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...]
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...]
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:
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...]
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.
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):
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: