Digital Note-Taking Apps

I used to use paper notebooks extensively. When I didn’t have paper and pen, I emailed myself a quick note from my iPhone. This led gradually to me keeping all of my notes on my iPhone, using the Notes app. In the last few months, I’ve moved from Notes to Evernote. This process took some time and research, which I’m sharing in case it’s useful to you.

Notebook

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My Four Favorite Meditation Books

Mindfulness meditation has changed me perhaps more than any other influence in my life. Here are four books whose wisdom I treasure.

Zen Rocks

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The Best Activity Tracking Watch

After thinking about smart watches, activity trackers, and similar devices for a while, I bought a Withings Steel HR. My goal was to find a traditional stylish-looking watch with long battery life, heart rate tracking, sleep tracking, and activity tracking. Here’s my experience thus far.

TL;DR: Using the Withings Steel HR has changed the way I use my smartphone. I love how much less distracted I am. I am happy with the health tracking features, and I like the traditional watch styling and long battery life.

Runner

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The Best Lossy Music Compression

I noticed recently that Google Play Music has a set of features I wasn’t aware of before, and decided to give it a try. Through various kinds of yak shaving, I ended up tackling a project I’d wanted to look into for a while: which formats and settings are really the best for lossy music compression?

What I learned was both fun and surprising, and ultimately highly practical. If you’re in a hurry, the summary is that high-quality variable-bitrate MP3 produced with the LAME encoder is probably the best all-around choice if you want broad compatibility; if you want the best sound quality, though, AAC (Apple’s native format) or Ogg Vorbis are much better than MP3.

But before I get to that, let’s sharpen some yak razors, shall we?

Cymatics

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A Standing Desk On The Cheap

Everyone loves (or mocks) a good standing desk, but most of us don’t love the price. Adjustable sit/stand desks and bolt-on apparatus I’ve seen cost up to $1000 to $5000. I have a feeling if you get something on the cheap end of that scale, you probably will regret it. There are less expensive ones that just sit on your desk, but they seem like abominations I would hate to use.

As an alternative I won’t regret because it’s cheap and minimalistic, I’ve been using a simple but effective adjustable laptop holder for a few years. It’s easy to place on a desktop or counter. At this point there are a few of them at work and one at home. I keep recommending them to friends so I might as well just post it here too.

Furinno Adjustable Laptop Stand

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The Ultimate Pen

In The Ultimate Notebook, I reviewed a large list of notebooks I bought in my quest for the perfect one for me. (I’m happy to say that I’ve been using the Quo Vadis Habana in Raspberry exclusively for a while). But what about the perfect pen? Ah, pens. As much a personal matter as notebooks are. I’ve tried a variety of pens. Here’s my review of some of them.

Pens

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The Goal

Once upon a time I managed several teams of consultants. At a certain stage of the organization’s growth, we wanted to achieve a higher billable-time utilization more easily, and we wanted more structure and process.

Cary Millsap, about whom I have written quite a bit elsewhere on this blog, suggested that I might profit from reading The Goal by Eliyahu Goldratt. I will let history be the judge of the outcome, but from my perspective, this was revolutionary for me. It is a clear watershed moment in my memory: I lived life one way and saw things through one lens before, and afterwards everything was different.

Horse Race

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A review of Bose, Sony, and Sennheiser noise-cancelling headphones

I’ve used active noise-cancelling headphones for over ten years now, and have owned several pairs of Bose, one of Sony, and most recently a pair of Sennheiser headphones.

Sennheiser PXC 450 NoiseGard Active Noise-Canceling Headphones

The Sennheisers are my favorites. I thought I’d write down why I’ve gone through so many sets of cans and what I like and dislike about them.

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The Ultimate Notebook

If you’re like me, you spend so much time typing on a computer that a good notebook or journal is one of life’s finer pleasures. I’ve kept a diary of my personal life for close to 30 years now, and I have a shelf full of journals. I’ve found a great many that I enjoy writing in, and choosing a different one each time is part of the fun.

TL;DR: The Apica Premium C.D. Notebook is everything. The Quo Vadis Habana is my previous pick, and I love them both.

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Notebook

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A review of Republic Wireless's cellphone service

I’ve been trying out Republic Wireless, a startup that offers very inexpensive wireless service: $19 for unlimited talk, text, and data. In a nutshell: they resell Sprint’s network, and you agree to connect to wifi as much as possible; they use the Internet instead of the cell network when you’re on wifi. I thought for $19/month it wouldn’t hurt to give it a try. After several months, my experience has been that it isn’t worth using at all, no matter how cheap it is.

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A review of Clojure In Action by Amit Rathore

Clojure In Action Clojure In Action, by Amit Rathore. Manning, 2012. About 400 pages. This is a lucid and interesting introduction to Clojure and the LISP family of programming languages. It’s been years since I programmed in LISP and I found myself recalling those days, at the same time as I learned a lot more than I used to know. Indeed, I realized that my knowledge of LISP was only superficial, and that I probably ought to take some time at some point and learn it deeply enough to have the epiphany people talk about.

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How I ended my trial of Gnome 3

tl;dr version: I like XFCE better than Gnome 3. I wrote previously about trying out Gnome 3. I’ve been using it for about a month now, and it’s time for me to make a decision about whether to keep using it or revert to Gnome 2. I’m actually on vacation, which ends soon. I need to do this before vacation ends, so I can be fully productive at work. My ultimate impression of Gnome 3 is that it’s very slick, and makes significant improvements in some ways, but it’s not very usable for my purposes, and has too many self-contradictions.

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A review of SQL Antipatterns by Bill Karwin

SQL Antipatterns, by Bill Karwin, Pragmatic Bookshelf, 2010. About 300 pages. Here’s a link to the publisher’s site. I loved this book. (Disclosure: Bill is a colleague of mine.) This is the first book I’ve read from the Pragmatic Bookshelf, and if the rest are like this one, I want to read them. The quality of the writing is way above the average technical book. Techniques that feel gimmicky and forced in other books, such as fake stories to introduce each chapter, actually work here (because they’re real stories, not fake ones).

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A review of MySQL Replication by Russell Dyer

MySQL Replication by Russell Dyer, Silent Killdeer, 2010. About 180 pages. This is a pocket-sized guide to setting up and managing MySQL replication. It is self-published and made via print-on-demand technology. Topics include how replication works, setting up replication, making backups, and administering replication after it’s working. There are several appendixes for replication-related functionality in the MySQL server and command-line tools. This book doesn’t go into great depth, so don’t expect it to be a reference manual to replication internals or anything like that.

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A review of PostgreSQL 9 Administration Cookbook by Riggs and Krosing

PostgreSQL 9 Administration Cookbook. By Simon Riggs and Hannu Krosing, Packt, 2010. Approximately 330 pages. This is a good book for PostgreSQL database administrators to pick up, especially if you’re new to PostgreSQL but familiar with another system such as Oracle, SQL Server, or MySQL. It has more than 80 “recipes” that range from quick tips to moderately detailed discussion of how to accomplish specific tasks. The chapters and recipes are well organized, and you can either read the book from start to finish or jump to a specific recipe for quick help.

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Impressions of Fedora 15 with Gnome 3

I finally upgraded from Fedora 13 to Fedora 15 on my beloved ASUS-UL30A-X5. It includes the new Gnome 3, with the “Gnome Shell” interface. It’s quite different from anything else I’ve used, and you can read lots of positive and negative impressions around the web. Fedora 15 and Gnome 3 have awesome support for my laptop’s hardware. It’s simply flawless. You could not expect better software/hardware integration if you paid thousands of dollars for something from Steve Jobs.

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Using the Nook Color as a full-featured Android tablet

I bought a Barnes and Noble Nook Color e-book reader and ripped out the Nook software, replacing it with the CyanogenMod distribution of the Android OS. It’s really, really nice hardware, and CyanogenMod (CM) is really, really nice software. I love them both, and my regular readers will remember that I’m not a gadget guy. Read on for more. I never thought I’d get a tablet, until my phone died and I got a Droid 2 as a replacement.

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A review of PostgreSQL 9.0 High Performance by Gregory Smith

PostgreSQL 9.0 High Performance PostgreSQL 9.0 High Performance. By Gregory Smith, Packt 2010. About 420 pages. (Here's a link to the publisher's page for this book.) I enjoyed this book a lot and recommend it to everyone who uses PostgreSQL or MySQL. MySQL users should benefit from understanding PostgreSQL. Beyond that, I learned a lot from this book that I can apply directly to MySQL. In particular, the book begins with a few chapters on hardware performance, benchmarking, and configuration.

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A review of CouchDB, the Definitive Guide by Anderson, Lenhardt, and Slater

CouchDB, the Definitive Guide. By J. Chris Anderson, Jan Lehnardt, and Noah Slater, O’Reilly 2010. About 260 pages. This is a good introduction to CouchDB. I would like more information about server internals from a book titled “definitive guide.” But it orients the reader well and shows CouchDB’s strengths and use cases clearly. The writing is straightforward and well organized. I think it does a great job at helping the reader see the possibilities and the elegance inherent to the data model and conventions built into CouchDB.

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A review of MongoDB, the Definitive Guide by Chodorow and Dirolf

MongoDB, the Definitive Guide MongoDB, the Definitive Guide, by Kristina Chodorow and Michael Dirolf, 2010. About 200 pages. (Here’s a link to the publisher’s site.) This is a good introduction to MongoDB, mostly from the application developer’s point of view. After reading through this, I felt that I understood the concepts well, although I am not a MongoDB expert, so I can’t pretend to be a fact-checker. The topics are clearly and logically presented for the most part; there is a small amount of repetition in one of the appendixes, but I don’t mind that.

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