some random links

I’m continuing to feel better today (see previous post), though I’m still not enjoying the “Paxlovid mouth” side-effect. I’m currently masking it with some apple juice.

I spent some time at the computer today, paying some bills, and catching up on some miscellaneous stuff I was neglecting while sick. I thought I’d put together a link post, with a few random things I stumbled over today.

  • The Coronavirus Still Doesn’t Care About Your Feelings – from The Nation. I don’t really have anything to say about this, but thought it was relevant to my current situation.
  • The cult of Obsidian – from Fast Company. I’ve mostly given up on Obsidian, and have decided to remain with Evernote for now. But I still think Obsidian is interesting, and I may return to it at some point. I’m a little interested in maybe picking up David Sparks’ Obsidian Field Guide, now that it’s out, though there wouldn’t be much point in that, if I’m not going to use Obsidian.
  • I just saw the news that JHU in Manhattan has closed, via this interview at The Beat. I’ve been going to JHU since back when it was in A&S Plaza. So that’s got to be back in the early 90s, since it was only called A&S Plaza from 1989-1995 (per Wikipedia). I always liked that store, both before and after Jim Hanley retired. Mind you, I haven’t been there in a while. I can’t really remember the last time I was there. In more recent years, I’ve been more likely to stop by Midtown Comics, mostly just because I’m more likely to pass by there on my way to or from Penn Station.

I’ve skimmed some of the news coming out of NYCC, but there’s not much that caught my eye. I looked at the Harvey winners, and there’s some interesting stuff in there. Having just spent a week at home, sick, you’d think I would have done some comic reading, but nope. I didn’t really have the energy for it earlier in the week. Then, on Wednesday, I decided to start watching Only Murders In The Building, and that kept me out of trouble from Wednesday through Friday. (I watched one season per day.) I should probably talk myself into doing some reading today and tomorrow, but I’m still not sure I have enough energy for it.

still dithering on Obsidian and Evernote

Well, I’m still dithering back and forth on whether or not to give up on Evernote. I guess that’s a solid month of dithering now. I’m fairly certain, at least, that if I do give up on Evernote, I’m most likely to migrate to Obsidian.

I’ve been doing a lot of experimentation with Obsidian. And I’ve done a lot of exports from Evernote with Yarle, trying to find the right settings for the smoothest migration. I think now might be a good time to write up some notes on all that.

I’ve got a few issues with the simple fact that Obsidian’s files are plain-text Markdown, while Evernote’s are rich text. Yarle does a good job of converting most of the rich-text stuff to equivalent Markdown, assuming the formatting isn’t too fancy. But I’ve hit on a couple of gotchas. The biggest is that I frequently use pound signs (#) is my notes for things like comic book issue runs, like “Spider-Man #1-6”. That’s fine in Evernote, but Obsidian interprets the “#1-6” as a tag named “1-6”. So I’d have to  clean a bunch of that up, either before or after the export. I’d either have to remove the pound signs, or escape them with a backslash.

I’ve also found that Yarle doesn’t always get cross-notebook links right. So I’d have a bunch of those to clean up (unless I can figure out why Yarle is doing that, and fix it at the source). And Obsidian doesn’t see a link that doesn’t go anywhere as an error; it’s really more of a feature. When you click a link that doesn’t point to an exiting file, Obsidian goes ahead and creates the file. So there’s no way to get a good list of all the broken links.

On the plus side, I think I’ve figured out a workable way to include my note reminders in the export as Dataview inline fields, which I can then summarize with a Dataview query. I’m not sure if that’s what I’d want to do long-term, but it would at least allow me to have a list of the notes with reminders on them, so I can go from there.

Searching for text in images isn’t a built-in feature with Obsidian, but you can get it with the Omnisearch plugin, paired with the Text Extractor plugin. In my experiments, it’s not nearly as good as Evernote’s OCR and image search, but it’s something.

Overall, I’m now at a point where I feel like Obsidian would be workable for me, but there would be some trade-offs, compared to Evernote. If Evernote truly seemed to be circling the drain, I’d go ahead and jump ship. But, while there’s been a lot of negative talk about Evernote recently, they honestly seem to be doing fine, as far as I can see. I haven’t had any hiccups with the client software recently, on Mac, Windows, or iOS. And I haven’t had any sync problems either. So it’s hard to talk myself into dropping something that’s working reasonably well for me.

Obsidian resources

I’m still spending a lot of time messing around with Obsidian, trying to figure out if I can migrate from Evernote, and if I want to. I have a bunch to say about all that, but I’m going to start with a list of resources that I’ve been looking at.

There’s quite a lot of material out there on Obsidian: podcasts, videos, blog posts, etc. That’s one of the reasons why it seems worth considering. If it wasn’t good, there wouldn’t be so many people out there producing content around it. (On the other hand, there’s a lot of content out there on the internet about some pretty questionable stuff, so maybe I shouldn’t read too much into that…)


There are a bunch of paid training options out there, usually in video form and running around $200 for a course. Here’s a thread from MPU Talk on the subject. A few of the examples below came from that thread.

  • Nicole van der Hoeven has a course called Obsidian for Everyone, for €200. I’ve watched some of her YouTube videos, and they’re pretty good.
  • Mike Schmitz has something called Obsidian University, which costs $150 USD. Schmitz is a co-host of Focused, with David Sparks. I don’t listen to that podcast, but I generally trust David Sparks, so I’d assume he’s legit, at least.
  • The Sweet Setup has something called To Obsidian and Beyond, for $200 or $500, depending on which tier you buy. Mike Schmitz was also involved with this course. I think it predates his Obsidian University, but I’m not sure.
  • And then there’s Obsidian Flight School, which costs $129. There appears to be a lot of content in this one. This is from Nick Milo. I’m not really familiar with him, but I’ve watched one or two of his YouTube videos.
  • And finally, there’s Obsidian Fundamentals and Obsidian Onboarding from Danny Hatcher. There are a few tiers to his stuff, with the highest being £199. I’m not too familiar with him, but he also has a lot of videos on YouTube.

I haven’t tried any of these out yet, and I don’t know if I will, but it’s interesting that there’s so much out there. (And, by the way, I couldn’t find anything on Obsidian on any of the training channels I currently have access to: Pluralsight, SkillSoft, and LinkedIn Learning.)


I’m not aware of any podcasts that are specifically about Obsidian, but Obsidian is a subject that comes up on a few podcasts that I follow either regularly or occasionally.

  • Mac Power Users: MPU has a number of episodes talking about Obsidian, since David Sparks is a big Obsidian user. There’s one episode in particular, 583: The Obsidian Deep Dive, that devotes the whole show to Obsidian.
  • Automators, likewise, devoted a whole episode to Obsidian: 109: Automating Obsidian.
  • AppStories did a four-part Obsidian In Depth series that starts here. Federico Viticci is a big fan of Obsidian, and there’s a lot of Obsidian coverage on AppStories and MacStories.
  • MetaMuse did an episode recently interviewing Stephan Ango, CEO of Obsidian. I found this episode to be particularly useful in figuring out a bit more about the company that’s behind Obsidian, and what their philosophy is, and how likely they are to remain on a course that’s consistent with maintaining a product that continues to be useful. (I had a hard time phrasing that sentence… Many tech companies are more about getting to an IPO or maximizing revenue or growth or whatever than they are about releasing and maintaining a good product. And the “maintaining” part is usually the sticking point…)
  • Somewhat related: I listened to an episode of Taming The Trunk recently that featured an interview with Federico Simionato, the current product lead on Evernote at Bending Spoons. Similar to the MetaMuse episode above, it gave me some insight into the current owner of Evernote, and their philosophy and plans for the product.

As you can see, I’ve been spending a lot of time researching and learning about Obsidian this week. I still haven’t convinced myself to migrate over from Evernote though. Some of the experimenting I’ve done has, at least, gotten me to clean up my Evernote data a bit, and has gotten me to think a bit deeper about how and why I use these kind of tools.

And, since Evernote has been my “second brain” for more than ten years now, going through the data in my account has sent me down some rabbit holes, remembering old jobs, old projects, and old friends. Some of that has been pleasant and some of it hasn’t. (Insert Comic Book Guy “Oh, I’ve wasted my life” meme here.)


Evernote alternative experimentation

I decided to do a bit of experimentation with Evernote alternatives today. I’m not quite done, but I thought I’d take a break to write up some findings, so far.

My first idea was to see how feasible it would be to use Evernote2Onenote to convert from Evernote to OneNote. I exported two notebooks from my Evernote install. One is a fairly small notebook (less than 200 notes) that’s just an archive of some old work notes. The second is my main archive notebook, where I move things that aren’t active anymore, so that’s a pretty big one (more than 1000 notes). The ENEX file for the first one was 17 MB, while the second was a bit over 500 MB.

I imported both of those into OneNote, with no issues. The smaller notebook took less than a minute, and the larger one took just about five minutes. The importer sets the date on the OneNote notes based on the date in the ENEX data, so that’s good. And it does a good job of preserving formatting from the old notes. And as far as I can tell, it kept all of my images intact. There’s no option as to which notebook or section the import goes to, so that’s a bit weird. It just put them all into what I presume is the default notebook/section for me. It’s not hard to move notes, once they’re imported, so that’s not really a problem.

My tags all disappeared. I wasn’t sure what would happen to them, but I was hoping they’d be maintained in some way. There’s a note on the web page that says “Notes are imported to OneNote in a tab that has the same name as the tag the note has.” So that made me think that it would create new tabs for each tag, and sort the notes out that way. But that didn’t happen. Then I thought that maybe I had to create the tabs manually first, so I did that and tried again, but that didn’t work either. I guess that, if I’m going to switch to OneNote, I’m going to have to give up on tags anyway, so maybe I shouldn’t worry about it.

(It’s occurred to me that I could write a little program to parse through the ENEX file and move the tags into the body of the note, so I’d be able to keep them that way. But that seems like too much work.)

Next, I decided to try Yarle to convert the notes to Markdown. That worked reasonably well, and reasonably quickly. There are a bunch of options in Yarle (as compared to Evernote2Onenote, which has almost none). I left them all at the defaults, and selected Obsidian for the Markdown dialect.

Yarle left me with a folder of Markdown docs and a “resources” folder with all the images and other file attachments. One nice thing I noticed is that Yarle sets both the created and modified dates on the files according to the data from the ENEX file, so that’s a nice touch.

From there, I installed Obsidian, created a new vault, and moved all of the Yarle files into it. I found that the end-result here is a bit hairier than I got with the OneNote import. And that makes sense, since Markdown is a text format, and converting rich text to Markdown is always going to be a compromise. On the plus side, all of the metadata I need (tag list, created date, modified date) is all there in the note. But it’s all at the top of the note, and looks kind of weird. I think I could fix that by using a different import template with Yarle, and I might try that later.

While the tags appear in the body of the note, they don’t seem to be recognized as tags in Obsidian. I don’t know enough about Obsidian to know if that’s easily fixable or not. Maybe that’s something else I need to fix in the Yarle template.

And I decided to try one more system, Joplin. Joplin has a built-in Evernote importer, so I used that. It gives you options to import as Markdown, or as HTML. I chose the Markdown option. This was pretty fast, and it brought in the tags and images, no problem. It also kept the created/modified dates (or at least one of those dates. Not sure which one.) The resulting Markdown was usable, but had been pretty much stripped of any formatting. Images were retained.

I then imported the same notebook, but selecting “as HTML” this time. That gave me notes that looked a bit closer to the originals, but the HTML itself was quite messy. So I definitely don’t want to stick with that.

Behind the scenes, Joplin doesn’t store its notes in text files, like Obsidian does. It appears to store them in a SQLite database, in a joplin-desktop folder under your Windows user folder. Any attached images are stored in a “resources” folder under that, with file names that appear to be GUIDs.

So, looking at what I’ve done so far, and trying to summarize it, here’s what I’ve got:

  • The OneNote importer seems to be the easiest and best way to get my notes into a stable system, with minimal loss of formatting or any other issues. But the big issue there is that I’d have to be OK with losing my tags (or figuring out a way to keep them). And it’s a plus that I’ve been using OneNote at work for more than ten years, so I know how it works.
  • The combo of Yarle plus Obsidian can probably get me a workable system, retaining tags, but losing a lot of formatting. I’d need to do some more experimentation with Yarle templates and options to get it to where I want it though.
  • Joplin can likely get me to a working system pretty easily, with tags intact, but a lot of formatting lost. I’d have a learning curve with Joplin, but I suspect it would be much less of a curve than with Obsidian.

(And, by the way, this was all done on my Windows PC. I haven’t tried any of this stuff out on a Mac, or on iOS.)

Having gotten this far, I also decided to play around with sync a bit. OneNote wasn’t a problem, really, since I’m already using OneDrive. But it did choke on the initial sync of my bigger notebook, and gave me a bunch of sync errors. That seems to have smoothed out now.

For Obsidian, I stored the vault under my OneDrive folder, so that will automatically sync up to the cloud. I’m assuming I can just point at it on my Mac, and that should work. I’m not sure how that’ll work on iOS, if it does at all.

And for Joplin, I just ran through the setup to tell it to sync via OneDrive. It appears to have OneDrive specific support built in, as I was asked to authorize it. It then created a folder under Apps/Joplin, and pushed out a bunch of individual Markdown files and other files. I’m a little worried about how reliable that will be, but I’m willing to give it a try.

I’m not greatly impressed by the user interface of either Joplin or Obsidian, though they’re both probably fine. Joplin seems simpler, and closer to Evernote. The default view is a dual-pane view, with the editable Markdown on the left, and a WYSIWYG preview on the right. There’s a rich-text editor, but if you switch to it, you get a warning notice about it, so that’s a little worrying. I’m not sure I’d want to deal with that, long term.

Obsidian defaults to a rich-text editor, which is nice. You can toggle to “source mode” if you want to see the markdown. I think I could get used to Obsidian’s user interface, though I think I’d need to spend a good bit of time tweaking it, messing with plugins, and so on.

Well, that took up a lot of time this morning, and I’m not entirely sure where I want to go next. I still haven’t evaluated macOS or iOS versions of Obsidian or Joplin. And I haven’t looked at how either could handle task management, beyond simple note-taking, which is kinda important to me.

I’ll still thinking that the path of least resistance (aside from sticking with Evernote) would be to switch to OneNote.

Dithering on Evernote again

For the last few years, I’ve been flirting with the idea of switching from Evernote to something else. I’ve spent a lot of time dithering back and forth, but I never decide to switch. I started thinking about it again this week, after noticing this post on Hacker News about most of Evernote’s staff being laid off. (And here’s an article from SFGate that fills in some details.)

Evernote was purchased by a company named Bending Spoons a while back, and it seems like this move is just to essentially shut down Evernote’s old US operation and move the work over to the new owner’s offices in Europe. So it’s maybe not as bad as the headline “Nearly all of Evernote’s remaining staff has been laid off” sounds. But it got me looking at alternatives again.

There was some discussion of the HN post on Mastodon and Reddit, so I looked at the discussions there (and on HN too of course) and went down some rabbit holes. So I thought I’d write up a blog post with some of my findings and thoughts.

The first mention of Evernote on my blog is from back in 2005. And looking at my actual Evernote account, I see that I started using it in July 2008. And I know that I started using it heavily in 2013/2014. So it’s been my main note-taking / task management system for about a decade.

In addition to the acquisition, layoffs, and general turmoil at Evernote, they’ve also put through a price increase, so Evernote Personal now costs $130/year, which is pretty steep. But price isn’t my main concern. I’m more worried about whether or not the new owner will keep both the front-end software and the back-end infrastructure up & running smoothly.

So here are some alternatives I’ve looked at, and some notes on each.


A lot of people seem to like Notion. It can import from Evernote, so that’s one item checked off my list. It also allows you to attach reminders to notes, which is another one of my must-have features. Pricing is $96/year for their “Plus” tier, which is probably what I need. So, less expensive than Evernote, but still not cheap.

But it also potentially has the same issue that a lot of people are having with Evernote: It’s a VC-funded startup that’s liable to run out of money, or get acquired, or whatever, and that could screw things up.

Two other possible negatives: (1) it’s using its own proprietary file format, and (2) it’s using its own sync back-end.


Obsidian is a popular Markdown-based note-taking app. It’s also a commercial product, but from a much smaller team, and not reliant on huge wads of VC cash. It’s free for personal use. If you want to use their sync back-end, that costs $96/year, the same price as Notion’s Plus tier.

My concern with it is that it’s primarily a plain-text product. That’s both a good thing and a bad thing, really. I appreciate that my data will all be in plain-text files, rather than a proprietary format. But I use Evernote as a place to dump image files and PDFs too. That’s possible with Obsidian, but I’m not sure about how robust the support is, or how easy it is to use.

There are a ton of plugins for Obsidian, and I suspect that a lot of the stuff I want to do would be supported by a plugin. But I’d have to play around a lot to figure out how well that would work.


Joplin is an open-source competitor to Evernote. I’m pretty sure that it was specifically designed to be an open-source Evernote alternative. It supports importing from Evernote, so that’s good.

The app is open-source and free to use. There’s a paid sync service, if you want it. The prices are all in Euros, but it looks like the basic tier would cost around $20/year and the pro tier would be around $63/year. So that’s reasonable.

I’m not sure that Joplin has enough task management features for me, but otherwise, it seems to be pretty solid.


Microsoft’s OneNote should probably be my preferred alternative. It’s got a lot going for it. I already subscribe to Microsoft 365, so I’m already paying for it. It’s from a large, stable, company, and it’s used by (probably) millions of people, so it’s not likely to be going away any time soon. And I use it extensively at work.

But I don’t use it at work because I like it, I use it because it’s the only approved note-taking app at my company. I know it well enough to know that it won’t work well as a full task-management system. If I wanted to stay in the Microsoft ecosystem, I could probably pair it with Outlook reminders and/or Microsoft To Do to get what I want. But I’m not sure I want to do that.

OneNote used to have an Evernote importer, but it seems that they discontinued that a while back. So I’m not sure how I’d get my notes from Evernote into OneNote. There’s a third-party tool that might work, though it looks kinda iffy.


So that’s four options. I looked at a bunch of other stuff too, but I’m (for now) rejecting anything that isn’t cross-platform (Mac, Windows, and iOS/iPadOS), so that eliminated some interesting Apple-only stuff.

Note synchronization is a big thing for me, and I’m not sure how some of these options are at it. With Evernote, I frequently switch between my Windows desktop, my MacBook and my iPhone and iPad, and it’s frustrating any time the sync doesn’t work seamlessly. If I only had Mac and Windows to worry about, then I could use one of the options that lets you keep your notes in local Markdown files, and just rely on OneDrive for sync. But I’m not sure how that would work on iOS, and the documentation on some of these apps doesn’t do a good job of getting into details on that.

I’ve also considered doing my task management in a separate system, like Todoist or Remember The Milk. But that adds an extra bit of complexity and cost that I’d like to do without, if I can.

And, to bring things full-circle, I came across a thread on the MPU forums this morning from somebody who left Evernote, and now kinda regrets it, and is thinking about going back. So maybe I should just stay put!


General learning stuff

First, a little follow-up from my last post: The Credly thing was a little weird. There’s a working LinkedIn integration that will add the credential to your profile and let you post about it. So that’s good. There are options to share to Twitter and Facebook too, but neither worked. I manually posted the credential link to Facebook, Twitter, and Mastodon, just for yuks. So maybe I’ll get some “likes” out of that. Not that it matters, but I crave attention and validation, like most 21st-century humans.

On the broader topic of education: I’ve been working on figuring out some of the newer .NET Web API stuff lately. My existing .NET Web APIs are all .NET 4.x. Until recently, I hadn’t tried to create one under ASP.NET Core. I’ve been working my way through this course on Pluralsight.

I still get access to Pluralsight through work, which is great. My company recently discontinued access to Percipio though. I wasn’t really using Percipio that much, and I still have access to it through ACM, so it’s no big deal that work has stopped paying for it. That got me thinking about O’Reilly Learning again. When I got the email telling me that we were dropping Percipio, I responded with a suggestion that they look into O’Reilly. I don’t have much hope that our L&D folks will want to spend the money on O’Reilly, but I thought I’d suggest it. You never know.

Our L&D folks (and I guess someone influential in management) have been pushing a lot of leadership stuff lately in a couple of areas that I wasn’t previously familiar with. First is John C. Maxwell’s 5 levels of leadership. I guess that Maxwell is actually a pretty big name in the “leadership” area, though I’d never heard of him. He’s written a bunch of books. I’m considering picking up the 5 Levels of Leadership book, either in Kindle or Audible format. I’ve got mixed feelings though. On the one hand, I want to learn stuff that might be important and help make me a better manager. On the other hand, I’m about halfway through the third Wheel of Time book, and I don’t want to get off track on that.

The other big thing they’re starting to push at work is something called Emergenetics, which sounds pretty fishy to me, but is apparently not a weird pseudo-religion or anything like that. I don’t have much to say about it, since i haven’t really started looking into it yet.

I’m not really sure where these two initiatives came from. It might be somebody in L&D, or somebody in management. We do have a bunch of new high-level managers that have been hired from outside recently. We used to get most of our high-level managers from internal promotions, but I guess our president wanted to bring in some fresh blood. Overall, there’s a good bit of uncertainty in the company, due to all of the new managers coming in, and various changes going on. I’m trying to take a “wait and see” attitude, and keep an open mind.

I do have three direct reports now, so I should probably try to keep up on the management philosophy stuff. I haven’t really been an active manager in a long time. And, since they made me a manager about six months ago, I’ve actually done very little management. I’m mostly just letting my direct reports do their work, and leaving them alone. But I should probably try to more actively engage with them. At some point, I’ll probably have to do performance reviews, so I guess I should at least engage enough to be able to do that properly.

It’s hard to juggle all of this. I want to keep up on all the technical stuff, like ASP.NET and Power Platform, and so on, but I also need to work on the “soft skills” stuff.

replacing stuff

So I seem to have wound up replacing a bunch of stuff this week. It started with my landlord coming in to replace my air conditioning unit on Monday. They’ve needed to do that for quite a while now. That’s kind of a long story, but suffice it to say that, after around four hours of work, they managed to replace my A/C unit and thermostat. The A/C unit seems to be working fine. I can’t really say much about that, other than that it’s keeping the apartment cool and making less noise than the old one was. I’m curious to see whether the new unit has any effect on my electric bill. I can’t imagine that the old one was very efficient. I’ll look at my electric bill next month, but it’s getting into autumn now, so the bill would be going down anyway.

The thermostat is kind of interesting. The old one was a very old analog thermostat. The new one is a fairly low-end Honeywell digital thermostat. It’s programmable, but doesn’t have wifi support or any of that stuff, so you have to program it by pressing buttons on the unit itself, which is pretty annoying and time-consuming. I’ve got it running under a program, for now, but I may give up on that and go back to just nudging it up or down occasionally, like I used to do with the old thermostat.

Having the new thermostat and A/C unit has gotten me mildly interested in maybe getting a fancy thermostat with HomeKit support. But then I remind myself that I’m a single person in a one-bedroom apartment, which I almost never leave these days. So I really don’t need a smart thermostat.

The landlord was kind enough to leave the manual for the thermostat behind, so, as I normally do with these things, I wanted to put it in a folder, label the folder, and file it in my filing cabinet. I bought a Brother PT-1950 label maker in 2007, when I first got on my GTD kick, and I’ve been using it to label stuff since. But when I tried to use it to label my new “thermostat” folder, it didn’t work. I first thought that the batteries were dead, so I hopped on Amazon and ordered some new AA batteries. Then I remembered that I had an A/C adapter for the label maker, and tried that. I got an “EEPROM error”, which, according to the internet, means that I need to get the label maker serviced. Given that it’s more than ten years old, I decided to just trash it and get a new one instead. I looked at the Wirecutter reviews for label makers, but rejected their recommendations and bought a Brother P-Touch PT-D210 instead. It was only $35 from Amazon, and I was pretty sure that it used the same cartridges and A/C adapter as my old one.

It arrived today, along with the AA batteries I’d bought. The first problem was that I hadn’t noticed that this label maker uses 6 AAA batteries rather than the 6 AA batteries required for the old one. So I had to run over to ShopRite for AAA batteries. The second issue is that it uses slightly different tapes from the old one, so the half-used tape in the old one will have to get tossed. The new one came with a starter cartridge. Also, I have a spare cartridge from the old one that’s new enough to be compatible with both old & new label makers, so I have a full cartridge ready for when the starter one runs out.

So that was a long digression, all caused by wanting to print a label for a file folder. But now I have a fancy modern label maker, and I’m all set to start labeling stuff again.

Meanwhile, at work, we were notified recently that our company will no longer allow removable storage to be used on work computers. This isn’t a big problem, since I don’t normally have to use removable storage. But I do have a USB drive hooked up to my desktop that I was using for File History backups in Windows 10. (I’ve never needed to go back and pull anything from history, but I liked having it.) So now I need to give that up. Since I can’t use the drive at work anymore, I briefly though about bringing it home and using it to replace the drive I’m using for File History on my home PC. But of course it’s company property (even thought it’ll probably get recycled when I hand it back to help desk). And it’s a few years old. And a new 2 TB drive is only $60 from Amazon. So I went ahead ordered one of those yesterday. And that showed up in the mail today too.

The old drive I was using for File History at home had been acting up. It was still working, but I’d have to unplug it and plug it back in regularly to get it going. And it was almost full. It was a 640 GB drive that I bought from NewEgg in 2011, for $35. (I think it might have been refurbished.) Anyway, I guess I’ve gotten enough use out of it.

I had a second external drive hooked up to my home PC. That one was a 1 TB drive that was more than 10 years old. The only thing I had on it was a Macrium Reflect backup from 2018. I’d been wanted to do a new full image backup, with Macrium or something else, but every time I’ve tried that with my current PC, something went wrong. So I gave up on the idea at some point. I now rely on Bvckup, running daily backups to a second internal HD, which I started using in 2019, and the File History backup mentioned above. I hadn’t been having any issues with that 1 TB drive. Of course, I wasn’t actively using it, but it was recognized by Windows, and I could see the files on it. But, after I disconnected the old 640 GB drive, the 1 TB drive also stopped working. All I can think of is that I somehow shorted something out when I was removing the 640 GB drive. I spent some time troubleshooting it, but eventually gave up.

So now I just have a single 2 TB backup drive, which I haven’t hooked up yet, since it only showed up about 30 minutes ago. I’ll try to hook that up tomorrow, and hope it works.

I’ve got a box with two dead hard drives and a dead label maker in it, ready for the next Somerset County electronics recycling day, which will probably be Oct 2. And now I’m seeing other stuff around the apartment that I should probably replace. But I’m holding off, since replacing one thing seems to lead to a domino effect where I have to replace other things and buy other accessories and so on. So I guess I’ll keep using my 30-year-old toaster over for a while longer.

managing distractions

Working from home for the last year has presented a number of challenges. One of them, of course, is managing distractions. It’s hard to stay focused on work when I’m home, in my own apartment, with nobody watching me. It’s easy to pick up my phone and check Twitter, or open a web browser on my desktop PC and check the news, or wander into the living room and turn on the TV. In a regular office environment, it’s a little easier to stay focused, since you have some peer pressure from other people sitting near you, and fewer available distractions. (I could still get pretty distracted in the office, honestly. But it’s a lot worse at home.)

And, beyond the change in work environment, there’s also the additional mental load of living through a pandemic. It’s easy to let my thoughts wander into worries about that. And there’s a lot to worry about.

At some point early in the pandemic, maybe around April, I started messing around with pomodoro timers. The general idea there is to do a focused burst of work, for about 25 minutes, then take a 5 minute break. There are a number of apps that support this, though you really don’t need anything special. I tried two: Focus Keeper and Be Focused. (I also looked at Focus List, but didn’t actually try it.) I tried using the pomodoro technique for a few days, but I didn’t stick with it. There was nothing wrong with the apps I was using, but it just wasn’t helping me much.

I think that, after a few months of working from home and living through the pandemic, I managed to get into enough of a groove that I could be reasonably productive. I really haven’t pushed myself to be super-productive though. I’ve decided that it’s OK to take some breaks when I need them, as long as I’m mindful and aware of how I’m spending my time, and as long as I’m being responsive at work.

Recently, though, I’ve found myself having trouble making any headway on some longer-term projects that require sustained, focused, work. And I was poking around on LinkedIn Learning, and noticed a course called Becoming Indistractable. So I decided to watch it. There honestly wasn’t much new in it. But there was a brief mention of an app called Forest which looked mildly interesting. It’s basically a pomodoro timer with some extra bells and whistles to gamify the challenge of staying focused. It grows a little virtual tree while the timer is running. And it also has a feature that will “kill” the tree if you exit the app before the timer finishes. That’s supposed to help motivate you to stay off the phone while the timer is going. It’s pretty silly, but it’s kind of cute.

I think this app could really backfire for some people, as you can get maybe a little too wrapped up in the whole “growing your forest” thing, and waste as much time on that as you would otherwise have been wasting on Twitter. But I guess at least the forest thing would be less stressful than doomscrolling Twitter. Anyway, I tried it today, and I think that doing the pomodoro thing was helping me make some progress. Up until a few problems arose that required me to drop what I was doing to put out fires. Oh yeah, I guess the reason I’m not making progress on the long-term stuff is because there’s too much short-term stuff taking up my time. And the reason I’m not able to sustain focus for long enough to make progress on some of this stuff is because I have too many interruptions, not because I can’t concentrate. (Well, maybe it’s a little of both. But today it felt like it was mostly the “putting out fires” stuff.)

This post has mostly been a rant, I guess, but maybe there’s a link or two in here that someone else might find interesting or useful. And, hey, I’m allowed to rant a little.

managing long-term reminders, take three

Back in November, I had a problem at work, where all of my long-term reminders in Outlook were unexpectedly deleted. The details on that can be found here, with some follow-up here. I’d managed to move all of the tasks to Planner, but I wasn’t really happy with it. At the beginning of this year, I revisited things and decided to delete them from Planner and re-create them in To Do. I still wasn’t 100% happy, but To Do was close enough that it would be workable.

Well, today, I launched To Do and got a message saying “Your account is incompatible with To Do”. Apparently, Microsoft has decided to no longer support using To Do in an environment with on-premises Exchange. Some detail on that can be found here. So I had to print my To Do list to PDF, then re-enter it back into Planner. I’m not real happy about that, and I still don’t really like Planner.

I’d like to switch to Todoist, but that’s now officially on the forbidden list at my company, for some reason. Trello is allowed, but that’s not quite what I’m looking for. Remember The Milk isn’t on either the approved or forbidden lists, so maybe I could try that?

I generally resist combining personal and work stuff into a single account/system, but maybe for this I should consider it. I won’t be storing any proprietary or sensitive data in my reminders system, just basic notes like “renew this SSL cert by this date.” I use Evernote for all of my personal reminders, and that’s probably good enough for the work stuff too, though I’m not really comfortable with the idea. Oh well. I’ve spent too much time on this stuff today, so I should really just stop. Planner is good enough for now, even if I don’t really like it.


more on long-term reminders

This is a follow-up to yesterday’s post about losing all of my long-term reminders. Since I wrote that post, I found out that I can use Microsoft To Do at work. I just can’t use the web-based version. And the desktop software had to be pushed down to my machine; it isn’t generally available unless you ask for it. So here’s my observations about using MS To Do in our environment.

When I first launched To Do, it prompted me to pull in my Planner tasks and my flagged emails. It did fine with the Planner tasks, so I guess I can now use Planner and To Do together, if I want. It did not actually pull in my flagged emails from Outlook though, probably because we’re still using on-prem Exchange. That’s a bummer, since I do use those flags a lot.

For tasks that I create directly in To Do, I can set up both due dates and reminders, and the reminders don’t have to be on the same day as the due date, so that’s nice. For my long-term tasks, I generally want to surface them a few days before I actually have to do them. So if an SSL cert expires on a Friday, I want to get the reminder about it on Monday, so I can do it at some point during the week. To Do also supports recurring items, which might be useful for me. I haven’t tried those yet though.

To Do and Planner both share one slightly annoying weakness: While both support a free-form notes field on a task, it’s only a plain text field. That might not seem like a big deal, but it makes it hard to, for instance, paste in a link to a OneNote item the same way you can in an Outlook task.

I’ve also noticed that To Do doesn’t have a calendar view, and doesn’t integrate with Outlook’s calendar. (Maybe it does, if you’re not using on-prem Exchange. I’m not sure.)

So, putting this all together, I guess I can decide to use either Planner or To Do, or use them in combination. I think Planner is really supposed to be a group project management tool, and To Do is supposed to be an individual task management tool, so I should probably just use To Do. (But of course I’ve already created my tasks in Planner, so I’d need to redo all that work in To Do, if I was going to abandon Planner.) Regardless of what I do there, I’m going to wind up with a more complicated system than I used to have, since it’ll now be a combination of Outlook (for calendar and flagged emails) and at least one other system, or both.

I kind of want to go rogue and find a third-party service or piece of software that’ll be better than Planner and/or To Do, but of course then I’d be risking the wrath of the security folks who don’t like that kind of thing. And I’m still entertaining the idea of going low-tech and just creating a 43-folders system in OneNote. I should probably spend less time thinking about this stuff and more time actually working, huh?