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Category Archives for "Ethan Banks"

Vendor Lock-In. Maybe Not So Evil. (Video)

Is vendor lock-in all that bad? Many argue yes. You’re tied to a vendor because you’ve used some of their proprietary technology, and so you’re (apparently) stuck with it forever, limiting your future business agility. I think that’s an incomplete argument, though.

 

You Can’t Do Everything, And That’s Okay

You’re a responsible human–a reliable person who does everything that’s expected and more. Congratulations! Here’s more work to do.

Yep, that’s the rub. If you’re good at your job and other people notice, you get never-ending opportunities to prove once again how good you are. More work to do, and more work to do, and more. The balance in your life is lost as you drown under a pile of opportunities and challenges with deliverables, due dates, and project managers scheduling recurring meetings to get status updates.

No Good Deed Goes Unpunished

If you’ve been through a few jobs, no doubt you’re familiar with this cycle. You leave the old job with a sense of relief, having transitioned your projects to others in a ceremony known as “the hand-off.” You chuckle a bit to yourself as your co-workers and manager who clearly didn’t grasp what all you were handling go glassy-eyed as you talk them through it.

You start the new job with a lightness in your heart. No projects. No due dates. No recurring meetings. The anxiety of getting familiar with a new company, figuring out your role, learning the politics, sure–there’s all that to contend with. But Continue reading

Finding Nuance In A Time Of Negative Noise

I am put off by the mainstream media, the American president, and Twitter these days. We’re living in a media world that lacks nuance. Nearly all discussions are polarized. That polarization results in a mockery of clear thought. A polarized world views issues as binary. Good or evil. Red or blue. Masks or freedom. Shelter at home or open it all up.

No more anger, agendas, or simple-minded retweets for me. I want facts without bias and reflection on what that data might mean. I want difficult conversations with no clear answers today, in the hopes of progressing towards a decent answer eventually.

Thankfully, I’ve discovered a few folks having nuanced, engaging discussions that attempt to analyze the difficulties of our world honestly and thoroughly. If these sorts of conversations might be interesting to you, here’s what I’ve found so far.

Eric Weinstein’s The Portal Podcast

On this long-form podcast, Eric interviews heterodox thinkers about both current events and goings-on in the scientific community, physics especially. Eric is a brutal interviewer at times, refusing to let folks go down obvious trains of thought, instead forcing them to get to the point with haste. This tactic, although often uncomfortable to listen Continue reading

Using AppleScript To Size A Window To 16×9 On MacOS

As part of an automation workflow I’m building around Elgato Stream Deck, I needed a way to size an application window to 16×9. This would be one component of a workflow that would allow me to launch an app, size the window, position it on the screen, and hide all the other windows with the push of a Stream Deck button.

The easy part was the Stream Deck configuration. The hard part was the AppleScript–I had never written one.

The Script

This AppleScript is crude, but it’s a start. I explain what the script is doing using inline comments, which in AppleScript are noted by the leading double-hyphens, although pound signs and (* *) delimiters for multi-line comments are also supported.

----------------------------------------------------------
-- SET VARIABLES
----------------------------------------------------------
-- theApp = name of the app MacOS will act upon
set theApp to "ApplicationName"

-- appWidth = how many pixels wide we'd like the window
-- appHeight is calculated as a 16:9 ratio of "appWidth"
-- Note that "as integer" means decimal portions of a 
-- calculation are truncated.
set appWidth to 1600
set appHeight to appWidth / 16 * 9 as integer

-- screenWidth = display pixel width
-- screenHeight =  Continue reading

My Adventuring YouTube Channel

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been organizing my collection of media files. I discovered a bunch of video lurking in an archive folder I’d forgotten about, featuring hiking and other adventures. So, I uploaded several of these usually short videos to my personal YouTube channel featuring mostly the New Hampshire wilderness & mountains.

This kicked off a chain reaction to upload more current adventuring video. If this is your sort of thing, enjoy at https://www.youtube.com/user/nh48ecb/. If this is not your sort of thing, thanks for humoring me.

If you’re not sure what to think, here’s a short video I re-discovered that gives you an idea of the scenery I’ve collected over the years. Maybe that will help you decide if you care. ?

Synology Running Out Of Space? Empty The Recycle Bin.

While performing end-of-year clean up on lab infrastructure, I discovered my 8 disk Synology array with about 22TB of usable storage was almost out of space. Really? What had I filled all that space with?

After a lot of digging around, I found that I had enabled the Recycle Bin on one or more Shared Folders, but had NOT created a Recycle Bin emptying schedule.

This means that over several years of shoving lots of data through the array, the various Recycle Bins attached to various Shared Folders had loaded up with cruft. I figured this out running a Storage Analyzer report.

To get my space back, the solution was to empty the Recycle Bin. One way to do that is to edit the properties of a Shared Folder and click “Empty Recycle Bin”. You’ll get a sense of relief as Storage Manager shows available space growing as the Synology removes however many million files you’ve been composting for however long.

However, I like to solve problems permanently. No one has time to manually empty recycle bins on a disk array in a distant rack. Manually. Like a savage. Yuck.

Automating a recycle bin task on a Synology box is Continue reading

Opting Out Of Toxic Culture

In a culture of Internet toxicity, a question all productivity-minded people should ponder is why they are participating in social platforms. For example, Twitter has become a predominantly negative cesspool. Even the pun-loving techies I monitor from a distance seem to lean increasingly toward darkness and anger.

Few rainbows are to be found on Twitter these days. Maybe it’s just the dark mode UI talking, but I don’t go there to laugh anymore. I don’t go there to connect with friends. Instead, I put on my virtual armor, and read through comments and responses directed at me or my company. To be sure, much of what I see is fine. However, many comments are meant to start fires, even when couched in smiling niceties.

That’s the Internet for you. We’ve always had flame wars, trolls, and haters, all the way back to my dial-up days on Delphi forums and AOL. I know how to block and mute people, and of course that helps. Even so, I find that there’s something different in the tone these days. Folks are on crusades to bring others down. To shame. To burn in digital effigy.

To destroy.

When toxicity spills over into my timeline Continue reading

The Mythical Eight Hour Workday

I haven’t tracked my time in many years. I’ve always felt the practice was a nuisance. Hey, I’m busy. I have a lot to do. I’m working on it. Don’t distract me with a time sheet. You know what I do, boss, right? Do I really have to document my daily doings?

Working for myself means I don’t have to perform such trivial tasks, and of course, I don’t. However, I have been wondering over the last month where my workday goes. Often, it feels like I park my tush in my office chair, begin working on tasks, and then the day is suddenly over.

Except that often, the day isn’t over. My workday ends when I’ve accomplished everything I need to for that day. Eight hours gone by? Whatever. Head down. Keep at it. Get everything done. The list won’t get shorter tomorrow. If I want to get paid, I have to get my work done.

The Final Countdown

With more days than I want falling into a pattern of working more hours than I’d like, I’ve gotten serious about determining what the problem is. Do I need to turn away projects? Should I hire someone to handle some Continue reading

Improve Productivity. Shut Off Notifications. (YouTube)

Here’s a short car video where I recommend shutting off notifications as a way to increase productivity. Spoiler alert. That’s pretty much the summary of the entire video, so you can save yourself the four minutes. Or…watch it to get the nuance. I’ll be okay either way. I’m not making money on YouTube ads.

Connecting Python To Slack For Testing, Development, and Chat

Plugging Python Code Into Slack, Maybe For A Chatbot

The scripting language Python can retrieve information from or publish information to the messaging app Slack. This means you can write a chatbot that puts info into Slack for you, or accepts your queries using Slack as the interface. This is useful if you spend a lot of time in Slack, as I do.

The hard work of integrating Slack and Python has been done already. Slack offers an API, and there are at least two open source Python libraries that make leveraging these APIs in your Python code easy.

When searching for Slack projects using Python, most of the top hits are using Slack’s official python-slackclient. Github reveals that python-slackclient is an active project, with recent commits. In addition, most code examples I turned up are using python-slackclient. But it’s not a preference borne of experience. Maybe you’d prefer an alternate library like slacker.

Securing The Slack App Security Token

The slackclient library is security-conscious. Some other library sample code shows putting the Slack access token right in the source code as a static variable assignment, which is a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad idea. Why? If you publish Continue reading

Leveraging Desktop Real Estate To Decrease Distractions

I use a dual-monitor setup. In my setup, the main screen sits centered directly in front of me. The secondary screen, which is slightly smaller, is off to one side. The real estate provided by the two screens gives me plenty of pixels across which to splash my applications–ample “screenery.”

I use my screenery productively when recording podcasts. I display a script, conferencing app, and recording tool without having to switch between them. Research productivity is also enhanced. I display a note-taking app front and center, with research subject matter like a video presentation, Kindle book, or PDF off to the side.

No Pixel Left Behind

Acres of screenery has benefits, but lots of screen space is also a potential distraction. I fight the desire to fill every pixel with an application. If I don’t use all the pixels, I must be wasting desktop space, right? I don’t want to waste my not inconsiderable investment in fancy monitors. Hmm. Sounds like an example of the sunk cost fallacy.

Desktop operating system developers have catered to my craving, adding sticky edges to windows that ensure not a single pixel is wasted. I can make my window edges stick to each Continue reading

Automating Logistics To Improve Productivity

Getting work done is hindered by logistics. Logistics is work about work. It’s the work you do so that you can get something else done.

For example, there’s a workflow I use to create a podcast. Most of that work is logistical: creating a collaborative script document from a template, inviting guests to a recording channel, scheduling the recording, coordinating sponsor content, updating the production calendar, editing the episode, writing a blog post about the episode, and promoting the episode on social media.

Relatively little of the workflow is what I consider the meat of podcast creation: researching the topic and guests, writing interview questions, and recording the actual show.

I draw the line between logistics and meat by considering what I can delegate vs. what I need to do uniquely myself. Most tasks can be divided along this line.

Solving The Logistics Problem With Delegation

One way to boost productivity is to delegate logistics. Delegation frees up your time to focus on the remaining tasks requiring your unique skills.

Delegation comes in at least three forms.

  1. Humans.
  2. Software.
  3. Automation.

Some tasks can be delegated to other humans. In my case, I delegate many tasks in my business to consultants, Continue reading

I Didn’t Even Know I Was Sick

This piece was originally published in the Packet Pushers’ Human Infrastructure Magazine, a publication about the human side of working in technology. HIM is sent every other week or so to Packet Pushers Ignition members. Sign up for free.


I recently tweeted…

I’ve become okay with only having so much time in my schedule. Would adding this { new | random | unexpected } thing to the mix stress me out? Yes? Then I can’t do it. Have to leave some space. Have to execute well on the things already on the list.

I grabbed a couple of replies that especially impacted me.

Cutting Things Loose Has A Cost

The hard part for me is deciding when to cut things loose in order to make room for new things that are more valuable. Sometimes it’s natural, like a job transition, but most of the time it’s not. I’d rather make intentional choices, not wait until I’m burned out. Of course, often the major problem with intentionally stopping a project is the social cost. Disappointing people is expensive for multiple reasons. And it’s very difficult to weigh that against the benefit of doing something new.

@bensons

Benson crammed a whole lot Continue reading

I Didn’t Even Know I Was Sick

This piece was originally published in the Packet Pushers’ Human Infrastructure Magazine, a publication about the human side of working in technology. HIM is sent every other week or so to Packet Pushers Ignition members. Sign up for free.


I recently tweeted…

I’ve become okay with only having so much time in my schedule. Would adding this { new | random | unexpected } thing to the mix stress me out? Yes? Then I can’t do it. Have to leave some space. Have to execute well on the things already on the list.

I grabbed a couple of replies that especially impacted me.

Cutting Things Loose Has A Cost

The hard part for me is deciding when to cut things loose in order to make room for new things that are more valuable. Sometimes it’s natural, like a job transition, but most of the time it’s not. I’d rather make intentional choices, not wait until I’m burned out. Of course, often the major problem with intentionally stopping a project is the social cost. Disappointing people is expensive for multiple reasons. And it’s very difficult to weigh that against the benefit of doing something new.

@bensons

Benson crammed a whole lot Continue reading

Don’t Reply To Everything

I recently came across a simple idea that is having a positive impact on productivity. That idea is to not reply to everything. While this can be applied to social media broadly, I’m focused on email management here.

For me, not replying is more difficult than it sounds. I am a personality type that doesn’t like loose ends. I like to meet other’s expectations, and have them think cuddly, happy thoughts about what a swell person I am. I know that when I send an email, I hope to get a response. Therefore, when I receive an e-mail, my natural inclination is to respond.

Too cuddly?

Now, I don’t feel I overly waste time on replying to email. I’ve improved my response technique over the years. I bring an e-mail thread to a conclusion as rapidly as possible by anticipating and proactively answering questions. That’s more time-consuming than a quick, lazy “back to you” response, but saves time in the long run.

However, an advance on the proactive reply is never replying at all. Not responding is the ultimate way to bring an email thread to a conclusion.

You’re So Rude

On the surface, ignoring inbox messages seems rude. However, Continue reading

Don’t Reply To Everything

I recently came across a simple idea that is having a positive impact on productivity. That idea is to not reply to everything. While this can be applied to social media broadly, I’m focused on email management here.

For me, not replying is more difficult than it sounds. I am a personality type that doesn’t like loose ends. I like to meet other’s expectations, and have them think cuddly, happy thoughts about what a swell person I am. I know that when I send an email, I hope to get a response. Therefore, when I receive an e-mail, my natural inclination is to respond.

Too cuddly?

Now, I don’t feel I overly waste time on replying to email. I’ve improved my response technique over the years. I bring an e-mail thread to a conclusion as rapidly as possible by anticipating and proactively answering questions. That’s more time-consuming than a quick, lazy “back to you” response, but saves time in the long run.

However, an advance on the proactive reply is never replying at all. Not responding is the ultimate way to bring an email thread to a conclusion.

You’re So Rude

On the surface, ignoring inbox messages seems rude. However, Continue reading

StayFocusd Extension For Chrome

During the last month or two, I’d gotten into a habit of trawling through Imgur, looking for memes I could spin into humorous tweets about networking. It became a game to see what tweets I could create that people would find funny.

That game was successful, in that I had many tweets that were liked and/or retweeted dozens or, in a few cases, hundreds of times. But there was a downside. I was spending a lot of time on Imgur seeking inspiration. I was also spending a lot of time composing tweets and checking reactions.

I Hurt Myself Today

This led to the familiar cycle of Internet addiction. I was hooked on Twitter…again. I’ve been through this with Twitter off and on for many years now. My use of Imgur was also obsessive, opening the app on my phone multiple times per day and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling while looking for new fodder.

Using social media in the context of addiction is subtly different from simply wasting time. Addiction, for me, means using social media when I didn’t plan to. There’s a compulsion that would drive me to fire up Tweetdeck and check out all of my carefully curated columns, review Continue reading

StayFocusd Extension For Chrome

During the last month or two, I’d gotten into a habit of trawling through Imgur, looking for memes I could spin into humorous tweets about networking. It became a game to see what tweets I could create that people would find funny.

That game was successful, in that I had many tweets that were liked and/or retweeted dozens or, in a few cases, hundreds of times. But there was a downside. I was spending a lot of time on Imgur seeking inspiration. I was also spending a lot of time composing tweets and checking reactions.

I Hurt Myself Today

This led to the familiar cycle of Internet addiction. I was hooked on Twitter…again. I’ve been through this with Twitter off and on for many years now. My use of Imgur was also obsessive, opening the app on my phone multiple times per day and scrolling, scrolling, scrolling while looking for new fodder.

Using social media in the context of addiction is subtly different from simply wasting time. Addiction, for me, means using social media when I didn’t plan to. There’s a compulsion that would drive me to fire up Tweetdeck and check out all of my carefully curated columns, review Continue reading

Space To Think My Own Thoughts

Everyone Creates

A challenge for people who make things is living in a world where everyone else makes things, too. On the Internet, everyone seems to be making something they want you to consider and approve of.

Sometimes, that Internet creation is as simple as a tweet or Facebook post. Like it! Share it! Retweet it! More complex creations, like this blog post, are still easy enough to make and share that there are likely hundreds of new articles you might be asked to read in a week.

If you were to carefully keep up with everything you subscribe to or follow, your mind would never have time to itself. You’d never be able to think your own thoughts. You’d be too busy chewing on the thoughts of other people.

Overconsumption

For this reason, I believe constant consumption damages productivity. Designers, architects, artisans, writers, and other creators need time to think through what they are making. Writers need a subject and word flow to clearly communicate. Technology architects need to deeply consider the implications of their designs from multiple angles.

Deep consideration takes contiguous blocks of time. Achieving a flowing state of mind takes uninterrupted time. Thoughts build one on Continue reading

Space To Think My Own Thoughts

Everyone Creates

A challenge for people who make things is living in a world where everyone else makes things, too. On the Internet, everyone seems to be making something they want you to consider and approve of.

Sometimes, that Internet creation is as simple as a tweet or Facebook post. Like it! Share it! Retweet it! More complex creations, like this blog post, are still easy enough to make and share that there are likely hundreds of new articles you might be asked to read in a week.

If you were to carefully keep up with everything you subscribe to or follow, your mind would never have time to itself. You’d never be able to think your own thoughts. You’d be too busy chewing on the thoughts of other people.

Overconsumption

For this reason, I believe constant consumption damages productivity. Designers, architects, artisans, writers, and other creators need time to think through what they are making. Writers need a subject and word flow to clearly communicate. Technology architects need to deeply consider the implications of their designs from multiple angles.

Deep consideration takes contiguous blocks of time. Achieving a flowing state of mind takes uninterrupted time. Thoughts build one on Continue reading