Monday, July 20, 2009

Related Websites and Resources

I frequently find material related to the topics I blog about frequently, or other things of interest that perhaps do not warrant a blog post of their own. I have started sharing them using a public Evernote Notebook.

The link is here and it is also listed over in the right column at the bottom of the "Common Topics Blogged Here Section"

I hope you find it useful.

How to stop losing USB Drives


How many USB Drives have you bought? How many have you lost?

Is it a marketing ploy on the part of the manufacturers to make them so easy to lose? It is beyond annoying and even costly; when you misplace one with important files on it, it can be alarming.

I haven't worried about losing one in a while. I've stopped using them.

Instead, I have subscribed to Dropbox. There are many online file storage sites online, but Dropbox has a unique feature. You can load a small applet that runs in your System Tray. When you click on it, you get a Windows Explorer view of the files in your Dropbox. Anything you drag and drop to this view, gets sync'd to your Dropbox account.


The beauty is, you an have this applet on any number of PC's. I have one on my primary PC, but also on the laptop I use. So when I copy something to my Dropbox folder (the default is My Documents/My Dropbox) it is also in that folder on my laptop next time I start it up.

I've created an account for my wife. When I need to share a file with my wife, I just upload it to her account. She can grab it whether she's upstairs, or at work.

Dropbox comes with 2 gigabytes for free. You can get more space by buying it on a monthly basis. So far for our needs, 2 gig is enough.

Dropbox also has some great file sharing abilities. I am going to begin using those this week. One of my non-work efforts is coordinating the Audio-Visual Team at our church. One element of that is creating PowerPoint slides projected before and during the services. We have a workflow to coordinate the creation and editing of these slides encompassing the Ministers, the Church Staff, the Music Leads and Choir members. We had been using a check-in/check-out repository I found called OpenDocMan, but it seems too complicated for our simple needs. Dropbox seems to be a better solution for us. I'll blog again about this after we have had a few weeks experience.

The only time I still need a USB Drive is to share files with a PC that is not web connected. And I find fewer and fewer of those in my life now-a-days.

You can see a short screencast about Dropbox here.

Shameless plea: I get can get a small bump in my free 2 gig of storage space by referring users. If you want to try Dropbox, could you sign-up using this link? Thanks!

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Much ado about Todo's

or Using Evernote to Manage your Tasks

There are a lot of programs out there that will list tasks, their due dates, priorities etc. and give you this information in an attractive format and on various platforms.

Some of the many I've looked at : Toodledo, GMail Tasks, Remember the Milk, and more.

Unfortunately, they all lack the other part I want, the information I need to do the task. I have tried many, but went on back to using and further developing my own little PHP app. I've been writing my own app to handle tasks and store information since 1980. As a hobbyist programmer, I was never compelled to finish it. I'd just use it as a learning exercise when a new platform came out that interested me. I've had it running on a Radio Shack Model 1, Model 100, on a PC starting with Dbase III, Toolbook, Visual Basic, Perl and most recently PHP (Ajax for my PC, and straight PHP for my phone version). I'll blog about that bizarre, 30 year trip another time.

I’d get the program to where it was useful for me, and be content until I was ready to re-write it again in a new language I wanted to learn.

That is, until I re-discovered Evernote.

For the first two months I used Evernote I was just using it to store information. I was still using my PHP app. I have tried Google Calendars new task capability. It allowed me to drag tasks around, but again, failed at the other need—keeping the other information I’d like to associate with tasks.

I decided to explore using Evernote as a task manager.

Now, there are a lot of ways to manage tasks. As I wrote my Apps over the years, I've thought about this a great deal. It was interesting how fast I was able to emulate the abilities of my PHP app in Evernote. My PHP App, the Ajax version anyway, let me drag tasks from job jars to Today, or from Past Due to today etc. That was easy to emulate using Evernote’s Notebooks.

The last few years, the Getting Things Done (GTD) by David Allen has been all the rage. Wired Magazine called it "A new cult for the info age" . My system is not quite as formalized as Allen's. If I had to name it, I'd call it WW4U, or Whatever Works For You.

Here's what works for me:

A task is a separate note; one task=one note. That way, I have lots of room to have information I need about the task, and to log notes of progress on the task including notes and timestamps of conversations I had concerning the task.

I created a small collection of Notebooks. Tags won't work here. In fact, I don't use tags for my tasks, except if I want them related to other notes I have. Tags are not necessary for my task system.

I number the Notebooks so they stay in the order I want them.

Here's are the Notebooks I have. There is some overlap with GTD because thinking about the same problem, can lead to similar solutions. I didn't realize how much until today and I took a closer look at GTD then I ever had before.

Remember, you can create your own setup. That's the beauty of WW4U.

When I create a new task, I just move it to the Day of the Week I want to do it. If it isn’t that important, it goes to “Current Job Jar” or “Ideas”. Ideas are really pie in the sky ideas I might want to do one day.

Each morning, I look at the tasks for that day of the week. I then prioritize them. Ones that need to be done today go to “Today-High”. The work day is not over until that notebook is empty.

When I finish that day’s high priority tasks, I can then start on the “Today-Medium” ones. “Today-Low” tend to have tasks needing done further out, or little five minutes tasks I can grab and do when I have a few minutes before a scheduled call.

When I finish a task, I make whatever notes I want about the execution of the task in the Note, and then drag the note to the “Completed Today” notebook.

At the end of the day, it is very gratifying to see a list of what I managed to accomplish that day. Some days, it feels like all you did was put out fires and dodge falling bricks. Seeing that list of completed items is good for the soul.

That was another failing of task programs—they want you to delete completed tasks. By storing them, I can document later that I did do something, and when I did it.

My last task of the day, is to move items from “Completed Today”. They either go to “Completed Tasks” or to the day they next need to be done. For example, I am forever forgetting to take my allergy pill, so I have a task called “Daily Pill”. When I do it, it goes to “Completed Today”, and then at the end of the day, to the Notebook for the next day.

Uncompleted Items form the three Today notebooks go to the Day of the Week folder for tomorrow. Tomorrow morning, I take them, prioritize them and start anew.

Current Job Jar is for me, my honey-do list. The things my wife wants me to do in my spare time. Since Evernote links between my home & work PC, I manage both work & personal tasks with one system.

Some workday nights, I’ll empty out the Today Notebooks at the end of the workday, and then go through the process again, choosing personal tasks to populate the Today notebooks if I’m gong to spend the night working on personal projects.

I love the whole idea of moving the tasks around from one notebook to another. It is the electronic form of shuffling index cards around.

Here’s the elegance of WW4U. If you don’t like how I’ve set it up, design your own system. Evernote is very flexible.

If you develop your own layout and process, write it down as a note and keep it handy in Evernote so you can have it to remind yourself of your intended workflow. This blog post is my process document.

If you’re out and about, and suddenly remember a task you need to remember, just whip out your cell phone and text in your task.

Most cell phones allow texting to an email address. Your Evernote account has a unique email account. You can find out yours by logging into Evernote.com, and looking on your Settings page.

The incoming task lands in your Default Notebook, which I recommend be called something like “Inbox”. The next time you’re at one of your Evernote clients, move the task from the inbox to the appropriate Notebook.

And of course, since your tasks are in Evernote, you have them available to you on your smartphone either via the mobile website, or a full blown client if you have the Palm Pre, certain Blackberrys, the iPhone and soon, Android and Symbian phones (at least according to Evernote's Podcast #7).

This works well for me for discrete tasks. For events, items that have to happen at a certain time, use a calendar, either paper or online, like Google Calendar.

I've been enjoying using Google Calendars since it lets you send in Events to it via SMS too.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Something else to wait for from Google

Last night Google finally admitted they were planning a PC Operating System.

I have a note for a future blog post (in Evernote, of course) on the inevitability of Google coming out with an OS. Really, I did.

Of course, like many, I thought they'd be expanding on Android.

Tonight, reading over today's traffic, I see there was a lot written about this today. Some trying to say Microsoft is now dead, while others say it isn't a big deal.

The product is a year out. A lot happens in this space in a year. All I can say is, we'll see.

My first thought was that turning the browser into an operating system was inevitable. Marc Andreessen, the founder of the Mosaic browser which begat Netscape, Firefox, and even Internet Explorer, was moving in that direction back in the 90's. It is what forced Microsoft to move to "cut off Netscape's air supply" as one Microsoft executive wrote in an email later subpoenaed in the Microsoft anti-trust action.

Microsoft feared a browser with the right support from its underlying operating system could eliminate the need for a bloated OS, and allow creation of online versions of Office applications so they moved rapidly against Netscape.

The Guardian said today :

"If Google can get enough people to buy computers running its new Chrome OS, it will cut into Microsoft's two biggest cash cows: Windows and its Office suite of programs, including Word, Excel and PowerPoint. Microsoft, which once spoke of "cutting off the air supply" of a web-based rival, Netscape, has woken up to find a new threat reaching for its throat.The confrontation has been expected for years – despite Google's insistence it had no such ambitions ..."

They did manage to get ten years more for their OS dominance and Office Suite.

And now, like Wave and for some, Google Voice invites, we have something new to eagerly anticipate from Google.

Missing San Francisco Tonight

Ten years away from living in San Francisco, I haven't missed it all that much. Oh, yes, I sometimes wish I could get on my bike and ride only 10 minutes and be along the Bay and riding up to the bridge, but not very often.

Tonight, I wish I could be at the Evernote party. I'm afraid, after no understanding what is meant by an Apple Fanboy, or an X-Box 360 Fanboy, that I have gained insight and have become a Evernote Fanboy.

Oh well, it could be worse.

Hope they all have fun there tonight. I am in my secret heart, hoping for a major announcement to come out of the party. Like maybe a new Window's client a huge leap over what we see in the 3.5 client in Alpha on their forum.

I haven't seen any hints of there being any kind of announcement at the party though. Alas.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Is Google Voice about to finally roll-out?


Sure looks like Google Voice is getting ready for a massive roll-out.

When they converted from Grand Central to Google Voice in March, they said wider rollout to the public would come in a matter of weeks.

The frustration level was building to a fever pitch as weeks stretched into months, and little news came out of the Google Mountain View Monolith. Then a couple weeks ago, they announced that people on the Grand Central and Google Voice waiting lists would begin getting invites.

I can tell from Twitter chatter some have received them, but many are still waiting.

Today Google announced current users could change their phone numbers for $10.

And I am starting to see some 3rd party companies announce products tied to GV.
All of this seems to point towards a pending wider release.

If you have read this blog, you know I think Google Voice is an awesome product. You may wonder why Google is going to offer you such an awesome product, much of it for free.

Mike Elgan wrote in ComputerWorld a good theory.

"The common assumption that Google's customers are its users is false. As a Google user, when is the last time you paid Google for services rendered?

"Google users are the "product" -- users are not Google's customers. By this I mean that Google is selling information about its users to advertisers, which are the company's real customers."

...

"I'm going to give it to you straight: I believe Google Voice is free because Google wants to track your phone calls, read your voicemails and text messages and invade your privacy to offer you up on a silver platter to advertisers."

He points out this is already true with Gmail. Go into your Gmail, pull up an email and then look to the right at the ads. They are related to your email, aren't they?

Google is going to do the same with GV.

You know something? I don't have a problem with it. Others might, but I don't.

Everything I do online is somewhere already. Afraid of Big Brother? Too late. If you are being investigated subpoenas will get investigators everything about you from your Twits, your Facebook Wall, and your Google search terms.

But what if all that information can help you find worthwhile products.

Dilbert's creator Scott Adams wrote recently that Shopping is Broken. He said : "How much more stimulated would the economy be if the people who have money, and are willing to spend it, could be reliably connected with the products that they desire?"

So don't look at GV as invading your privacy, look at it as giving our economy a needed boost.

And it can save me money on my phone bill to boot.

And help me when I drop my cell phone in the toilet. That's a topic for another day though.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Five quick things about Evernote

One : Some confusion reined yesterday and today about the new Firefox 3.5 and the Evernote add-on for Firefox. A lot of people are reporting the add-in is not working for them. It wasn't for me.

Following advice I saw from someone on Twitter, I uninstalled the add-on, and then went and reinstalled from the Firefox Add-in library. It works fine now.

Two: Business Week came out with a great article about Evernote today.

Three: Evernote's Podcast #7 is up. These are always enjoyable and informative.

In this one, they explain how they decide what phones to release clients for, and when they release. Basically, they want to match the release with the excitement over the phone's release to gain the most new customers.

That's why the iPhone version 3 came out with the new iPhone 3gs, and why the Palm Pre version came out with the release of that phone.

They admitted Android and Symbian versions are in the works. I expect we'll see them when phones for those OS are released with a great splash.

Side note about the Podcasts. They start and begin with a user story called into their Google Voice number. The one on the end is a sterling sounding guy, if I do say so myself.

Four: In my Tips post two days ago, I forgot one advantage of having a directory watched by Evernote and having everything that appears in it sucked into Evernote.

Before Evernote, I was used to making daily notes or quick little notes into the Windows Notepad. I put a shortcut for Notepad prominently on my desktop, and still find myself clicking on it and entering notes before I can stop myself. No problem, I just save the file to my designated folder and the note is absorbed right into Evernote.

I also forgot to link to my own "Google Type Star Lists" tip I made on June 18 as another good tip.

Five: Evernote tonight announced the web version now has auto-save.

And this has nothing to do with Evernote, but I note tonight the passing of Compuserve. I went online first in 1980, and have been online ever since. My first ISP was Compuserve. That login is still part of my nervous system, 70145,114. Wow, haven't typed that in 15 years or so, but it tripped right off the fingers, so to speak.