Sunday, December 31, 2006

A few pairs of socks posted on my Knitting gallery for completeness. Thus ends 2006. Happy New Year!

Saturday, December 23, 2006

A new "Objet tricoté" on my gallery, complete with pattern.

This happens to be for me, but if you knit, you *could* still make this in time for a Christmas gift. Jo-ann is open until 9pm on Saturdays and may even be open tomorrow.
I just found the KnitWiki. I'd been thinking for a while about creating a Wiki for knitting, because I frequently look through the Web for advice or ideas on how to use a particular yarn that I bought because it felt so great in the store. Of course, most of the search hits you get are yarn stores selling the yarn, not knitters telling you how it worked up and what problems they encountered. So I didn't learn until too late that Karabella Aurora widens dramatically when it's first washed, or that using a silk (drapey, less elastic) yarn in a side-to-side pattern would pull a neckline competely out of shape. I don't know if knitters are sufficiently interested in contributing their experience but judging by the number of knitting blogs that exist and are being created every day, they might.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Just how predictable am I? I've been enjoying the first season of Boston Legal on DVD, and particularly the James Spader character, Allan Shore. On thinking why, I realize he's a Bad Boy who's really a Good Guy (just like Dr. House). He's petty, grand, nasty, gentle, happy to help a colleague and has an enormous ego. As a TV series must, the show keeps his character's tension going, episode after episode -- no easy redemption or complete conversion as one can find in movies sometimes.

Here's some classics of the archetype, whether charming or aloof. See if you can figure out which movie BBwraGG I'm thinking of, described from the point of view of the heroine.
  • He's cynical, brusque and appears selfish, claiming to be helping you only for the money. Yet he turns out to be idealistic too, and shows up in the final battle to save the young hero just in time for the defeat of the bad guys.

  • He gambles and womanizes and definitely runs with the wrong crowd. Yet he knows how to be charming and gentlemanly and certainly how to have fun. When he helps recruit for your holy cause, is it just because he wants to win a bet, or does he really care?

  • He's haughty, aloof and seems conceited and cold. He appears to have hurt people just to maintain social class distinction. Happily it turns out the full story was secret to preserve a lady's reputation, and his actions really were quite correct. Plus, he has a really great house.

  • He's a low-class rebel, part of the summer staff. He's dreamy but when you get closer, he's also hot-tempered, impatient and people believe him to have abandoned his lover and illegitimate unborn child. He didn't though, he was really just helping her.

  • He's a beast, literally. But he can turn back into a man if only you truly love him...

In the tragic romances, the bad boy doesn't quite make it either to conversion or to redemption. Rhett Butler continues to mix bad behavior in even after the appearance of good behavior, and ultimately rejects Scarlet due to her own flaws. Rick Blaine is a charming egotist who proves himself not entirely selfish by saving Ilsa and Laszlo, whereas Laszlo is a dull idealist whom Ilsa ultimately chooses.

Saturday, December 09, 2006

It was at an OSAF picnic more than a year ago that somebody (not from OSAF) asserted baldly that Open Source and Open Standards were entirely complementary. I must have been in a perverse mood or found him disagreeable, because I immediately looked for reasons to disagree with him. It's taken me a while to work them into a blog post but it's interesting that I remember the exact moment this theme began.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Scott Mace is so right:

With a standard, one can have a standard server running independent of the Internet that one can test against.

Scott was inspired by Spanning Synch:

Building an application on top of Google Calendar (which is itself still in beta) [...] "building a house during an earthquake".

I'd broaden Scott's stability principle to any well-defined, stable API. It's easier to build an application on top of a stable (public, or standard, or external) database API than one you're developing as you go. I'm not sure whether it's better or worse when the developer making the API churn is on the same team or a different team as the developers using the churning API but it's bad either way. There are lots of techniques to try to enforce stability so that you're not building your application on quicksand and one of them is certainly to use a standard for an important interface -- it's a way of enforcing discipline one might not otherwise have.

Friday, December 01, 2006

If cheesy alternative lyrics turn you off, stop now. I deeply regret it if the season inspires excess cheese chez moi, but I cannot help it.

To be sung to the obvious seasonal tune...
On the first day of Christmas, I caught my cat as she...
Was eating needles off of the tree.

On the second day of Christmas, I caught my cat as she...
Was barfing on the floor,
And eating needles off of the tree.

On the third day of Christmas, I caught my cat as she...
Was peeing on the bed,
Barfing on the floor,
And eating needles off of the tree.
[skipping ahead]
On the twelfth day of Christmas, I caught my cat as she...
Was climbing on the curtains,
Chewing power cables,
Scratching up the sofa,
Coughing up a hairball,
Jumping on the counter,
Pushing things off tables,
Drinking from the toilet,
Meowing at my door! ...
Tangling my yarn,
Peeing on the bed,
Barfing on the floor,
And eating needles off of the tree.

Now I just need these guys to perform this for me!

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Today my post on CommerceNet's blog: email standards waves. A capsule summary:
  • Internet-scale delivery, addressing and use of domains.

  • Standards to access email on the server, and to use multimedia and non-ASCII characters within the body of the email.

  • Security

  • Internationalization, mobile access, and more security.

Monday, November 27, 2006

New on my knitting page today, a poncho designed by a 7-year-old girl, which I knit (and crocheted) out of the yarns she and her mom provided. It was fun filling in the necessary details within the strict design parameters she provided.
Peacock kid's poncho.
So much fun knitting for girls -- frills and waves and sparkles and fuzzy fringes!

Friday, November 17, 2006

Yesterday on the CommerceNet blog I ranted about the concept of "HTTP compliance", one way in which that's a very weak concept, and how worrying too much about compliance can limit a protocol design team from making needing improvements.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

I finished another baby blanket a couple months ago, but I didn't want to post it until I'd given it away. It's my own simple lace design and was fun to make -- much of it got done during a long-weekend visit to my parents'.

Next up on the needles: lace socks, lace poncho commissioned by young friend, and lace reproduction 1920s baby bonnet. So much lace!

Monday, November 13, 2006

A while back I posted about whether "feminist" was a dirty word, asking who considered themselves not to be a feminist because of the connotations of the word. I was sort of thinking at the time that surely most people I knew approved of the advances made so far under the name of feminism so why reject the label? Since then, I polled a few friends and colleagues informally (not as many as I intended; I've been busy).

I didn't ask men this question directly -- I don't think there's much downside when a man to call himself a feminist. Nonetheless I appreciate the input I got, and that all the men who commented here or in-person describe themselves as feminists. Thanks guys! Of course this isn't a universal, but probably an artifact of who volunteered this opinion. I didn't mention it in my original post but it was a male family member who (despite having very liberal, equality-oriented views himself) strongly objected when I said my views might be feminist! He likes me personally and was distressed when I labelled my views -- which he agreed with -- with this nasty word.

Of the women I polled, several said they do indeed consider themselves feminist (I can't remember them telling me this before though I've known many of them for years), and a couple said so quite strongly. Perhaps defensively re-appropriating the label? It's hard to tell. Of course they had good reasons for calling themselves feminist and some interesting discussions ensued.

Finally, three female friends did *not* call themselves feminists. I found their answers the most interesting.

M: "I don't know. I never really thought about it."

L: "I don't think it describes my positions well. I think of myself as somebody who believes all people should be treated equally, rather than that women in particular need different treatment."

S: "The people I know who call themselves feminist talk about issues all the time, and are obsessed with little things like who cooks dinner each night."

All these women have active tech careers, I think they're all pro-choice, and I think maybe S. does cook dinner each night. Anyway, I appreciated their answers and didn't have anything to particularly convince them of but it sure led to a few interesting conversations around the water cooler and in friends' living rooms.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

How do you wash grapes?

I got food poisoning a couple weeks ago, during an otherwise lovely trip to Portugal. While it's probably pointless to try to figure out how, I do wonder about a bunch of things.
  • Generally, how long before food poisoning takes effect? Must the cause have been the same day I got sick? The day before? Within a couple hours? The meal I was eating when I started feeling sick was a hotel buffet. Nobody else got sick.
  • I drank local water, because locals do; I drink a lot of water and it's not always easy to buy a new bottle while it is often easy to refill. How likely is it that local water is fine for locals but not for visitors who may not be adapted to the local endemic bacteria? Is it possible that the rainstorms and small floods during my week in Portugal (apparently the only week of rain the whole year) may have worsened the water supply during my visit? I had been drinking local water for a week before I got sick.
  • I shared from a plate of steamed clams a day or two before getting sick, and the first one I bit into clearly had ice crystals. How did one "steamed" clam stay half frozen? Did they toss it on at the end? Nobody else who shared the clams got sick.
  • I bought some grapes from a small fruit stand. I washed them all and kept them in my hotel room for a few days. I certainly didn't get sick on the first bunch of grapes I ate. Is it possible that I didn't wash them well enough and the bacteria grew over time? How do you wash grapes?
Somehow it's that last question which bugs me, seeming so simple. How do you wash grapes? They're fragile and nearly impossible to scrub or even rub individually. Should one soak them? Spray them from several angles with a decent pressure spray? Put them in a colander and allow water to run over for a longish period of time? Most search hits for "how to wash grapes" say simply to "wash carefully" just before eating (rather than before storing), but a few food sites mention "cold running water" or "gentle spray". Is this any good at all besides rinsing out a bit of grit?

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Today's post on the CommerceNet blog is a brief overview of my ApacheCon talk last week: "Beyond Passwords", promises and policies of Identity 2.0. Although it was the very last talk of the last day of ApacheCon, I enjoyed that venue as I always do, and appreciated every one of the dozen people in the audience who hadn't yet flown home :)

Monday, October 09, 2006

Since CalDAV was approved last week and will become an RFC in the fulness of time, I thought I'd post a bit of the history of CalDAV (so far!) over on the CommerceNet blog.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

I've started a new job recently, as a Fellow at Commerce Net, continuing my IETF Area Director work with their support. I wrote an introduction to my self and my work, as my first post on the Commerce Net blog. I'll try to remember to post a pointer here when I blog there.

Best part of new job (well, other than getting paid to do absolutely cool stuff): biking to work! I'm not much of a biker so I toodle off on my ten-year-old squeaky fifteen-speed, leisurely pedalling down Channing and Bryant to the office on University Ave. Most often I'll bike in whatever I happen to be wearing to work that day, whether it be a skirt or work pants, blazer or sweater. I do wear a helmet. I don't stop for most stop signs -- cars should stop for me!

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Am I a feminist? Are you? I've been reading about Mary Wollstonecraft, who wrote A Vindication of the Rights of Women, and it's obvious that if one of us were to time-travel to visit the other, and she were to question me about what I felt women were fit to do, she would consider me a radical feminist. Probably you, too, if you believe that:
  • Women ought to be able to own property, instead of having a man (husband, father, brother, son) own and dispose of all property.

  • Women can decently write books and be paid for it.

  • Girls should go to school, not just to learn to sew but also to think and reason.

  • Girls should be allowed some modest exercise to keep their bodies healthy.

  • A grown woman is responsible for her own moral behavior.
Ok, maybe 1792 is too easy to compare to. Do you believe women should vote? Then according to the mores of UK, US and Canada in 1906, just a hundred years ago, you're a suffragist and feminist.

How about comparing to a time less than 50 years ago, then. In 1963, the Kennedy administration published the findings of a moderate commission on the status of women, and in 1964 came the Civil Rights Act which covered sex as well as race discrimination. Do you agree that:
  • It's unfair discrimination if a qualified woman is turned down for a job, and a less-qualified man hired instead, particularly in government and government-funded jobs.

  • Women should be allowed to use contraceptives.
Even though I know nobody, personally, who strongly disagrees with any of these points, I also know nobody who calls themselves a feminist, and thinking back 25 years can't remember knowing any self-declared feminists. Yet of course I know many women who wear pants (heh) and have technically-demanding careers, some of them also raising children. I also know many husbands and boyfriends who support demanding careers, help with housework, and have spoken in favour of equal pay and equal access to promotions and high-status jobs. There's some social differentiation around sexual acts -- it's better for your reputation to be sexually promiscuous if you're male than if you're female -- but I still have trouble of thinking of many people who would seriously discriminate on that basis (e.g. refusing to associate with an adulteress or reproving her while approving the company and behavior of adulterers).

What turned "feminist" into a nasty epithet? Was it the introduction of issues around sexual promiscuity and pornography? Was it the opposition of domesticity to feminist belief, making a woman who enjoyed cooking, sewing or having a clean house feel like she couldn't be a legitimate feminist? Was it fictional portrayals of feminists?

I can't decide if it's a good thing that we don't have as deep a need to be feminists any more, or a bad thing that the word is still so tarred after 30 years. I'd be interested in hearing opinions on that and whether you, male or female, consider yourself a feminist.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

We just got the second season of House, MD on DVD, and I'm enjoying it although it may be slightly darker than the first season, so far. The show continues to focus on ethics with a great twist: most episodes seems to demonstrate, one way or another, that nice isn't always ethical, and ethical isn't always nice. Or as the creator David Shore puts it, "What's more important --Kindness or Truth?"

The show is entirely driven by the acerbic, blunt character of Dr. House, played masterfully by Hugh Laurie. He's one of my favourite actors with a huge range of talent (including humour: notably Blackadder and Jeeves and Wooster where he plays an utter fop ) and the ability to melt into a role like this. IMDB says:
During Hugh Laurie's audition, David Shore says that Bryan Singer, one of the executive producers, said, "See, this is what I want: an American guy." Singer was completely unaware of the fact that Laurie is English.
Also, Robert Sean Leonard is still cute. Awww, those puppy-dog eyes.

Image from ''

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

I have another finished, knitted item to show off. It's from a shawl pattern called "Frost Flowers" in A Gathering of Lace. The goal of the project was a baby blanket, not a shawl, so I used superwash wool in fingering weight instead of laceweight. That choice would probably have worked out perfectly if I'd used slightly larger needles, but since I didn't, the square is more than a square -- the stitches were not quite as long as they needed to be for the overall blanket to come out flat, so instead it's got wavy edges. I blocked it by stretching it out very big on the spare bed, which definitely helped.

Frost flowers lace baby blanket

I love it anyway. I love the colour, which is called "Celadon", custom-dyed by Lisa Souza using her wonderful, soft superfine Merino superwash sock yarn. Celadon isn't shown as a standard colour but if you compare, it's a lighter shade of sage. Mmm.

A few more pics of the objet: center detail, edge detail, and Ophelia modeling it as a shawl at Knitter's Studio.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

A new finished knitting project is up on top at my knitting page. It's a pair of crazy, wavy lacy socks for a friend. Yay gift-making and gift-giving! Especially as a total suprise.

Friday, June 23, 2006

I am giving a talk on Cosmo and CalDAV at ApacheCon next week. There'll also be a BoF (which at ApacheCon is a very informal thing) on HTTP Authentication and other standards work. It's my first trip to Dublin so I expect to enjoy the week quite a bit.

Friday, May 26, 2006

I borrowed my neighbour's pressure washer today, and it was fun! First, it's a water toy. Second, it's a power tool. These are two great things that go great together. It's a gas engine, thus loudish, and the spray nozzle is long so both hands have to hold on (one holding down the handle the whole time, which can get fatiguing but that's the worst thing about the job).

My red patio paving tiles were covered in scum prior to this afternoon. Scum came particularly from the eaves of our house, which drain dirty rainwater right on to the patio and then across the tiles to the azaleas. But even away from the path of the scummy rainwater, it was still dirty and black because the drainage is terrible and it rains a fair bit here in winter. I curse the previous owner of the house who designed the eaves and patio this way -- it looks good but isn't as functional as you'd think.

Using the power washer on this blackened, scummy patio is like spray-painting in reverse. With each stroke of the DirtBlaster® rotating nozzle it was as if I painted the tile its original colour. I discovered if I moved the spray nozzle quickly enough over scummy tiles I could see a spiral pattern, proving to myself that this nozzle indeed rotated somehow, although it circled so fast that the water output looked like the surface of a cone. It was like having in my hands a magical staff that fires a cone of cleaning.

After the red tiles, I moved on to the blacktop driveway, the concrete front sidewalk walk, and the back walk. Things got a little messy there, in the tight corner between two sturdy wooden fences, the ground was dirty and the power washer sprayed mud right back out of this corner and onto me. As I finished up I considered turning the power washer on myself, but concluded that a real shower would probably be more satisfying. I looked around for other things to clean, considered whether bushes and trees and wooden sidings needed power washing, and regretfully turned it off and returned it to the neighbour. Until next time.

Saturday, May 20, 2006

You won't find me talking about cooking or touting cookbooks much, so pay attention. Cook's Illustrated The New Best Recipe is a different kind of cookbook. You think you know how to make basic french toast? I thought I did. As it turns out, I had only a dim clue, and I needed to use less eggs, much more milk, some flour, vanilla and sugar. I haven't had this book for very long, I don't cook often, and I only cook for myself, as the man around the house prefers not to eat my cooking (probably for justifiable historical reasons). But every few weeks since getting this cookbook I've tried a simple recipe. Here are my results so far:

  • The french toast: amazing. Getting the inside custardy, and the outside not to taste like fried eggs, is a total win. Their way is not noticeably harder than doing it my old way. I even cheated by using the wrong bread (nowhere in the recipe did they even admit to the possibility of using wheat-and-7-grain bread) and it was still terrific.

  • Pasta tossed with oil (and a little garlic, parsley, etc): Very good and relatively easy, a solid recipe though perhaps not mind-blowing. I don't have much to compare to because I wasn't in the habit of making pasta without a sauce before.

  • Chicken cutlets: amazing. Brining chicken naturally takes longer, as does preparing the liquid, flour mix and bread crumbs to dip in. But holy fowl, does this make the most tender piece of chicken I have ever eaten, inside or out of a restaurant. Ever. I was worried because the breast meat seemed too moist when I started to eat, but the liquid was clear and the meat was cooked -- it was just that juicy. Again, I got this result even with a little cheating: I used frozen meat, mostly thawed by the time I turned it into cutlets. I only ate one piece fresh out of the frying pan and that was the one that caused the religious experience, but the cold or reheated leftover cutlets were also highly worth eating.

I guess the deal is that this cookbook explains so much -- not just explaining exactly what to do but why, for example what effect omitting some ingredient or step had in their tests -- makes up for me being the kind of cook who may sometimes take a few shortcuts. I have better guidance about what kind of shortcut really matters.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Colby Cosh points to this article on making more roads in Dhaka off-limits to rickshaws. Opponents of the proposal point out that rickshaws carry 54% of the city traffic using less space than private transport does, and that when more roads are put off-limits to rickshaws, their drivers' incomes dip significantly downwards. Overall, I have to say that it's nice to see reasoned debate on the topic of public transport including not only government-managed public transport but also privately-organized public transport. In most North American cities, it's easy to forget that there are many other kinds of public transport beyond the city buses and subway systems.

For a few years I worked downtown, on the close edge of the shopping and financial districts and right near a subway stop. But for various reasons the subway didn't work for me and I took the train. The problem with the train was that the train terminus was a long walk from the office (25 or 30 minutes) and I didn't like biking downtown. City buses were slower than walking! Sometimes I'd wait for a city bus for twice as long as the supposed period between buses, and then of course the next thing I'd see would be a packed full city bus with one or two empty buses stuck behind it (quite stuck, as these buses used overhead wires for power, and couldn't pass one another). Even after catching a bus on-time it was a toss-up whether it would actually move faster than a pedestrian. One day I noticed the jitney.

The jitney is easy miss despite the fact that it's an unusual vehicle, an ancient royal blue shuttle bus with big white amateur lettering. It goes from the train to various points downtown and back to the train. It only operates during prime commute hours and its schedule is carefully tailored to the train schedule. And it goes fast, taking alternate routes when necessary, changing lanes and sometimers letting passengers off on the left of a one-way street if the right side is too clogged. It took 5-10 minutes to take the jitney from the train to the office, was never late, and it cost the same as the city bus.

The problem? It was illegal. It's illegal to offer a jitney service to multiple passengers in most North American cities. That system allows public buses/subways and taxis to monopolize in-city public transport under limiting rules. It would also be illegal for somebody to run a private commuter bus service up and down the major highway here, and the public systems haven't integrated their services enough to do so (or perhaps have decided not to offer a more attractive option, so as to push people towards public commuter trains). It would be hard to change the status quo although some people are thinking about it.

I hope countries that still have creativity and open competition in public transport are wiser than North Americans. Keep those rickshaws on the road!

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Finally I can prove that this is still a knitting blog, too. I lost a hard drive and I lost the data cord to my camera (separate events). These together made me have to do a bit more work than usual to post pictures and edit pages. But finally I've posted a couple pictures of stuff finished in March on my knitting page.

Also in my Flickr set, there's a related picture of my cat. Related to knitting. Well, she always helps me when I take photos of my knitting. This time I helped her take an even closer role, that's all.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Jackrabbit is now a full Apache project, and Jackrabbit 1.0 is released. Jackrabbit is a reference implementation of Java API called the Java Content Repository (JCR). A repository that stores JCR can be used to store arbitrary data, just like a database can, but it's more flexible. Instead of storing data in tables, a JCR repository stores data in a hierarchy of nodes and properties. JCR can replace JDBC in many applications that require a structured repository.

Cosmo uses JCR to store shares, calendars, events and other resources. The reason we use JCR instead of a database is because JCR has a more flexible data model, and because a hiearchical data model is closer to the data models of iCalendar and the Web. There are lots of applications today that use databases when hierarchical storage would be a more appropriate model, but databases are so standard that it's still going to take a while for this alternative to gain ground. It's important to have a standard API for accessing this new kind of repository, so that a server implementation doesn't get locked into one back-end.

As with all new technologies, the reality still falls slightly short of the promise.
  • Cosmo has had to compensate for performance issues, particularly if a node has many child nodes. Flexibility has a cost, though I expect this will be improved over time.

  • JCR implementations are still rather new and I'm not aware of much interoperability testing, so we don't expect we would actually be easy to replace Jackrabbit with another JCR implementation and just have Cosmo work. Still, it wouldn't be terrible either.

  • According to BCM, both the XPath and the SQL query syntaxes that JCR provides didn't quite suffice for doing the kind of date queries we do, so BCM had to work around JCR to do time-range queries for calendaring. This kind of trick, bypassing the standard API to use the repository's own non-standard API, obviously makes the replacement issue more difficult.

Monday, April 24, 2006

I've been looking for a better understanding of what a trade deficit is, and why it's supposed to be bad, and whether it really is bad. The conventional wisdom as I've always heard it, is that the US has a large ongoing trade deficit causing job loss, debt servicing costs, and possibly currency instabilities if the foreign owners of American dollars suddenly get uneasy. Wikipedia has a discussion of the points of view of those who believe it's harmful, those who believe it's not, and those who believe it's meaningless. Whether the Wikipedia article is balanced, I can't tell. But clearly, just because a "skyrocketing trade deficit" is a great scare news article headline, and fun to accuse Republicans of, or perversely blame China for, doesn't naturally make it a bad thing. .

I can see two possible sources of gut-level unease, the kind of feelings which make people assume a trade deficit must be bad, bad, bad: fear of debt (guilt over not saving), and guilt over consumerism. The debt question comes up if the trade deficit consists of goods for debt: foreign countries exchange their goods for a promise to pay later, including interest. A trade deficit is associated with low rates of saving, again obviously bad. The consumerism guilt comes up because it makes Americans seem greedy that they import so much oil from the Middle East and so many consumer goods from Asia: it's probably felt to be evidence that Americans must be greedier than others if Americans consume so much that they have this nasty trade deficit as a result. Take these bad feelings together, and you have the question of whether it's wise to be going into so much debt just to consume more than anybody else does. When you put it that way most people are going to think it's a bad idea of course.

But it's not that simple. Japan was troubled for years by maintaining a trade surplus, where it sold desirable goods to the US but had little to use those US dollars for. The dollars fueled some purchasing of US investment properties (companies and real estate) at excessive prices. It may also be possible to maintain a trade deficit without going into debt but it's not clear to me whether a debt-free trade deficit would really make people who oppose trade deficits that much happier.

Today Colby Cosh pointed to an article in which, ironically, a Chinese economist may explain why the US trade deficit, in particular, may be calculated as much larger than it actually is. Products that are less than tangible are the problem when tallying up the numbers, of course. It makes me start to fall on the side of those who think it's meaningless. Maybe it's mostly a fictional problem, an arbitrary equation wherein we put one kind of desirable things on the left side of the equation, and another kind of desirable things on the right side, but leave a few terms out because they're too hard to add up, and finish by trying to make the numbers come out even so that it seems tidier.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Getting Things Done

Almost a year ago, I read David Allen's book Getting Things Done (GTD), and decided to apply a couple principles. I already tried to review incoming email once only, but that just wasn't quite working consistently for me, and I regularly had from 40 to 80 emails sitting in my Inbox, unfiled, because I hadn't dealt with them or decided whether or how to deal with them. At 100 emails I would usually feel overwhelmed and go back to some earlier emails and just decide, finally, not to do anything with them, and clear back out down to 40 or so.

I had also tried keeping track of tasks in a separate list from my Inbox but that also hadn't worked for me. One problem was that the list grew too big, easily to 60 items or so within a couple weeks of starting it. I needed to break it down somewhat. Breaking it down by project seemed obvious but then I had several lists and no way to see what was most important. And still there were tasks that I just didn't tackle.

The biggest value trick I got from GTD, above all the other good advice, was to organize my task list by context, rather than by project. My contexts have been:
  • At the computer (offline)
  • Online
  • At home
  • At work
  • Agendas
  • Errands
  • Phone calls
  • Waiting
  • Later/maybe
  • Done
The 'agendas' list made me look particularly organized because as soon as I had a chance to talk to somebody like my manager or somebody else I work with a lot, I could look really smart and prepared even if I hadn't actually prepared for that specific meeting. I made meetings more productive and didn't forget to cover issues that I'd previously noted I needed to cover. Naturally, the "at home" and "at work" categories kept me from sifting through tasks at an inappropriate moment, so at any moment there seems to be less pressure, less possible things to do, easier to focus. All good stuff.

But there's even more to the system than that, and I believe it's hooked into another classic piece of advice, also covered in GTD: that of identifying the next action.

It's actually very hard to identify the next action in many projects. Back when one of my projects was to get my eyes fixed up, I futzed around for maybe a year before actually setting up an eye doctor. Aside from indecision and being busy, part of the reason was because I hadn't correctly identified the first step -- without thinking too hard about it, I had only the fuzzy idea that I needed to setup an appointment with an eye surgeon. But before I could actually do that step I needed the phone number of an eye surgeon. Before that, I needed to know which eye surgeon. Before that, I needed to get some kind of recommendation. And before that, I needed to know who to ask for a recommendation. Finally, I asked a cataract eye surgeon for a recommendation, and the rest followed more easily (for the record, it was Dr. Volpicelli at Peninsula Laser Eye Medical Group).

So how does organizing tasks by context help? Because in order to decide whether the next task is one I can do at work, at home or on the phone, I need to have a concrete idea what the next task is. It makes me break down each project earlier.

Following this discipline, together with weekly reviews to see which tasks are stale and which projects don't have tasks currently in the active list, may have made me up to 20% more productive at times. It's hard to say. I don't always follow the discipline but I'm getting better.

The tool I use for the lists of tasks is called iOrganize. It's not optimized for this task, but it's sufficient. It's good at taking quick notes, giving them titles, and moving them from one category to another. I wish it could assign reminders to tasks, or optional due dates, but that's OK, it's not actually required for the way I work. I put a ** in front of the title of important tasks, trying to have from two to five tasks with "**" at any time. This allows me to search for important tasks very quickly and sort them to the top of each context list. There's a priority field too, but that doesn't allow me to search, and it didn't exist in the previous version of iOrganize so I'm already used to having "**".

I know there's many ways people follow GTD, there are blogs and near-cults out there and I'm certain there are more specialized tools, maybe I'll use one of them someday. This is just what works for me.

Monday, February 27, 2006

RFC 4331 is now up: Quota and Size Properties for Distributed Authoring and Versioning (DAV) Collections. It's my first RFC as author.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Scott Mace interviewed me for IT Conversations, and the podcast is now available, on the topic of calendars and calendar interoperability standards. Is it wierd listening to yourself or what?

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

You know you're working on standards too much when...

I saw a traffic sign today on University Ave. that said "Bicycles may use sidewalk". My very first reaction was that the text should be "Bicycles MAY use sidewalk"[1]. It was followed by the thought that it should also read "... thus, pedestrians MUST be prepared to encounter bicycles on the sidewalk."

[1] IETF standards have to use capitalized MAY, MUST and SHOULD to be absolutely clear when the specification is prescriptive, i.e. making a requirement, and not just being descriptive.

Monday, January 09, 2006

Ukrainian Christmas may be a Canadian prairie province tradition, according to Colby Cosh. I'm from the prairie provinces myself and love the tradition. My mother grew up in Manitoba and we celebrated Ukrainian Christmas each year in January. Often we opened Christmas presents that day, too. We'd usually travel two days to our grandparents' house for Dec 25 Christmas, with four kids, two parents, winter gear and all the presents we had to give away to aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents, stuffed to within a foot of the ceiling of our full-sized van. After that, there just wasn't room for the stack of presents my parents bought for us kids, or that we'd bought for each other. So we'd leave those presents at home and delay gratification until early January with Ukrainian Christmas.

Of course the day also provided an opportunity for my mother to become a Ukrainian babushka, to cook the dishes she'd had as a child and serve them as a special treat for her own children: lovely yummy perogies, delicious sweet kutia, hearty holubtsi and the rest of the traditional twelve meatless dishes. The odd thing? We're not Ukrainian. Not at all. On my mother's side, English and Scottish Canadians. Nor did she take this tradition on for my father's family, who are almost all French-Canadian with a couple Scots and possibly Indian ancestors thrown in. No, she just picked up this Ukrainian tradition from proximity in rural Manitoba.

One year, living in Ontario when I was fifteen or sixteen, we nearly missed Ukrainian Christmas. My mom was travelling home the day before, but her trip was delayed somehow. When she called, my father and sister and I looked at each other in dismay, unable to imagine missing the traditional feast. No pyrogies? No kutia? How would we survive winter without? We talked each other into doing this ourselves even though my father's better with ad-hoc cooking than with established recipes, and my sister (younger) and I hadn't had much experience. But we dove in, hunting down Mom's recipes written on stained index cards, and even making stuff up when we got stuck. The kutia was great (almost impossible to mess up), I seem to recall the holubtsi was tricky to roll up in neat bundles but it was quite edible as messy piles of flavored rice somewhat contained in cabbage wrappings. The pyrogies were the toughest and many fell apart during boiling (later we discovered that they weren't supposed to have butter in the dough). But it all tasted OK, and we tallied up twelve dishes by liberally counting bread and buns and different kinds of pickles (including the necessary beet pickles) each as separate dishes. I felt so grown-up when my mother came home just in time for dinner and we enjoyed our feast.

Today I still do this, even now that I'm in California with no family nearby. For one, it gives me the chance to serve a distinctive meal for some vegetarian/kosher friends. It's also, naturally, a chance to reminisce as I cook and taste the flavours. In those years when I travel back to Canada during Christmas and Hannukah, it's my one chance to do a family holiday evening with my closest California friends. When I'm lucky, some years I manage to have a Christmas, a Hannukah and a Ukrainian Christmas dinner too. Each year I remember that one year I asked my mother why we do Ukrainian Christmas when we aren't Ukrainian. She answered that it was her belief that everybody should be able to adopt the culture of their choice, without limitations due to actual genetic descent. Three mid-winter feasts a year? That's my kind of multi-culturalism.

Friday, January 06, 2006

Another Outlook connector link related to yesterday's post: caldavxp is Mark Slater's project to develop a CalDAV plugin (technically, a message store provider) for Outlook. I learned today some of the many, many ways one can extend Outlook, it gets pretty complicated I take it.

Thursday, January 05, 2006

At next week's CalConnect meeting in Utah (brrrr... but thanks Novell for hosting), I suspect one of the topics will be whether it's possible to write some kind of plugin for Outlook so that it can talk to calendar servers other than Exchange. Naturally one obvious approach is to write a generic CalDAV plugin for Outlook, and this kind of thing would make it much easier for many organizations to migrate to a standards-based approach.

The technical barriers are daunting. Outlook doesn't seem to have been designed for this kind of plugin at all. Such a plugin might have to use undocumented APIs even to work at all, and then naturally have lots of code to handle changes in those APIs from release to release. Some embryonic work is in progress at OpenConnector if anybody wants to jump right in, or I can put people in touch with each other so email me. At this point, amongst the group of people I've been talking to, we're not even convinced we have a decent approach outlined (so input from MAPI experts is particularly welcome) let alone how much work it would be. But we're starting to talk.

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