Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Minute ideas

Since starting my recent job as a developer, I've been noticing an increase in my interest in digital tools or "helpers", if you will. Mostly to do with productivity issues - or small everyday personal needs.

Might as well list a few of them - maybe someone has access to these exact things - if so, I'd love to hear about it :)

  • An application- or window-based notes apparatus

    Right now I have a more or less crazy setup at work where I access the development platform remotely on a distant rack server. Beside issues like latency and singular command transfers of e.g. mouse clicks and scrolling interactions, I'm annoyed when having to remember say 3 or 4 concurrent minor projects. Since the tasks are very similar both in content and nomenclature (many work orders and packages have almost the same ID tags), I'm regularly confused and inhibited in my mental "flow" which, as popular psychology would have it right now, is critical to efficient task handling during one's work hours.

    I'd like a notes app that attaches notes (post-its or the like) to specific development applications, ideally to specific windows within those same applications. So, if I am holding 2 windows related to one project and 4 related to another project, the notes application shows relevant notes contextually for whichever windows I have configured and subsequently activated. Of course, I could theoretically ALT+Tab my way to a dedicated notes document, but in my case the remote calls generally fuck that up - they cannot distinguish between Alt+Tab at home and "abroad".

    The functionality should be useful regardless of remote development, anyway. Digital post-its have a tendency to become increasingly invisible to me by each passing minute, and such an app would help call them into focus exactly when needed.

  • A personal tag/shop/item list

    Probably covered in one way or the other by certain e-shopping sites or services like del.icio.us, but nevertheless I found myself dreaming of a service (likely a FF add-on) that could help me store specific products, collected through the random cool-surfing that particularly BoingBoing, Lifehacker and Neatorama are responsible for, in my case.

    In other words, a repository that - upon receiving a tag from a specific product posting (like this cool clock) - would store the URL for easy panel access and also provide updated pricing information. Perhaps along with some statistics on price development, stock status, recent related products, or the like. I'm not sure if products in general (apart from books, I guess) have completely unique identifiers accessible through web scrapes - but if so, one could also imagine price comparisons across several vendors.

    As it is now, I all too often come by gadgets, books, furniture, etc., which I store on my Del.icio.us or in my bookmarks and then usually forget. Sometimes I'm not sure about whether I want it, sometimes I don't have the money, sometimes it's not available. The point is having the "system" remind me and keep it zuhand.

  • Productivity twittering

    I've been following some of the debate on Twitter and its (non-)usefulness. I was ever the staunch critic of the concept of spamming strangers with atomized everyday crap - but experiences on my not-always-so-lively team of developer colleagues has made me ponder twittering in a productivity sense. Bearing the earlier description of some of my work in mind, we lads at work are sometimes so concentrated on handling all the reigns that we forget to communicate entirely. This happens despite the fact that most people there have known each other for years and certainly know that the bloke at the next desk is an expert on so-and-so specific data process. Basically, it's the well-known dilemma of knowledge sharing in an environment that both demands relative calm in order to get things done, but also could jump many leagues if communication was better nurtured and accurately timed.

    The idea could be to expand a given messenger-service with a sort of twitter notification property. This would allow a developer to "post" a current activity or shortly stated problem through a common, real-time medium. It should stay non-obligational so that receivers could choose to ignore or postpone any feedback - but, once again, the goal is just to make topics visible but only intrusive to a certain extent. So, no pop-ups that need receiver acceptance or dismissal - maybe just a transient interface alteration that teases a bit.

    I'm aware that RSS as a broad concept is useful for some of this. Problem is, not all people - not even developers - keep an eye on the feed reader all day long. Nor do they really want another application to handle, professionally. It would only involve more navigation and distraction. My guess is the key is to use existing, accepted time-eaters and just nudge them towards my stated goal - possibly abandoning their original purpose altogether.

    Soon Lotus Notes 8 is arriving to my work place, and I know it will feature lots more RSS-related stuff...but I still bet bloatedness will be the order of the day, not simple improvements. I hope I'm wrong.

I have other small ideas...some of them more graphically rooted - one day I hope I have the time and technical insight to work on these things actively. :)

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