Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Getting Ready to Start the Community WiFi Project

I've been obsessed with setting up a Community WiFi network in my home town. The idea is to get people sharing their Internet connections with the community. I'm aiming for a mesh network, personally, although after reviewing other community networks, I recognize that if this takes off, we would eventually need some backhauls to get information from point A to Point B much faster. It would also help cross long distances that the routers aren't equipped to handle.

Today I went down to the hardware store and found an antenna mount that fixes to the house gable for $20. I bought some galvanized 1 inch conduit pipe for a mast. That will have to be cut to a more manageable size. 

Then I climbed up into the attic to check out the situation on how I'm going to run the cable to my mesh router. Fortunately, the mesh router uses PoE, so I only have to worry about running one cable. I did not start on the installation today because I need an outdoor cover for the mesh router; it has been rainy lately. In addition, the outdoor enclosure comes with the PoE adapter. 

I also purchased and set it as the splash page after connecting to the router. 

There are still many concerns about how to best carry out the project. On the one hand, the best way to get buy-in is to have residents buy their own equipment and install it. But, that would mainly work for those who haven't any Internet. If you have your own Internet connection at home, what is your incentive to pay money to share? Altruism is a tough sell. 

The alternative is to make the project more of a business where people pay in. Again, why would you pay in to share your connection unless you get something out of it. 

Obviously, I don't want to charge users for using the WiFi because that sort of makes the project an ISP, giving some expectation of quality of service and speed. The sticker point is that it's a disincentive to donate. 

Under consideration is to have businesses pay in around $200 per year for being on the splash page rotation. This money pays for two routers, one for the business, one for a neighbor. and covers other costs of installation. It's for-profitish. In this model, everybody wins; the business gets publicity to their web page of choice, a neighbor gets a free router, and I get change. 

There is also the difference in when people use Internet service. Businesses will tend to use Internet during working hours. Households will tend to use Internet during the evening hours. 

Of course, it's not set. I think I need to build a team to help me out with the project planning. My biggest hurdle is finding the money to buy the necessary equipment to build the network. I think once enough people get the idea of how it works, a little more buy-in can be expected to the point where it could be second nature to buy your own rooftop WiFi antennas and/or routers. 

Perhaps I'm tilting at windmills. 

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Let's rename restrooms and call them biological rooms

I say we do away with all pretenses at being polite. Let's call our bathrooms, restrooms, or whatever you call them, biological rooms. The reasoning is quite simple, we perform basic biological functions in there.

When you go to the "rest room", it's usually anything but. If you're not doing the pee pee dance, you're doing the poo poo dance, washing microbiological life forms off your hands, or wholesale washing off your whole body. We even scrape off fur, take medicine, and generally address other biological needs there.

Wednesday, November 09, 2011

T-Mobile Galaxy Tab with Android 2.3, Gingerbread

I finally got tired of waiting for either T-Mobile or Samsung to push out Android 2.3, Gingerbread, to my Galaxy Tab. I found a website with destructions on how to do it myself. It was much easier than I imagined.

Two features I wanted with Android 2.3, Google Talk with video and Hangouts, were my main motivation for upgrading the Galaxy Tab on my own. I had mixed results.

Google Talk with video currently requires 2.3.4. The Galaxy Tab update is 2.3.3. Missed it by THAT much. According to Google, they are working to make it available to more devices.

On the bright side, at least I can join Hangouts. I tested it with another account earlier. It's not bad at all. The main limitation is the quality of the front facing camera.

Skype also allows for video chat, as does Qik.

What is a little freaky is that the upgrade has the calling feature enabled. I could use the Tab to make calls using an appropriately set up sim card.

Another thing that was fixed was adding the voice actions button to swype. The previous version required switching input methods to be able to do that. This should be fun.

I'm hoping the browser cache is self-clearing. Having to manually clear the cache is a bonehead design.

Overall, the upgrade makes small changes that improve my enjoyment of the Galaxy Tab. Sure, there are a bunch more improvements; but these are all that matter to me.

Monday, October 31, 2011

When Kindle, Nook, nor Google Books Has a Price Advantage

I've been meaning to buy a book by Paulo Coehlo that I've read rave reviews about from people I follow online. So, as a little reward, I thought to find the least expensive version, either on the Kindle, Nook, or Google Books. The book is the same price on all three.

Having an Android tablet, it doesn't really matter to me what format I use, when there is a clear price advantage. However, when the book is the same price across platforms, all sorts of considerations suddenly jump up at me.

Here are the things I think about:

  • Where do I have the greatest number of titles already purchased?
  • What platform do I want to keep for the long-term?
  • Which one is DRM free?
  • How easy is it to share?
  • Which has the better Android app?
  • Is the printed version cheaper?
  • Is this something I'd want in the "family library" (Nook)?
None of this would have mattered if I could save a dollar. It would be an easy decision. However, given no price advantage, my mind jumps to all manner of considerations rather than quickly choosing a platform and buying the damned thing. 

And here I am blogging about it; I still haven't bought it. 

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Open Mesh Routers Are a Fair Alternative

Image showing mesh network layoutImage via WikipediaExample of a Single Point of FailureImage via WikipediaI've been working with Open Mesh routers at a couple of locations. Thus far, they have been reliable and have pretty good range on their own. Allowing the routers to mesh offers some pretty good advantages for small business.

One location where I am using an Open Mesh router has only one router as an access point. We wanted to test it out. I've been meaning to add a second access point for redundancy, though the office is small enough to be covered by the single router. My main motivation is to ensure that wireless coverage stays up should one router fail. That way, I have time to order a replacement while still servicing network clients.

In another location, I have three mesh routers. Two are set up as gateways with a third as a repeater. The two gateways are located in areas where I believe most people will use them, near the offices. The repeater is located in a conference room where it extends coverage outside the building. It also eliminates dead spots and weak signals inside the conference room.

Why Mesh Routers?

Previously, these locations had off the shelf, retail routers, which are OK; but, they tend to get flaky with prolonged use and multiple clients. I recognize that the burden of routing, not wireless, is what makes cheap routers flake out, especially when you involve VPN. However, by going with mesh routers as access points, turning off the radio on the cheap routers, it distributes the "risk" of single device failure.

The advantage is that the wireless mesh radios are not likely to all fail at once. If one fails, it's an inconvenience, but it's not the end of wireless coverage for the location. In addition, the mesh routers handling wireless means that I can choose any number of routers, including good ones that don't do wireless.

There Are Already Devices for That

There are already access points, routers, and repeaters available to eliminate a single point of failure without resorting to mesh routers. One of the disadvantages of mesh routers is the loss of speed due to the overhead of the mesh. I would worry about this if the locations relied on high speed access and low latency. But, the reality is that most small businesses need email, web browsing, and maybe the occasional Youtube video. The biggest limitation is the Internet connection speed, which is well below what the throughput limit is on a mesh access point. 

Small businesses are more cost conscious, which makes it important that I find cost effective ways of meeting their needs without resorting to enterprise class products. The Open Mesh routers handle many of the wireless needs of small businesses easily and affordably. 

Free WiFi is a Cool Add-on

Something else I like about the Open Mesh products is the free WiFi option they provide. They offer two SSIDs, one public and one private. The public one can be throttled so that guests don't hog up company bandwidth. Having open WiFi for guests is a good idea for the following reasons:
  • makes it easy for your clients to connect with information they need to do business with you, or at the very least keeps them busy while waiting;
  • allows vendors, partners, or other co-venture participants to operate on-premises without peeking into your network. 
  • splash page is a perfect marketing opportunity, which can at the very least connect to your Foursquare or Google Places page
  • you can still provide free WiFi with password protection, if needed
  • an alternative connection when the internal network is acting strange
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Thursday, October 20, 2011

Handwriting Apps for Evernote on Android Devices

There are two apps for Android devices that allow you to take notes as handwriting. This is handy in that it can be a little faster than typing, even allowing you to draw figures if needed. The reason handwriting is useful with Evernote is that Evernote is able to recognize and index handwriting found in images, . . . legible handwriting. The ability to find hand written notes through the Evernote search function gives new life to the use of penmanship. 

The first handwriting app is Handrite. I like it because it has writing guides that help you more or less keep letters the same size and your writing straight across the page. Handrite is geared towards writing text. You can technically draw items; but, they will be resized to fall within the size of your text. 

I default to Handrite whenever I need to jot down something quickly. However, it needs work on tracking your finger movement. Writing in a hurry leaves a mess of sticks and circles. Notes are exportable to Evernote.

The other handy Android app is Skitch, which is owned by Evernote. Naturally, they work well together. Skitch is better suited to drawings and photo notations. Skitch does not have writing guides, so you pretty much have to be mindful of your own margins and letter size.

What I like about Skitch is that you can add any drawings in whatever size you choose. You can also annotate photos, on the photo itself, or around it. Skitch added auto-smoothing which gives your text a much better appearance. Of course, notes are exportable to Evernote. The only issue I have with Skitch is that it does not keep an archive of notes for you to append new notes. Still, it's very useful.
There are other handwriting apps for Android I have not tested.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Faith Without Works is Dead, Prayer Too

I'll probably hurt some feelings and cause others to bob their heads in agreement. Faith without works is dead; similarly, prayer without action is just a bunch of words. You won't get to heaven via prayer group. You must have something that you can claim to have accomplished.

I suppose that we should break up prayers into different types. There are the ceremonial prayers where you ask God for his blessing and praise him. You do that out of respect. Basically, this is giving God props for being awesome.

There is also the type of prayer where you are asking God for help, whether it be the strength to get through some hardship or whatever; a petition. I have a variation of that kind of prayer I call idle prayer.

With petitions, you pray for things like serenity and strength to deal with the challenges before you. You ask for those qualities that will help carry you through to take action. It all comes back to you. If you have pain, pray for endurance until the Ibuprofen kicks in. If you are unemployed, you pray for the ability to see opportunities that you may have missed. You pray for the things that will enable you to take action to resolve your problem.

I'm not going to discuss whether God actually grants these prayers or if it simply is a person meditating on a problem and priming their mind to focus on the issue at hand. That's for another discussion.

Idle prayer is where you ask for stuff that cannot be granted, like world peace. You ask that God help you defeat the other football team, while they pray the same thing. You ask for things that are completely out of your control or ability to influence.

It's the equivalent of being charitable by asking the government to take care of the poor and hungry. YOU are not being charitable nor compassionate. Asking God to do things and leaving it at that absolves you of taking any action. I'm sorry; things don't work like that.

We've all heard of the joke about a person stranded on the roof of their house after a flood, asking God to save her. People on boats and helicopters come by offering to help only to be turned away because God is going to save her. It's exactly like that. God provides you the resources to effect your own salvation; but, it requires action.

Your faith and your prayers must be followed by actions and works that demonstrate your co-commitment. If you want to end world hunger, start with people in your community. You don't need a government program or God to do it. Find people in need, befriend them and then invite them over for dinner often. Donate food to pantries. Volunteer.

Many of the big problems that we ask God to handle can be handled by you. You won't feed, clothe, shelter, or protect the world; but you can help a few of your neighbors. If we all took action, it would go a long ways.

I guess what I'm saying is that when you pray, unless it is the praise-God ceremonial type, understand that you are committing yourself to do something to achieve your petition. What is it exactly that God can accomplish through you? Ask for wisdom, knowledge, strength, inspiration, and such to help you make things happen.  Have specific works in mind for your faith and prayers. Put some skin in the game.

That's my two cents.

Saturday, October 01, 2011

Friday, September 23, 2011

The Evolution of My Evernote and Moleskine System

A couple years ago, I wrote about how the Moleskine was killing my Evernote use. I'm happy to say that Evernote has survived the ordeal and even has me still paying the monthly subscription. Now they co-exist peacefully. However, it's not until recently that a harmonious balance came into existence.

There are two things that drive my use of these two note-taking options; ease of use and quick access. I love Evernote's endless supply of storage and the ease with which I can find material. However, entering information is not always quick unless I am at the computer.

The majority of my Evernote entries come from my mobile phone. Typically, they are in the form of a photo. While the Android app allows me to upload images, text, voice notes, or other files, manual entry of long notes is cumbersome. Voice notes are pretty good; but to make them searchable, I need to transcribe them at some point.

The Moleskine wins out with long note-taking and drafts of some of my work when I am away from the computer. To do the same thing would be extremely slow on my mobile phone.

Here are the rules I follow in how I take notes when I am away from the computer.

  • If possible, take a picture of information for storage in Evernote. Upload it.

  • If the text cannot be photographed, then write the information down in the Moleskine. Take a picture afterwards. Tag and title it for later retrieval.

  • If driving, I don't use the Evernote voice notes. It's easier to call a private Google Voice number, which transcribes most of my message correctly. I can copy and paste or forward to Evernote for later retrieval.

  • PDFs and other files are increasingly being stored on Evernote as the cloud storage I was hoping Amazon S3 could be. This way I can access, download, or email to anybody.

As for writing down tasks, I made a video of how I've used my Moleskine to track my To Do list. The list has moved to my Evernote account. I find that I can easily copy and paste items that were not completed from one day's agenda to the next. This is much easier to do than hand writing the lists. It is also a much better way of tracking what I have done in the past. Each day's agenda is moved to the Journal folder as a record of the day.

With respect to journaling, I do append notes to my day's agenda as needed. I am unable to tick the check boxes using my phone; but I can definitely add text to the note.

I create a new agenda for each day one week in advance. Some days have tickler items on them so that when that day rolls around, I have the item listed already. I also have tickler pages on Evernote for every month. I start to depopulate the monthly page as each week rolls around by copying and pasting the to-do items into the daily agendas for the week.

There is an Evernote page with Someday/Maybe and Waiting items where I keep track of things I want to do someday and things others are doing for me.

All this may seem confusing if you're not accustomed to the GTD methodology and unfamiliar with Evernote. I assure you that the process is more streamlined than using my Moleskine.

I've tried all kinds of To-Do list managers; but the main drawback to all of them is that they either do not synchronize to the web automatically, or they synchronize too much, making them too slow for simply marking an item done. I like Google's To Do list; it's fast and accessible anywhere. The downside is that it does not keep a history.

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What is Twitter? A good analogy.

Motorola's First 2 way radio from 1962
Image by bhenak via Flickr

Twitter is analogous to 2-way radio. Many of the same dynamics that apply to radio communications are also applicable to how Twitter allows its users to communicate. Radio communications gives everybody in the group the ability to listen in. The ambient radio chatter gives all members of the group situational awareness of what is happening throughout the organization.

While radio carries voice communications, Twitter carries text and background awareness of what is happening in the network.
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Still Weighing Springpad vs Evernote

I recently downloaded the Springpad app for my Android phone. As an avid user of David Allen's GTD methodology, I like to experiment with different ways of capturing and using information. Evernote has done a good job for me in terms of universal capture; but, it has shortcomings on a mobile platform. In my venture with Springpad, there are things that it does better than Evernote; but, it's also not completely filling my needs.

What Springpad does well

The advantage of Springpad over Evernote is that it categorizes information from the outset. You can create tasks, recipes, notes, reminders,

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Google+ Offers Geographic Diversity of Friends

Google Plus offers users geographic diversity in who you circle and who circles you. I think this will probably improve now that Google added search to the platform.

What I mean by geographic diversity is that your circles aren't limited to certain geographic areas. 

Let's take Facebook, for example. Most of my Facebook friends are clustered around my immediate area, San Antonio, and Austin. That sort of makes sense. If you're adding friends and people with whom you may have some mutual acquaintances; then it stands to reason that your social graph will depend largely on your physical presence. 

In this way, Facebook has somewhat of a small town feel, where everybody knows each other or is related somehow. And despite the occasional Internet famous person I follow who live outside my geographic area, everybody kind knows each other in that sphere too. 

Google+, on the other hand...

In contrast, Google+ for me has been very different in the sense that I find interesting people from all over the world. 

To be honest, I did "import" a bunch of my friends on Google Buzz over to Google+ when it launched. My Buzz friends were already geographically spread out through Europe, Asia, and other places. But, Google+ only seems to have continued the trend towards geographic diversity. 

To be clear, I did look for local people to add into local circles. Some came from using the Nearby feature on my mobile device; some came from searching for local city names in profiles. However, the vast majority of people who have circled me are from all over the planet. 

I think this geographic diversity that Google Plus offers is very similar to what Twitter offers. On Twitter, I follow people based on interest more than how I know them. 

The main distinction

Google Plus is something like an RSS feed with interaction. It's like going out into the big city and meeting all kinds of interesting people. It's more of a window to the world than a window to my world. Whereas Twitter has done a great job of connecting people who would otherwise have little in common, using only 140 characters, Google Plus builds on that with additional means of expressing yourself. 

You can write longer posts, add photos, photo albums, video, links, location. You can also segment your view of the world into different circles based on your interests or agenda. And, based on the recent updates by Google Plus, it seems that you will soon be able to turn passive content consumption into actual working groups of people collaborating across geographic lines. It's a synergistic dream. 

With Google Plus, it's not a question of who you know; it's a matter of who you want to know, regardless of where they live. 

Kvetching About Sprint

Motorola i335 by Boost Mobile
I'm still on track to using a feature phone and a tablet rather than a smartphone. I've switched the T-Mobile Nokia for a Motorola i335, which is an iDEN phone on Boost. In case you're confused why I'm kvetching about Sprint, it's because Sprint operates the Boost Mobile network(s?). Boost is in the process of transitioning clients over to CDMA phones from their old iDEN phones. Lately Sprint has been lousy about maintaining the network.

If you recall, Boost Mobile started off as a popular prepaid phone service. What made them popular at the time was that they offered unlimited walkie-talkie calling for $1 per day.

These days, the walkie-talkie feature isn't as popular. This is not because it's not useful; rather, the iDEN network is old technology that is not capable of transferring high speed data, which our smartphones slurp up like nobody's business.

There are still plenty of people who use iDEN phones to communicate abroad or with their workforce. Contractors still use iDEN phones to communicate with their crews.

I own an iDEN phone because I still find it useful to chirp somebody up on a spare phone I have when I'm working on a project. It's just faster. While, I can technically call other people using unlimited minutes, or text them with my unlimited sms, chirps are instant... and also unlimited.

One thing that Sprint did well for the longest time was to maintain good iDEN coverage in my area. Lately, I've been driving through more and more dead zones. Calls drop, messages don't come in or go out. It's inconveniencing me.

I can sort of understand why Sprint isn't keeping the local network up like they used to. They will support the phones until 2013, when they will be phased out completely. According to the grape vine, Sprint will provide walkie-talkie service via CDMA phones capable of talking to old iDEN phones. Naturally, there is little incentive to invest heavily in a technology that will be obsolete soon.

Unfortunately, it's affecting my ability to communicate. I don't like it.

I would switch to a Boost CDMA phone if it could do walkie-talkie; but those aren't due to arrive until Fall.

In the meantime, I'll kvetch about the deteriorating service. Job done.

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

There Is No Business Manual For The Aspiring Tech

There are a bunch of smart people who are really into technology of all sorts. Some are computer techs. Some are developers. Some are network specialists. Some are engineers. Others just love technology and have a high aptitude for it. Unfortunately, there isn't a manual that tells you how to make a living from technology.

Everybody who is into computers in some way gets asked to fix a computer for a friend or family member. Things like that, you are a bit shy to price. You're doing them a favor, right?

Once you get a referral to somebody else, you are shy about charging what tech shops or the geeks at a big box store charge just to show up. Obviously, if the person wanted to pay through the nose they'd have gone to one of those places. So, you charge a lower rate.

Perhaps you don't have any certifications or degrees in the field. Maybe you feel you aren't as proficient as others in the technology field. Perhaps you looked at Craigslist and saw that some fools are charging $20 an hour or some ridiculous flat fee for a job that takes many hours.

For whatever reason, you are not charging your clients enough.

The Problems With Not Charging Market Rate

There are a few problems that arise from being shy about charging the market rate, which currently ranges between $80 to $120 per hour.

The first problem with not charging the market rate is that you're seen as a pushover. You're obviously not as confident about your work, so you're willing to charge less to make up for it. Some businesses, the ones you really want as clients, won't hire you if you charge too little. There is obviously something wrong with your skills, they think.

The second problem with not charging market rate is that you end up going from job to job barely making ends meet. You're basically stuck working to pay for going to work. That's not a business, that's slavery.

The third problem with charging too little is that YOU DON'T SCALE. If two or more of your customers have problems at the same time, you can't be at both places. In addition, you don't earn enough to hire somebody to help you out.

The fourth problem with charging too little is that you are stuck with crappy clients. You have to keep working to earn a living and don't have enough money or leisure time to market your services to better clients.

The fifth problem with charging too little is that there is no padding for administrative work. You end up using your family time to catch up on paperwork or accounting.

You'll Eventually Figure It Out

You'll eventually figure out that there is a reason why computer shops and other tech companies charge so much. They need to pay employees, taxes, marketing, training, travel, equipment, insurance, rent, benefits, and on top of that make a profit. Although you as a solopreneur don't have all those expenses, it also means that there are some jobs that are beyond your reach when you charge too little. You can't afford the necessary training to do the jobs.

What it means, ultimately, is that you don't really have a business, you have a job. A business runs whether you show up to work or not. You can get somebody to fill in for you if you're sick or have to take some time off. When you are the only employee, if you don't work, you don't eat.

You should at the very least charge market rate so that you can live off the extra cash on the day or two you don't feel like working. You can't really do that if you are charging too little.

Other Professionals Charge Market Rates

Do you know why attorneys charge $100 per hour or more? They spend a lot of time meeting potential clients who probably don't have a case. They have to pay for all that lost time they spend qualifying customers. They are not afraid to turn people down. Some cases would be a waste of their time and the client's money.

Electricians charge around $60 per hour. Plumbers charge about $80 per hour. They have skills; so do you.

Underselling Yourself

One of the things that well-meaning people will tell you is that you should not sell yourself short. They phrase it in a self-esteem kind of way, that you should value yourself more. They are missing the point. Nobody cares about your feelings.

Providing your services for too little is numerically unwinnable. Forget your stupid self-esteem. You're in this to get ahead in life, to live a decent life. By providing cheap services, you'll only attract cheap customers. Once you're on that train, you can only provide second rate services; you can't afford to awe the customer because they will question all your recommendations and talk you down to band-aid solutions.

That type of customer will pay the market rate without question if their back is against the wall. All you have to do is wait. Plumbers can provide preventive maintenance or inspections; but how much can you charge for just checking things that may or may not have problems? On the other hand, if a pipe bursts and is flooding the building, that same customer is even willing to pay extra for emergency service.

Monday, September 12, 2011

Bike Riding With the Boy

I went bike riding with my son earlier this evening. I'm guessing we rode maybe 5 miles. He has been too young to go on bike rides. He is nine years old now. He has mostly ridden his bike around the front of the house, back and forth.

I've always enjoyed bike riding, although lately I haven't done much of it. I took the bike out of storage not too long ago. I have it in the living room of our apartment to make it easier to take out on rides; but, I often get home so late that it would be dangerous to ride in the dark. I do not ride as often as I would like.

Circumstances today made it so that my family and I were home around 5 pm. It was the perfect opportunity to go on a ride with my son. He and I have the only bikes; the toddler has her Dora bigwheel; but, that's not adequate for more than puttering around outside on the sidewalk.

My main concern was that temperatures were still in the upper 90s. Fortunately, there is a big park about 1 mile away from our apartment. From previous bike rides, I know that there are water fountains with cold water. So, I planned to ride there, drink water, and then ride around the park.

When we arrived for our first water break, Magnus was flushed. I may possibly have been the same. We drank and then went off to explore the park with our bikes. It's a relatively new park, which means that there is very little shade; all the trees are still young.

The park has playgrounds, tennis courts, shuffleboard, basketball courts, baseball fields, and a track that may be nearly 2 miles long. They even threw in a duck pond and exercise stations. We discovered all this by riding everywhere.

We stopped at the exercise stations and have come to realize the bad shape our geeky ways have left us. Once upon a time, I could do nearly 30 pull-ups. I could barely do one today. My son did not fare much better. We did better at push ups and sit ups.

We stopped at a water station after completing our exploration and sat for a bit to cool off and rest.

On the way back, we took a less direct path, through the country club roads. Although it's a bit more circuitous, it's safer than the main road.

Just a few moments ago, my wife commented that I wore him out. She hasn't heard the boy snore since he was a baby. I am proud, not so much that I wore Magnus out; rather, I am proud that this may be the beginning of a new activity my son and I can do together. I think we both can stand a little hardening up of our physiques.

Today was a good Dad day.

Saturday, September 10, 2011


Testing Mindmeister for Android Beta

Mindmeister recently released a beta version of Mindmeister for Android, which I am testing out. The beta is available for a limited time. If you are a fan of mind mapping and have an Android phone, you should give it a whirl. This download version will only be available until September 12.

First Impression

Thus far, I like the experience. The experience so far has been very similar to Thinking Space, another Android mind mapping app, which will be the basis for comparison. Thus far, the beta has worked reliably. I've had one crash while I was syncing all my mind maps. Other than that, no problems.

The Mindmeister app keeps your maps synced with your online maps. Even if you do not have an Internet connection, you can still work on your mind maps, which will be uploaded to the web automatically once your connection is restored. Your maps are organized in folders and provide the same visual experience as the full web version.

Mindmeister for Android also gives you access to practically all the features of the web version. You can create, update, move, delete, and share your maps. Within the map, you can change the style, move nodes around, change themes, make node connections, add notes to nodes, add hyperlinks, and add tasks.

The Tasks option is what really gives the app greater utility as a productivity tool. Mind mapping is good for organizing thoughts; but, in the end, you need to take action. Through the Mindmeister website, you can connect your mind map tasks to your Google Calendar. This is an excellent way to track tasks on multiple projects.

Overall, the Mindmeister for Android app provides a sufficient set of features to make mind mapping on a mobile device useful for organizing thoughts and putting those thoughts into action.

Features I Would Like in Mindmeister for Android

As mentioned earlier, Thinking Space forms the basis of my comparison of Mindmeister. Thus there a some things I was hoping Mindmeister would have. Before starting with that, I will say that both apps are very similar in functionality and features. For example, Thinking Space uses the Mindmeister API to synchronize your mind maps too. Thus, many of the features offered by Mindmeister are available on Thinking Space.

Export Options

Mindmeister does give you a sharing option; but, it is limited to sharing your online mind map. At most, you enter the email address of the recipient. They will receive an email with a link to your mind map. Great for the desktop, not so great for the mobile.

One of the features of Thinking Space I like is the ability to export your mind map in different ways; their app allows you to export your map as a file, an image, as text, or to the cloud. This is a very handy feature, particularly the image export. Images are the lowest common denominator in terms of sharing. You can email the image to anybody. Better yet, I can use the export option for blog post images.

What it comes down to is that I may create a mind map that I want to send to somebody and delete. I don't necessarily want to keep a copy online all the time.

On-screen Toolbar

Another feature that I'd hoped Mindmeister would offer is an on-screen toolbar. The app offers a very Spartan set of features. You can add, delete, re-center, and zoom with the on-screen controls. Everything else needs to be accessed via menu.

Thursday, September 08, 2011

Good luck on that additional stimulus, Mr. President

I wish I could have watched the President's speech to Congress tonight. Really, no joke. While I may disagree with him, I keep hoping he will have an epiphany that his political opponents are also his constituents, who are loudly telling government what they want and expect. Congress could take a hint too.

I've read the text of his speech; but didn't really find anything exciting or particularly moving. It is difficult to judge by the text alone. He may have presented it much better than it reads. Thus, I wanted to watch.

Seeing the light?

Here is what I get from the speech. He was opposed to tax cuts; now he isn't. He either knew they would help, and opposed them anyway; or, he really believed he could tax us into prosperity.

Suddenly he also sees the light on overregulation too. Or did he know all along that it is burdensome?
I'm glad he has seen the light; but, I'm waiting for the other shoe to drop. He says the tax cuts are paid for.

Who do you suppose will pony up the revenue in this plan? Business taxes.

Or the same old thing?

It's the same divisive tactic. People are getting the dangling carrot of lower payroll taxes and other goodies, but only if we get those greedy corporations to pay up what they owe. He is offering to save companies a few dollars on payroll while simultaneously hammering them by taking away other deductions and loopholes.

Something else that stands out from the speech is the heavy emphasis on schools and teachers. While admirable, they are also big union havens, just like the public employee and construction sectors.

What the President is doing, in effect, is specifically carving out freebies to constituencies that would make Republicans hesitant to oppose the Bill. They probably won't oppose the measures; but will add or subtract some.

The Fly Around the Ointment

His only miscalculation is that he's not dealing with a bunch of admirers who will feel inspired to carry out his grand vision as is. He's dealing with Congress. They will hack and butcher whatever he sends them; it is their nature. There will be poison pills in the bill that the President will oppose.

The President will then have to choose between passing a bill he hates, or threatening to veto his own bill, which he would have invested the last of his political capital selling. He seems adept at painting himself into a corner. The fly is circling around the ointment; it's a matter of time before it lands.

If the Republicans were smart, which I'm not saying they are, they would take the President's Bill and dismantle it, passing those things they like individually, and removing those things they do not. This would present too many targets for the President to campaign about. It would muddle his message.

Not a Game Changer

So, in the end, tonight's speech won't be the game changer the President was hoping to pull off. He already broadcast his game plan by demanding Congress pass the bill quickly. All they have to do is pass it in a grotesque, unrecognizable form that the President would be loathe to claim and do it eventually, not immediately.

No doubt, the President's team thinks that they have hit with a master stroke that outsmarts the Republicans. If you've ever watched Pinky & The Brain, you know that Brain has brilliant ideas; but they fall apart due to the simplest and dumbest of reasons.

The longer Congress delays on passage of the Bill, the less effective the President will be seen. Timeliness is crucial to the President's plan. Congress need not delay 14 months, they need only delay until the Fall when people will be thinking about Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, New Year's Eve, Superbowl, March Madness, etc... The public will stop paying attention at that point.

The President's urgent pleas to Congress have revealed his hand. Expect that to be the undoing of the master plan.


Politico has an post showing concern that the bill will be broken up

Friday, September 02, 2011

Why In-Person Appointments Waste Time

Meeting people in person is often a major time-waster. Technology allows us to call people on the phone, text them, send emails, collaborate through online shared spaces, videoconference, and recently "hang out". There is a mismatch between what is possible and what people are actually doing. 

One of my biggest pet peeves is when somebody wants to meet because they don't want to tell me something over the phone. Another pet peeve is somebody who doles out assignments one at a time; just give me a damned list with deadlines and leave me alone. As long as you get results, who cares how or when the job is done?

As a for-hire IT guy, I somewhat understand why many people don't take advantage of technology. They don't take the time to figure out how to use technology to do things. To be very blunt, there is no reason to remain ignorant in the age of Google. There are tons of how-to posts everywhere. You can download manuals to almost anything. I see it as a lack of desire to be efficient. 

Going back to meetings, they are a big waste of time. Meetings not only take the time allotted, they take driving time to get to the meeting place, they take driving time to return from whence you came, and they take time plan and digest. Your little 15 minute meeting could easily take 2 hours out of productivity for each person attending. If you were to simply email, call, or teleconference, we'd get more done. 

However, when one person refuses to invest 30 minutes to learn a new technology, that person costs many multiples of that amount in other peoples' time driving over to meet the luddite. The occasional meeting is fine, in person; not every damned meeting. 

Thursday, September 01, 2011

Already Freaking Out About 2012

Lately, I've been pressuring myself to find a calendar to help me start planning 2012. I know, I know, it's only September 2011; there is plenty of time. 

Theoretially, you are right. There is plenty of time to plan ahead. However, I am engaged in various projects and activities that demand my time, some which reach into 2012. I need to block time off way in advance so that I can mentally prepare. 

I somewhat use electronic calendars. Having an Android device is good in the sense that it updates my online calendar, and vice versa, automatically. However, electronic calendars simply do not work with the way my brain operates. I need a physical calendar. 

Earlier tonight, I got my fix of productivity porn over at Plannerisms. This afternoon, I made a trip to Wal-Mart to see what they have in terms of calendars; my current one came from there. It's adequate; but, it's not quite as good as the Uncalendar. I've been wanting a calendar ever since I realized that my plans extend beyond December 2011. 

The great thing about Uncalendars is that they are undated. This can be a pain if you sit down and enter all the necessary dates. Here is a video of the Uncalendar.

While I was at the store, I did consider a page-per-day planner that I saw. Plannerism's latest post discusses some of the benefits of a day per page planner. For me, the key advantage is that I write a lot of notes in a day. So, having a full page for my day is beneficial in that it gives me plenty of latitude for planning and noting, which turns into a journal of sorts. 

I still use Evernote, it helps me tremendously; but, it mainly helps rid me of stuff that would otherwise create clutter. In other words, it's great for archiving. But, when it comes down to planning ahead and working in the here and now, paper is still king. 

I realize there is still time to get a 2012 planner; but, it will be here sooner than we realize. I don't want to settle for whatever calendar I can pick up. I want something I will enjoy the whole year. 

Blogger blocks excessive posting

A while ago, I tried uploading a blog post via Android App. The upload kept failing. Not to be deterred, I deleted the app and reinstalled, to find no better success.

I thought that perhaps I could email the post to Blogger. That did not work either. The email bounced back with the following:
Technical details of permanent failure:You have exceeded the the allowable number of posts without solving a captcha.
This happened because I imported quite a few blog posts from another blog I discontinued just yesterday. It has been less than 24 hours since the import. It makes sense. I'm rather certain the captcha speedbump is also why the mobile app refused to publish my posts.

The problem can be circumvented if you post directly on the Blogger site and solve the captcha. This problem will likely resolve in the next few hours and all will be right with the universe once more.

Balance in the Universe

The universe seems to balance out. In one sense, it is great. Whenever bad stuff happens, good things happen to balance it out, if you are receptive. Unfortunately, you must equally fear good fortune because of the certain doom that proceeds.

I got some bad news earlier today, regarding finances. It will cause a bit more struggle to make ends meet. Of course, I'm stressing out a bit; but, good news has presented itself already. There is work available to help me adjust. I also had the inklings of a disaster plan in the back of my mind. There will be a little pain; but I'll get over it.

There is the philosophical question of fearing happiness when the universe balances itself. Enjoy the good times to the utmost; they will carry you through the tough times.

If Government Creates Jobs, What Jobs Would They Create?

The President is going to make a big speech about Congress setting aside their differences and taking action to create jobs in our country. I generally agree, in terms of economics, that the Government does not create jobs. There is no amount of legislation that will create a job. But, if the Government were to create jobs, they are not the kinds of jobs they are attempting to create. So, what jobs can the feds create?

The Government cannot simply will manufacturing jobs into existence by passing a law. If people are not buying products, there is no point manufacturing them. If we are not exporting products, there is no point manufacturing them.

The Government at this point cannot spur the service industry. With so many unemployed and wage-cut workers out there, people are choosing to cut back on expenses as much as possible. This includes dining out, entertainment, shopping, etc...

If the Government could create jobs, they would be related to the core function of Government. One such core function is maintaining a military. They could step up efforts to recruit new soldiers. Some really nice pay raises and benefits packages could allure more people to enlist. Not only do they serve their country, they learn valuable skills that make them an asset to the workforce after their enlistment ends. Instead, Government is cutting the military budget.

The Government is also responsible for dispensing justice. The judiciary is swamped with litigation and criminal cases. The Feds could increase the number of courts to expedite justice. They would hire more judges to hear more cases, which in turn would mean that attorneys would have more billable hours, there would be more court reporters, more stenographers, more bailiffs, more secretaries, more of everything judicial. The great thing about this is that legal work is not cheap. The Feds would be liberating a bunch of money to flow through the economy wherever courts are located. Unfortunately, there are plenty of empty benches with no chance of being filled during the current political stalemate. Creating more courts would only result in more empty courts.

The Government is also responsible for things like Interstate highways and operating post offices. So, theoretically, the Federal Government could create more jobs, if those jobs are within its core functions. Outside of that, you can lead a horse to water, and so on.

Unfortunately, they cannot even create those types of jobs effectively. Every paycheck the Federal Government provides is with borrowed money. Every social security check is with borrowed money. Every road project, post office, courthouse, and federal building is running on borrowed money. This is problematic because they are spending everything they take from us, and spending some more that we haven't earned yet.

So, even if the Federal Government were to create jobs that are a part of its core functions as I have suggested, they would be taking money out of the economy and putting it back in. It keeps people busy, which I suppose is a good thing to distract them from realizing that we aren't prospering.

I don't expect that whatever "jobs program" is proposed next week will have a lasting effect. In fact, I'd recommend the Congress take some extra time off, which would have a much more beneficial effect on the economy. All they will accomplish is to freak people out more with additional laws and spending, achieving the opposite effect of what they intended, once the initial cash infusion is spent.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Goodbye Session 80

Tonight, I exported my Session 80 blog and imported into this blog account, then deleted it. Earlier this week, I deleted my Wordpress blog and imported it here too. This is all in a move towards simplification.

I think a big part of this move to consolidate my content is due to Google's recent streamlining of services thanks to Google+. The streamlining makes it easier to do things that previously required a bunch of other services. Google+ inspired the consolidation because of all the features it has, combining the best of what makes the other services useful.

Previously, your blog pics were deposited into Picasa; but, if you wanted to add a photo, you had to upload or provide the link to the photo in your Picasa album. There was no way to access your albums. With the addition of Google+ and the new version of Blogger, it is now possible to add any photo or video hosted in your Picasa account. My photo posts previously had to be done through Flickr or Posterous.

Videos used to require you to copy the embed code. Now posting videos from Youtube is much simpler from within Blogger.

Remember Slide? Picasa does some of that.

Posterous allowed me to post via mobile device. I can do that on Blogger through the Blogger app or by email.

I could go on and on about what Blogger and Google products do now that used to require outside services; but, I won't.

Simply note, my online presence is slowly converging into one account.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Moving from Self-hosted Wordpress to Blogger

I successfully moved from my old self-hosted Wordpress site to Blogger. I found Wordpress2Blogger earlier today, which converts from one format to the other.

The Export/Import of the posts was easy. The only other work to be completed was to point the domain from my hosted site over to Google via the Godaddy.

I am certain there are broken links and missing files somewhere. I don't think I'll go hunting for them; I'll probably fix them as I find them. Eventually, if I get rich, I'll hire somebody to check all my posts. I imported more than 1,000 posts; I'm sure you can understand my hesitation.

I still recommend Wordpress for small businesses and other applications; but, for my own personal blog, it was too much. Additionally, there are features in Blogger that make it a better platform for my uses, that other people would not use.

The features I like about Blogger, for my own purposes, are that updates are automatic, the ability to add location to posts, connection to Picasa web albums (and Google+ by extension), easy Android updating, unlimited bandwidth, free hosting, and really good SEO. There are also some who use it as a Tumblr site of sorts. In fact, that reminds me, Blogger has much nicer mobile templates than I have found for Wordpress.

I'm not going to tell you that you should use Blogger for your site. It may be right for you, maybe not. It is for me.

I realize that this breaks a lot of links to old content. I was going to have to do it eventually. At least now, if I die, I won't have to worry that my hosting account will be shut down for non-payment and all my content lost. I'll live so long as Google lives.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Dumb phone and a tablet: Do more

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="300" caption="Image via Wikipedia"]Google Phone docomo HT-03A[/caption]

I've been experimenting, for the past two weeks, with a regular old feature phone, a.k.a. dumb phone, for basic texting and calling needs, supplemented by a 7 inch Android tablet. The results have been good in terms of productivity.

When I got my first smartphone, I was so happy to be able to access email and be able to tap out a text message on a keyboard. It was a Palm Treo by T-Mobile. With GPRS, the best I could do on the web was WAP. I tried a Sidekick and other types. I finally settled on a T-Mobile Dash, which was awesome with EDGE. I was really rolling along on 2G speeds. And phones got better and could do much more at faster speeds; and I got slower and more distracted from doing my work.

Internet services started targeting the mobile user. We could tweet, post photos, write blog posts, hang out on Facebook, visit full websites, and so much more. Life was calm when there was hardly anything you could do with your smartphone except Tweet and email. If you're wired like me, it's hard to turn away from information. Being always connected can be problematic for the easily distracted.

My tablet gives me the same ability to access and share information that I would have with a smartphone. The big difference is that I can leave the tablet in the car or leave it at home. Armed with just a simple phone that can only make phone calls and text, there is some degree of mental clarity you can achieve.

I'm finding that doing the same on a computer is essential. When I need to get work done, I don't launch apps that alert me to incoming messages. Armed with just a text editor or productivity software, I can accomplish so much more.

I think that is what is at the core of the feature phone and tablet experiment. One must have the ability to focus on essential functions, turning off or setting aside extraneous functions. There is no easy way to do this on a smartphone. It is far too easy to check email, tweets, and Facebook messages when all you needed was a phone number.

I am even considering making my desktop my dedicated work space and shunting ALL messaging to the tablet. The reason I am thinking of this approach is that I remember years back, companies were attempting to create Internet appliances. All you could do with them was send email and browse web pages. This was to make it easier for people who really had no need for any software beyond those. In that way, I find that making my tablet into a social media, email, and Internet appliance, leaving the computer for real work, makes a lot of sense.

I recognize that a computer can serve all those functions, including productivity software, easily without breaking a sweat. It's not about the computer, it's about me. I can't focus on work and have those things popping up or dinging in front of me. It is much easier to put my tablet on silent mode and then go to town with my work on the desktop. There is no need to launch an app or browser tab for my social media; it is already running on the tablet. Just knowing that the tablet has all that waiting is comforting to some degree, reducing the temptation for me to open a browser tab to check.

Do you find that offloading communication to a more or less dedicated device helps you get more done?

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Friday, August 19, 2011

The Real Trouble with our Economy: Quicksand

The President and Congress are in economic quicksand.

Throughout his presidency, Obama has often blamed our economic woes on the past president, on a tsunami, on headwinds, on anything other than facing up to his greatest fear, he's in over his head. It seems like he can't get a break. At this point, the more Congress struggles, the deeper we sink.

Whenever our leaders blame outside forces for causing our slump, it only highlights the lack of control they have over our situation. When you shift the blame, you also shift confidence in your abilities away from your person.

True, the President and Congress did inherit some economic problems; but, they also created new ones. When they muscled through the health care reform bill, they spooked a lot of people. They spooked people who are concerned about national debt, eventually forming the Tea Party. Most importantly, they spooked the business community, who have some heavy economic burdens waiting for them in coming years as the full effects of health care reform and other legislation come due.

The Dallas Fed president, Richard Fisher, makes good points about the underlying cause of the slow economy. The problem is not lack of credit or market liquidity. It's not lack of talented labor; in fact, after being unemployed for so long, much of our talent would accept a lower-paying job in their field. It's not lack of entrepreneurial spirit. The problem is that Congress has shifted too many laws too quickly during hard times.

You do that sort of thing when there's money coming out of everybody's ears, when they are out-earning Washington, D.C.'s meddling. You don't do that sort of thing when business is tight.

Business is naturally resilient. If you change one law, they'll adapt and fold the cost into their pricing. However, since the President took office and had a congressional majority in both houses, they ran rampant "fundamentally changing our country." Business will recover eventually; but many of the changes pushed businesses beyond their ability to recover quickly.

The money management skills that make businesses successful in staying afloat is what is also preventing them from hiring people. If they go under, they aren't going to hire anybody ever again. It is in a business's and employee's best interest that they stay in business, even if it means parking their capital until better times.

Many of the laws, spending cuts, and other manipulations were back loaded past the next election. Many of the big costs to business will come due after 2012. Extra employees are future heavy burdens in their minds. It's hard to plan with uncertainties.

Ironically, all the thrashing about that Congress is doing only leads the business community to worry more about their, our, future. Congress is feeding the fear.

All the ingredients for an economic recovery are there. But, our Government is not instilling confidence in our abilities or chances of successfully doing it.

So, every time they pass the buck on why we aren't doing well economically, it reveals to us that they are in quicksand and rapidly sinking over their heads, dragging us along.

If they would just stop and allow business some breathing room from new regulations and costs, it would give business time to figure out what to do next.

The real problem is Congress making "Comprehensive" legislation. They don't just tweak laws here and there; they change everything. Business can't hope to keep up if the rules change every month and require boatloads of lawyers to decipher, so they clam up and hold on to cash to pay for hidden costs and said lawyers.

Keynesian economics might work if we all participate moving money along in the economy; but, when you freak people out, we save rather than spend.

What we need is confidence in a better future. Unfortunately, our present leadership does not inspire that.

What could we specifically do?

  • New management
  • Moratoriums on all major legislation coming due in the next 5 years. Just, hold off until better times.
  • No more new laws that cost state governments (yes, states are hurting too) or businesses more money.
  • Real spending cuts rather than cuts in projected budget growth.
  • Hold off on new taxes (unless it's banks, tax them good). I don't like banks.

I'm not saying do this forever; just until our economy floats enough that we can pull ourselves out of the quicksand. But, I understand how difficult it is to keep the sinking victim calm; the last thing they want to do is stop thrashing around.

Good luck to all of us. Remember, don't panic.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Downgrading Phone for Greater Productivity

My experiment with using a feature phone with an Android tablet seems to be paying off in terms of mobile productivity. The theory of the experiment is that I will have greater focus by not having a smartphone. All information needs are being served by the tablet or desktop. My new handset is a Nokia 1616.
I was previously working with a Sony-Ericsson Equinox handset in the experiment. It's not a bad phone; it is absolutely more basic than your average smartphone. However, like many modern phones, the battery life is not all that it could be.
My Android phone, loaded with apps, can go about half a day without recharging. Leaving it stock without apps and very light web browsing gets me a full day.
The Equinox can pull three or four days of service on one charge. I think its talk time is rated around 7 hours. That is three days of not worrying about a charger. Unfortunately, the Equinox has a camera, bluetooth, and a WAP browser. It's too tempting to fiddle with the phone. I think it's just habit to whip out the phone and check things on it, having owned an Android handset for some time.
So, why switch to the cheaper and less featured Nokia 1616? The little Nokia has a meager 800 mAh battery; but, it can squeeze out 13 hours talk time or 1 month standby from one charge. It can achieve this because it pretty much only makes phone calls. It has no camera. It has no browser. It doesn't have an MP3 player.
That is not to say the Nokia 1616 is devoid of any fun. It has an FM radio receiver and a flashlight (torch for you non-Americans). It's probably a guy thing; flashlights are cool. Other than that, it makes phone calls. Technically, it has some apps and games; but, I assure you they were cool back in the day, not now.
So, what are my results so far?
No more texting while driving. All sms is redirected to my tablet.
No more checking news while driving. Same reason. It's too easy on a smartphone; too clumsy with a tablet.
More attention at meetings. You simply can not sneak peaks at a tablet. It's very obvious.
Fewer check-ins. If you have to change devices, it's too much work.
Overall, having a simple phone forces you to be more deliberate with your Internet and social media.
That is not to say you can't do anything with your feature phone. You can still use voice services. For audio recordings, there is for the die hard podcaster. For keeping track of tasks and general productivity, there is Reqall. Let's not forget, you can call people and either talk to them or, more commonly these days,  leave a voice mail.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Friday, August 05, 2011

Mobile Experiment: Feature phone and tablet

I am currently experimenting with a feature phone, a Sony-Ericsson Equinox, and a Samsung Galaxy Tab (7 inch). Previously, I had a T-Mobile MyTouch 3G handset, which also runs Android. I have wanted to do the experiment for some time; however, due to ill timing on my phone contracts, I'm stuck paying for duplicate Internet service on my handset and on the tablet. It seems like it would be a waste to not use both Android devices.

Putting all that aside, I have thought that I could conduct my business and be more productive, overall, if my handset were not a smartphone. The idea is to use one device just for calls, and the other for all the other wonderful things it does.

Today was my first day of the trial. One improvement is that the lack of features makes it less attractive to me to play with the phone while driving. At most, I'll call Reqall. The tablet is not an option because you can not easily hold it in one hand and type at the same time. Presumably, you need the other hand to steer.

Another benefit is that it is much easier to not check messages on a tab than it is on a handset. I can't explain the reasoning behind that; it just is.

Battery drain is less of a problem on feature phones compared to smartphones. This means you really do get more talk time and have to recharge less frequently.

I expect that my work flow will change as a result of having a dedicated phone that only does phone calls. My current handset is a spare one we had around the house. What I'd really like is a much cheaper phone with fewer features. There is a little Nokia that can squeeze out 13 hours talk time from one charge, versus 4 hours with the Sony-Ericsson. I don't really talk all that much; but it would spare me the car charger juggling between devices.

I recognize that this experiment goes against the whole notion of using your phone for everything. I was big into that for a while until it became inconvenient to talk on the phone and use other features simultaneously. As mobiles have enabled us to break free of the desk, they also require you to use them for other things, which is tough to do while you're on a call.

Having a dedicated phone seems the way to get the most out of your mobile smart device. At least it does for me.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

How to get the most out of Evernote

[caption id="" align="alignright" width="240" caption="Image by shainelee via Flickr"]Use Evernote for Hand Written Notes[/caption]

As a preacher of the Evernote, I am often asked how to use it. The answer is a little tricky; most of us use paper differently. Some of us write detailed notes; some of us write broad concepts. What may work for me may not necessarily work for you. So, how can I help you figure out Evernote? The answer is to highlight some of the features of Evernote with some examples of uses, then you can see how the feature may fit into your lifestyle. The important thing to remember is that the more you use it, the more useful it becomes.

What Evernote Does and Doesn't

Evernote saves information and makes it easy to organize and find that information. Many new users expect Evernote to organize information for them. Evernote doesn't work that way. It's up to you to organize information within the Evernote platform. Evernote provides indexing, notebooks, stacks of notebooks, tags, GPS coordinates, and other ways of organizing information. They are amazingly useful if you take advantage of them. They are vital to getting the most out of your experience.


The feature I used the most on Evernote is photo capturing. I use photos for shopping, documentation, capturing notes, capturing store business hours, and the covers of books I would like to buy in the future.

Writing Recognition

Evernote can read text in photographs. The text can be in print or in neat handwriting. This allows you to use Evernote to capture handwritten notes such as:

  • post-its

  • class notes

  • white board notes

  • signs

  • business cards

One major advantage of capturing handwritten notes is that your photos can include drawings.


Evernote indexes PDF files for Premium subscribers. This is extremely handy when running searches for information. If your work is big into documents, having the ability to carry all your documents and search for them can be very useful. More than once, I've been able to find documentation for hardware that I forwarded by email to the person who needed it, from my phone.


One very useful feature of Evernote is the voice note feature. Assuming your phone has enough memory to hold it, Evernote can record up to 90 minutes of voice audio per note.  This is useful for:

  • Voice memos

  • recording lectures

  • recording meetings

What To Do?

Evernote provides To Do check boxes. You can organize To Do lists for every little project you have. This is very useful when you have a ton of projects and are trying to push each one along a little at a time.

Location, Location, Location

One feature that doesn't get too much attention is the GPS feature. When you enable it, all your notes will have a location attached to them. You can remember where you parked your car. You can figure out where you met a person whose business card you photographed; or, the opposite, you may remember where you met but not their name. You can find notes by job site.

Note Links

Have you ever used a Wiki? Evernote added a feature that allows you to cross-link your notes. If done well, you can turn your Evernote into a personal, private wiki.

Universal Access

One of the main selling points of Evernote is that they try to be available on as many devices as possible. This frees you up to use Evernote from your phone, at home on the computer, at the office through the web, from out of town at the hotel computer... just about anywhere. Your notes are always backed up.

Knowing that your notes are always backed up allows you some peace of mind and freedom. You can get rid of countless documents that litter your existence.

Mix and Match

You are not limited to one medium in your notes. You can add audio, text, and photos within a single note. If you are a premium subscriber, you can add other notes such as Excel files, movies, hardware drivers, or whatever. Each note helps you arrange information by context.

Recommended Notebooks

Here are some Notebook or Stack ideas that might help you get started:

  • Rolodex

  • School notes

  • Home records

  • 2011 Accounting

  • Journal

  • Reference

  • Travel

  • Projects

  • Recipes

Most Importantly

The most important thing to remember is that even though the name implies some form of permanence, Evernote does not have to keep your information forever. You can edit your notes and use them as scratchpads. Copy and paste are my best friends in Evernote.

Resist the temptation to be a pack rat. Information sometimes has an expiration date. As you add more notes to Evernote, old information that is no longer relevant can clutter up your search results. Don't hesitate to delete stuff you don't need.

And Finally

After having said all that, the only limitation that Evernote has is you. In my case, I can only accomplish four or five big tasks per day. I need paper to keep me on track. So, while I may keep my lists of things to do in Evernote, I will usually have a paper with the 5 most important things to do today.  I'll write notes in my Moleskine or other notepad.

Being very mobile, tapping away at my phone or tablet to write notes is time-consuming. It's better to write notes by hand and then store them into Evernote later. Your limitation will be how neat your handwriting is. It's also important to title and tag handwritten notes well just in case the handwriting recognition doesn't understand your writing.

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