Category Archives: other

So You Want to Work From Home….

kittens at workYou’ve heard the ads, perhaps dreamed of working from home. You envision yourself positioned in your own little office in the spare bedroom or a cozy corner of the kitchen, working away while the children play quietly nearby, the dog sleeps by your feet and the money just keeps dropping into your bank account as you faithfully apply your skills.
As a seasoned medical transcriptionist with nearly 11 years’ experience, I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the ups and down of working from home.  There are many reasons people choose to work from home and certainly there are a lot of benefits from doing so.  For me, my venture into this lifestyle started when my marriage fell apart and I was suddenly the sole provider for myself and the 3 of my 7 children still at home. I had been a stay-at-home mom for over 22 years and the thought of diving headfirst into the regular workforce was terrifying. I think it was a real saving grace for me and for my kids that during this time of great upheaval in our family I was able to still be the at-home-all-the-time mom while being able to work and provide for us. Being able to avoid the need for before and after school care and the predicament of knowing you really need to be in the office when your 6-year-old is running a fever significantly lessened the load for all of us. Snow days weren’t a problem, because I was home. Teacher conference days, Christmas break, summers….all were handled with so much more ease because I didn’t have to feel quite so pulled in both directions. I know a lot of women seem able to juggle working outside the home and family and do it really well…but I will always be grateful I had this opportunity to remain in my home full time.

So, for me having the chance to work from home really was a lifesaver and a blessing and I do encourage mothers (especially mothers with young children) who need to work to consider working from home. But, there are also special challenges and drawbacks and I’d like to present some of those here, because I think knowing what you’re up against can strengthen you to face the challenges and still achieve your goal of working from home.

obed at workThat picture of the kids playing quietly and the dog by your feet? Yes, it happens sometimes…maybe once or twice a year?! Seriously, one of the biggest challenges to working from home is that because you are home everyone assumes that means you’re available…the kids, the neighbors, the dog, the cat. There have been so many times I’ve been on a roll typing away when one of the animals would get sick, or the dog would bark to go out. Then there were the times I would spot something outside my window…yep, the goats had broken out of their fence again and were running down the road or worse yet, heading for the neighbor’s garden! So keyboard tossed aside and a dash out the door to do a little mid-morning goat wrangling, or clean up after the dog, or answer the phone and talk for a few minutes with a lonely grown daughter in another state. I found the best way for me to handle distractions like these was to work either early in the morning (really early, i.e. 4 a.m.) or late at night, after kids were in bed and life had quieted down. Some companies will allow you to choose your own schedule and are pretty flexible while others are very rigid. If you can choose to work when there are fewer distractions that’s great. If not I think establishing firm boundaries right from the beginning is a key. Set up your answering machine stating that you are working and will return phone calls when you are finished. We have a code in our family that if we are calling home and really need someone to pick up the phone we call 3 times in a row. That is the signal that somebody needs to answer the phone right away! So you can either use caller ID or a code or another idea of your own so you are accessible in emergencies, but really try to guard yourself from phone interruptions.

Teach the kids right from the beginning that you are not to be interrupted while working unless it is urgent…and be clear on what is urgent. The younger your children the harder this will be. Of course when the goats escape…there’s nothing to do but catch them!

goats4Working from home can be pretty lonely. I’ve spent decades at home…first as a full time stay-at-home mother and then as a working-from-home mother. While there is no workplace drama, there is also no workplace conversation or adult companionship. So, you have to find that on your own. Scheduling in coffee with friends or other activities that feed your soul can help to revitalize you and keep you sane, sometimes literally!
Some of the other positives include being able to keep handle on running the home with a little more ease than a mom who has to be gone from her home all day…you really can get 4 loads of laundry done and be there to turn off the oven when the brownies are done baking. And I believe scheduling a break so you can be there to greet the kids when they arrive home from school is a priceless gift you can give them, and yourself. I also scheduled a break when my kids were getting ready for school in the morning. One of my fondest memories is that every morning one of my teenage daughters would come into the kitchen while I was packing up lunches and say “Hey mom, listen to this song” and she would play me a new-found favorite song on her iPod. Just a little thing, but I was there for it and now that her high school days are over I’m glad I didn’t miss it. So, those are what I’ve found to be some of the basic ups and downs, positives and negatives of working from home. If it’s something you have been thinking about I’d definitely encourage you to do it!

Please feel free to post questions regarding working from home in the comments section below; help me determine what other topics I should cover in this series!

In my next post I will discuss working from home specifically as it relates to being a medical transcriptionist…the good, the bad, and the ugly…stay tuned!

If you are interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist I highly recommend CareerStep.  It’s the school I graduated from and it’s graduates are highly sought after by transcription companies.  They also offer the following programs:  Medical coding and billing, medical office management, medical administrative assistant with EHR, pharmacy technician, health information technician, computer technician, executive assistant, medical billing, and veterinary assistant.  Visit them today at http://www.referral.careerstep.com/ref12112.

Soylent 2.0: A Better Meal Replacement?

A Little Background

I enjoy eating sometimes but oftentimes it is more of a chore. Unfortunately, eating is a necessity if I want to be healthy, energetic, productive.

Soylent 2.0 being poured into a glass.
Photo of Soylent 2.0 from official Soylent site.

I’ve written about Soylent, a meal replacement drink, in the past here and here. I’ve tried other meal replacement drinks like RAW Meal and Shakeology (also here and there, and up there and down here).

I’ve written about and regularly consume Ensure, I don’t care that I’m not the target audience.

When Soylent started out (and when I first began consuming it) it was a powder which one mixed with water and then added some bottled oils to. It only took two or three minutes to make a days worth and I thought it tasted decent – much less grainy than either RAW Meal or Shakeology – but much more grainy than Ensure.

I Try 2.0

Recently Soylent announced and then began shipping Soylent 2.0 – which comes bottled similar to Ensure. Now there is no prep time, just take a bottle out of the fridge. I purchased my first twelve pack and have consumed them all. I’ve now upped my order to 24 monthly, which will cover almost one meal a day. I expect, if I continue to like it, I will up my order to perhaps 48 bottles/mo., which would make almost two a day.

While I didn’t have a problem with the old Soylent’s taste, the new Soylent is significantly better. It tastes and has the texture of almond milk.

At first I thought I would need to mix something with it to drink it with great consistency and I tried some chocolate syrup as well as some V8 juice – the latter worked rather well. But as I have continued to drink it I find my taste buds developing more and more of a liking for it and I don’t see myself needing to mix anything else into it.

Why Else I Like Soylent

Besides Soylent providing me an alternative to meals there are a number of other techie reasons I like them.

First, their recipe is open source and this has resulted in a cottage industry producing similar products. I’m a huge fan of open source.

Second, they provide release notes with each version as well as providing detailed blog posts about why they do what they do and when problems arise. I am especially fond of the latter.

Third, they are constantly iterating on Soylent. 2.0 is great, but I’m sure 2.1 will be better!

But Dave…

“But Dave, this can’t be as good for you as eating real, organic food for meals.”

You are absolutely correct – thing is, I don’t eat real, organic food for meals. Soylent is a healthier alternative to a lot of the standard American diet / standard Dave diet. So, while not perfection, it is a step in the right direction…

And I won’t stop eating real food altogether. In fact, I may eat healthier the rest of the time b/c I am drinking Soylent. I always feel so time constricted – so much more I want to accomplish in a day than I can – if I feel a little less time constricted I may be more willing to invest in a meal (no promises, but hey, it’s possible!).

What You Didn’t Know About Canceling Your Health Insurance Through Healthcare.gov

I recently moved into a new part-time position which then became a full-time position and thereupon provided benefits including health insurance. Up until that point Sheila and I had been being hit with fairly large insurance premiums every month, so I was quick to call the insurance provider and request cancellation.

I was surprised when they told me that I’d have to contact Healthcare.gov to cancel my policy. Annoying, but not the end of the world and my guess is it is an accountability measure to ensure that insurance companies don’t cancel policies of individuals without their consent.

I called Healthcare.gov (1-800-318-2596) and asked to cancel my plan effective the 19th of June. I was assured this would be done. Great! I figured I’d have a nice partial refund check sent to me in a few weeks time.

I did receive mail from the insurance company – but it wasn’t the check I had been expecting. Instead I received a bill for July’s premium.

I called Healthcare.gov back and was informed that there was a thirty-day period between when they received a cancellation and when they submitted it to the insurance company. I balked. Thirty days? This should happen (and technologically is feasible) instantaneously!

I pushed back a bit and when they stood firm I acquiesced on one condition – they provide me with documentation of the thirty-day period. At this point I was given a case worker and then I waited to hear anything. Eventually I did hear – they had rolled back my insurance cancellation date to June 30th. This meant I no longer owed the insurance company anything but also that I would not receive a refund.

Today I called in again and was told that there was a 14 day waiting period. That they were sorry I hadn’t been told this before I canceled.

I again request documentation for this new shorter period. They suggested there might be some on the website…I found it: Cancel your Marketplace plan.

I could have canceled 14 days before the actual date I wanted the cancellation to occur if I had known about this 14 day period. I’m sure this may have been tucked away in some long-winded legalese that I reviewed at some juncture or another. I’m not happy about it, but it is a real policy.

Screenshot of cancellation policy for Healthcare.gov
Here is a screenshot of the cancellation policy as found on Healthcare.gov

The reason I share all this is to hopefully help others avoid losing out on premium refunds or being billed after their desired cancellation date.

How To Easily Save 30,000 Lives Each Year

I’ve been talking about self-driving cars for years, even posted about it on this site. I can’t wait for cars to drive themselves, for personal and selfish reasons, but there are several really good reasons for cars to drive themselves.
Google Lexus Driverless Car

Eliminate 35,900 Deaths Annually

In 2009 according to the US Census 35,900+ individuals died in motor vehicle accidents.[1] Such deaths could almost be eliminated by using self-driving cars with their vastly superior capacity for safety over human driven cars.

Eliminate 10.8 Million Accidents Annually

In addition to all those who die are all those who are maimed in accidents and all those whose vehicles are damaged. According to the same US Census there were 10.8 million motor vehicle accidents in 2009.

Reduce Drunk Driving

There were 1.4 million DUI related arrests in 2010 according to the Department of Transportation.

How about bringing these numbers down? I mean way down.

Freeing Up Police, Fire, EMT

This not only reduces the deaths and injuries outlined above but also reduces the burden on our public safety officers (police, fire, emt) drastically freeing them up to focus on other areas of crime.

Reducing Government Expenditures

This would also reduce in a reduction in prison populations as DUI drivers would no longer be populating cells. The Legislative Analyst’s Office of California calculates the cost of incarcerating an individual for one year at $47,102 in 2008-2009. Or take the lower figure offered by the Federal Register of $26,163 in 2011.

Have More Time For Family, Community, Yourself!

How much time do you spend driving each day? How much time does that add up to each year? Lets go with a fairly conservative estimate of 1 hr. per day.[2] This would equal 365 hrs. per year…that totals up to two weeks of our lives every year.

What would you have energy to do if you weren’t spending all that energy driving? What could you accomplish during your commute if you didn’t have to focus on driving?

Reduce Infrastructure Costs, Improve Roads

Want to see the roads better maintained? The driverless car could be the solution. We create roads to handle more than average traffic so that there won’t be as many traffic jams. Imagine if that four lane road could be two or three lanes instead. Driverless cars would allow this to occur as they would drastically reduce congestion and thus eliminate the need in many cases for expansion projects. This money could be redirected to existing infrastructure maintenance – eliminating those potholes and fixing those collapsing bridges.

Reduce Pollution by 90%

Okay, okay, so that is a bit of a stretch. There are articles talking about this 90% reduction, but the devil is in the details. Still, driverless cars could significantly reduce pollution by reducing stop-and-go traffic, reducing the number of vehicles utilized by a single family, and generally optimizing performance.

Increase Mobility for Elderly, Handicapped

When we held services after dark we lost a good portion of our church congregation. Why? Because many of our elderly couldn’t see well after dark and so would remain home.

How many elderly individuals are isolated due to an inability to drive? How many handicapped individuals are dependent on others for transportation? With driverless cars these individuals could be free to travel again!

And I Haven’t Even Mentioned…

And we’ve barely scratched the surface of the benefits of driverless cars. What about:

  • Reductions in insurance premiums.
  • Increased life of automotive parts due to gentler usage.
  • Decreased parking congestion due to fewer cars.
  • Decreased stress among humans due to driving.

Easily Save?

In my article title I claimed this was a way to easily save many lives…but is it really so easy? The answer is yes. There are already driverless cars out there, it is a matter of moving ahead in a more determined manner to get these vehicles into the hands of consumers and to revamp them into models that everyone can and wants to use.

Final Thoughts

I’m really excited about driverless cars and I hope you will be too. Yes, it is kind of scary to think about computers driving our cars – but, really, the computer will be much more capable than we are of maintaining awareness and responding quickly. Yes, there will be some bugs and bad things may happen – but my guess is that we’ll see at least a 90% decrease in accidents once driverless cars become the norm.

Image Credit: “Google’s Lexus RX 450h Self-Driving Car” by Driving_Google_Self-Driving_Car.jpg: Steve Jurvetson derivative work: Mariordo – This file was derived from  Driving Google Self-Driving Car.jpg: . Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Commons.

  1. [1]Check out Wikipedia for a record of deaths across many years and up to 2013.
  2. [2]I’m linking to a page that suggests 101 minutes as an average driving time.

Disarming My Smartphone.

The Backstory

(Probably more than you need or want to know…but hey, I’m writing and you are reading – you can skip this section and I’ll never know)

I have a rough time sleeping (I go to see a sleep specialist on Monday and have been through a sleep study previously). I oftentimes can’t sleep through the night (waking up at 2 or 3 in the morning and unable to fall asleep till 5 or 6) and oftentimes struggle with excessive daytime sleepiness (EDS).

I’m in pretty good physical shape at this point – which is pretty amazing, especially considering all that I went through over the last few years with my health…sure there are still aches and pains and various nuisances…but I can live with them – the only one that really still frustrates me is this sleep issue – particularly the EDS.

I use my smartphone as my alarm clock – and I use Sleepbot to monitor my sleep – so I want to have my smartphone near me while I sleep…but this can sometimes be counterproductive. If someone sends me a SMS or FB message in the middle of the night I may hear it. If some stupid app I’ve recently installed and haven’t turned off notifications on (b/c I didn’t think they would have any!) decides the best time to notify me of something is at 2  or 3 am I may be woken.

The Recommendations

So I began searching for an application that would allow me to selectively mute my phone while still maintaining my availability. This would be simple enough if I didn’t need to be available for emergencies pretty much 24/7 (being in the pastorate and IT, where work oftentimes occurs off-schedule and with some urgency).

I did a little search around but didn’t come up with anything great. I find Google’s app store abysmal in its search functionality…even more inferior than its web search (which I use but loathe).[1] So, where does one turn when a google doesn’t turn up the answer? No, not Bing (sorry Microsoft!), Quora. You can see the question and answers here.

The main options offered where (a) CynagoenMOD’s ROM (but this would require placing the stock ROM – essentially the OS of the phone), (b) IFTTT (the programmability is nice, but it lacks, at least easily, all the features I need), (c) Locale (but it is fairly expensive for an app), (d) Tasker (but involves more programming than I was interested in), (e) Agent, (f) Do Not Disturb, and (g) Dindy (this is the app I’ve settled on).

My Choice: Dindy

An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.
An Android, open source application that can block phone calls and text messages at night.

I chose Dindy first because I’m a sucker for open source. If I have to choose between two products with the same featureset and one is open source and the other closed – I’ll go with the open source app almost every time.[2]

The killer feature I was looking for is the ability to let calls through if it is an emergency. In essence, if a phone call is made repeatedly (over a short period of time), it will be allowed through even if the app is set to reject calls. This way if someone really needs to get a hold of me, they can.

A secondary crucial feature is its ability to send text message responses to calls and texts I receive informing the person that I am unavailable and what they should do if it is an absolute emergency (e.g. call several times in a short span of time).

The one bummer is if the phone call comes from a land line you can’t send back a text message – so the person doesn’t know they need to keep calling…but honestly, whenever folks have an emergency (and oftentimes when they don’t :P) they blow up my phone with repeated calls…so I don’t think this will be a huge issue.

There are other features like the ability to whitelist and the ability to create different contexts with different messages – like if I am “away” from the phone, in a meeting, driving, or so on.

But there were two other apps that were close contenders with Dindy, lets talk about what I liked about them (that Dindy doesn’t have ::cough:: hint to developer 😉 ::cough::) and what they lacked that led me to utilize Dindy instead.

Do Not Disturb

An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.
An Android app which can selectively block calls, available in free and premium editions.

This application comes at a free level, but really you’ll want the premium level. The cost is reasonable for an app. – $2.50. You can try the premium features in the free edition for two weeks for free.

Do Not Disturb lost a few points for not being open source (I don’t hold this against closed source projects, I have no beef with folks making closed source apps…but I trust that open source apps will be around longer, b/c someone else can pick up development if the original developer drops out…whereas closed source projects oftentimes are acquihired or simply shuttered)…

where DND really took a hit was in its lack of multiple modes besides day and night. Dindy provides me with the ability to create an infinite number of contexts – each with their own settings – with DND I’m restricted to two.

That said, DND does offer the ability to disable WiFi and data at night (saves battery) and to automatically (if desired) go mute during meetings (based on my calendar). Pretty sweet features.

Agent

Agent offers several automated "agents" that perform different functions - one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.
Agent offers several automated “agents” that perform different functions – one being selective call blocking. It is closed source but free.

The other application – which is quite the slick operator – is called Agent. It does quite a bit more than muting – it also takes action when your battery gets low, automatically remembers where you parked, and automatically goes into mute mode when you are driving (and, of course, all of these are configurable).

It also provides reporting capabilities which tell you what agent has been up to – when it has turned on and off certain functionality. Pretty sweet.

In addition it allows (unlike either DND or Dindy) disabling of auto-sync and of bluetooth (to save battery life).

Where it lost out to Dindy was in its lack of full customizability. It is limited to three contexts (meeting, driving, sleeping) and doesn’t allow for customizing how many calls the individual has to make before they are let through (I have it setup to allow through on the second call – which is what Agent has as the default, but Dindy’s customizability is really nice…and I like having options).

Dear Dindy

So, to recap, here is what I’m hoping Dindy might add in the near future:

  • Integrate with my calendar to allow automatic muting for meetings (bonus points for allowing keyword based filtering of which meetings like DND offers).
  • Include the ability to turn off wifi, data, bluetooth, and data sync as part of “going silent.”
  • Auto detect when I am driving and go silent.
  • Allow me to schedule the days/times I want Dindy to go silent at night (I forgot to mention that Dindy lacks and both DND and Agent offer this feature), so I don’t need to remember to start Dindy’s mute mode manually each night.

Dear DND and Agent

You both have great projects. Should you implement the features I mention that Dindy is currently missing, let me know. 😉

PS Google, Microsoft & WordPress

  • Google: I know you want to move to the new WebP project, but it makes my life difficult when you have your images in WebP format.
  • Microsoft: I am pretty unhappy you aren’t integrating WebP into IE.
  • WordPress: Please add WebP as a default allowed file format for uploading.
  1. [1]I’ve written several times on the past on alternative search engines as well as on my belief that social search engines could provide a way to give much better results.
  2. [2]Though if it is not under active development and the closed source app is, I’ll go with closed source…I’m interested not only in what the app can offer today but also what it will offer in the future.

Bill Gates and Mosquitos

Bill Gates has a long history. I remember reading a biography of him when I was a teenager. At that point Gates was both respected and hated. Microsoft had an iron fist on much of the software market in so many ways and used its weight to crush opposition. Since then Gates seems to be a different man – a much more caring and philanthropic man.

It may have been an article in Newsweek I read a few years back that talked about Melinda Gates (Bill’s wife) and the significant influence she has had upon him positively in these regards. Whatever the reasoning, I have a lot of respect for what Gates is doing these days in a variety of fields – not the least of which is battling disease.

As part of this battle Gates has launched a “Mosquito Week” on his blog to go alongside the well-known “Shark Week” that debuts each year on television (and which I never watch) in an attempt to raise awareness of the threat mosquitoes pose.

He includes a fascinating infographic which I’ve embedded below. HT to Andrew Vogel for posting it via Facebook and thus bringing it to my attention.

An infographic from Bill Gates on the deadliest animals in the world.
An infographic from Bill Gates on the deadliest animals in the world.

How Some Famous Creatives Worked.

This is a fascinating infographic from Info We Trust regarding the daily habits of some famous creative individuals. I’ve included my own observations based on the data below the image. You can click on the image to see it full-size.

The routines of some famous creative individuals.
The routines of some famous creative individuals.
  • Length of Work: Gustave Flaubert (5.5), Ludwig Beethoven (8), Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (12), Thomas Mann (8), Sigmund Freud (12.5), Immanuel Kant (11), Maya Angelou (9), John Milton (8), Honore de Balzac (13.5), Victor Hugo (2), Charles Dickens (5), W.H. Auden (11.5), Charles Darwin (10), Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (6), Le Corbusier (8.5), Benjamin Franklin (8).
    • Note that several individuals (4) worked relatively short days – Victor Hugo, Gustave Flaubert, Dickens, and Tchaikovsky.
    • Others (6) worked exceptionally long days – Mozart, Freud, Kant, Balzac, Auden, Darwin.
      • Note that Mozart and Kant both spent four hours working at their ‘real work’ – the rest was their ‘desired work.’
      • Freud may have utilized an addiction to cigars to power through the days.[1] Similarly, Balzac used up to fifty cups of coffee a day to power through his lengthy work hours. Auden meanwhile utilize a stimulant (benzedrine, similar to amphetamines) to work long hours, crashed hard afterwards with vodka, and slept only with the use of a barbiturate (seconal). Finally, Darwin utilized snuff during the work day, reading makes up two hours of his work day, and solving problems while awake at night in bed consumes another two.
      • Overall, this indicates to me that the individuals in general either required addictive substances to retain focus and allow for the longer creative hours or that they worked in the sense we would consider work less hours, but then were productive in other areas for numerous other hours.
    • Some (6) worked average days – Beethoven, Mann, Angelou, Milton, Le Corbusier, Franklin.
  • Sleep: Flaubert (7), Beethoven (8), Mozart (5), Mann (9), Freud (6), Kant (7), Angelou (7.5), Milton (7), Balzac (8.5), Hugo (8), Dickens (7), Auden (7), Darwin (8), Tchaikovsky (8), Le Corbusier (7), Franklin (7).
    • None of these individuals slept less than 5 hours nightly. Only Mozart and Freud sleep significantly less than 8 hrs.
    • Seven hours per night appears to have been the average (8), though a decent number slept 8 (5).
    • Only two slept more than 8 hrs.
    • Only three napped during the day – none for longer than an 1.5 hours.
  • Exercise: Flaubert (1), Beethoven (2), Mozart (0), Mann (.5), Freud (1), Kant (1), Angelou (0), Milton (4), Balzac (.5), Hugo (2), Dickens (3), Auden (0), Darwin (1.5), Tchaikovsky (2), Le Corbusier (.75), Franklin (0).
    • A significant number did not exercise at all (4).
    • Most seemed to prefer walks (9).
    • A few emphasized strenuous exercise (4).

I hope someone will work on further expanding this data set. This infographic is fascinating – but far too limited to derive significant conclusions about the type of schedule that creatives have utilized historically. For example, I feel that Winston Churchill and JFK would need to be included (both of whom took lengthy afternoon naps), it would be interesting to see more religious individuals (e.g. Calvin, Luther, Francis of Assisi, Mother Teresa), and also an analysis of the existence (or non-existence) of social relationships (this shows that they ate meals, but not necessarily how much time was spent interacting with family/friends). 

  1. [1]Also, 2.5 hrs. were spent reading – most likely a leisurely activity for Freud in some senses.

I Have Good News For Those Stuck in PDF Copy and Paste Hell.

PDFs are a wonderful and horrible invention. PDF means Portable Document Format and they essentially create a document that displays consistently no matter what device you view it on. You’ve probably been sent a file from someone and opened it only to see a document that looks like it was formatted by a fourth grader. This (usually) doesn’t reflect on the sender’s document composition skills but on the differences in how documents are displayed on different devices/systems. The PDF standard is meant to be a way around this issue.

ClipboardFusion logo.
ClipboardFusion logo.

PDFs are wonderful and horrible for many reasons – but today I want to talk about just one: copy and paste. Many eBooks are available in PDF format as are many academic journals and other scholarly documents. When you view said documents you may find content within them you want to copy and paste into another document (always with appropriate citations, right? right?!). For example, when I read an electronic book I “copy and paste” the content I consider key, interesting, humorous, etc. into a Google Drive document and then I can easily search through a library of everything I’ve read and thought is important (rather than the entire works, which oftentimes say the same thing over and over in slightly different words…but I’m just looking for the one time they said it perfectly). This is an easy task right? It isn’t with many PDFs.

I haven’t taken the time to look into why PDFs do this (I don’t really care), but for whatever reason PDFs insist on inserting hard line breaks all over the place. This means the text

your paste may look

something like this,

which is very annoying.

When you want it to look something like, “your paste may look something like this, which is very annoying.”  Now, you can just delete out those hard breaks and reformat the text yourself in a few seconds – but if you read a lot (I do) you’ll get tired of this repetitive and stupid task that is slowly consuming your life. How can you escape this annoying problem?

ClipboardFusion by Binary Fortress. It is a free and small application which can be configured to modify text you copy in various ways – one of those being automatically removing hard breaks from text you copy.

ClipboardFusion can do all sorts of really complex and crazy stuff to copied text if you want it to…but in this case we just want to remove the hard returns from copied text. Once you have ClipboardFusion installed you can configure it to remove the hard breaks by going into Settings–>Text Replace and creating a rule. The match text for this rule is “\n” (this is the computer code stating there should be a line break) and the replace text we leave empty (b/c we just want it to remove the hard break, not put anything into the text in place of \n). Just that easy you are off to the races – err, escaping from PDF copy and paste hell.

A few important caveats to remember:

  • ClipboardFusion has to be running if you want it to clean up the line breaks.
  • If you are copying and pasting and your text looks all funny – this is probably because ClipboardFusion is running when you don’t want it to. Exit out of the program and try again – your text should now paste in with line breaks and all.
  • This is only a very small feature of what ClipboardFusion is capable of. Check out the ClipboardFusion website to learn about other powerful processes you can utilize.

Binary Fortress is a pretty nifty company. I’d encourage you to take a look at their other applications as well. DisplayFusion looks pretty sweet for those with multi-monitors and they have a number of other free and for sale applications that make life easier. Glad I could gain you a little of your life back…but the real credit goes to ClipboardFusion…Now if only I could find a way to write posts without consuming any of my life…hmmm…I’ll let you know when I get that one figured out.

Why is Netflix’s Website SO Abominable?

I don’t have cable or broadcast television. I watch almost exclusively via the internet (Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Instant Video).[1] I pay my $8/mo. to Netflix and am fairly happy – though not as happy as when DVDs were still included in the price.

So, I love Netflix – but I also want to note just how horrible their website is. I don’t think this is a developer/designer problem – their developers/designers have done some pretty neat stuff (for example the open source projects Chaos Monkey and Genie). It seems to me this is a intentional choice by Netflix’s higher ups – though I don’t understand why.

Netflix running on Laptop.
Netflix running on Laptop.

If you’ve been with Netflix for any span of time you’ve experienced the many different variations of the site that have come over time. These iterations rarely add significant new features, almost always drop useful old features – and generally are a wash as far as their advantage over previous iterations. What in the world is going on here?

Let me make a “shooting-in-the-dark” guess. Netflix is attempting to increase the perception that it has an almost unlimited selection by making actual analysis of the collection by consumers difficult. I really don’t think this is a wise business move – but it is the only reason I can think of that a company like Netflix with talented employees is continuing to provide a sub-par experience to their customers.

“Come on Dave, the site isn’t bad. What are you talking about?” I’m so glad you asked.

  1. Netflix refuses to hide watched titles – so they are always cluttering up the screen. Want to watch an Action or Adventure movie? Good luck wading through all the films you have seen to tease out one you haven’t seen.

  2. Netflix seems to hide some watched titles (the logic seems arbitrary) but if you have rated a title without watching it on Netflix, then they will show it forever and ever. Come on Netflix, did you think this was an exclusive relationship? Of course we are doing business with Amazon, Hulu, and company…some of us might even venture out once in a while to a movie theater!

  3. One cannot add movies to one’s queue that are not currently available on instant watch. Why not? I’d like to know when films I’m interested in seeing are added and in being able to create a “watchlist” of films I’d like to see (rather than forgetting all about them until I stumble upon them again at some future date).

  4. The lack of fine-tuned sorting and searching tools. I can see New Releases – that is great – but could I see new releases sorted by year and then by average rating?

  5. It seems that Netflix is also using some arcane or arbitrary method for what titles it displays under “New Releases” and “Recently Added.” Films which show up when you drill down to a specific genre as new releases don’t necessarily show up in either “New Releases” or “Recently Added” at the top (all genres) level.

Granted, none of these are huge issues – and yes, I am being hyperbolic when I describe Netflix’s website as “abominable” but I am genuinely confused how such a large company could continue over such a long period of time to propagate an inferior website.

Maybe I shouldn’t be so surprised…Amazon’s Instant Video site is horrendous as well. Only Hulu’s site offers a modicum of power – and even it lacks flexibility in certain areas (e.g., why can’t I search my viewing history?!).

  1. [1]Though Redbox also gets occasional visits from me.

How Not to Scare Pro-Gun Supporters (Quite as Much)

John Morse served as President of the Colorado Senate until a recent recall vote ousted him from the position. What had he done to invoke the wrath of the people? Pushed for gun control restrictions in Colorado in the aftermath of the Aurora (Colorado) mass shooting.

I’m not going to take a position on gun control, but I do want to point out a major faux pas[1] committed by Morse in an article he wrote for The Daily Beast (Rampage. Regret. Repeat.).

Man Shooting Gun, thanks to milan6 over at sxc.hu for making the image available royalty free.
Man Shooting Gun, thanks to milan6 over at sxc.hu for making the image available royalty free.

Morse’s article outlines five focuses of his endeavors in the Colorado Senate including (1) limiting new magazines to be limited to 15 rounds, (2) everyone must pass a background check before purchasing a gun, (3) the gun buyer has to pay for the background check, (4) training for a conceal-weapons permit must occur at least partially in person, and (5) proactive removal of guns from the possession of domestic violence perpetrators.

Whatever you may think of this legislation, Morse’s primary mistake is earlier in the article. At the beginning of his article he notes how as a paramedic he was called to a home where a husband used a shotgun to shoot his wife in the head (resulting in her death) and then turned the gun on himself…All the while, an infant child is in the room watching.

Why is this problematic? Because it reinforces pro-gun supporters fears. Let me explain. The great fear of pro-gun advocates is that we are on a “slippery slope” towards firearms restrictions which will become ever more stringent. The legislation Morse passed would do nothing to stop this sort of violence – and pro-gun supporters know this – and thus know if that if these sort of cases are the impetus for gun control, then it is only a matter of time till gun control advocates see that previous legislation didn’t eliminate these cases and they propose yet stringent measures.

“But wouldn’t taking away this man’s gun have prevented this violence?” Unlikely. Gun restrictions may help reduce the body count in mass shootings but is unlikely to eliminate or reduce (imho) crimes such as the one Morse outlines above. If the offender in this case didn’t have a shotgun, he could easily have used a baseball bat or knife. The casualties would have been just as severe – and the trauma inflicted on the child would be equal or greater to that the child experienced seeing his mother and father shot (a gunshot blast is fairly instantaneous, bludgeoning or stabbing can be a complicated process).

Nor, from the information Morse provides, would this individual have been prevented from purchasing a gun by the legislation Morse passed.

  1. Shotguns are generally low capacity – sometimes one or two shots, sometimes five.
  2. It is possible this individual had crimes in his background – but Morse doesn’t mention any.
  3. Paying for the background check is unlikely to dissuade anyone – I assume this would cost around $10-$15 for a background check. At the most $25.
  4. This individual was using a shotgun, not a concealed weapon.
  5. Again, it is possible that this could have helped, if the individual had a criminal background – but Morse does not provide this info. – so I assume he did not. Even if he did, proactively taking someone’s guns, even if legislated by law is a litigious action, and I highly doubt that the police force is going to be eager to undertake such proactive procurement except in the most certain of cases.

So, what am I saying? That gun control advocates shoot themselves in the foot when they use crimes which arise emotions in us but that won’t be reduced by the legislation they are proposing.

Pro-gun advocates might be able to find more common ground if they didn’t see red warning signs that this was only the “beginning of the slippery slope.”

  1. [1]Merriam-Webster defines as “an embarrassing social mistake.” I’m not sure if I’m utilizing this word in its correct literal sense, but I suppose you’ll get the idea.