I'm a Christian, a designer, and a gadget fan who lives in Cheltenham, UK.

This is my blog, a creative outlet to mess around and play with as well as a place that logs my thoughts and inspirations.

A tool for thinking

Yes­ter­day as I was sat on my sofa watch­ing the Sunday morn­ing church ser­vice on You­Tube I had my Mac­Book Pro open on my lap to make notes in Obsidi­an. After the ser­vice had fin­ished I spent a few minutes to tidy up some format­ting and make sure the cor­rect bible verses were being ref­er­enced, I real­ised how much I am enjoy­ing using the app. It got me think­ing about why.

Over the course of the day it slowly dawned on me what it is that I like about it. It doesn’t tick all the fea­tures I was hop­ing to find in the my notes app, but it does tick one that I didn’t list before. It is a tool for think­ing, and really that’s what I’ve been look­ing for.

Eph­em­er­al notes still go into Obsidi­an through my daily notes, and where appro­pri­ate they are linked to pro­ject notes, but I’ve found that I’m cre­at­ing notes about sub­jects that I am think­ing about or try­ing to learn more about. Look­ing at my Obsidi­an graph I see some small clusters start­ing to form. There is one about note tak­ing itself as I read around the sub­ject of ever­green and atom­ic notes; there is one around habits and routines; and there is a lar­ger one form­ing related to my work and cur­rent think­ing about the concept of Min­im­al Viable Products (MVP).

As I’ve been look­ing into these dif­fer­ent applic­a­tions and their fea­ture sets, I’ve been exposed to some ideas about note tak­ing that I had nev­er really con­sidered before. The concept that a “notes” app can be more than a scratch­pad used through­out the day but a tool for think­ing has con­nec­ted with me. Really it is not a notes app but some­thing much more use­ful and import­ant. I guess this is why many people refer to these tools that I’ve been explor­ing as Per­son­al Know­ledge Man­age­ment (PKM) or their second brain. I’m not sure either of those terms sit right with me, I think they are more than that. I am not purely gain­ing know­ledge by using this tool and it’s not think­ing for me like a second brain should, but I can use this tool to see con­nec­tions between ideas. It forces me to dis­till con­cepts down to man­age­able chunks so that I can form my own ideas from them. This is why I’ve begun refer­ring to it as a tool for think­ing and why it’s start­ing to become a key part of my cre­at­ive pro­cess. Time will tell if it lasts.

Yom HaShoah

Today is Yom HaShoah, or Holo­caust Remem­brance Day, in Israel. Racism has been in the news a lot of the last year or so, and yet we hear very little of the fact that anti-semit­ism is on the rise.

I have vis­ited Israel twice. It’s a place that quickly won my heart with it’s beauty and his­tory. Last time I was there was in 2014 and I was able to vis­it Yad Vashem, The World Holo­caust Remem­brance Cen­ter. To this day when I think about my vis­it the feel­ings come flood­ing back.

The museum which tells of all the events that took place across Europe over­whelmed me to the point that I couldn’t take it any­more. I had to walk to the end and find a place to sit down. After a cup of tea our group then vis­ited the memori­al which names all the people who died. It was just as over­whelm­ing. A friend who was part of our party was able to find the names of her fam­ily mem­bers in the memori­al and so the Holo­caust became even more of a real­ity to me. We learn all about the atro­cit­ies of World War 2 in our his­tory les­sons, but until there is a per­son­al con­nec­tion with the events it’s hard for it to feel like a real­ity. My Grandad once wrote me a let­ter about what he did when he fought in the War, it made the war a real­ity to me and not just some­thing to learn about. See­ing my friend find her fam­ily mem­bers in the memori­al had a sim­il­ar effect. 

I’m not really sure where I’m going with this post, oth­er than to say I will remem­ber them. I hope you will too, and I hope that togeth­er we can all make sure that some­thing like it is nev­er repeated. 

There are very few Jews left who sur­vived the Holo­caust, so we must find ways to make those con­nec­tions with his­tory a real­ity for the gen­er­a­tions who can­not hear first hand what it was like. I think the stor­ies of fam­ily mem­bers will play a cru­cial role in that. Let’s make sure it nev­er hap­pens again.

The notes app quest continues

I’ve been con­tinu­ing to seek out a notes app that works for me as well as I would like it too. A couple of weeks ago I pos­ted about what I’m look­ing for and since then I’ve been giv­ing a couple of the con­tenders a try.

When I wrote that post I had been using Craft for around a week or so. It’s a very good app, I like that it is nat­ive on all my devices, has good short­cuts sup­port and is a pleas­ure to write in. It lacked a couple of the fea­tures on my list out of the box, but a quick short­cut was able to fix the lack of a daily note and I was hap­pily on my way giv­ing it a run through it’s paces.

Hav­ing been forced into a week off work thanks to some strong side effects from my Cov­id vac­cine, last week­end I star­ted to play with Obsidi­an to see how it worked. Ini­tially put off by it I found a theme that makes it look and feel a lot more like a nat­ive macOS applic­a­tion. So last week I star­ted giv­ing it a run through it’s paces. It’s lack­ing a first party iOS and iPa­dOS app at the moment, but one is in beta and seems to be devel­op­ing quickly and since there’s nowhere to go at the moment it’s not the end of the world.

I intend to give Obsidi­an a sim­il­ar amount of time to Craft and then I’ll try to make a decision. There are a few things about Craft which star­ted to really annoy me before I decided to give Obsidi­an a try, and I’m sure there will be some things about Obsidi­an that annoy me as well. 

So far Craft feels bet­ter placed for meet­ing notes and cap­tur­ing tasks along the way. It’s abil­ity to eas­ily send some­thing to Things is great. In con­trast Obsidi­an seems to handle ref­er­en­cing and embed­ding blocks more effi­ciently. Craft can do this but I ended up hav­ing some real dif­fi­culties find­ing blocks I wanted to ref­er­ence and once I had figured out the syn­tax that Obsidi­an uses it made a lot more sense. Both apps have their strengths, I have a feel­ing it will be about refin­ing how I take notes and which one will handle that.

Write sentences, what I’m thinking, because I want too

Tonight I came across two blog posts in Reed­er as I was lying in bed catch­ing up on my feeds and watch­ing the For­mula One.

The first was all about writ­ing. The author coined a phrase that is very remin­is­cent of Michael Pollan’s approach to food.

Write sen­tences, not too many, mostly active.

It riffs nicely off

Eat food, not too much, mostly plants

Some­thing which I’m try­ing to stick too but not very good at. It might have con­nec­ted with me because it’s famil­i­ar, but I think it goes a bit deep­er than that. I’ve been try­ing to write more lately. I want to post a lot more reg­u­larly than I do, but often feel that I’m not con­trib­ut­ing enough to war­rant a post. 

The second seemed to know what I am think­ing and hit me between the eyes.

Just blog, if that’s all you want to do.

This week­end I down­loaded and installed Ghost on my Mac. I’ve been look­ing at mov­ing away from Word­Press for a while and finally took the time to look into one of the altern­at­ives. But really it’s just a dis­trac­tion. I have a fully func­tion­al blog here. I’d like to change the design of it, but I don’t need too. If I want to blog more, I should do it. So I’m going to try and write sen­tences about what I’m think­ing, because I want too. That seems to be a good way of look­ing at things. I will still slowly work on a new design for this place, but I’m going to do my utmost to make sure that it doesn’t stop me from post­ing more.

Searching for the perfect notes app

For the last 6 months or so I have been using Roam Research as my notes app. The daily note turned into my home from home allow­ing me to cap­ture things through­out the day. Thoughts, feel­ings, meet­ing notes, tasks, art­icles I read, videos I watched, everything got noted down in the daily note. Using the ser­vice has encour­aged me to read more wisely, mak­ing notes from art­icles that are use­ful and cap­tur­ing high­lights and thoughts as I read books.

Over the last month or so, I’ve noticed my usage start to drop off. Some of it is related to me hav­ing days off from work, so I’m not in front of my Mac all day, but that’s not the sole reas­on. I’m writ­ing this on my iPad which has become my main per­son­al com­puter. Mac for work, iPad for me. I star­ted to real­ise that this is part of the reas­on I’ve been using Roam less even though I still wanted to cap­ture notes and thoughts. I don’t find the exper­i­ence of Roam on the iPad to be that pleas­ant. There are too many little quirks and bits that don’t quite work prop­erly that mar the exper­i­ence enough to to make me want to stop using it.

So in the last week I star­ted to draw up a short­l­ist of apps to try in an attempt to replace Roam. In order to really under­stand if some­thing can grow in to a replace­ment I need to under­stand how I’ve been using Roam and what I have come to find really use­ful about it.

What are the key features I’m after?

Daily Notes

I’ve come to real­ise the joy and free­dom in hav­ing a Daily Note open on my screen all day. It has become my main place to cap­ture any­thing and everything. Art­icles I read, what’s on my mind, notes from meet­ings I’m in, tasks that come in. Each new item gets a time stamp and then I write down what I need.

References to blocks and pages

This is new func­tion­al­ity to me but one that I’ve quickly under­stood the value of. Being able to ref­er­ence some­thing with a back link is really power­ful. If I’m in my Daily Note and jot some­thing down about a pro­ject, being able to quickly link to that pro­ject page and have what I wrote appear there is invalu­able. It frees up thoughts for think­ing instead of focus­ing on put­ting it in the right place in my system.

Embedding blocks

These are even more power­ful and I think have become really import­ant for me. On a Sunday as I watch church on You­Tube (who knew that would be a thing?) I make notes on the ser­mon. I’ve taken to adding the bible pas­sage broken down verse by verse in a sep­ar­ate note, then when I need to make a note about a verse I embed the block and write a note under it. Hav­ing the text vis­ible is really use­ful and hav­ing the bible pas­sages auto­mat­ic­ally ref­er­ence all the notes I make over time will be really insightful.

Capturing tasks

This is a simple one, but a quick way to cap­ture tasks in a meet­ing without hav­ing to change app focus is great. Even bet­ter is the abil­ity to send those tasks to my ded­ic­ated task man­ager where I can organ­ise them after the meeting.

Journal

This final one is a little up in the air at the moment. I used the Daily Note of Roam to help me start journ­al­ing again and since begin­ning this quest to find a more nat­ive exper­i­ence I’ve dus­ted off Day One and star­ted to use that instead. As I reflec­ted on how I had been Journ­al­ing in Roam, I real­ised that I didn’t inten­tion­ally use any of the con­nec­ted thought fea­tures for it. Ques­tion­ing why that was, I real­ised it’s because what I’ve been journ­al­ing about isn’t neces­sar­ily related to what I’ve been think­ing about or work­ing on, instead it’s more about pro­cessing how I feel and am hand­ling situ­ations. So for now I’m going to use Day One for this part of my writ­ing, although it lacks the con­veni­ence of hav­ing one place to write I think the trade off is bet­ter for me.

Tweaking my morning routine

There’s noth­ing quite like writ­ing down the routine you’ve found your­self fall­ing into to make you real­ise there are somethings you’d like to change. When I pos­ted about my routine the oth­er week it made me more con­scious of what I’ve been doing in the morn­ing so I star­ted to pay more atten­tion to what I was doing last week.

Through the course of the week, I real­ised I was spend­ing a bit too much time in bed bum­bling on the inter­net at the start of the day and then rush­ing through some oth­er things that are more valu­able. Last week I decided to try some­thing out. I left my phone alarm to go off as it always does, then I set my little alarm clock to go off at 07:15 in the hope that its blar­ing sound would be enough to pull me out of my snooz­ing habit.

With the alarm wak­ing me more thor­oughly I found I was nat­ur­ally ready to get out of bed a bit earli­er. The one prob­lem was that I was still slip­ping into my habit of lying in bed for longer than I needed to. So this week I added a new part to my wake-up.

Using my habit app of choice Streaks I added a new task with a timed alert for 07:30 to get out of bed at that time. So far it’s been work­ing. I’ve been out of bed at that time every day this week and showered, dressed, and in my chair by 08:00. It’s giv­en me anoth­er 20 minutes of space in the morn­ing to spend a bit longer on my quiet time and even start writ­ing some blog posts like this one. The big test will be next week, it’s one thing to keep doing some­thing the week you start it, it’s anoth­er pick­ing it up and car­ry­ing on for a second or third week.

Routines

On my lunch break today as I sat read­ing some RSS feeds, I came across a Daily Blog­ging Chal­lenge that star­ted on the first of March. As I clicked through to the organ­ising site to find out more I dis­covered that each day they are shar­ing a prompt word that every­one tak­ing part should use to kick­start their post for the day. I’m not going to com­mit to tak­ing part every­day, but I liked the prompt from 1st March, routine.

Routines have always been a bit of a com­fort to me, mostly they just hap­pen and I real­ise that I’ve settled in to one without con­sid­er­ing what I’m doing. My morn­ing routine for example is one that I’ve real­ised I’ve settled in to without really considering.

I wake up with my alarm around 07:00 and spend the next 45 minutes or so wak­ing up. That involves a bit of snooz­ing, a bit of morn­ing mes­saging, and a bit of bum­bling around on the inter­net. Then I get out of bed and head towards the shower.

I’m usu­ally dressed and ready to start my day by around 08:20. The next step is a glass of juice and my meds, fol­lowed by a sit down in my chair and a bit of time to have a quiet time with whatever read­ing plan I’m using in the Youver­sion app at the moment.

Around 08:40 I’ll turn on my Mac and head to the kit­chen to make cof­fee and sort out some food for myself before I settle at my desk to con­trive the days business.

I did­n’t real­ise this was a routine I’d fallen in to until I came across Pablo Picas­so’s daily sched­ule and it star­ted me on path look­ing in to the routines of oth­er fam­ous cre­at­ors, some­thing I’ll be look­ing into and shar­ing here.

Micro Blogging Again

I’ve recently made some changes to the host­ing for my blog and oth­er web­sites as part of the con­sol­id­a­tion of my many web­sites in to one. I had been aim­ing to have one web­site to rule them all integ­rat­ing my port­fo­lio and my blog into one site.

I’m in the pro­cess of cre­at­ing a new theme to help accom­plish that, but I real­ised that for a long time I’ve not wanted to post the short status posts and images on to this site. I used to use Twit­ter for that, and whilst I’m still on the site I rarely use it. I’ve also been a mem­ber of [Micro.Blog] since the kick­starter days, but lately I’ve found myself just observing with only the occa­sion­al reply and not actu­ally con­trib­ut­ing. So I’ve decided to give some­thing a try.

I’ve setup a hos­ted Micro Blog, which will use one of my spare per­son­al domains, and I’m going to try post­ing to there with the short status posts and images as I would’ve done on Twit­ter and Ins­tagram. I’ll likely use it to share things links and things along the way. In con­trast I plan to keep this blog as some­where to post longer posts and in time to add my port­fo­lio as well.

To sim­pli­fy things, I’m think­ing about using my Micro Blog and this blog as ways of gen­er­at­ing some Stock and Flow. As Robin Sloan put it:

Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that reminds people you exist.

Stock is the dur­able stuff. It’s the con­tent you pro­duce that’s as inter­est­ing in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people dis­cov­er via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, build­ing fans over time. 

I’ve real­ised I’ve lost those con­cepts in my cre­at­ive work. I no longer tweet and I don’t blog reg­u­larly, so if I can start to cor­rect that I hope that the two blog formats can inform one anoth­er with more content.

As an exten­sion of that I’ve also been think­ing a lot about Aus­tin Kleon’s book Show Your Work, some­thing which I’ve also not been doing much of lately. My hope is that I’ll be able to com­bine these two sites and ways of post­ing with show­ing some of my work. Be it per­son­al or pro­fes­sion­al (when appro­pri­ate). We’ll see how it goes.

Big Mail ›

I used to post a lot about tech­no­logy, shar­ing links to the latest releases etc. That’s kind of slipped by the way, although I’m still inter­ested in these things there are a lot of oth­er places to find them. That said, this morn­ing I came across a new email app that’s in the works called Big Mail that I think is a really inter­est­ing approach to hand­ling email. I’ve looked into Hey and Onmail recently and whilst I’m intrigued by some of the fea­tures they all require using a web app and I prefer to have an app for my email. Even bet­ter is that Big Mail handles everything on device and means I don’t have to trans­fer my email to a dif­fer­ent pro­vider. I look for­ward top giv­ing it a try.

Today has been a grey and foggy day, it’s felt like a real reflec­tion of the mood of the last month. As I’ve driv­en around Chel­ten­ham today doing some bits and bobs, I’ve seen more and more people start­ing to put up Christ­mas trees and lights. It’s been nice to see them emer­ging out of the gloom.

Today marks the start of Advent, with the first candle being lit in churches across the coun­try we are reminded of the hope that comes from Jesus. The arrival of the King.

At the start of this year I star­ted to go to a new church, giv­en the pan­dem­ic if might not have been the best time, but the ser­vices I’ve been attend­ing online have been ones of great com­fort. They have shown great care, sens­it­iv­ity, and com­pas­sion through­out the year, and I’m incred­ibly thank­ful that God guided me to this church. I’m look­ing for­ward to being able to go to a ser­vice again, I hope it is soon­er rather than later. I’m sure it will be.