Category: Technology

Oops… a bit of a glitch in the paperless road

Well, more than a glitch… My PC died last week.  Only 2 1/2 years old, my trusty HP laptop died a death with a fried motherboard.

I’ve been hankering after a Mac for a while and had been considering getting one as a Christmas present.

The dead PC brought this into focus a bit – and I decided that rather than repair the laptop on what might be a never ending cycle of “just another component”, or get another Windows PC, I decided it was time to bite the bullet and “go mac”.

I’ve been using my iPad 3 as my primary computer for the last week, and that’s proven to be an interesting experience.  For the majority of tasks, writing emails, Facebook, keeping up with the news, watching the odd video… it’s worked like a charm.  But as a power user there are some things that I need a Proper Actual Computer for.

And there are some things I’ll need a Windows PC for, which is why I’m making Parallels part of the purchase decision so I can still access my existing applications.  It’s a lot cheaper than the £500 or so I’d need to invest in replacing the Windows Apps I’ve spent money on.

It’s going to bean interesting journey.  I’ve been warned to expect a couple of weeks of “so this is what computers are like if you’re not an expert”, and I’ve also been told I’m going to hate PCs after this.  Watch this space to find out how I get on.

Paperless Office

The paperless office has been the promise of computing almost since the start of the computing generation.   I don’t think we’ll ever see the back of paper, but I do think that the amount going around is getting drastically reduced.

I’m looking at a two foot high pile of paper in the corner of my office.  I know it’s “post-action” – I don’t need to do anything with it, but it still needs filing against possible future need.   And I just can’t be bothered.

This is on the back of a  productive day.  I’ve shifted a pile of paper over a foot high, done the stuff hidden in there,  and now I’ve got this pile which is growing and looking at me accusingly.   I need to get the paper shifted out of my office, and then start on the non-paper stuff.

So, the plan to tackle the paper is to expand my use of Evernote by purchasing their recommended Fujitsu ScanSnap scanner.  I already have a scanner, but it’s a single side scanner with limited document feed capability.  And since Amazon had some S1500 models on at a reduced price, it seemed like too good a deal to miss.

I do have some concerns about this approach, notably around security.  Evernote is cloud based storage, and the files are not encrypted.  So, I think some sensitive finanical files will need to be stored just locally on my PC.  I need to ensure they get backed up.

I believe the scanner can be configured to scan everything to a network drive and to evernote, so that will allow me to throw all of the data onto my NAS drive in parallel with an instant backup, so the availability question is covered.

There will always be books, but I think I can give the recycling guy a hernia next week when I stick all of this paper back into the recyling bank.

I think getting to a clutterless office is going to be a bigger challenge, but this is a good start.

iPad – most of a year on

After I originally posted my initial impressions of the iPad, I thought it was time to come back with some long term opinions.

When I got it, I said that “the iPad would either become used almost as much as my laptop, or become a very expensive photo frame except when I’m travelling.   After the first 48 hours I think it’s going to be closer to the former.”

Well, some 9 months later I’m pleased to see my prediction was correct. It’s been an essential companion on a variety of trips from a handful of day trips into London to two weeks in the Maldives.  I hardly ever read a normal book any more.  It beats using a laptop in bed – and being able to flip between the Internet, a book, and a game as the mood takes me is great when chilling out.

I pretty much use it every single day, and have come close to flattening the battery in less than 24 hrs – yes, 10 hrs usage.

What’s bad about it?

I wish I’d got the 3G version for seamless mobile use.  I dismissed it as a luxury thinking I wouldn’t want to use it mobile very much.

The onscreen keyboard isn’t good enough to be a complete laptop replacment, and even with an external bluetooth keyboard it’s a bit limiting.

It’s only 64Gb of storage.   I need to be restrained about the number of films I keep on it.

The screen isn’t the best in bright sunlight.  You can ignore the reflections up to a point, but I’m probably going to end up with a Kindle as well.

It also suffers from the same limitations as other eBook readers: limited availability of existing titles and no (legal) way to convert your physical book collection into eBook form.   If you have a favourite book in paper that’s not available yet, you’re kind of stuck unless you can find an online copy (which can then be easily converted into EPUB format using a tool called Calibre).   I don’t mind paying for eBooks, but I do object to paying twice for the same book to get the electronic version.

On a related note it would be nice if importing video from DVDs was as quick and as seamless as importing music from a CD.


iPad again

Yet another “what do you do with your iPad” post has got me thinking about how I use mine.

It’s not really reduced use of my mobile phone. It might on some mid-length trips where it’s enough to carry the iPad but not a laptop.

I still use my iPod Nano for media rather than my phone. And I’m still figuring out how best to interface that to a 2004 model car.

It’s totally supplanted the Creative Zen Vision:W media player that replaced my original iPod. That’s going on eBay.

It’s become a new category of amusement as a eBook reader. I’m a bit late to the eBook party, but on the other hand I still think I’m here as an early adopter dealing with a fragmented marketplace and lots of competing and incompatible devices. I think I’ve largely seen the end of me buying paper books, but I want to know there’s a way out of the DRM before I really commit.

The other change is a bit more complex. At the start of this year I had a desktop and a netbook as my personal computers. The desktop died and got replaced with a laptop. The netbook was intended as a travel computer, and that role has been largely supplanted by the iPad. I’ve not sold it yet for one simple reason – I’ve done so little travelling that I’ve not had chance to confirm the iPad as the replacement. But the iPad has definitely taken over the “consumption” role of the laptop. When I want to sit back and read – be it forums, blogs, RSS feeds or books, the iPad is the tool of choice. And with a Bluetooth keyboard, it’s also a creation tool. But not a serious one. Because there’s no way to paste the link I copied inline into this post. So it will remain a drafting, tool, a place to make notes and write blog entries from a comfy chair. It certainly won’t replace the laptop. The jury’s still out on the netbook, but probably that’s out too.

The game changing features of the iPad are the fact that it’s “instant on”, it’s a “like a book” way to read books and the internet, and that it turns the web into something you can pass around like a book.

These sound like subtle changes – and from a technological viewpoint they are. But from a usability viewpoint they are game changing.

The iPad is indeed a third device. More portable than a laptop, more useful than a smartphone, and more cool than even an iPhone 4.

It’s also interesting that Mary Foley who writes the All About Microsoft blog also categorises the iPad as a “consumption” device. It’s something for reading, for watching, for sharing.

iPad plus Bluetooth Keyboard

Well, it’s taken me about 10 seconds to confirm what I expected – with the bluetooth keyboard, the Ipad makes a perfectly acceptable laptop substitute. OK, I can’t actually use it for Real Work (TM), but for the odd spot of blogging, email or updating Facebook it’s hugely more useful having the keyboard as a actual real thing with moving keys.

I’m writing this sat on the sofa with the iPad in it’s case and the keyboard below it, both on my lap. It’s a position that will probably give any so-called expert in ergonomics palpitations, but since my spine is properly supported and I’m comfortable I don’t care. This isn’t working, this is slouching and writing for fun!

EU roaming caps – not nearly tough enough

Reports that the EU are to cap roaming charges prove the EU is still on the side of big business.

The internet is a global place.   It doesn’t cost any more for me to download my email from Google when I’m in France, or Germany, or for that matter Mongolia or Argentina. And the calls costing more is an outdated concept as well.

I expect my free minutes and free data to be valid wherever I am in the world.  It might take a while, but it will have to happen eventually.

48 hrs with an iPad

I commented on Friday  that the iPad would either become used almost as much as my laptop, or become a very expensive photo frame except when I’m travelling.   After the first 48 hours I think it’s going to be closer to the former.

For casual web surfing it’s a definite win, and when discussing something I wanted for my birthday it was nice to just put it on the table and look at together – it seems somehow less intrusive than sharing a PC screen.  Without a Bluetooth keyboard it’s a consumption device – it’s a TV not a Camcorder.  I wanted to send an email with three sentences in it, and I put the iPad down, when into the next room to get my laptop, and booted Windows to send them email because typing on screen is so painfully slow. I find the same with my phone – if you get an email reply from me from the phone it means there isn’t a real keyboard in reach.  And it’ll be terse.

I’ve got my entire music collection – 16 gigs – plus a handful of movies converted for playing on there, and I’ll convert some more as time goes on to get a reasonable collection before the next long trip.  Using CloneDVDMobile creates excellent results but does take time to do all the transcoding – about 2x the time needed to watch the video.

Installed Free Apps so far:

  • Evernote.  – I already have this on all my PCs, and my phone, so it was an obvious move to install it here.
  • Bloomberg.  – I’m not an avid stock/news watcher but this does present information in a useful format.
  • Amazon Kindle – More on eBooks below
  • Apple’s iBooks – More on eBooks below.
  • Epicurious – interesting recipe site, but haven’t seen their
  • GoSkyWatch – Free Planetarium app.  Great for skywatching as I always forget to take my sky maps on holiday.
  • WordPress – will probably use this once I get a keyboard!
  • The Weather Channel – free weather app – almost obligatory to have one of them.
  • AeroGuitar Free – demo of “Guitar Hero” type game.  Not that impressed – the whole point of guitar hero is mucking about with friends, not sitting alone!
  • Dictionary – again, almost obligatory.
  • Plane Flight HD Free – demo of plane tracking app.  Probably not used enough to buy the app when I get hit the websites that provide this information for free.
  • Adobe Ideas – not played with this yet, but seems interesting
  • Urbanspoon – restaurant search – have it on the phone as well and seems useful
  • IMDb – because I can.
  • Periodic Table – the £7.99 paid app is gorgeous but I’m not paying that much for “pretty”.
  • BBCiPlayer
  • eBay- Curious, but why do I need an app when the website works fine?
  • Google Earth – This has always struck me as “why do I need an app for that”, but it’s fun to play with.

Any other recommendations?

Paid Apps

  • FlightControl HD (£2.99)  Most used app so far.
  • Weather HD (£0.59)  This really should have been a free app.  Weather and pretty pictures.  Waste of 59p.
  • Real Racing HD (£5.99)  This’ll keep me amused on travel sometime.

I’ll probably – possibly – add the Pages, Numbers and Keynote apps – Word, Excel and Powerpoint equivalents – once I have a BT keyboard which I have hinted will make a nice birthday present (and will be buying myself the day after if I don’t get it!)

On eBooks

I’ve got a whole bunch of reference PDFs downloaded, as well as the beginnings of a collection of Free eBooks.   These all open fine in the built in iBook application.  But since Amazon are promising a Kindle App for Android, and their whispersync technology means I can go to a book I started reading on the ipad, and carry on on the PC or the phone, that sounded a better deal.  Oh, and their eBooks are cheaper too.

Reading in the sun

Probably my biggest unknown was how well it would work in bright sunlight.  I intend to have it with me on vacation later in the year as my primary source of “entertainment”, and want to be able to watch videos and read books in the sun.  Watching video’s isn’t so good, but the “mostly white” screen of the book reader does an excellent job of hiding reflections off the screen, and after a while you start to focus on the screen, not the reflections, so it’s prefectly usable. If money really were no object, I’d probably get an eBook reader as well – which would also eliminate my minor concern about this being something of a single point of failure in amusing myself when travelling.

Essential Accessories I’d have bought at the time

Well, if I didn’t have a birthday in a few weeks and hence the opportunity to drop hints about presents.

1) Spare USB charger.  Nominally so I can leave one in my “travel” bag and one at home, but I’ll probably take both when travelling since I can (with the right leads) charge my phone and MiFi router off the USB port as well.

2) Case.  And the only reason I didn’t order this at the time was the quoted 3-4 week delivery.

3) Camera interface so I can download photos taken during the day to the iPad.  I really like the idea of being able to sit in the bar and look over the day’s photos.

3G or Mifi

One of the purchasing decisions for the iPad was whether to go with the built-in 3G connectivity or stick with the WiFi option.

Since I already have two laptops (work and home) which benefit from being able to access the Internet from anywhere, it seemed like a 3G/WiFi router was a better option than the built in 3G.  I don’t want to pay for separate contracts for the lapdog, iPad, and SWMBO’s lapdog. So the fact they can all share one SIM is good.

The downside is that if it’s being used to partner the iPad it’s another device that needs to be charged up.

Time to get that Gel Cell powered USB port working!!

After a few hours with the iPad

My intention in purchasing the iPad was largely as a media consumption device.  Something to use to surf teh Interwebs while at home, watch videos on a plane, read books on a beach, and then come home and stuff full again for the next trip.

  • Reading eBooks is great even in the sun.  After a while your eyes learn to focus on the screen not the reflections, and then it’s even better
  • Transcoding DVDs to a format I can watch is painfully slow.  Advance planning needed to get the existing DVD collection (or at leat the interesting part thereof) converted ready for the next prolonged trip.

The true test will be in a month’s time.  Am I carrying it everywhere, or has it become an expensive Photo frame I take on international trips?

Time will tell.

OK, I’ve given in to the fruity goodness

I’ve given in.

After my first iPod was replaced under warranty 4 times in 2 years, and died again just out of warranty, I went on a bit of an anti-apple phase.  Which was exacerbated when I realised I couldn’t play any of the music I’d bought for the iPod on any other player.  Since then I have an iPod nano for portable music, which I’ve been rather more impressed with.

I deliberately didn’t get an iPhone – at the time I was happy with my WM6 phone.   Then corporate policies forced me down the Blackberry route, and while it’s an excellent tool it’s not a fun personal gadget so I got my own phone, and after looking seriously at the iPhone ended up with a HTC Desire.

But after looking at several eBook readers I came to the conclusion that it was going to be another device – and battery charger – to add to the netbook,  media player, and mobile phone that I take on any kind of trip.  Then I figured the iPad would do all of these things, so I’ve ordered one.  I’ll be selling the Netbook and Creative media player once it arrives – sometime the week after next as it seems Apple deem fir to take my order three days ago and ship it in 10 days time.

Not the best first impression in this day of instant gratification.  I expect same day ship from Internet companies these days.

Edit: they’ve improved the delivery date and allegedly it’s on a UPS truck somewhere near here.  I shall resist the temptation to keep refreshing the tracking page every 30 seconds.  Not so shabby after all.