September 2004 Archives

sigh Spam as far as the eye can see and no time to fix before the weekend (at least). So comments are off again for the moment. Medley, I’ll be getting back to your “not rational” comment in a later entry; I disagree with you, as shocking as that might seem…

The ornamental bushes in front of our house are lousy with spiders (or should that be “spidery with spiders”?). I haven’t dug out the old insect guide book and tried to classify anything, but based on web weaving behavior, there appear to be at least two species: one that weaves these dense exploded-cotton-ball looking webs that sit on the flat tops of the shrubs, and another that weaves the classic web shape, using the right angle formed by the shrubs and our faux-gas lamp to anchor things.

These webs look really cool first thing in the morning, when they’re dew-encrusted and you can get a good look at them. Lately, I’ve been trying to photograph them, but it terms out to be challenging. First, auto-focus is out of the question: the webs aren’t substantial enough for the camera to pick up as a potential focal point. Second, manual focus is tricky too, because you can’t really get a good view of the web through the viewfinder — the strands are too narrow to really resolve (at least with my eyesight). Finally, because of the positions and the angles and everything, framing the shot is physically awkward, requiring a lot of bending over and stretching out. Generally, I’ve been doing this in the morning, after working out, so I’m sure my neighbors are thinking I’m nuts: standing on my front sidewalk, dripping sweat, with a camera, contorting into strange poses, and taking pictures of nothing.

Anyway, I’ve finally managed to get a couple of things worth sharing. First one is from late last week, showing the actual web weaver; second is from this morning, showing the latest vertical web:

web weaverweb

Win2K crash strands 800 planes mid-air; leads to at least 5 in-air “near-miss” incidents. What I want to know is how they got the okay to deploy Win2K, since I’m almost positive the Microsoft EULA (that’s the End-User License Agreement for you non-techy types) forbids the use of the software in “life-critical” situations. (Google isn’t being my friend this morning, or I’d cite chapter and verse.) Yet another reason to never climb on a plane again…

Link via Boing Boing.

Yet another cool use of the API: an app that takes your user name and returns a tag map, with tag quantity mapping to tag size. From my map, it’s pretty easy to tell what my main uses of have been to date. What’s your map look like?


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I’ve been grading papers all night, and I just took a break to check some mail and my feed reader. I’ve had the tenth anniversary edition of Clerks playing the whole time, so when I saw the headline “North Korea Delegate Warns of ‘Snowballing’ War Danger”, my initial thoughts, well, they weren’t of nuclear war…

Ultimate Fantastic Four 11: First half of the first FF/Doom battle. Best panel: the close-up reaction shot of Ben Grimm right before Doom bazooka’s him through a wall.

Astonishing X-Men: It’s just twist after twist in this one. (Still annoyed about the new Beast look, though.)

Ultimate Elektra 2: It’s still early days, but I’m not exactly warming to this title. Can’t quite figure out why, either.

Ex Machina 4: This title, on the other hand, I am warming to. Vaughan is once again proving that he can take a gimmicky concept and keep it interesting.

Runaways 18: Concluding issue of this run (apparently it’ll get re-launched next year). I really liked how this book started out, but wasn’t terribly impressed by the wrapup.

Conan 8: Conan meets The Wonder Years.

This is what a million bucks looks like:

mess o' serversmess o' serversmess o' serversmess o' serversmess o' servers

(Big end-of-FY server shipment at work, prior to being racked.)

Merlin asks for other people to describe how they hack GTD. Since he had a nice framework for his response, it seems more efficient if people stick to that as much as possible, to make comparison easy — so I’m ganking it for mine (or maybe I’m just being lazy — your guess). Anyway, here goes:

My basic tool setup

  • All lists are in text files. (Hell, as much as possible, everything is in text files.)
  • Everything in my $HOME (and other places) lives on mirrored drives, and gets daily incremental backups to another set of mirrored drives on another machine. If I’m not at my main workstation (where my GTD/planning stuff lives), then I’m SSH’d into my main workstation to access things.
  • All lists are available all the time in Emacs, via the magic of planner.el. My version of a next actions list is always open, and usually in the visible frame. If it’s not visible, hitting F8 will bring it to the front. I always run Emacs on virtual desktop five, which is accessible via Command-5 (Meta-5 for the Linux crowd; Alt-5 for the Windows crew). That means my next actions list is never more than one or two keystrokes away.
  • I don’t use any sort of GUI file management, so the Finder labels thing doesn’t apply to me. Instead, I use the Unix version: most of the text files under my $HOME are in several independent modules in a CVS repository. That means when I get a new machine or get an account on a new machine, I can just check out a module or two and have my entire working environment ready to go. At worst, I might have to tweak a script or three, in order to adapt to some machine idiosyncrasy — and if that happens, the changes flow back into the repository.
  • List items are added via the planner interface in Emacs — I’ve got planner-create-task bound to C-c C-t C-t. For the uninitiated, that means in order to add a new list item, all I to do is type Command-5 Control-c Control-t Control-t. That takes me to desktop five (which is where Emacs lives, remember?) and causes Emacs to ask me for a description of the item, a due date (which is optional), and what project the item should be associated with.

The key to my framework: planner.el

My Emacs setup demands more explanation. I use a module called planner.el, which combines task planning with a local wiki installation. There are two types of files in the system: day files and project files. Project files have wiki-style CamelCase names that describe the project — BioperlClass, CoLoSite, etc. Day files are named by date (today’s is 2004.09.21 — note the order of the components, so that it sort properly in the shell). Both sets of files all live in the same directory, ~/doc/plans.

Items live on both the project pages and the day pages, and planner keeps them sync’d — so if you change an item on the day page, the change flows back to the project, and vice versa. Additionally, items on a day page are linked to the project they come from (and vice versa), which makes it easy to hop around within your various files. When you open up the current day page for the first time (which for me happens about 30 seconds after I sit down at the computer in the morning), planner moves all the open tasks from yesterday into the new page, leaving behind those you’ve marked as completed. (This gives you completion date tracking as a side-effect.)

I use the day pages as my “next actions” list. The key to that is making sure that each project has only one or two items with dates associated with them — that way, only those items show up in the day pages. When I mark a task as complete, I jump over to the associated project page, find the next action, and assign today’s date to it. In other words, I’m not really using the due dates to indicate when a particular task has to be done; I’m simply tagging the next action to be done, and the system then associates it with the current day (and handles moving it forward to subsequent day pages, until I mark it as complete).

For appointment tracking, I use the Emacs diary module. I’ve got planner configured so that it inserts the diary entries for a day in the day page in question. Since you can use diary to track both one-time and recurring appointments, that has that angle covered.

Since I also read my mail and maintain my address book/contact info in Emacs, and since planner.el integrates with the modules I use for those tasks (Gnus and BBDB, respectively), I’ve got complete address book and mail integration with my planning system. Moreover, I have configured planner so that if I create a task while looking at a mail, a link back to that mail file is inserted as part of the item. Similarly, if I’m looking at a contact record and create a task, the task links to the contact record.

With all the day and project pages live in the same directory — ~/doc/plans in my case — things can get a bit messy. In order to provide some overall structure, I use a two-level hierarchy — the top level page in my wiki links to HomeProjects, WorkProjects, and a few other “meta-lists”, and each one of those details all the projects and agendas I’m tracking in that area. Right now I’m using a straight home/work split, but a moonlight teaching gig has me pondering a three-way split.

My approach and where I get value

I’m a sysadmin and the father of a two-year old, which means my life is almost completely interrupt-driven. My system allows me to quickly capture new input as it happens, and then more fully process it later, which is key to me avoiding a complete mental meltdown. There are non-electronic components the way I work too — a Hipster PDA is playing an increasingly important role — but Emacs and planner.el are at the heart of letting me juggle my myriad of commitments and “want-tos”.

Like Merlin, I’m getting value from the extra evaluation, and the refactoring. It’s also useful, as David Allen keeps saying, to just have all the “stuff” out of your head and into a trusted external place. Before I started doing this, I would have rare, brief periods where I got everything lined up properly, and I could just blast through big chunks of work, bing bam boom. Now that I’ve got things a bit more organized, those periods are becoming more frequent. I like getting into that flow state. I want more of it.

So that’s my implementation, my flavor, of GTD. What’s yours?

new ibook

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My iBook’s hard drive was failing all last week. Periodically, there would be a clicking noise from the vicinity of the drive, and while that clicking was going on, anything hitting the disk would block. The left-side hand rest area (which the drive is under) was also getting abnormally warm. The drive was clearly working itself up to failing.

I took it down to the Apple Store last weekend, but it (of course) wouldn’t display the problem in front of the Genius. Since the AppleCare I bought expires next May, I wanted to make sure that the drive would fail while I was covered, rather than after. To “encourage” the failure, I left the iBook running various disk-hitting shell scripts. Periodically, it would lock up, and then I would get it back up on its feet and start the torture again. Finally, by Friday night, I had it to the point where it was constantly failing to work.

I planned to spend Saturday working on stuff for the Bioperl class, and run into the Apple Store early Sunday morning, to avoid the crowds, but I had a really hard time getting into the class prep, so the family headed out Saturday night, to get some food and return the iBook. After a long, long wait for some help, we established that the drive was indeed dead. Then came the happy part: since this was the fourth time the iBook had needed to be serviced, Apple would replace it with a new machine — all I needed was the box that the machine came in. Which was back at the house, 20 minutes away.

We hopped back into the car and sped back home, ordering some take-out along the way. We got home, I fetched the box from the basement (packrattery saves the day!), gobbled down my food, and raced back to the Apple Store, arriving about 15 minutes before closing. I neglected to grab the power adaptor, which almost nixed the deal, but in the end, I walked out of the mall with a new 14 inch 1GHz G4 iBook. Since the old machine was a two year old 14 inch 700 MHz G3 iBook with a scratched screen and history of problems, this was a damn decent free upgrade.

From what I could tell, four was the magic number required to trip the upgrade — something to think about for those iBook owners that have gone several rounds with the video/logic board problems. And now to return to setting up the new goodness in the proper way…

I’ve got a whole stack of comics on my desk that I’ve been intending to get to, but I don’t think that’s going to happen — so I’m just going to give you what I picked up this week, and see if I can stay on the horse for a bit longer this time.

Ultimate Nightmare 2: Ellis continues scene-setting here, bringing in the Ultimate version of somebody I don’t recognize (john->geek_points—), and getting all his pieces in order for the action, which by all looks will be starting in the next issue.

Wanted 5: Millar has a great story here, and it’s great fun rooting for the bad guys against the badder guys, but damn I wish issues would come out more often than once every six months… Looks like this is the penultimate issue, complete with the ObTwistCliffHangerEnding.

Strange 1: Picked this up on a lark, as the previous two were the total of my pulls this week, and that seemed a bit light. Plus I saw “Straczynski” on the cover, so it seemed like a safe bet. After reading it, there’s potential here; the question is if he’ll be able to hold my interest, as I’ve never been a big Dr. Strange fan.

If you haven’t heard of it yet, there’s a chance you’re the last person to hear about 43 Folders, a weblog devoted to talking about organizational strategy sorts of things — Getting Things Done, Lifehacks, etc., etc. It’s got an OS X-y flavor, but if you close your eyes and squint it’s really just Unix, right?

Anyway, what you might not know is that the author just started a Google Group for the weblog. Since I’ve already got about five of his posts squirreled away in my ‘readme’ slot, I subscribed to the group already (it’s giving me a chance/excuse to actually try out the Gmail interface, which I’ve only played with in a very limited fashion up to this point). If you’re one of those crazy GTD people, you might want to come join up too.

comments off

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Comments are off at the moment, because there’s a bit of a spamstorm going on, and I’m tired of cleaning up after the worthless parasitic bastards. This probably breaks at least some of the site. Sorry about that, but I don’t have time at this point to do anything other than slap a band-aid on. Suggestions about spam-proofing a Blosxom installation will be welcomed via email.

Go, now. Read this.

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RasterWeb posted this neat idea the other day — a little bit of Perl that sucks down your feed and sort of turns it inside-out, giving you a list of posts indexed by tag. He called it “”.

I was up early this morning, and in a hacky kind of mood, so I took his little bit of Perl and whomped on it a bit, and then a bit more, and before long, it turned into a CGI that does basically the same thing. I call it “”.