Julian Kay

Wunderlist

I had been looking at a replacement for Outlook tasks for the longest time. Since Windows Phone 7 came out, Microsoft’s mobile offerings for Outlook tasks have been… sub-optimal.

I had heard of Wunderlist through sites like Lifehacker and The Verge, and in 2014 6Wunderkinder released a new real-time sync engine as well as new beta versions for Windows Phone and Windows 8. I thought it was about time I switched from Outlook, so I gave it a shot.

A year later and I’m still using it every day.

Wunderlist is intuitive and easy to use. The free version does more than other apps, and it’s totally cross platform with first-class apps for Apple’s platforms (including Watch), Android, Windows and the web. It features recurring to-dos, subtasks, reminders, due dates, multiple lists and folders to organise them. Smart views let me order the to-dos by today or this week. This is where I spend most of my time when actually doing things. I like working through to-dos in due-date order, across all of the lists.

The latest new feature was a Wunderlist API. Integration with Slack and Sunrise has been useful, but I’m still waiting on integration with Outlook (coming soon) and IFTTT.

wunderlist-ui

Now Wunderlist is part of my Action Management System and vital to how I get stuff done. Here’s how I have it set up.

Inbox

The Inbox is where I collect any of my to-dos as I record them. I try to keep my inbox fairly minimal, so I regularly review it. I often put links or other small reminders to myself in here and check them off without ever organising them into folders. The way I use inbox is in a similar way to my email: it’s a great collection point, but it should be regularly emptied – either by doing the to-do, or organising it into one of my folders.

Actions

Anything that takes longer than a couple of minutes goes from the Inbox and into here. Pretty much anything goes, as long as doesn’t fit into any of my other lists. I regularly review this list to add due dates or subtasks.

Habits

Daily, weekly, and monthly habits are stored here. All of these to-dos are recurring, so as soon as I check them off they return for the next date. For example, every week I review my finances and every month I review my projects list. These will appear on my weekly smart list as they need to be addressed.

Wishes

There are often things I am thinking about doing or getting which are either just ideas or not feasible right now. This is where my wish list comes in. Putting items in here gets them off my mind into a place where I can review regularly.

Waiting

This list keeps track of any items I’m waiting for including Kickstarter projects, deliveries, book and music release dates and other things like that. I also use list to keep track of things that I am waiting on from people too, including items loaned to friends.

Projects, Objectives and anything else

All of the above to-do lists are actually inside a folder marked ‘Personal’. As well as this folder, I also have a folder called ‘Projects’ which contains number of to-do lists for projects I am working on – and these come and go depending on what’s happening in my life. In fact, some of these lists may even be shared with other people.

Currently I also have an ‘Objectives’ folder which is keeping track of a some bigger picture things I want to achieve, but this is not permanent. I like to keep things flexible inside Wunderlist, and creating ad hoc lists and folders makes it easy for me to do so. I always review my to-do lists once a week a week anyway.

Using Cortana with a fake GPS driver on Windows 10

I’ve mentioned before that I like to offload some of my development and productivity tasks to Virtual Machines running on Microsoft Azure. On these machines I like to run Visual Studio, Office and any other apps I need so I can be productive anywhere.

One of the apps that helps me be productive is Cortana, so I was pleased to get her up and running on my Windows 10 VM.

Cortana can helpfully give you reminders and recommendations based on location, but can you guess what the problem is when using Cortana on a VM in Azure?

Location in Redmond

The location services think I am currently located in Redmond, Washington. Oh dear.

The cross devices functionality of Cortana gets very confused because of this. When I’m using my phone she thinks I’m in Leeds, but if I switch to using the VM she thinks I have suddenly appeared in the United States.

I had a think about how best to approach this issue, and currently I’m trying out a solution which seems to work well: using a homemade Fake GPS driver.

FakeGPS Sensor Driver

I went through the code in the Windows DDK and found an example for creating a GPS driver. Rather than getting the data from a real hardware devices, I hard coded the latitude and longitude. Once I had it set up in exactly the way I wanted, it was just a matter of compiling the C++ for Windows 10 and getting it installed.

Location in Leeds

Now this Fake GPS driver simply returns the geolocation coordinates which I want, and Cortana thinks that I’m in Leeds. Sorted!

This isn’t a perfect solution. For example you have to switch your OS to run in Test Mode, and obviously the location doesn’t automatically change depending on where you are. However my initial use shows me it’s way more useful than just letting the OS guess the location from the IP address.

Cortana on Windows 10

If people are interested in trying out this solution for themselves, I’ll share the code on GitHub. It shouldn’t be too tricky to add an interface to set the location as required.

Let me know in the comments.

KeySmart

I recently moved into a new flat, and so I got a new set of keys to get into the building. This time, both of them are the flat key type rather than the mixture of types I had previously. This gave me an idea.

In the past, I’ve seen people on EDC websites use all sorts of key organisers, and I thought I’d give it a go. There are a lot out there – so I’d recommend having a good look around, but I decided that the KeySmart would be a safe choice for me. I only have two keys and I am not too worried about having anything super hard-wearing like titanium.

With the KeySmart you get two scales, a number of washers (depending on which model you get), a loop for attaching to other keys, and screws to hold it all together.

I’ve only had it set up like this for a few weeks now, so I haven’t found out if there are any other issues (for example, I never want it to come apart and lose my keys). But in the time I’ve had it, I have been very happy.

KeySmart

I’m not in a rush, but I have been tempted to get some keys with a black finish cut especially for this. Think that would look good?

Pros

  • Way cooler than normal keys, obviously
  • Great for avoiding the jingle when running
  • Super slim profile and feels good in the hand

Cons

  • The Utili-Key I used to keep with me doesn’t really work
  • Lack of jingle means I have to really check I have my keys on me
  • Not as speedy for one handed use, but ok

Field Notes

Used Field Notes

A few months ago I tried Field Notes for the first time. I was travelling to America and didn’t want to carry both of my large Moleskine notebooks around.

I was immediately hooked.

In the past I’d tried a number of ways to keep track of notes that seemed too basic to go into my larger notebook, but too complex for my planner; the vague middle ground of half thought ideas and random bits of information. The last thing I tried was 6″ × 4″ index cards. These were a great size, but then I had a stack of index cards to worry about. (I liked index cards so much, I may still find a way to use them moving forward, but that’s another story.)

I decided to try out Field Notes for this exact purpose – anything goes. From Wi-Fi passwords to plans of world domination, in any type of pencil or ink. The Field Notes is where I empty my brain.

Field Notes

Now that I’ve started using them this way, I plan to continue to use Field Notes for this purpose for the foreseeable future, and they’ll feature prominently in my plans for my refreshed analogue setup alongside Japanese notebooks like Hobonichi and Midori. There will be more to come about that over the next few months.

Aside from their actual purpose of note taking, there are a few other things that make Field Notes special for me…

Physically wonderful

First of all I find the dimensions and the number of pages to be just right for what I’m using them for. They’re 3½″ × 5½″ and 48 pages with a card exterior. They are a perfect fit for a jeans pocket or for stuffing inside a another notebook or case. They work well as companion notebooks more than anything else.

Field Notes

The physical design is based on the old memo books and pocket ledgers popular in America’s days gone by. Revived to fill the need of analogue note taking in a digital age, they feel just right for use at home or on the move.

Colors and limited editions

As well as a few stock notebooks, Field Notes provides a ‘Colors‘ subscription service where they release four different designs throughout a year. These designs are unknown until they are released, which can be really fun and exciting. Due to the physical size of the notebook, I’m regularly burning through them and changing the edition I’m using. I really like this pace as it keeps things interesting. Differences in paper, card, and printing technique means there is plenty of variety in more than just the colour of the card stock used.

Field Notes Night Sky

They also do a number of collaborations which means there’s a lot of additional designs out there, in fact there is a very strong community of ‘Field Nuts‘ who are interested in collecting and using these different designs. I have no plans on trying to get them all or to keep them in pristine condition, but it is delightful to have so many options around the same basic notebooks style.

The best of American design

I liked the look of Aaron Draplin’s designs before I even knew who he was. With editions ranging from the classic Americana of America the Beautiful to the eye-popping colours of Unexposed, the work Draplin and the whole of the Field Notes team has done for these notebooks is absolutely outstanding, they’re always on the cutting edge of American design and trying new things.

Field Notes Workshop Companion

The simplicity of purpose and design philosophy also expands to some of the accessories you can get – from leather cases to archive boxes, the use of the Futura typeface, and even the tone of language used in the back of the book.

The Field Notes style is bold and distinct, and something I really enjoy.

They look great used

Finally, one of my favourite things about the Field Notes brand notebooks is how good they look after they’ve been used. Using analogue tools for note taking is very different to digital notes. Microsoft OneNote is always going to be pixel perfect, but my Field Notes are going to get bent, scraped, rubbed and damaged through use.

Used Field Notes

They’re mine and it just adds to the experience.

I go through Field Notes faster than any other notebook I have, so really using them seems perfectly natural. I’m much more careful with my yearly planner because I have to keep it for 12 months. It’s nice to have something I feel comfortable just grabbing and folding over to scribble on.

Productivity Music

When listening to an episode of Cortex on Relay.fm, Myke Hurley and CGP Grey talked about how they use music to get in the zone for productivity. It really resonated with me as I’ve done the same thing for many years, and one of my albums of choice was actually mentioned by Grey.

Get into the zone, work harder, associate similar tasks with the music.

There are two main benefits of doing this: one is to distract the part of the brain which is looking for distractions, and the other is to provide a familiar experience and link it with the act of getting things done.

All Day

All Day is name of the epic 2010 mashup album from Girl Talk which is needs to be experienced in order to be understood. Essentially, it’s a huge number of small snippets from loads of pieces of popular music, all smashed together in one cohesive mashup mega mix spectacular, but you’d have to listen to it to see what I mean.

Girl Talk

I use All Day and Girl Talk’s other albums (all available for free) to get myself into the zone for being productive when writing, scripting and power coding, especially when I want to feel pumped up and full of energy.

The only word of warning is that it may be a bit too distracting if you’re not familiar with the album, as you may end up trying to work out where the samples are coming from rather than concentrating on your work. I’ve been listening to this album since it came out, so a lot of the lyrics are just noise to me now.

Not only was this album mentioned on Cortext, it was also discussed on Inquisitive.

Music to Code By

Music to Code By is not an album of music. It is a productivity tool. It will help you focus intently on any task.

Developed by Carl Franklin (of .NET Rocks! fame) specifically for software developers, Music to Code By (MTCB) has been crafted to provide an easy way for the listener to get into the Flow.

Carl Franklin

The melodic loops are around 50 to 80 BPM and 25 minutes long, which is perfect for me to use as a timer without actually watching the clock. After the track finishes, I get up and go for a short walk before putting on the next track. I use this all the time, especially when I want to calmly read specifications, work through tasks, design software architecture and focus on complex problems.

MTCB isn’t free, but you can get samples from Carl’s website and order from there. I currently only have the first three tracks, but another compilation will be released soon. My favourite track is Blue.

Highlights from Build 2015

The Build 2015 conference has just taken place in San Francisco.

Like last year, this has been another huge event for Microsoft, and a big deal for the people who build solutions using their technologies.

There have been way more interesting things happening than I can possibly cover in one article, but I have decided to cover the three most important to me:

.NET, Windows and Azure.

An exciting future for .NET and Open Source

The future of .NET is the continued push to an open source .NET Core, which is at the centre of both the latest ASP.NET runtime and the Universal Windows app platform. In the future, this will expand and include other application types. In my opinion, they’ve picked the right place to start.

Applications running on the CoreCLR can be developed and deployed on cloud and server-based infrastructures running different operating systems including Windows, Linux and OS X. I have been watching the development efforts on GitHub for a while now, and I’ve set it up on my own machines running both Windows and Linux. It sure is a sight to see.

As well as the core runtime itself going open source, other technologies like Roslyn have enabled products that many wouldn’t have guessed would see the light of day. Having an open source compiler platform has enabled Visual Studio Code – a new cross platform text editor with Intellisense – to be built.

I was lucky enough to see Visual Studio Code before it was announced, and it changed the way I thought about collaboration with Mac users instantly. I’ll have more on this new text editor soon.

Visual Studio Code

With the RC of Visual Studio 2015 there have been some big improvements in the languages supported including both the more traditional C# and Visual Basic, and (my personal favourite) F#.

The Visual F# improvements in ‘every day’ activities are dramatic for anyone who has been using the language. This is all thanks to the new open source attitude, and the amazing community around F# who have helped to develop the Visual F# tools on GitHub.

This new world of cross-platform and open source .NET technology is going to enable some amazing scenarios for .NET developers like myself.

Windows 10’s application platform takes shape

The aforementioned Universal Windows app platform is really taking shape now. Gone are the days of very prescriptive (and maybe too forward-looking) design patterns of Windows 8, and in is the ‘do what’s right for your applications‘ model that has been working well for some for a while.

Universal Windows apps scale from the smallest phones and Internet of Things devices up to the large screens of the Xbox One and the Surface Hub. The most ‘universal’ of these apps are built with just one binary which includes a scalable UI. This allows you to even have the ‘desktop’ app experience when used on a landscape 5.7 inch phone, or when plugged into an external screen using an amazing new Continuum for Phones feature.

For app developers there are some interesting (and controversial) new ways for software venders to build for Windows. The biggest of which are the bridges from Android and iOS. These two are extremely important for the phone and work especially well for iOS games which don’t rely too heavily on the operating specific UI elements. Combined with the bridges for ‘classic windows’ apps and websites using Microsoft Edge, the Store should get a lot more apps on this Windows 10 wave of releases.

From a user’s view, Windows 10 has really rounded out, with the latest Insider Preview feeling a lot more polished than any of the previous builds. Seeing HoloLens run standard Windows Universal apps was a big deal too.

I’ll have more thoughts on these in the future as the Insider Preview continues, and more information for HoloLoens is released at E3.

Microsoft <3 Docker and other Azure improvements

Azure, and the Microsoft Cloud in general, continue to amaze me. Microsoft has managed to embrace this new way of building (and selling) software in at breakneck speed. Additional services were added throughout the platform all the way from storage and networking, to analytics and machine learning. Way too many for this article.

Two of the biggest highlights were the ability to run the complete Azure Stack locally, and Azure’s new Data Lake features too, something which Amazon has had a lot of success with.

Microsoft <3 Docker

For me though, the most interesting changes were around Docker support across Windows and Azure. Docker has been on my radar for a while, but I have yet to use it in production. I have plans to do so in the not too distant future.

Kyoei Orions Grid Ruler

Kyoei Orions Grid Ruler

I know what you’re thinking. Who really cares about what kind of ruler they use?

Well, apparently, I do.

I originally purchased a Helix drafting set when I started studying mathematics back in 2008. I mostly used the ruler to draw lines, diagrams, and all the good things you do when you’re studying maths. After I completed my second year, I put my ruler away in one of my pencil cases and forgot about it.

When I started studying again last year, I dug it out and used it in my Moleskine notebook. When procrastinating from my studies, I ended up using it in my weekly journal for drawing extra boxes for health data and other things I found interesting.

I was hooked. Whenever I added an extra table of data to my journal, I wanted it to be nicely lined up with the other sections. I continued to use this ruler for a while, but then I found something pretty amazing, a better ruler. Maybe even the best ruler? (For me, anyway)

From the moment I saw the Kyoei Orions Grid Ruler on JetPens, I knew I wanted to have one. (Feel free to check out the Kyoei site, if you know Japanese).

What’s so special about this ruler I hear you ask?

  • Every edge is used
  • No inches, just metric
  • Horizontal and vertical labels
  • Highlights every 5 cm
  • Starts at both 0 mm and -5 mm
  • 5mm grid lines everywhere

The most important feature is the 5 mm grid, which means that you can align the ruler both vertically and horizontally when drawing lines.

This is much better than most rulers, where you have to use use the small indicators on the side to align the ruler. Generally these don’t even line up with each other anyway, due to each side having a different measurement system. (Also why did Helix put a blue background on the indicators? Madness!)

This isn’t a problem with the Grid Ruler, as everything is metric. The edge-to-edge measurements are great for lining up to the inside of a notebook page too, especially when it also uses a 5 mm grid.

Kyoei Orions Grid Ruler

I like this ruler so much I got a couple of them to use both at work and at home along with my Kuru Togas and Boxy Erasers.

Microsoft Future Vision 2015

I’ve always been inspired by the Microsoft ‘Future Vision’ videos which depict a not-too-distant vision of productivity. This year’s entry has not been a disappointment, with a number of interesting UI concepts explored.

The best thing to do is watch the video above to see them all, but I’ve picked four of my favourites below.

Augmented Reality + Tactile Controls

I’m not really what to call this, so I’m just going to call it a ‘holographic puck’. In this instance, a round hardware device can be rotated to make selections on a holographic UI which has been augmented over the top of Kat’s vision.

By mixing the feel of tactile controls with the holographic interfaces you can avoid the strange experience of ‘tapping thin air’ while still providing the users with the infinite possibilities of augmented reality.

Holographic puck

I really like this concept, and it’s not too unrealistic considering the holographic technology coming in Windows 10. Later in the video you see the same hardware device used to transfer the data collected in the first scene.

Flexible Digital Notebooks

Opening the flexible computer

My favourite concept from the whole video is shown when our hero attends a café. The tea selection is shown on this flexible display, and when Kat opens it all of her personal stuff is automatically available to her.

While I think the folding doesn’t look as amazing as it could be (give me a proper notebook style folding, please) – it is a great example of the kind of computers we will be using in the future, and something I really want.

Flexible computer

Being a massive notebook and stationery nerd, I really love the idea of having a flexible notebook computer like this. I hope it happens in the not-too-distant future. The Surface line of computers already has rich inking capability, so it’s only going to get better over time.

Wearable Computing Devices

Throughout the video only one computer looks like it belongs exclusively Kat. The screen on her wrist is probably the equivalent of the smartphone today, being a general purpose communication and computing device.

Wrist computer

This is quite a way off the current Microsoft Band, but the technology sector is certainly going this direction. My Band has already helped give me the motivation to be fitter and healthier, and while we don’t really see much in the way of health statistics in this video, it can certainly be inferred from the way things are going.

Large Table-like Displays

Large table

I also love this large table computer concept. When Kat needs to get some real work done, she just uses her wearable computer to hand off to a bigger computer in a shared workspace.

I’m sure this kind of keyboard-free interaction will be best suited to a world where voice interaction has been perfected. Though I’m sure a software keyboard could be provided. You can even see Kat use a Bluetooth headset (Bragi Dash?) to work with Cortana-like assistant in the top left of the UI.