GTD Update

So after trying out a bunch of different GTD apps, I’ve gone back to using “Thinking Rock”:1 as it’s the closest fit to how I imagine a GTD app should work. I can enter to-do items by project, then view them by date or by context. Thinking Rock automatically saves my actions periodically and backs them up, and even auto-saves a calendar file of my actions that iCal automatically imports. Finally, a short, custom perl script runs periodically to convert any action I haven’t set a time for into an ‘all day’ item for iCal.

With this setup I can see my list chronologically within Thinking Rock, which helpfully displays overdue items in red, today’s items are blue, while future items are green. I can sort the list by context, or just show a single context. I’ve got it set up so that it only shows me the next 7 days worth of items, thankfully hiding that March dentist appointment until the week before it happens. iCal gives me a calendar view, which I can look at by week, month or day. I usually leave it open to the current week, then periodically review the entire month and future months.

To capture items I use the kNotes widget if I’m at the computer, or a moleskine pocket notebook (with a slim bookmark pen inside that I discovered at Barnes and Noble). The moleskine is useful for capturing actions (pick up stamps soon) as well as notes to myself (books I need to research, or a word to be looked up).

For the most part this system works well for me, keeps me on top of the various things I need to do. I am far more organized than I was a year ago, and remembering meetings, commitments, milestones and other actions has never been easier.

Tiger: The First Day

After using Tiger (Mac OS X 10.4) all day today, here are my first impressions. Apple’s official Tiger page with lots of screenshots and feature lists is “here”:1.

I’m pleased that just about every program I use works just fine under Tiger. Not just applications, but low level system additions like “MenuMeters”:2 and “iKey”:3. I did have to replace “Virtue”:4 with “Desktop Manager”:5, but I’m missing how Virtue let me tag each virtual desktop with a different “graphic”:6.

Safari displays web pages much faster than before, and Help is finally fast enough to be usable. Graphic effects (like the Expose effect) seem twice as fast. Scrolling in the Terminal is wicked fast, it just it about a second to scroll thru a 200k text file.

“Dashboard”:7 is cool and widgets like the Calendar and Dictionary are useful enough to be incorporated into my workflow. The Stickies widget is my new To Do list, always an F12 key away. I like that Dashboard is yet another virtual desktop for me, and that the widgets don’t clutter up my workspace or take much CPU power when they’re not visible.

I wasn’t so sure about “Spotlight”:8 at first, since it wasn’t finding the things I expected, tho it is amazingly fast. I know now that adding keywords to photos lets Spotlight find them, and that I can tag individual files by adding a comment to them. It would still be nice if there was a way to easily apply a tag/property (like “Final Project”) to set of files *[update: there is, see below]*, and I’m not sure if there’s a way to specify “all pictures with a height less than 100 and a width more than 200” in the Spotlight text box. I could do that by searching in a window, and clicking the plus icon a couple times, then choosing from a few popup menus; that seems like a lot of work however. Still, it’s nice that it’s possible, short of writing a little perl script I don’t know how else that would be possible.

There are some nice little improvements in Tiger: choosing Get Info when more than one item is selected opens up multiple Get Info windows, just like the old MacOS days. The Apple menu and Spotlight buttons work if you mouse all the way up to the corner, so you don’t have to click right on them. Icons are now updated immediately when files are created and deleted (no more having to click on the desktop or in a folder to force a refresh). Command-Control-D shows the definition of the word the mouse is over.

The cool factor is there for show-off Tiger demos. The RSS screensaver is very nicely done, and Dashboard’s widgets are brightly colored and showy. Spotlight makes for an impressive demo, like using it to find a set of photos that you then turn into a slideshow.

Tiger is fast and usable and useful, and a pleasure to use. I recommend it highly.

**Update May 11:** Giles Turnbull wrote an “excellent article”:9 describing how he made **@taggit** with Automator to add tags to selected files in the Finder. A cool introduction to Automator, it solves the problem of how to easily tag multiple files all at once.


Waiting for Tiger

A few weeks ago I ordered the new Mac OS X, codename Tiger, from Amazon. Tiger was released on Friday, and I’ve been checking my order status several times a day since then to see when it will arrive. Amazon makes it really easy to track your order, and I love being able to track packages on their way to my door. Delivery was promised by today, and I’ve been checking the order status obsessively from time to time since Friday, but the site has only reported a frustrating “This item will be shipped soon.” Yesterday I figured they’d send the package out for next-day delivery and (finally) show a tracking number, but that wasn’t the case. Not even right before I went to bed, dammit.

But this morning Amazon shows it was shipped out on the 29th after all, and that headed out from Chelmsford, MA at 4 this morning. Woohoo! Looks like their delivery estimate was right after all, and there was no need to panic worry.

To the Mac faithful, an update to the system software is a major event. As satisfying as buying a new computer, these updates not only add spiffy new features, but generally make computer life more pleasant **and** they usually make your computer run faster (contrast with Windows updates which require ever-more horsepower and memory). Tiger’s brings us Spotlight, which effectively adds a database to the file system and makes it possible to do things like instantly find photos of Julie’s graduation in June 2003 (turning them into a slide show if you wish). Did I mention instant? It’s like a wicked fast Google for your hard drive, results show up **as you’re typing**. I’m really looking forward to playing around with Spotlight.

Dashboard offers a lot of cool new “widgets,” little single-purpose programs. There’s a little calendar widget, a calculator widget, one that tracks flights, and one that shows you weather forecasts. Supposedly it’s easy to create new widgets with a little knowledge of HTML, CSS and JavaScript, so there’s something to play around with.

Automator puts a user interface on scripting, making it far easier to automate repetitive tasks like sizing a group of web images to a width of 155 pixels and saving them out to a given folder. This has the potential to bring out the geek in a lot of Mac users who (like me) find AppleScript too hard to deal with.

Oh look, my package just arrived at UPS in Williston! Woohoo!

The Puppy Dog Close

I understand there’s a technique in sales known as the “puppy dog close.” Imagine a family going into a pet store “just to look.” The sales person says “No problem, I know you don’t want to buy anything today, but while you’re here why not hold this just for a minute” and proceeds to put a puppy in the arms of the kid who’s only too happy to play with it. Of course the kid and the puppy hit it off instantly, and the dad grudgingly gives in to the inevitable. In other words they go home with the puppy. **That** is the puppy dog close.

Shareware and try-before-you-buy software are based on the puppy dog close, but all too often I find it surprisingly easy to walk away after trying it. This past week, tho, I bought three different pieces of software as soon as the trial period ended.

The first program, Dangerous Mines, is an addicting Minesweeper type game I’ve been trying out for the past month. Of the three game variants, my favorite is Gauntlet, where you have to complete a level in a limited amount of time to proceed to the next level. The Hard game, which seemed impossible to play just a few short weeks ago, I now tackle in the morning while the coffee is brewing. Maybe I play it a little too much (are my mouse fingers supposed to feel numb?), but I just got a high score over a million so I’m lucky I can quit anytime. Really. The game is well done, tho a little pricey at $25 (PC version, Mac version available as well).

The second program is the fine NetNewsWire, an RSS aggregator I’ve got collecting feeds from about four dozen websites so I can stay on top of new posts without having to visit all those sites all the time. I love the interface, and how it can be customized, and it keeps getting better. I’m using the beta of version 2, highly recommended at $25 (Mac only).

The third program is Panic Software’s Transmit, a fine little FTP client. I’ve been using Fetch forever to do FTP, since 1995 I think, when Robin introduced me to the internet (“Too geeky” I said, “it will never catch on with the masses.” She felt differently, and Once Again, She Was Right). Fetch went commercial with the OSX version, and I ponied up for it. It’s gotten a little long in the tooth and hasn’t kept up with the times. Panic, on the other hand, did a fine job with Transmit, and I’m a sucker for a nice user interface anyway. Nice utility, does what it’s supposed to and even looks pretty, $30 (Mac only).

The Undead Drive

In the middle of copying over the third chunk from the crashed drive this afternoon, I noticed that said bad drive was mounted on my desktop, and that I could read it!

I’ve spent the last hour furiously backing up the photos, mail, address book, time log, GarageBand mixes, notes, and other stuff I thought I’d lost forever.

Good: Having FileSalvage recover your lost files.
Better: Having the drive mount and not even needing FileSalvage!

Update Feb 24: I went back and tried to get a couple less critical things off the drive today and it’s back to being dead. Good thing I got off what I could the other day.

Crash of '05: Followup

The replacement drive has been working fine after the old one crashed last month, but it’s been bugging me that there were some files that I couldn’t recover, like some family photos taken around Halloween. Yesterday I bought FileSalvage, a program that promised to scan the bad drive and recover what it could, but it had problems working with the damaged drive (10megs scanned after 3 hours).

I put on my geek hat and discovered that Unix’s “dd” command can be used to copy raw disk blocks from the damaged drive to a spare partition, a couple gigs worth at a time. It took about an hour to copy the first chunk, and FileSalvage then recovered a bunch of stuff off of it, including 4 of the missing photos. Encouraged, I continued with the next chunk, and an hour later I’d recovered fifty of the family photos! It will take over 20 hours to recover the drive at this point, but it’s something I can do at my leisure, as time permits, and while it’s working I can be doing other things. I see now why DriveSavers charges two grand or more to do this!

iLife 05 arrives!

When I got back home tonite I discovered that the new iLife 05 had arrived. It took a few minutes to install, and I played a bit with the new GarageBand. It seems a little faster, and I really like the new transcription feature (notes on a staff). Put together a few measures of layered rock, remembering how easy it is to do that (it’s been a month since I’ved played with it).

iPhoto has a cool new feature where you can use a calendar to display all the photos in a given month, or on a given day. I hear it will keep track of movie clips, but I didn’t get a chance to try that out.

And iMove and iDVD look like they have some nifty new features, but I’m saving playing with those til I have a few hours to spare.

Sweet spots and tipping points

The big news in the Apple world this week is the new iPod shuffle and the iMac mini. This is big news because Apple has always been perceived as having innovative but expensive products, and these two new products are positioned in the mass-market sweet spot. There’s a great illustration of that here.

Lots of people lust after an iPod, but $250 can be tough to justify. The $99 “iPod shuffle” is nearly an impulse buy. After it was announced, one Apple Store sold out of 2,000 Shuffles in just four hours — a lot of people bought one for themselves plus one (or more!) for friends. I think Apple has a hit here.

The iMac mini is going to be hot also (it doesn’t ship until Jan 22). So many people are sick of dealing with Windows issues, viruses, spyware, etc, that they’re looking for reasons to use something else. And I think more than a few of them will be thinking seriously about getting a $500 Mac, since they already have a monitor, keyboard and mouse. It comes with a lot of software, and they can always buy Microsoft Office for the Mac if they need it.

I’m happy with my iPod and PowerBook, so these announcements won’t affect me, but I have preordered iLife 05 for the new and improved GarageBand so I can make more music!

Back to normal

…or at least a convincing imitation :)

The PowerBook has been up and running for a few days now, and Barry and I had a productive day at House-Mouse yesterday.

I’m realizing that networks helped save a lot of my important files. My client sites were backups for me (just as I am a backup for them). And all the songs I bought over the past two years from the iTunes Music Store were backed up on the music server and the iPod.

Those backups weren’t created consciously, they just happened as part of what I normally do. But because the network is there (both our house network and the internet), it would be easy to make backup copies of important files, I just need to remember to do that.

I haven’t totally realized yet that my computer extends far beyond the physical box I carry around with me; Its reach extends to the other computers in the house, and elsewhere on the internet.