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Archive for April 2011

Personal organization in four easy steps

Without much bravado, I’d like to tell you a bit about how I manage my tasks. There’s absolutely nothing original here, yet I still feel the need to share it because I believe many people are still not doing very well at task organization, and perhaps this short account might encourage them to become more organized.

If you know me at all, you should know I’m a very messy person. I suck at remembering stuff, tasks, details. Luckily, we have the cloud to remember stuff for me nowadays. This is what I do:

Step 1 – Clear your inbox

An inbox is not an efficient storage for neither tasks nor knowledge. Its true purpose is to be a “waiting room”, somewhere where messages that arrive wait until you look at them. Listen to this great Zero Inbox Google Tech Talk to get some techniques to help you keep your inbox size to zero.

Step 2 – Pick good services to maintain your bits of knowledge

Regarding “knowledge bits”, there are a number of solutions here. Specifically I’m using Evernote for “private stuff I need to remember”, my blog for “stuff I need to remember that might interest others as well”, and Stack Exchange / Quora for “stuff I don’t know, but want to know about” (= questions). If you file all your bits of knowledge instead of just keeping them lying around in your email, you’ll have a much easier time retrieving them.

What’s great about Everote (and recently also Google Docs) is mobile access to your knowledge – everything you store on these services is easily accessible and searchable on your smartphone. For me, this is the killer app in my Android.

Step 3 – Pick good services to maintain your tasks

A few months ago I found Producteev, and my life hasn’t been the same since. Prodcteev is one of many task management system. What’s unique about it that it’s simple yet full featured, works well, and has good integration with my Android via Astrid. Are you carrying your tasks around in your head? We all get these kinds of feelings. When you have something important you need to do, but can’t do it right away, this feeling will loiter in your head all the time. In meetings, you will be thinking “What was it I planned to do on Tuesday … ah yes, submit my tax report”. No more.

With Producteev (also with the cool alias, you can immediately transfer any task that pops into your head to your mobile, synchronized to the web. Believe me, once you start doing this, you’ll be amazed at how many such tasks you offload from your busy brain, and how good will that make you feel.

There are a few advantages I’ve found that Producteev has over its alternatives (specifically I’ve tried Google Tasks and Remember The Milk):

  1. It’s dead simple.
  2. It has due dates. I usually do a daily or bi-daily scrub of my task list, and make sure every task has a due date. I have no qualms about postponing due dates – if I see I don’t have time for something today, and I know I won’t have time for it in the next few days, I simply postpone its due date. Still, the mere fact of having due dates help me organize and answer the simple question “What should I do today?”
  3. You can add comments to tasks. This is very useful for those complex tasks that involve contacting some people, writing down some info, and then doing followups. The best approach is simply keep all the task-related information together, and Producteev does a good job at this.

When I used Outlook in the office, that was also an excellent choice for a task management tool. The real answer if “pick whatever solution works for you”. Any solution that you actually use is better than not doing anything and just keeping tasks in your inbox.

Step 4 – Stick to it!

Organization is hard. You will find yourself tempted not to use whatever system you’ve designed. However, you should stick with it (and adjust the rough edges). Remember, if you’re not using an organization method, you’re simply cheating. You are effectively ditching work, and your future self will be mad at you for causing him this extra mess.

Remember that you don’t need to reinvent the wheel. There are a lot of organization methods there (the most popular I’ve heard of is Getting Things Done. If you’re interested you can learn a lot from other people’s experience – just remember not to obsess about it. Pick something that works for you, and don’t over-optimize.

Some more essential bitcoin information

To answer a few questions I got in the last few days about BitCoins:

How do I sell bitcoins in exchange for USD?

You can use the CoinCard service.

How should I secure my bitcoins?

The bitcoin wiki has a very good article about this. Let me summerize:

  • Find your wallet file:  %APPDATA%\BitCoin\wallet.dat
  • Encrypt it (several options are pointed at in the article, I used TrueCrypt)
  • Backup the encrypted wallet, delete the original
  • You should probably maintain two accounts, one that is encrypted and one open. Keep most of your money in the encrypted account.
  • Preferably, the encrypted wallet should only ever be opened on a computer where you’re reasonably sure no spyware/keyloggers are running. For large amount of bitcoins, I recommend a freshly installed computer with nothing except bitcoin running (and perhaps an encryption/backup software).

I encourage you to read the original article.

What are transaction fees?

In short – in the future, you might elect to pay minimal transaction fees to help speed up the processing of your bitcoin transactions. (should be very negligible, not at all like the huge fees charged today by credit card companies, banks and PayPal). Today, in practice, even without paying transaction fees payments are usually cleared within a few minutes.

Read the full story in the wiki.

How should I buy my bitcoins?

I still recommend Mt. Gox, and haven’t checked out other options. If you want to do the research and try out the alternatives, be my guest (and please tell me about it!)

Bitcoins value increased by 75% in the last month!

When I joined the bitcoin party less than a month ago, one bitcoin was worth $0.8.

Now, a bitcoin is worth $1.4. Euro parity … here we come.

(Check out MtGox for the current exchange rate)

Speed up your blog with three easy steps

Recently my blog started behaving really slowly, and I finally got down to do an optimization session. There are a ton of wordpress optimization guides out there, and I see no reason to write another full guide. Still, I think it’s worth it to share  how I cut a good deal of my blog’s load time using three simple steps:

Step one – measure it. I used Website Optimization for the comprehensive measurements (there are a lot of other options out there!), plus a local “timethis wget” to get a subjective feel.

Step two – reduce clutter. In the report I got from Website Optimization, I noticed I had a lot of objects. Nowadays with Facebook Like button, rating widgets, and other gizmos, a lot of pages are loaded with baggage. However, I didn’t find anything specific I’d like to remove, so I went for another easy solution – simply reducing the number of posts on my main page from 10 to 8 – this cuts down a lot of the load time. The exact timing varies by connection speed and other parameters, so let me just say that the total size of objects on my main page went down from a whopping 1,032,328 bytes to 742,197 – almost a 30% improvement! (obviously, this depends on post size distribution, but I imagine it will be significant in most cases). Let’s face it, your readers won’t really miss those last two posts that you dropped from your main page.

Step three – start actually using a cache plugin! I did have WP Super Cache installed a while back, but I never got down to tuning it. When I checked out the advanced tab I noticed that my blog wasn’t compressing pages (off by default). This alone shaved off another 25% of the total objects size, now down to 557,199 bytes.

Overall, Website Optimization claims about 40% improvement in page load time over a theoretical T1, I believe that the actual improvement in page load time in reality is larger, especially for users behind crappy Israeli ISPs.

I know there are a lot of other optimization techniques and measurement tools out there. Still, remember that the purpose of this post wasn’t to be a complete optimization guide, but rather to focus on the “easy and dumb optimizations” that have greatest ROI.

Where should I buy bitcoins from?

I know I’m posting almost exclusively about BitCoin for the last couple of weeks, but since in the last few days several of my friends asked me “Where do I buy bitcoins from”, I thought I’d save myself the trouble and summarize it in a post.

There are a few different bitcoin merchants out there, but the only one that I had direct dealing with is Mt. Gox.

This is the largest bitcoin dealer (according to the bitcoin forums), and thus has more trust. Some smaller merchant might offer better deals, but might also disappear after you send them money, without sending you any coins. As the market is very small and unestablished at this point, I prefer to minimize my chances and go with Mt. Gox.

Another advantage for me is the Mt. Gox is willing to sell up to $500 a day per person, while smaller merchant have much lower limits.

So, if you’d like to purchase from Mt. Gox via PayPal, these are the instructions (you can find this link from Mt. Gox’s main page, but it takes a bit of searching). Be sure to note that:

  • There is a 7% commission for the trade. Every merchant takes some form of commission, this one is relatively large to what you’re used to from other markets because there is relatively little competition a.t.m. The commission will get lower as the market size increases and Mt. Gox has better, high profile competitors.
  • The bitcoins will only arrive five days after your payment. The reason Mt. Gox does this is to eliminate chances of you cheating him. If they released the bitcoins sooner, you could reverse the deal via PayPal and he’ll be screwed.
Before buying, you should check out the exchange rates here – the relevant row is bcmPPUSD.