Know when you can see the International Space Station!

Know when you can see the International Space Station!

Earlier this week, IFTTT was mentioned as a way to automate boring or repetitive tasks. Also, readers who have been here before know I am not a big fan of notifications, but today I will move away for once and share some IFTTT recipes that notify you of something very not-boring. 

With the help of Nasa, IFTTT and a notification service, you can dramatically increase your changes of seeing the ISS pass overhead!

GoBag: my first kickstarter pledge

Are you familiar with the term "crowdfunding"? It is a way for people to support a project of some sort by pledging money. This can be anything from a book, stage play, a building, product or service. Kickstarter and IndieGogo are the most well known crowdfunding websites. And products like the Pebble smartwatch, Star Citizen video game, Coolest Cooler were funded using crowdfunding and were wildly succesful in raising money. 

With great interest have I followed several projects on kickstarter before, but never did I actually pledge money. Inevitably, there are stories about projects that were funded succesfully, but never actually delivered anything. That has mostly held me back. Of course, I could just pledge a very small amount of money, say $1, to mitigate risc but that does not get you the product. Just a sticker, or a mention on the website. So, I have never actually pledged any money, until now.

This week I backed the GoBag campaign on Kickstarter just before it closed. It is a well thought-out bag that aims to provide one bag that will enable you to pack everything you need in one bag, and make it as easy as possible to get through airport security.

More than 2400 people backed the campaign and pledged more than $467k (€418k)! Their funding goal was roughly $71k (€63k). So, they have a lot more than they bargained for. I just hope now they will deliver in time. I hope that the fact they raised so much more, means that the estimated time table will remain intact. And, that the extra money, and the many backers providing feedback, will not end in analysis paralysis or feature creep where they try to satisfy  everybody with additional features or design changes.

So far, James Fyfe has provided regular updates on their kickstarter page and is   very active in the comments section. It seems that their intention is to provide feedback during the whole production cycle. 

Nowadays, I do not fly as much as I used to, but whenever I travel, I want to travel as light as possible, but also not make (too many) compromises in what I take with me. But in the years that I did travel/fly a lot, I have been on the lookout for better bags all the time. I want a bag that I can use for years and years. So, it should be durable and practical first and foremost.

My Crumpler Belly rucksack has served me well as a daily driver for the past 8 years or so, but it does not work very well as carry-on luggage or small adventure bag. So, I look forward to using the GoBag as it seems that it is geared towards those topics specifically:

  • The bag looks to be very durable and robust
  • Maximum size within carry-on baggage limit
  • Reusable and removable washbag
  • Vacuum compression inner bag for clothing and other soft gear
  • Full edge zip. Almost every part of the bag is reachable this way, without opening the whole bag

Estimated time for delivery is october 2015. I will post updates on the progress!

 

 

 

 

Necessary + Boring = Automation

Necessary + Boring = Automation

Almost all paperwork is now in digital form. Bankstatements, invoices, receipt, payment slips, insurance papers,  etc are almost all digital now. That is great because it saves dead trees, and it is quicker to send this stuff digitally then by snail mail.But it is still paperwork and hardly anybody enjoys paperwork. but it cannot be prevented and there is a need to keep the stuff around and somewhat organised. Additionally, more digital devices and services mean more upkeep on those as well. Software updates for example.

Necessary + Boring = Automation. So, here are some tips to automate the boring stuff.

Drive to achieve

Drive to achieve

Inspiring! That is what today turned out to be. Actually, the inspiration I am talking about was a two hour session, but the whole day revolved around those two hours. What I am talking about? Musical lessons. Not just learning a new note this week, I am way past that point. No, I am learning to improvise. And that is so far out of my comfort zone that it makes me feel terribly inadequate but also incredible driven to make progress. I do not know why I do this exactly as the drive achieve is coming from within. I have no "reason" to learn this, as this form of music making is not part of what I do in the orchestra, nor am I preparing to switch careers into this direction. I just need to know more about this.

New voicemail

 

Today's theme, for me, is re-use :-) The past week we bought a cheap new home phone for our landline. Yeah, I know, a landline... ancient. But we have one, and it occassionally sees some use. The phone we bought also has a built-in answering machine and we really dislike using an answering machine. I forget to listen to the messages and even if I do, I then forget to call back. 

We could of course switch it off altogether, but that is no fun. Instead I wrote a script for the welcome message to give those who have not hung up after 5 or so rings, a warm but longwinded welcome to deter them from actually leaving a message :-)

30 Day Learning Challenge, week 3

Today is saturday and tomorrow it is exactly three weeks ago that I signed up for the 30-Day learning challenge from Zen Habits. In the past two weeks I did a post on sunday looking back at the past week. This week, that post is a day early because of a very busy schedule this weekend.

So, a day early, a story short, these were the posts of the past week:

  • Monday: What's Next?
    Thinking out loud if I should do another challenge the next month (or later)...
  • Tuesday: 5 Skills I learned last month
    A request to do a short presentation, turned out to be an opportunity to learn a few new (to me) skills. Plus a free download to get you started quickly with your presentation!
  • Wednesday: 7 emails Twitters sends you by default
    First guide in a series of posts that is aimed to reduce the amount of emails in your inbox. The focus for this post is on reducing the number of emails twitter sends (hint: up to 22 different emails!)
  • Thursday: Reduce emails, be happy. Part 2 - LinkedIn
    Second post in the series, this time focussing on taming the 20+ different emails that LinkedIn likes to send you
  • Friday: Reduce emails, be happy. Part 3 - Unroll.me
    Number three of three on reducing the amount of email you get. This time, managing subscription emails, such as mailinglists.

As you can see, most of these weeks posts were focussed around the theme of reducing email, a topic I can get all worked up about. I decided to do this because I had not yet written anything really technical yet. I wanted to experience writing something like a tutorial. This month allows me to write anything I like, and have previously written some self-reflecting words (which you seemed to like), a somewhat cynical rant and even fiction. Something technical was missing, hence the subject.

What I really experienced this week is that writing is hard work. No longer do I feel that just 100 words or so is enough. Also, since I got some positive feedback on a few posts, I felt a whole new pressure. Almost every day this week I felt like I had to come up with something as good or better as the most popular post. I briefly talked about this with a fellow blogger (if you read dutch, have a look at his blog, BigSmileRunning) and we concluded that that pressure is something to let go off as quickly as possible. It is unrealistic to write something better than ever before, every, single, day. No matter how hard you try.

Not only is it impossible, it choked my creativity. No longer was my mind free to wander and ponder ideas, now it was only focussed on what would be better. No matter the subject. Bull manure. Once I was able to see that the goal of this challenge is to simply write every day, it all fell in place again. 

Looking back at what I have written, there is a negative trend I see: everything I published feels like it could be better. There are always major or minor changes that I could have made to make it better. But the truth is, that for almost three weeks now, I have written something every day. And like I said before, I did not really trust myself enough with that promise when I started, so I am a little surprised that I am still doing it.  

The activity of writing itself is getting easier and easier. My mind is increasingly able to come up with (what feels like) the right sentence when it is needed, and although I still go back and edit a lot before hitting the publish button, I notice the proces of thinking and typing is becoming less of a struggle. 

Having to do this next to an already nicely filled agenda, makes that I hit "Publish" a bit too soon sometimes. Obiousvly, if this would be my job, I would spend some more time crafting it. Although it will never be perfect. 

Well, that is about it for this week. Like I said, a day early, a story short because of a very busy schedule this weekend. But, a post nonetheless, sticking to the commitment :-) 

Oh and before I sign off: any feedback is greatly appreciated. Whether you want to offer me a job, a book deal, or tell me not give up the day job; please let me know, politely :-) 

 

Reduce emails, be happy, part 3 - Unroll.me

Reduce emails, be happy, part 3 - Unroll.me

This is the third installment in a series on reducing the amount of email. The first post focussed on email from twitterThe second one about email from LinkedIn.

For many people, the neverending stream of email is something they have accepted as necessary evil. It can be near impossible to stay on top of things. And once you are drowning you start to miss that important message, or spend the whole day in your inbox, get no real work done. That's bad.

Today, let's look at subscription based emails. You know, newsletters, mailings, etc. There is a great service called Unroll.me that can help you to quickly and easily get rid of old subscriptions and manage the ones you want to keep in a coherent way.

Reduce emails, be happy :-) Part 2 - LinkedIn

Reduce emails, be happy :-) Part 2 - LinkedIn

This is part 2 in a series on reducing the amount of incoming email. You can read part 1 here.

You are not the only one that has trouble keeping up with the flow of incoming email. And I am hardly the first one to talk about it. It just seems to be such a tough problem to beat for so many people. I do not have a silver bullet, holy grail or seen the light. But I have made some simple changes that made the handling email a lot more manageable. And why keep that to myself? I don't know, so here you go :-) 

7 e-mails twitter sends you by default

Is your e-mail inbox overflowing? Do you find yourself skimming through the list of unread e-mails to find the one you need to pay attention to? Sounds familiar? Then it is time to start reducing the amount of incoming e-mail. Prevent stuff from getting in, as opposed to making a rule to delete or archive it automatically. 

This post is the first in a series to help you reduce the flood of incoming e-mails. First, we will focus on reducing the amount of messages you get from Twitter. Why Twitter? To be honest, because it is my most recent annoyance and after I spoke with some friends about it, I found out most of them had turned of (most of) te notifications. 

Twitter's 22 reasons to send you e-mail

Did you know that Twitter has found 22 reasons to send you e-mails? Granted, they are not all enabled by default. But if you do not change any settings you will receive a message everytime:
- You have a new follower
- Someone mentions you in a tweet
- You receive a reply to a tweet
- A person sends you a Direct Message
- You are retweeted

In addition you will receive "Updates about new Twitter products, features and tips" and "Product or service updates related to your account". You realize that means you are agreeing to receive spam, don't you?

Unless you are making a living from being solely on twitter, or have no other means to achieve happiness, now is a good time to stop the madness.

Setup twitter e-mail notifications

Accessing the e-mail notifications is not too difficult, but a bit of guidance to find the settings page can be helpfule:

  • Go to Twitter and login if you haven't already
  • Go directly to the notifications page, or go there manually:
  • At the top bar, click on your profile picture in the top right and click "settings" in the dropdown menu

Click on your profile picture in the top right corner to access the menu. Then click "Settings"

  • Click on "Email notifications" to access the e-mail settings.

And behold the list of reasons Twitter has found to send you e-mail:

There are 22 check boxes for you to precisely setup the e-mails you want. 

So, spend a few minutes to set this up according to your needs. Or better yet, go cold-turkey by turning it off alltogether. After all, you know where to opt-in if you do want to receive distractions again. 

Now congratulate yourself for saving a few minutes! It may not look like much, but they do add up over time so you have more time to go outside and play!

5 skills I learned last month

Last month, I was asked to give a presentation about our testing community. After 15+ years in IT, I have  seen my fair share of horrible powerpoint presentations. And I am sure I am stating the obvious here, especially those in IT, but there are few common points of failures that all those presentations share: 

  • Overly complex charts and graphs
  • Way too many bullets
  • Way too much text
  • All the effort is put into creating the slides, not the talk.
  • Lack of message and emotion. Just a uninspired rambling instead of a passionate plea.

The real problem with those powerpoints is that the presenter will spend most of his/her time with his/her back towards to public to read the text on the slide. Not only do you loose  ontact with the audience, but assuming the audience can read, the presenter adds no value whatsoever.

AWKWARD!

Or worse, the presenter attempts to add value by explaining what is on the slide. 9 out of 10 times, that just turns a longwinded and boring repeat of what was already on the slide.

BORING! 

Here is what I learned and worked for me to remedy this.