Working Tools 38. E-mail Revisited

A huge attraction of going iOS-only, or iOS-first, is simplicity and focus. iPad can do all sorts of multi-tasking, but for me, works best as a single-focus device.

Accepting that my corporate work is easier done on macOS than iOS, has redirected my thinking on workflows.

E-mail

I have three groups of e-mail addresses.

  1. Lime Consulting (Lime). A family of addresses and domains that all come to me.
  2. Nero’s Notes (Nero’s). As the above, but with some traffic directed to Clare.
  3. stuartlennon.com (SL). My own domain, and several older personal email addresses. G-mail and iCloud, for example.

The Lime addresses were aliases of SL. Nero’s forward to SL. That way, I had a unified inbox. Sent mails all came from SL. (Unless I remembered to select the Lime alias.) It was uncomfortable.

Corporate clients expect e-mail to come from a corporate domain, with a corporate signature. This runs contrary to modern thinking. The fashion amongst the “Techeratti” is to have no signature, or a minimal one. This overlooks the inconvenient fact, that for a UK entity at least, it is a legal requirement to include the registered address and company registration number on all correspondence.

Nero’s customers are less picky. Nevertheless, some wise souls like to have an email chat before sending money to a website, new to them. A reply from a different domain is hardly reassuring.

These issues are easily resolved. I split Lime from SL and then set up all three accounts on Mail. Three inboxes in one. Hmmm….now, I have folders and labels, all over the place. On iPad Pro its a mess. On iPhone, it’s horrible.

I am experimenting with having each group of mails in their own app.

iOS

Nero’s are G-suite addresses – so are a natural fit with the G-mail app.

Lime fits nicely with Fastmail, which feels solid and secure.

SL – these are more personal, less constrained, so I’m trying a variety of apps. Favourite right now, is Edison.

Keeping them separate allows me to segregate my duties. If I’m checking my personal mail, I’m not deluged with corporate stuff. If I’m working on one company, I’m not distracted by the other. There’s work to do on notifications per device, but thus far, I’m enjoying it.

Mac

All accounts into Mail. I use “Mail Steward” to back up messages. Old habits die hard, I guess. It plays nicely with Mail. There’s enough real estate and control to manage the multiple inboxes, folders and labels. Largely, I’m only on the Mac to do the Lime stuff anyway.

HEY

Then, my invite for HEY arrived. New, shiny and different. Will this fit in to my system? Where?

I’ll let you know, once I’ve finished testing it.

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Working Tools 36. Horses for Courses

I’m self-aware enough to know, that whining about whether to use one highly-priced bit of tech over another, is easily seen as a humble brag, or a first world problem.

Certainly, in the context of our world today, it’s entirely insignificant. Still winds me up though.

The Dream

Aspirational-me has just ordered a boom arm for my iPad. My desk will be clear, but for some artfully-placed stationery, and a coaster. With careful lighting, I will post on Instagram, #minimalsetup, #chillsetup. Each morning, I’ll write my journals, with the sun streaming in, showing off the gleaming ink from my fountain pens. Then, having meditated, my iPad will swing across, my keyboard emerge from a drawer and I shall morph into the digital entrepreneur, typing in Ulysses.

The Reality

Pragmatic-me has finished reinstating my Macbook pro and external display atop a book case, behind me. (Or #improvisedstandingdesk in Insta-speak.)

Why?

Lime Training and Consultancy Ltd (Lime) supports firms in the retail financial services space. Think Bureau de Change, Money Transfer services, and pawnbroking. Its job is to make sure that these firms are aware of regulation around money laundering and terrorist financing, and have policies, procedures and systems to ensure that they do the right thing. So, I keep abreast of what’s going on, keep firms informed, and ensure their procedures are current and effective.

Case Study

Boom! Regulation change. I need to read some, or all of; legislation (both the old version and the new one; lawmakers don’t publish “track-changes”), regulations, guidance (from multiple sources), professional commentary, and legal opinion. Firms need a distillation of all that.

“What’s happened? How does it impact us? What needs doing? Have you done it yet?”

Sometimes, things are straightforward. I can write a note, publish it as as a pdf and issue it with an imperious glare. Mostly though, I need to explain what’s happened and why, and suggest how things might be addressed. A collaboration ensues. There are many fantastic apps and tools that can be used for this. Trouble is, the firms will use e-mail, Word and Excel and only e-mail, Word and Excel. Given that the customer is always right, I therefore, use e-mail, Word and Excel.

In short, client work generally requires multiple browser tabs, annotated pdfs and screenshots, Word, Excel and e-mail. All to be open and easily accessible. Top notch file management and search is a must.

Possible on an iPad? Sure. Easy on an iPad? No. As to archives, Ipad OS is fine, as long as you have stored in your head the exact location of every file going back to 2009, because the Files App hasn’t got a clue how to find anything.

Word, Excel and multi-tasking all work on an iPad, in much the same way that a saucepan will boil over a lighter. It works, but you’re better off using the cooker.

Accidental Improvement

I’m still stabbing the display with my finger from time to time, but overall the arrangement works well. If I’m standing at a keyboard and screen, I’m in corporate mode. The change of location, posture and machine is an excellent prompt for the required mental gear change.

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Working Tools 35. The Domino Effect

I wrote only last week about breaking stuff.

Turned out that my migration of the Lime website wasn’t quite as successful as I’d hoped. The theme wasn’t responsive, and activating the menu on a tablet or smart phone, overlaid the menu choices on the current page text. It looked horrible.

I have activated another theme – which whilst still not perfect, is holding the fort, as it were.

Updating the site, I stumbled on a process that is inefficient. As part of my iPad first, streamlined workflow ambitions, I set to fixing it.

Trigger

Something happens in the sphere of anti money laundering that I wish to alert my clients about, and to comment on publicly. The first is achieved by sending a briefing note, and the second by posting on the website.

Current Process

I write the web piece in Ulysses and upload it to the WordPress Editor, as per this site. I also export the text to form the basis of the briefing note. Typically, I export it as a Word document (Docx). Then, I edit it, copy it, and paste it onto a corporate template. Finally, I e-mail it to the clients with a covering note.

Opportunity

Aha – I thought. Perhaps I can export it straight to a PDF template from Ulysses. Apparently not. Or at least not without building a bespoke “style” over on Mac, using skills beyond my know-how. Even then, the logo might be an issue.

Hmmm…what about some sort of shortcuts / automation on IOS? Nope. Not that I can divine.

How about one of those swish PDF apps? Apparently not.

A little Google-fu convinces me that it might be possible to conjure something on the Mac but that on IOS, I will struggle.

Simplicity

The simplest way is to compose the briefing note on a briefing note template in either Word or Pages and send it from there. Who knew? I will probably compose the text in Ulysses with no formatting, then copy & paste to Word/Pages. That done, I’ll format for web in Ulysses and export to the site, before returning to Word/Pages and manually formatting the briefing note.

Or – of course, somebody will point out to me that I’m missing something painfully obvious.

Content

Schedule

In June – I’m changing things up a bit.

Monday – I’ll link to the 1857 Podcast release.
Tuesday – I’ll link to my article at Lime
Wednesday – I’ll publish the Members-Only post
Thursday – I’ll publish the regular post (like this one)
Friday – I’ll link to my article at Nero’s

The weekend, I’ll take off, though there may be some “downtime” posts too.

Membership

I’m going to change the Membership program too. Offering more content to members in more forms. I will also be increasing the price. Now – people who became members before June 1st 2020 will retain their legacy pricing. If you do want that warm fuzzy feeling that comes from supporting a writer as he gets going, it will cost less if you do it before June 1st. Become a Member.

Working Tools 33. iPad Pro – Fight!

An iPad is not a laptop. Yes, it is. No, it isn’t. YES, IT IS! NO, IT ISN’T!

People do like to get tribal. The internet is getting all shouty about the latest must-have accessory from Apple.

The tech colossus has released a software update that greatly enhances the efficacy of using a mouse or a trackpad with the tablet. Additionally, they have released a new keyboard attachment for the iPad Pro, that includes a trackpad.

Taking these two things together, an iPad Pro can now look and function in a very similar fashion to a laptop.

The internet is awash with videos, podcasts and articles positing that this configuration is truly the laptop replacement. Some are delighted, some horrified and others incredulous of everyone else’s opinion.

Diplomat that I am – I will steer clear of that debate.

Everyone’s wrong. (Alright, not entirely clear of the debate.)

My view

The iPad Pro flutters its eyelids and in a gravelly, seductive whisper says “What do you want me to be, baby?”

The new keyboard, infuriatingly named the same as the keyboard that accompanies the desktop iMac (Magic Keyboard) does indeed give the tablet a similar form factor to a laptop. Macbook killer. Allegedly.

The software update makes the tablet a desktop. The iMac killer, if you will. It sits on a stand, and is controlled by the the old magic keyboard and trackpad. A stripped-down desktop, unsullied by cables.

The Road Warrior sticks to the smart folio keyboard, (no magic there apparently), which allows for typing but preserves the lightweight portability of the tablet. Essential in the old days when she shuttled around the world making deals, kicking ass and taking names.

When the day is done, the user dons a turtleneck, retires to the couch and reads something impressive and intellectual on the naked tablet.

There are more modes – think Apple Pencil, external displays – but you get the picture.

The iPad is all about flexibility of environment and working practice. By happy accident or prescient design, it’s on the way to becoming the device for everyone – or at least most of everyone.

Apple’s view

Apple is a business, and will have no trouble selling us desktops, laptops, tablets, phones, accessories and services as long as we buy them. Arguments between Apple fans about which hunk of metal is best, bother it not a jot. Apple wants to capture all those people who don’t “compute” on Apple devices. Apple wants the young “future-consumers” to get aboard. These markets aren’t going to be buying huge desktops or $3,000 laptops, at least not many of them.

The iPad is the best tablet on the market, and it’s a pretty damned good desktop and laptop too.

My Usage

I’m writing from my dining room table, where I have setup a temporary workstation while my wife recovers from surgery. I’m in mini-desktop mode.

It’s too hot for a turtleneck, but I do subscribe to magazines and newspapers which I read on the couch through my magic slab of glass.

Eventually, we will be allowed to move again, and I can see myself outside a beach bar, or jammed into a airline seat, tapping away on a folio cover keyboard.(Sand can’t get under the fabric.)

The laptop form? Not for me. I suspect it’s much more stable than the folio if you type on your lap – but I don’t, and if I’m at a table, I find the desktop setup more ergonomic.

These things are always subject to change, but I can’t see myself buying a desktop Mac or Macbook again. Others may buy more of these things – and I’ll be honest, I’m not bothered.

My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. 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 30. iPad First

In April of 2019, I had settled that I was not ready to leave behind a traditional computer and work on iPad first.

Concerns

  1. Backup. Corporate disasters in a past life make me paranoid of data loss. My mac has backups of backups.
  2. Filing systems. I found IOS cumbersome in managing nested folders.
  3. Certain tasks – podcasting for example, just worked better on the Mac.

Remedies

  1. The world has moved on. Everything is online. Either in proprietary databases (my company accounts for example) or remote sevices like Dropbox or iCloud. We have, in effect, outsourced data backup to third parties. These guys have backups of backups don’t they? Don’t they? As you may gather, I’m not 100% sold on this, but I have also come to realise that not all my data is a precious as I would like to think. I’m thinking on that. In the meantime, my Mac sits in a corner, quietly running backups.
  2. The files app on IOS is fine. Could it be better? Yes – but increasingly, I access data, not through a central repository of data, but through an app. This post, for example, originates in Ulysses. I wouldn’t know how to find it in the Files system.
  3. Apple updated their operating system (Catalina) and it broke my podcasting workflow. Once forced, I explored multiple alternatives for both Mac and IOS, and found IOS easiest.

I know what I always suspected. Everything is possible on every platform. It’s a case of having the right workflow for the chosen platform. So – I’m committed to learning how best to do things on IOS.

Project 1

A Newsletter. I want to send a monthly email to customers over at Nero’s Notes, and in the future, one to subscribers here. I have lists at Mailchimp.

Task – Produce a simple newsletter that can serve as a template going forward.

Reset

I was remembering why I had stopped sending newsletters. Surely it shouldn’t be this hard?

My intention was to reach out to some smart people. People who know what they’re doing. However, just like asking for directions, reaching out is only to be done once I have driven round and round in circles for an hour or two. Me? Stubborn?

I went back to basics. A pencil and a bit of paper. I drew out what I wanted a newsletter to look like.

The scales fell from my eyes. The newsletter was the final product that would be sent via Mailchimp, but it was made up of a series of distinct elements. Each element needed to be viewed separately.

Solutions

Photos – there are multiple apps that make this an absolute breeze. I download the photos to my library, edit them to to the right size and resolution (I use Pixelmator) and save them to an album.

Text. I live in Ulysses. I like the interface, and I can make the final version come out in all sorts of formats. I’ll write the copy in this app.

Links. In essence, I want to be on a website, mine or someone else’s, and quickly file the link somewhere. A clipboard, if you will. There are loads of these. Some of which I had discovered in a past life, downloaded and forgotten. Copied is one great option. However, if I tap the share icon, I can save the link into a Ulysses Group set up for the purpose.

Once all the elements are complete – I simply assemble. I upload the photos, paste in the copy and links, and boom, I have a newsletter. I can even use multitasking on the iPad.

It tickles me that this process mirrors exactly the way I cook. All the ingredients prepared and ready to go in advance.

The epiphany was not discovering a specific app, it was rediscovering that doing one thing at a time is nearly always more efficient than multi-tasking.

Shortcuts

But wait…there’s more.

The process above is a huge improvement, but it’s only halfway there.

There are shortcuts.

Literally, the app is called shortcuts. Built-in on IOS devices, this is the successor to an indie app called Workflow. It’s a simple automator. Actually, it can be a really powerful automator too.

Time for me to explore…

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Members 62. New iPad

Well. I did get the new iPad.

However, before it was delivered, my world flipped upside down. When I wrote last week, Mags was really suffering. Last Tuesday, she took to her bed and has not left it since. She is now in another bed – having been through multiple transfers, managed entirely by medical professionals.

My writing is supported by people like you. The remainder of this post is reserved for Members. 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 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 – 6. Writing Setup

Writing Setup

The photo is not staged. I got up from my chair, picked up my iPhone and took a picture. It’s 09:27 on a Friday morning. Mrs L has gone out to do the weekly grocery shop. Spice is in her crate, just to the right of this picture. Once this draft is written, I’ll wake and take her out into the garden for some play and some training.

I would like to be in my office – but I’m not for a couple of reasons.

  1. The office is a converted car port. As such, it has no heating and it’s cold today.
  2. Spice needs attention. We are crate-training her, which requires some supervision and some energy. She is not at the stage where she can be left alone for long periods. It’s easier to bring some work kit to the the kitchen than it would be to take her and the crate to the office.

I could equally have brought my laptop upstairs and used that. I chose, in fact always choose, to bring the ipad instead.

Why the ipad?

I’m not asking you, I’m asking myself.

  • Footprint. I like just having the magic keyboard in front of me and the screen separate. It means I can put the screen off-centre, which I enjoy. Why? Search me.
  • Footprint II. As my workflow changes, this writing setup works with me. I push the keyboard to one side and pick up my notebook. Everything is much easier to move around.
  • The keyboard. I enjoy the magic keyboard, and it is seldom taken down by a speck of dust or a crumb. The MacBook Pro? Well…
  • Focus. I know there is a split-screen mode on the iPad Pro. Periodically, I learn it, then forget it again. The singular focus of one task / one app, is a huge plus for me. I have no notifications on the ipad, and I will remain on the Ulysses edit screen until I’m finished with the post.

Environmental

I listen to a lot of podcasts, but not when I’m writing. Writing, I need some music. Spice and I have settled on some chilled jazz. I asked Siri to play some mellow jazz on the homepod, and, brace yourself, she did. As you can see, it has had the desired effect on Spice, and I’m enjoying it too.

Dog in my writing setup
Spice enjoying the jazz

Conclusion

The iPad Pro is great. So is my laptop. Both run my favourite software for writing (Ulysses). Not surprisingly, I have a top quality range of notebooks to choose from.

For the first time in a long time, none of my Apple kit is the latest and greatest. There is a new generation of ipad pros out. A new Apple Watch. An improved MBP. iPhone X with letters appended. There is a reasonable chance that I will soon be in an Apple Store, unsupervised. Of all the goodies there, I will sneak a look at the new iPads, but I imagine will leave, empty-handed.

The writing setup doesn’t do the work. I use a mix of the analogue and the digital, and I am absolutely certain that my workflows will continue to evolve, but when push comes to shove, there is no substitute for sitting down and getting on with it.

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”