Open Thinkering


Month: April 2021

Smartwatch ramblings

Update: I ended up buying a Garmin Venu 2S, which I’m really happy with. An in-depth review of this newly-released device that I found particularly helpful can be found here.

Earlier this week I bought, and then returned, a TicWatch Pro 3 Cellular/LTE. I’m writing this to organise my thoughts a little bit. There’s a good chance it may end up being useful only for my own purposes, but that’s never stopped me putting things out into the world. So… if you’re not interested in smarwatches (or technology purchasing decisions) you may want to stop here.

By way of background, I’ve had an Amazfit Bip for at least a couple of years. I can’t actually remember when I got it, but I do remember that I had to import it. For a sub-£50 smartwatch, it’s pretty incredible: a battery life of over a month, GPS run tracking, customisable notifications, and Gadgetbridge support.

The problem, such as there is one, can succinctly be described as “I spend too much time staring and scrolling at my phone”. My crafty idea was therefore to replace the Bip with something that didn’t just serve up notifications (that cause me to check my phone) but instead allows me to replace some of the core functionality of my smartwatch. In other words, I want to be able to:

  1. Make/receive phone calls
  2. Compose/reply to messages (SMS, Telegram, ideally Signal)
  3. Listen to music (not just control it on my phone)
  4. Pay for stuff in shops
  5. Not worry about charging it every day

The aforementioned Ticwatch was the only device compatible with my Android phone that seemed like it would do the job. It gets good reviews. The Apple Watch seems like it’s a marvellous bit of kit, but it only works with iPhones (not even iPads!) and even Samsung’s smartwatches require their own devices for activation.

I had high hopes, therefore, when I received the Ticwatch, especially given how deep Team Belshaw is into the Google ecosystem at this point. It runs Wear OS which, although I’d heard mixed things, couldn’t be that bad, right? I almost kept it. I really did. But here’s the three reasons why I ended up sending it back:

  • Battery life — I’ve been entirely spoiled by the always-on, transreflective display of the Amazfit Bip which, as I’ve already said, lasts a month between charges. To do the same with this watch meant charging at least once per day (despite the ‘three-day’ claims)
  • Underwhelming ecosystem — the apps available on Wear OS feel a bit like the situation with the Nokia N95 I had over a decade ago. In other words, people scratching their own itch (which is great) but the whole thing not feeling like a unified whole.
  • Vodafone exclusivity — to get independence from my smartphone, the Ticwatch had to have a Vodafone eSIM. While there are some workarounds, in the UK I’d still have to a) change networks, as eSIMs are only available on Vodafone, O2, and EE, and b) pay a lot more than the £10/month I’m sending to giffgaff.

Looking at other smartwatches compatible with my device presented a bewildering array of options. So, to help, I created this Venn diagram:

Venn diagram with 'cellular connectivity' / 'battery life' / 'music storage'. The overlaps are numbered.

Here’s the categories in each overlap, as far as I see them:

  1. Nada/nothing
  2. Ticwatch/Fossil (plus the Garmin Vivoactive 3 Music)
  3. Amazfit/Garmin

You could argue that 2-3 days for a 4G/LTE smartwatch is all one can expect in 2021 and that, therefore, Apple and Samung’s offerings should be in the middle of the Venn diagram. But if this was a four-circle diagram, there would also be “not locked to a particular vendor” so they’re not getting that accolade.

This, then, is the current state of play, as far as I see it in late April 2021. I’m very tempted by the Garmin Vivoactive 4 or 4s which does everything apart from cellular connectivity. It even syncs Spotify playlists for offline listening, which is useful when out running. Garmin Pay is also supported by my bank. Another option would be an Amazfit GTS 2 or 2e.

The outlier is the Garmin Instinct Solar which has a fantastic battery life and can, as the name would suggest, get a top-up charge from the sun. However, no music nor contactless payments, and the sun doesn’t shine in my home office (nor as much as I’d like it to in northern England, to be fair).

I won’t lie, I have considered getting an Apple Watch, but I’m not going back to that ecosystem, cosy as it was for a time. Nor am I getting into bed with Samsung. So at the moment, the conclusion to this blog post, I’m afraid, is a very big ¯\_ (ツ)_/¯

(I did warn you.)

Weeknote 16/2021

Wall with shield engraved into it, along with some markings and 'AD 1857'

This week I realised, if I didn’t know already, the value of working with people I know and trust, and who work quickly. There’s nothing so soul-crushing for me than for things to take (much) longer than they should do, just because of politics or a lack of ambition. That’s why I enjoy working with my We Are Open colleagues and, this week, I’ve been reminded of how awesome Laura is. Shepherding 10 charities through a funded programme is not an easy thing to do, but (with some help from the rest of us) she absolutely nailed it.

While that project came to an end with all of the charities presenting their playback slide decks this week, the Catalyst-funded project I’ve been managing kicked back into gear for an extra two weeks. We haven’t got ages to get work done, but I’m pleased that the DWP have shown such interest in what we’re doing, and I’m pleased that we get to combine the functionality of two of the prototypes we came up with. Hannah‘s done a great job of sketching out the next steps.

Other than that, I’ve been working on some We Are Open website stuff which we’ll announce on our fifth birthday next week, and on the Greenpeace project that cannot be named. Oh, and some business development, as ever. I can’t believe I was ever worried about our co-op not having enough work on!

I wrote this week about checking out of therapy, something I had planned for a while. To mark the occasion, I bought my children each a different memento mori, and my wife something which has emblazoned on it “embrace the ordinary”. I told the kids that they were to put it on their bedside table, and to keep it long after I’ve gone, as a reminder that one day they will die. As a result, they should act accordingly and, you know, carpe diem.

This was perhaps particularly poignant for my son, who was stretchered off the football field last Sunday, damaging again his neck and shoulder with which he’d had a problem before lockdown last year. It’s never nice to see your offspring go into shock, with eyes flickering, but thankfully, after gas and air in the back of the ambulance he was in better shape by the time he got to hospital.

He’s had the week off school, and there doesn’t seem to be any permanent damage in terms of loss of sensation to the left side of his body. It might be a couple of weeks until he’s fully back to his sporting activities, especially as he’s still on painkillers. We’ll see. Meanwhile, my wife had the COVID jab this week and felt a bit ill the next day, so it’s been great fun Chez Belshaw, mopping brows and doling out medication.

I bought some KORG volca synths last week, cashing out some of my crypto to do so. I feel a little smug about that, given the crypto price crash this week. Nothing lasts forever. I’m still terrible at even understanding what these little music-making marvels can do, but at least I’ve got them all synced up together. My new EP, Music To Make Your Ears Bleed, Vol.2 will be in no good record shops anytime soon. It’s made me appreciate even more the work of my friend Oliver Quinlan, who as Mentat, is a DJ, producer, and record label owner.

Right now, everything’s in my home office, which will need to change. Not only do I already spend a lot of time in that room during the day, but in the evening my kids are often in there playing on the PlayStation. We don’t have a huge house, so I’m perhaps going to have to get creative with space before we move house (hopefully next year!)

Next week, we need to get the majority of the additional Catalyst UC project out of the door, and I’ve got some media production to do for the Greenpeace work we’re doing. That, and helping getting the new co-op website ready for our fifth birthday on May 1st!

Photo of abandoned chapel along one of my running routes near the River Wansbeck near where I live in Morpeth, England.

Checking out of therapy

I checked myself into Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) in September 2019, a month and a half after one of my good friends passed away, and after another friend talked about how much CBT had helped him.

I checked myself out of therapy yesterday. Until next time.

Quick backstory

Even pre-pandemic, the NHS was overwhelmed with people self-referring for things like anxiety. This meant I ended up paying for my 17 sessions; for the price of a decent laptop, I changed my life.

Based on a recommendation, I was helped by Johnny from Blue Talking Therapies. I’m not sure what I expected, but a tattooed, straight-talking guy pulling on his own experience of some of the stuff I was going through probably wasn’t it.

That’s because, probably like most people, the only knowledge I had of therapy came from films, with neurotic people lying on coaches being asked questions by a psychiatrist with a clipboard. Let’s just say my experience was pretty much the opposite of that. No digging into repressed childhood memories, and about half of the sessions ended up happening over Zoom.

What is CBT?

CBT is a problem-focused and action-oriented talking therapy, with the following diagram used a lot::

CBT basic tenets: Behavior - Feelings - Thoughts
CC BY-SA Urstadt

The whole point of CBT, in my case at least, has been to enable me to be myself without wearing a ‘mask’. It’s possible to paint yourself into a rather unhelpful corner by being the person everyone else expects you to be. That wasn’t helping me either professionally or personally, so decided to do something about it. Of course, I didn’t know what the problem was, other than a feeling that something wasn’t quite right.

The reason I wasn’t being myself, it turns out, stemmed from a fundamental belief that I’m not “good enough”. It took about 10 sessions of archaeology to get there. It was like a more sophisticated version of asking “why” five times, with Johnny (gently) pulling me back from my rambling anecdotes to the job in hand. The great thing about CBT is that it doesn’t particularly matter where and how this problematic belief came about; I’ve learned to spot it, and deal with it when it does.

Most recently, I noticed this belief manifesting itself in a need for praise from everyone around me. I’ve realised that I often set up situations to solicit positive feedback from people about both professional and personal stuff. As Johnny helped me realise, even if I do then get that praise, it ends up being meaningless, because I asked for it.

For me, CBT goes hand-in-hand with my study and (attempted) practise of Stoicism. I’m not the first to notice this link: in fact, it’s no surprise that Donald J. Robertson, perhaps one of the foremost thinkers on modern Stoicism, is a cognitive psychotherapist. He’s written about the links in many places, including his books, and this article.

Ending my therapy (for now)

I know a few people who are in therapy who, for entirely justified reasons, keep it to themselves. I’ve chosen to be open about the process, not because I’m on some big crusade to get men to talk about their feelings (although there is that angle) but because I work and live openly, and this has been a big part of my life for the last 18 months.

Some might ask, “how did you know you were ready to end therapy?” Well, first it’s worth saying that I’m sure I’ll need to talk to Johnny or another therapist at some point in the future. But the main thing was realising that, in my appointment yesterday, scheduled to be three months after my last, I was having to think about things to discuss with him. That’s never been the case previously. Plus, rather unhelpfully, I guess, you just know

Get in touch!

The most scary thing about it is making the first appointment. In reality, it’s no different to going to the GP when you’ve got a physical problem, the only difference is the (ever-diminishing) stigma.

If you’d like to talk to me about my experience of therapy, feel free to drop a comment below, or email me directly ([email protected]).