Managing and sharing your photos

One of the most emotionally resonant digital tasks that many of us, including seniors, love to do is taking, managing, and sharing photos. There is a lot to say about this topic. I have my own workflow involving my Android phones for taking photos, Flickr (and now Google Photos) for storage, and Facebook (primarily) for sharing. I’ve not been totally happy with this workflow and am working to change it. I’m looking for workflows that will work for a wide range of people using many different devices, software wanting to satisfy many different needs.

I am learning a lot from friends on Facebook about what they do with digital photos, including using Nixplay photo frames, sharing photos on iOS using iOS – Photos – Apple, broadcasting photos to a TV using Chromecast. I’m working on distilling those ideas. Just as I was about to buy a Nixplay frame, I see that from the comment section for The Best Digital Photo Frame: Wirecutter Reviews how complicated the various technical solutions can actually be. What’s new there?

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.

“Death Action Matrix” 14 years later

Last week, I wrote about the centrality of weekly rest in my life. Sundays are precious as days for rest, restoration, and contemplation. In that spirit, I will recycle “Death Action Matrix”, an essay I wrote in 2003 (when I was 36 years old) about how contemplating own death could be a possible organizing frame for determining my priorities on various timescales. Even though I often come revisit the ideas I wrote then, I will confess that it’s been a very long time since I actually managed to construct a “death action matrix” in the 14 years since I came up with the formulation. Maybe it’s not such a good idea after all — yet it’s one that has stayed with me all these years. I will quote my essay here, hoping that my 2017 readers will find it thought-provoking and perhaps action-inducing.


On the afternoon of Saturday, April 21, 2001, while hanging out at the bookstore of the San Damiano Retreat Center in Danville, I came across Wayne Muller’s How Then, Shall We Live?: Four Simple Questions That Reveal the Beauty and Meaning of Our Lives by Wayne Muller. For whatever reason, one question stood above the others, riveting my attention for the rest of my day-long retreat. That question was How shall I live, knowing I will die? The other three questions (Who am I? What do I love? What is my gift to the family on the earth?) are undoubtedly significant and weighty ones — but they just didn’t speak immediately to my situation. I suppose that I wasn’t surprised by those questions whereas I had honestly never seriously asked myself How shall I live, knowing I will die?

Always a sucker for a good question, especially a profound and new one, I formulated a methodology for tackling How shall I live, knowing I will die? To make the question more concrete — and therefore more susceptible to my type of analysis — I supposed that I knew exactly how much time I had to live and asked how would I then live the rest of those days. I tried to be more specific and made that time period one of the following: a day, a week, a month, 6 months, a year, two years, 5 years, 10 years, 20 years, 30 years, 70 years. To help me think about what I was going to do given that I was going to live another day or another 20 years, I turned to the list of life roles I was carrying around in my head as a way of partitioning my life at any given time.

I thus converted the question How shall I live, knowing I will die? to a series of questions of the form “If I knew I had only X (time period) left, what would I do in life role Y?” Some examples were: “If I knew I had only a week left to live, what I would do as a son?” and “If I knew I had only two more years to live, what I would do as a board member of Westminster House?” I organized my questions into a two dimensional matrix (with time-to-death on one axis and my life roles on the other)– a spreadsheet that I fondly called a “death action matrix”.

The answers I came up with that day were dramatic, deep, and revealing — and flowed directly out of the breakdown of the question. The prospect of death — even hypothetical death — turns out to be acidly clarifying. If I have little time left to live, most of what preoccupies me and seems so important would instantly be reduced to nothingness. I loveed my work profoundly, but when I asked myself the question “f I have a week to live, what would I do with my job?”, I answered without hesitation that I wouldn’t be spending any time on my favorite project. I would, however, want to say good-bye to my co-workers. Since I was quickly axing various roles I played for cases of a short life expectancy (it’s easy to quit my beloved committees when I think I’m going to die in a month!), I was intrigued by the question “how much time do I assume to have in this life (implicitly, most likely) to make a certain activity “worth my time”? For example, how many years would I want to have left for me to consider getting married or having children? If I knew that death was impending for me, would I stop blogging?

As I looked at the answers on my death action matrix spreadsheet, a central theme emerged — the most important thing in my life, in the face of death, was being at peace with the prospect of meeting my God, Judge, and Maker and letting my family and close friends know how much I loved them. I would add today that I also want to know how much I was loved. The question that raised by my matrix were “Do those close to me know how much I love them? And how do I let them know?”

In spite of the insights that came forth that day, I was too easily sidetracked by the realization that the central assumption of my exercise was merely hypothetical. Most of use do not know the exact day we will die. Furthermore, death is usually not like getting on a plane at a pre-assigned time, leaving us active to the very moment of departure. I kept pondering how I could sustain a life lived a daily intensity that I imagined that imminent death would prompt. Funny, how I don’t wonder about that point any more.

Given my own analysis, I continued to wonder a lot about how others would answer the question How shall I live, knowing I will die? On that grim morning of September 11 — five months later — I got a partial answer when I learned about the many last-minute love-filled emails or phone calls to husbands, wives, children, friends, or mothers that poured forth from those who knew they were at their end. Few of those who died that day would have parsed the question of how to live into a two-dimensional matrix, but it seems that nearly all of us need to love and be loved as we confront our own death.

Organizing your digital stuff for the VERY long term

How do you organize your digital stuff so that it makes sense for not only yourself but to others, even if you are incapacitated or after you die? I am trying to solve this question for myself, finding it an incredibly interesting and challenging question whose answers would be useful to many others. I don’t yet know the answers but I can tell you about a number of things that I think are related in some fundamental ways but whose connections.

I’m excited to work through the Nolo book Get It Together – Organize Your Estate Plan Documents. The book promises to teach us to “organize your records so your family won’t have to.” After looking through the table of contents, I’m impressed by the breadth of topics covered in the book.

Taking care of the varied types of digital documentation found on typical computers and online accounts is beyond the scope of the book. To jumpstart my study of digital estate planning, I just started studying Joe Kissell’s book Take Control of Your Digital Legacy. I recommend watching an interview with Kissell as a accessible introduction to the challenges in digital estate planning. I wholeheartedly agree with Kissell’s argument that organizing your digital estate is useful not only for those who come after you but also for the present day. It’s much easier to do organizational work when the payoff is not so abstract.

I suspect that digital estate planning has some non-trivial overlap with emergency planning. If you have minutes to evacuate your house because of a fire or earthquake, how do you make sure that you can still access the most important pieces of information if you can’t grab your computer? I’ve been assembling a USB key for my keychain: What should I store on it? how do I keep it up to date? How should I encrypt it? How do I make sure that those who need access to it can read it? The following articles hint at the relevant issues:

Maybe it’s time for me to watch the videos from Personal Digital Archiving (PDA) 2017 | Stanford Libraries:

As the centrality of personal digital archives and the ubiquity of digital content grows, librarians, archivists, scholars, students, activists, and those who fill the role of the “family IT person,” have to deal with how to best select, preserve, and manage digital material. PDA 2017 seeks to host a discussion across domains focusing on how to best manage personal digital material, be it at a large institution or in a home office.

If the videos prove useful for digital estate planning, I might make it a point to head to Houston in April 2018 for Personal Digital Archiving 2018 | University of Houston Libraries.

Supporting seniors in their technology use

I would like to learn a lot more about how to help older adults and seniors to make the best use of their computers and digital technology. In addition to providing occasional technical support to some older friends and family members, I have helped seniors with using their computers, tablets, and phones for phone banking and text banking. I really like hanging out and working with seniors. (I’ve been a volunteer with Tele-Care, a program in which we make calls to those who “live alone, are homebound, disabled, or convalescing from an illness, especially if you are retired, widowed, or a senior citizen,”)

I’m starting to research the challenges faced in particular by seniors and the marketplace of solutions and solution providers in the East Bay and beyond. I’d like to systematize my knowledge of computing practices for older adults. I’m also keen on making sure that computers stay a central part of my own life as I age. Here’s a bit of what I’ve learned so far.

Looking for an accessible introduction to the topic of elder computing, I turned to Spark with Nora Young on CBC Radio, specifically the segment on Elder tech (audio on YouTube). Some of the issues identified on the episode were:

Now that I’m a member of the AARP myself, I wondered about technology resources available by the organization:

What books are geared towards seniors and computing. A quick search of Safari books turned up such books as:

I’ve started looking at potential volunteer gigs to work with seniors in the East Bay:

Learning BigQuery + Google Sheets II

For use with BigQuery, there is an associated collection of quite useful public datasets. If you ever want to use any of these datasets, you should know how how data is contained in each because Google charges by the amount of data processed. If you’re learning how to use BigQuery, start with smaller datasets so that mistakes will cost a lot less money and time.

I wrote some Google Apps Script code to compile spreadsheet of all the tables in the public BigQuery datasets. Tables range from 0 bytes to 7.5 terabytes in size. Here’s a histogram of total database size of Google BigQuery public datasets (log scale):

Histogram of total database size of Google BigQuery public datasets (log scale)

There’s a lot more to say; in the days to come, I will unpack this thumbnail sketch of my computation and lay out possible future directions.