WinDirStat: What is Hogging All My Hard Drive?

WinDirStat Screenshot

An older software application, but a freebie and a goodie, is WinDirStat. If you ever find yourself running low on storage space on your hard drive – this application will quickly and intuitively give you a peek into what is consuming all that space.

Before you go out buying a bigger hard drive, using WinDirStat to see if there isn’t (and there probably is) some unneeded files or applications consuming major amounts of disk space. You can delete these files/applications thus freeing up space on your hard drive and save yourself the cost of a new, bigger hard drive.

Warning: You can totally ruin your computer by deleting the wrong files – so don’t go deleting files you aren’t sure about!

WinDirStat Screenshot

Google Now Voice Commands

Jason Cross over at greenbot has written a great list of known Google Now voice commands. The commands I use or intend to use on a regular basis (and think may be most helpful to you) are:

Command Example
Define [word] Define reasonable
What is the weather? What is the weather
What is [quantity] [unit] in [unit]? What is 12 feet in centimers?
What is [mathematical equation]? What is 10 divided by 2?
What is 10 times 2?
What is 10 plus 2?
What is 10 minus 2?
Take a picture Take a picture
Turn [on/off] [Wi-Fi, GPS, Bluetooth, Flashlight] Turn on Wi-Fi
Turn off GPS
Turn on Bluetooth
Turn off Flashlight
Set an alarm for [time] Set an alarm for 50 minutes
Create a calendar event: [calendar event] Create a calendar event: Meeting with Widget Co. to discuss new website on Monday at 8 am.
Remind me to [action] Remind me to pick up milk
Make a note: [note] Make a note: Google Now is useful.
Find [name] [info.] Find Dave Mackey’s phone number.
Call [name] Call Dave.
Text [name] [message] Text Dave “What is up?”
Where is the nearest [place]? Where is the nearest McDonalds?
Directions to [address] Directions to New York City

Dear Mark: Thoughts on Simpleology

Introduction

I’m always trying to improve myself. I’m always learning, always looking, always seeking. I’m a bit of a technophile, I love the ways that technology can improve our lives. I use all sorts of systems – including task management systems. I’ve used a number of them over the years – most recently I was a big Asana advocate (and I still use it)…

One system that I began using way back in the day (2005, 2006?) and have continued to use off-and-on since then is Simpleology. Lately I’ve been using it more and more…I’m not ready to switch everything over YET, but I am impressed by the system and wanted to share a bit about it with everyone…as well as disclose to Mark Joyner (Founder/CEO of Simpleology) and his co-workers my thoughts on the system and the areas that need to improve/be refined before it can really, REALLY be what I need.

Why Simpleology is Different

The first thing to note is that Simpleology is different from other task management systems. Are you familiar with David Allen’s Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology? It utilizes task management – but it is not just a task management system – rather it is a process by which one engages life, especially the task oriented aspects of it. Simpleology is along the same lines.

I suppose you could use Simpleology simply as a task management tool – but its real power is when you get up in the morning (or in the evening in preparation for the next day) and work through the workflow that is Simpleology. It takes the massive amount of ideas, problems, opportunities swirling around in your brain and guides you through the process of selecting which tasks you should actually work on today. It helps you be productive in the right areas and to feel productive at the end of the day.

With other task management systems (e.g. Asana) I sometimes feel overwhelmed. Great, I’ve got hundred of tasks and sub-tasks…but what do I need to do today? How do I decide?

In addition to this, Simpleology provides a number of “life hacks” that help you increase your productivity – and one of its strongest (and weakest) points is the ongoing interactive training that is available to teach you the usage of the web application.

What It Needs

I’m using Simpleology, but I’m not fully sold on it yet…Here are my concerns, big and small:

Big

  • The interactive training for Simpleology is great – it keeps you moving forward at a good pace – but it is also frustrating. Sometimes I just want a PDF user manual[1] to Simpleology. I want to begin using some features before I’m trained on them via the interactive training. Most features are fairly intuitive, but the exact mechanisms and business logic underlying these features isn’t clear and could cause me issues down the road…Here are a few areas I need to know the nuances of w/out waiting for the interactive training:
    • Recurring Tasks
    • Observe & Change
    • Engines (this is supposed to allow custom programmability / triggers within Simpleology)
    • Projects (this is a new feature in 5.5, I haven’t messed with at all)
    • Delegation Station (This seems powerful, but I need to know exactly how it works – what happens when the individual isn’t a Simpleology member and I assign them a task? Can they complete it and tell me it has been completed w/out becoming a member?
  • You can’t jump between different sections of Start My Day. That isn’t true, you just need to change to Expert mode instead of Guided.
  • The pricing model is unwieldy. You can get a great base of features for free, then move up to pro for $7/mo., but then the ultimate, elite package is $57/mo. I’m not suggesting that is too much – but there needs to be more steps in-between. For example, I’d suggest making the Business Growth, Financial Growth, Recurring Tasks, Observe & Change, Update Trackers, Ben Franklin Habits, and Prioritize add-on modules that can be purchased individually. I really have no use for the Business Growth or Financial Growth modules at this juncture. I can probably live without the Update Trackers or the Ben Franklin Habits module – but the Recurring Tasks and Prioritize modules are must haves for me – but there is no way I can afford to spend $57/mo. to get these features (ok, recurring comes with pro…). I think this would increase revenue – and folks might still find themselves throwing in all $57/mo. eventually – but it is a more gradual progression (you gotta boil a frog in a pot by slowly turning up the heat, right?).
  • The lack of storage for historical tasks. Mark informed me these limits are done away with in 5.5.

Small

  • Under Lists there is no way  to make a task disappear from its list once it is completed without deleting it. It should be able to be moved automatically to archived targets once it is completed.
  • Under Lists there is no reason to have “Mental Lockbox (Legacy)” for anyone who doesn’t have items in this category.

Other Stuff I’d Like

Here are a few items I’d like to see, but that aren’t core necessities for me (rated 1-10, 1 being unimportant to me, 10 being very important…although none of these reach the importance of the big items listed above)…

A Little History

[I’ve never met Mark in real life, I’ve never had an extended conversation with him, but I have used his products for years and followed his journey over time…and I figured I’d write down my thoughts and memories before I forget them…This section has little practical use.]

I haven’t been online as long as some, but longer than most. I remember this slick marketing guy I used to follow – Mark Joyner. He wrote a bunch of books, founded a bunch of companies (ROIbot, SearchHound, StartBlaze, Aesop Search Engine, etc.), and I thought ran Trafficology – but it seems Wayne Yeager ran this, maybe Mark can clear that up for me? Perhaps my memory is just lying to me. If you had to sum up Mark in one phrase at the time I would choose the title from his 2002 book MindControlMarketing0.[2]

Mark had a way with words that soothed you into compliance – and he was willing to teach you how you could become a mind control master as well.

Then in April 2003 Mark sent out a surprising email. You can read it in its entirety here. I think you’ll quickly see the power of his sales phrasing (mind control marketing). I was never comfortable with selling using these techniques – but I still followed Mark for a lot of his more mainstream guerrilla marketing tips (is that an oxymoron?).

Mark decided it was time to go find himself, “Bottom line is, it’s time for me to simplify. My business has become so incredibly complex that it just isn’t fun any more. It’s time for me to clean everything up, finish the unfinished business, and move on.”

Then in 2005 Mark came back on the scene with Simpleology. I remember giving it a try pretty early on. I thought it was cool – I don’t remember much about it other than some PDF books teaching productivity hacks. The usual mind control marketing techniques were evident in the early rendition of the Simpleology site. Mark used the popular technique of offering the basics for free and then charging you for the premium parts once you were hooked. Don’t get me wrong, what Mark gave away for free had real value.

Things took a much more concise approach by Oct. 2006. By 2007 things had developed to the first iteration of the web-based software that has become so powerful now and the old marketing techniques seemed to be taking a back seat. I began using the software again sometime during these early days.

In 2011 the site received a complete reboot – and I once again began using the system. Now, Simpleology has been innovated upon yet again – upgraded to 5.5 and I was lucky enough to be selected as one of the early access users.

I’ve been impressed by Mark’s movement from mind control marketing techniques to creating products that don’t need any mind control to sell.[3] You’ll see some of that old style peering through every once in a while – sometimes you get redirected to pages that encourage you to sign up now and get huge bundles and deals (even within Simpleology). I kind of wish these would go away – but to each his own.

  1. [1]It doesn’t have to be PDF, HTML, DOC, whatever is fine – just something I can read!
  2. [2]He always harped on his time spent in the military working in intelligence and how this provided him with many of the skills he shared regarding MCM.
  3. [3]Not that his earlier products lacked value, just that now his products contain such value that persuasive selling isn’t necessary.

I LOVE SSD!

From Aug. 2005 until Feb. 2013 I worked full-time in various Information Technology positions. As such I had access to robust computing equipment and frequent upgrades. When I became a full-time pastor in 2013, those benefits of working in IT became significantly less available. What does that mean? On a practical level, that I’m still using the same laptop I had three years ago – even though that is way beyond my usual “upgrade cycle” historically.

OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive.
OCZ Vertex SSD Hard Drive.

So, what does one do when its time to upgrade one’s workstation but you don’t want to spend the money to purchase an entirely new system? In the past my answer would be “upgrade the RAM” but now it is “maybe upgrade the RAM and definitely go to a SSD hard drive.”

See, most computers I buy these days come with a decent bit of RAM – 4 GB or more. For the average user, you aren’t going to see a “big” performance boost adding RAM above 2 GB or 4 GB to your system…at least, the performance boost becomes less with each additional upgrade.

Replace a standard “mechanical” hard drive with a solid state drive (SSD) though and you will see an huge performance difference. I’d probably have broken down and bought a new machine by now if I hadn’t bought and installed an SSD drive for this laptop in January before I left Cairn University.

The SSD drive took my boot time down from several minutes to under a minute (and I have a pretty heavy load of stuff on my system, many individuals doing lighter work might see load times around thirty seconds). It also makes system performance overall much more snappy – especially anything that involves reading/writing data from the hard drive (aka, almost everything).

I won’t go into all the details of why a SSD is better than a traditional hard drive – you can check out Storage Review’s article on this topic if you are interested in the details.

For those who are interested, I purchased my SSD via Amazon, specifically the OCZ Technology 128 GB Vertex 4 Series SATA drive (cost currently: $130). I couldn’t be happier with it.

I chose the Vertex 4 because (a) it was compatible with my laptop, (b) the drive has massively positive reviews from hundreds of customers, and (c) it comes with a 5-year warranty.

You’ll notice that the price is significantly more than for a traditional hard drive (HDD), but the price is worth it. Still, one will want to avoid buying too much disk space and wasting money – that is why I went with a 128 GB drive. I wouldn’t go smaller than that, unless all you do is browse the internet – and I wouldn’t go larger than that unless you really need the extra space.

If you do need the extra space, you might want to look at a second internal hard drive (this is usually possible with desktops, only a few laptops include this feature) or an external hard drive (this will work with desktops and laptops) or a cloud drive (e.g. from Google, Microsoft, SugarSync, Dropbox, etc.).

One final important note: It has always been critical to backup your data. I can’t tell you the number of individuals and businesses I know that have lost significant amounts of critical data due to hard drive failures. This problem is only exasperated with SSD drives, which tend to be harder to recover data from than their HDD equivalents.

Google Chrome Extensions – A Curated List.

Here is a fairly huge and curated list of Google Chrome extensions. Those I use are bolded, those I have used are italicized, and those which I am considering using have an asterisk. Which ones am I missing that you can’t live without?

Productivity

  • Google Keep – This isn’t an extension, but a web app., but it might as well be an extension. In any case, it integrates with Google Drive making it awesome and simple. There is also a nifty Android app. as well.
    • Sticky Notes – This was my preferred application before Keep, it lacked sync however.
    • Quick Note.
    • Chrome NotePad.
  • Browser Clipboard.*
  • Springpad – For taking notes.
  • Google Calendar Checker.*
  • Meeting Scheduler for Google Calendar.*
  • CleanPrint.*
  • EasyBib Tools.*
  • Lazarus Form Recovery.
  • Google Translate – A useful extension, but one I wouldn’t use frequently enough to make worthwhile.
  • Print Friendly & PDF – Allows you to select actually what you want to print on a page and print to PDF.
  • Google Calendar.*
  • StayFocusd.
  • Ginger – Corrects spelling and grammar.*
    • Spell Checker for Chrome.*
    • After the Deadline.
  • Harvest Time Tracker.

Tabs

  • TabCloud
  • OneTab – This turns your tabs into a list, freeing up memory.
  • Speed Dial – Choose which sites appear on your new tab page.*
  • TabJump – Intelligent Tab Navigator.*
  • IE Tab – Are there really sites you still need to browse in IE? Yes, a few.
  • Incredible StartPage.*
    • FoxTab Speed Dial.*

Phone

Updated: 3/20/13

  • Google Chrome to Phone – Send a page from your computer to your phone’s browser.
  • Google Voice.*
  • SMS to PC Options – Now has an entire page reviewing the various options.

Web Master

  • Google Publisher Toolbar.
  • Create Amazon Affiliate Link (from Travis Illig).*
  • Zemanta – I ended up just installing the plugin into WordPress, it is an excellent way to find related articles for blog posts and Creative Commons licensed images to insert into posts.
  • Buffer.*
  • SEOquake.*
  • Alexa Traffic Rank – I may replace this with something like SEOQuake which provides a fuller view from more services.

Twitter

  • Silver Bird – This is a sleek, streamlined Twitter client. As with all Twitter clients I’ve found, they don’t offer a “mark as read” feature, making them and Twitter, IMHO, essentially useless.
  • Twitter for Chrome
  • TweetDeck

Email

  • Smartr Inbox for Gmail – Made by Xobni, provides integration with social networks and intelligence about relationships using data within email.*
  • PowerInbox – Social network integration, blahh, blahh.
  • Attachments.me for Gmail.
  • ToutApp for Gmail.
  • Streak – CRM in your email.*
  • Cleaner Gmail.*
  • Contactually – Offers CRM in your inbox, but feature set is very limited for free, then moves up to $20/mo/user.
  • Yesware – Tracks who opens your emails.
  • Rapportive.
  • Boomerang for Gmail.
  • Right Inbox.*
  • YouSendIt for Webmail – Allows you to send large attachments via email.

Todo

  • Any.do
  • Google Tasks – Integrates with Google’s official tasks management application, but inferior to most others.
  • Remind Me (by Astrid) – If I didn’t use Asana, I would use Astrid. They are amazing, integrate with Google Tasks, have this app and a mobile app.
  • Toodledo Tasks.
  • Todoist.
  • Taskforce.
  • GQueues.
  • Teambox for Gmail.
  • Google Mail Checker – I just keep a pinned tab with GMail open.
  • Wunderlist.

Clipping

  • Save to Google Drive
  • Diigo Web CollectorMakes it easy to highlight text on webpages, save and clip portions of pages.
  • Evernote Web Clipper – I use Diigo instead.

Image Editing

  • PicMonkey – Allows one to edit photos, can integrate with Google Drive.
  • Explain and Send Screenshots.
  • Pixlr Editor.
  • Awesome Screenshot Capture & Annotate.

Bookmarks

  • Xmarks Bookmark Sync – Once the leader in bookmark syncing it has fallen sadly behind Google Chrome’s native capabilities, though it still rules for cross-browser syncing. Wish LastPass would put some time into this extension/site.
  • Bookmark Sentry – Checks for dead or duplicate links.*
  • Kippt
  • Delicious Bookmarks.*

Discovery/Sharing

  • StumbleUpon – The grand-daddy of site discovery.
  • Pinterest Pin It Button by shareaholic.
  • AddThis – For sharing stuff.
  • Pearltrees
  • Similar Sites Pro – I find it easy enough just to go to their website, no need for an extension.

Security

  • Dr. Web Anti-Virus Link Checker.
  • Ghostery.
  • LastPass – A robust password management solution. A must-have.
  • Web of Trust (WOT) – Helps you to find trustworthy/safe websites.

RSS

Search

  • Wajam
  • Google Personal Blocklist – Allows one to remove specific sites from your Google Search results. I use it mainly to get rid of content farm articles.
  • Google Webspam Report – Allows one to report spammy results via Google Webmaster Tools. I think I wouldn’t use it frequently enough to make it worthwhile, can just manually go to GWT.

Uncategorized

  • Evernote Clearly – Removes distractions from pages you want to read. I don’t find this necessary, and I like to support blogs monetization.
  • Adblock Plus – A favorite of many, I don’t use it b/c I believe in supporting sites that use ads as their basis for revenue.
  • Pulse.
  • Last.fm Scrobbler – For listening to music.
  • Better History.*
  • Send to Kindle (by klip.me).*
  • iMacros for Chrome.*
  • FreshStart – Cross-browser session management.*
    • Session Manager.*
    • Session Buddy – Looks interesting.*
  • Anti-Porn Pro (by clouduacl).
    • Blocksi.
    • FoxFilter.
  • CloudMagic – Search multiple online web apps.
  • Yoono*
  • AppJump App Launcher and Manager.
  • TLDR
  • OneReceipt.*
  • Bitly.*

Bibliography

I LOVE Boomerang for Gmail

Boomerang effect
Boomerang effect (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’m not sure how I survived this long without Boomerang for Gmail, and I’m not quite sure what I’m going to do when my free premium trial runs out either. This tool is absolutely awesome for increasing productivity.

Essentially, Boomerang allows you to remind yourself and others about emails in your inbox. If you are like me and are continuously getting emails, this is a must-have. For example, if you send an email and need a response to it you can have Boomerang bring the message back to the top of your inbox if you don’t receive a message with x time frame.

Another awesome feature is the ability to send recurring scheduled emails. For example, if you have someone who tends to forget things you can set up a scheduled email which will send another copy of the email every day until they remember to do whatever the email specifies. Of course, this could be abused – but properly used it is awesome.

One feature I’d love to see added to Boomerang for Gmail is the ability to SMS someone if something doesn’t happen in x time frame. This could be a text message to self reminding yourself to answer an email, or a reminder that you haven’t received a response to an email, or even a more persistent form of the recurring scheduled message – say the person doesn’t respond within five days to your recurring emails it could escalate to recurring text messages.

Boomerang is available for free on a limited basis and there is a personal account priced at $5/mo. But to get the recurring messages you’ll need the Professional which clocks in at a whopping $15/mo. I pay $5/mo. to SugarSync for 30 GB of data!

I understand Boomerang needs to make money – but might I suggest an alternate pricing scheme? How about a pay for usage option? For example, let me deposit a specified amount into my Boomerang account (lets say $10) and then charge me $.10 for each email reminder I make for myself above the base ten free and maybe $.25 for each recurring email reminder I schedule.

For some people, the flat Professional package would be the best deal – but for others the pay per usage would be more than adequate. I imagine this would add significantly to Boomerang’s user base. I really don’t think I can afford another $15/mo. for a professional subscription. I already pay $60/mo. for internet, $5/mo. for SugarSync, may need to start paying FreshBooks for invoicing, adding Boomerang on top of it all? If I was going to use it heavily, sure, but I’d say I’m a medium load user. I might schedule a few reminder emails per day max and the recurring emails would probably next exceed ten a month.

Book Review: The Five Dysfunctions of a Team (Author: Patrick Lencioni)

I’m always picking up books I find at thrift stores and yard sales. One I recently found was Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It is a small book clocking in at nearly 230 pages. I read it in three days. Yes, I thought it was that good.

Cover of The Five Dysfunctions of a Team
Cover via Amazon

Lencioni uses fiction to tell a fable about an imaginary company and its struggles with the five dysfunctions and how it eventually overcomes the dysfunctions. The bulk of the book is engaged in this tale, and a small portion is then more direct commentary and instruction upon the five dysfunctions.

It has certainly challenged my thoughts on team leadership – in a good way. So, without further ado, here are Lencioni’s five dysfunctions:

  1. Absence of Trust
    1. This occurs when individuals do not feel safe speaking openly and honestly about their thoughts on a topic.
    2. It also involves a lack of vulnerability on the part of group members – an unwillingness to admit their strengths or weaknesses.
  2. Fear of Conflict
    1. This occurs when individuals avoid discussing topics because they want to avoid conflict – which Lencioni insists is a good thing.
  3. Lack of Commitment
    1. This occurs when individuals do not discuss a topic, oftentimes not even being given the chance to do so. The individuals don’t “buy-in” to the idea and thus the idea goes nowhere.
    2. Yet, at the same time, Lencioni is not suggesting rule by consensus – but rather that allowing the decision holders to air their opinions and then making a final decision – without the necessity of consensus – and with the understanding that the team will support whatever decision is made.
  4. Avoidance of Accountability
    1. Caused by the unwillingness of team members to confront their peers when peers fail.
  5. Inattention to Results
    1. This occurs when the individual puts their accomplishments, career, ego, and so on before that of the organization…or when they put a smaller, internal team’s accomplishments ahead of the organization’s.
    2. This can be countered by tying accomplishments with organization wide goals. If the organization wide goals are not accomplished, then no one succeeded.

That is a very brief summary of the five dysfunctions with some brief comments from myself attempting to explain what each of these dysfunctions means. I’d like to also provide a few choice quotes for your consideration from the book:

  • “Not finance. Not strategy. Not technology. It is teamwork that remains the ultimate competitive advantage, both because it is so powerful and so rare.” – vii.
  • “The fact remains that teams, because they are made up of imperfect human beings, are inherently dysfunctional.” – vii.
  • “Trust is the foundation of real teamwork. And so the first dysfunction is a failure on the part of the team members to understand and open up to one another.” – 43-44.
  • “Great teams do not hold back with one another…They are unafraid to air their dirty laundry. They admit their mistakes, their weaknesses, and their concerns without fear of reprisal.” – 44.
  • “[A trust problem exists because of] the lack of debt that exists during staff meetings and other interactions among this team.” – 45.
  • “…teamwork begins by building trust. And the only way to do that is to overcome our need for invulnerability.” – 63.
  • “As soon as the reality of business problems is reintroduced to a situation like this [a dysfunctional team]…people revert back to the behaviors that put them in the difficult situation in the first place.” – 80.
  • “Politics is when people choose their words and actions based on how they want others to react rather than based on what they really think.” – 88.
  • “If we cannot learn to engage in productive, ideological conflict during meetings, we are through.” – 101.
  • “…don’t ever slam one of your teammates when that person isn’t in the room.” – 121.
  • “We aren’t going to solve this one right here. It’s a process, and we don’t need to get bogged down contemplating our navels for more than a few minutes.” – 139.
  • “Some people are hard to hold accountable because they are so helpful. Others because they get defensive. Others because they are intimidating. I don’t think it’s easy to hold anyone accountable, not even your own kids.” – 148.
  • “You are fighting. But about issues. That’s your job. Otherwise, you leave it to your people to try to solve problems that they can’t solve. They want you to has this stuff out so they can get clear direction from us.” – 170.
  • “I don’t think anyone ever gets completely used to conflict. If it’s not a little uncomfortable, then it’s not real. The key is to keep doing it anyway.” – 175.
  • “It’s going to take more than a few weeks of behavioral change before we see a tangible impact on the bottom line.” – 176.
  • “As difficult as it is to build a cohesive team, it is not complicated.” – 185.

If you haven’t read it, I recommend it. Whether you run a company, manage a team, lead a church, or are a parent…I think there is a lot to learn in this small and easy read.

Is Asana The Task Management App We’ve All Been Waiting For?

[Important: I’ve writtens several followup articles, in chronological order: Asana: Thoughts Down the Road, Asana: Yes, I’m Still Using It, and Further Down the Road with Asana.]

Image representing Asana as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

For the last few months the buzz around Asana, a new task management application, has been increasing. But my Google Reader is pretty packed with blogs – oftentimes hundreds of new stories in a single day – and task management posts are usually filed away for review another day…when I eventually have time. I went back through most of my “for a later day” posts and found a number of task management related posts – including ones for Asana. I visited them all…expecting that none would offer the unique set of features I have been hoping for…but so far Asana is looking AMAZING. I’d like to take you along on my journey of exploration…

One’s initial visit to the Asana website shows an aesthetically pleasing design – but a little busy. Perhaps I’m different from most people[1], but I hate watching videos and prefer reading text.[2] The Asana homepage puts the emphasis on signing up or watching a video – bleck! Thankfully, if you scroll below the fold you’ll find “Learn More about Asana” and get a quicker view of the featureset.

Here is what impressed me at this point:

  • It is Free – For all intents and purposes, Asana is free. Sure they are interested in profiting from corporate sales, but for your general needs and for any small to medium sized business, Asana is free.
  • It is Team – A lot of great task management applications are out there, but many of them cost an arm and a leg or they don’t support teamwork…being weak in either of these areas really undermines the product…and those that are strong in these two areas then oftentimes demonstrate weakness in underlying features.
  • People Views – The ability to view what is going on by the person responsible is pretty sweet. Not entirely a new concept, and maybe just cooler b/c it is called “People Views” instead of “User Views” – it feels more Facebookey (umm, Facebookie, Facebookesque, someone help me out here!).
  • Calendar Sync – This is a pretty sweet feature, though it isn’t one I personally find essential.
  • Inbox Integration – One of the goals for Asana is to completely replace a diversity of workflows – ensuring data is recorded within Asana. Part of this involves automatically integrating email conversations into Asana threads. This is a simple feature many do, but Asana’s looks really slick.

Not to say that is all there is to see…there are numerous other neat features – those are just the ones that I really like – mainly b/c a lot of other task management applications are missing one or all of these features.

I do have one question at this juncture: Is thirty team members a firm number or does this reset for each workspace? I’m guessing it is the former, but hoping it is the latter. I suppose the latter option would open Asana up to abuse by its users – who could theoretically just create a new workspace whenever they ran out of users (but that would get extremely unwieldy). Reason I ask is b/c I’m involved in multiple venues – and thirty people is a lot when each venue can contain thirty, but not so many if thirty has to last over all my different venues.[3]

Next thing I did was explore their blog – from the beginning…and I was impressed. The frequency of posts is regular enough and the quality of the posts is quite deep. At the bottom of this article I’ve included links to additional reading, including a few by the folks at Asana. Take a read and you’ll quickly see that these posts reflect a depth of philosophy, clarity of communication, and quality of composition that exceed many technology blogs whose sole purpose is to cover technology – not sell a product.

One item that becomes very clear while reading the blog posts is that Asana is being utilized heavily by Asana – and this is always a good thing. Products suffer when the creators of the product do not have an investment in the product beyond monetary success. Asana will oftentimes provide its own most standing criteria for ongoing featureset.[4]

Okay, so I have some more stuff I like about Asana:

  • Company Culture – Some tech companies have really led the way in creating (again) a culture where the company cares about its employees. For a while employees were disposable assets – but some companies have moved back and forward at the same time – back in purely statistical financial analysis but forward in employee satisfaction, productivity, and longevity.[5] Asana seems to be following this tact with company-wide lunches and regular yoga sessions.
  • The Methods – It is obvious that David Allen‘s GTD methodology is widely utilized within Asana – but beyond this one sees numerous management innovations to streamline and increase productivity, reduce errors, allow rapid development, and so on. These models are impressive and could be copied elsewhere (and perhaps where copied from elsewhere).

On the other hand, and this is not uncommon in technology culture, I’m wondering how many hours the folks in Asana are putting in a week? In this post Jerry Phillips notes folks eating lunch and dinner together (at 7 p.m.) which makes me ask, “When did you start working?” Sure, sometimes long hours are required – especially in IT and especially during the startup phase – but this can become a dangerous, long-term practice…and usually does not involve overtime compensation for the employees.

Now, what about the team? The team behind a product is an important consideration. In general I like two types of teams: the teams where you don’t know anyone and the teams where you see everyone’s legacy. The teams I don’t like are ones with a lot of fluff and bravado without necessarily a lot of accomplishment or technical ability. So, I tend to prefer companies that are either lean, mean startup machines run by some guy in his basement or companies that have be-knighted geniuses on the workforce.

  • Dustin Moskovitz – “co-founder of Facebook” (yup, that is impressive), “CTO…VP of Engineering” (okay, that is much more impressive…not just an idea guy, this guy works with the tech…and Facebook has some pretty impressive tech). Last but not least, note that Moskovitz dropped out of Harvard[6] and didn’t major in the technical field yet excelled in it.[7]
  • Justin Rosenstein – Justin may not have been CTO or VP, but he did hold significant positions at both Facebook and Google – mecca[8] tech companies. Again, appears to have dropped out of college…not that I’m suggesting that is a good idea (I completed my degree and work for a higher ed institution), but it occasionally indicates someone just has such great ideas or ability for self-learning that they are able to “skip a step.”
  • Malcolm Handley – Worked for Google on several significant projects including Android, Google Earth, and Mobile Maps. All pretty sweet products.
  • Greg Slovacek – Again a Google guy – his work seems a little more from a niche, but this can be good as well – indicating a passion for deep understanding of particular topics and a willingness to slog through the mundane work it takes to make stuff happen.
  • Jerry Phillips – Okay, she gets a pass b/c she studied psychology and now is working in technology…I just think that is cool.
  • Jack Stahl – Stahl seems like an interesting character – and interesting characters oftentimes bring something unique and powerful to a team. Note Stahl attended Burning Man, and while that is kind of mainstream, its also like the outstream portion of mainstream…nothing I plan on attending. 🙂 He also impressive technical experience from Yelp.
  • Avital Oliver – Wow. Look at this list: “started coding as a child”[9], “large-scale re-implementation of the Israeli Air Force tactical information system”[10], and “founded the School of Mathematics in Brooklyn, NY”[11]
  • Kris Rasmussen – Was “chief architect” at Aptana – an impressive company with impressive products. Don’t forget he co-founded RivalMap[12] and worked for numerous tech. companies including the (to some) tech mecca Microsoft.[13]
  • Theresa Singh – Okay, can we get Theresa to write some articles for us on Post Colonial Literature? That’d be sweet, thanks. 🙂
  • Yup, I’m getting tired of ooh’ing and ahh’ing over the team Asana has assembled…but there are still a lot more folks who stick out on the team: Donnie Thompson (gourmet chef), S. Alex Smith (machine learning at Facebook), Jackie Bavaro (Google and Microsoft[14]), David Braginsky (Facebook, Google, “numerous startups”), Andrew Watterson (Meebo), and Bella Kazwell (Gmail, Google+).[15]

Now, with such a great team I’ll admit I have some hesitation over Kenny Van Zant – but with the rest being so excellent – I imagine I am mistaken. Let me explain. My hesitation with Van Zant comes from his association with SolarWinds. I’ve used a number of their products – both free and trial – but always found them to be of that somewhat lumpy enterprise class that Asana is attempting to overcome. I also hate having to enter my contact information every time I want to download one of the products – free or trial…but I’m sure Van Zant is great and maybe he can put in a word to his friends at SolarWinds that the contact info. every download is annoying (maybe we could just create an account so we only have to enter the info. once…?) and provide some streamlining of the enterprise feature-set but sometimes clunky products (no, I haven’t actually used SolarWinds enough to give real feedback…I just know when I’ve tried them they haven’t been entirely intuitive or slim and I’ve found other options I like better).

Wow, this is a really long article…guess this is what happens when you can’t sleep from 4 a.m. till (now) 6:30 a.m. In any case, I’m going to sign off for the time being. I’m not 100% sold on Asana yet, I haven’t played with it enough – but I figured it might be helpful to compile the info. I’ve been compiling myself about Asana into one place…b/c I have OCD and do things like that. 😛

The Problems:

Okay, so I’m working through Asana and I’m seeing a few issues. Here is what I’ve found so far:

  • Asana does not support recurring tasks – this is a killer for me! They are apparently working on it currently…
  • The new workspace setting is a bit buried, there seems to be plenty of real-estate on the lower left where it is nested to display it directly.
  • It isn’t clear that keyboard shortcuts such as new task work only when  one is already in an existing task.

Features I’d Like to See:

Here is my wishlist:

  • [Still Unavailable: 6/12/13]: A Windows desktop application that would feel similar to Notepad…I don’t like having to even open a browser.
  • [Still Unavailable: 6/12/13]: Some form of chore assignment functionality similar to ChoreBuster.
  • [Available with Organizations, Not Workspaces: 6/12/13]: The ability to move tasks and projects between workspaces.
  • [Available with Organizations, Not Workspaces: 6/12/13]: Have projects and tasks which span workspaces.
  • Support for recurring tasks. This functionality has been added, though they are doing a “roll-out” which will take several weeks.
  • Native Android application.
  • Granular Permissions for Workspaces so one can allow individuals to see one project but not another, without barring everyone from access to a project.

For those interested in some further reading…Here are some good articles/posts:

  1. [1]Okay, okay, I know my friends are going to jovially reply, “Dave, of course you are, you are strange.” But what I mean here is, in this particular area am I strange?
  2. [2]I think this has to do with my ADD, I have a hard time sitting still while videos meander about stuff I know or don’t care about when text allows me to jump in and out exactly as I desire.
  3. [3]For example, I would want to do workspaces for work, for home, for church, for other projects…for any one of these thirty team members is enough – but if I have to have only thirty members between all the workspaces? Might be a little tight.
  4. [4]For example, as I was reading Asana posts I thought to myself (and I don’t know what already exists at this juncture), “Boy, it seems great…but what if someone at Asana is slacking off? How do they track that?” I’m sure Asana will hit that bump (may have hit?) and will respond appropriately…this is the advantage of a company using their own software.
  5. [5]Perhaps the tech industry innovated in part out of necessity. The technology sector requires specialists – the longer you stay at a job the better you are at it…picking up a n00b may save a few dollars, but there will be a huge learning curve and the lost experience and productivity are significant.
  6. [6]I’m assuming since he only spent two years as an economics major.
  7. [7]He was an economics major at Harvard…someone correct me if he had a technical background from elsewhere…
  8. [8]Nope, not a spelling error, “pilgrimage” doesn’t connote the right sense here.
  9. [9]This isn’t surprising, but it does indicate that technology runs in his blood…Something those who have it sometimes wish they could escape, but never can…the draw of tech. always calls them back when they attempt to pursue other ventures.
  10. [10]This probably means he’s an algorithmic genius…
  11. [11]Ummm…You don’t look this old dude.
  12. [12]A company somewhat in the same arena as Asana.
  13. [13]I think Microsoft is impressive, and a ‘mecca’ though I don’t know much about their corporate culture. Yeah, they have been a pain at times but they’ve moved in some really great directions over the last number of years with much more openness…though this whole Windows 8 / HTML5 push…I’m not sure about.
  14. [14]Wait, is that allowed? Isn’t there some sort of “I will always be an enemy of (insert Google or Microsoft here) for as long as I am alive?”
  15. [15]I apologize to those team members I didn’t mention explicitly – Stephanie Hornung, Tim Bavaro, Kenny Van Zant – I expect great things from you as well, I’m just not as personally familiar with your accomplishments.

OpenOffice.org – A Office Productivity Suite.

OpenOffice.Image via Wikipedia

[Updated July 28, 2017: OpenOffice.org is still available, but Sun Microsystem’s methods of managing the source code caused releases to take a long time.

Then Sun was acquired by Oracle, and they eventually cut the OpenOffice.org project loose entirely. It now rests in the hands of the Apache Foundation – good hands to be sure.

But there is another fork, called LibreOffice which was made while OO was still under Oracle’s control that has taken the lead in OSS office suites, at least for the time being.

I currently use Microsoft Office but primarily use Google Docs.]

If you want to write a document, what do you use? Microsoft Word. If you want to create a spreadsheet – what do you use? Microsoft Excel? What do you call those interactive slideshows you project onto a screen? A PowerPoint. Who owns PowerPoint? Microsoft, of course.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t have any problems with Microsoft. In fact, I might even be a bit of a fan-boy. I write this post from a Windows Vista laptop and across from me sits a Windows Vista desktop. Downstairs is a Windows 2000 desktop. I’ve been running Windows for years – and DOS before that. But I’ve decided not to spend my money on Office productivity software. Why? Because similar software to what Microsoft sells is available for free.

[As Of July 28, 2017: Microsoft now offers (and I use) Office 365 as a subscription for $100/yr. (call it $8.50 a month) which covers five family computers and comes with 1 TB of OneDrive data storage. For those who cannot afford this price, open source solutions are still an excellent option.]

Oracle, Sun Microsystems, a company best known for designing Java (a language that is cross-platform and runs on multiple Operating Systems – e.g. Windows, Mac OS X, and Linux) is actually a behemoth of a company that does much more than OpenOffice.org. Sun Microsystems attempted to best Microsoft at its own game with a office suite it called StarOffice. The suite never took off and so they open sourced the code and dedicated some developers to its continued development. Thus was birthed OpenOffice.org.

The OpenOffice suite of products includes almost everything you could need to be productive. They have Writer – which is similar to Word, and it saves in the ODF format which is much smaller than Microsoft’s older DOC format (though with Microsoft’s new OOXML they are getting closer). However, it can also save in a variety of other popular formats including Word (DOC) and Adobe Acrobat (PDF).

OpenOffice has Calc – their mysteriously named spreadsheet application – similar to Excel. Then there is Base, their database application which is based on a full SQL engine and probably is more feature filled than Microsoft’s Access database application.

But what about PowerPoint? Well, first off, the term is presentations. The use of the term PowerPoint to describe presentations is similar to the use of the term xeroxing for copying. Xerox is actually the name of a company – PowerPoint is the name of a product – not of the actual technologies. But, yes, OpenOffice.org even has a powerful presentations application – Impress.

When you have to choose whether to buy Microsoft Office or download the free OpenOffice.org, the choice should be simple for consumers – grab a copy of OpenOffice.org and get on with your life. If you really can’t stand that cash in your pocket drop me a line and I’ll give you an address to send the check to (mine).

Note: I did not say this was an easy decisions for businesses. Unfortunately, while OpenOffice can work in business environments and has been utilized by a number of large businesses there are issues of compatibility and adaptability that are outside the scope of this article.