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Not found.

Remembering Podcasts

Podcasts have a big problem: remembering them. Many of the podcasts I follow are overflowing with ideas, knowledge and references that I will almost certainly never remember to look into further.

A big reason for this is because like a lot of people I listen to podcasts in the background whilst doing something else. 95% of my podcast listening time is spent whilst I’m either walking, running, driving or trying to sleep. Basically times when it’s not appropriate to whip out my phone and start writing things in my notes app like ‘look up BBC news article about bees in South African plane’s engine that delayed flights’. It’s too much hassle. The most I manage to do is take a quick screenshot which lists the show, episode and timestamp. But then my phone just becomes full of screenshots and I can never be bothered to re-download the episode, find the correct spot, listen to it again and then finally do the research. I just don’t bother.

I can hear you shouting “show notes!”. True, show notes are very handy and thankfully more and more podcasts do them now. But I still have to go to their website, find the episode, and then seek out the correct section. Again, I just don’t bother.

Here’s want I want. It’s simple we kill the batman. I want my podcast player of choice (Overcast) to have an easily accessible bookmark button. In an ideal world it would then grab the audio starting from 1 minute before and 1 minute after and then email it to me, or import it into Evernote or something. But I’d settle for a ‘bookmark’ section in the app which lists all podcast episodes with bookmarks then lets you skip through the them. That feature would make listening to podcasts a lot more productive for me. Episodes wouldn’t just come and go. I could sit in front of a computer, browse through the bookmarks, and do the appropriate research.


Now that I’ve written this I just realised that I’ve blindly been using Overcast for many years now and maybe there’s an app out there that already does this? To the App Store!

I Put My Dad on Linux and Everything Went Fine

Oh the joys of giving tech support to your parents for their crappy computer. I suffered for years with this and so did my poor Dad. It was the classic cheap PC + Windows combo of pain. The laptop display looked like it was 512 × 342 and it lost an average of one keycap a month. And then there was the usual Windows woes. Slowness, old school viruses, antivirus viruses, free-to-play games inexplicably downloaded to the desktop and about seven AskJeeves toolbars. Pure misery. So when the laptop finally died and my Dad came to me for advice about a replacement I knew a better solution was needed.

I quickly recommended going the desktop route over a laptop since my Dad nearly always worked at his desk and a desktop would last a lot longer. We could have picked up a pre-built machine, but I knew buying the parts and building a desktop myself would be cheaper, offer more spec flexibility and be a lot more reliable. Plus if something did break I could probably quickly and easily fix it by replacing the dead part (and not the whole machine!).

I went with a Silverstone Mini-ITX case (in white, which pleased Mum as it blended in nicely with the study decor), Intel Pentium Dual Core G3258, 8GB of DDR3 RAM, 120GB SSD, MSI LGA1150 motherboard and a 300W Be Quiet! power supply. Total cost: £240.

Next came the OS. There was no way I was going to give Microsoft £80 for a copy of Windows and a lifetime of headaches. So I thought ‘why not Linux?’. It might seem bizarre, but it’s a near perfect OS for someone like my Dad. He’s far less likely to download a virus, Linux doesn’t bother him with popups, it’s easier to keep the same UI for many years (no forced Windows software updates and ‘visual refreshes’), and his computer will still be blazing fast five years from now. And he doesn’t use Adobe Lightroom or Microsoft Excel, his needs are simple, all he wants is a web browser and a word processor. Linux gives him that easily.

There’s lots of Linux distributions out there of course and at first I looked into ones that mirror his old Windows 7 desktop as much as possible. But they also often copied some of the bad and confusing elements too. So in the end I just settled on Ubuntu with the Unity desktop. It’s simple, with a nice large dock to the left.

His new desktop. Minimalistic with just four buttons that he knows as ‘search, documents, internet, and Word’.

However this was all good in theory and on paper, but how would this system and Dad get on in reality? Well it’s been over two years now and there has been literally zero problems. Honestly. Even the wireless printer works flawlessly. It did take him a little while to get used to the Ubuntu file browser. But now he knows to just save everything in Dropbox and click on that folder or Downloads when wants to find something. But aside from that the transition went swimmingly. We get a lot of power cuts and both the hardware and software have even dealt with that (somehow) without issue. The only maintenance I do is run sudo apt-get update every now and then.

I expect this machine will serve him loyally and reliably for many years to come. Thanks Linux.

Don’t Skip Chapter 8

I was reading Austin Kleon’s list of his 15 favourite books of the year when his description of “The Importance of Living” by Lin Yutang stood out (in bold):

I learned about this 1937 bestseller while reading Will Schwalbe’s Books For Living. It’s basically a book about the ancient Chinese art of chilling out and living a good life. (One thing: If you pick it up, just skip chapter 8 and Lin Yutang’s sexist views.)

Please don’t do this. That might be the vital chapter and maybe the one you’ll learn the most from. Maybe it will teach you that even the most wise are still a product of their time. That great men and women are often greatly flawed. It might teach you that sometimes you have to reject advice from a person that has given nothing but good advice before. It could help you understand why certain people are sexist, sympathise with them, learn about their flawed logic, and maybe one day convince a sexist not to be one anymore.

Don’t skip chapter 8.


Link discovery chain:
Browsing the shawnblanc.net blog archive
—— Shawn Blanc: How to Read More
——— Austin Kleon: How to read more
———— Austin Kleon: My reading year, 2017

Recipe: Tortellini chicken soup

I’ve owned a slow cooker for quite a few years now, but I’m not actually a huge fan. A lot of the recipes I’ve tried have been more miss than hit. But this slow cooker creamy tortellini, spinach and chicken soup is fantastic.

Give it a go!

Notes:
– Actually follow the recipe! The balance and amounts are just right.
– Tear the chicken well at the end. I didn’t and the pieces were too big.
– Don’t use too much parmesan. I like cheese so added an extra 20-30g and the sauce became a little too thick and heavy.
– Despite looking bright and Italian this is a pretty heavy dish and perfect for winter.

Evernote Still Sucks

Soon it will be two years since I wrote this about Evernote moving to the Google Cloud. I sounded hopeful. In my head the move was just the start of the beginning of the resurgence of Evernote. Instead it has continued to stagnate. I can’t remember any new features being added – other than a few UI tweaks – and both the Mac and iOS apps remain buggy and terribly slow. Oh and the browser extension on Safari is still awful.

Right now I all my notes, stored locally on my machine, are fucking buffering.

Notes. Buffering.

I still use Evernote everyday. It’s still my digital brain. But man do I hate it at times.

How to Watch US Netflix in the UK

The US Netflix catalogue has famously been superior in quantity and quality to the UK one for a long time now. And while it’s not as bad as it once was1 the US library still remains superior, with a far better movie collection and TV shows like The Office (US).

But until fairly reccently someone in the UK could easily access US Netflix by buying a VPN subscription and just setting their location to the US. However recently Netflix has clamped down on VPN usage and it is now a bit trickier to access the US Netflix without getting the infamous ‘streaming error‘ message.

You now need your own dedicated US IP address, not one that is shared between thousands of other VPN users and thus easily blocked by Netflix. So follow the guide below to see how to do that…

Notes:
* You don’t need a US Netflix subscription to access US Netflix. Just visit Netflix whilst connected to the VPN and it will automaticlly switch to the US library and then revert back to UK Netflix when you disconnect from the VPN. You don’t need two Netflix subscriptions or anything like that.
* I’m using TorGuard.net as the VPN in this guide because the 50% off discount code I use applies for the lifetime of the subscription, doesn’t require a minimum time commitment, and also applies not just to the VPN but also to the dedicated IP address. I doubt you’ll find a cheaper VPN + dedicated IP combo elsewhere. But if you do feel free to use it in TorGuards stead.
* This will get you up and running watching US Netflix on your computer and smart device. Watching it on your TV streaming device (AppleTV, Roku, Chromecast, FireTV, etc.) is more difficult and will not be covered here.2
* Using a VPN to trick Netflix into think you’re actually in a different country is technically against their terms of service. So please do so at your own risk.

Step 1

Head on over to TorGuard.net and go the Anonymous VPN section then choose how often you’d like to pay. Semi-annual at $30 for 6 months represents the best value. Then click ‘BuyVPN’ and it will take you to the checkout.

Step 2

Scroll down to the ‘configurable options’ section and in the ‘Regular Dedicated IP’ box select ‘x1 Streaming IP USA’. Then continue through checkout.

Step 3

At the next page enter TGLifetime50 in the ‘promotional code’ section and hit ‘Go’. Your basket should now update with the new 50% discounted price. Then pay.

Step 4

Once you’ve payed for your plan you need to request your dedicated IP address. So go to the Submit Ticket page and send a ticket to ‘Sales’ with the subject Requesting NEW Netflix streaming IP @ location USA. You can leave the message box blank.

After a few minutes you’ll get an automated message saying which USA location you’d prefer: Michigan or California. Choose which ever is physically closer to where you live (Michigan if you’re in Europe) and respond to the ticket with Michigan as the subject and message body.

Then after another few minutes you’ll get a response telling you your new dedicated IP address. Congrats! You’ve now got an unlimited traffic VPN with your own shiny dedicated IP address. One more step now before Netflix streaming bliss.

Step 5

It’s now time to install the TorGuard VPN software. If you’re going to stream from a PC or Mac go here and click download next to the name of the operating system you’re using. For smartphones you just need to search TorGuard on your devices app store.

Once you’ve installed the TorGuard software, launch it.

Windows/Mac Instructions

Click More settings…

Go to the Servers tab. From the dropdown select United States. Enter your dedicated IP. Give it a nickname. Click Add. And finally Save.

Back at the main menu click Select Server…

Then select your dedicated IP address (it will be at the top of the list).

Now you just have to hit Connect.

iOS/Android Instructions

Launch the TorGuard app.

Tap the gear icon at the top right.

Next to Dedicated IP tap Add.

Choose USA from country dropdown menu. Enter your IP address and give it a nickname. Tap Add.

Now you just have to tap Connect.

Step 6

You’re all done! Head on over to Netflix.com (or open the app) to watch and enjoy US Netflix 🙂


  1. Thanks to more and more Netlifx Originals and media companies demanding extortionate streaming liscening fees for their content in the US (and thus Netflix not agreeing). 
  2. You can do this by either changing your streaming devices DNS, creating a Wi-fi hotspot from your VPN-connected always-on Mac and connecting to it, or installing third-party firmware onto your router, such as DD-WRT or Asuswrt-Merlin

The Setup of 2016

I’m a big fan of The Setup. It’s “a collection of nerdy interviews asking people from all walks of life what they use to get the job done.” So in the spirit of it, I’ve decided to do my own. And plan on doing one each year to keep track of how my ‘setup’ changes. You can see my 2013 and 2014 one too.

What hardware do you use?

My main computer is a 15-inch Retina Macbook Pro (mid 2012, 2.6GHz Intel i7, 16GB RAM). It’s often hooked up on my desk to dual Apple Thunderbolt Displays, a Microsoft Ergonomic keyboard, Logitech M570 trackball, and either some old Bose computer speakers or my Beyerdynamic T90 headphones.

I also have an iPad Pro (12.9 inch) which I’ve been using more and more this year as it’s light, helps me focus, and alleviates some hand pain I’ve developed.

Other computers include a Mac mini (late 2014, 2.6GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD) being used as a home server. A Synology DS1815+ NAS with 22TB in RAID 6 for general file storage and backups, 3TB for home surveillance cameras, and 1TB as a Time Machine backup of my Macbook. I also have a gaming PC with an Intel Core i5 4690K and ASUS Strix GTX 970 which is paired with a BenQ XL2430T monitor, HHKB keyboard, and a Logitech G500s mouse.

There’s an iPhone 6 in my right pocket, some keys in my left, and a Chrome Soyuz [cached link] bag on my back.

For photography I use a Fujifilm X100S, Leica M4-P, Bronica SQ-A and a Sony A100.

And what software?

Usually occupying my monitor

Safari for web browsing and TodoTxtMac for todos . I also usually have a Safari window open on my second monitor with my Plex library open, listening to music, or maybe watching some TV.

Daily

nvALT for frequently needed .txt’s. Bear for other important notes. Evernote for all sorts of stuff. Soulver for when I can’t be bothered to go to Wolfram|Alpha. Byword for writing. Chocolat for various text based stuff. MailMate for email. Transmit for FTP.

Occasionally

Acorn and Preview for quick image editing, and Lightroom for the more extensive. Final Cut Pro for video editing. PDFpen mostly for OCRing. Pages for when I need to print my words. Steam for gaming. YNAB for finance management.

Background and utilities

Dropbox, Google Drive , Backblaze and Arq for backups. 1Password for password management. Alfred for quickly launching or finding stuff. Caffeine for keeping my Mac awake. DaisyDisk for hard drive space management. Divvy for window management. Email Backup Pro does what it says on the tin. Bartender for organising the taskbar. Fantastical for adding to my calendar. f.lux for the sake of my eyes. FruitJuice for keeping my battery healthy. iStat Menus for spying on my computer. Hazel for automatically moving and renaming files. KeyRemap4MacBook for making my keyboard more Mac friendly. TextExpander for simplifying the commonly typed stuff. Time Out to remind me to get up and out of my seat every now and again. Yoink for making drag and drop easier.

iPhone

Twitterrific for Twitter. Overcast for podcasts. Newsblur for RSS. Terminology for looking up word definitions. Eidetic for memorising new information. Plex for accessing my home media files. Weather Line for general weather. Dark Sky for rain. Bear for notes. FastEver [iTunes link] for quickly taking short notes. Simplenote for .txt. Evernote for all sorts. FastMail for email. Citymapper for getting around London. Fantastical for my calendar. SwiftoDo for todos. Wolfram|Alpha for answers. VSCO Cam for image editing. RunKeeper for seeing how far I walk. 1Password for password security. Pocket for reading saved web articles. Pinner for Pinboard. Dropbox for accessing documents anywhere. Live Football on TV for well, you know. WhoScored [iTunes link] for checking live football scores. IMDb for when I wanna know the name of that guy in that film. Amazon for mobile purchases. Pushover for notifications of weather alerts. ScannerPro for scanning.

2016 In Review

I skipped posting about my setup in 2015 because not much changed from the previous year. And to be honest not a wealth of stuff (especially on the software side) has changed this year either. I’m a man frozen in time, quite happily using a four year old Mac alongside the same software I’ve been using for equally long. I’m content with my tools.

What would be your dream setup?

I’m not smart enough to know my dream setup in 10+ years.

But in the shorter term, I want my hardware to be faster, harder to break, more reliable, and have longer battery life.

Overly Organised Tags

I have two digital brains for storing stuff: Pinboard and Evernote. Pinboard is a bookmarking site, so I use it store anything at a web URL that I may want later. Evernote is a notetaking application and is for anything that I will probably want later, including personal data like receipts, notes, and book excerpts. Both of these services fill up with information very quickly, so rely heavily on efficient tagging. But until recently I had been using tags anything but efficiently.


Tags are great because it’s metadata you chose. Take the Evernote note of a painting above. The only metadata that was automatically added was the painting title, artist and the source URL. Is this enough for me to find this note in a years time? Probably not. But by adding the tags cosy night.sky painting shovel snow I will have a much greater chance. It’s personal metadata, so I am more likely to recall it later.

In the past however I would of just tagged that note as photo:painting. Which is better than nothing, and I would of probably found the note again, but that tag may have hundreds of notes in it and I would need to browse through them all to find this particular note. It’s slow and ineffecient. I was severaly hindering myself by being picky with my tags and keeping them overly organised. I’ve now learnt that tags work best when used heavily and without mercy.1

Equally stupid was how I used nested tags, so ended up with loads of crazy long ones like travel:england:resource:walking. There’s simply no need for that as both Evernote and Pinboard allow me to search multiple tags at once.2 And I had to remember the nesting order. That tag was often written like travel:resource:walking:england in error. Tags work much better alone. Context can be added later.

And it wasn’t just overly neat tags that was an issue. It was also my bad habit of spending multiple hours a week ‘cleaning’ the contents and tags of these services. I had to keep them tidy and was often too keen to delete stuff, especially tags with only one item. I’ve learnt to let go now, and the majority of my tags are only being used by one or two entries. And that’s okay. It’s not my real life brain, it’s my digital one, it doesn’t have to be perfectly organised. It’s just a place to store stuff that I might want later that needs to be low maintenance and not take over my life with too much filing. And I think my new way of using these services fits that definition. They’re easier to manage and more competent at finding my data.


  1. And as Evernote supports up to 100,000 tags in an account, and 100 per note, I’m unlikely to hit any tag limits. 
  2. In Evernote, by searching for tag:england tag:walking for example. And on Pinboard related tags show up to the right of a tag search page – highlighted here in red – and can be added to the search by clicking ⊕. Pinboard also supports tag ‘bundles‘. 

The Loss of What.cd

The music torrent tracker What.cd closed today. The details are still not clear. At first it seemed French police seized the sites servers hosted with OVH and took it offline. But now it seems that the sites admins got word of a potential raid so shut down and deleted data before they were seized. Ars Technica:

“The facts are pretty skimpy right now,” What.cd’s representative says. “We have no official confirmation that servers were seized, but all available evidence does support that, so we are operating as if it is true.” That being said, what.cd’s administrators are confident that its major database of user information was not seized by French authorities: “The site was operational until we shut it down.”

That shutdown decision was made by What.cd’s operators out of heightened precaution, as opposed to being forced by an authority to do so, the representative tells Ars.

I’m sure more technical details will follow, but what I want to focus on is the loss of What.cd.

And loss is the right word. To people reading about the news, and not knowing about the site, they will probably think that it’s just another illegal torrent tracker that is deservedly shut down. And there is no getting around it, What.cd was a place to pirate. But it was also the greatest library of digital music the world has ever seen, and a tremendous community for music lovers.

It contained countless musical rarities, that hopefully thanks to the nature of file sharing, haven’t been lost. I first joined around 8 years ago for a copy of the ‘original’ mono first pressing of Freewheelin’ Bob Dylan, an album with only 20 physical copies that costs around $15,000 to buy. And thanks to What.cd I am listening to that album whilst typing this.

But of course by ‘thanks to What.cd’ what I actually mean is ‘thanks to a user of What.cd’. Because you had to have an invitation to join the site and could be banned if you didn’t behave, it was made up of some very fine users. The forums were immensely active and full of civil discussion about music.

People created ‘collages’ of albums for easy reference and download, such as ‘Introduction to Ambient’, ‘The Penguin Guide to Jazz Core Collection’, and ‘Christmas Origins: Christmas in Early, Classical & Folk Music’.

You could get a notification when there was a new album uploaded of a musician you like. No subscribing to their spammy newsletter or following their Facebook. Just told when there was an actual album out.

You could request a specific rare vinyl version of an album and be shocked to see how quickly someone found and uploaded a copy. And on that albums What.cd page there could already be many different versions: 1960 vinyl first pressing, 1990 original CD, 1993 Sony Japan cassette release, 2002 Columbia definitive edition, 2005 Steven Hoffman remastered vinyl, 2011 Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab original master recording hybrid SACD, 2015 HDTracks 44.1kHz/24bit web release. And then in the forums there would be discussions about which sounded the best. It was glorious.

Jökull Sólberg Auðunsson said in 2012:

Music torrent sites Oink.me, Waffles.fm and What.cd have all had deeper vaults of audible content than any legal music service. They’re like a mixture of a digital Alexandria, a 10,000 square meter bootleg store and a music reviewer early release mail room. The searching and filing is an achievement on its own, through methods of crowd-sourcing and a culture lead by perfectionists and passionate music archivers.

I’ll leave you with that. Goodbye What.cd. You’ll be missed.

Further reading

/r/trackers – It’s Official, what.cd is dead. Memorial thread.
Waxy.org – The end of What.cd, the internet’s biggest and best music collection
Torrent Freak – What.cd Shuts Down Following Reported Raids in France

When the site closed down I had some open tabs browsing it. They give an impression of what the site was like.

The Newsletter Popup Plague

If you’re an iPhone user the popup on below will almost certainly have gotten in your way many times. It isn’t a spam or malicious popup, but it is just as annoying.

Thankfully a year or so ago it became so common and such a menace that considerate iOS developers started to remove it from their apps and it is much less prevalent today.

But now there is a new plague. This time on the web (particularly shops and blogs). It’s the ‘subscribe to our newsletter’ popup and it’s depressingly rampant. You’re slapped in the face with it the moment you visit way too many sites now.

Both these popups are the product of a few things I believe…

Fashion

The web, like most things, has fashions and trends. The newsletter popup has been around for a long time, but it appears in 2016 to be very much in fashion and to have reached a mass scale. Which leads me onto my next point.

Morally okay

When something is so ubiquitous it is less likely to be examined morally. When all your fellow online shops have fashionable newsletter popups of course you want to implement one too. Whereas if you were one of the first you would need to look at wether this is good for your users and examine its pros and cons. But at some point enough people are doing it that the general census becomes ‘this is fine’ and you no longer have to debate it.

Easy to use ‘plugins’

In the case of iOS, two open source projects called Appirater and iRate allowed developers an easy way to implement ‘rate this app’ popups. On the web WordPress has many popup newsletter plugins and store CMS’s like Shopify have plenty too. Or you can just use MailChimp and a snippet of code to accomplish it.

It works

People aren’t utterly stupid. If these popups didn’t increase newsletter signups they wouldn’t have them.

So newsletter popups are fashionable, morally okay (in their minds), easy to implement, and work. But fashions die, morally I consider it wrong, easy doesn’t mean right, and a 0.50% increase in newsletter signups isn’t worth plaguing your users. So please, let this trend die.

Below are some popup examples I’ve come across organically in just the past few days…
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