AirPlay and a Rowing Machine

Like so many other people in the IT field, it’s not the easiest things for me to find time during the day for all the things I want to do.  Life gets busy and priorities happen. As a single father with three kids, this means that it’s tough to find time to get to the gym.

As everyone’s aware, we’re also going through an intense period of change in the networking world where network engineers need ( in my opinion ) to start broadening their skills sets to include coding, DevOps tools, etc.. There are a LOT of resources out there, many of which are available in video format. 

Whether that’s things like the great all-access pass video library from INE, the video content from Coursera classes, or just Youtube, there is a huge amount of content available to us. 

I’ve got two goals major life goals this year; get back in shape, and gain NetOps skills. Makes sense to combine the two. 🙂  

My Problem

One of the biggest problems that I have is that a lot of this material is BORING. It’s dry. There’s not a LOT of content out there yet that directly applies the skills I want to learn to networking. So I end up having to learn how to use python to convert between Celsius and Fahrenheit. (How’s that going to help me in my career? )

It’s tough to stay awake through a lot of this content. Some presenters make the material better than others, but i often find my mind wandering after the first 5 minutes. If I’m not focused, I’m not learning. If I’m not learning, I need to watch the same boring video until I get what I need from it. 

Sounds a bit torturous, doesn’t it? 

My Solution

When I was studying for my CCIE, I actually had the same problem. Cisco Docs are not exactly the most riveting prose the english language has produced, but I had to learn the material. My solution was to combine physical activity with the study process. Hard to fall asleep when you’re working out, right?

I ended up buying a treadmill for my apartment. Looking back, I can’t even begin to imagine the amount of miles that I walked that year. I can also tell you that I was probably in some of the best shape of my life. I would walk and read as long as I could. Then I would stop, do some other physical activity pushups, sit-ups, whatever..  and then go back at it again. For months on end, that’s what I did every night. ( Single with no kids in those days ). 

Interestingly enough, what I found is that I was able to retain more information when I was studying while working out then when I was just hitting the books at the table. I’m sure there’s lots of studies about how the increased blood flow to the brain during physical activity makes learning more effective, but I will leave that to as an exercise in google-fu for the reader to find them. 

Fast forward 10 years, and I don’t have to flip pages anymore. The video revolution means that I can hit at least two of the learning paths, visual and auditory, as well as get a work out in at the same time. Efficient, and productive. 

My solution is built around Apple products, but feel free to substitute in what ever technology gets you to the final goal.  

In a nutshell, the setup looks like this

  • Flat screen TV
  • Apple TV connected to TV
  • Rowing Machine in Front of TV

So basically, I airplay the video content from whatever device I have handy, jump on the rowing machines, and I stay awake through some REALLY boring material while burning some calories.

Other Tricks

For those interested, here are some other tools that make this flow a bit more smoothly

Screenflow  – This application allows me to capture video content with the system audio. Great stuff for making sure you have content offline. 

iFlicks2  – This application allows me to edit the metadata on the videos I create with Screenflow. Most of the time, I end up taking an entire play list worth of content, organizing it as a TV Season and then add the episode numbers to the videos so that they play in order. Very slick and means I don’t have to manually intervene when watching a play list. Not to mention, I can also then sync the material to my devices and review the content when I’m trapped in a plane with no wi-fi. 

 

And You?

Have any productivity/study/health tips that you want to share? Feel free to post in the comments below.

 

@netmanchris

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Apple Watch: It’s all in the Ecosystem

Unless you were under busy living under a rock, you probably saw the Apple announcements last week launching the iPhone 6 and the Apple watch. I’ve doing a lot of thinking lately about the intersection of Big Data and the internet of things and specifically how they apply to the Quantified Self movement. 

 

A little about me

 

Currently, I’ve got a lot of stuff going on in my life. Specifically going through a separation from my wife of ten years. One of the ways that I’m choosing to deal with this is to try and focus on the moment and the daily activities. To set small goals for myself and to track them using various methods to see if I’ve achieved at the end of the day or not.  Most days, I’m hitting the goal. Others I miss and I come back that much more determined the next day to get my life back on track. Three amazing kids are an awfully powerful motivation. 

 

My devices

 

I’ve been loosely tracking my stats for a few years now and I’ve had a bunch of different devices in that time more or less in chronological order from when I started using them. Here’s the non-inclusive list that I can remember off the top of my head, although I’m sure there’s a couple I’ve missed. 

 

Garmin 305 Forerunner ( Circa. 2008)

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This was one of my first entires into the QS movement. It was a good product. Stable. Built in GPS and connected to an ANT+ hear-rate monitor. I used this a lot at the time. I’m sure if I go back you can see my tracks over Europe, Canada, US, and even a few weeks in Vietnam.

Not a bad application to go with it, but the data was pretty much locked in. They did eventually kill the 32-bit App in favour of a web interface, but by the time that was released, I had moved on. 

 

Wii Fit (Circa, 2008 )

NewImageI first got into the wii fit with the original release. Lots of family fun. Getting my kids active is important to me and that’s not always easy. This was arguably the first gamification of fitness.  It worked. The kids loved it.

I’ve upgrade these to the latest Wii Fit U which is currently a favourite of my kids. The balance board is an awesomely accurate scale as far as tracking balance. The biggest problem I have is there’s no way to get all this awesome data out of the game. Locked completely in Nintendo’s hands. I can see the data over time, but there’s no way to pull it out and do any data mashups to see if anything interesting comes out of the combined data. 

 

Fitbit ( original ) (Circa. 2012)

NewImage

I got a fitbit when they were first released around 2012. I lost the first one while walking because of a bad design on the built clip, lost the second on e trip coming back from Barcelona, and I’m onto my 3rd iteration which I’m happy to say has a much better built clip and is currently hanging from my belt. One of the things I like the most about the fitbit is that they have allowed other vendors, like Runkeeper to access the data and use it in their own applications. I’ve tried a couple, but so far, I always end up coming back to the Fitbit apps, whether the iOS or Webapp, they are still the way I prefer to look at that data. 

 www.fitbit.com

 

 

 

 

 

Apple iPhone 5s

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With the build in motion sensor, the 5s some interesting capabilities. I’ve not taken advantage of them to be honest, but I’m aware the data is there, if only I locked. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pebble Smartwatch

NewImage

Pebble’s got the tech to be able to do a lot of what the fitbit does, but so far, I haven’t seen anyone taking advantage of it. There are the golf training apps which show the potential of the hardware platform, but I just haven’t had a chance to play with that yet. not a golfer 🙂 

 

http://www.getpebble.com




Wahoo Bluetooth Heartrate reader

Self Explanatory I think. The Wahoo sends heart-rate data to the iPhone. The apps, like run keeper, can then access the data as it tracks your pace, speed, GPS position etc… and help to provide you some “your heart rate goes this fast when you move this fast” style of observations. 

http://www.wahoofitness.com

Fit Aria Scale

This is an interesting Fitbit product that takes the pain out of tracking your weight. Sure, I could write it down and later manually input it into a system, but the Aria connects directly through my wi-fi network and auto uploads the results of each weigh-in into the fitbit online system.  I can also weigh myself in the morning, afternoon and evening and have all that data, complete with the timestamp of the measure to be able to look at fluctuations. 

http://www.fitbit.com

Muse personal EEG by InterAxio

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The muse is an interesting product that I wrote a bit about here.  Personal EEG reader. Good SDK, but all manual. You can do anything with the data you want as long as you can write the code yourself.  The app is decent and they just updated it, taking into account user feedback and improving what their customers told them was important. I’m starting to expect good things from this company. So far, I’m impressed with the product, the packaging, and especially the willingness to engage and listen to their customers and enhance the product based on customer feedback.

http://www.choosemuse.com

 

 

 

 

Sense

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 This is a kickstarter project which takes the QS movement and applies it to sleep. Sure, my fitbit can give me an idea of how I slept last night? Number of times awake, how restless, etc.. and quantify some measurement on how good my sleep was, but it doesn’t give me any insight into WHY my sleep was the way it was. That’s where Sense comes in. The sense has a sleep sensor that attaches to your pillow which looks like it will gather a lot of the same data as the fitbit. Where the sense differs greatly is the base station which also gathers audio and air quality data, and potentially other pieces of data such as level of light during the night and then attempts to correlate those different pieces of data with the quality of your sleep.  Did a car alarm go off at 3:17am?  Was there an abnormally high amount of dust or pollen in the air? Was it too dark/toolight?  how did all these factors affect the measured quality of your sleep.  Again, I don’t actually have the product, so the final features may differ, but the concept is there at a price which caused me to jump in. 

http://www.hello.is 

 

My Apps

 The other side of the hardware equation is the apps. I’ve used quite a few of them over the last few years. Here’s another non-inclusive list with some quick comments. Almost all of these devices have their own app ( fat or web ) and most of them also have an API that one could choose, if one had the inclination and ability, to mine for data. 

Garmin Forerunner App

Fat 32 bit app. Locked in data. It worked, but they stopped updating it and moved to a web. I think it might still be around, but I abandoned it long ago. 

Fitbit Website

This is my return-to interface for my health data currently. My aria scale and my Fitbit both publish nicely into this interface with no action on my part. The interface is clean and they do make an effort to make improvements to both the iOS apps as well as the web on a regular basis. 

Runkeeper

Runkeeper is something I use on and off. I tend to use Runkeeper when I am focused and going to the gym daily. When work gets too busy and I’m not able to make it to the gym, I stop using it and fall back on the fitbit apps to track my physical activity and make sure I get my 15,000 steps a day. 

Fitocracy

Interesting app. Abandoned it quickly. Social + workout may be good for some people but didn’t motivate me. 

Endomundo

Lots of people love it. I found it similar to run keeper and not enough difference to commit to trying something new. It’s a good app and I’m sure I would be there if I hadn’t tried runkkeeper first. I’m sure there are differences that would make a person choose one over the other. I just don’t know about those particular differences so I stuck with runkkeeper/fitibit combo.

Nike+

I had a Apple iPod Nano with the Nike+ pedometer built into it, but I stopped using it when I got my pebble. The historical data is in the Nike+ website and I have no idea how I might get it out.  

So what does the Apple Watch do for me?

I’ve got no special access to any data around the Apple Watch ( although I’d love to review it if someone sent me one! hint! hint! ) so I’m basing my comments on the Apple Watch launch last week. This device appears the be a nice combination of some of the devices I already own. At first glance, it could replace the Wahoo heart rate reader as well as potentially the fitbit, although what information the Apple Watch is tracking or the accuracy is still mostly unknown. Steps, sure, but what about the ability to track flights of stairs like the fitbit does? Or sleep patterns like the fitbit does? I would guess no noise pollution or air quality like the sense, but Apple has surprised us before. I suppose they could have hidden a smell sensor and they could definitely leverage the microphone in the iPhone or iPad to gather noise data. The Watch certainly looks capable, but considering what else it’s doing, I imagine the battery life may become a problem.

Data all over the place

“Data Data everywhere and not a drop to drink”

The main problem that I currently see with the QS movement, and my personal attempt to derive some data-inspired observations of my life is the fact that the data is all tied into a particular vendors data structures and repositories. Of the different tracking devices that I’ve used over the year, the most accessible of these has been, by far, the fitbit.  Fitbit has put out a pretty decent API and has allowed other vendors, like Runkeeper or MyFitnessPal to be able to draw out the fitbit data into their own webapp. There’s also a custom watch face for the Pebble smart watch which can also draw out the fitibit data through an android or iPhone and display how you’re doing on a given day at-a-glance right there on your wrist. You’re keenly aware of where you sit for your movement goals that day every time you look at your wrist. But fitbit does not allow access to all of the data they track through their API. There are some portions, like the sleep data, that they appear to be keeping to themselves, for either business or resourcing reasons. They seem to be a great company, so I’ll just assume that they are too busy building out great new features to extend the APIs for sleep data right now. 

 

The Garmin device? I had to abandon the data completely. The Wii is great, but a data blackhole. Anything that goes in does not come out. The Muse is new and extremely accessible, decent SDK, etc…

Long story short: All of these devices have left me with an extremely disjointed collection of data and data sources that are oozing with unconnected potential insights, if only I had the time and patience to sit down and create a framework to pull it all together. 

Ecosystem in the making?

Apple makes great products. Period. I own many of them and I’m deeply entrenched in, what I think is going to be the really value proposition of the Watch, the Apple Ecosystem. Apple has done a phenomenal job of connecting the various different iPods, iPhones, iPads, Apple TVs and OSX running machines all together through a common Ecosystem all accessed, primary, through the iTunes and AppStore interfaces. This brings together a common interface, a common user experience, and a common expectation throughout the entire range of Apple devices. They have done what I consider to be an amazingly good job of connecting those devices and the applications running on those devices.  What’s most amazing to me is that they actually extended this functionality to their developer ecosystem as well, allowing the ISV’s to be able to take advantage of those same connection points to provide a more seamless user experience.  And if reports are to be believed, this is only going to get tighter with the OSX Yosemite and iOS 8 releases.

I believe that Apple Watch and the Health sensors could possibly pave the way for a framework which would allow independent hardware and software vendors to plug into, very similar to what is done with the iPhone and iPad platforms today. Run an app?  Sure!  Have a custom peripheral that you want to use to send data to the device like the Muse? Absolutely! Come one come all! 

I expect to see Apple create a health framework to receive all the Apple Watch and currently available iPhone health sensor data. In the first iteration, it will most likely be Apple only and most likely limited in functionality. But as they iterate and extend, I think we’re going to see the Apple Health framework become the defacto standard to which health related IoT devices are going to send their data and to which ISV’s are going to look to as the primary access point for consuming this data. 

Granted, there are a bunch of potential privacy concerns that may get in the way of this, but Apple managed to get the record industry to bend beneath their will. I think that if there’s a company out there that could possibly tackle the issues and come out with something useful, Apple is more likely than most to rise to the challenge.

 

What the Future holds

With the democratization of all of this data, I’m extremely excited to the possibilities and insights into the nature of the human condition that can be derived from having such an abundance of data across such a huge proportion of the population. There’s a lot of work to be done to figure out how to categorize the contributors in useful demographics that allow us to start grouping and sifting the data for interesting correlations. 

Imagine if all of that data can be sanitized and drawn into a connected series of data sources which are all uniformly accessible through a common set of Apple HealthNet (I’m making the name up!) APIs which allow App developers to write to a common API and allows Hardware developers a common schema to which they can deploy their data. If they need something else allow them to extend it themselves or have them work with Apple to extend the schema where necessary so all devices can take advantage of it.

Even better, have the medical community give input into the schema as well allowing them to actively solicit different types of data from the collective apple-bearing masses. Crowd sourcing huge amounts of data.

There are only a couple of ways to improve accuracy in statistical analysis. Increase the number of samples in a given time period or increase the number of time periods across which you sample. Either way, more data leads to more accurate data. 

 

Are there privacy issues?  Sure there are. How do we allow medical researchers to be able to mine that data pool while protecting the individual right to privacy.  One of the ways to do that is for a single organization to take on the burden of such responsibility and allow other entities to then access through the structure, secure methods.  Kinda sounds like Apple might be in that position soon.

Am I crazy?  What do you think? Looking forward to comments below

 

@netmanchris

 

 

 

 

http://www.wahoofitness.com/

Quantified Self Meets BIg Data: A Meeting of the Minds

As I’ve written about before, I’m diagnosed ADHD. I’m not one of those “squirrel!” joking guys who is “sure” they have ADHD but have never been tested. I’ve been on meds and done a ton of reading over the years to develop coping strategies to deal with the challenges that are presented by the different way that my brain works to try and mitigate the drawbacks and take full advantage of all the gifts that come with ADHD.

 
One of the the coping strategies that I’ve always been very interested in is that of bio-feedback. Imagine if you could actually “see” what you’re brain is doing. Imagine that you could actually “watch” your attention lapse in near real-time! How amazing would that be? Imagine the insights that could be derived and the potential to identify potential triggers in attention deficits. ( For the record, I’ve not struggled as much with an inability to focus, so much as an inability to SHIFT focus when i need to. )
 

Enter the year of the portable EEG.

 
2014 is the year of the portable EEG. In 2013, there were at least three different projects focusing on bringing brain science to the masses that I’m aware of. 
 
For the record, I”m not a brain scientist and any assessments that I make here are PURELY my own very limited ability to judge. 
 

Emotive Insight:


This seems to be the most technically advanced of the three projects. The kickstarter project has been slow to say the least. They’ve had a few set-backs over the course of the project. But they have been fairly consistent with feedback and the company seems to have more participation in the academic community. 

I can’t make any judgement call on the actual device, as they are behind on delivery.  ( April 2013 est delivery date ).  But I have high expectations on this one. 
 
The SDK will probably be quite mature as I’m pretty sure they will be leveraging tech from their earlier products. 
 
In the latest update, they mentioned a company called Neurospire who currently uses EEG data for marketing purposes (very cool concept!). Turns out they are changing their game a bit to something closer to my heart. They just won their first round of funding to develop a biofeedback application aimed directly at aiding children with ADHD.  I’m very excited to see what they come up with and see if they come up with something that can help my kids as they learn to deal with the pros and cons of their differences. 
 

Melon

 
Melon seems to be more of a fun project. The science and tech seem to be there, but the focus seems to be more on bringing the fun. They have made some adjustments to their original, based on kickstarted backers feedback, to allow the headband to adjust from kids to gargantuan cranium size. The application is also more focused on fun, or so I’ve been led to believe. The app measures your focus, and IF you can stay focused, it will allow you to fold origami animals.  Sounds kinda funny, but I can tell you my kids are actually excited about this one. 
 
Imagine… Folding. Paper. With. Your. Mind.    
 
Yeah. I know, right?
 
SDK is also an unknown at this point as it’s still listed as “available soon”.
 
Looking forward to this one which is also on the late shipping train. The est. ETA was November 2013, but according to the latest update, we should be seeing it in late September. 
 

Muse:  

 
I actually got turned on to this one by @beaker.  They went the indigogo.com way rather than kickstarter.com.  I didn’t end up getting in on the funding on this one, so no deal for me.  But…  they actually shipped. 
 
Yup. I put in an order and it arrived 2 days later at my door. InterAxon, the company who makes muse, is actually out of Toronto, so this is one of the RARE occasions that I’ve not had to wait or pay extra for shipping to Canada! ( woo-hoo! ). 
 
This product just started shipping, but they already have an SDK in place, as well as apps, titled Calm, for both iOS and Android.  Being an apple-guy, I tried it out and was actually pretty impressed. Clean interface, simple for now, but the concept works. In a nutshell, the weather gets calmer when you get calmer. 
 
The hardware seems solid, There’s one of the sensors that I have a little bit of trouble with, but I’m not sure if that’s just more practice or something actually wrong with the unit. Only time will tell I guess. 
 
The SDK seems not too bad either. I had some trouble getting the Muse to connect on OSX, but that’s MOST likely because I’m running a beta of a pre-release version of a certain fruity OS.   
 
The Windows and the OSX install were pretty similar to be honest. The SDK is python based and requires python 2.7 ( WHY NOT Python 3????) and a few typical libraries ( numby and Scipy from memory ). Pretty well documented on the choosemuse.com website. 
 

Big Data meeting of the minds.

 
One of the truly cool things which the quantified self movement brings is the sudden  influx of contributors to datasets.  The Calm application for the Muse allows the user to share their data in a non-identifiable way back to the InterAxon servers. There’s the obvious demographic questions that get asked as part of the initial registration, 
 
Imagine how Big Data algorithms can be applied once enough of us start to donate the output of our sessions along with enough demographic information to allow data scientist to create K-plots and run Baysian functions and start pulling some interesting observations. 
 
Imagine how baysian algorithms can suddenly pull out astonishing insights when you combine the EEG readings from the Insight with the activity level and sleep patterns from the fitbit, throw in a little dash of air quality and noise pollution from the sense.  Mix it up in “the cloud” and start comparing our sanitized non-personally identifiable with other peoples sanitized non-personally identifiable of similar demographics and we start to have enough data to start pushing the envelope of our understanding of our behaviours. 
 
The scariest thing for me is that we might actually be able to quantity what normal actually is. 🙂  
 
Ok… so maybe that last one is a bit of a stretch, but it’s certainly going to be interesting watching what happens in the next couple few years as this data starts to coalesce. Data gravity starts to kick in and we have suddenly have a large enough data set for things to get REALLY interesting.
 
Anyone else out there donating data? Scared? Paranoid?  Anyone else looking forward?

ADHD – Tools that keep me sane

So month ago, I wrote this first piece on ADHD and got an amazing amount of feedback. I also promised that I would put together a list of the tools that I use to help work with my predispositions rather than against them. ( I refuse to use the word handicap ).

So I started writing this piece, and then I got distracted. ( No surprises here, right? )

UPDATE: By Request, Here’s a quick video that goes through the actual workflow of how I use these three tools together.

An introduction to OPML

So the real unifier for everything I do is a little technology called OPML.   When you break it down, t’s just a specific kind of XML, which at the end of the day makes it plain text with some headers.

The Flow

As anyone who’s blessed with ADHD can tell you, it’s all about the flow. Not to get to philosophical, but for me, the biggest part of taking advantage of my ADHD is really about learning how to massage and direct the distractions into productivity. There’s no point in trying to stop water when it’s flowing down hill, but you can nudge it, direct it, and get it to go where you want by working with it. OPML allows me to do that.

In my previous role as a pre-sales engineer, and now as a technical marketing engineer, I have to do a LOT of presentations. Sometimes I’m presenting my own content. Sometimes I’m presenting others content. And now, I’m creating content for others to present. In the new role, I also find myself having to create a lot of documents. For me, the process is all about putting together the framework for the piece of content that I’m working on.  Once I’ve got that down, it’s actually pretty easy to just fill out the sections as you’ll see below.

My workflow

There are a lot of APPs that allow the import and export of OPML. The ones below are just the ones that I’ve really attached myself to. They might not be perfect for everyone, but they do work for me. If there’s interest in this ( comment below please! ) I can expand more on any of these tools. To be honest, I probably scratch the surface of the functionality in each of them. But I think that’s actually what I like the most about this combination.

They are easy to use.

The tools help me get my ideas out.

They don’t get in the way of it. 

My work flow basically falls into the following

  • Capture the idea
  • Create the structure
  • Finish the content

I purposely didn’t order these as a numbered list because sometimes it just doesn’t work out as a linear process. On some projects, I’m handed someone else’s content and I end up having to edit or rebuild it. The beauty about the process for me is that I can jump in the water anywhere I want and still end up where I want to be.

Capture the ideas

MindNode

MindNode is a mind-mapping software. For a long time, I heard about mind-mapping, but I really didn’t see how, or why I could use it.  It always felt to me like there wasn’t really a point in just putting things on  (digital) paper. I’m in networking, so I have a VERY vidid imaginary world in my head. And if it’s clear in my head. Why put it on paper right?

So why the mind-map?

Because it gets all the ideas and sections out and let’s you start manipulating them. Turning them this way and that, and replacing them wherever it makes sense.

This chaos is actually how my brain processes normally. (I know – It’s kind of a scary place, right?)  What I’ve found is that by simply putting all the information together on one place, I get to start using my visual processing skills and I start to use the ADHD superhuman ability to make intuitive jumps and I start to understand the relationships between all the items on the page.

And often, they are not what I would have thought when I had the picture in my mind. This is the coolest part. It’s funny how much you can see that you didn’t see when you use your mind’s eye.

The other thing that’ super cool about MindNode for me is that it’s available both for iOS and OSX – Complete with iCloud sync’ing capabilities. This means that I can work where I want, with whatever device I happen to have in front of me.

If I could ask for one more thing ( and I did ask the developer for this! ) it would be for the iOS version to have the ability to create hyperlinks on the nodes. This is invaluable for me on the OSX version as I can link out to other pieces of content that I want to use as reference or source material for whatever it is that I’m working on.

Oh well. Life can’t be perfect, right?

Once I’ve got everything in MindNode and all the chaos is on paper, it’s time to start pulling some structure out of the void.  So at this point, I export from MindNode into OPML format and I’m good to move to the next step.

Screen Shot 2013 06 01 at 4 53 35 PM

Create the structure

Outliner

Outliner is, as the name suggests, an outlining software. As opposed to MindNode which is sometimes just random semi-connected thoughts splattered on a page, Outliner forces me to work in a linear format. But not completely linear. 🙂

What I love about Outliner is it allows me to take entire sections, or nodes and their sub-nodes, and allows me to drag and drop it wherever I feel it belongs in the outline. I found this software about 3 years ago and I can tell you that my presentations instantly became better. By breaking out of powerpoint and just looking at the raw outline, I was able to see that there was often breaks in the flow of the presentation that were negatively affecting the audience’s ability to consume the message I was there to give.

A story is a series of connected events, but if you tell it in the wrong order, it doesn’t make sense as the audience doesn’t have the right background information to understand where you are in timeline. A presentation is the same way.

I can’t tell you the number of times that I grabbed a presentation that someone else created and then used outliner to make it flow in a much more logical sense.

So taking the OPML version of the mind map I created in MindNode above, I can now import it directly into Outliner and start to drag and drop the nodes around until the logical flow makes sense in terms of the content I’m creating.  You can also add notes, not to mention hyperlinks, etc.. in here which is a nice touch.

Screen Shot 2013 06 01 at 5 42 59 PM

Outliner is available only as an iOS application. But they have also provided a web app to be able to access your projects from a “real” computer.   I have to admit, it would be nice to have a “full” OSX application for the downtime when I’m on a plane, but to be honest, the iPad version is really nice and been able to use the touch interface to drag and drop the nodes on the outline around is actually a big deal for me.

Having ADHD means that anything that lets me keep moving is a good thing.  I can’t tell you the number of passengers who sat beside me that were very glad my fingers were flying around my iPad rather than my foot tapping the entire flight. They should all really be sending CarbonFin a donation I think.

Once I’ve got the the outline to the point where I’m happy with it, I export back into OPML again and then… on to the next step. The actual document creation.

Finish the content

Powerpoint

Honestly at this point, I just start building based on the outline. There is a way to export the outline into word somehow, but I’ve never found it difficult enough to worry about it. If I had to reverse engineer the outline. I usually put the slide number in the node header and then just drag and drop whole sections around. Perhaps a little manual, but it works for me.

Scrivener

Scrivener is something I discovered just a few weeks ago and, although I’m still learning the in’s and out’s of the tool, it’s really amazing so far. It’s got SOOOO many possibilities for me that it’s now fully integrated into my workflow. Again, OPML is the key that makes this all work together.

Scrivener is really intended to be for writing long form documents, and it seems that it’s probably more aimed at writing novels and such. But I find it great for writing technical documentation. Most technical documents are split into sections anyways.  If you are working on a documenting a solution, the ability to split everything into individual sections is invaluable.

Imagine writing a document on a user access control solution?  You have at least the following sections

  • Windows Active Directory Integration
  • RADIUS Configuration
  • Policy Configuration
  • Device Configuration ( and each device type could have it’s own specific configuration)
  • dot1x supplicant configuration
Instead of writing a single monolithic tome, why not write small manageable chunks. Or document-lets as I’ve taken to calling them.

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Scrivener: The Pros

There’s a few features that I really like about scrivener

  • Drag and drop sections – scrivener allows you to treat a document more like a file system. You can put sections of the document in a folder. You can split the section into mini pieces which can be completed one by one. You can also move the sections, or individual pieces around if you decide that they don’t belong in the order you want them to anymore.
  • Research Section – At the bottom of every scrivener project, there’s a reference section. This is a place where you can import all sorts of things. Like PDFs, other documents, etc.. I also find this a very useful place to keep pieces of text that I’m going to reuse over a longer period of time.  The nice thing is any document can be converted into a scrivener template, along with all the reference material. So if you find yourself, like me, having to reuse pieces of material repeatedly, this is a really nice touch.
  • Import – Scrivener allows you to import from a lot of different sources. OPML (obviously!), but also word, pdf, etc.  If it’s OPML, then the folders and document-lets are automatically created for you. If it’s word, you can just click on a place in the document and then split the document where your cursor lies. This makes it very easy to grab an existing document and quickly reverse engineer the outline. Then I can export into OPML and move back to step 2 to see if the outline even makes sense. If it doesn’t, I can drag and drop the document-lets around into what makes more sense for me.
  • Export – Scrivener allows you to export into a TON of different formats. From classics like Microsoft Word or RTF, to MultiMarkdown, or even directly to ePUB or kindle. The ability to export to all these different formats is going to be really really useful in my current role. I can’t tell you how easy it was to create a ePUB version of the document I was working on and see it minutes later on my iPad. Very cool.
  • Export – The export is so powerful it requires two mentions. Remember the different folders and individual mini pieces I mentioned above? During the export, there are a TON of options, many of which I haven’t begin to explore yet. But one of the great ones is the ability to select only the folder or mini document-lets that I want and export only those.  This is really cool in that it let’s me produce three or four different pieces of material out of the same base-content. No crazy editing, cutting and pasting around between different Microsoft word documents for me anymore. And the fact that I can export the same way into MultiMarkdown means that I can then apply the style anyway I want.

Scrivener: The Cons

Now scrivener isn’t perfect. Here’s the short list of the issues that I have with it so far. Obviously, there’s nothing here that breaks it for me, but it is some things that you are going to have to deal with if you join me on this path.

  • Table of Contents: The application needs a TON of work on the table of contents functionality. It might be there somewhere, but it’s no intuitive. I also searched the forums, which are very well monitored by experts BTW, and it also seemed to be a point of contention for others.
  • Export: The export is awesome. But the one thing which it doesn’t do is export the style. I’m not talking about the fonts and the colours. That’s all great. I’m talking about the document metadata that classifies different text as a Title, heading 1, heading 2, heading 3, body, etc.  You know, the stuff that word uses to make the auto table of contents?  The nice thing is that there’s a fairly easy way to deal with this as long as you keep your formatting consistent throughout your work.

Final thoughts

There’s a lot of people in the world who are struggling to fight their ADHD. Like many people out there, I struggled for years before I was diagnosed. My report cards read like a page out of a Psychiatric Diagnostics book. Can’t sit still. Easily Distracted. Distracts others. Lack of Focus. Talks to much. Constant outburst in class. I had a lot of anger and I definitely had adrenaline addiction issues. Then I was faced with a diagnosis of ADHD and I made a decision to learn as much as I could about the condition. It’s not a disease. It’s not a issue, or problem. It’s just a different way of being.

Like almost everything in life, there’s a good side and a bad side. In my reading, I found a lot of examples of people who not only got by, but excelled BECAUSE of their ADHD, it was just a matter of finding the right perspective, and then creating a framework that allows us to mitigate our weaknesses, and that applies force multipliers to our strengths.  The work flow that I’ve put into place does just that for me.

I tried for years to get organized like everyone else. It didn’t work. Now, I use what works for me. I found a process that works with my flow, and not against it. And that’s a good thing.

@netmanchris

Functioning with ADHD in an IT world

So I’ve got a reputation of been a productive guy. I’ve heard through the grape vine that some of the people in my company think I don’t sleep. I work constantly. I have no life. It’s funny the things that are said out there.

So in an effort to dispel the myths, and to possibly inspire others, I’m going to dish out some of my secrets.

 I’m ADHD.

I suspect that a lot of IT Professionals can relate to a lot of the ADHD traits. In fact, I think that our industry attracts a lot of AD/H/D’res because of this industries requirement for a fractured attention span and the ability to shift focus on the fly.  I’m sure we can all relate to the ” I’m in the middle of working on this OSPF problem and I’ve got the solution right now, just let me write this down… where is that pen… hmm… what was I saying again… … Squirrel!”

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One of the common misconceptions about ADD is that people with it are unable to concentrate. The truth is, that the pendulum swings both ways. We can be hyper or hypo attentive. In plain english, we are either unable to focus at all, or unable to shift focus.  In our industry, the ability to sustain high focus for long periods of time can be a blessing when trying to troubleshoot a difficult problem. As well, the ability to shift focus on a dime and concentrate for short bursts on a new problem is also extremely useful when you are in a firefight and things are coming at you from all sides.

It’s sad to me how our school systems and parents today treat ADD as a disease that needs to be “treated” with medication. Especially when this is the very “disability” that I attribute a large part of my success to.

How do I use ADHD to my advantage?

Living with ADHD does require putting some tools, habits, and processes in place so that you don’t fall into the traps.  Like so many things in life, I think that most important part is just accepting it for what it is.  I don’t fight how I am, I flow with it.

Don’t fight the days when I can’t concentrate.

Please don’t tell my boss this, but there are some days that I’m sure I don’t get anything done at all. These are the days when I just can’t focus on anything no matter what I do. They happen. So what do I do? I water my social networks and I catch up on podcasts.

What do I mean by this? I pick up the phone and I call people I haven’t talked to in awhile. I tweet. I blog. I log into linked in and see if there are any suggestions for contacts who are not in my network. I call people I talk to all the time and argue over frame types, whether or not programatic nms’s qualify as SDN, whether or not VxLAN are complimentary or in competition. Whether or not network professionals will have a place in the world in 5 years. We argue about anything and everything. I ask about their families.

You get the picture. Basically. I pick up the phone and reach out and touch the people who have helped me grow professionally, intellectually, and emotionally over the years.

This might seem like I’m wasting time, but I promise you that when I have a problem that’s outside of my areas of expertise. I know who’s working in what areas, who’s got what special skills and who I can leverage for help.  I know who I can call just to bounce a crazy idea of off, and most importantly, I get into an environment where I’m supposed to shift from one subject to another which helps me feel sane on a day when I just can’t stay focused.

On these days, I’ve been known to go to the gym. Go for walks and catch up on industry news and technical content. Whether this is the packet pushers podcasts, something from iTunes U, the audio tracks from the http://www.INE.com CCIE written videos that I ripped. ( Yes… I paid for them! ), or sometimes even just pulling up the Khan Academy app and learning how to calculate net present value. Anything is up for grabs and I just go with what I’m inspired with on that particular day. Sometimes, I just unplug from tech and  listen to an audiobook ( currently game of thrones A storm of swords ) and let something that’s been causing me trouble muddle around in my head.  You would be surprised how often I come up with a solution by the time I get back from my walk.

I’ve found that on these kinds of days, I am usually the most creative. Ironically, these are also the days when I am totally unable to act on that creativity.

So I write things down. I used to use post-its, but I have recently switched to mostly electronic formats. I would love to say I’ve settled on one tool, but to be honest, I use apples notes app ( nice that I can synch these to outlook, to my Mac, or to my iPad/iPhone combo. ). I use Evernote, and occasionally, I still use post its.

admission of guilt: I would love to say it’s because I’m getting more ecologicaly aware, but to be honest, it’s because I kept losing the post its. 

Make Hay while the Sunshines

When I have one of those days that I am hyper focused. I work. hard. non-stop. through lunch. I produce documentation. I lab up problems that I’m having issues with, and I keep at it until I get it done. Sometimes my wife has to come into my office at 6:00pm to let me know that I missed dinner because I’m so focused.

On these kinds I open up my notes, I pick whatever is the most pressing, or often just what I feel like doing that day, and I do it. Until it’s done. no matter how late.

The other thing I do is to look at my upcoming project work and see if there’s anything I can prepare in advance. Many people with ADHD are habitual procrastinators. One of the best things I’ve had to learn how to do is to become aware of my ADHD mood and to tackle things which are not due for a couple of weeks far in advance.

This is tough. It’s really tough. But I’ve found that when I’m hyper-focused, all I have to do is to jump in and after 5 minutes or so, I don’t have worry about it anymore. My ADHD takes over and I get the task finished.

Finding your Balance

ADHD is just a different way of thinking. It’s funny to me that people have focused so much on suppressing the symptoms when they should be focused more on simply ridding the waves.  To be honest, I usually go through waves where I will be either hyper-focused, or hypo-focused for about a week at a time. So it actually works out pretty well.

Sometimes, I end up with a project deadline when I’m in a hypo-focused cycle and I’ll admit, it’s tough. But life is tough and I don’t believe in using the “I’m sorry I have a disability” is an excuse for not getting your job done. The trick is just pushing through, planning ahead and finding ways to use your ADHD to your advantage.

Tools

I think I’ll save the tools subject for a future post. There are quite a few things I’ve put in place as far as software utilities, processes, etc.. to try and work with my ADHD instead of against it. Hopefully, sharing some of my coping mechanisms might help to inspire someone else.

Final Thoughts

To me, ADHD is like so many other things in life. It is a blessing or a curse. Which one it is to you depends completely on how you perceive it and how you react to it.