Being BAD at task management

I have co-authored a paper with a colleague, David Jones which was published at the ASCILITE2014 conference being held in Dunedin New Zealand.  The paper was titled Breaking BAD to bridge the reality/rhetoric chasm.  The reality/rhetoric chasm is best expressed through the following metaphor, in the words of Professor Mark Brown:

E-learning’s a bit like teenage sex.  Everyone says they’re doing it but not many people really are and those that are doing it are doing it very poorly. (Laxon, 2013, n.p).

A central tenet of the paper is the following argument about this chasm:

Our argument is that the set of implicit assumptions that underpin the practice of institutional e-learning within universities (which we’ll summarise under the acronym SET) leads to a digital and material environment that contributes significantly to the reality/rhetoric chasm. The argument is that while this mindset underpins how universities go about the task of institutional e-learning, they won’t be able to bridge the chasm.

Instead, we argue that another mindset needs to play a larger role in institutional practice. How much we don’t know. We’ll summarise this mindset under the acronym “BAD”.

A comparison of SET and BAD is provided in the following table:

Component SET  BAD
What work gets done? Strategy – following a global plan intended to achieve a pre-identified desired future state Bricolage – local piecemeal action responding to emerging contingencies
How ICT is perceived? Established – ICT is a hard technology and cannot be changed. People and their practices must be modified to fit the fixed functionality of the technology. Affordances – ICT is a soft technology that can be modified to meet the needs of its users, their context, and what they would like to achieve.
How you see the world? Tree-like – the world is relatively stable and predictable. It can be understood through logical decomposition into a hierarchy of distinct black boxes. Distributed – the world is complex, dynamic, and consists of interdependent assemblages of diverse actors (human and not) connected via complex networks.

The paper uses the establishment of the Moodle Activity Viewer (MAV) at my institution as an example of using BAD principles to improve e-learning.  However, this is not the focus of this blog post.  As a means of improving my own conceptions of BAD, SET and their interplay, I have begun reflecting on how I have unwittingly applied BAD principles to my other endeavours.  A recent example relates to my use of task management software which is detailed in a recent post, but for which I’ll summarise here for brevity.

I recently switched to a new task management system called Omnifocus.  Omnifocus provides the ability to select what it calls perspectives to show your tasks in different ways according to your workflows and context.  One such perspective new to their recently released OSX version is called the Forecast Perspective.  This perspective for the coming days, shows what tasks are due to be started (deferred to a later date when entered) and what tasks are due to be completed.  This information is then augmented with appointments found in your OSX calendar application.  Its a lovely way to see what you need to do, along side what existing time-based commitments you have to help plan to get things done.  But there was a problem.  Any deferred tasks that were not completed on the date they were deferred to, would not shift to the next day in the Forecast perspective.  Instead, they simply disappear from the perspective entirely until their due date.  Through an online search to see if I had mis-configured my database or if anyone else was as baffled as I was, I came across the following entry on the Omnifocus discussion boards:

I’m going to submit this as a feature as well, but I figure I’ll post it here to see whether it can get more traction. My issue is this:

If I have Deferred something to a start date in the future, odds are I probably think it’s pretty important that it starts on that day.

However, what happens if that day comes and goes and I didn’t start the item? In Forecast, the item disappears. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Forecast shouldn’t only be showing me the “past due” things I assigned dates to, but things I didn’t touch that I was supposed to.

Seems I was not alone in my frustration.  The forum continued with discussion of various work-arounds, none of which I found particularly suitable to my context.  So I sought other possibilities to resolve my problem.

Omnifocus makes use of the OSX Applescript frameworks which provide a high-level scripting language that can be used to customise behaviour and automate tasks to make things work in ways not originally conceived by software creators.  A handful of applescript contributors exist that have created some very useful Applescripts for Omnifocus.  One such contributor Curt Clifton has created a script that identifies projects where there is no next action to perform, suggesting that the project may have stalled.

The significance of this script is that I have been able to adapt it to solve my problem with deferred tasks disappearing from the Forecast view when they are not completed on the defer date.

Returning to the principles of BAD, there are some alignments undertaken by the Omnigroup company to allow customers to ‘break bad’ by customising their Omnifocus product to yield to their ends.  In the absence of the Applescript integration in Omnifocus, there would be little hope other than waiting for Omnigroup to implement a feature to address the limitation.

The integration of the Applescript framework into Omnifocus allows Bricolage to occur.  It offers Affordances such that I and others are able to solve problems locally and contextually according to our own specific needs and wants.  The creation and use of this bricolage is distributed – Omnifocus do not have direct control or management over the extensions that can be applied.  Things can be developed and/or shared in a Distributed fashion according to the needs of individuals.

While the use of the Applescript framework won’t solve everyone’s issues and challenges, like many products that do integrate an Applescript Dictionary, it does shift away from the traditional SET mindset of software development.

Omnifocus2 – A tale of the disappearing deferred tasks

Sadly due to work commitments, I have neglected my blog over the past 2 years.  I plan to reinvigorate things again, starting with this post that I wrote back in August 2014, but never actually pressed the ‘Publish’ button.

I have recently switched from my existing Mac-based task management software Things, to a new product called Omnifocus.  Without getting into the details that have lead to this switch, suffice it to say that Things development moves at a slower pace than I am satisfied with.  I have been trialling Omnifocus for about a month, and while it does have some extra features over Things, it of course has limitations.

Understandably, creating task management software that will yield to the demands of a diverse user base is nigh impossible.  Omnifocus is no exception. One demand of the software that I have is to be able to better plan/schedule my projects and tasks into a calendar.  Omnifocus includes what is called a Forecast Perspective on your projects and tasks.  It is a way to see in a somewhat calendar type view when tasks are scheduled to begin (deferred), and when they are due, along-side my daily appointments as gleened from my Mac OSX Calendar.

This I thought was wonderful as I could then plan out my days and weeks according to what was in my calendar in terms of appointments, and what tasks I had to complete.  But then a problem arose that was unforeseen, and that afflicted more than just myself as explained in this forum post excerpt on the Omnigroup discussion forums:

I’m going to submit this as a feature as well, but I figure I’ll post it here to see whether it can get more traction. My issue is this: If I have Deferred something to a start date in the future, odds are I probably think it’s pretty important that it starts on that day. However, what happens if that day comes and goes and I didn’t start the item? In Forecast, the item disappears. That doesn’t make any sense to me. Forecast shouldn’t only be showing me the “past due” things I assigned dates to, but things I didn’t touch that I was supposed to.

If a deferred task is not done on the day it was deferred to, the following day it would simply disappear from the forecast view altogether.  Not very helpful when forecasting. The discussion thread continues with contributors arguing the merits of changing the software to overcome this limitation, along with a swathe of work-arounds, none of which I found particularly satisfactory to my needs and context. This got me thinking… what if each morning, there was a way that I could select all tasks that were incomplete and had a defer date earlier than today?  I could then update the defer date on all these tasks to be today, and voila, they reappear in my Forecast Perspective.

But how would I do this? Omnifocus makes use of the OSX Applescript frameworks which provide a high-level scripting language that can be used to customise behaviour and automate tasks to make things work in ways not originally conceived by software creators.  A handful of applescript contributors exist that have created some very useful Applescripts for Omnifocus.  One such contributor Curt Clifton has created a script that identifies projects where there is no next action to perform, suggesting that the project may have stalled. The significance of this script is that I have been able to adapt it to solve my problem with deferred tasks disappearing from the Forecast view when they are not completed on the defer date.

If you are frustrated with this limitation of Omnifocus, and you don’t mind losing your originally specified defer date for your tasks, then my DeferOldToNow Applescript might be of use to you.  What the script does is, recursively traverse all of your active projects, looking for incomplete tasks that have a defer date that is older than the present date.  On finding each task, it then sets the defer date to the present. If you are interested in the Applescript code, or would like to contribute updates, the source is available on github.

When the script completes, visiting your Forecast Perspective will once again reveal all tasks that were past their deferred date, and incomplete.  They appear under “today”.  Once they reappear here, you can then defer them again to some time in the future if you need to, but at least they are visible and you are reminded that they haven’t been done. I hope this Applescript proves useful to other users of Omnifocus.  If it does, give me a shout out in the comments section.  Happy Omnifocussing!

Damo.

DVICO Remote Control for MythTV Frontend on Mac OS

Have a Mac OS MythTV Frontend, and a DVICO remote control and USB receiver?  Like them to work together?  This blog post may help you.

I have the above scenario and was looking for a way to remote control an old Power Mac G4 (circa 2001) running MythTV as a frontend.  The machine does a stellar job running my 42″ Fujitsu Plasma panel, however the inconvenience of having to get off my arse to fast forward advertisements was just too much.  So I searched around and found the wonderful DVICO Remote Application for Mac OS by Peter Wyss.  The way DVICO Remote works is to call an Applescript each time a remote button is pressed.  The Applescript is passed some parameters from the DVICO USB Receiver driver (also by Peter) which it then uses to determine which remote button was pressed.  The Applescript then simply performs an action based on the remote button.  The Applescripts provided by Peter supported only iTele and iTunes, neither of which I was using.  So I read through Peter’s Applescripts and did some Google searches.  I found Applescript to be a very cryptic and difficult language to learn, due to the scattered and sketchy online documentation it has – unless of course purchasing a book.  I’m too cheap for that.  Anyway, after a little frustration and hair pulling, I created an Applescript that would translate DVICO remote control buttons into instructions for a MythTV Frontend on a Mac.

The script cannot be uploaded to my blog, so it is linked to my Dropbox account.  After downloading the .scpt file, copy it over the IrRemote.scpt file located in Peter’s DVICO Remote Control Application.  The path is:

/Applications/DVICO Remote.app/Contents/Resources/AppleScripts

Then point and shoot.

Peter also has instructions on his website for replacing the default Applescripts with custom ones.

If anyone finds this script useful, I’d love to hear from you.  Leave me a message at the bottom of this post. 🙂