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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Moving On

Hello everyone,

After doing a lot of thinking and reading over vacation, I've decided to shut this blog down. By no means am I done with blogging, but this site really was my first attempt at the beast, and I need to make some fundamental changes. Thank you all for reading (and occasionally commenting). You can follow me to:



Friday, July 25, 2008

Technology Hiatus

Hello all,

I'm going on vacation for 9 days. No computer implies no posting. I'll be back the fourth of August after enjoying the beaches in Ocean City, MD.


Thursday, July 24, 2008

Dorkily Tooting My Own Horn

I got a platinum medal on Hitting the Green on Wii Sports.

This is a more impressive achievement than it sounds like. You have to take ten shots, and your total distance from the hole is tabulated. To get a platinum medal, you have to get less than 60ft, an average of 6 feet per hole.

Last night, after hundreds of failed attempts, including one particularly aggravating 69.7 ft try, I scored 55.9 feet. Proof:

According to Wii Records, I have the 10th best score in the world. I'll try registering and uploading the photo there sometime. Pretty sweet!

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

5 Steps to Glorious Productivity with Firefox

I've been on quite the personal development/lifehacking/lifestyle design/whatever you want to call it kick lately. One of the big ideas put forth in a lot of blogs on the topic is that work time should be just for work. By increasing productivity, you can decrease the actual amount of time you need to spend working, leaving you free for whatever you want to do!

Since I do a lot of my work online, I felt it would be worth spending time building an effective browsing environment. Firefox is the natural choice for the job, given its impressive customization and add-on capabilities. While I found a number of good ideas out there:

Work-Only Firefox Profile
Firefox Extensions to Improve Productivity
Firefox is the #1 Productivity Improvement
Firefox Extensions to Make Your More Productive

I found that most places only had one or two thoughts on the matter, or a hodgepodge list of extensions with questionable effects on productivity (certain things, like automatically copying text is in the millisecond range of help, and the time saved [over a lifetime] is probably less than or equal to the time it takes to install).

Thus, I present a 7 step program to tricking out Firefox (work-style):

1. Work Time: Work Firefox (Profile Manager)

We're creating a browsing experience specifically for work purposes. Obviously, this is not going to be the same as non-work browsing. Unless you manage leagues or something, you don't need a Firefox add-on updating you on your favorite sports teams. It's time to separate work from play, even in Firefox. How?

Firefox has a (relatively) hidden feature called the Profile Manager. Profile Manager allows you to create multiple Firefox "profiles" (think accounts), with separately customized settings, plugins, and add-ons. This lets you eliminate unproductive features from your work browsing experience, but not your fun browsing time.

A comprehensive resource on the Profile Manager can be found here:

Firefox Profile Manager

This site tells you all the details behind Profile Manager, and gives detailed instructions for installation and setup, though it's really not very hard.

For Windows users:
  • Close Firefox
  • Go to the command line (run)
  • Type: firefox -P
  • Customize using the Profile Manager
I created two profiles: Work and Notwork (creative). I prefer to uncheck the box, "don't ask at startup." This means every time I load Firefox, I have to make a conscious decision about whether I'm browsing for work purposes or not. These little reminders are often helpful in staying focused.

Now that we've staked our browsing ground, we can move towards making our work environment as productive as possible.

2. RSS: Read Sites Speedily (Sage)

Yes, that's not really what the acronym RSS (Really Simple Syndication) means. But on the reader end, that's exactly what it's good for. A quality feedreader can save you a lot of time in reading (important, work-related, right?) websites. Instead of guessing and checking and checking and checking sites for updates, feedreaders notify you when updates occur, and provide the content without bells and whistles (such as ads).

For my feedreading needs, I prefer the Sage Firefox add-on. With a nonintrusive sidebar setup and bookmark-style folders, Sage doesn't get in the way, or produce disruptive alerts. You can set the program to check your feeds at regular intervals, or my preference; whenever you load Firefox (this prevents you from breaking up tasks every time a new feed pops up, keeping you focused).

The best feature is the automatic feed finder. When you visit a webpage, pressing the magnifying glass button in the Sage sidebar crawls the site for feeds, making it very user-friendly to beginners.

Of course, for maximum productivity, you should only include work-related feeds (for me this is a number of mathematics, fashion, and productivity blogs). Other feeds should exist in your nonwork Firefox profile.

3. Removing Timesucks (Leechblock)

The next step is to actively prevent yourself from engaging in time wasting activities online. I like to refer to websites such as Youtube, Facebook, Myspace, Flickr, Wikipedia, and Stumbleupon as timesucks. They literally suck productive hours out of your work day, and they're designed specifically to do so. The number of links to related or "interesting" content on these websites is astronomical, and the entertainment they provide can be downright addicting.

Strike them out of your browsing life!

Of course, easier said than done, right? Not anymore, thanks to another Firefox add-on, Leechblock. Leechblock offers a serious toolbox for procrastination prevention.

You can designate up to six "block sets" of content, each with its own set of rules, including time limits, day restrictions, even complete lockdowns! What if you run into a new timesuck? Right-clicking on the page reveals a Leechblock option in the drop-down menu for quick addition to a block set. You can even issue an immediate lockdown from the menu! For those tempted to go and change the settings during lockdowns, Leechblock even provides options which lock the settings, or even about:config files! That's protection!

4. E-mail Emancipation (more Leechblock, autoresponders)

A number of productivity bloggers have dealt with chronic e-mail checking and responding:

How to Stop Checking E-mail on the Evenings and Weekends

E-Mail Zero: Imagining Life Without E-mail

I have to agree, checking my e-mail can often be my biggest procrastination item, especailly when I'm expecting a response from someone. While you don't have to go as far as outsourcing your email, or quitting it entirely, it's something that should be reigned in.

Thus, we turn to the more advanced features of Leechblock. I set up a block set for all of my mail accounts:

I've blocked both of my e-mail accounts all day, every day, except for the hours:

11am-12pm, 4pm-5pm, and 8pm-10pm

This prevents e-mail checking early in the morning (which causes pseudowork to take over the day), during the majority of the workday, and late at night (which causes excessive worry and planning before trying to sleep). Also, if I forget to check email during one of the designated periods, I have to wait until the next. This helps make email more of a habit than a haphazard timesuck.

You may be concerned about how others will deal with your new email habits. If you don't have a large volume of e-mail, you probably don't need to do anything. However, if you're in a corporate environment in which a number of people expect immediate response (because they're also chronic e-mailers), consider setting up an autoresponder. E-mail autoresponders, such as these simply let others know your email habits are important, as is your time. Don't be fooled into purchasing a program for this, all the major e-mail clients have the ability built in. Perhaps some commenters can find links to specific how-to's?

5. Becoming Self-Aware (Time Tracker and MeeTimer)

Finally, despite our best efforts, we often see beyond our procrastination (that basketball site will be useful if I run into a client who's a big fan!). Becoming aware of how (not if) you're wasting time is vital to reclaiming that productivity! I've found two add-ons that are particularly useful for this:

For broad trends, and a constant reminder, try Time Tracker. This simple add-on keeps a log of how long you're actively browsing in Firefox. The ever-ticking orange clock in the bottom right corner is a simple way to keep cognizant of your browsing habits.

For the more detail oriented fixes, check out MeeTimer. This wonderful add-on keeps track of how long you browse each site. You can also group sites into categories (work, procrastination, extreme procrastination) and track your browsing habits that way. This is a great way to find out your true timesucks, those websites which are really taking your time away. You can even set up active deterrents, with messages like "you've spend 23% of your working week on Procrastination: are you sure you wish to continue." Talk about tough love!

Identifying these problem areas can give you feedback to utilize in fine-tuning your other work profile settings. After just a few weeks, you should be able to identify and eliminate a lot of time-wasting behavior with these techniques.

Now, set up your own work browsing environment, enjoy the newfound productivity, and...

...get back to work.

This article was featured in The Nineteenth Edition of the Carnival of Improving Life, Rich Life Carnival #7, and The Carnival of Self-Mastery.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Enamored with the Smallest Bit of Urbanity

I love the city. I wish I lived in a city. Someday, I will live in a big city. Not in the suburbs, downtown in the city. This was confirmed for me once again today when I experienced just a tiny bit of what makes me love urban life.

My family went to the pool this morning, and since I'd gone the day before, and my sister was bringing a friend, I decided to sit this one out. This, of course, left me home to work on some projects.

Before getting down to work, I decided I needed some breakfast. I decided to walk to the nearby Red Pump Cafe, a local eatery with about fifteen seats, a bad website, but some delicious food. Let me go back to an easily overlooked detail there.

I walked to the cafe for breakfast. 1 point.

I've always found walking either alone or with others to be a great experience, a slower way to travel, sure, but you really get to see where you're going, and get some time for uninterrupted thought or discussion. I look forward to being able to walk or bike most places in the city.

The breakfast was good, as expected, but again, the real treat is the experience. I think that I'm particularly fond of (for whatever reason) being in the presence of social interaction while I myself am in isolation. I really enjoy the energy of a full cafe, or a bustling Starbucks when I work. I used to think I worked better when I was around other people working. This meant a lot of trips to the library. I've since realized that this was only half the story; I also need other people to be doing things; talking, working, making noise, moving around. I'll be spending a lot more time in coffee-shops (though I hate coffee), cafes and other public places at school next year (here I come Ninth Street).

I think much of my love for the urban environment comes from this simultaneous isolation and socialization. I also like the architecture. (My future home will have far more metal, glass, and concrete than wood or brick). Either way, it is always a pleasure to experience bits and pieces of it here and there as I did today.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Biking an Album

Today I found that my brother's bicycle was not, as I believed, beyond repair. After pumping air into the tires, and fiddling with the broken seat, my dad was able to get it working. This was great news for me, since I don't really enjoy running, and my inline skates have 5 of 8 wheels remaining. (Note that it is indeed possible to use inline skates with 6 of 8 wheels, and probably 5 of 8, if you've got the right 5).

Thus, I was able to enjoy the free-roaming, neighborhood dominating exercise that my rigorous gym routine lacks. Also, since bicycling (recreationally) doesn't require the mental focus of weightlifting or timed running, I can listen to my iPod whilst doing it. I decided I would ride for the length of one album. This would let me listen to some new music and get exercise. Multitasking is a plus.

Of course, I managed to pick an unusually long album, Absolution by Muse, clocking in at 52 minutes. I successfully biked the whole time, with a few brief stops atop hills. When I returned, my legs were quite jelly-esque, a nice feeling (to know I really worked the muscles).

The album was definitely well above average. I had previously listened to Butterflies and Hurricanes religiously (it's currently my most listened track since my harddrive crash in January), but hadn't gotten a chance to listen to the album straight-through. There's a lot of coherence here, with riffs and chord progressions foreshadowing entire songs (the beginning of Time is Running Out and the bassline of Butterflies and Hurricanes, for example). Of course, Butterflies and Hurricanes stands out, but so do Hysteria (for a sweet guitar riff), and Apocalypse Please. The subject matter gets a bit repetitive, but it's forgiven for the great balance of tones and styles, and some really genius melodic and rhythmic structures. Recommended.

All in all, a nice (if tiring) experience. I'll try to increase my biking frequency (possibly to include all my non-lifting days), both for exercise and music-listening purposes.

Friday, July 11, 2008

Starbucks Adventure

I’m not quite sure what to attribute my recent dearth of blog posts to. I worked a few days with my father doing construction at his company, which tired me out significantly. The other days I simply lacked the motivation to blog. This, of course, causes a cycle of feeling bad about not posting, and then not feeling like posting because of this. I eventually decided it was time for a change of plans, because I really like blogging, and I want this blog to thrive. Thusly, I’ve made the following changes in approach:

  1. I’m going to be blogging primarily outside the home. Working at home provided a lot of distractions, and a too-relaxing environment, not conducive to thinking and writing for longer periods of time.
  2. I’m going to be blogging shorter posts across tighter themes. I want to build up some more experienced based information to support the theory I work upon.
  3. I’m going to blog around the same time, and in the same place each day I blog. This will make blogging a habit, rather than a spur-of-the-moment activity, helping to solidify its place in my day.

To realize these goals, I’ve decided to drive to Starbucks a few times a week for about three hours, early in the morning. Starbucks is a fairly lively, crowded place (which I enjoy when working), yet still private, because the customers are (generally) people I don’t know well, if at all. The one downside (which I was rather surprised about), is that the wireless internet found at (at least my) Starbucks isn’t free! (Unless you fit a number of criteria, such as actually buying stuff from Starbucks) Thus, if I can find a similarly populated environment which does offer free wireless (and they really should, business-wise), I’ll move there. Thus, you can look forward to more regular blogging from me, though it will often be in unusual bursts early-afternoon when I return to my home internet connection to post what I’ve written. I’ll also be trying to add some links to my blogroll, as I’ve been reading some good blogs (mostly about music, fashion, and mathematics) lately.

Meta-update: my first day rather productive, as I put together three blog posts (including this one), and made a bit of interesting mathematical progress (a little more work, and that will go up here as well). Thus, I am pleased.