August 2, 2008

Ships Bells Revisited…

Posted in Mac, Mac Software, Productivity at 2:45 am by a11en

A kind reader (Russ P.) shared with me his method for playing the Naval Ship’s Bells (for the daily watch) with us on my About page.  I’ve been meaning to revisit this for a while, ever since my first discussion of Chimes on OsX.  Since I tend to be a fan of the Un*x underpinnings of OsX, I tend to try and use common commands (that are already on your system, that you might not know about) to get these types of tasks done.

For a bit of a review of the methods I’ve used for the Westminster Chimes on OsX, please read my previous post on the topic: Westminster Chimes

I will be using a few of the same tricks here, but I won’t be using one- AppleScript.  For the Ships Bells, AppleScript really isn’t needed.  We’ll be adding 8 lines to our Cron file (using the nice GUI program called Cronnix.  Unlike the Westminster chimes, we don’t have to do any computation to determine the number of times to chime a bell (for the hourly chimes).

First, snag some Ships Bells audio files.  The files here: WxTide Ships Bells are already separated by the number of bells: 1-8 bells.  You of course can use any Ships Bells audio files you like to accomplish this task.  Just be aware that we’re using an approach below that uses a separate file for each type of bell (1-8).

Second, head over to Wikipedia to read about the watches and when the bells are to chime: Wikipedia.  Look closely at that first table… we’ll use it in one second (save it).

Third, if you haven’t done so yet, snag a copy of Play Sound which is a simple program, very easy to call, and we’re going to use it like the following (you can try a variant of this in your terminal.app):

open -a /Applications/PlaySound.app /Users/yournamehere/soundfiles/2bells.wav

That’s a nifty little one-liner that will play a file (here 2bells.wav) with an application you specify (here PlaySound.app).  For more help on this command, in the terminal type “man open” (manual for open).

Now, the sneaky part is we’re not even going to use AppleScript at all to play the ShipsBells!  Haha!  What we are going to do, however, is to run that CLI command directly from Cronnix (the program that keeps track of when to run things for us).

Fourth, make 8 lines in your Cron file (via Cronnix GUI) to play the bells at the appropriate times.  I do this by simply following along with the table in the Wikipedia article, and adding commas for each field in the Cron file as needed…

An example.. the 1 Bell chime can be seen in the first line of the table in the wikipedia article… and here’s the cron command for it:
30    0,4,8,12,16,18,20    *    *    *    open -a /Applications/playsound/Play\ Sound.app /Users/yournamehere/ShipsBells/wxtide32_bells/1bells.wav

As you can see, the 1 bell chime plays on the half-hours of the following hours of the day: Midnight, 4am, 8am, 12pm, 4pm, 6pm, 8pm  (this one is funny, because of the Dog Watches).

Actually, with that little example, you can see the power of the simple Cron command… I can accommodate all the Dog watches very easily, where as some programs you can download don’t even do the dog watches.

We completely avoid Applescript because no calculations are required.  We only lose out in that we have 8 lines to add to our cron-file.  But, I don’t think Cron will be mad we added those 8 lines (one for each of the 8 bells specifying exactly when during the day they are to chime).

So, that’s a simple and quick way to add Ship’s Bells to your computer, if you’re in the Nautical mood.

A quick one goes out to Sailorman Jack- Fair Winds, Jack!

March 28, 2008

National City – Horrible Bank

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:59 pm by a11en

A quick note to anyone opening accounts or attempting to get loans, etc. Avoid National City Bank like the plqgue.

They soaked up a small-town bank that I was with since I first started putting money into a bank. Once they did that, every year service and quality of the banking dropped. Policies continue to change, account overdraft fees continue to climb high. There are discussions online about them moving around charges in order to obtain the highest possible fees from their customers. Others are discussing how their online banking invoices will show their account is perfect, a single charge goes through and a previous day’s deposit is reworked to 2 days after the debit, allowing for fees to be accrued. It’s shockingly horrible.

I’m not discussing my own personal case, because I’ve been trying to leave them for months, and I’m only now seeing the light at the end oft he tunnel. Hopefully in a few month’s time, I will no longer be a disgruntled customer.

My advice- find a local employee’s credit union. My local credit union has never ceased to amaze me with their wonderful service. During my ID theft situations, their safety officers had personal meetings with me regarding how they could help to secure my ID and account. All their tellers and customer service reps are amazingly kind. When I got my car loan ages ago, it was better than anyone in terms of fees or interest rates. The dealer couldn’t even hope to match it (and didn’t even try).

March 20, 2008

GTD: SmartBrain -v- DumbBrain

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:30 am by a11en

Trying to get myself back on the horse here. This is my conceptualization of why GTD is a good thing to implement. [Very soon, I’ll have a bit more pointed discussion of “Why GTD works”- in which we’ll let a Mathematician jump in and discuss how we work with problems.]

But today, while reading the every end of GTD, I came up with an idea of how to conceptualize the problems people have in getting things done, and what the GTD approach attempts to do. I call it: “SmartBrain -v- DumbBrain.”

The idea is quite simple. SmartBrain is the part of our brain which is saying: “Yes, good idea, get that done.” or “Yes, I need to make Goo-Widgets for my project.” DumbBrain is the part of our brain that implements. Basically, it’s the brain that decides: “Do this next.” DumbBrain is the thing that sits between your eyes when they’re scanning your Lists and implements your actions based upon your list-items.

The basic problem in getting things done, is that DumbBrain is sorta lazy, and doesn’t like to do much work. It doesn’t communicate well with SmartBrain, and since SmartBrain sometimes doesn’t convey exactly what it wants to get done, DumbBrain (being dumb) generally doesn’t get what SmartBrain means.

Let’s first talk a bit about what DumbBrain needs in order to accomplish things. DumbBrain basically needs to be handed on a silver-platter some sort of easily understood list of items it can choose from and tell “body” what to do. It is sort of like the lazy-boyfriend in the middle of an important MythBusters episode with a beer in hand, firmly ensconced on the very wide squishy chair with feet up on the long short table like object. Tell him to “clean up,” and he’s likely to grunt some sort of affirmative-sounding sound yet stay where he is watching for more shots of the cute chick who welds on the moving-picture box.

What DumbBrain needs is something more like: “Honey- since it’s the commercial and you’re mostly just drooling with a blank stare at a Hoodia mini-info-mercial, could you snag that empty chip-bag and throw it in a ball towards that basket right there?” Now, that, is do-able. :) “Me knows how to throw, and me thinks it’s more fun than Stupid Hoodia-mercial.”

Now, let’s talk about SmartBrain. He’s the Einstein of your head. He says: “YEs yes, that’s the next product idea! Do it!” He may pause in his smart-think long enough to write down “Widget is a great idea- make it!” Only problem, is that SmartBrain likes to think more than he likes to itemize and project-plan. So, he’s much more likely to (in the next 10 minutes) say: “Hey, since I wrote down Widget idea, let’s find out about Bocelli at Wikipedia- that sounds awesome.” [Enter: relatively useless info about Bocelli unless you’re a music student who needs to research Bocelli at this very moment.] He’s much less likely to write down all the steps DumbBrain needs to implement “make it!”

What SmartBrain needs to do, is learn how to talk to DumbBrain. He needs to itemize, run a flow-chart, organize, and drop lists which are stupid-dumb for DumbBrain to see. “Hey DumbBrain- Pitch the Chip-Bag you left out last night (when you get home) before your GF goes ballistic upon entering the door.” Or, in short-form: “At home, pitch Chip-bag.” That of course might be in the overall project called: “Make girlfriend happy about horrible state of apartment.”

It’s SmartBrain’s job to be smart. And to realize DumbBrain is lazy and won’t be able to figure out what “Widget” meant last week, or exactly what needs: to be done with, or too, or about “Widget.”

This is exactly why GTD works. It gives a run-down of what SmartBrain *should* be doing to help DumbBrain work, but isn’t currently. So, yeah, you might read GTD and think: Hell, that’s simple. Straight-forward. Everyone Knows that. Well, ok, smarty-pants: Why the hell aren’t you doing it then? Are projects still slipping through your memory? Still don’t know where Project B left off 2 months ago? Still don’t know what to do next when you have free-time? What is hindering your work? What is it that DumbBrain isn’t getting when it’s time to do something? Think about what DumbBrain needs to accomplish things, and try and slow SmartBrain down enough to give DumbBrain those cues it needs. [This might mean more extensive project planning, weekly reviews, or even refinement of your whole list-system to include next-actions only. Or, putting your cell-phone in your coat-pocket at night before bed… BTW, Life-hacks are also tricks SmartBrain can use to help DumbBrain get crap done.]

February 28, 2008

Resume Writing

Posted in Uncategorized at 1:39 am by a11en

Just for the record, Resume writing sucks. Somehow I have to sum up my usefulness in 2 pages? Put my best face forward, and hope they give me a shot at an interview! I know exactly where I want to work… now I just need to convince them I’m the man for the job. [Although, I will take offers from other companies as well…]

I have a new post I just must write… I found an interesting Mathematician recently in wikipedia, and I just have to share his amazing comments. They’re absolutely directly applicable to GTD and productivity. I can’t wait to share them with you, but I have to get this other stuff done ASAP.

Let’s hope I can get back to you guys this weekend. I’m excited by the find, and I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised. Hopefully it will spur on your work.

Chat with you soon!
-Allen

p.s.- posting has been slow because I’ve taken a part-time job at the university where I work. The job gives me all sorts of wonderful access to fab equipment (clean-room, PECVD, RIE, Mask Aligners, Ebeam, ALD)… it means I have much less time in my day, and much more to get done. It’s been a seriously pressing time. Enjoyable, but I’m starting to freak out about how much I need to get done. OmniFocus has saved my butt in my part-time-job. Everything goes into OmniFocus, and I tick off all the tasks as I get them accomplished. Extremely useful. Not perfect yet, but very useful. [Omni- Work on printing!!! It’s horrendous right now! I’ll have to put up a post about that as well.]

p.p.s.- we may also have a guest blogger sometime soon… if I can convince her to write a snippet… Michele, my GF, may write about her experience receiving a ProFlowers.com flower bouquet for valentine’s day (and what was good and what was not so very good…) We’ll see if I can convince her to try it out.

As always, here’s wishing you excellence in your work, the foresight to choose your next actions carefully, and success in all your intellectual endeavors!

February 13, 2008

Jillian of Project Runway

Posted in Uncategorized at 11:26 pm by a11en

Quick post- Who doesn’t love Project Runway?  One of the designers has been growing on me steadily.  She has girl-next door looks, with something added that makes her more and more intriguing the more you watch her.  There’s only one problem- I wish she’d get a bit more girly excited.  I keep wishing for a bit more emotion out of Jillian, who often has a very monotone voice while describing her visions.  [Is it her vision?  Why so monotone?]  Although, we do see her frustrated side often.  So, perhaps it’s merely that she’s not really that happy.  Not sure.  But, the last episode we got to see a bit of that girly glee… she ran back off the catwalk swinging her dress.  Very very cute.  Add to that the peak of a black garter underneath that fantastic little dress she was wearing, and vavavoom!!  :)  Very very *nice*.

Now, I just need to find a screen-capture to share with you all…

oh, ps- is it just me, or is it a darned shame that all these gorgeous models get naked in front of all these guys who so obviously couldn’t give a rat’s ass about naked women?  :)  [Christian needs to tone down the volume knob just a bit.  Step it down from “11” to say, 5 or so.  His volume knob definitely goes up to 11.]

Back to our regularly unscheduled program…

January 30, 2008

SprintPCS online account stuff sucks big time.

Posted in Uncategorized at 8:34 pm by a11en

Another mini-rant here- will keep it very short. SprintPCS’s online account management system is completely crappy. I can’t figure out anything on their account system, and rarely can I ever log into the account online. It’s so horrible that next go around I’ll likely get rid of my account with them.

January 25, 2008

Tax Rebate- I have a better idea…

Posted in Uncategorized at 12:51 pm by a11en

Another quick one today, guys. So, this is my comment on the new tax-rebate thing headed through congress. Interesting idea. I get a check (maybe) perhaps sometime in August? Hmm… I have a way better idea. Stop taking my money in the first place!!! Heck, if “you” had stopped taking my money in the first place, I’d have had my cash back before May of last year! Now *that’s* a quick rebate eh? Think that might have stimulated the economy? Not taking my money in the first place, allowing me to get more interest on it over a longer period of time? If I had had that money, I most likely would have spent it.

Every single rebate is 100% made up of money taken from someone who would have spent it earlier. It’s very possible that that money would have had a serious effect on the recent slowing in growth of the economy. Even if the cash had only been placed in an interest bearing account, the standard rate, whatever it is now (let’s say 4%) would have been added to the cash. It would have increased the purchasing power of the institution, the loaning power, etc. More people would have been able to purchase a car, or get a mortgage… every bit of that cash that is now finally being returned (to who Congress decides needs it, not to who actually owns that money) could have been creating growth and wealth and product in our current economy.

Wow, I sure am glad that Congress is so darned smart.

January 24, 2008

Bibdesk 1.3.13 apparently is superstitious

Posted in Mac, Mac Software, Work at 2:37 am by a11en

(Mac Only) Just a quick post today. For those of you who are Bibdesk users and are still using Tiger, a small warning. Bibdesk 1.3.13 appears to break some things. I can’t do a simple drag and drop file addition/auto-filing in 1.3.13. There seems to be some serious changes to the code and new preview windows etc., in the item info screen. These changes are nice, but I can’t live without drag and drop file addition/autofiling and simple click opening of PDFs into preview (or skim). So, I’ve deprecated to 1.3.12 to get back to the working system I had before my update. Hopefully 1.3.14 will fix things. Guess the number 13 was a bad one for Bibdesk.

January 22, 2008

Under 40 Mammogram Notes

Posted in Medicine, Rants at 8:44 pm by a11en

This is an adult topic, but it’s not necessarily “adult.” The things talked about here are scientific in nature, not erotic.

So, I was researching this evening something that stuck in my head (a friend brought this up recently due to something she experienced) regarding Mammography. Basically, it’s an x-ray of breast tissue. Unfortunately, for shorter women, and women who aren’t well endowed, it often is difficult to get a Mammogram performed properly. To make matters worse, there is a slight increase in risk due to the gamma-radiation of the Mammogram for women under the age of 40. To top this all off, it turns out that women under the age of 40 often have regular breast density differences just due to their more active hormones, etc. There are apparently missed cancers in differing breast-mass Mammograms, as well as false-positives for differing breast-density which is often completely normal for women under 40. Very interesting.

A 1998 article on the subject [1] suggests that due to these factors, Mammography is not useful for younger women, and suggests that directed ultrasound examination be used to determine the type of mass and whether it is clinically suspect. The reason for the directed ultrasound is quite simple… if they go running around doing a complete ultrasound examination, they will likely find many more masses which are not suspect due to the differing breast density in younger women. Then, if the mass is clinically suspect, fine-needle aspiration which has an excellent rate of determining benign or malignant masses can be used. Then, decisions about what to do with both can be discussed. Benign of course you can simple do a follow-up clinical examination to determine if the mass has grown or not, and any other subsequent ultrasound or FNA can be done at that time.

Basically, Mammography has changed very little since the 1970s, and over a billion dollars spent in trying to update it to make it a better screening method has failed to improve it’s effectiveness. [2] Couple this with very low cancer rates in women below 40, the increase in risk due to radiation, and the density differences which cause false-positives, Mammography appears to be somewhat unimportant and unuseful for women under 40. One of the reasons I suspect it is a preferred test, is quite simply due to its cost. Cost appears to be $50-150.00, quite an easy bill to foot. The problem quite simply is that if it misses smaller masses and has false-positives on varying tissue density, it doesn’t appear that useful.

The reason this came up was quite simply because I was confused at the call for a mammogram in a friend who is well under 40 (actually under 35)… that lead me to dig a bit more, and I realized that the clinical suggestions are such that there is not much that indicates mammography in women that young. [Not just the screening procedures.] So, I feel quite likely this is another case of a doc (here a practitioner not an MD) just following rote the marching orders, failing to realize that age was an important factor here, and with a simple test, why not? Well, why not is quite simple- poor efficacy (false positives and false negatives) and an (albeit small) increase in gamma-radiation exposure. No reason to do so, why do it? Besides, that very same day (within a half-hour) she’s scheduled for an ultra-sound examination (I wonder if it’s a comprehensive US, or if it’s just directed- better be directed, or else I’ll think someone is not doing their job very well over there…). The ultrasound does a much better job at imaging masses in women this age, and will likely just confirm an earlier diagnosis of fibroadenoma for similar masses in the same patient.

I get quite tired of docs who can’t stay current with these things… I experienced this with another friend who had been mis-diagnosed with a very crazy disease. Reading and talking with the experts in the field revealed that quite likely the docs were being way over cautious, and that there was very little to indicate the extreme (and somewhat rare) disease classification was warranted.

In this litigation crazy world, however, I can understand overly cautious docs. Likely they’re doing everything they can for the first friend, simply because litigation of missed cancers in younger women is much much higher than in older women. So, again, litigation rules the marching orders for docs, not the actual science behind the medicine. The hippocratic oath suggests to me that even a slight gamma-radiation exposure when not warranted may be simply removed to prevent any slight possibility of complication in the future. Of course, if she was litigation crazy, she could simply suggest that any future breast cancer was likely caused by the non-indicated use of a mammogram while she was younger than 40. [How’s that for a scare, hospital lawyers?]

Update: The first friend had her examinations today. She asked the practitioners again about the mammogram, but they gave her line something like: “We need the mammogram to help support the ultrasound.” So, she says to them: “Well, ok, I think I understand, but I’m going to wait on the mammogram right now because I’m uncomfortable with the test at this time.” She keeps her ultrasound appointment, is in and out for the test. (I had time to read maybe 2 long paragraphs and make notes for that chapter.) The ultrasound tech confirmed everything I said here, as well as suggested that for my friend, it would be a bad idea due to her breast size. The ultrasound went perfectly, did a fantastic job of imaging the mass, and it was found to be a simple fluid filled cyst. Had she gone ahead with her mammogram, she likely would have gotten a bazillion hits on different masses, and then the rush to find out which mass may be cancerous would begin. When, due to the extremely high false-positive rate (90%) for mammography, coupled with the under 40 cancer rate (less than 4%) every mass would likely be benign. I suggest an alternative method… create a grid of dots on the breasts, and do FNA’s all over the breast tissue. At least the efficacy would be significantly higher than in a Mammogram. [Of course I don’t actually suggest this- but it would be more effective than mammography in young women. Likely you’d be doing FNA’s all day long with all the masses that would show up in mammography.] Finally a simple disclaimer- I’m not an expert, I’ve just read some articles on this. So, don’t take all the above as rote. Find the actual journal articles, read them, and make up your own opinions. [It’s surprising how easy it is to do.]

  1. M. Morrow, S. Wong, and L. Venta. The evaluation of breast masses in women younger than forty years of age. Surgery, 124(4):634–641, 1998. (via Science Direct)
  2. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mammography

January 17, 2008

Test post

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:56 pm by a11en

This is a test.

Ha… since Big D. asked about what I was testing- I’m testing the ability for TextMate to post to a blog. :) And now I’m testing how TextMate edits a blog post. Sorry it wasn’t more exciting- like blogging via my internal wifi transceiver I installed in my left nostril last year. Upgrading that to 802.11n is going to be a b!@##.

Hope you guys have a wonderful weekend!!

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