Black Friday

Well, it’s Black Friday and I have the day off, and nothing in particular to do, so here I am writing another pointless blog post.

Social Media

It’s been just about a year since I created my Mastodon account, and a few other new social media accounts, in an effort to move off of Twitter. So I thought it might be a good time to check in on that.

I gave up on Twitter quite some time ago, but there were a lot of people still hanging on. Elon’s most recent shenanigans have finally caused a lot of those folks to abandon ship. It seems like Threads has become the de facto replacement for Twitter. The White House set up Threads accounts recently, so that’s a good sign. And it seems like most media companies have moved to Threads. The NY Times, Washington Post, and NPR are all there.

I really wish a better alternative than Threads had “won” the “Twitter replacement” lottery. Threads is owned by Meta, and while they’re not as bad as Elon, they’re not great. Threads currently has no ads, but I’m sure they’ll start running ads there eventually. And they’ve talked a bit about adding an API and/or supporting ActivityPub, I’ll believe that when I see it.

My preferred social network at this point is Mastodon. It’s wonderful, but there aren’t enough “normal” people/organizations on there. It’s great for tech folks, scientists, and random weirdos, but it’s hard to find major media outlets on there, or anyone talking about the NFL, for instance.

Checking in on some of the other alternatives that I tried out over the last year:

  • Counter.Social: I gave up on this one pretty quickly. I checked my account there this morning, and it still exists. I don’t think it ever really got enough traction to be a viable Twitter alternative. I still see some interesting folks on there though.
  • Post.News: I gave up on this one too. But they seem to have made steady progress, and it looks like it could be an interesting way to get my news. I should keep an eye on them, I think.
  • Hive seemed promising when I first set it up, and there were a few interesting people on there, but it seems like everybody has given it up in favor of Mastodon and/or Threads.
  • Bluesky: This one had a lot of buzz as a Twitter replacement earlier in the year, since Twitter co-founder Jack Dorsey is involved. But it’s still in beta, and there’s a wait list to get in. I put myself on the wait list in May, and only just got my invite a few days ago. I set up the account, but it’s maybe too late for them. I think that most of the folks that would have wanted to migrate to Bluesky have already migrated to Threads, and are happy enough there. But we’ll see what happens with it.

So, for me, I’m currently browsing both Mastodon and Threads daily. I’m not posting a lot to either. I’m trying to be careful not to “doomscroll” on either, and not to get dragged into the trap of mindlessly scrolling through either one, but I will admit to a bit of that. With Mastodon, I avoid the infinite mindless scrolling thing for two reasons, I think. One is that there just isn’t enough in my timeline to allow for that, and the other is that my preferred Mastodon client, Toot!, will only load a certain number of posts, then it’ll leave a space with a “load more” button. And that’s usually enough to wake me up and realize that I should stop and go do something else. Threads is worse though. There’s a lot of little funny posts on there, and it’s easy to just keep scrolling through them. And the default feed is their algorithmic “For You” feed, which will have posts from folks you’re following and other posts they think you’ll like. So that tends to promote mindless scrolling.

I’m following some of the same people on both Mastodon and Threads currently, and I’m thinking that I should try to sort that out, maybe, and reserve Threads for mainstream media and mainstream people, and use Mastodon for the weirdos. (And I mean “weirdos” in a loving and not judgemental way.) At some point, maybe Threads actually will support ActivityPub and I can just use a Mastodon client to get myself a mixed timeline from both accounts. I’m not holding my breath though.

Black Friday sales

Wow, that was more than I expected to write about social media. My next topic is Black Friday sales. I’m trying not to spend a bunch of money on dumb stuff, but of course I’m going to spend a bit. I try to spend money on stuff from good people, independent creators who I can support and feel good about supporting. Here are a few things I bought today:

  • I bought the full bundle of Wizard Zines from Julia Evans, in PDF format. I’ve always thought her stuff was interesting, but a bit pricey. For 50% off, I decided to just go ahead and get them all today. I’m not sure I have much use for most of them, but I may print out the “Oh Shit, Git!” one and keep it on my desk at work. I probably need to leave it face-down though, in case anyone gets offended due to the salty language in the title.
  • I bought PCalc today, because it was 50% off, and because I’ve often thought about buying it. I don’t really need it, but having a better-than-average calculator app ought to come in handy occasionally.
  • I also bought Play by Marcos Tanaka today. It’s kind of a bookmark app specifically for videos. It looks much like his MusicBox app, which I use to keep track of stuff that I want to listen to in Apple Music. I’ve been getting a lot of use out of that one. I have more than 600 albums in there now. (And, as is typical for me, I’ve got 500 on my “new” list and 100 on my “played” list. So now I have a queue of music I’ll never get through before I die. But that’s a good problem to have, right?) Interestingly, Play has an Apple TV app. I’m not sure how it works, but if there’s any chance that I can bookmark a video on my phone, then watch it later on my Apple TV, that would be great. I’d really like for there to be a good consolidated watch list app for Apple TV, that can open videos across multiple streaming services. The built-in watch list is almost there, but not really. There are a lot of issues with it. It’s fine for Apple TV+ content, but bad at almost everything else.

And, wow, I’ve now wasted quite a bit of time writing up this blog post. And I haven’t even bloviated about the latest OpenAI shenanigans! Oh well. I guess part of the point of taking Black Friday off is to waste time on meaningless pursuits. I should go out for a walk now. It’s a little cold, but it’s actually sunny out right now.

Software changes – Edge, Apple Music, Windows 11

I thought I’d post a follow-up today on a couple of software items I’ve blogged about recently, plus one new one.

Microsoft Edge

First: my switch from Firefox to Edge at work. I’m not having any real problems with Edge, though I’m missing a few things I had in Firefox. And I’m experimenting with some Edge features that look interesting. One thing I tried to figure out today is the difference between tab groups, collections, and workspaces. (And whether or not it was worth using any of them.) In Firefox, I used to use the OneTab extension to take groups of tabs and save them off to the side. That extension is available for Edge too, though it’s not on our “officially approved” list. So I thought I’d see if I could just use a built-in Edge feature for that. Here’s what I figured out:

  • Tab groups are a simple way to group a bunch of tabs together. You can’t really do much with them other than group them together. Tab groups seem to survive closing and reopening Edge. I’m not sure if they’ll sync between my laptop and desktop, but I suspect they will.
  • Collections are a little more flexible than tab groups. You can add open tabs to a collection, and you can also add text notes and images apparently (though I haven’t tried). Collections definitely survive closing and reopening Edge, and I’m pretty sure they sync. You can dump a collection out to a new OneNote page too, so that’s potentially useful. And you can copy all of the URLs in a collection to the clipboard, which is similar to something I used to do in Firefox with a specific extension. (I can’t remember the name on that one, but OneTab replaced it, really.)
  • Workspaces looked promising, at first, but I think they’re mostly useful for sharing a group of tabs/pages with a group. There are limitations on using them that, I think, make them less useful than tab groups or collections for my purposes.

So, in a nutshell, I think I’m going to start using collections for the stuff I used to use OneTab for.

Apple Music

I mentioned last week that I’d installed the Apple Music Preview on my PC. It’s working out OK, I guess, but I had been assuming that I could switch back and forth between Apple Music and iTunes. That turns out to be incorrect. If I launch iTunes now, it shows me a message saying that it can only be used to manage podcasts and audiobooks now. Once you install Apple Music, you can’t use iTunes for music anymore. And, on top of that, you need to install Apple TV Preview if you want to manage your movies and TV shows. So I went ahead and did that too.

If I knew that there was no going back to iTunes, I don’t think I would have installed Apple Music. But now I guess I have to get used to it.

Windows 11

I got an email today saying that my work machines would be upgraded to Windows 11 soon. (I have a laptop and a desktop, both on Windows 10 right now.) They’re going to push the upgrade out through Windows Update. I’m a little unclear on timing, but I think they might be pushing it out over the Thanksgiving weekend.

It occurs to me that I’ve never actually done a Windows 11 upgrade. At home, I have a Windows 10 desktop and a Windows 11 laptop. The desktop can’t be upgraded to Windows 11, unfortunately. It meets all of my needs, otherwise, so I’ve just stuck with it. But if my work machines are all going to be running Windows 11, I probably need to ditch the old desktop at home and buy a new one that can handle Windows 11, so I’m running it everywhere.  And if I do that, it’s going to push me into a bunch of other upgrades, I think. Like maybe getting a new monitor that actually uses HDMI instead of whatever old standard my current monitor uses. And probably buying an external DVD burner, since new machines don’t ever seem to come with built-in optical drives anymore. Oh well. I got this old PC in 2016, and I’m not sure how old the monitor is. So it’s probably time for some new hardware.

some follow up on grammar checking and AI

First, a bit of follow-up on my post about Grammarly and other grammar checkers: I missed one obvious alternative, Microsoft Editor. It’s a little confusing. It seems to be available as a free browser extension, but only for Edge and Chrome, not Firefox or Safari. And the “premium” features are part of Microsoft 365, which I do subscribe to. I guess it also works in MS Word, so I could theoretically copy my blog posts into Word, check the grammar there, then paste them back into WordPress, but I know that won’t work well. Or I could switch to Edge, but that’s only on Windows. Or I could switch to Chrome, which will work on Windows and Mac, but I’m really trying to avoid that. So… I guess I’ll think about it. Probably not my best option.

And, in general AI news, I liked this snarky article from Gizmodo. Sam Altman and OpenAI are certainly fascinating. I’m not sure if the company is going to change the world, or if it’s a load of B.S. and it’s going to fall apart a year from now. There are a few good lines in the article, like this one: “So far, ChatGPT is very good at writing limericks and telling lies.” Which is basically true. I’m pretty sure that we’re still a long way from AGI, if such a thing is even possible. (Though it’s pretty hard to even nail down what would count as AGI, at this point.)

I’m not sure about the whole “effective altruism” thing. It’s been getting a lot of negative press lately. The article says “Effective Altruism posits that the solution to humanity’s problems is for people with good intentions to get extremely rich and then donate the money to good causes,” which is… not exactly correct, but probably close enough, in practice. I’m not sure if I trust folks like Sam Altman to effectively redistribute his wealth once he decides he has enough to do that. Or for other effective altruists to make all the right decisions for the rest of us…

Something else I saw recently reminded me of the concept of fully automated luxury communism, which I remember some folks talking about on Twitter a few years ago, in a generally jokey way. My naive understanding of that, at the time, was that it was basically describing a post-scarcity future, like Gene Roddenberry‘s conception of what Earth would be like in the future, as envisioned in Star Trek.

And of course I just asked ChatGPT to compare and contrast Effective Altruism and Fully Automated Luxury Communism, and it came back with a pretty good summary. And then I asked it what Gene Roddenberry would have thought of FALC, and it came back with, again, a pretty reasonable answer. So maybe this ChatGPT thing isn’t just good for limericks and telling lies.

Grammar checking – Grammarly and alternatives

I have a bunch of stuff to blog about today, and I sat down expecting to write a long rambling post, but then I got sidetracked into some grammar checking stuff, so now I’m writing a post about grammar checking.

As part of my general mucking around with AI stuff, I decided to finally give in and sign up for a Grammarly account. I’ve always avoided Grammarly, mostly because I’d heard very bad things about their privacy policy and practices, back in their early days. I guess that’s gotten better, and they have a page on their site with many assurances about how they don’t sell your data, and so on, so maybe they’re not so bad now. We recently acquired some kind of site license for Grammarly at work, but that’s only available to salespeople, I think. But the fact that we’re paying for it at work indicates that they are likely taking privacy pretty seriously, otherwise they wouldn’t have gotten past our InfoSec folks.

I briefly installed the Grammarly app on my Mac, but that quickly got to be more of a pain than a help. Most of my writing on my Mac is in Evernote, and Grammarly works there, but I’m not generally writing in complete sentences in Evernote, so most of Grammarly’s advice there is more of a hindrance than a help. So I removed that. It occurred to me that the only place where I really need Grammarly, in my personal life, is on these blog posts. This is really the only long-form writing I do where I’m trying to write in complete, grammatically correct, sentences. So, for now, I’m experimenting with copying & pasting my posts into the editor on the Grammarly web site, making any corrections there, then copying back into WordPress. Overall, that’s helped me catch a few minor errors, but nothing worth paying a lot of money for. And I’ve found that I can’t copy the whole text from Grammarly back into WordPress, since it’ll muck up the HTML, so I have to see what Grammarly wants me to fix, then fix it myself in WordPress, which is time-consuming. There’s probably a way around that, but I’m not sure what it is.

So I can keep using the free version of Grammarly, I guess, but I don’t know if I will. It’s a little aggressive about trying to get you to upgrade to the paid version, and it’s not that much help, really.

I’ve started to look around at alternatives to Grammarly too. There seem to be two primary ones: Ginger and Hemingway. Ginger is much like Grammarly: similar tools, similar pricing. I didn’t spend too much time on it. Hemingway is a bit different. It does an analysis of your writing style, focusing on several things, but it doesn’t seem to do the simpler checks that you get from Grammarly and Ginger. For instance, it doesn’t seem to catch simple homonym errors, which is honestly the most frequent error I make that isn’t caught by spellcheck.

I was curious about comparing the privacy policies of these three products, so I asked Bing Chat to compare them. It came back and told me that all three products had similar policies, but the sources it cited all came from Grammarly’s policy, so it was obviously hallucinating the info for Ginger and Hemingway. (And, as is normal with these things, you’d never know that without checking sources.) I asked the same question of the web search assistant in Poe, and that did a little better, though I suspect that it was also bullshitting somewhat (which is probably a better word for it than “hallucinating”). In short, Hemingway seems to have a slightly better privacy policy than Grammarly or Ginger.

The Poe results referenced a couple of useful comparison articles that I checked out. One of them was WordPress-specific, so I read that one. It mentioned a Jetpack grammar module, which sounded like exactly what I need, so that was exciting, but it turns out it was discontinued in 2019, so that’s not an option, unfortunately.

So I guess the end result here is that I still don’t know what to do. I don’t really want to pay $100+ per year for Grammarly or Ginger, so I’ll stick with the free Grammarly account for now and see how it goes. Maybe I’ll just keep proofreading my posts myself.


no more Firefox (at work)

I got a little surprise this morning, when I logged into my work PC and launched Firefox. The program still worked, but I got a popup from Windows telling me that access to the Mozilla update site was blocked.

Firefox has always been on our approved software list, so that surprised me. There hadn’t been an email about banning it, or anything like that. I checked the list, and it was still on there, so that got me wondering if the block was a mistake or something. I also considered that maybe they’d switched to a managed install, with updates pushed out from Software Center. But that didn’t seem to be the case either.

So I gave up and opened a support ticket to ask about it. (I’m always hesitant to do that for stuff like this, because I get paranoid that maybe I was never supposed to be using Firefox, and asking about it is going get me sent before the Spanish Inquisition or something.) I got a response back that, yep, InfoSec had decided to block Firefox. So, oh well, I had to switch to Edge today.

Edge actually isn’t that bad. And it has one advantage over Firefox (at least in our org). We’ve always blocked syncing Firefox user profiles, so I can’t easily keep my bookmarks or preferences in sync between my laptop and desktop with Firefox. But we do allow sync in Edge. So that’ll be nice.

The thing I’ll miss most about Firefox (and the main reason why I’ve stuck with it at work) is the Multi-Account Containers add-on. I have to juggle a bunch of different Microsoft accounts, and it’s nice to be able to have a container for the oddball ones, so they don’t confuse things for my everyday work under my normal AAD account. In Edge, I guess I’ll have to just use private windows for that, which kind of sucks, since I’ll then have to log in every single time. But I can deal with that.

I managed to import my Firefox bookmarks into Edge, then spent a bunch of time cleaning them up and organizing them. All said, I probably spent about two hours today figuring out why I couldn’t use Firefox, switching to Edge, cleaning up bookmarks, logging in to sites, poking around in preferences, and so on.

As part of this switch, I’m also going to try to switch from DuckDuckGo to Bing. Microsoft really wants you to use Bing, and there are some advantages to it, so I’m going to give it a try.

We’re also planning a mass Windows 11 upgrade at work. I’m not sure how they’re going to do that, but I’m a little worried about it. If I have to upgrade both my desktop and laptop, that could take a bit of time and involve a bit of risk. I guess that maybe I’m better off there than a lot of people, since i have two machines, and I can keep using one while the other is getting upgraded. (Most people now only have a laptop.)

Oh well, I guess it’s time to embrace the all-Microsoft future, and get used to Windows 11, Edge, Bing, and whatever else they throw at us.

digging in to ChatGPT and similar AI stuff

I’ve successfully been ignoring all the hype around ChatGPT and similar AI stuff all through this year.

I was initially amused by some of the stuff folks were posting to Twitter when ChatGPT and DALL-E and other tools were made publicly available. There was a lot of funny stuff out there, with folks getting oddball results out of the chatbots, and using the image generators to make some really crazy images. Initially, it seemed pretty harmless, but also fairly useless.

Then came the op-eds and think pieces from people worried about the impact that these things could have on the world. Everything from worry about AI causing human extinction, to ChatGPT replacing writers and programmers, to the environmental cost of running all this stuff. A lot of that was overblown, I think.

But recently, something pushed me over the edge and I decided I had to start learning some of this stuff. I’m not even sure what did it, exactly. Either way, I’ve been digging into this stuff, and I thought I’d write up some notes.

First, I’ve been looking at two primary categories of “AI” here: the LLM chatbots, and the image generators. I like playing around with the image generators, but I haven’t found much practical use for them, and they’re not that interesting to me, so I’m going to skip talking about those. I’ll just say that the Bing image creator is pretty fun to play with.

As to the LLM chatbots, I’ve started playing around with ChatGPT and a few others. I registered for a free account with ChatGPT, which gets me access to GPT-3.5.  Upgrading to ChatGPT Plus for $20/month would get me access to GPT-4, which is supposed to be much better. I don’t think I’ll be doing that, but a number of people seem to think it’s worth it.

At work, we have our own chatbot called “Mindspark”, which is powered by Azure OpenAI, which in turn uses GPT-4 and/or GPT-3.5, if I’m understanding it correctly. It’s internal-facing, and at this point, really just an experiment, I think. I’m not sure if there are any long-term plans for it. Anyway, it’s reasonably good, and also one of the only options, from my work computer. For some reason, we block access to ChatGPT’s web interface, so I can’t use that directly at work. (Which is one of the reasons why I probably wouldn’t pay $20/month for ChatGPT Plus. If I was paying for it, I’d want to have access to it at work and not just at home.) I’ve also noticed that we block Perplexity, and I expect some of the other popular tools. (I’m not sure why, though I’d guess it has something to do with distrust of the privacy policies for those tools and worry that proprietary corporate info will get into them and then maybe leak back out?)

I’ve also played around with Poe, which is a tool that gives you access to a bunch of different AI tools, including ChatGPT. They also have a $20/month plan that gets you access to more advanced models, and lets you use it more. I’m not sure how worthwhile that is, vs. using ChatGPT directly. I guess there’s some utility in having access to multiple sources through a single interface. I definitely want to play around with it some more.

And I’ve tried out the new Bing chat. It’s also powered by GPT under the hood, I think. The nice thing about Bing chat is that, unlike the free version of ChatGPT, it combines web search with GPT, so that it can return more recent information than using ChatGPT alone. (And my company doesn’t block Bing chat, so I can use it at work.)

So that’s my brief overview of the front-end interfaces for LLM back-ends that I’ve tried out. I haven’t found one that is noticeably better than the others, at this point, but I haven’t done much with them yet.

I should also mention that all of these things, for a lot of the use cases I’ve tried, are spectacularly bad at returning correct and/or useful data. In general, I’m not sure if they’re super useful as general research assistants. If you can find an answer to a question with a regular web search or a simple Wikipedia check, that’s way better than asking ChatGPT.

Aside from just playing around with these things, I’ve also been reading some articles and listening to some podcasts. I thought I’d include some podcast links here, for reference.

  • Here’s an episode of the New Yorker Radio Hour from a few months ago, where they did an interview with Sam Altman, CEO of OpenAI. It’s somewhat interesting, at a high level.
  • Ezra Klein has done a few shows talking about AI and LLMs and stuff. Some of it is pretty interesting to me, but it’s mostly high-level philosophical stuff, and I’m not sure what I think about some of it.
  • On the more practical side, Scott Hanselman did an episode of his podcast recently where he interviewed a guy who wrote a book on “prompt engineering”. That’s the kind of thing that made me roll my eyes, until I started digging into it a bit. I still think the whole prompt engineering thing is a bit overblown, and I don’t want to read a whole book about it, but I’ll admit that some of it is useful, and I have now watched a couple of LinkedIn Learning videos on the subject.
  • Also on the practical side of things, I’ve queued up a few episodes of .NET Rocks related to AI. This one, from August, looks interesting.
  • And there’s a recent episode of RunAs Radio that got into some good no-nonsense explanations for how LLMs work. I think that episode has a better explanation of the tech involved than anything else I’ve read or listened to. (I’m sure there are other good explanations out there, of course, but this is the best one I’ve stumbled across so far.)
  • And, finally, related to .NET Rocks, I see that Carl has a video series called The AI Bot Show that covers this stuff. I guess I’m going to have to watch some of those.

So, in conclusion, I guess I’m doing a little less eye-rolling at this stuff now. I see some utility in it, and I’m getting a better idea of what it’s good for and what it’s not good for.


Quicken Classic

I’ve been using Quicken for a long time, and I’ve been complaining about it for nearly as long. (My earliest Quicken complaint on this blog is likely this one from 2004.) And, once in a while, I get frustrated enough with it that I start looking for alternatives. There were two things that happened recently that have got me interested in that again.

First, they’ve changed the name of the desktop product to Quicken Classic. Here’s a video where their CEO tries to explain that. The name change itself doesn’t really matter to me, but it makes me worry a bit that they’re de-emphasizing the desktop product even more than they already have. Their web product is called Simplifi, and it might be worth thinking about switching to that, but I’m not keen on that idea. I’m pretty sure I’d lose all my history and wouldn’t have nearly the same functionality I have with the desktop app.

The second thing that got me thinking about moving off Quicken again is some continuing issues with the link to my 401(k) account. I’ve searched the web and found a bunch of other people are also having trouble with Fidelity, which is the provider for the 401(k). In my case, the funds got pretty mixed up, so I deleted and re-created the account in Quicken. That got me a bit further, but there was still a weird thing going on where it looked like I had twice as much money in the account as I actually do. I might have fixed that now, but I won’t really know for sure until I sync the account again.

When I have trouble with Quicken, I start getting “the grass is greener on the other side” thoughts, but then if I stop myself, I realize that Quicken is still the biggest player out there, so if Quicken is having issues with Fidelity, then smaller players like Banktivity and MoneyDance probably are too.

Maybe it’s time to give up on this stuff entirely and just switch to keeping a summary spreadsheet, where I update some high-level numbers once a month.

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.)