Blog logoMatthew Lang

By Me

A collection of my long form posts.


Review - The Amazon Fire 7 Tablet

 •  Filed under By Me, Technology, Reviews

It's been 4 days since our Amazon Fire 7 tablet arrived in the post. The idea behind buying the tablet was as a short term replacement for Ethan's iPad which has really become temperamental. It's three years old now and despite the good condition in which it is kept, we are looking to replace it soon. I also wanted to try out the Fire as a writing tool so that I could take my writing on the road and get away from the desk for a couple of hours a day.

Amazon Fire 7

The suggestion of the Amazon Fire tablet was by a friend of mine who bought one for his son. I looked at reviews of the tablet online and it appeared to be able to do everything that I wanted it to do. After a few days with it though, there are a few observations I've made that would make me question buying one of these again.

First the benefits. You can't argue with a £50 tablet. Really you can't. Looking at the price and who sells it, you would immediately think this is the right tablet for me. Well the tablet itself is sturdy enough. Obviously not as thin as a new iPad, but the added thickness was a slight reassurance the kids will be able to get a good grip of it and be less likely to drop it.

It has a non-HD display but the kids won't really know the difference between that and the HD display and to be honest I'm not that fussed not the difference either. The display was good enough especially for such a cheap tablet. Lastly the Fire is able to expand it's storage capacity with the the use of a micro SD card. So we're covered for storage.

The tablet is fast and responsive enough that I couldn't call it sluggish. There are a number of apps included in the tablet but none of these are on my requirements list with the exception of the Amazon Prime app and a few other apps I can download from the app store.

Now the drawbacks. If you're hoping to do some work on the Amazon Fire tablet then I suggest you make sure that the apps you need to use are available on Amazon's app store. Not having had an Amazon tablet before I wasn't too sure what apps would be available to use. I did see the Trello app listed but that was all. There are no apps for Todoist, 1Password or Instapaper. Not that this is a reflection on the company that make these apps. The Amazon store is not as prolific as the Apple Store or Google Play, and so it means that the apps available on Amazon are limited. I had hoped that the tablet would serve as a writing tool. With a browser, Trello, Todoist, and a nice markdown editor, I thought I would have a portable writing tool that would allow me to move away from my desk. Not so. There just isn't enough applications that would allow me to do this effectively using the Amazon Fire. The inclusion of a web browser on the device means that I can access things like Todoist, Trello and Draft but for such a device I would prefer to use a native app.

For me the Amazon Fire is more in the consumer target group than the creative target group. With Netflix, Spotify and of course Amazon Prime video available on the device, I see it now as nothing more than a portable entertainment center, which is a shame really as the tablet itself is quite neat and could really do well with those on a tighter budget or looking for something smaller than an iPad to carry about.

So a few days with the Amazon Fire and I'm less than impressed with it. The tablet itself is nice and compact but the availability of apps on the Amazon app store means that if you're looking to do anything more than entertainment with this then I would suggest you keep you're money for an iPad Mini 2 or an equally sized Android tablet. Both of these will have a greater range of apps to use on them, thereby increasing their usage over the Fire's restricted consumer use.

Chris Gonzales has a review of the Kids version of the Amazon Fire 7 tablet at Tools & Toys.

Culling the Email Subscriptions

 •  Filed under By Me, Email, Subscriptions

I've been a fan of email subscriptions for a long time. The direct delivery to your inbox might not be everyone's idea of digital heaven but for the content that matters the most, it's the best way of receiving it. I used to use RSS for everything but even RSS has its limits. I've got a large number of feeds in my list which makes it hard to filter out the great content you want to read every day from the good content that you will get to at a later time.

And while email subscriptions are nice (when managed with rules in your inbox), there comes a point where you just end up getting too much email. That my friends was today.

I flicked through my newsletters folder in my email client and was astonished to find a number of high quality subscriptions still lying there unread. Were they simply not worth reading? No, I subscribed to these for a reason. Some I even pay for, but when you don't get round to reading them then what's the point?

Everything in moderation. That's the famous quote right? While I don't stick with it for a lot of things (you can never spend too much time on a bike!), it does make sense when it comes to managing your digital inboxes and my newsletter inbox was running over.

So if you're reading this and I've unsubscribed from your list today, don't be offended. The quality of the email subscriptions I removed myself from today are high but when these gems of content end up just lying unread in my inbox then I'm afraid there is little point in still continuing to subscribe to them. In the unsubscribe comments I did leave as nice a reason as possible indicating my reason for unsubscribing though. That has to count for something.

Nothing Scheduled, Nothing Gained

 •  Filed under By Me, Productivity, Calendars

This blog has been gradually winding down in activity for the last few weeks. You've probably noticed. It's been hard to watch as I used to be a frequent poster. Daily blog posts, links and other trivial things that might interest you the reader.

Truth of the matter is that client work has all but consumed my week. I've got two projects on at the moment and I'm splitting my time between them in fortnightly periods. The work is good and it looks like it will carry through to the new year which I've no complaints over.

The problem has been dividing my time so that I'm not always hunkered over my desk. My desk is where you'll find me through the day, usually wrestling with some code, but sitting there outside of my client hours makes it difficult to 'switch off'. Lately though, once the client work is finished you'll usually find me playing with the kids until bedtime and then its television for an hour or two before the exhaustion kicks in.

A couple of years ago I had a good routine going. Writing in the morning, 3 periods of client work throughout the day, as well as time to work on new languages and frameworks and working on side-projects. I was getting things done. Not just that, but I was also getting out on the bike and keeping the weight off. Last time I was out on the bike was a few weeks ago with Ethan. I haven't been out on the bike since.

Last night I took a look at the heat map on my Timepage app for December. Aside from the usual calendar functions, it shows your calendar as a heat map where you're busy and not so busy. Almost nothing showed up. There's a day where Ethan has golf coaching and a day for the Star Wars showing. Apart from that there was nothing. It seems I have lost sight of one of the fundamentals of any productivity system. Schedule it.

Client work has become such a big part of my day that I no longer plan for anything else getting done. Without the planning of the day most stuff falls through the cracks. It's usually the little things like writing and side-projects. They've suffered the most.

Out of sight, out of mind. If you don't see something often enough you tend to forget about it. Like my calendar. I didn't plan for anything and therefore didn't see the need to look at my calendar. Everyday was turning into the same work getting done so why bother scheduling anything?

I've just proven to myself that there's nothing gained from an empty calendar. Time to change that.

Spoiled for Choice

 •  Filed under By Me, Life

There are too many easy choices.

I've noticed that retail stores and their vast volume of products seem to be on the rise. Every shopping trip turns into a "who buys all this?" while looking at the mountains of stock available. This isn't just about the products we can easily buy though. It seems now that we're even spoiled for choice in the experiences that we can have in life.

On Sunday I read a story about a silent fireworks display that was intended for babies and toddlers. After the show was finished parents complained that the fireworks were too loud. Hardly surprising given that fireworks by nature are loud.

The bugbear for me isn't the flawed logic of silent fireworks show, it's the availability of choice. We tend to do these things simply because we have the choice too. I'm sure most of us would consider taking our youngest children to a fireworks display but is there any benefit other than the fact that you can?

We're spoiled for choice and the element of resistance in that choice is being eroded away. Just because the decision to do something is easy, it doesn't mean that we should.

The Dreaded About Me Page

 •  Filed under Writing, By Me

Two words that fill me with dread. About me.

I don't mind writing about a lot of things, but one topic I find difficult to write about is myself. In the past I've written about decisions, tools and experiences but the one topic I rarely write about is writing about myself in order to sell myself. Yes, the dreaded about me page.

I've managed so far to do well with my self-employed freelance career but things stagnated a bit over the summer. In order to keep the business ticking over, I've started treating my freelance business as a separate entity to my own personal website. I've relaunched my DigitalBothy blog and I'm in the process of writing a number of technical posts to showcase my expertise. A platform for people to see what I can do. I'm also writing a new about me page for the blog to sell myself as a freelance developer.

Technical writing isn't a problem. I've found my voice (or tone) for that style of writing. An idea, an outline, a draft, a number of edits, a final proof and I'm usually fairly happen with what I have written. When it comes to writing my about me page though, that's where it becomes tricky. Writing my about me page or even a resume is not something that comes as a naturally as the technical writing.

As a person I'm quiet. I've always been that way. And it comes through when I'm writing my about me page. I tend to overlook and downplay the achievements in my career. I can't afford to be that person. I'm hoping that these few paragraphs can prompt me to be a bit more vocal when it comes to selling myself.

I'm off to grab a coffee and have another stab at the about me page. Thanks for reading.