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Posts tagged 'organization'

  • Organization, Part 2

    We came back from a brief trip to Orlando with over 700 new photos in tow. I dutifully uploaded them to Photos.app1, and realized that it's almost impossible to find anything.

    In fairness, Apple does have some automated tooling to make looking for specific photos easier. Faces, events, and upload groups make finding a specific event and flipping through photos for projects or just recollection simple, but there are some flaws. It's not clear to me if they got rid of the feature to flip through all unnamed faces or if I just can't find it—either way, it reflects poorly on Apple2, and is just another marker of their trend toward entropy.

    So I'm sitting at my computer, looking at over 16,000 photos, trying to make sense of them. What ends up working, and what I spent Sunday evening doing, is making a smart album that only selects files that don't belong to an album, then triaging. As I observe natural collections of files, a taxonomy emerges: some things are vacations or events (happening in a constrained time and place), some are of people (e.g. my wife, or the cat), and the remainder have conceptual boundaries, for the most part.

    Beyond normal tourism, the way I use my camera is to capture moments of interest ("memories"), interesting locations ("explorations"), or to record information where writing would be too slow (e.g. snapping a photo of a serial number, recording damage to the apartment). Triaging gave me the opportunity to filter some obvious duds/outdated information (I don't need to know the model number of my refrigerator two apartments ago), and to realize that this specific taxonomy predates this current push.

    Notably, when I would upload photos to Facebook in the past, the only way I could get a handle on them (and find them in the future) is to split along similar axes.

    I'm going to have some trouble making sure I'm not repeating myself here, but the broad purposes of organization are as follows:

    1. Finding trends in existing material
    2. Relocating specific material later on
    3. Reminding yourself what exists
    4. Extracting specific information (e.g. the date an event happened)
    5. Finding a general case of a specific collection

    The overall goal, of course, is to do productive work, so we need to impose just enough order on the system to allow it to work for us.

    Contrast a search engine. You might search for some restaurant in general (general case), or a particular restaurant (specific information). You might want to look for where restaurants cluster so you can go to an area with a lot of options, where you can search in person (finding trends). You might want to recall the name of that little place you visited two years ago (relocating information), or you might want to find that area you used to go all the time (reminding yourself what exists).

    I've noticed that Google has become good at a subset of these and bad at the rest. Notably, Google is pretty good at finding general information, but if you're looking for something you know exists and the information is a bit stale (e.g. hasn't been reposted or updated in a couple years), or if the search term you're using is specific but close enough to a more common term that it auto-corrects to something else, you might struggle to find "your thing." I just experienced this situation when looking for a specific comic that used to appear on reddit all the time3.

    This is where local caches come into play. I have layers and layers of data that I've been trying to keep organized; photos are just one. The app-centered model is a bit odd for some of the uses I have in mind. Case in point: sometimes (as mentioned above) the easiest way to quickly record something for later consumption/digestion is to take a screenshot of text. But this ends with a nightmare taxonomy, as follows.

    • When I just take a screenshot, that ends up in my photo stream and can be triaged quickly (it's hard to mistake a page of text for a photo of a person, even at thumbnail level). I have both a phone and a tablet, so I have to keep track of two separate streams.
    • Further, I have computers, and those screenshots go straight to desktop, so I have to deliberately aggregate them somewhere so that I can find what I'm looking for quickly.
    • Sometimes I use the "highlight" function in my eReader4, and those notes are stored… in my eReader, I guess? There's probably some way to setup a workflow to move those notes somewhere useful, but keep in mind the ultimate goal is to have stuff available for later use, so too much overhead defeats the purpose5.
    • Sometimes I copy relevant text to a note, or one of several note taking apps, and if the text becomes unsearchable some day (altogether too many pages go missing, either taken down, lost, or changed beyond recognition), then the source won't be available for contextualization.
    • And, most pathologically of all, sometimes I hand-write notes.

    So, sorting through fodder is a matter of paging through screenshots, photos in my library, text files, and scraps of paper, trying to find some specific thing.

    I don't think there's a need to solve this case in particular, but it's worth highlighting what a struggle it can be, and which has relevance to real-world scenarios6. It's not worth solving fully, but I want to have at least a first-pass handle on it so that I have a chance of finding something that I at one time thought worth remembering.

    Remember, the purpose of all this is to make things do work for you. If you spend so much time organizing that you never address any projects, you haven't won.

    A final note, and justification for the "victory" tag: a bunch of files that I thought I'd misplaced, containing a lot of business ideas and so forth, were actually filed away on my NAS.

    1. One day I'll need to talk about how hard Apple's app naming conventions have made googling for tech support… 

    2. I checked some help docs; seems it was possibly an inadvertent removal in High Sierra. 

    3. In fact, for reasons I can't quite determine, Google has gotten much worse at finding all comics, even when I would have sworn that the same search terms would yield the results I seek not even a year ago. I'm not sure if this is a result of a change in Google or the pages themselves. 

    4. Marvin, an iOS app that allows you to make clippings of text without any of the asinine copyright hurdles that the kindle inflicts on you. 

    5. Spending a day figuring this workflow out when I only read at most a book a week, and can easily recall that the thing I saw was in a book, seems rather pointless. On the other hand… for the sake of just having fodder available to inspire writing, it might be in my interest. 

    6. Off the top of my head, legal discovery. 

  • Organizing thoughts and data

    Phase 1: Deleting/archiving presence elsewhere

    A big part of this thrust to centralize … myself, for lack of a better word—is getting all the bits and pieces together in one place.

    There have been a variety of platforms over the years. Some have died—I don't think I stored anything important on orkut—but on those that still exist, you can see the entropy.

    I've been convinced of the value of holding onto your data in formats that will resist the test of time for years. Nevertheless, it's amazing to me how much entropy has struck in places where there has been platform continuity for over ten years. Embedded tags (nominally HTML, but obviously parsed somehow by the internal tooling) and other metadata has bit-rotted until everything is nearly unreadable.

    After some effort, I have archives in local storage of almost everything I've ever posted online, and the old versions are "deleted"1 off those platforms.

    With some exceptions. Facebook is a tough nut to crack; I needed to register as a developer to even begin to download my post graph entries, and after toying with it for a bit I'm not sure that I'm ready to go all the way down that rabbit-hole. It looks like I'd have to run a local server in order to scrape an effective copy of my data from them, since their "archive" tool is god-awful for someone who shared as many links as me.

    Phase 2: Triage

    A lot of the stuff I've written down can go back up in due time. A lot of it should never see the light of day.

    This leads to a question of, what's the point of a blog? I know that a lot of what I write now will seem embarrassing by the standards of future me, but this process seems asymptotic. Meanwhile, angsty blog posts from when I was 15 contain … embarrassing turns of phrase, among other things, that don't shed light on who I am now.

    Broadly speaking, I don't believe in deleting things. On reddit2, if I was blatantly wrong, and someone pointed it out, I'd always leave my posts up as a matter of principle, and to provide context for people who came by after.

    But does that mean I have to put everything back up? I doubt it.

    What's interesting about this place is that (my intent is) it is a place to focus and refine my thoughts. The ideas I've gotten the most mileage out of are the ones I write down in a place I also read. So, some turn of phrase or tiny stub in a page of a notebook I constantly flip through worms its way into memory via spaced repetition, essentially.

    This suggests that the real goal is to find the kernels that reflect deeper truths… and then consolidate them into something wiki-like.

    Further, blog entries outside my journals should be considered transient. This suggests another layer of metadata, for posts that don't hold interest because they've been superseded by something more refined or more correct. Not just for currently outdated posts, but for stuff that's fresh now that'll seem stupid in two or ten years.

    Do I need to own up to everything I've ever said? That way lies madness, surely. But reading and consolidating is probably in the cards, which suggests something wiki-like is on the medium term road map.

    Phase 3: Editing

    For the stuff that's worth posting, editing is necessary. I may end up going through and doing this cleanup on everything, but the first-order changes involve more or less the following:

    • Remove useless metadata (e.g. date_gmt, added by Wordpress)
    • Clean up remaining metadata
    • Change formatting to markdown
    • Resolve obvious typos
    • Add appropriate tags and categories

    The point of this blog, again, is organizing the data, so having effective cross-links is the first part of that. As mentioned before, I'll probably need some sort of "archival" tag, to indicate to readers that what they're reading is historical reference3.

    This is a highly manual task. An automated tool might sound good at first blush, but the data sources are heterogeneous and the sorts of formatting that each demanded differ that re-establishing the correct context in markdown syntax demands I re-read and hand-tweak everything.

    In theory I'm not against this, because I want to re-read and consolidate as many of my old thoughts as I can, but 1) it's a lot of content and 2) it's going to screw up my plan to get permalinks running. I don't think date+slug is an effective permalink schema for content where date might not be the most important aspect of what I'm doing, but without a database there aren't really any unique primary keys to work against. I'll have to chew on this for a while.


    What's the point of all this effort? Well, I have bits and pieces all over, and it's part of a process to more well-define my identity and make my thinking more coherent.

    Journaling is more of a "in the moment" process, that reflects where I am in the day and time. Organizing, as an umbrella, is about finding a kernel of myself, and building on it logically.

    1. Who knows if these platforms actually delete old content, though. 

    2. … speaking of sites I wrote content for but never archived… However, so much of what I wrote on reddit only makes sense in the context of the thread it's in, so maybe it's okay that I don't have that. 

    3. And perhaps add an obvious note, and cross-links to newer versions? 

  • Week 9 Day 3 - The one good thing

    … about everyone having a slow day is that you can commiserate.

    I spent a while this morning moving items out of my TODO list and into Trello—might as well use it for something now that I have an account. I found that trying to read to-dos off of a serial text file is next to impossible, and until I can afford a more full-featured project management app, it should do the trick. (Why is OmniFocus so expensive?)

    From there I went down a rabbit hole of other people's code, doing a lot of thinking about separation of concerns and where and how views should interact, and how routers play into all that. The good thing is many people have asked themselves similar questions before; the bad news is that so many people have thought about it that there's no one good answer for how to address it, and Backbone is agnostic about the whole mess.

    That was most of my day. I did read a lot of code and learned more and more about how Backbone actually works under the hood (as well as playing with a number of neat Underscore functions) but at the end of the day what I have to show for it is clickable column headers that update the sort order of their associated table, and some utility code … not so much output.

    I'm already thinking about what I want to and need to do tomorrow, and prioritizing various tasks based on the knowledge that we'll probably have a 1-hour lecture at some point and that we have to present again on Friday… It's going to be close. Hopefully I'll have some "wow" by then.

  • Week 8 Day 4 - The most committed person at appacademy

    I'm trying to take git very seriously, which means that every time I wrap up some context, I'll try to stage it separately and commit just that portion of the project. I was joking with someone today that others' commit messages consist of "Monday", "Tuesday", etc. I've made 55 commits (according to github) in the past two days, which is something. party horn

    So, what'd I do today? Well, there was a bit of yak shaving today, although admittedly not as much as yesterday—I'm making a lot of progress learning the details I need to know to accomplish what I want to do—but there's always more to learn. Some time around lunch, I broke down and started trying to hammer out as much as I could as quickly as possible, and damn the looks… for the most part.

    So, in terms of physics, my position is way behind where it could be—I'm jealous of the guy who's got robust rspec unit tests running—my velocity is just about what it should be, and my acceleration is going really well. I think… I have a hard time perceiving the struggles of the people around me, and seeing which things I'm doing better than them, but every time someone transitions from Rails to Backbone I get a bit more self-conscious.

    This seems to be a theme with me.

    It's not that bad. Honestly, most of the pressure I'm feeling comes from the instructors. I know they mean well, and I know I should work faster and get over some of my hangups, but … I guess I'm overcoming my baggage in terms of how I attack problems. This is my problem and I'm personally invested in it, as opposed to some of the "toy" work we'd done, and I'm much more certain of the architecture and layout of all the tiny pieces. When I want to add something, I know which three files I need to tweak to make it happen (most of the time…), I open those windows, make those tweaks, commit, and am off to the races.

    Contrast that with the general befuddlement I'd often experience when following along with some of the projects' specs. It's kind of nice.

    Oh, I neglected to comment on my actual workflow. So, among the panes that I keep open are a small set of text files for "overall TODOs" (e.g. architecture and styling), for "upcoming TODOs", which are tasks that are a bit less ambitious than the first set but don't fit nicely into a smaller context (generally, I have 5-8 of these at a time), and then individual TODO: comments inside the source files. These last identify places where my code is broken but I can't do anything about it (I don't have the skills/time to fix it) or where there's an edge case that's known and I know how to address it, but it's not a priority at the moment.

    This seems to be working pretty well for me, at least today. It certainly helps me shed the weight of tangential thoughts (helping me maintain focus on the matter at hand) and have a good place to go to feed me when I hit one of those transitional lulls.

    They told us to try to finish our rails apps tonight. I got all my models composed, and have a lot of headway on my controllers; my views are sparse… and I need sleep. There's only so much that can be done in a day, although I could keep working.

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