Month: January 2015

My Mac Apps

Someone I know is getting a MacBook Air tonight and as I was pulling together a list of ‘suggested apps’ for her I realised it’s been a while since I posted about what I use so I thought I’d just share it all with you. I know, I know, you can thank me later…

Admittedly there is nothing revolutionary here, although personally it’s interesting to see that OSX Yosemite has removed my usage/need for some apps I used to rely on – the last time I did this was a couple of years – bye bye Alfred (replaced by a vastly improved Spotlight Search), Adium (replaced by Messages app), Growl (Notification Center), and Sparrow (GMail in browser).

I’ve also switched to Safari full time. The ONLY thing I miss is the ability to set my bookmarks view as ‘Home’ but other than that, it does everything I need. It also has extensions for 1Password and Evernote Web Clipper which help cement those applications places in the lists below too.

So here it is, a list of apps I use regular on my own MacBook Air.

Productivity

  • Google Drive – FREE – much as I love the Apple versions I find the familiarity (aka ‘feels a bit like MS Office’) of the Google apps covers everything I need for simple documents and spreadsheets
  • Todoist – FREE/Paid Premium – took me a long time to settle on a To Do list app and whilst Todoist still lacks a couple of features, it’s nicely designed, works on multiple platforms and, importantly, it works for me.
  • Evernote – FREE/Paid Premium – It took me a while to really get into using Evernote but it’s now become a key part of how I work/live. I use it to store all sorts of things, a backup to my ailing memory.
  • Simplenote – FREE – simple text/note app, syncs with iOS app. Feels ‘lighter’ than Evernote so I use it for transistory information, useful during meetings or on calls. Anything that I need to keep is tidied up and moved to Evernote.
  • Fantastical – £15 – I’d be lost without my calendar, but iCal is less than great, this makes using the calendar quick and easy, syncs with my Google Calendar (and the 9 other Google calendars I’m subscribed too), and my work Exchange server. I use the iOS app too.

Utilities

  • 1Password – £40 – Works on multiple browsers and on my phone, saves me remembering multiple passwords and will generate ‘better’ passwords for me too. Life saver!
  • Moom – £10 – gives me window positioning and sizing, customisable and fast.
  • BetterTouchTool – FREE – I love the touchpad, multi-touch gestures are changing how I work, this add-on lets you take that to the next level, still figuring it all out!
  • Bartender – £10 – file under, why didn’t Apple fix this? Removes a LOT of visual clutter (it’s the small bar on the top-right of my screenshot above).
  • Caffeine – FREE – one click to stop your Mac going to sleep until you say so, handy for viewing movies etc.
  • Keka – FREE – file archiver (ZIP/UNZIP) deals with most archive file formats, nice and simple.
  • Witch – £14 – window switching made easy, a must have if you are moving from Windows.
  • VLC – FREE – video player, supports a multitude of formats.
  • Skitch – FREE – fantastic app for screenshots and image tweaking. Part of the Evernote set of apps.
  • uTorrent – FREE – for downloading torrents. Duh.
  • AppCleaner – FREE – for when I want to remove some of these apps, it’ll find all the related files and get rid of them too.
  • Hazel – $29 – a simple way to keep your Mac tidied. Watches folders then runs rules, very powerful and very useful.
  • Flycut – FREE – Clipboard manager, nice little popdown menu of the last [x] copied items.

Worky

  • Pixelmator – £23 – A bit like Photoshop because sometimes you need a little more power than the standard editor gives you. Not yet tried the iPad version as I don’t do that much graphic editing.
  • FileZilla – FREE – FTP client. I don’t have need for anything fancy, I’ve used FileZilla for years and it does everything I need.
  • TextWrangler – FREE – powerful text editor. Mostly used for checking code snippets.

Cloud services apps

  • BackBlaze – £4 per month – I recently switched away from Crashplan which would drag my internet connection to a halt. BackBlaze seems simpler but provides the same service. Cloud based backup.
  • Dropbox – FREE/Tiered – quite simply I don’t know where I’d be without this service. Hosted files, apps on all my devices. Drop something in a folder and it’s synced everywhere.
  • Spotify – FREE/Paid Premium – because sometimes listening to random playlists created by someone else is all you wanna do!
  • Pocket – FREE – I moved from Instapaper to Pocket largely because, at the time, Pocket seemed to be further ahead and have more integrations to other apps I used. These days it seems Instapaper and Pocket are separated mainly by marketing/buzz.

Lifey

  • Day One – £8 – Journal app, only downside is no web app, syncs with iCloud and/or Dropbox.
  • ByWord – £8 – my writing app of choice these days. I compose blog posts and other random writings in it. Syncs to Dropbox, and the accompanying iOS apps are great.
  • Calibre – FREE – eBook management, for my Kindle, it’s a bit clunky and not the prettiest but does exactly what it says on the tin.
  • TweetDeck – FREE – Because Twitter.

And there you have it. Outside of this list I use iTunes (I KNOW!) and MS Office if I need to open any files for work purposes but I’m lucky enough to have a separate laptop for work.

Less is less

I remember when I moved into my current home. I was recently divorced and starting over, so I only had a few items of furniture and a few boxes of possessions, most of which was bound for kitchen cupboards or wardrobes.

I’m never been a sentimental hoarder; we moved around a lot and got pretty good at getting rid of unused, unwanted things, so outside of the bulk of my books, most of my personal possessions fitted into a few boxes.

Of course since then I’ve bought furniture, ornaments, art, soft furnishings and more. I’ve bought gadgets, implements, knick-knacks, lego, books, lamps… well you get the picture. I’ve accumulate a lot of stuff.

Naturally some of the stuff is practical, a sofa, a bed, chests of drawers. Some of it desired, artwork for the walls, a vintage mirror, an Eames recliner. Some of it was gifted and now holds sentimental value, and some things have commemorative value.

But I have also accumulated a lot of ‘stuff’.

Stuff I don’t need. Some of which I probably didn’t need in the first place but that’s a different issue.

Recently though I’ve started to declutter.

I’m selling things on eBay, taking items to charity shops, recycling the unwanted and, so far, I’ve had little that is just being thrown out. I’m starting to see the difference when I walk into a room, or open a cupboard. There is a way to go yet, I’m not really working to a plan, more just tackling areas of a room when I have the time, but I’m noticing the difference and even the process itself is helpful.

I can remember the first few weeks in my flat, my Eames chair and foot stool had arrived as had my new TV. I had no bookcases, no TV unit and boxes remain unpacked and out of sight in my spare room. My living room was virtually empty.

Minimal.

I loved it.

I knew it wouldn’t last but part of me wanted to keep it that way.

I’ve always loved minimalism, my preferred style lies somewhere between Oriental and Scandinavian lines, a freedom of clutter. It feels good to be getting back towards that.

I also don’t think it’s a coincidence that more recently I’ve been feeling a lot less stressed, a lot less worried by life in general. I’m finding time to read, to write, and maybe that dusty guitar will survive the decluttering axe after all.

Snow joke

Last night we had some snow.

Chaos is the word that sprang to mind. A couple of hours of heavy snowfall turned Glasgow to virtual gridlock. From an appointment in the city centre (more on that later) it took me almost 1hr 40mins to get home, for a journey that would normally take 20mins tops.

One the route, which includes two hills, I had to stop twice to help push cars that were struggling. When I got to the steep hill near my flat I could see a lot of people halfway up the hill helping stranded cars, struggling for traction. I pulled in at the bottom of the hill and left my car there.

Walking up the hill I could hear shouts of help and encouragement from about 20 different people, some fetching snow shovels, others fetching grit and salt, it was almost jovial. A real spirit of helping others so, on my way past I stopped too and helped push a further three cars, mostly sideways off of the main road.

It was treacherous, the heavy fluffy snow fell on un-gritted roads, was quickly compacted then froze to sheets of ice. I waved down a couple of cars at the top of the hill to warn them. One turned back, the other continued. I hope I don’t find that car at the bottom of the hill tomorrow.

It was oddly quiet in that walk up the hill, so few cars able to move, the study thrum of rush hour silenced by the glowing white snow. It was an oddly nice moment to end my long journey home. A soothing balm after a stressful drive full of slips and spinning wheels.

Last year I felt very proud of my city, the Commonwealth Games and the vote for Independence seemed to bring something new to Glasgow and Scotland, or perhaps it just revived some things that never really go away.

It was nice to find it again, if only for a few moments, in the freezing cold as a group of strangers slipped and slid and struggled together to help another stranger, that spirit of camaraderie; Glasgow, the friendly city. Snowbound or not.

Bandwidth

Bandwidth

How much energy should I put into a problem? How much is my time worth?

Sky are my internet provider. They’ve been ok aside from some quirks when I switched over (top tip: Sky routers really don’t like it when you change the SSID) but occasionally I get a little drop out here and there.

I’ve tried changing the broadcast channel but that hasn’t really seemed to help so I end up rebooting the router from time to time, probably not even once a month. Rebotting isn’t a permanent solution but as I live in a block of flats and I can see up to 20 different WIFI networks, it’s probably about as good a solution as I’ll get.

I did spend some time looking for a more permanent solution, tried a few things , but very quickly realised anything further than ‘turn it off and back on again’ would be both more complicated and time consuming, so I stopped looking.

I realise now that I’ve been slowly taking the same approach with my emotional energy. I accept that I have a limited bandwidth and that that bandwidth changes from week to week. Some weeks I can handle anything the world wants to throw at me, others I’d much rather hole up on my sofa and binge watch TV.

That means that my interactions with people outside of my nearest and dearest may change week to week. If I’m honest it probably changes hour to hour at times and my Twitter usage is probably a good indicator, lots of tweets equals spare emotional energy, fewer (or no) tweets means I’m preserving what I have for the people I love.

I think I’ve been doing this for a while now without even realising it so it’s good to be able to step back and realise that I’m managing my moods better and spending my energies in the ‘right’ places.

Resolutions in the poly world

Poly Means Many: There are many aspects of polyamory. Each month, the PMM bloggers will write about their views on one of them. Links to all posts can be found at www.polymeansmany.com.

Over the last few years I’ve shied away from making any New Year resolutions. However the fact remains that as the calendar year ticks over, it’s natural to reflect on the past with a desire to change things.

There are always the usual desires and goals, but one thing I am hoping to improve is how to better manage my own moods; both the shorter term spikes of annoyance (usually when plans change, even if those plans were only ever in my head) and the typically day long flat periods when I just want to push everything away.

I know the latter will happen from time to time, and that sometimes I just need to call out for some time alone. It’s all part of keeping the balance and I’m lucky that both my partners understand that. However the short term reactions, the quick spikes of annoyance, are the ones that I’d like to figure out. I won’t eliminate them, I’ve long had a short fuse, but I would like to get a better handle on it.

I’ve always had a bit of a short temper. It rarely manifests itself into more than a glare or an expletive but I know that those can be just as damaging as any physical expression of anger. I know that I can come over as a bit of a grump at times, so I think my focus is more about creating space for me to be happy and a lot more relaxed about things.

There are various factors that prompt these flare ups, as I mentioned a lot of the time it’s because something hasn’t gone the way I thought it would, usually something trivial. I have the bad habit of planning out a day with ‘rough’ times only to find myself annoyed when those times aren’t held to even if it makes no difference at all to the day. Typically I won’t have communicated my thoughts well enough, if at all, and that can then cause one of my loved ones to think I’m annoyed with them.

I’m not. I’m annoyed at myself for getting annoyed!

It’s something that comes and goes though, and even those spikes of annoyance rarely last more than a few seconds as, if nothing else, I at least know that it’s happening and quickly adjust. But I still don’t like that it happens, which I guess is a good thing as hopefully that means I’ll do something to try and change it.

Outside of my own reasons, it should also mean an improvement in my relationships as I know my communication skills suffer when I’m in a grump, not great for a poly setup!

I will fail at this resolution, not completely as it’s not really a resolution at all, but those little spikes of grrrrr will still crop up, hopefully less often than in the past. It’s interesting that despite Kirsty and I having been together for a few years now, they still can be an issue. It’s the same for Clare and I, but a little more understandable as she’s still learning about me.

And there we have it. The real reason I want to improve, because a happier more relaxed, less grrrrr me = happier partners. And I think that’s something that’s worth throwing some resolve at.

Wandering

A photo posted by Gordon McLean (@gmclean) on

A crisp winter morning, low sun, blue skies and an iPhone 6 for a camera.

I wandered for a couple of hours, about 6.5 miles all in, pausing for a couple of cups of coffee here and there. It was aimless and I found myself at Glasgow Uni and wandered in to the Cloisters (pic above).

I used to walk around a lot. I enjoy the solitude, the observations, the fresh air. Hoping to this more often this coming year, not only for my mental health but my physical health. My ITB is still there, stretches are helping, next step is a roller, but I can’t run with it and whilst walking makes my hip ache I’ll happily put up with that.

2015: A year for failing

Resolutions get some flack.

I understand, after all why does an arbitrary date mean that it’s time for change? Thing is, sometimes people need something to latch on to, a hook to hang their hopes on. Maybe that’s all New Year is, a placeholder, a line in the sand, a marker round which to base some goals.

I also know that a good goal is time based, so starting a new one at the beginning of a calendar year makes perfect sense.

Either way, for those who want to try and change I say more power to them, regardless of when in the year they want to try. I wish them all the best and send positivity, good karma and best wishes their way.

As for me, well I’m torn. In the past I’ve tried not making resolutions, I’ve also tried making resolutions. Ultimately either approach has had little effect on me, I either load myself up with guilt when I fail, or I have a fleeting sense of achievement when I succeed but that never really lasts.

So this year I am resolved to fail.

I will try and eat more healthily.
I will try and exercise more.
I will try and read 24 books this year.
I will try and be a better partner to those I love.
I will try and control my temper, and let go of the little annoyances that can overrule my common sense.
I will try and be better at lots of things.

And I will fail at some, or all, of those at one point or another.

But whilst I’m failing I’ll still be trying, learning and improving.

And that’s good enough for me.