Working Tools 27. Apps-tastic

Apps

The trouble with stock applications not working is that I look for other applications. While looking at an app for one thing, I inevitably find numerous apps for all sorts of other things.

Oh, the first world problems that plague me.

I started with Notes, and then fell down the rabbit-hole.

Productivity

I always pursue productivity, a chase that invariably circles back to task management. I bullet journal, albeit in a simplified way. It’s a struggle to make the system work for project management and segmented lists. I decided to revisit some old friends, namely Things 3, Time Page and Actions by Moleskine. I also had an idea that I wanted to look at habit tracking.

Now, the thing about Things (if you’ll excuse the pun) is that the more you put in there, the more it does for you. Cue a stream of consciousness brain dump into the app. Everything goes into “Inbox”, until I sort it somewhere else. Happy hours ensued setting up areas of responsibility and projects. The greatest irony of productivity systems is the amount of time that you have to put into them.

Moleskine

The Moleskine apps are beautiful, particularly the calendar one. I enjoy that I can customise the views, and the simple aesthetic of the display. Actions integrates beautifully, but lacks features compared to Things, so for the time-being at least, Actions will not get used. I bought an annual subscription to both Timepage and Actions which expires in a few months, so I’ll keep experimenting with them until then, when a further decision will be required.

Habits

In my journal, I have a habit tracker. One that is becoming increasingly complex to manage. Would that work better electronically? Turns out, I had already thought that at some point in the past, and had purchased “Productive”, an app for habit tracking. So – I’m back in that too.

Food Journaling

I have been reading about food journaling. Mostly because I am in danger of being awarded my own postcode unless I start getting smaller rather than bigger. In the past, I calorie-tracked through “My Fitness Pal”. It’s great, but it does require a level of input that I’m not prepared to give any more. I am interested in the psychology of recording what I eat and drink, without necessarily comparing the calorie count between an apple and a pear.

Could I use Day One? I have had this App since 2013, dipping in and out. Now – I am photographing my food, and noting how eating it has made me feel.

Is this going to replace all my analogue tools? I don’t think so. It may change the way that I journal, but I think it unlikely to replace it entirely.

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Working Tools 26. Periodic Apple Whine

I need an Apple whine. I need some grape wine too, but then that’s a constant state.

My Setup

MacBook Pro 15 inch 2017. High spec
iPad Pro 10.5
Apple Pencil 1st Generation
iPhone X
Apple Watch Series 3
AirPods 2nd Generation
AirPods 1st Generation
HomePod

Software

All devices are off-beta on the latest versions of operating systems, so iOS 13 and macOS Catalina.

The Whine

Every device functions less well than it did on the previous OS.

My MBP is slow. Horribly slow. Months into the upgrade cycle, it is still trying to get all its ducks in a row with cloud services. I’m not smart enough to work out exactly what’s going on, but photos and notes are always “working” and never fully synchronised. Various 3rd party services that worked flawlessly in the past, now intermittently fail. Apple Mail is so dreary, I’ve gone off into 3rd party land again. Apple Watch unlocks the MBP, sometimes. One time yes, one time no.

The iPad Pro and iPhone have the same struggles with photos and notes. Almost every day, something stops working for no apparent reason. Usually, the something starts again at a later date. Again – I don’t know what’s causing what.

My second generation AirPods do weird charging stuff. This morning, the left pod was 100% charged, the right one 1%. Maybe I did something? Who knows, it all seems OK now.

The HomePod. This device relies on Siri. Like everything else that works on Siri, it works properly so seldom, that it’s best left alone. We essentially use it as a less-reliable, and vastly more expensive, radio.

The Reality Distortion Field

People used to talk about the ability of Steve Jobs to distort reality. It wasn’t him. We do it to ourselves.

Apple’s software isn’t working properly. For several years, its laptops have been fundamentally flawed, in that the keyboards are insufficiently robust. Its artificial intelligence/voice activation is garbage.

The most expensive IT stuff in the market and none of it works as intended.

And yet, the share price is firm, and the revenues enormous. Why?

Stockholm Syndrome

Apple release a new laptop, that APPEARS, so far, to have a keyboard that, you know, works. Like bullying victims ignored for one day by the bully, we all smile, and tell each other that things are on the up. Even though we’re not buying the new laptop, we bathe in the halo from its release.

The Cartel of Mediocrity

Apple should now be being demolished by the competition. Their overpriced hardware is not fit for purpose and is made unreliable and unusable by software that is either entirely untested before release, or has been tested by hamsters. Apple Users should be flocking to Google or Microsoft. They can’t be this bad.

Ah. Well. Actually…

Ripoff

Apple has sold me goods that are not fit for purpose – the MBP with inadequate keyboard. It has charged me large sums of money for hardware (everything else), which it has then rendered unreliable with recommended operating system upgrades.

What will they do about it?

Release a new top end computer that costs the same as a car — that won’t work as advertised because the operating system is crap.

Yay!

Sort yourselves out Apple.

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Working Tools 25. – The Mac Pro

The Mac Pro

The Mac Pro is on its way.

For years, hardcore Mac aficionados have been railing, whining and whingeing about the lack of a successor to the Mac Pro, less than affectionately known as the “Trash can.” Why had Apple abandoned the top end of the market? When had mediocrity become the target segment?

No! Not good enough. Not modular enough, not high-end enough.

The Kit

Somebody, deep in the Apple-core, rolled up their sleeves and swore fluently and silently, flint in their eyes.

The Mac Pro was previewed at the worldwide developers conference (WWDC) last week.

Boom.

I understand little of these things, but by all accounts, this thing is a monster. Massive processing power. The ability to ramp up the specifications to levels never hitherto considered.

There were gasps and rapturous applause.

Cost

The machine will start at $5,000. Should you want a matching screen, you can have one of those for $5,000 too.

So, everybody’s happy now.

Ah. No.

Not exactly.

It appears that the quoted prices are a mite misleading. The base machine has a 256 GB SSD, which is way too small for most purposes. Apple are renowned for high prices on SSD upgrades. The monitor price is a starter too. Should you wish to have the monitor on a stand, then you need to pay another $1,000. Or, you could plump for a bracket to attach to a monitor arm, yours for $200. I suppose you could lean it against the wall.

I was just listening to two avid apple watchers agree that they expect to be able to configure a single workstation up to $50,000.

Outrage

Twitter is alight. How dare Apple produce a machine so good, so modular, so high-end that it’s so unaffordable!

Apple of course is laughing all the way to the bank. I have no idea how many units will be sold to people that make full use of their capability. I would be willing to bet that the vast majority of sales will be to people who have generated elaborate justifications for why they need the machine. (Look out for key phrases “Spare capacity”, “future-proofing” and the like.) I write as one who has a strong line in elaborate justifications.

Additionally, the iMac Pro has gone from “top end” to “sensible option for pros.” Folk that were hanging on for the Mac Pro will either buy one, or pull the trigger on buying the iMac Pro.

Clever people at Apple. I believe that one day, they’ll be the biggest company in…Oh. Wait.

Other announcements

There were lots of positive announcements on the future of software in the Apple world – and plenty of encouraging words around my favoured device the iPad.

As previously posited, I see no reason currently to upgrade my hardware. Apple is relaxed with that, and has adjusted its pricing accordingly. People are upgrading less frequently, but when they do, oh boy, brace yourself.

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Working Tools 24. – I Like a Good Watch

I like a good watch. Actually, I like several good watches.

Genesis

Back in 1993, I left University and took a full time role in the foreign exchange industry. Not in a London trading room, but in Budapest. I boarded the plane with only an approximate idea of where Budapest was and what it would be like.
On Vaci Utca, I passed a Tag Heuer store every day. Within weeks, I had decided that as an “expat professional” I needed a good watch. When my first pay check arrived, I bought one.

My Tag, a good watch

Over the next twenty five years or so, I picked up several more watches, either on impulse, as a gift or through inheritance. I even have a pocket watch. Part utility item, part jewellery, I like a good watch.

Digital

Then along came Apple. Having established themselves as ever-present on my desk, in my briefcase and in my pocket, the fruit-folk were after my wrist. I resisted. Why on earth would I need a notification on my wrist when I’m forever switching them off on all my other devices, one of which is already on my person? However, I did find myself wearing a Fitbit. I was trying to lose weight and was on the 10,000 step wave. It was only a matter of time before I was seduced by Apple Watch, if only for its fitness tracking.

I like a watch and the Apple Watch is that, and much more. I’ll be honest, I don’t know how to use much of the functionality.

What do I use Apple Watch for:

  1. The time.
  2. My steps, my “standing hours” and my “active minutes” and “active calories”.
  3. Calorie burn during workouts.
  4. It keeps me available (if I want to be) when swimming.
  5. As a quick notification centre; a triage, if you like.
  6. The weather forecast.
  7. My calendar

Hang on. I use this thing a lot.

Surprise

Often, I ache for the analogue. I switch to a dumb phone, and wear a “Slo-Jo Watch”.

When I do, I miss the watch more than the phone, which surprises me every time.

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Working Tools 23. – Time to Upgrade?

Is it time to upgrade my hardware setup?

Hardware

The first post in the #Workingtools series was a description of my hardware setup, and the second was on software. That was in April. All of the hardware is 2016 / 2017, which is unusual for me.

The laptop is of the generation(s) with the fragile keyboard. I’m hoping that it is relatively safe, as I use it in clamshell mode with an external display and keyboard. The iPad Pro is a 10.5 inch and I use it more and more for work.

WWDC

As I write, the Apple WWDC shindig is a week away, and it is widely rumoured that many of the software limitations of the tablet will be removed. This spring event focuses on software, so I expect no new hardware.

Expectations

Realistically, I don’t expect to be closer to an iPad-only workflow. Recording a podcast, importing photos and then editing them, are tasks that I expect to remain easier on machine that allows for some physical connection. However, some of the expected changes will, I suspect, increase the advantage that the tablet has over the laptop for some tasks. I welcome that, but at the time of writing, I’m still happy with the hardware that I have, or rather I cannot justify the cost of any available upgrade.

Presumably, the new software will enable Apple to release exciting shiny things in the autumn, things that will be appreciably more powerful than the things that I’m using now. Perhaps that will be the time to upgrade?

Conclusion

I’m disappointed now. I started this post with a vague idea that WWDC would mark the time that I should upgrade my tablet and pencil. However, as I wrote it, I came to the conclusion that I have no need for any new electronics. I must be getting old.

Still – I may be wrong, Apple may have a surprise in store.

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Working Tools 22. – New Camera

There is a new camera in the bag. Actually, it’s not in the bag, it’s in the pocket. That’s the point.

“The best camera is the one with you” or versions thereof, is often attributed to photographer Chase Jarvis, and he may have been the first to say it, I don’t know. I can’t doubt the veracity of it.

Existing Kit

I have a good iPhone, and it takes excellent snaps. I have no doubt that with sufficient effort, I could learn to harness its power. But, it’s not a camera. It’s a computer. My whole office lives in there. Social media and the internet too. Sure, I’m likely to have it with me at all times, but I’d like to leave it in my pocket.

I have been taking more photographs with my DSLR, a Nikon D3300, and working through the basics of the craft. Learning. It’s a great camera with more capability than the person carrying it. Pocketable; it isn’t. I can wear it around my neck, or carry a bag. Those are my choices.

Portability

I really don’t like carrying a bag if I don’t have to. Nor, am I a fan of having an ostentatious DSLR around my neck. So began my quest for a camera that is portable, powerful, and not a phone. After lots of research, and advice from some smart people, I plumped for a Ricoh GR III.

New Camera

Learning

There is a steep learning curve, upon which I have just embarked. I know, beyond any doubt, how to take unfocused photographs. Fortunately, I am getting the knack of taking focused ones too.

I intend to make “Rick” my constant companion, so that it becomes “the one with me”. I’ll learn by doing, and when I can’t work something out, I’ll dig out the manual and search for the answer. For reasons unknown, Amazon sent me a French-market camera, and though my French is OK, I might struggle with some of the more technical words, so I downloaded an English version. Just in case.

First Thoughts

Observations on the new camera thus far:
1. No view finder. Takes some getting used to – I’m considering the accessory, but will persevere. It may just need some time.
2. Light. There’s no inbuilt flash, so taking photos in low light takes a little more thought and creativity.
3. Wow. It’s clever.

Photography ticks multiple boxes for me. It gets the gears turning in my head, captures memories, and provides shots for the notebook business, and this blog.

I’m not very good at it, but I’ll get better.

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Working Tools – 22. ScanSnap

Filing. Yay!

Alright, it’s difficult to get excited about filing. However, the ScanSnap has made my filing tolerable.

Evernote

I first came across the ScanSnap, in a green jacket: The Evernote Edition. This piece of hardware was completely integrated with Evernote, and I was smitten.

I would flick open the scanner, drop in a document, a receipt or a business card, press fire and it would be automatically scanned and saved into the right place in Evernote. It was awesome.

However, my love affair with Evernote waned. Retasking the scanner to work outside of Evernote was awkward and hacky.

Fujitsu

Eventually, I bought a “naked” ScanSnap, the iX500 by Fujitsu. It looks exactly the same as the Evernote edition, but with a black and blue colour scheme rather than a grey and green one under Evernote.

This allows my office to be paperless. The system transforms all correspondence into electronic format.

ScanSnap

Paperless

There is irony I know, to read from someone who has a business selling notebooks, and runs his life from a bullet journal, that he prefers a paperless office.

Much though I love paper notebooks and writing letters, I’m less keen on paper copies of invoices, delivery notes and receipts. I’m even less keen on paying rent for space to put expensive shelves, where expensive folders sit full of expensive paper that nobody ever looks at.

I love the ScanSnap because it makes scanning so easy. The unit connects to my wireless network meaning it can sit anywhere. Scanning is quick, reliable and easy. Invest a little time in setup, and the scanner will save specific types of documents to designated folders. The software even ‘reads’ the documents, allowing them to be searchable.

Open Scansnap

Instructions

Listening to the excellent podcast, Mac Power Users introduced me to David Sparks and his field guide to “Going Paperless”. Here, I learned about Hazel, a mac app that does much of my filing automatically.

No more filing!

I have to admit, that I have not set up a fraction of the automation that I should have, but nevertheless, once paperwork is into the system, my automated backup routines mean that I have multiple copies distributed across several sites, both physical and virtual.

I have two ScanSnaps now. One in the UK office, and one beside me here in the mountain hideaway.

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Working Tools 20. – Music

“Music is the shorthand of emotion.” Leo Tolstoy.

I’m writing scenes set in Budapest in the early 1990s. My protagonist, Sean is in a bar. Everything is going his way. He’s invincible, unstoppable. The world is his oyster and everything is coming up roses, (ouch – talk about a mixed metaphor.) He is full of that impossible confidence of youth.

I want the reader to feel all of that, to be transported to a smokey bar, whisky in hand, rock music booming from the speakers, ready to party hard.

“Words make you think a thought. Music makes you feel a feeling. A song makes you feel a thought.” E. Y. Harburg.

History

I lived in Budapest in the 1990s. Sean and I have similar tastes in music. To get inside Sean’s head, I decided to build a playlist.

Wow.

I’m back there. It’s all I can do not to pour myself a Johnnie Walker Red. I can smell the bar, see the faces. Memories rush back with every chord.

I messaged a friend from those days. We reminisced about basement rock clubs full of leather jackets, tattoos and sticky dance floors. He suggested some missing tracks. Listening to a playlist melted 25 years, taking us both back to those days. It was a joy to bathe in nostalgia and “feel those feelings” again. The question is, can I communicate those feelings to the reader, without the music?

Technique

I can’t use the lyrics. In order to quote Guns and Roses or U2, I need their permission, which can be withheld or charged for. That’s overhead that I can’t afford, neither in terms of money, nor time.

Still. I’m a writer. Communicating is a core skill, I hope. How hard can it be?

Turns out, really hard.

I’m going to invest some time in creating specific playlists for each character and each venue. At worst, I get to luxuriate in memories of my youth, and the scenes become much more vivid in my mind’s eye.

I’ll publish them in the members section of the site.

Now. Where did I leave that Johnnie Walker?

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Working Tools 19. – The Pocket Notebook

The Pocket Notebook

The original personal data assistant.

I use a combination of digital and analogue tools, which is not a policy decision, rather it depends which tool is right for the job. I wrote about my range of notebooks back in January. The primary function of the pocket notebook for me is data capture, and for that, I consider it unbeatable. I’m very seldom without a notebook and pen.

I’m aware that I could take a note on my phone, but I rarely do.

Why not?

  1. Process versus outcome. Field Notes have a tag line: “I’m not writing it down to remember it later, I’m writing it down to remember it now.” It’s the act of making the note that is important for me. It cements that otherwise fleeting thought. Often, I don’t need to refer back to my notebook, I automatically recall what I wrote. This is less true of things I have typed.
  2. Efficiency. I hand write much faster than I can type on a phone. I could dictate I suppose, but people think I’m weird enough without me wandering around mumbling into my phone all the time.
  3. Presence. I do not buy into the idea that screens are destroying the world, but I absolutely know that a smart phone can undermine and divert human attention. In the pocket is better than on the table, I find.
  4. Musing. Doodling. I draw very poorly, but from time to time, I get something from making marks on paper. It soothes me. (Told you I was weird.)
  5. Availability. My notebook is always on, and never loses power. Should my pen or pencil disappear or fail, it’s usually quite easy to replace. A phone, less so.
  6. Archive. I’m old enough to have learned that digital data is transient and impermanent. How many people had their lives backed up and preserved on floppy disks, video cassettes, and CDs? How many dissertations survive only in digital formats that can no longer be easily read? Sure, we can migrate data to newer formats every few years, but who does? I could lose my notebooks, or they could be destroyed, but a disaster apart, they will be just as legible in twenty years as they are now.
  7. Hashtag. Pick your favourite. #amwriting, #hipster, #analog. It was pocket notebooks that got me back into stationery – so much in fact, that I bought a notebook business. There are some really cool notebooks out there. (Most of them @NerosNotes)

Membership

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Working Tools 18. – Bullet Journal Update

Working Tools 18. – Bullet Journal Update

At the end of this month (April), I will finish my third consecutive bullet journal. I started here. Six contiguous months, planned, noted, bulleted, journaled. Six months counts as a consistent practice and I feel qualified to write a review.

Bullet Journal Update

What works?

By far the biggest win for me, is how the practice fits into a morning routine. The morning routine is beloved of productivity gurus and enthusiasts. I once bought access to a course on the morning routine, and when we got to the section on “go to the bathroom”, I realised that I may, with no formal tutoring, be a guru myself. I have been regularly going to the bathroom for years. That aside, getting the day started right certainly beats getting the day started wrong.

Morning routine

Leaving out the bathroom, my days starts with an espresso (or more likely two) and my journal. I write the date and then my first note of the day, which is always a gratitude note. I simply write one thing for which I am grateful. Isn’t that nice? Try it. You might be surprised. It does make you feel good.
From there, I’m automatically jotting “To Dos”, reviewing calendar events, just getting an idea of how my day is going to unfold. Once I am down in the office, I will more formally review the previous days – and check if there is anything that I want to migrate forward; either an uncompleted task, or a note that I took. At this point, I will decide which of my tasks are priorities, my “must-dos”. These, I mark with an asterisk.

At that point, the journal gets closed. I don’t constantly refer to it during the day. In many ways, it is the act of the practice that is important, rather than the output. An analogy might be that the journal is an old-fashioned road map rather than a satellite navigation system. I look at the map before I set off.

Reference

Generally, I start the day with creative tasks. I stay away from e-mail and social media, lest my day start by other people prioritising my day for me. As I go through the day, I do sometimes refer back to the journal, either to check completed tasks off or to make a note. At some point, I will review “inbound”, where there will undoubtedly be tasks for me to deal with, note or ignore.

Evening routine

In theory, I review the day and make the odd note. Often, I don’t get to it. It is a lovely way to close the day out, if I can be disciplined enough to do it, but sometimes, well, life happens.

What doesn’t work?

Collections

I have some that I setup at the beginning of each journal, but adding to them does not come naturally to me, I’ll concede. I also create some on the fly, when I have need. At a conference that I recently attended, rather than using the pad provided for notes, I created a collection in the journal. Similarly, I have drafted blog posts in the journal – rather than carry around another notebook.

Bullet Journal Update

Conclusions

Ryder Carroll, the guy behind #bujo gets a bit of stick. Some suggest that his book on the subject goes OTT on what the system can do for you: “Bullet Journal to the rescue!” One can see where people are coming from, but I get the impression that Ryder is self-aware and maintains a balance between promoting the system and staying humble. I find my bullet journal practice helpful and will continue it. I will customise it and evolve it, which is exactly what Ryder suggests you do.

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