Going Paperless on Medium

As part of the transition over to Medium that I wrote about last time, I have started to make my Going Paperless series of posts available over on Medium. I have created a “Going Paperless” publication, and I’ve migrated roughly a quarter of the posts so far.

In migrating these posts over to Medium, I considered whether or not to update them. The earliest posts are from way back in 2012, and many no longer represent how I work today. I decided to leave them in their original form for 2 reasons:

  1. They show how I once worked, and the entire series provides an evolution of how and why I changed my habits over time. This might prove useful to others.
  2. Some of the way that I used to do things don’t work well for me today, but they still might work well for others.

Over the next few weeks, I plan to get all of the posts (well over 100 of them) migrated over to Medium. You can keep an eye on the Going Paperless publication to mark my progress if you are so inclined.

Transitional Notes

I occurs to me to that I have not posted here since back on my birthday. I apologize for that. I’ve got a lot of things going on. Here are some transitional notes to bring things up-to-date.

Retired as Evernote Ambassador

If you haven’t already seen the news, Evernote has transitioned their Ambassador program to a new Community Leader program. I took this opportunity to retire as Evernote Paperless Ambassador. A few points:

  1. I am still an Evernote user.
  2. I retired mainly because I felt like I didn’t have anything new to offer. My posts, while well-received, have begun to repeat themselves.
  3. The program transition seemed like a good time to retire.
  4. I want to use the time I spent writing about Evernote writing about technology more generally. More on this later.

Transition to Medium

Almost a year ago to the day, I wrote about “stagnation and transition to Medium,” something that I ultimately didn’t follow through with. Today, I am more serious about it. I have been spending time formulating a plan to transition my writing from this WordPress blog over to Medium. This transition will take place over several months, and there will be a period of time where the posts that I write will appear in both places. But eventually, this blog will retire and my writing will continue on Medium. I have several reasons for making this transition:

  1. My time is growing increasingly limited, thanks to being busy at work, and with the family. This site is a self-maintained WordPress site, and it does take work to maintain it. That time could be better spent writing. I don’t have to maintain Medium the way I do this site. So that’s a plus.
  2. I like Medium as a writing platform. I like its simplicity, its UX/UI, and its discussion model.
  3. I like the kind of pieces that I read on Medium, and I want to be a part of that. My own take is that Medium represents (or had already subsumed) traditional blogging.
  4. Sometimes, I just need something new. Medium represents that new thing for me.

My transition plan here is not complete, but my goal is to be doing this kind of blog writing on Medium exclusively beginning in early September. With a roughly five month transition, and plenty of reminders along the way, it should make it relatively painless for those who want to follow me over there.

Technology writing

I haven’t been writing much at all lately. A while back I announced my retirement from science fiction writing. I am transitioning this blog over to Medium. I’ve retired as Evernote’s paperless ambassador? So what do I plan on writing about?

I suspect, although I am still working this out, that much of what I write will be tech-based. I want to write more about the influence of technology. I want to write more about technology on a micro (vs. macro) scale. That is, that ways that I use technology to improve myself. I’m still fascinated by quantified-self, and have been working on a project in this regard, borrowing concepts from the likes of Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, and others. I’ll have more to say on this at some point in the future. I want to write more about coding for wider audience. Coding skills today are like home maintenance skills. Have experience with some of those skill sets can reap large benefits.

Of course, I also want to write about the things I read about, and other miscellaneous things that appear here on this blog from time-to-time.

In conclusion

Things are in flux, and I appreciate your patience as I work my way through them. Beginning with my next post, post will appear both here and over on Medium through the transition, and of course, there will be reminders along the way. If you have any questions, feel free to drop them in the comments, and I will do my best to answer them for you.

Two Score and Four

I turned 44 today—two score and four. It marks only the second time in my life that my birthday falls on Easter Sunday, which is a fabulous illustration of the vagaries of the lunar calendar. (The first time my birthday fell on Easter Sunday was in 2005.) The kids woke me up this morning with happy birthday and happy Easter greetings.

Forty-four is not a milestone like 40 or 50, but it holds a special significance for me nonetheless. Three months after graduating from college, I started a job at a company that I still work at today. I was 22 years old on my first day at work at the company. A little later this year, at 44, I will be have been at that same company for 22 years—half of my life. There is something both amazing, and frightening at the thought that there may be a 22 year-old who started with the company, who was yet born when I started there, back in 1994.

My plans for my 44th birthday are modest. This morning, I am reading the Sunday papers. A little later this morning, we are heading to a friends’ house for Easter brunch. There is an ice cream cake (my favorite!) in the freeze for tonight. Mostly, I am looking forward to spending the day with the family, and maybe making some progress on my reading of Carl Sandburg’s biography of Abraham Lincoln, which I expect to finish sometime this week.

Mysteriously Anonymous Dentist and Doctor Offices

I had to call my dentist office recently to reschedule an appointment, and the call reminded me of a strange phenomenon I encounter any time I call a dentist or doctor office. The phone rings once, twice, and then a spritely receptionist says, “Dentist office.” Sometimes, they said, “Dentist office, how can I help you?”

This happens when I call the doctor’s office as well. Whether it is my doctor, or the kids’ doctor, a phone call to the office always results in the receptionist answering, “Doctor’s office.”

Understand, I am not being deliberately coy here. I am not trying to hide the name of the dentist or doctor’s office by anonymizing it in the generalized form “Dentist office” or “Doctor’s office.” I am telling you, word-for-word, what the receptionists say when answering the phone.

The point is that they don’t identify which dentist or doctor’s office you happen to be calling. As it turned out, when I called to reschedule my appointment, I gave the receptionist my name, and she was puzzled, “I’m sorry Mr. Rubin, but we don’t have an appointment on record for you. The last appointment we have on record  is from back in 2011.”

I had called the wrong dentist’s office, something I would have known immediately if, instead of identifying themselves, vaguely, as “Dentist’s office,” they had said, “ACME Dentist’s” (Now I am being coy.) I would have know instantly that I had called ACME Dentists by mistake.

Doctor’s offices do this to. This a thing, apparently. It is as if a built in assumption exists that if you are calling the number, you know name of the office which you are calling, and there is no need to repeat it for clarity. Except, this isn’t how most businesses operate over the phone. Most businesses are eager to remind you who you have reached. It is a convenient way of confirming that you have reached the right place.

I called Virginia EZ-Pass this morning so that they wouldn’t deactivate the transponder in our second car because it hasn’t been used in the last year. I was greeted with a “Welcome to the Virginia EZ-Pass Customer Service line.” Yup, I’d come to the right place.

Why is it that dentist and doctor offices never identify themselves over the phone? Is there some good reason for this that I can’t fathom out of pure common sense?

Perhaps the dentist and doctor offices are onto something with their attempts at anonymity. Whenever they call me to confirm an appointment, the number displays on my phone as “Dentist” because that’s how I have it in my contacts. Perhaps, from now, when they call, instead of answering, “This is Jamie,” I’ll respond will equal anonymity.

“Hello, this is a patient,” I’ll say, once again restoring balance to a topsy-turvy world.

The Perfect Time Machine

Books are the perfect time machine. They can take you into the past, allow you to travel to pivotal times and places in history. And yet, they have the perfect protection against paradox: books provide no ability whatsoever to change the past. I thought about this recently while reading Doris Kearns Goodwin’s outstanding No Ordinary Time: Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt: The Home Front in World War II.

Biographies seem particularly susceptible to time travel. You hope back to some past era, and for a period of days, jump through the life of some famous person. You learn their family roots, and you are there long before the subject is famous. You are there when they are born, a pink and wrinkled baby, wailing for warmth and milk. That baby, often in surroundings, will change the world in some important way.

Long biographies take a particular toll. You come to know the subject better than they could possibly know you. You are, in fact, invisible to the subject, the way a good time traveler should be, never giving any hint that you are there, observing. Regardless of the subject, a certain anxiety steadily builds up with the foreknowledge you have that the subject lacks. I am currently reading Carl Sandburg’s massive Lincoln: The Plains Years and the War Years, and when Lincoln was born, I thought: this little baby will go see a play one day, and that will be the end.

The intimate knowledge that time travel brings can often make you feel as if you are friends with the subject. This has happened to me on several of my jaunts back to colonial America. Twice I’ve gone back to witness John Adams’ extraordinary life. He lived a long life, but on the day he died, July 4, 1826, the fiftieth anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, I found myself saddened almost to tears. Thomas Jefferson died on the same day.

At times I want to shout at the book: “Don’t go to the play!” I plead with Lincoln. “Don’t head down to Brazil!” I tell Theodore Roosevelt, knowing that the injuries and illness he’ll sustain on that journey, to say nothing of the bullet he took giving a stump speech, will lead to an early grave.

But books have built-in protections from the paradox of time travel, protections that cannot be beat. No matter how much I yell and plead, Lincoln cannot hear me, will never hear me, and he will head off to see “Our American Cousin.” Roosevelt will plow unheeded through the Brazilian jungles.

Time traveling through history and biography gives the pleasure of meeting amazing people. Yet at the same time, as we grow to know these people, we also know we have to say goodbye to them. And unlike the subjects, we know the where and when of that goodbye. The foreknowledge lends a weighty anxiety that is the baggage of any foray into the past that we take. It is as inescapable as the knowledge of our subject’s fate. Still, I am an addict. I can’t help but travel back. There are just so many people to meet. So many events to witness.

H.G. Wells’ time machine was a complicated device, so I find it both comforting, and a bit ironic, that the real thing is so much simpler: nothing more than bound paper and text. With this perfect time machine, I can, it seems, go anywhere.

Chasing Comets: Retiring from Science Fiction

I decided that I wanted to be a science fiction writer sometime late in 1992, and I wrote and submitted my first stories in early 1993. In the 23 years since, I’ve lost count of the stories I’ve written, the number of submissions I’ve made, the number of rejections I’ve received. In that 23 year period, I sold 11 stories, and twice as many pieces of nonfiction.

Over the last year or so, my interest in science fiction has waned. While the most recent stories I’ve sold have had elements of science fiction, they are not essential to the story. I haven’t read the science fiction magazines in a long time; I rarely pick up a new science fiction book these days. This has nothing to do with the genre, and everything to do with how my interests have evolved over time.

At the same time, I’ve been having a blast with my blog writing—when I can find the time to do it. The blog writing does not pay in the same way that science fiction writing does, but money was never my primary driver for writing. I write because I enjoy it.

Then, too, my science fiction stories, while good enough to be published in the pro magazines, never made waves. And while I firmly believe that with enough practice, I could continue to improve my craft to a point where I am better equipped to write good stories, I can no longer afford the time that would be required to make these improvements.

I am not giving up writing, but I am acknowledging that there is some writing that I am no longer interested in doing. I’ve done my best, and made it farther than I thought possible back when I started. But, like a pitcher who no longer has command or speed, it’s time for me to call it a day. There are other things I want to do.

I want to spend more time with my kids. “Daddy, why are you always working?” the Little Miss said to me this weekend, when I was typing away at the computer. I had no good answer for her. I feel guilty each time my kids ask me to play, and I tell them it will have to wait.

I plan to continue writing about the things that interest me here on the blog, although I suspect you won’t see me writing much about writing; or science fiction. Those are subjects that I have covered more than enough. I also plan to continue writing nonfiction pieces as the opportunities to do so arise.

None of this is to say that I am giving up science fiction forever. I find that my interests are cyclical. Some of those cycles are short, like the period of the moon’s rotation around the earth. Others are much longer, like a comet that passes by once in a century. I can’t predict when, or if, this particular comet will return, but if it does, I’ll look to hop on for a ride.

I wasn’t sure I should even write a post about this, or if I should just fade out the scene without much fuss. I decided to write the post because I have made a lot of friends in the science fiction world; friends that I am lucky to have; friends that I hope to keep, despite my retirement from the genre.

Ten Checkout Lanes?

My local Safeway store has 10 checkout lanes. Nine of these are regular checkout lanes, and one of them is for self-checkout. The self-checkout has 6 stations where customers can tally their purchases and bag their own groceries.

When I visited the store Saturday afternoon to do some shopping for the week, just two of the 9 checkout lanes were open. While waiting in line at one of the two open lanes, it occurred to me that I had never seen more than three, or perhaps four lanes open in all of the times (hundreds!) that I have visited the store.

With time to kill while I waited, I wondered why grocery stores are built with 10 checkout lanes any more these days. When my local Safeway was remodeled five or six years ago, it came with ten bright and shiny checkout lanes to replace the ten less shiny lanes that were bulldozed when the old store was torn down. In all of that time, even of the busiest days, like Thanksgiving, I’d never seen more than half of the nine lanes open.

If I were a reporter, I might have located the store manager and asked if they knew of a time when all nine regular checkout lanes were in operation. I’d have been surprised if they could give me even one instance. It is understandable. After all, nine open lanes means paying nine people to attend to the checkout lands. It means needing to pay for additional baggers, and if there is never a need for more than four or—rarely—five lanes, then why pay for nine people?

But that begs the question: why have nine regular checkout lanes at all? Why not have five lanes, and use the space currently occupied by the surplus lanes for additional stock? Passing through the store, even at a busy time, those idle checkout lanes stand out.

Often, the longest line at the grocery store is for the self-checkout lane. It is the lane I use most frequently. But it seems to me there should be some kind of additional discount for using the self-checkout lane. You swipe your own merchandise and bag your own groceries. And what benefit does the lane provide? It might make checkout faster if more of the regular lanes were open, but with only a few open at any given time, people gravitate to the self check-out lanes.

Self-checkout is often like airport security. If you get behind a frequent-flier, you can move through security quickly (presuming that you yourself are also a frequently flier). There are people who can move through self-checkout quickly, and those who seem bewildered by the entire system. They look as though they have no idea how they found their way into this line in the first place.

I can tell you how they got there: they followed the rows of idle checkout aisles, until they found some activity at the far end—which turned out to be the self-checkout.

Future Reading in 2016 (and Beyond?)

The post I wrote on Saturday on what I’ve read so far this year got me thinking about the kind of reading I have been doing lately. While predicting what I will read next week or next month is always a challenge—mostly because my future reading is often driven by my current reading—I scribbled out a list of books that I would like to be able to read in the near future. Many of these are books I’ve been wanting to read for years, but haven’t around to. I list them below, exactly how I listed them out last night, in the order they came to me.

  • The Man Who Saved the Union: Ulysses Grant in War and Peace by H.W. Brands
  • Abraham Lincoln: The Prairie Years and the War Years by Carl Sandburg
  • Matterhorn: A Novel of the Vietnam War by Karl Marinates
  • The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow
  • Born to Run by Bruce Springsteen (not scheduled for release until the fall of 2016)
  • The Story of World War II by Donald L. Miller
  • Reamde by Neal Stephenson
  • John Quincy Adams: American Visionary by Fred Kaplan
  • The Second World War (4 volumes) by Sir Winston Churchill
  • The Years of Lyndon Johnson (4 volumes) by Robert A. Caro
  • The Abominable by Dan Simmons
  • Jefferson and His Time (6 volumes) by Dumas Malone
  • End of Watch by Stephen King
  • Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow
  • The Civil War: A Narrative (3 volumes) by Shelby Foote
  • The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich by William L. Shirer
  • The Autobiography of Mark Twain by Mark Twain
  • Shoeless Joe by W.P. Kinsella (a re-read)

Mostly, I just go where my current reading takes me, but the recent reading I’ve done has me primed for the kinds of books I’ve listed above.

Reading in 2016, So Far

I have had this tendency to read a lot of fiction at the beginning of the year. That trend seems to have ended this year. I have complete 7 books in the first 9 weeks of the year and all of them have been nonfiction.

  1. I Remember Me by Carl Reiner
  2. I Just Remembered by Carl Reiner
  3. This Time Together by Carol Burnett
  4. Even This I Get to Experience by Norman Lear
  5. My Happy Days in Hollywood by Garry Marshall
  6. What’s So Funny? by Tim Conway
  7. The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes

As of this writing, I am well into my 8th nonfiction book of the year, No Ordinary Time by Doris Kearns Goodwin. And honestly, there is no end in sight. Waiting in the wings, I’ve got:

  • The Tides of the Mind: Uncovering the Spectrum of Consciousness by David Gelernter
  • The Story of World War II by Donald L. Miller
  • The Second World War by Sir Winston Churchill
  • The Information: A History, A Theory, A Flood by James Gleick
  • The Baseball Codes by Jason Turbow

There are recent works of fiction I am looking forward to, including:

  • Arkwright by Allen Steele
  • Quantum Night by Robert J. Sawyer
  • End of Watch by Stephen King

But the fiction keeps getting shunted aside for the nonfiction, and I can’t say I see that changing any time soon. Gone are the days when my years would begin with book after book of fiction (and especially, science fiction). Perhaps most surprising—to me, at least—is that I really don’t mind the change.

Tinkering

With the baseball season nearly upon us, I have taken to tinkering with my baseball simulation ideas once again. This time, my vision is a little more clear, at least with respect to what I want to do with the resulting data.

For those who have no idea what I am talking about, for years, I have been fascinated with the idea of writing a baseball simulation. Many of these simulations already exist, but I find that building it myself helps me learn. Also, my goals are somewhat different from the goals of the existing simulations:

  1. My simulations are not interactive. That is, you don’t play the manager. There is a bootstrapped starting point, and the simulations run based on that starting point.
  2. The output of my simulations is data.
  3. Part of what I am doing is writing tools to make use of the data.
  4. Ideally, I’d run 100 years of well-simulated baseball, and have a century of data to play with.

That had been the point of my tinkering now and then over the years. With a century of data, all fictional, it would be interest, I thought, to see who held the all-time home run record, who had the most stolen bases, how many perfect games were played, etc.

More recently, I’ve had another idea that goes beyond this. I had so much fun writing my last published story, “Gemma Barrows Comes to Cooperstown” that it occurred to me that with the data from 100 years of simulated baseball, I could begin to write a series of fiction (alternate universe?) baseball stories about the various seasons, games, standout players, etc. I wouldn’t have to make up the game situations, since my simulation data would provide all of that.

I have also turned to a more tool-based model, and have thus started calling my simulation a “baseball OS” since it is entirely based on command-line tools. I’ve created a GitHub repo for this which I am making public for anyone who wants to peek at what I am working on. Right now, there’s nothing more than documentation, because I haven’t yet rewritten the stuff from last year to fit this tool-based model. I am working more on the framework, the goals I want to achieve, and the milestone features with each release.

This may seem silly, esoteric, or a waste of time, but I can’t begin to express the delight I have in working on this effort in little chunks of time here and there. It relaxes me, teaches me new things, and keep my coding chops as honed as I can manage. I imagine I derive the same pleasure from this effort as someone who works with wood making furniture, or someone who relaxes by painting landscapes.

The time I’ve been spending on this might also explain why I haven’t been writing as much here, although that isn’t the only reason. The day job has been busy as well.

Going Paperless 2.0: Searching in Evernote, Part 4 of 4: “Where?”

In last week’s post, I described how I take advantage of the native date searching capabilities in Evernote to quickly find notes and documents in a specific time frame, answering the “when?” question of searching. This week, in the final post for this mini-series, I take the “where?” question.

Location services

Evernote can automatically capture the location each note is created. This requires location services (on Apple devices) to be enabled. Without location services enabled, capturing location has to be done manually.

Notes on a map

If you’ve enabled location services, you can get a nice picture of where your notes were created by going to the Atlas view. On Windows machines, the Atlas view may not be visible on the sidebar by default. To make it visible, go to the View menu, click the Left Panel option, and made sure Show Atlas is checked.

By default, I can see a summary of places where I have created notes.

Evernote Atlas

I prefer to look at this on the full map, however. I can this by clicking “All Notes”. What I get is a map of the United States. Scattered across the map, you can see counts of notes that I’ve created in various places.

Evernote Atlas, US

This map is zoomable, and as I drill into different areas, you’ll see the counts split into more detailed representations of exactly where I was when the notes were created. For instance, back in 2013, I attended the Launchpad Astronomy Workshop for writers at the University of Wyoming, Laramie. Zooming into that part of the map, I see my notes break down as follows, across the campus:

Evernote Atlas, Wyoming

The note flags tell me how many notes where created in each location. Clicking on the flag and then clicking the View All Notes option takes me to a list of all of the notes created in that location:

Launchpad Notes

Descriptive searches

On Evernote for Mac, it is possible to search notes by place using “descriptive searches.” Descriptive searching is a way to do natural language searching, which gets translated into an Evernote-style search for you.

Once, while visiting Maine, I jotted down the name of a few plants that I wanted to remember to add some verisimilitude to a story that I was working on. Of course, once I returned home, I had difficulty finding the note because I couldn’t recall the name of the plants. So I used a descriptive search as follows:

plants in castine

Castine being the name of the town that I was in when I made the note. When I typed this search into Evernote’s search bar, it translated it into a descriptive search:

Descriptive Search

By clicking on the descriptive search option, I got a list of matching notes—which happened to be a single note, and the very note that I’d been looking for:

Descriptive matches

Practical vs. Fun

“Where” searches are probably the least practical searches that I do. While I occasionally search for something by location, I can usually find it through other means. For instance, I could have found the note on plants by searching for notes between the dates that I knew I was visiting Maine that summer. I would have had to scroll through a few more notes, but I would have found it.

Still, I think it is fun to browse notes in this fashion from time-to-time. Location gives notes an added dimension, beyond that of just the timeline that I normally think of when I think of how my notes are organized.

And there are a few practical uses. For instance, when I park my car in a parking garage at the airport, I will snap a photo into Evernote of the parking zone in which I am parked. Because I have location services turned on, I end up with the exact location I parked my car, making it easy to find when I return from my trip.

Going to a new restaurant, I’ll create a note with the name of the restaurant, and sometimes jot down what I ordered. With location services turned on, I get the exact location of the place so that if I need to remember where it was that I had lunch with an editor on the Riverwalk in San Antonio, I can locate the note and see where it is on a map.

But again, these tend to be less practical uses for me, and more fun.

Summing it up

When I search for things in Evernote, I tend to think of the “who”, “what”, “when”, and “where”? But these aren’t the only ways to search. Evernote has some powerful search capabilities that go far beyond the basics. I can search for notes by their content type, or by their input source. I can search for notes containing to-do items, or reminders. I can search for notes that I have shared.

When I scan documents, Evernote makes the contents of those documents searchable as well. It even does a pretty good job of making my handwritten notes searchable.

If you are interested in learning just how rich Evernote’s search capabilities are, I’d recommend checking out this document on Evernote’s search grammar. It goes into detail on all of the various ways you can search Evernote, including many that you were probably not even aware of.


If you have a suggestion for a future Going Paperless post, let me know. Send it to me at feedback [at] jamietoddrubin.com. As always, this post and all of my Going Paperless posts is also available on Pinterest.

Last week’s post: Searching in Evernote, Part 3 of 4: “When?”

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What Would You Like Me to Write About?

Since I am buried in work at the moment, as I just mentioned, but hope to begin writing on the blog again soon in the next day or two, I thought I’d toss out a question:

Is there anything you’d like me to write about here on the blog in the near future? Whether it is a specific paperless topic, some tech-based topic, something about writing, or science fiction, or baseball, or whatever. If there is something you’ve been wanting me to write about, let me know by dropping your suggestion in the comments. I’ll do my best to take on those topics for which I feel capable.