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Stuart Lennon

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Review

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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.

 

 

Bye, Apple

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

Bye Bye Desktop

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I have posted about how I am becoming a little more analogue in my approach to life.

I felt that technology was beginning to dominate and dictate my days. Through a combination of electronic tools, I was always connected and always looking at one or more screens. I decided to reassess how I used all these wonderful gadgets. First, I swapped my iPhone for a ‘dumb’ mobile phone – one that works just as a telephone.

My next target was my desktop at home, where I sit to write. The picture above shows how dominating the computer is – both in terms of real estate and visual impact. The iMac is a beautiful piece of kit – and its screen demands attention. Attention that I very often gave it.

Below, is how my desk looks now.

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Quite Zen isn’t it?

I still have access to my electronic life – I am writing this post on my MacBook.

The laptop sits either on the slide out shelf under the main desktop – or in a book stand to the side. I open the laptop out when I specifically want to use it: At other times – I use the desk to write letters or notes with a pen, on paper.

How novel.

P is for Procrastination

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Of late, writing for me has been 1% production and 99% procrastination.

In fairness, I believe that a large % of most endeavours is spent on activities that have little, or at best, only a tangential bearing on the aim of the endeavour.

Take E-mail for example. Those of us who have worked as office employees at some point in the last twenty years have spent inordinate amounts of time on e-mail.

I have spent a lot of time thinking about this. (Procrastinating perhaps?)

With hindsight, I believe that all e-mail is procrastination. Not some of it, not even most of it, all of it.

You may not believe me, and I am sure that you are right. I am often wrong about these things.

As you are believer in e-mail – please sign up to this site – and I’ll send you the odd e-mail to keep you in the loop.

Forgive me, I have digressed. I am a champion procrastinator. I have multiple methods.

Self-Improvement is one. (Books, Apps, Courses.) Applications. Ways of automating processes that I don’t even do, is another. To-do lists. Facebook. Buying stationery, changing wallets, oh I could go on for ever.

As I write this post, I am in a new daily routine. Essentially, I remain digital-free until after lunch. So far, it has been a huge success. But then it is only day 2.

How do you procrastinate?

Blogging from A to Z Challenge

I is for Index Cards

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Index Cards – This template is courtesy of my writing buddy Amanda Fleet. (Her blog is here.)

Her soon to be released novel, ‘The Wrong Kind of Clouds’ was written using index cards like this. You should get along to her site and pre-order the book – there’s even a discount on it.

I have always been an early adopter of technology. I started writing my novel on a great app called Storyist. I then switched to Scrivener, another great app. I use Evernote as an excellent scrapbook. I can write on a desktop, a laptop, a tablet, even my phone. Yet faced with a sprawling first draft, I had no idea how to whip it into shape.

Amanda led me through her Index Card system. Key scenes are sketched onto the red cards like the one in the picture, and other scenes – ones that join the key ones together are on green cards. Once the cards are written, I can place all of the scenes together onto the dining room table and move them around. The whole novel laid out in front of me in a very visual and malleable way.

I daresay that it is possible to have a screen the size of my dining table and an app that is as intuitive as my own eyes and hands, but I fear that I have crossed that invisible line: where technological advances were once interesting and exciting, now I find them irritating and confusing.

I even complete the index cards with a fountain pen.

Digital Overload

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It’s all got too much.

I have scaled the peaks of the digital life and reached the zenith. From here on, it’s downhill.

I have a Mac, a MacBook and an iPhone. I recently sold my iPad. This combination of very cool bits of kit mean that I am never more than seconds away from my Twitter feeds, (I have three) my Facebook profile, my Linkedin, my Pinterest, my Instagram. I am almost perpetually at Inbox zero. An email arrives and like a digital ninja, I am on it. Either it is responded to, archived, or deleted. I have resolved to read more – so I keep my kindle close to hand, and just in case, I have kindle apps on all of my other devices.

Should you need to get in touch, you can comment on this blog, drop me an email on one of several addresses, send me a text, message me on one of several apps and each of my machines will ding, vibrate or beep. You may rest assured that I will be aware of your communication in seconds.

I may of course, not respond instantly. I may be tied up. I may be updating my blog, scheduling my social media to tell you that I have updated my blog or even reading your blog. I may be checking that my feeds on feedly, medium, bloglovin and others that I have undoubtedly forgotten, are up to date. It is possible that I am resolving sync problems between my fitbit and my iPhone. How on earth can I lose weight if my phone is not correctly reporting daily steps? It may be that I am searching Myfitnesspal for the correct calorific value of 40g of porridge oats. If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it, right?

If I am setting off for a meeting, preparations begin the night before. Laptop, iPhone, Fitbit all fully charged, chargers in bag too. (Just in case). Location of meeting entered onto device to ensure map available. Ensure that all recent communications with person that I am meeting are instantly available on all devices. I can revise on the train. Check out linked in profiles, Google +, Facebook. What music do I want? Playlists up to date? Which headphones? Noise-cancelling? Right – best check the battery levels.

Then I need to update the calendar app – which in turn will update my wife’s calendar, so that she can be sure what train I’m on, where I’m going and what for. Obviously, her life won’t be complete unless she knows this. Once I get to London, I’ll take a quick snap and post some status updates. My friends in Ireland will undoubtedly be fascinated to know what the weather is like in London.

It’s a wonder that I have any time at all for work or relationships or indeed life at all.

At some point, the machines took over. The thousands of ways that technology was helping me, became the thousands of ways that it was oppressing me.

I’m fighting back.

I have ordered a diary. A big book made of paper and card. In it, I will plan my time. What an innovator I am. In this new-fangled thing, I will block off bits of time to check my e-mail, my social media and feeds. I’ll do these things at MY convenience.

I have ordered a ‘dumb’ phone. It can make and receive phone calls. It can send and receive text messages, although only by using the numbers as a keyboard, so you should not expect too much. With only a dumb phone, I shall have to keep myself ‘connected’ only at scheduled times and at my keyboard. I fear that the world may stop turning – but I probably won’t notice without ‘notifications’.

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Calorie control, both input and burn. Well, I am going to eat less food. I am going to eat more ‘simple’ food and less ‘complex’ food – i.e. avoid the manufactured crap pushed at us from all sides. When I walk the dog, I’m going to count the flowers or the birds and not the steps. Maybe I’ll try to walk a little further. I’ll know its working if my clothes start getting a bit looser.

I daresay that the iPhone with all of its apps and the fitbit will be waiting for me in the desk drawer, but I’m quite looking forward to unplugging. Although…what am I going to do in restaurants while everyone else checks their phones?

 

 

Battling BT

Abbotts Ann Wood

Isn’t it beautiful? Spring is most definitely on the way to Abbotts Ann.

The photo has nothing to do with the post, I took it walking the dog this morning.

Happy Mothers Day to all you Mums – and especially to mine – Pat.

I always have a thought today for those not lucky enough to still have their Mum’s around. I am sure that they must all miss them a little more today.

After my recent much up with Sky (see here) I thought I had the measure of the communications giants. Then, my phone line stopped working.

I work from home, so we have two landlines. One for corporate-cobra use and the other for personal calls. It was my corporate one that was not working. There was no dial tone at all. Strangely, the broadband on that line was working fine. A distinct advantage of having two lines is that I was able to take the handset from the line that was working, and swap it with the one on the line that wasn’t. This eliminated the handset as the cause of the problem.

At this point, I channelled my highly technical training in IT Problem Resolution. Yes, I turned everything off, unplugged everything, had a cup of tea, reconnected everything and turned them on. No change. As everyone knows, an IT issue that survives the ‘turnitoffandturnitonagain’ treatment is truly serious.

Undaunted, I turned to the internet and British Telecom’s (BT) troubleshooting pages. Just as an aside – I think that BT may in fact be 35% of the internet. Their website is GIGANTIC. It is impressive that such a massive thing could be so singularly crap.

Where was I?

Ah yes. I went through the online troubleshooter. Essentially I told it the number I was concerned about and clicked ‘fire’, then the page crashed. After four or five repetitions, both the computer and I got bored. I turned everything off and on again. I tried the line test again.

“Not a clue mate. Get in touch.” I am not sure that was exactly the wording used, but it was the gist of it.

I clicked on ‘chat to us online’ and relayed my problem to the dialogue box. A response came through.

“Please wait. I’ll test the line.”

“Sorry for the delay – the test is taking a while.”

“Sorry to keep you”

“Hmm. The test doesn’t seem to be working”

I am 99% certain that the helpful fellow had been hitting the exact same ‘fire’ button as I had. Still, he was not to be deterred.

“Could you switch everything off and then on again?”

“I have tried that. Doesn’t help.”

“Oh. Perhaps I could telephone you and we could check some things together? Do you have a mobile?”

“Its OK, you can call me on my landline. The number is…”

“No sir. Your landline isn’t working. I need to call you on..”

“I have two landlines.”

“Two?”

“Yes. Two.”

“Two? In the same place?”

“Yes. One of work and one for personal use. I suspect that I am not unique.”

There was a pause.

“Ok.”

Now, my cheery friend and I were able to chat on the phone across thousands of miles.

“We need to see if the problem is with your hardware..”

“Let me stop you there. I swapped the phones over – and the phone which I am currently talking to you on, does not work when connected to the other line. So, it’s not the hardware.”

A lengthy pause.

“You have a spare phone?”

“Not spare exactly. It is the home phone, the one attached to the line that we have for personal use.”

“You have two lines?”

“Yes. I have two lines.”

“In the same house?”

The conversation was reminding me of a Monty Python sketch.

“Shall we just agree that it is not the hardware? What next?”

I’ll spare you a line by line account, but the process rambled on – with my correspondent struggling anytime I gave an answer not covered in the script in front of him. Overall, he should be commended though. He reached, and possibly even surpassed, the standard of utter uselessness required by BT – and, in his second language too. Good man.

At one point, I was unscrewing the faceplate from sockets under his instruction. When I asked what hourly rate I should invoice BT for my work, there was the familiar quizzical silence.

The call ended thus. I paraphrase.

“I have made an appointment for an engineer to visit you. I must remind you that if the fault turns out to be caused by storm damage, building work, we are and tear, psychotic mice or anything else within the boundaries of your property, BT will add a charge of £129 to your phone bill for this visit. Is that OK?”

“Certainly. In the spirit of fairness, I apply the reverse of those terms to BT. That is to say, if the fault is outside of my property, I will deduct a £129 from my phone bill.”

“Ummm…I’m not sure that…”

“Never mind. Send the engineer.”

 

I suggested in another post that you go away to a desert island for a week and come back to face the barbarian horde that is your weekly email delivery.

Gettting-To-Zero

Add this horde to the mass of missives that you already have kept, and soon your inbox is so big that it is actually slowing your computer down.

The instinctive answer to this is to delete all the mail on the basis that any important ones will probably get sent again.

I do believe that this approach has its merits, but some of the downsides can be severe – all of my bosses would have taken a dim view of it for a start.

The accepted measure to demonstrate one’s brilliance and mastery of email is “inbox zero”.

Inbox zero is what it sounds like, it is the state of having an empty inbox.

When you assess the inbox is up to you, but the aim is to have a time each day where you reach the point that your inbox is completely empty.

A point where every piece of correspondence that has been sent to you has been ‘actioned’.

_40916095_allen_cigarette203bbcThis approach is often credited to David Allen.

I admit to being amazed the Irish TV wit who sat on a stool, cigarette in hand making people laugh in the 70s and 80s had time to write books on productivity.

Turns out to be a different Dave Allen.

This one designed the Get Things Done (GTD) approach to productivity.

The theory is that I look at my Inbox and act on every mail.

I reply, delegate, delete or schedule. Each choice moves the message out of the inbox.

GTD is alarmingly trendy.

But that notwithstanding, there is something to it. If you feel that you are working for email rather than the other way around, have a look at “Get Things Done”.

I am now pretty much perpetually at Inbox zero.

How?

1. I use Gmail. In my experience, Google have been the most competent provider at keeping spam out of my inbox.

2. I use Gmail. When in doubt, don’t delete – archive. That way, you can always find the mail with a google search of your ‘All Mail’ folder.

It works. It makes the decision making process faster. Knowing that if I ditch a mail too hastily, I can recover it simply and easily.

3. Once at my desk, I take a few minutes to unsubscribe from email lists.

4. I manage mail from all my devices. I can therefore triage my inbox from anywhere.

Waiting for a meeting/bus/coffee? Whip the phone out, and go through the inbox…delete, archive, delete, snooze, reply, add to list and so on. I use a client called Mailbox that gives me these options.

I might not get through the whole inbox in one go – but through the day, I will have dealt with most unimportant email during spare minutes.

5. Turn notifications off. I look at email when I want to. I am not at its command. We all have enough to do without responding to beeps and whistles.

Are you the boss of your Inbox?

MailboxLogo+Wordmark_Vertical_BLUEEmail. It’s all about making things easier and more efficient.

Isn’t it?

Incidentally, I am talking with some smart people. They will redesign this blog to separate the various flavours of nonsense that I write.

More on that another time, but if you have no interest in productivity or IT, stop reading now.

I have posted, well, whinged about Email clients in a couple of other posts. Here and here.

The essence is this: I want to have an email client that sits on my Mac, my iPad and my iPhone and that plays nice with my Gmail and syncs perfectly.

Why?

Over the last 10 years, far from making me more efficient, email has become the biggest single drag on my time and productivity.

Email has become a barbarian horde. Honestly. It has.

Go away to a desert island for a week.

Come back and turn your computer on; instantly there are hundreds, thousands even, of emails waiting for your attention.

How I am trying to manage this, I am going to put into a separate post, as this one is getting longer and longer.

I have tried a lot of different clients and come across some brilliant apps. There are literally thousands of email clients. Many of them however are designed for specific devices.

Handle for example is a cracking wee app for the iPhone. However, it doesn’t have a big brother for the Mac and it wants to be in charge of the calendar, which is a whole new kettle of fish.

Inbox by Google is great on iPhone and iPad. Again, there is no version for the Mac.

I thought that I had found the answer with Mail Pilot, but alas the apps were not syncing; so mails kept reappearing. The exact opposite of what I am trying to achieve.

I wrote here before that Mail Pilot had not responded to my anguished request for help. I was hasty. I received this;

Hi Stuart,

Sorry for the delayed reply. Sometimes after initially installing, the apps can take some time to synchronize. Has this issue resolved?
Thanks!
-Josh

Co-founder + COO

I have gone back explaining that it got resolved after three days by my not using it anymore – but as yet, no further reply.

I have now settled on a mail client that I had used for a while a year ago. Mailbox

The app on the iPad and iPhone is simply brilliant.

The one for the Mac is strictly speaking still a ‘Beta’ which is a version in testing. It is pretty good too, if a little prone to the occasional ‘moment’ or crash, as I believe a ‘moment’ should properly be called.

Firstly, I should point out that if you want to manage email from work; that probably comes off an Exchange server and Mailbox is not for you (at the moment). Exchange is not supported.

Mailbox allows me to defer mails, so that they disappear from my inbox and return at appointed times. It allows me to archive or delete instantly, or to add a mail to a ‘list’.

The app syncs across my devices seamlessly. It is a joy to use, on touch screens in particular. Swipe here, swipe there – all done.

It is a really intuitive piece of kit, that for now at least, lives on all of my machines.

The company behind Mailbox was snapped up by DropBox before the app was on the market.

Online support is thus far excellent and I have had no crash problems.

As this post sat in my drafts folder awaiting my approval, the developers issued new releases of the Mac client. Three in quick succession.

Crashes left, right and centre.

However, it is encouraging to see the app improving and becoming more stable.

I am hopeful that it will soon be a full blown version. Check it out here.

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.