Reducing Aural & visual notification clutter

I, like many of us, am constantly bombarded by small interruptions that not only negatively affect my productivity, but often can affect my mood. From my phone, it’s notifications: iMessage, twitter, games, hockey scores, email. On my computer,it’s alerts: new email, Skype, iChat, file transfer, etc.

I usually keep my phone on silent mode, which by default makes it buzz for all of these updates – once for most notifications, twice for SMS. I decided recently to turn off the vibrate on silent. And you know what, it’s great. I don’t’ find the visual alert bothersome – most of the time my phone’s on my desk, or in a dock, so I can at a glance see if something’s important. But if I’m focussed on something else, I can ignore it completely. The notifications centre is always there to review what I’ve missed, on my schedule. But whenever my phone buzzed, that would distract me & I’d lose my concentration. I’ve felt so much better since turning off vibrate.

Likewise, on the computer, I’ve turned off all aural notifications – not beeps or rings on Skype, or iChat. Where possible, I’ve also made the visual clues more subtle: rather than bouncing the icon in the dock, just show an alert there – a star or a number, or whatever the app’s settings are. Again – this lets me know that there’s something there, but it’s not an aural, or even much of visual distraction. Particularly during my witching hour of the post-lunch sleepies from 1 – 3 pm, I find this change has in particular immensely helped my ability to stay focussed on my tasks at hand.

Of course, there’s some irony in that while working, I am usually listening to music – which I know a lot of people find distracting in and of itself. For me, however, music is sort of like a white-noise machine: It blocks out the other, less predictable noises of the traffic outside, my office neighbours’ phone conversations, my staff’s discussions. It even blocks out the pesky, critical voices in my own head a lot of the time, which is really great. Plus, music enables the sublime: that moment that you fix the bug right as the track reaches the crescendo, or you’re racing for a deadline and some great techno, whose bpm perfectly matches the speed of your fingers on the keyboard, or late in the day when you need a pick me up and some random, terribly catchy pop tunes comes on and you can sing along and get that important pick-me up.

French (and other) accents in Mac OS X

So I only just learned this, and so thought I’d pass it along for others, and also, as a handily searchable record for myself, so here’s the list:

  • Accent Grave (à): option + ` – followed by the letter
  • Accent Aigu (é): option + e – followed by the letter
  • Accent Circonflex (ô): option + o – followed by the letter
  • Cédille: (ç): option + c
  • Tréma (ü): option + u – followed by the letter

Some other useful codes:

  • ellipses (…): option + :
  • n-dash (–): option + –
  • m-dash (—): option + shift + –

generally, if you’re looking for a special code, hold the option key and start pressing around. I’ve tried to find a comprehensive list on the apple support site without luck. So happy typing!

tips for running ColdFusion on Mac os X (Leopard)

My home computer has been a Mac for some time now, although I still use a PC at work. This means that I’ve been switching back and forth between dev environments, and have learned a wack of things about getting ColdFusion 8 set up on a Mac. Some of these are more general “dev on a mac” tips, but apply, so here goes:

  1. Run ColdFusion from the command line:
    cd /Applications/JRun4
    sudo start cfuson

    Leave the terminal window open, and you’ve got a great debugger and view into what’s going on behind the scenes. Also – always run ColdFusion as root, or you’ll get the occasional odd error, to do with permissioning.

  2. Set up Virtual hosts: this is a general local-dev tip, but I find it even more helpful in the Mac/Apache environment than in the PC environment. You’ll need to edit your hosts file (found in /private/etc), and add in an entry per site, in the following format (where [sitename] is the name of your site): [sitename].local

    which will allow you to browse to http://[sitename].local/ to view your site – much nicer than http://localhost/[sitename]/.

  3. Configure Apache to support Virtual hosts: To this to allow yourself to create aliases, custom 404 errors, etc. This is done in the following way:
    1. Edit httpd.conf. You’re looking for line (somewhere near the bottom, that looks like:
      # Virtual hosts
      #Include /private/etc/apache2/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf

      Edit the second line to remove the #, so it looks like:

      # Virtual hosts
      Include /private/etc/apache2/extra/httpd-vhosts.conf
    2. Edit the httpd-vhosts.conf file. In there, you’ll find a sample virtual host. Delete, or comment that out, then add the following line:
      Include /private/etc/apache2/vhosts/*.conf

      Then save and close the file.

    3. Create a new folder in /private/etc/apache2 called “vhosts”, then create a new file called [sitename].conf.
    4. Open [sitename].conf, and put in the following:
      <VirtualHost *:80>
          ServerAdmin webmaster@[sitename].local
          DocumentRoot "/Path/to/[sitename]"
          ServerName [sitename].local
          ErrorLog "/private/var/log/apache2/[sitename]-error_log"
          CustomLog "/private/var/log/apache2/[sitename]-access_log" common
          ErrorDocument 404 "/404Custom.cfm"
          DirectoryIndex index.cfm index.html index.htm
         <Directory /Path/to/[sitename]>
          Options Indexes FollowSymLinks
          AllowOverride All
          Order allow,deny
          Allow from all
      Alias /cfide /Library/WebServer/Documents/CFIDE
    5. If you need to add other aliases, do so in there. Then save the file.
    6. restart apache, with the following command:
      sudo apachectl restart
    7. You’re done! You should now have a happily running ColdFusion site on your local box.
  4. Set up Custom 404 handlers/stubless folders: This is all about getting mod_rewrite working. To do this, open httpd.conf and ensure that the mod_rewrite module is NOT commented out. Then, in your site folder, create a .htaccess file, with the following in it:
    RewriteEngine On
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-f
    RewriteCond %{REQUEST_FILENAME} !-d
    RewriteRule (.*) /404Custom.cfm?%{REQUEST_URI}

    You can now use your 404Custom.cfm script to redirect and handle those 404s however you like.

  5. Avoid Lazy coding: If you were like me, you likely had some code that referenced cgi.path_info to figure out where a script was. This won’t work on Mac OS X. Fortunately, the cgi.path_translated works just fine – only remember that this includes the file. Likewise, if you’re directory crawling, *nix paths use “/” to separate folders, whereas windows paths use “” it’s super easy to store a variable for if/when you’re doing file & directory management work, and will make your code that much more portable. Plus, you’ll likely avoid the 8-odd hours of frustration I had when I first switched, and didn’t realize that I had left some windows-specific pathing in some old code.
  6. Tell me how to get cfchart working: I don’t know what the issue is here, and I’m sure it’s something I’ve done, but I cannot seem to get flash-based cfcharts to run on Mac OS X – if you have, please tell me, it would make me very happy.

Happy Coding!

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