20th April – The Matrix - I picked this because I wanted something light to watch on Easter Sunday, and because I spent the holidays ripping old DVDs and wanted to actually watch a few of them too. Ok, It’s not that light, but it is at least in English and has a fairly easy to follow narrative. The Matrix is one of the first films I bought when I got my first DVD player, and I still have a soft spot for the whole series. I’m probably alone in thinking that this is the weakest of the three, but then it’s the only one I didn’t see in the cinema, and this is a series that really benefits from a big screen and the ability to totally immerse. I think I probably need to watch the other two films at some point soon.

21st April – The Matrix Reloaded - See above. It was always my favourite of the three, but doesn’t really work as a stand alone film in the way that the first one does. Some would say that it’s just an extended fight scene with some mystic mumbo-jumbo bolted on, but I think it’s easy to forget that at the time there was nothing else like this. I also think it needs to be watched back to back with part 3, which is exactly what I did.

21st April (later) – The Matrix Revolutions - I remember seeing this in the cinema in 2003 when it came out. I was disappointed at the time, as I didn’t think it really added anything to the story, whilst being even more combat-heavy than Reloaded. Watching it now, I think I appreciate it more, although I do sort of wish that the two films had been edited down into one, because it take a very long time for not a great deal to happen. I’m glad I watched these again, but it might take me another few years before I decide I need them in my life again.

22nd April – Dogville - After a sci-fi overload, I decided to dip into the back catalogue of Lars von Trier again. Dogville was very critically acclaimed when it came out, and is quite innovative, in that it is shot on a very sparse chalk-marked set, in a way that reminds me of the theatre of Brecht (or in fact of small intimate theatres in general). The set gives it an otherworldly quality, but the story and dialogue are quite the opposite, and the juxtaposition of the two really works. I’ll not give too much away about the story itself, because there are a few twists and turns, but suffice to say it kept me entertained from beginning to end. John Hurt’s narrative really adds a lot, and ties the whole story together well, and there are some very strong performances, especially from Nicole Kidman as Grace. Lars von Trier writes strong female characters very well, and this is another good example of a film where the actions of a strong woman are the catalyst for change. The character of Grace features again in von Trier’s Mandalay (albeit played by a different actress), and watching Dogville makes me want to hunt down Mandalay soon. Quentin Tarantino said that had the film been written for the stand then von Trier would have won a Pulitzer prize. I think he might have been right.

23rd April – Frances Ha  - I figured something lighter was in order after watching Dogville, and so I settled on Frances Ha, which was released last year and featured on several “best of” lists. Despite being made and set in the modern day, it was filmed in black and white, which gives it a really timeless feel (although seeing iPhones and modern Macs in a black and white film was a bit odd). It reminds me a lot of 1960’s French cinema, which I don’t think is an accident, and I think the choice to film it in black and white is a good one. The film itself is fairly light, and centres around the life of the eponymous Frances, who is going through most of the things that the average 20-something encounters when life is going quite as planned. No-one dies, the world doesn’t end, but the performances and dialogue are first class, and I think this is something I would both recommend and watch again. (Also, it amused me that the last two films I’ve watched have a David Bowie song playing over the closing credits. Dogville has Young Americans and Frances Ha has Modern Love. I like it when things like that happen).

My project for this Easter was to set up some sort of storage solution for the vast array of music, films, TV shows and photos I have, and also to organise and catalogue them more effectively.

I asked for a few suggestions on Twitter, and there were a couple I liked the look of. The one that nearly won was the HP micro server, but I eventually settled for a Synology NAS device with a 4TB WD Green hard drive, which I’d read good things about, and which would also stream all my media to my iPad with minimal configuration. I still plan on getting some sort of Linux server at some point, but I think that’s a different project for another day.

Setting up the device was easy. Anyone reading this could do it, and there are plenty of guides on the internet. What was harder was coming up with a sensible way of organising my data, and making sure that I wasn’t just copying the horrifically complicated file structure from my old NAS without rationalising if it was still the best way of doing things.

Sorting the photos was fairly easy, once I’d tracked down where they were all stored. I created a directory, and then made a folder for each event, in a “year – event” format. That way everything will list in vague chronological order and I’ll remember what year things like weddings and holidays happened.

Films and TV shows was trickier, because I wanted to be able to access these more often, and in a way that allowed me to watch them easily. In the end I went with Synology’s default file structure, and made separate directories for films and TV shows. I then put each TV show in a separate folder, and made several folders for the films (by director if there were a lot by the same director, and then catch-all folders for English language films and those with subtitles). Copying the data was an overnight job, but it all went smoothly.

I then explored ways of accessing films and TV shows on other devices. Firstly I downloaded Synology’s iPad app, which is really pretty, and tries to find metadata and cover art for everything. When it works, it works really well, but it failed on a few of my more obscure films (especially the foreign ones), and whilst it played them fine, it gave them incorrect titles, which I think might annoy me in the long term. I also had to specifically point it at folders to index – it wasn’t quite intelligent enough to know where things were on its own.

I then fired up VLC, which I already use for offline playing of films when I’m travelling. It saw the NAS straight away, allowed me to browse the whole device, and pretty much just worked in the way that VLC has always worked for me. I’m not sure why I didn’t try this first, but it’s nice to see that software I’ve been using for 10 years still does the job I need it to do.

I already have all my music backed up in two places, so it wasn’t a huge priority to move it to this device straight away. But seeing as I had the space, I figured making a copy of my iTunes library wouldn’t hurt, so I at least have a snapshot of some of my music on this device. At some point I need to go through my old NAS and make sure there isn’t anything there that I don’t have in iTunes Match, but that is a job for another day.

As well as the music, I made a one-time backup of historical email and files. Both of these usually live in the cloud, but again I thought a local copy wouldn’t hurt.

Talking of backups. I also decided that now I have this new device I can probably afford the space to do Time Machine backups of my two laptops. Both currently back up to an external USB drive, which it reliant on remembering to plug the drive in, and so I am currently setting Time Machine up on both laptops with a view to being able to use the USB drives for something else soon.

I’m really pleased with the new NAS, and it has a lot of features I’ve not explored yet (like being able to run WordPress and Mediawiki and all the things I wanted a Linux server for). It’s taken a day and a half to set up, but the vast majority of that was copying data. The actual setup took minutes, and there was nothing that required being technical, using the command line, or understanding too much about networking.

And I still have half of the Easter break left to do other things, which is an added bonus.

I wrote this article for a blog at work, but thought a slightly tweaked version might be of interest to a few people here.

I’ve never been a great fan of printing, so when I was asked to pick a project for the Green Pledge at work I thought a month of not using paper at work would be a good one to go for. The pledge was for the month of November, but I found myself sufficiently weaned off paper that I’ve carried on with it for what is now (at time of writing) over 5 months. I found it fairly easy, although it has been hard at times to get the message across to other people that I didn’t require printed meeting minutes or copies of documents they had already sent me by email.

First off, I don’t think this initiative would have worked anywhere near as well if I didn’t have an iPad. I’ve been using my iPad to take notes at meetings for a while, and from November I stopped carrying a paper notebook completely. On my iPad I have access to my email, internet access if I’m on campus, and I have automated the creation of separate documents for each meeting I attend with an agenda and space to type minutes. This has ensured that I don’t miss action points, and that I have a searchable record of each meeting I attend.

I also think the strategic move to Sharepoint in my workplace has helped. With Sharepoint I can access all my sites and documents using my iPad, and as long as I’ve got an internet connection then I have access to all the information that would normally be printed out and handed around.

But there were some things that were more challenging, and I thought it was worth documenting those challenges and how I tried to overcome them.

1. In order to recruit new staff we have to have various bits of paperwork printed out and signed. This makes sense to me, but I did resent having to complete a document that I knew would be printed out as soon as I submitted it. We’ve got an online eRecruitment tool, and I’m not sure why management and budgetary approvals can’t be handled without paper. There is also another recruitment related issue in that we have to photocopy and sign proof of ID for all candidates. I can do all of this on my iPad, but there is a stated requirement for a paper copy. I’ve not really got a solution for this one, other than to continue to campaign for systems that do not require printing and photocopying to work.

2. We still have printed rotas in our office, which are stuck to the wall each week. I moved these over to Sharepoint early on in the process, but they are still getting printed out as well. I found it really useful being able to access these from anywhere, but I can see why there may still be a need for a paper copy at times.

3. Most people I meet with now know that I don’t require a printed agenda, or minutes of the previous meeting. It took a bit of work to get to this point, but once I explained what I was trying to do (and why) then people were generally fine. However, some people did really not understand why this was a good idea, and/or could not see how it was possible to work without paper. This includes people who have work iPads. As part of this initiative I moved all of our team documentation to Sharepoint, and I now chair and document meetings from my  iPad. At time of writing I’ve not taken paper to a meeting for over 5 months, but unfortunately I have left with the occasional printed document. They have all been either reused by my team, or recycled, but I need to get better at refusing them in the first place.

4. Carrying an internet enabled device with me at all times bought with it a few new challenges. I could check email anywhere, and would also see notifications from Twitter and Facebook when I was in meetings. I largely fixed this with discipline, and also by turning notifications off for anything except work email. I also think that an iPad is much better than a laptop for using in meetings, as the angle an iPad is used at doesn’t present the same physical barrier as a laptop screen does. Also, it’s a lot quieter to type on.

5. I discovered that I spend a fair bit of time in meetings fiddling with my pen. As I don’t carry a pen now, I found myself needing something to do with my hands when I was not typing or talking. Carrying a stylus round helps that, but there is still a lot of temptation to scratch that itch by checking email or Twitter.

I think this was a really worthwhile experiment, and one I plan on continuing with. The only challenge is to come up with something else to do next year.

12th January - Battlestar Galactica : The Plan. I watched this on the back of re-watching the whole TV show over Christmas. As a companion to the series it works well, and I really enjoyed it, but as a stand alone piece it is somewhat lacking. It’s set at various points throughout the series, but contains spoilers that mean it should only be watched after everything else. I guess it’s the Battlestar Galactica equivalent of Twin Peaks : Fire Walk With Me, and if it is considered as such then I suppose it works.

16th February - Angels and Demons. This was watched on holiday, and very much has the feel of a holiday read. It’s perfectly enjoyable, but doesn’t really compel me to think or write about it, which means it fails on some levels I suppose.

28th March - Kill Bill : Part 1 & 2. I’ve not watched these for what is probably the best part of 10 years. I watched them back to back, and I definitely think they work well as one single piece. This is in no way the sort of film I usually rave about, but I think they are well made, very visually stimulating, and they use music  excellently to set the mood. I also realised that parts of them are not in English, and I didn’t rip subtitles when I digitised the DVD. Oh well.

29th March - Antichrist . I had been meaning to watch some of Lars von Trier’s films for a while, after reading an article about him. I found two on Netflix this weekend, and started with this because it’s the older of the two. I found it beautiful and disturbing in equal parts, and it pretty much sent shivers down my spine from the first few seconds. William Defoe and Charlotte Gainsbourg both give really strong performances, with what must have been very difficult material to film, and although I found a lot of it quite uncomfortable, I am certainly glad I watched it. I should also probably point out that this film is triggering in quite a few ways, in that it centres around the death of a child, and is also graphically sexual and violent. It may not be to everyone’s taste, and it is something I would recommend watching alone and in a darkened room, if you watch it at all.

30th March - Melancholia. Following straight on from Antichrist I watched another Lars von Trier film, which again starred Charlotte Gainsbourg, along with Kirstin Dunst (who was particularly outstanding) and Kiefer Sutherland (who was about as wooden as he usually is). I’d read a fair bit about this film before watching it, and so I knew it was literally and metaphorically about depression, with a side order of end-of-the-world science fiction. None of this does it justice though, and it’s actually one of the best made, most moving, and most visually stunning films I’ve seen for a long time. The two female leads are outstanding, the dialogue is great, and the opening section of the film is one of the most emotive pieces of cinema I’ve seen for a while. I may not see a better film than this in 2014, and I would actually be fine with that.

It’s probably worth mentioning I also watched thew whole 10 parts of Krzysztof Kieślowski’s Dekalog during February and March 2014. It’s technically a TV series, but certainly warrants a mention at this point, because it’s something else I enjoyed a great deal, and would recommend to anyone who can get over the fact that it’s in Polish and was made on a very low budget.

I’m generally regarded as someone who is quite organised and productive, which still baffles me from time to time because I don’t think I’m that organised at all. Most of what I’m writing about here seems fairly instinctive to me, but in the hope that it might help someone ready this then I’ll try and outline how I organise my day, and how I maintain at least a demeanour of getting things done.

My first rule is to get up when my alarm goes off, and to automate as much of my early morning routine as possible. I do the same things each morning, so it shouldn’t require much thought at all, and generally it doesn’t. I can be up and out of the house in about 20 minutes, as long as there is nothing to disrupt my routine (one of my cats bringing me a gift is the usual suspect for that). I then have a 25 minute walk at the start of my commute, and I tend to use that to listen to music and think about the challenges of the day ahead. This is followed by a 25 minute train journey, during which I read either the Metro or whatever book I’m currently reading on my iPad. By the time I get to work I’m wide awake, and focused on the day ahead. I then have a cup of coffee and start work.

A few years ago I did an exercise where I recorded everything I did for a week, and tried to match time slots to specific sorts of task. I’ve repeated this regularly for a few years now, and I have a fairly good idea of how to plan my day to get the best out of the time and energy I have. Solitary tasks such as writing, answering email, and tasks that require technical focus get done first thing in the morning while I’m wide awake and the office is quiet. I then put aside two slots for meetings – a morning slot for collaborative work, ideas generation, and meetings where I need to contribute a lot, and then an afternoon slot for meetings where I need to be present, but am not one of the main contributors. The rest of my day I work though my todo list, and my email inbox (both of which which I like to keep as close to zero as possible).

I also automate as much of my working week as possible. I have set weekly meetings with my manager, my co-worker, my team, and my direct reports. I also have set monthly meetings with a variety of other people and teams. All of my meetings are recorded in Google Calendar, and the agendas appear in Evernote 15 minutes prior to the meeting starting, thanks to the magic of IFTTT. I then make notes in Evernote on my iPad, and move any action points to my todo list as soon as the meeting finishes. Minutes are then archived to a workbook, so that my Evernote inbox contains only my todo list and things I am actually working on at that moment.

I used Google Calendar to organise everything I do (and everything I plan to do), and go back afterwards to ensure that how I spent my time is accurately recorded. This allows me to track how much time I spend on tasks, and how my work and personal schedule change over time. I also colour code everything, and have separate calendars for work and my life outside of work, which I strongly recommended as a compartmentalising exercise if nothing else.

I’m not a great fan of clutter, although anyone who has seen the inside of my study might debate that fact. I like to keep a clear desktop (physical and virtual), and I’ve been largely paper-free since November 2013, which has helped both with the reduction of clutter and with general productivity.

I’ve not done a post about my setup for a couple of years, and as a few things have changed I thought it was worth an update.

Hardware

Right now I seem to be a big believer in a two computer setup, but it’s not always the same two computers, because I split my time between two offices at the University plus my own study at home.

On the left hand side of each desk I work at, I have a large monitor. This could be plugged into a computer, waiting for a laptop, or plugged into my iPad and used as a TV.

On the right hand side I have a laptop, or a space for a laptop. My general philosophy regarding laptops is that it’s hard to beat a Mac with maxed out memory and an SSD drive, and as such I hardly use anything else now. I think it’s quite possible to get decent speed and performance out of a fairly old machine, as long as that machine is configured correctly for what it is being used for, and as long as I have access to one powerful computer for occasionally processing digital media then there is nothing else I do that requires me to have bleeding edge hardware.

I’m also currently using iPads a lot more than I thought I would. I have one for accessing work email and making notes at meetings, and another (smaller) one for carrying around with me at all times and acting as a portable media and internet machine. Since I started using iPads, I’ve found that my laptops hardly ever leave my desk, and I do toy with the idea of a setup that consists of one powerful desktop machine and an iPad.

Software

All but one of my regularly used desktops/laptops are now Macs running OS X, although I do maintain several VMs running Linux (Ubuntu and Debian) and Windows. I sometimes need to test applications on every single OS/browser combination, and I’m actually not sure how I managed to do this sort of work before I started using VirtualBox.

I use three browsers on an everyday basis. Safari on my iOS devices, Firefox for work, and Chrome for personal web browsing. Firefox works better with some of the web applications the University use, and I like to compartmentalise data from the various areas of my life anyway. I also have one machine that runs the development versions of all three browsers, which I largely use for testing purposes.

I also use a wide variety of other software, most of which I’ve mentioned in pervious posts. The big changes are that I use Evernote for a lot of things now (which deserves a separate post), and I’m also increasingly managing my work email through Good for Enterprise on my iPad, which makes Inbox Zero achievable rather than just being a pipe dream.

Backups

As far as backup goes, any machine that stays in one place (or mainly stays in one place like my heaviest laptop) backs up nightly (via Carbon Copy Cloner) to an external hard drive. I also have a portable hard drive that I back up to weekly with a bootable copy of the two machines where I regularly create data (as opposed to consume it). When I’m not backing up to it, this drive is kept in a different physical location to the machines it is backing up. Additionally, all my music is in iTunes Match, my photos are in iCloud, my work laptop backs up to another machine via Crashplan, and everything text based I’m currently working on will exist in either Evernote, Dropbox or Google Drive, depending on what it is and who else needs to access it.

I test my backups monthly (sometimes more than monthly), including booting all the full disk clones to make sure they actually boot. I think this is important.

My dream setup

I think I am probably fairly close. I would like some machines I use to be newer, lighter, or faster, but on the whole I think I am satisfied right now apart from wanting to put an SSD drive into my Mac Mini, which I plan on doing very soon. Of course, that doesn’t stop me looking wistfully at the 13” Macbook Pro with Retina Display and the new iPad Air, but I very much plan on waiting a few months until I buy anything else.

Previous versions of this post

July 2010 - http://teknostatik.co.uk/2010/07/18/my-first-stab-at-self-interview/
March 2012 - http://teknostatik.co.uk/2012/03/18/what-im-using-to-get-the-job-done-in-2012/

I thought I should start using Evernote, at least to see what the feature set was actually like. I must say I am quite impressed, especially as there are quite a few other useful products that plug into it. So far I have taken and annoyed photographs, collected a few recipes, and even handwritten some notes in my horrible and very much unpractised scrawl. All of these things sync to all my devices, and can be viewed easily and via an interface that is aesthetically pleasing.

I should probably investigate these things further.

The following records have pretty much soundtracked my year so far:

James Vincent McMorrow – Post Tropical
Mogwai – Rave Tapes
The New Mendicants – Into the Lime
Dum Dum Girls – Too True
Step Brothers – Lord Steppington
Angel Haze – Dirty Gold
Thee Silver Mt Zion – Fuck off Get Free we Pour Light on Everything
Snowbird – Moon
Xiu Xiu – Angel Guts : Red Class
Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks – Wig out at Jagbags
Actress – Ghettovillle
Sun Kil Moon – Benji
Marissa Nadler – July

I’ve also found myself listening to my Post Rock Classics playlist a lot over the last couple of weeks. Lots of Mogwai, Tortoise, Caspian, Pelican and other such things. Maybe I am just in the mood for wordless music right now.

I should probably write proper reviews of some of these, but for now I will just make a list.

Ken McClure – The Secret
Adrian Barnes – Nod
Anne O’Brien – The Virgin Widow
Donna Tartt – The Goldfinch
Jon Ronson – The Psychopath Test
Scott Stossel – My Age of Anxiety

I also made a Spotify playlist of music released this year, to help me remember what I’ve listened to.

Four more movies, over two days. One of which is today.

29th December (a.m.) – Control. This is the story of the life and death of Ian Curtis (the singer from the band Joy Division) who was a big influence on me when I was a teenager, and who I know a fair amount about. I’ve heard everything Ian recorded, would count Unknown Pleasures and Closer as two of my all time favourite records (and Atmosphere as one of the saddest and scariest piece of music I’ve ever heard), and there are also aspects of his biography I can closely relate to. I’ve watched Control before, but it never ceases to thrill me from beginning to end, and it seems to be a very accurate account of the life of an interesting man who died so young but continues to influence people to this day. I only wish someone would do something similar with the life of Nick Drake, who I find similarly fascinating. As an aside (and tapping into one of my interests) Sam Riley (who played Ian Curtis in Control) ended up marrying Alexandra Maria Lara (who played Annik Honoré, who Ian had a strong emotional connection to towards the end of his life). It’s an emotionally intense film, and exactly the sort of connection that so often bleeds through into real life relationships.

29th December (p.m.)  – Stroszek. Following on from Control, but also tapping into the European cinema theme, Stroszek is probably at least as famous as the movie Ian Curtis watched the night he killed himself than as a piece of art in its own right. In some ways that is a shame, because it’s an accomplished piece of cinema that more people should watch, and it’s actually really funny in parts. It’s also quite weird, but I think anyone who is aware of Werner Hetzog’s work will have a fair idea what to expect.

29th December (later p.m.) – American Psycho. I’ve probably had more debates about the book that this is based on than any other book, and I was very much looking forward to this movie when it came out (a very long time ago now). It hasn’t aged well in some ways, but there is still enough here to make me happy to watch it every few years, although I wouldn’t want to see it any more frequently than that. Incidentally, there is a sequel, but I wouldn’t recommend it unless you want to see William Shatner in one of his most wooden performances ever.

7th January – The Double Life of Véronique. I don’t really know where to start with this one. It’s another Krzysztof Kieślowski film (which I tracked down after watching and loving the Three Colours Trilogy), and one that largely details the lives of two identical women in different countries, who don’t know each other, but who end up having oddly similar and coincidental lives. It is as if the same person is living in parallel, and can somehow tune into the emotions and emotional reactions of the other person, whilst at the same time being on some level unaware that they are not alone. I think I sometimes seek out connections with people who think and feel in the same way I do about things that matter to me, and this film taps into that idea nicely, as well as appealing to my love of chance encounters and seeming happenstance. Also, it is a very well written and directed film that works on both a narrative and emotional level. Like most of Kieślowski’s work, it’s in French and Polish, but also conveys a great deal through music and colour, and several times I found myself drifting away from the subtitles and just losing myself in the sights and sounds. Probably not one for everyone, but if you have got a spare hour and a half and are willing to try and think and feel at the same time, then this may be just what you need. I’d definitely recommend this, but for anyone new to Krzysztof Kieślowski I would recommend watching the whole Three Colours Trilogy first, as the narrative is slightly clearer, and they are probably a better entrance point.