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Life Hacks

My txt setup

The explications continue.

It's been a while since I talked about how I'm using text files, and my post a while ago on Quicksilver appending reminded me of a few little changes I've made over the past year or so that my fellow text geeks might find interesting.

Reviewing: Why text?

Like a lot of geeks and aspirational geeks, I do as many things as possible in plain text files. I've endlessly sung the praises of text on 43F, but in a nutshell, they're portable, efficient, tiny, and almost endlessly mungible. They're the lingua franca of Unix and most of the civilized world.

As you'll see, I use text files for any variety of things, although my favorite use is for making and maintaining lists. The aforementioned append functionality lets me quickly add items to any file with nothing but muscle memory and a few keystrokes. Best thing ever.

I also write in text files as well as store large amounts of reference information. Text is very easy to swap into HTML (I keep almost everything in Markdown format), and text is wonderfully searchable, whether using Spotlight, Find & Replace, or just via incremental search from within the editor.

Point being: I use applications like OmniOutliner, iCal, and (formerly) Entourage to organize the relationships between silos in my life; but text files are the living repositories for as much of the actual information as I can manage.

Getting a system

Like everything, this text system benefits from a loose organizational framework that lets me quickly create and change files without having to worry too much about what it's called, where it goes, and how I'll find it again. So here's a few high points from my text world.

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Emailing a text-based meeting scheduler

ButtUgly: Main_blogentry_231105_1 [The Iteration List]

A very clever and satisfyingly lo-fi way to find the best date for an event based on several people's schedules. By passing around emails with an ASCII, monotype text representation of the possible dates and times, each person uses a symbol to indicate their preference and availability. Very clever stuff.

       0                 1                   2                   3
       1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 0
       t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f S S m t w t f 
Janne  + + - - + + + + + ? ? + + + + - - - ? ? - - - - - - - - - + 
Ville  + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + + -
Kalle  - - - - + + + + e e e - - - + - - - - - - - - - - - - - - +
Sanna  - - e e - - - + ? ? ? + + + + + - - + + - - - - - - + + + +
                     * *           *

From this table, it’s easy to see what would be suitable dates for everyone (marked with “*”). The initiator of the sequence suggets Thursday 8th, and everyone agrees. And while they were at it, they agreed on holding the 15th as “tentative”, so that they get to continue the game if it’s not finished in time. One of the advantages of this calendar is of course that you can immediately see who might not make it - and while everyone is equal, missing someone might not be.

[ Thanks, Brian ]

Un-alarming timers for meditation and the (10+2)*5 hack

If you're a beginning meditator, you may share my distraction of sometimes wondering "How long have I been doing this?" It's easy (and desirable) to lose track of time, but it can be worrisome if you need to be someplace later and are nervous about falling sleep or the like.

Commentor Ruth recently pointed us to Zencast, a site that does podcasts on Meditation, including an introduction to meditation series. Haven't listened to any of these yet, but I was pleased to notice that their first three shows of the podcast are just "timers" for meditating.

Each is an MP3 of 10, 20, or 30 minutes in length, and they each consist of a "Music for Airports"-like wash of ambient music at the beginning and end of the session and just silence in-between. The 20- and 30-minute versions also feature unobtrusive tones at 10 and 15 minutes respectively. Handy way to get time off your mind (a meditation hack?).

In a similar vein, don't miss Hernick's alarm-free MP3 for running the (10+2)*5 hack. As he says over on the board:

But syncing myself to a alarm? Urgh. Painful stuff. I hate buzzers.

So I invoked the power of Open Source: I fired up Hydrogen, a drum machine.

I laid down 12 minutes of beats; the beats synchronise you to the hack.

Both the mediation timers and the Dash tune are clever ways of having alarms without actually having alarms.

Mike Mahon: Whacking the stupid out of his system

Wow. I love this practical outline of stuff Mike Mahon does to get things done. It's primarily a list of useful life-hacky stuff that helps him keep it together, but it also repeatedly brings the funny:

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Faking fullscreen mode on your Mac

Faking Fullscreen Mode

I forget where, but someone once mentioned that you could probably emulate fullscreen mode in most OS X apps by using the "Universal Access" PreferencePane (if I'm stealing this idea from you uncredited, send the link and I'll correct the error with my thanks).

Anyhow, this rules. Once you get the hang of it, it's pretty fast to set up, and if you're as easily distracted as I am, it's a handy way to minimize distractions and force yourself into focusing on just one thing.

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Three OS X Timers

I know I'm not the only timer nerd here -- check out three Mac-friendly ways to time your activities and make sure you stay on track.

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Disk maintenance small boost to productivity?

Whenever I run DiskWarrior (starting-up from a CD), do an Applejack repair, or otherwise cause some event that renders my PowerBook temporarily unusable, I often find a few things happen:

  1. I'm initially stressed-out, although I soon move to feeling kind of relaxed -- like someone called a snow day on the morning of the Chemistry final.
  2. I'm drawn to several small (truly neglected) chores related to my immediate physical area -- cleaning off my desk, returning file folders, or taking out the recycling.
  3. Forced to write in either a notebook or at my girlfriend's Mac, I often end up drafting something quickly, easily, and occasionally in a style I don't think I write in.
  4. I don't miss the computer that much after 2 minutes; but I do get itchy after a couple hours.

There's any of a dozen reasons for all these, but I suspect there's commonality.

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SBJ: Filtering interruptions to enhance focus

Emerging Technology - Discover Magazine - E-mail Making You Crazy?

Steven Johnson on battling the email and interruption avalanches with smarter technology. He also cites the King's College study suggesting that multitasking makes you less productive than if you'd been doing bong hits.

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Eightface: "Status Page" plugin for WordPress

myStatus plugin for WordPress // eightface

Remember the "status page" post? Well our pal, Dave Kellam, has whipped a sweet little WordPress plugin that makes it really easy to bullet out some points right on your page:

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An Oblique Strategy:
Honor thy error as a hidden intention


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