Categories
Productivity Setup

Moving to Windows

Repairability has become a big part of my decision making when I buy new devices these days. I don’t know much about electronics, but learning to make minor repairs on my iPhoneAndroid, and Roomba made me realize that I could easily give new life to old and hobbling tech. It felt good to keep something going, and I’m hoping that this will help save me money and reduce my e-waste in the long run. So, when it came time for me to find a new laptop, I wanted to make sure that there was a chance for me to at least swap out a few components if I needed to. 

I’ve been a Mac user for many years now, so I thought it made sense for me to do some research on the latest MacBook Pro laptops first. I was hoping that the newest MacBooks would be just a little bit modular, but I wouldn’t be writing this if it did, would I?

I found out that the new MacBook Pros only scored an abysmal 1 out of 10 on iFixit’s reparability rating. I had a feeling because the MacBook that I have right now also scored a 1 out of 10! Apparently, they’ve all had terrible scores since 2012. They have everything soldered and glued together which meant that I wouldn’t even be able to upgrade the drive or RAM if I wanted to. It was clear that I was going to have to leave macOS if I’m adamant about getting a repairable laptop. (There are repairable Macs out there, but they’re desktops and not laptops. The Mac Mini scored a 6 out of 10, and the Mac Pro scored an amazing 9 out of 10! But even if I wanted a desktop, a Mac Mini is too underpowered for work, and the Mac Pro is almost too excessive.)

Trying it out

I wasn’t sure if I could even pull off moving to another OS. I knew that I wouldn’t be able to use Linux for work, but could I move to Windows? I didn’t have fond memories of Windows growing up. I remember spending a lot of my time on Windows XP defragging the hard drive and removing malware that I downloaded from LimeWire. (I learned that Dani California.mp3.exe wasn’t actually a song.)

I thought that the best way to know was to try it out. So, I committed to using Windows 10 on Bootcamp for a week to see if it was any good. I told myself that if it didn’t work out, I could just get a Mac like I always did.

After a week, I was surprised at how good Windows actually was. A lot of the things that I enjoy on the Mac are now on Windows like virtual desktops, Do-Not-Disturb mode, Spotlight-like search, a screenshot annotation tool, an emoji picker, and even a Unix environment! Past Me would have laughed at the ridiculous idea of Microsoft creating a Linux compatibility layer on Windows.

Programs

Most of the apps I use are fortunately cross platform. Figma Desktop, Krisp.ai, Arq, TiddlyWiki, VSCode, and Zoom all work the same way on Windows. For everything else, I had to do some work to find alternatives. Here’s where I moved to:

I’m sad that nothing really comes close to a Fantastical alternative on Windows. The built-in calendar is fine to manage both my personal and work calendars, but it’s missing a lot of the features that I use. It doesn’t have calendar groups/sets, and it doesn’t understand natural language. Typing in “Order chicken wings every Friday at 7pm” just won’t work on Windows.

The repairable laptop

I was convinced that Windows was good enough for my day-to-day work, so I went ahead and got a Dell XPS 17. Its slightly smaller counterpart got a 9 out of 10 on iFixit, and it’s got some good reviews online, too. I’ve been using it for a week now as I’m writing this, and I’m loving it.

I’ll still have my old MacBook Pro around to use from time to time (looking at you, Principle and Rotato), so I won’t be 100% on Windows. There’s also a lot to look forward to on the Apple side. They recently released their environmental progress report, and they talk about making it easy for people to repair their devices. I hope to one day see more repairable laptops from them.

Categories
Productivity Setup

Working with TiddlyWiki on iOS

I’ve been using TiddlyWiki for two months now, and I’m amazed at how versatile this piece of software is. Since it’s able to weave together all the disparate parts of my life, it’s become my go-to notebook for almost anything. I’ve become dependent on it for documenting and understanding my life.

But if TiddlyWiki is going to be my notebook for everything, I have to get it to work on my phone, too. I’ve been hesitant about it because I assumed that it would be a pain to work on WikiText without a keyboard, but it didn’t end up being as bad as I thought it would be. I also like that I get to look things up on my wiki while I’m away from my computer.

The first thing that I needed to do to get set up on my phone was to get an app called Quine. Even though TiddlyWiki is just an HTML file (there’s no server component here), saving can be a bit of a pain because browsers don’t allow websites to write directly into files. Quine is a modified browser specific for TiddlyWiki that lets you bypass that restriction.

Next, I needed to figure out how to sync the wiki between my computer and my phone. The simplest solution is to drop the wiki into a service like iCloud, Dropbox, or Resilio and call it a day. Any changes that I make on my phone would automatically sync with my computer and vise versa. If you’re thinking of doing this yourself, this might be good enough for you! Dropbox even lets you recover old versions of the file if you ever needed to revert back to them. 

But I wanted more control over my backups. I want to have the freedom to tweak the code and try out new themes and plugins without worrying about breaking my wiki. I wanted version control. I wanted Git on my phone.

I didn’t know if it was even possible to use Git on iOS, but I did a quick search and found Working Copy. All I had to was to link my GitHub account and point it to the right repository. GitHub now offers unlimited private repos for free, so I’ve taken advantage of that for backing up my wiki. Working Copy downloads the repo to my phone, and it makes the files available to third-party apps like Quine. 

While this is not as convenient as using Dropbox, it makes me feel more confident about my wiki’s integrity in the long run. I’m excited about this setup, and I hope I can keep this going in the years to come.

Categories
Productivity

Customizing TiddlyWiki

I’m starting to love the process of journaling and note-taking on TiddlyWiki. Being able to weave my ideas, notes, and experiences together easily has been a bit of a game-changer for me. Who knew that a wiki would be so useful in my day-to-day life? The downside of using TiddlyWiki is that it’s not exactly what I wanted out of the box. I had to put in some effort and tinker to get it to work well for me because it felt like it was missing some of the features that I needed. Here are the plugins and tools that I’m currently using that make TiddlyWiki more of a joy to use:

1. Stroll. As I mentioned in “Hello, TiddlyWiki,” the cool thing about Stroll is that it adds bi-directional links to my documents. It means that if I make a “Nintendo” link in a document called “Animal Crossing,” “Animal Crossing” will end up creating a link back to “Nintendo,” too. This lets me see all the relationships between my documents. For example, it can tell me when I played Animal Crossing and the people that I played with on that day.

2. TiddlyDesktop. TiddlyWiki is a single HTML file that somehow has everything it needs inside of it. I’m not just talking about the JS and CSS—it has all my documents and images inside of it, too. There’s no database, there’s no server, and there’s no use of browser storage either. Each document that you make ends up being a part of the HTML itself. It’s a crazy yet brilliant way of creating a self-contained program. It pulls this off by being a quine. This means that TiddlyWiki’s source code and data can be viewed and modified within TiddlyWiki itself. However, the downside of being an HTML file is that you can’t write to the local filesystem directly. People have created different solutions for getting around this, but I think my favorite is TiddlyDesktop. It’s a specialized browser that makes saving wikis less awkward and more natural for people.

3. Whitespace Theme. The default theme that comes with TiddlyWiki is a bit too spartan for me, so finding a nicer coat of paint on an app that I use all day makes a difference. You can find a few more themes here.

4. Favorites. I have documents that I frequently go back to, and the Favorites plugin is perfect for pinning them on the side.

5. Project Manager. I’ve been using TiddlyWiki to track my article reading list, book reading list, and some of the ideas that I have for my blog, and the Project Manager plugin has been perfect for that.

I’m still learning as I go, but I’m pretty content with my current setup. The only thing that I’m anxious about is performance: since everything is in a single HTML file, are things going to get slower in a few months or years? In this video, the creator says that 100MB wikis are still fast, but I’m curious about the limits of large web apps. I guess we’ll find out!

Categories
Productivity

Hello, TiddlyWiki

I’ve used a lot of apps throughout my life to help me remember things, collect ideas, and generally make sense of the world. Most recently, I’ve been using:

  • Browser bookmarks for saving recipes, repair manuals, and design resources.
  • Day One for journaling about my work and personal life.
  • Notes.app for jotting down notes on meetings, books, and conference talks.
  • Monica for keeping track of social interactions with people.
  • Reminders.app for my personal tasks.
  • Notion for planning and research.
  • Airtable for tracking TV shows, movies, and books that I’ve seen and read.

But because the information is stored in a lot of different places, I find myself copy-pasting content between each of them. Whenever I call a friend, I’d find myself writing the same entry in both Day One and Monica. Whenever I’m doing some research, I’d find myself both bookmarking websites and pasting the same URLs in either Notion or Notes.

It often bothered me that I had duplicates of the same thing in different tools, but I assumed that it’s just how things are. Fast forward to last week when I heard about Roam from my coworker. I thought it was a tool for academics, and I didn’t understand how it would be useful for me. I did some more research on how other people use it, and it convinced me that this is the tool that I could use for all my journaling, note-taking, researching, and list-tracking needs!

I was excited, so I signed up for an invite. I waited for a couple days, but I grew impatient. Fortunately, my restlessness took me to an open-source alternative to Roam that’s been around for 15 years: TiddlyWiki. It’s a whole wiki in a single HTML file. There are no servers to set up, and there’s nothing to pay for either.

It isn’t quite like Roam, but I did find Stroll (formerly TiddlyBlink) through Ness Labs. It’s a version of TiddlyWiki that’s more Roam-like, and I think it suits me perfectly. It can be a bit clunky at times, but it gets the job done. Here are my current use cases:

Recipes

Journaling is already built-in, and it’s central to the whole philosophy of Roam and Stroll. Each date is a journal entry, and you sort of branch off of that to link to other pages. For example, I can write about making sautéed sardines in the morning and then link that to a [[Sautéed Sardines]] article which can house the recipe itself or a link to it.

Personal CRM

My journal entries eventually end up having people in them, so I’ve found that it’s also an easy way to build a list of people that I care about. I simply put people’s names in [[*]], and their pages will get made on the fly. Since it’s just a file on my computer, I feel at ease about the privacy implications of writing about my social interactions.

Notes

I’m starting to see the value of having everything in one place. I could make a document in TiddlyWiki called [[Cognitive Bias]] and link all the other documents that have a relation to that topic:

  • The idea of [[Confirmation Bias]]
  • The book [[Design for Real Life]]
  • The webinar called [[Design for Cognitive Bias]]
  • An article online called [[The Cognitive Biases Tricking Your Brain]]

I’ve only started using TiddlyWiki, but I’m hoping that having interconnected notes would help me understand a topic more.

Next Steps

Using TiddlyWiki is still an experiment for me, but so far it’s been working well. The areas where it falls short are:

  • Collaborating: I can’t use TiddlyWiki if I wanted to collaborate with people.
  • Tasks: As far as I can tell, I can’t do recurring tasks or attach dates to them so I’m sticking with Reminders for my tasks.

Other than that, it has the potential to combine browser bookmarks, Day One, Notes, Airtable, Notion, and Monica so the upside looks good if it does end up working.

If you’d like to try out TiddlyWiki, I found this tutorial to be a good start.

Categories
Productivity

After-hours Setup

I used to ignore anything that looked like responsibility. I didn’t read my mail, I often forgot about appointments, I didn’t plan ahead, and I could never tell where my money was going. Although my strategy surprisingly worked for a couple of years, I eventually reached a tipping point where I was spiraling with guilt and mounting obligations. I’m happy that I’ve gotten to work on my ostrich-like hangups on life admin since then, and I think—for me at least—having the right software tools have helped along the way.

I often see people writing about the tools that they use to get their work done, but it’s rare for me to see much of anything on how people manage their lives outside of work. I’ve been reassessing my setup recently, so I thought I could share the things that have been working well for me and the tools that I’m currently playing around with.

You Need A Budget

In the past, I would budget my money by adding up all my recurring expenses each month and subtracting the total from my income. I’d put down the result as money that I’m allowed to spend. I figured that whatever is left behind after that can turn into my savings. It seemed like a good system: it was simple, and I didn’t have to do it that often.

But reality was very different. It felt like there was always that one “emergency” that would throw a wrench into the whole thing: a doctor’s appointment, going out to dinner with friends, a subscription that I forgot about. So even though I had a great system in place (I didn’t), I still couldn’t manage to put money towards my savings or my credit card debt. So I gave up and figured that I was just bad with money.

I forget how, but I came across an app called You Need A Budget around two years ago. I had a hard time using it at first because I couldn’t wrap my head around the philosophy of only budgeting the money that I currently have. I also struggled because I didn’t understand that I needed to be proactive with budgeting. I didn’t know that I had to:

  • Actively look at what’s left of my budget to guide my decisions
  • Figure out what categories I needed to prioritize
  • Plan and set goals
With YNAB, you can only budget the money that you already have.

But after a couple of failed attempts, I eventually joined their workshops and learned how to use the app. I’m not going to go into detail about its features (there’s a bunch), but the gist is that it’s super useful for life admin. Those “emergencies” that I talked about earlier? They’re basically things that YNAB helps me prepare for. If I know that I’ll be getting my wisdom teeth removed soon, I can start putting money towards a category called “Oral Surgery.”

I also have a thing called a “wish farm” to budget my discretionary money into categories like future travel or a pair of boots.

Fantastical

I couldn’t find a single calendar event before 2016, so I don’t really know how I managed to remember things before that year. I think I had this idea that calendars were only for very busy people. Normal people like me, I thought, don’t really have a use for it outside of work. Unfortunately, I wasn’t any good at keeping tabs on my appointments and get-togethers. I realized that computers were a lot better at remembering dates than I am.

I have my calendar hosted on Fastmail, and I started to use it a lot more when I found Fantastical. I think what got me to use it was how ridiculously easy it is to add an event in the calendar. Basically, you just type in “Water plants every other Friday” and it’ll automatically create a recurring event just for that. It suddenly made remembering events easy for me to do.

Fantastical removes some of the friction from creating events.

One other feature that I love about Fantastical is that it lets me bundle calendars into different sets. This means I can switch between different contexts throughout the week:

  • A set that just shows my personal calendars. (Perfect for weekends or when on holiday.)
  • A set that just shows my work calendars. (This gives me an overview of my work.)
  • A set that combines personal & work calendars. (This is usually my view during the week because, naturally, I don’t want to miss any work meetings or personal appointments.)

Reminders

I don’t have any complex to-do list requirements, so I’ve found popular apps like Things and Todoist to be a bit too much for my personal needs. I didn’t think it was worth paying for features that I wasn’t going to use. Paper, on the other hand, is often inconvenient to carry around and to write in while I’m on the bus or train or at the grocery store.

I was doing some research on to-do lists, and it turns out that most calendars already support simple task management. I thought this would be great at first because the bulk of my tasks are basically events that I want to check off like “Take the trash outside at 9pm every Monday” or “Change out your contact lenses every two weeks.” The downside is that it the more tasks I made, the more cluttered my calendar looked.

The solution for me was to switch to Apple’s built-in Reminders app. It actually syncs with my calendar on Fastmail which meant that I didn’t have to migrate my tasks over to another system.

Reminders makes it easy to for me to create to-do lists that sync with my calendar.

To-do lists are at the heart of my life admin because I would forget a lot of things if I didn’t have it. It has a lot of those recurring items that I used to forget like paying off my credit card every month or taking the compost bin out. Since it’s also on my phone, it’s also really useful for remembering those responsibilities that bubble up when I’m commuting. “Oh yeah I need to get some onions for dinner later.”

Monica

In the past, Facebook was my contact list. I could message friends easily, I could hop on a video call with them, I knew what people were up to, and I knew if their birthdays were coming up. It worked pretty well up until I stopped using Facebook. And at that point, I didn’t realize just how much I relied on it for keeping in touch with friends.

Fortunately, a friend told me about this website called Monica. It’s basically a CRM but without all the business-y language around it. I managed to use it for a couple of months, but my motivation died out soon after.

I tried Airtable for a little bit, but that ended up being even more work. I just wanted something that didn’t require me to build the scaffolding so that I could get on with the actual work. So recently, I started using Monica again, but now I also have a reminder to update it every other day so that I don’t forget about it. I also made it into a “desktop app” using Fluid, so that I’m reminded of it whenever I’m on my computer.

It’s too early for me to say if it’s working for me, but I’m glad that there’s a way for me to keep track of when I last hung out with someone, the names of their pets, and the things that we talked about. It’s almost a complement to my journal. I also appreciate that I get reminders from Monica that basically says, “Hey, you should really keep in touch with this person.”

That’s it

You made it! The invisible work of life admin isn’t glamorous, but thanks for letting me geek out and reading all the way to the bottom. If you have tools that you use to manage your daily life, I’d be happy to hear about it.