My Mum on Skype (and other connections)

My Mum on Skype, earlier this evening.
My Mum on Skype, earlier this evening.

This morning we got up early, carefully removed the roof box (it turns out that if the wind gusts above 50 mph then cars with roof boxes will be prevented from crossing the Forth Road Bridge… and we didn’t want to take any chances), packed the car and headed south, just as the sun was beginning to rise.

Destination: Selkirk. And more specifically, the my-Mum’s-house part of Selkirk. We were delivering presents and catching up, albeit too briefly, with relatives.

There are some members of my extended family that we’ve not seen for too long; a few had not even met Isaac, who turns three next month. Not due to any conspiracy, but simply a combination of the impracticalities of small, twinsy children, lack of sleep (a lot to do with lack of sleep), depression, back/neck injuries, and… the fact that it takes us the best part of 6 hours to just drive down there and back again. So it was lovely to catch-up, albeit too briefly. On our drive back north we popped in to see my brother Eddie at South Queensferry, to get the boys into their pyjamas and to deliver another Christmas present.

This year, for Christmas, we gave my Mum a new laptop computer (Asus X551CA, featuing a 15.6″ screen, Intel Celeron 1007U dual core CPU, 4GB RAM, 500GB HDD, Windows 8.1 Home).

Mum has never had a new laptop. Her last-but-one was a very generous hand-me-down from good friends of ours. Her last one was bought about ten years ago for a business that Jane and her Mum ran in Edinburgh. It was creaking at the joints: it almost panted with exhaustion running Windows 7, it would take about 15 minutes to start, the cheap webcam I had bought for it had too low a resolution and would invariably find itself pointing at the ceiling when I was trying to Skype with Mum, and the speakers were too quiet, so we’d have to Skype and phone at the same time to get both video and audio.

The new one, though, is fast: it boots in about a minute. It has a built-in high definition webcam and the speakers are loud enough for us to make a Skype-to-Skype conversation, as you can see form the screenshot above.

It’s been a good day of re-establishing connections. Hopefully we can get back down to the Borders before too long, and can start using Skype more to keep in touch.

Simple categories in Feedly

Screenshot of Feedly, showing categories in left-hand sidebar
Screenshot of Feedly, showing categories in left-hand sidebar

There’s something about this time of year that makes me look back on the past twelve months, reorganise things and generally try to simplify life for the year ahead. This evening I turned my attention to my RSS feed reader Feedly.

When Google closed down its Google Reader service in July 2013 I moved over to Feedly. Their migration process was flawless:

  1. Log in to Feedly using your Google account.
  2. Give Feedly permission to read your Google Reader subscriptions.
  3. Er…
  4. That’s it!

In the last five months I’ve been using Feedly on both a desktop browser and the Android app. It’s been a really useful way of keeping up with the sites I want to follow, and it also confirms recent research about how people are using the web these days: on multiple devices.

The old way

I have a problem with the way I categorise my feeds. Until this evening I’ve grouped them by topic:

  • People
  • Web
  • Web tools
  • Browsers
  • Music

The problem

The problem is: there are some feeds that I read more than others and this way of organising the feeds doesn’t allow me to find those feeds quickly.

A few feeds I try to read every post, such as A List Apart and Zenhabits. I take my time with these articles.

Some feeds I subscribe to simply to keep up with what certain people are saying, such as Steve Lawson, Robert Wright and Tom G Fischer. I try to read most posts.

Other feeds I follow to look out for important updates. These are mostly software or web development blogs such as jQuery, Google Chrome, Firefox, IE, Opera, etc. I tend to glance at the headlines and read only those posts that I think will impact me.

The new way

So, after understanding my own user behaviour, I now have simplified this to three categories:

  1. Must read
  2. Regular
  3. Occasional

I’ve also removed quite a few feeds this evening. Some feeds I realised I wasn’t reading anyway; others were a distraction.

I’m going to run with this way of organising things for the next few months to see if it helps.

Update: After a few months of trying this, I’m finding it really helpful to have my feeds organised this way. The only change I’ve made is to rename the first category from “Favourites” to “Must read”. I found that I was questioning whether “Favourites” was my own category or an auto-generated one by Feedly.

Ironically, Feedly does have an auto-generated category called “Must reads” but I’m finding this much less confusing. Your mileage may vary.