Tracking your progress, or lack thereof with Time Sink

Here is a neat little tool I have added to my bag of tricks. I’ve been curious about how I spend my time. What exactly am I working on during the day? Is it really taking that long? Or am I really getting it done that quickly?

Time Sink is an app that’s targeted toward tracking your time, or as the name implies, how you might be wasting your time.

Are you spending too much time reading mail, answering Slack messages, messing around with Twitter or Facebook, or trying to adjust your calendar?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, or that you aren’t getting enough done in a day, Time Sink can break things down for you.

On the flip side, you can also use it to track your progress.

How many hours of training did you take on Udemy this month? How many hours of automation develop did you complete in Katalon? How much time did you spend testing that API? How much time it take to put that test plan together?

Time Sink is very easy to set up. In fact, by default it doesn’t need any configuration. Time Sink tracks the application in the foreground and logs how long it has been active. When you switch to another app, the timer tracking starts for that app.

Same goes for browsers and tabs. You can track Firefox or Chrome as the container app, then track how long a particular tab is open.

You can couple this with the option of Pools, which groups apps or tabs together. For example, you can track all tabs related to the Udemy site, or all StackOverflow tabs, so you can see how much time you spent on training or looking up information.

You can also group all your dev, writing, or graphics tools together so they get tracked as a project. Also very handy if you do contract work and charge by the hour.

It’s a very handy and useful app, but the best part? It’s only $5. Not $5 a month like so many apps and services charge these days. Just $5.

time-sink

Time Sink – https://manytricks.com/timesink/

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0AD – Open Source Age of Empires – Wait, what?

The original Age of Empires, from Ensemble Studios and published through Microsoft, is one of my favorite games. In fact, I feel AoE, is one of the best games written.

Make no mistake, AoE is still available on Steam in the AoE HD Edition. While I have mixed feelings about how Microsoft has handled this title and their treatment of the original devs, it’s a great game and can be had for cheap during a Steam sale. However, it’s not available for Mac or Linux.

Or is it?

After making a comment about AoE, I was told there was 0AD, an open source project to bring an AoE style game back to life.

I immediately jumped on board, downloaded a copy, and 0AD absolutely looks and plays like an AoE themed game. If you didn’t know better, you would say the band got back together and released this as the next game in the series. The buildings, play style, tech tree, hunting, farming, and building of troops should all be completely familiar. And that’s awesome.

I’ve just started to play through the tutorial and get my feet wet. But, I am absolutely thrilled to see a project like this. The fact I can play 0AD on my Mac is incredibly satisfying.

Now that I have honed my wood cutting skills, mined some stone, run through the golden wheat fields, and stalked a camel to use for food, I’m going to dig deep and try my hand at combat. If 0AD really is anything like Age of Empires, I should be screaming for mercy and wondering why I have no resources by the time I upgrade to the second age.

0AD

0ad-20ad

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Encrypt Plain Text with Paranoia Text Encryption

I run into this situation fairly regularly. I have a password, server name, or database credentials I need to share to a different machine, but obviously don’t want to send it in plain text. Isn’t there a simple way to encrypt just that data and send it through Slack, iMessage or Mini Note?

Many people would say that’s what password managers are for. And they’re right. But, what if I don’t want to buy yet another copy of said tool, or I’m sending this to a Windows machine, or an iPad?

There is a more direct and simple answer, Paranoia Text Encryption. This is a free tool for Mac, Linux, Windows, iOS, Android, and as a web page, that encrypts small fragments of text so you can send it over a less than secure channel.

This is exactly the type of tool I have been looking for. Most encryption tools want to encrypt a file, or the volume. I want to encrypt text from the clipboard and go about my business.

Paranoia Text Encryption is easy to use, comes with a simple UI so you’re not messing around with options, and uses several encryption types.

If you need heavier encryption, you can purchase the Pro version, for a mere $3.99, which is very generous of them.

I won’t dispute that a Password Manager is the “proper” way to handle storing secure data, but this works in multiple scenarios and gives me exactly what I need to send a single piece of sensitive information.

paranoia-text-encryption

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Switching from SQLPro Studio to Valentina Studio

I am in no way an SQL guru. My Select statements are cringeworthy to those who know what they're doing. To that end, I went searching for a tool to help diagram a database so I could better understand the data. What I walked away with, and what has become my SQL editor of choice, is Valentina Studio.

Turns out diagramming is one small part of what Valentina Studio can do. It's a full featured SQL IDE loaded with features that can all be used for free.

It connects to MS SQL, Postgres and MySql. It has a wonderful UI presentation that makes it easy to see the results of your query. It features tabs, syntax formatting, easy navigation and a host of information about the query and the database itself.

Previously, I had been using SQLPro Studio, which was a decent IDE I purchased from Bundlehunt. It worked, it got the job done, and I have no regrets. However, taking into account it's actual purchase price of $99, it's incredibly overpriced for what you get. Compared to Valentina Studio, it's feature set is rudimentary and anemic.

From what I can see, all the features and functionality of SQLPro Studio at a cost of $99 per year, are available for FREE in Valentina Studio. What the what?!

I've been using Valentina Studio for a month of so now, and the features are very nice. Yes, some of the more advanced features require the full version, but I'm fine with that. Those are higher level tools and functions I won't be using. I don't need to backup, or maintain a DB. I won't benefit from a lot of the analysis tools. The DIFF and Builder tools are beyond my means. Those are for real database administrators and architects.

But as an IDE, to write the type of queries I need, and to present results in a meaningful manner, this tool is amazing.

The database diagramming is free.
Connecting to MS SQL, Postgres or MySQL, whether local or cloud, is free.
Running a standard query with syntax formatting, is free.
Basic query analysis and tuning information about that query is free.

Valentina Studio has turned out to be an incredible find. I'm not even using a fraction of what it has to offer, but it's a huge benefit. It's now part of the standard set up for my machine at work and at home.

If you are looking for an SQL IDE that connects to multiple data sources, has an easy to understand UI, provides easy DB navigation, syntax formatting, and tabbed results, Valentina Studio is definitely a tool to look into.

Valentina Studio Overview

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Building a Development Environment

I've already discussed the machine I use for development, a Mac Pro with a couple of cores and a dash fo ram. But what about the actual development environment? Not the tools, but the environment you create to keep yourself focused and motivated?

The reason I chose a Mac Pro is so I can have multiple monitors. In reality, I have 4 on my work machine, and 3 on my home machine.

They are arranged so that I can get to my clipboard, Slack, notes, spreadsheets and whatever else without having to open and close windows all the time. It is painful experience trying to copy and paste dozens of pieces of information from one app to the other when you have to switch back and forth.

Another huge benefit, especially when working in "open space" offices is noise cancelling headphones. I honestly can't stand the ring of someone's phone, the knock of a Slack message or the ding of an incoming email. Headphones are fantastic for blocking all this out so simple noises don't throw you completely off.

I've also discovered that certain types of "Trance" music are very effective for me. It has a high beats per minute, almost no singing, and the music flows together so there is almost no beginning or end. You don't jump into the middle of a song and go, "wait, let me back up to get to the good part." I find the music carries me along very nicely.

Some Trance Music to Explore

I know this is becoming more difficult, but the distraction of Slack, Email, Messages, phones all need to be turned off. When it comes to Slack, 90% of the channels are set to mute. I make note of incoming emails, but don't immediately open them. People send me text messages, but I'm not going to immediately reply. I know things are happening, but unless someone mentions me directly, I'm not needed. My project managers know this.

It is a difficult exercise, but in order to really get things done and focus, these distractions need to be contained. I focus on my task at hand and work on it for at least 25-30 minutes at a stretch. If I'm making progress, I know what the next step is. If I'm not, it's a good time to stop, rethink, and try another approach.

Despite how many people would like to spin it, being constantly connected does not make you more productive. It's easy to use tools like Alfred or Keyboard Maestro to shut down mail, Slack and Messages for 30 minutes, get real work done, then start them back up again. The world and your company will not come apart if someone has to wait 30 minutes to hear back from you. If the need is that desperate, then can walk the 10 feet to talk to you.

I've also started to use one of my monitors to help create an "environment." In some cases I have a video of a fish tank running. Other times it's a video of a train rolling through the countryside. I also have a colorful kaleidoscope that basically acts as a digital lava lamp.

Some may say that is a distraction, but I find it very enjoyable. I can sit back for a moment, watch the fish, colorful swirls or the scenery go by before jumping back in to my task.

I wouldn't say I'm distracted easily, but with open floor plan workspaces it's very easy to get side tracked. They can also be very noisy, even when people are trying to be respectful and keep the noise down. Small sounds like a mechanical keyboard can be grating.

I have set up my workspace where I can easily block out these noises, close intrusive apps, at least for a little while, and have a screen layout that makes it easy for me to find what I'm looking for an work with it. This set up may not work or be feasible for everyone, but there is still the goal of finding a peaceful and productive work environment in an open sea of other work environments.

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