Go Plain Ubiquitous Plaintext Capture, Part 1: nvALT

In my Go Plain manifesto, I said that the first thing I plan to deal with is ubiquitous plaintext capture solution.

So here I am, trying to deal with it, having some success on the Mac, mostly failing on mobile…

This post is part 1 of several posts on the subject of plaintext capture. I am dividing it to parts because it is still work-in-progress, and I wanted to share as I go along.

To reiterate and elaborate, my expectations for a “ubiquitous plaintext capture solution” include:

  • Available across all my devices. To prioritize: MacBook, Android phone, iPad, Windows laptop.
  • Sync “captured items” across all said devices, given connectivity. Handle poor connectivity with dignity – we are talking about plaintext files here. Handle sync conflicts gracefully.
  • The act of “capturing a piece of information” must be totally frictionless. This means as few clicks and taps as possible to get to “capture mode”. No messing with filing and categorizing a “captured item”. It should just be there, waiting for when I’m ready to deal with processing it.

A tl;dr version of where I am with this, at the time of writing:

  1. Decided that “captured items” are plaintext Markdown-formatted files in my Dropbox GoPlain/Notes directory. Flat structure (e.g. no sub-directories) to force simplicity. Filename is note title, file text is note content.
  2. Decided on nvALT for capturing notes on OS X. Been using it for a couple of weeks. It’s perfect!
  3. Became frustrated with the options I evaluated on Android. Remained unsolved for now 🙁 .
  4. Got overwhelmed with options on the iPad (iOS in general). Got to join nvNotes beta testing. Loving it so far!
  5. Didn’t do anything with my Windows laptop. It just sat there, streaming my Google Music library. Just as important for my productivity 🙂 !

In this part, I go into some detail about nvALT and my “ideal capture experience”. If you stick around, there might also be a mobile rant 😉 .

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Go Plain: My Simplicity-Driven Personal Productivity System

In the previous post, I announced that I am ready to reinvent my personal productivity system.

Today, I present Go Plain: My simplicity-driven personal productivity system. Well, it’s not yet a “personal productivity system”. It’s the working title for my work-in-progress system, and this post is a high-level “manifesto” for this system. I use “manifesto” here loosely, and mostly mean “high level roadmap and requirements”. Just thought it was a fun word to use 🙂 .

You can refer to the Go Plain project page for an always up-to-date list of posts related to this project.

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My Productivity Porn Season Has Begun

My name is Itamar, and I’m an addict. My addiction is hardcore productivity porn (don’t worry, it’s SFW).

I do my best to keep my addiction controlled. Under normal circumstances, I don’t tamper with my “productivity system”, beyond minimal maintenance, and the occasional incremental targeted workflow improvement.

The issue with the statement above is an underlying assumption that “the system is mostly good, and fits my current situation in life most of the time”. That assumption has been overwhelmingly false for a little over two years now.

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From Markdown To Pastable Formatted Text In OS X Terminal

By Tuesday, August 4, 2015 0 , , Permalink 3

I use Markdown a lot. I use it right now, to compose this post 🙂 . It’s my go-to syntax for quick plain text files for notes and such. It’s what I use when I code something that outputs “formatted” text to terminal.

Recently, I wanted to take Markdown output from a script I wrote, and send a nicely formatted version of it by email.

Read on for the solution I eventually came up with, after several iterations, and essential tips from Brett Terpstra, the Markdown Master.


cat foo.md | \
  pandoc --from markdown --to html | \
  textutil -convert rtf -stdin -stdout -format html | \
  pbcopy -Prefer rtf

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Got My Sensibo Kit!

If you follow my blog for a while, you know I’m a big fan of home automation. Especially controlling the A/C from anywhere.

I was excited to learn about the Sensibo Indiegogo campaign last year, and thrilled to receive my Sensibo Kit last week!

The Sensibo kit let’s you control your A/C from anywhere. This is similar the my A/C control project, only done professionally 🙂 .

The kit includes a small hub that connects to the home router, a tiny pod, and free Android & iOS apps. After setting it up, I can easily control my A/C from the phone app from anywhere, which is so great! Nothing like coming back to a pre-cooled house from the blazing Israeli summer 🙂 . There’s even IFTTT support, enabling automatic house-pre-cooling whenever I approach home!

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Starting Terminal In the Current Directory In OS X Finder

I use the terminal on OS X a lot. I also use Finder to navigate the file system. Sometimes I want to start a terminal session in the current Finder location. To do it, I found the cd to… app.

Last year, when I was mainly on Windows, I showed how to use AutoHotkey to launch the command prompt from anywhere. Now that I’m mostly on OS X, the terminal is even more useful than the command prompt on Windows. It’s only natural that I want similar access to it.

The cd to… app does something similar. When executed, it opens a new terminal window, at the active Finder location. The app can live in the Finder toolbar for quick one-click access. I prefer staying at the keyboard as much as I can, so I rather invoke it with Spotlight, or using a keyboard shortcut assigned to launch it.

This is part of my Mac Power User Training series. Follow it to see how I try to go from Mac novice to a pro.

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How To Assign Keyboard Shortcuts For OS X Apps

As much as the trackpad is powerful on Mac, I still prefer not to leave the keyboard if I can. For that reason, I want to assign keyboard shortcuts to the rare few apps that deserve it. Imagine my surprise when I realized it’s not a straight forward action in OS X!

In this post I describe how to assign arbitrary keyboard shortcuts to launch OS X apps, without any third-party software or AppleScript. The solution is based on creating an Automator Service workflow to launch the desired app, and assigning a keyboard shortcut to that service.

I imagine there are simpler solutions that take advantage of some third party automation software or AppleScript. Feel free to let me know about your preferred solution, even if it involves such demons.

I am aware that I can use Spotlight to launch any application by typing the first letters of its name. Indeed, this is how I launch 99% of apps. There are very few cases where it makes sense to bypass Spotlight with a shorter key-combo – and this post is for these cases.

This is part of my Mac Power User Training series. Follow it to see how I try to go from Mac novice to a pro.

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Some More Google Inbox Feedback

Following up on my earlier Inbox thoughts and feedback, I wanted to share new feedback from the last 3-4 days.

This time I’ll jump straight to to feedback:

  1. When I get an email that was auto-forwarded from one of my aliases (e.g. Google Apps email), the default “Reply” behavior in Inbox is to “reply to all” (including myself). This is not desired, and not consistent with Gmail, where the default behavior was “reply to sender” (and set “from address” to the alias).
  2. In Gmail, I used to apply labels using the keyboard. L would open the label menu, and I could type a label prefix to filter the labels list and apply it. This doesn’t work in Inbox. I had to use the mouse to click “Move To”, and scroll and select the label / bundle to apply. When I forget that typing doesn’t filter the list, I accidentally perform unexpected operations on the item…

The last, most painful one:

  1. No more multiple labels support?!?! There’s only “Move To”! Moving to a bundle / label replaces the existing bundle / label. OMG, why???

If you agree with any of these – please submit it too, so the issue gets the attention it needs! To submit feedback, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar, click “Help & Feedback”, and “Send Feedback”.

I also encourage you to share your feedback that I didn’t cover!

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Google Inbox: Initial Thoughts and Feedback

I started using the new Google Inbox with my personal Gmail account a couple of days ago. Here’s my initial impression, along with some feedback that I sent to Google.

First, it’s important to understand that people use Email in extremely diverse ways. This means that most people probably try to apply their existing Email workflows with Inbox. As a result, the experience may be very different!

Before Inbox, my Gmail workflow can be generally summed up as:

  • Daily inbox zero.
  • Mostly not using email as “todo” items.
  • Using Boomerang for Gmail to followup on sent email.
  • Using Priority Inbox (not the categories that replaced it) heavily.
  • Archiving everything that I can (search-don’t-sort).

Moving to the new Inbox, I am forced to switch from Priority Inbox to the bundles (same as categories). I will need to get used to it.

The “Done” concept is identical to archiving email, so that’s something that I can preserve from the Gmail workflow. Seems that keyboard shortcuts are the same. At least those I use regularly – y to archive-and-return-to-list, [/] to archive-and-move-to-prev/next, and j/k to move-to-prev-next.

Looks like “Pinning” is similar to “Starring” email. In practice, I used stars in Gmail to pin email in Priority Inbox, so it fits the same workflow. A nice feature is the toggle between “show all items” and “show pinned items”.

“Snoozing” is new and interesting. It’s pretty much identical to setting “Email reminders” with Boomerang, which I rarely used. I think I didn’t use it mostly because the Boomerang implementation was clunky. To make the item “jump up”, they had to reply-to-self when the reminder is due, which I didn’t like. Being able to snooze “better” may help reach inbox-zero by snoozing instead of processing, which may be good or bad, depending on my will power at the moment.

The UI is all modern and nice (material?). Bundling many items into one “UI element” is a little weird. What value do I get from seeing one line that says “Social (25) Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Quora and 10 others”, that I need to click to see another list of 25 items? I’m not sure what I think about it yet.

I like it that the web UI and the Android client are much more in-sync compared to Gmail. I remember avoiding a couple of Gmail-tweaks that could have been useful, but were available only with the web UI. It’s important that I can do the same things from my different devices. Yay Polymer?

There are, of course, a couple of things I don’t like (or I miss) in the new Inbox. For each of the following bullets, I submitted feedback to the Inbox team. If you agree with any – please submit it too, so the issue gets the attention it needs!

  1. Attachments are shown as big icons in the main view. They take a lot of space, but produce very little value… Especially on mobile!
  2. Not clear how to modify bundles. Couldn’t figure out how to move a specific mailing list from the “Forums” bundle to a dedicated one.
  3. Feature request: Allow “snoozing” also outgoing emails (e.g. “remind me to followup on this if no reply within X”). Like Boomerang.
  4. Feature request: Support scheduled outgoing email (e.g. “send this email / reply at X”). Like Boomerang.
  5. Support Google Apps domains! Why is it too much to ask?? O_o

To submit feedback, scroll to the bottom of the sidebar, click “Help & Feedback”, and “Send Feedback”.

I also encourage you to share your feedback that I didn’t cover!

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