Taking a stand

I’ve always been interested in the standing desk revolution but never really had the opportunity to investigate any of the options until recently. In my day job, getting a standing desk wasn’t really an option, whilst at home, adding a motorised desk to the office would involve a significant reshuffle of furniture.

However, a friend bought themselves a Varidesk and very kindly lent it to me for a weekend. The Varidesk is a great halfway house idea to allow people to convert their existing desk situation into a moveable standing desk instead. Two small levers either side of the main desk part, allow you to raise and lower the level at will, making it easy to stand or sit without committing to either one.

I was impressed after just a day or two of using the desk and was sad when I had to give it back to my generous friend. So I quickly bought one and have been using it ever since.

We didn’t get off to the best start, my desk and I, because it had a horrible sticker on it that I immediately took off only to find it left that gunky sticky stuff behind. I cleaned the desk so hard that some of the black sheen came off, but thankfully it was on a part of the surface that would soon be covered by gadgets.

There’s a Varidesk app which is designed to help you keep track of how much you are standing and sitting. I found this useful to start with, as it would ping notifications at you to say when you have stood for 10 minutes, and then sat down for 10 minutes. The times were variable so you can use it as a sort of training tool to get you into the habit of standing more than sitting.

I don’t use the app so much any more, because the notifications became annoying when I was at work and my desk was at home, and because I stand when I feel like I need to. Sometimes I stand for a good portion of the evening/weekend, other times I’m tired from a long week and find sitting more comfortable. The amazing thing now is that I have the choice, and it really didn’t take too much investment in time, money, or revamping an entire office room, to get to this point.

Swim when you’re winning

After a little bit of delivery drama, my new Apple Watch Series 2 arrived just in time for the weekend, and so naturally, I headed out to test out the one thing I’ve been looking forward to since it was announced – swim tracking!

I had previously spotted a handful of people talking about swimming with their original watches, so I followed suit, but it was merely a matter of setting an “Other” workout and hoping you didn’t do too much damage to a watch that wasn’t designed for lengthy exposure to chlorine. Also, there was the occasional issue with the touchscreen surface interacting with the water when you didn’t intend it to.

For the most part, my watch survived its ordeal perfectly, but upgrading to the new official swim tracking system has been worth every penny and I’ve only been for one swim. Apple have included swimming as an actual workout option, and have managed to include measurements that can not only track your laps but can also magically know what stroke you are doing!

pool-swim

If nothing else, it is worth it to have the watch counting the lengths. It’s accurate, I checked a few times through my swim, and that’s something I’ve struggled with through my relatively short swimming career. Keeping track has always been difficult but now I can just swim without even thinking about it. You set the length of your pool so it can count the laps and calculate how far you’ve gone, and not only that, it tracks your 100 metre splits as well!

average-pace

This is information that isn’t useful to me at the moment as I’m just trying to stick to a routine rather than concentrate on going as fast as possible, but I can see myself using this data in the future to improve speed and lap times.

The watch also has a lockdown setting when you start a swim workout so that you can’t get touchscreen interference, and it has a cute little speaker spit-out to make sure no water is sticking around where it’s not wanted.

If you had ever thought about indulging in the Apple Watch and wanted to know if it was useful for swimmers – then I can categorically state that IT IS NOW.

A dash of frustration

Amazon’s continuing efforts to deliver consumables to your door before you’ve even realised you need them has seen a rapid expansion in the UK recently. Their Pantry service launched a few moons ago, their Fresh option has been gradually creeping across London presumably with desires to go further, and just a few week’s ago, the Amazon Dash buttons were launched.

testing_out_amazon_dash_buttons__they_re_cute_as_anything_

If you’ve not heard of them, the idea is simply that you set up a small device with a button so that when you press it, specific goods come to your door. The buttons are supplier specific, and offer a range of goods for you to select from, that should arrive with Amazon Prime swiftness. That’s the idea, and in principal, I love it. The concept of reaching for your last dishwasher tablet, or getting to the bottom of your jar of olive oil, and simply having to press a button to get more is brilliant! Forget having to remember to put it on a shopping list, you never have to think about it again, and stuff just turns up at your door.

Well, that’s the idea, anyway.

I’ve tested a couple of buttons and have so far found the following problems:

  1. There’s a limited choice of suppliers on offer. Granted, it’s a new service and is likely to expand if enough people use it, but there aren’t many things on the list that I actually need or use. Mr C was incredibly disappointed in the selection of edible goods, and isn’t interested in hearing about Amazon Dash again until they have touch-of-a-button Maltesers delivery.
  2. The buttons are slow to arrive. I ordered four buttons, they cost £4.99 initially, and then you get your money back when you make your first order – presumably to weed out anyone just ordering buttons for a lark. But I’ve only received two buttons, with only one arriving the day after I ordered it. The rest were on back order, until I cancelled them. Why offer the buttons if they’re not ready yet?
  3. Some of the goods are slow to arrive too. The second button I ordered finally arrived, and I set it up and pressed it, only to find the products weren’t actually going to be available for almost three weeks. I know Prime has spoiled me in terms of expecting things in a timely manner, but three weeks for something where you are supposed to press the button when you want to restock seems far too long.
  4. The selection of goods changes. I tested the biona button as it was the first one to arrive, and ordered some wonderful organic apple juice. Then I wanted to see if you could change the products, which you can, and opted for some potato crisps instead. When I wanted to change back, the apple juice being far nicer than the crisps, the selection of products available had been reduced significantly, with now only four options for varying types of coconut oil. Even the crisps had disappeared. The order still worked when I tried pressing the button again but if you can’t rely on what options are available, that’s a real disadvantage.

I understand that the service is new, and these are all probably teething troubles. More suppliers are likely to sign on, the product selection should become more stable and certainly more available, and it will all be as good as I hoped. It’s just a disappointing first experience when the ideal is so wonderful but the reality feels very half-finished. Amazon have enough money and enough experience to be able to hold off on launches until they’re ready, and that way the customer can be satisfied instead of frustrated.

Just a passenger

Passenger, playing at the Apple Music Festival this evening, perks up my attention.

Me: “Who does he sound like?”

Mr C: “Not sure.”

Me: “Is it Mumford & Sons, maybe?”

Mr C: “Could be, the guitars and stuff.”

Me: “No, it’s his voice, it’s familiar.”

Mr C shrugs. We listen on.

Two songs later, Passenger starts playing Let Her Go.

“OHHHH, this is who he sounds like! This is the song I was remembering!”

So, yea, he sounds like himself.

Musical education continues.

On the record – Full of drums and drama (Weeks 33 to 36)

What struck me most when putting together this round up of another four weeks of albums was how quickly the year is flying by! That’s always the case, but seeing it in black and white and in lists of artists and albums, it’s much more stark. It seems like only yesterday Mr C and I were discussing me listening to Bastille and OneRepublic to gen up on the Apple Music festival this year. And now I’ve listened to both of those, and moved on to more, and the festival has started and I’ve found a load more albums to listen to!

It’s also worth noting that three of Mr C’s picks this time were from 2013, a total coincidence but perhaps an indication that it was a good year for albums? It’ll be interesting when we get to the end of the year to see which years were featured and which were more popular.

Title Artist Year Notes
Week 33
Bury Me In My Boots The Cadillac Three 2016 I listened to this purely because they made an appearance on Nashville, and found it to be just a bit too country for me. However, there were some good songs on there (and some not so good, what is up with Ship-faced?) So many alcohol references, too, I felt drunk just listening!
Yourself or Someone Like You Matchbox Twenty 1996 Loved this album, it was so wonderfully of the 90s. It also reminded me of the scene in Ted where he talks about the vowel songs of that era. A-E-I-O-U! Fab stuff anyway, mostly upbeat pop rock, catchy lyrics, right up my street.
Week 34
Pure and Simple Dolly Parton 2016 You have to love Dolly Parton, she has a voice that is both powerful but also stacked with emotion and oftentimes seeming quite vulnerable. There’s just something about her voice and her songs that draws you in. The album also features her full set from Glastonbury, as sort of a second half, so that’s an absolute bonus!
Magna Carta Holy Grail Jay Z 2013 Good album, I love Jay Z’s style and he’s surrounded himself with a good variety of guests here. The Justin Timberlake track is a stand out one for me, but otherwise I’m not sure this is a total classic. Quite a lot of Beyoncé squeezed in, too. Good listen overall.
Week 35
Glory Britney Spears 2016 Great to hear Britney again, although this is a very mixed album – some of it is great but some is quite awful. Private Show, whilst catchy, is probably everything wrong with music at the moment! But still, there are some good songs and taken as a whole it shows how adaptable Britney is, and how she can move with the times.
Bad Blood Bastille 2013 I was worried about listening to this because Pompeii is such a storming tune, how can you expand on the brilliance of it? I needn’t have worried, the rest of the album is great too. Whilst it doesn’t quite match up to the opener, it’s still full of drums and drama, intriguing lyrics and the intensity to carry you through to the end.
Week 36
Dig Your Roots Florida Georgia Line 2016 Totally what you would expect, slightly poppy country music. I so wanted the Backstreet Boys track to be amazing but I didn’t think it was, sadly. There are a good selection of guests on there, but there are no real stand out songs.
Native OneRepublic 2013 Brilliant album, how could it not be with the remarkable Ryan Tedder? Pop royalty, catchy, sing along, impossible not to move to but equally emotional in places. Loved it.

Looking for a winning streak

There are lots of productivity apps and habit trackers available on the iOS store, but I have become partial to Streaks. It’s such a simple app that can really make a difference – although admittedly my streaks have not been so fruitful lately.

The app is really easy to use. If you have a goal in mind, something you want to do on a regular basis (most likely daily, but can be adjusted to weekly or monthly if required), you can set it up on Streaks to track your progress. When you complete the goal on any given day, you just pop to the app and tap it as done. You can view your progress, and your statistics with a couple of simple taps, and you can do that for up to six different goals.

streaks-productivity-app

Streaks will remind you if you haven’t achieved a goal you were supposed to do today, helping you out if you’re particularly forgetful. There are plenty of defaults to get you started, and lots of great little icons to jazz up your homepage. Goals can also be linked to other iOS apps, so you can set up “Workout for 30 minutes” to sync with the Health app, and you never have to lift another finger.

Talking of health, I noticed recently that Streaks have launched a workout app for the Apple TV. It’s a similar idea to the habit tracking app, but focusing specifically on workout moves. Here, you set up your goal based on difficulty level and length of workout required, then it gives you six moves from a larger default set, and cycles through them until you complete your goal.

I tried it out a couple of times, and love the concept, but found the actual workout a bit jerky. Because you’re only doing a set number of moves, and it jumps back and forth between them all, you can find yourself transitioning in and out of positions a lot and it can be quite tiresome. It doesn’t flow quite as well as you’d like, but even so, if you’re looking for a kick start, or a quick boost to your exercise regime, it couldn’t hurt to give this one a go.

I love the idea of apps helping you achieve goals, and this one seems so easy in principle. I have yet to fully form a habit thanks to a slightly chaotic life but when things are more routine, I reckon I’m going to buckle down and be queen of the habit streak!