Book Review: Getting things Done by David Allen

Despite reading many books on organization, time-management, etc., I had yet to find a methodology that really worked for a scatterbrain like myself. Franklin Covey’s 7 Habits was overbearing, and required too much “stuff.” The concept that I had to plan my day down to the minute was crazy, and have not met anyone who does this effectively. Other books, such as Time Management for Dummies, First Things First, and The Four Hour Workweek all required simultaneous habit changes in order to be effective. Being a scatterbrain, requiring more than one habit change at a time was simply asking way too much — it was downright absurd. Furthermore, some of the suggestions made in these books were wishful thinking, as in the case of The Four Hour Workweek which advised hiring a secretary in India to do most of your work for you (HA! Do they do homework too?). Even more implausible, the author suggested starting an online business to automate revenue, which sounds good in theory; too bad his example was selling french style striped T-shirts.

I had given up on these self-help books years ago, and rightly so IMHO. Then things started happening which forced me analyze how I manage my to-do lists (or rather, did not manage it). School was getting harder, chores were neglected, phone calls were missed, and I was always exhausted. To boot, we’re looking to move out of the country, sell our house and everything in it, planning a going away party, planning trips to see family, and I’m trying to study for the MCATs. So, I broke down and bought Getting Things Done by David Allen.

Finally I discovered a book which not only “get’s it,” but also understands how to, no pun intended, get things done! Instead of fighting my habits, this book is showing me how to benefit from them. GTD doesn’t require anyone to change their entire life in order to become more organized like so many other books — which claim anyone can be more organized by simply changing everything about themselves. GTD is not full of the same suggestions over and over, such as breaking bigger projects into smaller pieces (duh), or incentivizing (when you finish this task, you can have a whole gallon of ice cream!). Rather, GTD outlines a method which is completely compatible for those of us who really need a book on organization, time-management, and completing the items on an ever growing to-do list. Unlike other books, GTD understands it’s readership and offers valuable tips and tricks which, almost magically, make someone more organized. As the author puts it, “we trick ourselves everyday, like putting important documents next to the door the night before we need to take them with us.” The strategies suggested in this book are so simple, even I can do them (which is saying a lot).

Suffice to say, GTD is the best book on organization I have ever read (and I’ve read a lot of these types of books!). It’s easy to read, easy to implement, and does not make you feel bad about yourself. A great find, a great book, and a great addition to my library. Highly recommended!

Check out the book here, Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity.

IR Spectroscopy Reference iPhone Ap

For all the organic chemistry students out there, IR Spec Check is just for you!  Quickly analyze absorbance peaks from an infrared spectroscopy graph. IR Spec Check recognizes over 75 absorbance frequencies and matches frequencies with possible R-groups. IR Spec Check’s ranking system displays R-Groups based on how accurately your peak falls into the frequency ranges of each result. Check it out here.

Free FireFox Must Haves for Website Design and Maintanance

Recently a friend of mine inquired about the necessities in web design. He mentioned some items that I found to be unnecessary and quite pricey. Which got me thinking about all the free stuff I have used throughout the years to develop websites. Frankly, most everything I used was free, or an older (hence cheaper) version of any software. Which leads to my point, professionals use free stuff,  so why shouldn’t businesses owners or others looking to get into the web design field?

The question is, where does someone start? And, how do you know whether or not a free product is any good? Rest at ease, because here is a list of all the good free stuff waiting for you!

1. Firefox

FireFox LogoThe reason Firefox is such a powerful web browser is because it can be modified by add-on’s which expand its capabilities. These add-on’s range from simple to complex. For our web design purposes, we’ll be adding-on some simple, and some not-so-simple add-on’s that can replace the need for many different types of software.

2. Firebug

Firebug logo

Firebug is a Firefox add-on that allows you to see the HTML, CSS, Scripts, DOM and .NET coding all within Firefox. While it is not an inline editor, it is ideal for identifying design bugs visually. Also, it allows you to visualize changes instantly. A must have for all.

3. Web Developer Toolbar

Web Developer Toolbar covers items which FireBug overlooks, such as the ability to outline elements on a web page, directly edit and save CSS files, and overlay local CSS files on top of websites without having to upload files to the server to view style changes.

4. MeasureIt

MeasureIt allows designers to accurately determine the size needed for graphics by drawing a ruler across any webpage to check the width, height, or alignment of page elements in pixels.

5. FireFTP

FireFTP is a free, secure, cross-platform FTP/SFTP client for Mozilla Firefox which provides easy and intuitive access to FTP/SFTP servers. Along with transferring your files quickly and efficiently, FireFTP also includes more advanced features such as: directory comparison, syncing directories while navigating, SFTP, SSL encryption, search/filtering, integrity checks, remote editing, drag & drop, file hashing, and  more!

6. YSlow

YSlow analyzes web pages and suggests ways to improve their performance based on a set of rules for high performance web pages. YSlow is a Firefox add-on integrated with the Firebug web development tool. YSlow grades web page based on one of three predefined ruleset or a user-defined ruleset. It offers suggestions for improving the page’s performance, summarizes the page’s components, displays statistics about the page, and provides tools for performance analysis, including Smush.it™ and JSLint.

Best Online Tutors for Chemistry, Biology, Organic Chemistry, Physics and Math

Professor Burger - Best Online TutorsFrom time to time, no matter how much we study, cram, or seek help from others, it seems that certain topics escape us. It’s not for a lack of trying to understand the topic, but it seems like everyone is speaking Greek.

So, here is my list of tutors and teachers who have taught me various concepts, and have helped me get better grades. Best of all, these are all video tutorials!

Hope this list helps you as well!

How “A” Students Fight Study Fustration

fustrated studentMAIN POINT: Write questions when you’re confused.

Most students who get good grades feel like they don’t know how to study. At least, this is the opinion of my classmates in advanced classes. What I find most interesting about these students, and myself, is despite our anxeity over study methods, we consistently crank out good grades.

At first glance, most people might assume that we are brainiacs. Please, let me clarify that students who get good grades are not any smarter than other students. For example, I cannot tell the difference between right and left without reminding myself that I write with my right hand. I am not dyslexic, it’s just a normal part of life for me. Also, I do not know the difference between a noun and pronoun, adverb and adjective, or possessive and plural. Every time I have to write an essay I have to double check if the apostrophes are in the correct spot. Lastly, the mere idea of doing simple math in my head gives me a headache just thinking about it! These are some of the things most students struggle with. So by all means, the students in advanced classes are normal students. Trust me, most all of us have some story to share about how we feel inadequate when it comes to our studies. To prove even further that I am not a brainiac, my GPA in high school was a measly 2.33.

Yet, despite all of this, I have managed to maintain a 3.92 GPA in college.

Some say there is not a secret to getting good grades, and for the most part that is true. What the students I have spoken with do that is different from most other students is spend time studying. In all reality, that is the only difference between a student getting A’s and a student getting C’s.

There are some students, however, who do spend a good amount of time “studying” but they do not get A’s or B’s. More often than not, these students spend some time staring at a problem, get frustrated, and walk away. This tends to happen often with math subjects, hence why so many people hate math. The main thing to understand here is that the frustration anyone experiences is completely normal. If you understood how to do all of the work, there would be no need to learn the subject because you already know it! Frustration with classes is why there are so many tutors, online instruction videos, and websites dedicated to helping students better understand a particular topic.

That last point holds especially true for text books. Many students read a text book and their eyes glaze over because the words make no sense. This is really terribly when you have a question, look at the book for the answer, and get more confused than you were before! Again, this is completely normal. More importantly, this is not a problem with your abilities; this is a problem with the text book!

So, with the frustrations that we all experience with studying, why is it that some students can study well and others don’t?

I cannot speak for everyone, but most everyone I know does the same thing when they reach a point where they are ready to give up. Here is what a typical study session looks like for myself:

  1. Skim the chapter covered in class (without taking notes)
  2. Get confused within 5 minutes, or less
  3. Write out a question about the topic (who, what, where, when, and/or why … )
    • Go to YouTube and look up the topic
    • If I can not find the answer there, look up the topic on Google
    • If I cannot find the answer there, skip the topic, write an email to the instructor, and go back to reading
    • If the instructor cannot answer the question, email a friend in class
    • If the friend cannot answer the question, seek out a another book (ForDummies series, CliffNotes, etc.)
    • If the question is still unanswered, seek a tutor
  4. Write the answer next to the question
  5. Go back to text and repeat the whole process

This process can take anywhere from 30 minutes for a short chapter to hours for an advanced topic. The point is that at the moment confusion sets in, a question is written down to be addressed by another source. Most often, a quick 2-minute video on YouTube will cover any question the textbook has not. This process can be used for any topic, especially math subjects. More importantly, the above method works well for homework problems which seem impossible to solve. Once you have your list of questions, along with the answers you have been able to find, you can review them at any time (like before a test). You have also created notes on the hardest topics covered, complete with the answers!

Basically, the difference between students who get good grades and those who don’t is stubbornness. Stubbornness which drives us to write out questions and find the answer.

To this day, I read books on study techniques, note taking methods, and memory tricks. Despite being able to score high on tests and complete all homework assignments, I still feel like I can do better. It is this bull-headed line of thinking which makes the above study method a common denominator for most advanced students. It also seems to be the difference between getting a C on a test, and getting at least a B.

Introduction to the benefits of maintaining a business blog

BloggingMaintaining a blog is not the first thought on most people’s minds. In fact, I would venture to say that with everything most business owners have to deal with everyday, week and month, the last thing an entrepreneur wants to do is tack more work onto their already strained daily schedule. However, the benefits of maintaining a blog are qualitative and quantitatively measurable.

First off, a blog allows business owners to connect with their current and potential clients in a meaningful way. I’m not trying to suggest that a business owner should rant and rave about their daily musings in the form of a personal journal. Rather, a business blog allows a business owner to articulate their expertise through experiences, give helpful tips to clients, and establishes a connection with clients. All of these items are incredibility important for business owners, and the ability to obtain them for the measly cost of a a few minutes each day is a great opportunity for most.

Second, for any business that maintains a website, a blog provides substance. In search engine terms, this translates to one of the most important factors for search engine ranking and placement; lots of text to search. Search engines like information, and the more information a business owner can provide, the better. A great side effect of having useful information on your blog is that people will link to your blog, thus giving your website and blog a boost in search engine rankings.

There are many other technical and public relation reasons for maintaining a blog, but they are out of the scope of this introductory post. For more information on the benefits of maintaining a blog, check out these resources;

So while my business doors have closed a long time ago, I hope that this blog will provide some valuable information for business owners looking to start and maintain a blog on their own websites.

Potato Wontons

Mom and Dad wen to LA yesterday, and I descided to make them a little welcome home dinner. Super simple, but must be fried. Concider yourself warned!

Potato Wontons

Wonton

Wonton Dough (from super market, pre-cut)
Large pot with oil
Frying (or baking) thermometer
Small glass with water (for dipping your fingers into)

Filling

2 Large Potatos (boiled and peeled)
2 tps Cottage Cheese (for texture)
2 tps cup Butter (can be omitted for health reasons)
2 tps Sour Cream
2 tps Mayo (the real stuff please)
5 Green Onions (diced) –> Can be reduced. Mom LOVES green onions so I made sure to use a lot for flavor. Shallots will work too, but no red, white or yellow onions as it will be too strong.

Sauce

1 tsp Ginger Sauce
4 ts Soy Sauce
4-5 ts Coconut Milk (not juice)

Place pot on stove and add enough oil to submerge wontons while frying. I use a large pot and fill is about 4-5 fingers high. Start the stove off on a med-low heat (low if you have a commerical grade or gas stove). Place the thermometer on the side of the pot so the tip in in the oil. If you are at sea-level, you’re looking to get to about 350 degrees F, if you’re high altitude (like myself 😉 you’re looking for about 360 to 365. The oil shouldn’t reach this level until after your done forming the wontons (so long as you keep the heat low, don’t get anxious!!).

Mash potatos and butter together with a fork. Make sure not to puree the potatos, small lumps are desireable. Mix in cottage cheese, Sour Cream, Mayo and Green Onions until well mixed – The mixture should be thick, not runny.

Grab the small glass of water and your wonton wrapers. Place one wonton wrapper flat on a clean plate. Take approx 1 teaspoon of mixture and plop it in the center of the wonton wrapper. Fold over the wonton wrapper as shown;

Fold again. Make sure the filling isn’t too bunched up;

Dip your fingers again in the glass of water and tuck in edges;

When you flip the wonton over, it should look like this;

(photos curtosy of StepBySteps for the Chinese Cuisine)

**Take note of how much room is left inside the wonton to adjust how much filling to ad to the other wonton wrappers.

Place folded wontons under a damp paper towel or napkin. After you’re done forming the wontons go back to your pot and check on the tempurature of the oil. Raise the heat to medium and wait until the temperature is within the 350 to 365 range. Place wontons into the oil slowly and let fry until tips of the wonton wrappers turn golden brown. Drain and place on a plate with paper towel to absorb extra oil.

Once done with the wontons, mix the ginger, soy sauce and coconut milk to make you sauce.

Enjoy!!!!

The secret world of SEO

Many of my recent clients have been harping “SEO”, “SEO”, “SEO” with little knowledge of what the acronym stands for.

SEO — Search Engine Optimization — is the process of making your website “Search Engine Friendly”. Or, as us old timers like to think of it, just having good content.

It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that in order to keep people interested you have to give them something — that “something” on the internet is most commonly called Good o’ll Fashion Content. If you’re a business owner thinking of starting your own web site, or have a web site of your own that isn’t performing that well on search engines, there are a few things to take into consideration before you throw away you money on an SEO / Internet Marketing Firm. ‘Cause lets faces it, you wouldn’t just give money to a television agency to play a commercial on TV for you if it doesn’t get your market, right? So why would you toss it away on something that you have little or no concept of – now that’s just plain stupid.

When developing a web site plan with clients, my first question is always;

  1. What is the purpose of your website?

Now this isn’t a light hearted question. All kidding aside folks, we’re talking about what is going to make or break you in the online forum.

The purpose of you website is really quite simple;

  • Why do you think your business needs a website?
  • What is it you hope to gain from this web site?

Those two simple questions will pave the way for your online success

Now I’m not saying that you’re going to make a million dollars online by putting together excellent answers to those two questions — if you’re looking for a get rich quick route, trust me their are plenty of people in this world ready to take advantage your ignorance and lack of determination to put things together yourself.

Simply put, figure out what it is that you would like to achieve via your website. Make the goal obtainable and realistic. Once you have that figured out, tailor your website around that goal. So long as you content matches the goal you have set forth, the SEO will naturally fall into place. If you would like more foot traffic in your store, make sure your address is listen on every page of your website. If you like to sell more items on your site, make sure you have proper descriptions, images (with proper alternate text describing the product), and titles for each product page. If you would like more visitors to your site, write about interesting topics and reach out to fellow bloggers; try to fill a niche with your writing.

Ask the question of what you are trying to achieve, and make sure the answer is laser focused on your true objective for your site. It’s not an easy question to answer, but the payoff could save you the cost of paying a consultant to ask you the exact same thing.