Out with TuGo in with the new…

Occasionally I dip into some of the key web services I depend on to test the market to see if there are better alternatives. For example, as part of my move away from a number of cloud services I’ve come to heavily rely on I shifted across from the likes of Google Apps to my office-suite on my Synology server. Occasionally, I am forced to move from a particularly service because it’s either changed its terms and conditions – or the provider has stopped running it. One recent example of this is O2’s TuGo service. Until the end of last month I had been using TuGo since it launched almost 4 years ago. It was excellent. It gave me the ability to make and receive UK calls via my existing 02 mobile number anywhere in the world using the TuGo app and an internet connection.

When O2 decided to scrap the service last month I was devasted. But every cloud….

Introducing Freedompop

After a bit of digging around I’ve discovered a new entry into the UK mobile market – Freedompop . They seem to be a new Silicon Valley start up that’s launched in the UK. They run off Three’s network and offer monthly sim only tarrifs starting at a bargain £7 a month. But what sold me was that they are completly VOIP based and SMS/calls can be made and received via their excellent iOS or Android app. So, intrigued,  I quickly signed up. I’m expecting my sim to arrive at my home in the next few days and I’ll soon begin the PUK transfer across. However, in the meantime my temporary mobile number was instantly up and running via their app. I’ve successfully tested it and it works a charm. What’s particularly satisfying is just how much better the service seems to be compared to 02. Tarrifs vary – but all are very good deals. UK data allowances seem a bit on the low side – currently the maximum amount is 4GB. However, unused data does roll over.

So far so good. Like I said every cloud…. I’ll report back once my PUK transfer is complete.

 

From Evernote to OneNote 

I’ve been a loyal Evernote premium users since April 2008. I’ve always loved the company. But sadly not anymore. Their new 2 device only pricing structure makes little sense to me.

Finally Microsoft have released the Evernote exporter to OneNote. So I’m moving over. Fingers crossed the transition works. I’ll keep you posted.
But until then, thanks for the memories Evernote. But I see more value from OneNote.

update: Having played around with OneNote I have to say I just didn’t like the UI. Far too much skeuomorphic design for my liking and not enough granularity. I’ll stick with Evernote. On the positive – it’s always good practice to routinely check the market for alternative apps. This little exercise confirmed to me that Evernote still meets my needs.

My home network explained

IMG_4460A number of people have asked me about my tech setup at home. So I thought I’d post about it. A lot of the hardware I use is legacy kit, acquired over the years. However, recently the kit I have bought is deliberate and in support of the design aims of my setup.

Design principles: My aim, when pulling it all together was to build it around my reality of limited and, relatively slow, internet connectivity. Where I currently live, I don’t have the luxury of a fast internet connection. It’s getting better – and I now have a decent connection peaking at around 11mbp/s. However, it’s capped (depending on what tariff I use). So I have tried to make my setup as bandwidth efficient as possible – no bad thing anyway.

Router – ASUS N66U

At the heart of the network sits the ASUS N66U DSL router. I choose this router primarily because it has VPN support, so I am able to directly connect my VPN service to the router. Another reason I choose the router is because ASUS are all in on OpenWRT, an open source firmware alternative to vanilla router firmware. I’m running the latest build of MerlinWRT and I choose it because it gives you some neat additional features, whilst closely replicating the UI of the standard ASUS firmware. There are newer models out there now but for my needs the basic prerequisite for any router is VPN support and good coverage.

Netgear ReadyNas 214

With limited internet bandwidth and data-caps I wanted to limit (if not completely stop) media streaming. This powerful, pro-sumer grade NAS really fits the bill. I love it. Because this sits at the heart of my network and serves all my media, I wanted to invest in a decent bit of kit. It’s running a 4-bay SATA drive RAID 5 array (each 2TB) and has a particularly powerful processor and fully loaded with enough RAM for my needs. I use it for a number of reasons:

  • Plex Media/file server: It’s recommended by the Plex folk and is more than capable of doing all the complex trans-coding and streaming of media across my numerous devices. I mostly use Plex via my LG Smart TV or via my 4th gen AppleTV . It’s also more than capable of quickly trans-coding and syncing my Plex media to my devices (such as my iPad Pro and iPhone), useful for when I travel. I wanted to highlight Plex because I believe it’s one of the most capable and brilliant services/apps I have ever used. In a nutshell – I love it and demonstrated my loyalty by buying the lifetime plan.
  • iTunes my library: I have close to 8000 tunes (around 40GB) and really value my collection. I deliberately like to run my devices with light SSD’s so didn’t want to waste drive space on any given Macbook. So I transferred my library over to my readyNAS, pointed my iTunes app to the directory – and it just works. I tend to purchase most of my music from Amazon and so point the downloads directly to the NAS directory too. That way it all stays in sync. I also maintain iTunes match and cloud storage too – that way I’ve always got access to my music on the go. Essentially, my NAS acts as a backup and as close to a‘physical’ home for my collection as possible. But it also has one more vital function; I point my Sonos system to the NAS iTunes library. Doing so ensures that a) I don’t have to have my iTunes library permanently connected/open and b) I can avoid having to stream my cloud music collection ( I also sync the library on Google Music) over the internet.
  • Apple Time Machine backups: There are three Macs in my household and at the very least; I always ensure they are backed up using Time Machine. (Plus I use SuperDuper clones on external drives). Rather than using individual hard drives connected to each Mac, the ReadyNas 214 supports multiple instances of Time Machine. Again, it all just works, and I’ve run a few restores just to check that they are all working – and they are.
  • File server: Obviously. In the few instances where I have documents to store locally I use the NAS for all my needs. I also run an automated backup for my camera photos – just as a fail-safe.
  • WordPress testing/backup server: I run a few websites so I have an instance of WordPress installed on the NAS and use it for testing purposes.

Sonos

I made a decision a few years ago to invest in Sonos. And in my opinion haven’t regretted it at all. I’ve played around with Apple’s Airplay and am not a fan. I need more granularity in my music system – and Sonos delivers. Perhaps the biggest reason for investing in Sonos is because of their superb underlying technology. They operate a mesh network which sits on top of your existing network. It’s incredibly robust and has never dropped out for me. Sonos support multiple media streaming services such as Spotify, Tune In Radio, Google music etc. Whilst the app is a bit clunky, the sound is incredible and I’m able to either play all the speakers together in ‘party mode’ or independently. I also like the flexibilty to configure the speakers for multiple setups. At the moment I have:

Lounge

  • 1 X PlayBar (hooked up to my TV via an optical link)
  • 2 X Play 1’s as surround speakers

Studio 

  • 1 x Play 3

Upstairs lounge 
  • 1 x Play 1
Ideally, I’d be running a Sonos Sub on the lounge setup. But it’s a big piece of kit and would be a challenge to have it delivered. So for now I can live perfectly without one.
I’m a big fan of the Hue lighting system. And recently they launched an Apple HomeKit hub which has opened up Siri voice commands to the system. I upgraded to the new hub about 4 months ago – and its great. I’m able to command the lights by voice and by extension via calling out ‘hey Siri’ to my Apple Watch. The ability to say ‘turn all the lights purple’ or ‘turn all the lights off’ is an incredible feeling.
I also combine the hue lighting with IFTTT, so thanks to the IFTTT supported APIs I’m able to have the lights turn on automatically at dusk and off automatically at midnight. IFTTT is an incredible service and the list of hacks are endless. For example, I can have the Hue lights flash a particular colour when I hit my 10,000 steps target on Fitbit, or flash a colour when I get a new Twitter follower. The possibilities are endless.
I currently have 3 hue lights at my overseas home. And a few back in the the UK.

WeMoo switches

Unfortunately these are not HomeKit supported yet. But I’m running a couple to remotely control a couple of lamps. Useful and again, the ability to have the automatically turn on a dusk is handy.

iOS devices

Just two at the moment (soon to be a third if I get my way and buy the gorgeous iPhone SE).

My new iPad Pro 12.9″ is incredible. I’ve already posted about how much finally able to produce my weekly podcast on it. But additionally it’s now become my primary computer. I recently bough the outstanding Logi keyboard cover for it. It’s essentially a full blown keyboard that takes its charge from the new smart connector on the iPad (so no need to rely on Bluetooth). Sure, it adds bulk and is actually bigger and heavier than my MacBook Air. However, I can all the advantages of having an iPad. I absolutely love the thing.

iPhone 6plus: an iPhone obviously. Great device still, but I’m actually getting a bit tired of the form factor. Hence the reason I may ‘minigrade’ to the iconic design of the iPhone SE. I’m taking a punt that the next iPhone 7 will be too similar in design to the iPhone 6/plus (which I’ve never really liked). So my plan is to get an SE (gaining a better camera and form factor) and hold out for the radically new iPhone 8 in 2017.

Macbooks: Until recently when I bought my iPad Pro, my 2010 MacBook Air was my production computer. It’s aged exceptionally well and is still rock solid. But I’m just finding the display a bit too small these days and the lack of retina really shows. So I’ve essentially retired it from use now. My MacBook Pro Retina 2014 is now my main computer at home. It’s gorgeous, and that Retina display is incredible. Plus it’s sporting 8GB of ram and they i5 processor flies. Lastly, is the classic original 2008 MacBook (aliminum). I’ve recently put in a new battery, 8gb of ram and a 480 ssd. This has literally given it a new lease of life and it performs surprisingly well for an 8 year old machine.

Less interesting but worthy of a mention is the neat little ‘Transporter’ hardware I have connected to a spare USB drive I have. This turns my harddrive into a ‘personal’ cloud, accessible via my local network or on the web.

Oh and I should mention – I still love to hack Linux occasionally, and use my Raspberry Pii 2 for that.

Well there you have it. That’s my current network/setup.

Producing a podcast on an iPad Pro (12.9”)

ferriteI successfully used Ferrite to produce show 271 of blackonblues using my iPad Pro 12.9.

Overall, I was very impressed. The app itself was simple to use and made really good use of the large display on the iPad. It felt surprisingly natural using my fingers to move tracks around and editing was particularly easy using Apple Pencil. It was also simple to import in tracks (in my case using Dropbox). I have no doubt that I will soon be able to use it permanently as part of my workflow for each weekly show. But there were some drawbacks which, for now, mean I’ll continue to use my Macbook for weekly production. Here’s what I found:

1.      Bandwidth constraints: not a criticism of Ferrite, but I found pulling in tracks individually from my Drop-box account a very slow process.  Where I live, I suffer from a slow internet connection. It would also be good if Ferrite could have a feature to import multiple tracks into the library. That way, I could select all the tracks for the show (normally around 14 or 15) and just leave it running in the background. (almost like a sync capability).

2.      M4a verses MP3: I understand the reasons for sticking with Apple’s AAC format, but I’d still really like to  have the option to export out as an MP3 file. At the moment, I’ll still need to use my Macbook to convert from M4a to MP3.

3.      Export track to an FTP client: An ability to export the final file to an FTP client such as Transmit would be good. At the moment, I would have to export to iCloud Drive and then, using Transmit, upload from iCloud Drive to my web server.

I know that much of these issues are in part due to the lack of a file directory in iOS so I’m even more impressed with how Ferrite works around that challenge. But I’m really hoping to use my iPad Pro as my weekly podcast production device. Given just how much Wooji Juice have achieved so far with Ferrite, I’m sure it’s just a matter of time till I can switch over full time to the iPad Pro.

Travel 2.0

As I begin preparation for our trip to Asia, Australia and sub-Saharan Africa (Mauritius) I discovered an outstanding site.

Tripit.com (beta) essentially pulls together your travel plans and turns them into a highly useful itinerary. In the spirit of web 2.0 you can then share, collaborate and view the itinerary. There are a host of interesting mash-ups on the site from viewing maps through to calculating distance traveled.

But the value comes when booking your trip through multiple sources. We organised the trip ourselves and all our bookings, flights and accommodation have been booked through different providers. To pull this together ourselves would have been messy and time consuming – but tripit.com was able to deliver in minutes along with providing a host of other funky 2.0 features.

One key feature was the ability to forward, via email, reservations to tripit.com directly. The ‘cloud’ then does its thing and it builds together a highly useful travel plan. (it is compatible with airlines and major web travel services such as expedia.com).

It also has several plugins. One, for example enabling you to share your trip via Linkedin.

A killer feature for me – is the ability to ‘subscribe’ to my calander through the system. So at a moments glance I can view my travel through iCal.

So go check out tripit.com .

Getting into GTD

Pretty much all the podcasts I have been listening to over recent years have been singing the praises of the ‘Get Things Done’ or the GTD approach to productivity. From Merlin Mann (www.43folders.com) and regular guest of MacBreak Weekly (www.twit.tv) to Adam Christianson over at www.maccast.com – they all agree it’s a great methodology. 

 

I have been hanging out over at  43folders and visiting , David Allen’s sitewww.davidco.com . I have also watched the excellent presentations by Merlin Mann on the topic (see below) . All this stuff has inspired me to dive in and get more productive. 

 

GTD meets my Outlook 2003 app 

 

I must confess I have not read Allen’s actual GTD book yet (I am a self-confessed slow reader – and sadly it’s not on Audible.co.uk yet). However, I figured I would do a bit of ‘lifehacking’ and pull out the stuff that could have an immediate impact on my productivity. I spend most of my day in Outlook – so thought addressing my behavior here might help.

 

I recently got myself the excellent White Paper ‘GTD and Outlook’ on David Allen’s site. I must say – it is excellent. A bargain at $10. Being the slightly obsessive type, I printed it into A5 and got in bound. It sits on my desk as a constant companion. 

 

Today, I began creating the various @categories in Outlook and started adding my tasks.  I almost instantly saw the logic – and am very excited about it all. 

 

I have also read up on the inbox zero element of GTD and this afternoon began dealing with my mail. I am down to 49. 

 

The challenges

 

It is early days and I really must read the book. But some immediate challenges have emerged: 

     1. I hope I can stick to it. I think I can. 

  1. I am not sure when I should review my tasks (daily/weekly?) At this stage – I figure it really  ought to be daily.

  2. How do I address the ‘portability’ aspects of GTD?  I have an office laptop which is fully kitted out for remote working. But won’t that be invading my private space? I may be able to sync. it with my Nokia E90 smartphone – that might do the trick. 

  3. 4.How do I communicate my new found approach to my immediate team at work. I have developed innovative ways to manage the high volume of emails – but I am sure it would help if they better appreciated the approach.
    In summary – I am excited and extremely motivated by GTD. I really am determined to make a success of it. 

    I must also thank my previous colleague and friend who also provided me with inspiration to Get Things Done. You know who you are. Thought I would end with a presentation by Merlin Mann on Inbox Zero, happy viewing: