How to start and keep a digital journal this year

If you are like most humans then you yearn to figure out what this world means and what it is made of. Call it the meaning of life, God, or whatever you like. But, there is some urge for us to figure things out about ourselves and our surroundings. One of the best ways that I have discovered to do this is through journaling and keeping my thoughts and daily interactions in a written form.

750 words

I used to keep a paper journal (I still use paper here and there for things), but ever since I re-started college in 2007 I moved my journaling to a digital medium. I journaled on and off for a couple of years until I ran across Julia Cameron’s idea of Morning Pages. The idea was to write around 3 long-hand written pages first thing in the morning to get thoughts out of your head as well as get your creative juices flowing.

Instead of long-hand I go digital. It ends up being about 750 words typed. This clacking on the keyboard (or tapping on the iPhone) every morning is like a ritual for me. It calms my mind down, helps me make sense of things, and keeps my mind somewhat sharp. If you don’t think you can write 750 words every single day, then try just for a week. And then a month.

The apps

You really only need a simple text editor to keep a digital journal. If you want it everywhere, you can then simply sync it with Dropbox. If you don’t like plain text editors, you can use some special applications for keeping a digital journal like:

  • Day One for Mac and iOS
  • Momento for iOS
  • Penzu on the web
  • Evernote

Evernote isn’t necessarily built for keeping a journal, but Evernote can really be used for just about anything and everything. I personally am using Day One for Mac and iOS because it’s simple and gorgeous; it’s just great to use.

Keeping the journal

Keeping a journal is tough. It takes perseverance. It’s a habit that you have to create. So, how do you do it?

I like the little saying at the bottom of the fullscreen text editor in WordPress:

Just write.

That’s it. There is no special thing to do, awesome tip or trick to get you writing and keep you writing; it’s all about writing and getting your 750 words in every day. There will be some days that you don’t want to do it.

*Force yourself to get through the 750 words.*

What will happen is one day you won’t feel like writing and all of the sudden you will write about something you have been trying to figure out and get through it. You will find out something about yourself that is awesome or maybe even disturbing. Journaling is all about self-discovery and reflection and you will be surprised at what you will find out about yourself with consistent effort.

And that’s it. Keeping a digital journal isn’t a terribly hard thing to do. It just takes one word at a time, one day at a time.

HOWTO: The quick way to use Twitter Bootstrap with Genesis

I love the Genesis Framework by Studiopress. And I love the Twitter Bootstrap Framework for creating “standard” web interfaces. There is so much that both the Genesis and Bootstrap frameworks get right when it comes to ease of use and consistency. Because I love them so much, I decided to start using them together to get great looking front-end layouts that Studiopress doesn’t provide out-of-box. I like having solid looking tables, buttons, and forms, so Bootstrap is a great way to get that easily and quickly.

Here’s the quick and dirty way to use Genesis and Bootstap together.

1. Download a custom package of Bootstrap

One of the main reasons that I use the Bootstrap framework on WordPress sites with Genesis is to get some of the sleek looking front-end look to buttons, tables, forms, etc. I don’t normally use the entire Bootstrap framework with Genesis, usually just tables and buttons, but if you want the entire thing you can do that too.

Go grab a custom package of Bootstrap here. First click the Toggle All button on the Choose Components heading. Then simply choose the following from the list:

  • Tables
  • Forms
  • Buttons
  • Icons

This will get us a good start. Next, click the Toggle All button on the Select jQuery Plugins. We don’t need any of these for this exercise. Scroll to the bottom and click Customize and Download. Next, unzip the file you just downloaded.

2. Move the Bootstrap files to your WordPress installation

I’m not going to go in depth on how to access your WordPress installation via FTP (you can find that elsewhere). Drill down to your Studiopress theme folder. In my case here at DevBurner, I use the eleven40 theme so I would go to:

/wp-content/themes/eleven40

Next, upload the entire bootstrap folder you just unzipped to the root of your theme directory.

3. Include the Bootstrap CSS file in your site’s header

I like to do this with the Genesis Simple Hooks plugin (if you don’t have it, install it from here or simply search for it in your WordPress installation via the Plugins > Add New). Once the plugin is activated, in your WordPress backend go to Genesis > Simple Hooks. In the hook for wp_head fill it in with this:

<link rel="stylesheet" type="text/css" href="/wp-content/themes/eleven40/bootstrap/css/bootstrap.min.css" />
<script src="/wp-content/themes/eleven40/bootstrap/js/bootstrap.min.js"></script>

Remember to replace the name of your theme folder with the one that you are using.

4. Now you are done, so test it out

Because of the little bit you did above you get some great stuff.

Nice looking tables by using the table CSS class for your tables.

<table class="table">
  <tr>
    <th>Title</th>
    <th>Description</th>
  </tr>
  <tr>
    <td>This is the title</td>
    <td>This is the description</td>
  </tr>
</table>

This markup creates this:

Title Description
This is the title This is the description

If you want to add a nice striped layout to your tables, just add the tabled-striped class to your table:

<table class="table table-striped">
  ...
</table>

You’ll get this:

Title Description
Great looking tables Are awesome
Great looking front-ends Are exciting for people to use
Great looking sites Are something people come back to again and again

You also get some great looking buttons by simply using the btn class on anchor links:

<a href="http://google.com" class="btn" >Go to Google</a>

The above yields:

Go to Google

You can also add some classes like btn btn-primary, btn btn-success, or btn btn-danger will give you:

Go to DevBurner

Go to Apple

Go to Microsoft

There is so much more you can do now with the power of the Genesis and Bootstrap frameworks combined. I highly suggest for you to check out the Bootstrap framework documentation if you want to utilize some of the great front-end enhancements it can bring to your website.

Anonymous MSFT developer admits Linux is faster than Windows

Well, if you’ve used Linux for any length of time and compared its speed to that of Windows, this was a no brainer. What’s damaging is that this Microsoft OS developer brings to light just why Linux is faster. Not only does it show that Microsoft is misguided and in trouble if they keep going down this road, but it alarms me that they don’t give a shit about their operating system.

You know, the operating system that millions of people pay for their businesses to run mission critical applications and mail servers on. The operating systems that Microsoft charges asinine amounts of money for.

I wish that Linux would become much more viable in the next few years, and that major software vendors start to switch to if. In other words; I’ll keep dreaming.

Get Your Subtle Patterns at subtlepatterns.com

If you are looking for some amazing subtle backgrounds for your sites, apps, documents, even desktops, then I have to highly recommend checking out subtlepatterns.com.

I’m thinking about applying some of them to DevBurner and have been playing around with them on different development sites. Adds a nice touch to your design and free is always good.

A Toolset for a Productive New Year (2013 Edition)

Another year is here and it’s time to get serious about the tools I use to get my job and life done. I try every few months to “downsize” what I use; but I am coming closer to the realization that I don’t have to be “minimal” to be effective.

I simply need to make sure that each tool in my toolset has a use and that I use it. That’s all.

Last year, the 2012 Edition did pretty well here at DevBurner, so hopefully this will provide some more fodder for you tool hungry fools. :D

Here we go.

Paperless and Automation

I love, love, love David Sparks newish eBook about going paperless. I am finally finding the correct workflow with:

  • ScanSnap S1500 an amazing, duplex, you-need-this-now-so-don’t-wait scanner.
  • JotNot Pro on iPad and iPhone for mobile scanning.
  • Evernote and Skitch for keeping track of notes, screenshots, etc.
  • GoodReader on iPhone and iPad. This is the way I manage files on my iOS devices. It has a little feature overload, but it really does do everything I could ever want.
  • Hazel. I don’t know why I didn’t buy this sooner. Hazel basically automates all kinds of actions on the contents of a folder. My paperless system wouldn’t be as efficient without it. I’m barely cracking the service with this app and will be writing about it more and more this year.
  • Launch Center Pro for iOS is a great little app that makes certain tasks on your iPhone much faster and found under one roof.

Productivity tools and systems

I found out this year that I’m flaky when it comes to productivity and “GTD” applications. While writing for Lifehack, I tried so many different todo and project management apps and thought that the new shiny one with the new shiny features was going to somehow improve my productivity. It didn’t. So, I’m going back to my rocks in 2013; using these systems and apps as support mechanisms above anything else.

Development Tools

At my full time job I’m a developer about 75% of the time. So, I have to make sure that I have tools that I can use to get my job done faster and easier.

  • Visual Studio 2012. Programming on Windows? Well, then you will need this. Actually, I really like Visual Studio. Also, with the new addition of LightSwitch to the VS family of tools, I have found that I can get a ton more done for my end users.
  • Kendo UI for all the newer web apps I’m creating. It’s a great JavaScript framework and helps me not have to lean so much on a gazillion different libraries.
  • Knockout.js for using the MVVM pattern for web UIs. Knockout is a great tool to use to build single page applications with JavaScript and HTML.
  • [Bootstrap] is a front-end framework made open source by the peeps over at Twitter. It’s a great way to get a web app up and running and looking good at the same time. It can be (and should be) used as a framework and then customized.
  • Sublime Text 2. From a huge IDE to a nice, fast, fun editor. What I love about Sublime Text 2 is that it’s fun to use and works on Windows, Mac, and Linux.
  • Git for version control.
  • Ruby on Rails for my personal web development and projects.

Writing and reading tools

I’m going to be doing some more writing here and in other places across the web this year. It’s important to have some trusty writing tools so I can get an idea down as soon as I have it. Also, I read quite a bit so having a good workflow for that is essential as well.

  • Instapaper. The best way to save articles for later and read them without any distractions. Works perfectly on my iPhone and iPad.
  • Reeder. I tried to get away from Google Reader this year, but I just kept coming back. Reeder is the best and most fun way to read RSS feeds on my Mac, iPhone, and iPad.
  • Byword for Mac and iOS. I’m writing this post in Byword now. It supports Markdown and not a lot of features. I love it for writing things between 100 and 5000 words.
  • Scrivener for long form (greater than 10k words) writing. I’m going to write a book this year. Scrivener will be my companion in that journey.
  • Drafts for iPhone and iPad. I love this app because it’s fast and I can send my text almost anywhere I want to. It’s replaced all text editors on my iPhone homescreen. I just start with Drafts and go from there.
  • Day One for Mac, iPhone, and iPad is an amazing journaling application. It’s made me want to journal for a whole year now. I will continue with it.

That’s it

That’s a lot of tooling. But I know for sure it’s not everything. There are so many little utilities and workflows that I use throughout my day that I’d bore you (and possibly myself) with all of the details. These are the heavy hitters and as the year progresses I will talk about them and others in depth.

Whatever tools you choose, remember there are just tools to get a job done. The job is more important than the tools used to do it. Hopefully there is something on this list that can help you in 2013 get more important work done.

2013: A New Year

I, like a lot of people I read and respect, don’t necessarily like the idea of a New Year’s Resolution. Mostly because they are broken and forgotten before the end of January. And when that happens, we tend to feel like failures.

That’s not cool.

So, instead, I like to think about the year ahead and make a few goals and projects that will get me closer to a better version of me. Yeah, yeah; that is kinda sorta a resolution.

Here’s my list of stuff I want to accomplish (ala Mike Vardy’s nice list):

  • Write more. Here at DevBurner, on other sites, and personally in Day One.
  • Read less junk.
  • Waste less time. I’m making an attempt to track my time in 2013 to see where it goes. Then cut out the unnecessary as much as possible.
  • Make more. I have a couple of personal projects outside of my work at Acutec up my sleeve. They will be set in motion and finished this year.
  • Go paperless. After finally reading David Sparks excellent book Paperless, I believe that I have a great paperless workflow that can scale and support the lifestyle this coming year. Now I have to drudge through all that paper!
  • Improve my relationships. I really suck at relationships and I’m making an effort this year to be more available and be more of a true friend to my friends.
  • Become healthier and sexier. My mom would tell me that it’s just my “baby weight” I haven’t lost, but when you are 28 that starts to sound a little outdated. I purchased a year of DailyBurn because I hate, hate, hate the gym and I’m trying to lose a decent amount of fat by the time I go on vacation I June.
  • Switch my development and technology skills to more open ones. I’m a C# and web developer by trade and after using Windows 8 and watching where Microsoft is going, I’m starting to feel the fear. I’m going to learn and use some “open” languages this year and dive into Unix and Linux more.
  • Be a better husband.
  • Play more music.
  • Increase and maintain my spirituality.
  • Help more people with technology.

I’d say that’s a pretty good list for 2013. See, to me another new year is just a milestone in a long project. It’s a time where I can stop and reflect and figure out what I want the next milestone to bring.

Here’s to 2013!

Integrating Netbot with Launch Center Pro

When App.net was announced and Alpha was released, I was a tad apprehensive of getting involved. After Mr. Vardy talked me into it, I chocked up the $100, bought a developer account, and began to use the service.

I have fell in and out of using Alpha over the last few months, mostly because of the lack of a great iPhone and iPad client (that’s where I do most of my Twittering). Now that Tapbots have released Netbot (basically a clone of the look and feel of Tweetbot) for App.net, I’m all in.

And with Launch Center Pro being one of my favorite ways to do almost anything on my iPhone, I decided to share with you all of the nice URL shortcuts you can setup to make your App.net on iPhone experience a tremendous one.

The shortcuts

Note: If you have multiple accounts in Netbot you must fill in the ‘screenname’ variable with the account you want to use. If not, remove the ‘screenname’ variable and keep triple slashes ‘tweetbot:///’. Either way, you are good to go.

  • View your timeline: netbot://<screenname>/timeline
  • View your mentions (if you have search pages or other pages up, this won’t work for some reason in Netbot): netbot://<screenname>/mentions
  • Pull up a search screen in Netbot: netbot://<screenname>/search
  • Pull up a prompt in LCP and when submitted, search Netbot: netbot://<screenname>/search?query=[input]
  • Pull up a prompt in LCP and when submitted, search Netbot with clipboard contents: netbot://<screenname>/search?query=[clipboard]
  • Open a specific user’s profile (you can also use the [prompt] or [clipboard] variables here: netbot://<screenname>/user_profile/<profilename>
  • Open a new post screen in Netbot: netbot://<screenname>/post
  • Pull up a prompt and post it’s contents to Netbot: netbot://<screenname>/post?text=[prompt]
  • Post your clipboard text to Netbot: netbot://<screenname>/post?text=[clipboard]

As Netbot develops, I’m sure we will have more and more URL shortcuts to choose from. Here is a plain text version of all of these for easy copying on your iDevice ;) Enjoy!

 

Making Time to Explore

It’s easy getting stuck in the rat-race of getting things done every day. We have an agenda set for ourselves, have our to-do lists guide us, or have to answer to someone or some entity that demands we do certain things (that would be our jobs).

But, it’s no way to live to constantly be working on something and not give ourselves the time to explore new interests, technologies, and other things that spark our creativity.

The 20%

Google has been known for giving their employees 20% of their time during the week to work on their own projects that are unrelated to their current work (of course, they are owned by Google) where they can try new things or work on something that they are truly interested in with Google’s full resources. This type of leeway is meant to make Google engineers more creative, feel like they have more freedom, and keep them interested in their jobs and Google as a whole.

It’s a smart move, really. Engineers get to make cool stuff that they like and learn some stuff along the way and Google gets cool stuff made for them under their roof. But, we all don’t work at Google and don’t have a cool, short-and-sandle work environment where we can explore. So, what do we do? How do we get to explore?

Setting up creative time

I was blown away by the recent Cal Newport piece regarding setting up a GCTD (Getting Creative Things Done) system with an age-old productivity trick; time-blocking. I’m not going to explain Cal’s piece in its entirety (because if you are into getting stuff done, you need to read this one), but he basically suggests setting up chunks of time of an hour or more to do our creative work throughout the day. Cal suggests setting these chunks up at the beginning of the week and relating them to one or two important projects that you are working on. These chunks aren’t to be considered single tasks that need done at the end of the time chunk; they are open ended areas of time where you can concentrate on creative tasks like writing, problem solving, planning, etc.

The idea is to put a process in place, one that you trust, where you can get your creative work done, not to simply “get something done”. It’s important to leave this time “open-ended” and free. Once again, go read Cal’s post.

This idea can be used not only for work that you have to do, but also for work that you want to do and new things that you want to explore.

Giving yourself permission

So, rather than thinking that spinning your wheels on learning something new or getting nowhere with something that you find interesting is a total waste of time, remember that you need this type of creative exploration to enhance your current skills. Without taking the time and giving yourself the permission to explore, you will never know exactly what you interests you and what you want to do, even if it’s a “hobby” or “side-work”.

I started writing online about 5 years ago. I started a crappy gadget blog with the (naive) hopes of making some money online. But in that process I learned that I actually enjoyed writing and did more of it outside of that crappy gadget blog. I got into technical writing and writing about business and productivity. I started this site with hopes to take creativity and productivity with technology to a valuable place end and create something fun and useful for others. I now write for Lifehack and other online publications.

Without giving myself the permission to take the time to try something new and be creative, I would have never found my passion for writing. And the best thing is that I am still learning and exploring this creative endeavor today.

Practicality

There is a lot of advice about how to make this time to explore, but I suggest that you look no further than the piece that Cal wrote (one last time, read this thing now) and also a recent Back to Work episode about calendaring and how it means more than just calendaring.

We have to be able to take the time to let ourselves fool around and not really go anywhere. We all have important work to do, but without this time to explore, we will eventually not know what other important work there is for us to do.

BaBSE 9: Know Your Tools

Being a good software developer means that you can create software solutions that help solve problems quickly. Being a software developer doesn’t mean that you know every little nook a cranny of a language or every design pattern on earth (although, this can help and is something I personally need to concentrate on), but it does mean that you know how to use tools to create solutions for people effectively.

There is a whole market (free and paid) for development tools that help developers get stuff done in their work lives. And of course, there is a multi-billion dollar app and software market that has been around for decades. These are all tools that help people create and get their jobs done. But is it really only about the tools that you use to develop or to get things done?

You are only as good as your tools

This idea of only being as good as the tools you use to make things is pretty right on. This can be a fine line though. Some people think that you need a super-mega tool to get things done (for instance a full blown SAP implementation for Enterprise Resource Planning) opposed to something that has just the right amount of features you need (where I work, this is an ERP system called JobBOSS).

I think that rather than saying that how good the tools you use dictate how good you are at programming, planning, writing, etc. it should be more along the lines of:

You are only as good as the tools you know

This notion says that it doesn’t matter exactly what tools you use to get things done, but that it’s more important that you know the tools inside in out. So, whether you are using a full blown IDE or a simple text editor to develop, it doesn’t really matter as long as you know the tool and can still develop solutions quickly and effectively.

While developing on Windows I use Visual Studio because it’s pretty much the only tool that I need (and can use) to make Windows and ASP.NET apps. There is a ton to learn about Visual Studio itself, but once you get past all the knobs and switches you can be incredibly fast and productive with it.

It doesn’t stop here

Being only as good as the tools you know isn’t just about software development; it works with productivity, writing, reporting applications, document creation software, etc., so this can apply to anyone that deals with any type of toolset in their work and life. As you get further and further into developing software and solutions you will find that it isn’t about the tools that you use, it’s about knowing what you need to get the job done and then finding and learning tools that support that. So, maybe it’s time to stop looking for tools to make you better, get better and then find and learn tools that support you.

On Writing Today

I almost didn’t post today, but instead of that, I thought I’d redirect you to something I wrote that is near and dear to my heart (and that I spent a decent amount of time on) over at Lifehack.

OmniFocus vs. Things 2.0

In a nutshell

If you want to know what I think without reading all 1800+ words, here you go; don’t wimp out and get Things even though it’s definitely more beautiful and easy and bubbly to use. Spend the time to learn and use a tool that will last you for a long time. Invest in a platform and app that has an amazing track record, responsive developers, and support people called Ninjas.

Doesn’t get much better than that, I’m afraid. Especially when it comes to productivity apps on Mac and iOS.

So, if you are a new productivity app user on Mac and not sure what to invest in, try out OmniFocus for 14 days, check out some decent screencasts, and then get to work.