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Rethinking The Box

As I have been thinking more and more about the reorganization of my digital life (moving from digital to paper for some tasks for instance) I have also been thinking more about where my organizational data lives, how I currently access it and where things are headed in the future.
For instance, Google, with their Gmail product, is attempting to redefine how we access our e-mail, how we store it and where we store it. The idea being that we should have virtually limitless e-mail storage, on a centralized server, available from anywhere, able to be accessed through any browser or client, with threaded or context based views of topics and that we should not have to file it into folders because it is able to be searched by sender, subject and content so therefore retrieved very quickly. This idea has been a compelling one to me from the outset and, now that they allow POP access, I have considered using it even more for my personal e-mail (Especially since I have 5 or 6 e-mail addresses and I eventually would like to pair them down some).
Side note: I have been swearing for years that I will one day just have two e-mail addresses, one for work and one for personal stuff but have just not been able to bring myself to do it. This would help me so much in being able to handle the sorting, filing and responding to of mail. Making my personal one a Gmail account would be a good solution but I just can’t bring myself to do it.
This has me starting to wonder how many other items will eventually move in this direction. A few of weeks ago I mentioned Ta-da List, a free web based list manager. You can create lists (To Do, Shopping, Books to Read, etc.), share them with others, e-mail them and subscribe to them via RSS. I also mentioned that the company that makes it, 37 Signals, also has a brilliant and robust project manager called Basecamp that offers even more features and functionality. The focus of these, like Gmail, is clearly the idea of having access to such data via the web from practically anywhere, anytime and the ability to access it via a iety of methods and share it with others.
Word on the street is that 37 Signal’s next product, called Backpack, will be a calendar and/or contact manager based on these same ideas. All that is needed here is the use of open standards that can tie them into already existing client products (Apple’s iCal or MS Outlook for instance) and I have a pretty compelling reason to move away from my current solution there as well.
More and more I see this as further steps toward the idea that our data will, one day, be able to be accessed everywhere at any time. Open standards will allow us to access it via web based or client based solutions. The choice of how and where we work with our data will be ours. This idea that our data only lives on the little box under our desk will be a thing of the past.

The Broken Window Theory

Brilliant article about fixing problems right away or they will inevitably become too large to fix. Choice quote:
“Bill Venners: What is the broken window theory?”
Andy Hunt: Researchers studying urban decay wanted to find out why some neighborhoods escape the ravages of the inner city, and others right next door—with the same demographics and economic makeup—would become a hell hole where the cops were scared to go in. They wanted to figure out what made the difference.
The researchers did a test. They took a nice car, like a Jaguar, and parked it in the South Bronx in New York. They retreated back to a duck blind, and watched to see what would happen. They left the car parked there for something like four days, and nothing happened. It wasn’t touched. So they went up and broke a little window on the side, and went back to the blind. In something like four hours, the car was turned upside down, torched, and stripped—the whole works.
They did more studies and developed a “Broken Window Theory.” A window gets broken at an apartment building, but no one fixes it. It’s left broken. Then something else gets broken. Maybe it’s an accident, maybe not, but it isn’t fixed either. Graffiti starts to appear. More and more damage accumulates. Very quickly you get an exponential ramp. The whole building decays. Tenants move out. Crime moves in. And you’ve lost the game. It’s all over.
We use the broken window theory as a metaphor for managing technical debt on a project.”
Read more here

Monday Mac Tweak #9

Notational Velocity
It is hard to describe Notational Velocity without describing what it doesn’t do… It does not do styles. It does not store pictures or movies. It does not do fancy outlines, link to documents or address book contacts. It does not have a fancy interface or cool features. As a matter of fact, it does not do much at all… That is what makes it so great!
All Notational Velocity does is allow you to record and search text notes. That’s it. But it does this is such a simple way and has an interface so devoid of complexity that it is almost a little bit erie when you see how powerful it is in concept. Basically, It does this by using a single text field for both searching and creating your notes. I know this sounds strange but keep trying to follow. When you start to type, it starts live searching all of your notes and their contents. If you want to create a new note just hit “return” and it will start a new note with whatever you just typed as it’s title. I know, I know, I did not grok it at first but once you get used to it you will be blown away.
It is a cocoa application so it does support all of the stuff that other cocoa applications do such as spell checking, services, etc. It also saves on the fly (i.e. it saves as you enter) and stores everything with 128 bit encryption. Oh yeah, and it is freeware so it is worth the price to download it and give it a try. It might take a little getting used to at first but once you “drink the kool-aid” it will be hard to give up.

Two Tribes: Blog Battle Update

When two tribes go to war, one is all that you can score.

After much discussion and deliberation, Rodney and I have decided to call a truce and declare a draw. The Blog Battle is over. Both parties have agreed to go to their neutral corners. In the end, how does one objectively decide on a winner in a “quality only” battle. In the end we are both winners because it had the end result of our posting more often which is what we really wanted to come from all of this anyway. As for the prize? Well, we had decided to go out for dinner anyway and just pay for ourselves, which we also do not get to do often so we are winners in that as well.

Monday Mac Tweak #8

We continue highlighting the applications I use on a daily basis to keep my busy life organized. This week we feature:
Mariner Write
Sure, I have Microsoft Word on my Powerbook but I find that, in general, it is way too much for my needs. It has a one size (XXL in the case of Word) fits all mentality that makes it slow and bloated and non intuitive for my tastes. Many of the most useful features are either not well documented are buried needlessly in the depths of the program and I could easily grab a cup of coffee during the time it takes to fully launch. I need a word processor that is fast to load, takes up very little hard drive space, has just the features I need and makes those features intuitive and easy to find.
I have found what I look for in Mariner Software’s wonderful word processor, Mariner Write. It can handle all of the tasks most people would ever need in a word processor. Not only that but it can also Open, Read and Write Microsoft Word compatible files so there is no need to worry if your friends, clients and coworkers send you Word .doc files (or you need to send one to them). An added bonus, and one that helps me a great deal, is the ability to save files directly as a PDF file. Mac OS X has built in support for PDF files and Write leverages that ability seamlessly. Let’s get that straight. I am not talking about saving to PDF from the Print dialog. I am talking Save As: PDF! It also has multiple text selection, a split pane view that allows one to see and edit two separate sections of the same document and all of the other features one would expect from a full featured word processor.
If you are looking for a word processors with 80% of the features of MS Word but none of the bloat, look no further.

Jackson Meadow

Jackson Meadow is a sustainable rural community located in Marine on St. Croix. It was designed by famed architect David Samela and is nothing short of breathtaking. It has been featured in most of the contemporary home magazines like Metropolitan Home and Dwell. Bethany and I had the occasion to visit the development during the Parade of Homes a few weekends back and had a great time. The all white houses in ying styles with pitched metal roofs against the background of the Minnesota winter made for some picturesque views. I highly recommend to anyone with even a passing interest in architecture to make a pilgrimage. It is a beautiful drive and close enough to Stillwater to make a day of it.

Upgrading to Paper: The Stylus

Sorry for the lack of a post yesterday. Please believe me when I tell you that I was unable to. I will try to make up for it by posting some items today. This will be made easier by the fact that Carleton was closed at around 1:00PM today due to the snowstorm currently beating it’s way across Southern Minnesota.
OK, so there is even more to be considered in my current switch to paper. Not only must one consider a proper notebook to use, one must also replace their “stylus” as well. I am currently using a Sarasa Zebra Gel Retractible Pen, mainly because that is the best pen they sell in the Campus bookstore. I usually carry at least two of these with me. One in black, for writing and one in red, for checking items off or annotation. I have been looking for a better and more permanent replacement. First of all, carrying two pens around is a drag. Second, the only ones they sell at the bookstore have a .07 point which is a little to large for me and has a tendency to bleed through the already robust Moleskine paper.
Mike Shea has an excellent review of pens (with a little added lineup of the pens and paper he uses near the bottom) that is well worth a read, even though the one I like is not on there. I am leaning towards the Rotring Quattro Multipen, mainly because of it’s multiple points (Black, Red, Pencil and Orange highlighter) but $50.00 for a pen is a bit out of my price range right now. Even $32.00 for the version without highlighter is a bit much to pay right now. Therefore, I may have to see if i can find a Pilot G2 or two in a .05 size for the time being.

Stickin’ it to da A&R man!

More and more, artists are taking back control of their art and sticking it to the man. Fiona Apple joins those ranks. When the evil |empire refused to release her new album (I am betting because she is over 21 years of age, actually plays an instrument and writes her own songs) she flipped them the bird and put it out on P2P and pimped it to independent radio herself. Wired has the full story:
Fiona Apple Is Cookin’ on the Net