Leopard Developer Technologies

If you're like me and don't have a Leopard Preview, and if you haven't seen the Leopard Developer Application Technologies Overview, you should take a look. There's some pretty interesting stuff coming down the pipe. I like the Calendar store, which lets any application work with the iCal calendar info in much the same way as AddressBook.framework opens up the Address Book. Maybe we'll see some enterprising developer add support for travel time in calendar display?

I also like the Applescript Bridge - an idea whose time came YEARS ago. It's buried under the section titled "Picking Up the Pace of Cocoa Application Development". What a major simplification!

I like that a lot of the new advances in Leopard seem to involve making it easier for apps to work together and share data. My data should belong to me, not to the application I first entered it in. This is as much a usability issue as it is a data safety, vendor lock-in and openness issue.


A great article about Burnout and "Hurry-sickness" from New York magazine - "Where Work is a Religion, Work Burnout is Its Crisis of Faith" Interesting, but thankfully not as relevant now as it would've been a year ago.

One quote I loved (and would love to see proof of:)

Elevator engineers even have a term for how long it takes—door dwell—before people start jamming their fingers on the door close button, which is usually a placebo, a function already disabled by litigation-conscious building managers

This reminds me of an idea I had in high school to add a "Go Faster" button to Netscape's toolbar. It wouldn't do anything, but it'd give you something to do while waiting for the Cool Site of the Day to load.

Found via Buzz's delicious feed.

Midnight Inbox

The GTD App Midnight Inbox 1.0 was released recently, and it has a number of interesting features, including automatic harvesting of 'inbox' materials like email and desktop files, and reminders to get back to work.

I also really like the graphics and typefaces in the UI - I really wanted to love this program.

I tried it a few times during its beta period and never quite understood what was going on. Buggy interaction kept me from experimenting enough to get it. The 1.0 release squashes most of the UI bugs that I was running into, and I got the feeling that I could work with this program. There were two big problems that stopped me from diving in (I didn't buy it) - no documentation, and speed.

In large part, the usage model explains itself (it helps to have GTD experience). But it doesn't completely explain itself, and the lack of basic documentation leaves you without a guide to the program's subtleties. The small "Introduction" window reads more like advertising than a manual, and that's all you get. The best you can do is explore by double-clicking everything, and typing away.

There's no clear explanation why two kinds of text notes exist, how to deal intelligently with task times, or why you might want to use a sheet to review instead of just going through things yourself.

Can I drag this there? Can that have sub-items? Can I edit that? What does it mean to make a context active? What's that moving grey bar in the top part? Your guess is as good as mine.

I could temporarily forgive the lack of a manual and dig through forums (for example the 'inboxbeeps' google group) and emails to figure these things out - if it weren't for the speed. Maybe progress has moved past my G4 Powerbook and everyone reading this will notice no problems at all, but Inbox was just too slow for me - it had responsiveness failings like delays in creating new actions and notes, delays in recognizing clicks to edit, losing keystrokes while editing a project name, and the killer - a spinning beachball while dragging a project to reorder it.

So, I think it's got potential. It definitely follows the GTD system. I loved the super-easy 'quick note' feature, accessible from anywhere. If it got a lot faster (or I got a new machine), and then - if it got some real documentation, I'd give it a serious try. But for now, I'm going back to Kinkless.

Note: (10 minutes later) I just saw a note in the inboxbeeps group that they're working on docs now, and I've forwarded my list of questions to the authors. Hopefully this will be helpful, and then my only remaining criticism will be the speed.

GTD Habits

After years of being aware of David Allen's GTD system through 43 Folders and other sites, I took the dive about a month ago and dumped all my various to-do lists and project ideas into Kinkless GTD. I had tried to keep reminders and actions in a variety of other systems, including emacs org-mode and VoodooPad, which I use extensively for notes.

I never kept up a system for very long, and I believe the contexts were the key problem - having to look at tasks with different contexts in the same list is daunting - I end up not writing things down to avoid a frightening list, and keeping multiple lists around is difficult in every system I tried, until I tried Kinkless. Organizing by context gives a great feeling of confidence when I ignore huge lists that I just can't do right now. Knowing what you can't do makes getting the rest started much easier.

I'm not going to write a big series of posts describing my system or anything - I might have something to say about contexts later, but I would like to say that "vanilla" GTD can work for programmers, graduate students, etc - without major changes. Avoid the temptation to focus on your methods and just try using the simplest thing you can get away with. It'll probably work.

Universal AddressService

I've updated AddressService to a Universal Binary, and relicensed it under the LGPL.

AddressService is an OS X system service that lets you select a part of a person's first or last name and replace it with their addresses or phone numbers. It's handy for quick entry into an email or chat session.

I haven't been able to thoroughly test it on an Intel mac, so please let me know if you find any issues.

NHL on Google Video

Last spring, when I wrote about highlights from the NHL Playoffs being available on the iTunes store, I said:

the sensation I felt when I noticed the announcement of NHL playoff video available on iTunes was that of Steve Jobs signing my name on a check for ten dollars and winking.

This weekend, when I saw this: video.google.com/nhl.html - free videos of every NHL game, including historic games, I went plain nuts. Go check it out, even if you don't know you like hockey yet. If you don't have a team, may I suggest the Pittsburgh Penguins? There's probably still time to become a Penguins fan without being a bandwagon fan, but it's running out...

iTunes Skip Count

It's been mentioned before, for example on Digg, but iTunes 7 has a new feature that counts the number of times you've skipped a track, which is defined as playing the song for at least two seconds but no longer than twenty (after which it is counted as played fully).

I'm curious how they chose twenty seconds as the cutoff - when I was working on an (unreleased and unfinished) project for generating smart shuffles, I defined skips as not listening past the first fifteen seconds, but didn't count a full play until the song ended.

It's an interesting feature, and it's apparently kept up to date by some iPods, so I can see it helping me keep bad songs off my small iPod by using it in a smart playlist rule. However, often I find myself skipping songs I really like because I'm just not feeling them at the moment. So - how about the option of a smart playlist rule that lets me define a skip percentage? If I skip a song far more often than I play it, then it's a pretty good bet I don't need it on my iPod.

Supercomputing 2006 BOF: "Is 99% Utilization of a Supercomputer a Good Thing?"

For those few readers who are interested in High Performance Computing and might be going to this year's Supercomputing conference in Tampa, my advisor Allan Snavely and Jeremy Kepner from Lincoln Labs are putting on a BOF with an intriguing subject: "Is 99% Utilization of a Supercomputer a Good Thing?"

It'll be on Thursday Nov. 16th at 12:15PM.

As with all really interesting questions, this has a quick, easy answer that reveals your point of view. My immediate answer is "No", because of the productivity problems the focus on high utilization causes for many HPC users, mainly through the use of a batch queue. However, when considering the interests of everyone involved (including the people who have to evaluate how money is spent on these systems), the only responsible way to answer is "it depends".

It's an interesting topic that never fails to generate some controversy, and from what I can tell we'll have some diverse speakers at the BOF (including myself, discussing user surveys we've conducted as part of DARPA HPCS). It should be enlightening.

Back it up

My Powerbook's been back for a couple of weeks now, and I had a good overall experience dealing with OC Data Recovery to get my data off the drive. Their San Diego Location is in Sorrento Valley. I didn't test their speed, since my main concern was cost, but they managed to get about 98% of my files back by their estimate, and my most important files are fine: my VoodooPad notes, my preferences, and my iTunes purchased music. Everything else is duplicated elsewhere - all my projects and research files, for instance - but some things change often enough that even weekly backups aren't often enough, like my notes in VoodooPad.

That's a relief, but the $2,200 cost should be a warning to anyone who hasn't taken the time to start a comprehensive backup strategy - if the idea of spending a few hundred bucks on backup media is stopping you, consider that a likely alternative is to wait and spend much, much more to get almost back to square one, without any way of knowing for sure which files are OK or even present until you need them later. That's not a good scene.

So back it up.

Finally, despite earlier reservations, my current backup scheme does use Apple's Backup 3 - I've tested it a few times recently and I'm comfortable with its restoring, and it's just simpler to use than Retrospect for some things like very frequent backups to .mac and backing up to multiple DVDs. Those programs are the only ones I own, so I can't say anything useful about alternatives. I've heard good things about other programs, and the cardinal rule is to use whatever makes it easiest for you to back up often, starting now, and don't worry about finding the perfect solution first.

Dear GMail spam filter

Dear spam filter,

I cannot read Russian. If a message is in Russian, it is spam, just like all the other Russian messages I have marked as spam.

Thank you for listening - your pal, mike