Wednesday, December 21, 2011

New productivity tools

Like many people, I'm somewhat addicted to surfing the internet.  I have a handful of sites, including Facebook that I peek at many times per day, usually interrupting my workflow and concentration.  Its just so darn tempting to have your friends a mouse-click away or to be able to catch up on sports or news.

With 2 young boys at home, its becoming increasingly more important to stay on task and use my time efficiently.  For this reason I recently installed a browser plug-in for Google Chrome that sets limits to my surfing habits and cuts me off once I've wasted my allotted time limit.  Called StayFocused, you can quickly install this into your browser and tell the program how long you should be allowed to view a set of sites.

As seen below you can set the time frame and days of the week when you want this utility to be active.  This way you can have it free before and after work.

Once your time limit has been reached, a simple screen pops up instead of the website you were looking at. You can click the icon on the top right to see a counter of your remaining time, and the program warns you at 5 minutes and at 60 seconds before you are shut off.

There are other options for more thorough blockage as seen below.  I've liked having this tool installed for the past week, and its come in handy a few times, keeping me on task and productive.
If you don't use Chrome, I'm sure there are other similar utilities out there for other browsers.  If you are on a Mac, you can try Antisocial as a utility that blocks social networking sites. 

Another tool that I recently employed is the Spyder 3 monitor calibration tool.  I haven't been confident in my monitor colors lately due to some card art that printed quite a bit lighter than intended.  I work with 2 monitors; my primary Cintiq, which I paint on, and a secondary Dell monitor for my reference.  My Cintiq is quite a bit warmer (more magenta) than the Dell, which is much more green and higher-contrast.  The annyoing thing is that I think the Dell is more accurate, but its not the computer I'm actually looking at while doing my work, and I don't trust its high contrast look.  I've tried a few times to adjust the Cintiq to look the same as the Dell, but its always somewhat different and it just feels wrong.  

As seen above the Spyder is a mouse-sized device that plugs into you USB port.  Below we see how you hang it from the top of your monitor (there is a counter-weight) during the calibration process.  The device measures the ambient light hitting your screen then goes through a process of measuring various colored squares displayed on your screen.  Once finished, it tells your computer to use a custom color profile and changes how your display looks.  I was quite happy to see that just running this tool made my Cintiq look much more like my Dell, which I thought was more accurate, based on my prints.  

We also recently released a new podcast on our experiences at the recent Illuxcon Symposium.  For anyone interested in attending, have a listen!

OK, time for some art!  In recognition of the holidays, here are some Christmas cards (I guess you have to just say "happy holidays" if you're corporate) I made when I was at BioWare.  Yeah, they're old, but shooting Santa in the face is always timeless.