Pen + Paper = Productivity

I was fuelled into writing my own views upon reading a very interesting post by Scott Hansalman, where he argues that we would all be more productive and stress free if we were to assimalate all our thoughts and ideas to paper rather than to an electronic device. I was intrigued by Scott's argument and he brings up many valid points that I agree with.

I for one have been addicted to taking notes on electronic devices from the very first day I used Evernote on my old HTC Hero. There has been no other note taking application that has organised my thoughts in such a way. In fact, majority of the blog posts I write start out in Evernote for wherever I have a spark of imagination. You can read how profoundly Evernote has affected my life in a post I wrote last year.

Note Taking

Now, as great as Evernote is, it suffers from one problem (same for any other note taking app for that matter): They stifle the flow of free thinking. Scott Hansalman sums this up quite well:

The problem is, at least for me, is that there isn't a great way to see the big picture when you've just got pixels to look at. Life is much higher resolution than I think folks realize. I'm frankly surprised that so many of you can feel organized and productive on those 11" laptops. What a tiny window into your life!

Scott hits the nail on the head. I too feel the same way. Paper has no fixed structure that you are forced to conform to, which makes processing your own thoughts very easy. Unfortunately, software for note taking has not advanced nearly as fast. It's still all too linear and fixed.

What is the happy medium? Can software applications and conventional note taking work hand in hand? I believe it can. Notes I either jot down from client meetings or from just simply brainstorming will always be scanned, tagged and organised to Evernote. This allows me to store my hand-written notes away safely and easily refer back to them through a simple keyword search.

I do like to write (even if my writing is not exactly legible). Whether I'd be making notes or the odd doodle, either way writing is a very cathartic experience. I'll always get more of a kick crossing out completed tasks from a hand-written todo list then I ever would from simply ticking a checkbox within an application.

Pen is not only mightier than the sword, but also mightier than any form of technological device.

Evernote Has Made Me An Extreme Data Hoarder

EvernoteOk. So for those of you have not heard of Evernote (and who hasn't!?), it's an online app/service that allows you to record voice, text and hand written notes that can synchronise across multiple devices and platforms.

Ever since I had my first smartphone, I've always relied on Evernote to record my daily thoughts and reminders. There are numerous note taking apps on the market, which (for me) just doesn't seem to cut the mustard and end up always coming back.

Evernote not only has the functionality, but it also has the infrastructure to make it more than just a "note taking" platform. So much so I'm hoarding major amounts of everyday things. Evernote is starting to act as a repository of things I don't want to let go of.

With the help of IFTTT, I have created numerous recipes that aggregate data from my social platforms such as Instagram and Twitter to importing RSS feeds from websites that interest me. Now Evernote is my one-stop-shop for getting everything I need on a daily basis instead of logging into different platforms individually.

If there is something I happen to like, I just Evernote it. Even if I won't ever need it. Typical sign of a hoarder! But I'm an organised data hoarder, utilising clearly named notebook stacks. Strangely enough, the more notes you add, the more useful Evernote becomes and this maybe the reason why I am hoarding so many things. It's more than a "note taker"!

One feature I didn't expect to be so useful was the ability to take pictures of printed or handwritten documents. I can take quick snapshots and go completely paperless. On top of that, Evernote makes everything searchable. It's even clever enough to search through my rubbishly written notes. I only found out how truly powerful this feature until I was going through the motions of purchasing my first property. At this time of my life, I was in constant note/documentation mode and Evernote helped me organise my thoughts, reminders and record all email correpondence neatly.

What I've done in the past with other note taking apps is delete old notes or files just to be completely sure that I will be able to search what I require quickly and easily, mainly due to the fact that sifting through large volumes of data was a headache! Nowadays, I don't delete anything in Evernote. I can now keep a record of things I previously done and refer to later without any worries at time of need.

It's safe to say my addiction to Evernote will only increase as I find more uses for it. But that's not a bad thing...right?

Update - 12/12/2014

I came across some posts from others with the same issue, which is nice to know that it's not only me with a problem:

Microsoft Virtual Academy...Something every Microsoft Developer Should Take A Look At!

There are many roads and avenues a tech-head can take to either get a grasp on new technology or prepare for certification. Unfortunately, some methods to get the knowledge on a subject can come at a great cost...especially when it comes to anything Microsoft.

Generally, Microsoft has always had some great forum and blogging communities to enable developers to get the expertise they require. I've always found them to be somewhat divided and looked rough around the edges. Now Microsoft has reworked its community and provided learners with a wide variety of courses freely available to anyone!

While MVA courses are not specifically meant to focus on exam preparation. They should be used as an addition to paid courses, books and online test exams to prepare for a certification. But it definitely helps. It takes more than just learning theory to pass an exam.

So if you require some extra exam training or just want to brush up your skills, give a few topics a go. I myself decided to test my skills by starting right from the beginning and covering courses that relate to my industry. In this case, to name a few:

  • Database Fundamentals
  • Building Web Apps with ASP.NET Jump Start
  • Developing ASP.NET MVC 4 Web Applications Jump Start
  • Programming In C# Jump Start
  • Twenty C# Questions Explained

I can guarantee you'll be stumped by some of the exam questions after covering each topic. Some questions can be quite challenging!

I've been a .NET developer for around 7 years and even I had to go through the learning content more than once. Just because you've been in the technical industry for a lengthy period of time, we are all susceptible to forget things or may not be aware of different coding techniques.

One of the great motivations of using MVA is the ranking system that places you against a leaderboard of other avid learners and seeing yourself progress as you complete each exam. All I can advise is that don't let the ranking system be your sole motivation to just "show-off" your knowledge. The important part is learning. What's the point in making a random attempt to answer each exam without a deep understanding on why you got the answer correct or incorrect.

You can see how far I have progressed by viewing my MVA profile here: http://www.microsoftvirtualacademy.com/Profile.aspx?alias=2181504

All in all: Fantastic resource and fair play to Microsoft for offering some free training!

New to Programming? Show The Technical World What You Can Do

Back in 2007 I started blogging mainly for one selfish reason - to have an online repository of how I've approached things technically to refer back to when required. When I find things interesting, I like to document them for me to expand on later. If a public user wants to expand or contribute to what I’ve posted, then they are welcome to do it.

Blogging soon flourished into something more beneficial and pushed me to better myself in all aspects of web & application development. It had turned me from being a very introverted cowboy-developer to an extrovert with the confidence to push the boundaries in my day to day job just so I could have a reason to blog about it and publicly display what I know.

I highly recommend blogging to anyone, especially in the technical industry. Reading other blogs has shown me that a solution to a problem is always up for interpretation. For example, I may find the solution to one of my issues on another site that I can expand further on my own blog (with references to the original author, of course).

This year, I decided to take things one step further and joined a well known open community called StackOverflow. So far, it's been a great experience and I recently broke the 1000 points barrier. It took a lot of blood, sweat and tears. In some ways, knowing how people rate your answers in a forum can help show you where your skill set is lacking. I'm sure if I look back on some of my earlier posts I've made some shockingly bad suggestions. Thankfully, there are more experienced posters who set you on the right direction.

StackOverflow Profile - sbhomra

Blogging and contributing to StackOverflow can also have an unexpected impact - employment. The web development industry is very competitive and it's up to you to set yourself apart from the rest. Potential employers can have a great insight to what you're capable of and demonstrates you can communicate your technical knowledge.

If I known this earlier in my career, I'm sure things would've been different and would have had the opportunity to find a job in web development sooner. So start early even if you're studying at college or university. When the time comes to getting a job, you can truly show your potential!

Backing up Google Account Data

In light of what has happened recently with some 150,000 Google Account holders loosing their information due to a mishap at Google HQ over the weekend really reinforces the fact that our data is not safe…even in the “cloud”.

At the end of the day our information is stored on hardware that can fail. I think that this whole “cloud computing” malarkey has got all lured into a false sense of security where we think we don’t need to take measures to ensure our data backed up on a regular basis. I have to admit, I too have become a bit tardy when it comes to backing up my online data. If a large company like Google can get it wrong, what hope is there for other companies offering the same thing?

I practically live on the “cloud” in terms of what Google has to offer. I use their email, calendar, document and notebook applications. Even their mobile phone OS: Android! Luckily, there are steps we can take to ensure our data is backed up on your own terms:

Google Calendar Google Calendar

Google Calendar is the one application I use the most. If I lost all my data, I would quite annoyed to say the least (and be very disorganised).

You can backup all your calendar entries by opening your calendar settings, click on Calendars and select “Export Calendars”. A zip file will be created containing your calendars in a .ical format.
 
GmailLogo Gmail

This a simple one. Use an desktop email client such as Thunderbird (or any other client you prefer) to download all your emails directly to you computer through POP access.
 
GoogleDocsLogo Docs

If you only store a handful of documents in your Google Account, you could just download them one-by-one. Understandably, if you have a long list of documents a more automated approach is required.

Lifehacker.com shows a really great script you can use to that allows you to download documents in whatever format you require. Take a look here.
 

Hooray! Our data is saved!

Could Writing a Blog Post Get Any Easier???

I have just installed Window Live Messenger 8.5. Yes, you might be thinking I have been a little late installing the latest version of Messenger. The reason for this is because I really had no reason to. After all I use Messenger just to talk to my friends. Nothing more, nothing less.

Anyway. Back to this blog post. Windows Live Messenger 8.5 has a really neat tool to manage you own blog. It is called Windows Live Writer (WLW). WLW has to be the most useful application for anyone who is an avid blogger. It features a WYSIWYG authoring, photo-publishing and map-publishing functionality, and is currently compatible with Windows Live Spaces, Blogger, LiveJournal, TypePad, Wordpress, Community_Server, PBlogs.gr, JournalHome, the MetaWeblog API, and the Moveable Type API. Even if your blogging engine is not listed here I am sure WLW will be compatible. For example, my blogging engine is BlogEngine and I was able to connect WLW to it really easily!

There are many extensions available to add extra functionality to WLW which you can find here. I highly recommend downloading "Code Snippet". This extension makes inserting code a breeze!

Code Snippet In Use:

// Hello1.cs
public class Hello1
{
   public static void Main()
   {
      System.Console.WriteLine("Hello, World!");
   }
}

 
WLW user interface is just as what you'd expect from the Microsoft product family. Very easy and intuitive to use:

WLWScreen

If you have not already tried WLW I highly recommend it. You can download WLW without installing Windows Live Messenger here.