A Week With…

First, an apology. I have done a horrible job with keeping up with my Monday Mac Tweak. Part of the reason for that is not only a lack of time but also running out of cool tweaks to post about. Therefore, I have decided to temporarily suspend my Mac Tweak series so that I may introduce another regular series that may end up doing a better job of keeping up with it’s spirit.
New series, I dub thee: A Week With…
I am sure by the title alone you can begin to get the idea. I will spend a whole week trying out a new thing. In most cases it will be software but it could be something else. Maybe a new piece of hardware or a new web based application or website. I all cases it will be something i am genuinely interested in trying and/or have been thinking about trying but have not gotten around to yet I will then tell you about how that week went and what the future holds. I will announce the item on Monday and tell you a little bit about it. Then, on Friday (or sometime during the weekend if Friday gets busy), I will post my experience. Make sense? Therefore, tune in on Monday to see what crazy thing I am doing first.

Adobe and Macromedia and You

My initial reaction to news of this merger was one of shock. The news has so many ramifications on the publishing industry, both traditional and web, that it is almost mind-boggling. I think part of the reason for my previous lack of direction on this matter has been that I am not quite sure how I feel about it.  
On one hand, these are the two most dominant creative software forces in the publishing and pre-press and web content creation industries. While there were certainly areas where they overlapped and were competitors (Dreamweaver vs. Go Live or Illustrator vs. Freehand for instance) more often they really do have two different audiences. Adobe has always been more focussed on the traditional publishing industry (Illustrator for design, Photoshop for graphics editing, InDesign for page layout and Postscript for printing) whereas Macromedia has been more focused on the Web and Multimedia (Dreamweaver for Web Editing, Flash for media rich web content, etc.). Therefore, the combined strength of these two should benefit users greatly by allowing them to produce more seamless integration between these two areas which means more flexibility for the designers and end users they serve.
On the other hand, this merger creates what essentially will be the Microsoft of publishing and media creation. Adobe will have a monopoly over the design world. One company will control the software used for the content of almost everything we read and see and output to both traditional print media and the web. Like Microsoft, having one company with that much power can’t and probably wont be a good thing.
To sum it all up, I have very mixed feelings. From a technological standpoint this will mean very exiting possibilities for those who use any of these software products. I just wish it did not come at the expense of competition.

Running Your Company On Web Apps

Evan Williams discusses running your company on web apps.
Key Quote:

“The improved efficiency of having these apps available, and not having to install and maintain servers for them is huge. At Pyra, we wrote our own discussion board at one time (not that there weren’t other available) and, later, I wrote a support management tool, because I couldn’t find anything like Kayako (or Neotonic — which Google bought and took off the market). And I was dying for email management, like FogBugz has.”

As I mentioned last week, this is becoming not only possible but increasingly attractive; especially to small groups in disparate locations.

Notes on Notes

Here are a few random items on notes and note taking that are worth checking out:
Michael Hyatt has an short but excellent article on his method for taking notes on Working Smart called Recovering The Lost Art of Note Taking. There are some excellent ideas here.
There is a great post on 43 Folders praising the power of Post Its™ and some ideas about how to use them. If further interested, read this article from Rake Magazine about their long and fabled history.
Looking for a good Mac tool to drop little text snippets from almost any application for pasting and or saving? Look no further than Sidenote. It takes the form of a little drawer that hides on the side of your screen and hides away when not needed. It will even capture images and rich text.

The Tao of Tiger

OK, I must admit, when I first installed Mac OS 10.4 Tiger and used it for the first couple of days I was fairly underwhelmed. Sure, some of the new features were cool and all but some of the most touted ones simply left me wanting more. The new Mail application for instance, why can’t I change the background color for the new mailbox “drawer” and why can’t I choose which side it lives on? Why do I have to press a button to bring my Dashboard widgets to the front. Why can’t they live permanently on my desktop like Konfabulator widgets do? I mean, if you are going to “borrow” elements of a great idea, why not “borrow” the useful ones.
Thing is, most of the cool features are little tweaks done here and there. The annotation feature in Preview for instance. Yet another step towards never using the painfully slow Adobe Reader ever again. That makes double for the inline PDF viewing now added to Safari.
You want more? Well Apple has posted a nice page detailing more than 200 new features in Tiger. Read this if you install Tiger and wonder what you got for your hard earned cash.

What They Don’t Sell You

I was recently going over my Amazon Wish List and came across a few items that they don’t sell that I wish they did:
1) Time – Seems that I could knock a number of items off of my wish list if I could just buy what many of the books on there are meant to solve. My quest for being more productive and organized all center around not ever feeling like I have enough time. What is even more ironic is that, when I get these books, it takes me forever to read them because I just don’t have the time to do so. I actually even schedule time to read (i.e. literally block it out on my calendar) and I still find that even keeping that commitment to myself is difficult due to all of the other obligations and responsibilities in my life that I put first (and most often they rightfully deserve that placement).
2) Cloning – I am also stretched way to thin. There is literally not enough of me to satisfy all of the demands in my life. If there were several more than I would not need to purchase the item mentioned above. I suspect that, one day, I will be able to purchase this item somewhere. Maybe even in my lifetime. It is at least more likely we will find a way to be several places at once than it is to stretch time itself.
3) Capabilities – This would not even have to be all new capabilities. If we could just get upgrades to our current ones. For instance, if I could just be more focused and more organized perhaps I would not even need items #1 and #2 above. Like a Processor, RAM or Hard Drive upgrade, this should cost even less than a complete brain replacement but provide comparable benefits.
I am sure you can see where I am going here. The bottom line is that lately I have been feeling overwhelmed and directionless. I wish I could have enough time and money to devote to simply getting organized and productive. To paraphrase an old saying “You have to spend time to make time.”

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