Brain Dump March 2015

Learnings
  • Keep it short!
    I sometimes try to cover too much and give too much information. I should really try to make my requests succinct and on point so that a decision can be taken swiftly. Especially in my day job as a team leader this is very important as a delay in decision making will almost always carry through the whole „chain of command“ and too much information sometimes makes decisions nearly impossible.
  • Always be skeptical!
    When we were younger, my friend Oli and I were publishing a Fanzine called „United Kids“ (yes, it was paper). On the back of one of the issues we put a quote by Andrew Jackson: „One man with courage makes a majority“. Turns out that it is doubtful he ever said it. http://articles.latimes.com/2007/jan/26/opinion/oe-feller26. This shows to me (again) that we need to check sources and be skeptical about all „truths“ that are out there, be it on the internet or in whatever media that is. And it reminded me of a saying that my history teacher always propagated: „the winner rewrites history“. It might turn out that there are more truths and perspectives out there and that there might be less „real facts“ than we suspect.
  • Use your existing tools!
    I have started to use my existing tools more intensely and stopped trying out every new fad that’s around. I re-evaluated what I wanted to do and accomplish and then tried really hard to only use the tools that I already possess. So far it works out quite well. It takes complexity away, it rids me of taking new decisions all the time and it turns out that the tools are really good 😉 You can find some of them in the Links section.
 
Links
  • Alfred2 including Powerpack. Really makes a difference in the daily use of my macbook. – http://www.alfredapp.com/
  • Things for action items and todo lists. I find it more straightforward than the checklists in Evernote. With the new iOS integration it has gotten even more useful. – https://culturedcode.com/things/
  • Evernote for references and planning. I keep my goals in there and have specific notebooks for various concerns. I also share one notebook with the family. – http://evernote.com/
  • Google Docs for longer documents and stuff I need to share with people who don’t have Evernote. – https://www.google.com/intl/en/docs/about/
  • Google Calendar for work and for family infos. This is in addition to our paper planner we have in the kitchen. – https://www.google.com/calendar/about/
 
Quotes
What are the brain dumps?
In the nohype brain dumps I try to clear my mind of all the stuff I experienced in a month. I do that primarily as a journal for myself, but maybe some of this information is also helpful to you. Enjoy.

What you do over how you do it

The last blog posts were all done with voice recognition on my iPhone. This is not the most efficient way of writing blog posts. That simple truth is part of the experience I have, every single time.I would be much quicker and I could work much more efficiently if I would write them on my computer. But I have also found that I just don’t do that.

I dictate the blog posts while pushing a stroller and walking with Darky, the family dog. Ansas is mostly asleep in the stroller, so I have some time to think about stuff.

In the past, I only jotted down some notes about topics to write about on the phone. I have a mile long list of topics that I want to cover in the future. But it simply does not happen.

So the decision for me really was about blogging or not blogging. It was not about choosing an efficient method to do so.

Having realized this, I took the thorny road of dictating whole blog posts on the iPhone. The result is that I might curse and moan while composing the obstacles, but that at the end I have a finished blog post. Sure, it needs some polish, but that is something that I can fit in my break at work or quickly do when I am back on the couch.

My younger self would have shunned the method vigorously and would have never had any blog posts to show for.

My current self acknowledges the fact that this might be the only way for me to blog at all. At least I work on my personal goal of blogging more…

What do you think?

Systems over self-discipline: my dog

Darky in the woods
Darky in the woods

You can call him a friend, you can call him an accountability partner, you can call him a tool: darky, the family dog.

I’ve always had a faible for self-improvement and productivity blogs. When I started following lifehacker and other publications, I was definitely a technology and gadget nut. I thought that I could become more productive by using software and technology alone. And that I have to try every new hype that is going around. Even though my own domain name was called no hype. Ironic, isn’t it?

Over time this has evolved. I definitely began to realize the difference between efficiency and effectiveness, the latter becoming more important every day. While trying out new stuff all the time was very fun, it proved to be a superb procrastination method in itself.

Nowadays it is more important to me what I do versus how I do it. Although I still think efficiency at many points of the day.

A nice example of this might be my personal goal of staying or getting fit. I tried many different applications like runtastic or other fitness apps. But I found out, that the best tool for me getting off the couch and out moving about is my dog Darky.

  • he is my moral obligation to get out because HE needs to get out
  • he is the perfect reminder because he looks at me with his big eyes and begs me to go out
  • bonus: he also reminds me by farting incessantly when he needs to go out
  • he does not leave me alone, but he comes with me and supports me on the way

If I would rely on self-discipline, I would definitely not get off the couch every single day in the week and even on weekends. By accepting Darky into our family life, I have gotten the perfect tool for my goal to stay healthy.

I have also found that for moral or ethical goals my children act in a similar way as reminders and guardians of my desired reality.

Come to realize that this type of systems thinking leads to real achievement of goals, I will definitely try to find ways in which to incorporate this methodology in other parts of my life.

Maybe you have areas in your own life where this type of thinking might be helpful. Give it some thought…

NAS: A near-perfect experience

Synology DS414 product photo
Synology DS414 product photo – from Synology website

For years I have been thinking about buying a NAS for our home at the K-Team Headquarters. I couldn’t really justify the price tag for such an investment. But as I have experienced many times over: once you take the plunge, you kick yourself for not doing it earlier. Same thing with the NAS 😉

But to justify and rationalize the purchase, I set myself some goals to be fulfilled by the solution. Maybe this can be helpful to you when you start thinking about buying something „professional“, so here goes:

The family setup

  • My wife’s private computer (13″ Macbook)
  • My work computer (15″ Macbook Pro)
  • Our shared living room computer (Mac Mini)
  • Fritz Router
  • Ethernet LAN
  • WiFi
  • several external hard drives, either for backup or for media

As you can see, we are pretty Apple-centric at the Headquarters, so I started looking for solutions that would support that infrastructure. An iTunes Server would be nice and it would also be cool to use the NAS for all Time Machine Backups.

My main goals for the NAS

  • having enough central disk space for the foreseeable future
  • use the disk space with the whole family
  • make backup „bulletproof“ for my wife and our shared machines
  • using Time Machine automatically for all my home machines
  • consolidate the external hard drives that were floating around
  • free up the external hard drives for moving bigger files around
  • taking files back from cloud services and host them myself
  • getting closer to a „real“ backup strategy
  • consolidate media files, family photos, videos, etc.
  • having a solution to support our media center ambitions 😉

The setup I ended up buying is a Synology DS414, a 4-bay NAS with 4 HGST Deskstar NAS hard disks (4 TB each). It was a bit pricey, but once I commit to a solution, I want it to be as hassle-free as possible and all reviews (personal and on the web) recommended either the Synology or the Qnap products. As Synology has recently revamped their product line, I chose their NAS.

Synology NAS Setup with HDD
Synology NAS Setup with HGST HDD

Once you get a 4-bay NAS, it gets even pricier, but I wanted to have a good balance between disk space and failover safety, so with 2-bays, there just wasn’t enough room on the system to support all computers and all our existing files (mainly family pictures and -videos).

So far, I have achieved some of the goals, but I am still on the road for some of the others:

Unified Time Machine Backups

I have set up all machines to use the Synology as their Time Machine volume. I configured users on the NAS for each of the machines so they all have their quotas. It’s important to use quotas because otherwise TIme Machine would fill up the whole NAS volume with hourly backups. I have set a quota of 1 TB for each user.
The Time Machine services on the DSM (that is the operating system of the NAS) manage the backup folders for each machine automatically, so you just have to tell Time Machine on the computer to use the NAS. Synology will set up a new folder for the machine and Time Machine will start backing up to that drive.
My main concern was the 13″ Macbook: Marny was using a pink, 1 TB external hard drive from Western Digital, but she could never find it and so the time between backups was quite long. This is now covered by the WiFi backup and I am quite happy with it.

Having my own private cloud

I have configured Cloud Station to work as a replacement for my Dropbox and Google Drive cloud storage services. I now have the whole NAS available with regards to storage space and I have a better feeling about the fact that the files are not hosted on machines in the US anymore. The speed is a bit slower, as my home connection is now the determining factor. This is not data centre level (yet) 😉 But as files can be sync’d in the background, this is not a big problem for me. I can even use it on my iPhone and share files from it with other people. And it also got built-in versioning so changes and deleting files are the same as on Dropb or Google Drive.

Consolidate external HDD and use them differently

As I now use the Synology for Time Machine Backups, I now have two hard drives with 1 TB and one hard drive with 500 GB free’d up to be used in another fashion. I am also currently copying the files from our 3 TB Seagate media drive to the NAS, so that I can then use it as a backup drive for the Synology itself. I have to check if that suffices or if I need to get a bigger one. We’ll see.
I will definitely peruse the house and find more older hard drives that I can copy to the Synology and then maybe even discard. Don’t be surprised if I offer some of the hard drives for sale 😉

Some bonus tips: Choose the right connection

I made the mistake to do the first ever Time Machine backup from Marnys laptop through WiFi. Bad idea! It took us nearly 3 days to get the complete 420 GB over the air to the NAS. My second „initial backup“ for the Macbook Pro was then done through Ethernet and it turned out that 440 GB would only take one night 😉 It would have been even faster when done through USB, but I wanted to use the network drive option directly.

For transferring files from an external drive (like my 3 TB media drive), the backup experience informed my decision to definitely use the USB option on that one. 2.16 TB would still have taken some days via LAN and I didn’t want to have to have another computer running for the transfer. So I attached the external drive directly to the Synology and initiated the file transfer through the DSM File Manager. This worked superb-ly.

Next steps

Backup strategy

  • use the 3 TB hard drive as a backup hard drive for the Synology NAS
  • think about an off-site backup option. Not sure if I want to use a cloud provider as I just moved away with my files from them. Maybe I can sync another Synology at my mum’s place, although this might be prohibitively expensive.

iTunes

  • find „the“ way to harmonize the iTunes media files between the family. Not the complete library – as we all have different iTunes accounts and sync with different iCloud services.

iPhoto

  • this is the biggest pain-point and therefore I want to think this through thoroughly before I take any decisions. If you have experience how to solve this piece of the puzzle, let me know.

Media center

  • Maybe I can switch out the Mac Mini in the living room for an Apple TV so I can save some energy and make using it a bit more „living-room-esque“. Maybe I use the Plex offering from Synology or maybe there are still different possibilities. Again: if you have ideas, let them be heard!

Conclusion

I hope this piece gave you some insight into some of the factors that might play a role in an NAS setup. I think it is important to define the goals up front so you can make an informed decision and compare the products in a useful way. So if your goals differ, you might pick another product or go down another route in the whole setup. I always like to hear about alternatives.

So far, I am quite happy with the investment and I think that I will find solutions to most of the goals that I have set myself. Make them Euros earn back their value in „peace-of-mind“ 😉

The Zen TV Experiment

Broken TV Set

Lately I have been pointed to an interesting experiment about television. It is called The Zen TV Experiment by Adam Shand. I found it to be a very interesting read and I recommend you check it out although it is a bit longer than your typical 140 characters that we are so used to nowadays 🙂

It is basically a small experiment everybody can do themselves and it teaches us a lot about the television and its effect on our lives. Having studied media myself, I can relate to a lot of the scientific arguments – and watching television from time to time, I can relate to the described effects as well. In the experiment, you are basically asked to analyze television from a purely technical perspective to see what really happens when you are watching it. To look at the atoms of what makes the tv experience. Go read the piece and come back after that 😉

To me, it is not merely a question of the Technical Events – which are a big part of the experiment – that are manipulating our perception of reality and our own lives. On a more abstract level, there are also mechanisms that capture our brains and make it stay with the program for a lot longer than we initially intended to. In television programming, a principle called flow is used to perpetually keep us interested in the next episode, the next news show, the next part of the movie.

Flow is the reason that the commercial breaks are the longest in the middle of a show and not between shows. Our brains are wired to solve puzzles and to want to figure stuff out. That’s why you see so many teasers for the story line of the next crime show while you are still watching the afternoon cooking show. The flow preps your brain to be interested in what really happens and to stay with the program to figure that out. The nasty fact is that this works even for shows that you have already watched a few times. It is something that even people who know the principle and recognize the mechanism can’t really defend against when they don’t consciously discipline themselves to turn the tv off. Maybe you know the feeling of: „after the next show I will DEFINITELY turn the tv off“ and then find yourself still zapping at three in the morning.

So Flow in combination with the basic flood of technical events really makes it hard for all of us to turn the tv off. It might be best to not turn it on in the first place. Maybe we can start with the Zen TV Experiment and see for ourselves. Take care 😉

Image from Flickr User schmilblick