Things + GTD

Thingsapp

Incredible to think that I’ve been using Things for 10 years now. Amazing application and I can not imagine living without it. That said, I’ve only half-heartedly been maintaining/cleaning/pruning my lists in there and it is totally out of control and probably still contains “Someday/Maybe” items from 10 years ago.

Listening to Tim Ferris interview Getting Things Done author, David Allen the other day got me thinking about being a bit more disciplined about my Things lists.

I haven’t actually made any progress. Yet. But I did find a terrific writeup by Johnny Chadda on how he uses Things for GTD. Really excellent writeup with super-useful screenshots. When I do actually make progress on using Things for GTD is will be because of his how to guide.

Best Apple Watch App for Running

Part of the problem with Strava’s ubiquity on the workout/app front is that once you start using it you don’t often look around to see what else might be available. That said, I’ve never loved the way strava worked on my Apple Watch so did a little digging and found this amazing gem of an application called WorkOutDoors.

So good. Such a better alternative to Strava.

Especially if you run. Even more so if you adhere to the MAF running method (low heart rate, high cadence).

I’ve been using WorkOutDoors consistently for a few weeks now and it is a joy. It required a bit of tweaking/settings modifications that might be a bit complex for a non-tech savvy person but once I got the settings dialed in, it does exactly what I want it to do, reliably and WAY better than Strava.

WatchStripOverview

The app allows you to configure multiple watch screens for each activity (Running, Cycling, etc.). And you can do those configurations from your phone, so no futzing around with the tiny watch interface.

I only use it for running and created a single screen that shows me:
– cadence
– heart rate
– distance
– pace
– time.

So much density of readable data on that screen!!!! Amazing.

I also set up a couple of alarms so that if my cadence falls below 170 or my heart rate exceed 145 I get some haptic feedback on my wrist. I love it. This app is great. If you run, totally worth trying it out.

Oh, and after you get done with your run you can also very easily press a button and upload the activity to strava. So you’re not cut off from the social part of strava, either.

iOS Shortcut to upload photo to WordPress & Instagram

I am trying to reduce the friction of posting photos to my site from my phone. In the process I thought it might be useful to simultaneously upload photos to my Instagram profile at the same time as my site.

Over the past year I’ve cobbled together a bunch of pieces to make this process work and it’s never been super-reliable in part because sometimes shortcuts likes to upload a .heic file instead of a jpeg.

##Heic file error

By default, the iPhone stores images in the .heic format. It seems that once you edit a photo on the iPhone it is then saved back to the library as a .jpeg. But I don’t want to have to edit a photo just to ensure that it will upload through the shortcut correctly.

What I’ve realized is that when you do anything with a photo using the share icon, iOS also converts the photo to a .jpeg.

As such, calling the shortcut through the share icon from the Photos library instead of calling the shortcut and then selecting the photo seems to get this whole thing working pretty consistently.

I can’t take credit for this shortcut working as good as it does. I pulled most of it from a website that, sadly, google can no longer find. I have no idea why. In any case, if you’d like to try it out, here is a link to my version shortcut.

You will need the WordPress iOS app installed on your phone for the shortcut to work.

Installing Velo Orange Fenders on Surly Midnight Special

I installed these fenders less than 48-hours before departing for an extended bike camping trip along the Erie Canal in upstate NY. The forecast called for rain and boy am I glad I got these installed. Did a great job keeping the rain and mud from spraying all over me, my bike and my gear. I probably over-torqued a few of these bolts out of fear of stuff falling apart mid-ride but everything stayed assembled, nothing came loose and I love these fenders on this bike. [Note, if you want to see my 30-day review of the Midnight Special, head over to my family/special needs travel site, AllTogetherOutThere.]

There were a few things not covered in the instruction manual from Velo Orange that I’ve noted below

fender install
Finished Product

Go to the hardware store and buy the bolt/nut/washer combo that you’ll need to go through the hole on your front fork as if you were mounting brakes on the center of the fork. You will not be able to install fenders without this bolt and it is not included with the fenders:

fender install
I happened to have the correct length bolt and a suitable lock nut in my box of miscellany.

Continue reading “Installing Velo Orange Fenders on Surly Midnight Special”

Replace Multiple Occurrences of a string or char in SQL Server

It is unbelievable to me that Microsoft SQL Server does not support regular expressions. In the absences of regex, replacing multiple occurrences of the same string/char becomes super tedious. You can nest multiple Replace() statements which gets ugly and impossible to read and you have to know exactly how many multiple occurrences there are. But for a current project I have to replace all line breaks in a column.
Here’s how I did it:

WHILE EXISTS(SELECT * FROM #yourtable WHERE (Comments like '%'+char(10)+'%')) --note I knew that char(10) and char(13) always occurred next to each other and in an effort to speed up this loop got rid of the char(13) filter
BEGIN

  UPDATE #yourtable
  SET Comments=REPLACE(Comments,char(10),' ')
  WHERE (Comments like '%'+char(10)+' %')
 
   UPDATE #yourtable
  SET Comments=REPLACE(Comments,char(13),' ')
  WHERE (Comments like '%'+char(13)+' %')
 
    -- again you can probably do this in one statment but I was hoping to speed it up by simplifying the where statements. 
 
END

There are no doubt a dozen ways to optimize this but it seems to have worked and didn’t take forever. Good luck out there, folks, working with a “modern” RDMS that doesn’t support regex.

Day One Morning Health Shortcut

Some folks over on the Day One Community FB group were interested in this shortcut I wrote. It computes your 7-day average for active energy and steps, asks you a few questions and creates a Day One journal entry. You will need to modify this shortcut. It’s a little tricky as it pulls health kit data which is really fiddly. You can drop me a note if you get in too deep but I can’t promise I’ll be able to make it work for you. Download the shortcut here.

I find the seven-day average data more interesting and useful. It was this podcast with Jim Collins that got me thinking about using multi-day averages to track certain metrics (e.g. as long as I’m average about 40 minutes per-day singing and playing guitar, I’m making progress, if my seven day average slips below that I am just treading water). Collins uses a 3month, 6month and 365-day average as opposed to 7, but the gist is the same. Very interesting approach to self-quantification. Go to the podcast and fast-forward to the 45-minute mark, great information.

Turn Amazon Order History into a Markdown Table for Day One

The other day I posted about using Keyboard Maestro to automate the process of getting my monthly Amazon Order history into a Day One Journal entry. That was the first step of the automation of this task.

This has been a bit more challenging to automate than I was first thinking. I’m working towards this 3 step process:

  • Step 1: open up Day One and in Safari open up the URL for Amazon Order History report screen. [Done]
  • Step 2: automatically download this month’s Amazon Order History report [Need to figure this out]
  • Step 3: create a journal entry from a downloaded Amazon Order History .csv file [Now Done]

I am still messing around with Keyboard Maestro for step 2 but was able to hack together a pretty handy Automator workflow for step 3. It’s a python + BASH script that

  • takes a .csv file, strips out the unnecessary columns,
  • totals up the amount spent for the month
  • create a Markdown table of the important columns from the .csv
  • creates a Day One Journal entry and tags it “Money”

Continue reading “Turn Amazon Order History into a Markdown Table for Day One”

Getting Amazon Purchase History into Day One

Keyboard Maestro

Inspired by listening to @ttscoff, @macsparky and @rosemaryorchard on yesterday’s Automators podcast, I made some slow progress but progress nonetheless! Trying to automate as much as possible my monthly entry in Day One of all of my purchases from that month from Amazon. Currently I’ve just got a repeating todo in Things that reminds me to launch this nifty Keyboard Maestro shortcut.

Still requires that I download the .csv file, gussy it up in Numbers and paste it into Day One. Those steps are still a big reach for my automation skills but gives me something to work on.

How not to overthink iOS shortcuts for Day One Journals

I like to keep notes about the gigs I play with my various bands. Sometimes I log very detailed entries about changes we need to make to our gear or sound settings for the next gig, other times it’s just a few quick words so I can remember who came out to see us or what riff I need to work on in a given song for the next gig.

Naturally I use Day One to record this information. Last year I started using an iOS Shortcut that I wrote that prompts me for the type of information I want to record about each gig. The shortcut presented me with a list of questions and then combined all of my responses to those questions into a nicely-formatted Day One journal entry.

day one prompts for gig journal entry

The problem is that I am not a great Shortcuts writer. I’m lazy so I didn’t add any flow control statements to try to save my responses to the prompt questions as I went along. Meaning, after answering 3 or 4 questions and typing them on my iPhone (which is needless to say tedious) I would occasionally forget about my lame programming skills and try to pause the Shortcut while I go over to facebook or somewhere and download a photo from the gig to add to the entry. Nine times out of 10 I would hit “Done” in the Shortcuts app to do this and in the process I would lose all of the responses I had already typed. Frustrating.

This morning I did just that. Again. I hit Done in Shortcuts while answering the gig prompts in order to go get a photo from facebook and lost all of the details I’d already written last night’s gig. Let me be clear this isn’t Shortcuts fault or Day One’s.

day one journal template

Then I realized I’m totally overthinking this whole need to be prompted bit by Shortcuts and instead trashed my old shortcut and just wrote up this little gem which works just fine and doesn’t have the risk of me screwing it up and losing text. Moral of the story: don’t overthink it! Maybe instead of using Shortcuts to prompt you for a long list of questions, just create a template entry in Shortcuts instead.

Securing websites with a free SSL certificate from Let’s Encrypt

In trying to harden my WordPress install that’s hosted on Linode I decided to enable https for encrypting the login page. At first I just went with the old self-signed certificate route and it was fine but boy did I have to jump through some hoops to get iOS/my iPhone to play nicely.

Then I noticed that Google’s Chrome browser was giving me a “not secure” message on my site (and on the other sites I host on Linode) and realized that Google no-likey the self-signed certificates and further research showed that Google may actually penalize your site in search results if you don’t have a CA-signed SSL cert.

I didn’t want to pay for an SSL cert just to encrypt my WordPress login and googling didn’t return much until I came across Linode’s great documentation for Securing HTTP Traffic with Certbot.

Here I learned about Let’s Encrypt and the way they handle requesting certificates. Super, super cool. And Free. And with the instructions from Linode it was so easy to do.

And now none of my hosted sites are getting that pesky Not-Secure error from Google Chrome!

Paradigm PDR subwoofer repair

TL;DR, if your paradigm PDR-10 isn’t powering on automatically, check the fuse. It can be easily accessed by removing the back panel of the subwoofer.

Sunday morning and I had the house to myself for a few hours so decided to listen to my favorite recording of Beethoven’s 5th Symphony. Firing up the 3rd and 4th movements really loud always serves to restore my faith in humanity. 

paradigm pdr 10

Anyway, a few bars into the 3rd movement and I knew something was up with my hifi. My Vandersteen’s sounded a bit thin and I noticed that my subwoofer power light wasn’t on. The paradigm pdr-10 that I have is not a great subwoofer but the vandersteens towers that I have are such that they only need a tiny bit of reinforcement in the very bottom end so it works for me. It is supposed to power on automatically once it detects a signal from the receiver but for some reason it wasn’t powering on and I couldn’t get the light on the front to come on. 

I hit pause on the symphony and brought the subwoofer over to my kitchen table where a few screws later I determined that a blown fuse was likely my problem. Unfortunately this was not an easy fuse to source. It is a 1 1/2 amp time delay fuse. My local hardware store, which has EVERYTHING didn’t have it but they did test the fuse I brought in and confirmed it was blown so I knew I was on the right track.

IMG 0384

 

Ultimately I purchased the replacement part from Amazon and finally got around to hearing the 4th movement in all of its bottom-heavy beauty. 

This is the fuse you want to order:

IMG 0385

Amazon Dash button to call an Applescript

The other day Amazon put several of their Amazon Dash buttons on sale for $1.99. I picked up a few.

The first project I tackled was to get a Dash button to let everyone in the house know that the dog has been fed. This was pretty easy. 

  • Someone feeds the dog and presses the Dash button on the dog food bin
  • a computer on my network (a MacBook Air in my stereo cabinet) running Dasher listens for the Dash button to be pressed
  • that computer uses some java code to call a pre-defined IFTTT webhooks/Maker URL
  • that triggers a text message to everyone in the family that the dog has been fed

There are step by step instructions for doing much of this in this article. It is surprisingly easy and relies upon the Dasher project code. 

As I started looking at the Dasher code I realized that it also had a hook for ExecFile and that could be used to call a script/program etc instead of just calling a URL. Super!

Using an Amazon Dash Button to Play a Spotify Playlist

Most of the dash button hacks that people have documented rely on IFTTT. While IFTTT is no doubt super useful, I needed a bit more granularity in what I wanted my buttons to do and wanted to be able to call something more robust like a python or AppleScript file when the button was pressed. As a starter project, I wrote an AppleScript that checks the current time of day and then launches a playlist (and sets the volume) for that time of day. Unfortunately I could not get Dasher to work with the AppleScript.

I tried:

  • Saving the script as a compiled application and calling it in the command section, this just errored out and didn’t give me any clues
  • Then I wrapped the AppleScript in a shell script calling it with osascript, that errored out with a (-600) “application isn’t running” error which told me that at least the script was getting launched but wouldn’t run right
  • Then I realized that the process calling the shell script was running as root and as such the AppleScript was being called from root.
  • At first I tried all sorts of setuid BS on the shell script but that didn’t work
  • Then in an aha! moment I changed the shell script from ‘osascript /Users/jimwillis/bin/scripts/spotify_launch.scpt” to:
    • sudo -u jimwillis osascript /Users/jimwillis/bin/scripts/spotify_launch.scpt
  • Voila! It worked like a champ, I just needed to make sure that the AppleScript was being called/run as me, not root!

Calling an AppleScript from Dasher

So the key here is:

Setup Dasher to call a shell script in the dasher config.json file, like this:

{
"name": “Spotify-button",
"address": "78:E1:03:C5:D8:AF",
"cmd": "/Users/jimwillis/bin/scripts/spotify.sh",
"debug": false
}

Then, make sure that the AppleScript is running as you, not root by calling osascript with sudo -u {yourUserName}, so the shell script I’m calling is just a one-liner that looks like:

sudo -u jimwillis osascript /Users/jimwillis/bin/scripts/spotify_launch.scpt

Have fun!!  Huge thanks to John Maddox for writing Dasher and Jeff MacDonald for the great HowTo

Send txt and SMS messages from your Mac’s iMessage app

[Note/Update: now that Apple has finally linked all the iMessage backend in iCloud you don’t need to jump through these hoops anymore. Just do this instead.]

Finally figured out how to make iMessage on my MacBook cooperate with a group text thread that includes non-iphone or Android users. This assumes that you have an iCloud account and you have an iPhone and want to send text messages to people who are not apple people. This solution allows you to send iMessages from your mac desktop to individual Android users or hybrid groups that include non-Apple users.

 

Settings->Messages enable Text Message Forwarding.
  1. Make sure you are logged into the same iCloud account on your Mac (go to System Preferences->iCloud) and on your iPhone (Settings, click your username at the top of the Settings list and go to iCloud). You likely are logged in as the same user but just sanity check this.
  2. on your iPhone go to Settings->Messages and select “Text Message Forwarding”
  3. Select your mac desktop from the list. Once you do, your iMessage application on your Mac desktop will display a string of numbers that you need to type into your iPhone to link up your iPhone and your iMessage app on your desktop.

Once I completed these steps I was able to send txt and iMessage messages from my desktop.

locking down iPad for kids/special needs

[Note: combine these instructions below for how to lock down AirPlay on an iPad with an app called Volume Sanity and peace will descend upon your house!]

We use Airplay for music throughout the many rooms and audio systems in our house. Our youngest son likes to watch YouTube videos of buses and trucks all day long. In doing so he fiddles around with the settings a lot on his iPad and this inevitably leads to him broadcasting the trucks/busses audio to one of our home’s HiFi’s. This sucks. Especially early in the morning when you awake to the sound of heavy equipment roaring through a not insubstantial sub-woofer in the living room.

Besides the transmission of Airplay audio from his iPad to our home audio, no matter what I do to lock down his iPad under “Restrictions” he’s always finding ways to add events to our Family Calendar and albums full of no pictures to our family shared photo albums.

I wanted to lock down his iPad and disable AirPlay entirely. This turned out to be WAAYYYY more difficult that I thought. After a bit of a rabbit hole I ended up discovering an enterprise deployment tool called Apple Configurator 2. This tool is typically used by large businesses to roll out iPhone or iPads to their employees.

But it also does a really good job at locking down the iPad for our son. Note that following these steps requires wiping out the iPad entirely and starting from scratch so that it can be prepared as a “Supervised” drive. The process is tedious though. If you’ve used Active Directory or any other enterprise profile-type tool you can figure out. Here are some notes though.

Apple Configurator 2 to lock down iPad for child

  • download the app from the App Store onto your mac
  • launch the app and go to “Preferences”
    • create a new organization (i just use our family last name)
    • IMPORTANT: Skip enrolling in the Device Enrollment Program
  • ERASE THE iPAD:  Plug in the iPad and click “Prepare”
    • select “Manual Configuration”
    • check Supervise Devices (you can only apply restrictive Profiles to supervised devices)
    • I checked “Allow devices to pair with other computers.” your needs may vary.
    • on the next screen select “Do Not Enroll in MDM”
    • The rest of the screens are pretty self explanatory
  • Once the device is prepared and appears as a “Supervised” device
    • click the App button to install the apps you want on the iPad
    • you will need to jump through some hoops to install apps once you apply the restrictive profile so pay attention and install all the apps you want the first time to save yourself some grief.
  • Go to File, New Profile
    • Fill out the General section
    • Fill out the Restrictions section (i mostly unchecked EVERYTHING on this tab
    • I also went to the AirPlay section and added a fake MAC address to the whitelist section, ostensibly only allowing my son’s iPad to connect to a device that doesn’t exist. I used for the MAC 00:00:00:00:00:00
    • save the profile with a name like “restricted profile”
  • click the green “add +” button in the toolbar and add that profile to the iPad.
  • You should be all set at this point with an iPad that has working apps and has whatever restrictions you set in the profile

 

two notes

  1. if you want to install apps after you do this but have disabled the installation of apps in the restricted profile, simply create a new profile that has no restrictions, save it as “unrestricted profile.” Plug in the iPad, delete the restricted profile from it and apply the unrestricted one. Install the apps and then put the restricted profile back on the devices.
  2. I tweaked the settings in the profile multiple times and just get removing and re-applying it until i got it right.

 

The Great $100 Home Audio Project*

 

(*Actually only  $70 if you already have an amp/receiver to plug into).

We’ve been in our house for almost 10 years and I still haven’t found a good way to take advantage conveniently of the speakers that were built into our Master Bedroom ceiling. The speakers feed into a selector box in the basement which is powered by an audio system in our living room.

The problem with this setup is if I lay in bed an put on some music via the central receiver, the music could also end up playing in the kitchen or living room or outside. At which point I need to  head into the basement to fix the speaker selection.

Also, the speakers have an in-wall volume control. And let’s face it, if you have speakers in your bedroom you mostly want a way to play music while laying in bed and not have to get up to dial in the volume from the wall.

So I’ve been thinking of ways to untie the bedroom speakers from the whole house audio system’s selector box in the basement. And I wanted to do so in a way that would not require that I dump a whole lot of money into new equipment.

Other requirements were:

  • Control music selection and volume from iPhone
  • Have locally stored music available via connection to networked drive
  • Play Spotify playlists
  • Play from my iPhone via Airplay/Spotify connect (so that if I’m listening to something on my phone when I get back from a bike ride I can just send that audio stream to the bedroom speakers when I step into the shower).

Raspberry Pi 3

For Christmas I bought one of my sons a Raspberry Pi and also picked up one for myself. It seemed like it could play a pretty key role in my bedroom audio solution. This kit seemed like the best deal:

Amazon: $52 Raspberry Pi 3 starter kit

I installed Volumio on the RPi and am really impressed by the feature set (Spotify, airplay, networked drives, etc.). However the on-board audio quality of the Raspberry Pi is really crappy.

After a bit of experimenting I noted that the Pi sounded great when I hooked up my $200 USB DAC to the Pi but that was only a temporary solution as I need that DAC for my living room stereo. Thanks to China and eBay, I picked up this DAC that was built for Raspberry Pi for $18. It took about 10 days to arrive from China and it sounds great (I would be hard pressed to hear the difference between it and my more expensive USB DAC).

EBAY:  $18 DAC+ HIFI DAC Audio Sound Card Module I2S interface for Raspberry pi 3 2 B B+

The DAC component looks complicated but it plugs right into the Raspberry Pi and has two RCA jacks for plugging into an amp.

It took a few minutes of tinkering to get the DAC working with Volumio but once I got that sorted I just needed an amplifier.

Again, I didn’t want to break the bank and as I was only powering two small in-ceiling speakers I didn’t need a whole lot of power, just something with enough juice to sound nice. I found this highly-recommended little guy on Amazon:

Amazon:  $26 Lepy Amp

This little amp sounds GREAT! Now I can lay in bed at night and queue up some music, adjust the volume, set a sleep timer — all without worrying that my Mozart or Miles is blaring through the backyard speakers.

For under $100 I am very pleased with this solution:

  • It’s compact – fits in a small shoebox.
  • extensible – new features are added to Volumio regularly
  • Cheap
  • Fun to build

Watch the Tour, really. Here’s How.

image

On Saturday the Tour de France will kick off and I’d like to try to suggest/convince you that it’s worth watching. I’ve been watching it on and off for several years now and watching it more and more closely the past two or three years. There are a huge number of reasons why it’s a difficult event to watch and understand but I’m going to explain here how if you’ve got just a couple of hours to kill you can learn about a truly fascinating event that requires a physical and mental toughness from its competitors that rivals any other sporting event past or present.

First though, let me say that i’m not a huge fan of road racing, especially team-supported road racing (like the Tour de France) where the competitors have a  crew that follows them along with spare parts/bikes, etc.  To me, self-supported overland racing like the Tour Divide is a much better measure of a cyclist’s moxie. But anyway, that doesn’t diminish the fact that the TdF is still awesome to watch. 

What makes the Tour de France (and other pro road cycling races) so difficult to comprehend is that it is an individual sport played by teams. You think you understand this. 

For years I thought I understood what that statement meant. Then I watched Slaying the Badger. If you do one thing before watching any of the Tour de France stages, watch this movie. It’s about Greg LeMond’s nasty rivalry with his teammate, Bernard Hinault (aka the Badger).

LeMond is the only American to have won the Tour. His victory predates (just barely) the point at which cycling became a sport of drug-enhanced bullshit artists like Lance Armstrong. The movie is awesome, it’s on Netflix and in under two hours you will come to understand the meaning of the phrase “an individual sport played by teams” in all of its complexity. I implore you to watch this movie. Even if you’re not that into cycling. I bet you will enjoy it. You can’t make up a character as complex and slippery as Bernard Hinault. He’s fascinating to watch.

Which brings us to the whole performance enhancing drug thing which really destroyed road cycling’s image.

Where Slaying the Badger is a vivid picture of total dysfunction at the team level, a new movie that follows around a bunch of younger, (purportedly) drug-free cyclists called Clean Spirit is really a great look at how members of a cycling team can support one another while still pursuing individual victory.

The movie follows around the Argos-Shimano team and its star, Marcel Kittle in last year’s Tour de France. If you watched last year’s tour at all you may recall the moment when British cyclist Mark Cavendish gave Argos-Shimano rider Tom Veelers a shoulder bump and knocked him off his bike. The filmmakers do a really excellent job of capturing how the team responds to Cavendish. Marcel Kittle makes for a great hero in this story that tries to recast cyclists as athletes instead of drug addicts.

Both of these movies are on Netflix. Watch them. Even if you’re not into cycling they give you an awesome background into team and individual dynamics and you also come away with an understanding of just how grueling of an event – physically and mentally – the Tour is for these athletes. 

It’s not just the cycling though. The scenery is awesome and NBC does a good job with zooming out to place you at each stage. Kelly and I really enjoyed the footage last year from Arles and Aix where we road bicycles several years ago.

We watch it with our kids and our oldest always has questions that lead to us looking up some town or city or region on Wikipedia. 

And then of course, there’s the food.  Each stage presents a new opportunity to try a regional wine/cheese/something delicious so that if you can’t ride like the cyclists in the tour, at least you can eat like them.

Oh. Also. To watch the tour, NBC has a mobile that has been getting better and better every year. In past years we’ve just used Airplay to send the live stream (or archived stage coverage) to our Apple TV. Hoping we will be able to do the same this year.