Monthly Archives: January 2009

White House Blog Annoyance

On inauguration day, while the internet was atwitter about the switchover of whitehouse.gov, I subscribed to The White House Blog.  I wasn’t sure if it would stick, honestly, because my patience for political PR is pretty darn thin.  So far, though, I’ve found the posting frequency to be very manageable, and the rhetoric hasn’t gotten too hot and heavy.  

But…  Despite the fact that their own copyright page proclaims, “Pursuant to federal law, government-produced materials appearing on this site are not copyright protected,” the RSS feed for the blog does not contain the full text of the posts.  To read them, you have to click over to the main site.  Since I’m usually cruising through my feed reader pretty fast, I find this annoying.  

If you have content you want to protect, then I can live with the fact that you don’t want to spew your writing into RSS format (which, demonstrably, makes it marginally easier to slurp and steal).  If you think your website is too pretty to allow your content to appear unadorned in Google Reader, then I think you may be a design snot, but I can respect that and deal.  (Even Daring Fireball puts his full content out in his RSS feed now, and I have trouble believing that you are more of a design snot, or auteur, if you will, than John Gruber.)  It lowers the probability that I will continue reading you, but in many cases I will (if I like you and/or your content meets my absurdly high standards).  But what possible reason is there for putting public domain White House Blog posts behind a click wall?  

President Obama, tear down this wall!

Bible Quote of the Moment

In the years that I have had this blog, I’m not sure if I’ve ever posted a Bible quote before.  I’m fairly sure that I’ve never had one as a standalone post.  I’m not exactly sure why, but religion is not a part of my life that I’m very comfortable sharing in this forum.  But this one really struck me.  (I encountered it here.  Slacktivist is a great blogger.  Way more insightful and interesting than yours truly.  But, honestly, I found this particular post silly (and unkind and petty).  Don’t get me wrong, the criticism of CWN is spot on, but the long diatribe about Brannon Howse’s forehead with which it is mixed is just bizarre.  I look forward to a slightly more serious post about the CWN.)

Anyone who claims to be in the light but hates his brother is still in the darkness. Whoever loves his brother lives in the light, and there is nothing in him to make him stumble. But whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him. – 1 John 2:9-11

Remember the Milk…

For a few months, I used Remember the Milk (RTM) as my task manager.  This is a brief review.

Let me start off by saying that I basically liked Remember the Milk.  It’s a web app, but it has excellent keyboard shortcuts, is very Ajax-y, and has an automagic offline mode using Google Gears that is particularly sweet.  (Every other site I’ve used with Google Gears — which is to say, principally, Google Reader — requires you to explicitly indicate when you want the app to go into offline mode and when you want it to go back online.  RTM just works.  If you lose your network connection, it switches to offline mode and continues working.  If the network comes back, then RTM connects and resyncs.)  It also has a good API with significant third party development (Quicksilver plugins, etc.).  I never really wound up using any of these, but I was glad that they were there.  Likewise, it now has an iPhone app, which I never used because I dropped RTM before I got my iPhone.

RTM is also built around a very light task organization system based on tagging.  This allows you to tag your tasks and then define and save sophisticated queries to define various views.  I looked around at what other people had done and came up with a slightly byzantine tagging scheme that worked for me and my GTD implementation.  This was powerful.

But, ultimately, RTM had some fatal flaws for me.  I looked up the most significant ones on their forums, and found that people had been complaining about them for months, and the developers had showed very little impetus towards changing them.  I found this disappointing, and since a couple of the complaints were show stoppers for me, I decided to move on.

So, for the record, here are my complaints:

  1. Tasks do not have a “start date.”  For certain recurring tasks, like, say, giving the dogs their monthly flea/tick/heartworm preventatives, a start date is critical.  I don’t want to see “give dogs preventatives” all month long, even if the due date is correct.  That’s just useless.  And it was even worse for, say, quarterly or yearly tasks.  Do you really want to see “change humidifier water panel,” which I do at the beginning of each heating season, in your task list all year long?  I certainly didn’t.
  2. The UI implements “multiple select” for most actions.  That is, if you click on one task, and then another, the action you choose will (mostly) apply to both of them.  Since this is not standard UI behavior in most other apps, web or otherwise, I would often accidentally act (delete, mark completed, duplicate, etc.) multiple tasks, when I only intended to act on one of them.  This was incredibly annoying.  While “undo” saved me many times, I was worried that sooner or later I was really going to screw something up without noticing. 
  3. While tasks have a “creation date,” which can be used as a search criterion, that date is not visible, sortable, or editable.  I can understand not making it editable, and that issue would have sorted itself out eventually.  But I like to be able to see which tasks in my list have been around the longest, so that I can force myself to complete them, revise them, or dismiss them.  
  4. And, a minor niggle, it didn’t handle atypical URLs properly (such as the “message:” URLs that can be used to reference email messages in Mac OS X Mail).  If someone enters something into a URL field that looks like a URL, then the web app should treat it properly, allowing the browser to decide how to deal with it, rather than attempt to “fix” it.

1 & 2 were basically show stoppers for me.  3 was really annoying.  4 was, as I said, a minor niggle with an easy work around.

The problem is, unfortunately, I’m still not very happy with my task management solution.  RTM was almost at the sweet spot of simplicity versus power.  I have switched to Things, which I like quite a bit, but I’m not sure it is the ultimate solution for me.  It, too, is tag-based, but it doesn’t have the same powerful querying of tags as RTM and I don’t like some of the views.  I tried OmniFocus in the past, but found it massively over-featured for my needs.  Medley also pointed me towards Tracks, which looks like a very nice open source web based app, but I didn’t see an obvious offline capability, which is a deal breaker for me.  (Well, short of running it on my own laptop with the built in webserver, but that wouldn’t work very well for iPhone access.)

So, I might go back to paper, which is what I keep coming back to, but I’m resisting it.  Didn’t I get an iPhone so that I wouldn’t have to carry around a pack of index cards?

Update: Another app to possibly consider (no iPhone version yet, though) is The Hit List from Potion Factory.  Looks a lot like Things, but better in some ways.

44

What a day.  There are no words. 

My favorite quote, out of many, from Obama’s speech today:

Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends — hard work and honesty, courage and fair play, tolerance and curiosity, loyalty and patriotism — these things are old. These things are true. They have been the quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded then is a return to these truths.

Microsoft’s Destruction of Their Ecosystem

A long time ago, I wrote about my love of the independent developer ecosystem for Mac OS X.  I continue to be amazed that Mac OS X, with a minority (albeit, growing) share of the PC market, can have such a great, vibrant, thriving community of independent developers, compared to what I remember from my Windows days.  (That’s not, again, an indictment of Windows developers.  There are some very good ones.  But the ecosystem as a whole is, in my opinion, considerably less vibrant and healthy.)

This morning, I ran across this piece from Tim O’Reilly called Work on Stuff That Matters.  It’s a great piece, all the way around, and you should go read it, but one of the examples that Tim uses is relevant to the question of the Microsoft ecosystem:

Take Microsoft. They started out with a big goal, “a computer on every desk and in every home,” and for many years unquestionably created more value than they captured. They helped grow the PC industry as a whole; they built a platform that helped many small software vendors to flourish. But over time, they began to capture more value than they created: as the cost of PCs plummeted, hardware vendors had to survive on the slimmest of margins while Microsoft collected monopoly rents; bit by bit, Microsoft consumed its own developer ecosystem by building the features of successful startups into their own products, and using their operating system dominance to crush the early movers. As I’ve written elsewhere, I believe that Microsoft must re-commit itself to big goals beyond its own profitability, and to creating more value than it captures if it is to succeed. (Danny Sullivan wrote a great piece about the strategic relevance of this very idea just last week, Tough Love for Microsoft Search.)

I Got an iPhone!

So, after 18 months of waiting, I got an iPhone.  Which seems like a good excuse to embed my favorite David Pogue video of all time:

After a week and a half, the verdict? I love it.

Worth noting:

  • The screen is terrific.  It is bright and (apparently) high resolution — easy to read even at very small font sizes.  (I actually think it is generally true that Apple’s sub-pixel rendering is easier to read at small sizes than Microsoft’s.  But I was recently accused of being an Apple fanboy…  Read more about Apple versus Microsoft font rendering here.)
  • The always-on internet connection is terrific.  The main thing that I’ve been looking forward to is the ability to do at least some of my mindless internetting (Twitter, Facebook, Google Reader, etc.) in my interstitial time.  That seems to be working out pretty well.
  • Generally, the UI is great.  It is especially good, as John Gruber mentioned a long time ago, for consuming media — somewhat less so for creating it, with the touchscreen keyboard.  The touchscreen scrolling is surprisingly amazing, though.  
  • The most pleasant surprise? The clicker on the earbuds.  It pauses the iPod, answers the phone, and generally makes it possible to leave the phone in your pocket when you aren’t fully engaged with it. 
  • The App Store is nice, though it does have some (widely noted) flaws.  I have gotten some nice applications, although I haven’t quite figured out which ones will be long-term “keepers” for me.  While many have complained about the lack of trial versions on the AppStore, I have been surprised by how many pay applications have a free, ad-supported or feature-limited version.  So, to some extent I think developers have been able to route around this limitation.
  • My biggest complaint?  The inability to sync text files with my laptop.  I put all kinds of stuff in text files, and I’d really like to access (read/write) some of that on my iPhone.  I see no perfect solution, third party or otherwise, at the moment.  I think I’m going to use Evernote, but I dislike moving my data out of text files on my laptop.  (Particularly as there is no (good) Quicksilver integration with Evernote at the moment.)

A while ago, I read through some old blog posts.  And the ones I liked least were those where I blather on about technology.  So, I think I’ll stop right here.