Skip to content

James Rutherford

Web, design, Newcastle, games and fun!


Tag: productivity

…Progress happens when all the factors that make for it are ready, and then it is inevitable… – Henry Ford

Well worth watching…

The basic elements of creativity – Copy, Transform, Combine.

Dropbox gives me storage space for my files on the internet and appears on my desktop like a normal folder.

I can allow a number of computers to access the same Dropbox account, to share files between them quickly and easily. It also permits me to share certain folders within my account with specific other Dropbox users, or a group of people. This means that I can swap large Photoshop files with my clients very simply- without having to set up a special FTP area, or post a CD.

Pro Tip: Be a little careful when sharing files that may be edited by more than one person- with some software it’s possible to overwrite each others’ changes.

You can sign up for Dropbox here. Their free tier offers you 2GB of space to play with, though you and I will both get 250MB extra space for free if you use my referral link. Not bad!

TweetDeck helps me manage Twitter.

It’s especially useful for managing multiple accounts, or to keep a search stream running on particular terms or hashtags.

Pro Tip 1: By default, TweetDeck notifies you of any new posts, which is distracting. You can turn this off by finding the ‘Settings’ menu (the icon that looks like a spanner), selecting ‘Notifications’, clicking ‘Advanced Options for columns’ and unticking the alert sound boxes. I have streams set up for new posts, mentions and DMs on my main Twitter accounts, but alert notifications just on the latter two.

Pro Tip 2: You can filter out stuff you’re not interested in by using the ‘Global Filter’, also in the ‘Settings’ menu. I currently have mine set to filter out: ‘@runkeeper,,,,’.

You can download TweetDeck here. I also use TweetDeck on my iPhone- it’s a little buggy, but still my favourite Twitter client.

Spotify keeps me fed with music.

It’s a little like having your own personalised radio station- you can choose from a large catalogue of music, cue up and create playlists.

They no longer offer the tier that I have, but you can get 5 hours usage a month (ad-supported) for free. Paid for accounts offer uninterrupted music and the facility to download it to listen to offlline.

You can find out more about Spotify here.

TrueCrypt gives me peace of mind. Last year, my computer was stolen (and thankfully, recovered intact). TrueCrypt seamlessly locks a hard-disk drive with a password.

Pro Tip: Best time to set this up is with a clean, fresh computer! I have essentials (Windows, TrueCrypt software, web browser and virus software) on my primary drive and am trying to put everything else (programs and data) on my larger, encrypted drive. The justification being that [1] I should be able to operate on a basic level with the primary drive and [2] That I can remove the second drive and use it elsewhere if the primary drive fails.

You can download TrueCrypt here.

Rob Lavender presented a spread of tools- some free, some commercial, that would be useful in a freelancer’s workflow.

Invoice Management

Bamboo Invoice – invoicing management tool built on CodeIgniter.

Commercial / hosted options:






Rob introduced an organisational methodology called Getting Things Done (GTD) which aims to externalise the processes that some keep in the mind to make them more efficient. Tasks are pushed into a cycle: Collect / Process / Organize / Review / Do.

iGTD – Mac / free

Things – Mac / commercial



Evernote – scrapbook / organiser

Remember the Milk – to do list

ActiveInbox – a Gmail plug-in to organise in a GTD way

43 folders – tips for life/career management

Project Management / Collaboration



Other 37 signals tools

Google Apps – business email / docs / sites / calendar / wave

Source Control

ProjectLocker – SVN / GIT hosting

Unfuddle – SVN / GIT hosting

Dreamhost - SVN is available inclusive with the hosting

Other Resources

Lifehacker – Productivity tips

1DayLater – Time Tracking software

opensourceCMS – sandboxed open source software for you to try out before you install.

Top 20 project management tools article.

Less Everything – assorted tools

Klok – time management tool (audience suggestion)


@robertlavender, Lavender Web Design

Rob’s slides:

Eric Ries explains Taiichi Ohno’s “Five Whys” and its application for process improvement in the software industry.

Executive summary

  • When a problem occurs, it can be broken down to errors at various levels.
  • We clearly and concisely formalise five of these and attach a positive corrective action to the process for each.
  • We assign a ‘proportional investment’ to each of the corrective actions, being careful not to over-allocate resources in a reactionary way.
  • Propose the corrective actions to the whole team and respond to their reactions.
  • Over time, corrective actions become incorporated – gradually improving flow.
  • This focusses on process enhancement, and attempts to mute any technical bias.
  • Reoccurring (80-20) problems will pass through multiple times, causing incremental but proportionate refinement, and will eventually be weeded out.

Scott Belsky presents some pointers for us to introspect and improve on.

Executive summary

We can benefit by:

  • Reducing constant distraction from a stream of incoming communications- tune out or homogenise these.
  • Organising projects into ‘action steps’ (immediately relevant), ‘backburners’ (maturing, and potentially irrelevant) and ‘references’ (mostly irrelevant paraphenalia).
  • Taking meetings only when required and focussing on producing ‘action steps’.
  • Reducing ‘insecurity work’ (i.e. metric minutiae)- become aware, delineate and delegate this.
  • Endure the ‘project plateau’ – push on through this rather than hopping to the exciting initial phase of a new project.

[Some pontification, as a mental warm-up to being surrounded by some seriously deep thinkers this week]

There are a couple of episodes in my life that blew my mind- figuratively, and perhaps even literally. Core to these have been an established, self-built mental construction about a person or situation that has been forced to collapse very quickly. These have predominantly centred around broken trust.

It’s an intrinsic human trait to rationalise in order to understand- to fit our impressions of the world into a coherent schema; with discrete, logical steps bridging any complexity. We may well create fiction along the way to cope with any cognitive dissonance within our world view.

Very occasionally, rationalisation isn’t possible- particularly where a situation has a strong emotional component. The conscious mind rapidly bounces between aspects, without being able to resolve any of them.

I’ve recognised quirks in my own cognitive behaviour, which have been triggered by incoherence. Some of these attempt to rectify, others are simply a side-effect. These have included:

  • Invention – a willingness to accept facts that are clearly untrue
  • Appeal – entertaining a divine, or out-worldly cause (I have never been religious)
  • Obsession – an inability to mentally focus on anything but the incoherence
  • Lockdown – an inability to mentally focus on anything at all, including the incoherence

The practical truth is that ‘some things just don’t make sense’ – this is a naturally difficult, but powerful tool, to adopt.

Most of us subscribe to a fundamental model of the physical world, where causes have direct, observable, and traceable effects. This is extremely useful and very empowering (pretty much essential for our daily operation, actually) – and I think we’d like to believe that we can apply this sort of computation elsewhere. But why is it necessarily true that all human actions have an understandable trigger, and all causes have a logical effect on people’s emotions?

Some primal emotions can be be rationalised as basic stimulus-response affairs (happiness, pain response). Other emotions may require a little more explanation (fear, awe). Can some be irrational enough, or too complex for us to logically work through?

Alongside the obvious – love (thanks, Spock!), perhaps we can include duty, respect…?

When the alternative is mental flip-flopping, and a first-class ticket on the train to madness, this is the most worthy mantra:

Some things just don’t make sense!

You’d think that after so many years of PCs and Macs co-existing that they’d be very interoperable.

Not so- and I’ve been struggling trying to set up an external hard-disk drive that I can use on both systems.

Mac prefers its own format (HFS/HFS+), PC would like another (FAT/NTFS). NTFS is partially compatible, but natively, Mac can only read, not write, in that format.

A little research suggested I might be able to use Ext2, a mature Linux format, and install plugins on either machine to handle it. The plan would be to create a three partition drive. A large main partition and one smaller one for each platform onto which I could store Ext2 drivers- so I could travel to any computer with the drive.

I tried three times to create this partition layout on the Mac (I couldn’t find an easy way to create an Ext2 partition on PC). Each time resulted in a system lock after about an hour – with a serious-looking ‘Press the power button on the back of your computer’ dialog that I haven’t seen before. Disk Utility was unable to repair the Ext2 partition.

The eventual adopted solution was to ditch Ext2 and…

  1. Using the Mac’s Disk Utility, I created a two partition drive- with a large PC partition (FAT) and a small MacOSX partition (HTS+ /1GB).
  2. On the PC, I reformatted the FAT partition into NTFS using Control Panel > Administrative Tools > Computer Management > Storage > Disk Management.
  3. I picked up an open-source plugin called NTFS-3G for the Mac. This permits writing to NTFS. There’s a commercial version of the code called Tuxera, but also a free-use one [NTFS-3G] buried away, but available.
  4. I installed the package on the Mac, and also copied it to the Mac partition of the external hard-drive, so I can install it anywhere.

If you do set up your drive like this, make sure you always safely eject the drive before disconnecting it- otherwise the Mac will whinge and you may lose data.

Ebony and ivory living together in perfect harmony. Maybe!


There are some great social/network/educational events coming up over the next few months.

These are the ones on my radar:

March 13th-14th Maker Faire, Newcastle (the Centre for Life / Discovery Museum, Newcastle)

Saturday and Sunday day-time.

March 20th-21st: BarCamp North-East 3 (the Centre for Life, Newcastle)

A full weekend, including overnight. Twitter #bcne3more info from me.

March 25th: Tyne Twestival (The Tyne Bar, Newcastle)

7pm-11pm – more info from me.

March 29th: SuperMondays – SuperMobile (The Beehive, Newcastle University)

6pm onwards

April 28th: DIBI – Design It. Build It: A Two-Track Web Conference (The Sage, Gateshead)

A full-day conference

April 29th: Thursday Fizz

Evening Networking – postponed… June?

July 15th-16th Webdurance (The Culture Lab, Newcastle University)

A 24-hour ‘hack’ event to update websites for charities for free March

I close brackets that have been opened- that’s tidy and the correct thing to do, right?

Apparently not for PHP files- The recommendation is that you miss off the final ?>

Why? Because whitespace at the end of the file may be sent to the browser, and header() declarations then won’t function properly.

This is the kind of tip you pick up on quickly if you work in a team, but miss out on if you’re solo!
Thanks onion2k.