Picking up on MyBizWriMo 2017

I petered out at the end of November writing entries for MyBizWriMo. I’m happy with what I did manage to write and would like to pick up where I left off. Next week, as a new volunteer for Ashby Village, I will be working with other tech volunteers to figure out how to help our members with smart speakers (such as Amazon Alexa or the Google Assistant. (Ashby Village is “a nonprofit organization that connects members with each other and with the resources we need to remain active, independent and successful”.) I’m studying the two devices this week and will report back on what I learn.

Being explicit in figuring the Next Step for projects

Besides chopping and baking cauliflower and sweet potato, much of my Thanksgiving Eve was devoted to projects that I had set aside for a sufficient stretch of time to have forgetten where I had left off. It took a non-trivial amount of energy to “warm up” my brain, to reimmerse myself in the original context to be once again productive.

It’s not surprising then that the Getting Things Done (GTD) system urges practitioners to identify explicitly the very next step to work on in projects. The best time to working out the next steps is when such steps are freshest in one’s mind. I have to be disciplined to carve out time at end of my work sessions to write down the next step (instead of working right to the end of my sesssion without bothering to identifying how I would pick up my work the next time). The payoff for such discipline that work is substantial.

Identifying next steps is also an important thing to do at meetings with other folks. I’m sure many of us have participated in meetings where no concrete action items are called out or there is a mad rush is made at the end of the meeting to define action items.

Getting help from people who know more

Today I applied to receive business counseling from the Small Business Development Center of Alameda County:

It all starts here. Complete the application and submit your request. A member of the SBDC will follow up with you and help you achieve your small business goals — at no cost to you.

Our Business Advisors are industry experts who provide free, professional business advising in marketing, finance, accessing capital, and more.

I’m someone who is inclined to try to learn as much as I can from reading books and doing my own research. But I’m trying to train myself to get some formal help from seasoned business professionals. I’m looking forward to the counseling.

Info tech for disaster preparation

What preparations should we make to prepare for various disaster scenarios? I imagine that I need to involved in planning at different levels:

  • as individuals within a household
  • as a block within the neighborhood level
  • at the city level


Ideally, in an emergency, I’d like to be able to grab my laptop, tablet, phone, and backup batteries in addition to the standard emergency supplies. Accordingly, I should figure out how to make that more likely: what to fill my to-go bags, where to store them, and how to keep them up to date.

What happens when I can’t grab my laptop or have to abandon it (like having to evacuate a plane or BART or if I’m out and about and an earthquake happens)? I’d like to still have a USB keychain and a phone ideally. What should be on the USB keychain and my phone?

But what if I have nothing but the clothes on my back and all my gear is destroyed — how to prepare for that situation? My quick response is: I’d like to have a master password (that I can share with my spouse) with which I can use with a network connection to recover a core set of files. For example, study the models at:


One of the main challenges is organizing neighborhood level information and ensuring accessibility and updatability during an emergency situaion. It seems like Neighborhood
Emergency Plan
or A Guide to Organizing Neighborhoods for Preparedness, Response and Recovery


As someone organizing CERT across Albany, I’m getting up to speed on strategies for coordinating people across the city after a large scale emergency. I working on getting a clearer understanding of the city’s tech plans for a disaster.

I don’t know the likelihood that cellular or wifi networks will be functioning after a big disaster — though we should plan for large scale outages. I’m wondering about whether mesh networks will be deployed, such as those described in Responding to disaster with IoT and SDN mesh | TechCrunch.

Also, is there a network of amateur radio operators ready to jump in with a diaster in the East Bay? I believe East Bay Amateur Radio Club could be such an organization. Emergency Communications Driving Increase in Amateur Radio Operators provides some context behind the force that has gotten me interested in amateur radio. What is Ham Radio is a good introduction for people interested in using amateur radio for emergency coordination.

How to embrace thoughtful limits on using digital technology?

On Sunday, as I listened to What are smartphones doing to young people? – Home | The Sunday Edition | CBC Radio, I patted myself on the back for consciously reducing my usage of my smartphone on Sunday in favor of reading paper books. I’m not a teenager, but adults like myself struggle with using their digital tech a bit too much too.

Maybe I would have been better off leaving my phone at home when I went to church or hitting the power switch, but I think the baby steps are good for now. I did manage to read large sections of The New York Times and about 100 pages of Alias Grace. Not the perfect idyllic non-digital Sunday that could be what the doctor ordered, but a tiny paper-based oasis nontheless. (It’s a bit ironic that I read with appreciation Our Love Affair With Digital Is Over on my phone before I got my hands on the newsprint.)

Some of the basic skills I’d like to teach for digital productivity

As I gear up to help seniors, freelancers, small business owners, and academics (an admittedly motley crew) to use their computers more productively, I’m starting to enumerate skills I think will be useful. I have substantial experience with many of these topics but I’m excited to rise to a new level of understanding as I systematically teach others these skills.

Relearning Windows. It’s been a long time since I had a Thinkpad with Windows XP! I would like to re-immerse myself in using a Windows laptop to help other Windows users. The last time I used Windows seriously was running Windows XP as Parallels virtual machine on a MacBook Pro. I’ve been wondering whether to pursue the same route of virtualization or buy myself a cheap Windows laptop — or both.

In order to become proficient in using a PC, should I buy a laptop and/or run Windows virtually? For example, what’s a decent budget Windows laptop cost these days? The Best Cheap Windows Laptop: Wirecutter Reviews points to a $600 laptop from Walmart. That price tag makes me thik that maybe running windows virtually is not a bad approach. I should try the Virtualbox + Windows 10 route: You Don’t Need a Product Key to Install and Use Windows 10. Maybe I can get a good deal this week since we’re approaching Black Friday.

I turned to my Facebook friends with the following question

If my goal is to learn Windows to help others use Windows, what would I miss out if I ran Windows virtually on a Mac — as opposed to getting myself a cheap Windows laptop?

In a future post, I’ll summarize what I learned in the ensuing exchange and what action I ended up pursuing.

iOS devices; iPhones and iPads Are iPads good devices for seniors to use? My Dad has an iPad and enjoys it a lot. My working assumption has been yes, but I need to learn more.

I may need to buy an iPad to teach myself how to use one to help others. (oh darn.) I’ve resisted buying one for a long time because I already have a lot of gadgets. But iOS is mysterious to me. I have Laura’s old iPhone running iOS 11. Maybe if I learn that well, I won’t need to acquire an iPad — though I’m guessing there are important differences between an iPhone and an iPad.

I also want to keep an eye out this week for an iPad. I might want to get a 10.5 inch Pro, but that’s probably overkill for my purposes. What’s the market for used iPads? In the meantime, I will start to learn my iPhone iOS 11 systematically.

I should also work on systematizing my knowledge of the platforms I already use: MacOS, Android, Chromebook.

Other Perennial topics

I quickly brainstormed a list of topics where developing some expertise may be of use for my various audiences.

  • email management
  • onsite, offsite, and online backups
  • photo management and photo sharing
  • practical computer security
  • hardware and software diagnosis
  • home networking
  • VPNs
  • password management
  • cloud storage

I should also consolidate the ideas that my friends have already provided me:

  • how to clean up your data from computer equipment you are passing on intact
  • how to make fullest use of accessibility features to help people at different stages of life

Knowing when to stop

This evening, while having dinner with an old friend, I recounted one of the most valuable — and memorable — pieces of advice I have ever received was from Dorothy Duff Brown in her disseration writing workshop. I wrote about my debt to her on my blog in 2013, specifically:

Decide as a matter of personal discipline (and sanity) when to stop working each day, rather than on when to begin. After all, writing a dissertation is a process of guilt management.

Dr. Jim Miller (Michigan State University) very helpfully expanded on Dorothy Duff Brown’s advice about being rigorous about when to stop:

Examine your life situation and establish a realistic daily work schedule to which you can be faithful. Once you have drawn up this schedule, try to be faithful to it. One strategy that will help you in this is to carefully regulate what hour daily you will stop working on “the big project”. It is easier to control the stopping time each day than the starting time. As anyone soon learns who begins writing a dissertation, getting started each day requires considerable dithering, self-negotiation, and other mental gymnastics—all of which take time. The Muse, it seems, is easier going than coming. For this reason it is surprisingly true for most people that getting a firm control over the stopping time establishes much better control over the starting time. If you know, for instance, that you must stop at a certain hour, you are more likely to get cracking on the work in order to accomplish what must be done by quitting time. Many people make a serious mistake by viewing their quitting times as flexible, usually well into the night. In such cases, time wasted during the day comes out of other time slots, like family interactions and sleep. A steady diet of this abuse usually leads to serious problems—in self image, if nothing else. Try quantifying how you spend your time, at least by periodic samplings. Adjust your pattern according to what you discover from the data. If you are scientific about how you manage your time, you will do much better in the long run.

An astute reader can surmise that I’m better at quoting than applying this advice, given how I’m posting at such a late hour today. But I like to think that remembering good advice is the first step to living it.

Watch how you treat that Inbox

As I wrote in Tuning up the Evernote/GTD machinery, I am refining the way I apply the GTD system. I just listened to the abridged audio edition of Getting Things Done which I borrowed from my local library. (I was pleasantly surprised by how well the abridged audio version served as a review the essentials of the book without contributing to an overwhelming workload).

There are a few tips that I’m concentrating on applying in the next week, especially as I spend a big part of tomorrow on a big cleanup of my apartment and desk.

  • Be especially diligent in note everything that I have yet to process in my Evernote Inbox
  • When I work through my Inbox:
    • focus on one item at a time
    • do not put an item back into the Inbox — force myself to decide what to do with the item

Wish me luck.