Thursday, September 30, 2004

Lazy Media Files Debate Story Before it Happened

I'm sitting in front of the C-SPAN broadcast of the debate as it is happening (I can't stand the face Bush makes while Kerry is talking), and I just noted on Boing Boing that the Associated Press filed a news story reporting on the debate before it happened.

Here's an excerpt:

The 90-minute encounter was particularly crucial for Kerry, trailing slightly in the polls and struggling for momentum less than five weeks before the election.


Although Kerry voted to give Bush authority to invade Iraq, he says he would not have followed Bush's path to war - a path that alienated allies and, the Democrat says, left Americans less secure.

After several major news outlets picked up the story, someone must have finally noticed and started taking the stories down or changing the verbs to future tense. Fortunately, several observant people captured the story and are providng mirrors. Here's a link to a copy of the version carried by the Guardian.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

New Lunch Notes posted from August 24th

You're going to see some material on Dan Brown's best-selling novel The Da Vinci Code over the next few lunches, since George and I have now both read it. This lunch, we cover the Da Vinci Code, talk some more about SF author Cory Doctorow, and we even address a new angle on time travel.

Take a look at the Macaroni Grill lunch notes.

I'm still a little behind-- there are two more lunches I have yet to document.

Monday, September 27, 2004

Actions that don't get done

Merlin Mann has posted a really insightful and helpful entry at 43 Folders which aims to identify the types of tasks that seem to stay on your @nextactions list for too long. He addresses why they stay there, and what you can do about it.

Most of Merlin's "culprits" result from poorly-formed or poorly-worded entries. Many turn out to be multiple tasks, meaning they need to be redefined as a project. Others might not be tasks at all. All I know for sure is that you should read it-- you'll get something from his analysis and proposed solutions.

This got me thinking about my tasks, and I looked through my various lists to see what was getting stuck, instead of getting done. I detected a couple of patterns:

  • Tasks are too broad. For example, I have a task on my @home list entitled "Bring finances up to date." What was I thinking? Sure, it's possible to do it in one sitting, but it truly involves many, many tasks. Solution: Make it a project.
  • Tasks I don't want to do. Hmm... this is a tough one. It seems that when I come to a list to get my next task, I often choose not to do the same ones over and over. I haven't really solved this one, but it might work to break the task down even further. GTD is supposed to help me with procrastination, but it has only helped to a degree. Solution: I don't know! Any ideas?
  • Too many next action lists. I thought I did a good job creating context-specific next action lists, but maybe I have too many. If I'm at home, I have at least five different lists that I could choose actions from: @home, @calls, @offline, @online, and @saw. Solution: I want a tool that lets me create list groupings... if I'm at home, then all of the lists that can apply should be available in one list. If I'm sitting in a Starbuck's with WiFi, I want to look at both my @offline and @online lists. Does anyone have a tool that will do this?
The best suggestion Merlin makes in this post makes a ton of sense: Always word your actions beginning with an action verb: "Call about water heater", "Replace battery in smoke detector", "Buy dishwasher soap."

A big week for Spaceflight

As if Scaled Composite's first official X-Prize flight to space weren't enough (the launch is scheduled for this Wednesday morning at 6:00am PDT), Burt Rutan and Virgin Group announced this morning that they will be building a spacecraft derived from SpaceShipOne to use for commercial space flight.

Under the name Virgin Galactic, Richard Branson is planning to fly paying passengers to the edge of space for around $208.000 each, starting in 2007.

If that's a little pricey for you, perhaps you could just pretend you're going to space on a flight with Zero-G. For $3,000, they'll take you on their modified Boeing 727 and put the plane through several parabolic arcs, creating 25 seconds of weightlessness each time.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

Rave Review for the iMac G5

Walter Mossberg's current column is devoted to Apple's latest version of its consumer computer: The iMac G5. Mossberg really likes this new offering from Apple. He points out that starting at $1299.00, the new iMac is faster, quieter, prettier, easier to use, safer from viruses, and cheaper than comparable Windows-based offerings.

Personally, I don't like it. I understand that it is significantly more powerful than the iMac G4, but I'm unimpressed by the fact that the entire computer is stuffed into the display. I got a chance to see and play with a 20-inch iMac G5 at the Apple Store last weekend, and I think its new form factor is a step backwards. Compared to the iMac G4's flat panel display that floats on an arm, the G5 is clunky and ugly. It only moves in one axis (it can pivot to

angle the display up or down), and cannot be raised or lowered. It cannot be turned from side to side to allow someone at the next desk to see what's on your screen.

And where are the new capabilities for this "digital hub?" My life now includes digitally recording television shows, but the iMac G5 offers no new support for this significant lifestyle enhancement-- no TV tuner, no PVR software. Mossberg also makes a point that a built-in memory card reader would be nice.

I was surprised to find that mentioning to the Apple Store "geniuses" that I didn't like the new iMac was not unlike yelling "God is dead" in a church. They were shocked! What wasn't there to like? When I mentioned the loss of flexible display positioning as my major gripe, they were unanimously dumbfounded... they had "never thought about that. Hmm."

I think I'll just hold onto my PowerBook, since I don't really need a desktop anyway. But if I did, it would be a close-out 20" iMac G4.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Beyond SpaceShipOne

George passed on to me a link to an article at Universe Today about a new collaborative effort between SpaceDev (the company who built SpaceShipOne's rocket engine) and NASA to build a low-cost, sub-orbital, re-useable, single-stage spacecraft.

Naturally, someone couldn't resist spouting off about it being "one small step...". Geez!

Anyway, this spaceship meets all the specs for the X-Prize, but with a launch date sometime in 2008, they're over three years too late. The article noted that subsequent designs would be capable of reaching orbit, and would be used to ferry people and supplies to the International Spacestation.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

GTD Nitty Gritty

I've been trying to put together a fully functional GTD (Getting Things Done) system for procrastination avoidance. Merlin, over at 43 Folders, has posted more insight into his particular (Mac-centric) approach : How does a nerd hack GTD? I borrowed some of his techniques, such as his Quicksilver text-append trick for adding tasks or actions to a particular action list (Merlin has now added a mini tutorial to help you get comfortable with QS). He also posted a template for his standard action list text files.

Here are my list files:

  • @agenda_dad.txt - Stuff to do next time I see my Dad.
  • @agenda_teri.txt - Stuff to do next time I see Teri (I have several of these agenda files).
  • @buy.txt - Stuff I need to buy from a brick-and-mortar store.
  • @calls.txt - Telephone calls to make.
  • @home.txt - Things I can do at home.
  • @inbox.txt - This is my electronic "IN" box. I try to empty it everyday.
  • @work.txt - Things I need to do at work.
  • @offline.txt - Stuff I can do on my PowerBook when I don't have internet access.
  • @online.txt - Stuff for which I need an internet connection.
  • @saw.txt - Stuff I can do to improve myself ("Sharpening the saw").
  • @waiting.txt - Tasks that are waiting on other people.
  • Projects.txt - A list of all the multi-action things I need to do.
  • Someday.txt - A deferred list of stuff that I mighnt get to... someday.
  • Movies_to_watch.txt - Yep, just like it says. Handy in printed form.

  • Books_to_read.txt - More obvious file-naming.
  • Tickler.txt - an electronic tickler file-- there are headings which correspond to each of the 43 folders. I check this file at the same time I check the physical tickler file.
I still haven't fully organized my e-mail to accompany these lists... I can't decide whether to have the same granularity, or to merge all of the actionable e-mails into a single folder and just refer to them from my detailed lists. Any ideas?

Update: I have now defined my e-mail folders, and they are much simpler than my action lists. I followed someone's advice at 43 Folders (I just went looking for the comment, but couldn't ffind it-- there's a LOT of material being added quickly to Merlin's site) and turned off periodic mail retrieval. Now, I fetch e-mails on demand only. No more interruptions from!

Everything comes into the INBOX (naturally) when I tell MAIL to "Get Mail", and I then do one of the following with each message:

  1. DELETE it.
  2. If it's junk but failed to flag it, I hit the JUNK button.
  3. If it requires action, I use Quicksilver to append the action to my @inbox.txt file and move the e-mail message to the @ACTIONS folder.
  4. If I need or want to read it for informative reasons later, I move it to the @READ_LATER folder.
  5. If it requires no action but I want to keep it, I move it to the @REFERENCE folder.
  6. If I only want to keep something for a few weeks (e.g. coupons that expire), I move it to @SAVE_FOR_NOW.

That's it, really. Unless there are unread messages, my INBOX is always empty.

Lots of Science Intact in Genesis Spacecraft

SPACE.COM is reporting that scientists are optimistic about recovering useful data from the Genesis spacecraft, even though it smashed into the desert after its parachute failed to open.

For more info, see NASA's Genesis home page.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

Paul's Getting Organized

I found a link to a new blog dedicated to personal productivity, 43 Folders. Lots of cool ideas and recommendations there, but his intro to David Allen's Getting Things Done program really grabbed me! I read all I could find on the web, ordered the book from Amazon, bought the book at Border's cuz I couldn't wait, and basically dove in head-first.

By the way, "43 Folders" refers to the tickler file you create as a part of the system which reminds you of what you want to do when in the future. There are 31 folders, one for each day in a month, and 12 folders, one for each month in a year. Hey! that's 43 folders in all!

Come back later-- I know I'll have more to share.

LWG enters the blog era

I've finally given in to the blog mania... here's the first test post.