Analog / Digital

Student Tablet PC: OneNote Planner Plugin

D*I*Y Planner within OneNoteTracy Hooten over at The Student Tablet PC has created another Microsoft OneNote file for implementing the D*I*Y Planner templates within that environment: OneNote Planner Plug-In, v2.0. Not having MS OneNote handy (or a Windows box, for that matter), I hadn't actually been able to see what she was up to, till now -- Tracy actually provides us with a nice little Flash-based video telling users how to set up the templates within OneNote for use as stationery. It seems to be somewhat similar to the Mobile Computer article from a few months ago, but simpler and with the new DiyP3 designs. If I had a Tablet PC handy (*cough* got one you're not using? *cough*), I could certainly see using something like this. Not that I'm biased, you understand....

Nice job, Tracy!

Personal Mission Statement

This is a Classic Size Template for having a space to write out a personal mission statement.

Usage advice: 

I use this a space to generate, review and update my personal mission. I have included the PDF file, and the original OpenOffice Draw document for you to change. It could be used to make a Family, or organization mission statement as well.

Paper size: 
Classic (5.5 x 8.5)
Creative Commons
Applications required: 
PDF Reader (Adobe Reader, Mac OS X Preview)

The Human Option

Writing with ink quill"To De-tech." Besides being an awkward verb, it's also an amusing notion, in a way. It brings to mind those groups who have eschewed the modern world in favour of horse-drawn carts, raising livestock and churning butter. I myself have received email from people --even from journalists-- who somehow believe that I have abandoned technology. Besides the obvious facts that I run a website and answer email in the first place, it's a little ridiculous to think that I'm sitting in a backwoods cabin creating my to-do lists with a quill pen by the light of a lantern. My story becomes far less interesting when I tell them that I spend a goodly portion of my waking hours in front of a computer.

Ah, but there's the rub! And one of the main reasons why I want to de-tech, just a little. Sometimes you just have to break away from the commonplace, stretch your legs, meander outside, take in a little air, and glance around to gain a little perspective on matters.

Sure, if you start using paper again, you'll probably save money, rediscover your ability to focus, and won't have to fret about the constant aggravations of constantly upgrading and fighting with technical issues daily. And you'll create and use materials that can last a lifetime, instead of becoming obsolete in a few months. But neither of these is the main reason for de-teching. In fact, it's so obvious that we often overlook it: a hundred hours a week interfacing with a machine can be dehumanising.

The Digital Packrat

Obsolete Computer MuseumWoe to my poor wife, for she has married a packrat. You know my type: the person who keeps one --or multiple-- "junk drawers" or "junk boxes" filled with discarded wires, ticket stubs, twisted metal bits, leather scraps, ancient gadgets, cheap giveaway items with long-bankrupt businesses' names inscribed, old candies, and unknown thingamabobs that just might belong to something important, so they can't be thrown away without incurring stress. To be fair, I'm getting much better, and have learned a certain "threshold" of actually discarding or giving away unused things. "Chuck it!" is my new mantra if in doubt. (I'm glad to say that the lab at left is not my own, although I've come close.)

But being a packrat who is also an I.T. professional, it also means I have many thousands of freeform digital bits drifting loose about my many machines as well. Lately we've been getting ready to move house, and part of this means the consolidation of information from my various Mac, Linux and Windows boxes that will soon be put into storage. Looking over the vast array of data scraps, I realised how very important it was to do something about it. And I didn't want to waste all my valuable time doing it, so I resisted the geek-driven urge to create a wiki, database or online application, and instead turned to a user-friendly solution I've used to good effect in the recent past.

True Confessions, or My Palm and I

Palm Tungsten EFor the past week, I've been using a Palm again. (Pause for effect, let the gasps of the audience subside.) It's true, I swear: not a word of a lie. And it's given me pause for thought.

You may have tripped across my Hipster PDA kit and remarked with some degree of shock that I do indeed carry a Palm, a wireless keyboard, and earbuds in my bag. But it was mainly as a way to read news, carry encrypted documents, or listen to MP3s or audiobooks: I ceased using a Palm as an organiser about 18 months ago, when I switched to paper.

Just to put things into perspective, I've owned five or six Palm handhelds over the years, all the way back to an original Palm Pilot and Palm Pilot II. And I wasn't just an occasional user... I pushed each one to its limits through my work and play. In fact, for a job I had last year, I used to sync my Palm Tungsten E with two Mac boxes, a Windows box, and two Linux boxes, essentially to keep my data fairly consistent with whatever computer I was using at the time. Graffiti is second nature to me and has even affected my handwriting, and --at one point-- I even tried my hand at programming the little beasts. So you'd definitely call me a power user.

A little over a week ago, I needed to revisit a project I worked on a couple years ago, and it just so happened that all the data was stored in files on my Palm. As I was using it to retrieve and read through the material, I suddenly had pause for thought. What exactly did I see in the Palm? Why did I use it so heavily? At that point, I decided to try using it again for a week, to try to recapture some of my former portable geekiness.

In my absence, however, much like a lover spurned, my Palm has learned to hate me.

Guest Post on Communication Nation

RembrandtI was honoured recently when Dave Gray, the Founder/CEO of XPLANE and the guru behind Communication Nation, asked me to write a guest post for his blog. Today, you'll find that post. The topic is the "back-to-paper movement":

Dave has mentioned the back-to-paper revolution here, and he's right. Strangely enough, it's mainly a revolt of tech lovers against their favourite toys, junkies eschewing their drug of choice. It's painful, it's heart-wrenching, it flies in the face of our own self-identities, and it makes all our high-tech podium-thumping and evangelising suddenly look hollow.

Communication Nation: Why techies are leading the back-to-paper movement

Practice, Practice, Practice

Psychologists studying expert and exceptional performance found that it's not really about talent; it's about practice. The athletes and chess players we admire have practiced for around 10,000 hours over a span of 10 years.

Focus, Like a Rooftop Garden

Rooftop Garden, courtesy US Human SocietyAbout twelve years ago, I was happy just to be in Paris. The language, the people, the bookstores and stalls, the museums, the music, the food, the endless day-and-night hustle and bustle... I just had to try and absorb it all, had to fill some empty well within me. On one particular occasion, I crashed for a week at the low-rent apartment of a friend of mine, about an hour's haul by subway and bus outside of the city proper. After unpacking that dreary May morning, I remember staring out the window at the bleak suburban landscape below, taking in the small blocky jail, a row of graffiti-scarred tenements, some soot-sweating factories with broken panes and scorched sides. The sun, barely able to peer through the clouds, did nothing to brighten the view. I was eager to get back into the city, but my friend insisted on showing me the roof. "Why?" I asked, thinking I'd only see more of the same grey and depressing scene from up above.

"You'll see," he said.

He led me up some dimly-lit, damp stairs that reeked vaguely of ammonia, mold and urine, and we came to a locked door. He fumbled around his vest for its key and carefully unlocked it, cautioning me that I wasn't to tell anybody what I saw, or at least where it was. As the door opened, a sudden flash of green light stabbing through the darkness temporarily blinded me, and as my eyes adjusted I could see lush vegetation, bright flowers, vibrant jade leaves, and the sparkle and shimmer of light upon water. It was a rooftop garden.

How to Actively Read

I have midterms this Wednesday. Eep. Fortunately, I have to write a D*I*Y Planner article, so I can put off worrying about my test. ;) Here's the template I use for studying for exams. Maybe you can pass the tips on to other students, or use it for more effective, more active reading.

Okay, it's not a _real template, because it's just a matter of folding. I fold my note paper into two columns (2/3, 1/3). The left column is for notes, the right column for higher-level cues. I fold a narrow column on the left side of the paper. This is for page numbers.

Then I read the textbook. (Can't avoid doing that. Tough...) Here's the trick: I write down questions.

Not facts, not summaries, but questions. This prevents me from lulling myself into a false sense of security. It's easy to look at a statement and say, "Yeah, I know that." Questions force me to think and help me practice explaining concepts. I then answer the question out loud while reading the textbook.

So I go through the entire textbook. At the end of every sub-chapter and chapter, I review my questions. I answer the questions either out loud or on another piece of paper. Saying and hearing the answer or writing and reading the answer helps reinforce it in my mind. I also quickly review all the questions once I reach the end of the book. (Well, theoretically, I would. I haven't gotten to this point yet.) I can check my answers by looking them up again. That's when the page numbers become handy!

What's the rightmost column for? Well, questions that closely follow the textbook make sure I know the details, but I might miss the big picture. It's easy to answer a detailed question because it's focused, but if I need to combine knowledge from different parts of the book, I might forget to include something relevant. The rightmost column helps me summarize chapters into key insights, and thus key questions. To review those, I can simply fold the paper over or hide the other columns.

Why not do this for books as well? If you're reading a book, actively read it. Ask yourself questions. Make yourself think of the important points. Give yourself a quiz afterwards. You'll retain the information much better, and you can use your question sheet to refresh your memory too.

Have fun! Now I have to get back to studying...