Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

The Todo App Crisis

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I don't do very well without a Todo list. I can't figure out what is next if I don't have something written down. I then get caught in the moment -- or do nothing and just mess around. To make it worse a piece of paper doesn't work at all for me. I will lose it, and it's really hard to re-prioritize it. Or remove. Or even read it (my handwriting is terrible). I need an app, or a system that feeds into an app, that is in front of me all the time.

For quite a while I was a fan of RememberTheMilk. I used it everyday and I was a paid member. The problem was that the service hasn't really improved in the past few years. I mean, look at the blog -- it hasn't been updated in December, and most of the entries last year are their Tuesday Tricks (which were handy, but they haven't continued). It makes me worried about how much longer they were going to continue.

And then I built my own cloud server so it didn't make sense to put my most important day-to-day items in the cloud. So I moved to Todo.txt and that worked for a while. I loved the fact that it was in text! The problem was Android. I had SimpleTask Cloudless installed which worked really well. Except that how SimpleTask parses tags and contexts is opposite of how the projectview plugin works. This drove me a bit crazy.

I went without a list for while -- that's not a good thing for me. Lots of things fell through the cracks. For a while I researched OmniFocus and found a couple Android apps that interface with it. I got Focus GTD and I really liked OmniFocus but I couldn't get OmniFocus and Focus GTD to sync back and forth on my ownCloud server via WebDAV.

And then I found deal for Todoist -- six months of Premium for free. Todoist is like an evolved RememberTheMilk -- location alerts, lists within items, and custom filters along with due pages, labels, projects. and repeating tasks. It's quite nice.

Earlier in March my Premium ran out. I looked at what I used and figured out that I didn't use a lot of the functions of premium -- except for notes within tasks (I used that for shopping lists). Most of what I used was the same thing I used Todo.txt for! So I switched again. But first I had to figure some things out.

I ended up grabbing the contextview and the projectview scripts and simply renamed them. Luckily I still had the rest of my configuration laying around. I put up my config on github. All my scripts are stolen from other projects -- read the ReadMe.

The problem with all of this turned out to be, ironically, SimpleTask Cloudless. It didn't display updates on my Android! FolderSync worked fine, updated the file, but SimpleTask refused to re-read it and/or redisplay. Not sure why. Googling around showed that no one else seemed to have that problem but I certainly did. Not having this work on my phone is bad. Though my main place to enter tasks are on my Mac, the main place where I mark things off (and, more importantly, where I see what I need to do ) is on my Android phone and tablet. Grr..

So I went back to Todoist -- the free version this time. Not as many alerts and no notes, but it worked... for a while. But I was still dissatisfied with it. Mostly because I had all my data on someone else's servers.

I thought I was just going to have to sit and deal with this fact and then I remembered I still had OmniFocus. Others seemed get those Android apps working -- why not me?

So make sure that I had the latest ownCloud installed, updated to the OmniFocus and re-installed Focus GTD on my phone. An upgrade of ownCloud seemed to fix whatever WebDAV problem prevented OmniFocus from syncing on my server. And... suddenly, it's working fine.

Entering items into OmniFocus is a dream. It seems a little complicated at first, but you can throw it into the Inbox and drag it around for a Project later. I've already made more lists of "things to think about" than I ever did in Todoist -- I think the app is more intuitive and lends itself to that (probably because it was made for GTD in mind).

Focus GTD picks things up well. It has the same look at the iOS version of OmniFocus -- so it has Inbox, Forecast (which I think is brilliant on both desktop and mobile). I have it sync every 1 hour -- and it syncs! And I can force a sync (which is great).

My only problem with Focus GTD is that it doesn't have a widget. What I like to do is to display my todos on my home screen so they are in front of me when I look at my phone. So now I have to start the app when want to look at it. This is something I can live with -- I mean at least the app updates. There is another Android app for OmniFocus integration called Quantus Tasks. It's a quite a bit more expensive, and has a few more features that would be nice. But there is no evidence there is a widget and the developer hasn't responded to my tweet to them about it.

My favorite function of OmniFocus is the Forecast view which puts a calendar view along with you items that have due dates (which, for me, is most of them). I hooked up our family calendar to the Mac's Calendar app and boom I see all our calendar items in with my todos. This is great where I can not only seen everything (calendars and todos) but adjust my todos based on how busy a day is.

So while I store my data, what happens if OmniFocus goes away? I looked at what it saves on my ownCloud -- it's simply a bunch of XML files. That I can live with in case OmniGroup suddenly drops into a crater.

This is the end of this part of my road in "how to stay organized". Maybe I will actually keep OmniFocus and Focus GTD around a while.

The Decktet

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About a month or so ago, I discovered an interesting deck of cards and I've been a bit obsessed with it ever since. It's called The Decktet. It's a little hard to explain what it's like. It has a very unique structure which you can read about the here but I'll give you an overview:

  • There are 36 cards and 6 suits
  • The cards are ranked with Ace (1), 2-9, and Crown.
  • Cards of rank 2-9 have two suits each and suits are not repeated
  • Aces and Crowns only have one suit
  • Each card has a picture and a name (very much like Tarot)
  • There is also an extended deck -- one of those cards has no suit, while the others have three.

The cards themselves are colorful and unique. Just take a look. Click to embiggen.

The icons just below the rank is the suits that card belongs to. Yeah, those aren't the suits you are used to -- instead they are suns, moons, waves, leaves, wyrms, and knots.

Like our standard deck of 52 cards, The Decktet isn't for one game but a system to build other games on. The characteristics of this unique deck leads to some interesting possibilities in games that would be hard or impossible to make in a standard 52-card deck.

All the games I've tried have been solitaire games or solitaire variants of other games. I've been playing some solo games to get a feel for the deck and I've been very happy with it. The games I've tried is:

  • Jacynth -- an area control game, with the areas designated by the suits on the cards. This will probably be the game I'll try first as a multi-player.
  • Adaman -- an interesting take on solitaire. Try to assert influence over people in power. This is very tough to beat.
  • Quincunx -- A really interesting tableau game but with somewhat difficult scoring. But once you get used to the scoring, it's fun and a bit of brain-burner.

So how do you get this crazy deck of cards? Probably the easiest way is The Game Crafter. I actually ordered mine from ArtsCow which may be cheaper if you get on their free shipping deals. That said, I've heard Game Crafter's quality is better. I have also saw them listed at DriveThruCards but I don't know anything about the quality there either.

More to come on the Decktet front.

The Gaming Way

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It's funny to me that I really haven't blogged about boardgames. Because in my spare time, if I'm not playing board games, I'm thinking about them -- and I'd much rather be playing them.

Board Game Geek is my most visited website in my browser history. Yes, it's a horrible looking website and the front page is perhaps the worst. But when you dive in you see a lot of content -- rule explanations for each game, questions, reviews, ratings, etc., etc. You can even find compatriots for any type of game you like. Or people who like to get games at thrift store or people who play games by themselves. Not to mention a forum for every boardgame under the sun, including rules explanations and clarifications. It's also fun when the designer of the game gets involved in the discussion which is the case in one of my favorite games

So I'm going to be blogging more and more about boardgames. Note that I have a widget on the side for my recent boardgame plays so you can always keep up -- if you want.

I have been thinking for a while about why I'm so into boardgames. It's not really all of a sudden -- I've always been interested but haven't been sure how to get started. Then I got started... and, well, I just kept going. What I like about is several things:

  • Board games tend to exercise the mind. As someone who's brain is the main thing in his career, it's a good thing to keep in shape.
  • It's a social thing. You get to see how people thing, so you get to know more about them. You also get to learn new ways to approach the problem.
  • I don't always play with people -- I tend to play a solo game or two over lunch or at home when the TV is on something I don't want to watch. I do it to relax.... and to keep my mind sharper.

Adventures With Ubuntu and Minecraft 1.8

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or How I fixed Minecraft and became a hero in my daughter's eyes

Minecraft has become a big deal in my house -- my kids (11 and 5) not only use it on tablets but Leah (the 11-year old) uses it for a homeschool curriculum (via Minecraft Homeschool) and "for fun" at The Sandlot. I let her use my old development laptop, which had a bunch of stuff running that she will never need, but it had Java installed and (despite what anyone says) Unity is not hard. I was happy with the Ubuntu 12.04 installed on it, so had never upgraded it. And it worked perfectly for her.

A month or so ago, Sandlot upgraded to 1.8.0 and, suddenly, things went horribly wrong. When she would transport within Sandlot, her Minecraft client would freeze the whole system. There were only two things do to -- hold down the power button until it shut off (Leah's method), or switch to a console, login, find the process and run kill -9 (my method). When she connected back to Sandlot, she had already transported. So, to me, the Sandlot server did the right thing but something went wrong on our end. I tried it on my Mac and everything worked fine. Ok, so now we are talking about a Linux problem. Great.

I tried all different things -- I changed JDKs (Oracle 8, Oracle 7, and OpenJDK ), changed JVM flags, no avail. This wasn't the beefiest machine ever but it should run this. Minecraft 1.7 worked fine. As we talked to people on the forums, we discovered that we were the only ones with this problem.

(In case you are keeping track, this the same issue I briefly described in another post.)

I figured that it was just a blip with Minecraft 1.8.0 and Mohjang would fix it in 1.8.1. 1.7 worked fine, though Sandlot was making areas that only worked in 1.8.x. I assured Leah that 1.8.1 would fix it. Well late last week Mohjang released 1.8.1 and it still wasn't fixed -- it kept hanging. Grrr.

So this weekend I went back to googling the problem and found this forum post. It wasn't exactly the same problem I had, but it was something I hadn't tried before -- the video driver. It seemed weird to me, but why not try it?

Oh I know a reason why not -- because that laptop is running 12.04 LTS, which is no longer in support so there is no way I can find an updated video driver. Therefore I would have to upgrade the OS to find the most recent video driver. But from what I had read, the new Ubuntu version would work fine, so I decided to go for it. My initial thought was to burn the 14.04 DVD to install, but that was a lot of work. So I did the trusty do-release-upgrade. That was yet another mistake....

After it was done, there were processes (like Chrome) that wouldn't start up. It seemed that it couldn't find the libc6 library. Grrr. I found a forum post where someone fixed it by removing it and running dpkg -i over and over until everything was installed. I can't find that link now but no matter -- at one point I couldn't run dpkg, sudo, or even ls anymore. Uh-oh -- I knew I was in trouble now.

So I went back to my first instinct -- I downloaded the Ubuntu 14.04 image, burned it to a disc, and reinstalled it on that laptop. Overall, this was better because it removed things that were running that she wouldn't be using (like Apache, PostgreSQL, MySQL, etc). This took a while, of course.

After that, I made sure that the latest video drivers were installed (which was really the whole point of this exercise). Then I re-installed the Minecraft launcher and it was the moment of truth. I watched as Leah connected to the Sandlot and then did a transport. It was slow, but the cursor still worked! And then . . . the transport completed! We did some more tests and no more lock-ups. And no more since we upgraded.

Actually, the machine runs faster, the screen is brighter and (actually) runs a lot cooler. Win-win all around.

So in short -- if you are running Ubuntu and are having lock-ups in Mincraft, upgrade to 14.04 and make sure your video driver is up to the latest and greatest.

Java Java Everywhere

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It seems that everyone needs my Java expertise. The following all happened within a 12 hour period:

  • I'm now a contractor and my current contract is to get a bunch of semi-programmers up to speed on Grails so they can actually support the applications that are tossed over the wall.
  • As soon as I get home from work, my daughter doesn't let me into the house, because she's having problems with Minecraft on our Ubuntu laptop. I used a lot of my Java troubleshooting-fu to figure out what is happening. It comes done to Majong doing something that make Minecraft on Linux janky with Minecraft 1.8 and new servers with mods. Works fine on my Mac (which my daughter does not use).
  • During the day, I get a frantic text from a friend of mine. Her son is on college and not going well in his second semester college programming class and asked if I knew anything about Java and if I could help him. I said I do Java for a living. I got with him that night and found out that the instructer is not explaining things well, giving examples with bad practices, and an extremely superficial and insipid assignment.