I hadn’t realised how much of my daily energy I got from the joy of laughing / thinking / collaborating with others in-person. Without it every disappointment is magnified and every success feels less. 😕

In other news, dissappointing thing is dissapointing.

It’s National Coffee Day in the US, but not in the UK, where it takes place on 1st Oct which is also International Coffee Day.

I’m just going to drink a lot of coffee all week and call it a job well done. ☕

It looks like Todoist have built a ‘Trello mode’ and TBH it looks great. I often use this layout in Notion for managing tasks but miss the other task management features. Telling that their blog-post stub is ‘Kanban Board’ 👍

The cupboard is running low and I want to add some new (to me) roasters to my coffee tracker. Who would you recommend? ☕

Home working: How to measure team happiness beyond what people say

This is a ‘note to self post’ for reference later.

At the recent ‘Gov DMs in the Ether #7’ event I asked other delivery managers across government for advice on measuring team happiness whilst everyone was working from home. I was curious what techniques my peers used in addition to what people self-reported, when they lacked the normal cues of body language and personal interactions.

I got some excellent suggestions:

  • Encouraging (celebrating, even) respectful conflict.
  • Drawing up a team charter.
  • Leaving stand-up calls open after they’ve finished for casual / follow-up chats (or opening the call early).
  • Running an anonymous temperature check exercise collecting a ‘happiness score’ and reason why.
  • Using an approach like Niko Niko.
  • Encouraging the group to be (when needed) ‘unhappy out loud’ and agreeing as a team that that is a sign of trust.

This is far from an exhaustive answer, but it was 6 good starts that give me threads to follow-up. My thanks to everyone who answered my question and the facilitator.

This is our neighbour’s cat. I spend a lot of time convincing him this isn’t his house too.

I took this photo early-on with my current client. It summed up how things were going during an office move at the time.

Putting Notion in my Mac’s menu bar

Updated (8th May 2019): CSS amended to support database views.

I use Notion every day. It’s my favourite place to manage tasks and take notes on client projects, but I missed the ‘quick-entry’ mode of my last productivity app which saved lots of clicks between apps and pages to record a new entry.

I wanted one-click access to my most-used Notion pages (my task list and a quick-entry notepad).

Fluid (a Mac utility that turns websites into apps) saved the day. Because Notion is excellent via a web browser I could make each important Notion page into a Fluid app and pin it to the menu bar (that step needs a $5 license for Fluid). By using a floating window these pages hover over my other work and, with some custom CSS, the interface fits well into a smaller window. Because Notion's web app works offline, so do my menu bar icons.

I still use the Notion desktop app for other tasks (or to use these pages full-screen), but my important pages are now a click-away and sync instantly if they're simultaneously open in multiple windows / on other devices.

My 'Scratchpad' page in Notion is a one click away at all times. I use it to quickly record things for use later.

To do this I made a Fluid app with this config:

In this screen:

  • 'URL' is the 'important' page's public link copied from Notion (located in the 'Share' menu).
  • 'Icon' is a graphic from The Noun Project to provide a neat, greyscale, menu bar-sized icon.

When created, the new app needs to be configured and pinned to the menu bar:

In this screen the most important change is to set the window level to 'floating'. I recommend completing the login steps for Notion before pinning to the menu bar (Fluid calls this 'Pin to Status Bar', located in the menu under the name of the new application).

Once pinned, the new app will function correctly but is best optimised for smaller windows with some layout changes via additional CSS.  This can be applied by right-clicking the app's menu bar icon and selecting 'Userstyles'.

In this window:

  • The left pane lists all the additional CSS to be applied. Create a new one by clicking the '+' button and give it a name - I called mine 'Clean'.
  • The patterns pane lists all the URLs this CSS will be applied to. I apply mine to every URL in the 'notion.so' domain - the stars at the beginning and end will match any sub-domains or paths.
  • The line-numbered pane is where the CSS to be applied should be added.  

I chose to hide most of the menus and page titles, and apply smaller page margins with my CSS. Some is a bit clumsy as the specific elements I wanted to change didn't have unique IDs or classes, but it works:

/* CSS version 4 - updated 8th May 2019 */
/* This version adds support for pop-ups on database screens and hides commenting */

div.notion-topbar>div>div:first-child,
div.notion-topbar>div>div:last-child,
div.notion-help-button,
div.notion-sidebar-container,
div.notion-frame div.notion-scroller.vertical.horizontal>div:first-child,
div.notion-frame div.notion-scroller.vertical:not(.horizontal)>div:first-child,
div.notion-frame div.notion-scroller.vertical.horizontal>div>div>div.notion-selectable,
div.notion-frame div.notion-scroller.vertical:not(.horizontal)>div>div>div:not(.notion-selectable)>div>div:nth-child(1),
div.notion-frame div.notion-scroller.vertical:not(.horizontal)>div>div>div:not(.notion-selectable)>div>div:nth-child(2),
div.notion-frame div.notion-scroller.vertical:not(.horizontal)>div>div>div:not(.notion-selectable)>div>div:nth-child(3),
div.notion-peek-renderer>div:nth-child(2)>div:first-child,
div.notion-peek-renderer> div:nth-child(2)>div.notion-scroller.vertical>div:nth-child(3)>div {
    display:none !important;
}

div.notion-topbar,
div.notion-topbar>div {
    height: 30px !important;
}

div.notion-page-controls {
    visibility:hidden !important;
    margin-top: 0px !important;
}

div.notion-page-content {
    padding-left: 20px !important;
    padding-right: 8px !important;
} 

div.notion-selectable {
    max-width: none !important;
}

div.notion-topbar,
div.notion-cursor-listener,
div.notion-frame,
div.notion-frame>div:nth-child(1),
div.notion-frame > div.notion-scroller.vertical > div:nth-child(1) {
    width: 100% !important;
    max-width: 100% !important;
}

div.notion-frame>div.notion-scroller.vertical:not(div.notion-scroller.horizontal)>div:nth-child(2),
div.notion-frame>div.notion-scroller.vertical>div.notion-scroller.horizontal>div {
    padding-left: 12px !important;
    padding-right: 12px !important;
}

div.notion-peek-renderer>div:nth-child(2) {
    top: 5% !important;
    left: 8% !important;
    right: 8% !important;
}

div.notion-peek-renderer>div:nth-child(2)>div.notion-scroller.vertical>div:nth-child(1)>div,
div.notion-peek-renderer>div:nth-child(2)>div.notion-scroller.vertical>div:nth-child(2)>div {
    padding-left: 20px !important;
    padding-right: 20px !important;
}

Once the 'Userstyles' window is completed, close the window and re-start the app to ensure the new styling is applied and you're done.


Sign-up to Notion using this link and get $10 credit to a paid account. I use (and recommend) the Personal plan ($48 per year) when I needed to store more that the Free plan supported.

Tweetdeck on iPad

I want to use Tweetdeck on my iPad without losing the screen-space of the URL bar. This would normally be as easy as adding the website to the home screen (via the share menu), but for Tweetdeck the initial login jumps out to Safari and doesn’t return.

Fortunately, a bit of cookie hacking and a Mac laptop can get this working. Jay Sitter has documented the steps and it works well. Note the comments below Jay’s post that Web Inspector needs to be enabled on the iPad first.

Turn on the Web Inspector in Safari settings in iOS first

Hooray for people that document their learning on the internet.

Safer Dropbox-ing for apps requesting ‘Full Access’

Like it or not, Dropbox is Internet glue.

It’s grown beyond ‘just’ file-syncing, and is now a universal ‘online disk’ for web and mobile apps. Often those apps access the user’s absence to do ‘useful stuff’ triggered by an external event or allowing long tasks to complete without the user waiting.

Having apps read and write to a folder on my laptop is brilliantly useful, but also risky. I don’t store sensitive stuff on Dropbox, but it would be inconvenient to lose files or for them to be compromised by malware.

The best apps use Dropbox’s permissions options to access only the files and folders they actually use. That way, if a service has a ‘security problem’ the damage is contained. However, some don’t and ask for ‘full access, despite not needing it.

A recent example of this I encountered is Fujitsu’s ScanSnap Cloud. This update to my desktop scanner added direct uploads to ‘the cloud’ and it’s super useful… Except it requests ‘full’ access to my Dropbox files, not just the upload folder it uses. However convenient, I’m not handing unsupervisedaccess to that much of my data to a 3rd party.

I needed to create my own equivalent Dropbox’s single-folder permissions. A separate Dropbox account and folder sharing lets us get close. Here’s how to do it (this doesn’t appear to contravene any Dropbox terms or conditions):

  1. Sign-up for a new ‘Basic’ Dropbox account via the website – you can leave desktop and mobile clients logged in to your ‘real’ account throughout this process. The new account needs a dedicated email address – create one via your email host (use a descriptive name in the address so you can tell which account Dropbox emails relate to).
  2. Complete email verification for the new account and use it to login to Dropbox via the website. Add a profile photo with an icon of the service you’re sandboxing (again, for ease of identification) and turn on 2-factor authentication (optional, but recommended).
  3. Logout of Dropbox and back in to your ‘real’ account. Still via the website, create the folder you’d like to store the app’s data. I add mine to a dedicated ‘syncing’ folder to keep things tidy.
  4. Click ‘Share’ next to the folder you have just created and send a sharing invite to the new account in step 1 with ‘can edit’ permissions and management by ‘Only owners’ (management options are in ‘Folder settings’).
  5. Logout of Dropbox (again, sorry) and find the invitation email for the sharing request you have just sent. Click ‘Go to folder’, login with the new account credentials and accept the invitation.
  6. Dropbox setup is now done. Test it by adding a file to the newly-shared folder through the web browser and checking it is visible in your ‘real’ Dropbox account through a desktop or mobile client.
  7. Switch to the app or cloud service insisting on ‘full access’ and link it to the newly created account. Selected the shared folder (it should be the only folder in that account) to use and give it the permissions requested.
  8. Use the service (in my case, by scanning some documents) and confirm that, although the files are being written to a dedicated account they are synchronised to the chosen folder within your main account.

Setup is now complete. The shared folder gives access to the app’s files as if you’d allowed it access to your ‘real’ account, but without exposing any of your other files.

This has worked reliably for me for many months and syncing is instant. It requires no maintenance other than ensuring the shared folder doesn’t grow larger than the ‘Basic’ account’s 2GB capacity. If you have several apps requiring it, you can repeat this method as many times as needed.

I tried a similar process with Evernote, but it didn’t work for me as the app I tried couldn’t write to a shared folder.

Essential apps and utilities for a new Mac

These are the apps I always install first on any Mac.

In order:

  1. 1Password – My password manager of choice – rock solid and now TouchID enabled on my Mac. All the logins and license keys for subsequent apps are in here. We have a family plan, synced via 1Password’s own service. I’d previously used Dropbox syncing which added a frustrating delay waiting for the initial sync on a fresh Dropbox installation.
  2. Dropbox – This contains nearly everything I care about – working files, cloud-based app data (Auphonic for podcast production and Receipt Bank for business admin are my 2 must-haves) and scanned documents from my Fujitsu ScanSnap. During installation I enable ‘selective file sync’ and exclude an ‘online only’ folder containing photos and videos I want to share, but don’t want taking-up laptop storage. I’ve previously fought Dropbox’s sneaky accessibility permissions grab but have now given up in favour of a quiet life (I fear I’ll regret this at some point).
  3. Cloak – The best Mac VPN for browsing securely on public WiFi (I don’t need to access location-locked content and their team make it clear that’s not what Cloak is for), this app goes on all my MacOS and iOS devices. I’ve no idea if it’s the fastest, but it’s been incredibly reliable for me and the team behind it care about the right things.
  4. TripMode – A ‘mobile data saver’, this tool limits the apps that can use an internet connection when you’re using a personal hotspot. A menu-bar icon flashes as apps are blocked and they can individually be enabled or disabled stopping bandwidth hogs such as iCloud Photo Library or Dropbox from burning through your data allowance.
  5. Moom – There are many Mac window managers but this is mine. Although highly configurable I use the simplest features – a popup menu triggered by hovering over the ‘maximise’ window button that offers a list of window size / position presets (I use the default ones) and a grid to ‘draw’ more complex layouts. I tried others that relied on dragging windows to the screen edge but accidentally triggered that too often.
  6. Caffeine – This app overrides any power saving / screen-saver settings to keep your Mac awake for extended periods. I use it when I’m not actively using the laptop but need the screen to stay on, such as reading show notes during a 361 recording or following a recipe on a website.
  7. Alfred – I can’t remember a time my Macs didn’t have Alfred mapped to ⌘-Space in preference to Spotlight with my settings synced via Dropbox. Alfred is another powerful tool but I rely on it almost entirely for keyboard access to apps, an instant calculator and as a clipboard manager. I bought the ‘Power Pack’ upgrade despite not needing the features to support this brilliant independent developer.
  8. Keyboard Maestro – This tool lets me create simple macros for the Mac. I use it for inserting text (code snippets, business addresses or tax numbers) and clipboard ‘cleverness’ such as pasting text as if it had been typed. I previously also used TextExpander for the text-specific tasks but found Keyboard Maestro could do both jobs to the level I needed. It’s a tool I’ve previously used much more extensively and I like to keep it around ‘for emergencies’. I store my macros in Dropbox to keep them synced between Macs.
  9. SoundSource – The most recent addition, this app adds a menu-bar item showing the volume and other settings for each audio input or output device. Essential for podcasting, but also handy for demos / presentations when you need to quickly mute sound effects but leave other audio playing.
  10. Bartender – MacOS’s menu bar doesn’t cope well with lots of apps, quickly becoming a cluttered mess of randomly-ordered icons. Bartender offers an ‘overflow’ area where I put the apps I don’t need one-click access to and lets me set the order permanently so they’re always where I expect them to be. This goes-on last so I can arrange all the icons in one go.

Backing-up Apple Photos without relying (only) on iCloud

As a family we are all-in on Apple Photos… Our images are ‘magically there’ on phones, tablets and laptops. We share photo streams with family and make albums of important events. And whilst we mostly use iCloud to sync images, it’s reassuring to know they are all backed-up ’in the cloud’ too.

But I don’t trust Apple’s copy to be my only copy – we talked about this in detail on this week’s 361 Podcast.

Until now that’s been simple to fix – I setup a ‘home’ Mac laptop to download every image at full-resolution and let Time Machine (to a Synology NAS with redundant drives) take care of the rest.

Since the birth of our son my wife and I take a lot of photos and – inevitably – the laptop ran out of space. An emergency clean-up helped, but it’s clear this will only be a short-term fix and the clogged disk slows-down other apps.

What I want is the ease of Apple Photos without leaving my files solely in Apple’s hands. Switching services is the nuclear option as the family has many years of familiarity with Apple – a change would be ‘unpopular’.

I considered and dismissed several options:

  1. Archive less important images somewhere else to keep the Apple Photos library a manageable size. This is a short-term option but requires frequent manual curation. Also, it doesn’t prevent the library of images we do want to keep available from becoming too big in future. A definite no.
  2. Upgrade the home Mac’s disk. I could fit a Terabyte disk to provide ‘enough’ photo and other-uses storage for the foreseeable future, but this is pricey if I want to maintain SSD speeds for other day-to-day use. Possible, but poor value for money.
  3. Add external storage to the home Mac. This is a cheaper and more flexible way to add storage – USB3 is fast enough to run a Photos library from now – although it would need to remain connected all the time. Quick and easy, but inconvenient and fragile.
  4. Use network storage to host the Photos library. Possible in theory, but too slow in practice – especially over WiFi. Not an option.

For now, I’ve gone with a 5th option: a dedicated Mac ‘server’ for backups.

For about £30 per month (at current exchange rates) I rent a Mac Mini (i7 processor, 1TB internal storage and 16GB RAM) with 4TB external storage in a Las Vegas datacenter from MacStadium (this is a grandfathered promotional price plan from MacMiniColo before they were taken over - prices start from $79 now). It’s always on with data-centre quality power and networking and an engineer will replace it for me if it breaks.

I considered a similar approach with a virtual Windows server and iCloud for Windows. In theory this would offer a similar capability more cheaply, but the unreliability of syncing and Photo Stream when I tested syncing it put me off.

So far, this is working well:

  • Remote desktop access feels as fast as a local machine even over 4G from an iPad (Screens is an excellent app for this).
  • Storage is sufficient for all our Apple Photos need in the foreseeable future.
  • Time Machine takes frequent versioned backups.
  • Large imports / exports no longer take our home Mac out of use.
  • I don’t worry about accidental damage or (unfortunately frequent for us) power cuts at home.
  • I can install other backup services - I'm backing up our other important data direct from our home NAS and am also testing image sync to both Google Photos and Amazon Drive.

I’ve read posts from people doing similar things who go-on to run their websites and mail servers from the same device. I’ve decided against that for now and locked-down the services / ways to access as much as possible to keep my data secure. For now I sync only data I’d be happy to have in any other cloud service to keep the admin manageable.