The company you keep can make all the difference

Associate with people who are
likely to improve you.
— Seneca

I found this in The DaVinci Dilemma, and it’s good
stuff. It holds that you are the average of the five people closest to you.

In other words, you are who you hang out with. As a great friend of mine likes to ask, “Who’s on your bus?”

Simply put, if you hang with a bunch of whiners, that’ll rub off on you. If you hang with a bunch of winners, you’ll learn from them too.

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Getting up early in the morning: It takes a village

Alarm clocks have a short life span in my house.

Rumor has it I’m pure evil when I wake up in the morning, or at least until I’ve had some coffee in my system. It takes me a while to unwind myself from my rack, even longer to get myself in an upright position, and pretty near forever to get myself out the door.

For me the greatest invention is the snooze alarm, but more than one ex-wife probably wanted to shoot that alarm clock, and me while she’s about it. Let’s just say I’m not an easy man to put up with when the roosters crow.

I’ve always been a night owl. Morning discipline is not in my natural skill set, but over the past few years I’ve had to make some adjustments. My day job starts at 7:30 a.m., meaning I need to leave the house at 6:30.

So what’s an undisciplined reformed night owl to do?

I saw this article in Lifehacker recently about how another hard-to-wake person manages this. Frequent Lifehacker flyer Mythimna says she (I assume it’s she) does the snooze alarm thing, but doesn’t go back to sleep. Instead, each alarm lets her know it’s time to move on to the next task.

Not a bad way to attack your mornings. Under this scenario, I would do it something like this:

  • 4:15 AM (my usual wake-up time): Get up. Grab that first cup of coffee, because it’s ready.
  • 4:25 AM: Start to locate brain.
  • 4:35 AM: Continue trying to locate brain.
  • 4:45 AM: Brain found. Pour another cup of coffee to celebrate.
  • 4:55 AM: Start shower …

You get the drift. I understand Mythimna does not live alone; she actually has a family with a preschool-age kid. Obviously everyone’s really understanding in her household. That, or she doesn’t do this multi-alarm thing very often.

OK. I do have my own variation of that wake-up routine, and it’s also task-based. But rather than using the same alarm clock for everything and using snooze, I do it a little differently. I have several mothballed cell phones that serve as alarms. One is from a service I no longer use, and another that I tried to swim with one day. I managed to rescue it (sticking it in a bag of dried rice does the trick), but elected to retire it. The alarm works well.

Considering how cell phone companies are, and how the phones don’t seem to last long before they crap out or go obsolete, you might have a few old ones stuffed in a drawer somewhere.

Anyway, I set the alarms on these used cell phones and place them in various locations around the house. I guess you can say my home becomes a minefield until it’s time for me to leave the house.

  • 4:15 AM: Clock-radio alarm goes off. I stagger across the bedroom, slap it real good, and it goes into snooze mode.
  • 4:25 AM: Clock-radio goes off again. I slap it again, and really get up. By then I notice the smell of coffee brewing, so I go to the kitchen and draw one. Time to locate brain and hit the shower.
  • 5:00 AM: First cell phone goes off, in bedroom. Shut it off. By then I should be dressed and fully conscious. Make way to my living room to do my morning reading, editing and news watching.
  • 6:00 AM: Second cell phone goes off, in living room. Shut it off. Shift into getting-ready-for-work mode. Pour another cup of coffee. Have breakfast. Make lunch.
  • 6:20 AM: Alarm on my my main cell phone goes off. Snooze it. Get ready to leave the house. Pack what’s needed for the day. Go over agenda. Fast check of bike to make sure it doesn’t need maintenance.
  • 6:30 AM: Main cell phone alarm goes off again. Snooze it. Throw backpack on, jump on bike and go.
  • 6:40 AM: Main cell phone alarm goes off again. By then I should be pretty close to the bus stop. Shut alarm off; I’m done listening to that stuff; from here on out my schedule goes on autopilot.

Let’s see. That’s:

  • One alarm clock.
  • Two mothballed cell phones.
  • One active cell phone.
  • Seven alarms.
  • Zero death threats.

It’s probably a good thing I live alone, eh?

But I’m on schedule. Except for that once-a-year occasion when I oversleep, I always make it to my day job on time. The boss even thinks I’m reliable, can you believe that?

But there’s always fresh coffee at work. Maybe that’s the real incentive.


Talk to me: How do you get up in the morning — besides under protest? How do your family members deal with it? Use the comments section below for input.

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Troubleshooting: It’s an art

I’ve been knowing this man called Pcunix for about a year. We began reading each other’s stuff on Hubpages, and we regularly follow each other’s literary meanderings. In the interest of making things work, I must share his recent piece on troubleshooting.

While he wrote it more with computers in mind (because that’s his wheelhouse), these principles can be applied any time anything goes wrong.

Troubleshooting isn’t exactly a mystery, but it’s a little hard to attack in a prescribed, one-size-fits-all manner. Sometimes you call on technical know-how. Sometimes you use intuition, or instinct, or past experience (I had a car that made that funny noise once, and it was …). And sometimes you rely on dumb luck.

Pcunix submits that troubleshooting is more art than science. Well, let’s cut to the chase. Read his article here:

It’s good stuff, and you can use that knowledge whether you’re running down problems in a faulty computer, figuring out why your car acts funny, or just trying to build a better mousetrap.

Troubleshooting is one of the elements of the good hack.


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Android adjustments 2: Preserving battery life

That Android phone will suck your battery dry if you let it.

An Android phone puts many functions of a full-sized computer in a package you can stick in your pocket, but there’s a trade-off. It sure is a hog for power.

That’s one of the first things I noticed with my new LG ‘droid phone. Rather than having a battery charge last for a few days like my old feature phone, the battery was down into the 30 percent range in a matter of hours. Of course, I’m one of those guys who has to push a computer — any computer — as hard as I can, so I’m inviting this.

Whenever I leave the house, I carry my AC adaptor with me, and if I’m searching for a wall outlet somewhere, it probably means I need to bump up my smartphone battery. Except it’s more difficult to find an unoccupied outlet because of all those other folks needing to charge their phones.

Android phones seem to be especially susceptible to power drain. Some of my friends who have iPhones say they do worry about keeping batteries up to snuff, but it’s not as critical as with Android. I think part of this is because Android is built off Linux, which I generally find heavier on battery power than, say, Windows. My prime laptop is a dual-boot system with Windows 7 and Crunchbang (based on Debian) Linux, and when I boot into Linux I can count on about half the battery life that the Windows system gives me. But I still refuse to go online with Windows, so that’s two AC adapters to carry when I’m going online — one for the phone, and one for the laptop.

I’ve noticed what sucks up some of the battery power, and you can usually tell by going into the settings menu. Under “Applications” you will find an entry for Battery Use, which will give you something of a profile. Using apps that sync online will eat up some power. Using your wifi will also chew up battery minutes. Cell standby and phone idle will eat up the most, and there’s no real way around that unless you shut your phone off — unthinkable if you wish to actually receive phone calls. Display will also use power.

To prolong battery life I use a free Android app called Battery Defender, which allows me to tweak my connectivity settings to a degree. I can shut off all connectivity (except the standard cell phone connection) when I’m asleep, when the display is shut off, and when my battery is low. Even with the connectivity shut off, you can still make and receive phone calls and text messages, so Battery Defender and its ilk (there are several apps for this) won’t leave you with a phone that does absolutely nothing.

I didn’t need Battery Defender to do little power-saving tricks with my phone, though. Some were common sense:

  • Dim the display as much as you can get away with.
  • Shut down Bluetooth.
  • Shut off wifi if you’re not using it. These last two are important, as your phone goes into a constant state of scan when these features are on.
  • Shut off your GPS, same reason.
  • Set your ringer to either audible or vibrate, not both. I hadn’t thought of that one, but the vibrate setting apparently uses more power than the audible ring. Makes sense.

All these tricks help, but there’s a whole lot more you can do, and here’s where it gets a little more controversial:

All those cool apps you have, that allow you to keep up to speed in the social media world? Well, lose ’em. Or if you can’t survive without them, shut off the synchronization.

But I need my Facebook/Twitter/Google+, you might say. I have to know when someone is trying to contact me or to leave me a message. I don’t want to miss anything. I’m hooked, I tell ya.

Easy does it, bubbalah. There may be 12-step programs available for you. But I found most social media apps are not much faster than using your phone browser to hit the site directly.

Here’s what I do for some of my sites: Instead of an app, I’ll open the Web page directly in my phone browser (I use Opera Mini), and create a desktop shortcut from there. So I have all these shortcuts to my social media sites, and they’re every bit as fast as an app. Plus I’m not gobbling up memory space with all this app junk (another Android issue which I’ll discuss forthwith). Problem solved. About the only real difference is that all my shortcuts will look alike (all with the Opera logo) so I’ll have to pay attention to what I’m clicking on.

While Battery Defender will shut down your app synchronization when the screen is off, you can whitelist some applications so they can sync. On my phone I have Feedly, an RSS reader for my news, and that one is whitelisted. But that’s because I am a serious news junkie (where are those 12-step programs again?) and I don’t like to miss much.

But if you really want to do it right, go into your phone’s Settings menu, select Accounts & Sync, and shut off the Autosync and Background Data options. Really, it won’t hurt a bit. You may suffer for it, but your battery will thank you tomorrow.

Of course, the nuclear option is to shut off the phone when you’re not using it. But for me, I know it won’t work. I’m likely to receive texts and calls at any time. Isolation will not work for me.

Truth be told, I really don’t have to worry much about battery power because I use my phone as a USB drive (which I wrote about in a previous post). See, when the phone is plugged into the computer — as it would be when you are tapping into the SD card’s memory — the phone is being recharged in the bargain. It’s just part of the package; in fact I’m bumping my battery right now, as I slam these words down. I may be killing the SD card, but I’m keeping the battery happy.


Talk to me: What tricks do you use to stretch your Android battery life? Share!

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Android adjustments 1: Using your phone as a USB drive

You can do some cool things with your Android phone.

As I get more accustomed to my fancy new phone, I’m learning some of its capabilities and limitations, plus a few tricks on the side. i will share some of these over the next few entries. So if you have an Android phone, read on. If you want an Android phone, this is still for you.

* * *

I originally planned to use my smartphone to make calls and work on the Web, all those things that tie in with running a business. I’m getting all that, plus a whole lot more.

I’m using this phone as a pocket-sized editing terminal, and am using it to write this blog entry. It is being saved on the SD card, and I’ll work on it later from a home computer.

No trick. No smoke or mirrors. No Internet connection necessary. Not even any surgery on phone or computer.

Using the phone’s SD drive works just the same as plugging in any other USB thumb drive, so there’s no great mystery there. If your phone came with a USB cable that hooks it up to the computer, you’re in business. Add a few (free) software tools through the Android Market, and you’re really cooking.

Understand, I have a Windows-free house. All my computers are Linux, meaning my tests and instructions are Linux-centric. But my newest laptop does have Windows 7 that I keep on there for research purposes, and everything tests out fine there too. It’s just the same as plugging in a USB drive; your computer can’t tell the difference.

OK. Cool thing to know. But so what?

This configuration gives me wonderful flexibility. Wherever I go, I have an editing terminal with me. I can pull up a text file, work on it when I have a couple of minutes to do so, save it, put it away, and work on it some more when I get to an actual computer. I’ll grant you, typing with thumbs is not near as quick as using a full-sized computer (especially when you’re used to using all 10 fingers to type like I am), and the screen is not really suited for geezer eyeballs. So it’s not a perfect solution, but it is an elegant one.

It’s simple enough to work this, though:

– Connect your Android phone to your computer, with the provided cable.
– You will be asked to choose whether you want to just recharge the phone or access the SD card on your Android screen. Select USB drive.
– Select “Always ask.”
– Select “Turn On USB Storage” in the next dialog box.
– And you’re in business. See how easy that was?

A couple of caveats here: Only one system can use your SD card at a time, so while your computer is using USB storage your phone can’t access the memory card. This gets crucial when you move most of your apps to the card to save on internal storage space as I do. But when you’re hooked up to the computer (especially when you’re using it to go online) you’re not going to need your apps anyway. You will still be able to make phone calls and send text messages while the computer is using the SD card; hopefully that will be enough. If you need to use another app, bite the bullet and move it from the SD card to the phone’s internal memory.

Try to keep your files relatively small and simple (for writing, .txt is perfect).

Stay out of the phone’s system directories when you’re using the computer, and when using file management tools. There’s really little need to go there; for my work I created directories on my smartphone card for active writing and for business files. Again, it’s just like doing them on a USB drive.

Although you can edit your files without further doctoring, a couple of Android tools will make the process easier:

Ghost Commander: This is the best file manager I’ve found via Android market. If you’re a Linux user or are old enough to remember computers before Windows came out, this will look familiar. My favorite real-life Linux file manager is Midnight Commander, and this is almost a dead ringer for that. When viewed in landscape mode you have two lists of files on the screen, and you can move from directory to directory fairly easily. Select “edit” and Ghost Commander’s internal text editor comes up. It’s not a fancy one, but it will work just fine.

Jota: Another text editor, white screen, black text. It has a few more bells and whistles than Ghost Commander’s internal editor, and if the thought of a console editor (think vi or emacs here) scares you, this should be a bit easier to swallow.

As far as tools on your computer, no special ones are really necessary. Any word processor (be sure to save in .txt format) or simple text editor (such as Notepad, Wordpad, or Notepad++) should handle any text files you keep on your phone. Your usual plethora of programs should work with any music or graphics files you’ve downloaded.
There’s no guarantee on how long an SD card will last, expecially when you’re using it in this manner — and you may put additional strain on it by using it like this — so I highly recommend backing everything up. Use your computer’s hard drive or a thumb drive as a backup target, or even going geeky with online storage such as Dropbox will work.
If you’re a Linux type using Dropbox for backup, pull together a shell script to copy the files in one smooth operation. Here’s mine:

rsync -rv /media/6BA2-16ED/active-writing /home/eric/Dropbox

Or something like that. On my computer, the Android drive identifies itself as 6BA2-16ED. Customize your own shell script to fit.


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Hipster PDA: Many uses for index cards

It’s still my favorite personal productivity hack, and even though I’m all plugged in with the electronic toys (including an Android phone) I still go back to the Hipster PDA.

Shoot, I can spill coffee on it (occupational hazard) but it keeps on going.

Lots to be said for the lowly index card and the high-tech binder clip.

For more details, check out my Hubpages piece:


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Is Overclocking Over?

The upshot: Computers are faster, and there’s less need to push the envelope on what they can do. Or so Slashdot suggests.

Too bad. Overclocking (even the little bit that I do with my little netbook without custom parts) is fun.

Here’s the link from Slashdot:


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Back up with new look, emphasis on hacks

Yeah, I had to do this. Dust off another old blog, dress it up, and run it anew.

There are some changes with this one, though.

My old tech blog, The Workbench Reloaded (via Blogspot) sat dormant for nearly two years after a decent run.

I haven’t lost interest in tech matters. Not at all. But I’ve narrowed it down a little bit. I’m interested in those little tricks, those workarounds, to perhaps make some process easier. Hacks, if you will.

I’m pushing the envelope a little by calling these “hacks,” especially when you read in the newspapers about some destruction “hackers” create. But let’s get something straight: “Hackers” is the wrong term for those idiots. Try “crackers.” Hackers build stuff, crackers tear stuff down.

Got that?

Anyway, I’m not a hacker either. I’m not good enough or resourceful enough to be one, and that title has to be earned. But I can whip together a halfway decent hack when I get a mind to do so.

The best hacks don’t necessarily involve computers either. They may be little tricks to help you get up in the morning, to save a few bucks at the grocery store, to plan out your schedule.

As I see them and test them, I’ll share them.  And I welcome input. If y’all feel like sharing, go for it.



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New Firefox makes browser war a fair fight

If you regularly read this space, you’ll notice how the Google Chrome Web browser kind of grew on me, and after my initial reservations I’ve come to love it. Something about its speed.
But now Firefox, with its new 3.6 version, has seen enough improvements to almost make it a fair fight.
Some of the benchmark tests comparing the two intrigued me. When you figure in that impossible stability+speed combination, reviewers are calling them almost neck and neck.
Now, we don’t do that benchmark stuff around here. I don’t have time to mess with all that, and I’d rather put a piece of software through its paces. I’d rather max it out, try to break it, and take note of my findings. I’m not smart enough or geeky enough to plug the whole thing to an oscilloscope or whatever it is those propellerheads do.
So, take any speed or stability tests I run with a grain of salt — or maybe even the whole shaker. Whatever test results I get depend on what mood I’m in at the time, and what I’m trying to do with the software. But I will try to max it out.
I’m one of those computer users who runs underpowered equipment (scary to think my netbook is the most muscular computer I have) and overclocks it like crazy. And to do the things I want to do, I go for lightweight, faster programs when I can. Even my usual graphical interface — Fluxbox — is really little more than a plain background, taskbar, and menus that I write myself from text files. That’s why I was so eager to get my Chrome on, because of its simple and fast interface.
Being the experimenter that I am, after reading some of the reports I had to download Firefox 3.6. I’ve always liked the ‘fox, used it even in its beta days when it was called Firebird (or was it Phoenix?), and kept going back to it after trying other browsers. But I knew 3.6 would really have to show me something to dislodge Chrome from the front line.
But I’m pleasantly surprised. I’m not sure what the developer did, but it’s a whole lot quicker than Firefox used to be. It’s not quite in the Chrome league, but this new version might be as fast as Opera.
From what I’ve noticed, Web pages don’t seem to get lost in that nether world that’s probably populated by everyone’s stray socks.
Lifehacker recently ran some tests of some of the favorite browsers available, with several versions of Chrome, Firefox, and Opera, and Safari. Sorry, Internet Explorer wasn’t in these tests, which takes away a lot of comic relief. That would have been like bringing a duck to a cockfight.
  • Boot-up and warm loading; Winner: Opera – No surprises; Opera always was a fast loader.
  • Tab Loading; Winner: Chrome Stable – I use version for Linux, which is in beta but built from the stable version. And there’s no dispute there; it’s the fastest “name” browser I’ve seen in a while.
  • JavaScript; Winner: Opera 10.5 Pre-Alpha.
  • DOM/CSS; Winner: Chrome Developmental version.
  • Memory use, no extensions; Winner: Firefox 3.6 – This is a surprise, and certainly worth my attention.
  • Memory use with extensions; Winner: Firefox 3.6 – An even bigger surprise here. Firefox has always been fairly quick until I start loading in my extensions. Then my browsing experience was like watching paint dry. If this test holds up in real life, then Firefox just made up for a lot of lost ground in the browser battle.
  • Overall winners, in order: Google Chrome Developmental, Google Chrome Stable, Firefox 3.6, Firefox 3.5.4: Opera 10.5 Pre-Alpha, Opera 10.01, Safari 4.0.4.
Will this new Firefox become my prime browser?
It’s hard to say. I’ve always liked how you could add extensions to Firefox, but Chrome is starting to head in that modular direction too. And I like the independent tabs in Chrome; if one Web page gets stuck you only need to close that tab rather than shut down the whole browser. In Chrome I haven’t run into the memory problems I used to encounter with Firefox. There’s a lot to be said for both browsers.
Besides, it’s still too early in my test flight for me to render a decision. I haven’t broken Firefox yet. Or Chrome. Ask me then.
But if speed and memory use are your needs, it looks like this may finally be a fair fight.
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Got my Chrome on — finally!

After a whole bunch of testing, tweaking, and head-banging, Google Chrome is now working on my Linux box.

At issue was an nss file; I’m not real sure what it does, but it makes Chrome work. That’s all I need to know.
I couldn’t find it on any of my Vector Linux repositories, so I had to do some serious Web searching to dig it up. But it’s there, on a web site called — of course, it is now bookmarked in my system.
Keep in mind, this is for a Slackware version of Linux, specifically Vector Linux, which is the one I use. It’s in .tgz format, for me a breeze to install.
And Chrome is as fast as I knew it would be.
Firefox? What’s Firefox?
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