Getting a passport with your iPhone?

Amazingly, yesterday afternoon I used my iPhone to order a passport card from the Irish Passport Office.


Well, I used the iPhone app Irish Passport Card from the Department of Foreign Affairs, filled in some basic details, then took an appropriately grim-looking selfie and I was all done.

It took a total of about six minutes. Compare that to the standard paperwork these things require and even the time spent queuing for passports. This is going to be posted to my home address, so no requirement to do anything but wait.

Finally, government services catching up with 21st Century technology. Big thanks for the Department of Foreign Affairs for making it so easy for emigrants like me to access this service.

Allen Toussaint, RIP

Sad news from the world of music this week: the piano-playing legend Allen Toussaint passed away.

The award-winning artist was known for songs like Working In The Coalmine, Southern Nights and Fortune Teller. He suffered a heart attack shortly after coming off stage at Madrid’s Teatro Lara on Monday night, reported Spanish newspaper El Mundo. He was found in his hotel and resuscitated – but suffered a second heart attack en route to hospital.

He was a fantastic pianist and had a really lovely manner… listening to tracks of him playing live always brought a smile to my face. I sadly never got to see him playing live.

Even if you’ve never heard of Allen Toussaint, you’ve probably heard one of his songs being covered by someone else.

Many of his songs became famous through cover versions, with the likes of The Who, The Rolling Stones, Robert Plant, Bo Diddley and The Doors re-interpreting his songs. He also produced Labelle’s signature hit Lady Marmalde in the 1970s, and released a collaborative album with Elvis Costello in 2006. Toussaint was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998. The citation said his greatest contribution “was in not allowing [New Orelans] old-school R&B traditions to die out but by keeping pace with developments in the rapidly evolving worlds of soul and funk.

Here he is at his best, performing ‘Working in a coal mine’ live on Jools Holland in 2010:

Review: Steve Jobs

Review: Steve Jobs

I’ve just come back from watching Steve Jobs and to be honest, it was a bit of a downer.

I read the Walter Isaacson biography of Jobs as soon as it came out, though it was so depressing, it took me about six months to finish it.

I like my Apple prodcuts as much as the next guy (okay, maybe slighty more), but I’m under no illusions as to Steve Jobs’ legendary management style. So I went into this film expecting to see some of his classic narcissim and obsession over detail.

Actually, most of the focus is on a very small cast of characters, including his much-neglected daughter. Basically set against the backdrop of three major computer launches, the film charts Jobs’ developing into quite a nasty character, how he alienates most of the people in his life and how he wrestles Apple back from John Scully (played by Jeff Daniels).

No iPhones here

If you’re expecting to learn all about how the iPhone and iPad were invented, you’ll be disappointed. The movie only goes as far as the launch of the iMac. But this isn’t a tech-oriented film – it just centres on someone whose life was in tech.

Fassbender is impressive as Jobs, but morphs into something of a Bond villain towards the end. Though if the stories about Jobs’ behaviour are only in part true, this is probably a fair approach to take.

It was enjoyable, but not exactly historically correct. I tried to ignore the various departures from the records and focus on the performances. Fassbender and Kate Winslet (as marketing executive Joanna Hoffman) are the stars here. Seth Rogan’s Steve Wozniak is painful…

Just make sure you have something cheerful to look forward to aftwards.


I flew back home to London from Barcelona last night, landing just as news was breaking of the attacks in Paris.

Cue a journey home on the train and tube updating Twitter and the BBC news app for more details.

Unbelievable. Heart-breaking.

I watched the people around me doing the same, whispering about updates to the death-count and trying to make sense of it all. And then home and lying awake until 2am, watching news reporters and various ‘talking heads’ trying to make sense of it all.

And that’s futile. Trying to find sense in madness like this is a waste of time. The people who did this don’t share our values, our perspectives our the value we place on human life and a free and open society. So it’s exceptionally difficult to understand their point of view.

They didn’t attack a government department, a military installation or a physical symbol of the French State. They attacked the essence of society itself: innocent people out enjoying themselves on a Friday night. Doing things that obviously offend these monsters, like listening to live music and enjoying sport.

Why does this hit so hard, when there are all kinds of other abuses and attacks going on around the world? For me, it’s because this could have been London. I can identify with the victims – they were just like me, like my friends and family. Just trying to enjoy the start of another weekend, eating a meal, telling stories and listening to music.

We don’t know (yet) exactly who did this. But we know that, just like all terrorists, this was about causing fear and spreading hatred.

Let’s not allow that to happen.

Let’s not finger-point and blame entire communities for what happened here. Let’s not blame refugees, who were trying to escape this kind of madness in the first place. Let’s not use it as an excuse to make political points or to ‘prove’ that we were right all along.

Last night, Twitter illustrated both the best and worst of humanity on a single screen. The offers of a safe place to sleep, the sharing of embassy contact details. But also the ‘whataboutery’, the ‘I told you so’ statements and the celebrities weighing in with platitudes. The best and worst in a single Twitter feed.

Let’s hope the former prevail in the weeks and months ahead.

iPad Pro… maybe?

The iPad Pro goes on sale in the UK today and I’m really not that interested in getting one. I know, I know. We’ve been here before. But I’ve thought about it long and hard since it was announced and I can’t think how it would be of use to me.

Aside from looking beautiful and having a wonderful display, the thing is enormous. I sometimes find my iPad Air 2 a little big. Sometimes. I’m also not its target market, in that I don’t do graphic design. If I want to scribble on my tablet, I’ll use Evernote (now that you can sketch in notes).

Thirdly, it’s insanely expensive. I don’t want to splash out for something that I’m not even sure I’ll use. I have no need for a laptop replacement like this as a) I already have an iPad Air with a keyboard which is great for writing on the go and b) I also have a Macbook for more intensive work.

So while I’ll definitely have a look at one and almost certainly ooh and ahh at its display and pencil in the Apple Store, there’s no way right now that I can justify getting one.

In fact, I’m wondering how many other people also think it’s great, but it’s just not for them. Might Apple have an iPad flop on its hands? (The horror!)

If the next iPad Air comes with the same screen technology as the iPad Pro, an Apple Pencil and a useful keyboard, I’m in. But this iPad Pro is just too much.

Literally and metaphorically.

Back in the OmniFocus club

It’s been a while now, but I’ve finally moved on from ToDoist and gone back to using OmniFocus. Well, I say ‘gone back’, but the app has evolved so much since I last used it, it’s almost unrecognisable.

My move from ToDoist isn’t a slight against that app – I still stand by everything I’ve said about it in the past. It’s easy to use, speedy, multi-platform and superb value. But in the last couple of months, I realised I was spending too much time working around its various limitations and it was beginning to grate.

So I had a peep at the various alternatives and eventually made my way back to checking out OmniFocus. I’ve previously described it as the nuclear option of task management apps, purely because it can do so much. Yep, you could just use it to store a list of things you want to buy at Waitrose, or a list of films you want to see… but this is a little like using a Ferrari to drive to the end of your driveway and back.

It’s really not just about managing tasks, but can handle tasks, projects, entire areas of your life. All via an easy to use interface. It’s only available for iOS and Mac OS and is far from cheap. You need to buy it separately for Mac OS and iOS. But I’m glad I invested in it – even in the last two weeks, it’s been worth every penny.

Since I last used OmniFocus, it’s developed into an app that much more flexible, has an interface you actually want to interact with and even appears on my Apple Watch. Yes, you can speak into your Apple Watch and dictate tasks, which then appear in the in-box of OmniFocus on all your other iOS and Mac OS devices through the magic of background sync.

In no particular order, the things I love about OmniFocus now are:

  • The weekly review, which guides you on a walk-through of all your various projects, keeping you up to date and ensuring nothing falls between the cracks.
  • Being able to multi-task with OmniFocus on my iPad Air 2 – I can keep it open on one side of the screen, while looking at something else (e.g. Evernote) on the other side.
  • Being able to create custom perspectives, so that only what I want to see is on-screen at any one time. Right now, I have 59 projects in OmniFocus, so it’s important I can focus on what’s most important at any given time.
  • Getting notifications from OmniFocus on my wrist, courtesy of my Apple Watch, and being able to see what needs doing via the notifications screen on my iPad and iPhone. It means my projects and tasks are always just a click or a swipe away.
  • Emailing content direct to OmniFocus, which turns each email into an action in my inbox. This saves a lot of typing and ensures I get to inbox zero every day.

It definitely takes some getting used to, but there are so many online resources with great articles and videos to lead the way. I had to adjust how I do things after being so reliant on ToDoist, but it only took me a couple of days of solid OmniFocus use to get back into the swing of things.

This probably shouldn’t be your first task management app. That’s likely to just scare you away! But if you’ve felt the limitations of the other apps out there, I’d seriously recommend giving OmniFocus a try. And you can even try it for free for 14 days, courtesy of Omnigroup.

They have a great selection of short videos – check this out for a start.

Photo library memories…

So,the great photo upload of 2015 continues – we’re down to about 12,000 photos remaining – and I’m struck by just how many excellent and happy memories are contained in these pictures.

It’s underlined for me how important it is to back up these photos in more than one place. And maybe it’s age, but I’m enjoying looking at old photos more than ever right now! Last night, I lay on the couch and scrolled through our travels through Portugal and Spain, Canada and California and some really enjoyable Queen’s Day weekends in Amsterdam.

And then there were the photos of babies who are now toddlers and older. Seeing how they’ve developed and grown is amazing. That, and the various faces they’ll pull when they know someone is trying to take a photo.

And the faces of those people who are no longer here.

I also stumbled across a ton of photos I actually forgot I had; taken on the day of my doctoral graduation. At the time, I thought I’d never forget the details, but it took a wander through he photos to remind me of what happened (including the fact that I was announced among the class of educational psychologists, not occupational psychologists… the horror!).

I’m thinking an occasional dip into the library might give me the inspiration for memory-related blog posts. “This reminds me of the time when…” So many specific memories – food, flights, conversations, sunshine – came flooding back as I flipped through the photos that it would be crazy not to use them as a writing resource.

I can definitely recommend Google Photos. It’s now completely separate from Google+ (i that was an issue for you previously) and allows you to upload unlimited numbers of photos. It also occasionally automatically creates some really creative panoramas and ‘movies’ for you. It backs up photos from your iPhone or iPad (or, of course, the Android device of your choice!) so you never lose an image.

Anyway, I’m checking in on progress every so often, and regularly getting dragged down memory lane. And it’s very, very enjoyable.

Thanks, Google!

Star Trek possibilities


The news that there’s a new Star Trek TV show on the way did not escape me. Not one bit. To say I was excited would be an understatement.

I still remember tuning in to see the first episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation and how I neglected dinner and the school friend who was visiting, shuffling close to the TV screen to absorb every last detail. This was, of course, long before the days of on-demand TV, so I had to wait a loooong time before I ever saw that episode again.

But I quickly started recording them on VHS (remember that?!) so I could watch them over and over again. I had loved the original series and watched the movies at every opportunity, so to have a new episode of a new ongoing series appear on TV was like manna from heaven to me.

And, if I’m honest, this cycle was repeated every time a new Star Trek series started. I’ve lost count of the hours spent watching DS9, Voyager and yes, even Enterprise. Each series had it share of awful phases and shockingly bad episodes (from memory, Voyager had more than a couple!). But overall, Star Trek on TV was overwhelmingly entertaining and fun.

And it’s fair to say I’ve remained a fan.

So… there’s a new Trek ongoing series on the way and I’m very, very excited at the possibilities. Firstly, when will it be set? Is it going to be set in the same time-frame as the new series of movies? Will we be seeing contemporaries of Kirk and Spock? Or will it be set in the same century as The Next Generation? Both offer intriguing possibilities.

And then… what will its focus be? Will it be set on a standard starship, like TOS and TNG, or maybe a space station, like DS9? Or another scenario entirely? Are we talking a crew of explorers, or maybe Star Trek’s equivalent of the police?

The wait is going to be agonising and I hope it’ll be worth it. And now, we just need to wait for the inevitable avalanche of rumours and leaks.

Each of which I’ll consume with glee.

Talk about awkward baby photos…

I’m in the process of uploading a massive photo library to Google Photos, as it’s free and a handy back-up for sharing. Checking in now and then (only 22,000 or so photos to go – no exaggeration) and feeling more than a little awkward about some of the pics of me from a decade ago.

The only upside? Realising that I now weight significantly less than I did then. All thanks no regular exercise and a total absence of alcohol from my life (thanks epilepsy!)

And I smile in photos a lot more now. 😀

Spectre? Meh.

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I love a good James Bond movie. I’ve seem them all, multiple times. I’m a tad obsessed, actually. I’ve been known to have heated arguments about the merits of the various Bonds, their weapons and gadgets and even the soundtracks. So I was really looking forward to finally seeing Spectre this weekend.

It was… just okay. It was brilliant in parts, slightly okay for the most part. Not all that memorable and some quite creaky performances. You could almost tell Daniel Craig has had enough.

Some great references to the older films (no spoilers, I promise – but you’ll see them if you keep your eyes open), a wrapping-up of the Daniel Craig Bond “story” so far, combined with a very ambiguous ending, mean I think it might be a while before we next see Bond on the big screen. And it’ll almost certainly be a different actor in the lead role.

It was definitely better than Quantum of Solace, but not a patch on Skyfall or Casino Royale. Not a terrible movie, but not a great one either. Which is a shame.

(I just hope I don’t leave the next Star Wars instalment with the same sense of ‘meh’).

Probably the worst part of the entire experience this evening was the Sam Smith theme tune. It puts new meaning into the word ‘dirge’. I don’t get why he’s so popular. His falsetto screeching is painful and the song itself was obviously written over a single cup of tea.

Really letting the side down when it comes to Bond theme tunes. Even Madonna’s effort sounds good by comparison.

Bottom line: if you’re a Bond fanatic, go and see this in the cinema. Brace yourself for some mild disappointment. If you don’t know your Q from your M, wait until it’s out on DVD.

Oh. And if you were the Chinese gentleman sitting across the aisle from me, shouting into your mobile phone and rustling at least a half-dozen plastic bags during tonight’s film: I hope your genitals get ripped from your body in a very nasty industrial accident.