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Personal website of Jamie Thingelstad

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Driving Change

Permalink - Posted on 2017-07-26 11:43

The newest episode of Driving Change with Jeff Martin of Collective Genius is out with yours truly!

You may also like the episodes with Bala Subramanian, Loren Brown, Nate Ober and Lisa Schlosser.


Assembling the Weekly Thing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-24 02:38

I had been interested in creating a newsletter like the Weekly Thing for a while but I was worried it would be difficult to do and quickly turn into a chore. I wasn’t worried about the email part, I knew a service like TinyLetter could deal with that. The daunting part was getting the content structured the right way, even when I the bits of the content were mostly in other systems already.

I knew the main item I wanted to build it around were links to other sites that I use Pinboard to collect. But how to make that easy?

Workflow to the Rescue

As I thought about this I tried a number of options. I tried making an Automator workflow but that was weird, and even worse it meant I had to be on a Mac and I knew I would want to send this when I wasn’t near a computer. I started to look at Workflow and realized it might do the trick.

Workflow has a great feature to retrieve published metadata, such as description and date, from a URL (Get Article from Web Page). Sometimes when I stored URL’s I didn’t write a description so that would be nice. I pulled the data using Pinboard’s RSS feed, put it in a loop getting a variety of data and assembling the draft content as I watched. Voila! 👏

The entire process that I use to create Weekly Thing is based on RSS (mostly) and tied together with Workflow on iOS. I have a collection of workflows that I run, with one master workflow that kicks everything off. The master workflow is responsible for ordering the sections and setting the cutoff date for content, which in my case is midnight of the relevant Saturday. The master workflow spawns the other workflows for each content section, passing into it the cutoff date for content.

Each workflow is then free to do whatever it wants as long as it returns a valid block of HTML back to the main workflow. I can chain as many of these modules together in whatever way I wish. Some of them don’t use RSS, like the photograph one. That prompts me to look at my photos and pick one, then fills in all the appropriate template text for me to finish off.

At the end the workflow combines all these blocks of HTML into one fully assembled newsletter and gives me the option to copy it, share it, generate a PDF or anything else I wish. I’m very happy with this. From here I put it in TinyLetter, do a final review and hit send!

Extensions

Since this is extensible, I can easily add new modules by creating another workflow that is then stitched into the assembly process. And because I’m using Workflow in iOS, I can access a wide variety of data from different systems. RSS is a basic one that many services support, but Workflow can look at my Calendar, Address Book and many others. I’ve thought about weird things like calendar statistics for example. Or if I really wanted to overshare I could pull in recent data from the Health app.

I’ve found that it’s easiest to understand Workflow when you see what other people do with it. Perhaps this will turn some lightbulbs on for others on how they could automate use Workflow effectively!


Introducing the Weekly Thing

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-17 04:00

A while back I tried a way of sharing links to things that I found interesting every week. I did it by making a link blog post and then sharing links to that blog post. I got more positive feedback on those posts than I expected. People really liked them and found value in what I was highlighting.

But I didn’t like the link posts cluttering up my blog. They felt different and I eventually decided to stop doing the posts mostly because I was frustrated with how my website was coming along.

Email Newsletters

I enjoy a number of weekly newsletters. I subscribe to MacStories for the members only Club MacStories newsletter. Patrick Rhone’s One More Thing is a very well written personal newsletter and a treat whenever it comes. Sitting down with an espresso and my iPad to casually read through weekly newsletters is a treat on the weekend.

Email newsletters are ‘old school’. There is something about the medium that feels more personal and more conversational than others. I wanted to try this out, and realized that those old link posts were the right foundation to build upon.

Next I wanted to see how hard this would be. I quickly looked into TinyLetter and realized it would be pretty easy. I like that TinyLetter exists as a way for personal email newsletters. It’s very easy to use.

Weekly Thing

With the basis of my links I decided to put together a newsletter. I went with the somewhat goofy name of the Weekly Thing playing off my last name. Total aside, but I used to own the domain thing.org in the mid 90’s. I was at the U of MN at the time and I got an email from The Thing, a museum in Germany, asking if they could have the domain. I transferred it to them, seemed the right thing to do. My future as a domain squatter was determined at that time.

I’ve been quietly publishing the Weekly Thing for a few weeks now to an invited group of friends. I’ve been testing out my automation and the structure. I’m very pleased with how it’s working and this week put the [subscribe] page live and started sharing it. My first goal is to get to 100 subscribers and continue to flesh out the content. I hope you all enjoy it!

Go to the Weekly Thing to subscribe!


OmniFocus Tip: Using Context Notifications

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-09 12:04

I use OmniFocus as the core of my GTD system. I also keep notifications on my phone to a minimum, including for OmniFocus. OmniFocus on iOS has the ability to give you a notification when you enter or leave a context with a location. This is pretty handy and I’ve used it for some specific locations associated with my Errands context. Errands : Hardware store gives me a nudge if I am nearby and have tasks available. I’ve never used this feature with Home and Office contexts because it would be very noisy.

There are times however when I would like OmniFocus to be in my face at home or at the office. I may have a task in OmniFocus that I need to do when I get to work on Monday morning, or when I come home on Friday evening and a notification would help. I realized there is a really simple solution to this.

I have a Office context, and inside that context I created a Office with notification context. The context with notification has a location and notification with it.

Now I can easily put a very small number of tasks in the Office : Office with notificaiton context and know I will be notified when they are avialable. I’ve created a similar context for Home with notificaiton. This has already allowed me to not forget a couple of time sensitive things.


Thinking in Decades

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-06 02:35

This week I worked with Yahoo! customer support and deleted my Flickr account. I had deleted my Yahoo! account a couple of months ago when they had their second massive security notice of compromised accounts. When I got a notice letting me know that the Privacy Policy for Flickr was changing in association with the sale to Verizon I wanted to delete my account. I have no interest in Verizon hosting my photos, and frankly I don’t use Flickr anymore.

That was when I realized I had no way to access my Flickr account since the Yahoo! account was used to connect to it. I was happy thought that Yahoo! customer support was quick and made this easy to get done.

My Flickr account is no more now. I created that account probably a decade ago. Long before it ever became part of Yahoo!, back when Flickr was amazing and cool. Looking back this is a good reminder of how long our content lives online. Yet another example of how companies come and go and services come and go. To all of you using Facebook to keep family photos and pictures of your kids, think about this. This is why I feel so strongly about owning my content. It really isn’t that hard.


Turing Tumble on Kickstarter

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-30 12:06

My mother sent me a link to Turing Tumble on Kickstarter and the video totally got me. It is a super cool concept and a great way to explore the fundamental concepts of computing. The bits that can be flipped and other various objects are really neat.

I backed this and am looking forward (and hoping!) for the November delivery. This will be a great present for the kids (and me!) for Christmas.

The results of the Kickstarter are impressive. It has been live for less than 1 day and it’s very close to hitting it’s goal!


Speaker Suggestions

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-27 02:35

Through my work and being an active member in the technology community, I have a chance to see a lot of people present. Some of these are formal presentations with slides and ceremony, many of them are demos. As a result, I get a lot of chances to see people lead an audience through a topic.

Here are some things I see speakers do that I would recommend never to do.

“Utilized”

I challenge if there is any place where utilized is a necessary word. In conversation, we may talk about how we use something, and if discussing systems, it’s common to discuss the utilization of something. But utilized? The most common place to see this word is on a resume. I tend to find this word starts coming out when people feel a need to formalize or make a topic bigger than it is. Speakers often talk about how teams utilized something to their benefit. You just used it.

Also, apply the above to leveraged. Keep your vocabulary simple and conversational.

This is worth the time

Sometimes speakers will start out by saying we’ll “get through it quick.” Maybe a reference to “I’m the only thing between you and happy hour.” The assumption is this is humor, but it immediately frames your listener to start thinking about the next thing, instead of you. Either your content is worth the time or not, wether it is before lunch or happy hour shouldn’t impact that.

Related to this is an even worse pattern of “I’ll try not to bore you too much.” Self-deprecation is a common thing from speakers, but I really can’t think of a worse way to start your presentation.

Don’t steal your thunder

An anti-pattern I see very often is a presenter giving a demo but before the demo showing a slide that has bullets for all the things they are going to demo. It’s immensely more powerful to show the demo! There are a handful of capabilities that you want to highlight, but don’t highlight those in a static bullet list before hand. Your audience wants to see it working, and you’re stealing your thunder by highlighting the capability before people see it!

Imagine if before unveiling the iPhone Steve Jobs would have shown pictures of it in slides, highlighted all the key features and capabilities, all in slides. And then after you’ve seen all that, showing you the demo. You can’t imagine it because it wouldn’t happen. Show the product, hit your key value points afterward when the audience has taken in the awesome stuff you have created. Those are the items you want them to leave with, and they will care more about them after they see it working.

I believe there is a corollary to this. The more “slideware” and bullet lists that precede showing working software — the worse the working software is. The slides and bullets are compensating for a poor solution.


Using Project Templates

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-20 01:31

I’ve seen and read about people using project templates for a while, but I’ve never adopted them myself until recently. Mostly I found many of the means of managing project templates to be bothersome and I never dug into it further. That has changed recently, and I think many systems now support robust ways of importing projects and using them as templates.

What is a Project Template?

A project template is a set of actions and tasks that can be brought into your task management application. It’s significantly more powerful if the templates allow for some variable substitution for words or dates so that it can be customized for each use. It is even better if you can do some minor calculations on things like dates and indicate that one task is deferred or due relative to the date of another task.

Use Cases

I have found project templates to be particularly useful for three types of projects.

Frequent Activities

The most obvious use case for project templates is for recurring, relatively frequent events. At the office, I have multiple meetings that happen on a certain schedule, such as a team all-hands. Each time I do one of these meetings, there are a set of tasks I need to do. Determine agenda, prepare a draft, get input from others, arrange a guest speaker. Using a template for these events is very helpful.

Business trips are another good example. Each business trip has a series of before, during and after actions. I put these in a template with the proper variables and relative dates to help with trip planning and preparation.

Multiple Instances

One area where templates can be great is when you have multiple instances of the same thing with a slight variation. The best example I have for this is doing performance reviews. I have to write several of them, and each one has multiple steps. They are mostly direct copies of each other, but the person is different and possibly the dates. To make this easier I create a template and then run it for each person and can quickly build the multiple sets of projects that I need to get done for this process.

Infrequent Activities

I have found project templates to be a good way to make improvements to things that I rarely do. In fact, this is probably my favorite use of templates. It feels like a way to apply continuous learning to things you do once a year.

The template I made for Daylight Savings Time adjustment is a great example. I do this twice a year, and every time I tend to forget one or two clocks. There are also a couple of clocks that are tricky, and I often end up searching the Internet each time for instructions.

This year I made a project template for this that helps in many ways:

  • I put them in walking order so that I can optimally move through the house and not backtrack.
  • I made sure to capture the clocks that I tend to miss, like the timer for the aquarium lights.
  • For a couple of clocks that are very confusing to update I put the relevant notes directly in the tasks so I don’t need to search.
  • We have some clocks that update themselves, like our thermostats. They are not on the list so I don’t have to try and remember which ones I can ignore each time.

Now that I have a template I can do it faster, more efficient and know I didn’t forget anything.

A similar example to this is a recent template I made for Apple OS Upgrades. I have Macs, iPhones, iPads, Apple Watches and Apple TV’s that all need upgrading. I now have a template so I can easily capture those activities when needed.

Another example that I’ve come to like a lot is project templates for major holidays. Christmas is a perfect example of a very fun time of year but also a complicated time. Sending Christmas cards out, traditions and getting presents add up to a lot of things to make sure you get done and don’t have a bunch of last minute things to do.

I created a template for this and was able to capture all of the main things that we do each Christmas. This let’s me have more confidence that I do not forget anything. The last item on these templates is usually a task that suggests to “Update template with any changes from this year” which is a great way to get better for next year.

Scheduling

Project templates are handy, but often you want them to get setup on a schedule. I’ve decided to keep this out of my task management system and instead I have a task list in the Reminders application called ‘Project Reminders.’ This is where I set the annual triggers to create various projects from their templates.

Next…

I purposefully kept this post independent of the tools that I use so I could just make a case for using project templates in your personal GTD system. In a future post, I’ll talk about the tools that I use to implement this.


Horseshoe Pits Completed!

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-18 02:30

Last weekend we finished putting in the horseshoe pits at the cabin and I’m very pleased with the result!

We have a lot of yard games at the cabin and I though it would be a lot of fun to add horseshoes to the mix. I honestly didn’t think that much about it and put a horseshoe set on my wishlist for Christmas. After getting the set I realized I had bit off more than I realized.

I found a great site for horseshoe plans. My brother-in-law helped me get the wood and cutting done and unfortunately the winter came before I got it all done. We finished digging the pits into the ground this spring after the ground thawed.

I really like the throwing platforms and the backboard. This is a more complex pit than you absolutely have to have, but it’s really nice to play on. Now I just have to work on my game!


Minnesota Original: Layne Kennedy

Permalink - Posted on 2017-05-11 11:37

My friend and photographer Layne Kennedy was recently featured on Minnesota Original. I met Layne when I took his Wintegreen Dog Sledding workshop and he’s a great photographer, teacher and amazing story teller.


A Minnebar Ticketing Proposal

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 23:00

I’ve recently put some thought into how tickets are managed for Minnebar and Minnedemo. I’ve been very close to these events for a long time, and on the board for several years now, while our ticketing process has remained relatively unchanged over that long time.

The Problems

Why spend cycles thinking about the ticketing issue? I think there are some large problems with the way that tickets are managed.

Timeliness

The ticketing process encourages people to act immediately upon issuance and get tickets since they will all be taken immediately. Often people will take a ticket before they have even made sure they can attend. This timeliness requirement unfairly penalizes people that are occupied and not watching Twitter at that exact moment.

Understanding Churn

The current process reduces our ability to understand how many people have stopped going to our events. We routinely see a high number of “first-time” attendees, and along with that a high amount of churn. Is the churn because people weren’t ready the second that tickets came out, or because they don’t want to come?

Redemption

Many tickets go unused. We manage around this by predicting what percentage of tickets will be unused, but it is more art than science. The rushed nature of ticketing may decrease redemption rate as people just jump on tickets as quick as possible.

Quantify Demand

All of these events “sell out” (to the extent a free event can sell out) within minutes. This removes our ability to know the true demand for the events. If 800 tickets are picked up within 15 minutes of release, how many people wanted to go? 900? 3,000? That is anyone’s guess.

Limitations

When considering how to better manage tickets, it is important to consider some limitations.

Identity Is Unknown

There are numerous ways to manage ticket redemption that would focus on reputation. Mainly this is a means to solve redemption and put rules in place such as not being allowed a ticket if you don’t use the last three tickets.

Cannot Be Complex

We’ve entertained some options that avoid identity and reputation but encourage careful assignment of tickets. The most commonly referenced one is to use some form of a cash deposit. For example, you would pay $5, $10 or $20 to get your ticket to the event and that money would be refunded back to you when you show up at the event. This would certainly reduce the number of unused tickets but at the cost of managing a significant amount of complexity and risk.

Requirements

Before looking at the proposal let’s recap from above what our requirements are:

  1. The solution must not require managing identity. You cannot know a ticket holder from one event to another.
  2. The solution would ideally allow us to understand how many people would like to come to an event.
  3. The solution would be able to manage preferential access for certain groups.
  4. The solution would allow for improving the precision of “no shows”.

It is important to note that while “no shows” are something to consider, I believe it is a lesser problem than understanding the true demand for the events, churn and making the ticketing process more equitable.

Proposal

Taking these objectives into place, I propose the following ticketing process.

Phase 1: Get in line!

First thing, get in line. Rather than distributing tickets in groups we propose everyone get in a line (or list) to attend. This line opens up at a prescribed date and time, and anyone and everyone that wants to come to the event would then get in line. The line will close at another prescribed time, but as long as the line is open more and, more people can get in line.

This line dampens the urgency to take immediate action. Please note though that Phase 3 does reward people for getting in line early. It is valuable to the organization to get a sense of demand quickly, so getting people in line sooner is a good thing. However, no matter when you get in line you may get a ticket.

Phase 2: Priority Access

Once the line is complete and closed we then deal with priority access. There are some groups that get priority access to the events and are guaranteed a ticket:

  • Volunteers: Anyone volunteering at the event.
  • Community Supporters: Individuals (not companies) in the community that have donated $100 in the last 12 months.
  • Sponsors: Packages get different numbers of tickets. If you are in line under one of those slots you get a ticket.
  • Students: We look to encourage high school students to attend our events, and wish to give them priority access.

Once these special groups have priority access, we’ve used some of the tickets and now have a smaller line.

Phase 3: Ticketing Groups

The remaining line is now divided into groups. This is where some further math and heuristics could be applied to better manage tickets over time. For now, just assume that all these numbers are potential variables and you could optimize the solution over time.

Take the remainder of the line, let’s say there are 1,000 people still left, and for easy math put them in 5 groups of 200 people.

Each one of these groups is then ticketed. Remember that these groups are in the order they got in line, so the early people are in the front and the last person to get in line is at the end in position 1,000.

We also at this point know how many tickets were assigned to priority access groups and can make a determination about their “no show” rate. Likely those groups have a very high redemption rate, so assume most are used. The remaining tickets will be assigned to the five groups of 200 people in a decreasing percentage. All of the people in group 1 get tickets. 70% of the people in group 2 get tickets. 40% of the people in group 3 get tickets and so on until we get to something like 10% of people in group 5 getting tickets.

Over time these groups may be able to provide more accurate data on redemption, and we may know that Group 1 people redeem tickets at a higher rate than Group 5 so we can assign more tickets in Group 5 knowing more will go unused.

Additionally, it is important that any tickets that get returned before the event, when people realize they cannot come and notify us of that, should be returned to the group it was assigned to. So, if a person in Group 3 returns there ticket, it should go to another random person in Group 3. This could be managed by creating different classes or types of tickets for each group. If there are no people left in that group without a ticket, like Group 1, then flow the returned ticket to the next group in line.

Summary

This may seem complex at first, but I think the implementation could be reasonable. Eventbrite could still be used to get in line but getting a “Line Ticket”. The list of registered email addresses could then be manipulated with a small program to do the rest.

I do think that this would meet our goals of:

  1. Understanding true demand for the events.
  2. Allowing special access to some groups.
  3. More fairly assigning tickets to the remaining people.
  4. Minimizing the urgency around ticketing.
  5. Optimize “no show” management over time.

Very importantly this would also help us understand people that stop coming to events. If you get in line we know you want to come, but if you don’t get in line many times in a row you are deciding our events aren’t worthwhile and we’d like to know that.

If you have suggestions or comments contact me. If you would like to help solution this that would be great too!


Creativity Vampires

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 19:00

I have observed in myself this dynamic of low-effort, low-value activities removing the need to do high-effort, high-value activities. The graph below illustrates what I mean.

Urge to Write over Time

The more I tweet, the less I blog.

Tweets are easy, simple and fast. They are also low-value, ephemeral and simple. When I tweet I satisfy this urge that I have to write and express myself. It reminds me of constantly taking the pressure out of a system.

The problem with this is that I never build up that urge to express a more complex thing. I find that if I limit these low-value frequent outlets, I eventually feel a pressure inside me to create, to express myself. Then I make something that is much more valuable (at least to me!) and expresses a complete thought as opposed to a digital belch. It’s not even an option to me because I will get a need to do it. That need never happens if I’m constantly relieving the pressure.

There is something here related to the concepts in Amusing Ourselves to Death, which was written before the social sharing digital world we are in now, but continues to be relevant.


Steve Wozniak at Augsburg College

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-18 18:00

Steve Wozniak, or “Woz”, was a guest at Augsburg College today and it was a pleasure to see him talk about his early days in technology and his first experimentations with microchips which eventually led to the creation of the Apple I and beyond.

Woz is an amazing person. He individually did more to create the personal computer industry than possibly anyone else. He is a creative genius with technology. He so clearly is passionate and understands the design of technology like nobody else. On top of all that, Woz just seems like a nice person. Woz seems like someone that you’d love to have dinner with and just spend time discussing the world. He’s an “engineer’s engineer”. You could give yourself a nearly impossible challenge just by looking at your project and asking “What would Woz do with this?”

Steve Wozniak at Augsburg College

Some highlights from the discussion with Woz:

  • Woz shared many stories of working with Steve Jobs and how the two of them worked together. He also took great lengths to highlight the role that Mike Markkula played and referred to him as the “third founder” of Apple.
  • Woz talked about his early experimentation with technology and how he focused on “smiles minus frowns” as a simple way to guide himself in life. Add up your smiles, minus the frowns, and if that works, you’re going the right direction.
  • I chuckled when Woz mentioned that the Homebrew Computer Club met every two weeks, which is now by far the most common iteration length for agile development teams.
  • The open culture of the Homebrew Computer Club is one of those early framing events that continues today in open source software. Everyone was sharing designs for the betterment of the group and the industry.
  • The Apple I design was given away to the club, but Woz had the Apple II design already done, and they knew that was what they would build Apple Computer on.
  • Woz highlighted the role of “builders and makers”, and that that continues today.
  • Much of Woz’s designs were driven by strict constraints of time and money. The original Apple designs were done with minimal components to reduce cost and elegant designs. The Apple floppy drive that Woz created used 8 chips compared to 40 or 50 in other drives. Woz also shared the funny story how the floppy drive was made in two weeks so that he had a reason to go to CES in Las Vegas.
  • It was fun to hear Woz highlight the importance of continuing to learn and doing that through side projects. He would design systems all day, and then for fun, he would design systems for a different purpose. Always learning and driven by passion.
  • It was so fun to hear underneath Woz’s engineering drive a constant desire to focus on the person. The person is always more important than the device. Figure out how to make the device usable. He highlighted how his original design for the Apple I and Apple II were driven by this, while others in the industry just showed complicated “computers” with switches and buttons.


Minnedemo 25 Recap

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-17 06:00

Minnedemo 25 was last night, and it was fabulous. I’ve gone to all but a few Minnedemo events and realize that sometimes the demos are just a bit better than other times. Last nights was a great serving of everything that Minnedemo can be. We had very polished demos with clear paths to markets alongside passion projects. We had a team that was formed only five weeks prior at a hackathon. We even had the perennial bombed demo due to technical difficulties that still gets shown the warmth of the community.

Minnedemo 25 Panorama

Update (Feb 22): Tech.MN posted videos of all the demos.

Talkative Chef

A group of 8 women that met at Hack the Gap built this product in just the last few weeks. They started working on this concept and showed a pretty well put together alpha of that work. The product helps you cook and bake hands-free by using voice commands with your computer. It worked well, and it was impressive to me that it was all done in the browser. As soon as they showed it, I thought this should be an Alexa skill package, but they highlighted that they were doing it in the browser to make it accessible to a wider audience. It’s not clear to me that this is a company or if it’s just a hobby project, but the concept of hands-free guides makes a lot of sense and in more than just the kitchen. The same concept could apply to repair projects in the house and having a screen to show diagrams or pictures while you talk could be helpful as well. Cool idea, well executed, great demo and great to see an all-female team building this, and it coming from a hackathon.

VennPT

Interesting take on preparing physical therapy programs. They showed a platform that allowed a PT specialist to design a program and then assign it to their patients. Very similar in concept to what you would have a personal trainer do by building workouts and assigning them. Two unique features that hit me in the demo:

  1. The ability to record on your mobile a brand new video and create a unique exercise just for this one person. This is probably a big deal with physical therapy where you might create a specific activity for someone and to be able just to record and produce it right away seems compelling.
  2. Capability to export the assigned PT program using a text template into an EMR system makes sense for the therapist. I would imagine that is a significant time saving for them.

Inkit

This demo reminded me a bit of Twilio. Twilio took something old, plain old telephone service, and make it accessible via API’s and the cloud. Inkit feels similar in taking something old, direct mail, and making it accessible in the way that modern digital marketers think of the world. Makes sense to me but strikes me as a market with a lot of competition. Well done product and demo.

EnduraData

I was looking forward to this demo because it was the most technical of the bunch. EnduraData has software that moves large volumes of sensitive data between multiple locations and does it better, faster. You can buy expensive devices to do this, but their software delivers the same benefit. Unfortunately, to do the demo, they had a virtual machine in another country set up and were going to shuffle data around, and the WiFi in the room failed them. They were going to try showing a video as a backup, but that couldn’t work either. I was excited that this was the only demo of the night that was running Ubuntu, but bummed we didn’t get to see it.

Newt One

Newt One is a non-violent game concept where the characters only have a positive impact on the game environment. The concept was cool, the art and music were very nice, and it looked fun to play. We don’t get a lot of game demos at Minnedemo, so this was fun to see.

Trout Spotr

Trout Spotr stole the show and is one of those passion projects that I love to see at Minnedemo. The presenter started by saying “I built a website for my Dad.” and then went on to show how he used open data, various software packages and created a stunning website that allows you to find trout streams that are on public land. The visuals were well done using D3 and mashing up a lot of other web technology. The presenter also had a ton of energy and excitement. Great demo!

Player’s Health

Players Health has an interesting product that allows youth sports programs to deal with injury information in a much more sophisticated way. This demo opened the door to a problem that seems significant but underserved and showed a service that provides a lot of value to parents, coaches and even creates a data set that can be used to improve the youth sports world. I was impressed by the quality of the demo and that it appears to be serving a real need around injury management.


Sending Email to OmniFocus Using Flow in Office 365

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-15 06:00

This workflow is mainly for people that use Office 365 and are looking for an easy way to selectively put emails into OmniFocus or another task management system that can receive tasks via email.

I’m always looking for easier ways to move an email from my Inbox into OmniFocus. I only put a small number of emails into OmniFocus, but I’d like it to be nearly automatic. Some emails I always want to send to OmniFocus, and for those I use a mail rule to automatically route. I also use Sanebox’s SaneFwd feature to do something similar. But those are only good when it is a sender that you always want to go to OmniFocus. What about when you selectively want to grab a couple emails?

I started wondering if I could do something with Microsoft Flow. For those that don’t know, Flow is very similar to Zapier and is in the same category as IFTTT. I would put it closer to Zapier since it handles much more complex workflows with loops, conditionals and also connects to more complicated systems than IFTTT. Flow was launched less than a year ago.

Mail rules can only fire on a mail activity, such as an email being received. Once it’s received and in your mailbox mail rules don’t have a trigger event. Flow, since it is directly integrated into Office 365, can see a bit more and has a trigger for “When an email is flagged”. That caught my eye right away and within a couple of minutes I had this workflow for sending things to OmniFocus by flagging them in my Inbox. The “To” address should be your OmniFocus Mail Drop address.

Flow - Flagged Email to OmniFocus

Look at the 2nd step in the workflow to “Get user profile”. I’d like these items to be associated with who the email came from, and my pattern for that is to prepend the persons name to the task seperated by a colon. Since Flow is part of Office 365, it can talk to Active Directory and get things like the “Display name” of the sender. I could also include their phone number or any other data that was in Active Directory as well.

I did also set two advanced options to avoid getting raw HTML in the OmniFocus task.

Flow - Advanced Options

This workflow works really well. It triggers quickly and is as frictionless as I think I can get. I also really like that Flow gives some extensibility if I wanted to pull in other data related to the person or message. Most of my limitations there are related to what Mail Drop can interpret.

Couple things about Flow:

  1. While Flow allows you to author workflows on the iOS app I found it really clumsy. I’d do the authoring on a web browser and computer.
  2. There are some really interesting options that can tie Office 365 with Azure Functions using Flow. You can see there is some brilliance here on how this is implemented.
  3. If you like IFTTT and are in an Office 365 environment at work, you definitely should look at Flow. It has some powerful automation options.


Kubbchucks at 2017 Loppet Kubb Tournament

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-04 06:00

It was a surprise to me that this was our 6th year playing in the Minnesota Kubb Winter Tournament. When we were getting ready to play there was some discussion about it, and I thought it was our 4th. A careful accounting of the years brought it to 6 though, and as Eric Goplin started the tournament, we gave a loud shout when he called out any teams that had been there for six years, which is how old the tournament is.

Kubbchucks at Minnesota Kubb 2017 Tournament

Garrick, Jim and I made our way to the pitches and took our spot in Group D. We played We B Kubbing, Ice Kubb’s YouKubb Channel and Little Lebowski Urban Achievers in the round robin. The Lebowski’s were the 2016 Consolation Champions. We were the seed into the group with our T-9 place from 2016.

We were able to make it through the round robin 3-0. Our match against the Little Lebowski’s didn’t complete, we were ahead 1 game to 0 and ahead on the baseline when they called time. We were close to closing it out but didn’t get it done. The winter tournament has strict 45 minute time limits for round robin matches. The Ice Kubb’s we finished pretty quickly with a 2-0 win and were able to retire to the warming tent for some chili and a beer. We B Kubbing we started ice cold with and couldn’t hit anything. We lost our first game but the batons came back, and we finished it out 2-1 with plenty of time left.

We went into the championship bracket and the round of 16. This is dangerous territory for the Kubbchucks, it’s where we typically fall apart and lose terribly bad. We steeled ourselves for it and went in throwing well. It all worked out, and we took a 2-0 match against a team that I can’t recall the name of. All of the round of 16 games ended quickly, so we moved quickly on to the next round and played Strike Without Warning in the quarterfinals.

Strike Without Warning took us down so fast we hardly knew what was going on. They hit pretty much everything they threw at, and we were out 0-2 within about 15 minutes. We didn’t have a chance. They also went on to win the entire tournament.

We had a great day of Kubb and left with our best place ever, T-5. We’ll get a nice seed next year which hopefully we will use to our advantage for a 7th year showing! If you’re looking for something fun to do in the winter and live in the area, you should get yourself to the Minnesota Kubb Winter Tournament!


Collaborative GTD?

Permalink - Posted on 2016-08-22 05:00

A friend of mine that has been on the path to GTD for a long time now recently emailed me about using GTD in a collaborative environment. His specific question was pretty direct:

OmniFocus is awful in a collaborative environment. What gives?

I’ve been down this road, and his question prompted me to peel the layers back a few times on this issue.

What is GTD?

Let’s first start by taking a look at how Getting Things Done describes itself.

Getting Things Done (GTD) is the proven path to getting in control of your world, and maintaining perspective in your life.

We see a focus on “your world” and “your life.” Nothing about collaboration there. Let’s continue.

Much more than a set of tips for time management and organization, GTD is a total work-life management system that transforms overwhelm into an integrated system of stress-free productivity.

Now we see some other concepts like “work-life” and “stress-free,” but again nothing about collaboration.

I’m highlighting this definition just to level set on the objectives of the GTD method. I revisit this because like my friends question I have many times thought that it sure would be great if I could extend my GTD system to my colleagues at work. Wouldn’t it be great if the “Waiting for” context could be seen not just by me, but those that I’m waiting for? It seems like a little step to make, but when you extend it further, I think it’s a step too far.

GTD is Personal

I’ve been practicing GTD now for several years and if there is anything that I can guarantee it is that every person has a slight personalization to their GTD system. I use a combination of OmniFocus, Notes (built-in Apple version) and Due. Within those tools, I have a system of contexts, projects, and folders that optimized to my way of managing my activities.

I can guarantee that my structure of tools and the way that I use them is different from yours. Even if you use the same tools the way that you use them will be different. This is part of what makes GTD work for a wide variety of people. It isn’t prescriptive on the how, just the what. Go ahead and use note cards and a physical inbox or use electronic tools. It doesn’t matter.

To use a GTD tool in a collaborative environment would need commonality. It would require that we agree that the context “Work → Computer” is a valid context and that it means the same thing. Without the freedom of tooling and configuration, I don’t think people would be as successful in using GTD.

GTD isn’t Project Management

While GTD has many of the nouns and verbs of project management, it isn’t. It’s easy to look at the list of projects in your GTD tool, and the associated next actions and think of it like you are doing project management. However, you are not. This is a very lightweight version of project management.

Extending GTD tools into a collaborative environment is attempting to turn them into a project management tool. Leave this to the world of specialized tools like Microsoft Project or OmniPlan. GTD tools don’t have the proper capabilities (and should not) to do this type of work. I would suggest that when people ask about collaborating with GTD, they are asking about doing project management across a team.

What you can do!

I don’t see a good way to extend GTD tooling to a collaborative environment, but that doesn’t mean we are stuck only to use GTD methods alone. There are many things you can do.

  1. I routinely share my GTD experiences and tooling with colleagues. I share the Getting Things Done book with people and will highlight GTD rituals like a weekly review.
  2. I use GTD language, such as asking people what their next actions are for a project.
  3. Use your GTD system to interact with others, but always through a discussion. I will routinely bring up an OmniFocus perspective and walk through items during a status. The other person often is doing the same. We have different tools and labels, but it works just fine.

I do think that groups of people who use GTD together will be more efficient. However, I would hold on using a tool to solve the problem. Let everyone adopt the system that works for them, share the concepts and language.

Getting Things Done and GTD are ® trademarks of The David Allen Company.


Vibe - Stats for OmniFocus

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-21 05:00

I downloaded Vibe and gave it a run and got this fun display.

Vibe Screenshot

What a fun project to take the data from OmniFocus and give you some nice visuals. I’m not sure these are real actionable data points but it’s a fun start. It would be pretty amazing if OmniFocus had an API that 3rd parties could access to do some interesting visuals like this.


Technical Downsizing

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-03 05:00

Around ten years ago I ran my own servers at home. I had a free-standing half-rack with several machines rack-mounted in it along with the necessary UPS and network equipment. Even a fancy KVM at one point. I ran my websites on those machines and even my own mail server. It was fun to run this stuff and my equivalent of having a garden to tend or a workbench to tinker with things. However, it was a lot of work and the costs of maintaining it all was too much.

Long ago I decided that running your own website was no longer something a “mere citizen” should do. Email is a massive war of spam and “phishing” and it’s hard to do it well. I’ve been a happy customer of Fastmail for years now and am very satisfied with that.

The same trend has happened with other services. For a while, I ran Fever for my own RSS system and after struggling with that shifted to Feedbin, and it works great.

I got rid of the servers years ago and moved my infrastructure to VPS instances at Linode. Linode has been a great host, and I like their service. However, while the physical side of running hosts goes away maintaining a couple of Ubuntu boxes takes time and I have too little of that.

I’ve decided that it’s time to hang up the sysadmin jacket and no longer run my own servers.

Learning

The primary reason I still host everything is to learn. I like having first-hand knowledge of Ubuntu, nginx, WordPress, MediaWiki and many other systems and open-source software projects. However, at some point, the act of learning goes away, and you aren’t getting more value out of it (at least for me). After a while, you’ve absorbed that, and now you have chores. Time to update software. Time to debug a failure. Need to restart something? All maintenance with no learning.

The reality is that there is a certain minimum amount of work needed to responsibly be connected to the Internet. You need to keep an eye on systems to make sure bad things haven’t happened. You have to apply security updates. You need to upgrade your software. If you don’t do these things, you are running on borrowed time and will have a problem in the future that you are very poorly prepared for.

Right now I should have a task to upgrade Ubuntu 14.04 to 16.04. I’ll pass.

Pay for Services

For me this means I shift the effort and costs I’ve put towards running my infrastructure to service providers. I’ve already moved my blog to Squarespace who does an incredibly better job than I ever could running a blog. Why did I switch from WordPress? That’s a different blog post.

I continue to like Fastmail and Feedbin.

What about all of my sites?

One of my favorite productivity quotes goes like:

Saying no to things lets you say yes to other things.

It’s a good reminder that time is a zero sum game. I’ve had a lot of fun building different sites and playing with things, but you need to say goodbye to this stuff to say hello to other, yet to be identified, things.

One thought would be just to let them sit and not pay attention to it but I have two problems with that. First, I don’t think it’s responsible just to have servers connected to the web on autopilot. Second is that I experience a lot of cognitive load from things I’m not doing. Even with years of focus on GTD, I’m not very good at just having something deferred or paused forever reviewing monthly. It still takes up mental energy. I want to reclaim that energy!

Over the course of the next month, I’m going to be archiving and turning things down. Most of my sites are like hobby projects that very few people know exist. I’ll just archive those and shut them down. There are some bigger ones that I hope someone else will decide to host instead.


Deleting Old Tweets with Tweet Delete

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-30 05:00

I’ve been a long-time user of Twitter (user #82,903 joining in December 2006) and while I’ve had ups and downs with the service and generally think of it as a guilty pleasure I continue to use it. However, I have always thought of Twitter as ephemeral. Tweets to me are very different than blog posts. They often do not stand on their own but are really meant to be understood in the context of the moment.

Many years ago, before the Twitter API introduced OAuth requirements I used to run a script on one of my machines that would delete tweets after a while. This became annoying to manage after the API changed and I stopped running it.

Tweet Delete Logo

Now there is TweetDelete! I found this service via another user and it does exactly what my script used to. You authenticate the service, tell it how long you want your tweets to live, and then they delete them after that period of time. I set 90 days for mine. TweetDelete is free and is a service from Memset. I did check the TweetDelete privacy policy and terms of service and was pleased to find this clarification in the terms:

We never store any of your tweets on our servers, we only delete them on your behalf.

How terrible would it be if a service like this actually archived the tweets and then sold it for advertising purposes to 3rd parties. Terrible, and in the modern Internet it would be completely unsurprising so I was glad to see this stated clearly in their very human readable terms of service.

But what about archiving? While I do view my Tweets as ephemeral I do keep them for myself. I see little to no value for others in what I tweeted 10 years ago, but I do like to have a diary like record for myself. That is where Pinboard comes in! Pinboard has always had a feature that archives the tweets of up to 3 accounts and I’ve had that on for several years so I still have a personal archive of everything which I like. By the way, it’s an archive I pay for and know isn’t shared with others. I love the ethos of Pinboard!

I would encourage you to ask if there is a reason you want your old tweets around and if not have Tweet Delete take care of it for you. Think of it as helping poor Twitter not have to keep so much data around.