qzhuyan responds to me tweeting Emacs on PocketCHIP.

Which is, er, very true. And wonderful.

But this haunts me continuously, as I explore the Mind Traffic Geometry of tools that support me tracking tasks and outlining ideas.

Will I one day end up simply falling into Emacs Org Mode? Isn’t that basically everything I really want?

Am I wasting my time with quixotic effort of writing my own software for this stuff when I could be writing something newer and more important?

Another thing that’s pushing me to think about this : this week I’ve been playing with Faust. A wonderful language for writing signal processing networks (ie. synthesizers, audio FX etc.) that compiles to multiple back-ends … including PureData, Supercollider, VST plugins and stand-alone programs.

It’s basically where I imagined Gates of Dawn eventually going.

But rather than a Python library, its a very nice “little-language”, with great operators for describing composition of data-flow blocks. It’s well developed and supported. I’m trying it out for writing small synths / FX units I can run on small boards like CHIP and Raspberry Pi.

I can see myself doing a lot with this. But it’s basically going to kill Gates of Dawn. Maybe there’s room for a Python library for those who don’t want to learn Faust. But for me, Faust is looking extremely viable.

So … another wasted project?

Perhaps I need to look at this positively. I’m not old. But I’m not as young as I used to be. I don’t have so many projects left ahead that I can afford to squander them. Perhaps its time to pivot. Time for a cull. A “spring-clean”. To remove some more cruft projects that occupy too much of my mind, but are actually just weak “me-too” versions of existing things that I would use perfectly happily if I made the effort to learn them. Enough with the Not Invented Here syndrome.

I’m not saying that OWL or MTC are going anywhere yet. I use them, and they work for me. And they are DIFFERENT from OrgMode, or todo.txt or any similar thing out there. They are what I want.

But I need to embrace this change. There are so many exciting NEW opportunities, there’s no point getting hung up on the old stuff.

Dawn is over. For me it’s 2PM. And there’s plenty of work to be done.

You all probably knew where this was going, right?

Mind Traffic Control (Racket version) running on PocketCHIP
Mind Traffic Control (Racket version) running on PocketCHIP.

Of course, it’s been my priority to run the new MTC on the PocketCHIP. And it runs fine, without any special conversion; just needed to figure out how to install a library it depended on without going through drracket.

Now I’m off for my celebratory bike ride. 🙂

 

 

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Fixed a minor, but annoying, bug in MTC Racket today.

There’s an option, when you have a URL in an item, to get MTC to pull it and show the “title” of the page that the URL is pointing out. It’s a quick reminder of what the page is about without opening up the browser (when it’s not obvious from the link itself). You do this simply by typing “a” (for “analyze”).

However, if you typed that in an item without a URL, MTC was blowing up. That is now fixed.

Long live Mind Traffic Control!

No New Year’s Resolutions or even questions this year. But as an honorary Brazilian, my new year doesn’t really start until after carnival, so now would be the time for it.

However here’s a quick update. The answer to the old MTC question is now resolved for me.

It’s time to put the bullet into the Mind Traffic Control that was. The case against it is overwhelming. MTC was written to learn the exciting new world of Google App Engine and the style of web programming of the mid to late 2000s … Python, something almost Django-like (ie. Rails-like). Backed by a relational database-like thing.

It’s a world I later fell out of love with. Python and Django are … fine. But they aren’t what continues to excite me in 2016.

I toyed with Meteor. But how to host on GAE? And, anyway, in 2016 I have the sickness … I just AM a Lisp programmer. Not necessarily a very good one or particularly experienced one. But I’ve succumbed. This is what I’ve been looking for all my life. It’s what I want to do, going forward.

So a rewrite in Clojure / ClojureScript. That presumably can be hosted on GAE. And I can have a wonderful new reactive UI with Om.

Yes … I’ve been playing around with it … but …

But then again. The old GAE database isn’t a good match for the circular queue of MTC. And worse, I’m not keen on storing my personal data on someone else’s cloud. Yes, it would have to be a single-page app. Yes, it ought to talk to remoteStorage and offer Dropbox etc. too.

These are all wonderful things and yes I am playing with them and want to use them. But … MTC? MTC is a todo-list app. There are a million and one such apps. They’re the “hello world” of browser-based GUI frameworks.

I’d love people to experience what’s good about MTC. But is it likely? How would I cut through the noise of those millions of alternatives? (Some of which are very slick.) Could I really get any kind of audience for a todo-list app in 2016? Does it make sense to put my energy in this direction?

And then again … if I’m going to boot up my browser and run a local server, then I have OWL.

OWL is great for more extensive, smart-disorganized note-taking. It’s just that it doesn’t have some of the charms of MTC. It’s not dynamic … tasks sit around and clog up the pages. You have to navigate around to find them. Sure, it’s pretty easy to navigate around – wikiness makes complexes of documents into small-worlds – but it’s still lacking that immediacy of the river / feed of tasks.

So last year I was fairly convinced that MTC was just going to become OWL hosting. But that isn’t what happened. There is still something to MTC, to the todo-queue concept. And it has resisted being subsumed within the OWL paradigm. My early enthusiasm for OWL was wrong about this. And my initial intuitions vindicated.

So what next? These last months I’ve been drawn back to the command-line. And also to Racket. Which compiles to fast executables. (Clojure is great, but the JVM does take a long time to start.)

And I’ve been admiring (again) todo.txt. Which in many ways is the right approach.

And so … I present : the new Mind Traffic Control. Which is, I admit, nothing but a short Racket program. That reads a file called “todo.txt” from somewhere on your machine. And does MTCish things with it.

Philosophy :

– it’s (right now) a convenient command-line tool.

– it’s compatible with your existing todo.txt file. It doesn’t do everything that todo.sh does. But it has its own tricks.

– in particular, it keeps the queue-ness. You only see the latest item. And most of its commands are about flinging tasks you don’t care about now into the future where you don’t have to think about them (yet).

– obviously it loses a lot of what made the GAE-hosted, web-based MTC interesting. There’s no delegation to other users etc. But I’m not sure many people used that.

– very simple. very minimal.

I have to say … I am EXCITED by this … more excited than I’ve been by any potential refresh I could have made to the old MTC paradigm (even rewriting more or less the same thing in Meteor or ClojureScript / OM). This is fresh and different.

The Future : MTC has a new mission.

Firstly it’s going to be MY todo-queue tool. Previously, the web version was always thought about in terms of “what might people want?”. In practice, almost nobody else wanted it. Now MTC’s mission is “what do I need from a tool?” What maximizes my convenience? I like the command-line. I’m comfortable there. That’s where this is going to be.

Secondly, I’m not that into task-management software. I want software to help me DO stuff. And the focus of MTC going forward is going to be to add features to help me do. For example, I have an item with a link I wanted to read. I now read the link and want to post it to a link-blog. Can that feature be added to MTC? Why not? I come up with an idea for a new project and start putting todo items about it into MTC? Can MTC create the project directories for me? Can todo items be exploded into actual scripts? Within this environment? Once again, a direction worth exploring. (In a sense, MTC with extra tools could be seen as exploring the coming UI paradigm of bots in rivers.)

Syncthing is now my synchronization solution. I don’t think I’m going to worry about clouds and hosting, because I want to use horizontal P2P syncing as the way of making sure the queue is on all my devices.

The original MTC site will be updated shortly. You can, already, export your data from it in todo.txt format. That is now the recommended solution for MTC users. The new version of the site will probably continue to let you do that, without adding anything new to your queue. But it will give guidance on how to install and use the new software.

From hereon-in it’s all Lisp. I’m getting more fluent in Racket. I do have a nagging feeling that maybe I ought to convert to Clojure-like dialect. Which would allow me to use the same code in the browser, on a node server or even compiled using Pixie-Lang. I’m still thinking about this and will make a couple of small experiments in the near future and I’ll pay attention … will other people pick up the Racket code? Will I find myself with a new compelling reason to have MTC back in the browser? Is it worth moving to Rackjure to smooth a potential future port? Right now the code is still trivially small enough that I could port relatively quickly. But I’m watching.

I’m not going to be making predictions for 2014. Or promises that I may or may not keep. Or even resolutions. At least, not public ones : who knows what crazy trajectories my life will take this year?

But I do have a couple of questions. These are the things occupying my mind at the beginning of 2014. And which may plausibly inform what I do.

1) What’s the relation between OWL and Mind Traffic Control?

There’s little doubt in my mind now. OWL is great. It’s the future. At least, as far as my private notebook is concerned. And that means it’s now my de facto to-do list manager as well.

Which is kind of embarrassing for Mind Traffic Control.

MTC does have some virtues :

  • firstly, a kick-ass name that I love. “Mind Traffic Control” is the best name ever! For personal organizer stuff.
  • it’s solid. It has remembered everything I put into it from the moment it was written. It’s all still hanging around to haunt me. (Even if I kind of wish some of it wouldn’t)
  • the task delegation is pretty sweet. I don’t know anything else as simple as MTC for delegating tasks to other people and tracking what you delegated. To be honest, I don’t do a lot of delegating tasks to people. But if I did, I’d want to use MTC.
  • the deferral part works as advertised and it’s a nice feature for a task-tracking app.
  • MTC is slicker than you remember, if you haven’t looked at it for a while. In 2013 I did a bunch of Ajaxing it up so it’s now sending more little json fragments around and doing a lot less recreating the page.

But it also has big problems.

  • It’s not OWL. (See above. Doh!)
  • There is a major impedance mismatch between queues and the ORM-style storage system that Google App Engine uses. Moving items around on the queues seems to be really inefficient. To such an extent that whenever I do a burst of development / testing on the live server, Google kick me off for going over my quota of data queries. Querying also seems to take longer than it needs.
  • It’s on the GAE cloud, at a time when I and, I think, many others are becoming wary of storing their personal / private data on servers belonging to large corporations under the jurisdiction of the NSA. And at a time when I, myself, am seeking to become less entwined with Google and its technologies.
  • While the UI has improved, it’s still not as slick as it ought to be. It still needs a lot of work to look as good or work as well as modern web-apps.
  • It never really caught on. People try it, some have used it off and on over a couple of years, but I don’t think I have any long-term users except me.

So if I look deep into the abyss and am honest, MTC is a failed experiment. Whatever its theoretical virtues.

And in 2014 I think there’s a straight choice :

Either admit to myself that MTC is no longer a going concern. Perhaps kill it entirely. (Like I did with Platform Wars last year.)

Or, to use a fashionable term, pivot the site to become something else. Probably something with OWL at its core. I don’t quite know what that would mean. Maybe doing the hard work of remodelling the queue data-model (use localStorage? synchronized to large BLOBs on the server?) and then trying to put OWL / Concord on the front-end of that? Maybe just a one-time export of MTC data? (Remember, MTC has exported to OPML since its inception.) Maybe becoming a GAE hosted farm of OWL wikis? If so, what, if anything, of the original queue and delegation model could / should be preserved / recreated?

Today, I only have these questions rather than answers. But this year, I’ll be trying to resolve them one way or another.

(I’ll post the next of my 2014 questions tomorrow. Maybe.)

I’m getting an error message on Mind Traffic Control :

A server error occurred. Please contact the administrator.

First time I’ve seen it is tonight, but if anyone else is seeing it and it persists, then please tell me in the comments.

Update : OK, seemed to have fixed itself pretty quickly.

Update 2 : Not that I seem to have a lot of regular users of MTC.

Worth reading “Where’s your data?

Remember, your Mind Traffic Control data is easily exportable. Just go to : http://mindtrafficcontrol.appspot.com/exports (Via the “Export Data” menu item) and choose whether you want your data exported in CSV format (which you can import into Excel or EditGrid etc.) or OPML (which can be read in the OPML Editor or (less conveniently) in any XML editor).

Haven’t written here for a long time. A couple of notes and catch-ups.

Chandler 1.0 is out.

I was struck by these features :

Chandler aims to provide a more integrated approach to managing information with:

* A Quick Entry Bar to enter everything from ideas to reminders and appointments.
* NOW-LATER-DONE Triage List to collect, process and track everything from deadlines and meetings to drafts and ideas.
* Tickler Alarms to auto-re-focus deferred (LATER) items to NOW

Something like this experience is already available in Mind Traffic Control if you want to experiment with it. 🙂

I’m getting into two further things :

Zbigniew Lukasiak has got me thinking about email again. It’s still the most commonly used social software, and there is still room for improvement. Zby and I are thinking of doing something about this … watch this space for more.

Meanwhile, I’m also back into feeds, in particular, creating and reading Yahoo Pipes. I’ll talk more about this soon too.

Finally, a couple of good posts from Stowe Boyd about the shift to the flow internet. Or rather, the ongoing need for recombiners for the small pieces (eg. comments, replies etc.) that are scattered across dozens of different feed services like Friendfeed etc.

Very important Mind Traffic Control update today.

The art of Mind Traffic Control is to defer as much as possible until later. But there are times you might have deferred a bunch of things until next week, only to find that actually, you *could* start doing some of them this week after all. (Maybe another task just got cancelled and freed up some time)

Until now, it’s been a flaw in MTC that you couldn’t rescue this stuff from the future.

That’s now been fixed.

If you find yourself with time on your hands and want to pull items back : go to the Overview menu, and the Deferred list. You’ll see a new button at the top titled “Restore the selected items to main queue”. There’s also now a column in the table with checkboxes for each item. Select any items you want to pull back and press the button. That’s it. The items are back in the main “next actions” queue.

Of course, please tell me if this seems to have caused any problems. Doesn’t look like it this end, but your bug reports are important.

Prioritizing by Anxiety.

I see what he’s getting at although I’m not entirely convinced.

Obviously No Free Lunch tells us that no “prioritize-by-X” strategy could be appropriate to all circumstances. (Including the FIFO algorithm of Mind Traffic Control).

Because of this, the less time wasted imagining you can specify priorities in advance, the better. Because the only time you can assign priorities is when pulling things out of your queue. To the extent that “anxiety” helps you identify the most urgent to do now it’s useful. But Andre does recognise that anxiety (like most *emotional* indicators) is pretty ambiguous; it might be that an item makes you anxious exactly because you *don’t* know how to do it or even what you *want* to do about it. So, even choosing to address it now, doesn’t mean “doing” it now, it may be a signal to cancel entirely.

Still … it’s to good if it helps you reduce anxiety overall. Perhaps not if you start to *cultivate* it as a priority-identification mechanism.

BTW : MTC works on the opposite theory, assuming that it’s easier to know which items you can definitely postpone, than it is to know which are most urgent … so at least it helps you clear the former out of the way. Nevertheless, what this post mainly reminds me is that, now I’m up to around 200 items under Mind Traffic Control, even MTC is breaking down for me.

Or rather, it’s missing something. And I’m starting to wonder if that’s the “someday/maybe” bucket. Originally I assumed that “3 months in the future” was more or less equivalent to a someday/maybe … but I’m finding that that’s not the case.

I’m scared to push things so far ahead, even for things I have no idea when I’d get round to. Because there’s always the possibility that I might get inspired to try them tomorrow. I need another queue to get things out of the way, but from where I can bring them back, if inspiration strikes.

Opinions anyone?