Short: Send shortcut

I might be the only person who ever thought to complain that the key shortcut for "Send this message" is different across mail clients - I guess most people only use one.

But even before I started this project I was using multiple clients at once, to separate "work" email from "home" email in a way that was easy to control where the files go. (No work email backed up to home server, etc.) So I have noticed quite the set of key shortcuts:

  • Apple Mail: ⌘⇧D
  • I've always read this as 'deliver'. I also like the use of the shift-key, because sending isn't undo-able*, so it should be a little hard to hit accidentally.
  • (al)Pine: ^x
  • followed by y to answer the prompt, so I usually think of this as an Emacs-y ^xy
  • Mailsmith: ⌘E
  • huh?
  • Thunderbird: ⌘↵
  • Not shown in the menu, I had to search the help for this.
  • Postbox: ⌘⇧D
  • I guess the Postbox folks decided that ⌘⇧D is the Mac standard. I'd have to agree. ⌘↵ seems weird to me.
  • Entourage: ⌘↵
  • Maybe this is why it seems weird.
  • Gmail: use keyboard nav to press the send button
  • The help says there is a shortcut that works on Windows browsers, tab-enter. It's really just saying to use the keyboard navigation features to press the button, which also works for me on Safari. It's not really an obvious shortcut, but it works well enough.

* Of course sending should (must!) be undo-able, but that's a discussion for another day…

Filters: GMail

How well does GMail let me create filters to handle heavy traffic lists?

GMail is not perfect, but it's got the workflow down right. When I want to add a filter, I am probably looking at a message that I want the filter to match. So GMail's "Filter messages like this" command is a great match. They also know about lists, and they auto-populate the search command for the filter with the "list:list@foo.com" style search. This works out pretty great, and I've been using GMail for lists for years.

It works to divert the flood out of my inbox, but it can also mean that for lists that aren't related to my job, I have basically unsubscribed to the list - out of sight, out of mind. I sometimes add filters to automatically "star" conversations I'm likely to want to look at, but that's not the best choice - it overloads the meaning of the star, and I'd rather see either tags that aren't full labels (and don't clutter up my label list) or a some other flag-like bit that is only set by filters to say when something might be interesting.

Filters: Thunderbird 3

How well does Thunderbird 3 let me create filters to handle heavy traffic lists?

There's not much support for using a message to build a filter from, which I think is the most natural workflow. The menu item "Tools > Message Filters…" opens a dialog box that could use some simplification. For example, the buttons to move filters up and down in order are unnecessary - you should be able to just drag the filters around in the table. There are plenty of other non-mac-like UI elements here. Another example of overcomplicated UI is the "Filter Log" button. At best this is an "advanced" preference, but it's a big button at the top - and it's misnamed. It opens a sheet to let you turn the logging on, but who knows how you actually view the logging?

There are some other UI problems when trying to add the filter - I didn't think ahead of time that I'd need to create the folder to send the filtered messages to. The Message Filters dialog seems modal, because the menubar goes away when it's in focus, but it's not really - so I just created the new folder back on the main window while the new-filter sheet was still open. A little strange, but it worked.

It's also lacking a way to do a dry-run of the filter- to test which messages will match, before just letting it loose on your mailbox. This is a really important feature, especially when filters can do destructive or un-recoverable things like running a script (not in Thunderbird, but present in other mailers) or send a response.

Dealing with High-traffic Lists and Filters

One thing that can make a big difference in a client is how well it helps you cope with heavy-traffic lists. Sometimes we need to stay on top of a firehose, and a client that helps filter out the noise and lets you keep track of what's going on in sometimes very long threads is an invaluable tool.

You'll find plenty of opinions about how to do this, but I think it's well established that daily digests are not a great way to deal with traffic. It's great to only check things occasionally, but most list software doesn't let you say when it'll dump the huge pile into your inbox, and most mail software doesn't handle the multipart/digest format very well - usually it just gets combined into one big message.

I think the best way is first to filter the list messages out of the inbox, and only check in on it every so often (more often if it's an important list for your job). You want to be able to quickly skim what's new since you last checked in - new threads, what changed in threads you've looked at already, etc. One way to do this is to have another filter to flag messages that are "interesting" in some way - either to me or mentioning me or my topics of interest, or from interesting people.

I'm going to spread out comments on each client into a few posts over the next few days.

Software aging well vs. UI that triggers OCD

I had an idea the other day that I shared on Twitter:

@mikemccracken: It would be cool if there was a way for well-used & loved GUI software to gracefully show its age, like a good leather wallet…

I still like this idea, and I loved the example that Bryan Knight replied with - the OS 8 Color Picker crayons, seen in the third "Colour Selector" image on the OS 8 GUIdebook page.

However, it just occurred to me that it'd be hard to design a UI that shows its age or use gracefully without looking "dirty" and triggering the kind of OCD that makes some of us empty the trash just because the icon looks full. I can think of a few other things that do that to me:

  • Of course, the full trash can
  • Unread counts of all kinds
  • MS Word 08 showing "[Compatibility Mode]" in the window title for files that aren't .docx format
  • Badges on files in the finder that show source control status - I tried this once and it drove me crazy

There are probably more. Share yours in the comments if you like. I'd also be really interested in other examples besides the crayons where UI changes gracefully as you use the software more…

I ran across this video in my bookmarks - this looks like the result of Yahoo acquiring [Xoopit](htt

I ran across this video in my bookmarks - this looks like the result of Yahoo acquiring Xoopit. It looks like they've got a platform for building "applications" that users can add into their webmail client. (Here's the developer info )

It's a little like Facebook's games and other apps, and I'd be surprised if that's not what they're competing with. However, it's another good idea from web apps that would work in desktop apps too - why not allow other applications to easily see and work with the data you've got in mail? This kind of app could either be a plug-in add-on to the mail client or a separate app that just accesses the mail data directly. Supporting both would be great.

Getting notes to work with LaTeX Beamer and Skim

I'm writing a presentation with Beamer, a LaTeX class for making PDF slides.

There's a built-in way to generate "notes", which was geared towards Acrobat Reader - it basically makes a double-wide PDF page and Reader will show the 'notes' page on the second screen. (I'm guessing it assumes your laptop screen is arranged on the right of your presentation screen, it's the same size or bigger, etc...)

This doesn't work for my personal favorite PDF reader, Skim - but luckily there is a full explanation of how to make it work on the Skim Wiki: Tips and Tricks page. The short of it is you create three tex files - one with all the content and two wrappers that generate two versions of the same presentation. One version has slides and the other has notes. Then you can set up Skim to auto-scroll the notes PDF as you move through the slides PDF in presentation mode.

Big thanks to whoever wrote that tip - and to Christiaan for making such a great app.