Mary Poppins

I saw part of “Marry Poppins” tonight while my daughter was watching it.

The highlight of it was the rooftop scene near the end of the movie, which presages a couple of other movie things:

  • Wire-Fu: Forget “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” and thrill to the amount of wire work on the pseudo-rooftops of this number.
  • Parkour: Dick Van Dyke and his chimney sweeping friends are jumping, diving, and rolling over every obstacle in their way, a half century ahead of “Casino Royale.”

Watch for yourself:

And, yes, Van Dyke’s British accent is atrocious. Believe that when people say it. It’s absolutely true. Wow.

The Comforts of Inbox Zero

( See part one from last week. )

There are interesting side effects to keeping an empty inbox that I hadn’t considered before I started this.

I now see just how much junk mail I get on a daily basis. How many sites have I bought something from in the last ten years without unchecking the box that says, “Tell me about your future special offers!”? It looks like all of them. I go to bed at night with no emails in my inbox, but wake up to 30 of them, 28 of which get easily deleted. When there’s two thousand emails in your inbox, you don’t notice the latest 20 or 30 mixed in that are pure junk. I’m starting now to go back and unsubscribe to some of those email lists, so I’ll have less clicking to do. You like to believe you’ll have a use for that store’s coupon someday, but then realize you have a year’s worth of those expired coupons already cluttering up your mailbox.

Speaking of which, I love keyboard shortcuts. If I couldn’t use the j and k keys to run up and down the list, while hitting the x key to check off an email, I’d go nuts. That much clicking with a mouse would lead to RSI in no time. If you use Gmail, do yourself a favor and learn a few of the keyboard shortcuts. I discussed some of them here a while back.

I trust search. I have to. All of those emails that I used to keep around just in case I needed them are now archived. Out of sight and out of mind. Except, inevitably, I think of one I need. Then, it’s easy enough to use the search bar to find it with a couple of key words or phrases. It doesn’t happen that often, but when it does, it’s quick and useful. Best of all, it keeps my inbox clear.

I’m not quite as rigorous about this as Merlin Mann, who’s espoused only reading emails you have time to answer right away. Many times, the things I can’t perform an action on are because of my location (“context” in GTD parlance). I can deal with it at home, but can’t click on a link to a popular website blocked at work. But I think blocking out that time every night to run through the emails serves the same function.

I check my email less. I’m fine with letting it pile up now, because I know I can run through it quickly. Checking it every ten minutes doesn’t matter much to me. It’s a distraction, in fact. I have better things to do.

Also, I email less stuff to myself. I’m self-filtering more, not sending myself those things I’d like to get to if maybe I happen to have more time. I don’t want the clutter in my inbox or “__Answer” folder. That being said, I’m more likely to email myself things I know I can file neatly away somewhere. That might be a link to a story to discuss in next week’s column, a random quote of the day from my daughter to put up on Facebook later, or even a link to a web store sale I want to take advantage of later.

I’ve been at Inbox Zero for about a month now. My __Answer folder currently has six emails in it older than a day. Some of those are on hold until I hear back from someone or until I have the time to do the action they’re leading me to. That might not be until the weekend. That’s fine. I wish the mailbox would be completely empty, but I’m fine with a minor bit of clutter in there, since I review it every day and keep up with what’s going on. Nothing gets lost. That’s key.

So, Inbox Zero. I like it. And I didn’t need to see “January 1” on my calendar to start it. But if that’s what you need to spur you on to it, use it. Sometimes, the best tricks we can play are the ones we play on ourselves.

Merry Christmas 2012

I’ve been playing around in Manga Studio Debut 4 for the last week. Add in some Pixelmator and Illustrator and I wound up spending far too much time last night whipping this together… Still nowhere near perfect, but I had to cut my losses. =)

Quick Link Dump for 2012-12-21

Inbox Zero

Last month, I took a few days and whittled my GMail inbox down to zero emails. Not zero unread emails. Zero emails, period. It has remained empty to this day.

Why: It’s distracting to have hundreds of emails in my inbox. I missed emails that scrolled off the front page. I forgot to answer some that didn’t need much of my time, but that I kept putting off and became easier to ignore. I started to feel badly about checking my email, knowing I had others down the list that I hadn’t properly dealt with. Why should I look at even more?

Even worse, I didn’t know what I was missing. I just had the feeling that I was missing something. That lack of control and knowledge is killer. I’ve been reading David Allen’s “Getting Things Done” recently, and while I haven’t adopted it as my productivity system, I picked up enough to know that using some of the ideas in the book to clear out my mental To Do list — which is what my inbox has become — would be a do-able and smart thing. Having an organized system where you know where everything is — even when you don’t know everything you have — frees up your mind. It removes those doubts. It lets you move ahead and do more stuff, instead of thinking about or worrying about past stuff.

Inbox Zero

(And, yes, it meant I had to read a ten year old book to finally come around to Merlin Mann’s famous “Inbox Zero” talk from five years ago. I watched it originally on a train ride into New York City a few years back. I need to give it a rewatch now to see what else I can glean from it.)

How: GMail has the archive function. (It’s the y key for my fellow Gmail keyboard fans.) I made judicious use of it. Too much of the email in my inbox was there because I didn’t want to delete it, but I didn’t know what to do with it yet. It was there just in case I needed it later.

“Fine,”” I said, “I’ll keep it. But I don’t need to always be looking at it.”

Off it went.

I created a folder named “__Answer”. Those underscores are there to make sure the folder name is on top of my list. (Yes, technically, this isn’t a folder, but a label. It’s used the same way. Gmail just tries to be cute about it.) In “Getting Things Done” terms, these are my action items. These are the emails I want to answer but don’t have immediate time to do so. In there goes all the emails I can’t look at at the moment. If they’re a link to a website or to a program I want to download, I put it in “__Answer” until I’m at home on my main computer and can perform those actions. Often, it’s an email where I click on the link, wait for that tab to open, and then delete the email. Two clicks and it’s done. It doesn’t pile up.

The big thing here is to not let the “__Answer” folder explode. It’s too easy to move things out of the inbox and let them sit in other folders. This is the folder where that might happen. So I dedicate the first 15 minutes of the night at home when I sit behind the computer to going through this folder. I click on all the links to see all the pages. I write responses to the more personal emails. I respond to the various PR people, whether it’s for or for Pipeline or this blog. I delete the emails that seemed important ten hours ago, but which by that point are obsolete or just not important enough to waste my time on.

It feels great. Things are always moving. Nothing stagnates. I don’t forget things. I get things done, so to speak.

Inbox Zero

I have more folders. “NextPipeline” is there for emails relating to the following week’s Pipeline column at CBR. Those might be responses to the previous week’s column. They might be links to quotable tweets. They might be links to blog posts or publisher pages of things I want to discuss. Sometimes, they’re little ideas I’ve written up to put in the next column. In those times on the weekend where I sit down in front of the computer and feel like I have nothing to say for Pipeline, this folder is a godsend.

The “VariousandSundry” label/folder is the blog version of “NextPipeline”. If I had more time, I’d use it more to generate more blog posts, but at least it’s the start of a sytem.

“Links” is a bin of emails linking to various blogs and other websites I want to read, but may not be time sensitive. I archive a lot of these. I have sub-folders here, too, specifically for things like “Programming” and “Tech” and “Comics” topics. They become searchable morgues, in effect.

I also have a “__Coupons” folder where I hide away the various deals I get sent from the membership cards I have. Next time I’m in the mall and need a quick dinner, I know where to look for that T.G.I.Fridays coupon now. No digging through things. Do I have some photos I want to print up? Check in this folder first for coupons to Shutterfly or CVS or AdoramaPix. And if I need to send flowers, I know where those FTD deals are. Need a book? The latest Barnes & Noble deal is in there. The big thing to remember here is to stop in one or twice a month to delete all the expired emails. Most of them are good for less than a week.

There are more folders for smaller categories. I have one for things related to my daughter’s school, for example. Those are archived there just in case, and labeled to be easier to find, rather than just archived. I have a folder for “CBR Reviews”, even if I’m not the editor there anymore. I’m still an occasional contributor, once or twice a month. Information shared there that might come in handy later is saved.

It’s only been a month, but it feels great. I’m generating more positive email and having more conversations. Things don’t drop off the page. I feel more productive. It’s a good thing.

Next time: The nice side effects of Inbox Zero.

Best Typo of the Day

Saw an ad looking for a full time blogger in Los Angeles. The first part of the job description made me laugh out loud:

Creating engaging blog content that is relevant to weightless/dieting and a health centric lifestyle

Later references to the same topic spelled it correctly with “weight loss,” but now I can’t help but picture overweight astronauts on a space station losing weight and finding themselves floating higher in the air. That is completely scientifically inaccurate, yes, but it’s just the funny image I had in my head.

Funnier still is a later job requirement:

The ability to spell check one’s own writing is a must and is something that is expected and required of the blogger.

This is meant to be a shill blog and social media outreach that’s soulless and heartless. It’s doomed to fail. Here’s more of the job description:

Daily content creation and updating on Twitter page – Must be able to write in a social media based relatable style that is engaging to readers

I’m afraid of someone getting paid to be as bad a Twitter user as the average Twitter user. Engage with Trending Topics today!

The budget for this job — handling the company’s blog, Facebook, and Twitter presences — is $500 – $1,000. What a deal!

Posted in Web

On Programming

We like to think we spend most of our time power typing. “I’m being productive. I’m writing programs.”

But we don’t.

We spend most of our time looking into the abyss, saying, “My God, what have I done? How am I ever going to make this work?”

Douglas Crockford

Why the Internet Still Wins: Tim Cook Edition

Apple CEO Tim Cook did two interviews that showed up today. The first appeared this morning via Bloomberg Businessweek. It was heavily linked across the internet. It was presented in question and answer format, and rambled on for many screens. There’s a lot of material to read through with that interview, and it’s worth it. It’s an exciting, interesting, informative piece.

Then, tonight, Brian Williams had the first television interview with Tim Cook. At least, that’s their claim. I didn’t see much of an interview in there. The piece spread out across two segments of the show, but Tim Cook talked for about a minute and a half of it. Most of the piece was a monologue by Brian Williams describing Apple’s successes and challenges, often accompanied by a 5 seconds response from the CEO before quickly cutting away to the next thing before he had a chance to really answer anything or discuss a single topic in any depth. It was the most frustrating waste of twenty minutes I’ve felt from watching TV in a long time.

When Brian Williams tries to get Tim Cook to spill the beans on how Apple would transform the TV industry, I was hoping Cook would say, “By obsoleting you, Brian.” No such luck.

Maybe next year.

By the way, the big news out of the two interviews is that Apple is planning to produce one of the existing Mac lines in America. I’m laying my money down on it being the next Mac Pro. Why? Because that machine is so damned expensive that its buyers won’t notice the extra few hundred they’ll have to spend to have it built here. You can’t make a $999 laptop on an assembly line in America, but a $3000 desktop machine? Sure, that’s a possibility.

This is a question Williams put to Cook during the interview. He asked Cook how much more an iPhone would cost if it were built in America. And just as Cook was starting to explain why the problem isn’t so much the cost as it is the manufacturing talent, the tightly-edited piece quickly whip-panned onto the next segment.

Somehow, Williams was getting together with Josh Topolsky from The Verge for a special live chat about the interview tonight. I don’t know what they plan to talk about, since there was barely any interview shown on my television screen…

Loren Brichter: iOS Programming Mad Man

He built his own version of the user interface framework, the software that sits right above the graphics processor on an iOS device. Apple creates that for developers — it was completely unnecessary for him to do this. But this is the kind of thing he considers “fun.”


It’s reading stuff like that that makes me either (A) want to throw away all my Objective-C programming books and give up or (B) hit the books harder and learn faster. I’m still not sure which it is this time, though.

YouTube Feature Request

The one thing YouTube is missing is a simple feature that most audio players/podcast players have today: a fast-forward and rewind button. Yes, you can scrub through, but it’s inexact and tricky. Give me a 10 second rewind button and a 30 second fast-forward button and I’d be happy.

While you’re over there, check out these recent videos:

Cleaning the Cat Box

I find that if I choose to NOT have an emotional reaction to “cleaning the cat box”, it’s a lot easier to deal with. And now that I realize that I really DO need to learn more about HTML and Javascript so I can start building those systems I wish existed, de-emotionalizing my response to THAT is essential…

David Seah

Quote of the Day – 03 Dec 2012

Daniel Jalkut on the excuses pirates make to excuse their illegal behavior:

When the media companies do make the media available, the blame will be on their pricing it too high. When the price is right, it’s the media format that’s wrong. If the media format is right, then the DRM is too odious. If DRM is absent, then the authors are making too much money, anyway. If the authors aren’t making much, you’re only pirating to try it out. Once you’ve tried it and like it, you’ll pay for it when you get your next paycheck. You wouldn’t have to pirate at all if your boss wasn’t such a cheapskate and paid you better…

Three Random iTunes 11 Thoughts

  • The times change: iTunes emphasizes a more visual approach now. The program wants you to look at album covers as much as possible to find what you’re looking for. The problem is, in the digital age, I don’t think in terms of cover images anymore. Yes, for albums more than a decade old, those album covers click for me. I haven’t bought a CD in years now, though. I buy everything on-line, whether through iTunes or Amazon. I barely glance at the cover image. I’ll be doing as much searching as possible via text, I think.

  • I never realized just how much missing album art I had until iTunes 11. I might need to do an iTunes Match subscription just for those images. I used to have a program that helped look for album art, but that was so long ago that I think it was a PowerPC program that broke in the Intel world.

UPDATE: Nope, no Match subscription needed. iTunes has it as built-in functionality. This may not be new. I don’t know. I do know that I am not a Match subscriber, so it doesn’t depend on that.

iTunes lets you download cover images

  • The problem with reviewers: A new iTunes also means a lot of bloggers reviewing the program and including screen shots carefully selected to illustrated their points, iTunes’ new features, and oh-so-hip music collections. They’re very careful about what they let the world see, so be prepared for lots of Brooklyn Hipster Genius Mixes and classic rock, with a dash of modern indie label artists.

Here, because I try not to be a hypocrite, is a selection from my iTunes library:

iTunes 11 sample image

Avril Lavigne and Neil Diamond. Because I have no shame. While playing Christmas music from Pentatonix. (“Carol of the Bells” is awesome.)

My Little Pony Time!

My daughter doesn’t care that I have a blog. She’s four. Who can blame her?

I do, however, know how to get her interested. There’s a “My Little Pony” DVD (“My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic: Adventures in the Crystal Empire”) coming out next week, and I have clips I can embed. So, here, daughter, enjoy some ponies on Daddy’s website:

Two more videos after the break:

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