Using Email Filters To Replicate Some Of HEY’s Approach

This isn’t a review of HEY, the new email service from Basecamp. I gave it a shot and while impressed, I opted to stick with my current setup (Fastmail). The main reasons I stuck with Fastmail was that I prefer having choice with which email client I use, and going with HEY requires you to go all-in on their mobile and desktop “apps” due to the unique nature of how they filter and display email. This means using any old IMAP client is off the table.

However, after giving the trail a shot for a few weeks, I took a fresh look at how much non-important mail I get every day. None of this is groundbreaking, but over time I let the signal to noise ratio of my inbox get way out of hand. I’ve used this opportunity to reclaim some sanity.

I already use the VIP mail feature on my phone and computer to allow notifications for a small subset of folks in my contact list. This keeps notification volume low, but HEY’s approach to screening out receipts, newsletters and other non-important email into their own areas of the app got me to thinking about how I could recreate this in Fastmail.

First up, I created a rule that sends newsletters to my Feedbin account so I can read them in my RSS reader when I’m already going through news. I simply add the sender address to a list and if it matches, it forwards to the special Feedbin email to add it to my reader and then deletes it from my email account. This had the great side effect of clearing up hundreds of old emails from my Archive.

Second, I filtered based on any email with the word Receipt in the title, as well as from some key senders. These get labeled as a receipt, marked as read, and put into a folder.

The one thing I’d like to be able to do is create a filter for first-time senders to allow me to quickly make a decision like you can with HEY. Unfortunately, I haven’t been able to think of a way to do that without adding every sender to my address book, which I’d prefer not to do.

I’m hopeful that HEY’s approach causes email vendors to innovate more going forward. Ideally, Fastmail, Gmail and others could add similar functionality to screen emails from new senders and ask the user if they’d like to add the email to an existing filter, block them entirely, or create a new rule.

Revenge of the Suburbs

From Ian Bogost at The Atlantic:

But after the anxious spring of 2020, these defects seem like new luxuries. There was always comfort to be found in a big house on a plot of land that’s your own. The relief is even more soothing with a pandemic bearing down on you. And as the novel coronavirus graduates from acute terror to long-term malaise, urbanites are trapped in small apartments with little or no outdoor space, reliant on mass transit that now seems less like a public service and more like a rolling petri dish.
The pandemic will improve suburban life, perhaps in lasting ways. Take the automobile commute: The exodus from the office has dramatically decreased traffic and pollution, a trend that will continue in some form if even a fraction of the people who abandoned their commutes continue to work from home. Dunham-Jones, who is also my colleague in Georgia Tech’s college of design, thinks that even a modest rise in telecommuting could also increase the appeal of local walking and bike trips. Families have two cars, but nowhere to go. They are rediscovering the pleasures of pedestrianism.
[…]
Multigenerational households represent a modest increase in density, and they can make quarantine more tolerable on top of it. The summer is upon us, but camps are largely closed and ordinary family activities have been substantially disrupted. The spring lockdowns also proved that working from home while facilitating children’s remote schoolwork is extremely challenging. Intergenerational households offer more hands and eyes to watch the kids or manage mealtimes made incompatible by overlapping schedules. Schools have always been a huge driver of residential real-estate sales, and even a modest increase in online learning could shock the market. Economic pressure may encourage consolidation of some families into bigger but more populous single-family homes, while decoupling home values from school districts even somewhat could make them more affordable.

Living in the suburbs is a mixed bag as it’s always been – you trade things like culture, collectivism, walkability and energy efficiency for a longer commute, more space (but more isolation) and (often) better schools. However, I’m hopeful that this pandemic has shown us there’s possibility to find a middle ground now that more folks are working from their homes and helping educate from the comfort of our house. If we’re lucky, residents in suburban areas will look to invest more in their local communities and build them into places that might make those longer commutes less necessary. If we can move to a world where remote work is accessible for more folks, suburban and exurban communities can be more sustainable.

I try to remind myself daily how lucky we are to have a setup like we do – we have an office that I can work remotely out of, (mostly) uninterrupted during the day. Our kids can complete their schoolwork in the basement. We have a fenced in back yard that the kids can play in as well. So generally speaking the quarantine has been “easier” for our family than the average apartment dweller.

To our YouTube TV members: an update to our content and price

From the Youtube TV blog:

As we continue to evaluate how to provide the best possible service and content for you, our membership price will be $64.99. This new price takes effect today, June 30, for new members. Existing subscribers will see these changes reflected in their subsequent billing cycle on or after July 30.

I get that the content business is a cutthroat, low margin world. But we’re slowly getting into cable prices – which defeats the entire purpose of services like YouTube TV and Hulu Live TV.

Welcome to the 21st Century

From Tim O’Reilly:

Our failure to make deep, systemic changes after the financial collapse of 2009, and our choice instead to spend the last decade cutting taxes and spending profusely to prop up financial markets while ignoring deep, underlying problems has only made responding to the current crisis that much more difficult. Our failure to build back creatively and productively from the global financial crisis is necessary context for the challenge to do so now.

I enjoyed this article so much. O’Reilly talks a lot about how the future won’t be be just like the past, and we should be thinking about what changes this new world we’ve living in will require of us so that we don’t just revert back to our old habits. What will be gone or changed forever? Travel, large-scale events, privacy, health care and work-from-home are all certain to be transformed. But how? And what new things will emerge?

My fear is that this article assumes we’ll handle the Covid crisis and learn from that experience. Instead, it’s looking more and more like a preview of how America and much of the western world might handle coming climate crises. We won’t – can’t? – work collectively on big problems as a nation any more and that’s a huge danger to both our political system and our planet. But it’s not all doom and gloom. I am hopeful that changes to attitudes and tools for working remotely will create a more equitable job market. That will in turn allow communities across the nation to be destinations for remote workers.

For us to emerge as strongly as possible from Covid and not be left behind by the rest of the world as they recover, we’ll need to see more planning and strategic thinking from our local and national leaders, however. Businesses are doing their part, but our nation is rudderless.

Liverpool – Champions of England

The story of my soccer fandom in general and in particular that of Liverpool FC isn’t particularly novel.

Like a lot of Americans, I started watching the Premier League when NBC acquired the rights to stream games back in 2013, and I actively committed to staying neutral – just watching the big games and trying to appreciate the fact that I could watch sports on weekend mornings. In fact, it wasn’t until after Liverpool signed Jurgen Klopp to manage Liverpool in late 2015 that I really found a team that piqued my interest. The style of play that he had a reputation for at Dortmund – a frenetic, ‘heavy metal football’ style of counterpressing – was just what a relative soccer novice like myself was drawn to. Like most Americans, our first reaction when watching soccer is often focusing on the lack of scoring and dismissing the entire enterprise as boring. A team that scored a lot of goals, created disruption and gave up a ton of goals in the process was just what the doctor ordered.

At the time, they weren’t front runners (finished top 8 in 15-16), but were big enough to be on TV a lot. That was kind of the sweet spot for me. My initial decision was very surface level (style of play, TV availability, even uniform colors), but that would quickly change. The more I watched Liverpool and learned about the players and their past, the more I was drawn in. They’ve had so many legendary players wear the shirt and have experienced an amazing number of highs and lows over their 120 year history as a club. I became kind of obsessed with watching old games on YouTube and reading up on legendary managers and players to gain a deeper understanding of the team. The more I learned about the team, I also learned about the city’s long English title drought. The top flight league in England wasn’t even called the Premier League when they last won!

Liverpool have been tantalizingly close over the past few years, nipping at the heels of one of the best teams in the history of the sport (Manchester City was the first team to get 100 points in a top-flight season). In the process, the team has bought and sold a number of players to slowly build their quality and depth, while shoring up their defensive weaknesses. Going into last year, most folks thought that it could be the year that they finally knocked off City and took the crown. They fell one point short. One point!

Missing by that much, 12 months after losing the Champions League final, could have done some teams in. Or it could kick off a run that will be something I’ll surely remember for the rest of my life. Since losing out to Manchester City at the end of the 18-19 season, Liverpool advanced to the Champions League final after being down 3-0 to Barcelona in the semifinals, winning 4-0 at home. It was one of the most remarkable comeback wins you’ll ever see. The fans singing You’ll Never Walk Alone after that game will forever be etched in my mind:

They would go on to beat Tottenham in the final 2-0 and win their first European championship in over a decade.

The 19-20 Premier League season will be remembered for the Covid stoppage and games without the fans but it’s important to not forget the absolutely insane run Liverpool has been on up to this point:

  • 86 points after 31 games (best ever in top-flight history)
  • 1/19 – 2/20: 44 match PL unbeaten streak (2nd best in top-flight history)
  • 10/19 – 2/20: 18 straight PL wins (joint best in top-flight history)
  • Won 2019 Champions League, UEFA Super Cup, FIFA Club World Cup
  • 2019-20 Premier League Champions (earliest title win in top-flight history)

So for me, a relative newcomer to all of this, to feel so much after seeing this team finally win the Premier League helps me to understand what so many lifelong fans must be going through right now. It’s not how we might have wanted, but somehow it’s perfect.

Graham, Cotton, Blackburn Introduce Balanced Solution to Bolster National Security, End Use of Warrant-Proof Encryption that Shields Criminal Activity

From the United States Senate Committee on the Judiciary:

The Lawful Access to Encrypted Data Act is a balanced solution that keeps in mind the constitutional rights afforded to all Americans, while providing law enforcement the tools needed to protect the public from everyday violent crime and threats to our national security. The bill would require service providers and device manufacturers to provide assistance to law enforcement when access to encrypted devices or data is necessary – but only after a court issues a warrant, based on probable cause that a crime has occurred, authorizing law enforcement to search and seize the data.

I don’t expect our elected officials to understand every little detail of how something like encryption work, but legislating that companies keep backdoors defeats the purpose of encryption and privacy.

Tech companies are already helping when a warrant is provided. As an example, Apple already provides a ton when asked to by law enforcement. Eliminating encryption is a bridge too far.

WWDC 2020 Initial Thoughts

The WWDC 2020 “pandemic edition” is now behind us, and it was one of the better ones I’ve seen in quite some time. Apple announced a lot in the 2 hour presentation, with iOS and MacOS getting the bulk of the attention this year. What follows is a quick rundown of my thoughts after watching the keynote last night. If you want to dive deep, you should follow MacStories this week. They have a ton of content already.

Overall

  • The presentation style was great – it was tight, dense and well paced. Some of the zooming around campus stuff was kinda cheesy, but I approve of most of the dad humor they use these days. Hopefully this is the future of the keynote, although I doubt it.
  • The Music app seems to be getting way better search, filtering within lists and a redesigned start view that will replace “For You”.

iOS

iOS got a TON of attention this year. I was very impressed with this part of the presentation.

  • The App Library looks fantastic. I’ll be hiding everything but my first screen when iOS 14 is out.
  • The “Smart Stack” suggested widgets on your home screen could be neat … but so could the Siri watch face on the Apple Watch.
  • I hope App Clips catch on. Can’t wait to delete a lot of the parking & other one-off apps from my phone. The restaurant specific pages within an app like Yelp is interesting.
  • Based on the screenshots I saw during the presentation, it appears that the Apple notes texture background is gone!
  • The Siri redesign looks fantastic. I’m interested to see if the Siri enhancements are only skin deep, however. The on-device changes to dictation will hopefully speed things up so my voice command to turn off the lights don’t need to go to space and back.
  • Maps got cycling directions! I hope a basic version works everywhere at launch as I don’t live in a big city. I’m more interested in time/elevation data for when planning a bike ride.
  • Tons of Messages group chat enhancements, pinning convos, threading and mentions. And all on the Mac.
  • Emoji search!
  • 3rd party email and browser support should spur more innovation in those areas.
  • The minimal incoming call UI is much-welcomed.
  • In iOS 14, when apps ask for access to your Photos app, you can give them access only to select photos rather than the entire Photo Library.
  • Dictation is now on-device. I hope this is also for Siri commands in general.

iPadOS

iPadOS got some updates, but nothing like last year. That said, if we can even seen incremental additions yearly that are very iPad-focused, I’m okay with that.

  • Apple Pencil features – shape detection and copy/paste from written text will increase my pencil use by a lot.
  • FaceTime eye correction
  • Doesn’t appear that iPadOS will allow the app library or widgets along with the grid. Why?
  • Adding sidebars and context menus alone will help those in the “desktop replacement” crowd.
  • The search changes look fantastic.

MacOS

The highlights of this part of the presentation was the iPadification of the UI/UX, and the announcement of the ARM … err “Apple Silicon” … transition.

  • The new macOS UI looks really nice. Appreciate Apple brining things together but allowing each platform to do its own thing.
  • Catalyst updates are appreciated, but it still has so far to go. I feel like some developers might just skip the whole thing and put their iPad apps in the Mac App Store once the ARM transition is in flight.
  • Some of the Big Sur Dock icons are … horrific.

WatchOS

  • Finally, you can add multiple complications from the same app.
  • The watch/iPhone wind down functionality integrated with sleep tracking and battery notifications seem to be exactly what I’m looking for. I think the market for sleep apps will probably need to evolve depending on how advanced the native functionality is, but apps that give more data ABOUT your sleep will probably surge. I love Autosleep, but if the built in stuff is better I’ll go with it.

Misc

  • tvOS got a lot of polish, especially around the Home integration. I’ve definitely tried to invest in HomeKit stuff around the house and am tempted to get a few cameras now that they’re more integrated with HomeKit.
  • The AirPods features look amazing. I’ll be curious to see how clever it tries to be, however. The accelerometer work to keep the surround sound in sync are mind-blowing. I have gen 1 AirPods Pro but I’m looking forward to getting some pros next year.
  • HomePod 3rd party music support! I hope they allow folks to set a 3rd party as default.
  • For time based shortcut automations a new toggle has been added. Now these kind of automations can be executed automatically without tapping on a notification first.
  • Did anyone else notice the small HomePod icon on one of the slides?
  • iOS 14 adds a new Accessibility feature that allows you to perform different actions by tapping on the back of your iPhone. For instance, you can make it such that when you double tap the back of your iPhone, you are taken to the home screen, or open the camera or even run a shortcut!
  • I heard the word “private” about a million times. I love that privacy has really become ingrained in every decision the company makes. Using ‘approximate location’ for weather apps that only need your zip code should help kneecap a lot of the tracking apps out there.
  • Speaking of privacy, it looks like tracker blocking support for app analytics and things like Google analytics is coming to iOS and MacOS.

How’d my wishlist fare?

About a month ago, I posted a wishlist for WWDC. How’d Apple nerd Christmas work out for me?

On first read, I think I got 5 iOS of the updates, 1 of the iPadOS updates, and 2 of the miscellaneous ones. Some will reveal themselves over time, but I’m still pretty happy with the first glance from yesterday’s keynote.

Craig Federighi on Apple’s WWDC privacy news

From Michael Grothaus at Fast Company:

“We think we’re showing the way to the industry, to the customer, that they can demand more–they should expect more–about the protection of their privacy, and that we can help move the industry into building things that better protect privacy.”

[…]

“I think the protections that we’re building in, to intimately say that the customer’s device is in service of the customer, not of another company or entity–the customer is the one who is in control of their data and their device–is what’s most compatible with human rights and the interest of society,” Federighi says. “And so that’s what we’re going to keep trying to support–our customers being in control of their privacy.”

Glad this is getting more mainstream attention. The biggest features mentioned in this article are:

  • Approximate location, sharing which quadrant of a worldwide grid you’re in, not your exact location. This is something that’s gotten more attention lately, and I’m really pleased they’re doing this.
  • Cross-tracking prevention. Advertisers and data brokers have used these techniques to build a profile on all of us over the years.
  • Categorized data that’s being tracked, broken up by “type” (up to 31 types!) in the App Store.
  • Better password security notifications
  • Enhanced tracker blocking in Safari
  • Enhanced Safari extension support and security controls around permissions
  • Camera and mic notifications to let users know when either are active
  • Photo selection security

I believe that Apple’s stance on this has moved Google and Facebook in a better direction when it comes to security and privacy. Regardless of your opinion on their products, you should be thankful they’re pushing so hard on this.

Apple, HEY, and the path forward

From the HEY blog (I really hate that name):

So we got down to it, and worked the weekend to get an update on Apple’s desk Monday morning. Our team did a great job implementing the product changes that Schiller asked for, and first thing this morning, right after we shipped 1.0.2 to our customers, we submitted 1.0.3 to the App Store for approval.

Glad to see some compromises are being made. I do hope this is the beginning and not the end, however. This is an opportunity for Apple to alter their rules to make the App Store better for developers and customers.

Tweaking my Daily Routine

Working from home for me has been an interesting test of some of my beliefs about how I like to get things done, how much of an introvert I am (very much), and what an optimal schedule stripped of things like a commute, errands and activities might look like. Obviously this won’t be “normal” forever, but I do believe there’s a strong possibility this carries for many months to come.

I’ve been coasting by so far on a fairly busy schedule with some structure, but I’m the sort of person who really thrives in a world that has as much clarity as possible. That’s only amplified when you have 2 school-age children and a puppy at home during the work day, only a few feet and one meltdown away from barging into your office at any moment.

I was thinking recently about how my daily routine has changed lately when I came across this post from Shawn Blanc about how he’s started getting up at 6am to write before starting his work day.

Michelle and I had been alternating days to wake up early with the kids and the dog, allowing the other person to sleep in. Sleeping in feels great, but it also has had a unfortunate but predictable side effect: I’ve been staying up later and later playing video games and generally screwing around. This has been fun – I’ve enjoyed playing with friends and having some decompression time at the end of the day. However, I’ve quickly gotten to the point where I’m heading to bed much later than I’d like. This means sleep-in days have helped me stay afloat at a minimum. Instead of getting ahead on my sleep, I’m running up a debt every night and barely paying it down a few days a week.

This also has the unfortunate side effect of making my days chaotic yet again. Because I need to sleep in to just feel refreshed, it means I have very little margin in my morning before meetings begin to do anything other than take a quick shower and head down to join a Zoom call. I didn’t like the way this made me feel, and decided I needed to evaluate how to leverage the benefits of staying at home better.

This week, I tried to make a small modification to my day, similar to what Shawn speaks about in his article. I’m now setting an alarm at 6:30 and getting up every day at that time. I’m able to read, write, and make coffee before the kids even wake up – starving for breakfast, video games, and whatever other chaos they can cause. I can ease into my workday as well – doing a daily review in Things, scanning Slack, Jira and my email before things really get going.

This small change has already made a huge difference in my mood as my days start out way less chaotic than they had previously. I never thought I’d enjoy working remotely but I’ve already decided that my next job, whenever that is, will need to be fully distributed. Going back to a commute, loud offices and those hectic mornings is going to be a rude awakening whenever “normal” happens again.