Monthly Archives: July 2019

Potential Strategies for Escaping my Phone

Reading Digital Minimalism is reinforcing the ideas which led me to read it in the first place; I’m trying to get away from my computer and phone more. I’m thinking a bit about ways to be reachable but not too reachable.

I’m mostly thinking about eventually buying a watch with cellular service, which would allow me to take calls via a bluetooth headset. I’m hoping to find a bluetooth headset which is compact enough to fit in my pocket and maybe go over just one ear, with no buttons that would be pushed while in my pocket (maybe this one).

However, I’ve also rediscovered The Light Phone, which is a credit-card sized “smart dumb phone” which is designed to be used as a second cell phone, via call forwarding.
I think I still prefer the watch option, both for portability and for the specific feature set. I can disable or not install most apps, but having a calendar and the ability to click on the numbers of scheduled calls (esp. conference calls with long conference codes) is appealing. The Series 3 (and 4) already satisfies the cellular requirement, but are pricier than the Light Phone. The Light Phone wouldn’t work for international travel. In either case, I’ll need to either use my car’s built-in GPS (which doesn’t know traffic and is stuck on 2008 map data) or would upgrade to a dedicated GPS device (e.g. from Garmin or TomTom).

Removing the Unread Messages Counter on Gmail

As a big fan of Cal Newport’s So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love and Deep Work: Rules for Focused Success in a Distracted World, I’m now reading through Digital Minimalism: Choosing a Focused Life in a Noisy World, which I also highly recommend.

Digital Minimalism frequently mentions notifications as a tool that technology companies use to keep people using their services for longer periods of time, and notes that this presents the challenge of fragmented attention. Most of my notifications are disabled, but I really enjoy Gmail’s web-based interface. I’ve bookmarked a Gmail search result page so that I don’t have to see new messages in my inbox unless I mean to see them. Unfortunately, there is no built-in way to turn off the unread message counter. There are a few Chrome Extensions that will do this for you, but I am generally wary of Chrome Extensions from a security standpoint. So, before the kids woke up this morning, I decided to learn how to write Chrome Extensions and block the counter with my own code. I am sharing the very barebones code here so you can see and install it yourself without having to trust anyone’s black box Chrome Extension.

A Chrome Extension consists of a set of files – a manifest.json file and the other files to which it optionally refers (e.g. Javascript files, CSS files, icon images, etc). I’ve tackled the counter that appears in the left panel using CSS and the counter that appears in the title (i.e., on the browser tab) using Javascript. In all, I’ve written three very short files:

manifest.json contains the following:

  "manifest_version": 2,
  "name": "Hide Gmail Counter",
  "description": "Hides the Gmail counter.",
  "version": "1",
  "content_scripts": [
      "matches": ["<all_urls>"],
      "js": ["remover.js"],
      "css": ["styles.css"]

remover.js contains the following:

function nodeInsertedCallback(event) {
  if ((event.path[1].localName=="title") && (event.path[1].innerHTML.match(/Inbox \([0-9]+\) -/))) {
    document.title = event.path[1].innerHTML.replace(/Inbox \([0-9]+\) -/g,"Inbox -");
document.addEventListener('DOMNodeInserted', nodeInsertedCallback);

styles.css contains the following

.bsU {
 visibility: hidden;

I then:
1. put all three files in a folder I called “Hide Gmail Counter”
2. chose “Extensions” from Chrome’s “Window” dropdown menu
3. turned on “Developer Mode”
4. clicked “Load Unpacked” and chose the folder created in #1 above.

That’s it. I now have no more counter and you can use the simple code above without trusting anyone’s black box Chrome Extension.