June 24, 2021

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Wreck Your Mail Before You Check Your Mail

Wreck Your Mail Before You Check Your Mail

Wreck Your Mail Before You Check Your Mail

Every five years or so, I think it’s time to review my e-mail flow. (Oh no!) I run my own mail server, and you should too, but this means that I get to figure out managing and searching and archiving and indexing it all by myself. (Yippee!)

And I’ll be honest — sometimes I’m a bit of a luddite. I actually, literally have been using Mutt, or its derivative NeoMutt for maybe fifteen years, after a decade or so of mouse-intensive graphical mail readers. If e-mail is about typing words, and maybe attaching the occasional image, nothing beats a straight-up text interface. But what a lot of these simple mail clients lack is good search. So I decided to take that seriously.

Notmuch is essentially an e-mail database. It’s an e-mail searcher, tagger, and indexer, but it’s not much else. The nice thing is that it’s brutally fast. Searches and extraction of tagged subsets are faster than sending the same data back and forth to the Big G, and I have a ton more flexibility. It’s awesome. Of course good ol’ Mutt can work with Notmuch. Everything can. It’s Linux/UNIX.

But I wanted an e-mail client that would take the tags-instead-of-folders flow seriously, and make searching a first-class navigation strategy. Mutt is from the 1990s, when e-mail was in its teenage years. I ended up with Astroid, and am currently in the honeymoon phase, still configuring things so that they work just right, but all in all enjoying the change. Of course some of the keymapping is different, so if you get an e-mail from me that’s clearly intended for someone else, well, you know what happened.

So here I am, with auto-tagging scripts that fire off MQTT messages to my home automation system when certain mail comes in, and with a tag system that distinguishes between importance and urgency as well as along defined topics. It doesn’t spy me out, track links I click on, or record every online purchase I make without asking my permission either. It basically fits me like a glove, and I’m pretty happy now.

And all it took? A whole freaking afternoon of tedious work, trying out different software packages, and tweaking configuration scripts. All in all, it’s a mind-numbing effort that I’ll be happy to not repeat until we’re all composing e-mails directly with our neural implants. But how many of you out there are actually happy with your e-mail setup?