Working Tools -15. Tripit

Tripit is another digital tool. Last week, I wrote about analogue tools, so this week, something truly digital. I travel a bit, and Tripit is now my goto tool for travel plans.

Camino de Santiago

The best way to demonstrate why I like it, is to provide an example. I am walking the Camino de Santiago, following the Via Francés, which runs from the French Pyrenees to Santiago de Compostela, five hundred miles away. I am doing it in stages, a week a year, for five years. This year will be the fourth. We are starting in Léon and finishing in Triacastela, one hundred and ten tiring miles later.

There are many ways to walk the Camino, and my walking-buddy Stuart, (I know, it confuses everybody) and I have settled into a routine where we pre-book our overnights. We’re both creeping up on fifty years old and after our first camino decided that dormitories have had their day for us. We share a room in a cheap hotel. Now, we walk at an easier pace, and often enjoy a leisurely lunch, secure in the knowledge that we can roll into our chosen village at six pm, our bed secured.

Camino by Tripit!

The Process.

I sit down with the guide book to plan our next stage. First criterion is that both Stuart and I are very lucky in that our wives put up with us disappearing for a week each year to go walking, and we don’t want to push our luck. We stipulate that we will go for no more than eight days. Two days travel and six days walking.

Task 1.

International. Stuart starts from Dublin and this year, I start from Cyprus. We need to get to Léon to carry on from where we finished last year. I use RometoRio and Skyscanner to work this out. This year, we will be landing in Madrid, and taking a bus to Léon. Leaving, we will be getting a bus from our finish point to the town of Sarria, overnighting there, before getting a train to Santiago de Compostela, and a bus to the airport there. That worked out, I book my flights, and Stuart books his.

Task 2.

Stages. We are pretty comfortable at around eighteen miles a day. Less than fifteen feels too little and twenty plus feels a slog. Using the guidebook, I identify likely stop points, and then search accommodation options online. I tend to use booking.com. Twin beds, private bathroom and access to a laundry service or washing machine is essential. We carry everything that we need for the week on our backs, so the ability to wash and dry clothes is non-negotiable.

Task 3.

Finally, we get to Tripit. I go to my email, which is now full of booking confirmations from airlines and hotels. I forward all of these to Tripit. This is where the magic happens. In moments, all of the bookings are collated into an itinerary that is available to me online or on an app in my phone. Each booking is summarised on a master view, and I have the ability to drill into the detail. The reservation number, the cancellation terms, the payment status, everything. For example, in one of the bookings, this is listed under Notes:
“Notes. This room features views of the Santa Mariña Church. It comes with 2 single beds and a private bathroom.”

Advantages

Everything that I need is stored in the app and online. I can share the trip plans, so that everyone is in the picture. I am able to add notes and pictures to any item in the itinerary.  We are not pre-booking bus tickets, we will buy them on the ground, but I am able to save the schedules in the itinerary, both the buses that we plan to take and the fallback options, because, well, life happens. Stuart and I are both now looking at the route, reading blogs, seeking out sites to visit, churches to see, even restaurants, (we take lunch very seriously). All of this can be added to Tripit.

My writing is supported by people like you. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year, which will, this year, include my debut novel. Become a member.

Working Tools -14. Writing Instruments

Writing Instruments

Writing instruments are important to me. I consider myself a writer and keep several journals. I own a notebook company. Of course, writing instruments are important to me.This post could run to pages, and I daresay that this is a subject area to which I’ll return. I will try not to go on too long today.My love affair with pens and pencils is similar to my relationship with bags. I adore finding and using the write instrument for the purpose at hand.

Matching

This “matching” is more important to me than any subjective or objective measure of quality or merit. For example, I own a Pelikan 805 Stressemann fountain pen and I own multiple Mitsubishi Uniball UB-150 gel pens. For my bullet journal, I will always reach for a Mitsubishi rather than the Pelikan, even though the Pelikan is a magnificent fountain pen, that is expensive and a joy to own.
Writing a letter to a friend, I will always reach for a fountain pen. Often, I might reach for several, changing pen, nib and ink, mid-sentence. Drafting a chapter, or a blog post, I might use a pencil, a rollerball, a gel pen, a fountain pen or, at a push, a ballpoint. Which will depend on where I am, and how the mood takes me.

A beautiful Writing instrument
Isn’t she gorgeous?

Tools

Ultimately, the writing instrument should simply be a working tool. It shouldn’t, and doesn’t, matter what we use, it matters what we do with it. Nevertheless, it helps if you enjoy using your tools. I definitely enjoy mine too much. I even have pencils coming by subscription. Heck, I even bought a notebook company!
Analogue writing is mounting a comeback in this, the digital age. There is much research that using pen or pencil stimulates parts of the brain that keyboards simply don’t reach, and the success of Moleskine and Field Notes has led to the launch of multiple competitors.

Everpresent

Whether I be hiking the Camino De Santiago, or sitting in a coffee shop, I am never without a writing instrument and a notebook. Marie Kondo would approve; they bring me joy. Handy for making a shopping list too.

My writing is supported by people like you. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Working Tools -13. Baron Fig Messenger

Baron Fig Messenger

It’s been over a month since I changed bag. Perhaps a record? There must a syndrome name for this obsession. Now, I’m into a Baron Fig Messenger. This latest change was prompted by a super-short trip. Sunday last, Nero’s Notes had a table at the WES London Spring Show. Tuesday just gone (yesterday, as I write this), was Mrs L’s birthday.

Therefore, the confluence of these two events meant that I was flying to the UK on Saturday afternoon and returning to Cyprus on Monday morning. I could choose either to live out of one bag for the duration of the trip, or, as I ultimately chose to do, have one bag for the hotel, and one for the show and “out and about”.

New criteria. New bag.

The Pacsafe

The PacSafe is an excellent bag and for a commute, I would definitely recommend it. However, there is a lot of it. It’s big. I wanted something lighter and smaller. In my mind’s eye, I expected to be doing a fair amount of walking about town – not necessarily with a destination in mind. On my last trip, when I went for a wander, I left both my bags in the hotel, I think, because of size concerns.

I have recently acquired a Messenger bag from Baron Fig. It’s small, the opposite of tactical and a pleasing shade of baby-blue. To be honest, spec-wise, it is not in the same league as the PacSafe. But, its small and cute.

A Messenger bag by Baron Fig

Pros & Cons

A real advantage of “small” is that it places constraints on what I can carry, forcing me to keep things light. From that point of view, this definitely worked. However, there was an issue: My DSLR. I have, on 1857, been talking about getting more into photography and wanting to carry a camera, other than my phone, around with me. I had been toying with the idea of buying a new mirrorless camera and prime lens, giving me a compact form but a huge sensor. Whilst an attractive idea, I had rejected it, in favour of a new lens on my existing Nikon. It is only a little bigger and heavier. The trouble is, that little counts. A camera and lens is a bit boxy, and boxy is anathema to Messengers, at least in my mind. As a result, the camera ended up around my neck, or in the wheelie bag. Food for thought.

Conclusion

The Baron Fig is a lovely bag. It is well-built, looks good and does the job. I believe that the newer version has some water resistance, however I suspect that the person carrying this bag is not hiking or cycling through a storm. This bag might jump into a Lyft or an Uber when the rain came. The zips are tough and heavy duty, but they are metal. Metal doesn’t always play nice with things being pulled in and out of the bag. As a smaller model, it doesn’t offer the versatility of the Pacsafe, although it would be a mite unfair to criticise a small bag for being small.

I suppose the real question that I face is, bigger bag or smaller camera? The search continues…

Working Tools -12. Buffer

The Dilemma

I wrote before about my distrust of Facebook (and by extension, Instagram), and Twitter. Ultimately, I find the way that they harvest and trade in personal data abhorrent, and the way that they allow themselves to be instruments of manipulation, dangerous.
Nevertheless, this is where the people are, and whether it be my writing or my notebooks, I want people to see what I’m up to; so I need to continue to post on Twitter and Facebook. In large part, I do this from one remove.

Buffer

I use a tool called Buffer. This is a web service that allows me to create and schedule posts in advance from an independent platform. Once a week, I sit down and prepare a week’s worth of content. I schedule Facebook posts, Tweets, LinkedIn updates and even Instagram photos (although Instagram/Buffer is a bit awkward). This isn’t my sole interface with social media, but it does help me maintain a more intentional presence. I have no notifications turned on for any social media channels. No little red numbers, no banners in the notification centre, no cute little sounds. I look at social media when it suits me, not the other way around. I recommend that everybody do this with pretty much all notifications, on all things. My phone rings when someone calls it, and beeps when I get an iMessage or SMS. That’s it. My iPhone home screen is empty, bar one app in the dock. The telephone.

Other check-ins

  1. Instagram. I check in at the beginning and the end of the day, to respond to any comments on my posts and to have a little browse myself.
  2. Facebook. I don’t go there anymore, perhaps once a week, I might have a scroll through some of the Groups. Clare looks after the Nero’s Notes Facebook page, and it connects through to the shopfront for any customer queries.
  3. Twitter – Once a day, I check mentions, retweets and spend a little time scrolling through for something of interest.
  4. Linkedin. As per Facebook, I might have a look every week or two.

Content Inbox

During the week, I will top up my Buffer queues. Buffer allows me to set up “Content Inboxes”. These are made up of RSS feeds, so when the Pen Addict publishes, this will appear in my Nero’s Notes Twitter Content Inbox. I can then add this to my queue. It seems likely that people following Nero’s Notes are going to be interested in the output of the Pen Addict, and so giving them a link to it, is a service, of sorts. Similarly, my own blog posts appear in the Content Inbox and I can then push status updates and tweets from there.

Summary

There is always a risk that social media will suck away time, but tools like Buffer do make it easier to manage and control. Buffer can’t replace genuine interaction, but it does provide a background ‘base’. I’m not looking to profile, target and pursue customers with Big Tech’s data harvesting, I just want to let people know that we’re here and that we may have something that they are interested in.

My writing is supported by people like you. If you can support me, I’m very grateful. If you choose not to, that’s OK too. Membership costs £12 per year. For this princely sum, you will get access to subscriber only posts, direct access to a members chatroom , and a digital copy of any and all work that I publish in the year. Become a member.

Working Tools 11. – Twitter

Twitter. It’s a dumpster fire!

This has become a cliché. Facebook is, in my opinion, corrupt to its core. It’s mission, honestly expressed, would repulse its users, so it publicly  espouses a different mission, while quietly pursuing the first. It may be that Twitter is the same, but my personal experience of it is different. I have never shared much personal information in the same way as I did with Facebook.

Where Twitter gets ugly is in the arena. A new user might not realise that they are entering a Coliseum, but they surely are. Try tweeting “I think Donald Trump is an honest, straightforward man, much maligned.” Or “Brexit. Seems OK to me.” Go on. I’ll wait.

Welcome back. How did that go? It’s war out there, isn’t it? I wasn’t an early adopter of Twitter, but I’m told that it was not always like this. There were, and I would argue still are, pockets of Twitter that are fun, supportive and useful. I met my writing buddy there for example. However, these pockets are hard to find.

Twitter has started to monetise; to make lots of money. To do so, as an early step, it is exerting control over the timeline. (Facebook did this too). So, rather than only seeing Tweets from people that I have chosen to follow in chronological order, I have to see what the service has curated for me. To this end, Twitter is removing support for third party clients, whom I could pay to avoid advertising, making it harder and harder for me to exert control over my own timeline. The risk is that more and more entities will pay to use the platform to try to influence and manipulate me – although that’s not my greatest fear. I have learned to avoid that risk, I don’t regard tweets as a news source.

Twitter reminds me of a Terminator from the eponymous movie. It’s relentless. Merciless. I can mindlessly scroll on and on through Twitter, and it will keep serving me more and more tweets, retweets and ads. Minutes can become hours. Sometimes, I can actually feel my time and my energy slipping away in the endless scroll. I’m schooling myself to focus on the good and ignore the bad.

I have adopted a similar approach as with Facebook. I ignore the metrics and don’t advertise. When “fires erupt”, I simply scroll on through. Unlike Facebook, I do still visit Twitter, but only for short durations at the beginning or the end of the day.

Working Tools 10 – Facebook

Facebook (FB). By any objective measure, it should be dead now. It lies, it steals, it believes itself to be above moral, legal and contractual considerations.

Increasingly, consumers are aware of this. There is vocal disgust. There are movements urging us to quit Facebook. And yet, the company appears impervious to scandal. We’re told that numbers remain robust.

Frankly, I wouldn’t put too much faith in that, I have no doubt that Facebook has no compunction in lying about numbers. They lie about everything else.

Why stay?

Actually, on a personal level, I am disengaged from Facebook. I have tied down the privacy settings as much as I can, and I no longer post there directly. I stay for two reasons;

  1. Nero’s Notes. To have a company page, I need a personal profile.
  2. As a signpost. When I post articles like this one, some people find out via FB.

However, even these prompts to post are diminishing. Dealing with FB as a small business is almost impossible. To inform:

  1. The FB page points to http://nerosnotes.co.uk but is called pocketnotebooks (the original name of the site). Changing the FB page name to nerosnotes would be confusing. Apparently.
  2. Many products are not available on the FB page as they breach FBs rules. “#DigitalDetox” for example is disallowed for making false health claims…(by nature of its name.) Bots, it turns out, love a rule, dislike an appeal.

Ethical Use

I wrote before about ethical use of social media. I stopped using FB’s advertising tools,  and ads.

Consequently, I have mimimised the data that I give out and I make no use of the data that FB offers me. Nor will I give it any money. I daresay that a combination of those things will mean that my pages appear less often in other’s timelines and the utility of the profile and pages will gradually decrease, dying of natural causes, as it were.

I’m comfortable with that.

Instagram

On the other hand, there’s Instagram (IG). That’s a much different place. It’s lovely. Rainbows and Unicorns. Isn’t it?

It’s true that there is a nicer feel about IG. However, it was bought by FB. There is no indication that there will be any difference in the business model. My response therefore is the same. I’ll keep posting, but I won’t buy advertising, I won’t buy data, and I’ll be very careful about what data I give them.

Conclusion

I’m sure that people working at FB are lovely. However, the single-minded pursuit of capturing personal data for corporate profit means that as an entity, it’s poisonous.

Bottom line for me – people are on these platforms, so I have a presence, but I’m being very intentional about how I use and/or support Facebook Inc.

Working Tools 9 – Social Media

Using social media: A hot-button subject right now. One upon which, I am no expert.

Usage

As an individual, I have accounts at Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Micro.blog. I have had, and probably still do own accounts at Google+, Pinterest and Vero. Nero’s Notes posts on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Lime Training and Consultancy posts to LinkedIn and Twitter.

This post will be be advertised on several of the above feeds. It is very possible that you, much treasured reader, came here via one of these channels. Neither of my businesses have actual shopfronts, they exist online. Whilst not the only channel available to me, online presence is important. It’s worrying therefore, that so many folk appear anti-social media at the moment.

Facebook

Honestly, I’m conflicted. Facebook, which also owns Instagram and What’s App, an app that I use for Messaging, is attracting all sorts of headlines for the wrong reasons. I’m sure that the vast majority of people at Facebook are lovely human beings, but from the outside, the company is an underhand, toxic, scary nasty thing. It lies, dissembles and ruthlessly exploits consumer ignorance or apathy to trade in private data and manipulate people for profit.

Part of me wants to publicly blow up my Facebook profile and urge everyone I know to do the same. As it’s the company that irks me, rather than the product, that means Instagram and What’s App need to go too. Just as I resolve to leave, my business voice pipes up. “What about customers?” People come to the web shop from Facebook. And from Instagram. Would those people come if there was no presence of these channels?

Twitter

Hmmmm…Twitter. Twitter is a polarised place. Frankly, often, it’s a horrible place. Navigating Twitter requires a calm mindset and an ability to ‘walk away’. I do participate in some #chats that are positive, fun and useful, but general scrolling on this platform can be fraught. Again, on a personal level, I wouldn’t miss it. I know many people see Twitter as a place that allows the far right too much platform and freedom; my own view is that none of these platforms give a hoot about one side or the other, they are purely focused on engagement – and hate, engages.

Any that follow me might be sceptical of my claims above. For someone who doesn’t like social media, I sure do post a lot on social media. That conundrum is easy, I use an app called Buffer. I will write a separate post on how I do that.

I have been trying to reconcile a position where I don’t want to be wasting time on social media, but I do want to be posting on social media. Such a position feels hypocritical.

Conclusion

Social media is neither good nor bad. It’s both. Rather than feeling that I must walk away from certain platforms, I have been working on designing an ethical use policy. I’ll post about that here too.

Working Tools 8 – Messenger

“A Messenger bag. That’s what I need.”

The ink had barely dried on “Briefcase” and I was already second-guessing the decision. Neuroses apart, an element of my decision was use-case. I explained that a backpack and or a messenger, although my favourite bag style, didn’t work for me when I’m suited and booted. True enough, but actually, this trip, I’m not going to be in a suit. I’m corporate on Monday, but the two scheduled meetings are informal, and it’s winter. I’m likely to be wearing lots of layers and a warm coat.

This changes the calculation. Without the need to look formal, I’m looking for a bag that’s comfortable to carry both in conjunction with a wheelie bag and when manoeuvring through public transport. In both London and Bristol, I’m likely to be walking a fair bit.

So now, my key concerns are carrying the bag around town and in-flight performance. My eye dropped to the Pac-Safe Carryology collaboration. It’s out of stock now, but there are alternatives on the site, and some great images too.

This will be packed light, with the majority of my kit going into the wheelie. Therefore, the messenger will sit easy across the body and have space for any shopping that I might pick up at any point. Somewhere to stow scarf, gloves and hat will be useful too, England in February can be many things, but colder than here seems a safe bet.

The PacSafe’s security features are useful. Living away from the big city has eroded my street-wisdom very quickly. Being able to anchor the bag to the table/counter is a comfort.

The Pacsafe is more capacious than the Tumi and less rigid. It’s therefore more flexible. The bright orange lining is a real feature too. Finding things in the bag is a breeze.

I carry my iPad in the pocket designed for it, and my notebooks sit where the laptop would live, if I carried one. There are a host of useful internal pockets and the large external, protected by a security zip, is a great spot to drop my passport and mobile phone when navigating the airport. This feels a good solution for my travel bag – and currently serves as my daily commute here in Cyprus.

Commute? Allow me to explain, while Spice is still in training, I take the early-morning shift – so I work upstairs from 0530 until around 8, and at various times during the day while Margaret makes our home-life work. Even though the commute is literally a flight of stairs, the Pac-Safe is flexible enough to act as my remote desk.

I’m happy with this change of direction – although that may well have moved on before this even gets posted. To borrow a catchphrase from the PenAddict – “There are worse addictions to have, right?”

Working tools 7 – Notebooks

Mike Hurley and Federico Viticci, two of my favourite podcasters, are fans of the “multi-pad lifestyle”. I believe the phrase may have been coined on Cortex, a show that Mike does with CGP Grey, but don’t quote me on that.

I live the multi-pad lifestyle too. They, of course, are talking about iPads. I’m talking about pads. Paper ones. You know, like notebooks. I use a lot of notebooks.

Notebooks
A small selection

Current Setup

Let me give you an insight.

1. I carry a pocket notebook and a writing instrument everywhere. When I wake, it is beside my bed. Then, it lives in my pocket or by my side all day. I use it to record anything and everything. An observation, a thought, an aide-memoire.

2. Bullet Journal is my daily driver. A free-format planner if you like. I track things in here and it serves as my task list and time-blocker.

3. Scratch pad or book. Sitting at my desk, I often think things out on paper. Or doodle. If I do this in the Bullet Journal, I would burn through them.

4. Novel Kit. I use medium/A5 size cahiers. These often come in three packs and I use a pack per novel. One is for plot, one is for characters and one is for research.

5. Learning. A medium or large book that lives in my office. I passionately believe in the importance of learning. Whether that be how to use an app, edit a photo or edit a website, I love to learn. I have one book for media skills, one for corporate compliance stuff and one for Greek language.

6. Procedures. Not the most exciting, but I have discovered that I have an enormous capacity to forget things. This leads to a loop of discovery, implementation, amnesia, which whilst fun, is not terribly efficient. I have started writing these up, and they exist in notebooks and digitally. I imagine that the more team-oriented ones will live in the digital world, whereas my own, – say, photography workflow, will live in a book.

7. Standard Memorandum. Here I record a single thought every day.

You can see why I bought a notebook company.

Benefits

Part of this extensive use is, I concede, a vehicle to allow me to use lovely stationery, but it does serve other purposes too.

I need to make space in my head. Getting things down on paper, allows me to forget them. Once one trusts the system, then having written something down, I can forget it and come back to it at a time that suits me. This is a key element of the Get Things Done methodology and many other productivity frameworks.

I find that taking notes helps me maintain attention. If I don’t, I am more than capable of completely blanking a fifteen minute video.

Reference: Not only can I refer back to notebooks as reminders, I can get a glimpse of what I was doing and feeling at specific times.

Notebooks are important to my workflow. It helps that I love them too.

Working Tools – 7. Briefcase

I co-host a podcast, 1857. On episode 51, we inadvertently touched on one my neuroses. Bags. Backpacks, messengers, briefcases, holdalls and everything in between. I am constantly on the hunt for the perfect bag (or bags). Interest was huge! People coming back with questions, advice and suggestions. Many wanted to know what I plumped for – so here we are. For everyone’s sanity, I’ll limit this post to my work bag, nobody is interested in how I pack my shirts. Mostly, I work from my home office, which is directly below my living room. From time to time, I attend meetings, either here in Cyprus, or elsewhere. This might be in my guise as a compliance consultant, the notebook guy or possibly even both. So I need a bag that will sit comfortably with both of those personae. One that can come to a pen show or to a boardroom.

I love Messenger bags and backpacks. However – I don’t like either with a suit. I know that many suits use these types of bag daily, but I find that the bags do not sit right with the jacket. I don’t see the point of making an effort to look smart, then destroying that look with the bag. A specific and personal opinion, I know. Therefore, I am left with briefcases / shoulder bags (some of which can be worn across the body too). The specific trip that I am packing for is, 4 nights, 3 days. 1 day leisure, 1 day being the notebook guy at a pen show and 1 day as a compliance professional. I fly out on Friday evening and return home Tuesday.

Contents

This is what I’m taking:

Digital

Digital Tools
For a short trip

iPad Pro 10.5 (2017). Bose Comfort 35 Noise reducing headphones. Anker charger (4 x USB), Kodak battery pack, AirPods, Punkt M01 feature phone, some lightning cables, and an Apple Watch charging cable.

Analogue

Briefcase analogue contents
Paper, pens and pencils

My LT1917 Metallic A5 and pen. 2 Bellroy wallets. One for pocket carry and 1 for additional cards. Smythson business card holder and LT1917 business card holder. Pocket Notebook and Nock Tallulah mini pen case for a few writing instruments.

All of that will slot into my Tumi briefcase that I bought several years ago, in Helsinki, I think.

Briefcase in Black
Corporate Cobra!

Conclusion

The briefcase is made for a laptop around the 13 inch mark. I can squeeze my 15 inch MBP in, if pushed. The dimensions in cm are 42 by 30 by 10 or so. The bag will fit comfortably under an airline seat, which is my preference. I like to be able to get to anything that I might need without doing the whole seat dance thing.

However, the briefcase is quite rigid and as such requires a ‘everything in its place’ approach. Rummaging around in this bag is uncomfortable. It hurts. It does unzip all the way open, making it TSA friendly. Of course, the rest of the world cares not a jot about the TSA, so don’t think you can leave your laptop in it for scanning at Heathrow.

Briefcase opened out
Only useful in the US

The shoulder strap is detachable and adjustable. It can be worn over the shoulder or across the body. It’s very high quality, and I suspect will last forever. The slim profile means that duty free shopping etc is not going to slot in this bag, but will either need to live in its own bag or be slipped into the wheelie with my clothes.

If I was slipping down to a coffee shop to prominently place my notebook and iPad and look the ‘hipster writer’, I’d want a softer, less corporate briefcase, but that is,
a: Because I’m a poseur
b: For another post

Overall, this is a high quality briefcase, well-designed and built. It sits between the minimalist “cool” size and the corporate road warrior “all bases covered” size. Yet still, I find myself drifting to bag websites…