Getting things done

I started reading David Allen’s book Getting Things Done three weeks ago. I didn’t have a crisis of all-of-this-is-crushing-me-and-I-can’t-breathe or some other catastrophe that forced me to seek a higher state of organization. Nothing precipitated this other than reading about David Allen in a recent edition of Wired magazine. I’ve read ramblings out and about on the internet for years about GTD this and GTD that and never gave it much interest. I’ve always been a disorganized, list-weary procrastinating fool.

But no more.

Early on during my read of the book, the GTD approach found a resonance within me and I quickly grew ever more excited. All of my countless previous efforts at getting organized led to the same discouraging conclusion: calendars buried under stacks of stuff never to be referenced again and countless lists dispersed so widely in my personal milieu that I was unable to remember how many there were, let alone where they might be.

The approach of GTD made so much logical sense to me that I couldn’t wait to implement it in my life. Jennifer got on board and over a weekend we generated eleven bags of garbage. We reduced our four drawer filing cabinet stuffed full of unorganized and questionably important stuff into one tidy drawer’s worth of easily findable stuff. I reduced my inbox with nearly 13 thousand emails down to zero by sorting it into about 90 folders. During the process, I found nine emails that needed my attention (a few requiring it a few months ago, apologies again to those folks).

The net result is what David Allen professed: the weight has been lifted. My mind is clearly free to worry about getting some thing done, not about the mountain of things waiting to get done. I’ve identified about 450 actions that I need to do in the near future. Four weeks ago, the mere thought of knowing that number would have made me hurl. Armed with a strong approach for getting those things accomplished, I’m not afraid of them anymore and I know that my productivity since implementing GTD has never been better.

If you haven’t heard of GTD, consider picking up a copy of the book and give the first few chapters a read. If you’ve heard of it and looked into it a little but aren’t sure it’s right for you, I’m another in a large chorus of voices singing out to you that it rocks.

The system is exceptionally hackable and there are many variants of the system, some worthy of their own published book. GTD itself can be implemented using anything that works for you from pen and paper to elaborate software. I’ll write up more about my “recipe” for implementing GTD in a while, after I’ve given it a while to settle into my routine. Until then, I have one recommendation: read through the book before wandering off into variations of GTD. I think it’s worth focusing on the original intent to see if you also resonate with it before branching off.

Google Mail + IMAP = Happy Dance!!

Gmail IMAP

Davak IMed me this morning that some gmail accounts had the luxurious IMAP protocol enabled. I’ve had a hate/hate relationship with POP for… ever. Before replying to him, I clicked the settings link at top and saw “Forwarding and POP/IMAP” instead of the normal “Forwarding and POP” tab up top. This will be particularly great for iPhone access where messages sent through gmail appear as new emails not long after.  Don’t fret if you account is not currently enabled.  No one else I know has theirs enabled yet.  IMAP can be a server-intensive protocol in some ways, so it is prudent of Google to roll it out slowly.

CaringBridge.org provides support during illness, treatment, and recover

Visit www.CaringBridge.org

My mom showed me a great website today that has helped her keep appraised of the treatment of two people very dear to her. CaringBridge.org provides a free, easy-to-use service that allows users to maintain a journal, similar to a blog, and to receive messages of support from family and friends.
From the website:

A CaringBridge website helps keep loved ones informed during difficult times. In return, family and friends give patient and caregiver support through guestbook messages.

Every free, personalized CaringBridge website includes:

  • Patient care journal to update family and friends
  • Guestbook for messages of love
  • Photo gallery
  • Free online support for using the service

A dear friend of my mother has twin grandsons, one of whom is being treated for leukemia. The site has helped them in many ways. It provides a fun place for them to share photographs and daily stories with family and prevents his parents from making or taking dozens of calls a day spreading the same news, sometimes difficult to say even once. Family and friends can signup for automatic email delivery of updates which makes following things much easier.  The ease of setup is perfect for families lacking someone high-tech enough to fearlessly procure a domain and create a stand-alone blog.

They claim on their site that 15 million users each year use CaringBridge which is an impressive crowd. They also point out that their service is appropriate for “life-changing events” other than illnesses and their treatment, for example military deployment. It’s a great example of a beneficial use of the internet to help keep people together.

Servers and monkey wrenches

I’ve been “tinkering” on a grand scale with the Tech-Recipes servers today, consolidating, upgrading, rearranging, repairing, and generally beating on them with a virtual monkey wrench until they yielded. The blogs in particular have been acting up recently and, finally, the gloves came off. They have been upgraded to the latest wpmu version and relocated to a new server. Their database also now resides elsewhere. I moseyed through all the blogs looking for things, but davak, our resident bug radar, isn’t around today so if anyone sees something I missed, please drop me a line or leave a comment and I’ll put my bug boots on.

Does My Blog Look Good in This?

If you are an aspiring food blogger, or just like drooling over pretty pictures of food, check out this month’s DMBLGIT on Jennifer’s blog Bake or Break. The hard-to-say acronym stands for “Does My Blog Look Good in This?” and is a chance for foodies to show their best picture of each month to the world.

As this is her first time hosting DMBLGIT, she has gone all out and looked at alternative hosting for the submitted images. Smug Mug turned out to have the nicest looking albums for displaying image groups of all the sites considered. I’m a big fan of flickr, and so is Jennifer, but we agreed that it didn’t work for this purpose for two reasons: images imported for display in a set would end up in her photostream, which seemed wrong, and flickr lacks some pizazz. Less is more in the pizazz category, as with other categories, but none is, well, still none. Anyway, you can see this month’s gallery of DMBLGIT at Smug Mug.  And if you have a food blog with a picture you’re proud of from September, there is still time to enter.

Happy birthday symfony

symfony

The symfony web application framework project turned two years old yesterday. Based on timestamps on our servers, my experiences with symfony date back almost three months. At that time I decided again to look for an object-relational mapping solution for my PHP coding. I found the effort of trudging up the mountain of writing my own at the beginning of a project made me exhausted when I got to the good stuff, the code that gives a site its soul. I say look again because I had looked a couple of years ago and found nothing that impressed me.

My search was quickly and richly rewarded. I found lots of glowing references for the symfony framework. Symfony is so much more than what I was looking for, but exactly what I was yearning for. If you haven’t heard of symfony, take a few minutes and browse through their site, look through their extensive and well-written documentation, and skim through the abundant user community contributions.

If you are wavering on adopting symfony, keep in mind that Yahoo! currently uses symfony as the framework for their Bookmarks site which boasts a user population of over 20 million. Rapid application development is nice, but being able to scale for the real world is everything. Yahoo! is also rewriting del.icio.us using symfony. This level of adoption for a relatively young framework is rare and speaks volumes about the current state and long-term viability of symfony.

For my part, I keep thinking that I couldn’t be more excited about symfony, but after each new revelation, I get a little giddier. After three months of coding with it, I cannot imagine going back to the way things were. Symfony allows my web applications to become what they always wanted to be but couldn’t because I lacked the time or ability. I’ve yet to come upon the first thing that I would change about it. Here’s my list of characteristics that I adore in symfony that I think someone deciding on a web framework should consider:

  • Awesome documentation – there’s already a well-written book (both hardcopy
    and web-accessible) that will quickly teach you what you need to know to become a symfony superstar.
  • Approachable tutorials – the first tutorial is pure candy — nearly trivial to try and a great appetizer — I’ve gotten several people in the past week to try it. Just download a complete symfony sandbox and get to playing.. no database setup required (SQLite included), no web server configuration required.
  • Scalability – You can write the world’s best application, but if only two people can use it simultaneously, well, only two people will use it. Yahoo! … 20 million users… built-in caching… enough said.
  • PHP5 and nothing but PHP – If you or your code monkeys already know PHP, they won’t need to learn another programming language.
  • Stand on the shoulders of giants.. standing on the shoulders of giants – symfony is built around several other mature and popular components. It uses Propel for object-relational mapping and Creole for database abstraction, for example.
  • Plugin architecture – Still not sure about Symfony? Look at the plugins page. Prefer Doctrine over Propel? There is a plugin that lets you use Doctrine instead. Want to create or digest RSS feeds? Want to add CMS or forum functionality to your application? There are plugins to do 99% of the work for you.
  • Don’t code, configure – Many mundane coding tasks are accomlished by editing simple YAML configuration files (YAML: think human-readable XML). If you have ever coded form validation tasks, look at this example of form validation using a YAML file. I abhor writing very similar code over and over. Web forms may be the worst example of this. Writing web forms in symfony is fun.

My experiences with symfony this far have been extremely positive. I’ll write more about the specific projects that we are deploying with symfony as we get them farther along. In the mean time, do yourself a favor and take a look at symfony.

Happy birthday, symfony, and many happy returns!

Catch us at the Future of Web Development conference

Future of Web Development 2007

David and I are attending the conference day of the Future of Web Development meeting this year in New York City. I make no effort to conceal the fact that NYC is my favorite place, so I’m doubly looking forward to this meeting. If any of you will be there, too, drop us a comment and maybe we’ll see you there.

I’ve been deeply immersed in Symfony development for the last few months (talk about life altering!) spooling up for some new projects and I’d definitely be interested in chatting with some fellow Symfonyers.. Symfonyites? I’ve started writing some Symfony recipes and I’ll be blogging about my experiences with it more in the near future.

Hope to see you in the Big Apple!

Road tripping observations

My road trip with Jennifer is winding down (hmm.. Only 420 miles to go) and as I enjoy a spell as passenger, I thought I’d write down some road trip observations.

  • The Earth is really, really huge
  • Spotting a deer on the side of the road will wake you right up
  • A deer vs. motorcycle accident wouldn’t be pretty
  • Counting Crow’s Recovering the Satellites is awesome road music
  • Choosing a pig as the spokesperson for a BBQ joint is questionable
  • Blogging from an iPhone during road trip requires patience
  • The best part of a road trip is having your best friend with you
  • We look forward to a five minute drive home from davak’s instead of 12 hours!
  • Google Maps editable routes and a mapping app idea

    Google Maps elastic routesI know this isn’t news, but it’s really cool and I missed its release, so I figure others have, too. If you create a route in Google Maps, you can click on a point along the route and drag it. As you move your cursor, the route will rearrange and the distance and estimated time will recalculate in real time. How cool is that?

    Here’s the mapping application idea. Jennifer and I are traveling to Durham soon to do some intense drin.. working on projects, hiking, eating, and socializing. We want to stay at a particular brand of hotel, but finding one along the route is not easy, but should be. Given the data (locations and classifications of things, which Google has), and the route, which Google has and has taken to the next level, I’d like to search for something specific along the route.

    The problem is that finding something specific along a route is difficult, like a certain brand of hotel brand between Atlanta and Charlotte. Traditional searches are based on distance from a single location (within 50 miles of Atlanta). To search the rest of the way, it becomes a bit more tedious, searching from city to city along the route. However, think about being able to search for whatever you want within five miles of a route. Makes me giddy. If someone knows of an app like this living out in the wild, please leave a comment, I’d love to use it. If not, I give the idea to whomever wants to write it. I only ask that they let me know when it’s up so that I can use it. Ten years ago when I could pull all-nighters with no ill effects I would have taken this on (if there was Google Maps back then.. and Symfony). We’ve got enough project ideas to keep us busy for years, so I’m happy to let this idea out into the wild.

    Fresh Coat of Paint

    Paintbrush I’ve had an itch to update my theme and it’s finally rolled over. My inspiration for starting this whole process came from seeing this great (and informative) post. That theme is elegant in many ways — and looking at it makes my theme far less creative than it might have appeared. I really liked the stationary sidebar concept since a mobile sidebar ends up either wasting space or overstaying its welcome. Oh, and if you’re curious, I based the theme off of Jelly which has a well organized style.css file that even a certified anti-design code diva like myself can almost understand.

    I’m hoping this will inspire the blog writing juices (and hopefully in ways other than referring to inspired juices, whatever that means). We are working on some cool new sites and I’m eager to talk about them when they get to the talkin’ ’bout phase. I’m also working on becoming more social, or at least a little less anti-social, so if you are a user of any of the drop-me-a-line social sites next to my Wii headshot, drop me a line.