A Competitive Bunch of FitBit Steppers

On Monday, my buddy and coworker, Rob, invited me to the FitBit “Workweek Hustle” challenge. This is a little challenge in the FitBit app that allows you to compete with friends to see who ends up with the most steps through the course of the workweek. Apparently, I have a competitive set of friends when it comes to steps. After not quite 3 complete days, here is how things stand (no pun intended):

FitBit Challenge

We are each averaging close to 20,000 steps per day.

And, while we each have a full 5 days to complete the challenge, I must point out the my pals Rob and Alvaro have the advantage of walking in the comfort of warm southern California air, while I am getting in my steps in windy (sometimes rainy) and cold conditions of the east coast. I think I should get some kind of handicap for that. My count is down today for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that I am back on the rollout countdown for this project-that-never-ends.

The challenge ends Friday. I’ll let you know how things went.

Winter Sunset

Numbers often provide objective measures of performance. In baseball, sabremetricians have been using the vast numbers produced by the sport to improve performance for decades. It seemed to me that I could do the same with the data that I produced. But I set a fairly specific scope when I started out: I'd focus on objective measurements; that is, things for which I did not have to make a judgement call. I'd use only data that could be collected automatically, without me having to do anything beyond my normal activity. The things that fell into this category--the low-hanging fruit--was, for me, things like physical activity (walking, sleeping), writing (word counts), computer activity (how long I used various applications throughout the day

I noticed a particularly nice winter sky this evening, one of the nicer ones I’ve seen so far this year. So I thought I’d share it.

Going Paperless: Mobile Scanning with Evernote Scannable

I keep my eye out for apps that can help save me time and be more productive. So when Evernote recently released their new app, Scannable, I was eager to try it out. Not only was it designed to do one thing really well–namely, scan documents–but it filled a niche that I found I needed more and more in my efforts to go paperless.

For those who aren’t familiar with the app, Scannable uses the camera in your iPhone or iPad1 to scan documents into Evernote (or other apps). It makes it incredibly easy to do this. You simply start the app, hold the device over the document so that the entire document appears, and wait a few seconds while Scannable detects the edges, and snaps a photo. You don’t have to click button. Scannable does it all. It cleans up the image, makes sure the edges are straight, and then gives you the opportunity to send the document to Evernote or other applications.

How it works

First, you start the app. Then you hold your device over the document you want to scan, and wait a second or two. When the document is highlighted in blue, it means Scannable has detected it and automatically grabs the image. Note how the document below is highlighted and detected even on the edge of my table.

Scannable scanning

Once detected, you can continue to scan more documents, or deal with the ones you’ve already scanned.

Scannable action

When I finish my scanning, I send the document or documents to Evernote. Doing this, I am prompted for which notebook I want the documents to be filed in:

Scannable file

A few seconds later, my scanned document is available in Evernote.

Continue reading Going Paperless: Mobile Scanning with Evernote Scannable

  1. Sorry folks, right now the app is just iOS.

A Post-Mortem on Yesterday’s Site Outage

Many of you probably noticed that this site was down for several hours yesterday. I’m not sure of the full extent, but looking at my Google Analytics data, it looks as if the site was down from about 9 am EST to sometime between noon and 1 pm EST. Let’s call it three hours.

Outage

Whenever the site is down I get stressed, knowing that it sucks to come to a site an get an obscure “Database connection error.” I was also annoyed because my host had recommended I move to another server and host platform a few months ago–something I did because they said it would greatly reduce the chance of an outage and improve the performance of the site.

The move certainly did the latter, but as yesterday showed, there was a major outage on the new platform. I spent some time working with the host to find out the root cause (database issues, not related to my site specifically) and what measures were being taken to reduce the chances of this happening again in the future. Being an IT person myself, I can talk their language and that helps a little.

In any case, I feel pretty confident that the chances are small that we’ll see another outage like this one–at least one related to the same cause.

I wanted to apologize for the outage yesterday, and for any frustration it may have caused. I am monitoring things here, and hopefully we won’t see this particular problem happen again.

 

Aborted rollout and other things keeping me busy

Last weekend was supposed to be a big milestone. We were finally rolling out some software we’d been working on for nearly a year. Unfortunately, late in the day Saturday, we ran into problems that forced us to abort the rollout. We are now scheduled to rollout next weekend (Valentine’s Day, actually). In the meantime, I have been having these really long days trying to work with the vendor and address the issues that prevented us from rolling out in the first place. Here is what a typical day has looked for me this week, according to RescueTime:

RescueTime

12 hours days with an 80+ productivity pulse for most of the week has been draining me. My writing is down for most of the week, although my streak remains unbroken.

Fortunately, we are getting away this weekend, to a resort in western Virginia to celebrate a friend’s birthday. My workday ends at noon today and I’ll have a few days to relax.

I’ve got 3 new Going Paperless posts planned for the coming weeks, and putting those together have been keeping me busy as well.

Anyway, just a quick note here to say that I’m still busy, and haven’t been as active here as I like to be. I’m hoping that this unusual level of activity will end soon, and things will get back to normal.

Going Paperless: Distraction-Free Evernote

Over the years, I have become a big-proponent of two aspects of software: (1) That it is entirely web-based; (2) that it is as distraction-free as possible.

The first item has been an interesting transition. I used to like the secure feeling I got using a piece of software I installed on my laptop. But now, the fact that I actually have to install something on my laptop in order to use it seems quaint. I have, for instance, been using Google Docs almost exclusively for all of my writing over the past 2 years, and I love that I don’t have to install anything. I love that the experience is the same regardless of what computer I am using. I love the that updates are automatic since the application runs in the cloud.

More recently, I have been looking for software that does a good job of getting out of my way. Eliminating distractions is a key part of this. Outside of email, the two applications I use most are Google Docs and Evernote. Google Docs has an excellent distraction-free mode. And recently, Evernote introduced a revamped web application that is distraction-free. I like it so much that I’ve almost given up the thick client for the web application.

Distraction-free Evernote

Here is what distraction-free Evernote looks like when I use it on the web:

Distraction-Free Evernote

I can just start typing my note, or drag a file onto the note if I want to attach something. Despite the clean, distraction-free screen, there is a still a lot of core functionality available when creating or editing a note.

Evernote Web Features

As I type, Evernote is saving what I type so that nothing is lost. You can see this at the bottom-right of the browser window. I green checkmark indicates that the document is saved. While typing, a circle rotates around the checkmark indicating that what you are typing is being saved.

And while there isn’t much else on the screen other than the note, there are still a rich set of features available. I can easily tag my notes, or refile them to another notebook. I can set reminders, or share the note, all from the simple screen.

Formatting the note

The distraction-free mode makes it easy to format the text of the note. If you hover over the small toolbar to the right of the note text, it expands into several icons that allows you to do some basic formatting like add lists, indent text, add a checkbox or a table, or even an attachment.

Evernote Format 1

Even better in my opinion, is the Medium-like feature that Evernote has introduced for formatting text fonts, and styles. You simply highlight the text that you want to format, and a popup format bar appears that lets you apply the formatting you want:

Evernote Format 2

Distraction-free searching

In addition to providing an elegant, distraction-free interface for capturing notes, the new Evernote for the web provides an equally elegant distraction-free interface for searching. Clicking on the search icon presents a simple search screen:

Continue reading Going Paperless: Distraction-Free Evernote

January by the numbers: A winter slowdown?

January seemed like a pretty slow month when it come to writing, reading, and walking. In fact, it may have been my slowest month on record when it comes to my FitBit data. I walked a total of about 198,000 steps in the month of January. This may sound like a lot. It comes to roughly 90 miles worth of walking. But it is dramatically lower than nearly any other month on record since I started using a FitBit–which is nearly 3 years now.

January 2015 FitBit

I am to walk 15,000 steps per day. But as you can see, there was only one day in the entire month that I hit my goal. For the other 30 days, I didn’t even come close. How much of a difference was this from a typical month? Well, December was pretty typical and here is what December looked like:

December 2014 FitBit

A big part of the drop in steps was due to how busy I was, and a little of it was the result of uncooperative weather. I am perfectly willing to walk in the rain, or the cold, when it is hot, or when it is snowing. But when you combine two tough conditions, it gets too hard for me. We had a lot of cold and wind. And some snow and wind. And some bitter cold and snow. And because of that, I didn’t get out as much as I would have liked. Last January I walked 340,000 steps, and the weather was probably more cooperative.

Writing in January

I was extremely busy in the day job in January working hard to get ready for a big software rollout. That meant longer than usual hours, and it also meant that I was tired and had less energy by the time I got home from work. All of this contributes to how much I can write. Still, all things considered, I didn’t do too badly. I wrote nearly 18,000 words in January, almost all of them on the novel draft, although there was a little nonfiction here and there.

January 2015 writing

This is down significantly from December where I wrote about 30,000 words. On the other hand, despite how busy things were, my consecutive day writing streak remained in tact all through the month. As of today, my streak stands at 559 consecutive days.

I had two items published in January, an editorial in the March 2015 issue of Analog, and a new story, “Meet and Greet” in the January 2015 issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. That helped make up for the lower word counts.

Reading

I didn’t finish a single book in the month of January. Usually I average between 50-60 hours of audiobook listening per month. In December, while on vacation, I got more than 70 hours of audiobook listening in. But in January I managed only a meager 18 hours of audiobook listening.

Audiobook Listening

How much audiobook listening I do is highly correlated to how much walking I do, because I typically do both at the same time. Since my walking was down, it makes sense that my audiobook listening was down.

And now, February is here. If the weather cooperates, I am sure to do better in all three categories this month.

The Evolution of a Storyteller, Episode 1: “The Stone”

Okay, I have a treat for all of you who have been so patient with my absences here lately. This is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, and now seems as good a time as any. I’m going to occasionally post a very old story that I wrote. When I say “old” I mean old. Like from when I was just starting out to write stories and submit them in my junior year in college.

It is difficult for me to look at these stories, let alone read them, but I think that posting them here serves a couple of good purposes:

  1. Geniuses excepted, almost no one starts out writing brilliant, publishable prose. If you feel like your writing is crap, wait until you get a load of mine, circa 1993.
  2. Practice (lots and lots of practice, in my case) really does help. I’m not one of the great writers of the science fiction/fantasy genre, but I do write publishable fiction, and I feel like I’m getting better at it.
  3. Whenever I don’t feel like I’m getting better at it, just look at one of these stories.

And so, without further delay, here is the very first story I wrote for submission after deciding I wanted to be a writer. The story was written sometime in December 1992. It is called “The Stone”

Continue reading The Evolution of a Storyteller, Episode 1: “The Stone”

More Going Paperless Posts Coming (and Other Updates)

I am in the midst of a major software rollout this weekend, and the last few weeks leading here have been a whirlwind of activity. I’ve been working on this project for a year, and am glad it is finally coming to a conclusion, but it is wiping me out. This is my excuse for why things have been relatively quiet here on the blog lately. That said, here are some things folks might be interested in:

1. More Going Paperless posts are coming soon

While I am no longer writing regular weekly posts, I am writing posts when I have worthwhile ideas. As turns out, I have 3 ideas, and you can expect 3 new Going Paperless posts over the next few weeks,

2. I am hard at work on the second draft of my novel

No one ever sees the first drafts. But earlier this week, my writers group got to see the first chapter of the second draft and comment on it. That was eighteen months of effort (if you include the time spent on the first draft) coming to fruition. The feedback was generally positive, although there is clearly a lot of room for improvement. So I remain hard at work on that, and it takes priority over all other writing, including here on the blog.

3. More to come here on the blog

I have a growing list of things I want to write about (technology, productivity, some humorous stuff about the kids) here on the blog. It’s just a matter of finding the time to do it.  This software rollout is sapping nearly all of my time and most of my energy. But by this time tomorrow, it should be all done, and hopefully things will ease up a bit.

4. I’m a little behind on email

I’ve been trying to get through my email, but I’m still a little behind, so if you’ve emailed me and haven’t heard from me, chances are good that I got and read your message, Boomeranged it until after this software rollout.

5. Upcoming speaking engagement/guest posts

I’ve got at least one speaking engagement on the horizon, and a handful of guest posts that I’ve been asked to write. I’ll be tackling the latter shortly after the rollout, and I’ll let you know when they are available.

That’s it for the updates. Thanks for sticking around, and there is definitely more to come soon.

A New Audiobook Version of James Clavell’s Shogun

Back in the summer of 2005, I read James Clavell’s Shogun. I absolutely loved it. When I started listening to audiobooks 2 years ago, I sought out Shogun. The version Audible had at the time was narrated by David Case, and the reviews of the narration were pretty awful. Nevertheless, I bought it, and tried to listen to it, but gave up after a while. The narration just wasn’t very good.

A few months ago, I noticed that the book was no longer available on Audible1. I thought perhaps that this meant a new version was being produced.

Today being a Tuesday (when new books are released), I searched Audible for a few books I was looking for. Shogun was one of them, and to my surprise and delight, a new version had indeed been produced.

Shogun

This version is read by Ralph Lister, and just listening to the preview, I could tell it was a much better narration. I’m really looking forward to listening to this, having enjoyed reading it a decade ago. There are a few books in line in front of it, but I’m glad to see that a new version was produced.

  1. Before anyone panics, the version that I bought was still available to me in my Audible library. It didn’t go away. You just couldn’t buy it any longer.

NEW STORY: “Meat and Greet” is now available in InterGalactic Medicine Show, Issue 43

I have a new story in the latest issue of InterGalactic Medicine Show. “Meat and Greet” is short metafictional piece, and my only attempt at ever writing a zombie story. Those interested can head on over to IGMS to read the story. The stories in this issue will be freely available when the next issue comes out.

There are a couple of unique things about this particular story:

1. It marks my 10th professional piece of fiction, which is something of a milestone. Three of my stories have appeared in IGMS, including my very first one.

2. The story sale has a unique provenance: I gave a reading at the World Fantasy Convention here in the Washington, D.C. area back in November. I read two short stories. “Meat and Greet” was one of them. After the reading, Edmund Schubert, who edits IGMS, came up to me and grabbed the manuscript. 2 days later, he emailed me letting me know he was buying the story. So: first story sale from a reading.

3. Check out the amazing art work by Scott Altmann. Scott did great art for my story, “Big Al Shepard Plays Baseball on the Moon” and he did another fantastic job on the art for this story.

Major Code Update to the Google Docs Writing Tracker

I made a major update to the Google Docs Writing Tracker today. Although the update does not introduce any new features, it does bring the code up to the current standards for Google App Scripts. Back in December, Google deprecated a big portion of its Google DocsList code in favor of the DriveApp code.

DocsList Service

The Google Docs Writing Tracker referenced the old code in dozens of places. Today, I replaced those old references with references to the newer DriveApp object model. This means that if you are using the new code, you should no longer see any messages about deprecated code in the execution logs.

The only significant change, from a user-perspective, is how folders are handled in the Config tab of the spreadsheet. For now, I did the simplest possible implementation. The values for the Sandbox and Snapshot folders should refer directly to the folder name and not include the path. So if you used to do something like this:

Old Folder Model

You should change it to do this instead:

New Folder

This looks for the idea of the folders named above, and uses their ID instead of their name throughout the scripts. It does mean it will cause problems if you have more than one folder with the same name, but it is good enough for now.

One small bug fix

Included in this refactor is a minor bug fix. Some people have reported no data all of a sudden, after the code has been working for a long time. The problem, it turned out, was happening with people using the RescueTime integration. If, for some reason, RescueTime could not by reached by the API call, the JSON file returned was empty. This wasn’t handled properly by the scripts.

Now, it is.

So if you use RescueTime integration and the API call fails for some reason, it won’t break the rest of the script from running. You just won’t have RescueTime data for that day.

Getting the new version

To avoid confusion in the short term. I have checked the new code into a separate branch in the GitHub project. If you want the new code, pull the google-drive-refactor branch. If you want to see how much of the code actually changed, check out the differences.

I’ve done some testing on my own machine and it seems to work okay. When I feel that enough general testing has been done, I’ll merge this code into the master. If you find any problems, open up an issue.

More coming soon

I’m also working on a new feature that I’ve wanted for a while now: Project Tracking. This allows you to assign arbitrary project names to documents. The words counts are tracked daily by project on a separate sheet in the workbook, allowing you to track words and time by project, as well as by day. Especially useful if you work on multiple projects in a day (as I sometimes do) or have multiple documents in a project (as I do when I work on novels).

And as always, if you have suggestions, let me hear about them. Or better yet, fork the code and try to implement them yourself.