Giving Up On Google

I don’t hate Google, that would be a silly thing to do in public. After all, in the last twelve months they purchased an organisation that developed some of the world’s most impressive (military) robots [1] and have always developed impressive AI systems of their very own [2] - what could possibly go wrong [3].

But that hasn’t stopped me from giving up on them.

The main reason I’ve given up on Google’s services are the ever increasing feelings of becoming locked-in. More and more services coming from Google seem to be Chrome-only, or at least work far better in Chrome than anywhere else and I think this speaks to the future of Google.

There's no denying that Apple products are a kind of lock-in, but I feel that Apple don't rely on my data as a source of revenue so I'll always be able to get it out if I need to - I don't feel this way about Google.

Whilst this feeling has been building up over time due to factors like requiring a Google+ profile to make full use of YouTube, or Gmail never quite playing nicely with other mail clients; it came into focus more recently with the introduction of Inbox. There's no denying that Inbox is a great service, it's innovative and genuinely useful, but I can only access it though Google applications.

This particular lock-in isn't fundamentally a problem in itself, I can still get at my data, but it leaves me fearful for the future of my email. In the future I imagine Google turning off all POP & IMAP support - access to my email will be via Google (or maybe an approved API) only and my email, my data, will be more 'stuck' where it is than I would like - and I imagine the same will be true of all of Google's other services.

None of Google's recent behaviour strikes me as 'open', Apple is hardly an open company either, but I at least feel like Apple is open with my data on a closed platform rather than, like Google, closed with my data on an open platform.

I'd quite happily pay Google to have better access to my data, but they don't seem to have much interest in that - so I'm moving all my data elsewhere.

Push Email With FastMail (Sieve) & IFTTT

As I was writing this post FastMail released a new app with push notification support, it wasn't really for me as I prefer a unified inbox but if you think it might suit you - check it out.

I recently went through the process of prising my email from the jaws of Gmail and getting it into FastMail, the switch went pretty smoothly but I missed Mailbox's push notifications (even if it gets IMAP support I probably won't use it any more - having my email flowing through another cloud server never felt quite right).

The simplest thing to do would be to set up the email channel in IFTTT, forward all incoming mail to trigger@recipe.ifttt.com then use the iOS notifications channel to push the alerts. The main problem with this is related to privacy; the email body will also, at some point, end up on IFTTT's servers.

To solve this problem I created a custom sieve rule inside FastMail's advanced rules section that strips everything other than the subject. It's pretty simple and looks like this:

This rule should probably go after your junk mail filters (which probably look similar to the below), unless you want to get notified about your junk mail too of course.

I also have emails coming through to a work Google account that I like to get push notifications for (without using the Gmail app). IFTTT is a little limited as it only supports one email address in one email channel so I set up Gmail to forward all my emails to FastMail. I didn't really want all this unrelated email cluttering up my inbox so I added another rule, just after my notification rule, to discard them:

And that's all there is to it really - I get a (nearly instant) push notification that I have a new email and I can open the mail app of my choice when it's convenient. One added benefit seems to be a little extra battery life after turning off fetch & push in the native iOS Mail app.

Cheltenham Literature Festival 2014

 

The Cheltenham Literature Festival is, as the name suggests, a festival in the lovely Spa town of Cheltenham (seriously, go there, it’s a really nice place) that celebrates literature. It was formed in 1949 and I’ve attended for the past couple of years - thanks entirely to my wonderful girlfriend.

The festival takes places over ten days (starting on 3rd October this year) but it’s only really practical to stay in Cheltenham for a week due to travelling and work commitments. Unfortunately this meant that we had to miss one of the best days of the festival this year, the last day.

We still got to attend some pretty interesting talks though.


Welcome To Just A Minute!

One of my highlights of the week was a great performance of Just A Minute presented by Nicholas Parsons himself and with a panel consisting of Pam Ayres, Jenny Eclair, Shappi Khorsandi - the shows first all female panel since the show first aired in 1967.

They were there, of course, to talk about Nicholas’ latest book, but the discussion quickly become a series of anecdotes from all present about the show and its past participants - this was great and gave an excellent insight into the past 900 episodes of this excellent radio panel show.

Whilst it wasn't entirely without hesitation, repetition or deviation it was very entertaining - including the brief intermission to deal with a slightly lost wasp.

What’s Next For Google

This talk was probably my biggest disappointment of the week. It was presented by Peter Fitzgerald, the UK Sales Director for Google. I was hoping for a discussion of the near-term future for Google, preferably including key issues such as privacy and government spying. It ended up however, as a big Google X advertisement for our "possible future". Granted, the talk was well rehersed and Peter, as I'd expect, was a competent presentor but he didn't seem to want to be there at all.

Interestingly, during the Q&A session, a question was asked about wearables and Google's future focus. Peter seemed pretty adamant that their focus was purely on the software. This seemed odd to me given Google's ownership of Motorola and the recent launch of the Moto 360 - Glass didn't even get a passing mention.

Keep Britain Tidy

Hester Vaizey presented some of her favourite posters from her new book along with some interesting facts. One of the most interesting was the fact that the “Keep Calm And Carry On” poster we’ve all come to love (and probably hate) was never publicly displayed but rediscovered in 2000 and rose to ubiquity from there.

Golden Days Of The Railway

This was a panel discussion between three authors and a poet to determine if there was ever any such thing as the “Golden Days” and if golden days in the future are a possibility. The panel consisted of:

Whilst the panel didn’t really come to a conclusion about the “Golden Days” there were some interesting discussions including their opinion that the on-going restorations of the Flying Scotsman are a waste of money - even if it is good to have a living connection to the past. Also, their opinion that state-controlled railways (such as those on the continent) function far better and are more efficient than the privately controlled railways here in the UK.

One interesting fact too, it apparently cost around £80 to change a fluorescent light bulb in a station here in the UK - ridiculous.

Agatha Christie And The Monogram Murders

Another panel discussion, this time about the new Agatha Christie continuation book - The Monogram Murders with the author Sophie Hannah, Christie’s grandson, Mathew Prichard and expert John Curran.

I’m not the biggest of Christie fans but it was interesting to hear how Sophie created a continuation story by maintaining the well-established Poirot character but changing the stories narrator to suit her style of writing rather than trying to write in the style of Agatha Christie herself. This is in contrast to many continuation books that have appeared recently that choose to alter the main character in some significant way as well as copy the style of the original author.

Victoria: A Life

This talk by A.N. Wilson was more interesting than I expected it to be. He discussed his new book in which he explores, with new research, Queen Victoria as a successful diplomat, writer and anything other than a recluse after Prince Albert’s death.

He also talked about his disappointment at the number of letters in various archives that had been redacted / destroyed after her death leaving large holes in her personal history. 


Overall the festival was pretty good, but I still think last year's was better. One thing that was consistent was the overpriced and not brilliant food & drink - my advice would be to buy food from somewhere else and not from one of the festival tents.

Even if you don't get the chance to attend a future festival be it science, music, jazz or literature you should definitely spend some time in Cheltenham. The festivals are always interesting but Cheltenham itself improves them greatly.

My Field Notes

Refining My Podcast Recommendations

After much listening over the past couple of months I've added to and removed from my recommend podcasts list to create a playlist that doesn't feel like a chore to listen to. My refined recommendations are:

Somehow I've ended up with one more that my previous selections, but I find this selection far less of a burden to listen to on a weekly basis.

Recommended Podcasts

Since I started working remotely I've been listening to a lot of podcasts, pretty much all of them tech related (and many of them Apple related). Here are the few that have kept me interested enough to stay in rotation:

Some of these have been discontinued but they're still worth subscribing to; for the past episodes and because they'll soon be resurrected on Relay FM.

My favourite podcast client (podcatcher?) at the moment is Overcast, both Smart Speed and Voice Boost are definitely worth the IAP. There's no Mac app for now but the web player works in a pinch (albeit without the best features of the app).