Short story writer, aspiring game designer, bad chess player.
10577 words
http://morphodesigns.com/@Anklebuster

Too Many Addresses?

Arrgh! I think I broke my Gmail Filters. I edited the filters to handle some new addresses and only half of them were labeled.

A quick search uncovered some interesting limits:

  • 20 distinct filters
  • 1,500 characters per filter criteria string
  • Oops #2002 - the error message circa 2011. LOL

I'm not bothered to confirm the accuracy of these because the length of the failed filter is only 891 characters. It just confirms that I need to stop being lazy and use my Burner Mail more.


Of course, I want some companies  to have my main address, especially if money and goods are involved. And, it was one of those companies whose chattiness forced me to update my filters. While their emails properly filtered, another one did not. I could simply unsubscribe from the second company's emails because I'm underwhelmed by their product, anyway.

Yeah, let me go do that. Meanwhile, Integrations are better than semi-automatic solutions. Simplification beat integrations. Avoidance beats simplification.

Should we all just go live under a rock?

The Simpler Days

Everything is trying to become the tag-end for the ubiquitous phrase, there's an app for that. In so doing, companies are forcing its customers away from the desktop and traditional browser-based connectivity.

You can call AAA Motor Club and navigate an insane, computer-led menu or, you could download the app before you need help.

You could call a taxi and wait forever or, you could use the Lyft app.

You can call your local pizza shop and hope the order-taker correctly transcribes your request, or you could download the DoorDash app (or the one from Domino's, Pizza Hut, Papa Johns, etc.)

You could log into your bank from your browser or, you could pop open their app to see your balance, deposit a check, transfer funds to make sure you have enough for that pizza you just ordered.

Mobile phones make this drop-dead simple, once you get used to it. The last time I took a trip, I booked a train on my browser, but used my Amtrak app to show my ticket. When I got to my destination, Lyft took me the last 30 miles to my dad's house. 

Now, my dad is old-school. He only recently started using DoorDash from his ancient desktop computer. Prior to that, dinner was decided by which menus he'd had lying around!

So, despite the title's inference, the simpler days are here, now! Even a dinosaur like me gets used to the convenience of mobile phones.

I used to have unpleasant dreams where I'd run out of the house and gone shopping, only to realize that I had left my wallet at home. Yikes! Dream me never checks to see if he has his phone.



Cloaking Devices

Sorry, Trekkers and Harry Potter fans, I'm going to be talking about URL redirects.

Many years ago, when I still believed that I was going to become an Online Money Mogul, I joined a membership site called WealthyAffiliate. (Kyle and Carson, are still at it, bless their hearts.)

One of my favorite features of WA was the ability to create those cool links that--when you hovered over them--looked like this:

www.mysite.com/go/productyoumustsee

when you clicked one of those links, you would be redirected to

www.productyoumustsee.com

Here is the cool part: behind the scenes, I would have an affiliate referrer code associated with my "mysite.com" URL. Visitors could not see my referrer code and, according to the WealthyAffiliate folks, hackers could not intercept my link and steal my traffic.

That type of manipulation is called a stealth redirect and is often misconstrued as "cloaking." The former will piss off Google, but cloaking will not.

Well, Google pissed me off lots of times, so I didn't mind playing with stealth redirects. WealthyAffiliate became too expensive to continue so, after I left, I hunted around for something to replace that feature. What I found was perfect: EasyRedirectScript.

This now defunct tool had every imaginable type of redirect. I experimented with them all, just for fun, before settling on plain-old 301 redirects.

The links worked perfectly and I was able to track the effectiveness of various placements (email signature vs. web page, for example.)

It worked great for years. However, the developer abandoned it and, at some point, it stopped correctly making the links. Fair enough, as long as the older links continued to work, I was fine.

Then, I changed web hosts. After the migration, the links still worked, but I could no longer get to the admin panel to view stats. It was time to look for another solution.

My search led me to Pretty Links and, in usual Shiny Object Syndrome fashion, I dove in. It's a WordPress plug-in. I have no idea how it works because I have yet to use it! {sigh...}

I figured that writing about it would motivate me, so we'll see.

As a public service, here is Google's take on the matter:

Sneaky Redirects



Passage of the Week

I don't plan to make this a thing because then, it would become a chore. One of the coolest things I've read this week comes from David Weliver, of MoneyUnder30.com:


I could give you 800 pages on the mechanics of personal finance— how to budget, pinch pennies, use snowball techniques to pay down debt, and perfectly allocate your retirement portfolio for age and risk tolerance.

Most of you wouldn’t read it.

Why would you? That stuff’s boring as hell.

Let’s face it, some of you would read it and continue your existing financial behavior; just because I read Men’s Health doesn’t mean I have 8% body fat and six-pack abs. (Don’t you wish it were that easy!?)

The harsh reality is, maybe 5% of you would apply some of it successfully, at least for a little while, just like I hit the gym for a few days a week on and off all year, but have yet to put in the truly grueling work it takes to truly shed my love handles. 

Burner Mail Saved Me Some Money (LOL)

I just got an unanticipated bonus from Burner Mail. A few days ago, I signed up for access to "An Important Report." I used a Burner Mail mailbox, so that the emails would not be forwarded to me.

Then, I promptly forgot about it.

When I finally logged in to the mailbox, I discovered that the report was attached to a subscription offer at 75% off. Also, it expired last night.

Oh well!

Burner Mail just might be the cure for Shiny Object Syndrome! The urge to click can be satisfied, guilt-free, as long as I wait a few days to read whatever is sent.

Years ago, I read about a trick that was supposed to help compulsive shoppers control themselves. I believe it was the birth of vision boards, although, at the time, it was just therapy: you were supposed to find a picture of what you wanted and put it on your refrigerator. Apparently, seeing it every day took the edge off that urge.

I certainly do not mean to make light of shopping addiction. If you or someone you know needs help, check this out:

How to Fight A Shopping Addiction


Email Filter Shmilter

Over the past two weeks, I've noticed a wonderful side-effect of using the Burner Mail web service: I get so little email directly, that new, unfiltered stuff no longer overwhelms my default inbox in Gmail! Why is this a big deal? Well, it means that my email workflow has stabilized. Here is the significance:

  • I can be sure that I will not miss anything important in my filtered emails
  • I no longer have to update those filters to add new addresses
  • I can get through my Inbox in less than a minute

Filters

In the beginning, I had dozens of filters for many types of email. Whenever something undesirable came in, I created a delete filter. Between the intended filters and the delete filters, I probably had about 60 filters.

Desperate to improve my efficiency, I researched "best practices for Gmail filters" (or something like that.) I found an article that suggested using the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy. For your reading pleasure, here is Dan Silvestre's take on GTD in Gmail. I also read articles that emphasize "Inbox Zero", the holy grail of email efficiency.

Now, I'm not big on following systems. I prefer to implement the best ideas presented by systems. In the case of GTD, I liked the ideas of handling email as quickly as possible and archiving emails. Before I switched to Gmail, I used to download email to my hard drive using Mozilla Thunderbird. I spent way too much time devising email backups, filters and whatnot. So, it was hard to change my mindset that email applications are repositories.

It was not until I saw emails from 2002--random jokes, birthday greetings, receipts for services I no longer used--that I knew I was doing it all wrong. Instead of maintaining a burdensome collection of filters and retention policies, I developed a system based on the overall priority of email:

  1. Family
  2. Friends
  3. Clients
  4. Everything Else

Updating Filters

The point of these filters is obvious. The Gmail labeling system made implementation a breeze. The hard part was reallocating all the existing filters. The list above does not include the following:

  • Delete Without Reading
  • Lists (the ones from things like listserv)
  • Aunt Betsy's massive CC: emails to everyone she's ever met

Of course, I created one massive Delete filter for everything that comes in that I don't want to see, especially from companies that ignore my requests to unsubscribe. The lists are still filtered individually and, rather than add Aunt Betsy to the Delete filter, I just let her into my inbox. If she has something interesting to say, I'll read it. 

I created a one-off Excel Spreadsheet to regroup the email addresses into their new homes. When I wrote that I no longer have to update those filters, I meant that, for the most part, the list of people who contact me directly via email has not changed in years. Family members have had the same email addresses forever and, until my grandchild decides to start writing me, I don't have any new members to add. Friends are the same. Most clients do not have my email, because I control my availability. Finally, everything else is a collection of low-priority emails for people and businesses I have had a relationship with up until I started using Burner Mail.

The Everything Else category is where I will be culling addresses and switching to Burner Mail addresses, where possible. For example, I recently added a burner mail address to my WordPress.com account. That allowed me to remove the voluminous comments from the Everything Else filter to one of my Burner Mail inboxes, where I can read them at my leisure. I wrote about that exercise, here.

The whole point of Burner Mail is that I can subscribe to stuff and not give out my personal email address. The email can either be forwarded to my Gmail inbox or, as with WordPress.com, be delivered to on of my unlimited Burner Mail Inboxes.

Astute readers may point out that I'm merely sweeping dust bunnies under the rug. To that, I say, "True, but you don't see any dust!"



Forget the Cloud!

Cloud storage is neat. I love having a way to collaborate with clients and to see random spreadsheets created by number-crunching gamers. On the other hand, I hate OneDrive. LOL. I feel like a broken record on that note, but whatever.

I suspect that people who suffer from Shiny Object Syndrome love all the free storage on offer. But, unless you have a business need for cloud storage, I believe you're better off using iDrive to backup your most important stuff and then buying some large, portable hard drives.

I recently purchased a 4 TB Canvio Basics USB 3.0 Portable External Hard Drive for 89.00 + tax. To get that much storage "in the cloud", I would have to...no. I'm not going to calculate that! Instead, let's see what we can get for a yearly fee:


Google Drive: 1 TB, 99.00

Dropbox: 2 TB, 119.88

OneDrive: 1 TB, 69.00


There is a niche in the cloud services space called cloud-to-cloud management. Companies like Cloudfuze, oDrive and Multcloud claim to help you manage many of your cloud services. You can migrate, sync, backup, make pancakes and spend money.

Or, you could create a DOS batch file to do most of those on your own computer. Migration is not an option, due to massive download sizes. That would be the only reason I'd use one of these services.

I'm glad I spent an hour perusing the reviews and pricing plans. The exercise helps to dull the shiny objects to the point where I lose interest.

Keep in mind, "the cloud" is just a bunch of remote servers and they are essential for things like Gmail, Evernote, Standard Notes, Workona and your Words With Friends history. I personally prefer my Toshibas, along with iDrive, in case the house burns down.

I'm pretty sure I'm not going to be worried about my files if a real disaster strikes. Let's be real. Clean water and toilet paper are going to be higher up on my list.


Instability is the Norm

The developers at Standard Notes did a thorough review of my account activity from Jan. 29 to Feb. 5th and confirmed that no modifications were made to it. So, my blog posts were not saved on the server. In addition, the sync issues I was experiencing kept the account disconnected from the server.

The good news is that the developers are making note of my case and working on a solution that can prevent data loss if a user has to re-sync with server. I don't know what any of that means for real, for real, but I am encouraged by their support.

This is why backups are so important. I've gotten lazy over the years and have been bitten a few times. Luckily, I'm not running NASA or CDC but, still. My stories about space travel and disease-carrying vermin are important to me. Those links go to my WordPress blog where, ironically, after I lost an entire post during editing, I learned the hard way to compose offline.

That's not going to happen here. Come on! this is a note-taking app! LOL


Consolidated Cloud Contraptions

I got an email from AppSumo Pixelied. The main topic was their roadmap. Dawood Khan, CEO and co-founder, had some interesting bullet points:

Hey Mitchell,

I've been told Sumo-lings love transparent roadmaps.

In case you didn't know, we have our public roadmap with all the important features and updates that we will be rolling out in the next coming months.

Check out our roadmap HERE

Here are some of the important highlights from the roadmap:

  • 3D & Realistic Mockups
  • Logo Creator
  • Live Collaboration with Team Members
  • Custom Brand Presets
  • Text & Shape Masking
  • Dropbox & Drive Integration

The last one made me reply to his email:

Hi Dawood,

Now I would love to see the return of a Jolidrive-like product, especially one that would encapsulate OneDrive. I hate OneDrive ... I have business and personal accounts and can't be bothered with all of the login credentials and account-switching.


I use Microsoft (MS) products like Excel, Word and Access. MS is very heavy-handed about trying to get me to use OneDrive as the default place to store files. That kinda of infuriates me. You see, I like to store client files separately from personal files and, unless my clients initiate folder sharing on one of the cloud platforms, I do not trust 3rd-party storage to handle confidential files.

From a user standpoint, Dropbox is the easiest platform: I don't keep live work on it, but when I want to retrieve or share files, I do so within my preferred file manager (Xyplorer.) And, while Dropbox does offer to integrate with MS products, that only happens if I open the file within the Dropbox ecosystem--my sync folder or in the Dropbox web app.

Next in ease of use is Google Drive. My only complaint is that Google Docs and Google Sheets are native to Google and must be converted to MS for downloading. Other files work like Dropbox.

To be honest, I'm sure that, if I worked at it, I would realize that OneDrive is pretty similar to the other two. However, I just can't get past the unholy account credential mess. I can't even describe the frustration coherently. Essentially, it is equivalent to hurling epithets and/or the laptop.

Getting back to Jolidrive. You have to comb through the past to get a sense of what it was about. Here is one such enthusiastic article on Engadget, along with a more somber one from omg! ubuntu. The death knell is sounded on jolicloud.com, with an invitation to check out Polite.

A Zapier expert could alleviate the pain. However, integration is not as nifty as assimilation. Ask the Borg.



Having missed the point of the email, I never sent that reply, after all. I purchased Pixelied from AppSumo. Said purchase puts me on the email list (maybe I opted in, I don't remember.) Khan's use of the term "Sumo-lings" made me think the email was from AppSumo and, therefore, was a reference to a product hunt.

Something made me click on the link to the roadmap. I scratched my head in confusion (I don't use Trello). Eventually, it dawned on me that this roadmap was for the on-going development of Pixelied! Duh!

I'm posting this anyway, because I want to share my thoughts about cloud drives in general, and bemoan OneDrive in particular. If you were confused while reading this, imagine how befuddled I was when I realized my mistake. LOL

So, nobody's working on a Borg-like Consolidated Cloud Contraption...


{Rolls up sleeves}

Scrapping with Standard Notes

This was probably my fault. Let it serve as a cautionary tale for those who like to back up personalized settings (AppData and its siblings, cousins and distant relations.)

Usually, when I reinstall Windows, I restore Appdata before I install the software that uses it. 90% of the time, the reinstalled software carries on as if it had never been violently ripped from its non-contiguous hard drive sectors.

Standard Notes appears to be that one out of ten programs that don't play that shit.

I managed to get everything back and running so, on the surface, I thought everything was fine. However, this reincarnated zombie developed a weird tick: whenever I overwrote the default note title with my carefully thought-out headline, Standard Notes would kick my title out  and restore its default. Imagine having a discussion with a five year-old child about bed-time:


Me: Time for bed.

SN: I don't want to.

Me: Time for bed.

SN: I DON'T WANT TO!

I did what any good parent would; I consulted a psychologist. I was told to basically abandon the child and throw away his clothes and toothbrush, but keep all of his comic books! Then go get him back and let him rebuild his comic collection.

So, that's what I did. I deleted the backup folder. I trashed the database. Then I moved my offline copy of all my notes to another folder. Finally, I put the kid on a Greyhound bus, umm, I uninstalled the application. 

When I reinstalled Standard Notes, I was afraid it would be blank. However, the good psychologist did not lead me astray; the kid came back, and immediately downloaded all of his comics, even the ones I had given him from Evernote. Such a sweetie.

A little while later, I tested his behavior:

Me: Time for bed.

SN: {Didn't say a word, just went upstairs.}


Yes!! I was happy. I went about my business over the next three days, which didn't leave much time for writing. When I came back to Standard Notes, my heart sank. during the time that the program was zombified, it didn't save my notes! I didn't catch it because, after fighting with him about the titles and pushing the posts out to the blog, I just assumed each one was safely stashed away.

After reinstalling, the blog posts from the beginning of February were not showing up, even though they're still online. I'm still waiting for the psychologist to tell me that I'm not crazy, even though they don't use that word anymore. 

I may not be happy with Evernote, but it never pulled that stunt on me, even after three reinstalls. So, here is a parting tip: after a reinstall, Windows puts your previous install in a folder called Windows.old. Keep that around. Depending on how many programs you have to reinstall and how heavily modified they were from their out-of-box state, it may be easier to rebuild AppData and just crawl through Windows.old for the odd license file, configuration file or special file for each application.



This won't happen anymore: I bought Macrium Reflect and set up daily image backups to my external drive. (Windows Backup is too hard to get to, buried as it is 20,000 leagues Under the Settings Dialog.)

Evernote Rollback

After a good night's sleep, I woke up with a burning sensation. Ha-ha, not that one. I wanted to know how to download older version of Evernote. A nifty video came up on a Bing search results page:


How to Revert Back to the Old Evernote - Downgrading from Version 10 (Latest 2020 Evernote)


In less than 90 seconds, Amy shows the speed difference between Evernote version 10 and legacy Evernote version 6. She provides the download link in the description, in case you're interested. (If you are interested, better get it fast, as it is only available temporarily, while the fine folks at Evernote try to fix their broken ship.)

I am glad I thought to look for this, before reinstalling Evernote. The conversion to Standard Notes will be less painful.

  • Legacy allows me to select waaaay more than 50 notes (I was able to select 212!)
  • Faster response
  • Old, familiar interface


Patience is a Virtue

As I continue to recover my data from offsite backup, I keep thinking of ways to make the latest instance of my laptop environment better. One idea is to duplicate the offsite backup locally. I'm an impatient person.

iDrive has an option to backup files locally. I'll do a couple of practice jobs to ensure that I set everything up properly. If all goes well, I can have local backups from which to restore...next time. Because, I'm impatient.

If you use iDrive, here's a tip: be patient. During a large restore, the desktop app will show progress. At some point, it seems to be daydreaming instead of telling you what file is being copied. You may think it's frozen but it's not. I made the mistake of cancelling a restore operation. Twice. (You know, impatient!)

Cancelling a restore leaves you with a quandary: you have a bunch of partially restored folders, with no idea what's missing. To get a clue, you start comparing the website's version of what it has to your list of folders. It won't be long until you discover that Uncle Nemo's Reno Vacation Pictures are missing. While that doesn't bother you, you won't feel reassured until that blasted operation runs completely.

So, you fire up the restore operation again and go to bed.

Next morning, the blasted thing still looks frozen! But, you're going to be patient this time. Sure enough, two hours later, the Success dialog box comes up.

When this exact scenario occurred on my laptop this morning, I made a note of the file counts:


[Start Time: 2/3/2021 2:41:43 AM]

[End Time: 2/3/2021 11:31:05 AM]

[Files considered for restore: 53104]

[Files already present in the restore location: 51184]

[Files restored now: 1920]


How sad! Had I just been a little more patient during the second restore, those 1,920 files would have had a chance do be restored. It's not often you get to see a bird's-eye view of the marathon runner who quits, just as she is about to crest the hill beyond which lies the finish line. 

Okay, that was a bit meta, but you know what I mean. At least this account will serve as a cautionary tale to impatient file restorers. The elapsed time was a shade under nine hours, most of which was spent not copying 51,184 files. If I had performed like that at my old job, I would have been fired.



In retrospect, I think the reason the progress appeared frozen is that it only tells you what is being restored. That "daydreaming silence" was most likely the time periods during which it was looking at files that were already on my laptop.

On might think it would be better to show a message like: [SKIPPING Uncle Nemo Outside Moe's Tattoos.jpg]

However, as a programmer, I know that is excessive communication, which slows down the entire process.



Bazooka vs. Mouse

I'm sure everyone has a nightmare tale of laptop meltdowns, unrecoverable backups and precious data lost forever. I do too, but this is not one of them.

After having been burned by my own incompetence, I put many protocols in place to mitigate the next, inevitable disaster. The protocols were activated this past weekend, when I stupidly decided to cave in to Microsoft's Ransom Note:


Windows Update

Your computer needs to restart so we can hose your system. When's a good time for you?

[ ] Now   [ ] Right Now   [ ] Can I get the Vaseline, first?


Well, my wife can't have all the fun, with her blazing fast new computer. Right?

I gave Microsoft permission to update my machine to Windows 2020 H2. Hours later, I'm watching in horror as my laptop gurgles through a never-ending cycle of reboot, blue-screen error message, restart.

During the moment when my laptop comes up for air, I try to read the error message. Eventually, I work out that an important system file is on strike: it refuses to handle an EXCEPTION (computer-speak for human coding error.)

Who can blame the poor file? It probably got tired of getting the blame for everything that is wrong with Windows 10. I didn't take it out on the file, especially once I identified it as nvlddmkm.sys. Even its name evokes defiance, "Nevul dude! Make Me!"

Actually, those consonants mean Nvidia Windows Longhorn Display Driver Model Kernel Mode Driver and, it looks like someone left out the "w". (Read about this hard-worker, here.)

You have to understand, at 1:30 a.m. Saturday morning, I didn't know about any of this. All I saw was my poor laptop drowning in digital sewage. So, I threw it a shiny 4.7 GB life preserver called "Rescue Disk Windows 1909".

Okay, I seriously edited the sequence of events. I'm not going to bore you with how I swam out, dragged the laptop to shore, performed CPU on it and even opened its BIOS to rewire its boot sequence. I'll just skip to the end...

...the life preserver was ignored. Literally. I had to get an artificial heart from my wife's computer. That worked, but afterwards, my ASUS thought it was an Acer. LOL

And, guess what? The sewage rose and engulfed my Frankenstein's laptop again!

{more serious editing of technical, incompetent attempts by yours truly, involving looking stuff up on a Kindle Fire HD, between rounds of re-installing some version of Windows 10.}

Over 48 unsuccessful hours later--either through osmosis or reductive realization--I decided to rip out the Nvidia graphics card. By this time, I had already attempted to silence Nevul dude, using the Windows Device Manager. But, being an important worker bee and all, the file kept coming back with each reinstallation.

Before I could get my screwdriver, I had an epiphany: disable device.

Now, rewind back to the beginning of this sordid tale and insert the epiphany. What would happen? I wouldn't have destroyed the house, trying to catch a mouse.



I took a break from restoring data to write this out, in hopes of a cathartic release from the consequences of yet another inevitable disaster. In a way, I don't mind doing a clean install. It's politically incorrect to compare the experience to sticking one's finger down one's throat, but I'm not under a gag order and the relief is real.

Total Annihilation!

My wife got a new laptop and I gleefully offered to blow away the hard drive on her old one. This is the ultimate digital purge!


In the old days, the most dangerous command you could give your computer was: Format C:\


Ah, so innocent, weren't we? We had no clue that data could be recovered from hard drives after such a catastrophe. The simple truth was revealed to us when Peter Norton released his Norton Utilities.

Anyway...

In light of the revelation, the next logical utility class was DeleteShitForReal. My current favorite is Eraser, an open source utility. Hard drives won't know what hit 'em!

Support Your Local Friendly Developer!

One of the joys of finding products by startups and solopreneurs is the opportunity to directly impact future development. Over the years, I have developed relationships with WordPress plugin authors, DonationCoder developers, Excel developers (not Microsoft, just "little guys" making add-ins and custom utilities), half a dozen specialize utility developers and even an InDesign add-on creator!

If you've ever been a beta tester, you know what I'm talking about. Nowadays, I'm more likely to interact with developers on Slack but, email is still the primary medium for support@widget.com. LOL

Here is a nice reply from Alex, a member of Workona's support team:

Hi Mitchell,

Thank you for the video! I'll talk to the product team as to why it says "unsaved tabs," but it seems like it's working as expected. You should be able to still restore those tabs using the restore modal if you wish to. Also, it seems like clicking the "i" simply undo's the action - I'll be sure to mention this to the product team. 

As for your other email, that is very strange. Our product team is finishing a big update, but they will look into this as soon as that's released. We're very sorry for the issue in the meantime. 

Best regards,

Alex Young

I'm working really hard to integrate Workona into my daily browser habits. It's nice to know that the developers are hard at work, too.

Meanwhile, The Slack community for Standard Notes continues to be a great resource. I'm flexing long-unused CSS muscles to change the way the blog looks. Also, the custom domain was approved quickly! I finally get to use the anklebuster.com domain that has been dormant for years.

Way back in the day, I used it to host a Tiddlywiki. That platform, a self-contained Javascript-based HTML file, is still going strong.

It's a bit like Evernote and Standard Notes, come to think of it. These days, I'll take the simpler path. I'm not saying Standard Notes is better than TiddlyWiki. I just think it is more approachable, out of the box.