Ramblings from Josh Sullivan

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Wed, 1 May 2019

App Spring Cleaning and Ranting

Finally, I tired of the entire process and burned it down. I am starting fresh.

From Jack Baty’s State of the System — Spring 2019

I’ve been experiencing this but for different reasons. The past few months TheBrain development has failed to fix multiple issues related to laggy UI, buggy note taking, and a Windows update issue that has plagued them for the last three months. The Windows update requires you to download the update but not install it. Close TheBrain, navigate to where the installer was downloaded, run the installer, re-open TheBrain at which point it says Updating, then end TheBrain task, open TheBrain a second time and finally you are updated. On Windows, the UI is far less laggy, but the notes typing can be delayed up to a few seconds, which is horrible if you use it to take quick notes.

On the Mac, the UI is incredibly clunky, when you drag the notes panel divider over to increase or decrease the panel size, it jerks to the new position spread over 3 seconds. The notes typing delay is less pronounced in some builds, but others are much worse. I’m tired of fighting it to get it to work the way it used to, tired of the friction to take notes, tired of having to set up the way I like TheBrain every time I open it on my Mac Pro.

Also, it is 2019, why the f#&k 1 are we limited to 30GB of internal storage, give us at least 500GB, and really for the amount we are paying yearly it should be at least a terabyte.

Recently, DEVONtechnologies released the public beta of version 3 of DEVONthink and I must say even when in private beta it was far less buggy/annoying than the current TheBrain release version. Due to this, I’ve begun the process of moving data from TheBrain to DEVONthink Server 3. I purchased TheBrain ProCombo, so my license will allow me to use TheBrain without a subscription, which at this point I don’t believe I am going to be renewing it this year. Don’t get me wrong, if TheBrain Team gets it together and solves a lot of these issues I’ll be renewing but I don’t think it’s worth it to re-subscribe for another year with the way things are going and are handled. I’m tired of dealing with buggy software that has no end in sight.


To get to the point (finally!), I am slowly moving data out of TheBrain and into DEVONthink and Dynalist.

Currently, with DEVONthink Server 3 (DTS3) I can use the web interface on Windows machines, which is much improved over DTPO 2 Server UI. The note area is fast, copying works excellent in the text area2, no lag in the UI, and Markdown support 3. Most of my notes on Windows this week were written in NotePad++ then copied and pasted into a new Markdown file via the DTS3 Web interface. I can tag the file and move it to the correct group. I’m much happier than with the previous solution, which was to save the file to Dropbox then when I was back on my Mac I would add it to DEVONthink.

Links/URLs are another part of my workflow that changed with DTS3 public beta release. Previously when I came across an interesting link, I would drag it to TheBrain plex and add it to my Inbox thought for processing later. Now on macOS, I clip the link to DTS3 and process the Inbox at night. Currently, there is a bug I’ve reported to be fixed in the web interface when adding a bookmark, so at the moment I add it to a Markdown file in my Inbox and clear the file out at night on my Mac.

I’m also finding myself store more links as PDFs and with Print Friendly I can grab the resulting PDF and drop it in the DTS3 web interface. It came in handy recently when someone removed their secondary blog, and I had to reference a writeup they did, I pulled up the PDF and got the information that I needed out of it. I am slowly moving away from using services that I don’t control, which is one reason I like PDFs. Even if Pinboard, Pocket, and others promise to store a copy, I don’t trust it due to the abandonment of Pinboard for a year with archived pages being inaccessible for almost eight months.

There are parts of TheBrain I will miss. BrainBox was a great addition in version 10 that allowed you to add a URL to your Brain account which was accessible in the app to be added as a thought or attachment later. I do wish DEVONthink had a clip function on Windows, but I’m happy with the current solution.

Capturing on iOS, macOS, and Windows

On iOS I use Drafts for all note capture then use an action to send the text to DEVONthink To Go. With MacDrifter’s Moving Text Between Drafts and DEVONthink To Go with Shortcuts I have an easy way to take a file in DTTG and edit it in Drafts then send it back to DTTG updating the item.

On macOS, I am using Drafts to quickly capture text or DTS3s Take Note feature, which brings up a window to write a note, name it, tag it, etc., then save it to a specific group or an Inbox. Windows I use Notepad++ to enter text quickly for processing later. All notes now end up in DEVONthink one way or another, so I won’t have to go looking through multiple systems to search for what I am looking. One exception to that rule are lists. I store lists in Dynalist because it is so great and now has a Mindmap feature that works very well.

Overall, I’m pretty happy with the way things are shaping up. I like to have most of my reference material and notes in as few applications and areas as possible. I’ve consolidated to one principal repository, DEVONthink, with DEVONtechnologies continuing to improve DTS3 daily and weekly I’m happy about this decision.

I do hope TheBrain Technologies gets around to fixing the issues that have been a thorn in my side, but I’m glad it finally pushed me to consolidate my random bits of information into one system.

  1. I’m sorry for swearing, I rarely swear online, but sometimes it’s necessary to get the point across.

  2. You currently cannot copy the Markdown preview text in the web interface, but I did request that feature.

  3. Myself and many other people on TheBrain forums have asked for TheBrain to either use Markdown notes instead of the current HTML notes or go back to plain text.

devonthink workflow writing note taking thebrain

Sun, 14 Apr 2019

Browsing Privacy

I’ve recently gone all in on privacy related to my browsing habits. I’ve switched to Brave for my browser and use DuckDuckGo for my search engine with fall back to Wikipedia via Bangs. Brave is a Chrominium based browser and therefore has the entire Chrome extensions library available while also respecting your privacy. It isn’t as resource intensive as Chrome on macOS, but Safari is still far better. Unfortunately, I keep finding more and more sites that have issues on Safari that don’t occur in Brave. Plus Brave allows you to block JavaScript which has been useful in preventing the annoying You have an Ad Blocker, please whitelist us” popups, if it’s a small site I usually whitelist unless they are obnoxious with their ads/popups, but for sites like NBC Brave JS blocking is excellent.

My browsing habits don’t require the need to hide them from people, I share a lot of my life online between this blog and my wiki, but that doesn’t mean I want to freely market myself to companies that don’t need my information. I’ve found with Brave and DuckDuckGo, sometimes my results aren’t as accurate as they were on Google, but more often than not they return the correct results. In the cases I don’t find what I am expecting a quick visit to Google will get the result, and with Brave Private Tor Browser, Google can’t tie my search to my profile. Another great benefit of the Brave browser is its ability to stop all auto-play videos, Safari has this feature, but I found a couple of sites it didn’t work on, Brave blocks them no matter what. If you are looking for a browser that respects your privacy, I think Brave is a great solution that is worth at least downloading and trying out.


Mon, 8 Apr 2019

BrainBox Shortcuts

TheBrain’s BrainBox is a great new feature in version 10. Think of BrainBox as a global inbox for TheBrain. On the desktop, you can add files to it, and in browsers, you can add URLs. Unfortunately, it falls short on iOS in capturing in different applications and different data types.

I’ve created two shortcuts to compensate for the inability to capture URLs anywhere but Safari or Safari web view.

  1. Add to BrainBox: takes the currently open page of an application in a web view and passes the URL to the share sheet, at which point BrainBox can be seen, and the URL can be sent to it.
  2. Add Clipboard to BrainBox: takes the current clipboard then shares it to the share sheet as a URL, at which point BrainBox can be invoked to pick up the URL and save to TheBrain.

Both of these actions do not require the opening of TheBrain due to the BrainBox syncing within the extension.

My BrainBox Wish List:

  1. Add other data types, such as Text Files, Photos, and Outlines.
  2. Web view on app.thebrain.com (Which is supposedly being developed)
  3. Integration within Shortcuts; Not just an extension but API access within Shortcuts will enable so many actions throughout iOS.

I’m looking forward to how TheBrain Technologies further develops BrainBox and hope to see at least the first two on my wish list added before the year is out. Hopefully the third is added at some point because I do believe that a great many people will make some great Shortcuts to improve their workflows.


Tue, 2 Apr 2019

Rise and Fall of Evernote

Ahead of Its Time, Behind the Curve: Why Evernote Failed to Realize Its Potential

This is a great read, listing all the steps Evernote took to lead it to where it currently is situated. I loved Evernote in the beginning and used it for some years, and then I encountered a bug that showed about a quarter of my notes as empty. I immediately left for DEVONthink and haven’t looked back. I did eventually sign into Evernote again about a year later and found that the notes content were visible again, so I quickly used the DEVONthink Evernote import tool and imported all the notes, I’ve not signed in or been tempted to use Evernote since.

Evernote had the promise to be such a great product, and I think it could have achieved it. Unfortunately, they branched out to multiple different areas to quickly and stopped concentrating on the main product. The Mac app became so buggy I remember numerous people flocking to Apple Notes. At that point Evernote started to become more of a joke than anything, then of course Work, Chat, Socks, and other ridiculous popups started and Evernote lost most if not all credibility with power users and even a lot of regular users.

Even if Evernote had become the power product that was first envisioned for itself, at this point I still would have left it. Currently, I like hosting my content and making sure I have control over everything I do and use. DEVONthink can be purely hosted by myself via Sync Stores through WebDav on my Synology, although I use iCloud for syncing. But if iCloud went away tomorrow, I can switch to Dropbox, or WebDAV and host it myself on my Synology or a VPS that I control.

For most people, if Evernote had continued on the path of improving the main functionality and keeping resources behind it, I believe they would currently have many loyal users. Who knows where Evernote would be today if they had continued their progress from the late 2000s and early 2010s, but I think now is an excellent time for Evernote to quietly devote time and resources into fixing the issues they have, then build upon that success and maybe it will once again be a service to which people flock.

software devonthink link

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