Thursday, February 26, 2009

Solution for My Time Sheet Problem

I have to fill out a time sheet at the end of every week. It's due by Monday at noon. Each week I find myself filling in 40 hours to the main project that I worked on, then wondering to myself, "Okay, what did I do this week that took away that time, kept me late, and made me miss lunch?"

It's a perplexing question. Even with my attention draining habits, I still feel that I am putting in over 40 hours of real work per week. Yet I rarely feel that all 40 of those hours were spent working on my current primary objective.

I've found that the times I keep detailed logs of how I use my time that I have dozens of interruptions during the day. These are interruptions for various business reasons, not my own attention wandering off to the realms of the Internet, I tend to simply discount those times from my time sheet. I feel that it is a disservice to myself not to somehow indicate that these interruptions occur.

The problem is that it is another attention draining task to stop and note each interruption. It also magnifies the impact of small interruptions, which I can sometimes regain my focus immediately after. So I resort to keeping clues around by way of emails, notes, and phone logs. Then my time sheet exercise is to find all of these notes, combine them with other events that I remember but did not note, and rebuild my week in an honest fashion.

Doing this on a weekly basis is hard. It also doesn't mix very well with the whole Inbox Zero thing. It's too much work to get this information all into a single store, and if I immediately process and file it then it is that much harder to reference it by date.

With Outlook 2007, I think I've finally found a workable solution, at least for my email. I created a category "For Time Sheet" and assigned that to the category quick click event. This allows me to quickly mark the items that are interesting for my time sheet. Next, I file these items in my personal archive. On my personal archive I have created a For Time Sheet search folder that lists all of these items. I added this folder to my favorite folders list.

Now with a single click I have access to all of the items that are interesting for my time sheet, regardless of what folder they reside in. I can remove the category as I record the time I spent working on these items, allowing me to limit the list to only the current time sheet. Since I try to use email as much as possible for correspondence this unobtrusive process does most of the work for me.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Social Networking Boundaries

Where the heck are the boundary lines, anyway?
The modern social networking site seems to be half popularity contest, half status update. Sprinkle in some idle chatter and time wasting and you have electricity. It seems that everyone has a different idea of how to use these sites and where they draw the line. At a bare minimum you're exposing parts of your life to the world, and greater parts to some loosely defined circle of friends and acquaintances.

What does friend mean to you?
I'm completely lost here. It seems as though I could consider anyone I've ever had any sort of contact with a friend. I've seen people do that on these sites. Even more abstracted are when your friends are really someone you don't know, you're just a fan.

I normally view friends as people that I have a legitimate connection to. That may mean that I only have conversations with them on a message board or that I've known them all my life. To qualify it has to be a situation where I actually communicate directly with the person at some point. Otherwise how could I ever consider that person a friend?

That's limiting, though. It omits those loose acquaintances whom I may want to become friends with. If I'm stingy with that label I will forever have a small circle of friends. Maybe they'll be closer to me but they will be far fewer. Perhaps I might miss out on a great friendship because of this. Could it be that I'm unwilling to open up?

On the other hand, I think it's odd to apply that label too loosely. If everyone is your friend, do your real friends know who they are? Do you know who they are? I may be missing something, but I don't think that even the best social networking software can enable someone to truly maintain hundreds of friendships.

Who do you want to truly connect with?
If you look at your friends list, how many people there would you talk to every day? How much of what you put in your profile is really for their consumption alone? What are the other people doing there and do you ever think of their presence?

I wonder about all of this because of the odd mix of events that occur on social networking sites. Many of them act as a sort of microblog with status updates serving as quick publications. They're used in odd ways, though. Often the microblog includes a chat spin off, or it's actually directed at a certain person or people. After all these years have we come back around to in-browser public chat with a slightly modified format?

Beyond that, I feel like a voyeur watching these status updates. Even though I've limited my friends list in ways, I still find myself questioning whether I would see these things in any other medium. I'm not sure if I want to know them, and I wonder if the person on the other end truly wanted me to know it or if they've just desensitized themselves to the lack of privacy.

My problem here is that I don't know whether these things were intended for me. I sometimes feel compelled to comment or act on information but don't because I wonder if I'm crossing some fuzzy border.

Social networking has a permissive dimension that is above one, but far shy of two. That is to say that it is like a fractal dimension. It is clearly not one dimensional, or else we could see the line and we would know when we cross it. It is not two dimensional either, because there is no clear line for where others stand and the other axis is not well defined. Instead, like the fractal, as you examine each line you will see never ending complexity comprised of the same questions. I suppose it boils down to this: Social networking boundaries are irrational.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

My RSS Reader has a "Productivity" Category

I put it there. Nevertheless, it's there. This post is about the irony of that.

Recently, one of the feeds that I have categorized under the Productivity folder, Lifehacker, posted about ManicTime. ManicTime is an application that somewhat unobtrusively monitors your application usage and provides a report. You can tag time spans and use it to help figure out how you're using your time. It's great for someone like me that has to fill out a detaile time sheet at the end of the week.

Here's where the irony comes in. I installed this app on Tuesday. Since then, only one day (the first day) was Firefox not the top application by sheer volume of usage. I used Firefox for almost 30% of the time I was on my computer. The most time consuming thing I do in Firefox? Read articles fed to me via my RSS reader.

Fortunately I don't live in a fantasy land where average people are 100% attentive. If I did then I would think that something was seriously wrong with me. However, I do live in the real world and I think that 30% might be a little high. Sure, I do read trade-specific articles part of the time. I do have a business reason to have Firefox. Still, the primary reasons I go there are personal.

Now I have to figure out what to do, or if I should do anything. I'm not too worried about my productivity. I even amaze myself with my ability to meet or beat deadlines occasionally. I do wonder if lowering the noise might boost my productivity, at least in a way that would result in less overtime and more family time. Then again, if I take away my distractions during the day I may realize how boring and tedious my job is. I may stagnate and stifle my creativity. What to do? What to do?

I'm going to try to cut back. I think I need to push myself to improve this ratio. I at least owe it to myself to experiment and see if an extra 10% of my attention is worth the price.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Netflix Suggestions Know Me Better Than I Know Myself

I really like anime. There, I said it. Happy now, Netflix?

You've been telling me that I'd like all sorts of anime series for years now. I kept hitting the "Not Interested" rating. I kept watching all sorts of anime on Adult Swim and occasionally on DVDs from your service. Still, I rated the Anime & Animation category low and refused many of your suggestions.

I was kidding myself. I'm hopeless. Anime is a guilty pleasure, and I am guilty.

I know how terrible it can be. It tends to be weird and even annoying. I just can't help but like it, though. I finally gave in when I realized that I'd watched an entire 26 episode series on Hulu over the weekend.

So, tonight I cleared all of my Not Interested ratings and even added a few series to my queue. I just don't want to argue anymore. You obviously know better.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Google Reverse Phone Search

I recently received a forwarded message at work containing some sly misinformation on one of Google's features. You can search for a phone number on Google and if that number is listed it will show you whatever information it can find on it. Pretty neat, eh? Apparently there are privacy concerns, as the email described:

The email went on to give a set of verifiable instructions to check if your phone number nets results. It's legit. If your number is listed this really works.
Google has implemented a new feature which enables you to type a telephone number into the search bar and hit enter and you will be given the person's name and address. If you then hit the Map link, you will get a map to the person's house. Everyone should be aware of this! It's a nationwide reverse telephone book and mapping system
If a child gives out his/her phone number, someone can now look it up to find out where he/she lives. The safety issues are obvious and alarming.
What isn't legit are the "safety issues." They should be obvious, but not alarming. I say this because this information has been easily accessible for years. If your number is listed then all of this is easily obtainable. In fact, that's how Google was able to get the information: someone else has this information in a publicly available, search-able, index-able format. Google hasn't introduced anything new, they've just made it a little bit easier.

To demonstrate how little this changes, I did a search for my boss's phone number on It returned her home address, both her and her husband's names (including middle initial) and their approximate ages. Not only was this just as easy as the Google search, it also supplied me with more information in the results. I'm quite positive that with a little more time and effort I could obtain far more information about her than Google provides alone.

The problem is even less profound when you consider the full scenario. If someone has access to your child enough to obtain their phone number then we can assume a few other things:
  1. They could probably harm your child right then, or at a later time in the same place.
  2. They would be able to follow your child home, or follow them until they are alone.
  3. It is likely that they could obtain other information, such as where the child lives, directly from the child.
If we take that into consideration we're left with a dramatically limited scope in which Google's feature makes any noticeable difference. In any of those instances the predator has no use for Google or any reverse directory. Plus, scenario 1 and 2 decrease the likelihood that you can do anything to change the situation. At least if someone is stalking your child at your home you have some control over whether that child is alone and some chance to take notice of unusual strangers.

I believe that predators who would rely on this feature are less dangerous, on average, than those who would use another method to obtain this information. That is because the more skilled stalker would be using other tools that return more information and are more likely to find a match. There are pay sites that offer huge amounts of aggregate public information, and with a little leg work you can find out plenty from public records offline. The less skilled predator is more likely to attack the child without ever bothering to search for additional information. Somewhere in between you have a stalker that needs easy to use tools like Google search, and is happy with the paltry amount of information it provides, yet they are willing to step back and research their victims. These people are more likely to exist in Lifetime made for TV movies than they are in the real world.

Perhaps I'm wrong, but I have the same belief about most technologies that make information more accessible. You should be more worried about the entities that had access to the information before. You should be most worried about the people who actively sought the information when it was difficult to obtain, not the ones who will only look when it's easy.

Monday, February 16, 2009

More Stretch TV

The other day my wife sent me a link to a video of Campbell Brown ripping into Wells Fargo. What I instantly realized, aside from my disagreement with Ms. Brown, is that they stretched her. This is really weird stuff for an online video.

CNN has both HD and SD feeds, so one would think that they could take either the original recording or the SD feed to make the video for their site. Oddly, when I had cable throughout the election I would watch CNN in HD and I rarely, if ever, noticed any stretching. I would imagine that the network has their equipment in order to broadcast a proper 16:9 picture. Why did they choose to stretch this video then? Did they use the SD broadcast but stretch it for their wide screen player? We may never know.

Campbell, if you ever see this, ask them to stop! All the evidence you need is in this story: When I mentioned that the video was stretched my wife reacted that she noticed something was off. She wasn't sure if the video was out of proportion or if you had gained a lot of weight.

Finally, I'd like to note that my previous HD stretch piece is probably the most viewed one on this blog. It seems that it is high in the results on Google when you search for... "HD stretch," go figure. Well, if you've reached this site looking for advice I apologize. You may feel heartened that I feel the same way about picture stretching that you probably do. Until the time that I take a deeper look into how to fix the issue, may I suggest the following:
  1. Try a more specific search, such as "brand [and model] hd stretch."
  2. Check your user manual or check if you lost your copy.
  3. Go to the AVS Forums and look around. If you need, ask about your problem there.
I'm sorry I can't be of more help. I hope you find a solution somewhere. If you do, post a comment telling others how. Maybe the next person to stumble by won't have to search as much.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

That Adolf Hitler Kid

I'm still following this story. I'm waiting for DYFS to release a statement on why these kids were removed from their homes. This was too much of a one sided story and I want the record set straight.

In case you missed it: Late last year it came to light that some ignorant white supremacist trolled the world by naming his kids after nazi* icons. On a slow news day his local ShopRite did the right thing by refusing to make a cake saying "Happy Birthday Adolf Hitler." He was instantly a hero to those who portray common sense and decency as "PC," a martryr to racists everywhere, and a huge jackass to everyone else. End of story.

Only, it wasn't the end. DYFS came in a few weeks later and removed his kids. That's when the martyrdom was kicked up a notch. Suddenly, everyone in the world became a Monday morning social worker and the popular assumption was that these kids were removed due to their ridiculously stupid names. This was compounded because only the parents are allowed to talk as DYFS, as most such social services, has strict confidentiality laws about their cases.

I take issue with the parents, the names they gave their kids, their defense for the names, at least one popular defense for the names given by others -- including their aunt, and the assumption that DYFS is doing something wrong.

The Parents
These people have to be off their rockers. Honestly, who gives kids such names? What did they think the result would be? If nothing else, they are obviously too stupid to realize that freedoms go both ways and everyone else is free to shun their kids for their names and treat them like manure. The saddest part is that they had three children and didn't learn.

The Names
Well, this goes without saying. It's one thing to name your kid after someone controversial. If I were to name my kid after Malcolm X I would probably raise some eyebrows. Yet, I would not be naming him after perpetrators of some of the worst acts in human history. It's unfathomably gross to think that someone in good conscious named these children such.

Ignoring all of the psychology involved for the kid, by giving that name they paid tribute to Hitler and publicly acknowledged that they held Hitler in the highest esteem. Hitler's name should be ascribed to waste baskets and poop scoops, not children.

If they had chosen the name Adolf you wouldn't be reading this now but that's not what they did. They chose Adolf Hitler, leaving no doubt about who they were naming the child after. It's sick and stupid and the parents deserve whatever misfortune this name brings about.

Their Defense of the Names
This is one of the more insulting aspects of this story. These people are either completely delusional or they just take the public for suckers, probably a bit of both. Their claim is that they gave these names due to a desire for a unique identity for their children. Seriously? You couldn't think of anything better than to name your children after insane war criminals responsible for genocide? We're supposed to buy this?

Further insult to our intelligence comes when questioned about the swastika tattoo on the father's neck. He's not racist, he just likes the artwork. Sure, buddy.

The Popular Defense
Several editorials, blogs, and comments I came across about this situation offered the same quip that one of the family's relatives did during an interview with the local NBC affiliate. They combined two current events, this one and the election, and came up with the brilliant "but we just elected someone name Barack HUSSEIN!!!!!!!! Obama."

Do you really not see the difference? If you don't, stop reading and never return to this site again. There's no help for you. Just to spell it out, though: President Obama was named before the tyrant dictator took power. He was not named after Saddam. Further, Saddam sullied a fairly common name, but by no means to the extent that Hitler did with Adolf. It is very clear that Barack was not named after Saddam at all, but it is even clearer that this child was named after Hitler. To indicate that it is acceptable to name someone after Hitler because someone who is accepted by society coincidentally shares one of his names with Saddam Hussein is flawed logic of the worst kind.

If you still have a problem with Barack Obama's name then you should read this article by Juan Cole. He does an excellent job explaining why there is no good reason to have a problem with our President's name.

The Assumption About DYFS
Here's the big one. No one seems willing to let DYFS have any slack. Even the more analytical and understanding people I know have criticized the removal of the children because "it's just because their names."

I have a hard time believing this. From what I know about social services it is quite improbable that the children would be removed from their parents purely due to their names.

The more likely scenario is: The national news story sent one of their neighbors over the edge and they decided to make a report about abuse. DYFS is then legally required to investigate. Upon investigation some legitimate reason to temporarily remove the children from the home was uncovered. The children were removed.

Why would I assume that DYFS didn't do anything wrong?
The parents in this situation can offer no evidence that DYFS did anything wrong. They are merely throwing out baseless accusations that make us condemn the agency for our own prejudice against the family. This is classic behavior when a child is removed from a family.

Meanwhile, DYFS isn't giving us any reason to believe them. The problem here is that we don't need any more reason than we already have. DYFS is regulated and they cannot just go around removing kids for no reason.

Further, it is not easy to remove children from a family. Social workers take no pleasure in doing this, except maybe in the worst of circumstances. There is a lot of work involved and a lot of regulation. There is no joy in taking a child from their parent.

To insinuate that DYFS would remove children for no reason beyond their names, with no evidence aside from wild accusations by the parents in an attempt to start a media war, is ridiculous. However, it's beyond ridiculous for the social workers involved. Human beings, who obviously have more common sense than these parents, and are compassionate enough to take a thankless job so they can try to help kids, are behind these actions. These parents, and those who accept their claims at face value, are demonizing these faceless social workers who can't even legally speak for themselves.

I'll leave the fate of the children to the courts. Until then I won't assume that the parents are guilty of anything. I also won't assume the DYFS did anything wrong. Regardless of the outcome, I will continue to believe that Heath and Deborah Campbell are failures at life.

*I don't care about spell check, this word does not deserve to be capitalized.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Creditor Protection

I was just reading this article and it reminded me of the time when I mistakenly bit on this trap. While there is a circumstance where you may not be covered by standard life or health insurance policies but you would under this protection, namely the loss of you job, it just isn't worth it. It's far too expensive.

The problem is the pitch. It only costs 1% of your balance, they say. So you may think that it will bump your APR up a percentage point. Wrong! It bumps your APR by 12 percentage points. It is 1% of your balance monthly. Your monthly interest is calculated by multiplying your average daily balance (on most cards) by one twelfth of your APR. If your annual number is 12% then your monthly number is 1%. In that case you would double your interest by taking this offer.

It just isn't worth it. If you carry no balance then this does nothing for you and it can make your debt balloon in a situation where you start carrying a balance. If you do carry a balance then you'll instantly double your interest owed. You're better off putting the money into your emergency fund.

Monday, February 2, 2009

The Courageous Middle Ground

Do you have the courage not to take a stand? The ability to see things more than one way? The balls to admit that maybe the other side is right?

I'll admit that decisiveness is important. There are times where you must be able to make a clear decision and stick with it. Everyone should be exposed to tough decisions and allowed to have firm opinions.

What seems to be lost, especially in punditry, politics, and online forums, is the ability to have a mixed opinions. There are a courageous few who take the middle, often enraging those on either side.

The middle is a thankless position. It helps the arguments of both sides and hurts them at the same time. Occasionally it is recognized as the right position, but rarely is held as a brave position.

Too often the middle position is declared indecisive and cowardly. While there are instances where this is true, it is more likely that the middle is decisive on more nuanced points and they are brave enough to speak out against everyone while agreeing only in part. Rarely will the middle position earn you new friends. It takes far more effort to sustain this position, as you have to defend nuanced and expansive arguments while your opponents will lump everything together for their convenience.

If you are brave and decide to take the road less traveled you should be rewarded for any sensible views you may have. It's unlikely that you will, so take my appreciation now.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

Check Your Accounts

This piece of advice has been all over the place lately: Check your accounts. Do it now. Check your credit cards, redeem your points. Make sure your bank is still afloat, see if they lowered your savings interest rate. Review your expenses and see if there is a way to reduce them.

Tonight I received an email that my statement from AT&T Wireless was available. I logged in to check what was due. No overages, tons of roll over minutes, but that data plan price tag is a bummer. Then it clicked, we haven't been with AT&T for very long, yet we already have 2,400 roll over minutes accrued. Two clicks later I reduced the bill by $10 per month by lowering our plan to 550 minutes each month. Even if we have a busy month our roll over minutes will make up for it but we never came anywhere near the 700 minutes we were paying for.

If I can save $120 a year with 20 seconds of effort then you can probably save too. At the very least you'll know if anything has changed.