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2 essential ways to access information

There are different ways we would like to access the same information depending on the circumstances.

  1. When we need to access or enter an information as quickly as possible
  2. When we need to browse and organize all our information.

With the contemporary softwares these 2 ways of accessing information are seldom possible for the same information.

For a simple metaphor, let's take the file system.
We access the file system in browsing the hierarchies. But we are not yet used to access instantly a given folder with a search query. These two ways are necessary for different purposes and times. It is very practical if we can use the one or the other at will depending on our needs.

I tried to implement this idea for accessing and organizing my information.

I can browse my information with mouse and links, or full-text search, or even incremental search on page names in WikidPad, but for all my daily used information I needed to access the wanted page in a few keystrokes (for my journal, for my inbox, for my logs, todo lists, projects, etc...).
This is where autohotkey becomes useful. This software can help you automate almost anything you would do on your computer. I can even imagine automatizing it for accessing immediately often used submenus in applications.
I think the tandem autohotkey/command line launcher is a killer. Since you can change your launcher software anytime, and you won't lose your time on forums asking for features for years. Even a basic launcher will suffice! No need to wait the advent of quicksilver for windows, and when it will be there no need to learn its scripting language... which certainly won't be as good as autohotkey anyway.

So I created an Autohotkey script for each WikidPad page I need to access, and I call this script with Executor (would be even better with launchy or any command line launcher that could index your scripts directory automatically).

I name the script after the name of the page, for example inbox.ahk
The script looks like :

IfWinExist MyWiki
send ^+a
send {Control Down}o{Control Up}
send inbox{enter}

This simple script activates the wikidpad window, switches to edit mode, launches a search on the "inbox" wikiword, and displays the page.

The advantage of this method is that everything sits on my USB drive!
Every essential information is in text files and every essential software is open source (roughly : autohotkey and wikidpad).
I can change the command line launcher I use and still have my system ready in seconds.
I can even change all the softwares and still be able to recreate the system since the working system is designed with simple concepts.
In the future, better OSes and better softwares will arise, and I may use them, but I may also keep the system as is if I am not forced to change. And most importantly the underlying concept won't change : being able to browse and organize my information as well as being able to access/append it with a few keystrokes on the fly when needed. THIS is the matrix of the system, and this shouldn't be more complicated than that. If I have problems in the future, I will tell about them ;)

By the way since I implemented this system with autohotkey, the TED notepad I was using to log my day became useless.
I could as well use a Wikipad page for teh same purpose, since i could call it in a few keystrokes.

Having everything in a single big-ass text file looked like a simple method, but maybe was just simplistic.
Because you can't organize effectively. Whereas you can in fact access almost anything rapidly.
I tried the method with VIM and there was very great features (event using the search results window of Vim to display different indexes, to have a minimum of organization)... But my whole file became heavily markupped, and it was impossible to get the whole picture easily... And was not very beautiful because of the single size fonts.

One more thing about autohotkey : thanks to the vimperator extension everything in firefox becomes accessible with keystrokes, it becomes then possible to automate almost everything... and that blows my head.

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A very good article about simplicity on DIYplanner : Excellence through Simplicity

"If we have little idea of what we really want from our lives, or what a soulful approach to our work might mean, then often the only entrance we have into soul comes from the ability to say a firm no to those things we intuit lead to a loss of vitality. This way is traditionally known as the via negativa, or negative road…. The via negativa is the discipline of saying ‘no’ when we have as yet no clarity about those things to which we can say yes"

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Vimperator Keyboard Shortcuts Visual Sheet

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My present System

  • Navigating the computer
    • Executor (command line launcher - may be replaced by Dash in the future)
    • QtTabbar and QtAddressBar (make the windows explorer accept tabs and show a clickable browsing history)
  • Navigating windows
    • Autohotkey script "iswitchw - Incrementally switch between windows using substrings"
  • Scratchpad inbox
    • Ted Notepad (Scratchpad/temporary inbox/note taker I use to write the actions I am performing or intend to perform as soon as possible. Each action is not just flagged done and undone, but is incremented of one step at a time until it is done(for example I would write ----/writing article on my system, the dashes show in how many steps I did it, and the slash means it is finally done. This notation allow me to stop at any time and still knowing the task is "in the doing" but still not achieved). This is the big difference from the traditional todo list. It is a way to avoid losing track when being interrupted, like a bookmark of my day so I can alway go back to what I was doing, or what I intended to do. It is becoming the essential buffer of my system, and serves also as a log journal since I don't delete what I write.) I access the window very quickly thanks to the iSwitchw autohotkey script.
  • Calendar/reminders
    • Google calendar
    • Remember the milk for the reminders I need to send with my cameraphone.
  • Information niches and backup
    • Wikidpad (taking notes and tracking projects, and projects actions lists, brainstorming, journaling, centralizing and organizing all my useful information, making it searchable and being able to access almost instantly any page to check/append information on it).
    • Gmail (for storing all my mails, backup small and medium size files, storing notes sent from the cameraphone, keeping track of my expenses (I take the reciepts picture with my cameraphone and send tehm to a dedicated Gmail account, otherwise i have the same account for everything else)). I have measured with MeeTimer where my online time goes and almost everything is negligible compared to the time I spend in Gmail.
  • Writing
    • Google docs for writing the blog, and live journal for publishing. The first advantage of google docs is the auto-save. Of course the organizing features are very useful too.
    • Google Spreadsheets for writing timelines of stories I am working on.
  • Internet
    • Firefox portable with the VIMperator extension (allows to control firefox exclusively with the keyboard)
  • Learning / reading
    • Supermemo2004 (mainly for learning languages but I also use it for Incrementally Read a lot of articles I am interested in but are too overwheling to read in one go)
    • Machine Age Reader (for reading e-books on the computer. The software keeps track automatically of where I left off, so I can read a lot of books in parallel).
  • Music
    • Foobar2000 (I am used to the + and - keys for changing the volume, and the soft is quick and not bloated like all other audio players. Well, iTunes has a nice filtering and I still use it at home).
  • Other software/hardware I use but are no longer so useful
    • Winpenpack (very nice software for portable apps. Has a very slick way to organize, search and launch them easily, as well as browsing the drive, or even the computer with cascading menus. But I am now using Executor most of the time)
    • Xplorer2 (I still use it but won't need it anymore when I will be used to navigating the computer with the command line launcher)
    • Liquid Story Binder (Very nice software for writers. The advantage over others softs is the organizational tools. A file can be used in an illimited number of lists or hierarchies without being duplicated. It can then be accessed from different places/projects/indexes. I would not have switched to wikidpad if it was for the instant incremental access to pages. For someone who is not a keyboard freak Liquid Story Binder has no real weak points, and I like the design different of the traditional microsoft windows one, so we can "stay" in this software and feel cool for writing or journaling/organizing. It is still in development though the support is nice)
    • Ring binder (Nice to be able to open it flat and reorganizing page order but still not so easy to use... I shoult try a Circa sone day)
    • Traditional Paper notebook (used a lot of them, tried to index them, using Cornell notes, using tabs, using stickies etc... but rapidly becomes cumbersome, like the binder)
  • Hardware
    • Lenovo Tablet PC (to draw, and make animation/movies anytime, anywhere)
    • USB drive (I keep all the software and information written abovee on a small USB drive)
    • Hipster PDA (Use it when I can't use anything else for quick notes, sketches etc...)
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Why using the keyboard to navigate the internet or the computer???
Why not using the mouse? It is simpler, and faster!
Are people trying to not use the mouse are just crazy geeks who want to show off???

On using the mouse :
When using the mouse you have just one remaining hand for typing on the keyboard, and since you need the other hand for typing correctly you have to let go of the mouse temporarily. You then go back and forth to the mouse constantly.
The use of the mouse and the keyboard are completely different and the brain have to switch states each time you switch interface.
If you were thinking of taking notes, you would have first to find the application with your mouse in the start menu or the task bar (even the place of the application is not a fixed one so you can be sure you will have to search) then create a new document, then switch to the keyboard and write your idea (idea you may have already forgot since the brain switched states so much).

On using the keyboard :
At first it seems completely unnatural, and maybe plain stupid(since it is slower than with the mouse for at least one day, or a few).
But navigating with keyboard shortcuts has an advantage : you are LEARNING direct actions to things. So when they are learned you don't need to search anymore, you don't need to look for an application, you don't need to look for a button on a taskbar, you don't need to look for an always changing place icon, you don't need to keep you finger pressed all the way on scroll bars, you don't need press several keys to go to the top of a page, or to go to the previous page.
The shortcuts you learned become natural, and since they allow you to act directly and surely on something you use very little brain power. All this process become integrated, like playing the piano, you don't think about the place of the keys of whatever, you only think "MUSIC".
YES, navigating with the keyboard can be compared to playing music while using the mouse can't. I think you got the point.
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I have discovered Vimperator

Or I should say, I have finally tried seriously to navigate with it(since I knew it from the start but was too intimided).
The secret to not be overwhelmed is to first display the help window in a tab, and learn the few commands to go back to it and search it whenever it is necessary.
This first step, once overcome, will let you learn any command when you need it.
If you organize your learning like that it will certainly take a little time but it will be rather fun, just search any command you need, would it be to open a search in a new window or close several tabs at once... You may have to search several times the same thing for it to be well remembered, just do it!

I still have an annoying problem with Gmail(it is in fact not related to Vimperator directly, more of a conflict between Gmail keyboard shortcuts and Firefox ones. But since I am trying to give up the mouse, I am now confronted to this problem). It is because the "Find as you type" feature of firefox. Even when disabled it pops up on the press of the slash key.
I often make searches in Gmail, and the shortcut is the same.
Bad luck : it is the firefox one that has the priority.
I can still enter whatever character then press ESC, then press again the slash to select the Gmail seach field but it is cumbersome, and doesn't seem to work all the time.
I have tried to disable the "typeahead" flags in the firefox preferences but it is not sufficient, I think I should find a way to completely delete this feature.

Back to Vimperator. Here are a few excerps stolen on some forum (certainly the Autohotkey forums, I didn't record the source), and with some additions of mine.
If you don't know much about vim, don't worry, just the basics of vimperator will have you mouse-free browsing in no time. j/k scroll the page, f to label links and just type the 1, maybe 2 letter sequence corresponding to the link you want to follow. Type the sequence in all caps to open in a new tab. And right after you install it, type :set guioptions=mTs to get your menu, Toolbar, and status bar back.

It’s an absolutely awesome extension, you use j and k to scroll down and up on a page, Ctrl-F and Ctrl-B are the equivalent of PageDown and PageUp, you can yank the current URL by pressing y and you can delete a tab with d. Go to any tab with b and the number of the tab, type gt to go to next tab or gT to go to the previous tab.
Of course type / to search on the page, and B to toggle the list of tabs.

Most important : type I to disable vimperator. Until you press ESC the browser will behave as "usual".
I use firefox portable on a USB drive and I can say it was pretty slow until I started using vimperator. I can delete tabs instantly with d, while it was taking minutes with the mouse...

With the combo WikidPad, Executor, and Vimperator I use right now I don't need the mouse very often. Oh and I also use some great script I discovered today :
"The incrementally switch windows" autohotkey script.
I defined the right control key as the hotkey, and I can switch windows when typing just a few letters of their name...
GREAT, and FREE! (and customizable).

There is also a great site that gathers the keyboard shortcuts of a lot of applications. It was very useful to retrieve the firefox and google apps shortcuts.

In the future.. (not so far, maybe just next month), executor and autohotkey may be replaced by Dash all at once... When it happens I may review it ^^

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The GTD Inbox Paradigm

The Inbox is maybe the most elementary and the most popular feature of GTD.

Since it is used to gather everything in one place it could be extremely useful to whoever tries to be organized.

But, there are cases where the Inbox rule tends to become dictatorial (well, it IS dictatorial for our own good in the first place).
The motto of GTD is to put everything in the inbox without giving it a second thought, because it will be processed later.

...because it will be processed LATER!

Here is the real problem.

Not that you will procrastinate and avoid processing, but even if you process, you will do it later! Not on the fly. Because the system is built just on this principle!!!

But there are cases where this principle is more of an annoyance than anything else.

I work on several projects at the same time, and when an idea pops-up I find more natural to put it right away in in the project folder.
But this is not possible unless I have indeed instant access to this folder, without breaking the stream of my thoughts!
The GTD system assumes you don't have instant access to your folders, this is why there is a single inbox for everything, and this is certainly a very great feature of GTD.
But if I had instant access? I mean, if I would just type a few letters of the project I want to work on to have it displayed instantly and ready to accept new notes at the right place?
I would have my projects' information always up to date.
So if I would need to retrieve an information I had just entered I would know where to find it : right in the plroject folder.
With the GTD system I would fear it could still be in the Inbox, without really knowing.
It happens so often since new information is often the one which is the most needed.

The problem I often have with GTD is that when I look for some information in the project folder I sometimes don't find it because it is STILL IN THE INBOX!
Therefore the GTD system doesn't work for me(without stress) since I don't have all my info at the same place.

Of course you would say I should always keep my inbox clear... But to do so I should process info as soon as I put something into... that means, having an inbox becomes an extra step in this case, and bypassing the inbox would be a faster strategy indeed.

So, as I stated in an article on WikidPad I access my projects immediately and append info to them.
I don't have a page full of checklists of different projects sorted by importance or context, I have a checklist BY project ON the project page.
Why that??? Because when I want to see the checklist of project2, it is absolutely unnatural to first search a page named "checklist".
So I search "project2" right away, THEN I search "checklist".

Concretely, in Wikidpad it would be roughtly 2 steps :

  • Ctrl-O
    • ct2 ← these are the last letters of project2, since I have several projects beginning by "project" it is the fastest way to get the wanted page
    • <enter>
  • Ctrl-F ← this is the command for the incremental search on the page
    • checkl

written like this it looks complicated but in fact in my head I think only:
  • project2
  • checklist

So I can access all my information ubiquituously the way I think it...
I think this is the true base on which we should try to build the trusted system.
Instant access IS the solution (and when it is not possible, of course, there is the inbox. In my case, a HPDA for analog capture, a cameraphone for pictures and mails on the go, and google as a digital repository/nerve center(gmail, docs, photos), as well as a USB drive with all my essential portable apps, including Wikidpad, firefox portable with all my customizations, and a command line launcher, for the most used. I also use ccleaner for uninstalling programs and FastStone viewer for browsing pictures).

And we are getting closer and closer to a good instant access interface for windows with the recent increase of command line launcher softwares like Dash and Executor (I can't get why we still don't have a killer one but... well).

If it isn't clear enough you can ask in the comments, and I will correct what needs to.
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