Some free software tools (mostly OS X) I have been using with some success to reduce distractions and stress while working on my computer.
Timeout – This application reminds me to take breaks while working on my computer. I can set how frequently I want to take a break and how long I want to take a break. There are many more settings but these two are the basic settings. When it is time for a break, Timeout gets into full screen to remind about the break. If I can’t take the break for any reason, there are two buttons to skip the break and postpone the break. I have configured it to take a 20 second break every 20 minutes. During the break, I do some light stretching, look outside my office window to reduce eye strain or just walk around. It has been very helpful to reduce my back pain. (http://www.dejal.com/timeout/)
Freedom: A simple application to block my Internet connection for specified number of minutes. Once the time has been entered, the application will not respond until the set time has elapsed. If I HAVE to connect to the Internet, I have to restart my computer. Inters tingly, the time spent in standby or sleep mode does not count. I used Freedom frequently while writing my novel for NaNoWrimo 2009. Helped me to stay focus on my writing and stay away from the distractions. (http://macfreedom.com/)
JDarkRoom – A full screen text editor that has, well … nothing. I’m writing this blog post in JDarkRoom. The application takes over the entire screen. Only the contents of the text file is on the screen. There is no toolbar, context menu, or even the OS X menu bar, dock bar. It doesn’t support formatting and spell checking – which are my only complaints. But the absence of those features helps to focus on my writing and not worry about spelling or formatting. (http://www.codealchemists.com/jdarkroom/)
ResuceTime – I use this tool occasionally. Analytics tools can become an escapade. Instead of getting work done, I can spend time on the productivity tool. RescueTime could be that tool. It is an desktop application that runs in the background and tracks the amount of time I spend on application and websites. I can visit the website to view the aggregate times and categorize/tag my applications. It provides so much information that I can spend a lot of time looking at the data. A recent update has premium feature that looks promising – to get into focus mode. It blocks access to distracting websites and applications for given time. (www.rescuetime.com)
Some browser based tools I use:
- Readability – A bookmarklet to format a web page for easy reading. Smartly removes all the unwanted page elements and presents the web page in a format I can customize.
- Empty New Page – Google Chrome’s blank new tab extension. Replaces the distracting Chrome’s default start page with a blank screen.
Random numbers are an important part of the digital world. Computer security relies on prime numbers and random numbers to secure communication channels. And we rely on physical devices to provide us with a random number.
Humans are hopeless in coming up with a random number. Ironically, it is because we try to avoid any pattern while coming up with a random series. I’m fascinated that we need a physical device to generate an ideal random number. In other words there is no algorithm that will yield a random number every time it is executed. There are some pseudo random number generators that are good enough. But in theory they are not truly random.
We essentially need a black box to generate the random number. We should not know how the black box works inside. True random number generators rely on the quantum properties to generate a random number.
A while back I read the book Sustainable Fashion: Why Now? – a book on technologies, methodologies and practices to developing a sustainable clothing. I can’t use word industry because the book advocates abandoning the contemporary industry’s producer-consumer approach to solve problems.
It was interesting to learn about the clothing and fashion before the advent of industrial age. Resources like fiber were scarce; people spun the fibers and wove clothes in families and communities. Clothes were reused heavily. Damaged clothes would be re-purposed as another garment or in worst case used as cleaning rags. Thus the life span of the fabric increased. In essence all the garmenting was done by the users.
With the advent of industrial age, the process user production of garments was disrupted. Industrialization of fabric and garment production caused the supply to outstrip demand. It changed the framework of garment production to a producer-consumer linear model. In the new framework, if there is a need for a product, then a producer gathers raw materials, processes it and floods the consumer market. So we consume more clothing than we need. Unused clothing ends up in landfill instead of being recycled like pre-industrial age.
Many solutions to reduce fabric waste and improving recycling are discussed in the book. Fashion was very democratic. It was defined by users who wore the garments, and reused it heavily. Industrialization disrupted this model. Now we have fashion designers and trend setters to define the fashion.
I got a Dell Mini 9 netbook. One of friends bought a Dell Studio 15, along with it the Mini 9 was offered for $100. So I lapped it from him It was a pretty good deal.
It is base model Mini 9 – with 512 MB RAM, 5GB SSD and Ubuntu 8.04. It has no moving parts – not even a cooling fan. I love the fact that it make no noise. I’ve gotten used to the humming sound from all computers. This is my first silent computer.
The switch from the enormous 15″, 3lbs laptop to a 8″ netbook is interesting. Two things I noticed quickly are screen real estate and keyboard layout.
- I knew that netbooks are underpowered but I didn’t know that meant I can run only Firefox. If open Firefox and the Ubuntu update manager, Firefox would stop responding. In such scenarios the system mamager would report max CPU and/or RAM utilization. The major resource hogers were – Firefox and GNOME. Firefox is definitely not recommeded for netbook. I installed Midori web browser – which has much lesser memory foot print. But flash is not working in Midori – I need to fix that problem. Next I installed OpenBox Window manager which is supposed to be much lighter than GNOME. It seems faster, but I don’t have the numbers yet. GNOME panel which runs the OS taskbar takes 30 MB. The only information I need from the GNOME panel is battery and wifi information. I’m hunting for options to get these info without the GNOME panel.
- The screen size is 8.9″ – which is sufficient for my needs. But the title bars and task bars take up a lot of screen space. I used Metacity window manager to remove the title bars. I tried autohiding the taskba, but it wasn’t annoying at times – the taskbar won’t come out sometimes, or would take too long.
- The keyboard is definitely cramped; many keys are ridiculously small. I don’t blame Dell – they have used all the space they had. I think 10″ netbooks would be the sweet spot – to have a full sized keyboard. From a human factors perspective – width across two comfortably held hands would be 10″ to 12″. So I think 10″ would be the sweet spot – as long as the main input device is an analog keyboard. The Mini keyboard doesn’t have the F11 key (so I use full screen), there is only one Ctrl key, and page-down, insert keys are entered using Fn key combinations.
- Battery life is an acceptable 3 hours. But the standby time seems to be poor. I didn’t measure it – but I think it consumes relatively more battery during standby.