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!

The war against crap software

crapsoftware

The end of my second week at Adur and Worthing and it has been relentless. I’m loving it, but feeling the need to come up for air – you may perhaps have noticed I’ve been quiet on this blog and Twitter of late.

One of the big things that attracted me to this particular role was the opportunity to take on the legacy IT element of the digital picture, as well as making some pretty web front ends. So on top of working on fantastic customer-facing services, we’re also involved in projects replacing the ways we do financial management and performance, for instance.

In other words, we are fighting a war against crap software throughout the organisation.

Paul has blogged about the approach before, but it is a sensible one, making use of internet-age, cloud ready solutions wherever possible. We have the tools and are building the in house capability to create bespoke solutions where they are needed – but if there is a mature, commodity tool out there that we can repurpose, we go for that.

The first element of this begins in earnest on Tuesday, when the whole organisation switches to Google for Work to handle email and calendar. Some brave souls are already starting to use Google Drive and its associated apps to replace other parts of the productivity stack.

This will mean we can save thousands on Microsoft licences for productivity software. It will also mean – and this is more interesting – that people will start to rethink what a ‘document’ is, how they do their work, and perhaps what their work really is, at the end of the day.

This is what the war against crap software is all about. Somehow we’ve all ended up in a place where technology is seen as a blocker, as something that makes life harder. Our work has become defined by the tools we used to do it, leading us down some very dark paths. That’s not how things should ever have been – so we’re fixing it, bit by bit.

What’s been amazing is the response from my new colleagues. People are going way beyond the call of duty to make sure the Google rollout goes as smoothly as possible. I think everyone realises how important it is to the digital programme – it’s the first bit of the new way of doing things and we can’t have it viewed by others as being yet another IT project. It needs to add value and just work from the get go, and generate some momentum we can carry through to our other work.

Anyway, that’s enough for now. More soon on the wider strategy at Adur and Worthing, and some tactical pieces we’re also working on.

If your interested in what we’re doing and would like to know more, grab me on dave.briggs@adur-worthing.gov.uk.

Writing apps – the software I use to get words on a page

writingI probably think about this sort of thing far more than I should – after all, doesn’t everyone just use Word? – but I like playing with different tools for writing.

After all, for me, typing words into a computer makes up probably 75% of my job. That’s a lot of typing and so it’s worth making it as little of a painful experience as I can.

So here is a list of the different tools I use to write text with.

Byword

Byword is a ‘distraction free’ writing application which works on my Mac and iPad, syncing through Apple’s iCloud service. It’s a very simple editor, that pretty much just lets you type in text in plain text format. You can do some formatting with Markdown, which you can then export, but I tend to use it when I just want to bash some words down, without thinking too much about how it looks.

Find out more about Byword

MarsEdit

MarsEdit is the app I use to write my blog posts. It’s a bit of desktop software that lets me bash in the content for my posts offline, using a very simple plain text editor. I’m able to add tags and categories to my posts, which I then send up to my blog in draft, ready for a final check, adding images and hitting publish.

I don’t know why, but I just find writing posts in MarsEdit more comfortable than using the WordPress editor – hence why I class WordPress as a publishing tool rather than a writing one. A big part of it is probably down to the keyboard shortcuts I use to quickly enter and mark up content in MarsEdit, rather than having to constantly switch to the mouse to select icons.

Find out more about MarsEdit

Apple Mail

An awful lot of the words I write are emails, and so my email client has to feature in this list. I use Apple Mail mostly by default nowadays – previously I have used Gmail’s web based interface, but I do find using a desktop client helps me pace myself a bit and be a little more thoughtful. It’s basically ok – I have no complaints but then I’m not exactly a huge fan either. It works.

Find out more about Apple Mail

OmniOutliner

This is a seriously good outlining tool, which I mostly use for drafting pieces of writing or presentations. Outliners let you build up bullet style lists of content, indented at various levels of a hierarchy, which you can then drag around and reorder. It allow you to structure a document really well in the planning stage – to figure out your ideas and how they slot together.

Find out more about OmniOutliner

Google Docs

When I need to collaborate in the early stages of preparing a document, I usually turn to Google Docs. Due to the fact that it is online, it does tend to stress me out a bit – I prefer desktop apps with local copies of files when possible – but Docs is the best solution to working on something with others, particularly at the same time.

Find out more about Google Docs

Scrivener

I occasionally work on longer pieces of writing, although they almost never get published anywhere. Scrivener lets you write chunks of content for a larger work, which you can then reorder, drag around and so on. It also lets you save research notes in the same place as your draft document, which can be helpful. At the end, Scrivener spits out a rich text file that sticks all your chunks together, for a final edit, or formatting exercise in a word processor.

Find out more about Scrivener

Evernote

The writing I do in Evernote differs wildly, from meeting notes to pasting in web addressees to check out later, to

Find out more about Evernote

Pages

Pages is Apple’s own word processor, which I use occasionally for more graphical documents. It just has a more creative, desktop publishing type feel to me, which makes it ideal for that kind of work. It’s really easy to use, and I find it the best tool to work with when a document has a lot of graphical elements.

Find out more about Pages

Vesper

A super iPhone text editor. It does one thing very well, and that is writing short notes on my phone. It has a beautiful design and is incredibly easy to use and for when I just need to quickly write something without worrying about it syncing up anywhere else, Vesper is perfect.

Find out more about Vesper

Simplenote

Yet another cloud-syncing text editor. I use this to quickly get text onto my phone from another device. It’s fairly niche, but stuff like when I look up an address for a meeting on my laptop and want to get it to my phone – I’ll usually use Simplenote rather than creating something in Evernote.

Find out more about Simplenote

Word

OK, so I do use Word. Quite a lot, actually, in its various incarnations – Mac, Windows, online (via Office 365) and now, of course, on the iPad. When it comes to needing to share a document with others in a format they are likely to be able to edit, its still the best option.

Find out more about Word (really?)

What are your favourite writing tools? Do you use as many, or even more, than I do?

Link roundup

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

Better blogging: separate writing and publishing?

I wonder if one way of helping the process of blogging is to separate the tools you use for writing and for publishing.

Here’s what I mean – when I use WordPress’ editor to compose a post from scratch, I am using the same software to write my content and to publish it.

I have nothing against the WordPress editor, by the way – it’s excellent. But I find that when I use it, I feel under a bit more pressure to get what I am writing finished, so I can hit that big publish button and be done with it.

Using a separate tool to compose the post, then transfer it to WordPress for publication makes the writing process a bit of a calmer affair.

I can still edit my content in the WordPress editor where I spot mistakes, or to add images, links and that sort of thing. The bulk of composition however, takes place in a different editor.

At the moment I mostly use Byword on the Mac and iOS for writing posts, which are then copied to WordPress.

What do you think? Am I talking nonsense – or do you also find that separating writing and publishing is helpful?

Link roundup

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

Link roundup

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

Link roundup

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

Link roundup

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

Link roundup

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