Friday, July 12, 2013

Impose Constraints to be MORE Creative

What if I asked you to tell me a story, write a song, or draw a picture?  Would you be able to do so without any direction or prompts?  What should the story contain? What colors should you use in the picture?  Would you be stumped and struggling to have a good idea to run with?

What if I instead told you to tell me a story about a space ship?  What if the song should be about your first kiss?  How about drawing a picture of a rose?  Would these constraints make it easier for you to come up with a creative idea?  If you are like most people the answer is "yes".

Let's look at another example of how constraints can aid in creativity.  Let's say you are an architect and I approach you and say "Design a house for me."  Where would you start?  Would you design a split-level ranch, a modern, sleek master piece, or a Victorian revival style home?  Would it have one story or two?  How many bathrooms?  How many bathrooms?  These questions can go on and on.

Now, suppose I came to you and said that I want a 5 bedroom, 4 bath, with a large study, a bonus room, and a large porch.  Working with these constraints you can begin to design a house.

What does this all mean to you?  Well, in short, don't see constraints as limits.  See them as a means of freeing you up to focus on what is important to your project.  While constraints eliminate a large selection of options that are initially available, doing so allows you to focus on what you can actually work with.  It is within these constraints that your brain is free to create and be innovative.

So, go out and embrace those constraints that you once saw as limits and use them to become more creative that you thought was possible before.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Find Out Which Website is Selling Your Email

Have you ever looked at all of the spam coming in to your email account and wondered how all of these places got your address?  Well, some of them use generators that create random email addresses and just ignore the ones that get sent back and save the ones that don't for future use.  However, many of the others are bought through services that broker email addresses.  Many of the brokers get email addresses by buying them from less-than-reputable websites that will sell their membership list for a tidy sum.

So, how can you tell if a site has sold your email address?  Well, if you have a Gmail account, it's pretty simple.  Let's say your email address is "".  (Sorry, Bob!)  The next time you go to a website you can make a small change to your email address to make it unique for that website.  Let's say you want to signup at my site for a newletter, or something else that does not exist right now, you could input your address as something like ""(etg being short for EricTheGeek).  The "+etg" is a valid way of giving an email address for Gmail.  When a website sends an email to the address above, Gmail will ignore the "+etg" and just send it to your email address.

Being able to do this makes it very easy to notice if spam is coming from a specific site so you can take appropriate action with that site.  The other great option this gives you is to use the filters in Gmail to process emails from specific sites.  So, you could use this for your credit card company and be alerted when they send you an email.  You could use this for so many options that it becomes kinda fun to see how you can manage your email using this trick.

So, give this a try and let me know if you are able to use this, or let me know if you have any similar email hacks that you use.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Using Evernote for Photography Scouting [Evernote]

I am by no means a professional photographer, but I do love taking pictures.  One of my favorite things to do is to find some really cool places to go and take pictures at different times of day.  I'm always on the lookout for a cool place to stop and take pictures.  However, sometimes I simply can't stop long enough, whether due to having to get to work, or having an impatient child in the vehicle, or I just don't have my camera with me.  In those cases, I really want to be able to remember that location, but the odds of me remembering that location long enough to get home to write it down, or finding the note that I write in the vehicle, is pretty slim.

Enter Evernote.  

Evernote is one of my favorite apps on my iPhone.  I use it to find notes that I save, take pictures of business cards for future reference, recipes, and so much more.  It's kind of like a second brain for me.  In this case it serves as my personal photo scout.  What I do is to open the app on my phone, go to a notebook, in my case it's called "Pic Scouting".  From there I chose the camera icon and Evernote launches it's built-in camera function, and take a picture of whatever interesting thing I see.  Now, this is not a full featured camera, and it's not an ideal way of taking photos that you want to be very high quality.  However, what it does have going for it is that when you take a picture is that it will instantly upload the image into your chosen notebook.  The real power of this is that Evernote will apply the GPS coordinates to that photo.  

What this does for me is that a week from now when I have time to get out and go take some photos, all I have to do is to open my "Pic Scouting"notebook in Evernote, find the location that I'm most interested, or fits into the amount of time I have, pull out the address, put it in some map app on my phone and take off.

Are you using Evernote for some similar type of application?  I'd like to hear what you are doing with it.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Building the Perfect Email Client

Ok, so I use email all day, everyday. As a Customer Support Specialist for my day job I am constantly sending, receiving, reading, writing, and generally living in my email client. My company originally used our its own hosted Exchange server, thus I used Outlook to manage my email and calendar.  However, we have since moved to Google Apps, so I am using the web client.  I like the web client and it does just about everything I want, but it's just not quite there for me and the way I like to work.  Therefore, I have started a search for the perfect email client.  I have a lot of requirements, and I'm sure I'll never find the one that meets all of my needs, but I can hope.
Requirements for the perfect email client:
  1. Speed.  In order for an email client to be considered even useful, much less perfect, it must be fast.  One of the fastest clients that I have used recently is Sparrow.  This is a Mac only app that is light, useful, and fast.  The engine in this app is great and, in my limited use and comparison, much faster than any other client that I have ever used.  Unfortunately, Google swooped in and bought them and I suspect that it will be the death of Sparrow.
  2. Great Calendar Integration. I use my calendar to manage my schedule, as many of you do.  I have my work calendar with meetings, my personal calendar with all of the stuff I have to do outside of work, and I link to my wife's calendar so I can see what she has coming up.  All-in-all, my calendar is pretty important to me.  For my money, Outlook has been the leader in this area for a long time.  The ease with which I can move meetings, create invites, and generally manage everything is wonderful.  I like the Google calendar, but there's just always been something that has made me less that happy with it.  I can't quite put my finger on it, but there's just something missing.
  3. Social Integration. I'm not the type of person that is constantly on Twitter or Facebook sharing every detail of my life.  However, I do read it often for news.  My Twitter stream is full of breaking news, geeky commentary, and other fun stuff to get me through the day and keep me informed.  I want to be able to easily integrate this into my email client so that I don't have to go to my browser or other application to get this.  One of the clients that gets this right is Inbox2.  The integration of Twitter and Facebook is simple and fast, and it is easy to hide if I want to ignore it and just get some work done.
  4. Ease of Setup.  One of the things I hate about setting up an email client is the process of choosing the service, choosing the port to enter, trying to remember if it is POP3 or IMAP, etc.  I just want to choose the service, enter my userid and password, and be done.  The easiest client that I have found for setting up new accounts is eM Client.  To setup your GMail, Yahoo, Hotmail, or many other accounts you simply select the service, add in your userid and password and it does the rest.  It really is that simple, as it should be.  eM Client is not the only client to make it this simple.  The setup for Thunderbird is just as simple, so it deserves a mention here as well.
  5. RSS Integration.  I follow lots of blogs via RSS and I currently use Google Reader to gather these all together for me.  It's the best RSS reader that I have found since it is simple, easy, and it just plain works for me.  I would love to have this in my email client to further my desire to have everything in one complete application.  Outlook has an RSS tool in it, but quite frankly, it's horrible.  Thunderbird has an add-on for RSS, but it's not much better than the one in Outlook.
  6. Google Options. I use a lot of the extra options in the Google web client that make my job easier.  One of my favorites is the stars.  This option allows for the use of stars beyond the basic yellow.  I use different colored stars and the exclamation points to mark messages that require different actions.  If I just need to reply I use the blue start.  If it needs some research I may use a question mark.  I have yet to find a single email client that supports these stars.  Outlook will let you use different colored flags, but they are harder to implement than the simple mouse clicks that you can use in the GMail web client.  I also like the options of being able to customize my keyboard shortcuts, and the threaded conversations.  So many of the other clients fail miserably in this area.
  7. Markdown Support.  While I'm not completely sold on Markdown, I would really like to be able to use it much more simply when creating emails.  None of the other email clients that I have tried fully support this.
  8. Multi-platform.  I use a Mac at home and a PC at work.  I want my perfect email client to work in both places, with no exceptions.
  9. Cost.  Free would be the best, but if you could give me the perfect client with all of the options above then I would pay $50-100 for it.  It would make that much of a difference in my life.
So, if you are a software developer looking for a new challenge, this is it.  Build the perfect email client for the pickiest email user you will ever meet and I'm sure that you will satisfy just about every user out there and be in line to make a pile of cash.  So, quit reading and get coding.
If you have found an email client that will do all, or even most, of the things above, please let me know.  If you have an email client that you love, let me know why in the comments.

Monday, September 24, 2012

10 Tips and Tricks for Powerful Twitter Search

1. Understanding Twitter Search Results

Twitter search results are divided into sections. On the left, you can toggle between these categories: Tweets, People, Videos and Images. These results are determined by Twitter's search algorithms, as are the "top" tweet results. In Twitter's words, "We've built an algorithm that finds the tweets that have caught the attention of other users. Top Tweets will refresh automatically and are surfaced for popularly retweeted subjects based on this algorithm. We do not hand-select Top Tweets." For this reason, if you're looking for an at-a-glance look at a topic, Top Tweets is the way to go. If you're carrying out a more stringent search, be sure to click "All."

Click here to view this gallery.

With over 2,000 new tweets posted every second, there's a heck of a lot of information to wade through on Twitter, especially if you're looking for something specific.

If you want to get valuable Twitter search results, you need to learn the best strategy for finding that content in the first place. We have pulled together 10 useful tips and tricks for searching the microblogging platform, including how to find tweets by location and how to save searches for future reference.

SEE ALSO: 10 Facebook Tips for Power Users

Take a look though our handy hints in the slideshow above. Let us know in the comments below about any Twitter search tips you'd like to share.

More About: How-To, Social Media, Twitter, features, tips and tricks, trending

via Mashable!

Monday, August 2, 2010

Department Of Outlandish Ideas: Build Solar Roadways

Department Of Outlandish Ideas: Build Solar Roadways: "

If you want to change the world, you have to think big. Say what you want about the feasibility of Scott Brusaw’s idea to replace asphalt roads with miles of solar ribbons that cars and trucks can drive on, it is a very ambitious idea. Brusaw is the co-founder and CEO of Solar Roadways, a bootstrapped startup in Idaho. He is an engineer, and is building prototypes of solar panels that could be used as roads.

Brusaw wants to create solar panels strong enough to support the weight of cars and trucks driving at 80 miles per hour. There is so much road surface in America, that the collected energy could replace other forms of fossil fuel energy, even with really inefficient solar panels. Even better, since roads go to each home and business, the roads themselves would not only collect the energy, but distribute it. The energy wouldn’t power cars themselves, except maybe electric vehicles juicing up at roadside charging stations. LEDs could be built into the roadways and used as signs. The concept is explained in the video below, which is part of a larger film project called YERT (Your Environmental Roadtrip).

The video shows Brusaw building some of these solar road panels in what looks like a garage. The Infrastructurist blog calls the scheme “dubious.” But the big, unanswered question is how much would this cost. It most definitely would cost more than conventional roads, which are under-funded already. But regular roads can’t offset their costs by producing energy (this is all assuming the technology can actually work at scale without too much maintenance). It also most definitely would cost more than plain-vanilla solar panels.

If the idea is “roads that pay for themselves” these cost issues need to be addressed before anyone will take this concept seriously. It is not clear why paving the country’s roads with glass is a better energy solution than simply setting up solar energy farms which connect to the existing energy grid. I’d really like to see what the proposed cost of these roadways would be and what the payback period would be in terms of energy produced.

The other question this raises is what would be the lifespan of these roadways compared to regular asphalt. And how often would the panels need to be replaced simply to take advantage of improving solar technology and better solar panels. Will we have to upgrade our roads every two years, and who is going to pay for that? Still, I like the fact that Brusaw is swinging for the fences and actually trying to build prototypes.

(Hat tip to Jon Steinberg).


Friday, January 18, 2008

Plain Can Be OK, Too

I can't believe it has been so long since I had a post here. I've been really lax, and I'm sorry. Anyway, on with the post.

With all of the great notebook out there, like Moleskine, it's easy to forget about the simple spiral-bound classics and just how great they are.

Seriously, you can get 180 sheets of wide-ruled paper (I don't like college-ruled for most applications) CHEAP. I went to Wal-Mart about a week ago and got 2 five-subject, 180-sheet notebooks and a smaller 80-sheet notebook for a song. Now I have a notebook for just carrying around (like I needed another), one for work, and one to have in a designated place (like I needed another one of these, too).

So, if you or someone you know is a notebook geek like me, the present of a brand new, untouched el-cheapo may be just the thing.