Born in Dublin, but raised in London. An introvert with extrovert tendencies. A warped sense of humour with a serious side. Expect posts on technical communication, human rights, politics, and sport.
Author: Colum McAndrew
Born in Ireland. Living in London. My childhood was spent discovering new ways of injuring myself, something I'm still trying to learn from. Expect observations on sport, politics, human rights, and technical communication.
A couple of weeks ago news broke of José Mourinho’s sacking as manager of Manchester United. It was hardly surprising. The team had been under performing, but more damaging was their style of play. The continuous defensive nature of their displays, combined with his negative demeanour, didn’t go down well with fans.
When news broke of his departure, a lot was made in the media of his payout. Rumoured to be £20m, it seems like a lot for being a failure. It comes with the territory though. His contract was for a set period, so some compensation was necessary for an early termination.
What wasn’t widely reported was Jose’s domestic arrangements. He’d lived in an apartment at the Lowry Hotel in Manchester since being appointed two and a half years ago. He’d chosen to live there, whilst his family remained at their London home. He is reported to have been happy with the arrangements, but it can’t have been easy.
José is quoted as saying, “The most important thing is my family and being a good father.” So the decision to work away from what is important to him and his wife, must have added additional strain to what was an already stressful job. OK Manchester isn’t a million miles away from London, but coming home to an empty apartment / house is never the same.
Anyone who’s experienced bereavement or coming home when their partner is away, can testify that it can be a very lonely experience. Even the strongest person can suffer over time as a result. I’m not saying that Jose did, but it could have been a factor.
In his mind, there were very good reasons for keeping his family in London. He’s very protective of them, and maybe the extra pressure of managing one of the world’s biggest clubs was something he wanted to protect them from. When you move your family, it is more than just houses that need finding. You’re taking children away from their school and friends, your wife away from her support network, and everyone away from what they’re used to.
I wouldn’t say that being away from those you love makes you worse at your job, but it doesn’t help when things aren’t going well. José Mourinho was widely criticised for his negative demeanour running up to his departure. Could this be partly because his domestic arrangements were finally getting on top of him? Only he will know.
I’ve been a Fitbit user for a few years now. I started with the simple but effective Fitbit Charge, before migrating to the Fitbit HR, Fitbit Blaze, and finally the Fitbit Versa. So how does the Versa measure up to those devices and the likes of the Apple Watch?
At first sight, the Ionic looks pretty cool. It’s round corners and beveled edges give it a sleek look, and the way the angled base appears to slide away, makes it disappear into your wrist when it is worn.
The Versa has the same three function buttons as the Blaze, one on the left and two on the right, but their functions are different. The left hand button just turns on or off the screen display, and if you hold the button opens up the music, screen wake, and notification settings. The upper right button allows you to select an activity, or if held displays any notifications you’ve not seen. The lower left button allows you to configure alarms. The right hand buttons can also be used to start, pause, and finish an exercise.
User of the Blaze will be familiar with the Versa’s workings. It is pretty much the same, except for some additions like the ability to:
Auto recognise activity
Turn on the GPS for specific activities
Access a clock face store
One major addition to the Versa is Fitbit Pay. This is like Apple Pay or Paypal, and allows you to associate your credit / debit card with the device. However it is currently only available on a limited number of financial providers. More are promised, but for now this limitation means most users won’t be able to benefit from this.
Another is the ability to download music to the device. This uses a Deezer subscription, although you can also add your own music via the Fitbit phone app. However the cost of a Deezer Premium subscription in addition to the Spotify subscription I have on my phone makes this a non-starter for me.
Additionally the Versa is water resistant, meaning that it can be used whilst exercising in water borne activities.
This is an area where Fitbit fails compared to other fitness trackers, and especially the Apple Watch. It seems like the majority of the R&D effort has gone into the tracker itself, with precious little spent on it’s accessories.
One such gripe is the charger that comes with the tracker. It just feels cheap. It works slightly differently from previous Fitbit chargers, as it uses a vice type hold. You have to pinch both sides and place the device inside before releasing. It may seem a little fiddly at first, but you soon get the hang of it. However the major beef I have is that the charger doesn’t automatically sit properly, unless you either remove the strap or take the trouble to flatten the strap. You shouldn’t have to do either.
Talking of Straps
The Versa comes with two straps. They are both the same black colour, but come in small and large sizes. This negates the need to work out what wrist size you have before buying, but is slightly wasteful. However it does have the advantage of having a spare strap if, like me, the small size fits you.
The straps are fiddly to fit, just like the Blaze, but are fairly cheaply made. It certainly doesn’t say “quality”. This has been an area in other Fitbit watches that I’ve been disappointed with. I’ve been lucky if they’ve lasted nine months.
There are a wealth of online providers that provide replacement straps and accessories, in addition to Fitbit’s own store. These other providers have the advantage of offering a wide range of styles and colours. In the past I’ve even purchased a high end leather strap for everyday wear, only to change it to the bog standard strap when exercising.
Just a word of warning here. The quality of some online Fitbit accessories not purchased through the Fitbit store is very questionable. For example you may find a cheap watch strap that is almost impossible to fit because the straps pins are incorrectly aligned.
The battery life of any Fitbit device is where it wins big time over an Apple Watch. The Versa’s marketing suggests you get 4+ days life from each charge. This all depends on the device’s configuration and how active you are.
For example, using the All Day Sync option decreases the battery life compared to synchronising the device manually once a day. Likewise someone training for a triathlon is likely to find their battery life is significantly less than someone who just walks their dog once a day.
When all is said and done, the battery life is considerably better than the Apple Watch. One major reason I didn’t invest in the Apple Watch was the 18 hour battery life. Even though users I’ve spoken to say they regularly get up to two days from each charge, this is significantly less than a Fitbit device.
Just one more note about Fitbit batteries. With all the devices I’ve owned, there has been a marked reduction in the length of time between charges over time. I’ve noticed the difference from about nine months on. On some devices, after a year the device has become unusable unless you’ve a collection of chargers at various locations. It all reinforces my previous thoughts on the general build quality. Either that or it’s a clever ploy to get us to purchase a newer device!
One nice addition is the number of developers willing to devote time to produce applications for the Versa. One example of this is the number of watch faces available. There are hundreds to choose from, with many of them free. There is one for everyone.
Some extend the functionality of Fitbit by using other services like weather updates. Some of these additional services, like some of the more sophisticated watch faces require a payment. However all of the ones I tried had a trial period of anything from one to three days before any payment was taken.
In my opinion Fitbit devices should not be compared to an Apple Watch. They are two different beasts. In the world of exercise trackers, Fitbit is the one to beat. Their devices may not have the same functionality as Apple devices, but then they are looking at a different market.
The price of the Fitbit Versa is significantly less than an Apple Watch. Throw in the additional battery life, and for me it was a no brainer to continue purchasing a Fitbit device. It may not be for everyone though. You need to think hard about what you want your device to do for you.
The look and feel of the Versa is a big improvement, as it the functionality. The only down sides are the build quality, particularly of the accessories, and the potential loss of battery charge over time. I’ve only had my Versa for about two months, but if past devices are anything to go by, I’ll have to learn to love another device this time next year.
All things considered, I’m very pleased with my Versa, and long live Fitbit so they can keep Apple on their toes.
Yesterday was the six month anniversary of my Mother’s death. She was 98, and had been ill for a few months. Even before the end game, she’d been gradually going downhill.
Last Christmas was a particularly difficult time. The whole family came around to our house for Christmas Day lunch, but halfway through the meal, Mum just slumped in her chair and didn’t move. She eventually recovered, but it was clear something was wrong.
I didn’t realise it was the six month anniversary until my sister texted me mid morning. She’d had “a moment” and reached out.
At first I chastised myself for not realising the significance of the day. Why hadn’t I at least made a mental note of it? Was it a sub-conscious defence mechanism to protect myself from the emotion of that period?
Unlike my sister who retired a couple of years ago, I’m still working. When my sister texted me, I was sat at my desk trying to deal with an issue that had landed on my lap. It required a lot of thought. So I made a note to ring my sister when I could talk.
When we spoke my sister asked, “Did you ever howl with tears?” I had to admit I hadn’t. Neither had she as it turned out. We’d both shed tears at specific points. I remember walking past a sweet shop whilst on holiday in September and seeing fudge being made. Mum loved fudge, and it set me off.
Part of the reason for the lack of extreme grief, is that both my sister and me saw it coming. Last Christmas was major sign, and it had been coming for a few years. It sounds callous to say this, but there were times when we wanted it to be over. There’s nothing worse than seeing the quality of life slip away from a proud and dignified lady.
The whole episode has made us both think very hard about about our own lives, and what we want should we ever reach the same situation. The two of us have talked about living wills, and even euthanasia. Of course it is easy to think clearly when its a hypothetical scenario. If you’re stuck in a situation like this, would I think differently than I do now? Big questions that are not to taken lightly.
At the end of the call, I added a reminder to ring my sister on the first anniversary of our Mother’s death. We’re in regular contact with each other, and occasionally visit each other’s homes even though we’re geographically separated.
It’s important to have that support network for when times are difficult. We may not be able to solve a problem, but just having someone else to talk to and say, “I’m feeling the same way”, can make a big difference.
This Christmas will be the first time for over 50 years where my family we won’t be together. We discussed this, but both wanted space. My sister particularly wanted a quiet Christmas Day to reflect on what had happened. We’ll meet up on the 28th and share a low key lunch together. Maybe next Christmas will be different.
It’s a question I frequently find asking myself and others at the start of a project.
Take one recent example when I was asked to input to a kick off meeting involving content inside our applications. With little by way of detail before the meeting, it was my first question. Getting an answer to this, involved lots of supplementary questions like:
What was the audience?
What level of detail they required?
When did they need it?
Why did they need it?
Where did we need to place it?
Armed with the answers, I could start to give meaningful suggestions on the content strategy moving forward. Without them, I’d be suggesting solutions without fully understanding why they were necessary. The end result would almost certainly be (at best) a solution that only partially met the objective.
This project highlighted the need for two distinct content types:
A more marketing / educational deliverable designed to make users aware of something (e.g. a new feature the first time they go into that area of the UI).
Specific problem solving content (e.g. how do I ensure the machine separates the blue widgets from the red widgets).
The project also means auditing the existing content to see what is already there, to highlight any gaps that need filling. It also enables us as a team to identify what content is out there that we weren’t previously aware of. Marketing may have material to address the first use case. Our Technical Trainers may have handouts and video tutorials also. Our online knowledge base should address the second use case, albeit in a generic fashion. If there are specific customer specific questions, we may need to look into how best to meet that need.
Wouldn’t it be powerful if once we’ve identified what’s out there, if we all took it upon ourselves to utilise it rather than reinventing the wheel. It encourages collaboration, and prevents that scourge of content providers everywhere: content silos.
So the easy part I’d over. The talking has finished and the content strategy is carved in stone. Now all we need to do is deliver it!
As we reach the season of goodwill / bah humbug / wondering if we’ve still a functioning government, it is time to show some gratitude to my fellow colleagues.
And what better way to do so, than to feed them.
My initial thought was to ask my dearly beloved to bake us some goodies. She enjoys baking. It gives her the excuse to do something useful apart from moaning about me, and it gives me an excuse to disappear off to my study / a football match / the pub. That’s how we’ve stayed together for 15 years!
The trouble is her propensity to not follow any recipe and make things up as she goes along. She freely admits this doesn’t always bode well for quality, but we’ve survived all these years by acknowledging each other’s strengths. I may know how to add more consistency into her baking, weighing ingredients and having some idea of what she’s going to add to the mix would be a good start, but she enjoys the thrill of wondering if her latest creation will be either be, well, “meeahhhh” or“damn that’s good”.
Roll the clock forward an hour, and I decided not to use my stock “I told you so” response when the latest bake (by her own admission) didn’t pass muster. She wondered what to do with it, and I offered some suggestions. Unfortunately none of them met approval, but they did illicit one further thought from her. I’d never thought of using a cake in that way before!
So as my fellow Mimecasters are purveyors of quality, I brought in some other shop bought treats for them to savour. They may not have the same creativity as Nagham’s baking, but you’ll have fun searching in the tin for your favourite.
BTW we do love each other really. See the photo for proof, and it was all her own work. Honest! 😊
According to Livewire, Wikipedia is a among the top 10 websites for number of hits worldwide. In fact it is consistently in the top 10, battling with tech giants like Google, Yahoo, YouTube, and various social media platforms.
Yet Wikipedia is unlike any of the other websites in the top 10.
For a start it doesn’t have a similar business model. It sole reason for existing is to provide a free resource for any internet user. Content is freely available, and can be edited by anyone, provided they stick to a few guidelines. In essence it rigidly maintains the ethos that the internet should be free to use, and open to all. It doesn’t rely on advertising, with all its operating costs covered by voluntary donations.
Admittedly Wikipedia isn’t perfect, but what is? With anyone able to edit a page, mistakes and falsehoods do creep in occasionally. Many a young aspiring journalist has fallen into the trap of accepting everything on it as gospel. But considering the sheer volume of data, it’s astonishing that the level of accuracy is so high. In fact that’s the very reason why it’s the go to online resource.
So the next time you Google something and see the first result is a Wikipedia page, take a moment to consider what it takes to run the service. Oh and if you can, give a little to maintain this wonderful resource in the way it was intended.
Yesterday, my local council ward held a by-election. As with most elections in the UK that follow the “first past the post” system, the winner was the candidate with the most votes. The system makes it clear who’s the winner, is less prone to confusion, and takes less time to announce the result.
So the system works, right?
I’m a political animal, but I’m not particularly close to any particular political party. It’s just that I recognize that politics touches every aspect of our lives. Whether you like it or not, everything from our wage packet, the transportation we use, to the way our children are taught is affected by local, national, and international politics.
This is why I always vote, and go out of my way to convince non-voters to do likewise. I find it hard to accept that 100 years ago women fought for the right to vote in the UK, yet most women don’t exercise their right to say who they’d like to look after their interests. I don’t buy the “They’re all the same” or “The party I vote for never wins around here” arguments. Voting isn’t just about wanting someone to win. It’s also about speaking up for what you believe in.
How did the by-election go then?
See for yourself below. A turnout of a little over 36%, means that two thirds of voters couldn’t be bothered to place a cross on a piece of paper. That’s sad.
Of the 36% that voted, less than 50% voted for the winner. In fact the winner’s total votes represented less than 17% of the electorate. That’s not so much sad, as tragic!
So what’s the answer?
There’s no silver bullet. No voting system is perfect, but it does seem strange that someone with less than a fifth of the available votes can be elected. Personally I’d like to see a combination of the following:
Compulsory voting: Countries like Australia make it compulsory to vote, with those not doing so fined.
A “None of the Above” ballot option: This allows disenfranchised voters to say they’re unhappy with the choice available, and it would force the Returning Officer to announce this option’s vote total as if it was a candidate. It would be striking if “None of the Above” won a sizable number of constituencies.
Make politics more inclusive: It’s fair to say those elected to the UK’s electoral bodies aren’t totally representative of the population. It’s improving, but much more needs to be done.
What isn’t the answer?
A more problematic solution is changing the rules, to make an election null and void if the winner doesn’t have more than 50% of the votes. This would clear up the issue of whether someone has a majority, but would cause a logistical and financial nightmare, particularly with national elections. The fallout could go on for months, with all the political uncertainly that goes with it.
You may not think that scenario would affect you, but you’d be wrong. The financial markets don’t like uncertainty. The chances are the pound would fall dramatically against other currencies. As a result:
The cost of government lending would increase, meaning there’d likely be less money to provide for those in need. To prevent this, the government could borrow more or tax us more.
The value of your pension pot would decrease meaning you’d have to save more to provide for your retirement. In turn you’d have less disposable income.
There’d be inflationary fears meaning everything from the price of your daily pint of milk, to the energy you use to heat your home would increase.
Do you still think politics doesn’t affect you?
No? Then for heaven’s sake please vote next time and make a difference.
When you think of evidence of forced repatriation throughout history, where do you think of?
More recently you may think of the Palestinians. A lot of their land has been forcibly repatriated by Israeli settlers, and access to what’s left made more difficult. Discrimination and harassment are daily issues for them.
Maybe you can think of Crimea in Ukraine. Annexed by Russia in 2014, although most of the population wanted this to happen.
How about Tibet? Or the indigenous populations of America or Australia? Both have suffered suppression of their culture, language, and confiscation of land.
Going further back in time, think of how European colonial settlers used divide and conquer tactics to suppress opposition. If that didn’t work, they weren’t afraid to use conflict to expand their empires. It could be argued that a lot of the problems in former colonial territories today, are a direct result of these actions.
All the above are good examples, but I bet there’s one that won’t make most people’s lists.
What? You need a clue?
OK. Here you are…
There’s evidence that humans existed here since 10,500 BC.
The west tends to be wetter on average, especially in the late autumn and winter months.
The Pine Martin and Red Fox are native species.
The population is less now than 200 years ago.
There’s only one city with more than a million population.
Still not got it? OK here are some giveaways…
Their patron saint is celebrated around the world by natives and non-natives alike each March.
They suffered a series of famines in the mid 19th century that decimated the potato crop.
Known for their like of a good tipple, they spell whiskey with an “e”.
The UK’s Tudor and Stuart monarchs implemented a “plantation” policy which saw Protestant settlers from England and Scotland aggressively colonise the country.
From the mid-16th century, Irish landowners were dispossessed to make way for the settlers. This resulted in a vicious cycle of rebellion against the English government, but only resulted in further dispossession of lands as punishment. The province of Munster was the first region to be heavily colonized, but following the Flight of Earls Ulster became pet project of King James I.
The displacement of the Irish was compounded by the threat to the Catholic church in Ireland. English Protestants dominated the Irish government, and Catholics were barred from holding state office. Additionally the Irish Parliament was subservient to its English counterpart as a result of the 15th century Poynings’ Law. Then during the early 17th century Irish constituencies were changed to allow the election of English and Scottish Protestant representatives, resulting in a Protestant majority in the Irish Parliament.
The past is your history lesson
There’s little argument, that the policy of colonizing Ireland has resulted in the issues we face there today. It is at the very heart of Irish history ever since.
Users of the internet generate on average 2.5 quintillion bytes of data each day, according to recent research by Domo. That’s a lot of zeros. Their report came up with this statistic having analysed publicly available data from a range of sources, including web measurement services like Internet Live Stats and news outlets like BuzzFeed.
Among the key insights were that on average, every minute:
The Weather Channel receives 18 million forecast requests.
YouTube users watch 4.1 million videos.
Google delivers results for 3.6 million searches.
Wikipedia users publish 600 new edits.
What’s more, it’s estimated that 90% of all online data was created in the last two years.
That’s a lot of data. So here’s a few more bytes to maintain the daily average.
EC Software GmbH, the Austrian company behind authoring tool Help+Manual, recently announced a free converter called eWriter. According to it’s own publicity:
Originally designed as a solution to all those Compiled HTML (CHM) files that no longer worked on Windows machines, it uses a lot of the same functionality of CHM files. It also supports Unicode characters, HTML 5 and CSS3.
Matthew Ellison of UA Europe mentioned recently that he’d tried it out using WebHelp output from Madcap Flare. It worked well for him, so I thought I’d try the same using WebHelp output from Adobe RoboHelp.
There’s a good introductory video on their website should you need it, but no help file. Thankfully the software is easy to use. It is pretty much just specifying the source and output directories, and your desired output format (.EXE or EBOOK). There are configuration options that control the size of the window and what actions users can perform, and there’s a useful option of saving the configuration to a file should you need to repeat the process.
I used the .EXE output option. The generation was surprisingly quick considering the number of files involved. Once the .EXE file was launched, the output was displayed is a browser type window, but looks exactly like the WebHelp output would. All navigational elements worked as expected. Even our heavily customised search tool worked well.
On the face of it, this seems like a useful tool in certain scenarios. However it does have some drawbacks:
Whilst it is possible to run some .EXE files on non-Windows machines, it isn’t something most users want to do. Therefore eWriter isn’t a viable solution if your users have an iOS device.
.EXE files themselves are problematic to distribute. Firewalls almost certainly flag them as suspicious, and maybe even reject them.
To get around the .EXE file problem, an option is available to output just the data to an .EBOOK file. This makes it easier to distribute, but users must have the appropriate reader application on their machines to open the file.
eWriter works well to package up any files in a directory into a single file. That in itself makes it very easy to distribute. It also displays the output in much the same way as the original output format.
However the limitations make this a nice to know solution. To most of us, it could prove useful at some point in the future, but isn’t right now. It’s one to place in your memory banks for when it does.