Dave Bullock / eecue

photographer, director of engineering: crowdrise, photojournalist, hacker, nerd, geek, human

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Blog

GTD with OmniFocus

After three years of life changing organizational goodness, I migrated my plain-text-based GTD system to OmniFocus.

My text list system has not been the most efficient implementation. I decided it was time for a standalone application. After reading this GTD application comparison and watching a screencast about OmniFocus I decided to download the trial and give it a shot.

OmniFocus is a slick application. Thanks to its Cocoa goodness, it integrates perfectly with OS X. It has an easy-to-use interface, but its plethora of features takes some getting used to.

The hardest part was manually importing my several hundred tasks and projects. I had to copy and paste these one by one. It would be a nice feature if OmniFocus could parse plain text files and import each line as a task.

Once my tasks were imported I created projects and folders as you can see in the screenshot below. I then created contexts, some of which you can see in the right hand column of the screenshot.

When I was using my text lists I didn't fully utilize contexts properly, but OmniFocus makes them easy to implement. You can switch to Context mode, select a context like "Office" and see all the tasks that can be done in your office.

OmniFocus has a nice feature called Perspectives, where you can save a predetermined view of your tasks. I have one which I use to implement Zen Habits MITs (Most Important Tasks). Every night before I go to bed I review my Next Actions perspective and flag the tasks I want to complete the next day. The MITs perspective shows my flagged items, which I then (in theory) do.

I also have the iPhone app installed. It's not cheap: $20, but it works fairly well apart from the syncing speed. It takes a very long time (5-10 minutes) to sync changes over the EDGE network, which basically make it close to useless for quick entry. If I know I'm going to be using is I can let it sync for a few minutes.

OmniFocus is supposed to sync to a WebDAV server, but it fails on my FreeBSD server running Apache 2.2.3. I am forced to sync using Apple's buggy Mobile Me. I hope they fix the WebDAV sync issues before my Mobile Me free trial runs out!

OmniFocus: The Good

  • Feature rich GTD management.
  • Contexts rock for doing what you can, where you can.
  • Perspectives make reviewing, viewing and doing fun and easy.
  • Simple, system-wide quick-entry is only a keystroke away.
  • Due-dates and start-dates make planning and remember tasks easier.
  • Automated email parsing pulls tasks from Jott and other email based note taking systems.
  • SneakyPeak version with syncing is still in beta and thus is free.

OmniFocus: The Bad

  • WebDAV export and syncing is broken.
  • Syncing to iPhone app over EDGE takes over 5 minutes, making the app nearly worthless for quick entry.
  • iPhone app is expensive: $20
  • Desktop app is even more expensive: $80 ($120 for family pack)

Despite the imperfections and relatively high price, I really like OmniFocus. As soon as they fix the syncing (or they stop extending the free trial) I will be purchasing a license.

GTD with OmniFocus

GTD with OmniFocus
Blog

San Gorgonio: Backpacking Fun Up Fish Creek

This weekend my wonderful, beautiful backpacking wife Penelope and I hiked to the peak of the tallest mountain in Southern California: San Gorgonio.

We have been training every weekend for this backpacking trip by taking nice long day hikes. The difference between our day hikes and the San Gorgonio summit was its 24 mile length compared to the 6 mile trips and of course the fact that we were carrying heavy packs.

We started out early Friday morning and drove up the 38 and then seven miles on a dirt road. This road took us to the Fish Creek trailhead where we parked and started our ascent.

The trail was beautiful and green with a nice gentle climb of about 1,800 feet in six miles. We didn't see another person the whole day we were hiking. Fish Creek trail is definitely less crowded than the other routes to the top.

Once we got to Mine Shaft Saddle we headed down to our campsite at Mine Shaft Flat about a mile and 600 vertical feet downhill. We set up camp and cooked up some dinner, which was quite good despite consisting of various types of ramen noodles and a package of spicy salmon.

The next morning we headed about a half-mile down the trail towards Big Tree camp to fill our water bottles. The water was flowing nicely and was icy cold and fresh. We filled up our containers and then used an MSR MIOX to purify the water.

What I failed to notice was that the test strips which detect the level of chlorine ions made by the MIOX were expired by two years. This caused us to keep adding the MIOX solution and our water tasted like it was fresh from a pool. It ended up being ok to drink, but not the most pleasant experience. Better than being dehydrated or getting Giardia!

The next morning we ate breakfast, broke down camp and headed up to the trailhead where Fish Creek trail intersects with the trail to the summit: Sky High View trail. Once at the intersection we unloaded our packs and stashed our gear, bringing only food, water, first aid and emergency supplies, my ham radio and the SPOT messenger.

The SPOT was nice to have, it allowed us to send our family our position throughout our trip. If there was an emergency we could have also used it to ask for help of request a rescue.

Once we had unloaded our packs, the four and a half mile 3,500' elevation gain hike was actually pretty easy. We made it up in roughly two hours despite Penelope feeling a little tired at the end, probably from low blood sugar.

At the peak we rested, took some photos and ate lunch. We chatted with some boy scouts and their troop leader. I then made contact with someone in Huntington Beach via the Catalina amateur radio repeater.

We also met a nice Israeli astrophysicist named Amri Wandel. Amri happened to be in the LA area teaching a class at UCLA called "Astrophysics and life in the Universe." He hiked down with us and we had a very interesting conversation about Black Holes, Quasars, Pulsars, Unified Field Theory and much more. He has some interesting papers about to come out that I will likely cover for Wired.com.

On the way down we made good time, only stopping once to grab our stashed gear. We made it down the mountain in about four and a half hours from the peak to the trail head. In all we hiked 17 miles on Saturday and about 24 miles total.

We had a great time and we are looking forward to backpacking again soon. We plan on bagging Mount Whitney around this time next year and Half Dome some time before that.

San Jacinto as seen from San Gorgonio Pe

San Jacinto stands tall in the distance as seen from San Gorgonio peak at 11,500 feet last Saturday.

Blog

Gaviota Peak

Last weekend my lovely wife Penelope and I hiked to the top of Gaviota Peak. We have been training for a backpacking trip this coming weekend to the top of Southern California's tallest mountain: San Gorgonio.

Gaviota Peak is located about 20 minutes north of Santa Barbara a few miles in from the coast. The trail is fairly popular, but most people opt to hit the hot springs instead of hiking to the peak. The springs are less than a mile from the trailhead.

We started our hike in the early afternoon and made it to the top in under 2 hours. The trail is an old fire road in mediocre condition. The hike takes your from about 300 feet above sea-level to 2,458 feet.

I decided to bring my camera gear and tripod to shoot some panoramas at the peak. You can see one frame of the panorama below. Unfortunately the sky was quite hazy so you can't see very far. Ideally I would like to do this hike again after a good rain.

The hike was strenuous, but the enjoyable. I look forward to doing it again some time soon. I am excited about our San Gorgonio backpacking trip this weekend.

Dave and Penelope on Gaviota Peak

My wife and I stand on top of Gaviota Peak near Santa Barbara last Sunday after a nice 3 mile hike with over 2000' of elevation gain.

Blog

My New Clarinet: Selmer CL-200

Recently I picked up a new-to-me Selmer CL-200 clarinet. I love the warm sound it produces thanks to its all-wood construction. I have been practicing every day and enjoying it greatly.

I started playing clarinet in elementary school and played it through middle school. Sadly I stopped playing in high school, perhaps having to do with not wanting to be a band geek. A few years ago I bought a cheap plastic clarinet which I played once and put away.

Several weeks ago I had an urge to play again so I pulled my old clarinet out of storage and started practicing again. Surprisingly I hadn't completely forgotten my old skills and within a few days I was reading and playing music again.

I found a cool site created by a klezmer band in Manchester that had tons of klezmer PDF sheet music and MIDI files to download. I downloaded and printed every single song on their site and choose about a dozen to start practicing.

After deciding I really wanted to get into playing clarinet again, I started to yearn for a better instrument. When I played in junior high I had a nice old wood clarinet. It had beautiful tone and the grain was lovely.

I started to look around for a good deal on a nicely serviced wood clarinet online. I ended up finding the Clarinet Closet. The Clarinet Closet services used clarinets and sells them at a reasonable price. I certainly could have found a cheaper clarinet on ebay, but I wanted to buy from someone who actually spent the time to service and play the clarinet.

I opted for the cheapest wood clarinet they had for sale, a Selmer CL-200. It set me back about $260 plus shipping. I paid via paypal and the clarinet arrived in the mail just 2 days later. It's amazing that you can ship something through the USPS and it arrives twice as fast compared to UPS for half the price.

I love the clarinet. The SL-200 has a beautiful tone and feels great, especially for a student level / intermediate instrument. At some point I may upgrade to a higher level clarinet, but the CL-200 will suit me perfectly for some time.

Once I master a few dozen klezmer tunes I'm going to look for a violinist, organist and perhaps a DJ / producer to start a modern klezmer dubstep / drum'n'bass group. That should be interesting!

Selmer CL-200 Wood Clarinet

A close-up of the bell of my new wood clarinet shows the Selmer logo.

Selmer CL-200 Wood Clarinet Selmer CL-200 Wood Clarinet Selmer CL-200 Wood Clarinet
Blog

Defcon 16 Wrap-up

Last weekend I covered Defcon 16, the world's largest hacker convention for Wired.com's Threat Level blog. Like last year, I was paired with Kim Zetter, one of Wired's best writers and an all around cool person.

Zetter wrote all the serious articles, which I provided pictures for. These articles included:

I did end up writing a few features that weren't hard news, but were still fun to write and shoot:

The Defcon NOC piece ended up on the front page of Slashdot, Gizmodo, Hack A Day, BoingBoing and more. Some of the other pieces I wrote also got picked up on various other sites.

I had a great time this year at Defcon, it was my 8th Defcon and I can't wait for next year. I'm looking forward to working with Zetter again and getting another tour of the NOC!

Defcon 16 NOC Tour on Wired.com

Wired.com piece in which I toured the Defcon Network Operations Center.

Defcon 16 NOC Tour on Wired.com
Blog

Defcon Supplies

I have arrived in Las Vegas for Defcon and Black Hat (not in that order). I love Defcon. I believe this will be my 8th year at the 'con. I've been covering it for Wired since last year and for my own blog the year before.

I also posted a sneak peek of the Defcon 16 badge on Wired.com earlier this week. I can't wait to get my hands on a production version.

My Defcon Supplies

A nice selection of supplies covers my bed including 8 SD cards (for friends), IR LEDs, a soldering station, a bare bones arduino, a breadboard, various components and Maker's Mark.

My Defcon Supplies
Blog

Hike: Echo Mountain, White City, Mt. Lowe Railway Ruins

This weekend my lovely wife Penelope and I hiked up to the ruins of the White City Resort on Echo Mountain.

The hike is nice and short, a little over five miles round trip. The trail is mostly unshaded and gains about 1,500 feet of elevation on the way up. We didn't get going until around 11:00 a.m. at which time it was quite warm.

Once we made it to the top the hard work was totally worth it. The Mount Lowe Railway was once an amazing railway built to service 3 small resorts. It ended up being plagued by various disasters and shutting down around World War II.

The ruins on top are quite interesting and include foundations, a cistern (see below) and the remains of the cable wheel and part of a train. If you like ruins and deserted places you will enjoy this hike.

We plan on returning, but in cooler weather and heading to the top of Mt. Lowe, which is another 3 miles past White City. If you go on this hike, bring plenty of water!

Penelope at the Mt. Lowe Pool

Penelope stands on the edge of the Echo Mountain House's cistern after hiking for a bit over an hour.

Click here to see more photos from our Mt. Lowe / White City hike.

Blog

Programming the Adruino and TLC5940 for LED Fun

Recently I wrote my first Arduino program to fade LEDs. Arduino is an open source electronics platform designed to be easy to use by "artists, designers, hobbyists, and anyone interested in creating interactive objects or environments." Basically it's a microcontroller that can be easily programmed to do fun things.

I am using a low cost clone called a Bare Bones Arduino. One of the best parts about the Bard-Bones Arduino clone is that it comes in a kit. Soldering stuff together is fun!

Previously I wrote about my adventures with a BASIC Stamp. The Arduino is very similar to a BASIC Stamp, but uses the C programming language instead of BASIC. This makes it more powerful and extensible.

In the past I had only written one program in C to control some serial port extenders. Writing in C for this Arduino project was a lot of fun and it showed me how similar C is to PHP, which I have been writing extensively for over 10 years.

The program I wrote was based on some code from Peter Mackey at Pixelriot. I changed it up a bit so I could control the LEDs fading on an individual basis. I then made it do a Knight Rider fade (see video below). Here is a link to my version of the Arduino 5940 code.

A short video showing pulsing LEDs triggered by an Arduino controlling the TLC5940 chip.

The code controls a Texas Instruments TLC5940 chip. The TLC5940 is an LED controller that can fade up to 16 LEDs to over 4,000 levels of brightness. You can chain the chips together to control around 400 total LEDs.

This first program is actually a proof of concept for a project I'm working on. I can't really talk too much about the project, but it will involve a whole mess of LEDs and an old school public art installation.

Currently I'm working on a new Arduino project that is a multipurpose long exposure, intervalometer and sound and light trigger for Canon cameras. I'll post more about that when it's done.

I'm really enjoying both writing in C and playing with electronics. Microcontollers are awesome.

Bare Bones Arduino and TLC5940 On Breadboard

This Bare-Bones Arduino clone connected to a breadboard is controlling a Texas Instruments TLC5940 LED controller which in turn is pulsing the LEDs