Creating a reading list with IFTTT, Instapaper and ToDoist

I’m a big fan of both Instapaper – a great tool for saving interesting reading materials for offline reading later – and IFTTT, the system that allows you to connect your various online accounts and create magical automated workflows. And, as any reader of this blog knows, I love me some ToDoist action.

Lately, I realised I was saving tons of interesting content to Instapaper with the intention of reading it – but never getting round to it.

Sad face

So, I set up a really simple recipe in IFTTT which means that every time I save something to Instapaper, it adds a task to my in-box in ToDoist with the title of the article and the tag ‘@Reading’. I also have a recurring task every couple of days to check out my Instapaper reading ‘queue’. Hopefully this will mean more reading and less forgetting.

These simple tools are so powerful. If you’d like to do the same, you can use my recipe on IFTTT.

Some really “amazing adventures”…

3985Two nights ago, I finished what is now my favourite book of the year (so far!): Michael Chabon’s “The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay”.

I read his “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” earlier this year and loved every page. “…Kavalier and Clay” was even better.

Set before the USA decided to join in the fun and games of the Second World War, we meet two cousins and follow their lives through to the 1950s. Brought together by blood, religion and a love of comics, they get in on the act early, writing and drawing their own superheroes.

It follows their humble beginnings in the comic book industry to fame and fortune after they hit the big time with a successful hero. The acknowledgements at the end of the book reference so many of the comic book greats, it just shows the author did his research.

The scope of the story is impressive, with regular, incredibly detailed flashbacks to pre-war Europe and various other historical asides. I found it incredibly engrossing – I suppose my love of comics helped! – but even someone who knows nothing about comics or even actively dislikes the medium could enjoy this book.

The characters are never boring. Intense, interesting, not always likeable. But I ended up caring about what happened to each of them, which I think is a mark of writer’s skill.

I was drawn in for hours at a time. It made for some tough early mornings after too little sleep, but I don’t regret a minute of it.

Kavalier and Clay was one of the books I was genuinely sorry to see finish. While simultaneously feeling a tension in also wanted to know what happened to all the characters “in the end”.

I found it moving, compelling and beautifully written. If you like creativity, respect passionate artists and enjoy reading about the creative process, this is for you. A love of ‘golden age’ super hero antics wouldn’t go amiss either.

Five stars for sure.

Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union

I finished this book last night, while struggling with an incredibly uncomfortable hotel bed. I can say without reservation that “The Yiddish Policemen’s Union” was a joy to read from start to finish. From the opening page to its final sentence, it kept me hooked – which is no mean feat. 

Continue reading “Review: The Yiddish Policemen’s Union”

Getting my geek on…

Catching up with some reading and watching, geek-style. Owing to a particularly busy work-week, I have a stack of excellent comics awaiting me. I’m particularly interested to see how ‘Original Sin‘ pans out after last issue’s cliffhanger ending.

I spent some remaining iTunes vouchers on the latest season of Falling Skies (never seen this one) and the uncut version of World War Z. Amazingly (for me) haven’t watched WWZ since I saw it in the cinema – even though I enjoyed it immensely. Even though it was very, very different to the book – which is also excellent.

I’m also tearing through The Martian, which has kept me hooked this week and made my very uncomfortable flight home from Newquay (turbulence, screaming toddlers and obese passenger next to me) a lot more bearable. Recommended to anyone who likes their sci-fi grounded in hard science. There are no monsters or aliens in this – just one ingenious NASA astronaut, trying to survive the inhospitable environment on Mars. I’m actually learning about the science behind both space travel and how we might live on other planets.

While also learning that, despite childhood dreams, I am in no way whatsoever cut out for life in space. The toilet arrangements alone are enough to put me off…

Meanwhile, I’m bracing myself for the second half of Season 4 of Game of Thrones. I’m incredibly late to this particular party, thanks to my deep dislike of all things fantasy. I heard it involved dragons and so neatly filed it away as a waste of time. Boy was I wrong. GOT is fantastic – intrigue, murder, battles, more intrigue, swords, nudity and assassinations. What more could a boy ask for? (And I haven’t even mention the multiple hotties that appear regularly, or the gratuitous nudity neatly sprinkled throughout.)

I’ve worked hard to avoid all spoilers, so please… no spoilers! I’m also considering what will replace this as my go to show until it reappears next year. I’m considering re-watching Battlestar Galactica from the beginning. That was equally watchable and addictive, as I recall.

Yep. Definitely suffering from some pre-season-ending angst.

Advice from some other GOT fans would be most welcome.

Kindle love


6a0a99d2be35232fe0f03634011e4406Ah, Kindle love…I’m so glad I went back to a Kindle keyboard model. I’ve been tearing through books since I got it. It’s just so light and perfectly proportioned in the hand. I didn’t take to the on-screen tapping required when using the Kindle Paperwhite and much prefer physical buttons. It sounds silly, but the Kindle keyboard model is easy to read with either hand.

Picture me, if you will…

Lying nonchalantly on my chaise longue, one hand tucked behind my head. It’s how I like to read. And every so often, when the blood has stopped flowing to the hand behind my head, turning it numb and slightly alien, I swap hands and pass the Kindle over.

Turning the page by clicking one of the perfectly-placed buttons either side of the screen is a lot easier than tapping at the screen.

What’cha reading?

I’m reading several books right now, as I usually do. Call it a form of adult book-related ADHD. Made all the easier by the Kindle. No need to carry just one book around, when you have an entire library with you in a device lighter than the lightest of paperbacks.

One of these is a pre-read for a course I’m attending in a few weeks. It’s a big old psychology textbook and I need to write a review of it once I’m finished. I can very easily read with the Kindle in one hand and a pen in the other, taking notes as I go along. It’s actually easier this way than reading the paper book (I have both). Despite the impending deadline, the Handbook of Coaching Psychology is still an enjoyable read.

So I recently finished Perfiditas by Alison Morton (great fun!) and, while I could have launched straight into the third part of this Nova Roma trilogy, I had a hankering for something a little different. I checked my very long list of book recommendations and opted for The Martian  by Andy Weir.

(I think I was influenced by having just recently watched Europa Report, which is most excellent intelligent sci-fi.)

So far, I’m enjoying The Martian, despite its focus on the technicalities of chemistry and physics. I’m only 10% through it, so there’s plenty of time for it to develop.

And then?

What else is on the list? I really need to finish Thinking Fast & Slow  I read it when it first came out but decided to re-read, this time more slowly! If I’m honest, I really skim-read it the first time. It’s not exactly a light read, but an incredibly interesting take on cognitive psychology.

Then I’ll probably return to Nova Roma and read Successio, the final (I think?) part of the series. I’ve already bought it – it’s downloaded on my Kindle, just waiting for me. And partly-inspired by this modern-day take on the Roman Empire, I’ve bought Mary Beard’s Pompeii.

It’s been years since my visit to Pompeii and I feel a little guilty for spending most of it wondering how soon I could escape the unrelenting heat and head into the shade (it was about 38C at the time).

“The fear”

All this is, however, accompanied by a fear eating away at me. The fear that something will happen to my precious Kindle keyboard and it will be impossible to replace. I really, really don’t want to go back to a Paperwhite.

Maybe I’ll look for a spare before they get too scarce and keep it as a back-up.

Or maybe I’ll have to ‘upgrade’ to the other model.

Going old school

People who know me associate me with gadgets and the frequent updating thereof. This usually takes the form of moving to new and more advanced versions of each piece of tech as they are released, so I can take advantage of each new aspect of functionality. Tech launches somehow (sadly) make me feel like I can’t live without each new gizmo and small iteration of tech that it brings.

Except now.

I’ve owned Kindles for a few years now and have moved from one model to the next as the technology improved. My latest model was the Kindle Paperwhite, which included a backlight and a touchscreen instead of buttons. After a couple of week’s use, I’m afraid it began to gather dust.

Which is strange, as I love to read. Something was getting in between me and the page. Of course, as soon as I got the Paperwhite, I sold my old Kindle 3G (the one with the keyboard) on eBay.  And that, it seems, was my mistake.

I missed it. I missed how light it was, how I could move through pages using the perfectly-placed buttons on either side of the screen, how it felt in my hands and how clear the text appeared.

It took me a while to realise it, but I missed my Kindle 3G.

So I bought one. I tracked one down on eBay that wasn’t listed at a ridonculous price and snagged it last Sunday. It arrived yesterday morning and within minutes, all my Kindle purchases were downloaded and I was up and running.

I then spent a happy few hours tearing through a novel (the very fun and enjoyable Perfiditas by Alison Morton).

This is possibly my first experience of “downgrading” tech to use something I preferred. Have I hit that age? That age where tech developments confuse and annoy me? I don’t think so…yet.

For me, the Kindle 3G is their perfect model and the one I want to keep using. I’m even considering keeping a spare for when this one (inevitably) dies.

I like it that much.

So the Paperwhite will shortly be listed on eBay and I’m sure someone else will enjoy its backlit screen and smaller form factor. For me, I’ll stick with its more plastic and old school cousin – and get much more reading done in the process.

I think we all know that both the Apple WWDC announcements and whatever comes from Google later this month will encourage me to update other gadgets and tech. The Kindle is probably a blip on my technology acquisition trail.


My 2014 Reading List

I love to read. The advent of the Kindle has been a god-send for me, as it allows me to read any number of books while on the go. I’m slightly unusual (slightly?) in that I like to have a few books on the go at any one time.

For the last few years, I’ve started each January with a list of books I’d like to read. I’ve noted over time that I spot an interesting book, or a friend or colleague recommends one, yet I somehow lost the details.

So I’ve been using Evernote (and now to keep a list of what I’d like to read – acknowledging that it’s not an instruction manual or challenge, but more of an aide memoire when I’m choosing something new to buy from the Kindle store.

As things stand, 2014’s list looks like this. I reserve the right to drop books after starting them (life’s too short to finish a book you’re not enjoying) and add to the list as additional interesting reads crop up.

I’ve divided them up thematically – some for work, some for leisure – and added links to each on Amazon. (Other book retailer are available…)

Psychology & Coaching

Thinking, Fast and Slow (Link)

The Self Illusion (Link)

Snakes in Suits (Link)

A Whole New Mind (Link)

Drive (Link)

Creating Flow with OmniFocus (Link)

Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (Link)

Challenging Coaching (Link)


The Great Wheel (Link)

Perfiditas (Link)

Them (Link)

The Yiddish Policemen’s Union (Link)

The Death Instinct (Link)

Maddadam (Link)

The Circle (Link)

I’ll revisit this list as the year progresses, updating with reviews as appropriate.

2013: Things what I have liked and enjoyed and such…

After that last epic post, some other assorted FAQs regarding 2013. Now I don’t hold myself up as an arbiter of taste, but I do enjoy reading about what other people have enjoyed – so maybe you’ll find something interesting in this list…

  • Favourite film of 2013: That would have to be a tie between Avengers and Gravity. Two very, very (!!) different films, but both extremely enjoyable in the own way. The Wolverine was also great fun. Mostly as it was set in Japan and we have already established that I love everything to emerge from Japan.
  • Favourite book of 2013: I’m torn here. I’ve read a few great books this year, but one that kept me on the edge of my seat for hours was The Summer Isles by Ian R. Macleod. I’d recommend it in a heartbeat. Yes, it’s counter-factual history, but it’s also extremely well-written and draws you in. A close second would be another alt-history novel, Inceptio by Alison Morton. I’m reading the sequel right now.
  • Favourite album of 2013: A difficult one, but I think it might be Robin McKelle’s “Modern Antique“. Yes, it’s from 2008, but I only came across it in 2013. For something that was actually released this year, I’d have to go with either Caro Emerald’s “The Shocking Miss Emerald” or Pink Martini’s “Get Happy“.
  • Favourite podcast of 2013: For consistent hilarity and ability to remain thought-provoking, I’ll have to go with “Back to Work“. I recommend it to everyone – yes, it’s an acquired taste and yes, Merlin Mann is my god here on Earth. A close second would be “This Week in Google” for its take on privacy and life in the digital age. And rants from Jeff Jarvis.
  • Favourite comic of 2013: I’m going to weasel out of choosing just one here, as my two favourites are so different but so excellent. First there’s Matt Fraction’s “Hawkeye“. Please…please…forget everything you know about Hawkeye in the Avengers and just read this. Start at issue one and go from there. I guarantee it will surprise and delight you. My second pick would have to be “Saga” by Brian K. Vaughan. Completely different and yet very similar in tone. Yes, it’s set in space. Yes, there are aliens. But really it’s about love, life and relationships.
  • Favourite TV show of 2013: While I started to think Nordic Noir and consider both Borgen and The Bridge (both totes amazeballs), the most gripping TV I’ve watched all year was the US re-make of “House of Cards“. Kevin Spacey was just brilliant: charmingly evil. His asides to the camera were chilling. If you haven’t seen it yet, I command you to do so – especially as season two starts in less than two months (that complete weekend is spoken for – Netflix are letting the whole season out of the bag at once).