All the best ideas are big ones

We all have them. Big plans. Great ideas. If only we had the money and time.
My ideas are pretty simple ones.
1. Open a burrito bar in Birmingham. Yes, it would also do tacos, quesadillas, and other such Mexican food.
2. Open a bar. Who doesn't want to?
3. Open a co-working space in Birmingham. Listening to In Beta #50 and listening to Kevin talk about CoWork Buffalo made my think about this again.
4. Learn Xcode and write my own iPhone/iPad app and make a fortune. Not King Marco fortune, but would be nice to clear some debt.

The only thing stopping me is determination, finding the time to start on these projects, and, probably a little knowledge and funding. So nothing major.

Switching Software Update Servers

If you're like me, working on a laptop between home and the office, you might find yourself switching Software Update Servers quite often.

At our office, we have a Mac Mini Server that hosts wikis, provides WebDAV folders, and also managed Apple Software Updates for the office. The server checks Apple's servers daily at 3am and downloads all the new updates, thus saving each client having to download the updates individually.

Our office broadband is incredibly slow, so using our work SUS from home is crazy. So at home, I want to make sure I'm going direct to Apple's servers.

Currently I've got the terminal commands in a text file that I would copy and paste when I wanted to change, but that is time consuming, so I thought why not just make a bash alias for it.

So here is my code. Pretty simple but saves a lot of typing. Put this in your bash profile and change the server.domain.tld to your own SUS server and save.

Note: I use suwiki as my alias because thats the local hostname of our server. Change this to something that you'll remember.

Nifty MiniDrive

In July 2012, I backed my first Kickstarter, the Nifty Drive. The idea is simple. A MicroSD to SD adapter designed to fit perfectly in the MacBook Air, or Pro laptop.

When I bought my MacBook Air in San Francisco in 2011 and bought the best one I could  get. I was saving some money buying it in the USA so went for the 1.8GHz i7 model. It came with a 256GB SD. Moving from a MacBook Pro that had a 320GB hard drive, I immediately had to get used to working with much less space. I ditched some old iPhoto Libraries, some TV and Movies from iTunes and moved my VMWare Fusion machines to an external hard drive, and managed to get my usage down to 223GB.

When iTunes Match launched, I signed up and removed another 7GB of music from my laptop, which is my only machine. Still, work required me to have a bit more hard drive space, and increasingly needed quick access to my Windows machine for tech suppor.  Running VMWare Fusion over USB was a joke, unusable. So the Nifty seemed like a great way to help my storage needs.

The original Nifty project was aiming to be released in November 2012. After it got funded, it slowly became more obvious that they wouldn't ship on time. Hitting various issues with parts, colour replication, and inferior production meant that by the time the NIfty's arrived, we were into February 2013.

ut, despite the delays, its here, and its great. It arrived in this slimline packaging, holding your Nifty drive, and the drive remover nested inside a neat cardboard envelope. One of their emails before shipping warned of tough glue being used in the packaging so removal was a careful process. 

Finally getting my Nifty into my MacBook Air was a great moment. I had forgotten what colour I ordered but glad in my choice, as the red looks good. Although all the colours look good. I popped a 32GB drive from Amazon into my Nifty and plugged it in. 

When it comes to use, its just what you'd expect. Its a MicroSD card, always mounted and always available. And it sits neatly out of the way so there is one less thing sticking out of my laptop.

If you spend your time putting your laptop to sleep and waking it throughout the day, either through commuting or just working around the place, then you don't want to use this for anything that you'd keep open and running. I was planning to put my VMWare image on there but the chance that the drive will unmount while asleep was too much of a risk to break my VM. So I moved my Lightroom library there. You might want to move your iPhoto library, or maybe your Final Cut projects.

Update: I ran Blackmagic Disk Speed Test on a Class 10 Sandisk MicroSD for read/write speeds. Here is is compared with my internal SSD.

MacBook Air Internal SSD

Sandisk Class 10 MicroSD via Nifty Drive

This summer, I'm hoping to upgrade my laptop. I'm waiting for the next-gen Retina MacBook Pro to come along and I'll probably pick up a 13" model, and I expect I'll also get a new Nifty for that one too. Having that instant expandable storage is a saviour for me.

Personal Debt: End Of Year Wrap Up

At the begining of the year, I started a series of blog posts loosely based on a similar project over on Consumerist Commentary, the idea being to report back on my rather large credit card debt, examining where I'm spending and trying to reduce that where possible.I set the goal of reducing my debt by £3000. In January, this seemed like a stretch goal but one that was at least within the possibility of achieving. As I sit here in January 2013, I can report that I missed my goal by a long shot.

Take a look at the final results for my debt at the start of December 2012, and then the final results on 31 December.

So you can clearly see that instead of a healthy £3000 reduction, I've managed to increase my debt by £1100. Needless to say I'm not happy but when I reflect on the year it's clear why.


I took a look at my spending this year and categories it. Unsurprisingly the biggest category was car related. As I mentioned earlier this year, I bought a car for work. That's when it all went wrong.

I paid too much for the car and very quickly had to fork out £250 for repairs within the first month. During this time I spent two weeks in hospital after some major surgery and then was off work for 6 weeks for recovery. This meant that I wasn't earning my usual money for two months total and wasn't claiming any business mileage back to help pay for the car. After my stint in hospital I decided I needed to change what I do and reduce my travel meaning I didn't need a car. So I sold it, at a bit of a loss, more than I hoped to.

So let this be a lesson. Cars are REALLY expensive.

The other big expense category was dining out. I think I spent a out £240 on dining throughout the year (that excludes any business related dining) which is probably a bit too much.

I've come out of 2012 being both unhappy about the results and understanding them. But 2013 had been another change and I really believe I can feasibly clear £1000 in six months. So I will report back later in the year with my progress.

Personal Debt - October+November 2012

Bit of a slow month on the credit cards for October. Our car was due its second year service which cost £249. Luckily I did some extra work this month which will pay for that and a little bit extra. I’m expecting that will go in mid-November.

Next month my interest-free period on my Barclaycard expires so I will likely be moving some of that balance elsewhere. I’m not sure yet how much but its possible that will go to my LloydsTSB classic card.

I closed down my Virgin Money card so I’m now down the four cards, which feels a bit more managable. And since two are just balance transfers, one is clear, and the other is my daily use and business use card, it feels a lot healthier, even though its the same balance.

One thing I have noticed is that my Numbers spreadsheet is getting progressively slower as I add more content to it. I keep a seperate Sheet for each card, which has a simple table with Date, Description, Amount, Balance and Comments. My Barclaycard also has a Reconciled column which I use to ensure I pay off all my business costs each month. I can simply total the unreconciled columns to make sure they match.



How to Sell Your Car

Last month, I made the choice to sell my car. I had a number of reasons. Partly due to the cost of running a 2.0L car (even if it was 14 years old), and partly because my use of it was going to reduce after my surgery. Having never had to sell a car before (getting rid of a written off car doesn't count) I thought I would try a few methods.

I started with GumTree and placed an ad (for free) with some photos and a description of the car asking for £1200. Gumtree just shows ads in date order, so if your ad isn't the most recent, it will get pushed down the list. I had it up for about 10 days with no interest, so decided to reduce the price to £1100, as well as bump it back to the top of the listings (for a small fee). Again I had no interest from Gumtree.

After that, I tried two methods. I listed it on Craigslist (which doesn't get used much in the UK) and on AutoTrader. Auto Trader will let you list your car for 14 days for £9.99 provided the cost of the car is under £1000. So I thought I would reduce the price further to £999 and list it there. 13 days went past with no real interest from either places. I had one man call and offer £700 for it (said that was the price of similar cars on AutoTrader - it wasn't) and two scam emails via Craigslist, one of which is below:

From: james williams

Thanks for the swift response...due to the nature of my job and location...i will not be able to come for inspection,am a very busy type as i work long hours everyday,i have gone through your advertisement and i am satisfied with it.As for the payment..i will be paying you via the fastest and secure way to pay online(PayPal).I have a private courier agent that will come for the pick up after the payment have been made and cleared to your account, so you don't have to worry about no shipping included.You can now send me your PayPal email so i can pay in right away and also include your address in your reply.If you don't have a paypal account, you can easily set up one...log on to and sign up. its very easy.I await your reply asap

Finally, on the last day of the advert, I had some calls. One person wanted to come and look at it immediately, and the other wanted to find someone to go with her to look and check the car over. The first person came, took a look - he worked for KwikFit so had a good idea of what to ask and look for, unlike me - and took a test drive. He was interested but wanted to look at insurance costs, and some other stuff. The next day, he came back, took one last look and bought it.

If AutoTrader hadn't worked, I was going to try eBay Classifieds (a friend had good responses from them before) or PartEx, as I do think I'll get another car. But knowing what sort of deals they do, I wouldn't have got more than about £600 for it. If I was going to sell a decent car, I would probably use AutoTrader again.

So how much did I lose on the whole experience? For a car I owned for only 5 months, I sold it for just over half what I paid for it. Minus the cost of insurance, the breakdown cost from the broken filler pipe, and fuel costs, it wasn't a great move.

Personal Debt - September 2012

I managed to miss the 1 September post at the start of the month, when I planned to catch up on August as well. Whoops.

So what happened this month? Well, I’ve started using my Barclaycard for my business expenses too in an effort to reduce the number of credit cards in use.
My balance on the Barclaycard went up when I used it to pay AirBNB for an apartment we stayed in in Edinburgh. My wife and I went with some frieds for a few days at the end of August and found a nice apartment on AirBNB to stay at rather than a hotel. It cost us £25 per person per night, plus booking fee, it was £84 each for the whole trip. A hotel would probably have cost that per night (split between two). I also backed a Kickstarter project (the Nifty Drive).
Katie and I also celebrated our 1st anniversary and stayed at Wroxall Abbey for a night. Its a mansion home-turned-hotel so was really fancy and costs a fair few quid.

In September, I signed up for a trial of Experian Credit Expert to take a look at my credit score. I was pleased to see I have a rating of 909 (not sure what the scale is) and only one warning which was to do with the amount of credit I was using out of all available credit. I was amazed to see how much information was on my record. It showed me info on all my existing and previous bank, savings accounts as well as all my credit cards, together with a recently updated balance. It also shows you any companies that have done a credit search on you, and whether it was a full search of just a general check (things like insurance quotes show up here too). After seeing this I made the choice to do my best to clear two of my cards, being the Virgin and the LloydsTSB (the lowest balances). I was able to do this because I also made the decision to sell my car, the one I bought in April. I’ll be posting later about that process. For now, lets say that I got paid cash and some of that went to pay off the Virgin card which I will be cancelling once I’ve had a final zero balance statement.

I’m continuing to pay off the minimum payment on my CapitalOne card, and a little bit more on my Halifax card. Both these cards have about another year of 0% interest on them so will probably just carry on for a while longer.

So here’s the final figures for August and September.

Debt Sept 2012

and here is the chart for the year to date:

Chart Sept 2012

Problem with Apple's Podcast App

Apple released their standalone Podcast app a few months back. It's a beautiful app as many have said, and yes it suffered teething problems at first. But what are its other issues? 1. There is no manual refresh option. 2. There is no way to set the order of the unplayed podcasts list. It's in date order, newest first. Who listens to podcasts in reverse chronological order? 3. You can't access the unplayed podcasts list in tile view. 4. Getting podcasts to play in oldest first order is difficult. If you are subscribed to a show, you see all played or unplayed episodes. So to reach the latest, you must scroll scroll scroll to the bottom. 5. It occasionally marks old shows as Unplayed again. 6. There is no iCloud sync between iPhone and iPad apps. So I keep having to mark old shows as watched. 7. The Podcast show list is in date added of the show. Or you can manually sort them. That may work fine for 5 podcasts, but when you have 17 subscriptions, you just want name order or show with the newest episode.

If they fixed these issues (mainly 4,5 and 6) I would probably use it full time but as of today, it just doesn't cut it. I'm sticking with InstaCast.