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!

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.

October 23, 2007

WLS-AM Difficulties in Streaming Audio

Posted in Mac, Mac Software, Rants at 11:31 am by a11en

Well, I figure it’s time for a small mini-rant.  After all, you guys get tired of listening to me not-ranting, don’t you?  😉

I’ve been a long-time listener to WLS-AM (890 kHz- Chicago, IL).  When I can’t get it via the radio, I often attempt to get it via streaming audio.  Recently, the radio-station made a change to how it was streaming its audio.  It appears they have contracted out the audio streaming to some insane company called  players.eonstreams.com.  Fine.  Just fine.  Except, well, that it’s impossible for me to stream their audio anymore!  I can’t get their stream in anything other than a d*Q!#@ web-browser with their !@!@# pop-up window and in-line advertisements.  Well, that’s just b-e-a-utiful.

They’ve lost a listener, at least an on-line listener.  They used to be one of the major online radio streams, and I can only guess that now, they aren’t even registering in listenership.  Why oh, why, WLS-AM did you need to make this change?  Honestly, do you think it was worth it to get a few more adverts up to only support web-service streaming with weirdo-pop-ups and platform specific audio?  [Windows media player only!]  What in the world is happening up there at the station?  Someone dropped the ball on that one.

Guess the money was worth it.  Well, you can count me out on listenership online.

September 7, 2007

iPod Touch: update- Hacking and Searches

Posted in iPod, Mac, Mac Software at 5:51 pm by a11en

Well, a bit of an update on the “Hacker-Killer” release of the iPod Touch. Gizmodo is reporting:

The iPod runs Mac OS X like the iPhone does and we have got unofficial word from inside Apple that it runs exactly the same applications. The exact quote: “they use the same damn binaries.”

They also discuss that the same internals are likely there, with some modest interface differences.  In fact, they are reporting that Apple likely didn’t install the usual iPhone software (Mail.app, Stocks, etc.) due to differentiation in the product line.  I completely concur, and suggested this in my last post.

Then there are some questions as to whether or not the microphone within the iPhone’s headset is available (hiding within the headphone jack of the iPod Touch) for use.  Some mentioned that the headphone jack is *not* recessed in the iPod Touch, and therefore your kick-ass Shure noise-isolation ear-buds will work… but this may mean that the headphone jack was changed out in the iPod Touch (will have to do a bit more digging to confirm this).  But, I think we can expect to see the iPod taken apart in the first few weeks of it’s life, as well as  someone trying out the iPhone headset with it.  The only problem will be, are there any apps for it, if it does use the microphone?

As Gizmodo suggests, we are all now learning about the applications which are available to hackers of the iPhone.  In a new post, I’ll update and add links to the apps which are being added by the savvy to their iPhone, and see what that might mean for iPod Touch users.

BTW, it seems we are all of the same mind.  Recent search hits from the blog show that people are arriving here looking for:

  1. PDF abilities on the iPod Touch–  Most likely this will be the same as the PDF abilities on the iPhone within the browser.  There are some reports that the browser requires the full PDF to be available in the phone before showing the first page (as most browsers do these days).  This might not be too important to people who wish to download their pdfs to the iPod Touch.  But- will there be a reader capable of surfing the file-system on the iPod?
  2. Skype on iPod Touch– we’ve talked about this in the past… I think it will come down to a USB microphone product… I can’t see Apple allowing a microphone input on this device.  In fact, I think we’ll see the device was crippled once it gets into the hacker/cracker’s hands.
  3. Bluetooth on the iPod Touch–  Gizmodo readers commented on this as well.  Unfortunately, this appears to be another no-go.  If the internals of the iPod Touch really are the same as the iPhone, I think we will have some serious confirmation that Apple *doesn’t* want this device to be much more than a reader.  They’re thinking consumer visual reader hardware, not useful communication device.  Truly it could be the latter, Apple just needs to get out of this mode of thinking.  [Again, re iPod’s lack of high-def record abilities.]
  4. iPod Touch SSH– seems I’m not the only one.  The good news, is that if the terminal is working, most likely we can install the simple ssh libraries and binaries needed in the underpinning.  I suspect we’ll see SSH pretty quickly.  Likely we won’t be able to pass through VPN’s, however.  But, time will tell.

One possible solution to the difficulties in low-on-board memory may be streaming content via your own webpage.  I suspect we’ll see an amped up version of .mac for users of the iPod Touch.  Apple will probably attempt to link the home iTunes materials (video and audio) through streaming content and secure connections to the iPod Touch via wifi.  This obviously isn’t the best option for these things, but it may alleviate some of the lack of memory.  This may be the only solution we have to do PDF’s if we can’t figure out how to get the pdf’s from the core system file area.

Will be updating this weekend with what I find out for applications on the iPhone.

September 6, 2007

iPod Touch: Released due to hacking of iPhone?

Posted in iPod, Mac, Mac Software, Rants at 11:00 am by a11en

So, in talking on the phone (regular cell phone, which I hate, btw), with my brother about all the wonderful possibilities for the iPod Touch, we touched on a number of aspects regarding future devices. We also talked about how Apple set this release up with panache to fit within their tier of products. An earlier commenter, Shawn, brought me a bit back down to earth, chastising me for not seeing the iPod Touch for what it is. True, Shawn, the iPod Touch is just that- an iPod that you can touch the screen of. With the added bonus of Wifi. [Interesting]

And on that note, my brother made an observation that I must share with you. Kudos goes to the guy for a moment of sheer genius. The question we were trying to answer was: “Why not a microphone? Why not bluetooth for keyboard attachment?… etc.” In a flash of brilliance, My Bro, hereafter called “D” (to protect the innocence of little D… yeah right).. said the following: “Dude. They released the iPod Touch because people were hacking the iPhone.” I sat in silence for a few moments… I think D is onto something serious here. It fits. It fits good. It fits really really good. What was everyone and their doggies with webpages screaming for when the iPhone came out? “No Phone.. we just want an iPod.” It was a nice enough device (touch technology getting major kudos here, as well as the sweet flip-screen ability), that people started hacking it. They made it work in Europe, they made it work as an iPod without any darned phone ability. They were taking the device and hacking it in a big big way. Big enough that there were startups thinking about offering their services to hack these devices for everyone.

ATT must have been pissed. I know I would have been. Hell, they probably had the European release scheduled, and then the Asian release… everything planned out. Then, within 2 months of it being in the wild, a crack that allowed other network useage, as well as new applications and bricking the phone for use as a Wifi Browser (albeit a seriously expensive wifi browser)?

So, what does Apple do? They have this device in the works… they were planning to do this. What did people really ask for? An iPod that let’s them surf the internet. Pretty sweet device. I suspect Apple was (is) gearing up to give us more. How do they stop the incessant hacking? They release a device that gives us exactly what we were screaming for. That would cause either (1) the iPhone hacking to take a serious hit in interest, and (2) start a whole new type of hacking on the more popular iPod Touch. All to the benefit of the cellular networks (ATT) that were frustrated they were losing money and customers.

Let’s see if perhaps there isn’t a bit more to support this… let’s actually try and purchase one of these iPod Touches… oh, wait… I see I can order the new Widescreen Nanos… yes, they ship in 1-3 business days… I see that I can do the same with the shuffles and the iPod Classics… yup, ships in 1-3 business days. Hmm… iPod touch? No love… ships on the 28th of this month. That’s 22 days away. Hmm… interesting!! Vary vary interesting….

Looking closer at the iPod Touch… we see that it has practically the same *everything* as the iPhone. Sure, it’s a bit smaller around the edges, the top-plastic seems to be a bit shorter on top… perhaps the button divot is a bit smaller. The screen appears to be the same. My prediction? The first person to crack this cover off and look at the internals is going to find some missing chips inside and a bunch of connectivity not used. This, my friends, is an iPhone without a bunch of stuff inside. Slightly repackaged. I personally think it’s not a new product… I think it’s actually the iPhone. 🙂 That’s my take on this. They pushed this sucker out the door as fast as they could. They didn’t care they burnt some of the iPhone early adopters (oh sure, they paid lipservice to them by not including Mail.app and a chat feature and removed blue-tooth as well as the microphone port). Nope, this was a “hacker-killer.” They want to divert your attention. And, you know what? I think it’s going to work. I personally want to know much much more about the iPod Touch and want hackers to hack it as fast as they can! Give me a terminal and a few other apps, and I’m so there.

🙂 So, Kudos goes to my brother the infamous “D” (yes, he used to do some children’s TV shows back in the day along with the other letters.. “A”, “B”, etc.). I suspect that “D” is onto something here. I suspect this release solved a bit of trouble in Apple… and I suspect this was the device, albeit a bit more cut-down, that was supposed to be released next year.

Will I buy it? I’m counting my pennies. I most likely will. It’s going to be very hard not to buy it before the next Apple hardware release. So, for releasing practically what everyone wanted… serious Kudos go to Apple.

[small whisper says it’d be damned nice to have open development for this platform!]

September 5, 2007

iPod Touch: Apple almost gets it right…

Posted in iPod, Mac, Mac Software, Rants at 4:25 pm by a11en

Well, I’m kicking myself more and more for not buying APPL back in ’94. Today is one of those days. Apple listened or realized what they had here… a wifi enabled iPod with touch-screen ala iPhone. Fantastic. The price-point is not that bad either. However, there are a few things blatantly *wrong* with the new iPod Touch… and here’s my take on them…

No microphone and speaker.

As far as I can tell based on the specifications, there is currently no microphone or speaker included into the iPodTouch. As well, there is no blue-tooth connectivity. Connections can only be made via the wifi connection or via the USB port. So, this means, at least for now, absolutely no Skype abilities. Wow. Apple really missed the boat on this one. If this thing had Skype they would sell about 10x the number of units the very first month. Perhaps 100x the number of units. As it is, this thing is big.. but let’s be honest here. Useable skype in a hand-held Wifi device would be HUGE. Apple would literally change the face of telecommunication if they did this. Instead, I believe they decided to play a bit of product tier marketing. They felt- well, let’s not confuse people with a Skype enabled iPod… let’s make them buy the overpriced (due to service contracts etc.) iPhone. Apple is saving it’s own butt on this one. They won’t lose as many users from the iPhone with the new iPod, and they won’t piss off Cingular at the same time.

No GPS chip on board.

So, you want to find all the local Star-Bucks? Well, forget using an internal GPS chip to help with routing via Google Maps or Google Earth. Just like the iPhone, the iPodTouch has no GPS capabilities. Big mistake on this one guys… there’s a whole slew of things that could have been done if you had added a GPS chip. For instance- “see where my pals are”… or “find nearest bookstore”… now I assume you’ll have to type in your current location (snore… ZZzzzz). Although, for my tin-foil hat wearing friends (I’m a part-timer) this means Google won’t know exactly what you read and exactly where you are every moment of the day (a good thing perhaps). 🙂

A bit too light on the GB’s.

Ok, so you have a wide-screen iPod capable of all sorts of goodies, you can do web2.0, and likely also streaming video etc. But, what about integration with video via iTunes? What about downloading and installing full length movies for that plane flight? [How big is that movie file again?]… at only 8 GB or 16 GB, the iPodTouch is a bit lacking on ability to store a number of BIG media files. This is a huge mistake. There should be no reason why I can’t have 3 or 4 movies as well as all my music on this thing. I suspect Apple will make a show of streaming via WiFi in an attempt to offset this lacking memory. Obviously the device is flash-ram based (a plus for those who have bricked their iPod’s that have hard-drives), however, at this size, are we sure we’re really in for a serious machine like this with such a small amount of memory?

Lack of BlueTooth – huge mistake.

Ok, to add insult to injury here, we find that the iPod Touch has no bluetooth abilities. Yes, I said “No Bluetooth”. Ok… the reason I harp on this is as follows. (1) Lack of communication ability via Wifi… obviously Apple is seeing this as a “Reader” not a full-fledged Internet communication device (again, Skype killer). If BlueTooth was possible, we could (2) sync via the computer w/o usb, we could even (3) use BlueTooth enabled cameras to download and catalog all our camera files. As well, we could link to other devices, say a (4) GPS even… hell, the whole world practically opens up with bluetooth capability, (5) local iPod to iPod connectivity, (6) wireless stereo headsets… the list goes on and on. Hell, a (7) blue-tooth connection to your fancy schmancy car… Or the ability to take (8) voice notes or (9) class-lecture recordings. Need I go on? Hell, even have a dialer function for your blue-tooth enabled phone, with address-book support!!! (10).

And, now we see how Apple set up it’s product tree, I fear. You see, if they had done these things, it would have become an iPhone killer product. Most people likely *don’t* want to have their iPod coupled with their phone. But, give them semi-reasonable Wifi connectivity and BlueTooth support, and you have a very useful product. I’ll deal with Skype for that one friend of mine who uses it too… but for everyone? I think not. Would I have paid for that limited ability? You betcha. I would have paid an extra 100 easy for bluetooth capability with microphone support. Add a GPS and extra memory, and I may have even paid an extra 200.

OsX and iPodTouch application development?

The true killer for this device will be simple. With its above limitations, it’s a nice internet browser and limited video/audio media device. Lack of high-quality recording function continues to plague all of apple’s products, and likely will continue in the far future due to Apple’s appeasement of the payola scamming record labels. It’s a shame that even though I don’t ever purchase from these guys that I still am feeling the effects of a backwards antiquated record company schema. Fine. Let’s leave that for another day. But, what will the real killer of this device be?

Lack of application development– That will be the real killer. I have yet to see if I can run a cisco vpn, an ssh terminal to my local machine with Mutt and screen via terminal… hell, the ability to directly fix websites on the fly would be wonderful. The ability to get into the os, and produce applications is what will really make this device useful. The question is- will this be? Will we be able to tap into the strength of the FreeBSD underpinnings? Mount webdav servers? Upload/download pdf files for view? There are reams of possibilities and this one item may be the true killer for this device. Will it be a serious device, or merely a candy-of-the-month toy? We’ll have to see…

The future I suspect will be like this:

The products I see in the near future: a USB-Bluetooth connection for Skype users, a USB attached GPS unit for geocachers and others, a Microphone attachment that can handle the first, as well as enable note-taking in class (ala the iTalk).

August 20, 2007

OsX – Spotlight Zoom in Preview

Posted in Mac, Mac Software at 10:26 pm by a11en

(I wish I had done this a long time ago!) For some time now, I’ve wondered what sort of drugs the folks that did Spotlight have been on… one absolutely annoying feature is the zoom that happens in Preview when viewing the results of a spotlight search in a pdf. Well, it appears there’s a way to fix this:

defaults write com.apple.Preview Preview (...all on one line)
   -dict-add PVPDFSpotlightSelectionSize 10

That little line right there will solve all your problems. You need to run that line at the terminal, and no reply will occur from the terminal… oh- do this when Preview.app is not running.

Linklove for this goes to: MacWorld and MacOsTips(blog)

Other spotlight weirdness- apparently spotlight doesn’t index textfiles that don’t contain the “.txt” extension. Very very strange. So, that ReadMe on OpenDX compiling won’t be indexed. Wonder why they chose to do that… very strange.

Anyways, at least I can now read the text which surrounds my searches in my pdf’s.

February 15, 2007

Beware kGTD!

Posted in GTD, Mac Software, Rants, Work at 10:14 pm by a11en

Well, normally I rant and rave about how wonderful kGTD is. But, I’m here to tell you to backup your files and never erase the backups. That’s about the only way you can be sure that you are not losing information. Today I lost a major portion of my Project and Action lists. I’m still sitting here stunned. The info is *not* in the backup files, and the damage has been wraught. I may now have to completely drop my kGTD useage. I had a lot of major information in that file/program, and now it’s lost. I am now going to be going through my old printouts hoping that I can get back 90% of the data. I don’t have much hope for it.

So, I hate to say this, but “buyers” beware. kGTD looses data, and I doubt that I will be able to use it as a “trusted” system in the future.

September 18, 2006

OmniPlan – Gantt Outlining & GTD

Posted in FountainPens, GTD, Mac Software, Procrastination at 5:31 pm by a11en

A quick tip of the hat to the OsX software producers OmniGroup for tackling the Gantt chart project planning in their new beta-product OmniPlan. But first, some discussion of one of the difficulties in GTD the way I implement it…

Sibling/Children Tasks in GTD (a difficulty?)
One of the things about David Allen’s Getting Things Done which has been slightly off-beat for me, is that it’s somewhat difficult for me to determine related tasks (especially when resorted into context views). Now, don’t get me wrong, GTD is absolutely fantastic, and it’s changing the way I deal with my work and projects. For nuts and bolts of how to organize and think properly about tasks, GTD is where it’s at. Currently I’ve been using Kinkless’s kGTD to do my sorting etc., of my tasks, and printing them out onto 3×5 cards for use in my Levenger‘s Ballistic Shirtpocket Briefcase. I love the flexibility of 3×5’s, and the ability to take my hi-Fi to my lo-Fi world is nice. [Going the other way is a bit more difficult, just to warn you.]

I find that in my simple task or project view, in kGTD and surely other apps- it can be somewhat difficult to understand children/sibling tasks when viewed all in a single context. In other words, in one project I may have @research, @lab work, @analysis on a microscope, and finally @writing in regards to the research done. All these may lay under a project tab- like “Determine 3D plane of grain-boundary 1.” Nice- it’s in a project, so they’re related, and it’s in a subproject (my thesis), etc. Now, the good thing about GTD is having a task list based on context- i.e., @lab-work. So, I page over to my @lab-work task list. All the labwork I need to do is there. BUT- what it doesn’t show me, is the fact that in the real-world, I need to do my @online/library research first before going into the lab. So, technically, that task of “grow bicrystal @lab” shouldn’t be in my task-list yet- as the library research hasn’t been completed. So, when moving between context lists, I tend to loose some serious information- the order and pre-requisites or parent tasks.

I strongly suspect some sort of pending task indication in kGTD or other GTD implementations is needed. Perhaps context lists should be only current actionable items and not include any of these parent-pending tasks. In GTD words, the context lists would include only “next actions”… not all actions, as kGTD currently is setup. This in itself may solve this problem.

I highly value GTD for freeing up my mind (I’ve slacked a bit lately, but I’m getting back on the horse with organization). So, I am grateful to D.Allen [2] [3] for his work. As well, as to S. Covey [2] [3] for his work. I’m just wondering if we’re missing another level of mind-stuffing information here: namely the proper order and relation of tasks. In my current mode of organization, I seem to lose this information, or am required to remember it. In the project view, usually I have things organized in such a way that I can see this natural parent/child relationship, but when contexts are used, my brain must remember these things- which seems to go against the basic tenant of GTD. At least *I think* it does. [Lord knows I’m not an expert here.]

Gantt Charts, Procrastination and Tasks
Back to our discussion of Gantt charts. A long time ago I found Gantt charts. Even though they are painfully structured (not loose in scheduling or linking etc.)- they do allow you to very quickly see the tasks required to complete a project. In some ways, producing even a Gantt-Chart fake (structured todo list with fake times), you can see/walk through a project’s progression to completion more clearly. It’s very easy to see sibling/child/parent relationships in Gantt views. So, it intrigues me that OmniGroup chose a task-list and a Gantt project view for their OmniPlan application. Their app appears to be more focused towards small business or units within an organization, but it may prove to be interesting for personal project planning as well. So, I will begin to play with it a bit and see what can be determined. If I find it good or bad, I’ll let you know!

BTW, the Gantt project view may be useful for those of you working through the Now Habit. The idea of the reverse-schedule works quite well with Gantt planning. Starting with the required completion time, and working backwards through tasks to complete, you get a better feel for how much time is required for a project, its related tasks, and what needs to get done in a timely manner to achieve your goal. I’m not sure OmniPlan is good for GTD. I’m still playing. As I find out more, I’ll be sure to post.

GTD Evangelism (sic)
In describing GTD to my brother (the consummate devil’s advocate at times) he asked me: “Why- how has it helped?” The one comment that gave him pause was when I mentioned the ability to leave a project alone and jump back in right where you left off. It’s true. One of the great things about GTD, is that when you have your tasks and projects all in the system, and all the items are properly filed, you now can flip over to your project list/folder, and see what needs to be done immediately. Even if it’s been a month since you last got to that particular project. This is a serious benefit, as usually project switching requires you to spend quite a bit of downtime determining what needs to be done next. The methodology of filing/processing items from your projects into next actions and reference material means that you have all the necessary tools for completing your project at your finger-tips. Even if you leave it for a short time period to work on another necessary project. So, those of you who find it difficult to flip between various items when left for periods of time (almost a weekly event in grad-school), may find implementing GTD to be helpful.

Fountain-Pen Friendly Notebooks
A quick blurb about fountain-pen friendly notebooks: Barnes and Nobels has spiral bound Miquelrius as well as the faux-leather journals. Miquelrius paper is fantastic with fountain-pens! Love it- love it. My m400 has been writing so well lately, and on Miquelrius paper, it’s a dream. 🙂 (almost as good as Clairfontaine for smoothness)

I hope your week turns out to be great!

August 15, 2006

Thunderbird gets GTD’d…

Posted in GTD, Mac Software at 1:08 am by a11en

A few things came together for me this past weekend, and I thought I’d share a bit. First, was MerlinMann’s discussion of the usefulness (or lack thereof) of e-mail folders. I agree completely with Merlin on this one- and I feel a hint of a running thread here- focus on The Work and not on Organization. After all it is “Getting Things Done” not “Organizing Things Nicely”. Second was a post regarding subject line editing I saw a while back on lifehacker.com that stuck in my grey-matter. Third, and finally, was my frustration with effective e-mail “getting things done”.

What I’m about to show you can be done on most platforms I believe, and it’s super silly simple, I think. I hope that it might help some of you increase the effectiveness of your e-mail software. (For me, that’s Thunderbird. So, if you’re not using Thunderbird, take this as a rough outline, and dig a bit to see if there are similar tools available to you for this type of implementation if you like it!- Oh, and let me know if you do this sort of thing so others can find it easily as well! TIA!)

One of the ways I was able to get my “Inbox to Zero” was to implement an action folder. Essentially, anything that I can’t deal with at that very moment, or will take longer than 2 minutes, needs to be placed in a folder where it can be easily accessible and not be gumming up the works of the inbox. Of course items which don’t need to be acted upon can go in their respective folders (i.e., Family, Friends…). Also, if you finally get your inbox to zero messages- you can start implementing folders and auto-sorting for any list-serve messages (Zoss list) you have coming in on a regular basis- no more gumming up the works for those fellows either: create a filter so that it gets shoved out of your local folder. (Don’t worry, it’ll still highlight in blue when a new e-mail gets auto-sorted there!) This helped quite a bit when I was first implementing the clean-inbox idea. But, recently, I’ve found that I just don’t get into my action folders properly, and they’ve become a sort of catch-all for various items, somewhat poorly organized, and definitely difficult to be found when needed. A revamp was seriously needed.

I remembered reading a long time ago on lifehacker.com about editing subject headers to allow for organizing messages. A great idea I thought, but wasn’t sure how it’d help when messages were stuck in various places. Then, I found Thunderbird’s saved-search folders. [Simply run a search and hit “save as folder” in the bottom-middle of the search pane.] Now, that’s something useful! So, after installing HeaderTools- first link in the message (to allow editing of the subject lines), I have a way to meta-tag my messages. Mix in a little contextualization, and you’ve got yourself a GTD method for your e-mail.

My first foray into images on here… here’s an example of what I mean:

gtdthunderbird

So, I still use my work/nonwork classification (or any other folder sorting you want), but I also now can meta-tag my e-mails before placing them somewhere so that when I am in the mood to write e-mail replies, I can click on “email” and get all the list of e-mails needed to be replied to. Same with online website work and work-based science research that I need to dig harder for. This could easily be adapted in other ways (the addition of extra headers may be possible- I’m dorking with this now as well). Just be warned- tagging all your messages, may increase the size of your mailboxes- HeaderTools makes a copy of the e-mail so that it is not altered. I believe that the copy gets removed when the headers are returned to their original state.

I now have a way of better searching for items that need to be acted upon in my email, I’ll check back every once in a while and let you know how this is going.

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