Where Are The Wise Men?

Mike's Ramblings

Org Mode

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My latest post on the Object Partners blog has something unusual about it. Not necessarily the content (which wasn't Grails-based, so that is different). It was how it was written. Instead of being in Markdown and converted to HTML like I usually do, I did something completely different. I used an Emacs-only based format called Org Mode.

I've heard of it before but never really dug into it. I've heard about it mostly for the todos and I'm perfectly happy with my system using RememberTheMilk. But one day I stumbled into this YouTube video where he demoed a lot of Org Mode features. Linking to anything, re-ordering lists, etc. Even after using Markdown for years, I've found Org Mode's conventions easier to get in my brain (but they are very similar). And, if you watch that linked video, at least make it to 6:13, where he demos how tables work. It's amazing.

I like taking notes on a code task and putting a link to the source file straight into my notes. You can't do that with Evernote. I like writing a blog post and importing my code snippets from my sample into my article, as opposed to copying the code in. You can put your Org mode document anywhere – not just in a special folder but spread throughout your projects. That seems weird but it actually makes sense.

I'm almost giddy about it. Making my own wiki, notes, and having it in Emacs and being able to whip it to any format I want and link to any files I want…. wow. If you needed a reason to jump into Emacs, I can't think of a better reason than Org Mode.

2016 Update

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I was shocked when I look at this blog the other week and realized that I hadn't this in over a year. It wasn't intentional -- and it wasn't because I wasn't blogging either. My technical blogging has more or less moved to my employeer's blog where, because, well, I have a deep incentive to blog they (i.e. they pay for it). I also blog a bit about boardgames on my BGG blog.

Other things I've been playing with:

  • Android. Not programming but power-user stuff. I've also learned that ES File Explorer is the Android Power User's best friend.
  • I put this on the OPI blog, but I've gotten used to Powershell on Windows. It's not as good as a Unix prompt but it's faster than Cygwin and having a port of gvm makes it great in the Grails/Groovy world.
  • Minecraft. All of it. I need to blog more about this (and Android Power-Usage)
  • I recently declared bankruptcy on my Emacs config and went with Projectile and that uses Prelude. I'm not looking back.
  • I'm also back on using RememberTheMilk as my Todo list app. Their total rewrite added everything that I was missing from RTM and other apps -- and other things I didn't know I was missing. Funny how that went full-circle.

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.