Dropping Rescuetime for ActivityWatch

Activity Watch logo

I tend to weigh up different systems and applications I use every once in a while. Especially weighing up the benefits to me.

One such application is Rescue time.

I used it in the past and over the last few months reinstalled it again. However this time I tried to automate the reports out of the free account and pretty much failed. The only way I could really do it is if I paid for the pro account at the cost of (a discounted) $6.75 per month.

So enough I thought… A little look around alternative to and decided to give Activity Watch a try.

ActivityWatch is an app that automatically tracks how you spend time on your devices.

It is open sourceprivacy-firstcross-platform, and a great alternative to services like RescueTime, ManicTime, and WakaTime.

It can help you keep track of time spent on different projects, kick bad screen habits, or just understand how you spend your time.

Its pretty good and doesn’t drain my laptop while watching my laptop. Of course being local and under my control only, I don’t really need to worry so much about whats collected. You can of course limit things as you go, turn off tracking or just delete the data any time.

I have it on my Dell XPS laptop and on my work phone and its good except one thing. Currently there is no sync server, so each device has its own server. But they are working on this… Once they do, I’ll likely install it on my server and put the client on more of my devices.

The other thing I’m hoping for is to see more use of the stopwatch activity watch bucket (buckets are the pools of data collected). Since Project hamster is currently being rethought and I like to track my work progress alongside my activity.

As a whole the project has a lot of potential and worth the wait I hope for the features expressed above.

Two coaster design that I don’t like much

This design of rollercoaster (Maurer Rides SkyLoop / XT 150) as experienced on Ukko and Abismo. Is thrilling at first but its re-ride-ability is super low. I think I managed 11 rides and that was too many.

The other one I’m also not a fan of is the intamin AG ZacSpin Ball Coaster, as discovered first on Kirnu and then Insane. I was able to manage much more rides but having to balance the car with my weight, means the car is spinning a lot more than expected.

I’m more likely to go on them more than most people but you won’t see me on them 30x times, like the hypercoasters. I guess its more thrill vs experience?

Rethinking the user experience in age of distributed networks

Planetary.socialIt was David who reminded me to blog about planetary.social, which recently was announced on twitter by Tom Coates.

I feel this is one of many to come. Not another social networks, but the idea of rethinking the advantages of decentralised, federated and distributed networks.

When I saw Aral’s talk a long time ago at Thinking Digital, I have been wondering why don’t more designers look at the advantages and rethink them into completely new user experiences?

Imagine:  Decentralised, Its not a bug its a feature

I like what planetary has done with the FAQ page. You would also expect them to shy away from the underlying networking technology of Scuttlebutt (which is hard to explain to people use to centralised models of social networks). They took the underlying technology and turned it into a competitive business advantage, without breaking the ethos/promise of the technology.

So you got Aral, Tom and many more examples coming out of the Indieweb movement including Aaron

This is the future… Good ethical technology, good ethical design and good ethical data practices = Great new user experiences.

This might sum up the talk I’m thinking about for Agile Manchester 2020.

https://twitter.com/agilemanc/status/1219991870899675136

Moi? Pocket’s top 5% reader?

pocket badge
Ian, you read a ton this year and made it into our top 5% of readers. That’s an impressive amount of knowledge gained.

Well this is quite a surprise I got when Pocket sent me a email saying I was in the top 5% of readers for last year.

Its not because I haven’t consumed lots of written word content but because I have mainly been listening to pocket while on the go (although I can’t quite do driving the bike and listening to pocket or podcasts). Pockets text to speech is pretty sweet as its cloud based not on the device like wallabag. This of course has good (better voice) and bad points (when out of wifi/4g, privacy considerations, etc).

Talking of wallabag, I tend to run pocket from wallabag with a nifty IFTTT recipe. I’m not the only one it seems.

The best leaders take off their masks

I always like the Big Think videos. This one speaks so much to what I live by…

  • Take off the mask
  • Embrace your imperfections
  • Perfect the craft
  • Be prepared to ask for help
  • Be prepared to learn and grow over time.

Simple things which make such a difference.

Wishes for a better e-reading experience

Likebook mars ebook reader

I was listening/reading My wish for a better device for reading and enjoying books. I found it a interesting read with some good points

I’ve been thinking that I don’t want to settle with a simple e-reader anymore. I want more. I want an all-new gadget that’s dedicated to enhancing my reading experience.

This is why I ended up buying the Likebook Mars. It was time for something new which was a pleasure to read. Especially since the latest update which dropped a few days ago.

I understand that among the things that make an e-reader so successful is the e-ink display. But the Kindle also works well because its a less distracting device. But even then I’ve often found myself holding my Kindle in one hand and checking my smartphone notifications in the other.

This is something I imagine lots of people struggle with. Having a Android device in your hand is tricky because the temptation is to put a lot of apps on the device and make it a duplicate of the phone. But it simply doesn’t make sense to put a lot of the apps on the ereader. Try scrolling through a twitter feed on a e-ink screen is just painful. However respect to anyone who wants to give it a try for what ever reason.

Instead of limiting the capabilities of the device to make it free from distractions, we can choose our own distractions, ones that will keep us engaged with the device. Imagine an iPad with a dedicated reading mode, as part of the Screen Time feature, where you could turn off all distractions, and focus on reading. Or the device could have a “Reading Mode” where you could add reading and productivity apps…

Ideally the device would be capable of both an eink and LCD screen. This is why I found the Yota phone interesting and  although Goodereader wasn’t quite right about the trend for eink phones. It still could be a future trend with colour eink getting really good too.  Reading mode could simply be an adjustment rather than a mode. For example the Lenovo Thinkpad plus has a eink display on the lid.

…or a redesigned version of Goodreads, where you could engage with the community, and celebrate reading. If you wanted to take a break from reading a book, instead of checking your Facebook or Instagram, you could read articles or update your Goodreads. So you’d still have access to distractions, just better distractions.I want someone to redesign Spotify as a reading app, right now.

The idea of a goodreads or spotifiy for ereading can easily be dismissed but its actually important.

Once you get into the world of ereaders with standard android apps, you get the diversity of experiments and applications. Yes you can have your Amazon Kindle app on a android ereader but thats just the start. Its time for a better way to not just read but annotate, share and remix. The modes should work smoothly but due to the silo mentality of the different services we can’t rely on any changes from them. Why would Amazon do anything but the minimum for android devices?

While we already have subscription models for reading books and articles, and are listening to audiobooks, no one seems to be fighting Amazon or Apple for a share of the market. Maybe reading isn’t as big a market as music, or television, or even gaming. Or maybe the big players are not ready to look in this direction, yet. This could be about the size of the market, the potential for growth and a largely Amazon-dominated marketplace.

This is a market which could do with some changes but it will come from the smaller players. The same way authors like Cory Doctorow convinced his publisher to support some Creative commons versions of his books.

Unlock the ebooks and see things change I and others have been saying for a long long while. Its something which the author Sumit never actual mentions. Its the one thing which underpins everything he wishes for.

I was once at the World book fair for Oreilly’s Tools of change conference. One of the sessions I went to was about ebooks and their locked down DRM containers. In short DRM is a major killer and won’t get the creativity till its  restrictions are changed. There was so much hate given to Amazon for this reason.

Its clear DRM holds back so much of what ebooks could be and that effects the devices, the systems and ultimately the experience.

Every once in a while its a win win for all, except the algorithms

Tampon box in disabled loo

Every once in a while I like messing with the algorithms which rule our world. As Cory says in this critical piece, found via Ade,

Machine learning is fundamentally conservative, and it hates change. If you start a text message to your partner with “Hey darling,” the next time you start typing a message to them, “Hey” will beget an autosuggestion of “darling” as the next word, even if this time you are announcing a break-up.

This isn’t a new thing and I have to thank Miles who gave me the idea a long time ago to mess with the algorithms every once in a while.

Every once in a while, when I feel the recommendations are getting pretty good I buy something completely different. For example with Google I’ve done some very strange things, but the impact isn’t so clearly felt as with shopping algorithms.

Recently I bought tampons which were 2 for the price of 1 on Tesco online. I bought them because I wanted to screw up the algorithm but more importantly I wanted to support my female colleagues (extra special shout out to Jasmine) who have been fighting the good fight to provide women & girls with free sanitary products in BBC buildings. As they really should have!

Maybe this is a triple win, one for my colleagues, two for messing up Tesco’s recommendations and three for my pocket? What ever it is, I noticed Tesco recommendation now includes pointers to shampoo products which I certainly don’t need  but makes me laugh the algorithm is so easily manipulated.

Already planning similar on Amazon and Ebay…

Public Service Internet monthly newsletter (Jan 2020)

Greta Thunberg

Good day, happy new year and looking forward to a new decade with you all!

We live in incredible times with such possibilities that is clear. Although its easily dismissed by looking at the next US election or at the endless denial about explainable algorithms.

To quote Buckminster Fuller “You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete.”

You are seeing aspects of this happening with Finland’s new prime minister, Sanna Marin at the age of 34, focusing on climate change.

 

The threat of quantum computing explained

Ian thinks: This is a serious challenger for so much of the encrypted systems we rely on daily.

Why do people listen to Greta?

Ian thinks: Makes a really strong point about creativity. It something I also worry we forget as it doesn’t conveniently fit our tired metrics.

A critical look at economical value

Ian thinks: Mariana makes some great points about different types of value.

Anarchy, Federation, IndieWeb the Fedverse

Ian thinks: Defining yourself in opposition to something else, doesn’t give you enough conceptual space is why I always quoting Buckminster Fuller

EFF’s deep dive into public key encryption

Ian thinks: Its one of those things which is banded about but few people when asked can explain it as well as the EFF

Webxray gives an insight behind the webpage

Ian thinks: The Webxray tool which runs on Linux & Mac is quite impressive to use. Gives a real insight into whats going on in the web when it comes tracking and the advertisement ecosystem

Decentralisation isn’t just about the internet

Ian thinks: The importance of decentralised networks applies to more than just the internet

Jason Silva interviews Kevin Kelly

Ian thinks: Technology, drugs, spiritualism its all in there and its quite a interview too.

Real People, Doing Real Things segment on teamhuman

Ian thinks: The new segment is welcomed on teamhuman and botsentinel is a good project to start with.

Jack Dorsey funding a decentralised twitter

Ian thinks: When I first heard this I almost fell off my chair, then thought this is classic innovators dilemma or twitter seeing the writing on the wall?

Decentralisation an important step forward

Its easy to think decentralisation is a new fanged thing the savvy technorati talk about while drinking their double macha latte. But the importance of decentralised networks is made very clear in this VOX piece and the video.

2010’s the decade when drugs online became the norm?

Drug choices online

Have to say the Vice’s thoughts on the rise of drug dealing powered by the internet is quite compelling.

Starting with Meow & Meow or Mephedrone in 2010 – 2011, moving to the rise and fall of The Silk Road in 2013 – 2015. Who could forget the outrage of silk road! In 2017 like a duplicate of the war on drugs, the Silk road was closed down and the drug dealers hit the underground with 100’s of new online shops on the darknet using reputation systems like ebay. Then in 2018, how do you advertise to new customers? Well you copy what others do, taking advantage of the influence of social media to showcase your wears.

“This is the new public space and the ideal platform for dealers,” says Liz McCulloch, director of policy at Volteface, who curated the study. “They can advertise in really creative ways – pictures, prizes, reaching out to people’s friends, building organic relationships. Among young people, there is a perception that they can ’vet’ them, get a sense of whether they are trustworthy.”

Its worth 5mins of your time

Welcome to the 2020’s, some quotes to live by?

Seeing New year 2020 across Manchester
Seeing New year 2020 in from my windows in central Manchester

The 2010’s are over and its now the 2020’s… Happy New Year all…

As we enter the next decade, I’ve been thinking about what things I certainly want to bring forward. At the same time while writing Other things to know about me in my user manual, I used a cluetrain rule number 7.

“Hyperlinks subvert hierarchy”

― Cluetrain Manifesto

I think quotes are a useful to convey some meaning in to the future. Something which may be useful when looking into the 2020’s.

“Sometimes I forget that my world is not the mainstream (yet)” ― Eric Nehrlich

“We expect more from technology and less from each other.”

“Technology challenges us to assert our human values, which means that first of all, we have to figure out what they are.”

― Sherry Turkle

“ Sometimes the most modest changes can bring about enormous effects.”

“People who bring transformative change have courage, know how to re-frame the problem and have a sense of urgency.”

― Malcolm Gladwell

“Do the unexpected. Find the others”

― Timothy Leary

“In the future that the surveillance capitalism prepares for us, my will and yours threaten the flow of surveillance revenues. Its aim is not to destroy us but simply to author us and to profit from that authorship.”

― Shoshana Zuboff

“When you don’t have to ask for permission innovation thrives.”

― Steven Johnson

“Freedom is about stopping the past.”

“If the Internet teaches us anything, it is that great value comes from leaving core resources in a commons, where they’re free for people to build upon as they see fit.”

― Lawrence Lessig

You can’t connect the dots looking forward you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.

– Steve Jobs

Despite their good intentions, today’s businesses are missing an opportunity to integrate social responsibility and day-to-day business objectives – to do good and make money simultaneously.

– Cindy Gallop

“If you entrust your data to others, they can let you down or outright betray you.”

– Jonathan Zittrain

“By viewing evolution though a strictly competitive lens, we miss the bigger story of our own social development and have trouble understanding humanity as one big, interconnected team.”

― Douglas Rushkoff

There are no passengers on spaceship earth. We are all crew.

The more the data banks record about each one of us, the less we exist.

– Marshall MuLuhan

All food for thought, and there are so many more I could add…

I can’t believe I forgot my favorite of them all

You never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete

– Buckminster Fuller

Well worth watching: The Boys TV series

The Seven from the boys

I just started watching the Boys and I got to say its right on point. This review sums it up.

For me the whole series is a total and effective satire that lets us see what would become of the world if fiction becomes reality: heroes lose interest in saving the world (or take advantage of its status), are forced to do things that are not right, to follow the company’s own interests and do not go out to end the crime if they are not followed by a camera that captures each of their movements, even though they are always transmitting that image of exemplary citizen when in fact they are greedy and treat their fans badly.

It’s also chilling to know that people in power act as judges and executioners to decide what crimes are profitable and what millions of dollars they rent their superheroes to other cities so they can be safe. The precision in the denunciation of The Boys is one of its strongest points since satire towards these characters is not new, but combining it with the theme of corporate America and wild capitalism gives it a clear differential touch.

The series is a total hit and is perfectly developed, to the point of making it impossible to miss because chapter by chapter the anguish increases. So if you have free time, I strongly recommend you to watch this satirical series.

I’d echo the last paragraph, I’m surprised I haven’t heard about it before. Its a very different show from the Watchmen but full of interesting points on society and couture.