Sunday, September 27, 2015

Evernote for Long-Term Document Storage Without the Clutter

Document cold storage is the long-term storage of files that you need to keep around; but, you don't exactly need cluttering up your day to day work. So, it's like having your files in a banker's box in a storage closet rather than the filing cabinet. Evernote is capable of doing cold storage as well, although they call it by a different name. They call it an unsynced Notebook.

Unsynced Notebooks in Evernote do not get backed up to the cloud. The notes in your unsynced Notebook stay on your computer hard drive where they remain accessible to your Evernote app on your computer; but, they remain unavailable to your other devices.

You may wonder, "Why would you do this? Why not sync everything?"

From personal experience, I can tell you that not all information is usable in my day to day work. I need not clutter my search results on mobile devices with unnecessary results. If I have to wade through 300 search results every time I am looking for something, it can be irritating.

Therefore, by putting your least used documents in an unsynced Notebook in Evernote, you still have all the wholesome goodness of Evernote without the mobile device clutter.

If you ever need access to a long-term note, you could simply move the note into a synced notebook or make a copy into a synced notebook from your computer. Afterwards, delete the note or move it back into the unsynced Notebook.

The downside to this is that you need to have access to the computer to move documents in and out of cold storage, or have somebody do it for you if you are out.

Another drawback is that without cloud backup, it is your responsibility to do your own backups of your local-only Notebooks on your computer.

One side benefit of using unsynced Notebooks in Evernote is that those notes do not count towards your account note limit, which is 100,000 notes. This is a big limit, I will grant you. But, if you keep that many notes, you could keep growing your stash by taking a chunk of your notes offline.

One last thing to keep in mind is that some of the other features of Evernote do not work if your notes are in an unsynced Notebook, such as sharing. In addition, Evernote requires you to sync images and documents to the cloud in order for their servers to make text within the images and documents searchable.

Keeping offline Notebooks in Evernote does have drawbacks; but, the effects would only apply to notes that you would use regularly. Therefore, the effects on documents you don't intend to use in the foreseeable future are moot.

One good example for using such a system is in a small business or law firm where paperless is the ideal. Your office administrator could maintain your document library on your computer with unsynced Notebooks in Evernote. Projects or cases could temporarily be synced to the cloud for access everywhere. Once the job is done, the notes can be taken offline again on the office computer.

As I write this, I want to point out that long term storage of documents is often confused with having a paperless office, both of which tend to go hand in hand. Going paperless refers to the process of gathering, processing, and sharing of information through an organization. Once the document has done its job, then you need a process for document storage. Your document has performed its duty and needs only stand by in case it needs to be recalled. However, it should not stand in the way of your working documents.

This document life cycle is what I have described for Evernote. Your working documents should remain active and synced across all your devices. Long-term documents, in contrast, can remain locally in an unsynced Notebook just in case you should need them. They can fulfill their obligation out of the way of your working documents.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Amazon Echo For the Pomodoro Technique

This morning while working out my schedule, I thought that I would have to pull out all the stops on my productivity tricks so that I could stay on task.

Enter the Pomodoro Technique. The technique has been a great boost to staying focused in the past. There is something about working against the clock that keeps your priorities straight.

The Pomodoro Technique, if you've never heard of it, has you set a timer for 25 minutes. You ignore everything except your work during those 25 minutes.

Once the alarm sounds, you take a short 5 minute break. No cheating on this one. If you work through your break, you'll burn yourself out and then not complete the next 25 minute stretch.

You repeat the cycle 4 times and then take a longer break of 20 to 30 minutes.

The Pomodoro Technique is a named after a kitchen timer that looks like a tomato. In reality, you can use any timer, so long as it's not complicated to set up. Which brings me to the Amazon Echo.

If you are not familiar with the Amazon Echo, it is a handy voice activated device that functions muck like Siri on iOS, Google Now on Android, or Cortana for Windows Phone. It is a voice activated virtual assistant. In fact, you could very well use any of those to use the Pomodoro Technique too.

What sets the Echo apart, however, is that you do not need your computer or phone. It is a standalone device that is always listening for your commands. You just say, "Alexa, set timer for 25 minutes." That's it. "She" will sound an alarm when the 25 minutes are up.

I have found that using my phone to use the voice assistant is cumbersome. I have a passcode to protect my privacy, which also hinders quick reminders. Often, by the time I finish logging into my device, I forgot what I wanted to remember. I don't use Evernote for that reason too. Of course, the Echo is also capable of keeping your To Do list and shopping list. However, today we are focusing on the easy to use timer feature.

I am not suggesting that yo go out and buy an Echo solely for the timer feature. This is just an idea on how to use your Echo if you have one. Or, perhaps, if you have use for the Echo's other features, then the Echo with the Pomodoro Technique would be a great bonus.

Disclosure: The picture and link to the Echo page on Amazon are affiliate links.

Monday, August 10, 2015

Windows 10 Is Really Nice! Here is why I like it.

I am really liking Microsoft's new Windows 10. I updated a laptop at work yesterday to make sure that the drivers for our printers would continue to work. We didn't want to have flaky installations should our customers decide to upgrade. At least, that was my excuse.

The upgrade was painless. I quickly went through the settings and new features. I'm really going to like having Cortana on my desktop. Having dabbled with Cortana on a Windows phone last year, I thought Cortana was one of the best features.

Part of the reason why I am liking Widows 10 is because they brought back a more familiar Start menu, which still has elements of the Windows 8 Start menu. When Windows 8 came out, I didn't really like the modern UI; but, I grew accustomed to it and accepted that it was mainly meant to work with touch screen devices, which I lacked for the most part. Windows 8 was a little lame with no touch screen.

I think what really sells me on the whole experience is that I was able to upgrade Windows 8, Windows 7, and a 32 bit version of Windows 8 on my tablet. Finally, I have a common experience across all my desktops. The common desktop was my whole reason for going Google. I write this on a Chromebox, mind you. Having cloud interfaces made for a common workspace whether I was at a laptop, desktop, tablet, or phone.

Google has lost some of my enthusiasm as of late because Chrome is a memory hog. Furthermore, some of Google's products only work with Chrome, like Inbox. They are taking the fun out of Chrome by making it bloated and by making their apps picky about the browser.

This, of course, makes it so that having local apps is better than cloud apps. The added benefit is that it is not necessary to have Internet access. I can use Evernote very well without WiFi on my Windows devices. I just need to sync at least once a day.

Suffice it to say, I'm excited about Microsoft Windows for the first time since...Windows 95?

The tablet experience with Windows 10 is so much better than it was with Windows 8, at least in my limited experience thus far. It behaves like a tablet rather than as a PC shoehorned into a tablet.

I also appreciate that the operating system is smaller and faster than its predecessors. This gives new life to old devices, or extends it a little more.

Sunday, August 09, 2015

Is that a full circle? Coming back to online content.

Many years ago, going by Internet time, I suppose, I was all into blogging. I worked for hours thinking up things to write about and then spend hours writing it. That eventually morphed into podcasting. I spent hours recording and editing audio, which eventually led to live recordings through +BlogTalkRadio.  Finally, I started playing around with video, both recorded and live. The quality of my work wasn't great; but, it was good enough to gain some recognition and somewhat of a following.

Eventually everything that I was doing became so easy to do that just about everybody was doing it. People I knew were throwing up blogs. They were recording audio and posting to +SoundCloud. They got phones that could post directly to +YouTube. I just didn't see the value any more. So, I stopped. I'm even hesitant to Facebook these days.

This brings me to something that has become front and center in my life. Purpose.

When you have purpose, it is easier to make decisions. Either your decision takes you nearer to your purpose, or it does not.

And so, recently, I am starting to feel the need to start putting out blog posts, host shows, and record video. I feel like I have something to add to the madness of the Internet.

I am working out the details on how to pick up where I left off. There are stories out there that need to be told if only somebody took the time to capture them and make them available. There is so much going on in a community from day to day that needs to be shared.

So, here is me going back to what I used to do. I think this time will be better. Focused. I think I've circled around to where so much began for me. It is going to be fun.

Monday, August 03, 2015

The Year of Waiting. A Glimpse of the Future?

This year has been, oddly, a year of waiting. There have been products and services that require me to wait, which is the antithesis of web economy. If you pay for something today, you expect to receive it within a reasonable amount of time, right?

Last year, +Karma WiFi announced that they would be launching their new WiFi hotspot that would run on LTE. I was excited about this because I like the idea of prepaid data subscriptions that do not expire. Pay-as-you-go data has long been lacking. Currently, I am using +Truphone to pay for my data as I go; but, that is another story. So, I ordered my Karma hotspot last year with the understanding that it would be ready by the end of the year. Then it would be ready by April. Then it would be ready by summer. And, here I am in August waiting for my order still. I ordered mine in October, which is what is being shipped out now. So, hopefully in the next few days.

I think what makes things more difficult is that I have pre-bought data which I cannot use until the hotspot arrives. The price was too good to pass up. We do not know yet how pleased we would be with the product.

After the Karma, I thought that I would take up the purchase of the Amazon Echo. I could see how my family would make use of this glorified Bluetooth speaker. Of course, that would take months to ship out as well. Amazon actually delivered ahead of schedule. We are pleased with the purchase.

Lomography recently launched the Petzval 85 lens. I was seriously tempted to order one if not for the price, which was discounted, but still above my budget. I would have had to wait for that order too. Fortunately, I did not. I think I would have been happy to get the Petzval if I had the budget.

I have, recently, pre-ordered +The Grid, which promises to be a self-building website service that eliminates the whole pain in the rear design problems I typically suffer with websites. The Grid was supposed to launch in the Spring; but they too have gone way past their projected time. I'm excited by what they promise; but, have to wait until their abilities catch up with their optimism.

I have typically not been an "early adopter" of new products. I've never had the money to buy the crazy prices of new products. I typically buy in after the crazy has settled down, thus prices have settled down. Today's market pushes transparency and lean production with MVP (minimum viable products). I don't know that I like this new market. I think I'd rather wait until the product is finished and ready to ship rather than be strung along for months.

When I purchase something, I have a specific need in mind. These overly optimistic product launch dates cause me to put off my plans. So, it's not just having the product that gets delayed, it's having the uses I have for them that get delayed too.

Mobile data costs more because I've been waiting for Karma.
My kids kept asking me questions they could have asked the Amazon Echo.
The Grid is costing me business opportunities that I may have pursued. As it is, I don't know if the product is worth reselling or not because I can't even test it.

I am happy to see products that meet my needs spring up with more frequency. However, I am not liking the concept of pre-ordering with months of lead time. Amazon under promised and over delivered with a quicker delivery. Karma and The Grid have over promised and under delivered. This saddens me because they seem like great products; but, they have already started off poorly.

I understand their desire to make sure that everything is done correctly and to high standards. But, they really should have factored that into their offer and chosen a much further date. I'm not an Apple product fan; but, I respect that when they take pre orders, they deliver. Other industries also deliver on time with pre-orders. I would expect that the tech industry would be better at delivering with all their technological advantages.

Despite all this, I'm not about to cancel. These products fill a need, which I hope they can fill. I would not have begrudgingly waited this long otherwise.

Sunday, August 02, 2015

A Tale of Doing Less

Once upon a time, I would agree to do things for people. Some of it was paid. Some of it was a favor. I found myself stressed out and working into the wee hours of the night. In order to chill out, I would engage in escape behaviors, such as avoiding work or drinking beer later in the night than recommended.

Then one day, a big goal came into my life. It was huge and gnarly. This giant goal made me realize that I would need to be very focused and determined to overcome it. Even if I was inclined to want to help others, I could not afford to spend time distractions lest the big goal get out of hand.

I started to politely decline requests for help that took away from meeting my objectives. If the request was along my path, I could help. Otherwise, I would only disappoint the requestor.

I am still on my quest.

I can't help thinking that if I had the big goal earlier in my life, I would have figured out my life's priorities much sooner. I would have either avoided wasting so much time or would have crumbled under the responsibility. Today, however, having an end game in mind makes decisions simpler, cleaner.

But, even if I had not a major challenge ahead of me, I can't help thinking that perhaps doing less, I would have been more effective at the few things that I chose to do. That may be a question for another lifetime.

For now,  I have a path laid out before me. I welcome fellow travelers; but, I cannot afford to veer off the path.

How simple life is when you make it simple.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Investing with Robinhood

I have long been a fan of services that offer low-cost investing products, such as DRIPS (Dividend Reinvestment Plans). Some companies even offer their employees a plan to purchase company stock without fees. For a time, there was even Sharebuilder (now Capital One Investing), which allowed for purchasing stock for fixed fees per month. But now, Robinhood has come onto the stage.

As great as the options I mentioned are, they have limitations. DRIPs, for example, typically limit you to one stock. You then have to shop around to other companies and set up other accounts there. It's not a giant hassle; but, it's a hassle. I liked Sharebuilder too; but, there was still some cost involved. I found myself having to accumulate my deposits to buy stocks in batches in order to reduce my cost.

This is all outside of retirement plans such as 401ks, SEPs, and IRAs. Those typically allow you to purchase fractional shares, add regular amounts of money, and automatically dollar cost average, for a hefty load by the mutual funds and the plan administrators. 

In other words, the free options were a pain. The easy options were heavy on fees. 

Recently, with the launch of Robinhood, an iOS app that lets you buy and sell stock with no transaction fees, I'm excited to start investing again. 

Having no transaction fees makes it easy to buy single shares rather than waiting until you have a few hundred dollars saved up to make the commission a small percentage of the cost. The advantage of Robinhood is that you an start earning on your investment immediately rather than every few weeks or days when you save up enough money to buy a batch. Your only limit is the cost of the stock. 

Prior to Robinhood, I was a big fan of Loyal3. No, let me rephrase that. I still like Loyal3 even though it has limits to what you can buy. I like that Loyal3 lets me get in on IPOs and allows me to buy fractional shares. But, they do not offer a wide selection of stocks. On the other hand, the stocks they do offer are pretty good ones. I am happy to continue buying them through Loyal3. If you can only stash $10, you can buy $10 dollars worth of stock. That's cool. 

Robinhood, on the other hand, gives you the whole market to buy. If you are looking at a $100 stock but can only stash $50, then you'll have to wait until you deposit some more. But, at least you can buy the one share if that's all you can squeeze. 

What social media did for news and entertainment, Robinhood is doing for investors. Robinhood brings down the scale of the market to give the little guy a shot at making some returns. 

I don't think we'll see day traders rocking Robinhood. These guys have computers with multiple monitors and super fast Internet connections. Robinhood only works on iOS. In this respect, Robinhood is to discount brokers what blogs are to big news organizations. Yes, you can succeed, but there is a big difference in scale. 

I have just begun on my Robinhood adventure. I'm hunting for dividends. 

Sunday, July 12, 2015

A Time For Everything

This morning I sold a twin bed. I spoke with the buyer last night after he saw the ad on Craigslist. We agreed to meet at 7:30 am. 

The buyer was curious this morning because I mentioned that I get up early. He asked if I was in the military. I told him that I was not. 

I get up early just so I can go walking, I told him. I have learned that waiting for when I have time to start doing important things results in not doing anything. The time never comes. You have to make time to do those things that are important. 

Thursday, July 09, 2015

From Poor Sleeper to Good Sleeper

Tonight, while walking in the park, I was listening to the Freakonomics podcast. The latest episode is Part 1 of The Economics of Sleep. It is a very fascinating episode, although I typically find their topics very compelling. It brings to mind my evolved relationship to sleep.

Back (way back) in my University days, I used to think of sleep as something necessary that had to be gotten out of the way. I would squeeze it in wherever I could fit it. In some instances, I would sleep at least four hours and then schedule naps during the day. I guess this was some sort of polyphasic sleep, which changed over time.

One year, my roommate was amazed that he ever saw me. I would be up and out of the dorm before he woke up. I'd go to bed long after he'd gone to sleep. Of course, he never saw me slip in a nap here and there while he was in class during the daytime.

In short, I had little regard for sleep other than getting in minimum quantities and little recharge sessions here and there.

When those days were over, I continued to stay up past midnight and wake up early for no good reason. My natural wake-up time is around 9 am. So, whether I went to bed early or late, I'd wake up around 9 am on my own. Of course, life requires 6 am wake-ups to deal with family needs. During those turbulent, non-college days; I was lost. Much of my life is a blur. I did a lot; but, I had no focus or direction.

I finally started getting to the point where I realize that there was no need to be pushing myself so hard if I wasn't going to strive for anything bigger. I got to a point where I was very unhappy with where my life was headed. I had one of those life-changing realizations that I needed to change my life around, I was going nowhere. Life could be better; and I had to make it happen.

Part of that change involved going to bed at a decent time. It is still very easy for me to stay up late doing things like reading blog posts, watching videos, or other non-essential things. However, I had decided that I should at least try to go to bed by 10 pm and sleep shortly thereafter.

Since that time, my life has slowly changed for the better. I no longer worry about my future. I am more clear-headed, which I thought was something I had lost forever. Overall, I'm a happier person.

To be fair, I can't say that the good night's sleep is what is changing my life around, or the decision to practice a better lifestyle. Let me just say that now that I have grown accustomed to getting a full night's rest, I do not enjoy doing without. Even an hour or two of sleep deficit makes things difficult for me. Mundane tasks become a challenge.

It makes me wonder if a good portion of my struggles and life were in part caused by poor sleep habits. It is apropos to say "sleep habits" because I have always been a good sleeper. Once I'm unconscious, there is no more world until morning or a full bladder. I don't know how I can sleep through disturbances, yet have no problem waking up to an alarm. But, that's another issue.

So, could my life have been better if I were more disciplined about going to bed on time and waking up with a full night's rest? I can only say that things are better now. I'm more focused and I drink less. These also contribute to a better life; but, does sleep make these possible?

I look forward to listening to Part 2 of the podcast when it comes out. Some of the data thus far seems to show that sleep does have correlations with income and health. I could not help but compare my experiences to the lives of those studied for sleep data.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Quest for a Hot Dog

Hot Dogs_02
Hot Dogs by rob_rob2001

Tonight, I came home from work a little bit later than usual. It was important to get home before sunset as I wanted to clean out an air conditioner window unit. There is plenty of humidity where we live, so they tend to grow mildew. It is a bit of a chore to remove the unit, open it up, spray it with Lysol mildew remover, and then put everything back.

One thing that makes doing outdoor work less of a chore is that my youngest daughter plays outside when one of us is outside. She will not play outside alone. So, once "we" finished outside, we came in and washed up.

My daughter is a skinny little thing. So, when she decides to eat, we encourage it. Tonight, she wanted a hot dog. Ruffling through the refrigerator, we found some weenies. I put a pot of water to boil to cook the franks. The coloring on the weenies did not look right. On further inspection, they looked spotted, as if mold might be starting. I told Io that the weenies were bad; and I tossed out the package.

We generally do not cater to our children. They eat whatever we serve. However, we did not make dinner tonight. Furthermore, she didn't know what else to eat. I saw her hunting for something else to eat with no success. What is a father to do?

So I put a pot to simmer and told Io to put on her shoes. We would go to the store. The trip is not very far; the grocery store is a few blocks away. We rode with the windows down. We picked up some Angus beef franks and shredded cheddar. This is far from an epic story.

I think the reason this seemed worth remarking is that it was one special thing to do for one child. We could have fed her something else. But, she wanted a hot dog. Before deciding to go, I mulled the decision over in my mind. It is a short trip. Franks do not cost very much. And, we could spend a little time doing something together.

As I write this, she is telling me a story that we started yesterday when discussing that movies have writers. They start with a story idea and then flesh out the story with details and dialog. So last night, she had a rough idea about the story. Tonight, she is giving me the full script. I guess a bedtime story is my reward for getting her something to eat. We do things for each other.

Friday, June 05, 2015

The Joy of Being Unhappy

More than a year ago, I do not remember exactly when, I was really unhappy. I was unhappy with my work, unhappy with home, unhappy with the direction in my life. Except for breakfast tacos, there wasn't much to look forward to in my day. My family was a comfort; but, even my family life could use some improvements. 

You have probably heard it said that people have to hit rock bottom before they can start to raise themselves up. I agree with the idea; but, I would call it reaching an inflection point. The concept is the same. You reach a point in which you change direction. 

I won't bore you with the details about what exactly brought me unhappiness and what I did to change it. It is more like, I realized that I was doing things I did not want to do, was experiencing things I could do without, and was not doing the things that would bring me satisfaction. 

The simplicity of turning your life around is very elusive because of its simplicity. There is so much momentum from our past and present that carries us into bad waters. The proper thing to do is to course correct when you see you are headed in the wrong direction. That is the problem. 

Too often we do not know what direction we want in our lives. This is a major problem because you cannot course correct to a nonexistent destination. If you do not know where you are going, it does not matter what direction you take. You cannot take actions to make your life better. Consequently, without direction, you are unlikely to stumble upon happiness. 

If, for example, you know that you want to travel abroad for a year, it simplifies your life significantly. You cut back on dining out. You do not buy things, like furniture or home, which you will have to sell. You start to research destinations, modes of travel, budget estimates, travel documents, and all manner of necessities. Your goal shapes all your other decisions and even eliminates some things that do not lend to your success. 

I think that it is difficult for us to find our inflection point because we slowly build up our unhappiness until it reaches a point in which we realize we are miserable and should find a better direction. It is like slowly boiling a frog, except the frog doesn't realize its peril until it is too late. We at least have a chance to turn things around. 

In this regard, hitting your inflection point is a joyous occasion because you can then commit to make the necessary changes in your life that will make things better. The inflection point resets your life priorities so that you focus on those things that matter to you and eliminate those that take you off course. 

Monday, May 11, 2015

Monday, May 04, 2015

Switching the Kids to Republic Wireless

I have recently switched my children to +Republic Wireless for their mobile service. Given that they are in school and should be paying attention to their teachers, I have them on the $10/month rate plan which includes unlimited voice and text via WiFi calling and via mobile carrier.

Previously, they were on a service provider that charged $25/mo for text and voice, and more for very meager data packages. I am saving about $45/month on their mobile service. Granted, they do not have data service, so it's not exactly apples to apples. However, as a family we have a goal for our savings, which is why they will endure the $10/month rate plan with not data service. Besides, it's not like they have much use for it.

My daughter is in college and spends most of her time at home where there is WiFi, or on campus, where there is also WiFi. Based on her report, her network offload using WiFi is about 75%.

My son is in Junior High School where no WiFi is available. But, I am quite certain he doesn't need data service at school. He seems content to play games offline. His network offload is about 65%. That means, that even though his WiFi access is half, most of his use is at home anyway.

Of course, they are not the only ones making a switch. I opted to not use Republic Wireless. I am currently using +Truphone  as a prepaid phone service. This works out well for me because my business use is mostly incoming phone calls. I get about 4 incoming calls to my 1 outgoing call, more or less. For April, my use has been less than $10.

I am surprised to discover that using Truphone for data service is saving me some money too, despite being 9 cents per MB, which is high compared to $10/GB with T-Mobile. Obviously, I am more judicious about my data usage. My phone has background data turned off and is set on power save, which keeps it from sucking up bandwidth. Even so, it can load apps and websites on demand. This is similar to using a film camera versus a digital camera. When you have a limit on the photos you can take, you tend to be more judicious about which shots you take. Similarly, with my pay by the MB plan, I am mindful about what I do with my mobile. I also unexpectedly save lots of time by not goofing around with my phone every few minutes.

I find myself in a mobile sweet spot with Truphone. Other prepaid services still only provide voice and text with another lump of money if you want data. Truphone, on the other hand, allows me to use what I need, when I need it. This is similar to the hot dog dilemma where a store sells a hot dog for 75 cents or 2 for $1. If you're hungry for two hot dogs, then $1 is a great deal. However, if you are only hungry for 1 hot dog, you should only buy the one because it satisfies your need and you are still paying less than $1. Per unit cost is not a factor until you reach that first price break.

For the first tier of data, I'd have to spend $15 for the 1st GB. So, I'd have to spend 166 MB of data, the Truphone equivalent of $15, to make buying a fixed-rate data plan worthwhile for my phone. However, my mindful use of data amounts to not even 20 MB. Yes, my unit cost per MB is way higher with Truphone; but, I'm still spending less than I would have with a prepaid data plan.

Except for rent, mobile service was my family's largest monthly expense. I remember once paying about $280/month for mobile service. That is a lot of money for a simple convenience. Over the years, we have found better and better rate plans. If I can find something that works for my wife, I think we can all have mobile service for less than $50/month combined. That would be sweet. I'm still looking for options.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Google is On the Ball with Wear and Mobile

Google recently announced changes to Android Wear and their new mobile service Google Project  Fi. In previous posts, I have mentioned my experiments to forego standard mobile voice and text services, relying instead on mobile data services to carry voice and text via Google Voice.

Of course, it is not a clear-cut separation. My job requires that I travel to areas where mobile service is spotty, let alone data services. Therefore, I must have a backup voice service at hand to make and receive phone calls if necessary.

Where Android Wear comes in is that I had also considered leaving a tablet at home, a tablet at work, and an Android handset in the car. In this way, I can utilize Android Wear anywhere I go without having to schlep a tablet of phone with me. As it turns out, Google has enabled WiFi on Google Wear devices, making it so that you do not have to carry your mobile device with you to take advantage of all the features of the Wear timepiece. Wear will soon allow you to leave your paired device far away from your watch and still maintain a connection.

Project Fi also accomplishes the same thing that I have been trying to do by piecing together services. To recap, Project Fi will use WiFi and LTE services by both Sprint and T-Mobile to carry your voice and text services. If neither of these is usable, then it will fall back on standard mobile services.

This is the same thing I have been doing by relying on a prepaid T-Mobile phone using LTE to carry my Google Voice calls. Recently, I unlocked the phone and put in a Truphone SIM card, which gets free incoming calls and text messages.

The reason I chose Truphone SIM is that I can enable LTE data and disable it as needed for 9 cents per MB. This is expensive, if you are looking at Gigabytes of data. However, I shut off the data service most of the time and sync ony at hotspots. Most of the other times, I am with clients or driving, which require my full attention, thus no need for data.

It is not only Google who is trying to change the mobile market. Republic Wireless recently announced their Maestro lab, which also plans on refunding unused bandwidth. In addition, they are also looking into the possibility of using multiple carriers rather than sticking to the Sprint network.

Of course, I am betting on Karma to provide me with pay-as-you-go mobile data that does not expire, as soon as they finish production and ship out. They keep delaying their deployment; but, I've already prepaid several GB in anticipation. Once Karma ships, I'll have tremendous mobile liberty.

Exciting days are ahead because of the success of LTE, which makes all kinds of communication possible with its higher speeds and seemingly greater coverage. Exciting times are ahead. We are only seeing the beginning with Google Fi, Republic Maestro, and Karma LTE.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Android As Stationary Interface With Wear

The other day I had an idea that may not be practical nor practicable with the current state of Android Wear technology. The idea is to have Android devices installed at all your main destinations. By this I mean, you could have an Android device at home, another Android device at work, and yet another Android device in the car. You could then have your Android Wear watch sync at these locations and provide you with basic updates.

The reason I had this idea is because I typically schlep an Android phone, Android tablet, and my Windows tablet around. .This is in addition to any paper notebooks and a WiFi hotspot.

I figure that I could eliminate some schlepping weight if I leave my Android devices put in their various locations and use Android Wear as the common interface. After all, while I am driving, I do not need to make phone calls, text, email, or browse the web, according to all the busy-bodies crying about putting their precious lives in danger. Wah wah wah. Fine. That means driving time is me time.

Even so, one needs to stay current on time and appointments. According to Android Wear support, these features are available without a paired device. I think that should be sufficient while driving.


The biggest drawback to my idea is that Android Wear can only sync to a single device at a time, requiring a factory reset to pair again:


It would be awesome if I could pair multiple devices to Android Wear. Wait, apparently there is a way.


Some Backstory

Why go through all this trouble?

Well, I'm rebelling against the high cost of communication to some extent. I am using my Google Voice number as my main phone number, which forwards to my tablets and a +Truphone prepaid phone number.

At home, I have WiFi that enables me to make and receive phone calls through the Google Hangouts dialer.

At work, I also have WiFi that enables me to make and receive phone calls via Google Hangouts.

That just leaves the in-betweens. That is where Truphone fills in the gaps. I can receive calls and SMS at no cost, and make calls and send messages for 9 cents per minute/message. I eliminate a fixed monthly cost and maintain a low variable cost. Apparently, I'm not supposed to talk on the phone while driving anyway, and I should also not take calls when dealing with customers. This leaves very little time in-between for me to actually use my phone.

As soon as +Karma WiFi gets it together, I'll have pay-as-you go data too. My main need for mobile data is +Waze, which is surprisingly good at getting me around bad traffic. I love how Waze takes me through different routes even as I am going to the same destinations. But, that's a subject for another blog post.

Before moving on, however, I did notice that one limitation of using Waze is that it lives on a mobile phone, which becomes a phone when somebody decides I should become a risk to humanity. Thus, my driving "degrades" and I no longer have access to my awesome navigator. This is when multi-purpose really bites.

More Importantly

All this brings me to the main point of all this. Technology made it possible to cram email, web browsing, productivity apps, fitness apps, and all manner of entertainment into mobile devices. Now we are seeing a bit of a backlash against this multi-purposeness by venturing into wearables like Fitbits and Google Wear, which only present you with the essentials.

The aim of Wearables, whether stated or not, is to take your damned phone out of your hand so you can have an eye to eye conversation with people. Wearables do this by focusing on very few functions and providing you with minimal information, just the essentials. This way, your mobile device stays in your pocket or purse; and, by extension, it means you can focus on a few key things rather than venture down every rabbit hole that comes into your path.

The only thing holding all this back is that you're still carrying your mobile device with you everywhere. So, you're free-er; but, not really.

 It makes more sense for your watch to have itinerant syncs rather than constant, real-time syncs. Research shows that multi-tasking is simply awful to your intelligence and productivity. Having a wearable focus on time, appointments, and tracking your fitness may actually be sufficient.

Ultimately, the ability to walk away from our electronic leashes may be our biggest innovation in terms of mental presence and productivity. All we would need to do is stop at one of our sync stations at work, at home, or in the car when we can actually do something with the new information.

Syncing at different locations makes sense in terms of context. The sorts of information I need at work has little use at home, and vice versa. When I am in the car, there are certain actions that are simply impractical. Why do we burden ourselves with context-agnostic data?

There is data that makes sense on a wearable.

There is data that makes sense on a phone.

There is data that makes sense on a tablet.

There is data that makes sense at a desktop.

There is data that makes sense at work or home.

There is data that makes sense when you are on the road.

Having access to all our data regardless of context clutters up things and is a burden on our psyche. We can and should only focus on one thing at a time. To do this in our increasingly connected world, we should filter information into what is actionable in our current circumstances.

To circle back to the beginning, I think comedians refer to it as a callback, all of this thinking began because I don't want to schlep a bunch of items back and forth between home and work every day. I should just show up and have it work for those things that I can do at that location.

And, when you think of it, before digital, you had work notes, which stayed at work, and you had home stuff, which stayed at home. If you traveled, you carried the essentials.Physical limitations imposed a context-aware limit on our focus. If we need ubiquitous access to information, we should impose some context-aware limits for our own sanity and effectiveness. Otherwise, it is unnecessary exuberance of our technical capability. Just because we can does not mean we should. It becomes a waste in so many ways when you you try to fit information into situations that do not lend themselves to any action.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

LTE + Google Hangouts: Surprisingly Workable

In my previous blog post, I wrote about my experiment using Google Voice, via Google Hangouts, as my main communication line. I previously had a sour experience because T-Mobile's HSPA+ is not too widespread, especially in rural areas. But, even within well-covered areas, my Google Hangouts calls tended to jitter and drop. I was ready to write off the experiment until I switched to LTE.

Here is what I discovered about LTE service in my area. LTE coverage is greater than HSPA by a long shot. There are rural roads where my old phone and mobile hotspot would drop down to 2G or EDGE. Yet, those stretches have LTE service. Beyond that, the service is quite fast and reliable.

When it comes to call quality, LTE proves to be very capable in maintaining my Google Hangout call going with few hiccups. Obviously, carriers are moving towards VoLTE; but, the same technology that makes VoLTE possible also makes other VOIP services viable alternatives.

Wireless carriers aren't about to sell you data-only subscriptions so that you can use another voice service, or are they?

A New Way To Call

Do you know how Google Wear and the Apple Watch are supposed to free you from what photographers call chimping? If you don't know what chimping is, it is when you take a digital photo and immediately view it on the camera display, rather than just keep shooting. You can't chimp with film cameras, by the way.

Well, we tend to chimp with our phones. Phones spend most of their days in peoples' hands whilst we check for text messages, social media updates, look up information, or pretend to be busy so we do not have to talk to people.

Wearable technology is supposed to free us from staring at our hands all day. Google Glass is supposed to allow you to put the phone away and work with your hands free. Google Wear watches are supposed to make it easier to glance at and reply to messages without whipping out your phone.

We are using our phones less and less for voice communication, relying more and more on richer media communications. The dedicated phone circuit is on its way out. But, will carriers still charge you a line access fee when they do away with the circuit and move entirely to VoLTE?

You would feel silly buying a handset for $500 with no dedicated line (because your voice is going via LTE) when you could buy a tablet that does the same thing for $150. Would carriers sell data-only handsets like they sell data-only tablets?

In case you're wondering where this is going, this is where I redeem myself. Until you can buy handsets that have no phone line, meaning that they are data only, we will have to rely on tablets for VOIP service. Tablets are ridiculous as handsets; but, they make for great base stations for Bluetooth headsets.

So, since we now wear our notification devices, and would be foolish to pay more than double for a phone with the same circuitry as a tablet, and pay higher rates for a non-existent dedicated circuit, I see us moving towards headsets and base stations until service providers start to offer data-only subscriptions for handsets.

It makes sense that mobile carriers should move towards data-only subscriptions. On one device, you can have multiple phone numbers. You can have a Skype line, a Google Voice line, and a Truphone line, for example. We could choose phone services like we choose among Google, Microsoft, and Yahoo for email and collaborative work. It's the network effect for phone numbers.

What LTE Does

What LTE does is open up voice services on mobile devices in the same way that DSL and cable opened up the market for voice services like Vonage. You can choose to use the carrier's voice service, or use one from elsewhere.

LTE has the speed, reliability, and coverage to change the voice communication landscape. Handsets are going to have to do some evolving like T-Mobile is doing with WiFi calling. Their WiFi calls, for example, if done on both ends, jump up to high definition audio. Other VOIP services also default to high def audio when both ends are on the same service.

All of these things came to mind once I realized how doable it is to rely on Google Hangouts as a phone service via WiFi and LTE. It's exciting; but, I do not think we are ready to make the leap. The rate plans that carriers offer do not lend themselves to the transition. The rate plans too will have to evolve. We would have to request a standard line as an add-on to our main subscription rather than make it a requirement for handsets.

The best example of this is Republic Wireless. For a meager $5/mo, you get unlimited calling and texting if you provide the WiFi. If you want a backup phone line in case there is no WiFi, then it's $10/mo. It's going to be tough for carriers to unbundle the phone line from data.

My experiment is not over. T-Mobile currently has the fastest LTE network. I'm waiting for Karma to ship their hotspot, which runs on the Sprint LTE network. I wonder what difference network capacity will make on my Google Hangout calls?

Besides Google Hangouts, I am also testing Skype and Truphone for outbound calls. The caller ID shows my Google number, of course. There is no need to confuse call recipients with multiple phone numbers.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

An Experiment With Data-only Calling

I've been meaning to experiment with Wi-Fi calling via Google Hangouts for some time. But, with the death of another phone, I am forced to run the experiment ahead of schedule. Google Hangouts now sports a handy dialer that allows you to make voice calls using your Google Voice number. It used to be that the Google Voice app would send a request to Google Voice, which in turn would dial your phone number and then dial your intended person. It was a bit of a hack; but it still required you to have an existing phone line, land or mobile. For that reason, calls were reliable. 

I tried the VoIP exclusive back in the dark ages of 3G via mobile Skype with limited success. Wireless data was not fast enough nor reliable enough for consistent call quality. 4G has improved on both, but occasionally farts out. In these days of LTE, carriers are starting to roll out VoLTE, which is essentially VoIP over LTE. So, then the question is, why not just use a handset without a voice plan and route calls via an LTE hotspot?

My idea works great this time around so long as I stay within city limits. It becomes unworkable when travelling out to the rural areas, which I have done. Downgrading to 2G service left me without Internet and without voice calling.  I did carry with me a backup GSM phone with voice and text, just in case. But, I've come to realize that relying on Google Voice as my main number requires me to stay put in town. 

Earlier tonight, I tried talking to my wife via Google Hangouts voice call from my tablet through a 4G hotspot (HSPA+). As I drove home, our call quality was rather lousy, probably because handoffs from tower to tower aren't smooth enough on GSM. I should attempt the same via LTE. If carriers are starting to roll out VoLTE, then perhaps travelling from cell to cell is smoother. I am waiting for Karma to finally ship their LTE hotspot to experiment, but that's not until April. 

Without a phone, I'm at a loss as what to do. I could make and receive calls from my tablet using Google Hangouts; but, things get tricky. I'd have to carry the tablet, a headset, hotspot, and backup phone everywhere. I suppose it would make sense to have a tablet with built-in mobile service. This way you only need one device, make that two devices, because you'll need a Bluetooth headset, 

Yes, this is very much like having a regular mobile phone, with the exception that you are not paying for voice and SMS. I think data only is a better value than bundled voice, text, and data. The bundling is an upsell because you figure that you're getting them all cheaper. Ultimately, however, you really only need data nowadays, which can provide the same unlimited texting and calling. So, you're paying extra for unlimited use of something you use less and less.

Of course, we still need legacy phone service as a backup line. But, I see the day coming when handsets will mainly be data devices like tablets. It's feasible for city folk. I think I would be fine with an everyday tablet phone and a "travelling phone". 

With all of that said, I think I am going to have to cough up some money for a new phone. Wi-Fi only calling simply isn't fitting in with my current business needs. Someday, when I become a virtual assistant or some other work-at-home professional, maybe I can go all Wi-Fi. But for now, it isn't practical. I shall have to re-evaluate when I can get my hands on an LTE device. 

Saturday, March 07, 2015

2014 Taxes and Evernote Efficiency

Why do we do this to ourselves every year? Why do we neglect our record-keeping and end up scrambling to get our taxes sorted out right before the deadline? Bah!

Fortunately for me, I keep records sufficient to piece together what I need for reporting. There is plenty of redundancy between my bank records, invoices, receipts, and 1099s. Ultimately, it becomes a task of story telling through numbers. 

I am a bit obsessive about writing down notes; however, I'm lousy at keeping my notes organized and consistently in one place. Sometimes I write them on paper, sometimes in Evernote, sometimes I text message them somewhere, or I'll record an audio note. The end result is that much of my data is scattered, and ultimately may as well not have been recorded. 

But, thanks to redundancy, my income tax story can still be told by gathering corresponding information from other sources. 

One thing that is different in this year's tax preparation is that Evernote plays a larger role than in previous years.

The key differences are that I adopted a simpler method of record-keeping. Rather than create a note for each transaction within Evernote, I make one note for related transactions. So, for example, my Smartsheet subscription will generate 12 invoices in a year. Rather than make a note for each of the invoices, I stuff all 12 invoices in Smartsheet 2014, or as is now the case, Smartsheet 2015. 

But, that is not all. It also helps to use the features inherent in PDFs, such as combining multiple documents into a single document. Rather than have an Evernote note with 12 documents, it makes sense to combine the 12 statements into a single document. Obviously, it is beneficial to have some type of software that allows you to edit PDFs. 

I should like to add that having fewer, more comprehensive notes in Evernote makes it so my information is easier to find. One does not feel like one is wading through murky waters. It is more like splashing in kiddy pools. 

Learning to use PDFs as one would use paper documents has been the greatest improvement I have made in better using Evernote. This includes highlighting passages and writing notes in the blank spaces like one would do with a book or report. It is for this reason I would recommend having a PDF editing application such as Adobe Acrobat, Foxit Phantom, or one of the Nuance products. I think most of us consider PDFs as read-only files; but, when you dig in a little deeper, they can do so many more things. And, when combined with something like Evernote, then so many more options open up. 

Another thing I have come to realize is that paper notes are great for working. But, once they have done their job, it is vital to scan or make data entries. Yes, it's a pain to have to touch information twice; but, if you neglect to do it, you'll have the tax-time crunch waiting for you. Therefore, it is important to schedule some time, regularly, to "transcribe", for lack of a better word, all your paper notes into digital format. 

For a while, I would take photos of my text, or scan my notes. However, plain text is so much more usable. Although I spent so much times fawning over PDFs, they are best suited to original documents rather than scanned documents. If you go through the trouble of writing notes, it is best to type up your handwritten notes rather than scan. You get much better information density with plain text than with scanned handwritten notes. I'm talking about usable information per KB of storage. 

I won't go on. I'm tired. Brain dead. And I need a shower to clear my head and go to bed. But, keep in mind how keeping better notes, not merely keeping notes, can improve your tax time experience. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

If you can measure it, you can barely change it.

Recently, my wife and I replaced our old scale, which had been broken since before the holidays. I really shot up from 160 pounds to a bit over 180. Part of the reason I gained so much weight was simply being unaware that it was happening. We splurged and got a Fitbit Aria to complement our Fitbit step counters.

I figured that so long as I put in my walking every day, I'd keep things under control. Obviously, that's not the case. So, now I'm being a bit more mindful about my weight. In addition, we have begun taking advantage of the food logging feature that comes with the Fitbit app, although for probably the wrong reason.

You see, as the day goes by and you add more steps, your calorie burn count goes up, which also increases the number of calories you can eat. Thus, one can drink that glass of wine for a few thousand steps.

All this makes a game out of exercise and diet. Keeping score tends to do that, I suppose. The ability to step on a scale and have it automatically update our accounts makes for a sustainable game. It removes a lot of the administrative hurdles that come with tracking data.

One drawback to automatic metrics is that frequency means that the changes are small. This can be discouraging. For example, the plans offered by Fitbit give you the option of 1 pound per week, 1.5 pounds per week, and I think 2 pounds per week. That means that from one day to the next you might lose an ounce. It can be disheartening to starve and then have the scale show no change. Or, perhaps you have some pants that you want to wear again, but can't even after a week of effort.

Obviously, you should play for the long-term. But, it's mentally difficult when you are keeping score daily and even from meal to meal.