Playing with Chyrp

I've started playing around with Chyrp, a new blogging engine. The test site is here. First impressions are positive - it seems to deliver what it advertises, though I'm not having any luck with the video posting feather. I'll toy around some more and post any interesting findings.

Jan 8th, 2008

Quadrant IV: The Procrastinator's Corner

Not Urgent, Not Important

According to The Time Management Matrix, activities that are neither urgent nor important fall into Quadrant IV, a position that I refer to as "The Procrastinator's Corner". These are the trivial, unimportant things that you do when you don't want to do anything in Quadrants I through III.

This is solitaire. This is reading the news. This is, unless you get paid for it, blogging.

You know you do it. I do it. Everyone does it. We waste time... if we didn't we'd go nuts! Filling the day with high-priority issues without any relief will lead to certain burnout. The human brain can only take so much stress before it pops, so we play minesweeper.1

This is ok. The TMM's quadrants can also be lined up like a slide, from IV down to I. An uncompleted activity in Quadrant IV will eventually trickle down to either Quadrant III (if it becomes time-sensitive) or Quadrant II (if it becomes important).

Minesweeper is probably the exception and not the rule, of course. I personally handle Quadrant IV by living by a suggestion I read somewhere (probably Lifehacker):

When you procrastinate, don't do nothing, do something else that you've been putting off.

This is somewhat similar to the concept of "Structured Procrastination", though admittedly I only found out about John Perry's essay when trying to find the site that originally gave me said advice. It's also a good read on the concept.

One disagreement that I have with the traditional matrix is that I put Relationship Building activities (Networking, Inter-Departmental mingling) in Quadrant IV instead of Quadrant II. This is a personal choice that really comes down to a simple rationale: I already have strong relationships with most of the rest of my company (I know the names of just about every single in-office employee since a majority of them have been hired since I started).

For folks that don't have strong inter-departmental working relationships, getting to know your co-workers should definitely be in Quadrant II! For me, getting to know newer employees might fall into Quadrant II, especially since hiring season is going to be ramping up in another month or so!

Since I'm big on lists, on a particularly slow day in early December, I "procrastinated by thinking about procrastination" - I made a list of several arguably low-effort tasks that can be accomplished when I have free spots of time or need to hop out of Quadrant I and II for a few contiguous minutes. A few examples from this list:

  • Tidying up the office
  • Processing a list of general task collection triggers (more on this another day)
  • Networking (Rocking the LinkedIn, Facebook, Email, etc.)
  • Casual, Job-Related Reading

For the most part, anyone who needs to make a list of such things probably does not have to try to make time for them since inevitably they will want to leave Quadrants I and II often enough that these things will get done anyway.

Personally however, I find that having a list of things I could do if I need a break is very helpful. It keeps me from actually playing minesweeper.


  1. I don’t anymore – I’ve given up video games in 2008.

Jan 7th, 2008

PHP 5 now out of beta at Nearly Free Speech

My web host, which has a really interesting hosting model, has been beta-testing PHP5 for some time now. I don't have as much time to play with it as I'd like, so I opted to stay out of the beta for now.

However, testing is complete, and PHP 5 (v5.2) support is now out of beta and is the default for all new sites. I just set up a new site not knowing this and everything in my PHP app is functioning as I'd expect. Groovy!

They're also offering a CGI-based version which runs with safe_mode and open_basedir eacg turned OFF, which is huge for some apps like Gallery, which used to be my web-based photo app of choice.

So, I'll just flip the switch and see what happens. Why not, right?

Jan 4th, 2008

Hanging Folder Binder Hack

I ran across this simple binder clip hack over at LifeHacker, submitted by one of their readers. I'm humbled by the simplicity and have duplicated these efforts. This is also quite useful for keeping the spare folders sequestered in the back of a cabinet.

Jan 3rd, 2008

The Time Management Matrix

Several years ago I was required to take a two-week seminar on Steven Covey's 7 Habits for Highly Effective People. I've forgotten almost all of it, which is what happens when you don't put something into practice and stick with it. Nonetheless, there were a few key points that come back to haunt me now and again.

My company gives managers quarterly training on management technique, skills and habits. Covey would call this "Sharpening the Saw", which is Habit 7. I find these sessions to be incredibly helpful and am very thankful that we spend so much time working to improve ourselves. In one particular session in mid-2006 we spent half of the day discussing time management and Covey's groovy Time Management Matrix. The matrix breaks down all of the responsibilities and tasks which we must do into four areas, defined by two critieria, Importance and Urgency:

  1. Important and Urgent
  2. Important, Not Urgent
  3. Not Important, Urgent
  4. Not Important, Not Urgent

Each time I was trained on this topic the trainer would ask us how much time we spend in each quadrant now before telling us how much time they thought we should spend. Invariably, every single participant was spending way too much time in Quadrant I. Each time I completed this exercise I was in a Technical Support role so my Quadrant I number was around 50%, which is sickeningly unhealthy. I won't post what the actual values should be... you should pursue Covey training if you're interested!

The instructive premise is simple: If you don't take the time to do the things that are not yet urgent or not yet important, they will become both at some point. In tech support, everything is urgent in the eyes of your customer, so you constantly feel like you are operating in crisis mode. For adrenaline junkies, this works very well, and explains why I have loved such roles during my career. For everyone else, they burn out.

I really like the time management matrix - it reminds me that every single task falls into one category and should be given a certain amount of time based on that. It's an easy rule that removes (some) stress from planning one's day/week/month/life.

I am going to write a few posts in the coming weeks about each quadrant and what I've found helps me to both keep things in their respective places as well as keep me as sane as possible while managing these tasks.

The image above was mirrored from www.careerdevelopmentplan.net. I didn't ask to use it, rather I found it in a Google Image Search, so if they are annoyed and would like me to refrain from using it, my email address is readily available.

Jan 3rd, 2008

Are you for Roomba?

Last week there was a woot-off. I try not to splurge – woot-offs are dangerous – but they put up a refurbished Roomba at a fairly decent price. My wife and I had just agreed days earlier to save up and buy one to alleviate some of our regular vacuuming, so it had to be a sign.

It arrived yesterday, and thus far the pandemonium has been incredible. It took its standard 60 minutes to map the living room / dining room / front hallway and, in the process, spook-out the cats. Watching it navigate around the furniture was like watching my CS 115 professor explain how we were going to write our first somewhat complex recursive method in java - finding a route through a maze.

You know, something like:

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
public boolean solve (int row, int column) {
    boolean done = false;
    if (valid(row, column)) {
        grid[row][column] = 5;
        if (row == grid.length-1 && column == grid[0].length-1)
            done = true;
        else {
            done = solve(row+1, column);        // down
            if (!done)
                done = solve(row, column+1);    // right
            if (!done)
                done = solve(row-1, column);    // up
            if (!done)
                done = solve(row, column-1);    // left
        }
        if (done)
            grid[row][column] = 7;
    }
    return done;
}

Admittedly, I'm enjoying SyntaxHighlighter a bit too much. This particular model lets you set a schedule for when it should go about its business, which is very convenient since it means we can set it to terrorize the cats clean the house while we're at work.

Dec 14th, 2007

Code Highlighting With Google's SyntaxHighlighter

It should be noted at this point that this post, now being in an Octopress blog, is no longer relevant. However, I link back to it so many times that it seemed foolish to get rid of it.

This is (mostly) a test post to see how well Google's SyntaxHighligher works. As you hopefully see below (if your browser supports javascript), it works well. I approve!

1
2
3
4
5
6
7
8
9
10
11
12
13
14
15
16
17
18
19
20
21
22
23
function safe($num) {
    // there has to be a smarter way to do this!  
    // make sure that $num is always above 65  
    $diff = date("w",$now) + 65;
    if ($num < 65) {
        $num+=$diff;
    }

    // make sure that $num is in 65-90 or 97-122
    if (($num > 90) && ($num < 97)) {
        $num+=7;
        return $num;
    }
    elseif ($num > 122) {
        // be formulaic rather than arbitrary
        $d = $num-122; $e = $d%7; $f = $d+$e;
        $num-=$f;
        return $num;
    }
    else {
        return $num;
    }
}

I use a combination of plugins that all fight to figure out what to do with PHP soure code. In order to make this work, I used SimpleCode to translate the source into HTML entities so that Exec-PHP wouldn't try to execute the code block.

The default font set for the code display is Consolas, and then the standard Courier New, Courier and then whatever your system's default mono-space or serif fonts are. If you haven't downloaded Consolas, I'd highly suggest it. Scott Hanselman wrote a couple of articles about it, including making Consolas your default Console font, which I do with reckless abandon.

SyntaxHighlighter has a couple of nifty options, such as disabling some extra controls, removing the line numbers and keeping the <pre> block collapsed by default, ideally so that you could have links to expand them as needed. I made one change to the style sheet - making the grey left-hand border 20px thinner. I thought a 45px band of nothing was a bad use of space. The highlighting loads absolutely last on the page so you, the user, don't sit there waiting for it to work in order to begin browsing content.

Sadly, there is currently no highlighting set for Basic, else Tuesday's post would have looked better.

Dec 13th, 2007

Basically Silly

1
2
3
4
5
10 PRINT "THIS IS THE SONG THAT DOESN'T END"  
20 PRINT "YES, IT GOES ON AND ON MY FRIENDS!"  
30 PRINT "SOME PEOPLE STARTED SINGING IT NOT KNOWING WHAT IT WAS"  
40 PRINT "AND WE'LL CONTINUE SINGING IT FOREVER JUST BECAUSE."  
50 GOTO 10

Stuck. In. My. Head.

Dec 11th, 2007

Useful Tools

I'm somewhat of a tools guy when it comes to my computing environment. I like apps that make my life easier and extend my operating environment beyond what was originally intended. In my previous job, I was one of the guys writing little scripts to automate annoying tasks. It's "my thing". The first time I read Scott Hanselman's Tools page, I think I may have salivated just a little. I immediately downloaded about 60% of the list just to see what they each did in greater detail. His list for 2007 included "The Big Ten Life and Work-Changing Utlities", of which with I mostly agree.

I spent a few minutes the other day going through my c:tools directory to see what was actually there. Over the last few years I've just dumped every standalone app that looks interesting into this one directory, added it to my SVN repository so that I can easily populate it onto any workstation, and ignored just how ginormous it was becoming. As a result, I ended up deleting more than half of the apps, a great deal of which I hadn't used since they were downloaded. In the end, I kept only the tools that I use on a regular basis:

  • Deep Burner
  • DarkRoom - DarkRoom is fantastic for distraction-free writing, but it's not much of an editor, so I tend to only use it in network-free meetings or when I need to have a little mind-dump onto the keyboard.
  • Notepad++ - Almost took over as my go-to text editor for a while. It's a pretty powerful little thing!
  • Notepad2 - Used mostly when I need a quick editor that's better than Notepad.exe.
  • ntouch/dtouch, which I'd link to if I could find their original site. They're GUI file timestamp modifiers
  • All of the SysInternals Tools (I use about 50% of them on a weekly basis, especially ZoomIt)
  • Various NirSoft Tools
  • Random Tools by GP Williams, mostly Kill.exe
  • ResHacker
  • Some ISO creation utilities from Terabyte Unlimited
  • jHead
  • Microsoft's Virtual CD Control Panel (this is a direct exe link.. it has no homepage!)
  • Various Other cmd-line apps (unrar.exe, par2.exe, diskuse.exe, vnc viewer, etc.)

Of note, I don't actually use Notepad++ or Notepad2 all that often. I've tried many text editors, (perhaps they deserve their own post), and I only keep either of the enhanced notepads and DarkRoom around as once-in-a-while editors. I fell in love with UltraEdit32 about eight versions ago, and have used it ever since as my primary text editor. I like TextMate on my Mac, so I thought I'd enjoy E-TextEditor about as much. For some reason it didn't quite stick, but I may have to give it another shot at some point.

Beyond that, however, I do have some other non-standalone applications that have made my me more productive or equally easy in the past year or so:

  • Automatic Wallpaper Changer - Yeah, I just like pretty backgrounds. What can I say. And, like on my mac, they should cycle constantly. Carry on.
  • Cygwin - We use this at work on our production systems, so I thought it was worth a shot. I've honestly given up using cmd.exe since I really don't need it anymore. Running tcsh on my Dell WinXP laptop feels dirty, but so good.
  • FireBug - I have to agree with Scott, it is arguably the most powerful in-broswer IDE available. I've abandoned every other web debug extension for Firefox... there's simply no need.
  • Foxit Reader - I uninstall Acrobat reader on any machine I can and install Foxit. It's so fast it makes me seriously question what Adobe is thinking making a bloated PDF reader. I'm trying to get the systems folks at work to adopt it as the default PDF reader for new hire machines.
  • FeedDemon - Still my favorite feed reader. I use NewsGator's Online reader from home.
  • PDFCreator - Useful not only for creating PDFs but also for being a poor man's PDF slicer and dicer.
  • SpeedFiler - I save bunches of time every day using SpeedFiler to quickly move email from my Inbox to a more appropriate location. Version 2 learns from your habits and quickly suggests destinations. Love. It. (It's one of only two !free applications on this list, and it's worth every penny.)
  • TeraCopy - It's overkill as a default copy/move handler, but for big moves to external drives or other machines, it's perfect and fast. It's also very fast.
  • Unlocker - How many times has that silly "It is being used by another person or program" message come up? Too many. Unlocker handles this like a hot knife through.. well, something that doesn't actually require a hot knife, but is even more easily cut with said knife.
  • VLC Media Player - It's the one media player I can always count on to work. How can you go wrong? I pimp this to friends and family on a regular basis.
  • WinSnap - It takes screenshots. Very well.

I wouldn't say any of these (except maybe FireBug or SpeedFiler) are actually life changing applications. They each get a fair amount of use, however, and I'd either be doing something by hand or using a less-functional application in each of their respective places should they not exist.

Fiddling With UpRight

UpRight, by Otaku Software, is a One-Click file transfer utility, aimed at web developers and anyone else who might need to quickly upload a file to an ftp server without going through the normal upload motions. I browse the Otaku site every few months because their software is, for lack of a better word, nifty. UpRight isn't brand new - I passed it over once or twice thinking it was just one more app to install, but after a couple of weeks of serious toying, I'm pretty happy with it.

I have basically three uses for UpRight:

  1. Uploading files to my web site for various reasons
  2. Uploading podcast audio for my chuch's web site
  3. Quickly moving data to my "general crap" S3 bucket

For each, I'd always had a different workflow which involved an AJAX web form, ncftp in cygwin and Bucket Explorer, respectively. With UpRight, it's one two clicks, and data begins to move. (Note: It would be one click, but I have more than one upload location, and UpRight nicely nests these for me rather than create multiple context menu items.)

Really, the S3 access is my favorite. It's rare that I actually need to access my bucket(s) from work - generally all of my usage is from home - however, Bucket Explorer doesn't live up to my expecatations. Nothing big, really... it just randomly forgets my S3 credentials and sometimes thinks that I don't have an internet connection. Other than those "features", it works "fine".

UpRight, however, works perfectly for this purpose. It is no more and no less than as it advertises itself. It moves selected files/folders, and it does it very well.

Of course UpRight is, like any software application, not perfect. There are a couple of things I'd like to see Otaku improve or add:

  • Handle file overwriting. Right now, it just overwrites without asking. I'd like to see at least the option for a prompt which I can choose to turn off as needed. Per-location prompt preference would be great.
  • SCP support. UpRight would be perfect for the quick uploading I do from work to home, currnelty using WinSCP (which I do really like).

One feature I don't have much use for is the ability to take an action after the upload completes. In its current form, this allows you to customize the "completed" dialog, send an email or copy some text to the clipboard. I can very easily envision strong use cases for each of these options, but for me.. meh. I'd love to see an option to "run this command" as well so that I could have the upload trigger a script of some kind.

Overall, I've saved some time with UpRight. It's not a killer app, but it saves a couple of minutes throughout the week, and I really like that. Otaku also makes a few other nifty utilities such as TopDesk (Expose and 3D task switching for Windows) and DeskSpace (think Compiz Fusion for Windows). I've been using TopDesk for a few years, and have had varying degrees of use for it since, I think, version 1.2ish. At the moment, I'm using it to quickly move my windows out of the way when I need to see my desktop, tile my app windows when I have too much going on, and display the pretty 3D task switcher when my laptop's memory isn't completely used up.

Were I to score products, I'd give this one a 7/10 - Not awesome, but certainly very useful. I'll install it next time I reload my system. I don't, however, so you should ignore this and the previous sentence!