Memory Jogger is a program I wrote to help me find interesting articles and videos I had saved in Pocket. I wrote about it previously in this post. It started as a program to send me daily email digests of items I had previously saved that were related to current events (via Google Trends data).

Mostly it was to help me prioritize reading some of the thousands of unread items that I’ve saved over the years. But I also thought that it would make current events more meaningful by reading historical context and commentary. Sometimes it worked as you’d expect, for example, when Hamilton came out on Disney+, it reminded me of the original New York Times article from when the play came out in 2015. Unique words like “Pokemon” also returned relevant results. But other times, the articles and videos in the daily email digest were completely unrelated to the Google Trends results.

This is mostly expected. I used the tf-idf algorithm I learned about in my first internship to implement search. tf-idf helps when search terms contain a mix of common and unique words, e.g. “Pokemon” is rare, but “The” is very common, so “The Pokemon Game” would weight articles that contain Pokemon higher than articles just about games (assuming “Pokemon” is less common than “game” in the document collection).

But the problem wasn’t the search relevance, it was how I use email. I try as hard as possible to keep inbox zero, using Gmail inbox sections to triage emails based on “Needs Action/Reply”, “Awaiting Reply”, “Scheduled”, and the rarely used “Delegated.” But where do these email digests fit in? They don’t! I don’t need a longer to-do list. Instead, I want “pull”, not “push”. Review these items when I have time, but without the guilt and annoyance of push notifications and “unread” messages. I thought for surfacing “trending” articles an email digest was the right UI, but I didn’t think about how these emails would actually fit into my life.

For a positive surprise, I found I clicked on the irrelevant items as often as the relevant ones. Even if the articles in the digest were completely unrelated to what was trending at the time (same words, but different context), it was still fun to read items I had saved years ago. Or, I knew I didn’t care about that item and could just archive or delete it.

So, in 2021, I’ve been using Memory Jogger completely differently. Instead of an email digest that sends me notifications and adds to my to-do list, I wrote an interactive program to just return random items from my Pocket, with commands to quickly archive/delete/skip items. This interactive program interacts with the email digest program via subprocesses and sharing a SQLite DB.

Sometimes, I don’t even use the interactive program. I just load the database in DB Browser for SQLite and then execute the subprocesses manually, e.g.

memory_jogger saved-items archive --item-id <id> 

or even better, create an alias and then just run mja <id> or mjd <id>.

I’ve been slowly cleaning up my Pocket and have enjoyed reading the articles and watching the videos. No notifications, no “unread count”, no search algorithm, just sync, SQLite, and RNG to guide me.