My Tools: AfterShockz Trekz Air – Bone Conduction Headphones

I was recently in a conversation about listening to audiobooks and the headphones that I wear. I was quite sure that I had already written a post about the headphones that I’ve worn for a couple of years, having checked it appears not, so here it is.

I like walking.

Several mornings a week I walk for at least an hour before work. I regularly walk further on a weekend. Most of the time I walk alone, apart from the company of an audiobook, or a podcast. Sometimes I listen to music, but that’s not very often. I prefer to get lost in a story or the narrative of a good podcast.

I have tried many headphones for this situation over many years, but none of them have come close to the AfterShokz Trekz Air. While other headsets may have given better audio quality, none of them come close to being the complete package of these bone conductive headsets.

Aftershokz Trakz Air

Bone conductive headsets don’t go into your ear at all, they vibrate the bone of your scull. They do this by placing what is effectively a small speaker on to the bone just in front of the middle of your ears by using an over-ear headband. If that sound weird, it isn’t, you hear the sound just like you hear all sound and you don’t feel anything. It turns out that you do a lot of hearing through these bone normally. The first time I put them on the only strange thing was how normal it was. The second time I adorned them I didn’t even think about it.

From my perspective these are the things that make AfterShokz so good:

  • Ambient sound – because my ears remain open the AfterShokz don’t block out any of the sound around me. Whilst out walking this is not only a safety issue, it also allow me to remain alert to the sounds of the day, including the activities of the local wildlife.
  • Waterproof – they perform brilliantly in any weather I don’t have to worry about them becoming damaged.
  • Comfortable, even with glasses – once I put these headphones on, I soon forget that I am wearing them. I wear glasses and the over-ear design is thin enough that it remains comfortable.
  • Steady – these headsets stay in place wherever and whenever. I’ve tried all sorts of in-ear headphones, but they all work their way out eventually and I spend part of my day putting them back in. When I am all gloved up in a snowstorm on a mountain rearranging my audio is that last thing I want to do.
  • Hood compatible – I quite like walking whilst wearing a hood in the wind and rain. The AfterShokz works really well in this situation staying in place and not requiring any adjusting. Some of this is down to the excellent hood that I have on my walking coat.
  • Simply work – I use these headphones with an iPhone and the integration is seamless. Turn them on and they connect every time. The buttons are responsive and easy to use.
  • Long battery life – I can walk all day and the Trekz have never run out of juice if they were charged. The power is so good that I sometimes forget to charge them, and they have run out in that situation. Having said that I owned them for several months before that happened. When it did happen, I was out walking and near to the top of a mountain when I heard an unexpected voice. It took me a little while to realise that it was the headphones asking, “charge me”.
  • Excellent support – the pair I currently have are my second ones. The previous ones stopped working in one ear (or should that be cheek?). A short phone call with the support team and a replacement arrived in a couple of days.
  • Built in microphone – the inbuilt microphone is useful if I want to make or receive a call whilst I am out walking, but I generally don’t want to, I’m out walking to disconnect.
  • Robust – these headphones have done a lot of miles in some inhospitable conditions. They’ve been dumped into backpacks, coat pockets, laptop bags and still look as good as they did when I got them. I don’t have to treat them like delicate electronics. They come with a protective case, but I’m not good at that kind of care.

There are a couple of times where the AfterShokz don’t work so well, just for a little balance:

  • Noisy roadsides – sometimes high-volume roadsides are unavoidable. In this context bone conductive headphones can struggle to compete with the ambient sound. I try to avoid these situations so it’s not too much of an issue but just this morning I cross eight lanes of the M6 via a footbridge and paused the audio part way across. Pausing the audio is a single easily accessed button on one cheek so that’s not too difficult a thing to do.
  • High winds – like noisy roads, high winds can make it difficult to hear. This is often fixed by the wearing of a good hood. AfterShokz do provide earplugs with the headphones to help block out the ambient sound, but I never saw the point of these.
  • USB Plug – I have several USB cables on which the plug isn’t long enough to charge the Trekz, it’s only a millimetre or so, but it makes a difference. To compensate for this, I have the cable that was supplied with the headphones plugged in to my charging block. I never have to use it more than once a week and it’s on my desk where I work, so not a hassle at all.

In conclusion, I am a big fan. If these ones broke I wouldn’t think twice about getting another pair, but I’m not expecting that any time soon.

Header Image: A windy wet day, with my hood up, on a local hill called Clougha Pike. These sculptures are by Andy Goldworthy and there is some debate about their name. It’s difficult, where they are located, to take a picture which gives you a good scale perspective, so it might be helpful to know that you can stand inside the pobs and there’s a step to help you.

Running in Dark Mode all Day

It’s likely that most of the apps that you use have a white (or light) background with black (or dark) text. It’s also likely that the operating system capabilities that you use also has this configuration.

This is the default after all and why would you change it?

You may have gone to the effort of changing the colour scheme a little, but it’s probably still got a light background and dark text.

I’ve recently taken the step of reversing this on many apps and some operating systems as a bit of an experiment. My screen world is now predominantly dark – dark background with light text.

Why? There are a few reasons, but mostly it’s about personal taste and visual preferences:

  • Eye Fatigue – When you are looking into a screen you are looking into a light. It may only be a low intensity light, but it’s still a light. Using dark mode reduces the amount of light and hence, hopefully, the levels of eye fatigue. Some people claim a scientific justification for this, but the research I could find was quite limited. I find it easier on the eye and that’s good enough for me.
  • Reduced Blue Light – Of the light that your screen is emitting the blue light is probably the most destructive. It’s thought that this type of light impacts our ability to sleep, and that we should reduce the amount of blue light before we go to bed. My logic goes like this, if I don’t need it in the evening, why would I need more of it than my surroundings are providing it in the daytime?
  • Readability – This is a subjective one, I find light text on a dark background easier to read.
  • Reduced Distraction – Using dark mode reduces the intensity of many of the interface elements. Things like window borders and app icons are not as highlighted and hence grab less attention. At the same time, the elements that I am working on – the words and diagrams – stand out more and draw my attention.
  • Reduced Power Consumption – This is a tenuous one, dark mode uses slightly less power to light the screen and hence it improves battery life on a device. I suspect that the difference here is marginal, but what it has allowed me to do is to lower the light levels on my iPhone extending the battery life by a little.

There are some drawbacks though:

  • It’s not the Default – Because Dark Mode isn’t the default for operating systems or for applications, you have to choose it. My experience has been that some applications will take the preference from the operating system, but not all of them will. Some apps provide an option which you then have to find.
  • Web Sites – The real challenge is web sites, it takes far too much effort to switch over to dark mode in each of these. I’ve tried a few plug-ins for browsers, but have concluded that the glitches are worse than just letting the web sites display in light mode.
  • Mixed Mode – Because it’s not the default it’s not always possible to work in dark mode in every application, and certainly not on every web site. The challenge with this is that you then get the rather jarring experience of switching between an app that is in dark mode and another that it in light mode. On balance, though, I think I prefer this experience to the default one. I’d call myself a lightweight dark mode user.
  • iOS Dark Mode – My primary smartphone is an iPhone. The iOS interface doesn’t really have a dark mode. You can use the accessibility features to invert the colours which is supposed to be smart enough to only invert the colours of the text, but it also has an annoying habit of inverting the colours of all of the images. Having said that, once you switch apps to dark mode it’s surprising to realise how little of the actual iOS interface you see day to day. Yesterday, Apple announced that iOS 13 will have a dark mode.

All I need, now, is for each of the apps that I use to give me the option to change, or better still, to take the default settings from the operating system. I suspect that web sites are always going to be, by default, in light mode, but perhaps a time is coming when they will pick up the correct mode from the browser that is being used.

As part of this experiment I’ve switched this web site over to a dark colour scheme and even there I’ve had some glitches to deal with, some of which still aren’t resolved.

Many people see dark mode as a way of making the nighttime visual experience better, but I’ve been using dark mode all day every day. I started this as an experiment a few weeks ago, I wasn’t expecting it to make much difference, but it has made a far greater difference than I was expecting.

I’m not advocating that everyone moves because I think that it’s primarily an issue of personal preference, but you might like to give it a try.

Header Image: This is Traigh a Bhaigh, Vatersay in the Outer Hebrides. Apparently this is how you park a boat around here.

My Tools: Microsoft To-Do

My productivity regime is an example of continuous learning. It doesn’t stay the same for very long and is regularly changed a bit here and there. Within my productivity practices task management has been an area in need of improvement for some time as the working context has changed.

There was a time when I could use my inbox as my list of outstanding activities, but that’s no longer the case as activities get assigned to me in various different ways and from different tools.

I have tried for a little while managing my tasks in each of the various tools, but that become cumbersome. I also tried various methods of copying activity descriptions to a central tool and then working there, the problem with this was that I still needed to keep the various sources synchronised as the status and priority changes.

The latest incarnation of my tasks management activities utilises Microsoft To-Do. I looked at To-Do when it was first launched because I’ve previously used Wunderlist, which Microsoft purchased. In those early days I couldn’t see what I was getting and it was all a bit rudimentary, I expected this to changed, but it didn’t change for what seemed like a very long time.

Recently though, To-Do has hit the accelerator on useful capabilities and my use of it has increased significantly.

The two main features that have made the difference being:

  • Flagged email – Emails that I flag in Outlook get automatically replicated into a folder in To-Do where I can work on them and flag them as completed. This is a two-way synchronisation – if it’s flagged complete in To-Do it’s flagged complete in Outlook and vice versa.
  • Assigned to Me – if a task is assigned to me in Planner it also appears in To-Do. Again this is a two-way synchronisation.

The activities that I place directly into To-Do are also synchronised into Outlook Tasks, but I don’t think that this has had a significant impact on my productivity because I’ve never managed my Tasks in Outlook Tasks and don’t think I’m going to start.

Assigned and Flagged in Microsoft To-Do

I have always flagged emails in Outlook as a way of sorting through the dross to find the things requiring my attention. The task of Flagging an email is done via an Outlook Quick Step which also moves the email into a separate folder and marks it as read. I have another Quick Step that moves emails that require no action to a different folder and marks them as read. These are both assigned a keyboard shortcut so that I can progress through my inbox without leaving the keyboard.

Now that tasks from emails, tasks from Planner and my own defined tasks are in To-Do I’ve found myself using To-Do as the mechanism for planning my day, adding and removing things from the My Day plan. My daily plan still takes place on a piece of paper, but that’s because my daily plan isn’t just about tasks. The tasks are increasingly managed in To-Do.

This still isn’t an absolutely ideal situation because I also get assigned activities via a Jira corporate project management capability, but it’s a lot better than it used to be. Perhaps I should raise a suggestion for the To-Do team to work with Atlassion on that.

Looking forward to what new capabilities the To-Do team have for us.

How weatherproof are your headphones?

On the 28th August 2018 I went out for a walk in the mountains of the Lake District. It was a glorious day of contemplation and enlightenment, and quite a lot of water.

When I returned home I was unpacking my somewhat wet equipment and getting out of damp clothes when I noticed that my Anker Bluetooth Headphones were missing. I’d definitely had them on my walk because I’d listened to part of an audio-book on them. How frustrating.

I like these headphones because they are light, have good battery life and are supposed to be waterproof which I’d tested a bit and it seemed to be the case, but I’d not gone swimming in them or anything like that.

But now they were lost.

I searched the various nooks and crannies of the car, I searched the many pockets of my rucksack, but no headphones. I even checked the many pockets of my walking trousers and waterproof coat, several times!

A eventually came to the conclusion that they must have fallen out of a pocket, or the car, probably in the car park near Thirlmere.

Today on the 29th September – a month later – and just to show how often I do gardening, I found the headphones. They were about a metre from where I get out of my car, laid on some plumb colour slate. They weren’t wholly disguised, not were they very visible, I’d obviously not looked there. But, I did need to look there whilst I was weeding.

In the last month we have had rain and wind in the form of storms Ali and Bronagh, as well as the usual English September showers, we’ve even had sunshine and our first mild ground frost.

Would these waterproof headphone survive a month laid on the ground outside my house? I’m please to say, absolutely! One of the ears is a little quieter than the other at the moment, but I suspect that may ease as they get dried out a bit. How’s that for resilience?

If anything, the biggest impact has been from the sun and bleaching, some of the black isn’t quite as black as I remember it, but they work, and that’s what counts.

Anyway, I’m off now to enjoy another audio-book with my headphones on. Hopefully I won’t loose them this time ūüėÄ.

My Tools: Evernote for iOS

It’s that time which sometimes happens in our house when we need a few things from the shops. I’m the designated shopper for this trip. We only need a couple so I don’t bother to write down a list. Then a member of the family adds something extra to the list, three things, my brain can cope with that. Oh, but while you are there could you also look for another thing. I’ve now got to four things to remember and I don’t know about you, but four is about my limit. It’s time to make a list.

My daughter’s car is in the garage for some work and she wants me to phone up to see what the progress is. I’m asked to do this because I supposedly know more about what they are about to say, that’s debatable. I know I’ll need the car registration but there’s something about the registration number of this car that means that I can’t remember it consistently.

These are just a couple of examples where I use Evernote for iOS on my iPhone. Back in 2012 I described how I used Evernote as one of my daily productivity tools which it still is¬†(It’s interesting to read how my writing style has changed a bit since then). Evernote has all sorts of information in it having those that information on my iPhone makes them¬†significantly more mobile.

Now is a good time to talk about Evernote for iOS because it’s recently gone through a significant interface overhaul which I must say I approve of. For one thing, making ad-hoc notes like a quick shopping list is much simpler. It’s also much cleaner and easier to read.

This is my All Notes screen from this morning:


Creating a new note is as simple as clicking the plus sign at the bottom.

The integrated scanning has also removed the need for Scannable simplifying the workflow of scanning things into Evernote.

I’m not sure there’s much more to say than that:

My Tools: Moment – how much do I use my phone?

Most of us are inseparable from our smartphones and spend much of our life gazing¬†into screens small and large. I’ve often wondered how much time I spend looking into my iPhone screen and now I know – a lot.

Moment is an iOS application that tracks how much time I am spending on my iPhone and how many times I pick it up.

If you had asked me before running Moment¬†I would have told you that I probably used my iPhone for about an hour a day. You can see from the image below that I use it more than that, especially at a weekend.¬†Much of this time is spent multi-screening when I’m also watching the television, but it’s still a lot of time, particularly as I didn’t think that I watched that much television.

I tend not to wear a watch so I was interested by how many times I pick up my iPhone. The answer appears to be somewhere between 30 and 50 times which is a few times an hour for the waking day (assuming I don’t pick it up in my sleep) which doesn’t seem too unreasonable.

What these image don’t tell you is that I also have an iPhone I use for work, so this isn’t all of my iPhone screen time. I also run Moment on that phone and was surprised by how little I use that phone in a normal working day.

There’s an axiom that says that you have to be able to measure things to manage them. Having measured my iPhone usage I think it’s time to manage it down to a more sensible number. An extra hour a day is a lot of time to recover that could be invested in more useful activities.

You need to leave the application running for it to take measurements, but that doesn’t seem to be a problem. The impact on battery life seems to be minimal also.


My Tools: Wunderlist

Managing my tasks my way with a bit of help from technology

Benjamin Franklin once said:

In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.

There’s another things that’s quite certain and that’s lists¬†and in¬†particular¬†to-do lists.

The lists always exist, it’s our choice how we manage them. There are many-many choices for methods of managing to-do lists and a correspondingly long¬†list of applications that support the¬†methods.¬†My personal choice of application for the management of to-do lists is Wunderlist.

I’ve used Wunderlist for a while now and initially chose it because I liked the user interface on my iPhone. Some people are very particular about their to-do lists and adhere to them strictly throughout each day, I’m not very particular. There are two reason for a to-do list as far as I am concerned:

  • To remind me of things I’m likely to forget.
  • To get things out of my head so that I can think about other things.

This means that my to-do list regime is not highly structured.

I have a number of lists and items are placed on those lists as I remember them. The lists are structured around various areas of my life:

  • Work
  • Family and Home
  • Blogging

The items within each list are then prioritised in a very simple structure with the important ones being starred and the time critical ones having a due date defined. The ones with a due date assigned normally also have a reminder defined depending upon how long I need to get the item completed.

Wunderlist allows me to live within this structure and prioritisation regime very easily and that’s why I like it.

As well as the list views Wunderlist gives a number of useful views:

  • Starred – which shows all the starred items separated by the list titles.
  • Today – which shows all the items with a due-date of today (or earlier)

My primary usage of Wunderlist is still on my iPhone because that tends to be the device that I’m using when I’m thinking about my activities. I also use the Chrome application. I sometimes use the Chrome extension to quickly add a web page to a to-do, but that doesn’t happy very often.

I only use Wunderlist as my personal to-do list manager, so there are a number of features that I don’t use. I’ve never used shared to-do and hence never used chat or had anyone put a task in my inbox. I don’t normally add files to tasks, rarely use sub-tasks within an item, nor changed the background so never had a need to upgrade to¬†Pro. I haven’t used folders either because that’s a layer of complexity in the structure that I don’t need.

The biggest challenge, I find, with to-do lists is not managing the list it’s doing what’s on them. This isn’t an application issue, this is a Graham issue and I don’t see any application ever being able to do that for me.

(Off now to click the task in my blogging list titled My Tools: Wunderlist)

My Tools: Buffer

In my post¬†How I process information (2015 update)¬†one of the changes I highlighted was that I’d started using Buffer.

What Buffer does is relatively simple, but no less useful for its simplicity, and it’s elegantly done.

When I read through information in a morning I find things that I’d like to share with other people, primarily on Twitter. As I come to these items I could just share each one as I go through them. The problem with this approach is that it would turn me into that annoying kid who is constantly saying “have you seen this”, “have you seen this”, “have you seen this”. What Buffer allows me to do is to spread these posts across the day in a way that’s, hopefully, less annoying.

The way Buffer works is that you define a standard set of time slots for your normal day. When you add something to the Buffer queue it picks the next slot and then sends the tweet (or updates Facebook) at that time slot. If you fill the slots for one day it will flow over into the next day.

Setting up the slots is easy. You tell Buffer how many time slots you want, it can then analyse your twitter statistics and propose a set of slots for you, which is what I did.

With time slots set up I use the Buffer integrations with TweetDeck, Feedly and Chrome (and on my iPhone) to add to the queue. The TweetDeck (and Twitter) integration is smart enough to use Quote Tweets, the other integrations create a tweet with the title of the item and a url with the option to update the text and to add a picture.

Most things only get posted to Twitter, but I can also post the same content directly to Facebook using the same integrations.

Once added to the queue items are posted as they reach the front of the queue. As a Brit there is something very satisfying about adding things to a queue. You can reorder the queue if you want to, but that feels very un-British.

My Tools: Instagram

As part of my normal routine I go for a walk in the morning. Most mornings I take a picture of something that I find interesting, some days I take a video. The pictures are taken on my iPhone and posted directly to Instagram.

The Instagram client on my iPhone has all sorts of features available for enhancing the picture before it’s posted – filter, brightness, warmth, saturation, fade, shadows, vignette, etc. I tend to post pictures without too many enhancements, but it’s fun to fiddle sometimes.

Instagram has a reputation for pictures of three things: pets, selfies and food. I don’t have any pets, I rarely post selfies, I sometimes post food pictures, or more normally coffee pictures.

Similar to Facebook and Twitter, Instagram has a concept of followers which allows you to create social interactions and to see what others have posted. The people who I follow tend not to post pictures of pets, selfies or food.

Like other social network platforms Instagram allows people to interact. In the case of Instagram interaction is via likes and comments. You can also post links to Facebook and Twitter which create other avenues for interaction.

While writing this post I’ve considered a¬†question – why do I use Instagram? I started using Instagram because it did something unique, Twitter didn’t really handle pictures at the time you had to use third-party capabilities, Facebook always handled pictures, but it’s functionality is aimed at collections and albums of pictures. Twitter now supports pictures quite well, but I continue to use Instagram. Why continue as part of another social network? I tried to come up with a logical reason involving features and capabilities, but the answer is far simpler. I continue to use Instagram because I like it.

If you want to interact you can find me here: @grahamchastney


My Tools: Hill Lists – Ticking or Bagging?

I’m in the process of trying to complete a set of hills described by Alfred¬†Wainwright.

Some people call this ticking, others call this bagging. In Scotland people definitely bag Munro’s¬†–¬†there is less clarity as to¬†what the climbing of a Wainwright¬†is called –¬†I prefer ticking.

I use two things to track my ticking; one is a map on the wall of my study which gives a clear visual representation; the other is an application called Hill Lists.

The first screen for Hill Lists is a set of available lists to be climbed, below is the standard starter list to which you can add extra lists. It wasn’t until I started using this app that a realised how many lists there are:

Hill Lists

Selecting a list shows the hills in the list alongside a number of statistics.

Selecting maps from the list shows a colour coded map of the hills within the list:

Hill Lists

From either the list itself, or the map you can select the details for a hill:

Hill Lists

Selecting the plus sign allows you to add a record of a climb for that hill. The map icon take you to external sites that give details of routes. The cloud icon take you to the Mountain Weather Information Service report for the hill area.

My Tools: OutDoors Great Britain

I’ve got a bit of an ambition in process,¬†it involves climbing hill in the North West of England.¬†I’m not going to say quite what the ambition is in public because I’m running a bit behind on the schedule at the moment and it’s still got a long way to go.

Walking in safety requires really good information and the best information comes from¬†a map. While I’m out and about with my boots and my backpack I normally carry two maps.

The first map, that I always carry with me (and so should you) is a paper one (it’s not actually paper, it’s some kind of waterproof composite). These paper maps are accurate and never break down, but they aren’t the easiest to use and lack some information, particularly the most vital¬†piece of information – “where exactly am I?” Map reading is a skill that everyone serious about walking should gain, I don’t want to diminish that in any way.

Having said that, I also carry around a second set of maps on my iPhone; the particular App I use is called OutDoors Great Britain. Within the UK the benchmark maps come from the Ordnance Survey (OS), being a government organisation they make their maps available to other organisations through a commercial framework. Whilst out and about in the countryside you don’t want to be reliant upon a network signal, they’re often not available. Thankfully the¬†commercial framework with the OS allows¬†applications to provide¬†downloaded maps schematics and data, these are normally charged on a per area basis which is what OutDoors do.

You can also use free map sources which are quite good, but obviously rely on a level of network connectivity.

Integration of the App with the iPhone’s GPS and Compass capabilities gives a reassuring answer to that “where am I?” question. It doesn’t just answer that question though it also answers the, sometimes more important, question “which way am I looking?”

I tend to plan my routes on paper, but the App can also do that. I tend not to record my routes either, but again the App can do that.

OutDoors Great Britain – Launch Page



OutDoors Great Britain – Map Page


OutDoors Great Britain – Map Options


My Tools: Scanabble

There was a time when a scanner was a precision piece of equipment that required it’s own dedicated supporting PC. They weighed about the same amount as a rugby player and were as temperamental¬†as a rugby player who’s just emerged from a scrum with half his ear missing.

Times have changed. We all carry cameras in our mobile phones that are at least as good as those early scanners, but we don’t want a picture of a document, we want what the scanner used to give us, a readable scan of a document.¬†That’s what Scannable gives me.

Scannable comes from the Evernote team and this is how they describe it:

Scannable captures the paper in your life quickly and beautifully, transforming it into high-quality scans ready to save or share. Whether on the go or at the office, send paper on its way and move on.

That pretty much sums up how it works.

The process is really very simple:

1. Show a document to the app:


2: Once the app has found a document it will take a scan of it and save it. There’s no need for lining things up and clicking take. Once it recognises a document it takes the picture:


3: You can take multiple pages in the same scan. Then give the scan a name and share it:


4: Naturally the best place to send it to is Evernote, which give you the option to pick a notebook:



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