The Best € 15,- Ever Spent

Since a week I use the iPhone App Voice Dream Reader. This has changed the way I read large articles.

Nowadays, I commute by a Toyota hibrid car. It is more than a hour to the place where I work. I was looking for ways to use this time more effectively. This new app can read texts with a very clear, natural sounding voice. I supports many languages, also my native Dutch, and I have bought a Dutch voice for € 5,-. The app supports many formats of texts, like pdf, docx, epub, etc.

Voice Dream Reader has an interface with the application Pocket, which I use very frequently. It can read all the articles in my Pocket Queue.

My workflow of article reading now is:

  • On Twitter, I click on a link that looks interesting
  • I quickly scan the article (usually very long, since I like long stories) and decide if I want to read it
  • I save it to my Pocket queue. Pocket removes all the side bars, banners and advertisements
  • In my car, I use Voice Dream Reader to read the text of the article out loud, using the “Pocketed” (stripped) version of the article

I enjoy this very much!

Comments

The Checklist Manifesto

Checklist Manifesto Book Cover

This book impressed and inspired me. It explains what the benefits of checklists in a professional (work) environment are, especially with teams. Atul Gawande, the author, uses many examples from his own medical background, but he also writes extensively about aviation and the building of sky scrapers.

Since I also work in large projects, I found the chapter about building sky scrapers very inspiring. Here, of course, they use checklist for the work itself, containing every step. But additionally, they also have a list of building decisions or design decisions that should be made. If your name as a specialist is on that list, together with the names of a few other specialists and the description of the technical detail itself, you are assigned to come together and decide about how the technical detail should be solved. This is a way of decentralizing design work.

I think we in the large IT projects can adapt this way of working, using ticketing systems like Jira or Bugzilla. If you are assigned to solve a specific IT problem that is part of a larger project, you receive a ticket with the description and the names of one or few other specialists. Together, you come up with a solution and document this in the ticket. This looks a lot like ITIL, but then used as part of a large build project, not in system administration.

Comments

Open Questions List

Are you hesitant to ask a question to a coworker because you expect to find the answer by yourself later? En then later on, you forget what that question was that you thought of when you were studying the subject?

Questions pop up in your mind in the same way as ideas. You have to capture a question, especially if it is a good one, right at the moment you get it.

It can be annoying to bother your client or collegues with unnecessary inquiries. You do not want to ask questions, when you think there is a good chance that you will discover the answer before the end of the day.

But it would be a mistake not to record any questions for that reason. What works very good for me is to still write down any questions that rise to mind, but to postpone sending the questions to my collegue untill at least the end of the day. When the answer is still not evident by that time, I feel free to send an email asking the information to a coworker or customer.

After sending the mail, I copy the text of the question in a list I maintain in Excel.

Columns I use in the list

  • Status: New, Open, or Closed
  • Date Open
  • Date Closed
  • Short subject
  • Sent to
  • Text of the question
  • Text of the answer

What I regularly do, is enter questions in the list with the status ‘New’. This means that the question has not been sent yet. At the end of the day (or week, if you prefer) you can send all the questions with the status ‘new’ for which you still need the answers. After sending the question, change its status to ‘open’.

Comments

Jiro Dreams of Sushi

Today, I watched the documentary Jiro Dreams of Sushi. This film is a tribute to the dedication of a man to his art, or craft. The daily practise gives life meaning, without it, your life is empty, no matter how rich you are. Strive for improvement, regardless of the nature of the career, sport or art you have chosen. Pick an art, stick with it (because, essentially, the exact art you choose is not the most important, but your dedication to it makes you passionate) and every day strive to improve your mastery of this art. Be it selling, technical engineering, sculpting or as in Jiro Ono’s case, making sushi. Dedication generates passion, not the other way around.

Picture of Jiro Ono

Other reactions to this documentary
Lessons From a Master
Jiro Dreams of Sushi: The Making of a Great Shokunin/Leader
Best of Unprofessional Cookery: Jiro Will Put All Yáll To Shame

Comments

Kevin Rose interview with Elon Musk

Elon Musk it the founder of SpaceX, Tesla Motors and the commonly known, Paypal.

I love the way the electrical cars from Tesla look.

Recently, Kevin Rose has recorded this interview with Elon, which I recommend.

One of the books that Elon recommends is the biography of Benjamin Franklin by Walter Isaacson (Amazon link). Isaacson is a great biographer and this is certainly on my reading list. (Just finished the biographies of Einstein and Jobs.)

Comments

My favourites from The Setup

Very eagerly, I read the interview-series titled The Setup. The men and women interviewed, explain what hard- and software they use. ‘Hardware’ includes things like laptops, but also camera’s, microphones and so on. Mostly, the tools people mention are not new to me but sometimes I discover something very interesting.

Self portrait of John MacFarlane

John MacFarlane is a professor of philosophy at the University of California in Berkeley. He speaks about his creation, the very powerful converter of text markup formats called pandoc.

I use pandoc’s extended markdown for lecture notes, letters, slide presentations, handouts, and short articles. For books and more complex documents, I use LaTeX.

I intend to explore what the extended markdown of pandoc can do for me. I have installed pandoc on my Windows laptop under Cygwin and on my Linux-hosts.

Derek Sivers a writer and serial enterpreneur, has inspired me to start using Anki, about which Derek says:

For learning anything, I use the awesome Anki, which I love so much I donated $500 to. (The author wrote me back, thinking it must have been a PayPal mistake.)

With Anki, it turns out that memorizing things is very easy. The workings of the program are based on the learning theory called Spaced Repitition. At the moment, I am learning LPI level 2 from this and I am teaching my children multiplication. With Ankidroid you can practise even when you are waiting at the train station. It is very effective.

Amongst the many inspiring interviews, one final:

Steve Coast is an architect @Microsoft and founder of Openstreetmap. Steve Coast uses the library often as a source of reading material.

Library books

I use the library a lot. King County in Washington State has the most traffic of any US library, or so they claim. I refuse, typically, to buy Kindle or other books with a zero resale value. I’m keenly aware that the same information can be had in multiple forms. For example a book can be Kindle, Nook, Hardback, HB 2nd hand, Paperback, PB 2nd hand, Library, audio book (audible.com), Library audio book. I don’t care how I get the information, therefore I may as well have the lowest cost access.

Comments

Cygwin, Dropbox and todotxt.sh

This short ‘howto’ describes:

  • putting the home directory of Cygwin on Dropbox
  • making the todotxt.cfg work on all Windows(*) machines, regardless of the directory where your Dropbox is located.

(*) This only works on Windows Vista and higher.

Background
Since a month or so, I use the open source task management script todotxt of Gina Trapani. I am enthousiastic about the uses of this system, so I have spent some time optimizing it. Below is a description of a few hacks that I use.

Because the computers that I use daily are Windows based, I decided to install Cygwin so that I can deploy the original todotxt.sh bash-script. Running the todo system from the command line has a lot of advantages, like easier search and selection, tab completion, easier adding of todo’s, etc.

If you want to know how to set up todotxt.sh under Cygwin, please read this short manual. Here, I asume that the reader is already familiar with using todotxt.sh in this way.

Screenshot of Cygwin terminal with todo-list

Putting the Cygwin home directory on Dropbox
When your Cygwin home directory is replicated to all your Windows machines, so are all your Unix terminal programs settings. When, for instance, you have created some aliases by editing your .bashrc file, it is very nice to be able to use these on all your Cygwin-machines. The same goes for your .vimrc or even your history!

The script todotxt.sh is also located in your home-directory and when the home directory is replicated by Dropbox, you only have to upgrade your todotxt.sh installation once to keep all your Windows Cygwin machines up-to-date.

  1. Stop Cygwin
  2. Make a backup copy of the directory C:\Cygwin\home\{yourname} to a safe location.
  3. Move (not copy) the directory C:\Cygwin\home\{yourname} to your Dropbox. I have moved the home directory to the location {Dropbox}\settings\cygwinhome.
  4. Create a symbolic link to the Dropbox location with the utility mklink.

Below is an example.

mklink /d c:\cygwin\home\ton c:\Users\ton\Dropbox\settings\cygwinhome

This command creates a directory link with the name ‘ton’ (my username) that points to the cygwinhome-directory on your Dropbox. Of course, you should substitute ‘ton’ with your own Windows user name.

This function to create links is not available on Windows versions older than Vista.

Making the todotxt.cfg file roaming
I also use the Android-app Todotxt Touch and therefore, I would like to keep the location of the todo.txt file to the default. Therefore, I do not place my todo.txt file in my Cygwin home directory.

If you edit the todotxt.cfg file, the first lines may look like this:

# === EDIT FILE LOCATIONS BELOW ===

# Your todo.txt directory
export TODO_DIR="/cygdrive/c/users/ton/Dropbox/todo"
#export TODO_DIR=`dirname "$0"`

There can easily be a problem with this. On the family laptop, for instance, my username is ‘papa’ and my Dropbox is located on the path:
C:\Users\papa\Dropbox

and the todotxt.cfg configuration line would have to read:

# Your todo.txt directory
export TODO_DIR="/cygdrive/c/users/papa/Dropbox/todo"

Do you see the problem? If you want to be able to put your todotxt script and config file on a central location, there should be one uniform todo.txt directory that is also on Dropbox.

The solution? Another mklink hack. On the family laptop, I have used the following command:

mklink /d C:\dbtb C:\Users\papa\Dropbox

Now the top of my todotxt.cfg reads something like this:

# === EDIT FILE LOCATIONS BELOW ===

# Your todo.txt directory
export TODO_DIR="/cygdrive/c/dbtb/todo"
#export TODO_DIR=`dirname "$0"`

The trick here is that if you create the equivalent directory link on all your Windows machines (pointing to your various Dropbox locations), you can use the same todotxt.cfg on all of them.

I hope this helps you enjoy a centralised Cygwin home directory and roaming use of the excellent todotxt.sh!

Comments (2)

Reality and satire

A quote from the biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson. He writes about the parody that Guy Kawasaki had published about Apple buying Next and making Jobs its CEO, about 2 years before this really happened at Apple.

Isaacson first describes Kawasaki’s spoofed press release about the takeover. And then he writes:

But reality has an odd habit of catching up with satire

How true!

In the country I live in, the polical party the PVV is in fact the reality and the so called ‘Tegenpartij‘ was the satire.

Comments

Alain de Bottons Sermon on Religion for Atheists

Alain de Botton On Religion for Atheists from The School of Life on Vimeo.

Today, I watched this ‘sermon’ of Alain de Botton, where he teaches us to look at the good things we can learn from religions, even if we do not believe in God. This cermon was an initiative of The School Of Life which I find a very interesting discovery on the web.

Around the beginning of this school year, I attended to a presentation from the teacher of my 10 years old son about the subjects that will be a part of this years curriculum. When I asked them: “What are you going to teach the children about religion?” the teacher replied that this was a secular, public school and that for that reason, they did not teach them a lot about the different religions. I think that even if you are not a believer in all the dogmas of a religion, that does not mean that you cannot learn from the scriptures or teachings of that church. Even if you do not believe in God at all, there is still a lot to learn from religious thought, ceremonies, art and spirituality. We should teach our children that, of all the main religions, also on the so called secular schools.

Comments (1)

Datacenters and NYC

Thanks to my Facebook friend Nico Veenkamp, I stumbled upon a video about the physical aspects of the Internet: datacenters and communication hubs. This video also features the city that inspires me: New York.

Bundled, Buried & Behind Closed Doors from Ben Mendelsohn on Vimeo.

Comments