Saturday, February 24, 2007

Growl: Software - Utility - Notification

I didn't know that I needed Growl. When I read the description, I had no idea how it would help. In fact, I'm still not sure why I bothered to download and install it. I guess I wanted to try a popular gadget. Now it's one of the first applications I install. The best example of how I use it is mail. I use on one laptop, and Thunderbird on another, but I have both of them show sender and subject via a Growl bezel. It's great for GTD! If I'm working in another application, I can see at a glance if the email that just beeped in is worth checking. I used to be so annoyed that I had stopped by train of thought for spam or other non-critical email, but also when I had kept working on a project when I needed to act on something in email. This way the train stays on track (GTD!) unless I need to change gears. It's really useful!

Car Quest, Part 2

After a discouraging start, we found a car we liked! We took a 2001 Audi quattro allroad for a test drive. It has great handling! We were surprised that an all-wheel-drive car would be that smooth, but Audi did start that a long time ago (early 80s? late 70s?) and apparently they got it right. The power, while not necessary, was very smooth and impressive. Comfort, check. Safety, check. Reliability (my favorite mechanic recommended an Audi wagon to me, and he drives one himself), check. Very encouraging!

The down side is the fuel economy. Economy drops for AWD, but also for the ride height (I hope the EPA measured at the highest height so that I could get better mileage by dropping the car). But we found a newer wagon we like!

We also managed to knock some other contenders off the short list. Volvo is off the list based on reliability and service. My friend Heather bought a brand new Volvo, and she was driving down the highway on a pretty day with the sun roof open a short time (3 to 6 months?) later when the sun roof shattered. Luckily she had the sun roof open so she didn't get badly pelted, but that's not cool. She was right next to a Volvo dealership, so she pulled in for service. New car, it's under warranty, even if she bought it at a dealership 45 miles away (she was visiting, and about that far from home; I am assuming she bought it closer to home though). The Volvo dealership gave her so much trouble, assuming that she did something to break it ("It was open, and I was driving; how am I going to break the sun roof when I'm nowhere near it?) that she traded it in for a Mercedes as soon as she got it back from that repair. And she's been happy with the Benz ever since. We had thought a Saturn wagon might be a contender, but they don't make wagons right now, and the older ones have an appalling safety rating, so Saturn is off the list based on safety. The list shrinks! But has one serious contender!

Friday, February 23, 2007


I'm teaching a class this semester (Protocols and Network Management), and it seems like a class about networking should use the network, at least a little bit. So I teach from online class notes. Although it takes a long time to prepare for each class, I've got a routine that makes turning my notes into a presentation relatively easy.

First I organize my notes in OmniOutliner, and save as OPML. Once the notes are ready, I'm almost done! OmniOutliner doesn't handle URLs well, so I mangle text like http:// by running the clipboard through a sed filter. I store the Terminal commands to do this in iSnip, of course.

Next I launch TestXSLT. For the XML, I drag-and-drop the OPML file; for the XSL, I use either my own version of opml2s5.xsl (from decafbad with my change to use relative paths) for each class, or beigeopml2web.xsl from Buzz for the syllabus. (I never got Buzz working on my Mac, but you can download it just for the well-done XSL files.) Then I click on Process and save the HTML output. XML transformations are so powerful!

Then I have an S5 presentation. I un-mangle poorly-auto-recogonized text with the reverse sed filter also in iSnip. Then I have a file that I upload before I dash off to teach class! It's a snap!

Of course, it's not always that easy. My guest speaker taught from an (Impress) presentation. Icky as it sounds, save as PowerPoint. Then register for a free account so you can use the cool PowerPoint to OPML conversion tool at Intelligent Teams / OPML Workstation. After the conversion, you can look at the browser version at you picked/ or the raw OPML at you picked/. Cinch!

But I can go from outline notes to S5 HTML in a very short time, so easily! Ah!

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Good Software

Some general thoughts about good software ... Good software always has a way for me to export my data (in case I find better software), and a way to import data so I can get started with it quickly. Import and export are basic requirements for me. Along the lines of import and export, I also prefer if the underlying file format isn't that hard to translate; that one isn't as necessary, but it's close. File conversion opens up more import/export choices!

I like groups, hierarchical views that I can collapse to see just the big picture or expand to see the details. However, paper files can only go into one folder, but electronic files should belong to several groups so that they're easier to find than paper where you have to guess the right folder. I'm not fond of exclusive hierarchy (one and only group) so that I can file information into several bins (groups). Another way to say that is that I want tags. Tags break free of the hierarchical mold; you can add multiple tags to any selection. These tags, as further requirement, should have Spotlight integration so that I'm not restricted to particular search tools. (I love metadata. If it's applicable, it's one of my requirements.)

I expect to be able to save multiple files anywhere I want. I don't particularly want to mix work and home, say for a note-taking application, but I do want to use good applications both places. Multiple files are required, as is an easy way to copy (rsync) a file to another Mac depending on where I'm working.

I like productivity shortcuts. Productivity can be as simple as good interface design, or keyboard shortcuts, or Growl integration; anything that makes it easier to get in and get out, faster to get back to the real world and my kid.

I like applications that are attractive and enjoyable (this is intangible). Free is a real bonus, especially since I move between applications. There's a reason I need data import and export!

Car Quest, Part 1

As noted before, our current station wagon needs rear shock absorbers. The shocks are $1000 in parts, and aren't the only repair needed. And it will still be a 20-year-old wagon when we're done. That means it's probably time to upgrade. So last weekend, we did online research about wagons. What we want is comfortable, safe, and reliable, with reasonable fuel economy. We want to be able to put the kayak on top, the dog in the back, and of course the kid in the car seat in the second row. Once I pointed out that we could put the kayak on top of a mini-van if we had step stools, that unfortunately opened up the field even more. Ugh! So many choices!

It took all day Saturday, but we were able to narrow the field. We took a Toyota Sienna XLE for a test drive, and it was awful! It had the poor handling and serious lack of comfort of an old pickup truck! (Zero for comfort.) This was a high-end model just shipped the dealership, and it had exposed flashing (sharp! dangerous for pipsqueaks!) and one of the second-row seats wasn't even latched to the floor. (Zero for safety.) All of the nicer accents stopped behind the driver, and everything else was cheap-looking plastic. We were very comfortable saying that we would never buy it. Ever. Even for free. My old wagon's much better than that!

We talked to several people, and it sounds like Toyota quality took a nose dive some time in the last four years. Toyotas at least four years old are pretty good cars! Newer ... not so much. In fact, Toyota has more outstanding recalls right now than any other car manufacturer. I think in their rush to be the #1 car manufacturer, they forgot the good features that made them such a good #2.

Since the Suzuki dealership was next door, we also took a Suzuki XL7 for a test drive. The seats were very comfortable, the ride was decent (still a little truck-like), and the fit-and-finish were acceptable. Much better than the Toyota, but not what we're looking for.

Discouraging start to car replacement. But hey, I can always get this old wagon back in good shape!

Monday, February 19, 2007

Brother Printer Settings

When we moved almost 4 years ago, our HL-1650N Brother laser printer lost its settings. That's fair, since it didn't have power for days. However, there's one subtle setting that needs to be changed from the default for printing to work! Last time, I printed the settings page and used highlighter so I didn't have to figure it out a third time, but I think I can find a blog entry more easily than a piece of paper (even one stored underneath the printer!).

From the printer's home page, go to Printer Settings and then to Printer Setup; change Emulation from Auto to BR-Script 3. Save.

That's it! One teensy change, but it's the difference between printing and frustrated!

Friday, February 2, 2007

Today's Observation

You know you need new rear shock absorbers when ... after a short trip on a country road, your toddler is gripping the sides of his car seat with that crazy grin he gets on wild rides.