Warning: This post contains everyday language. It's one thing to be polite, but I need to stress the importance of the destruction of usability-apathy. There's no room to be nice here.
I was intending to do a decent post every day, but I got really burned out. Why? I've been struggling with several different programs over the last couple of weeks. I've been sick and tired of the clumsiness that my apathy has allowed.
I think everyone has a sort of apathy towards usability issues. We take them as excusable or as some sort of status quo "that's just the way it is". I'm sick and fucking tired of that. Seriously.
One thing that's pissed me off for a long long time now is how information is funneled from its various sources into my computer and my life. Let's face it. There is too much information. I'm way past "the cup is full" now. I'm sick and tired being inundated with "stuff". I can filter out a lot of the spam and advertisements. I can teach associates to learn to think rationally or at least fucking use snopes.com before passing along some dumbass chain letter. Well anyhow.. think about all of your different sources of that stuff. The big one is email.
I have all kinds of usability issues which aren't solvable with anything that I've heard of so far.
- How do I separate all my different sources of information?
The traditional way is by filtering emails into folders. This is a horrible pain in the ass to set up, and it should be automated by the client. GMail's webmail has emphasized a "search, don't sort" philosophy. That's a nice idea, but it really doesn't work for me, and I'm not sure why. Maybe I've become an old dog and I don't want to learn that "new" trick. For an email client, that philosophy cannot work. Actually that's not true. It could be possible to have hundreds of thousands of emails and work with them in a flat and filterable way. But it seems that all the old skills are bleeding away into obscurity. The same knowhow which let an 8088 open a file way bigger than its current memory is the same trick that would be needed to scroll through a infinite number of items in a list. Shit, I can't even alt-tab back and forth from claws-mail without lag.
- How do I identify important new items?
I suppose one would filter in a different way, and either have special folders or flagging or whatnot which could combine various sources into different views which you could value differently. Thunderbird can save your searches and have them listed alongside your folders, which is truly wonderful.
- What conversations have I participated in?
Filtering is damn difficult. I do threading and colour-code my own emails. This doesn't work with collapsed threads which I haven't started. Is it possible to colour the whole thread when I've had a single reply in it? Yep, with the new python extensions in claws-mail it might be possible.. if I pay someone to do it. It is nice that an email client can pay special attention to mailing list headers, but true value would be to automate that. A sort of automatically-filtered inbox that shuffles new stuff into folders where appropriate.
- What things should I follow up on?
Flagging/starring helps with this
- How do I handle importance? - Different kinds of labeling can help.
- When should I follow up on each thing? - Whoops, nobody thought of that.
How do I collect all that information all in one place while simultaneously separating all of my emails into different channels? - Damn, no chance for that without a disgusting amount of work. I've done this in claws-mail, but boy is is annoying to hack my own solution out of something universal when this is functionality which needs to be directly supported for it to be less obnoxious.
For people like myself, email has become a todo list of marked emails. Each of which is a gem which should be responded to, written up on or otherwise processed in some way. But there's no truly helpful way to get all those emails scattered through all those folders and assemble them into one todo list which has all the properties of a good todo list. Importance, urgency, context, time needed to process, etc. Flagging and colouring can certainly achieve some of this, but it's far from perfect, and yes I do demand perfection. With the horrifying amount of work processing all that email is.. I have todo emails which are over a decade old.
Email isn't even the only source of "stuff". Bookmarks are todo items. All those comics, blogs, video channels and whatnot are all individually interesting raindrops. But when combined together, those raindrops form an ocean of media. Sure some people can still swim, occasionally visiting bookmarks, but most of the ocean is cold and rough enough to drown you in mere minutes.
- Can Email, Bookmarks, personal scheduling and personal todo items be combined together into one global inbox?
Oh, how I dream the big dreams.
One of my seriously neglected sources of incoming media is RSS. I have many many feeds, all updated with varying frequency. Some of them are frequently updated and have moderate interest. But some of them are very infrequently updated or are important and need to be attended to. Nobody really thought of having one flat inbox of RSS feeds with the ability to prioritize certain feeds.
I've had a really terrible time working through how I can access all that RSS goodness. "Live Bookmarks" in Firefox? A gui client? A textmode client? A web service? I hate using web services, and all the clients I've seen are horrible in ways I won't describe here. Besides, I don't like the idea of having various different programs all open:
- web browser
- email client
- IRC client
- RSS client
- text editor / notes
- BitTorrent client
Boinc client or whatever else I've been playing around with lately.
Probably the coolest Peer-to-peer program I've ever seen was Konspire2b. You subscribe to a person's channel and the p2p automatically downloads and seeds. Go to bed and wake up with whatever new stuff your channel has. That's exactly how podcasts and any other media feed should work. Yes, I did use Konspire2b.. probably back in 2003.
A couple of years back I was big into YouTube videos. I had a huge subscription list and bookmarked all sorts of interesting stuff. But it became overwhelming. I had no way to manage my inbox. Over the last two years I've let my interest slide. But I learned that I can get those channels as RSS feeds:
Part of my interest in RSS was that YouTube's inbox functionality was absolutely unforgivably atrocious. It got a little bit better, but with me a little bit better from atrocious doesn't make me applaud. "Great", I thought. This RSS possibility could free me from the stupidity of a web interface on all that information.
Oh, as an aside.. I really despise web applications. I really despise all this "Web 2.0" proprietary lockdown of the information in websites. A website should only provide information, and the user's client should be responsible for presenting it to the user. This is a basic separation of content and style. Everybody knows this, and it's more or less how things began, but they became corrupted into the garbage that the interwebnets has become. Yes, I really do like Gopher (protocol).
When it comes to using the interwebnets, most of my "optimization" efforts involve scraping the data out and presenting it in a way that's comfortable to me. It's taking all the idiocy and beating the living shit out of it until it submits to my will or dies in the struggle.
YouTube's webmail-esque interface is idiocy. I want better access to the Videos, the relationships between videos, the comments and commenting. I don't like being locked into a little box with a parascope that someone else controls. RSS gave me hope. But the issue became dealing with yet another client.
I tried and tried until I finally gave up. But the notion popped into my head about getting those RSS feeds, scraping them and getting them as emails. Thankfully someone else has done this. But in the wonderful world of open source hobby programming.. it's done, it worked for the author and a select few, and fucked if I could figure it out.
Direct web access is stupid, RSS clients and services are stupid. While email clients (and services) still suck, at least email clients have a lot more user-side control. So therefore rss2email is essential to the way RSS information is retrieved and presented to the user. It's one thing to have any random software be far from imperfect, but when something so important to humanity exists as some sort of afterthought.. sigh.
So let's go over rss2email. First, I did notice that there was a lot of other stuff with a similar name. I saw some web services, which I promptly ignored; what a ripoff! It's also possible that I completely missed some other "awesome" program. If so, Contact Me. This is a simple set of Python scripts made in 2002 and last updated in 2004.
I can filter the installation instructions (on Unity Linux 64-bit beta2, updated 2010-02-15) down to this:
# -- optional locally-hosted web UI wget http://webpy.org/static/web.py-0.33.tar.gz tar xvvzf web.py-0.33.tar.gz cd web.py-0.33< su smart install python-distutils lib64python-devel python setup.py install cd .. wget http://lindsey.smith.googlepages.com/r2eui.tar.gz tar xvvzf r2eui.tar.gz cd r2eui # -- the above is optional # 2017-08-02 these instructions are obsolete. Get it from http://www.allthingsrss.com/rss2email/download/ wget http://rss2email.infogami.com/rss2email.py wget http://www.aaronsw.com/2002/html2text/html2text.py # 2017-08-02 - gone wget http://feedparser.googlecode.com/svn/trunk/feedparser/feedparser.py echo 'python ./rss2email.py ./feeds.dat "$@"' > ./r2e.sh chmod +x r2e.sh r2e.sh new
rss2email.py. The basic things to customize are:
DEFAULT_FROM = "email@example.com" HTML_MAIL = 1 TRUST_GUID = 0 DATE_HEADER = 1 VERBOSE = 1 SMTP_SEND = 1 SMTP_SERVER = "example.com:25" AUTHREQUIRED = 1 SMTP_USER = 'username' # for SMTP AUTH, set SMTP username here SMTP_PASS = 'password' # for SMTP AUTH, set SMTP password here
Example GMail configuration:
SMTP_SEND = 1 SMTP_SERVER = 'smtp.gmail.com:587' AUTHREQUIRED = 1 SMTP_USER = 'firstname.lastname@example.org' SMTP_PASS = 'password'
Example lavabit.com configuration
SMTP_SEND = 1 SMTP_SERVER = 'lavabit.com:587' # One of ports 25, 587, 2525, or 3535 AUTHREQUIRED = 1 SMTP_USER = 'email@example.com' SMTP_PASS = 'password'
Running the web UI
- In your browser, visit
- Add the feed.
- Set the default email address
r2e.sh email firstname.lastname@example.org r2e.sh add http://rss2email.infogami.com/blog/atom.xml r2e.sh run
It took me a long time to get the right settings. I even started goofing with different email providers, thinking that some security setting might be silently blocking my attempts to send email through one of them. Thankfully I found an example GMail configuration, and I was able to get the lavabit working.
And there you have it. Once a separately-managed media feed, RSS has been folded into email. Now managed like email, RSS can be flagged, filtered and prioritized. Well sortof.. email needs to be overhauled with a tire iron. Write personal comments on emails? Write one email with multiple recipients, and comments only sent to certain recipients? Emails as tasks? No wai! But that's a rant for another lifetime. I don't think humans are ready to change the way email works.
The web experience is being injected into emails (ugh, HTML email!) slowly, although proper in-email browsing isn't done yet. If anybody knows of a way to collapse multiple media channels into one, Contact Me. I know about some forum-to-email stuff which I should probably get into, since I prefer mailing lists over forums. But learning about other ways would be awesome.
My next task will be to finally get a textmode email client working. I'm so tired of this GUI nonsense. The slowness really pisses me off to no end.