Bye Bye Bear 🐻

Science is organized knowledge; wisdom is organized life.

—Immanuel Kant.

I’m a big fan of taking notes to organise my work and life, and I’ve been using Bear as a notetaking app over the last few years* (coming across from Evernote). I like it for its simplicity but it seems like this simplicity has become its Achilles’ heel.

I started using a separate Apple ID for my work and the issue with Bear is it’s macOS and iOS only and it uses iCloud sync so I can’t use it on my work laptop which uses a separate Apple ID – there is a plan to have a web version of Bear at some point but the intention has been talked about for years but nothing has happened.

At some point you give up on what you love and find something that works for you. I’ve been using Zoho Notebook for a few weeks now and I like it. It does tables (which bear doesn’t support) and I like how it arranges notes (or cards as it calls it) into separate notebooks reflecting real life. There’s clients for macOS and iOS (which don’t use iCloud for syncing) and also a web version for use anywhere anytime. It seems to suit my purposes well and it’s free (supported by development of other Zoho products).

My notebooks look like this:

What do you use to organise your work/life/notes?

*We also use a Simplenote account logged into multiple iDevices to share text snippets/to do lists for our household.

Automated Testing JavaScript Life

Minesweepers Anonymous

Once upon a time there lived a couple who loved playing massively multiplayer online role-playing video games with each other (World of Warcraft or Destiny or something). The thing about these games is that they’re a bit like exercise/fitness where you need to keep playing them to keep your score high, and if you don’t you play them (or exercise) enough your score (or fitness) starts dropping which makes it much less fun overall.

So playing these games all went well for the couple, for a while.

Ask Me Anything Life Meta

AMA: helping change ways

Sean asks…

Have many people told you that you’ve helped change the way they consume (and abuse) the internet? Alister, thank you very much for radically changing the way I approach data, everyday tasks, testing, and development.

My response…

Well actually… once I was conducting a job interview and the candidate said something along those lines but I put it down to him wanting me to give him the job 😜

But thank you for the enormous compliment. If I can make a single person change their mind on something I write about then it makes it all worthwhile 😎

Ask Me Anything Conferences Life Presentations

AMA: Any more talks planned?

Anonymous asks..

I learned who you were by watching your Google automation talk last year in 2015. Your presentations are really nice. Are you planning on giving any other presentations this year or next year?

My response…

My short answer is no.

My long answer is also no because I actually don’t actually enjoy giving presentations at all. I wrote about my battles with anxiety last year and whilst I am 90% better than I was, last year I committed to present three talks in less than two months which resulted in me having panic attacks about giving these talks. This wasn’t fair on my wife or children who I need to support on a day-to-day basis.

Each talk requires a huge amount of preparation and since my personality leans towards perfectionism I wanted to make sure each talk was as good as it could be, so I wrote every word of each talk and (unsuccessfully) tried to memorise these. This resulted in me delivering the talks partly reading what I’d prepared, which I wasn’t happy about as I was comparing myself to others who delivered their talks without notes.

The reason people give talks is that speech is an amazingly effective communications tool – probably the most so – yet it’s a drastically inefficient communications tool – each minute of a talk requires at least an hour of preparation. I much prefer written communication as I find confidence in writing, and I hope with frequent, thoughtful updates to my blog I can reach a wide audience and still be effective in spreading new ideas.


Make your employees productive

I’ve stated this many times before, but I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to do anything you can to make your employees productive.

This recent article explains how important this is at Facebook, to the extent that they have two vending machines on every floor where employees can self-serve themselves to common equipments such as keyboards, mice, cables and headphones using their employee badge (items are free although prices are displayed to encourage staff to question whether they really need $200 headphones). This was because they found 20% of help desk calls were for simple equipment requests.Facebook also makes sure staff don’t spend unnecessary time fixing issues with their laptops:

Mr. Campos said that some companies try to squeeze every last penny out of laptops that aren’t working properly and employees bear the burden of that approach. The cost of a laptop, $1,500 to $2,000, is minor in comparison to hampering the productivity of an employee who makes $100,000 per year, he said.

~ Rachael King – Wall Street Journal – on Facebook


So if you have staff who work in software development, make it as easy as possible to be as efficient as possible by providing everyone with:

  • local admin rights to computers so employees don’t waste time contacting the help desk to install necessary development tools;
  • unfiltered high speed Internet, free of restrictive proxies, so staff can access the material they need to do their job quickly;
  • reliable and efficient hardware including solid state drives for every staff member;
  • choice of browser: locking machines down to use an old version of IE is like torture for most staff who use a modern browser like Chrome at home;
  • up to date software: employees resent having to use Windows XP at work when they’re using Windows 8 or Mac OS X at home;
  • a clean, consistent place to work eg. don’t make employees hotdesk (and if you do – provide enough clean workstations to avoid employees spending time ‘hunting’ for workstations); and
  • like-for-like remote access: to make it easy to work whenever you want to.

Some of these seem almost ridiculous to mention, as without them your staff can’t be productive at all, but the number of workplaces I have seen that fail to meet any of the above provisions is crazy. I can’t count how long I have spent on the phone to a corporate help desk to get trivial things done, spent copying software from personal USB keys to workstations because the proxy blocked it, hunting for a free workstation or dealing with reliability issues of hardware all because employers have failed to take any of these things into account.


On fairness

“I think perfect objectivity is an unrealistic goal; fairness, however, is not.”
~ Michael Pollan

Out of all my values, fairness ranks fairly highly: most likely in the top one or two. There is little that frustrates me more than lack of fairness, and in a workplace/societal context it is rife.

Some examples:

Lack of fairness shown by colleagues:

  • Colleagues who turn up late each day, taking long lunch breaks and then leaving the same time as everyone else, only to never catch up on any work from home;
  • Colleagues who blatantly disobey leave request procedures and take leave whenever they wish without peer consultation and without any consideration of work/project demands;
  • Colleagues who are act above and beyond other employees by refusing to do tedious, but necessary, tasks.

Lack of fairness shown by employers:

  • Punishing all employees in reaction to a handful of employees misbehaviours: eg. strictly filtering Internet access because someone accessed something they shouldn’t have, taking away or stripping back employee entitlements for everyone due to misuse by the minority;
  • Continuing to promote employees who aren’t considered leaders amongst their peers;
  • Practicing ‘positive’ discrimination through employment quotas and ignoring other hardships that employees may have faced.

Lack of fairness shown by Governments:

  • Preferential tax treatment of the well-off. An example in Australia is negative gearing, a unique situation where the wealthy are entitled to tax payer subsidies for investment properties whilst ordinary Australians who rent get nothing.

Combating lack of fairness

“Do you truly believe that life is fair, Senor de la Vega?
-No, maestro, but I plan to do everything in my power to make it so.”
~ Isabel Allende, Zorro

What can you do to combat the rampant lack of fairness?

The only thing we can do is model behaviour ourselves that we want to see in the world, so this means striving for fairness in all that you do. It also means calling out lack of fairness. This is particually tricky as it gets a lot of people offside, but in the long run it is well worthwhile.