Posts Tagged “technology”

Drowning in Digital

I regularly go through the feeling of drowning in digital. I like being online and everything that comes with it, but when you’re working with software and development tools all day, the last thing I want to see at the end of my work day is a tablet, my phone or even my television.

This week I’ve spent a fair bit of time looking at my various digital outlets and wondering if they are in fact worth the effort to maintain. Here’s my list so far:

  • My blog
  • Twitter
  • App.net

App.net is definitely going. I’ve no interest in keeping an account alive for the sake of having the name of the handle I would prefer. If someone else grabs it, fine. I’m not going to lose any sleep over it.

I have a love/hate thing going with Twitter. I love being able to have one presence on the social network scene. I’m not on Google+ or Facebook, so having an account on Twitter isn’t a bad thing. I hate what Twitter is though. It’s a distracting and destructive time consumer if it isn’t managed properly and lately it seems to be hoarding all my time. The worst part is I’m not tweeting that often to warrant spending the amount of time I do on it. There’s also the problem of activity. The people that I follow just aren’t as active as they used to be. Maybe that’s a good thing, but sometimes it feels like there’s nothing going on in the timeline. Am I missing the point of Twitter?

Finally, the blog. I had my finger over my mouse for a few seconds ready to trash the whole thing. Years of posts and stuff gone a in a few seconds. I didn’t though as you can see as it’s still here. I like my blog, I like the outlet it gives but lately it’s become a burden and it shouldn’t be. I’m faced with two choices for this. The first choice is I keep going with this blog and change my posting routine to be less intensive. One blog post a week is enough with a weekly link post to round up things. The second choice is to start a new blog elsewhere. I’ve got a couple of other domains at hand that I could start from. This site would stay up and running for the foreseeable future, but at some point it would be put out to pasture.

Decisions, decisions.

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Kids & Technology

Last weekend our son came home with the school quarterly bulletin. As always we familiarised ourselves with everything that was coming up in the next few months, asked him what events he would like to go to and made sure there was nothing else that needed our attention. One last thing caught me wife’s eye though as she read through the bulletin. The school are looking for volunteers to help re-vamp their school website.

The next day I phoned the school to let them know I would be willing to help out. I got a call back a few minutes later with a date and time to speak to the assistant head teacher at the school who will be handling the website. All good so far.

The school’s website is okay as an information portal but it definitely falls short in terms of how it looks. Well, when the site says that the school kids contribute to the look and content of the site, you’re not exactly going to be expecting something that wins web design awards. Looking at other web sites in the area, and it’s clear that the school web site isn’t a primary concern for some schools. There is more an emphasis on getting the school children involved and that’s not a bad thing.

Today’s school children though are far different in terms of technology exposure than school children have been in the past. In the last ten years, mobile technology has become so engrained in day to day life that homes often have two or more mobile devices with kids often having their own tablet or even smartphone.

It got me wondering about the approach to take in getting the school children involved in the new school website. Is it better for them to know how to edit and update web pages by hand or will the kids be more interested in maintaining the school website through something like Wordpress?

I might be jumping the gun here a bit, but I’ve been keeping a list of questions like this to ask at my meeting with the school this week.

The main good thing to come out of this though is the chance to do something for an organisation in my local community. Yes, I’ll be doing the work for the school for free but with our oldest already a pupil there and our youngest due to start there in a few years, the chance to contribute something to their school can’t be a bad thing.

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The Demise of Killer Apps?

Are killer apps a thing of the past?

I remember a few years back when Twitter was young and great, Facebook was viewed with more positive eyes than it is today and the mobile app stores were just starting out. Good times. It was also about this time that I heard the phrase killer app. For the uninitiated a killer app was often seen as an indispensible app that would help push the sales of the platform the app was run on. Simply put, people would buy the hardware needed to run the app in question. Back then, it seemed that every month there was a new app or service that would be tagged as the next killer app.

Fast forward to today and it’s not something I’ve heard often in the technology press. It’s still used to describe some apps but not as much. I still follow the same technology sites I did a few years ago, so what’s different?

The world has changed. There’s less of a technology barrier now than there’s ever been and that due to the small device that you’re probably reading this on. Over the last few years mobile apps and services have reduced, or in some cases removed, the complicated steps that would be required to carry out a specific task or action. Along with this simplification comes a growing market of companies and indie developers who all us to use their app. And the demand for apps shows no sign of slowing down. I was browsing through the productivity category of the App Store and there are hundreds of apps in this category. There are just so many choices.

Another factor in this is that the mobile market is not tied to one particular platform. In the past when mobile hardware platforms were getting past their first couple of release iterations, it was certainly clear that alot of people preferred the Apple platform and there were many apps that persuaded people to buy Apple’s hardware. Today though the market is more evenly divided. Apple and Google have their share along with others like Blackberry and Microsoft. I would be hard pressed to pick an app that certainly fits the name of killer app and that’s due to the fact that many apps are available on not just a single platform.

Which leads me to think that perhaps we’re past the stage of killer apps. With such a huge market for applications, there are dozens of apps that let you achieve the same result through different methods. Maybe now we’re not looking for killer apps, perhaps we’re looking for game changing apps. Not just new ways of doing things, but whole new markets of the mobile apps.

Wearable technology is still fairly new and with Apple’s new smartwatch due for release soon, there will be many tech pundits looking for the next killer app for wearable technology. Whether this becomes a market in mobile apps or a completely new market remains to be seen. Given the recent release of similar products by other technology firms though, I don’t think there will ever be a killer app for wearable tech.

Is the killer app dead? I would say yes for the foreseeable future but it certainly won’t stop business and developers using the title to promote their apps. I think it will take a whole new field of technology before we see true killer apps again. Apple Lense anyone?

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Limiting Your Social Networks

Many of you will know through my posts that I’m a big App.net fan. It’s my goto place when I want to drop in on conversations, strike up news ones with others and also just as a place to post what I am doing. It’s also the one public social network that I participate in.

I’ve never been interested in creating a Facebook account as I simply seeing as being too much of an overhead to maintain. I also deleted my Twitter account this year. It was coincidental that the timing of this action happened at the same time as Twitter were enforcing new rules on the use of their API. I just felt that I wasn’t getting anything back from Twitter in terms of value.

Since switching to a single public social network, I’ve noticed a number of positive things that have occurred as a result of my limiting action.

No more drowning in micro-information

The first thing I immediately noticed was that I was no longer constantly checking my Twitter timeline. Looking back I wonder now why I even had an account there in the first place. It’s a social network for micro-updates that only offers limited information in each post. I did find it interesting hearing what other people were working on, but Twitter’s post limit of 140 characters seriously limits the amount of context you can put on a post.

Less apps and services to use

With just one social network to my name, I have less apps on all my devices. It’s a minor thing but having less apps on my devices means less time updating them, searching for new ones and of course less time checking them. I also work with a ‘one in, one out rule’. As much as possible I will try and keep the number of products and services I use down to a minimum. That means that more often than not, I will replace older apps with new apps rather than running two at the same time.

Less of a digital footprint

I like keeping a small digital footprint. Nothing to do with trying to stay under the radar in terms of the government spying on you, but more to do with my own data and it’s safety. As soon as I stop using a product or service I try and delete the account I had with that product or service. I do this because I don’t want my login details lying around on another companies database when it doesn’t need to.

It’s not for everyone

Limiting yourself isn’t for everyone, but it was amazing to see how little I depended on Twitter after just a couple of weeks of deleting my account. I used to think of social networks as places to find more information on topics, but the truth is that I find everything I need in the form of blogs, newsletters and podcasts.

I now see social networks as more of a place for conversation. Fortunately App.net does this aspect of interaction very well and I’m happy to remain a paying subscriber to it.

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Removing the Digital Deadwood

Programmers have always got old code lying around. Forgotten applications, libraries, ideas and other files and folders. Remnants of days perhaps when ideas were rife and ambitions were high. I have those days as well. I have an idea for something, I mock up a quick test with some code and then most of the time decide that it’s not simply worth my time investing in it further. What remains behind is a filing system littered with dead folders and files.

Today I started cleaning up those dead end projects.

I deleted old applications that I’m not hosting anymore, deleted ideas for applications and products that I know are not going to work and also deleted a few repositories from Github account. I cleared out a few forked repositories that I had high ambitions of working on but haven’t contributed to them.

From there I then started to remove a few applications from my MacBook Pro. I only deleted a few applications, but better to remove them than to have them sitting idly doing nothing. More deadwood gone.

Then I moved onto the online tools and services I subscribe to and removed a couple of them also. A few more dollars back in my pocket each month and that great feeling of removing yourself from a service or subscription that might distract you with an email each week, but you quickly delete it.

Just like clearing your desk or work environment of deadwood files, folders and other junk on your desk, it’s also important to remove the digital deadwood as well. Start with your laptop or tablet and remove the applications you don’t use, the old folders and files that are no longer relevant. Once your immediate work environment is clear, move on to your work environment in the cloud and trim those services that you don’t use anymore.

Keeping a clean digital environment is just as important as keeping your physical work environment clear. You might just end up saving yourself some money or even getting some space back on your laptop. Even better, you might just have rid yourself of a few unwanted notifications each month.

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My iPhone Setup

I wanted to share my apps setup on my iPhone for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to see if any one had similar setups on their devices and secondly, it’s something worth writing about.

So how do I have my iPhone setup?

Right from the first day I got my iPhone I had my own specific setup in mind. The setup I’m describing is very similar to the setup I had on my previous Android phone. The first screen, the home screen, on my iPhone is limited to apps I use on a daily basis.

Home screen

For a long time now I’ve stuck to the same types of apps on my home screen with just a few changes to the actual apps in the last six months. Here’s what’s on my home screen just now.

  • Fantastical - I started using this a few months ago, was previously Google Calendar synced to Calendar app.
  • TaskPaper - I’ve tried Wunderlist, TodoList, Things and others. I keep coming back to TaskPaper due to it’s easy to use UI and use of a flat text file for my lists.
  • Reeder - I started using within the last month, I was previously using Feedly synced to Google Reader.
  • Path - I’ve had this on my phone since day one.
  • Forecast - Started using this year.
  • Felix - Started using this year, I was previously using Wedge but Felix has really came on in the last six months.
  • Instapaper - I’ve had this on my phone since day one.
  • Pop - Started using this year at the recommendation of Patrick Rhone. It’s really handy as just a scratchpad or dumping ground for thoughts and ideas.

These are the apps that I use every day. I purposely keep this screen limited to just eight apps as it leaves some screen space so that I can see my wallpaper if it’s a nice photo.

On the second screen is the rest of the apps that I use but instead they are categorised into folders.

Folders screen

I initially had these folders grouped by the verb that describes the action of each app after reading about the idea on Gina Trapani’s Smarterware blog, but grouping them by a verb was difficult for some of the apps. Instead I just a name them to something that makes sense to me.

  • Schedule - Scheduling and timekeeping tools.
  • Network - All my App.net apps. It’s the only social network I actively take part in now.
  • Words - Writing and reading apps.
  • Bytes - Apps for services that I use online like Trello, Github and Pinboard.
  • Photos - Camera apps and photo albums.
  • Listen - iTunes, Instacast and other apps related to consuming visual and audio media.
  • Shop - Finance related apps.
  • Setup - Setup and connectivity apps.
  • Games - Handy when we’re out and about and I need my oldest to sit at piece for a few minutes.
  • Travel - Hardly used.

I’ve tried in the past to limit myself to eight folders on this screen however it just wasn’t possible. I have enabled most of the notifications on this screen as a reminder that I have things that need to be done or reviewed. I very rarely switch to this screen unless I have a notification for one of these apps. Bookstand is also sitting on this screen awaiting the release of iOS 7 when I can finally put it in a folder.

I’ve had this setup on my phone for some time now, and I’m very unlikely to change it. I’m quite selective with my apps and I tend to stick to one app for one type of function. The only exception to this is the number of writing tools I have on my phone. I’ve had PlainText and Pop installed for some time, but I have been trying out Drafts recently.

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Comfortable tools

Software developers love their text editors. Those developers that invest a significant amount of time in one particular text editor are able to wield it with the proficiency a level 20 warrior. They’ll slice and dice the code with the mininal number of gestures needed. They have all the commands they need memorised right down to the last keystroke combination. Text editors are the primary weapon of software developers and so they need to know how to this tool with great effect if they want to make their day a productive one.

I chose Sublime Text 2 as my main text editor a couple of years ago. I just find it easy to work with. I know the commands that I need, I spent a fair amount of time getting the right plugins and setting them up so that they work well for me and of course I’ve tried hundreds of themes before getting the one that just feels right. So if I’m so happy with my chosen text editor, why the hell do I keep wanting to try another tool?The other tool I am referring to is Vim. It’s a text editor that is used by thousands of people and is over 20 years old. Every year, I ask myself, “Did I give Vim enough of a chance?”

I’ve tried Vim a few times as a replacement for Sublime but every time I try it, I find something that I don’t like and go back to Sublime. Fast forward a few months and I do the same thing again. For the last three years, I think I’ve tried Vim about five times. I’m not talking about a couple of days, I’m talking about a full on month of use. However, at the end of each month I simply switch back to Sublime. Is it a comfort thing? It might be.

Vim is a great text editor but I just don’t feel that comfortable using it.​

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