Category Archives: WorkStyles

My Sandbox

This is all about my work/learning processes.  Basically, I like to research and plan things before I start doing.  This cuts down on rework, but delays start-up times. 


My process is complicated by the fact that I don’t like to read from pc screens (I prefer to print something out, and read from a paper copy).  This leads to lots of piles of paper around.  I also spend so much time finding interesting stuff, and making paper copies that  it seriously detracts from reading time.


I also don’t type very well.  I much prefer to write things out in longhand — I find it relaxing, and very conducive to creative thinking.


I have tried a variety of technologies over the years to improve my process (including both handwriting and voice recognition).  Google has been a big help on the research end — as has the web in general (and wikis also).  I’ve become very adept at leveraging all of these.  I currently use wireless mice and keyboards with my two main laptops  — so I can lay in bed with a keyboard in my lap, a mouse on the sheet beside me, and I’m off to the races.  One of my laptops is a media center device with a hi def tv tuner on board.


Now, back in the day when I was at Microsoft, there were two projects that I was involved with that had the potential to improve my process: Windows SharePoint Services (WSS), and the tablet PC. 


At the time MS was very high on the tablet pc, and I was too — as it would get rid of all the hundreds of hand-written things I always seem to have laying around (even though I was not trained as an engineer, I have adopted their practice of always carrying a spiral notebook with me to record important stuff — kind of a back-in-the-day Twitter).


WSS was the evolution of two previous lackluster products: SharePoint Portal Server (SPS), and SharePoint Team Services (STS).  SPS was big and ugly, and STS was a toy (and also ugly).  SPS had gotten a little traction with large corporate customers, and STS (surprisingly) had a small but very enthusiastic following within MS.  SharePoint was all about collaboration: the organizing and sharing of work product.  Another area that I though could help.


In any event WSS turned out to be a grand slam homerun, while the tablet pc was a garden variety single.  I encouraged a friend in NH to get a tablet, but it just didn’t come up to expectation.  Tablet PC’s needed to run a special version of windows, the hardware was expensive (easily $1000-$2000 more that regular laptops),  there were not a lot of tablets to choose from, and finally the handwriting recognition wasn’t all that great.  One notable thing, however, was the addition of a new app to the MS Office suite called OneNote, primarily targeted at tablet PC users (but available to all).


In the years since I left MS, WSS has proliferated among corporations everywhere  (there are over 50,000 WSS sites inside MS alone).   Since, WSS is all about collaboration, one would think it’s most useful in large corporations.  Certainly true, but WSS is essentially a small easy to set up web site with features easily customized to other purposes (blogging, document repositories to name just two) of interest to individuals and small businesses.  Many 3rd party web hosting sites provide WSS as one of their offerings.  Individuals can use WSS across the web to form ‘virtual’ small businesses — essentially ad-hoc collaborations among widely dispersed otherwise unconnected individuals.  In short WSS can be the basis of a very compelling web site for a small business like mine (in fact, MS’s own Office Live Small Business offering is based upon Sharepoint services).

I mentioned above that when the tablet PC was introduced, MS added the OneNote application to the office suite to support it (in Vista they also made all the tablet PC software available on non-tablet PC’s).  It can be used by the non-tablet-endowed crowd as well (and many have done so — bloggers and tweety birds like it).  It’s really helpful in organizing almost anything.  Let me elaborate a bit.


Imagine a pad of paper that contains an infinite number of sheets  (want blank sheets, college ruled, narrow lines, wide lines, grids — both narrow or wide, any of these, all of them — this pad’s got em).  Now imagine that any single sheet can be infinitely long and/or infinitely wide.  That’s the basic OneNote environment.   Add to it the notion of school notebooks, each with many sections, each containing many pages and subpages; and you’ve got a powerful organizing tool.


But wait — that’s not all!! (I forgot the Ginzu Knives ).  On these pages I can put just about anything: got a file on your PC somewhere, push a button and it’s on the page — don’t want the file itself — put a reference to the file.  You’re on your cell, you can push any (or all of your contacts) to a page.  Browsing the web? On a page that’s interesting? Push a button and it’s in your notebook.  Only want a part of the page? No problem just select what you want before you push.  Got a picture in your camera (or in a file, or on the web somewhere) that can go on a page.  You can talk at a page and that goes on too.  Scribble on your mouse pad the last great novel, and onto the page it goes.  Now you can imagine a page that contains voice snippets, a bunch of scribblings, pictures, typed text, web pages, fragments of this and that.  Now with your mouse you can grab some or all of these things and drag them around to different places on the page, to a page in another section (or in another notebook) to make things conform to whatever it is that blob of jelly between your ears might like.  Get the picture??


OhBoy OHBoy , (If you call in the next 25 nanoseconds I’ll throw in for free the absolutely amazing vegomatic juicer!!!!Did I mention search?  Everything on your page can be the target of a search.  Is it handwriting? Write out a word longhand and it’ll search for it; spoken word or phrase? Speak and it shall be found.  (Obviously typed text can be found).  But wait there’s more!!! Things like pictures (or anything else on the page for that matter) can be tagged in a variety of ways and then tag-based searches are possible (much like tagging on blog pages).

MS has also added "print to PDF" and "print to OneNote" functionality to Vista/Office.  This, coupled with an eBook reader (like the kindle) can be used to provide a paper reading experience without the physical piles of paper.  (I’ll have more to say about eBooks and the kindle in a later post.)


You might see where this is all trending: take your iphone, ipod, kindle (much improved), your pda(do we still have these?), blackberry, and oh don’t forget your Nintendo DS; combine these all into one device.  Then split it in two: attach one part to your ear (stick it in), put on your shades(the other part — duh), turn on the bluetooth — need I say Minority Report? (Tom Cruise eat your heart out).


I forgot the GPS check it out from recent Wall Street Journal:  Smart Phones are Edging Out Other Gadgets


BTW this whole rant was written in OneNote, and posted through Windows Live Writer .


BTBTW After I wrote this I came across the following post from a long term OneNote user and tablet PC owner (a college student): OneNote and Me.  Oh yes One note comes with a built in yellow magic marker tool   — (much better than the Ginzu knives).  On the other hand, there goes "the dog ate my homework" excuse.

In future posts I’ll report on my experiences with all of the items mentioned herein.