Hypebot Hosts LA Music Tech Meetup July 23 »

Spend an evening with the bright minds and brilliant talents of LA’s music industry and technology scene. Make connections, swap ideas, and build community.

If you’re based in LA be sure to come out to the meetup and say hi!

Exploring OS X mail clients

I’ve been using Fastmail for over a year now and have been exploring email clients the entire time I’ve been a subscriber. Until recently, the best client I’ve been able to find has been Fastmail’s web app itself (whether that’s in the browser or in a Fluid instance.

I’ve tried Airmail, which is fine but isn’t as flexible as I’d like (despite having a really extensive preferences pane) or as lightweight as I had hoped1. I suffered through using OS X’s Mail app and, though the Gmailinator plugin made it somewhat bearable, it frequently exhibited odd behavior that had me wondering just what the app was doing at times. I tried using Mailmate on several occasions but would get hung up on the minimal nature of the app’s designed and overwhelmed by it’s flexibility and featureset.

I circled back to the Fastmail web app, but didn’t love the idea of using a different web app for each of my email accounts (I have secondary Gmail accounts and would prefer a unified interface for all of my accounts). Frustration with using multiple web apps led me to give Mailmate another chance2.

I downloaded Mailmate and settled in to the idea of giving it a long term trial. I enabled the app’s support for Gmail keybindings and went to work modifying the app’s badge settings and creating custom folders I might find useful. I created a smart folder for tasks and assigned it to a dock and menubar counter3. The tasks folder I created looks for emails from task management systems and messages I manually apply a todo label to (this isn’t mapped to an IMAP label or folder — I don’t typically handle tasks on the go and don’t feel the need to reference this folder on the go).

I created several other helpful folders:

  • A folder that lists all git commit messages for projects I’m working on.
  • A folder that collects development meetup messages in Los Angeles so that I can decide which, if any, I’d like to attend.
  • Individual folders for my Fastmail accounts so that I can filter through my inbox based on which alias a message was sent to.

Once I had folders set up in Mailmate, adjusted to the UI and began to memorize keyboard shortcuts, I was sold. The app is extremely lightweight and responsive, it’s endlessly configurable and the app’s bundles feature is extremely useful. I also really enjoy it’s composer view and Markdown support (being able to email fenced code blocks is extremely useful). I think I’m finally done looking for a new email app. Finally.

  1. In fairness, this is a subjective judgement, but the app doesn’t feel quite as smooth or as responsive as I had hoped it would. 

  2. This decision was, in part, prompted by Gabe Weatherhead’s and Brett Terpstra’s posts about the app. I assumed there must be slmething I was missing. 

  3. I know, I know, I shouldn’t be using email as a task management or todo system, but I find it helpful to have a running tally of messages I need to act on. 

Currently reading

I’ve been reading a lot lately (mainly on my phone when I catch a spare moment). I’ve picked up several books on front end development and am currently digging in to JavaScript: The Good Parts by Douglas Crockford. I’ve been trying to dial in on an area of focus when reading about development and, for now, I think I’m settling in on JavaScript and a bit of Python. In addition to Crockford’s book I’m planning on reading a book on Ember.js and the framework’s documentation.

For now, my backlog looks like this:

  • JavaScript: The Good Parts
  • Scalable and Modular Architecture for CSS
  • Building Web Apps with Ember.js
  • Head First Python
  • Flask Web Development

Syncing OSX app preferences and dot files

I’ve started using a command line tool called mackup to back up and sync many of my dot files and application settings on OS X.

You can install the tool via pip or homebrew. I installed it via homebrew and set it up as follows:

brew install mackup
mackup backup

By default mackup will back up your files to a file named mackup in the root of your Dropbox folder. You can also choose to back your files up to Google Drive or anywhere else on your local drive by creating .mackup.cfg in your user root and setting options the tool provides.

Now, when you move to a new machine, you simply install the tool and run:

mackup restore

Your settings will be added to the new machine and kept in sync via the storage you chose when setting up mackup.

Streaming Music Has Left Me Adrift »

The New York Times has published an interesting piece on streaming music and the transition from analogue listening, CDs and other physical media. What I find most interesting is the author, Dan Brooks’, point about the effort involved in collecting music as versus now simply being able to search streaming services for available releases.

When getting into a band became as easy as typing its name into a search box, particular musical tastes lost their function as signifiers of commitment. What you listened to ceased to be a measure of how much you cared and became a mere list of what you liked.

I used to be (and suppose I still am — to some extent) a fan of heavy metal. Almost all of the bands I listened to released records through small labels or independently with small print runs for each release being the norm. At the time, half the fun was not only finding new bands but actually finding their releases so you could even listen to them. No band is all that great if everyone can listen to them and all that — exclusivity is king and all that (there was a sense of ownership or being in the know that came along with finding a new band and being able to refer fans of similar music to them).

Streaming services have eroded a lot of the excitement inherent in the old process of discovering new music. Now you can follow playlists or immediately stream just about anything anyone recommends to you (there are some notable exceptions — one of my favorite bands, Canadian punk act NoMeansNo, only has a greatest hits compilation distributed digitally). As silly as it is, I get less excited about finding new bands now and I tend to over-listen to releases I’m excited about, burn out on them and move on. As fans, we’re less invested in what we’re listening to because we didn’t make the effort to discover it and the financial investment in a physical release or digital download to really attach us to it. Sure, we are paying for music inasmuch as paying a Spotify or Beats is paying for access to music … but we’re not directly supporting artists by buying those releases, by seeing the artwork, by having to go through the tea ceremony of pulling out a vinyl record and putting it on a turntable.

We have more access to music now than we’ve ever had, but we’re much less invested in it. Maybe streaming proponents are right and streaming services will raise the money spent on music consumption in the aggregate, but I can’t help but think we’re losing something in the process. We’ve gained so much in the way of convenience and lost a lot with respect to the experience.

My record collection is no longer a lifestyle, a biography, a status. The identities that I and a generation of fellow aesthetes spent our lives fashioning are suddenly obsolete. They turned out to be mere patterns of consumption, no more resilient than the patterns of production that provoked them.

Streaming has made music distribution far easier for artists and, really, I’m not advocating against streaming or somehow going back to any one physical medium (although I do enjoy collecting vinyl). I just feel as though streaming has stripped something special out of discovering and exploring new music. I hope, sincerely, that that experience is replaced by something else (perhaps music fans will go to more shows — I try to) or maybe streaming services will evolve in a way that produces a unique experience all its own. I’m not disappointed that we’re moving past music in its traditional physical form, but I do have nostalgia for the years I spent ordering odd CDs from European metal distributors and anxiously awaiting their arrival in the mail.