paying for Pinboard

I’ve been using Pinboard as my primary bookmarking service since 2010. When the service first started up, the creator (Maciej Ceglowski) charged a one-time fee to open an account. Since then, he’s switched over to a yearly subscription model, but all of the old-timers (like me) have been grandfathered in. And we still are, but Maciej sent out an email recently politely asking us old-timers to consider switching over to the subscription model. So I went ahead and did that today, paying $51 for 3 years.

Pinboard has been a pretty good low-key service over the last ten years, but I’ve had some frustration with it. It’s really just run by Maciej, on his own, so he can only do so much. There’s no official iOS client (or Mac or Windows client), just the bare bones web site. And the API that third-party developers can use has been pretty iffy of late. I briefly considered switching to instead, and I might still experiment with that, but Pinboard is good enough for me, for now.

Even before I got the email about switching to a subscription, I’d been meaning to write a blog post about Pinboard. I’ve made some changes in the way I’m using it, and I thought it would be a good idea to write some stuff about that.

First, the Pinboard bookmarklet stopped working in Firefox a couple of weeks ago. (The developer is aware of the issue.) That was kind of annoying, but it got me looking at Firefox extensions for Pinboard. The last time I’d done that, I didn’t find any that seemed to be worth using (vs the bookmarklet). But I have now found a pretty good one and have started using it. It doesn’t really offer much beyond what the bookmarklet would do, but it works fine.

Second, the iOS app I use to save stuff to Pinboard, Pushpin, has been acting up lately. Trying to refresh my bookmarks almost always results in a timeout. I’d stumbled across a new app, called Pins, and decided to try that out. Initially, that didn’t seem to work at all, but it turns out that Maciej was just having trouble with the API that weekend. Once the API started working again, Pins started working fine. I’ve since paid the $10 to unlock the full version of Pins. I still have Pushpin on my iPhone & iPad too, but I think I’ll try to start using Pins instead now, and see how well it holds up.

On my Mac, I’ve been using an app called Spillo to help organize my Pinboard bookmarks. Spillo hasn’t been updated since 2017, I think, but it still works. And the new Pins app also has a Mac version, so I’ve installed that too, though I haven’t had a chance to play with it much yet.

I’m the kind of weirdo who spends way too much time organizing and maintaining my bookmark collection. I have a little over 17,500 bookmarks in Pinboard, and really there’s no good reason for that. Of those, 1700 are still marked “unread”. The general idea of the unread status is that I stumbled across something that I’ll want to read later, but I’ve clearly just let it turn into a link graveyard. And, for the “read” ones, the purpose of bookmarking them is usually that they contain something that I think I might want to reference later. Most of the time, that never happens. I bookmark a page and never return to it. But having all this stuff bookmarked does come in handy sometimes.

There’s a second tier for Pinboard accounts, where Pinboard attempts to archive the actual content of all the pages that you bookmark, so you can do full-text search on your collection, and so you can access content that might have disappeared from the web. When I switched to a paying subscription today, I didn’t bother going for that extra functionality, though I did think about it. I do have a lot of dead links in my Pinboard account, but honestly, that’s fine. (One of my pointless rainy day tasks is to identify dead links in Pinboard and delete them. This doesn’t really serve any useful purpose, but I guess it keeps me out of trouble for a little while. Spillo can identify dead links, so that’s what I’ve been using for that task.)

burning data DVDs in Windows 10

I’ve never had a problem with burning data CDs or DVDs in Windows 10, as far as I can remember. I’ve generally used the built-in burning function in Windows Explorer. Well, today, I bought a bunch of comics via this Humble Bundle, downloaded all the comics in it, and then wanted to burn them to disc as a backup. I’ve done that plenty of times before, but I couldn’t get it to work today.

After going through a bunch of troubleshooting steps, I finally gave up and downloaded CDBurnerXP. That worked fine. I’m pretty sure I’ve used CDBurnerXP in the past. (I had an entry for it in my Pinboard account from 2009, so I was at least aware of it.)

I briefly considered going back to Nero, which used to be my go-to program for CD/DVD burning, as far back as 2004. But I’m not sure about Nero anymore. They do still sell their “Nero Burning ROM” program, but there doesn’t seem to be a freeware “light” version anymore, nor is there an obvious way to get a 30-day trial of their full product, so I didn’t want to spend money on that, not knowing if it would work or not.

And there’s still a Roxio product for burning CDs and DVDs, but again there doesn’t seem to be a freeware version or a trial version available.

All of which leads me into a rant about trying to find legitimate freeware/shareware Windows software these days. I’ve found that the best way to find something is to go back through my own Pinboard bookmarks and/or blog entries, and try to find something familiar that I’d used in the past. There used to be good semi-trustworthy sites for finding freeware/shareware, like Tucows (which surprisingly was still around until about a month ago.) There were a few others, but at this point, I can’t ever remember their names.

Nowadays, we’ve got the Windows Store, which should be good and trustworthy, but there’s a lot of questionable stuff in there. Is good/trustworthy? Maybe? Their burning tools page looks pretty good. And this Best Free Software of 2020 article from PC Mag has some good stuff in it (including CDBurnerXP). I guess PC Mag is still reputable.

I get worried about downloading freeware programs that may contain malware. The Windows Store should take care of that, I guess, but it still seems like there’s a bunch of crap in the Windows Store, and a bunch of the more useful freeware utilities don’t ever make it into the store.

I wound up tweaking some security settings as part of my troubleshooting today, and I just noticed that Windows has flagged the installer for an old version of ImgBurn from 2010 as a risk. I let it delete that. (A more recent installer, from 2016, didn’t raise any alarms.) Makes me wonder if that was a false positive or not. Did I download a hacked version of ImgBurn in 2010? I guess it doesn’t matter at this point, since I wasn’t going to install a ten-year-old version of ImgBurn anyway.

Oh well. This is just another blog post from a cranky old man who wanted to spend five minutes burning a DVD backup today and wound up spending an hour or two troubleshooting and working around annoying Windows problems.

more fun with audiobooks, on Presidents Day

Today is Presidents Day, and I have the day off from work. In a normal year, I’d maybe take this opportunity to go into New York and visit some museums, or maybe just go out and see a movie, but this year, between the pandemic and the coming ice storm, I think I’ll just be staying home and doing largely pointless nonsense. (I could maybe look at this Times article, and do something meaningful that ties in to the holiday, but.. nope.)

Pointless activity number one for today has been “messing around with audiobooks”, so this post is going to be a follow-up to my last fun with audiobooks post. Since that post, I’ve finished Charlotte’s Web, borrowed from my local library via OverDrive. And I’ve started The Witch Who Came In From The Cold, via Serial Box.

From an iOS app perspective, I’m realizing that I need to use multiple apps now, depending on where my audiobooks are coming from. Books bought from Apple, and DRM-free books that I’ve dragged into Books on my Mac, can be listened to via the Books app on my phone (or with Undulib or something similar). Audible books need to be listened to via the Audible app. Library books can be listened to with OverDrive or Libby. And Serial Box books probably need to be listened to via the Serial Box app.

I have figured out, though, that it’s possible to save OverDrive audiobooks (if they’re in MP3 format) to my local PC (via the OverDrive Windows app). And it’s probably still possible to export Audible books via OpenAudible or AudibleSync. And I’m pretty sure that it used to be possible to download MP3 files for Serial Box titles, but they seem to have discontinued that and locked it down, so you’re stuck with their app now.

I’ve also been messing around with utilities to combine MP3 files into consolidated audiobook files. I’d been looking at Join Together and Audiobook Builder. Those are both $5 apps available for the Mac. I wound up buying Audiobook Builder, though Join Together would probably have also worked well. I don’t really need to create consolidated audiobook files, but it does allow me to clean things up a bit, specifically for audiobooks that I’ve ripped from CD. I’ve run a few books through Audiobook Builder, and it seems to work fine. I’ve pulled in MP3 files and output M4B files, and the output always comes out smaller than the input, and seems to work fine in Books (on Mac/iPhone) and iTunes (on Windows). I can edit the metadata for the combined file, and for the chapter titles.

Since paying for Audiobook Builder, I noticed Audiobook Binder, which is quite similar, but free, and open source. I probably should have tried that first. The visual similarity between the two programs is kind of suspicious. If Audiobook Builder didn’t have a fairly long history, I’d think it might just be a fork of Audiobook Binder that somebody tweaked a bit, then tossed up in the Mac App Store. But it’s been around since 2006, so that’s unlikely.

It would actually be more convenient for me to have a program like this on my PC, but there doesn’t seem to be much available for Windows. I found something called AAC Audiobook Creator, which might work, but it hasn’t been updated since 2011. So I guess I’ll stick with Audiobook Builder for now, since I’ve paid for it and it works well enough.

Getting back to iOS apps, I haven’t really had any issues with the multiple apps I’m using now, though it would be nice to just have one great one. The Apple Books app works well enough, for both books bought from Apple and DRM-free books synced from my Mac. The OverDrive app works fine for library books. (I’ve also installed Libby, and took a quick look at it, but I don’t think it’s any better than OverDrive.) As I mentioned last time, I think the Audible app is working for me now, though I haven’t actually tried to use it to listen to anything lately. And the Serial Box app is a little clunky, but good enough. All of these apps have the basic controls available, plus multiple speeds (if you’re interested in that) and sleep timers.

Having content spread across multiple apps and providers does make things harder to keep track of, but that’s what Evernote and Goodreads are for. And speaking of content, I’ve got plenty to keep me busy. The current Serial Box book I’m listening to, The Witch Who Came In From The Cold: Season One, is pretty good. I’ve previously listened to the first season of Bookburners, and enjoyed that one too. I thought I’d written a blog post mentioning it, but I can’t find it. I did write a relatively long review on Goodreads, though. I got the first seasons of four different Serial Box serials as part of a Humble bundle back in 2018. Serial Box is a pretty interesting publisher. They publish stuff as serials, in both audio and text format, and use a “season” format similar to the way a TV show would be produced. The “seasons” have individual “episodes.” There’s generally a group of writers working on a season, with individual episodes written by individual writers, but sticking to a consistent voice and style. It works pretty well, for the two serials I’ve tried so far. When they started out, they were doing original stuff, but now they’re also doing serials featuring licensed characters from Marvel, like Black Panther. And they have a subscription service now too, which gets you access to a library of more traditional audiobooks in addition to their own stuff.

Once I’m finished with the serial I’m listening to now, I’m not sure what I’ll listen to next. I’ve got a lot of options. Maybe some of the Neil Gaiman stuff that I haven’t listened to yet. Or maybe I’ll get back to the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas.


fun with audiobooks

I have a long history of complaining about audiobook-related issues on this blog. The most recent entry in the saga is here, from November of last year. I’ve been playing around with some audiobook stuff again recently, so I thought I’d write another post.

First, let me say that my issue with the Audible iOS app seems to have resolved itself. The issue started back in June, and was still an issue in November. The app would always crash after about 30 seconds or so. I tried every combination of deleting, reinstalling, rebooting, etc., that I could think of. I guess Audible eventually fixed the issue, or it went away on its own, or something. Either way, I’m pretty sure I could listen to an Audible book now, if I wanted to.

I’ve also been messing around with my library of audiobooks in Apple’s Books app. I mentioned the annoying limitations of the macOS Books app in that November post. Those all still exist. But I spent some time recently cleaning out some old audiobooks that didn’t need to be in the library, and moving some into folders in OneDrive for safekeeping. So now I feel a little better about that.

While looking through the handful of audiobooks that I’d bought from Apple over the years, I discovered that at least one of them was no longer downloadable from them. I still have a copy of it, and it still plays, but if I delete it, I think it’ll be gone forever. So I backed that one up. (Not that I’m ever going to listen to it again. It was a nice mystery novel, but nothing special.) Several of the oldest audiobooks that I have from Apple don’t seem to be available anymore, at least in the same version that I originally bought. They do still show in my purchase history, and seem to be re-downloadable though. These go back to the early days of Apple’s audiobook store, when they were really only reselling stuff from Audible. (I guess that, technically, they’re still reselling a lot of stuff that’s provided by Audible, but they’re not just doing that.)

And I’ve still got a lot of DRM-free audiobooks and audiodramas in my “waiting to read” pile. The next time I want to read one, I might try out Bound, or something similar. Or I might try to create a consolidated audiobook file with something like Join Together or Audiobook Builder, so maybe I can get a cleaner listening experience in Apple’s Books app.

Right now, I’m listening to an abridged version of A Short History of Nearly Everything, by Bill Bryson. I’m pretty sure I’ve listened to it already, but it would have been back before I started assiduously logging everything I read (or listen to). Anyway, I’ve forgotten it all, so it’s good to get a refresher. And listening to Bill Bryson calmly talk about science is a nice way to wind down at the end of the day.

Speaking of which, I’ve gotten back into the habit of listening to a bit of an audiobook near the end of the day, on most days. If I’ve got the right book, I think it helps me wind down a bit. Prior to the Bryson book, I was finishing up a BBC adaptation of War and Peace. That was also pretty good for winding down. I’ve got at least one Harry Potter book in audio form. And I’ve got The Hobbit, and some version of Lord of the Rings around here somewhere. And a few Neil Gaiman books. So I should be OK for end-of-the-day listening for the foreseeable future.

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.


podcasts and podcast clients

The pandemic has caused some changes in the way I’m consuming podcasts. (This is, of course, one of the more trivial changes caused by the pandemic, but this blog is all about trivial concerns.) I used to listen to tech podcasts during my commute; I don’t have a commute anymore, so I’m not burning through podcasts like I used to. And I used to listen to music podcasts at my desk during the day. I still do that, sometimes, but since I have full unfettered internet access at home, plus full access to my personal music collection, I mix things up a lot more, sometimes listened to streaming radio, sometimes to old CDs, and sometimes to music podcasts. Earlier in the pandemic, when the weather was nicer, I’d sometimes listen to various podcasts while out for long walks, but I’m not really doing long walks anymore, so now the backlog of podcasts is really piling up. I hardly listen to any “talk” podcasts anymore, except for a couple of humor ones. (I’ve really needed humor over the last year or so…)

This has all got me to rethink which podcasts I’m subscribing to, which iOS podcast client I should be using, and how I should be consuming them. My old system, in place since I switched to Overcast in 2015, is to subscribe to a number of podcasts, organize them into playlists in Overcast, and listen to them in in chronological order, oldest to newest. I had a few themed playlists, one for tech podcasts, one for humor podcasts, one for long music podcasts, and one for short “song of the day” music podcasts. That all worked out pretty well. I always had something to listen to, offline, downloaded to my iPhone.

Overcast, by default, keeps just the 5 most recent episodes of any given podcast available offline. (You can change that to a larger number, of course.) If you don’t listen to them, they drop off and get replaced by newer episodes. (But it does keep track of older episodes that you haven’t listened to, so if you’re listening to stuff in oldest-to-newest order, you’ll sometimes see older episodes greyed-out at the top of your list.) For me, lately, it was getting to where I was always just listening to stuff that was a month or two (or three or four) old. I started to get tired of that, and started to feel like it was a waste to have Overcast keep downloading episodes, then just deleting them and replacing them with newer episodes that would just again get deleted later. (I know, I have unlimited internet access at home, so it doesn’t hurt anything to download podcasts just to delete them later, but it still seems wasteful somehow.)

I’ve also been thinking about the best way to consume single episodes of podcasts that I don’t want to subscribe to, and random podcast-like audio files. I’ve been using Huffduffer for that, and it usually works well, but not always. Overcast has a facility for uploading files to the web that can then be downloaded into the client, if you’re paying $10/year for Overcast Premium, but it’s somewhat limited.

This all got me thinking about how I could switch things up. I read somewhere about how Castro uses a kind of inbox metaphor to let you sort through new episodes of your subscribed podcasts, and queue some of them for later listening, and dismiss others that you’re not interested in. That sounded more like the way I want to listen to stuff now. Castro (if you’re paying for their “Plus” level) also has a facility for “sideloading” files that sounded a bit more flexible than Overcast’s. (It can also rip the audio from a video file and save that to Castro, and that sounded like it might come in handy. Huffduffer can sometimes do that too, but it’s a little clunky.)

And, since I was looking at new clients, I looked into Pocket Casts too. Pocket Casts is kind of interesting. It was acquired by NPR (and a few other public radio organizations) in 2018. But now, apparently, they’re looking to sell it back off. So I’m not sure what the future of the app will be. Like Castro and Overcast, it also has a Plus tier that gives you the ability to save files to the cloud and listen to them in the app.

Overcast, Castro, and Pocket Casts all support importing and exporting OPML files, so it was easy for me to export all my subscriptions from Overcast and import them to Castro and Pocket Casts. Actually, Overcast exported both my active podcast subscriptions, plus other podcasts that I wasn’t currently subscribing to, but hadn’t actually deleted from Overcast, so it wound up being a list of 35 podcasts. So that gave me a bunch of stuff to play with in Castro and Pocket Casts.

I like Castro, but I quickly discovered that it doesn’t support anything like the playlist functionality of Overcast. So there’s no obvious way to group podcasts together. If I wasn’t listening to both talk and music podcasts, I probably wouldn’t be bothered by that, but I really like to keep those separate. So I guess Castro isn’t really for me.

Pocket Casts does support something like playlists. They call them filters, and they’re probably a little more powerful than Overcast’s playlists. I set up “long music” and “short music” filters, and they worked exactly as I wanted them to work. Pocket Casts also has a “new releases” filter that is kind of like Castro’s inbox. And there’s an “up next” queue similar to Castro’s. So it seems like there’s not much I can do with Castro that I can’t also do with Pocket Casts. And, if I was going for the “Plus” tier, Pocket Casts is $10/year, while Castro is $19/year. So, if I was determined to switch away from Overcast, I’d likely go with Pocket Casts.

Pockets Cast Plus also has desktop apps for Mac and Windows. While those aren’t strictly necessary, they would come in handy. My current method for listening to podcasts at my desk is generally to use AirPlay from Overcast to send them to AirServer, which works, but isn’t perfect.

But, in all this messing around with apps, and reading reviews, and thinking things through, I think I’ve realized that I can reconfigure Overcast to work for the way I’m consuming podcasts now, and not bother switching. Here’s what I think I’m going to do:

  1. For podcasts that I’m still fairly interested in, I’ll keep subscribing to them, but switch my playlists from oldest-to-newest to newest-to-oldest. When I see episodes at the top of the list that I’m not interested in, I’ll just delete them. And I won’t stress about getting through the whole playlist. It’s fine to let older stuff drop off. It’s not hurting anybody.
  2. For podcasts where I’m only occasionally interested in listening to specific episodes, I’ll leave them in Overcast as inactive, and just peruse them occasionally and download specific episodes.
  3. I might put together a new “queue” playlist that doesn’t include any podcasts in particular, and just load single episodes of random podcasts into it. (Which is apparently something I can do, but didn’t realize, until I started messing around.)

So, yeah, I probably overthought this whole podcast thing. I took some screenshots of Castro and Pocket Casts, and will include them below. I could probably write another blog post about which podcasts I’m currently listening to, and what’s been getting me through the pandemic, but I’ve already spent too much time on this one. I’m not sure if any of this will be helpful to anyone else, but (as often happens), writing this post has helped me figure things out, so it was worth my time.

Castro screenshots

Pocket Casts screenshots

audiobooks, comics, and iOS apps

It looks like we’re right in the middle of our second wave here in NJ. There are a few bright spots, but I think, overall, it’ll get worse before it gets better. So… happy Thanksgiving, I guess?

I spent my Thanksgiving alone in my apartment, but I probably would have done that this year, even if we weren’t in the middle of a pandemic. I also spent Black Friday alone in my apartment, and will likely be spending today and tomorrow home alone too. If the pandemic was over, I’d probably have gone into NYC at some point this weekend, but that’s out of the question now. So I’m definitely feeling a bit of cabin fever. But I’ll get through it.

I managed to get the Audible app on my iPhone working, somehow. After last week’s trouble, I’d pretty much given up on it, but I decided to take another shot. I don’t really know what I did to get it to work, but, well, it’s working now. Though I should say that I haven’t actually tried to listen to anything yet, so I don’t really know if that’ll work. But at least I can launch the app and poke around in it without having it crash.

And I still haven’t decided what I want to listen to next. I started listening to a BBC adaptation of War and Peace some time ago, and I should probably get back to that and finish it, but I haven’t been in the mood for anything like that. I should probably listen to one of the Big Finish Doctor Who audio dramas instead. (Neither of those requires Audible, though, and I’d like to find out if the Audible app is really fixed or not, so I may try something from my Audible library instead.)

Meanwhile, on my iPad, I wanted to read a comic last night and tried to launch Comic Zeal, which is the iOS app i use for reading DRM-free comics. It crashed as soon as I opened it, and I couldn’t find any way to get it to work. I didn’t want to delete and reinstall it, since that would also remove the 4 GB worth of comics that I had loaded in to it. Comic Zeal hasn’t been updated in about four years, so I’ve been expecting that it would eventually stop working. I assumed that iOS 14 had finally killed it. But, then, after deleting it and reinstalling it, it does seem to work again. Of course, that killed all the comics I had in there, so I decided that maybe I should just try another app.

I’d picked up iComics at some point, when it was on sale or something, maybe last year, but hadn’t tried it out at all. I looked at the app store, and I saw that it was updated to work with iOS 14 a couple of months ago, so that seemed like a good bet. So I’m going to try to switch over to that. Dealing with situations like this always reminds me of how annoyed I am about the file system on iOS. On a normal computer, I would have been able to just drag and drop the files from Comic Zeal over to iComics. But, with iOS, if you can’t launch an app, then there’s really no way to get to that app’s files. So I had to go through the work of figuring out where the CBZ files were for the comics I wanted to load, pull them down from OneDrive to my Mac, then copy them over to the iPad. That took quite a while.

One nice thing about iComics over Comic Zeal is that it exposes its files via the Files app, so I think that means that I could access them even if I couldn’t launch the app. I’ve played around with iComics a bit now, and I think it’s good enough for me, but it definitely doesn’t have all the bells and whistles that Comic Zeal had. It’s a shame that the developer on that one seems to have given up on it.

I see that the developer for iComics started working on a new version in January of this year. But, of course the pandemic (and other stuff) got in the way, per this blog post from mid-year. He just posted a personal update a few days ago, coincidentally. He’s only written three blog posts this year, but they’re pretty lengthy and interesting. I, on the other hand, have written 93 posts so far this year, according to my stats. And most of them are probably dumb and boring. But that’s OK.

So, anyway, I guess I’ve got my audiobook and comic book situations figured out for now, so if I’m in the mood to listen/read this weekend, I’ll actually be able to do that. I have no clue what I really want to do for the rest of the weekend, though. I was pretty restless yesterday, for a while, and couldn’t decide what to do with myself, and started to get a bit annoyed with myself. Then, I didn’t sleep well last night. I guess I’ll get something for lunch soon. After that, maybe I’ll try to settle down and read something. Or take a walk. Or a nap. I guess it’s good that I have options.

audiobook management madness

Since I recently finished listening to Invisible Man, I thought I’d look into starting a new audiobook. I blogged about my issues with Invisible Man here. In a nutshell: it’s an Audible book, but I couldn’t get the Audible iOS app to work. I wound up listening to it through the Kindle iOS app, which was workable, but not great.

I have a pretty random collection of audiobooks. Some are from Audible, some are from Apple, and some are DRM-free books that I’ve gotten from Humble Bundles, or ripped from CD, or whatever. In trying to organize things a bit today, I wound up stumbling across a number of different issues, so I thought I’d write up some notes.

I started out by trying to get a handle on which audiobooks I have, which I’ve already read, and where they are. I have some notes about that in Evernote, but they were a little out of date. So I pulled up the Books app on my Mac to see what was in there.

I already vaguely knew that, in Catalina, books and audiobooks had been moved out of iTunes (obviously, since iTunes is no more), and into Books, but I guess I hadn’t looked at it too closely and realized how clunky that was and how much functionality has gone missing. First of all, the books are now stored in “~/Library/Containers/”. And there’s no right-click “Show in Finder” option like there used to be in iTunes. So finding the actual book files isn’t easy. And the folder doesn’t retain user-friendly names for the books; it just uses numbered folders. So that’s all a bit annoying. And, beyond that, there’s no ability to edit metadata for your books in the Books app the way there was in iTunes. So, overall, I guess Books is OK if you’re only using it to manage books/audiobooks bought from Apple. But if you’re trying to use it to manage random DRM-free files, it’s not optimal. So I spent some time puzzling through that, and realizing that there really isn’t a better alternative for managing audiobooks on the Mac.

I was also wondering if, now that I’m in Apple Music, there was a way to sync my audiobooks up to the cloud the way it works with Music. If I could do that, I’d be pretty close to having no further need to sync my iPhone to my Mac. But there’s really no way to do that. You still need to sync books to your iPhone the old-fashioned way. (That doesn’t really bother me too much, but if you’re going to push everybody to the cloud, maybe add that functionality to the Books app too?)

So, overall, Books on macOS was a bit of a disappointment, but I cleaned things up a little, updated my Evernote notes, and removed a few completed books from my iPhone.

Then, I went over to my PC to see what my iTunes audiobook library looked like over there. Apple hasn’t done much with iTunes on the PC lately, so the audiobook stuff still works fine. I did find one book that somehow accidentally migrated into my music collection, but I got it back into the audiobook section, and everything else seems fine.

Next, I decided to try installing the Audible app on my iPhone again, and see if the issue I was having back in July had sorted itself out yet. And the answer is: nope. I can get as far as launching the app and signing in, but then it just spins for a few seconds and crashes. It’s actually even worse that it was back in July. I tried a few hints and tips I saw online, like trying to launch it with wi-fi turned off, but nothing helped. The app just crashes, no matter what I do. The whole thing is kind of puzzling. There have been a bunch of updates to the Audible app between July and now, so if it was a common bug, they’d have fixed it. And I’ve updated from iOS 13 to iOS 14 since then, so if it was an iOS bug, you’d think that would have been fixed too.

I’ve got some stuff bookmarked related to the idea of keeping audiobooks in Plex and listening to them with an app called Prologue. It sounds promising, but I’m not ready to start messing with Plex again. It would only be useful for the DRM-free stuff, and not for stuff bought through Apple or Audible (unless I stripped the DRM, which is yet another step to go through).

So, around two hours after I started, I still haven’t picked out a new audiobook to start, and I’m more annoyed and depressed about the state of audiobook management and playback on the Mac and iOS that I was to begin with. Oh well.


managing long-term reminders

At work, I need to keep track of a number of tasks that need to be done infrequently, such as replacing app secrets or renewing SSL certificates. Depending on the task, it might need to get done once every three months, once a year, or once every two years.

For the last few years, I’ve been using regular old Outlook tasks for this. That’s worked fine, up until today. We recently starting archiving our mail with Mimecast, which removes any mail items from Outlook if they’re more than a year old. And, as I realized today, that includes task entries too! And it goes based on creation date, not modify date, so even in cases where I’ve modified the task in the last year, if it was created more than a year ago, it’s gone now. Oh well. (The archived emails are searchable in Mimecast, but if the deleted tasks are in there somewhere, I haven’t been able to figure out how to surface them.)

So I spent a bunch of time today trying to recreate my long-term task list. I managed to get a screenshot of the tasks that were deleted by going into Outlook on a different computer, jumping right over to task list and taking a screenshot, before Outlook could fully update itself from the server. (The tasks disappeared just a few seconds after I took the screenshot, so I got lucky there.) Of course the screenshot only gave me the subject line for each task, and not the due dates or the notes that were inside each task item. But it was enough of a start.

At home, I use Evernote to track long-term reminders, and it’s always worked great for me. I get email notifications on the reminder due date. And I can easily go into Evernote and pull up a list of just the notes that have reminders on them, if I ever want to review them. It’s not perfect: There’s no calendar view, for instance, and there’s only the one date. (Other systems often have both a start date and due date.) But it’s good enough.

I can’t use Evernote at work though. (It’s blocked.) We don’t seem to have any approved apps for to-do’s or reminders in our Windows 10 app catalog. We do, of course, all have O365, so I should be able to use Microsoft To-Do. But it doesn’t work, for some reason. I do have access to Microsoft Planner though. Planner is kind of like Trello, which I’ve played around with a bit in the past. I’m not really a big fan of the kanban board thing, but a lot of people really like it. So, for now, I guess I’m using Planner.

This whole thing got me to thinking about what exactly it is I was trying to do, at a high level, and I realized that I was basically looking for a good 43 folders / tickler file system. It occurs to me that I could just create that in OneNote, with a single tab with 43 notes under it. It would be a bit of a kludge, but I could definitely make it work. Or heck, I could just do a 12 folder system (one for each month), and create short-term Outlook tasks for all of a given month’s to-do items on the first of the month. Either of those ideas is probably more manual labor that I want to do though.

I’m not entirely happy using Planner, since it’s not integrated with Outlook or OneNote at all, and there’s no desktop app for it, so I need to use the web site to manage tasks. That’s not a bad thing, per se, but, for long-term tasks, it means that I need to trust that the email reminders are getting sent out, since I won’t actually ever see the task list unless I purposely go looking for it. So I’m still going to think about this a bit more, but Planner is probably my best option for now.

Evernote, and Apple, and other stuff

In my last post, I mentioned that I had not yet upgraded to the new version of Evernote on iOS, Windows, or Mac, nor had I been prompted to upgrade. Yesterday, the iOS client got pushed down to my iPhone. And I was prompted on my PC to upgrade to the new Windows client. (I skipped that and stuck with the old version for now.)

The iOS client is fine. I don’t have any issues with it. It looks good, and it’s no less functional than the old client, as far as I can tell. It’s not particularly fast, but neither was the old iOS client. So I went ahead and updated it on my iPad too. It works fine there. So no problems with iOS.

For Windows, I decided to upgrade it on my Lenovo laptop and play with it a bit. I’ve honestly barely used that laptop since I bought it back in June. So it seemed like a good place to try out the Windows client without having to worry about messing up my regular setup. The new client works fine, and I think I like a few things about it more than the old client, but I’d need to work with it some more to be sure. It seems to be a little slower than the old Windows client. And the font looks a little weird, but that might just be that I need to tweak the display settings on the laptop. There’s a dark mode, and I’ve found that it works better for me than the light mode. Overall, it definitely seems to be less configurable than the old version, but there’s nothing in particular that I want to change, and can’t.

On another subject: I’ve upgraded both my iPhone and iPad to iOS 14. I waited for 14.1 to come out before upgrading. I’ve had no issues on either the iPhone or iPad. I’ve messed around with widgets a bit, but I haven’t gone nuts with them. For now, I’m just leaving them on their own screen. There’s not much else in iOS 14 that I’m really interested in, but I do want to try out the “headphone accommodations” feature at some point, given that I’m partially deaf in my left ear, but have (fairly) normal hearing in my right ear. Maybe it’ll help.

Upgrading the iPhone triggered the notice to upgrade my Watch to watchOS 7. That turned out to be quite a problem. The update needed 3.1 GB of free space, and I didn’t have that much. In the past, rebooting the watch would often clear enough space to run an update, but this time I had to go as far as un-pairing and re-pairing it. That basically wipes it and leaves you with a fresh OS install, so I then had to go back and reinstall apps and redo my watch face customizations and reset all my preferred options. And it turns out that watchOS 7 doesn’t really do much for you if you have a Series 3 watch, like I do. I was hoping for at least the handwashing timer, but you need a Series 4 for that.

So that’s got me thinking about picking up a new watch. And, of course, with the iPhone 12 out, I’m a little tempted to trade in my phone too. Both my phone and watch are a little less than two years old, and I like to hold on to these things for three years minimum, if I can. So I probably shouldn’t be thinking about buying new Apple gear. But, hey, in a year when I couldn’t travel at all and haven’t had to spend hardly any money on gas or car maintenance, why not blow a few bucks on unnecessary Apple hardware?

And on one last Apple-related note: I got a lot of enjoyment out of my Apple Music subscription today. The new Bruce Springsteen album came out, and I listened to that twice. And there’s a video interview with Bruce that I watched. (Or mostly just listened to, since I was working at the time.) And a new Jeff Tweedy album came out today, so I listened to that too. And I discovered the “My New Music” mix today. Apple already knows enough about my musical taste to put together a pretty good mix, including new AC/DC, Elvis Costello, John Cale, Pixies, and Bob Mould. So I’m feeling pretty good about Apple Music right now.