🎙 20: A (Delayed) Look Ahead To 2019

This week I finally get around to sharing a few of the things I’m looking forward to seeing in 2019 and also take a look at some of my favourite blogs, podcasts and content creators I’m looking forward to watching continue to grow and put out some really interesting content over the coming weeks and months.

2018 was an interesting year, and I’m looking forward to what 2019 will bring.

You can find links to the show below:

button-itunes button-overcast button-pocket-casts button-rss

You can also find a direct link on the podcast page.

🎙 Appearance: And You Are? #3

Greg Morris, of Bring Your Own Device Podcast fame, recently launched a new interview podcast called And You Are?. The first two episodes featured two extremely fascinating guys, writer and podcaster Daryl Baxter and author Matt Gemmell. If you haven’t already, I recommend you stop reading right now and get caught up with these. I really enjoyed listening to both recently.

While the first two episodes were extremely enjoyable, things take an interesting turn with episode 3, at least for me, because Greg very kindly invited me on as his guest.

It was a pleasure having a chat with Greg. I really enjoyed our conversation that covered everything from tech pundits that are passed their prime, pub landlord etiquette and much more besides. You can check this episode out directly on Greg’s site.

I’m really looking forward to seeing / hearing who Greg speaks with next week, and beyond and I wish Greg all success he deserves throughout 2019 as he continues to grow the BYOD podcast along with his solo projects of And You Are? and his micro cast the GR36 podcast.

Tech For Good: Be My Eyes

In the spirit of keeping things positive, and looking on the bright side of technology, I’ve been keen to explore some of the more interesting things technology can do to enhance our lives, and the lives of those around us.

Our iPhones (other phones do exist, or so I hear) and iPads have improved our lives in numerous ways. They help us find our way, capture and share magical moments with friends and family, and even let us browse through pages and pages of cute animals at a whim.

Many of us spend hours reading reviews about the latest and greatest To Do app, or email client, but there is often not much said about how these powerful devices can be used to not only help us remember to put the bins out on a Tuesday, but also enhance and even improve the lives of those in need around us. Allow me to change that, in my own little way, with a very specific use case.

I recently discovered an app called ‘Be My Eyes’. The team behind the app provides this short, but succinct, description about what it’s all about:

Be My Eyes is an app made up of a global community that connects people who are blind or have low vision with sighted volunteers and company representatives through a live video call.

In essence, it’s very simple, but it can have a huge positive impact on someones life. After downloading the app, you create an account, let them know what languages you speak and you’re done. You then sit back and await a notification indicating that one of the currently ~100,000 blind members of the community need some assistance with something. The assistance will, as you can imagine, involve helping an individual to read a letter or notice they’ve received, read an instruction manual or perhaps describe an item of clothing the individual has received as a gift.

I was first turned onto the app via the Late Night Alternative With Iain Lee podcast, which also spoke a bit about another alternative app, called BeSpecular which is the same idea, but a little less direct. At the time of writing, the sign-up page for BeSpecular seems to not be accepting new applicants, but you can sign up still from within the app itself.

If you have a little time on your hands on occasion, in-between cute cat videos on Reddit, it would be a great idea to take advantage of one of the above services to improve someone’s day, even if just a little bit. Not only will you be helping people, you may even find it quite fun and, BeSpecular in particular, could even be a fun game to play with the help of your children. It’ll teach them the importance of helping others, and to also make them aware that not everyone is life is as able bodied as others, and we could all use a helping hand at times.

If you get one of the apps above, and give it a try, I’d love to hear about your experiences with it. Please feel free to give me a shout on Twitter.

🔗 PAL Keys – A Link To The Past

As I mentioned in Episode 19 of the podcast, I want to focus my time, both on the blog and elsewhere, on positivity and things that I enjoy. To this end, alongside the tech, I’m keen to put a bit more emphasis on gaming as well. I’ve even started to stream a little more frequently to my Mixer account. I have, however, realised being a streamer is far harder than I imagined. It turns out all I do is mumble to myself like some kind of mad man …

Gaming was one of my first passions, way before more fruit based technology took a hold of me. I look back fondly on many an hour spent on the Atari ST, my first computer system I recall with any form of gaming capabilities.

To date, my passion for gaming, and podcasts, have remained largely disparate. I try to listen to a few more genres than just technology, but gaming podcasts have been largely lacking from my library. That looks to be changing, however.

Daryl Baxter of The Outpost Show fame recently announced a new show, PAL Keys which sounds right in my wheelhouse.

Each episode will feature an interview with a different guest, talking about their favourite game and boss stage. This sounds like a really interesting take on an interview show. Nothing gets to the soul of an individual better than a deep dive into their gaming past. This premise has certainly got me thinking about some of my own favourite games and gaming moments, from the, then, heartbreaking death of Aerith in Final Fantasy VII (apologies if this is a spoiler!) to hours spent getting a kicking from my brother playing as Ken in Street Fighter II on the SNES.

I’m really looking forward to remembering even more ghosts of gaming past, via PAL Keys and the guests Daryl will be speaking to, over the coming weeks and months. I need to ask Daryl for the cheat codes he’s using to keep coming up with such great content.

You can subscribe to the show on iTunes now and listen to a short introduction to the show, prior to the first true episode launching on 11/01.

19: Are You Positive?

After a bit of a break for the festive period (apologies!) I’m back and ready to kick-start 2019 as I mean to go on, with some positivity!

I share a quick look ahead at what to expect from The Dent in 2019 and beyond. Leave your negativity at the door, please.

You can find links to the show below:

button-itunes button-overcast button-pocket-casts button-rss

You can also find a direct link on the podcast page.

I Wrote A Book … Sort Of

My daughter started school back in September and, since doing so, her love of reading has grown exponentially. Now that she has started learning to read to herself, there’s no stopping her. Her school has started sending some simple books home for her, and her classmates, to learn with. The problem is, these books are a little too basic for her, because currently they only have one word per page, and she was keen to try more.

As is always the case when I need something, my first port of call was Amazon, but this proved to be a fruitless exercise. Given that Amazon started life as a book store, it’s surprisingly bad to use when trying to find a book in 2018. I quickly gave up on this idea.

I moved onto Plan B.

This will likely come as a shock to you, but I adore my iPad and when I get a chance to use it for yet another task I’m a happy camper so I thought that it may just be easier to try and make something myself …

Now, I should start by saying that J.K.Rowling has nothing to worry about when it comes to my book writing ability. This isn’t a post to brag about how I’ve become a skilled novel writer overnight, it’s more about highlighting another fun thing you might enjoy using your iPad (or iPhone for that matter) for.

There are multiple ways of achieving the end result here, I’m sure, but when creating my master piece I took advantage of the following apps:

First things first, I used Pages as a basic tool for creating the basic design of the book. I’m not entirely sure how long they’ve been there, but the current version of Pages on iOS already has nine basic book templates to choose from. One of them, simply called ‘Story’, is already a basic children’s book, which is useful!

After loading up the Story template, I removed the placeholder text and began crafting my manuscript. This was, again, made for a four year old, so it’s no War and Peace …

1

I duplicated each page, to keep the formatting the same, and just updated the content. All simple stuff so far, though it was obviously looking pretty bland. Given the target audience for the book, a bit of art was needed. I included the disclaimer above regarding my lack of novel writing prowess, but I’m afraid I am now going to have to include another. I cannot draw to save my life. This will be clear once you see what comes next.

A quick search on DuckDuckGo (yep, I’m a search engine hipster) and I’d found some great images to be the star of my book, Poppy. Given I will, clearly, not be selling the finished article, I was essentially free to grab a few images that I needed.

Once I had my images, I imported them into the excellent Pixelmator for the simple task of cropping out the background, leaving me with a clean image ready to use.

2.jpeg

Next up, the newly cropped image was copied to my iPad clipboard and I moved onto Linea Sketch to paste it into a new canvas to create the scene for the book. Linea is a really great app which is both simple, and powerful, at the same time. It’s in no way as powerful as something like Photoshop, but it’s not trying to be. Its main function is for drawing, but it does also include some basic laying functionality which was ideal for my needs. The panda images, which you can see below, were simply pasted from Pixelmator into a Linea canvas and I then added new layers for the background colour and then more for other things I needed to either also copy in, or draw, like the microphone (which was pasted in) or the expertly drawn hat.

3.jpeg

Once done, I had a selection of images that fit with the text I wrote early so I, once again, jumped back over to Pages to finalise things. I opened both Pages, and Linea, in a multitasking view and copied each separate Linea canvas and simply pasted the image directly into each page of the book. After a little dragging around to line things up, it was essentially done.

As a final little cherry on the top, I exported my creation out of Pages, into Apple Books, as an ePub for my daughter and I to enjoy at bed time.

4.jpeg

Generally speaking, my daughter doesn’t use an iPad much, especially at bed time, but on this occasion we did take the new story for a spin and it went down very well. She was able to read something herself that stretched her more and I had the satisfaction of both being able to give her what she wanted, whilst also getting even more use out of my iPad. The above process took about thirty to forty minutes to complete, at most, yet I’m pleased with the results. The book itself, on it’s own, looks pretty hideous, I know, but the fact I was able to make it so quickly was great, and the actual look was largely irrelevant to a child that just wanted to have some fun reading.

I can see a lot of potential for taking this idea further down the road, where we can maybe write and illustrate the book together next time. I’ll be sure to share some details of our next best seller as and when the big launch comes around next!

For now, however, you can breath easy J.K. your crown is safe.

Home Is Where The iPad Is

I’ve previously mentioned, in my post about getting things done on the iPad, that one of the main factors in making the move to an iPad as my primary computer was space. Or lack thereof. This particular issue changed for me, about a year ago, and I’ve since setup a cosy little working space for myself in one of our spare rooms. While the room is, admittedly, pretty horrendous for podcasting (I literally have to cover myself with a blanket when I record …), it’s a great area for getting other tasks done.

I posted a couple of shots on Twitter a few days ago of my current setup, which seemed to get quite a bit of interest. I know I, also, really enjoy seeing, and hearing about, different people’s setups so I thought I’d go into a little more detail about what I’m using currently.

The iPad Pro

I’ll start with the most used item first, which is of course the iPad Pro. Essentially everything else on the desk is there to support or enhance my usage of the iPad.

IMG_1095

The iPad itself is the 12.9″ iPad Pro (2018). As I mentioned during my review, one of the reasons for moving up to the 12.9″, from the 10.5″, was so that I could use the device on the desk more, and it hasn’t disappointed. I’ve seen a lot of people, quite fairly, saying that the 12.9″ is, despite the body size reducation, far too big of using away from a desk. I, personally, disagree with this, and find it very comfortable in any position or circumstance I can throw at it. It is, however, so very nice on a desk. I will refrain from gushing over the device too much more, however …

When I’m using the iPad away from my desk, I use the Apple Smart Keyboard Folio. This accessory has had some negative reviews, given its pretty crazily high price point, but for me it’s as much a part of the iPad Pro as anything else. I’ve never been big into large, noisy, mechanical keyboards, so the low profile really fits my use case and preferences very well. It’s a joy to use, and I like that it now covers the entire device.

In a very un-Apple like move, the Smart Keyboard Folio has absolutely no Apple logo across the entire product. While it makes the device very clean and minimalist looking, it is extremely boring. I’ve never been a big fan of putting stickers on my devices, even accessories, but the Folio is just so dull I had to give in. I saw Daryl Baxter tweeting about some retro 6 colours Apple logo stickers he’d recently purchased so I picked up a set from Amazon. Once received, I placed the sticker on the back of the Smart Keyboard Folio, in the orientation Apple themselves should add logos to iPad devices, in landscape.

When I’m sat at my desk, particularly for some writing, I will switch things up a little. I place the iPad itself in a smart little stand, the AboveTEK Elegant Aluminium iPad Pro Stand (catchy name!) which I highly recommend. The stand comes with 2 clamp like attachments, one for each iPad size, which can be swapped out without too much hassle, should you need to. If, like me, you treat your technology with kid gloves, you’ll be happy to know the clamp itself has some soft, rubberised, padding inside, so it feels secure, yet gentle, when holding the iPad.

The stand itself looks very much like the foot of the iMac, which is another nice touch. Like the iMac, this base is nicely weighted, so even when you’re pressing on the screen it feels very secure. The clamp can be tilted back and forth for better viewing angles, and can even twist so you can use the device in different orientations, if needed. The only down side, which is pretty minimal, is that the way the stand holds the iPad, you can no longer connect, or charge, the Apple Pencil. Luckily, I have a solution for that too! Back when I had the first generation Apple Pencil I would often find myself nowhere to put, or store, the device, so I picked up little accessory called the Belkin Stand for Apple Pencil. Despite the fact I now have a home for my Apple Pencil 99% of the time, this little stand is still on hand for when the iPad is clamped into the stand.

Now that the iPad is comfortable in its snazzy stand, I can get on with getting things done. When using the iPad in this configuration I use the ‘Space Grey’ Apple Magic Keyboard with Numeric Keypad. There isn’t much more to say about this accessory, really, other than that I really love typing on it. The key travel is limited, which is exactly what I want, and you can’t deny that it looks rather pretty …

The podcasting setup you can see in the image above, along with the details behind this, was again detailed in my Getting Things Done on the iPad post, so feel free to check that out if you want some more information on this front.

Now that the iPad Pro has moved to a USB-C connector, I decided to fully embrace this, and grab a dongle which can take advantage of it a bit more. I picked up a Lenovo USB C Hub, after zero research online. It’s proved to be fairly competent, however, which I’m pleased about. With this, I can charge the iPad, connect my external microphone, connect an external monitor, among other things. I’ve been pretty happy with it so far.

IMG_1094

The Monitor

As soon as I started getting my new office / study setup I decided that I wanted to get a 4k monitor on there. My initial rationale was that, despite external monitor support on the iPad being a little (very) half-baked, I thought it would be a good device to still connect to an iPad when watching films (which actually do take advantage of the screen). Beyond watching films, I will sometimes connect my iPad to the monitor when playing games, or even when writing if I need an even larger screen to work with, though this is less common to be honest.

As we all know, all work and no play makes anyone a dull boy, so I also have my old Xbox (which has been replaced by an Xbox One X) hidden away under the deks, which is also connected to the monitor (which has built in speakers) from when I need to unwind.

The Elephant In The Room

I can already hear the comments coming in about the little square device to the left of my desk:

But, Andy, you said you were iOS only …

Well, that is still true. When the study / office was ready, I was still using the 10.5″ iPad Pro as my main device. The new models were still 6 months, or more, out, and I started to get itchy feet, so to speak, because I had already picked up the monitor. Cue an evening of some browsing of the Apple Store website and a little deep dive into the refurbed Mac section … I came away from that visit with a low end 2014 Mac Mini on order. When it arrived, I realised I’d made a terrible mistake.

The HDD on this old model was beyond showing its age. It literally took about 10 minutes to power up, and hung constantly. It was, essentially, unusable, especially when coming from an instant on, massively over-powered and quick iPad Pro. Not one to ever stop throwing good money after bad, I picked up an external SSD and enclosure and have since been running macOS off this. To be fair, this seemed to speed things up considerably, and it’s now far more usable. The issue is that, now that I’m so invested in iOS, I have almost nothing I would need a Mac for. Right now, and I kid you not, the Mac Mini is fired up once a month, when I get a new book from Audible, so I can download it, add it to iTunes, and then manually sync the file with my iPad and iPhone so I can listen to the book in Apple Books instead of the Audible app. Yep, that right there is £600 (for the Mac Mini + SSD + enclosure) well spent …

The Lights

The light panels at the back of the room always get quite a good reception, whenever I share an image of my room, so I didn’t want to neglect detailing these a little also.

Image

They are the Nanoleaf Light Panels. You can place them in any configuration you want, providing they are connected. Given that each separate panel is a triangle, your design choices are slightly more limited, but you can still come up with some interesting designs. The light panels are HomeKit compatible, which is a must for any Smart Home stuff I buy currently. You can colour each panel separately, if you wished, colour them all the same, or use some of the presets to produce a really nice, vivid, almost moving, texture across the entire set. I highly recommend these lights, particularly in a space like this. They really bring the room togehter!

So, that’s it! I’d love to see some of your own office setups, so please feel free to get in touch with me on Twitter with what you’re currently working with!