another position change

I don’t think I wrote a post specifically about my last position change at work, from back in October 2022, but I guess I hinted at it in this post. At that time, I went from being a “Senior Application Developer” to an “IT Solutions Manager,” with three direct reports. And those folks were CRM developers, so I had to start learning CRM.

That all went reasonably well, I think, but there have been a lot of changes recently, and one of those is that they don’t want managers with only a few direct reports. So they’re taking all the programmers reporting to me, and those reporting to a couple of other senior folks, and putting them all under one manager, who will now have about a dozen direct reports. So now I’m back to not being a manager, and I have a new title: “Sr. Advanced Applications Developer – Lead”. Kind of a weird title, but it’s fine, I guess.

I updated my LinkedIn profile. I’m wondering if the nine-month stint as a manager looks bad. The change was only done because of a desire to have fewer managers with more reports per person, not because I did anything wrong. But I could see a potential employer wondering why the position only lasted eight months. Oh well. I’m not looking for a new job right now, so there’s no need to worry about it yet.

Meanwhile, I see that back in that October post, I was talking about new stuff I was learning for work. I talked about Razor Pages a bit. I had planned on doing some other stuff with Razor Pages, but that didn’t get very far. I had a specific project I wanted to do that way, but it was decided that we should use Angular for it, since that’s our standard for front-end stuff, apparently. I started learning about it (and mentioned it here), but I haven’t gotten far, and the project I was going to need it for has been put on indefinite hold.

Today, I spent some time trying to learn about Sumo Logic, which is going to replace Splunk for us. I’m a little annoyed about that, since I’ve managed to learn a good bit about Splunk, and I have a bunch of saved queries in it and notes on how to extract stuff I need. So now I need to relearn all of that, in a new system. Sumo Logic looks like a pretty good system, honestly, but learning new stuff all the time gets tiring as I get older. Sometimes, I just want the world to slow down a bit and let me catch up.

And one more semi-related subject: I noticed today that, in Outlook, the old interface for managing tasks is gone, and the Microsoft To Do interface is the only way to access tasks now. I’m not fond of that interface, but I guess I’m stuck with it now. (It might be possible to turn the old tasks stuff back on, but I’m guessing that it’ll eventually go away completely, so I might as well get used to To Do.) I’ve blogged about my many troubles with task management at work several times, most recently here, I think. My current system is to use Planner for long-term reminders (since Outlook items get deleted after a year) and now, I guess, To Do for short term stuff. That’s not great, but it’s the best I can do in our environment.

I’m going end this post with a link to a comic strip I included back in that October post. Still true.

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!


PDF software and related rabbit holes

The Pathfinder stuff that I’ve been blogging about so much lately sent me down a couple of rabbit holes related to PDF software, so I thought I’d write that up here, for my own reference, if for no other reason.

First rabbit hole: form-fillable PDFs. The Pathfinder character sheet is a PDF file with fields you can fill in. Then you can save it and/or print it out. My initial attempt to fill it out was on my PC, using the software I’ve been using as my default PDF reader for the last few years, Sumatra PDF. Sumatra is a great lightweight PDF reader, but it doesn’t handle PDF forms. To make a long story short, I gave in and installed Acrobat Reader. I’ve been using it as my default PDF reader on my PC for a few weeks now, and I’m still not a fan. After installing it, I figured out that the PDF reader built into Firefox handles PDF forms reasonably well, so I could have skipped Acrobat Reader and just used Firefox, but I guess I’ll keep Reader installed for now.

I also found out that Reader won’t let me fill in a couple of the fields on the character sheet, but Firefox has no problem with them, so that’s weird, and another reason to give up on Reader, maybe.

On the Mac side, I’ve been using PDF Expert as my default PDF reader for several years. I bought a license for it some years back. But it’s now subscription-based, so my license doesn’t let me use the full feature set of the current version. Specifically, it apparently won’t let me edit the character sheet.

Preview on macOS is actually a pretty full-featured PDF viewer, and includes the ability to fill out forms. So I’m thinking about giving up on PDF Expert, since Preview seems to do everything I need.

On the iOS / iPadOS side of things, I’ve been using GoodReader as my PDF viewer for years, and I’m still sticking with it. I paid for it a long time ago, and it still works fine for me. I’ve experimented with some other options, but GoodReader always seems better.

On a related rabbit hole, I bought an Elfquest Humble Bundle today. I’ve been a fan of Elfquest since the original series was published, back in the 80s. I stopped following it at some point in the 90s, when they were publishing a bunch of stuff that wasn’t actually written/drawn by the original creators, Wendy and Richard Pini. I’m aware that, at some point, Dark Horse got the rights to reprint the older stuff, and that they were printing some new stuff too, but I didn’t pick up any of it. So this Humble Bundle was a chance to get DRM-free copies of all the older stuff, and get the newer stuff too. As with all this Humble stuff, I’m not sure when/if I’ll get around to reading any of it. But I have all the PDFs on my hard drive, for whenever I’m ready.

Humble is sometimes weird about the quality and size of the files they distribute. All of the Elfquest files are PDFs. Some of them are reasonably-sized, but there’s one 4 GB file and one 5 GB file. I’m pretty sure that both could be much smaller, so that sent me off down another rabbit hole, trying to figure out a good way to shrink them. Acrobat Reader won’t let you shrink PDFs without subscribing to Acrobat Pro for $20/month, so I’m not doing that. Ditto for PDF Expert on the Mac side. I’d need a subscription to compress a PDF.

Preview on macOS does allow you to compress PDFs, and I ran it on the 4 GB one and that got it down to 400 MB. But the image qualify went down noticeably. So I’ve been looking around at other options. ACBR Comic Book Reader for Windows lets you convert PDFs to CBR/CBZ files and (probably) compress them. But it choked on the 4 GB PDF and wouldn’t open it.

I thought maybe I’d look at PDFpen for Mac. That’s now owned by Nitro. You can buy it for $130, as a one-time purchase, no subscription. That’s not bad, I guess, but I don’t really know if I need it, or if it would do better at compressing the PDF than Preview did. Maybe I’ll download a trial, if I get bored/curious.

Nitro is also included in SetApp, which is a multi-app subscription for the Mac, for $10/month. I’ve thought about getting SetApp before, but there was never enough in it to entice me. I might be tempted, if there was something in there that could replace Evernote for me. And it looks like there might be, though neither option (NotePlan or Ulysses) has a Windows client. I’ve been thinking about getting off Evernote, since I’m not sure how much I trust their new owner. They just laid off more than 100 people. Anyway, the Evernote thing is yet another rabbit hole, and I probably shouldn’t go too far down that one yet. My Evernote subscription renewed in January, so I don’t need to worry about it again this year, really.

Back to the PDF thing: I still haven’t found a good way to compress those giant Elfquest PDFs, but I’m probably not going to try to read them any time soon, so I don’t necessarily have to worry about it right now. (And the need to compress them at all is based on a guess that GoodReader on my iPad would choke on a 4 GB PDF, but maybe it wouldn’t.)

more on Twitter and Mastodon (sorry)

Twitter continues to shoot itself in the foot. I tried using Twitterrific on my iPad on Friday morning, and found that it wasn’t working. It didn’t work on my iPhone either. I figured it was Elon-related, whatever it was. Turns out that Elon has intentionally shut down third-party Twitter clients. Or at least that’s the rumor. There’s been no “official” announcement from Twitter. There’s a blog post from the Twitterrific developer here. Either way, assuming this doesn’t get reversed, I guess this means I’m pretty much done with Twitter. Twitter is only usable (for me) with a third-party client like Twitterrific.

So I’ve rearranged the home screens on my iPhone and iPad to move Twitterrific off to a sub-folder. And I need to remember to cancel my subscription to the Twitterrific app at some point, though I guess if Twitter doesn’t reverse their shutdown, the app developer will probably shut down the app and it’ll get canceled automatically. I’ll be sad to see it go. I’ve been using it since at least 2017.

I thought about just putting the Mastodon app where the Twitterrific app used to be, but then I thought that maybe I should rearrange things a bit more. So, on my iPhone, I now have the NY Times and Washington Post apps in a more prominent spot, and I’m going to try to click on those more often when I’m mindlessly futzing with my phone.

I recently listened to an podcast, talking about “deep reading.” I’ve been thinking about attention spans and media consumption and stuff like that again a lot lately. Of course, I’ve been thinking about that stuff since at least 2008. And I’m still struggling with it. I think I have another blog post in my head on that subject, but I’m going to resist writing it right now.

Some software notes

Two weeks in, and we’re still cleaning up after the security incident at work over the July 4th weekend. I’ve gone into the office most days since then, and I think all that extra exposure to other humans has gotten me sick. I’ve been mostly useless since Friday. I’m hoping I can go back to my usual schedule this week (M/W/F at home, Tue/Thu in the office). Or maybe work from home all this week, if I don’t start feeling better by Tuesday.

Anyway, all the security shake-ups over the last two weeks have gotten me thinking about some of my software choices, and I thought I’d write up some notes on that.

LastPass vs 1Password

I’ve been using 1Password for my personal password storage since 2014, and I’m still happy with it. But I just (finally) got added to our company’s corporate LastPass account, so I can use that for work. And that comes with a free personal LastPass Families account, so I went ahead and signed up for one.

Short version: I don’t think I’ll be using it for anything. I think it’s probably fine for casual users who need a simple password management solution, but it’s not nearly as good as 1Password. I guess my biggest gripe with it is that it’s very much oriented towards in-browser use. There’s a native Windows 10 client, but it’s very limited and just not very good at all. Again, I think it’s probably fine for a lot of people, but it’s just not good enough for a power-user like me.


I mentioned in my last post that I was thinking about upgrading my LINQPad Pro license. I went ahead and did that, and upgraded to the “Premium” version. The NuGet integration works well.  Access to NuGet is still blocked from my developer VM, so I can’t use it there yet, but I can use it on my desktop PC, where I’ve also installed it. I haven’t tried the debugger yet, but I’m curious to see how well that works.

And the dev VM is still so locked down that I couldn’t actually activate the new license over the internet, but the developer provides a way to get around that, so that was appreciated.

TextExpander vs AutoHotKey

On Windows, I generally use AutoHotKey for my keyboard macros and text expansions. I’ve been using it since 2007. I don’t have the actual AHK product installed on any of my work machines, but I have a compiled script that I do run on my work machines. It was starting to look like that might be an issue last week, due to some new security software they were running on our machines. It now looks like it’s OK, but that got me briefly looking at other solutions that might work, and which I might be able to get whitelisted at work.

So I went back to TextExpander, which I used to use on my Mac, circa 20142016. I stopped using TextExpander when they went to a subscription model, since I was having some trouble with it anyway, and it didn’t seem to be worth the money. But that was a while ago, and they now have a Windows client too, so it seemed to be worth looking into it again.

I signed up for a 30-day trial and installed it on my personal desktop PC and MacBook. It works fine, and does some interesting stuff, but it still has some of the same issues with secure input fields that it had when I last used it. That’s not really TextExpander’s fault, but it does limit its usefulness on the Mac. On Windows, it seems to work well, but it’s not nearly as powerful as AutoHotKey. (Or at least it doesn’t seem to be.)

On the Mac side, this has got me thinking again that I should really try Keyboard Maestro. It looks to me like it’s closer to what I want than TextExpander is, and it’s a one-time purchase rather than a subscription. Maybe when things have settled down a bit, and I’m feeling better, I’ll finally give it a try.

I still have some time on the 30-day TextExpander trial, so I’m going to continue messing around with it. Maybe I’ll figure out how to do some fancier stuff with it, and/or how to work around some of its limitations. I really like the idea of having a single macro program that works across Mac and Windows, so that’s a motivation not to give up on it yet.


MacBook issues, browsers, and bookmarks

I did a nuke & pave on my MacBook Air a few weeks ago. My main reason for doing that was to see if it would clear up an occasional problem I have where the machine crashes if I’ve been using it for more than an hour or so on battery power. Well, it crashed again yesterday, so clearly the nuke & pave didn’t cure the problem.

One other possibility I’ve considered is that maybe it’s Firefox’s fault. The crash has always happened when I’m watching a video in Firefox. That doesn’t necessarily mean much though, since watching long YouTube videos is about the only thing I’d do on the MacBook that would stress the battery for a good bit of time. Regardless, I decided to try switching my default browser on the Mac to Safari, and see how that works out.

I’ve been a big fan of Firefox since before it was Firefox. And I still like it, and use it as my default browser on both Windows and Mac. It’s been losing market share to Chrome though, and now has only a tiny sliver of the browser market. So maybe it’s time to give something else a try, at least temporarily. Safari is supposed to be very efficient in terms of battery use on the Mac, so maybe, if my underlying problem is the battery, switching to Safari will fix it.

Switching browsers, of course, means that I need to try to replicate my Firefox setup in Safari, to the extent that I can. A few of my Firefox extensions are available for Safari, but some aren’t. The two big ones are probably uBlock Origin and Privacy Badger. But there are alternatives, and I’ll play around with some of those.

Getting my Firefox bookmarks into Safari wouldn’t be difficult if I was just switching over entirely, and didn’t care about keeping them up to date in both browsers. But I want to keep using Firefox on my PC, so I really want to keep the bookmarks in sync. The best way I could find to do that was via iCloud for Windows. This article describes the process of setting it up and enabling bookmark sync between iCloud and Firefox. I went ahead and did that, and it seems to work OK. So now I have Firefox Sync keeping my bookmarks in sync between my desktop and laptop PCs, iCloud sync keeping my Safari bookmarks in sync between my iPhone, iPad, and Mac, and iCloud for Windows bridging Safari and Firefox. I think that, even if I decide to switch back to Firefox on the Mac, I may keep iCloud for Windows running, just so I can have the same bookmarks across iOS, Mac, and Windows. (I’ve always used Safari on iOS, but never really did much with bookmarks there.)

Combining my Safari/iCloud bookmarks with my Firefox bookmarks left me with quite a jumble of duplicates. I had, at some point in the distant past, used Safari as my default Mac browser, and had a bunch of very old bookmarks in there that I’d never cleaned up. And I had a bunch of out-of-date bookmarks in Firefox too, that I’d just been ignoring. So I spent some time this morning trying to clean up my bookmarks. I did that in Firefox on my PC, and hoped it would sync back to iCloud with no problems. So far, it seems to have done that.

Browser bookmarks, in general, aren’t as important as they used to be. But I’m still a weirdo who wants a nice selection of useful bookmarks organized in a sensible hierarchy. I’ll see how my current setup works over time, but I’m also considering some alternatives. On the Mac, I’ve been curious about URL Manager Pro. That might be a good home for my bookmarks. There’s no PC version, but I could just get them over to the PC via iCloud for Windows, I think.

I currently use Pinboard as a place to dump miscellaneous bookmarks, but that’s not a carefully organized collection of stuff that I can traverse easily. I’ve got over 18,000 bookmarks in there right now. So I can’t really use that for my browser bookmarks. There’s a similar service called Raindrop that seems to allow you to apply a bit more organization than Pinboard does. Specifically, it allows you to use both tags (like Pinboard) and something they call “collections”, which can be nested. So that makes it seem like I could combine my carefully organized Firefox/Safari bookmarks and my Pinboard bookmarks into one service. I’d keep the stuff I use regularly in top-level collections, and toss all of the random old Pinboard links into a “miscellaneous” collection or something like that.

Well, anyway, this is mostly just me messing around on a Sunday morning. It’s now almost noon, and I haven’t done much else with the day, other than organize bookmarks. But, hey, it’s relaxing.

MacBook Air nuke and pave

I’d been thinking about doing a “nuke and pave” on my MacBook for a while now. The machine is close to four years old. I bought it in May 2018. I didn’t really want to buy it, but my previous MacBook had died, and I wasn’t quite ready to give up on macOS entirely, so I needed something. It’s served me reasonably well over the last few years, I guess. It’s only got a 250 GB drive, which has been a frequent problem, but I’ve managed.

Anyway, it’s recently developed a problem where it crashes after I’ve been using it on battery power for more than an hour or so. The battery level will still show at around 80%, but the thing will just crash with no warning. I tried some of the standard troubleshooting steps for stuff like this, but didn’t come up with anything that helped. I had AppleCare+ on it, but that’s expired now. I thought about calling Apple about it anyway, and seeing if maybe a battery replacement would fix the issue, or if they had any other ideas. I also thought about just giving up on it and getting a new MacBook.

But, first, I decided to try a clean install of macOS, and see if that would help. I’ve got no particularly good reason to think that it will, but it’s a useful exercise either way, since it forces me to make some backups, and clean some stuff up, which I would have needed to do anyway, if I was going to either send it in for service or replace it.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done this, so I had to do some web searching first. I found a page on the MacPaw site that I used as a guide. (MacPaw has a bunch of how-to guides on their site, which they use mostly to advertise their products, but, unlike other sites that do this, the guides are actually helpful.)

I thought it might be useful to detail some of the stuff I did for this, both for my own reference and for anyone else that might be looking to do the same thing.

I started out by creating a bootable Monterey installer. I didn’t have any USB sticks that were big enough, but I had a 128 GB MicroSDXC card, so I used that. (I’d bought that card in 2018 with the vague idea that I’d stick it in my MacBook and leave it there, and use it as a secondary hard drive. But it sticks out too much, so I gave up on that idea. It’s just been sitting in my desk since then.)

I also did a couple of backups: one final Time Machine backup, and a Carbon Copy Cloner backup. There actually aren’t a lot of files on the MacBook that I need to worry about. Most everything is in iCloud or OneDrive or some other cloud service now. For the files that I knew I was going to want to copy back after the install, I saved them to the SD card.

I then booted from the card, wiped the drive with Disk Utility, then did a clean install. It went smoothly. I then proceeded to reinstall software, copy files over, and so on. I’ve been working on this, on and off, for about a week. The machine is usable now, and I just have a few things left to set up, and some new backups to do.

I’m a little surprised at some of the decisions I made as part of this process. There are a lot of things that I would have done differently in the past. Old-timers like me might find some of this interesting:

  • I gave up on my Music / iTunes library entirely. Now that I’m using Apple Music, it’s all in the cloud. And I have a local copy of all my “owned” music on my desktop PC. So I didn’t bother trying to move any of the local files from my old install over to the new one. That seems to have worked fine, and cleared up a lot of disk space. (I probably still had some TV shows and movies in my library, which really didn’t need to be there, in addition to all the local music files.)
  • I’m using iCloud Photo Library now, so I decided to just start from scratch on that too. This was a bigger deal, since I don’t have that library backed up on my PC. But I trust that it’s all in iCloud. After the macOS install, Photos did pull the library back down from the cloud. I guess the “optimize storage” setting is turned on by default, so it might not have pulled down full resolution copies of all my photos, but it did pull down about 10 GB, and I had to leave it going overnight for it to finish. But it seems to be OK now.
  • The Books app is a bit different, and kind of annoying. I had some DRM-free audiobooks in my library, and there’s no cloud backup for those. I didn’t try to copy them out of the Books library on the Mac though. I know I have copies of them all on my PC and/or in OneDrive, so I’ll just copy them back as I need them. I might be switching from Books to BookPlayer for my DRM-free books, so maybe I don’t even need them in my library.
  • I had my FastMail account syncing down to, but I wasn’t really using it. I always use the FastMail web interface. So I gave up on, and saved maybe another 3 or 4 GB.
  • I had OneDrive set up on my Mac so that it did not try to keep everything local, but I probably did have a lot of local files taking up space. Microsoft recently made some changes to their OneDrive client that were necessary to move forward, due to changes that Apple has made to macOS. There’s a good blog post on that here. These changes bothered some people, but I’m actually happy about them. So my new macOS install has the new OneDrive client, and is keeping almost nothing local right now. That’ll change over time, but the client should do a good job of managing itself, and freeing up space when needed.
  • For most of my third-party software, I didn’t bother trying to back up settings or preferences or anything. A lot of software is tied to an account, so the preferences are in the cloud. And for those few that aren’t, starting over seemed reasonable.
  • In the past, I’ve had a variety of oddball development software on my MacBook (MySQL, PHP, Ruby on Rails, etc). I decided to just give up on all that and start from scratch. I wasn’t actively using any of it. (I’ll probably install XCode at some point. That’s one thing I couldn’t install previously, since I didn’t have enough space.)

So, in the end, there wasn’t really much to worry about, and I freed up a ton of hard drive space. Before all this, I had only about 30 GB free. Now, I’ve got around 180 GB free.

My next task is to get good Time Machine and CCC backups of the new install. I’m doing the Time Machine one now. I’m still using the same old 2 TB drive that I’ve been using since 2015, I think. It still has free space on it, and still works, so I guess I’ll keep using it. It’s pretty slow and pretty big, but I guess it’s OK for now.

For CCC, I’ve been using an old 500 GB laptop drive in an external enclosure. I have two of these drives, one from my old MacBook (before I replaced it with an SSD) and one from my old ThinkPad (before I replaced that one with an SSD). I’ll probably hold on to the one I’ve been using for awhile, and switch to the other one, which has nothing of value on it.

I’ve been thinking about my external drive situation a bit. In addition to the Time Machine drive, and the two 500 GB drives, I also have two 500 GB SSDs lying around. These are the drives I stuck into the old MacBook and ThinkPad, and which I stripped out of them when I got rid of those two machines. I went ahead and ordered a couple of new external enclosures for them today, and I’m going to try to find something to use them for. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to bother, since the enclosures were around $20 each, and a single new 2 TB external drive would be around $60. But I don’t like to let old drives go to waste.

Going back to my original problem, where the Mac was crashing if I used it too long on battery, I haven’t hit that yet, but I haven’t used it for that long in a single stretch yet either. So maybe this weekend I’ll try to watch a long YouTube video or something like that and see what happens. And if it turns out that this didn’t fix my problem, then at least I’ve got a clean install that I can migrate over to a new MacBook Air with a minimum of hassle.