It’s All in There Somewhere

I want a place to stash stuff on the web. I want to be able to find it later without remembering where I put it. I want it to be relatively secure from other people’s prying eyes but it would be nice if I could make certain things accessible to anyone or at least to people to whom I had given explicit permission for access.

I want to be able to stash anything from a short text note to a complete document, a simple URL to an entire web site, a few random values to an entire database. I want it to be accessible from my desktop, my laptop, my tablet, my phone, or any of the numerous, internet connected gadgets that are cropping up all over the place.

I’d like to be able to get a readable representation of the items in the stash using a web browser. This may (or may not) require a web application to massage the items into a readable form.

This post began when I sat trying to figure out where to stash a reference to a web site that I was interested in along with some brief notes about it. This comes up more often than I would have expected and I have tried many different solutions for it.

The first, most obvious solution was bookmarks. The problem with bookmarks is that they are browser dependent and require that you either use a browser that maintains a central registry of your bookmarks or that you copy your bookmarks manually from platform to platform. The central registry approach requires that you trust the operator of the registry, usually not a problem for me but definitely a problem for some of my more paranoid acquaintances.

Another problem with bookmarks is finding stuff that you bookmarked later. None of the bookmark schemes has a particularly good search mechanism. Perhaps I gave up on them before they implemented something useful but I have this huge ball-of-mud collection of bookmarks that I  have been collecting for ages and I have all but stopped adding to it because I can’t find anything when I look for it and I can’t trust that the link will still be active if I do find it. Bookmarks also ignore the aspect of wanting to store documents and other data in the repository.

An approach that addresses that last objection is to store notes on Dropbox or one of the other network file systems. That has (at least) two problems. First, you have to be able to access the service from everywhere. My employer views these stores as potential data leaks for corporate espionage and blocks them with our firewall. This would probably be true of any service that provided the features that I am looking for. Second, storage is less than half the problem. Finding the data is the harder part. Rendering it in a readable fashion can be challenging as well.

Then there are the online notebook applications like Evernote. They are pretty close to what I’m wanting but they are also kind of pricey. I suppose a business model that meets my requirements while not costing an arm and a leg is another requirement. I should look at Evernote closely and see where it falls short.

Perhaps I just need to go start hacking away and see what I can come up with. If it is useful for me, it will be useful for other people. And I’ll learn a lot about myself and the way I use the computer along the way.


I’m Using ScribeFire to Write This Post

ScribeFire is a Firefox plugin that allows you to edit a blog post in your browser. When I installed it, I thought it would encourage me to post more. Well, so far, it hasn’t. I was thinking about why that is and it occurred to me that it is analogous to why it took me so long to get back in the habit of walking. I spent the better part of a year intending to walk daily but not doing it. That is the key to solving the problem. I have to take the time to do it. Now I understand that there is going to be a certain amount of blank page syndrome at first. It is going to take discipline to decide that I am going to write at least one blog post every (day? week day? week?). I’ll have to give it some thought. It is more important to do it regularly than how frequently you do it.

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Get Er Done!

I recently read a book called Getting Real by the folks from 37signals, creators of Ruby on Rails, Ta-da List, Writeboard, Backpack, and Basecamp among other Ajaxian web application goodness. While superficially a book about how to start a successful business selling services based on web applications, a topic they have plenty of credibility with, the advice in this book is applicable to a much broader realm of endeavors.

I was so inspired by it that I have dusted off several projects that were laying dormant and started actively doing them again. Of course this is also aided by the insights that I have been gleaning from the Getting Things Done book. I have also bought a Backpack Basic account so that I can use their wonderful calendar. Enough raving for now. Got to get some things done :-).

Eating the Dog Food

I’m sitting here working on a presentation on AspectJ and listening to Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles. I’m trying to convert a completely awful presentation (almost all bullet slides, way too many words, no pictures) into an engaging presentation to give via Webex. It all started when I followed a link to Kathy Sierra’s essay Stop your presentation before it kills again! I gave the awful presentation to a lunch time get together with some of my colleagues last week. They kindly overlooked the deficiencies of my slides and one of them looked me up afterwards to ask me to present to a more formal technical exchange that he regularly attends. This got me motivated to rework my slides.

I’m also using Dave Winer‘s OPML Editor to organize my thoughts before I attempt to translate them into something visually appealing. The hardest part of preparing a talk like this is narrowing the topic to fit in the time allotted. The second hardest thing is structuring it so that it can become a dialog instead of a lecture. The main reason I’m creating a Powerpoint presentation is that I am giving the presentation remotely and I want to have something to talk to.

This brings me to the title of this post. I believe in the things that Kathy says about not using Powerpoint slides. I am, however, intimidated by the fact that I am presenting to people “above” me in the hierarchy that expect slides. I feel a need to meet their expectations. I hope that I can come up with something that both meets those expectations and at the same time is visually exciting. I’m not holding my breath.

Getting Things Done

I’m listening to Dave Slusher’s Evil Genius Chronicles for July 30, 2006. He’s talking about Getting Things Done today. He is giving the hipster PDA a chance to organize his GTD implementation (check out pocketmod for some cool blank form magic). I resonate with many of his comments about GTD. I have to get a copy of the book and read it. I have looked at the tools and I agree that you should start with the simplest thing that could possibly work (with a tip of the hat to the XP folks).

I am getting to the point that I have too many things that I want to do that I’m not getting done. Life is too short. I owe it to myself to be more organized. If you don’t learn from your mistakes, you are stagnating (and stupid).

I think I’m making progress on the psychological front with the realizations that I have had about anxiety being orthogonal to happiness. You can be both anxious and happy at the same time. Sometimes you can’t eliminate anxiety but you can manage it.

Enough rambling for today. I think I’ll work on making each day a little bit better than the previous day. I’ll try to record at least one improvement per day for a while to get in the habit. We’ll see how it goes.