Archives for Reviews
Piers Steel’s new book The Procrastination Equation made its way to my door last week. I’ll admit, the title taunted me to put off reading it — it’s as if just seeing the word procrastination could create a self-fulfilling prophecy — but, I didn’t. I finished it three days after first picking it up.
Steel has produced an exhaustive look at the research, history, definition, forms, and treatment of procrastination. (Note: Exhaustive may be underselling it, as there are 73 pages of endnotes following the 220 pages of manuscript.) The research, history, and forms of procrastination sections of his book are its strength and most captivating. Until I read Steel’s book, I had no idea ancient Egyptians had eight hieroglyphs referring to delay, one of which specifically implies neglect and/or forgetfulness. Procrastination clearly isn’t a new problem created by modern workers’ addictions to Facebook. Although, I also learned from reading the book that Facebook has such an addictive draw that half of people who personally close their accounts reactivate them.
From a section of the text, “What Procrastination Is and Isn’t”:
By procrastinating you are not just delaying, though delay is an integral part of what you are doing. Procrastination comes from the Latin pro, which means “forward, forth, or in favor of,” and crastinus, which means “of tomorrow.” But procrastination means so much more than its literal meaning. Prudence, patience, and prioritizing all have elements of delay, yet none means the same as procrastination. Since its first appearance in the English language in the sixteen century, procrastination has identified not just any delay but an irrational one — this is, when we voluntarily put off tasks despite believing ourselves to be worse off for doing so. When we procrastinate, we know we are acting against our own best interests.
Steel uses the later sections of the book to talk through his procrastination equation, which is:
Motivation = (Expectancy x Value)/(Impulsiveness x Delay)
He identifies motivation as the opposite of procrastination, and that a lack of motivation is a result of troubles with expectancy (such as you expect to fail at the task, so you don’t do it), value (such as you don’t value the work you’re supposed to do, so you don’t do it), or impulsiveness (I explain this one in more detail below).
The book provides tips for overcoming these three roots of procrastination with “action items.” If you’ve read any books or articles on procrastination in the past, the suggestions Steel provides are all ones you’ve seen before: Watch inspirational movies, visualize a positive outcome, identify that you’re procrastinating, positively frame outcomes, do hardest work when you are most alert, keep up your energy levels, reward yourself for reaching milestones, remove temptations and distractions, use specific language when setting goals, break down long-term goals into multiple milestones, schedule time for tasks, etc. In fact, I don’t think there are but one or two tips we’ve never covered on Unclutterer.
As I mentioned earlier, though, the “action items” wouldn’t be why you would read the book. It’s the first part of the book exploring the research, history, and forms of procrastination that make this book worth your time.
One of the items I found most interesting in the book is the discussion of types of procrastination. Steel’s research led him to discover that the more impulsive a person is, the more likely she is to procrastinate:
People who act without thinking, who are unable to keep their feelings under control, who act on impulse, are also people who procrastinate.
Delayed gratification isn’t an option for many procrastinators. If given the choice between watching television or studying for a test, they’ll watch television because it will be instantly gratifying. Even if performing well on a test will be more gratifying, they are unable to ignore the temptation in the present. I had never thought of procrastination as an impulse control issue until reading Steel’s book. This discovery will certainly color (for the better, I hope) my future advice about fighting procrastination.
ScanSnap sent me a model to test a couple weeks ago, and I think it’s a great little machine. (It’s weird how I drool over scanners and their paper clutter-reduction powers … I may have a problem … ) It works with the same dependability and quality as other ScanSnap products.
It took me about four minutes to install the software, and I was able to use the scanner instantly after that. The software works with both PC and Mac.
My only complaint is that it doesn’t scan both sides of the paper you feed into it. However, since I have a desktop scanner that does duplex, it’s not such a big deal to me. This device is really built for lugging around in your briefcase or suitcase, so its compact size and convenience outweigh the lack of duplex scanning. If you attend a lot of conferences, you want a small scanner like this that weighs next-to-nothing (my home scale said it weighed half a pound) and quickly processes all the paper you collect. You could easily leave an event without a single piece of paper cluttering up your travel bag.
When ScanSnap contacted me to see if I might want to review one of the S1100 models, I asked if they might be interested in giving away a few units to our readers in celebration of Unclutterer’s fourth birthday (assuming I liked the unit). They were generously game (the units are currently retailing for $199 a piece), and later today we’ll provide details about the giveaway. Stay tuned if you’re interested in winning one for yourself. I think a lot of Unclutterer readers could use an ultra-portable scanner like this.
Sue Shellenbarger, the work and family columnist for the Wall Street Journal, yesterday wrote “Steps to New Year’s Resolution Success” detailing the science behind keeping resolutions. Great advice begins right at the beginning of the article:
When setting a resolution, simply deciding to change your behavior may work for a while. But when the cognitive parts of the brain responsible for decision-making become stressed by other life events, that resolve is likely to succumb to an emotional desire for instant gratification, says Baba Shiv, a Stanford University marketing professor who specializes in neuroeconomics, the study of the biological bases for making economic decisions.
Keeping a resolution requires a detailed plan, with emotional rewards when milestones are reached—and even a strategy when there’s a setback. And don’t wait for Jan. 1, experts say: Start planning now to increase your chances for success.
The full article is worth reading if you’re interested in making uncluttering or organizing resolutions for 2011. I’m already planning out my resolutions for next year and will share details next week. I’ll definitely be putting into practice some of Shellenbarger’s suggestions.
Also in yesterday’s Wall Street Journal was a great article on organizing craft and present wrapping supplies featuring suggestions from Los Angeles-based professional organizer John Trosko: “More Homes Make Room for Wrapping.”
Over drinks the other night, my friend looked over both of her shoulders, giggled nervously, and then very quietly confessed to me that she doesn’t read fiction. I patted my friend on the shoulder, told her it would be okay, and then shared with her one of my favorite new sites for discovering non-fiction works.
Five Books is the site, and its premise is:
Every day an eminent writer, thinker, commentator, politician, academic chooses five books on their specialist subject. From Einstein to Keynes, Iraq to the Andes, Communism to Empire.
If you’re interested in learning all about Norwegian crime writing or the Euro or Confucius or gender politics or bats, experts on these topics provide lists of the quintessential books you should read to learn a good amount on the topic. It’s convenient to have a reading list built for you by someone who is intimately familiar with the topic. Whenever I’m interested in learning something new, I pull up the site’s archives, find a topic, and start reading. I’m currently working my way through Paul Barrett’s list of dinosaur books because of my son’s infatuation with these creatures.
I haven’t been asked by Five Books to create a list of organizing or uncluttering titles, but I have thought about it a little. Obviously, I’d put my book Unclutter Your Life in One Week on the list. Also on the list would have to be David Allen’s Getting Things Done. Martha Stewart’s Homekeeping Handbook and Randy Frost and Gail Steketee’s Stuff would likely make the list, too. I’m torn about what my fifth book would be, though. Would I choose a corporate management book like The Toyota Way or a classic home-organizing book like Peter Walsh’s It’s All Too Much or would I go on more of a philosophical bent with a book like The Plain Reader?
Thankfully, I don’t have to make a decision about what books I would put on my list, but I’m glad the experts on Five Books are able to narrow down theirs. The site is an incredibly convenient way to become knowledgeable on a subject without cluttering up your time.
That’s why I was so excited to see that the MoMA Store is now selling an edition of Lanier Graham’s 1966 design for only $65. This set has 95% of the coolness of the Hartwig design at 18% of the price.
And look at how nicely the pieces fit together in the box. It’s an Unclutterer’s dream…
Even though a Mac mini only occupies about 60 square inches of desktop space, you still might want to keep it completely out of sight. There are a number of ready-made brackets available that will let you easily mount a mini either under a desk or directly behind an LCD display.
Sonnet MacCuff Mini Mounting Bracket ($57.99)
This steel bracket comes in two sizes. One fits the new 2010 Mac mini and the other fits all previous models. This is probably the most versatile of the lot, as it will mount either under a desk or to a VESA mount on the back of an LCD display. It features a steel locking bar for security and it comes with a 35cm short monitor cable and mounting supplies.
This bracket is designed for the 2010 Mac mini form factor, but Macessity also manufactures a similar “Hang With Mi” bracket for the older-sized minis. These units do not have holes suitable for VESA mounting and they are only designed for use under a desk. They do, however, have a built-in powered 4-port USB2.0 hub, which is nice if you plan to also mount USB devices out of sight. An optional swivel mount is available if you need to be able to rotate your computer while mounted.
Mac Mount (£14.99)
Although the picture below shows these relatively inexpensive acrylic mounting brackets being used to secure a G-Tech G-Drive, they are also designed to work with a Mac mini. They can also be used to secure an Airport Extreme.
The editors at Real Simple magazine have put together a hardcover collection of multi-tasking equipment and suggestions to honor their 10th anniversary. The book, Real Simple: 869 New Uses for Old Things, is an alphabetical listing of unexpected uses for wine corks, olive oil, old jump ropes, Q-tips, salt, soap and hundreds of other common household items.
The retail listing for the book is $27.95 (it’s 180 pages, and like a coffee table book it is mostly images and a lot of white space), but it is selling for a more reasonable $16.34 on Amazon. It’s a nice resource, but I’m looking forward to it being available digitally, so it can be more portable (on a cell phone, iPad, or Kindle) and more easily searched.
Here are some helpful tips I learned from reading the book:
- Baking Soda / Rub tub stains with a paste of equal parts baking soda and cream of tartar and a little lemon juice. Let sit for 30 minutes, then rinse. (Green, non-toxic, and economical!)
- Bobby Pin / Keep pleats folded while ironing tricky pieces.
- Floss (unwaxed) / Safely loosen a photograph stuck to an album page or another photo by sliding a piece of floss between the two.
- Penny / Prevent algae from growing in a birtdbath by tossing a few pre-1982 coins into the water. The copper keeps the organisms from multiplying.
- Soap / Take the grit out of gardening. Scrape your nails along a bar so the soap gets under them and keeps everything else out.
I love the New Uses for Old Things column in Real Simple magazine, and the book is full of many ideas that have been featured in this column and hundreds of new ones. Like I explained earlier, it’s a good resource in book form, but it will be a great resource when it’s available digitally.
Ever since airlines started adding extra surcharges for checked baggage, I’ve been working to perfect the art of jamming everything I’ll need when traveling into my carry-on bags. Unfortunately, overly-packed bags are difficult to access whenever I want to get at a personal item, like a book, while flying.
A few weeks ago, the folks at Scottevest sent me an Essential Travel Jacket with 19 pockets for us to review.
I’ve been wearing it since it arrived and I’ve taken it on a few trips during that time. It’s quite nice to be able to carry a book, my camera, an iPhone, my wallet, and sunglasses all close at hand.
I don’t have an iPad, but apparently you can even fit one of the front inside pocket, provided you wear a men’s medium or larger.
What impresses me the most about the jacket is that it is both fashionably simple and inconspicuous. Ordinarily, garments with an extreme number of pockets tend to make the wearer look like either Walter Sobchak or a pro bass fisherman. As you can see, this is not the case.
The garment seems very well made and my only real complaint is that it attracts and shows lint a little more than I would like. For that reason, you might prefer to opt for the red or beige version instead of buying it in black. I definitely recommend it.
When I learned Chris Guillebeau had written a book, I begged him for an advance copy. In person, Chris is charismatic with extra doses of magnetism, practicality, and kindness thrown into the mix. I imagined his book would be similar (it is) and I would want to carry it with me even after I read it, like a trusted companion (I already do).
The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World is hitting bookstores today and is a handbook for anyone who wants to break free of an unfulfilled life. As Chris explains, “It’s your own life, so why not set your own rules. You can do good things for yourself while helping other people at the same time.” It helps you plan a course for a remarkable life, get over the fears and obstacles that are currently in your way, and get started living the life you imagine. It is detailed, plausible, and full of concrete examples.
Chris is obsessed with traveling the world — he’s on a quest to visit every country by April 7, 2013, and has made it to 149 of 192 already — and he explains how he transformed his circumstances to make achieving his non-traditional life possible. The book is full of advice for how to achieve similar ambitions — whatever type of life your heart desires — even if it doesn’t include traveling. In addition to Chris’ first-hand experiences, there are interviews and biographies of more than a dozen others who have bucked the system and lived life on their terms.
At the end of most of the chapters is a “Remember This” section that highlights the major themes in that block of text. At the end of the chapter “Setting the Terms of Your Unconventional Life,” are the following notes that spoke to the unclutterer in me:
- The pathway to world domination, or whatever it is you want to do, begins with clearly understanding what you want to get out of life.
- Once you begin taking your ambitions seriously, you can usually accomplish most things in less time than you initially expected.
- In the end, it’s not all about you. Most of us want a life that leaves a positive impact on others.
- When you start doing what you really want, not everyone will understand. This is okay.
The reason I pursue an uncluttered life is so I have the time, energy, and resources to live remarkably. I don’t want to be weighed down by my stuff; I want to have as much freedom as possible to focus on what matters most to me. Chris’ philosophy is similar, and his book even includes tips for creating a “stop doing” list and suggestions for how to live with 100 things. A key component for living his remarkable life is keeping clutter out of it, and he provides strategies for doing this.
A word of note: If you are not interested in setting your own rules and changing the world (even just a little part of it), this book is not for you. This book speaks directly to people who already have the desire to live in unconventional ways. No pages are used to persuade or convince someone to pursue a non-traditional lifestyle. Either you’re on board from the beginning, or you’re not. In my opinion, this makes the book stronger because it doesn’t waste time preaching to the choir.
If you are interested in living a remarkable life, I highly recommend Chris Guillebeau’s The Art of Non-Conformity: Set Your Own Rules, Live the Life You Want, and Change the World.
We want to bring your attention to the inspiring and mesmerizing Things Organized Neatly tubmlr site:
This new photo site is a steady stream of orderly stored objects. Its publisher clearly has an eye for design, so the images featured are striking, as well as streamlined.
Joseph Joseph’s Nest 8 collection of nesting kitchen items is a fantastic way to save space in your cupboards:
The Nest 8 collection includes four measuring cups (sizes 1-, 1/2-, 1/3-, and 1/4-cup), a sieve, a colander, a small mixing bowl, and a large mixing bowl.
They also make a nice, lay-flat colander:
We’ve written about the Joseph Joseph cheese grater before, and it seems that the new items in their line continue to be space-saving solutions. Thanks to reader Cindy for tipping us off to these uncluttered kitchen options.
Brett Kelly, a champion of simple living and a member of the LifeRemix network, has authored a terrific 80-page guide to using Evernote (one of my all-time favorite digital data applications). Evernote Essentials is a “comprehensive setup guide and a sizable collection of tips, tricks and best practices to help the Evernote newbie get up to speed quickly and show the seasoned Evernote veteran a thing or two about how to become Evernote ninjas.”
I like to think of myself as a hardcore Evernote user, and even I learned a great deal from the guide. I like the conversational tone, the detailed screenshots, and the real-world examples illustrating all the ways Evernote can work for you. Here’s a chapter breakdown of what the guide offers:
- Evernote Anatomy — Explanation of the basic structure of the service.
- Installation and Configuration — How to setup and personalize your Evernote account.
- A Quick Tour of the Main Evernote Window — Navigating your way through the Evernote interface.
- Adding Stuff to Evernote — Instructions for the myriad ways you can save notes, clips, etc.
- Evernote Organization 101 — Learn to expertly tag data so that you can quickly retrieve it.
- Evernote Search: Seek and Ye Shall Find — In my opinion, the best chapter in the document. Kelly gives some amazing tips for retrieving data in this section.
- Evernote on the Go — Instructions for using Evernote on your smart phone.
- Evernote, Email and You — Advanced techniques for using Evernote with your email service.
- Evernote and Satellites in Space — You can save data from satellites and other amazing GPS tricks, and Kelly shows you how.
- Tagging for Superhumans — Nested tags, sorting, and maintenance tips for the advanced user.
- Evernote for Bloggers — How to create blog posts directly from Evernote.
- Evernote for Programmers — Using Evernote as a coding encyclopedia.
- Evernote for Foodies — Yummy tips for managing recipes, restaurant reviews, equipment information and other topic-specific data saved in Evernote.
- Evernote for Covert Double Agents — A humorous chapter detailing how to use Evernote to successfully compile information someone or a specific topic.
- Evernote as an Address Book — How to use Evernote as a personal information manager.
- Evernote as a Simple Photo Sharing Service — Detailed visuals and explanations for how to create an online photo album you can share with others.
- Evernote as a Task Manager — One of my favorite uses for Evernote, instructions for creating a GTD-style to-do program.
- Evernote as a Filing Cabinet — Learn to save scanned documents directly to Evernote.
- For Longtime Users: Regaining Control of Your Evernote Database — Advice for managing your notes when you have large numbers of data in your account.
If you are a current Evernote user, or are looking for a way to better store your digital data, I recommend checking out Evernote Essentials. The guide is $25 and comes with the guarantee that if you “don’t feel like it delivers the real deal, then contact [the author] within 30 days for a full refund, no questions asked.” Best of all, you can save the guide directly to your Evernote account.
Just to let you know, we don’t receive any kickbacks or revenue from Evernote Essentials or Evernote — I’m really just a huge fan of both. Learning advanced techniques for using Evernote can greatly improve the way you organize the information in your life.
Hoarding specialists Randy Frost and Gail Steketee recently published Stuff: Compulsive Hoarding and the Meaning of Things that explores the psychological world of hoarding. In the book, the components of the hoarding disorder are explained through case studies, and the authors also provide many examples to illustrate where a hoarder’s actions diverge from those of a healthy individual.
The book is written in a positive and conversational tone that shows compassion for the subjects who are described in the case studies. The authors refrain from using judgmental language and shock-and-awe descriptions, which I find very refreshing, and instead focus on accurately portraying the complex world of hoarding.
Since the book was released, the authors have been interviewed quite a bit in the media, and these interviews cover a general sense of the text of the book. I recommend reading the Time article “Hoarding: How Collecting Stuff Can Destroy Your Life” and the transcript of the author’s NPR interview to get a big-picture view of the book’s content.
At Unclutterer, we are very open about our posts not being targeted toward people who are hoarders, but rather toward mentally healthy individuals who struggle with disorganization and want to learn more about simple living. Stuff does an excellent job of defining hoarding and describing the disorder, and I wanted to share some examples from the text with you –
From pg. 21: “The sense of emotional attachment that Irene [a hoarder profiled in chapter 1] felt for her possessions has been shared with us [the authors] over and over by people seeking help with their hoarding problems. These sentiments are really not that different from what most of us feel about keepsakes or souvenirs — the abnormality lies not in the nature of the attachments, but in their intensity and extremely broad scope. I find many articles of interest in the newspaper, but their value to me is reduced when piles of newspapers begin to impinge on my living space and overwhelm my ability to read what I have collected. For Irene, the value of these things seem unaffected by the trouble they caused.”
From pgs. 31-32: “Hoarding appeared to result, at least in part, from deficits in processing information. Making decisions about whether to keep and how to organize objects requires categorization skills, confidence in one’s ability to remember, and sustained attention. To maintain order, one also needs the ability to efficiently assess the value or utility of an object.”
From pg. 101: “Sentimentalizing objects — giving them emotional significance because of their association with important people or events — is not unusual. We all do it — ticket stubs from a favorite concert, pieces of a long ago wedding cake, a scrap of paper with a child’s first drawing. In this respect, what happens in hoarding is not out of the ordinary. The difference for Irene and Debra [two hoarders featured in the book], as for many hoarders, is that intense emotional meaning is attached to so many of their possessions, even otherwise ordinary things, even trash. Their special ability to see uniqueness and value where others don’t may stem from inquisitive and creative minds and contribute to this attachment. The desire to ‘experience everything’ may expand the range of attachments hoarders enjoy.”
From pg. 93: “Hoarding affords many of its sufferers the illusion of control and replaces fear with a feeling of safety.”
From pgs. 147-148: “While some hoarders, such as Ralph [a hoarder profiled in the text], become captivated by the possibilities in things, others are trapped by the fear of wasting them. Both types would save [a] rusty bucket with [a] hole in it, but for different reasons. For Ralph, imagining uses for the rusty bucket brought him joy. Anita, a participant in one of our treatment studies, spent little time thinking about possibilities, but a great deal of time worrying and feeling guilty about waste. For her the bucket would bring pain as she thought about what a wasteful person she would be if she discarded it.”
From pg. 155: “In one of our recent studies of people with hoarding problems, we found … hoarders were unusually sensitive to even small amounts of anxiety.”
From pg. 157: “Anxiety is not the only emotion hoarders seek to avoid. Most people, hoarders and non-hoarders alike, attempt to alleviate or preempt grief and sadness. Anyone who has stayed in a bad relationship or a bad job or has delayed breaking bad news to a friend can understand the urge. The difference with hoarders is a matter of scope: the number of sources for these feelings and the intensity of the feelings themselves, as well as the lengths to which they’ll go to protect themselves, are unusually great.”
From pgs. 214-215: “At this point, geneticists are betting that hoarding has at least some significant genetic cause, but exactly what is inherited is not clear. One possibility is that hoarders inherit deficits or different ways of processing information. Perhaps they inherit an intense perceptual sensitivity to visual details, such as the shapes and colors of Irene’s bottle caps. These visual details (overlooked by the rest of us) give objects special meaning and value to them. Or perhaps they inherit a tendency for the brain to store and retrieve memories differently. If visual cues (i.e., objects) are necessary for hoarders’ retrieval of memories, then getting rid of those cues is the same as losing their memories. Whatever is inherited, it is likely that some kind of emotional vulnerability must accompany this tendency in order for full-blown hoarding to develop.”
If you are interested in learning more about hoarding, I greatly recommend picking up Stuff.
Scot Hacker is the author of O’Reilly’s MP3: The Definitive Guide, and writes about music for Stuck Between Stations. By day, he’s a webmaster and trainer for the Knight Digital Media Center at UC Berkeley.
A few weeks ago, during a spell of unusually dry winter weather, I went to unplug a pair of Grado SR-80 headphones from my iMac. A spark of static electricity leapt from my fingers, I heard a brief crackling sound, and then… [silence]. From that moment forward, the headphone/speaker jack on the back of the Mac has refused to work, and only “Internal Speakers” showed up in the System Preferences Sound panel. My trusty work Mac had gone mute.
My only options were either to send the Mac in for repair or switch to USB audio output. I couldn’t afford to be without the Mac, and I was interested in hearing what kind of audio upgrade I’d get by bypassing the Mac’s internal Digital Audio Converter (DAC), so I hit up an audiophile friend for recommendations. I hit the jackpot when he suggested the NuForce μDAC (aka microDAC) — a handsome $99 outboard DAC that’s both minimalist in design and smaller than a pack of smokes.
The unit arrived a few days later, and turned out to be even smaller than expected (around 3″x1″). The two-tone rust and flat-black anodized aluminum casing looked distinguished, and well-crafted; NuForce really put some effort into the aesthetics on this one. The design is simple, with no unnecessary controls. Just a volume knob and a headphone output jack, nothing more.
I was blown away from the moment I plugged it in and enabled it in the Sound prefs Output panel. Digital audio has never sounded better on a computer I’ve owned. But since the original analog jack was fried, I had no way to directly compare the quality of the Mac’s native DAC with the new outboard. Today I sat down at someone else’s work Mac and did some A/B testing.
For the test, I chose two recordings:
- Sonny Rollins: “I’m an Old Cowhand” (from Way Out West)
- Beatles: “Because” (from Abbey Road 2009 Stereo Remaster)
(I chose these two because A) I love them and B) I had them on hand at 256kbps AAC, for best possible resolution).
Note: I appreciate great-sounding audio, but I’m far from a hardcore audiophile. For an audio tweak’s perspective on the μDAC, see HeadphoneAddict’s review at head-fi.org.
Just a few minutes into Cowhand, I noticed something I’d never heard before: The sound of the cork linings of the valves of Rollins’ saxophone tapping away as he played. It was subtle, but it had been there in the recording all along – I had just never noticed it. And that’s exactly the point – the differences are subtle, and you may not notice all of them unless you’re listening for them, but they’re present. And that subtlety adds up to an overall experience that’s simply more realistic, more nuanced than what you get with the cheaper DAC built into consumer PCs. It’s all about presence.
Likewise, I found the harmonies in Because fuller, richer, more bodied than they sounded through the Mac’s native DAC. The French horns far more alive and breathy, the harpsichord more twangy. Virtually everything about these two tracks sounded more engaging.
Another thing I noticed: Usually, near the end of a long day writing code, I feel the need to take the headphones off and rest my ears. I didn’t have that sensation today. I can’t say for sure, but I suspect that more natural sound is less fatiguing to the ears (and the brain’s processor).
One caveat: Because there’s no longer an analog sound channel for the computer to manipulate, you’ll lose the ability to control volume or to mute from the Mac’s keyboard. Apparently this is not true of all DACs – the driver for m-audio boxes does allow volume and mute control from the Mac keyboard, so the issue must rest in the generic Mac USB audio driver (the NuForce unit doesn’t come with an installable driver – it’s plug-and-play). In any case, the keboard habit has been ingrained for so many years I don’t even think about it, so retraining myself to adjust audio from the μDAC’s volume knob took some getting used to. However, you can still use the volume control in iTunes itself, and it may be possible to re-map the keyboard’s audio control keys to tweak iTunes’ internal volume directly.
It’s no secret that you can get better sound quality out of almost any computer by routing around the built-in audio chipset. There’s just no way Apple (or Dell, or anyone else) is going to spend more than a few dollars on high-end audio circuitry when most people are perfectly happy with 128kbps MP3s played through cheap-o speakers, and every penny counts in manufacturing bottom lines. But using an outboard DAC for signal conversion can be an expensive proposition, not to mention involving bulky, inelegant, desk-cluttering plastic boxes. The NuForce μDAC gives you high-end computer audio that’s both affordable and elegant.
Another benefit: If you’ve been considering using a dedicated digital audio file player like an AudioRequest connected to the home stereo, you’ll end up having to migrate and store another copy of your audio library, not to mention add more cabling and componentry to your entertainment center. With something like the NuForce μDAC, you can leave everything on your main computer and just route high-fidelity audio to the stereo.
In any case, the NuForce μDAC is one of the best c-notes I’ve dropped on audio gear over the years. Recommended even if you haven’t fried your analog port.
J.D. Roth, who writes the educational and extremely valuable personal finance blog GetRichSlowly.org, just published Your Money: The missing manual with O’Reilly books. The book is filled with charts, graphs, checklists, guides, and explanations that explore the basics and advanced methods of personal finance — all with Roth’s simple ease and charm.
The book begins with a quote from George Mallory that aptly reflects the focus of the text:
“We do not live to eat and make money. We eat and make money to be able to live. That is what life means and what life is for.”
Roth’s financial philosophy is based on the premise that you have to spend less than you earn. Regular readers of this website know that this is also a fundamental rule of being an Unclutterer. If you spend more than you earn, your thoughts will consistently be focused on anxieties (clutter) about money instead of on what matters to you most. Roth details how to get out of debt, spend less than you earn, and save money for the future (saving also means that you alleviate worries about your financial future).
One of the highlights for me is on page 95 of Your Money: The missing manual. Here, Roth presents a flowchart created by April Dykman that she “created to help her stay on track while shopping.” I think all Unclutterers should have this chart tattooed on their forearms (I jest. Please don’t get a tattoo of this.):
I’m also fond of the section titled “The Tyranny of Stuff,” which is perfectly suited for Unclutterers. In short, Roth’s premise in this section is if you “own less stuff” you will spend less on new acquisitions as well as maintaining the stuff you choose to own — less clutter, less storage space, less to clean, and less wasted money on unnecessary purchases.
In addition to the book, if you aren’t familiar with Roth’s blog GetRichSlowly.org, I also recommend you check it out. Money Magazine named it one of the top two financial advice sites on the internet. Roth knows very well how to get rid of cluttered finances. I give his new book two thumbs up.