Kensington Orbit trackball

I’ve been having trouble with my right shoulder recently. (Well, OK, by “recently,” I mean for the last twenty years or so. But it’s been getting worse lately.) I’m doing some exercises now, at the suggestion of my doctor, that might help. But I’ve also decided that maybe I’ve got a mouse problem. I currently use an ergonomic mouse, from Contour Design, and it works really well. It’s much more comfortable than any other mouse I’ve used. But I’ve been thinking that maybe I should give my right arm a rest, and try using a trackball with my left hand for a while, and see how that works.

So I bought a Kensington Orbit trackball and started using it today. I’m not having as much trouble with it as I thought I would. I’m not nearly as accurate with it as I am with my Contour mouse (and my right hand), but it’s workable. And I suppose I’ll get better at it if I keep using it. I might switch back to right-handed use at some point too. Maybe I’ll see if I can switch between left and right once a week or once a month, and see if that helps or if it just confuses things.

The Kensington Orbit is a pretty simple trackball, and cost me less than $30. It’s got just the ball, two buttons, and a scroll ring. The scroll ring works well; I think I’d be lost trying to use a pointing device of any kind that didn’t have some sort of scroll function. I miss having a third button though. I’m used to using three-button mice, and I do use the middle button (though mostly just in Firefox). I used Kensington’s software to map it so that when I press both buttons at the same time, that registers as a middle-button press. But pressing both buttons at the same time is a little awkward. Maybe if I decide that I like the trackball, but can’t live without having more than two buttons, I’ll trade it in for a fancier trackball.


Too Many Steps

I generally feel pretty good about myself if I manage to get in 7500 steps in a day. (I’m at about 6300 today, and that’s about average for a weekday.) I know that 10,000 is often cited as a good goal, but I rarely get that many.

Now, I’m reading that maybe 15,000 is the goal we should be shooting for. Yikes. For now, I’m going to pretend I never read this article and continue being happy when I manage to get past 7500, and ecstatic when I pass 10,000.

(In related news, I’m still wearing my Apple Watch every day and filling up the circles in my Activity app on most days. I almost always hit the “stand” goal. I usually hit the 30 minute exercise goal. And my move goal is currently set at 370 cal, which I hit maybe 5 times a week.)

Promised You a Miracle

I’m still working on the JavaScript project that I mentioned last week. I think I’ve nearly got promises figured out now. I’ve switched from using jQuery’s promises to using Q. I’m definitely doing enough weird stuff that the jQuery promise support was never going to work for me.

The documentation for Q isn’t bad. There’s a page on moving to Q from jQuery, and that was helpful, as is the API reference page.

This blog post on promise anti-patterns helped me figure out how to handle collections of promises. Q.all() and Q.allSettled() are very useful, once you figure them out. I get the feeling that, while my code works, I’ve probably still got a lot of anti-patterns in there, or at least some fairly sub-optimal constructions.

While working on this stuff, I found that the old Simple Minds song, Promised You A Miracle, started running through my head. I was really hooked on Simple Minds for a while there, back in the early eighties. I hadn’t listened to them or even really thought about them in years, so I’m enjoying a little nostalgia now, via YouTube. (Eighties music videos do look pretty cheesy now, though, huh?) Here’s a new version of the song, an acoustic version with KT Tunstall. It’s not bad.

Repealing Broadband Privacy Rules

As expected, the House voted to roll back the online privacy rules created by the FCC under the previous administration. The Senate passed the bill last week, so now it just needs to be signed.

There’s an opinion piece by former FCC chair Tom Wheeler in the Times, and a regular news article about the vote. And here’s the EFF’s blog post about it.

This happened on the same day that Trump rolled back Obama’s climate change policies, which is undoubtedly a bigger problem, but I’d like to think I can be indignant and upset about both.

My iCloud Password

After reading about the hacker group that claims to have a huge file of iCloud account credentials, I went ahead and changed my password. I realize that these guys probably don’t have my password, but you can’t be too careful. I hadn’t changed my password in a couple of years, so I was due anyway.

Apple’s password complexity requirements aren’t quite as bad as this comic indicates, but it can be hard to come up with a good iCloud password, when you remember that you’ll need to type it in with some frequency on multiple devices without physical keyboards.

In my case, after changing my password two days ago, I’ve had to enter it three times on my iPhone, three times on my iPad, twice on my Mac, and twice on my Apple TV. There really ought to be a way to cut down on that.

You need a VPN

Most of the media attention to congress right now is focused on health care, and rightly so. But the current congress is pushing through a lot of other stuff too, and one particular item recently caught my interest.

There is a bill going through the House and Senate to roll back broadband internet privacy rules enacted under Obama’s administration. It just passed the Senate, along party lines. There wasn’t much coverage of it in the mainstream media, as far as I can tell, but I did find one good NY Times article.

The House bill has not gone up for a vote yet. I was disappointed to see that my local rep, Leonard Lance, is one of the co-sponsors.

I first learned of this bill through a blog run by Private Internet Access, the company I use for my VPN. Here’s their article on the House bill, and another one on the Senate bill. Of course, it’s in their best interest to call attention to this kind of thing, and maybe exaggerate it a bit, but I don’t think they did that here.

And here’s an article from Consumerist that goes into some depth.

There is, of course, coverage of this at the EFF blog too. The EFF post includes the typical exhortation to “call your lawmakers today” to stop this from passing the House. In my case, I don’t think calling Lance would do me much good, since he’s never going to vote against legislation he co-sponsored. Oh well.

I haven’t really been using my VPN service when I’m at home, but maybe I should start doing that more often. There’s no need for my cable company to know how much time I’m spending looking at photos of corgis.

JavaScript, TypeScript, Promises, and callback hell

I’m working on a little project right now, where I’m pushing at the edges of my limited JavaScript skills. I’ve written a fair amount of JavaScript code in the past, but it’s mostly been simple DOM manipulation stuff with jQuery, and/or fairly straightforward Ajax calls. This new project requires a lot of nested calls to async functions that might succeed or might fail, and the whole thing is getting pretty confusing. Luckily, it’s not a high-priority project, so I’ve got time to mess around and try new things with it.

To start with, I’ve switched from plain JavaScript to TypeScript. There’s only a little bit of a learning curve there, since TypeScript is a superset of JavaScript. And I’m picking up TypeScript as I go. I’ve got one Packt ebook: Learning TypeScript, which was their free ebook of the day recently. It’s a bit out of date, but it’s a good start. I’ve bookmarked a couple of PluralSight videos on TypeScript too, but haven’t had time to watch them. I don’t like to add a new language into the mix for a real work project without careful consideration, but TypeScript seems to be relatively low-risk. It’s got some momentum right now, it’s got Microsoft behind it, and if it fails, I can always throw out the .ts files, work from the generated .js files, and pretend TypeScript never happened. (Not that I think that’s at all likely.)

I’ve found myself falling into “callback hell” on this project, so this video called “Redemption from Callback Hell” caught my attention. I’d already discovered promises, but I’ve been using the jQuery implementation, which apparently isn’t a great one. I guess I need to look into Q and the Promises/A+ spec. I’ve read a number of blog posts and articles about promises, but I’m still having some issues with figuring out how to handle some stuff with them.

I’m trying to avoid going down too many rabbit holes on this project, but going down a few is unavoidable. One of the reasons I was using jQuery promises is that I already had jQuery in the project and didn’t want to add another library. But I guess I’ll have to consider at least one more.

Thinking about email services

Seeing the changes to OtherInbox Organizer this past weekend got me thinking about email in general. I’ve been using Gmail for more than ten years, and I’ve been using Organizer since 2011.

Every once in a while, I consider switching from Gmail to a non-free alternative. I last looked into paid email services in 2014. Not much has changed since then, but a few things have. Generally, the trend seems to be towards offering more space and charging a little more.

FastMail is probably the best example, and the likeliest candidate, if I were to switch. Their basic account is $30/year, for a 2 GB mailbox. That’s probably not enough for me, since I currently have about 2.3 GB in my Gmail account. (Of course, if I switch, I don’t need to bring all of my old mail over, but I’d like to, if I can.) Their standard account is $50/year for a 25 GB mailbox, which would be more than enough. That also includes the ability to use your own domain. (When I last looked at FastMail, a few years ago, the standard account was $40 and included 15 GB of storage.) They’ve got pretty much all the features you’d want in an email service: a nice web interface, IMAP support, an iOS app, two-factor authentication, calendar/contact management, and support for importing old mail from Gmail (or wherever).

I signed up for a free ProtonMail account back in 2014, when the service was still in beta. At the time, I found it to be too limited to be really useful. Looking at it again now, I see that it’s improved quite a bit, and it’s seriously worth considering for use as my main email account. The main selling points for ProtonMail are security and privacy. So if those are your main concerns, definitely take a look at their service. They have a pretty good web-based interface (much better than it was during the beta), and an iOS app (that I haven’t tried yet). They don’t support IMAP, though, since that just wouldn’t work with their secure architecture, so you’re stuck with either their web interface or app. You can’t hook your account up to Apple’s mail app, or Outlook, or anything like that. Free accounts have a 500 MB limit. Paid accounts are $5/month for 5 GB. One other downside with this: they don’t support any easy way to import mail from another account. (And since they don’t have IMAP, you can’t use an IMAP-based migration approach either.)

I host this blog at 1&1, and I have access to 1&1’s mail services as part of my hosting account. Occasionally, I think about switching from Gmail and just using my 1&1 account for mail. There would be a couple of advantages there. First, I’m already paying for it, and second, I can easily use one of my own domains, which are all hosted with 1&1. The included mail service gives me an IMAP account with 2 GB of storage. They have a web interface, which is OK but nowhere near as good as Gmail’s (or ProtonMail’s or FastMail’s, from what I’ve seen of them). And they have an iOS app, though I don’t think I would ever use it. The 2 GB limit is a little low; you can up that to 50 GB by signing up for a “business” account at $7/month. They also have Exchange 2013 hosting for $10/month, including a 25 GB mailbox, which is kind of interesting.

Of those three options, FastMail is the only really good one for me, I think. The 1&1 basic mail account has that 2 GB limit, and bumping it up costs a bit too much. And their web interface isn’t great. The ProtonMail service is pretty cool, but without IMAP support, there are too many things I just wouldn’t be able to do.

Well, I guess I still haven’t talked myself into switching away from Gmail. At this point, the one thing that might push me into doing it would be if OtherInbox Organizer becomes a problem. Then, I might be able to talk myself into switching providers, as part of an effort to switch to SaneBox or some other system for organizing my mail.


Organizing Email (and related privacy issues)

I’ve been using OtherInbox Organizer to keep my Gmail inbox clean since 2011. it’s a service that scans your Gmail inbox and moves commercial email into various folders under a main “OIB” folder, for example “OIB/Shopping” or “OIB/Finance”. It’s a good service and it’s free. I’ve had some concerns with it over the years, partly because of it being free. Obviously, they’re doing something with the data from their users to make money. I don’t necessarily mind that, if they’re just using aggregate data and not telling people which brand of underwear I’m buying or which books I’m reading or anything like that.

I hadn’t given them much thought recently, but, yesterday, some stuff changed, so I did some digging. Part of their service is a daily review email that summarizes all the emails they’ve organized in the past 24 hours. That email has looked the same since I first signed up for an account, but the design on it changed yesterday, along with a couple of other minor things. And, previously, they’ve always applied two labels to each email: the main “OIB” label and the more specific folder label, like “OIB/Shopping”. Now, they’re only applying the specific label and not the general “OIB” one. (Gmail, of course, doesn’t really have folders, just labels, which can be nested to look like folders.) So I was wondering if they’d been acquired recently or if the service had been sold from one company to another.

Surprisingly, I didn’t find much information via Google. I did discover that they’d been acquired by Return Path, but that happened back in 2012. I might have read about that previously, but I don’t remember it. Up until yesterday, Return Path wasn’t mentioned in the summary email, but that changed with the redesign; the copyright notice at the bottom of the email now says Return Path instead of OtherInbox. Nothing about the changes has shown up on either the OtherInbox or Return Path Twitter feeds. And I couldn’t find any recent reviews or news about the service, other than seeing it included in some typical clickbait “top five ways to organize your email” articles, but none of those were that recent either.

Reviewing Return Path’s privacy policy, it sounds like they’re only sharing aggregate and/or anonymized data with their (business) customers, not personally identifiable data, so that’s good. If I was worried about that, I’d probably switch to SaneBox. Their service costs money, so their users are actually their customers; they’re not selling the data at all. But they charge $7 per month for their service, for their low-end accounts. (It goes up to $36 per month for their high-end accounts.)

Or, I could just use Gmail tabs. They were introduced in 2013, after I started using OtherInbox, so I’ve never really tried them. I think I did notice at one point that they only work with the regular Gmail client and don’t affect the view of the inbox through a third-party client like the mail client on iOS. (And I really want to have a clean inbox on iOS, so that could be an issue for me.)

Of course, if I’m worried about privacy, and being the product rather than the customer, I could probably switch from Gmail to a paid email provider also. I’ve considered switching to FastMail in the past. Their standard account is $5 per month, which is pretty reasonable. Combining FastMail and SaneBox would give me an email account with great organizing tools and no obvious privacy issues. (I’m pretty sure SaneBox would work with FastMail.)

For now, though, I’m going to stick with Gmail and OtherInbox Organizer, and just keep an eye on the Organizer product and see if anything weird is going on with it. The recent changes may just be the result of some long overdue maintenance work. Or they could be related to some further changes that could compromise privacy and/or make the service less useful.