I didn’t give up blogging, I just didn’t post for almost four months. I last posted just after the big summer storm, when we lost power, and got it back on the 4th of July. So I hardly blogged at all between Independence Day and Election Day.

Today’s election was the first in which I was eligible to vote as a US citizen. I did so accompanied by my kids.

Voting is good, and blogging is good. Will the outcome of the election be good? Or rather, for whom will it be good?

Re-Dependence Day

July 8, 2012

The strong and sudden (but not unexpected) storm of Friday June 29 damaged trees, power lines, and hence electricity supply.

A tree fell right across the road opposite our house in Bethesda, but a lane was cleared by a midnight(ish) chainsaw. I assume that the people wielding the chainsaw really needed to get somewhere. The image in this post doesn’t show that tree (another one does), but it’s my best photo of the storm and its effects.

We were without power for a little under five days. So yes, that means that it came back on Independence Day. It feels like re-dependence day, since we are so dependent on electricity, and take it so much for granted. A few reactions to the power cut:

  • We reacted to it in different ways. My daughter (Maddie, 8) saw the bright side of not having electricity for the fridge: perhaps we’d have to eat out more.
  • The iPad (iPad 2) held its charge very well.
  • I really missed the internet, and not just for its fun side. I keep my main to-do list on 37signals‘ Backpack, which is great when its assumption that the internet is always there holds true.
  • There are many tall trees round here. That’s great, trees are wonderful, but they are not good neighbors for power lines. We missed the air conditioning during the heatwave (definitions vary, but we met all of the definitions provided at Wikipedia),but it would have been even worse without the shade provided by the tall trees. Then again, that shade means that we wouldn’t get as much out of solar panels on the roof as the temperatures would suggest.
  • If the people who used a chainsaw outside our house at midnight are reading this, you are forgiven. You probably needed to get somewhere, and the fallen tree was blocking the only way out.

How do you feel about dependence on electricity? Are you in fact dependent on it? Do you take a steady supply of electricity for granted? (I did, for most of my life, until I moved to Maryland.)

At about the same time I was rereading Getting Things Done, I was reading Reality is Broken for the first time. The full title of Jane McGonigal’s book is Reality Is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World.

Make us better? Does that mean that games can encourage us to get things done? Yes it does: for example, McGonigal and her husband compete in the game Chore Wars, each an adventurer seeking to outdo the other in tasks such as “conjuring the clothes” (doing the laundry).

That raises the question: can Allen’s GTD system be “gamified”? This question has been asked and addressed before (for example, by this fellow WordPress blogger).

Next question: has someone already developed a GTD game? The nearest thing I and Google could find was Epic Win, an ioS app that provides a role-playing interface to the familiar to-do list. Here’s the avatar for my character, which has recently leveled up (but only to 2).

To address first the question that led me to Epic Win: it’s not a close fit with GTD. For example, EW expects actions/quests to be assigned a date, whereas Allen specifically recommends against the daily to-do list. It would be more GTD-ish for quests to have locations on the EW map, just as GTD actions can be assigned contexts.

That said, it would be unfair to judge EW as an implementation of GTD, since it doesn’t claim to be one. So how is it as a to-do list flavored with quests and other role-playing spices?

I’d say that the (RPG) spices are done better than the to-do nutrition. I don’t find the interface to be intuitive. Part of this is due to organization by date, rather than by context, priority, or some other criterion my choice. But there are other things I stumble against.

There is integration with Google Calendar. But as far as I can see, there is no integration with Google Tasks. More seriously, EW made some strange (with respect to time of day) changes to my calendar.

Epic Win feels like a work in progress. To be fair, there is progress, in the form of updates to the app. But, at $2.99, it feels expensive for an iPhone app. Maybe we’re spoiled in terms of app prices, and maybe I’m judging EW as I’m using it, on the iPad, rather than on its native iPhone.

So I’m still looking for an iPad app to gamify GTD. Any suggestions? Or any reactions to my remarks on Epic Win?

Time to get more organized! I decided that a couple of weeks ago. This isn’t the first time I’ve made that decision. Neither is it the first time I’ve turned to David Allen’s book Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. Here’s how David contrasts his system with other systems.

The big difference between what I do and what others do is that I capture and and organize 100 percent of my “stuff” in and with objective tools at hand, not in my mind.

That quote captures the first of the half-dozen points that struck me as I reread the book. Another basic point is that GTD is a bottom-up, rather than a top-down, approach to personal productivity. Each of those first two points is from the first chapter.

The Workflow DiagramThe second chapter is the most important in the book, and makes each of the remaining points. In particular, it includes The Workflow Diagram (that link is point three). The workflow is the process for filtering stuff, identifying actions (i.e. things that can actually be done) and putting deferred actions in the appropriate place (Next Actions list or calendar.

A couple of explicit contrasts with some time management systems provide points four and five. Such systems recommend that actions be given priorities, and the that highest-priority actions be done first. In GTD, other criteria trump priority. One of these is time available: when do you have to do something else, and what can you fit in before then?

Allen recommends against the daily to-do list. The calendar is for things that have to be done at a particular time, or on a particular day. Other actions, however important, belong on a Next Actions list.

The sixth and final point concerns the weekly review: a look through Next Action lists, Project lists, etc. Like most of the points made in Allen’s first two chapters, this one is revisited later in the book: Friday afternoon is, for many people, a good time for the weekly review.

So those are the half-dozen things about GTD that struck me. If you have encountered GTD and wanted to make a similarly brief set of points about it, how would your list be different?

I’ll follow up soon with some thoughts on tools for GTD.

2012 Q1: iPad

April 8, 2012

2012 is a quarter gone already, and I haven’t been posting here much. It seems like a good time for to review the year so far. I’ll do so with a few brief posts. I was going to make this first one a review of technology in 2012 so far, but that could get long, so we’ll focus here on one of the major tech events of Q1: the launch of the iPad 3.

Is the iPad 3 so good that it makes an iPad 2 owner yearn for it? I have a particular interest in this question, since I’ve had an iPad 2 for about a year. In March 2011, I posted that the iPad 2 overcame some of my objections to all things Apple.

I’ve been very pleased with the iPad 2, as subsequent posts show. Other members of the family have also been pleased with it, although not to the extent that there’s been a lot of tablet-grabbing conflict.

Differences between the new iPad and the iPad 2, as described on Apple’s comparison page, and as prioritized by me, include:

  • Display: twice the pixels per inch (264 vs 132). Most reviewers of the new iPad are very impressed with the difference. I have no problems with the display quality on the iPad 2, so I don’t yearn for this improvement. On the other hand, I haven’t done as much ebook reading as I expected to do on the iPad 2, and it’s possible that I might do more on a new iPad, with its crisper display.
  • 4G rather than 3G, if you have the data plan. I went for Wi-Fi only, to save money on the iPad itself, and to save a lot more money by not paying for a data plan every month, and haven’t had serious regrets.
  • A real (5 megapixel) camera. I suspect that an iPad would feel rather cumbersome and silly as a camera.

So far then, I have no envy of people with the iPad 3 (which is actually just called the iPad). But if I were taking the iPad plunge now, I would spend the extra $100 to get the new model, rather than the iPad 2. For Wi-Fi and 16GB, the new one costs $499 – what the iPad 2 cost a a year ago.

What do you think? Would I quickly wonder how I lived without an iPad 3, where I to spend some time with one? How will the iPad 4 be different?

I’m gradually putting together a Spotify playlist of 50 favorite tracks. I would be halfway through if every track I’ve tried to add was available on Spotify. But 5 of them are not. Here’s the missing handful, in what I perceive to be descending order of obscurity.

  • And Your Bird Can Sing, by The Beatles
  • Running Up That Hill, by Kate Bush
  • Walk Out to Winter, by Aztec Camera
  • As Soon as This Pub Closes, by Alex Glasgow
  • Sharon Signs to Cherry Red, by the Kamikaze Pilots (previous post, including the track itself)

You can find what was meant to be the 50-track playlist at Spotify. It currently has 20 tracks, not including the 5 I can’t include.

I’m surprised that 25% of my selections aren’t available on Spotify. I think I was hoping for something under 10%.

If you use Spotify (or another music service) what is your “unavailability percentage”?

When I listen to the radio in the car here near DC, I’m usually tuned to WAMU on 88.5. That’s one of the local NPR stations. For readers outside the USA, NPR stands for National Public Radio. That may be misleading: NPR is not run by the federal government (or by any government). Neither is it only about radio.

NPR is also behind one of my favorite music sites. NPR Music includes such features as First Listen, which previews albums in the week leading up to release. Although there are only a few albums previewed each week, there is usually at least one to which I’m looking forward (e.g., Shearwater’s Animal Joy) or that I enjoyed, but might not have listened to had it not been featured (e.g., Grimes’ Visions).

NPR relies to a large extent on contributions to fund its programming, on the airwaves and on the web. So I’m glad to say that I did get round to contributing recently. Or rather, when told that I was difficult to buy presents for, I suggested a donation to WAMU. What do I get for the $120 the present cost? A non-lousy t-shirt. And the knowledge that I’m helping to keep NPR programs, stations, and websites going.

Do you use NPR? Do you contribute?

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