Thursday, 28 May 2009

BarCode Image

LevSys reports: [edited]

BarcodeImage is a small application for generating barcode images. It is easy to use and includes the following features:

- Generate the following barcode types: Interleaved 2 of 5, Code 39, Code 128, Codabar, UPC-A, UPC-E, EAN-13, EAN-8, POSTNET

- Save your barcode image to PNG or EPS image formats

- Specify the output image resolution in pixels/inch or pixels/cm

- Drag and drop your barcode image to an image editor or word processor.

- Print your barcode image for proofing

Available for Windows XP/200 and Mac OS X 10.4+. Donationware.

Tuesday, 26 May 2009

Setting goals

"The person who aims at nothing, usually reaches their goal"

Most of us start our lives with the majority of things being planned for us. Our parents provide for us, cook our meals, and choose our holidays. As we move through the educational system, we begin to make choices over what we are going to specialise in. And eventually we seek gainful employment.

However, the majority of people 'drift' through their lives. There is nothing wrong with this, except that a lot of people go around with a deep dissatisfaction that their lives seem to have little structure or purpose. And Clever People Who Research This Kind Of Stuff (CPWRTKOS) tell us that people whose lives have structure and purpose are generally 'happy' people.

Why not spend some time setting some (reasonable) goals for yourself?

Oh, and 'being happy' or 'getting rich' are not goals, they are fantasies. A goal is a specific, measurable thing.

Give quantities, numbers, dates, and times to your aims. Make sure that each of your goals is measurable.

Committing your goals to writing is important. It helps focus your thoughts, and gives you the ability to check back on your progress in the future.

Remember, you only get results from the physical actions you take, not for the great ideas you have. In order to get any kind of tangible results, you must act on an idea. You must build it, implement it, make it real.

The route to your goals will rarely be a straight line. When ships cross oceans, they are (technically) off course most of the time, but their navigation systems continually track their progress and compensate accordingly.

Goal setting works the same way. It gives you motivation and direction for what you need to do each day. As you begin moving towards your goals, you'll gain new knowledge along the way. You may even modify your goals. That's all good. You're making decisions. You're adapting. You're learning. You're learning how to learn.

Friday, 22 May 2009


If possible, keep all the keys you need on one ring.

Regularly check your keyring's contents, and remove the ones you don't need.

Have backups of all your important keys, hidden in a safe place, or better still, with friends who live nearby.

Keep your keys in the same place all the time. I have a clip on my laptop bag for them.

Don't leave them on the ledge by the front door window. Bad people know people leave them there. The keys also give the bad people access to a courtesy getaway vehicle.

Oh, and if you are by yourself in a house, and leave the house to put stuff in the bin, take your keys with you. It is a little known fact that all front doors have a 'self-close when the house is empty and the last person to leave hasn't got any keys on them' function (SCWTHIEATLPTLHGAKOT™). And yes, it has happened to me. Twice.

Wednesday, 20 May 2009

The Carrot Principle

I hate the taste of carrots. My mum also dislikes them but, convinced that my eyesight depended on it (yes, she did ask me, "Have you ever seen a rabbit with glasses?") she diligently applied herself to including them in my evening meals. Mum put carrots behind things, under things, wrapped in things, even mashing them into potatoes (which meant I hated the taste of the potatoes as well!).

With all attempts at escaping this torture finally exhausted (reasoning, begging, moaning, feigning death, moving the carrots onto my brother's plate...) I resigned myself to my miserable fate, and began working on coping strategies. The one that worked best for me was eating the carrots first, getting the foul deed over and done with, so I could enjoy the rest of my meal.

Why am I telling you this? Because when you have a variety of tasks to perform with similar priority levels, do the ones you want to do least, first. You'll get more done, and you'll finish the day in a better frame of mind.

Monday, 18 May 2009

Play to your strengths

Most western schooling systems are (in theory!) geared towards exposing young people to a wide range of mental and physical disciplines, including reading, writing, 'rithmetic, religion and recreation. Rumour has it that common-sense never made it onto the curriculum, simply because it can't be twisted into beginning with an 'R'.

As we move through the educational system, we are encouraged to identify our weaknesses and our strengths; to ameliorate the former, and strengthen the latter. The problem is, a lot of people continue through their adult lives concentrating on what they can't do, rather than strengthening what they can.

Life is finite. It's not being 'anal' or 'driven' to move toward putting some focus in our lives. It is common sense.

You could do worse than take a few minutes to write down the things that you find easy to do, things that you tend to get lost in, losing all sense of time while you are involved in them, things that bring you a great sense of happiness and fulfilment. Then cross out the ones that involve eating, drinking and sex, and see what you are left with.

Most of us know what these things are without even writing a list. And yet, a lot of people spend a lot of their lives doing things that they aren't good at, and don't enjoy. Some of those things are unavoidable. Others are things we have drifted into, and now feel that we can't get out of them without upsetting or disappointing people.

I was once involved in a Church survey where we gave out anonymous questionnaires to all the volunteer leaders. The questions included ones that asked whether they were happy in the work they were doing, and whether there was other Church work they felt their skills would be better suited to.

The responses were surprising. There were a lot of people who weren't happy, and felt that there were other things they'd be better suited to. And a quick mixing and matching of the skill-sets showed that if they were shuffled around, the Church work could continue with everyone doing stuff they were good at, and DID want to do.

The even more surprising thing was that when the whole group was confronted with this, and the suggestion was made that people should come forward and work on ways of re-distributing the leadership roles, nobody did. People were happier being comfortably miserable, than making a fresh start with something they knew they'd be better at.

I'm have a deep suspicion that this is not a unique scenario.

Thursday, 14 May 2009

Two small words

20 years ago I was reading an interview with Amy Grant. In it she related a conversation she had with the veteran preacher/author Chuck Swindoll.

At the end of their time together, Amy asked him if he had any life-advice for her, and braced herself for a challenging anecdote laced with deep spiritual truths.

To her surprise, Chuck's advice consisted of just two words:

"Turn up".

20 years later, I still consider it to be one of the most profound pieces of advice I have ever read.

Tuesday, 12 May 2009

Now is good

Humans live in time and space. And until someone finds a way to make practical use of quantum theory, each of us is allotted the same linear 24 hours each day in which to get things done. And each of us has thousands of things that we could do at any one time.

I'm going to look at procrastination in more detail another time (that wasn't meant to be funny), however, here's a maxim that (I think) I made up all by myself:

"If it is definitely going to need to be done, and you can do it now, do it now."

It's never going to win any prizes for succinctnessnessness, but as a principle for getting things done, it takes a lot of beating.

Someone has sent you an email suggesting you get together some time. The temptation is to reply some time in the future. Why not check your diary, and reply now?

A friend's birthday is coming up in a week or so. You've got a couple of minutes spare while a document is printing. You've got an appropriate card (What do you mean, you don't keep a stock of appropriate cards? I can feel another blog coming on...). Write an appropriately hilarious age-related missive, address the envelope, write 'not to be opened until *insert birthdate*' on the flap and pop it in the first pillar box you see (yes, yes, you WILL need to put a stamp on it as well!).

Your car's petrol tank is a quarter-full (or, for the pessimists amongst you, three-quarters empty). You're in plenty of time for whatever appointment you're driving towards, and you're approaching a petrol station. Pull over, and fill up now. Not when the needle is hovering on the 'E', and you're already running late!

Give it a try, you'll be surprised how applying the IIIDGTNTBDAYCDINDIN™ maxim frees up your days, and minimises that awful 'there's no way I'm going to get everything done that I need to get done' (TNWIAGTGEDTINTGD™, damn, I'm good at this acronym thing!) feeling.

Monday, 11 May 2009

Getting Organised #2

This blog entry is particularly applicable to students, but it can be applied to just about anybody who is in the position where they have so much to do that they don't know where to start.

If possible, find a quiet place, and sit yourself down with pen, paper and a cup/glass of your favourite (non-alcoholic) beverage.

Write a list of all the things you think you need to get done within the next two weeks, including apologies to people, thank yous, telephone calls that need to be made, and emails/letters which should be written.

If you have missed deadlines, or if you are certain to miss them, make a separate list of the people you have/are going to let down, along with a REALISTIC estimate of when you are going to be able to get the task done.

Then contact the people you are going to disappoint. If possible do this face-to-face. Failing that, by phone. A last resort is sending a letter/email, along with a number/place where you can be contacted. Do not put off doing this.

When talking to these people, you will often find that they are willing to renegotiate deadlines. This is great, but having gained a stay of execution, it is essential for your future credibility that you meet this revised deadline.

Some of the tasks may actually no longer need doing, or the person you are talking to may offer to relieve you of the duty. Hurrah!

Once this has been done, go through your list, and number the tasks according to priority (not preference). Any that are not essential, cross off, or move to a ‘to be done sometime’ list.

Then cancel any non-essential engagements, and begin completing the tasks. Cross each item off as you go, refusing to avoid any of the listed activities. If you do you will break the power of the list to clear your backlog. It should be obvious, but don't take on any non-essential commitments until you have worked your way through the existing list!

When all items are completed, take the list, crumple, tear or otherwise mangle it, and triumphantly toss it in the bin.

Friday, 8 May 2009

Stop flitting!

There was a time when long-distance messages arrived once (or twice) a day, delivered by a real person, to a real mailbox.

Then came the telephone.

Then the fax machine.

Then voicemail.

Then email.

Then texting.

Then instant messaging.

Then blogs.

Then RSS feeds.

Which is all well and good, but the plethora of conduits by which people can contact you (and by which you contact other people), can become a powerful procrastination tool (especially when there are things you need to get done, but really don't want to do!).

There are no hard-and-fast rules for how to deal with this. I need to check my email frequently during work hours, not so frequently at home. RSS feeds are things I browse during coffee breaks. If I find myself checking them every half-hour of a weekend, I know it's time to give myself a talking to!

There is a good chance that you already know whether you are exhibiting 'obsessive-compulsive' tendencies in this area... but as a guideline, if you are spending more time checking whether you have a text/ voicemail/ email than you spend reading them, you could probably scale the frequency down a notch!

Thursday, 7 May 2009

Write it down

The human brain is a marvellous and mysterious thing. Carrying out 24/7 monitoring and managing of thousands of body processes and capable of storing, organising and retrieving millions of items of information. And yet I regularly reach the top of the stairs and wonder what it was I had ascended them for. Or have a 'brilliant' thought during a long car journey, then realise that although I remember having the thought, I can't remember what it was. Or hear a song, like it, but - within minutes - forget what it's called, or who it's by.

Now I'm sure that neuroscientists will eventually find a logical explanation for this, and there may even be a day when there are ways of 'logging' your brain's processes. Until that day, we're stuck with more mundane methods of remembering things.

I've investigated and tried a lot of methods of making sure I don't forget things. Computers are helpful, mobile phones better... but probably the most useful tool in my 'don't forget' armoury are 12 x 8cm cards. And a writing implement. Pieces of card are cheap, require no power source, are rugged and disposable. And my brain's OCR equipment is brilliant at interpreting even the most illegible scribbles.

And by keeping to a 'one card, one idea' principle, they are easily filed or carried, then disposed once the task has been completed, or transferred to appropriate digital storage systems.

Now, where did i put that pen?

Wednesday, 6 May 2009

Free font - Sansation

Bernd Montag reports: [edited]

Here is the latest update of my font Sansation...

• improved spacing/kerning
• more glyphs
• two additional weights

Hope you like it! Italic versions coming soon.

Tuesday, 5 May 2009

Drop the monkey

This is a tip that is particularly valuable if you are involved in a leadership role, but it can be applied to a very wide range of situations. It is simple, non-manipulative and common-sense. And it can save you (and other people) a lot time and emotional pain!

Scenario A: Someone approaches you with an idea/suggestion/project. After hearing what they have to say, you tell them you'll get back to them on it.

The person goes away with the assurance that you will contact them. You, being busy, either forget about it completely, or add it to the bottom of your (already lengthy) 'to do' list.

Two months later, the person is frustrated that you haven't got back to them. And you are dreading the phone ringing, or meeting them (and 17 other people you have made a similar promise to) in the street.

Scenario B: Someone approaches you with an idea/suggestion/project. After hearing what they have to say, you tell them TO GET BACK TO YOU on it.

The person goes away knowing that it is THEIR responsibility to get in touch with you about the idea. The beauty of this simple inversion is that if the idea is a whim, they will forget about it, giving you one less thing to do. If you say 'I'll get back to you', even if the idea is a whim, they will remember that you promised to contact them (and with some people, the grudge that you didn't will be nursed long after they have forgotten what the idea was!).

Of course, if their idea/suggestion/project is one that you think is worth pursuing, and they don't contact you, you'll get extra 'points' for contacting them.

Friday, 1 May 2009

Getting Organised #1

Does your desk look like this picture?

I'm not a believer in 'clean desk' policies. If you are busy, there will be times when clutter is a part of the deal. However, a regular 'purge' of your working environment helps you to evaluate what you do and don't need to keep, and as a result work more efficiently.

So, find yourself a spare hour, and source a generously-sized cardboard box, plus two large bin-liners. Mark one bin-liner 'rubbish', the other with the day's date.

Starting at one corner of a room, check every item (including cupboard contents), putting rubbish in the appropriate bag, and all items you know you won't be using in the next three months in the dated bin-liner (you may need more than one dated bin-liner!).

Put any items you're not sure about in the box.

Then seal up the dated bag(s) and put away in a safe, dry place.

Dispose of/recycle the items in the rubbish bag/s.

Go through the box of odd items and find places to put the ones you really want to keep. Keep this box as a ‘limbo’ to put all subsequent items that have no immediate purpose or place, but which you cannot bring yourself to throw away. If/when it gets too full, savagely sift it and dispose of some of the items (or put them in a 'dated' bin-liner!).

If a year passes without you missing the stuff in the dated bin-liners, you almost certainly don't need the stuff. Find someone who does, or recycle/dump it.

Repeat as necessary.