bookmark_borderHow much is the app in the window?

I’m a sucker for a new app.

Over on Threads recently there was a short spell of people sharing their home screens, and I reveled in it; I love seeing screenshots of peoples phones/computers to see what else is out there. Whilst I rarely intentionally seek out new apps these days – the apps I currently use are good enough for my needs – I’m always happy to try new ones when I spot them, after all you never know when something ‘better’ might come along.

When it comes to paying for apps though, it’s fair to say that that can be a tougher decision to make. Not because I want everything for free but because with so much of my daily life boiled down into a few apps on my phone, the app needs to work the way I want it to and if doesn’t fit into my workflow/usage, then I’ll look for an alternative.

For example; I was an early convert to Evernote, it’s clipping functionality was super useful, it had a nice clean interface, and it’s quick syncing across platforms was flawless; I used it heavily for several years until they started focusing on getting ‘Business Users’ (companies) involved and for a few releases the app got bloated and the UI got cluttered and it eventually it got to the point that using the app was a mental chore with features I didn’t need or want getting in my way every time I used it. So I looked for something simpler and, with some serendipitous timing, Apple had finally updated their own Notes app to the point of being useful enough for my needs, bye bye Evernote.

I was happy to pay for Evernote and would’ve continued to do so but at some point the barrier of usage, for me, stopped offsetting the price value (in my simple view, admittedly). I tried some other paid alternatives before deciding on Notes (Bear was another one that ended up just not quite what I wanted to use, the UI is a little overbearing for me, no pun intended!).

Over the past few years there has also been a shift, rightfully in my mind, to a yearly subscription option for apps. Previously apps were given a single purchase price and you could happily use it for a few years until, inevitably, a big redevelopment/improvement was made and the developer(s) realised they deserved to be paid for the time they’d put into said new version and made it chargeable. Ohhh the uproar when a developer says ‘version 2 of my app, the app you’ve been using for the last 3 years at version 1, will now cost you money if you want to upgrade’ was horrifyingly fascinating to watch.

Sidenote: I have a few apps I have paid one-off fees for, most notably Tot, but they are far and away starting to be the exception.

Maybe my understanding of paying for software is because I work in software development. I know how hard it is to build and maintain an application, even a simple one. What looks easy on the surface is usually only that way because of a myriad of build/test iterations to hone one feature, repeated many many times, all of which take time and cost money. Some apps will have an underlying infrastructure to build and support as well; keeping content files backed up and in sync, for example, requires storage which costs money, even if the files are small (and a popular app could have thousands of users with millions of files to manage). No wonder developers want to charge for all of this.

I have also found an additional benefit of apps moving to a subscription model, it’s causing me to pause and consider how often I use an app, and how much “value” I garner from it and sometimes that has me looking for and finding alternatives.

For example, I most recently I stopped using Todoist. It’s a product I’ve mentioned here before in glowing terms, but due to some changes in my own circumstances I wasn’t using it the same way to the value I was getting had dropped.

When I discovered Todoist I’d already tried many different To Do apps (ahhh Remember the Milk was almost the one…) and Todoist stuck with me because it let me customise it just enough for what I needed, worked across multi-OSes, and had very little functionality that I didn’t need. Alas a job move meant I could no longer use it for work purposes and my home use requirements weren’t as grand so… hello Apple Reminders! I have a few different lists in there, it handles reminders and recurring tasks well and does everything I need and, it’s built into iOS so in that sense it’s “free”, renewing Todoist would cost me £47.99 a year.

Ditching Todoist was a simple enough value equation in that instance, and I’ve found that after brief comparison that same value equation held true with a few others apps that I used to use, so much so that the number of subscriptions I currently have is down to 6 – one of those is Apple TV+, one is the free 1 year membership of Balance (more on meditation apps later!) which I’ve not really enjoyed so won’t take forward, and one is for a Tour Tracker app for following cycling events in real time (at £2.99 I didn’t mind a one off ‘purchase’ to try it in full but I won’t renew this one either).

Which means, for apps that I will continue to use for the foreseeable future, I currently only pay subscriptions for:
– Carrot Weather – largely for the Apple Watch complications – £2.29
– Day One – my journaling app of choice* – £31.99
– Overcast – my podcast app of choice – £8.99

Ohhh and we pay for a Spotify Family sub as well because we both use it.

I do like that a lot of apps these days come with free trials, with a few days to use the app before the subscription price is charged, so I can happily try them out – although I do wish they’d let me have more than a week, sometimes I barely get near my phone as it is, so I can’t prioritise trying a new app I MIGHT use in the future in that limited amount of time. Gimme a month then charge me?

I know for many people there is a view that apps should be free/cheap and that is why subscription models charging upwards of £40-50 a year cause some people to baulk (and then complain loudly) and even though I value the time and effort that goes into making good software, these prices do make me swither, even though I know they really shouldn’t.

I’m not sure how to get past that initial reaction and maybe I never will; growing up in a world where shareware was the most popular way of getting new apps (for “free” thanks to relying on the honour system of ‘pay if you like it/use it’) meant that software has never been something to which I attach a large monetary value. And of course it doesn’t help that these days an operating system isn’t just a platform but a plethora of free apps, even if you don’t want to use them they are still there to remind you, hey you got this for free (I know, I’m paying for these apps just by having an iPhone).

Hmmmmm, I wonder what would happen if Apple started charging for each app; Ohh you want a messages app, that’ll be £20 a month thanks, a phone app you say, another £10 a month, a camera app will be £15 a month…. I know it’ll never happen but I can’t help wondering if there was a unique cost on every single app, no matter who provided it.

As ever, writing these posts is enlightening for me. Turns out my thoughts and approach to purchasing software is not fixed and, like many people, I have a definite ‘grudge’ when it comes to paying money for apps. What I’m starting to realise is that it is my own sense of value – in terms of how often I use an app, how useful I find it, and how well it works with the way I think – that drives me towards a decision on parting with money for it, or not.

I feel a little sorry for app developers, finding that sweet spot of user experience, usability, utility, and price is a hard one. Yet some have managed it and, as I continue to discover and try new apps, I’ve no doubt what I pay for and what I use will continue to evolve. Ohh yes, we users are nothing if not fickle.

So here is my current homescreen, mostly for my own reference. If you want to know any details, hit me up in the comments (do we still ‘hit people up’??).

My iPhone homescreen as at 13/11/23

* I know that Apple are about to release their own Journal app but having seen the previews I don’t think it’s a good fit for my needs just yet. However, as with their Notes app, I’ve no doubt they’ll enhance it and in a year or two I’ll be re-considering it.

bookmark_border6Music app

Well not really, more a quick hack.

Working at home I’ve been enjoying listening to the radio. For a while it was BBC Radio 2 – the joys of Popmaster far too often interrupted by meetings! – but I’m back to 6Music which always feels like ‘my’ radio station.

I have a work laptop that I can’t install things on so, rather than have to keep a browser tab open all day, I looked for other solutions to have a wee radio player running on my Macbook.

There are a lot of apps but given I only listen to one of two stations, many of them felt a bit overkill. Especially as few would startup on my station of choice.

The BBC Sounds app is good, but still took a bit of clicking around to get going, and then I stumbled across a little menubar app that seemed to do what I wanted.

So off I went, installed XCode, grabbed the code and created two instances, one for BBC Radio 2, one for 6 Music.

Grab em, drop in your Applications folder and run! (CMD+Q to quit, there isn’t a menu in the app for that).

I THINK it’s ok to share these here for others, credit and original code here:

bookmark_borderMac Apps

Like many I’m working from home, and whilst I have a worked supplied laptop (a Windows system, ugh), I also have a MacBook with a separate monitor which is more comfortable for me to use. An install of Office means I can do some of my work here on this lovely operating system.

Yet, like most operating systems it isn’t perfect and over the years I’ve discovered a few little apps that add to the experience and make using MY MacBook better for ME, in other words, YMMV with the following list of apps that I happily pay for as they make my day to day use all the better.

In no particular order…

  • Contexts – For those who also use Windows, this provides a smarter CMD+Tab app switcher, which includes sub windows too. So, if I have 3 draft emails, I can bring either one to the front. With standards MacOS functionality I can only switch to the app itself, which can sometimes leave the emails hidden behind the main window.
  • Stay – If you use more than one monitor, this is for you. Allows you to store your current window positions so at the end of the day, when you power down your monitor and close your laptop, you won’t need to drag windows around the next morning, Stay will move them for you.
  • Hazel – A powerful little tool for keeping your files organised. It’ll watch a folder (Desktop for example) and move files from there to another folder… also helps when removing applications as it’ll find all those other files left around and chuck them in the Trash for you (and it’ll empty the Trash every X days if you want it to).
  • Amphetamine – Want to keep your screens active when you are on a long video conference call, or watching a movie? This is for you!
  • Tot – A new addition, a simple little sticky note still app.
  • BetterTouchTool – Create custom swipe (and mouse button click) actions, the more you use it, the more powerful you realise it is, well worth a tinker!
  • Bartender – All of these apps add a little icon top left in the menu bar, so Bartender is the app you need to help clear up all that clutter!
  • Smart Countdown Timer – Useful countdown timer to stop you sitting staring at the screen for too long!

There are more apps out there that do lots of little niche things but these are my go to apps to solve all those little niggly things that don’t stop you using your computer, but are so so good to be able solve.


I grew up in a house that always had the TV on. My Mum knitted, professionally, and the TV was the back drop to that. As she was working, she preferred things that she maybe didn’t have to pay close attention to, so Saturday afternoon movies became a staple, as did cricket and Formula One, anything that didn’t need to be watched 100% of the time.

Of course I wasn’t knitting so I did sit (I don’t have the patience for such things) and watch these things, the movies, the sport, and have fond memories of sitting on the old round brown rug, resplendent with white Claddagh, as the screen flickered through lazy Saturday after lazy Saturday.

As I grew up, so TV took a lesser part of my life as I found more interesting ways to spend my time.

I’ve never been one for following the crowd and TV is a great example of this. I genuinely don’t now how some people can have watched every TV show they have, hour after hour after episode after episode. I’m as fond of a Netflix binge as anyone but they are few and far between, and so when people at work start talking about TV shows, invariably I haven’t seen it.

The quality of most regular TV is what puts me off, not the fact it’s popular (I’m not THAT contrary) and that’s before you get to all the political and ‘news’ shows that only add further weight to a vague conspiracy theory about how TV is really just the opiate of the masses or, as The Disposable Heroes of Hiphoprisy put it, the drug of the nation.

T.V. is
The stomping ground for political candidates
Where bears in the woods
Are chased by Grecian Formula’d
Bald eagles
T.V. is mechanized politic’s
Remote control over the masses
Co-sponsored by environmentally safe gases
Watch for the PBS special
It’s the perpetuation of the two party system
Where image takes precedence over wisdom
Where sound bite politics are served to
The fastfood culture
Where straight teeth in your mouth
Are more important than the words
That come out of it
Race baiting is the way to get selected
Willie Horton or
Will he not get elected on…
Television, the drug of the Nation

It’s not that I don’t watch television – I’ve just finished watching the entire How I Met Your Mother from start to finish for the first time – more that these days, I struggle to pick something from the myriad of choices we have available to us now.

And it’s only getting worse. Netflix set the standards but pretty soon after that Amazon pitched in (I’m currently watching The Boys there), and HBO, Disney, and BritBox all want a piece of the pie too.

It’s a vast change since my childhood days of three channels, and a big tube box with buttons and you had to get up out of your seat if you wanted to change the channel.

And what’s all that choice doing to my television experience? Diminishing it.

For a few years I hardly watched any regular TV. So much so that I considered giving up the TV License we pay in the UK as I was only watching streamed movies. I was fed up channel surfing and watching one or two episodes of a show that just didn’t have the production values I like and more often than not I ended up re-watching one particular TV show which, for me, is up there as the best that has ever been made (the first 4 seasons at least).

I can’t remember when I first stumbled across The West Wing, it certainly wasn’t my parents influence but I think my friend Susan was the first to clue me in. She had a bad illness for several months which kept her housebound so, to have something to talk about, we’d watch TV shows separately and discuss them. She foisted a boxset on me once and, since then, I’ve watched it start to finish about six times.

For me it’s the writing, the words and the way they flow from character to character that dragged me in, not to mention the stellar cast and high production values. I’ve not long finished listening to the podcast that, belatedly, accompanied the series – The West Wing Weekly – which featured one of the actors who joined the show in the latter years. He, Joshua Malina, had worked on other TV shows before, but hearing him talk about the way the show was made and how it was more like a theatre/movie production than the usual weekly TV show approach (quality over quantity) really solidified, for me, the reason I adore this show so much.

If you haven’t watched it, consider this a recommendation. Take the first few episodes at one go, it settles in by about episode three and just gets better and better from there. You will laugh, you will cry (the death of one character especially, every single time!) and alas, in our current political climate, you too will wish for a President Bartlett to appear. It’s a soothing balm of a show, that places good over bad, right over wrong, with all the human frailties that go along with that.

As the autumn nights head for winter, the comfort of a sofa and a blanket and familiar TV show is beckoning again. Maybe it’s time for viewing number seven…


10 PRINT "Hello World!"

I can’t remember if it was a birthday present or a present from Santa, or if it was from an Aunt or Uncle, but I can still remember the first time I used it and the mild awe I experienced when I got it working.

The present was an electronics starter kit; a little circuit board with LEDs, switches, a speaker and other bits and bobs on it, and lots of little wires and spring connectors so you could wire up circuits and I can still remember the fun it was to create something like that, something magic. Push a switch here, and an LED lights up over there. It came with a set of instructions for basic circuits, and from that you could configure your own. I’m pretty sure I tried to wire up my own burglar alarm for my bedroom door one time only to realise that to set it up I had to be inside the room… bit of a limitation that.

The kit itself probably wasn’t the catalyst for my interest in technology but it certainly poured fuel on the fire and from a young age, encouraged by a father who had an entire garage full of things to experiment with and who remains to this day a huge gadget fan, my curious mind was quickly drawn to a world of electronics and switches, the wonder of electricity and the burgeoning world of home electronics and computers.

All of this ultimately led me through high school and a Higher Physics qualification, then on to a (short lived) college course in Electrical and Electronic Engineering where, in a nice little twist, I even made an actual PCB (printed circuit board) although this one didn’t have little spring connectors. I also managed, as part of my coursework, to blow a chip entirely in half, with the top layer flying off in a puff of smoke. Ahhh those heady days.

It wasn’t for me though.

Alongside that early interest in electronics was a growing interest in computers, fuelled entirely by my Dad who used to bring home these wonderous machines from the school he taught in. An Acorn BBC Series Microcomputer was my first exposure to such a thing, before the BBC Master, and a few years later an early Apple Mac II which still holds fond memories. It was the beginning of the personal computer age and soon all my friends had Sinclair ZX Spectrums, Commodore C64s, and the Amstrad CPC with its built in tape deck.

Things were pretty BASIC back then (pun clearly intended) yet it was still quite a revelation when, after spending a couple of hours manually typing lines of code, you ran your own program and could see it on the screen.

I missed out on Computer Software courses at school by a year, or my life would no doubt have been very different, but that early love of technology has been a constant throughout my life.

If you had told a 10 year old me that one day I’d stand in my living room, and say a few words out loud to have some lights come on, and some music starting to play, I’d have presumed you’d stolen the idea from a Dan Dare comic.

Of course all that technology comes with a price, one we weren’t really thinking about in the early days. Both the cost of hardware, with the incessant push to upgrade devices regularly for the latest greatest features, and as the internet zips forward and gives us ever greater sight of the murkier parts of life are brought into view and that too comes at a cost.

With millions of inter-connected devices, the idea that shining a light on all the bad things in the hope they’ll go away hasn’t played out. Instead it’s simply helped those with similar world views come together in increasingly monstrous ways. But, of course, that isn’t the fault of technology. There have always been people with dark views of the world, there has always been hatred, it’s just that much easier for it to coalesce online than ever before.

The flip side, obviously, is that those people who believe in love, equality, and want to make the world a better place for everyone, can also come together online, thanks to the wonderful technology we have available to us. It’s no surprise that there is a rise on demonstrations around the world, with technology driving the organisation and planning.

It’s a long way since my first experiences with technology, learning how to write lines of basic code, and computers aside, the leaps and bounds that all forms of technology have taken in the past three decades is astounding, and looking forward one wonders just how far we will be able to take things.

Until then…


bookmark_borderIn conflict with new

I recycle, I have for many years. My partner is a lot better read on it though and I’ve learned a lot from her since we moved in together; I’m much more conscious of single use plastics et al these days and have started to question my entire habits of consumption. Quite simply, I buy too much stuff.

I’ve known this for a while and even though I’ve been a lot better at being mindful of new purchases it’s still a habit that I relax on too often. I have a drawer full of t-shirts – I could wear one a day for a month I reckon – yet have added a couple of new ones recently with the premise that ‘it’s ok because I’ll pass some of the older ones on to charity stores’. Which is good but missing the point entirely. I don’t NEED new t-shirts.

Just as I don’t NEED a new iPhone, my current one is just fine for what I use it for, yet…

I’m in the Apple upgrade programme and have the option to upgrade to the latest shiny new iPhone each year and so far I’ve done just that and justified it by, somewhat rightly, positioning an iPhone as more than just a smartphone as it’s the only camera I now have and with most year on year upgrades including improvements in photography (this year is no exception) it is entirely possible to reason my way into yet another upgrade.

Editors note: He has already upgraded, this post is really just a way of working through his angst.

I don’t NEED a new iPhone, I know this, I can rationalise that side of the argument very easily. The upgrade programme is essentially a finance option so if I choose NOT to upgrade and finishing the payments the handset is mine to keep for as long as I want.

I could also argue that in a couple of years the battery life will start to diminish on an exponential scale and will render my smartphone annoyingly dependent on having a 3rd party battery charger to hand as the battery gets worse and worse. I reckon 4 years is the longest it would remain ‘workable’ and that’s only because I work in an office and can keep my phone charging all day if I want, however the weekends would be fraught.

Perhaps THIS iPhone is the last one I get for a few years. Battery technology has come a long way in the last couple of years, with this model (iPhone 11 Pro) touted as having 4 hrs more than it’s predecessor and I’m presuming that means the slow decay of capacity is also slower (I’m not expert though, I should’ve probably have checked this out..). Improvements to the camera also are notable, so notable they spent most of the keynote presentation talking about them, and if the low light/dark mode is anything near as good as is suggested then it’ll be worth it for that alone.

So yes, I have ordered the upgrade and promised myself to double down elsewhere. The iPhone is a luxury item for sure but it is the one thing I use day in day out – there is a whole other post about those habits – and in a way it feels a little more acceptable to treat this differently to other purchases, a little different on the WANT vs NEED scale, somehow.

And perhaps this really will be the last time I do this.

Looking at the news I have to wonder if my mind might be focused on far more important things over the next year; Brexit and the current farce that is British Politics, the utter inhumanity and horror that Trump is unfolding around him on a global scale, and no doubt further global climate change implications will come to the fore. These will all come to bear on day to day decisions more and more and, I fear, such frivolities as ‘ohhh a new shiny iPhone’ will start to become more and more a thing of the past, a dinosaur relic, a tribute to my destructive consumption tendencies and some might say bring a level of karma to my hideous over-consumption of the past.

It’s a sad thought for sad and scary times but hey, at least I have a shiny new iPhone.