Jon Aquino's Mental Garden

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Tuesday, November 24, 2009

AutoMinimizeOutlook.exe—workaround for creeping Outlook 2003 memory usage

A pernicious Outlook 2003 bug is that it gradually increases its memory usage, typically hitting 200 MB. A workaround is to simply minimize the Outlook window—this drops the memory usage down to 15 MB. But who wants to remember to minimize Outlook throughout the day?

I have created an automatic workaround for this, called AutoMinimizeOutlook.exe. This application sits in your system tray. Every 60 seconds, it minimizes any inactive Outlook windows, freeing up tens or hundreds of MB of memory. (Source code for the AutoHotkey script.)

You can control the number of seconds between each check, for example: AutoMinimizeOutlook.exe 30

If you're not backing up your hard drive... should be. Pick up an external USB hard drive for $75 from Amazon (or in Canada), for example, the 320GB My Passport (the four-star WDME3200TN, not the two-star WDBAAA3200ABK), or the fast, shock-resistant 160GB Transcend StoreJet (cnet review).

Next, you'll need backup software. Macs have Time Machine; for PCs, there's a good free one called Macrium Free Edition (reviews 1, 2, 3, 4). It took a couple of hours (if I remember correctly) to back up my 80GB hard drive as a 40GB image on the USB drive. After that, you can open the image as its own drive letter—just takes a few seconds to open.

I plan to back up my hard drive weekly. The ability to restore individual files is useful.

Two useful subtle colors: subtle beige and subtle silver

I find these two colors useful for subtly highlighting information on a web page.

Subtle Beige
r=255 g=255 b=221
h=60 s=14 v=100

Subtle Silver
r=243 g=243 b=243
h=0 s=0 v=95

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Jon's Vacation Routine

I have the week off, and my two goals for the week are (1) catch up on reading (2) catch up on sleep. As Stefan Sagmeister described in his TED Talk on taking sabbaticals, I need to make a schedule, a routine, in order not to dissipate my energies in lounging around.

I'm going to try for the following. I've put down study for the odd hours; the even hours remain free (e.g., keep going on the study, or do something totally different, like check my RSS feeds, etc.).

 9 Wake up
11 Read the Iliad
1 Read Algorithms (Skiena)
3 Read Aristotle
5 Read Physics (Halliday)
7 Read Math Refresher for Scientists and Engineers
9 Calligraphy, exercise
10 Evening prayer, meditation
11 Evening tea with mom
1 Sleep—8 glorious hours

We'll see how it goes.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

The "Survival Kit In A Sardine Can" Challenge

I have recently become enamored of the Survival Kit In A Sardine Can, containing 25 survival items, from compass and blade to pencil and tea bag.

My challenge to you: How close can you get to replicating this kit?

I bought a few things from the dollar store and am going to try to assemble this as a little project. Here's what I've got so far:

Survival Kit In A Sardine CanJon's Survival Kit In A Soap Dish
sardine cansoap dish
alcohol prep
antibiotic ointment
tea bagtea bag (peppermint)
chewing gum (Big Red)chewing gum (Dentyne)
energy nugget (Tootsie Roll)energy nugget (Werther's Original)
duct tapeduct tape
fire starter cube
paper clip paper clip
first aid instructionsfirst aid instructions
fish hook and linetwine
note paperPost-its
razor bladerazor blade
safety pinsafety pin
reflective signal surface
waterproof bagZiploc

Build your own kit and let me know how it goes!

Survival Kit In A Soap Dish - Closed

Survival Kit In A Soap Dish - Open

Survival Kit In A Soap Dish - Contents

DIY International Pocket Briefcase aka David Allen NoteTaker Wallet

Wouldn't it be nice to have a pen and paper in your wallet? It would be an easy way to capture ideas wherever you are—in a restaurant, on the bus, in the kitchen—wherever. You can buy this sort of thing, but the price is steep. The David Allen NoteTaker Wallet will set you back $89, while the Levenger International Pocket Briefcase is $58 (or $86 with pen).

Or you can make your own. Here's what you need:
  • a wallet
  • a pad of paper
  • a small pen
  • duct tape

Affix the pad of paper to your wallet using a few pieces of rolled-up duct tape. Then stick the pen in one of the wallet pockets. You will then have a perfectly good note-taker wallet. Pull it out when an idea strikes you, in grocery lineups, while walking, etc.

DIY International Pocket Briefcase

Advanced technique: When you need a pen (but not paper), disengage the pen from the wallet while leaving the wallet in your pocket. Now put it back.

For pens, you have a number of good choices, depending on how much you want to spend. If you've got cash to burn, the $20 Fisher Bullet Space Pen has a loyal following, but I think the $33 Lamy Pico is cooler (video). On the cheap, you can make your own "winged" PicoPad-style pen from a ballpoint ink tube and a piece of tape (see below). Or you can just head to an art store and buy a small pen for $3 (like the Pilot G-2 Mini shown below).

Wallet pens

There—I saved you 89 bucks.

Alarm Clock Design Rant

I went shopping for an alarm clock for my mother today. Why is it that the largest button is for a function that is never used? I'm referring to the Snooze button. Does anyone use that? Instead of stopping the alarm temporarily and have it ring again in 5 minutes, I want it to stop for today and ring again tomorrow. Isn't that what most people need?

Instead, we have to find a tiny switch and move it to the off position, then back to the on position. And all alarm clocks are like that. Ugh.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Reviewing high school and university science subjects

I learned an awful lot of science in high school and university. And it’s a shame that all of this knowledge from years ago has been forgotten. I’d like to rectify this by refreshing my knowledge of chemistry, biology, math, and physics. And I’d like to use books that are more interesting than what I used in my courses.

For instance,

General Chemistry by Linus Pauling ($9 used including shipping at

Why we like it: It’s by Linus Pauling, winner of two Nobel prizes.
What you’ll learn: Covalence, oxidation, aldehydes, etc.
Amazon-review money quote: “Linus Pauling's treatise on general chemistry is exciting and interesting.”
Opening line: “The universe is composed of matter and radiant energy.”

Biology by Neil Campbell ($4 used including shipping at

Why we like it: It’s widely considered to be the best undergraduate biology textbook.
What you’ll learn: Photosynthesis, DNA, circulation, etc.
Amazon-review money quote: “Many times I forgot to take notes because the richness, depth and flow of the text made me feel like I was reading a novel instead of a text.”
Opening line: “In this very first section, we introduce one of life’s most distinctive features, its order.”

Math Refresher for Scientists and Engineers by John Fanchi ($26 used including shipping at—get at least the 2nd ed. to get the statistics chapters)

Why we like it: It’s a dozen math courses packed into one short book.
What you’ll learn: Linear algebra, calculus, statistics, etc.
Amazon-review money quote: “It's the sort of book that you can easily read for an hour, cover 20 or 30 pages, and not feel too exhausted.”
Opening line:Math Refresher for Scientists and Engineers, Third Edition is intended for people with technical backgrounds who would like to refresh their math skills.”

The Feynman Lectures on Physics by Richard Feynman ($57 used including shipping at—search for ISBN 0201021153 to get the 3-vol set)

Why we like it: We love anything written by Feynman.
What you’ll learn: Relativity, dielectrics, the Schrödinger equation, etc.
Amazon-review money quote: “If you already know physics you can probably breeze through the books pretty easily getting a lot of nice insights, but otherwise you need to be prepared to work hard. ”
Opening line: “This two-year course in physics is presented
from the point of view that you, the reader, are going to be a physicist.”

What textbooks would you recommend (or not recommend)?

Friday, November 06, 2009

How merging works the second, third, etc. time you merge a file?

I asked a programming question on for the first time today. I was pleasantly surprised to get an answer in 9 minutes.

My question was about how revision-control systems do repeated merging between two branches. I understand that the first merge is a 3-way merge between two files and their common parent. But I didn't know what happens on the second, third, etc. merge: what are the 3 files involved in the 3-way merge at that point?

Greg Hewgill gave me a great answer—in short, use the two files and their “closest common parent”. See Greg's answer for a nice diagram of this. It was an Aha! moment for me.