What I use 2016 edition

Here’s an update on the kit and software I’m using on a daily basis, just in case it’s of use.

My main computer is an 11” Macbook Air.

It has the i7 processor and 8gb of RAM and is the best computer I’ve ever used. I use it for home and at work, thanks to our Councils’ move to cloud based services.

I do have a work laptop, which I turn to when I need to access things like our HR and finance systems; and if I need to do some printing. It’s a Dell somethingorother.

In terms of software:

  • Chrome is running the whole time, hooked into my work Google account, where I access Gmail, Google Drive, my calendar and so on. Pretty much all the productivity work I do for my job is in Google’s suite of apps.
  • Trello and Tweetdeck are usually open too
  • Safari is often open, which hooks into my personal Google account
  • I have two other email addresses that I check regularly my desktop (I know…) which I host with Fastmail and pipe into Apple’s Mail app
  • Slack is usually open. I’m a member of about five teams that I access regularly via the desktop app
  • I use Reeder to keep up to date with RSS feeds (old skool, right?) – I use Feedly as the web service to keep it all in sync
  • I bookmark stuff in Pinboard, which then autoposts into Twitter for me via Zapier. Zapier also zaps bookmarked links into Pocket for me, so I can read them later at my leisure
  • Following a chat with Matt Jukes, I do most of my writing in Ulysses, whether taking notes, drafting blog posts or my email newsletter
  • Occasionally I’ll use Transmit for FTP, I have Microsoft Office installed but very rarely use it, do the odd mind map in MindnodePro, draw something with Omnigraffle, have a chat with someone in Skype, listen to music on Spotify, or screenshot something with Skitch.
  • I still have loads of different tools installed for editing text, most of which I don’t use very often or at all (Byword, Scrivener, BBedit, Atom, Writeroom, MarsEdit, probably others)
  • Utilities wise, I use Alfred as a Spotlight replacement and TextExpander is usually running
  • I store pretty much all my files in Dropbox
  • My blog uses WordPress.com and I pay to use my own domain and to not have adverts
  • My newsletter uses Mailchimp’s free tier

My phone is an iPhone 6, space grey with 64gb storage.

On my home screen I have the following things:

  • On the top row: photos; camera; app store; settings
  • Next row down: A folder with emails apps (Mail, Fastmail, Outlook, Inbox and CloudMagic – each app has a different email account feeding into it. I have too many email accounts); Natwest; Music; Google Maps
  • Next row: Spotify; Simplenote (for todo lists and quick notes, rather than ‘writing’); Overcast (easily the best podcast app); a folder with ‘reading’ apps (Medium, Buzzfeed, Nuzzle, Yahoo News Digest, Pushpin (an app for Pinboard), Kindle, NextDraft, iBooks)
  • Next row: Trello; HulloMail (provides a visual voicemail like tool, plus emails voicemail messages as MP3 files and transcribes them too); Wikipedia; Reeder (mobile version of the deskptop RSS reading app – again syncs with Feedly)
  • Next row: Slack; Pocket; folder with messaging apps (WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, Skype, iMessage); Safari
  • Bottom row: Facebook; LinkedIn; Ulysses – for bashing text in during idle moments; Twitter
  • Dock: Phone; Hangouts; Google Calendar; Gmail – the last three are all logged into my work Google account

The layout of apps regularly changes – I try and keep my most regularly used apps towards the right hand bottom corner – easily in thumb reach.

The second screen has other stuff on it, but I don’t use them on a regular basis really.

The main change over the last year or so is that Evernote has dropped out of this completely. It’s still there, but I hardly use it anymore – even to revisit notes previously made (which rather begs the question why I bothered making them in the first place).

Hope this has been useful and/or interesting!

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

My current favourite toy

apple-ipad-mini-blackJust before Christmas, and as a bit of a Christmas treat for myself, I bought an iPad mini with retina display and 3g mobile broadband access (ie not the wifi only model). I love it.

Up til now my tablet of choice was a second generation Nexus 7, produced by Asus but sanctioned by Google as the best of breed Android tablet. That I found to be my favourite tablet device so far, better than the full size iPad. However, while I used the Nexus 7 fairly regularly as a device to quickly check emails or check something on the web, it never became a vital piece of kit for me.

Since I have had this iPad mini though, it has barely left my side. Why is that?

  1. The size – and weight is absolutely perfect for pretty much any task. It is finally an iPad that works as an e-reader in that I can hold in one handed without getting a wrist strain. The smaller screen size doesn’t really matter to me when the resolution is as good as the retina one is on this thing and pinching and zooming is fine when I need something to appear a little bigger.
  2. The apps – is still where the iPad wins against Android devices. Sure all the big ones are on both platforms (Twitter, Facebook etc etc) but it’s the iOS only ones which you may not have heard of where the iPad stomps all over the competition. I’ve not come across an Android editor that can beat Byword, or an RSS reader as good as Reeder 2 – just to name two examples.
  3. The 3G – as mentioned above, my iPad mini has mobile data access for when I am out of range of a wifi network. My Nexus 7 didn’t, and it’s a game changer. A tablet is basically of little use without the net, and being able to access it pretty much anywhere significantly enhances the usefulness of the device. By the way, here’s a tip from your Uncle Dave – make sure your phone and your tablet use a different carrier for mobile data. That way, if one has a shonky signal, the other one ought to be ok. Mine are Vodafone for my phone and 3 for the iPad and I’ve never been without signal on both.
  4. The keyboard cover – After a couple of weeks, I picked up a Logitech slim keyboard cover for the iPad, and it is great. This being a mini iPad, it’s a pretty mini keyboard, although after a couple of days with it I could type fairly quickly on it- and much quicker than I could using the on screen keyboard. An additional bonus is that using a hardware keyboard with the mini frees up some vital screen real estate. The case works beatifully, snapping shut with magnets to protect the screen, and also using a magnet to hold the screen at a helpful angle when typing. It does all this without adding much to the size and weight of the device, which is fantastic.

I should probably think of a fifth thing, but these four pretty much cover it. What tablet do you use, if any? Do you love it like I do this one?

Link roundup

I find this stuff so you don’t have to:

What I’ve been reading

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Pinboard.

Bookmarks for July 3rd through July 7th

I find this stuff so that you don’t have to.

You can find all my bookmarks on Delicious. There is also even more stuff on my shared Google Reader page.

You can also see all the videos I think are worth watching at my video scrapbook.

The iPad: computer or device?

There has been a flurry of reviews and opinions about Apple’s new gadget, the iPad, this weekend as the devices has been launched in the States. They should be in the UK by the end of April, and I still haven’t made up my mind about whether I’m going to get one or not.

ipad

A really interesting debate was kicked off by Cory Doctorow on BoingBoing with a specific philosophical problem with the iPad, in that it is a computing device that is seemingly at odds with the prevailing culture of computing:

The way you improve your iPad isn’t to figure out how it works and making it better. The way you improve the iPad is to buy iApps. Buying an iPad for your kids isn’t a means of jump-starting the realization that the world is yours to take apart and reassemble; it’s a way of telling your offspring that even changing the batteries is something you have to leave to the professionals.

In other words, where is the room for tinkering with a device like this? How can you get a piece of software onto your iPad, other than by having it accepted by Apple onto the AppStore?

Jeff Jarvis also has issues with the iPad:

The iPad is retrograde. It tries to turn us back into an audience again. That is why media companies and advertisers are embracing it so fervently, because they think it returns us all to their good old days when we just consumed, we didn’t create, when they controlled our media experience and business models and we came to them. The most absurd, extreme illustration is Time Magazine’s app, which is essentially a PDF of the magazine (with the odd video snippet). It’s worse than the web: we can’t comment; we can’t remix; we can’t click out; we can’t link in, and they think this is worth $4.99 a week. But the pictures are pretty.

There’s no denying it is a beautiful bit of kit, though, and a winning user experience. Take the review by Jason Snell:

One day, devices like the iPad may very well change the way we view computers and technology. But right now, I don’t believe the iPad is going to make anyone stop using their main Mac or PC. If you were in the market for an e-book reader or a supplemental laptop, though, I’d give those plans a serious re-think.

Because the iPad is such a new concept, Apple faces some serious challenges in making people understand how they might use it and why they should buy one. It’s not a product type people are familiar with, like a PC or a phone, or a TV or a lawnmower. It’s neither fish nor fowl, and consumers are pretty comfortable with their chicken and salmon, thank you very much.

Joe Clarke also has an interesting take:

This was the weekend those of us with high standards lost their remaining residue of patience for ideologues who hyperbolize about open systems without actually creating something people want to use.

I think there is an important distinction to make between those who use computer purely to consume stuff – whether it’s web browsing, playing music and videos, doing a bit of online shopping, Facebooking and emailing, and those who create on a bigger scale using technology – those that produce a lot of content, whatever the medium, and those that want to program computers to do things.

The idea, frankly, that someone would buy an iPad so that they could learn PHP on it, or something, is a bit daft. Instead the iPad could be seen as the type of device people first use to get online, and if curiosity makes them want to find out how stuff is created, they graduate to more flexible machines, in other words a laptop or desktop computer.

I suspect then that iPads – and similar tablet devices – could begin to replace netbooks, which are often bought as cheaper alternatives to full laptops. As Tim Anderson’s recent piece shows, though, even an entry level netbook can be a pain to get working.

My main use for an iPad would be in using tools like my email, Twitter, and especially Google Reader, in a comfy way when I am away from my desk. Whether that’s worth £500 I’m not sure.

The interesting thing is to watch emergent technology to see where it will go. The great example is SMS and mobile phones – it was never thought likely that people would use text messaging, and yet it is a phenomenally popular tool.

Here’s another example, from my own technology use. I bought a Kindle a few months ago, mainly to have a play and without any serious idea that I might stop reading paper books. However, I’ve found myself using it more and more – but not to read books.

Kindle

It’s really easy to get PDFs on the Kindle, either by emailing them into a dedicated address for my device (which costs a few pence) or just transferring by USB when the Kindle is connected to my computer, like any other external storage. The Kindle has now become the thing I use to read documents published electronically, whether white papers, instruction manuals, policy documents, whatever. Rather than staring at my laptop screen, or printing them out, I now just download them onto the Kindle and read them on there.

So it’s possible that the game changing use of devices like the iPad hasn’t even been identified yet. But I think it is important to recognise that these things are devices and not computers, at least not in the sense that a lot of us are used to.

Kodak Zi8 review

I recently got a Kodak Zi8 video camera. It’s like a beefed up Flip and I think it should be considered the default choice for social reporters everywhere.

I did this video review of it, which turned out even ropier than I thought it would. Still, I’m learning.

Ironically, the review was recorded using a Flip. Maybe that’s my excuse?

Nick Booth has just published a nice post, where he recommends the Flip over the Kodak for ease of use.

iPhones

I’ve had an iPhone for about 18 months now. In the summer, I upgraded from my 8gb first generation model to a 32gb 3GS. It’s awesome, and with the 3G, extra processor speed and storage, plus improvements to the camera and the phone experience, I’d say it is the first true experience of what the iPhone was always meant to do, if that makes sense.

Here are a few recent examples of how the iPhone doesn’t change your life, but does subtly make it so much easier, and sometimes stranger:

  1. Before having an iPhone, when I went on trips to London for meetings and things, I’d take a laptop, mp3 player, and my phone. Go back a couple of years and I’d have a PDA as well (a Palm Tungsten T5, if you’re interested). I might have had a separate camera, and possibly something like a Flip, just in case. Now, unless I have a bit of work to do when I am traveling that involves a lot of typing, I just take the iPhone.
  2. I got a phone call the other day, when I happened to be in London, from someone asking to meet up. They told me where they were, and as soon as I hung up, I looked up where it was on the map on the iPhone, and where the nearest tube station was from it, and where the nearest one from me was. Then I went straight to the Tube iPhone app to get the best route from where I was to where I needed to be. This is great for me, as I don’t really know London that well, and means I don’t have to faff around with loads of maps, looking like a tit. Instead I get to stare into my phone, looking like a tit.
  3. Today I was in Halfords, looking for a bike rack. I found the one I wanted, but it wasn’t priced up! A normal person would find a Halford’s staff member to ask. I just went to the Halford’s website on my iPhone and searched for the product’s reference number. I got the price in a couple of seconds.
  4. On the train home, before Christmas, I was having several conversations, all through my phone. One was using SMS, one on Yammer, another on Twitter, another through email and another on IM. I skipped around them, keeping up and responding to each without any real thought. When I got home, I really couldn’t think why I was using each medium to talk to those people – I had the mobile number of the person I was emailing, so I could have sent them a text, for example.

The interesting thing about 2,3 and 4 is that I didn’t have to think about what I was doing, it just happened. The iPhone’s interface isn’t perfect – for instance, why are the compose buttons for SMS messages and emails at different ends of the screen? – but it’s still fairly intuitive and keeps out of the way. Having all these different streams coming into one device just makes everything so fluid.

The one issue is that typing a lot just isn’t feasible. This seems to be a great way of sorting that out, though:

I’m not willing to jailbreak my phone though. Let’s hope something similar that’s authorised will appear soon.

What I use

Sometimes it’s nice to hear what tech people use on a day to day basis. It’s useful to pick up hints and tips, and to pick up on cool tools you might not have heard of before.

Here’s my day-to-day kit:

1. Hardware

I have a 15 inch MacBookPro for travelling with, a 24 inch iMac for when I am in the office, and a Samsung NC10 for when I need two machines at the same time (for instance when I am out social reporting).

The iMac has a second screen, the main use of which I will come onto later.

I have a Kodak all in one printer, a Nikon D40 DSLR, a couple of Flip Ultras, a couple of GorillaPods, a MicroTrack II which I never use and an iPhone.

2. Software

In terms of desktop software, those that I use the most are:

  • Firefox – with all the plugins available for it, still the best browser by miles. Maybe when Chrome is out on the Mac I might reconsider, but until then…
  • Tweetdeck – I used to be a Twhirl man, but Tweetdeck has won me over recently, despite the large amount of screen real estate it takes up.
  • Yammer – Yammer is Twitter within an organisation – it’s limited to people on the same email domain. The Learning Pool team use it to keep one another up to date and as the official banter and abuse channel. The desktop app makes it easy to keep on top of it all.
  • Parallels – this makes running virtual machines on the Mac a doddle. Means I can run Windows XP virtually, which is handy for testing in Internet Explorer and other things which have to be done in Windows. On my iMac, it’s Windows that runs in full screen on my second monitor. Sweet.
  • Transmit – an FTP client that rocks.
  • Coda – a great code editor with built in FTP goodness.
  • MarsEdit – a blog post editor. For some reason it just makes writing posts quicker.
  • Photoshop Elements – for image and photo editing. This cut down version seems to do everything I need. Still not cheap, so I only have this on the iMac.
  • Pixelmator – a cheaper image editor than Photoshop, which I have on the MBP.
  • iCal – default Mac calendar app. Does the job for me.
  • Skitch – A simply awesome screenshot programme. So simple and a joy to use.
  • Skype – keeps the telephone costs down. There are more open VOIP systems out there, but the people I need to talk to are all on Skype, so…
  • Microsoft Office – sadly it’s still a must have.
  • MAMP – turns a mac into a web server with a couple of mouse clicks. Great for developing sites locally.
  • Omnigraffle – brilliant diagramming application. Like Visio, but good.
  • iTunes – manages all my music and backs up my iPhone. I use it because I have to, but it’s ok.
  • Internet Explorer versions 6-8 – under Parallels in XP, I use this application to run multiple versions of IE for website testing.

3. Sites and Services

My web based activity is mainly spent using:

  • Gmail – the best email interface, like, ever. I have loads of different email addresses feeding into the one account and managing them all is a dream. I use the Apps version, tethered to my domain.
  • Google Docs – great for quickly typing up ideas and sharing them with people – though I still prefer a desktop word processor for big documents.
  • Twitter – still visit the website now and again, mainly to find and follow new people.
  • Google Reader – at the last count, I follow about 700 feeds. Reader makes it possible, without going mad.
  • WordPress – the online publishing platform of the gods.
  • Ning – even with some of the accessibility issues, it’s still the easiest way to build a community online.
  • Delicious – the biggest social bookmarking community and that makes it the best, in my view.
  • MobileMe – an Apple service that keeps my calendar and contacts synched across all my computers, the web, and my iphone, without me having to do anything. Nice one!
  • Flickr – the only photo sharing site worth using? Possibly. It;s the one I have been using for 4 years or so now, so I am not going to change any time soon!
  • YouTube, Blip.tv and Vimeo – unlike with photos or bookmarks, choosing a video host isn’t quite a no brainer, depending on the length of your clips, the levels of privacy you need or the quality you require.
  • Facebook – despite Twitter’s ascendancy, I still use Facebook most days. It’s mainly my non-geek friends that are there, and it’s important to remember that not everyone is on the bleeding edge…
  • LinkedIn – my network here is growing day by day – but I’m still not sure what value I get out of it. Worth keeping up with though, just in case.
  • Google Groups – a dead simple way of getting an email list together. It isn’t hip, but it does work.
  • Huddle – online project management. Great for keeping groups of people up to date with activity.
  • Basecamp – sometimes Huddle is just too good, and a less feature rich service is needed. Hence Basecamp, which can annoy as much as it delights, but it’s email integration is excellent.

So that’s what I use on regular basis. It would be good to know what other people are up to, to see if I can steal some ideas!