Monday, May 29

Cool video

A bunch of people using household items as percussion instruments:

YouTube - Music for One Apartment and Six Drummers

Saturday, May 27

Today's Calvin and Hobbes

Consumerism at its finest...

uComics - Calvin and Hobbes for 5/27/1995

Friday, May 26

Google software on a new PC?

Dell is apparently going to start selling Windows PCs with some Google software pre-installed starting at the end of this month.

No, wait. Go back and read that again. They're actually making things other than Microsoft bloatware the default browser home page and desktop serach engine. The Microsoft stuff will still be included, but how often does a new computer owner change settings from the defaults?

My big question is this: is Google just installing its destop search, or will it include other software in the Google Pack as well? If these PCs come with Firefox set as the browser of choice, I will be overjoyed. - Google Knocks Microsoft off Dell PCs

Tuesday, May 23

Review: Mozilla Firefox

What software do you use to browse the World Wide Web? These days, too may Windows users don't know the answer to that question. Neither do they know that there's a much better program than the one they probably employ; the free Mozilla Firefox browser.

Most people using Windows view Web pages with Microsoft's Internet Explorer because it comes along with the operating system. The browsers that are packaged with AOL and MSN Internet access are really just thinly-disguised copies of IE, so subscribers to those ISPs are probably using it even though they're not aware of it. The 80% share of the Web-browsing market that IE holds is mostly due to the fact that many Internet users are not even aware that they have a choice. And if IE users knew the problems with their implicit choice, they would certainly choose another piece of software.

Enter Mozilla's Firefox browser. Firefox is a much more secure browsing environment than Internet Explorer; most spam and spyware make their way on to a Windows PC because of security problems with IE. (Ever since I set up my in-laws' computers with Firefox, the amount of spyware infection they incur has been down almost 100%. I'm pretty sure the reason I have to say "almost" is because of an attempt to download and try out the new beta version of IE.)

Everybody who wants to view pages and sites on the Web should use Firefox. In addition to its much greater level of security, Firefox also is better at using the standards of the Internet to display content in exactly the way that the people who write Web pages intend you to see them. My main personal reasons for using Firefox are two-fold: portability and extensibility.

Firstly, I use Firefox because it is portable. It works in (nearly) exactly the same manner whether you run it on Windows, Macintosh OSX, or the many flavors of Linux. This means that I can browse the Web in the same way, with the same interface, no matter what computer I happen to be using. Since I use both Mac and Windows, this is a big deal.

In addition, I use Firefox because I can customize it to work exactly how I want. It works perfectly fine if you just download, install, and use it "out-of-the-box," but the ability to install extensions is really cool. Extensions can do things like add toolbar buttons with interesting features or automatically change the size of the text on Web pages you visit (I've got a really high-resolution screen and the words can come out pretty small, so enlarging all text makes things much easier on my eyes).

The most important Firefox feature, however, is the high security I mentioned above. When malicious hackers find minor flaws in Firefox (like they do in every piece of software), the holes are quickly patched and updates are automatically installed on every version of Firefox higher than 1.5. Since it's free, there's no reason not to go try it out and set it as your computer's default browser!

Version reviewed:
Price: free
License: Mozilla EULA
Web location: Mozilla Firefox
Download size: Win - 5MB, Mac - 16MB, Linux - 8MB

Sunday, May 21

Getting Things Done: Defining Your Areas

I promised a few days ago on Lifehacker that I would share my latest and greatest GTD breakthrough, and here it is: Define your areas.

What do I mean by that? Well, the answer is found in three more questions:

  • What are your inboxes?
  • Where do you file reference and support information?
  • How do you mark media for your "to read/listen/watch" list(s)?
If you're like me, I'm sure you have a number of inputs into your system. I, personally, have physical inboxes at work and at home, email addresses for business and personal use, voicemail at work and on my cell phone, and an answering machine in my bedroom for those weird people that insist on getting in touch with me via that archaic land-line in my apartment.

Defining these inputs as specific locations helps immensely in figuring out where to go next in bringing new information into my system. Instead of just waiting until something new hits the horizon of my attention, I have a specific list of places and things to check when I need new information.

But defining the inboxes is only the first step. Next, I took these inboxes and categorized them by context:
  • Office - in tray, voicemail, Lotus Notes
  • Internet - gmail (this includes the voice notes I leave myself via and daily digests of subscribed RSS feeds via Squeet)
  • Home - unread mail basket, answering machine
  • Mobile - cell voicemail
When I'm in my office at work, I have access to the Office, Internet and Mobile contexts-- and those are the inboxes I survey, in order, when I'm looking for items to process. When I'm in my car, only Mobile is available. Having a concrete list of inputs is a great boon when sitting and wondering what to do next, and also in convincing myself that I've checked them all lately and I better get over to a Next Actions list and start working.

In addition to defining inboxes and placing them in context, I also find that it's important to specifically define what my filing systems are:
  • Office - physical files, central filing server
  • Internet - gmail,, writely, Powerbook over SFTP
  • Home - physical files, Powerbook, Windows desktop
  • Mobile - expanding file folder, Powerbook (only when traveling)
Knowing exactly where all of my filing systems are, and exactly what sorts of information I keep in each, makes recall of filed items incredibly fast.

Finally, the last set of areas to define are my "to read" piles:
  • Office - lower tray (I have a two-tiered inbox)
  • Internet - ("toRead," "checkOut," and "lookAgain" are tags I use to mark online reading materials I'd like to peruse)
  • Home - nightstand
  • Mobile - iPod (for podcasts and Audible content), expanding file (one pocket is labeled "to read")
When I have a few minutes of down-time, or I need to read something to "cleanse my productivity palate" between tasks, I have specifically-defined areas to which I can go and find material to keep me occupied.

And there it is. By defining my areas, I make sure that I know exactly what I'm supposed to be accomplishing when I'm performing certain tasks. I make sure that the steps of collecting and processing are kept distinct from the work of actually finishing next actions, and I know exactly where I should look (and, perhaps even more important, the only places I can look) when I need to retrieve filed information. I even have specific places in which to store reading material for down-time! By defining areas and keeping them distinct from each other, I avoid the tendency to wonder where to look to find new information, and what to do with it once it's been found.

Thursday, May 18

Macbook arrives without the "Pro," still pretty compelling

It looks like Apple's new MacBook with the glossy screen and optional black plastic case is pretty darn cool. It's got the Core Duo processor (so all Mac laptops now run Intel), an iSight camera, and a new keyboard.

Check it out (review below)!

Macworld: Hands on with Apple's new MacBook with Windows

UPDATE 5/24/06: Way better (and easier-to-read) review over at David Pogue's blog.

Tuesday, May 16

Software reviews

I've decided to add a new element to this blog: software reviews. I use a ton of software for a number of tasks, and I have played with hundreds of titles in my quest to find just the right tool for the things I like to do with my computer. More often than not I can find a solution with little or no monetary cost, and I want to share the knowledge I have gained in my Web travels.

Before I start down the road of sharing my favorite software with readers, I want to describe my method. Each review will contain the software's Web location, price, download size and will let you know the version number I'm using as a basis for my comments. I'll talk about the type of users for whom the software is designed, why I use it, and what sets it apart from other applications designed to do similar things.

I'll also tell you about the license under which the software is distributed. I'm a big fan of a movement often referred to as FLOSS; i.e. Free/Libre and Open Source Software. (I didn't come up with the acronym; I just use it. It's pretty silly, of you ask me.) The addition of the word "Libre" is crucial: since the word "free" has multiple definitions in English, Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation have chosen to make explicit the difference between software that is available for zero cost (as in "free beer") and software that is liberated from constraint (as in "free speech"). Free/Gratis is the term used to describe the former, and Free/Libre the latter.

Open Source software is that for which the programming instructions (i.e. the "source code") used to create it is available to be seen, reviewed, and even contributed to by anyone with the knowledge and ability to utilize it. This ensures that the program is as error-free as possible, since the world at large is invited to make comments and help in its construction. A common analog with which many people are more familiar is the online reference Wikipedia, the community-driven encyclopedia that owes its level of accuracy to the fact that there is a worldwide community that polices its content.

While I have a strong predilection for FLOSS, not all applications I mention here will be open-source. I'm also cheap, so if I find a closed-source project for which the download is nevertheless free I will likely include it here. Also, the vast majority of my computing is done on a Macintosh, but I will do my best not to focus solely on applications designed for Apple's OS X. The best part about most FLOSS, though, is that it can be easily used on a variety of operating systems, so I will also refer to versions for Windows and/or Linux when they are available.

Later, I will devote my first review to that flagship of open-source programs, Mozilla's Firefox web browser. Look for it (hopefully) within the next week.

Saturday, May 13

This blog is 2 years old!

I forgot to mention it yesterday (the actual birthday of this blog), but I've been blogging here for two years now!

Wednesday, May 10

Getting Things Done: Minimizing Inputs

One of the things David Allen mentions in The Big Book of GTD is that it's important to have as few inputs into your system as you can handle. That makes things just that much easier to process, since you have fewer "inboxes" to check.

He mentions that inputs can include physical inboxes, email inboxes, voice recorders, and pads of paper (with notes from meetings, seminars, etc.) These are all useful in their own individual ways, but choosing to keep track of too many of them will make a GTD system a bit top-heavy and likely to fall over.

One of the best tools I have found to eliminate one of these inboxes is This is a free service that provides a free telephone number that can accept faxes and voicemails and forwards them to the email address of your choice. I set up one of these numbers, so now putting a new idea into my system is as simple as picking up my cell phone and recording a short message to myself.

I have a voice recorder on my phone, but I never remember to check the messages I leave for myself until three months later when the Google search I was contemplating isn't the least bit interesting to me anymore. Since I'm constantly on top of my email, these nuggets of personal wisdom no longer fall through the cracks. The best part is that I can make these notes to myself from anywhere, even when I'm driving and unable to write anything down.

The number you're assigned is in a Seattle area code, but as long as your cell phone has free US long distance (and who in this country doesn't these days?) it's only a matter of using a minute worth of your coverage plan for each note you record. The message comes to you as a .WAV attachment in your email. A fax is received as some sort of an image file, but I haven't used the service in that way yet.

Check it out! It's free, easy, and full of GTD goodness!

K7 Unified Messaging, free Fax and voicemail to email.

Monday, May 8

More Mac Baloney

This is essentially the same thing Dvorak said about Apple while back... except Kantor says that the migration to Windows will be due to decisions made by the users, not Apple itself.

Either way, Mac users are not going to give up OS X. While Boot Camp allows Intel-based computers from Apple to run Windows, I seriously doubt that anyone would opt to use it as their primary operating system when they've got something much better and more secure just a reboot away. - Boot Camp will start exodus to Windows

Tuesday, May 2

Getting Things Done: I Changed Pens!

Those who know me well realize that I'm never without a pen somewhere on my person (well, hardly ever, anyway). In college, when somebody needed a writing implement, eyes automatically turned to me. And since college, my chosen ink-based instrument of inscription has been the retractable medium black ballpoint Pilot EasyTouch.

When buying the index cards for my new Hipster PDA, I bought a new pen. This is a monumental moment in the life of my shirt pocket. Instead, I got the retractable .7mm black roller-gel Pilot G2. I really like it, but once this pack runs out I'll probably go for its .5mm extra-fine counterpart.

The main thing that was bugging me about the retractable EasyTouch was the propensity of the clippy bit to break off without notice. Since I usually wear shirts with front pockets and prefer to keep my pen there, lack of a clippy bit makes things difficult. The G2 looks to be a bit sturdier in the regard.

Also, the size I've been writing on my hPDA cards is not particularly conducive to the medium ballpoint. The text is small enough for my printing to start collapsing in on itself with the thick lines my old pen was producing. Not to mention the fact that the ballpoint often needs a kick-start to get the ink flowing properly.

So the new pen is doing well, at least for now. I'll let you know how it goes.

(Did I just spend a whole blog post talking about my pen?!?)

Getting Things Done: am I a Hipster now?

Well, despite the nifty Applescripts I posted on Saturday, I've come to the realization that my iPod is not the best place to keep my GTD lists. Managing them is difficult to do on the fly (since it has to be hooked up to a computer), and the screen is too small for the amount of time I feel I'll need to be spending with the lists.

I've gone the route of the Hipster PDA (PDA is intended to stand for Parietal Disgorgement Aid, since there's nothing digital about this personal assistant). I'm keeping all of my next actions lists on index cards held together by a small binder clip. These are infinitely portable, modifiable on the fly, and easy to reorder.

The act of physically writing my actions down (as opposed to typing them) helps me to think of them as more permanent than the ephemeral bits that were keeping them together before. And there's nothing quite like actually crossing something off of a list... it's a way better feeling than hitting the 'Delete' key and watching letters disappear.

This is still in the testing phase, but I think it will work well. I'm still using a version of the scripts I mentioned (just to keep calendars and contacts on the iPod), but all of the TextWrangler bits have been removed from my personal copies.

Apple's new TV ad campaign

These ads (see the link below) are awesome. I just saw the "iLife" one on TV last night, and I was very impressed.

John Hodgman (the "PC") is an author and humorist who has appeared on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, and Justin Long (the "Mac") has been in movies like Dodgeball and Galaxy Quest.

Watch the ads. You'll like them, I promise.

And get a Mac. :-)

Apple - Get a Mac - Watch The TV Ads

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 United States License. Permissions beyond the scope of this license may be available by emailing the author (use the link above).

The Geek Code desperately needs updating, but in any case here's mine (as of 2010-02-28):

Version: 3.12
GIT/MU d+(-) s:+>: a C++> ULXB++++$ L+++ M++ w--() !O !V P+ E---
W+++ N o++ K? PS PE++ Y+ PGP t !5 X- R- tv+@ b++ DI++++ D--- e*++
h--- r+++ y+++ G+

If you really care about knowing what that all means, you either know the code already, or you can get it decoded for you here.