My Hipster PDA

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There are very few things I have learned from the eXtreme Programming method­ol­ogy. The major­ity of what I find good about XP is pretty much other pro­gram­ming method­olo­gies that XP has bor­rowed for itself. For instance, the iter­a­tive (or spi­ral) method that goes with the mantra “release early, release often.” The peo­ple that mat­ter (mar­ket­ing, sales, tech sup­port, and beta cus­tomers in my case) see fre­quent betas and can guide the direc­tion of the software/firmware/hardware. On the other hand, the “pair pro­gram­ming” method­ol­ogy of XP, where two peo­ple share a sin­gle com­puter and code over each oth­ers shoul­ders for the entire work­day, is bunk. A sec­ond set of eyes is a god­send for track­ing down the occa­sional tricky bug, but not for every­day pro­gram­ming.

One use­ful thing I learned from eXtreme Programming, which I can’t seem to find on the site (or in the books) now, is the use of index cards. You write each major task at the top of an index card — be it a bug to track down, a fea­ture to imple­ment, or a pre­sen­ta­tion that needs to be put together — with one task per card. As you inves­ti­gate the bug or work on the pre­sen­ta­tion, you dis­cover sub­tasks that need to get done, so they get jot­ted down on the same card. The card ends up being a sort of “call stack” (to use com­puter ter­mi­nol­ogy) so that when you fin­ish the cur­rent sub­task, you can back­track to what the orig­i­nal task was, rather than get­ting dis­tracted by some­thing else. If you run into some­thing big that you can’t work on at the time, but needs future work, it gets writ­ten on a new index card and placed in the pile. You pro­ceed like this, writ­ing down new major tasks, break­ing them into sub­tasks, cross­ing off com­pleted things, until the pile of index cards is all crossed off. At any time, you can “reshuf­fle” the cards to keep in line with pri­or­i­ties. I have been using this scheme at work for a while now. It’s great for pick­ing up after dis­trac­tions. It’s also great for when I’m deep in code and dis­cover some­thing I’d like to refactor/rewrite, but can’t do imme­di­ately (so it gets a new index card at the back of the stack.) It’s not a great pic­ture, but the pile looks some­thing like this, with about 3 cards in the front, 100+ crossed-off cards in the back, and a bunch of blank ones in the mid­dle:

For me, this sys­tem has been pretty suc­cess­ful. I used to do it on Post-It notes, but found that 3x5 index cards are a bet­ter size and shape. Because of the index card sys­tem, the Hipster PDA was brought to my atten­tion about a year or two ago. At the time, I laughed it off as a dumb joke, designed to make fun of the folks who pay sev­eral hun­dred for a Personal Digital Assistant (or “sur­ro­gate brain,” as I call mine.)

These days, I run into more and more peo­ple that use the Hipster PDA as an orga­nizer. It’s kind of scary. So the other day, I took the plunge and decided to start using one. First off, there are a few things that I am NOT going to use it for. Names, phone num­bers, and addresses is one. Those are all in the Apple Address Book appli­ca­tion, syn­chro­nize with my phone, get backed up to a disk array, and don’t need to be writ­ten down on index cards. There are just too many names and num­bers for index cards to be use­ful. I’m also a bit hes­i­tant to use it for my cal­en­dar because the one in my phone/digital-organizer beeps at me to tell me appoint­ments are approach­ing and allows me to eas­ily switch between month/week/day views (with­out hav­ing to write a month card, a week card, and a bunch of day cards.) On the other hand, I find that I sim­ply don’t use the TODO/task list on my phone and rarely use the notes any­more. Nor do I use any of the finan­cial fea­tures. So I thought it would be a good time to start using it for these tasks, pos­si­bly try­ing out calendar-related func­tion­al­ity if it feels comfortable–otherwise stick­ing with the phone/organizer for that stuff.

I started with a few forms from the D*I*Y Planner, printed 4-up on heavy card­stock and sliced into 3x5 cards. Of course, I couldn’t just go with only stan­dard index cards so had to cre­ate some of my own. The first is a blank sudoku grid, also printed 4-up. You can take puz­zles from exist­ing sources (like the news­pa­per or online sudoku gen­er­a­tors) and write the “fixed” num­bers in with Sharpie. Another form I cre­ated (which is still a work in progress) is what I am tem­porar­ily call­ing the ARG/Programmer Reference, which isn’t really for writ­ing on, but is a bunch of pre-printed ref­er­ence data includ­ing: prime num­bers, a ROT-13 table, let­ter fre­quen­cies, morse code, braille, roman numer­als, and a decimal/hex/ASCII table. Yes, the audi­ence for this sec­ond page is likely to be small, but I have a sim­i­lar ASCII chart and prime table pinned to the wall at work that I use all the time. On that same page is a shop­ping list (my own per­sonal set of generally-weekly sta­ples and prob­a­bly not usable to many other peo­ple) and a slightly dif­fer­ent sudoku grid.

Another use­ful cus­tomiza­tion I have made to my Hipster PDA is the use of Book Darts instead of tabbed dividers. Every page describ­ing the Hipster PDA shows how to make a vari­ety of divider pages, some much thicker than oth­ers. Instead of wast­ing extra page thick­ness, I have a set of four Book Darts on four key pages (although I reserve the right to shuf­fles these around, add/subtract darts, etc.) The dart on the left is the “action/waiting on” page, the one on the right is a todo list, the one in the lower left is for spend­ing, and the one on the lower right is for har­mony. The last page has a few extra darts to pull out and use in books.

The whole thing is 20 preprinted pages and about 5 blank index cards. I guess I’ll see how well this works and will prob­a­bly remove tem­plates I don’t need or add/change ones that aren’t quite work­ing fully. That’s the nice thing about the system–you’re not con­fined to “DayRunner Refill Pack #1″ and the like because you can just design and print out your own sec­tions.

Posted in: Dear Diary Work

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