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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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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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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Blogging and thoughts on software...

I’ve been considering buying software for writing this blog. I’m in two minds now... specifically Mars Edit versus MacJournal.

MarsEdit has a beautiful and simple clean interface and it’s cheaper... does the job, in fact does it well and pleasurably.

MacJournal is serious. It’s really well made and has lots of heavy functionality built in. Including a Full Screen mode which I’m using now. It’s a fine thing, a mature and well developed piece of software. And it costs more...

MacJournal is a piece of software that’s hung around me for quite some time. Back when the now quiet (but then raucous...) As the Apple Turns was in my everyday browsing, I came across it. The site author, Jack, loved it. I downloaded it but given that I wasn’t blogging, found only a small use for it. But I’ve tried it quite regularly over the years, liking the capabilities but not really having a use. So now that I’m blogging I should have a use... right?

Or is there a reason we never dated... Perhaps the simple approach of MarsEdit will ultimately be the better choice. I’ve been enjoying less heavily laden software lately, preferring a melange of programs each of which focus on doing one thing well.

I encountered this most recently when I was asked to give an introduction to the Mac experience by a local body who had acquired a number of Macs. I enquired a little deeper and it transpired that they had set up a network, including a server which had common files on it, and were just running Office. I visited one of them and all of her questions were about Entourage.

Once the initial wave of depression that washed over me, I sat back and thought a little. This was a familiar setup for all of them, they had essentially re-created their old Wintel network, just this time they were using a bunch of Macs. She seemed pleased that everything seemed ‘easy to work out’ and she was probably glad of the virus issue being put aside, they had been plagued by them.

She said they had decided to use Entourage because “ Apple’s Mail wasn’t very good.” As she did this she pointed at the dizzying array of buttons in Entourage and her mouse ran over long and nested menus.... It looked deep, it looked like you could do lots of things you’d rarely choose to do and would struggle to find the things you wanted to do.

And really that’s all she was looking for from me: How Do I Find The Things In Entourage I Want To Do.

She thought that was reasonable, I guess she was used to the struggle.

I have to say, I was a reluctant Apple Mail user, even though I love it now, I love the ubiquitous nature of it and the other core apps, Address Book and iCal. That trio of products won me gradually over and away from initially Palm Desktop and then Entourage.

One of their principal benefits is their level of integration in the system and the ease with which other developers can call upon them. Not only that, there’s a lot of plugins I use every day which have expanded it’s functionality and kept it current.

I can’t imagine using Entourage and hiding there safe inside the Microsoft box.

I think the idea of having a pot pourri of smaller simpler programs which work together might require a more innocent mindset, a sense of openness, a willingness to take that risk. That it’ll be okay, a sense that it will all work as opposed to a fear that it’ll probably all go wrong...

Update: I eventually did chose MacJournal. Two main reasons other than it works really well.... There’s a very cool Full-Screen mode which means I can do what I need to do, focus on writing better. And the small matter of a decent Education discount which as a lecturer I can avail of...

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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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Macworld 07

And the speculation is in full tilt...

They must feel good about whatever it is... a new computer? Hard to see it, they have a matrix that is now complete and completely Intel. And looking at them it's hard to see where it would be done. An 8-core MacPro is doable but not necessarily something the world is ready for software wise. An iMac or equivalent would be Apple's traditional site of change but no one is hollering for that. The tablet market is small.... Steve will never do a PDA...

This for a phone? I dunno... Frankly there's a bunch of great phones out there now. But the level of chatter is so high, it must be on the cards.

Apple since Jobs return has been pushing its own version of what kind of digital media universe we all live in. With the iTV preannouncement last year, Jobs indicated that the circle was now complete. A vision that media would be created digitally, distributed digitally, purchased digitally and consumed digitally. Oh and they're all Quicktime files you own. The iTV will likely get a full unveiling.

The iTV will have a cut down version of the OS... What if the phone had the same cut down version of the OS...

I wonder if the phone could stream files the same way the iTV will? So once within the range of it's iTunes Library it could browse and listen or view videos and photos?

What if a new video iPod could do the same thing?

You could use a phone, your iPod or the iTV to view the media you own on that there computer you own. And the computer could be a PC don't forget so the whole market is available to you.

I think given the teaser on the Apple site... and the overall direction Apple have taken the big theme will be about how it all joins up.


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