What do you use to track your time?

The first draft of this post was lamenting the changes to and my leaving of Hours. Except that’s premature, as I’m still using it. So I’ve re-written this as an open question to anyone who reads this. What do you use to track your time? Below are my criteria, and a few apps I’ve tried.

First and foremost. I don’t bill for my time, but track it so I can keep in the know on who much time I spend on projects, whether my own events, or client projects. Billing is a non issue.

Sync. Also a non issue. While it’d be handy to manage timers anywhere, the main device has always been my iPhone. So long as the app is mobile, I’m good. A Mac and/or iPad app are cool, but not required.

Reports. This is a big(ish) one. Hours really excelled at it’s reporting. Past tense. Now the free reports are pretty much shit, and based on updates and losses of data, I’m not willing to pay $8/mo. for reports. (there’s other things that $8 covers, see above as to why I don’t care). I want to be able to generate per client/project and over all reports. I’d love to see a high level annual report, or monthly or weekly reports, or what I spent time on. Exporting a PDF is idea..

 

I’ve looked at a few already.

Harvest is one of the most suggested. It’s very much aimed at tracking your time for the purpose of billing. Their pricing is evidence of that. I’ve no issue paying for software, however Harvest isn’t priced for someone in my (unique?) situation.

Harvest would be perfect if there was a level between free and $12/month. I (I assume I’m not the only one) don’t need more users, I don’t need any invoicing, and honestly unlimited clients is much, likewise unlimited projects. I assume they’ve looked into it, but for me going from 2 projects to unlimited is a big step and there’s a space in the middle for users like me.

I’ve looked at Toggl, which also has a ton of potential and is quite close to what I want. Except the UI is atrocious. Like confusing and sluggish on top of not overly attractive. Hours was simple and clean, which makes doing the thing it does great. Nothing gets in the way. I tried Toggl a few months ago, running concurrently with Hours. Hated it. The Mac app was nice, the syncing sucked. I’d start a timer, but it wouldn’t show up on my iPhone. I know sync is hard, and am happy without it. I might try Toggl again just on my phone and see what I think. I might have been too easily lured into the bells and whistles.

 

I’ve looks at Tsheets, which seems to need a login, so I’m guessing isn’t made for one offs, but larger things? Or just has a crappy on boarding experience.

I looked Chronomate, but it’s more aimed at tying into invoicing, which isn’t valuable to me.

I haven’t looked at it yet but OfficeTime might be promising, will see.

What’re you using/suggest?

 

Apple Carplay is so close

For my birthday i got a Pioneer head unit that brought carplay to my car.

It’s nice, it really is, but there’s much room for improvement. SO. MUCH. In fact this post was started months ago and now having lived through a few OS releases, my opinion is less.

I’m beginning to wonder if CarPlay is an AppleTV like hobby that will live on in a meh state for years.

What’s awesome:

better siri integration. I was already happy with shouting “Hey siri” over the radio, sometimes two or three times. Now there’s a dedicated mic that listens way better than the mic on the phone where ever the phone might be, and can silence the radio, pause podcasts and streaming music, it’s definitely better.

Pandora, iheartradio, and other sources of music. This isn’t carplay exclusive, but for me, the car was too old for anything more than taking calls over Bluetooth, so now I’m not limited to radio, and it’s liberating! Now if only the apps worked. I upgraded my TuneIn account then promptly wasted 7 months of paying when TuneIn vanished from CarPlay. It’s back, but pretty much sucks. I can’t access favorites, so have to listen to a station on device, so it’s in the “recents” list. iheartradio and Pandora both work much better.

Podcasts and audiobooks. Also not exactly exclusive to carplay, but i detest dongles and other extraneous connectors, so i never had access to either in the car, until now. I’ve removed (thanks to iOS 10.something) the audiobooks app because I prefer to read books, not listen to them, but my podcast consumption has increased now thanks to CarPlay. Our next cross country road trip will be tremendously more entertaining and informative.

img_0429Maps (also a what’s not awesome). The view isn’t very rich, and well apple maps is kind of meh, but nav is nice and the directions and such are adequate.

What’s not awesome:

Maps. Why on earth Apple Devs think this makes sense is lost on me. About 50% of the time, the maps app launches with the “follow me” option off, so the next time I glance at the screen, my arrow is nowhere to be seen. THere are so many seemingly obvious solutions to this.

  1. default always to “in CarPlay, set to track user”
  2. whenever the car starts moving, flip back to “track user” mode.

I get that sometimes you want to pan the map around, but when driving, I feel like it’s a safe bet I want to see the map following me.

Well in this case, being limited to maps. I love Waze. I’ve been using it since it launched. It’s a great app, crowdsourced data is amazing (especially road hazards and police). Apple pulls waze data in, but not all of it, mostly just traffic/congestion data.

Apparently waze doesn’t care about losing carplay users, since when asked about carplay, this was the response.

Well it was fun, but I’m not going to use an app when now my head unit can take care of it. Heck the iPhone mount on the dash is already gone. Thanks for all the fish Waze.

Apps, or lack thereof. There’s just not many, and that’s a bummer. I don’t want angry birds, but it’s a shame apple isn’t encouraging communication, music, etc apps to all roll a carplay add on in. Dash would be a great example of an app that would make sense on CarPlay. Nowhere to to be seen.

I know carplay is still relatively young, most makers are only now in model year ’16/’17 including OEM support, but I worry Apple will do what they often do with things that require third parrot support; build it, expect others to just adopt it, and watch it flounder.

Carplay is ok right now, not amazing, not terrible. I like my new headhunt (Thanks Tom!) but there’s so much more potential. If someone were to ask me if the upgrade was worth it, my answer right now would be, “not really”. A new car with CarPlay, sure, but going to the trouble of an aftermarket upgrade, I’d wait unless the head unit is cheap.

It definitely did give my car new life. I can connect over bluetooth (not at the same time as being wired) and play music, make calls, etc. More than one person can connect, which is nice, but for the costs involved, the gains aren’t that amazing.

I won NaNoWriMo 2016

nanowrimo_2016_webbanner_winnerIt only took ten years, but I finally won NaNoWriMo.

If you’re not familiar it’s National Novel Writing Month. The goal is start Nov. 1, and by the end of Nov. 30 have 50,000 words written.

Every year for the last ten years I’ve at least done something. Some years it’s been open the site, be too busy to dedicate myself to writing, and close the site. Some years I’ve started writing, either something new, or picked up something I’d started randomly in the year. I’d get various amounts of words in, miss a day, then two, then four then I’d see that I was so far behind the average per day needed to win, I’d give up. Ten Years.

This year, my friend Tom and I both decided we’d do it again, both agreed to give it our all. I was especially motivated because a few months before Tom had shared a manuscript he wrote some 15 odd years before, and after reading it, I was more energized to create my own.

capture-2016-12-01-at-12-33-32-pmI don’t know what was different this year, other than being a bit lighter than usual on “stuff to do” work wise. But I was able to start strong, and even when I fell behind a few times, it was never so much so that it became impossible.

I actually thought I’d crush it over thanksgiving, but did the exact opposite, then when I was in the final week, the little author dashboard on the NaNoWriMo site was like at this pace you’ll finish on Dec. 2. “SO CLOSE” So I made time, and pushed through. I crossed the “finish” line around noonish on the last day.

I think one factor of the win was that I finally found an app I enjoyed using to write. I’ve tried most every app out there aimed at authors, and haven’t loved any. Some of come close, some haven’t, some have simply gone away. Scrivener, is here to stay, the iPad app is great for when I wanted to try to add a few more words but didn’t have my laptop, the Mac app is fairly intuitive to use.

Until the last week, I wasn’t sure I’d finish on time or finish at all. I have to say I’m pretty darned pleased with myself. My plan is to let it sit a week or two, then go back over the story with an eye for cleaning things up. Then anyone who’s interested may read it (warning it’s Sci Fi). Then Maybe I’ll toss it up on Amazon. Who knows.

Any how, wanted to share, because like I said, I’m pretty pleased with myself.

I’m Slowly Adding HomeKit Automation to our Whole House

With HomeKit finally being pretty robust, and widely supported I’ve slowly started adding automation to the house. It started with replacing our Nest with an Ecobee, which has been awesome! Then recently I added a iDevices Outdoor Switch to the rooftop. We’ve got some nice patio lighting up there, that I hate plugging and unplugging. I used to just leave it on all the time, which is kinda wasteful during the day, but easier then going over to the plug and fiddling with the cover to turn it all on, etc. (yes, laziness rules the day)

img_0093With the Outdoor Switch not only can I just tell Siri to turn on or off the ‘rooftop lighting’, but also now the lights are on a schedule; sundown, on, 10pm off. Definitely makes it easy and more energy efficient.

The setup wasn’t super smooth. There’s an app from iDevices you use to get everything connected, and that’s a bit finicky. You have to make sure the device is in wifi range, the phone is on the wifi you want to connect (2.4gHz only of course) etc. but once set up, it’s pretty straight forward, and then you can just use the Home app in iOS 10.

I changed my wifi password and that caused some havoc. About an hour later and many many cryptic errors, i was able to reconnect the switch. I basically (YMMV) had to completely remove it from my “home” and erase it’s existence, then fuss with the iDevices app a few times to get it back to connected, then all was good. I’m not sure there’s a better way than that either, which is a bummer.

If you’re looking to upgrade your outdoor lighting controls, etc, especially with holiday light season coming, I can’t recommend the iDevices switch any more highly! Set up hurdles aside once it’s set up, it’s great and reliable.

I gave in, Trying Bluetooth Headphones again

I had a pair of bluetooth headphones ages ago… It’s hard to remember how long but It was around the time of the iPod Photo/color. That’s what I used them with in fact.

They sucked.

Comfort was not high on their list of things to be, they weren’t very comfortable, in fact they hurt to wear for more than 2 hours or so.

Knowing what’s going in it kind of a big deal to me, they were a PITA to charge, or rather to know when to charge. There was some combo of light color and blink rate that would tell you the status of them; connected, battery low, etc.

The finally fell apart about a year into owning them. I never replaced them.

2016

Well whether I want to or not Apple is forcing my jumping back into the bluetooth headset pool. I didn’t have to rush, they kindly offered what’s likely to be the first of many Lightning to 3.5mm adapters I’ll own (I’ve already nearly lost mine more than once). That said, while the adapter is nice, it’s already frustrating. “Where is it?”, “Did i leave it at the office?” etc.

I have some nice headphones a friend bought me, so those will likely warrant keeping the adapter around, but for runs, I’m convinced I’d rather not deal with the hassle of the adapter, and honestly no cords would be nice.

So, what did I get?

I picked up a pair of Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones, they had high marks on amazon, better than many more well known makers. Plus it’s Plantronics, while not a sexy brand, they’re no slouch in wired and wireless headsets market, so I figured they know what they’re doing. The long battery life they claimed was also a nice feature.

For regular workouts I’ve always used an iPod shuffle (I even found one in the street, when mine started to die, yay me!) but I think with a nice pair of Bluetooth Headphones I’ll likely just use my iPhone for workout music. One less device to sync, and charge.

So, the review

img_0095Ok so this morning was my first run with this headphones. Here’s my thoughts.

The packaging was lovely; very nicely done and easy to open.

Once you get the headphones connected (quite easy, paired on the first try) you’re asking to download an app. I’m not a huge fan of apps for single uses, etc but this one is well done for what it is.

There was a firmware update, which this app handled and got me up and running. It’s now in my “useless ?” folder for things I need for very limited purposes. I’ll probably never need this app unless they update it and it has a new firmware. Oh well.

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

Thought this was just a useless carrying case

The headphones come nicely bundled in what looks like a weird sorta pointless carrying case. It was just the headphones, and a USB cord for charging.

But then i noticed what looked like an armband INSIDE the case. A few minute of fiddling with it and BOOM!

Handy little phone holder

Handy little phone holder

An armband!

I don’t know if I’ll use it as I prefer my phone on my fore arm, and I prefer to see the screen, use the onscreen controls.

Though it could be a nice pouch for storing things, we’ll see, pretty sweet idea Plantronics.

 

In Use

My first run felt weird, I’m so used to a cord flapping around and getting tangled on my hand, it was a bit disconcerting at first. That said I got used to it fast, and it’s nice.

The headphones have plenty of volume, but you can hear cars coming and such, which is great obviously if you’re running somewhere with cars. I’m a fan of not losing situational awareness.

Sound quality is ok. I’m going to have to experiment with where my phone is (was on the inside of my fore arm this time). Other than the occassional burp of static, the audio was clear. On some songs it was hard to tell if it was the song or the headphones. Not a deal breaker and possibly just situational until i find the right arrangement. Certainly I wouldn’t want that while I work, but as these are for runs and work outs, it’s not really an issue.

Not that I expected to, but I was pleased I never once lost connectivity, and even with the random crackle, it was never more than a second, and never interrupted the music or anything.

The headphones themselves, have some nice features. The voice prompt is to be honest lovely! Power them up, “connected, X hours of listen time” is the first thing you hear. A tap of the power button gives you an update on expected listen time, and battery percentage. Very handy at the end of a work out so you don’t screw yourself the next day.

Oddly (unless I don’t know what I’m doing) the volume control is only up. Not really an issue as I like my phone accessible for skipping a track and volume anyway. The Siri integration is nice, i haven’t played a ton with that but suspect a hold of the “phone” button and i could just ask Siri to skip a track”

The buttons feel nice, it doesn’t take much pressure to trigger them, which is nice since it’s sitting in your ear and all, no need to hurt yourself.

Overall, I’m quite happy with my Plantronics Bluetooth Headphones and expect to enjoy these headphone for some time. At the price, they’re hard to beat!

My Apple Watch has rekindled my Love of Swatches

As a kid I love Swatch Watches. I only had one, but had many Swatch Guards to add some color.  As I got older I could afford a few more, and did. I have a thing for watches, I love them.img_0090

Eventually I moved from swatches to other watches. Lots and lots of other watches.

Then I got an Apple Watch and at first just had one or two bands. Apple sells theirs for honestly a ridiculous Apple price, however Amazon has plenty of non Apple bands to choose from, in far more colors than Apple offers. It went down hill quickly :)

On the weekends I have a nice leather cuff band I wear with my watch. It looks nice, and feels great. But during the week, especially with working out in the mornings or at lunch, I wear the sport bands.

img_0092Then it dawned on me, I have so many bands for my Apple Watch, why not mix and match them? From there I also found these nice little Protective Bumpers in awesome colors, and
boom, my love of Swatches and having a unique piece of kit was reborn!

I’ve gotten tons of compliments on the whimsy my watch bands show, which is fun.

Why I’m Moving Away from Dropbox

tl;dr; ditch Dropbox if you care about the security of your files and your privacy, get something else, I recommend Bittorent Sync

I’ve been in the process of moving from Dropbox for a while now, it started when they brought Condoleezza Rice on to the board. Nothing against her, exactly, but her stance on privacy wasn’t amazing to me. Not that she’d be in control, but still that choice said something to me about how Dropbox views user privacy.

Then Dropbox had some issues, hacks, breaches, etc. Then an outage or two.

Add to that, Dropbox download speeds are TERRIBLE. Customers have been complaining for years, and Dropbox does nothing. Few things are as aggravating as being held up doing your work, because Dropbox can’t deliver a file faster than 100-200kbps. When it’s a 30gb file, you start to question your life choices.

Enough was enough, especially when the result was usually “ooops, shit happens, so sorry” and complete silence on the speed issue. Dropbox clearly has the money, and has achieved “too big to give a shit about users” status.

So I started looking at alternatives. I found a few. I tried a few and the things for me were mostly: mobile client, reliability, and trustworthiness, all behind of course, security of my files.

SpiderOak, was my first choice, but their apps were terrible. The desktop app was confusing, the mobile apps only slightly less so. I struggled to use the apps for a few months and gave up.

Then I decided since the cloud is just someone else’s computer anyway, why not use one of mine? Enter Bittorrent sync (now resilio Sync), which uses the bittorrent protocol to find the fastest path between two devices to move files. No cloud.

bittorrent sync

Bittorrent sync on my media center

For me that was fine, my Media Center is connected to 16tb Drobo, and it’s set to sync all things (there’s selective, and all, as options per folder). So it’s essentially my “cloud” location for all files. Every other machine and mobile device just syncs/has access to the things I want it to.

The mobile client is straightforward and easy to use, the desktop app (Mac at least) is pretty straightforward as well. You can see which folders are synced, who’s got access and if things are moving around, all very easy to follow stuff if you’ve ever used bittorrent for anything else.

Pros

  • All files are on my machines, no one elses.
  • All files are on my machines, no one elses. (important enough to be said twice)
  • Faster than Dropbox, by margins that should embarrass Dropbox

Cons

  • Sharing. This doesn’t apply to me much, and is really why i keep dropbox around; sharing files with others. Dropbox is ubiquitous, so rather than explain bittorrent sync, help with install, go through the more secure invite system, etc. I simply share files via dropbox.

Not really a con, but a result.

  • I cancelled my Dropbox subscription so have only the basic amount of storage (saving me a ton of money), which sometimes causes issues when receiving big files, but oh well.

Set up is easy, install, get the pro (if you’re doing that) licensing set up, then set up each folder you’d like to sync. It’s a bit slow to start as you have to add each folder to each device, but once that’s done it’s pretty nice, and as you add devices they don’t all need the same folders.