Poking at Mimestream

I started beta testing Mimestream last year because “mail client.” It flipped to v1 recently and is having one of those Mac Commentariat moments.

My initial take was “oh, another Mailplane,” but that’s not right. It’s not a browser app. It’s a real app, and it does some helpful things if you’re a Gmail user, like making filters more accessible. Because it is using the Gmail API and not IMAP it also feels super quick and responsive.

I still don’t completely understand the effusive enthusiasm for it: No plaintext options, no local URL scheme or scripting interface, and for whatever reason the URLs you can get out of it point back to the Gmail web app instead of Mimestream. (I think that’s set to change.)

On plaintext: I prefer to start with the plaintext version of any message, and I prefer to send in plaintext. If I feel the need to flip into rich/HTML mail mode I will, and I don’t mind having to hit a key to get the HTML version of a mail if it means getting to start with the more calming plaintext alternative.

On the local URL scheme: I don’t like living out of my inbox, and I don’t like making tasks out of mails that don’t include a link back to the message. When I turn an email into an action, I want a link back to the message, I don’t want to copy the entire mail into my todo system.

On the scripting interface: It looks like there’s a single Shortcuts action available right now, which is promising in its own way. Where there’s one there could some day be more. Most days I’d rather have an AppleScript dictionary, but I get that Shortcuts are sort of the populist middle way between AppleScript and Automator.

In any event, until the app has more ways to talk to the rest of my apps, I’m a gentle no. I have the sense that the team behind it has correctly identified that email clients have a lot of baggage that needs to be left behind, but it’s a little too spare for my tastes. I don’t think “step up from the native Gmail interface” is what I am after.

Since discovering MailMate and figuring out how to work it into plaintext workflows, I’ve been enjoying its whole “GUI mutt for the 21st century” vibe.

“Quit picking at it”

This morning I was working on the bit about Mimestream and did a quick save of my blog.org file. I’m used to seeing the name of the Markdown version of the post flash by in the minibuffer as org-hugo exports the org markup to the posts directory. Huh. So I made a quick change to dirty the buffer and saved again. Still nothing.

Huh … huh. Oh … I did refactor my config.org file! Maybe … no. That wasn’t it.

Well … maybe … no, restarting didn’t help.

Around and around for, I dunno, 5-7 minutes before breaking down and Googling and realizing that at some point I’d tidied away this business at the bottom of my blog file:

* COMMENT Local Variables :ARCHIVE:
# Local Variables:
# eval: (org-hugo-auto-export-mode -1)
# End:

Just … the thing that puts the buffer in auto-export mode and I’d fiddled with it and it broke.

And a few days ago I decided to play around with spell-checking engines. Why? I don’t know. Somebody said one was better. It also tripled the amount of time it took to open files. Why? I don’t know. I didn’t even bother searching to figure out if that was true, because I just intuited what was going on by where the minibuffer was hanging when I opened a file, undid the change, and with the minor exception of losing some custom words got on with my newly re-accelerated file opening life.

I think this might be the most built up I’ve ever had Emacs, but I’m also doing much less with it that isn’t just writing, coding, or managing todos. Brief experiments with mail, RSS, and Mastodon all went by the wayside pretty quickly, so maybe it makes sense that I’m fiddling with the core functionality more.

I think I’m also ready to just start working again. Like, the knife is plenty sharp. I’ve settled into some core day-to-day tools that have been just great for doing the things I do to provide structure for myself during this period. I felt a little like a dog endlessly circling before lying down on the question of how to best take notes before taking a cue from something I figured out as I was working on my plaintext CRM, which was “work out the convention, then scaffold it into the capture process such that you don’t ever think about the convention again, but know it will be there for you.” Note-taking being a current site of influencer struggle, it took parallel work in a different kind of workflow to get me to hear through the noise and pick out the analogies between worfklows.

But having gone through that process — having circled seemingly endlessly — when I sit with how I feel about all the fiddling and goofing around, I realize the last time I felt like this I was a tech journalist getting paid a decent amount of money to goof off with Linux. It’s probably why I’m so impatient with tech influencers and tech bloggers today:

You read a review for a camera or tool and the use cases feel like they’re all “how does this work for someone whose job it is to review things,” vs. “how does this work for someone who has to do other things.” The obsessive quest to prove that iPads could be “serious computers,” for instance — with the benchmark for “seriousness” being “I can automate the process of making screenshots that document how to automate making screenshots so I can blog about the iPad’s fundamental seriousness” — felt like a “content person’s” obsession. That’s not to say that tech journalists, bloggers, and influencers don’t have work to do … it’s just that they necessarily have a conception of “usefulness” that is derived from what they have to do all day, which is not what most people who have to use computers to get work done have to do all day. Most people do not need to know how to make screenshots at scale. The fact that your niche blog about Mac automation is heavily dependent on scaled automation of screenshot production and is very successful does not make scaled screenshot production any more imperative for the rest of us.

But even still I sort of get it.

For a certain kind of person (me among them), there is something mesmerizing about the kind of hyper-competence good automation or tech mastery suggests. It’s like watching a magic trick, or a longboard dancer, or a woodworking show. One of my favorite sysadmins was incredibly fun to watch at work: all the tmux panes on full-screened terminals on dual monitors, hand never straying to the mouse, sitting cross-legged on his tall chair in front of his elevated desk. It was like watching a levitating octopus in a hoodie running a nuclear power plant.

A wooden table in a cafe in partial shadows. Blue wall. Decorative red enamel plate.
Delta Cafe

The past several months, bereft of much to do but the dull and repetitive administrivia demanded by recruitment automation, punctuated by hurry-up-and-wait interview processes, it was sort of fun to sit and watch tech magic tricks and obsess on the relative efficiency of assorted modes of interaction with computers.

But now, knowing that this period is finally winding down, I’m trying to think about what it’s like when I’m just trying to use a computer to get things done when I’m not being very pointed about just goofing off and resting. Like, “oh, it’s time to join a meeting, and I just restarted Emacs but it’s bombing because when I added the config change that worked perfectly fine live, I dropped a paren,” or “oh, I forget to make sure that all the config for that package I decided not to use is untangled.” With enough picking, your carefully curated, meticulously optimized trusted system stops being trustworthy. It just becomes this thing that breaks when you really need it to just work, but thanks to all the picking and fiddling it isn’t just working, so you end up punting and using Apple Notes. Or if you’re me and are still living out patterns established when you were a for-real journalist in the time before there were laptops, you grab a reporter’s notebook out of the box of them you keep on hand and start scribbling.

It’s a little interesting to me that as I began to feel that mounting sense of unease about all the picking and fiddling and “what did I just change that is making this previously reliable thing break” and began to pare things down, archive experimental chunks of my config, and just generally sit on my hands until the urge to monkey around passed, I started grabbing my camera on the way out the door again, after a long period of not doing that much.

Huh. Maybe there’s somewhere non-self-defeating my creative energy can go.