Twilight for Android: stop your mobile device keeping you awake at night!

Twilight reduces your display's blue light emission.
Twilight reduces your display’s blue light emission.

When I blogged about f.lux the other day, which is available for Windows, Mac OS X, and iOS, I meant to mention an equivalent application for Android. But I forgot, so here’s a post all to itself.

This week I’ve started using Twilight by Urbandroid Team after a recommendation from someone on Twitter. So far I’m really impressed.

In the past I’ve used two other applications, first Night Filter by Digipom before I moved to F-lux Screen Dim for Android, but I was never entirely satisfied with either, to be honest. I had to manually run each in the evening and because I could never quite get the colours quite right for me I ended up hardly using them at all as I found them distracting.

Like f.lux for the PC, Twilight runs in the background, automatically dimming the screen around sunset. The colour is subtle: peachy like f.lux, rather than burgundy like Screen Dim, for example.

If you’re looking for a screen dimmer to enable you to read more comfortably in the dark, then I thoroughly recommend Twilight.

Twilight is available on Google Play.

f.lux: stop your computer monitor keeping you awake at night!

f.lux makes the colour of your computer's display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.
f.lux makes the colour of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.

f.lux is a genius piece of software (available for Windows, Mac OS X, iOS, and Linux) that I’ve been using for a few months now, that has genuinely helped me get to sleep quicker at night.

What it does

It does one job, and it does it brilliantly: f.lux adjusts your computer display according to the time of day.

Generally monitors are set very bright with a blue-y colour temperature, that makes them look great during the day. As the f.lux website puts it:

During the day, computer screens look good—they’re designed to look like the sun. But, at 9PM, 10PM, or 3AM, you probably shouldn’t be looking at the sun.

f.lux fixes that. Once you’ve told the program where in the world you live (so that it can work out when the sun will rise and set) and what kind of lighting you have it gets to work.

For me, the application runs when Windows starts, and I quite enjoy watching my monitor at sunset slowly change as f.lux kicks in; I’ve set mine to fast transition (over 20 seconds).

Flux settings: adjust your lighting, set your location, and transition speed.
Settings in f.lux are very straight-forward.

When the sun sets f.lux adjusts your monitor to look like your indoor lights (for me that means that that whites take on a warmer hue similar to the colour of paper the Financial Times use). And then when the sun rises again, the blues return and it looks like sunlight once again.

Effect on sleep

I noticed a while ago that if I had been using my computer a lot in the evening it was taking me longer to get to sleep.

It turns out that blue light affects sleep patterns and as monitors are back-lit—effectively firing a lot of blue light straight at you—you end up with a lot of exposure to excessive light at night.

A couple of hours looking at a tablet or PC screen in the evening can knock off your sleep by about an hour, researchers have found.

The f.lux developers have taken this into account and so “f.lux adjusts colours in a way that greatly reduces the stimulating effects of blue light at night.”

I have to admit that I was very sceptical at first, and the first time I tried it I hated it. Everything went slightly peachy. But I stuck with it and within a couple of days I was a convert.

And while I used to lie awake in bed for half an hour or more, since using f.lux on my Windows 8.1 PC I now drop off to sleep within minutes.

Conclusion

If you do a lot of work on your computer or iOS device after sunset then I thoroughly recommend f.lux.

Download f.lux today. (Windows, Mac, Linux, or iOS)

This too shall pass…

Raindrops on a window
Source: iStock

Day 71

Three weeks ago I went to the health centre for an appointment with the GP who recognised that the headache I was experiencing wasn’t just a prolonged migraine but meningitis.

I was there for two reasons: I needed to be signed off for longer, and I needed painkillers that were stronger than ibuprofen but milder than the 30/500 co-codamol that were playing havoc with my stomach.

The GP was really kind and understanding. He signed me off for a further four weeks, gave me the prescription I needed, but also gave me some gentle advice: pace myself. He reminded me that viral meningitis, though not as dangerous as the bacterial variety, is still a pretty serious condition.

“Even if you’re having a good day,” he advised, “don’t try to run 100 metres in ten seconds! Pace yourself.”

Then he said something that really shocked me. “I expect you won’t be back to full stamina for probably 4–6 months.”

Not four to six weeks… months!

When I stepped out of the health centre I burst into tears. At that point, I’d been going for six weeks, trying my hardest to stay positive. Trying to will myself to be well. During those six days in hospital I had been the most afraid I’d ever been, and when I was discharged nothing had physically changed. All I had now was a label to affix to it: ‘viral meningitis’.

It’s common for someone with any kind of prolonged illness to experience a kind of grief reaction, a response to the loss of a more ideal self. It cycles randomly through familiar ‘stages’: shock, denial, anger, depression, defensive compensation, acceptance, and adjustment.

This past week, these last seven days, I encountered ‘depression’. I have felt so low. But like the weather, I know that this too shall pass.

This too shall pass, but at the moment I’m feeling quite isolated.The headache began two months and nine days ago, and apart from a few visits to hospital I’ve not been out of the house very much, and I’ve had three visitors.

I’ve tried to find a rhythm to the day to positively get me through this lethargy and sense of loss. At the moments mornings are better than afternoons, when I physically crash and sleep between lunchtime and when the older boys return from school. During the evenings I pick up a little, but I’m not particularly enjoying these shortening days. I now have four lamps in my study, with the brightest LED and low-energy bulbs that I can find.

As my eyesight improves at its glacial pace, reading and writing have become easier. So I tend to spend the early part of each morning—once the breakfast dishes have been cleared away, washing put on and beds made—in prayer and reading. And then, usually before the headache grips me, I get some writing in; I’ve enjoyed blogging regularly again.

The children have been brilliant. Their hugs and laughter have really lifted me through this week. Quite unbeknown to them, I’m sure… although I do tell them.

That’s where I am just now. It’s been a bit of a slog, but I’ll get there.

Todoist vs Trello vs Wunderlist for managing small tasks

Since moving from Outlook (Exchange) to eM Client (Google) a few weeks ago I have needed to find a suitable task management application to replace Outlook’s excellent task tool. I’ve found a really nice application in Todoist.

I used Outlook tasks a lot on both my desktop PC and my mobile phone (Windows Mobile then Android), so my requirements were:

  • Must be cloud based.
  • Must sync quickly between mobile and desktop.
  • Must have a native app for both Android and Windows 8.
  • Must be able to handle multiple contexts/projects.
  • Must be affordable.
  • Should have a usable Android widget to both add new tasks and view a particular context/project.

Wunderlist

Wunderlist interface has a brown, wood-effect background with two columns: contexts on the left, tasks on the right.
Wunderlist (Windows 8 modern UI app) is really pretty.

The first application that I consider was Wunderlist which I had trialled a few years ago before moving to Exchange. I thought it was time to give it another go.

I migrated my tasks into Wunderlist and used it for a few days.

I really love the aesthetics of Wunderlist. It looks uncluttered and simple, and I selected a rich wood-effect background to complement the dark grey wood wallpaper both my PC and smartphone.

Following the GTD methodology, I was able to create multiple contexts (e.g. computer, desk, finance, garden, home, shopping, etc.). Moving tasks from one context to another is as simple as dragging and dropping tasks. Further details can be added to individual tasks (due date, reminders, subtasks and notes).

I really liked the ability to star important or favourite items, and to view all tasks, grouped by context in the order shown on the left-hand sidebar.

Wunderlist was looking promising, and I probably would have continued to use it had it not been for two issues.

The first issue I had was more of a niggle: the Android widget it really fiddly to use. I love that you can scroll left and right between contexts but I found with my not-too-enormous fingers that I had to jab at the screen four or five times to hit the sweet spot before it moved.

The second is a known problem: there are sync issues between Wunderlist 2 and 3. The web interface and Android both use the newer version 3, the Windows 7 application uses version 2. When I used both in conjunction I discovered discrepancies in my data.

I didn’t want to use the Windows 8 modern UI app or have to access my lists through Chrome, and the niggle with the Android widget was enough to get me looking elsewhere.

Trello

Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.
Trello uses the model of cards pinned to lists.

I’ve long been a fan of Trello from Fog Creek Software. We use it extensively at work, and I use it to manage all my personal projects. So I quickly migrated my tasks from Wunderlist to Trello and used it for a few days.

As much as I love Trello for managing larger projects I didn’t really warm to it as a simply list/task application.

Contrary to my experience with Wunderlist, I was quite happy to use the web interface but then that’s how I have used it for the last few years. The Android app is great and improves with each release.

The Android widget didn’t give me the information that I needed, though: it isn’t granular enough for my requirements. All it offers is a list of cards assigned to me, optionally grouped by due date. The problem here is that it lists EVERY single card assigned to me, starting with those cards that are dated in the past. Right now that is 461 cards. All I wanted to see was all the cards within a particular board, or even better within a particular list on one particular board.

Todoist

Todoist interface has two columns: list of contexts or projects on the left, checkbox list of tasks within that project on the right.
Todoist has a very clean interface.

That was when I discovered Todoist which appears to be available for just about everything: web, Android, iOS, Windows, Mac OS, web, Outlook, Thunderbird, Gmail and Postbox. I’d love to see a plugin for eM Client—that would make my productivity life complete!

Todoist has a very minimalist and uncluttered look. On the left are your contexts, which Todoist calls Projects. It also offers labels and filters, but I don’t use either.

For the third time in a week I migrated all my tasks to yet another application. But this time they’ve stayed there… the ones that I’ve not checked off.

Todoist has met all my requirements. It is cloud-based, the Windows and Android apps work beautifully, I can add multiple contexts/projects, can easily drag and drop items from one list to another.

The Android widget does exactly what I need as doesn’t suffer from the same navigation issues that I experienced with Wunderlist. I’ve found that I use that a lot now, and the big plus (+) in the top-right corner of the widget allows me to add tasks quickly to any of my existing lists, and assign a due date too if I need.

The only thing that I miss from Wunderlist is the ability to view all tasks in one long list, [see correction below] but something that I found myself using much more than I ever did with Wunderlist is scheduling tasks. This is probably because Todoist offers two new views: ‘Today‘ and ‘Next 7 days’. (A perfect example of how user interfaces can affect user behaviour.)

CORRECTION: I’ve discovered a “View all” option listed under Filters. This lists all tasks by project. I wish there was a shortcut for this at the top of the application.

What is quite fun too is that Todoist shows your productivity trend and gives you points (which it calls ‘Todoist Karma‘), which I guess is there to help motivate you.

Graph and bar chart showing my productivity trend for the last seven days.
My productivity trend for the last seven days.

When you tick off items your points go up, when you don’t your points down.

I’ll definitely be sticking with Todoist for the foreseeable future, and I may even buy the upgrade to Todoist Premium which is a snip at GBP £18.00 per year, which gives you more project and label colours, task notes and file uploads, reminders, iCalendar feeds, etc.

The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke

For all these years that I’ve been a fan of the rock band Queen, and Queen II (1974) is one of my favourite albums of theirs, I had no idea that the song “The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke” was actually describing a painting by English artist Richard Dadd.

The painting took Dadd nine years to complete, from 1855–1864, and is only 54 x 39.5 cm in size. You can read more about the history of The Fairy Feller’s Master-Stroke on Wikipedia.

This video shows us Freddie Mercury’s guided tour through the painting.

The next time I’m in London I must go look for it in the Tate Britain collection.