Chris Croft's Personal Blog

August 7, 2013

Keeping notes on your phone

Filed under: Computer tips, Gadgets — Tags: , , — chriscroft @ 4:23 pm

Where do you put notes of things like films you want to see, which curry is the best, the size and pressure of your tyres, who was who at a meeting, etc?

Ideally you would have notes visible on your phone, PC, iPad, whatever you are using, and any changes would sync via the cloud. And you could access your stuff on your phone even when you don’t have a signal.  Like an old PalmPilot, does anyone remember them?  (They had all of the above except the cloud – and they weren’t a phone, but they did have games and apps)

I have been happily using Catch for a few years, but OH NO, they are discontinuing it.  Aaargh!

I have about 1500 records on Catch, which can (in theory!) be exported from Catch and then imported into something else.  But what?

Evernote: with the free version you can’t view your notes off line, and my phone doesn’t always have a signal.  The paid for version is quite expensive, about £30/year, but it is very nice.  You can also have tables, whatever fonts you like, and add pictures and sound files to any of your notes.  You can use your phone when off line to view notes (if you pay), and also your laptop to view notes when offline (free) because Evernote has it’s own bit of software that stores and shows the notes.  I think the laptop software works offline even on the free version.

Google Keep – has no import function and you can’t add new notes offline.  You can view them though.  Feels unfinished.

Simplenote – you can use it offline but you can’t attach pictures or sound (voice memos).  The interface is pretty clunky too, you can search but not sort, and you can’t have subfolders.

It’s looking like I’ll have to fork out for Evernote, which is great but expensive and probably too complicated for what I need.

Does anyone know of anything else?

Oh yes, thanks guys for reminding me about Apple notes (comes on every phone and ipad, and can be viewed on a PC.  On the plus side it stores the notes in the cloud so you can see them on any device, but only if you have a connection (PC) – that’s quite a big minus.  They still work on your phone/iPad without internet, which is good.  Only one font, and no pictures/sound (surprising how useful it is to attach photo from your phone of things), and no import/export if you want to migrate in or out of it some day, and of course, apple only.  But the iCloud sync does work really well, and it’s beautiful to look at, as you’d expect.  So good old apple is pretty good and comes second only to Evernote.

I’ll miss Catch!



May 23, 2012

iPhone tethering

Filed under: Computer tips, Gadgets — chriscroft @ 8:25 pm

I thought this would be a real hassle but it’s turned out to be easy.

If there is no wifi and you want to use your laptop to get email or whatever, you just go to settings on your iPhone and slide the Personal Hotspot switch to on.  It is now broadcasting its own little wifi hotspot.

The first time you set it up you have to put the code (the iPhone shows it) into your laptop, but every time after that you just look at the list of wifi available on the laptop and select Chris’s iPhone, and there you are, connected to the web.

I’ve used it quite a few times this month and am still well within my gig of data, so for the things I use it for it seems to be great.

No need for the cost and hassle of a dongle ever again!

Give it a go if you have been nervous about trying it.

May 6, 2012

Walking or running to iPhone music

Filed under: Computer tips, Gadgets, Sport — chriscroft @ 12:34 pm

I finally got something I’ve wanted for years – music at the right speed on my iPhone.

1 – Download Mixmeister (free) onto your PC and use it to scan all your music and put a BPM number onto every track on iTunes. Very simple little bit of software, obvious how it works.
Until now I’ve been using this to make playlists on my ipod, so for example I have a walking playlist of music that is from 115 to 125 BPM.
For running it’s about 90bpm, so you’d want a playlist of maybe 85-95bpm songs since you won’t have enough songs that are at exactly 90, or whatever your exact ideal cadence is.
If you were keen you could sort them into order with maybe a gradually increasing cadence, or a rush at the end.
But a much better solution is……
2 – Buy Cadence Run DJ for £1.50 and tell it to use all your music. Worked immediately.

So now I can slide a slider in the Cadence app to any speed I want and it will select music from my collection that is at that speed. If I want to speed up or slow down slightly I just slide the slider. Brilliant!

December 22, 2011

Third collection of PSs from tips of the month

Filed under: Computer tips, Customer Care, Gadgets, Music, Random stuff - uncategorisable — chriscroft @ 5:39 pm
    1. PS – Saw a hummingbird hawk moth in the garden yesterday.  My favourite insect – worth looking out for!  View pictures of them on google…

    PPS – An exciting new DIY product that I have only recently discovered:  self -amalgamating tape.  Weird, and brilliant.  How on earth does it work?  Bodges almost anything.

    PPPS – I’m continuing to discover things about google.  On the google toolbar there’s a thing called Auto-Fill which is marvellous – it fills in your name and address etc automatically when you buy things on-line….

    If there’s anyone out there who uses autofill, self amalgamating tape, and has seen an HHM in the last week, then I ought to award you the “Similar to Chris” prize.  But you don’t want that!

    PS – it’s getting cold and autumnal all of a sudden (apologies to my African and Australian readers!) and the positive thinkers just have to find something good in it.  Personally I am quite looking forward to foraging for mushrooms in the forest, maybe finding a hedgehog mushroom or parasol mushroom.  But don’t try this unless you REALLY know what you’re doing!

    PPS – MBA news: we now have our first ever person enrolled in an MBA following doing a DMS course (Diploma in Management) with me.  She is just starting at London Met, where she has to do one final year of their MBA, having got exemption from the first 2 years of their course.  Sunderland have also agreed a (distance learning) MBA final year.  Kingston have not agreed to it – we thought they might.  Details on the forum, or email me.

    PPPS – “British Airways:  Britain’s favourite airline”.  Well maybe, but not mine!  When stranded at Newcastle and needing to change a flight at the last minute, from Newcastle-Gatwick to Newcastle-Heathrow, they quoted me £190 even though both flights had spaces on them and the original ticket was only £50.  “Because it’s a last minute booking”.  Thanks guys – good to know you really care!

    PPPPS – greatly enjoying a book called “Watching the English” by Kate Fox – fascinating.  What an odd bunch we are!

    PPS – just saw Garage World from the M6 near Crewe.

    PPPS – Tour de France on ITV – marvellous!

    PS – listening to Blue Six “We had a thing” as I write this.  Mmm, nice.

    PPS – Thanks to Pete B for this hilarious and brilliant nightmare vision of the future!  It’s great to have all your customer’s details at your fingertips when they call, but you can go too far:

    PPPS  Being the renaissance trainer that I am, I have a sensitive side behind my rugged exterior.

    I have therefore been investigating poetry, and, as a person with the Hurry Up driver, it HAS to he Haikus.  Only three lines – brilliant!

    The official rules of Haiku are very strict (Seventeen syllables written in three lines divided into 5-7-5., must mention the weather etc) and I would like to propose ‘The Modern Haiku’ where you can write about anything you like, and the three lines have to be short but not exactly 29 syllables, as long as they ‘scan’ in some way.  It just has to “feel” right.  I also think we should try to keep the rule that there has to be a twist or clever observation or “aha” moment to the Haiku.

    I’ve put some of my efforts on the forum – but what I really would like is for readers to send theirs in, ideally to the forum but replying to this email would be OK too, and I’ll upload them to the forum – anonymously if you like.

    PPPPS – now listening to Audioslave – Sound of a gun.  Chunky!

    PS  thanks to Ben for this website:  Ever wanted to send a large file (e.g. a video, a Photoshop file) to a colleague but your server won’t allow it because the file is too big? Fear not. The website allows you to upload files of up to 100 MB (in the free version) to its server, which it will store until your recipient downloads it. The website even sends an email to your recipient telling them that they have a file waiting for them. (There is a professional upgrade which allows files of up to 2 GB to be uploaded but this costs $29.99 per month). It’s very handy if you work with large visual and/or audio documents.
    PPPS –  Open House London is this coming weekend.  A chance to have a look at all sorts of interesting buildings, which are opened to the public, for free, one weekend a year.  The gherkin is fully booked already, but lots of others, modern and historic, are worth seeing.  There are guided walks too, which are great if you want to know how and why things got built.  I went last year and I’m going again this year.   Sad or interesting? –  you decide!

  1. PPS – this weeks stupidest website has to be – if you want to see a 6 foot twix or a malteser that’s bigger than a football…

September 2, 2011


Filed under: Computer tips — chriscroft @ 7:53 pm

90% of the world’s emails are spam – and I reckon 90% of the ones I get are.

When I first got my NTL email address (now long gone) it started getting spam before I had ever used it, so it is clear that either the spammers buy the email addresses from the providers (surely not?) or they just target every possible name. Someone told me that you should have a number somewhere in your email address to make it harder for them to guess, for example spell cr0ft with a zero in the middle. But why should I have a messy email address because of the spammers?

Anyway, if you buy things from the internet, or have a website with your email address on it, they are going to find you soon enough. And if you ever reply to “unsubscribe” from spam then they know you exist and they will send you ten times more. By the way, reputable companies (and me) do indeed let you unsubscribe. You can tell by looking at whether the web address of the unsubscribe link is full of numbers etc or whether it is a genuine part of the company’s website.

So, what to do about spam?

Well, I used to use Outlook’s filters (see Tools / Rules Wizard / Filter by header or content) but I used to spend ages putting in key words and each time another spam got through I would have to add more key words. Then a Christmas menu got filtered by my settings and I couldn’t work out why, and it turned out that the word Grapefruit contained the word rape so it got filtered – ridiculous! And don’t even start on Scunthorpe or Lightwater!

You can get all sorts of specialist spam filtering software, some free and some not, like Mail-washer, which works better than Outlook. Some of them have a list of “people who are OK” and each new person has to be added – 100% effective, but a bit of a hassle!

The other problem with using Outlook or any of the above is that you still have to download the spam before it gets filtered. Not too bad if you have a fast connection, but if you are using a blackberry or iPhone then it’s going to fill up with spam, at your expense, and the blackberry’s filtering software is pretty rudimentary.

So I’m now getting my spam filtered at the server, so I don’t even see it. When I have 5 emails, I really do have 5 proper emails.

It costs me £3/month, but I think it’s worth it. It uses a spam filtering engine called Black Spider and it is provided by a very helpful guy called Nigel, who is based in Newbury, and you can actually phone him up (01480-657888) and ask him things! Yes, a real person, who is actually there when you call! His web address is , email at , and the software he is using is

Just going into Techie-World for a moment, the advantage is that they take it out of your in-box, filter out all the spam, and then put it back into the same in-box, so you don’t have to change any of your POP settings (where your computer goes to pick up your email). The only disadvantage is that they can’t filter hotmail , aol, or virgin etc, they can only filter domain names, so you need to own, like and then they will filter

But in only costs about £3/year to have and you can still keep your virgin / AOL/hotmail address and redirect everything from there to your fredbloggs mailbox. And they can’t take the email address away from you like virgin can…

You can buy domains at – have a look and see if your name is still available! So for example (soon to be discontinued unfortunately) still reaches me because it actually gets forwarded to where it gets filtered, and then I check my spam-free mailbox either from my PC as normal, or from my palm / mobile / blackberry / iPhone / iPad. Or by going to from any computer anywhere (did you know you can do that with any email address, all you need is your password?).

So there you have it – everything you need to know about getting rid of spam. Buy a domain name (£3/year), and get Nigel to filter it for £3/month.

February 23, 2011

People who say “I don’t get Twitter” might be wrong!

I think I’m starting to get the point of Twitter.
My thoughts are as follows: these are the reasons why you might want to get a (free) Twitter account:

1 – You can follow your idols and get a window into their world
2 – You can see which topics are “trending” and see what people are saying about these popular subjects
3 – You can send a message to anyone, so if you can’t get the email address for Eric Clapton or Armando Ianucci you can probably send them a message via Twitter
4 – You can subscribe to sites listing local jobs
5 – You can subscribe to sites which send jokes, for example Viz Top Tips is hilarious
6 – Follow the chain: You can see who is following someone who you like, and see who the people you like are following, thus discovering whole new worlds of discussion
7 – You can find out what’s going on locally to you, and also find out what’s going on internationally, e.g. Libya. Someone told me that he was stuck in a non-moving queue at Heathrow so he searched twitter and found out that the problem was – someone with a mobile was tweeting from the front of the queue! Or if you are in Northampton for the evening, you can search and see who is saying what about what’s going on there.
8 – It’s fun to watch a rugby match or The Apprentice with your twitter feed on, so you can see what everyone is tweeting, like having loads of people in the room with you making witty comments
9 – You can search for conversations on anything, so if you are really into bee-keeping or base-jumping you can just search and see who is saying what about those
10 – Serendipity – sometimes you tweet, or receive a tweet, about something at just the right time – might be a book you are reading, a band playing locally, a job required, etc.

Overall I think it’s interesting, and probably goes much deeper and better than I have so far discovered…. Let me know people, what did I miss?


PS – follow me on Twitter! Management tips at @chriscroft, the real me at @chriscroft2010

August 24, 2010

First thoughts on my iPad – how good is it?

Filed under: Computer tips, Gadgets — chriscroft @ 4:35 pm

What’s good

· The Instant On, no booting up at all. This makes it possible to use it as a diary and a jobs to do notepad, which a laptop just can’t do.
· Battery life is huge – if you use it all day you don’t even use half of the battery. So for typing and emailing and surfing and gaming on a train or air flight you’d have no worries about batteries. Again, laptops can’t compete with this.
· The typing is much better than I expected – not quite like a PC or laptop, but fine for long emails and word documents.
· Maps – The larger screen makes it much better than an iPhone, and the GPS is better than you get on a laptop, and these two come together when you use google maps when travelling. You get a nice big map, with a little dot (you) which moves along, like a sat nav, only you can see the whole screen, pinch to zoom, plan routes, see traffic jams on the map, it’s really easy. If you type curry it shows all the local ones. You can even use satellite view or google street view to check you’ve found the right place.
· Touch screen – this is so much nicer to use than a mouse. Great for the web, sifting through your emails, making mind maps, and the ipod music section.
· Overall for the traveller it’s a brilliant thing. Harder to justify the cost if you have a computer at work and one at home and your commute is 5 minutes.

What’s not good

· No flash – can be irritating, e.g. in facebook you can’t play videos, though there’s an ap for £3 that solves that, I think. And you tube and BBC iPlayer work just fine.
· Word processing isn’t brilliant. It’s fine for typing in a load of text (especially while on the sofa or in the garden, and the screen copes well with sunshine) but selecting text is fiddly and formatting is not great. Documents are best finished off at home on the PC.
· You can’t use it discreetly. Great if you’re a show-off, but if you want to quietly take some notes in a meeting forget it, everyone will say “Hey, is that an iPad! Can I play with it?

January 24, 2010

The 12 crimes of critical path diagrams

Filed under: Computer tips, Customer Care, Gadgets, Project Management, Sport — chriscroft @ 6:53 pm

This week a slightly technical Project Management tip, which will mean nothing to those who haven’t been trained*, but if you have (by me or anyone else) then I hope you keep this list and use it when next planning a project – you should find it extremely useful.

* but a quick summary: Network diagrams are like a sort of flow diagram of the tasks in a project so you can see the running order of what depends on what.  You can use a computer but post-its are best.  Normally they are drawn across the page, left to right.   The objective is to find the longest path, or ‘critical’ path, which tells you how long the project will take.

Using Post-its to make your critical path diagram

Common mistakes made by people doing network diagrams with post-its (or on a whiteboard)

1                    Vertical lines.  This is a sin because it’s not clear whether the line is going up or down.  Lines should always go diagonally across – makes the diagram much easier to understand.  Sometimes vertical lines are used to show that the tasks happen together – but in this case the two tasks should both feed from the one on their left and into the one on the right.

2                    Arrows going backwards (or forwards then backwards then forwards) – you must move the boxes so the arrows always flow to the right.  It makes it much easier to see the flow of the project.  Similarly arrows which cross over make the project much harder to “see”, though very occasionally these cannot be avoided.

3                    Dangle.  Every task should have at least one arrow coming into it and one coming out of it.  If it has no arrow coming out of it then why are you doing it?  At the very least, the arrow should go to “end”.

4                    Arrows coming out of the start of a box, or into the end of a box.  This is confusing – they should be drawn coming out of the end of one box and into the beginning of the next, from left to right.  Yes I know you might want to show lag, e.g. we want to start the next task half way through this one, but see next sin:

5                    Not granular enough.  If you want to start the next task half way through this one, then you need to break the first task into two.  Then, after the first half, you can show arrows going to the second half, and also to the next task.

6                    Redundant arrows.  This is getting tricky to describe in words alone, but I hope you’re still with me!  If you can’t pour the tea until you’ve boiled the kettle, and you can’t boil the kettle until you’ve filled it, you don’t need another arrow from fill kettle to pour tea.  Redundant arrows are often easy to spot since they form a triangle.

7                    Loops.  You can never have arrows that go backwards (ie right to left) and if you do then you run the risk of having an infinite loop.

8                    One task much too big.  If most of the tasks are a couple of weeks and there is one that is 8 months, then you probably need to granulate the big one: break it into smaller bits.

9                    Tasks of one day.  I don’t believe anything happens that quickly.  Especially not several in a row.

10                Mixed units – if you have some durations in days and some in weeks, or months, the adding up will probably go wrong.  The whole point of the network diagram is to make the project instantly visible.

11                Too series or too parallel.  After a while you just know when a critical path chart doesn’t look right.  It should be a mix of parallel and series tasks.  Too liner = too slow, too parallel = too risky and needs too many resources.

12                “Ongoing”.  All tasks must have a start and a finish.  If you can’t do this for a task and you find yourself wanting to say the forbidden O word then it needs to be broken down further.

Onwards and upwards



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