Archive for the 'reviews' Category

Tuesday’s Tools: Remember The Milk & Gmail

February 12, 2008

Click to enlarge the screenshot. From
One more organization system: A Firefox plugin that integrates Remember the Milk, the online task-management service, and Gmail. It has some nifty features: You can automatically create tasks by adding tags to messages (for example: every mail tagged To Do can become a task with that e-mail’s subject line) or manually add them. It can listen to your Google Calendar and create tasks like “Mail present 4 days before Fred’s birthday” assuming Fred’s birthday is listed on your calendar. What it doesn’t do, is it doesn’t talk back to your calendar, though–and since I can’t function without a visual representation of what I’ve got going on, Google Calendar is still king in my world.

If someone could invent a way to combine Remember The Milk’s powers to manage non-time-sensitive tasks and Google Calendar for everything else, I’d be golden. Not even Things does this. Le sigh.

Anyway, get it here.


Reviewed: The Areas of My Expertise (ON CD!!!)

February 11, 2008

I am so, so late to the party on this one, but nonetheless: I loved John Hodgman on Jon Stewart. I loved (still love) him as the stodgy PC to Justin Long’s faux-cool Mac. (Nobody else thinks Long is Trying Too Hard?)

But I couldn’t get more than a few pages through The Areas of My Expertise. I just couldn’t. The endless charts, the digressions, the asterisks. It was funny–I knew this in an abstract way–but it was not riveting, or even interesting.

Lo and Behold, there is an audio CD which I have had the pleasure of discovering just last night. The Audio CD is the whole book, read by John Hodgman (deliciously drily), with bonus cameos and musical interludes. It is a thing of beauty. Hodgman’s delivery is perfect. The jokes, which are all decent on paper, come to life on the CD.

I wouldn’t read this book any other way. And I do suggest you pick up this audiobook if you are unfamiliar with Hodgman’s book. It is crucial if you want to be prepared for the next hobo uprising.

Tuesday’s Tools: “Things” (Mac Only)

January 29, 2008

I’m on an organization kick lately. The most recent of my experiments has been Things, a Mac-only organizer program. It’s in alpha right now, and is free for testing (though the final version will not be free), so go sign up and grab it.

What you’ll get for your payment of $0 is a fairly intuitive interface where you can enter a list of things to do, group them by project or due date, and tag them as you see fit. For now, your Things fit into: “Things to do today,” “things to do next,” “things to do someday,” and “postponed.” I’m not sure what the difference is between someday and postponed, and I’d love to see a bucket for “This week” or something, but mostly it’s so fast to enter tasks that I don’t mind the minor things. (And yes, it IS in alpha.)

The final version will have a feature I’m excited about: delegation. You’ll be able to add People to delegate tasks to, and through some magical process I don’t quite understand, the program will tell the other people that they’ve been assigned such-and-such. This whole thing is much like Remember The Milk except prettier.

So give it a try. I like it, and think y’all will too.

Review: Jobs That Don’t Suck (career books, part 2)

January 25, 2008

Yesterday I mentioned The Girl’s Guide to Kicking Your Career Into Gear. I mentioned that though I can’t vouch for the book, I can totally vouch for the authors.
Here’s the opposite situation: a book that will change your life, though I don’t think I like the author very much. Jobs That Don’t Suck is the only career book that has ever done anything useful for me; it’s geared toward people just finishing college who want to move into a creative field. and Yahoo! Business and all that are, of course, aimed at MBAs and salespersons and the like—surprise, those people have more money and are thus more attractive to advertisers. (You would not believe how long it took me to figure that out—go naiveté!)

But really. If you are interested in writing or journalism or radio or fashion design or any of these competitive fields, you need this book. There’s an entire chapter dedicated to unconventional cover letters, one of which, when I snagged the format, landed me a job—the person who interviewed me actually said she “loved” my cover letter. There’s chapters about resumes that go way beyond the usual schlock. There is a chapter about calling receptionists after you’ve submitted a resume—that gives you a script. I hate how other career books assume you know what to say. Many people, especially recent grads, have no clue. I sure didn’t. I thought I did, but I was wrong.

There are a few caveats with Jobs That Don’t Suck. First, there is a laughable chapter about the Internet. (The book came out in 1998 and could use an update.) Skip it. Rip the pages out if you want—they are that useless. Second, the author, Charlie Drozdyk, tries to write in a “hip” style that may have been cool 10 years ago, but takes a little getting used to. But he knows his stuff.

Also, I don’t really like Charlie Drozdyk as a person, at least from what I gleaned from his book. He advocates lying on your resume, for one thing. He suggests working 10-hour days, every day, with no end in sight. (Working late when you’re getting started and you want to make a good impression? Great. Working late every day of your life, even when you’ve gotten that promotion you wanted and you have an assistant who works late for you? Not so great.) And the lying on the resume thing really irks me. If you’re good, you shouldn’t need to lie.

Despite its flaws, I’d give this book a high rating—an 8.5 out of 10, if I did that sort of thing. Anyone in the job market oughta pick this one up.

Reviewed: Ballad of the Whiskey Robber

November 28, 2007

It would be tough to dislike this book.True, it starts slowly–after the prologue, where we meet our hero Attila Ambrus as he is breaking out of Hungarian prison, we are treated to slightly less interesting fare–Attila growing up, Attila going to juvie, Attila sneaking into Hungary by hitching a train–okay, that part isn’t bad. But then the story really picks up: It’s the true-life, meticulously researched story of the worst hockey goalie in Hungarian history, who was paid so little (when he was paid at all) that he turned to bank robbing to supplement his income. In post-Communist Hungary, the police force was not up to the task of catching this incredibly determined man who disguised himself with dollar-store wigs and fake mustaches. It probably didn’t hurt that Attila feared nothing while drunk, a prerequisite to any holdup, that he could run like hell, and that one of officers of Budapest’s police force was so stupid that the rest of the force nicknamed him Mound of Asshead.

Part of what makes this book so appealing is the care author Julian Rubinstein took in translating Hungarian idiomatically. He says in his author’s notes that he doesn’t speak a word of Hungarian, but that he badgered his translators to make sure that he got the sense of the words as well as the meaning. Also, the work involved in putting this together must surely have been tremendous: Rubinstein spent weeks in Hungary and months digging through archives to write this story, and it shows.

Finally, though Attila is a criminal and in some ways almost deplorable, Rubinstein portrays the man as a whole. This is not just the story of the worst goalie in Hungarian hockey history–it’s an empathic portrait of the worst goalie in Hungarian hockey history. Almost makes you want to throw down your book and go break the man out of prison.