another alternative (160 pages for $16)

More than any of this, searching on Amazon (the very definition of mainstream today) shows a bunch of results (will not link to any here).

No more excuses not to try out this pretty remarkable paper 🙂

On old software

George R. R. Martin, when asked by Conan O’ Brien, on why he wrote on on an old PC, running MS-DOS, not connected to the internet, in Wordstar 4.0.

I actually like it, it does everything I want a word processing program to do and it doesn’t do anything else. I don’t want any help. I hate some of these modern systems where you type a lowercase letter and it becomes a capital letter. I don’t want a capital. If I wanted a capital, I would have typed a capital. I know how to work the shift key.

Roam isn’t there yet

I’ve observed Roam periodically slowing down to a crawl, with individual keystrokes (yes) taking a second to be played out, filters taking several seconds to process “selections”, and … I haven’t even started using queries yet.

Part of the trouble might have been my own over-enthusiasm a few months ago, when I went all-in with it, getting into a “mind-meld” with it.

This was really great for a while, too, but that meant that when it abruptly became unusable, it was really painful.

Meanwhile, a few other things have been evolving.

Obsidian largely “just works”. I’ve been trying out Obsidian Publish, and it’s headed in a direction I like, and am willing to pay for.

DevonThink, my “bucket store” for a few years now, has begun to add first-class support for Markdown, explicitly keeping compatibility with Obsidian and Roam.

Tinderbox has always really had what I needed (super-flexible notes, and programmability, albeit in a “perl-ish” syntax), and every release improves support for markdown, zip links (those [[...]] references that are nice to use within markdown for making quick links (and backlinks) between notes).

OmniOutliner is … not evolving features, but it’s a robust cross-platform native outliner app, supporting rich embedding and at least theoretically allowing arbitrary levels of scriptability in JS.

Now I’m still a “Believer” in Roam, but not all use cases need “multi-player” (and for the ones that do, there really isn’t any other good alternative).

For now though, most of my use case are very much “single-player”, and for that it’s very hard to beat native apps (especially the non-electron ones).

I do have to get over the hurdle of using un-popular apps, non-mainstream apps, apps that aren’t “in the news”, etc. but … it turns out they’re just as solid, and there are enough users to get assistance and share and discuss concerns, and so on .

So, I’m not giving up on this “mind-meld” level of personal interactivity with apps that help me think, or break down things, or just keep stuff around for me to look at later — I’m just planning to do more of that with some of the local, native apps mentioned above.

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