My letter to Amiga Format

In the most recent episode of my podcast Hemispheric Views I mentioned the time I was featured in the Workbench section of Amiga Format magazine.

I loved the Amiga, and I subscribed to Amiga Format in addition to a few other British and Australian Amiga magazines. The highlight of my month was riding my bike to the newsagent to collect my reserved copy.

I always liked the productivity and system utility applications more than gaming. I was a weird kid like that.

Amiga Format’s Workbench section was the Discourse forum of its day. People would write in with questions (with letters as this pre-dated email) and the magazine experts would publish the question and provide a helpful response. It was this section where I learned so much and to this day, Internet forums are still the best way to learn things.

In any case, I recall being stumped on a problem so I wrote in to Workbench asking for some help. I am sure I sent it via Airmail, but even still, getting a letter from Australia to the UK, then into the printing and production cycle resulted in something like a 6-month lead time. I think I had forgotten about it after a couple of months.

Imagine my surprise then, when months later, I see my name in print, in the world’s best-selling Amiga magazine. This was huge! It was the April 1992 issue. That would have put me at 14 years old. Maybe I was 13 when I wrote the letter, who knows?

I kept my huge pile of Amiga magazines for years. Eventually, though, I had to say goodbye. I kept the issue that I was published in for longer, but finally I had to say goodbye to that one also. But I never forgot that I was in the Amiga Format magazine that had Felix the Cat on the cover.

That takes me to now. My friend and podcast co-host Jason Burk writes the best show notes in the podcasting business. He found and linked to an entire online archive of Amiga Format magazines. This was what I needed. I found my Felix the Cat cover, and brought up the issue.

There it was. Page 209. Workbench. “Missing Drawers”, from “Andrew Canion, Australia”. My letter lives on. Amiga Format

Article Full Text

Missing Drawers

From: Andrew Canion, Australia

I have been attempting to design my own split image icon for use as a drawer. I have copied the Empty drawer from my Workbench 1.3 disk. I have then split this icon using the IconMerge program on the Extras disk.

I then edit it with IconEd, and saved the two images back to disk before joining them into one icon with IconMerge again. The actual changing image works fine when I click once, but when I double click to open the drawer itself. I get an error message telling me that the drawer cannot be opened. I’m a relative beginner, so tell me in simple terms what am I doing wrong?

An icon is just a picture to click on. What you’re miss- ing is a directory with the same name (in this case, empty). You’re clicking on an icon, but your Amiga cannot find anything with the same name. To make a directory from the Shell, type:

Makedir nameofmydisk:Empty

It should work then. For nameofmydisk, put the name of the disk that you’re editing icons on. If the name has spaces in it, then you must put double quotes around the whole thing, for example:

Makedir "Name of my disk:Empty"

Outliners & Daily Notes

I’ve been considering whether my current DEVONthink daily note is the best system for rapid note taking. Of course there’s nothing wrong with it, other than it being super-basic.

DEVONthink Pros

  • Wikilinking (automatic and manual) to other notes.
  • Integrated into broader DEVONthink Search/See Also system.
  • No-nonsense, no futzing with formatting.

DEVONthink Cons

  • No genuine Markdown editing support.
  • No outlining support
  • Just a plain text document.

I’ve been looking at Dynalist and Workflowy. Yet both cost money and feel kind of clunky - like my hands are flippers. That’s because they are web apps living in the Wild West of UIs - no operating system standards holding them to account.

I still have OmniOutliner Pro, which I’ve toyed with once again. Maybe if I keep the OmniOutliner file simple and focused enough, it will do the job. I’ve paid for the software. It’s available on macOS and iOS.

I think the last time I tried using OmniOutliner, I over-engineered my outline with columns, formatting, etc. If I keep it simple it may work better.

Of course, that also means I lose the integrated DevonThink search.

Continuous CRIMPing1, that’s the name of my game.


  1. CRIMP stands for a make-believe malady called compulsive-reactive information management purchasing. Symptoms include: never being satisfied with your current system of information management; continuously being on the look-out for something newer and better; purchasing every new PIM program you learn about; and secretly hoping you won’t find the perfect PIM, because then you’d have to stop looking for a better one. [return]

Containers for Change

Over the past two years my wife has been working at Containers for Change. This is a not-for-profit organisation enabled by the Western Australian Government and funded by the private sector.

When she started it was a start-up organisation working out of a tiny shared office with big plans to get a container deposit scheme (i.e. return drink bottles and cans for cash) up and running across our State.

A week ago, the scheme launched. It features over 200 locations across the entire State where the public can go to drop off their recyclables. It is supporting new jobs. It is providing another income source for families where every dollar counts. It is reducing landfill and facilitating responsible recycling.

As part of the executive team, Hannah has built and managed an amazing team of people. Now, her journey is coming to an end as she moves onto a new challenge. I know she is sad about it and that this has been the highlight of all her career experiences to date.

As her husband, I’m guilty of not giving enough recognition for the job she has done. But I will write here that she has been amazing. I love her and I’m incredibly proud of what she has accomplished.

Who else can say they were able to put a 5.5 metre tall swan, constructed of steel and 10,000 recyclable bottles into the middle of a Perth pedestrian square? That’s an amazing accomplishment, but it’s only the most visible accomplishment of 2 years of hard work and other less visible achievements.

IMG 1284

IMG 1286

Today I took our two boys to recycle of first batch of containers. They were so proud to be dropping the containers onto the conveyor belt and see them be whisked away and converted into cash.

IMG 1352

IMG 1355

Social enterprise, delivering economic and environmental benefits. Lots of winners; no losers. That’s the way to do business.

3 Cheers for Tech Support

Recently I came across an annoying calendaring problem. I have a number of domain names, with associated email aliases. These all reconcile via my Fastmail account.

I noticed the other day that calendar invitations created in my calendar app of choice, BusyCal, were defaulting to being sent from one of my non-default email addresses.

There was no obvious setting for this in BusyCal and it was an issue that I hadn’t noticed at all over previous years so I assumed there was some problem at the server end. I checked Fastmail but its calendar settings were configured to send calendar events from my primary and preferred domain. Nevertheless, I fired a support ticket to Fastmail. Over the next few days (the one ding on Fastmail is slow support turnarounds) they verified my settings were correct. They inspected the logs generated by BusyCal created events, and tested things from their end. After all of this, they confirmed the problem was coming from BusyCal.

Off I went to BusyMac support. Their fast support turnaround confirmed that it was BusyCal causing the problem, and that the software had no ability to choose which email to send from - it took the first in the arbitrary list of available email addresses.

It didn’t end there, however. Soon after, I received an email saying that they had looked at the issue - agreed it wasn’t ideal, and built a new beta build that offered up an option to choose the originating email address for new events. They provided me a download link to this new beta.

It works perfectly. Now, BusyCal will create new event invitations from my preferred domain.

What really works, though, is tech support. These are the unsung heroes of software. Helping mere users like me get more out of their products. This is another reason why I am happy to pay for software. These people are doing real work, and like the rest of us, they deserve to get paid for what they do.

Setapp Audit

I’ve been a subscriber to Setapp since it launched. In fact, I participated in a pre-launch user interview to help the MacPaw team develop the offering.

I’ve been a happy customer, and I believe I may be grandfathered into an older plan because I am permitted two seats. This has traditionally been for two Macs, but with Setapp now commencing a formalised iOS offering, I suppose this now makes more sense as a Mac + iPad combination. It’s a shame that the second license doesn’t include unlimited iOS devices, but that’s their business decision to make.

Setapp is a subscription service, and good financial management suggests that one should occasionally audit subscriptions to ensure a good deal is still being attained.

To that end I have completed a quick audit of my Setapp usage.

It pretty clearly indicates that I’m still getting what I would consider reasonable value. Of course, the longer one subscribes, the more you trend towards ‘should have bought it’. But if the major applications release a major paid upgrade, then once again the subscription calculation improves.

All up, I will keep Setapp for another year. And start putting money away for the next years subscription straight away using a YNAB category!

Software Mac App Store Price $AU
Use Regularly $414.90
Meeter $12.99
MarsEdit $79.99
NotePlan $46.99
PDFpen $124.99
CleanMyMac X $59.99
Using Direct Licensed Versions
BusyCal
BusyContacts
Use but Also Own
iThoughts X
Bartender
Marked
Use Sporadically $225.98
Meta $35.00
Path Finder $36.00
RapidWeaver $129.99
Dropshare $24.99
Use but Could Live Without 89.95
Receipts $89.95
AdGuard
Default Folder X
iStat Menus
Elmedia Player
Receipts
Diagrams
Capto
Typeface
Installed but Not Using
Taskheat
Screens
Ulysses
Tayasui Sketches
MindNode
Aqualero
CleanShot X
Permute
Gifox
SheetPlanner
PDF Squeezer
GlyphFinder
ForkLift
Sip
World Clock Pro
TextSoap
Be Focused
Photolemur
CloudMounter
Gemini
Noizio
Prizmo
Squash

My Last Day with CCI

Today marks the end of a personal era for me; it is the last day of my employment with the Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Western Australia. I’ve worked at CCI for 3 months short of 13 years.

When I arrived, my plan was to stay for no more than 2. This speaks to the opportunities I have enjoyed while with the organisation. Over the time I have worked in Policy, Economics, Membership and the Entrepreneurs’ Programme, plus other temporary assignments.

I have addressed CCI’s General Council and the Board, and managed Member Forums and Committees. I have represented the organisation before Federal and State Parliamentary enquiries. I have developed and advocated policy positions, been in the media and analysed government budgets. I’m happy that my linkages with CCI are indelibly marked in newspaper articles and the annals of Hansard.

I have worked with people that invested in me, and trusted me. I owe much to many, including John Nicolaou, Frances Parnell, Dana Mason, Kristian Stratton, Jessica Shaw MLA, Barbara Jerkov and James Pearson: all former CCI colleagues who played various roles in my journey, each in different but valuable ways.

Most importantly, at CCI I have been provided a platform to help and support the WA business community. It has been my passion to see successful commercial enterprise operate while maintaining a social compact with the community to provide fair and reasonable opportunity, and improve all our lives as a result. Working to support this has kept me engaged throughout my CCI career.

I am proud to have dedicated 13 years of the one life I have to this organisation. I leave knowing that I will be continuing to deliver the Entrepreneurs’ Programme. This is a role I enjoy that is aligned with my passion: supporting local firms in their challenge to grow, succeed, and be part of the fabric of community.

The Mental Office

I’ve been trawling through some old text files of mine. I came across a note from 2012 that I initially thought was my own, but now recognise it as the work of Shawn Blanc.

Shawn’s post highlights issues relating to working from home. He references a podcast that I used to enjoy listening to — the Home Work podcast, hosted by Aaron Mahnke and Dave Caolo1 . I can’t find an active link for the podcast. It was last hosted by 5by5. Since the podcast ended Aaron Mahnke has gone on to fame and fortune with Lore and Dave Caolo has moved on to other projects.

Leveraging the notes posted by Shawn Blanc, I see that the podcast noted working from home as thus:

Working from home isn’t always about notebooks, apps and office furniture. Much of it happens in the head, between fighting distraction, staying focused and keeping things organised. In this episode, Aaron and Dave chat about leaving work at work (even when it’s in your home) and doing a mind-sweep to keep things clear.

This is a challenge worth remembering, particularly now in 2019 when ubiquitous networking and powerful mobile devices makes it so easy to do work not only from home, but from anywhere at anytime. There is a clear risk of dedicating too much time to work because it’s possible. Yet this doesn’t make it the right choice. We really need to protect our leisure time.


  1. My claim to fame in relation to the Home Work podcast was that I once emailed in a question, which the hosts addressed in one of their shows. [return]

Infrastructure

Day 24 of Blogvember. A full list of prompts for the month is available.

Many years ago I was employed as an Advisor to our State Government’s Minister for Planning and Infrastructure. This followed previous work in the State Department of Transport and for a large grains cooperative which built, managed and utilised transport and logistics infrastructure.

Infrastructure is often taken for granted It’s reasonable to suggest that’s when infrastructure is working at its best. When people start talking about traffic or fresh water or power failures it usually means something has gone wrong at an infrastructure level. Not enough road capacity has been built, the desalination plant has failed or the baseload power generator failed to get a steady supply of fuel. There are teams of people across all the various infrastructure providers responsible for ensuring citizens don’t think about them or their service. Mostly, these people do a good job. Infrastructure management relies on effective processes driving preventative maintenance schedules. Combined with regular capital works investment to upgrade, improve and stay ahead of the demand curve, infrastructure ideally stays ahead of demand.

The ingenuity of humans, that we are able to build, design and operate infrastructure so effectively is incredible. Additionally we have been able to develop an economic system that incentivises delivery of services. This includes the ability for government to step in as a supplier where market conditions don’t support commercial operations.

Infrastructure is also the enabler of unrelated money-making projects. Without basics such as power, water and Internet access, Australia couldn’t support the development and operations of companies like Atlassian and Fastmail, to suggest two technology-based business examples. Infrastructure enables these and all other firms to employ people, generate profit, and pay taxes. Infrastructure firms, however, rarely (ever?) are afforded the status that is probably deserving of them. Mike Cannon-Brookes has become a billionaire but I can’t find any CEOs of infrastructure firms that have become billion-dollar poster children for their industry. Rather, infrastructure firms are the staid companies that superannuation firms love to buy shares in, as they deliver a boring, regular dividend stream.

So here’s to the infrastructure, and the people that work on it, that makes our lives better each and every day. Please keep up your yeoman’s work… even if it goes unnoticed and under-appreciated.

Failing

Day 3 of Blogvember. A full list of prompts for the month is available.

It seems that part of the human condition is to view failure as an end in and of itself. I think it’s better to consider it part of the process towards success.

A life well-lived encompasses a procession of trade-offs. We necessarily fail to do all the things we might want. We can’t be good at everything. We don’t have time to do everything. Are we failing because we don’t manage to do it all? Are we failing because we’re not multi-tasking our way to success?

That kind of thinking is probably a path to depression.

“Failure is not an option.” — A phrase credited to Gene Kranz and Apollo 13, but never said in reality - probably because he knew failure is part of the equation.

Failing is a trade-off. Failing is inevitable. It’s not possible to achieve the highest goals without accepting failure along the way. We shouldn’t beat ourselves up over our failures, because they are necessary to build success.

Time is limited. A failure to do something can represent a successful engagement with something else. I think I’m making the case for a Mr. Holland’s Opus approach to life, failure and success. Our greatest success might be hiding behind what was first thought a massive failure.

James Shelley on Busyness

I have both written about and noted upon the false value of busyness within our societal norms.

One of my favourite independent writers, James Shelley has published an interesting take on the same topic. He cites many references, including one of my favourites, Thorstein Veblen, he of the famous Veblen Goods economic paradox.

James puts a focus on busyness as status symbol:

we need to appear busy because we all know that valuable people are busy people. When we tell others that we are working all the time we are ‘implicitly suggesting that we are sought after, which enhances our perceived status.’

So claiming to ‘be busy’ is virtue signalling our perceived value to the world. It has little to do with the actual work, but the importance of the person to whom the work is attached.

In my articles, I determined that busyness is not a badge of honour, but should be seen as a cry for help. James arrives at a similar conclusion. He explains that busyness should be perceived as one being overcommitted, unclear or unable to prioritise and eliminate.

The alternative to being busy is having clear priorities about what constitutes the highest value, triaged within strict parameters, and then defiantly walking away from everything else that falls below the threshold.

This is not something to be celebrated, so let’s not. We need to find a new definition of personal value. James has a good idea for this, but I’m not going to spoil the surprise. Go read his article and find out what he suggests!

Atlassian declares 'The M&A process is broken'

Atlassian is an interesting company that possibly doesn’t get the kudos it might deserve. As an Australian, I have admiration for seeing one of ours hit it big internationally. Atlassian and Canva are probably the only two Australian companies that immediately spring to mind as having won big in the international IT space.

I’m impressed that Atlassian continue to walk the walk in regard to their world-view and values. This is evident in their now public approach to mergers and acquisitions. They are trying to reduce the angst and power imbalance and increase the fairness and focus on outcomes.

From their blog post announcing the release of a new public term sheet to support merger and acquisition deals:

one thing has become very clear to us about the M&A process – it’s outdated, inefficient, and unnecessarily combative, with too much time and energy spent negotiating deal terms and not enough on what matters most: building great products together and delivering more customer value.

There is plenty of ego in the IT world. The ‘bro’ culture permeates, and it promotes ego and ‘winning’, rather than value creation and shared successes.

In an effort to reduce this unnecessary friction and increase trust, we’re doing something that, to our knowledge, no company has done before: we’ve crafted a new M&A term sheet and we’re making it public.

So much time is wasted through replicated effort. The software world is built on the reuse of frameworks. Not having to re-invent the wheel each time a new project begins is how great advancements are realised. What Atlassian are doing here is providing a fundamental public framework for mergers and acquisitions. Spend less time, money and effort doing things that have been done before and instead focus on getting the deal done and realising the value that prompted the M&A in the first place.

The reality is that because of the leverage that many buyers exert over sellers, certain “market” terms have evolved to buyers’ advantage, even though, based on the data, it’s simply not necessary.

Another example where pure laissez-faire markets are wonderful in theory and damaging in reality. Market power is a thing that is readily exerted. This creates a culture of ‘winners’ and ‘losers’ where the real focus should be on having the reason for coming together create a win for all. This doesn’t need to be a zero-sum game.

I hope this new approach to M&As catches on, and less money is spent on wasteful lawyer fees and negotiation and everybody can end up with a better outcome at the end of the process. The market will be better off, customers will benefit, and the stakeholders to the deal will both be better off with less of the angst, stress and ill-feeling that can arise at the end of a protracted M&A process.

Getting Back in the Swing

It’s not particularly easy getting into the swing of work after an extended absence. Today is my first day with my legs back under the desk after enjoying an extended break.

This is a time of reacquainting myself with things. Picking up projects and tasks that have laid idle for some time, waiting for my return. Checking in on others and hoping that progress has been made in my absence.

This first day back has not been productive in the sense that tangible and visible work has not been completed. Nevertheless, it’s given me a chance to refamiliarise myself with the job. I’ve got some fresh perspectives on how I want to do the work, so I’ve been able to think on how those might be incorporated.

Of course, I’ve also had that lovely job of reading through hundreds of emails that have built up. Fortunately, with the help of Sanebox, my inbox had been automatically sorted into groups ranging from ‘totally useless’, through ‘probably not useful’ ending in ‘aged, but still probably worth reading’. This made me email triage job quick and easy. At the same time, I was able to unsubscribe from some mail that was clearly junk.

So, today is the day where my engine has been started, and left to idle gently while it warms up. Over the next couple of days, I would expect I might be able to get out of the driveway. We shall see.

MarsEdit on Setapp

I have previously written about trialling MarsEdit but ultimately the app didn’t stick.

Now MarsEdit has been made available as part of my Setapp subscription, so I’m able to give it another go, this time as a paying customer. This post is being written and published using MarsEdit.

It will be interesting to see if the software establishes itself as a consistent part of my blogging workflow. The big challenge is that there are so many great writing apps on macOS (and iOS), so competition is intense.

Spending Annual Leave Wisely

I’ve got some annual leave time from work coming up. I’m not going away on a holiday. It’s going to be time spent at home supporting the family.

Despite there being a lack of travel and adventure tied to this leave, I still need to make sure I construct a plan for the time. I don’t want to get to the end of it and be confronted with a return to work, only to realise I’ve wasted my leave not doing much besides noodling around on the computer for no meaningful outcome.

A recent post from David Sparks about Intentionality aligns well with this thinking. I also like his idea of using a birthday as a personal annual review day. That’s clever. With my birthday being smack-bang in the middle of the year, it also can work as a half-year review.

Roald Dahl's Work Environment

Roald Dahl’s books brought me hours of enjoyment when I was a child. There was little that could top the excitement of reading one of his books that would, of course, be illustrated by Quentin Blake. He created a world into which I could immerse myself, no matter how fantastical the setting might be.

Now, via Jason Kottke, I’ve had an opportunity to see, in the video embedded below, the environment in which Dahl worked, and to him him speak of the mindset needed to create such amazing works of fiction.

There are concepts arising in this video that have started to again be considered relevant in today’s modern world as being helpful in improving productivity and performance.

Highlights from this short clip include:

  • The need to immerse himself, for around 4 to 5 hours per day, in the work, and be away from other things. This reflects perfectly the concept of 'deep work' as recently brought into public consciousness by Cal Newport. It takes time, focus and the avoidance of distraction to reach a zone of high productivity. This place is rare in the modern workplace. Making time for extended periods of focus can represent a huge competitive advantage over the competition.
  • The simplicity of the tools. No computers, typewriters, productivity methods. Just paper, pencil, a basic desk and a thermos of tea. The tools don't make the work. They are, however, customised to his needs.
  • The necessity for play. Play is again considered relevant and useful in improving productivity and well-being. Dahl spends time with friends playing snooker on a regular — and scheduled — basis. I have no doubt it released stresses from his mind and left him fresh to focus on writing when it was time to do so.
  • The smoking. Okay, so that was an unknown negative at the time. We're doing better on that count.

In Customer Service, Genuine Interactions Matter

Our family recently travelled to Bali for a holiday break. It was a week of relaxation at the tail end of a year that has been pretty crazy, and a 2019 that we expect will be even more hectic.

When you travel with kids, conversations can move in varied and interesting directions. Our 7-year old boy took a particular interest in the toilets that were installed throughout the hotel we were staying. The brand — TOTO — is one seen all over the world, but less so in Australia. He was enthralled by the features: from automatic flushing with infrared sensors, to in-built bidets. Even the design of the loos was novel to him. He was fascinated. Next he realised that TOTO had also been responsible for the all of the tapware as well. Incredible!

As a responsible Dad, I kept the toilet banter going, egging him on to explain to me further what he loved about them. I tried to add some interesting educational angles as well. I suggested that as a Japanese company, TOTO probably took great care in their manufacturing processes. I explained how Japan was the cradle of modern manufacturing methods, and how the Toyota Production System changed the world. I’m not sure he bought into my lesson on lean thinking, though. I will have to try again in the future.

Over the length of our stay, our conversations escalated to the point where I suggested we contact TOTO directly to let them know what great work they were doing with their toilet design. He took to that idea! So we did it. My son wrote an email to TOTO Customer Service, noting how impressed he was with their toilets, and expressing his desire to have them installed in our house as well.

I figured that would be the end of it. I didn’t expect to hear back, or if we did, I assumed it would be a boilerplate response. After a few days, we did in fact receive a reply, and it was a wonderful, personal email from TOTO’s Senior Manager of Customer Service. In the email, she expressed gratitude for my son’s kind words, and also offered to send him some tokens of appreciation if we could provide our mailing details.

We replied, and for fun, included a photo of David and I enjoying ourselves in Bali.

A few more conversational emails bounced back and forth between TOTO and ourselves, and they asked if we could send a photo of David with his items once they arrived.

Within the next few week, we received an express mailed package from TOTO in Atlanta, to us in Perth, Australia. Just this concept alone was enough to blow my son’s mind. As promised, we sent another photo back with David holding onto the gifts he had been sent, and this was acknowledged by TOTO with thanks.

I see two key lessons in all of this:

  1. Always embrace crazy conversations with your kids. They’re fun, and you never know where they might end up. Genuine customer service — not selling — is the key to building great brand equity. I might never buy a TOTO toilet. My son might never buy a TOTO toilet. But I think both of us will be TOTO brand ambassadors from this point forward. Not because we were sent some trinkets, but because we had a genuine human interaction. We connected with a person who was obviously engaged enough in their own job to engage positively with us. If that employee is happy, then the company must have something going for it, and that’s the kind of company I want to see succeed.
  2. From a business perspective, customer service shouldn’t be about hitting sales targets or avoiding bad press. It should be about working to have people care about your brand.

So thanks TOTO, for bringing fun and joy to me and my son’s lives, and for making sure this particular Bali holiday will have a very strange and unique anchor memory.

Personal Finance Should be Part of Core Education

I believe personal finance should be a core subject taught to our children at school. We should teach how to manage and budget money, the concepts of savings and compound interest, and the risks of credit and deferred payment. Finance and money management education should be threaded through each year of schooling. I think it would offer more practical value - and a better return on investment - than some of the traditional subjects taught.

An opinion piece in The Age by Liora Miller, “Is PayPass the enemy of the young?” reflects on some of the risks of tap and go payments, especially for young people.

Australian Tax Office research this year reveals that only one in five Australians still prefer using cash for purchases.

Last week I bought lunch from a sandwich shop. I paid with cash. The look of surprise on the server’s face was clear; to the point where we both made a joke about the rarity of somebody paying with ‘real money’ as opposed to PayPass tap and go. In Australia, tap and go is essentially the default.

Cash use in Australia has fallen by a third in a period of six years.

That’s about how long tap and go transactions have been available, and I would think the next third of cash usage will decline more rapidly than another six years.

When I use tap and go, I take the extra step of entering the transaction into YNAB on my phone. YNAB’s direct bank import features don’t work with Australian banks but I consider that a feature because entering each transaction keeps me connected to my money and my budget. I recognise, however, that I’m an outlier. Most people are not taking a similar extra step - it’s spend and forget.

A cashless society in the near future appears to be an inevitability. We need to focus on ensuring young people understand the implications of deferred payment.

This is the key point of the article, but unfortunately, Miller fails to suggest how this might happen. This brings us back to my initial premise: that we as a society need to get serious about financial literacy.

I am Treasurer and Director of Midlas, a not-for-profit organisation that offers financial counselling as one of its key community support services. The government provides funding support to enable Midlas to offer this service. Yet demand is outpacing supply, and this is a common refrain across all the providers of financial counselling.

As great as it is that government provides financial support to assist organisations such as Midlas help people in financial stress, the policy settings are wrong. Just like medicine, where spending on prevention is cheaper and more effective than spending on a cure, spending on financial education would be more effective and deliver greater good than spending on help after the damage is done. Avoiding financial stress would lessen the prevalence of issues that often stem from financial stress, such as illness and poor mental health, relationship damage, homelessness, and drug and alcohol abuse. Not only would this benefit the individual but it would help broader society who share the negative impact of these societal problems.

Through us, the government needs to get serious about teaching our kids about personal finance and money management. The growth of tap and go is a lead indicator of a problem that may come to bite us in years to come. We should act before personal indebtedness becomes a national plague.

Value Curve of Service Delivery

It was recently reported and brought to my attention that Elon Musk had issued a memo to the staff of Tesla. I’m no Musk acolyte, but within his commentary there can be found some good stuff. Within this particular memo Musk highlighted a number of productivity boosting tips. One tip jumped out at me because it is aligned with how I explain to my customers the way I aim to deliver the Business Evaluation service of the Entrepreneurs’ Programme. This is fundamental to how I work to be respectful of their time commitment.

Elon Musk was reported as writing:

Excessive meetings are the blight of big companies and almost always get worse over time. Please get rid of all large meetings, unless you’re certain they are providing value to the whole audience, in which case keep them very short.

The aim of my engagement with my customers is not to prove myself, or the worth of the service, by hanging around for hours and hours on end. If something can be achieved in two hours rather than four, then it’s bad business to take the four hours. If the work needs four hours, then I will commit that time. I won’t commit six.

What I say to my customers is that I want to stay with them for as long as I am delivering genuine value that is over and above the time, effort and person-hours they are committing to the process. Once I see the value they are receiving is tapering off, then I will wrap things up. The last thing I want to do is overstay my welcome, using up their time when they could be doing something else that could contribute more to their business success.

Just as Musk implored his staff to keep meetings short, so I remind and encourage myself to only use as much time is necessary – and no more.

Calendar Management for Productivity & Sanity

I lean heavily on my diary to plan ahead, guide me through my days, and establish a rhythm to my life. The type of work I do has a tendency to drift towards haphazard if not controlled, so a calendar helps me establish and maintain order.

The problem I’ve faced in more recent times is having an overabundance of calendars I need to refer to before being able to commit to something. In simpler times, if I had a gap between 9am and 5pm, it was available to be taken up by a meeting. With the added complexity of kids and a wife who has an even more complex and random schedule than my own, things have reached a point where I need to check about 5 different calendars before I could confirm if I actually had availability for a meeting, irrespective of whether there was a gap in my calendar.

This year I made a personal pact to get better at managing this uncertainty. I’ve considered how I could build a system that works better for me and my family, while maintaining flexibility for my clients. Many of the methods I’ve adopted are not new ideas; in fact, some are a blast to the past when people used paper day-runners and had a personal assistant (secretary?) who would prepare things on their behalf. Alas, I have neither of those, so I have leveraged my skills in process design and automation.

Following is an outline of my diary management workflow as it has developed to date. It remains a work in progress and I expect it will continue to change.

Structure

I started by establishing clear and non-negotiable days for which I was available for visiting and meeting with clients. I refer to these as “External” days. The remaining days were locked in as days to spent at the office - my “Internal” days. These days are consistent every week, to help with that rhythm.

When visiting clients a lot of time is lost in transit. By collating these visits into a fewer number of days, I reduce my transit downtime, and have the opportunity to fill those days more effectively.

My “Internal” days facilitate getting into a flow state more often because they aren’t broken up by meetings and appointments. Again, a more productive outcome.

For calendaring, I rely on BusyCal on the Mac and Fantastical on iOS.

Technology - WhenWorks

My next area of improvement was in the way I was booking the meetings with clients on my “External” days. I had been spending too much time and effort bouncing emails back and forth, doing the ‘availability exchange’ - trying to find a time that works for me and them. I needed to find a better way that was efficient but respected the impact of items on my other calendars.

I started with a trial of Calendly. This cloud-based service provides a method for people to book a meeting time that is subject to the parameters I set. Calendly was good, but had its drawbacks. I use FastMail for email/calendars/contacts and it uses standards-compliant IMAP/CalDAV/CardDAV protocols. Unfortunately, Calendly wants to only work well with Office 365/GSuite/iCloud. My employer provides me with an Office 365 account so I could still make use of the service, but it meant that I had to remember to replicate my Fastmail calendars to Office 365. It worked, but it never felt simple and seamless.

Enter, WhenWorks. After trialling this for just a couple of weeks, I have purchased an annual subscription. WhenWorks is fundamentally an iOS app that is supported by a cloud-based booking platform. By running on my device it improves on Calendly because it can access all my calendars, irrespective of what platform they reside upon. WhenWorks can take into consideration the impact of every single calendar when making times available for others to book.

WhenWorks is simply brilliant. It looks great and offers a full range of options without being overwhelming. Most importantly, my clients have used it without any problems whatsoever.

Automation - TextExpander

For the first half of this year I have been using saved email templates in Cloze to correspond with clients and ask them to select a meeting time using my Calendly service.

Now with my change to WhenWorks, I’m moving away from Cloze and back to using TextExpander to send email using Mail.app instead. With TextExpander I can make a few choices upon snippet execution that lets me customise a boilerplate email. This way the email the client receives is quickly and efficiently tailored to the type of meeting we will have, and will prompt them to schedule a meeting using the appropriate WhenWorks meeting template relevant to that meeting type.

Credit to David Sparks for providing some of the tools that helped me get this up and running quickly and easily.

Routine & Preparation - OmniFocus & Daily Papers

The last step is incredibly low-tech, but has made a profound difference to my state of mind at the beginning of each day. It is not a new approach. It is common sense. It is simple. But it requires discipline.

I have set a daily repeating task in OmniFocus that commences at 4pm and is due at 5pm, prompting me to prepare for my next day’s meetings. That’s it; a simple prompt.

This prompt, however, ensures I remember to gather the various documents, information and whatever else I need to have ready to be successful for the events of the next day. Sometimes this process takes 2 minutes, sometimes the full hour.

Since doing this, I’ve found I don’t have stress the next morning, suddenly realising that I’ve got a meeting first thing that I have not prepared for. It creates a calm state of mind for the evening, knowing that I’m ready for the next day. It enables my mind to cogitate on what I have coming up, such that when events unfold I find myself better prepared and ready to roll than I otherwise would have been.

Final Thoughts

Each of these elements is fairly straightforward in and of themselves. Bringing them all together, though, has improved my flow, and has largely resolved the problem of double-booking and calendar mixups.

Of course this stuff is never done, and it will change with workload and circumstance. For now, however, I feel like it has gotten me closer to the concept of ‘mind like water’ than I was previously.

Searching for Hobbies

All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.

It’s very easy to spend time focusing on work. It has a tangible reward - income! It provides an emotional response - we might love it or hate it (or even just feel meh about it). And, for many, it defines who we are.1

I’ve been taking stock, and have realised that I need to add some more variety to my days. I do my work, I look after my kids, and despite us sometimes being ships passing in the night, I share time with my wife. What has gone missing though, is a third interest. What else can I do? How else can I bring some interest, variety and further meaning to my life?

I don’t want to be passing time here on our earth, responsibly moving projects and tasks forward without having some fun and spontaneity along the way.

It’s clear what my answer must be - I need to find some hobbies!

Ideally, these hobbies will stretch me out of my comfort zone. While I have always been enjoyed technology and basketball, I should move outside these domains to see if I can find something else that is fun and different.

I’ve drafted a list of ideas, with ideas ranging from board games to cooking. I plan on experimenting across a range of areas to see if anything grabs me. And because you can’t manage what you don’t measure, I will try to keep a journal in Day One to track any major hobby events and record my thoughts and impressions of things I try.

I hope I find a new and interesting activity to engage with, but even if I don’t, it will be an interesting life experiment.


  1. This concept of work defining who we are is particularly weird. The work we produce is a product, not a state of being. By defining ourselves by our work we are limiting our potential. The work we do should be a combined result of our skills, traits and personality. The work is achieved because of who we are; it is not who we are. Have I just buried the lede in this footnote? 

In Flow

Some days the work just flows. Tasks feels easy, decisions are made, words transfer from the brain to the keyboard with nary a pause; and engaging with people makes you realise the world is full of interesting characters.

These days of flow are generally few and far between. We structure our days such that we have no breathing room. Alternatively, we don’t structure anything and drift through without a clear and achievable goal in mind. If we can happen to find the Goldilocks Zone between those two extremes, and establish a mindset that is engaged yet relaxed, well, I think that’s where the magic happens.

Most days, of course, the work doesn’t flow. Things are a grind and stuff fails to work out as intended.

So the days where flow occurs; embrace it, because there’s no guarantee it will be back tomorrow. Get the most out of this rare and elusive asset!

Replacing Social Media

I joined both Facebook and Twitter many years ago, when they were technical ideas, as opposed to advertising machines driven by algorithms.

Part of the reason for joining in the first place was for me to reserve my namespace. Just like gold rushes of old, it’s always important to claim your username before somebody else jumps in before you and puts their stake in the ground. While Twitter and Facebook took off, I also had my namespaces at long-forgotten sites like Pownce, Myspace and Technorati.

The Halcyon Days

Over the following years, my engagement with Twitter and Facebook increased. Facebook was great for retaining connections with people I knew IRL while on Twitter I built a list of followers that I didn’t know, but whose insights and commentary I enjoyed. This ultimately revolved around my two greatest hobbies: basketball and the Apple IT ecosystem. From around 2011-2015 really were the salad days of these two services.

The problem for them (not me), however, was that I wasn’t paying the bills. Nor were any of the other users. We know how this story goes. As per the trope, if you’re not the customer, you’re the product. There was a realisation that I was certainly the product - being sold as advertising fodder by these services that needed revenue to keep the lights on, and investors invested.1

Addiction

Over time, these services added dopamine to my day. The nefarious social engineering tweaks they built to maintain my engagement were difficult to defeat. Likes, comments, shares, retweets. All these things built in a way that tries to make you feel like you are valued by your audience, but which are all just further measures to build an advertising profile of each of their human products. But it kept me coming back.

My usage continued to grow until a series of events made me question what the hell I was doing. Firstly, most of the Facebook people I realised I either saw in real life — which was much more satisfying — or I never saw them, and didn’t have space in my life to genuinely care about them. The algorithm would occasionally surface them to my feed, then they would bubble down again to be forgotten. On Twitter, there was growing awareness (and evidence) of the hate, vitriol, bile and mistreatment of people, both inside and outside my personal feed.

Downfall

As the services became politicised, they became weaponised. Intolerance grew, they became echo chambers, and the value of what was being expressed was minimised. From link bait to listicles and lame videos, both services were serving up nothing but empty calories. I realised that I was using my most valuable resource — my time — on two services that were giving me nothing back in return for my investment.

Hence, the decision to withdraw my namespace claims. I have deactivated Facebook. I have deleted Twitter.

Reversion

What is great is that I don’t feel I have lost anything. I feel just as informed, and I actually feel calmer. I don’t have this buzz in the back of my brain, like an itch I can’t scratch, knowing that I need to check my feeds. It has freed up the time to do more productive things. I’ve been reading actual books again. I have watched TV shows and movies with full focus.

It’s been great to have more free time to invest in activities that provide mental nourishment, rather than the fast food diet I had become used to with social media. Ironically, I think I had it more right 10 years ago, before the age of social media, where this is exactly what I would do. I would read, learn, converse. I didn’t like, share and tweet. But I think, on balance, I was all the better for it. I’m enjoying this rebalancing I’m going through now, and I hope that it continues.


  1. If you want evidence of just how much you are the customer, be sure to download the document from Twitter that shows just what information they have on you, and how you are linked with a range of brands and services for marketing towards. It’s kind of chilling. 

Deprioritising Facebook

A few months ago I stopped using Facebook. I deactivated my account, deleted the Facebook apps from my iOS devices, and went cold-turkey. I have subsequently had to reactivate my account because of the need to engage with some groups that exist only on Facebook, but I continue to ignore my timeline.

It has been a great change for the better. Facebook adds a huge weight of nothing. It’s empty calories. It uses up time that could be better spent elsewhere. I haven’t missed any news; I don’t feel less engaged with the world. To the contrary, actually. I feel more engaged. I don’t crave the little dopamine hits of likes and comments. I’m still writing and recording aspects of my life, but now they are feeding content that I own, whether it’s on my own microblog, or in my Day One journal, or (heaven forbid) through one-on-one conversations.

It surprised me just how easily I was able to ‘kick the habit’ of using Facebook. I thought I would miss it. As if to emphasise just how hollow the platform is, I’ve not had any of my myriad followers reach out to check if I’m still alive since my departure! That point highlights the disconnected connectedness Facebook promotes. Sure, you ‘like’ somebody’s post, but do you remember it 30 seconds later? Would you notice if it were not there? The evidence would suggest not, and that spot in the timeline would just be filled by something else.

If I could dump the Facebook platform entirely I would. As it is, I will use it as little as possible, and only as required for specific functional tasks. I am not willing to gift my attention to Facebook, for it to leverage into profit. My hours on this planet are too valuable to give you them for free.

Writing versus Speaking

If I have the option to communicate through text or voice, I’m choosing text every time.

I don’t love writing; it’s not a passion. I’m more happy working with numbers, to be honest. What I am definitely not, though, is a talker.

In writing, I feel that I can more eloquently express my views. In conversation I never quite feel as agile, by comparison. It takes a lot of focus to think on my feet and maintain the flow. Add to that, the little voice in my head that is always there in the background, questioning whether the person I’m talking to is listening, if they care at all, or are they bored out of their brain. Talking comes with pressure!

When I write, however, it comes out much more formally than when I speak. I struggle to achieve a relaxed tone in my writing (as this article may attest!). I also have no indication as to whether my words have ever been read — conversations don’t have that issue.

Ironically, so much of my work relies directly on my ability to have conversations with clients. There is a discerning factor, though. In these instances, I prefer to consider myself an empathic listener and interpreter. The more I listen, the more I can understand. If I’m talking, I’m not getting to the root of the issues and concerns of the firms I am trying to help. Sure, I will add some value through some suggestions, ideas and stories, but that tends to come more easily.

Then I go away and write some outcomes and actions!

Podcasting

Podcasting has definitely gone mainstream now. There is nothing in technology more reliant on voice and speaking than podcasting. Blogging I’m comfortable with - it’s writing. Podcasting? I have been a happy listener for years, but have never been a producer.

A new version of the app Anchor has been released for iOS and Android. The app has had a pivot with its focus now being the generation of short, simple podcasts. I’ve downloaded it, but haven’t yet had a play. I will probably try recording a few podcasts, but I have strong doubts that any of my efforts would be any good.

I really don’t like the sound of my own voice. I feel bad for people who have to listen to it normally, so to record myself and have to listen to my own voice in an extended recording is confronting in the extreme. I’m also not sure that I could maintain a coherent and interesting structure while speaking. Writing is different. You can plan, outline, edit, rewrite. Voice recording requires a lot more editing effort to achieve the same, and I’m no audio engineer.

I don’t own any professional podcasting equipment. I don’t have a good mic. If I started a podcast it would be rudimentary at best. Then again, that makes me sound like the target market for Anchor.

Finally, but probably foremost, there is the issue of content. What to talk about? What to say? Why would anybody bother to listen?1

So I may, or may not, trial a podcast. I might record it, hate the result and delete it. Or it may turn out okay and I might share it to my blog. Who knows? I don’t know!


  1. To be fair, all these questions could just as easily be levelled at this blog, but here I am, typing away. 

Sisyphus’ Notetaking App

I am always searching for the perfect notes app, and the best way to integrate that into my workflow. I’m not sure I have found the former and I haven’t achieved the latter, but I keep trying. It’s ultimately a Sisyphean task, because there’s always another note taking app just around the corner which will constitute a new way of working with it. Nevertheless, I try.

With our proliferation of devices it’s no longer enough to have a decent desktop-based notetaking process. Access needs to be ubiquitous, and that means cloud sync. While a few years ago that would limit the candidates significantly, nowadays sync is the price of entry. When the iPhone arose and syncing was hard, the best option was Simplenote. This app used its own sync engine to provide lightning fast sync. I had a large number of notes in Simplenote, but it was convoluted getting them on my Mac, which required Dropbox and NVAlt - an app which I love the concept of but it never really grew on me.

Nowadays there are an abundance of options, such as Apple Notes, OneNote, Notability, OmniOutliner, and the list goes on. The problem with this is fragmentation. Taking notes is one thing, finding them again later is quite another. If I don’t have all my notes in one location, they may as well be lost. Plus that location needs to be available wherever I am and whatever device I have to hand. Spotlight search is useful, but I want to know where that note is, and I don’t want to have to trawl through search results to find it.

For the moment I have settled on Bear for notes. It syncs reliably across iOS and macOS, it supports Markdown syntax and can export into a variety of formats. It also looks really pretty.

Despite my use of Bear, I haven’t totally solved the fragmentation problem. I continue to use Goodnotes for handwritten notes taken with my Apple Pencil, DEVONThink Pro for reference material, and Ulysses for long-form writing. So stuff remains scattered.

And so my stone rolls back down the hill…