Sad to see Pebble go

I only caught up on this news last night. It seems Pebble, maker of the super-useful and low-cost smart-watches, is gone. It’s been bought by Fitbit and will no longer sell its watches.

Although I’m an Apple Watch user, I’ve owned a Pebble in the past. I loved it – the battery lasted for days and days (compared to the roughly 24 hours of an Apple Watch), was easy to use and the developer community was great!

There was something very simple and friendly about the Pebble watch. The interface was very simple to navigate and you didn’t feel like you could get anything too wrong. Great for when out running, a simple tap of a button moved your music forward or allowed you to check your time.

In comparison, the Apple Watch can feel a little overwhelming, especially to new users. It’s also a lot more expensive.

Having owned both, my ultimate smartwatch would be a combination of the Pebble’s durable battery and the Apple Watch’s seamless interface with the iPhone.

Given the shortage of Android Wear watches out there, and nothing new announced from Google in this space for a while, it looks like the Apple Watch is the sole survivor of the ‘Smartwatch Wars’, this year at least.

I don’t think that’s good at all. Apple needs a powerful competition in the market to keep them on their toes and maintain innovation and development of fringe products like this. Let’s face it, while a new laptop might be a necessity for some people, a new smartwatch will never be something you absolutely need.

So. RIP Pebble. I look forward to seeing how your fun and accessible technology makes its way into the Fitbit eco-system.

A healthy salad

I travel for work. A lot.

And one of the hardest parts of business travel (believe me) is eating healthily. I’m constantly presented with deeply delicious and dangerously unhealthy food on room service menus.

And my will-power is virtually non-existent.

For example: just this evening, I hummed and hawed about choosing the healthy salad. The healthy salad I’ll nibble on while trying to type on my laptop with my free hand. Yes, the healthy salad that will make me feel virtuous and almost make up for the several hours spent inactive on a long train journey.

The healthy salad that I’ll record in ‘My Fitness Pal’, noting the pleasingly low number of calories recorded before my eyes.

The same healthy salad that will, unfortunately, leave me slightly hungry. No matter how long I take to eat it. Hungry, with several hours of consciousness left, all alone in this hotel room.

And so, I continue to run my finger down the room service menu and pause at the delicious-sounding burger. The burger that will do nothing for my waistline, cholesterol or weight. The burger I may well regret the next time I subject myself to the indignity of standing on my Fitbit scales in the bathroom.

I scan back up the page and pause by the salad. I glance at the description of the burger, furtively – as if there was someone else in this hotel room, judging me.

I pick up the telephone receiver and dial room service. Still wavering, I begin my order with a sparkling water. Hey! We’re off to a healthy start.

Then the fail. The massive fail.

I order the burger. Yes, I want it with fries. In for a penny… And desert? Well, it would be rude not to, now that I’ve utterly destroyed today’s healthy eating target. Let’s not fudge this, let’s obliterate the memory of ever wanting to eat healthily today. Let’s go for broke.

A filthy, dirty burger.

That’ll do it.

The Guardians are back!

Oh how I’ve waited for news of the sequel to ‘Guardians of the Galaxy‘. Finding the trailer online this morning was a great start to the day and had me laughing out loud in seconds. Baby Groot! Baby Groot!

Drax still doesn’t get subtlety and Star Lord remains an adorable sleaze-bag. The sociopathic genetically altered raccoon called Rocket is still looking after Groot. Add to this Gamora’s intensity, propensity for violence and Daddy issues and you’ve got the perfect team. 

And look at that cameo of Mantis – hope she’s joining the team for good. 

God I can’t wait to see this. I might even watch the original again this afternoon. It’s just the kind of antidote to 2016 that my brain needs. Some good quality comedy Sci-fi featuring comic characters I love. A shame it’s not coming out until next May. 

The Hot Sardines – love it!

Spotify flagged up The Hot Sardines in my ‘Discover Weekly’ playlist a few weeks ago and it was love at first sight. Or listen… you know what I mean.

Here’s my fave so far – a super-upbeat version of ‘Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen’. A lifetime away from the more mushy and shmatzly versions you may have heard in the past. And the video? Gets me wanting to jump up and dance.

Spotify has been bang on with great recommendations over the last month. I’ve discovered fantastic new artists from around the world and even a brand new album from my old favourites, Pink Martini.

Bravo, Spotify. Bravo.

RIP, Apple Music.

An iPad Productivity Boost

The only gadget I actually bought when we were in Japan in October was the Smart Keyboard for my 9.7″ iPad Pro. If you don’t read the remainder of this post, in terms of a review, I can only express my regret for not having picked one up months ago!

But I thought Japan was expensive?

I bought it in Japan as, for some reason, it was over £40 cheaper in Tokyo’s Akihabara district than it was direct from Apple in the UK. This was despite the hammering Sterling has taken since the Brexit referendum debacle and the tendency for Apple products to be more expensive in Japan. 

Whatever the reason, I grabbed one.

But only after testing out a display model for what must have seemed like eternity to the shop staff. We were the only people in this Apple reseller, which was probably the most expensive electronics store in the entire district. All around us, shops were selling everything from cameras to phones at various crazy (local) prices. So this particular Apple reseller wasn’t doing too well.

I had touched the smart keyboard in various Apple Stores previously, but never for more than a minute or so. I wasn’t impressed, but with hindsight, I hadn’t spent long enough using one to make a real judgement.

So, was it any good?

I opened up the Notes app and started typing. I’ll admit, it felt really weird at first, but in less than a couple of minutes, I was touch-typing.

Then, the weight test. I actually had my iPad Pro and a bluetooth keyboard in my bag with me (nerd!!), so I could compare the relative weights. I have to say, there wasn’t a lot in it, but the Smart Keyboard combo was lighter. And, added bonus, it was magnetically attached to the iPad, unlike the Logitech bluetooth keyboard. Points for convenience.

I still wasn’t overwhelmingly convinced and was trying to remind myself that this Japan trip had to be a light on shopping due to the exchange rate – so, no impulse purchases this time! This was actually difficult in Akihabara, where we were surrounded by shops selling interesting Asian phone models that I was bizarrely attracted to buying. It was Android envy all over again. 

But I restrained myself, somehow.

Then it hit me: the Smart Keyboard draws its power directly from the iPad Pro. No need to carry around a separate charging cable for it or even remember to charge it up.

So there was the perfect gadget trifecta of price, portability and convenience. I was sold. Minutes later, I was walking out of the shop, thrilled with myself for remembering to get the tax-free discount available to visitors and with a bag no noticeably heavier.

And back in the real world?

We’ve all probably experienced post-purchase regret, when the gadget we’be bought hasn’t lived up to expectations once we get it home. But not this time. I actually used this new keyboard for the remainder of our visit to Tokyo and all the way home.

And since coming back to work, it hasn’t left my side. In fact, I’m using it more and more as a laptop replacement, on days when the Macbook isn’t absolutely necessary. And these days are more frequent than you might imagine. In fact, I’ve just come back from a two-day business trip to Barcelona where I only brought the iPad Pro and didn’t miss my Macbook once. Not once.

So what’s so good about it?

Okay, so I’ve already outlined the convenience of always having a keyboard attached to the iPad, without a discernible increase in weight. Plus, the fact that it doesn’t need charging or batteries. So there’s less to carry around with me.

It’s also very easy to type on, after a short period of adjustment. Really, it’s minutes. It’s definitely not full-sized, but it doesn’t feel like I’m typing on a toy keyboard either.

It’s been made to be splashproof too. The keys sit beneath a sort of fabric covering, so anything spilled on it can’t get behind keys and cause damage. Thankfully, I haven’t spilled anything on it, despite the best efforts of various cabin crew staff and their shaky pouring hands.

All of that aside, I’m simply using the iPad Pro more to write now. I’n working on an update to my professional website and have to edit a ton of copy, as well as prep quite a long pipe of new blog posts. The vast majority of this has been done on my iPad Pro. As has this particular blog post.

Any drawbacks?

It’s not perfect – but what is?

For one thing, the viewing angle isn’t adjustable. But the angle it’s set at works for me. And while you can (apparently) set it up as a stand with the keyboard hidden, I just can’t make this work for me. It keeps falling over. So when I’m watching a film or video podcast on the iPad, I simply leave it in keyboard mode. No biggie.

I’ve also had some feedback that it sounds a little noisy. This is probably partly my typing style after using a Macbook keyboard all this time. I actually like the Macbook keyboard, but I know I’m probably in a minority there. As a result, I tend to type slightly harder and so make a little more noise.

It would be excellent if Apple had built in somewhere to safely store the Apple Pencil. I always have mine with me, but it would be nice not to have to remember to swap it from bag to bag (have I ever mentioned my obsessive bag-purchasing behaviour?). A nice elastic loop somewhere would be excellent. After all, the Apple Pencil is only useful if you have an iPad Pro, at least for now, so it’s only logical there should be an easy way to keep them together.

Finally, it’s not something you can use to balance on your knee. It’s not a laptop replacement in that sense, as the weight of the iPad Pro will make it really easy to fall over. I thought that would be an issue for me, but I’ve done all my writing on tables and desks, so it hasn’t been a problem. But if you’re a knee-writer (e.g. on a commuter train), then I’d look elsewhere.

You made it this far?

Who knew I’d have so much to say about a keyboard?!

Overall, I really like it. If I had to be super picky, I’d like Apple to sell them in other colours, just like the iPad Pro smart covers and cases. But using utilitarian grey is not going to kill me.

If you’re looking for a keyboard to go with your iPad Pro, I’d recommend getting to an Apple Store, pushing through the throng of tourists who use Apple Stores as some sort of free internet cafe to check their emails, and spend some time typing on one. Five minutes or more. I think you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to get used to.

As for me, the logitech keyboard was sold on eBay just as soon as we got back to London. No going back for me on this one. The convenience outweighs all other concerns. 

And I look forward to more and more days where my Macbook gets left at home and my backpack is that little bit lighter.

How time flies…

My favourite journalling app, DayOne, reminded me this morning that it was four years ago today that I graduated from my doctoral programme in Occupational Psychology. It flagged up my photos from the day (including the one of me in my ridiculous graduation robes, below).

But really interestingly, it noted that it was five years ago today that I sat my viva exam. I had no idea until today that graduate was exactly one year after I passed my viva. How funny.

What’s less funny is that I still remember just how stressful the run-up to that exam was. Of course, I’d caused all my own stress, playing out various disasters in my mind. Including, naturally, the scenario that the examiners would laugh in my face, through my dissertation at me and order me off campus for crimes against the science of psychology.

Of course, they didn’t. I got a grilling alright, but somehow I was able to answer their questions with sufficient fluency. Sufficient to pass with just minor edits to my submitted thesis.

And that is all a long-winded way of pointing out just how useful an app like DayOne is.

The automated reminders of what I’ve been up to in the past, along with the associated photos, give me interesting (and sometimes amusing) insights into how life is going and how my perception of events changes with time.

Today was just one example of many, but it stands out as a major life milestone for me. One I couldn’t have achieved without the support and love of my family and friends. Especially @FrankDJS.

And it got me thinking of how I’ll look back on today in four or five years’ time.

Seoul in 8 minutes…

I opened iMovie on my MacBook for the first time this morning. I was determined to get to grips with an app that is praised for being easy to use, especially as I’ve collected lots of video from my various travels.

Why not edit them, tidy them up and share them online?

Some minor frustrations aside, it was pretty easy to just drop in some photos and video clips and make a single video out of it all. It’s not going to win any oscars, but as a way of sharing images and sounds with friends and family, it’s great.

Here’s my first ‘production’, an eight-minute summary of our couple of days in Seoul last month. I feel like YouTube offers more in the way of sound and on-screen edits, so I might produce the next one there. I feel like I’m wasting all this video I took in Japan if I don’t do anything with it. And I like to learn new skills, so maybe YouTube is my future.

Anyway, here’s Seoul – complete with stock music soundtrack:

1,000 posts in…

This is the 1,000th post I’ve written on this blog, which for me is a bit of a special moment. I’ve not stuck with a blog for so long over the years and, as this one keeps getting readers and their comments, I guess I’ll keep going!

Thanks to everyone for the constant feedback and interest (though I’m still puzzled by who might be interested in this cross-section of comics, technology, stationery and travel) and here’s to another 1,000 posts.

And now, for your enjoyment, a picture of me with a pug.


A tough week: cough, cold, accidental nudity.

Not tough as in “I just lost an election to a sociopathic orange-skinned, baboon-faced sexual predator with a history of lying and manipulation”, but tough nonetheless.

I’ve spent my week battling a cold and cough that kicked off as soon as I arrived in Stockholm on Sunday afternoon. It was nowhere near bad enough to cancel any work, it just made my work – and sleeping – more difficult. An annoying, back of the throat, liable to kick off at any minute, cough.

And keep in mind that my week consisted of: Monday running a workshop, Tuesday running a workshop, Wednesday running a workshop, Thursday running workshop and Friday morning, presentation to a board. Add to that a bit of a temperature, sore throat and headache. A recipe for feeling rough and being grumpy.

Stockholm was lovely, even if it was a lightning fast visit. And even if the streets were like an ice-rink. Seriously – most of the time, I ended up walking like a newborn giraffe. Legs spread out in all directions in an attempt to stay upright, while pulling my suitcase behind me. Graceful I was not.

I managed a wander around town for about an hour on Sunday afternoon before I realised that I should probably stay indoors to knock my cold on the head. I remembered the hotel had a sauna, so decided to give it a go and have an early night. A good blast of heat in the sauna nearly always helps me sleep well.

I wasn’t sure of the sauna etiquette in this particular hotel vis a vis clothing. So I brought down some swim shorts, just in case they were required. At the same time, I didn’t want to be the only guy sitting there in his shorts, while everyone around me was naked. Unfortunately, I was staying in a lovely, but minimalist hotel. No instructions or guidance anywhere.

As I stepped from the gym into the changing area for the sauna, a Swedish guy behind me stepped through the door and shouted something in the general direction of the sauna door. A completely naked woman stepped through the glass door to answer him and then retreated into the sauna again.

That was my question answered. A single changing area, single set of showers and a single sauna containing at least one naked person. I cast my shorts aside and went to take a shower before getting in the sauna. The hot water of the shower was like a shock to my system after the bracing cold outside, but I could feel myself relax and begin to thaw out.

I was lost in my own chilled out thoughts as I grabbed a tiny towel to sit on and stepped into the sauna.

To find the same woman sitting there alone, only this time wrapped in a towel.

Turns out (as I begin to think how I’d explain this to the police) the guy I’d bumped into in the doorway was warning his naked wife that a guy (me) was on his way into the sauna, so she grabbed a towel to cover up. She’d assumed nobody would be joining her and so decided to go au naturelle. Then I turn up, naked as the day I was born, scaring both of us into momentary awkward silence.

Seconds later, I’m back in the sauna but this time with a larger towel. We had a bit of a laugh about it and actually had a very nice conversation about travel, spas and saunas.

Any awkwardness evaporated quickly, but it was still a heart-stopping moment to begin with. Although, on reflection, I was in Stockholm where attitudes to nudity are very different to the UK. Still…awkward. Definitely awkward. A bit like one of those anxiety-themed  dreams where you find yourself in the office, or in the middle of the street, completely naked and desperate to find some clothes.

(I can’t be the only person that has these kinds of dreams…surely?)

After about fifteen minutes, she left and I lay back to relax alone but quickly realised that our conversation had masked the god awful music that was being piped into the sauna.

Not the usual ‘new age’ crap that spas frequently play. This was full-on club anthems. Thumping base and repetitive, meaningless vocals. It was as far from relaxing as I could imagine. But I gave it a go all the same and after about twenty minutes the playlist moved on to seventies disco, which was marginally better but still not relaxing.

As I eventually left after a few rounds of sauna and cold shower (all this time alone, thankfully) the music moved on to Grace Jones singing ‘Pull up to the bumper’ and I decided to leave. I love that tune, but listening to it alone in a dark sauna was slightly disconcerting.

Accidental nudity aside, I did sleep really well in my minimalist little room that night. With a surprising absence of anxiety-laden dreams. Though waking up on Monday morning feeing like someone had tried to slit my throat wasn’t a great start to the waking week. Especially as I was going to be doing nothing but speaking in front of groups. But I survived!

So today, I’m still in bed and staying in the warmth to get rid of this cold. I may venture only as far as the first floor of my building and its sauna. Where there, at least, there’s no club music. But also a distinct absence of good-looking Swedes. You can’t have it all, I suppose…