You don’t have to be creepy about it

But do your homework about people. I just had a terribly fun meeting with someone – er, I hope she enjoyed it as much as I did – and before I got to her, I'd read her blog. I'd seen her professional pages, I'd read what she did, I had an idea of some of the work she did.

I intended to stop there. The idea of coming to a meeting entirely cold makes me wince but equally I'm there to meet you, I'm not there to show off my deep research. I really want to meet you: easily the best part of journalism is that you get to bound off and say hello to people you might otherwise never come across. Utterly love that.

And I stopped intentionally looking into this woman's background. But I've been trying a free iPhone app called Mynd and it did some digging for me without my realising it.

Mynd is like a calendar assistant; I found it because I was exploring calendars and looking for why I nearly missed an appointment recently. I also found it because it got mentioned a few times by Katie Floyd on the Mac Power Users podcast. All it does, I thought, is show me my entire day in one screen: how many events I've got to get to, where the next one is, what the weather's like today. I also found that it calculates how long it's going to take me to drive to somewhere and it will say so right there on the screen: you need to leave in 10 minutes if you're going to make the appointment. Sometimes it sounds a notification too. I haven't figured out why it's only sometimes.

But I have figured out that it believes I drive everywhere when really it's more that I drive almost nowhere. So I got a Mynd notification that I ought to get out of Dodge and start the car right now when I was already on a train to London.

I was going to ditch it for doing that. I have Fantastical now that does all the work I need of managing my appointments and events. (Fantastical 2 for iPad is £6.99 UK, $9.99 US. Fantastical 2 for iPhone is £2.99 UK, $4.99 US. The iPad prices are launch offers and will shortly increase by about 33%.) Plus I don't care about the weather and when I do have a mind to wonder about whether it's going to rain, I ask Siri.


There is a panel on this Mynd screen called People and up to now it has always been blank. Today it showed a photo of the woman I was meeting. And it got that photo from LinkedIn. When I tapped on that photo, it showed me her short LinkedIn bio and then it had options for calling her. If you're running late, you open Mynd, tap the person's photo, then tap to send her a message. If you've got the number of her mobile, anyway. Or an email address.

That would be spectacularly handy if I were ever late for anything but usually I'm cripplingly early. Still, it's impressive.

What was even more impressive is that I scrolled to tomorrow, saw the first meeting had a fella's photo there – and behind it was a list of related Evernote documents. It's just reminded me of the last note I made when talking to him. Right there. I'd forgotten I'd ever made a note but there it is.

It's like Mynd gives you a personal briefing before you go to meet someone. I don't think that means you should skip looking in to them yourself, but I feel wildly efficient about tomorrow now. And I won't feel wildly stupid if he mentions the topic of my last note.

Mynd is free for iPhone on the App Store. There's no iPad or Android version.

Have a look at the Mynd website too. It proposes using the software as your sole calendar for a week and I've just learnt that you can do that. Bugger. I think I'll continue using it as an adjunct to Fantastical but it's handy to know that all the ordinary calendar functions are in this Mynd app as well.

Ten months 0% finance offer at Apple

Apparently only available in some parts of Europe – I just checked, the UK is one of the parts – this is a nice deal from Apple. I bought my office iMac through a similar deal last year and it was handy to keep my capital and only pay out a portion each month.

Mind you, it was also nice when the months ended and I could call the iMac my own. Just about the day my ten-months interest-free payment ended, though, Apple brought out a new iMac. It's as if they knew. The cunning rascals.

There are terms and conditions on this deal and you should eye them up carefully. See for details.

But the key points begin with the fact that you can only get the deal on hardware (seemingly you might include some software through the store's attempts to upsell you). Next, it's 0% financing for ten months and this is separate from Apple's longer-term financing deals. I don't know anything about those. But they don't get any of this 0% lark.

Last and maybe a killer point: you have to spend over aproximately £450. But then this is the Apple Store, you can do it. The iPad Air that I raved about here the other day starts from £399 but I would (and did) spend more by getting one with greater capacity. The new iPad mini with Retina display starts at £319 but bung in more capacity or a Smart Cover and you're away


If you only buy one productivity aid this Christmas, make it…

…an iPad Air.

I used to think I relied on my old, original iPad but it was a toy compared to the new iPad Air. Mind you, I did give my old one to my mother about two months before the new model came out so I had a lot of time to notice how much I was missing having one. Actually, my OmniFocus work fell off badly: if you don’t know OmniFocus, I should tell you that it’s a kind of bionic To Do manager that pretty much completely runs my life. If you are now intrigued by OmniFocus, I have to warn you that it only runs on Apple gear. It’s also comparatively expensive – well, it’s expensive when you compare it to all the free To Do apps; it is not in the slightest bit expensive when you contrast it to how much use it has been for me.

One of the things it does is let you focus only on what has to be done right now and what can be done right now. It does that by hiding away everything else but that only works, that can only be allowed to work, if you periodically review everything on your list. There’s a thing called Review. It’s not wonderful on the Mac version of OmniFocus, it doesn’t exist at all on the iPhone version, but it is gorgeousness incarnate on the iPad one. So good that you are fooled into thinking it’s an easy thing to look at all your tasks and then as you go through everything, it’s so remarkably easy to see what you’ve got to do that you tend to just go get it done. I timed myself once for The Blank Screen book, just finding out how long a typical review took me and I was astonished that it was two hours.

In those two hours, I reviewed about fifty different projects with a total of, I don’t know, a couple of hundred tasks. I found I’d already done a lot of them – I want to say thirty, I’m not sure now – and as I went through them all and saw ones like “Email Bert to ask for your spanner back” I’d email Bert to ask for my spanner back. By the end of the two hours, I’d marked off many more tasks as done. And most importantly of all, I knew where I was with every project.

And could immediately forget it all. Forget it, knowing that it was all in hand and that it was all in OmniFocus. Knowing that if it wasn’t something that would come up in the next couple of days, I would at least see it during the next review. I could concentrate on now. The fact that you can park the thinking and churning and worrying about things you can’t do yet and instead put all that engine effort into what you can, it’s life-changing.

Except it fell over completely when I gave away my iPad.

So the first thing I installed on my new iPad Air last month was OmniFocus. I swear to you that I breathed out. And I thought that would be something to tell you, I thought that would be enough to tell you, all by itself.

Except you may already know that iPad Airs have a ten-hour battery life. What I did not expect is that I would use up that battery life almost every day. The ten hours is true, actually the ten hours is conservative, but I use the iPad so much that I have had to charge it up again nearly every night. Don’t take that as a criticism of the battery, take it as a gulping assessment of how very, very much I use this machine.

Most of what you may have read on The Blank Screen blog was written on that iPad Air. I’ve written thousands of words on it in just the three or four weeks I’ve had it. 

And yesterday, Angela needed my bag as a prop for a play and that meant I couldn’t carry my iPad around with me all day. (As sturdy as it is, it’s also so light you can’t believe it’s strong so I’m looking for a case but haven’t found one I like yet.) I swear to you I got itchy. 

And that’s when I realised I am now life-support-dependent on my iPad Air. 

Have a look at them yourself. If you happened to choose to go through this Amazon link and then bought an iPad Air or maybe a car, I’d see some cash coming my way. But check it out on Apple’s own store instead: they have a lot more detail and some particularly well-made videos about the product.

Go to a real-life Apple Store too: just walk in and pick one of these up. I was working in Paris the day they came out and I tried one in a store there but wasn’t all that impressed with the apparent lightness. I was by the speed and the gorgeous display. Now that I have one, I’m very impressed with the display, the speed and the lightness too. Maybe I was wearing thick gloves that first time. I don’t kow.

Thanksgiving bargain: get TextExpander (Mac) for 50% off

I actually enjoy typing, I seriously do. I can’t handwrite, I can’t think with a pen, I can only work and fashion words or thoughts with a keyboard. So I resisted TextExpander for years: it’s a Mac utility that lets you type, say, “;em” and if you do it without the speech marks, it types out your email address.

It’s up to you what those letters are, it’s up to you what text gets expanded. Since I started writing Doctor Who stories, for instance, some fans made a Wikipedia entry for me and I am chuffed about that. I chuff about it enough that it’s handy to be able to type “;wiki” and have TextExpander change that to the link:

That probably happened too quickly for you to see.

I use TextExpander instead of email signatures: I’m not really a fan of signatures but since I write for so many different people in so many different forms, it’s really handy to be able to sign off with a link to my books if I’m writing to a publisher, to my journalism if I’m emailing a magazine. So I do that. And I do the wiki thing and I do the email address. I do my bank details too: because I keep forgetting them and you don’t want to get a digit wrong in that.

I also have a rather complicated TextExpander snippet – they’re called snippets – which I run when I’ve started a particular email. Two keys and it’s filled out the recipient, the subject, the body copy of the message and has thrown up a form asking me for the bits that change. It’s a financial thing so it asks me about this account and that invoicing amount and then it pops all that into the message, signs it off and I just hit send.

So I still love typing but I use TextExpander more and more to do more and more of the repetitive, ordinary typing. I installed it back in June and its internal look-at-me statistics panel stays it has saved me 78.88 hours of typing. I am highly suspicious of the maths behind that, but there is no question that it works very well for me and that I’ve come to lean on it a lot. There’s definitely no question because I routinely find it a right pain that you can’t do the same thing on iOS.

(There is a TextExpander for iOS but it’s handicapped by Apple’s app rules and actually right now the firm is nattering with Apple because it’s going to have to change how it does what little it does there.)


The whole point of this is by way of telling you first that there is this thing called TextExpander which is as good as advertised, and second that it is currently on sale.

From about now until Monday 2 December, 2013, it’s 50% off. That makes it £13.47 and just typing those digits makes me wince: I paid twice that. I know it’s worth it. But when it was the full price it was just expensive enough to make me hesitate; at £13.47 I’d have bought it in a bilnk. Let me recommend that you buy it in a blink.

To get the offer, you need to follow this link:

I don’t get any kickback for that, I just get the kick out of knowing that you’re going to have a good time with it.