Dr. Cool

Further to the last post on rubbish service I was amazed by the quanity of comments it attracted along the lines of, 'Ryan remained too cool, he should have told them to F*@K Off or threatened retribution'. I'm with Dr. Drang on how best to respond to poor experiences.

.. I don’t feel angry or outraged, nor am I disheartened by the sad state of the world. I’m just happy I planned for these mistakes and for others that didn’t happen. It’s something I wouldn’t have done when I was younger, and I would have ended this day upset. Now I see my interactions with customer service as a sort of strategy game: can I plan my way around the obstacles the game will put in my way? Today I came out on top. Tomorrow is another round.

I always buy some food for my 2+ hour train journeys before I get on the train - so when they tell me that all catering is closed due to staff shortages, I feel a small sense of victory rather than outrage.

I always make those calls to customer service centres, the ones where you know you'll be on hold for 10 to 25 minutes, from my desk where I can switch on the speaker phone, and work away on my Mac with a little background music, rather than suffer a frustrating wait.

I always tell myself that cool is everything and the only way I could be the loser in any outrageous failure of service situation, would be if I lose my temper.

I don't always succeed but I think the good Dr. is very wise - It's a game of chess, you win by being smarter and thinking ahead, not be being more pigheaded than whomever you are facing off against.

Tomorrow is another round. Indeed.

Ryan Block being bullied by Comcast

When customer service gets as bad as this you know that the company is coming to the end of it's useful purpose to society.

We have all experienced this sort of aggravation when we leave a telecoms or service contract (normally after being on hold for 20 minutes) but from now on maybe we should all follow Ryan & Veronica's example and post the call to the web.

Medium custodial sentences to any web based service where you can do everything online - except cancel.

How to create a new contacts group in iOS7

1) Realise after 10 minutes of fiddling about that you can't do this with the iOS contacts app.

2) Research on the web and discover that either you use (a)the Mac Contacts app or (b)the iCloud web interface.

3) As you are travelling iPad only, you choose (b)the iCloud web interface and open iCloud in Safari.

4) Find you can't get the iCloud web page in Safari but only this:


5) Download the Chrome Browser onto your iPad but find it's the same - no iCloud home web page.

6) Download the Dolphin Browser onto you iPad

7) Select Desktop mode in settings to emulate a non iPad browser and go to iCloud.com

8) Finally get to this page:


9) After a small celebration, select contacts, select the '+' icon to create a new group only to find it's not working on this web render.

10) Give up. Resolve not to travel without your laptop again.

Shabby Apple, really shabby.

Tearaway Trousers has come to an end

For those who don't follow along on Twitter, 5by5, iTunes, RSS, Flipboard, various podcast apps, or newspapers, I bring you sad news.

We've brought Bionic to an end just after its second birthday.

Historians often reflect upon Bionic's turning point — episode 51 — wherein Myke accidentally loosened his grip on the narrative and we ended up on an odd trajectory discussing nothing in particular for 44 episodes. So, for those looking to see what all of this was about or wondering why "Car, Plane, or Boat?" is a serious question, I'd recommend starting there.

Bionic made the pencil note list and will leave a hole that is difficult to fill both in that list and in my weekly schedule.  For me it fulfilled that time when you fancy the escapism of infantile, nonsense, that moment of listening to a couple of guys always trying to take dicking around to whole new level of, well, dicking around.

The final episode was wasn't the funniest, it was even awkward in places, but it was poignant. It captured a moment we have all felt at some time or other - a moment where, despite our better instincts, we have decided to just grow up a tiny bit and we are not keen on the immediate consequences of that.

Bionic made me smile. 

Thanks Matt and Myke.


Keyboard Maestro & Sending Email to Evernote

Everyday I try and work my email inboxes down to zero and over time I have developed a number of Applescripts to help me automate and speed up some bits of the workflow on my Mac. These were never wholly successful as each new OSX release seemed to break another bit of applescript or invoke tougher sandboxing rules.

A few months ago I took another look at my workflow using Keyboard Maestro and have developed a very reliable and speedy method which I thought was worth sharing.

I have ten or so Evernote notebooks which I use as the key repositories for emails that I want to keep and I use Evernote reminders as the ToDo system for something that I need to return to or prompt myself about in the future.

Using the system in Evernote that allows you to forward an email to a unique user address with additions to the subject line that tell Evernote; which notebook, which tags and which/if any reminders you need, I have created automation that populates this data, sends the email off to Evernote, deletes the email from my inbox and moves focus to the next mail - all at the press of one key.

So in practice, the workflow looks like this.

First email in the inbox is an Amazon Receipt.

I Press CTRL 'R" - this fires a Keyboard Maestro Macro that sends the email off to Evernote with @RECEIPTS added to the subject line and deletes it from my inbox.

Focus moves to second email which is from a company that I work for, ACME, that needs attention in 2 weeks time.

I press CTRL 'Z' that fires a KM Macro that brings up this dialogue box:

It's already auto populated with today's date so I can just hit enter but in this case, I just change the date from 4th to 18th and hit OK.

When I then hit CTRL 'A' it fires a KM Macro that sends the email off to Evernote with '!2014/07/18' and '@ACME' added to the subject line. This files it in Evernote but sets a reminder for me in a fortnight time.

Each of the KM Macros for filing that I have set up; CTRL 'A' to file to notebook ACME, CTRL 'R' to file to notebook 'RECEIPTS', CTRL 'M' to file to notebook 'MISC' etc. etc. checks first to see if a reminder has been preset with CTRL 'Z', if it has, it files it and sets a reminder, if not, it just files it.

This way I can speed through my inbox dealing with most emails with one of two key presses. 

Either the delete key for something I don't need to keep, a CTRL 'A/B/C' key to put it straight into an Evernote Notebook or CTRL 'Z' to set a reminder date, followed instantly by CTRL 'A/B/C' key to put it straight into an Evernote Notebook. Boom - super fast triaging of mail.

After using this system for a while I realised that the most frequent reminder I set was for a week hence - normally because I'm looking at an email where somebody is saying that they will do something and I'm thinking, 'I ought to check that in a week' to ensure it's happened. So, I set up a third Macro, CTRL SHIFT 'Z' , that automatically sets the reminder preset for one week hence without a dialogue box.

This workflow has really accelerated my email time. I has stopped me pontificating about whether to keep something or not, if I'm unsure I just hit the hot key CTRL 'M' and file in 'MISC' - it will be there if I need it but's gone from my inbox. It's also emptied my inbox of emails that I might need to return to in a week or so. These are now set up as reminders for the future removing them as daily baggage.

The three Macro's are described here in the Nerdery:






Dark Sky UK Weather App

About 100 years ago, if you lived in the UK you would have read everyone rave about Dark Sky, a weather forecast app available in the US that uniquely concentrated it's forecast on how likely you are to see precipitation, exactly in your location, in the next 50 minutes.

It's an app that is both useful and beautiful. It's probably been available in the UK for ages but I just discovered that it now covers the UK.

It has instantly blown my previous Met Office weather forecast app off the front page of my Phone. It's a brilliant exposition of form and function working together to deliver something useful. What's the likelihood that I am about to get wet.

Short custodial sentences for anyone living the in UK with an iPhone that doesn't buy this app.



  • Japan
  • Iran
  • Ghana (Probably)
  • South Korea (Possibly)

Teams that will end the world cup with the same points total as England.

How very, very far we have fallen.

Suarez Bite

The BBC reports

Uruguay's Luis Suarez was involved in a controversial World Cup incident as he appeared to bite Italy's Giorgio Chiellini during their Group D clash. The Liverpool striker, 27, lunged at Chiellini in the penalty area just before Diego Godin's Uruguay winner.

The allegation is yet to be proved but the evidence appears pretty damning. 


If it is true, this would be the third time that Suarez has assaulted another player through biting them on the pitch with previous incidents at Ajax and Chelsea already on record. 

Can you imagine any other profession; say a lawyer, or a software developer, or a university professor, where an individual was seen as one of the top performers in the world but colleagues just had to 'deal with' the fact that every so often he bit one of them when he got too excited about doing his job.

The individual would be in prison and, if they had done it three times, they be struck off permanently and cast out of their job. 

Football needs to demonstrate that it has some standards and as far as Suarez is concerned, it should be three strikes and you are out. 

For good.

When to use the Oxford Comma

A fascinating article on the correct use of the Oxford Comma by Walt Hickey, via Jim Dalrymple.

We asked respondents which sentence was, in their opinion, more grammatically correct: “It’s important for a person to be honest, kind and loyal.” Or: “It’s important for a person to be honest, kind, and loyal.” The latter has an Oxford comma, the former none.

The result was pretty much down the middle, with pro-Oxford partisans commanding 57 percent of the vote and opponents to the tyranny of the extra comma grabbing 43 percent. Although those numbers might be enough to defeat Eric Cantor, it’s hardly a clear victory for the Oxfordians.

This traditionally has been another situation where the issue has been hi-jacked by binary pedants. My way is better than your way.

I think we should step back a bit and remember why we invented the written word. It was invented to facilitate communication, effectively as a medium to convey spoken word in the absence of the orator. This means you should use that additional comma to convey the spirit and feeling of sentence when it is appropriate and omit it when the sentence would be delivered in more clipped fashion or when wanting to deliver less emphasis.

Example one - When to omit the comma:

I had fish, chips and peas for lunch.

Example two - When to use the Oxford Comma:

Juliet was ravishing. She had the looks, the presence, and the demeanour to capture your heart in an instant.

Not difficult. Everyone comply immediately please. I will be checking with diligence, tenacity, and relentless focus.

London Rain

At the end of a long day, gazing out of the window with a glass of wine and wonder - as to the stories that are unfolding under each and every rooftop. 




Don't go to College

Marco Arment choosing to clarify his earlier advocation to be an academic slacker:

My philosophy about being a C student and not needing to do 80% of the work should also be taken lightly. That strategy works well if you want to follow a path like mine after college: working for small companies that care less about your GPA.

I was a C student because I was (and am) a slacker and lacked the self-discipline to do better, not because it’s the smartest path to take. Performing better opens more doors.

What Marco is too modest to say, but never the less is the truth, is that you can only afford to be a bit of a slacker if you are actually uber smart and naturally super talented. 

If this is true about you then the good news is that you can be a bit of a slacker but the bad news is people won't like you for it.

Evernote, iPads and MacBooks

I have travelled a lot from the pencil note hideout in the rural heart of England on business this week. 2 days in London, 3 in Bath and 1 in Madrid (indeed I am typing this on the flight home from Spain above a beautiful, turquoise, North Atlantic sea).

I have just noticed, on reflection, that I have done all this week's journeys equipped only with my iPad Air, rather than my usual iPad & 13 inch retina combo.

I sort of didn't notice that I had sub-consciously omitted the laptop but I think, in hindsight, there are two reasons:

  1. I have been attending board meetings with literally 1,000's of pages of papers and if there is one use case that the iPad is infinitely better than a laptop - it is as acting as the technological replacement of what would have previously been a spiral bound 500 page book of papers. Waltzing through London Heathrow and Madrid airports this morning, at the crack of dawn, with nothing more than an iPad Air, a pencil and a super thin Moleskine notebook, all in a perfectly thin leather case, was truly living the dream of the future compared to the old workflow of dragging a wheeled legal case with 20 kgs of paper in it. It used to be the case that if, as this week, I was going from one meeting to the next, without returning to my office, the paper was almost too heavy to carry. Reading all those pages on an iPad is in a different league compared to doing the same on a laptop.
  2. The previous underlying iOS flaw that made me always reach for my laptop on leaving the office for more than a day was the inability to have an accessible, local copy of files and emails available when I need it. It's Sod's law that the 'when' in that previous sentence is when I'm on a plane or on a train or in a foreign country or just even inside a big office with no network access. Thinking about it, one app has single handedly ameliorated this issue recently and that application is Evernote.

Many have bemoaned the lack of local storage in iOS mail so I will resist the urge to climb onboard that particular soap box but I have personally lost count of the times when I think - 'Oh yes, I need to reference that document that I sent / somebody sent me, last week / last month' only to find it is nothing more than an icon in iOS mail, tantalisingly unreachable and unavailable, causing me to reach for my laptop, where the sent items folder would have a real copy I could use.

It wasn't just mail. In my paperless world, I had experimented with Dropbox and Transporter in a quest to have a nested folder solution which gave me access to items I had filed but to no avail. Even with network access, neither Dropbox nor Transporter iOS clients could give me practical, speedy access to find the document I was seeking with the same ease that a swift spotlight & quick look search can on the laptop.

3 months ago I started using Evernote. Within a few hours of putting it on my Mac and iOS devices, I was quite giddy with its potential - I signed up to a premium account the same day. For context, Dropbox took me a year.

It's taken a few months of getting everything in but now it is settling down, my 'iOS can't get the document' failure rate is diminishing, almost to zero.

When I get round to it, I do intend to write up in detail some of the Evernote workflows I have developed but here's a few in brief summary:

  • I try and work down to inbox zero every day putting everything into the relevant Evernote notebook with a dated reminder for future action as necessary. if I need that email later, it's really easy to find using the iOS Evernote app.
  • ..Particularly, as you can set Evernote to keep specific notebooks synced locally by device. If I am taking my iPad to to a specific meeting, I can switch those books onto full sync and I know I will have offline access.
  • Using Keyboard Maestro, when I triage my mail on a mac, I have a hotkey that triggers a macro to file the e-mail and attachment in the right Evernote notebook, delete that e-mail message and move the focus to next message in the inbox (much easier than my many applescript attempts that never quite worked with some attachments). I find I can whiz through e-mails, super speedy, without that, 'should I delete it', moment of procrastination.
  • If I'm triaging mail on my phone or iPad then I have iOS keyboard short cuts set up so that with a couple of keystrokes I can do the same thing.
  • In all meetings I take hand written notes onto paper, then immediately photo them in the EN iOS app straight into the relevant notebook, time stamped and geo tagged automatically.
  • All receipts get photo'd and binned as soon as I get them, placed into the expenses notebook and tagged with type and assignment.
  • I have a 'Read later' notebook and anything that I don't have time to consume in the moment goes into that for attention later - 'instapaper' style.

Indeed, that last item. On getting off the plane in London tonight there was a 20 minute immigration queue which I spent using my phone to clear my read later book. What strikes me as I write the list above is that a number of those steps are actually easier to do on my iOS device than my laptop.

I'll never be that guy. The guy that says an iPad Air and ultra thin keyboard can replace the laptop but Evernote really has moved the needle for me as to the times a laptop is required and, interestingly, has done it subtly without me really noticing. I never want to have to train myself to use an iOS device instead on a laptop. I only want to do it when it's easier for me.

With all the new stuff of iOS8 coming down the track, that mystical 12 inch retina Mac Book Air that I'll order on the day it's released, just might not get out as much as I thought it would a few weeks ago.

Pure Blood

In part 1 of John Gruber's Epic, Only Apple he adroitly illustrates the point I was trying to land with my observations about iCloud Drive.

Gruber exploring the question 'Is Apple really the only company that can make operating systems, devices, and services, all work together in harmony?':

Here’s a tweet I wrote during the keynote, 20 minutes before Cook’s wrap-up:

Microsoft: one OS for all devices. Apple: one continuous experience across all devices.

That tweet was massively popular, but I missed a word: across all Apple devices. Microsoft and Google are the ones who are more similarly focused. Microsoft wants you to run Windows on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs. Google wants you signed into Google services on all your devices, from phones to tablets to PCs.

Apple wants you to buy iPhones, iPads, and Macs. And if you don’t, you’re out in the cold.

In a nutshell, Apple is the only company with the approach of - 'We exercise judgement to ensure that our playground is better than the others you can use but, if you want to play in our playground - you'll be playing with our stuff.'

I agree with John when he says (of operating systems, devices, and services, all working together in harmony):

I think it’s inarguable that they’re the only company that is doing it

It's also inarguable that Apple is the only company that making decent choices to curate the user experience, choices that sometimes defy popular commercial logic on revenue generation.

For example, when I worked in CE, I was always dismayed by the correlation between the amount of crapware that could be put on a machine and the revenue generated. You'd expect customers to know better and reject the shabby experience but they didn't. Indeed one well known retailer took revenue from manufactures to put crapware on laptops sold in their stores and then charged customers a service fee to remove it at point of purchase. The underlying justification being that this was the only way to make a return on product otherwise sold at zero or negative margin.

So, thank God that Jobs was famous for a single minded prejudice that when it came to what customers should experience - he knew best. And there continues to be an arrogance about Apple that it makes choices to curate and shape our experience. Choices that wouldn't always make it through a focus group or the test of popular opinion or short term commercial PnL tests.

Indeed, one of the outputs from WWDC that has fired people up is a renewed confirmation that the necessary confidence and arrogance to continue this approach still exists, after a few doubts had surfaced following the leadership change.

One attribute of this multifaceted curation is Apple's prejudice toward keeping everyone inside their eco system. If you are not of Apple's pure blood linage then you can't come into the playground or, if you do, you need to stay in your closely guarded sandbox. Sometimes this is for very good reason (I trust the contacts security on my iOS devices) but sometimes, it feels like dogma or worse - monopolistic behaviour.

For my part, I don't subscribe to the cynical conspiracy theory that Apple is step by step, executing a grand plan that makes them the Buy n Large of the tech world. Instead, I think that they can be occasionally guilty of believing their own propaganda and by chucking rocks at them from time to time when they get a bit too heavy on the 'pure blood' stuff - I think it helps keep them honest.

The best of Matt Gemmell

This is an occasionally-updated list of what I think are the best articles I’ve written for this blog. The list isn’t based on popularity (though there’s a reasonable correlation), and instead reflects my own view of when I think I managed to make a point well, or express myself effectively.

All of Matt's writing is good. So the best...

iCloud Drive almost as good as iDisk

Viticci on iCloud drive:

With iCloud Drive, document sharing, a new document picker, and storage providers from third-party services, Apple is betting on a solution that combines aspects of traditional document organization with a more versatile sandboxing model designed for security and collaboration. It’s too early to tell whether the company may have finally solved inter-app document management on iOS, but – just like extensions – developers are excited, and I’m optimistic.

This is a major step forward from where we are in iOS and I can, sort of, understand why some are getting excited about this (Dropbox killer!) but there are some restrictions and limitations to the iCloud drive service:

As I mentioned above, the document picker will be the only way for users to access documents outside of an app’s container and developers will have to set the scope of their app containers to public. Furthermore, apps that decide to access a document from external app containers won’t simply bypass the sandbox to access the file: rather, apps will store a reference to the file, which will include a security-scoped URL that grants access to the file. The concept of security-scoped URLs isn’t new, as it’s the same technology that Apple uses on OS X to give apps access to files outside their sandbox across relaunches and system restarts.

..or in other words you won't be able to just drag an Excel file from one folder another and rename it - like a grown up.

On reading the excitement, I can't help but reflect on iDisk the service I used to buy from Apple as part of the .Mac package. As Wikipedia reminds us:

iDisk was a file hosting service offered by Apple to all MobileMe members that enabled them to store their digital photos, films and personal files on-line so they could be accessed remotely. With a standard subscription, MobileMe users received a 20 GB iDisk.

iDisk integrated with Mac OS X, appearing as a network drive. Mac OS X v10.3 through v10.6 could cache updates to an iDisk volume while off-line and synchronize updates later. Any WebDAV client could also access an iDisk volume.

Whilst many reported problems with mobile me, my iDisk kept all my key files in sync between multiple Macs and it even had an iOS client. When Apple binned the service in 2012, I was forced to run into the arms of Dropbox. Given the faultless service provided by Dropbox since then, I'm less keen to jilt them and run back into the arms of iCloud Drive. Partly through loyalty to Dropbox who saved my bacon when iDisk was arbitrarily scrapped and partly through the feeling I have of iCloud Drive still being designed to make life frictionless if you live totally in the Apple Eco system and a bit difficult if you don't.

Vile Bodies

In the years following the First World War a new generation emerges, wistful and vulnerable beneath the glitter. The Bright Young Things of 'twenties Mayfair, with their paradoxical mix of innocence and sophistication, exercise their inventive minds and vile bodies in every kind of capricious escapade. In a quest for treasure, a favourite party occupation, a vivid assortment of characters hunt fast and furiously for ever greater sensations and the fulfilment of unconscious desires.

Digital Journalism's challenges

Robert Peston, BBC Economics Editor and one of the most senior and respected journalists in the UK gave a lecture on the challenges facing journalists in a digital age which, despite its' length, is compelling reading:

All the growth in news readership is on the internet, on mobiles, on tablets. And an important cultural fact about those whose entire careers have been in digital, and have never had inky fingers, is that they don’t seem to have a fundamentalist’s hatred of news being infected by adverts and commerce.

...Now I don’t want to overstate the dangers, but what I would say is that we saw – with the phone-hacking scandal – how prone we are as an industry to cut corners in a hideous way when we face an existential threat, or indeed when there is money to be made. And to reiterate, what I see around the news media scene is the rise of a generation of managers schooled only in the etiquette of the internet, where the idea that editorial staff should be quarantined from marketing and advertising is seen as absurd.

...What I would conclude by saying is that we don’t yet have what you might call a stable ecosystem in news. The poll-tax funded BBC is one kind of news-media model. The loss-making Guardian, funded by vast private-equity capital gains, is another. The Daily Mail another still. And Quartz, Huffington Post and BuzzFeed something different again. There is diversity – which all ecologists would tell you is vital to long-term survival. But there is also pollution, from a dangerous elision between news that pays and news that matters. I am not confident that the Wheelers and Snows of this world aren’t an increasingly endangered species.

The lecture poses more questions than it provides solutions but it does adroitly summarise the concerns felt by many over the editorial independence of major sources of news.

I certainly don't have the answers, I guess no-one does yet. But, I suspect that ten years from now we will be more trusting of independent non 'monetised' sources of journalism than the traditional brands that we look to today.

How those independents will have the resources to do such investigation and reporting is the challenge - Nevertheless,  I'm naively optimistic. For all the challenges that digital age brings, it completely re-defines the resource model in a way that 'traditional' journalists can occasionally fail to conceptualise. One good local man or woman on the ground with a $50 phone can sometimes achieve more than $100,000 foreign correspondent did in the days of portable typewriters and phoning in the copy.  The prose won't be of Wheeler quality and the pictures might be a bit blurred but over time our new independents will co-operate, band together and form new networks and channels that citizen's social graphs will encourage them to trust.

In fact, I think in many places, this is already happening.


CIA (Social) Network

The CIA:

Whilst many have got a bit hot under the collar about this, I can't help but question - What's the point? We are not likely to see tweets saying - "Well done to our boys in (insert name of developing nation) for a good result last night." And, if we a see a toot along the lines of - "It wasn't us - honest", It's not going to carry a lot of weight.

The CIA needs a twitter account like a fish needs a bicycle.