Department of Coffee and Social Affairs coming to Canary Wharf

While out for a walk this morning, I noticed that there’s a new coffee shop coming to Westferry Circus here in Canary Wharf: the brilliantly-named Department of Coffee and Social Affairs. I’ve only visited one of their outlets, the one around the corner from Liverpool Street. If memory serves, the coffee was delicious – but I was in a rush.

I’ll check them out once open and will of course report back here. It’s a short walk from my apartment and could be a new Saturday morning routine hangout, if they don’t mind me hanging around the place…

Again, what a superb name for a coffee shop!

Winter blues: Craving the sun on my skin

Right now, I’m looking back on December a little wistfully. According to my (unreliable) memory, December 2016 was a lot milder and drier than January 2017. The last couple of weeks in London have featured some really bone-chilling weather and, despite the facts of the matter, I don’t see any longer ‘stretch’ in the evenings.

I miss the sun.

I know many people in this part of the world will be thinking something similar right now. But a conversation with a friend earlier this week really brought it home to me. Turning my face up to bright sunlight and sitting still in its rays is one of my most favourite things. I’m really impacted by my physical surroundings, for better or worse, and sunshine is something I’ll always move towards.

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Soaking up some sun on the last day of our visit to Tokyo, November 2016.

After spending time in the sun, I feel a wonderful mixture of recharged and relaxed. It’s like I’ve been literally ‘topped up’ by the solar energy and given a boost, but also a calming pat on the head.

Getting some more sun has been a priority for me over the last year. I mean, what’s the point of being your own boss if you an’t take off and soak up some rays when the weather’s good? Last year’s travels to Spain brought it home to me – the sun is good for me, I feel better when lying in the sun and so, I shall get more of the sun.

Every time I catch a glimpse of sunlight recently, I’m brought back to the long weekend I spent in Sitges by myself. Prepping for a few days of work in Barcelona, it was the perfect opportunity to unwind, lie on the beach and be alone with my thoughts.

In between my thoughts, or the occasional few minutes reading something on my Kindle, there was nothing by lying back and feeling sunshine on my skin, listening to the waves hit the shore and remember to occasionally roll over to avoid getting burnt.

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The utterly gorgeous Platja des Balmins in Sitges, Spain. In quieter times, last year. 

I also found some fellow travellers on that beach. People who spent the day there on their own, doing nothing but lying back and relaxing. They weren’t kicking footballs about, playing music or making noise. It seemed like they were there for some quiet appreciation of the sunlight and warmth – and, of course, to work on their tan.

We exchanged brief conversation from time to time, acknowledging each other’s solitary status and looking after each other’s belongings when one of us decided to take a dip in the sea to cool off. There was a mutual appreciation, I think, that we were here for the sunshine, in as pure a form as possible.

A couple of local people looked at me with a kind of sadness when I explained I live in London. “You must be so happy to see the sun” neatly summarises their response. “Yes,” I replied, grinning like I’d won the lottery.

And it’s not all about getting the chance to go ‘au naturel’ on a naturist beach. Yes, that’s nice, as I especially dislike seeing tan lines on my body. And swimming in a warm sea unencumbered by shorts is addictive once you start.

But also because sunbathing naked is my version of going against society’s grain and doing something most people won’t. My token act of rebellion each year. But you can’t do it everywhere, no matter how many World Naked Bike Rides are organised. And I don’t want to feature on the front page of the Evening Standard or be added to some kind of police register.

No. As the photo above illustrates (taken by @FrankDJS in Tokyo last year), I’ll sit in the sun whatever the temperature and whatever I’m wearing, just to turn my face up and close my eyes for a few minutes. To absorb a little sunshine and feel that little bit more energised.

So now, in the middle of a very cold and damp January, I’m craving sunshine and a solar recharging of my batteries – both physical and psychological. I won’t get to a beach until April, which seems very far away, so I’m hoping upcoming business trips to Barcelona will allow for the odd coffee in the sun. To tide me over. And I’ll sit there, eyes closed, face upturned and relaxed, just letting it wash over me.

In the interim, I’ll have to make do with long sessions in our apartment building’s sauna, frantically pretending the heat is coming from above and that I’m on a quiet, sunny beach.

Moleskine for Evernote: The satisfaction of a well-made notebook

I mentioned previously that I recently picked up one of Moleskine’s Evernote notebooks – long after they were first introduced, so I’m not blazing any trails in this area! Essentially, these notebooks are created with the note-taking app in mind, allowing you to scan them into the app with your iPhone’s camera.

After a week of pretty intensive usage, I’m smitten. I’ve spent the last year using a variety of cheap and cheerful A5 and A4 pads of varying quality to take meeting notes and get thoughts and ideas out of my head. Being somewhat of a controlling completist, the ‘quality’ notes were then scanned into Evernote using my desktop scanner at home.

imageThis way of working meant that I frequently had to carry a lot of loose paper around, until I had the chance to preserve it electronically in Evernote. Especially when traveling for work.

So, one way the Moleskine is superior to these pads is that the notes stay in one place, reducing the volume of paper I carry, while they can instantly be scanned into Evernote while I’m on the move, using my iPhone.

The ensuing weight reduction in my work backpack is tangible. And very, very welcome. I also have less of the ‘where is that piece of paper’ mental anguish, as I know any notes scribbled this week are in the Moleskine. And that’s how I’d like it to be going forward.

On another, more subjective note, the act of writing on quality paper in a nicely-made notebook has had an impact on my note-taking. I’ve noticed it’s less about the scribbles and more about well-chosen words and making links between by thoughts on paper. It’s almost as if I know it’ll be committed to Evernote and I want the notes to make as much sense as possible.

To be clear: they’re not ‘pretty’, they’re just more useful.

Plus, for the last year, I’ve been using a set of erasable pens I bought in Japan. These are perfect for use in notebooks where you can’t rip out pages and don’t want to scribble out. You can simple rub out your errors and keep going. On reflection, I think this is why Moleskine notebooks didn’t really work for me in the past – a sort of fear associated with not getting it right first time and then ‘messing up’ the beautiful page – with no way back!

Similarly, the Moleskine’s cover is well-made, protecting the notes while in my bag. It feels like it’ll last long than a random legal pad and is a lot more presentable when placed on the table in front of a client.

The Moleskine came with a set of Evernote-related stickers, the logic being that placing these stickers in some pre-defined context means that Evernote will automatically turn them into actions, reminders etc. Nope – I haven’t figured out how to use these yet. It’s been one of those weeks where my feet have barely touched the ground, so I’ll look at those another time.

I’m keen to keep this notebook for work-related content only. This means it’s going to be for meeting notes, workshop notes, sketching out training courses and making notes for blog posts. It makes sense (to me) to have a dedicated work notebook, allowing me to keep personal notes separate. In my experience, I prefer to flick through personal notes without the risk of stumbling across a work note that intrudes on my thinking or reminds me of something slightly stressful.

I’m in two minds as to where to keep personal notes now. I have a small shop’s worth of Traveler’s Notebooks I brought home from my various trips to Japan. These are beautiful and sit within a lovely leather cover. But they don’t have the hardcover of a Moleskine and are a lot more expensive to replace here in the UK.

That said, I’ve been to Japan every year for a few years, so maybe it’s sustainable to just pick up a dozen or so each time I visit!

Using the Moleskine has made me realise that my Traveler’s Notebook is a little bulky and unwieldy in comparison. So I’m going to strip out some of the ‘accessories’ I’ve stuck in there and get back to basics. Otherwise, it’ll end up like one of my long-lost Filofax binders: too heavy to reasonably carry from place to place.

Bottom line: would I recommend the Evernote Moleskine?

If you can stomach paying over £20 for a single notebook and you’re also a heavy Evernote user, then this could be for you. If you frequently lose loose pieces of paper, then it might also be helpful. But it doesn’t have to be a Moleskine – you can easily scan things into Evernote using most kinds of paper in my experience, as long as it’s white or off-white.

But I like them and will continue to use it until it’s full. I’ll then make a decision as to whether I’ll get another one, so I’m not stuck with a small stockpile of unused and unwanted notebooks in my study.

Yes, I know – stationery-related self-control. The new me!

Planning for Japan: 2017

It looks like we have a bit of an itinerary for this year’s trip to Japan! To avoid overloading ourselves with too many destinations, we’ve narrowed it down to splitting our time between Tokyo, Kyoto and Kanazawa.

I’d like to take advantage of the JR Rail Pass and arrange some day trips out of both Tokyo (Mt. Fuji, maybe?) and Kyoto (Arashiyama and its marvellous monkeys!). Last year’s visit to the snow-monkeys of Nagano reminded me how much I like to watch primates at play – always mindful of the slim chance they’ll attack an idiot tourist who gets too close, while I capture it all on camera.

Kanazawa is brand new to us, so I’m looking for how to enjoy it and not over-commit to venues and activities.

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Kanazawa Station

This morning’s win was finding a new (to me) onsen to visit in Tokyo. It looks amazeballs and very, very luxurious. Over the years, I’ve experienced onsen ranging from the very basic to the quite modern and interesting. Every one of them has been a pleasure, one way or another. And seeing as we’re unlikely to every replicate the onsen experience here in London, I’ll rely on my brief visits to Japan to take advantage of the facilities.

I may also get another item off my bucket list by arranging a brief stay in a capsule hotel in Tokyo’s Haneda Airport before we fly on to Osaka and then bus it to Kyoto.

Let me explain: I’m only human. After 14 hours on a plane – even going First Class – I need a shower, some clean clothes and a lie down. This will make the onward legs of this outbound journey so much easier. And I’ll be less likely to act like a toddler needing a nap by the time we get to Kyoto.

I’ll be honest – I’m also thrilled at the thought of staying in a quintessentially Japanese capsule hotel. It helps that I’m hobbit-sized and have no fear of shared bathing facilities. I’m also aware of how much my mental state is dependent on adequate sleep along with the extent to which jet-lag utterly rips my wellbeing to shreds.

Hotels are arranged for Kanazawa and Kyoto, while we look for the best possible bargain in Tokyo. I don’t think we’ll get the same awesome free upgrade at the Hilton again (but you never know), though Tokyo isn’t short of excellent hotels. It’s all about getting something central and close to a Yamanote Line station.

I tell you what, though – you can tell Sterling as taken a hammering when you check Japanese prices online. But who knows what state it’ll be in come September – maybe we’ll experience another rebound and Tokyo will once again seem cheap compared to London.

Maybe not. Though I’ve realised that the best things about Japan are the experiences, not the shopping. Even though I seem to do quite a bit of the latter every time I visit 😁

Sunrise in Canary Wharf

I snapped this photo on my way to work yesterday morning, looking down the dock at Canary Wharf towards the new Dollar Bay building.

The sunrise was amazing, so while walking, I grabbed my iPhone and snapped a pic before turning left to go and catch the DLR. I was worried that Dollar Bay would spoil this particular view, but actually, I think its silhouette adds something to the landscape.

The sunrises have been superb in London over the last week. It almost makes up for the biting cold and arctic wind.

Almost.

Moleskine Evernote notebooks: Take a photo – it’ll last longer!

Ah. I’ve never had the opportunity to use this particular sarcastic comeback in real life, but it occurred to me this was what motivated me to trial Moleskine’s Evernote notebook: the ability to accurately record your notes from the page to the digital.

Because they’ll last longer.

Now, I’m pretty confident you don’t absolutely need to use this particular notebook to get your notes into Evernote. In fact, I know it – as I’ve frequently taken quick snaps of my inspired scribblings with my iPhone camera and added them to Evernote.

I’m not sure if I’ve fallen for Moleskine’s very slick marketing, but I think the combination of Evernote’s new 8.0 app on iOS and the quality paper and dotted lines in the Moleskine notebook make for better, more accurate and neater scans of the page.

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In essence, the app recognises when you’re taking a photo of a page and attempts to line up the image – based on the fact that paper tends to have straight edges. A transparent green oblong appears on the screen in front of you as you hold your phone over the page and then Evernote turns it into a neat image within a note.

You can then add several more pages from your notebook into this particular electronic note, summarising a meeting, a workshop or just the usual mental diarrhoea you’ve decided to commit to paper.

I used the notebook for the first time yesterday and found that it did an excellent job of recording my meeting notes. The resulting images in Evernote were crisp, clear and didn’t look like a photo of a piece of paper. It was as if the handwriting were magically lifted from the page and added to the electronic note in Evernote. So, no shadows or creases, no shine from the page. Just my handwriting on the screen.

Nice.

The notebooks come in a variety of sizes and formats. So if you’d rather not shell out £25 for a notebook on the off chance it’ll work for you, you might like to try one of the cheaper softcover notebooks they make.

They’re far from new and I’ve known about them for some time. It’s only now I’ve felt they would be useful for me.

This is also part of my effort to reduce the amount of ‘stuff’ I carry with me for work. After last week’s (regular) business trip to Barcelona,  returned with real back pain from my backpack. Emptying it back at home,  realised this was in no small part due to the volume of A4 paper I was carrying around.

Journal articles, hand-written notes on looseleaf A4 paper, as well as magazines and an aluminium clipboard.

Ouch.

So, I’ve decided to leave the A4 at home and use this compact Moleskine notebook for all work-related notes, knowing I can scan the contents into Evernote as I go along.

Yesterday, I used my super-slim Cocoon backpack and took just my iPad Pro 9.7″, my Moleskine, my Midori notebook, some assorted cables for the iPad and a couple of bananas for sustenance. And it was a revelation. Another laptop-free day, but also a productive one. And a pain-free one.

I’m far from a minimalist. But it definitely felt good to carry less stuff around with me and if notebooks like this can help, then I’m all for it.

Evernote for iOS: simplified!

I’ve only spent a few minutes toying with the new version of Evernote for iOS, but I have to say I’m impressed. This newest version (Evernote 8.0) seems to be a complete rebuild of the app on iPhone and iPad and is a big step forward.

For me (and others, if you simply google it) Evernote was getting a bit slow, cumbersome and unwieldy. Alternative note-taking apps like Apple’s own Notes and Google’s Keep seemed to be snapping at its heels. Both are lightweight, fast and responsive.

But this upgrade to Evernote makes me glad I kept up my subscription. Using it on my iPhone 7 Plus is a pleasure. The interface has been pared right back to the essentials and all you get on launch is a list of your most recent apps, along with a massive ‘plus’ button at the bottom of the screen so you can start a new note.

It’s a vast improvement.

And it’s also prompted me to do some pruning and simplifying of my Evernote set-up. On reflection, I saw that I’d set up too complex a hierarchy of notebooks, themselves organised in thematic ‘stacks’. It seems after a little online research that ‘power users’ (no, I don’t like the term either) seem to make maximum use of tags and minimal use of notebooks.

It’s a bit like organising your emails into countless folders, when all you really need to do is use the search function in your email app.

So I’m re-organising things so that the only notebooks I have are those organised around:

  • My personal life
  • Job #1
  • Job #2

Everything should be able to fit into one of these and I’ll find content by using the tags I’ve been consistently applying to my notes for years. This should keep things nice and simple, especially when using the app on my phone.

Well done, Evernote. I’m looking forward to seeing how you shape up Evernote for macOS next.

Heading to Japan, 2017 edition

You know, it’s never too early to plan our annual trip to Japan. At least that’s what we were saying when we started looking for flights to Tokyo on this cold and wet January Sunday morning.

After last year’s amazing trip, it was pretty much inevitable that we’d have to come back. So we searched for flights around the same time of year and, with @FrankDJS‘s usual skill and a gazillion BA frequent flyer miles, we have a two-week trip to Japan all booked. Well, the flights, at least.

Well, the flights, at least. At, due to some diligent and focused collecting of BA miles via every route known (and unknown) to humanity, we’ll be going and returning First Class. A guaranteed excellent start and end to the holiday – based on previous experience, at least.

While it’s not until September, that won’t stop me making lots of plans for where to visit. We fly in and out of Tokyo – literally my favourite place on earth – which gives us amazing opportunities to plan day-trips out of the city on the most fantastic form of public transport in the world: the Shinkansen bullet train.

Right now, I’d love to spend a couple of days back in Kyoto, but also visit Kanazawa. We dropped it from last year’s itinerary, as it was turning into a bit of a mission. Less holiday, more gruelling tour. So maybe we’ll get over there this time round.

The other key activities will obviously include:

  • Geeking out: on Shinkansen trains and Akihabara in Tokyo
  • Chilling out: in various onsen hot springs
  • Filling out: by eating far too much, but enjoying every mouthful

I’m determined to make 2017 another epic year of travel. So far, we have two trips to Spain booked (April and June), which will include Barcelona, Sitges, Mallorca and Alicante and now Japan in September.

That leaves plenty of space across the summer for some time in the sun. And plenty of time to pull together an exciting itinerary for Japan.

An accountability update

Since I so publically committed to shedding some of my inappropriately acquired flab, I thought it would be useful to provide a bit of an update. Accountability and all that…

Things I’m happy with

I’m less fat! In terms of shedding weight, I’ve gone from 68.8 to 66.6 kilos since I started the year. Not bad, seeing as we’re only two weeks in and I’m now back in the swing of business – and business travel. Which always makes eating well more of a challenge.

I’ve managed to keep up a vaguely healthy eating habit. (But…see below). More to the point, I’ve been happy with my willpower in turning down opportunities to gorge on cake, fries, beer etc.

I’ve not touched any booze, which is great on a number of levels, but also probably due to the fact that people don’t tend to party as much in the first two weeks of January! I’m going to keep it firmly in the ‘special occasions’ bucket. December really was the outlier when it comes to the last few years. Cocktails when on holidays, bubbles for birthdays. Tonic water at all other times.

For example, last night, I had an hour to kill in an airport lounge in Dublin. There was temptation all around me, but I stuck to a single Diet Coke and avoided the mountains of Tayto crisps. Actually, I’m extremely proud of this, as I usually can’t stop at a single pack and tend to eat three or four in one sitting.

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I also managed to avoid the delicious cakes on offer at the workshop I was facilitating in Dublin. I stuck to soup and had some coffee. And I did not go hungry. I just had to keep the cakes out of my direct line of sight!

And last time we went to Wagamama, I opted for the very delicious chicken chili ramen and avoided the Chicken Katsu curry which has about three times the calories.

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Again, I did not go hungry and really enjoyed every mouthful. It’s really about making good choices from what’s available, not necessarily depriving yourself.

I’ve maintained a healthy activity habit, combining runs with trips to our gym, where I watch ‘The Crown’ while on the cross-trainer. This allows me to watch something entertaining (I know I’m late to the party) while burning about 600 calories per visit. Fun and fit!

Things I’m less happy with

Well, since the last update with my neurologist, I’ve had to up my meds. In practice, this means taking anti-seizure medication every night and then a further, smaller dose first thing in the morning. I won’t go into all the side-effects, but it leaves me so very tired. And a bit dazed. So I’m not really a morning person anymore.

Not that I ever was.

This makes it harder than ever to sneak in a bit of exercise in the morning. Almost impossible. I just need to work around it.

This afternoon, after a nice long walk around the Isle of Dogs, we went to Shake Shack for lunch. It’s just opened here in Canary Wharf, so I was keen to try it out. This was a mixed experience, as I went for a double cheeseburger (boo!) but stopped myself ordering the usual fries (yay!) and had a diet coke instead.

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I’m glad I had the experience, but also a bit disappointed at the temporary failure in my willpower. I’m not saying I was dragged into the Shake Shack and had the burger forced into me and I’m not saying I walked in mindlessly and ‘accidentally’ ate 740 calories of oh-so-delicious cheeseburger.

I did it of my own volition, but now I have some regrets. It’s good to own this, to remember this and to use the memory next time I’m tempted to eat like this on a day I’m not going to the gym.

All in all?

All in all, I’m pleased. It hasn’t been too much of a chore and I haven’t ‘suffered’. Not a jot. It’s been a pleasure seeing the weighing scales give me good news for a while, but also enjoying exercise in the gym again.

I don’t want to do extremes. I want to do everything in moderation: exercise, eating, thinking about eating…

So what’s been a help?

The things that have helped me so far are:

  1. Having a gym in my apartment building, where I can go to exercise in relative privacy. I can go there any evening and even during the day if I’m working from home. It takes me no time at all and I have everything I need. No barrier to exercise!
  2. I’m using My Fitness Pal to track what I’m eating and drinking. I’m not obsessing over calories – really, I’m not! – but I find that the act of writing in what I eat makes me both more mindful of what I’m consuming, but also more aware of how it makes me feel when I eat at different times of the day.
  3. Huel has also been a life-saver in terms of making quick meal replacement shakes easy and tasty. I don’t suffer from spikes in blood sugar or sudden urges to snack anymore. And the Huel bars really are brilliant for taking in your bag when out and about.
  4. My Apple Watch and the Apple Fitness and Health Apps keep me up to date on weight, exercise and general movement. I have exercise goals to meet every single day and the watch keeps me on track. Without that, I’d be using my memory and that’s about as reliable as a chocolate teapot these days.
  5. Doing all of this with @FrankDJS has been fantastic. We don’t have any ‘tempting treats’ in the apartment, having donated a ton of post-Christmas chocolate and other stuff to the concierge team in our apartment building. If it’s not here, it can’t be eaten.

What’s next?

More of the same, with a goal of getting my weight down to something a lot more reasonable before we go to Spain in April (no way of hiding love handles on the beach!) while also increasing my regular exercise. Hopefully, this will include some longer runs, once I get my shoulder sorted out.

I’m also going to build in a cheat day each week, where I’ll allow myself to have a meal that wold normally be verboten.

I won’t obsess, I’ll just enjoy every mouthful.

I’m good at that.