Couple of tricks to manage a Zero Inbox

A zero inbox is that wonderful feeling of knowing you’ve taken care of business. Discover a couple of wee tricks to make this easy to maintain.

We love our email.  Sure, new kids come along, fluttering their eye lids at us vying for our attention, promising to be the email killer.  Skype, Hangouts, Slack, Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and many others have tried but email is still the killer app.

How we contextualize our email is a very personal thing.  We all have our own wee ways of handling, flagging, replying, archiving, storing of email.   Personally I am an advocate of the Zero Inbox philosophy – which is simple – keep the inbox as free of items as possible.   The feeling a zero inbox brings is that of knowing no one is waiting for you, or at least you have dealt with the immediate threat.

I use my Inbox as my unofficial/official to do list.  I have tried many a ToDo app, but every single one has failed to stick.  My email however, has been with me throughout and never failed me.


While it can be difficult to maintain this state, there are a couple of states that will allow you to mentally park emails.   I have two types of emails that will stop me from removing them from the inbox upon reading;  emails I want to read later (articles, newsletters, digests) and emails that I have to actually do something.

To solve this I create two mail folders, each to manage the two given types of emails I receive.   The first one “__00_7days” is a folder that has a special sprinkling of pixie dust – it auto deletes emails over 7 days.  Majority of email services offer this folder level feature and most ‘Spam‘ folders are auto set to delete after 30 days by your mail administrator anyway.  If I don’t get to read something within 7 days then so what, at least it won’t pile up and make me feel guilty that I am falling behind.

The second folder, “__00_ToDo” has all my items that I need to do and is not auto-aging.  My email is literally my ToDo app.

Of course it is all a sleight of hand trick.  All I have done is to move items from the inbox and put them elsewhere.  Yes, but the difference is that I have mentally dealt with the email and taking action accordingly.  I can now relax and take pride in an empty inbox.

Sometimes, it is the small things that can make for a happy day.  For me, a zero inbox, is indeed a fine day.


p.s. when you come back from vacation and faced with a mountain of work email, SelectAll then Delete.  If it was meant to be, the email will find its way back to you.  Zero inbox.

Too late; Amazon’s Kindle finally waterproof

Amazon have launched a waterproof Kindle. Speaking as someone that has lost many a device to the aqua gods I should welcome this. But I am going back to the printed page.

I have been trending away from the digital book world of late.  My biggest criticism is the lack of a second hand market.   Many books I read, are a one-time hit, then I am done with them.  I either want to give the book away to a friend, or resell it.   I am disappointed at how much money I have spent on my Kindle library to have it locked away in a digital universe where they could all be taken away at the whine of a corporate license policy change.

The last book I read (a technical book on microservices), I bought second hand from Amazon, spent 2 weeks reading it, then resold it back on Amazon for the same price I paid.  The whole thing only cost me a few dollars (the sellers fee that Amazon charges), effectively renting the book.

Though, I will confess to buying the Kindle version of Dan Brown’s latest book Origin.  While it was only $3 cheaper than the hardback version, it was impatience that drove that purchase.   I do regret it now though, as I would have liked to have gifted it to others after my reading of it.

Did you see that Amazon have launched a waterproof Kindle?   Speaking as someone that has lost many a device to the aqua gods I should welcome this.

Their top end e-reader, Oasis, which is launching at the end of this month (31st Oct) comes with a number of goodies, including Bluetooth connectivity and a larger battery (which makes it weigh 30% heavier than previous models).   But the main feature is that it is waterproof – you can submerge this bad boy for up to an hour.

This all comes at a very hefty price – $249!   That is a lot coin.  Too much coin for an e-reader in my opinion.

Given my newfound love of the printed page, my poor Kindle reader is getting further away from my device orbit.   If I do find myself in the Kindle world, I use the app on my phone and tablet which are always with me.


So while I applaud this move, which should have been there from the start, I for one will not be investing any more in the Kindle hardware universe.

Orlando-Richmond :: A 1600 mile Tesla story

After a 1600 mile roundtrip journey in my Tesla, I have fallen in love with road trips again, even with the overhead of charging.

I have just completed a 1,600 mile round trip from Orlando, Florida up to Richmond, Virginia.  Up on a Friday, back down again on a Sunday, with each trip taking approximately 15hrs.   While I have had my Tesla Model S P85D just over 2 years now, the longest journey I had done to date was Orlando to Key West with my son and cousin at the new year (which is a whole different story for another day).

One of my dreams is to put my hand in the Atlantic ocean, then drive over to the Pacific ocean and put my other hand in that – the great American road trip.   So while I build up to that, I decided to do a run up and down to Richmond Virginia, to see how well things worked out.



There wasn’t much pre-planning that was required, aside from charging up phone and loading up my tablet with YouTube music videos and audiobooks.   I have done this journey a number of times in a conventional gas powered vehicle, taking anywhere from 10hrs to 14hrs depending on traffic, with usually only 2 stops for filling up the tank.

An electric car is a different animal – I have a maximum range of 253 miles when fully charged and it takes just shy of 2 hrs to reach that level.   So a quick back of the envelope calculation (800 / 253 = 4 charges required) it is looking like an extra 8 hrs to the journey.

That said, depending on your driving style (Vin Diesel vs. Mrs Daisy), air-con temperature, auto-pilot etc, your effective range mileage will vary.  This all has to be factored in when planning your journey.  Fortunately Tesla makes this a complete breeze.

Tesla provides a whole network of what they call Supercharger stations.  These are dotted all over with more being added weekly.   They are free to use for people that purchased their Tesla prior to 2017 (aka me!) and are approximately every 120-150 miles apart on the major highways.



Using the in-car Google powered navigation, you tap in your destination and then the route is calculated to go via the necessary supercharger station to get you easily to your destination.  There is a little magic to be sprinkled here.

So when charging a Tesla (or any battery for that matter), you can charge the battery quicker the emptier it is.  In other words, you can throw more power at an empty battery and as it fills up, you reduce the power as it reaches 100%.   Tesla can recharge your battery up to approximately 60% full, at a supercharger station, in approximately 20 minutes.

Instead of the route navigation assuming you are charging up to full battery each time, it only calculates how long it needs to charge you to get you to the next supercharger station.   This is genius and saves a lot of time.     In my instance, it calculated I needed to visit at least 5 supercharger stations, with only a 20-30 minute wait at each one.

Fantastic – no impatient waiting for hours at each stop.

Charging Stations

I took a small cooler case with water and grapes, filled up with ice and started on my journey.  First stop was 2 hrs away at St Augustine, which was 5am by the time I reached there.


The location of the supercharger stations are usually within a mile from the main highway.   Sometimes they can be a little further, Savannah airport one was 6 miles off the beaten track.   They are usually tucked in the parking lot of a mall or a hotel.  They are very easy to spot with their 2001 monolithic white rectangle standing guard over the parking bay.


You simply reverse in, get out, plug in, and you are now charging.  Nothing needs to be done.   The onboard computer knows you are plugged in and takes over all the know how.  No credit-cards, no keying in, no buttons to press, it couldn’t be any easier.

I have not yet had the situation where I have had to wait for a bay to become available, though I suspect this will be more congested once the Model 3 hits the roads (though those users have to pay to charge, so that may keep the usage down a little).


When the supercharging first starts it goes through a series of tests to see how much juice your battery can tolerate at once.  To that end, it initially throws out some wild estimations as to how long it needs to charge, but give it 5 minutes and it will settle down to what the navigation system predicted.


Now, as noted before, this is not an exact science.  So if your next charge point is say 120 miles away, it will give you at least a 170 miles in the tank, just incase.   This buffer amount is generous and I frequently rolled into the next charging station with at least 50 miles on the clock.


If I was brave, I could have disconnected the charging earlier than the dashboard prompted.  I kept an eye on it and I noted I could have reduced my charge time by 5-10 minutes at some stops.   But I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

At first I thought the charging would frustrate me.  It turned out to be a small blessing.   It broke down the journey into segments of maximum road time of 2.5hrs at a time.  This afforded me the luxury of getting up and walking (I managed to still get in my 10k steps even with a 15hr road trip), restroom visit and general movement.  One of the nice side benefits of stopping is talking with fellow Tesla drivers, trading stories and wishing them the best on their next stop.  You play the game of looking at their tags and marveling at how far they have come.  I met a number of far flung drivers and traded a few minutes of good will chat.

If you do take a walk away from the car, you can keep an eye on your mobile app that will tell you when the car has reached its charge.   This feature cannot be overstated.  It was extremely useful for the times I was sitting in Starbucks checking email to know when to pack up and head back.

I arrived more refreshed than I have historically on my gas-powered trips.


The drive

Enough of the charging, let us talk of the drive itself.  This is no ordinary car you are driving.  You are driving a car that every other automobile manufacturer is attempting to catch up to.   Much has been talked about on the Auto-Pilot of Tesla and let me tell you on the open highway is where it excels.

20170716_122416Adaptive Cruise Control

The first toy in the box is adaptive cruise control.  This is where you set the speed you want to drive at, and then it will drive at that speed, adjusting the speed depending on the car in-front.   In other words, if you set it at 70mph (and why would you ever set it any higher!) and the car in-front slows down to 20mph then you will slow down to that speed and then speed back up again when it is safe.

This works very well, especially in highway traffic when there is a tendency by hot-heads to cut in front of you.   The car slows down accordingly, lets the hot-head in, and then speeds back up when the safe distance has been met.

There was a very heavy thunderstorm in Georgia, where visibility was next to nothing, I couldn’t even see the car in-front.  However, my car could see (presumption using radar) and by using the adaptive cruise control, I could confidently be kept a safe distance from the car in-front, even though I couldn’t even eye-ball it.

I can’t tell you the amount of times this feature saved an accident, whether it was heavy rain, or assholes cutting into spaces they shouldn’t, or people in-front suddenly stepping on the brakes.   While you do keep an eye on the road, you do have a tendency to daydream on long journeys.   You know the state – you are looking at the road, but you aren’t really paying that much attention.

Another great usage of this feature is when traffic gets snarled up and you have to crawl forward at a snail’s pace.  You don’t have to worry moving the car forward and then hitting the brakes.  It does all this automatically.  This was beautiful.


So the next step up from adaptive cruise control, is auto-pilot.  This is where the car will do the steering and stay in the lane, automatically steering for you.  At first it takes a little getting use to, allowing the car to steer itself.   You sit there, feet off the pedals (because the car is controlling the speed), and hands off the steering wheel (because the car is steering), it takes a lot of faith that it is going to do what it needs to do!

Now, Tesla doesn’t want you to disengage completely.  So it will prompt you to touch the steering wheel every so often.  If you fail to do that, then it will disengage the auto-pilot and you will be punished by not being allowed to re-enable it until such times the car has come to a complete stop for a few minutes.

In reality, this just takes a little nudge.  I found if I rested my elbow on the side of the door and rested my hand lightly on the steering wheel at the 10pm position (you know, the cool look) this was enough to fool the software into thinking that I was in control.   Usually it was around every 1-2 minutes it would prompt me.

A nice feature that works very well is lane changing.  If you decide you want to change lane, then you simply indicate your intention, and once the car has determined it is safe, it will change lane for you.  This is extremely unnatural at first, but once you have faith, you will discover it is the best feature you could possibly ask for.

So a large part of my drive, was simply indicating to change lane.   That was as much thinking as I had to do.   Keeping up with traffic streams was a breeze.

Now the biggest benefit of letting the car control the speed, was the efficiency of power usage.  Tesla has a number of displays, so you can see when you are pressing the accelerator (using more power).  You do this far more than you realize, resulting in a lot of small surges that are not really necessary.   Lot of battery wastage.

By letting the car do the speed, it will not be heavy on the right foot.   I did a few experiments and discovered I could never drive as efficient as what it could.   In a given 2hr segment this could mean up to an extra 20 miles in the tank.

Onboard Entertainment

A quick note to the on-board entertainment.  The car is connected to the Internet under its own bandwidth (no piggy backing on your phone’s network).   So in addition to the basic FM/AM radio, and USB playback, you have streaming from Tune-In/Streaming and of course bluetooth.

I listen to a lot of BBC content and it was nice to tune into BBC Radio 2 in the UK.  For the times I didn’t do that, I would listen to a podcast (via the car), and after that, I would resort to listening to YouTube videos from my tablet via bluetooth.

Keeping an eye on the cops

So we all know the only reason people use Waze is to be notified of upcoming speed traps.  As you may know, Tesla come with a full web browser.  One of the coolest and most useful websites is

This is basically a view of Waze designed for the Tesla web browser, updating in real time for any upcoming hazards or police cars that happened to be parked at the side of the highway.   I had this up all the time at the bottom of my screen, with the navigation on the top.  Let’s just say, on the whole 1,600 mile journey, Waze never missed a single cop.


I arrived in Richmond, 15 minutes before the navigation route estimated some 15hrs ago.  I hit traffic, I hit some roadworks, I hit weather.  I was impressed.

I was describing the experience to a friend when I arrived, and I likened it to flying when you get the bonus of having the seat beside you free.   In a plane you are cramped, and when there is no one in the seat next to you, you get to stretch out your legs into that space and feel human again.

When the car is in auto-pilot mode, your legs have the chance to move, to stretch.  With no central console, you can easily stretch your legs into the passenger’s space.   This little act of expanse can make all the difference in a long journey.

Overall, I was surprised at how painless and easy the journey was, even with the extra overhead of charging time.  I arrived far more refreshed than I thought I would.

Driving a Tesla is an honor.  Even after 2 years, each time I get in, I still feel a sense of excitement that I am driving something very special.  The car receives software updates approximately once a month, further improving the experience.   The car I bought in March 2015, is not the car I am driving in 2017.

I now have the confidence to start planning my coast-2-coast trip and take my trip around the USA, seeing this wonderful country, for $0 fuel cost.  It would be a crime not to do the trip.


I loved my trip.  It was an experience that I would not hesitate to do it again, choosing electric over flight.

My advice to you – if you get the chance, do it, you will fall in love with road trips all over again.


The problem with Amazon’s Alexa

My woes with Amazon’s Alexa as I try to coax into doing things she claims she can do!

I have had Amazon’s Alexa for a number of years now.  I was one of the early testers and it has moved from living room, to kitchen with it now residing behind the toilet in the bathroom.   The problem with this voice activated wonder, is that I blank every time I try to ask it something.

Sure it is easy to ask it the state of the weather (though you can easily just look outside the window for as much data), or you can ask the current time (really?) or set a timer (though, trying turning the bloody thing off again when there is bang ground noise).

The big thing however, is playing music from your Amazon Prime account.   You can ask it play to a whole manner of combinations.  The problem however, is that you completely blank when it comes to choosing something.  What happens is that you keep playing the same shit over and over again because you can’t think of anything new.


The problem with a voice activated device with no UI, is that you can’t be inspired.  You can’t scroll past some albums and discover something from your archive.  You can’t even even do this with the Alexa app and then send it to the device for playing.

Then there comes to actually trying it to get to play the album you want.   It’s a frigging nightmare.  It simply can’t handle long complicated titles.   Miranda Lambert’s, Weight of these wings, is a constant problem to try and get it to play.

And this is where I have to take issue with Amazon.  They happily display in the app, the successful voice commands asking if Alexa did what you asked.  However, they do not show the unsuccessful ones.  I therefore cannot feedback this poor interaction with Alexa.

It scares the crap out of me that the future of computer interaction could be our voice.  No way. Alexa is suppose to hear even when playing music, but it can’t.  Once you are rocking to a track, it frequently misses your command to stop.   I have had to resort to hitting the button on top of the unit to kill the play.

Alexa is a great idea.  The notion of it sounds fantastic, the reality however, is that it is like talking to your elderly grandparents, who are half deaf and have no clue what the zeitgeist of the day is.

Here is hoping for a better linguistic future.

Chromebook Adventure

Working with a Chromebook takes a leap of faith when it comes to working exclusively through a browser. But it can work.

I think I may be part of the Chromebook revolution.

For those that do know what a Chromebook is, it is a laptop like device, that has only a single function, run the Chrome browser.  It has very little local storage because all your data is in the cloud and accessed through a browser.  Devices start extremely cheap, $150 and up, for a device that looks and feels like a laptop, except it runs ChromeOS.  Think of it like a tablet with a permanently attached keyboard.

I have been intrigued with the Chromebook for a long time. It has taken off hugely in the academic world, where students are issued cheap inexpensive devices that has all their data in the cloud. It just keep things wonderfully simple – no complicated expensive laptops or Apple Macbooks to maintain – schools love it.

While the Chromebook is a window to your online life, it does manage offline data very well, allowing the likes of Google Docs, Gmail and even Outlook (the web version) work well disconnected.

I have been doing a lot of train traveling of late and that is 2 hrs each day of sitting in a carriage.  I have been using my excellent Samsung Ultrabook but I miss the fact I am not connected to a network. I could of course, power up my MiFi unit, but the problem with a conventional laptop, when you give it a network a lot of software thinks it is online and starts chewing up your data plan.  DropBox, BackBlaze, updates etc, all compete for data bytes.  So I use my MiFi when I am in dire need and with careful consideration after I have shut down everything that may chew up bandwidth.

But I got thinking, could I get a Chromebook with a cellular modem built in?

After a little bit of surfing around I discovered a whole world of choice.  One particular device that caught my attention a long time ago, was the beautiful Pixel from Google.  Google no longer produces it, but the Pixel was a beautiful high end Chromebook and at $1499 it was simply too expensive for this space, at only 4GB memory and 64GB disk space, it was an experiment in style for Google.  The build quality is the highest I have seen in any laptop.  Absolutely stunning.  However, at $1499 this was too much for my experiment into the world of Chromebook.

However, given that Google have discontinued this experiment, I looked towards eBay and picked up a second hand unit for only $400. It arrived 2 days later and the original owner had kept it in top condition, complete with original packaging.  This Pixel had the LTE modem integrated and a few clicks i had the sim card added to my Verizon account.

The thing with using the Chromebook on a cellular plan is that it is just a browser, therefore the only bandwidth you use is what you load – no background processes chewing up data.  ChromeOS aggressively caches locally all the resources that come with a modern web app which keeps requests to a minimum.

After a week, how did I get on?

Well in short very well and it has found a place in my daily routine.  Setup was a breeze.  I have multiple Google identities (work, personal, family) and you use your Google login to get into the Chromebook.  You login and then Chrome loads up with all your bookmarks, extensions and themes loaded.  Literally, within 1 minute of first logging into the device I was looking at a familiar browser as if it was on desktop or laptop.  All my extensions – lastpass, adblock, inoreader, ghostery, tabresizer, wunderlist – all there and working.

A hold down of ctrl-alt-< and i can switch to a completely different Google profile.  It was a joy to quickly move so easily back and forth.

Google Docs works very well complete with offline access.  We use Office365 at ParkerGale, and i was concerned if i could do my email offline.  Surprisingly, Outlook web has a great offline mode and I can say that after using it for 30mins i forgot i wasnt using the Outlook desktop client.

The convenience of the integrated LTE modem cannot be underestimated.  I was a passenger in a car, and was gleefully using the Pixel with absolute ease and speed.

The hardware is a joy.  The screen is very high res, 2,560 × 1,700, and is touch enabled, which makes working with Google Maps a breeze.   The keyboard is firm and backlit.  Interestingly there is no caps lock or delete key.  You can get to these by holding down various keys, but it was strange at first, but now i don’t miss them.  

There are some nice touches.  For example, hold down ctrl-alt-? and up pops an onscreen keyboard showing all the shortcuts, hold down the ctrl key, and it updates to the options available.  I love this.


Speaking of missing keys .. no function keys, instead they have been replaced with buttons (not keys) for things like volume, brightness, window switching and even the escape key is a button.  The whole keyboard has been rethought, and i like it.

The device has multiple USB ports, an HDMI port and bluetooth.  Pairing my logitech bluetooth mouse took all of 10 seconds.  It comes with an SD card slot for expanding storage.  The only downside, and this simply due to the fact i bought a 2year old second hand unit, the battery life has dropped from its once 10hr life to only 3hrs.  Not a huge showstopper.

As i noted before, think of Chromebook like a tablet in a laptop shell.  To that end, as soon as you open the lid, you are working.  The speed is instant and a joy.

The Google Store has a lot of ChromeOS apps available but the world is opening up, as android apps are now beginning to be supported on the Chromebooks.  This opens up a huge world.

I have a couple of nice chrome apps, like remote desktop so i can remote shell into my desktop or other machines.  This week, Amazon released a web client for access to its Workspace machines, which now lets me use the chromebook for this.

Dropbox even works with ChromeOS, however it does not sync. It shadows your dropbox account and if you access a file it is available offline, but it does not pull down your dropbox automatically.  I wish the Windows version worked like this.  It works more like Egnyte works on Windows.  Very nice.

For me, as someone that is always on the move, the Pixel has found a place in my world between phone and laptop.  It is light that i can carry it around with my laptop and when i need to catch up on emails or write a document, then it is instantly available, with either WiFi or cellular network.  I don’t think i would be as quite as excited if the device didn’t have the cellular component.

Even with that, for offices that have most of their people on email, salesforce, docs, then a chromebook is a very cheap alternative to desktops.  Simple login and if a unit breaks, you can instantly get on with any chromebook.  Given their price point, you can afford to keep a couple in stock, just in case.

If i think about it, the only reason i still need a laptop is for my development environment.  But if i am not doing that, then i could easily use the chromebook exclusively.   With your life stored in the cloud, i love using the chromebook as a dumb rich client that once logged in, your life is available and ready.   Share it with family and colleagues, as you can have it prompt for a password as you switch profiles.

I will admit to coming to the chromebook revolution a little late, but i am in.  I could see myself ditching my laptop altogether and running my development world in an Amazon Workspace.  The cost of the chromebook and the price of running of an Amazon Workspace all year is still a lot cheaper than a medium high end laptop.

Just a shame Google stopped building this beautiful machine, but i have it on good authority that the HP and Samsung chromebooks are of a high quality.

Will update as this journey continues.

#Update 29th Nov: Ordered a new battery from eBay for the Pixel ($59) and will replace it to get back many more hours on the road.

The next AWS? Tesla, GM or Ford

Amazon outflanked the computing industry with their cloud offering; it will happen again, from another unlikely source.

Hands up who would have guessed that the online book reseller,, would turn out to be the enterprise cloud mammoth it has become.   If your hand is up then I don’t believe you.  No one seen them coming, no one predicted that cloud computing was so ripe for the taking.  Just as Microsoft completely misread the importance of the Internet and allowed the likes of FireFox, Google, Yahoo establish a foothold, Amazon completely stole the world of cloud computing from under the noses of the computing establishment.

By comparison, everyone is playing catch-up to Amazon’s meteoric cloud growth.  But if it happened once, could it happen again?   It would be churlish and shortsighted to assume it couldn’t, and just as Amazon out flanked the whole computing industry, there are a number of players quietly working that could pop up and surprise us.

Amazon never set out to be the cloud provider they are today – they were simply solving an internal problem which was to keep the lights on for their e-commerce site and be able to scale quickly and easily through peak period times of the day and the year.  Fair to say they achieved that goal and more, to the point where they could start selling off spare capacity in their data center and create a whole new business line out of it.

chrome_2016-09-24_05-16-50So the question you have to ask yourself, who else is busying solving their own problems and building out huge amounts of processing and storage scale that could one day benefit others if repackaged?

I offer up the automotive industry as likely candidates.  People like Tesla, Ford or General Motors are all working on far more innovative computing problems than most give them credit for. The modern day car has a huge amount of processing power contained within, collecting data from a whole range of sensors.  That is before we even get to the self-driving revolution – but they are preparing themselves for that scale.

So why aren’t they simply using cloud providers like Amazon, Google or Microsoft?  They probably are in part, but it is in their best interests to build out out their own.   Cars stay in circulation for a very long time, and even though the car passes from owner-to-owner, the data is still being collected and analyzed.  This data is too valuable to hosted on a 3rd parties data center.   The security implications alone is too much to simply trust to another.

As drivers we demand that our cars are not vulnerable to any attacks.  We demand a closed ecosystem that is secure and immune from the noise that the Internet can sometimes generate (imagine if you will your car going down as a result of the Internet going offline because of the DNS attack a few weeks ago).

This is why Tesla and others are busy building their own closed secure systems that can scale dramatically and continually.  These are the same sort of problems that IoT (Internet of Things) companies will be looking to solve as their devices go online and live perpetually for many years.

In addition, due to the very large volumes of historical event data grows, so will the need to innovate tools to pour over and analyze these data sets.   This is another area I believe the likes of the automotive companies could outflank the traditional data companies.  I would also put Uber into that category; the sheer amount of data they are collecting and processing would make you blink.

Amazon caught the industry off guard and redefined the whole landscape while they were still arguing over whether or not the business model was viable or even serious.

It will happen again and from a quarter we least expect it from.