Mindfulness Meditation

Like other millennials I spent a lot of time on the internet when I was growing up. I firmly placed my attention on the exciting world of operating systems and software applications. I learned how to write my own software and build my own networks of computers.

But there’s more to life than just one aspect, and so a decade ago I started to broaden my horizons from the scope of technology to find other subjects that interested me.

I quickly found that I had just as much interest in behavioural science, psychology, and self improvement.

A little bit of reading about meditation will give you the impression that it’s something worth doing – anyone who’s interested in self-improvement has probably come across a book about it and have been amazed by the seemingly incredible benefits in lists like this:

  • Reduced stress and anxiety
  • More energy and improved sleep
  • Better cognitive and emotional functions
  • Health benefits and more…

I had to find out more.

I’ve tried a number of forms of meditation over the years, but the one that has stuck with me the most is mindfulness mediation.

There isn’t much you need in order to get started:

  • About 15 to 20 minutes of free time
  • A quiet place without too many distractions
  • A timer or stopwatch
  • No expectations

Sit down in your quiet place in a comfortable position, set your timer for 15 minutes, and close your eyes.

All you need to do is be aware of the breath as it comes in and out of your nose. Breath slowly and concentrate on how the air feels as it hits your nostrils. Breathe deeply, but don’t try to control your breath – just experience it as it happens.

As you sit there you’ll notice that many thoughts arise to try and take your attention away from your breath.

The mind wanders, and this is what minds do, it’s not a problem or a mistake. The awareness of this fact is what the practice is all about. Over time you’ll learn the patterns of thoughts which try to take your attention away. Don’t fight it, but let it pass – and guide your attention back to your breath.

Your mind will wander like this many times, and that’s okay – just keep guide your attention back to your breath as many times as is necessary.

When your timer goes off, slowly open your eyes and you’ll be ready to go about your day.

This is the practice of mindfulness meditation in its most simplest form. Sounds easy? Not really…

Many people (myself included) are frustrated and uncomfortable at first. It’s a very strange sensation to realise that your mind jumps around like it does.

Equally, people often have expectations that all those benefits listed earlier must happen right away. This is simply not how it works. It takes time.

Mindfulness isn’t something that just happens – it’s something you need to work on. That’s why it’s called a practice.

After a while you’ll find that it does make a difference, and you’ll be mindful of this mind wandering in other aspects of your life.

I have found this to be especially noticeable when reading, writing, and working on many of the tasks required in software development. The pull is real, and can be very distracting if you let it. My generation has been accused many times of having a short attention span.

I suggest Mindfulness: A practical guide to finding peace in a frantic world (2011) as a really good foundation for bringing mindfulness into your every day life.

Will the “Surface Phone” be a foldable cellular PC?

Remember the introduction of the Lumia 950 XL, 950 and 550?

Panos was pretty clear that he had only just taken over the Lumia efforts and the design of those phones (along with the Band) were things that he had inherited.

The Surface team must be working on a phone using this platform, and you can guarantee that it is going to create a new genre of devices in the same way the original Surface did for the 2 in 1.

The goal is to bring Windows 10 to life in your pocket, and the recent announcements of full Windows 10 running on ARM will allow for that. This means you can have small and always connected cellular devices which can instantly switch from being a phone to being a PC.

But what would something like that look like?

This week MSPoweruser published a new patent for a foldable phone-to-tablet mobile device:

In this patent, Microsoft is describing a device that is flexible supported by a flexible hinge structure that secures the plurality of housings to each other, permits the plurality of housings to rotate about an axis in relation to each other, and supports a continuous viewing area of the display device that extends across the plurality of housings and the flexible hinge structure.

I suggest you go to MSPoweruser and have a look for yourself – it’s very interesting.

One of the images that struck me was a view of the bottom of the device. I immediately connected it to the legendary Microsoft Courier device, which was famously abandoned late in the development process.

But the Courier isn’t the only foldable device we’ve seen Microsoft work on.

Microsoft’s Future Vision video from 2009 also featured a small foldable device. This one could also disconnect into two separate devices. (See this patent for more)

And one of my favourites, the flexible notebook device from 2015.

While I don’t think we’re at the stage of truly flexible computers that act like paper, I do think it’s likely that the technology is ready for a foldable device which would be able to transform between a phone and a tablet. Let’s see if Microsoft do it this year.

What is Mixed Reality?

I’ve not created a new category for my website for years – but there’s something that I have spending a lot of time working and I need to start writing about: mixed reality.

Mixed reality is a broad umbrella of technologies which enable a real and virtual worlds to be blended together to create a single environment where physical and digital objects interact with each other.

I remember when I was in school I would imagine what it would be like to have a “heads up display” all the time. I’d imagine information that I’d see about people and surroundings, interactive maps giving me directions, reminders about errands I need to run, all sorts of things.

Thanks to science fiction there was no doubt in my mind that it was an inevitability, and it would happen in my life time – but I didn’t really know how or when it would happen.

Fortaleza Leak

Back in 2012 a very interesting image appeared on the internet. It was from an Xbox presentation which mentioned something called Fortaleza Glasses. Rumours of Project Fortaleza had been going for a while, and I followed the subject with great interest.

Linked to Alex Kipman, the creator of the Kinect, it was thought that these glasses would be Microsoft’s move to leap ahead of virtual reality and into some new world of augmented reality. I hope so much that it was true…

HoloLens

..and I remember how amazed I was when I found out it was true.

HoloLens at Home

Well, over the last six months I have not only tried the HoloLens, but spend many hours using it in both professionally and in my home. I’ve been learning how it works, how to develop software for it, and most importantly; I’ve been learning about what it means for the future of software.

This is a whole new kind of user experience, and I believe that mixed reality is the future of how humans will interact with software.

Actiongram

But mixed reality is about experience, not technology. When I say that I believe it is the future of how humans will interact with software – I am not saying that everyone will wear headsets. It won’t be long until there are other ways to project digital items into the physical world.

It breaks down the walls between physical and virtual reality – today this means vision and sound, but the concept of mixed reality goes beyond those senses. As a software architect it excites me to think about the user experiences which everyone in the augmented/virtual/mixed reality community is going to help shape, and I’m to write about what I learn as I go.

Now that I have experienced mixed reality, there’s no going back.

It’s real, it’s getting better all the time, and it’s here to stay.

2017: More Stuff

I don’t tend to do the “blogging about blogging” thing very often, and I’m not keen to get into a situation where I am regularly apologising for not publishing often enough… but I have not been publishing often enough.

It is a bit sad to look at the amount of unfinished articles I have in OneNote, some which were good enough for publishing but just weren’t for whatever reason.

At the end of 2016 I had 25 unpublished drafts, and only 22 published articles. Ouch.

I have no delusions of grandeur, and the primary reason I write is for myself, but unpublished drafts are no good for anyone.

So here I am stating for the public record that I am going to write and publish more content over the next 12 months.

A weblog on life with technology

The original premise for this website was “A weblog on life with technology” and it was a platform for me to express my thoughts about using technology in all aspects of life. I’d like to get back to that core vision and publish more of my thoughts – whatever they are – in a timely way.

As I look back at some of the things I wrote a decade ago I can see how my thinking has changed along with the technology landscape. The old content (some of which I’ll dig out for future articles) produced an interesting mix of feelings as I looked through it.

I want to look back on this year’s content in a decade and have the same feelings of “did I really write that rubbish?” and “wow I can see the start of some big changes!”

So expect more stuff from me in 2017. (Just don’t expect it all to be great.)

What’s in your bag? 2016

I’ve always been a fan of these kinds of posts so every couple of years I do an update of what I keep in my work bag and what I have as my every day carry:

Knomo Kilkenny

The Bag

The bag itself a messenger bag designed for “11 inch laptops” by Knomo. I’ve had a look and it appears that it is now discontinued but it’s still going strong for me.

I got it back in 2014 to use with my Surface Pro 2. In my original post I speculated that “it will hopefully last even longer than the technology it will hold.” and I was right. It’s a perfect fit the Surface Book too.

I usually wear it just on one shoulder when going short distances but it it works fine across my body too. Previously I’d had larger backpacks for work, but these days the stuff I carry is so small and light that a messenger bag is the best option and just using one shoulder doesn’t cause any physical issues for me.

Surface Book

The main compartment of the bag is used by whichever Surface Book I am using at the time; I have one for work and another one for personal use.

The Surface Book is a beautiful machine and way better than the clunky and huge Dell or HP laptops I used to use for work.

It’s worth mentioning here that I do not carry a power adaptor with me by default. I have Surface power adaptors both in my home office and at work, plus the battery life is just fine for most situations where I am out and using the machine for work.

What's in your bag?

Notebooks

The middle compartment sometimes gets used for other things, but mostly it is where I carry my notebooks.

As a huge stationery nerd I often try out new pens and pencils – but one certainty is that I’ll have my Arts & Science leather case containing my Hobonichi, Field Notes, and whatever my pen of choice is at the moment.

Analogue Note-Taking

Check out my analogue note-taking setup for 2016 for more information on the setup I had at the start of the year, or follow me on Instagram if stationery is your thing.

Analogue and Digital Pens

In the front compartment there are a couple of pen slots – at the moment it is currently holding:

  • Surface Pen
  • Zebra Sharbo X ST3

While the Surface Pen has a magnet to clip to the side of the device, I find that I prefer to keep it in it’s own place when I am storing it in my bag. I don’t want there to be any chance of it falling off and scratching the laptop.

The Sharbo X is probably my favourite multi-pen and I use it a lot when taking notes in meetings. It’s really handy to keep this one in my bag so I have a pen, pencil, and highlighter to hand at all times.

small-items

Small Accessories

Finally, there are also a small number of other miscellaneous items I carry in a zipped pocket:

  • Small USB Cable
  • USB Type C adapter
  • micro SD card and USB adapter
  • Pen knife
  • Cleaning cloth

And that’s it! I really love how much lighter my bag is compared to previous years.