Open Thinkering


A life in my technological day.


This post is prompted by 3 things:

  • Re-discovering Stammy’s Why I’m more productive on a Mac post from 2006.
  • Reading Cory Doctorow’s post What I Do where he outlines the hardware and software he uses (and why).
  • A discussion at EdTechRoundUp on Sunday night where I was asked to explain why the iPhone 4 is ‘better’ than the Dell Streak.

A bit of history

I’ve used Macs exclusively since mid-2006 when the first MacBooks came out. Before this I had been using Ubuntu Linux on a laptop, and before that I used various flavours of (usually modded-in-some-way) Windows whilst tinkering with different distributions of Linux. So I’ve experience of the three main operating systems in some depth.

After purchasing the MacBook, my wife eventually got one, then we’ve since picked up an Apple Time Capsule, Apple TV, iPhone (me), iPod Touch (her), iPod Shuffle (me), and eMac (for my son). Things. Just. Work.

An average day with my tech

I’ll wake up, usually as a result of the light emanating from my Lumie BodyClock, which is much better than being jolted out of bed by an alarm (and awesome if you’ve got SAD tendencies). For the times I really do need to make sure I’m up at a particular time, I’ve got an alarm clock that starts of quietly and gets louder. It also responds to voice so I can tell it to shut up. 😉

I attempt to alternate days in which I go for a run and days I do my weights. On the days I go for a run I use my iPhone with Roadbud to track my route and speed. I record how often I do exercise, do academic work, write blog posts and comment on other people’s blogs via Joe’s Goals.

My iPhone will usually have been next to the bed, charging and on Flight mode, although I’m finding that the battery lasts a couple of days now with the iPhone 4. I switch that on and then get myself ready for work, usually checking TechMeme, BBC News, Twitter and HotUKDeals as I do so. I then quickly scan all of my emails (work, university and personal) via my iPhone. I’ve kept the ‘Sent from my iPhone’ message appended to all of my outgoing emails as I feel – rightly or wrongly – that it explains why I’m only providing a brief reply.

Whilst we’re getting ready, my son Ben will often be playing or, increasingly, he goes on his Apple eMac and plays Alphablocks, Poisson Rouge or other CBeebies games. He got the eMac for his 3rd birthday and is rather adept with it!

I used to use a Krups coffee machine, but now I favour the speed and simplicity of a cafetière for my morning caffeine. Once I’ve had breakfast – which I try to have with my family and keep technology-free – my wife and son will drop me off at the train station. Again, although sometimes we’ll have music on (provided via iPhone/iPod Touch and the AUX connector on our car) we try to actually have conversations.

On the train I’ll whip out my e-reader (previously a Sony Reader PRS-600 Touch, but now an Amazon Kindle 2) to read academic articles relating to my thesis and/or catch up with technology news and Twitter on my iPhone. During this I’ll listen to music via Spotify Premium. Once I’m off the train I’ve still got a 10-minute walk to work, so sometimes I’ll listen to podcasts such as In Our Time, Material World, Thinking Allowed, or James Clay’s e-Learning Stuff.

Although I’ve got a MacBook Pro for work, my desktop machine is a Northumbria University-provided PC running Windows XP. Annoyingly, I have to use Microsoft Outlook for email/calendar (although I do sync the latter with my Google Calendar) so I have to use the Citrix client when on my MacBook or away from my desk. Still, it’s better than nothing! I’ve just got a dual-screen setup sorted out at work, so depending on what kind of day it is I’m either going to have my email or TweetDeck on that separate window.

Most of the work I do at JISC infoNet is project-based, so I use Netvibes as a hub for these. I like the way you can embed stuff from elsewhere and use the tabs for each different project. TeuxDeux (one of the things I embed in Netvibes) is a great lightweight to-do application that everyone should be using. All of my documents are available everywhere now that I pay $9.99 per month for a 50GB Dropbox – I don’t use ‘My Documents’ (PC) or ‘Documents’ (Mac) any more. It means I can quickly send things to people on the move via the Dropbox iPhone app, and never have the problem of being unable to access a resource I’ve created.

I’m a sporadic user of Evernote. I used it way back when it first came out and the school I was in didn’t have an email system. I’d take a photo of the memos that would arrive in my pigeon-hole and then bin them. Nowadays I’m more likely to use it to ‘take notes’ in the physical books and articles that I read (Evernote has a great searchable text-recognition feature!). Another application I couldn’t do without at work is XMind, which is Open Source, cross-platform and has a web element to it. It’s absolutely fantastic for mindmaps!

I try to empty my mind of things to do with work and relax on the way back home, so I’m more likely to be listening to music on my iPhone and closing my eyes than anything else whilst I’m on the train. I usually think of my best ideas during this time or when I’m in the shower, so I’ve got a couple of Moleskine notebooks to jot ideas down. When I get back home I’ll often play with Ben on our Nintendo Wii – especially Wii Fit Plus – which is awesome for his (and my) hand-eye coordination. 😀

Once I’ve played football/puzzles/wrestled with Ben and had dinner he’ll watch CBeebies or something prerecorded for ten minutes before bathtime and bedtime. At the moment I’m marking for Edexcel which, anachronistically, involves them writing their answers by hand, having their exam papers scanned in, and then me marking them online. I can’t help but think we’re missing a trick somewhere! Edexcel’s software only works with Internet Explorer, so I use VMware Fusion to virtualize Windows XP within one of the Spaces on my Mac OSX desktop. It actually works pretty well as a system.

If I’m not marking I’m probably writing a blog post, for which I’ll either bash it out using NoteSync (especially if I haven’t got connectivity for whatever reason) or compose using the WordPress dashboard. Quite often I’ll let ideas ‘stew’ for a while as drafts and then either reject or expand upon them. Otherwise, I’ll have some work to do on my Ed.D. thesis. I’ve got a separate installation of WordPress for that but I use Google Docs to actually write it. I back the latter up regularly via export to my GMail account and Dropbox!

Once I come back downstairs and spend some time with my wife we’ll plan stuff (usually using her MacBook) or watch a film/prerecorded TV. I watch virtually nothing ‘live’. The AppleTV is wonderful for getting stuff from your MacBook or straight from the iTunes store quickly and easily onto your television. Otherwise we’ll have used our Sony HDD/DVD recorder to have series-recorded something from Freeview. I’ll often talk to Nick Dennis either via my iPhone or Skype. :-p

I try and stay away from screens for at least 30 minutes before bedtime, but often fail in this regard, especially with my iPhone. I’m about 50/50 with reading physical as opposed to e-books at bedtime at the moment, but imagine that will shift more towards the latter as time passes.

There are some things I haven’t mentioned due to my sporadic use of them. For example, we’ve got a cinema room with a PlayStation 3, projector and surround sound which is pretty amazing and iPod speaker docks for when we’re chilling out downstairs. I use a Logitech MediaBoard Pro bluetooth keyboard (which has an inbuilt trackpad) with my MacBook Pro so I can raise the latter to eye level. I’ve already listed the Mac OSX and iPhone applications I’m most likely to use so, and I don’t even really need to mention I’m on Twitter for most of the day. So I’ll leave it there.


As you can see, the technology I use depends on my context. I use what I use because it lowers the amount of friction in my life. People may think that I go through different technologies at a rate of knots and am attracted by the shiny, but I’m actually after things that allow me to create stuff and then ship it. And that’s all there is to it.

Image CC BY-SA Fe Ilya

11 thoughts on “A life in my technological day.

  1. Have been most impressed with the Touch as I am sure you can tell 🙂 I have also used Evernote though just sporadically and I will check out NetVibes following your post.

  2. Great idea for a blog post Doug.

    Your household seems to be as ‘appled’ as my own – Macbook Pro (Me), Macbook (Jen), iPod touch, classic, shuffle (Me), iPod nano (Jen).

    I like the way that you are using the logitech keyboard, I have been musing over a similar issue for a while but I can’t seem to find a keyboard/mouse/trackpad combo that I am happy with. I find that I end up with either my laptop on my lap which is not always comfortable or I sit at the dinner table and end up hunched over and far too close the screen.

    I am sure that I will find a solution at some point that both meets my needs and also suits the visual aesthetic that I look for in products. My ideal (incase Mr Jobs reads this) keyboard/trackpad combo would be the mini Apple keyboard they have been shipping recently with a seamlessly detachable multi-touch trackpad so that you can either use both or just one at a time. I will wait in hope for Mr Jobs to get his act together on this.

    Ok, back to work. More end of year jobs to finish and put a line through! 🙂

    1. Good to hear, James! The idea only occurred to me after moving the Logitech
      keyboard from the cinema room (where I had intended to use it with my PS3
      but never did) to my study in order to put it on eBay. I should take a
      picture of how I put my MacBook Pro on my windowsill and my keyboard on my
      desk… 🙂

  3. What an unexpectedly interesting post – who’d have thought such a detailed breakdown would be so insightful. Thanks. Am in awe at the time management as ever…

    1. Thanks Sophie – would be really interested to see other people’s versions!

      I think it’s really important to make technology decisions and purchases with productivity in mind. If you have a productive routine it allows you to get *so* much more done! 🙂

  4. Hi Doug,

    I really enjoyed reading this and have been thinking about your challenge to do one for myself, but my tech use is too inconsistent at the moment to produce and ‘average’ day. There are a couple of reflections that I’d like to offer…

    Firstly, like you, when my son was three I had him using all kinds of tech – his keyboard skills and understanding of how stuff works is great now he’s seven. However, we have three children now and it is become an increasing challenge to keep his interests varied and constructive, whilst at the same time providing the same opportunites that he had to the younger two children.

    The seond one is that – ike you seem to do really well anyway – I have had to balance my output with my input. I was blogging, leading CPD, role modeling, performance-managing without taking anything in. I’ve challenged myself now to read more blogs than I post (other people have more interesting things to say anyway…) and it’s been great – refreshing even. The antidote to burnout.

    1. Thanks for the comment, I certainly know what you mean about keeping
      children entertained with a diverse range of activities! Ben and I are off
      camping next Tuesday together for the first time. 🙂

      Regarding blogging every day, I was challenged by someone I know and respect
      via DM recently regarding the amount of time I spend on my blog vs the time
      I spend on my thesis. It may be time to re-assess outputs…

  5. Sounds like you have some great tools/gadgets… Paul and my brother are a bit like that with technologies and gadgets…most are very useful. Altho Paul and I have recently had to reassess our life/lifestyle as things like twitter, facebook and iphones were drawing us apart rather than together…it’s a battle and we had to take drastic steps but we are winning’s very easy to create a whole life ‘online’ and miss out on real life and real relationships…I’m sure you have a good balance anyway…

    1. Thanks for the comment, Laura. I think technologies often act as a catalyst and amplifier for attitudes and tendencies we already have. As in all areas of life we need to step back and take stock once in a while. Most things are good in moderation; it’s when we allow them to become addictive that there begins to be a problem.

      Take Facebook, for example. As you know, I’ve recently reactivated my account after, I thought, ‘deleting’ it in 2008. I’m keeping it strictly for family and very close friends. Twitter is for broadcasting stuff to the masses. I’ve attempted to set out what I’m doing here:

      Often, I think, we start out with the best of intentions but get waylaid by not wanting to offend people or ‘just’ doing X or Y. We need to be self-disciplined and considered users of technologies. :-)

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