// Internet Duct Tape

7 Tips for Learning the Declutter Habit

Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on September 27, 2007

Lifehacks and Productivity

The roots of clutter come from the same social forces that said collecting comic books and stamps were an “investment”. I don’t know if it comes from corporate greed or from a post-World-War-2 generation where things were so scarce that suddenly everything had value and hoarding became a way of life. But collecting for the sake of collecting is a life habit that you have to break before you find yourself retired and living as a shut-in because cardboard boxes are blocking your doors.

Why declutter? It frees up your house and it frees up your mind. Your possessions own you as anyone who has ever had to move repeatedly over the course of several years can attest. It was moving twice in one year that finally got me to get rid of CDs I no longer listened to and textbooks I hadn’t looked at since university.

Tip #1: Your material goods hold little resale value no matter what you paid for them. This is a hard lesson to come to terms with because you know how much you paid for something. It is particularly hard for electronic goods since they are so costly upfront but become obsolete so fast. Good luck re-selling your bulky CRT monitor set in the age of LCD.

The media format wars means that even if you build up a VHS, DVD, CD, vinyl or cassette tape collection then it will be obsolete in ten years and within twenty years you won’t even own a device that can play them back. Does your new computer have a 3’5″ floppy drive? Changing media formats mean that owning a media collection for the sake of collecting is a useless endeavor.

Tip #2: Digitization is your friend. Photos, music, TV shows and movies can all be stored compactly on your computer hard drive or on DVDs. Have a good backup strategy though because hard drives will eventually fail on you.

Tip #3: “Have I used this in the past year?” is the question to ask when it comes to clothes, shoes, kitchen appliances, all that stuff in the garage or the work shed. Only keep what you really have use for. Your brain plays tricks on you like telling yourself you can lose that 20 lbs in only a few months.

Tip #4: “Will I watch or read this again?” is what should go through your head when it comes to book or movie collections. Lifetime collections should consist of only the favorites you will re-watch or want to share with others, everything else is collecting dust.

Tip #5: Don’t be overly sentimental! When I was 9 years old I convinced my parents to haul a lobster trap back home with us from our summer vacation. It sat in the back of the yard falling apart for years if not decades. Did it inspire any memories of the trip? Not anymore than the easily portable and easily storable photos we had taken with it. Sentimental is keeping things that have special meaning to you — not keeping everything you’ve ever come in contact with.

Tip #6: Renting is more economical than owning. It might not be true when it comes to real estate but it’s definitely true when it comes to books, dvds and any other form of media. Libraries are free. A $6 rental fee is still much cheaper than $25 new or $11 in the bargain bin. Even if it the movie or book is worth becoming part of your lifetime collection then you are still ahead because of all the times when it wasn’t.

Tip #7: Find your downstream ecosystem. When I declutter my only concern is passing things on to someone who will make use of them. It would be nice to recoup some of the cost but the sad fact is most things lose value so fast these days that the effort to regain any of the initial value is wasted.

For small items there are sites like Amazon, Ebay and specialty sites. For large items there are local listings on Facebook and Craigslist. Clothes can go to second hand stores and the Salvation Army. Childrens books and stuffed animals are well appreciated by schools. Local libraries accept books, CDs and DVDs which they then resell to raise funds. With a little digging you can find a non-profit organization that refurbishes computers for underprivileged youth.

The secret to learning how to live a clutter-free life is to realize that items don’t hold their value, that economically renting is cheaper in the long term for single-use goods, and to know how to get rid of stuff in a way that it doesn’t go to waste.

How Procrastination Dashes Made Me a Better Worker

Posted in Increasing Productivity and Simplifying Your Life, Software, Technology by engtech on September 06, 2007

Software

The biggest problem with the Internet is that it’s entirely too easy to get distracted. We’ve all wilfed at one time or another — what started as an innocent task-related web search ended up down some rat hole of links until you’re reading a web comic about falling into a couch and confronting the dark nebulous force of Lost Things. Stupid internet, so bright and shiny and full of useful and entertaining information.

43Folders recommends setting a procrastination dash to attack tasks you’re having trouble getting started on. The (10+2)*5 system suggests doing 5 intervals of 10 minutes of work, followed by 2 minutes of “me time” as a way to get yourself on a groove and find your flow. It’s a great system, and it really works, especially if you use the Instant Boss software.

Instant Boss procrastination dash productivity dash 5*10+2

Instant Boss is a tiny software app that will let you know when your 10 minute / 2 minute timers are up. If you want to take a longer break than 2 minutes (because you’re saving an interesting article, or writing an email to a friend) then it will keep reminding you to get back to work every minute on the dot.

Instant Boss procrastination dash productivity dash 5*10+2

It’s one of those great little applications that works exactly as specified. I highly recommend it.

Adopting Getting to Done

Posted in Getting to Done, Software, Technology by engtech on September 05, 2007

Lifehacks and Productivity

Last week I wrote a post about the 3 steps to be successful at anything: be happy (position of strength), know what is important (goal setting, heading in the right direction) and be disciplined (execute the tasks to achieve your goal). The great thing about writing “productivity” posts is that the people who really know you well know how hypocritical you are being.

I imagine don’t work 80 hour weeks that keep you at work until midnight on the weekends should be included in the happiness part. — AJ Valliant

I’m an avid video gamer, and one of the worst lessons that video games (particularly the online shared world MMORPGs) teach people is that success can always be achieved by spending more time. That’s a bald-faced lie as Seth Godin illustrates in this post:

You could argue, “Hey, I work weekends and pull all-nighters. I start early and stay late. I’m always on, always connected with a BlackBerry. The FedEx guy knows which hotel to visit when I’m on vacation.” Sorry. Even if you’re a workaholic, you’re not working very hard at all.

Sure, you’re working long, but “long” and “hard” are now two different things. In the old days, we could measure how much grain someone harvested or how many pieces of steel he made. Hard work meant more work. But the past doesn’t lead to the future. The future is not about time at all. The future is about work that’s really and truly hard, not time-consuming. It’s about the kind of work that requires us to push ourselves, not just punch the clock. Hard work is where our job security, our financial profit, and our future joy lie.

Seth believes that success is a factor of taking apparent risks that the status quo believe is unsafe. I’m more interested in how to reach the my goals in less time. I want to improve my time management skills by getting tasks/ideas out of my head and tracked so that I don’t lose them and don’t have to think about them all the time.

I’m shopping around for one of the many a “Getting to Done” implementations, so that I can join the cult.

What I’m Looking For

  • Able to use the same system for different aspects of my life (personal, work, blog)
    • Skills I build up using this system should improve multiple areas of my life
  • Low overhead
    • Organizational systems can be huge time sinks in and of themselves
  • Mostly automated
    • If it feels like work then I won’t have the discipline to follow through with it — I want to spend all my discipline on completing tasks
  • Low “hack” value
    • I like to “improve” things. The system should be robust and well supported so “improving” means installing a plugin, not developing one from scratch

The key point is that I want to use the system to get all my tasks done in as little time as possible, not to spend time playing with the organization system. I want to choose something that works, and stick with it as long as possible.

Why I’m Looking For It

There’s been a meme going around about blogging productivity tips, and I’m sad to say that it was a large inspiration for why I’m deciding to adopt a time management system. Too often I get sucked into looking at stats, reading RSS feeds and commenting on other blogs instead of doing a few key tasks on my own blog and then doing something else with my time.

What I’ve Settled On

I’ve decided to go with D3 for the following reasons:

  • Built-in projects/actions/context/reminders support
  • Based on TiddlyWiki, an actively supported wiki system
  • Stored as a single file that saves itself which means it’s very portable and easy to backup
  • You can even keep it on a thumb drive and always carry it with you
  • Large community of hackers/tweakers who offer lots of support

It has a ridiculously simple installation — all you need is a web browser (Internet Explorer and Firefox both supported). Download the file from dcubed.ca, open it, and start working with it. You can keep the file on your local hard drive, or on a portable thumb drive. I also tried it on a network drive and there seemed to be some latency issues.

If you’d rather store your D3 online (like me), then you can sign up for an account at TiddlySpot that supports several flavours of TiddlyWikis, including D3. I like it because you can password protect it, and have the ability to update offline. It even supports RSS.

The only issue I can see so far is that it is a bit on the slow side if you turn autosave on. What I’d really like it a background autosave that saves any changes after being idle for 5 minutes. It’d keep the application feeling fast.
d3 gtd wiki

Different Aspects, Different Tools

I’ve created separate D-Cubed wikis for different contexts in my life

  • Personal – used for groceries, bills, planning (online)
  • Blog – used for ideas, reoccurring tasks (online)
  • Work – used for task tracking (offline)

D3 is a computer-based solution, so when I’m away from the computer I use a notepad and a camera phone. Quite often a picture is all the information I need to remember to look up a movie/game I’m interested in renting or to research a product I want to buy. Notepads are great for quickly capturing ideas that can’t be conveyed in a photo.

Once I’m at the computer I go through the notepad/camera phone and

  • do the action (if it’s short),
  • decide not to do the action (easiest choice), or
  • add the action to my D3 list

This adds some filtering upfront before it goes into D3.

What Works For You?

The only downside I can see is that D3 isn’t dead simple for non-tech people. I feel that this is offset by the advantage I get from being able to use any plugins that work with TiddlyWiki. Should I have gone with Remember the Milk? Is time management for sissies, pansies, and cat-loving shut-ins? What do you think?

Do Anything: 3 Steps for Success

Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on August 28, 2007

Lifehacks and Productivity

One of the strangest things about growing older is coming to terms with the idealism and certainty you had as a teenager compared to the reality of who you’ve grown into. I grew up in a house full of books on what I’d now refer to as lifehacks: books on happiness, psychology, time management, career development and how to influence people. From my post-adolescence surety I always looked at those self-help books with distain: “Why would you need someone else to tell you how to live your life?”

It’s funny how times change. If I’m honest to myself then I have to admit that I read far too many blogs that could fall into the category of self-help. I learn how to be a better blogger with DBT, Problogger, Copyblogger, and Skelliwag. There’s always programming and high tech tips to be learned from Joel, Jeff, Giles, Rands, Reg and the guys at 37signals. And let’s not forget about all the life tips from Gina, Leon, and Leo. It’s very easy to spend all of my time learning and not enough time doing.

Today I’m going to take a break from the usual Internet Duct Tape goodness, and share with you the ultimate time saving lifehack. After learning this secret you’ll be able to put down your self-help books, unsubscribe from all of those tip/learning blogs (I’m lying — don’t do that), and use all that freed time living your life, or just catching up on reruns of the O.C. I won’t judge. Success in any endeavor can be yours as long as you keep these three things in the front of your mind.

1. Be Happy

A happy person is not a person in a certain set of circumstances, but rather a person with a certain set of attitudes. — Hugh Downs

I don’t mean listen to that irritatingly catchy song. If you start a task happy then you are coming from a position of strength. You’ll feel more energetic, more calm and be able to handle anything that life throws your way. People want to be around relaxed, happy people. You’ll have better relationships with friends and co-workers. You will be more aware of the chances and opportunities around you.

I’m not going to give you platitudes about how to find your happiness. There isn’t any one answer that suits all situations. Recognize that no one in your life can make you happy except for yourself, and if you don’t start from a position of happiness then everything else becomes so much harder. Irritation and constant complaining are the little yellow canaries in the mineshaft that you’re losing hold of your happiness. Keep hold of your happiness, it is the best asset you have.

2. Know What is Important

I know that most men, including those at ease with problems of the greatest complexity, can seldom accept the simplest and most obvious truth if it be such as would oblige them to admit the falsity of conclusions which they have proudly taught to others, and which they have woven, thread by thread, into the fabrics of their life — Leo Tolstoy

Any advice on time/life management can be broken down to this essential idea: focus on what is important to achieving your goal and ignore all else. Stuff in your house you don’t use? Get rid of it. Features in your app that aren’t going to land the customer? They’re only adding complexity and tying up your developers. Cut unnecessary time sinks and distractions out of your life mercilessly and suddenly everything else becomes much more manageable.

Doing less as a way of achieving more is quite simple, the really hard part is figuring out what you want to accomplish, and then identifying what is truly important to get there. Don’t confuse urgency with importance. In any task only 20% of the activities around it are truly important, the other 80% are trivialities that can be ignored. One of the most important skills you can have in life is figuring out which is which.

3. Be Disciplined

Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment. — Jim Rohn

When you know what your goal is, and you have identified the 20% of tasks that are important, then it is only a matter of execution. Discipline, like patience, is more a muscle than a skill. You gain discipline by exercising that muscle, instead of letting it atrophy by following distractions and procrastination. The greatest productivity comes from achieving flow. Exercising your discipline is the road to being able to enter flow at will.

Like Chuck Jazdzewski says, programming is fun but shipping is your job. It doesn’t matter how much work, time and effort you put into something if your don’t achieve your goal. Discipline helps you always be closing on your goals.

Summary

Time and resources can play a big factor in success, but they are external factors. If you start from a position of strength (happiness), identify what gets you the most bang for your buck (know what is important), and execute (be disciplined) then you will always achieve the results you are looking for.

Related Posts

Tip: Send Amazon or iTunes Gift Certificates Anonymously

Have you ever wanted to send a gift certificate to someone anonymously? One of the problem with electronic transactions is that quite often they tell the recipient exactly who you are. This isn’t a problem when it comes to gifts for your family or friends, but it can be more tricky if you are running an online contest for your blog.


photo by lilit

Why Anonymously?

There are several non-creepy reasons why you might want to send an anonymous gift certificate. Perhaps you are blogging pseudoanonymously? Or it could be that your PayPal / Amazon account is registered to an email address that you don’t want to share/publicize? There are many reasons why you might want to keep your Amazon or iTunes account information private but still send someone a gift certificate.

Use a Proxy

If you wanted to surf the web anonymously you would use a proxy that would act as a intermediate between your web browser and the web sites you are visiting. The same technique works for buying gift certificates. There is an online service called Prezzle that will let you send “wrapped” gift certificates to other people. If you use Prezzle to send someone a gift certificate, the recipient will see the sender as Prezzle instead of your real identity.

There is a small service fee for using Prezzle.

Hot Tip: Make sure the gift certificate matches the country of the person receiving it! Often companies like Amazon and iTunes won’t let them transfer the gift certificate to the store for their country.

What is Your Opportunity Cost?

Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on August 20, 2007

Lifehacks and Productivity

Sensible people live their lives balancing their focus on what is important to them.

Work life balance

In the opposite end of the ring are people like me who have no concept of balance. I will work in high stress jobs that require lots of overtime and still try to maintain isolationist hobbies that also require a lot of time and effort. The rest of my life gets squished into the edges with no slack time at all.

work life unbalance

Living such a lifestyle can have great temporary gains in the areas you focus on, but they are quickly counterbalanced by the other areas in your life that you aren’t paying attention to. Any slack time is immediately taken over by the need for sleep, need for exercise, or often unrecognized need for genuine human contact. What many people don’t consciously think about when they are squishing their lives to focus on one thing is the opportunity cost for the areas they are ignoring.

If a city decides to build a hospital on vacant land it owns, the opportunity cost is the cost of some other thing which might have been done with the land and construction funds instead. In building the hospital, the city has forgone the opportunity to build a sporting center on that land, or a parking lot, or the ability to sell the land to reduce the city’s debt, since those uses tend to be mutually exclusive. Even the possibility of inaction is a lost opportunity (in this example, to preserve the scenery as-is for neighboring areas, perhaps including areas that it itself owns).

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Opportunity_cost

Even though you may feel like you are gaining in whatever short term goals you are focusing on, you may be missing out on much more important opportunities because you don’t have the attention to notice them or the free time to spend on them.

  • Letting family members feel loved and nurtured can greatly reduce the stress in the rest of your life.
  • Deepening friendships can provide you with a support network for when you really need it.
  • Focusing on hobbies that are creative/social outlets rather than “time wasters” can enrich your life without taking needless attention away from other endeavors.
  • Regular exercise can improve energy levels, increase your health, and give you a reservoir for dealing with conflict.
  • Getting enough sleep leads to better health, proper eating, and less crankiness.
  • Quitting jobs that require all of your time and leave you feeling drained.
  • Slack time is essential for being able to recognize and act on opportunities that come your way.

In the Luck Factor, Professor Richard Wiseman details a study where he asked participants to count the number of photographs in a sample newspaper. Subjects who had described themselves as “lucky” were much more likely to notice a message on page two, disguised as a half-page advertisement with large block letters: STOP COUNTING–THERE ARE 43 PHOTOGRAPHS IN THIS NEWSPAPER.

Obviously some measure of luck is based on chance, but this experiment and many others have led Wiseman to conclude that a significant portion of one’s good fortune is not random, but rather due to one’s state of mind and behaviors. He concludes that luck is an artifact of psychology, where a person is lucky not because of cosmic accidents, but because one achieves a particular mindset which precipitates and amplifies “lucky” events. While this observation may seem obvious, there are many interesting particulars in his findings.

http://www.damninteresting.com/?p=483

Over the past month I’ve had the following opportunities related to blogging that I haven’t been able to fully capitalize on:

Those are just the missed opportunities related to my hobby of blogging. They do not including the opportunities I may be missing in the rest of my life from spending so much time on blogging. Having your finger in so many pies leaves no room to try more of the other delicious pies out there. It seems so counterproductive to cultivate having slack time in your schedule, but it is what is needed to be able to recognize and respond quickly when opportunity comes knocking.

7 Habits for Highly Effective People deals with this subject in the chapter “Put First Things First”.

“Effective people are not problem-minded; they’re opportunity-minded. They feed opportunities and starve problems.”

What opportunities are you missing by focusing on the urgent instead of focusing on important? What lucky coincidences have you missed by not being open to them?

The Solution to Social Network Site Fatigue

Social Software and You

Social network site fatigue is when you’re sick and tired of trying to find your friends when everyone jumps ship to the Next Big Thing (Friendster to MySpace to Facebook, Twitter to Pownce, etc). The biggest problem with the web 2.0 revolution of “social network apps” is that there is no universal identifier. In real life, governments use social insurance numbers to tell the different between two people with the same name. If you look at the web as a big database, we’re missing a universal key that lets us know that engtech on Digg is also ninetimessix on StumbleUpon who is also Eric on Facebook and Internet Duct Tape on WordPress.com.This is an epidemic problem with all web services. Even in cases where there *IS* a universal common identifier there is no guarantee that every site will support it. Companies either lack the technical know-how, or they fear sending their customers to their competitors if they make it too easier to move data around.

The Universal Identifier for Movies

imdb logoEveryone can agree that IMDB is the #1 database for information about movies. They also provide an ID number for each movie and TV show. For example, Six Feet Under has an ID of 0248654 and you can access a lot of information on IMDB directly if you know that number corresponds to Six Feet Under the tv show. Rotten Tomatoes understands that IMDB is the #1 database for information about movies, and you can link to any movie on their site using only the IMDB number.

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/alias?type=imdbid&s=0248654

brings you to

http://www.rottentomatoes.com/m/six_feet_under_the_complete_first_season/

Any web site about movies that doesn’t understand that the IMDB number is the universal identifier is shooting themselves in the foot because they are making it harder for users to mash their new site up with existing sites about movies. IE: If I had a blog about movies where I always linked to IMDB, I could trivially change those links to Rotten Tomatoes for all of my old posts because RT understands the IMDB number.

What is really surprising is that even though Amazon has owned IMDB since 1998, you cannot browse Amazon results using the IMDB number. Sure, there are nice hacks like the Movie Dude script for Firefox that will crosslink the movie sites for you… but it would be so much easier with universal IDs. The same would go for social network sites.

Facebook As a Universal ID?

facebook logoFacebook hype has been through the roof, with many pundits wondering if the closed garden of Facebook is going to become the official storehouse for online identity (at least for the next few years). Their ingenious apps platform lets other websites piggyback off of the Facebook social web, giving us a hint of social site nirvana: being able to maintain one set of friends on Facebook and use that same set on every other social site. But that is contingent to how well Facebook plays with other sites.

NetVibes has already shot the first volley against Facebook’s bow with their new application that exports Facebook data into NetVibes. It would be nice to see Facebook becoming a social network hub. ClaimID, the bright future of open identity, even has a Facebook application. My hope is that the ClaimID app will let me find the claimed identities of my online friends and act as a hub for my social network activities. One friendlists to rule them all and in the darkness bind them.

claimid logo

But There Already Is a Universal Friendslist!

The silly thing about all this time we waste with friendslist management is that we already have a universal friendslist: our address book. Any social site worth it’s salt will let you batch import all of your existing friends by uploading a file or logging in to your web-based email account. Plaxo has been fighting to become the universal address book, it gives you the ability to automatically push out contact information updates to anyone who has you in their address book. They’ve even gone so far as to implement some killer developer tools like Javascript and REST widgets – I’ve seen a few startups add address book friendslist import to their web app in literally minutes by using the Plaxo tools.

plaxo logo

There are definitely some smart eggs at Plaxo, as they’ve been repositioning themselves with Pulse as an open social network where users can share contact information and their web presence easily.

universal synchronization

But who will win the battle of the social networks? Will it continue the same cycle of a new network being popular every two years? One thing is certain, as long as there isn’t an easy way to migrate data and contacts between these network, it will be the users who lose.

Facebook Applications and Privacy – How to Configure Facebook Applications

Posted in Facebook, Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on July 23, 2007

One of my friends wanted to secure the profile for her 17 year old daughter and she was asking me what the heck all the application privacy settings mean on Facebook. I didn’t have a good answer for her. If I’m asking myself “wtf does that application setting mean?” I figure there’s more than one other person in the crowd with a dim light bulb over their head. Here’s what I could figure out to the best of my knowledge.

Now you too can become one of the 1% of the people on Facebook who understand how their Facebook apps (widgets) are configured.

facebook application privacy levels

Adding an Application

I was surprised that Facebook does not give more information on what these options mean when you’re installing an application. I know that designing “simple” user interfaces is hard, but you are doing something wrong when your users have to go to such great lengths to do something as simple as adjust your privacy settings.

Know who I am and access my information

This option has to be checked in order to install ANY application. This is Facebook’s way of covering their ass.

cover your ass
(photo by ambergris)

Put a box in my profile

If this is unchecked then the application won’t show up on your profile at all, but may still spam your mini-feed and news feed.

(photo by ugandan giant)

Place a link in my left-hand navigation

On your left hand menu under Search there is a list of your application that only you can see. Clicking on these links usually shows you cool stuff like recent updates from your friends who use the same apps. This setting controls whether or not this app shows up in that list.

facebook application privacy left hand menu link settings

This setting only affects how you see your applications.

Publish stories in my News Feed and Mini-Feed

This is the “spam the crap out of your friends” feature. TURN THIS OFF FOR MOST OF YOUR APPLICATIONS! The mini-feed is that list of things you’ve been doing on your profile page. The news feed is the list of things you’ve been doing that shows up to all of your friends when they log into Facebook. Do you really want to spam them with every single thing you Digg, Stumble or save to Del.icio.us?

facebook privacy application mini-feed newsfeed

You can adjust the mini-feed and the news feed individually by editing your application settings later.

Place a link below the profile picture on any profile

Underneath your profile picture there is a text list of your applications. These links can display additional information like the number of songs you have added, pages you have bookmarked, etc. If you have a lot of applications this list can become unwieldy, so try to limit it to your five favorite applications.

facebook application privacy profile

Adjusting the Privacy Settings

Some applications (particularly the ones created by Facebook) have application specific privacy settings that you can adjust from within your “application privacy options” or by editing your application settings. I don’t know why they didn’t make it consistent for all applications.

Editing the settings of an application will give you the following extra option that weren’t available when you first added it.

Control who can see the application on your profile

This is a standard drop down choice between everyone, all your networks, some of your networks, your friends, yourself, or no one. If you chose not to have a box in your profile when you added the application then this will be set to “no one”.

Individual control of mini-feed and news feed setting

When you are adding a new application there is only one setting for mini-feed and news feed. If you edit the application later you will be able to have different settings for your mini-feed and news feed (which is a good thing — have lots of updates on the mini-feed but not as many on your news feed so you don’t spam your friends).

facebook application privacy news feed setting

Applications and Limited Profile

You can control which of the official Facebook apps are shown on your limited profile under Privacy Options >> Limited Profile. As far as I can tell unofficial apps never show on your limited profile (or maybe they always show and there is no way to turn them off).

Control the Information Given to Third Party Applications

Under Privacy Options >> Applications >> Other Applications you can control what other applications can find out about you when you don’t have them installed (IE: if your friends have them installed). I highly recommend leaving most of the boxes unchecked. The only way you can disable ANY information from leaking out to your friends’ applications is by removing all of your applications first.

Blocking Applications

Did you know that you can block specific applications from contacting you or showing up in the news feed? You have to go to the application page and then chose Block Application. You do not need to install the application to do this. Yes, this means you can stop people from trying to bug you with those zombie/vampire apps.

Removing Applications and the Information Inside of Them

If you remove an application it does NOT delete any of the information inside that application. If you uploaded photos, videos or posted a note then all of that information will still be there unless you delete it inside of the application before removing an application. Good news: you can remove an app and then re-add it later on and be right back where you started. Bad news: it’s harder to get rid of embarrassing/incriminating info than just “removing the application”.

5 Things to Remember

    1. Don’t spam your friends — turn off the news feed for applications that update frequently
    2. Too many links — turn off profile links for applications other than your favorites
    3. Control who can see it — there’s no good reason to share apps with your networks instead of just your friends
    4. Delete THEN remove — you have to delete the information inside an app before removing it
    5. Stop being annoyed — block the applications you don’t like

      The Facebook applications privacy settings are pretty danged complicated, and in usual Facebook style the controls to access them are all over the place. But now you know what the different settings do and have an idea of how you can use them. Blocking annoying applications can make the site a lot less annoying, and you can control your own settings to keep from spamming the crap out of your friends. The only real gotcha is that you need to delete embarrassing information from an application before you remove the application.

      Remember:

      “Be sure to customize your privacy settings on the Privacy page if you are uncomfortable being found in searches or having your profile viewed by people from your school, workplace or regional network. Remember, unless you’re prepared to attach something in your profile to a resume or scholarship application, don’t post it.” — Official Facebook Safety page

      Did you find this page useful? Then help spread the word by sharing it on Facebook, del.icio.us, StumbleUpon or other sites.

      Related Posts

      14 Tips to Get More Done in Less Time

      Posted in Increasing Productivity and Simplifying Your Life, Technology by engtech on April 26, 2007

      Time Management

      Productivity, efficiency and effectiveness are the buzzwords fueling the information age. Entire industries have been created around our obsession with efficiency and productiveness. We have more and more time for leisure activities but we use less and less of it for “leisure”; there are too many “work-like” things to do — maintaining social internet accounts, leveling up in online video games, sorting photos and mp3s…

      We forget that time is the only true luxury in life. Being more productive doesn’t make you a better person, the essence of being productive is to put your attention where you get the biggest returns and get more done with less investment of your time. Use that extra time to get more enjoyment out of your life.

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      Blowing Twitters out of proportion

      Posted in Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology, Twitter by engtech on April 18, 2007

      StumbleUpon and Tumblr are both interesting forms of micro-blogging, but I’ve been getting more into Twitter. Twitter lets me surf other people’s streams of thought (like a super micro-blog-lite with 140 characters or less per entry). You view all of the your friends/contacts “tweets” as a stream. What’s funny is when completely unrelated tweets can appear connected because of the random positioning of technology.

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      An Introduction to Reputation Management (by guest blogger Tim Nash)

      This is a post by a guest blogger.

      Tim Nash is a reputation management consultant, co-founder and primary consultant for Venture Skills a “New media” IT company which specialises in search engine optimisation, reputation management, and technical side of online marketing. When not working at Venture Skills, posting site reviews on forums he can be found teaching at a local university where he lecturers in Search Engine Optimisation and Information Retrieval.

      My name is Tim and I’m a reputation management consultant. I’m helping engtech out by doing a guest post for his blog.

      But what is reputation management?

      Let us start with a formal quote:

      Reputation management is the process of tracking an entity’s actions and other entities’ opinions about those actions; reporting on those actions and opinions; and reacting to that report creating a feedback loop. All entities involved are generally people, but that need not always be the case. Other examples of entities include animals, businesses, or even locations or materials. The tracking and reporting may range from word-of-mouth to statistical analysis of thousands data points. — Source: Wikipedia

      This is a very dusty but surprisingly accurate description of reputation management, be it in commercial business analysis or on a personal level. There a three basic areas to reputation management:

      1. Finding out what people are saying about you
      2. Creating a persona or brand image
      3. If needed defending this image

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      Is your web identity a help or a hindrance to your employability?

      ComputerWorld has an article about how recruiters use web anonymity to find more information out about job applicants.

      In a 2006 survey by executive search firm ExecuNet in Norwalk, Conn., 77 of 100 recruiters said they use search engines to check out job candidates. In a CareerBuilder.com survey of 1,150 hiring managers last year, one in four said they use Internet search engines to research potential employees. One in 10 said they also use social networking sites to screen candidates. In fact, according to Search Engine Watch, there are 25 million to 50 million proper-name searches performed each day.

      They go on to list some tips like starting a blog, joining open source communities, building a web page, creating web profiles. Andy pads it out with some more helpful suggestions like getting a domain name, tips for getting the number one spot for your name and controlling what appears in search results for your name.

      I’ve written about privacy, internet usage and real name searches a few times with my Facebook tips, guide to pseudonyms/identity hiding and tips on hiding your LinkedIn profile from searches outside of your LinkedIn network. When I started this blog a year ago it was with the idea that it could help with the job hunt, but then the slew of articles I read about people losing their jobs because of blogging convinced me otherwise.

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      How to use Facebook without Losing Your Job over it

      Posted in Facebook, Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on March 08, 2007

      I’ve followed my friends as they jump around from social network to social network, creating profiles on Friendster, Hi-5, Orkut, MySpace and now Facebook, even though I never use the sites.

      Facebook is great networking tool that lets you keep in contact with former friends from high school, university and various jobs. It easily connects people together with tools like registering that you are the owner of a specific cell phone number, keeping track of every email address you’ve ever had, and logging into your email account to find out who you know.

      As you can guess from my previous series on online pseudo-anonymity, something that collects as much personal information as Facebook scares the bejebus out of me. From the address book import I can clearly see that everyone I’ve ever even remotely known is already on Facebook, and the default settings mean they’re all sharing all kinds of personal information they may not be aware of.

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      Getting to Simple – Engineers Have No Idea How Normal Human Beings Interact With Their Environments

      One of the best known programming axioms is KISS — Keep It Simple, Stupid [wiki].

      It is something I have incredible difficulty with.

      kiss - keep it simple stupid - simplicity - gene simmons

      This past weekend was filled with reminders of KISS. There were multiple comments on the complexity of my blog design. I was putting together a GUI for a WordPress.com tool even though I usually exclusively program for the command line. I finished off the weekend by reading Cory Doctorow’s “Eastern Standard Tribes” where the main character is a user experience guru with nothing but distain for engineers and computer scientists and their inability to grasp how non-geeks think:

      “I spent the next couple hours running an impromptu focus group, watching the kids and their bombshell nannies play with it. By the time that Marta touched my hand with her long cool fingers and told me it was time for her to get the kids home for their nap, I had twenty-five toy ideas, about eight different ways to use the stuff for clothing fasteners, and a couple of miscellaneous utility uses, like a portable crib.

      “So I ran it down for my pal that afternoon over the phone, and he commed his boss and I ended up eating Thanksgiving dinner at his boss’s house in Westchester.”

      “Weren’t you worried he’d rip off your ideas and not pay you anything for them?” Szandor’s spellbound by the story, unconsciously unrolling and re-rolling an Ace bandage.

      “Didn’t even cross my mind. Of course, he tried to do just that, but it wasn’t any good-they were engineers; they had no idea how normal human beings interact with their environments. The stuff wasn’t self-revealing-they added a million cool features and a manual an inch thick. After prototyping for six months, they called me in and offered me a two-percent royalty on any products I designed for them.”

      It would be funny if it wasn’t so painfully true. I’d happily add features until I ended up with a monstrosity like this. My subconscious is a hamster in a wheel inside my head. He’s wearing black-rimmed coke-bottle lenses and a pocket protector. This is what he’s thinking:

      I like coding.

      Adding features means more coding.

      Tweaking existing code that already works fine means more coding.

      If I let something be finished then that means I’ll have to stop coding.

      I like coding.

      usb kiss hamster wheel keyboard geek

      My favorite post I’ve ever read on the subject of simplicity is Joel Spolsky’s critique of the Windows Vista start menu: “each additional choice makes complete sense until you find yourself explaining to your uncle that he has to choose between 15 different ways to turn off a laptop.”

      But even he notes that the answer to simplicity isn’t having less features. Having a sparse highly usable design is a feature in itself. The key is to have robust features without confronting the user with multiple choices. Simplicity is actually quite complex — which makes sense because otherwise Apple and 37signals would be the rules, not the exceptions.

      John Maeda’s Laws of Simplicity provides some rough guidelines for Getting to Simple:

      1. Reduce - The simplest way to achieve simplicity is through thoughtful reduction.
      2. Organize - Organization makes a system of many appear fewer.
      3. Time - Savings in time feel like simplicity.
      4. Learn - Knowledge makes everything simpler.
      5. Differences - Simplicity and complexity need each other.
      6. Context - What lies in the periphery of simplicity is definitely not peripheral.
      7. Emotion - More emotions are better than less.
      8. Trust - In simplicity we trust.
      9. Failure - Some things can never be made simple.
      10. The One – Simplicity is about subtracting the obvious, and adding the meaningful.

      Part of the reason why I blog is because it forces me to work on soft skills like this. It’s a subject I need to learn more about.

      Related Posts

      The Secret to Finding the Perfect Valentine’s Day Gift for the Person You Love

      Posted in Lifehacks, Popular Posts, Technology by engtech on February 05, 2007

      Given that 77% of my readers are guys, I thought I’d give them the subtle heads-up that Valentine’s Day is less than two weeks away. My new tagline is: remembering the holidays so you don’t have to.

      Like most people, I don’t care about Saint Valentine [wiki]. I have fallen prey to the Greeting Card Association who have created a Hallmark Holiday and hype V-Day to the point where it is the second largest card carrying holiday after Christmas [wiki]. I think it’s stupid to follow the dictation of corporate entities for when I should buy things for the people I love. Can romance be forced on a certain day of the year? I don’t think so.

      It’s a feeling not a price tag.

      valentine's day heart banksy
      (photo by Naomi)

      But I’m not so stupid to think I can skip the holiday without consequences. No matter how much she might say Valentine’s Day is a stupid holiday that shouldn’t be celebrated, not doing something at all is much worse than doing something. And what’s so wrong with jumping at the chance to have an excuse to tell the person you love how you feel?

      Here are some suggests for activities and/or gifts. Post a comment if you have better suggestions. Remember that a homemade gift is always better than store bought except for things like jewelry and lingerie. It’s the thought that counts, but no one wants to wear homemade lingerie unless they have a serious duct tape fetish.

      Going Out for Dinner

      If you are planning on going out for dinner then NOW is the time to make reservations. It may already be too late.

      Most restaurants prepare a fixed menu for Valentine’s Day, so don’t forget to check if that’s an issue for you. HACK: it’s always nicer to go out for dinner 1-2 days before Valentine’s Day instead to avoid the crowds, avoid the fixed menu and have better service.


      (photo by zemlinki!)

      Traditional Gifts

      Sometimes it’s best to play it safe.

      • Greeting Card
      • Flowers (Roses are traditional)
      • Jewelry
      • Lingerie
      • Nice clothes
      • Chocolates
      • Alcohol
      • Plush Toys
      • Going out for Dinner
      • Spa Treatment
      • Sex Toys
      • Scented Candles
      • Hotel room / Bed and breakfast

      valentine's day fortune cookie
      (photo by wasaby)

      Non-traditional Gifts

      Things to Do

      • Make dinner for her (practice the recipe first!)
      • Hide gifts around the house with clues to find them
      • Sneak “I love you” notes into their lunch before they take it to work
      • Proclaim your love on the radio or in the newspaper
      • Rent a hot tub
      • Have an indoor picnic
      • Buy yourself a gym membership to get ready for next year
      • Offer to give up blogging :)
      • … or rent a romantic movie…

      Romance movies for men and women

      Like one of the 76 romantic movies my girlfriend and I picked out.

      Just in time for Valentine’s Day.

      Things to Give

      • Something very specific to how you met each other and fell in love
        • IE: first movie you saw, CD for concert you went to, etc
      • Take sexy photographs of yourself
        • Print them out at one of those grocery store print centers and then destroy the originals
        • May require shaving your back if you’re a guy
      • Instructable’s Valentine’s Day gift instructions
      • Craft Magazine’s DIY valentine’s
      • All Valentine gift how-to’s at Craft Magazine
      • Something handmade from etsy.com
      • Keepsake box with mementos from your first dates
      • Make a card instead of buying one (card instructions here)
      • Papercraft pop-up card
      • More Valentine’s Day papercraft projects
      • Write a love poem
      • Make a scrapbook
      • Print out romantic images from Flickr
      • Origami flowers
      • Girl Loves Robot’s mini VDay cards
      • Custom “gift certificate” for household chores, sexual favours, etc.
      • Sensual massage kit (oil, candles, blindfold, music)
      • Take Valentine’s Day cards for kids and write X-rated limericks in them
      • Collect your letters/email correspondence and have it bound as a book
      • Create a photo album of pictures of the two of you
      • Create a poster out of a picture of the two of you
      • Commission a portrait painting (probably too late now)
      • Homemade baked goods
      • Printable awards of Best Kisser, Best Wife, Most Romantic, Best Lover, Most Understanding, etc
      • Take a comic strip and replace the words with your own message.
      • Mixtape of significant songs
      • Custom t-shirt that says “Property of [yourname]“
      • Create a jar full of little hearts with endearing messages on them
      • Homemade gift basket (Bath items, scented candles)

      anti-valentine’s day — valentine’s day sucks

      Anti-Valentine’s (or Vinegar Valentine’s)

      Sometimes Valentine’s Day is more fun to mock that to participate in, particularly if you’re single or getting out of a bad relationship.

      Gifts That Will Get You in Trouble

      Survival Guides for People Who Hate Valentine’s Day

      Also, file this under things not to do: write a blog post about Valentine’s Day ideas and then don’t do any of them.

      Related Posts

      Idea Sources I Used

      TheGoodBlogs tags: , ,

      Ottawa employees fired because of Facebook

      Posted in Facebook, Links, Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on January 18, 2007

      So an Ottawa grocery chain (Farm Boy) has fired employees because of postings they made on Facebook under their real identity (via: Michael Geist). Facebook is a MySpace clone focused on University/College students. Devon Bourgeois and James Wood are now jobless because of messages they posted on a message board on Facebook (although it was not publicly available). The gist I got from the story is that the company fired them for admission of theft based on posts on the Facebook message board.
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      Last Minute Gift Suggestions

      Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on December 24, 2006

      Hey, guess what? It’s Christmas Eve. And you still haven’t found a gift yet for someone on your list? Don’t worry, Uncle Engtech is going to throw you a bone and give you a couple of last minute suggestions under the wire. But first, did you check out the rest of my gift guide for geeks series?


      (photo by debbiedoescakes)

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      Shopping Online – How to Shop Online in Canada

      Posted in Lifehacks, Technology by engtech on December 03, 2006

      I’ve been shopping online now for several years, and I’m still surprised that some people have never tried it. It is a more relaxing way to buy gifts than braving the crowds. There are more interesting gifts available from “niche” stories. You don’t have to run around the city trying to find somewhere that has the item in stock. You can find special prices and deals that are only available on the web.

      If it wasn’t for online shopping I’d be another one of those guys buying gifts in a gas station on December 24th.

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      Project Cleanfeed Canada

      Posted in Digital Culture, Online Privacy and Reputation Management, Technology by engtech on November 26, 2006

      (this is a follow-up to the Great Firewall of Canada)

      spyblog.org.uk notes how “systems like British Telecom’s CleanFeed are inherently vulnerable to reverse engineering attacks, which can reveal the list of censored websites”. While I doubt the technique mentioned in the paper still works, it does give more technical information about CleanFeed than I’ve seen anywhere else.

      Dr. Richard Clayton’s paper
      http://www.cl.cam.ac.uk/%7Ernc1/cleanfeed.pdf

      Michael Geist has thrown in his support with Cybertip on the issue:

      More importantly, while some may suggest that this opens the door to other blocking – hate content, defamatory content or copyright infringement to name three – there is a crucial difference with child pornography that should prevent a similar approach. While those forms of content may raise legal issues, in the case of child pornography, it is illegal to even access the content. That is a crucial difference since under current law there are no valid free speech arguments for either disseminating child pornography nor for seeking the right to access it. Given that difference, the right of appeal, and the active involvement of cybertip.ca, the arrival of Project Cleanfeed in Canada looks like a good news story that merits close monitoring.

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      The Great Firewall of Canada

      The title of this article is, of course, a reference to the Internet censorship that is rampant in China.



      Mark Goldberg
      pointed me to the press release of “Project Cleanfeed Canada”. Canadian carriers Bell Aliant, Bell Canada, MTS Allstream, Rogers, SaskTel, Shaw, TELUS, and Videotron have all opted in to a blacklist provided by Cybertip.ca, the Canadian tip-line against child exploitation. Mark is an advocate of putting censorship in place against websites that would be deemed illegal by Canadian Law (such as those promoting hate speech or sexually exploiting children).

      I first came across Mark’s website when he was filing an application requesting the CRTC to authorize Canadian carriers to block internet content. I morally support blocking hate speech and child porn (who wouldn’t?), but the idea of having a national blacklist sends shivers down my spine. I would always prefer that illegal websites be shutdown rather than putting into power national filters that have the potential to be abused. I’m a pessimist, I believe that any form of censorship will eventually be abused despite its good intentions.

      Nart Villeneuve has an excellent article that sums up my fear of government sponsored filters:

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