Category Archives: Useful

StayFocusd gets the boot

Remember StayFocusd, the browser extension that was going to really help me concentrate, by only letting me peruse certain timesuck websites (Facebook, HuskerMax, etc)?  Well, it didn’t.

First, almost immediately (like the second day after I installed the thing) I started cheating.  When I was out of time on Chrome, I’d just switch to the same timesuck sites on Firefox, where the sudden new-found freedom of not being timed probably led to me wasting even more time than I would have.

Second, in one of those “improvements” that developer types like to foist upon us, StayFocusd started counting linked sites into my overall time (which I had set at 10 minutes before the daily ban hammer came down).  So, if I clicked on an interesting link at Facebook, StayFocusd followed me, keeping the timer going.  I didn’t sign up for that.

It was like I had a little fascist robot censor following me around all the time.  Today it finally got annoying enough that I uninstalled it.

Sort of like this one.

So, that little attempt to trick my brain didn’t work.  Guess I’ll have to fall back on that old stalwart, willpower.

Shouldn't you be working?

Well, shouldn’t you?  I know I spend about half my online life thinking so.  It’s an ongoing battle to re-learn to concentrate.

As I have learned, you can’t do it on your own.  You need help.  Enter StayFocusd.

StayFocusd asks you to set a total time for browsing on websites you select.  Think the big time sucks: Facebook, message boards, Huskerpedia.  Then you can set the total time to browse on them for the entire day.  A handy-dandy button appears that looks like so:


Nifty, eh?  Keeps you from bouncing around from time-wasting site to time-wasting site.  Provided you admit what your time-wasting sites are, of course.

And when you hit zero?  The nuke goes off:

You don’t get to go on those sites until the next day.  Brilliant in its ruthless efficiency.

Note: StayFocusd only works in the Chrome browser.  If you use Firefox, LeechBlock does pretty much the same thing.  If you use Internet Explorer, stop it.

One more weapon in the endless fight against the onslaught of the attention-killers.

Shouldn’t you be working?

Well, shouldn’t you?  I know I spend about half my online life thinking so.  It’s an ongoing battle to re-learn to concentrate.

As I have learned, you can’t do it on your own.  You need help.  Enter StayFocusd.

StayFocusd asks you to set a total time for browsing on websites you select.  Think the big time sucks: Facebook, message boards, Huskerpedia.  Then you can set the total time to browse on them for the entire day.  A handy-dandy button appears that looks like so:


Nifty, eh?  Keeps you from bouncing around from time-wasting site to time-wasting site.  Provided you admit what your time-wasting sites are, of course.

And when you hit zero?  The nuke goes off:

You don’t get to go on those sites until the next day.  Brilliant in its ruthless efficiency.

Note: StayFocusd only works in the Chrome browser.  If you use Firefox, LeechBlock does pretty much the same thing.  If you use Internet Explorer, stop it.

One more weapon in the endless fight against the onslaught of the attention-killers.

Concentrate better by doing two simple things

I’m still re-learning to concentrate, but here’s a couple hacks I’ve picked up that have helped enormously, when it comes to writing and computers.

The best way to concentrate when writing is probably still to use paper and pen.  I don’t know how many folks out there still write that way.  There is an admirable purity to it.  It’s also inefficient as hell, because every word you’ve written out by hand has to eventually be manually typed.  If I could afford a typist (are there still typists?), I’d hire one; as it is I’ve spent hours and hours, days and days, simply retyping what I wrote on paper.  I filled 20 notebooks of 150 pages each with my barely legible handwriting.  That’s a lot of retyping.  To say nothing of how much slower you have to write when writing by hand in the first place.

By some slow evolution, I’ve more and more taken to writing on the computer.  Which comes with endless possibilities for distraction.   You can’t resist all those temptations with willpower alone.  At least I can’t.  So help yourself out.  Here’s how I do it.  (Note: these tips are for Windows.  I’m sure the equivalents exist for Apple but I haven’t used one of those since my high school newspaper days.)

1) Auto-hide the taskbar.  Right-click the task bar –> Properties –> Auto-hide the taskbar.

Easy.

If you’re like me, you’ve constantly got about 73 items open on your taskbar, each of which beg for attention every time your eyeballs stray to one.  This little step eliminates that temptation; you have to drag the mouse down to the bottom of the screen to get the little buggers to pop up again.  Just having to do that is often enough to stop me from doing so.

Before:

After:

Isn't that better?

2) Use NotePad instead of Word.  Even if you Minimize the Ribbon in Word, it still has all kinds of distracting doodads.  So I just use WordPad.  It’s not a good editing tool, but it’s easy enough to copy and paste into Word when you get to there.  With WordPad, it’s just you and the white space. Which is all there should be, really.

Terrible.

Better.

Best.

Tom Conoboy and Wrong Tomorrow

A couple of sites worth taking a good look at:

Tom Conoboy’s Writing Blog:

Conoboy has been at it since 2006, and he writes as fine a review as I’ve come across on the web. In-depth, insightful, and chock full of good details. I’m not sure who his intended audience is; I think he’s mostly writing the reviews in an attempt to understand the books himself. The books he chooses are invariably difficult ones, this is some solace if you are reading or have read them yourself. And it’s honest: his latest review starts this way: “Well, it’s not often I’m completely flummoxed, but The Sound and the Fury has managed it.” He then goes on to explore his confusion for 1200 words, a noble effort if ever there was one.

His tastes are unabashedly high-brow. Have a look at the Labels: Nietzsche, Cormac McCarthy, Rousseau, traditional music, liberty, among others. In a time when you can’t go in your backyard without seeing a blurb for Twilight, I’m going to call this a decidedly good thing.

Conoboy is also a published author in his own right. Have a look at some of his credits here.

Wrong Tomorrow:

Time vs. the Pundits is this brand-new site’s moniker and that’s just what it is. Hear some talking head make some prediction? Send it in to Wrong Tomorrow and let’s see if time bears them out. There are plenty up there already. For instance:

matt simmons:
“We could be looking at $10-a-gallon gas this winter.” – 2005-09-28 148 weeks ago

WRONG

Or:

ray kurzweil:
“Full immersion audio/visual virtual reality will exist.” – 2005-09-22 91 weeks

OPEN

Or:

gerald celente:
“by 2012 America will become an undeveloped nation, that there will be a revolution marked by food riots, squatter rebellions, tax revolts and job marches, and that holidays will be more about obtaining food, not gifts.” – 2008-11-10 143 weeks

OPEN

For now the “registered” predictions are pretty tech-heavy. I think that may change in time if this site gets the publicity it deserves. The site also currently lacks an RSS feed but it’s only been up a day and a half so I bet there will be one soon.

Bookmark it. Maybe the pundits (I’m talking to you, Jim Cramer) will give a little more thought to their prognostications if they know they’re going to be tracked and called out on them. Set up by Maciej Ceglowski, this site is brilliant in its simplicity. Head there and keep tabs on just how “expert” the experts are.

A procedural note

First, thanks for reading. Second, thanks for commenting if you have, and please feel free to jump in,if you haven’t yet. Next, please note that I write this blog solely from work – home is for the scionness, the scionness’s mom, and The Manuscript That Continues To Disobey. So, I am away from here 2 days of the week – Sunday and Monday, Thai time. Not responding to comments, or even reading them, until I get to the desk Tuesday morning. Any posts that appear during that time are written beforehand and prescheduled. I’m not ignoring anyone. I’m just not always around.

Now, off to the comments. Thanks again for reading.

How to turn your MP3 player into an e-reader or easy-to-use jukebox with Rockbox’s free open source firmware

(Note: The following is up today at TeleRead). Here’s a way to get rid of the proprietary firmware that comes with your Toshiba Gigabeat, iPod, SanDisk, and other devices. Rockbox open source firmware transforms these devices into easy-to-use jukeboxes and e-readers.

No particular computing knowledge is required. Just go to Rockbox. Follow the instructions to install the open source firmware for your device. I did it after I got fed up with my Toshiba Gigabeat F60.

Jukebox joy

Rockbox transformed the remarkably user-unfriendly Gigabeat into an eminently usable multipurpose jukebox. Listen to your music, view your pictures, read text. Fiddle a little with the viewer and font options and nearly any .txt file is easy-to-read. Owing to the small screen size, you wouldn’t want to read War & Peace, but it’s remarkably handy for shorter files and as portable as a cell phone. Plus you can listen to your music while you read.

Clunky but I suddenly had a new e-reader

Both the text reader and the picture viewer are a little clunky but still far preferable to the nonexistent text reader and graceless picture viewer that came with the Toshiba firmware. Likely there’s tweaks available at Rockbox. Better yet, if you are sufficiently skilled, you can contribute your own. For me, the text reader works wonderfully and I haven’t felt the need to make any tweaks

Note: Rockbox allows reactivation of the original firmware if you want to reverse the process for some reason. I can’t recommend it highly enough.

Here’s a CNET video about Rockbox.

(Note: the above is a rework of this earlier post about the Gigabeat. Thanks to David Rothman over at TeleRead for his sharp editing skills.)

Now this is what I call a New Year’s Resolution

The ever-masterful Nietzsche:

For the new year. — I still live, I still think: I still have to live, for I still have to think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thought: hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish from myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year — what thought shall be for me the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth. I want to learn to see more and more as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all and all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

(Amor fati: love of one’s fate.)

From The Gay Science, Book Four, #276. Via Maverick Philosopher.

Now this is what I call a New Year's Resolution

The ever-masterful Nietzsche:

For the new year. — I still live, I still think: I still have to live, for I still have to think. Sum, ergo cogito: cogito, ergo sum. Today everybody permits himself the expression of his wish and his dearest thought: hence I, too, shall say what it is that I wish from myself today, and what was the first thought to run across my heart this year — what thought shall be for me the reason, warranty, and sweetness of my life henceforth. I want to learn to see more and more as beautiful what is necessary in things; then I shall be one of those who makes things beautiful. Amor fati: let that be my love henceforth! I do not want to wage war against what is ugly. I do not want to accuse. Looking away shall be my only negation. And all and all and on the whole: someday I wish to be only a Yes-sayer.

(Amor fati: love of one’s fate.)

From The Gay Science, Book Four, #276. Via Maverick Philosopher.

Improve your Toshiba Gigabeat

A couple years ago, my brother gave me a Toshiba Gigabeat. Very cool of him. My first real portable audio player since a Discman my freshman year of high school. Only problem: to listen to anything you had to convert all your audio files to Toshiba’s firmware. Not only did this take forever (we’re talking days) but once converted, the files were locked so that they could only be played on your Gigabeat. You couldn’t even play them on your own computer. I suppose the suits at Toshiba considered this a defense against piracy. Not that they took notice of where you got the files in the first place.

Finally got fed up with the thing. Did some nosing around and quickly found the good folks at Rockbox.

Followed the easy instructions to install the shareware there and the remarkably user-unfriendly Gigabeat is transformed into the eminently usable Rockbox. Listen to your music, view your pictures, read files. These last two features are a little clunky (pictures only available in slideshow and only .txt files readable), but still infinitely better than the graceless picture viewer and nonexistent text reader that came with the Toshiba firmware. What’s more, there’s probably tweaks for these things available at Rockbox. I just haven’t got annoyed enough yet to look for them. Better yet, if you were sufficiently skilled, you could come up with your own tweaks and contribute them.

Open source: maybe the single best concept the web has given us. Right down to the Creative Commons copyrights I’m going to slap on every story I post here.

Rockbox also has fixes available for some iPods, Olympus M:Robe and SanDisk: Sansa, among others. Can’t recommend it highly enough.