Amazon

A few recommended books, movies, games, and albums. If you want to look for more recommendations, feel free to look at the larger selection over at Amazon or my Amazon Store with more recommendations.

  • Man School: lessons on love, power, honor and purpose
    Man School: lessons on love, power, honor and purpose
    by Michael Bronco
  • Cryptonomicon
    Cryptonomicon
    by Neal Stephenson
  • Programming in Objective-C 2.0 (2nd Edition)
    Programming in Objective-C 2.0 (2nd Edition)
    by Stephen G. Kochan

    An outstanding introduction to the core of the Objective-C language.

  • DreamCypher
    DreamCypher
    Dancing Ferret
  • Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Tron: Legacy (Amazon MP3 Exclusive Version) [+Digital Booklet]
    Walt Disney Records
  • Cocoa(R) Programming for Mac(R) OS X (3rd Edition)
    Cocoa(R) Programming for Mac(R) OS X (3rd Edition)
    by Aaron Pablo Hillegass
  • The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress
    by Robert A. Heinlein
  • Hot Fuzz (Widescreen Edition)
    Hot Fuzz (Widescreen Edition)
    starring Jim Broadbent, Kenneth Cranham, Timothy Dalton, Julia Deakin, Patricia Franklin
Wednesday
Nov092011

CONFIGURING MAIL.APP FOR A BETTER GMAIL EXPERIENCE, PT. 2 - Junk Mail

  1. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1
  2. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 2 Junk Mail
  3. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 3 Advanced Junk Mail
  4. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 4 Smart Folders

So now you've got Gmail setup to work the way you want. Unfortunately, there's that buddy of yours that keeps sending you listings from the fantasy football league, and his emails keep ending up in junk mail. Or perhaps you want to mark something as spam, like that Viagra ad that keeps coming in.

The good news is that if you look at Google's page on how Mail (or Outlook) actions translate to Gmail actions, it's pretty easy to report a message as spam. Just drag it to the "Spam" folder on the left that is nested under [Gmail]. 

Unfortunately, Google is not so simple about flagging mail as "not spam" when you're not using the web interface. Fortunately, it's not that hard, and they have some fairly clear instructions on how to do it, if you know how to read between the lines. The short answer is to add the sender who keeps getting misfiled to your online Google contacts list.

There are two ways to do this. The quick and dirty way that is also the best for people with multiple accounts is to log into the Gmail web interface, and simply add the name and email address as a contact. That, or you can import all of your contacts from a file, but that has enough variables in it that it won't be covered here. Either way, once the name is in your contacts list, it won't get filed as spam.

The long term solution for people with only one Gmail account, or with a main one, is to synchronize your contacts list with your Gmail account. The downsides are that you can only realistically do this with one Google account at a time, and that you sometimes end up with odd duplicates as Gmail adds its own contacts automatically for people you've sent messages to.

To set up syncing, do the following (screens may look different for Snow Leopard, but the gist will be the same):

First, open up the preferences window for your address book, and go to the "Accounts" tab.

Then check the box to synchronize with a Google account.

Then, fill in your full username (full email) and password for the Google account.

And you should be ready to go. The biggest headache I've run into has been hunting down and consolidating duplicates - especially after the first merge. That said, having all of my contacts update to Gmail so I don't have to manually add or import them has been a big plus.

Next up - for those with multiple accounts - smart folders and advanced junk mail filtering.

Monday
Nov072011

Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1

  1. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 1
  2. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 2 Junk Mail
  3. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 3 Advanced Junk Mail
  4. Configuring Mail.app For a Better Gmail Experience, Pt. 4 Smart Folders

 If you’re running Snow Leopard or Lion, adding a gmail based email account to your mail application may seem trivially easy. Go to the accounts tab of the preferences and add a new account, and let Mail.app configure itself.

The problem of course lies in the fact that while Gmail may pretend it’s an IMAP service, it isn’t, quite. One of the largest differences is that Gmail uses “labels” instead of folders. The advantage to this is that if a message belongs in several categories, you can actually effectively file it under multiple labels without having to make copies. While Google makes an effort to bridge this very different view of how mail should be organized, it means that Gmail can behave very differently than typically expected. As a result they have a knowledge base article on recommended IMAP settings, and an article mapping out how certain actions in a mail program translate to Google.

IMAP, for those who are wondering, is one of the two most common systems for retrieving mail. POP3, the older standard, downloads the mail to your machine just like recovering it from the cubby in a mail room, and now your computer has the only copy.  IMAP allows easy web access because the master copy always stays online. Whenever you log in via the web or a mail program and read new mails, delete mail, or move mail, those changes are also made to the original copy so that the next time you check your mail, no matter what you check it on, you see the same view. 

I’ll address one other issue right up front: Why bother using a separate mail program?

I don’t mind Google’s web interface. On those occasions where my laptop is unavailable or inconvenient (I’m working at another computer that I need to access email from) I’ll gladly use the web interface. That said, I also have several email accounts (work, Gmail, and an older personal account that I’ve had for years that isn’t Google-based), so being able to get to all of my mail from one place is a necessity. Factor in some nifty keyboard shortcuts courtesy of Mail Act-On and better integration and handling of attachments with the rest of my computer, and it’s a done deal.

The problem of course lies in the conflict between how every other IMAP mail service talks to Mail.app (or Outlook, etc.), and how Google does. I don’t want to treat one account differently from the others. 

So here’s a guide to tweaking both Google, and Mail.app, to work the way you want it to . Some of these hints have parallels in Outlook or Thunderbird, especially the ones dealing with online Google settings.

Stop Checking Your Mail

First things first, turn off all automated, scheduled email checks if you can. Google (and Mobileme/iCloud, and many other IMAP mail services) use a feature of IMAP that allows them to  get email as soon as it lands in your inbox without having to ask the server if anything new is in. Not only do you not need it in most cases, but if you are using the web service, or a phone to check your email as well, this can result in enough simultaneous connections (the desktop mail programs can make a lot of connections) to trigger Google into blocking access to your account as a potential spammer, and you won’t be able to download new mail.

In Mail.app this is found under the general tab of the mail preferences. The applies to Thunderbird and Outlook as well, though Outlook does give you the ability to isolate some accounts to check for new mail, but not others. 

If you must update your inbox on a schedule, set it to hourly, or even less often.

 

Recommended Settings

Let’s walk through the recommended settings for Google, and see why each of them exists. Before we do that, let’s look at how Mail.app sets up a Gmail account by default:

 

  • Do NOT save sent messages on the server. If your client is sending mail through Gmail's SMTP2 server, your sent messages will be automatically copied to the [Gmail]/Sent Mail folder.

This one is plain enough, but not mentioned here is that since Google automatically copies all outgoing mail to “sent”, if you copy all sent messages to the online sent folder as well, you get duplicates of everything ever sent. You also waste time uploading a second copy of your message just to park a copy in “Sent Items”.

If you look at the earlier screen shot, you’ll see that Apple doesn’t set it the way Google recommends. I strongly recommend unchecking it.

The only downside is that your default “sent” folder in Mail.app may not reflect any messages sent via the web, or from your phone or another computer. That said, if you look at the list of IMAP folders (usually to the left), under the folder “[Gmail]” you will find a folder called “Sent Mail” that contains every email sent, no matter where it was sent from.

Since I have multiple accounts, I still want one place I can go to and check for sent messages that may not have been sent via Mail.app. That’s where smart folders come in and I’ll cover those later.

  • DO save draft messages on the server. If you want your drafts in your mail client to sync correctly with Gmail's web interface, set your client to save drafts to the [Gmail]/Drafts folder.

This is generally good advice, and Apple sets this by default. Unfortunately, there’s a known “bug” in how Mail.app deals with Google and drafts that results in two wonky side effects. First, when you finally finish a draft and send it off, it doesn’t always clear the draft out of the drafts folder. Second, there is an auto-save behavior of the drafts that can result in dozens of draft copies being saved as you keep the draft open and keep working on it. I generally recommend to follow Google’s guidance here, but people who don’t care about accessing the same drafts folder no matter where they are may consider unchecking this.

  • Do NOT save deleted messages on the server. Messages that are deleted from an IMAP folder (except for those in [Gmail]/Spam or [Gmail]/Trash) only have that label removed and still exist in All Mail. Hence, your client doesn't need to store an extra copy of a deleted message.
  • Do NOT save deleted messages to your [Gmail]/Trash folder because this will delete a message in all folders.

You’ll notice that Apple doesn’t follow this by default, and personally, I prefer the way Apple sets it by default.

Google wants you to actually drag a message to the trash to delete it. “Deleting” the message by using the delete button or key merely hides it and is treated like archiving a message that hasn’t had a label/folder applied to it - and it is still available in “All Mail”. Given that email programs don’t differentiate between “Archive” and “Delete” like the web interface does, this is a reasonable compromise, and if I was using only Google accounts, I would probably do it their way. 

The problem is that it makes Google based accounts behave differently from the non-Google ones I use. As a result, I DO save mail on the server, and DO move deleted messages to the trash folder. I want the messages I delete to actually be deleted. I don’t even use “All Mail” - even in the web interface, since I figure if I want to keep the message, I’ll file it under a label/folder, even one as generic as “other.”

  • Do NOT save deleted messages to your [Gmail]/All Mail folder as some clients will try to empty this folder and ultimately fail. This can lead to delayed mail access or excessive battery consumption on a mobile device

Solid advice. Though the only harm in doing so is duplicate messages, why waste space?

  • Do NOT enable your client's junk mail filters. Gmail's spam filters also work in your IMAP client, and we recommend turning off any additional anti-spam or junk mail filters within your client. Your client's filter will attempt to download and classify all of your existing messages, which may slow down your client until the process is complete.

In short - turn off junk mail filtering entirely if you can, and just look in Google’s “Spam” folder for anything that may have been misfiled. If you can’t turn off all junk filtering (say, you use it for an iCloud or other account), there are some advanced settings I’ll show you in a bit that allow you to selectively filter some accounts but not others. You can also use smart folders so that you can still look at all of your junk mail folders in one place.

As a result, my “Mailbox Behaviors” under Preferences > Accounts tends to look like this:

 

Before we settle in to email friends and family, we need to do one more thing - designate our drafts and trash folders. Otherwise, Mail will end up creating its own folders, and you’ll end up with the confusion of duplicate folders to sort through whenever you look at your mail elsewhere.

In the folder list to the left, expand out the folder named “[Gmail]” and select the folder named “Drafts”. Then go to the Mailbox menu , then select “Use This Mailbox For”, and choose “Drafts”. Then select [Gmail]/Trash on the left, and go to Mailbox > Use This Mailbox For > Trash.

The next articles will cover setting up smart folders, advanced Junk Mail settings, and how to manage junk filtering in Gmail.

Sunday
Oct092011

Exercise and Life

(Before starting, I'll note that I had my friend, and fitness trainer Mike Bronco of Bronco's Gym and the book Man School go over this to make sure I didn't advise something utterly wrong. Any mistakes made here are utterly mine.)

This post is a change of pace. Usually I talk tech, the computers and stuff I use, and sometimes even philosophy. I like to make things better for people, and I’ve chosen a certain focus. I don’t wander off of it that often because I’m not planning on becoming an expert 3D modeler, a professional illustrator, or anything else that would normally cause me to post on a completely divergent topic. 

Say, as an exercise coach.

Yet, I do have an interest in my own health, and knowing and pushing your body is part and parcel of developing the will and focus to push your mind, and to not be pushed around in turn, physically and mentally. The body and the mind are inseparable. Learning to better focus and ground one, to ignore distractions, and to make it do what you need it to do even as it protests, makes you better able to do the same for the other.

As a result, over the last few years I decided to make a focused attempt to regain my physical conditioning. I’m older, and never quite expect to achieve the physique I had in my early Navy days, but dammit, I wanted to be better.

One of my friends, Mike Bronco,  is a fitness coach with a ton of experience, and I started working out with him and several other guys out of his garage on a weekly basis. I learned a lot there. I also dug up other sources that I cross-checked, and found reputable. Depending on exactly how fit you want to be, and how intensely you wish to improve, and how much logging you want to do, there are several paths you can take that all work, but they boil down to some simple rules. 

1) It has to be sustainable. Sure, as you get healthier and stronger you may be able to lift more, bike further, etc., but if it’s not something you can find time in your schedule for at least several times a week for the forseeable future because it requires time or gear you do not have regular access to… forget it.

2) It has to be enjoyable (and therefore self-motivating).  But there's a catch here:  Is it enjoyable for the sake of the movement itself, or, for the results it provides?

If it's for the results - it won't work. Stu Mittleman, one of the world's leading coaches says, "the running itself is the reward - not what the running gives you."

It has to be joy driven, not reward driven. I love to swim, I love to skate, I hate to run. Without a drill sergeant hanging around day in and day out as in boot camp, you’ll never get me fit by running. I’ll quit. The only time I ever ran regularly was so I could prepare for the Cooper River bridge run - and then I quit immediately after. Working 12-hour shifts in Norfolk I took precious time off to spend more than an hour on the boardwalk rollerblading almost every single day.

3) You don’t need anything fancy. A cheap workbench or exercise mat, and gravity exercises are an excellent place to start. A pull-up bar, and light weights can readily be added, and the collection of weights can be easily and cheaply expanded through second-hand stores as you need them.

4) Do more, but not always.  What? Shouldn’t you try to do more than last time. More reps, more weight, but always try to push a little further. You're doing this for self improvement, right?

Well, yes. You want to improve. You need to keep pushing. But not. every. workout.

As Mike told me -  DON'T push yourself every time to do more than the last time.  Olympians spend 80% of their time doing the same or even less than last time out.  Only 20% of their work is actually beyond current limits (even less for highly trained athletes).  The reason is simple:  You get stronger when you rest and you can't sustain high intensity for long periods of time.  The folks who push constantly tend to be injured quite a bit, and eventually burnout and quit altogether.

I’ll note in all honesty that when I originally asked Mike for input I’d said almost the opposite here - always do more - thinking that the following rule, “Don’t overdo it” would be enough.

The thing is, the lower intensity has a purpose. One - you’re already doing it for the sheer joy of it. You’re still operating your body at or near the limits to “keep in practice.” You’re mentally getting comfortable with the new boundaries, and better preparing yourself for pushing them. 

It’s also about form. And stability. it's about the mind mastering the body.

Why do squats with no weight or small weights instead of something near your max? Because doing it that way allows you to focus on your form. How you move your body. How you brace yourself. Your position. Where the strength flows.

Ditto when you run. Or skate. When you’re not at your limits, you can practice your form. To be more efficient. To be more effective.

Or curls - to work on how your holding and moving the weight rather than expending all of your energy simply lifting it.

For that matter, one of the reasons to do single-leg squats is not to make you stronger. You can effectively squat even less than you think - and a large part of the reason why is because your body is expending a lot more of it’s effort to simply keep you stable.

When you return to doing full, regular squats, you’ll find that you can lift more, because you’ve become more stable.

5) Don’t overdo it either. Didn’t I just say that? Well, yes. It’s important enough to repeat as its own rule. Your body needs time to heal. That is where you actually get stronger, and the workouts just force your body to rebuild. Heavy workouts every day don't give your body that time, and make you burn out. Pushing too far past your limits simply injures you, and that wastes time and energy recovering just to get back to where you were.

6) When you’re pushing yourself, don’t just work for “x’ reps. If you do ten, and you can comfortably do ten, then you’re not doing enough to force your body to rebuild and to become stronger. Push yourself to your limits. It helps to have friends to watch your back when you do this so that you don’t overdo it.

I told you it was important.

7) Accountability. Most people need this to really improve. Workout with friends, keep a log, do something to make sure you’re improving and not slacking off.

And don't make it complicated. Whether you're tracking your workouts or changing out backups, "complicated" means you stop doing it, unless you actually enjoy running the numbers (see Rule 2).

You also pick up other things. Over time you integrate them into a cohesive whole. All sorts of little things over the years, and even more bad information that I had to unlearn to distill into what I know today that made me wish I had good guidance "back then."

High Intensity Interval Training

The most surprising thing I discovered, and only recently discovered the source of scientific backing for, was that unless you really, really, really want to be a marathon runner, you can literally get most of the cardio conditioning you could ever want simply by working on your strength, and with short series of intensive exercises instead of hour-long stints running, or on a cardio machine. 

As described in the Wiki article, the basic concept is that working for 30, 40, 60 or more minutes at a fairly steady pace is not the most time-effective way to improve cardio conditioning. Instead, short, intensive bursts of intense whole-body exercise, with short interspersed breaks, push your body further, and also give you better conditioning to apply bursts of strength and power since it also improves your body’s anaerobic capability as well.

It is very flexible. It can be done with any excercise that uses large muscle groups: squats, sprints, “burpees”, etc. It can be done with weights ( I recommend without or very light at first) or with gravity alone. It can be done on various cardio machines - though as a practical matter treadmills take too long to change speeds readily. It is also easily logged. 

As mentioned in the Wiki, the basic protocol for the Tabata is simple: 20 seconds of maximal effort, followed by ten seconds of rest, repeated eight times. The total is four minutes. No cheating on the breaks. You should also warm up before, and cool down after. You can use a wall-clock with second hands, any number of gym timers, or one of the available iPhone and Android apps. There are other variants that are not quite as intense, but also effective, and all of them involve alternating fairly intense workouts with "down" periods.

It is very important to be careful with high-intensity intervals if you’re not already in basically OK shape already. A period of at least 6 weeks conditioning is paramount before anyone - especially those new to exercise - should do these high-intensity workouts. Walking is still without a doubt, the world's best and most effective from of exercise.  It is natural for the body. Walks are fun! In the meantime, start working on your strength, which carries over to cardio a lot more than most people think it does - especially excercises that deal in large muscle groups.

Then, when you get started, instead of doing a strict Tabata, you can start by doing sprint - walks, or adding sprints to your jogs. There are also several other formats that don’t push the intensity anywhere near as high, but that start conditioning you to work at full output for more than a few seconds.

Remember. Rule 5. Don’t overdo it. If you're doing it every day, you're doing it wrong. Your body needs a day or two to heal. That's where you actually get stronger. Not the workout itself. 

If you wish to log your performance, and all of your sets are really maximal effort, then the number of reps or distance covered for the last set is a convenient shortcut for logging your performance and fitness over time.

So as we near the end, you may notice what I have NOT told you.

I haven’t told you which exact exercises to do. There’s no magic combo. Even if there were room in this post, there are plenty of sources that illustrate the available options. Some gyms have weights, some gyms have machines. I prefer weights because of that whole stability thing - the real world doesn’t conveniently give you a brace anytime you have to move something. Some people like to run, some people like to swim.

It’s about what works, and what you enjoy.

As long as some exercises work on strength, some work on balance and stablity (karate and yoga are also good for that…), etc. You will be well rounded and overall “fit” - not just a muscled freak. Some of the excercises should let you establish a steady a rhythm - say running, swimming, or skating or walking - but some should be unpredictable. For example playing basketball, or cross-country running, or adding some footwork to your skating. 

It’s about having a fit life, and being prepared.

One more thing. There’s a rule 8.

8) Have fun!

Wednesday
Oct052011

Speak to Me...

One of the new features in the upcoming iPhone 4s is the Siri "assistant."

I don't know if this will be the world-changing feature that Apple touts - Android has already had much of this functionality. That said, reports such as those at Ars Technica indicate that it will be at least as well integrated, if not better, while allowing noticeably more natural speech.  

One complaint about speech-based control and dictation systems, even the excellent software by Nuance (Dragon Dictation, etc.), is this: how does a computer, often in an office environment, distinguish between you and the guy next to you when he says "delete files."?

Plus there's the whole "who wants to look like a dork talking to their computer" angle.

One huge advantage that speech-to-text and voice command have on phones, as they approach the sophistication of the Dragon line of software, is that these are devices we are used to talking to all the time anyway.

Just food for thought.

Wednesday
Oct052011

So Long...

Not much to say that Apple hasn't already said. The man is arguably one of the most important and influential people in his chosen fields. Yes, plural. He ushered in not just one revolution in his industry, which few enough manage to achieve, but multiple revolutions, in several industries, and in the lives of people everywhere. Personal computing, how we interface with computers, how we listen to music, how we tell stories in movies, and redefined our concept of how personal a computer can be with the iPhone.

He will be missed.

Rest in Peace, Steve.