January 30, 2021

NextDNS

It was fun setting up a Pi-hole on my home network. I learned some stuff, found an excuse to play with another Raspberry Pi, and got network-wide ad blocking as a bonus. The whole thing cost next to nothing and played to my nerdy tendencies.

The problem with my nerdy tendencies is that they come and go. For months the Pi-hole just sat silently in the corner and did its thing. Sometimes the best computers are the ones you forget are there. But then something goes wrong, or I want to upgrade, or some other event requires me to get in there and do something. After so long since not doing anything with the Pi-hole, I forgot how to do anything with it. I try to take good notes, but always miss something and end up flailing about online frustrated and looking for help.

Enter NextDNS, The new firewall for the modern Internet.” A couple of clicks and it was configured before I knew it. I installed the app on my Mac(s) and iPhone and everything just worked with almost no effort on my part. I don’t remember the last time something that I expected to be complicated turned out to be so simple.

I now have the functional equivalent of a Pi-hole but with none of the joy” of managing a Pi-hole. I have better things to do with my time, so this is great for me.

NextDNS is free for up to 300,000 queries/month. I knew I would blow past that so I signed up for a very reasonable $19.99/year.

I’ve had no issues after the first couple of weeks, and blocking seems to be at least on par with what I was getting with the Pi-hole. So far, I love this service.

SaaS Networking
January 30, 2021

Twtxt and twt.social

I’ve played on and off with twtxt a little and keep the feed out here: http://tilde.club/~jbaty/twtxt.txt. Here’s a snippet of my old twtxt.txt file…

2017-10-15T08:45:06-04:00   Hello, this is a test from twtxt
2017-10-15T08:54:53-04:00   Testing the post_tweet_hook to see that it copies the file to my server
2017-10-15T16:24:10-04:00   Fun with text tools today https://www.baty.net/2017/some-text-based-things-today/
2017-10-16T07:17:40-04:00   Good morning, several people!

It’s a fun, simple idea; just a text file as social media feed. I’m already spread pretty thin online so it’s only been an occasional toy, but of course someone (James Mills, aka @prologic) is trying to make using the format easier and more approachable by wrapping it in a web UI. Here’s his description from the about page

Technically twtxt.net is a twtxt client in the form of a web application. You are viewing an instance of this software at twtxt.net. twtxt.net allows you to make small posts in a simple easy way without privacy concerns, advertising, tracking or the fear of censorship. Think of twtxt as somewhat like Twitter™ but unlike Twitter™ twtxt and twtxt.net are designed to be decentralised.

James was kind enough to give me my own Pod” at baty.twt.social and I’ve been tinkering with it for a few days.

I haven’t spent much time with twtxt.net yet, but it’s been fun writing short posts knowing that the underlying format is open, portable, and easy to deal with. There’s no telling where any of this will go or whether it has any chance of putting a dent in the other established networks, but I’m rooting for it.

A couple things I’d like to see. First, the web UI appears heavily mobile-weighted and I’d like to see a more concise layout for desktop. Second, there seem to be a lot of mentions” in my feed whose purpose is unclear to me, e.g. FOLLOW: @twtxt from @jack using twtxt/0.1.0@988f2a7.

I expect that discoverability, cross-server mentions, and conversations will continue to be improved, making the whole thing an increasingly-viable alternative to, say, Twitter. It’s awesome that people are working on this stuff.

Social
January 25, 2021

Apps I’m using this week

simple [ sim-puhl ], adj. Having few parts or features; not complicated or elaborate.

I talk a big game about keeping things simple, but I rarely follow my own advice.

Before restarting my computer, I usually quit all open apps. This morning I noticed how many that was. I didn’t count them, but it was a metric shit-ton of apps. And there was a lot of feature overlap.

So today I made a few changes to the lineup, spurred on by a desire to reduce the number of apps I need open and to consolidate where things are kept. You know, I wanted to keep it simple. 😆

Here’s what changed.

  • OmniFocus for tasks. I had tasks everywhere (Curio, Emacs, paper notebooks, Things, Reminders, Roam, etc.) That all happened organically, but is unsustainable and crazy-making. At first I thought I’d move it all into Things again, but when there’s lots going on, OmniFocus is the appropriate answer, so I took the opportunity to start with an empty database and migrated everything I’m supposed to do from the other places into OmniFocus.
  • TheBrain for projects. I’ve been trying to keep work stuff out of my Roam database, and had been using a combination of Org mode and Curio and DEVONthink. I’ve bailed on both Org mode and Curio and put it all into TheBrain. TheBrain version 12 does a great job with notes and backlinks and of course links everything to everything. Giving it a go for project and people management.
  • Day One for journaling and daybook. I’d been journaling in Org mode and Day One and sometimes Roam. No more. If I want to write about either the large swaths of my day or the minutiae, it goes in Day One. I keep a few separate journals in Day One. The big ones are Journal for photos and general journaling and Daybook for the minutiae about the day.
  • Roam is for topic journals. I’ve been limiting my use of Roam to mostly things I want to learn about or take notes on. Quotes, links, ideas, etc. Roam is good at that.
  • Nova for writing and editing. For manipulating text, there’s nothing like BBEdit, but what I do with text most often is write and edit Markdown files. For this, I’m using Nova, from Panic. It’s just nicer for that sort of work.

I’m writing it down because it’s fun seeing how things evolve. It remains to be seen if I need to write a new post next week about this.

Apps Workflow
January 19, 2021

I can’t decide about self-hosting

Having my own instances of things is cool. Websites, apps, databases, all mine and completely under my control. Except I’m beginning to wonder whether I want that control.

I’m down to 2 instances at DigitalOcean. The first is my static” server which runs the Caddy web server. I keep all of my static sites and files there. Until yesterday, this site was there, too. The other server runs Ghost, the engine for my CopingMechanism blog.

Over the weekend I made a bunch of changes to this blog, and in the process moved hosting back to Netlify. I’ve gone back and forth on this at least a half-dozen times. It’s such a relief to simply do a git push and have Netlify grab the repo, build the site, and pour it into their CDN. I don’t have to worry about a thing. And yet, before long I always miss worrying about the things.

Having a folder of HTML files served up with a simple web server is so comforting. Hosting is a breeze on cheap hardware. I have access, direct access, to everything about the site. I have server logs that can analyze traffic and look for 404s and such. I can put my arms around it. This is also comforting.

And what about other apps and services? I still have a free tier of Cloudron on an EC2 instance running a photo gallery. Cloudron makes me want to host my own stuff. It’s so easy. But a while ago I’d decided against having to manage a bunch of separate self-hosted apps, so I’m supposed to be phasing that out.

But what about?… :)

I don’t even remember which app I considered self-hosting when I began writing this post. One minute I’m trying to get rid of everything I have to manage and the next I’m pulling it all back in.

Well this ends with no resolution whatsoever, sorry. I told you I couldn’t decide.

Hosting
January 17, 2021

Or maybe it’s about drawing (semi-arbitrary) physical boundaries in digital spaces: I need ways to differentiate between the digital equivalent of talking to someone in the street vs. at a restaurant vs. in my house, and drawing the line between diff apps lends a bit of physicality to those relationships

Nadia Eghbal, 2020–12–09

This is exactly the way I use messaging apps.

Social
January 16, 2021

I wish podcasts would go away

You know what I hate? I hate when I’m reading a nice article or blog post or whatever and the author mentions something that I might be interested in and helpfully links to it. but when I click the link, I find myself staring at an embedded audio player that says 1:39:06” somewhere on it.

Well shit, it’s a podcast. Never mind, I guess.

I mean, I do want to learn about the thing, but to do that I don’t want to wade through two minutes of unnecessary intro music followed by ten minutes of two dudes humble-bragging and laughing at their own jokes, then a Squarespace ad, and then 30 minutes of stuff I’m not interested in. Or 75 minutes. Or 10 minutes. How am I supposed to know where it is without listening to the whole stupid thing?

It’s the same with video content, but at least with video I can often scrub through visually and get close to what I came for. With audio I’m stuck either click-guessing or listening at like 3x and neither of those are good options.

I want anything not intended as entertainment to be published as a blog post. That way, I can easily skim it or search it to find what I came for. I want to be able to copy the useful bits for my own use later.

Many people love podcasts, obviously, and I wouldn’t want to take that away from them. So technically I don’t really want them to go away, but on the other hand, podcasts bury good information in audio, making it hard to find and use.

Until more podcasts contain decent show notes and indexed links, I’d prefer text, thanks.

Media
January 9, 2021

Following along with all my blogs

I created a combined RSS feed for all my blogs.

TL;DR is just subsribe to this…

http://www.rssmix.com/u/12672486/rss.xml

Longer version here

Blogging
January 9, 2021

What might I use Craft for?

Kevin asks, I’m curious to know what kind of stuff you are tinkering with in Craft Editor?”. Good question, but I don’t have a great answer yet.

The short version is, not much.

Craft is a new-ish notetaking app for the Mac and iOS. It’s quite pretty and rather fancy. I of course try every new app for notes, so I have been playing with Craft for a couple of weeks.

Craft immediately reminded me of Notion.so, but I don’t like using Notion, so I dismissed it at first. After tinkering a bit, I grew to see it as a simpler, faster tool than Notion. It seemed to include the useful bits without all the hoo-ha of Notion.

So how might I use it? Well it’s certainly not going to be a replacement for Roam Research.

Roam has transformed the way I keep records and take notes. None of its competitors have tempted me away for any length of time.

I remain all-in with Roam for my daily notes.

Then, there’s Emacs.

For a few years I used Emacs for everything. Too many things, if I’m honest. Today I’m down to using it for notes on certain projects and for document creation. I’d like to move away from Emacs eventually.

I love LaTeX and Org-mode, but man, what a pain it all is to get right. I tweak and I tweak and I tweak. Personally, I love the way LaTeX renders and typesets documents. The people I share those documents with are less enthusiastic. I get, Can’t you just send me a Google Doc?” a lot. No, I can’t send you a Google Doc. I don’t like Google or its Docs, so Craft could be a good option for the document creation tasks I now use Emacs for.

Craft makes it easy to create and share good-looking and easy-to-use documents, so to answer Kevin’s question, I’m considering Craft for creating documents I intend to share. I don’t know yet if that will be worth paying for, but it’s where I’m headed.

(I also posted this as a Craft document, but I’ve copied it here in case I delete my account.)

Notetaking
January 9, 2021

Bi-directional linking between anything using Hook

A few apps have offered some form of bi-directional linking, but it was Roam Research that made it famous. I’ve been using Roam for more than a year and it has transformed the way I take notes. It’s the way Roam does bi-directional linking that has me hooked.

Roam is great at connecting nodes within Roam, but the missing, er, link, for me has been the connections between files and other apps. For example, I’m not using Roam for my todo list, but I don’t like using my todo list for notes, either. If only there was a way to link all these things together somehow.

Enter Hook — Find without searching

Hook is basically a tool that lets me connect things that are related to each other on my Mac. I can connect an email in MailMate with a task in Things or a Github issue or a note in DEVONthink or a blog post or…you get the idea. I can even connect my notes in Roam with stuff in nearly any app or file.

What’s really helpful is that when I link something to something else, the link goes both ways. That means that if I’m viewing a file in the Finder I can, for example, link to the web page from which it was downloaded.

Another feature I’m experimenting with is Hook to New”. This reminds me of using Org-noter in Emacs, but lets me annotate everything and without having to use Emacs.

I’ve been using Hook to New as a way to annotate files and web pages. For example, while reading a web page I trigger Hook (Command-Shift-Space) and hit Command-N. This creates a new Markdown document, opens it in BBEdit, and creates a Hook link from Safari to the note and from the note back to the page in Safari. The difference between this and putting a link and notes in Roam is that I can jump to the notes directly from the web page, while I’m reading it. And back again.

Previous attempts to integrate Hook into my workflow have failed. This time, however, I’ve learned from Roam the value of backlinks, which gives the whole concept a better chance of sticking.

Workflow Software
January 8, 2021

Time Traveler, by Waltzer

WaltzerWaltzer

Bought my first new vinyl in like a year. This is Time Traveler” by Waltzer.

Music