Saturday, May 24, 2008

Scrial Consistency

scrial consistency logoAbout a decade ago, I worked with a colleague (named Terry) who was obsessed with finding the right way to organize his day. He and I had long digressive conversations about how best to manage tasks, calendars, email, etc. During that time, I studied things like the Covey method heavily. One of the enduring things I took from the Covey stuff was the distinction between the urgent and important. Lots of things are both, but there are some things in life that are urgent but not important and others that are important but not urgent. Terry and I discussed this category a lot, because busy people tend to ignore that quadrant the most.

Fast forward to today. I don't use the Covey system any more because it does not match my work habits well. I've struggled for a while putting together an effective way to handle my increasingly complex ToDo lists. I keep finding some applications that handle parts of what I need well, but fall down on other parts. For example, I've been using TaskPaper for a while, which I like because it's very simple, text based, and lightweight. But the thing that TaskPaper doesn't do well is handle the semi-recurring stuff, like haircut or dentist appointments: recurring appointments that fall into the "I need to do this 6 weeks after the last time I completed it" category. For that, I've been using a special purpose tool called Sciral Consistency (commercial, with a "try before you buy" option). It's not really a ToDo list manager so much as way to handle that specialized relationship between semi-recurring tasks and calendars. The Sciral Consistency site says that it handles the following types of conditions:

  • They don't have deadlines or rigid time intervals associated with them.

  • In order to gain and retain their benefits, you must perform them on a regular basis over a long period of time.

  • The ideal amount of time that elapses between completions of a particular task are unique to that task. To gain the maximum benefit you shouldn't do them too frequently or infrequently.

  • They can be carried out by you with minimal or no coordination with other people.

  • They are often “routine” tasks for which you have not firmly established a habit of carrying them out as second nature.

  • They are (in the words of Stephen Covey) “important, but not urgent.”

Sciral Consistency handles these things using a unique calendar view, which looks like this (also from their site):

sciral consistency screen shot

You create tasks with threshold values: after I finish this task, I need to do it again between 10 and 14 days from the finish date. You can have a bunch of these calendars. Like the last bullet point says, it is great for handling recurring "important but not urgent" tasks. I've been using Sciral Consistency for a while, and it serves me well.

I'm still on the lookout for a comprehensive solution. Recently, I've become mostly addicted to OmniFocus, a great GTD inspired task manager, which somewhat handles this special case. I haven't succumbed to the GTD religion, but like the Covey stuff before, I've assimilatedwhat I consider the good parts and made them part of my routine. I'll say more about OmniFocus once it has sunk into my work habit.

Monday, May 5, 2008

Unsafe Sleep

One thing I really liked about my PowerBook Pismo was its instant and super reliable sleep/wake functionality. In contrast the new MacBooks are slow as molasses and sometimes fail to wake up at all, at least for me.

One feature that is responsible for the MacBook to take a long time to sleep is SafeSleep. Basically, whenever you put your MacBook to sleep it saves the entire contents of its memory onto the hard drive, usually into /var/vm/sleepimage. It does so to ensure that no data gets lost even if the battery runs out while it is asleep. This hardly ever happens to me, and even if it did I wouldn't mind because I generally don't keep unsaved documents open. So, for me SafeSleep is a waste of time and energy, because it does cost battery to write all that memory to the hard drive, as well as disk space for the sleep image file.

If you haven't seen the wake up progress bar you might also be interested in turning off SafeSleep. But how? Apple decided not to repeat the Vista sleep fiasco and chose what would be the most useful functionality for 95% percent of their users; and not to confuse anyone, they decided against offering an obvious way to change it. That said, OS X is extremely modular and of course there's command line access to configure how you want your MacBook to sleep. Without further ado:

[499 ~] pmset -g
Active Profiles:
Battery Power -1
AC Power -1*
Currently in use:
sleep 60
sms 1
acwake 0
displaysleep 30
autorestart 0
hibernatefile /var/vm/sleepimage
hibernatemode 3
womp 1
halfdim 1
disksleep 10
lidwake 1
ttyskeepawake 1

You can see where it keeps the sleepimage and you can see that hibernate mode is set to 3, the default for new MacBooks. What I want is for my MacBook to never write its memory to disk.

[501 ~] sudo pmset hibernatemode 0
[502 ~] rm /var/vm/sleepimage

Now I have 2 gigs of disk space back, and I have near instant sleep; at the price of losing some work under circumstances which are unlikely for me.

More details and more fine-tuning possibilities are described here.