Tech Tracking #003 - Android, Gune, MacWorld, WordPress, Etc.

Here are some tech items I've been tracking:


Getting PDF Feeds Automatically On Your iPad

With the release of Apple's iTunes 9.2 and the iBook 1.1 application release for the iPad (this also works reportedly on any iPhone or iPod Touch with iBook 1.1), you can now get PDF files automatically downloaded into the iBook application.

RSS-to-iBook 

Here is how I was able to get it done:

  1. Subscribe to a RSS feed in iTunes that provides you PDF content.  For me that was Make Magazine, Beatweek magazine, and premium content from Manager Tools.
  2. Then hook your iPad to your computer and do a Sync.  After the sync is done, go to the iPad icon in iTunes and select the Podcasts tab and make sure your iPad is syncing to the RSS feed content. If the feed like Beatweek is selected in the Podcasts tab you won't see anything in the Episode list since a PDF isn't according to Apple a media format like MP3 or MOV.
  3. Now go to the the Books tab on the iPad and check Sync Books.  Depending on your preference you can select All Books or Select Books to sync.  I used Select Books and then checked the books I wanted.
  4. Then you can do a Sync and your PDF's will be in the iBooks applications on the iPad.

I did notice two "bugs" or "issues".  The first, only PDFs that appear to be listed in the Books Selection area in iTunes are PDFs that have been downloaded since iTunes 9.2 was released.  I haven't been able to seamless get older PDFs to load in this manner. The second, the feeds now show up in your Podcast list in iTunes.  If you go to a podcast feed with PDF files, the PDFs are listed there (--:--), and if you click on them the screen goes blank trying to play them like an audio or video file.  Just tap once and you should be able to exit out.

Before this option, I have been successfully using GoodReader for PDFs reading, but this new iBook method is pretty compelling as it can be setup to be automatic.  These two bugs are pretty distracting though, and hopefully they will get addressed soon.

Thoughts? Comments? Let me know!


An Apple iPad ~2 Month Later Review & Update

Ipad2

Here is a follow-up update to my one week review of the Apple iPad.

Overall, I am still extremely happy with the device.  It has become my primary personal device when I'm at home eliminating my Microsoft Windows 7 TabletPC I was using before the iPad.  I have also travelled with the iPad twice since the initial purchase, and I have found it a great device for reading material (books, PDFs, magazines, saved offline web content, etc) and for consuming videos (podcasts, TV shows, and movies).  Taking the iPad on travel vice the personal TabletPC has also meant that I had over 6 pounds less in my backpack than normal.  This made travel much more enjoyable.

NY Times' BOB TEDESCHI recently did a review on his impression of travelling with the iPad.  The only thing I found different from Bob article is that TSA at both San Diego (SAN) and Washington Dulles (IAD) wanted the iPad in a seperate container to scan vice stored in my backpack.

Things that continue to make this device enjoyable:

  • Excellent form-factor, screen, and battery life
  • Internal speaker is well suited for casual listening
  • Consumption of media when and where I want to is ideal
  • Applications customized for the iPad are compelling

The one thing I did have to figure out was how to seemlessly as possible listen to "new" news and video podcasts directly on the iPad without having to do a regular desktop sync.  I tried using Safari and Google Reader to manage the feeds but playing MP3s in Safari has proven to be buggy for me.  Safari would play them for a while but then become unstable and quit, especially for large shows over 15 minutes long.  I then moved those specific news and video podcasts to my desktop iTunes to get the subscriptions loaded on the iPad.  Once loaded you can then play them from the iPod application.  But if you want new podcasts you need to click "Get More Episodes ..." which then launches the iTunes application.  You then need to click on the Free icon for the newer podcast items you want to download directly.  The Free icon then changes to Get Episode which when you click on that icon will download.  You then need to application context switch back to the iPod application to play the new content.  It works but definitely not seamlessly.  But the benefit of using Apple's iPad and iTunes applications on the iPad is that you can listen to content and launch other applications.

The biggest negative continues to be lack of multi-processing. Switching between applications is fast but swapping context is mentally challenging.  Plus, I'd love to be able to run Pandora in the background and then go about whatever else I'd like to do.

Ipad-apps1 

My top ten most used 3rd-party iPad apps seem to be:

  1. TweetDeck (Twitter app)
  2. Kindle (eBook reader)
  3. iThoughtsHD (MindMap tool)
  4. Evernote (online notes and reference library)
  5. Toodledo (projects and tasks management)
  6. Goodreader (PDF reader)
  7. The Weather Channel MAX+ (check the weather)
  8. Dropbox (online, multi-computer file storage)
  9. Atomic Web (multi-tab browser)
  10. QuickVoice (audio recorder)

Ipad-apps2 

Next on the list is to consider trying out some of the remote access solutions to see how well you can run a Mac or PC from the iPad.  If you have a favorite then please let me know.


One Week With The Apple iPad Review

Ipad-mosaicAfter experiencing the Apple iPad for the last week, I thought I'd outline my thoughts on the device that seems to still have a lot of buzz and interest.

In a nutshell, I am very happy with the iPad and I believe that it is a compelling device that fits in well between laptops/desktops and mobile phones.

I believe this device is going to help me be more effective with reading, podcast & audio book listening, and consuming professional content in eBook, PDF, and other standard formats.  I expect it will also help me on the organizational front with more ubiquitous access to reference material, project support data, and communications services.  Plus, it will be a fun device to decompress with casual games, videos, and music.

No device is perfect -- says the former Newton & still TabletPC laptop fan. As I outlined in a previous blog post, I had some concerns with the hardware and software as proposed by Apple for iPad v1.0 before picking up the device. 

The good news is that as far as I can tell there isn't anything new that the iPad can't do that wasn't already publicly announced before it was released. So, I don't have any buyer's remorse. I know there are now confirmed Wi-Fi issues, but I haven't experienced those with the Wi-Fi networks I have available to me.

Things that are great:
  • The screen is awesome.
  • Battery life is equally impressive.
  • Bluetooth keyboard support is solid.
  • Surfing the web is fast and fluid on the screen with the pinch-to-zoom working as expected.
  • Books via Amazon's Kindle application are readable and easy to consume over hours of reading.
  • Physically the device is solid and feels good in your hands.
  • Goodreader.net is a very nice $0.99 application for reading PDFs.
  • The interface and applications run fast -- so the custom Apple A4 processor was a very good idea IMHO.
  • The built-in Apple iPad applications are well designed.  The Email application with support for viewing a large number attachment formats is especially functional.
  • Native 3rd party iPad/HD applications look spectacular on the device. Some of the ones I've been using include: USA Today, Reuters, TweetDeck, The Weather Channel, Zino, Evernote, Toodledo, Kayak Flights, Dictionary, ABC Player, Yahoo! Entertainment, Sudoku Tablet, YouVersion Bible, and Box.net.
  • On screen keyboard is significantly better than my previous iPod Touch experiences.
  • Internal speaker is better than I expected and so is the microphone.
  • Doing a one on one demo with someone is pretty powerful for sharing and viewing information. The built-in Photos application is especially noteworthy as a good example.
  • Maps with Wi-Fi geolocation is remarkably accurate.
  • I haven't really ran into situations where multi-tasking would be an issue, but I can think of one area I am going to run into problems -- browsing in Safari and then wanting to post via TweetDeck.
Things that are not so great (from a consumer perspective):
  • Screen gets smudged very easily, but cleans up well.
  • Can't subscribe to podcasts directly in iTunes on the iPad.
  • The iPad could lose a half-a-pound in weight, and be more portable plus easier to hold over a longer period of time.
  • Pricing on new iPad specific applications is way to high in my humble opinion. Kudos to many of the application developers I currently use for creating 'free' upgrade versions.
  • The 2x upscale for standard iPhone apps leaves a lot of pixelation issues that distracts from the experience.
  • Safari has crashed more than I expected when consuming media files directly from sites like podcast RSS feeds.
  • I don't like having to sync to iTunes to get Contact updates.  You can get Google Calendar updates directly via CalDAV.
  • iBook prices appear to be on average more expensive than Amazon Kindle prices.  For instance, David Allen's "Getting Things Done (GTD)" is $9.99 on Amazon and $12.99 on Apple's iBook store.
Things that are not great (from my own Enterprise work perspective):
  • No DOD PKI CAC support so you can't sign emails or read encrypted emails.  You also can't use many DOD sites without DOD PKI CAC support in the browser.  Plus at my organization, VPN access and authenticated WIFI is not currently possible without DOD PKI CAC support.
  • Currently there is no way to encrypt the whole device and/or all the application specific storage areas.  This will be a problem as Data At Rest (DAR) requirements become more prevalent and no longer optional.  I've heard rumors about possible 3rd party solutions being released soon that solves this type of problem but nothing definitive as I post this review.  If anyone knows anything about future iPhone/iPad DAR solutions, then please let me know.
Other than fixing the items that are not so great, what could Apple do for improving iPad 2.0 hardware?  Here are a few suggestions:
  • More Bluetooth device support (i.e. networking, GPS, DOD CAC PKI, etc),
  • Integrate a native USB port,
  • Add an SD Card slot, and
  • Drop the price for all units by $100.
I'm sort of ambivalent on adding the camera from a video conferencing/chat perspective, but I think the camera as a sensor to capture location views, barcodes, snapshots, etc would be useful.

With recent news of the iPhone/iPad OS v4.0 coming out soon there is a good chance that many of the software issues will be either solved by this v4.0 release or an earlier v3.x release.  Given that the current release date for iPad support for v4.0 is Fall 2010, I'd expect a hardware update for the iPad when this actually comes out.  Regular Fall releases for new iPad hardware makes more sense for Holiday Sales, and future iPad release will probably be part of Apple's traditional new iPod releases usally in September or October.

The one thing I have not had a chance to try out but would like to is using the iPad to remotely connect to Windows or Mac systems.   I think this could be a big business area for Apple when the 3G version comes out.  With this feature, businesses could leverage the iPad for mobile computing solutions like access to intranet applications, sales presentations, eLearning, etc outside their internal physically controlled Wi-Fi networks.  The only reason I haven't tried them out is the three that look good for evaluation had prices ranging from $15 to $35.  Apple and their developers really need a 'demo' option for items in their AppStore, especially for applications with high price tags. Spending money to do multi-product evaluations is not that appealing to me.

Another thing worth noting is that there is definitely going to be more iPad-like products coming to the market in the near future. I think some of these will be pretty competitive, especially those with Google's Android and more than likely Microsoft's Windows Phone 7 Series.  The big change, when compared to the past, is that the iPad is based on an operating system geared for being mobile, and the full blown operating system software like those on previous TabletPCs is not the right answer for devices in this middle ground between laptops/desktops and mobile phones.

Want to learn more? One of the better Apple iPad consolidated tips, tricks, and pointers articles is posted at HowToGeek.com (link via Kreg Steppe @ FriendsInTech.com)  Another tool that looks interesting is a Google Docs editing tool called Office2Pro that was recently reviewed on one of my favorite mobile technology blogs JK On The Run.

If you have any comments, then please post them below and I'll definitely respond.  If you have any questions that you'd like to have answered, then you can send me email at: sholden@pobox.com or send me a Twitter message (@sholden) or on direct message on Facebook (sholden).

Does The Apple iPad Violate Steve's Best Practice For Tech Purchasing?

Steve's Best Practice for Technology Purchasing was developed during the Apple Newton years (1993-1997) as the editor and publisher of NewtNews - a weekly newsletter that covered the Newton marketplace and community.

The basic premise is that Steve will never purchase the 1st generation of any technology product.  After what seemed like countless painful experiences buying every Newton device, software, etc. released, this best practice has proven very helpful over the last 13 years.  Some successes - TabletPC ( HP TC1100 vs HP TC1000) and Apple iPod Touch (2nd generation vs. 1st generation).

Now that the Apple iPad is coming out (pre-orders start on March 12, 2010), I'm torn on whether or not to purchase the new iPad 1st Generation vs. the iPad 2nd Generation with a ton more features and more MTBF (mean time before failure) engineering. 

I am pretty sure the Wi-Fi only model is better for me than the WiFi + 3G version so that decision is easy for me.  

As a very happy iPod Touch (2nd generation) user I can really see how a bigger screen would be a major improvement.  And many of the applications that I use every day would seem to be very compelling on the iPad form-factor: Pandora, Evernote, Peggle, Facebook, TweetDeck, Stanza, Kindle, Toodledo, and Safari

The other bonus is that I'm pretty much using my older HP TC1100 as an "iPad-tablet" device already.  In the morning as I'm getting ready for the day, I listen to news podcasts via iTunes, catchup with social media sites, and check in on my news feeds.  And then in the evening, some of the same activities happen.  But the iPad form factor (smaller, thinner, etc.) plus battery life will be an improvement.

As a frequent traveler, the ability to watch videos, listen to podcasts, and ready books plus other references is a great improvement over the iPod Touch I'm currently using in this situation.

The Bluetooth integration seems like another key feature both on the audio side of the house but also for keyboard input.  Sometimes you just need to use a real keyboard!

As I write this and review what I've written, I get a sense I've already made enough case for the device at least for me. 

But the one thing really bugging me is the lack of multi-processing support. When I'm using my current "legacy iPad" (aka the HP TC1100) I have several applications open and I like to bounce between them and also stream music from Pandora or other sources.  Reading something, capturing it, and then sending it out on Twitter or Facebook currently doesn't work well for me on the iPod Touch, and I'm thinking the same is going to be true about the iPad.  The iPad is a content consumer device not a content producer device.

Well, I guess I'll need to make a decision soon or hold off.  To be honest I'm pretty sure I'm going to get one but I'm open to input.  If you have any, then please let me know!

NOTE:  One killer application for the WiFi + 3G version is how well Citrix works on the iPad.  If it works without issue, then the platform will really be compelling for the Enterprise.  And that could make the iPad both a consumer and a business success.


Mini-Tech Review: Apple iPod Touch 3.0 Features

Ipods

I recently upgraded my Apple iPod Touch to version 3.0.  Here are the features that I have found the most useful:

  • Landscape keyboard and landscape views on more applications
  • Cut, copy, and paste text
  • Spotlight searches throughout the iPod Touch
  • Automatic Wi-Fi connections
  • Safari improvements
  • Sync Notes (not Lotus Notes but Mac OS X notes)
  • Improved Mail client
  • Calendar new features like CalDAV support

And these are the ones that I may get some more use out of once I get some more usage:

  • Download media over Wi-Fi from the iTunes Store
  • Support for Bluetooth stereo headphones
  • Peer-to-peer gaming (waiting on games that enable this feature)
  • Parental controls
  • iTunes account creation
  • New languages
  • Data/Notification push (waiting on some tools that use this feature)
  • 3rd Party Game connections (none announced yet?!?)
  • Shake to shuffle
  • Voice Memos

All in all a solid update IMHO and worth the $10.


Moleskine DIY Hack - Repositional Glue Stick

Glue-stick2 One of my co-workers recently came up with this handy DIY Moleskine (or other journaling notebook) hack to let you easily put in and remove productivity templates from DIYPlanner.com.

Find the template you want to put in your moleskine, print it out, cut to size, and then use 'repositionable' glue to secure it in the moleskine.  I added a 'shopping list' to one of the back pages of my moleskine.   Now I can use this for a couple of weeks, and then pull it out & add another fresh one without messing with a list of old items permanently in my moleskine.

Another reason, I like this is because it is sort of like creating your own post-it notes, but having control of the content, color, and size of the note.  The index card size ones at DIYPlanner.com seem to be ideal for the Moleskine.


Setting Up My GTD Moleskine 2009

Moleskine I'm going on my fourth moleskine as my primary David Allen Getting Things Done (GTD) capture device.  The first one covered 2005, for some reason 2006-2007 was captured in one, and last year (2008) went into a single moleskine.

Here are some of the steps I've refined in setting up my 2009 moleskine:

  • Use my Dymo labler to print up my labels (see below) and contact information in case I loose my moleskine.
  • Contact information is taped right up front and includes cellphone, email addresses, home phone & address; and $20 reward notice if returned.
  • Labels: References - Information [start on page 1]; Inbox - Notes - Tasks [starts on page 9]; Calendar [page 192]; Contacts [page 190]; Roles & Responsibilites [page 188]; and Projects [page 174].
  • Print out a small 2009 year calendar via Pocketmod (tape on front inside cover)
  • Print out a small DIY Planner Hipster PDA GTD Reference Card (tape on back inside cover)

Some things I've learned over the last couple of years:

  • Form-factor and ease of pen & paper has been very beneficial to me.
  • Thinking of the "notes" section as an Inbox has really made it more appealing to capture everything in the moleskine.  I start each day with a new line and keep things in chronological order.  Once I process something, I mark it done using a yellow highlighter.
  • I rarely capture items in the Calendar section except for personal items.  Work items seem to end up in Outlook without making it to pen & paper.
  • I do capture more Contacts than Calendar items using the moleskine.  It happens mostly when I'm on travel, and capturing some new information away from my computer or cellphone.
  • Previous years I have not had a Projects section, but after attending a David Allen Roadmap Seminar this past summer I started doing this, and it has paid off as a good Weekly Review resource.  It also turns out that at times I only have my moleskine, and I can do some productive brainstorming during downtime with just the Projects list in the moleskine.
  • Another item added after the Roadmap Seminar was the Roles & Responsbilities section.  This is great to review from time to time during downtime, and it helps to keep perspective on what is important to me at 30,000-ft and higher levels.

Do you have any good GTD moleskine tips that I might consider?  Leave a comment or drop me an email.


Old School Netbook - HP TC1100

The GDGT Podcast #3 with Ryan Block and Peter Rojas finally got around to talking about "netbooks" after teasing us in Podcast #1 and Podcast #2.  It was a great discussion, and they asked for recommendations from listeners on what they would recommend.

My recommendation based on some recent research would be the MSI Wind.  A lot of what I have been able to gather comes from a variety of blogs and gadget sites, but is heavily based on comments/research/analysis made by Kevin Toffel at jkOnTheRun's Mobile Tech Roundup podcast.  The MSI Wind seems like the right mix of features vs. cost -- the biggest bang for your buck.

That being said, for the last couple of years I've been using a Hewlett-Packard (HP) TC1100 as my "netbook" or "Internet tablet" around the house and on family vacations. It continues to fit  many of my needs, and still has a great run down of features:

  • pen interface
  • Windows XP SP2 the Tablet Extensions
  • support for tablet and standard laptop form factors
  • pretty good keyboard if needed (I don't use it that often)
  • 802.11a/b/g WiFi
  • two USB ports
  • 1024 x 768 ( XGA )10" LCD screen
  • Bluetooth
  • 3.5mm headset-microphone jack (great for SKYPE)
  • full PC Card slot (like for EVDO)
  • ~2 hours of battery life [with 2 backups available]
  • SD card slot
  • modem (actually useful if you need to send a fax)
  • 10/100 Ethernet port

What I use it for:

  • browsing (IE, Firefox, Chrome, WebKit, Flock, Safri)
  • cloud applications (Google Docs, Gmail, Evernote, Newsgator)
  • iTunes 'news' podcasts (Fox, CNN, NYTimes, WSJ, CNET, Stratfor, CBS Radio, InfoWorld, CNET, NPR)
  • social networking (Twitter, FriendFeed, Meebo)
  • communications (SKYPE, Gizmo, Thunderbird)

If you go the route of trying to find an TC1100, I would definitely recommend the version with an Intel Pentium M chip, and get as much RAM as possible.  Mine has 1.5-GBs.

Any other options for an old school netbook?


Conference Update - GTD Roadmap, New Media, MT Communications, Office 2.0

I was recently able to attend a David Allen Getting Things Done (GTD) Roadmap seminar during one of my regular trips to Washington DC. 

It was a fabulous one-day conference. 

As someone who has been practicing some form of GTD since 2004, it was great to finally get to learn from David Allen in-person.  The Roadmap material was, frankly, excellent for someone in my situation who tries to practice GTD on a daily basis and is maturing in the model.  For instance for me, my Runway is pretty well managed, as is my Horizon's of focus above 20,000 feet. But I do struggle with Projects (10,000 feet) and consistent Weekly Reviews.  This year (2008) could be considered the year of getting a handle on both Projects & Weekly Reviews. After this seminar, I definitely think I have some good best practices to move forward with.

There are three other conferences that have my attention right now:

I will be at the upcoming New Media Expo (NME) 2008 speaking on "Getting Started With Audio Editing - Hands-on With Audacity." More information about my Audacity related resources over at AztecMedia.net/Audacity.  Christy is going to go with me this year, and we hope to get some Jersey Boys Las Vegas interviews completed for the Jersey Boys Podcast. And yes, we will be seeing the show again while we are there. ;-)

I am also planning  to attend the Manager-Tools.com Effective Communications conference in San Antonio, TX on September 9-10, 2008.  This should be a great conference and if you are a manager, you should really consider attending.  Or at the very least, go over to Manager-Tools.com Getting Started page and get started.

The other conference that is on my radar but I don't think I'm going to be able to attend is Ismael Ghalimi's Office 2.0 Conference.  David Allen is going to be giving the keynote which is great, but the line-up of other speakers is impressive, and the content seems right up my alley.  If you are interested in attending, you can save $100 off the conference fee by using this link that Ismael gave me.  For those who are GTD Connect members, David recently interviewed Ismael for the In Conversation podcast.  It is a very good podcast that examines what Ismael is up to with regards to Office 2.0, and gets deep into the personal GTD systems Ismael is deploying.  He is definitely an impressive 'cloud/virtual systems' guy.