Archive for January, 2010|Monthly archive page

Optimization time again

organized?

Random Observation/Comment #233: As a part of Project-Wean-Back-Into-Working, I needed a small side project to help me multitask with my larger project.  This happened to be writing a blog entry.  Unfortunately, this entry got out of control and became the focus of my attention, since it was fresh with my erect passion and fire.  It took a full day, but I fully suggest this “house-cleaning” to others because it will make the rest of your life online more efficient and convenient.

Twitter lists vs Google Reader vs Email subscriptions

We really shouldn’t be revisiting every website to get updated information anymore – that takes way too long and we’re way too advanced to be wasting our time doing more than scrolling through headlines.  If the technology is out there, why not use it?

I fixed my main feeds of information, and I actually couldn’t choose between emails, RSS feeds, and Twitter. Basically, I skim through emails for shopping, use Google Reader as a techmeme, and then check for random friends’ updates and links through Twitter.  However, in all cases, I’ve revamped the subscriptions and separated everything into their perspective organizational methods.  For emails, I used gmail labels.  For Google Reader, I’ve placed each subscription into subscription folders. And for Twitter, I made separate lists and cleaned the people that were just posting annoying things. Optimized.

Gmail labels

It’s pretty obvious that I’m a big Google fan.  I mean, who isn’t (besides the paranoid people that think they’re going to take over the world)?  I’ve found their services spread across almost anything I would do online.  Although I didn’t go far enough as to completely switch to Google for everything, I am still in awe at how advanced their email system is compared to others.

One of my favorite things to have is labels.  As an organizational freak-of-nature, I must make sure things are separated so they can be easily found later on (plus, my email inbox is always so colorful with all those pretty labels).  It started with labeling for each university class so I could easily search through, for example, humanities reading assignments. After the class was completed, I’d add a “ZZ” before the label so it wouldn’t come up at the top when I’m trying to apply labels (since they show alphabetically).  But later on, this organization evolved into labeling as if it was a list or RSS feed. Even quick subscriptions are all categorized into Work, Cooper stuff, Traveling, Just FB (so I could filter by this label, select all, and then delete all of those notifications quickly), Social networks, food events, Shopping, Others, and a few other less important ones.  It doesn’t take any time to continuously update this because of Gmail filters.

Gmail filters

Gmail filters are immensely useful to automate the organization process.  In the top of Gmail, next to the search bar, there’s a “create a filter” button. Here, you could enter information for filtering from/to, subject, has words, and doesn’t have words. (Hint: The search feature will also recognize “@blah.com” and return all emails from that server.)  Once you filter the emails with these criteria, you can basically do all the email actions to them (skip inbox, mark as read, star, apply labels, forward to email, delete, or never send to spam).  I specifically use this for applying labels and starring, but I can see where “never sending to spam” action for certain addresses would be useful.

Gmail contacts condensed

Every email address you type in is saved as an “Other Contacts” so you can retrieve this email address as an auto-complete suggestion.  When I looked at my contacts list, I found that I only had less than 50 “My Contacts” compared to the 600+ “Other Contacts.”  Blasphemy! I spent about an hour doing it, but now all the contacts are perfect and also include phone numbers.  Since the iPhone syncs with the contacts list in Gmail, it only makes sense to keep one continuously updated.  Most importantly, I won’t need to post Facebook requests to resend numbers if/when I change phones.

Google Calendar

This Calendar is genius. The only downfall with the iPhone is the inability to connect with it and send Notifications and alerts the same way it does with the normal calendar.  This is actually one of the main reasons I want to switch to the Android mobile OS – it will help fuse everything into the mobile device.  Screw you, Apple, and your proprietary shit. What if I don’t want to use your Apple-only USB charger?!?

Anyway, the Calendar syncs with tasks easily and it gives me a nice platform to share the calendar with friends and family.  I don’t know if bands do this, but they should: post your tour dates on a Google Calendar so I could just follow it.  I mean, there’s a way to search for the public Calendars, right? Yes: Holidays, Sports, and More. Fantastic. They should probably also sync this with Facebook birthdays (even though they have it with My Contact’s birthdays).  Actually, they should probably sync Facebook profiles to Gmail contacts already (which would have made that hour a complete waste, but whatever).

The most interesting use of Google Calendar was something I heard from my work colleague. He said that him and his wife would update the calendar with their children’s extracurricular events, and then mark on the calendar who would “Own” the task (ie. do the driving/babysitting).  Yay for IT people and our innovative usage of technology!

Google Tasks

Crossing things off of this task list make me so happy.  Sometimes I write little things there so I could just cross them off and feel productive. “Make reservations to dinner with friends” – Check! “Eat dinner with friends” – Check! “Chew food before swallowing” – Check!  Anyway, the task list is available in Chrome as an extension, viewable from the Calendar page, and viewable as a widget from Gmail and iGoogle.

Facebook application blocking

The Facebook news feed is getting out of control.  Too many people play stupid FarmVille, MafiaWars, or whatever Facebook applications that update their status with accomplishments.  Hide >> Block Application. Win.

Chrome bookmark syncs

As a Google user, I, of course, use the Chrome web browser.  Although it isn’t as advanced as Firefox with extensions, it is making its headway and I find it much cleaner.  Plus, it’s Google. I personally like the bookmark syncing feature, which saves the bookmarks into Google Docs as a separate folder. If I’m using a different computer, I could easily log into my Google account and retrieve my bookmarks from the documents.

Digsby

I’ve only started using this site recently, but I’ve found it tremendously useful for its Global Status update feature and the combination of IM clients. There are plenty of other services similar to this, which consolidates multiple social networks, but this one seems to be working well.  All it needs now is Facebook chat and Skype, and it will replace much of my browser functionality.

It’s obvious that I’m just being anal about certain things, but I find that these little improvements will overall save time.  Does this count as being a neat freak?  Can’t you just call me an engineer?

~See Lemons Revamped

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Information comes to me: Twitter and Me

Big tweet

Random Observation/Comment #232: While I was executing Project Wean-Back-Into-Work, I found myself distracted by another project.  Wow, story of my life.  Someone asked me what the big deal was about Twitter, and so, I decided to ramble a bit.  I’ll give the shortened version and how I apply it to my personal web surfing experience.

In short, Twitter is appealing in a business perspective because it’s a tool for these businesses and people to post current news and other information to their followers in a microblogging condensed format.  You know that “recent news” menu that most companies have on their websites?  Twitter basically provides the platform to aggregate all those “recent news” posts for every person to see.  The power for the business lies in the ability to easily publish something in real time, directly to a viewed, popular source.  The power for the viewer lies in the ability to follow people and companies they’re interested in.  It’s an easy way to stay updated with their upcoming stories in a quick “headlines” format.

But this all seems quite familiar – RSS anyone? RSS was definitely an inspiration, but Twitter can be seen as a platform that makes it simpler and gives people the ability to post anything.  Instead of subscribing to the RSS feed of websites to view on your favorite RSS feed viewer (Google Reader for me), you’re basically following (subscribing) to users (CEOs, techies in the business, or the business themselves) that represent their website.  However, instead of posting a related article, you have the option to rant or link to blog posts on topics related to your company in a simple “status update” method.

Perhaps the most unique feature is the ability to directly contact people who are commenting on your posts and form a connection with the reader.  With this addition, the RSS feed is a two-way communication instead of the user just siphoning information.  When the reader communicates with the company, the reader publically updates about his/her attention.  I think Twitter really brings personality and creativity into the information – allowing for feedback and showing that company CEOs have other interests.

Normal people using this feature may ask, “What’s the difference between this and facebook status updates?”  Although it isn’t written in stone, I’ve always felt twitter updates are used to describe your interests by retweeting what people you follow are posting.  The normal user should act as the medium to spread the awareness of the main posts to others.  Facebook status updates, however, fail to realize this main factor. They think it’s just letting people know what you’re doing and how you feel, but it’s really more focused on what you’re reading and your real-time feedback on the information provided.

Basically, Twitter is trying to combine a simple form of social networking with the everyday unfiltered real-time news of famous and not-so-famous people.  It’s definitely caught on around the world and I think it will help some people scan the information their interested in faster.  Instead of searching within your own interests on a search engine, we can comb through the interests of friends, family, important people, and basically anyone we can find.

You could (and I have) start following a stranger because he/she retweets interesting news in your genre.  Similar to the overflow of tabs, you could keep searching for people this person follows and cascade into an overloaded feed.  Beware of the cluttered feed, and make use of their “lists” feature.  The “lists” separate this real-time feed into relevant post-ers, and the ability to share and follow the list of others gives the flexibility of getting the most up-to-date news.  I am currently following lists mixed from readers around the world to get the most interesting update on tech news, comics, and events.  It may not be a service for you, but it can greatly help a business with no advertising needed.

~See Lemons Only Google for Answers

Project Wean-Back-Into-Working: Part 2 – Clemens V2.0

growing up? staying young?

Random Observation/Comment #231: I wonder what my status updates are going to be when I’m working. I hope I maintain my enthusiasm for life. I deem this one of my more insightful comments.

From my current schedule, I have loads of free time to do the things I love doing, yet I still find time to do other things that aren’t on my to-do list.  I’m not even sure if I have a to-do list anymore – just things I’d like to do.  I don’t even want to know what’s going to happen when I’m given a less thrilling job, and I have the unlimited power of the internet at my finger tips.  Hopefully the regulation from my first part will help me.

My work-life balance is basically 100% life and zero work.  Of course, I have a few things to do, but it’s not under any immediate deadline or are there consequences for missing those deadlines.  I’m under zero pressure and it’s awesome.  Obviously, this will be disastrous for work, so I will take the necessary efforts to stay employed.

As this is a method of “weaning me back into reality,” I understand that the flip into working will be a difficult one.  Thus, I am prepared to follow a schedule that will help me be more productive.  I will be my own drill sergeant.

  • Sleep early, wake at 7, and zero naps. My sleep schedule is so messed up for no reason.  I stay up because I have no reason to be asleep so early.  On the other hand, I should be sleeping because I have no reason to stay up either – it’s just random stuff that I could do the next morning since my schedule is fairly lenient.  So why?  I have no idea, but it needs to be fixed or I’m not going to make it.  Fix: Two weeks before work, wake at 9. One week before work, wake at 8.  Sounds simple, but this requires less partying or less sleeping.  Tough choice.
  • Regulated Internet Surfing. That overflowing tab syndrome needs to be controlled or I won’t get anything done.  Fix: Reduced time spent on internet surfing random stuff from those side-tracking stories in Google reader. Two weeks before work, only 3 hours total. One week before work, only 1.5 hours total.  This can be separated into 15-minute-per-hour break times.
  • Productivity Bar. As mentioned in the earlier post, I have a few activities that need to get done this month, so a new plan will be set forth to complete these tasks on time.  Fix: Bi-weekly milestones will be created and met.  The scheduling will start off lenient (and I’m only expecting to start with a 5-hour work day at first) but hopefully it will eventually increase to 9 hours.  Since this is stuff that I like doing, like making websites and writing, I should be able to last much longer than… whatever I’ll be doing at work.
  • Multitasking. I remember juggling 10 things at once and finishing all of them on time – those were the days.  The vacation has made my brain – well I wouldn’t say slower – but it’s definitely more ADHD.  I used to complete assignments before the class ended, and now, I feel like 30 minutes isn’t even enough to write an email.  Fix: Incorporate small tasks (like writing these blog entries) with tight deadlines with larger tasks (like writing the book). Diverting all my attention to finishing the smaller tasks could be unwise since future projects will exist that may not only depend on my efforts. This Fix will force me to schedule and plan ahead so I could complete everything efficiently and fill in those large project break times with smaller tasks.
  • Legible Handwriting with note taking. I don’t remember the last time I used a pen and paper to take notes.  It’s definitely been more than 6 months. I have used the keyboard so much, that my handwriting is absolutely horrific. It was nothing beautiful to begin with, but now I think it’s just a bunch of scribbles. I remember the notebook I used for doing the news reporting and it was illegible – I think it would make elementary school teachers vomit. Fix: Take notes on TED talks. It sounds silly, but I really need to use some ink for this and remember how to pay attention so I could stay awake during meetings.

It’s a small list of things, but I think they’re of grave importance for the job.  I should be able to pick up where I left off like riding a bike, right?  I need a vacation…

~See Lemons Revert to Study Mentality

Project Wean-Back-Into-Working: Part 1 – The Problem

an obvious problem

Random Observation/Comment #230: Since I’ve been “out of action” for so long, will there be a rough transition back to following rules and getting things done?  Compared to the amount of work I did at Cooper, I’m doing negative work.  No more juggling 8 projects, studying for exams, and looking for free time to sleep.  Now it’s more about writing, taking pictures, improving in hobbies, maintaining health, and lucid dreaming.  What a tough life, right?

The key to finding a workable solution is to analyze the roots and causes of the main problem.  When dealing with optimization, it’s mostly looking at the main factors that cause procrastination.  First, let’s see how I normally waste time online and what I can cut down on:

  • Overflowing tabs of interest – this is the condition where you read an article and open a “related article” in a new tab.  It takes about 2 minutes to open all these tabs and about 3 hours to read through them.  Sometimes the topic is just too hard to resist when doing the research on the hobbies that I love, like traveling, photography, shopping electronics, new technology, new social networks, ping pong, and random science-y things.  However, there’s only a problem when the tabbing gets out of hand.  Normally, my curiosity keeps me learning new things with every new article therefore I’m not completely concerned. It’s a time spender, but not a time waster when I get so much out of it.  Fix: Keep up the curiosity, but reduce the related articles, or just learn to read faster.
  • Facebook addiction – I have no idea why I’m so interested in what other people are doing, but I am.  Now that there’s a live feed, I think I could just wait for people to tell me what they’re doing and almost not do anything myself.  But seriously, they’re mostly unnecessary posts.  Fix: Facebook lists to focus on a few photo albums and certain friends that are keen on saying something interesting and clever.  Plus, use facebook lite to see notifications more easily.
  • Hulu addiction – Primetime TV is awesome.  I can’t help but keep up with the shows I’ve grown to love, but there needs to be a limit or a way to combine more activities.  I’ve already included a workout routine around sitting on my ass and watching Hulu shows.  It’s not very effective.  Fix: Stop it. Regulate best shows or just stop all together.  It’s not even like I enjoy talking about these series.
  • TED talks TED might just be the best thing ever.  It’s basically Youtube for smart people.  It’s filled with brilliant and inspiring presentations and I one day wish to present my own TED talk of some sort.  It’s not always the talks that take the most time though – I like to read the commentary and follow their efforts through their blogs and websites if their interesting.  From here forward, it’s basically the overflow tabs problem.  Fix: Limit the number of talks to watch.
  • Random funny stuff – This includes lamebook, fml, overheardinnewyork, textsfromlastnight, and thisiswhyyou’refat.  I only read these when I want to laugh on the inside.  Fix: Try not to start the addictive snowball.
  • Online comics sinfest , amazingsuperpowers, xkcd, and 8bit theater are among my favorites. It doesn’t take a lot of time to open all of them at once since I can just open all tabs in folder when I’m in the mood, but it also consumes time. Fix: Since I’ve been reading these comics religiously and they already feed into my reader, I think I’ll be fine.
  • Online shopping – I must admit that I love looking at the best deals online.  Whether it’s from Slickdeals, Retailmenot, or (my new favorite) dealcatchers, it’s hard to resist knowing the approximate price of certain items compared when just seeing stuff at stores.  Fix: Once again, I must regulate.
  • Random Online Games – I rarely play games online (since there’s so much information I could be absorbing otherwise) but when it does happen, I get mesmerized by the simplest things.  Bejeweled Blitz, a few facebook applications, and online scrabble just keep me going.  Fix: Restrict to doing this only on the iPhone while doing other stuff or in transit.

Don’t they say admitting you have a problem is the hardest part? Well, I know I’m an addicted to the internet and I know the ways to regulate it, but it’s just too damn easy to get distracted.  I think this will be the biggest factor to how much work I get done (5 minutes of work with 55 minutes of relaxing isn’t a good balance).

The second big thing is to practice actually doing work for long periods of time and then completing the work with the skills a competent employee should possess.  The next entry will discuss the second part: Clemens V2.0.

~See Lemons Fix Online Addictions

PS – sorry for linking you to the totally awesome websites that have consumed my internet time. Hopefully it will not do the same for you. Stay Strong!

Using the rest of the vacation wisely

using the vacation wisely, no?

Random Observation/Comment #229: There’s really not much of this awesome free-time left.  Shouldn’t I be out enjoying myself to the max before I’m tied down?  There are so many dreams I can cross off the list or take larger leaps to reach.

  1. Finish book about love. I really want to publish it and get a major goal cross off my list. I don’t care if it doesn’t sell, I didn’t write it for that purpose (or for me) anyway.
  2. Setup top secret website. I will always be dreaming of the next start-up company. Why not put it all together?
  3. Kickoff Pioneer blog for Cooper. I might as well do something to help the old community. If I’m not going to be a professor, maybe there are other ways to pass on knowledge.
  4. Restart workout routine. I’ve wanted that six pack for 8 years, but I’ve never actually gotten it.  I was almost there, and then I came home to my Mom’s amazing cooking and then traveled to all these incredible eating capitals. I think I can multitask the listening to language audio-books and workout into one, so why not?
  5. Fix sleeping schedule. Lucid dreaming is still the best, and I will not part with it.  If I’m going to wake up at 6:30 to get to work, I’m definitely going to need to be able to sleep by midnight.  Damn all those parties.
  6. Project Wean-Back-Into-Working. I don’t expect to be able to do a full 8-hour day of work from this hazy, lazy lifestyle.  It’s 2PM and I’m still in my pajammy-jams. That’s the type of vacation this was.  See next entry for details.

One month for 6 things. I think this is considered a New Year’s Short-term Resolution.  Damn, those resolutions are just floating everywhere this time of year.

~See Lemons Finish Strong