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Meet Mr. Gadd, 83, of Fontwell Magna in Dorset

Posted on by Mike Evans

"Meet Mr. John Gadd, 83, of Fontmell Magna in Great Britain. He keeps a diary. He keeps the most incredible diary I have ever heard of. It is huge,  as in 21,000 pages, filling 151 volumes, and also contains some 33,000 photos and ephemera. The diary dates back 66 years to 1947 and contains some four million pages."

These words are written by Nifty the Notebook Addict who writes a fascinating blog about notebooks and all things scribbly. I never cease to be amazed at the quality and quantity of esoteric information that comes into my inbox every day. While the established print media disappears inexorably behind its self-defeating paywalls, hundreds of thousands of individuals throughout the world now have their own voice. And, in the main, they write more interesting stuff than the paid hacks of the press ever did.

  The Parker 51 had a hooded nib which was relatively stiff but wonderfully smooth, quite unlike most fountain pens we are used to. This vintage Parker from  Penhome.co.uk  is similar to mine except that mine has a brushed aluminium cap, a sign of the basic model, which I much prefer

The Parker 51 had a hooded nib which was relatively stiff but wonderfully smooth, quite unlike most fountain pens we are used to. This vintage Parker from Penhome.co.uk is similar to mine except that mine has a brushed aluminium cap, a sign of the basic model, which I much prefer

Nifty's notebook blog strikes a chord with me. I subscribe to several other similar sites because I have always had an interest in journals, notebooks, pens, pencils and stationery in general. In my younger years I could spend hours in stationery shops, back in the days when there was really interesting stuff around.

Nowadays everything is bubble packed and stripped to the minimum; gone are the tooled binders, boxes of carbon paper, gummed envelopes (heaven preserve us from self-adhesive envelopes that lose their stick after a month or two) and paperclips by weight.

Pens, in particular, have been a lifelong passion. In this I follow my grandfather, Harry Evans, who had a rare collection of fountain pens dating back to his earliest days at the beginning of the last century. They were all bequeathed to me, unfortunately at such an early age that I failed to appreciate them. For my part, my first real pen was a Parker 51, back in the 50s when this was the pen to be seen with. It cost me all of £6.30, or six guineas, at Boots The Chemist in the Manchester Stock Exchange building.

I don't know what happened to this paragon of penmanship but it obviously dropped off the perch somewhere along the line. It was replaced with a long succession of Watermen, Scheaffers, Pelikans and Montblancs; but no pen ever provided the sense of satisfaction I derived from the Parker.

Miraculously, only last weekend, I found an exact replica of my old Parker at The Penman in the Portobello Road market. It is reconditioned expertly and writes like a dream; but it cost 13 times more than I paid for the original all those years ago. Of course, six guineas was two weeks' wages in those days, a quite enormous sum to spend on a pen. Now, £80 is almost petty cash. Were it still made, the 51 would probably be priced north of £300.

As a result of this surprise purchase I have made a resolution to write a page of notes every day, just to keep my calligraphy skills in harness. If you don't use it, you lose it: And this applies to handwriting as well as any other skill. Reliance on keyboards means that eventually none of us will be able to write fluently, Parker 51 or no.

I'm grateful to Nifty for reminding me of this. Mind you, I have a long way to go before I fill 21,000 pages with notes. Sad to say, my daily journal is kept in the Cloud via the estimable Day One app. I confess that, unlike the single-minded Mr. Gadd of Fontwell Magna, I have never managed to keep a handwritten journal going for more than a week or so. But with Day One I am now nearing four years of doings, all without missing a day. Sometimes technology helps; it's just that it's nice to have the best of both worlds. Welcome back, dear Mr. Parker 51, the best pen ever made.

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Landline: Is it time to bury that clunky old phone?

Posted on by Mike Evans

These days I seldom use the landline phone at my home and, perhaps in sympathy, it seldom rings to disturb my peace and quiet. Twenty years ago I had persuaded myself I needed four lines: Two for voice, one for the fax machine (what's that?) and one for the dial-up modem. This was the last word in modernity in 1995. It turned out to be the apogee of the landline and it has been downhill ever since.

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Desktop Clutter: How Hazel can clean things up automatically

Posted on by Mike Evans

I've been using Hazel's automated features for years but I am the first to admit that I merely scratch the surface of this deeply capable application. So I was all eyes when I saw that Harry Guinness at Tutsplus has produced a detailed guide to getting Hazel to tidy up my the desktop of my Mac. As he says:

Hazel is a great app for automating file management in OS X. You can assign certain folders for Hazel to watch and then perform specific actions if the files within meet set criteria. Hazel can automatically put videos in the Movies folder and audio tracks in the Music folder. It can also, as you’ll see, do a whole lot more. In this tutorial I’ll demonstrate how to create the ultimate workflow for keeping a Mac clutter free—or at the very least, keeping the clutter organised—using Hazel and a dedicated Inbox.

Armed with Harry's step-by-step instructions I shall be commanding Hazel over the Christmas holidays and hope to start 2015 with a pristine, uncluttered desktop. I plan to make just one tweak to Harry's sage advice. Instead of putting the Inbox in my computer's user folder I will place it in Dropbox. I keep all my current data on Dropbox so that it is available wherever I am and on either of my two Macs (MacBook Pro and MacBook Air). 

Read the full guide to uncluttering your desktop here

If you are not already familiar with Hazel, try this guide first

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Soundbars: Readly leads me to the right choice

Posted on by Mike Evans

Last weekend the elderly Denon speaker system that has boosting the weedy sound of my television for the past eight years finally gave up the ghost. I had been meaning to replace it for some time but was stalled because of laziness and a lack of knowledge of what to replace it with. Apart from other considerations, the Denon's age meant that it lacked HDMI ports and the ability to work seamlessly with modern smart TVs.

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iPad Air 2: Slim, light and beautiful to behold

Posted on by Mike Evans

On Friday I picked up a space-grey 128GB cellular iPad Air 2 from the Apple Store in Covent Garden. It wasn't an impulse buy, I had been planning this ever since the iPhone 6 Plus appeared and I decided to sell of my iPad mini.

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iPhone 6 Plus: Nightmare at the bedside

Posted on by Mike Evans

Choosing between the new iPhone 6 and the huge 6 Plus is a problem for everyone. I outline some of the differences in my article on Macfilos/tech. But what of photographers? Many, I know, carry an iPad as a showcase for favourite shots and there is no doubt that the larger screen of the Air or, even, the iPad mini, is a great showcase for photographs. 

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Phone is just an app which is not frequently used

Posted on by Mike Evans

I am fully with Horace Dediu on this:

Phone is just an app which, for me at least, is not frequently used. I communicate with my iPhone but the go-to app is iMessage or FaceTime or Skype or maybe Email or Twitter. Phone is something I use so rarely that the interface sometimes baffles me. And yes, it’s an Internet appliance. Browsing is something I do quite a bit but many of the browsing jobs-to-be-done are done better by apps. News, shopping Facebook and maps are “things which were once done in a browser."

He makes the point that when Steve Jobs launched the iPhone he described it as a combination of a wide-screen iPod, a phone and a breakthrough internet connector. These three things, says Dediu, are no longer the most used features.

Similarly, the Apple Watch was launched as a precise timepiece, a new, intimate way to communicate and a comprehensive health and fitness device. But it will develop over the coming years and who is to say what its most useful features will be seven years hence?

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iPhone 6 Plus: Is this the the end of carrying around two devices?

Posted on by Mike Evans

There's only one snag to carrying just one communications device. Occasionally I leave home without my iPhone and only realise when I've gone too far to make it reasonable to return. Now, of course, I can turn to the iPad which can do everything the iPhone can do except make cellular calls.

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Choosing exactly the right MacBook for you

Posted on by Mike Evans

Rob Griffiths' dilemma, outlined in MacWorld:

There was my main iMac, which I love. Then there was my “power” laptop, a mid-2010 15-inch MacBook Pro (with the 1680-by-1050 display and a recently installed 750GB SSD), which I love. And there was my “light” laptop, a mid-201211-inch MacBook Air, which I love (and which replaced an older 11-inch Air). So what was the problem?

If it sounds familiar, it is. For several years I was addicted to the 11in MacBook Air. I have owned three of them and two are still around, performing faultlessly. I loved the go-anywhere portability and light weight. Even the small screen I could live with and the latest Air served as my main computer even when travelling for up to a month.

Then I realised that most times when I travel I would take the Air and park it on a desk and there it would stay until the return flight. For day-to-day computing I was becoming more and more content to use an iPad. I began to see the Air as restrictive. In particular, as a keen photographer, I missed a built-in SD card and I felt I really could do with more processing power and a better, larger screen. 

Just over a year ago I caved in and bought a specced-up 15in MacBook Pro with retina screen. It became my desktop computer and my travel companion, despite the unaccustomed size and weight. After an 11in Air you really know you have a computer in your bag. But I now have my processing power, I have the convenience and speed of the internal SD card slot and I also value the two Thunderbolt ports (one feeds my old Cinema Display at home, so I really do need that second port). With its 16GB of memory and 512GB SSD drive, the Pro has never been found wanting. And I just love the large retina display which is a delight, particularly when I am stuck abroad for weeks on end. No longer do I have to compromise.

I kept the latest 11in Air in commission. For some months, I would take it on shorter trips and, occasionally, out for walkies in my backpack. But single-day outings became less frequent. While working with two or even more computers is pretty painless these days, thanks to iCloud and Dropbox especially, there are always some small niggles when you pick up a computer that hasn't been used for a week or two.

Eventually I started taking the bigger computer even for short trips. I now use the MacBook Pro exclusively and the Air is sitting in the cupboard, unused but certainly not unloved. Every time I power it up I face a barrage of updates and I am wondering why not to sell it.

Where from here? I have more of less come to the same decision as Rob Griffiths.  When it comes time to update in the Autumn I will replace the 15in MacBook Pro with the smaller, lighter and more totable 13in Pro. Like Rob, I've spent some hours playing in the Apple Store and, all things considered, the 13in Pro is just about the ideal tool for someone who wants just one computer for all purposes. My only caveat is that I will wait to see what announcements Apple makes during the year but, for the moment, I favour the smaller MacBook Pro. 

 

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Having a blast with Readly in magazine heaven

Posted on by Mike Evans

I was enthusiastic about Readly, the all-you-can-read magazine streamer, when I reviewed it last month. Now, with more experience under my belt, I am totally hooked. Despite having favourited only six or seven publications out of the available 400, I am getting remarkable value for my £9.99 monthly subscription. I have gorged myself on most of the back issues (up to twelve months' worth) on all my favourite titles, ranging from photography, to motoring, to hi-fi equipment and I am loving it. Some other titles, while not of primary interest, are also worth browsing. For instance, television listing magazines are not something I would ever consider buying. But when they come free there is no harm in taking a peek to find out what's new.

My friend Paul Gauntlett suggested an alternative to Readly, Readr, and I have dutifully had a play. Some 10,000 magazines are listed including, as Paul points out, MacUser. The lack of useful computer titles is my only gripe with Readly. However, I found the user interface of Readr rather confusing and not as friendly as Readly. The service is a little cheaper ($9.99 instead of £9.99) and the cast of publications is different. But I see nothing to cause me to turn away from my first love, Readly. It is certainly worth investigating both options, particularly to look for your must-have titles, before parting with your cash.

When I reviewed the iPad app I confirmed that reading an A4-size publication even on an iPad mini is perfectly acceptable and, indeed, pleasurable. I still think so. On a four-hour flight from London to Athens this week I managed to catch up on the back issues of Amateur Photographer and Shutterbug among others. A big advantage of streaming services such sd Readly is that downloaded magazines stay on the device until deleted. You can carry around with you a gigantic stack of publications--just like you can carry your entire book library on a Kindle or iPad. Magazine heaven.

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My Passport Pro: Thunderbolt advances, cheaper too

Posted on by Mike Evans

Last year I was not alone in worrying about the future of Thunderbolt. Despite Apple's wholesale change to the new interface, peripherals have been slow to appear and prices have been surprisingly high. Meanwhile, the slower and cheaper USB 3.0 standard has been making great headway.

Western Digital has now introduced a portable drive that, for the first time, gives hope that Thunderbolt is here to stay. With a capacity of up to 4TB and a starting price under £300, the My Passport Pro is an attractive external drive and is one of the cheapest Thunderbolt storage devices I have seen. It is also unusual in not requiring an external source.

The most exciting feature, however, is that this is a dual-drive system which can be set up in RAID 0 (for maximum storage) or RAID 1 (for maximum security). The drives also support Apple Time Machine. With a short built-in Thunderbolt cable, the Pro is sure to be an excellent travelling companion for any Mac power user. 

The 2TB My Passport Pro with twin 1TB 2.5in disks retails at £299 (including VAT) while the larger capacity (and 14.5mm thicker) 4TB configuration costs £409.

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Jack of All Apps: Master a few and benefit

Posted on by Mike Evans

Joe Kissell:

Every time I read about a new Mac or iOS app in a category I use, I think to myself, “Oh, cool. That could save me some time and effort.” I download the app and try it out, but more often than not, I quickly conclude that my previous solution was just as good, and leave the new app sitting unused. From then on, whenever I see the app, I feel a vague, low-level anxiety. But still I accumulate more apps, and the cycle repeats.

I regularly fall into this trap, especially when it comes to new productivity or writing apps. Rumour of one new killer feature and I'm there, pressing the BUY button even though I know I have a dozen similar programs that have served me well. Most times I am disappointed although, very occasionally, a real gem slips through and I am rather glad to have been tempted. Eventually, though, most of these newcomers get shunted off into a purgatorial folder which will never again be visited. 

The best bet is the nuclear option: Ruthlessly delete unused apps from devices so you are no longer presented with a choice. This cathartisis is good for the soul. It allows us to focus on what needs to be done rather than on how we do it. For me, the telling moment comes when I remember a particular app and want to try it again. It doesn't happen often but, fortunately, the App Store is kind: Deleting an app from the device does not delete it from your store account. At any time you can go back and reinstall a discarded app if you have second thoughts.

Meanwhile, I have kept my desk clutter-free and focused on getting things done in the most efficient way. Along the way I became master of the few apps that have my blessing rather than a Jack of all apps.

Via Macworld

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