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Filtering by Category: Productivity

A few weeks with Coin

John Federico

As one of the original backers of Coin, I had completely given up on it. 

I figured it was an experiment in crowdfunding, one where I was the butt of the joke.

Imagine my surprise when, after almost two years, I received an email asking me to confirm the shipping address for my Coin. ("Wow. Is it *really* going to ship this time?")

A week later, I was finally holding the impressively engineered device in my hand.

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Sparrow for iPhone: No Push? No Problem.

John Federico

Sparrow for iPhone was released yesterday and by all counts (including my own) it's great.

The one complaint that some people seem to have is that it doesn't support Push Email. I've rarely used the Push Email feature in the iPhone mail client due to the major suckage of power from the battery.

However, that doesn't mean that I don't want to be notified of new email.

I use Google Apps Mail (Gmail with my own domain name) and the connection to that service is plain ol' IMAP. Built into the technical standard for IMAP is something called IMAP IDLE mode.

Basically, if your mail client supports this feature of IMAP, you'll receive notifications when you have new mail. Of course, the iPhone Mail app doesn't offer this (and neither does Sparrow) but that's OK: for a couple of bucks, you can purchase a third-party app that can do this for you.

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How to Get Five Bars on Your iPhone All Over Your House

John Federico

If you have an iPhone in the U.S., you won't be surprised to hear this: I love my iPhone but I'm not exactly happy with the AT&T Wireless network.

While it's an inconvenience to be out-and-about in New York City or San Francisco and not have cellular service, it's actually more of an inconvenience to be unable to receive calls when I'm in my home or office. I'm tired of the dropped calls and continually asking folks if I can call them right back from a landline (though the "landline" is usually Skype).

I finally decided to bite the proverbial bullet and go to my local AT&T Wireless Store to investigate the 3G Microcell. This is a device that you connect to your broadband internet connection and it acts like a mini cell tower in your home. According to the documentation it covers approximately 5,000 square feet.

I'd heard there was some special offer that mitigated a lot of the discomfort of paying for hardware to improve the service I already pay for. You can't learn about those offers online, though. For whatever reason, AT&T wants you to visit a retail store to learn more and complete the transaction.

Sure enough, the Microcell ended up costing me only $50 while my monthly bill remains the same. Here's the deal. 

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How to Accept Meeting Requests on the iPhone

John Federico

Lots of folks rely on their mobile devices to help manage their schedule throughout the day. You're probably one of them. I know that I couldn't manage without my iPhone, MacBook and iPad.

The one piece of my workflow that's been bugging me ever since I stopped using Microsoft Exchange and migrated over to Google Apps (Gmail, Google Calendar) is the ability to manage my calendar on my iPhone.

Sure, I can create events on my calendar and even invite people to those events. However, when someone accepts one of those meeting requests, I'm not explicitly notified via email or on my iPhone - I have to check the calendar to see if someone has accepted. It's not ideal, but I can live with it.

The flip side to that equation is what's been driving me nuts: accepting meeting requests on my iPhone. If you're not using Exchange, meeting requests show up as an attachment, usually with the name "meeting.ics", indicating that it's an iCalendar file.

Tapping the icon results in...nothing. I can't open it in the iPhone Calendar app. I have to quickly respond to this person with a message like "Confirmed" just to make sure that we lock down the time and date of the meeting, then officially accept the request and put it on my calendar when I get back to my Mac.

Given that the iCalendar format is a standard used by Apple within iCal on the Mac and on the iPhone, it seems ridiculous to me that I'm unable to respond to meeting requests.

A quick Google search proves that I'm not alone. The last time I performed this search I found a mention of an app buried at the end of a forum thread that was released that very day to solve this problem.

It's called Calendar Happy and yes, it makes me very happy. ;)

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I just can't quit you, iPhone.

John Federico

As I've mentioned in the past, I have a love/hate relationship with my iPhone. I love the usability, the applications, the ease in which it connects to Gmail, Google Calendar, Exchange and even the way it feels in my hand.

But I'm intensely frustrated by the short battery life.

It sucks and I'm not the first to complain about it. The poor battery life has created something of a market opportunity for a number of companies as there numerous products that have cropped up to juice up your iPhone on-the-go like the Mophie Juice Pack, the iPWR Superpack, the Kensington Mini Battery Extender and my favorite, the FastMac iV, among others.

I didn't want to have to lug around yet another piece of kit so this past week, I decided to take drastic measures and go back to the BlackBerry, specifically a BlackBerry Bold. I bought a used one on eBay for a reasonable price and when it arrived yesterday and I opened the box, it was like reuniting with a long lost friend. That is, until I attempted to actually use it.

Setting up the BlackBerry Internet Service (BIS) for email was a complete disaster. Apparently, Microsoft made some changes to Hotmail/Windows Live Mail recently that required BlackBerry customers to login and reset their accounts before they could continue to use their devices with the Microsoft services. It wasn't until late last night that I was able to set up my Gmail account via IMAP. Or so I thought.

See, BIS doesn't actually implement IMAP the way it's intended. IMAP is supposed to be a synchronous mail protocol that allows you to store your mail on the server while storing a copy of it on your client. Changes on the server are reflected on the client and vice versa. BIS retrieves your mail and delivers it to your BlackBerry and let's you read, respond to and delete mail while having those changes reflected on the server. Working with your inbox on your desktop is another story.

If you read, respond to or delete mail from your inbox using a desktop client or web browser (Gmail in my case) the changes are not reflected on the BlackBerry. Effectively, you are now managing two inboxes. I posit that Research in Motion (RIM), the company that makes the devices, doesn't want to fully implement IMAP into BIS as it could cut into sales of their BlackBerry Enterprise Server (BES).

Having already started down this path, I decided to continue. I remembered that BlackBerry got in bed with Yahoo a few years ago allowing Yahoo to implement fully synchronous mailboxes. I forwarded my primary email address to my ol' Yahoo Mail address and adjusted my desktop workflow accordingly. This actually worked fine - I used this setup when I had my last BlackBerry a few years ago. (Tip: it's worth every penny to sign up for Yahoo Mail Plus and get rid of the ridiculous, untargeted and highly annoying ads.)

Next, I installed Google Sync so that I could keep my Google Calendar and Google Contacts in sync with my BlackBerry. It was simple to install and sync'd properly on the first try. I did the same using Remember the Milk for BlackBerry. This was also simple to install but managing tasks using the default BlackBerry application is horrible. The interface just isn't meant to facilitate the Getting Things Done (GTD) methodology.

What else? Twitter, of course! I had heard about a great BlackBerry Twitter client called TweetGenius and immediately dropped $4.99 for a license. It was well worth it as any of the other clients that are available are pretty basic (though I'm judging them against Tweetie and Twitteriffic on the iPhone which probably isn't fair).

Finally, I decided to take a stroll through BlackBerry AppWorld. It's quite limited compared to the iTunes App Store but I found a few gems. Qik for BlackBerry is awesome (and doesn't require that you jailbreak your phone to use it). Viigo is a great kitchen sink type application that lets you read RSS feeds, check the weather, find local businesses and bunch of other stuff.

With that all wrapped up this morning, I went about my day. At 3:00 PM, all seemed to be fine. I had been running on the same battery charge for more than 24 hours and still had 70% left - and this was after heavy usage performing software installations, setting things up, etc.

Then, in my mind, it all came grinding to a halt. Google Sync proceeded to add duplicate entries to my BlackBerry calendar each time it sync'd. I then realized that I would have to upload or sync all my contacts to Yahoo Mail in order to have easy access to them. And finally, I discovered that the new and improved Bold browser didn't display the advance version of Google Reader. (Which was my own fault for not testing it beforehand...).

That was it. After less than 48 hours, I pulled the plug on this grand experiment.

The BlackBerry is a great device, but switching required me to change too many things in my daily workflow. I'm pretty much wedded to the Google Apps - especially Gmail - and had a difficult time giving it up for Yahoo Mail. I didn't want to deal with my calendar syncing problems nor manage my tasks in the pathetic BlackBerry Task List - I just wanted everything to work. Right now.

A relatively quick phone call to AT&T support and swap of my SIM card and I was back using my iPhone. This evening I even purchased a FastMac iV External Battery Pack.

My BlackBerry Bold will make someone else very happy when they win the upcoming eBay auction.

Achieving Goals, Two at a Time

John Federico

At the start of 2009, I committed to reading two books each week with the premise being that if I could do it for one full year, it would become an ongoing habit.

Fuggedaboutit.

I've just been too busy to keep up that pace. Even with the help of my Kindle, I've only been able to finish one book per week.

I also made another commitment for this year which is simply to get more exercise. I'm accomplishing that with the help of my dog, Lucy. I walk her at least twice per day for about 40 minutes covering about 2.5 miles each time.

A few weeks ago, I had a "duh" moment and realized that I could combine my exercise goal with my reading goal in order to consume (not necessarily read) my two books per week.

Of course, I'm talking about the use of audiobooks.

I've always been a big fan of audiobooks but when my commute changed from "lots of driving" to "lots of riding the train", I stopped listening to audiobooks and switched to reading (which I prefer).

Now, each week I read one fiction book on my Kindle and listen to one "business" audiobook on my iPod while I walk Lucy. Some books can be longer than others but that's OK - it's just more incentive to get out and walk some more.

What am I reading now? I just started Daemon by Daniel Suarez (recommended by Rick Klau).

What am I listening to now? I'm at the end of Blue Ocean Strategy by W. Chan Kim and Renee Mauborgne. (A great book that I highly recommend.)

Do you have two tasks that you can combine to help accomplish your goals more effectively?

But how do you Google them?

John Federico

Merlin Mann commented (via Jason Kottke) about a designer who integrated notebooks into his workflow - 85 notebooks throughout 26 years of work.

I save all of my notebooks, too. Since I began integrating journals into my workflow (probably about 10 years ago) I have a library of about 20 of them. My biggest complaint is about indexing and finding stuff in them.

Now that I have a Livescribe Pulse Smartpen, finding stuff is no longer a problem. My journals are completely searchable. (Even with my child-like penmanship...)

Here's a screen capture of one of my Livescribe journal pages from the Livescribe Desktop software. I searched for the name of my congressman (Donald Payne) whose staff was enormously helpful in expediting the renewal of my passport for an international business trip. Note the highlight of the word "Congressman" which was my search term.

I wish I could do the same with all of my old Moleskine notebooks. Perhaps I'll have them professionally scanned and imported into Evernote? Doubtful, but it could be an interesting solution to searching old notebooks. Evernote is great at recognizing characters within handwritten notes.