Thursday, November 06, 2014

Good Day and Bad Day; Or Bad Day, Good Day?

Boy do I have a story for you about my day. Now that it's almost over, I feel safe having a laugh over the comedy of it. Normally, I drink a couple of glasses of wine each night for its therapeutic properties. I think tonight I shall drink to celebrate the day's close.

Let's start off with the setting. I am newly unemployed. That's bad. But, fortunately, I have skills and clients have been calling me to fix their technology. That's good. In fact, I had some subcontract work to do today. The job was quite simple, install a printer.

Then one of the partners in the business had some issues with remote access for a technical support guy trying to fix their software, so he has me try to figure out what the problem is. I know very little about the network and nothing about the software, because I'm a sub who does overflow work. That's bad.

But, because I don't freak out easy, we figure something out and determine that there is some network trouble somewhere helping corrupt their database. That could be bad, but, it's good because it's way beyond the scope of my assignment, so I can bugger off before I break something.

So, as I'm going home, my van's engine cuts out on me and I have to pull over to the side of the road. My gas gauge engages in lies and deception, so I figure I'm out of gas. This is bad.

My Mother lives nearby, so I give her a call to ask her to bring me enough gas to make it to the next gas station. She wasn't working today, so she says she'll be right over. This is good.

I try to turn the engine over again to see if I can go another few yards, but my dashboard goes crazy. I've seen this before, battery or terminal issues. So I go out and open the hood to see if I can adjust the terminals sufficiently to get the van to start. It didn't work. My Mom arrives with my brother-in-law and some gas. We put in a few squirts of gas, but without a funnel we're just spilling gas all over. In any case, we figure out that it's probably the battery that's gone bad. This is bad.

So, I remove the battery and we go to the nearest auto parts store to test the battery. Yep, it tested bad and was the cause of my problems. Knowing the root cause is good. A new battery is $129.

But it's the wrong store.

So we drive over to the right store two driveways down, where they carry that brand and can look up my warranty information. Very good.

Yes, they found my account and the battery was under warranty, but it expired two months ago. Nuts. That's bad.

But, maybe the clerk can do something for me to get around the two months. Very good.

Nope. He can't override the warranty. Bad.

But, he can get me a really good discount for a replacement battery, only $42. Very good.

But, I don't know how much money I have left in my debit card and worry it won't be enough. Bad.

It worked. We buy the battery, pop it in, and the van starts like nothing happened. Awesome! So I drive to another client's business to pick up a check and cash it.

I stop by the store and let the girl at the front desk, a new employee, know my business there. She can't find my check. Bad.

She calls her supervisor, who tells her where to look for the check. She searches once and doesn't find it. Searches again. Bingo. Very good. I thank her and go cash my check.

After cashing the check, I begin to drive home for a pit stop before going to pick up my wife at work. As I round the corner about a mile from the bank, the van putters to a stop again. I almost made it into a driveway, but it has an inclination so my van is half in and half out. Bad. Very bad. I crank the engine, and this time it cranks, unlike the other time. Out of gas, definitely this time.

Fortunately, a guy driving by sees me pushing the van and stops to help. A couple other guys who work at the place whose driveway I'm blocking help me push the van further in. Very good.

But, because it has been raining all day, the parking spot where I stop is in a puddle so my feet get soaked. Bad.

Fortunately, the place where I stop has mechanics and a good possibility of a gas can. He comes back out with a gas can. Very good.

But, he says that it has some oil mixed in for use with weed eaters. Bad.

But, he says the mechanics assure him it won't be a problem. It will get me to the gas station where I can dilute it with more gas. Good. We add a half gallon. The van starts up. I think the guy for his help.

I turn around to get in the van when I hear bubbles coming from the front tire. I look, and sure enough, there is a slow leak. Bad.

I was able to make it to the gas station. The tire is still OK. Managed to pick up my wife and kids and go home. Very good.

So, I then decide to take the van to get the tire patched. The shop is still open. I'm just in time as the last customer leaves. It turns out that the tire cannot be patched. The hole is almost at the sidewall. The patch won't hold. I only have a few bucks. I ask the guy if he can sell me a used tire, and how much? He says he can't go lower than $30. I only had $26. Damn.

But, I remember that I had some cash in the sunglasses compartment. Nice.

It is only $2. Crap.

Ah, but I might still have money on my debit card. Good.

He doesn't take any kind of cards. Cash only. Nuts!

I called Mrs. Mata to ask if she has any cash on hand, we live a few blocks away, close enough for me to walk. She doesn't answer, but soon has my oldest daughter call me back. She has $3. Very good. I asked the guy to get started and I'll bring him the cash. He agrees. I walked home in the drizzle and got the money. Upon returning, the job is done. I payed the guy. AND I have $1 left over. Very good.

So, today has been an emotional roller coaster. I am sitting here with my first glass of wine recalling the events. Over the years, I've learned to accept what life throws at me almost as well as Buddhist monks do. There is little point getting upset. You just have to rise to the challenge and find solutions to the immediate problems before you. You can't worry about what happened before or what could happen later. Focus on the problem before you.

In my youth, today would have been a day of unrelenting suckage. However, now that I am older, I see the blessings before me.

Blessing 1
Mom and my brother-in-law lived nearby and was available to help.

Blessing 2
That reminds me that I had a phone I could use to call for help. Back when I was a kid, I'd have had to walk to a pay phone.

Blessing 3
I had enough money on my debit card to buy a discounted battery.

Blessing 4
I had money to collect.

Blessing 5
Complete strangers took a few moments to help me push the van and get enough gas to go to the gas station.

Blessing 6
I had cash from cashing a check that help me get a temporary fix for my flat tire problem.

Blessing 7
It turns out I had more than enough money on my debit card than I imagined.

Blessing 8
I can toast to an interesting day with my two glasses of wine.

Blessing 9
My wife feels all kinds of sympathy for me and might be extra huggy and cuddly.

Blessing 10
I reached my 10,000 step goal through all of this.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Adding A Budget To My To-Do List

I have mentioned ad nauseam that I am a big fan of +Smartsheet and use it to track all of my daily tasks and projects. I have discovered the power of adding a budget column to my tasks sheet. Stuff that relates to me, personally, has one big sheet that gets subdivided into sections and subsections for every aspect of being Shaine Lee Mata. Currently, it's a list with over 900 items. I agree with you that I have way too many items listed.

I imagine that one could either give up on ever getting around to 900 items, or truly put everything into making a dent in the list. Yet, it seems that I am perpetually removing items that are done and adding some back. There are items that never seem to come off the list. They do eventually, but it seems like they never do.

I wondered why some items were lingering more than others. Obviously, it's because I never got around to doing them; but, what was holding me back. So, I went down the list and asked myself what was stopping me from doing each one. Too often, for those particularly recalcitrant to-do items, it turns out that it was lack of money. Often, these items have a cost that I am, have been unwilling to incur at the time.

For example, if I need haircuts for my son and for me, I know it will cost me about $30. But, if I'm a bit tight on cash this week, I would schedule the shearing for the following week after pay day. Or, if I need to buy new tires, upgrades for the computer, a tool, or whatever. It makes sense to cluster these things around when I have money, and when I see the cluster is too big, move it to the next payday.

As it turns out, having a budget cell next to my to-do item helps relieve some of that "guilt" about not getting around to doing it. In fact, I will know I have a damned good reason for not doing it. I can see at a glance that the new SSD for my computer costs $125, and is not as essential as, let's say, $30 in groceries. When I have $125 to spare, then it enters my realm of possibilities. If you have a big spend coming up, it doesn't make sense to put other big spends on the calendar around that time.

But, the budget field doesn't only apply to financial costs. There are also time costs. There are some tasks that do not cost you any cash, in some measurable way. However, those tasks may cost you time, which is also a limited supply. If I know that something will take me 2 hours to do, I may hesitate to schedule it during busy days unless absolutely necessary.

Doing three 15-minute tasks is more feasible than doing one 2 or 3 hour task. Or, let's say that I'm feeling particularly smurfy and decide to take on those 2 hour tasks in the evenings after work. This means that I would only schedule the one item for that evening rather than try to fill every nook and cranny of my evening.

When it comes down to it, adding a budget to your tasks, whether a financial or temporal budget, forces you to make your choices based on priorities. Your priorities may change from day to day, or week to week; but, the budget gives you an objective measure for choosing to do or not do something. And with that, you can rest peacefully with the knowledge that those items remaining on the list are better for you than trying to kick them out ASAP while making you broke or time-starved.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Sad To Leave Slack, A Great Product

A few weeks ago, I read an article about Slack, a marvelous business tool that is useful for team communications and project information gathering. Slack has been a hit among knowledge workers, particularly people who manage online services. I signed up for the free trial and was blown away. However, despite my deep respect for the product, I'm going to have to walk away from it.

The issue is not with Slack itself. I think Slack is the victim of the "network effect" to some extent, or the reverse of it, rather. I don't have a network on Slack. Therefore, it is a really cool way to organize project information and data streams. However, I already have invested into +Evernote and +Smartsheet.

While I do not have networks on those products either, they are rather powerful without the network. And so, I find that the ability to create streams of information rather than a giant pile is a great idea. Slack makes sense in so many ways.

I have written in the past that my problem with Evernote is that I do NOT need to remember everything, thus I engage in active deleting of information. Some information is more valuable if it doesn't get in your way. So, I've slowly started to segregate information into archives, working spaces, and stuff that can and should be deleted.

With the help of +IFTTT, I am crudely reproducing some of the great Integrations provided by Slack. RSS feeds and tweets are appended to Evernote notes, which I can periodically delete or archive. Having used Slack for the last few weeks, I have learned a new way to sort information into Evernote that makes it, once again, a great product for managing my everyday needs.

Smartsheet comes into the equation because it is great for organizing work, and then I can dip into Evernote and Google Drive to attach working documents.

Standing back from it all, Evernote catches information and Smartsheet organizes it for action. This way, information doesn't get in the way of doing.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

The Problems I Have With Bitcoin

I have some problems with Bitcoin that cause me some concern for its long-term usage. These concerns are not about the immediate viability of the cryptocurrency. For now, I think Bitcoin is the right innovation for the modern world. However, there are some shortcomings that concern me.

Lost Bitcoins

If you lose your wallet information, let's say your dog ate the paper on which you wrote your keys, or maybe he ate your hard drive, then you have no way of accessing that lost Bitcoin, nor anybody else for that matter. This means that they are stuck on the ledger forever, never to be traded again.

With a few million Bitcoin in circulation, this doesn't sound like a big deal, a few Bitcoin here and there. However, over time, these lost Bitcoins can add up, reducing the overall availability of Bitcoin for use. Things seem to be working more or less OK for the moment, but, if the ultimate goal is to get all 8 Billion people on Earth using Bitcoin for commerce, there already aren't enough. So, we are doomed to deal in smaller and smaller fractions of Bitcoin as they get hoarded and/or lost over time. It's going to get ridiculous when you are paying 0.000005121 for a cup of coffee.

Fixed Bitcoin Supply

Speaking of hoarding, that's another problem. One of the reasons why we have a Federal Reserve is that there wasn't enough gold to go around. If you have a mortgage on your farm to pay, you need people to buy your crops. If there is not enough cash in circulation, then your customers don't have the cash to pay you. The problem we had with gold was bank runs. There wasn't enough gold at banks to satisfy depositors' claims. Therefore, there wasn't enough money for people to use to pay their debts. It may have been their money on accounting ledgers, but there wasn't enough cash for them to pull from A to put into B. Silver was added to the money supply, but even that was eventually abandoned.

With Bitcoin, we do not have to worry so much about bank runs as there is no bank; but, hoarding can be problematic. Let us say that you somehow end up with 1 million Bitcoin, through savvy trades and good, ethical business practices. That leaves fewer Bitcoin in the pool, which is non-inflationary. Because you control so many coins, the price for Bitcoin goes up because there are fewer around for transactions. So, as the price goes up, your Bitcoin hoarding starts to pay off in higher valuations. You just have to sit on it and watch the value go up. What is your incentive to trade? It warps the value of Bitcoin.

With gold, we had some increase in the supply. Even today, several hundred tons of gold are mined each year throughout the world. So, the present supply of gold is limited, but, does slowly increase over time. With Bitcoin, there is an increase in the supply, up until the the 21 million Bitcoin limit. After that, the only way to provide access to the 21 million bitcoin to all the billions of people on earth is to use fractional reserve banking. Without that, we face deflation.

There are arguments in favor of deflation, but most Economists are trained in inflationary economies and wouldn't know how to deal in a world where deflation is the norm. This is why we have spent trillions of dollars propping up the stock market. Not only are Economists ill-equipped to reimagine the world in a deflationary economy, the public is completely unable to deal with the prospect of decreasing salaries and values for the goods they want to sell, even though they would be just as well served in the long run.

For the moment, we are spared some of the problem with Bitcoin deflation thanks to mining introducing new Bitcoins intothe system.

The Blockchain Size

The Bitcoin blockchain is around 9 GB at this time. This is with a few million geeks occasionally transacting back and forth among themselves. What happens when you scale Bitcoin to 8 billion users making several transactions per day? How large can the blockchain grow? What happens when it reaches 1 TB? 10 TB? Presumably, storage is getting cheaper (deflation) and processing is getting more powerful. But, still, there are practical considerations to keep in mind when pushing and pulling that much data around. Imagine trying to launch a node when the blockchain reaches 1 TB; how long would that take to synchronize?

What do we do with the blockchain in 50 years? 100 years? We are going to require centralized machines to handle transactions because participation will be out of reach for the average user. We are already seeing this with mining pools. You as an individual have little opportunity to successfully mine Bitcoin compared to the big players. Things will only become more competitive as the Bitcoin mining reward gets smaller and smaller and the necessary resources for mining increase in computing demand.


As stated at the opening, I am a fan of Bitcoin. I like what it does. However, I have some reservations about its long-term viability. Specifically, what concerns me is the fixed Bitcoin supply, which is impacted by lost Bitcoins and some of the same problems gold faces as a currency, namely hoarding. However, even gold has some degree of inflation as it continues to be mined.

I think that cryptocurrencies should include some degree of inflation to make up for coin loss and to counter some of the problems with deflation. For this reason, I like NXT and Blackcoin because they employ "minting" to slowly and predictably introduce new currency. I think 1% is too low, because people breed faster than that; but, it's a move in the right direction.

Bitcoin may be a bridge that takes us to the next level of cryptocurrency. I think it is a great start; but, we should be looking for a next generation option.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

The IRS Considers Bitcoin Property, Not Currency: What It Means

Reading through the IRS Guidance on Bitcoin, it states that the IRS considers Bitcoin as personal property. So, if you, for example, buy a car for $1000 and sell it for $3000 after some minor repairs, the value added is considered income by the IRS and is taxable. Similarly, if you buy Bitcoin at $320 and sell it for $340, you pay taxes on the $20 profit.

This is very similar to stocks, with the exception that you buy whole units of stocks, generally. You can take a loss or make a capital gain. The way you track this is by keeping records of how much you paid for the stock and for how much you sold it, typically using a FIFO (First In, First Out) basis. With stocks, you sell whole units as well. Tracking your stocks only gets ornery when you buy a stock on a recurring basis. With stocks, you also add transaction fees and commissions into your cost.

With Bitcoin, accounting is pretty much the same, except that the arithmetic gets complicated because we do not deal with whole units of Bitcoin on the purchase or the sale.

The best way to think of it is that when somebody pays you in Bitcoin, they are paying you with a non-dividend paying stock that you can redeem somewhere else. Between receiving the Bitcoin and paying it out, you may earn money or lose money. I've seen the value of my meager Bitcoin holdings appreciate and depreciate from day to day.

The complication with Bitcoin is that we do not generally receive whole units of bitcoin. They are always fractional units, which complicate the arithmetic. In addition, when we also do not spend whole units of Bitcoin, we spend fractional amounts. Therefore, matching up your incoming coin against several transactions of lesser coin can be tedious.

About the only blessing is that, like FOREX, commission costs are built into the price of your trades.

I'm still not 100% clear on the IRS guidance on Bitcoin because I don't deal with the some of the other conditions mentioned.

Overall, I think you may want to go light on using Bitcoin for day to day transactions, like buying a cup of coffee every morning. The accounting headache might be greater than the coolness factor, at least until software comes along to help you manage these things. In the meantime, your spreadsheet of choice will be the only means of tracking your transactions.

Thursday, October 09, 2014

Dealing With My Retirement Rollover

I've paid a price for consolidating my retirement accounts. I had a traditional IRA to which I sporadically contributed since age 20. It wasn't a lot of money, but it was something. In addition, having worked for the State of Texas, I had 401k and 401a accounts which were out of my control as a non-state employee. I decided to roll them together into one account at a local Edward Jones office.

So, I've slowly been turning my rolled over money into stock positions. The funny thing is that we have been expecting a market correction. So, I decided to slowly put my money into positions rather than all at once. Of course, as soon as most of my money is alloted, the market takes a crap.

I have positions in BBL, BP, DEM, GLD, HCN, HSBC, KO, RIG, and T in the IRA. I bought most of that in the past couple months as the market was reaching its peaks. Sensing that a market correction is imminent, I added GLD to my portfolio so that I don't freak out so much. It has indeed gone up on days that the market takes a dive. However, GLD has overall gone down slowly as the market gently descends.

In other words, I find that GLD is great for market freakouts; but, it's not doing so hot when the market slowly declines. In any case, GLD is in the green today, but in the red overall. Still, it brings me peace in these troubled times.

Today, I allocated the last of my retirement money into RIG, which has had their ass handed to them. As it kept dipping, I kept getting more and more excited. Sure, oil prices are low and production is still working hard. But, it's not like an oil company is going to stop exploring all of the sudden. They may not start new wells. But, they definitely won't stop midway and come back to it later. So, I figure, RIG is a great buy, long-term. I'm down over 10 percent since my first purchase. So, I bought more.

I wish I had more money to put into BBL, another stock that having its day of reckoning. They are down more than 12 percent since my purchase. Ouch. BBL is one of the better mining companies around. If I could afford more, I'd buy it now for the fat dividends in the long-run.

I bought BP because they are a good company that is having government issues. Despite the leeches, they have been making a profit and paying dividends. I think once they are done with the legal stuff, they will be more profitable. So, for me, they have been a depressed stock that will pay off long-term.

DEM invests in dividend paying companies in emerging markets. I know that the fund is somewhat risky; but, only developing markets have the growth potential to ...yes, I'll say it again, pay fat dividends. Imagine the dividend growth rate for 20+ years from now when I am forced to cash out.

HCN was a tough call. I like REITS. I know that healthcare will be a giant industry as baby boomers start to become decrepit. My Edward Jones advisor suggested HCN, and I checked them out, liked the dividends. They actually hold their value well when the market takes a crap. I think investors sell the growth stocks and pile into value, which helps HCN go up while the rest are going down. I think HCN will also help me avoid future freakouts. In the future, however, as my contributions allow, I will probably add O to my portfolio. O is a REIT that pays monthly. I certainly support a stock with that degree of confidence.

I bought HSBC purely for exposure to the financial sector. HSBC has been crawling out of their troubles and may finally be able to put their bad history behind them. More importantly, HSBC is an international concern, which means that they have better access to capital where it is most available. I guess what I'm saying is that they have a diversified client base.

Coca-Cola, KO, has been the one rock star in my portfolio. It is the only stock in my portfolio that has ALMOST absorbed my broker's commission and shrugged off the market dips. I added KO because, well, it's KO. They sell sugar water for a big markup. What's to dislike? I certainly don't dislike their future dividend growth.

And, finally, AT&T, aka T. I am not an AT&T customer. Other than landlines, I never have been an AT&T customer. However, they pay good dividends and, in my estimation, have the best prospects for the long term. For example, they will provide broadband to GM cars and trucks. They have hotspots across the country. They provide Internet to Amazon devices. They bundle their offerings for great savings. So, despite their higher cost and meh offerings, they operate a great business. This is probably the only business that I don't like as a consumer; but, love as an owner.

So, that's where my money went.

In the future, I'm looking at a combination of blue chip stocks and those that pay monthly dividends. You may have figured out that capital gains aren't my main concern. I'm looking to play with house money rather than my own money. For this reason, stocks that pay dividends are my preference, with GLD being the only exception.

Sunday, October 05, 2014

Trying Out Cryptocurrencies

Lately, I have been dedicating a little bit of spare time towards learning about cryptocurrencies such as Bitcoin, Litecoin, Dogecoin, and others. On the surface, there isn't much difference between these newer coins and good old-fashioned Linden dollars from +Second Life. Once you read into the currencies more, however, there are some significant differences, which don't seem of much use at the moment.

I first got interested when I heard that had opened up to the public. Signing up was much easier than opening a bank account, that's for certain. Rather than dive in with guns blazing, I decided to get started with just $20. My mistake was attempting to use my debit card to deposit. My first try was flat out declined. My second attempt a few days later contemplated depositing, but ultimately rejected the deposit. On my third try, I used a bank draft instead. That seemed to work just fine.

Customer service at Circle was a little lame. They just give you generic responses, nothing specific. I think they could do better in their goal of making Bitcoin easy for the general public. I think the danger with Circle is that they may have simplified it too much. I can't find my addresses anywhere. I think, perhaps, they propose that you use a new address for every transaction.

I also got a +Coinbase account. Coinbase was straightforward in informing me that they were going to take a few days to make my money available. So, I'm waiting a few days for those coins to become available. Overall, the website seems straightforward. I like that I can find my Bitcoin addresses easily in the interface.

There is one service that I really liked, +Coinkite. What I think is really cool about Coinkite is that they also offer a processing terminal similar to credit card terminals. This machine allows you to make sales and/or operate as an exchange agent. It spits out printed Bitcoin in QR codes. I forgot to mention that Coinkite also works with Litecoin, the up and coming competitor.

Something else I really like about Coinkite is that they round out their processing terminal with a debit card. Of course, you can't use the debit card at a regular ATM. You must use it with the Coinkite terminal. However, in the greater likelihood that you will not have a terminal or computer nearby, your Bitcoin address is printed on the card in numbers and as a QR code. This makes it easier for you to process transactions on the go.

My urgency in buying Bitcoin was so that I could transfer money into my Coinkite account to order a debit card.

I have no illusions that I will be able to go anywhere and buy things with Bitcoin or Litecoin. I think it is still a bit too geeky and the price is too volatile. I think that for Bitcoin or Litecoin to become more accepted, they need the network effect in place. That is to say, you need to know that there are a reliable number of people who will pay you in cryptocurrency and whom you can pay in cryptocurrency.

I recognize that there are other features that cryptocurrency provides that make it a powerful service; but, none of the websites that I've visited thus far use those features. They mainly focus on trading. You have to be a developer geek to take advantage of those extra features, it seems.

In the meantime, I'm waiting for some of my deposits to clear and for my Coinkite debit card to arrive so that I can carry it in my wallet. In the meantime, I will be looking for places that accept Bitcoin. And I suppose I will post my Bitcoin and Litecoin addresses up on my profiles for potential payments. Maybe someday somebody will surprise me and offer to pay in Bitcoin.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Considering a Moped

I just wrote a blog post on +RGV Life about riding to McAllen on the bus. I am a willing bus rider. I enjoy driving a car on occasion; but, most of the time, I don't really like driving. Even so, I think there is a place for having multiple modes of transportation available to you.

I'm not a hipster or save the planet type of guy. I am more inclined towards using the right tool for the job. If, for example, you need to go buy a six pack of beer at the convenience store, you don't need to drive your car or truck over there when you could just jump on a scooter and pppppppppp your way over there, and back.

If you want to visit somebody across town, you could ride your motorcycle over and back. Unless you are expecting to have a passenger, you don't need a four-wheeled vehicle.

To drive the point home, you use a bike, moped, motorcycle, or car depending on your particular needs. Using a car for everything seems to me like overuse of a single asset. You can reduce wear and tear on your $30K vehicle by using your $300 bike, $2000 moped, or $3000 motorcycle. And, if you spread the use out by actual need, you prolong the lives of each.

So, as a part of a family's multimodal arsenal, I think bus riding should also be an option. You save yourself the driving, parking, and maintenance troubles by riding a bus.

But, let's circle back to the moped thing. Biking to work is out of the question. It is too far to ride there without being drenched in sweat. You're damn right I'll get there; but, I won't be presentable. I can ride the bus; but, it takes 2 hours.

I don't want to drive our van to work because it's just me.

A motorcycle might work; but, I don't think I'll get the full benefit in stop and go traffic. A motorcycle would be great for highway driving, in my opinion.

A moped would be better for stop and go driving. The downside is that mopeds are slow and not suited for major streets. So, assuming that I avoid the major streets and take the back streets, I may be better off. The back streets have lots of stops, slow speed limits, and fewer vehicles. I think I could easily put-put my way to work on a moped on days that I need to divert from bus routes and schedules.

I don't intend to replace bus riding entirely. I just want an option. Having options isn't bad, right?

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Why Apple's Tap to Pay Will Not Change Commerce

I believe that habits will ultimately make Apple Pay not so revolutionary as it is being made out. They are essentially repackaging what has already been done; but, beyond that, the reason it won't be ubiquitous is low tech in nature, human nature, rather.

+Google Wallet already does most of what Apple Pay proposes. The technology is different, given that mobile carriers did not want to allow access to a phone's secure element. Yada yada. In any case, my problem with Google Wallet, specifically tap to pay, has been that it doesn't work everywhere. I'll come back to this.

It is great that Apple has partnerships with 200K merchants and Target. The problem for Apple, however, is that I don't use Apple products, nor plan to use them anytime soon. Having merchant partnerships isn't compelling enough reason for me to buy an iPhone 6. There are millions of people like me who really don't care to enter the Apple ecosphere.

Given the reluctance of millions to use Apple products, there must be an alternative payment system available to us. I don't see a merchant turning my business away because I don't have an iPhone. So, this means that Apple Pay will only be an option for merchants.

This opt-in is what gives me trouble using Google Wallet. I do business with local merchants, mom and pop shops and restaurants. Not every business uses tap to pay of any sort. And, those merchants that do have a tap to pay terminal do not always have it enabled. This means that on the chance you enter an establishment that has a tap to pay terminal, there is a good chance you'll find one that doesn't have tap to pay service, only the terminal. You don't find out until you spent a little time looking like an ass trying to get it to work.

If you look like an ass trying to get tap to pay to work often enough, you stop trying. It's much more efficient to whip out your trusty old debit card and pay with that.

Apple Pay will be no different. 200K merchants sounds impressive; but, like Apple, they are most likely the overpriced and chain establishments, not the average local business that relies on the lowest common denominators, cash, check, and swipe.

I'm not saying Apple Pay will fail. I'm sure it will do very well among Apple fans; but, they will only have to look like an ass trying to tap and pay somewhere unsupported a few times before they become reluctant to whip out their phone first.

Telling you from experience, on the chance that you do find an establishment that has working tap to pay, it's not a compelling reason to return. I go to a restaurant because I'm hungry. I go to the grocery store because I need groceries. And, so on. I won't deliberately visit an establishment more often so I can use my Jedi payment trick.

Tap to pay is cool; but, it's not compelling. It doesn't make me spend more. It doesn't make me choose one merchant over another.

Having said that, what really has modified my shopping habits is having rewards cards on my phone. It makes it so much easier to take advantage of rewards programs to have them on my phone. I never used to sign up for them because I hated having to carry their stupid little cards in my wallet. But, now, I actually do sign up for rewards programs and use them when I shop.

I think that for technology to be useful and widespread, it has to have some common denominator and even have alternative options. So long as we have swipe payments, I see those as being the predominant payment method because they work reliably and almost everywhere.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Will Evernote and Other Apps for Android Kill Chromebooks?

+Google Chrome announced the first Android Apps ported to Chromebooks today. Personally, I am a big fan of +Evernote. Over the years, it has proven itself a great service where I can manage information. Naturally, when I read that Evernote is one of the first apps ported, I was excited.

I don't know if this is a big "however". In the past, I have not used the web version of Evernote because of the number of notes that I have in it, around 4,000. My Evernote database is somewhere north of 2 GB. This is not very much data, considering that I have hundreds of GBs of data in other products, especially +Google Drive. Back to my point, using the browser version is slow given the volume of HTML necessary to render my account.

The slowness is understandable. At one time, I experimented with single file Wikis that ran in an html file. They worked OK up to a point. As the HTML file grew larger, browsers struggled. I have a demo Evernote account that I use for workshops, which has fewer notes. It runs considerably faster than my own personal account on the browser.

The Windows and Android apps have been my go-to ways of accessing Evernote. Even the Windows Phone version is rather slick.

The Windows and Mac versions download your entire Evernote database and store it locally on your drive. This gives you quick access to all your information. The Android version stores thumbnails of your notes locally and downloads the data as you need it. This also means that you need an Internet connection to access notes that aren't cached, unless you select a Notebook to store locally.

Chromebooks and Android devices have similar problems in that they only have a few GB of storage available. My Android Evernote database is 500 MB. Presumably, the Evernote for Chromebook will also take up 500 MB on my Chromebook since it is a port from Android. And, as the database grows, it will take a larger percentage of my 16 GB SSD.

One of the options I mentioned earlier, is to allow a Notebook in Evernote to keep local copies of your notes on your phone or tablet. The Chromebook port also offers the option to keep local copies.

I can imagine somebody with much a much larger database than me will at some point choose to sync a multigigabyte database on their Chromebook. My full database is a meager 2 GB, so I'm still safe if I were to sync all my Notebooks. However, imagine shared Chromebooks in which users are also Evernote fans. If you have multiple users with Evernote installed, it can really eat up your local storage.

But, this can also apply to every other app you install on your Chromebook, as they become available in the future. As users, we will have to start buying larger SSDs and upgrading our Chromebooks to make room for the apps. Otherwise, we'll start seeing problems as our Chrome devices run out of storage.

In my title, I don't mean that running Android apps will kill off the Chromebook. Rather, I mean that there is the strong possibility that we'll bog down our machines with apps to the point that they become unusable. I certainly hope not. But, having apps on my Chromebook could mean a little more freedom from my other devices.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Walking, aspirin, and vino for cardio health?

If your father had a heart attack before reaching retirement age, and suffered prolonged effects afterward, what would you do to better your chances of living to the current life expectancy? This is something that concerns me. My father is no longer with us. He left us before he could retire based on age.

Going over all kinds of information in medical journals and online resources dedicated to health, three things stand out as making some difference in helping one avoid a nasty turn in cardiovascular health. These relate to activity, taking aspirin every day, and drinking wine daily.

Walking and Activity

Apparently, living a sedentary life is bad for you. Most of what I've read says that you need at least 30 minutes of activity per day. There are also suggestions that 10K steps per day should be your goal. In case you are not sure which to do, or want to do both, it's much easier if you get a +Fitbit. This way you can track your progress wither way.

But, I've also read that High Intensity Interval Training is good for you in that it stimulates muscle growth and does things to keep you young. Think of it this way, like a kid, go out and play. Have moments of easy activity and spurts of ALL OUT effort like somebody is chasing  you in a game of tag. Apparently those moments of heart pounding activity stimulates things that are beneficial. There are also studies that say that too much of that just wears your body out. The intervals are the key, I take it.

I would say, try to do more than 30 minutes. Try a variety of activities. And try to increase flexibility. I throw that in because it's sad to see older people not be able to touch their toes or scratch their own back.

Daily Aspirin

Aspirin has long been known to help with reducing inflammation. It has also show to have benefits with respect to lowering your risk for heart disease and the type of stroke where you have blood vessel blockage. Recently, studies have shown that it also reduces some risks for cancer. However, the science is still kind of iffy. Researchers still don't know how much aspiring in what frequency is best.

Taking aspirin daily has some drawbacks. As I mentioned earlier, it helps with strokes where you have blockage in your blood vessels. This is because aspirin is a blood thinner. So, if you bust a blood vessel for your stroke, aspiring makes things worse. However, you could achieve the blood thinning via regular blood donations to your local blood bank without taking any aspirin.

I have not found any definite research that says that it's definitely the blood thinning that helps you avoid heart attacks. It may very well be aspirin's anti-inflammatory properties that do the trick. Sugars tend to irritate the blood vessels, which make them more susceptible to plaque attaching itself to them. Thus, reducing the inflammation reduces the plaque that chokes your arteries.

You see some corroboration to this theory with heart patients who have their teeth removed. The theory is that bad oral hygiene causes inflammation in the arteries, which leads to what we mentioned earlier. So, as a preventive measure, some patients have their teeth taken out.

Going back to the drawbacks, aspirin can also cause stomach bleeding when taken for prolonged periods. Thus, the recommendation is taking baby aspirin until the correct dosage is figured out by researchers. It's not that baby aspirin is THE recommended daily dose, it's just that they haven't figured out how far up they can push it for the benefits without killing you by bleeding you out.


Wine is supposed to be good for you too. Red wine is supposed to be good for you, more specifically. White wine won't cut it. This is where we know God is a man. Two glasses of red wine per day for men. Only ONE glass of red wine per day for women. Any more than that and you undo any benefit you derived.

Regarding undoing the benefit, being an alcoholic is definitely bad for you. Forget killing your liver, the process of killing your liver is where the action is. Before your liver takes a poop, it starts to build up fat bubbles from metabolizing the alcohol you drank. You end up with what his called, drumroll please, FATTY LIVER.

It turns out that sugar and carbohydrates in general, alcohol is a carbohydrate, are metabolized similarly by your liver. And all this may end up leading to higher cholesterol. There are arguments about all of this, so go do your own research. It couldn't hurt to limit your alcohol to 2 glasses of wine or less, and cutting way the hell back on carbs. It won't help you to be mindful of alcohol if you're going to blow it on other carbs.

I'm going to detour a little here. Carbs in general seem like a bad deal. Think of cattle. Cattle are fattened up with corn. When feed got really expensive, cattle were being fed old candy before being slaughtered. Why? To fatten them up. Corn, candy, flour, and other carbs like rice behave the same way in your body. They stimulate insulin production. The ONLY function insulin has in your body is to turn sugar in to fat. This is how alcohol becomes fat and you end up with an alcoholic's fatty liver. Speaking of fatty liver, how about veal and pate?

Regrouping here. I don't know for certain that the aforementioned amounts of alcohol are beneficial. I haven't run across any articles one way or the other that spell out the pathway in which alcohol is actually healthy. It may simply be that it could be a blood thinner of sorts. This is me speculating, by the way. Blood is an organic fluid, which requires an organic solvent. Or maybe not. I might be thinking of polar an non-polar solvents. Never mind. The point is, I have not found anything that explains to me how alcohol is actually good for you.

Don't take that to mean that being a drinkie isn't beneficial at all. Simply, I don't know HOW alcohol is good for you. Studies have shown that people who drink moderately live longer than people who abstain. They also live longer than people who drink too much; so don't get carried away. Again, I revert to God. He loves us and wants us to mellow out with a glass of wine every day. It's good enough for me.

Tying it all together

So, how do we tie this all together? For me, it takes the form of gulping down an aspirin in the morning. In the evening, I do my walking. If I'm stocked with a bottle of wine, I make it my reward for walking. If I don't have wine, I incorporate the walk to the store towards my 10K step goal, and drink some after.

I have figured out that a 750 mL bottle of wine is the equivalent of 4 glasses of wine. This means that one bottle should last two days. This keeps me walking to the store frequently. I'd go daily if my wife could drink red wine. Unfortunately for her, she gets migraines, which red wine seems to encourage. I try to drink daily if I can; but, some days I do not feel like imbibing. Other days, especially the weekends, I make up for that.

So, to recap, aspirin in the morning, evening walk (includes walking to buy wine), and a glass or two of wine after walking.

Will any of this help? Who knows? But, in the meantime, I'm pain free, get some exercise, and feel great in the evenings. This is a life worth living.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Summer Chalk Art

My two youngest played outside with colored chalk earlier in the Summer. They drew some figures. It seemed appropriate to save it in photos. 

They start school tomorrow, so I don't know if they will have any more sidewalk art this year.

Io's Flower




Sunday, August 10, 2014

Task Enumeration For Better Productivity

Writing down your tasks, projects, and goals into checklists, enumeration, is very important for helping you make the best of your time. If you have read David Allen's book, Getting Things Done, he states clearly that it is important to dump all of your pending tasks and other inputs into a trusted system, which you can later use to organize your productive time. There is more to writing down your tasks than he explains.

Allen states that the main reason for writing down everything is so that you can achieve a "mind like water". The explanation is thus:

In karate, there is an image that's used to define the position of perfect readiness: "mind like water." Imagine throwing a pebble into a still pond. How does the water respond? The answer is, totally appropriately to the force and mass of the input; then it returns to calm. It doesn't overreact or underreact.
When you write things down, according to Allen, it allows your mind to let go of all the mental tension required to keep track of all your ideas and tasks. Your mind can focus on doing one thing well, rather than be torn trying to keep track of everything that needs doing.

I am figuring out that writing down your tasks has another benefit that is making all the difference for me, which is to allow me to prioritize what I shall do.

Imagine a world in which you would visit a restaurant and order anything you want without a menu. It would be terribly inefficient because each restaurant is not prepared to make just any food. Restaurants typically focus on what is on the menu. This allows them to order the necessary food, use the correct equipment, and perfect a technique that will leave your food tasting delicious.

If the restaurant had to scramble to find ingredients, and the cook had to learn how to cook new dishes for every order, the result wold be lackluster. So, having a set list of items to order makes it easier for the restaurant to deliver consistent results, and makes the experience more pleasant for the guests.

Imagine, then that when you are sitting down on the weekend to plan your week. It is much easier to open up your menu of things to do, pick the best ones for the week, and then create the order for your work week.

Obviously, there will be more tasks than time to do them. This is fine. Presumably, you have selected the most urgent or necessary items for your calendar. Rather than forgetting or not having the time to do those leftover tasks, you have actively chosen to not do them yet. Having a comprehensive list of things to do is not about getting them all done; it is about giving you choices for which ones matter most at the present time. Choice is key.

What I am attempting to point out is that having a list of items to do, you are able to pick and choose what to do. It also helps you avoid putting less urgent items in your calendar that could have waited. Why would you do such a thing? Well, because when you sat down to plan, it simply popped into your head and seemed like it should be done. Whereas having a comprehensive list of those things that demand your attention allows you to weed out those things that can wait by allowing you to weigh them against the other choices.

How This Became Evident

Based on the David Allen quote, you might guess that I am a fan of his work, which is correct. I've used GTD with Moleskines and with Evernote. I've tried it with spreadsheets and other tools. Currently, I am using +Smartsheet, which I have used in the past. In this instance, I am using Smartsheet in earnest. I mean, I am REALLY dumping all my tasks on a sheet, something I did not do in previous instances.

One neat feature about Smartsheet is that I can connect it to my Google Calendar. So, those items that are due show up on my calendar. If I get the item done, I check it off as done. Otherwise, I can simply change the date for the next best time. I find this easier than managing tasks through the calendar.

There is also a task section for recurring tasks. Once I finish one of those, I change the date to the next instance. In this way, my calendar starts to fill itself out with tasks. I can look at what I already have schedules and am then able to select those things I think I can achieve in the gaps from among the list of tasks.

It is this available selection of tasks that made it evident for me that writing everything down makes it easier to keep myself productive. No need to mentally go through everything I could do. I can simply pick one of the many items already selected. There is always something to do, it is simply a matter of selecting an item.

Saturday, August 02, 2014

Evernote: Improving the Efficiency of Notes

Evernote is by far one of the greatest tools available for personal information management. The strengths of Evernote can also result in some drawbacks when it comes to recalling information. There are some remedies that one must use to prevent information getting lost. It is once you get past a few thousand notes that it becomes evident that you need to refine your note taking and indexing.

Let us start off by defining note taking. In the context of Evernote, note taking refers to typing a note, taking a photograph, recording video, recording audio, uploading a file, or using the handwriting feature. Evernote's versatility in receiving notes is what makes the application such a great personal asset. However, there are some trouble spots that could arise in recalling notes if you do not invest time in organizing each note.

The result is that each search pulls up too many results, the wrong results, or none of the results you need. It is necessary to have ways to refine results before submitting your query.

The problems that present themselves in note taking are lack of context, lack of indexing, lack of transcription, and expiration. These can make it difficult to find information, or make information "lost" among the archives.


Lack of context can make notes difficult to interpret, and thus know if they have any relevance to anything. Besides what is written in a note, it is important to know other information about the note. Fortunately, Evernote adds some contexts such as time and date. These are automatically recorded with each note; however, these contexts can be trashed when you combine notes, which Evernote accomplishes by making a new note and deleting the originals. Thus, you could lose the original dates, which are useful when you need to search by time. Time context can be maintained by adding in your own time and date within your notes, especially when you are merging notes.

Another context that is useful is location. When enabled, Evernote will record the coordinates of your note using GPS. This information is especially useful when used in conjunction with other contexts, such as time. If you want notes from last year when you were in Chicago, it is a simple matter to search for notes that have Chicago coordinates and then cross reference by the dates in question.

The location context breaks down if you turn off the GPS feature on your mobile device or within Evernote. In addition, the desktop version of Evernote does not record location at all. Furthermore, the coordinates are occasionally way off from where you actually took a note. This can be remedied by manually adding or correcting location information in the notes. The mobile and desktop applications allow you to modify location information. This is especially useful if, for example, your note is written in one location but has relevance elsewhere.

For example, you could add the location of your favorite grocery store to your shopping list. Or, if you are taking notes for Mom, you would locate the notes at Mom's address. Travel notes would be ideally have the coordinates of the place you are visiting so that you can easily call them up while you are there.


Indexing your notes is very important. You can typically do this by using the Tag feature in Evernote. But, you can also help find things later on by adding keywords to the note. Using synonyms in your notes also helps when you are trying to find a note and can only remember the concept if not the exact words contained.

Indexing is more important when you are recording video and audio. Evernote does a great job of scanning photos and documents for words, and making them searchable. However, audio and video do not have any indexing. Therefore, if you want to find a voice note in the future, it is vital that you spend some time reviewing old audio and video notes so that you can tag the notes or add key word summaries in text.


Transcription is related to the previous item in that you want to turn rich media captures into plain text. However, in this case, I refer to transcription as taking your photo of notes and then typing them up word for word. This does help in indexing, of course; but, more importantly, it simplifies your content and reduces the size of your database.

Transcribing to reduce your Evernote database size is important to keep your application running quickly. While desktop computers are faster and have increasingly larger amounts of storage, mobile devices are not keeping pace. Evernote for mobile tries to compensate by not storing your entire database on your mobile device, making it necessary to use your data plan to pull up notes related to your searches. So, if your notes are full of 8 megapixel photos, it will slow down your access and eat up your data plan.

Transcription aims at keeping your Evernote database lean and fast by reducing your notes to plain text whenever possible.


Some information is useful for a limited time. Once you are past that time, it makes no sense to store the records. One example is contact information. I have found that contact information is of little use in Evernote. Contact information is much more useful in the context of an address book. However, you may not want to spend too much time writing down contact information when you first receive it. You can take a picture of the business card, transcribe it to your address book later, and then delete the note with the card photo from Evernote.

The same goes for other temporary information such as lottery ticket numbers, raffle tickets, invitations, or articles you wanted to read but not keep. It is a good practice to give a moment's thought to whether the note you just viewed still has any relevance for you.

There is also temporary information that you can leave for the Internet collective to store. Anything you can Google and find consistently can be safely deleted.

Last Thoughts

All of these considerations, context, indexing, transcription, and expiration are aimed at not allowing your Evernote database to grow to the point where it takes longer and longer to find information. If you are having to get very clever in your search queries to find the information you want, then you have lost efficiency. You want data that is readily found rather than lost in a format. You want to find data quickly and at the cost of few storage and bandwidth resources.

I had stopped using Evernote so much because my database had become cumbersome to use under the mantra "Remember Everything". I came to realize that not everything is worth remembering. Furthermore, there is information that is not forgotten because the world wide web remembers it. Evernote should not be my personal copy of Wikipedia. Rather, it should contain personal, unique, and actionable information.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

A Job That Ignites My Passion for Wireless

I recently started working at Frontera Consulting, LLC. The founders, and by extension the company, have had a lot of experience in creating and managing large networks and wireless deployments, ranging from setting up ISPs, to municipal Wi-Fi, and even Point-to-Point and Point-to-Multipoint links.

This is the type of job that is a perfect fit for me. I love the magic of receiving boxes of hardware and cable that will eventually become a communication network. There is always a sense of adventure that comes from going out in the field to install the equipment after you have set it up and run tests on it.

To the average user, it's just Wi-Fi; big deal. Almost everybody has a Wi-Fi router at home. Of course, they're not setting up backhauls, VLANS, and fiber links to get better reception while sitting on the toilet.

I feel gratification knowing that the end product just works. It is satisfying to know how much work goes into setting up a system that "just works". Even with all the technical skill and know-how, it is miraculous when these things work as planned.

In the coming months, I expect to learn much and to grow in my technical skills. There will be more miracles in my future.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

I Encrypted Myself Out Of My Tablet

I had to reset my Nexus 7 tablet today because I had set up file encryption This is the same tablet that I sent in to Asus for repair because it just up and died. It has been working more or less OK since I got it back, with the exception that it can't see 5 GHz channels.

Back to the point of this post, I set up encryption on the tablet and did not bother to write down the encryption password anywhere. I cycled through my usual keys in different variations without any luck. This is what I call outsmarting myself. Apparently I was so clever at protecting my data that not even I could figure out how to get at it.

So, I reset my tablet and have been adding apps back to the Nexus again. The silver lining to all this is that I have discovered that there are new apps by Microsoft and Google that I want to try. It appears that maybe even the Blogger app is updated, although I am probably misremembering.

Despite this mishap, I think I shall reencrypt the tablet and write down the password in LastPass. Except for this instance, LastPass has been a great service that I have adopted, and that I would recommend for added security to your online and offline accounts.

Wednesday, July 09, 2014

Does Google Wallet Tap and Pay Work Without an Internet Connection?

I am finally in a position to use Google Wallet for making payments. But, I don't know if I can use Google Wallet tap and pay from my Nexus 7 (Wi-Fi only) without a network connection. The Help article on the subject is not clear on the matter. It states that you need a network connection once per day for tap and pay. It does not explicitly say that you need a connection to make payment at the point of sale; it implies that you merely need to sync once per day or to unlock via PIN.

I asked a friend of mine who has used Google Wallet to tap and pay; but, he has always had mobile service when he has done it. I called Google Wallet support; it took the guy a while to search for an answer while I was on hold. He seemed to think that I do need a network connection.

Forums and other articles seem split on the question.

Why Ask Now?

For many reasons, I was not able to make use of the service since it launched. I ordered the Google Wallet card as soon as I was able to access the form. Prior to that, I activated the payment service via Gmail. I was not able to use those two services, nor the tap and pay service, because I had no money in my account or did not have the technology to support it.

Recently, I poked around my pay cards, as I have not had a checking or savings account for years, and discovered that I could use them for electronic funds transfers, both in and out, like a checking account would do. Most prepaid cards only accept direct deposit, and reject drafts. So, due to a change in employment, in which I would have had to change direct deposit anyway, I finally linked a monied account to my Google Wallet.

Now that I am able to fund my Wallet account, I am curious if I need a network connection. This isn't mere curiosity. I have Nexus 7 tablet I mentioned, and a phone that doesn't do NFC. So, there is a practical reason. I am also more likely to be holding a tablet in line at checkout than my Google Wallet card.

Why It Should Work

Using my thinking skills, I imagine paying using Google Wallet tap and pay should work without an Internet connection because tap and pay credit cards work that way. My conjecture is that Wallet syncs once per day to update its NFC code for the day and stores it locally.

Why It Should Not Work

Because it would be too logical. 

What I Am Going To Do

Tomorrow morning, before leaving home, I will launch my Google Wallet app so that it can sync. Then, on the way to work, I will stop somewhere that supports tap and pay to test the feature. To be certain that I don't accidentally hop onto some runaway hotspot, I'll turn off the Wi-Fi radio beforehand. 

I'll either be pleased with the result or look like a dork. But, I shall no longer be an ignorant dork. 

I'll let you know how it works out. 

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

I am not the news geek I used to be

Once upon a time, I would buy the newspaper and read it. Upon recently purchasing a Kindle, and already having a BN Nook, I have come to realize that I do not consume news as I once did.

Upon buying a Kindle from the pawn shop, I thought perhaps I would get a newspaper subscription; but, I decided to buy a single issue instead. It has been two weeks; and I have not finished reading through that issue.

In that time, I have read books via the text-to-speech feature; but, I have barely touched the news.

My only other distraction, besides books, is my daily Instapaper that pulls from various sources. At most, it includes the weekly local paper.

To be fair, it is not only my news consumption that has diminished. My email also receives less and less attention, in addition to my social media presence. I do check in on occasion, posting the odd item here and there. But, it becomes more of a binge activity as of late.

When I do get online, lately, it becomes more deliberate and specific. There are things that need to be done through a computer that cannot be done through a mobile interface.

There are items that are not time sensitive that can be condensed into an Instapaper, which I can read at my leisure. I have become a fan of IFTTT recently, which allows me to passively aggregate the information I need into a single place.

I think it is too easy to create a monster Instapaper. It is best to keep it to information that you intend to use and then unsubscribe at a later date, once the need is met. In other words, rather than subscribe to a daily paper, it is better to subscribe to a weekly, biweekly, or monthly in which the daily news has been digested. If you're going to stay informed, it is better to pay somebody to summarize the news for you.

So much news is flotsam and jetsam. You can afford to wait for the Reader's Digest version.

Sunday, June 01, 2014

My Nexus 7 Died

Tonight, I wanted to cast Game of Thrones to the TV. We had spent time watching Dr Who, which ran into the broadcast time. I went to grab my Nexus 7 tablet to launch HBO Go. Except, that my tablet would not go.

I tried holding down the power button. And then I Googled how to reset holding down the power and volume down buttons. There are other steps involved which involve charging for different time periods. I don't have time tonight. I'll try to resurrect my Nexus tomorrow. If that doesn't work, I suppose there shall be a phone call to make and warranty work to initiate.

It's such a bummer, partially because I missed the big fight on Game of Thrones. But, it's also a bummer because I really rely on my tablet to get me through the day.

I only recently purchased a Kindle Touch at a pawn shop, which is surprisingly useful. Before going to bed, I have made some adjustments to my IFTTT recipes to send certain updates to Instapaper, which I can update. The rest can be done via my mobile phone, which has a more limited older version of Android. I'll have to make due. Although, I think that in the meantime, the Kindle will actually fill in quite well. It's not as smart as my tablet; but, it could readily do the same things that I expect from my tablet during my work day.

Tomorrow, I'll try to bring my Nexus 7 back to life. For now, I must go to sleep.

Saturday, May 31, 2014

Welcoming a Kindle Into the Home

Our household finally adopted a Kindle. As I am an Amazon Prime subscriber, and I already do so much business with Amazon, it made sense to invite a Kindle into our home. When it came time for my family to decide whether to go the route of Kindle or Nook, we decided to go with the Nook. Our family frequents the local Barnes and Noble stores, so there was that congruent experience possible between retail store and eBook reader.

I haven't jumped on board the Kindle bandwagon all the way. Rather than a recent model, I stopped by the pawn shop and picked up a Kindle Touch for a little less than $40. This model is similar to the Nook Simple Touch in that there is a power button, a home button, and a touch screen. I like that about the Nook. The current base model Kindle has those stupid little buttons on the edges that I would most likely snap off some day.

The biggest draw to the Kindle, for me, is that it is much easier for getting work documents in it through the Amazon Cloud Drive service. In reality, I need the Kindle as a substitute for paper documents more than as a substitute for books, although I need books as well. In the long run, it would make sense to have multiple basic Kindle devices to act as avatars for individual documents or books.

I mentioned in yesterday's blog post that in the Star Trek Universe, with all their advanced technology, still delivered reports via individual P.A.D.D.s rather than just emailing the damned thing to the Captain. On the TV show, it was just for aesthetics; but, the idea does hold some value. If you have a report linked to a specific device, it's a visual reminder to process it and send it on to the next step. I'm not suggesting that they had one P.A.D.D. for each individual document.

Here is the scenario. First officer finishes his crew report and delivers it to the Captain. The Captain goes through the report, finishes, and has it sends the P.A.D.D. back to 1st officer. Then, the 1st Officer archives the document and dedicates the P.A.D.D. to the next job.

Having a file system with what is practically unlimited storage is great in that you do not have to delete any documents. The downside is that as your documents accumulate, finding stuff gets unwieldy, especially if you are working on multiple projects requiring different information.

It is much easier to isolate the few documents you need for a project on one or two devices, and use different devices for other projects. Thus, you reduce the amount of time spent searching for the same works every time you transition from project to project, as you would with a single device.

I think, as a family, we might benefit from having an e-ink device each for personal document representation and book reading.

I hesitate to use Amazon or other cloud services as a shared document archive because Amazon charges a higher price for their Cloud Drive than other services, firstly. Second, I am not clear that I could transfer my user account to a surviving spouse or child. I don't know if the TOS has changed the licensing terms, which basically state that Kindle books, and the account in general, is licensed to me only, and cannot be transferred.

In effect, I couldn't will my Amazon digital possessions to my children and hope that some day my great grandchildren would have access to my vast library. I think Amazon would eventually wise up that I'm not 150 years old.

After having said all that, it just makes sense that a Kindle should serve as a temporary document avatar while I'm working on something. Then, once I'm done, I could repurpose it to the next job. It would require more than one Kindle, of course, hence the pawn shop visit.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

3 screens for entertainment, 3 screens for productivity

The idea of three screens is not my original idea. International man of Technology PR, +Alan Weinkrantz introduced me to the idea through his blog, where he originally meant broadcast television, your desktop, and your mobile phone. The concept began with Alan's subscription to AT&T's U-Verse, which was pretty new at the time. Back to the point, you had 3 screens to enjoy media.

Alan's tastes in media have evolved to where he watches less broadcast television and more internet broadcasts. His three screens these days likely involve his laptop, iPad, and iPhone. I think for many of us, the experience is similar.

What We Do

Not everybody does this. For some of us who are compulsive Internet users, we can be watching TV with a laptop, tablet, or phone handy to check up on actor profiles, obscure references in the script, or for some backstory. We may be twittering our reactions to the latest Game of Thrones episode as it's playing. We might be watching breaking news on TV and supplementing it with articles. The point is, we consume content through different media in parallel.

My 3 Screens

In my experience, I am 100% in agreement with Alan regarding the 3 screens, although from his posts I get the impression that his screens were interchangeable, not simultaneous. I could be off on that. I'd like to add that besides 3 screens for entertainment, we have 3 screens for productivity. I propose that the computer or tablet, your phone, and an eReader, such as the Kindle can be the 3 screens of productivity.

When the iPad first came out, people kept asking me if they should get one. They imagined that they would be able to be so productive everywhere they went. Then the reality hit them that tapping out long documents on a screen is not very efficient, and that there were a lot of shortcomings to tablets, of which there was only the iPad at the time.

Since then tablets have come a long way. But, for the most part, tablets only have one screen at a time. There are some like the Samsung and Microsoft Surface that can split screen; but, I find this ridiculous because it makes for much smaller usable space.

For me, productivity typically involves reading something or watching something, then typing up my synthesis. Flipping screens back and forth on a device is cumbersome and time consuming. For this reason, hand-written and printed notes never lost their appeal. You can have media readily available for a quick read, and then the laptop or desktop to type up your synthesis. Rapid succession. No toggling.

If you substitute the Kindle or other reader for your paper notes, you have your third screen.

My work style is very visual. If it's out of sight, it's out of mind. For this reason, I have trouble using electronic calendars. I have to see data for it to be useful for me; it does not serve me to keep it in RAM, which is very volatile in my brain.

I'm not saying that I only use 3 screens exclusively. My main screen is often my Chromebook, or my Tablet, or the TV with either Roku or Chromecast running. I typically use 3 screens at a time, although not the same 3 screens.

The eReader is surprisingly useful in that it does one thing very well, which is to display printed media. I can email documents to it and have tons of notes available. I could read notes on my tablet too; but, all it takes is one ding to let me know that a message arrived, and i go down the rabbit hole of distraction. Having a reader stay on task helps keep me on task.

For this reason, I think that eReaders are an essential screen in your work arsenal. It can be your file cabinet. The constancy of their display is what makes eReaders a great addition to your workflow.

Bringing Up Star Trek

I always wondered why the crew of the Enterprise would deliver reports on a P.A.D.D. to the captain. Why not just email it? I theorize that it is because we need a physical representation of information that is separate from the information product we are creating. And, rather than have 50 tabs open on his browser, the captain could simply have one device dedicated to the task, which he can then return to his officer after completion. Or, it could have been eye candy.

In my experience and opinion, it is much easier to have a reading device, a typing device, and an auxiliary lookup device rather than one do-it-all device. The only exception would be having a computer with three monitors. Considering that today's phones and tablets can do almost anything a computer can do, it seems silly to relegate them to single use devices while you are working. The devices can handle the efficiency-sapping transitions just fine; you do not.


To summarize, three screens are useful not just for consuming media. Three screens can also serve you well in your work flow by lowering the transition inefficiency you would endure by making one device do many things while you synthesize your information product.

Sunday, May 18, 2014

Struggling to Write

What typically happens when I set out to write a blog post, lately, is that I have ideas and a rough outline of what I want to write. I sit down and start typing away at the keyboard. I get through a good chunk of the body and then ...that's it. 

The end product is not ready for publishing; but, I don't quite want to spend time editing either. So, the piece gets saved into drafts, and stays there. 

I have given thought to why this is. Part of it is that I am stealing away time to write a blog post. I have other things that need doing; but, there is also writing that needs to be done. However, the time spent on writing is often is short spurts and then back to doing what I was doing. The solution to this is that I should schedule time specifically for blogging. This way my mind is completely focused on accomplishing the task rather than being elsewhere. 

Another issue is that the post as written turns out different than imagined. While writing, my thoughts change as details and new considerations make their way into the post. So, the conclusion I imagined is not what results. Thus, I have to really rethink the piece. I don't know that there is a solution other than really thinking the post through prior to writing. 

I have been able to resolve this second problem, somewhat, by really outlining things prior to writing. I have notes and lists written down in my Google Keep app to serve as a guide. But, not all my posts work that way. Many are spontaneous. 

There is a book project that I want to do, which is also stalled. I have the pieces; but, sitting down to write it has been problematic. There are structural problems that I haven't resolved. I can't decide if I should write anyway, and rewrite later; or wait to get things sorted out first. I'm more inclined to the former. 

Thursday, May 08, 2014

I Think Microsoft Is Back

I had an opportunity to connect the Microsoft vision with Windows 8, RT, and Mobile. Tonight, I went out shopping for tires for my wife's van. So naturally, I wound up at Best Buy to check out what's new on the retail tech market. I had a chance to play with a touchscreen Windows 8 all-in-one computer. In recent days, I have heard good reports on Windows 8.1 for mobile, especially Cortana, the new personal assistant. And, of course, I've had clients purchase the Microsoft Surface tablet. All of these together gave me the "aha!" moment I get from time to time.

Before jumping into the blog post, allow me to preface that I am a big Google fan. I love the way Google does many things, even the ones that freak other people out. When I recommend to clients that they should switch to Google Apps, it's often because of the low cost and ease of use. The biggest hurdle I have is when people are steeped in Microsoft experience. I cannot, for the life of me, convince people to give up their damned Microsoft Outlook. They see the ease and simplicity of Google Apps as being inferior, even though they never use 90% of the features of Outlook.

Having said that, I am also well versed in Microsoft products. In the past, I've been a fan of their products, such as BackOffice, OneNote, Excel, and others. I think they have some great products. Unfortunately, in the past, they have been very closed in saving the best for the Microsoft platforms.

For example, I may have gone the way of OneNote rather than Evernote if Microsoft had bothered to make OneNote usable on PC, Mac, Linux, Android, and web. Instead, it was only available on PC and Windows Mobile 6.

Of course, Microsoft has parallel products to Google Apps, they have had them for years. I've turned a blind eye to them, primarily because their marketing has been lousy. I'm sure they spend money promoting their cloud products; but, it just hasn't reached me. As an IT guy, it always falls upon me to fix the messes they make. So, with each iteration of their products come new batches of work. I suppose I should be grateful for the technical problems they create. But, for my personal needs, I tend to want to bother less with fixing my own stuff. Thus, Google.

In fact, the only reason that I have even bothered trying to understand their new products is because I listened to +Leo Laporte talk about how great the Nokia Lumia is, and his excitement with the new personal assistant on Windows 8.1 for mobile, Cortana.

When Apple introduced Siri, it seemed gimmicky. Apple tends to make waves with new technology, and then stagnate while others improve on their ideas. More often than not, I've heard people use Siri for entertainment than for actual assistance. Google Now, on the other hand, is pretty kick-ass. After seeing reviews on Cortana, I can see that it will be the killer app for Microsoft. It seems much more capable than Siri and Google Now.

Thanks to my IT work, I've figured out Windows 8. Unfortunately, I've figured this out in production environments, which means laptops and desktops. These are lousy environments for getting the most out of Windows 8. The reason they are lousy is because Windows 8 is best experienced with a touchscreen. Tonight, at Best Buy, I got it. I did not need a mouse or keyboard to search for products on the Best Buy website, at the store. It was tap tap tap, swipe, type, tap, swipe, and so on.

Having become a tablet user, primarily, it was intuitive to use a touchscreen desktop computer. Everything is there. Swiping. Touching. Pinching. Expanding. The main difference is that you have a big ass screen rather than a 7 or 10 inch tablet. AND, you can run full applications.

I see Windows RT as the "I need to carry my work with me" solution. Well, at least now I do. RT is a bit more restricted than regular Windows 8.1. But, at least you can access the essentials, such as Microsoft Office and cloud services.

Windows 8.1 for mobile, the one with Cortana, is not a work device. You can access your work, if necessary; but, it's mainly for what I would consider field work.

I think Microsoft is doing a great job in creating a familiar experience on all three platforms so that you don't have to relearn how to work on each device. Google, on the other hand, has a disconnect between the Chromebook and Android products. The experience is distinctly full-on Google through the Chromebook, or distinctly Android. Even so, the Chromebook experience is very different from what you would get on a PC or Mac.

It has been a while since I have felt this excited about Microsoft. They have been wandering around in the woods for some time; and I'm glad they have returned with some wisdom. They have always been smart; but, they have not always been wise. I welcome them back.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

There Definitely Is One Too Many

For the past few months, I've been heeding the advice of the medical community in that I have been drinking a glass or two of wine every evening, . . . well, it's mostly two glasses and occasionally one. Back to the story, the other night I indulged in an extra glass of wine, number three.

Boy, was that a mistake. Although I was feeling pretty good in the evening, the next day was ass-draggy. Normally, I would go past the limit on a Friday or Saturday evening, when I know that I can sleep in the next day. I suppose I never suffered the consequences having slept them off.

So, the lesson here, kids, is that you should stop at one or two glasses of wine if you have to go to work the next day. That is, if you have a rather strict schedule and are up past your ideal bedtime.

It's possible that you have the liver of an alcoholic, and you wouldn't even feel buzzed after two glasses of wine. If this is the case, are you really drinking for the health benefit? After the second glass, the benefit is gone; the wine does more harm than good. Two glasses of red wine or less, you're doing OK.

While I am on the subject, I have also discovered (see previous post) that if you've had a hard day, it is best to stop after the first glass. Your exhaustion and the second glass of wine can only lead to a semi-conscious stupor. It's best to stay away from blogs and social media if this is the case.

Thursday, May 01, 2014

Google Makes Their Products Modular

Google announced that their Sheets and Docs apps within Google Drive will now be standalone apps on Android. Furthermore, they will work very well in offline mode. This is great news for me as using Google Drive has been unsatisfying when I am without mobile service, which is often at work. By making the web apps modular and usable offline, they make it easier for people like me to start creating things without hunting for a signal.

I have used Quickoffice on occasion, as the app does work in offline mode. However, those files are apparently in a different format as Google Docs and Google Sheets. Technically, Quickoffice can do the same things; but, the results are not the same.

I have introduced a competitor to Sheets recently, Smartsheet. However, Smartsheet suffers the same shortcomings that Google Drive previously had, which is the required Internet access. I don't think I'll abandon Smartsheet. Despite their limitation, it is much better suited to tracking work. I would most likely use Google Sheets for calculations and data tracking.

This development in combination with their recent drop in storage prices, makes it more likely that I would subscribe to Google Drive. I've been riding on the free storage that comes with a Chromebook. I wasn't too sure about resubscribing until now. As the Google Drive apps become more useful in any situation, and storage becomes cheaper, I am more likely to continue using Google as my cloud platform.

Altogether, it makes transitioning between tablet, phone, and desktop more seamless as the concern for Internet access is less pronounced. Google is doing a great job.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Wearables As Client-Server Systems

Many reviews on wearable technology often sound disappointed that the devices do not do more. We have grown up with publications (comics) that use watches and other small devices capable of live audio and video conferencing from anywhere in the world. We expect standalone devices that are almost magical in their ability to handle heavy computing and communications on their own, at least until the bad guy finds one and smashes it with his heel.

I propose a different mindset. After all, long ago, computing was mostly a client-server technology. You had a VAX or UNIX server somewhere that allowed you to log in and use some cycles to check email, run programs, or manage files. The computing was all done from a central computer. Your terminal was simply there to make your work viewable.

Then, with the rise in desktop PCs, we gave each user the ability to do their own computing on their own machine anytime they needed.

Then we networked the machines, and added servers. For productive work environments, it simply made more sense to centralize file storage and share in the computing load. As Internet connections have become faster, we have moved to client-server model of old, except we call it "the cloud".

With the Cloud, all the computing is done on the server end. The client side is simply for presentation to the user. This is to say that as technology changes, it simply goes back and forth between local computing to client-server computing.

Our current mobile experience is similar to when desktops came out. Suddenly you have computing power in your hands. We tend to download and run apps on our handsets and tablets. We expect that they should run in offline mode.

Given the history of computing, I propose that our disappointment with wearable technology is mostly an unreasonable expectation of the technology. These peripheral devices are at the stage where they are simply information gathering and presentation devices. Your mobile device is the server. We should not expect that these devices have full computing capacity. If you wear a smart shirt, it's a far cry from wearing Iron Man's Mark VIII suit. We are simply not there yet.

It is better to see smart devices as ...well, dumb devices. They are dumb terminals. They perform very specific tasks reliably and report back to the server, your mobile device.

Now, even if we eliminated mobile devices, your wearable tech would report to your desktop. Or, if wearable tech were to access Wi-Fi directly, it would only report back to a cloud server somewhere.

What I am saying is that there are several iterations to go before our smart devices could be even remotely standalone devices. I think that so long as we see smart watches, activity monitors, or other smart devices as the dumb terminals they are, we can manage our expectations. I think it is reasonable to expect performance to improve in time; but, the few things that these devices do, they do well (one hopes). I think that should be our focus.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Blowing Bubbles

Io goes outside to blow bubbles and watch them fly away. She is a long ways from when she was younger and had little breath control. She used to fail at bubbles because she would blow too hard through the wand. All she could manage was to drip bubble solution all over the floor. It is fascinating to watch children grow through different phases.

Io is our last child of three. The next time we see such things will be through grandchildren, I disagree that children grow up too fast, not when you pay attention to them.