My office

Here’s a really nice view of the office that I work from every day.

Or take a look at the full version.

SEO Presentation

On July 19, 2013 I gave a presentation about SEO to the Asbury Park, NJ WordPress Meetup group, hosted at Cowerks. (I’ve actually been working out of Coweks for the last two weeks. If you ever need a coworking space while at the Jersey Shore, this is it.) It was a ton of fun.

Here are the slides, for your viewing pleasure:

Edit: A similar presentation was also given at the Philly WordPress Meetup on July 23, 2013. (I feel like I’m on tour.)

Where are we with home automation?

A few months ago, I somehow convinced myself that buying the Belkin Wemo was a good idea. The thought of home automation has always felt like the holy grail of geekyness, and if I could figure out a reasonable way to do it, I’d be the happiest kid on the block.

The truth about these types of gadgets, though, is that we’re not quite there yet. It’s totally cool to have a wifi-enabled socket, but it’s not quite useful enough. It’s a straight power/no power switch that you can do geeky things with. But how many of our modern devices work by simply plugging them in?

I’d never be able to use it to brew my coffee, because I have to press the brew button. I can’t use it to turn on my stereo, because I have to hit the power button. There are so many things that I want to do with it, but as I said, we’re not quite there.

belkin-wemo-switchThe unit itself is pretty cool. It’s a breeze to set up and totally works as advertised (for me, anyway) but I can’t help but think how far away we are from where I want to be with home automation. I want to be able to control ALL THE THINGS from one device, or automate how I interact with my house in a way that’s useful to me.

One thing that I will say about the Wemo is that whoever decided to integrate it with ifttt is a genius and should be given the biggest raise ever. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the coolest and only way to put it to use.

I haven’t come up with any useful ifttt recipes yet for it, but my favorite so far is that every Friday at 10am, my light turns on to remind me to go get a burrito for #BurritoFriday. Sadly, though, as awesome as that is, it still isn’t worth the price tag.

I’d love to hear about your home automation setup. Besides Nest for climate control and Wemo for power, are we any closer to Back to the Future II?

 

Awesome Screenshot + Cloud App = Magic

In my work and in my life I take a lot of screenshots. A LOT of them. According to my logs, I take anywhere from 10-35 per day, half of which are usually annotated in one way or another.

Generally speaking, I need to create these on the fly. Whether it’s for Engineering Happiness or showing my wife that I did something cool, I need to make them quickly.

I’ve found an amazing combination of little apps that has made this process super simple, quick, and magical.

First and foremost, the best way to take a screenshot on a Mac is Cmd+Shift+4. This allows you to select the area of the screen and automatically save it to your desktop.

Cool, right? Well, sort of.

By saving an average of 22.5  screenshots to my desktop per day, I’d have to make cleaning up part of my daily routine or else I’d be overwhelmed with a messy desktop at the start of each day. Boo to that.

Luckily, we can fix that pretty easily with a Terminal command. The Terminal can be found under Applications → Utilities on your Mac.

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 9.54.01 AMI’ve created a folder on my desktop called Screenshots where all of my screenshots are automatically saved. If you want to do the same, launch the Terminal and enter this command (after you’ve created the folder, of course):

defaults write com.apple.screencapture location ~/Desktop/Screenshots/

To make this stick, you need to enter one more command which is:

killall SystemUIServer

After you’ve done that, go ahead and give it a whirl. Cmd+Shift+4 yourself away and watch all of your screenshots be saved to a folder instead of directly to the Desktop.

Now that we have that out of the way, here’s where the amazing happens:

Awesome Screenshot is a screenshot annotation add-on for your favorite browser. I personally use the Firefox version, but they also have versions available for Chrome and Safari. This add-on allows you to capture all of the screen or part of the screen and circle, point, and text your way to descriptive annotations. It is super intuitive, and I’d recommend it to anyone. Oh, and it’s totally free.

Awesome Screenshot at work

Awesome Screenshot at work

 

Screen Shot 2013-05-05 at 7.06.27 AM

Cloud App Menu

Cloud App lets you upload and share files really easily. One of the most amazing features is  Auto Upload Screenshots, which means that each time you take a screenshot it automatically gets uploaded to your account and given a URL, which is automagically copied to your clipboard for easy sharing. You can upload and share almost any type of file with it, which is equally awesome.  Another cool thing is that you can use your own URL with it so that your sharing is more personal. I use the URL http://im.alxb.co for my screenshots. They do have a free version, but I’ve found the need for the Pro version which is $3.75 per month. Totally worth it.

Now each of these on their own is super powerful and helpful in many ways, but what happens when you combine them? Magic. That’s what happens.

The flow of it is pretty simple, but totally powerful:

You’re on a page where you want to point something out to someone and you simply click the Awesome Screenshot icon in your browser. This opens up a new tab, where you can annotate away, making your screenshot. . . um. . . awesome. The next step is to Cmd+Shift+4 that puppy so it’s automatically saved to your Screenshots folder and uploaded to Cloud App. Once it’s automatically uploaded to Cloud App, you have a nice neat URL copied to your clipboard, ripe for sharing. Magic, I tell you, magic.

Here’s a quick video of the flow. It takes no time at all, and works great for quick sharing of ideas (Full-screen this bad-boy to really see it in action):

What are your inputs?

The noise swirls around our heads like a never ending stream of consciousness from the outside world. Managing the way that you digest it, the way that you plug into it (or it plugs into you), is the only realistic way to turn that noise into something useful.

The goal of the average information consumer should be to manage their inputs. I’m going to define inputs as the tools that we use to help us digest information.

I work for a distributed company, which means that the only way to communicate is to over communicate. We use a network of internal blogs running the P2 Theme to communicate about everything from taking time off from work to enhancements to WordPress.com. These blogs really do move at the speed of thought and there are a lot of them.

As you can imagine, there is a lot of information flowing on a consistent basis, which means that the only way to keep yourself from over-saturation is to manage your inputs in a structured way. This is a dance I’m currently working on perfecting.

In life, I think the majority of things that we need inputs for are self imposed: Social Networks, Email, Work, Appointments, Family, Friends, Shopping, Eating, Fashion, and on and on.

The question that I ask myself daily is how can I design my inputs to make sure that I convert the noise into something useful?

I use some inputs to help flow outputs to me in a way that I can digest:

  • My iPhone I use almost exclusively for Social Media and personal conversations. In fact, my phone has become the De facto input for all communications that are not work related: SMS, MMS, Twitter, Facebook, etc.
  • My iPad I use for reading and watching. It’s my media digestion input. I know that when I open my iPad, I’ll be diving into the New York Times, Tech Crunch, Netflix, or any other media that tickles my fancy.
  • My MacBook Air is for work, and work alone. This is where I digest most of my email, work documentation, tools, and other professional communications. I also use it for writing.

Of course, the wires between my inputs cross on a daily basis, but I try my best to control that. For example, I use iMessages on my computer to text throughout the workday. This helps me to keep my concentration on a single screen space instead of pulling out my phone to respond to a message. It’s a delicate balance to keeps inputs separate, but I think it’s important to find the balance that works for you.

I’m constantly working to refine my inputs to match my outputs. I’d love to hear what works for you.

On Pace

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about pace and how it’s an incredibly important concept to master.

We all have the power to set our own pace, but we often let outside influences persuade us to change it. I, for example, tend to walk more quickly in New York than I do in Philadelphia. This isn’t because I choose to do this, it’s because I can’t help but keep pace with the rest of the city. I think this is dangerous.

We often take on more work than we can handle, or rush ourselves through our tasks, sacrificing quality for speed. I feel like once we let outside pressures speed us up or slow us down, that’s when we start down the slippery slope to undue stress, anxiety, and general discontent with our station in life.

It’s important to keep your own pace. Of course, pushing your limits is healthy, but it’s also important to be the master of your cadence. Pay attention to your natural speed with all things and turn that balance into efficiency, creativity, and results.

Pace plays an important role in everything that we do and it’s also important to be aware of the pace of others. In sales, for example, the best way to relate to a customer is to pace the conversation. Listen to their words, the speed of them, their intonations, and match it. The closer that you can get to someone else’s pace, the better they will be able to relate to you. Really, this is just good practice for conversation. If you approach people on their level first, it sets the stage for great communal thinking.

I have to remind myself constantly to balance my pace. I often try to take on more than I should, and it can be a struggle to slow myself down. Paying attention to my natural cadence is the best thing that I can do. I know that. I’m going to do my best to remember it. I’m going to practice it until I no longer have to think about it, and keeping pace simply becomes a way that I interact with the world.