Rebalancing the analogue and digital in my life

A few years and a couple of jobs ago, I spent much of my life on digital pursuits while work existed in the analogue world. Being old enough to have spent most of my childhood without a proliferation of technology to hand every moment of the day, this was a fine balance for me.

Nowadays, that’s reversed. My work is all digital and filled to the brim with technology, so my life has become more and more grounded in the analogue. Again, this sort of balance works for me.

However, even my ‘analogue’ world is peppered with technology: Radio comes through smart speakers or as a podcast played on wireless earbuds; the car is more and more a computer with motorised wheels; books are downloaded and displayed on a screen; TV programmes are delivered upon request over the internet. All wonderful things that would be worse without technological enhancement.

Nonetheless, the balance between digital and analogue was starting to feel askew. I started to address this by spending far less time on my Mac. (My phone doesn’t draw much of my attention.)

To really tip the scales, I started learning the piano again, after nearly 30 years away. Playing the piano has not only righted the balance between the tech and ‘real’ world, but also given me the creative outlet I’d been seeking.

Time at the piano has become a crucial part of my daily routine, so I’m strict about keeping its analogue sanctity. When I sit down at the piano, I set my phone to a largely impenetrable do-not-disturb mode to keep the outside world away. All my music is on paper. My metronome swings and clicks and to recharge it, I wind it up. It’s just me and the music.

10 December 2022

Recent Articles

Strings Strummed

Finding creativity and rediscovering GarageBand


A remembrance


Automate entering GitHub & GitLab issues into OmniFocus

Shōganai Spirit

Learning to embrace the inevitable

It’s been ten years since a massive earthquake struck off the north-eastern coast of Japan. I had only moved to Japan a month prior. Hundreds of kilometres away, I still felt it. In part, I couldn’t help feeling excited. It was the first earthquake I’d ever experienced!

It became painfully clear in the hours to come how devastating it was for those nearer the epicentre. It was months or years later before I saw the footage of what happened. It was terrifying.

Engineering has prevailed over earthquakes in many ways. Buildings are built to be incredibly resilient to the shakes and waves beneath them. But tsunami are another beast entirely.

Many inhabited coasts are lined with walls. Rivers are often terraformed to make them deeper so they can take the inflows of water should a tsunami come.

There was no way any such preparations could’ve held back what came that day. It was beastly. It was fierce.

I’ve often thought about how much Japan has changed me, and there’s one thing I’ve adopted that stands out: the shōganai spirit. The attitude that there’s nothing you can do about it, it can’t be helped, so it’s best to move on with your life.

Shōganai spirit pervades everything in Japan. Didn’t get that five-year residency permit you’ve requested every year for the past seven? Shōganai. Train’s delayed because of a (highly euphemistic) human-related accident? Shōganai. Have to work three seven-day weeks this month? Shōganai.

I both love and hate it. I love it for the freedom it can give – I don’t have to get worked up about everything around me, especially when it’s out of my control. I hate it for its restrictiveness – if I don’t push back, how will anything change?

I’ve wondered where it came from. But as this anniversary came around, I had a thought. Consider that there’s an earthquake in Japan pretty much daily, and that the next one could be massive. Consider, too, that a tsunami could follow it and swallow up every stitch you call your own and everything around you.

How could you not have a sense of powerlessness and resignation in the face of that and the aftermath?

I suppose the shōganai spirit is a lot like religion, but with one important difference to me. Rather than pinning everything on a character from a fairy story, the power lies in me. I choose to embrace the shōganai spirit, release the anguish and put it behind me, and find a way forward.

11 March 2021

Strings Strummed

Finding creativity and rediscovering GarageBand

I haven’t used GarageBand since it was released in 2004. Not for any particular reason, mind. I’ve never been much of a music maker, so I didn’t have any occasion to use it. Clearing out my iPad last night, I realised I still had the app installed. Bored, I opened it to have a look around. I’m glad I did.

I was immediately taken by the magic and pleasure you get from playing an instrument, and I was surprised at how good – realistic – the instruments sound. You can download even more, including some really fun ones like toy instruments.

After spending a fair amount of time playing instruments I found the loops and lost myself completely. It was so easy to start building music that sounded great with no effort. I was able to just ‘get in the zone’ and be creative. It was a lot of fun, and .

I’ve been struggling with creativity for the past few months. Lots of factors have contributed to this – not least of all my job change – but a bevy life and lifestyle changes, too. Some of the creative spirit has returned the past couple of weeks, and making music last night resonated deeply. It’s time to blow out some of the cobwebs.

28 June 2020


A remembrance

I seem to love endings, and due to some flaw in my nature, the messier and more unsettling the better. When I was a teacher, it was like I had a subscription. Every year, more goodbyes. And in most cases, for forever.

Maybe not forever forever, though. Maybe.

There are no maybes today. Erin is gone. She was my best friend, my pseudo-sister, my platonic soulmate.

She left Japan and moved home a few years ago. We had our goodbyes, both quite certain we’d see each other again before five years had passed – unequivocally certain before ten had done. But that was before the illness, the malevolence that broke all certainties, except for one: it would kill her in three.

At our parting, we decided no tears were to be shed – it wasn’t forever, after all. I wish I could have kept that pledge, but this time it was forever and such things cannot be helped.

Goodbye, my love.

A photograph of a woman, Erin, presenting her unusually small glass of beer at a restaurant in Japan.

5 January 2020


Automate entering GitHub & GitLab issues into OmniFocus

If you needn’t read more, download GitFocus from GitHub.

I recently started a new job where all of our documentation is managed through git and a lot of my work comes from issues and merge requests filed on GitLab. To keep track of them, I turn to OmniFocus, no surprise.

It was clear by the second day that I didn’t fancy making all the actions by hand, though. Because of security concerns, I couldn’t turn to a web-based service like Zapier to help, so I decided to write an AppleScript. That’s more my pace anyhow.

How the scripts work

I had two goals: make the action title attractive and save it to an OmniFocus project corresponding to the GitLab project.

Fortunately for me, GitLab and GitHub alike have page titles that are information-rich, and it’s trivial to use AppleScript to fetch those titles from Safari. On the other hand, I had no desire to deal with processing that text in AppleScript. For that, I wrote two small Perl scripts, which feed their results back in to the AppleScript.

Together, they perform four primary tasks:

  1. Collect information about the web page from Safari.
  2. Transform the page title into an action title.
  3. Based on your specifications, determine which OmniFocus project the action is saved to.
  4. Make the action in OmniFocus.


The first Perl script called is the titler, which transforms a web page title like this:

Update 'this thing' to 'that thing' and link to them from each (#8155) · Issues · content / web / support / en · GitLab

…into an action titled:

resolve ❮#8155❯ – ‘Update 'this thing' to 'that thing' and link to them from each’

I put the ticket number at the front so that both it and the titles would start in roughly the same position for each action, improving readability. The heavy angle brackets are there to help the issue numbers stand out to make them scannable.

If you want to change the verb, capitalisation or anything else about the action title, instructions can be found in the file.


The resulting action gets sorted into a corresponding OmniFocus project based on the sorter. Beware, for it to work, it must be configured.

Full instructions for how to set up the sorter are in the file. In short, the script checks if a search string is in the page title. If found, the project name is passed back to the AppleScript. For the current example, I’d use the following to save the action to the Support Pages project in OmniFocus:

print "Support Pages" if $page_title =~ m`content / web / support`;

Action Creation

All being well, once the script has all the information it needs, it will make the action and save it to the project as specified. If the script is called on a page that’s not GitHub or GitLab, or if it fails to recognise the site correctly, the new action is dropped in the quick entry window.

Into the wild

I was content leaving this in a rough state for myself, but hearing about my work, Rose’s ears perked up. I shared the scripts with her and she decided she wanted a little more information in her actions. With a quick bit of JavaScript wizardry, she had the script saving the issue content and author in the notes field. Then, with thanks to Ken Case, she added a button to reveal the created action in OmniFocus.

After all the work, she thought we should write it up to share with others. I agreed, but if it were to be presented to a general audience, I wanted sharp edges padded where possible, and where not, explained. Thus, I wrote up some documentation and added a little error handling, particularly because the issue content and author are prone to failure, should GitLab change their page markup.

Get GitFocus

Perhaps unsurprisingly, GitFocus lives on GitHub. You can always download the latest version there.

Issues, Bugs, Feature requests

Should you encounter any problems with the scripts, file an issue on GitHub or email me. I will review pull requests and accept those that fix bugs or add features that seem fitting.

To use GitFocus

  1. Copy all three script files to the Safari scripts folder at: ~/Library/Scripts/Applications/Safari/
  2. Edit to add your GitLab or GitHub, and OmniFocus projects.
  3. Run the AppleScript. You can invoke it from the system Scripts menu, but I recommend using a keyboard shortcut assigned with FastScripts.