Covered topics: life in general, personal productivity, life hacks, organization, software development, technology, etc.

Life Hack: Subscribe to Your Own Twitter Favorites to Consolidate an Inbox

Twitter's "Real" Value?

A lot of the value I get out of Twitter is the "microblogging" aspect in which people post a quick link to a useful or meaningful or funny web page. Sure, Twitter can help you stay up to date on those you "follow," but it's also a great data mining tool. In the same way blogs allow you to plug into the brains of interesting people, Twitter allows you a micro version of this technique. In some ways, Twitter has some advantages over blog reading/writing:

  • Twitter limits your post to 140 characters, so you have to be concise. This might (not guaranteed) cause you to keep your message to just the bare essentials--there's no room for fluff!
  • Twitter forces the writer to be concise, so reading a Twitter "micro blog" post is quick and easy.

Time to Consolidate Those Inboxes!

As GTD creator David Allen recommends, I'm constantly striving to consolidate my inboxes (having as many as I need and as few as I can get away with). Rather than subscribe to a ton of email newsletters and clutter that inbox, I prefer to let Google Reader take care of the information I want to keep up with.

Twitter, in effect, is just one more inbox to deal with. It's yet another stream of incoming data that you must process. As with any inbox, an honest evaluation of its value and how it might be consolidated should be made.

The Problem: I Can't Read That Right Now...

If you follow very many people on Twitter, the amount of traffic that streams by your consciousness is mind-boggling. There's not enough time to read all of the "tweets," let alone all of the pages they point to.

The Answer: ...But I Can Save It For Later

As pointed out in a comment by Morten Skogly, you can access the favorites of any user as an RSS feed. This can be useful for really tapping into someone's brain. Instead of hearing all of the noise they put out, you can use them as a filter by monitoring what they value.

Just use the following pattern for an RSS feed of a Twitter user's favorites:
http://www.twitter.com/favorites/username.rss

Substitute the actual name of the user for "username" in the link above.

Taken a step further, you can subscribe to your own favorites using the same technique. This allows you to quickly tag something in Twitter as a favorite, while using Google Reader (or other news aggregator) as your "command center" for all things RSS! So tag your favorite tweets using the star, and it will show up for your later review in Google Reader.

Here Are My Favorites

My Twitter favorites RSS feed can be found here:
http://www.twitter.com/favorites/xagronaut.rss

You can follow my Twitter postings here:
http://www.twitter.com/xagronaut

Feedback

Do you have any life hacks using RSS and Twitter? Let me know! Just leave a comment!

Hacking Google Calendar Using jQuery

I did a pretty cool hack using jQuery yesterday. It took me a couple of hours, but I finally figured out how to make it work.

CompanionLink Task Synchronization Gone Awry

I use a product from CompanionLink Software to synchonrize my Outlook 2007 calendar with Google Calendar. I recently upgraded my version of CompanionLink for Google Calendar to CompanionLink for Google, which includes new synchronization features for Outlook Contacts and Tasks, as well as support for Google Apps.

The Outlook Task synchronization "feature" caused me a lot of grief by uploading all of my tasks (including completed ones for the past several years) into my calendar as events. In addition, any tasks that did not have a due date were added as events on the day that I first tried the sync feature. In other words, I had hundreds of tasks loaded as events for April 13th, 2008.

I was not happy. Needless to say, I immediately deactivated the task synchronization portion of the application and stuck with calendar only. Unfortunately, I was left with the task of cleaning the "task events" out of my Google Calendar. The problem is that there's no quick way to do this in Google Calendar's interface.

Freecycle.org Keeps the Landfills Not-So-Full

Call it a personal flaw, but...

I Hate Throwing Usable Items Away!

My wife recently asked me to throw away a lamp. The lamp is missing a shade, but apart from that its only fault is not having a place in our current décor. I couldn't bring myself to toss out a perfectly good item. However, because I try to keep the amount of unwanted junk from accumulating, I don't often have enough critical mass of stuff to hold a meaningful yard sale. So what do you do with unwanted stuff without throwing it away or selling it on eBay or in a garage sale?

Here's an option that you might find useful...

Freecycle.org Helps Match You With "Takers" For Your Stuff

Freecycle.org (as in "free"+"recycle") is a great movement that helps people give usable items away instead of sending them to a landfill. Freecycle.org is organized around local groups of people whose common interest is finding a good home for useful items instead of throwing them away. In short, if you're looking to get rid of an item that someone might want, but you just don't know how to find the right person--who would want a lamp without a shade??--Freecycle.org can help.
Freecycle.org logo
Just post an item to an email list for your geographic area and wait. If it catches someone's eye, they will post a response, and the two of you can make arrangements to meet and transfer the item. There's one main rule: the item must be absolutely free. No selling is allowed. (There are some other rules about allowable items and proper group etiquette, but it's basically very simple.)

Plus, if you're looking for an item, you can always post a request, and someone else in the group might just have what you're looking for and be willing to part with it--you never know, you might just find it!

To learn more and find a Freecycle.org group in your area, check out their website:
http://www.freecycle.org/

DeVry alumni pig roast

DeVry alumni pig roast

Nothing New on Under The Sun

Well, I was cleaning out my Google Reader account, looking to eliminate feeds that are not being updated or are no longer relevant to my "sphere of concern." During the process, I reviewed the Under The Sun feed. Under The Sun's title is based on the scripture in Ecclesiastes that states (paraphrasing), "There is nothing new under the sun." Well, guess what? Nothing new has been posted at Under the Sun since last year (2007). Oh, the irony!

Needless to say, I'm removing the feed, but I am sad to see it go, just because it represents part of my blogging past that has, well, passed.

So, if you're reading this post, just try to appreciate the humor rather than looking for some deeper meaning. I promise I'll post more meaningful content in the future. No, really, I promise.

Evolution in personal organization

Over the course of my academic and professional careers, I have been forced, out of the pain of disorganization, to get "organized."

The Amateur Academic Years

In high school and college, this usually meant a trip to the office supply store and a set of new folders or a binder or both. I would resolve to keep better track of my assignments by writing them down in a consistent way, and I would stay on top of them by reviewing it often. But it never stuck.

Paper Goes Prime Time

Shortly after I started my professional career, I learned of the Franklin Planner (now the Franklin Covey Planner) from a colleague. Its impact on my organization habits was compelling. I now had a central place for tracking just about anything, and a method for taking notes and indexing them. The prescribed daily period of "Planning & Solitude" both forced me and enabled me to stay on top of the tasks and notes I had entered into the system. What's more, the consistent form factor (5.5"x8.5" 7-ring paper) allowed me to collect a long-running archive that I could reference at any time. Not that I did it that often, but occasionally, it proved critical in finding contact information or directions I had long since purged from my active set that I carried with me.

Still, it was strictly paper-based, so it had its disadvantages. It had no backup and it required being with you all the time so nothing would slip through the cracks. (Franklin Covey did, however, offer a small notepad version called the Satellite that was about the size of a checkbook and could be carried with you. The paper was punched to fit a classic binder just like the full-size paper, so it easily integrated back into the system.)

The Digital Transition

Eventually I acquired a Palm III and Franklin Covey planner binder that would accommodate both the Palm and the classic paper. I still use this binder today, although I currently fill its PDA slot with a Palm Zire 72s.
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I won't bore you with all of the phases in between other than to say that I tried an iPAQ for a while, I have struggled to keep Outlook in sync with whatever PDA I was currently operating, and now things like
Google Calendar have entered the picture.

More Change on the Horizon

All of this has been to say that, yet again, I feel as though my habits, techniques, and tools for organization is about to change. Along with my more recent adoption of GTD (Getting Things Done) as my planning method, I've been contemplating using Remember The Milk as my primary task manager. (Its lack of Outlook synchronization--until now--has made it a non-starter for me. I must have desktop/PDA synchronization to make it work.)

None of these changes have happened in a vacuum, nor could they. I've even learned some things about the difference between tools and techniques (what you do with or without your tools).

Should I take the Smart Phone Plunge?

In the face of an impending phone upgrade, I'm forced to consider another possible change--do I retire my Palm and go for an advanced phone/PDA with a data plan? I hate the idea of having my PDA be tied to a particular wireless carrier, but having an increased level of integration for my personal information is compelling.

Just as Merlin Mann of 43Folders.com proposed in his post about choosing a new phone, I think I should prepare for the phone (and PDA?) upgrade by making a list of all of the features that it must have to support even my current organization methods. I'll probably post more on that later.

Feedback

Do you have any thoughts on the ups and downs of digital organization? Tell me what you think.

Google Reader bookmarklets (using jQuery)

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I've always been annoyed that Google Reader chops off the names of my RSS feed folders in the left-hand navigation pane. At the very least, they should give you a horizontal scrollbar. And all of these titles with "..." in them to save space are also annoying.

Here's what I did to fix that (requires running the jQuery bookmarklet first):

  • Prerequisite: Append jQuery to current page
  • <a href='javascript:void(function(){$("#sub-tree").css("overflow", "auto");$("#sub-tree-item-0-main").css("width","500px");}());'>GReader Tree Scroll - adds a horizontal scrollbar to the list of folders/feeds.

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Both bookmarklets above use jQuery to make the magic happen, so you'll need to run the "Append jQuery to current page" bookmarklet before you run either of the above bookmarklets.

Tell me what you think!

Whiteboarding the future

Whiteboarding the future

Chris Slee, the founder of the company that I work for, Allen, Williams and Hughes Company (AWH), is shown whiteboarding tasks for the project we're both working on.

The project will use the Microsoft .NET 3.5 Framework and CSLA.NET 3.5. We're also making use of CodeSmith to do code generation.

AWH is a 12-year old company that specializes in consulting using Microsoft technologies. We also produce and market an enterprise-class content management system, called GeoDocs.

Add jQuery to any web page by using a bookmarklet!

I had an inspiration today: I can create a bookmarklet to append a reference to the jQuery library to any page! And, by using Firebug, I can execute custom jQuery code against a page in the console tab.

Here's the bookmarklet code: Append jQuery to current page

Simply right-click the hyperlink above and add it as a Favorite (IE) or a Bookmark (Firefox, Mozilla). Make sure you add it to your Favorites-->Links folder in IE, or your Bookmarks Toolbar in Firefox. This way you can click the toolbar to execute the bookmarklet's code.

Here's what the code looks like (in long form):

javascript:void(function(){
    // create a new script element in the DOM
    var jQscript=document.createElement('script');
    // use the latest version of the jQuery core library
    jQscript.src='https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.5.0/jquery.min.js';
    // append the new script element to the DOM
    document.documentElement.appendChild(jQscript);
}());

The latest version of jQuery (core) can be found at: https://ajax.googleapis.com/ajax/libs/jquery/1.5.0/jquery.min.js

Implications

Once you have appended the latest version of the jQuery library, you can use "$" syntax to access elements of the current page's DOM. You can use all of the selection, filtering, CSS modification, attribute modification, and other features that jQuery allows! It helps to have a "console" interface for executing custom Javascript, like the console in Firebug.

Note: To use some advanced UI features of jQuery, you'll also need to "attach" some optional jQuery add-on libraries (like sorting and drag-and-drop). You can experiment with the best way to do that.

Possible uses

Using this technique, you can...

  • change the the styling of elements
  • show or hide elements
  • use your imagination! (I'll probably invent and post more uses for this technique later.)

Feedback

What do you think? Do you have any ideas for using this technique?

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