Sunday, June 24, 2007

Summertime in Seattle?

My calendar tells me that it is summer time - it is after the 21st of June.

Yesterday, I wore shorts and a t-shirt to a swim meet and I got sunburned on my legs. Today, I wore pants, a sweatshirt and a Gore-tex parka because it was cold and rainy.

Only in Seattle could summer be like this.

I learned an old Northwestern adage today.

If you can't see Mount Rainer, it is raining.
If you can see Mount Rainier, it will be raining soon.

Ain't that the truth.

Friday, June 22, 2007

It's been three weeks

Three weeks since I've been to the gym and I broke that stretch this morning. I'd been meaning to go all week and just didn't feel like getting up.

It wasn't really my motivation that got me going this morning - it was the fact that my neighbor across the street said that he had been working out in the morning and it really started his day right. I knew what he was talking about and wasn't going to let broken arms, early morning work calls or travel stop me anymore.

I'm back on the bandwagon. You can find me now, Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings at the Pine Lake Club!

On another gym related note, some lady tried to steal my MINI this morning. Well, try and steal are probably slight exaggerations, but she took my keys! The gym is repainting and all the things on the walls have been removed. This includes the key hanger, so everybody put their keys on the counter below the wall. And evidently in a pumped up state, MINI keys look similar to Lexus keys.

The funny thing is I was starting a set on a machine over by the keys and I noticed that mine weren't there. As I walked downstairs, she came back in and said, "It would help if I got my own keys." I found my culprit.

We laughed about it and I didn't really want to trade her for her Lexus.

Friday, June 15, 2007

today's music

This week has been a little rough so I made an effort to listen to mellow music this morning.
I started off with Ladytron, then Lilly Allen and some old No Doubt. No Doubt got me onto ska and I listened to the Mighty, Mighty Bosstones.
From trying to relax standpoint, tha probably wasn't a good idea. I turned to NIN and listened to Broken and Fixed for the rest of the day.
Now that is stress relieving music.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

I made it!

I got this email today from the University of Washington! I'm excited and it came much earlier than they had originally told us.

Congratulations! You have been admitted to the University of Washington’s Evening MBA Program for Autumn 2007. We invite you to join our community of faculty, staff, students and alumni, and become a part of one of the most prestigious academic programs in the Northwest. At the University of Washington, a highly selective admissions process and a smaller program size permit us to select students who excel in many dimensions. This insures that you are among a small, talented group of peers. Our Admissions Committee believes you will make a significant contribution to the entering class.
Just as my kids are thinking of getting out of school for the summer, I am thinking of getting back in. How ironic.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

My most embarrassing moment in a long time

I really like Taco Bell.

When I was in high school, I would eat there because it was cheap. I'm still "frugal" so I like Taco Bell for that reason. Heather isn't a real big fan of Taco Bell, so I take the kids to Taco Bell occasionally.

Tonight, Heather was at a PTA meeting and I picked up Alec at swim practice, so we stopped at Taco Bell on the way home.

We went in and started our order. As each of the three kids finished their order, they took their cup and started filling it up. I made my order and reached into my pocket. My empty pocket.

No drivers license, no cash, no credit cards. No pocket lint either.

My kids had drinks and I had no money and an order placed. I was getting red in the face. I had no money in my car, either. I had to tell the lady at the counter that I couldn't pay - even for the sodas we already had.

I told the lady I would be back in 20 minutes to pay and I told the kids we had to leave. They didn't quite understand why we weren't eating dinner. It only took a few explanations that I had no money.

So, I returned home and turned around and went back to Taco Bell to pay and still buy dinner. They had already changed shifts, so I had to explain to the next girl at the counter why I wanted to pay for drinks, but she didn't need to give me any.

In the end, they were pretty cool about it. They ended up not charging me for any drinks, maybe to help me with my shame. It was quite embarrassing, but in the end we got dinner.

My Skype Experiment

A while back, I wrote about that I was playing with Skype . For me, this isn't going to be one of those check it out and drop it things - Skype is pretty cool.

Skype is cheap
With the Skype Unlimited Plan for less than $30 a year, you can make calls to Canada and the US. I pay that much for my local (long distance not included) phone each month!

Skype to Skype calls are free
My Dad was in Finland and I wanted to talk to him about some Excel functionality. He doesn't have Skype (yet), but the people he was staying with were Skype users. So, we arranged a time that we would both be around (the 11 hour time difference can be a stumbling block) and we got connected and had a 30 minute phone call for free!

Skype calls that you have to pay for are pretty cheap
Skype's rates are very good. You can check out their own rate pages, but the rates are measured in pennies, not dimes, almost no matter where you call to.

Skype calls have pretty good quality
On the call to my Dad in Finland, we had a great connection. On many calls, when both parties are silent, the line is so free of static that I actually wonder if I was disconnected. I've even made calls with a friend over the satellite connection at remote scientific monitoring stations. After I called my Dad in Finland, I called my Mom on her cell phone (mobile to mobile calling is free with Cingular). The international, Voice Over IP call had a better connection that the domestic cell phone call.

Skype can do conference calls
As one of the included features, you can use Skype to make conference calls. And there is no complicated flashing of the phone (who hasn't held it down too long and hung up on the other people). And as an added benefit, the specific person talking is highlighted in the conference call list on the Skype application.

Skype is portable
Where ever I have a wi-fi connection, I have Skype. It will also run off a USB drive, either one that is U3 or PortableApps enabled. I had a conference call scheduled right after my flight arrived in Las Vegas a few weeks ago. I know that wi-fi is free there, so I made the call from the Las Vegas airport. Sure, I could have used my cell phone, but that would have used 60 minutes. This call used no minutes that I had to pay anthing for.

Learnings from my first few weeks with Skype
1. Not many of my friends use Skype.
2. The headset makes a world of difference
3. Skype is a good IM client

Check out Skype. Try it out (they even give you about 5 minutes of free calls). I'm still trying to figure out how it fits in from a business standpoint. If you are a web-worker, it is most definitely applicable!

I'm beau.raines on Skype so, if you are one of my faithful readers, drop me a line!

Sunday, June 10, 2007

It's been a helluva week

This week has been a rough one. I'm no longer feeling exhausted, but we'll see how the weekend fares with 3 swimmeet sessions.

On Monday, I had a training event that I needed to attend at the local office, an infrequent occurance for a remote worker. As I left the meeting, I saw there were 8 missed calls on my phone. Something was up. It turns out that my daughter broke her arm on the playground at school. My wife had scheduled last minute doctor's appointments for her and was quickly directed to the Emergency Room at Seattle Children's Hospital. I was in Kent, she was on her way to Seattle and our oldest was at swim practice on Mercer Island. I waited for swim practice to end and rounded up our oldest and met Heather in the ER.

Chase's elbow (well, the upper arm right at the elbow) was broken and she was going to need surgery and some hardware to hold it all together. There were more pressing (emergent, in medical-ese) surgery cases, so they put her in a splint, scheduled an appointment for Tuesday afternoon and sent us home for the night.

We left the hospital late and once we got home and Chase mostly comfortable in bed, I worked late into the night to catch up from being out of the office all afternoon.

I was too tired to go to the gym Tuesday morning, so I didn't. I spent the morning re-arranging my day, moving my afternoon appointments to Wednesday. Tuesday was one of those days that I had planned to spend most of on the phone making follow up calls. Heather was at a PTA luncheon and the hospital called to see if we could come in a few hours early. We jumped at that opportunity, with the hopes that we would get her surgery done earlier. We arranged for a friend to take our youngest and pick up our oldest after school and we were off to the hospital.

We were admitted and promptly taken back to a waiting area. And we waited. There was no cell phone coverage either. Finally at about 4:30 pm (pretty much our original schedule), Chase went under the knife. Her procedure only lasted an hour, during which Heather and I ate at the hospital cafeteria. We were paged to come back to the waiting area and we did and waited. Evidently, Chase was sleeping off her anesthesia and after a few hours, they took her to her recovery room, where she and Heather would stay overnight.

I ended up leaving the hospital at about 8:45pm to go take our kids off our friend's hands. Once I got the boys in bed, I worked late into the night to try to keep my head above water at work.

Chase had asked me to come back to the hospital in the morning, so I had it all planned out. I would go drop our youngest at pre-school and then go to the hospital, stay for a few hours until I had to leave to pick up at pre-school. Seconds before I was going to shut off my computer and start executing that plan, Heather IM's me and says that they will be leaving soon.

Chase and Heather returned home and we quickly turned around to go to literacy day, so she could show off a book she had made in class and a neat PowerPoint presentation about the desert.

As I was returning from the pre-school pickup, my MINI lurched and had a loss of power. The check engine light came on and we limped home. I was able to schedule an appointment, unfortunately for next Tuesday. What was truly problematic was that I had a 6 am flight Thursday morning to go to Oakland. I arranged for a shuttle to take me to the airport and was set for the next day.

My shuttle arrived promptly at 2:50am Thursday morning. It was really quite early and we made 5 other stops on the way to the airport. I got to the airport on time, in fact early, but I was already exhausted and this didn't help any. Usually, when I travel, I stop at Starbucks (the first one on the B concourse) and buy coffee and a scone. I got there before they opened. So, I took a nap and waited for them to open.

I had a full day in Oakland and got a lot accomplished. I didn't get too much email, so on Friday there wasn't much catching up that I had to do either.

My shuttle back home only had me, so it was much faster and I only got home a few minutes later than had I been driving.

Friday I was still too beat to go to the gym. Even though it was only two days ago, I can't remember what I did. There was a swim meet and I do remember that there were lots of calls to our consultants that resulted in, "Can I call you about this on Saturday."

Saturday was another early morning, because we had a swim meet. I only got two loads of laundry done, some work and some reading. I think the best part of the afternoon was giving Heather a nice full body massage. She thought I had been practicing!

So, here I am on a Sunday, again at a swim meet (yep, 3rd time in a weekend). I've been catching up on blogs (pre-writing a few and staging them as drafts, so they are ready to publish during the week). I am about half way through Freakonomics and looking forward to dinner with one of my college room mates who is in town for a conference.

I'm definitely not caught up on rest, but I'm getting there.

Ubiquitous capture

This post had originally started as a writing on paper versus electronic calendars, to-do lists and what not. I was inspired by some postings on Web Worker Daily, 5 Reasons to use a Paper to do list and 6 More Reasons to use a paper to Do List and how important it was to have a paper based solution.

Since then, I have acquired a Samsung BlackJack and my perspective has flip-flopped once again. But utimately, the point is this - you need to be able to get at your calendar, your notes, your to-do list anywhere the thought or fancy hits you. A Ubiquitous capture device is what you need.

Ubiqutous capture is a tenet of GTD - get the thought out of your head and put it on paper. This way you can focus on the task at hand with your full brain power, rather than having to keep track of everything else you need to do at any point in the future.

I think that the foundation should be electronic, but depending upon your preferences and pocketbook, paper or electronic will still fit the need.

I am a Google fanboy. I won't deny it. Google Calendar, Notebook, Documents and Spreadsheets, Personal Homepage... The list goes on and on. Online task management apps, such as Remember the Milk, work very well too. Web-based is excellent and they are some very good productivity tools. There is a certain productivity gain from having the data portable and nicely formatted. But an application that lives on your local PC is just as good. Outlook, the Mozilla suite of applications and Lotus (although I have no experience with it) can all work as well to track your commitments and to-dos.

Using an electronic tool gives you multiple ways to get things on your list. They allow adding by email, IM and SMS all depending upon the software.

I guess you could use a paper based planner, but this is the 21st century! It is the web enabled world.

But, we've got to face it. We aren't always sitting in front of our computers. When you are stuck on a plane or at your kids' event and you remember that you need to send a file to someone, you need to be able to add it to your to-do list. Of if you get invited to a social event, isn't it better to be able to say, "Yes, I can make it," rather than, "Uh, thank you for the kind invitation; I'll have to check my calendar and get back to you."

This is where personal preference, depth of pocketbook, technical aptitude all come in. An electronic tool doesn't necessaryily mean a CrackBerry - you can do a whole lot with text messages and a cell phone. A paper based tool doesn't mean writing everything by hand in a notebook.

I had a conversation with some friends a few months ago about the use of online calendars and what not. Someone asked, "Would you ever go back to a paper based calendar, now that you have everything online?" Collectively, we all said "No." There was too much of a challenge to make sure everything stayed in sync. I agreed.

That weekend, the power went out in our house for almost 72 hours. Cell phone towers had no power, so my Google and Razr enabled calendar didn't do me much good. I realized that I needed to have a way to adequately capture things when I was really offline.

A hipster PDA became the solution for me. I downloaded templates from DIY Planner and a few times a week, I would print out my Google Calendar on 3x5 cards. I was able to print out my RememberTheMilk tasks for today and every evening I would update my online tool with whatever I had come up with during the day. It was great, I always had my schedule at my fingertips and if an idea struck, I could capture it. Now, I was subject to many comments of disbelief that I, the geek I am, would turn to such a low-tech solution as 3x5 cards clipped together with a binder clip. But it worked. As a note, it worked in the past too. Before it was called a hipster PDA, this was the solution that was widely used by officers and NCOs in the Army.

Recently, I became eligible for a phone upgrade. I'm a big fan of Motorola phones and the Q, but I wasn't willing to go away from my mobile provider, Cingular. They had the BlackJack and I started doing comparisons between the Q and the BlackJack. As soon as I was eligible I got the BlackJack. Now, I've got web access in my pocket and my online tools are always available to me. Yeah, it checks my work email, but I've got that set to do it every two hours - I don't need to be at the beck and call of my email, especially my work mail.

I can get at my calendar and to-do lists using mobile versions of the web apps and notes (through the phone itself) anytime I want. Plus, it integrates with my Outlook contacts, so everything is always up to date.

I guess all of my observers will be happy that I've gone hi-tech, but lo-tech works too. The power might go out for longer than the 5 days I can get between the two batteries that come with the BlackJack. And if that day comes (or the Revolution), I'll be ready.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

A new PC

Well, not really. I should have greatly improved my computer's performance. Overtime I have amassed a grand collection of photographs, music, documents and what not. Slowly, my 40GB disk became full and as a result, my computer began to run slowly.

I couldn't maintain my computer - there wasn't enough free space to run defrag! Thank goodness for Web 2.0; computing in the cloud helped me maintain my effectiveness with my laggard computer. Thank goodness for cheap memory (I got a 2GB SanDisk U3 flash drive at Radio Shack for $25 on sale); I've been been running Portable Apps off of it (on mine and my daughter's PCs) to keep me going.

The final straw broke a few days ago. I was taking my son to swim practice and was planning on working bedouin-style at the library and the aquatic center. Just like any other day, I hibernated mmy computer and threw it in my messenger bag. When I got to the library, it wouldn't start. I started to wonder - my photos, my music, my financial records, my work - would it all be there? I placed an after-hours call to our helpdesk - my message did include the phrase, "I'm beginning to panic."

My son and I went on to swim practice and I sat in the bleachers. Sad, now not planning on working, I was only hoping that my hard disk hadn't failed and that my stuff would be recoverable. I got a call back from our helpdesk and it was my friend Ken. He recommended I take out the battery and plug it in and restart it - I had already tried that. But as it is with many techincal problems, when repeating a problem with technical support, the problem is solved (probably just by tech support's presence). My computer started. I resolved that I would move my pictures to another disk and ensure that there was free disk space for my laptop to function well.

When I got home that night, there was only 1.5 MB of free disk space. I knew I had to move those pictures.

I used (note the past tense) Adobe Photo Album to organize my photos. I really liked the fact that I could tag my photos for ease of searching. After tagging some 6,000 photos taken over the course of many years, I learned that the tags weren't saved with the files - they lived in the application it self. My photos weren't all that backup-able without tags.

Some Google searches revealed that Photoshop Elements 4.0 had thee functionality to write existing tags to the file and in the future would save the tags to the file themselves. Google searches revealed that other products, namely Picasa, would also save the tags to the file. Picasa is a free Google product which appeals to me. I decided I would switch.

I used Elements to convert my tags and then exported them to my iPod. I actually had to install some of Elements on a flash drive I had so little space! I then deleted my catalog, Elements and Photo Album from my computer. This freed up 10 GB of disk space. I now have enough room to defrag my hard disk. My computer should be back to its good old self.

All my photos are backed up now and easy to put where ever I want them!