I Actually Miss Outlook

I never thought it would come to this but I actually miss Microsoft Outlook since converting to a Linux-based desktop at my new role. I’m using Evolution but it just falls short in several ways and none of the alternatives do anything to reduce my frustration in dealing with email.

Evolution Hangs

Evolution hangs for 20-30 seconds when attempting to view large HTML emails (specifically long back and forth threads from Service Now). Every. Damn. Time.

Evolution Doesn’t Word Wrap Properly

Evolution doesn’t word wrap properly… unless you’re using an ancient ~80 characters wide terminal. I’m sure there’s an RFC out there somewhere that contradicts my assertions regarding email and word wrap but show me another email client that implements word wrapping in the same way that Evolution does. I’ll be waiting.

Evolution hard word wraps outgoing messages at 72 characters by default with no way to change the default. You can select all the text on a reply and change the paragraph type from “Normal” to “Preformatted” to un-wrap the text but there is no way to make this the default behavior. Additionally, the “word wrap” menu option doesn’t do anything in Preformatted mode (or any other mode?), which makes me wonder why the email client even offers such an option. I want behavior where there is no hard wrapping but allow window-width based word wrapping like every other modern mail client (including web mail). And configurable defaults for these options.

Evolution Lacks “Quick Steps”

Evolution lacks the “Quick Steps” feature of Outlook where I can click one button (or use the corresponding keyboard shortcut) and have multiple actions occurs on the currently select email(s). My most common use case is to forward an email to my Trello board and then move it into a folder for archive. Quick Steps offers a very efficient way of working with email. Evolution lacks any of this efficiency.

Thunderbird and Co. are a Mess

Thunderbird/Lightning/ExQuilla/DavMail, etc. feel loosely integrated. Failure of any one component means the whole experience breaks down. ExQuilla is subscription-based add-on to Thunderbird that provides Exchange support and to be fair, I haven’t even given ExQuilla a fair chance using the 60 day trial. I might go back down this path to see where things are at today but without any specific hope of success. It’s very unlikely I’ll ever pay for Exchange support in Thunderbird.

Outlook Web Access

Outlook Web Access is workable but lacks anything that makes working in Outlook efficient. I also hate webmail because I’m locked in a browser and the number of web applications or browser upgrades that require regular restarts of my browser to refresh a session or install a plugin/add-on/update make having a consistently open email client somewhat frustrating.

Outlook in a Virtual Machine

Outlook in a VM is almost tolerable but is still painful when working with attachments.

Sticking with Evolution

Despite all my complaining, I’ll likely stick with Evolution… and be bitter about it.

Welcome, SSL!

It’s been long overdue… techslaves.org is now SSL-enabled (and the default) thanks to Dreamhost‘s super-simple support for Let’s Encrypt!

For ages, I rebelled against the Certificate Authority trust model, which I perceive as a racket. Let’s Encrypt essentially plays the same game, but with slightly different rules.

I believe privacy is important. It’s not everything, but it’s important. Encryption is a tool that attempts to implement digital privacy, with varying degrees of success. Algorithms can and often do have flaws and crypto is hard. Really hard. Or so I’m told. Or the encryption is circumvented instead, which appears far more common. Even so, this here is about the best we’ve ever had it. Let’s Encrypt provides anyyone with the means to enable modern SSL without monetary cost or painful renewal processes.

Time Management with Trello

I have been using Trello to manage my time, tasks and projects for several months now and it’s the most satisfied I’ve been with any particular tool to date. It’s simple. It’s easy. It’s generic enough to use for almost anything.

Throughout my time using Trello, I’ve developed a framework to implement the processes that work best for me. These processes and habits are influenced and informed by the work of Tom Limoncelli in his classic “Time Management for System Administrators” (go buy it now!). This board is use in combination with a traditional calendar for fixed date & time events.

Are you looking for a simple way to more effectively manage your time? Take a look at my Time Management Trello board template, create a copy for yourself and enjoy the good feels!

Well that was fast!

Not even 24 hours after moving iSight Disabler over to GitHub, the repository has already been cloned twice and received its first pull request. It took me longer to get around to merging the request then that time between creating the repo and the pull request!

I realize that two clones and one pull request is paltry in the high paced world of GitHub and OSS development but I’m still a bit shocked by how quickly the community was able to start contributing once the project was on GitHub.

The iSight Disabler page on techslaves.org will remain up with the legacy download links but all new code/versions will only be available on GitHub. Got an idea to improve iSight Disabler? Clone, fix, pull request, merge and DONE!

Regular Change Windows

I am a proponent of change management (CM). I value the function, even if I sometimes despise the bureaucracy found in typical implementations.

At $work, we follow fairly well established CM process. It’s not perfect and it has bureaucratic elements but it’s well understood and mostly respected. Regular thinking about process improvement has led to critique of the individual elements of the process. Deadlines. Approvals. Communication plans. Success criteria. Change windows.

Let’s talk about change windows. We have a “regular” change window that happens once a month on a particular weekend. This was an IT decision. We decided on a particular schedule and called it the “regular” change window and asked everyone to schedule their changes within that window unless they had justification and approval from management for doing otherwise. The problem is, by the numbers, it is hardly our “regular” change window.

The Numbers

In 2014, just over 89% of our changes were performed outside of the “regular” change window. The trend for 2015 remain nearly identical.

Those numbers mean that we’re (re)negotiating change windows with stakeholders 9 out of 10 times. We’re creating justifications and requiring “off-cycle” approvals 9 out of 10 times. Talk about overhead!

The key to this process failure and resulting overhead is that we haven’t tied change windows to the actual business. We didn’t engage stakeholders to determine when is a good time to make changes for the business. However, in our complex environment doing so isn’t straight forward. We have a multitude of different clients, stakeholders and services. Boundaries often overlap.

Reducing the Friction

We can consider focusing in on major services, identifying stakeholders and establishing regular change windows on a per-service basis. This probably makes sense for the major services but what about the smaller, less visible services? What about services with a single stakeholder? How do we document each change window? How do we enforce changes to a particular service within that service’s specific change window? I don’t know…. but my short-term recommendation is to simply ditch the idea of regular change windows unless we can do them right. Why are we bothering with rubber stamp approvals for scheduling on 90% of changes when we’re going to talk about schedule in CAB anyways? What are we gaining from this?