Last time, I talked about printing or stamps, but I caved in and simply made a smaller Sudoku grid. The previous grid was 2.75″ (on a 3″ wide card.) This new one is 2.5″ and should fall within the margin of error of consumer double-sided printing.
A month or two ago, I picked up a shirt pocket briefcase from Levenger. It’s basically a leather wallet and writing surface for 3x5 cards. It’s a fancy Hipster PDA variant that’s useful for carrying around to meetings with clients. While I still use the ghetto binder-clip version for all of my own stuff–for that extra street cred, ya’ know–the fancy version is useful for work-related notes (and for keeping work at work, isolated from the personal Hipster PDA, if that makes sense.)
I noticed that Levenger sells 3x5 file folders that look like your typical manilla 8.5x11 folders, but put through the shinkotron. Because I did not feel like forking over the cash and because they are simple enough I made some myself (PDF forthcoming, if you’re interested.) This lets me jot down notes during meetings and brainstorms, then group similar notes together — like with regular paper and regular hanging file folders, but smaller. It’s also a useful long-term storage for “back of the paper napkin” style notes and diagrams. I ended up getting another cheezy plastic recipe-box style box to put them in, but only after spending a week trying to find a local place that sells nice wooden boxes of the correct size.
I’ve found a flaw in the Sudoko cards that I designed. The flaw is that the PDF is too accurate for consumer printers. I’m finding that most printers, when handling cardstock, get really finicky about everything. Depending on how much paper is in the paper feed and how carefully you try to feed it through, the results could be as much as a quarter-inch off by the time the printer reaches the other end of the paper. It’s that whole thing about small angles growing to large differences if you follow the angle out far enough. Trying to manually get everything to line up each time, then cut things exactly (even with a nice paper cutter), is starting to be a pain in the butt. I actually talked to a couple of local print houses about having someone else do the exact printwork and cutting, but over $100 for 500‑1000 cards seems excessive to me. As much as I hate to do it, I may just have to shrink down the size of the grid to account for printer inaccuracies. Another thought was to have someone make (or make myself, if there’s a way) a rubber stamp to just put the grid on regular blank cards, but I have not had much luck in that department. Most stamp companies only want to handle text: return mailing addresses, check endorsements, inspected by #23, and that sort of thing, with maybe a piece of stock clipart. So shrinking the pattern might be my only remaining option.
I revisited my Hipster PDA shopping template. The items have been grouped by category (i.e. section of the store) and formatting has changed in slight ways. The new template is called shopping2. Just like I said with the original shopping template, it is my own personal set of generally-weekly staples and may or may not be useful to most other people.
This works surprisingly well, and I have a little bit of a theory about this. With the to-do list in my organizer or on the computer, I always have to keep referring back to it. Many, many, many times a day, I will hit the right sequence of buttons (the “Calendar” key 3 times on my Treo) to bring it up. With the Hipster PDA to-do list, I remember things on the list without having to look at it constantly. I believe this is entirely due to the tactile nature of the written list, giving my brain something to latch on to. With the computer and phone/organizer, the list is a screen. The background is white, the foreground is black, the items on the screen are all a consistent size in a consistent font. It’s all cookie-cutter, and therefore easily forgettable. It conveys the information long enough to look at, but does not leave any “hooks” for the brain (or, at least, *my* brain) to latch on to. With the printed list, there are a number of good memory “hooks.” First off, there is the act of writing out the items. Like a school child writing out the word “encyclopedia” ten times in a row as a spelling exercise, writing out the items hits a piece of [my] memory that is not hit by simply typing. Second, there are lots of little irregularities, inconsistencies, or just plain unique things about handwriting on paper that seem to give my brain a bunch of things to latch on to: the spacing of the items, the size of the items, the couple of items written sideways because there wasn’t enough space at the bottom, the way that the descender on a particular letter swoops, the “t” that didn’t quite get crossed, the asymmetry of a particular capital “A,” or maybe just the look and feel of the paper as it fades from its original pure white after days of use. At any rate, there are lots of little physical, visible, and tactile cues in there that let me actively visualize the whole card and the items on the card. I do not have to refer to it as much because the items are more memorable.
I gave up. A printed calendar just can’t touch the iCal/Treo calendar synchronization. It’s pretty much a database with multiple views–day, week, month, etc. The only way to do that on paper cards is to use non-normalized data (to use a database term... or “lots of duplicates” to use common English.) Duplicating the same event on the monthly, weekly, and daily calendars is just a pain.
Yes, it’s sort of a weird card/page, but the Harmony card is working out well for me, but maybe not as well as I hoped. Its main focus is as a to-do, but to track a few short-term items versus several long-term goals. It also helps balance and track physical, mental, social, and inspirational/spiritual goals. It’s a bit more rigidly defined than a free-form blank to-do card, and it forces me to think about long-term goals. I find that I’m maybe not referring back to it enough, or maybe not coming up with good short-term steps to lead to the long-term goals. So while this is mostly working, I either need to tweak the card or tweak my life to get it working better.
Awesomeness! I often get crazy ideas for some future project. Sometimes I end up doing the project. Sometimes I drop it. Sometimes I completely forget about it. Having a specific page for a specific future project is an awesome idea. There’s a spot for a title, description, summary, and a graph-paper section. When I think of a new idea, I can put it on a new Potential Project page, then forget about it until later. These projects roll around in the back of my mind (although now won’t get lost because they’re written down in a specific place) and sometimes, without trying, I think of some cool detail or technique to add to the card. If and when I get the time and motivation to work on one of these projects, all of the notes are in one spot.
I honestly haven’t used this. I tend to use the debit card for everything, which leaves an itemized transaction in my bank statement. It’s pretty easy to load this into the computer and tag it with the appropriate labels (groceries, utilities, etc.) based on the line item. I haven’t come across a time when I have needed to write down a transaction.
The shopping list I made works really well. I am probably going to flip the orientation of the back side of the card, though. When I originally designed it, I thought of holding it in my hand, then flipping it top-to-bottom to get to the reverse. With it a “page,” clipped in to the hipster PDA, it really should behave more like a book and flip right-over-left. I am also considering ‘s suggestion of grouping items by kind, rather than alphabetically. One thing that I miss about the Treo SplashShopper program is the ability to set up templates (like “all products necessary to make casserole”), which can’t be easily done on paper without carrying around a bunch of recipe ingredient cards.
Various Other Templates
For me, with my brain, nothing works as well or is as flexible as a blank white card. I have tried a few of the other templates, but have found that [for me], they are either too rigid in format or are so flexible that I’d be better off just using a blank card.
So overall, it is working great as a to-do list and for project notes. It works so-so for a number of other things (shopping, long-term goals.) The pre-made pages don’t work well [for me] for other things, but blank pages are like blank canvases and can hold all variety of notes, so that’s a win. It is a lot more difficult to draw a quick diagram or jot down a few free-form notes on the Treo, given its screen size and resolution. I didn’t mention it here, but the “big box o’ index cards” as a task list at work, as expected and as always, is still working well.
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.