TechDistortion Articles en Copyright 2009-2018 2018-12-10T15:20:06+10:00 TechDistortion Articles Mon, 10 Dec 2018 05:20:06 GMT Accessibility Driven Opportunism Accessibility Driven Opportunism Originally Drafted 13th October, 2016

We’re lazy creatures. That and things cost money. When things take too much effort or cost too much money, we don’t take advantage of them. Only those people with enough spare time or money can do them. I first came across this phenomenon when studying traffic engineering. Widen a freeway and the amount of traffic it conveys will increase to utilise that new capacity. The newly accessible capacity of the road becomes quickly known by local residents that previously took public transport, rode bicycles, walked or just didn’t travel at all, and then they decided to utilise this additional capacity. The opportunity to travel either more directly, in more comfort or more quickly than the alternative drives the opportunistic behaviour to utilise that additional capacity. Theoretically it should be possible to build a freeway with an extremely large number of lanes that has capacity that far outstrips the physical quantity of vehicles that could ever use that route between two set locations, even including for external visitors. The sheer cost of doing so generally precludes this from ever happening on a macro scale but the limit still exists. Hence there’s a point at which increasing accessibility reaches a point of diminished potential such that it is unlikely to ever be exceeded.

A more popular example I came across recently relates to watch bands on an Apple Watch. The watch itself is quite expensive, however unlike many other watches in the world, it may have its bands easily replaced in less than a minute when the wearer needs to exercise, change to a dressier outfit or go off to work. Changing the band changes the appearance, feel and usefulness of the watch without having to have a second watch as was previously the tradition: two watches, one for normal day use and one as a dress watch. Replacing bands on a traditional watch is a cumbersome, frustrating exercise but with this watch in particular that’s no longer the case. As changing the bands becomes more accessible, the possibility of changing bands becomes easier. As cheaper alternative bands become available, this further drives accessible choices for more people. Of course people will eventually reach a limit whereby they have more than enough bands to cater for every circumstance they personally desire, at which point the maximum potential is exceeded once again.

A final example is changing code in mass-deployed devices. When I was starting out my career software updates were handled by physical ROM ICs, that were attached by sockets to the motherboards of the control cards in the field. Changing out the firmware was a manual, slow, annoying task that was very expensive. Many locations didn’t have a network connection of any kind and wireless was very uncommon and even less common for data connectivity so this was just accepted as reality. At time progressed and the internet became what it is today, with mobile data networks becoming wide-spread, there was a more and more accessible data path to end devices for manufacturers. Over the air updates then became the preferred method of fixing problems and this accessibility drove opportunistic updating of end devices. This seems like a good thing at first with manufacturers able to correct problems even ofter their devices had left the factory, however it drove manufacturers and engineering companies down another route: minimally tested software. As the speed to fixing bugs after the device shipped improved, management circles pushed the key features (heavily tested we hope) out the door with the devices quickly, leading to many features being far less tested and requiring future OTA updates to be applied. Provided these were low-impact bugs then that’s probably a good trade off but end users don’t always see it that way.

As always no one complains about good software, they only complain when it breaks and just because you can ship something today less tested with the aim of “fixing it later” doesn’t mean that you should. The opportunity to quickly fix problems is tempting but rigorous testing and qualification will generally save time and money in the long run. The only question to ask to ponder is whether the availability has driven opportunistic thinking and if it has, what opportunistic cost will you incur for it? Opportunity cost cuts both ways.

2018-10-15T16:45:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Three Site Strategy Three Site Strategy After a lot of deliberation and consideration I’ve decided it’s time to refine (slightly) where I keep what on my sites. In the past I’ve maintained two primary web-presences: TechDistortion and TEN. The problem was that I didn’t feel like grouping all of my podcasts together under a single site in 2015 made sense, so I kept older pre-TEN episodes of shows under TechDistortion, with only newer episodes kept on TEN. The other problem was that TD had blog posts on a wide variety of topics including Statamic guides, cartooning (it was a brief fancy for a while), tech-related blog posts and engineering-related blog posts.

Under this grouping, someone visiting TD would find podcasts, articles/posts on a huge variety of topics and a few references to TEN, and someone visiting TEN would find podcasts and the occasional TEN-specific post, but miss some back-catalogues of shows. Based on years of feedback and with the excuse of migrating away from Statamic, I’ve finally finished re-organising my online web miscellaney as follows…


The Engineered Network (TEN)[] will now be the sole repository for all podcasts I’ve ever made, past and present with a new archived section that contains all past episodes of shows long since ended. The hosts and guests list has been extended to include all shows, past and present. I intend to do more with TEN in the future including transcriptions and transcription search which I am determined to complete. (For those receiving the NewsLetter, you already know the sad story there…)

Control System Space

A new site launched in August this year, it’s focus is completely engineering-specific articles called Control System Space. (I’m going through a ‘space’ phase clearly…) In truth it was my first real attempt at a Hugo website and since then I’ve learned a lot. I’ll probably revisit/tweak/refine it in coming months but the intentions behind it are three-fold:

  • Be a repository for professional White-Papers, supporting independent knowledge-sharing in Control Systems Engineering
  • Remove J-O-B “job” related posts from TechDistortion and keep them together in a single place
  • Be a professional-facing outlet that I can direct those to with whom I work with or the greater CSE industry

As a litmus test I posted two articles on LinkedIn, and distributed links within the organisation both in and beyond the Automation Systems Team at work and they were well visited and very well received. In this way engineers that are less interested on my thoughts on Apple or Microsoft will see the most heavily polished, relevant articles for them.


TD will remain for blog posts however there will be no podcast episodes and no engineering-specific articles there any more. In addition the whole site has been completely redone in a newer darker-high contrast view with all articles merged into a common article feed.

The Future

It’s been an interesting journey from Static (1996) to Dynamic (WordPress 2000s) to Statmic (2013-2018) to Static again (Hugo 2018-?) but with everything I’ve learned along the way, the tools we use aren’t always as important as the content, but with Hugo my life is easier, site maintenance is easier, sites are more responsive and reliable and that should leave more time for content. And now with the content hopefully more logically grouped by type and audience, anyone visiting will be more likely to find exactly what they’re looking for.

Technology 2018-10-14T16:25:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
LTE Apple Watch App List LTE Apple Watch App List With my aforementioned goal to ditch my phone when outside the house and use the watch for as much as possible, I am compiling a list of all of the Apps that I’m using that meet my current needs, and noting gaps where they exist. The configuration I use is a 42mm Stainless Steel Apple Watch Series 3 with LTE enabled and AirPods connected.

Criteria for an Apps usability is based on three criteria:

  • (Create) Can create items on Watch
  • (Modify) Can modify (including delete) items on Watch
  • (Sync) Can sync new/changed items to Cloud via LTE

In addition on the Watch there are three primary methods of data input:

  • (Siri) Siri voice dictation (speech-to-text)
  • (Num) Numeric Keypad (where applicable)
  • (Scr) Scribble finger drawn letters, one by one, on the watch screen

The following table list listed in order of Apple native apps first (denoted with an asterisk *), followed by installed third party apps, followed by notification-initiated interactions with apps not physically installed on the watch.

Function App Create Modify Sync Notes
EMail Mail* Y Y Sometimes Exchange/GMail (non-Apple) EMail generally works but not consistently. Read items don’t reliably sync their read marker status with the Cloud. Moved my work EMail across until Outlook gets LTE capability.
Music Music* N N N Synced playlist music only, with streaming (coming in watchOS 4.1). Possible to add music to a playlist via the iPhone.
Locating Find My Friends* N N N/A Shows map, photos, names, distances but the map sometimes doesn’t load. Huge update and pleasantly surprised how well it works
Messaging iMessage* Y N Y Emotional reactions, replies, scribble, Siri dictation
Navigation Maps* Y N/A N/A Siri can create new navigation requests, provides Turn-by-Turn Steps, Location on Map. No Live Map Navigation, but this is an understandable restriction given GPS and screen power drain.
Digital Wallet Apple Pay* Y N/A N/A Per Series 0, 1 and 2 it works without any wireless connectivity by design
Appointments Calendar* Y (Siri) Y (Delete only) Y Previously used Fantastical due to its configurability however creating Reminders/Events via Fantastical (Siri only) didn’t work over LTE. Can’t use Scribble to create appointments. Can’t modify appointment times on Watch, though can delete.
Calls Phone* Y (Siri/Num) N/A N/A Works via Speaker or either/both AirPods. Possible to pick up calls with AirPods even if they aren’t in your ear when the call comes in.
Weather Weather* N N N/A Locations have to be configured on iPhone first. Previous favourite apps were BeWeather, Rain Parrot, and Weather AU but none work on LTE. Still no app that shows the radar map on the watch that works in Australia. Dark Sky doesn’t work here. Alas.
Reminders Reminders* Y (Siri) N Y Can only create using Siri not via app. Can not modify anything once created and always put in Default reminder list.
Web Search Siri* N N N/A Only basic Siri answers are possible via the Watch. As there is no browser on the watch, there’s no mechanism to get detailed search results returned to the Watch, and you’re directed to the iPhone. On-watch functionality works over LTE (setting timers, music playback etc)
Calculator PCalc Y Y N/A Never required iPhone other than to configure.
Podcasts WatchPlayer N Y (Delete) N Sometimes loses its place between listens, Syncing episodes is annoying. Previously used Overcast but for the moment the Watch playback functionality is being worked on by its developer.
Passwords 1Password N N N/A Doesn’t use data connection. Can’t create logins on the Watch, not sure I want to anyway. Need to set up on the phone first
Digital Wallet Stocard N N N/A Doesn’t use data connection. Can’t create cards on the Watch though could be a useful feature provided no photo is needed. Need to set up on the phone first.
Sleep Tracking Autosleep N N N/A Provides basic report of sleep duration, but requires iPhone to perform sleep analysis. Limited to showing last night, as well as 7 day average.
Notetaking Drafts Y (Siri/Scr) Y (Siri/Scr) N Syncs to iPhone only when in range, however there is no other note-taking app on the Watch as a first-party app and Drafts works well in that respect, except for Cloud sync.
Voice Recording Just Press Record Y Y (Delete) N/A Records audio notes quickly and easily and allows playback via the speaker or AirPods. Only syncs with iPhone when in range.
What’s The Song? Shazam Y N N Can’t ask Siri to identify what song is playing on the Watch, but Shazam works perfectly and more discretely. Syncs the list of Shazam’d songs when iPhone is in range.
Twitter Tweetbot (Not On Watch) N/A N/A N/A Notifications from Tweetbot allow basic reactions like Favouriting and Retweeting.

Biggest misses for me at the moment:

  • Reminders isn’t a good To Do app, and I can’t wait for Things (or similar) to support could sync but knowing they rolled their own Cloud sync this may not happen for a while (if ever)
  • Inability to modify anything about a Reminder or Calendar appointment
  • Composing a basic tweet, mention or direct message not possible (same for Mastodon)
  • Notes absent; even a stripped down text-only version would be fine

With time, developers will update their apps to use direct data interaction with servers rather than via the paired iPhone so the list of third-party apps should get much longer in due course. I’ll endeavour to update this list every few weeks or if a major app update is released.

2017-10-22T15:00:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Phoneless Phoneless I’ve always loved my Apple Watch. When Apple announced LTE in the Series 3 I was initially disappointed that they hadn’t given us always on screens, but also shocked that they’d managed to get energy efficient LTE into the device at all without killing the battery in 5 seconds flat. Truly impressive. Without going into the details of how I’ve routed what to where (it’s convoluted trust me) I’ve upgraded from my 42mm Silver Stainless Steel Series 2 to the equivalent Series 3 model earlier this week, and also linked it to an iPhone.

My goal: ditch my phone when outside the house and use the watch for as much as possible.

An Apple Watch paired with AirPods (or even a single AirPod) is already lighter and more convenient than a phone for phone calls since it’s more discrete and less intrusive. I’ve made phone calls both on AirPods and the speaker and they’re both passable though the AirPods are better, you could live without AirPods in a pinch. In which case, you’ve got a fully waterproof phone on your wrist that you can’t lose, is harder to break/scratch/damage, and with the sound off is totally silent when notifications come through your wrist.

I thought at length over the past month since the announcement about what I use my phone for, exactly. It’s a longer list than I initially thought, but I use my iPhone for:

  • Taking photos (less these days since I bought a DSLR)
  • To Do Lists (Things 2 was my favourite)
  • EMail (Outlook for work, Spark for TEN, Apple Mail for Personal)
  • Music (Apple Music)
  • Find My Friends
  • iMessage
  • Navigation (Sygic/Apple Maps)
  • Passwords (1Password)
  • Stocard (Wallet reduction)
  • Apple Pay
  • Social media (Facebook/Twitter/Mastodon)
  • Autosleep (Sleep Tracking)
  • Checking the Weather (BeWeather, Rain Parrot, Weather AU)
  • Calendar Appointments (Calendar/Fantastical/Outlook)
  • Playing Podcasts (Overcast)
  • Notetaking (Notes)
  • Surfing the Web (Safari)
  • Making/Receiving Phone calls
  • Checking Bank Balances
  • Calculator
  • Light

That’s it. Not a trivial amount, for sure.

Of the above, I can do all of those items now, using the Apple Watch on LTE with no phone nearby, except:

  • Checking Bank Balances (rare thing but could get annoying)
  • Social Media (have stopped using it anyway)
  • Outlook for work (I still get the notifications though, so that’s fine and my work calendar is mapped to Calendar for Fantastical anyway)
  • Spark Mail (Will migrate to Mail)
  • Things (migrated already to Reminders)
  • Playing Podcasts (Reluctantly moving to WatchPlayer, but it works okay)

With time, developers will update their apps to use direct data interaction with servers rather than via the paired iPhone so that list should get shorter in due course.

The main idea here is that at work I’ve gone full iPad Pro anyway, and I’ll have that with me on work days and at home. When I’m out on personal errands I won’t have it, but under those circumstances, the ONLY thing that I’ll miss is web searching, and Siri can help with a small number of those searches, but that’s really the only big hole.

There are other niggly-holes though like having to abandon Overcast for podcast playback, but I know its developer (Marco Arment) is working hard on a solution as we speak (so to speak). Preparing to listen to podcasts now must be done ahead of time, preloaded, and transfer them to the Watch over WiFi (not Bluetooth) unless you’re a masochist and it works okay. (Podcast spontaneity will be on hold for now)

I had to add each song in Apple Music to a monster playlist to force it all onto my Watch but that works fine now and the 16Gb of storage is enough for the vast majority of my music collection I’d want to listen to regularly. It’s easy to add songs via my iPad and it will sync up when I get home plus WatchOS 4.1 will bring streaming to the Watch which will be very nice as well.

I realise that Apple isn’t trying to make the smartphone obsolete, and I and many others are going to use the watch as a standalone device when that’s not really its intent. But really, if it’s going to work for practically everything I need, I’ll leave my iPhone at home, plugged in and just use my Watch for everything else. In time the Watch won’t be tethered to a phone anymore, and apps will all communicate directly to servers rather than via a proxy system. At which point I probably won’t bother with a phone, but that’s probably a few more years away - and that’s okay.

I’m not the first nor will I be the last person to try this, but this is going to be a fun experiment. Let’s see how it turns out…

2017-10-14T16:05:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
BubbleSort BubbleSort Today, Vic Hudson, Clay Daly and I are launching a new podcast called BubbleSort. Vic has been my most regular co-host on Pragmatic over the past four years and also hosted the wonderful App Story Podcast for 14 episodes in 20142015. Clay Daly is one of the hosts of the wonderful Cybrcast which has been running since 2014.

We all wanted to catch up to discuss what’s happening in the world of technology in a medium that was better than Twitter, Mastodon or Facebook and it turns out you can talk on Skype, press record and share it with anyone else that’s interested and you have a podcast. (Okay, maybe trim out some bits and pieces in post…)

Bubblesort can be found at and on Twitter at @bubblesortshow.

Bubblesort is not part of TechDistortion nor part of TEN. It is its own standalone collaborative effort. We’re not trying to take the world by storm, we’re not trying to make money. We’re doing it because it’s fun, and if we’re having fun, maybe you will too.

My thanks to Vic for tackling the audio editing and musical score, to Clay for developing the artwork and to both of my co-hosts for making time in their busy schedules to catch up every two weeks or so to make a thoroughly fun and relaxing podcast.

General 2017-07-11T07:00:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Engineered Space Engineered Space I’ve been discontented with Twitter in the past year or two, as the company tries to become profitable it stabs the developers that made it great, ever so subtly and deeper as the gap between the official client(s) and the once leading client applications widens ever further. Not just that, the lack of action from abuse, and also the wide open nature of the platform leads to a huge spread of information, mis-information and randomness that isn’t worth the time to filter through.

I’ve been discontented with Facebook, for, well, forever. It badly attempts to insert itself between the open internet and eyeballs in a reductive, arrogant fashion that seeks to make us, the users, the product much the same way Google has done with our search data for approaching two decades.

I’ve been discontented with Linked In because of the endless (yes, I mean ENDLESS! And then some…) spamming EMails, notifications and requests to connect from random people you’ve never met, in a so-called business network. Between this and advertising it’s becoming a random wasteland of junk not worth using either.

There have been many attempts to pull off alternatives for micro-blogging that aren’t as personal as Facebook, that are decentralised, like EMail. App.Net doesn’t count because it wasn’t decentralised, but there’s been GNU Social and more recently Tent that I enjoyed using until the wheels fell off due to multiple API changes breaking then re-breaking client applications and a pivot that effectively ended its usefulness for the masses and the majority of users lost interest.

And then there is Mastodon. This is a sorta-new-kid-but-not-really on the block and it’s gathering a lot of steam in somewhat of a perfect storm of discontent with the existing platforms. I won’t list off everything about it since that’s been done elsewhere, rather I’ll highlight the current short-comings, how I’m intending to use it and why.

First some light reading…

I particularly enjoyed the last link regarding Facebook.

I’ve spent a few hours and put together my own instance and taking a nod from TEN I’ve called it the because it’s meant to be a space for engineers to hang out. It’s free, it’s never going to be huge-huge so it will have things that you can’t get anywhere else:

  • A local stream from all users on the instance
  • It’s free and has no advertising
  • You can use your account to follow anyone else on Mastodon outside the instance

In order to keep the local stream as focused as possible I recommend only boosting content that fits within the rules. To further support this, it’s currently going to be semi-closed, and by that I mean it’s technically closed to random drive-by sign-ups. However if you’re an engineer and you want to participate directly on and want to have an account there, send me:

  • Your preferred EMail address
  • Your preferred user name on the instance
  • Send either via EMail to
  • OR send via Direct Message me on Twitter though that seems odd, in retrospect…

Since Mastodon is an open source software project, there are many people excited about it’s capabilities and are actively contributing to its future. One of the many features that it lacks currently, I’m confident will be available in coming weeks and months:

  • Deleting accounts yourself (currently if you want out, EMail me and I’ll delete the account on the instance)
  • Invitation sign-up Links OR Moderated sign-up staging
  • Easier history backup/export/import process when shifting instances

In terms of the web interface it’s really quite impressive given its stage of development. I’ll use that on my iPad Pro and my desktop at work and it’s really very good. If you’re looking for native applications on Mobile currently there are:

  • Amaroq for iOS (I use this one and it’s pretty good but iPhone only for the moment)
  • Tusky for Android
  • Mastodon for Windows Phone

Of course it’s early days but you have to start somewhere and given that Mastodon is only 7 months into its existence at nearly 12 million accounts across 1,300+ instances, I’d say there’s some interest and it’s worth a shot.

If you’re looking for me I’m and you can follow me there on Mastodon. I’ll run the Engineered Space server for as long as I can fund it, and if it grows too big I may reconsider this but for now at least, the door is open. Drop me a line and let me know if you’re interested.

General 2017-04-24T21:30:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
John's Hierarchy Of Focus John's Hierarchy Of Focus If you prefer a podcast version of this article look here under Analytical

“Focus means saying no…” so once said Steve Jobs though the context he was mentioning it in was more related to products and features for those products, it applies on many levels. Individually our time is precious and that’s buried within that statement at a deeper level.

To be productive you need to decide how to say no, and if you possibly can - perhaps avoid needing to say no altogether. It’s not always a good coping strategy to just say “no” in all situations nor is it realistic to expect people to “just leave me alone” so you can focus on getting something specific done. When working in groups you can look at which situations allow you to say “no” since they’re not all created equal.

Productive time in businesses fall into four basic time groupings:

  • Collaborative time (meetings, group discussions)
  • Planning time (usually the individual, planning what needs to be done, sometimes in consultation with others)
  • Consulting time (obtaining information and direction from specific individuals - i.e. You’re disrupting others to further a requirement you have upon yourself but you need to consult with others to deliver it)
  • Lock-down time (individual, with full focus on the task at hand and minimal distractions)

Lock-down time is the best way to shut-out the rest of the world and the best way to control the single biggest source of distraction: communication. These days we have about four levels of communication distraction: Emails, Instant Notifications, Phone Calls, and In Your Face.

John’s Hierarchy of Focus

Scale: 4 is the least distracting to 1 as the highest distraction meaning: it’s the hardest to escape once you’ve been drawn into it.

EMail (#4)

Email was the first major use of networking for businesses in particular and it’s been around for decades and ironically was originally intended to replace nuisance office memos. For those that have been working long enough there were these “In Trays” and “Out Trays” on everyones desk at work. You’d get some special paper with a carbon copy sheet underneath (or multiple thereof depending on how many copies you wanted) and you’d write or type up that paper Memo, keep the original and give the copies to those people you Carbon Copied via the carbon paper sheet(s). The electronic form was so easy to send to so many people, that’s exactly what happened. Previous limits of Carbon Copy layers were gone and the result was email memo spam. People just copied everyone even if they weren’t directly affected:

  • “Oh I should copy Bob - he was involved in that project about 2 years back - he might be interested…”
  • “Oh I should copy my boss so he knows what’s going on…”
  • “Plus the person I’m sending it to, and their boss and the project manager and the other developer and blah blah blah oh my god I’ll just send it to 20 people…”

I get about 75 Emails every day, most of which don’t require a response I’m just copied as an FYI. Great. Thanks everyone. Every one I need to read, comprehend and decide if I need to do something. The problem is that reading takes time and evaluating takes time and that’s time I don’t have if I’m trying to focus on something else.

Turning off Email for me looks like muting all Notifications on my iPad, my iPhone and my Laptop, which ultimately means that I can’t see if Emails are coming through in real time and at that point it’s down to my own nerve - my internal resolve NOT to check my Email. Avoiding a habitual “refresh” of the Inbox is easier said than done for those where it has become a learned behaviour.

But is that okay? I think most people expect that Emails aren’t real-time communications and don’t expect a response immediately even if they set an Important flag for the Email. So if I don’t respond for a day, it’s probably okay. If I don’t respond for a few days, it’s probably annoying to others. If I don’t respond for a week, it’s probably pushing the friendship a bit there, but overall it’s okay with the risk of offence being quite low for most people. The benefit of the eliminated distraction is great and real and the more Email you get, the more gain you’ll get from turning off your Email notifications.

Instant Notifications (#3)

There are so many different messaging platforms out there I’m not going to list them all but some of the bigger ones at the time of writing are Twitter, Facebook and Snapchat. Instant Messages are sent specifically to you unlike most Emails and they’re not “Fred just built yet another sandcastle and posted a photo on Instagram” types of messages. There’s a difference when we get a personally directed message that puts it a cut above an Email such that there’s more of an expectation that you’re going to respond. It’s like a quick verbal conversation except typing requires more cognitive load than talking does for most people and when you think you’re done with a conversation, it doesn’t mean you ACTUALLY are.

You type “See you later,” hit send and think that’s it, I’m done, put the phone down to refocus and then it’s another message back. Quick now, stop what you’re doing to read it and probably respond again. If you don’t respond to an instant message in a little while there’s really two flavours: instant messaging systems that track when you’ve read the message (read-receipts) and ones where the other person doesn’t know you’ve read their message. My suggestion: if you can turn off read receipts - do it. It makes you look like a jerk when you read the message and then choose not to respond immediately. Turn read receipts off and leave them off and set expectations early on in your texting ‘relationship’ that you’ve done that.

Assuming read receipts are turned off and someone instant messages you, you choose not to respond, what’s the consequence? After a few minutes they’ll probably forget all about it anyway and after a day it’s ancient history. It will annoy people more than if you ignored their Email but not too much more especially if you turn off your read receipts first. For most it’s a case of taking the application(s) instant messaging you and turning off their notifications or if there are too many switch your messaging device(s) to Do Not Disturb mode. The risk of offence is higher than Email but not by too much and the benefit of the eliminated distraction is as great and just as real as Email and in some cases worse for a lot of younger people that have grown up with instant messaging at their fingertips. For a lot of people though, this one is a harder habit to break than shutting out Email.

Phone Calls (#2)

Yes…people still make phone calls. It’s been around for a hundred years and the expectation has long ago been set: when the phone rings, you answer it. In the last thirty or so years has it become possible to call you wherever you go, wherever you are, any time of the day or night rather than only ever at home or at work. No answer meant “they weren’t at home” or “they weren’t at their desk” and that was it.

Now it’s assumed phones are on you at all times, always charged, always on, and that level of accessibility is very hard for a lot of people to resist intruding on. Hence it’s above text-based messaging it’s like a tap-tap-tap ring-ring-ring are you there? They test your instinct to not answer the phone. That said, there’s the send to voicemail option and if you’re trying to avoid people then send them voicemail. Sometimes a variant of this is called “call screening” where you listen to the first 2-5 seconds to see who it is before answering or not. Then again you could just send them all with a divert to voicemail.

Always diver can be problematic because certain people will start to get offended if you just divert all calls to voicemail. There’s an expectation in business that whilst Emails and IMs might not require an immediate response if I call twice or three times then it’s urgent and I need you to pick up. That said, the phone ringing suggests they’re not in the same room which means they technically can’t tell if you’re there or not. For people that get lots of phone calls: I’ll get about 20 on an average workday for example, it can be quite frustrating when you’re trying to concentrate. If you answer that phone, you’re stuck with a conversation where you need to go through pleasantries, get to the nut of what they actually want from you, answer or try to give them what they want or need, or make a commitment to get them something that they want or need, more pleasantries and then hang up, followed by taking some notes, setting some reminders and oh wait - here comes the next phone call.

I have a policy that I’ll answer calls when: (Your list of rules may vary and this is just what I do)

  • I’m not in a business critical meeting
  • I’m not in training (or giving training)
  • On call - no matter what or when, during business hours

When I put myself into self-imposed lock-down (I’ll talk more about that shortly…) I only answer if it’s my boss or about a pressing issue I’m aware of already and I’ll send the rest to voicemail and if they don’t leave a voicemail I never call them back. If it was important they’d leave a voice mail or call me back.

I think people get very annoyed if you repeatedly and consistently ignore their phone calls but it’s also relative to position. I’ve found that people with higher positions in companies get cut more slack and the lower you are in the hierarchy the more expectation there is that you’ll just drop everything and answer the phone. Repeatedly screening calls from the same person carries a definite risk you’ll offend that person since there’s no chance to provide context as to why you’re doing it, but generally it’s not much more offensive than ignoring IMs.

There’s a huge saving in terms of focus to be had in sending all of your calls to voicemail but do so with caution. I prefer call screening and checking my VMs periodically as a better balance.

In Your Face (#1)

Sometimes I’ve heard it called “Cubicle Bombing.” You’re at your desk, trying to work and they just rock up and say “Hi!” For added impact, sometimes they hunt in packs. They’ll stand and look at you, or tap you on your shoulder, or talk loudly next to you, pretty much anything to get your attention. Humans are social animals and we don’t usually like to offend other people but if you’re like me and you tend to wear your emotions on your sleeve it’s hard to hide annoyance and frustration when you’re genuinely busy and get cubicle bombed.

I think that people need to know that you’re busy and you really can’t talk but rather than come across as impatient and disinterested I’m getting more direct in my old age. I try to be firm and say “I need to finish this Email/report/whatever for [insert name of important person here] so can I drop by later?” or something similar and most people will respect that. Then comes the “Oh it won’t take long…” and yeah, sure, there you go for an hour or longer conversation.

Some people think that work is just going and talking to other people but the reality is that talking is not actually work for the vast majority of the workforce pretty much of the time in an average day. If you’re in Human Resources even then it’s not really true since there’s plenty of paperwork or data entry to do too.

Then there are the cubicle bombers that just won’t leave. I’m not saying I’ve tried all of these but here’s few I’ve seen others pull:

  • Faking a phone call on your mobile
  • Needing to visit the restroom/washroom/bathroom, but not really needing to
  • Having an “help me” sound or gesture with your cubicle mate across the way and get them to interrupt somehow

People generally come to see you as a last resort these days, not the first. Which is both good and bad. The truth is though if they can find you, just ignoring them will offend them and telling them to go away will also offend them. You might be in a position in the organisation where the risk of offending them is far too great to risk for fear of loss of your position.

So if you need focus, you need to find a way to make yourself harder to find.

The Bottom Line

Why these distractions annoy me so much centers around when someone needs something from you, it’s all about them and what they need or want, not about how they’ll make your job/life easier. They distract you from the task that you care about or are accountable for delivering, to make you refocus on the task that THEY care about or need to deliver themselves. The truth is when they distract you, almost always they win and you lose.

The flip side is clear: what about when you need something from someone else? Do you have the right to distract THEM? If you do because they’re the nominated person what’s the right way to do it? I suggest working your way up the list from bottom to top. Email first, if there is no response, message second, phone call third, plan a meeting about it (30mins or less if possible) and finally if there is no other choice, track them down physically. Waiting more than 10 minutes between each escalation is also advisable.

If you need to get something done, you need to focus and you need to say NO then lock-down is what you should do.

Eliminate the distractions that will cause minimal offence to others and maximum your potential for distraction-free time. I’d suggest this order of hierarchy:

  1. Turn off and don’t check your Email.
  2. Go to Do Not Disturb for your IMs.
  3. Screen your phone calls and let unimportant, non-urgent calls go to voicemail.
  4. Get out of the office, or if not find a place in the office where you don’t normally go and can get a quiet spot to work without distraction. If they can’t find you they can’t get in your face.

Even if you don’t do them all, do as many as you can because focus does mean saying no and it sometimes means saying no without saying it at all and putting yourself and your focus ahead of others.

General 2017-01-15T05:45:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Everything Is Cyclic Everything Is Cyclic Wash - Rinse - Repeat

So says the instructions on the shampoo bottle, or was that Lather, Rinse, Repeat? Either way the idea that sequences are part of our lives is pervasive in ways we often don’t recognise cognitively. The sun rises, it sets, the seasons change and repeat each year and so on.

Yet when it comes to personal desires we seem to not recognise this cyclic nature in ourselves. Though in humans it seems to be more driven in some people by the urge to refine, to iterate and to improve. A perfect example from my own life is commuting to and from work. A common problem set at the foot of many people in the world.

Your options: Drive or take public transport.

For a few years I drove to work whenever I could, which was never exclusively, but when a project had a downtown car park that I was able to utilise every day for a few months I took that option. I had been on a combination of buses and trains for the preceding 2 years and grew tired of the scheduling problems, late trains, breakdowns and so on.

All of that was replaced by traffic jams and being stuck on a freeway unable to get off. Large accidents setting me back 3 hours on one occasion from getting home.

Back on the train again for another 2 years, drive for 6 months, back on the train for 2 more years and so the cycle goes on.

The more I think about it the more it’s about forgetting the frustrations that drove us away from the previous pattern to explore a different pattern, or to tweak a previous pattern in the hope of finding an improvement. Hopefully there’s progress towards the ultimate goal of optimisation but I fear in some cases the cyclic nature drives itself with no end.

I’ve seen it time and again in management circles: We need to centralise to reduce bottlenecks, followed by a decentralisation to improve efficiencies of each department, only to become centralised once again years later.

The same cyclic nature seems to be pervasive in technology circles as well. I started with a MacBook Pro 15” and tried that for 3 years, then I switched to a Mac Pro and used a 1st Gen iPad for mobile work, then switched to a MacBook Air 13” for a few years then back to the MacBook Pro 15” again. The rough sequence of events was:

  • Old MBP wasn’t getting used as a laptop (always connected) so let’s switch to a desktop instead
  • Desktop/iPad combination wasn’t flexible/powerful enough for my needs to let’s use a light laptop
  • Light laptop not powerful enough for audio/video editing so let’s switch to a MBP
  • MBP is to heavy too lug around with me so let’s try an iPad Pro instead
  • and so on…

Of course my usage requirements changed at some points along that journey and that drove some of those changes but ultimately no single requirement ever wins out and we romanticise the good elements of our previous cycle which drives the idea that we should try something different.

Is this attempt to refine our life-flows actually beneficial? I begin to wonder how much money and time is spent worrying about little niggling details we try to optimise and lose sight of the bigger picture.

“Oh you’re never happy,” my wife sometimes tells me in my endless pursuit of a refinement or a tweak that to her seems trivial. As I sit here I think she’s right.

If it’s not broken, don’t fix it, so I’ve been told. And mis-remembering past experiences doesn’t mean present experiences are broken at all. And if the problem is just our memory, then we need to carefully examine the truth about our past cycles, and make a pragmatic choice, not an emotive, selective-memory driven decision. Much as it would disappoint the many thousands of companies that want you to upgrade or try their new widget that will “make you more efficient” maybe you just shouldn’t.

Maybe everthing isn’t cyclic after all. It doesn’t need to be. In many cases that choice is up to you.

General 2016-02-20T21:30:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Good Notes Good Notes The iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil are amazing products but they aren’t any good without good software that supports their hardware features. Naturally the Notes app on the iPad itself has been optimised for the Pencil, and it shows with excellent pressure sensitivity and tilt support with some of the cleanest lines you’d like to see.

It has one big drawback though: there’s no OCR and with it no searchability. Maybe I’m asking too much but this isn’t the days of the Palm Pilot where I learned to write in “Graffiti” one letter at a time. OCR is becoming quite common and honestly with support now in OneNote it’s becoming very mainstream as Microsoft are leveraging their decades of experience with pen support.

Apple don’t have a native solution for it on iOS and whilst I recognise that typing will always be significantly faster than handwriting, in engineering I spend a significant amount of my time making hand-written notes and drawing diagrams with a reasonable amount of text. Being able to search that handwritten text would be a dream come true.

OneNote to the rescue - kinda…

The problem is that in my office environment access to the servers is firewalled and I have to tether to get external access to my OneDrive for OneNote sync and Microsoft do OCR on the notes on the server side, feeding the results back to the document when they’re done. They suggest 5 minutes but I’ve waited hours. The advantage of that method is it’s genuine image OCR and it should therefore work for any image of sufficient quality in the OneNote document (more on why that matters later) but it requires the server side and that’s a problem for me in my use case.

I need something that works locally on the device. Maybe it’s coming someday but for now, OneNote can’t help me.

Good Notes 4

I’d spent a week or two of work with my iPad Pro just prior to Christmas and used Notes and it was fine, except it began to mirror my real-world notes problems: they were an unsearchable, poorly indexed mess but at least I could look at them wherever I was without having to drag my engineering notebook everywhere with me.

I’d researched a lot of software and after watching several how-to videos forked out the $7.99USD ($12.99AUD) for the iOS and shortly thereafter another $7.99 for the Mac version because it blew me away so completely.

GoodNotes 4 allows you to create Categories for your notes starting you off with “Uncategorised” and “Trash” but I simply added Work and Home and went with those. When you create a Notebook you can choose several different kinds of Covers with options ranging from Bright, Calm, Dark, Enclosed, Plain and Simple: each with a subset of interesting patterns. Being me, I stuck with the default cover: Simple Blue.

The first page (and each subsequent can be added prior or after any page you’re on quite easily) gives you options for different paper sizes with pre-ruled and graph-style papers. My two favourites I use are Standard (A4) because that’s the standard in Australia, and I always choose between Narrow Ruled (if I’m writing a lot of words), Narrow and Quad Ruled (aka graph paper for sketching diagrams) or just Plain (just for freehand sketching).

Swiping between pages is easy with a two-finger slide left or right, with pinch to zoom works as expected plus there’s a handy zoom in close function for fine work that all worked nicely and were quite polished compared to the standard Apple Notes app.

A single tap along the top selects your drawing implement be it a stylus as a pen, a highlighter, an eraser or to enable the handy Lasso tool for selecting areas of your notes and cut/copy/paste/resize them as required. A second tap for those drawing implements with colour selectivity brings up a palette with line thickness control as well. There’s shape recognition which I found to be passable but Grafio does a far better job as does OneNote.

There are options to sync your content via iCloud which works fine between my iPhone 6S+, iPad Pro and Macbook Pro, but also includes Import/Export options for Google Drive, OneDrive Box and DropBox as well as using DropBox for Automatic backup beyond iCloud if you so wish. You can also import content from other iCloud Drive sources, Photos or the Camera directly.

Ultimately though that’s not what hooked me.

Searching Handwritten Notes

Open a workbook and select the ellipsis in the top right corner then “Search” and type in the text you want to find. GN4 then does a real-time handwriting recognition search through the workbook and highlights in yellow all instances it found of the text. It works on the device in isolation, which I tested by killing the WiFi, writing something then searching for the text I’d just written.

Selecting the search entry takes you straight to that occurrence as per any standard typed-text search. My handwriting cursive is terrible so I switched to printing when I was in Grade 7 to make my handwriting legible. It’s not as fast as cursive but it works and you can usually understand what I’ve written. Unlike the days of the Palm Pilot and Grafitti, GN4 had no problem recognising my handwritten notes provided I didn’t overlap too many letters.

I’ve only used the English (US) handwriting recogition so for other languages I can’t make comment. I did try to trip-up the software by underlining through y’s and g’s but it didn’t skip a beat.


As you can see my cursive (bottom) is terrible, and my slow printing is quite readable, with my normal writing speed for notes is, relatively okay. That said, GN4 found the search text “speed” in all three sentances.


GN4 also found “friend” in the cursive section. Not that I’m intending to write in cursive though.

The Not So Good

Like all things, it’s not perfect and it would be remiss of me not to mention the issues I’ve encountered.

  • Palm rejection is somewhat twitchy when I’m taking notes in Landscape the most common annoyance is the iPad bringing up the app-switcher randomly and drawing a line across the document in the process that I see when I return to the app. There is a hand-angle adjustment I’m playing with to try and improve that but it throws me out about once every 20 minutes or so of writing. The Notes app never does it, so I’m assuming that will improve with time.
  • Broken lines appear from time to time when I’m writing quickly and it might be based on pressure sensitivity though it’s hard to be certain. Notes does a better job but the broken lines don’t seem to affect the handwriting recognition as it’s only a 2 or 3 pixels and it’s really only a visual annoyance if you zoom in closely.
  • Handwriting search being restricted to the open workbook only is honestly my biggest gripe. When searching workbooks at the top level screen it only text-searches the workbook titles. To search for handwritten text you need to open the workbook and then search within it. If I’m trying to organise my workbooks for different purposes but need to find something I wrote I need to open them all in turn and search individually.
  • Handwriting search is not OCR in a traditional parlance and at first that doesn’t seem to be a show stopper until you try and import notes taken in another app, like Notes. To get handwriting recognition to work on my old notes I’d taken, I saved them as images to the Camera roll, imported them into GN4 then I traced them over the top and deleted the original image. That’s fine if you have 20 pages of notes like I did, but if you have more it’s a big deal.
  • Desktop app is an iCloud viewer for the moment at least as it’s only been out for four months. It’s what I mainly need (handwriting search works here too) but I’m hoping in future they add synchronising to other sync-services and some editing features but honestly I’m using it as a reference on my desktop/laptop. I enter/write all of my notes on the iPad Pro anyway.

Standard Zoom

It’s a rare issue but broken lines aren’t too bad at normal zoom.

Zoomed In

Zooming in the broken lines are quite pronounced. It’s not a common problem but I never experienced this with Notes app.

How I’m Using It

To overcome the restrictions on search I’ve created two Categories, one for work and one for home each with a small number of workbooks in them. For Work in particular where I’m going to need as much searchability as possible I’ll be keeping a single workbook for every 3 or 6 months (let’s see how unwieldy it gets after 3 months) before starting a new one. This is analogous to how I operate in the real world and in future hopefully they will add searching across multiple Workbooks or I could just copy and paste each into a master “searchable” file.


I’m still hoping for an open-pen format that’s widely supported for pen-captured data that would allow handwritten notes to be copied and pasted between documents. We have that for text but OCR can’t be the answer for every such problem. That said, searching handwritten text allows me for the first time ever to take notes the way I always have with handwriting but not require paper or a pencil, and then have all of my notes available on all of my devices; not stuck in a set of physical notebooks that turn ragged and fall apart and requires storage for years.

We are so close to going paperless. I can feel it.

General 2016-01-10T21:20:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in Engineering The iPad Pro and Apple Pencil in Engineering A great deal of digital ink has been spilled (pixels have been randomly arranged?) over whether the iPad is actually a useful productivity tool and much of it has been written by artists, technology journalists and bloggers, but I have yet to see much of a comprehensive examination of the iPad from an engineering perspective.

Before I go further, if you prefer listening to podcasts, I talk about it extensively on Episode 68: Paperless of Pragmatic on The Engineered Network.

I know several other engineers that aren’t interested in the Apple cult, and prefer the configurability of Microsoft products of the past and they latched on to the Surface when it came out however reports of its sluggishness and heft as a tablet made it more of a laptop with a detachable keyboard than an actual tablet, and the Surface Pen was not held in very high regard either. I heard of issues with palm rejection and accuracy as well as lag, but observation is the best tell and I’ve observed those people using their Surface almost exclusively as a laptop, and seldom if ever using the Pen.

As I am more personally invested in the Apple ecosystem, I’ve owned and throughly used an iPad 1, iPad 2, iPad Air, iPad Mini, iPad Mini 2 and now an iPad Pro. In that time I’ve used a Griffin 2-in-1 Pen/Capacitive Stylus, an Adonit Jot Pro and now an Apple Pencil. So with those qualifications out of the way…

What’s Special About Engineering?

Engineering involves conveying a lot of information diagrammatically and it’s not the only profession that does. In that sense marking up drawings, flow charts, red lines and whiteboards are our tools for this job, but what frustrates me more than the old tongue in cheek comment “the age of the paperless office” which apparently happened in the 80s but the world must have missed it somehow, as I intuitively know that moment is coming. What device/service or combination thereof will finally deliver on that promise-turned-running-gag?

To be effective as an engineering tool for me personally it needs to solve several problems I have:

  • An engineering notebook everywhere that stores sketches, handwritten as well as typed notes
  • Accurate markups of PDFs without loss of resolution
  • Creating flow charts and diagrams quickly and easily
  • Portable enough to take everywhere with me
  • Able to physically sign documents, in Word and PDFs accurately

The goals are to eliminate three issues I encounter every day at work:

  • I need to carry three pens everywhere (Blue, Black and Red) and they leak, they get lost, they run out of ink, they suck
  • I currently have to print a document, write my markups on it, then scan it in again which erodes the resolution every time and makes the original document unsearchable even with the best OCR software currently available.
  • I make notes in my engineering notebook (a legal requirement) and need to take it everywhere with me but its size is limited so I move from book to book with transitional periods between books requiring that I carry multiple at once.

iPad for Engineering: Take 1

The iPad Pro for engineering is therefore first and foremost about the stylus, but the ability to use the device with a touch screen keyboard would be a huge plus as well if it could pull it off. That said I’d tried styluses before without much luck and touch screen keyboards as well without any success, so call me skeptical from the outset.

I drew several Enginerd comic strips using my iPad Mini 2 and the Griffin and Adonit mentioned previously but to be honest it was difficult and frustrating. I tried to use older iPads and styluses at work and the two big issues that kept arising were:

  • Stylus accuracy and speed made drawing markups, signatures and notes effectively impossible to do
  • I found myself regularly erasing and trying strokes and signatures again and again and eventually giving up (signatures bared no resemblance to my signature with a traditional pen and paper)
  • Typing was slow because the key sizes on the Mini were too cramped and on the original iPad the typing lag was beyond horrible much of the time

Of course the typing problems of an iPad can be overcome in some ways by using an external keyboard. To that end I used an original iPad keyboard dock with all of the models from time to time, even using a 30-pin dock to lightning adaptor with a box of old business cards to support the weight of the iPad (a trick that worked fine until the iPad Pro came about). It was excellent, however only useful on my desktop at work and for portability to meetings and on the train it was useless.

I also tried the Clamcase, but it just wasn’t stable enough even on the train with the keyboard component regularly disconnecting and being horribly sluggish at the best of times. I wrote about it, I podcasted about it and honestly I gave up on the iPad as an engineering productivity tool.

That was, until the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil were released.

iPad for Engineering: Take 2

Ever willing to give technology another chance, I obtained an iPad Pro, Apple Pencil and Smart Cover and took it to work for several weeks in the lead up to Christmas determined that if it didn’t work out, I would return them. If they couldn’t earn their place then they had no place. The TL;DR: I still have them all.

Double Touch Typing

Yes I did a year of typing classes at high school and I’m a touch typist as a result of those hard yards. Keyboard key spacing is critical when I’m going from device to device. I’ve tried many times to use touch screen keyboards for touch typing, but there have always been two issues: No locators for your index fingers (see those notches on your F and J keys on your physical keyboard? Yeah those things) and the key-sizing and inter-key spacing a were always just off/small enough such that when typing on the screen like it was a physical keyboard, many keys didn’t align. Typing on older/smaller iPads was slower, very inaccurate and ultimately frustrating typing and in the end I just gave up.

When I’m talking about key-sizing and inter-key spacing, what I’m referring to is that the physical dimensions of the screens on iPads make it physically impossible to create a virtual keyboard that matches a physical equivalent. The same is true of the iPad Pro, actually but it’s damned close. The key sizes and spacing on the iPads 1, 2, Mini, Pro, Smart Keyboard and a Apple Wireless keyboard for comparative purposes as shown below:

Device / Keyboard Width (mm) Height (mm) Key Spacing (mm)
iPad Mini Landscape 12 11.5 14.5
iPad Pro Portrait 12 11.5 13.5
iPad 1 & 2 Landscape 15 14 17
iPad Pro Landscape 16 15 18
iPad Pro Smart Keyboard 15 14.5 19
Standard MBP and 1st Generation Aluminium Physical Keyboards 16 15 19

A real world physical keyboard is 273mm wide from the left hand edge of the Caps Lock to the right hand edge of the Return key. The full width of the iPad Pro screen is only 263mm, and that missing 10mm has to come from somewhere. As you can see from the table above, Apple shaved it off the inter-key spacing, which is the obvious choice and honestly the one I would have made as well.

Touch Typing: How Fast is Fast?

As a way to test just how different the typing was between the touch screen and a real physical keyboard, I took a good old-fashioned typing test, using a 1st Generation Aluminium Apple physical keyboard as well as the new Smart Keyboard vs the iPad Pro touch screen keyboard in landscape mode. I used the app “TapTyping” and each test was performed three times in each configuration and the best time taken from each.

Just for good measure I threw in a test on the same hardware and software by using the iPad Pro in portrait mode whose keyboard dimensions closely approximates my previous failed attempts to get screen touch typing utility from the iPad Mini keyboard. Hence, same software, same hardware iPad with only the keyboard data entry as the variable. The results:

Device/Keyboard Speed (wpm) Accuracy (%)
iPad Pro soft keyboard in Portrait Mode 39 94
iPad Pro Smart Keyboard 63 96
iPad Pro soft keyboard in Landscape Mode 67 97
iPad Pro with Apple Bluetooth Keyboard 85 98

It’s important to note that the typing test accuracy does not rely on auto corrections and letters must be corrected prior to proceeding. That said, the occasional need to glance down at my virtual keys really hurt my speed and the slightly different key spacings also hurt my accuracy, but it’s the same old story: physical keyboards will always be faster for raw speed.

Without a physical edge to feel for, once your fingers are visually aligned on the F&J keys, the maximum error on the iPad Pro is now only 1mm for the standard keyboard keys. For me at least, that turns out to be the threshold of usability for the first time for touch typing on a touch screen. (I henceforth refer to that as double touch typing)

I’m still slowed down initially when I glance down at the glass to position my fingers for the first letters but after that it doesn’t require any further thinking or retraining and I’m happily typing away. My fingers sometimes need to realign on the stretch keys that can drag my hands away from their home position over the F&J keys which then slows me down.

The verdict though: the iPad Pro is by the far the best and perhaps only iPad out there that I can double touch type on.

Smart Keyboard

The Smart Keyboard is designed to work only with the iPad Pro and uses the three small and well disguised pins located on the left hand side of the tablet. It has several folding configurations depending upon whether you want to use the keyboard or not, or in carrying mode. All of these took a fair amount of practice in the store to get your head around.

I tried typing on the Smart Keyboard in an Apple Store several times for up to 30 minutes at a time trying to decide what I thought about the key mechanism but I ultimately came away with the impression that it felt rubbery, sluggish and annoying.

Interestingly though, despite being a physical keyboard, I wasn’t able to type faster than the touch keyboard, but as the results show it’s not by much of a margin. The marginally smaller keys and texture of those keys made it harder to feel the edges than the standard Bluetooth keyboard but those locating notches were nevertheless helpful.

The truth is however, if I wanted to lug around a physical keyboard it needs to have more normal physical keys on it. The keys on the Smart Keyboard feel like a material compromise too far, most likely as a weight reduction measure, thinness and possibly also for moisture resistance, but either way it doesn’t feel that great, and for that kind of money it needs to.

I wanted to try the touch typing experience on the touch screen before I spent money on the smart keyboard and with the results of the touch keyboard being promising, for the moment at least I think I’ll pass on the smart keyboard. If I didn’t have a laptop and the iPad Pro was my only device then I could understand buying a physical keyboard as well.

Such a big screen needs some sort of protection however so if you’re serious about protecting your investment then the ideal typing experience could include a Smart Cover and an external keyboard of some kind. To that end I looked at two Apple-based options.

Device Cost (AUD) Cost (USD) Weight (g)
Smart Keyboard $269 $169 337
Apple Wireless Keyboard $165 $99 231
Smart Cover $89 $59 162
(AWK + SC Combination) -$15 -$11 +56

The best typing experience would be to buy the Bluetooth keyboard and the Smart Cover and only take the keyboard when lots of typing was anticipated. I dare say for the vast majority of tablet owners the Smart Keyboard will get little use if they have another computing device with a genuine keyboard. I think, to borrow Tim Cooks expression, the keyboard makes the iPad a more “confusing product” than it needs to be. Especially when you consider just how good the double touch typing experience now is on the iPad Pro screen.

Also to prove the point that the touch screen is plenty good, this entire article was typed in double touch.

Apple Pencil

I’ve always dreamed of having both a responsive and an accurate stylus but until I tried this one, I hadn’t found it. Yes I did the slow motion thing and I know there is still lag, and yes some apps haven’t been updated to fully utilise the Apple Pencil specific APIs. Honestly though, those apps that have been updated are a dream to use and the drawing lag is barely perceptible unless you’re trying to find it.

Before we get to that though, as a drawing device I had no option but to compare them with the competition:

Writing Implement Weight (g)
Papermate InkJoy boring old normal ball-point pen 7
Apple Pencil 20.5
Adonit 23

Of course it’s not a fair fight since the Apple Pencil is an active device with a battery and such, and the metal case of the Adonit makes it quite a bit heavier, but the thing I noticed the most was that the Apple Pencil feels like the heaviest pen to hold in your hand when you’re writing like due to its weight distribution. I sometimes remove the lid from pencils to make them lighter and reduce their overall length when using them for longer periods. (Reduces hand fatigue) This also has the effect of reducing the pressure I write with when I do so. The plug/cap on the end of the Apple Pencil doesn’t make much of a difference to either the weight or the length of the device and it still feels just as heavy.

Okay that’s a bit of a nit pick for sure but I personally don’t like a hefty pen when I’m writing with it for a long period of time. It feels unnecessary and adds no real value since it appears as though they’ve added steel to weight it to prevent rolling and also to be attracted to the magnets mounted in the iPad. Directly comparing it then, I’ve found using it for longer periods tires my hand more so than a traditional pen would, which is understandable given the additional weight.

I can get used to that of course, since I used to be able to write six pages of text notes during a two hour lecture 20 years ago without my hand cramping. Those were the days…(insert old man comment here)


Carrying the iPad Pro between meetings is no different to bringing my traditional notebook, and the battery life easily lasts the day with practically constant use. I do get annoyed about the short battery life of the Apple Pencil with a full day of use in my job requiring an emergency charge mid-afternoon on two separate days. That said, the charging was quick even though inserting it into the Lightning port looks ridiculous and is particularly prone to accidental damage if you or someone close by is careless.


I started out using the built in Notes app for taking my notes but moved to GoodNotes shortly thereafter and even transcribed my notes into that app for its amazing handwriting recognition features. I’ve been using Grafio for charts and diagrams and PDF Pen for marking up PDFs. Sync services via iCloud and Dropbox for those apps work really well but refer to my individual reviews of those apps for more about the software component of the iPad Pro equation.

Non-Engineering Tasks

Having owned and extensively used all of the iPad form factors now, I can safely say that the size extremes have clear use cases with the mid-size model being a bit of both.

  • Mini is for single handed use and great for reading novels
  • Pro is for two handed use and great for newspapers and comics
  • Air is a bit of both and balances portability with the above two

There is something magical about being able to touch the screen and see things respond directly to your touch. When I used my first light pen in the late 80s I was impressed but it was nothing like what we have now. I worry that people get a bit blasé about it with the near ubiquity of smartphones these days, but the fact remains the immersiveness you feel interacting with a touch device only draws you in more, the larger the screen is.

I use my laptop on the train a few hours each work day but primarily at my desk. I use my iPad on the couch or in a comfy chair. For reading Twitter, the newspaper, Instapaper, my RSS feeds, and just surfing the Internet the iPad Pro has been the best iPad yet for those tasks.

I thought that I would miss the one handed operation of the Mini but ultimately I just prop the Pro up on my leg or knee bent at a comfortable angle and don’t really hold it at all and I’ve been fortunate to spend a few hours in that position over the Christmas holidays and it hasn’t been an issue.

Video and audio playback is simply amazing with excellent bass reproduction and the volume can easily fill a small room. Much to be happy about there.

I’ve been avoiding using my iPad in bed for a few months now since I’ve trying to avoid artificial light before bed so that hasn’t been issue either. In short: one-handed operation of an iPad turns out to not be a big issue for me. Your mileage may vary.


There is no doubt that achieving a truly paperless office is a challenging task. Asking yourself the question: ‘do I really need that printout?’ certainly helps, but truly collaborative software tools are only just now becoming available that allow the sorts of digital collaboration we need to bring ourselves over the line technologically speaking.

So long as organizations and legislators rely on wet ink-signatures, we’ll be stuck with paper. So long as employees are given laptops and not tablets and styluses for their jobs, we’ll be stuck with paper. Where we have a choice, or decide to draw a line and stump up our own funds to try and escape the shackles of the paper world and all of its flaws, I think going paperless is absolutely possible.

The iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil, in conjunction with GoodNotes has allowed me to completely ditch my written notebooks. I can search those notes with good accuracy, and I can double-touch type on the tablet with no external keyboard or special (heavier) cover required, at quite a respectable speed for the first time ever.

For me at least, I’ll be keeping this device and using it for my job every day, and for many days to come.

General 2016-01-10T19:00:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
The Engineered Network The Engineered Network I’ve been working on a project for a few months now with the aim of providing a platform for other engineers that want to create a podcast and get themselves out there. It’s a podcast network and it’s called “The Engineered Network” and it launches today with three shows: Pragmatic (returning from the ashes), Causality and Neutrium.

Rather than reiterate what I’ve already said on TEN, check it out directly.

What that means for TechDistortion should be clear: I’m focussing on TEN for the forseeable future and TD will only be updated occasionally as I have something to say that isn’t network-related.

Thank you in advance for your support everyone.

General 2015-10-10T05:30:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Two At A Time Two At A Time I had weight loss surgery 16 months ago and I’ve had many requests from friends, twitter followers and pragmatic listeners for an update to how it’s going. How I’m doing. If it was worth it, where this flight of stairs has taken me and if that was a good destination.

To answer in that order:

  • It’s going okay so far
  • I’m doing fine
  • It was totally worth it so far

Consider that the TL;DR and stop reading there if that’s all you want to know. Otherwise…let’s talk.

This article is broken down into the NEGATIVES and the POSITIVES. Do yourself a big favour and read through the whole lot to understand the trade-offs. It’s not as simple as you’d think.

Note: Some on this was discussed on Episode 57 of Pragmatic

Like being a parent explaining parenthood to a non-parent there will be a limit to what I can convey to you, the reader, the potential patient even, about what this surgery will do to you. It’s not for my inability to annunciate that which I have experienced, nor is it a judgement of your inability to comprehend it. Rather the language and the feelings are difficult to fully convey in this medium.

Beyond that dilemma we also have the consideration that my experiences are my own, and whilst some of the symptoms I have experienced are common and shared amongst those that have had the same or similar surgeries, there is no way I can possibly know all of the permutations and combinations of experiences of everyone that has undergone this or a similar procedure.

Noting the above points we’ll do the best we can with what we have.

I had a Gastric Sleeve (technically referred to as a Laparoscopic Sleeve Gastrectomy) which has elements in common with the older Gastric Bypass procedure but nothing to do with a Gastric Band. And yes, the Band probably should be banned…but I digress.

What A Sleeve Is

The sleeve is essentially a staple-line along the major length of the stomach and between 75-80% of the stomach (lower-back) is physically removed below the staple line. This heals and then forms a sleeve-like, tubular stomach. No other modifications to the intenstines are performed. Titanium staples are most commonly used (and were in my case) and most surgeons will use either 2 or 3 rows of staples to ensure there are no leaks.

The sleeve performs two functions: It reduces the total volume that the stomach can hold and because the food in the stomach stays in the stomach for significantly less time, less is absorbed by the body. Beyond this many patients lose their sense of hunger (more on that shortly) and the taste of certain foods change. That’s probably the next part to mention.

Everything About Food Changes

Well maybe not everything, but forget what you knew, what you thought you knew about food and start again. I used to enjoy sweet food, fatty food, lots of carbohydrates and lots of spicy food with few side-effects but now, after only small quantities (maybe 3-5 mouthfuls of carbohydrates mostly) within 2-30 minutes I feel nauseas, faint, my heart races, I feel drained and sometimes even shake and break into a cold sweat with shallow breathing.

The gotchas I’ve learned and the way I eat and what I eat is a daily relearning that I’m continuing to struggle with. What follows are some of the changes I’ve had to make in my eating habits to give you an idea of the consequences of this type of surgery.


Only Eat (don’t drink) and Eat Very, Very Slowly

That’s the age old advice: chew your food, don’t “guts” your food, don’t rush it or you’ll get a tummy-ache. The sleeve puts that “ache” part to shame. Rush it and it won’t just ache. It will HURT and HURT and HURT. I’ve learned that moment of bracing myself, if I swallow something I haven’t chewed well enough. Holding your arms up above your head helps a bit. Standing up and walking around with your arms stretched high above your head also helps a bit more.

I try to face it by pretending I’m doing an extended arm-stretch but it’s obvious after the first minute of doing it, that your arms as stretched as they’re ever going to get without deploying a torturing rack. I must just look odd to other people when I do that, but it helps with the pain.

Due to the lack of pliability of the stomach in the first few years following the surgery each mouthful of food tends to pack the air in front of it behind it like a plug. The increasing pressure exerted by this gas build-up after the first 2-4 swallows of food starts to get painful if you don’t carefully burp to let that gas build-up out. I’ve gotten a lot better at quiet-burping as secretly as possible but sometimes you just risk the embarrassment rather than take the more painful route. It’s become easier after 12 months post-op but it’s still a problem.

The other point is to only eat: meaning don’t drink a liquid at the same time as you’re eating. The liquid takes up valuable real-estate down there and can create painful pressure as the food is compacted after each swallow.

Fear Eating In Public

I’ve grown to greatly dislike eating in public. I have to take a long time to eat my food and when you’re a big surly looking bloke like me (5’11” and solidly built) and you’re surrounded by other similar people at the table, you all get the meal at the same time but you’re barely on your 4th mouthful when everyone else has finished.

But it gets worse. Many places serve food and drink together.

It’s bad enough when the others at the table (that don’t know you’ve had this surgery) look at you, your plate, back at you again and ask if there’s something wrong with it or “not hungry?” they’ll ask. What’s worse though is when the table-staff or even owner comes over and asks you how your meal was. For so many years I nodded and said fine, they’d see a cleared plate, nod, smile and move on to the next table. Now they stop, pause and look concerned.

Usually they ask if something’s wrong with your meal, if you’re feeling well, but the one that took the cake was a waitress in Miles where they don’t pull any punches: “If there’s something wrong with your meal you should tell me sooner, and I’ll just bring you something else mate…” she said to me somewhat impatiently.

Whatever you may think of customer service out West, on that occasion I explained the situation, got them to box up the food that was left and slowly ate it over the next two days for lunch. It’s not so bad the first few times, but after two or three dozen times, it wears just a teeny, weeny bit fucking thin.

It’s far easier for me to ask for a starter and say, “I’m not that hungry today…”

Also I’ve given up asking for a mains without any carbs. Good god they look at you like you’re a freaking nutcase.

Me: “No rice please.” Server: “I’m sorry?” Me: “I can’t eat the carbohydrates. No rice please.” Server: “Can you say that again? You don’t want rice??” Me: “That’s right. No rice.” Server: “The meal comes served with rice. We can’t NOT give you rice with your meal.” Me: “A glass of water then.”

For the record, the dish in question had been served to me in the past at other restaurants with the rice in a separate bowl and sometimes not at all. But I’ve become so tired of asking for things like that, I just don’t bother any more. It’s not worth wasting my time trying to explain it.

Eating out? Here’s the sales pitch post-sleeve:

  • Be charged a fortune for a meal that you can only eat a quarter of at most and the rest will usually be thrown away
  • Be grilled by service staff about what was wrong with you or the meal they served you
  • Be grilled by your friends or family about the previous item for good measure
  • Take 4 times longer than anyone else at the table and feel guilty because they’re all waiting for you to finish before they order dessert

Get Used To Reheating Your Food

Because you eat slowly by the time you’ve nearly finished any hot food, it has long since gone cold. I’ve been reheating hot meals sometimes partway through eating them but that’s not always practical and in many cases it’s never quite the same after that anyway. Doesn’t seem to be any way around that one.

Avoid Alcohol

I wrote recently about how I’ve decided that it’s just better for everyone if I gave up Alcohol altogether. It’s simply impossible to pace yourself and be responsible behind the wheel of a vehicle post-surgery. Read that article if you want the details.

Goodbye Hunger

I no longer feel hungry. I can walk into a food court at a shopping center (mall) and smell the delights of a dozen of my previously favourite cuisines and feel absolutely nothing. My mouth doesn’t water. I just don’t care. I don’t feel hunger. Although recently I’ve noticed having a feeling of emptyness when I haven’t eaten for several hours but it’s nothing at all like hunger used to be. It’s more of a niggling sub-note rather than a craving starvation.

I’ve read extensively on the subject and many sleevers report hunger returning between 6 months to even 5 years post-op however for me at least, it’s nowhere to be seen.

The problem is that hunger is the bodys way of reminding you it’s time to eat. If you forget to eat you feel faint and can pass out. I nearly passed out on two separate occasions before I learned that I had to remind myself to eat by the clock. Sometimes it gets annoying.

Other items of note

  • Buffets become completely pointless
  • Other people talking about food becomes incessantly annoying
  • Chewing becomes a chore
  • You’re just ‘over’ food, cooking shows, etc.


My heaviest recorded weight was 145kg (320lb) and initial consultation weight was about 136kg (300lbs) and my pre-operative weight was 128kg (280lbs). Keep in mind I lost 8kg on the two-week OptiSlim pre-op diet which was designed to reduce the amount of fat stored in the liver and improve the safety of the operation.

I now weigh 84.5kg (186lb). That’s a total loss of about 60kg (130lbs) from heaviest to now.

I have not felt this good since I was 20 years old and yes, that’s half my current age. If I stick to protein rich foods, stay away from sugar and carbohydrates, keep my fluids up (not too much coffee and plenty of water) I feel like I could run a mile in no time at all. It truly is amazing and eye-opening just how unhealthy I had become carrying around all that weight.

My new ritual: is it time to pull another notch in on my belt today? I’ve had four belts in the last 16 months and I’m fitting in a “Large” Shirt size which is bizarre to me. I’m able to shop at “normal” and even fashionable clothing stores for the first time in my adult life.

I’ve thrown away all of my oversized baggy clothes, updated all of my internet avatars to newer photos, started riding my bike again (now I can do that with the kids!) and occasionally, just…occasionally…breaking out into a sprint.

Because I can.

Kirsten and I are discovering “fine dining” at nice restaurants on our monthly date-night, where previously we would have balked at small serving sizes, meticulous presentation and seemingly poor value for money; now we see a small but amazing tasting steak, perfectly cooked and still a touch more than we can eat actually being spot on and we can enjoy it.

Food is no longer the boss of me. I am in control. Its hold over me is gone. And good riddance.

When all that is said and done though, thinking back over the past 2 years there was one event a few months ago that brought it all home. It was stupid, silly, juvenile even. You’re expecting me to say it was something to do with my kids, my wife, my family or friends. Perhaps a compliment or dozen about how great I looked? Nope.

It was the stairs.

I take the train every day to work and have to climb three flights of stairs to get up and over to the center platform to go to work. A few months ago, without even realising it, I reached the top and I wasn’t panting, wheezing or out of breath. I wasn’t fatigued and I looked back down the stairs and realised I’d just walked up them two steps at a time.

I hadn’t walked up a set of steps like that since I was a teenager. And there it was, the last two decades of my life captured in those steps. I was alive, I was crippled for a time, now I am alive once again.

This weight loss journey I took in steps, one at a time, so now I can enjoy my life two at a time.

General 2015-08-16T02:30:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Silent Journey Silent Journey We speak and we hear and we rely on our sense of hearing a great deal for communicating between ourselves and others. In the context of attracting the attention of other people, visually waving or jumping up and down will also work beyond yelling and screaming, but if we want to keep our signals discrete how best to do this?

In the theatre, a restaurant, a lecture, a business meeting, a gentle tap on the shoulder doesn’t disturb other people audibly and is barely visually noticable, but to do that you need to be physically next to that person. What if there was a device that you could wear that allowed other people to inaudibly tap you to get your attention but didn’t have to be in the same room?

The telephone started all of this notification stress. When it rang, large bells were hit by a hammer driven by an eletromagnet to get your attention. You could be on the other side of the house, so it had to be loud. Before long it was mobile devices, mobile phones, and of course the pager. Mobile devices didn’t have to be as loud (since it was always on your person) but bringing them into places where sound-making devices had never been taken before created hostility, frustration and resentment in social or business groups.

Vibrate to the rescue…sort of…

Manufacturers began introducing Microdrives into their mobile devices to provide a vibration when the device was not in sight. Visual indications alone (flashing lights when there is an incoming call/message) only work if the device is visible when not in use and aren’t enough. Relying on our sense of touch seems like the best solution.

Early vibration motors were very subtle but a problem became evident: our mobile devices often sit loosly in our clothes pockets, belt clips, handbags etc. In order to be certain the device got the users attention, they had to vibrate a significant amount and therefore vibration grew to be significant. Adjusting the level of vibration on the fly was technically difficult and became non-adjustable, being either fully on or fully off. That would be fine for discretely getting someones attention except for one problem.

They made noise

The problem is that making a vibration motor that used only small amounts of power, was light and vibrated vigorously enough to overcome the unreliable body contact problem had made the vibration function noticably audible. In order to overcome this, and be able to truly discretely notify someone we need a device that attaches to the body at all times. We need a wearable device. That way, the vibration function could be turned far down to a point at which it was essentially silent.

The Jawbone UP in late 2011 introduce a vibrating alarm notifier, followed by the FitBit One in late 2012. At that point the notification was restricted to alarms with no integration with smartphone notifications.

That came in late 2013 and it wasn’t very reliable. Around this time some Android Wear devices and the Pebble also were starting to integrate haptic notifications with smartphones. I wanted these devices back then. However I was heavily invested in the Apple Ecosystem at that point (still am) and as much as these devices were tempting to me, they did not integrate well with Apple devices.

In order to integrate as reliably and completely as possible with an Apple Smartphone, Apple would need to support those devices at the operating system level, or make their own wearable device. I decided to wait for that, just as I had done with the iPhone before it (I have never owned an iPod).

Apple Watch

Finally following rumour after rumour Apple announced the Apple Watch in September 2014, but released it for sale online only in late April. I visited a store to try one at that time as I was most interested in the haptic notifications. I was suitable impressed - it’s what I had been waiting for and once finances aligned on the 21st of June I purchased my 42mm Apple Sport Watch and have been wearing it now for three weeks.

The “Taptic Engine” as Apple calls it, is simply a linear actuator which makes significantly less noise than a traditional vibration motor. It is effectively silent on it’s lowest setting and unless your ear is within an inch of the watch, it’s practically silent even on its maximum setting (so-called Prominent Haptic).

The iFixIt Teardown Step 14 shows the linear actuator in all its glory. Because it’s attached to your wrist (wear your watch so it’s snug and doesn’t slide around and you’ll only need the gentlest intensity setting) and because it’s linear, you can more easily adjust the intensity of the tap sensation to suit your personal preferences.

How I Set Up My Notifications Post-Watch

I downloaded a silent ringtone and set my iPhone volume off. Every other sound in the Settings->Sounds is off, actually. Initially I also turned off Sounds in Notification Center for 3rd party apps like Tweetbot, eBay and so on, however I found out that if you do that the notifications won’t go through to the Apple Watch AT ALL (correct as per v1.0.1 of the watchOS). In the Apple Watch iPhone app I systematically went through every account and App on the watch and set a custom notification setting for it, turning off the “Sound” option for each one. Finally the watch Sound & Haptic settings - audio off and the lightest possible Haptic setting.

Mail Settings in Apple Watch iPhone App iPhone Sound Settings Apple Watch Sounds & Haptic Settings

Beyond this I also moved all of my alarms from my iPhone to the Watch only, since I’m always wearing it when I’m not charging it. I forward my work mobile and my work desk phone to my iPhone 6+ already, so they never ring either. I’ve muted my iPad and only turn sound up on my Macbook Air when I’m listening to music or watching video.

Charging Habits

The big downside of a smart watch is the need to charge it every day or every few days depending on the model. Clearly this is the tradeoff we make over a standard watch for all the additional functionality a smartwatch can provide us. Most people are charging their watches overnight, each and every day. I don’t do that.

I wear my Apple Watch all day and night when I’m working the following day and use the Taptic alarm to wake me in the morning. No longer do I wake up to a loud startling noise. The tapping is enough to rouse me even from a deep sleep and having done it reliably for several weeks now it hasn’t failed me once.

It only takes 90 minutes for a full charge from flat and most mornings the watch still has a residual 20-30% charge which takes only 1 hour to top up. Hence on a work day I come in to work and sit at my desk for the first hour of the day, going through EMails, answering queries, preparing for meetings etc. During that time I’m sitting in front of my laptop and I have all of the notifications in front of me. Discreteness isn’t required when you’re looking at a screen.

On weekends I don’t (generally) need to wake up at 4:30am and thus on those occasions I charge the watch overnight. In future I have no doubt that Apple will add sleep monitoring to the watch. When that happens, that information will be a nice bonus to track my sleeping habits.

Not Exactly Misophonic

Retrospectively I’ve wondered if I was suffering from a mild case of Misophonia but that’s probably an extreme diagnosis. Our brains learn to associate emotions with sounds and when an alarm noise is heard we associate inconvenience and frustration with that noise. It’s especially noticable when the alert sound you’ve used as your alarm clock sound for years is being used by the person sitting next to you as their phone ringtone.

Over the years I’ve built up a learned memory of emotional reactions to the many different alarm and ring tones I’ve used over the years. Like the music we hear at a loved ones funeral, it’s hard to listen to those sounds again without triggering some emotional response. It’s hard to put a dollar value on how much less stressed I feel now that the notification noises are no longer part of my daily life.

Gone are the buzzes, beeps, alarms, noises and musical ringtones. No longer does my heart skip a beat when a notification alert sounds in the next cubicle, someone elses pocket, or from the next room because I know that notification can’t be for me. Ever.

I’ve come to realise that with notifications, it’s not what the Apple Watch adds, it’s what it subtracts that makes the biggest difference.

For me at least, my Apple Watch journey has been a silent journey. One that has made me fall in love with this device so much more than I thought possible.

Technology 2015-07-11T17:55:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Balance Balance Ingest, Process, Expound (IPE) is how I like to think about the process of content creation. We ingest information through our senses, process that which we have ingested and then we have a choice about if and how to expound and express to others our thoughts on those topics.

The extent to which we each proportionate these components varies from person to person and there’s no right or wrong answer in the absolute, but each of us at different times of our lives should be cognisant of the need to balance these activities.

For example my wife and many others I know are content to read and read and read. Absorbing and ingesting so much information but after processing it all, choose to expound that information verbally only to a handful of people close to them. (Nudge nudge to my wife: start a blog please!) That works well for her and many others and that’s fine. Honestly it’s a relatively traditional approach too.

To contrast, I also follow many people on Twitter that read Apple focused articles written by Apple users that don’t use other platforms (Google, Microsoft etc) leading to misleading conclusions and when they expound they create nothing more than republished opinions, rather than processed, refined, original conclusions.

Before the Internet we were mostly stuck with one newspaper, a handful of local radio stations and a more insular selection of information to ingest. Beyond ingestion, if you wanted to expound your thoughts to a wider audience there were even more scarce options available.

Given the former no longer applies why aren’t people seeking out wider, more diverse information to educate themselves and push the boundaries of their knowledge?

Not only that it’s become possible to expound your thoughts in blogs, and podcasts that can potentially reach hundreds, thousands or tens of thousands of people.

More sources, more voices, more choices: but it’s up to you what and how you ingest and expound.

Questions to ask yourself:

  • Am I ingesting too much information, and am hence unable to process it well?
  • Am I ingesting too much of the same information and losing a broader perspective?
  • Am I ingesting enough information to process and expound a useful, independent conclusion?
  • Am I taking enough time to parse and process the information to expound a useful conclusion?
  • Am I expounding my thoughts in the right way, on the right medium and to the right audience?

For me personally, I’ve taken time away from reading Twitter, Apple, Blogs and the like and I feel better for the break. I needed to rebalance for a while and it’s helped return some badly needed perspective. I’ve reshuffled the sites and blogs I read, the podcasts I listen to and broadened the information I’m ingesting.

That’s great but soon it’ll be time to get back to expounding again, but this time I’ll be focusing on the audience and method that most people care about, at least as it applies to me.

My words of caution are thus: Reading or listening to the same people, the same sources of information year in, year out, then fast-forwarding through the processing stage and expounding hastily via a blog or a podcast feels comfortable; like a warm glove in winter. It’s nice, it slips on easily, it can be popular to a niche crowd, but is it truly balanced? Useful? Interesting? Does it add value?

I can’t tell you what the right balance is though, because you have to find the right balance for you. Balance matters. In fact it matters far more than you might think.

General 2015-07-08T21:30:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Conditional Blocks in Partials Conditional Blocks in Partials Tip

If you’re using a partial multiple times on a single page, keep the number of conditional code blocks within that partial to a minimum.


We all love partials. You know, those things where in your theme where you just call:

{{ theme:partial src="mypartialname" }}

But if you’re going to place them in a pages:listing or entries:listing and break out their functionality into smaller pieces that are lovely and modular that’s fine, until you end up with dozens of iterations of that partial on the page.

That’s the point though isn’t it? Well…yes. But the trap is to try and have a “god-partial” that is essentially an overloaded function that does layout for every flavour of that partial there is. Seems like it could be a good idea - you know - keep all of that object code in one place right? Well…no.

What am I jibbering on about? An example: (OPTION A)

{{ if { fileexists file=_myfile } }}<img src="{{ _myfile }}" alt="{{ name }}">
{{ else }}<img src="/assets/_myfile" alt="{{ name }}">
{{ endif }}
<div class="mytablelinks">
    {{ if _twitter|_facebook|_linkedin|_website }}<center>{{ endif }}
    {{ if _twitter }}<a href="{{ _twitter }}" title="{{ name }} on Twitter"><i style="font-size:38px;" class="fa fa-twitter-square"></i></a>{{ endif }}
    {{ if _facebook }}<a href="{{ _facebook }}" title="{{ name }} on Facebook"><i style="font-size:38px;" class="fa fa-facebook-square"></i></a>{{ endif }}
    {{ if _linkedin }}<a href="{{ _linkedin }}" title="{{ name }} on LinkedIn"><i style="font-size:38px;" class="fa fa-linkedin-square"></i></a>{{ endif }}
    {{ if _website }}<a href="{{ _website }}" title="{{ name }}'s Website"><i style="font-size:38px;" class="fa fa-globe"></i></a>{{ endif }}
    {{ if _twitter|_facebook|_linkedin|_website }}</center><hr class="mytable">{{ endif }}
    {{ content }}
{{ if false }}
    {{ mymeld:people person="{ name }" }}
        {{ if first }}
                <hr class="peopletable">{{ total_results }} episode{{ if total_results > 1 }}s{{ endif }}:<br>
        {{ endif }}
        <a href="{{ url }}">{{ segment_1|title }} {{ title }}</a>{{ if !last }}<br>{{ endif }}
        {{ if last }}
        {{ endif }}
    {{ /mymeld:people }}
{{ endif }}

Okay so that looks alright enough until we try to get clever like below (and I’m not repeating all that code again): (OPTION B)

{{ if condition="firstflavour" }}
    {{ if { fileexists file=_myfile } }}<img src="{{ _myfile }}" alt="{{ name }}">
    {{ else }}<img src="/assets/_myfile" alt="{{ name }}">
    {{ endif }}
    <div class="mytablelinks">
    {{ if false }}
        {{ mymeld:people person="{ name }" }}
        {{ /mymeld:people }}
    {{ endif }}
{{ endif }}

{{ if condition="secondflavour" }}
{{ endif }}

{{ if condition="thirdflavour" }}
{{ endif }}

The performance difference on a server will be better (you’d hope under moderate load conditions for page regeneration) but measured on my 2012 MacBook Air i7 2GHz running MAMP with a zippy SSD the improvement in rendering time from Option A to Option B was…

  • Option B: 28.7sec
  • Option A: 2.4sec

The ulimate solution was to split the flavours into three partial themes and the code is no longer in one place.

So instead of this…

{{ theme:partial src="mypartialname" condition="firstflavour" }}
{{ theme:partial src="mypartialname" condition="secondflavour" }}
{{ theme:partial src="mypartialname" condition="thirdflavour" }}

…it looks like this instead:

{{ theme:partial src="mypartialnamefirstflavour" }}
{{ theme:partial src="mypartialnamesecondflavour" }}
{{ theme:partial src="mypartialnamethirdflavour" }}

The lesson is, only call what you need to call in your partial and keep the logic as straight-forward as you can. Unless you want to write your own PHP Addon, which can save even more time depending on what you’re trying to accomplish.

Thanks To

The Statamic Debug Panel only introduced in v1.7.9 as it allowed me to track down the performance suckers in my website.

Statamic Tips 2015-06-12T16:31:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Goodbye-Alcohol Goodbye-Alcohol I’ve had my fair share of alcohol in my life. I’ve learned that I could drink most people under the table, though I never got the hang of beer or wine, only liqueurs and spirits. I’ve never had a hang-over. I like to think in my adult years I drank responsibly, mainly because I needed to drive a vehicle a lot. In Australia the drink driving limit is 0.05 grams of alcohol per 100mL of blood for those with an open drivers licence. (I referenced NSW but most states follow this AFAIK) and the guidelines that are often quoted for men are:

“if no more than two standard drinks are consumed in the first hour and no more than one per hour after that…”

…keeping in mind that a standard drink is any drink that contains 10g of alcohol; although the NSW Government site says of counting your drinks…

“Trying to calculate your BAC is impossible…”

Fast forward to about 12 months ago when I had Weight Loss Surgery I knew from my wife’s experience that the rate of absorption of alcohol is much faster and more intense as described here with the key point:

“It is also harder to drink large amounts of alcohol after a sleeve and you will find that you will become twice as drunk, for twice as long on the same amount of alcohol! This is because the alcohol exits the stomach more rapidly and is very quickly absorbed.”

I had been used to ‘pacing myself’ with alcohol intake such that I was able to drive if necessary and wasn’t impaired in my adult years. (Let’s exclude the teenage years from that though…)

That control is now impossible

The rules have changed far too much and try as I might, I can’t seem to get it right. It almost seems like any amount of alcohol has an adverse affect and I’m terrified to drive. There’s a school of thought that says if you’re going to drive you shouldn’t drink at all. Well I drive a car, every, single, day. So when is it okay/safe for me to drive a vehicle if I’ve had a drink if I can no longer trust the old guidelines?

And no, the answer isn’t to carry around my own personal breathalyser, I’m trying to figure out when a safe time is to actually drink and how much is safe ahead of swallowing?

What about the validity of 0.05 limit? Studies show that performance drops off sharply in areas of object recognition, reaction time and risk-judgement beyond 0.05 but this varies based on the individual. Safer still is 0.02 but then 0 is best. Of course a bad driver will always be a bad driver but a good driver plus any alcohol runs the risk of becoming a bad driver. The limit after which you are fined and disqualified from driving is legally fixed.

The problem I have is that I have four children and a wife that depend on me. At the moment even more so. So here we are. I think it’s time for me to say goodbye to alcohol.

It’s become something that is too difficult, dangerous and irresponsible to manage and should no longer play a part in my life. That said the most difficult part isn’t going to be giving it up, it’s going to be repeatedly explaining to others that no, I’m fine, I don’t want a drink thanks. What does that say about our society?

2015-05-09T03:30:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
The Kids Are Alright and So Am I Thanks For Asking The Kids Are Alright and So Am I Thanks For Asking Circumstances have required that I once again play single parent to my four children for a month whilst their primary carer (my lovely wife Kirsten) is out of action (don’t worry - it’s all planned and she’s just fine). I really enjoy the chance to do it as I have done many times during her previous surgeries and once again I’ve been confronted by the same outsider commentary.

  • “You coping okay?”
  • “You handling the kids okay?”
  • “It’s hard work running after kids all the time isn’t it?”

It’s even nicer when another parent won’t ask me the question directly and goes straight to my older children instead:

  • “How’s your daddy coping?”
  • “Showing your daddy how it’s done?”

Like I’ve never cared for my own children before apparently. Of course people don’t always know what to say or do in certain situations and it’s probably not meant to be a mean-spirited comment and I have no doubt I’m being sensitive at some level but the litmus test in discrimination is: put the shoe on the other foot and ask, is it offensive?

Let’s say a women who was previously a primary caregiver to their children switched to working a full time job all week with commuting, late meetings, long hours, the works.

  • “You coping okay?”
  • “You handling work okay?”
  • “It’s hard working all the time isn’t it?”

Firstly, I would never even think of asking those questions to a stranger or even a close relation. Think of some people you know yourself and what do you think their reaction would be in that scenario?

Let’s not try to get all shirty about potential gender bias. Let’s look at this from an experience angle. Intuitively someone that does something twice as much as someone else is bound to be better at it. For certain repetitive tasks I’d agree but I think that parenting is more complicated and more subtle than that and it’s a broad brush to suggest all people are created with equal talents. Hence one person will be better an driving a car or painting a house than another and that’s because everyone is different. I prefer to think that so long as there is a minimum amount of experience and exposure to develop the skill set required, that individual should be competent enough to do a reasonable job at any task. Maybe not an expert, but passable at least. It got me wondering then; how big is the gap between the genders in terms of duration in the role of primary caregiver?

Clearly, historically speaking, women have bore the brunt of child rearing whilst the men have been off working/farming/killing animals/other non-parenting stuff and hence men didn’t have as much time taking care of children. Going back hundreds of years maybe, depending on the state of economic development of a country perhaps, the numbers were skewed away from men as primary caregivers. What about now and is it changing? According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics the figures haven’t changed much between 1997 and 2006 though the next figures are due early 2016(?) and will be interesting to revisit at that time. For the moment however the split of hours as primary caregiver is men at about half the amount of time as women, at least in my country. I have no doubt the time/split will vary from country to country. The truth is that if we run with the above numbers a significant proportion of men are in the role of primary caregiver regularly for a measurable and non-insignificant number of hours and that shouldn’t be ignored.

So if it’s not the raw hours is it something else? The preconceived notion that men are better at some things and women at other things is just the sort of gender bias western society is trying to stamp out (in some areas harder than others and we are far from truly balanced) but the problem is that the question of whether men or women are better parents is mostly about opinion and difficult to correlate with fact. Despite this, in 2007 PEW Research in America conducted a controversial survey that challenged whether men or women were better parents and suggested that men were doing a better job in recent years. I’m not sure if their results are valid but if nothing else it should at least make you stop and think about it if only for a moment.

I’m not taking sides. Honestly I’m not. I’m not saying men are better at parenting or women are better at parenting: All I want is for people to stop asking me those sorts of questions. I’m perfectly capable of taking care of my kids thank you very much. Not that you asked, but here’s how it unfolded in the Chidgey household in the last 24 hours:

Tonight I cooked Beef Nachos with salsa and although I used a sachet for the seasoning I tweaked the result by balancing out the salt and added a few other spices some tomato paste to add depth to the flavour of the dish. I made extra to reheat later in the week when time to prepare after kids sports training is scarce. I’ve done the washing, sorting, cleaning and the house is in order ready for my wife to return later in the week. I’ve successfully dropped and picked my kids up from school, sports, etc, paid bills, bought and wrapped a birthday present for one of my kids friends whose birthday party he will shortly be attending and blah blah blah are you bored yet? I’m not. I’m loving it…that is until I get comments like those above.

You know what though, it’s not all bad. There are people that do know what to say and that “get it” for the want of a better way of saying it. So instead as I close here’s a few more comments I also received though (disappointingly) they weren’t as plentiful. I’ll leave it you to determine which people made them.

  • “It’s great spending time with them when they’re that age.”
  • “I’d swap with you in a heartbeat.”
  • “You’ve got your hands full but you look like you’re having fun.”

Yes I am having fun. The kids are alright and so am I, thanks for asking…but please stop asking.

2015-05-05T22:03:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
The Democratisation of Energy The Democratisation of Energy Two days ago Tesla announced the Powerwall which is essentially a Lithium Battery pack for the home that is wall mountable. That in and of itself is not revolutionary but it’s definitely interesting. (The presentation is only 18 minutes long and is worth a look before reading on if you haven’t already seen it). Elon had hinted at this back in February this year.

The presentation was a typical Elon Musk special. He has a nervous stage presence that comes across as honest and matter-of-fact that I find endearing and rare for a CEO. His suggestion midway through of fighting the urge to do a “billion dollars” little pinky finger against his mouth per an Austin Powers movie was a charming balance of awkward and hilarious that drew a smirk from me and I’m sure plenty of others.

The home model comes in a 10kWh pack and although not directly discussed in the presentation, also a 7kWh model for $3,500 and $3,000 USD respectively (given the relative cost/capacity ratios the 10kWh is the clear winner) of which a maximum of 9, 10kWh Power Walls can be chained together for a maximum of 90kWh of storage capacity.

Elon also announced the Power Pack, which is more like a 19” rack size equivalent for which each rack contains 100kWh, which no scalability limitations. Clearly the Power Packs aren’t meant for “easy” customer installation and hence cable sizing, distribution breakers etc would need to be customised per installation (hence no assumptions on maximum current and no need to limit at 90kWh). I have a few thoughts on the global scalability but let’s hold that thought for another post.

I saw many comments on Twitter along the lines of “but I still need solar panels” so yes, again Tesla aren’t supplying the complete solution (unless Solar City is available to you and it isn’t for everyone) but solving the battery problem is two-fold: Energy Density and Lifecycle-cost. As I discussed on Episode 2 of Pragmatic some time ago, the future of local electricity generation and the move away from centralised generation is the only sensible option as it solves so many issues, however the cost of doing so thus far has been excessive mostly due to the cost of energy storage.

Having done the sums myself a few times I can get about 7 Fusion 12V 40AH LiFePO4 deep cycle batteries for the same amount of money leaving some left over for some cabling and an enclosure: that’s only 3.4kWh of capacity (assuming parallel connection and you can source a 12V DC Inverter to do that job, but let’s just check the figures not practicalities). That makes the Power Wall about 3x more bang for your battery buck. That’s impressive. It’s actually cheaper than entrenched older wet-cell Lead-Acid batteries, which is a first for this application so far as I know.

As with all battery systems it comes with lifespan limitations based on how much you discharge it each cycle. Both models offer a 10 year warranty which I could probably believe on the assumption that it is correctly provisioned and the Power Walls aren’t driven to horrendously low DoDs (Depths of Discharge) so ensuring you get enough capacity to be comfortable matters to the lifetime of your battery pack. How much you provision is obviously a combination of how much you use, how much sunlight you get where you live and whether you’re grid connected or not. Your sums will vary.

Details on the Power Wall are still scarce but it’s unlikely to be a new battery technology but rather the advantage of building a Gigafactory for manufacturing Lithium Batteries means the economies of scale can be realised and drive the cost of the battery down. It does however provide an interesting potential insight into the pricing of the Tesla batteries in the Model S. (Another topic for another day?) Currently the Model S uses the Panasonic 18650 battery which has a good energy density of between 600 and 800 Wh/l but has less life expectancy than LiFePO4s do.

In terms of energy density LiFePO4 Batteries typically only have 220 Wh/l. Based on the dimensions of the Power Wall and assuming that only 14 or so of the volume is actual battery we get about 200Wh/l which suggests potentially a different battery to the Model S but without a teardown of a unit that’s pure speculation at this point, though it’s interesting to note.

Since the energy density problem isn’t a problem that they’ve solved here and we’re progressing on existing technology manufactured at scale then the only argument left is whether it’s worth the money. I looked into the cost-effectiveness of electric vehicles on Episode 52 of Pragmatic where we also discussed the price of electricity. I refer you to that episode for all the details but in short, according to this handy link in the USA it’s an average of 12c/kWh and 908 kWh/month (about 33kWh/day so let’s assume you have x2 10kW Power Walls and enough sunlight to handle 13kW of usage through the day and to fully charge your batteries too during that time) then $13k USD over 10 years for that grid-power is more than the double what the Power Wall would cost, but once you throw in the solar panels, installation costs plus the inverter unit it’s not going to save you money on the whole. On average. But electricity prices vary and so does usage so for some people it will be a cheaper option.

Based on my sums for my house here in sunny Queensland (yes it’s handy having all that sunlight) even with my Grid-connect inverter and 5.6kW of solar panels on my roof, I’m still shelling out $1200/yr on electricity. Using a local Fronius Symo Hybrid Inverter installers website and a straight dollar conversion, assuming 2, 10kWh Power Walls if I invested $15k AUD, and assuming the batteries lasted without fail for 10 years, I’d save $1k AUD. Of course, I’m cheating since I’ve already got the panels, but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I’m not extremely interested.

I’ve been looking at UPS systems for some time now and going off-grid is the ultimate dream - even if there’s a risk of household “range” anxiety on successive cloudy days. Another point: If I wanted to add an electric car someday and rely on home charging, I would be in trouble off the grid. I’d need more Power Walls and more solar panels to charge them as well. So I would be stuck on the grid. The math then isn’t quite so rosy but it’s damned close.

Tesla are trying to democratise energy. How long before Tesla release their own solar roofing tiles? Their own inverter units as well? If Musk is serious, you can bet it’s on the roadmap. And he’s serious. Opening up patents is an admission that he doesn’t need the money by protecting Teslas technology. He wants to change the world, to fix our dependence on fossil fuels. The numbers are beginning to stack up for many places around the world, including here for me. In coming months I’ll watch with great interest how the Power Wall unfolds in North America where it is admittedly a harder sell in most states, but I suspect it will be snapped up wherever electricity is not so cheap and I expect once the Gigafactory 1 is operational for a few years the prices will come down further still.

Tesla haven’t exactly “solved” the battery problem, but they have just made an appreciable dent in it.

2015-05-03T22:00:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Beyond Broken Beyond Broken I’ve been a huge fan of keeping local copies of my content and home sharing them to my AppleTVs and kids iPads and occasionally even my iPhone. However when I started using it about four years ago (it debuted in iTunes 9 in 2009 but wasn’t really useful for me until iOS4.3 in 2011 ).

Since then the system has becoming patchier and patchier with each subsequent release becoming somewhat of a crapshoot as to whether it’s actually going to work. I’ve cut my library into pieces to improve library load times (Music is now a separate library on a separate Mac), cleaned out mis-categorised entries and even changed iTunes accounts the home sharing was active on and power cycled and restarted everything in the chain to try and get it to work and I’m at the end of my tether.

Here’s what I’ve done over the last hour tonight as I’ve tried (in vain) to get home sharing to “just work”: (Step 0: iTunes Shared library doesn’t load on my sons iPad 2. It reaches about 1/10th of the circle and stops there indefinitely)

  • Force-quit and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPad 2 and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Close and re-open iTunes on the Mac Mini (Failed)
  • Force-quit and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPad 2 and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Power-cycle Mac Mini and restart iTunes (Failed)
  • Force-quit and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPad 2 and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Try Movies on iPhone 6+ (Failed)
  • Force-quit and restart Movies app on iPhone 6+ (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPhone 6+ and restart Movies app on iPhone 6+ (Failed)
  • Try Movies on Retina iPad Mini (aka iPad Mini 2) (Failed)
  • Force-quit and restart Movies app on Retina iPad Mini (aka iPad Mini 2) (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPad Mini 2 and restart Movies app on iPad Mini 2 (Failed)
  • Hard power-cycle Time Capsule (Ethernet switch and central WiFi router) (Failed)
  • Power-cycle Mac Mini and restart iTunes (Failed)
  • Force-quit and restart Movies app on iPad Mini 2 (SUCCESS!!!)
  • Power-cycle iPhone 6+ and restart Movies app on iPhone 6+ (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPad 2 and restart Movies app on iPad 2 (Failed)
  • Power-cycle iPad Mini 2 and restart Movies app on iPad Mini 2 to check it still works (Failed)
  • Give up

I’m beyond over this. It worked ever so briefly and then died again. I know that the “it just works” is a marketing tagline that is broad-reaching and can’t possibly be true for everything but honestly, I’m sick of Apple breaking, partly fixing and then re-breaking what was once solid functionality. Regression testing is a thing, you know? Lots of other companies manage to do it.

Every update I now hold my breath to see what will break. This time I guess I got screwed. Oh goodie. Time to switch? Thinking about it.

[Update]: Yes I have also tried logging in and out of home sharing on each device including iTunes and even tried multiple AppleIDs. None of it worked. I’m also running the latest version of iOS/Yosemite/iTunes/AppleTV OS on all the tested devices and none of them are Beta versions, public or developer versions.

2015-04-28T19:18:00+10:00 #TechDistortion
Pragmatic Stickers on Sale Pragmatic Stickers on Sale I’ve dropped the prices of the Pragmatic stickers for a short time: if you’ve been on the fence and holding off grabbing some now is the time to do it! (prices in USD):

Sticker Qty1 Was Qty1 Now Approx Saving
Pragmatic Small $3 $2.75 10%
Pragmatic Large $5 $3.99 20%

As before, buying in bulk will save you more per sticker. Make sure you check them out. Thanks everyone!

2015-04-27T11:26:00+10:00 #TechDistortion