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Archive for the ‘Productivity’ Category

Identifying Personal E-mails and ‘Botmails’


STUDIES which analyse large volumes of communication have always been interesting. For instance, most of the E-mail traffic nowadays is identified as SPAM; and over 80% of it is said to come from compromised Windows PC‘s. However, for a change, this is not what I wish to discuss today. I don’t want to have yet another bite at the effects Windows has on the WWW. It leaves me bitter.

Earlier today I read that only 37% of all E-mail at the ‘average’ office are personal E-mails. The rest are not. Some E-mails these days are invoked from a system rather than a human. Typically these are less interesting, less urgent, or can be altogether ignored. Some of that is mass mail, automated and despatched using address databases.

It is sometimes hard to discern between a personal message–one to which a response would be polite–and one which is targetted at a wide audience and whose content is carefully doctored to appear personal. I would like to recommend and promote a personal tip of mine. It is a little method I thought about for detecting and telling apart computer-generated from human-generated mail. When entering your name (e.g. at registration stage), for example, always append extra spaces that serve no purpose but preserve the integrity of the name. Having done so, you challenged the wisdom of the bot. Before punctuation, for example, you can see if a human inserted the name properly. A naive algorithm will not bother to crunch spaces, so the automation deems self-evident.

In other circumstances, having the recipient’s addresses within sight may help. Full headers can be very informative and various Thunderbird extensions even simplify text with representative figures (e.g. routing information as a series of flags, mail client name as an icon, signature as an icon, etc.). It makes the information easier to digest and it adds a wealth of knowledge that is often missed. Lastly, never discount the BCC tricks. A seemingly personal message can reach anyone ‘on the same wagon’.

Linux/KDE Mockups Drive Increased Productivity

Black Halloween
KDE with a theme that I am particularly fond of

As KDE gears up towards the release of version 4, users continue to contribute innovative ideas. Below are a few examples, all of which are mockups and brainstorms.

  1. Show Progress in Title Bar. This one shows the pragmatic effect one can achieve by embedding extra information in the title bar of a shaded window.
  2. System Notification. Here we see an illustration of system and task status centralised under a single widget.
  3. Tasks Info in Less Windows. Lastly we have yet another similar example where information gets condensed, which saves some screen ‘real estate’.

Related items: KDE: User-Driven Innovation, KDE Receives Praises for Innovative Features

Users Are Efficient; Neither Stupid, Nor Lazy

WHY is it that so many user interfaces simply fail to work? It’s because users are permitted to take shortcuts and ignore the instructions. This is in fact the message which is delivered by Jeff Veen, whose opinion was inspired by another’s.

Veen concludes: “They’re not stupid. They’re not lazy. Don’t treat them that way.” Users are efficient. They want to get the job done with the least effort. It just doesn’t bode well as far as the intent of the developer is concerned.

New Yanoff for Palm – an example of
poor UI design

Making Your Work More Pleasant

Crocodile sign
A sign that is sure to get people’s attention

YESTERDAY I had a cursory look at ten tips for making your workspace more pleasant. As a gensture of reciprocity, here is the gist with warm attributions to the author, Steve Pavlina.

  1. Make your workspace look attractive to you.
  2. Clear out the clutter.
  3. Add plants.
  4. Make it smell good.
  5. Play relaxing music.
  6. Get a decent chair.
  7. Add a portable fan.
  8. Add a fountain.
  9. Personalize your space.
  10. Establish uninterruptible periods.

Points (3), (7-8) are the only ones I am in lack of. All of them involve the inclusion of objects, which I believe add to clutter (point 2).

KDE: User-Driven Innovation

Tiger in KDE
An example of less innovative KDE themes: Baghira Mac OS X lookalike

YESTERDAY I took a quick tour through some mockups and proposal made for the KDE project. I would like to present three examples, which are merely screenshots, sometimes combined with art work.

As these ideas were contributed and voted on by the community of users, no doubt KDE will remain at the forefront of functionality and user experience. It’s a case of programmers preparing and eating their own dogfood, so to speak.

KDE Team: They think of everything!

SuSE screenshot

An old screenshot of my Linux box at the University.
In the background I embed sunny resorts that I once
visited and they revolve periodically, owing to KDE

I am exceedingly impressed by the innovative work of the KDE team. These folks truly invent some productivity methodologies which exist nowhere else. KDE is primarily targetted at operating systems such as Linux and BSD and it puts them both at the forefront of innovation. How they do it, I don’t know, but I suspect that requests and suggestions from the public (KDE userbase) make it a reality, via wishlist items, reported as ‘bugs’ with low severity level. Allow me to exemplify my statement using a timely realisation.

Only yesterday, I needed to restart KDE (no reboots involved). This happened after over one month of this non-stop KDE session. The motive? Possibly a few memory leaks, which had accumulated throughout 5 weeks of 24/7 computing (I run experiments using untested code overnight and whenever I am absent). Either way, once restarted, KDE restores the user’s session perfectly.

All windows re-appear in the correct virtual desktop, in the same position with the same dimensions as prior to logout. A complete system reboot would have had the same impact. Shells are reinstantiated and created, possibly positioned at the same directory/path as before. While it sounds simple and trivial, it is not. File managers likewise. FTP connections are restored with the servers in question, even at the right depth and directory level. The only exception are SSH connections that were opened without calling the command directly, e.g. SSH within a shell. Otherwise, even remote connections as such are restored! Again, this should not be taken for granted.

In this older version of KDE (3.1, as haven’t tested it yet with the newer setup at home), Mozilla applications are the sole exception. They are not being restored. Nonetheless and all in all, well done, KDE team! You thought of everything the user will ever need.

There is a Mozilla Firefox extension called SessionSaver. It achieves something similar to the above by fully restoring tabs, even with textarea input re-instered. This mechanism is robust and even resilient to browser crashes, all at the expense of browsing performance, as well as some system resources.

Related recent item: Why I Love KDE

Why I Love KDE

Pager in KDE
A KDE pager containing eight virtual desktops

KDE is a powerful and versatile desktop environment, which I have raved about for as long ago as I had known it (read GNOME vs. KDE, for example). Apart from its augmented support for virtual desktops, it boasts an almost infinite number of features that make it highly extensible. Here are some examples of things that any user is able to achieve with KDE.

  • Open a particular program, let us say the Web browser, consistently in desktop 8, always in shaded mode with opacity level 80% (20% translucent). These per-program features were added around version 3.4 of KDE.
  • Without any extensions, KDE enables the user to download fresh wallpapers off the Internet (primarily through, all with a single click. Then, the user is given the choice to select multiple wallpapers from the collection, revolve them (as in a slideshow) every number of minutes, with separate wallpapers assigned to different virtual desktops, at different changing intervals, and with effects like hue shifts applied to them ‘on the fly’.
  • Move and resize windows without reaching for their edges and corners, simply using the mouse pointer and the keyboard. Moreover, window focus policies, as well as new window placement, is highly customisable.
  • KDE supports XGL (or conversely so, as well GNOME, of course). XGL is hardware-accelerated nice ‘eye candy’, which does not necessarily enhance the pace and productivity of work.

So where is the competition? KDE appears to be best bar none, in terms of function. Many consider it user friendly since its look-and-feel is assimilated to that of Microsoft Windows.

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