Category: Tools & kit

New tools for timesheets and blogs – @TimeCamp and @NewsBlur

I have new tools to play with.


I’m a writer and I work, almost exclusively, on a value basis: we agree a price and I deliver.

Charging by the hour/day or, worse, per word is a killer for both quality and trust.

However, I’ve always kept timesheets for my own analysis, so that I can see how much those value-based projects actually cost me in bloody, sweaty, teary hours. They used to be simple Excel spreadsheets, one for every project, so I could work out the actual cost per hour arising from either my poor estimating or delightful rat-holing. But, I always knew that created hidden gaps.

Continue reading “New tools for timesheets and blogs – @TimeCamp and @NewsBlur”

Banking and freelancing – @WellsFargo

Wells Fargo meeting the needs of non-traditional incomes.

Via the wonder of the web, an article in the Spokane Journal caught my eye.

In November, San Francisco-based Wells Fargo & Co. launched a new phone app called Greenhouse, which is being marketed to gig economy workers, as well as to people who are just getting started in learning how to manage their finances.

Continue reading “Banking and freelancing – @WellsFargo”

Funky font, serious function – Sans Forgetica

I love this. Researchers  at the Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology (RMIT) in Australia have produced a font designed to aid recall: Sans Forgetica.

I think I’ve wittered many times (mostly on the Burning Pine blog) about  how a little cognitive “friction” can aid learning and recall. The challenge in an commercial writing has been to get clients to accept the idea that hard equals good. The risk-averse always prefer muzak.

However, the science is well described in books like Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow, and Carmen Simon’s Impossible to Ignore.

The Times reports

It is designed to boost memory retention by disrupting a person’s usual reading patterns. Reading Sans Forgetica requires extra effort, unlike traditional fonts that many readers are able to scan without creating a “memory trace”.

This process, the font’s creators say, boosts engagement with the words and deepens cognitive processing, adhering to the psychological principle of “desirable difficulty”.

“It should be difficult enough, but not too difficult or too easy,” Janneke Blijlevens, an RMIT lecturer in experimental methods who also worked on the project, said. “There is an optimal level of difficulty to read which leads to the highest memory retention.”

He said that the font was ideal for highlighting important facts that might need to be recalled during an exam, such as dates, historical events and quotes. “You would certainly never set an entire novel in it,” he said. “I like to think of it as blue cheese, it works very well in small portions.”

The researchers recruited 400 students to test a range of memorable fonts and Sans Forgetica was the clear winner subverting the right amount of design rules without becoming completely unreadable. It was then tested alongside a more conventional font in a simulated exam. Students remembered 57 per cent of a section of text in Sans Forgetica, compared with 50 per cent of the text written in Arial.

A font that works like blue cheese. Perfect.

Image: my first play with Sans Forgetica. The lyric is, of course, Warren Zevon’s They Moved the Moon from the Transverse City album. Out of interest, that track features Jerry Garcia on guitar.

Death of the (standalone) camera

We all know it, but still startling to see the data. This from Statista:

To the camera and photo equipment industry, the rise of smartphone photography has had devastating effects. According to CIPA, a Japan-based industry group with members such as Olympus, Canon and Nikon, worldwide camera shipments dropped nearly 80 percent between 2010 and 2017. The steep decline was mainly driven by a drop-off in shipments of digital cameras with built-in lenses, the type that casual photographers used to rely on prior to the rise of smartphone photography.


Photo by Alfonso Reyes on Unsplash

Tools and kit – desk and office

For many sovereign professionals, your desk and your office will be where you do your greatest work. But, more than that, it’s your anchor, your lair and your retreat.

Invest the time to find the best desk for you, and to make your office the best possible environment in which to create your greatest work.

It may not be what you imagined. You need to balance form with function. I love the look of traditional, pedestal desks, but I have long legs and I hate the constriction of tucking them out of the way. In the end, leg space and a large, flat surface won out.

The Gentleman’s Gazette is always worth a visit and, here, it offers a guide to the Well-Appointed Office:

The desk should be the central piece of your office, both at home or external. It is there that you will write, read and – in a word – work. I like the mixture of old and new, of antique and contemporary: my desk is an English oak measuring 33 x 58 inches, over a hundred years old, that I bought at a local antique furniture shop.

And, here, to the all-important desk, where I learn that my personal preference is for a Bureau Plat:

On the matter of desks and offices, Cultural Offering has a long-running series on studies that you should check out, here. It includes this object of envy:

Pinterest is also, of course, a great source of inspiration.

We spend so much of our working day at our desk, in our offices, even with the liberty of flexible working and neighbourhood coffee-shops. It’s worth getting this grounding right.


Tools and kit – pens and ink #Writing

If you’re a writer, you have to love proper pens and ink. It’s in the rules. Even if most of your time, and all of your product, is typed. And, these days, even my always-carry-a-notebook is more often OneNote-on-an-iPhone.


But, all of the good stuff, all of the origins, all of the creativity begins on paper. In ink. From a pen.

After years of trial and error, drawers full of pens and a cupboard of opened and abandoned ink bottles, I’ve settled on these.


Great ink is a revelation. Some inks are thin, watery and scratchy. Others are as smooth and soundless as thought.

For the past few years, I’ve been a dedicated fan of J. Herbin inks:

Their standard range comes in 30 different colours. I’ve settled on three:

  • Eclat de Saphir (sapphire shard) for writing
  • Lierre Sauvage (wild ivy) for editing and annotating
  • Rouge Bourgogne (burgundy red) for oops-I-need-to-edit-my-edits

There is just one hitch. Herbin’s traditional bottles, as above are impossible to use, short and squat, with a long, narrow neck and a pointless “pen-rest”. The reason the bottles of blue and green are empty in the picture is because I decant them into more usable ink bottle. That said, it’s a small inconvenience for a great writing experience.


I have some every expensive fountain pens, both new and vintage, but for everyday, work-horse use, nothing beats the Lamy AL-Star.

The design is stylish, contemporary and ergonomic. They are simply great pens with user-friendly features like a window on the ink-reservoir, easy-to-change nibs and a comfortable, contoured grip.

They are remarkably cheap, too, for such a reliable and well-built pen, around £23 for the AL-Star and less than £20 for the Safari (which is the same design, but in plastic rather than aluminium).


Pens and ink. Everyday tools that deserve a little attention.

Tools and kit – the A4 Lihit Lab Teffa Bag-in-Bag

Sometimes, it’s the little things that make all the difference.

I needed a sleeve to provide a little extra padding for my laptop and the Teffa Bag-in-Bag from Lihit Lab is ideal. It’s constructed in tough black nylon (or orange or lime-green, if you prefer) and has a handy array of pockets on the front.


The internal dimensions are a generous A4 size (33.5 x 25 cm to the edge of the lining and about 40.5 cm across the diagonal) which easily holds my 13″ laptop. The pockets were a bonus for me but make the bag versatile enough that I’ve occasionally used it on its own as a portfolio.

And, let’s not get overly-anoraky. It cost just £10 (since increased to £11.53), including free postage from Japan. I’d have paid twice as much or maybe more to get the right solution.

Lihit Lab’s own website is an auto-translated delight, which offers the following additional selling points:

  • “There is a lid for fall prevention in a pocket with a gusset. (When not using a lid, it can be harvested inside the pocket.)”
  • “A main pocket opens in “letter of KO” big by the double zipper.”
  • “Even if it’s dropped with a cushion of POINT 4 2mm Atsushi, I’m relieved.”

Mercifully, you can also buy it from Amazon, here.

I originally found the Teffa Bag-in-Bag in this review on The Well-Organised Desk. It shows a different use-case and a more detailed review.

My bag for all seasons – @Buffalo_Jackson

Choosing the perfect bag for work is a no easy task. Unless you want to manage a fleet of bags and cases for every occasion, you need to find that elusive bag for all seasons.

Personally, I’d relied for much too long on the sheer convenience of my Timberland back-pack. It was well-padded, had pockets and places for just about everything and seemed to be indestructible. On top of that, after a few years’  constant use, it had developed its own little ecosystem of “essential stuff”: memory sticks, iPhone cables, hotel pens, painkillers, business cards, you name it.

But, it didn’t really support a professional image. It worked in the more casual, everyday setting of my mostly tech-industry clients, but in a boardroom, suit-wearing scenario, it just didn’t cut it.

I wanted a good quality, last-for-ever leather case that would develop its own patina with age. However, a highly-burnished Italian leather attache case would be overkill for less formal environments.

Also, I found that I really, really, really hated fake buckles. What is the point of putting a pointless buckle on the front and hiding a spring-clip behind it? If you don’t believe in buckles, at least have the courage of your convictions. It transpired that finding real, working buckles is a challenge. And, along the way, I learned a lot about the grading of leather and the weasel words sellers use to distract.

Eventually though, I found what I wanted in the US with this Dark Walnut, Denver Briefcase from Buffalo Jackson:

Denver Leather Briefcase – Dark Walnut from Buffalo Jackson (Image: Buffalo Jackson)

It’s constructed in thick, top-grain leather with sturdy, real, working buckles. It’s spacious with a good mix of versatile spaces and pockets for the vital small stuff.

Now, after 10 months’ use, it’s settled into a working routine. The front right pocket is home to my Moleskine and Lamy fountain pen, while the inside holds all the usual project papers,spare pens, iPads, recorders, water bottles and so on.

My 13″ laptop felt a bit loose inside, but I solved that with one of these fantastic sleeves from Lihit Lab, which adds a bit of extra padding, along with extra pockets.

My verdict: this is a great case to straddle from boardroom to skunk-works, with plenty of stop-offs for coffee along the way. It’s sturdy and versatile, it works well well with suit or jeans, and collects admiring comments as a bonus.