Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Redesigning: Cubicles

Here's an article from FastCompany, where they asked some folks from the big design firms like Herman Miller and Steelcase to imagine cubicle design to enhance both comfort and collaboration. As much as I wish cubicles would go away, in favor of more open and flexible space, they probably won't, so this design is at least a bit of a compromise towards improving some of the limitations of the design of more traditional cubicles. I especially like the hexagon shape, and I suspect it would also increase person-per-square-foot efficiency. The automatically activating noise-cancellation speakers would be great, too!

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For a Company That Sells Productivity, A Space That Fosters It (37Signals)

Inside 37signals' new office in Chicago.

When you're a company that focuses on productivity tools, you set a high bar for your own practices. For the last seven years,37signals, a company that produces products like the project management software Campfire and Basecamp, as well as the popular blog Signal vs. Noise, prided themselves on their flexible working habits, even though those habits were born out of necessity. (read full article here: )

Plus a video: 

Jason Fried of 37Signals ( interestingly, they make collaborative web-based products like Basecamp and Campfire), speaking about how workspaces need to be sure to provide quiet areas to help employees concentrate, as well as providing areas to converse and socialize. I thought it was interesting that they are trying to have the area be fairly quiet, but it's 10,000 square feet! There's also an article describing the materials and design of the new space; personally, I think the felt looks great, and I bet it is fantastic at dampening sound.

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Thursday, June 9, 2011

Notes in the Cloud

Let's say that you have a Mac computer (laptop or desktop), an iPhone, an iPad, and maybe more devices. How do you keep all of your notes to yourself organized? Here are three ways to do it; they take a little set-up, but are very easy to use and keep "in sync" after.  And, with one exception, all are free! (Note that all of these methods require Internet connectivity in order to sync, but they do keep a "local" copy on each device as last synced.)

Formal Notes
Use Evernote. 

Evernote has clients for the Mac OS and Windows, as well as applications for most mobile devices (iPhone, iPad, Android, BlackBerry, etc.). In addition, there is a full-featured browser-based client you can use without any download. Just create an account on their website, install the applications on any and all of your devices, and log in. Any note you create in one location is auto-magically synced to all the other locations. The Search feature in Evernote is augmented by a powerful character-reader, which even lets you find text within an image. This really works.

Notes can consist of text, web pages (especially easy using the Evernote Web Clipper for browsers), photos snapped with your phone's camera, PDFs, emails, audio notes, and more. Any of these note types can be created on your iPhone or your Mac. If you upgrade to the Premium account, you can upload any file type. Premium also expands your storage allocation, and allows notebook sharing, all for $45/ year. But there's still plenty you can do with the free version, so try it out!

Evernote Article List on Mac

Evernote Article List on iPhone

Evernote Article List on iPad

Informal Notes
What about all those little tiny snippets of things you run across? Sticky-note type things, maybe something you got on your phone, but you'd like to see it on the big screen of your computer, or conversely, you'd like to take it with you? Temporary-type things, like an address you're about to put into your GPS, or a list of things to edit on your TiVo to-do list. Evernote can do all of these things of course, but what if you don't want to "clutter up" your Evernote notebooks?  I've tried a few integrated systems for this, as well as Evernote, but I've recently discovered this method. Note that this solution only works on Macs and iPhones/ iPads; I'm sure you can find something similar on other platforms. So if you'd like to set this up the way I do it, follow these steps:

1. Dropbox
You should be using Dropbox anyway, say, to sync your 1Password file. But here's another way to use it for little snippets of notes. Set up your Dropbox account, if you haven't already. In your Dropbox folder on your Mac, create a new folder called "Notes".

2. Notational Velocity
Download a copy of Notational Velocity (free) and follow the directions to install it (easy, the usual way). After you install it, launch it, and go to the Preferences, and select the Notes panel, then the Storage button. For Store and read notes on disk as:, select the option Plain Text Files

Back in Finder, open two windows side by side. Navigate one window to " ~/Library/Application Support/" and find the "Notational Data" folder. In the other window, navigate to your your Dropbox folder. Drag the "Notational Data" folder into your Dropbox folder. 


3. PlainText for iPhone & iPad
Install PlainText on your iPhone and/ or iPad through iTunes, either through your Mac or directly on your iPhone. After it's installed, launch it, and go to to the Settings menu (little gear icon), and pick Dropbox. Tap the text field to the right of 'Linked Folder' then enter the folder path "/Notational Data". Then enter your Dropbox account name and password. Repeat this for your other iPhones and iPads. :)


Now, any note you make or change on one of your device, will automatically appear on all your devices! I find this so useful I keep my Notational Velocity (NV) notebook open all the time, set to launch at startup.

Notational Velocity Screenshot


PlainText Screenshot

Web Pages
Notice in the above reference to little scraps of information, I didn't mention web links. A common occurrence for me is to get a URL via email or a text message on my phone, but I'd rather read it on "the big screen" of my Mac. I use Instapaper for this, and it works great. Here's how to set this up:

1. Sign up for a free Instapaper account. Drag the "Read Later" bookmarklet to your Browser's Bookmarks Bar. 

Whenever you see a web page that you'd like to store in Instapaper, click on the "Read Later" bookmark button in your browser and it will be saved in Instapaper:

2. Install Instapaper for your iPhone and/ or iPad. This costs $4.99, but is a Universal app (which means it runs on, and looks good on, both the iPhone and your iPad--see below). Remember, you only need to buy one copy to use on both your iPhone and iPad (as long as both are on the same iTunes account). After you install the application on your iPhone, launch it and log into your Instapaper account. You will instantly see the web pages you have saved in Instapaper from your Mac, and they've even been optimized for your smaller screen. You can also add web pages from your iPhone and iPad by installing the iPhone Mobile Safari bookmarklet, although if you are syncing your bookmarks from Safari via iTunes, the bookmarklet should already be there. 

One of the best features of Instapaper is its integration with other applications, including a variety of Twitter clients and GoodReader. Instapaper has some additional features, like a built-in dictionary and choices of fonts, and even a "Dark Mode" to make reading easier in the dark. It also features the ability to send your webpages to read on your Kindle or other e-reader.

Instapaper Article List on Mac Screen

Instapaper Article List on iPhone Screen

Instapaper Article List on iPad Screen


Text Version of Article on Mac Screen

Article on iPhone Screen

Article on iPad Screen

Finally, remember that the best feature of all of these note-keepers is that, although they require Internet (WiFi or 3G) access to download your notes and web pages, everything is then stored locally so even if you are off-line, you still have your notes. And, any changes and updates you make will automatically be synced next time that device can get to the Internet, so feel free to work away on whatever device you have with you!

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