Menu

Stuart Lennon

Writing about stuff

Review

img_20161129_083442

Ducks on the Pill Brook at the end of my street.

This morning, I was watching a very brave journalist broadcasting from Aleppo in Syria.

I do not claim to have any real handle on the rights and wrongs of that terrible conflict. I watched in horror and shame. Will we ever stop being a cruel and murderous, species I wonder?

I am fairly certain that the involvement of this joker hasn’t helped.

It is difficult to maintain any sort of perspective in relation to the events that I mention above, but I thought I might provide a review on a variety of things.

IT. I posted here about moving away from Apple, and here about moving to Google. My Pixel XL phone is great. Reliable, efficient and fast-charging. I can say the same for the Chromebook. The biggest change though works regardless of hardware. Turn notifications off. All except phone. This one simple step puts you in charge of your apps, rather than they in charge of you.

Politics. A lot of nonsense continues to be talked about Brexit. A favourite is the clamour for the government to publish a plan. A plan for a negotiation. A chocolate teapot. Eventually, the PM realised that all she had to do was agree. She will soon publish a plan saying – “We want free trade, and control of our borders.” Remainers will cry foul and demand to know what is going to happen. The government will respond – “Don’t know. It’s a negotiation.” Still. It keeps them busy.

US Politics. From a field of two, one candidate won. He is certainly a departure from the usual. There is a lot of noise about the inherent unfairness of the electoral system, and at the moment, outrage that a foreign power is alleged to have attempted to influence the outcome of the election. Apparently such claims made with no trace of irony. How will ‘The Donald’ work out? I really don’t know. I suspect he will continue to delight in upsetting any apple-cart that he can find.

The CaminoThe word alone brings a smile to my face. Somehow we managed to ensure that the pilgrim with the photos is the one least able to share them, so I have not written or posted as much about that week as I had planned. Walking twenty miles or more each day certainly simplifies life and I can’t wait for the second instalment next year.

Journals, organisers and stationery. I have chopped and changed through a myriad of schemes to organise myself. Both digital and analogue. My preference is analogue, yet digital is far better for sharing. Thus, I use a hybrid. My calendar, shared with Mrs L, is kept on Google; accessible from multiple electronic devices. Many events, I also transfer to my Economist desk diary. Here, I get some perspective on how my week looks. I find this more attractive than an electronic output and better for my weekly review. On the move though, the diary has too much heft. I now carry a simple paper A6 notebook with a Fischer space pen. I would rather use a fountain pen, but I often dress casual – and ink and jeans can be uncomfortable companions. Here, I employ parts of the #BuJo system to run my daily tasks. Of late, I have even developed a double page system to prioritise. I also have a reflective journal – which I would like to keep daily, but often is neglected. Joyfully, the journal has no notifications function, and therefore does not berate me for missing a day.

Corporate. I have a couple of clients for whom I provide support in anti-money laundering systems. I have also been reviewing a multitude of potential acquisitions. Both of those things are, by their very nature, confidential, but hopefully the work done this year will lead to good outcomes.

Writing. The last few months I have done no work at all on Sean. I have been perpetually busy on everything above. Now, given that I am largely (when Mrs L lets me) master of my own time, I have to ask myself why it is that I can find time for anything, anything at all, except writing.

That’s probably another post all on its own.

 

 

Hello, Google

google-logo

Yesterday, I posted about my love affair with Apple coming to an end.

This was a little scary – as over the last few years, my brief encounters with Windows machines have not been happy ones. Never-ending updates, relentless malware attacks…

What was the alternative?

Since 2014, I have been using Google Apps – now suggestively renamed GSuite. It allows me to use Google’s e-mail, calendar and other apps under my own domains.

I had vaguely heard about something called a Chromebook.

These are typically pretty low specification machines that run a web browser, specifically, the Chrome browser. The processor is old, the memory is tiny. There’s nothing to them. They are cheap though. And fast.

The principle is that you keep everything in the cloud. All of your files. All of your e-mail. All of your programs.

Useless. How could that possibly work? I do far more than online stuff.

Actually…No. I don’t. Or, rather I do very little that cannot be done with a chromebook.

What do I actually do with my device?

All the top procrastination tools are online – Social media, online shopping, email.

Spreadsheets? GSuite has Google Sheets that can view and edit Excel. Likewise for Word and Powerpoint. There is even a work offline mode should the broadband go down or if I’m on the road. Microsoft programs are all available as web apps.

This post is being written on WordPress – a web app.

So – I bought a Chromebook. I’m writing on it now. Naturally, being me, I bought one that is premium. This is an HP, with a metal body, a gorgeous high definition screen, B&O speakers. Frankly, it looks a lot like a Macbook. Currently there are 8 tabs open. The machine is like lightning.

The laptop boots up in seconds. There are no programs taking an age to start up. Virus protection is done server-side by Google. As there are no programs, there are no updates. I like it.

Oh…and you can have two for the price of a Macbook. Three or four for the price of a high spec Macbook Pro.

I’m told that I will struggle to mix my next single or edit my 4k video release on this machine. Not things that I do.

rsz_img_20161108_093158

Are there limitations?

Maybe.

First. Everything is stored on GDrive, in the cloud. Navigating around that does not come naturally to me – but I I suspect a little research and I will discover a quicker way.

Second. I write (not enough) on Scrivener. Scrivener is great on a Mac, OK on a Windows machine, doesn’t work on a Chromebook. I will need to write elsewhere. Thus far, Google Docs looks favourite. It has only a tiny fraction of the functionality of Scrivener – but it has the bit that I need. 99% of Scrivener is wasted on me.

My Iphone has been retired too. I have a phone made by Google, called a Pixel. I tried an android phone before – and regretted it. This one however is great, and just works. A bit like Apple used to.

My hardware is built for Google apps. I’m using Google apps. Unsurprisingly, it’s seamless.

I suspect the real cost of this is that Google has everything. I have no doubt that it hoovers up all this data. Privacy? What’s that?

But, truth be told, I suspect that the privacy ship sailed a long time ago.

 

Bye, Apple

rsz_img_20161108_093158

I wrote here about my penchant for gadgets and my frustration with the big IT names.

In an effort to simplify my tech life, I had worked myself down from four devices (Imac, MacBook, Ipad and Iphone) to two. (MacBook and Iphone.) I even have a ‘dumb’ phone – for when being unconnected is a blessing.

What was becoming apparent was that my beloved Apple was losing its way. I do appreciate that it remains an absolutely massive company with huge sales and profits. However – I am going to stick to my guns here – over the next few years it is on a relentlessly downward trajectory.

Apple made amazing beautiful innovative stuff that just worked. Was pricing premium? Yes – but the kit was gorgeous and desirable. Ipod, Iphone, Macbook Air – wonderful, cutting edge tech.

Then Apple started doing strange things.

The watch. “You can get a text on your wrist!” Hmm…the whole world is talking about how to make tech more useful but less obtrusive, about the power of not allowing tech to dictate your life. So Apple make a device that can vibrate on your wrist every time a friend posts a picture of their breakfast on social media.

Iphone. “Like the last Iphone. But better.” Oh. Great.

“Look! This new Iphone won’t work with your headphones. You need to buy wireless ones.” Gee. Thanks.

Ipad. “Look! Like the last one. And look, a little one! Wait! A huge one. With a stylus.” Didn’t someone say something about a stylus being the sign that the wheels were coming off?

I was pinning my hopes on the new Macbook and latterly the Macbook Pro. The Macbook is really light, has a great screen and is an attractive piece of equipment. It only has one port. To make it really thin, the key board is different. Look. Its OK. It’s a nice piece of kit. But it’s not special.

Finally, after years of waiting, the new MacBook Pro was released. The good news is that your old headphones will work with this.

Yep. Apple’s flagship mobile phone announces the death of the wired headphones. Launched a month later, Apple’s flagship laptop announce the renaissance of the wired headphones.

What else is on the new MacBook Pro? Well – a spectacular price tag for a start.

There is a funky thing called an OLED bar. Which is essentially a strip of touch screen at the top of the keyboard.

The rest of the computing world has launched machines where the whole screen is touch – and laptops can now be hybrids – part computer, part tablet – but Apple has a strip. Right.

Dell, HP, Lenovo are all making laptops that are as pretty, as well-built and HIGHER spec than the Apples – for much less money. I mean a lot less money.

IT experts have been saying this for years – but to a layman like me, Apple stuff just worked and visibly better quality than the competition. That’s simply not true anymore.

So – I have jumped ship. I am using no Apple hardware at all.

What am I using? The photos is a pretty strong hint – but that’s a whole new post on its own.

 

 

 

 

 

Wow! Google listened.

Alphabet Logo

Only a few short weeks ago, I implored the IT Giants to Grow UP and suddenly Google is setting up a new top company.

What power I now wield.

Alas, I suspect that my little rant went unnoticed as Google was planning its next stage of global conquest.

Even though Google have been busy with other things, here, my quest for efficiency and productivity has continued.

I seek an email client that works across all of my devices, in the same fashion, so that I can seamlessly transition from one device to another and thereby be truly mobile.

Productive – checking email, even while trying to avoid my nose being pressed into the raised armpit of the man next to me by the crush of a rush-hour tube. Geek Nirvana.

Since my last update – I have been through several more configurations trying to get Apple and Google to play nice.

I won’t bore you with all of the permutations that I tried – suffice it to say that I probably funded the legal costs of Google’s latest move through the purchase of apps.

One particularly exciting setup was with a little thing called Mail Pilot.

There it was – an email client that is G-mail-friendly (YES!), that would work on a Mac, on an iPad and on an iPhone (YES! YES!), that would seamlessly sync (YES! YES! YES!) and was designed to operate an Inbox zero approach. (YES! YES! YES! I daresay that you get the idea)

I installed the app on the Mac – and played around with it. Encouraging.

I put it onto the iPad and iPhone. All right. Pretty good too.

After a couple of days, I became more convinced that mails that I had dealt with on the phone or iPad were reappearing on the computer.

In the tried and tested method held sacred by all IT folk – I uninstalled everything, turned all the hardware off, had a cup of tea, turned the hardware back on again, reinstalled the software and had another look. The only thing that I did not do, was send myself a hefty invoice.

Despite the employment of high powered IT consultancy as described above, the applications were not synchronising correctly. Not good news.

I decided to bring out the big guns. I looked for written instructions.

Shocking.

I know.

But still no progress.

Time for the nuclear option.

I contacted the developer.

Yes. I can confirm. I am a male and I did ask for directions.

Humbling and humiliating.

However, to my immense satisfaction – I can report that I was right all along. There is never any point in asking for directions.

The slimy little toe-rags have not replied.

So, I am doing the IT equivalent of driving around and around until I fall upon the required destination through a process of dogged determination.

imac27_imac21_photos_print-100595823-gallery

(Image taken from MacWorld)

I love IT. I love technology. I love gadgets.

The problem is, that generally I only have a vague idea of how to use any of them.

To my wife’s constant annoyance, the house is littered with IT kit that is rarely or poorly used.

We have thousands of TV channels in multiple languages, On Demand, and a very swish Blueray player. All completely unnecessary to watch the BBC News.

I am writing this post on my IPad mini. Later, I might revisit it on my MacBook Air, or possibly on my IMac. Should any of you call me, I will answer on my IPhone 6.

Really.

I need to find a support group.

It turns out that there is one. There are more of us. IT ‘early adopters’ with the technical know-how of a turnip.

We are the main readership of several prominent blogs like LifeHacker, T3 and Imore to name a few of my favourites.

We voraciously consume post after post on how to be more efficient, or on what fantastic new app is going to revolutionise our workflow (whatever a workflow might be).

We read in awe as proper ‘techies’ exchange views on the relative merits of IFTTT versus Pushbullet.

In the tech world, there are three IT Giants that control pretty much everything. Apple, Google and Microsoft.

In a gross over-simplification, Apple make amazing hardware, Google is king of the Internet and Microsoft keeps big business running.

About five years ago, I became an Apple ‘Fanboi’. The IPhone was my gateway hardware, and apart from a brief dalliance with a Dell – I have been an Apple junkie ever since.

Then I discovered that for email – the real deal comes from the mighty Google. I can get all of the amazing functionality of G-mail but in my own imaginatively named domain (stuartlennon.com).

gmail

The drawback of Gmail is that really smart people at Google cannot, for the life of them, work out why I would want to keep my email anywhere, other than on their servers.

So, Gmail doesn’t play nice with email clients that look to organise email on your own machine. Clients like Outlook for example.

Microsoft have done OK with software.

There’s a thing called Windows that has kind of done OK and their office suite (including Outlook) is almost universal.

MS Outlook Logo

So, right now – my dream team would be G-mail integrated with Outlook on Apple Hardware.

Microsoft have now released a Microsoft Outlook that plays nice with Apple.

Hurrah!

But Microsoft and Google?

No. We are not playing nice with them on computers. On tablets, Yes. On phones, Yes.

But on computers?

No.

Outlook won’t play nice with Gmail on a Mac and I want something that works across all my devices.

I still can’t have it.

The IT company that comes out on top is not going to be the smartest or the most aggressive.

It is going to be the one that listens to consumers.