Now August isn't a bad time to be behind; nobody expects things to get done in August: everyone is taking time off, it's the dog days of summer - paraphrasing one of Dubya's advisors in 2002, "You don't sell a war in August": you wait until after Labor Day before you start beating the war drums and start throwing mud about Saddam's WMDs or your opponent. This year though the mud has started earlier and I, am behind.
Of course there are lots of reasons to be behind. There's been the Athens Olympics (modulo NBC's awful, annoying coverage) and the Democrats invaded Boston for their convention. This is the time for spending time with friends and family, escaping with loved ones and all that good stuff. I am doing all those things, but somehow I feel like I'm behind and almost guilty for it. It's almost like the surging panic of mid-October when you realize just how much you have to do before Christmas comes around.
Perhaps it's because this year I took a week off in July in London to recover from the "project from hell" (I normally wait until Christmas before I take a holiday) and then I was sidelined for over a month with that nasty sinus infection... More likely it's the fact that I only have the american-standard 3 weeks of vacation a year. But I digress.
What's the evidence of my being behind, you ask? Well let's see:
Start with mail: I have 4004 emails in my Inbox - 1500 unread - that's just from this year. I was already behind in January and it's just gotten worse as the year progresses. Needless to say, 1500 is ridiculous - I'm sure there's at least 10 people who've given up on me. If you're still reading and I haven't replied to your missive, know that it's because I'm drowning in a sea of emails. I have far too many meetings day-to-day to catch up.
Since we're Lotus, we use Lotus Notes as our corporate mail - Notes is good for what it is: the canonical groupware application. It's very powerful, handles security well, supports replication and disconnected use, do calendaring and scheduling etc. It just isn't a great mail client (it's better now in 6.5 but that just makes it ok - it doesn't pamper you and when it comes to email we all want to be pampered - less spam etc). You can apply filters to handle mail but it doesn't do threading well and the fatal flaw is that you can't flag a mail for follow up easily or at least it's not obvious to me (Lazyweb request: someone help me there). I had hoped that the Reinventing email stuff would be my panacea but I don't know whether its benefits would really alleviate management of the volume of mail I receive.
So that's the corporate mail front; on to mailing lists. I lurk on a lot of mailing lists (25 or so: most about technology e.g midcom, end-to-end-interest, IP, XForms, www-dom etc, politics economics, others for fun) and only occasionally contribute when I have something intelligent to say. For these I've switched to GMail whose email threading, in their parlance 'conversations', is second only to the gold standard, the threading of Netscape Mail and News 3.0 - discarded and much lamented. GMail also has the virtue of labels and mails can be in multiple categories; the keyboard shortcuts help also. A great web application all around. In GMail, I have 800 unread mailing list conversations.
The blog situation.
For the past month I've been using Bloglines as my news aggregator to manage my normally voracious reading appetites. Currently I'm monitoring 105 feeds (sidenote: I probably monitor about 50 additional blogs but not in Bloglines since I promptly unsubscribe from feeds that only publish headlines). I have 2000 unread posts, my clippings folder has 50 unread items (the clippings folder is used to store blog posts that I thought would be interesting or deserving of re-reading). Presumably being blogs, these are link-heavy affairs and so perhaps that amounts to 3000 or so articles or posts of interest.
On the blog writing front, I have 15 drafts of various posts I've been meaning to do the Koranteng's Toli business on including a few technical things since I've gotten good responses to my previous mutterings on technology.
Back to reading, ideally, Bloglines would have a bookmarklet exposing their clipping feature, instead I use Furl to stash away articles of interest - always the printable version; I hate sites that break articles into 2 or 3 pages unnecessarily (unfortunately this is most of the commercial web these days... sigh). My Furl archive is down to 50 unread articles. I'm keeping up on that front but it's touch-and-go.
Reading on my computer
Before I started using Furl, I would save articles of notes on my computer. Of course I oscillate between 4 computers so I have to do the synchronizing thing. I'm not good at categorizing things, when I save articles locally I have 3 folders named articles, networks and design... but the categories are so fungible that there's much duplication and things are stored in the different folders on different machines; not to mention that I can't find articles on my hard drive. Most of the time though, I don't remember to save things of interest... Using the Furl it bookmarklet is making this close to painless: click a bookmark on the personal toolbar pick a category if need be, click save or save and email. Again I would prefer this integrated into Bloglines where I'm spending more and more time... On this computer I have 500 articles or academic papers - I'd guess 400 unread.
Surfing the Web
I've always maintained extensive bookmarks neatly categorized and cross-referenced. I use Mozilla since it has the best developer tools and standards compliance; also features like my good friend tabbed browsing make it the premier browser. I don't use Firefox even though it's smaller and faster because of a few things:
- Control-Q or Cmd+Q is not mapped to Quit as in Mozilla and Netscape, you have to do alt+F4 which I still haven't grokked.
- I want the Bookmarks button and menu in the personal toolbar, it's only in the top menu in Firefox. force of habit perhaps but my muscle memory makes me very conservative
- they've removed the New Tab button on the tab bar - a deal breaker for me.
- Integration with mail and Composer. I know you can graft Thunderbird on to Firefox but I also need Composer.
Incidentally, keyboard mappings, once learnt, are very difficult for me to switch. When i started out at Lotus, I used Microsoft Visual C 2.0 and learnt it's keyboard shortcuts. That tainted me and now I find it difficult to use other IDEs unless I can change their keyboard mappings... I keep a Visual Studio 5.0 or DevStudio disk around (or Visual J++ 1.1) and change the default keyboad mappings to emulate MSVC 2.0 just to use as an editor even though I'm trying to get into Eclipse, WSAD, JEdit, Notetab Light etc...
So on the surfing front: I monitor about 150 sites regularly on all topics - include about 40 online newspapers and journals . I'm about 2 months behind on most of these. On the 10 that were normally daily reads: I'm 2 weeks behind. I'd guess that's about 500 or so articles.
I finally cleared my backlog today since my mailbox was full... I had been 3 weeks behind.
Newspapers and magazines
1 issue behind on the Sunday New York Times, Boston Globe, Le Monde and The Guardian
3 issues behind with Sunday New York Times magazine
6 issues behind in the New Yorker
4 issues behind in the Atlantic Monthly
3 issues behind with Harpers
1 issue behind with Vibe - but that's no loss - such fluff these days their music writing is down to 3 pages - to think I was a charter subscriber.
6 issues behind with IEEE Computer and IEEE Communications
4 issues behind with IEEE spectrum and ACM Queue
3 issues behind with Java Developers Journal, Dr Dobbs, Java Pro, IBM Journal of Research, IBM Systems Journal
2 weeks behind with the Economist.
And there's a stack of about 50 or so other magazines that I picked up for some reason or other all unread. Staring at me from the floor
And the list goes on... I suppose you think that I'm indulging in some peculiar navel-gazing with this post but there's actually a point beyond talking about how I'm failing to cope with information overload and my insane curiousity and aptitude for absorbing every little nugget of information (that's what being a son of a journalist and lawyer will do to you). There is method to my madness.
Novels: I've managed to read more novels of late than in the past 2 years and this has helped me regain balance. And I've even started on the 2 novels I had started a few years ago.
The blog: it's an outlet that's fostering conversation and creativity. I've begun writing again which is gift enough. A month into the blog and it looks well worth it. I'll reassess a year from now hopefully (they say most blogs are abandoned after 90 days or so - so we'll see if I make it that far)
Family and Friends - well that's been the payoff, I've been reconnecting with them and relishing it. I can't say I'm behind on that front. It gives one a great feeling to just luxuriate and relax with la famille and the old friends. And new friends pop along sensing this great comfort.
The Girlfriend - suffice to say it's been like a honeymoon - or what I imagine one could be.
So I'm behind... but so far, I like it.
File under: culture, technology, toli, web, information, email, overload, organization, obsession