Far Away In America

No, I’m not referring to that Village People song that was a definite low even by the Standards of the German National Soccer team (I have to admit that I kinda liked the 1990 Album with Udo Jürgens, but a) I was 7 back then and b) I’m only two sentences in and already going off-topic).

4 Years ago, on April 15 2005, I decided to move from Germany to France. No idea what to expect, no plan if this would work out, but also with no doubts that this is the right thing to do. And what can I say? The past 4 years were a blast, one hell of a ride, and well worth taking the risk. Last week, I had to make another decision like this, except on a larger scale.

2005, the choice was to move from unemployment into a job in my dream industry, 484 kilometers away from home. It was a no-brainer for the most part. 2009, the choice was to move from a good job into another good job. And this time, the choice was to move 9100 kilometers – from France to California. But at the end, the decision was also mostly a no-brainer.

So yeah, unless something really strange happens (Like the US Government not approving my Visa), I’m going to move to the US, the country where kilometers are 60% longer and called miles, the country where 120 V achieve the same as 230 V over here (I think they are just making those 120 Volts work harder and longer to be fair…), the country 9 time zones away (My parents will have to buy a second clock now :)).

Good time to start a traveling-series in this blog. No no, not something like Matt already did (I’m not a tourist after all)… Maybe something with the FilthyPumpkin humour… Maybe something very artsy… Or maybe something downright boring just to piss everyone off who expects a really exciting Travel Diary 😛

PS: Good thing the song is largely forgotten, I found only a really crappy version of an interpretation of it.

The third Generation iPod Shuffle – how to turn a perfectly good product into a piece of shit

Okay, so let me start by saying that I might be biased because I do not like the company policy of Apple. I owned an iBook some time ago and was always interested what they are up to, and after using it for a while I came to the conclusion that Apple gets Innovation and Design really well, but that the Hardware is overall inferior, overpriced and that it’s a gigantic Vendor Lock-In, much much worse than Microsoft, who at least give you the Freedom of choosing your Hardware freely.

But there are two Apple Products that I always adored and still truly love: iTunes and the iPod. I did get the original 5 GB iPod when it was introduced and I was always satisfied with it (Yes, the wheel had it’s issues, but not to the point of being unusable – and at least they fixed that in newer iPods). Nowadays, I own a second Generation iPod Shuffle (2 GB, in Blue) and I also love it. For me, this is the ultimate iPod from a usability perspective: The way the controls are on the side mean that I can grab my iPod when it’s in my pocket and I know where the buttons are: Next track is on the short side, Previous Track is on the long side, Volume controls in between and the Play/Pause button in the center. There is really nothing bad that I could say about the 2nd Gen iPod Shuffle, maybe only that more space would be nice.

So, Apple now recently introduced the Third Generation Shuffle. They addressed my only mini-concern by increasing it’s capacity to 4 GB. But sadly, they completely broke it in most other ways. Let’s get one thing out first: Their advertising is wrong. It’s advertised as “The first iPod that talks to you”. *beep* Wrong. The 4th Generation iPod Nano came before (although with a Trick). That is just one indicator that the new Shuffle seems like it was build be people who don’t care about the iPod product line.

The main issue with the 3rd Generation Shuffle is that they moved the Buttons from the device into the headphones, which means that blind control is near impossible. How are you supposed to control the iPod if you do NOT want a bulky, unnecessary extra box somewhere in the cable? What If I do not want the controls outside? I usually keep my Shuffle in the inner pocket of my jacket, so I always know where the controls are – with an extra box on the cable, it’s a constant searching for it. The iPod Shuffle is a solid piece of Metal, so it does not bend or move.

But even worse: I can no longer use proper Headphones. The ones included with the iPod may be better than most bundled ones, but ultimately they are still crap. But now, it’s not even possible to use any Third Party ones because they need to have the Remote Control built in. And as you can guess, Third Party ones will be really expensive because a) the manufacturers can advertise them as an iPod product and b) the manufacturers need to buy a special chip from Apple.

I paid 20 Euros for my last pair of Earphones, some Philips in-Ear with an Earclip. They are a million times better than the bundled ones, but even more important: They are just earphones, with no extra Apple Tax attached to them. Now that consumers will have to pay Apple Tax twice on Earphones (one time for the chip and a second time for the iPod brand), I doubt that proper headphones for a proper price will be available. And yes, I know that you can still use headphones without remote control, to get playback without prev/next Track and volume controls – it’s really hard to keep a straight face when hearing this though, that’s a typical marketing bullshit excuse.

In Short: Calling the Third Generation iPod Shuffle a piece of shit would be an insult – to shit, because shit can at least be used to fertilize our fields. It has “fail” written all over it, and I really wonder if Apple will kill other iPods by introducing this crap as well, or if the 3rd Gen Shuffle is just a test balloon for shit.

Inbox Zero and Outlook 2007 (Or: How I stopped hoarding mails and Love the Inbox)

Okay, I admit: My Outlook Mailbox used to be a big gigantic mess, a gigantic crap cake that made it impossible to find something, even less to get a quick overview what is left to do. My Inbox used to have exactly 12733 mails in it, and that is not counting any subfolders. If you add that Outlook’s search functionality is really not suited for more than 10 mails (even with the Desktop Search that should not be needed in the first place), you can imagine that between “Just look for the damned e-Mail that you need right now” and “Just ask the person to send it again”, the second Option usually won.

Well, I think that Randy Pausch is right: Your Inbox is not your To-Do List. Paul Derham described the Inbox as an airport: “mail arrives and departs from there, it doesn’t hang around all day”. And perhaps the best essay about Inbox management is Michael Mann’s Inbox Zero, which is available as a Video as well.

Unfortunately, Outlook 2007 does not make it easy to manage e-Mails effectively. For example, the most common action that you can take on e-Mail is deleting it. That is easy, but in a corporate environment you may want to keep e-Mail and just move them into a vault. Outlook has the Auto Archive feature that puts old e-Mail into a separate archive. Unfortunately, this only works on old e-Mail. There is no built in way to take a recent e-Mail and archive it. Sure, Drag/Drop works, but if you have a big folder structure, that quickly becomes annoying.

The Interaction between your Inbox and the Task List is somewhat poor. Sure, I can put a flag on my e-Mail, but that does not remove it from my Inbox. Wouldn’t it be nice to convert a Mail into a Task somehow? Or link in an external Task Tracker, like FogBugz?

I started writing some addins for Outlook 2007 to remedy some of these shortcomings. The project is available on CodePlex, and I’ve called it Inbox Zero Outlook 2007 Addins. At the moment, it is only one AddIn – AutoArchive Now!:

AutoArchive Now!

This is adding a new Entry to the context menu of e-Mails that will move a mail into the Archive folder, creating any subfolders that may be needed to mirror the tree structure.

It’s officially still a Beta Version because there are some slight quirks, but it has already saved me a lot of time. The next topic I look into is whether or not Covey’s four-quadrant TODO (at around 21 minutes) can be incorporated somehow, and I’d like to connect my Outlook to FogBugz somehow. As said: My Inbox is not my To Do List, so I’ll look into ways to get mail out of the Inbox as fast as possible.

Custom Expression Builders in ASP.net

As a SharePoint developer, I am unfortunately stuck with the WebForms model of ASP.net since SharePoint 2007 does not support ASP.net MVC. Well, WebForms is not THAT bad really, but it can get really messy very fast, especially for simple databinding stuff – lblTitle.Text = bla.fasel; lblWhatever.Text = eek.boo; etc.

Now, there is a truly hidden Gem: Expression Builders. Using <%$ MyExpressionBuilder.Property %>, I can directly do this type of DataBinding in the .aspx file without requiring code behind. I have not yet tested if it works if you have not set AllowServerSideScript=”true” in the PageParserPaths tag of SharePoint’s web.config (something that I would always avoid).

The full article about Custom Expression Builders can be found over at Phil Haack’s blog, along with an explanation how this is different from <%= %>.