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Love this as a response and of course if it comes with a 2.5MB gif image embedded in it, that would be even better.

So, with all respect and much gratitude, please unsubscribe this address from all lists immediately and permanently. Note that all messages sent by blacklisted addresses are deleted without reading, although a copy of all requests such as this one are retained in the event that we ever need to make fun of you in front of lots of powerful, influential people for not doing the simple, and very civil thing we’ve requested.

via kung fu grippe · No. Let ME reach out to YOU!.

Commitment to Personal Productivity… Shifting, Sorting, Compiling, and Archiving

This is part IV in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first installment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

So you have all these places that information comes from, so the next question is where does it go?

As I mentioned in the opening of this series, that expecting to use a single tool in multiple situations is a little silly. After trying several ways to do things I ended up with 5 tools that collect information from all my online sources.

The longest running tool I’ve been using is Delicious for bookmarks. In addition to being a way of publicly marking useful sources, it has good support through many browsers. I still use it regularly but it tends to be my web archive rather than something I refer to in my workflow.

Screen shot of delicious bookmarks

Instapaper is my new workflow bookmarking tool. This is a little different because it actually caches the content of pages for you. This is especially useful in mobile access. I can collect up some pages and view it on my iPhone whether I’m connected or not. Again it is supported well with a bookmarklet in all my browsers and quick links in my feed readers. The idea here is if there is something worth reviewing I can send it to Instapaper which then becomes my ‘to do’ list of web content.

Instapaper - read later content

Where Instapaper really works well is during the distracting moments in web surfing. When you are searching with a specific purpose and find some content that is compelling frequently you get pulled off your main task. With Instapaper I can grab that content and know that I will get back to it when I review my Instapaper list.

So while Delicious is an archive, Instapaper is a transient ‘to-do’ list of items for review.

With other content I have a similar breakdown, one archive, one more transient source. For the grab and archive tool Evernote has worked well for me. Like Instapaper it works on my computer and iPhone and it can collect just about anything text, images, audio, and webpages.

Evernote Screen shot

Notational Velocity / SimpleNote

Notational Velocity Mac Application Screenshot

Commitment to Personal Productivity… Multiple Mailboxes and filtering

This is part III in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first instalment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

The next area was the details of email. I am lucky to control a number of domains so I have more flexability in email than most. But with the advent of gmail and other web services with large storage, owning a domain is less of a big deal.

Again, since I own my own domains I can have as many emails as I want. I had initially tried to segment my life by creating different emails and using them for different purposes. A general email address for common web use, a personal email of friends and family, and several company emails for business communication. Two problems with this, you have to be disciplined in giving the emails out and you have to rely on others to use them appropriately. That system also ignored the ‘search and find’ routine that unknown contacts will use to find you.

So that idea went out the door and I funnel and sort mentality replaced it. Almost all my email traffic funnels to a single account, then that account has some basic filters on what to do with them. As an intermediate state I have a single Gmail account that I can funnel my mail through. I then have 5 other accounts (some Gmail, some not) that I use for specific type if mail.

In general my mail runs into 4 piles, excluding spam.

The easiest to filter is the high volume listserve traffic. While RSS is okay for ‘news’ some sources of information and discussion are best consumed as an email digest. These are mostly technical and professional forums. Those filter through to a separate account, and then are marked by the list they come from. Some Google Alerts arrive via email also get sorted this way.

Adding Google Alerts

The second biggest pile is the business communication slightly above the Spam threshold. This is not listserve but it is regular mailings from companies I do business soliciting business or making special offers. I avoid deleting these outright because they are occasionally helpful but it is a high volume, low return pile of data. Typically only look through that when I’m very bored.

In a similar pattern to the RSS ideas before, the high volume stuff has been filtered out and the lower volume, higher return communication is left. Most of the last 2 piles stay in my personal mailbox. For lack of a better title, the Household Business mail is the notifications about bills, events, and other items that are important, require action, but seldom have a real person on the other end. Since this information comes from known sources it is easy to create rules to tag those items, leave them unread and await further action at at time of my connivence.

The final group is actually the important stuff. Typically this personal correspondence from family and friends. It also does leave items that either don’t have a rule from the 3 items above or aren’t easily classified. There is a little ambiguity there but the volume is sufficiently low that it really isn’t a distraction.

One of the items that make the multiple mail accounts a usable idea is an appropriate mail tool. Since I almost exclusively use Gmail for my domains I’ve recently moved to Mailplane to allow an easy way to jump between accounts without the hassle of continually logging in and out of a web identity. It is possible to do similar things with other desktop mail clients but once you commit to Gmail a custom tool that works with Gmail’s quirks is very useful.

Mailplane App Drag and drop to create attachments
Drag and drop to create attachments

A little tip here at the end.

The other feature of Gmail, and some other mail services, is the ability to create random mail identities. This is done by adding a “+” and any other text after your username. Unless the site does something to strip this out you can actually have unique addresses for any service you subscribe to. Which again makes filtering incoming mail very easy. It also allows tracking of how your email is getting to third parties. I add a timestamp to the email so things like admin@gmail.com becomes admin+1003290820@gmail.com (1003290820 = 2010/03/29 at 8:20AM). I have a little macro that creates these for me.


Commitment to Personal Productivity… Partitioning RSS

This is part II in my little story arc on re-organizing my technology use. As stated in my first installment:

I’ve been looking at what I have and how I’ve been using it and it was time for a little Personal Technology Tune-up. I went on a little Data diet – sort of.

One big area was the issue of how many RSS feeds I was subscribed to. In general the major ‘news’ sources, whether public media (BBC, CBC, NBC, Times) or a specific news ‘vertical’ such as gadget news (Engadget, Gizmodo, TechCrunch), tend to uncover the same stories and you end up with the same basic story in 10-20 different versions. So you are getting a lot of noise for a single piece of information. So I removed the more generic sources from my RSS reader and threw a little logic at it. In this case it was Shaun Inman’s logic through his RSS tool Fever. To make this work you need a server to put this on so this tool is not applicable to everyone. But in general, the idea is to break out the more generic ‘mass market news’ and get it away from the more specialized sources that typically get buried by the high volume sources.

Fever RSS Screenshot

Fever boils down the thousands of items in the all those high volume RSS feeds and gives you a top down list of the most popular stories. This provides you a customized filter of all that information which you can further customize by rating your feeds as either “Sparks” – more important feeds, or “Kindling” – less important feeds. So Fever provides you a way to absorb the most common stories. If something really does hit a cord I can email, save, or forward to a number of online sharing service. (More on those services in a later post).

That left my main RSS reader (Google Reader) with about 150 feeds down from almost 400. But the important point is only 10 of these average more than 2 posts/day. and the majority are less than 1 post/day on average. So I go from over 1000 items to read a day to less than 400 on a busy day and less than 100 on many days. Google Reader now only has my friends and colleagues blogs, specialty blogs like Flying, Education, and Photography. I also have a few specific searches, mostly from Google Alerts, that produce RSS feeds which are in Reader.

While 400 might even sound a bit high, a little workflow is required to manage that many. First the general selection of Google Reader opens the door to a number of ways to read the content. Both on any computer I happen to be in front of (via web interface), on any mobile device via the mobile version of the website, but also via a number of dedicated viewers. I find Google Reader a good experience on my laptop or desktop, the mobile version is not as usable. After a recommendation I tried Reeder for my iPhone. The unique iPhone interface makes it easy to triage RSS items and either mark them Read or Star them with a swipe of your thumb. This is an excellent application and it makes a few minutes in the store line or the time on the treadmill usable for scanning your more specific feeds.

Reeder ScreenShot
Screenshots from http://reederapp.com/2/#/2/
Reeder Screenshot, Sharing
Screenshots from http://reederapp.com/2/#/2/

Since I might scan my RSS a few times a day, it is seldom that I have more than 20-30 unread items to review. That is totally manageable.

Most of the RSS I watch is for general information and to stay on top of new ideas and information. When there is an RSS item that is specifically interest that is when I will use the tools to mark it for follow up at a later time. In Google Reader that is by ‘Staring’ the post (hit the S key while viewing) or with similar ease in Reeder on my iPhone. Then once I have time to go to the source and really get into the content I will review the items in my “Starred Items”. This is typically an evening activity at my main computer where I can be more engaged in the content. Once finished the Star comes off.

Adding new feeds, if I ever do feel the need to adding a new RSS feed to either Google Reader or Fever both have a bookmarklet that sits in you browser to add the RSS feed from any page to the tool with a click.

While that covers most of the RSS content, I will give an honorable mention to Feedly. Feedly provides another interface to you Google Reader feed in a Newspaper style format. It also provides a useful toolbar to email, tweet, bookmark, or share a webpage or feed.


My personal SLAs

I’ve worked over the last several years on Service Level Agreements (SLAs) with various organizations. In addition to providing a service standard many SLAs include penalties and consequences. The starting principle remains to set expectations for service. Setting expectations ensure everyone in the transaction aren’t trying to renegotiate the ‘deal’ in the middle of a problem or starts to run a process on the idea that one side can do a ‘favour’ for the other in exchange for relaxing the standards later on.

In reviewing how I spend large chunks of my time, I still spend more time than is truly productive dealing with various types of communications. It struck me that I hadn’t really established an expectation for how I will respond to communications so I am constantly checking all of them.

So here is how people get in touch with me, and here is what you can expect.

Item Type Answer Time(typ.) Service Level(max)
Messaging (work)* Office Communicator 5 min 15 min
Messaging (personal) Instant(AOL, iChat, MSN) 15 min 60 min
Twitter 1 day Never
Facebook 1 day 3 days
Email (work)* Sent to me 3 hr 1 business day
cc to me 3 hr (if Required) 1 business day (if Required)
Forwarded Never n/a
Mailing List or Broadcast email
Email (home) Sent to me 1 day 3 days
cc to me Never n/a
Forwarded
Mailing List
Phone (work)* Desk 90s to Voicemail
Desk Voicemail 3 hr 1 business day
Cellular 30s to Voicemail
Cell Voicemail 1 hr 3 hr
Phone (Personal) Home 120s to Voicemail
Home Voicemail 6 hrs 2 days
Cellular 60s to Voicemail
Cellular Voicemail 1 hr 1 day
In Person While you wait As soon as you leave
(*) = 9-5 Mon to Fri

The goal here is to get to a schedule of looking at all the different sources on a regular but not excessive basis. Presence based services (IM and in Person) are the most immediate. Phone is immediate but not reliable – not always someone at the other end. Voicemail gets checked every couple hours and email gets check 4-5 times a day.

That really should be enough.

Sometimes I wish more things operated on a Life and Death basis

… at least you’d know if you are doing it right.

It is somewhat dark humour to refer to ‘life and death’ as a preferred mode of operation but it does provide a useful view of how you are doing your own business.

A podcast got me thinking about this again. AVWeb’s podcast covers a lot lot flying related material but there are always things that apply beyond the pilots seat.

NASA on the Science of Pilot Error: “AVweb caught up with Dr. Key Dismukes, chief scientist for human factors at the human systems integration division at NASA Ames Research Center.”

I’ve moved between the world of technology, education and flying. I must admit I wish the first two worked more like the last one. It is just too easy to hobble along doing important work mediocrely and missing the less important stuff all together. When the results can be catastrophic you don’t accept the ‘whatever’ standard.

Memory is Good – Paper is better
While knowing your craft and having good skills and habits are the traits of a professional (pilot or other wise), you still don’t leave things to chance. The classic example is the use of the Checklist. Pilots drill on emergency procedures and learn to react to even the most bizarre situations. But, unless their is the most dire situation, you still go to the checklist. Its not that you don’t know what the list is, you don’t rely on memory if you don’t have to.
An example is when I used to do test prep skills with my students. I would tell them if there was specific facts you knew you needed somewhere in a test look at them before you went in the room and before you even started the test – turn the paper over, and right them down. They were shocked that this sounded like ‘cheating’ – the rule it you have to carry the info into the test in your head, no law about how long they had to stay there. Any reasonable person, would not rely on holding critical bit of information and expect to be able to recall them at a critical and stressful moment.

Avoiding Trouble is always preferable

A great Transport Canada safety poster proclaimed

A Superior Pilot is one who uses superior knowledge to avoid situations that require use of Superior Skill

I always loved this line. Too often we let problems degrade to the point that massive skill and effort is required to avoid disaster. Then we pat ourselves on the back for how we pulled it out in the end. This is viewed as a trait of a successful organization and it makes me want to weep. In IT circles the concept of Hero worship or the God complex drives many things that we do. I work with highly complex network systems and the assumption is that it is a big black box that no-one, save the chosen few can understand. Ultimately that is a disservice to ourselves and those our efforts are supposed to serve.
Saving a bad situation is a rush – don’t get me wrong. Whether it is the adrenaline or the glee of wrestling the near impossible to the ground it does drive our ego. Flying had this problem in the 50s and 60s. The post war ‘fly by the seat of your pants’ view carried into civil aviation. It wasn’t stupidity, it was people engulfed in a particular culture. Later analysis would show we probably killed a lot of people as a result. Hell I work in IT, and the culture is apparent every time I need to go into privileged mode on my servers – as in SUDO (for Superuser Do) -not that this should go to your head or anything…

Communicate, communicate, communicate
In the late 70s and early 80s there was a concerted effort to improve the way commercial airplanes were operated. The military hierarchy that prevailed post war flying was a problem. The view that the Captain could fly the airplane into the ground and everybody else would standby for instructions was not acceptable. Flight crews were made up of a group of people and there was a need to start operating as a team! This started with training in Cockpit Resource management (CRM). Prospective airline pilots were graded on their ability to communicate their actions and what need to be done. They was also a need to break up complex tasks and utilize the people around you affectively. Most importantly, there was an expectation that duties would be shared based on the situation not some perceived pecking order.
In teaching the hierarchy was wrapped up in the ‘Sage on the Stage’ model of teaching where all the information flowed from the brain of the teacher out. Whether it was in my flying or in my teaching, I hated that model. Information can come from many sources whether it is the kid in the third row or the flight attendant in mid-cabin. There is value in drawing information from any source and integrating it whether you are handling a classroom or an airplane.

Apathy Stinks

The wakeup calls happen just when you start getting too comfortable. There have been recent examples in flying of pilots getting to complacent and bad things happening. The NWA flight to Minneapolis is probably the widest known but the Colgan 3407 crash in Buffalo is the deadliest with 49 fatalities.

In the FAA report, of the four contributing factors to the accident here are the middle two:

(2) the flight crew’s failure to adhere to sterile cockpit procedures, (3) the captain’s failure to effectively manage the flight,

It’s not exactly the same as using you Blackberry while driving but ….