Moleskine Timepage

For about sixteen months or so, Moleskine’s iPhone app, Timepage has been my faithful calendar and weather book and I have had nothing but praise for it. However, I have never found the time to put my thoughts in writing, although I did talk about this in my interview with the Sweet Setup. Now, the Australian company, Bonobo, which makes Timepage for Moleskine, released an iPad version of the app, and I thought it was about time I penned my thoughts on Moleskine’s new calendar ecosystem.

I have never been a fan of replacing every single stock app on my device. I have been quite vocal about this several times in the past: if I have to use a third-party app, it needs to fall into one of two categories — either do something no stock app does, or do something a stock app does but better. Not just differently, but better. And it speaks volumes when I say Timepage is one of the first apps I download. It is, quite simply, a cut above the rest.

While most calendar apps are built around the month view, with a seven-by-four/five grid of dates, Timepage approaches this from the schedule view. At first, this may seem unorthodox to some, perhaps even a jarring diversion from the norm, but it works beautifully. If I remember right, the app (finally gave into users’ demand and) added a month view a few versions after release. However, the schedule view struck a chord with me immediately and is one of the biggest draws of Timepage for me. Continue reading

To be more productive, know your devices better

There is a common tendency, when people talk about productivity, to look at it like it is entirely two-dimensional. A lot of discussions boil down to asking ourselves what distractions we need to eliminate and how we can keep things organised. In today’s fast-paced world, where every second task is assigned to one of our many gadgets, these two questions are undoubtedly central to staying productive, but we consistently forget to ask ourselves a third, equally important question: how well do we know our gadgets?

I am by no means an expert on productivity. My entire approach to getting things done is a savage “get started, then see it through to the end” method — if you can call it that. I never understood the whole Getting Things Done (GTD) movement and still have only a weak grasp on it. In fact the only helpful thing I took away from it was the concept of an inbox; the idea is to first note down what is on your mind in a general-purpose area and later sit down, categorise and re-consider them, and not categorise things as you write them down. This has been helpful because the task of noting down itself gets out of the way. But GTD has many hacks, a lot of which work for individual circumstances and environments, and to come up with which you need to understand GTD inside-out.

A lot of people still take notes on little post-it markers. An increasing number of them have been going digital — or semi-digital as I like to say, such as with a post-it and Evernote workflow — and a lot of reminders are taken down in dedicated reminder apps. Continue reading

A minimal Mac setup

Having a minimal Mac setup has always been one of my priorities. This simple idea of keeping things minimal, especially visually, can go a long way in making one’s computer usage targeted, simple, productive and considerably more enjoyable. As Pat Dryburgh once spoke for the now defunct website, Minimal Mac, aiming for minimalism is not about simply removing things: “Minimalism is a means to an end. The end is the opportunity to really enjoy using your Mac.” (If you have time, spend some time on Minimal Mac — you will not regret it.)

All this is not to say “removing things” is not a big part of getting the minimal Mac experience. It certainly is, but think of it as the start and understand that it is important to maintain your system that way for an unparalleled experience. While my main machine is a 15in retina MacBook Pro from late 2013 and my second machine is a gorgeous 13in MacBook Air, this approach should work across operating systems and hardware. Some specific steps may not, but there are usually somewhat similar things available on Windows, Linux etc.

Start at your desktop. This is where you step into your computer. And our aim here is to ensure nothing distracts you; there should be no clutter, no files trying to draw your attention, nothing that will detract you from doing the work you came here to do. On a philosophical level, this gives a good idea of how minimalism tries to enable productivity. Continue reading

Read my interview with The Sweet Setup

Some of the best tech reviews and recommendations come from The Sweet Setup, a magazine/website that reviews the most popular software solutions across various genres and recommends one, definitively. Today they published an interview I had given some weeks back and you can find it on their website. The interview revolved mainly around how I use my devices in my daily life, and is meant to either give an insight to those who are in a similar situation or are simply looking to make better, more economical use of their devices and incorporate them into their lives, or be a source of infotainment for the technologically savvy crowd.

One of the reasons I enjoy reading The Sweet Setup is because they actually arrive at a conclusion once they review and compare a set of apps. Oftentimes reviewers compare poorly, leaving it entirely to the reader to decide while they claim to have put things into perspective; but really nobody has gone a single step ahead all the while. With The Sweet Setup, various reviewers (meaning there is almost no bias or leaning for the magazine as a whole) talk about popular applications for various needs and arrive at the best one as a recommendation while also briefly talking about other options, which makes the review feel wholesome. Anyway, I think if you ever need clarifications this should certainly be a site to drop by and look around.

Besides announcing that my interview has been published, I also wanted to take a moment in this article to address something that I personally find remarkable. Continue reading

State of the smartphone market

Apple’s iPhone 7 and Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 were this year’s unsurprising landmark releases in the smartphone market. However, over the years there has been a trend where the appearance of new technology in smartphones slows down. This should not really be surprising considering the extent we have come already since Steve Jobs talked of a phone, an iPod, and a camera in one device. “We call it iPhone”, he proclaimed on stage nine years ago. Next year will be the tenth anniversary of iPhone and a lot of people had decided for themselves that that would be the phone to wait for, not this year’s iPhone 7.

In fact, Apple’s alternate year of release for newly numbered models shows the company itself probably believes that one brand new smartphone a year is an unrealistic expectation. Instead a new one every other year accompanied by a stepwise change in the form of an “S” model in-between was their solution and rightly too. Until we somehow put a printer and flatbed scanner into our phones, there will likely not be a technological revolution in the true sense of the word.

Apple’s stocks were already dipping as iPhone sales dipped in the last two financial quarters. But with Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 phones bursting like crackers and forcing the company to recall all phones, their share in the market will likely also dip just as dramatically if not more. Rumours suggest a $10 billion loss after passengers were banned from carrying the phone on aircrafts. Continue reading

iPad Pro

My first tablet was the Samsung Galaxy Tab, the first Android tablet ever, and I still have it and I still think that, for its time it was a splendid piece of technology. I have since moved wholly to the iOS universe where my first tablet was the first generation iPad Air, and today, two years later, I upgraded it to a 9.7 inch iPad Pro, with a spacious 128GB storage, and so far it has been a lovely experience.

The fact that I am typing these thoughts on my new iPad Pro goes to show just how capable this tablet is for “real” work. By contrast, I only ever used my iPad before to make notes for articles, and never to type the articles themselves. But to say the tablet alone is responsible for this would be wrong: it is a combination of iPad Pro, the new Smart Keyboard, and Apple Pencil. In fact, I have come to believe that it is this ecosystem of basic but incredibly capable accessories that makes the whole experience feel worthy of a pro tag.

I do not mean to undersell the iPad itself, but a closer look at its specifications will show that iPad Pro is really a next-generation iPad Air. It performs almost twice as well as its predecessor, the Air 2, and a whopping five times better than my old iPad Air. During daily tasks (read, media consumption) even iPad Air is plenty; and if that is all your usage is, then an upgrade to the Pro device is unnecessary. Continue reading

What is it with people and weather apps?

“Weather forecast for tonight: dark.” George Carlin was probably the only one who ever gave an accurate weather forecast. Knowing how incredibly unpredictable the weather can be it always surprises me how much people seem to love weather apps. Perhaps it is just me but never in my life have I ever looked at a weather forecast before wearing “appropriate” clothes or grabbing an umbrella.

I love umbrellas and perhaps the only reason I would ever use a weather app was if I needed to find a reason to carry one, but the umbrella is a versatile device: you can use it come rain or shine. On a more serious note, however, weather apps are, quite a lot of the time, little more than entertainment. You would have just as much fun as if someone made an app that predicted all your shots in a game of billiards. Sure, given all the variables to enough degrees of accuracy, you could predict precisely where the cue ball goes and how much you score, but there are so many variables you are bound to go wrong sooner or later.

Sample forecast message, courtesy of NOAA.
Sample forecast message, courtesy of NOAA.

Model Output Statistics, says the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), is a technique used to objectively interpret numerical model output and produce site-specific guidance of the weather. And there are a huge number of variables involved, all of which are measurable, but all of which are constantly changing. (See an old sample from the NOAA’s technical procedures bulletin above.) Couple this with the fact that it takes time for data to transfer from the detection site to the weather people (some call them meteorologists) to their machines and human interpreters — whom we will talk about presently — and then for the softwares to get updated and then for data to upload and transfer to everyone’s smartphone and you have a surefire recipe for missing the mark, sometimes narrowly, sometimes widely, but missing the mark nonetheless. Continue reading

Locked out of Instagram

This week started with a bang: I somehow got locked out of my Instagram account. The account itself still exists and you can view and like my photographs and — as I expect will start happening now — leave a tonne of spammy comments. The reason my account was flagged was likely because I posted from travel abroad, which already resulted in an e-mail seeking clarification about accessing the account from a previously unused location or something to that effect. Back in my country now (which probably got flagged as another major change in location, although that does not make much sense) I find that the e-mail associated with that account has been mysteriously deleted and access to my account revoked with only one possibility of restoration: contacting Instagram directly.

While a lot of people wrote to me saying that Instagram will restore access if I write to them, and that the system may have made a mistake flagging it, I would, myself, look at this as a good thing — not unlike William’s curfew, for any of you who have read Sellars and Yeats’ 1066 and all that, the classic satire: “Another very conquering law made by William I said that everyone had to go to bed at eight o’clock. This was called the Curfew and was a Good Thing in the end since it was the cause of Gray’s Energy in the country churchyard (at Stoke Penge).” Coming back to the present, I have decided not to contest the blockade and instead let the account rest, or even be scrapped if Instagram chooses. Continue reading

Evernote is not dying

News has been making rounds on the internet about the impending death of Silicon Valley’s first “unicorn”, Evernote. The term (which is likely a slang) refers to a startup that is worth one billion dollars; the uni in unicorn refers to one. Startups worth ten billion are therefore “decacorns”, while those worth a hundred billion dollars are “hectocorns”. On the other hand Canada calls them “narwhals” so they seem to have missed the pattern here entirely. In any case, a low hum about the “death” of Evernote had been in the background for a couple of years now and noisily rose to the forefront following a Business Insider article late last year.

I may be biased here because to me Business Insider has long been like BuzzFeed trying to be serious. However, the author of that particular article was Syrah founder, Josh Dickson. (It was later brought to my notice that the article was a re-share by Business Insider from Mr Dickson’s blog.) Citing its chain of funding worth tens of millions of dollars each, the article talks about Evernote’s inability to stabilise and therefore questions its future:

Unicorns die a slow death as their core products lose relevance, new product initiatives fail, user growth slips away, costs mount, and key employees and talent drain from the system.

This was at a sensitive time when former CEO, Phil Libin, was giving way to Chris O’Neill, who worked on Google Glass. This followed months of seeming stagnancy and half-hearted shambling at Evernote, topped off with Mr Libin finally admitting that he was “not passionate” about his duties as CEO. Continue reading

Take notes: nvALT and Simplenote workflow

Little work gets done when we spend a lot of time thinking of how to go about it. This is, in fact, the quintessential problem with trying to stay organised — we often end up overdoing it. Notoriously enough, over-organisation (with little action) is far too easy and gives the same kind of satisfaction, to most people, as action itself. This is in the same boat as the “Fake it till you make it” philosophy1 and, before we realise it, knowing that we have planned a task gives us enough satisfaction to take our eyes completely off the fact that we have not taken any steps whatsoever towards actually accomplishing the task. (You may skip the philosophy/reasoning behind my workflow, explained in the following two paragraphs, and start reading about the workflow itself.)

Evernote was something like this to me. I see and know that a majority of people swear by it, but as my note-taking habits evolved I realised it was not for me. Evernote is extremely capable, with three levels of organisation (four, if you count tags), a lot of bells and whistles that are useful to most people and weighty hinderances to me. WordPress founder, Matt Mullenweg, once put it effectively: “You don’t open a letter with a chainsaw”. As a storehouse and manager of large projects with hundreds of files, links and notes, Evernote works, but I prefer my Dropbox for that especially because I saw absolutely no appeal in a service that does not even keep my notes offline. Continue reading

Airmail makes e-mail convenient and effective

Following a month of testing and real-world use, I decided earlier this week to rope Airmail into my workflow as my main (and only) e-mail programme across all my devices. Airmail is a sharp and powerful app from Italian design and development studio, Bloop. For anyone who maintains a certain manner of working with tools that they use regularly, it is understandable that adding new tools — or replacing old ones around which your habits have long since formed — can be too huge a step. This new tool, whatever it is, has to offer something compelling to justify its use because, while it may offer a fun new feature, what is important is to recognise that it demands from the user, more than anything, is a certain level of dedication and investment — particularly of our time and our patience as we develop new habits around new tools.

In this light, Airmail (for iOS and Mac) is a tool that has won me over and so well that I have initiated it into my daily workflow. In other words, I will start out by recommending that the app is worth trying out, and my conclusion is that it is wonderful. The rest of this review, therefore, is meant to tell you why.

The troubles of multiple inboxes

As I have stated several times in the past, Apple’s stock is good enough for most people — including me until a couple of years. Having moved to a completely different e-mail management now involving four addresses, I found the stock app limiting. Continue reading

Apple Notes and Evernote: apples and oranges

I see a huge number of people on the hunt for a good note–taking application these days, and most attempts at an answer involve some sort of comparison between Evernote — the reigning king — and Microsoft’s OneNote, which has its own, growing tribe of followers. And they are both, at some point, almost inevitably, compared to the inbuilt provided by Apple. This is simply wrong and should be avoided.

First of all, there are broadly two classifications of note–taking applications: on the one hand are swift, simple (humble?) jotting applications and on the other are file organisers. A note is a type of file at the end of the day which makes Evernote squarely a file organiser whereas is a simpler, more straightforward note–taking application. It is much easier to jot something down and get done with it on the stock Evernote feels too bulky for this sort of thing. On the other end of the spectrum, Evernote excels at handling long notes, taken over a longer duration, often built upon, edited, re–worked and filed often as part of a larger collection of related notes. Generally speaking, one often needs both types of note–taking applications.

Simplicity goes a long way

I often find myself using Evernote about ten times a month often (across all devices), but have, on occasion, used it as often as several times a week. To me, the premium plan that Evernote pushes so frequently in my face does not make much sense. At the end of the day, I have a Pro subscription to Dropbox that I can use for storage, but Evernote’s organisational and notes handling capability is what keeps me with it — plus the scanner app, Scanable, from the makers of Evernote is excellent and naturally ties well with Evernote. Continue reading