Mea Culpa

It has been pointed out to me that I published the show yesterday with no ID tags whatsoever or no artwork. As you might can guess, I missed a step in my workflow yesterday. Because I was busy GTDizing my life, I did my normal show review step on my portable device rather than the computer, and forgot to ever go back and add that stuff. At this point, I’m not going to republish just to get them in there and make some folks have to download it a second time. Let me give everyone my apologies and then let it ride.

EGC Clambake For July 30, 2006

Here is the Bittorrent link and direct MP3 download for the EGC clambake for July 30, 2006.

I wish my niece a happy birthday; I play a song by Ozma; I talk about getting myself organized with the GTD system and a Hipster PDA (PAA, really); I play a song from an Amy Ray solo album; really, that’s it, not much on the agenda today.

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To sponsor the show, contact BackBeat Media. Don’t forget, you can fly your EGC flag by buying the stuff package. This show as a whole is Creative Commons licensed Attribution-NonCommercial 2.5.

Links mentioned in this episode:



I’m well into GTD day. I have assembled my giant in-box (which is one side of my office), done my “mind-sweep” to collect projects, gathered together a bunch of file folders and a place to put them and generally got myself in position. Now it is time to begin the processing of the monster pile. As it happens, we also cleaned up all the incoming mail yesterday and did some tidying things around the house, so the decks are clear. From here on out, any mail that requires my attention will go into my “in box” to be processed with everything else.

I should also note that I don’t have an actual box. I’ve decided for now to make this big shelf near my desk the de facto in box. Everything that is pending processing will go there. I figure a metaphorical box is as good as a literal one. As long as I know what I’m doing, it should all be cool.

My Hipster PAA is also ready to go. For my friend Chris’ reference, I have about 6 minutes invested in it so far. That was spent printing out the cover on card stock then cutting, folding and stapling so that I have a pocket in the back. As I process things, my project lists and such will all go on 3X5 cards which I will stick in the Hipster, clip it up and move on. I bought the 300 pack of these bad boys at Office Depot for $1.99, so I can make quite a few abortive attempts without running out.

Here we go, on to the pile!


Tomorrow I’m going to make the first big push to start using the GTD system. I’ll be doing the “mind sweep”, gathering all the various detritus of my life into the inbox (which will really be the “in corner of the room” because there will be so much of it) and doing the initial processing of it. I’ve been thinking about this for a few days, and now I’m really looking forward to the whole thing.

As a preparation for that, I actually got my email inbox down to zero tonight. At this point, my “Next Action” mailbox has 20 mails in it that need time to respond or are something I need to take action on. I have a “Someday” mailbox with another 200 mails in it which I’ll be sorting through as part of my periodic re-evaluations. So, it’s not like I have actually handled everything that was in the inbox but I’m part of the way there. From now on, my email inbox follows the same rules as my GTD inbox – it gets processed and the things that take 2 minutes or less get immediate replies, the things that need action get moved to the appropriate box and those that need no action get filed or deleted. The days of the 300+ mails in the inbox should be over, as should the days of having things of various levels of importance and commitment scattered throughout my house and my life.

Portable Again

Thank goodness for the return of portability. My interim podcast listening system really sucked. I burned a CD full of stuff and then dusted off my iRiver SlimX CD player. Because it was a drag to tote that thing around and I didn’t want to have to burn a lot of CDs, I only listened to that in the car. During the day I had some MP3s on an SD card and listened straight on my workstation, which has a built in card reader. This meant that I now had three things to reconcile – my directories on my laptop, and the stuff I had listened on either the CD or the SD card. I’d delete them from the laptop after listening, but occasionally would miss something and find myself starting to listen to something a second time.

Now that the one device is the center of everything again, it’s a big improvement. Shortly before the mobiBLU went into it’s fugue state, I had figured something out that had eluded me for a long time. One thing I didn’t like about the cube was that the USB cable attaches through the stereo jack. They have this funky 3 part special jack and I guess the USB portion is a little further down than a standard mini-stereo plug would be. This means that while it is plugged in and charging, you can’t listen with the headphones. I and everyone that owns one cites this as a weakness. Well, while it is plugged up it is also mounted as an external drive. You can easily just play the files with the computers media player straight off the device while it is charging. I feel like a real idiot for taking four months to figure that out.

And as a coda to the whole deal and the last thing I hope to say about mobiBLu for quite some time, here is a chronology of my cube problems. Last week it started acting weird and requiring frequent hard resets. Last weekend I tried to install the firmware upgrade from a Windows 2000 PC, which wouldn’t ever do it. I tried from a borrowed Windows XP laptop using the mobiBLU instructions to the letter. This caused my cube to become an unresponsive brick. I wrote that up here. Jared had the same problems, searched for a solution and found my write up of the problem. I called the mobiBLU support line, he emailed their support. Neither one of us ever received a response. He continued to fiddle with it until he found a solution – one that involves not following their published directions to the letter. He emailed and commented here and provided me the solution that I used to get the cube working again. Neither one of us got any help from the company we are both customers of, and only the fact that we communicated helped me. That’s a pretty sad statement about the one entity in this whole thing that is taking the money.

Organize Me

So this weekend I’m going to do the big initial push of getting myself working on the David Allen GTD system. I have to decide what the mechanics will be, will I use a paper system or a computer system or what? It has to be portable between home and work, and although my original impulse was to try to build myself a system in Ruby on Rails, I’ve decided that more practical would be to make myself a Hipster PDA, probably with the DIY Planner templates.

That might seem oddly low tech for a cyber-spasmo such as myself but I think it might just work for the best. It costs next to nothing, is completely flexible and reconfigurable, and requires very little overhead to get things rolling. Dan Conover was giving away something much like this at the Charleston Uplifter meeting for people to take notes and exchange bits of information, and it just seems like a neat idea. I already do my podcast prep on 3X5 cards, so it’s nothing to have one card in my H-PDA be the card for the next show. By always having that in my pocket, I might actually do a better job of remembering what it is I want to talk about on the show.

I’m now excited about putting all this into motion. I always feel kind of overwhelmed and over my head, so I easily bought in to the belief in the goodness of this system. Capturing without fail the important tidbits from the sea of incoming information in a way that I don’t have to remember them sounds like heaven to me. I already know most of the clutter in my life is actually physical manifestations of procrastination. I haven’t figured out what to do with this thing, so in the pile it goes with the other bunch of crap I don’t know what to do with. My hope is that once I am freed from the friction and ballast of my own disorganization, that my productivity in all aspects of life will skyrocket. A boy can dream, can’t he?

Update: As JP points out in comments, someone has already done a Ruby on Rails implementation of the GTD system.

The Return of the mobiBLU

Holy crap, commentor Jared gave me instructions on how to revive my dead mobiBLU, and it worked! It took 30 minutes of installing, flashing, rebooting, reinstalling, etc but now that it is done, the cube is once again alive. Thank you Jared! I should note that I left a voice mail with mobiBLU support, who never got back to me. A random guy on a comment thread did far more for me than the company that I am a customer of. I still don’t recommend that anyone sink their money into these things but I’m glad this one is no longer a (tiny) brick.

Interview Audio Levels

Since Jon Udell left a comment on my earlier post, I thought I’d do a quick write up on my current interview recording and processing technique. I adapted my current process from many other smarter people like Doug Kaye, after having multiple instances of having to laboriously fix the sound on interviews I had conducted. I’ll keep it as generic as possible since people might be using a number of possible setups that are equally applicable. In order to make this work, you do need to be able to get yourself and your guests on different channels. With a mixer that’s trivial. If you are doing this straight on a computer without a mixer in the middle, you might have tougher sledding. Once you cross the conceptual hurdle of having each person in one ear, the rest falls into place and becomes trivial.

  1. Get yourself and your guests in different channels. This is crucial. Not only does it enable all the subsequent stuff, it also lets you fix it when you and the guest talk over each other or if Skype lag screws things up.
  2. In Audacity or other sound editor, do a pass of compressing and normalizing the left channel separately, then go back and do the right one. Normalize each of them to the same point, preferably -4 dB or so. If either you or your guests have enough variability that some sections are still significantly lower than the point you normalized to, go back and amplify those sections. Any reasonable sound editor will have this function.
  3. Absolutely without fail, before you publish it move the voices back to the center. Don’t publish this with you and your guests in the opposite ears. If you want to do that stereo effect of having a pan, don’t do it by any more than 10% from center for either ear. Me personally, I just convert the whole thing to mono when I’m done.
  4. That’s it. Pretty simple, no?

Drop It Like It’s Hot

I know that a lot of people do their podcast listening during their commute to work. Ironically, adding a commute to my life reduced my podcast listening. I used to have 8-10 hours of listening time a day, and although I have 45 minutes in the car I don’t have all day to listen anymore. This forces me to reduce the number of shows I subscribe to, as they are stacking up unlistened.

One of the ones I’m dropping is the North Carolina culture podcast. I basically like the show, and it seems related to the public television show North Carolina Weekend which I also like. The problem is that the sound is so bad that it isn’t audible in the car. I often argue that we don’t need professional production standards, but it does need to be minimally audible. I listened to it yesterday and it had an interview where the interviewer and the subject were 20 dB apart in sound levels. To hear the answer to a question required turning up the stereo so loud that the next question would shatter the eardrums. This is a production style I lovingly refer to as “the Gillmor.” From here on out, that’s the fast track to getting me to unsubscribe.

This morning I heard an interesting interview from Jon Udell, whose podcast I really like, but it had the same problem. It was not quite as extreme but enough to be unpleasant and make hearing his guests difficult. If there are many more like that, with regrets I will also have to unsubscribe from him. I’m not trying to be a hardass, but one must triage the handling of one’s scarce resources. Now that my listening time is cut in half, things must go. Putting out hard to listen to shows is the way one nominates oneself to leave my list.

The Commuting Life

I’m still getting back in the swing of the whole commuting thing. Even after a month, it doesn’t seem quite right or natural. I have a hard time getting it all together and getting my self out the door at a reasonable time. This morning, I assembled my lunch and then left it in the kitchen, while also managing to leave my cellphone in yesterday’s pants.

I also kind of miss the days of very little driving. When I first got this new car (2002 Honda Civic, new to me but not new) I was gassing up every 4 to 6 weeks. Having to do it every week is kind of a drag and now I lose my lower carbon footprint bragging rights. These are the trade-offs one must make in this life.

Getting Things Done

It sounds like a stupid joke, but I’ve had a copy of Getting Things Done for just under two years now, and I’ve never made the time to sit down and read it. I started on my lunch Friday and continued today. I went in kind of half-skeptical of the whole thing, but I think I’m sold early on. The basic idea of breaking everything in your life that you want to happen into manageable and doable tasks just makes sense. I know I have too many failed to-do lists full of things like “clean house” or “finish project” that are just not defined enough to sit down and do or even know when you are done. I’m looking forward to reading this book, and then maybe digging through the Merlin Mann recommendations for packages that implement the system. I need one to be portable enough to remain accessible through my home, work and offline life so that might be a trick.

Bloglines Podcasting

My buddy Chris pointed this one out to me. In the Bloglines blog about itself, they announce their direct support for podcasting. The screenshot they show is of the feed for Voices in Your Head. The sad part is that I’ve only done two shows in the last 16 months. I just did an interview last week that could either be for VIYH or EGC. I’m going to run it by Doug and Phil, and if they want it they can have it. Otherwise, I’ll air it myself next week. This might be just the thing I need to get me off the stick a little. Thanks, Bloglines folks, for the vote of confidence.

Things that Just Don’t Work

Things that Just Don’t Work

Originally uploaded by evilgenius.

Today is a day of trying to do simple things that just fail. Last week, some kind folks started a thread at Podcast Pickle talking about AmigoFish. I’ve resisted signing up there for over a year because I just never felt like joining, but I thought I’d do it in order to join the AF conversation. I created an account, added this podcast, but that didn’t give me access to the forums. Then I had to do a seperate registration step that kept failing. I tried and tried until I was finally ready to quit when at one point it just worked and I was logged in. I made my few posts and that was that.

Fast forward to this weekend, I want to respond again. I try to log in, and my password that is remembered in Mozilla isn’t working. I do the “forgot password” and I got the page you see on this post – enter your username and 6 digit code, only there is no 6 digit code. Sigh. I still don’t understand why I log into the system correctly, and then have to turn around and log in again to post to the forum. It’s confusing, I told it to remember me anyway and it didn’t, etc etc etc. In oh so many ways, it just is a huge drag to use the system. It’s a shame, because I really want to be a part of that conversation. Sorry folks who are kind enough to talk up AmigoFish on there. I’d love to participate with you but it is too much of a pain in the ass. Feel free to leave comments on the AmigoFish blog if you like.

My MobiBLU cube MP3 player has been acting up, failing to start with the buttons and requiring hard resets with a paper clip. I decided to update the firmware. The updater only runs on Windows, so I fired up my one Windows box and downloaded and installed the firmware updater. When I ran it, it hang for minutes looking for the device (which was already mounted as a lettered drive and which I could see via the file system.) The instructions say that if that happens, you hold down the play button, press the reset button with a paperclip for 5 seconds, release the reset but keep the play button depressed until you get a recovery screen. Wow. I did all that, a thing popped up on Windows saying that the “USB Recovery Device has been installed, reboot to make it active.” Dear god, what a pain but I did it. When I rebooted, nothing ever happened again. The installer looks for the device forever, the reset never again prompts any response, nothing every happens.

I’m about this close to throwing this piece of shit out the window. I strongly recommend against anyone buying the MobiBLU. It’s cute and tiny, but is a pain to use on its best day and eventually shits itself. There are a few rampant iPod haters on here (and it is only a matter of time before the exact same anti-iPod rant gets commented on this post as I’ve received one dozen times already) but my Shuffle was fun to use and caused me zero problems up until the day it failed catasrophically and stopped mounting on the computer. The mobiBLU was never fun to use and caused ongoing problems for a long time. I’m half tempted to pull the Shuffle out of the drawer and see if it magically works now. If the mobiBLU can’t be updated and continues to act finicky, I’m thinking about going for the slap cheapest MP3 play that takes SD cards as its media.

Thus far today, I’m pretty sick and tired of things that Just Don’t Work.

Update: I installed the mobiBLU updater on my wife’s computer, followed the instructions to the letter. When I did the reset and it entered recovery mode, I pressed “Update”, then the program bombed out with a “semaphore time out period expired” error message. Now the device is completely dead, won’t mount or turn on or anything. I guess that’s that, end of the line with this device. Thanks Hyun Won for dispelling my stereotype that Korean consumer electronics tend to be shoddily made pieces of shit. I strongly recommend that people avoid this manufacturer.

Update 2: Thanks to Jared in the comments this device is back alive!

Off Week

Wow, I had a burst of blogging last weekend and then not one post during the whole week. I never quite intended that to be the mode, but that’s the way it went. Oh well, them’s the breaks.

Killing Podcasting

I mostly agree with this article from the Podcast NYC blog – killing podcasting one VC dollar at a time. I’ll admit that I have a pretty strong hard-off for Odeo, because I’m still bugged at all the fawning “Oh, here comes Evan to save podcasting” bullshit with folks talking about how wonderful they were as a company months before they released anything. Even now, a year and a half later, I don’t see that they have brought that much to the table.

My stand on VC money in any startup comes from years of firsthand experience. I worked for Web 1.0 companies whose primary business turned out to be getting VC capital, and the nominal business of the company turned out to be a sideline. I think after years of seeing VC money flow in, and zero positive outcomes from any company I have been closely associated with, I can boil this down to a sound bite:

VC money is to a business what chemotherapy is to a patient. You only use it when the recipient would die otherwise, and you have to be prepared that the treatment will wreak terrible changes and possibly be as bad as the disease.

The Power of Open Source

One of the things I want to blog about is my adventures setting up my work computer. It is a really sweet machine, a Dell Inspiron 9400. It has the widescreen resolution, and they bought me a second monitor so we wanted to get it running in dual head mode. Of course, the very first thing I did was to wipe Windows XP off of it. I used it long enough to download the Fedora Core 5 ISOs and burn them, and then installed it. I never got FC 5 working quite right, so I switched over to Ubuntu. It turns out the issues I had were unrelated to the distribution and I probably could have gotten FC working with the same amount of effort but I’ve got it going now and will stick with it until there is reason to not.

I’m not going to go into a lot of detail just now. Later on I’ll post snippets of config files so that other people in the same boat can get things going faster. As much as I like this laptop, I got a little shafted in that it has the least common internals. It has the Intel 945GM video card and the Dell wifi card, both of which are off the beaten track for Linux. For now, though, I want to give an example of what makes an open source operating system so cool.

I compiled my own kernel a few days ago and that’s what I’m currently running. The box has a built in SD/MMC card reader, and I thought it would be neat to see if it worked under Linux. It read a 256M card no sweat, but when I put in the 2G SD card, it failed to mount and I got a lot of errors. A little googling showed me that the kernel lacked support for internal card readers above 1G. I could plug it into my USB card reader, and then it would read just fine but not on the built in card reader. I found this patch that addresses that issue. Because the code is removing 40 lines and adding in one, I just went directly to that file in my source directory and made the edit by hand. I rebuilt and reinstalled modules, and rebooted the box. I stuck in the 2G card, and voila – it mounted automatically and was right there on the desktop. Fantastic stuff. It can be a real pain sometimes, but moments like this make me so happy that it all is worth it.

This post complies with my work blogging rules of the road.

Security Hookup

This is the post that precipitated the previous rules post. There is a local Myrtle Beach firm that is releasing a computer security video and audio podcast that I like a lot. It is the Security Hookup. Joe, the guy that does it is the first geek I met in the Grand Strand, and was an attendee at the very first Uplifter meeting. He asked me to take a look at the feed and the show months ago, before it was made public. I made a few minor suggestions about file naming conventions and such. Mostly though, I thought it was ready to roll from the very beginning.

I have been wanting to link to the show for some time, as I like it and think it is very well done. From the very first episode, I learned a whole lot about the squid proxy and it made me realize I should be using it rather than sockd when I need a proxy. Joe’s been very cautious about the hosting situation and getting the show how he likes it before it became public. In the time since all that happened, I have gone to work for the company. That left me in the odd position that needed the conversation with my boss and the rules. On the one hand, I didn’t want to represent myself as a spokesman or out myself as an employee without their knowledge and approval. On the other hand, it would be disingenuous to point to the videocast as something I like and not disclose I work for the same company, even though I didn’t when I first came to like it.

So there you have the whole thing. I’m a fan of the Security Hookup, and think a lot of the people that enjoy Security Now and other similar shows would like it. If you prefer audio, you can get solely that but there is well integrated video as well. The video is more than the talking head, as it presents screen shots and enough additional information and context that if you can possibly experience it that way, I recommend it. I give this show a thumbs up, even though that thumb is deep in the Pocket of the Man.

This post complies with my work blogging rules of the road.

Work Blogging Rules of the Road

In the four years since I started this blog, I have worked for a couple of different places. In all that time, I have never identified where I work by name or anything stronger than cryptic references to the industry. I am going to change that, but under very specific conditions. First, the story:

I started this new job a few weeks ago. One of the things I have noticed as I read and listen to people talk about the business is that they want to get their name out more. The head researcher is someone who gets his name in articles and that is deemed of high value to the company. I sat down with my boss and asked him about this blog, would it be better for the company if I actually blogged about them? The conclusion we arrived at is that it is, but that I need to treat it similarly to how I would comport myself at a conference I attend as an employee and representative of the company.

With that said, here are the rules and facts of me and work blogging:

  1. I am not a spokesman for my company. I am a developer, and while I have opinions they are never the official policy of my company. I am a steward of the reputation of my company, and I will attempt to be a good steward.
  2. On the posts that are work related, I will moderate both my language and opinions. My natural hotheaded and foulmouthed tendencies will be suppressed. This is not for the blog as a whole, but for the specific times when I am mentioning my employer. I reserve the right to be a foulmouthed hothead most of the time.
  3. Our work is somewhat sensitive, so there will have to be things that are left unsaid – of a technical nature and otherwise. On the flipside, I will not say anything about them that I don’t believe. If I am expressing an opinion, I actually hold that opinion. It will never be company spin. If I disagree, I will simply say nothing.
  4. My goals of work blogging explicitly include contributing information back to the larger sphere of knowledge. It also explicitly includes some aspect of promotion or attention recognition for the firm. Take it all with a grain of salt, consider the source about this and everything, always. There is no one without any agenda, the best we can do is to be honest about what it is.
  5. Rules might be amended or added as we go. This is new to me and I don’t presume that I can anticipate every issue that might arise. I’ll behave as professionally and ethically as I can, but cannot guarantee universal perfection.

Enough lawyering, let’s get blogging!

Supporting Nerd Documentaries

One thing I’ve tried to be good about is financially supporting nerdly documentaries. I’ve got the money to do so, and I truly love to see members of the tribe creating them so I want to encourage more of them. I talked with the Open Roadtrip guys recently, which was a hoot. I don’t know if they are going to release a salable product or only a download, but if it is available for sale I’ll buy it.

I just got the email that the fan documentary of Firefly/Serenity called Done the Impossible is shipping next week. I can’t even remember when I pre-ordered but it was so long ago that I forgot that I did it. (According to the email, it was February.) This looks to be packed with features, and at $16.95 is quite economical. I haven’t seen it yet so I can’t vouch for the final product, but I’m excited about it.

I got the Jason Scott film BBS: The Documentary a while back. I was planning on buying it anyway, so I went ahead and joined the adventurer’s club. By doing this, I was purchasing BBS and pre-purchasing his next documentary. He used this money to upgrade his video equipment. It seemed like a neat enough idea that I just joined up on impulse. I see now that he has closed the club to new members, so I must have got in at the right time. My first deep connection to computers was calling local BBS lines from Augusta GA at a friends house on his Commodore 64 with an acoustic coupler modem. Actually hearing people tell the stories of these wacky systems was really fun. I’m looking foward to GET LAMP, which will be about text adventure games. I played some of them on that same C-64. It would be almost a decade after that before I owned my own computer, and by then the world had moved on from the genre.

Are there any other projects of this ilk that I should know about and be supporting?