Monday, June 18, 2018

Google News Redux

I've been using the new Google News app. Ok, so maybe it is not so new, it's been out for a few months now. Having two Google devices it is had to avoid the app, however, I must say, I am liking it.

Many people have commented on the spookiness of Google using your browsing habits to populate your news feed, however, I am kinda ok with that. It has been fantastic to have my news feed populated with the geopolitical stuff I love reading about (yep, I'm a news junkie) as well as the generic through to the obscure gaming stuff I am interested in too. Everything from E3 press releases through to specific articles on how to prepare your drop deck for specifi missions in the latest release of Battletech the game.

I love the ability to request more articles about specific subject matter and the ability to dive into more articles about the same issue. Adding stuff is pretty straight forward.

On the "Less articles like this" front, I am still a little confused. I mean how many times do I need to do that for NRL articles that it insists on putting into my feed? Not sure what the go is there. Regardless, it is a smalll blip on what has effectively become my morning news read.

Thursday, May 10, 2018

Paperpile has changed my life.

Paperpile has changed my life. For the better!

You know all of those promises about the paperless world changing our lives that only frustrated us and made us become jaded about such a utopia?

The promise Paperpile makes is for real.

This year, I have been accepted into a masters by research program and I needed to look for a solution for the technical bibliography and the inevitable flood of papers that my fantastic supervisors would send my way.

I struggle to be organised. I am organised but it takes effort. The idea of trying to keep several balls in the air, including being across the details of all my research was starting to give me the heeby jeebies.

My previous research efforts involved a combination of Google Docs, MS Word, LibreOffice, Zotero and/or Mendeley. I used Google Docs to do the bulk of the grunt work, and then tried to use various add on's to get the bibliography from Zotero or Mendeley into the document but I had to faff about with MS Word or LibreOffice to manage. I constantly felt discombobulated.

I was certain that I was not the only person who wondered if there was a way to do your citation work inside of Google Docs. And sure enough, after doing some preparation prior to my masters application being accepted, I discovered PaperPile.

PaperPile (for about $3 AUD a month) lives inside of Google Docs. That's it. It all lives inside of Google Docs. No more lost documents, broken computers, hard drive failures, it lives all inside the cloud.

During the free trial period, I started by effortlessly importing my bibliography from Mendeley into PaperPile. Push of a button stuff. And not one formatting error.

Once done, I start writing. When I need to cite, I place the cursor at the correct place in the document and hit the PaperPile icon that appears in the Google Docs ribbon. An unobtrusive search box opens at that point and I start typing. It interrogates my bibliography first. I hit another button and I get some simple formatting options if necessary, otherwise it is that "push button" thing happening again.

The exciting part for me (well there are two, the second of course being it is all online, I am not tied to any particular device) is that if you find articles anywhere, you can add them to your bibliography easily or you can actually use the initial search box to find a/the relevant document you need to cite and with, yes you guessed it, another simple push of the button, add that new document or book to your bibliography.

Like I said, it is about $3 AUD a month, but I would have paid much more than that for the peace of mind I have around this new research project (please don't read that PaperPile! $3 AUD is steep for a student!).

Check it out, see what you reckon.

Wednesday, May 2, 2018

New Gmail

It's been a while between posts. I have been teaching an intensive.

The big news since the last time I have posted is of course the new GMail. There is a bunch of great articles about the features on other sites. There are three things I would like to focus on insofar as the new features are concerned from a productivity point of view.

The first is the snooze function.
Snooze IS AMAZING! You can quickly move through your email inbox and snooze messages that you don't want or have to deal with. This has the effect of being able to use your GMail inbox as a task list. This functionality has been available in Google's Inbox for a long time now, but the difference between this recent GMail change and Inbox is that instead of having to change the way in which you manage your workflow based on how the designers of Inbox think you need to work, you can take this one feature of Inbox and implement it in your GMail based workflow.

The second thing I want to mention is the closer integration between Google Tasks and GMail. Previously you have been able to convert your emails into Calendar appointments but now, you can convert emails into tasks and Google have released a new Tasks app.

Seriously, this app has been a long time coming. It is simple, clean and has a small memory footprint. It is a great front end to the Google Tasks that has existed since they first implemented tasks. Being the productivity geek that I am, I was onto it right away. However, in spite of how this could totally simplify my life, the current implementation lacks tags and/or filters. My workflow heavily influenced by GTD requires that my to do system gives me the ability to see all my tasks but then whittle my list down according to (multiple) contexts. So I have installed the app on my Pixel 2 and Pixelbook and will keep an eye on it each update seeing if the powers that be add this feature some time in the future.

The third thing I want to note is Offline Gmail. Most people are unaware that if you use Chrome, there is actually the ability for you to use Gmail Offline. It has been around for years now however the interface is very 2000's. Buried in the copious detail regarding the new GMail was reference to the fact that in a few weeks after the launch, all of the new goodies will be available in an offline version. Now that is something I am pretty excited about. I will keep you posted on that front.

Monday, April 2, 2018

So much for a week...

In my last post I mentioned that I would be offline for about a week as I recovered from a routine operation. Well that took far more weeks that I thought. Closer to six. I am only just getting back to 100%.

Seeing as I have not been doing allot of work, the thing I have been utilising the most is an app for managing my D&D campaign (that's Dungeons and Dragons for all you non gamer types. And when I say gaming, I mean old school pen and paper D&D.

D&D experienced a downturn in sales when they launched their ill fated D&D 4. Wizards of the Coast, the current owners of the D&D franchise thought they would smash together the successful 3 (and 3.5 update) with Magic The Gathering, the other successful franchise that they own. The result was a terrible hybrid and fans of the game, many who had played the game for decades, abandoned the game in their thousands.

In 2012, WotC released version 5, the unofficially names "We're Sorry" edition. Since then it has experienced quite the resurgence. What has been lacking since 2012 is a slew of digital tools for GM's (Game Masters, the individual in a gaming group that organises all the other players acting as story teller, game administrator etc). Many other companies have tried creating all sorts of cool apps, especially the kind that help the harried GM keep track of all the data necessary to run a long term campaign. Those apps and sites have constantly been harried by WotC's strange approach to licensing.

I have used many apps, particularly Android ones (and I am happy to review them if you are interested) however after 5 years of waiting, Dungeons and Dragons Beyond is recently out of beta and available to GM's and players alike.

D&D Beyond is an website, an app, an archive, an online editor with new features slowly but surely being added. I primarily use the web site. Here I have purchased digital versions of the three core books needed to play the game irl. I actually already own the physical versions of the books, however having digital versions available on the website and the app make referencing much faster, therefore speeding up game play.

On the web site, as well as having digital references I have "live" character sheets. These are digital simulacrums of the paper versions, however instead of having to find the page number for the game mechanic of something or other referenced on the paper character sheet, I can just click on the feature on the digital character sheet and in most cases gaming mechanics appear in a drop box without having to leave the sheet. Occasionally the link is to a reference page, however the speed with which you are able to reference immense amounts of data just reinforces how happy my decision to pay some extra money to have digital versions of all of my reference material.

I am still awaiting more features. For you rpg gamer types, I am waiting for things like initiative and HP trackers mainly, however the lure of more powerful world building tools is tempting me to take our a subscription, which for long time readers of my blog, is a big deal (ie: I hate the subscription model).

I primarily use my Pixelbook for research, game writing, and the actual game and then the free Android app when a gaming thought strikes me whilst I am doing something else. Whilst the app is free, you need to unlock the content, however when you unlock the content, it is available across the web site and two mobile devices.

So that is what I have been doing whilst on sick leave.

I hope you don't mind my extending this productivity into my rpg gaming hobby.

Monday, February 26, 2018

With a Pixel 2 and a Kindle Paperwhite...

I am heading into the local hospital for a routine procedure. They recommend that you do not take anything of value into the hospital with you, so no Pixelbook for me!

I am however going to take my trusty Pixel 2 and my Kindle Paperwhite as both devices are covered by my insurance arrangements so no stress there. It is an overnight stay and I have a little bit of work that I need to do, so it will be interesting to see how much I can get through with a couple of devices. I suspect that reading will be the main game due to all the waiting, sitting around etc, so let's see how productive I can be with the two devices.

Tuesday, February 20, 2018

Buffer App breathes life into Google+ once again

I used to use Buffer once upon a time. (In a future blog post I will talk about how I figured out how to get the best out of scheduling.) In short Buffer allows you to queue posts to various social media platforms and release your content using a reasonable powerful scheduler. The free account has a significant number of features.
I tend to use Facebook because I have to rather than because I want to. As an educator who does a bit of public engagement work, I tend to use Facebook and Twitter as communication tools rather than social tools. For social stuff, I prefer to use Google+ (queue "fan boi" accusations!)

In a previous life Buffer only allowed you to post content to Google+ "pages" attached to your account rather than to your personal feed. Some time between the last time I used Buffer and the most recent time, this has changed.

So now with Buffer, I can schedule more professional stuff that is pushed out to Facebook, Twitter and Google+ personal page, and then push the more personal (often geek humour) out to those platforms as well. In addition, I can schedule stuff to be pushed out to my Google+ personal page too which is really nice.

So I got back on the Buffer bandwagon after an hiatus and am enjoying it once again.

If you haven't checked it out for a while, it might be worth a revisit.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

I just may cancel my Audible subscription.

Long time Kindle customer. So much so I went and bought a Kindle Paperwhite edition last year (with the gift voucher from the inlaws). It was a natural extension to become a regular Audible customer with Whispersync between the Kindle and Audible. Besides, the golden bullet for our family in terms of how to keep the kids from beating each other up on long car trips has been audio books (thank you Rick Riordan!).

I have been recommending Altered Carbon to any sci fi fan who would sit still long enough to listen to me rave about how it is the second best sci fi book ever after Neuromancer by William Gibson. Ok maybe third after Thirteen/Black Man by Richard Morgan. When I heard that Altered Carbon was to be given the Netflix treatment I thought I should read the book again. I flicked through the Kindle store and inbetween pulling the trigger on purchasing the Kindle edition and deciding whether I wanted the Kindle or Audible version, I received an email from our public library informing us that Libby was now available to users.

Libby is brilliant. It is like the Kindle and Audible apps combined. You simply log in with your library card number and pin number (make sure you have that set up with your library before you do try and log in) and you are away. Search for books, loan them, make loans and viola, your Kindle/Audible bill will be slashed considerably. And like me, you may find yourself seriously considering cancelling your Audible subscription!

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rocking out with Dynalist

So I am on the cusp of some major changes. I am moving into masters thesis mode and also in the throes of formalising much of the coaching and mentoring that I do. It was ironic that my passion for old fashioned pen and paper role playing was the avenue through which my latest discovery regarding how I can organise my thesis writing and mentoring related notes in order. Enter Dynalist.

If you have ever used Workflowy, Dynalist is Workflowy plus all the nice things you wished Workflowy had.

For those of you who do not know Workflowy or Dynalist, to quote Workflowy's own blurb:
organizational tool that makes life easier. It's a surprisingly powerful way to take notes, make lists, collaborate, brainstorm, plan and generally organize your brain
Imagine an online (with offline apps) WYSIWYG editor that makes collapsible lists using powerful word processing functionality, that can also be taggable and lends itself to (check)list making.

The limitations I found in Workflowy that are rectified in Dynalist are:

  1. The ability to very easily (compared to Workflowy) embed links in your text but more importantly embed links in your text to other parts of your writing. Indeed when you use the double "[[" function, Dynalist presents a search box and you can easily find the part of your own document to create a link to.
  2. MULTIPLE DOCUMENTS! Workflowy forces you to work from one ginormous document. Dynalist allows you to create separate work spaces which, even though you can simulate this is Workflowy, I just feel a little more psychologically free in Dynalist.
It may seem petty that two simple functions serve as a deal breaker in my mind, however once you use Dynalist's tagging function, everything else seems archaic in comparison.

In addition, these features also were significant in my move...
  1. Offline apps.
  2. Platform agnostic (I am working from a Google Pixelbook and Nexux 5X phone with occasional Windows 10 PC use, nothing I can't do on the Pixelbook though, just nice to work on a huge screen occasionally).
So I have set up a huge document to manage a Star Wars role playing game that I will be running for my sons. The ability to hoover up information and rapidly organise it in Dynalist made me start thinking about my thesis and then of course my thinking tumbled into taking my mentoring more seriously as I move to organise it a little better.

If you are on the cusp of an organisational revolution, check out Dynalist.

Oh, did I say that the vast majority of the awesome tools are available on the free version!?

Monday, January 22, 2018

The most used Pixelbook app this week is...

Gmail. The Pixelbook (obviously) comes with Chrome OS. By default, you get Offline Gmail (check out this and this if you didn't know you could use Gmail offline in your Chrome browser and you want to learn how) in Chrome OS and the Pixelbook comes with a shortcut link.

However, as cute as offline Gmail in Chrome is, I am just used to using the Gmail Android app on the Pixel C.

So this week, whilst I am technically back at work, not everyone else that I need to interact with as part of my current working arrangements are, so I am emailing away like a champion and using the Android app to do it. Maybe I will revisit Offline Gmail, but for now, the winner is Gmail for Android.

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

The Pixelbook has landed for a happy new year

What a debacle it took me to get this Pixelbook! (Which I am finally on, YAY! More on that in a second.)

For some reason, back in November of 2017, Google were not delivering Pixelbooks to Australia. So I had to get a US based friend of mine to do the old "send it on" for me. The great frustration was that when FedEx failed to deliver (to an apartment in downtown San Francisco occupied by four people!), they sent it back to Google.

Google then organised a new delivery as part of the insurance coverage which I ordered on the original device which was cancelled because of their screwy ordering system. When the insurance replacement device arrived, Google had to organise to pick it up (so the third device which was part of the second order) could be dispatched. Except, Google could only order a pick up from my Australian address!

Long and short of it was the device I ordered in November arrived in the second week of January. What a chore!

BUT, it is here and I am loving it.

I will keep this first post of the new year short.


  • It is heavy. Heavier than the Pixel C.
  • Bending it into "tablet mode" still feels a little cumbersome and unnatural (ie: holding a tablet with keys on the back of the tablet.
PRO's: Where do I start?

  • The "on in seconds" feeling is great. Two seconds and I am working.
  • Android apps on Chrome OS is amazing, and I hate the hipster use of "amazing" and "perfect". The implementation of Android apps is close to flawless. Which means my significant investment in Android apps over the years is not lost in the transition to the Pixelbook.
  • The hardware is such that my Mac lovin friends are like "wow". However it is not excellent because it makes people envious. Google have really thought through the design of this thing. It looks great, it feels great to use. The keyboard, the track pad, jacks and slots, nothing short of excellent quality.
  • Split screen? Apparently split screen is coming to Chrome OS on the Pixelbook, however I just don't need it. I mainly use Android apps and most of them when resized appear as thin panels. I can have several open at a time. It is actually more productive than the Pixel C in split screen.
  • OS is fast, zippy and super solid.
That is my short summary so far. I will write more about this in the next few weeks but needless to say, really impressed and really happy with this new kit.

Let us know about your Pixelbook experience and of course, if you have any questions, just ask!

Google News Redux