18 April 2006

Getting Calendar Done

After playing around with Google Calendar for a while I had mixed feelings. It’s pretty fantastic overall, it’s a pleasure to use, it closely resembles the look and feel of Gmail, but I also finally started to get some sort of emphasis with John Gruber ranting against the non design of Google’s applications and I was kinda disappointed that one feature I had expected (gosh, Gmail had them 2 years ago) was missing: tags.

(No one else seems to be missing them, but the ability to organize events dynamically via tags and smartgroups would have made it a killer application. But after using Joyent for a while (which uses the metaphor of tags and smartgroups consistently) there is no way back to no tags for me, despite the fact that Joyent’s search somehow sucks.)

However, Google Calender can easily be misused to make it a superb (and GTD compatible!) to-do list application. Here is my preliminary setup:

I’ve created a calendar for each of my major contexts (@anywhere, @online, @ibook, @pc, @home, @errands, @tv, ...).

I grabbed a few index cards and scribbled shortcuts for my current projects and possible subcontexts (_brainstorming, _calls, _email, _reading, ... – see Merlin Mann, who is the grandmaster of microcontexts) on them. See below why I use underscores.

And voila, that was it.

The only thing left to do is to add the next actions. Each next action is created as an event in Google Calendar. A hopefully significant title goes into the What field, the shortcut for the project and shortcuts for subcontexts and other tags that might apply go into the Where field, the context is assigned as Calendar and there is room for a short description. (I’m somehow close to David Allen’s floating notion of time, so the When field doesn’t really apply, I assign it randomly.)

The really only thing left to do is doing the next actions. And here is where Google’s superadvanced search capabilities help picking the right next action to attack:

if you want to get an overview of all your next actions / to-do items, just enter your Gmail username in the search form.

if you check off the context-calendars which don’t apply to your current mode those actions automagically disappear.

For further filtering just enter the shortcut of the project or subcontext you want to work on in the search field. (Here the use of underscores prevents the matching of actions which accidentally contain the string in the title or description of the event; I don’t mind using them, but it probably doesn’t make too much difference anyway.)

Works like a charm and is highly configurable; just get creative (and be consistent) with the usage of your metatags.

14 April 2006

BBC Blog Network

The BBC launched a Blog Network

Welcome to the new home for all of the BBC’s weblogs. Although we have had blogs for a number of years, most notably our Scottish community site; Island Blogging and the excellent Ouch, this is the first attempt at bringing you a complete list, some news of new launches by journalists, DJs, and radio shows, as well as links and tips to help you find your way around.

13 April 2006


This might be around for some time, but I just spotted it: you can collapse / expand the pane of your subscriptions in Bloglines (either by clicking on the grey border to the right of the pane or via the keyboard shortcut m). This is quite nice for some kind of feeds.

13 April 2006


David Lynch’s Rabbits (parts 2 – 4 are also at YouTube)

13 April 2006


(it’s somehow interesting to see how Technorati’s blog thoughtfully avoids communicating any problems (as if the users wouldn’t experience them anyways) and prefers to announce new features and mind boggling numbers.)

8 April 2006


The day before yesterday I was singing an ode to Bloglines but I was following my own advice of really checking out other feed readers, and today it really paid off:

Attensa online is the maybe to most minimalistic reader around (all you basically can do is to

but it has one feature, which makes it the killer application for reading news, linkstreams (like Hotlinks, digg, or del.icio.us), and feeds which come in some crippled excerpt mode only: you can switch between a RSS and a Web view. The RSS view gives you the textual representation of the feed, but the Web view loads the original site referred to from the feed right within Attensa.

Attensa also lets you create nested groups of feeds, so all you have to do is invest some time in organizing your feeds according to your feed reading modes, then click on the channel you want to process, make sure the Web view is enabled, move your cursor to the delete button for the items and start exploring.

This is great for feeds, which point to many links you actually want to read, because you can read them (and the associated comments and so on) right within Attensa, but this is absolutely fabulous for feeds, which only point to a few, because you can delete about 5 items per second and really process feeds in a highly effective manner.

(There is one minor annoyance: some sites – like the Wikipedia – seem to take over the window Attensa is running in, so you need to switch to the RSS mode when stumbling upon them.)

5 April 2006

The Worst Feed Reader Ever

Most people agree that Bloglines pretty much sucks. It’s ugly, it’s slow, it lacks social features, it does not innovate, even the generated source code is as aweful as you can get it. Still most people use it and continue to use it despite many new feed readers entering the scene. Why is that?

Frank Gruber recently compiled an overview of web based feed readers with a detailed feature comparison chart at TechCrunch, and on TalkCrunch there is an interesting follow up podcast. The comments demonstrate that there is a heated debate on which reader is the best, but the simple answer to this question is: there is no answer, it all depends on your feed reading habits and feed reading needs. You have to figure it out for yourself, but no advanced feature set, no state of the art user experience, no web 2.0 goodness and no lightspeed ajaxian item retrieval will make it your best choice as long as your feed reading basics are not satisfied.

In a simplified setup I’ve got two feed processing modes:

Only two things are really important to me: I want to get out of my feed reader as soon as possible (and with as few clicks as possible), and I want to be able to come back later to those items I didn’t deal with right now (and without having to work my way through the stuff already read again).

The speed for loading an item is a crucial issue, of course, but this speed actually needs to be multiplied by the number of times you have to click to have all unread items displayed. Google Reader might fetch one item lightening fast, but you need to click a few hundred times to see them all. The ability to group related feeds and access all new entries with one click is crucial here, but many readers don’t provide this view.

Other features I really don’t care about (but you might) within my feed reader are ratings, rankings, votings, or recommendations. I’m all social and Web 2.0, but as far as the feeds I’ve subscribed to are concerned: I’ve made up my mind about them anyway, these are all feeds I really want to read, I don’t need suggestions from my feed reader, there are better tools I use for that. (I would love to see these kind of features in my reader of choice, of course, but only after the reading basics are streamlined.)

So for me and my humble needs Bloglines still provides the best overall package, but I can’t recommend it, it really depends on you. One minor feature of any of the other readers might be the selling point for you (as long as the other features are just good enough.) And one minor annoyance might be a complete dealbreaker, even if this reader rocks in all other criterions.

3 April 2006

7:42 pm

Don’t be inadequate anymore!

brilliant, I won’t.

(courtesy of some anonymous spammer)