Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Amazon Echo For the Pomodoro Technique

This morning while working out my schedule, I thought that I would have to pull out all the stops on my productivity tricks so that I could stay on task.

Enter the Pomodoro Technique. The technique has been a great boost to staying focused in the past. There is something about working against the clock that keeps your priorities straight.

The Pomodoro Technique, if you've never heard of it, has you set a timer for 25 minutes. You ignore everything except your work during those 25 minutes.

Once the alarm sounds, you take a short 5 minute break. No cheating on this one. If you work through your break, you'll burn yourself out and then not complete the next 25 minute stretch.

You repeat the cycle 4 times and then take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique is a named after a kitchen timer that looks like a tomato. In reality, you can use any timer, so long as it's not complicated to set up. Which brings me to the Amazon Echo.

If you are not familiar with the Amazon Echo, it is a handy voice activated device that functions muck like Siri on iOS, Google Now on Android, or Cortana for Windows Phone. It is a voice activated virtual assistant. In fact, you could very well use any of those to use the Pomodoro Technique too.

What sets the Echo apart, however, is that you do not need your computer or phone. It is a standalone device that is always listening for your commands. You just say, "Alexa, set timer for 25 minutes." That's it. "She" will sound an alarm when the 25 minutes are up.

I have found that using my phone to use the voice assistant is cumbersome. I have a passcode to protect my privacy, which also hinders quick reminders. Often, by the time I finish logging into my device, I forgot what I wanted to remember. I don't use Evernote for that reason too. Of course, the Echo is also capable of keeping your To Do list and shopping list. However, today we are focusing on the easy to use timer feature.

I am not suggesting that yo go out and buy an Echo solely for the timer feature. This is just an idea on how to use your Echo if you have one. Or, perhaps, if you have use for the Echo's other features, then the Echo with the Pomodoro Technique would be a great bonus.

Disclosure: The picture and link to the Echo page on Amazon are affiliate links.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Windows 10 Is Really Nice! Here is why I like it.

I am really liking Microsoft's new Windows 10. I updated a laptop at work yesterday to make sure that the drivers for our printers would continue to work. We didn't want to have flaky installations should our customers decide to upgrade. At least, that was my excuse.

The upgrade was painless. I quickly went through the settings and new features. I'm really going to like having Cortana on my desktop. Having dabbled with Cortana on a Windows phone last year, I thought Cortana was one of the best features.

Part of the reason why I am liking Widows 10 is because they brought back a more familiar Start menu, which still has elements of the Windows 8 Start menu. When Windows 8 came out, I didn't really like the modern UI; but, I grew accustomed to it and accepted that it was mainly meant to work with touch screen devices, which I lacked for the most part. Windows 8 was a little lame with no touch screen.

I think what really sells me on the whole experience is that I was able to upgrade Windows 8, Windows 7, and a 32 bit version of Windows 8 on my tablet. Finally, I have a common experience across all my desktops. The common desktop was my whole reason for going Google. I write this on a Chromebox, mind you. Having cloud interfaces made for a common workspace whether I was at a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone.

Google has lost some of my enthusiasm as of late because Chrome is a memory hog. Furthermore, some of Google's products only work with Chrome, like Inbox. They are taking the fun out of Chrome by making it bloated and by making their apps picky about the browser.

This, of course, makes it so that having local apps is better than cloud apps. The added benefit is that it is not necessary to have Internet access. I can use Evernote very well without WiFi on my Windows devices. I just need to sync at least once a day.

Suffice it to say, I'm excited about Microsoft Windows for the first time since...Windows 95?

The tablet experience with Windows 10 is so much better than it was with Windows 8, at least in my limited experience thus far. It behaves like a tablet rather than as a PC shoehorned into a tablet.

I also appreciate that the operating system is smaller and faster than its predecessors. This gives new life to old devices, or extends it a little more.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Is that a full circle? Coming back to online content.

Many years ago, going by Internet time, I suppose, I was all into blogging. I worked for hours thinking up things to write about and then spend hours writing it. That eventually morphed into podcasting. I spent hours recording and editing audio, which eventually led to live recordings through +BlogTalkRadio.  Finally, I started playing around with video, both recorded and live. The quality of my work wasn't great; but, it was good enough to gain some recognition and somewhat of a following.

Eventually everything that I was doing became so easy to do that just about everybody was doing it. People I knew were throwing up blogs. They were recording audio and posting to +SoundCloud. They got phones that could post directly to +YouTube. I just didn't see the value any more. So, I stopped. I'm even hesitant to Facebook these days.

This brings me to something that has become front and center in my life. Purpose.

When you have purpose, it is easier to make decisions. Either your decision takes you nearer to your purpose, or it does not.

And so, recently, I am starting to feel the need to start putting out blog posts, host shows, and record video. I feel like I have something to add to the madness of the Internet.

I am working out the details on how to pick up where I left off. There are stories out there that need to be told if only somebody took the time to capture them and make them available. There is so much going on in a community from day to day that needs to be shared.

So, here is me going back to what I used to do. I think this time will be better. Focused. I think I've circled around to where so much began for me. It is going to be fun.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Year of Waiting. A Glimpse of the Future?

This year has been, oddly, a year of waiting. There have been products and services that require me to wait, which is the antithesis of web economy. If you pay for something today, you expect to receive it within a reasonable amount of time, right?

Last year, +Karma WiFi announced that they would be launching their new WiFi hotspot that would run on LTE. I was excited about this because I like the idea of prepaid data subscriptions that do not expire. Pay-as-you-go data has long been lacking. Currently, I am using +Truphone to pay for my data as I go; but, that is another story. So, I ordered my Karma hotspot last year with the understanding that it would be ready by the end of the year. Then it would be ready by April. Then it would be ready by summer. And, here I am in August waiting for my order still. I ordered mine in October, which is what is being shipped out now. So, hopefully in the next few days.

I think what makes things more difficult is that I have pre-bought data which I cannot use until the hotspot arrives. The price was too good to pass up. We do not know yet how pleased we would be with the product.

After the Karma, I thought that I would take up the purchase of the Amazon Echo. I could see how my family would make use of this glorified Bluetooth speaker. Of course, that would take months to ship out as well. Amazon actually delivered ahead of schedule. We are pleased with the purchase.

Lomography recently launched the Petzval 85 lens. I was seriously tempted to order one if not for the price, which was discounted, but still above my budget. I would have had to wait for that order too. Fortunately, I did not. I think I would have been happy to get the Petzval if I had the budget.

I have, recently, pre-ordered +The Grid, which promises to be a self-building website service that eliminates the whole pain in the rear design problems I typically suffer with websites. The Grid was supposed to launch in the Spring; but they too have gone way past their projected time. I'm excited by what they promise; but, have to wait until their abilities catch up with their optimism.

I have typically not been an "early adopter" of new products. I've never had the money to buy the crazy prices of new products. I typically buy in after the crazy has settled down, thus prices have settled down. Today's market pushes transparency and lean production with MVP (minimum viable products). I don't know that I like this new market. I think I'd rather wait until the product is finished and ready to ship rather than be strung along for months.

When I purchase something, I have a specific need in mind. These overly optimistic product launch dates cause me to put off my plans. So, it's not just having the product that gets delayed, it's having the uses I have for them that get delayed too.

Mobile data costs more because I've been waiting for Karma.
My kids kept asking me questions they could have asked the Amazon Echo.
The Grid is costing me business opportunities that I may have pursued. As it is, I don't know if the product is worth reselling or not because I can't even test it.

I am happy to see products that meet my needs spring up with more frequency. However, I am not liking the concept of pre-ordering with months of lead time. Amazon under promised and over delivered with a quicker delivery. Karma and The Grid have over promised and under delivered. This saddens me because they seem like great products; but, they have already started off poorly.

I understand their desire to make sure that everything is done correctly and to high standards. But, they really should have factored that into their offer and chosen a much further date. I'm not an Apple product fan; but, I respect that when they take pre orders, they deliver. Other industries also deliver on time with pre-orders. I would expect that the tech industry would be better at delivering with all their technological advantages.

Despite all this, I'm not about to cancel. These products fill a need, which I hope they can fill. I would not have begrudgingly waited this long otherwise.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Tale of Doing Less

Once upon a time, I would agree to do things for people. Some of it was paid. Some of it was a favor. I found myself stressed out and working into the wee hours of the night. In order to chill out, I would engage in escape behaviors, such as avoiding work or drinking beer later in the night than recommended.

Then one day, a big goal came into my life. It was huge and gnarly. This giant goal made me realize that I would need to be very focused and determined to overcome it. Even if I was inclined to want to help others, I could not afford to spend time distractions lest the big goal get out of hand.

I started to politely decline requests for help that took away from meeting my objectives. If the request was along my path, I could help. Otherwise, I would only disappoint the requestor.

I am still on my quest.

I can't help thinking that if I had the big goal earlier in my life, I would have figured out my life's priorities much sooner. I would have either avoided wasting so much time or would have crumbled under the responsibility. Today, however, having an end game in mind makes decisions simpler, cleaner.

But, even if I had not a major challenge ahead of me, I can't help thinking that perhaps doing less, I would have been more effective at the few things that I chose to do. That may be a question for another lifetime.

For now,  I have a path laid out before me. I welcome fellow travelers; but, I cannot afford to veer off the path.

How simple life is when you make it simple.