Sunday, August 23, 2009

Organize Your Personal Life Online

On the right side of this blog, below my profile picture, there is a section called “Chad’s Channels.” Please take two seconds to glance at it. Thanks.

Next to each of those channels is a number in parenthesis. The number refers to the number of blog posts that are aligned to each channel. In many cases, single posts fall into multiple channels.

These channels [“tags” or “labels” in web-speak], are keywords and short phrases that I can use to describe most any topic relevant to me. At the base of any post, some of those same channels are in view.

On one Sunday, feeling a little drained by online content and seeking a life less focused on the computer, I sat with Emily at one of my favorite coffee shops, Catalina Coffee, and formed 20 channels. The idea was that all things I need to keep organized in my personal life could somehow be grouped within them.

They are not perfect, and I have modified them since that day earlier this year, but for the most part, they remain pat and work for what I was originally aiming to accomplish. The byproduct is that I now have an interconnected structure to organize my life online, increasing time spent off the computer (i.e., life offline).

Across my personal computer (PC), there are four locations where I employ this simple system to direct traffic--particularly digital content and electronic files.

1. My Blog
2. My Bookmarks in Internet Explorer
3. My Documents
4. My Email Account

I try not to tweak the channels much in any area, as spending any time dwelling on their meaning defeats the purpose of allowing them to free me from spending time chasing files and searching unnecessarily for otherwise-lost emails. The important idea is that their naming is consistent, no matter where on my PC they reside.

There can be folders within folders, or bookmarks within bookmarks, no big deal. All of my channels are in alphabetical order. 12 of them are single-worded, and the remaining ones are double-worded. All the double-worded categories are meant to describe better what it is that I intend to capture.

Most of the channels are self-explanatory. Below, next to each one, I have written a brief description just in case. And to give you an idea of what is in my bookmarks, I also included one website that I have aligned to each category, allowing this post to be somewhat fun. Do enjoy.

1. Budget
- All things budget; day-to-day, what am I spending and how much am I saving?
2. Cars
- All things cars, for both Emily and me; current and future cars
- Davis Chevrolet
3. Clothing
- I do not do a lot of shopping, especially for clothes, but when I do, it is often online.
- Ownly Custom Designed Shirts
4. Culture
- This serves as a bit of a catch-all: books, humor languages, movies, museums, and the like.
- Houston International Festival
5. Education
- Primarily college-related stuff, plus other resources for research, etc.
- The University of Texas at Austin
6. Entrepreneurship
- All websites, files, email messages, etc., that interest me from a commerce perspective
- Houston Technology Center
7. Food + Drink
- Restaurants in our home city, Houston, our home-away-from-home city, Austin, and all else gastronomique
- Yelp
8. Friends + Family
- Yep, this one is a good one to keep organized.
- H'town w/Emily Covey
9. Health + Fitness
- Doing physical activity on a daily basis is important to me, and always has been.
- Heights Jiu-Jitsu Club
10. Home + Vicinity
- Related to our home and neighborhood, Cherryhurst. Why ‘vicinity’? Well, the word ‘neighborhood’ is a little too specific, too long, and did not quite grab all I wanted to capture.
- Cherryhurst Civic Association
11. Investing
- I am not much of an investor, but I like to watch other investors and occasionally will tinker with investments of my own.
- Berkshire Hathaway Inc.
12. Music
- I listen to a lot of music online and offline, and this section is rather well organized, especially in bookmarks.
- Austin City Limits
13. Politics
- I pay close attention to politics on a number of levels.
- Stratfor
14. Service + Non-profit
- A man needs to do his share of volunteering and giving.
- Casa de Esperanza
15. Social + Networking
- I am a networking fiend; the email inventory within this channel is pretty stout.
- LinkedIn
16. Spirituality
- Boxing spirituality into a category feels weird, but it enables me to check church schedules and study the Word in a way I never imagined.
- Chapelwood United Methodist
17. Sports
- Big topic. I have not yet written a sports-related post; expect one soon.
- National Football League
18. Technology
- This is a huge area, especially in bookmarks–as I am always dabbling in new technologies.
- Jing
19. Travel + Adventure
- All conversations I have related to travel are saved here. I like sharing hard to find travel information, and I go directly to my channels to find what I can offer.
- Wikitravel
20. Writing + Speaking
- I am hardly a writer, and apart from going to a few Toastmasters classes, I have not done much public speaking. But I like both and therefore keep this category.
- MediaBistro

It goes without saying that, while the example I used here referred to my own PC’s organization, the same principals can be used for organizing your workstation.

If you are not doing something like this already, and feel that your life online needs straightening, this method just might do the trick. Consider your interests, what you like to do, how you spend your time and form your own channels.

If your life online is disorganized, it can limit the freedom you have in your life offline; but take steps to establish a personalized order, and the opposite effect can be true. Give it a try, and let me know how it goes.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

An (August) Outdoor Music Festival in Houston

The Free Press Summer Fest presented itself in Houston this weekend. Set at Eleanor Tinsley Park, with a view of the city's downtown skyline behind its stages, the two-day festival was as much as one could have hoped for and more.

Ride your bike, bring a blanket to sit on, and wear your swim suit!” was the festival motto, befitting of the summery scene alongside Buffalo Bayou.

Hardly Lollapalooza, which also took place over the weekend—in Chicago—the far smaller and less promoted Free Press Summer Fest boasted a lineup that was formidable in its own way.

Popular bands such as Broken Social Scene, Explosions in the Sky, Of Montreal, and hometown favorites, like The Small Sounds, pleased festival goers despite typical heat, humidity and even rainfall.

Houstonians persevered though, not without a little help from Vitamin Water and Anheuser-Busch and craft beer products provided by Silver Eagle Distributors. The dunking booth and snow cone stand were cool features too.

As festivals go, the Free Press Summer Fest went well–especially since this was its first year on the calendar–and brought out many of the positive qualities and colorful people that the Space City has to offer.

Houston does not regularly find itself on the summer music festival destination route–or any summer destination route, for that matter. Thought of in the concert world as a stop-over between New Orleans and Austin, the city attracts top-of-the-chart musicians now and again, but not with frequency. There is hope for change.

When a conversation in Texas turns to live music, Houston is often overshadowed by Austin, host of the gold-standard SXSW Music and Media Conference and C3 Presents-run ACL Music Festival. Anyone who has attended either annual event knows how well-coordinated and enticing to sponsors those are.

To understand the significance of the Free Press Summer Fest being in Houston, one must recognize that this country's festival culture has grown steadily in recent years. Click any festival name below to grasp what this phenomenon has become.

The Echo Project
Jazz Aspen Snowmass
New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival
San Francisco’s Outlands Music & Arts Festival
Treasure Island Music Festival

Fun for people of most ages, music festivals are on the rise in an industry that has otherwise been flattened in the digital age. No longer Woodstock; these events are money-making ventures put on by can-do entrepreneurs.

Logistically challenging, however, they are not easy to organize and pull off.

Props go to Omar Afra for bringing the Free Press Summer Fest to Houston, a city that was hungry for it. Afra is publisher of the Free Press Houston, originator of the Westheimer Block Party and part-owner of Mango’s CafĂ©.

Here’s to another serving of hot music in 2010 – please, just not in August!