I read/skim a lot of news on the internet and my current major problem is information retrieval. For a while I used a combination of Pinboard with Pocket, and later, Diigo with Pocket.
Eventually I realized that it was painfully hard to recollect something I’d come across a few months back. I don’t use too many tags and what really mattered was the full text search.
The other problem was link rot. For both reasons I wanted an archiving service that would cache the page and let me search through and see the content even if it disappeared down the line. Pinboard has one, but my next problem/solution was PDFs.
Files (PDFs) instead of links
I have a few 100 PDFs I’ve collected along the way. It would be a pain to upload each of them somewhere just to archive it. So the next option I investigated was one that would combine the two approaches. I already use Google Drive and the web interface has decent search functionality. What if I could archive my remaining bookmarks as PDFs and just dump them to my Drive?
And along the way.. Evernote
The last piece is with Evernote. I started using it sometime back and have already imported my bookmarks and PDFs to it, but at this point it only has the title, tags and url for the links. It has pretty decent full text search as well. I’ve started storing a lot of other notes to it, with cross-references to other notes and links.
Where do I go from here? Evernote is actually pretty good except for the nagging fear of what would happen if it ever shut down.
So my current hobby project has two pieces to it.
Import a bookmarks.html file and convert every link in it to a pdf. I’m picking python for this and have found weasyprint which seems to do the main conversion pretty well.
Once I have a few thousand PDFs in my filesystem instead of links, find a nice, cross platform way to search through them. Evernote still works perfectly fine here so I’m not too keen on doing this immediately.
In summary: Evernote is cool. The web clipper works great from browsers (not so much from the android app). The native windows client is pretty nice too, and its lightning fast to take a quick note and organize it later.
PDFs are probably going to be the main thing I’ll base my system on. I don’t have to depend on a closed-source service going down, nor do I have to worry about the source itself disappearing.
Having two kids can be hard on the wallet sometimes. And I’m never happy unless I’m switching browsers, servers, services or distros every few months. So my current effort has been to track all my online expenses and terminate them with extreme prejudice.
Here is a list of all the things I’ve been using, and what I decided to do with them. First, the ones I didn’t cancel:
The Browser – Still my favourite source for curated long reads.
Saavn – This is only Rs. 100 a month so I’m not saving much cancelling it. My favourite source for music streaming/download.
Google Drive – I pay $2 a month for 100GB, and this is too important to cancel. All my kids’ pics are here.
Gandi – They’re my registrar for this website. The site is hosted in blogger so that part is already free.
Lastpass – The next service I cancel will probably be this. But its not too expensive, and integrates pretty well with my lifestyle (multiple machines and phone), so I’ve become rather tied to it.
And here are the ones I have sadly had to cancel:
Fastmail – I moved back to gandi’s email service. The webmail is not that great but I can always use a dedicated client. I’ve also moved several newsletter subscriptions to my gmail account to reduce the traffic here.
ACM – I initially got this only for the safari account that came with it. But my best study time is during my commute, when I never have any connectivity. Cancelled.
Linux Journal – A decent magazine that I’ve been a member of for the past couple years.
Marvel Unlimited – A great service. But apart from the initial couple months, I’ve started using the service less and less.
rsync – I didn’t know I was still paying for this until I came across the recurring payment page in PayPal. Cancelled. Good service, but it didn’t fit in my workflow.
Newsblur – Another good service. I switched to a free alternative (Digg)
Magzter – Got a year’s worth cheap, but never really used to it. Magazines don’t look good on the phone screen. So many things to read, so little time!
HotStar – I got this only for Game of Thrones. They do have the Wire and a few other good HBO shows.
FSF – This one felt bad, because this is the only non-profit I donate to. But the $10 a month did add up to a lot more than many of the smaller ones in this list.
Digital Ocean – I had a VPS here for playing around with new tools. My web-to-email tools were also hosted here. A toy VPS is the hardest to part with 😦
AWS – My free tier expired so I got rid of this asap.
Not bad for a few days’ worth of digging around and moving stuff, I guess. I think I’ve saved around Rs 15000 30000 annually with this. But knowing my nature, it won’t be long before I slowly start resubscribing to some of these. A low end VPS is going to be high in that list.
I was addicted to Pocket for a few months because of how well it fit into my reading habits. It had an elegant extension that basically allowed you to click-and-forget while all the magic happened in the background. The service filters all the trash from a page (typically a long article curated by the likes of The Browser and Longform) and neatly synchronizes content with other endpoints (my Android tablet and phone in my case). This was great for my evening commute back home because I’d usually have half a dozen or so interesting articles to read in a neat, clean page.
My very addiction to the service is what led me to explore other alternatives. Poche is the one I discovered and eventually settled with. It works just like Pocket as far as the content display goes, the major selling point being its open source nature. The devs have come up with a hosted solution for those who don’t run their own servers. Although saving and displaying work similar to the alternatives, sync does not. Your articles will still be in your poche but the android app will not cache them offline as of now.
I’ve been running their self hosted version for more than a month and it has become a part of my daily routine now. I highly recommend supporting the devs for coming up with a great open source alternative in a niche that was largely proprietary until now.
Here’s a beautifully designed site: Mathigon. I’ve spent some time skimming through the content and it looks like a nice way to spend a few hours. The content is very nicely designed and there is a nice degree of interactivity as well.
I’ve noticed I’ve been pretty bored these past few months, and the most noticeable culprit has been the VPS that I stopped using some time back. I used to enjoy installing and trying out new web applications and servers. So I decided to get another one. This time I went with an OpenVZ server instead of Xen, and the provider I picked was Iniz, who I came across in this roundup at LowEndBox. The server is pretty neat, with 2GB RAM and 100GB of disk space. I’ve decided to go with CentOS, since I like Fedora/RedHat already.
It’s been a day since it was provisioned, and I feel the old skills returning: securing ssh, configuring iptables, installing postgres, setting up cron jobs, and so on. This blog will (as usual) probably be wiped out or moved to something on the server. Other webservices that I’ve been using (NewsBlur, Pinboard) will also probably move to self hosted equivalents (TTRSS, Shaarli).
So.. Prism was a wake up call. I’ve been looking to move to more privacy-centric sites for some time now, and this weekend I also decided to cut down on my spending at the same time. I’ve been spending close to $200 on my VPS, email hosting and domain every year. This seemed like overkill for a site that only I visited, although I found the VPS very useful for installing feed readers, analytics, and so on. Anyway, I couldn’t expect a transition to be completely pain free.
I’ve decided to cut back on services hosted in the US, so the VPS was the first to go. I’m now typing this on a free Gandi blog (who handle my domain already). I might switch over to a VPS at Gandi itself, once the dust settles down. The webmail was next: I have no complaints with Fastmail but I decided to move simply for reasons of cost. Gandi, again, has a simple mail service that I’ve switched to for now.
Both my VPS and email are paid up for a few more months so I can always switch back if the transition is too annoying. More importantly, I spent a few hours deleting my accounts in a ton of sites. Accountkiller was a very useful resource, as it tells you which sites require you to delete your data before removing the account, provides direct links to the account deletion page, and so on.