December 2004

Getting things done

by Michael Alderete on 12/29/2004

I was introduced a couple months ago to the work of productivity guru David Allen, finding a glowing review of his latest book and an overview of his organization system on a weblog, 43 Folders, which has also been doing a nice job explaining how to implement Allen’s system using software available for Mac OS X. I investigated further, and was impressed by what I learned. The system seemed both sophisticated and simple — an extremely rare combination.

More importantly, aspects resonated with me; it both explained what was missing from my current approach to being “organized”, and made me believe the system could work for me. I immediately bought the book from Amazon.com, and when it arrived placed it in pole position on my night-stand for immediate reading.

Can you see where this is going?

So far the only thing Getting Things Done has helped me do is fall asleep. I pick it up diligently each time I get into bed, begin reading…and pass out after a couple of pages. I cannot read the book for more than 20 minutes at a stretch — at least, not while sitting in bed.

I’m still a believer in GTD; indeed, the first third of the book has convinced me that it can work for me, improving my efficiency and stress levels. I plan to give the book a better go in the New Year. Setting up our reading chair with a good light and a warming blanket is the current action on that particular project.

On second thought, maybe the blanket isn’t such a good idea…

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I may be a crank, but I’m not alone

by Michael Alderete on 12/29/2004

I wrote before about “downgrading” to a slower hard disk, just because it made less noise than the fast disk it replaced. I also spent a lot of time researching parts and putting together two PCs from nearly silent components, just to replace my old server and Rochelle’s aging — and incredibly noisy — PC.

After doing all of that, the noisiest item in the office was once again my Mac, which lost the title when I took out the noisy hard disk, but had a couple of fans that were quite a bit louder than the now-very-quiet fans in the two PCs.

When I got my new girlfriend, that noise went away. My PowerBook is normally completely silent, because laptops run cooler than desktops and the aluminum case dissipates heat extremely well. There is a fan, and it makes noise when it’s on, but that’s only when the CPU is really crunching. Now, although they are pretty quiet, the server and Rochelle’s PC are again the noisy items in the office.

It’s really not a lot of noise. A quiet radio or a conversation would cover it, as does the street noise most of the time. But, it’s still there, and since I’m most efficient at night, when everything else gets quiet, it’s starting to be annoying. Which is crazy, because 6 months ago the reduced noise level from those systems made me ecstatic.

I’ve realized that I’m becoming a crank, someone obsessed with something most people find trivial, and I’m sure I will ultimately go mad trying to squeeze that last decibel or two out of the office. My only consolation is that I am not alone, and it’s now possible to find plenty of components, and even whole systems, that make computing quiet.

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Quotation of the year candidate

by Michael Alderete on 12/28/2004

“Honey, honey, honey! Let me tell you my great idea!”

“Look at the mess your last great idea got us into.”

Reflections on the state of the house during preparation for our NYE Freecycle party.

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House of Flying Daggers

by Michael Alderete on 12/27/2004

Over Xmas, in conversation with my brother about various movies that have come out in the last year, I found myself wondering why I haven’t been to the movies more often in 2004. Today I was reminded why. In spite of going to the “bargain” matinee, my movie experience was nearly $20 ($7.50 for the ticket, $9 for popcorn and a Coke, and $2.75 for parking).

In spite of the expense, I enjoyed House of Flying Daggers. While it’s not at the level of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, it tries for it and succeeds on many, if not all, levels. Gorgeously photographed and choreographed, and Ziyi Zhang is definitely one of the most beautiful actresses on the planet. It’s a movie worth seeing on a large screen, for the action, costumes, and settings.

Even if it costs you $20.

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Menu bar items

by Michael Alderete on 12/19/2004

Some of the most useful utilities I’ve found for my system are available as tiny “menu extras.” These little widgets, almost always compact icons, sit on the right side of the menu bar. Sometimes the icon itself is useful, sometimes it’s just a symbol. Sometimes the item’s menu is where all the action is, sometimes you use it in other ways.

After buying it at Macworld Expo last year, I used You Control for about 6 months as my only right-side menu bar utility, using it to put everything I wanted in the menu bar. My theory was that with only one utility providing all the items, it would take less memory and processor time, and be a little more stable. But in the end I found that the You Control versions of various menu widgets simply were not as good as the independent options I’d found, and I switched to the stand-alone versions I’m using today.

Mac OS X menu bar items Here’s my current Mac OS X right-side menu bar. From left to right, I have QuickSilver, WeatherPop Advance, Timbuktu, Desktop Manager, Shh, MenuCalendarClock, the Mac OS X menu bar clock, Script Menu, iSync menu extra, Internet Connect VPN menu extra, AirPort menu extra, and the battery menu extra.

Some of these have been written about by others, among them QuickSilver and MenuCalendarClock, so I thought I’d just explain why I like a couple of my choices.

Although I didn’t intend for this post to bash You Software, whose products I like, they just released a public beta version of a virtual desktops utility which competes with one of my favorite items. I tried You Control: Desktops, and will be sticking with Desktop Manager, primarily because YC:D doesn’t allow you to assign keyboard shortcuts to individual desktops, so there’s no way from the keyboard to go directly to your desired desktop. You can choose a desktop from a list, but that’s potentially 4 keystrokes, not just one. Desktop Manager is also free, while YC:D will cost money.

Another unusual item in my menu bar is Shh. I like this tool a lot, because it’s incredibly flexible. Basically, it runs shell commands (the commands you can type at the command line) and puts the results in a menu bar. A great example is finding out what your IP address is (if yours changes); there are a bunch of utilities dedicated to doing just that, but why not use a more general tool that can do that, and a hundred other things — limited only by your expertise at the command line? (I’ll explain my own Shh commands in a future post.)

A last thing I love about these cool little tools is that they are not expensive. QuickSilver (possibly the most useful utility on my system) is free, as is Desktop Manager, and all of the items built into Mac OS X 10.3 (“Panther”). Shh is $5 and WeatherPop Advance is $8. MenuCalendarClock is free for the basic features, and $18.95 to unlock all features (which are totally worth it). Of all the widgets here, only Timbuktu cost more than $20, and I only have that for my consulting, for which it’s necessary — and so tax-deductible.

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Zero Inbox items!

by Michael Alderete on 12/13/2004

Zero E-mail Inbox Items!It’s pretty hard for me to believe, but right now my e-mail Inbox has zero items in it. I think the last time this was true was about 2 minutes before I first got e-mail. It’s taken quite a bit of effort, and a lot of letting go, to get to this point. (And I suppose I cheated by filing a bunch of stuff, when I should either read and delete, or just delete.)

How long will it last? Well, I’d like to make this permanent, and follow procedures similar to those advocated in the Good Experience guide to Managing Incoming E-mail. That’s even more discipline, but now that I’m at zero items, it becomes a whole lot easier, because I can tell instantly if I am getting lazy.

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Rochelle passes

by Michael Alderete on 12/12/2004

Today Rochelle received her notification letter from San Jose State, informing her that the two papers she submitted for culmination of her Masters program had been accepted as passing. This was her last requirement for her program, and so she will soon be graduating, adding a Masters in Library and Information Sciences to her Masters of Tequila.

Congratulations Rochelle!

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More proof Windows is braindead

by Michael Alderete on 12/9/2004

I just borrowed Rochelle’s flash-based pen drive to transfer a file from her old PC to her new one (some contacts data we forgot in the original migration). After transferring the file, I selected a couple of old files to delete, and dragged them to the trash.

It turns out, for some reason I had a third item selected, a folder of Rochelle’s, and it got dragged to the trash, too. No big deal, right, just hit Undo, or go into the Recycling Bin and retrieve it, right?

Wrong. Windows XP deletes items from removable drives (or at least pen drives) immediately; they don’t sit in the trash, ever. So hopefully Rochelle has copies of the stuff in that was in that folder. Otherwise, it’s gone for good.

Thanks Windows.

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Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide

December 8, 2004

Mark Hurst is a recognized technology and user experience expert, who writes a (now) annual guide to good technology and other gifts, called Uncle Mark’s Gift Guide and Almanac. There are good recommendations on things to buy for others, or for yourself, at a wide variety of price points.

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A few fixes, still digging

December 5, 2004

This evening I looked at this site’s error log, and found old URLs that no longer worked. And fixed most of them.

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Fried Chicken!

December 5, 2004

Rochelle found a new soul food place in San Francisco through the Chowhound.com message boards, Miya, out in the Sunset. They’re terrific.

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What’s old is new again

December 3, 2004

One of the funny things about converting from one weblog system to another was that I discovered a bunch of old posts which never got, well, posted.

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