Links of Interest: On the job Tools and Techniques that I’ve used lately

I’ve been so busy with work lately that I’ve seriously neglected posting here. So I thought I’d share links to some of the tools that have been helping me get things done. [Read more...]

Shop Once a Month for Groceries and Get Back 12 Hours Per Month

Early in our marriage, my wife and I realized our weekly and sometimes daily grocery shopping was a major source of frustration and tension between us. We were both busy with our jobs, and we didn’t have time at the end of the work day to figure out what to cook for dinner. Planning ahead and shopping for a whole week’s dinners on the weekend helped, but the time that took was frustrating as well. Eventually we solved this problem by developing a system where we plan out a month’s worth of meals and purchase all their ingredients on the same day. [Read more...]

Links of Interest: Excellent WordPress Commercial Themes

Commercial WordPress themes are an excellent solution for my clients who need a quick turn-around, low cost solution. The key to this type of solution lies in your choice of theme vendors. Good pre-built themes combine easy customization, the right amount of options, and a clean under-lying codebase. These factors work together to give you a website that you can edit and your web developer can easily customize further for you if you have additional specifications beyond the theme’s defaults.

Keeping these things in mind, here are some of my favorite Commercial WordPress theme vendors:

  • StudioPress - These guys are the makers of the Genesis Theme Framework. While the Genesis Theme is an excellent framework for building full-custom child themes, the StudioPress child theme collection is a well-rounded suite of designs suitable for a wide variety of projects.The Genesis child themes at StudioPress all feature clean code which allows me to make quick customizations for my client’s special requests.
  • WooThemes – The WooThemes collection of themes is large and always growing. All of their themes feature a consistent, polished admin interface. Plus, their WooCommerce plugin is quickly becoming my favorite e-commerce solution.
  • Themeforest – WordPress Category - The strength and weakness of the Themeforest WordPress Themes Category is the myriad of themes available. They have so many good looking themes available that it’s sometimes hard to settle on one you like.By and large, the underlying code for any Themeforest theme I’ve used has been to my satisfaction. The only drawback here is that many different developers contribute to their repository. Therefore, it often takes me a bit to get used to working with a theme that I’m unfamiliar with.
  • ElegantThemes – One $39 subscription gives you access to all of the themes available at ElegantThemes. The quality of their themes is so good, I sort of wonder how they do it for that price. The only thing I don’t like about their themes is the default font size and font color for many of them. Often the text is too small and too faint; however, that can be fixed fairly easily with some CSS edits.
  • Commercially Supported GPL Themes – The makers of WordPress have a listing of theme vendors on their website. It’s a great place to start your search for quality themes made by persons and companies with a good reputation in the WordPress Community.

Top News Stories of 2011

In January of this year I came up with the idea to keep a running list of the “Big News Stories of 2011″. It’s around this time of year, that I always enjoy thinking back on the memorable events of the past twelve months. In particular, I wanted to recall the news as I saw it. What were the events that came to my notice as they happened?

What follows is my list of the top news stories of 2011. It’s a wild understatement to say that it is by no means comprehensive. Oftentimes, it simply reflects the news as I saw it on the NBC Nightly News broadcast or read it on the NYTimes website. Regardless, it serves as a list which captures many stories of national interest during 2011. [Read more...]

Links of Interest – First Person Perspectives on Flying

Today’s Links of Interest feature videos that give you some amazing first person perspectives on flying. While each is spectacular in its own right, together this set takes you through an increasingly exhilarating exploration of man’s quest to soar through the heavens. Get a pilot’s eye view of what it’s like to fly a corporate jet, strap on a carbon-fiber jet wing and fly in formation with two jets, and base jump off of a mountain wearing only a “wing suit” and parachute:

1) A Day in the Life of a Corporate Pilot

Ryan Roth is married to one of my favorite business colleagues. He’s also a corporate pilot. Using a GoPro camera mounted on his forehead, Ryan gives us an up close look at his work day as he delivers a Pilatus PC-12 to a maintenance facility for its annual inspection.

2) Jetman Flies in Formation With Actual Jets

Swiss pilot Yves “Jetman” Rossy was featured on the cover of National Geographic in September of this year. He has designed his own carbon-fiber wing fitted with jet engines which he uses to race through the sky at speeds up to 184-189mph. In this video, he flys in formation with two jets. (HT:

3) Sense of Flying

Espen Fadnes has been dubbed “The World’s Fastest Flying Human Being”. This video takes us to the top of a high peak in Norway to watch as Espen jumps off a cliff for a 155mph controlled descent to the alpine lake far below. Using multiple camera angles and top-quality production, I was absolutely floored as I watched his flight unfold. As soon as I finished watching it, I immediately watched it again. If you are going to watch one video in this set, this one is it.

Book Review: Bruce Catton’s A Stillness at Appomattox

The third book in Bruce Catton’s non-fiction Civil War trilogy, A Stillness at Appomattox, came to my attention via a lofty recommendation. It was described as an accurate, heavily footnoted work which reads like a well-written work of fiction. Reviewer John Miller commented, “If every historian wrote like Bruce Catton, no one would read fiction.” Another reviewer commented that he was so taken by the writing that he read the book in one sitting. With reviews such as these in mind, I began Catton’s book back in April of this year and finished it this week, and although I certainly didn’t read it all in one sitting, I did find it a very satisfying read.

For the genre of wartime histories, Catton’s work was ahead of its time. He puts you right in the thick of the action by relying on first-hand accounts from the soldiers who fought the war. Amidst the grand drama of the conflict, Catton shows you what it was like to be an infantry man marching for miles along alternately dry and dust choked roads or bogged down highways of mud. Perhaps for a moment you have time to make your bivouac and rest only to be summoned into battle, leaving your half-cooked breakfast on the fire. It’s as if Catton was there although he was writing nearly one-hundred years after the war.

Given the quality of Catton’s writing, you may wonder why it took me so long to read his book. Life circumstances aside, the book wasn’t a “page-turner” for me because it was a little too drawn out at times. However, despite the slow going, reading the book was a satisfying and rewarding glimpse into our history, the kind of thing that’s worth reading all the way through.

The book’s lasting image in my mind occurs on its last page. General Ulysses S. Grant’s army has surrounded General Robert E. Lee’s army outside the small Virginia hamlet of Appomattox Court House (this is the name of the town, not just a building). The armies have faced off against each other with the Rebels quickly realizing they must declare a truce or be annihilated. A great stillness takes over the land as the two great armies solemnly face one another. General Grant makes his way into town to meet with General Lee at the McClean House. Catton concludes his book by writing that “as [Grant and his generals] neared the end of their ride, a Yankee band in a field near the town struck up ‘Auld Lang Syne’” (377). Considering the great drama that has played out over the proceeding pages, that detail gave me a sublime sense of the moment. I could hear the sounds, see the men, and feel the emotion of a profound moment in our nation’s history. It’s details like these that Catton includes throughout his book, and they make his account of history come alive.

Rediscovering Twitter

My use of Twitter has vacillated between moderate to non-existent during the three and a half years I’ve used the service. During my first year or so of tweeting, I was amazed by how it constantly facilitated real world connections. Then as I reached a relational saturation point, it became more noise in my digital world. However, despite its ability to distract, Twitter keeps drawing me back with its unique mix of entertainment, education and community. I’ve found the key to using it has been mastering Twitter lists and using my favorite Twitter app, Tweetdeck.

Filter Out the Noise with Lists
Once you start following a large number of people who tweet regularly, your Twitter stream serves more as a overwhelming river of distraction. All the tweets with links, photos and quips will either serve to prevent you from getting any work done, or you’ll feel hopelessly lost amidst all the conversation.

At this point, you need to learn how to use Twitter’s list feature to start filtering out valuable topics and conversations. Twitter Lists let you create subsets of people to follow. You can add people you follow or even someone you’re not following. As an example, here are the lists I currently maintain with my account:

From reading my list titles and descriptions you can probably get the gist of what they’re about. The only thing I’ll add is that the little padlock next to a list means that it’s private, only I can see it. The others are publicly available for other people to follow. You can follow lists on Twitter in a fashion similar to following an individual user on Twitter.

If you’re interested in using lists with your Twitter account, the best place to start is the Twitter Help Center article How To Use Twitter Lists.

Tweetdeck – Tweet Like a Power User
While you’re getting a handle on Twitter lists, you should also get a handle on Tweetdeck. My favorite feature is how it lets you display multiple columns of tweets. These columns can be made up of your main stream, replies, mentions and DMs; however, my favorite use for columns are to display the Twitter lists I mentioned above. The following screenshot shows my Tweetdeck (click the image to see it full-size):

I use Tweetdeck to display my various Twitter lists.

At first blush, I’m sure it looks distracting and overwhelming. However, once you get used to how the information is organized, you can quickly and efficiently scan the interface to find the information you’re looking for.

As you can see in the screenshot, I have my columns setup for All Friends, Mentions and three lists:

  • My Conversationalists list is what makes Twitter fun. These are folks whom I either know personally, have met via Twitter or both. Throughout the day I’ll check that list to see what my friends are talking about. These are the folks that I joke with, share links with and converse with on a regular basis.
  • The WordPress list is comprised of people who work with WordPress, the software I use to develop websites. This list keeps me up-to-date on the latest industry news and helps to supplement my professional development.
  • Finally, my Clients list keeps me apprised of what the people I work for are talking about on the web.
Reaping the Benefits
With the help of Twitter Lists and Tweetdeck, Twitter has become vastly more useful and beneficial to me lately. Here are a handful of benefits I’ve gained from Twitter in the past two weeks:
  • – A Social Network for Neighborhoods – Via a tweet from my friend Scott Adcox (@sadcox), I learned about Nextdoor. It’s an easy-to-use social network optimized for use by neighborhoods. To join a Nextdoor network, you must verify that you actually live in the neighborhood whose network you’re trying to join. I learned about this service at the same time I was trying to solve some communication problems for the HOA in my neighborhood.
  • jAVERDE Coffee is Open for Business – Ever since their first location closed this past March, I’ve been anxiously awaiting the grand re-opening of jAVERDE Coffee in their new West Town Mall Location. By following the owner’s tweets on Twitter, I learned of their “soft-opening”, and I was able to drop by for coffee on their first day open.
  • Email Subscriptions Now Available in WordPress Jetpack – I use the WordPress Jetpack plugin on many of the websites I develop for my clients. Yesterday, a tweet by @lloydbudd alerted me to the fact that the plugin’s new email subscriptions feature would solve a problem one of my clients was having.
  • Reconnecting with Old Friends – If you haven’t used Twitter to tweet with people you actually know, you may smirk at my suggestion. But, when you tweet with people you know in the real-world, it actually forms meaningful connections. Now that I’m up on many of my friend’s online conversations, the next time we see each other we’ll already have a small sense of what we’ve been up to. Our shared tweets help to bridge the gap that happens after you haven’t seen one another for a while.
In sharing how I use Twitter and how I benefit from it, I hope it helps you see one great way to use the service. It doesn’t have to be about self-promotion, inane chatter, celebrity gossip, mindless distraction or any other use that comes to mind. Rather, with the right technique and tools, Twitter can be a very valuable part of your online presence.

Links of Interest – Home Technology

As we prepare for adding an addition to our home, new home technologies have caught my eye. In this Links of Interest, I highlight two home technologies which promise to help you save money and a social network designed specifically for your neighborhood.

Nest | The Learning Thermostat – One might wonder how a thermostat can be updated to the 21st century. Check out the Nest thermostat to find your answer. A team of former Apple engineers have created a consumer friendly “smart” thermostat. It learns your patterns of life, adjusting the temperature accordingly, all the while saving you money.

SWITCH Light Bulbs – SWITCH is looking to re-write the book on energy efficient light bulbs. Rather than using fluorescent bulbs, their bulbs use LEDs which emit a natural light, last longer and don’t cause a home environmental hazard if you break them.

Nextdoor | Your Neighborhood Social Network – Nextdoor is a neighborhood social network which may actually help facilitate what has become a rare occurrence in our modern world: real-world interaction with your neighbors. Just yesterday, I signed up to create a Nextdoor site for my neighborhood. I look forward to reporting my findings here on this blog. Until then, check out Nextdoor. Watch their 90 second video to quickly get a sense of how it works.

Links of Interest: Remembering Steve Jobs

Like many people, I’ve been fascinated by Steve Jobs impact upon our world. With his passing last week, I’ve come across many good reads offering different perspectives on one of the greatest innovators of our time:

Steve Jobs and the Portal to the Invisible – Esquire
Originally published in October 2008 with updates in 2011, this article looks at various aspects of Jobs’ life and their influence upon his passions, drive and genius.

Xerox PARC, Apple, and the Truth About Innovation – The New Yorker
This piece by Malcolm Gladwell provided me with a clearer picture of Steve Jobs’ fabled visit to Xerox’s Palo-Alto Research Center (PARC). Reading it was like watching a dimly viewed myth materialize into reality.

The Wizard and the Mortal: Two Sides of Genius – NY Times
Many have likened Steve Jobs to a modern day Thomas Edison. This piece, by a man who wrote books about both men, does a good job of providing profound comparisons and contrasts between the two.

What are some great stories about Steve Jobs? – Quora
Here’s a great collection of user contributed stories about Steve Jobs.