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

Instagram

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

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OutDoors Great Britain – Map Page

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OutDoors Great Britain – Map Options

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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:

Scannable

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:

Scannable

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

Scannable

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

Scannable

Done!

My Tools: IFTTT – Automating Your Life

Why do it yourself if you can get a computer to do it for you.

IFThisTHENThat

It really is that simple:

  • IF I favourite a tweet THEN create a note in Evernote
  • IF I go to the gym THEN update a log of gym visits in Evernote

In IFTTT terms the This is a Trigger, the That is an Action. A Trigger with an Action is known as a Recipe. The sources of Triggers and Actions (like Twitter, or Instagram) are known as Channels. There are currently 164 Channels.

Imagine a service on the internet and it’s likely that there will be a channel for it which is likely to have a set of triggers then start thinking about what you could do:

  • Every time I go to the gym I could post on Facebook.
  • Every time I leave the office I could email my wife.
  • Every Saturday I could send an email of the day’s weather.
  • Every time TIME.com posts in a particular section I could get IFTTT to phone me and tell me.
  • Every time it’s sunset I could turn on my Philips Hue lights (not that I have any).

I only use a few channels, but that’s all I need for now. It’s amazing what you can do with a few recipes:

  • IF I favourite a tweet THEN create a note in Evernote with the tweet details in it.
  • IF I write a tweet THEN create a note in Evernote with the tweet details in it.
  • IF I post a picture to Instagram THEN create a note in Evernote with the picture in it.
  • IF I write a Blog post THEN create a note in Evernote with the text and picture in it.
  • IF I mark a blog as Save for Later in Feedly THEN create a link note in Evernote with a subset of the post text in.
  • IF I arrive at the gym THEN amend a log note in Evernote with time and date.

My recipes all use Evernote as the target; it’s the place that I use to record my online life, and some of my physical life too, but that’s a post for another day.

If you are wondering how you say IFTTT then the advice from the makers is to image GIFT without a G.

if-this-then-that

My Tools: Feedly

In 2008 I wrote about my use of FeedDemon as my feed reader of choice. In those days it would synchronise the list of feeds and the read/unread status to NewsGator (remember that).

Then NewsGator changed their focus and FeedDemon moved to synchronise with Google Reader. Then in July 2013 Google Reader was shut down forcing the most valuable feature out of FeedDemon and its effective demise.

I was never a fan of Google Reader but made extensive use of its aggregation with FeedDemon. I didn’t fancy building a new set of subscriptions so wanted an alternative that would support seamless migration from Google Reader. The available keyboard short-cuts were important as was the availability of a mobile client.

At the time of the Google Reader shut-down there were a number of alternatives available and I had intended on evaluating a number of them, but the first one I tried was Feedly and I loved it from the start.

The migration from Google Reader and FeedDemon was straightforward. All I had to do was log-in to Feedly with my Google credentials and then at the moment Google Reader shut down Feedly picked up the work, as simple as that.

My desktop experience of Feedly is primarily through the Chrome application.  This has a wonderful set of keyboard short-cuts that are effective and simple to remember (although the n-key on my keyboard is now more polished than the space-bar).

The mobile client for Feedly is very usable and includes all the features that you need. It looks nice too and although I don’t use keyboard short-cuts on the mobile I find the different working practices fit together. If you don’t like the Feedly mobile client there are a number of alternate readers that use the Feedly aggregation.

There are a couple of other things that I love in Feedly. Saved for Later is regularly used for things that I want to remember. I also love the integration between Feedly and IFTTT, everything I save for later also gets copied into my Evernote. There is a direct integration between Feedly and Evernote but that required subscription to Feedly Pro, the IFTTT integration is good enough for now.

One of the things that Feedly can’t do, being a cloud service, is integrate to the RSS feeds within my corporate network. That’s not been an issue, primarily because the feeds aren’t well implemented in the corporate tools, but if it was I think I would find a specific tool for doing that.

Having read through this post it occurs to me that terms like Feed Reader, RSS and aggregation might not make any sense to you. I looked around for a nice video to explain but the best I could come up with was this one – RSS in Plain English – it’s OK, but needs an update.

Feedly Mobile

Slimming down (my blog subscriptions)

One of the activities that I’m tracking through Lift is to stop following (unsubscribe from) a blog a day.

This fits with a more general theme of stopping doing things to improve simplicity.

We are all under so much pressure to acquire things that it’s very therapeutic to lay something down every day.

A blog a day isn’t as dramatic as you might think, I follow (subscribe to) 372 of them (as of today) and I’ve only been going for 8 days so I’ve still got a long way to go.

Once I’ve got the blog list down I think it will be my twitter list next.