General

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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Productivity Tools for 2020

As we get 2020 underway, I wanted to list a few of the tools I've been using that make a huge difference in my productivity. I use these on a daily basis and they have proven their worth on multiple occasions. This isn't a complete list, but just about everyone can benefit from these tools. They are extremely powerful in what they do, yet easy to learn and understand.

Productivity Tools for 2020

2Do – My choice for task management when testing, for creating checklists, for creating ToDo lists and keeping track of bills and appointments.

Alfred – An automation and workflow tools I have recently added that has already saved huge amounts of time. Navigate Finder using the keyboard, set up custom web searches, find files, set up snippets, make a clipboard manager and build workflows. I've made several of my own custom searches and built some very nice workflows.

CodeRunner – My choice for writing and testing small snippets of code. Works for Java, Groovy, Bash, AppleScript and others.

CopyLess – A very useful clipboard manager that sits on a secondary monitor so I can pull out names and figures with a click.

DevonAgent – An absolute must for those doing research and deep dive searches. Search through hundreds of websites for the information you need while tossing away duplicates.

DevonThink – The most powerful document management tool I have ever used. It stores documents, web site archives, source code, emails, news feeds and just about every other type of information you have on your machine. An absolute gem.

Dozer – Clean up the menu bar with this well designed tool.

Infinity Dashboard – Monitors websites so I don't have to. I use it almost exclusively to monitor price changes on Amazon. In that regard, it's already saved a couple hundred dollars.

Keyboard Maestro – The other half of my automation engine. Set up keyboard shortcuts, automate applications or build your own. An incredibly handy and extremely powerful tool for getting work done in a fraction of the time. You can probably replace paid applications by using this one.

LibreOffice – No interest in Microsoft Office by whatever name they call it. LibreOffice is powerful, effective and has features I actually use.

MiniNote Pro – I have several note taking tools, but MiniNote is the most used. I use it for quick notes about a project or topic I'm working on. It has effective organization to group topics together. It's also a great way to push notes from my Mac at work, to my Mac at home.

MWeb – Another very powerful note taking tool with Markdown capability. Great organization, themes, formatting tools, export capabilities and can publish to the web.

PopClip – My little friend to help format, link, delete or push my selected text to another app. I didn't know how useful this would be until I started using it.

Quitter – A great tool for closing down apps you aren't using. Keep you system tidy and regain some memory for tasks you've completed or will come back to later.

Scrivener – The most glorious word processing tool I have ever used. I've had Scrivener for 5 years now and I don't write documents in anything else. If it's more than a paragraph, it's written in Scrivener.

Simon – It monitors websites so I don't have to. While Infinity Dashboard has some built in modules, with Simon you can monitor anything. Check for new articles, software updates, uploads, or be notified if a site goes down. It's a little more "do it yourself" but very powerful.

SnagIt – One of the best screen capture tools around.

SnippetsLab – If there's a code fragments I'm going to use again, this is where it goes. Great for all types of notes, not just code.

TextSoap – An incredible text formatting tool with a solid editor. Parse text with built in cleaners or build your own. I'm not entirely sure there's a limit to how this can be used. It's an IDE for building ways to parse, clean and copy text.

TypeIt4Me – My choice for text expansion. This has saved so much time and helped fill in so many forms. If you write code, send template emails, work in tech support, or have any reason to write the same piece of text more than once, TypeIt4Me is a must have. It's easy to set up and will save you days of typing.

WindowManager – A great way to keep windows organized. Snap windows to a position on your screen. Maximize, half-size, center, or in the right hand corner, this app makes window position incredibly easy.

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Recent Comments

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