Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The Joy of Thinking Small

With talk about The Long Tail, the iPod, and other small things, I thought I'd share a few intriguing small ideas I've encountered recently.

David Seah came up with The Printable CEO™, a nifty, inexpensive way to track progress against goals and to focus effort. It's different than the letter- or A4-sized learning logs Bob Williams and I came up with, but I really like his portable format.

PocketMod, "the free disposable personal organizer" (sic) lets you create your own pocket organizer as you want. David Seah even created a form of the Printable CEO that folds into the same size as a PocketMod.

Both of these are related in spirit to the earlier Hipster PDA, one of the first and still apparently a very popular approach to inexpensive personal organization.

John Wiegley has created Ledger, a free "double-entry accounting ledger with all the flexibility and muscle of its modern day cousins, without any of the fat. Think of it as the Bran Muffin of accounting tools." Ledger is not enterprise-level software, but it might work for your personal or very-small-business needs, and it might help non-accountants among us (for example, me) learn more about the practice of double-entry accounting. Anyone still trying to figure out why accounting uses negative numbers for income and positive numbers for expenses might check out the manual; there's an info manual in the download, and I found a slightly older version in PDF (see section 3.1).

Ledger should be easy to install on Linux or the Mac. I've installed it and begun using it on Windows using cygwin (not without a few challenges that the online support has helped me with). For you Linux users, Ledger can read GnuCash files. Since GnuCash claims to read Quicken QIF files, you can probably import Quicken data into Ledger.

Security people encourage us to come up with secure passwords for all of our accounts, but making them up quickly is sometimes a challenge. I've been using PWGen for Windows for a while and found it handy (if you're running *nix, you probably already have pwgen available for easy installation). If you have to generate a passphrase (typically required for encrypting or decrypting email and the like), Diceware is my current favorite.

That's enough for now. I don't know if I'll be using any of these a year from now, but they look attractively useful and light-weight enough so that it's no big deal if I do change. (Okay, I might be annoyed if I stop using Ledger and can't get my data into the next program, but Ledger does at least export its data into XML.) I'd be curious in your experience with these and other such small business tools.

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