Happy New Year!

Three months have now passed since my last blog entry. Facebook friends and Twitter followers will have also noticed that I have not been posting so frequently on those platforms either.

Whilst this has been partly a reflection of my schedule (having less time to post), it’s also been a semi-conscious decision.

Life has changed quite a bit these last few months. The big change of course has been the arrival of Ricky, who is doing really well. He’s growing so fast, developing new skills every week (he did his first tummy-time head-lift a couple of days ago!). He’s also had his nappy changed no less than 893 times, and has spent almost 120 hours feeding (and that’s pretty accurate thanks to the tracking app Twinkle and I use). He’s sleeping through from 8.30pm to 4am most nights, and looking very cute whilst doing so.

It’s hard to tell if there’s any character traits emerging yet – and I’m not sure what we’d be looking for if we were being obsessive – but his temperament (so far!) is generally calm and quiet (aside from when his digestive system is giving him grief as it does fairly regularly, not uncommon in babies).

He’s smiling now when we play simple games with him (tickling, touching noses etc), and seems to have grasped that it’s not just mummy who’s important, but that I am someone to be liked and laughed with/at (since 2 weeks ago).

We’re very excited to see him continue to develop, to see his personality emerge, to be his guides as he discovers the wonders of the world.

Another big change was around the same time as his birth – I switched my work pattern from carrying out multiple smaller video projects as Wild Tame Co., Ltd to joining a startup founded by friends – IMPACT Japan – (connected with TEDxTokyo). As a founding team member (although technically I’m a consultant provided by Wild Tame Co., Ltd; having our own business remains a core part of our life plan) I work out of the organisation’s new shared office, and am helping build the entire business / program from scratch. It’s a really interesting and valuable project supporting post-disaster Tohoku – you can read more about it here.

This shift of my resources was something that had been on the cards for several months. With Twinkle having left her full time job at the start of the year, Wild Tame was the sole employer of the family, providing video production / web streaming services to a number of Tokyo-based clients big and small.

My timing to enter the market (and specifically the SME/Governmental segment of that market) was not ideal – recent years have seen the web/ event video market become saturated, with some Japanese outlets able to charge ridiculously small sums for their services. Thus, whilst I was able to make enough to pay the bills, it was extremely time-consuming, and without capital available I was limited when it came to expansion options.

More importantly though, my heart wasn’t really in it. Yes, I was happy to be doing something somewhat creative, being my own boss, able to provide friends with employment, having a very flexible schedule, working from home …but ultimately, anyone could have done what I was doing.

I think that it was this realisation, coupled with the impending arrival of Ricky, that was the key to making me reconsider all that I was working 7-days-a-week for. Over the summer, Twinkle and I did a lot of thinking, mapped out various options, consulted with friends in relevant industries who had years of experience behind them. We listened, we thought, we developed rough business outlines, we scrapped them and went through the process again. We would settle upon a plan and keep that in our minds, and then see how we felt about our decision a couple of weeks later.

The most valuable part of this process was that it made it clear what we didn’t want to be doing (such as taking on investment and buiding our own creative agency).

Over time though, we found ourselves coming back again and again to something I knew in my gut – that a big part of our future was connected to my being some kind of performance artist. The successes I’ve had over the past few years with projects revolving around running, windmills and technology have been real highlights, indeed our greatest successes (bear in mind that Twinkle has been an important part of all of these behind the scenes). We see that these kind of projects also have the greatest potential in terms of enjoyment, creative contentment, self-improvement, health and the opportunity to travel; they are also the hardest to replicate in that they have to be original and are tied to my persona.

It was around the time of reaching this conclusion that I was approached by the IMPACT Japan team. I recognised the value in that project for the community (both in Tohoku and here in Tokyo), and saw that I was a good fit for the needs of a lean startup, being a jack-of-all-tech-trades. Having a repeat client that offered some flexibility (including flexible employment for Twinkle when the time is right, which is pretty soon) but a regular payment also gave us some security – something we’d like for the time being as this whole parenthood thing is full of unknowns!

Thus the decision was made.

Being in startup mode and having Ricky on the scene has meant that since October I’ve not actually spent any time on further developing my/our own projects (this is reflected in the lack of public posts). That’s OK. I needed some time to adjust to the new reality. However, with the new year, I feel it’s time to pick back up and put in consistent effort to make our dreams a reality.

So what does that mean in reality? Well, there’s plenty of practical steps to be taken, such as: get fit (not only for the marathon on Feb 23rd but also as fitness is a key part of my image of myself); spend time developing my contraptions (as I have done this week, see the video below); spend time thinking up, drawing, prototyping new ideas; instead of reading news sites read design, tech and art related sites; learn the basics of OpenFrameworks to at least understand the potential, buy a RaspberryPi and make something simple with it…

But hang on, where’s the time going to come from to do this?

That’s a question I asked myself as I was being inspired by Give It 100. Initially I was thinking of setting myself a whole bunch of mini-projects using that platform to keep me on track with each, but then I drilled down, and realised that the main habit I need to develop is one of actively tackling procrastination.

I’ve come to realise that procrastination has become a bit of a problem, and is holding me back from realising my full potential (something that is important to me). Whether it’s reading all the news on the BBC site late at night, or not putting something back where it belongs at home (leading to a messy environment and a messy mind), I see it occurring on a daily basis.

I’ve been aware of my tendency to procrastinate for many years now, and have sought to turn it on itself by doing other things that need to be done when I see myself avoiding some particular task (which I really don’t want to do). But, that in itself is not tackling the fundamental issue, and I see now that it’s starting to cause pain in my life (and is a pain for Twinkle at times too!). This is pain that is totally unnecessary.

So, I’ve decided to Actively Beat Procrastination for 100 days. Basically, whenever I sense that I am procrastinating, I will act to do the thing that I am avoiding.

Coupled with this I am going to Actively Not Get Distracted. When it comes to computer work, I am a multitasker, and frequently flit between emails and other work, usually having multiple apps open on multiple monitors. I understand that multitasking does have it benefits, but for someone like myself I think it does more harm than good (just laughing at myself as I’ve just caught myself attempting to update another wordpress site whilst writing this paragraph!).

Because of how easily I get distracted I don’t think it would be a good idea to use the 100 Days site – recording and uploading a daily video is an invitation to divert my attention! Instead, I’m going to use Audioboo to track my progress.

So there we go.

Well, I think I’ll leave it there for this update. Thanks for reading.

Joseph

£19,000 for one hour’s work – application submitted!

Domino’s Pizza Japan are celebrating their 25th anniversary with an unusual recruitment drive: they’re looking for a single employee to work one hour sometime in December, for which they’ll be paid 2,500,000 (about £19,000).

Naturally, I applied.

What do you think of my resume? I thought it important to show a bit of imagination.

I only had about 90 minutes to create this from scratch today. If I’d had more time I would have added olives.

Top 10 Essential iPad Apps

I’m not the kind of person to buy a lot of apps. I don’t browse the app store picking up random titles that look interesting, rather I go in there looking for a particular app that I’m familiar with having used the OSX version, or I’m looking for an app that a friend has recommended. Thankfully I have a few friends who are compulsive buyers, taking their devices to the limit (literally – they can’t install any more apps). In addition to getting tips from them, I follow a few websites that pick up the best there is on offer.

Here then are 13 of the top 10 iPad apps I couldn’t do without:

Evernote

Free

A recent convert to Evernote, I am in love with this personal database app that comes complete with Optical Character Recognition (recognizes text, including handwriting as bad as mine, in any image added to it, making it searchable). Throw anything in there and it auto-syncs with the Evernote server, then to any device you have it installed on (iPhone, iPad, desktop etc). Photos, text, PDFs, text docs, audio – all with you whatever device your on. Whilst the basic service is free, I’ve chosen to upgrade to premium which has a few extra benefits. I’ve also bought a plugin (Voice2Note) that automatically creates a transcript of the first 30 seconds of any audio note I create – great for making notes whilst cycling!

LogMeIn Ignition

$29.99

What I first thought would just be a cool app to demo but that I’d rarely use has turned out to be one of those that I truly value. Basically, it gives you full remote access to any computer you register with the service. I’ve been using it a lot over the past month to remotely control Final Cut Pro (video editing software I have on my 17″ MacBook Pro) whilst out and about, starting the next stage of an export process that takes hours (but is complete by the time I get home). There’s also been times when I’ve needed files that I didn’t have on my iPad, in which case I’ve simply used LogMeIn Ignition to copy them to my dropbox which then syncs them to my iPad (or allows me to send someone else a public link for them to download from).

At $29.99 it’s not cheap, but it’s worth it if you have a home computer but often work when out and about.

Air Display

$9.99

Use your iPad as an additional external display for your Mac. No need for cables as this works using WIFI. Simply launch the app and your Mac will auto-detect it as a new display. Rotate the iPad and it’ll auto adjust to the new orientation. If you already have a second screen attached to your minidisplay port you can now have three screens!

I mostly use this when working away from my desk at a client office etc when I don’t have my usual second screen. Also handy for those situations where you’d like to just pick up your monitor and go show a colleague or family member something – now you can!

One thing to note though is that the refresh rate is not that of a wired monitor, meaning its better for things like Twitter or your mail app, or web pages used for reference than it is for videos.

Dropbox

Free

Great way to quickly share docs across all your devices. Need I say more? If you’re not using it, you should be! Use this link and I’ll get more space added to my plan, and love you even more.

Goodreader

$1.99

At one point this was the #1 paid iPad app – and with good reason.
“Super-robust PDF reader with advanced reading, annotating, markup and highlighting capabilities, excellent file manager, TXT file reader and editor, audio/video player, Safari-like viewer for MS Office and iWorks files.”

What I like most about this is the ability to connect directly to gmail accounts and retrieve any attachments. It’ll also work with dropbox, standard FTP servers and more.

Apple iWork suite (pages, Numbers, Keynote)

$9.99 each

Create, edit and share word, excel and PowerPoint docs. Use the iPad when giving presentations with Keynote by plugging it in to a projector / external display. Doing so will enable you to use the amazing built-in lazer pointer that won’t take anyone’s eyes out.

1Password

$9.99

Ever forgotten a password? You won’t ever again with 1Password. This app is simply awesome. I have a database of hundreds of unique passwords for all the different sites and services I use, but don’t have to remember any. With 1 Password, they’re all stored securely, and synched across my Mac, iPad and iPhone. Couldn’t live without it.

Omnifocus

($39.99)

Powerful GTD-approach pro-task manager. As I wrote in 2008 when talking about the mac version,

If you are having to juggle a number of projects with multiple mini-deadlines, all requiring attention but some more urgent than others (and if you own a Mac), this is for you. It’s highly intelligent, flexible, and helps you get a clear idea of what needs doing when. Data entry is super quick and easy, and there’s iCal integration.

The iPad version looks to be a complete rewrite – and it is beautiful. Love the UI. Love ticking boxes having Got Things Done too.

Not sure I’d recommend it to people who aren’t so busy – there’s a lot of other cheaper / free task managers that may suffice.

Anki

Awesome flexible spaced-repetition flashcard app. – can be used to learn / memorise almost anything. Delighted that the developer has finally released both iPod and iPad versions. Not cheap, but after years of using the software for free on the Mac I’m more than happy to pay. I love the customization options, and the simplicity too, allowing you to focus on your studies. Syncs with iPod/iPhone/Mac

Here’s a quick intro to how you learn with Anki – note that this is the Windows version in the demo, but the functionality in the iPad version is pretty much the same.

Reeder

Reeder

Beautiful, simple RSS reader. Plugs into and syncs with Google reader – also syncs with iPhone app, has quick links to adding to Instapaper, sending via email etc.

Art Studio

$2.99

Simple yet powerful image creation / editing software. Used to create masterpieces such as this

Photogene

$3.99
This is what Photoshop for the iPad should be! Tools for crop/rotate/curves/redeye, all sorts of filters, ability to annotate photos too. Definite must-have.


Twitter (the official app)

Starwalk

$4.99
Awesome app that uses iPads GPS, compass and motion sensor to provide a real-time map of the night sky. Friggin’ awesome!

In the list above I’ve mainly focused upon productivity as that’s where my interests lie. Sure, I have a few games installed, but rarely play them. I also have a few magazine apps installed, but they’re also recreational so don’t get much use.

The combination of this hardware and software has had a significant impact upon my life. I find I’m able to be far more productive, dealing with tasks / requests as they come up rather than adding them to a to-do list for later.

…and also, I feel happier. I think the main reason for this is that the iPad gives me the freedom to work where and when I want. I don’t have to carry my 17″ MBP everywhere, but still have full access to all of my data.

Sometimes I even use it for watching videos of cats.

What are your favorite apps?

The line between work and personal life in an online world

The White Rabbit Press Kanji posterThe more involved I get with my work over at White Rabbit Press, the more I find myself wondering where the line should be drawn between my online-work and my (non-work) online-life. Being responsible for marketing means that of course, I’m doing a lot online for the company. My goal is to spread the word about our products in order that we can further increase sales, and therefore invest even more in new / even better products that our customers are asking for / that we feel are a good idea.

The thing is, I’m finding myself feeling increasingly passionate about what we produce, as the feedback from left right and centre is virtually always extremely positive (I think this is due to a) the fact that so much effort went into making sure that the products were better than all the competition) b) the governing attitude towards customer service within the company). I don’t feel that reluctance to spread the word about my company’s goods / services that I have done in the past, when paid to promote something I didn’t entirely believe in.

I’ve been looking around (online) for examples of others in my situation that I might follow, and see that:

1) The vast majority of people don’t talk about their work at all. If I look through my Twitter friends list, I only know the occupations of a very small minority.

2) There are notable exceptions to this rule, where people have actually taken their company brand and made it a part of their personal brand. There’s a few people on my list working for a certain well-known digital business card company. Their online avatars contain their company logo, they often tweet about their products / company events, and when I meet them they (jokingly) tell me off for not having my digital business card with them.

Now I happen to like and respect these people a lot. I don’t feel in the slightest that they have sold themselves. I admire the marketing work that they are doing, and I don’t feel pressured in any way by them. I applaud their efforts and hope that they carry on as they have been doing (if that’s working for them, which I believe it is because there’s little chance I’ll ever forget about their product!)

Why is this, when usually I might feel antagonistic towards such marketing campaigns?

I think primarily it’s because I know these people in real life, and I know that they are amongst the kindest, most helpful, interesting people I know in Tokyo. I trust that they are good people. therefore I accept what they are doing without hesitation.

So what do I do? Well, I think it would be difficult for me to seperate my online work life and online non-work life entirely, as there is so much cross-over in real life. My employer is also my friend, his friends are my friends, we’re members of this pretty well connected gaijin community.

The company I work for sells materials to help you learn Japanese – many of my friends have an interest in learning Japanese, many already know of White Rabbit Press, many of them already own some of the products!

I think that ultimately, if my motives are good, if I remain true to myself and don’t put myself in situations whereby I feel obliged to sacrifice personal values for the sake of gain, then I can happily operate in both spheres simultaneously.

I think it’ll take a little getting used to and I’ll probably make some slips upon the way, but provided I remain a fundamentally ‘good’ person, everyone should benefit.

Joseph

p.s. I made a new Facebook page tonight for White Rabbit Press – want to help me in my efforts by joining it?!!!