Cool Tools Review

Gerber EAB

I have subscribed to Kevin Kelly’s (KK) CoolTools blog pretty much since its inception. I love it because of the variety of interesting things that scroll across the blog. Every now and then I’ll stop to consider something I’m using and decide it would make a nice addition to the CoolTools blog. I did that a while back with a knife that I use pretty regularly, and the review was published this week.

KK has also made a book from the blog. Lots of books have been made from blogs, but this one is really great. It feels and reads like the old Whole Earth Catalog that my parents used to have laying around the house. I received a freebie copy because one of my old reviews was included in the book.

All my CoolTools reviews are here.


Productivity trio

There was a time when I was a complete honk for Getting Things Done, aka GTD. I first read the book back around 1999 or so, when I was working in Org Dev for a megacorp. I’ve been implementing, tweaking, and falling off the wagon ever since. I still think GTD is the seminal work in the field of personal productivity, but there are other shining lights. Two of my favorite are Mark Forster’s Do It Tomorrow and Mark Hurst’s Bit Literacy.

Anyway, these days I’ve kind of got my productivity schtick figured out. Not to say that it doesn’t need tuning from time to time, but I’ve basically settled on my toolset. Because of that I don’t really poke around the old personal productivity blogs or pay much attention to that space at all. Even so, the last week brought three interesting productivity-related items to my attention. Without much comment, here they are:

1. A drink company wrote a very thorough screed on using GTD with Evernote, called The Secret Weapon. Lots of people have taken a crack at this setup, but this is the nicest tutorial I’ve seen. Evernote really can be a universal capture tool for many people.

2. Mark Forster came out with a new time management system called Final Version. You can get the details by subscribing to his newsletter on his web site. I’ve looked at it, and it’s pretty straightforward. No special tools needed, and it can be easily implemented with pencil and paper. Might be worth looking at if GTD gives you fits.

3. Finally, speaking of GTD, David Allen has an article in the current NYT about the relevancy of GTD to today’s workers. Good reading.


How to create a new route in Runkeeper with a GPS data file

The problem: is a great service for tracking runs, but sometimes you want to create a new route based on a data file you might have. Currently (August 2011), there’s not an obvious way to do that. By default, Runkeeper wants you to physically map out routes using their mapping tool. That’s great for short routes on roads, but it’s less practical for longer trail runs.

The solution:
Here’s the tl;dr version…there only five steps:

  • Get your data file into GPX or TCX format.
  • Upload your new GPX/TCX file as a new (fake) activity to Runkeeper.
  • Go to your new activity and select “Create as route”.
  • Delete the new fake activity.
  • Go run!

Here’s the longer version…

  • Get your data file into GPX or TCX format. GPS data comes in a lot of weird formats. Runkeeper will only consume two of them. Here’s a recent personal example. I was traveling to Boise, ID and needed to do a 16 mile run, preferably on trails. I found a run, but the format was Google Earth’s KML format. I just grabbed a copy, went over to GPS Visualizer and converted the format over to GPX. If you’ve got some crazy original format that GPS Visualizer can’t convert, try downloading GPS Babel and using it to convert your file.
  • Upload your new GPX/TCX file as a new (fake and temporary) activity to Runkeeper. If you’ve used Runkeeper at all, this will be a familiar process, though not one that you’ve likely tried before. Just hit the big blue ‘Post New Activity’ button, as usual. Indicate your activity type and your equipment type should be ‘none.’ Hit next. On the following screen, select the ‘Import Map’ button in the center of the screen. You’ll see a prompt to select a file that’s located on your computer. Click the ‘Choose File’ button to navigate to your newly converted GPX file. If all is well, your screen should quickly change to display a map with what looks like your new route. Hit the ‘Next’ button. Here’s where you’ve got to fake out the system a bit. Input a time…use 1 hour just to be simple. You might make a note in the “How did it go?” field just to say this is a temporary placeholder. Hit the big blue Save button.
  • Go to your new fake temporary activity and select “Create as route” from the bottom left corner of the map. Now go to your activity stream and select your newly added (fake) activity. Down at the bottom left corner of the map you should see a link in small blue text that says, “add to your routes.” Click it. Input your route info and hit save.
  • Delete your new fake temporary activity. Now go back to your activity stream and delete your fake activity by selecting the activity and clicking the ‘delete’ text link in the upper right corner above the map.
  • That’s it! You’ve just hacked Runkeeper to create a new route from a GPS file. Go run!

Relentless Forward Progress

I’ve been running lately. I’ve run a bunch of 5k races in the past, but usually right off the couch…no training. I’d been floating around without a goal, so I figured that training for a 10k would be a good one. I used a training program on to get ready, and it worked great. It ended up that I couldn’t run the race I’d registered for, but that was okay. I’d been running plenty of 10k’s all by myself.

Anyway, after training for the 10k I needed a new goal. That’s pretty easy to figure out, since it’d just be the next distance up from a 10k which is a half-marathon (13.1 miles). It doesn’t take a genius to see that it’s just one distance after the next. The thing is, I don’t really have any interest in running a road marathon (26.2 miles). I do, however, have an interest in running on mountain trails. So I started looking into trail running which led me to learn about ultramarathon running, which usually happens on trails. So here’s my secret: I’m kind of interested in running an ultra.

So, in the course of looking around and trying to find more info, I ran into The proprietor, Bryon, recently wrote a book about training for ultras called, Relentless Forward Progress. My copy arrived about a week ago, and I’ve been devouring it. It’s been an easy read, but full of great information from a wide range of runners. The book has several essays from elite ultrarunners, along with some super practical advice on training, nutrition, and equipment. It’s been a completely worthwhile purchase, and definitely a book I’ll be referring back to frequently.

I wasn’t sure how this post would factor into the simplicity focus of this blog but, as it happens, ultra running tends to be at the forefront of the minimalist movement in terms of footwear and gear. Guys like Tony Krupicka really epitomize minimalism and ultra running. Tony in particular tends to barely attend to hydration and nutrition on his long training runs. I’m definitely not quite there, but I understand what he’s doing in terms of trying to acclimate his body to being able to function under extreme hardship. Highly commendable.

I wouldn’t classify myself as a minimalist runner, but I’m testing out whether shoes with a lower “drop” have any value to me. In the past I’ve always run in standard running shoes which had a heel significantly higher than the toe. This differential between the ball of the foot and the heel of the foot can be as much as 12mm. I’m currently running in a pair of Inov-8 Road-X 255‘s. As I write this, I’ve got about 80 miles on them. They’ve been a fine shoe, and though I’ve got no complaints, I’m also not the most sophisticated evaluator of running shoes. I’ve been intentionally conscious about my running form, and trying plant my foot under my hips rather than land on my heel as I run. I think I’ve been doing okay with this, but it’s kind of hard to coach and evaluate myself!

I’ve got several friends who run in Vibram Five Fingers, which I personally find aesthetically abhorrent. I’m sure it’s a fine shoe, it just looks ridiculous to me. Which of course has no bearing on whether a shoe is a good performer on the road or trails. The big benefit to the VFF shoe is the ‘zero drop,’ or the lack of differential between the heel and the forefoot. This lack of drop is not unique to the VFF, as there are several shoes on the market with the same quality. I’m guessing that Vibram is marketing the independent movement of toes as a differentiating factor among its offering. Whatever. If the VFF shoes work for you, and your dignity can absorb the blow, more power to you. I’ll find other options.



And as long as we’re talking about passwords…


An Internet Literacy

I think this post on better Internet literacy is just right on. Especially the question about ‘what are the 10 things we wish everyone on the Internet knew.’ I’m not sure I can come up with a full ten things, but here’s a shot at it, and I’m poaching some of the things the original author mentioned…

  1. The value of using multiple browsers
  2. How to sync bookmarks across browsers (and good use of bookmark toolbars)
  3. How to read URLs (in order to thwart spoofing)
  4. The importance of strong passwords, and how to construct unique, easy to remember passwords
  5. How to use an online bookmarking service (and why)
  6. Basic security when using public WiFi
  7. The basics of online presence and reputation

Relatedly, this post about eight critical skills for the future is also right on the money. The skills listed are sort of higher level thinking, but important nonetheless:

  1. Communication management
  2. Reputation management
  3. Privacy management
  4. Information management
  5. Opportunity management
  6. Technology management
  7. Relationship management
  8. Legacy management

Others have also mentioned the lasting importance of two ‘old school’ skills: time management, and money management. That sounds right to me…as long as time and money are in short supply for individuals, these skills will be critical.


Another good reason to avoid neckties. (I thought Semmelweis figured this out 160 years ago)


Just a quick pointer to my recent review of the porteur rack I’ve got on my bike.