Saturday, September 30, 2006

GTD: The Next Action

One of the crucial elements of Getting Things Done is getting the right "Next Action". It's amazing how, even for simple projects, we can get the wrong next action.

For months, I've been meaning to but some plastic bins for the kitchen cabinets to hold spices and other stuff on the higher shelves. We have some temporary bins that are a little too big to let the doors close, so I needed to get some different ones. But the job just wasn't getting done. On my "@store" ToDo list on my Treo I have "bins for kitchen cabinets". So early in the week I stop at the selection of plastic bins and I realize I have no idea if what I'm looking at will fit. I'd hoped to find the same bins we already have and just buy something a little smaller, but no luck. So I had to go back to my ToDo list and add "measure cabinets for bins" to my "@home" list. Now that I've got them measured, the project is back on my "at the store" list and should go pretty easy. As long as I can find a ruler in the store...

It was such a simple project, but by getting the right steps down and getting them set up on the right contexts, it all flows smoothly.

Friday, September 29, 2006

GTD: Emptying Your Mind

It's pretty cool how really following Getting Things Done can empty your mind of "open loops". Tomorrow I have to go to the dentist and earlier today I thought of the fact that I don't have my new dental insurance card in my wallet. It was sitting in my home "inbox" which I haven't been very good about processing. So I simply added an alarmed reminder to my Treo to remind me tonight to deal with the new card. Hours later I'm at home and I remembered that I'd set an alarmed reminder, but I sat there and had no idea what I'd set the reminder for. I really couldn't even remember. So I looked up the reminder before it went off and was pretty surprised that I hadn't even thought about the insurance card since I'd put it in my Treo. In the past I would have remembered that several times throughout the day, but probably forgotten it when I got home. I probably would have remembered it while I was in bed about to fall asleep or in the shower in the morning, but then I'd forget again until I got almost to the dentist and had to come back for it. But since I'd captured the task in a reliable system, I could let it completely fall out of my mind and it still got done.

Monday, September 25, 2006

LCD Torture

Several weeks ago I finally made the switch to LCD flat-panel monitors, both at home and at work. Within a week my eyes were doing worse, almost to the point where it was a constant distraction. It's a little hard to understand because even though I used pretty high-quality CRTs with high refresh rates, the LCDs still look significantly better. I took a few steps that reduced my eye strain significantly.

I reduced the contrast. At work my LCD was turned up as bright as it would go, so I reduced the brightness and contrast to just above the point that I thought it was too dark. At home I like to work most of the time without much light in the room, so even though the LCD brightness wasn't cranked way up, it still had a lot of contrast with the rest of the room. So now I try to work with a light on in the room. I'm looking for a small, cool light to put behind my monitor to reduce the contrast with the background.

I also switched my primary text editor, Vim, to a white on black color scheme instead of black on white. I was already using similar white/green/grey on black for all my terminals, 3270 sessions, Windows consoles, etc., but I spend at least half my day staring at Vim. Maybe I need to look at some of the web apps where I spend a lot of time, like Jira, and swap the color scheme on those.

Between those two changes, my eyes feel a lot better now, even though I had to spend even more time working lately.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


We had our first night of Detour last night. It's our new Wednesday night children's ministry at church. It's sort of a cross between our old Pioneer Clubs and WorshipU and is loosely based on the Workshop Wonders book. The kids start with a large group time. Last night we had about 5 middle and senior high youth come and talk about what "responsibility" (our virtue for the month) means to them. In the next few weeks we've got a lot of different guest speakers lined up each time. Then we did some praise and worship music and broke out into our activity groups. This first time we have a Lego builder's club, preschool art, cake decorating, dog training, science lab, homework help, and tech team (the lights, sound system, video, etc.). We didn't have many kids for the homework help, but I know that will pick up in the next few weeks. We have an amazing set of volunteers waiting to help and tutor, so nobody should have to stay home on Wednesday nights because the kids have too much homework.

I had to fill in at the last minute for the science teacher, so we mostly worked with vinegar and baking soda. Most kids past first grade have seen it bubble over and half of the kids had built the typical volcanoes. So I filled up some Ziploc sandwich bags and got them to explode, which was a little more exciting. I didn't get time to find some soap bubbles to try another trick I'd read about online yesterday. You build up a big pool of CO2 in a dishpan or some other tub. Then you blow soap bubbles over it. The CO2 is heaver than room air and tends to stay in the container pretty well. Since the bubbles are filled with room air, they'll float on the CO2 layer instead of sinking. It sounds neat enough that I still want to go back and try it with the kids. Maybe next week, but I think we're going to do electricity, light bulbs, LEDs, etc. Maybe some radio stuff?

Last night went pretty smooth considering that it was the first night. A lot smoother than the first night of Pioneer Club last year. I heard that we got a lot of positive feedback from parents and kids. The new remodelled space for the kids is looking amazing and it's still not quite finished. I really need to get some photos as areas get completed.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Deford: "... we are sinners."

Frank Deford argued in this NPR segment that the government should legalize, regulate, and tax sports gambling. It's an old argument that comes up with regard to vices that laws have failed to stop. What was interesting though was Deford's somewhat different spin on it.
Maybe it's a sin to gamble. Okay. But it's an even greater sin not to accept the fact that we are sinners. The government ought to book that bet.

I thought that was an interesting new-but-old take on this argument.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Getting Things Done

Book CoverI've spent the last few weeks [ok, last few months] reading David Allen's Getting Things Done. It's been on my "should read" list for quite a while. References to Getting Things Done or GTD kept showing up in blogs I'd read or reviews of productivity software. So I finally got around to reading it and implementing at least some of it.

What's so great about GTD? There are essentially two main points. Get everything you need to do out of your head and put it down on paper.

Before I started following this, I can't tell you how many times an hour I'd remember something I needed to do. Sitting in my car on the way home I'd remember things I needed to do at work. Or I'd be in the shower and remember that I needed more gas for the lawnmower. Or at dinner with my family and remember that I needed to buy a new tube of toothpaste. All those little reminders would just float around in my head. Some would make it into my Todo list on my Treo, but not enough. Now whenever I think of anything new I need to get done, it goes into my system. Most of the todo's go into my Treo, organized by context. So when I'm at the computer, I've got a list of emails to send and things to look up. Or when I'm at the hardware store, I've got a shopping list of whatever I've thought of over the past few weeks. Longer-term or bigger things go into a document on my computer for me to plan out the individual actions. Or in a pinch, I write it on an index card or scrap of paper and make sure I get it into my "system" as soon as I can.

The other big idea from GTD is to really figure out the "next action" of your todo items. Like "clean the house" isn't an action. It's a project. A project that'll never get started until you start with an individual action. Listing out the action steps on a project helps a lot. I've always done that for major projects, but I've never considered how not doing that for seeming little things like buying a new digital camera can stall that project. Without discovering actions like "research cameras online" first, that todo would just sit and sit on my list. I'd look at digital cameras whenever I was out, but never get around to making a decision because when I was online, it wouldn't occur to me to look up digital cameras.

There is more to the book than just those two points, but they're the big ones as far as I'm concerned. It's definately worth reading.

Monday, September 11, 2006

MSDN Events

Russ Fustino sent me a reminder about another free Microsoft Developer Network event. I've been to a few and it's always been worth the trip. They're local to almost everywhere. You get to meet a lot of other developers, see some of the newest Microsoft stuff, and usually get some free stuff. In Tampa, ours are usually followed by a "Pub Club" social time where you can really get to meet a lot of other local developers and our local Microsoft guys responsible for the developer community, Russ and
Joe Healy.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Live CDs

I've been using different live CDs for years now, starting with Knoppix. If you've never tried Linux, a live CD makes a great way to give it a spin. The latest DVD-R versions of Knoppix contain almost everything I'd want out of a Linux install, all from a zero-footprint bootable disk.

These days I alternate between Knoppix and Damn Small Linux, depending on what I need from the machine or how old and slow it is. I carry a 1 gig USB key anyways, so I can save off anything I need to keep or work on.

With a mini-CDR of Damn Small Linux, a Linksys WPC-11 wifi card, and my USB key, I can pick up pretty much any old laptop with a CD-ROM drive and boot it up into a useable environment.

Moving In

I'm going to try to move my blog back over to Blogger, now that they've finally made some improvements with their Blogger beta. Maybe I'll pick up the pace a little. I'm importing a few of my postings from my old blog and other places.