Something that I have been thinking a lot about lately is the content that I want to write about and how it's changed over the years.
When I first started writing online, I was focussed on writing about Apple, apps, and related technology news. At one point, I remember trying to cover all Apple-related news. That didn't last long.
Then I tried to do more app reviews. But after a while, this started to bore me as well. Since sometimes, it felt as if I was reviewing an app for the sake of it, rather than simply sharing something that I enjoyed using.
I've written a few blog posts about development and a few guides relating to development (which still get regular traffic). But I've never been the sort of person to spend most of their time on a particular thing, which means my development work is always done in bursts. So I realised that writing a development blog probably wouldn't be suited to me.
However, recently I've transitioned this blog to a "personal blog", and I think it's something I'm going to settle on for a while. I find it a lot easier to write about personal experiences, to share things that I've enjoyed, and also to sometimes comment on things such as news or other people's writing that I've read.
When I think back, there has always been a small part of me who just wanted to write something personal. But I think a more prominent role has always felt as if it wouldn't be that popular, so I shouldn't be writing about it.
That's also where my attitude has changed too. Whereas before, I would write reviews and cover news to appeal to as many people as possible. I've now adopted what may not sound like a very friendly attitude, where I don't particularly care what any "audience" may think about my writing. I write about what I want to write about, and I'm not contractual obliged to write about anything in particular.
It may seem odd to "not care" what your audience thinks, but I also believe that being more honest is better for myself and potentially for anyone that would be interested in what I have to say. But I'd much rather have no audience than have an audience that I don't want to write for.
I wrote about this a while ago in a piece called "Showing Your Own Perspective" but essentially, my point is that we should all be a bit more real* with our writing. Because I personally think there's so much more value to writing when it feels like there's a person behind it.
One thing people always talk about when trying to increase productivity, or as some kind of self-improvement kick, is to work on building regular habits in order to make a certain behaviour happen more often and become routine. But as much as I like the idea of doing things regularly, like blogging or even developing apps, I’m not actually a fan of having a routine.
I’m not exactly much of a planner either, so maybe that gives you a better idea of the type of person I am. Because again, while I like the idea of having a planned life and building plans, I’m not someone that likes to stick to them.
Instead, I prefer to make decisions on the fly, and just to take each day as it comes. Maybe this means I’m living in the moment or something, I don't know. But I know I'd much rather have a day with no plans, and just see what happens, than having regular tasks that need to be done.
I would say the only part of my adult life where I had minimal routine was when I was at university. Maybe that sounds odd, given I had four regular classes, and also worked part-time. However, university was only a few hours a day, and the classes would range from 9 am to 5 pm, so I had a lot of free time in between. But the best part of that free time was that it didn’t match up with anyone else’s. So I was free to just do whatever I wanted. And given I went to university in London, there was quite a lot I could do.
I had a zoo membership, so I frequently popped into London Zoo, and being a skateboarder, I went to Southbank a few times, and I went to the obvious tourist locations too. But in general, I just went to some random places with absolutely no plans. It was pretty fun.
But when I got a job, the routine kicked in, and my workday was (including commuting) from 7 am to 7 pm. So there wasn’t a lot of free time for any spontaneous decisions or trips.
I did try moving my working hours an hour earlier, which made my day a lot better. But nowhere near the level that working from home has.
We all know what’s going on, so I don’t need to explain much. But essentially, since being made to work from home, I’ve had a sense of that freedom, and it’s making life a lot more fun. I can sit in the garden when it’s sunny, go out for lunch (when I’m allowed), and just generally fit work around my life. Rather than adapting to the schedule that my company assigns me.
I think this may sound pretty odd, but one thing I’ve really liked about working from home is the ability to have a lunch-time shower. I can’t work out why that is.
Nonetheless, it’s clear to me that I’m not a fan of having a routine. Especially when it's dictated by someone else.
As soon as I read the article, I was instantly struck with ideas on how I could make use of a similar integration.
Personally, I don't have a big problem with being able to save money. I have a structure to my savings, and I'm very strict with myself to make sure I separate a portion of my wage every time I am paid.
What I do have a problem with is choosing when to spend money. I mean to say I have so much money I don't know what to do with it. I wish. But in general, I have a problem associating value to a purchase. For example, I purchased an iPhone 12 not long ago, but I probably wouldn't spend over £15 on a t-shirt, or even £60 on a pair of shoes. Whereas there are a lot of people that see enough value in a pair of shoes to spend quite a lot of money on them.
I tend to place a higher value on computers, whether it be a smartphone, tablet, or real computer. The main reason is that it's what I'm interested in. But I also use these products as tools in my life, and also to get work done. I use these products to develop apps, write for this blog, and the usual stuff like gaming and social media.
You'd think I'd be fine spending money on new iPhones, iPads, and Macs. But instead, the "normal" part of me usually decides that a new device probably isn't worth it, since a lot of times the current device can cope with what I'll end up doing on it. It's the reason why I own an iPad Pro 10.5", even though I've been wanting a 12.9" pro ever since they were available. I must admit, I was close to buying the model that came out earlier this year, but it didn't seem like a big enough update to force my hand.
But I still have that constant thought in my head that I need that 12.9" iPad Pro, and especially the new Magic Keyboard. Although to be fair, I don't need it, no-one needs an iPad. I want it, for quite a few reasons, but that's not relevant here (I've already dragged this out too far anyway). Let's now get to the point.
There would be no point of all this fuss if I didn't have some kind of goal, or to be specific, an amount of money I want to save. So the goal I'm setting myself is enough to buy a 12.9" iPad Pro (I guess that should be obvious by now). The model I want will be around £1000 I reckon, so that will be my target.
Alongside the iPad, I will also want the Magic Keyboard to do my writing on. But I'll leave that as a secondary goal to do after if this one goes well.
In the article by Matt Brunt, he set up an automation as a fun way to put some money away. But I've also seen other people in the past use it as a punishment, where they track some performance metric, and if they don't hit it then some money gets donated to charity (or somewhere else). Or others that use it for saving may use an environmental action to trigger the saving, something like every time it rains, a tiny bit of money is saved for a future holiday.
I have a theory that this automated saving technique could be used as an incentive, rather than something negative. Instead of punishing bad behaviour by putting money away, I plan on rewarding good behaviour by allocating money towards something I want to buy.
In this case, the reward will be buying an iPad Pro for myself, and the behaviour I want to use as the trigger will be publishing blog posts.
To me, this seems like a perfect fit. I want to get myself into a habit where I'm writing at a good pace, and regularly publishing to my blog. And I'd really love to eventually be doing that on the big iPad. So while I'm building up a habit, I'm also going to use this experiment as a way to prove to myself that I do actually want to write "long-term" and it's not just an occasional hobby.
For the automation, I'll be using a combination of the blogs RSS feed, IFTTT, and a specific pot in Monzo with an associated goal (Which has a cool image that I built using Robb Knight's tool, and is the featured image of this post).
It's a pretty simple process. Whenever there's a new item in my blogs RSS feed, money will be transferred into my pot in Monzo. Eventually, I'll hit the target, I'll order the iPad, and all my life's worries will go away (I think this is how it works?).
I've chosen the amount to be £1 per blog post, so it's pretty easy to calculate how many I'll need to publish before hitting my goal. 1000.
I had an idea on somehow basing the amount on the length of the post, or if it's a simple link post, but I think if I add to complex I probably won't ever complete it.
Anyway, this post will serve as the first out of 1000, and will fortunately/unfortunately cost me £1. Which means I've now got to go and write and publish another 999! Wish me luck.
It’s now almost midway through my holiday in Tenerife, and I’ve been noticing a few ways I’ve been using Twitter differently, seeing as I’m not constantly being updated.
As most people would expect, I haven’t been constantly stuck to my phone (with the exception of music and podcasts), so I haven’t been able to be 100% caught up with my timeline. Whereas I’m usually a maximum of 1 hour behind, given that I’m awake. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or not, or whether it’s good for productivity, but that’s what happens.
But instead of my usual Twitter activity, I’m hardly posting anything, but I still want to keep an eye on anything significant that’s going on.
I actually have three Twitter clients installed on my phone at the minute, and they’ve each gained a temporary place in my daily usage. My client of choice was previously Tweetbot, but I was getting bored recently, and was checking out the current state of Twitterrific, so that’s the reasons for the first two. The last one is the official Twitter app, and that’s purely for keeping up with what updates are being added, and also so I can see a poll if I need to.
So seeing as I just want to see the most essential/interesting content from the day, my Twitter usage normally consists of:
Checking the official Twitter app for the “What you’ve missed” section (I’ve 99% got the actual name wrong, but you get the idea). I may read some related tweets, but I feel this gets me updated.
I use Tweetbot every now and then for push notifications, and also to check out the Activity section. Which shows follows, likes, and mentions, all in the same list, so that’s how I make sure I’m up to date on anyone interacting with me.
Any “normal” use of Twitter where I want to search for someone, specifically see a users timeline, or just checkout the most recent tweets (not particularly often, but when I’m bored), I do all of this in Twitterrific.
Looking back on my usage, it seems pretty standard. Apart from the use of three different apps of course. I’m going to try and force myself to use Twitterrific a bit more, and then make a decision on that, so then it’s only the two.
The biggest plus for me for the last few days has been the official Twitter app, because it’s pretty quick to read the curated list of tweets that apparently I’ve missed out on. I’ve found to be a pretty well curated list, and unless there’s some big thing that I just haven’t seen, I feel as up to date as usual.
Maybe this will prompt a change in how I use Twitter when I get home, but I’m not putting any importance into that idea.
The very first Apple Watch was released 21 months ago, in April 2015. It was to me, a revolutionary new product, and I just had to get it. So I did.
In September 2016, 18 months after the original Watch was released, Apple then updated the original model, naming it Series 1, while also releasing a whole new version, Series 2.
You could argue that the Series 0 (first edition) to 1 change wasn’t even worth noting, the only main difference was that the Apple S1 processor used in the Watch was replaced with a dual-core variant. However in the Series 2, they added a newer Apple S2 processor which was also dual-core, but also an ambient light sensor, 50 m water resistance, 2x brighter display, and a GPS sensor.
So we can all agree that Series 0 → 2 was a decent update.
Therefore, you would expect that because of this, along with the fact that the Series 0 is a version 1.0 of a new product, that the need and desire to upgrade would be huge.
Except for me, it wasn’t. And it still isn’t.
My Watch is a 42 mm Sport in Space Grey with the original matching Sport band, it still provides the same use as when I first purchased it, but now so much more.
At The Beginning
When I first started using the watch, the main feature that I used was the notifications. This was the major benefit for me, as it meant when I was on the move, be it walking or on the train for example, I didn’t have to keep taking my phone out of my pocket to find out what was trying to catch my attention.
Since then, I have rethought my take on how I manage notifications, but this has been a steady constant on the benefits of wearing the Apple Watch.
Of course, like everyone else, I thought the Apple Watch would be the kickstart I needed to become more active. I would start a new workout whenever I was walking somewhere, or maybe I’d try and jog, or maybe I would take an extra trip somewhere simply because I knew it was tracking me.
Then there was the apps, they took an awfully long time to load, and at the beginning they were run off the paired iPhone, so even at runtime they weren’t the best experience. Although in September 2015, Apple released watchOS 2, which meant that apps could be installed directly on the watch, and therefore would be faster. This was slightly the case, but it still wasn’t the best situation, as sometimes it would be much faster to take your phone out of your pocket, than it would be to just do the simple task on your wrist.
By wearing my watch more often, I was getting more comfortable with it, sometimes even forgot I was wearing it. Slowly I was realising that the things I was using my watch for, simply were being forced, and I didn’t actually want to do them. I just wanted to use the watch.
With the release of watchOS 3 in September 2016, the Apple Watch was suddenly brought back to life.
This update brought significant increases to the speed of the device, which was helped out largely by the new Dock. By choosing to keep apps in the dock, the system would automatically keep them in memory, and therefore would be quicker to load. Alongside the speed benefits, there was also a bunch of new watch faces, and a huge overhaul to the way that the watch worked.
It also meant that because of these updates, developers were more likely to spend more time working on quality apps for the device, since they were able to provide a better experience for their users.
This really was the rebirth of the Apple Watch.
This Moment in Time
So right now, my watch has become a really essential part of my life, and it’s started to feel like it’s providing me with a use.
Here are the main things I now use my watch for:
Telling the time.
Notifications (Only for certain apps).
Checking what’s next in my calendar.
Monitoring my activity and health.
Tracking my sleep.
Pokémon GO (yes I still play it).
Before I go into the “smart” side of the watch, it still is a watch, so I of course use it for the time. But very much like the iPhone, the “native” use of the device isn’t what brings people to use it.
Then there were the notifications, these have been narrowed down to the very few things that require my attention. So I have Messages, a select few email notifications from Airmail, and the occasional thing such as OneFootball when I want to specifically be updated about a game when I’m out doing something.
Recently I’ve been trying to use my calendar more and more, for university lectures, events, and time-sensitive events like flights. Because of this, knowing my next calendar event is essential, as the more I rely on the calendar as my primary schedule, I relinquish control over monitoring what I should be doing. Fantastical has a brilliant app for iOS, and I use their complication on the watch to check my next event, and with a simple tap I can quickly get a list of any other events in the future (made possible by the speed increases I watchOS 3).
It’s a similar situation to the weather, with DarkSky I can have a simple complication that updates super fast, so I can find out the weather in a few seconds.
In what has become a more silent feature of the watch, is the activity and health tracking. As I’m always wearing the watch, I get an accurate measurement of my activity throughout the day, how much I’ve walked, and of course my heart rate is also monitored. I don’t have any health conditions that I need to worry about, but it’s nice to know I have all of this data being logged without me doing anything.
In addition to the health tracking that is done automatically by the watch, by using an iOS app called AutoSleep, I can track the length and quality of my sleep by wearing my watch at night. It still of course needs to be charged, but as I’m sat at my desk, or when I’m not doing anything that involves moving around or needing to receive notifications, I pop it on my little watch stand, and it’s charges pretty quickly. The app uses a whole bunch of metrics to measure the sleep, such as the last time you used your phone, whether it’s on charge, or if you’re moving. But it’s the way in which you manage the sleep tracking is what got me, you just go to sleep. There’s no need to manually say “I’m going to sleep”, you just do it, and it knows. It’s the silent processes of the watch that makes me really love it.
So I’ve got the time, notifications, calendar, activity monitoring, and sleep tracking, there must be something I do on the watch for fun? Well, I do use the Pokémon GO watch app, in companion to the iOS game, in order to gain workout based rewards. It’s the closest to a game experience I have on the device, and it also doubles as a workout tracker, so there’s something else behind it as well.
I wouldn’t say there’s that much else that I use the watch regularly to do. Sometimes I control what I’m listening to, via the Music or Overcast app. As mentioned before, I use the OneFootball app to keep updated on certain football games. Once in a blue moon I use a timer, and that’s probably the only thing I use Watch Siri for. The only other thing I’ve been using is the iOS Wallet, which brings up my boarding passes whenever they’re needed.
When I look back at all of these activities that I now do on my watch, I can clearly see that it has become so much more than a time-telling, notification bringing device.
My Watch as an Appliance
Right now, I use my watch a lot. But even so, it’s not something I desperately need to get any better. I like it how it is.
With the benefits that came with watchOS 3, the device was given a new lease of life. Which made it feel like I’d already purchased a new watch.
I no longer need to worry about it syncing to my phone, whether the apps will be refreshed in time, or even about the speed of the hardware. It’s transformed to yet another computer that sits on my wrist, to a stable appliance that I can trust.
What I Still Don’t Like
Of course nothing is perfect, and I would like a few improvements to be made to the watch experience. But these are mainly down to the software, something that can be changed without the need for me to purchase a new device.
I really don’t like the grid layout of the apps, and I think that a redesign there would be a great improvement. But saying that, the way I interact with my watch is through complications via the watch face, or by launching apps from the dock.
I would also encourage the ability to customise the watch faces even further, so you would be able to have a more custom design and colour options.
A bit of a weird post today, but I’ve come to the realisation that I need to find a way to fund myself through the last bit of my university course.
I spend nearly all of my time doing one of two things, university work, or developing things for everyone. Whether it’s a new application, a website, or something, I’m always making stuff.
I guess most people would simply raise the prices of their products, in order to try and make more money, but I don’t really want to do that. I want to reward people for backing what I do, so this is what I came up with:
Qwiki, my Wikipedia app for Mac has been discounted (indefinitely) from £3.99 to £2.99.
Why would I make everything free, or really cheap? Because I trust everyone that finds my content useful, wants to help me in what I do, or simply is a super awesome person will back me.
And that’s why I’ve set up a Patreon page. Honestly I feel a bit dirty doing this, because I don’t want to ask for your money, but if I can balance this out by creating some awesome projects, then I think I can make sense of it.
If you can support me, then it really is a case of anything helps. The costs associate with University (especially in London) are stupid, and then there’s my desire to make things that also adds to that, even a coffee will help me through the day.
Don’t worry though, because I’ll have a good announcement in a few days relating to a certain app I’m making!
Over the past few days I’ve been setting up my own media server, and in particular, Plex. Plex is a great tool that can do wonderful things to your media collection, but the one thing that I just love is that it can take plain video files, an then give it so much context. It really makes your library something to look at.
The actual server itself is my old MacBook Pro, which I don’t think is the best machine for the job, but it’s the best spare machine I have available at the minute. I’m not going to write down all the specs, but it’s got an i5, 4 GB Ram, and a 1 TB hard drive. The only job of this machine however, is to manage my collection, the storage is a 3 TB NAS drive that I’ve had for a while.
At the minute I have three different libraries in Plex, one for all the movies I have downloaded, second for the TV Shows, and then I have also included my iTunes Media folder as a library, as I have a huge number of films in iTunes.
Now let’s get on to how I populate these libraries (Leaving some ethical behaviour behind of course).
The TV Shows are just video files that I have collected over the years and obtain manually, there are a few applications that can track new episodes, and even download them automatically, but I haven’t found any that I deem good enough. I don’t watch many tv shows, so a tiny bit of manual work isn’t a big deal for this.
My Movie collection is a mix, I have ripped some movies in the past (I hate DVDs), and also have a rather magical automation for downloading other movies I like. Here is a step by step process on how this automation works:
Find a movie on Trakt, and add it to my watch list.
CouchPotato finds new additions in my Trakt watch list, and then populates them in it’s own database.
Every so often, CouchPotato will check to see if any of the added movies are available to download (with some quality preferences).
CouchPotato then sends these links to download to Transmission, which is currently running as a local web server.
Transmission will triage each addition, and with some specific restrictions like cumulative download limits and speed limits (that actually change depending on the time of day), start these downloads, and place them in the correct folder on the NAS.
Plex Media Server tries to detect when new files are added to the libraries (It also checks regularly), and then it will analyse the media, add it to the library, and also put together all the needed metadata.
It’s a really fast process, and I enjoy how little work I have to do to make something happen. I’m sure the process may change in the future, but at the minute it feels pretty seamless.
This is definitely where my main content comes from, it’s where I get all of my favourite content. Even to a point where I will have a copy of a film, but I will then also purchase it on iTunes. Because it means I get the best quality available, any iTunes extras, and I also feel like it’s future proofing my movie collection slightly.
I’m starting to really see why I hear so many good things about Plex, it’s easy to set up, it work’s nearly everywhere, and it just makes my media collection look amazing.
Running my own media server is something I think I will take further, and if I can pick up a cheap Mac Mini soon, that may be the next step. With my Amazon Dot, and now this small project, automation is becoming a fun hobby.
I’m just on the way home from finally seeing Lion King at the theatre. It was one of my favourite movies growing up, so it certainly had a lot to live up to.
In general I think that it was pretty good, there were some bits that were really enjoyable, and others not so much.
My favourite characters were easily Rafiki and Pumba, because they seemed the most “realistic”, and the songs seemed to be near original with them.
What I didn’t like was when scenes were added or removed. I understand that it may be slightly different, but there was a 2/3 minute scene that just wasn’t in the film. A slightly smaller example is when Timone and Pumba are tasked with distracting the Hyenas, instead of the little song and dance I remember from the movies, there was some random Irish dancing?
Of course there was some Frozen references, but I guess we can’t escape that anymore.
So as I said before, it was pretty good.
I would encourage people to see it, but I don’t think I’ll be going a second time.o
A lot of people write long year in review blog posts, so I also decided to do one as well. But it was also beneficial for myself, as it seems I did a lot more this year than I thought I did!
Qwiki is an app for macOS, that let’s you search directly and view Wikipedia articles, directly in your menu bar. It also has sharing and export options, but that’s basically what it is.
Now in version 1.3, the app has come a long way. And it is my first proper app, meaning I spent longer in development, I had a beta testing stage, and then I actually marketed the app. I learned a lot from this project, and it’s my best app to date.
I also started a weekly newsletter, which was fun when it started. But after a few weeks, I couldn’t think of anything interesting to write. So this was unfortunately stopped. Here is the first issue that went out, which I’m still pretty pleased with.
I also wrote about Apple’s “Hello Again” event, where they announced the pretty nifty MacBook Pro that I’m currently writing this post on. It was a while since I did a post like this, since covering loads of Apple events when I wrote AppRecap.
Although I started the year just coming back from Italy, I didn’t actually do much travelling in 2016.