June 06, 2004

Life Hacks

Danny O'Brien's piece "Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks" is by general internet grapevine consensus supposed to be absolutely great. Unfortunately, it exists not in esse but only in potentia: in the memories of those who have seen him give the talk. Cory Doctorow has published his running notes from an O'Reilly and Associates conference session last February. Here are some edited highlights:

Boing Boing: Danny O'Brien's Life Hacks: Running notes from "Life Hacks: Tech Secrets of Overprolific Alpha Geeks" by Danny O'Brien: http://conferences.oreillynet.com/cs/et2004/view/e_sess/4802 at the O'Reilly Emerging Technology Conference: http://conferences.oreilly.com/etech/ | 11 February, 2004 | San Diego, CA

by Cory Doctorow doctorow@craphound.com


O'Brien begins: This started when I was procrastinating over all the crap I needed to do and reading my pals and seeing how prolific they were, so I wrote to all of them and asked them how they did it.... enormous shells.... Why the shells? Not because these are Unix geeks. Not because of inherent efficiency. Because the people who replied to me were people who work on the public web. Shells are still the system for bridging the private and the public: if you're living through a webserver, you need to have a shell interface to it.


All geeks have a todo.txt file. They use texteditors (Word, BBEd, Emacs, Notepad) not Outlook or whathaveyou.... What we keep in our todo is the stuff we want to [but absolutely cannot afford to] forget. Geeks say they remember details well, but they forget their spouses' birthdays and the dry-cleaning....

It's the 10-second rule: if you can't file something in 10 seconds, you won't do it. Todo.txt involves cut-and-paste, the simplest interface we can imagine. It's also the simplest way to find intercomation. EMACS, Moz and Panther have incremental search: when you type a "t" it goes to the first mention of "t", add "to" and you jump to the first instance of "to", etc. This is being added to Longhorn (Unix geeks, we've had this since Jan 1 1900, and it will go away in 2038)....

Power-users don't trust complicated apps. Every time power-geeks has had a crash, s/he moves away from it. You can't trust software unless you've written it -- and then you're just more forgiving. Text files are portable (except for CRLF issues) between mac and win and *nix. Geeks will try the Brain, etc, but they want to stay in text.


JWZ: Every program expands until it can read mail. Danny's Corollary: Every program that can read mail ends up getting used for everything else.... Everyone, including Alpha Geeks, use only one app: People complain about how their work wants them to use organizers... Joel Splosky uses Excel for everything. HR person sends website designs in PPT. Don Lancaster sees the world in Postscript....


The private blog -- a secret blog, using a tool: Brad Fitzpatrick of LiveJournal: 8 entries every 10 min are private. Closed off from everyone. Announce stuff is moving into RSS -- email announcements to something that syndicates over RSS... Geeks have boilerplates for invoices, etc....

Not much cross-app automation. Not just because it's crap, lots of people were using Win with OLE and MacOS with AppleScript. Geeks don't write giant robots that trundle through their appls. They do little unix-y widgets, not automation (reach into Excel, paste into Word, etc, drive the browser, etc).... own feeds. JWZ uses this to help him run his bar. Lots of people do this with banking services -- to keep an eye on their accounts.

Email danny@spesh.com with "life hacks" in subject to get notified when lifehacks.com goes live.


People need:

  • Decent email search
  • Easy webscraping
  • Keyboard macros
  • filepile for everyone (flickr does this)

Posted by DeLong at June 6, 2004 08:39 PM | TrackBack | | Other weblogs commenting on this post
Comments

Umm......Word is not a text editor.

Posted by: CSTAR on June 7, 2004 08:37 AM

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Obviously, the secret masters aren't revealing the *true* secrets. I do almost all that stuff, but somehow I'm still not 'overprolific'.

Posted by: Redshift on June 7, 2004 09:39 AM

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One of the most useful programs I ever wrote for myself was a small one that let me organize the equivalent of little scraps of paper. Flat ASCII file for storage -- no database dependencies. Works in a TTY window, simple set of commands for manipulating "scraps", invokes my editor-of-choice to create/modify a scrap. Rudimentary search capability. I'm certainly not proud of the design or the coding, and I keep meaning to go back and do it properly one of these days. But it's darned near 20 years old, and I still use it daily.

Some of the entries are embarrassingly old. Do I really need the name, address and phone number of the dentist who pulled my wisdom teeth 18 years ago? Contact info for companies that went out of business 10 years back? Group e-mail addresses for projects eight years old?

Posted by: Michael cain on June 7, 2004 10:17 AM

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Michael-in re embarrassingly old data...digital storage inverts much of the model of physical information storage.

When I move, I must physically pack each and every book and box of pictures and old notebooks. In the digital realm the default state is to keep everything. Removing things takes time.

This means that the cruft accumulates, but the techno-optimist in me fantasizes that we will develop better tools fast enough to keep that below the pain threashold...

Posted by: Rich Gibson on June 7, 2004 10:31 AM

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Rich Gibson: "This means that the cruft accumulates, but the techno-optimist in me fantasizes that we will develop better tools fast enough to keep that below the pain threashold..."

Last month Hitachi announced a new 3.5" disk drive with a capacity of 400 Gbytes. I used to be in the technology forecasting business, and knew that such devices would appear around now. The scary thing is that these drives -- physically smaller than many paperback books -- now have the capacity to store (a) everything I've EVER written, be it regular text, slides, or whatnot, and (b) the audio track for every lecture/presentation I've EVER given. Talk about cruft...

Posted by: Michael Cain on June 7, 2004 04:36 PM

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Wow does this match my experience. The data I use most frequently is in plain text files that are massaged by custom PERL scripts. I build my web site with UNIX make and the gcc preprocessor so that I can use macros and #include. I have template files for new pages and new entries on pages. When I change any component part, the right things recompile. I'm on a Mac now, and still grep my email instead of using the clumsy user interfaces.

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