Saturday, May 31, 2008

The biggest problem I've noticed people having with Mind Traffic Control is with delegating. They were sometimes delegating without filling in the task description (thinking that the original task description would get copied across - which it wasnt't) or delegating to names of people which clearly weren't email addresses (or Goggle logins).

Now I've trapped this. When delegating a task, it's description gets copied (although you can still edit it), and the system also traps non-email addresses as targets to delegate to.

Keep watching ...

Monday, May 26, 2008

Om Malik suggests a freemium business model for Twitter that starts charging for tweets per follower.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Rather great Paul Graham essay on adult treatment of children.

This resonates :

Innocence is also open-mindedness. We want kids to be innocent so they can continue to learn. Paradoxical as it sounds, there are some kinds of knowledge that get in the way of other kinds of knowledge. If you're going to learn that the world is a brutal place full of people trying to take advantage of one another, you're better off learning it last. Otherwise you won't bother learning much more.

Very smart adults often seem unusually innocent, and I don't think this is a coincidence. I think they've deliberately avoided learning about certain things. Certainly I do. I used to think I wanted to know everything. Now I know I don't.

Update : and another good one on the internet as dangerous distraction for procrastinators. Twitter is ridiculously addictive. In the wrong state of mind I can find myself trying to refresh once a minute.

Mind Traffic Control is partly meant to try to harness that dynamic for good ... or at least for work. It gives you something to click manically hoping for new surprises to pop out, but it's only ever work which pops (assuming you only put real work or necessary tasks in).

Note, at some point I may import RSS feeds into MTC ... but remember, it's vitally important you do not connect MTC up to some kind of "news" feed. Don't drink from the fire-hose, as they say.
I realize there's no defined way of submitting bug-reports or suggestions for Mind Traffic Control. I need to set one up. In the meantime, use the comments for this post.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Couple of interesting posts on Twitter scaling issues.

Twitter starting a conversation with the community, and some speculation about the issues. It's not the writing it's the "view my page which collates from multiple other users" which is the issue.

If that's the case I wonder what an Erlangish solution would be. There's no real reason for the Twitter *database* to be centralized at all. (In this sense, Winer's thoughts on total decentralization are apt.) Could you not have multiple nodes, each with it's own database of some users. These nodes are going to have to talk to each other only when someone pulls a page out.

You could also, presumably, in the extreme case have entirely separate servers for different users, and only integrate the overview of all people being followed "at the glass" in the browser or RIA client.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Adobe Thermo looks interesting.

At first, of course, it looks just like another Visual Basic which is of note only because it targets Flex (and hence the Flash Virtual Machine).

But it's clever in the way that it imports Photoshop files and takes advantage of some of the logical structure.

Not for me, though, obviously.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

A very natural conjoining ... spreadsheets become wikis.
Python as a Platform

Smart Disorganized Philosophy #2

Chatting with BillSeitz I found myself saying this :

MTC needs to have what Udel called the "special charmpower" of email ... that groups are spontaneous and form bottom-up from the flow, rather than having to be designed up-front, prior to the flow .... otherwise people keep using email
Another list view for Mind Traffic Control

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

OK, somewhat ugly, but they're there by popular demand ... full lists of your tasks.

Don't worry Mind Traffic Control isn't forgetting them. :-)
If you follow @exmosis on twitter you'll see he's busily trying to deconstruct Mind Traffic Control turning it into an untask-list or a barter-market.

@adrianh is constructively sceptical.

Lots here

Monday, May 12, 2008

Mind Traffic Control now has #tags.

If you use any word beginning with a # when describing a task, the task gets tagged with this word. And once you start tagging, a filter appears to let you filter your queue to present only those tasks which contain the tag.

Not entirely sure I've got the UI right on this one. It is simple, I think. But maybe not obvious, and maybe not in the right place at the moment.

Comments, bug reports, suggestions welcome as always.

BTW : a good thing about the GAE, it is so simple to add new functionality. This was about three hours of development and another 3 of debugging.

The reason for the longish debugging is what looks like a quirk in GAE.

At one point I was using a user object instead of a user email in a query. (I'm using user email's as user id in the database.) You might assume that this would simply fail with some kind of type error. But interestingly it worked on my local machine (somehow in the SDK it looks as though the user object gets correctly coerced into its email) but not on the appspot server where the query always returned nothing.

Read into that what you will.

Smart Disorganized Philosophy #1

I've been on a Smart Disorganized Individuals tip for several years, now. Always writing software compatible with that philosophy.

But what is the philosophy? What does this software mean?

In this series I'll start to make some specific notes towards that. Here's the first.

SdiDesk is wiki : a network of texts.

GeekWeaver is a programming language written in an outliner : a hierarchy.

Mind Traffic Control is a multi-user, dynamic queue, a "flow" of tasks.

Each is SDI. Each is completely different. Each is for specific purpose.

SdiDesk excels at capturing ideas and the relationships between them that are static.

Outlines excel at authoring or creating structure which is ultimately intended for a reader.

Flows excel at capturing change and movement.

OTOH, each is bad for something. These are true, even if you might imagine them not to be.

Wiki is surprisingly bad for authoring. Outliners are surprisingly bad for managing todo-lists. Flows are a surprisingly bad place to put ideas that you want to keep forever.

Wiki is great for writing, but awkward for the kind of reworking and structuring needed to polish a document for an external audience.

Outliners fail to match the dynamism of shifting tasks and priorities in the real world. They focus on making a structure of something which needs little structure.

MTC will lose your ideas when they are no longer in the future.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Today's Mind Traffic Control update.

The "defer" screen was simple, but not simple enough. Why make the user go through two mouse clicks - select a radio button and then the submit button - when this can be reduced to one? Now choosing how long you want to delay is a single button click.

I was also finding, when defering, that I wanted to remind myself of today's date. Now I've just added a display of today's date for convenience.

In general, I'm going to follow a philosophy of trying to identify and implement small improvements like this to MTC.

All suggestions welcome.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Just remembered Paul Graham's essay from earlier in the year. It really spoke to me (what with my bias towards the agile, experimental, piecemeal, wiki-natured, wabi-sabi way of design).

Of course it's my road-map for the ongoing development of Mind Traffic Control.
Day 2 of Mind Traffic Control in public.

Development continues with MTC exporting OPML

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

Mind Traffic Control roll-out continues.

Nothing spectacular in terms of numbers, but friends are making interesting comments and suggestions; and some strangers are discovering it via the Twitter announcement.

Eikeon pointed to twemes as a place to search for the #tag #MTC on Twitter.

Good chat with Folknology. He's encouraging me to open up the data. Hence I did CSV export of your tasks. Al, likes RSS/Atom but I still need to find out whether feed-readers can do the required Google login to get at a non-public feed.

Rup3rt weighed in with a number of comments starting :
Wow an invisible list machine almost like a gumball/toy dispenser ...

and continuing

I like to see what is ahead but it is good with the delegation - I can line up things for the estagiarios. This is great for non-negotiables like driving instructions, recipes.

* The font for "This task was delegated to you .. may report the sender for blacklisting and delete this task" is a bit big

* I would like a difficult autoaddress ( to delegate tasks by email and maybe I could get other tasklists to feed into MTC using this (to just top it up with priority1 or todotoday tasks)

* Maybe paste a list of (line break delimited) tasks that are automatically added

* Maybe show in a widget

* Maybe show total number of tasks

* How would time estimates of task duration fit in? It could be a diversion to see "You have 13 hours of traffic to negotiate")

Good suggestions. I'll be interested to know what everyone else thinks.

But here are some initial thoughts :

Font issue, yep. Mailing tasks in to Mind Traffic Control would be great; a very useful addition. But I'm not yet sure I can do it on the Google Application Engine.

I might be able to do it using another hosting service but that's introducing a lot of new complexity into the system : running two different hosting services, writing scripts on the old-skool one to pass emails it receives into MTC in some way, being responsible for security (how do I stop spammers mailing tasks to you via the system?) etc. Going to take a while to figure that one out.

Importing other formats and / or entering multi-line, multi-task lists is easier and more likely to appear soon. I'll definitely go for the multi-line input box in the short-term future. I'd be interested to hear what formats readers currently use for to-do lists so that I can import them. I immediately think OPML, of course. But are there others?

Widgets ... actually I've been playing with OpenSocial and Orkut Widgets for my other GAE project. It's cute ... but I'm not yet sure what I'd put in a MTC widget.

Task counts and time estimates I'm ambivalent on. I don't want to make MTC a paranoia inducing space where you arrive on the front page to be presented with something saying "Welcome to Mind Traffic Control. You have 280 outstanding tasks". On the other hand, I see that people would like some sort of overall measure of what they have to do. More thinking on this.

Finally, there's a couple of issues of "philosophy", particularly why I'm resistant to letting you flag tasks with "priorities" but leaving that for the next post when I'll be more coherent.

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

Softlaunch ... no fanfare ...

Mind Traffic Control

This is my first Google Application Engine application. A kind of next-action list for the Twitter generation.

Basic instructions :

1) You need a Google account to login (eg. Gmail) ... it's a GAE app.

2) There's a blue box for inputting tasks you need to do. Once you start entering them, Mind Traffic Control will show you your next action.

3) At which point you have a choice. Say you did it. Delay it (push it to the back of the queue). Delegate it to another user. Defer it to a future date. Or delete it altogether.

4) Keep going.

There are a couple of ideas behind this. First, that people have been getting too hooked up on the idea of "organizing" their tasks and actions into lists. But organization itself isn't really an end, it's a means towards making sure you remember and discover your tasks, as a means towards the ultimate end of getting stuff done. So instead of thinking of tasks as list-management, Mind Traffic Control treats tasks as un-structured flows.

The real focus is on capturing the tasks as quickly and easily as possible. So, inspired by Twitter and Folknology's Rel3, the input box is always there at the top of your page.

The other focus is when the task is presented to you. At this point you need all your options to quickly route the task. In a more static system we might say route into particular "bins" but here it might be better to say "channels" (unless it's the ultimate sink of "done" or "deleted".

Another idea ... it's meant to be the simplest workflow that could possibly work. Just short messages which can be routed. Everything else has to be constructed by humans on top of this. But as, once again, we've seen with twitter, it looks like humans are pretty good at filling out these communication channels.

Anyway, off to bed ... will write more posts here soon ...

please have a try with Mind Traffic Control, and if you have any comments, feel free to post them here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

I've now been playing with GAE for a couple of weeks, and it's still looking pretty good. I've now got an Orkut developer account so I can make Orkut widgets tethered to a GAE based service.

Meanwhile looks like GvR has been doing some cool stuff within Google with internal development tools, and has just released it to the outside world, thanks to GAE giving us access to BigTable etc.