I’m experimenting with “micro” blog posts. Technically they are just regular blog posts without titles. The idea is that they are quick thoughts, not essays. They are the kind of writing that would normally be posted to Twitter or Facebook.

Howard Guide 2011

From blog.tedchoward.com.

The State Fair of Texas starts today, and I’m very excited! The State Fair is a family tradition for us, and so we go early and go often.

This year, we’ve decided to take our combined 160 years of fair-going experience and share it. If you want to learn how to visit the Fair like the Howards, make sure you follow http://howardguide.com. We’ll be posting our tips and reviews on all things State Fair of Texas.

Now, I’m off to the Fair!

Read and Retain

From blog.tedchoward.com.

I was talking with my friend Josh the other day about how easily we forget things. We both have a problem with reading books: we tend to forget most of the material. When reading for fun, this isn’t a big deal, although it can be embarassing. (I read Ender’s Game twice without realizing it.) When reading a business or technical book, it can become problematic. What’s the point of reading the book if you don’t put it into practice?

This morning, I was again thinking about how to best retain what I read, when I ‘heard’ the word retain in a different context in my head. Bear with me now as I attempt to compare self-improvement with iPhone application design.

When you build an iPhone application, you store lots of ‘stuff’ in memory: images, web content, other information, etc. Often that same stuff will be used in different places inside the same application. For example, in a game, you might want to display the high score on the game screen itself and on another summary screen that could include a list of high scores, so you design the application so that both screens have access to the section of memory that stores the high score. When you do this on the iPhone, you also need to tell each screen to retain that section of memory. The reason for doing this is that as soon as the iPhone doesn’t think that memory is being used, whatever was stored there is erased and made available for storing something else.

Did you catch that? Unless your application specifically retains a section of memory, whatever was stored there will be lost forever.

Back to reading. When you read something important, you need to do something with that knowlegde quickly or it will be lost. This is why the best students are the ones that take notes in class and when they read. It’s not necessarily that the notes are beneficial later (although they often are), it’s that the act of taking notes engages the brain in a way that casues it to retain the knowledge.

Taking notes is a good step, but an even better solution is to attempt to use the knowlegde for something real. The best way to learn a new programming language is by writing a real program in that language. If you’re reading a book on time management, put the strategies to practice immediately as you are reading the book. The more you use the knowledge, the more of it you retain.

A few years ago, I read Getting Things Done. It’s a great book, and it’s helped me a little, but not very much. I’m practically as disorganized as I ever was. Why? Because I read that book a few chapters at a time either in bed or in a comfortable chair. I read it the same way I read a novel. I picked up some decent tips, but I’ve forgotten most of the material. I’ve decided to read it again, only this time I’m going to play along as I read. I want to retain and use all of the knowledge in that book, so I’m going to try to put it into practice immediately. I hope it sticks this time.

What about you? How do you retain what you read?

Why Self Hosting Matters

From blog.tedchoward.com.

On Saturday, I wanted to share a video I had made with some friends. I used iMovie to produce the video, so I just used the built in sharing support to upload the video to Facebook. It was really easy to to, and just a second later my phone dinged with a Facebook notification for me, but it wasn’t what I expected. I figured my video was done encoding and was ready to be shared. Instead it was a message that Facebook had removed my video because it contained copyrighted material. I had to acknowledge that I had read the message and understand that if I uploaded copyrighted material again, I could be banned from Facebook.

Did I include copyrighted material in my video? Well, yes I did. The music was the opening theme to 2001: A Space Odyssey, which I legally obtained. I didn’t really think much of it because I wasn’t doing a promotional video for a company or trying to sell anything. I just wanted to share a fun video with my friends. Then I thought, maybe YouTube has a different policy. I’ve seen videos with copyrighted soundtracks in them there before.

So I uploaded the video to YouTube. It uploaded, processed, and I received an email telling me that they discovered a copyrighted soundtract, but that I shouldn’t worry about it. They took care of everything. So I went to view my video and discovered what they meant. The way they took care of it was by removing the audio completely from the video, which in my case, ruins the video.

This is completely ridiculious! I’m not trying to profit off of their material. I think 2001: A Space Odyssey has been out long enough that a silly video shared between friends isn’t going to dilute or damage their brand. Plus, isn’t everything a remix anyway?

Then my solution became very obvious to me: I’ll just host the video myself. That’s kind of the point behind ec2 for Poets, Blork and the World Outline: control your own content. Those tools made it very easy for me (once I had my video encoded) to build a landing page with a video player, create an easy to remember link (odyssey.infoted.com), and share it with my friends.

Self Hosting Matters.

Prediction: iPod Touch Going Away

From blogs.tedchoward.com.

I usually avoid making predictions about what Apple is going to do, but when this one came to me on my way to work this morning, I felt it was too good to ignore.

A picture named apple-iphone-in-hand.jpgHere’s what we know:

  • The iPhone 5 launch was delayed until the fall when the iPod event usually takes place.
  • iOS 5 will also be released then
  • iOS 5 has a feature called iMessages that replacetes the text message system for all iOS devices (iPod Touch, iPhone, iPad).
  • iOS 4 introduced FaceTime, a video calling app that works with all iOS devices

My prediction is that in this fall’s announcement, the iPod Touch will be going away, and that it will be replaced by the iPhone Wi-Fi.

Most people refer to the iPod Touch as an “iPhone without the phone.” With FaceTime and iMessages, the iPod Touch essentially becomes a phone. The only difference is that it can only connect to a Wi-Fi network, not a 3G network. The iPad line is currently split into Wi-Fi and 3G, it makes sense to me to do the same with the iPhone.

I’m probably wrong, and I’m ok with that. You have to admit, this sounds plausible, doesn’t it?

Growl Support for OPML Editor

From blogs.tedchoward.com.

I’ve been privilaged to be part of a bootstrapping comminuty using a collaboration tool called an Instant Outliner. It’s an interesting tool built around the concept of a shared outline. I’ll probably write more about this at some point, but for now I have one specific point I want to talk about.

When the outine is updated, the computer beeps, and the person’s node that updated is bolded. This works fine when I’m at home and at my computer. But when I’m at work, I often have the volume down and the outline in the background. I found myself wanting a visual notification of some sort when the outline updated.

I’m on a Mac, so the obvious solution is to use Growl.

Like all the other tools for this community, the Instant Outliner is built on top of the OPML Editor, which I have previously described as a Swiss Army Knife. If I want Growl notifications for my Instant Outline updates, the OPML Editor needs to know how to talk to Growl. So, I wrote a tool.

Growl.root adds support for sending Growl notifications from scripts written in the OPML Editor. There are basically 2 verbs (OPML-speak for functions) that you need to care about.

growlSuite.newNotification(title, enabled) will tell Growl about a type of notification I want to send. For the instant outliner I would execute:

growlSuite.newNotification("Instant Outliner", true)

growlSuite.sendNotification(name, title, description) will actually send the notification. The first parameter(name) must match a notification type from the previous verb. The second parameter is the title of the notification and the third parameter is the text of the notification. To notify that I updated my outline I would execute:

growlSuite.sendNotification("Instant Outliner", "tedhoward", "Guys, check out my new growl scripts")

If you’re interested in this sort of thing, you can download growl.root here.

Shower Thinking

From blogs.tedchoward.com.

Have you ever noticed that you get some of your best thinking done in the shower? I certainly do. Some of my best and worst (i.e most creative) ideas have come to me in the shower. Often I will come up with a solution to a problem I spent the pervious day struggling with while taking my morning shower.

A picture named shower-th.gifWhat is it about the shower that brings me to such a level of clarity? Is it the all the steam? It it the water? the soap? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. It occured to me that when I’m in the shower, I am not consuming any outside information. In the shower I have no TV, radio, books, podcasts, web sites, etc. It’s just me and my thoughts. The only other time when this is true is when I’m in bed trying to fall asleep. When I’m in the shower, Im trying to wake my mind up, and with nothing to fill it, it begins processing the information it already has.

Maybe the magic of the shower is simply the fact that I can’t bring anything else into it with me. It’s just me and my thoughts. I wonder what it would do to my life to take more time out of the day to just think. No reading, watching or listening. Just thinking, and maybe some writing. How big of a difference could this make? I guess I’ll have to think about it.

Do you set aside any time each day just for thinking?

BTW: The idea for this post came to me this morning in the shower.

Giving Up Television

From blogs.tedchoward.com.

Almost a year and a half ago, I took the Zen TV Experiment and wrote about my experience. For the first time, this caused me to really evaluate the position of television in my life and question its value. It also caused be to be aware of the tricks that TV uses and the effects it has on me when I watch it.

The immediate aftermath of this was a conversation with Megan where we decided to no longer eat our meals in front of the TV. It was a great improvement. It also started a series of events that resulted in us watching less and less tv over time. We would have these moments where we’d go through our season passes on the TiVo and eliminate shows for various reasons. I also resolved to only watch TV on purpose. In other words, I would only watch shows that I wanted to watch, I wouldn’t just sit down to “watch something”.

This past month, Megan decided to give up TV for lent. She went through a similar transformation of thought on the value of TV and it’s place in our life. She too is resolved to watch less and be more purposeful about it. And then we come to last night.

Yesterday was Easter; lent is over. Now that Megan is “allowed” to watch TV again, we had some decisions to make. We turned on the TiVo and looked at the list of recorded shows for the first time in six weeks. Surprisingly, there wasn’t much there. Several episodes of the Oprah show, The Office, 30 Rock and The Chicago Code. Having not watched any TV for six weeks, we are faced with the question: “Are any of these shows worth the time it takes to watch them?”

Not watching TV has freed us to do so much more with our evenings. Megan has become a fairly prolific blogger. We’ve both read several books. We’ve had some deep, meaningful conversations, played some games, had people over, gone out, worked on side projects. Which of these things are we willing to give up to watch a TV show?

It’s a difficult question, because the shows we watch together (I don’t watch Oprah) are really good shows. We really enjoy watching them (most of the time). But are they worth the half-hour every week commitment?

Last night we decided to quit watching The Chicago Code. It’s a fairly new show, and it’s off to a pretty decent start, but neither one of us is heavily invested in it. That left The Office and 30 Rock. We decided to table the discussion for later. We may finish out the season and then be done with them (especially since Steve Carell is leaving after this year).

Once we quit watching those shows, do we still need the TiVo? Do we still need the TV? It takes up a lot of room in our living room. These are questions that we will have to answer over time.

Could you give up watching television? Have you taken the plunge? What was it like?