Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Buying glasses online - success!

A week ago I wrote about buying glasses online for the first time. Well they just came in today.

Clearly Contacts shipment - what's in the box

Note the coupon code: TELLAFRIEND, for 20% off.

The glasses seem pretty nice. My eyes are gradually getting used to them. Going to give it a few days before sending in the payment.

New glasses for Jon

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Around a lake in Victoria in October

Come with me and I'll take you on a mini tour around Swan Lake near my place in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada.

Path around Swan Lake, Victoria BC
Brrrr! First thing to notice is that it’s cold in Victoria in October. Good thing you’re wearing that sweater and warm jacket.

Path around Swan Lake, Victoria BC
A neat thing about Swan Lake and other nature sanctuaries in Victoria is that you’ve got all these nice bridges and old wooden structures. They’re a part of my childhood.

Path around Swan Lake, Victoria BC
This little bog feeds into Swan Lake. I wouldn’t recommend swimming in it. Ducks like to eat the green stuff though.

Path around Swan Lake, Victoria BC
It’s definitely fall—everything’s orange except for the evergreens. OK let’s head home for some hot chocolate!

Is it cloudy and chilly back where you live?

X-Acto Personal Paper Trimmer

I picked up this X-Acto paper trimmer at Staples for 15 bucks. Basically it cuts a straight line through paper up to 12" wide. I don’t use it often, but when I need it, it’s a pleasure to use.

Simply apply a little pressure to the knob, then slide it across the paper.

X-Acto Personal Paper Trimmer

Saturday, October 24, 2009

30 Essential Typefaces for A Lifetime

30 Essential Typefaces cover

My bro recently blogged about the book 30 Essential Typefaces for A Lifetime which is a survey of 30 important typefaces.

Here’s the list. The ones installed on my computer (woefully few) are in bold:
  • Sans-serifs: Akzidenz Grotesk, Avenir, Bell Centennial, Bell Gothic, DIN, Franklin Gothic, Frutiger, Futura, Gill Sans, Helvetica, Meta, Myriad, Trade Gothic, Univers and Vag Rounded.
  • Serifs: Adobe Caslon, Adobe Garamond, Bembo, Bodoni, Clarendon, Courier, Excelsior, Lucida, Minion, Perpetua, Sabon, Stempel Schneidler, Times New Roman, Trajan and Walbaum.

I hope you have more of these gems than I do.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Microsoft Word has a nice outlining tool built in

Sometimes when I’m writing code, I need to check a tree of function calls. It can be tricky to remember which nodes I’ve checked and which I still need to check. Tracking my progress on paper or in a text editor doesn’t work very well. Sometimes I would use a diagramming tool ( to build out the tree, but it’s cumbersome.

It turns out that Microsoft Word has a great outlining tool built in. You can add sibling and child nodes very quickly (by pressing Enter or Tab). And you can easily cross out items that are done.

I’m a fan.

Microsoft Word's Outline View

Monday, October 19, 2009

Buying glasses online - the experiment begins

Ordered some glasses online from My optometrist would not give me my PD measurement. Fortunately there are ways to measure your PD yourself—I like Ken's Post-It method. ClearlyContacts (or CoastalContacts in the US) is cool because you can try glasses on a photo of yourself, you can return the glasses if you don’t like them, and all lenses are antireflective, antiscratch, and UV. My frames and lenses came out to $100, but because of the high prescription I opted to pay another $100 for an ultra-thin lens. $200 ain’t bad for a pair of glasses.

Here’s me trying on some Guccis.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Recharging on Sunday: Physical, emotional, intellectual, spiritual

According to author Matthew Kelly, this is a good way to spend a Sunday:
Fill the seventh day with enriching experiences that bring new meaning and depth to your life…in each of the four areas of legitimate need—physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual.

Here’s what I’m doing in each of the four areas today:
  • Physical: Going for a walk up nearby Christmas Hill.
  • Emotional: Took my mom out to a Chinese buffet.
  • Intellectual: Read five chapters aloud from the Book of Psalms.
  • Spiritual: Went to mass at St. Andrew’s Cathedral.

What activities are you doing today to recharge?

Saturday, October 17, 2009

Type Drop

For his typography project my brother is dropping eggs stenciled with Helvetica Condensed from 50 feet.

Preparing the eggs

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Automatic photo resizing for Mom’s webmail [Windows]

Mom asked me how to attach photos from her digital camera to her webmail. I showed her, but we waited an annoying amount of time for the five 3-MB photos to upload. Googling around a bit, I found a great free utility called Shrink Pic. It magically resizes photos down to 50-150kb. Works for both webmail clients and desktop email clients. It’s totally automatic—Mom doesn’t know it’s there (other than an icon that appears in the system tray).

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Mini Kitchen Scale

This is one of the most useful $8 purchases I’ve ever made. It's a small kitchen scale. It weighs things up to 450g (16oz). I use it to weigh my cereal in the morning (55g of Mini Wheats). But it’s also come in handy for determining how much postage to put on envelopes and parcels.

Salton Kitchen Scale

Executor is better than SlickRun

Executor and SlickRun are keyword launchers for Windows. With a hotkey, you pop up a window and enter a keyword representing a webpage or desktop application to launch.

I’ve been using SlickRun for three years. But yesterday I switched to Executor. Why?

  • Unlike SlickRun, it's under active development.

  • It shows an auto-completion drop-down.

  • SlickRun sometimes caused my windows to go all flickery after launching a keyword.

  • Executor also looks cool.

I exported my keywords from SlickRun, massaged the output a bit, then imported them into Executor. Someone should write a conversion utility for this.

Friday, October 09, 2009

Almonds + Apples = Yum

Today I discovered that thin slices of apples go nicely with almonds.

Try it as a snack.

The sad state of window management in today's operating systems

Window management hasn't changed much since the Xerox PARC days. They are still these overlapping rectangles that hide other rectangles. I currently have 19 windows open, and only 3 are visible (full screen on 3 monitors). I cannot tell at a glance which monitors the other 16 are on.

Surely there must be a better way to manage all of these applications—all of these contexts—that are open on one’s computer screen. Surely some clear-thinking soul has thought up a second way to manage this plethora of rectangles—some way that is easy and natural, that doesn't involve hiding windows behind others, losing your focus and context in the process.


Meanwhile, I am fighting the problem of multiple window contexts with a variety of approaches:

  • Desktop Sidebar. This sidebar keeps the time, mini calendar, system statistics, a mini web-browser, and (most importantly) a mini notepad always in view.

  • mIRC. This IRC client has a text-to-speech feature that lets me hear what people are saying, even if the window is hidden behind other windows. This saves a bunch of real estate.

  • Executor. This command line pops up with a hotkey, and lets me launch predefined shortcuts (with parameters) for web pages and applications. SlickRun is similar, albeit no longer developed.

  • MaxiVista. This lets me use a spare computer as a third monitor. It doesn’t solve the root problem, but it alleviates it a bit.

  • Alt-Tab Powertoy. A slightly better Alt-Tab. In addition to showing you a bunch of icons to choose from, it shows a thumbnail of the window for the selected icon. Not sure if this helps much.

  • iswitchw. This tool lets you switch to an open window by typing a few letters in the window title. For example, to get to my Putty window, I do Alt+w put. Saves one’s mental health.

  • A script for moving the active window from one monitor to another when I press both mouse buttons. I use this a lot.

  • VirtuaWin. A virtual desktop. Having too many virtual desktops confuses me, so I just have two: my main one, and an alternate universe that I switch to when someone interrupts me with a question and I don’t want to mess up my window arrangement.

It’s an ugly set of interactions, but it helps. Sorta.

Many of us live in our computers, so there must surely be a connection between a chaotic ecosystem of windows in which one cannot find the window one needs, and one’s mental health.

So for the health of our world,

for the sanity of humanity,

someone please give us a better way to do window management.

Thursday, October 08, 2009

Relying on intuition when debugging

We see it every day. Intuition/hunches help us debug complex, unfamiliar systems. “How the heck did I figure that out?”

Be not afraid. Dive into that unfamiliar problem, look at that mass of data, and be confident that your intuition will help you figure out the cause.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

D'oh = chagrin

For the longest time, I’ve been wondering about the name of the emotion expressed by D’oh!. The closest I could think of was “regret”, but that isn’t quite right, because regret implies that it’s your fault, whereas D’oh can be for circumstances that aren’t your fault.

I’ve found the word: chagrin—basically, annoyance or disappointment.

Shower Idea Capture Mini

I previously wrote about using Crayola Bathtub Crayons to capture ideas while in the shower. That idea fell into disuse as the other occupants of the home were displeased with seeing the writing on the wall. Also it was sometimes hard to read and to clean.

Here’s an idea that eliminates these problems with the crayons: write on a plastic container. You can write smaller and more legibly, and it is easier to clean. It may not be perfectly legible, but it’s good enough for you to remember what you were thinking about.

Shower idea capture
johnny: how sw vers?