Peak hour? Maybe the motorway would have been better.

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Earlier this week I had to drive from Seven Hills to Macquarie Park for an 8.30am meeting. Now this is a journey I've never made in peak hour before. I discarded using the M2 Hills Motorway as it's a parking lot from 7am. I had a mix of main roads and back roads planned which I hoped would get me there in time. Like many plans of mice and women drivers, it went wrong. Firstly my car's airconditioning is broken (the compressor has died but that's another story). This wouldn't have been an issue had I been able to continuously move at 60km/hr or more. With the windows down Gisela the Golf gets a decent airflow. It wouldn't have been an issue either if Sydney wasn't suffering its longest continuous heatwave. By the time I left Seven Hills at 7am it was already nearly 30 degrees. I spent the first 30 minutes of my trip trying to get onto Old Windsor Road from Fitzwilliam Rd, Toongabbie. Maybe the traffic lights were still on a school holiday phasing, I dunno. Whatever the case, I hadn't expected quite such a long holdup there. There were no accidents or breakdowns; just traffic. Surprisingly traffic flowed pretty well along my chosen route of James Ruse Drive, Kissing Point Road, Marsden Road and Terry Road. Around Eastwood it started getting busy again - really, some drivers leave their brains behind when they are picking up people or dropping them off. Use your bloody wing mirrors! - and I wound my way along the back streets of Ryde until I hit another giant snag on Herring Road. By then it was 8.40, and my meeting had started at 8.30. Thankfully I had a colleague already there and getting things underway. I didn't get to my destination until 9am. That's two hours of my life I'll never get back, and at least an hour of that was stuck fast in stationary traffic. I was stressed, upset because I truly hate being late, my heart rate was up, I had a sore throat from shouting at other drivers who did daft things, and I was unbearably hot. This is why I work from home, and ideally plan my meetings for between 10am and 3pm. Sydney peak hour is unconscionable. Some people can cope with it; I'm not so philosophical. Why didn't I use public transport? Because: a) the trains from Seven Hills typically aren't airconditioned. My car isn't either but at least in my car I can have a seat; nor do I have a complete stranger squashed sweatily next to me; b) it would have taken nearly as long to get there, changing at Strathfield and Epping. I had originally allowed 1.5 hours' travel time in my car; c) I had other meetings to go to after the 9am one, which weren't easily accessible by public transport, especially in a heatwave. Stuck in the mire of exhaust fumes and the doof-doof from surrounding radios, however, I blessed my good fortune that I don't have to deal with a 2 hour drive to work five days a week. If you, on the other hand, do, tell me about it. What makes your job so enjoyable and rewarding that you put up with the drive rather than seek employment nearer home?

The utter rudeness of pedestrians

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We are all, at some times, pedestrians. I drive a car, I ride a bicycle and I walk. Often all three in the same day. When I'm in pedestrian mode however I'm mindful of those who aren't, particularly at zebra crossings. If there is only one car approaching, I'll wave it on. Why should this driver be inconvenienced by me when there is no other car in sight? As a driver and a cyclist I've had to stop for pedestrians who don't even LOOK but simply walk onto the road, trusting blind faith in the ability of drivers to hit the skids. Or pedestrians who see you coming, with no vehicles in sight behind you and nothing approaching in the other direction, and smugly walk out, making you stop. And waste petrol starting off again in first gear. Frankly, I find that rude. Yes, pedestrian, it IS your right of way and those of us in or on vehicles have to stop, but show some consideration and common sense, please. At Eastwood in Sydney's north there are signs at zebra crossings asking pedestrians to show consideration for motorists and wait to cross in groups. Sadly these signs are all too often ignored. Eastwood is a busy shopping precinct and motorists have to have eyes in the backs of their heads to safely negotiate it. While I'm on a roll, my next beef is school zones. Because we motorists have to slow down to 40, teenagers at high schools seem to think we motorists are fair game when it comes to playing chicken. I've seen kids run across six lanes of traffic on Lane Cove Road because the cars are going slow enough to make it viable. This is within 300 metres of traffic lights and a pedestrian crossing by the way. It's worse near my house. The local high school is on a two lane road and the kids mill across it like Brown's Cows at 3pm. There are pedestrian traffic lights and a zebra crossing within 300 metres of each other, with the lights almost at the school gates, but the kids cross anywhere they like. For motorists it's frustrating and frightening. If I hit one of these kids I'm in trouble and at fault despite the kids breaking the law by crossing the road within 100 metres of the traffic lights. Yes, I looked it up on the RTA website. I've written to the school principal but it hasn't made any difference to the students' behaviour. Am I alone in my frustration at how people leave their brains behind when it comes to pedestrian activity? Let me know! (coming up... A diatribe on how and why people lose all sense of spatial awareness in shopping centres...)

On the road with the iPad

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Before Christmas I set out on a road trip to Melbourne armed with my iPad rather than my laptop. I'd intended to blog about the iPad's mobile wonders while I was there, and I did. Except the apparently trusty WordPress app froze when I tried to save my post and my blog post was consigned to the great beyond. At that point I couldn't bring myself to slowly tap the whole thing out again on the touchscreen keyboard. Which was one of the little problems I had taking this admirable device away from home territory. The other was that my email failed halfway through the trip. After a day and a half in Melbourne I could receive, but not send. At home our broadband is with Telstra, but I have an Optus prepaid card for the iPad as Optus offered the better deal. I checked the configuration of my outgoing mail server and ensured it pointed to my own domain rather than Bigpond. Still no joy. Even my Gmail account stood me up. I resorted to using webmail on my iPhone ( problems), using my webhost server on the iPad using Safari, and the email program on my husband's MacBook Air (which also had sending problems for a day or two but mysteriously righted itself. It has Vodafone for travelling). I could have phoned Optus but realistically, I was on holiday and trying very hard NOT to respond to emails. The only button I hadn't pressed was the one that uses Optus as the outward mail server, because I didn't have my username and password with me. Had I phoned Optus after all I would have learned that I didn't need the password and all would have been well. One to remember for next time. Now I *know* this, the 3G capability works a treat for mail. There are limitations to travelling with the iPad if you're in my line of business. There were quite a few things I couldn't do for clients on the back ends of their websites; I needed a computer. I'm sure apps will appear in the future giving us a very similar capability on the iPad as on the Mac I'm typing this on; I could have done with them while I was away. As a travelling companion the iPad was great. I'd loaded the Smart Maps app for Melbourne so we didn't need a street directory. We don't have a GPS in the car as we have Luddite tendencies in that department and both love poring over maps, atlases and street directories. My husband has started to collect compasses. Smart Maps is a hefty app and takes up a few MBs, but doesn't need to use your 3G allocation to work. It simply loads the maps onto your device. Getting around Melbourne was a breeze with Smart Maps. I also have it on my iPhone. Catching up with news and weather was easy on both the iPad and iPhone. I haven't yet bought a newspaper app for the iPad but simply browsing the newspaper sites over breakfast was easy. I missed doing the crossword and word wheel though! I'm a voracious reader and usually find time to relax with a book no matter how busy the holiday or business trip. I'd loaded some free books from the iBooks store onto the iPad and saved myself luggage space to bring back Christmas presents. Reading on the iPad is easy; I use three readers, iBooks, Kindle and Kobo, and have found many free book downloads that look interesting. Yes, you can read books on the iPhone too but with the big screen it's much easier on the iPad. Likewise the big screen made it easier to research some of the towns we visited or passed through. Interested in the history of Kyneton, Victoria? We stopped there for a pie and I can recommend the bakery in the high street; their pies are excellent (The other great meat pies on the journey are at the Holbrook Bakery on the Hume Highway in Holbrook - do try them if you're driving that way). Kyneton didn't look like a typical gold rush town compared to nearby Castlemaine and Bendigo, and two minutes later the iPad and Wikipedia gave us its history so we explored briefly before heading on - it's a lovely place to visit as are the other two. Despite the email issues travelling with the iPad rather than the laptop was a liberating and positive experience. I actually felt like I had a holiday without having to take my mobile desk with me, even though I did have to do some client work on the trip. This is usual; I haven't had a proper holiday where I can simply switch off and pass the buck to someone else in ten years. As a small business owner I don't think I'm alone here. The iPad can't replace a desktop or a laptop, but it is powerful enough to keep you in touch, let you communicate, and give you the ability to make the most of your leisure time away from the desk. It will certainly be my 'holiday computer' in the future.

What apps do you use on your Smart devices?

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Calling all owners of smart phones and other devices! Are you using your equipment for business or pleasure, or a mix of both? And what apps have changed the way you work and play? I bought an iPad at Apple's sale a couple of weeks ago. I'd had an iPhone for several weeks by then and wondered how I'd managed without it. Would the iPad give me the same experience? Would I use it the same way? I seem to have divided the way I use my devices even though they both have for the much part the same apps on them. The iPhone battery isn't as long-lasting as the iPad so that limits the time I spend using it as a leisure toy. The apps I tend to use most on the iPhone, apart from the phone/contacts/messages/music etc are:
  • iCal - syncs beautifully with my Mac and I have the iPhone with me all the time whereas I don't necessarily have the iPad
  • Safari - looking up websites on the fly
  • ShapeUpClub - brilliant diet app and dovetails with associated website; helps you count your kilojoules and it's the only diet I've used that's helped me lose weight this year
  • WordPress and Joomla - but they are nicer on the iPad
  • eBay - excellent for when I'm at the Post Office posting off items to buyers and have forgotten to bring the printed labels!
  • ShopShop - great shopping list app. You can delete items from your current list and they stay in the database
  • Facebook - good for updating status and comments on the run
  • Twitter - likewise. Love the Twitter app.
  • TripViewLite - for when I'm taking public transport into town or elsewhere. Trip planner and timetable for Sydney and suburbs.
  • Notes. Indispensable. Saves writing on the palm of my hand or the back of envelopes when I don't have my day book to hand. It's my current To Do list among other things.
  • My bank's app - I can check account balances and transfer between accounts when I'm out and about, saving embarrassment at the checkout.
  • Games such as Bejewelled, Solitaire, Paper Toss and Angry Birds. I'm not a great gamer but I enjoy these, particularly at mindless times like telly ad breaks in the evening. They do chew up the battery though.
And for the iPad:
  • iBooks, Kindle and Kobo. I've got all three installed so I can have wide access to e-books. At the moment I have plenty of free books to read which I've downloaded. All three readers are similar and easy to use. Great app for when I'm sitting on the train. I have them on the iPhone as well but the experience is much better on the iPad.
  • Pages and Numbers. Mac's 'lite' version of its productivity suite which can read and export to Word and Excel files. Getting the hang of the iPad's keyboard is an art to be accomplished, especially if you're a touch typist like I am and tend not to look at the keys when typing. I've created some very unusual words in the last few weeks! Excellent for note taking in meetings or on the fly. Pages beats Word hands down for creative layouts.
  • WordPress and Joomla - so I can update my own and clients' sites on the road. Obviously I can't create graphics etc but at least I can make changes to pages and posts, categories etc.
  • Facebook, Twitter, Tweetdeck. As for the iPhone, these are easy to use when I'm out and about
  • Zinio - magazine reader. You get some free magazines with it but are encouraged to subscribe. Most of the mags appear to be from the USA however as a mag reader it's excellent and free to download the app itself.
  • GoodReader - have only just downloaded it but I suspect it's going to be a good friend, allowing me to read PDFs and other uploads and downloads.
  • I've loaded Photoshop Express but suspect won't use it an awful lot; it's limited as to what one can do with it, but it's a 'nice to have'.
  • I've loaded Smart Maps on the iPad as well as the iPhone. These are good - you don't need to be online to see your city and its suburbs in all their glory. Excellent for navigation if, like me, you prefer to look at a map rather than rely on a GPS in the car.
  • DesignNote - another I've just loaded and haven't used yet but I suspect this will be a hit with clients when showing them work. It allows you to annotate your work so you can make the necessary changes back at the desk.
  • Games as above - much nicer on the big screen!
So, those are my current useful tools and favourite leisure pursuits on my smart devices. I'll update again soon when I've explored more apps. Let me know yours!

Switching off – reducing the ‘technology overload’

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Technology is supposed to make our lives easier, and yes it does, but I've noticed when chatting to people that more and more of us have trouble 'switching off'. Not just turning our phones and computers off, but mentally tearing ourselves away from our work. With smartphones and tablet computers such as iPads becoming more commonplace, it's hard to separate work time from our own time, particularly for small business owners who work in service-related industries. Georgina Laidlaw has an excellent article here which has some ideas for those of us whose brain is still working on work stuff long after working hours are over. Getting out and going for a walk works for me, particularly now in springtime when I can let my mind wander over the sun on my back, or the scent of flowers like jasmine and wisteria, which always bring back a memory of childhood; comforting, carefree. Books do it for me too. When I want to have some technology-free time I often head for something written or set in the first half of the twentieth century. Yes, a time when computers and mobile phones weren't part of our lives. A slower time, to slow my mind down and make me relax. E. F. Benson's Mapp & Lucia books are favourites and I re-read them annually. Likewise mysteries from detective fiction's Golden Age: Josephine Tey (Brat Farrar is a longtime favourite)  and Agatha Christie's Miss Marple are marvellous antidotes - Murder at the Vicarage, anyone? Last weekend I bought two very battered Girl's Own Annuals at Rozelle Markets. It cost me $10 for the pair of them. One book was missing its rear cover and the other had its covers and spine but they weren't attached to the book. I had an enjoyable hour last night rebinding them and making a new rear cover. Purists might say I'm lessening their value but in the condition the covers were in I doubt each one is worth more than a fiver anyway. They make fascinating reading, a snapshot of British middle-class life in the early 1920s; articles by worthy ladies, fiction that never features more than a chaste kiss between lovers, chocolate-box village photographs and wonderful line drawings of the current fashions. Now I look forward to switching off in the evenings and delving into a world of bachelor girls, camisoles, good wives and a day in the life of a prima donna. How do you switch off? Answers on a postcard please (or leave a comment below).