In December 2011 I wrote a post titled A Geek Dad’s Year-End, Get-It-Done Self Review. It was basically a summary of 2011 and a lot of the tasks and activities I undertook to try to get my work and home life just a little bit more under control. I still have the white board in my office, and it still has the big red header GET THESE DONE! on it, but I can honestly say that it hasn’t been as crazy of a list this year. I’m a realist — life is a balancing act and I know there’s always going to be something that I’m ahead of the game on… and something that I’m woefully behind on. But 2011 was more than about just getting organized, staying fit, and reducing stress at work and home. One of my big goals for 2011 was to create some Best Practices for how I would operate in 2012. I read somewhere that one of the hardest things for us to do is develop good habits… and that it takes anywhere from 20 to 30 days before a good habit will take hold. Fortunately, many of the goals I set for myself in 2011 carried over into 2012. That’s not to say I was always 100% successful, but 2012 did feel like I spent a lot less time on those items I attempted to get under control in 2011.
And now it’s time to for the Year-End, Get-It-Done Self Review 2012 Edition. I’ve got some updates to share (and hopefully some recommendations you might find useful in your home or work life) as well as some new items to add to last year’s list. Let’s start with the home office again.
I can happily report that 2011′s goal of reducing my office clutter held steady for 2012. I’ve still got stacks of books, but the magazine stack has been held to maybe four or five issues at a time. I’ve continued to use my scanner to scan in those articles I wish to keep (scanning them directly into Dropbox and the Action folder I created to keep everything in one place until I figure out where to file it away), but clearing the magazine stacks has revealed a few new tasks I needed to get under control in 2012:
1. Reduce my book library — I have WAY TOO MANY books. I love books, and I have a real problem with giving them away or donating them off. I made an honest effort this year to reduce my library by 50% and I’m fairly confident I met that goal. That said, I still have a lot of hardback books that I wish to reference on my iPad and pack away in storage and get them off my shelves.
2. Create a Solid Shredding Policy — I’ve got old paperwork sitting around in my office that really needs to be shredded. My old shredder, however, can only handle about five hand-fed pages at a time. And while it can shred credit cards, it’s not so good at CD/DVDs even though it’s marketed as being able to handle those (causes jams all the time). I’ve been looking for a better shredder but I believe I’ve since found something even better.
3. Move my Electronics Stuff to the Workshop — I’ve got two desks in my office, one for writing and one for tinkering/soldering. The electronics stuff has taken over the entire second desk and something had to be done. I’ve only moved about 20% of it to the basement workshop (including the soldering station) and now need to get the rest cleared out. The only problem I have is that I don’t have a good solution for organizing all my resistors, motors, capacitors, and miscellaneous stuff.
4. Read a magazine ONCE — During my 2011 post, I mentioned my high stack of magazines and how I wanted to get rid of it. I was successful, but it took hours of thumbing through the magazines to find those articles I wanted to keep. Once they were all scanned in, I began to use a policy of Read Once/Rip Once; I’d basically read a magazine with the goal of ripping out IMMEDIATELY anything I knew I’d want to scan and keep. It was a bit slow going at first, but by around March or April I was doing well with the policy. I slipped a bit during the summer and ended up with 10-20 magazines on my desk around September, but I’ve since caught up and can say that my office is magazine free.
My solutions? Well, first off I created a few rules for myself. The easiest rule to follow was simply to donate any hardback books that I will never open again. I was honest with myself, asking Will I Ever Read This Book Again? If the answer was no, it went in the DONATE pile. It was the second rule that was a bit harder to follow — donate at least 80% or more of my paperback fiction novels. This was TOUGH! Even knowing I’ll never have enough time in the world to re-read every novel I own, boxing up my collection that started in middle school was extremely difficult. Still, I managed to fill nine small boxes (each holding about 30-40 paperbacks). Nine. Now the question is where to donate — a school or Goodwill? I have no interest in taking them to a trade-in store that will give me store credit. Selling is not really something I wish to do, even though eBay has been suggested by friends. This would require me to inventory the entire collection as well as the books’ conditions (almost all in good to great shape) and then figure out shipping costs and insurance and … bleh. Nope… not going the selling route. I’m definitely open to suggestions, and I’ve got until the end of January 2013 to make a decision.
As for the books I wish to keep AND wish I had digital copies? Well, unless the price is super-low, I have an aversion to buying a book twice. Rather than trying to find digital versions of all my reference books, I’m leaning towards the 1DollarScan service. I sent off three test books — one magazine, one hardback, and one paperback and wrote about my experiences here. They recycle your print version and you get back a digital copy. I like that they charge by the bundle of 100 pages for a basic scan and you can bulk ship your collection to them. The service states it can take 2 to 4 weeks for your digital copies, but that’s a reasonable time frame given how many books they will probably be scanning for me.
As for the shredding policy, I tried to get it under control in 2012 but failed miserably. I simply hate using my shredder. Fortunately, I live in Atlanta and have found a nice option that may or may not also be available in your area. It’s called i-Shred.net and it’s about a 15 minute drive for me. They provide a large bin and when it’s full, I bring it to them and they shred everything inside for a flat $15 — this includes DVDs, CDs, credit cards, and much more. Judging by the size of the container, I’m betting I’ll only need to make 2 or 3 trips a year. Yes, a personal shredder would probably pay for itself in a year or two, but I’m going to give this service a shot — my experiences with shredders hasn’t been too great, and I like that this company adheres to the NAID strict shredding standards. Do a Google search for shredding services in your area — I don’t believe i-Shred is nationwide, but you may have a similar company near you.
And regarding all my electronics components, I’ve put off to the end of the 2012 holiday break to tackle organizing it. I did get it all moved to the workshop but it’s all scattered between two boxes and a toolbox. Still, I can easily find what I need with a few minutes of digging. What I’m hoping to do in 2013 is find some cheap storage containers and maybe a used desktop filing system that I can use to get all my stuff spread out and within reach when I’m standing at the small worktable.
I would have awarded myself a B+ or A- if I’d managed to get the shredding under control as that was a big goal for 2012, but it looks like the shredding will have to wait for 2013. I was quite happy with the reduction in my office’s book stacks and having access to the second desk is nice now that I don’t have little globs of solder and sharp snippets of wire rolling over the tabletop. I can also see out the office window now which is a plus. And since 1DollarScan delivered quality scans of my three test items, my plan is to reduce the number of books in my office even further. I still have a couple years’ worth of Family Handyman magazine in my basement workshop that I’d really like to convert to digital, but you’ll have to wait until mid-January to hear how I’m tackling that issue.
Photos and Music
While I’m still storing my photos and videos in Dropbox (my 50GB account was upgraded to 100GB in 2012 at no increase in price), my music collection increased a little bit in size this year (and will go up again now that AC/DC‘s entire library is available on iTunes). I read some horror stories this year about folks being hacked and losing family photos and other important files, so I made a few decisions this year to protect my files and my music.
My solutions? The first was to enroll in the iTunes Match service. For $25 a year, all of my ripped music (from a CD collection going back a decade or so) is now backed up by Apple and many songs are available in a higher bitrate. Apple successfully matched about 95% of my music and those rare songs that they don’t carry in iTunes I’ve backed up in a couple of ways even though Match uploads them as well. Even better, all the songs that I’ve matched with iTunes are now available on my iPad and my iPhone — I can listen them any of them with a WiFi connection or I can choose to download them to the actual device. I’m still frustrated by my lack of good playlists, so one of my goals for 2013 will be to better organize my music so I can choose to download playlists to my devices so I don’t have to rely on an Internet connection for playing music on my portable devices.
A second policy I’ve implemented is to back up everything – EVERYTHING — to a 750GB external hard drive. I don’t like non-SSD hard drives — I have a history of spinning hard drives failing at the worst of times. But this is more of a second insurance policy since I’m still using Dropbox for most of my data storage needs. I’ve got about 50% of my files copied over and am hoping to get the remainder done by the end of 2012. That said, I have burned gigs of photos and videos to DVD for storage offsite.
I’m still a big fan of Dropbox — the ability to create shared folders for my family members allow me to share new photos and videos easily, and I’ve still got a shared folder for my accountant so we can trade large files easily and not via email. I haven’t upgraded my iCloud account yet — iCloud service offers 5GB free and as a subscriber of iTunes Match, Apple doesn’t count my iTunes library against me which is really cool. And all the magazine articles that I continue to rip out and scan go right into Dropbox and the Action folder I created that holds all the scans I need to file in various locations. I created a naming convention for scans so I can easily file them in the proper folders as well as search with my iPad and iPhone and find stuff fast.
Although I’m not done backing up all my data, the end is in sight. I’ve got backups of photos and videos, both locally and stored elsewhere. My music is safe; even if my laptop’s hard drive were to crash I can recover all of my music easily with the Match service. My goals for 2013 include coming up with a repeatable method for backing up photos and videos and music; I also want to find a way to tag all my photos fast with keywords — open to suggestions!
If you read my 2011 Year-End, Get-It-Done Review, you’ll know that my go-to tool for keeping all my research together is Evernote. Well, not much has changed other than Evernote is on pretty much every digital device I own now — phone, tablet, computers. I wrote earlier this year about the Evernote Moleskine notebook, and I’ve managed to integrate that into my work process when I have sketches that I want to store digitally in a notebook. I’m a Premium subscriber which runs $5 per month or $45 per year — you get 3 months free when you purchase a notebook, and if you’re already a Premium member, those 3 months get tacked onto the end of your subscription. I’m almost done with one notebook and am preparing to purchase another, and those bonus 3 months really are useful.
Evernote has really expanded and grown in terms of its usefulness. I know a lot of people use it for recipe collections or collaborative projects that take advantage of the notebook sharing features, but for me… Evernote is all about organization. If I’ve got a book idea in my head, I create a notebook to capture websites, photos, scans, notes, and even voice recordings (usually done on my phone while I’m in traffic). Special hands-on projects that my oldest son wishes to do — create a notebook. And yes, I even store scans of recipes in Evernote — usually photos I take at the grocery store of an interesting recipe I see on the back of a box.
As for my personal scanner, the ScanSnap 1300i, while I have it configured to scan documents straight into my Action folder in Dropbox, I can easily select Evernote as the destination for some scans, and I’m finding myself going between Dropbox and Evernote at an almost equal occurrence.
In 2011, my most difficult habit to develop was using Evernote. Now, I can’t imagine not having it. You can create an account for free and use it all you want; you’ll know when you’re ready for the Premium level account that offers additional features and storage space for your notebooks and notes.
Just as Dropbox can give me access to photos and files from my phone, tablet, or computers, I have Evernote installed on all devices, too. At any time, no matter where I am, I can access my Evernote notebooks. I don’t worry about forgetting something anymore — I’ve developed quite the habit of sending a random thought or idea straight into a special Evernote notebook so I don’t lose it. Once a week or so, I work my way through it and move notes to other notebooks. I’m amazed at how Evernote has improved my organization skills when it comes to my work.
Since 2010, our neighborhood has had a few additional break-ins, mostly cars parked on the street. And unlocked. We had a rash of stolen GPS devices during one strange week in 2012, and although I wasn’t affected, it still reminded me that I couldn’t let up on our home security. While I still use the Logitech 750i system, I’ve also integrated a Dropcam into the mix and got to test out a couple of WeMo devices from Belkin in an unusual manner. Finally, I’m a little neurotic at times about whether or not the garage door is open or closed, so I’ve also got an interesting hack to share with you that uses the Twine device I wrote about in last year’s Get-It-Done Review — the Twine Kickstarter ended successfully and I got my Twine device in late 2012 and am ready to put it to work.
The Mr. Beams Wireless LED Spotlight is still plugging along in my backyard, lighting up the back with a very bright light when the motion sensor is triggered. From inside, it’s readily apparent when it’s triggered because I can see a change in the light from the living room. At some point in the summer, some complaints had been made to the Home Owners Association about some kids sneaking around the neighborhood at night, tipping over chairs and throwing things into pools and such. One night, I saw the spotlight kick on and I ran out to the back porch to take a look — I saw the kids running away, but I easily recognized one of them (tip to troublemakers: Don’t Look Back When Running Away!). The HOA had a talk with that kid’s parents and the pranks stopped.
I had also completely forgotten about the Mr. Beams Emergency Lighting system I installed in my house — forgotten until a late-night power outage in October triggered the device and I wandered over to the kitchen to figure out where the bright light was coming from — the sensor/flashlight combo that detects an outage and then wirelessly triggers the other lights in the house. I opened the basement door and looked downstairs… and sure enough, the emergency light I had installed down there was on as well. It’s funny to me that I forgot all about this little system, but I loved having it available (including the easy-to-find portable flashlight that lights up) — my house was DARK when that power went out!
WeMo — In 2012, Belkin released its WeMo brand of home automation products that consisted of the WeMo Switch and WeMo Switch+Motion and uses your home’s WiFi signal. They’re really simple devices — you plug in the Switch to a wall outlet and then plug something that needs power into the Switch. You download the iPhone app (no Android version that I can tell) and then use it to turn on or off the device plugged into a Switch. The Motion version will turn on the Switch device when motion is detected, but you can also use the single Switch without the motion detection if you wish. Some neighbors of mine mentioned they were going out of town for the holidays and asked if I would come over and turn on their lights and check on their house. I asked if they’d let me test out the WeMo devices and they agreed. I loaned them my FakeTV and put it on one WeMo Switch… their Christmas tree went on another WeMo Switch. I didn’t need a key to get in their house, and I wouldn’t have to worry about turning the alarm system on and off. With my Phone, I setup both Switches — one labeled FakeTV and the other Christmas Tree. I simply tapped on the two buttons on the WeMo app to turn them on… and off. Worked like a charm! (And seriously — get yourself a FakeTV! It really did look like my neighbors were home from across the street.)
I did have the occasional hiccup with WeMo — not sure if it was a weak WiFi signal or maybe even the Internet was down, but during a week-long test, I only had one evening where I couldn’t turn off the FakeTV and Christmas tree lights for some reason. A quick Google search turned up some users complaining about weak WiFi signals causing issues with the WeMo devices, but 6 out of 7 days my WeMo devices worked great. The WeMo website mentions putting coffee makers, curling irons, and other devices on a WeMo so you’ll always be able to tell if a device is turned on or off. My wife is always asking me in the car whether she turned off her curling iron so one of those WeMo switches has already been permanently earmarked for that task — all I have to do is open the app, look to see if the Curling Iron light is green (on) or not (turned off). If it’s one, I can remotely turn it off and give her peace of mind. (Just so you know — each device has an On/Off button on the device so it can manually be turned on as well. If someone turns it on manually, the app will show it as turned on!)
Dropcam— You can read a review of my current Logitech 750i video surveillance system that I’m still quite happy using, but this year I added a Dropcam HD WiFi webcam to my collection of monitoring equipment. Dropcam sends its video signal via WiFi, and you can view the camera’s output on a smart phone app (Android or iPhone), a tablet, or your computer. You can turn on motion and/or sound detecting and get an email sent to you when motion or sound is picked up by the device. The company also offers a subscription service that allows you to save the recordings (on their servers) and access them anytime. I don’t use the subscription service, but I do have the app installed on my iPhone. The nice thing about the Dropcam is it’s so portable… all it needs is a power outlet and a good WiFi signal. I’ve put it out on the deck so I can watch my wife and kids play while I’m inside working… and I’ve run its cable underneath my office window to see if its night vision feature might catch the person who was continually egging my neighbor car across the street. (No luck!) The only problem I’ve encountered with Dropcam is that the night vision feature, when enabled, makes the Dropcam extremely hot to the touch. Hot, as in scalding. Some Googling has found other reports of this, but I rarely use the night vision feature and when I do, I make certain the camera is no where near anything that could catch fire. Dropcam’s tech support says this is typical of the infrared LEDs that are used for night vision, but if you’re concerned you’ll want to turn it off.
If you take the camera out of the base, it’s a fairly tiny device that can be easily hidden and used as a nanny-cam, for example, but one of my favorite uses is as a package delivery notification tool. I program the motion detection to send me an email (and an easily recognizable alert sound on my phone for emails) and then sit the Dropcam in a side window and point it at the front doorstep. I might get a false positive hit if a neighbor comes to the door (or a cat), but when I’m in my workshop or home office (or on the computer with headphones), the email alert will let me know a UPS/FedEx package has been delivered to the front door. I only enable the Twine rule when I know I’m expecting an important package and I put a note on the door that lets the delivery guy know to give me a minute and I’ll be right there. I cannot tell you how many times this has prevented a Signature-Required delivery from escaping!
Twine — You can read all the details and view a video about the Kickstarter for Twine, but in a nutshell it’s a small electronic device that can be connected to different types of sensors and have feedback sent, via WiFi, to an online monitoring page. That page can be programmed with rules that can do things like send you a text message or email, update a webpage, and other special features. It comes with a built-in temperature sensor and an orientation/angle-detection sensor that can report the ambient temperature and whether it’s been flipped or at its current angle from 0/flat. I bought mine with the breakout board — this simple little device will allow me to connect the Twine device into a more complex circuit that I might build on a breadboard or even solder up for a more permanent solution. The Twine is just now getting into the hands of Kickstarter backers and tinkerers, but there’s already a good number of hacks that people have been able to create using Twine. The one I’m most interested in right now is for the garage door. I’m one of those who is always wondering if I’ve left the garage door up or down. I guess I could plug the Dropcam into a garage power outlet and check, but I like this simple hack that uses the Twine and just a couple pieces of hardware – a screw, a nut, and a washer. I haven’t implemented it yet, but maybe next weekend. You can read more about Twine at the official website, including reading their growing forum of reader suggestions.
Alarm system, two video surveillance options, rear-house motion detecting spotlight, emergency lighting, phone-controlled power outlets, and a new Twine device that will hopefully let me know when my garage door is open. My house is by no means Fort Knox, but I feel better with all these options available to me.
Not much to report here — I did hit Level 30 on Fitocracy.com before 2013 rolls around, and I’m happy to report that Fitocracy continues to motivate me. It takes much longer to level up now, and I’m now looking at needing 14,000 points or more to hit Level 31. A typical workout awards me between 1,000 and 1,500 points, so it’s now taking two weeks or more to level up. I tell you this only because the leveling isn’t the motivating factor for me any longer. What I’m enjoying is the history feature that allows me to view my increases in strength over time. I can see how much I was benching a year ago and compare it to how much I am benching today. Comparing an earlier exercise to the most recent is very motivating to me, and maybe it will be to you as well. Fitocracy did add a feature that allows you to challenge others to one-on-one Duels I had a particularly grueling Push-Up Duel against a GeekDad reader this year (Congrats on the win, Justin!) that had me doing well over 1,000 push-ups in a couple of days. I’ve maxed out most of the Achievements (honestly, I’m not looking to squat 4x my bodyweight!) and there haven’t been that many new Quests added (and there are a lot that I have no interest in pursuing). Still, Fitocracy.com is where I find myself after every workout, entering my data and planning for the next workout.
And speaking of the next workout, a couple buddies of mine and I have come up with the GeekDad Workout that I am sharing with you below. Before you snicker, you should be aware that there’s been some serious research that has shown your body reacts best when you’re constantly tricking it. By tricking it, I mean changing up the number of sets AND reps AND the weight used. I’ve learned through years of trial and error (and reading research) that I lose weight and add muscle best with a low number of sets and reps but using high weight… or a higher number of sets and reps at a lower weight. This confusion never lets my muscles adjust to one particular workout routine. The goal is simply finding a way to trick your body so it never knows what to expect. So here’s how it works, and it requires one 6d and one 8d. Yes, it requires dice! What did you expect?
Basically you pick your exercises. I’m all into the six basic movements right now that are described in my favorite workout book, The New Rules of Lifting. So here are the five exercises that I’m picking for an 8-week period before changing up the exercises.
Kneeling Rope Curl (abdominal)
Every time you workout, roll the d6 for the number of sets… and roll the d8 for the number of reps. One workout might be Squats 3-6 (3 sets of 6 reps each), Deadlift (4-2), Bench (6-3), Cable Row (5-5), Kneeling Rope Curl (1-3) and Dumbbell Lunge (2-2). It’s all random. One workout might have high set, high reps… another workout you might get lucky with a lot of 1 set rolls. But the catch is that you need to push the weights higher or lower depending on the rolls you made. When I roll a 1-8 for the Bench, you better believe I’m packing weight on that thing! With only 1 set of 8 reps, I need to push myself. The flipside is that with a 6 set, 8 rep roll for the Deadlift, I need to go with a lower weight so I don’t tire too fast and I don’t injure myself.
My previous workout cycled between only 3 variations — 3-8, 2-10, and 5-5. This was often enough for me to actually have sore muscles the next day, and I thought I’d gotten over the soreness of returning to the gym a year or more ago! This random tricking of your body does work (the 3 sets of 8 was moderate, the 2 sets of 10 was the easiest, and the 5 sets of 5 reps was TOUGH), so I’m hoping (and expecting) to really see some good results by randomizing my workouts… every workout. Yes, I could create a spreadsheet to do this for me, but when I added in the dice rolling my buddies thought it was an excellent idea. Still, I’ll probably roll the workout at home rather than take the dice to the gym!
That’s the GeekDad Workout — you’re welcome. Now… get thyself to a gym, geek warrior!
Why didn’t I give myself an A? I’m never happy looking back at my previous year’s health goals. My eating habits are still not all that great. I reduced my fasting days from 5 a week to 3 a week, although at 5 days a week (not eating anything between 7pm and 11am the next day) I was seeing some real fat loss and improvements to my metabolism. I also took over a month off from the gym around the end of the summer — I caught a nasty bug that just lingered, and I used it as an excuse not to go to the gym. I really should have been going a few weeks after the initial sickness, but I found a number of excuses that kept me away for well over 30 days.
I wrote about my experiences with Manilla earlier this year, and I’m happy to report that the free service has definitely helped me stay on top of my bills. I like online bill paying, but what I don’t like is having to log in to every site to see what I owe, find the due date, schedule a payment, etc. Manilla lets me create reminders that can send me emails or text messages; I select the time period for how early I wish to be reminded. My favorite part is that Manilla remembers my login information so when I see that a bill is due, I can choose the Pay Bill option and it automatically logs me in to the website so I can pay the bill. When it’s done, Manilla prompts me with a Do You Want To Mark The Bill As Paid? question so that it drops off my radar.
Manilla still doesn’t have all my bills in its database, but this is no surprise. My trash pickup service, for example, is a small local company and I’m not expecting them to partner with Manilla anytime soon (but maybe I’ll be surprised). Still, Manilla lets me create custom accounts for those businesses they haven’t yet added to its database, and it’s an easy way to set reminders and links to those online services I still wish to view while logged into Manilla. Manilla also lets you manage magazine subscriptions but I’ve got a few that haven’t made it into the database yet, and I don’t have need of Manilla’s system for tracking Frequent Flyer miles and other reward programs. Manilla’s primary task (and what it does best) is remind me of my bills, give me an all-in-one-location website to view and manage my bills, and lets me pay them fast.
If you’re thinking about signing up for Manilla (it’s free!), go ahead and do it now! If you link three of your accounts to Manilla, you’ll automatically be registered for The Manilla Get It Together Challenge and have a chance to win $2,500. Existing Manilla customers are also eligible.
I’m pretty happy with what I’ve done this year when it comes to my personal finances, and there’s really not much else to report. My wife and I did manage to get our two boys’ college plans going, and I paid off my truck in October! No car payment is NIIIIIICEEE! I’m good about all the upkeep and scheduled maintenance, so hopefully I can drive this thing around for many more years to come. As for 2013, my only real solid goal this next year is to grow my business (obviously) and get some more writing contracts under my belt. Crossing my fingers, but really not so much luck as putting the nose to the grindstone…
Your Report Card?
I got a lot done in 2012, and I credit a lot of that finished work to the good habits I put in place back in 2011 and used in 2012. I typically set myself a lot of goals for an upcoming year, and I don’t believe I’ve ever finished all of them. I really do like roll-over tasks, and I’ve got a few that I’m hoping to get done in 2013. One of those is to self-publish a book (versus the traditional publishing route that I’ve been using for 6+ years), and I’m looking forward to what I need to learn in order to make that happen. I’m also planning on replacing my deck that didn’t happen this last summer. I’ve got smaller To-Dos that involve more hands-on projects with my boys and some personal projects that involve digging a bit deeper than my current electronics skill level.
I’m always on the lookout for new ways to make my work and home life better, and I really have no idea what I’ll be reporting to you next year with the 2013 Year-End, Get-It-Done Self Review. But I’m confident I’ll find some new things to share that will benefit some or all of you. Until then, 2013 is just around the bend and I’ve got a technology book that’s 50% done and isn’t going to finish writing itself…
What about you? What does your report card look like? Do you have any tips or advice — software, hardware, best practices — that might help others close down 2012 and/or start up 2013? I’d love to hear your stories, suggestions, and thoughts.
Happy New Year!