The strange things done in the midnight sun…

Well, it’s time I shared the other big news of my life. After a year of hunting for a permanent, full-time position, I’ve been offered a position for a job I’m sure to love in Yellowknife.

For the geographically challenged folks out there, Yellowknife is the largest city (pop. 20K) in the North West Territories atop Canada –find Alberta on your map and let your eye drift northwards– and is rather close to the Arctic Circle. In fact, the picture at left was taken from my hotel room at about 1:00 or 1:30 am, and the midnight almost-sun shows the necessity of having thick curtains in the summertime. In the Winter months, there’s an equal amount of darkness. Summer temperatures range from 15-30C and the mercury in Winter can often drop to -30C. (People’s tires freeze to square shapes, I’m told.)

No doubt a few people are scratching their heads. Why, they ask, are you heading to a small, frigid place enshrouded by darkness half the year? Well, that’s a misperception, but I’ll deal with that in a minute.

The days of short-term contracts can be frustrating, especially when it comes to ensuring any sense of stability, and –with several mouths to feed– knowing where the next meal is coming from is always a worry. I used to love freelance work, but owing to a number of factors (mainly geography, overseas outsourcing, and those user-friendly technologies accessible to more amateurs), the contracts are becoming less frequent and less interesting. I want a job where I can grow, where I can learn, where I can exercise my media-related skills, and where I can become part of a team that really cares about what it’s doing. Jenny and I want a community that’s small enough to be close-knit, yet large enough to provide for our wants (including fresh produce like cilantro and mangos) — we want a place where we can feel comfortable settling down. And I’m a pretty rustic guy, so I like to commune frequently with the natural world, a faithful hound by my side.

I flew up to Yellowknife for a weekend (it took 23 hours to arrive from St. John’s, Newfoundland — a heck of a commute), and I got to know more about the organisation and the city. I can say that I was pleased at every turn. The company and its projects seem quite exciting, the opportunities for professional growth and learning are certainly there, and –hey– it’s mostly a Mac shop. Meanwhile, the people in the city (population about 20,000) are exceedingly friendly and culturally diverse, the shops seem to cater to every one of our necessities, and a wild and wonderful natural world of trees and lakes and animals is only minutes away. It’s also very warm, and the air is fresh and alive with all the greenery and flowers. Between the job and the location, it’s certainly the most exciting offer I’ve received, and there’s no hesitation in seizing it.

I’m in the throes of packing right now (Jenny just returned from hospital, so she won’t be in any condition to do much), and I’ll be heading north in the next few weeks to find a place and get things set up. Jenny, two-year-old Conor, and newborn Daniel will be joining me within a month or so. I must say, every indication points to a great future for the Johnston clan….

Introducing Daniel Karl Johnston

Introducing my new son Daniel Karl Johnston, born late last night at 9 lbs 3 oz. Here he is, some five minutes old, with his proud mama and papa.

Daniel in the delivery room

For those interested, I’ll post a photostream later with more pictures and details.

I also have some more big news to share, which I’ll post as soon as I get a breather. (I assure you, there are good reasons for my absences of late….)

43 Folders on DEVONthink and Smart Groups

Over at 43 Folders, Merlin Mann is rediscovering the wonderful Mac application that is DEVONthink Pro – DEVONthink: An appreciation of “smart groups”

I’ve now had DT Pro v. 1.1.1 in battlefield action for the last few weeks, and have been dutifully feeding it anything I find that seems tangentially interesting or useful; a few custom Quicksilver triggers mean one-click, no-look addition of any data type, from web pages to text selections to photos, full PDFs, and movie files.

DEVONthink Pro is probably my favourite piece of software. Ever. While I use a score of multimedia applications (Photoshop, Illustrator, Dreamweaver, etc.) on a regular basis, I am –by nature and trade, in the broadest sense– an information worker. I need a digital commonplace book to collect, track and act upon all those things that Merlin mentions, and much more. While DEVONthink Personal proved an excellent application for doing this, the introduction of DT Pro and its subsequent updates have left me continually astounded. (See my earlier detailed review of DT for more information.)

Merlin goes on to mention the “smart groups” –basically, agents to collect items automatically based upon their content or properties– but I’ve always found that its real power starts to show with things like concordance (estimations of related items — see Berlin’s article), offline archiving of web pages (very useful for changing sites like the NYT), sheets and records (think about a database), Dashboard widgets for quick access, and a teeming horde of AppleScripts. Those starting off with the software might not appreciate all these functions, but I can assure you that they all come in very handy, very soon. And the fact that DT/Pro gets “smarter” as you feed more information into it translates into a more powerful application every day.

Those needing to dig up knowledge on a constant basis can take the application a step further, though: I’m just now exploring DEVONagent, an “intelligent research assistant.” For a long while, I resisted: I’m definitely a Google power-user, and it seemed to do everything I needed it to do. Or so I thought. It turns out that DA has increased my research abilities many-fold. It scours not only the web in general, but also specific online databases to collect and collate information, compiling a useful text-only preview of all those tidbits it thinks I might like to know. With one click I can view the full pages in an integrated (tabbed) browser, or add the information into DTP. The new version also adds an interesting “visualiser” to see how other words and topics relate to your current item. The application takes a little getting used to, but it really pays off after a week or two.

So much information, so little time. At least with the DEVON gear, I can generally make the most of it.

Getting Past the Ego

A particularly lucid comment left by eletherious on my post “So you wanna start a blog?” has me thinking of a suitable response:

However, what you do not answer is why would someone blog rather than create a web site? Both requre the same focus and discipline over focus and content. It would seem that a web site provides more content and design flexibility whereas a blog is more one dimensional – literary / literal?

In the nearly fourteen years I’ve been producing both static and dynamic websites (oh, that makes me feel so old), this is a question with which I’ve grappled time and again. In fact, in the early days of blogs, when they were driven almost exclusively as vanity projects, I was one among many who resisted the creation of any product that stood simply as a monumount to one’s ego, perferring instead to produce a non-blog site that might showcase my writing, my artwork, my web design skills, and so on.

Do you see a difference between the two, as fundamentally ego-driven projects? In retrospect, I can’t. But I think this is due to a certain levelling of the stigma attached to both types of sites, and especially blogs. They aren’t simply vanity projects any longer, but also vital sources of ideas and information, and –ironically– a personal “static” website is more likely to be viewed with an air of hoity-toitiness (to use a technical term). After all, many static sites beg us to come back often and check for updates. Why should we? They rarely make those updates easy to find. Are we expected to troll through every page looking for something new every week? Isn’t that presumptuous, in a way? What could bring us back so regularly?

Continue reading “Getting Past the Ego”