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


(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 25

CardDesk for Evernote

Quite a number of third party apps have sprung up now to further improve your Evernote experience. I can think of three free apps off the top of my head – Sunrise Calendar, CardDesk and Kanbanote. Sunrise Calendar, now owned by Microsoft, can integrate your Evernote reminders with reminders from other apps like Google Calendar so everything is in one place. CardDesk, shown above, makes a nice display of selected notes from Evernote on any number of virtual desktops, while Kanbanote organizes your Evernote notes in Trello-like boards. All are free and very enticing. Once you have signed-up for free accounts with these you must authorize the apps to access your Evernote content. More about that later.

Yet when I read reviews of third party Evernote apps, not much is made of possible privacy concerns. You give them permission to access your Evernote database and pull out data and that’s all very well if you don’t have private or sensitive stuff in your notes but I suspect many of us do and just play fast and loose with our privacy or possibly just forget what we have stored away there. All this isn’t helped by the fact that these apps are free so we install them without thinking too much about it. Possibly if there was a price to pay, things might be different and we’d consider things more carefully.

And if that hasn’t got you completely paranoid, just look at the permissions of some of these apps. Yes I know, something else we’d rather gloss over and just get the app installed come what may. Here’s a snapshot of the Sunrise permissions. And remember, Microsoft now own Sunrise.

Sunrise permissions

Evernote themselves discuss third party app permissions here and it’s worth a read if you’d like to know more about how third party apps access your Evernote data including retrieving your notes. As explained there, it’s mostly done through a process called OAuth, an open standard for authorization. You can also view a list of applications that currently have access to your Evernote account using OAuth by visiting From this page you may also revoke access to individual applications. I’ve also had a look round and found recommended privacy guidelines which Evernote urge third party developers to follow. They’re not binding, just recommendations, so the developers don’t actually have to follow them.

So what can we do about data privacy when using third party Evernote apps? Well if you’re careful about what you put in Evernote and have no problem with third party apps looking through everything, fine. Otherwise, if you want to use these apps, look carefully through all your Evernote notes and either put sensitive or private stuff somewhere else or encrypt the contents of those notes.

Any Evernote third party app developers listening? Care to drop a comment and allay my fears?

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.

Feb 3

No signal - Nexus 4

Do you have to stand in a certain spot or a certain room at home to get any kind of mobile signal? Do you have to go out into the garden to check your messages?

Well I used to. I couldn’t find a solution to this weak mobile signal problem. You can buy mobile signal boosters/repeaters and femtocells which can help boost your signal, but there is some debate over their legality in UK. Ofcom say they are illegal. However, they may be legal in your country.

In any case, there may in fact be a free solution to this problem if you have it too. Check with you mobile provider to see if they have an app which allows your phone to use your home broadband connection to move voice calls and messages to and from your carrier’s network rather than hunting for a very weak or non-existent mobile signal. You may also be able to use it at other locations where you have access to a wifi network and where the mobile signal is poor.

In UK, the mobile operator Three offer this through a free app called Three InTouch available for both Android and iOS. The instructions for downloading and installing the app are very clear and it’s working really well on my Nexus 4. O2 have a similar app called TU Go for Android, iOS and Windows but it’s only available just now for O2 Pay Monthly and Business customers. Vodafone don’t seem to have a free smartphone app at the moment but currently offer the Vodafone Sure Signal femtocell for £100. Virgin has the SmartCall app for Android and iOS phones.

So if you have a problem with a poor or non-existent mobile signal at home, check if your mobile operator has a free app to tap into your wifi network. Failing that, check out if signal repeaters/ boosters and femtocells are legally available in your country.

Jan 26
Changing the Date Format in Gmail
icon1 techandlife | icon2 How to | icon4 January 26, 2015| icon38 Comments »

If you use the US date format (MM/DD/YYYY), this tip will not concern you as Gmail seems to use the US date format by default. However if you live in UK and are used to dates being in the format DD/MM/YYYY and use Gmail then this tip is for you. Why is it important? Well it’s important to be aware of the date format to avoid any possible confusion which might arise in a date like say 10/11/2014. Is this 10 November 2014 (UK interpretation) or October 11th 2014 (US interpretation)? And I wonder how often this has led to confusion in say international meeting planning. Once you go back to your Gmail archive, it’s nice to have dates in the format you expect.

Anyway, the solution in Gmail is simple enough. If you live in UK or want the UK date format in Gmail, go to Settings, General, Language and change Gmail display language to English (UK):

Gmail date format

Then scroll to the bottom of the page and Save changes. That’s it. Dates should now be in UK format.

If you’d like to know more about date formats, Rich Menga discussed it here.

Jan 21
Remembering Robin Williams
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Life, TV | icon4 January 21, 2015| icon3No Comments »

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 16
Finding Free Kindle Books on Amazon
icon1 techandlife | icon2 How to | icon4 January 16, 2015| icon3No Comments »

It’s possible to pick up great Kindle ebooks for free on Amazon. I’ll show you a couple of ways to go about it. These methods work for the Amazon UK site but may be a little different on your own Amazon store if you’re outside the UK.

Method 1: Go to your Amazon website, select Kindle Store in the drop down menu to the left of the search window, then enter your keyword. I’m showing ‘Evernote’ as an example.

Amazon free ebooks1

This will bring up a list of Kindle ebooks about Evernote but the trick now is to change the ‘Sort by’ drop-down menu on the right side from ‘Relevance’ to ‘Price: Low to High’. And there are your free Evernote books at the top of the list.

Method 2: Again go to Amazon, mouse over ‘Kindle E-readers & Books’ from the ‘Shop by Department’ menu on the left side, then navigate to and select ‘Kindle Books’ from the fly-out menu:

Amazon free ebooks4

This will bring up a screen of Kindle Books. Then select Kindle Best Sellers in the menu on the left side.

Amazon free ebooks2

This will bring up a new window where you can select ‘Top 100 Free’ rather than ‘Top 100 Paid’. Then select the Genre you want on the left side. I’ve chosen ‘Computing’ as I know that’s where the Evernote books will be. Then just browse through the top 100 best selling free Kindle books on computing.

Amazon free ebooks3

So there’s two ways to search free Kindle ebooks on Amazon. It’s worth going back regularly as paid books are often promoted to free for short spells. Good hunting!

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.


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.


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.

Dec 31

If you’re a Windows user, you’ll have noticed that there are usually only three buttons at the top right corner of the window – Close, Maximize and Minimize – with lots of free space to the left of those. Well, I’ve discovered a utility that will add some useful extra functions to the left of these buttons – it’s called eXtra Buttons.

After downloading and installing it, you can add as many of the functions as you think you’ll need. You can also access these options by clicking the eXtra Buttons icon in the system tray.


Here’s an outline of the Parameters options:

Buttons set — to add or remove buttons from window. As you can see in the image above, you also get a preview of how the buttons look on the bar, so you can rearrange them and add separators if required.
Common options — make the eXtra Buttons program launch at Windows startup.
Window menu — set the eXtra Button parameters which show in the right-click menu when you click the top bar of the window.
Exclude applications — exclude any applications where you don’t want the buttons to show.

Now here’s a quick outline of what each button does:

Always on top — places window on top of the other windows, so that it will always be visible whether or not it has the focus.
Send to back — places window under others, so it will not bother you.
Copy window — starts a copy of the application in the new window.
Roll-up/Unroll — minimizes the window to its caption, so you see only the caption line with the title of the window. You can roll-up a number of windows to separate caption lines.
Minimize to Box — minimizes window to a small box and places its icon on the desktop at the top right of the screen. Double click box to maximize.
Transparency — makes the window transparent according to the adjusted level. You may adjust any default transparency level.
Percentage transparency — makes the window transparent according to percentage from pop-up Transparency Menu.
Minimize to Tray — minimizes window and places its icon in the System Tray.
Minimize to Tray Menu — minimizes window and places its icon in the System Tray Menu.
Move to Another Monitor — moves the window to another monitor.
Click through — Makes the window transparent according to the adjusted level and also transparent to mouse activity so you can click the window below it.
Full Screen — Opens the window so it covers the whole screen.
Bookmarks — Adds the application to the adjustable Bookmarks list and provides quick access to the most frequently used applications and folders.

Some time ago, I wrote a post on useful free utilities for a dual monitor set-up. At the time, I recommended Dual Swap as a free utility to move windows between monitors, but I now find the ‘Move to Another Monitor’ button in eXtra Buttons is better integrated with the window bar so I use it now. However, I have also noticed that the buttons don’t show up in some applications, for example, Adobe Reader, but that’s the only downside so far.

Nov 20
Remove Duplicate Notes in Evernote
icon1 techandlife | icon2 Evernote | icon4 November 20, 2014| icon3No Comments »

First let me say there’s no magic button to press to get Evernote to remove all duplicate notes, but I’ve found this manual process doesn’t take too long to carry out. I have around 2000 notes in Evernote in around 48 notebooks but with most notes in two large notebooks (called Evernote and Tech). I didn’t time it but I guess it took around 20 minutes to check and delete duplicate notes in my 48 notebooks. I found about 20.

Here’s how to do it. It’s not very high tech:

1. Go to your first notebook and click the View tab on the Menu bar at the top and select List View if it’s not already selected. This will bring up a list of notes in that notebook ordered with the newest notes at the top.

2. Click the Title column in the List pane and this should order your posts by the first character in the title, numbers first, then alphabetically.

Find duplicate notes in Evernote

3. Just read down through the title column deleting Notes with duplicate titles as shown above. I found that virtually all of my duplicate notes occurred were when I reclipped a webpage using Evernote Web Clipper. This can easily happen. Perhaps days, weeks or  months after clipping a webpage, you come across it again, possibly through someone else’s recommendation and you clip it again to Evernote. And chances are the note titles of duplicate notes will be the same as Evernote Web Clipper fills this from the post title. You might also quickly check the note size of the duplicate is the same. You’ll note the size of my younger duplicate note is larger than the older note as there were more comments in this post so this is the one I needed to keep. If you create a lot of notes by other means, then be careful deleting duplicates, but in any case don’t panic if you’ve deleted an important note which wasn’t a duplicate. You can recover it from your Trash notebook… until you empty it.

4. Finally, after you’ve finished deleting duplicates in that notebook, go back to the List pane and click on Created to get your notes back in date order. Then move on to your next notebook and so on.

Okay, if you think you’ve been short-changed reading through this basic Evernote housekeeping tip, I’ll try and redeem myself. If you haven’t spotted the duplicate note I removed in the image above, it’s a very good post on Lifehacker listing some very useful readers’ tips on notes you should consider saving in Evernote. Have a read through the comments there for lots of great ideas.

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