How My Sister Saved My Hands

Way back in December I had to take a break from blogging because my hands were hurting. I blamed the new laptop since that was the only new activity my hands had been engaged in. At the time I thought my hand posture was to blame, and I took some photos of my hand interacting with the trackpad to see if I could spot any problems.

one finger clicking

one finger clicking

Here is a top view of the one finger click.

IMG_9569

And here is the side view. This motion involved pressing down on the trackpad with a single finger (usually my index finger). The sharpest pain I was experiencing was in every joint of my index finger, so I suspected this motion could be the culprit.

Another motion I performed quite a bit, mostly during photo editing, was the click-and-drag.

click and drag

click-and-drag

Here is the top view of the click-and-drag.

IMG_9572

And here is the side view. Some other areas where I was experiencing pain were a little less obvious. My middle finger joints also had some pain, though not as much as the index finger. My wrist was hurting, but not in the usual areas that get fatigued from knitting too long. Also, my forearm was sore. After much trial and error of moving my hands and fingers around trying to pinpoint the motions that triggered the most pain, the click-and-drag seemed to be the likeliest suspect.

After reviewing the photos, I concluded that I really need to trim my nails. I tried clicking with my finger positioned more vertical to the trackpad, which my long fingernails prevented me from doing before. That only seemed to make the middle joint of my finger hurt worse than the first joint. Other than that, I really couldn’t find any other positions that would still perform the functions I needed.

The next time I was in the Apple store I asked if there was any way to solve my ergonomics problem. Their only suggestion was to get a graphics tablet. Like I have an extra $300 lying around.

After that I tried limiting the amount of time I spent on the computer, paying particular attention to anything that required a lot of clicking. This meant I couldn’t do photo editing for more than 5 minutes at a time. Considering how much photo editing I needed to do, this was a PROBLEM.

Finally, I borrowed my sister’s Wacom Intuos tablet (I have no idea which version this is, but it’s at least 4 years old) so I could get some serious editing done.

IMG_1005

Since my sister spends all day every day on her computer and has long since forgotten how to use a mouse, I assured her that I would limit my use of her tablet. I just performed the most taxing function in photo editing – cropping. It’s the click-and-drag on steroids. Unfortunately I had over 1,000 photos to work through, so it still took quite a while.

It was a little awkward to use on my lap, but most of the time I really can’t be bothered to do anything at the desk – there’s no TV there! – so I made it work. The software didn’t work with my Mac, so all it really did was make the clicks and click-and-drag motions easier on my hands. I still had to reach up to the keyboard to perform some of the editing functions. The newer Wacom tablets supposedly do work with Macs, so if I got a tablet for myself this wouldn’t be an issue. Sadly, I still have not found an extra $300 or so lying around.

In the process of trying to get the tablet set up on my computer I discovered something in the system preferences that the Apple store employees really should have mentioned when I asked about this months ago: I can adjust the trackpad settings so I can just tap to click! Instead of pressing down with the full force of my finger, I can just tap on the trackpad. Waaaaay easier on my hands! It still doesn’t solve the click-and-drag problem, but at least with the discovery of the tap-to-click setting it has made it so I can do small-batch photo editing (about 20 minutes at a time) without the graphics tablet. I suppose I can just keep stealing my sister’s tablet for larger batches. Preferably when she’s sleeping.

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Scatterbrained

I’ve been having a lot of trouble keeping track of everything I need to do in order to keep my life from falling apart. I mean, I have no idea when I did laundry last, I think it’s been over a month since I’ve vacuumed my room (and my allergies are starting to show it), and I’m sort of blundering about the “learning how to use my new computer” process without any sort of plan. I’m usually very good at these things. I’m a list-maker. I have systems so that things don’t go unnoticed or forgotten and my lists stay useful and up-to-date. Mostly that system follows the Getting Things Done philosophy (GTD for short).

pic from Wikipedia

The problem with my system right now is that my interface is gone. All of my lists – not only their content, but their organization – were on my iPod. Which was stolen. I know I keep bringing up the theft thing, but seriously, with all the things that were taken my life came to a screeching halt and it will be quite some time before everything is back to normal.

Sadly, this is not the first time this (the list system failure, not the theft) has happened. When I first started using GTD I was low-tech and managed it by manually typing out lists on the computer and printing them out to stick in my planner (I still get catalogs from DayTimer…at first it was funny, now it’s just sad.) The printing process quickly became tedious and wasteful though so I slowly started migrating everything to the computer. I used OneNote to organize my lists at that point. There were lots of internal links to other pages for project notes and what not, and it was a little complicated to set up, but it worked pretty smoothly once it was. As long as I kept up with it, that is. If things started to get out of date and links weren’t updated properly it would quickly spiral out of control and I would have a godawful mess to untangle before the lists would be remotely functional again.

OneNote – the first in a long line of applications I fell in love with
pic from jackcola.org

See, the brilliant thing about GTD is that if you do it well then you will have a detailed to-do list for EVERYTHING you could possibly want/need to do at any given moment, but only have to look at a small portion of that list based on whatever was actually feasible for you to do at the time. That way you wouldn’t have to remember anything, EVER. You’d just look at a list and get to it. The problem with GTD is that if you do it well, you have a massive amount of things in those lists, and if you do it REALLY well, once those things are on the lists, they exit your brain. 

So, when my computer had a problem and needed to be restored to a previous backup, erasing at least a month of changes to my lists, the whole system collapsed. The lists were polluted with things that were already completed, nothing that I had added to the lists were there and I had a hard time remembering what all was supposed to be there, all of the links to other pages were messed up and out of date, and IT WAS AWFUL. To make matters worse, somehow in the restore process the folder organization I had been working on for all of my documents and pictures and such during the missing month were fine. They didn’t get wiped out at all. The problem is, the OLD mess of folders that I had had BEFORE I organized them all got restored on top of the new organization in a weird tangled mess. I had duplicates everywhere and it would be quite a lot of time and effort before I could track them all down and sort out the proper organization again. I still don’t understand how this happened.

NextAction – mobile lists are great, but not on such a tiny screen…
pic from s4bb.com

At that point I sort of gave up on the whole OneNote organization and started fresh with Next Action! on my BlackBerry. I really wanted something more mobile anyway. For a while it was perfect! All of my lists were nice and tidy and with me at all times. I was a bit nervous about what I would do if my BlackBerry went belly up since I really didn’t trust that the backups you do on those things would actually back up any of the list contents – especially after seeing how well the backups on my computer had gone. As I fleshed out the lists more and more though I started to have problems navigating through them. One important component of the GTD system is being able to review your lists regularly and with the length of some of these lists I was really having trouble getting through it all on that tiny screen with half of the names cut off. For many of the actions I would have to click on each item individually in order to see the full text and know what in god’s names I was supposed to do.

As time went on and more things were added I noticed a new problem – there seemed to be a limit to how many things you could have on the lists and still have the program function efficiently. To be fair, I’m a bit taxing on these lists. I keep track of a lot of stuff. On page 41 of the book David Allen writes that most people are likely to have fifty to 150 actionable items on their to-do lists at any given time. I laughed so hard at that, and still do every time I think about it! Who ARE these people who lead such uncomplicated lives?! Seriously, at any given time I’m likely to have HUNDREDS of actionable items. I mean just the chores alone could top 100 actionable tasks I could be doing right now. So the fact that the program was starting to slow down under the weight of my own ambition wasn’t surprising, but it was disappointing.

I started to ease off on the list managing and stopped keeping track of certain categories of things, like my crafting. It made me uncomfortable, but at least I was less likely to forget what needed to be done craft-wise out of apathy.

The slickest app I’ve used yet! RIP iPod.
pic from itunes.apple.com

Then I got my iPod. My blessed iPod. And I found a new program called Action Lists which synced with an online program called Toodledo. Any lists you made on the iPod with Action List would be backed up online on Toodledo, so you could access it even without the iPod and if something happened you’d still have your lists! Action Lists was SO SLICK. It was so much easier to navigate than anything on the BlackBerry (part of that has to do with the whole Apple interface being easier to interact with) and it even had the ability to do REPEATING TASKS!! Holy efficiency, Batman! Instead of having to re-enter “vacuum my bedroom” every week after I finished it, all I had to do was set the task up as a repeating event, and every week the task would end up in my inbox again reminding me “hey, it’s been a week since you vacuumed, perhaps you should wage war on those dust mites once again so you can continue to breathe.”

I had two wonderful months with that program before it was ripped away from me. It wasn’t enough time to fully test out whether the system could withstand the sheer volume of tasks I wanted to throw at it, but at that point it functioned so much better than anything I could ever get on the BlackBerry I didn’t care. If I really needed to I could probably set up a separate list on the computer for the crafting so I didn’t tax the iPod too much. I also hadn’t had time to check out Toodledo and learn their system AT ALL. I was too distracted by the shiny new iPod.

Everything I had in the Action Lists program is safely backed up on my Toodledo account, I checked. However, at first glance their set-up is confusing and I really didn’t want to spend hours in my sister’s never-been-dusted-or-vacuumed-death-trap bedroom on her slower-than-molasses-and-buggier-than-the-Amazon computer figuring it out. Also, it felt too much like the OneNote fiasco all over again and I Just. Couldn’t. Handle. It.

Now that I have the MacBook Pro to work with, and my brain is starting to fall apart under the weight of all the things I’m trying to remember to do, I think I’m ready to find a new interface for my to-do lists. Sadly the Action Lists program for the iPod does not have a Mac equivalent, so I can’t just go back to that. So, I made a list of things I need from my list interface based on my past experiences:

  • ability to do repeating tasks (this was such a great feature I’m afraid it’s going to be a deal-breaker for any programs without it)
  • need to be able to sort tasks by context (at home, errands, etc.)
  • ability to add due dates for tasks
  • ability to attach tasks to a project – bonus points if that project can have future tasks that are triggered by a particular date or by a previous task being completed
  • be able to add notes to a task or project
  • lists should be internet accessible and automatically backed up or synced in case of technology failure
  • bonus points if it can sync with other devices like an iPhone or iPad (which I don’t have yet, but someday…)
  • bonus points if tasks that are due to start will show up in the Notifications on the MacBook

With this list in mind I started to do some research to find a suitable successor to Action Lists. So far I’ve come up with a few possibilities.

Door #1 – OmniFoucs
pic from macworld.com

OmniFocus

Pros:

  • It’s one of the programs recommended by the GTD people – they even have a GTD set-up guide for OmniFocus
  • Has an inbox feature for general brain dumps when you don’t have the time or energy to figure out what is actionable and what isn’t and where it should go (nothing I’ve used so far has had a good way of dealing with this)
  • Will sync with other devices
  • Said to be very customizable for however YOU work best
  • There are all sorts of resources for figuring out how to optimize your workflow with this program – there is a rabid fan base and even a whole book on the subject – Creating Flow with OmniFocus
  • I’ve heard of it before, and only heard good things about it until I started looking at reviews for 2Do comparing it to OmniFocus.
  • Has ability to attach tasks to projects, and have tasks with due dates.
  • Can sort tasks into contexts.
  • Says you can set task recurrence schedules, though I would like to know more about how it works
  • Offers a 14 day trial – though I’m not sure that’s enough time for me to properly vet it.

Cons:

  • It’s pricey – $79.99
  • It won’t sync with Toodledo and I didn’t find any other info on how to back up the system. There may be a way, but it wasn’t obviously advertised.
  • Some people complain that the program is too “bloated” to be efficient. Interface may be overly complicated.
  • Some complain that there is a serious learning curve, and considering there are set-up guides and books on the subject, I believe it.

Door #2 – 2Do
pic from itunes.apple.com

2Do

Pros:

  • Syncs with Toodledo, so all of my previous lists will be saved! Also future lists will be backed up safely online.
  • Will sync with other devices
  • Has repeating tasks
  • Has nested tasks for projects – now I’m not sure exactly how that would work – would it automatically add the next task after the previous one is completed? – but it sounds promising
  • Will show up in the Notifications center
  • Can sort tasks into contexts
  • Can add due dates to tasks
  • Offers a 14 day trial – though I’m not sure that’s enough time for me to properly vet it.

Cons:

  • This is the first I’ve ever heard of this program, so I’m nervous about shelling out $30 for a product I’m not sure will work for me. It’s way less than $80, but still…
  • Doesn’t seem to have an inbox feature like OmniFocus
  • Claims to have a simple interface, which always worries me because lists like mine can suffer from being too simplified
  • There is a way to organize tasks into projects, but it looks a bit clunky.

Aaaaand that’s as far as I got before my brain started to shut down. I turned the TV on to watch some curling and fell asleep to sounds of rapid ice-sweeping and dudes screaming “HARD! HARDER!!” in delightful Canadian accents. Seriously, it’s the funniest sport ever.

Epic pants.

So I haven’t made a decision yet. Should I go with the more expensive and more complex system that may take a while for me to figure out, but will almost certainly meet most of my needs? Or should I go with the much cheaper, much easier to learn, but possibly over-simplified system that also sounds like it will meet most of my needs? Or should I keep looking for more and more obscure programs (these were the most popular options) and hope my brain doesn’t explode? Also, exactly how comfortable with using my Mac should I be before I bother downloading the free trials? I don’t want to waste precious vetting time figure out how to use basic Mac functions on top of trying to figuring out a new application…

My brain can’t do this anymore, HALP!

How Yarnologist Got Her Groove Back

Yesterday my mother finally got sick of seeing me moping around the house and randomly bursting into tears and took me to the Apple store to see if we could get me a new computer. I had an estimated cost in mind based on poking around the Apple site and guesstimating what I would need in a laptop. That estimated cost was almost $5,000 after I configured the laptop to what I thoughtmight need.

Now, I know very little about Macs. I’ve been a PC user all my life, but my life has changed quite a bit. I was once on a science career track and now most of my activities are more artsy. Supposedly Macs are better for creative pursuits than PCs. I’ve also heard rumors that the displays are more true to color than most PCs, which is something I was constantly struggling with on my previous laptop (and don’t even get me started on my sister’s computer – trying to color correct photos on her display was an exercise in futility). Many of the creative professionals I know are Mac users. Everyone I’ve ever known who has owned a Mac has LOVED it. I also know from personal experience that PCs, especially laptops, tend to only last 3 years or so before they start getting so buggy they’re unusable (see my sister’s computer) or just crash, while I’ve heard Macs tend to last much longer. When I got an iPod this summer and saw the way Apple products work first-hand that sealed the deal for me – my next computer would be a Mac. It would HAVE to be. To get another PC knowing I’d have to struggle with displays and using more visually based programs, not be able to sync anything from my iPod (or future iPhone?) with my computer, and that it would only be a few years before I had to get buy a brand new one would just be stupid.

Of course when I made this decision I was counting on my PC sticking around for another year or so. I was NOT counting on it being stolen, leaving me in a technological bind.

So back to my mom being awesome, she suggested that since I really was just guessing at what I would need for a Mac we should just go to the Apple store and get a professional to help us figure it out. THEN we would know exactly how much it would cost and can plan accordingly.

So we did. A very nice man named Chad helped us out and listened to all of my inane questions about computers and a detailed accounting of precisely what I need a computer to do for me. It turns out I really don’t need a lot of the add-ons I originally thought and the actual cost was more like $1,400. Mom had already set aside some money to loan me after everything was taken and was able to buy it right then and there!

Here comes my PSA for the day…one thing I learned from having to file a police report for stolen property is that serial numbers are very useful. You know where you can find those? On the things that were stolen. So, the first thing I did with my new computer is write down the serial number and all of the specs and file them away, just in case. If you have any technology that could potentially go missing – laptops, phones, MP3 players, etc. – I would encourage you all to find those serial numbers and write them down! If they ever turn up that’s the only way the police will be able to tell they’re yours.

Now, this doesn’t mean I don’t need help raising money anymore. Actually it means I need even more help, because now I have to pay back my mom. So please, if you have anything to spare, donate to my Knotty Narwhal campaign on Indiegogo. Even if you can’t contribute you can still help by telling others about my plight. I have a computer and can move on with my life, but now I’m in debt. To my own mother. I also would like to get some applications to make this computer work smoothly for me, like Pages, a task management program, photo editing software, antivirus, and definitely LoJack.