Category Archives: Open Source Software

Reviews and helpful hints related to open source software we’re familiar with.

The Perils of a Neglected Schedule

And One Possible Remedy

Has this ever happened to you?

You arrive at your office an hour early–determined to get in front of the demands of your job.  You check today’s schedule and make a mental note: “don’t forget to attend that important meeting at 2pm!”

Then, as more employees arrive, the pace at your office grows more hectic. A coworker drops by, asking for help with a project she’s working on. A lengthy phone call temporarily derails your train of thought.

And the morning races past.

You work through the lunch hour-so engrossed in the flurry of activity that you lose track of time. At 1:30pm, you’re summoned to help put out another fire.

Finally, it’s time to leave for your 2pm meeting. But you’re so caught up in the urgency of the immediate that it has slipped your mind entirely. You miss the meeting.

The Trouble with a Neglected Schedule

Maybe your life is so well-organized that this never happens to you. Mine sure isn’t.

In fact, this very scenario has played out in my professional life more often than I’d care to admit. Oh, I’ve read several time-management books-and vowed to implement every suggestion they offer. But then, another urgent crisis drowns out the ticking of my schedule clock, and I fall short on my commitments once again.

The problem isn’t with my schedule. It clearly identifies every meeting, every appointment, and every upcoming conference call. The problem is that often I neglect my schedule. I don’t give it the attention it deserves.  But what to do about schedule neglect?

Many time-management books advise you to shut down your e-mail program, so that inbound messages don’t distract you. Thus far, I haven’t figured out how to close Outlook and still see appointment reminders. Even when Outlook is open, that reminder dialog appears to play hide-and-seek, ducking behind other windows.

If only my schedule were able to call out to me, “Dave, come back! Look at me! You’ve got some important items on your docket!” If it could do this, I would have a better grasp of where I’m at, and where I need to be next.

One Solution

That’s why recently, I decided to devise a way for my schedule to seek me out. Several minutes before each meeting, my schedule actually calls me on the phone, giving a verbal reminder of each appointment. I won’t bore you with the programming details. But here’s a brief explanation of how it works (after the software has been configured to work with your schedule).

The process is simple. Just open your e-mail program, and create a typical appointment:

After setting the date and time, set a reminder as you normally would.

There’s just one difference: in the textbox below, type the word Cue: followed by 1 or 2. This cues the phone system to dial either your primary or secondary number (eg, office phone/cell phone).

With the new logic in place, my phone delivers a recorded message at just the right time: “This is a friendly reminder that you have an appointment 5 minutes from now.” And out from the fog, back to reality I come.

So here’s my question for you: Would you find this useful at your office? Do you think people might even be willing to pay for a service like this? For me, a reminder service that ties directly into my schedule is a priceless asset.

To paraphrase JFK, “Ask not how often you should check your schedule. Ask how often your schedule should check in with you.”

I’d welcome your feedback.

 

Used Phone System Available

Voice Over IP phone system
We recently upgraded the phone system in our office, swapping out hardware and adding more lines. So now we’re looking to place our previous PBX in a good home.
This Voice-Over-IP system is fully functional and would be great for a small office setting. The PBX has a number of cool functions, including:

  • Built-in voicemail with optional email notification
  • Browser-based speed dial, including the ability to click any hypertext number and have the system dial it for you.
  • Browser-based call history log
  • Conference calling
  • Blacklist capability
  • Customizable automated attendant

As configured, this PBX system can support up to 4 inbound analog phone lines. It can then share those lines amongst many internal phone extensions. Right now we have up to 7 desk phones available (see photos) but more could be added fairly easily.
When it was brand new, this phone system originally cost over $1000 for the PBX components, plus $159 for each desk phone.
We’ll install the PBX in your office, and customize the automated attended script, for just $350. The phone sets cost $35 each. Depending on your computer network, we might be able to use existing network wiring. If more wiring is needed, we can discuss.
You might be asking, “So is this an introductory teaser deal, where we’ll have to sign a contract and make ongoing payments?” Nope. The system is a few years old, and definitely upgradable—if you want to do that sometime down the road, we can help. But we’re not looking to rope anybody into a commitment they’re not happy with.
This offer includes travel to/from your office within the Metro-Milwaukee area. (I’d need to charge for travel to locations farther out.)

Software Review – FreeMind

FreeMind is a cool Open Source mind-mapping software application that works the way your mind does. The premise behind the software is that our human minds don’t organize thoughts in lists so much as it organizes in clusters of related thoughts.

Remember when you had to type your first term paper, and your instructor suggested that your write each thought on a notecard–then organize the notecards in logical piles? That’s akin to what FreeMind does: When you launch it, you start by creating a blank slate (or “mind map” using FreeMind’s lingo). You add a thought (or “node”) by pressing the Insert key and adding a descriptive label. Labels can be very short, or fairly long. Here’s a screenshot of what one of my recent mind maps looks like:

There’s no limit to the number of sub-nodes and/or thoughts you can add within a node–just pop open the node, press the Insert key, and type away.

I prefer to assign a different background color to each node, but you could choose to skip specifying background colors, if you prefer. For that matter, you can choose to not envelope nodes with a border. For me, the cloud shape around each node helps keep me focused. Here’s what a node looks like when you expand it…

To minimize a node, just click on the node label again, and it’ll shrink back down to its original size. You can also set up nodes as hyperlinks–so that when you click on them, they’ll pop open PDF files, spreadsheets and the like.

For more information, or to download and install FreeMind, visit http://freemind.sourceforge.net/wiki/index.php/Main_Page

If you’d like help getting FreeMind installed on your workstation or network, feel free to contact me.