• Living the Dream – 25. Sugar & Spice

    Spice Girls in the cage

    Sugar & Spice, and all things nice, that’s what little girls are made of…

    Quite apart from being a gender stereotype, our “Working Titles” for the newest additions to the Lennon household are quickly turning out to be misnomers.

    Background

    Some monster abandoned the litter of eight at the gates of the pound. Two didn’t make it, and a UK-based family has adopted the boy. Mags met the remaining five girls. (I avoid dog rescue centres, as I am a sucker for sad eyes. We would end up with ALL the dogs at home.) Four were black and white and one was brown and white. The brown one had a twinkle in her eye and a nose for mischief. One of her sisters had a speckled snout, a piercing stare and a fondness for kisses. Sugar & Spice fits the bill.

    First Days

    Sugar & Spice are cute, loving, and stink. Kennel life is not the Ritz and the vet gave us strict instructions not to give the girls a bath until they get their second jabs. They fight as only siblings do, but will not sleep unless they are touching each other. I can sit for hours watching them sleep; in fact I do. Winter storms are crashing across the island, but the girls are only mildly curious. Mostly, they sleep through them. House training is ongoing and both dogs are as smart as tacks. I daresay we will have our hands full. Seconds ago, we discovered that one or other of them , or possibly both, possess weapon-grade flatulence.

    Litter-Mate Syndrome

    Who knew? LMS is a thing.

    It seems that litter-mates homed together can form an unnatural relationship. Mutually dependent, yet overly aggressive. Sugar & Spice go at it, hammer and tongs, with a ferocity that belies their stature. Mags and I were on tenterhooks, desperately keeping the combatants apart. Research and advice from friends was unanimous. The best thing for the girls and for us was to split them up. The risk is that the dogs will become an unhappy, aggressive double-act.

    Therefore, it was, with regret, and a dusty eye, that Sugar returned to her sisters in the kennel, waiting for a new home. While Mags and I steeled ourselves to be strong and stoic, Sugar ran into the kennel, delighted to be back in her pack. Without a second look, she dropped back into routine.

    Our Spice Girl

    Conversely, Spice is proving to be a bit of a Princess. As the only canine in the house, she is agitating for her own spot on the couch, and is less than impressed with puppy kibble. Tinned tuna or freshly roasted chicken on the other hand, she is eager to consume. House training is going OK, I didn’t really like sleeping anyway…

    Job Role

    As with all canines at Nero’s Notes, Spice will, in the fullness of time, be expected to pull her weight, work-wise. Just as with her name, the role will evolve as her character is revealed. For the moment though, she will be featuring heavily in social media. Thankfully, nobody can smell her across the internet…

  • Working Tools – 3. OSX v IOS

    OSX v IOS

    OSX v IOS. Before we start, let’s establish my credentials. I have none. I don’t code and my only expertise in computing is gained from listening to lots of podcasts and struggling along day to day, trying to get stuff done.

    In the first of this series, I outlined that I have both a MacBook Pro (2017 15 inch) and an iPad Pro (10.5)

    IOS Only

    The truth is, I would dearly like to only have one device. I have made a conscious effort to do as much as possible on my iPad Pro with an eye to being ‘IOS only.’

    Why?

    A great strength, and paradoxically, a weakness of IOS is focus. One can multi-task on iOS. Split screens, app pairs and all sorts of good stuff. However, I find it more powerful for single tasking. One app open, doing one thing. I can turn off notifications and focus on doing one thing properly. This is especially true for writing with Ulysses, which I explained here, is one of my most-used apps.

    Judging by twitter and podcasts, this can be a somewhat contentious area. People get very aerated about it, making categoric statements transposing their preferences to proclamations of fact.

    Terrace Setup for IOS

    My mini-desktop

    I would like to be IOS only, but I struggle.

    That is not to say one can’t be IOS only, just that I struggle to be. I find backup in an IOS-only world difficult. I find managing data stores (filing systems) in IOS, awkward. Working through one port means all sorts of dongles and complications, that frankly, I can’t be bothered with.

    OSX

    For certain tasks, I seek out OSX. Podcasting for example. I have a microphone connected and I want to have multiple apps and windows open at the same time. That said, I have recorded on iPad, and it works fine. It’s just a preference.

    Desktop for OSX

    My desktop setup

    (The MacBook Pro is next to the printer, under the standing desk.)

    OSX v IOS is a myth. There is no need for me to work on one platform. I have the hardware and the software for both.

    If I had to work on one, could I? Absolutely. Yes I could. I would have to look at what I do and how I do it, but I have no doubt that both platforms can support my work.

    Convergence

    Will the two platforms merge? Oh, I don’t know. I would suspect, yes.

    Not because of high-powered thinking or philosophy. First and foremost, Apple is a money-making machine. Producing a single engine, which powers all interaction, is efficient. Efficient is profitable. So – is there a time when all of our devices are extensions of one engine? Probably.

    However, the last thing that Apple will do is merge hardware. They want people like me, buying multiple devices – all the time.

    In the meantime, I leave the last word to developer and Apple commentator Steve Troughton-Smith who tweeted;

    “Every time I hold the iPad in my hands it fills me with childlike wonder at how much technology we’ve distilled into a magic pane of glass, with instant access to the world’s shared knowledge. That feeling never goes away for me, and it’s why I feel sad for those who don’t get it”

  • Living the Dream – 24. First Guests

    Our first guests have been and gone.

    Of late, Cyprus was anything but #livingthedream. I had postponed planned travel until the New Year.

    Consequently, I spoke with Clare @ Nero’s Notes and floated the idea that as I wasn’t travelling, she might come here. It was a long shot. After all, it’s a long way to come for a meeting.

    However, before becoming the lynchpin of Nero’s Notes, Clare was a friend to Margaret. She found a way.

    So it was, that Mags and I parked at Paphos airport last Friday evening. Clare, Andy and Molly waited, bags at their feet, outside the main door. We were zipping jackets against the chill, as they took theirs off. It seems we have acclimatised to the temperature already.

    Revelation

    Seeing our new lives through the eyes of visitors was powerful.

    We ate, drank and laughed our way through the weekend. The gang visited a couple of beaches, swam in the Mediterranean and perused souvenir shops. We ate “Meze” with musicians from Crete playing bouzouki beside us.

    Not bad for November!

    Lady’s Mile Beach

    Just for a couple of days, Mags and I saw how others see our new lives. The house is gorgeous, the weather beautiful and the beach ten minutes away. Staff greet us as friends in some restaurants and bars.

    Yes, we talked about the difficult events of the couple of months, and there are plenty of issues and difficulties that we need to work through, but actually, much of what we came for is still here.

    Gratitude

    Finally, I have with an urgent need to work off all the calories that I ate and drank, a growing addiction to a word game on my phone, and a great deal of gratitude toward the Wellers, who managed to make Mags laugh and smile and get us to the beach. I am amazed by how help and support can come from the most unexpected of sources.

  • Working Tools – 2. Software

    Working Tools – 2. Software

    I wrote last in this series about the digital hardware that I use. It makes sense to now cover what software I am in most often.

    I prefer, whenever possible, to use apps that work consistently on all my platforms.

    Shopify. Nero’s Notes runs on Shopify. It’s a strong platform that eases many of the difficulties and challenges of running an online shopping site.

    Xero. Accounts for the businesses are produced here. I cannot recommend these guys highly enough. I can reconcile sales to the bank account on the couch.

    Bank Apps. I’m migrating from ‘big banks’ to challenger banks, both for business and personal. Banking should be easy, so a good app is an absolute must for me now.

    Microsoft Office. Given the choice, I would not have any of these apps (Word, Excel, PowerPoint etc) on any of my devices. They are huge, endlessly updating, monsters. Thing is, everyone else uses them, particularly corporate clients. iWork is compatible with Office, but it’s clunky.

    Mail. I use Apple’s stock app. It’s not brilliant, but it’s ok. Using the stock app means it syncs well, and links with other apps and share sheets.

    Fantastical. The best calendar app. Natural language input is such a winner. I have multiple calendars shared with different people.

    Creating

    Ulysses. My writing tool of choice. I love the simplicity of the interface, and the focus that it brings. I will publish this article directly to the website from Ulysses.

    Ulysses Logo

    A Flutter-bye!

    Audacity. I record my end of the podcast on Audacity, and then send it to TJ. He works the magic in the edit.

    iMovie. On the rare occasion I upload to YouTube, I try to tidy things up on iMovie first. A lot still to learn.

    Consuming

    Unread / Feedly. Unread is where I read blog posts. It’s a reader, and needs a feed. I use Feedly to subscribe to blogs, but I never read in it. I just prefer Unread.

    Overcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts. I would rather use Apple’s own podcast app, for the same reason that I use Mail, but Overcast is just that much better. It’s a great app.

    Netflix and Apple Music. I subscribe to both. So, particularly when travelling, this is where downtime happens.

    Communicating

    Slack. I belong to several Slack groups and administer one or two. I barely understand it, and I’m sure I don’t use a tenth of its capability, but in a world of tense, tetchy open forums, it is nice to inhabit some safe spaces.

    ‘The Socials.’ Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and Pinterest. Not places that I love. However, I run an online business. I need to utilise these channels. I’ll promote this post through them. Whenever I can, I use Buffer to schedule posts. This is more efficient, and means that I don’t get sucked into endless scrolling.

    Messaging. iMessage. What’s App, Messenger, SMS. Different contacts seem to use different formats.

    The Message Bubbles

    iMessage by Apple

    Talking.

    Cellular, Skype, FaceTime, What’s App, Messenger – again there is no consistency across my range of contacts, so I have lots.

    My favoured apps are constantly evolving. In creakingly, I look for ones that I find simple and not distracting. Huge monster apps with masses of functionality that I don’t need distract me. They become an end of themselves.

    Next, in #workingtools –  OSX v IOS.

  • Living the Dream – 23. Bad luck comes in threes

    Living the Dream – 23. Bad luck comes in threes

    The Three

    First, we got burgled. Then came the horrific attack on Margaret and Nero. Now, somebody has gone after the car.

    Generally, I try to be a positive person. I see the glass half-full, and look to see the good in every situation. I don’t mind telling you, it has not been easy to keep that going this month.

    The Third

    On Saturday we went for dinner at one of our favourite restaurants in a nearby village. I parked correctly, on the street, careful not to block anyone or any access. At some point, somebody carved to large scratches into the bonnet and one long scratch all the way from nose to tail on the passenger side.

    Gee thanks.

    I know that there are many terrible things going on in the world, and worse things could happen, but we really could have done without this right now. As Margaret said, every time that we wake up, determined to rally, we seem to get another punch in the gut.

    Hopefully, this will be a straightforward repair job, paid by the insurance company, but I’m wary of assuming anything at the moment.

    We console ourselves with the cliche in the title, that bad luck comes in threes and that we’re done now.

    Moving Forward

    As I type, new fencing is being finished around the house, securing the garden from dogs and, I think, enhancing the look of the place, and we are going to pick out some new external lighting, which will be fitted before the weekend.

    I have secured a new client for my consultancy business and Nero’s Notes is ramping up for the holiday season. The trees are bearing fruit, so tomorrow’s breakfast will be a grapefruit from the front yard, followed by a round of golf. Now; that’s #livingthedream

    View of the green

    It’s not all bad!

  • Living the Dream. 22- Mind your language

    Language Class. I sat on a chair designed for somebody a fifth of my age and weight. My knees let me know that they were not enjoying this unaccustomed position.

    We were waiting for Stavros, who was to be our tutor. Margaret and I had come with our neighbour Nicky, who, to our ears at least, already spoke Greek. Nevertheless, she was adamant that the beginner class was right for her.

    Scanning the room, I guessed that Brits were the majority, but there were East Asians, Middle Eastern people, Russians and Eastern Europeans too. Some had come alone, some with partners of friends.

    “Beginner’s Greek?” Asked a woman at the door.

    “I hope so,” I replied.

    The woman nodded, came in followed a young man. They walked to the front of the class.

    Adults in a children's classroom

    Tiny chairs and furrowed brows

    Greek Level 1

    “Hello. My name is Angela and I will be your tutor.”

    There followed some approximate introductions and a confusion of administration. Satisfied that Angela was in charge, the young man left. Turns out he was Stavros and he had passed us off to Angela for reasons unknown.

    I was reminded of the 1970s UK TV comedy “Mind Your Language”, as the class interacted. I daresay we will be a more politically correct crowd, but the potential for humour is obvious as we all struggle to bend our minds to a new tongue.

    Once it was agreed that bureaucracy and registration would be sorted remotely next week, we moved onto the serious, and surprisingly taxing, task of the alphabet.

    Learning

    There are some letters in Greek that look and sound identical to their English counterparts. A, Alpha. “Got it,” I thought.

    However, the plot thickened. Some letters look like their English counterparts, but have a completely different pronunciation. “Oh good.” I muttered sourly.

    “And finally, we have letters that bear no resemblance to English, in appearance or sound.” Angela beamed.

    I have a feeling that I might be a little long in the tooth for a new language.

    It’s all Greek to me.

  • Working Tools – 1. Digital Hardware

    Working Tools

    I love the analogue. That doesn’t mean that I don’t love digital too. People ask me about both my digital and analogue setups. This then, is the first post in a series called #workingtools.

    Apple makes great kit.

    First, I bought the 3G iPhone, then the 4, the 5, the 6S and the X. I have had iPads, iPad mini and iPad Pro. I adored my MacBook Air, MacBook and several MacBook Pros. I’m on my second iMac. Naturally, I have a Homepod and an Apple Watch. No wonder Apple is the biggest company in the world.

    My Setup

    At my desk

    Here in Cyprus, I have a MacBook Pro from 2017, that works effectively as a desktop. I never found the Touch Bar useful, and now that my Apple Watch will unlock it, I don’t miss Touch ID either. The machine sits in a TwelveSouth stand, under my desk, and is connected to a LG 4K 21.5inch display. I use the Apple Extended keyboard and Magic Trackpad. The LG display gives me a few more ports, and my backup drives are taped to the back of it. I tie the cables together, and run them down the back of the monitor, giving me a nice clean look. Beneath the desk sits a printer and a document scanner. The podcast mic is a Blue Yeti, mounted on a Roder swivel mount.

    A tidy desk!

    Standing Desk

    On the terrace

    Increasingly, I find myself working on my iPad Pro. I have the 10.5 inch 2017 model. I use it several ways. In a shameless copy of Matt Gemmel’s setup, (buy his books by the way, they are great.) I sit it on a Lamicall stand, pair it with an Apple keyboard and use it as a mini-desktop. To store the Apple Pencil, I have a dock from Samdi. I keep the keyboard in the excellent Canopy, by Studio Neat.

    Ipad on a stand

    iPad Pro 10.5

    In the comfy seats

    Sometimes though, I want to work in an easy chair, and then, I slip the iPad Pro into the Smart Cover. I sit with my feet up, and the setup is steady enough for me to type away on my lap with no problems. I love that if I’m just consuming, I can fold the cover back (or take it off) and use the iPad with no keyboard too.

    Easy chair and footstool

    Where I read, work with my iPad, and…snooze

    On the road

    Usually, I travel with the Smart Keyboard. If I’m on a long trip, where I feel I have time for some extended work, then I might take the canopy and Apple keyboard too. While the Smart Keyboard is absolutely fine, I still prefer the ‘proper’ keyboard. I can’t imagine ever taking the laptop.

    Ever-present

    iPhone, Apple Watch and AirPods. To have a powerful computer in the my pocket still thrills me. There are many aspects of my business that I can run entirely from this tiny device, as well as listen to music, podcasts, hell, even make phone calls.

    Next in #workingtools, software.

  • Living the Dream – 21. Moving On

    Moving on from Nero

    In my last post, I compressed ten days into a few paragraphs. For Margaret and I, those ten days felt like ten months. We are both still sad. We both miss Nero and we will never forget him. That, is as it should be.
    Every night, we listen to Nero’s assailant barking.
    That, is not, as it should be.
    I’m not going into the action that we are taking – but we have spent time with the police, the local authority and retained legal counsel.

    Bureaucracy

    In between vet visits, we got the ball rolling on a variety of ‘immigration admin’. The car is now registered – she got her Cypriot paperwork faster than we did. As an only slightly political aside – we had to pay duty. Bringing in our personal, duty paid, vehicle from an EU country, to another EU country, we had to pay duty. Frictionless eh?
    We started the process of getting our residence permit. Yes, we are EU citizens and therefore can exercise the right of freedom of movement etc…but actually, we can’t. For example, we need to take private health insurance, and we need to demonstrate that we won’t be a drain on the Cypriot state. Cypriot citizens don’t have to do that. We need to jump through several hoops to be permanent residents here. #justsayin

    Winter is coming

    The evenings are chilly up in the village now. In comparison with the UK, that’s nonsense. I’m sitting outside in the dark, typing away. It’s 16 degrees centigrade, so 70 degrees Fahrenheit, but it feels cold to us now. I’m still swimming every day, but long-term residents think I’m certifiable.

    Settling In

    Mags has done amazing work getting the house setup. Our furniture is in place, our clothes in the right wardrobes and the house feels more like a home every day – with one obvious exception.

    We both know there will be more dogs in our lives, but how and when – we don’t know that yet.

    Time to get on with #livingthedream

  • Living the Dream – 20. Nightmare

    London

    Mine is the easy nightmare. I had got to the airport, and killed time in departures. As the aircraft took off, I was waiting for a message indicating whether Nero had survived emergency surgery.
    We had adopted Nero at 12 weeks old, and shared our lives with him for 11 years.
    I lost signal before a message came.
    That felt a long, long flight.

    Cyprus

    On landing, I learned that he had survived, but was on the critical list, kept in a medical coma.
    Once home, Margaret relived her terrifying day. It was surreal. Hers was the real nightmare, one that she still relives regularly. Our dog lay dying in a country that suddenly felt entirely alien. Snatched from Margaret’s arms by a huge, snarling dog, at least part Staffordshire Bull Terrier. The attack was prolonged and ferocious. It had bitten and shaken Nero multiple times.
    The vet had operated to rescue his ruptured intestine. He told us to expect the worst. Day by day, Nero improved. The operation had been a success, and a powerful cocktail of antibiotics kept infection at bay. I spoke about it on 1857.

    Operation 2

    Then, things got worse. The antibiotics were, in fact, masking the progress of a voracious infection that was eating Nero up. There are photos, but ones that I cannot bring myself to post here.
    A second emergency operation was undertaken. Large chunks of infected flesh were cut away. Antibiotics were changed – it was decided that a simple protocol would be used – preventing any masking. Again, our boy was on the critical list. Again, each morning, he would stagger to his feet and wag his tail at the sound of our voices. The team at the vets marvelled at his strength and spirit.
    Nevertheless, the infection was unstoppable. Nero was being consumed bit by bit.

    The End

    On the tenth day after the attack, the team rolled the dice one last time. More flesh was going to be removed and an attempt made to graft muscle and flesh tissue around the dog. Nobody could give up while Nero fought on.
    However – the grafts proved impossible. It was clear to the vet that Nero could not survive. So, the decision was made not to wake him from this third operation and he slipped away an hour later.

    We had been crying for ten days, and we’re still crying now. Crying with grief. Crying with fury. A ten day nightmare.

    “#Livingthedream” had become one of the worst times of our lives.

     

  • Living the Dream – 19. Shattered

    It’s shattered. I finished the last post with the following reference to leaving Margaret alone just after our container arrived:

    “Predictably – the day after its arrival, I’m back to London for a brief business trip. Mags will face the mountain of boxes alone, at least for a couple of days. Unfortunate timing? Or excellent planning? Again. I’ll let you know next week.”

    I flew to London Thursday afternoon for a Friday conference. I was giving the last presentation. It went well. There followed an awards dinner, complete with cheerleaders and a stand-up comic. All great fun.

    On Saturday morning, I awoke early and through some sort of instinct checked my phone.

    “#livingthedream” shattered there and then.

    Mags was in the village square, screaming and sobbing, our beloved miniature schnauzer, Nero, bleeding at her feet.

    A dog, habitually chained up, had somehow been freed. It saw Mags and Nero and charged them. Instinctively, Mags scooped Nero up and tried to shield him from the attack. The aggressor snatched Nero from her arms and savaged him.

    Mags’ screams of terror had roused the village and the dog was pulled off. I called at this point. Mags called some local friends who whipped Nero to the vet and my wife home.

    I was due to leave from Heathrow at lunchtime and arrive home in the evening. Mags and I talked on the phone, exchanged messages. Physically, she was relatively unhurt, but I could hear the trauma in every word, sob and tear. Never have I felt so useless and so remote.

    The 12 hours between the voice mail (which you can listen to here – although it’s a very hard listen) and finally getting home are the longest that I have endured.

    So – to answer the question that I posed at the end of the last post – “unfortunate timing?”

    Definitely.

    Timing that will haunt me forever.