This is my 100th blog post for this year, and I think it fitting to dedicate it to promoting another blog, just five months old but very promising: Blue Ocean Families.
Inspired by the business concept of Blue Ocean Strategy, the Blue Ocean Families team seeks to answer the question, How can we leave this frantic modern life and carve out a peaceful blue ocean for our families?
Blue Ocean Strategy: Don’t beat the competition, make it irrelevant.
The creators of Blue Ocean Strategy illustrate their idea by envisioning traditional markets as a bloody red ocean of cut-throat competition. They propose that businesses should leave this deadly environment and carve out untapped market space (i.e. a customer base nobody else is reaching). They call this unique market space a blue ocean and explain how to create one in any industry.
Blue Ocean Families: Turn the competition into community.
The red ocean is where we try to keep up with the Joneses and fight the mommy wars. A blue ocean family doesn’t follow the status quo, but celebrates and develops its uniqueness while living in community with other families.
Here are five of my favorite posts:
(It was hard to pick just five, but then I am biased. I suppose that in the interest of full disclosure, I should mention that the founder and primary author of Blue Ocean Families is my daughter. But that would be bragging.)
Picture the Blue Ocean. This peaceful haven is a place where just one family swims and where each family member can thrive. They have room and laughter, and time to explore and expand. They threaten no one because they chose to leave the Red Ocean and carve out space to make their very own Blue Ocean.
How do you create a Blue Ocean – a unique family culture – where each member has the freedom to thrive AND where success helps others rather than threatens them?
That’s the question I want to explore in this blog. It’s little more than a vision now, but if you find the idea intriguing, then please join me on my journey!
Ah, I knew there was a reason I didn't want to have Amazon's "1-Click" purchase button turned on. But when buying Kindle books, there's no choice. Tonight I was browsing their daily deals and, somehow, accidentally clicked on a "Buy now with 1-Click" button. I think the problem was related to the fact that something—my computer, Firefox, Norton, our ISP; I don't know the culprit—has been making the Internet unpredictably slow. For a while it will go just fine, then lag by several seconds. For example, typed the first half of the previous sentence in real time, then the last half took in all my keystrokes before appearing all at once. The mouse has a similar problem, so the computer must have registered a click in the wrong place.
Whatever the reason, I was on the phone to Amazon right away. There really needs to be a "cancel this order" button. I know how to do that with physical orders, but could see no way to do it with the digital order. So I called. Yes, I, even phone-phobic I, picked up the phone. The cost was only $1.99, not a high-risk financial move, but two bucks is two bucks, and it was definitely not the kind of book I wanted cluttering up my Kindle.
Despite language issues, I think the Amazon rep got things straightened out for me. The book disappeared from my Kindle all right, but the refund of my charge should come "within two to three business days." I'm hoping it will be a bit faster than that, just because I don't think it should take so long, but I'm happy to know that such accidental purchases can be undone. Maybe next time I'll find a "cancel" button—but I'm also hoping there won't be a next time.
Now my computer/Internet/browser/whatever really needs a rest. Maybe it will feel better in the morning.
My photo editing experiences are 'way below novice, having made do with Windows (Office) Photo Editor, Picasa, Irfanview, and Paint all these years. However, most of the 90s decade of my 95 by 65 project involves photo work, so it's about time I upgraded to some good photo editing software. In particular, I want to be able to work with my photos without losing data: Picasa, for example, does some nice things, but degrades the image every time I use it.
I am finding the Adobe Photoshop CC (Photoshop/Lightroom) subscription attractive at $10/month. I'm sure I don't need all the fancy stuff, and the cost would really add up over a matter of years, but for getting my feet wet it seems reasonable—and it would be several months before reaching the cost of Photoshop Elements.
I've read reviews of several other programs, but am not convinced they are worth the cost. Except for GIMP, of course, which is always an option, though when I tried it years ago I found it not as user-friendly as I had hoped—i.e. I didn't get anywhere with it. Adobe still seems to be the gold standard.
What do you think, Faithful Readers?
Over the years I have been astonished at the technical prowess of our grandchildren. Perhaps I shouldn't be surprised: advancing technology has made it clear that it's physical coordination more than mental ability that has in the past held children back.
In 2006: Jonathan, who just turned three, met me on the stairs with a blue cable in his hand. As I passed, I remarked, "That looks like a Cat 5 cable." "No it's not," he responded, "It's a USB cord." (He was right.)
And in 2010: One day Heather discovered two-year-old Faith sitting at the computer, typing away in their Open Office word processing program. She assumed Jon had set it up for her, but that was not the case. No one knows how Faith did it. This is no consumer-friendly iPhone, nor even Windows, but a Linux-based system only a geek could love.
There were many more examples I did not record, but I thought of these the other day, when it happened again.
Joseph, just shy of his fifth birthday, had been using his mother's GMail program to compose and send me a letter. He then told me he wanted to make a copy. I wasn't sure what he meant, so I showed him how to click on the Sent folder to see the e-mail again. That wasn't what he wanted, but his sister required some immediate assistance, so I said I'd help him when I returned.
Just a couple of minutes later I came back, and he was in the process of removing a page from the printer. He then shut the printer down and put the tray back into its folded position. When he handed the printout to me, I asked him how he knew what to do. "I clicked on the print button," he replied.
I don't use GMail to compose or read my mail, but I logged on to see see if the process was really that simple. It's not. First of all, the print icon is small (though I'll admit his eyes are quite a bit younger than mine, so maybe that doesn't matter much), and once you click on it you have at least one more step before the print actually happens.
Technology is not strange, nor frightening, to those who grow up with it as ubiquitous as air.
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Our friend David, of Mount Sutro fame, introduced me to Trello. I let his invitation languish for several months, and that was a mistake. Trello, a project management and collaboration tool, turns out to be just what I was looking for to organize much of my everyday life.
A Fact: There is no Philosopher's Stone of tools that will substitute for wise action and hard work. We think that if we find just the right diet trick, it will be easy to lose weight. If we discover the best organizational system, we'll start getting things done. We latch onto some expert's ideas of proper childrearing practices in the desperate hope that if we just follow the rules, our children will "turn out all right." Such quests are doomed to failure.
Another Fact: If tools won't do our work for us, they certainly can leverage our efforts to great effect, and finding the right tool for a task is a worthwhile quest. Sometimes the effect of a good tool can, indeed, seem miraculous. It might even be something small and simple, like the Charleston sweetgrass basket that my mother-in-law gave me, years ago. I'm not one for decorative objects, so I put this one on the desk in our front hall, and started tossing my keys into it as I walked through the door. Miracle: no more hunting for lost keys. If they weren't with me, they were in the basket. Period.
I haven't been using Trello long enough to say for certain that it is one of the miracle tools in my life, but it feels so much like one that I can't wait any longer to share it. You can try it yourself by following this link. I don't know if I'll ever use their collaboration features, but it's been great for managing the many lists of my life.
In a nutshell, Trello allows me to create boards. Within each board are lists, and within the lists are cards. Each card can have a title, a description, comments, and more, including checklists. There's more to it, but that's the basics of what I use.
I've tried many ways of organizing, planning, and keeping track of what I do (and want to do), and have found that I work best with some system of to-do lists. I've absorbed a lot of ideas, and Trello doesn't replace any of them, but it helps a lot with implementation. I love making lists, and seeing my work planned out. I love having reminders and inspiration ready to hand. Most especially I love crossing off a completed task. But until Trello I hadn't found a list system that satisfied me.
I've done best with paper lists, but I do many of the same tasks day after day, and get frustrated writing the same things again and again. I've tried making lists on the computer, using Word and Excel, but either I had to accept them as glorified paper lists, or I had to put 'way too much time into trying to automate them as I liked. I wanted checklists, I wanted to drag and drop items—possible with those tools, but I found it too much work trying to reinvent a wheel I was sure should have been invented already. Enter Trello. (More)
Calibre is a free e-book library manager, not that I've done much with that feature yet. There are many elements, including a news feed handler, that I think I might like if I'd take the time to investigage them, but right now I'm very happy just using the feature for which I installed it: Calibre converts all sorts of other e-book formats into something my Kindle Paperwhite can read. Suddenly I'm drooling over Project Gutenberg and the Christian Classics Ethereal Library. What's more, my Kindle was supposed to be able to handle pdf files, but was not doing at all well with them; Calibre quickly and easily solved that problem.
The Lenovo IdeaCentre Horizon has its drawbacks. Like size. And price (better with the IBM discount, though). And this review reports poor battery life and some trouble with the touch screen interface. But they still gave it four out of five stars.
I'll admit that my first reaction to a computer that doubles as a placemat was, "Why on earth would you want a screen that lies flat on the table?" It's just itching to have stuff put on it. And it has 'way too big a footprint. Moreover, you'll see in the first video below that small children are using it on the floor. Hasn't anyone at Lenovo seen a house with children? The first thing a toddler would do is step on it. Did I mention this is a $1500 piece of equipment?
Nonetheless, I can see why the folks in the limo ad are excited. Why are we excited? Picture games on the Maggie P. deck without pieces blown over the edge or dropped through cracks! We are not, mind you, excited enough even to think about purchasing such a thing, but the concept has potential.
Most of the time, I love computers and all the wonderful things advancing technology has brought us. But sometimes I feel like a friend of mine, who sent me a typed letter with this handwritten note at the bottom:
This is/was an e-mail. I hit the wrong key. It "saved" in My Documents, but I couldn't e-mail. My solution—good old US postal service. I understand they need the business.
I couldn't have better summarized my ambivalence toward high-tech devices. Back in the 1970's, when I was paid to work with computers—yes, we did have computers back then, not that most people today would recognize them as such—I used to say that computers were half voodoo. Now I'm sure they're up to 90%.
Anyway, the comment made my day, and Porter's too.
All my e-mails are sorted and ordered and I know what needs to be done in a timely manner and what can wait. The former have been sorted into "Action" folders, and I know to give them top priority. But all the e-mails that now reside in various Project and Someday folders no longer trouble me, as I know there is no hurry, and I can get to them whenever I feel I have the time and energy to tackle them. What's more, they are organized, so that if I decide to work on accumulated reading, or educational materials, or computer enhancements, I can navigate immediately to the relevant material.
I wrote that a week ago. It's still true. (It's still amazing.) What's more, I have reduced an e-mail backlog of more than 600 to 64, and not by declaring e-mail bankruptcy, but by dealing with each one. I don't expect the number to get much lower: the point of e-mail is to use it, after all. But what remains is in useable form, filed and easy to access. If I keep it under 100, I'll be thrilled.
However, there's a downside. Frankly, taking care of e-mail has become an obsession. I can't stand to have anything in my inbox, which is a good thing because if I can deal with it quickly I do, and if I can't, I file it appropriately. In addition, I've obviously spent a lot of time slashing my backlog by 90%. That, too, was a very good thing. But as I said, I'm obsessing. I'm spending too much time checking e-mail, just so I can deal with it. If I'm working on something else and notice that mail has arrived, I immediately drop what I'm doing to take care of it.
That was okay for the first week, but it's time to move on.
The point of e-mail control is not to get rid of all e-mails as soon as they come in; it's to deal with them effectively and efficiently, in a timely manner, and not allowing the important to get lost because of a poor signal-to-noise ratio. What I need now is to let go my Death Grip of Control a little. To acknowledge that
- the last 10% of my e-mails will take a lot longer to dismiss than the first 90%
- their numbers will continue to ebb and flow somewhat
And that's fine, because as long as
- I review them regularly so that I know I'm not neglecting something that can't wait
- I keep on top of them so that the flow doesn't overwhelm the ebb
all will be well.
My e-mail system, after all, is much like a Tickler File/Next Action Lists/Project Folder GTD system. There's no point in an empty Tickler, and no need to check it obsessively. Each day you check it once, deal with what you find, and then forget about it until the next.
My plan it to try to force myself to "check my E-mail Tickler" once each day, and do what needs to be done. That doesn't mean I'll only read e-mail once a day. I'll never be a Tim Ferriss and check e-mail once a week or less, because I've chosen e-mail as my primary form of communication. I might be able to manage his recommendation to check e-mail only twice a day, but I don't think so: I wouldn't want to miss the e-mail that says our grandchildren are asking to Skype! (Though of course that will happen anyway, unless I get a phone smart enough to nudge me when an e-mail arrives, and I'm in no hurry for that.)
What it does mean is that while I may clear my Inbox more frequently, unless the e-mail is one that (1) I can take care of in less than two minutes, (2) I would particularly enjoy answering right away, or (3) urgent, I will file it in the appropriate folder and forget about it until "Check E-mail Tickler" comes up again the following day. (Actually, I may not forget about it completely, because several of my e-mails are parts of ongoing discussions, or for other reasons will provoke long, thoughtful responses. In such cases, Li'l Writer Guy will always be busy in the background. But that's pleasure, not guilt.)
And in case you're wondering why I haven't answered the e-mail you sent, checking my e-mail tickler means making sure I know what can wait and what can't, and dealing with the latter. And then, if I have time, some of the former. If you think I've misclassified your e-mail, feel free to nudge me with another.
This is not going to be easy. There's always the fear that—as has happened with so many other of my efforts—letting go of iron-fisted control will cause the system to implode. But a system that requires so much maintenance is of no use at all. So it's time to take a risk, pry my clenched fingers off the reins, and let the system do what it's designed for.
When I first learned that Google Reader was going away, I was even more upset than when the demise of iGoogle was announced. After a brief tantrum, I decided it was a good lesson in the importance of not becoming dependent on things over which I have no control. I know: We depend on city water, we're tied to the grid for power, and losing the Internet would be almost as crippling as losing the first two. But a little independence is better than none.
Today I realized that I'm actually grateful for Google's nefarious actions. Not to justify Google's leading people into addiction then cutting them off cold turkey, but what they did offered me the perfect opportunity to declutter my blog world. And what a victory that was.
I began by looking at various Reader alternatives. Because nothing jumped out at me as the obvious course, I decided to see if I could do without any feedreader at all. The first step was to cull the many feeds that were outdated (some of them with no posts since 2009!), or in which I'd lost interest, or which I find too interesting (i.e. take up too much time, such as the Front Porch Republic, which is filled with frequent, thoughtful, interesting posts that take a long time to read and even longer to respond to). It took much of the day to do it, but it made me so happy!
Thus I managed to whittle over 100 feeds down to a couple of dozen. This is how I am dealing with those that remain:
- For many I was able to activate an e-mail subscription. Now that I have my e-mail under control (what a thrill to be able to say that!) I'm not afraid to add this, and I have a filter that files my blog subscription e-mails directly into my "Read" Action folder.
- For some I determined that I was receiving the same information, or at least a link to the blog, from Facebook, so as long as I keep up with Facebook, I'll get the important news. If I want I can even have Facebook e-mail me the posts.
- Some are updated at a rate that makes checking them weekly a viable option. These I have aggregated into a folder on my Firefox Bookmarks Toolbar called "Blogs Weekly." Once a week I can click on the folder, choose "open all in tabs," and rapidly flip through them to check for new posts.
- Others (mostly family blogs) I want to check daily, so I have a similar folder labelled "Blogs Daily." Each of the Weekly and Daily folders contains less than a dozen tabs, and I plan to keep it that way.
- There are only two blogs I can't handle with any of the above methods: Lime Daley, and Daley Pictures. These are updated infrequently enough I don't want to check them unless there's news, but when there is news, I want to know quickly. Fortunately, for both of them I'm likely to hear directly from the people involved if there's something I should know.
For now, I'm keeping my (radically trimmed) Google Reader feeds in parallel with my new system as I try it out. But I think I'll like it. It's neat, clean, orderly—and has been reduced to only those feeds that, per FlyLady, are a blessing!
And newspapers wonder why subscription rates are down! The news is bad enough without adding insult to injury.
The Orlando Sentinel had the nerve to run Grandpa, Meet Facebook, an article by Tribune author Jenniffer Weigel. (The link is not to the Sentinel because they've adopted the annoying habit of charging for online story access.)
The author begins by telling us that it's "scary" that her mother wants to learn to use Facebook. Then she quotes Mary Madden, from the Pew Internet Center.
"This is a pretty unique moment in time where grandkids and grandparents can be interacting at the same time, and more seniors are getting a taste of this and seeing the benefits," Madden said.
Whatever this generation may be good at, it's not history. For most of human time grandkids and grandparents have been interacting just fine; it's recent times that have separated them.
Here's another insult:
But the learning curve for the older crowd to master a site like Facebook can be steep, according to Abby Stokes, author of the book "Is This Thing On? A Computer Handbook for Late Bloomers, Technophobes and the Kicking & Screaming" (Workman).
"I refer to anybody over the age of 40 as a digital immigrant," Stokes said. "You can learn anything but you learn it at a slower pace."
Excuse me? We were busy inventing the Digital Age before you were born, you young whippersnapper! It's not technology that keeps me from mastering smart phones and iPad-equivalents. It's money, plain and simple. We were brought up to be more careful with our money than to pour it into the latest electronic gadgets.* Give me one of those devices (and a subscription, which is the worst of the cost) and I'll gladly take on the supposed challenge.
*I don't suppose I should try to get away with that statement, given that I've already confessed to spending $1500 on an intelligent terminal, then about a third of that to fix it when it broke, and then $800 on a dot-matrix printer. And this was back in the 70's, when that was a lot more money than it is now. Still, money is the biggest reason (along with a dislike of Apple) I don't go for the newer devices; it's not for lack of desire bordering on covetousness.
Once again, Eric Schultz (The Occasional CEO) has come up with just the right note. My list of his serious posts I want to share and comment on grows longer, but this one popped right to the top. So true, so true.
As I said in a comment to his post, it reminded me of a Christmas scene from 2003: Like this one, it's a living room setting with five people. Three are busy with computers on their laps. (This was almost 10 years ago: no iPhones, no iPads.) The fourth is also intently focussed, not on a computer screen but on the fifth, a newborn baby. No, not that newborn baby, but I did title the picture, We Three Nerds. Oh, wait. This is my own blog; I can include the picture itself.
Sorry it's such a lousy picture. Our camera at the time was an old Sony Mavica, at one time high tech, but it created small files and saved them to a 3.5 inch floppy disk, which couldn't hold even one picture from my present (inexpensive, Kodak) camera.
Recently, I bought a new 500GB hard drive from Western Digital. This despite the fact that the salesman told me external drives will soon be a thing of the past. All will be in The Cloud. I'm all for cloud storage, but I still like to have some of my data on a drive I can hold in my hand.
I still read books, too. Paper ones.
But back to the matter at hand.
What you see is the entirety of the instructions for installing the drive. And it really was that simple: I plugged one end of the cord into the drive and the other into a USB port on the computer; Windows 7 recognized the device, installed the drivers, and almost before I could blink, it was ready to go. I wasn't expecting anything less; what made the experience noteworthy was subsequently reading the somewhat different instructions located in the instruction manual—which is a pdf located on the drive itself. They begin as follows:
- Turn on your computer.
- Connect the My Passport drive to your computer as shown in Figure 3.
- If a Found New Hardware screen appears, click Cancel to close it. The WD SmartWare software that is on the drive installs the proper driver for your My Passport drive.
They continue with instructions for making that installation happen. But as should have been obvious to the manual-writers, the "Found New Hardware" screen isn't up long enough to cancel it. And in any case, you can't read the instructions to cancel the installation until after you've finished the installation.
I ignored it all, and the drive works fine.
All you Windows 7 users out there, can you help me with backup? Here's the problem: Windows 7 thinks it's smarter than I am, and I have my doubts.
I had a fine backup routine in place with Windows XP:
- Every night, I did an automatic incremental backup of my main drive to itself. I know it's not good to backup to the same drive, but any other system requires having the backup drive plugged in and powered on all the time, which is (1) a waste of energy and (2) risky in itself. Either that or I'd have to remember to plug it in at the right time. I know myself better than that. And this way at least the files were recoverable barring a hard drive crash.
- Once a week, I'd do a full backup of the main drive, this time to an external hard drive. I keep many levels of backup, spread over multiple external drives. (I know, I'm obsessive about it, but I've had two levels of backup fail at once before.)
- Also once a week, I'd do an incremental backup of the external drive that is plugged in most of the time and holds much of my data. I only do a full backup of that one twice a year, as it takes some 15 hours.
- Occasionally I'd do an image backup of the whole primary drive. (I added this after learning—the hard way—that even though the computer has the "factory settings" built in, you really don't want to go that far back if you can help it.)
The system seems to work well, and it doesn't take much of my time to give me some reassurance. The computer's time, yes; my time, no.
So ... enter Windows 7 Backup. As far as I can tell, I can't even specify where I want the backup to go, at any level lower than the entire external drive! Worse, I can't specify "full" or "incremental"—Windows 7 does a full backup the first time, and then all subsequent backups are incremental, except that, "If you're saving your backups on a hard drive or network location, Windows Backup will create a new, full backup for you automatically when needed" (emphasis mine).
When needed? How on earth does Windows 7 think it can tell when a full backup is needed? I, and I alone, determine when a new full backup is needed!
Plus, if Windows is doing incrementals all the time, the backups are going to one drive only, and I really like distributing them over at least two drives.
I'm very new to Windows 7, and I like many of the features, but I do get ticked off when a feature I use all the time gets broken/removed. I also know that I'm automatically resistent to change, which is often a fault, and that perhaps there's something better about Windows 7 backup that I'm just not seeing yet, which is why I'm writing this post. Tell me what you like about it, what I'm missing, or how to do it better.
I'd really rather use the built-in system, and not have to resort to third-party software for something that Windows should provide—especially since it used to provide a backup that worked just fine for me.
I know that most of you are waiting for more important posts, with vacation pictures and grandchild adventures, but tonight you get the Blue Light Blues. I saw this article in the Hartford Courant while on vacation; the link here is to Harvard Health Publications, but it's the same text.
In case you needed one more thing to worry about, all that after-hours screen time is exposing you to excessive blue light. And blue light at night is bad.
At night, light throws the body's biological clock—the circadian rhythm—out of whack. Sleep suffers. Worse, research shows that it may contribute to the causation of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, and obesity.
But not all colors of light have the same effect. Blue wavelengths—which are beneficial during daylight hours because they boost attention, reaction times, and mood—seem to be the most disruptive at night. And the proliferation of electronics with screens, as well as energy-efficient lighting, is increasing our exposure to blue wavelengths, especially after sundown.
Did you catch the bit about energy-efficient lighting? Those highly-touted compact fluorescent bulbs and LED lights put out more blue light than incandescent bulbs. Being green can make you blue, too.
The article offers some suggestions for reducing blue light exposure:
- Use dim red lights for night lights. Red light has the least power to shift circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin.
- Avoid looking at bright screens beginning two to three hours before bed.
- If you work a night shift or use a lot of electronic devices at night, consider wearing blue-blocking glasses.
- Expose yourself to lots of bright light during the day, which will boost your ability to sleep at night, as well as your mood and alertness during daylight.
According to #1, I need to stay up for at least another two hours, but that's not going to happen. I'll try to do better tomorrow. For now, I'll go to bed feeling happy that my bedside clock has a red display.