Surviving without sticky notes

I’m not saying it’s unheard of. But it’s vanishingly rare to find a barrister who works on paper and who doesn’t festoon her bundle with sticky notes – whether purpose-made and translucent, or torn-up Post-Its. Combined with cardboard tabs to create sections, it works. But in a paperless world, what are we to do?

Everyone does it.

When faced with a paper bundle hundreds of pages long – still worse, several – it’s tempting to sigh in despair. How can one possibly navigate it? Find what one’s after? And most importantly, do so quick enough not to annoy the tribunal – or look impossibly incompetent in the process?

The two time-honoured techniques are the cardboard tab and the sticky note. Cardboard tabs separate one document from another. Sticky notes take you to the exact page you need – sometimes the exact paragraph. (If you’re the kind of person who carefully places them in alignment with said paragraph, rather than in a kind of OCD march down the side of the page. Guilty as charged on the latter front, incidentally.)

It works. Aside from anything else, once you’ve been through a bundle a few times, the physicality of the locations starts to sink in. You recognise, almost subconsciously, which tab, which sticky note, is which, from their position. And so you find your way – smoothly and professionally.

I don’t have a solution to the loss, in our new paperless world, of the physical cue. That simply doesn’t exist, and it’s a shame. But it’s a burden we’ve simply got to bear, I’m afraid.

That aside, though, there are perfectly workable alternatives to tabs and Post-Its. PDF Expert’s handling of annotations, in fact, makes this simple. Firstly, it allows you to create an Outline – essentially a table of contents. Secondly, it allows you to bookmark individual pages. And thirdly, whenever you highlight something or write a text note in the margin, it lists ALL these annotations. And lets you search the list.

It also allows you to export the annotations. Imagine that. You’ve marked up an authority with highlights, written yourself a few marginalia to guide your thinking – and then you email yourself just the extracts you’ve highlighted and the notes you’ve written, so you can easily cut-and-paste them into an advice or a skeleton. Perfect.

All these are visible on the Mac through either the View menu (third section down, after “Split View”) or through clicking the button just to the right of the traffic-light buttons in the top left of every window. The one that – unsurprisingly – looks like a sidebar. Which is exactly what it opens, with four buttons at the top allowing you to show (from left to right) bookmarks, outlines, annotations, or just thumbnails of all the pages. (Similarly, on an iPad, you hit the top-right button which looks like the spread pages of a book.)

So when you’ve put your bundle together (caveat – while bookmarks and annotations survive a merge just fine, outlines don’t – so do this after you’ve done the merge):

  • show the Outline sidebar;
  • Go to the first page of a document within the bundle;
  • Click “+ Add Item”, typing in the name of the document (or an abbreviation you’ll actually recognise – I normally include the date for easy reference);
  • Repeat till you’re done.

You can now easily skip to any individual piece of evidence. Note that you can indent outlines, for instance if you have a big document with multiple parts.

As you read through, you’ll find important pages. Highlight them (select the text, then you can do any number of things – choose “Highlight” from the “Annotate” menu, right-click and choose a colour, use a keyboard shortcut – pick your preferred method and stick to it. And when you’d normally add a sticky note, hover your mouse in the top right hand corner of the page – and you’ll see a little blue “bookmark” placeholder. Click that, and a red bookmark will appear – and even if it’s not open, the Bookmark sidebar will pop into view, with a fresh new bookmark for you to name.

So there you go. Highlight, and find all your highlights in an easy-to-search list. Go straight to a particular document via the Outlines. And skip to a particular page or issue you Bookmarked earlier.

Job done. It takes a bit of getting used to, but once you’re accustomed you’ll be sauntering through bundles as quickly as you used to. If not more so.

(In the spirit of fairness, I should acknowledge that other apps do some or all of this – just in different ways. Adobe Pro, for instance, combines bookmarks and table of contents into a single list. Some people far prefer that – which is fine. Personally, I don’t. The point being: this isn’t about what’s right or wrong. This is about what works for you – what gets out of your way and helps you do the job. Find a system, and stick to it.)

Bundles. Blasted bundles.

As I may have mentioned, I can’t say I’m upset at the demise (at least for the moment) of the paper bundle, and the normalisation of delivering a soft one. But what if you’re instead faced with all kinds of disparate files, and you’re the one who needs to sort it?

I’ll try to keep this quick. I’m going to assume that you know how to turn documents into PDFs (because we already covered that). And that you’ve got them all sitting named in some kind of sensible order in a folder somewhere that you want to combine. And – the big one – that you’re using PDF Expert.

Because if you are, putting the documents together for yourself or the Court is child’s play.

The easiest way is this:

  1. Open PDF Expert.
  2. Choose “Merge Files…” from the File menu at the top of the screen.
  3. Navigate to whichever folder you’ve got your stuff in.
  4. Hold down the Command key (the one immediately next to the Space bar, with the funny little four-leaf clover symbol on it) and click once on each file you want to join together into your bundle. (NB: this is where it’s critical to have your files in a sensible naming scheme, because Merge will combine them in alphabetical order.)
  5. Click the “Merge” button.
  6. Choose “Save As…” from the File menu to save the new, combined file somewhere sensible.
  7. And you’re good.

There are other ways of doing this – dragging and dropping, for instance – but this is the easiest way to start.

What if you need to add something later? Well, you could do this again – but remember the alphabetical order point. Your new file might have the wrong name. Sure, rename it if you like. But there’s an alternative:

  1. In your open PDF document, click the Thumbnails button on your toolbar: it’s the one that looks like a 2×2 grid of little squares. You’ll see little versions of all the pages in that open document.
  2. On the toolbar you’ll see an option labelled “Append file”. It’s the second one from the left. Click it.
  3. Now choose the file you want to add to the end of your bundle, and click “Add”.
  4. And that’s it. Save, and you’re good. (And click “Close” to get back to looking at the pages themselves. Don’t forget that.)

I recognise this isn’t everything you need to do. You’ll need a table of contents. An index. Page numbers. Highlighting. And some way of replacing all those post-it notes your lever-arch bundles were festooned with.

It’s all doable. More to come. And in the meantime, these two techniques will give you everything in the same place, in the right order. A good start.

I’m a data protection and privacy geek. And even I think this time is different.

Opinion klaxon: I’m in the minority who actually like GDPR – while of course acknowledging its faults. But in these strange times, I agree with one of the wisest tech essayists I know. We’ve already given the keys to the data kingdom away to surveillance capitalism. Time to put those keys to use to save lives.

tl/dr: read this. “We Need A Massive Surveillance Program.” Now.

Slightly longer version: I’ve been interested in data protection and privacy for years. I have a (nascent, admittedly) practice in it. (Advertising break: So if you need someone who combines data protection/privacy with investigative, white collar or regulatory problems, I’m your guy!)

And personally, I’m a cheerleader. For goodness’ sake, I’m one of the few people I know who actually applauds GDPR (while of course acknowledging its problems). And that’s even after I had to write corporate procedures to deal with it. And then try to get a sceptical North American audience to buy into them.


Equally, I’m on board with the critique of “surveillance capitalism” by such stars as Shoshana Zuboff and Jaron Lanier. We’ve given away lots, for a lot less return than we think.

So normally the idea of empowering the live tracking of everyone would set my Big Brother muscles twitching horribly. And let’s be clear. It does.

But if there’s anything that South Korea, Singapore and Taiwan have shown us, it’s that the only way through this thing without either killing a horrific number of people or destroying lives through penury (and to be clear, I recognise that we may not be able to evade either of these outcomes) involves testing, tracing, and telling. Testing widely. Tracing where those with the misfortune to be carriers have gone. Then telling them to get them quarantined, and telling others so they can steer clear. And the only way to do that is by using our own self-surveillance devices. Our phones.

It’s a terrifying thought, isn’t it? Let ourselves be Tracked. Singled out. Isolated. Potentially ostracised. (This last is really scary, given our proven tendency as a species towards bigoted blame directed to out-groups of all kinds.)

But smarter people than me can’t see a sensible alternative. Even Maciej Cegłowski, who’s got a solid pro-privacy track record and (incidentally) runs Pinboard, the best bookmarking site ever. (Social bookmarking for introverts, as he calls it. Perfect.)

So no more blather. Read what Maciej has to say. Think about the safeguards he (and others) talk about. And also think about how – if we did this, with those safeguards – we’d be setting an example of how the broader surveillance capitalism issues might – just might – be reined in.

Please: read. Then think. That’s all I ask.

So you’ve turned everything into a PDF. What next?

There are far too many PDF apps out there. Pick one, learn it inside and out, and make it work for you. Although I do have my preference. And it’s not Adobe Acrobat. This is in essence a shameless plug for the app that, more than anything else, made my paperless life possible.

OK. Well done. You’ve spent a boring 10 minutes or so turning everything into PDFs. What are you going to use to do anything with them?

This is a tricky one. For Apple users, there are a huge number of options. I’ve only tried a few, and I’m not going to attempt a comparative review. No point. (And I’m sorry – I’ve used PCs all my working life, but mostly corporate locked-down ones, so no experimenting to find apps I like. This is one of those areas where this is gonna get really aggravating for Windows users. Again – apologies.)

Instead, this simply covers three options:

  1. A specialised PDF app;
  2. A dedicated legal bundle-handling app or website; or
  3. Adobe Acrobat Pro.

Me? I go for option 1, and in my case a lovely app called PDF Expert:

  • It does highlighting, annotation, tables of contents and bookmarking really well, which are the core things we need (and it allows you easily to view or extract just your highlights and annotations, which makes it easy to dump them into skeletons etc).
  • It’s child’s play to combine PDFs, mess about with page order, rotate pages, and so on. It works just about identically on Mac and iPad.
  • All the table-stakes PDF stuff like form-filling and signing is pretty much entirely pain-free.
  • And for those of us who keep all our stuff in some form of secure cloud storage, it’s great at syncing it all between offline iPad storage and the cloud.

Seriously – if there’s one app which made it possible for me to go paperless and stay there, it’s this one.

Now, there are loads of others. Just off the top of my head: PDFPen and PDF Element (for both Mac and iOS). iAnnotate and GoodReader for iPad. Even Preview, which comes installed as standard on Macs. Seriously: there are shedloads. And none of them are less than good (well, except Preview – that’s just OK). You won’t go wrong. Just so happens that PDF Expert solves for my pain points and (to my mind) does so better than the alternatives, if sometimes not by much. Particularly on the critical combine-files-together thing, which (on the Mac) you can do by dragging and dropping. Multiple files. All those ones you PDFed and carefully named. In one go. Bliss.

Now, I have to admit there’s one serious fly in the PDF Expert ointment. It doesn’t do OCR – optical character recognition, also known as “turning a scan into something searchable and highlightable”. PDFPen does, for instance. As does Adobe Pro (see below). That’s a big downside. So I have a separate OCR app. Again, there are several – but ReadIris has worked well for me so far.

And then there’s price. PDF Expert isn’t cheap – nor are PDFpen and PDF Element. If price is a real issue, you should definitely look at GoodReader, which (I think) costs about a fiver.

(Update, later in the day: I feel slightly dirty. I’ve just advised a non-geek colleague to go for PDFPen because it does OCR etc all in one. I still think PDF Expert is the better app usability-wise. But there you go: perhaps for people who need OCR, the all-in-one solution wins out…)

So how about option 2? I have to admit I don’t know much about these. I’ve dabbled, no more, in three of them – Casedo, Bundledocs and Hyperlaw – so take my comments with a sizeable pinch of salt. But they’re not for me. Yes, they make bundling a doddle, and in Casedo’s case have some nifty ways of highlighting and linking between parts of different documents. But while Hyperlaw solves one big pain point – you can dump an email full of various attachments into it and it turns them all magically into PDF (yay!) – it’s also browser-based, and despite claims to the contrary, is simply substandard on an iPad. Bundledocs is also browser-only, and only really handles bundle generation, not all the other PDF-handling we need. So that’s a no. And Casedo is app-based – but the app is Mac/PC only. Again, no. I can’t do this without my iPad. Sue me. (Don’t.)

OK. Elephant time. Why not option 3? Why don’t we simply go for Adobe Acrobat Pro? After all, Adobe invented PDFs. Surely they know what they’re doing?

Yes. They do. It’s excellent software. Again, fully cross-platform, and a single subscription covers everything. Including OCR built in.

But there’s part of the rub. That subscription is £15 a month – if you sign up for a whole year. If you want to keep your options open, it’s £25 a month on a month-by-month basis. Ouch. I have to say, I also find its highlighting/bookmarking/annotating simply less good than most of the competition. That may be simply me backing what I’m used to, but it’s still a hard pass.

As with everything, your mileage may vary. What’s critical is you find something that works. Something you feel comfortable with.

And then there’s option 4. The one I didn’t mention. The apps that do it completely differently.

Two in particular stand out: LiquidText (iOS only) and MarginNote (iOS and Mac). Both allow you to take one or more PDFs, drag bits of text or pictures (or whatever) out onto a scratchpad to one side, and connect and arrange those bits in any way you please, adding commentary and comparing different bits of documents side by side. I’ve tried both, and I absolutely love the concept. Just haven’t quite managed to make it work for me. But people for whom it does absolutely swear by it. Give it a go. Might be your idea of perfection.

Personal aside: one plug, one whinge.

Stepping away from professional life for a minute: my favourite online piano tutor has an offer running, which I’d jump at if I wasn’t already a subscriber. And the new UK self-employment support scheme? New barristers may get nothing. And pay loads…

Two quick things. One I hope is useful. The other is – I admit – basically a complaint.

The good stuff first. I mentioned Jazzedge, the jazz (and other stuff) piano tuition site I subscribe to. Willie Myette, who runs it, has now discounted a cut-down subscription to a subset of the site. He’s charging about $120 a year (paid in one go) for it. The discount lasts till (I think) 6pm on Wednesday 1st April.

I’ve checked, and it includes about 80% of everything I’ve looked at yet, and an order of magnitude more of stuff I haven’t got to. If you’re really good already, this probably isn’t for you. But if like me you mess about, try your best but really need help to get better, go for it if you can spare the cash. (And I recognise for us all right now, that’s a real and agonising question. But there’s a 14-day trial during which as I understand it you can cancel and get your money back.)

Now the whinge. As with the whole self-employed bar, I’d been awaiting news of the Government’s self-employment income support scheme. For anyone working pretty close to full time, who was doing so before the current tax year, and made less than £50k in taxable profits then averaged across up to the previous three years, it’s… not bad. Not perfect, but what is? The big issue for these people will be waiting possibly till June to be paid. And that, admittedly, is a HUGE issue.

(The unspoken question is: why do it this way? Complex, exclusionary, difficult. And to my mind no more appreciably fraud-proof than simpler alternatives. See below.)

But that leaves out more people than you’d imagine. For instance:

  • Like with the child tax credit clawback, if your profit was £51k and your spouse doesn’t work, or was employed but has been made redundant, or any number of other scenarios, you’re screwed. Not a penny. But if you each made a £49k profit, you’re golden. £5k for your family a month. That’s just wrong.
  • If you work through a company – often (for broadcasters) because the BBC and other commissioning bodies won’t work with you otherwise – and you don’t pay yourself a salary (and even if you are, aren’t prepared to down tools and do nothing at all. Not business development, nothing. Which is suicide for a small business), then you’re out too.
  • Anyone who’s been diligently building up a side hustle for years but went into full-time entrepreneurialism in the past 18 months or so. Because if your 2018-19 tax return was less than 50% self-employed income, nothing for you.
  • That last one will hit a lot of new barristers, those who were pupils last year. (Myself included.) Most of us have only a month or two of self-employed taxable profits for 2018-19 – but if we had employment earnings for April-September 2018 which exceed that already small amount, that’s us out too.

Yeah, I know. I’m whingeing. But there’s the sting in the tail: the threat from Rishi Sunak to up our National Insurance rates. We self-employed people currently pay £3 a week in Class 2 contributions, and 9% in Class 4 on all taxable profits between £8,632 and £50k. Above that, Class 4 is 2%.

For employees, it’s 12% (the floor and ceiling are not quite identical, but within a couple of dozen quid, so let’s keep it simple).

Here’s the sting. Their employers pay 13.5%. And there’s no ceiling.

So what’s Rishi saying?

  • That we get to pay an extra 3% on Class 4 – effectively a basic-rate rise of 3 pence in the pound? (If so, you can start giving us statutory sick pay when we have to cancel hearings owing to throwing up or otherwise being incapacitated.) And other support mechanisms when we have a dip in our workflow. I’m not just talking about barristers here – Class 4 is lower for self-employed people because we get less. Pay more, entitled to more. Fair’s fair.
  • Or that we’re effectively going to get a rise in tax across the board of 13.5 percentage points? I actually can’t believe this can be what he means. Please, someone, tell me it isn’t.

Anyway, we don’t know. (Well, I don’t. Far smarter employment barristers like my friend and colleague Daniel Barnett will know better than I do…)

And all of this ignores the big point: that there may have been a simpler alternative. I’m not an economist, and am happy (oops) to be shouted down by those who know more than me. But except on ideological grounds – the determination to rule out the idea as socialism-by-the-backdoor – why not provide a temporary universal basic income, and then claw it back on the basis of future tax returns on a means-tested basis? Far easier to implement, doesn’t have built-in injustices which always come with hard ceilings and past tax records, and still allows you to get a chunk of the cash back later.

I’m aware of the fraud risks. Honest – I’ve been a counter-fraud specialist for most of the past two decades. I know this will, at least in basic terms, have been risk assessed. And any system like this, introduced in these circumstances, is going to be prone to fraud. But I’m not at all convinced that what I’ve described is any less risky in these terms than the one they’ve gone with.

Seriously. Tell me. Why would this be a bad idea right now?

The pupil’s view of law in lockdown

Pupils are having a particularly weird time of it. Ours started Second Six in early March, just as the virus started hitting hard. So Courtney Marsden‘s first experience of real-world advocacy was distinctly different from mine…

I have spent a lot of time imagining what my first ever trial would be like. I imagined how it would feel to sign my name on my first real-life skeleton, to sit in a courtroom as “Counsel”. But I never imagined that my first trial would be on the day the country went into lockdown. I never imagined that my first trial would be a video hearing.

On Monday, I appeared in the First-tier Tribunal (Special Educational Needs and Disability). Twelve participants took part in the video hearing. Eleven of these participated by video link, and one via telephone.

At the start of the hearing, the judge spoke of the importance of the parties feeling that justice was being done, even in these unusual circumstances. This was facilitated by everyone’s patience. We operated on basic “classroom” rules such as “make sure only one person is speaking at a time” and “if necessary put your hand up before you speak”. [Ed: proof positive that against preconceptions barristers can behave like grown-ups…] This allowed both parties to put their case just as they would have done if the hearing had taken place in person.

New difficulties inevitably arise when a trial is conducted by video link. There can be delays in transmitting audio, background noise can overshadow someone’s answer to a question, or (horrifyingly) the internet may drop out when you are in the middle of examining a witness. It is notable that you do not have the opportunity to negotiate with the opposing party in the same way that you would do in person. In the SEND Tribunal, the parties will often agree specific wording for the Educational Health and Care Plan in person, both before the hearing and during breaks. However, the judge was proactive in encouraging agreement, and allowed time for the lawyers to mimic “courtroom door” advocacy in the virtual lunchbreak.

More problematic from a client care perspective, you do not have the opportunity to meet your client in person or take instructions from them as matters arise throughout the day. I would advise anyone appearing in a video hearing to make sure that they have organised in advance how they will stay in touch with their parties through the day. I asked my witnesses to message me if their internet dropped out, so that we could pause proceedings until they reconnected. The judge was sympathetic, and repeatedly checked in to make sure that we were all still connected.

At the end of the proceedings, the judge asked the parties for confirmation that they felt justice had been done. We agreed without hesitation. This trial, and the many more video hearings that will be taking place over the next few weeks (or months), is a testament to our justice system. In these unusual times, judges, barristers, parties and witnesses are pulling together to make sure that the trials that do take place will not suffer as a result of the lockdown.

Practical Tips for Video Hearings
Test the software before the hearing – you will be sent a link and an access code to the software for the video hearing in advance. Make sure that you have signed in well before the hearing and confirmed that your microphone and webcam are working. If you have any technical difficulties, consider dialling in by telephone instead.
Plan your screens – If you are using multiple screens, spend some time thinking about how you are going to organise them. Where will the video link be? Where will your bundle be? Where will you make notes?
Think about using headphones – this helps minimise the background noise for others, and ensures privacy when you are conducting a hearing in a busy home.
Mute your microphone when you are not participating – this will help reduce background noise.
Think about how you are going to communicate with your witnesses throughout the day – consider giving your witnesses your phone number and encouraging them to send you a text message if they have any technical difficulties.
Think about how you are going to communicate with the other parties – make sure that you have contact details for the other side so that you can negotiate with them throughout the day if need be.

The joy of PDF

Format-wise, PDF is a no-brainer. Getting stuff into PDF format isn’t too much of a pain, either.

Some might well wonder why I’m even discussing the pros and cons of PDF as a standard file format for papers and such. After all, it’s pretty much the standard. Has been for years.

Admittedly I’m old enough to remember arguments within GeekWorld about whether Adobe should really be allowed to define such a fundamental standard, but the market spoke. And those days are long gone.

So why am I bothering to write this?

Because, as we all know, PDFs aren’t all we get. For any given case, you’re likely also to get one or more of:

  • Word documents
  • Excel spreadsheets (depending on subject matter)
  • RTFs sometimes (for the uninitiated, it’s a non-Microsoft text document format, which can open in Word – but will usually open in Notepad (Windows) or TextEdit (Mac) unless you tell the machine to do otherwise
  • Pictures, of one format or another, and
  • Curse them, Outlook emails as attachments to other emails.

I’ll admit it – for many people, this last one isn’t so bad. They open fine in Mail or Outlook on a Mac. But I don’t use either as a rule, other than as a means of opening precisely these messages. And in any case, digging through the nested attachments is a nightmare.

As for laying hold of them when you’re madly cramming for a case, or (worse still) half way through one: forget it.

The only sensible solution, I’d say, is to save everything into a single case folder. I keep everything in OneDrive for Business – which costs me about £45 a year for a terabyte of storage space, encrypted at rest and thus GDPR-happy, and can easily be accessed from any device I happen to be using. (Cloud storage is something we’ll keep for another day, so I’ll say no more.)

And here’s where we get back to PDFs. Sure, I keep Word documents and so on in their original form, stored in the case folder. But I convert EVERYTHING which isn’t already a PDF – emails, pleadings, spreadsheets, pix, authorities, you name it – into one. That way, I can mark everything up the same way, index and scribble on it, and generally stop thinking about the tech and get on with the case.

How to turn things into PDFs?

On a Mac, this is pretty simple. Simply hit Print (from the File menu, from Command-P, or from a button onscreen) and you’ll see a wee drop-down menu labelled “PDF” in the bottom left hand corner. Click on that, choose “Save to PDF”, and you’re away. Give the file a nice helpful name – I start with the date on the document in yyyymmdd format, because that means everything’s naturally in chronological order, and then add a few descriptive words. So you end up with something like “20200325 email from sol re limitation.pdf”. Perfect. Some apps will also let you save or export to PDF, but this way always works.

On iOS, the most consistent way is to go to Print, at which point you’ll get a preview of your document. “Spread” it with two fingers so it expands to fill the screen, then hit the “Share” button (the one that usually looks like a box with an arrow coming out the top) and save it wherever you like. Straight into your PDF app, or into cloud storage, probably. (If you’re clever, you can set up a shortcut to convert-and-save all in one. I haven’t bothered – I probably should…)

On a PC, most “Save As…” dialogues will have a drop-down menu for “Format” or “Save as type”. These will usually have a PDF option. Choose it, and you’re golden.

And then I bung everything into a single PDF file – and there’s my bundle.

Others will do it differently. Which is fine – everyone has their own workflow. But if you’re new to this, I urge you to give the all-PDF, all-the-time method a whirl.

Next time: now you’ve got your PDFs. What are you going to use to read them?

Desk du jour, #2: Zara F

Zara and I were at Bar School together. She’s now at the FCA. And her desk puts mine to shame…

Oh dear.

I didn’t think the desk-shaming would start this quickly. But Zara’s is an example of organisation and nice angles. Liking the colour of the backlit keyboard as well.

Plus she’s got classy artwork, which make my bare walls look like the travesty of stylelessness that they are. And the kettle/teapot combination? Nice.

(The Windows machine in the middle, by the way, is now standard FCA issue. Most of its staff work remotely at least some of the time, and I have to say their VPN/remote working setup is better than a lot of corporates I could mention… Good on them.)

Next? Volunteer your pix by email, please, people.


So important, it needs to be in shouty caps. Sorry.

Image from Aeropress's website. Much obliged.

A very old friend just commented on my desk du jour pic, noting the lack of “a bluetooth/app-controlled espresso machine”. Can’t argue with the principle of the thing, including the absolute centrality of caffeinated beverages to a successful life at the Bar.

However, this is one of those very rare occasions where low tech is best. My amazing and wonderful spouse gave me an Aeropress for Valentine’s Day. And it’s the best thing ever, coffee-wise. Heartily recommended, both on taste grounds and because it’s quick and easy to wash up…

Desk du jour, #1: mine.

He’s a genius, that David Grant. As well as introducing me to Sun Ra (for which ta), he came up with this idea…

I can take no credit for what I hope will be a regular (if not entirely daily) feature of this scribble: the Desk du Jour. Since (other than those few who were pretty much wholly remote anyway) we’re all either making this the norm rather than the exception, or starting from nervous scratch, it might help to know that claims of perfect desk organisation are unfounded, unevidenced, and therefore probably a fundamental ethical breach (see the BSB Handbook, Rule rC6.1.a, about making representations which you know to be untrue).

So to kick it off, here’s mine:


  • The big desk. Bought with absolutely no foresight but wholly fortunate timing about a month ago. (At the same time as daughter’s new desk – again, no foresight, but goodness I’m glad we got it.)
  • The sunlight lamp. Critical, although the room faces west.
  • The laptop platform, as previously discussed. Avoids upnostriling (I normally avoid neologising, but couldn’t resist this) on video conferencing, and makes for more space.
  • The ergonomic keyboard and trackball. Critical stuff for me – RSI is not your friend. (Also note the Apple sticker on the Microsoft keyboard. Sorry about that. Had it lying around.)
  • The chair. Which has foldaway arms. Lord, I hate arms on chairs when I’m typing.
  • The Windows laptop in the middle – for a client whose work demands I use its own kit. Another benefit of the big desk.
  • The stand for papers. Usually sits under the laptop platform for maximum desk space usage, but I’ve moved it so the Windows machine can be centre stage for a hearing today.
  • And the external monitor. Currently plugged into my laptop on the platform and positioned so I can glance at papers on it without turning completely away from the camera. But I’m about to plug it into the Windows laptop for the hearing. Versatility, thy name is me. (No, not really.)

Two other bits of kit I regard as crucial but aren’t visible:

  • The pic of wife and daughter. I’m trying not to annoy them too much while being under their feet the whole time.
  • The mat under the mug, which is made with Hama beads by my daughter several years ago and looks like R2D2. It’s a prized possession. No argument.

There’s also a small Yoda torch. Sadly not Baby Yoda (or “Yodicle” as it’s referred to in our house), but you can’t have everything.

Who’s next? Email ’em in, friends…