Between CMS, note taking software, image editors and Minecraft modding, I'm finding myself stumbling back to explore the whole software world since when I was in uni.
I have a lot to review already on my first week back, so if anything, I should remember not to be carried away by way too many options that are available in today's app markets. This reflection piece is, precisely, a way to stop me from getting carried away and make me sit and reflect on what I have researched and tried so far, and most importantly, if I actually like any of these things.
Content Management System
I couldn't leave WordPress in the past. I still struggle to leave it now, due to how convenient it is and has all the features in one place. That is also the downfall of WordPress for me at the price of bloated loading time. So for the sake of new year, I was determined to host my blog on a new CMS for good, and also a minimalistic theme for good. No more second guessing what features I want and don't want - just pick something that is simple and clean.
Nothing comes close to WordPress in terms of convenience - I just have to admit that first. WordPress is good at spoiling me from having to worry about page hierarchy, site structure, configs and settings and all that crap. Just install and start writing, and if you want features like comments and stats, click a few buttons to install relevant plugins that take care of everything for you. But that atrocious loading time - no, I cannot let the temptation of convenience to keep me lazy. I'm going to pick up some slack and dig into an alternative for real.
I forgot exactly how I stumbled into Grav CMS, but there I was web-crawling about it among other "small form factor CMS" like GetSimple, CMS Made Simple and PivotX. Grav came across as a CMS that is really written with modern web dev practices, instead of something that was made in 2000, and is still PHP which is easy on my shared host environment. Grav feels very inviting to get started, and while I am reminded of various meta data that aren't handled automatically for me straight away, like page type and date, the habit is easy enough to pick up. Grav also encourages me to write in Markdown for good, which is something I've been wanting to do. There's additional reassurance from CMS Critics who awarded Grav CMS twice in a row, being best flat file CMS in 2017 and best open source project in 2016.
It also feels fun to use and learn Grav, which is unexpected when I had always been spoiled by WordPress and didn't want to deal with code tweaking too much. Yes there's code tweaking in Grav but it's well documented, clean, and for me personally, it invites me to re-explore the world of web dev, something that I had abandoned since I finished uni.
This area is sadly still not so competitive compared to 2010. Any new note taking app that tries to take off, seem to get shut down eventually due to the tragedy of not enough funding. The dominant players are still Evernote, which I don't want to use for the benefit of the corporation itself, and OneNote which I have eventually gave into, even though it sucks at sync.
I've given Turtl a good run today, but once I started porting my OneNotes over, I quickly realised some major problems:
- The format. I'm spoiled by OneNote's free style, write-anywhere format. Turtl is mark down.
- Turtl has no note linking, among other features that I could use like auto-save and versioning. They're in the dev Trello but not in their current todos.
- Turtl has no import/export. Notes in Turtl are gonna get stuck there without manual copy-paste. It'll be hard to "get out of jail" when I want to.
I won't stop writing even if my decision on the perfect note-taking app is still a bit of a Nirvana dream right now. It was exactly thanks to my existing notes in OneNote that I can test out my use case on other apps easily, without having to sit down and test for a whole week from scratch.
Although if I hadn't started with OneNote and began with a pure markdown note structure, Turtl would have been my final choice.
Other apps of interest
Habitica - I tried this when it was new and didn't keep using it. I reinstalled it on 2017 New Year's Eve and was surprised at how much it has grown, both as an app and as a community. Not only has the app's functionality became a lot more sophisticated, there is a massive community eager to help each other out with productivity and self development. Habitica is truly shaping up to be the perfect solution of gamified productivity app.
Insight Timer - My colleague once introduced me to Headspace and I didn't like the various pay-wall it contains. Insight Timer on the other hand is a great alternative that is completely free. It has a list of guided meditation for however much time you have to spend, or just simple background sounds with a timer if you want to meditate your own way. There is a streak tracker to keep you accountable, and again a lovely community that support each other in the art of meditation.
Forest - This app is so interesting I blame myself for not knowing this sooner. In practice it is a pomodoro timer app, with a slight gamified element that you get to plant a virtual tree/bush when you complete one pom. Do a few more poms in a day and you'll have yourself a forest. What's more interesting however is that, with the paid version of the app, you can spend the in game currency you earned from doing poms to request a tree to be planted in real life. I often forget to start the timer before I do something though. For instance, I forgot to start the timer to write this post - I just start writing. In a way it's a good thing that I don't need a timer to get something started, but it feels like a shame that I missed out on an opportunity for a nice tree.
Down Dog - At this point I think I may have introduced too many new apps to my phone too quickly. During my meditation attempts, I find that I get bored sometimes and want/need to stretch. When I introduce some physical movement, I end up being able to concentrate better. This is because I am a very mentally active person and any time spent sitting in absolute stillness is an invitation for my mind to do crazy things. When physical movement is involved, my mind has to concentrate on that instead, and thus it becomes easier to let thoughts go. Down Dog has an amazing rating on Google Play, where comments are normally very unforgiving, so it has to be doing something right. I only just started the beginner sessions and I'm not very consistent with yoga practice yet, but here's to, at least, making an attempt in first month of 2018.
Daylio - Last one on the list for this post is a "visual diary" app. I joined this mood tracking challenge on Habitica where you have to do two things in January: record mood status three times a day, and graph my mood records every week. The community has come up with nice Google forms and spreadsheets to handle it on a scale of 1 - 10, but I'm too lazy to DIY a trackable metric that isn't just numbers. So I'm trying this yet another high-rated app on Google Play. Daylio let you customise what mood you want to keep track of, what activities were involved when you were in that mood, and gives you a graph to summarise your inputs. A fair solution to tackle this mood tracking challenge.
What next week will look like
I honestly don't know. I know myself to be spontaneous and never stick to detailed plans (or rather, I am more productive without plans). It is still a fair question to have something to look forward to, so I don't feel lost completely. Perhaps I will call this a "tech wishlist" rather than a "tech todo":
- Learn more about Grav CMS, go through its documentation thoroughly for what else it is capable of.
- Start an online course in CSS or web dev, because damn I'm a mess in this. Every time I try to tweak something I get so much headache, just because I'm not familiar with common practices. Especially not with modern frameworks.
- Of course, keep monitoring my usage on my apps and see what is good to keep and what should go.