Technology

Dipping Into Digital

Analog/Digital Kit, closedYes, we all love beautiful paper and pens and leather binders and every second item on the shelves of a stationery store. And yes, many of us tend to take notes, write drafts, brainstorm, manage our time, and sketch on paper. But sooner or later, there comes a time when what we write or produce has to wind up in a digital form for sharing with others. For example, my journal and index cards may be the foundation for the articles I write here, but sooner or later I have to put fingers to keys and pound out the words.

But, like most tinkerers attracted to shiny metal objects, it's hard to keep distraction at bay. For example, while I dearly love (though not quite in a carnal sense) my new MacBook Pro, all the bells and whistles conspire to turn my attention from writing. Each bleep of my Google Gmail Notifier, which word or idea or link I want to look up, each Amazon book I want to link to, each photo I need to take and resize and optimise....

What was I saying? Oh, yes... it's hard to keep on topic with so many distractions.

So, the paper angle is covered; I have plenty of focus there. What I need is some way to write without digital distraction.

The hamster was actually the smart one...

If it keeps up, man will atrophy all his limbs but the push-button finger. --Frank Lloyd Wright

When I was a child of ten, I had a hamster named Pedro. He wasn't of the lazy, obese, hairy persuasion, but instead was about as energetic and lithe as a hamster presumably gets. He enjoyed crawling endlessly through the tubes I constructed all over my bedroom, a bizarre concoction of plumbing and modern architecture, and I would watch, fascinated, at this little creature who was under the impression that he was actually going somewhere. And then he would drop down into his cage from another angle and look around in that peculiar hamsteresque bewildered way, wondering why he was back where he started. He would avoid his wheel, though, since even that little mind could clearly conceive that he wasn't advancing in any direction.

Recently, I feel rather like a hamster.

For the Love of LaTeX

LaTeX LionBy coming the words love and latex in the same breath, I suspect that many of you will run away in abject horror, lest you hear me reveal some personal (and quite uninvited) revelation about my sex life. Fear not, gentle reader. I'm not discussing intimate matters, nor even the rubbery glove substance beloved by home lobotomists. Moreover, the LaTeX of which I refer is even pronounced differently: lay'-tech. I'm talking about a mark-up language with a long and proud heritage.

Now, I don't generally discuss technical matters very much in this venue. Many visitors come here to get away from such things. But there's something pure, something back-to-basics, about this for which certain among you (who have not already used it) might find an appreciation.

Machine Log

For Systems Administration, treat your computers like contacts.

Usage advice: 

See the linked article.

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

IT Forms: Machine Log

Hello, eric again, here at the intersection of paper and Systems Administration. While the Machine Profile is a very useful form, it's not the most useful part of my "Machines" binder. That's the Machine Log form, which is quite similar to the Contact Log, and is used in two basic ways: things to do, and things you've done.

Machine Profile

A form for keeping track of computers: IP addresses, inventory information, Make/Model, etc.

Thumbnail: 
Usage advice: 

Useful if you are in charge of a number of networked machines, installed software, and the like.

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

IT Forms: Machine Profile

Lots of software exists for keeping track of various computers. These software tools all revolve around some sort of database, and have fields for make and model, IP and MAC addresses, Inventory tags, Software installations, and so forth. While some of this software is very slick, it is almost always complex. Updating a central database can be a complicated process of logging in, clicking, typing, clicking, typing, clicking, and logging out. And if a machine is down, it may also involve taking a laptop or a clipboard as an intermediary before the typing and clicking can begin. Surely the D*I*Y Planner mindset can offer a better way.

Read on to see how I use a custom form to get this information out of the database, and into the binder.

A Lesson from Disneyland

Even Wednesday is a special article by an invited guest. This is our very first such post, and we're honoured to have Chris Parsons, a UK-based consultant and programmer who created the SVG Planner templates using open standards. That he did this entirely within the Emacs text editor is a testament to both his brilliance and his patience. I know it still amazes me. -- DJ


Monsanto House of the FutureWith every new technology, there’s a cascade of excitement and flurry of inappropriate use. We’re bowled over by our own creative genius and then attempt to use the new technology for everything, even when previous solutions worked perfectly well. The digital revolution is no exception to this.

An interesting example of this phenomenon can be found within the walls of Disneyland, California. In 1957, a new attraction opened there, entitled the “Monsanto House of the Future”. Designed by scientists at MIT, this was the best 1950’s guess at the way people would live in an impossibly distant future (that is, 1987). It was constructed entirely of plastic.