Friday, August 29, 2008

You can't fool me, I use Ubuntu

I often get unsolicited Skype Chats. I block those people right away. This one, however, was especially good.

What? Some monitoring service says I have system vulnerabilities? Oh, should I download the "patch" right away?

Ha, ha you silly spammers! You can't fool me, my OS wasn't listed on your affected systems list. They go back as far to list Windows 95! Who uses that any more?

Be safe. Download Ubuntu today.

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Jott is out of beta and here is what I have to say

Jott, that really great voice to text message and email transcription service recently announced that they are no longer in beta. And along with coming out of beta, Jott offers paid plans.

I've waited a few days to write this post so I could go through the stages of tragedy. I didn't want to write something when I was irrational. Lots of people seem pretty upset about it, based on the comments on other blogs. But really, the business of business is to make money. I did get used to using Jott for free. It stinks when something you've grown accustomed to changes, but really, for me, Jott is such an indispensible tool that I will keep using it.

The guys and gals at Jott did a great job of building a great tool. In fact, the other day, I was at a session and I signed up for 3 more. Before I had left the building, I Jotted my Google Calendar and didn't have to think about it any more. Last week, I had a project that was in the final stages of implementation and I used Jott to communicate to the people on the project team.

Jott provides such a flexible and convenient way to communicate. I can Tweet, send my self notes, blog, text my kids and wife, send emails to work mates and more. All this with the power of my voice!

Jott now offers 3 plans: a free ad-supported plan, a $3.95 and a $12.95 plan. They each have differing functionality in length of messages, how you can manage your Jotts, what other services you can link to and other devices. I was a little taken aback by the fact that the basic (paid) plan only had 15 second messages - but when I went through my Jotts, most of them were really short. There were only about two a month that were long - and these ones were really long and spanned mulitple Jotts already.

It would be nice if you could pay annually instead of monthly, which would probably drive the price a little lower, knowing the time value of money (MBA is paying off)! But that would probably scare off some people at the same time. My bet is that the payment terms will change somewhat in the near future. Pricing is always a difficult game and I can't imagine what kind of discussions they had about it.

Here is what Jott has to say about exiting beta.

LifeHacker had an article about alternatives, if you want to explore them, but as for me, I'm with Jott. None of those other services seem to have the integration with other services down as well as Jott does. Good people, great service and it helps me in my life.

This does beg an interesting question, which I have seen asked elsewhere: what will you do if your favorite web app starts to charge? Whats the value that you put on your productivity and convenience?

In the terms of Jott, its the price of a Grande Mocha. For that price, with the way I use Jott, it is well worth it.

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Never too many cups

You already know, I enjoy espresso. But you don't know, that I also like collecting demi tasses. A few weeks ago, Heather made some snarky comment about how many I had, so I figured that I would make a photo collection.




www.flickr.com







Yep, I'm like an old lady with a spoon collection, a japanese teen age girl with Hello Kitty thingys.

I've got a collection of espresso cups. I try to rotate through them, but there are a few that I like a lot, like my MINI cup, my stainless ones, my red one and the stackable one (though I only have one of them).

Do you have any collections, strange or otherwise?

Hiking, Burning and Twittering

Yesterday, I took the kid to the Denny Creek slab. It was a nice hike and the kids had fun playing in the water.

The Denny Creek area is
  1. very crowded
  2. a fee parking area
  3. a short, easy hike
  4. a gateway to the Alpine Lakes Wilderness Area
  5. nice on a hot day
I'll definitely have to come back here again.

Kid 2 said, "This was the best hike ever. The only thing that would have made it better was if Mom had come!"

Sliding
The intrepid adventurers
Denny Slab

I had been slow cooking some short ribs, so when we got home, the house smelled great. All that was left was to make some corn fritters and we'd have a great dinner. As I was frying the fritters up, the corn popped and splashed huge amounts of hot oil.

Every one in the kitchen was burned, at various times, several times. I was burned (and swore a lot) on my arm, Heather was burned covering for me while I nursed my burnt arm, and Kid 2 was burnt 8 feet away!

As I finished up, some more splashed and luckily, I closed my eye, so my eyelid took the burn. I only think a few will blister, so I'm okay. I hurt a lot last night.

And the fritters were good, just not worth the pain.

And I've signed up for Twitter. What you say, I just did that? Yeah, I couldn't see what it was good for. But my wife signed up and sent me an invitation. So, if cool people like my wife are on Twitter, I'll follow her there!

You can follow me too. I can't promise that I'll tweet frequently or of substance, but I want to be like Jim Jones and have followers!

Sunday, August 17, 2008

I'm blogging this...

I'm blogging this. It has finally happened. I made dinner tonight, just a piece of salmon and Heather said to me, "I'm blogging this". Check out her blog for the rest of the story. listen

Powered by Jott

An international vacation

My family and I recently took an international vacation, like many of my other other friends. We took a quick jaunt over the border to Beautiful British Columbia.

Heather used Priceline.com and got a great deal at the Delta Hotel by the airport. The hotel is about like a Courtyard Marriott in the US - nice but not great. It worked fine for sleeping in.

We spent the first day riding our bikes through Stanley Park, with a quick flat fix at a local bike shop. Stanley Park is beautiful with walking and biking trails through out it. We just rode along the outer perimeter, along the water, but we could have spent much more time in the park.

The second day was spent in Whistler. It rained on us, so we didn't do too much. We did see some Pro Dual Slalom bike races. We'll probably come back in the winter (before the 2010 Olympics) and ski some here.

The third day was spent at the Aquarium. Vancouver's aquarium is pretty nice, though (I'm still no sure if its a good thing or not) they have lots of non-aquatic life exhibits. I did see 3 beluga whales, one of which was a baby beluga.

Driving back, it took a little while longer to cross the border than the 10 minutes on the sign and evidently some lady going north caused problems with false claims of a suspicious device. But we made it back home in one piece!

Photos can be found in this flickr set! I'm still adding to it, so come back for the next couple of days.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Olympic Swimming Bash

I am at a sports bar right now, watching the Olympics. The kids' swim team sent 17 to the trials and 2 made the team and our head coach, Sean Hutchinson, was selected to be the Women's coach.
So, for those of you that really know me, watching sports on TV isn't my thing. But free food and beer is! The appetizers and beer at SPORT restaurant are okay by me!

And the Olympic swimming is alright too, though the Thundersticks are a little loud.

Gmail update

Okay, Gmail's back. Over an hour and a half...

It doesn't look like they added any new features to my account. Oh, well. At least my mail is all there.

Gmail error

Uh-oh. I'm getting the Gmail "your account is experiencing errors" message. I've waited a few minutes, but I'm beginning to get impatient!

I've heard terrible stories of people losing everything. I'm keeping my chin up - they were just launching a new feature and messed it up. Yeah, thats what I'm sticking with.

Thursday, August 07, 2008

Being productive with Remember the Milk

As the next installment of my productivity tools blog series, I'll outline the capabilities and how I use Remember the Milk to remember everything from the groceries, work tasks, paying the bills and the things my wife and kids mention for birthday gifts.

Remember the Milk (RTM) at its core, is a web based to do list tool. However, recognizing that you aren't always at a computer with web access, the RTM team has done an excellent job of integrating with off-line and mobile tools, from the iPhone to text messaging.

A great thing (and there are lots of them) is that RTM is free. A few of the mobile platform integration tools are only available to premium members. The RTM team is quick to respond to problems, even though there are only 3 of them and they have a great user driven forum.

Features

RTM is a feature rich application with multiple lists, tagging, robust searching and a smart list feature based upon saved searches. I have work and personal lists and a general shopping list, which acts as the foundation for a grocery smart list based upon the 'groceries' tag. My most important list is my Today smart list, which combines all the tasks from all the lists which I should be working on today. I've found that this type of focus dramatically increases my productivity – I spend more time working on things, rather than figuring out what to work on.

You can receive reminders on a daily basis (the list of things for today) and specific to do's at a specific time. Reminders can be sent via email to multiple email accounts, SMS, all kinds of instant message protocols. My daily reminder goes to both my personal and work accounts, so that no matter where I'm checking my mail, I get that reminder of what to do today. I also get a text message at 6:45 am everyday, so I always have a portable list right there in my cell phone.

Though many productivity systems frown upon the use of prioritization, RTM also provides a numbered, 1 – 3, prioritization schema (the colored boxes). I still struggle with this, as there are some days when I only get to the tasks I've prioritized as number 1, bu there are still tasks which need to be completed that day. Individual tasks can have multiple notes (notepad icon next to tasks) to record the finer details of the particular task, which I use for phone numbers or the detailed SQL for the query that I need to run that day.

I don't make much use of the collaborative portion of RTM, but you can send tasks to or share lists with other RTM users. One of the drawbacks I find to this is that contact management inside RTM is lacking a bit, but it is a task management tool, not a contact manager.

Finally, RTM will generate a fairly nice printout. I use it more as a checklist (a trip packing list) than a printable daily to do list, partially because my work is done at a computer and I find that the mobile versions of RTM meet my needs. One of the continually requested improvements to the printable lists is the specifics of the notes, which I can understand why people would want that.

Cross Platform Integration

Another great thing about RTM is that it can be integrated with so many different tools. You can display your tasks on your Google Calendar, as an iGoogle gadget or desktop widget. There are plugins for Gmail to manage, display and create tasks right in your email client.

RTM supports integration with several third party applications, most importantly, Jott and Twitter. I'm not a Twitter user, but it provides an easy way to add, list and complete to dos by SMS. I'm a heavy Jott user and I can add to dos with my voice!

For those users with a handheld device, there is a mobile optimized website, a Blackberry version, an iPhone version and a synchronization tool for Windows mobile devices (these last three are all paid functions). You don't even need to have an expensive, high-tech device with wireless internet access – even a simple cell phone with the ability to text message will give you the full functionality of RTM (Jott or Twitter and RTM together).

RTM was one of the first applications to make use of Google Gears for offline web support. I can still have RTM when I'm on a plane or someplace with no web access and when I get back online, all my tasks re-synchronize. Its almost like there is no excuse to forget if you use a tool like RTM.

Using Remember the Milk

RTM is the most important productivity tool for me. With all of the things that my family and I are doing it gives me a great, one stop spot for my to dos. With the integration with Jott and tasks by email, whenever I think of something that I need to do, I can quickly and easily make a note of it. For these reasons, RTM is one of my most trusted capture devices for GTD.

It's great as I use the last chipotle pepper that I can take my cell phone and email it to my shopping list that I need to buy more. I can keep track of my work deadlines, personal to dos and my homework due dates all in one place make sure that I am able to divvy my time up between the different activities. Remember the Milk has become so inter-twined with my everyday life that its almost gotten to the level of “if I don't write it down, I won't do it.”

You can sign up here or take a tour!

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

What do your kids watch on TV?

Do your kids watch Chowder on Cartoon Network? I enjoy a good cartoon and I enjoy double entrendre like the next guy.

But there are some things that get my eye brows to raise. Like this...


video

"Oh, yes. The lifegiver." And that sound he makes.

Am I off base here? I'm most definitely not a prude, but this is definitely pushing the line in a children's show. I'm not alone, and this came from the animator's college paper!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Done with summer courses

For seven weeks, I am free of school! Yesterday evening, my team made our final presentation for Leading and Managing Organizations and I turned in my final paper on my social capital. It feels great to be done with classes again and surprisingly, the weather here has turned back to summer again!

Now, I can breath a sigh of relief and catch up with the rest of my life again.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Use Scanr and feel like James Bond

Scanr.com is one of several websites where you can send a picture and they will mail back a PDF of the picture. Scanr has worked it's way in as one of the tools I frequently use to be more productive.

I first learned about Scanr, and other services like it on Lifehacker.com. As I checked them out, Scanr.com had the simplest and most straight forward sign up process. You simply mail a picture to doc@scanr.com, wb@scanr.com or bc@scanr.com (more on the last two later) from your device (computer or handheld device with a camera) and you are returned a code to associate your device with your site login.
You get a free trial period, which turns out to be unlimited usage for almost 6 months, to try out their service. Since I signed up, they started showing their subscription plans and I can convert my trial to a paid account. Since I'm cheap, I'll keep going with the free version for a while.

Those that know me, know that I am a geek. I'm proud of being a geek and when I'm in a meeting which has seen heavy white board use, I'll bust out my camera and take a picture of it. I used to then transcribe it later, but with Scanr, in minutes I can have it turned into a PDF and meeting notes can be sent on their way.

I currently have a boss who loves to sketch stuff out on a white board. He doesn't have a meeting without using the white board. We were at an off-site training session and he had to go 6 hours without touching the white board which I'm sure was pretty tough for him. But after the days training, we stayed late and made use of their spacious white boards. And as I saw my compatriots picking up their pens to take notes, I quickly pulled out my camera and said, "I've got this one."

I make good use of Scanr for documents too. In my MBA program, we get graded group assignments or sample exams with feedback and since we are spread all over the Eastside, we email them around. But paper is really hard to email. So, again, out comes the camera and I feel like James Bond stealing secret documents as I stand there and shoot pictures of the pages. I send them to Scanr and I get back my PDF (which reported supports color now, though I haven't seen it yet).

Another use I have is for online homework submissions. I'm an engineer way down inside (it goes with the geekiness), so I like to do homework with a pencil, a Pentel P205 mechanical pencil, to be precise. However, this makes it difficult to submit homework online, one of the recent developments in education. But with Scanr, it becomes a non-issue. I can do my homework by hand, convert it to a PDF, embed it along with the spreadsheets or documents and then post it online.

Scanr also will convert business cards to a .VCF file, which is useful if your address book supports them. I don't trade too many business cards, so the few times I've used this feature has been a bit of a novelty.
Once you have your scan within Scanr, you can send the document to your contacts, either as an email or a fax. Scanr provides the ability to create a contact list by importing from several different address books and integration with Plaxo. I have used it to fax medical receipts to my insurer and class documents to my classmates. My results with Scanr have been pretty good.

The photos don't have to be perfect and if they aren't, the provide some brief pointers on how to improve the quality. It only takes a few minutes before my scans show up on their site. I think that the user interface is a little plain - its pretty functional with out much panache. I think that their subscription prices ($2.99 per month or $30 for two years) are a little higher than I would want to pay for a service that I use on the frequency that I use Scanr. They do have a 40 uploads for $10 plan though, which seems much more reasonable to me. With my continued studies and my continued geekiness, I foresee continued use of Scanr.

The ability to quickly convert documents into a PDF all the while feeling like James Bond stealing secret documents is all in all pretty cool.

Sign up for Scanr here .

Back in room

Ahh, the miracles of mobile blogging.
We're back in our room, no fire.

Hotel Fire Alarms Suck

I don't normally post blogs at this hour, but I'm standing in the parking lot of a cheap hotel with my family and a shrill siren in the background.

It sucks, but it doesn't appear that the building is burning. And it's not raining either.

But what really sucks is that we are here for the Pacific Northwest Section Long Course Championships that Kid 1 is swimming in. No one wants to be woken up in the middle of the night before a big race.