Take Time to Breathe

Life can get overwhelming. Work to do, dinners to cook, kids to care for, relationships to tend. Trying to do it all can be fatiguing. I have found this to be particularly true over this current long school holiday break, where the presence of children and their needs are incessant, but the other parts of life still need to be managed.

Trying to balance it all is not easy, and I don’t believe there is any magic bullet that will solve it all. There are only ever going to be 24 hours in a day. So I think the best response to the pressure comes down to 3 main things1:

  1. Scheduling: maximising the efficient use of time.
  2. Accepting: there’s no such thing as perfection.
  3. Breathing: maintaining mental health through awareness of the bigger picture.

Scheduling

Planning and scheduling can ease the mental burden. By making an agreement with yourself to do certain things at specified times there is clear evidence that time is being utilised to effect and things are getting done. At these times there is no need to worry about all the other things that aren’t getting done in the moment because at least you are doing something.

Personally this year I am trying to improve the structure of my scheduling. I am establishing days as either internal or external. Internal days are dedicated to working on the tasks I have recorded in OmniFocus, following the general Getting Things Done approach to task management. I will also use this time for internal meetings, planning and the like. External days will be available for me to get out on the road, visiting clients, following up business development opportunities, and networking.

I have taken my management of External days one step further by setting up a Calendly account. This service allows me to permit clients to book meetings with me directly, subject to my availability. Calendly knows the days I have set as External, and it knows when the slots I have made available are taken up, preventing them from being double-booked. Much time and effort was wasted last year mucking about with the to and fro of trying to coordinate meeting dates, so I hope this more automated approach will ease the burden.

Accepting

I am the type of person that wants everything to go just as according to plan. Of course, no plan survives first contact with the enemy. I have to accept the foibles of humanity and roll with the punches when things don’t go the way I wanted.

This is why planning methodology has moved away from ‘waterfall’ to ‘agile’ — because nothing works as intended, so change the plan rather than pretending that perfection is about to occur.

Breathing

In the chase for productivity at the micro-level, it is easy to lose context. Really, in the grand scheme of things, it’s highly likely that none of what we are doing actually matters that much. Now, this is not me promoting nihilism, because what we do does matter to those in our circles. What I am saying is that there are going to be few times where there is not sufficient slack in the timeline to pause; to take a time-out. In this moment, breathe.

Go outside, take a walk, talk to a friend, pray, meditate — just do something different and unrelated to the task. Taking a break will freshen the mind and offer an opportunity to perceive that larger context. The thing that was causing stress may suddenly not seem quite so significant afterwards.

Ultimately, having a sound and stable mind will allow a focus on scheduling and facilitate acceptance of what can and cannot be achieved. It’s a virtuous circle.


  1. Because any good list worth it’s salt has 3 things. Not 2, not 4. Three. 

Google Wifi

For months my home WiFi has been less than satisfactory. Dropouts, slow connections, complete failures to connect, router reboots required, and so on.

I have a slightly more complicated than average setup but it’s nothing so extreme that I should have had such annoying problems. I don’t live in an area with a lot of competition for WiFi spectrum and my hardware is all of the non-cheap variety.

I have tried different configurations from using my ISP provided D-Link DVA-2800 (the worst modem/router I have used in my life) as a single WiFi router, then in conjunction with the device I have used constantly for a number of years — my Airport Extreme ac (the tower one). I have variously extended this with an Ethernet backhaul to a second, older Apple Time Capsule (the one that looks like a Mac Mini) and I have tried an approach where the D-Link has operated in bridge mode with the Airports acting as the router.

No approach has been that great, and none have solved the problems I outlined earlier.

My pain points

The constant problems I faced with all of these different approaches were:

  • poor coverage, with 5GHz only working within a small radius, and failing coverage entirely at the extremities of my house and garden.
  • failure of devices to roam across two routers with the same SSID. This is a known problem with consumer grade WiFi that doesn’t offer intelligent roaming. My devices would hang on to a weak signal from one access point as opposed to switching over to a closer, stronger point. This problem was especially noticeable with MacBooks.
  • slow initial connections (again mainly with MacBooks) as they searched and connected to the best available signal. I have a feeling there is a software bug in there somewhere as well, because toggling WiFi off/on on the laptops would often then result in a speedy connection.
  • general frustrations with setting up. The D-Link interface is an abomination. The Airport software is much better, but it always seemed to take a bunch of clicks to get anywhere, and as with a lot of Apple stuff, it was short on diagnostics.

Given all these problems, I decided it was time for a change. Many of the podcasts I listen to feature ads for the Eero mesh WiFi product. This advertising is useless to me as far as selling me their product because they don’t retail in Australia. It did, however, get me interested in the idea of a mesh network, and helped push me into the arms of Eero’s competitor1.

In Australia, the best option seemed to be the Google Wifi 3-pack. I pulled out my wallet and bought a pack for AU$399. Not cheap but my hope was that lowering my blood pressure with less frustration made it a good investment.

Setting it up

In my case, the setup was not quite as simple as Google makes it out to be. This may be my own fault, because I probably overthink things, to be honest. I knew I still needed a router to transfer my NBN Fibre-to-the-Node (and then copper to the house) connection. This meant I had to keep my horrible D-Link to act as the modem. With my Apple Airport, I had the D-Link set to bridge mode and the Airport took on the task of the primary router and DHCP server. This obviated the need to ever deal with the D-Link software.

I went with this same setup with Google Wifi, but no success. It couldn’t establish a connection to my ISP through DHCP, as required.

To resolve this problem, I had to go back to my D-Link and take it out of bridge mode. I had to have it act as both a modem and a router (but disable its WiFi) and have it farm an IP address to the primary Google Wifi point. This is frustrating because it creates a “double-NAT” situation that seems unavoidable. Two devices, both creating a pool of IP addresses. The Airport wins here, as it was able to manage the DHCP connection with my ISP just fine.

Up and running

So now with this configuration my D-Link establishes the Internet connection while Google Wifi manages the internal WiFi and ethernet network. From this point it was smooth sailing. The Google Wifi app is quite good, apart from feeling very out of place on iOS due to its Android Material design aesthetic. It’s also weird to have to rely on a mobile app with no way of accessing the Wifi units through a computer. Finally, no iPad app - just a scaled iPhone app. Come on, Google, you can do better than that. While the Airport Utility looked prettier, Google Wifi gave me more control.

The network quality that Google Wifi delivers is excellent. I’ve been able to use ethernet to create a wired backhaul to the second device that sits near our TV, and I have some strategically placed switches to extend my ethernet network for fixed devices. That each Google point only has a single ethernet jack is a little disappointing, but not really surprising given the typical home market it is aiming at. I have the third device in my bedroom. This one is not using Ethernet backhaul, but leverages the ‘mesh’ approach that is the whole point of the system anyway.

Since installation the WiFi throughout (and outside) the house has been fast and flawless. I am mostly able to connect to a 5GHz ac signal and roaming happens silently and easily. I don’t notice connections slowing down or failing. Whenever and wherever I open a MacBook it establishes an instant connection, whereas it used to take ages and would still sometimes fail.

Netspot results

A Netspot signal-to-noise quality comparison may indicate I haven’t experienced much change in overall signal quality with the change to Google Wifi, other than the Google Wifi result perhaps being a little ‘smoother’ and without a single hotspot near the router.

But it’s the lack of problems with handoffs and roaming that are the real story here. That and the fact that I can more often use a 5GHz ac connection that was previously limited to inside my study.

[caption id=“attachment_404” align=“alignnone” width=“2007”]Signal to noise heatmap with two Apple Airports Signal to noise heatmap with two Apple Airports[/caption]

[caption id=“attachment_405” align=“alignnone” width=“1642”]Signal to noise heatmap with Google Wifi Signal to noise heatmap with Google Wifi[/caption]

You will have to excuse my variation in measuring points - this was not an entirely scientific method.

Conclusion

Overall, I’m happy with the purchase. Once I got everything set up and working correctly it’s been a hassle-free experience. The initial experience, though, was sketchy.

I’d love to know if anybody has had success having a Google Wifi setup connect to an NBN connection directly through a bridged modem like my Apple Airport could. While it isn’t really a problem, the knowledge that I have a non-optimal configuration with two NAT devices operating is annoying to me.

Would I recommend this product to others? Yes, absolutely. I also think that most other people would have a much more successful plug and play experience than me. This is the curse of the tinkerer.


  1. An unintended consequence, I would imagine. Podcasts are global, so if you are going to advertise on them, maybe consider having a global approach to retail. 

My Mac Apps of the Year

With a hat tip to Gabe Weatherhead at MacDrifter who put together his list of favourite Mac applications for 2017, I am following suit.

Third party apps are what make a platform great. Despite the macOS ecosystem perhaps not being as vibrant as it once was, it is still served by a wonderful cohort of professional and hard-working developers. Even though I’ve bought their apps, I sometimes feel I owe them more because using their software is what makes using my Mac both fun and productive.

There’s a long tail of apps I use beyond those included in this list. Yet these I have detailed below are those I used extensively in 2017 and that I value and enjoy. These are the apps that I would most miss if they suddenly went away.

1Password for Families

Online security is no joke. It’s easy to dismiss password hygiene as tin-foil hat material, but when you think how much of our lives are conducted online, I don’t want a veneer of security — I want an ironclad guarantee. 1Password guarantees I can have unique complex passwords for every site that I maintain an account. I have no idea what any of these passwords are. But I do know my password to unlock 1Password. After that, it’s nothing but ⌘-</code> to long me in anywhere.

1Password for Families | US$4.99 per month

OmniFocus

I’ve waxed lyrical about OmniFocus before. Without this app there is no way I would be able to keep all my balls in the air. As much as parts of its design frustrate me, and the pace of its development is glacial, it works. Every day it delivers value by making my life easier. There are sexier to-do apps out there, but OmniFocus is rock solid.

OmniFocus Pro | US$79.99

Launchbar

My wife doesn’t have Launchbar installed on her MacBook. So when I try to use it, I feel lost. After years of use Launchbar feels an extension of the operating system and is completely engrained in my muscle memory. I switched to Launchbar years ago after Quicksilver became unstable and I’ve stayed ever since. I know others swear by Alfred, but I’m definitely a Launchbar guy.

Launchbar | US$29

Bear

I love this app even though I do have to work hard to find a truly worthwhile use for it. I definitely underuse Bear, but I really like it. For the emotional response, I’m keeping it in my list. But there is still a nagging feeling that between Apple Notes, Ulysses and DevonThink Pro, I really shouldn’t need this app. But it is really nice.

Bear | US$14.99 per year

Ulysses

My key authoring application in which I write blog posts, work reports and other bits and pieces. For report writing as part of my day job Ulysses has this year supplanted Scrivener. For my blogging, Ulysses has withstood challenges from Bear and MarsEdit. It is a wonderful writing app and I enjoy that I have access to it through my Setapp subscription. If I didn’t have Setapp, I would subscribe to Ulysses directly without a moment’s hesitation.

Ulysses | AU$54.99 per year

DEVONthink Pro

The archive. The place I keep all my reference, research and archival material. I don’t use it for all that it can do; for instance I don’t create documents in DEVONthink despite it having the ability to do so. But for archiving, storing and searching, nothing beats it.

DEVONthink Pro | AU$104.13

StockMarketEye

This is a cross-platform Java app, so it’s ugly as sin. It’s also about the only share market application available for Mac. Fortunately it works well and gives me all the information I need to track my portfolio.

StockMarketEye | US$99.95

Reeder

I have never given up on RSS, even through the dark days after the Google Reader shutdown. I love the independent web and follow a range of sites religiously. On the Mac Reeder is the best way to do this.

Reeder | US$9.99

PDF Expert

PDF Expert has replaced Preview for PDF viewing and editing. Preview’s editing toolbars have always been inscrutable to me whereas PDF Expert makes sense. The bugginess that was introduced to the PDF engine in MacOS Sierra was the final nail in the coffin and ensured my switch to PDF Expert.

PDF Expert | US$65.99

BusyCal

While the native Mac calendar app has improved, I still prefer having more power and flexibility to manage my calendars. While Fantastical always gets the glory as the sexy third party calendar option, BusyCal blends in and does the job quietly and effectively. I use this app daily. Its ability to save and restore different calendar sets give me helpful insights into my scheduled life.

BusyCal | US$49.99

Trialling MarsEdit

I am writing this post in MarsEdit. MarsEdit is an app that I have always wanted to use, but never really have found a place for it. Now, with the new version released I thought I’d download it and give it a spin as part of the 14-day trial developer Daniel Jakult offers.

Recently I have been writing blog entries in Ulysses, which is great in that it uses iCloud for syncing and has clients for the Mac and iOS. So writing can be done anywhere. It also has a Wordpress publishing engine so I don’t need to mess around to get my words on the web. Finally, Ulysses uses a flavour of Markdown which I am becoming much more proficient in using. Of course, I also already have a licence for Ulysses as part of my Setapp subscription.

MarsEdit is a much more traditional blogging platform. It defaults to rich text, it is Mac only, and it is more ‘feature rich’ than Ulysses. It offers a two-way connection to Wordpress, meaning it can download an archive blog posts in addition to simply publishing which is the limit of the Ulysses offering. With my current workflow, if I need to make an edit to a published post I have to go to Wordpress on the web and make the change. From that point on, my local copy on Ulysses is out of date; there is no concept of syncing - it just publishes. MarsEdit is fully sync-compliant so I can fix those pesky mistakes and maintain a single source of truth.

I do wish it had an iOS application, though. I imagine its code base is too entrenched in the Mac world to easily transition it to iOS, but it would be great to have a synced solution. This is where Ulysses excels - I can pick up the writing from where I left off from any device.

The other thing is typing in rich text. While ‘normal’ people prefer this (think users of Microsoft Word, which is rich text throughout) for blogging I do tend to prefer using plain text and Markdown. The code is apparent, I know what is happening, and it is easy to read. My experience with rich text transitions to HTML is that things go wonky. Of course, MarsEdit can edit in plain text and apply a Markdown filter, but it doesn’t seem like its natural mode of operation.

As I write this, I have been stumped as to how to add a footnote without resorting to pure HTML. In Ulysses with Markdown, this is an easy thing to do. In MarsEdit, it’s not apparent.

Using MarsEdit for this post has been an interesting adventure, but at this stage and for the type of blogging I do, I don’t think this app is for me.

Podcast Addiction

I listen to a lot of podcasts. I’ve been listening to podcasts for more than 10 years, way before they were mainstream. I used to load podcasts onto my work-supplied IBM ThinkPad1 and drive to work with it open on the passenger seat, playing podcasts. This was before I owned an iPod, let alone an iPhone. I think I may have been listening to Adam Curry at the time - there weren’t that many podcasts out there, and his was one of the first.

Since that time, I’ve never given up my podcasts habit. In fact, it’s gotten worse. Overcast, my current podcast player of choice says that I’ve saved 197 hours with Smart Speed (a setting that eliminates small pauses within normal speech). That’s 8.2 days saved via a very small tweak. So how many days worth of my life have I dedicated to podcast listening? I am glad I can’t find out!

My podcast listening trends have changed over the years. I had a multi-year phase with Leo Laporte’s network, listening to MacBreak Weekly, The Daily Giz Wiz and This Week in Tech. Now I don’t listen to any of them. The ‘indi’ podcasts I replaced the Laporte shows with have now themselves grown to be pretty big businesses in their own right.

Listening to podcasts is really a continuation of something I have done since I was little. Since I was about 5 years old I have fallen asleep listening to spoken word. Initially it was books on tape. Then I spent years listening to Graham Mayberry’s show on Perth local radio. Then I graduated to falling asleep to BBC World Service. Listening to speech has been a huge part of my life, and now podcasts provide an awesome delivery method far better than radio or cassette tape!

My subscriptions today

My podcast subscriptions today are a straight representation of my interests. I have a lot of technology subscriptions, a few basketball ones, politics and world news and some light entertainment. Looking at the overall list, I’m not sure how I manage to listen to them all. But I carve out time. Mainly it’s when I’m driving or doing some menial task around the house.

On micro.blog I saw recently that others had shared their podcast lists, including:

In the spirit of participation, these are my current podcast subscriptions, broken down into genre:

Technology

  • Accidental Tech Podcast - The best podcast for Apple news and speculation.
  • Cortex - I listen just because I enjoy the banter and wonderful voices of CGP Gray and Myke Hurley.
  • Fundamentally Broken - a couple of dudes talk about tech and American life.
  • In Depth - Trialling this one, a couple of dudes talking Apple technology.
  • Mac Power Users - Not quite sure why I still persist with this; I never learn anything new and Katie Floyd’s really strong US accent is a struggle to listen to, but I haven’t unsubscribed yet.
  • Nerds on Draft - I skip the bit where they talk American beer, but I stay for the interesting take on technology. Is it just me who thinks that Gabe Weatherhead sounds like Kermit the Frog (no offence intended!)?
  • The Omni Show - Not sure this will stick around, as it is a podcast talking to employees at The Omni Group.
  • Release Notes - Two software developers talk about the business of software.
  • The Talk Show - John Gruber talks about Apple and other things.
  • Welcome to Macintosh - a produced podcast that details interesting historical facts about the Apple ecosystem.

News & Politics

  • From Our Own Correspondent - BBC journalists tell human stories of things they see while on assignment.
  • The Party Room - The best podcast about Australian politics.
  • Trace - much like Serial, this is delving into an unsolved murder in Australia.
  • The World of Business - Just not the same since Peter Day left/retired(?). I only stay subscribed in the hope of hearing his voice again.

Arts & Entertainment

  • 99% Invisible - Roman Mars has the greatest voice, and this show’s research into design and culture is amazing.
  • Back to Work - Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin dispense ‘wisdom’.
  • Hello Internet - Hilarious show that is hard to pigeonhole, but it’s the best ‘two dudes talking’ podcast out there.
  • Planet Money - Sometimes interesting takes on the world of finance and economics.
  • Reconcilable Differences - a couple of nerdy dudes have a general conversation.
  • Reply All - Some great journalism occurs here, covering the world of internet culture.
  • Revisionist History - Malcolm Gladwell delves into historical episodes and challenges assumptions.
  • The Unmade Podcast - A funny show featuring crazy ideas for podcasts that never get made.
  • You Need A Budget - A short one to keep me abreast of what’s going on the world of the SaaS app, You Need a Budget.

Sports

  • Aussie Hoopla - Features interviews with Australian basketballers.
  • The Bill Simmons Podcast - Not as good as it was years ago, as it has become too ‘Hollywood’ focused for my liking. I used to love it for the sports coverage.
  • The Dribble Podcast - My local news outlet has a weekly show with Greg Hire, a player for my team, the Perth Wildcats.
  • Ozhoops Radio - a rundown of results in the National Basketball League.
  • The Ringer NBA Show - A very annoying show with annoying hosts, but there is the occasional bit of good coverage.

  1. Yes, an IBM Thinkpad - even before Lenovo bought the brand and IBM got out of the hardware game. It was a long time ago. 

Dealing with Illness

A few months ago I was unfortunate enough to contract Glandular fever and I am still suffering the effects of it now. The virus started out as what appeared to be the flu, but after I couldn’t shake the feeling of fatigue and general malaise for weeks after the flu symptoms ended I decided to go the doctor. Subsequent blood tests confirmed the glandular fever diagnosis. Normally this is a virus associated more with teenagers, so I am surprised to have contracted it at the ripe old age of 40.

The impact this illness has had on my ability to work effectively has been significant. Beyond the physical problems it has been a struggle to establish mental focus and remain concentrated on a task. I have had periods of forgetfulness and an incoherent mind. Making this worse from a working perspective is that there are not any external symptoms of the problem. This can make it hard for others to appreciate the truth that I am struggling to function. In a consulting environment, it becomes hard to step away from work when there aren’t any visible health problems.

Managing customer expectations

The client-focused consulting work that I do is not particularly conducive to long periods of leave linked to sickness. My work is a conduit for the success of other people’s goals and I need to fit in with their operational timelines. I engage with companies on the premise that our work will be done in a timely fashion. Often I am fitting my work around other projects they have on the go so any delays I create can have other knock-on effects. To suddenly need to take a lengthy break because of an illness that is not visibly apparent - but is impacting my mental state considerably - is a difficult thing.

Managing expectations in these circumstances is a challenge, because I don’t even know what I can promise in terms of timelines. The best I have found I can do is to be upfront and honest about the situation, and trust there will be a level of empathy from the client I am working with.

Managing self-imposed pressures

Even harder than managing the expectations of others are managing the expectations I place on myself. I’m self-motivated and I structure my projects and set deadlines to ensure I stay on track and maintain momentum. Having an illness that impacts my ability to meet these deadlines is a frustration that can tend to eat away at me.

I worry that I’m letting others down, and the feeling of ‘falling behind’ is not one I like. I have to take time to remind myself that I can’t always work with maximum efficiency; that I’m a living being who will have ups and downs. I need to let go, give myself time to recover and be assured that I will be able to catch up at a later point.

Ultimately, I just need to accept that stuff will just have to wait, and sometimes there is nothing that can be done about that.

Phone messages

Finally, a note on voicemail. They are the bane of my existence even in normal circumstances. When I’m sick, and a number of them bank up, it’s even worse. Seriously, voicemail is terrible, and it should be banished. With so many other options for communication, why is voicemail still a thing?

Home Network Architecture

Tonight I’ve sketched out my basic IT storage system and the cloud services I use on a regular basis.

Ensuring that my storage network all hangs together with everything accessible from multiple devices and platforms while also maintaining redundancy through an appropriate backup strategy is not easy. I think I have my bases covered but it’s not particularly simple.

Despite the complexity it remains a problem worth worrying about. I don’t ever want to stress about losing data. Photos especially are memories that cannot be recreated so I really want to make sure I’ve got them secured in multiple locations, while also ensuring that an accidental deletion in one location will not replicate that deletion across the entire network.

Cloud sync services

My cloud sync services; iCloud, Dropbox, OneDrive and Google Drive, all provide mechanisms to make data available across multiple devices. iCloud of course also offers additional photo sync services, and sync of device settings.

My work lives in OneDrive because corporations and Microsoft.

None of these should be considered a true backup because deletions replicate and there is limited version management. I see these as a sync platform only, and never rely on them as a backup.

I am annoyed by the number of cloud services I am having to use. It would be great to have a single sync service to rule them all. Unfortunately I don’t think it’s going to be happening anytime soon.

Other cloud services

OmniPresence is a service that keeps documents made by OmniGroup synced between macOS and iOS. I wish I could ditch it, but I’m not entirely confident that moving these files to iCloud will work, so I continue to have it running.

Adobe Creative Cloud is a service I’m not taking full advantage of because I still prefer the Lightroom Classic and managing photos from local storage.

Local storage

I have a Network Attached Storage for mass storage of data, which is primarily photos and video. This is necessary because my local Mac hard drive is a relatively tiny SSD which almost always seems on the verge of filling up.

Local backups

I maintain a few local backups:

  • a Time Machine backup that is stored on my NAS.
  • a SuperDuper! clone of my MacBook’s drive. If something goes wrong I can boot from this clone and run from that external drive, or recover files as necessary.
  • a USB hard drive that connects to my Mac, and with the help of Chronosync, ensures that photos are copied from my NAS to this storage that is seen as a drive locally connected to my Mac1.

The last resort

Backblaze is my backup of last resort. If anything goes horribly wrong, I should be able to retrieve data from this location. Backblaze operates to ensure that my MacBook, and any locally attached drives, are backed up to their cloud storage, which includes all the data that is also stored across the cloud services such as Dropbox and OneDrive.

All this might seem like overkill but there is no way that I want to risk losing data that I can’t get back. The little bit of effort, and the little bit of money to pay for the software and services I consider a worthwhile exchange for peace of mind.


  1. This enables me to essentially achieve a backup of my NAS to Backblaze, a hack made necessary as they don’t support the backup of network attached storage. 

A Place for Everything

Over the past five years I’ve spent a lot of time learning the fundamental philosophies of a production system known as lean. I’ve read books and articles, I’ve taken a study tour to see lean in action in Japan. I’ve developed lean guides for business, and coached companies in the theory and implementation. Yet despite all of this, I still consider myself a beginner1.

Most of my lean work has been in relation to the manufacturing sector but the principles can also be applied to healthcare, food preparation, administration, and software development, to name a few. IT has even created further derivations such as kanban and agile.

Lean origins

Toyota is the company that can be credited for originally demonstrating the value of lean through their own Toyota Production System. Implemented with the help of Edward Deming after World War II, the company has embraced the lean philosophy of continuous improvement ever since. The company is now the gold standard with respect to lean implementation.

The theory of lean is much like an onion: there are many layers to it (and implementing it might sometimes make you cry!) Trying to emulate the Toyota Production System at the outset is an effort not worth taking, but any company can do implement some simple elements without too much trouble if they commit.

The best way to start

To get started I recommend following the exact same advice my Grandma used to give:

“a place for everything and everything in its place”

Yes, it’s as easy as that.

This concept represents one of the basic tenets of 5S. 5S is all about keeping things neat and orderly within the context of a lean workplace. Make sure if you take something, use something, or move something, that it gets put back once it has served its purpose. This approach will make it easier for your future self or somebody else to find a thing in the future. It will prevent the need to buy another thing because you couldn’t find the original thing. It will reduce stress and anger when you can’t find the thing you need at the time you need it.
 Simply make sure everything has a home and that it always lives at home when not in use. Good tip, Grandma.


  1. In lean of course, maintaining a ‘beginner’s mind’ is a good thing as it keeps you open to new ideas and opportunities for improvement. 

Micro Blogging

Twitter continues to descend into a morass of bad behaviour while simultaneously floundering in search of a viable business model that might deliver a return for the billions in capital it has consumed1. The future of Twitter does not look bright, either socially or financially. As a result, I am experimenting with other platforms for expressing my random and (inconsequential?) thoughts.

Facebook, while having a more profitable and successful business model, is still yucky for a bunch of other reasons. These are predominantly centred around the fact that all of the content is just grist for their sales model. Facebook is a classic walled garden, and the business depends on keeping you active and contained within their domain.

One of the things that got me interested in the internet in the early-to-mid 1990’s was the open-ness of it all. Anybody could publish anything, and it was all equally accessible. The Internet removed the barriers created by Bulletin Board Systems and Compuserve and delivered an open, level playing field. Since then, we have gone full circle, and now we are providing our content free of charge, directly to private companies like Twitter and Facebook (including Instagram) which they are then able to monetise for their own benefit.

Micro.blog

Manton Reece has built an interesting alternative to these closed systems. With the help of Kickstarter funding, he created micro.blog. This is a system designed to allow the publishing of short posts, in the same style as tweets, but built upon a foundation of open access. In my instance, I can post an entry at micro.blog. Through the magic of RSS, micro.blog makes available a content feed but the material is actually being published and hosted via my own Wordpress blog. For the time being, I have set up a separate page from this blog to display my micro.blog entries.

Of course, this is far from a mainstream approach. It’s not nearly as easy as setting up a new Twitter account. There is only a relatively small, pretty nerdy community using micro.blog at the moment. Of course, that’s also how Twitter started, back when it was good.

Cross-posting

Discoverability of content becomes the challenge when working outside the established networks. For the moment, I still have my micro-blog entries cross-posting to Facebook and Twitter. If I didn’t do that, it’s likely that nobody 2 would be able to enjoy my witty repartee. While cross-posting is not ideal, at least I’m only providing those sites with links that track back to my own content - I’m not just feeding their machines. If I quit the service, or if they fail, I will still have my content in my possession, at my own hosted site.

The Open Web

This concept of my content being mine, and to have it accessible outside the walled gardens created by the Internet behemoths that are private companies with their duty to act in the interests of shareholders - not users, is the essence of the open web.

Being able to link to content with direct URLs, and to have that content able to be indexed by search engines, is part of the open web also.

Of course there are still financial transactions and business relationships involved but they are apparent. I pay a hosting company money. In exchange they provide me with storage space, access to a web server and a connection to the Internet. There is no middle-man, no other services are trying to monetise or advertise against my content. It’s pure and straightforward. The content remains mine, to do with as I wish.

Finally, of course, noodling around with all of this is also a really great hobby.


  1. On 26 December 2013, Twitter was valued at US$39.9 billion. On 20 October 2017, it’s valued at US$13.2 billion. 
  2. As opposed to a tiny few. 

Part 3: My Business Philosophy

This is the final of a three-part series focused on explaining my business philosophy. Parts One and Two are also available.

On my home page I call out my personal business philosophy:

Andrew's business philosophy is built upon the value of mutual respect, the skill to leverage process for continuous improvement, and the ability to ultimately achieve self-actualisation.

Self-Actualisation

My philosophical statement finishes with the rather grand sounding ambition of achieving self-actualisation. I will elucidate what self-actualisation is and why I consider it so important that I place it as the anchoring element of my philosophy.

Etymology

The concept of self-actualisation was brought into broad awareness when it was presented as the pinnacle of Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.

Maslow’s rationale was based upon the understanding that only after the more immediate human needs are taken care of, is there capacity to focus effort on what brings us satisfaction and joy.

Maslow explicitly defines self-actualisation to be "the desire for self-fulfilment, namely the tendency for the individual to become actualised in what he is potentially. This tendency might be phrased as the desire to become more and more what one is, to become everything that one is capable of becoming.”1

Fortunately, in my country and its society there is a reasonable (but not guaranteed) chance to achieve the lower rungs of Maslow’s hierarchy. This unlocks the potential to aim for and potentially achieve that final goal of self-actualisation.

Building a framework

I don’t see self-actualisation as an end-point; as the win achieved at the conclusion of a life-long progression up the hierarchy of needs. I believe we can reach the point of self-actualisation early and often, but what it is represented by will change over time. As we move through the stages of our life, commencing with childhood, then into the teens, marriage, career building, parenting, middle age and senior citizenship, different experiences will facilitate the goal.

The degree to which we are realising self-actualisation is likely to ebb and flow over time. Building a framework for our life that supports personal growth and improvement will help ensure a reasonable chance of reaching periods of self-actualisation even as we deal with the trials and tribulations thrown at as by life.

Without a structure and a consistent philosophical and ethical approach to life to fall back upon in challenging times it is less likely that consistent self-actualisation will be achievable.

Measuring success

Society has a tendency to measure success by outward facing and tangible measures such as wealth, fame and status. I prefer to think about success as the achievement of one’s potential and the personal joy imbued from doing what makes us happy. Precisely what the activity is that delivers said joy will vary as we grow and change. Exactly what it is matters less than the feeling it provides.

At one point of my life, playing basketball delivered a feeling of self-actualisation. Then later it was finding flow in a work assignment. Now it is linked to experiences of successful parenting. I am sure it will be other things later. None of these achievements are important to others2 but that doesn’t mean I am not being successful in my own right. If we are seeking external validation it will a frustrating and largely unrewarding experience, because that’s not delivered with any regularity.

The journey is the reward

There is no prize for ‘winning life’. External plaudits cannot be the arbiter of a life well-lived. We have been gifted a single life which even at the most optimistic is probably going to span less than 100 years. Against the timeline of humanity we are but granted a short window of opportunity. To bring meaning and purpose to our time on the planet we may as well participate with an aim of achieving joy and self-satisfaction.

It doesn’t matter how many symbols of success we collect along life’s journey. The true measure should be our own happiness and fulfilment. Recognising each day as a gift to be enjoyed and maximised is a path towards self-actualisation. Find your joy, wherever it may be.

Bringing the philosophy together

So, ultimately, I like to think that in respect of my business philosophy:

  1. Mutual respect will help avoid many worries, anger and pettiness that can derail us as we build a career and/or a business.
  2. Establishing a process for continuous improvement will free our mind to focus on truly meaningful work, rather than busy work.
  3. By adopting a respectful approach to others and having a focus on always getting better, a person can grow self-confidence, self-satisfaction and their enjoyment of life in its entirety, which will form a pathway towards achieving self-actualisation.

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Self-actualization 
  2. Apart from my kids, who at this point assign no value to this. I hope the payoff will come much later. 

Part 2: My Business Philosophy

This is the second of a three-part series focused on explaining my business philosophy. Part One is also available.

On my home page I call out my personal business philosophy:

Andrew's business philosophy is built upon the value of mutual respect, the skill to leverage process for continuous improvement, and the ability to ultimately achieve self-actualisation.

Leverage Process for Continuous Improvement

I am a big believer in the value of process. This can be the big, organisational processes that dictate how companies do things, like build a component, or undertake customer service, or issue a refund. Or process can be an individual’s personal to-do list that helps them to get things done on a daily basis. Ideally the latter should represent a subset of the former but I think we are probably some way from that ideal being standard practice.

When processes are documented they provide an anchor point as to the way things are done now. That’s not to say that it is the way things will always be done. In fact, changes to processes should be welcomed. However, a documented process enables everybody involved to have a shared understanding of how things should be done. If something goes wrong it should be evident where the process broke down. That can enable improvements to improve efficiency and simplify things for those involved.

Embrace change

A process should never be considered a finalised product. Stagnation is the enemy of improvement. No way of work should be considered beyond reproach. No process should be sacrosanct.

A current process is merely the way in which one group of people at one point in time thought would be the best way to achieve an outcome. With new information, new technology, changed inputs, or changes in customer demand, there might be a need to change the process to achieve a better — or just different — outcome. Go ahead, make the change. The only way to drive improvement is to change stuff. Otherwise, you already know what you’re going to get before even starting. Repeating this approach of making and trialling small changes, over and over again, is how to achieve better outcomes.

Trial and error and small incremental improvements are the crux of continuous improvement.

Once a process of documenting processes and updating this documentation upon each change is established a traceable (and reversible) process history is created. In software development, this is standard practice - managing versions and being able to compare code differences is a key element of development and debugging.

More generalised process management can benefit from a similar approach. Make a change and see if it works. If things get better after the change, stick with it. If things get worse, revert the changes and try something different.

Process at a personal level

At a personal level I implement process management for my own work. I rely primarily on OmniFocus to manage standard operating procedures for projects that are repetitive in nature. I use project templates that enable a framework to guide work that is similar in nature. As I learn and discover better ways of doing things I refine and improve my templates.

This makes my work more effective in the short-term because I don’t have to think about the how/when/where’s of the repetitive work elements. Instead I can focus my energy on doing great work on the value-adding elements of the project that matter to my clients.

Facilitating creativity

At first blush, the concept of defined processes can seem staid and boring. In actuality it is freeing. Defined and documented processes allows people to forget about thinking about the steps to achieve a goal and instead allows them to focus on using their skills and expertise to add value to create a better end product.

Process doesn’t restrain creativity; it unleashes it. For this reason it forms the key middle component of my personal business philosophy.

Part 1: My Business Philosophy

This is the first of a three-part series focused on explaining my business philosophy.

On my home page I call out my personal business philosophy:

Andrew's business philosophy is built upon the value of mutual respect, the skill to leverage process for continuous improvement, and the ability to ultimately achieve self-actualisation.

Mutual Respect

To make progress in this world we need teamwork and co-operation. High performing teams are built around trust and respect for one another.

Even in a competitive environment there can be mutual respect. If you are beaten by a better performer, there is value in recognising their success and then using that as motivation to improve your own performance. Winners should stay humble and respect the competition that may not have succeeded this time, but might get the better of them next time around. Staying humble helps build respect.

Managerial respect

If a manager wants to get the most out of their employees, I believe they need to demonstrate respect and understanding for those they are asking to undertake the work. Acting with respect will build trust in leadership. Without trust it is difficult to achieve anything great. Time and and focus will be lost to people questioning what ulterior motives are in play, what forces might be working against them, and how to move into a position to win. More time is spent focused on self-preservation than on achieving team success. In such an environment it is unlikely that the team will be high-performing.

A manager who respects their employees is likely to create a team with better camaraderie, better stability and a desire to deliver great outcomes.

Employee respect

Employees need to understand that their managers may be seeing the situation from a different vantage point. After climbing the organisational tree, the view from that altitude often looks very different. Much like a general might take to an elevated vantage point to survey the field, a manager may have a perspective on things that can’t be perceived at ground level.

An employee needs to appreciate and understand that the manager is likely to be balancing multiple competing pressures, and have respect for that challenge confronting their manager. This respect through understanding will help both parties.

Respectful reciprocity

A manager and an employee; co-workers and colleagues; buyers and sellers; all of these relationships rely on mutual respect to operate effectively. Each is a participant in a process chain. Mutual respect is about working to make the life of others a little easier, and a little better. This establishes a positive reciprocal relationship. If somebody is respectful towards me it is likely I will treat them with respect in return. Everybody enjoys a better experience.

I believe that demonstrating respect for colleagues is the foundation for all other elements of business. If you don’t treat others with respect, it’s unlikely you will go far. Others aren’t likely to be willing to go out of the way to provide help and support if you haven’t been respectful on the way through. Nobody gets to wherever they are alone. We all stand on the shoulders of those who came before. Acting with respect offers a chance for others to stand on ours.

The Business of Glengarry Glen Ross

I love the movie Glengarry Glen Ross. I’ve never seen the stage play, but the movie seems to be a faithful translation and its actors are all top shelf, so I’m willing to accept it as canonical1.

Despite the dated nature of the film’s setting, much continues to ring true about the circumstances in which the protagonists find themselves. Desperate times, leading to desperate measures, with each character dealing with the same adversity in their own varied ways.

This could be considered an accurate reflection of the human condition when people are put within an organisational structure that is essentially a manufactured construct with appointed ‘leaders’ and abstracted hierarchy. Each person has their own motivation and varying degrees to which they will go to get what they want. At some point, teamwork will collapse as individuals strive to assert themselves and ‘win’, putting self before team. It becomes a case of the prisoner’s dilemma.

Besides the deep conflict that propel the movie, there are some other scenes that also neatly capture smaller elements of working life. When I’m talking to somebody on the phone to schedule a meeting, I’m sometimes ever so tempted to pause and say, “Oh Grace, would you mind checking my schedule”, just to proffer the illusion that it’s more than just me and BusyCal managing the load.

Alec Baldwin’s performance as the slick sales consultant rings true, and as much as it is a comedic moment, the enjoyment is almost excruciating given the truth behind the message. It is one that sticks with me and even does help from time to time in reality. That lesson, “A. B. C. - Always Be Closing”. Sometimes this forms part of my internal monologue when I’m talking to people!

The Glengarry Leads

Ultimately, what everybody in the movie wants is possession of the Glengarry leads. The good leads. In my work, I also want the Glengarry leads. I want introductions to the firms that are going to understand what my offer is, sign up, and work in a positive way through to conclusion.

It would be great for management to dish out some of those good leads. Don’t hold them back, share them out! This is where I think reality diverges from the plot of the movie. More often than not, I think reality is that management doesn’t actually have any Glengarry leads. They might have a nice stack of cards that look like they’re going to be great leads but if you were to examine them there may be a good chance they are more Glen Ross than Glengarry. Really, the promise of the Glengarry leads is simply a motivational method to drive sales of whatever dreck does exist. “Deal with what we’ve got, and then you will get something better”, is a fairly basic motivational ploy.

The problem is that better doesn’t necessarily exist; at least not in the hands of management. If you really want the Glengarry leads, you’d best go out and find them yourself.


  1. Despite the addition of the non-theatrical Alec Baldwin scene. 

Internet Services Worth Paying For

On the Internet there is a weird user expectation that everything should be free. Over the past couple of years I’ve been bucking this trend and have determined that spending a bit of money on what is both a hobby and an integral part of my existence in our modern, connected world is something I’m willing to throw a bit of money towards.

I don’t want to be the product; I want to be the customer. Paying money for a service to avoid my usage being a vector to sell advertising is a trade-off I am happy to make.

The other nice thing about paying for services is that it facilitates access to genuinely useful customer support. As a paying customer companies tend to care a little more about ensuring satisfaction. Having problems solved by a system administrator instead of wasting my own time futzing about can make a subscription worthwhile. I value my time, and where money can buy time, I’m in.

I thought I’d take a quick audit and look at the areas online where I am willingly paying money in favour of a free option.

Ciao Google

The biggest change was a move away from many Google services. While Google offers its GSuite as a paid option (and a pretty good one at that), I elected to go a different route.

I’ve always preferred native apps and have never loved the Gmail web interface. As a free service it’s fine but if I’m paying real money I don’t want to be spending it on something I don’t enjoy using.

If I were an Android user, the Google situation might be more compelling. On iOS, however, there always seems to be a little friction between what Google wants and what Apple is prepared to give.

So I bid adieu to Google, and took my business elsewhere.

My Paid Providers

  • Mail & Calendars: Fastmail. I evaluated Office 365, GSuite and Zoho when making the choice. I only wanted really good email and calendars; I didn't need online storage, office applications, and other bolt-on services. I like that Fastmail is an Australian firm and that it has a focus on standards compliance.
  • Domain registration: Zuver. The little brother of VentraIP. It is a great no-frills option, and they were having a product sale when I signed up.
  • Web hosting: VentraIP. Another Australian company that offers great support service. Their servers are fast and I am provided a web hosting solution that is perfect for my needs.
  • Personal finance: YNAB. Our family is in the best financial position of all time thanks largely to YNAB. No arguments about money in our home! The cost of this service is a pittance compared with the value (both monetary and stress relief) it has delivered.
  • Password security: 1Password for Families. The best security is not even knowing your own passwords. I am totally willing to pay to ensure all my online accounts (plus credit card details, etc.) are unique, random and locked down. It's peace of mind.
  • Entertainment: Netflix and Spotify. I'm hardly a special snowflake here, right? Broadcast media is dead to me.
  • Photo Storage: iCloud 50Gb. Apple has me over a barrel here. Despite maintaining local backups, the ubiquity of photos being available to all my devices is too good not to take up.

Bits and Bobs

I also pay for a few other subscription apps and online services but I don’t consider them to be part of my “infrastructure” so am not going to list them all here.

The Customer is the One Who Pays

Money makes the world go around. It pays employee wages, funds infrastructure acquisition and incentivises the implementation of new ideas. I’d rather be a direct customer paying my own way, and helping companies do good work than rely on the largesse of search and banner advertising to underwrite my online activity.

While I pay the bills, I call the shots. This is true in all business, and online services shouldn’t be seen any differently.

DNS Drama

The internet relies on DNS servers that do the dirty work of translating human readable domain names to something that makes sense to a device on a network, which is where you see four sequences of numbers separated by a period.

I have been updating my homepage at andrewcanion.com such that it displays the three latest blog posts I have published by leveraging the RSS feed generated by Wordpress. RSS feeds provide a method for other sites and services to subscribe to the work of the site offering the feed. Each new entry is included in the RSS feed, and for my homepage, I grab the latest three entries for prominent display.

What should have worked, didn’t

I had assumed that this would all work well until I stumbled across a strange problem. My site would only occasionally load and display the article entries contained within the feed. Other times the articles would not display, instead pausing in a state of permanent loading. I tried the site across a number of devices, and a number of browsers to eliminate a problem existing at the device level. As they all exhibited the same issue I presumed the problem must be occurring at a deeper level of the network.

I examined the source code of my site and it appeared to be fine. I checked to make sure the Yahoo API that grabbed the RSS feed and translated it for use on my home page was still active, and it was.

Next I tried connecting to the site through a VPN, which makes it appear that my point of origin was somewhere other than through my own internet connection. When using a VPN the site loaded every time. This was great to discover, as it moved me another step closer to the identifying the problem.

That problem had to be related to my ISP (or in the new nomenclature of Australia’s NBN, my RSP). Somehow, that provider must have been causing a problem because when I routed around them with the VPN (on any device) my site loaded completely. Yet when I visited the site on any of my devices that didn’t connect through the VPN there was a problem.

My theory is that my RSP is aggressively caching content to attempt to reduce global bandwidth consumption and that this is preventing my RSS feed from updating correctly. If my caching theory isn’t correct, then it must be some other shenanigans they are up to at the network level, no doubt to reduce their bandwidth bill.

Applying the fix

To resolve the problem I needed to reduce my reliance on my provider’s infrastructure. That meant transitioning to a different DNS provider rather than using the default, which is the DNS server of my RSP. I chose to connect to OpenDNS. Basically this means I have traded in the internet lookup tables that came with my broadband subscription in favour of an offering from a third party whose primary business it is to provide good DNS. Through the nature of their product and their business model they are incentivised to provide excellent DNS services. It is their core business. For my RSP, however, the provision of DNS services is a necessary sideline and their key driver is not to deliver excellent routing, but rather to use it as a point of leverage to reduce their own bandwidth costs to improve the profitability of their company.

As soon as I switched to OpenDNS my site loaded perfectly in every browser, on every device. My detective work had paid off and my willingness to not accept the defaults has improved the situation.

The only potential downside I was worried about was that OpenDNS might be a little slower to resolve sites simply because the distance to their server might be further than the default DNS server. I needn’t have worried though, because if anything, I think it might be a little bit faster.

The lesson

Companies all share an incentive to maximise profitability. How they go about achieving this can vary greatly depending on their product and their business model. My internet provider only needs to provide a service that is ‘good enough’ for the majority of normal customers that want to browse the web and check Facebook. If they can deliver that to satisfaction and save some money on the back-end with caching and other network tricks, they’ll do it, even if it creates some edge-case problems.

I’m an edge-case and I wanted excellent DNS services. To get these I had to go to a company that is incentivised to provide quality DNS management. For them, only by delivering on that promise can the business generate revenue and grow its own profitability.

The character of Lester Freeman sums this up in this slightly NSFW scene from The Wire.

Follow the money.

Mindfulness Meditation

I’m not one for new year’s resolutions but at the beginning of this year I decided to try incorporating mindfulness meditation into my life. This was an idea brought about by a feeling that I was living life in a semi-permanent state of anxiety; feeling the pressure of the now and the next thing to be done that was sneaking up behind that. I figured that some mindful meditation might offer a way in which I could carve out some time to intentionally slow myself down and try to alleviate some of that perceived stress.

To facilitate the practice of meditation, I found Headspace. After enjoying the free trial I subscribed to an annual plan. Since my purchase, I’ve also discovered (but haven’t tried) a free, Australian equivalent, Smiling Mind.

As somebody who had never traversed the path of mindfulness and meditation, I had no idea what to do, how to do it, nor what to expect from it. The great thing about Headspace is that it assumes this is the case for its new users. The app provides a helpful introductory course that helps guide one into the technique and its potential benefits.

For the first few months, I was intentional about carving out 10-15 minutes each day for the exercise. Within a couple of weeks I found it had a positive impact on my state of mind, and each day I looked forward to the time where I could intentionally sit and do nothing. However, life being what it is, after about five months I found I was going days without meditating, and the habit that had been forming once again dissipated.

In the last few weeks, I’ve made another conscious effort to undertake a session of meditation each day and once again I am enjoying the benefits it confers. Now, heading towards the end of August, my total meditation time recorded in the Headspace app is at about 1,000 minutes1 which equates to a bit less than 17 hours.

In these days of hyper-connectivity and a constant barrage of (often self-inflicted) interruptions, we are lacking quality time for ourselves. It’s hard to ‘unplug’ from the world. In response, taking a few minutes out of each day to dedicate to my own peace of mind seems a sensible investment. The greater sense of calm I feel after a mindfulness meditation session helps with focus thereafter and so the time ‘lost’ to the meditation activity is quickly made up through increased productivity. Plus, nobody is so important that they can’t be incommunicado for 15 minutes, especially me!


  1. although some of those minutes belong to my kid who enjoyed listening to a session as he fell asleep at night. 

Love of the Open Web

While I’ve grown up on the Internet, I also remember the pre-internet era well and spent most of my formative years there. I was a kid who was able to get a modem and connect it to the text-only world of Bulletin Board Systems and Usenet (when Usenet was a service for discussion, not just binaries). I spent hours exploring these worlds, finding like-minded people, and expanding my horizons as to what computers could enable by way of communication and engagement.

I was so excited on the day I got my own internet-based email address, until I realised I had nobody to email.1 Nevertheless, it was still a thrill to have the possibility of contacting anybody else in the world who may also have happened to have an email address. The open nature of email was really the first indicator of the power of the open internet.

As time went by, I kept up with the technology of the time. I remember skipping accounting classes at university because I was having more fun in the Unix labs browsing the web with Lynx. Later in my uni career, I would be skipping classes and browsing the web with an early version of Netscape Navigator. It was slow, but it was the future and I wanted a piece of it. The only web sites that were around at that point were really published by other geeks and there was a real sense of open exploration of what could be achieved. I still have memories of the early IMDB site, and even then the amount of information available was astounding.

The next port of call for me on my journey through the open web was blogging. I operated a since-departed (photo)blog that managed to gain a bit of traction and traffic over the few years that I ran it. This was back when hand-coding and CSS tweaking was a necessity, and there was no thought of, or need for, responsive design. Eventually though, I got tired of the whole thing and shut it down. I kept a text archive of the posts which I still have somewhere, and little bits of it remain at the Internet Archive. Sometimes, though, I wish I had been a better archivist of my own work even if just so I could look back on it from time to time.

After this time the web became ‘socialised’, in that all the action was on various social media platforms, be it MySpace(!), Facebook, Twitter, Instagram… the list goes on. The problem with all of these sites, though, is they are not open. Far from it; their motivation is to keep both you and your content captive to their walled garden so they can sell advertising based on your eyeballs.

These sites do not reflect the open web that I’ve always loved. I miss the days of easily-shareable content, where all that was required was a URL. I really wish that content wasn’t so reliant on companies as content platforms and that so much of the content wasn’t published simply as a means of monetising the attention of others.

This is why I am particularly interested in the currently-in-development micro.blog service. This appears to have the potential of offering the best of both worlds: the ease of use of social media, but with the open web philosophy that I so appreciate. Unfortunately I wasn’t part of the original Kickstarter project, so I don’t have any early access. I have, however, signed up to be notified and am following the developers RSS feed closely to watch it’s development. I really hope that it gets some genuine traction, and that this can lead to real-world success.

I know that we can’t go back to the way things were. The internet will never again be the Wild West, inhabited only by the zealot explorers. Now it’s a platform for everybody, and the commercial money isn’t going away anytime soon. Yet I will keep my RSS reader and maintain the search for those independent voices that I can follow who create and deliver interesting, independent content.


  1. Even before social media, the network effect was still relevant. 

On Charlottesville, VA

I am not an American, but my father and my siblings were born and lived in the USA. I have visited the country a number of times. I have spent time in Virginia, notably Lexington, which is about 70 miles away from Charlottesville, the town that has been tragically in the news this past week. While I don’t have the level of connection to the place that a United States citizen has, I do watch with interest and feel that I have at least some level of understanding of the American psyche.

From my perspective, what I saw in Charlottesville was a collection of white men who have been radicalised to the point of fanaticism and enabled by political leadership to intimidate and strike fear in others to their own ends. In a modern country it should never be reasonable for civilians to put on body armour and walk the streets with automatic machine guns. Carrying Nazi flags, performing Nazi salutes, and walking with burning torches1 echoes many sad and inglorious historical moments, from Hitler and WW2 to the KKK and acceptance of slavery (and the power imbalance in favour of white people that that confers).

I can only imagine what would have happened if non-white people had walked the streets similarly armed and garbed. I think there would have been an even more extreme response; which in itself highlights a level of underlying, unspoken racism that permeates the culture. I can’t help but think that if roles were reversed, and it were black people carrying machine guns in the street, that it would be seen as an uprising. Based on recent US police behaviour it might also have been possible the police would have been willing to shoot to kill.

Next we have the horrible situation of a young man driving a car at speed into a laneway filled with people. Such behaviour cannot be condoned and the fact that some are attempting to mount excuses and justifications is frightening in itself, particularly if they believe their own professions. That was an act of terrorism, fuelled by hate, which i assume was itself fuelled by the fear of losing power and relevance in society. As far as I can tell, that man, and his equivalents, are fearful that their position in the world is being disrupted and their reactionary response is to imbibe hate and act with extreme prejudice.

As for the President, I am of the view that he has incited and encouraged this vein of hate, then turned a blind eye to the subsequent despicable actions of his acolytes. It took him three days to speak out against the actions (via a prepared speech), and then a day later he couldn’t live with that being his official position so he backtracked, showing his true colours. That he should be President of the USA is an entirely strange and sad situation.

A key reason (but not the root cause) for this uprising is said to be in honour and respect of General Lee, a man of regard for Southerners. Yet times change, and who we should and do venerate must also change. The problem is, enacting that change means rebalancing the power relationship amongst the citizens of the United States, and particularly the South. As a result those threatened most by such change2 and who are most at risk of ‘losing’ as a result of any rebalancing are lashing out with extreme aggression in a sad and sorry attempt to maintain the status quo.

Change will happen. The clock cannot be turned back. Time and culture moves ever forward, even though this Charlottesville incident represents a step back. In the end I believe the tide of change will win out. I genuinely hope that tide brings equivalency to all citizens of the United States, irrespective of the colour of their skin, and that peace wins out.


  1. Albeit tiki torches that look like they were bought at Lowe's and probably made in China. 
  2. That is, white men. 

Subscription Pricing for Apps

The corner of the internet that I inhabit has been up in arms about yet another app, Ulysses, switching to a subscription-based pricing model. From the perspective of the developers trying to build a successful business this probably makes a lot of sense. The business analyst in me applauds them for finding an approach that will smooth revenue flows and help fund future development.

But changes like this can have unintended, or at least unforeseen, consequences. To my mind, the key question is how many users will switch over to this model? The developers may discover the addressable market shrinks considerably as their app will suddenly have a lot less appeal to hobbyists who are not earning revenue through their use of the app. They will probably sell subscriptions to authors and professional bloggers, but will that offset the losses? Did the developers truly understand the size of the market who would be willing to play for on-going use of the software?

User Centricity

I fear that developers are not taking a user-centric view to the subscription conundrum. Subscription revenue no doubt looks great in spreadsheet models with its recurring revenue. However, let’s apply the ‘job to be done’ approach to this issue, from the perspective of the end-user. I suggest that the job to be done is to provide a mechanism that will let me take notes that are ubiquitously available, and write occasional blog posts to be published to Wordpress. Boiled down further, the job to be done is text editing and organising.

So my choice is not to subscribe to Ulysses or not. My choices range from open source text editors, to Apple Notes, to a word processor, or an alternative subscription-based product. If I didn’t want to blog, I could get by with a paper notebook and a pen.

It also creates a further issue in that it will reduce the likelihood that I will bounce between a number of apps. Up until now, I had decided to use Ulysses for blogging, Bear for notes, Scrivener for work reports, and DEVONThink for research and storage. I’ve paid for all of these apps.

With subscriptions becoming more prevalent, I will have to reduce my app consumption because I don’t want to be on the hook every month for apps that I may not use. I don’t want to reduce my personal free cash flow by paying a swathe of subscriptions, particularly for apps that are essentially supporting a hobby that generates no income. I will become more selective in my software choice. My overall long-term expenditure on software may decline. If many users have the same opinion, then the overall market activity is going to decline. The outcome becomes worse for all developers.

As I said earlier, unintended consequences.

My Choice

This whole subscription brouhaha has led me to review my note-taking writing structure, and I’ve decided to rely on another subscription app I pay for, Bear. Those developers charge less for a very similar product, and they were up-front about the software being subscription-based from the outset. In my opinion, Bear has a nicer look and better reflects Markdown styles. The only thing I lose is direct-to-blog publishing. However, I can pretty easily copy or export text in Markdown or HTML, both of which can be directly pasted into the Wordpress CMS.

By choosing another subscription-based product, I demonstrate that I’m not entirely against recurring costs. But if I can have one recurring cost rather than two, then I’m all for that.

My situation is a real-world example of user-side app rationalisation that I think is likely to occur at scale, with the onset of subscription pricing.

The Business Speedometer

Trying to run a business without useful and accurate performance information is like trying to drive a car without a speedometer. Sure, you will be able to guesstimate how fast you are going, and sometimes you’ll even get it right. You might even get away with a bit of speeding! Most of the time though, you will be driving at the wrong speed. You will either not be taking full advantage of the car’s performance or you’ll get a speeding ticket.

In a business sense, running a company without timely and accurate performance reporting may deliver occasional success, but it’s not a recipe for long-term sustainability. A lack of insightful reports detailing costs, sales, productivity and profitability generated through effective data capture at the source is likely to result in a lack of insight about what is critical to the company’s success.

Costs and Pricing

Production costs and pricing can be deceptive. Clearly, a firm must ensure ensure that the price they charge the customer accounts for the costs of the people and equipment directly involved in the production process. That price, however, also needs to have a sufficient margin attached to it such that it encompasses a share of all other cost overhead of the business, from rent and electricity, to paying for accounting and staff training. Furthermore, it has to incorporate a profit margin that will enable the business to retain some earnings for future investment and deliver a dividend to the investors/owners. Suddenly, the per unit price being charged needs to be much higher than may have initially been thought.

Without accurate information it can be easy to lose track of how effective this balance between price and cost is. Cross-subsidisation of profits across activities and products is another challenge. Soon enough, it can be almost impossible to understand what profit is being generated from each element of work. This can result in a situation occurring where both people and machinery are busy but the company loses money anyway. To avoid this frustrating eventuality, a business needs to ensure it is capturing and collating business information that will generate alerts at the time such a situation arises. Otherwise the problem will remain hidden and by the time it is discovered it will be too late to react with impact. Now the business is chasing its tail with the next piece of work not only having to cover all the standard costs but also make up for the losses incurred by the earlier work.

Identify Issues at the Source

If problems are only identified when complete revenue and expenditure figures are entered and aggregated within end of month financial reports, it is too late. Management needs to stay ahead of the game. A good manager needs to ensure that the business is capturing information throughout the production process, and that this information is able to deliver insights about the productivity, performance and profitability of its activities at any point in time.

Just as the job of a car’s speedometer is to provide real-time feedback, a business also needs to be able to read and react to its own (as close to) real-time performance. Without this structure the business is not being put in the best position to succeed, irrespective of any other activities underway.

Entropy in Business

Entropy is the loss of energy in a system to the point that it is no longer available for doing mechanical work. It is the reversion to mean; nature’s effort to return everything to stasis.

Entropy is occurring everywhere, all around us. It is a fact of our life. Companies are fighting entropy as well. Without concerted effort and capital being invested, and ensuring there is talent deployed throughout all levels of the business, the expectation is they will wither and die. People working within companies are also fighting their own entropic decline. Over time, people get bored, burnt out or generally lose interest in their job, which can lead to a decline in performance.

To fight entropy in business you need new inputs of energy. This can come from bringing new employees into the firm, who have new ideas and ways of thinking that can jolt the business and offer new opportunities. The business can find new products and markets and establish challenging goals to feed motivation and drive performance. Another option is investing in business improvement and better systems to automate work, thereby transferring the risk of entropy to machines and information technology, and away from individuals.

The laws of nature define that entropy cannot be defeated, but we as humans have become very adept at fighting it. Within companies, the fight against entropy also rages, and its the job of the board and management to set a direction and focus effort towards initiatives that will motivate the organisation to continue to battle to keep it at bay. The problem is that entropy is incessant. Companies need to continually guard against its debilitating effects, or suffer the inevitable consequence of decline.

Now You CV Me

In a further effort to establish andrewcanion.com as a genuinely useful resource for all things pertaining to me, I have now included a page dedicated to showcasing my curriculum vitae.

I was looking at my current CV a few days ago which still exists as a Word document based upon a custom design I cooked up about 15 years ago. Since it’s creation I’ve just continued to add to and tweak the design rather than build a new document. This ‘lazy man’ approach has been made easier by not actually moving jobs very often. Turns out, staying put has some advantages!

My CV, though, was an artefact of a paper-based era. I wanted to have something that was more dynamic, and a little more design-oriented that could offer some visual queues about the relevant stages of my career to date.

The de facto place for online CVs in the work world that I occupy is LinkedIn, so of course I keep my record of employment there. It’s where recruiters, acquaintances and stickybeakers all go to check out your professional bonafides. The cold hard truth is, however, that LinkedIn is just another social network funded by venture capital that is leveraging your information and privacy to sell advertising and ‘premium’ memberships. So if I’m promoting myself, I also want to be able to do that on a site which I own and control completely, and that isn’t using my information to make money for others.

So the first version of my self-hosted CV is now online. I’m sure I will continue to tweak and adjust it, but that’s part of the fun. It’s a resumé and a creative outlet all rolled into one.

Day One Goes Subscription

So Day One has become the next software application to adopt a subscription pricing model. This app developer has monkeyed around with its price/product offering for some time, and Day One has always been towards the expensive end of the curve for what could harshly be described as a glorified text editor. I guess it was inevitable they would ultimately end up converting to a subscription model in an effort to smooth revenue flow. Currently the developer is stating it will continue to support the current app and won’t force a move to the subscription version, but there is no doubt the first foot has fallen. At some point, I’m sure the other shoe will drop and it will be subscription or bust!

I’m not against subscription-based business models for software. I pay subscription fees for YNAB, Setapp, 1Password, Fastmail, Headspace, and maybe some others. I am willing to pay for software that I use and enjoy, and that satisfies my own price/value decision matrix.

Day One’s announced subscription seems expensive, especially when converted to Australian dollars. Expensive enough that rather than happily paying to carry on with an app I have used for more than 4 years, I am instead casting around for alternatives. The best and most immediate alternative I can see is to move my journaling to Ulysses. I’ve found a Workflow, ah, workflow that auto-populates date, time and location into a neat header box so the journal entry has a basic level of context. What I would lose from Day One is the pretty and additional metadata and the journaling-specific user interface. Photo import can be replicated, albeit perhaps not quite as seamlessly. The major problem with Ulysses is that it just doesn’t feel like a journaling app - at least not yet. Maybe I would get used to it in that context with time?

As mentioned, I’ve used Day One consistently for four years, and it has gained enough of a mental grip on me that I might miss it were I to migrate. Still, there is a limit to the number of subscriptions my budget can handle. When I have other, fully paid apps just waiting to be used, it becomes difficult to justify paying yet more money on an on-going basis.

I’m probably still on the fence right now, but Ulysses may be taking the lead…

The Weekly Plan

I consider the two fundamental resources in work planning to be:

  1. The calendar
  2. The to-do list

The calendar represents the hard landscape: events that are non-negotiable, time-based and require you to be doing a certain thing, at a certain time, at a certain place, possibly with another certain person. If it’s in the calendar, it’s a certainty. Calendar entries are commitments to yourself and possibly others.

The to-do list is used to track tasks needed to be done to move the ball forward. The list is potentially filled with a lot of items that may not necessarily be linked with one another. They are commitments to yourself, but they are not tied to being done at a particular time and don’t generally require the involvement of others. I use OmniFocus for managing my task list, but it really doesn’t matter what is used, as long as there is a trusted location to track everything to be done.

As a general rule, I’m not a fan of putting tasks onto calendars. I think they are two distinctly different things that should exist in their own dedicated spaces. However, like any good rule, there are times when this rule should be broken.

Leveraging multiple calendars

The beauty of using modern electronic calendar systems is they support multiple calendars. The classic and most obvious application of this is creating seperate work and home calendars. In addition to these staples, however, it can be helpful to create a weekly plan calendar.

Each calendar’s visibility can be toggled on and off, depending on the needs of the moment.

Using the weekly plan calendar can facilitate the addition of tasks onto a calendar view without gunking up your regular calendars that represent real physical events and commitments. This leads to the next step: time blocking and setting commitments for your future self.

Time blocking

The purpose of time blocking is to help establish a plan for a forthcoming period of time and build accountability for your time. The idea is to create work sessions that are linked directly to items on your task list. Transferring tasks to a calendar and applying estimated timeframes in the form of a timed calendar entry can help build a visual map of work to be done. Visualisation is a great tool to help identify whether your to-do list is realistically achievable in the time available. It can also help enforce urgency by indicating how potentially little time is available for meaningful work. Finally, it can be a reward system. If you get ahead of your schedule, you’ve earned yourself some relaxation time, safe in the knowledge that you aren’t falling behind!

My approach

I generally reserve the time blocking approach for when I have a lot going on, and I’m starting to feel overwhelmed by it all. Ideally, at the start of the work week I will set aside half an hour, and look at my calendar of commitments. These are the scheduled events with other people that are locked in (usually weeks in advance) and that I need to fit all my other work around.

The next step is identifying the tasks that represent the ‘big rocks’ that I need to progress. What projects need to move forward this week? What are the tasks that need large sessions of time to get into a flow?1

Once I understand what time slots I have available for task-based work, I start creating related events on my weekly plan calendar, filling my days more completely. I need to take some care here though. I’m not an automaton, so it is important not to schedule every last minute of time. Doing that is just setting myself up to fail. In any week, unexpected things are bound to arise and time will be needed for this stuff, in addition to the general administrative tasks of email, communications, management issues, and so on.

With the weekly plan calendar populated and tessellated with my other calendars, I end up with a clear picture of my work week. At any point of time I know what I can and should be working on. I know that if I stick to the plan I set for myself, I will be closer to my goals at the end of the week than I was at the beginning. It’s a practical approach to personal accountability.

The overhead of doing this planning is not always worth the effort, but when lots is happening and it feels like control is being lost, this is a great way to reassert your plans and ensure that the important is not being overwhelmed by the urgent.

  1. Writing is a great example of this - you can't really do it for 30 minutes here and there; you need a solid chunk of several hours.

Hardware Decisions are Hard

In the aftermath of Apple’s WWDC conference and an almost unprecedented number of new pieces of hardware have been released at what is theoretically a software development conference, I get to do some imaginary shopping.

For the past 18 months, Apple’s hardware lineup has been so out of date (except for iPhone, of course) that I’ve not even wanted to buy anything with imaginary money. They’ve righted the ship now, but in doing so are almost listing to the other side. Now it’s so difficult to identify the perfect device, I’m paralysed by choice.1

macOS

With regard to the Mac lineup, the 5K iMacs with P3 panels and Kaby Lake processors represent the first time I’ve been tempted by a desktop computer in about a decade. Combining this with extended iPad use as a mobile platform could actually work, come iOS 11.

But laptops are still the most flexible option. The MacBook (Adorable) is becoming competitive and is so diminutive, but it is still hamstrung by having a single port and when stacking price against performance, perhaps a MacBook Pro is the better option. The MacBook (Escape) is probably the pick here. Touchbar seems like a dead end that the market nor developers are excited by. Yet only the Touchbar models have TouchID which is a useful feature.

So, in terms of macOS, the most sensible use for my imaginary money is to keep it in my pocket and instead wander over to the iOS table, and see if this is an easier decision. My existing 2013 MacBook Pro has a few more years left in it, anyway.

iOS

This is the Apple cash cow platform, so what have they got to sell me? In terms of iPhones, I’m not even looking. Work provides me with an iPhone SE which is a form factor I quite like for basic tasks, and I’m not about to absorb another phone contract. Anyway, this is not an iPhone release event, so let’s move to iPad.

iPad

I’ve been a believer in iPad since it was released and I put in my pre-order as soon as the online store switched to pre-sale. I’ve been wanting to upgrade my iPad Air, and the first compelling reason to do that was the iPad Pro 12.9” (1st gen). But then the iPad Pro 9.7” was released and everything got out of sync with what model had what features. I knew the sensible thing to do was wait for the next revision.

My waiting has paid off, because these are the devices I’ve dreamed of. Beautiful 120Hz ProMotion displays, accelerated Pencil sampling and come iOS 11, proper support for multitasking. Yes, I want one! But which one? The 10.5” looks to be everything I could want, until I realise it doesn’t support two full screen iPad apps side-by-side. One of them has to use the iPhone view controller. That does not fit with my productivity needs.

So it looks like it falls to the iPad Pro 12.9 (2nd gen). This has all the power I want, but I will be trading off couch comfort. Where is my Goldilocks iPad?!

Missing the four quadrant product matrix

When Steve Jobs returned to Apple and started its turnaround, one of the first things he did was rationalise the product line down to a four quadrant matrix. It was simple: on one axis, professionalconsumer, on the other axis, laptopdesktop. Here was enough breathing room between each of the specs and the prices of these machines that it became quite easy to choose which was for you.

Now, as Apple’s product line expands, they have a much larger matrix. This has resulted in overlaps across price, capability and function. Is the iPad a suitable laptop replacement; or is a laptop a necessary complement to an iPhone?

With my imaginary money, I think my decision is to keep my MacBook Pro and replace my ageing iPad Air with an iPad Pro 12.9”. That should be enough to keep me going for the next year or two, at which point solving the computer problem will be a more pressing problem which I hope, by that time, has a more apparent solution.

  1. They have become a perfect example of the theory of paradox of choice.