Jul 7
Taking Fitness to the Next Level
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jogging for fitness

As a freelance editor, I sit at my computer most of the time getting up now and again to walk around. To get more exercise, I’ve been walking for about 40 minutes most days since about 2007 when I started listening to podcasts. I had heard that brisk walking was beneficial to a healthy lifestyle. However, I was always a little doubtful that my heart was getting enough exercise from this, so about 10 months ago, I decided to try regular light jogging to get my heart pumping and exercise my cardiovascular system.

I started in a small way at first, partly because I didn’t want to overdo it. I did consider myself reasonably fit for my age but this was breaking new ground for me. I hadn’t really run since I left school years ago. So I started jogging for short spells on my walk each day. Initially I tried a 200 metre short jog to loosen up followed about 5 minutes later by a longer jog for as long as I felt able. At the start, all I could manage was about 300 to 400 metres before my legs felt like jelly and I just couldn’t go on. Next day, my legs usually ached. To make matters worse, I must admit that my regular jogging route was essentially flat. I bought a pair of running shoes last Christmas to give me a little more incentive to carry on.

It was a few months before I got through this barrier and was able to jog 800 to 1000 metres. Again, in the early days when I got this far, I just had to stop. But a couple of months ago, I was finding that I could finally jog this distance and not feel dreadful at the end of it. In fact I felt quite good when I stopped each time and I realised I could go further. My legs didn’t feel like jelly any more and I wasn’t gasping for breath at the end of it. So, a couple of weeks ago, I dug out an old running top and tried to run a mile which I’d measured earlier with my car odometer. I managed it in just under 11 minutes. Not great I know, but I can feel my heart pumping as I go, and I know it’s doing me good. I know I can go further and that feels great.

So I’m now going to finally get some proper running gear and going to try to work up to 5 km, and when I reach that, I’ll enter a 5K somewhere local, and see how I get on. Not to win, just to take part and run with others. If you haven’t tried jogging, give it a go. Don’t overdo it, don’t give up when you feel terrible, you will get through it as your fitness builds up. If you are finding it hard at the start, try slowing your pace down a little to see if that helps.

How’s your fitness? Have you tried jogging or entering a 5K?


Mar 17

Recipe books I have about 40 cookbooks mostly picked up from charity/thrift shops. That’s fine but it can be difficult to find a recipe starting from a shelf of books and it’s often just a case of picking one book, and thumbing through it till you find something you fancy. Or you could just go online and search recipe blogs till you find what you want, then save it to say Evernote. But I like thumbing through cookbooks and it’s a shame not to make full use of a great resource I have. Well, I’ve discovered there’s another way – Eat Your Books, a site where you can sign up and add your indexed recipe books then search them for recipes. You won’t find the full recipes online but that’s the whole point – you have to refer back to your own recipe books. If you have only 5 cookbooks, great, you can add all five for free if they’ve been indexed by Eat Your Books. Check the Library tab and select Books, then search for each of your recipe books in turn. At the present time, they seem to have indexed around 5500 cookery books so yours may well be there, particularly if your cookbooks are by well known or celebrity chefs. Of my 40 cookbooks, I found that 20 had been indexed with over 3000 searchable recipes in those books. I’ve decided to try a year’s membership at $25 (currently about £17) or the price of a couple of new cookbooks as I felt it was worth it to get more from all the recipe books I have on my shelves. One thing I like is that I can actually search my cookbooks for recipes with particular ingredients. You can find the different benefits of non membership, free membership and premium membership here. You can also add indexed food blogs and cooking magazines, and it’s also possible to add recipes as you surf the net. There’s a bookmarklet available to help you add recipes, however, I did find it impossible to add recipes from recipe aggregator sites. So now if I feel the need to pick up additional recipe books in charity shops, I’ll check first to see if the books have been indexed by Eat Your Books. Unfortunately, there aren’t Android or iOS apps available for Eat Your Books as yet but hopefully they’ll come with time. So if you have a shelf full of recipe books gathering dust and you want to get more from them, give Eat Your Books a try.


Mar 4
What Makes Us Who We Are?
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 March 4, 2015| icon3No Comments »

12712204375_037c6a4dc6_k

(5 minute read)

I’m stepping away from tech this week to tackle a life post. This may be one of the most important pieces I’ve written and it should leave you with something to think over.

I’m going to start with a logical and hopefully unbiased look at why we are who we are, then pose a very difficult question and finally wrap up.

As we journey through life from conception onwards, our personal identity is constantly developing, and in many cases, outwith our actual control. At conception, we are given the genetic fingerprints from both our parents and their ancestral lines giving us many predetermined traits. Before birth, we have already gained identities such as our nationality, gender, sexuality, skin tint, race, tribe, class, family name, and handedness. And for many of us, there is no doubt that identities like religion or lack of religious beliefs are already predetermined for us by our own parents and community.

As we grow and learn as children in our family and in our particular community, further identities are added such as forenames, language, accent, dialect, beliefs, traditions, creed, rituals, heritage, dress, dance, music, well/poorly educated, privileged/deprived, prejudice, food we eat/won’t eat, sports we play, sports teams we support, height, weight, and age. Even after we reach adulthood, we build on all these with further identities such as third level education, marital status, work profession, income level, political persuasion, criminal record, flag/country we identify with.

I think you can see from this that we actually have little control over the many identities that make us who we are. Some identities are genetically determined and many others are instilled in us by our parents and community and unfortunately introduce a bias when we view others with different identities. The identities mould us into who we are and they set for us a way of life. Have a look through these identities, or labels, and I’m sure you can easily see your own position on each of these. The labels can influence how we know or perceive others, how we form bonds with others, or how others know us or perceive us. We may be subconsciously labelled by others and even incorrectly labelled by them. Some mightn’t even be aware they are labelling us. And of course, we’re labelling others all the time subconsciously, and perhaps incorrectly.

Identities can be divisive to the point that people may be prepared to fight and die for them. For example, on the one hand defending your country or your flag, and on they other hand attacking or persecuting others because they have different identities. We see this all too clearly today globally, but it has happened throughout history and regrettably will continue to happen.

So here’s the difficult question I promised. If so much of who we are is governed by our family environment, community and upbringing, can we rightly conclude that our own different identities including traditions, rituals and religion, are ‘correct’ when we haven’t actually carefully chosen them in an unbiased fashion?  As I have discussed, we are preconditioned to believe that our religion, or lack of it, is the ‘correct’ way of life. Yet strangely, we somehow don’t consider anyone else’s religious identity to be ‘correct’, only our own. Why? Because we’re comfortable with our religion and it’s shared by our family, friends and community.

But crucially, I must logically conclude that if I had been brought up in a different religion in a different community, then that religion would probably feel ‘correct’ to me. Crucial because this logically implies that either all religions are ‘correct’ or there is not ‘correct’ religion, just the religion you are familiar with. I do accept that people are converted between religions but for the vast majority of religious people, you are born and bred into a religion and for that reason it seems ‘correct’.

Let’s look at it another way. If there was a way to be brought up without biased identities being imposed on us, without being ‘born and bred’ into a particular religion, then we would be free to think through and make fair, unbiased, reasoned judgments on things like religion, dogma, beliefs, and traditions. But that’s not quite how religion works. Because of the punishment/reward thinking at the heart of religion, parents are understandably under some pressure to bring children up in their own religion, and on our part, once we have been brought up in one religion, we may fear the consequences of renouncing it.

Have a look again at all your different identities. Is religion among them? Is yours the ‘correct’ religion? Are you sure? Try to put yourself in the position where your parents and community have a different faith. How would you feel then? Like me, when you think this through, you may also come to the most important decision you’ve made.

I hope to explore this whole topic further in a future post.

Photo credit: Scott Cresswell – Just a face in the crowd


Feb 19
My Choice of Scanner for Going Paperless
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 February 19, 2015| icon3No Comments »

ScanSnap S1300i

I blogged recently about my plans to go paperless. I have always had a flatbed scanner for scanning single sheets but I decided to buy a duplex (i.e. scans both sides of sheets) multisheet scanner for going paperless. There’s a great variety of scanners available from small portable models like the Doxie Go through to models like the dedicated Evernote ScanSnap. The Doxie models weren’t quite what I wanted and the Evernote ScanSnap model was too much for me both in terms of price and capability. In the end, I settled for a Fujitsu ScanSnap 1300i. Michael Hyatt has posted a very nice review of using the ScanSnap 1300i to scan directly to Evernote so there isn’t much point in me duplicating his work here. Go to his post to see how he uses it with Evernote.

I’m very pleased with the ScanSnap 1300i scanner so far. Very straightforward to set up and use. I like its weight – heavy enough that it doesn’t slide around as you add paper to the feeder for scanning, yet light enough to be reasonably portable. I have it sitting on top of my multifunction printer most of the time and just lift it off when I need to use that instead.

To finish, I’ll point you in the direction of DocumentSnap, a great blog for lots more information on going paperless, scanners and scanning.


Jan 21
Remembering Robin Williams
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Fry and Williams on Parkinson 2002

I guess if I were to be asked the question, ‘If you had the choice, which two celebrities would you like to have dinner with?,’ Stephen Fry and the late Robin Williams would have been right up there.

I remember watching a Friday night TV episode of Parkinson (a UK TV chat show) years ago where the guests were Robin Williams and Stephen Fry. Over the intervening years, my recollections were that this was an absolutely hilarious encounter with Williams’ improvised comedy at its very best. At the time, I felt a little sorry for Stephen that he wasn’t able to discuss his newly released book in earnest thanks to the brilliance of William’s interjections.

Anyway those were my recollections. The year was 2002, before the internet had become the pervasive force it is today. I didn’t video tape the programme at the time but I hoped that someone had and that it would eventually appear on YouTube so I could enjoy it once again. Down the years, I’ve scoured YouTube and search the net but no trace was to be found. In fact I’d given up finding it. But, by chance, I tried YouTube again last weekend with the search Parkinson Stephen Fry Robin Williams and low and behold, it was there at the top of the search with almost a million views. It’s been up for about a year, perhaps as a reaction to Williams’ untimely death. And below it in the search results Parky’s interview with Robin Williams before Stephen Fry joined them in front of the cameras. Over a million views on that one. My sincere thanks to palimpsest2011 and pixelfandango for putting these on YouTube.

I rewatched the Stephen Fry – Robin Williams interview first and the first thing that struck me was that it wasn’t quite as I remembered it from (only) 13 years ago. Robin wasn’t quite as overpowering (in a good way) as I had remembered, but actually let Stephen say his pieces and it was only when Stephen occasionally turned to Robin that the brilliant comedic outbursts were unleashed with Fry playing his part. Funny how the brain plays tricks on you, but that’s probably the subject of a post for another day. Both clips are well worth a watch and further fitting tributes to a great, great comedian.


Jan 14

paperless lifestyle

As I look to the left of my monitor, I see a pile of mail on a shelf waiting to be ‘processed’ and another smaller pile of more urgent paper on my desk by my left hand. When I open the mail I quickly scan through the contents to see if anything needs urgent attention – usually not these days as most communication comes by email (yea, less paper!). The more important mail (e.g. credit card payments) goes on the pile on my desk and the less important stuff either goes straight to recycling or lands on that other larger pile of less important paper waiting on the shelf. And the two piles steadily grow and grow until I get round to dealing with them.

Well not any more. My big resolution for 2015 is to try to go paperless as much as I can and I’m looking forward to it. Why? Because I know I’m motivated enough to succeed on this one, and I know I have the tools to deal with it. What tools? Well Evernote and a scanner.

Evernote

Although I’ve had a free account with Evernote since early 2008, it’s only in the last couple of years that I’ve really ratcheted up what I store there. I’m confident they’ll be around in the long term so I’ve made a decision to go with them as my repository for paper and documents (among many other things) which I need to keep. I’ve had a Premium account for over a year now which means I don’t have to worry about monthly upload limits. By the way, the Premium monthly upload limit to Evernote is now a massive 4GB. My one big regret with Evernote is that there isn’t a native Linux version. I’ll go into my Evernote set up in a later post in this series.

Scanner

Until now, I’ve usually scanned documents to Evernote from a multifunction printer. I have a Canon MP280 MFP at the moment and I’ve blogged before about how its flatbed scanner can be used to add scanned documents to Evernote. In fact I could use virtually any scanner with Evernote as Evernote has a great feature to monitor and import from a folder or multiple folders on your PC or laptop. Anything that is scanned to a nominated folder or folders is automatically imported into a linked nominated folder in Evernote. To set this up in Evernote, just go to Tools, Import Folders and this dialogue box appears:

Evernote Import Folders

Once you’ve added a monitored folder on your PC or laptop, a copy of the scanned document is then sent to the nominated Evernote folder, in my case .Inbox.

Well that’s all fine but I’m serious about going paperless so I need something a little better than a flatbed scanner, which just takes one sheet at a time, and only scans one side of paper at a time (a simplex scanner). Even though it is possible to create multipage PDFs with this set up, to speed things up, I really need a duplex scanner (one which will simultaneously scan both sides of a sheet of paper) and a sheet feeder, although not a large one as I hope to keep on top of paper this time. Other questions I have to consider are does my scanner need to be portable and should I buy a scanner from Evernote.

Well I’ve made that decision and ordered a scanner and I’ll discuss my choice in the next post.

Do you have a pile of mail lying waiting to be dealt with? Have you gone paperless? How did you go about it? Let us know in the comments.


Oct 30
The Future of Handwriting
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Evernote, Life | icon4 October 30, 2014| icon3No Comments »

Quick brown fox

I hardly use handwriting any more. Just the occasional signature or scribbled note is all I usually ever have to do now. I used to keep a spiral notebook by my PC for the odd scrap note, but I’ve recently started a Scrap notebook in Evernote for this and I’ve been using that instead. Just as an aside and a quick Evernote tip, I called the notebook .Scrap so it appears near the top of my list of notebooks in Evernote.

But just where are we heading with handwriting? I’m guessing that kids in school these days are spending increasingly more time at keyboards including touchscreen keyboards and less time developing handwriting skills. Surely handwriting quality and speed is bound to suffer.

I remember I was a reasonably neat but also reasonably fast writer in school. Of course, as a student going through college, that quality was sacrificed through having to write seemingly endless lecture notes at great speed. I guess it’s changed days now as students increasingly take notes on laptops.

So that got me thinking. For me, which is faster: handwriting or keyboard? Of course, if you’ve learned touch typing properly, that would win hands down over handwriting – but not in my case. I still use two digits to type. Fairly quickly, but all the same, two digits. If only I could have seen the future back in the 1970s and started touch typing back then. I did try. Mum has this old Remington typewriter that was unbelievably heavy. I tried it now and again but kept making mistakes and back then there was no Delete key. Anyway, back then, typing was for secretaries – little did we know!

Okay, so is typing faster for me than handwriting? I thought it might be a close run thing so I tried a comparison test. For the test, I wrote this sentence: The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog (if you didn’t know, it’s a sentence which contains all the letters of the alphabet). I wrote it 10 times on a sheet of lined paper as quickly as I could but trying to retain legibility (as shown in the image at the top of this post), and I timed that using the stopwatch on my Android phone. I then typed the same sentence 10 times in MS Word and timed that as well. I repeated this exercise two more times and here’s what I found. Times are given in minutes:seconds.

Trial 1

Trial 2

Trial 3

Handwriting

2:44

2:45

2:41

Typing

2:29

2:17

2:12

Typing with corrections

2:47

2:21

2:26

I actually made fewer mistakes when writing, but even at my modest typing speed, typing is still quicker than handwriting, even allowing for corrections in typing. And of course, typing has all the advantages of being digital so storage and searching is better.

Incidentally, I opened Evernote on my Android phone and took a photo of one set of 10 handwritten test sentences just to see what Evernote would make of my handwriting. As you may know, Evernote can recognise handwritten text. In the 10 handwritten sentences, it recognised brown two times, fox three times, jumps once, and over three times, but failed to recognise any other word. I guess if I had written more slowly it might have had better success.

So it looks like handwriting is going to take more and more of a back seat as we all get typing and go increasingly ‘paperless’.

What do you think about the future of handwriting? How’s your typing speed? How’s your handwriting? And what about your kids’ handwriting? Are you concerned or is it just inevitable that handwriting will be affected by tech progress?


Jul 1

Highland forest

I’m at the stage in life where I have more years behind me than in front so I’m starting to get the feeling that time is running out. Running out for doing things I should have done by now… and doing new things before it’s too late. So much to do, so little time. I’ve blogged about making the most of our spare time before if you’re interested.

Stuff I should have done

This probably hits most of us. There’s always tomorrow to do this or that job, or visit this or that place. We’ve just had distant relatives over here from Australia, and they’ve visited parts of Scotland I haven’t even been to yet! Having said that, they are retired and have time on their hands. So I need to put that one right and see a bit more of my beautiful country and try out some of the ever increasing number of pathways through the Highlands of my native Scotland.

What else should I have done – well, I’m an average cook, but I really should try to cook more from scratch. It’s really easy to get a ready meal, shove it in the oven and go back to work while it heats. No excuse really – I certainly have plenty of cookbooks amassed from charity/thrift shops, so I must get into that.

Stuff I should learn

What can I still accomplish? Well I’d love to learn programming. But that’s one area I’ve never really got round to. It’s just so hard to know where to start. There’s no quick way to achieve this without putting in a significant number of hours. I should say that I vaguely remember learning some basic Fortran in school way back in the late 1960s in the days of mainframes and punched cards, but I never saw the possibilities. Who did? Well, I’m kicking myself I didn’t spot it. Who would have imagined that within 40 years, programmers would be coding apps for computers that you carry round in your pocket – or even wear! And I’ve still missed the boat. I must have some deep seated hankering to code though. After all, I’ve bought books on PHP and WordPress, bookmarked loads of webpages on coding and coding courses, learned basic HTML, and just today, I signed up for a bunch of courses on Stack Overflow before I really knew what I’d done, just because I thought it was a bargain. It’s much easier to learn new skills these days with all the online resources we have available now. But can I learn to code at this late stage? Can I spare the time? That’s the big question. Is it too late for me now? What would I do with the skill? Am I better off spending my spare time just wandering through the Highlands of Scotland enjoying the sites, and travelling abroad? How do I best use the time left to me?

It’s never too late

When I look back on my life so far, I can see areas where I’ve devoted time that could have been better spent on other things. Yes, we’ve all been there and it’s only when we look back, we realise what a waste of time that weekly commitment was. Too much time in front of the telly, too much time spent chasing other fruitless pursuits.

But it’s best not to look back too much. Look forward and try to achieve a few more things, that’s my aim now. Who knows when ill-health may strike. So for me, among other things,  it’s cooking, photography, travel more, here and abroad, and learn more about Linux. I’ve just dual booted my Lenovo laptop with Windows 7 and Linux Mint 17 KDE and I’m pleased with the result. More on that in the next post. And finally, I must try to at least open a programming book!


Mar 11
Dementia: A Carer’s Perspective
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 March 11, 2014| icon31 Comment »

This blog isn’t just about solving tech problems and giving tech tips, sometimes I cover ‘life’ topics.

Well it’s dementia today, from my perspective. Mum is 92 very soon and has had dementia for several years now. A growing number of people are having to care for relatives with this awful condition. If you haven’t come across dementia yet, let me tell you it can be a really trying task for a carer. Nothing really prepares you for the frustrations of the short-term memory loss and change in personality you will encounter. This isn’t the Mum I grew up with. Believe me, you will need deep resources of patience when you have to answer the same questions over and over again…. in just half an hour. And despite taking them for a lovely car outing, don’t expect them to remember much the following day. For Mum, every day is pretty much a clean slate, she lives in the present and in her memories from 40 or 50 years ago.

It’s very easy to get angry, confrontational and frustrated when you come up against dementia – I know, I’ve been there many times. But it all came to a head last week when Mum said something, it doesn’t really matter what. Like a rag to a bull, I waded in with my rant. I don’t know why I bothered because I knew she wouldn’t remember anything the next day anyway. I got home after dropping her off at her sheltered house and I could feel a tightness in my chest. It was at that point I realised things had to change for me. I was getting stressed out for no real reason.

And that’s my point. It doesn’t matter if you haven’t yet experienced caring for someone with dementia or if you’re in the same boat as me, please take one thing from this piece. Try your utmost not to get worked up, angry or stressed out. Think of your own health and remember, your relative really wouldn’t want you to be suffering on their account. Whenever you feel yourself fit to burst, just stop, turn around, don’t get into an argument, just think of yourself and your health. Put on a smile and calmly deal with the problem. You may be glad you did later.

A final note. I’ve held off pushing the Publish button on this post for a few days now. I’m finding it hard to take my own advice, but I’ll keep trying. I know my health is at stake.

Do you have any thoughts on caring for a relative with dementia? Drop a comment below.


Feb 11
Finding Great Movies to Watch
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life | icon4 February 11, 2014| icon3No Comments »

Cinema_Movie_Film_Vector_Stock

I don’t think I’ve mentioned movies in the 300 or so posts up here so far. I don’t torrent movies and streaming isn’t always an option as my internet connection is often too slow at peak times so I’ve found some ways to get great movies for little or no cost without a monthly subscription.

First, if streaming is an option for you, there are a number of sites where you can find full length movies for free. Try Free FilmsViooz, or even try typing  your movie name full length (fill in your movie name) into YouTube. If you use Reddit, there are good subreddits listing full length movies you can stream on Viooz and YouTube.

If streaming movies is a problem for you,  and if you’ve still got an old DVD player hiding away under your TV, there’s another option to pick up DVDs cheaply and give to charity at the same time, at least there is here in the UK.  Charity shops are everywhere here selling donated clothes, books, old CDs and DVDs. If you’ve got the time to go round them, you’ll probably find some great movies on their shelves. Perhaps they’ve been donated because their owners have moved on to streaming or torrenting and don’t need their old DVDs any more. And of course, the money you pay to purchase the DVDs goes to charity. Once you watch the DVD and if it’s not a ‘keeper’, you can always donate it back to your charity shop of choice, so they benefit again.

Not sure if a movie is worth buying? Well, to get round this, I’ve saved a list of Oscar winning movies and IMDb’s top 250 movies as notes in an offline notebook in Evernote on my smartphone so I can spot these movies if I come across them. You can also make up your own list of great movies by searching Google for list of year movies (fill in your year of choice). At the top of the search results, you’ll see a scrolling bar of the movies most frequently mentioned on the web for that year:

movies 2013

You can change the year or select a particular genre at the top right.

Hope that’s given you some ideas for picking up great movies at little or no cost.


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