Fight Your Digital Redundancy

Nov 13

How About “Just” the iPad?

Whenever I have been pack my bag for my morning commute I get annoyed with the sheer redundancy of the stuff I take with me. Here I am packing not one, but three or four “computer capable” devices into a bag to haul off to some office somewhere.

Not only am I carrying around more devices then I could possibly operate at one time, the software on these devices is redundant as well. For some reason I cannot fathom I have 3 different versions of Microsoft Word on my person. One on my PC, One on my smartphone and one on my tablet. It is possible to dream up a situation in which I might be required to use said trifecta of Microsoft’s favorite text-blender simultaneously… but that would involve an alien invasion and myself in the unlikely role of the geek that saves the world with a bulleted list.

Blame the Lizard Brain

So why do we (still) cling to this redundancy? The answer is simple: because it feels safe. After 7 years in the tablet era we still have not come to “trust” these devices in a way we trust our beloved PC’s (which by now are seriously starting to mimmic our tablets in both appearance and behavior). God knows its not because the tablet apps are by some means sub-standard or don’t offer what we need. The one major hurdle the tablet haters could never get over was the lack of an ‘actual’ filesystem on iOS or Android. Sandboxed applications drove them insane. Yet what do we see today? PC based operating systems are – out of sheer self-preservation – starting to move in a very similar direction. Windows 10 supports installation of unified apps from its app store (in essence a sandbox) and Linux is embracing a more contained approach to applications with their container-oriented Snap packages. With the average smartphone having enough RAM and CPU power to put a PC from 2013 to shame and even the most low-end tablet having a screen resolution that matches the TV in the living room, technical shortcomings are no excuse either. Then what is it that turns us into digital packrats?

The real answer is in the fact that we only think we are carrying around redundant devices because we make them redundant.

We install Word on our phone, our tablet and our laptop because we can. We try to read a spreadsheet on our phone because we can. We even try to edit family photos on a 7 inch laptop using nothing but our stubby fingers. All because we can. Certainly not because we have to.

Somehow with the overabundant availability of identical software on different devices we have started to think that we have to click on “install” everywhere. No wonder it feels redundant.

Specialization is the Key

If we truly where to look at the real strength of each device, we would figure out what do do where pretty quickly. Short messages and communication? Phone. Watching video’s on the go or browsing through news articles while sitting on the train? Tablet. Full blown posture friendly photo editing? PC/Laptop.

You see? No more redundancy. Instead you have a sense that your devices are complementary, depending on the task you do and the situation you are in.

Don’t do a 3000 piece jigsaw puzzle with chopsticks. Don’t use a lawnmower to trim your nails. Stay away from the firehose when you want to water that delicate orchid in the living room. Each device has its use, its purpose and its strength (just like you btw). So remember that next time you feel tempted to install Powerpoint on your smartphone: (to quote commander Scott in Star Trek V) “Use the right tool for the right job!” So ask yourself: “is this really the right device for the job? And if it’s not, do it somewhere else.

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5 Ways to Geek-Out Your Work Atmosphere

Oct 25

Chances are pretty high that you are an office drone. Every day you lug your beloved laptop to the office where you happily clickety-clack your keys until quitting time. Chances are even higher that said office is a landscape office that you need to share with other office drones doing the exact same thing. This would not be a problem if there was not some sadistic trend to take away all the walls in said office and sprinkle the acoustic mayhem with people who insist on constantly shouting into their phones. You need something to drown out that audio-anarchy and it needs to be geeky.

Sure, there are a lot of audio-stations you can listen to and Spotify might be the first thing that comes to mind. But for a hardcore geek like you, it might be a little too distracting. So, aside from the fact that Spotify is just a bit too mainstream-jock-hipster for to your taste, you might like something with more ‘atmosphere’ to help you focus.

1: SomaFM – Mission Control

For this one you need to install Clementine. A great open-source cross platform audio player that comes with all the bells and whistles you might need. It plays your entire MP3 collection (should you still have one) but also ties into all the major audio streaming services. SomaFM (a streaming radio network) is one of them. Amongst some cool channels you will find the “Mission Control” channel. Yes, that Mission Control. Take some cool chill music and sprinkle in some great radio communications from NASA. Before you know it you’ll chill out while listening to some guy in the background (with the heaviest Texas accent you can imagine) telling an astronaut to “try hitting it with a hammer”.

2: Youarelistening.to

This one is a little bit more along the same line, but youarelistening.to picks some great chill songs from Soundcloud and lets YOU mix that up with police chatter from all over the planet. So hear perps get arrested in South Africa or hear the tale of the “drunk and disorderly male caucasian” that has just fallen through the roof of his parents’ home. If you want to go beyond weird, try the ‘numbers station’ option and try to break the secret code.

3: Space sounds on YouTube

Youtube is a great place to find the strangest music. Just search for “space mix” and you will be presented with some awesome ambient mixes that will keep you entertained for hours. There are some instrumental masterpieces out there that will chill you out for 2 or 3 hours at a time.

4: 24 hours of Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm

Since we are on the topic of ambient sounds, let’s take it a step further and listen to 12 hours of the Starship Enterprise’s warp engines, or the engine sound of a passing snowspeeder? CrysKnife offers up some great ambient background sounds you can listen to as you code away. Weird? Yes! A great way to push out the sounds of the sales guy who is trying to peddle his grandma to an Ethiopian cow herder? Definitely.

5: Roll your own with Ambient Mixer

We close off with a great site that will cater to those who have not found anything to their liking. Ambient Mixer lets you MIX your own ambient atmosphere by playing with the dials and sliders of different sound sources to build your very own unique environment. How about a slice of Hogwarts or Hacking in the rain? Just try out one of the many atmospheric loops until you find something to your liking.

So pause that mainstream mix on Spotify and break that “panflute classic” cd into 5 razor sharp pieces. Connect to your inner geek and zone out!

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Back to Basics

Oct 22

1 > 0

It’s the title of a very impressive YouTube video made by Gary Vaynerchuk in which he presents you with a verbal weapon of mass destruction against any form of procrastination whatsoever. In short it breaks down to “whatever you do, it’s better then doing nothing;” and “only by doing small things do you get to the big thing.”

It has been kind of my mantra in the last couple of months. In a time of my life where I’m trying to make heads or tails of the many simultaneous “program threads” that I seem to have running in my mind. Running my own company has drastically changed my life over the last two years. It has been both a successful outlet for my creativity (I give talks about IT to entrepreneurs, which are basically stand-up versions of podcasts with slides) and work full-time as a consultant with my main client. Aside from that there are various “side projects” running around with smaller clients that require my attention. The overall result? My creative energy has been scattered across many channels and the knightwise.com website has been pushed to the wayside a little.

But aside from you guys not getting your daily dose of geekery, I have also started to loose touch with the most important part of Knightwise.com: its community. That crazy bunch of geeks across the world that I can call my friends. And for that I am truly truly sorry. Because your friendships and your support are the one thing that make Knightwise.com worth doing. So this week (after some soul searching and a long talk with both kdmurray and our resident photog Konrad) I think it is time to pick up the geek gauntlet and get cracking.

Reset!

Whenever you think you are lost, just backtrack to the last waypoint that looks familiar. It’s a handy trick for not losing your way in the woods or in the 340th level of some Dungeons & Dragons game. I kinda got “lost” as a geek. Not really knowing what to do with my geeky energy any more. The blog has gone by the wayside and so have many of my geeky projects. Instead I have degenerated (yes !) into scrolling Facebook, watching TV shows and scrolling 9gag! My God, I’m almost mainstream!

One of the things that I have been listening to in the car (I do long drives to work again) have been episodes of the Daily Source Code. The ORIGINAL show that got me into podcasting way back in 2004. For those kids who are oblivious: It was a show hosted by former MTV VJ Adam Curry and marks the very beginning of what we call podcasting today. What it perfectly communicates is the raw energy that ensues when you give a geek a mic and let him talk to the world without any rules or regulations.

One of my favorite episodes (and the very first where the name “Knightwise” is mentioned in a podcast) is where Adam pops on a lapel mike and leisurely takes us on a drive to the local mall to have a coffee and check his emails. Back in the day this was called ‘a sound-seeing tour’. Today’s podcasts are mostly scripted, have a steady ‘form factor’ and sound more like satellite radio than satellite radio, but back in those days it was different.

The most important lesson that I learned from re-listening to those old shows is that the most boring, dull and mundane things might be the most fascinating to share. One of the reasons I haven’t blogged for a while is because I thought I had nothing to share. Turns out there are things that i’m working on (as small as they may seem) that might be of some importance to the listeners. Hopping back to 1>0: ANY content is better then NO content at all.

Blog Reset.

So I’m gonna turn back the clock a little to 2004 (and before) and try to share simple geeky things with you that happen in my life. The fact I got a new monitor, a little app I found to listen to audiobooks in the car, a link to a nice Star Trek fan series on YouTube and so forth. Some of it might be utterly uninteresting to you, so you can just skip it. At least its better then total radio silence. But hey… one IS greater then zero.

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Productivity Week: Simplify Task Management with Todoist

May 14

Tracking to-dos or tasks has been a problem for me for some time. My struggle with it has been well documented so I won’t get into a long explanation here. TLDR: I keep switching task tracking tools because they all seem to have major drawbacks.

Several weeks ago I accidentally came across an app that I had downloaded at some point in the past, but that I couldn’t ever remember using. That app is Todoist.

Todoist is, quite simply, a to-do list app. At it’s most basic, it allows you to put tasks on a list, and check them off when they’re done. If your needs are simple your usage of the tool can be that simple. The biggest benefit I’ve found with todoist isn’t that it has a number of additional features that can help you track and manage your tasks so that you can get more done. The features are handy to be sure. The biggest seller for me is that those features stay out of my way unless I actually want to use them.

Todoist

Some of the most obvious out-of-the-box features are things like Projects and Due Dates. By associating with a project you can group tasks together either for a specific focus or a GTD-like review session. By adding Due Dates to tasks they will show up in some of the views that exist in the app like Today and Next 7 Days. These views provide an excellent burn-down list for getting through your day.

The app will also allow you create sub-tasks. This can be done either by selecting a “Parent” task when editing a to-do item, or just by dragging things around on the task list. Tasks slide around seamlessly. Sub-tasks provide a nice visual way to break down complex work items into simpler constituent parts.

Todoist will also let you filter tasks. The filters will allow you to show you just a specific subset of tasks. The one I find the most useful is one of the built-in filters “No Due Date” for finding things which I either haven’t decided when they need to be done, or have forgotten to tag with a deadline.

The last of the basic features I want to touch on is something found throughout the app. It’s use of natural language for things like due dates and filters is fantastic. If something is due today, set the due date to “today” and it will figure it out. “Tomorrow”, “next thursday” and “four days from now” will all get you the correct due date for your tasks. If you want to see things for which you missed the date, simply type in “overdue” as the search or filter query.

While not a feature specifically, there is also some gamification at work in Todoist. The app will award you “karma” points (unless you opt out) for both using the system and getting your tasks completed on time. It sounds dumb… but to some degree, for me at least, I think it does provide a bit of an incentive for me to keep sticking to the system.

Todoist Karma

Todoist also has a premium version which adds a ton of features, most of which I’d never use, but there are a few key ones. The first is being able to add notes or attachments to tasks. This is great for tracking the status of a long-running task or something with a few intermediate actions (which maybe should be their own tasks, but I digress…) The other key feature is task backups. The app will backup your task list and maintain an archive so that you can restore from a recent backup. The cost of the premium service is $33 USD / year. I’ll be renewing my premium subscription next month. A handy comparison sheet is available on the website to show the differences between the free and paid tiers.

The last thing I wanted to touch on is platform availability. Todoist is available pretty much everywhere. Android, iOS, phones and tablets are all covered. Mac and Windows clients are also available. There are also a number of browser extensions. The basic web-based UI is fantastic. This is truly a cross-platform juggernaut.

Links:

 

Keith Murray is a software architect and developer can be found on twitter as kdmurray. He also blogs about technology and science at kdmurray.net.

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Productivity week : The best chrome extensions to increase your productivity.

May 12

We continue our Cross platform productivity week posts this week and focus on that one little application we use the most on our computers these days … The browser. (or the World of Warcraft Executable, depending on your taste). Chrome is a little bit of a cross platform blessing since it not only straddles most of the Operating systems we talk about, it also has access to a wide range of extensions. We listed a couple that help you to be more productive.

Rkk3q

Writebox for Chrome.

When I write blogposts I hate to be distracted. No matter how advanced my laptop is, or how multitask-friendly my operating system tries to be … when it comes down to doing some writing I want something plain and simple. Writebox is just that : A text editor in a window that gives you text on a plain background. You can tune the colors to your liking (amber letters on a black background for me) and start typing. Writebox syncs with Dropbox and your Google drive so you can ‘pick up’ where you left on on another computer or on another OS altogether.

Dictate with Dictation.io

All the cool bosses of the 70’s had secretaries. These girls would sit behind giant typewriters while their bosses dictated all kinds of important letters to their management (or mistresses) So why don’t WE do that ? Forget the typewriter and the mistress part, how about you start talking to your computer right now. Dictation.io is a great website/extention that lets you dictate whatever you want to write and spits it out in plain text. Copy – Paste – Done. No matter what OS you are on.. as long as you are running chrome. https://dictation.io/

Mindmup

Whenever I need to prepare a podcast or do a presentation I use a mindmap to organize my thoughts. Some people type stuff out, but I have found out that my brain just doesn’t work that way. After a little looking around for a great (free) chrome friendly Mindmap tool, I stumbled across Mindmup. It lets you create as many mindmaps as you like and store them on your Google Drive or in Dropbox. Unlike Mindmeister we mentioned a while ago, Mindmup does not have a restriction on the number of mindmaps you can create using the free service.

File system for chrome os.

This is actually a collection of several applications/extensions for those of you using a Chromebook. With this extension you can connect your Chrome file structure with either Dropbox, Onedrive or a webdav service; tying the different locations where you store your data together. Gone are the days of having to upload files and open websites/services to get to your teletubby wallpaper collection.. Enjoy !

Links.

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