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Folding a Letter-size Sheet into 3 x 5 Inch Shape – Single Pocket January 31, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, filing, H-PDA, Hipster PDA, history, how to, index cards, information management, lifehack, Moleskine, Origami, Other, Wordpress.

I was chatting earlier this week with prairieflounder, and I mentioned that WordPress had upped the capacity for individual blogger accounts to three gigabytes. I noted that I had purchased some extra capacity from WordPress last year, because I was moving quickly up towards the limit. Pf pointed out that he hadn’t noticed a lot of pictures here. That’s because there are a couple of different types of people who visit this site. Most of the visitors I get are still people looking at folding diagrams, believe it or not. About 90 percent, on average. And the people who don’t visit for those pics, tend not to even notice them.

And that’s O.K., but here’s another post for the 90 percent.

My first funded year in graduate school I ended up grading papers for a brilliant-if-cranky professor who, despite being only 35ish, still took notes on 3 x 5 cards. I’ve noticed that a lot of the history professors who attended top-ten schools (which he did) do this, and I even know one attending a top-ten school right now, who uses 3 x 5 cards. The guy I worked for would often photocopy articles, however, and cut out the relevant sections, parts of a work that he might later cite or quote in his own work, for example, and tape them to a 3 x 5 card, folding them several times, if need be, so that they would fit in his 3 x 5 file.

Yeah, it didn’t look all that elegant. It was pretty messy, actually. But the guy wasn’t all that elegant himself; he was well-published and highly regarded, however.

It has troubled me for some time that there is no elegant way of folding a normal (in the US) 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper so that it stays nice and flat and can be filed away with the rest of your 3 x 5 cards.

Until now, that is. This method is so simple that I hesitated to post it. It is based on the simplest and most common letterfold. But I can’t seem to find any posts of it anywhere else, so here you go:

Start with an 8.5 x 11 inch piece of paper (all of the pix below expand into their own, larger, window when you click upon them with a mouse or similar rodent). This is especially nice paper made by Gold Fiber, which is not only a pleasing and frightfully absorbent texture, but has lines on one side and a grid on the other. Notebook paper doesn’t get much nicer than this, I’m afraid.


Put a 3 x 5 inch index card in the middle of it, roughly, and fold the top down so that it looks like this:


Then fold the top down, like this:


You want all of these folds to hug the index card as closely as you can. Next, fold the bottom up like this:


Then fold one side in over the card like this:


And then the other, like this:


Then take the card out and unfold the whole thing so that it looks like this:


Fold the top and bottom towards the center so that it forms a flattened tube eight and a half inches wide, and then tuck whichever side is smaller into the inside of the tube on the opposite side, which will, presumably, be larger and more accommodating. In this case, the right side was slightly larger. One side always is, for some reason.


Then, keep sliding it in until the whole thing is flat. If done perfectly, it will be only slightly larger than a 3 x 5 index card, so that not only will it hold index cards itself, it will still fit into files that hold index cards of that size, or even the cool little pocket in a moleskine notebook, like this one.


Not that this history professor could have been bothered to make things tidy like this. But you like to keep things neat.

Buzzing? . . . Oh, I’m Just Shaving my IQ January 21, 2008

Posted by caveblogem in Blackberry, fiction, information management, literature, Management, Other, Science Fiction.

I just got a new Blackberry last week. Lovely, sleek little device, and I must confess that I’ve always wanted one, even before they started actually making them. I wanted something that would let you type in text and store it and send it places, etc.

But what amazes me is that I can already see what they do to people a little more clearly. If you attend meetings with others who have these things you are already familiar with how distracting they are. Any time an email comes in, these people pull theirs out and look at it to see if the email is something important. My assumption was always something like the following:

What a jerk. They actually don’t know how insulting it is to constantly monitor some hand-held electronic device while somebody is talking about something that they consider important.

And I immediately draw the following conclusion: This person is stupid.

But I have revised my analysis a little, after getting one of these myself. You see, these people didn’t start out stupid. Actually it was the reverse (no, really, bear with me for a second.) They rise up in the company hierarchy because of their brains and other abilities. Then the organization decides that they need to have access to a constant stream of data, so that they can be more efficient. They must be constantly available for consultation. They are then given a Blackberry, or Treo, or other electronic device that does this sort of thing (even phones which are used for instant messaging, I suppose, although I know very few executives who would do this).

The stupidity creeps in at that point, the receipt of this handheld device. The experience of being outfitted with one of these things has, thus far, reminded me of a great story by the late Kurt Vonnegut, “Harrison Bergeron.” In this story the United States government makes everyone equal by imposing handicaps on the most able. So if you have really good vision, they give you blurry glasses, for example. Or if you are really strong, they make your clothing really heavy (although I have doubts about this one; the clothing would just make you increasingly stronger.) Finally, if you are very smart, the government makes you wear a radio-earphone thing that emits a loud, irritating buzzing noise every once and a while to break your concentration.

Which is where the Blackberry comes in, of course. These people started out relatively intelligent. But the constant interruptions handicapped them.

The thing was sitting on the counter buzzing away this morning while I was trying to help my son with his mathematics. My wife, just back from Peru, said “aren’t you going to check it?” That’s when it all came together for me. Math’s hard enough, without a Blackberry going off.

My capable IT person showed me how to shut the stupid thing off. So now I’m all set.

Keep Your Passwords Safe December 6, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, how to, information management, lifehack, Memory, Other.

I just read this post on Lifehacker today and was a little surprised how few people keep passwords the same way that I do. Aggregated from an interview with Bruce Schneier at the Freakonomics blog (New York Times) it advises that you write down your passwords. He has some sort of password generating and encrypting program that he also uses, and I don’t have any idea what that’s all about, or why anyone would need such a thing. Over at Freakonomics they like the counterintuitive nature of the advice, I guess. But I agree with the idea in principle.

I have worn quite a few different hats at work in the last five years, and so, like many people, have literally dozens of passwords that I have to remember, and another couple of dozens that I use in blogging and my personal stuff. I write them down, but can usually remember them without referring to the written versions. And I have no fear that the written versions will be used by spies or snoops, because they are encrypted with my own system.

Here’s how it works:

  1. Come up with some sort of mnemonic trigger for your password. My Netflix password might be the title of my favorite movie, for example. Say, Casablanca (which is not my favorite, but has the advantage of . . . well . . . not being my favorite and being one word long.)
  2. Then come up with a two or three digit number that has no particular significance for you, but which you will remember to use in all of your passwords. How about 892? Commit to always putting the 8 after the first letter and the 92 just before the last, for example.
  3. Decide to use some odd, yet consistent method of capitalization. Commit, for example, to capitalizing the second-to-last letter of each password.
  4. Integrate all three of the above into a password: c8asablanc92A.

My Amazon.com password might be the name of a book that I bought from them and hated, which will become o8ddthoma92S.

Now, write down all of your passwords, but do not write down the algorithm that converts them into the actual passwords. On a slip of paper, or with a sharpie on your wall or desk, your forehead, write Netflix: Casablanca. Write Amazon: Odd Thomas (you’ll know that there should be no space in the actual password, of course.) Any luck and it will look more like a shopping list than a bunch of passwords.

What Would Reacher Do? May 17, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in bookmooch, Books, fiction, information management, Management, Other.

I haven’t been posting regularly or visiting anyone’s blog because work has been a mad scramble, lately.  It’s the first time I’ve ever had a staff to manage, and I’m finding the whole thing pretty difficult and draining.  I don’t really get energy from talking with people.  But apparently managers have to do that a lot, so I’m exhausted at the end of the day.  And forget about posting during working hours. 

It is so much easier to get things done if you can mimic somebody’s style.  When I taught, I had a tremendous list of teachers I could imitate.  But not so as a manager.  I have never had a really good manager to look up to as a role model, nobody I can think about that and ask myself, “what would so-and-so do?”  My last boss, the one just before the current one (who I will not be talking about at all in this post, of course), was a great guy.  He is a genius, and I respect him a great deal and like him personally (though he’s not without his faults).  He didn’t like managing, and he wasn’t good at it.  He told me so, and he was right.  I’ve had a couple of other bosses who I liked, but most of them were disorganized, emotional, egotistical trainwrecks.  

So, by default, I am aping the style of the protagonist, Jack Reacher, of Lee Child’s series of deservedly popular thrillers.  I started reading these books about three weeks ago because they were recommended to me by someone who has never steered me wrong.  They are amazingly well-written, engaging, funny, and apparently addictive.  I have now read all but two or three, I think.  I have read One Shot, The Enemy, The Hard Way, Pursuader, Killing Floor, Die Trying, Running Blind, and am currently reading Without Fail.  I have two others on order (bookmooch).

Reacher grew on military bases all over the world and went to West Point.  Then he was a military policeman for 13 years before the Great RIF of the early 1990s, when he was honorably discharged at the rank of Major.  He becomes a drifter of sorts, and runs into trouble of various sorts.  Most of Child’s novels seem to take place during this time of drift, after Reacher left the military. 

There are similarities between Jack Reacher and myself. 

  • Reacher prefers to use his head to solve the mysteries with which he is confronted.  So do I. 
  • Reacher is about six and one-half feet tall.  I am exactly six and one-half feet tall.  He outweighs me by twenty to fifty pounds (depending on the book), but only because he is clearly more muscular.
  • Reacher does not carry a gun.  Neither do I.
  • We are both blonde.
  • People often find Reacher intimidating and scary.  Same here.  Perhaps I should smile more, but Reacher says he tried that when he was younger, and that people became even more terrified of him.  So maybe there’s no reason to work on that.
  • Reacher is a fictional character created by Lee Child.  I don’t know who created me, but I have been called a character.  I could be fictional, too.  How would I know?

There are a lot of differences, too.  But most of them are surprisingly unimportant, in the scheme of things.  Reacher can be extremely violent.  For example, in Pursuader, Reacher is attempting to save an FBI agent and find a guy he thought had killed one of his subordinates from his MP days.  All of these people are holed up in a house in Maine.  Reacher sneaks up to the guard house in front of the compound.  He has been in there before, so he knows where the guard is sitting, and sneaks to a position right under a nearby window and taps on the glass with a fingernail a few times, then a few more.  The guy gets up and presses his face against the glass, trying to see down, thinking it is mouse or something.  Reacher, who has wrapped his hand in a shirt, punches the guy through the glass, breaking his nose, then steps in and disarms him.  Then he asks the guy whether he will attempt to get his gun and shoot him.  The guy says he won’t.  Then,

I paused for a moment and thought about asking him some more questions.  He might be reluctant.  But I figured I could slap him around some and get all the answers he had to give.  But in the end I figured those answers didn’t matter very much. . . . I just stepped away and was trying to decide what to do when he made up my mind for me by reneging on his promise.  He came up off the floor and made a dive for the handgun on the sofa.  I caught him with a wild left to the throat.  It was a solid punch, and a lucky one.  But not for him.  It crushed his larynx.  He went down on the floor again and suffocated.  It was reasonably quick.  About a minute and a half.  There was nothing I could do for him.  I’m not a doctor.

I am a doctor (but not of medicine) and I’m not violent.  So that’s two differences.  But I’m not violent because I try to tackle problems that don’t require violence to solve.  Reacher was an MP, which, as portrayed in these novels, requires violence as part of the basic problem-solving toolkit.  That’s one of the reasons they carry guns.  Reacher doesn’t go looking for violence (except when it is important to exact revenge, or accomplish an important task.)  He just works doggedly to accomplish his goals and doesn’t shy away from use of force.  It’s just that the problems he tackles (kidnapping, murder, counterfeiting, gun-running, etc.) often require a partially violent solution.

So I’m starting another occasional series here which I will tentatively call What Would Reacher Do?  First tip for the new manager is the following:  You have nothing to fear

Reacher has nothing to fear.  He is huge and well-trained and wicked smart.  He has sources he can rely upon for information.  And he is a fictional character.  He can’t be killed, because there wouldn’t be a next book. 

So you could say that being unafraid is easy for him.  Regardless, there is a great deal to be gained by not fearing anything in the workplace.  I used to be afraid of losing my job, for example.  That fear didn’t get me anything.  The summer before last I was trying to get a promotion and wanted to put pressure on my boss to either promote me or let me relocate to another part of the University (it’s a much longer story than you could imagine, and much of it is strikingly uninteresting.)  So I sent him a written resignation, and took three weeks off.  I traveled to Idaho, Washington, and California.  When I came back I sent our human resources office a letter un-resigning.  He had to take me back, partially because I was very candid about why I was quitting.  He decided that he was in enough trouble that people wouldn’t even support a decision not to accept such a strange request. He’s gone now, although I don’t know how much I had to do with that fact.

I still find that although I am extremely engaged in my work, I am not at all afraid of losing my job or being demoted.  Very freeing, that.  It helps you make the right decisions, because you don’t have to think about making safe ones.  And if you make the right decisions, you can often go on to find ways of limiting your risks.

To be continued . . .

This is so cool–Skrbl Online Whiteboard March 1, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in Blogs and Blogging, information management, Other, Science Fiction, Skrbl, web 2.0.
1 comment so far

I just found a link to this thing on Lifehacker and decided it was the coolest thing I have seen today.  You set up an account and it creates a whiteboard online that you and others can use to collaborate on stuff. 

Here’s what it looked like when I posted the link (click for a larger picture):


Click here and draw all over it, or leave a comment on it, or upload a picture onto it, or a chart, or something.  I don’t know what I’m going to use this for, but it is free, and cool. 

Who knows what it will look like when you finally get around to looking at it.

DIY 4-pocket Index Card Wallet for Hipster PDAs-Side-opening Version February 6, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, Hipster PDA, how to, index cards, information management, lifehack, Origami, Other.

It occurred to me yesterday when posting that this Index Card Wallet could be folded vertically or horizontally, depending on one’s preference.  So here are instructions for the side-folding version.

Step 1–Start with a piece of 14 x 8.5 inch paper (mine has printed stuff on the side facing down, so that the steps are easier to follow.  I use relatively heavy paper, 32 lb., so that it is opaque.)  Mark one inch from each of the long sides.


Step 2–Fold these toward the center and crease.


Step 3–fold one of the short sides in 3 1/4 inch toward the center and crease.


Step 4–Fold the other short side so that it meets the crease that you just made and crease that fold.


Step 5–Tuck the section you just made into the other one as shown in this side view:


Step 6–Do it carefully to avoid tearing the paper and it will look like this when you are done.


Step 7–Just fold the short sides towards one another (top to bottom side in the diagram above) and you are done.  It has four pockets for index cards:


And you can clip a pen to it, just like the other design:


DIY 4-pocket Index Card Wallet for Hipster PDAs February 5, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in DIY, Hipster PDA, how to, index cards, information management, lifehack, Origami, Other.

It has been a while since I have posted a new practical origami design.  So I present the four-pocket (two verticle pockets, two horizontal) Hipster PDA index card wallet.  It may be the simplest and most useful design yet.

Step 1: Take a piece of legal-size (8.5 inch by 14 inch) paper and mark a spot 1 3/4 inches from the short edge.  N.B.: I have printed on one side to make the drawings easier to follow.


Step 2: Flip it over, fold the short sides in, and crease them at the marks.  Then fold one side 2 inches in from the long side (I know this should be a separate step, but I forgot to take a picture of that step.  So sue me.)


Step 3: Fold the other side down so that it meets the crease you made in the other long side.


Step 4: Insert the longer of the two sides (the one you just got done folding) into the shorter one (it has to go inside so that it is self-locking.)


Step 5: Fold the short sides so that they meet.  It should look like this with a pen clipped to it:


And it has four pockets, like I said before. 


So there you go.

See some other designs here.

A Folksonomy for Physical (Paper) Files January 19, 2007

Posted by caveblogem in filing, folksonomies, how to, information management, lifehack, Other, tagging.
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This site get considerable traffic sometimes from people interested in folksonomies and different methods of filing documents, partially because of my posts about LibraryThing.  Recently a number of people have been referred here by this site, whose author was apparently searching for a system of tagging paper documents.  This post does not do quite what she wanted, tagging individual pages of descrete documents, which I think you’d have to accomplish with sticky-notes, marginalia, and some method of storing these notes on a public spreadsheet or something.  Probably easier to scan the document into something and use OCR to turn it into text.  Nevertheless, I keep meaning to post something about the system I use to tag individual documents, because there seem to be a lot of people out there with similar filing issues.  What sort of issues? 

Well, I write grant proposals for projects and gifts at a University.  My job entails keeping records on who does what at the University, as well as who funds what all over the country.  I also to opinion poll research, data mining and marketing analyses for the fundraising operations, as well as institutional research at the University, and have been involved in an endless (thankfully, so far) stream of writing projects that aren’t connected to any of those things.  In short, I work with paper copies of things only when I can’t avoid it, which is to say I work with paper copies all day long.   When I want to file a paper copy of something, should it go in a departmental file, under the faculty member’s name, under the name of the research center or lab, under the name of the party to whom the proposal was written, under the type of proposal, or endless other options?  My indecision usually meant more than one copy, or it meant a growing “to file” heap on my desk.  A clue to a possible answer came last year, when I saw a reference to the Noguchi system of filing.

I first noticed the Noguchi Filing System on BoingBoing, and I tried to track it down through the article’s author (not Noguchi himself, since his works had not been translated at that time), but he had taken it down already.  I tried it out, but have since dumped the Noguchi system because if its aversion to large archives of information.  The ability to find anything I need immediately and easily means that I can keep a large archive, which means I don’t have to spend time deciding what to throw out.  And, again, it is the nature of my job, I often (a few times a week) find myself using documents that I haven’t even seen in years.  I retained the look of the Noguchi system, but combined it almost beyond recognition with a robust archiving system.

This method is essentially user-specified tagging.  But it can be extended and adapted to multiple users quite easily.

Here’s how it works:

Step 1: Put document in a 9×12 envelope which has had its top cut off.  Write some keywords about the document, the date (of filing), and a number on the side of the envelope, like this (click images to see full-sized ones):


Step 2: Write a filing entry in an excel spreadsheet including as many distinct keywords as you can remember about the document, like this:


Step 3: Filed the envelope in reverse numeric order (adding new files on the left), standing up on a bookshelf.  Mine looks like this:


Step 4: When you need the document, open the spreadsheet and hit control+F (or go to the “find” feature of your spreadsheet program).  type in a keyword and hit the return button.  The spreadsheet will go to a cell where the keyword appears.  If it isn’t the file you are looking for, hit return.  It will find another.   I have more than 300 documents filed this way and they almost always come up on the first or second try. 

If it is the file you were looking for, get the entry’s archive number (in the column to the right) and pull the document off the shelf.  Put it back there when you are done with it. 

To expand this into a multiple-user folksonomy, the spreadsheet may be stored on a public folder (or using google’s new filesharing capabilities, or a wiki, or whatever) so that it becomes a true user-specified classification system.  To do this, each user adds more keywords into the string, keywords that define how the document was used, so that they come up later in a search. 

This system may have been invented elsewhere, I suppose, because it is awfully simple and easy to use.  But I have never seen a reference to it anywhere.  I’d be happy to link to anyone who has a suitable exposition of this.  And it doesn’t have a name, as yet, either, so feel free to suggest one.