Flash Interfaces That Don’t Require Clicking

Two websites that take the click out of using a mouse. I’m sold on the idea. After using them for a few seconds it’s completely natural not clicking. I think it really adds to the experience of the site–the silence, feeling like the site knows what you want before you tell it. Kudos to the designers.
Yamaha Design

If anyone knows of other non-clicking websites or applications, I’m interested.

Software Technology

Free Technical Books for Download

A quick list of free technical book resources online:

  • Comprehensive list of free technical books.
  • PHP 5 Power Programming – OOP in the latest version of PHP. Right click the link to download as a PDF from the publisher’s site.
  • Wiki Books – Community publishing
  • ChangeThis – Sometimes technical, sometimes business related, almost always relevant and thought provoking.
  • Free Java Books – More on Java than one person could read in a lifetime.

Alternating Current, First Hand.

Jenny and Mark in Boston
I’m not much of a scientist, but I sometimes (like I imagine everyone does) I think about how amazing electricity is. One of the things that has always seemed strange to me is how the wall power is A/C and power from batteries is D/C. Alternating current vs. direct current. Yesterday I got to experience A/C first hand. It’s been a long time since I’ve been shocked–I remember pretty clearly the times I’ve felt the power of electricity, notably in elementary school where we all held hands and felt a little zap flow through the group. Later, and more memorably, at some type of fair or event at the Riverwalk in Jacksonville, Florida. There was a demonstration of the power of electricity that required holding two bars as the power was slowly turned up until you couldn’t take it any longer. That was enough for me to realize that I didn’t like being shocked. At all.

Yesterday that all came flooding back as I tried hooking up our new stove. The plastic cover where the giant three pronged stove plug is inserted came off. I noticed it had a bunch of wood dust from where I had to saw the counter to fit the stove in–we’re upgrading from an extremely old drop in stove to a regular, slide in stove. In all my wisdom, I decided that I had better clean the dust out, just to be safe. It never occurred to me to remove the fuse for circuit that powers the kitchen. Once it finally did, I had already experienced an alternating current first hand. It was as if time slowed down for that brief second. I almost saw, extracorporeally, my self jumping back and yelping like a kicked dog as I felt the strong pulses of energy flowing from my fingertips through my entire body.

The feeling is so foreign, so unnatural that nothing I can relate to compares to it. It’s as if you’re being shake violently, except you’re not moving, as if every muscle in your body was tensing and relaxing involuntarily. I can’t stand the feeling. I’ve talked to electricians who tell stories of being shocked and don’t seem to think much of it. For me, it’s on of the most repulsive things that can happen. It’s been years since it happened last, and now after a reminder of what it feels like again fresh in my memory, I hope it will be years, or never, until the next time.


Photo of the Week – Stamps

Stamps from Hong Kong
Stamps from Hong Kong. A painting Jenny ordered on eBay from Hong Kong arrived this week, the stamps are more interesting than the painting -they didn’t send the painting pictured in the eBay auction.

We decided to drop having themes for the photo of the week, giving us the freedom to take pictures of whatever strikes our fancy.


Creativity Test

Creative Dog
I found an article in Scientific American MIND last night at Barnes and Noble that (among other things) talked about ways people can be tested for something as subjective as determining how creative they are. These are the things it suggested.

  1. Ideational fluency – I say a word, “glass” for example, how many words/sentences/associations can you come up with related to the word.
  2. Variety and flexibility – How many uses can you find for an object such as a ring for example.
  3. Originality – Can you develop a solution that no one else comes up with?
  4. Elaboration – The ability to come up with an idea, expand on it then create a solution from it.
  5. Problem sensitivity – Can you recognize the central challenge in a task and the difficulties associated with it?
  6. Redefinition – Can you view a known problem in a different light?

The article also had ideas on things you can do to become more creative:

  • Wonderment – Have a spirit of discovery, curiosity. Question the obvious.
  • Motivation – follow sparks of interest.
  • Intellectual Courage – Take what you know and think outside of it.
  • Relaxation – Personally this has been the best tip of them all for me. I found that for months of my life I was so busy (or thought I was so busy) that I never took time to sit and meditate. When I finally did, it was like a floodgate of ideas were unleashed. It’s amazing what your mind will do if you give it time and room to work.

Very interesting article… I think creativity is something that everyone could use a little more of.


SproutLiner and other WebServices


I admit it. I’m an outlining fanatic. I love About this Particular Macintosh and their great Outliner articles, and OmniOutliner is probably my favorite piece of software on for OS X. I was pleasantly surprised to find SproutLiner, an online only outliner that is free and very easy to use. It takes advantage of AJAX and does a great job at making a browser-based app very user-friendly and intuitive. Kudos to the developer.

If you’re interested, you can see all the WebServices I’ve discovered on my account. There are some fun things in there


Photo of the Week: Spring

Photo of the Week 1 - Spring
This is the first “photo of the week.” I’ve been wanting to get back in to photography for some time now. I took classes in college and have always taken pictures here and there, but have not done anything formal lately. Having a structured way of tracking progress seems like a good way for me to motivate myself to keep going with it. Right now Garrett (a friend) and Jenny (my wife) are the only other particpants, but anyone is welcome to join. This is the first week (April 11-17th, 2005) and the theme was Spring. Next week the theme is Architecture. We’ll keep the themes simple and broad at first, and as we improve specify in both theme and technical requirements.

This week I only had my camera (a Sony DSC-S75, nice but I’d like to upgrade) for one day–Jenny had it while she visited with her family. Fortunately it was a beautiful spring day and I was able to snap a couple shots that I think are interesting. Above is the shot I chose as my photo of the week.


British Sci-Fi

NGC 300 - Another Galaxy
For the past couple weeks I’ve been on a British sci-fi kick… I can’t recommend highly enough The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy (the book, not movie–you have read it… haven’t you?), So Long and Thanks for All the Fish, Life The Universe and Everything, Dirk Gently’s Holistic Detective Agency or anything by Douglas Adams. Despite the fact that these books definitely fall in the category of sci-fi, they are also extremely funny and intelligent–Adams was a genius. I can’t even begin to describe how well he could describe feelings, atmospheres and settings. I’ve been listening to them in audiobook format on my new(ish) iPod Shuffle. Most of them are read by the author which makes it even better.

I’ve also been watching the new Dr. Who episodes on the BBC. I doubt they’ll go down in history as classics, but the casting is great and the stories are entertaining. Christopher Eccleston plays an excellent Doctor–he has this mischievous smile that fits the role perfectly. Billie Piper is also a great character–she’s a good actress and it’s nice to see a main character who, while still very pretty, doesn’t look like a supermodel.


Getting Things Done, One Thing at a Time

La Portada - Picture courtesy Seth DivineyOver the last few months, I’ve discovered several habits that have made me more effective, productive and happy. This is what I’ve found works best:

Write everything down. If I think of (or am assigned) something to do, I immediately get it out of my head and on paper. I break large tasks down into projects and list the next actionable item for that project. Maintaining a list of everything I need to do (no matter how small or large) keeps my mind clear and open to new ideas and allows me to concentrate on the task at hand without my mind nagging me about something else I should be doing instead. I maintain my lists in Tracks and OmniOutliner.

Take notes. I keep short notes on tricks, tips and any information that is useful, but that I might need to recall later. To do this, I use Notational Velocity on the Mac or ScrapBook on the PC. I chose these programs because they are lightweight, easily searchable and unobtrusive. I write down everything that I find useful and might need to recall in the future. For project based information I use a wiki–either PmWiki or Instiki. When I’m not around a computer, or want to be more creative and free with my ideas, I use a pocket sized Moleskine notebook and a Pilot Precise pen that I almost always carry with me.

Stay organized. I keep everything in a folder of its own–both on the computer as well as paper. For paper, I use one manilla file folder per hanging folder, the manilla file clearly labeled and alphabetized. On the computer I use distinct folders for related files, with all of the folders centrally organized in my home folder. Filing is fun. The only thing I keep on my physical desktop is my computer, pens and the materials I’m using to work at that very moment. The only icons that are on my computer desktop are for those files that I’m working on immediately (not sometime that day or week–at that instant) and those that the operating system won’t let me move (the recycle bin or hard disk icons for example). My email inbox is cleared–messages are acted upon as I receive them or soon afterwards, they are then added to a todo list and filed immediately. I have a physical inbox on my desk where things I need to act upon are placed until I can either take care of them or file them (and add an item to my todo list if necessary) for later use or reference.

Stay focused. I only work on one task at a time. I close browser windows, the feed reader, email client, instant messenger, I turn off the TV, phone and radio. Anything that could distract me or break my concentration that can be turned off is turned off while I’m working on a something important. I’ve found by reflecting on my life that the things I’m most proud of were done in an environment where I could concentrate on them completely.

Have a plan. I have a flexible daily schedule that reflects my short and long term goals. Time is alloted based on what I feel is important for bringing me closer to accomplishing my goals. I know what direction I want to go in and try to take steps each day that will get me closer to it. I get rid of excess where possible and try to minimize wasted time. Consistent positive reinforcement, at least once a day, is essential to staying motivated. I listen to inspirational, instructional and motivational books on tape in the car as well as surrounding myself with people, quotes, books and art that will inspire me to constantly seek to improve.

These ideas come from many places–discussions I’ve had with friends, things I’ve learned by trial and error, things my role models do, books I’ve read (notably Allen’s Getting Things Done) and advice from people I trust. I’ve found that when I am most diligent about implementing them my life goes much better–I’m more productive, happier and have a better relationship with my wife and family and a sense of fulfillment with myself. Hopefully after reading this you’ve found ideas that you can use to improve your life as well.