This week at Mobile Tech Manor (MTM) was one of easing into my new work flow as a full time technology writer. That’s what I have settled on calling myself when asked what I do for a living as many "real" people don’t know what a "blogger" is. I must first tell you that I am enjoying the heck out of this full-time writing gig. I absolutely love what I am doing and my outlook on life in general has improved to the point that even I recognize it. It is so sweet to finally be doing what I love to do, and doing it without trying to fit it into time windows of opportunity as I did in the past.
This week I will detail the gear I am using to get this work done and touch on some problems I am contending with currently. Here you will find general ramblings about how my time is spent and sometimes even why it’s spent that way. I’ll also give you an idea of things that are coming up for you to watch for and basically anything else that pops into my head. That should scare you if nothing else does. :)
The tools are the thing
One of the biggest benefits I am realizing with my full-time work on jkOnTheRun is the ability to chat with Kevin regularly. While Kevin and I have worked together for years we are in different time zones and in the past given my hectic and constantly varying blogging schedule it was rare that we could fire up a chat. Days would usually go by without our touching base via anything other than email and it’s very nice that we chat almost daily now. It’s not unusual for us to have a video Skype window going for an hour or even longer while we both work on bringing stuff for your consumption and it’s very much like working in adjoining cubicles due to the leveraging of technology. We’ve tried other chat tools but we keep coming back to Skype as it’s very stable and lets us concentrate on what we’re doing rather than how it’s happening. That’s the mark of a good tool as I’ve often said.
The other tools I am using in my work at MTM are not new but they are now getting a real workout. The primary writing machine on my desktop is not a desktop system at all. This shouldn’t be a surprise as I haven’t used a desktop system for years as I find a tricked out notebook can be an ample desktop replacement. The MacBook Pro is my main system and works like a charm for me. The 17-inch screen is more than big enough and sitting it in a Lapworks Stand puts the big screen right at the perfect eye level for me. Pairing that configuration with the Apple Wireless Keyboard and Wireless Mouse is the perfect setup for continued usage, especially since my desk has a slide-out keyboard shelf that is wide enough to accommodate both the keyboard and the mouse. It all works very comfortably which is very important for long-term usage.
I have Harmon-Kardon Soundstick speakers and subwoofer attached to the MacBook via the headphones jack and it sounds very nice. It’s not unusual to find me listening to Pandora for hours on end as I work away. Sometimes I jump into iTunes and listen to some of my 13 GB of music. I listen to whatever my mood dictates which is nice indeed. I do know I will end up spending too much money on iTunes music thanks to Pandora and Shazam for the iPhone, I can see it coming. More than once I heard a great new song on Pandora so I fired up Shazam on the iPhone which in seconds told me the artist, title and album for the song. One button push on the iPhone and I bought the song in iTunes. What a simple way to get new music and a brilliant marketing ploy by Apple. They should be paying the Shazam folks big buckets of money.
When breaking events are occurring like the near miss we experienced with Tropical Storm Edouard this week I fire up a small TV window using the Pinnacle HD USB tuner that is connected to the MacBook via a hub. This lets me keep the TV window sized to fit an available corner of the screen so that it’s out of my way yet right there to get the latest storm radar map. The EyeTV software that powers it is very full-featured and even functions as a DVR when needed. Couple it all with the small remote control and it’s a very nice system for keeping informed while working. It came in very handy during the storm even though it was a non-event, at least for us in Houston thankfully.
My cool work setup is not enough to keep me tethered to my desk though, no indeed. This week I have visited four different Starbucks and also my favorite independent coffeehouse the Daily Brew. My trips to the various coffee shops were in search of which one is more conducive to providing a good working atmosphere and of course it’s the farthest one from my house. The best Starbucks in the area for us working folk hands down is the one across 1960 from Willowbrook Mall. This Starbucks is huge and has an entire separate area with working desk and ample tabletops for the working crowd. It’s separated by display cases from the storefront area where casual caffeine drinkers sit so it’s my fave easily. I enjoy working in coffee shops as you well know and I have used these jaunts to get a feel for my mobile working gear.
I used four different mobile computers for these roving work sessions in an attempt to find the "best" one. Accompanying me at different times were the HP 2710p, the Lenovo IdeaPad U110, the Fujitsu P1620 and also the HP 2133 Mini-Note. They all are greatly different devices and my thought was that one of them would stand out as the best-fit for this type of work. Wrong, they all performed admirably and my conclusion was that I can grab any one of them and be quite happy working while mobile. The 2710p is probably the most comfortable with its 12-inch screen and great keyboard and the 10-11 hours of battery life with the slice can’t be beat. The U110 is also comfortable with its near full-sized keyboard and 13-inch screen. It’s lighter than the HP too which can be a factor at times. For shear size and weight consideration the P1620 is a great mobile PC, although the undersized keyboard makes it harder to use than the other three devices. It’s sweet to use in slate mode in the big comfy chairs, though. Lastly, the Mini-Note is a real trooper and while its size is as small as the P1620 it is quite a bit heavier. The keyboard is really nice though and easier to use than the Fujitsu. Too many choices.
Gadgets and more gadgets
This week saw some nice gadgetry show up at Mobile Tech Manor and I’ve enjoyed playing with them. Two new phones from Verizon showed up last week that I’ve just gotten to play with, the LG Dare and LG Decoy. I’m very impressed with the Dare and its small size (smaller than the iPhone) and its very responsive 3-inch touch screen. There are a lot of usability features that work very well and everyone who I’ve shown it to has really fallen in love with it. I’ve heard "I want one" more times than not when showing it off. The LG Decoy is a nice multimedia phone in its own right but the super-thin Bluetooth headset that pops into the phone for charging catches everyone’s eye. It’s cool that you hit the headset eject button to pop it out of the phone and the phone instantly comes alive and the two are paired for use. Very nicely designed that.
Two other gadgets showed up at MTM this week, the Richard Solo Backup Battery and the Startech USBVGA Dock. The backup battery works with iPods and the iPhone and I’ve been using the heck out of it. It will restore approximately 70% of the iPhone 3G’s battery back to life while letting you use the iPhone at the same time. It’s small and light enough that using the iPhone with the backup battery attached is not an inconvenience as I thought it would be so I find I use it a lot. I often just pop it onto the iPhone to top off the battery during the day when I’m away from the dock and it keeps the battery nice and fresh. Richard of Richard Solo contacted me and let me know that the Backup Battery will not in fact charge both the battery and the iPhone 3G at the same time as they claimed and that the problem is likely the charger unit. They will send a free charger unit to replace the ones shipping now as soon as they are ready.
The Startech dock is turning into a very useful piece of kit to use with a notebook that is used with an external monitor. I’m not using one myself but there’s one attached to my wife’s HP notebook and the USBVGA dock is a very nice addition to that setup. Anyone who’s used an external monitor with a notebook can attest to how big a pain in the butt it is to disconnect the monitor to take the notebook mobile. This is the main problem the Startech solves since the monitor is attached to the powered USB dock so all you have to detach is the one USB cable from the notebook itself. Throw in the fact that the Startech also adds four powered USB ports, wired Ethernet, audio in and out jacks and a mini-USB jack and it’s a very full-featured gadget making it a real dock that will work with any notebook with a USB 2.0 port. That’s just about all of them now.
Not so cool stuff this week
We wouldn’t call this work if it was all peaches and cream and there were some things that cropped up that I’m still trying to get figured out. One of my biggest issues continues to be GMail and how it works with client applications. I mentioned last week that GigaOM uses GMail to power the corporate email and it’s certainly a good solution for the size of the GigaOM team. The problem I am having has to do with how GMail interacts with client applications such as Outlook or Entourage on the Mac side. Both clients use GMail’s IMAP capability to interface with the online GMail servers and that IMAP support I’m finding out the hard way is, well, pretty crappy. Sure I could forego the clients entirely and just use GMail using the browser, that’s what Kevin’s doing with his cloud work and he’s quite happy. In spite of this for a number of reasons I won’t go into here I want to use these clients.
Kevin and I had a long discussion about this just yesterday and he’s not convinced I need the clients but they’re my clients and I want them, I want them. Seriously I do want to have GMail working fine with both Outlook and Entourage since I do switch back and forth between Windows and the Mac but I’m seeing synchronization problems trying to use the three platforms (Windows, Mac, GMail). I’m also getting sick of seeing error messages in the client telling me it’s having problems interacting with the GMail IMAP server, something I can tell you happens all the time. I’m so sick of seeing error boxes like the one above, something that happens DOZENS of times a day. What this means is that coupled with the multiple platform scenario I’m trying to use that it’s very easy for my email to not be in sync across the board. That’s a very bad thing in my book so who knows, after more thought and getting slammed more by this I may end up going the browser interface only. That would suck.
I’m also getting very tired with how long it takes Vista to get going after a sleep session. It’s so bad the first time I try to use one of the Windows notebooks each day that I’ve developed a routine each morning of starting every one of them while first sitting down at the desk. Yesterday morning I fired up the three Vista-based notebooks and watched them come up. All three of them took their sweet time and it took from 5 to almost 15 minutes before each one of them stopped hitting the hard disks hard. That’s just crazy, I’m sorry. Even then, later in the day when I wanted to take the Fujitsu with me it took several minutes of disk activity when I resumed from sleep after taking it out of the bag. That is just so wrong on every level and while I understand that it could be the hardware, or the software, or it could be the drivers, quite frankly I just don’t care. It gets in my way and that’s all that matters to me. It doesn’t have to be that way I don’t care what anyone says. My MacBook Pro is ready in seconds every single time I resume it, without fail.
Another issue that cropped up this week that I still haven’t solved yet is my printing capability that suddenly went away. My setup is unique perhaps, I use an older Canon i70 USB printer that has been a workhorse for years. It is plugged into the USB port on my Airport Extreme WiFi router so that anyone in the house on the network can print to it. At least, that’s the way it worked until a few days ago. One morning I tried to print from the MacBook Pro and it got the error you see in the dialog. Even deleting the printer and reinstalling it in OS X didn’t work, although that has worked in the past. I didn’t have time to troubleshoot so I let it go and later on realized I couldn’t print from the Windows machines either. That is accomplished using the free Bonjour utility from Apple and my attempts to delete the printer and reinstall it under Bonjour for Windows hasn’t resolved the issue either. I’m beginning to think that the Canon may just be running out of steam, something that wouldn’t surprise me all that much. I’ll have to fix it pretty soon though. I don’t print all that often but when I need to print I usually really need to print. It means that I can’t make copies using my scanner either.
UPDATE: Just before going to press I reset the Airport Extreme router and printing is back again. :)
I have written recently about how having my ebook reader living on my phone has resulted in my reading more books than I have in a good while. I am able to capture random moments of idleness and pull out my phone and read away. I do so much online research that I read ebooks strictly for leisure so I only read novels to pass the time. Having my reader on the phone has enabled me to finish the last two books in the Odd Thomas series by Dean Koontz. This is an absolutely great series and Koontz created one of most unexpected heroes in Odd Thomas that I’ve encountered in a great while. I enjoyed this series so much that I realized in the last book that at one point I was almost overcome with emotion over something that happened. That rarely happens and is a tribute to how well Dean Koontz fleshed out the character of Odd Thomas over the series. Highly recommended.
I got new glasses this week and that’s probably helped my reading time too, although these glasses took longer to adjust to than usual. I use progressive lenses, a fancy and expensive way to refer to no-line bifocals, which means that the lenses change in the up to down direction with the reading area residing on the bottom of the main lens and the far away area higher up. There’s a mid-range area in between to further complicate things. I’ve worn them for years and swear by them but these new glasses have much smaller lenses than I’ve gotten in the past which means the reading area is much closer to the "far away" area than I’m used to. My brain has adjusted now though and I don’t have to think about how I should be looking at stuff based on the distance from me. I do love my progressive lenses, I just don’t like paying for them.
As you can probably tell I am enjoying my new life as a professional blogger, sorry, technology writer. I am doing what I love to do and it’s grand. Mobile Tech Manor is getting busier than ever and I expect that to continue as time goes on. There will always be gadgets coming in the door and other gadgets leaving to go back. I have commissioned French doors to be made and installed which should happen in the next week or two. My office has an arched entryway instead of a door and the inability to close it off has not been fun. It will be so nice when I can close the doors and work away. Of course, with all the gadgets going in and out maybe I should have a revolving door installed instead of French doors, ya think? Until next week, peace.