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April 28, 2005

Travelers: Ease the pain of packing with Eagle Creek Pack-It Cubes

I have some psychological problem with packing (I always perceive it to be a lot more of a pain than it really is), and it impacts my desire to travel. I have found, however, that Eagle Creek's "Pack-It Cubes" make packing and managing what I've packed a lot easier.

Eagle Creek Pack-It Cube

The idea behind using cubes is to make packing "modular", which gives you more flexibility and helps you better organize your stuff. For example, they're great for taking advantage of otherwise wasted space in our convertible's small (and somewhat oddly-shaped) trunk; we stuff cubes into the nooks and crannies around our bags for weekend getaways, and it's surprising how much more we can carry using them!

You can pack socks, undergarments, t-shirts, etc. each into their own cubes, so you have all of each type of clothing in the same place. They are especially nice if there is limited space where you're staying. You can put cubes right into dresser drawers and save time unpacking, or empty the contents of your cubes and fill them back up with dirty clothes as you use them. Either way, to re-pack, you just fill your cubes, toss them in a suitcase, and go; they make figuring out what goes where a lot easier!

Cubes are washable, hardly take any extra space, and are part mesh, so you can see what's inside. They come in different colors, so you can organize clothing by cube color, or if you're travelling with someone and sharing luggage, each can use a single color or set of colors to quickly identify what belongs to whom.

There are 2-sided cubes (which can be used for separating wet & dry clothing), half & quarter cubes, and padded cubes, as well as Pack-It Sacs for organizing smaller things, and Pack-It Shoe Sacs. If you're into compressing to save space, Eagle Creek makes compressors too.

If you've ever had your luggage searched, you can imagine how much easier it makes things to have everything separated into cubes, both for the search and re-packing. In general, though, these are a great idea, and well worth the money.

April 22, 2005

Logitech Cordless Action Controller - Great cordless PlayStation controller

Problem

Video game controller cables are a pain!

For as long as I've had my PS2, I've been plagued by either:

  • using controller cable extenders, which result in a mass of cables strewn across the room (while playing), or jumbled up next to the TV(while not playing) or,
  • pulling the PS2 out from beside the TV, so I don't have to use the cable extenders, which results in the PS2 sitting in the middle of the room and having to be moved back and forth all the time

In either case, as I'm sure you know if you don't already have cordless controllers, the cords are a pain. I waited a long time to find a good cordless controller, mainly because I could never get a definitive answer on which is really worth getting.

Solution

Logitech Cordless Action Controller

Thanks to a series of very positive reviews on Amazon, I picked up the Logitech Cordless Action Controller, ($30) and the reviewers were right; it's great!

Logitech Cordless Action Controller

I've had these for a couple weeks now, and played several fast-paced games with them. I've experienced absolutely no lag or delays, and would challenge anyone to detect that they're wireless (aside from the feeling of freedom!) It feels very similar to the original. The only minor drawback is the "D pad" -- the directional arrows on the left side above the analog stick. The original controller has 4 separate directional buttons, but this one has a single rocker pad that you have to move in each direction. The problem is, it's easy to accidentally press it the wrong way, but after playing for a while, I've gotten used to taking the little bit of extra care required to hit the right direction.

The controller has vibration, and runs on 2 AA batteries which are included. To get started, you just insert the batteries, plug in the receiver and play. Cordless controllers totally change the console gaming experience, and this is definitely the one to get. I highly recommend you get some and free yourself from cables!

Pre-sort laundry with a Triple Storage Bin

Among the tips in a recent 43folders excerpt of "Everyday tips from MonkeyFilter" was one that recommends pre-sorting laundry as you take off your clothes, so you don't have to sort it as you put it in the machine.

We've been doing this for years using a Triple Storage Bin, and it works great!

Triple Storage Bin for Laundry

Pre-sorting really does make doing laundry a lot easier, since you just grab the appropriate bag (colors, whites, etc.) and toss it into the machine. If you have the space, this triple storage bin is a good way to do it.

April 10, 2005

Somebody get Jack Bauer a bluetooth headset already!

Is it just me, or does Kiefer Sutherland's character, Jack Bauer on "24" really need a bluetooth headset?

Motorola bluetooth headset

He's always on the phone with CTU, and it's really starting to stress me out to watch him whip out his handset 25 times per episode, often in pretty intense situations when it would be better to have 2 hands free. I can't think of a better justification for this technology than the situations he gets into. A BT headset really would enable him to multitask better and actually be more effective!

The show tries to be "techie" in many ways, and goes to great lengths to emphasize the value of communications, especially mobile, so why leave this out? I guess they really need "Q".

I'm tempted to send the producers email about this; if you see him start using one, you'll know where the idea came from!

April 05, 2005

A good introduction to how to read blogs

I'm in the process of evangelizing blogs & feeds to my friends and family, and just saw Michael Hyatt's post, How to Read Blogs on his blog, Working Smart (one of the first productivity-related blogs I found).

The article Michael references provides a good introduction to reading blogs. Although I could link directly to the article, Michael already wrote a nice introduction, and should get the credit for the reference. Plus, his blog is worth a look, so I've linked to his intro rather than the actual article.

Feed readers -- the tool of choice for reading blogs -- are important technology and will dramatically improve our ability to manage information more efficiently. As the referenced article's author says, it's tough to convince people of why they should read blogs. I think, though, that we can at least help them do so efficiently, and the benefit of feed readers is that they are useful for any syndicated content (e.g. AP news), not just blog content per se. So, even people who aren't "into blogging" can get value from feed readers.

April 01, 2005

Add tags to files stored on your computer

What

Several web services (Gmail, Flickr, del.icio.us, etc.) demonstrate the value of using tags to categorize information. You can tag files on your computer and get many of the same benefits.

"Manually" tagging your own information is easy to do and can be worth the minor extra effort. This discussion will focus on adding tags to the "documents" (text, word processing, spreadsheets, diagrams, etc.) on your computer, but the concept applies just as well to other information like email (Gmail supports tags, but calls them "labels"), pictures, video clips, etc.

Why?

Tags help you find information faster with improved search results and "indirect" searching.

  • Adding tags to a file lets you associate it with terms that come to mind when you think of it. Sometimes we create content related to a topic without directly mentioning the topic within the content. For example, if you're keeping a file of notes about refinancing your mortgage, you may never write the words "mortgage", "loan" or "home" in your notes — perhaps you always write "refi" — but you do want to find the file when you search using any of those terms.
  • "Indirect" searching lets you use the power of that association. The tags you add to your files enable your desktop search tool to create a more meaningful index of the words, and improves the chance of finding what you're looking for, even if you search using a word that's not actually in the document. For lack of a better term, I'll refer to this as "indirect" searching.

(If you're not using a desktop search tool, you should try one; Copernic, Google, and Yahoo are all free.)

Tags allow you to discover, create, and use relationships in your information.

(I added this section on 2005.05.07, after writing it in my article about taking notes.)

Seeing and understanding the relationships among your information allows you to make better use of it. Look at the example of tags below in "Example 1". Since I tagged it with several keywords, I don't have to remember where I filed my notes on the refinance -- I can search for it using various words I'd expect to be related to what I'm looking for, and several of the words I think of will lead me to the notes file, as well as all the other files that have the tags. You can experiment with using multiple tags to develop different levels of tag intersections.

There are many ways to get value from using tags. For example, if you add a "STATUS" tag to your notes, you can search by status. When I search for "STATUS: OPEN", I get a list of all my notes on unresolved tasks and projects, which is another approach to the idea of having a task list. This way, I can easily review & prioritize what I want to work on next, with all the related notes right at hand, a click away.

How

Edit file properties or add to the body

In Windows, (you can do something similar on other platforms) you can add keywords to most (all?) files in just a few steps, by editing the file's properties:

SCREENSHOT: Adding tags to a document
  1. Open the folder that contains the file
  2. Select the file (click once on it)
  3. Open the File menu, (or just right-click)
  4. Select Properties -> Summary
  5. Enter your tags in the Keywords section

For many applications, you can do same thing when you have the file open.

 

Text files: You can do the same for plain text files. I add my tags directly to the body of mine, since my template for taking notes has a "header" section, and it's easy to just include tags along with the subject, contact, and date I already add to each document.

Example 1

SUBJECT: Refinance 2005
   TAGS: home, house, mortgage, refinance, money
CONTACT: Joe @ Mortgage Broker Co. 800-555-1212
   DATE: 09:00 2005.04.01

When

Adding even one tag when you first save the file adds value

Get into the habit of adding at least one tag as soon as you first save your file (which should ideally be soon after you create it). That way, even if you don't add more as you progress, you can benefit from having done it. Some programs let you set an option to be prompted to add summary information when you save your work (you'll only be prompted once, as long as you click "OK" the first time, even if you don't add anything).

You don't have to add tags to all files for this to be useful, but the more you do it, the more useful it will be for you. I don't think I'll go back and do this for all my existing files, but I'm definitely going to do it moving forward. The value of tagging will become increasingly apparent as we begin taking more advantage of the great search tools that are available now and being integrated into future applications and operating systems.

Update: 2005.04.13

This doesn't appear to work with .avi and .wmv files, but does with .mpg and .mov files.

Save your work often!

I tend to be pretty paranoid (well, I'd say "prudent") about problems when using a computer, (though I rarely have any), so I am a bit of a fanatic about saving what I'm doing, sometimes to the annoyance of anyone using a computer while I'm present.

The rule of thumb I use is, save your work every time you don't want to go back and re-create what you've just done. In fact, saving is so easy, there's no reason not to do it constantly, whether it's a document, email, or blog article.

Save button

I was just editing a blog article, and had put a fair amount of time into it, so I thought, "I should probably save a copy". Not 2 minutes after doing so, something else I was doing on my computer caused it to crash. I would have been pretty frustrated by this, but having just recently saved, I only lost a sentence or two.

I think this is a great example of why my "saving fanaticism" is justified, so it seemed worth taking a moment to stop and remind everyone: Save your work often! It's quick & easy, and though you may only rarely benefit from it, you'll be very happy those few times you do.