Evernote in the Cloud

As I type this Evernote is on my second monitor to my left. It’s been there all day during which it’s been referred and added to many times. I live in Evernote. But despite that I don’t love it. In fact it seems during the eight years I’ve been using it, I like it less and less each year.

Well this may start to change soon as Evernote recently announced that they are moving from their own servers to the Google Cloud Platform and this paragraph caught my eye:

In addition to scale, speed, and stability, Google will also give Evernote access to some of the same deep-learning technologies that power services like translation, photo management, and voice search. We look forward to taking advantage of these technologies to help you more easily connect your ideas, search for information in Evernote, and find the right note at the moment you need it.

This is fantastic news. The main issue I have with Evernote is that it’s a digital brain that’s stuck in 2008. It is a prime candidate for, and in desperate need of, some ‘deep-learning technologies’, as well as being on a modern cloud platform.

I’m hoping these issues I have will be improved:

  1. Search. It’s just not quite good enough, and you need to tag and organise your notes efficiently as well as know advanced search syntax to find anything in a large Evernote account.
  2. Sync. A sync every 5 minutes is a joke in this day of age. It needs to be close to realtime, especially for business users who collaborate.
  3. Related notes. Premium users can see ‘related notes’ below notes. These results aren’t actually too bad, but improvement is needed (For example there’s one Nicholas Cage note I have which Evernote thinks is related to every other note for some reason).
  4. Server speeds. Evernote’s servers are obviously somewhere in the US which isn’t good for European users like me. I reach a whooping 150KB/s when downloading from Evernote. I shouldn’t have to watch a 3MB image in my Evernote slowly load when I’m on a 200 Mbit connection. Just the use of Google’s Cloud CDN should solve this.
  5. Audio transcribe. I use Evernote to store many little voice recordings. Getting these transcribed would be fantastic. Cloud Speech needs to be put to good use (Though at $1.44 per hour, this would obviously be for Premium users and have a time limit).

That would be a good start to making me love Evernote again. Then they just need to sort out some bugs. Such as how images sent from my iPhone are in the wrong orientation and stretched when I view them in the Mac client and how PDFs never seem to work in the iPhone app.

Barry Lyndon

barry-lyndon-duel

“No lad who has liberty for the first time, and twenty guineas in his pocket, is very sad, and Barry rode towards Dublin thinking not so much of the kind mother left alone, and of the home behind him, but of tomorrow, and all the wonders it would bring.”

Barry Lyndon (1975) is in my opinion the most beautiful film ever made. It’s also rather underrated and under watched. It is a tad dry and long, but every frame is a painting and with each viewing I love it more. So please check it out (ideally on blu-ray).

Host change

Apologies if you have experienced any error pages when visiting over the past few days. I’m Left Handed was moving hosts after three years on A Small Orange’s Tiny plan. I don’t get much traffic, but 500MB of storage and 5GB of bandwidth wasn’t enough. So I’ve moved to a VPS with Digital Ocean. For an extra $2/mo I get 20GB of SSD(!) storage and 1TB of bandwidth. Along with root access, and guaranteed RAM and CPU. More than enough to host all my various websites for the foreseeable future.

Flickr is good at resizing at images

I’m Left Handed now has a photo blog. It’s a nice home for me to store and quicky share photos and potentially link to them from social media. It’s run on WordPress, which I like as I own the content on it (not Instagram or Twitter). I upload a pic, WordPress resizes it for me and places it into the blog post. Simple.

However, I randomly discovered that Flickr is really good at resizing images. Go to this page. The image you see was resized by Flickr. But when you put your cursor over it you’ll see the WordPress version. Move between the two to see the difference! And this isn’t due to the file size. Flickr: 157KB. WordPress: 147KB. A 6% increase for a vastly superior image quality.

And this isn’t a case of WordPress being bad on resizing. I’ve resized the image with various other programs with similar results.

The only issue is the hassle of uploading the image to Flickr, gathering the URL, and then manually entering it into the WordPress post. And as it turns out, doing this on my iPhone (which is where I’ll be posting most of the time), is close to impossible.

Still, nice to know. And I’ll be using Flickr where possible henceforth.

Replacing DuckDuckGo’s !bangs with Alfred

I recently switched back to using Google as my default search engine after several years of favouring DuckDuckGo. Duck’s search results were sadly just not good enough compared to Google’s. However, one thing it beat Google on was its ability to directly search a website using something called a !bang. So rather than searching ‘youtube van morrison tupelo honey’, with a !bang, you could enter ‘!yt van morrison tupelo honey’, which is quicker to type, but more importantly it searches YouTube directly using their search, and you bypass the Google/Duck results page altogether. So with my switch came this loss of a feature I use many times a day. Luckily Alfred saved the day.

Alfred is my Spotlight replacement of choice. And one of its features is the ability to do web searches, including your own custom web searches via keywords. So I need just to add YouTube as a custom web search, attatch the keyword ‘yt’ and I’m all good. From then on I just need to launch Alfed and type ‘yt van morrison tupelo honey’ to achieve the same results as the Duck !bang.

But in fact using Alfred has other added bonuses.

  • It avoids having to type ‘!’ before each custom search.
  • I can use any custom keyword choice I want. If I didn’t like ‘yt’ I could of choosen ‘video’ or ‘y’ instead for YouTube.
  • Although Duck has a vast amount of !bang compatible websites and they give you the ability to suggest new ones to them, there are plenty of sites that aren’t on their list that I’d like search. With Alfred I can add any site I want.
  • I don’t have to navigate to my browser to do a web search. I can be in any application and just launch Alfred.
  • I don’t have to wait around for Duck to process my search request and then redirect them to the relevent search page.
  • I don’t have to change my searching habits if I change my web browser. My behavoir remains the same.

So overall, everything went better than expected.

Thanks Alfred.

Typing

Around about a year ago I suddenly realised that I’d been typing away on QWERTY keyboards for well over a decade (since around 2000, aged 10), and that during that time I’d been ‘chicken pecking‘ the whole time. And with the further realisation that I’m likely to be using keyboards for many, many years, I decided it was time to learn how to type properly.

I first replaced my Apple chiclet keyboard with a ‘proper’ one. And chose the Das Model S Professional for Mac, as most non-chiclet keyboards do not play nice with Macs. However, the Das was just too large and noisy for my small desk and night owl habits. So I replaced it with the HHKB Professional 2. It was expensive, but small and fairly quiet for a ‘proper’ keyboard thanks to its topre keys. I also went with the blank keycap variant to really force me how to learn how to touch type.

When it came to learning, I found Peter’s Online Typing Course to be the best resource.

Anyway, here’s a chart of my average typing speed over the past year.

(My average WPM (words per minute) didn’t immediately drop to its lowest as I was still occasionally chicken pecking at first.)

It took me a very long time to get back to where I was before switching because I just don’t type enough. The most I type at one time is usually an iMessage. But despite the long learning time, it was still very much worth it. My hands feel better, but mostly it’s just really really handy not having to look down from my computer screen to my keyboard when typing.

So if you’re not a touch typist and have been considering learning how I’d highly recommend it. It really wasn’t as tough as I had expected.

The Setup of 2014

I’m a big fan of The Setup. It’s “a collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.” So in the spirit of it, I’ve decided to do my own. And plan on doing one each year to keep track of how my ‘setup’ changes. You can see my 2013 one here.

What hardware do you use?

Me and my 15-inch Retina Macbook Pro (mid 2012, 2.6GHz Intel i7, 16GB RAM) shuttle between my University dorm and parents house.

At my desk at the dorm is an Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2, Logitech G500 mouse, Razer Goliathus large mouse mat, and Beyerdynamic T90 headphones.

At home there’s a Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2, Logitech G500S mouse, Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones, Synology DS411j NAS and a Herman Miller Aeron chair. I also have a Mac mini (late 2014, 2.6GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD) which I use as a home server and as a Plex client, along with four Roku 3’s hooked up to TV’s around the house to access Plex. I also have a PS3 (slim model) and Apple TV (3rd generation Rev. A).

There’s an iPhone 6 in my right pocket. Some keys in my left. A Field Notes Pitch Black edition notebook and Fisher pen in the cargo pocket. And a Chrome Soyuz bag on my back.

For photography I use a Fujifilm X100S, Leica M4-P, Bronica SQ-A and a Sony A100.

And what software?

Usually occupying my monitor: Safari for web browsing. Twitterrific for Twitter. And either Rdio or Cog for music, or VLC for TV/movie.

Daily: nvALT for frequently needed .txt’s. Soulver for when I can’t be bothered to go to Wolfram|Alpha. Byword for writing. Reeder 2 for RSS. Chocolat for various text based stuff. Messages for iMessage. MailMate for email. MarsEdit for blogging. ReadKit for Instapaper. Transmit for FTP.

Occasionally: Acorn and Preview for quick image editing, and Lightroom for the more extensive. Final Cut Pro for video editing. PDFpen mostly for OCRing. Pages for when I need to print my words. Steam for gaming. YNAB for finance management.

Background and utilities: Dropbox, Backblaze and Arq for backups. 1Password for password management. Alfred for quickly launching or finding stuff. Caffeine for keeping my Mac awake. DaisyDisk for hard drive space management. Divvy for window management. Email Backup Pro does what it says on the tin. Bartender for organising the taskbar. Fantastical for adding to my calendar. f.lux for the sake of my eyes. FruitJuice for keeping my battery healthy. iStat Menus for spying on my computer. Hazel for automatically moving and renaming files. KeyRemap4MacBook for making my keyboard more Mac friendly. TextExpander for simplifying the commonly typed stuff. Time Out to remind me to get up and out of my seat every now and again. TotalFinder mostly for listing folders above files in Finder. WhatPulse for key and mouse click tracking. Yoink for making drag and drop easier.

iPhone: Twitterrific for Twitter. Overcast for podcasts. Terminology for looking up word definitions. Eidetic for memorising new information. Quotebook for collecting quotes. Plex for accessing my home media files from anywhere. Dark Sky for weather. Drafts for quickly taking short notes. Notesy for .txt. Evernote for all sorts. FastMail for email. Citymapper for getting around London. Launch Center Pro for quickly launching things. Fantastical for my calendar. Rdio for music. Audible for audiobooks. Due for reminders. Wolfram|Alpha for answers. VSCO Cam for image editing. RunKeeper for seeing how far I walk. 1Password for password security. Instapaper for reading saved web articles. Pinner for Pinboard. Dropbox for accessing documents anywhere. Live Football on TV for well, you know. Yahoo Sport for checking live football scores. IMDb for when I wanna know the name of that guy in that film. Amazon for mobile purchases. Watch Tracker (iTunes link) for seeing how accurate my watch is. Pushover for notifications of weather alerts. MX Mayhem for gaming.

Replacements

Removed

  • Schiit Magni Amp and Modi DAC as I forgot to set them up in my new dorm room. I must do that.
  • Wedge as App.net is sadly mostly dead.
  • LimeChat as I just don’t use IRC enough and it was taking up valuable screen real estate.
  • OmniFocus as I just don’t have enough stuff to do to warrant such powerful software. I use Evernote reminders instead.
  • Beamer as Plex has removed the need to AirPlay movies to my TV.
  • Mountain as I just don’t plug stuff in and out as much as I use to.
  • Fitted Lifts as it wasn’t a great app, and it’s too time consuming to enter info in between weight sets.

2014 In Review

In 2013 I really embraced the file system for all my documents, photos, music, movies, etc. so that I wasn’t relying on proprietary software to access my own files. However in 2014 this changed slightly. I really learnt the ins and outs of Evernote, and the risk of long term availability of my files was outweighed by the conveinece of a service like Evernote.

But probably the biggest change in 2014 was my discovery of the wonderful Plex. I used to use DS Video on my Synology to play my media on my Roku. But it was slow in both loading the client UI and the video files. So after I purchased the Mac mini I decided to give Plex a try and was amazed. It fetched metadata perfectly, the Roku and iOS clients were beautfiul and blazing fast, and it could transcode anything into a friendly format for the device it was playing on. It also meant easy access to my movies, TV shows, music, and home videos from anywhere in the world and from every device I own.

It also handled all my music well, and with the iOS app being so good, I removed most of my music from my iPhone and now I just stream it via the Plex app.

Another amazing thing about Plex is how friends and family can access my media files. You give them their own username, and what they watch doesn’t effect your account, and you can even restrict what they can access (home videos, for example). Sadly, the limit is my internet upload speed (15 Mbps), which isn’t fast enough for mutiple 1080p streams, so my friends and familys Roku defaults to 720p to be safe and avoid buffering. But still, a Roku with Plex installed and access to 1000+ of my movies makes a great gift to a friend.

What would be your dream setup?

I’m not smart enough to know my dream setup in 10+ years.

But in the shorter term, I want my hardware to be faster, harder to break, more reliable, and have longer battery life.

Alcohol

How wonderful and terrible it is that my drug of choice, alcohol, is positioned perfectly in the world I inhabit.

There are thousands of these buildings called ‘pubs’ and ‘bars’ dedicated to the consumption of it.

Every supermarket I go to stocks vast quanties and varieties of it at a financial loss just so they get me through their door to buy food on the way out of it.

My family buys it for me on special occasions.

All my friends partake. We enable each other, just like the alcohol enables our conversations.

High class places hide it with their prices and cocktails of ingredients, but the alcohol remains.

And travel is great!

I put my empty carry-on luggage to good use in duty-free. The airport lounges present it freely alongside cold, stale nibbles. On the flight it’s thrown at me. By the steward, “orange juice or champagne?”, with me pretending to think about my choice. And by the steward who has to stand behind the bar even though it’s 4 a.m. and the rest of the plane is asleep. He feeds me drink, and I feed him the sight of something other than tired travellers stumbling to the toilets.

And then I land in a Muslim country. So no alcohol! But wait, that doesn’t include hotels you fool!

Then my holiday consists of two weeks of slave labourers asking me around the swimming pool if I’d like a drink. They use their legs to transport it to you and everything. You scribble your signature and mumble your room number and more of it comes, until you’re so drunk you’re scared of getting in the pool for fear of drowning.

But at least at the end of a booze-fueled day I have the AC cooled sober embrace of my hotel room, far away from Indian immigrants tempting me to drink.

So I relax and turn on the TV. Mmm. Alcoholic beverage adverts with rich looking people doing rich looking things and having what looks like a very nice time. And look! Below the TV is what looks like a small fridge, I wonder what’s in it?

Podcasts

Podcasts have become a massive part of my life in the past few years. It’s a unique and great medium, and when some of your favourite people are involved, it becomes utterly joyous. They’re often conversational and relaxed. Podcasting is a raw art form that is yet to be tainted by money. They are nearly always free and done out of love.

Last year Stephen Fry made an appearance on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. It got quite a lot of press because in the show Stephen admited to a suicide attempt earlier in the year. But newspaper headlines aside, it’s a masterpiece of a podcast episode. The host Richard Herring was a little bit annoying at times. It may be a comedy podcast, but I felt he kept looking for jokes a little bit too much, when he should of been satisfied with the perfect balance of comedy and honesty that Stephen turned the conversation into.

Anyway, it was a sublime way to spend 90 minutes before sleep, and after listening to it I sat on the edge of my bed for a few minutes thinking. It made me happy, saddened me, and inspired me. It did what all great art should. It took me into its cave and spat me out different and better. Not drastically so. It just added another stick to my mental Beaver dam against everything bad in my world. I hadn’t had a bad or good day, I had experienced what most days are. Boring, dull, tiring, and sprinkled with brief moments of embarrassment, confidence, happiness and sadness. And having in those 24 hours just a glimpse of great art makes it worthwhile, and worth slugging through another 24 to hopefully taste again.

Afterwards Richard Herring wrote:

For a few years now I’ve been side-stepping the censorship, limitations and, let’s face it, lack of interest of television broadcasters and producing my own comedy podcasts. I love the freedom and autonomy of the medium, as well as its immediacy.

I can have an idea in the morning and it can be broadcast that same day. With all the hoops you have to jump through to make a TV show, it can take years to get an idea to screen and, by the time it’s on, it has often been interfered with so much by executives that it is unrecognisable.

[…]

I was delighted that one of my all-time comedy heroes, Stephen Fry, agreed to appear, but I was nervous. I had never met him before and was concerned I might just sit opposite him in open-mouthed amazement, unable to say a word.

[…]

It was the most extraordinary and electric 90 minutes that I have ever experienced on stage, showed that independent podcasts can compete with and trump mainstream broadcasters and spread awareness about the effects of depression.

Stephen Fry also later blogged:

The episode, plus the relationship I now have with a magnificent psychiatrist, has made made my mental health better, I think, than it’s ever been.

Podcasts, how I love you.

Direct mp3 link (strong language), or listen to it on Soundcloud.

Or, watch the video podcast: