Monthly Archives: July 2007

Google Docs and Spreadsheets as a Personal Wiki

I like having a personal wiki. I keep track of my personal projects, various GTD meta-stuff, and even tracking shared expenses with family and roommates. Originally, I used MoinMoin, a very easy-to-edit but powerful wiki clone written in Python. We’ve been using MoinMoin for several years (at least 3, I think) in our lab. It offers a straightforward syntax, ease of uploading attachments, and easy creation of tables (hard to find in wikis). MoinMoin was working pretty nicely, but its main downfall was that it was difficult to create new MoinMoin webs. Thus, if I wanted to have a wiki for my roommates, a wiki for my wife and I, a personal wiki, a wiki for a project with someone, and so on, I had to go through the tricky process of creating those and making them accessible through the web server.

Enter TWiki. TWiki promised to be a more powerful MoinMoin with the capacity for quickly creating new “webs”, or sub-wikis. TWiki’s syntax was unfortunately obtuse. It was possible to make it compatible with MoinMoin’s syntax, which I did, but I never worked all of the kinks out. Furthermore, it was more difficult to attach items in TWiki, and I found the interface very cluttered compared with MoinMoin. While I intended to make even heavier use of my TWiki than my MoinMoin site, in the end I used it less because it was inconvenient. Oh, and it requires you to log in every time you open a new browser window, which bothered the ever-living hell out of me. I hear they’re changing that in some CVS revision. Whatever.

These things are no longer an issue for me. I’m moving to Google Docs and Spreadsheets. It turns out that you can link from one google doc to another directly, which is the basic function of a wiki. Furthermore, google spreadsheets are (compared to wiki software) fantastically easier to use and more powerful. It’s possible to upload word, excel, openoffice spreadsheet, openoffice writer, text, html, and other files directly to google docs. It’s easy to share a google doc with one person, a few people, or even the entire internet, giving either read or read and write access to various people. Google docs can be grouped in multiple folders (tag-like), seen directly ranked by most-recent-edit in iGoogle, and accessed from pretty much anywhere. You can also download google docs in common file formats. I suspect soon complete offline access will be enabled with Gears a la Reader.

It has only been a week, but so far Google Docs as a wiki service is treating me well. Do you use it?

Walking on Water (with cornstarch)

In undergrad we learned about non-Newtonian fluids. Normally fluids that we’re familiar with (like water) have a constant viscosity. However, some fluids change their viscosity depending on strain rate. That is: they get thicker or thinner when you move something through them.

The quintessential example of this, often used in demonstrations, is to mix cornstarch and water in the right proportions. Then, if you put your finger in the fluid slowly, it goes right in. However, if you rapidly poke the surface of the fluid, it firms up, your finger is stopped, and leaves a dent in the surface, and if you take your finger away as rapidly as you inserted it, you typically end up with nothing on your finger.

I always wondered if it would be possible to run across a big pool of this stuff, provided one kept moving. Well, thanks to the Internets, I wonder no more. Observe:

Thanks to babayada for the initial link to YouTube (to another cornstarch and water video) via which I found this.

ADDENDUM: I just noticed that the very Wikipedia article I linked also references this video. Hah!

Early Hearty Friday


Originally uploaded by orticanoodles

I’m traveling this weekend and things will be less regular than usual. Not like my Hearty Friday posts have been regular or on Friday most of the time.

Also, most of my Hearty Friday posts from Flickr have been artistic hearts (as in, not anatomical). This one is art to be sure, but it’s more anatomically-accurate.

The enemy of the good

I came across this quote in the subversion book:

“It is important not to let the perfect become the enemy of the good, even when you can agree on what perfect is. Doubly so when you can’t. As unpleasant as it is to be trapped by past mistakes, you can’t make any progress by being afraid of your own shadow during design.” — George Hudson

Someone introduced me to this phrase in the last few weeks, “better is the enemy of good” or something like that. It’s an interesting maxim, especially for those of us who end up bent on creating the “perfect GTD system” or who are overly self-critical because we can’t do something-or-other perfectly. Sometimes working for perfect distracts us from producing or using something that’s good, and something good is better than nothing perfect. “Good enough” things are what keep us moving forward every day.

What are you striving for perfection on that’s preventing you from moving forward?