My Family

I write this blog to answer questions and make recommendations. I have strong opinions about technology topics, but trying to convince and educate a few people about the importance of maintaining their digital systems is hard. I hope this blog will be a resource about every topic relavent to the men and women who maintain their family’s information infrastructure and their precious digital contents like photos, videos, documents and communications.

My name is Tim and I live in Colorado. My lovely wife and I have been married for 9 years and we have one little boy with another on the way later this year. We like to read and hike. We are also involved with our local church, and we like to live a life connected to God and a community of close friends.

The blog won’t be restricted to just computer and phones and backup drives, but that will be the core of it. I want people to make good decisions with their money, time and energy. Wasting time on bad technology and annoying software takes time away from our families.

I write this for the DIYer, the maker and the fixer who knows a bit about computers but knows there is room for improvement. I will not overwhelm you with technical jargon, but I won’t write to the lowest level of knowledge either. Computer geeks and other developers like myself may find some of this blog “basic.” But, I want to explain things in a way that anyone can follow and understand as long as they have used personal computers and web services beyond the mostly-novice levels.

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I am continueing to do the 10 days to a better blog workshop. This means I am continuing to be introspective and talking a lot more about this blog than about the topics I wanted to fill this blog up with. And, that was today’s focus, what are the topics that I intend to write about here?

I spent some time looking through my analytics software, which is a self-hosted version of Piwik. I was looking for which posts popped out as most popular and had the most traffic, what was common amongst my top posts and top traffic days? Did people come to my site looking for specific things on Google?

From looking at those stats, my most popular post appears to be my review of the Amazon Echo. The categories that people click on the most in the side bar are hardware and software. This makes sense because those are the top two items usually because that list is sorted by post count. My second most popular post is about electricity solutions.

I think this means that people are interested in hardware recommendations. My in-depth post about group collaboration software was quite a bit less popular. That’s interesting, because I thought software reviews and recommendations would be something I would feature above other things. Software solutions is something I’m really good at. I like hardware, and writing that Echo review was fun and satisfying. I focused and got the post out the same night I received mine, and it was quite long and enjoyable.

Of course I love websites like Tools and Toys which focus on hardware above other things, but I don’t have the budget to review as many gadgets as I would like. My passion for simple and practical solutions will probably trump the obvious intereste in hardware reviews that drives to popularity of sites like The Verge and Gizmodo.

I don’t think there’s anything in particular I want to prune from my categories on this site yet. I think it’s going to be a very personal evolution of content and focus as time goes on. I don’t want to present a perfectly polished façade here. I know I can’t live up to the pressur and expectations that people have of pro bloggers. That’s one of my fears, that this site would appear phony and sterile. I want it to have my personal touch, I want it to be obvious that a real human crafted this site and the words in it. My other fear is of not being taken seriously and not being relevant to an audience at all, so there is some tension in between those two desires for me.

This exercise did challenge me to look at my site with a critical editor’s eye. I don’t think a quick link to another site that has posted something interesting (commonly called a linkblog) will be common around here. I want to focus on writing content, with an eye toward publishing a more traditional book at some point. Let me know on twitter @sirtimbly, or drop a comment here if you have any thoughts about what posts you would enjoy more of.

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Do I have the freedom to just rest and be at peace in my life? Do you have it in yours? Do you know what I mean by freedom? Imagine your kitchen table. Two pieces of masking take make a cross in the middle of the table dividing it up into 4 quarters. It has a piece of masking tape running along one axis marked as “enjoyable”. And another labeled “important”. You take an index card and write some expectation from your mind. This can be something imposed on you by yourself, your family, your boss or just the world around you. The origins and validity of the expectation are not important right now. You write those words “keep the house clean” on the card and throw it on the table along with 30-100 others. You will be surprised how many cards are really out there.

Start sorting those cards along the 2 axes on the table. You will see patterns and hierarchies develop. The items closest to the top are the most important, the items along the right edge are the most fun. Things in the top right are important and rewarding. The bottom left items are both non-critical and painful to do.

Expectation Grid

You have to start looking at those cards. You might be doing this in your mind, or this might be a real exercise with physical table and card, but it’s important to look at each item and decide if that’s the best thing for you to have on your table right now. I have also used an iPad and either Index Card Board or Corkulous to do this exercise digitally. The goal is to remove every card from the board. To remove it you have to put it in a todo list or on a calendar as a thing you reserve time for each week. Or you will just throw it away or tear it up. Your calendar slots are a limited resource. The size of your to-do list is a clear represtentation of how far underwater you are with long and short term projects.

You will be able to prioritize things this way. Hopefully you will create a big pile of ripped up cards for things that you just don’t have time to do anymore. Learn to explain to people that you don’t have the time or energy to participate or do what they expect. Learn to explain to yourself why it’s important to do something else wtih the time you’ve been spending on some of those endeavors.

It might help to do this with your spouse. My wife and I sit down from time to time and sort through the possiblities and write down the most important things we will do in the next 6 months to a year. We have decided our family will be intentional about our time and energy priorities. We put them up on a big Post It note on the wall or write them on a chalkboard we have hanging in our living room. The items are always there reminding us what we decided as a family was most important to spend our time on. Every once in a while we sit on the couch and dream about how some of those goals will be met. Sometimes we get to cross items off!

The beginning of the new year is a good time to take an expectation inventory and clean out the ones that are holding you back or causing unexpress anxiety and guilt.

This chain of blog posts that are not about the stated topic of the blog continues, as I seek to kickstart a regular blogging habit. Today I will describe the environment around me. My environment is something that I think about a lot. I’m not particularly neat and tidy, but I do like to optimize some things about where I sit and how I work on a computer.

My physical environment for blogging is usally in my living room at night after my wife and son have gone to bed. I sit at our family desk, in our Ikea office chair which was recommended by The Sweethome as a good runner up to the top $900 chair. I have my laptop set on top of small boxes kept near the desk area for the purpose of raising the open laptop screen to be level with my eyes when I am sitting with good posture. I type on an Apple Bluetooth keyboard (without numpad) and use an HP Bluetooth mouse, which I rather like. These are placed on a tray that slides out from the front of the desk. The keyboard is roughly level with the height of my hands when my elbows are bent at 90 degrees.

My environment is a little bit cluttered with papers and pens and half finished projects, but that’s ok for me.

I like to have a little music playing. I change it up, but usually I find something without words. I like classical music or electronic music for working and writing. I put my phone in Do Not Disturb mode, I quit Twitter and Facebook, and I turn off any other notifications that might pop up.

My writing software is currently Sublime Text 3 with a number of customizations. I write with a dark text on light background color scheme. Here are most of the packages I use for writing in Sublime Text.

In addition I have a few custom snippets for the header data that I need when I publish my writing to this blog. I write in a plain text editor because I’m also a programmer and I like using text editors. I move around quickly in this environment. I feel comfortable and efficient. I know exactly where my plain text files are going, and they are more widely compatible with workflow changes and are pretty much future proof. I don’t have to worry about formatting and I can just flow.

My blog itself is a part of my writing environment, I have slightly customized version of MiniBlog a web application which runs on ASP.Net. I am very comfortable making changes to .Net websites so it was easy for me to get up and running with this blog and theme it just the way I wanted. Another important feature of this website is that it supports posting from clients that use something called the MetaWeblog API. There are a few good applications that support sending data to blogs over that API. I am currently using a command line tool called md2sp in order to publish and edit my blog posts. This tool will allow me to work in plain text markdown files and publish to my blog when I am ready.

I know, it’s an especially fidgety and custom workflow compared to the much simpler ways that people write. But I don’t mind and I have good reasons for arriving where I have. It feels pretty efficient most of the time.

I tried working at a standing desk for a couple weeks, once. It wasn’t terrible, but I still gave it up because of foot fatigue. I could probably do it for an hour or two of writing if I wanted to get a good standing desk setup again.

As I continue writing I am sure that this setup will change. I am always on the lookout for a new application or workflow to try. My successes and failures will be documented here in some fashion.

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Yesterday I began to form some thoughts about why I am writing on this blog. Today I will continue to define and refine my answer. Apparently I skipped ahead by writing about this topic yesterday. I’ve ocassionally been accused of overacheiving… by occassionally I mean maybe once in a web design class in college. Why did it take 12 years before I did something at school that I enjoyed so much I actually did it to the best of my ability.

So here are some of my thoughts, incomplete and incoherent, they may be.

First, I write because this avenue of creativity is a rich vein of mental gold. The creative process can be enacted through many different tools and mediums. I like to use a lot of them, but I feel especially comfortable with writing. I’ve written a personal blog for 14 years now. This blog will be a little different because it should be topically focused. So, to summarize, I write because I feel like I can do a decent job of this.

Second, I write to inform and teach. I enjoy the feeling of seeing people understand something. There are some topics that I love so much I just have to tell people about them. When I know that I have communicated a new way of doing things, or helped someone solve a problem, it’s completely fulfilling and rewarding. I like to teach in person with technology trainingm and this is the same thing.

Third, I write for recognition and popularity. Yikes, that was not a pretty thing to own. I like seeing traffic numbers spike, I like knowing I showed up in Google search rankings. I like the tiny bit of fame when something I wrote gets referenced by someone I know who is “famous from the internet”. I wish I could pretend that I’m too cool to care about who reads this and how many people will read it, but I feel like it’s important to be honest here.

In conclusion, I write because of self-indulgence, pride, and vanity. It’s all about the words you use to spin it. Welcome to my blog.

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