File Naming & the dumbest thing ever

John Foster in a recent episode of MacBreak Tech while in the middle of a perfectly enjoyable discussion on file naming... said the one thing you should never do is use the date in a name, that it was ‘the dumbest thing ever’.

Now, I would have a lot of crossover interests with him, having an opinion on file-naming conventions, no matter how freakin’ sad, being one. And you know, I have being doing the dumbest thing ever for... like the longest time.

Well, maybe fifteen years or so.

I have a filenaming convention which I’ve applied rigorously since deciding I needed to do it. It works for me. And I think the key to adding any element into a filename convention is to be utterly consistent. The benefits only become clear years on.

My needs in file naming are two-fold. You should be able to instantly see what a file is about just from the name and you should be able to find it years later with no real hassle. So I take the following approach:

1. I give every project a three letter acronym, whatever is intuitive is usually what I use, I don’t over-debate it.
32A (our feature film 32A)
EDI ( a script called Easy Does It we’re developing)
JPC (Janey Pictures Company, business stuff)
etc..
2. I then include the date, in reverse order and always YY.MM.DD
3. Then who it’s for, IFB, RTE, Media, Bank, Marian etc.
4. Then a narrative on what it is.

So I get files called:

32A 08.07.20 IFI my notes on press release

I can instantly see what project it relates to, when I wrote it, who it was for and what it’s about.

The joy of doing the date in the name only becomes clear when you sort by name. You instantly sort by name and date simultaneously. Projects are sorted into lists which are further sorted by date.

The story of a project becomes very clear as you peruse directory listings.

32A 07.05.02 GFF application for festival
32A 07.05.28 GFF additional notes on format and dolby
32A 07.06.04 GFF acceptance letter
32A 07.06.06 Media press release on premiere
32A 07.07.12 GFF Hotel booking form
32A 07.07.19 GFF thanks again for all

It’s pretty clear what was going on and what the sequence of communication was. The story is clear, that’s one thing I value. And no other project files are in there, if I didn’t have a date in the name, and I sorted by date, you’d see a jumble of different project files mixed together.

This particularly applies if you have an ongoing flat file approach, I have a folder on my desktop called ‘Inbox’, essentially my current working folder.

You have the benefit of the filename doing some of the work folders do, essentially I’ve built in a project folder sorted by date right into the name. I only Archive files into a hierarchy of folders every couple of months or so, and this keeps things organised even with that.

But it also helps in using Spotlight. You can also search quickly in spotlight for ‘32A 07.06“ and get just the files for that project and that exact month. I realise you can construct a spotlight query adding in a date but this is far quicker and much more intuitive.

Other benefits.

- Even after I do sort into a directory hierarchy, a file can leave it’s folder and still have the meaning in the file name.

- For sharing the file, the date of creation is embedded in the file name and if you email to other people, it doesn’t matter about when it’s saved on their system or how correctly set up their system is.

- I don’t do versioning that often, but if I do I build into the narrative, commencing with the word ‘Rev’ and a number: Rev01, Rev02 etc.


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Ira Glass on storytelling

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This American Life is one of my favourite podcasts. A recent episode, The Giant Pool of Money, outlining the background story to the sub-prime mortgage crisis was a standout. It was almost Wire-like in how it interwove high end financial shenanigans, the systems people have to work within, and the trials of ordinary citizens.

The episodes are free on the feed in iTunes for a period but after a while, you have to pay about a dollar for a show. And just to say it, your broker made a lot more telling you a lot less.

Frankly there isn’t a dud episode in the whole series.

Here Ira gives some pointers on his approach to storytelling, basic but very good. Part One is above, There’s four in the series and well worth checking them all out.

Part Two, Part Three, Part Four




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Four Trillion Emails...

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Well... so much for Inbox Zero. Once I finish clearing these 4 trillion out of my Inbox... give or take a few hundred billion... I'll get right back to you.


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Getting Things Done using TaskPaper

I’ve been been a keen convert to GTD since reading the book by David Allen about two years ago. Since then I’ve been a daily visitor to 43Folders and found a lot there to help guide me, there’s a very well informed community of productivity heads all of whom seemed to be working their way though similar issues.

In GTD, there were things I got very quickly - the overall process, ubiquitous capture and adopting a structure to an file system that really matched what I had to do. And of course, Allen’s emphasis on the right tools. This alone is why all the geeks out there love GTD.

Central to my practice was a set of digital tools, KinklessGTD, a bunch of add-ons to Mail, and iCal. When OmniFocus entered beta, I signed up in a hearbeat. And let me tell you, I love it, it’s satisfying and rich, a really flexible piece of software which readily adapted to the complexities of producing a feature film. Now, the film is complete, bar tidying up details, and as the workload grew simpler, I found that my productivity lessened. Sure I was tired, just burned out... but hey, I still was at my desk, still running the system, but I found myself exploring dependencies and time allowances, finessing the structure of my work... rather than actually doing anything...

I’ve had an eye on other GTD apps and downloaded a bunch over the years, usually dismissing them as requiring a bit too much adaptation to their system. I already knew a system, a really good one in OmniFocus, and I’d no interest in exploring another. But still, recently, I’ve come to accept that something has to change.

I returned to an old paper system I’ve used prior to having software for this purpose, post-its with single tasks obscuring my work window, do a task, clear some window space. Gets me up from my desk and there was some simple pleasure in taking up a piece of paper and trashing it. There was something about having your work up on a large public window that put a bit of pressure on me. But still it was hardly portable and obviously very limited.

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Enter TaskPaper from Hog Bay Software.

Hog Bay have always produced quality software, their Mori was one of the better outliner/note taking software offerings prior to them selling it on. Back in the day, if you visited the Hog Bay site, it was refreshing to read on the Mori page, frank recommendations of DevonThink and OmniOutliner, two competing products. And today if you visit the TaskPaper section, you’ll read an endorsement of OmniFocus. All very evolved indeed, it speaks well of them, I wish other software producers were as generous. They also produce WriteRoom, which I own and love too. The original of the full-screen wordprocessors, also worth checking out.

To launch TaskPaper is to get it.

Its model is of a blank piece of paper, using it is like grabbing a pen and quickly drafting a list of stuff to be done. As a result it feels really fresh. Punch in your Projects and Tasks, assign Contexts/Tags on the fly, sort your lists by project or by context/tag. That’s it. No Futzing. My productivity soared.

For all its simplicity it has a lot of admirable qualities, not least of which is that the file is plain text, you can load it up into other software should you need to. TaskPaper’s internal workings enables it to sort it and format it.

It’s got tabs which I use for handy clicking to commonly used views. Like everything in TaskPaper, it’s simple to do and simple to remove, so you feel flexible and responsive, you don’t think too much about it, you just do it.

Again a sign of flexibility, It permits on the fly addition of multiple contexts. For me contexts, as defined in GTD, always were tags, as usually understood. Beyond the usual applications for context, I use them to add complexity, when needed, to the straightforward TaskPaper approach.

In OmniFocus I used to have a complex structure of projects and sub-projects, nested several layers deep in some instances. TaskPaper could be used to create subprojects in the use of names only like ‘Film-distribution’, ‘Film-marketing’ and so on. But I’ve not done that. It felt wrong, like the path I’d taken in OmniFocus that ended up with a huge matrix of projects which frankly triggered my procrastinating sorry-ass self to emerge. So now, if I have to designate a series of tasks to relate to a sub-project, I simply tag it with ‘design’ or ‘marketing’ and all the tasks with that tag appear in their own list. If I need that.

I really appreciate the simplicity of this software, it’s almost unspoken encouragement to just put your words down and move on. I’m keenly aware that I may find myself in the throes of a large complex project and TaskPaper may struggle to match it, but hey, I know I can pick up OmniFocus again for that period in my life. For when I’m not, TaskPaper is more than capable and like a good draught of cool water, just might refresh my understanding of my own productivity.

Taskpaper from Hog Bay Software. Highly recommended.

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Word Processors

Back in the day... that would be 1986 to be precise, the year i bought my first computer. It was an Amstrad PC1512, all of 512k ram and twin 360k floppy drives. It came with a choice of operating systems. MS-DOS or CP/M and two windowing systems, Windows 1.2 and GEM.

The principal reason for the purchase was word-processing. My girlfriend had an earner typing up a science journal for a publisher and the Amstrad could run a dedicated mathematical wordprocessor which would turn out pretty respectable typeset pages, well respectable given that it was 1986.

People used to drop by and ask us to show them ‘cutting and pasting’. These were heady times....

The main application I used for wordprocessing was Wordstar. It was a tough piece of software to love, it got in your way and had no redeeming factor other than it worked. We got a hold of Wordperfect which was like driving a BMW in comparison. WP was kinda cool, especially when they did a version for my new Amiga which rapidly became my main machine. I stuck with WP for quite some time, until the computer in work had Word on it, and then that became set in stone, of course, for me and for everyone.

Now, nearly fifteen years later, I find I’ve been avoiding Word. i have so many writing tools available to me, even the most basic of text editors is more pleasurable to use, it seems ridiculously cumbersome to me. And the fact that I’ve been using it for so long and I am still at sea on how to use whole chunks of it, annoys me. So I’ve set about finding an alternative.

I checked out Mellel, (very impressive, if I was more of an academic I’d be thrilled) and Pages, (real potential, but too much of a design tool for what I was looking for). Finally, I came across Nisus Writer Pro, which is in beta, and it’s been a joy. There’s a sixty day trial period, long enough to persuade you that you can’t ever go back...

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It’s fast and responsive, nothing sluggish about it at all. No hangs or waits, no spinning balls.... the beta is very polished, it’s never stalled on me once. I’m using it every day and, yes, in work.
Overall they have struck a very good ratio in how they handle the balance between interface and functionality, you can do a lot, and the interface is designed to make that potential very manageable and not at all intrusive.
- Number one in my book, I want to write, a nice clean toolbar with just what you need on it. There’s no massive list of buttons you can put on the toolbar, so it stays nice and simple. They use palettes for pretty well most options instead.
- The palettes live in a pop out drawer. It’s a simple thing with a big result, you can make them disappear. If you want them available at all times, you can have them float like other applications do or simply keep the drawer open, but I love being able to put them away.
- On top of that, you can configure different sets of palettes into groups in that drawer, so it’s very customisable. And you can set up as many different groups of palettes as you want. There’s huge functionality here, the range of palettes is very thorough.
- It handles styles better than any other writing tool I’ve used, ever. It’s very easy to set them up and implement them, again handled visually in an unobtrusive and straightforward way, a small set of icons at the bottom of each window.
- And every software should borrow how they handle setting up keyboard shortcuts, it’s that easy.

Generally, the UI is great. There seems to be a real focus within Nisus on getting the heck out of the way and keeping it simple. All the while delivering real high end functionality, certainly covers all of the uses I’ll be needing.

It can import and export Word docs, especially RTFs, but the quality is no better than okay. The same applies to most alternative word-processors, but this isn’t a deal breaker for me, I can certainly deal with the table that’s imported slightly longer than it should be very easily in NW Pro. Far easier than I can in Word if something went wrong there....

Best of all, It’s got a simple full-screen mode which is configurable. I’ve been struck by the Full-screen mode we are seeing everywhere, from MacJournal to Montage. The screen blacks out and you just see... crazy after all these years... your words on screen, nothing else, not a menu or palette in sight. Naturally, it recalls all those early experiences, I have actually gone to an amber on black background. Nothing else on screen, just these glowing amber words. Back home... punching in text, but knowing, when I need to do something fancy, it’s going to be easy and quick to do.

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Soulver

I love apps that break through your model of what you can do in a particular area. Calculation on the Mac seems to generally revolve around calculators like TopCalculette or spreadsheets, like Excel or Tables.

Soulver is one such app. It’s neither a straightforward calculator, though you can certainly use it as one, nor is it a full spreadsheet program.

There’s a phrase in mathematics or more likely, book-keeping or carpentry, called a ready reckoner. This implies a handy tool, a sense of some practical application which will enable your work to proceed. I keep being reminded of this every time I load Soulver.

The developer touts it’s abilities to evaluate English language statements and to calculate results from them, to wit:
Ten euro a day for ten days = 100 euro.
Two apples and three apples = 5 apples

Which is all fine and good and possibly useful for some but has no real place in my life. I use it as a calculator and math scratchpad. For stuff that’s not that involved but would require you to jot down intermediate results if you used the average calculator.

For example, It can understand defined constants.
Book = 10 euro
Fifteen books = 150 euro.

Or you can make reference to particular lines in your calculation
1. 130/2        = 65
2. Line1*10 = 650

These two simple things open up a lot. You can set up scratchpads which you can use for ready reckoning... For the kind of thing that Excel would just be overkill. And, best of all, you can save them.

I set up one, which calculates cost implications of different film ratios for me. You could just as easily do a simple pad up for a mortgage calculation, or to calculate costs of different floor coverings for various rooms, simple things that we juggle every day, that don’t require major setup.

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Here, it’s a simple matter to adjust all the key variables
- the duration of the movie
- the shooting ratios evaluated
- the set costs per metre

Loading up Excel for a simple ten line spreadsheet always seems silly, but in Soulver, it feels smart. It’s cheap, only 18$, and we’ve seen steady development over the past year. There’s tons of flexibility and real stuff that mathematicians care about but for me...this is enough.

It’s from France, hence the name, Soulver, highly recommended.

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Spam

I run a pretty tight email ship... it’s one area I’m on top of.

I practice Inbox Zero, I completely got that once David Allen pointed out the simple fact that an Inbox is where things arrive and not where they should live.

When an email lands, I use Mail Act-on to deal with it;
        - if I need to do anything that requires some time and effort, I have an Act-On short cut (Ctrl-K) via Mail2kgtd to add the relevant email to my kGTD file in OmniOutliner Pro.
        - I also have a short cut (Ctrl-A) to send the email to my Actionable Emails folder in Mail.
        - The rest I either dash off a quick response and file in the appropriate project folder, each of which have an Act-On shortcut key.
        - In any case emails only go to the relevant project folder in Mail when they’re done.

The above means I have:
        - An empty inbox,
        - A folder called Actionable that has any emails I have to deal with.
        - My general list of stuff I’m working on has those actionable emails referenced as well.
        - Any emails relevant to projects that I need to be able to refer to at a later point are all sitting in their project folders.

I do like having my email To-dos itemised in my full GTD list, they are no longer a island on their own. Mail2kgtd sends the full copy of the email to the Kinkless GTD file, it stores it in the notes section. This also means that the full email is listed in the notes section in iCal if I refer to the item there. It was spooky the first time, the key data being available in my email program, my GTD program and my calendar...

Each year I run an archive on the email of the year previous to the last one, so I only carry about one years emails around on my laptop. I own MailSteward Lite for archiving, it’s simple and fully searchable, and plays nice with Spotlight. But I’m considering using DevonThink Pro Office, an program whose application grows each time I use it, it may have more interesting options for analysing archived mail.

So far so fine. So what about Spam?

I have an excellent piece of software called SpamSieve which does a good job of filtering spam. But it’s not perfect, it’s okay 99% of the time. But that 1% bugs me. Today’s 1% included an email from my EU domain registrar indicating that three domains I registered were due to expire, and a response to an email I’d sent to Red Sweater software about MarsEdit. But more worryingly, there was also an expression of interest in our current feature from a US distributor.

It looks like I’ll have to add “Review my Spam folder“ to my ever-increasing list of buckets to sort through when it comes to my weekly review. Given that eight spam messages arrived in the time it took to write this entry.... That looks set to take over all of Friday afternoons...


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K.I.T. released...

K.I.T. (Keep It Together) 1.3.1 was released yesterday.

K.I.T. is one of those information-gathering tools which have sprung up on the Mac. We're particularly lucky given all the options here. There's KIT, Yojimbo, DevonThink and lately EagleFiler. All of which come from good developers and are fine products. I use KIT and DevonThink Pro Office. Both do quite different jobs for me.

KIT is my favourite set of smart buckets. Plowing through emails and the web usually means I come across pages I want to keep, documents I need to read, and bits of information that come my way from snippets of texts to images, mp3s to listen to and videos to watch.

KIT eats them all up with one keystroke in the Services menu, Shift-Cmd-K. I love it...

It comes with a set of built in smart folders which sort on the type of data it is, a document, pdf, media or a web archive or link etc. and you can quickly and easily roll your own using tags and ratings.

So I tag, which autocomplete, as each item arrives in it's Library and I have smart folders set up for each project I have currently. I have one smart folder which captures all untagged items, so I can easily spot items that haven't been assigned to a project.

So no more saving on the desktop, no dumb unsorted pile of stuff sitting in a folder usually called...Stuff On Desktop..., instead a set of sorted folders with all of the stuff already sorted intelligently for me. It replicates whatever folder structure you've set up in it's Library so you can drill down into that using the Finder and see the same structure. Excellent.

It's a well-executed program, which just works. A lot of people know Yojimbo, a similar product, which KIT predates. KIT is much cheaper. And the developer, Steve Harris, keeps the updates coming.

Highly recommended. K.I.T. at Reinvented



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