Using GMail Filters and Canned Responses to Level-up Your Laziness

Using GMail Filters and Canned Responses to Level-up Your Laziness

Recently, my wife and I got all gussied up and went to the symphony (they snuck me in the back door because I’m me). Because my good friend and brother-in-law is such a cool guy, he agreed to babysit our two kids for the evening.

We got home and he was curled up on the couch.

“I didn’t have the WiFi password.”

He wasn’t bummed, but I was bummed for him. Because I care, people.

Anyway, this happens somewhat frequently. People come to my house and they ask me for my WiFi password. No sweat really, but the password is long and complicated and I want to find a way to make them type it instead of me.

So I made a thing.

The Building Blocks of The Thing

GMail has a feature called Canned Responses. Basically, they’re pre-written emails that you can configure either quickly pop in as a reply to a message or send automatically using GMail’s Filters. I chose the latter for this particular case.

GMail has another feature (which, from what I’ve read, is available lots of places) which I’ll call the “+address feature”. I have no idea if it’s actually called that, but go with me.

Say your email address is poopfart@gmail.com. Just say. You can tell people your email address is poopfart+bunnies@gmail.com and any emails sent to that address will end up in your inbox. Spiffy.

But what you may not know, is that you can create filters based on these +address thingies. And filters can be configured to send canned responses. You may see where I’m going with this.

The Thing

To solve this problem of my guests not having my WiFi login information, I followed these steps:

  1. Created a new Canned Response in GMail containing my WiFi network name and password.
  2. Created a filter that will automatically reply with said Canned Response when people email a certain “+address”.
  3. There is no spoon.

Now, when my friends come over and ask for the WiFi info, I just tell them to email the special address and they’ll get the info in a few seconds.

Why You Might Think This is Stupid

That’s all fine and good, smarty pants, but if people don’t have WiFi, how are they supposed to send the email that gets them the WiFi information? Didn’t think’a that, didja!?

Actually, I did.

Because most of my friends are wealthy trust fund babies or whatever, they all have smartphones. And smartphones, as you may recall, don’t require WiFi to send and receive email. So, they send the email from their phone, get the WiFi info and plug it into their phone and computer. Boom.

Or you could just tell them the WiFi password, dummy.

Granted, but like I said earlier, my WiFi password is a super long string of characters that even I haven’t memorized. Maybe I’m being lazy, but programmers value laziness as a virtue.

Isn’t this inherently insecure?! What if some crazy hacker knob figures out the email address and gets your WiFi login!? Sheesh, you really are an idiot.

Two things:

  1. This person would have to be pretty crafty to guess my secret email address (and, yes, I know “security through obscurity” is dumb and irresponsible; sue me).
  2. This information is only valuable to people who are currently—or will soon be—within about a hundred feet of my house. I’m not a doctor, but I’m pretty sure this excludes almost everybody in the whole world.

How to Do The Thing

Assuming you still want to partake in this foolishness, here are the steps to create your own Thing. You’ll need a GMail account, by the way.

  1. Enabled Canned Responses in GMail Labs — In GMail, click Settings, go to the Labs tab and find Canned Responses. Click “Enable”, then “Save Changes” (at the top or bottom).
  2. Open a new GMail message and type whatever you want the Canned Response to say into the message body. When you’re done, click the Canned Responses menu and choose “New canned response”. Call it whatever you want when prompted for a name (I called mine “WiFi info”).
  3. Click over to Settings > Filters. Scroll all the way to the bottom and click “Create New Filter”.
  4. For the “To:” field, enter your super secret “+address”, then click “Continue”.
  5. Set the filter to automatically send the Canned Response and Archive the message.
  6. Pour the gin because you’re finished.

This little trick certainly has wider application, so let that big hefty brain of yours swim around in this little pool of awesome for awhile and see if you don’t come up with your own fancy implementation.

Anyway, I hope this is useful to you. Ping me on Twitter and let me know if it is (or isn’t).

photo by: pinguino
Killing Your Darlings

Killing Your Darlings

About a year ago, my pal Myke and I decided to start a podcast together called Cooking with Brett and Myke. We weren’t sure we’d have enough chemistry or potential topics to last us very long, but we went for it.

Yesterday, almost 50 episodes later, Myke and I recorded and published the final episode of Cooking with”¦. It’s something that I absolutely loved doing and, now that it’s over, I’m more than a little sad about it.

But it had to be done.

For various reasons, I recently decided that I needed fewer obligations. My family, my job and my little side business were all immovable and weren’t candidates for the chopping block. That left only a small number of things, including the podcast. So, it got the axe. And it sucks.

It’s super easy to speak hypothetically about killing ones darlings in the name of the greater good. And I know it was the right decision here. But, I still had to kill one of my darlings.

I’m not happy it’s over, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a little bit glad to have regained a few of my internal cycles.

Anyway, to everybody who listened and was in on all of the stupid jokes and tolerated my abominable accents, you have my sincere thanks. I don’t doubt that Myke and I will be clogging up the Internet tubes again someday.

For now, I’m comforted by an old proverb:

Don’t cry because its over, smile because it happened.

Oh, and if you enjoyed our show, do check out some of the other 70Decibels offerings. And tell Myke what a bang-up job he’s doing (because he really is).

photo by: sfgamchick
Today’s Recommended Reading: MacSparky and Read & Trust

Today’s Recommended Reading: MacSparky and Read & Trust

Reading is good. Especially when you’re reading great stuff written by smart people who really give a crap about what they’re saying. Here’s a couple things you might consider reading because they’re awesome.

60 Mountain Lion Tips

Not one to sit back on his Paperless laurels, my good pal David Sparks“”who I’m now convinced doesn’t actually sleep””has released another new ebook in his MacSparky Field Guide series. This one is a collaboration between Sparks and Brett Terpstra. It’s called 60 Mountain Lion Tips. If you buy the iBooks edition, you get all the fancy multimedia and formatting that is quickly becoming a hallmark of David’s work.

And he must have bumped his head or something because he’s only charging $7 for it. It’s got 53 separate screencasts with over 90 minutes of video. You should grab it (iBooks or PDF) before he realizes the mistake he’s made.

Read and Trust Magazine

Speaking of Capt. Sparks and Brett Terpstra, all three of us””as well as Matt Alexander of one37.net and David Chartier of, well, everywhere””contributed articles to this month’s Read & Trust magazine. The topic is productivity and it’s got some great stuff that I think you’ll enjoy. My article is in there, too!

Grab your copy of this month’s Read & Trust magazine (or sign up for a monthly subscription and you’ll get it automatically each month).

###

Have a great day, friends. Don’t forget to read awesome stuff. If you have suggestions for additional awesome stuff, give me a shout on Twitter.

A Text Expander Snippet that Simplifies Making Fun of Lazy People

I’ve built yet another Text Expander snippet that will probably be useful to almost nobody, but I find both useful and entertaining.

People ask lots of dumb questions (myself included). In many cases, such dumb questions could be answered with a quick Google search. Hell, the information you want might be in the search result description so you don’t even have to click through! Criminy!

When I am lucky enough to get one of these head-scratchers, I personally love to employ a site called lmgtfy.com, which stands for “Let Me Google that For You”. If you asked me how many US pints were in a US quart, I might send you this link. It’s hilarious and is also a fun way to tell your friends and loved ones to maybe take three seconds and search for the answer before bothering other people.

Before, I’d visit lmgtfy.com, type in the phrase I knew would produce the answer to the question I was being asked, and click the big button to generate the unique URL that I could send to my friend. Lots of steps, methinks. Not anymore!

I give you my Text Expander snippet to create a lmgtfy.com URL using whatever is in your clipboard:

And here it is as a Gist:

[gist id=3783860]

 

Yeah, yeah, looks great. How does it work, freak show?

Practical example: if I copied “proper cooked chicken temperature” to my clipboard and typed ;;lmg, it would print the following:

http://lmgtfy.com/?q=proper+cooked+chicken+temperature

Totally nifty, right?

Remember:

  • If you’re going to use this, make sure you choose “Shell Script” at the top of the Text Expander composer area. Otherwise, it won’t work.
  • (This software might cause your house to explode, hair to fall out or shirts to wrinkle as if for no reason at all. No warrantees, blah blah blah.)

The New Evernote Trunk (and a Birthday Present for You)

At the Evernote Trunk Conference in San Francisco (where I'll be sitting awkwardly when this post is published), our intrepid CEO Phil Libin announced the launch of the next generation of the Evernote Trunk. I played a small role in helping get this thing off the ground and I'm super proud of all of my coworkers who did most of the work.

And, as it happens, my 34th birthday is this Monday, August 27.

In celebration of these momentous occasions, I'm stoked to offer a special deal on my best-selling ebook, Evernote Essentials. From now until midnight (PST) on August 29 2012, you can get 20% off of my ebook with the coupon code OLDFART.

More than 15,000 smart, attractive people have used Evernote Essentials to jumpstart their journey to Evernote masterhood. Grab your copy now “” I think you'll dig it.

Oh, and just as a reminder, everybody who buys Evernote Essentials gets all future updates for free. I'm almost done with version 3.0 and let's just say that, if you have any interest in it, buying soon would be a very good idea. Ahem.

Thanks for reading, friends. ¡Viva la Evernote!

A Tale of Two Kickstarter Backings (and Lessons Learned)

About a month ago now (mid-July, 2012), I received my very own Touchfire keyboard thingie for the iPad. I had backed this project on Kickstarter in order to be one of the first to get one since, as regular readers probably know, I type on my iPad. A lot. The project funded on December 13, 2011. It doesn’t take frickin’ Descartes to figure out that the elapsed time between my credit card being billed and my receiving the product was roughly seven months.

Shortly after my Touchfire arrived, the Elevation Dock arrived at my door. I’ll admit that this backing was more based on “wow, that looks cool” than “wow, I could really use the crap out of that”, but that’s neither here nor there. This project funded on February 11, 2012, so the elapsed time between paying and receiving was slightly shorter (but still considerable, I think).

This taught me a few things about Kickstarter as it relates to companies who want to sell a physical product that hasn’t been manufactured yet, but first I want to give some quick thoughts about the products themselves.

Touchfire

Of the two products mentioned, this one was the more underwhelming. I’ve used it a bit and it does make typing on the iPad easier, but it creates a sort of cognitive dissonance. It feels (somewhat) like a hardware keyboard in that there are little squares beneath my fingertips, but it’s (obviously) not. I’ve been touch-typing since forever and when my fingers rest on a keyboard, I can quickly forget it’s there and just type.

This isn’t really the case with the Touchfire. All is well if I’m just typing “regular words”, but I’m constantly reaching down for the ⌘, ⌥ and ⌃ keys (like I do when typing on a Mac). In other words, my own efficiency with a regular keyboard is a hinderance to effectively using the Touchfire.

Of course, this would probably be rectifed after spending a sufficient amount of time with the Touchfire, but that’s my initial impression.

Other thoughts, in no particular order:

  • The Touchfire doesn’t hug the iPad magnets quite as strongly as I thought it would. It’s super easy to dislodge it from the screen or for it to quietly creep up a half-inch or so (and causing mistyped characters).
  • The magnetic dinguses (dingii?) that attach by adhesive to the Smart Cover feel pretty chintsy, as does the whole “roll it up with your Smart Cover when not in use” business. I just keep the Touchfire in the case when I think I might need it. Speaking of the case…
  • The case pretty much sucks. Getting the Touchfire (which wants to unfurl naturally) to stay put while closing the case is frustrating.

I don’t mean to totally crap on the Touchfire, honestly. They embarked on a difficult problem couched in a whole mess of constraints, so it’s unfair to dismiss it as a half-assed effort (except for the case “” that could have been done much better).

Elevation Dock

Aside from suffering from a serious amount of what I’ll call “interest attrition”””more on that in a second”” the Elevation Dock delivers on its sales pitch (mostly):

  • It’s every bit as hefty as you’d imagine by looking at the pitch video. It feels quite substantial. Me likey that part.
  • Swapping out the shorter USB cable for the longer one using the included Allen wrench and instructions was simple. My only niggle here is that you get awfully close to the guts and, in the hands of somebody with more enthusiasm than understanding, the chances of turning the thing into a costly aluminum brick are good.
  • My iPhone 4S slides out almost effortlessly. When I first set the Elevation Dock up on my desk, it would lift slightly off of the desk when I undocked my device and drop back down (not unlike the “other docks” vilified in their pitch video). Either my iPhone or the Dock itself seems to have worn a groove since this no longer happens, thankfully.

My only real issue with the Elevation Dock is””and, really, it’s a small one””is with the insertion of my iPhone into the Dock. It doesn’t slide in quite as easily as in the video, and you have to give it a little nudge to seat it properly. Hardly worth mentioning, I know, but there you go.

Kickstarter’s Interest Attrition Problem

With each of the two Kickstarter projects described above, I was a lot less excited about the product a couple of months after handing over my money. I don’t think this is uncommon, either.

Going back to the Kickstarter page and watching the pitch videos again did help revitalize my interest in the products as they got closer to shipping, but between the various production setbacks affecting them, I still found myself wishing I hadn’t spent the dough.

With that, I give you my Kickstarter Potential Backer’s Mental Checklist:

  1. Remember that, unless the wheels really fall off, you’ll be able to order the item once it starts shipping to backers. In other words, you’re probably not dealing with a “limited time offer”.
  2. Know that, when dealing with physical products that aren’t yet being manufactured, you’re going to be waiting awhile for the thing that you are considering supporting.
  3. If the project you’re thinking of backing has already wildly exceeded its funding goal, you’re probably going to wait even longer. Aside from it simply taking more time to produce 25,000 widgets than 1,000 widgets, these projects will often experience delays in material procurement, tooling and other manufacturing minutiae.
  4. For me, novelty and excitement have been key elements in my decision to support Kickstarter projects. Neither of these hold up well over time.

The Nature of Kickstarter

In many cases, Kickstarter projects are fueled as much by faith as by backer dollars. Most of these folks don’t know for sure if they’ll be able to hit their manufacturing and delivery goals, but they’re making the most educated guess they can. A lot of the time, though, it’s not unlike discovering a problem with your airplane shortly after takeoff that you must fix while in the air. Setbacks are to be expected “” you just need to make sure that you, the backer, have the stomach for them.

On Typing and Caring

If you write things, then write everything with care and attention.

Everything.

If you spend two hours meticulously crafting a blog post or six months editing your manuscript, don’t even think it’s alright to clumsily shit out a three-sentence email full of mechanical errors, typos and poorly-worded sentences just because your Mom is the only person who will ever read it.

What you write and share all reflects on you. Including emails to friends or coworkers, blog comments, even Tweets and the like. Take the time to do it right.

And it does take more time, certainly. But, so does doing anything the right way instead of the easy way. Funny thing is, you already know what the right way is. You just have to hold yourself to that standard 100% of the time.

Two things to keep in mind:

  • You never know when a hero of yours is going to happen upon something you’ve written.
  • If you always write to the best of your ability, then you’ll always be improving and you won’t need to decide to do something the right way. You’ll just do it. And, you’ll want to do it better.

If you want what you write to be taken seriously, then give a shit.

Everybody makes mistakes, but carelessness is as obvious as it is difficult to forgive.

Creativity in the Trenches

I’ll give it to you straight.

As I write this, it’s a Sunday afternoon and I’m sitting in my friend’s apartment (where there’s air conditioning, which my house lacks, and it’s 95F outside) trying to wrap up the third version of Evernote Essentials. I’ve been here since 8:15 this morning. I spent 8 hours here yesterday doing the same thing: writing, compiling, editing.

Yesterday went well. I wrote a lot of good stuff and I felt like the end was in sight.

Today, not so much.

I’ve read plenty of books on creativity and working and pushing yourself and treating the work like the almost-insurmountable beast that it is. And, man, I felt like I could turn over a Jeep with my bare mitts when I read them.

Right now, though, I’m sitting at this table in front of my computer. I’ve been trying to write for the last 5 hours and I’ve produced a grand total of about 400 usable words. Yesterday, I wrote over 3000 usable words and felt like a machine. For some reason, today, the words aren’t coming.

I could blame any number of possible mitigators for this unfortunate state: the heat, the lack of a break or maybe something to do with sleeping/eating/pooping or whatever. But, according to the books, these are the trials that cripple the “regulars”; the people that rely on inspiration and ideal conditions to create their best work. Not wanting to count myself among the ordinary, I instead sit here and wish and hope and will myself into the mode where I can actually write things that people will find valuable and want to read and that I don’t think is utter shit.

But, I can’t. Not now.

I don’t know if that makes me weak or if I don’t have “what it takes” or some other similar symptom of “ordinary”, but it just ain’t happening.

What it’s Like

When I was a younger kid, a pass through a doorway in my house always meant I would try to jump up and reach the door jamb. I would jump as high and as hard as I could and I longed to feel the tips of my fingers brush up against the wood that held our doors up. Sometimes my Dad would lift me up so I could feel the sensation. And, for much of my life, I couldn’t do it unassisted.

Sure, I could have spent my afternoons conditioning my leg muscles and juicing up and all of that, but as an unmodified 8-year-old, I wasn’t capable of it.

It’s not a problem for me these days. I don’t even need to jump unless I’m in a castle or something.

Right now, I feel like I’m reaching for the door jamb and I can’t quite get to it. And the shit part of it is that I’ve touched this very door jamb before. Lots of times, actually. But not today.

Giving Up

I’m giving up for today. Maybe not even for the whole day. It’s the early afternoon, after all, and perhaps there’s a chance that I’ll find my creativity or muse or whatever goofy name du jour it’s got later today. If I do, it will probably be at the bottom of a modest pour of whisky. Anyway.

I don’t see this as defeat. It’s maddening, certainly, but I’m not going to hang it up forever or anything. I know I have at least a passable talent for this and one off-day isn’t going to derail it.

But, in terms of being a professional (as Steven Pressfield calls it), I believe there are definitely times when creative people bump up against some nameless barrier that stops them from making. Call it what you want (Pressfield’s moniker of choice is “Resistance”, which I actually quite like), but there’s some fat, mostly-immovable thing sitting between me and what I want to do today. And, as I sit here, I don’t have the strength to dislodge it.

And I’m okay with that. Sort of.

Actually, no, I’m not.

Truthfully, I’m brimming over with frustration and anger and self-doubt. This shit needs to get done for a variety of reasons and I don’t have oodles of discretionary time to do it. I borrowed heavily from my “time away from the family” account to get this done and now I’m sitting here having produced what somebody from southern Italy would call “Jack Shit” and I’m ready to snap this computer in half because I can’t make myself do what needs to be done.

Standing Up

Tomorrow will be better. Maybe the temperature will drop a few degrees and maybe I won’t feel like such a f*cking dunce and maybe it will be better. The words may come and the work may get done. Or maybe not.

Either way, I decided a long time ago to not stop trying. Acquiescence in the face of difficulty is a hallmark of “regular” and like hell I’m going to go out like that.

Sorry for the self-indulgent pity party. I love you all. See you tomorrow.

Why I Use Instapaper (and not Evernote) For Reading Stuff Later

Reading Time

I’m not shy about my drooling love for Instapaper. If you’ve not heard of it, the one-sentence description: it lets you easily save web pages to read later, online or offline, and gets rid of all of the cruft (ads, navigation, etc.) and just shows you the text. It’s awesome.

“But”, you may have asked yourself, “why don’t you use Evernote for this function? It seems like such a logical choice given your loud affection for and dedication to Evernote! Guh!”

Unsurprisingly, I’m glad you asked.

Thing is, I get this question somewhat regularly via email from nice people who read this stuff I write, so I thought I’d spell it out for y’all. Y’all? Boom.

Essentially, it comes down to five big reasons why I use Instapaper for reading Internet stuff on [our favorite Internet devices]:

  1. Position “” I’m not a super heady guy, but I do occasionally like to read really long articles published by various magazines like The New Yorker, The Economist and Vanity Fair. Sometimes I get partway through one such article and I won’t have the time to finish reading it in one sitting. With Instapaper, I can stop reading an article somewhere in the middle and the app will sync the position of where I stopped reading back to Le Cloud. So, the next time I pick up my iPhone or iPad and open a partly-read article, I’m jumped right back to where I left off. Spiffy.
  2. Singularity of Focus “” Evernote serves myriad functions for me in terms of storing information: bank statements, my kids drawings, meeting notes, etc. Instapaper serves exactly one function and it’s wicked fast in doing so. When I want something to read something, I can fire up Instapaper and immediately have a big list of options. I could do the same with Evernote, but it would take more time since the data isn’t automatically synced and just finding it (even using a saved search) wouldn’t be as fast.
  3. Sharing and Archiving “” I don’t often do it, but I can easily share articles I read in Instapaper with a couple of taps. Evernote offers some sharing capabilities, but not as many as Instapaper. As far as archiving, it’s kinda funny: all of the articles that I “like” (or “tap the little heart while reading”) are automatically saved to my Evernote account. With Instapaper, I just tap the little trash icon (which should probably be something less like “trash”, but that’s a niggle) and I can send it to the archive with one more tap. In Evernote, I’d almost certainly have to remove a tag (like “to read” or “read later”) to achieve the same effect of getting it off of my pending list.
  4. Easy Addition “” If I want to save a page into Instapaper, it takes exactly one click of the “Read Later” bookmarklet in my browser (either on my Mac or iOS). Evernote would require more interaction: fire up the web clipper, select a notebook, add tags, click Save, etc. Instapaper also removes all of the cruft from around the article I want to read (ads, navigation, comments) so all I get is the text. Evernote can do the same via Evernote Clearly, but it’s still several more clicks/taps to get the job done. And let’s not forget the metric buttload of iOS apps that allow me to save stuff to Instapaper quickly and easily (like Tweetbot and many other iOS Twitter clients). These two, low-friction methods of adding stuff to Instapaper make it the easier choice for me.
  5. Offline Reading “” On iOS (and other mobile operating systems), Evernote doesn’t automatically download all of your notes because it’s a good citizen that doesn’t want to chew up all of the storage space on your device. This is a good thing. Instapaper, on the other hand, always downloads all of the content that’s waiting for me. This means that I can fire up Instapaper on my iPhone or iPad before hopping on an airplane and I’ll have bunches of articles to read without needing an Internet connection. And because Instapaper’s data is fairly lightweight””it’s mostly text, after all””the amount of space occupied on my devices by Instapaper data is pretty stinkin’ little.

“But sir!”, you may be saying to yourself, “how could you speak ill of your beloved Evernote!? Let us burn thee as an heretic! Guh! GUUH!”

Don’t misunderstand me, folks.

I love Evernote. Obviously. My point here is not to disparage my beloved Evernote, but rather to highlight an app that, if you ask me, has solved a real problem for me in a most excellent fashion.

Could you do accomplish the same objective with Evernote? Absolutely. And I did use it for such a purpose, once upon a time. I just found Instapaper to be a superior solution to a specific problem I had.

If you read stuff on the Internet and haven’t tried Instapaper (for the Web, as well as both iOS and Android), I’d highly recommend doing so. I’m a fan and you probably will be, too.

Photo by CrazyUncleJoe

A Fellow Internet Citizen Needs Your Help

Many years ago, I was fired from a (seriously crappy) job. As I drove home from what was my office with my proverbial box of desk crap sitting on the seat next to me, I was scared. My wife and I were young and didn’t have much money and I assumed the worst: we’d be living in our car and showering in gas station bathrooms and our whole lives would be in the (figurative) toilet.

When I got home, my wife assured me that this wouldn’t be the case; we were surrounded by people who love us and we’d have help if we ever found ourselves in a position where we couldn’t help ourselves. We’d get back on our feet and everything would be fine. We wouldn’t die.

An Internet acquaintance of mine is currently living my nightmare. Through a series of unfortunate (ok, worse than that) circumstances, he’s literally on the street. He’s getting access to the Internet sporadically, but the guy is effectively homeless.

(You can read the story here)

I know that if that ever happened to me, I’d get help. Probably from many of you.

And now, I’m asking you to help him.

Yes, I realize that you probably don’t know him. Hell, I barely know him, but I can see the desperation in his words and after seeing pictures of him with his boy, I’d feel like a huge a-hole if I didn’t do what I could to help the guy out.

A buddy of his has set up a web page where you can donate money to help this guy get back on his feet. I’ve donated and you should, too. We’re talking about a man who needs a roof over his head and only wants to get back to his son. And, as a father, I can’t imagine what it’d be like to be separated from my kids. Seriously, I’m almost losing my shit just thinking about it.

Go here right now and give whatever you can.

Make your lunch at home for the next few days, skip the afternoon latte, whatever. If you’re reading this, you have a few bucks to spare. Give it and don’t make excuses because excuses are for jerkoffs.

This isn’t a faceless charity full of bureaucrats. You give money and he gets it, plain and simple.

I’ve done it. Your turn. This is important.

Thanks.

And please spread the word.