« April 2005 | Main | July 2005 »

May 25, 2005

To tag or not to tag email?

Maybe the better question is, "Should we take a different approach to tagging email vs. other information?" 

I know a lot of people are jumping on the "don't even bother to categorize email" bandwagon lately, and I'm considering what aspects of that approach are applicable to how I operate.  I've dramatically flattened my work email folder structure in the last couple years, and now I put things into much broader categories.  My over-categorization eventually led to excessive effort to find anything, but that was before client search tools & interfaces began to really improve (e.g. Tbird's quick search & saved search folders).

I often see the argument, "But I can always search my mail!", and that's true.  In fact, as the tools are evolving, I'm becoming a huge advocate of using search, but I don't think that precludes manual categorization; I think it's an additional capability.  People seem to be increasingly recognizing the value of tagging information, and Gmail's "labels" are essentially tags, so why exclude email?   

As good as search tools are becoming, there is still value in doing some "pre-processing" (specifically, I mean categorizing it, using whatever means available, tags, folders, etc.) of email.  As I've noted before, adding tags enriches information and improves search results, among other benefits.

 

A hybrid approach?  Email is different than other information we manage 

I've often prided myself on how quickly I can find any email message, but in fact, I don't refer to my saved personal mail as often as I used to think I would.  I do actually refer to my saved work mail a lot, and  that's largely due to the nature of my job & culture of my team.  By contrast, I tend to refer to my non-email files (e.g. documents, spreadsheets, notes, photos,etc.) quite often.  (Interesting!  I do this much more with my personal files than work files; probably because most of my work stuff is email-based.)  Given that, maybe it's not important that email be as "enriched" as other information.   Of course, this depends on how and for what purposes people use  email.  Perhaps we should use a hybrid approach, relying a bit more on search and expending less effort on pre-processing, since many of us probably:

  • have a more rapid influx of email relative to other information we accumulate
  • have many more email messages than non-email files
  • don't refer to saved email as much as other saved information
These two "balance questions" come to mind:
  • value gained by enriching information (by tagging/categorizing it) vs. time & effort spent time doing so
  • effectiveness of pre-processing vs. searching
Clearly, the frequency of receiving and referring to the information are two of the factors that must be considered.  I think this balance is shifting as search tools improve, but there will always be value in some pre-processing.

I'm curious to know if other people are thinking about this question in the context of email vs. non-email information.  Email definitely has different characteristics than other information, and I think it is important to distinguish the two.  For example, we typically use different tools to manage each -- email client vs. file system browser/command line -- and historically, there have been good reasons for this.  How do you manage & process email vs. other information, and why?

 

Comments

Migrated from my former blog

 

By Taylor - Wed 25 May 2005 08:00 PM PDT

I can always search email....and typically I find that email only has "time" relevance, i.e. you rarely go find that email from a year ago! Therefore I think it is a complete waste of time (and have said this for years) to perform any kind of categorization, tagging or other such "pre-search" work.

That said, there are times when it makes sense to categorize, or otherwise distinguish certain types of email (there are always exceptions to the rule, right?). In the past I have found these to be certain kinds of feeds, e.g. housing/rental listings - which would now be sent to bloglines anyway, or highly relevant threads/conversations, maybe a re-fi or something else high priority.

For everything else, a thread typically is no longer than 4 messages (at the most!) and can be found easily by scanning back (manually, if I used Google maybe I wouldn't, but Yahoo!'s search is somewhat poor) a few days worth, or performing a hard search.

A final reason why I think it's a waste of time to pre-search email - it's a high-volume, medium response type of information, which is why it's relevancy drops off quickly with time. I *already* spend too much time on email, I think it's not worthwhile to spend more (and most of my time spent is not searching).

 

By James E. Lee - Wed 25 May 2005 09:06 PM PDT

Clearly we agree on some general points, but we take our (age-old) arguments/approaches to different extents.

Part of that may be due to the fact that my work is extremely email-centric. I should have made it clear that I rarely refer to my personal mail; in thinking further about it, I actually do so fairly often with my work mail, since email such a part of my job and my team's culture. I'm going to go edit the article to include that point.

For me, such a heavy emphasis on time relevance doesn't work; I am terrible at remembering when a given subject was current, and I prefer to leave that to a computer to tell me. That's part of why I like some pre-processing. I think we'll always be at different places along this particular spectrum, but it's good to keep the discussion going!

May 14, 2005

Create a "thought pad" to record your *draft* ideas & thoughts

Problem

I often lose thoughts and ideas because I fall into the trap of wanting to completely flesh them out before I write them down

This usually results in me just not writing them down at all.  My tendency toward perfectionism with regard to writing is part of why it took me so long to start blogging; I never wanted to make the investment in time & effort to write stuff down because I set fairly high standards for myself to meet before I consider something ok to publish or share.  I still struggle with this, which is why I have several draft blog articles.  In fact, my "Blog Articles I Plan to Write" was one of my early attempts to force myself to just get some ideas recorded, even if not fully formed or explained.

I've always thought of myself as a decent writer, but writing for my blog is a good reminder that writing well is quite a challenge, and editing is where much of the effort really goes.

 

Solution

Create a "thought pad" for quickly jotting down draft ideas & thoughts

I needed to give myself a way to record my thoughts in rough form, before I do any processing on them, so I don't have to worry about whether or not they're fully formed or presentable.  So, I started keeping a "thought pad", where I can jot down stuff that occurs to me during the day, and save it for future reference in case I want to think about it more, write a blog article, or discuss it with someone.

Thought pad concept

I've written before about the benefits of taking notes, which I think is great in many circumstances, but I see this as a less formal/structured, more "personal" activity; it's more like doing periodic "brain dumps".  So far, it's been working great!

 

Benefits

Record thoughts quickly & get stuff out of your head 

Many of my thoughts and ideas "recirculate" through my attention from time to time.  This is inefficient and distracting when it happens in an unstructured way.  It's great to revisit ideas, but not when they're just bouncing around in your head while you're focusing on something else. 

Writing thoughts down (or otherwise recording them) somewhere helps get them out of your head, so you can revisit them if and when you choose.  Eventually, you can start trusting yourself to have recorded a given thought and purposely expunge it from your head until you are ready to consider it further.  This idea of getting stuff out of your head is one of the concepts David Allen discusses as part of his Getting Things Done method.

 

My Approach

On-going draft in Gmail, or send myself email from my smartphone

Currently, my thought pad consists of sending myself a daily message to my Gmail account, which is just one of many ways to manage stuff like this.  If I'm not at a computer, I send myself email via a text message (SMS).  Yes, I can use Gmail mobile from my smartphone, but it's a lot faster to just compose a new text message, address it to "121" (Cingular's SMS-to-email gateway) and use the Insert Text feature to paste in my email address.

Here are some of my methods:

  • Keep an on-going Draft email each day (if I have something to write down, which is more often than I realized!) with the subject "THOUGHT PAD - YYYY.MM.DD".  Gmail makes saving a draft quick & easy (automatic, even!), and unlike Yahoo mail, once you create a draft, future saves are updates to that same message; Yahoo Mail creates several copies, each is a later revision with the most current updates.  I'm sure that works for some people, but I don't care for it.
  • Send it to myself before I go to bed, and label tag it "thoughtpad", so I can easily review all my entries.

  • Date stamp each entry  - By using a daily email message, this happens automatically.  (For me, daily is enough granularity for date stamping; I don't need to know that I had a particular thought at 10:13 on a given day)
  • Keep it all in one place - If you let your ideas get scattered among different systems, it'll be harder to manage them and refer to them.  As I said, if I'm not near a computer when I have a thought to record, I email myself from my phone & tag it "thoughtpad" later.  (Yes, I know I could auto-tag it by sending to "myaddress+tp@gmail.com", but even choosing that  particular email address slows down the process; it's trivial to tag it later from a computer.)   Whatever system you choose to record your thoughts, be consistent in using it. 
  • Keep it simple & quick! - The point is to reduce the burdens of further consideration, putting thoughts in context, formatting, organizing, and the other various things that can make it feel like a lot of time & effort are required before writing something down. Just getting it written down is the point.  You can save all that other stuff for blogging!
  • You don't even have to write full sentences - Sometimes, just a phrase or couple of words is enough to trigger the rest of the thinking about an idea

 

Nothing is set in stone 

I'm not sure that email is the best for doing this, but I confess, I like using Gmail's rich text editor, and I'm having a hard time reconciling that with my general recommendation to use plain text for taking notes, a related activity.  And there's the benefit of Google search, since it's in my Gmail.  But, it's not available off-line (but with my phone, it's really rare for me to be in that state).   I'm also not sure that daily is the right boundary (maybe a weekly thought pad would be better, but then I'd probably wish I'd date stamped each day's entry anyway), but that's one of the reasons I'm such an advocate for recording information in digital ("electronic") form; it's very easy to change.

May 11, 2005

Sharpie users: there's a retractable model!

What?

If you're a Sharpie user (or use another marker that has a cap), you should check out the new retractable Sharpies!

Retractable Sharpie

Why?

Often when you go to label something with a marker, you hold it in your hand. Removing the cap from a typical marking pen is tedious and inconvenient. The retractable Sharpie solves the problem, enabling one-handed marking!

May 07, 2005

Tracking packages - A perfect job for a feed reader

What? Bloglines icon

Tracking packages demonstrates a benefit of using a feed reader

Feed readers, also called "RSS readers" and "news aggregators", are designed to collect (aggregate) information feeds from the sources you specify, and alert you when there's something new. Consider which is easier; visiting each web site you regularly read, or going to one place that keeps an updated list of the new information on those sites?

Bloglines is my current feed reader, and package tracking is a recent addition to the service. There are many feed readers to choose from, but I'm not sure they can all track packages (I'm sure this will be a standard cabability in the future, or even better, package delivery services will all start publishing tracking feeds.)

Why?

Feed readers are perfect for "disposable" information that's only valueable for a while

Tracking packages is one of many reasons to use Bloglines. The service is perfect for managing this kind of information, since it does the work of checking for updates, and the information isn't valuable after the package is delivered. You can also use a feed reader for keeping up to date on other disposible information, like current traffic conditions in your area and new messages in your groups and mailing lists.

Let computers alert you of status changes & new information

Why spend effort on a task that's perfectly suited to computers? I recently ordered something online, and just got a "your order has shipped" email message that includes the tracking #. Rather than having to constantly check on the status, I just plugged the tracking # into Bloglines, which will alert me when there's new information about the package.

SCREENSHOT: Bloglines package tracking

Feed readers are not just for blogging!

Many people think Bloglines and other feed readers are just tools for people who are "into blogging". They are indeed a great way to keep up with constantly-changing information, such as blogs, but they're useful for much more than that. We'll soon start to see more benefits of feed readers, because RSS — and "web feeds" in general — are versitile and powerful technologies/ideas. We're just starting to see innovations in how feeds can be used (for example, to keep up to date on the status of a package).

RSS newspaper icon

Feeds are used for syndicating much of the news information on the Internet right now. News agencies & web sites have known about the advantages of syndication for a long time — think AP. But they're using syndication so their servers can exchange news information; Feed readers allow people to start realizing the benefits of syndication for all kinds of content. For example, all this incoming information generated by syndication soon leads to a need for more efficient ways to manage it, which leads to the use of feed readers to bringing it all together in one place.

To see if a web site you read provides a feed, look for the words like "Site Feed", "Atom", "RSS", or "XML" often in small orange buttons, like this: RSS icon ATOM icon XML icon. Update: A new movement has has been started to standardize on a universal feed icon that looks like this: Feed icon

Hopefully, this gives you a sense of why you'd want to use a feed reader. Most (like Bloglines) are free, and it's easy to get started!

May 06, 2005

Taking notes - why, when, and how I do it

What? 

Notes iconTaking notes improves your ability to focus on interactions and ideas, reinforcing your engagement and comprehension.  Take notes to increase your productivity when planning and managing tasks & projects, having "administrative" conversations.

 

"Administrative" conversations are those you have when you're managing daily administrative tasks and chores, like scheduling appointments, planning vacations,  reporting an insurance claim, calling to change your mobile phone plan, etc.

 

Benefits

Notes are useful while you're taking them as well as for future reference

The value of taking notes is often realized after you've taken them, but even the act of taking them has several "real-time" benefits.  Notes help you:

  • clarify and structure your thoughts & actions
  • keep track of what's happening
  • reference what has happened
  • plan what needs to happen next
  • keep an accurate record of ideas, facts, and information
  • reinforce your understanding of information
  • improve your access to information

...etc.

 

The more you take notes, the more you'll benefit from doing so

I take notes all the time; for example, when:

  • talking to my tax guy
  • researching something I want to buy
  • setting up & scheduling my mom's Mother's Day spa treatment
  • changing my insurance deductible
  • calling to report a cable problem
  • planning a project at work
  • listening to my mortgage guy explain the details of our refinance
  • solving a problem, so I don't have to hope I can remember the solution if it recurs

You don't have to wait until you have a "project" or a meeting to take notes; they're valueable even for minor tasks.

 

You'll always know where you put the information

Think of all the times you get a confirmation number for something; if you're already taking notes, you are ready to write it down as soon as they give it to you, and you always know it'll be in your notes, as opposed to on some random scrap of paper or one of the 47 cloned Post-It notes around your desk.
 

Make your interactions more efficient

I often start a notes file before I begin a task or interact with someone, so I can plan what I want to do and prepare what I want to say.  If I'm calling someone and I have several questions or issues to discuss, writing them down in advance, frees me from having to keep everything in my head while I listen.  I try to summarize & write just facts while listening, then expand later with my commentary/thoughts if necessary.  That way, I can just move on to the next issue or question without pausing to try to remember it under time pressure.  This is a very nice way to work, and I recommend you try it out.

 

Save information in a more reliable place than in your head 

I try to take advantage of downtime at work to write down my thoughts.  Chances are, I'm thinking about things I need to get done anyway, so I might as well record those thoughts so I can start figuring out how to do the things rather than what I need to do.  I almost always find that the result of doing this is a great sense of relaxation. David Allen talks about this idea (getting stuff out of your head) in more detail in his book, Getting Things Done.

No more wasting time refreshing everyone on details 

Have you ever forgotten the details you agreed on with someone while planning something with multiple phases?  Taking notes while you plan (or preparing them beforehand) relieves you of having to try to remember the details, which is often not the best use of your mind.  That's why they invented writing!  Sure, it's usually not a big deal, but you can be much more efficient in your interactions if each conversation doesn't have to begin with "Can you  refresh my memory and go over your recommendations on implementing the third phase again?"

Sometimes having a record of the details can give you the advantage; many people don't have a precise record -- especially from memory --  and when there's a dispute, it's hard to argue against someone who took notes.

My approach and implementation

Some of my thoughts & tips on taking and managing notes

  • Consider using plain text - There are many systems and software packages out there, and I don't want to start a religious war, but at least consider the value of plain text files.  I've never had to convert from plain text, and I can use plain text files on any platform/device/interface; it is truly portable.  (That said, HTML & XML are technically plain text, but I digress...)  Sending an email message to yourself is effectively plain text too, though I have other reasons why not to use email for that, which I'll discuss another time.  If email works for you, use it!  As David Allen says, (I'm paraphrasing) have as many systems as you must, and no more.
  • Use a standard header - Notice that email messages have a "header" section that includes information about the message.  This has several benefits, and they apply just as well to notes.  Consistency  and standardization will almost always serve you well.

    EXAMPLE 01 - Header information ("metadata")

        SUBJECT: Refinance 2005
           TAGS: home, house, mortgage, refinance, money, credit
         STATUS: OPEN
    NEXT ACTION: Call to get a status update
        CONTACT: Joe @ Mortgage Broker Co. 800-555-1212
           DATE: 09:00 2005.04.01

  • Add your own tags - Tags are very useful for organizing and finding information.  You can add your own tags to most documents and start realizing the benefits immediately, such as the ability to create relationships between your various sources of information.  See the example of tags above; I don't have to remember where I filed my notes on the refinance -- I can search for it using various related words, 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.  (I'm sure that soon goes down the path of data search theory...)
  • Sidenote: I'm going to add this point about creating relationships to my article on adding your own tags to your documents; the idea had not yet occurred to me at the time I wrote that article.  This is one of the things I love about blogging; it helps me refine my thinking and consolidate the information and knowledge in my head.  I guess I could say blogging is like taking notes on my thoughts!
  • Add a "STATUS" tag to your header - This lets you search by status (e.g. find all "open" or "closed" issues)
  • Add a "NEXT ACTION" tag to your header - David Allen's "Getting Things Done" method emphasizes thinking about your tasks in terms of what is the next action you need take.  Including this tag in the header section (and in the body, as needed) of your notes lets you search for all next actions, and enables you to scan just the header of your notes and know what you need to do.  (Added: 2005.06.28)
  • Use a standard file naming convention - Use whatever convention works for you, but consistency is key, especially for searching (e.g. "notes * 2004" to find all my notes from last year). 
    • I recommend you include the date at the end of the file name; depending on the type of notes, it may be better to use only the year, or to use the full date (use YYYY.MM.DD, and it will sort nicely on your computer).  Putting the date at the end lets you use the beginning of the file name for sorting by Name; if you have several files with the same beginning but different dates, you can sort them by Name and you'll get automatic date sorting for free.  I begin the file name with "NOTES" because I put notes files in various folders, and want to be able to find the files easily, even just by looking at the names.
    • The convention I'm using now is:

      EXAMPLE 02 - My notes file naming convention

      NOTES - Refinance - 2005.txt
      NOTES - Cingular - 2005.txt
      NOTES - Exploratorium Outing & Picnic - 2004.08.24.txt


  • Use one file per vendor, not one per issue with each vendor  - This way, you know that everything related to a vendor (e.g. Cingular), whether it's changing service plans or resolving problems, is in one place. (Credit goes to Ania for this idea.)

  • Put the most current info at the top - I keep my notes in "reverse chronological order".  This is useful because the most current (and often most relevant) information is at the top, and I don't have to "move" very far to get it or start adding new info.  I'm curious to know whether anyone has a good argument for putting newest at the bottom.  If you do, leave a comment!

  • Add a timestamp to each entry - Sometimes, the when is just as important as the what, or more so.  Timestamping -- which should always include the date -- is incredibly valuable, and you should do it even when you do jot something down on a Post-It.  Timestamps increase the richness of information, and help you search.  Again, consistency is key,so use a standard format & location/structure for your timestamps!

    EXAMPLE 03 - Timestamps & consistency


    16:20 2004.04.20
    ============================================================
    + This is another sample entry

    13:15 2004.04.19
    ============================================================
    + This is a sample entry in my notes file



    • I use plain old Notepad (on Windows) to take notes.  One nice feature of Notepad is that the "F5" key will insert the current date and time.  (I know, I know, there are all kinds of other, better tools.  I'll get around to finding one I like, but for now, Notepad is everywhere, free, and really fast.)
    • Note that the timestamps in the example above are in the format, HH:MM YYYY.MM.DD HH:MM.  I generally believe it's best to go left to right, from most significant (year) to least (minute), but  Notepad insists on inserting the timestamp using the format above.  The more I use it, the more I don't mind, since in practice, the most significant info is often the time, if I make multiple entries in a single day.  So maybe it's not so bad.  In any case, using F5 is extremely convenient, so I'll live with it.

More thoughts & ideas

Search your notes for more than just words & phrases

  • Use a search tool - Modern search tools (e.g. "desktop search" tools from Copernic, [my favorite] Yahoo, and Google) let you apply custom, dynamic filters to your information.   Whichever you prefer, a search tool can be extremely powerful.
  • Don't limit searching to the idea of finding a document or phrase - Think of your search tool as a way to apply filters to your data, or see information through different "lenses".  This enables you to identify and make use of patterns and groupings (e.g. find all notes with "STATUS: OPEN").

 

Managing & archiving notes files

  • Keep only what you currently need right at hand - You probably don't need to frequently refer to notes about something you dealt with in 2003.  Consider creating an "Archive" folder.  The ideal solution would be if we could have something like Picasa's date range selection slider in file system browsers:
SCREENSHOT - Picasa date range selector 


Future additions

  • Structuring & formatting entries
    • Consistency
    • Simplicity
  • Paper's okay, but digital has compelling advantages
    • No holy war please!  I know some people love papger, and it has its uses, but I want to present some facts for consideration.

Add a "STATUS" tag to your notes so you can search by status

Adding STATUS tags to your notes allows you to search for everything that matches a given status. 

I keep notes on almost every task/project/etc. that I'm managing, whether it's changing my mobile phone plan, figuring out what we're doing for Mother's Day, or refinancing our mortgage.

I currently use "OPEN", "HOLD", "TODO", and "CLOSED", but the great thing about tags is they aren't static; you can use whatever tags make sense and are useful to you, and change them as you see fit.

Use multiple status tags - (Added: 2005.05.09) Note that you can use  more than one status tag, for example, not all "OPEN" issues are necessarily "TODOs", but some are.  In those cases, just add "STATUS: OPEN, TODO", and your search tool should find the notes whether your search for "STATUS: OPEN" or "STATUS: TODO".
 
EXAMPLE 01


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




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. 

May 05, 2005

Petzl Zipka Headlamp - Not just for camping

I originally bought my Petzl Zipka headlamp for a camping trip, but it's also useful in a variety of other situations in which you want portable, hands-free illumination. Unlike most other headlamps, this one is extremely compact, since it has an ingenious retractable band. Note that I didn't say "headband" -- the retraction system maintains constant tension, so you can easily strap it to your wrist, a post (for fixed task lighting), etc.

Petzl Zipka Headlamp

I recently used mine during a scheduled power outage in my computer machine room at work; I had to do some work in the dark, and needed to use both hands, so this was perfect!

There's a newer Plus model, too; it's a bit more expensive, but has an extra LED and some other cool features.

Update: 2005.12 - A friend gave me the Petzl Tikka XP for Christmas. At first I thought, "Cool, but I already have a headlamp." That was before I switched this one on. It's not as compact as the Zipka since it uses a standard headband, but it's really bright, and has a "boost" button that kicks the brightness up a couple notches! Plus, it has a sliding diffuser, various brightness settings, and a blink mode. If I could have only one, the Tikka XP would be it, especially for camping, but the Zipka's compact size is really nice for travel, so I'm glad to have both.

Petzl Tikka XP Headlamp

Update: 2006.08.15 - REI used to carry both the Zipka and the Zipka Plus, but no longer seems to. The Petzl Tikka XP is still available.

Photon Micro Light LED Flashlight - Small, lightweight, bright, & goes anywhere

As you can tell from my post about the Leatherman Micra, I really like small, unobtrusive tools that have a high utility/size & weight ratio.

Photon Micro Light

The Photon Micro Light is another tool/gadget I've carried for several years, and it's served me very well & proved its worth time and time again. I am a fanatic about minimizing what's on my keychain, but this light is so small, lightweight, and useful, it's earned the right to stay there.

I have a Photon II, which isn't quite as advanced as the Photon III, but unless it ever breaks (which I doubt), the differences aren't important enough to me that it's worth upgrading.

These come in several colors, (even infrared!) each of which has its purpose. I recently switched from red (good for preserving night vision & working in semi-stealth mode) to blue (extremely bright & visible), since I rarely need the benefits of red. That would have been a good time to upgrade, but I got the blue Photon II on sale, which was part of what prompted the switch.

There are other keychain LED flashlights, but the Photon is the original, as far as I know, and I have yet to see another that has the same mix of size, weight, and quality.

OpenX - A safe, effective package opening tool

At first glance, I thought "I already have a utility knife", but looking at the OpenX site and seeing how easily this tool glides through packages reminds me that opening those "everyone-proof" plastic packages usually requires more force than feels safe.

OpenX demo

Using this tool does look a fair amount safer. Besides, I keep my utility knife in the toolkit in the garage, so I rarely bother to go get it for opening stuff.

OpenX package opener

Since I don't have it yet, I can't actually recommend it, but check out the site, and see what you think. At $5 shipped "today only", it's worth getting!

Credit: Gizmodo

(I could imagine this ending up on the Cool Tools blog, if it's not there already.)

Update: Now that I've had mine a while, I can say it's a really decent tool, and safer than anything else I've used to open packages; definitely worth $5! They treat you to a nice bit of irony when you get it.

May 03, 2005

Leatherman Micra - My favorite pocket tool

I've carried a Leatherman Micra for years, and I love it! It's small, reasonably light-weight, very strong, and has a good variety of tools - I think Leatherman struck a perfect balance with the Micra.

It's surprising how often it's useful to have around; my wife doesn't carry hers, but often asks, "Do you have your Micra?", and I always do. I guess that works well enough since we're together most of the time, but I still like to remind her how handy it is every time she asks to use it. ;)

Leatherman Micra

If I'm wearing jeans, I carry my Micra in the "watch pocket". If you do this, be sure to carry it hinge-up, so you don't slice your fingers by reaching in to get it only to nudge it open and expose the scissor blades.

The full-sized Leatherman tools are great for specific tasks & activities. For example, this year the city required all Christmas trees to fit in the green waste container for disposal. I didn't have a saw, so I used my Wave to cut our tree in half and prune the branches; the saw blade didn't even break a sweat! For me, though, they're too big for every day carry.

I have yet to find or hear of a better general-purpose, small pocket tool. If you know of one, drop a comment and explain why it's better (presuming you're familiar enough with the Micra to be able to do so).

Feed subscriptions are portable, so it's easy to try different feed readers

What?

It's a snap to try out different feed readers with your real list of subscriptions, and doing so enables you to get a true sense of how they compare.

Bloglines logo Rojo logo

I recently found out about Rojo, a new web-based feed reader, similar to Bloglines, which I currently use. I'm very happy with Bloglines, but Rojo has some features that caught my eye (e.g. tags) and I want to check it out.

Why?

It's hard to give a new service or application a fair shake if you don't use it as you do your "real" one.

I wouldn't really be able to see how it is to use Rojo without "living" in it as my primary feed reader for a while. The problem is, I've been deterred from doing so by the prospect of having to add and organize my feeds all over again. I've been using Bloglines for a while, and have a pretty long list of feeds that I've spent a lot of time organizing.

How?

Export your subscription list from one feed reader, and import it into another.

Then I remembered some reference to exporting feed subscriptions to an OPML (Outline Processor Markup Language) file. OPML is — among other things — a de facto standard language for import and export of feed subscription lists. Recalling that made me realize that checking out other feed readers should be relatively easy, since it seems blog-related service providers understand the fact that holding our data hostage is not the way to win users.

So, to test out this process, I

The whole process took less than 2 minutes. I'm sure this is just as possible to do with most combinations of feed readers, web-based or not, these two just happen to be the ones I'm checking out at the moment.