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About Q

a simple todo-queue management tool

Why isn't this repository real?

Okay, that's obviously a contrived question. Still:

The "home" version control repository is at FossRec.

I also mirror the repository on GitHub.

I wrote a tool called FossGit to help with this mirroring process.

Now you know everything.

Why doesn't it do everything?

This is a C rewrite of the original shell script implementation. The C version is now a feature-complete equivalent, with improvements. I should probably call this a complete version 1.0 release, but so far I'm too indecisive to call it anything in particular.

It is also intended to get somewhat close to adhering to the Unix philosophy of software design: Do One Thing Well. As such, it should not do things that are not part of the core purpose of the tool. If you think it needs a feature it lacks, feel free to let me know, but I do not anticipate getting many "good idea" feature requests for this project. See more about this in the "Why is q awesome?" section below.

You can still get the source of the shell version if you want it. The shell script is probably a less-safe program, because I'm too lazy to do much error-checking with shell script code, which I find excruciating. Writing C is fun, though, and I actually have a test suite for the C version, so hopefully it's "safer" in the edge cases.

Why is q awesome?

Todo lists and task trackers abound. There are many ways to track what you need to do. Some of them are very useful for specific types of task tracking. None of them seem to be useful everywhere, but almost all of them assume everything can be handled by one tool, and aim to be that tool.

This is not one of those tools. The purpose of q is to provide a dead-simple way to manage a queue of things you need to do. It is not a checklist; for things you do every day, you probably need a checklist. It is not a scheduling tool; for things that need to be done at or by a specific time in the near future, or just at a specific time in the less-near future, you probably need a scheduler. There are many other approaches to tracking things you need to do out there that handle some types of tasks effectively, where q does not handle those types of tasks well at all.

A scheduler is great at handling scheduled events (as long as it's a great scheduler; unfortunately, most of them suck), but it probably sucks at every-day checklists, and to the extent it is good at checklists it probably compromises on being the best scheduler it could have been. A checklist system is great at handling every-day tasks without a schedule (as long as it's a great checklist system; unfortunately, most of them that do not use paper are pretty mediocre), but it probably sucks at scheduled task management, and to the extent it is good at scheduling it probably compromises on being the best checklist system it could have been.

Both of these things tend to suck at tracking the stuff that has no schedule, only needs to be done once, and does not necessarily have to be done today, but should not be put off, either. When there are things with specific completion conditions that you should do "soon" but not on a specific schedule, and you need to keep track of a fairly short list of such things so you will not forget to do any of them, what you really need is a task queue. If you have a daily checklist of things to do, you might put something in there about checking your task queue, if only to make sure you actually try to clear an item or two from the queue every day, but the checklist itself is not the task queue.

A great thing about task queues is that you can effectively rotate them by popping something off the front of the queue and sticking it in the back. If you have time to work on the tasks in your queue, and you are not sure off the top of your head what you want to tackle first, just check what's in the front of the queue; if it's not something you can do right now, just pop it off the front of the queue and stick it into the back for later. Do the next thing. This approach removes a lot of the mental administrative overhead of getting things done, because you no longer have to try to consider all the things in your todo list, weighing priority, current conditions, and personal readiness to do the work, before starting work. Just determine whether the one thing sitting there staring at you is something you will do right now, and if not, do the next thing instead.

Another great thing about task queues that you can rotate that way is that, when you look at the task in the front of the queue, it's always the task you have neglected the longest. Because the only way to put off the current item in the queue (as long as you actually use it as a queue) is to move it to the back of the queue, you have to look at every other task currently in the queue again before it comes up once more, ensuring that none of those tasks get completely forgotten. It helps keep you from forgetting all about that critically important thing you just wanted to put off until next time.

The q tool is an idealized implementation of a task queue, keeping things as simple and straightforward as possible to help you get things done. It offers a few features other than strict queue management, such as looking at the entire list or deleting a single item out of the middle of the list, but that is only because people make mistakes and sometimes we need a way to clean up after them. Those operations are intentionally made slightly less convenient than the primary feature set of a task queue. The shortest commands in the q tool are show (because you can just execute q and get show for free), help (because you can abbreviate it as h), add, del, and rotate (because you can abbreviate it rot).

The things you "should" do when using q "correctly" are the things that should be easiest, and most convenient, to do. Almost everything else is a second-class citizen in the world of q. The single exception is create-fresh-queue, the command to set up q for use in the first place, a first-class operation that should only ever be used once in a given user environment. It is the least convenient command (with the possible exception of remove-number, if only because remove-number requires you to know the number of the item you want to remove, thus necessitating either list-all first or a truly superlative memory) because it is the one operation you should never use after initially setting up q for use.

Superficially, a checklist and a queue are very similar. In terms of a couple of key, defining characteristics, and a deeper philosophical usage model, they are like night and day: part of a continuum of similar functionality, but with radically different benefits. Checklist are great when you have a single, multi-step task to complete, following which you throw away the list.

Checklists are also great when you just need to have the list on-hand to make sure you do not forget any of a set of important tasks that must be performed over and over again. They can be a real pain in the butt for managing the kinds of tasks for which q was designed.

If you add the features to a checklist system that make a good task queue system, you get a task queue management system. It is no longer a checklist system -- not really, even if it has a bunch of checklist features layered on top. If its underlying structure is still the sort of thing best optimized for checklist use, it will not be as good a task queue as you could have had, either. A queue system can sometimes be used well for checklists, but if you need it to be useful for all checklists, or even if you just need to be able to rearrange the things in the queue to ensure sequential step completion in a particular order, either it fails to be very good at checklist management or your task queue system has compromised as a task queue system to the extent that it probably hurts its usefulness for queue management.

This tool is intended to do exactly one thing, and do it well. It is designed that way to make our lives simpler, and help us manage a particular class of the must-do tasks we face, in the most effective way it can. Toward that end, it refuses to be anything but a task queue management tool, because trying to be everything to everyone is a great way to fail to be the best at anything to anyone at all.

How do I install it?

First, get the repository. In both Fossil and Git examples, modify the paths as necessary for your local system.

With Fossil, try this:

mkdir ~/fossrec
fossil clone ~/fossrec/q.fossil
mkdir ~/src
mkdir ~/src/q
cd src/q
fossil open ~/fossrec/q.fossil

With Git, try this:

mkdir ~/src
cd ~/src
git clone
cd q

After either of the above, use this to see how you can use make to build and install the q binary:

make help

Changing the name of the binary from q to whatever you like shouldn't break anything. The name q is nice and short, so I like it, but I'll probably make it possible to use whatever name you want to give the binary with the standard make targets for building, later.

How can I contribute?

That's complicated, if you want to contribute changes to the project itself. If you want to send me money, that may or may not also be complicated, but I'd prefer gifts, things I would otherwise buy with the money you might have given me. For some other form of contribution, I guess it depends, but I don't accept kittens any longer; that was just a bad idea.

Realistically, for a command line tool project this size whose value probably escapes the imagination of most people who see it, I don't expect any contributions, ever. Just in case, though:

For any contributions, start by getting in touch with me. You should be able to contact me directly through GitHub, or by submitting an issue for this project with your comments and/or questions (either at the FossRec repository for this project or the GitHub mirror). Once you contact me, I can probably help with some of the other steps toward helping contribute. The following is a rough description of how contributing code might work, and by getting in touch with me you can help me can work out how you can make the following happen:

  1. Figure out how to use Fossil.
  2. Figure out how to write specs using bdd-for-c.
  3. Cut a new branch for your changes.
  4. Write tests first, then satisfy the specs with code.
  5. Make arrangements for me to evaluate your code.
  6. Answer my questions and make changes I request to your submitted code.
  7. Ensure I can pull your code into my repository.

I may update these instructions later if they turn out to be insufficient, but I do not anticipate getting many requests to contribute code to this project.


todo queue manager




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