Typing

Around about a year ago I suddenly realised that I’d been typing away on QWERTY keyboards for well over a decade (since around 2000, aged 10), and that during that time I’d been ‘chicken pecking‘ the whole time. And with the further realisation that I’m likely to be using keyboards for many, many years, I decided it was time to learn how to type properly.

I first replaced my Apple chiclet keyboard with a ‘proper’ one. And chose the Das Model S Professional for Mac, as most non-chiclet keyboards do not play nice with Macs. However, the Das was just too large and noisy for my small desk and night owl habits. So I replaced it with the HHKB Professional 2. It was expensive, but small and fairly quiet for a ‘proper’ keyboard thanks to its topre keys. I also went with the blank keycap variant to really force me how to learn how to touch type.

When it came to learning, I found Peter’s Online Typing Course to be the best resource.

Anyway, here’s a chart of my average typing speed over the past year.

(My average WPM (words per minute) didn’t immediately drop to its lowest as I was still occasionally chicken pecking at first.)

It took me a very long time to get back to where I was before switching because I just don’t type enough. The most I type at one time is usually an iMessage. But despite the long learning time, it was still very much worth it. My hands feel better, but mostly it’s just really really handy not having to look down from my computer screen to my keyboard when typing.

So if you’re not a touch typist and have been considering learning how I’d highly recommend it. It really wasn’t as tough as I had expected.

The Setup of 2014

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 one here.

What hardware do you use?

Me and my 15-inch Retina Macbook Pro (mid 2012, 2.6GHz Intel i7, 16GB RAM) shuttle between my University dorm and parents house.

At my desk at the dorm is an Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2, Logitech G500 mouse, Razer Goliathus large mouse mat, and Beyerdynamic T90 headphones.

At home there’s a Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2, Logitech G500S mouse, Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones, Synology DS411j NAS and a Herman Miller Aeron chair. I also have a Mac mini (late 2014, 2.6GHz Dual-Core Intel Core i5, 8GB RAM, 1TB HDD) which I use as a home server and as a Plex client, along with four Roku 3’s hooked up to TV’s around the house to access Plex. I also have a PS3 (slim model) and Apple TV (3rd generation Rev. A).

There’s an iPhone 6 in my right pocket. Some keys in my left. A Field Notes Pitch Black edition notebook and Fisher pen in the cargo pocket. And a Chrome Soyuz 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. Twitterrific for Twitter. And either Rdio or Cog for music, or VLC for TV/movie.

Daily

nvALT for frequently needed .txt’s. Soulver for when I can’t be bothered to go to Wolfram|Alpha. Byword for writing. Reeder 2 for RSS. Chocolat for various text based stuff. Messages for iMessage. MailMate for email. MarsEdit for blogging. ReadKit for Instapaper. 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, 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. TotalFinder mostly for listing folders above files in Finder. WhatPulse for key and mouse click tracking. Yoink for making drag and drop easier.

iPhone

Twitterrific for Twitter. Overcast for podcasts. Terminology for looking up word definitions. Eidetic for memorising new information. Quotebook for collecting quotes. Plex for accessing my home media files from anywhere. Dark Sky for weather. Drafts for quickly taking short notes. Notesy for .txt. Evernote for all sorts. FastMail for email. Citymapper for getting around London. Launch Center Pro for quickly launching things. Fantastical for my calendar. Rdio for music. Audible for audiobooks. Due for reminders. Wolfram|Alpha for answers. VSCO Cam for image editing. RunKeeper for seeing how far I walk. 1Password for password security. Instapaper for reading saved web articles. Pinner for Pinboard. Dropbox for accessing documents anywhere. Live Football on TV for well, you know. Yahoo Sport for checking live football scores. IMDb for when I wanna know the name of that guy in that film. Amazon for mobile purchases. Watch Tracker (iTunes link) for seeing how accurate my watch is. Pushover for notifications of weather alerts. MX Mayhem for gaming.

Replacements:

Removed:

  • Schiit Magni Amp and Modi DAC as I forgot to set them up in my new dorm room. I must do that.
  • Wedge as App.net is sadly mostly dead.
  • LimeChat as I just don’t use IRC enough and it was taking up valuable screen real estate.
  • OmniFocus as I just don’t have enough stuff to do to warrant such powerful software. I use Evernote reminders instead.
  • Beamer as Plex has removed the need to AirPlay movies to my TV.
  • Mountain as I just don’t plug stuff in and out as much as I use to.
  • Fitted Lifts as it wasn’t a great app, and it’s too time consuming to enter info in between weight sets.

2014 In Review

In 2013 I really embraced the file system for all my documents, photos, music, movies, etc. so that I wasn’t relying on proprietary software to access my own files. However in 2014 this changed slightly. I really learnt the ins and outs of Evernote, and the risk of long term availability of my files was outweighed by the conveinece of a service like Evernote.

But probably the biggest change in 2014 was my discovery of the wonderful Plex. I used to use DS Video on my Synology to play my media on my Roku. But it was slow in both loading the client UI and the video files. So after I purchased the Mac mini I decided to give Plex a try and was amazed. It fetched metadata perfectly, the Roku and iOS clients were beautfiul and blazing fast, and it could transcode anything into a friendly format for the device it was playing on. It also meant easy access to my movies, TV shows, music, and home videos from anywhere in the world and from every device I own.

It also handled all my music well, and with the iOS app being so good, I removed most of my music from my iPhone and now I just stream it via the Plex app.

Another amazing thing about Plex is how friends and family can access my media files. You give them their own username, and what they watch doesn’t effect your account, and you can even restrict what they can access (home videos, for example). Sadly, the limit is my internet upload speed (15 Mbps), which isn’t fast enough for mutiple 1080p streams, so my friends and familys Roku defaults to 720p to be safe and avoid buffering. But still, a Roku with Plex installed and access to 1000+ of my movies makes a great gift to a friend.

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.

Alcohol

How wonderful and terrible it is that my drug of choice, alcohol, is positioned perfectly in the world I inhabit.

There are thousands of these buildings called ‘pubs’ and ‘bars’ dedicated to the consumption of it.

Every supermarket I go to stocks vast quanties and varieties of it at a financial loss just so they get me through their door to buy food on the way out of it.

My family buys it for me on special occasions.

All my friends partake. We enable each other, just like the alcohol enables our conversations.

High class places hide it with their prices and cocktails of ingredients, but the alcohol remains.

And travel is great!

I put my empty carry-on luggage to good use in duty-free. The airport lounges present it freely alongside cold, stale nibbles. On the flight it’s thrown at me. By the steward, “orange juice or champagne?”, with me pretending to think about my choice. And by the steward who has to stand behind the bar even though it’s 4 a.m. and the rest of the plane is asleep. He feeds me drink, and I feed him the sight of something other than tired travellers stumbling to the toilets.

And then I land in a Muslim country. So no alcohol! But wait, that doesn’t include hotels you fool!

Then my holiday consists of two weeks of slave labourers asking me around the swimming pool if I’d like a drink. They use their legs to transport it to you and everything. You scribble your signature and mumble your room number and more of it comes, until you’re so drunk you’re scared of getting in the pool for fear of drowning.

But at least at the end of a booze-fueled day I have the AC cooled sober embrace of my hotel room, far away from Indian immigrants tempting me to drink.

So I relax and turn on the TV. Mmm. Alcoholic beverage adverts with rich looking people doing rich looking things and having what looks like a very nice time. And look! Below the TV is what looks like a small fridge, I wonder what’s in it?

Please See the ISS

Seeing the ISS (International Space Station) pass over head is a really cool experience. You can’t see the details. It’s just a big, bright dot in the sky zooming by, but somehow it’s amazing to watch. You realise that people are in that dot 250 miles up and doing over 17,000MPH.

To most people the ISS is just this thing in space where astronauts sing songs, and they don’t realise they can almost certainly see it pass over their head. And unlike many of these space things they don’t have to travel to weird locations only to find out it won’t be happening that night or it’s too cloudly to see. You can see the ISS from the comfort of your garden!

How?

Well NASA offers a service called Spot The Station where they’ll e-mail or text you when it’s going to be passing by your location. And they give you all the details on where to see it in the nights sky.

Here’s an example email:

Time: Fri Jun 07/10:43 PM, Visible: 6 min, Max Height: 61 degrees, Appears: WSW, Disappears: E

Just go outside a minute or so before they say in case it’s early and then look up and marvel.

Everyone I’ve told about this hasn’t known about it before and hasn’t regretted checking it out once I mentioned it. And kids love it. It’s a tangible ‘rocket’ that’s in their garden and not far out in space or in picture books.

Podcasts

Podcasts have become a massive part of my life in the past few years. It’s a unique and great medium, and when some of your favourite people are involved, it becomes utterly joyous. They’re often conversational and relaxed. Podcasting is a raw art form that is yet to be tainted by money. They are nearly always free and done out of love.

Last year Stephen Fry made an appearance on Richard Herring’s Leicester Square Theatre Podcast. It got quite a lot of press because in the show Stephen admited to a suicide attempt earlier in the year. But newspaper headlines aside, it’s a masterpiece of a podcast episode. The host Richard Herring was a little bit annoying at times. It may be a comedy podcast, but I felt he kept looking for jokes a little bit too much, when he should of been satisfied with the perfect balance of comedy and honesty that Stephen turned the conversation into.

Anyway, it was a sublime way to spend 90 minutes before sleep, and after listening to it I sat on the edge of my bed for a few minutes thinking. It made me happy, saddened me, and inspired me. It did what all great art should. It took me into its cave and spat me out different and better. Not drastically so. It just added another stick to my mental Beaver dam against everything bad in my world. I hadn’t had a bad or good day, I had experienced what most days are. Boring, dull, tiring, and sprinkled with brief moments of embarrassment, confidence, happiness and sadness. And having in those 24 hours just a glimpse of great art makes it worthwhile, and worth slugging through another 24 to hopefully taste again.

Afterwards Richard Herring wrote:

For a few years now I’ve been side-stepping the censorship, limitations and, let’s face it, lack of interest of television broadcasters and producing my own comedy podcasts. I love the freedom and autonomy of the medium, as well as its immediacy.

I can have an idea in the morning and it can be broadcast that same day. With all the hoops you have to jump through to make a TV show, it can take years to get an idea to screen and, by the time it’s on, it has often been interfered with so much by executives that it is unrecognisable. […]

I was delighted that one of my all-time comedy heroes, Stephen Fry, agreed to appear, but I was nervous. I had never met him before and was concerned I might just sit opposite him in open-mouthed amazement, unable to say a word. […]

It was the most extraordinary and electric 90 minutes that I have ever experienced on stage, showed that independent podcasts can compete with and trump mainstream broadcasters and spread awareness about the effects of depression.

Stephen Fry also later blogged:

The episode, plus the relationship I now have with a magnificent psychiatrist, has made made my mental health better, I think, than it’s ever been.

Podcasts, how I love you.

Download the mp3, listen to it on Soundcloud or watch the video on YouTube.

Cleartones

Ringtones and notification sounds are nearly always ghastly and loud. Cleartones aims to solve that. It’s a collection of minimal ringtones and notifications that are unique and don’t violate your ears. They are beautifully simple.

I favour the ‘Pure’ collection. And use:

  • Ringtone: The Pitch
  • Text tone: Refined
  • New Email: Pretty Pure
  • Calendar Alerts: Reflections

Each of the 3 packs costs $17. Or you can buy all of them for $35. Pretty pricey. But they’re gorgeous and you get them DRM-free so you can keep the same tones forever.

Tip: When out and about, with the phone in my pocket, I mostly rely on the vibrate. So I’ve turned down the ‘ringers and alerts’ default volume to around half way in Settings. This means when at home alerts are even less obtrusive and I don’t bother people when on the train, etc. I’d reccomend trying this yourself.

The Setup of 2013

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. Here we go…

What hardware do you use?

Me and my 15-inch Retina Macbook Pro (mid 2012, 2.6GHz Intel i7, 16GB RAM) shuttle between my University dorm and parents house.

At my desk at the dorm is an Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Pro 2, Logitech G500 mouse, Schiit Magni Amp and Modi DAC, Beyerdynamic T90 headphones and a Herman Miller Aeron chair.

At home there’s a Apple Thunderbolt Display, Happy Hacking Keyboard Lite 2, Apple Magic Mouse, Sennheiser HD 380 Pro headphones, Synology DS411j NAS and a hand-me-down office chair. I also have a PS3 (slim model) and Apple TV (2nd generation).

There’s an iPhone 5 in my right pocket. Some keys in my left. A Field Notes notebook (pitch black edition) and Fisher pen in the cargo pocket. And a Chrome Soyuz 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. Twitterrific for Twitter, and Wedge for App.net. LimeChat for IRC. And either Rdio or Cog for music, or VLC for TV/Movie.

Daily

nvALT, because .txt’s are my life. Soulver for when I can’t be bothered to go to Wolfram|Alpha. Byword for writing. OmniFocus for tasks. NetNewsWire (version 3) for RSS. Chocolat for various text based stuff. Messages for iMessage. MailMate for email. MarsEdit for blogging. ReadKit for Instapaper. Transmit for FTP. StockTouch for the stock market. Beamer for streaming to the Apple TV.

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, 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. TotalFinder mostly for putting folders above files in Finder. WhatPulse for key and mouse click tracking. Yoink for making drag and drop easier. Mountain for quickly ejecting external hard drives.

iPhone

Notesy for .txt. PodWrangler for podcasts. Wolfram|Alpha for answers. Today for weather. Dark Sky for upcoming rain. OmniFocus for tasks. Rdio for music. Citymapper for London. Fitted Lifts for gym.

2013 In Review

This was the year where I realised it was important to not store files needed long term in third party software. So I disposed of Evernote, Day One, iPhoto, and iTunes and embraced the file system and Finder. I used simple folder structures for my documents, photos and music and let Hazel do most of the work. I also replaced journaling app Day One with a new .txt file each day.

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.

Lumi

Martin Stiksel and Felix Miller, creators of Last.fm, are again trying to take data users don’t care about and do something useful with it:

“Usually the only interaction people have with their browsing history is deleting it,” Miller said. But he and Stiksel said they hope Lumi changes that. ”Browsing history gives us a great picture of what people like, without them having to do anything,” Stiksel said.

However:

… the success of Lumi will depend on users being prepared to allow the service to interpret their browsing histories in order to provide them with recommended news stories, reviews and blogs. “The browsing history is owned by the user and securely put onto our platform, only the user has access to it,” Martin insisted. “We are not interested in the data from a commercial point of view.”

This is the problem. Lumi has arrived at the worst time possible. The majority of every interview piece on the service is made up of the creators reassuring us that Lumi is private, safe and secure.

When it came time to upload my browsing history to Lumi I paused… and left. Uploading that data to a web service in this post-Snowden world doesn’t feel right.

IFTTT for iPhone

IFTTT has just released its iPhone app.

The ‘activity log’ stream is the first thing you see in the app, and I’m glad, as it’s vital to know your recipes are running fine. On the website it’s always been buried in the nav and I’m sure many users don’t know it even exists.

Elsewhere it does everything you’d expect, like create, find and toggle on/off recipes. There’s also three new channels you can use thanks to the app: Photos, Reminders, and Contacts. Though you have to either open the app or allow it to leave location services on to run recipes these new channels.

IFTTT for iPhone doesn’t ‘automate your entire phone‘, but it’s a very good first effort.

Download it for free [iTunes link]

BBC gives up on 3D, for now

The BBC is to suspend 3D programming for an indefinite period due to a “lack of public appetite” for the technology.

Kim Shillinglaw, the BBC’s head of 3D, said it has “not taken off” with audiences who find it “quite hassly”.

The BBC began a two-year 3D trial in 2011, broadcasting several shows and events in 3D, including the Olympic Games and Strictly Come Dancing.

There are a number of reasons for the lack of public uptake, I believe.

First, there isn’t actually a BBC 3D channel (When the BBC are showing something 3D they take over one of the HD channels.). A dedicated channel provides a place to advertise upcoming showings as well as broadcast 3D nature documentary repeats to get people who stumble upon the channel interested.

Second, even if you have a channel you’re at the mercy of Sky and Virgin Media who put they’re own channels front & centre and bury others deep in the menu system.

Third, people just don’t like 3D. Or don’t like it enough that it’s worth the hassle. Our household watched the last half of the London 2012 Olympic Closing Ceremony in 3D and then completely forgot about its existence.

Being publicly funded the BBC generally are the first to drop a dying service. Not being a fan of 3D myself, I’m hoping this is the beginning of us being rid of the 3D menace.