February 2006 Archives

February 26, 2006

My name is Paul and I'm a PIM user

I've had a love/hate relationship with Personal Information Managers (PIMs) over the years. I haven't used what I would consider a "real" PIM in years, but I recently found myself back in the sway of this enticing breed of software. But before I talk about my latest flirtations with PIMs,I want to remember some of my old flames.

Lotus Agenda - first love

I think the first PIM to catch my eye was Lotus Agenda. It was so powerful, no one really understood what you could do with it .. but it sure seemed like it would do anything you wanted. I was fascinated by it. But instability was its downfall for me; I gave it up after one too many corrupted databases. (The last release of Agenda was made available some time back.)

InfoSelect - fast and responsive

For quite a while I was quite taken with InfoSelect; I used it on and off for about 8 years. InfoSelect works on unstructured chunks of text, which makes it very flexible. The overhead for adding information is very low: one keystroke creates a new node. What makes InfoSelect interesting is its search feature. When you start searching, IS shows you matches with every character you type. There's something seductive about how it responds to your every keystroke, not waiting for an Enter key or an OK button.

InfoSelect doesn't have any built-in categories, but you can use the trick of tagging a note with your own codes. I used "*ps" for personal items; "*td" for to-dos. By including several tags in an item, you could effectively put information into multiple categories. I loved that ability. I was never happy with a strict hierarchy. Most information naturally falls into multiple categories.

Unfortunately, InfoSelect fell victim featuritis. Each release added more and more features, but made the interface more cluttered. It didn't help that each release was another $99. I stopped upgrading with version 6. It's now up to V8.

Ecco - Misunderstood

I tried Ecco for a while. Everyone else raved about it, but I never got it. I didn't like the strict hierarchy, and I never really warmed to the interface. I stuck with it for a while, but never saw the charms that others (still!) claim for it.

Eventually I started using Outlook. Outlook wasn't good at handling random information, but it was a whiz at contacts, tasks, and calendars. That's what I needed most at the time, so I let go of trying to keep track of everything.

Wiki Wiki!

I was still looking for a way to handle random information, and in 2001 Wikis caught my eye. Wikis had that ability to create random nodes and link them together. Further more, as more and more of what I wanted to remember was on the web, I could use Wiki to keep and annotate various links. Eventually I set up Wikis for work, too, at CNN, Georgia Tech, and EarthLink.

Weblogs, del.icio.us, and who knows what

I came across Radio Userland in 2002, which introduced me to weblogs, and to RSS for watching other weblogs. I soon startedcapturing interesting links into my blog instead of my Wiki.

All during this time, the rise of search engines made it easier and easier to not bother with keeping track of information. You want find something again? Google it!

I finally gloomed onto del.icio.us in late '04, and soon I was putting all of my useful links into del.icio.us

And so that's where I was up until two months ago - a mishmash of Outlook for contacts, del.icio.us for links, and occasionally sending email to myself to capture other information.

But once you're a PIM user, you can never really give it up. And so I've fallen off the wagon again. More on that in another post.

February 25, 2006

There's so much more room on the ceiling ....

I remember trying to arrange too much stuff in a room with not enough space, looking up at the ceiling, and thinking it would be so much easier if we could just use the space up there as well.

I was reminded of this by our recent visit to the new Georgia Aquarium. The main tank is 20-35 feet deep, and as you watch all the fish going by, it's striking how they move but don't seem to get in each other's way. Schools of fish glide in one direction, and above them may pass manta rays, while a shark moves beneath. It reminded me those scenes in the Star Wars movies of Courasant, the capital city. Lines of vehicles gliding through the air at different levels, criss-crossing but not colliding because of the additional dimension.

How impoverished we seem: restricted to our two dimensional place in the world. How much different would it be if we could use that third dimension? "You'll love this house, Mr and Mrs. Smith .. look at this vaulted ceiling - you have a good 1500 cubic feet in the dining room."

February 24, 2006

Lots of people looking at lots of fish

Atlanta is home to the Georgia Aquarium, which opened in November of 2005. It's a big deal around here.

I wasn't planning on going any time soon. Aquariums are ok, but not something I go out of my way to see. But the kids are on a "mid-winter break," so we headed on down.

I liked it more than I thought I would. The highlight is the Ocean Voyager exhibit. You enter it through a dark hall, and emerge into a 100 foot "underwater tunnel" - and above you and all around to the left and right is glass, and you're looking up from the bottom of a huge tank. You see whale sharks, groupers .. a hammerhead, a sawfish .. rays .. and tens of thousands of much smaller fish, all swimming above and practically around you. It's wondrous.

There are lots of other exhibits, but none that quite reach that transcendent level.

Unfortunately, these wonders are offset somewhat by more mundane matters: too much money and too many people. $23 for adults, and no break on pricing unless you're under 13, so that's almost $100 for us to get in. And the place was packed, which I didn't expect on a weekday. 10 plus minutes wait to park, a wait to get in, and then more waiting to see the fish.

I've been to a few other aquariums: the Monterey Bay aquarium, and the much smaller Tennessee aquarium in Chattanooga. Both are interesting buildings, on the water, and interesting on the outside as well: they create a space around them that's pleasant. By contrast, the Georgia Aquarium is landlocked, and seems to turn inward. There's no ambiance about it. It backs up onto Centennial Olympic Park, and the designers seemed to feel that was enough.

It's not a very attractive building. Not that's it's easy to even see that: after parking, we were funneled around the back of the building and didn't get a clear sense of it. When we did get to the front, we came upon a large concrete bowl filled with people and snaking lines. Quite a contrast to the recently expanded High Museum, which is much more attractive and inviting from the street. (To be fair, the High gets only an eighth of the Aquiarium's expected annual attendence of 4 million.)

The fish were neat, and overall it was worth doing. But I don't believe I'll be back for a while; I don't like fish enough to offset the cost and crowding.

February 15, 2006

Boatloads of pictures

I like to take lots of pictures. The evidence: Photoshop Elements tells me I have 18,750 pictures dating back to September of 2000. That number is slightly inflated; there are perhaps a few hundred pictures that are from other sources and a few duplicates. And my kids took several hundred pictures. But that's still a lot of pictures

The breakdown:


2002 was low I was camera-less from January to October of that year when I bought my Canon G2.
Before that I was using one that belonged to work.

In 2003 I must have been thrilled to have my own camera, because I went a little nuts.

That's about 30 gigs or so of pictures. They're almost all jpegs; I haven't done much work in raw. Raw pictures take about 2.5 times more space than jpegs.

At any rate, I just bought a 250 gig drive to keep up with them. That should hold me for a while.

February 13, 2006

One thing that makes me happy: my Digital Rebel XT

I bought my first digital camera – a Canon G2 – back in the Fall of 2002 . It was fun; I took lots of great pictures with it.

A neighbor had a Canon Digital Rebel, and she let me borrow it from time to time in exchange for helping with her computer. Using the Rebel left no doubt - I had to get a DSLR. But I wanted to get something a little better than the Rebel.

So when the Canon Digital Rebel XT came out last spring, I jumped at the chance. It helped that I had $600 in Best Buy gift certificates, but it still cost another $600 or so. I bought the 3 year "we'll fix it if anything goes wrong" extended warantee. (Those are normally not a good deal, but I had something go wrong with my G2, and it cost me $250 to get it repaired.)

I've been happy with it. By far the biggest advantage is speed. I don't care about fast cars, but fast cameras are wonderful. The biggest advantage is taking pictures of people, especially kids doing cute things.

I still use the kit lens that came with it. Other people deride the quality of the lens; I'm I could do better, but my budget doesn't allow it. And I'm pretty happy with the pictures I've taken.

The one thing I've grown a little dissatisfied with is the view finder. Reviews note that it's smaller than average. This wasn't an issue until last month when I started taking a photography class. The instructer told us not to manipulate the photos at all - no cropping, no playing with levels in Photoshop - just what comes out of the camera. She talks about shooting full frame, and doing making sure what we get in the view finder is what we want. She also places a lot of emphasis on making sure the background isn't distracting. All of this is hard to do through the viewfinder on the XT.

Overall, I''m very happy with it. They say things don't make you happy - but I think it's fair to say that the use of things can make you happy. Taking pictures makes me very happy.

February 12, 2006

Starting up again

I have written anything for this weblog since March '05. Since I'd hate to say that I haven't updated my weblog in over a year, I'm going to start up again. Spring is approaching. I started this weblog almost 4 years ago in April '02. Perhaps there's something about Spring that makes me want to write. (I actually have done a lot of writing over the last two years; just not for public consumption.)

This time around I'm going to try posting smaller items instead of items with lots of different things in them. Hopefully that will actually result in me publishing things.

I haven't written anything because .. well, the last year has been a wild ride. If you know me, you might know what I'm talking about. (If not, you can ask.) But I'm not going to write about it here. Google remembers everything forever!

I've upgraded to Movable Type 3.2. Lots of people have moved to WordPress, but I still like Movable Type. There's lots of good documentation for it; some things I've read suggest there isn't as much for WP. But even if that gets better, I like MT.