Searching for Portable Nirvana

I love traveling light. The less I bring the happier I am generally. Easier on planes, lighter to carry, less to fuss with. Packing the technology used to be the hardest oart for me.

  • Laptop
  • Phone
  • iPad
  • lots of cables and accessories.

I would always prepare for evey possible computing solution. Over the years I have been able to pair my "stuff" down. If I am not traveling for work I can leave my laptop behind and rely on the iPhone and iPad.

On a trip to Maine I decided to go with just the iPhone 6 plus. What could I do? What would I not be able to do? The size is great and it is much easier for me to respond to emails and tweets. But would I enjoy working with it if I wanted to write something long form. I normally bring my Logitech Tablet Keyboard. It is full size and still very portable. This time I decided to try an iWerkz Universal Foladable Keyboard.

The keyboard comes with a protective case that doubles as a stand. The keyboard is hinged in the middle to open to a near full size keyboard. Opening it up for the first time I was reminded of another bluetooth keyboard made by Stow-away that I used to use with my Handspring Visor

  Compared to iPhone 6+

Compared to iPhone 6+

 Thickness of keyboard in case next to iPhone 6+

Thickness of keyboard in case next to iPhone 6+

The setup is nice. Using the keyboard case as a stand allows you to use the phone in portrait or landscape orientation. In landscape mode it did cut offf the bottom a tiny bit but not enough to disrupt working. For a travel stand it was perfectly adequate.

My first impression of the keyboard were mixed. The size was nice, light enough but the keys were very squishy with little travel movement of the keys. I figured this is something I could get used to because it was not a primary input device, just for travel packing. Using it that weekend proved otherwise. The spaceing of the keys was a little off. Not being a touch typist I also found the split spacebar to be harder to get used to then I had imagined. But there were two major issues I ran into.

The first was the keyboard functions. This is a universal keyboard. It works with Windows, Android and iOS. Figuring out the correct key combinations to use the functions was a nightmare. You can see looking at the number keys there are 3-4 functions on each. Below on the Q,W,E keys you can see the primary options for each operating system. One thing I found was that it was very easy to "knock" you out of the Operating system and end up in another one. I found this frustrating.

The second issue was within 20 minutes of typing on the keyboard I had broken two of the keys. One popped off the base altogether and the other would depress and then not pop back up. The spring was essentially stuck. I was able to pry it back up with a butter knife but the next time it was depressed the same thing happened again. Not what you woudl expect in a keyboard.

The long and short of it was this was not an adequate solution at all and was returned to Amazon. The reviews of the product seemed to indicate that you either got a good one or a bad one.

For now I will contunue to use my Origami case with the Apple blurtooth keyboard or the Logitech tablet keyboard which are both full size but a much better typing experience.

Goruck Echo: First Impressions

Last week I was sitting at my girlfriends mothers house in Kennebunkport Maine writing. The fireworks are going off in the background after a torrential thunder and lightning storm. I thought now would be good time to give my first thoughts on a new computer bag.

I will start this post of with the “I have a problem proclamation”. My problem (or one of them) is computer bags and protections devices for my electronics.

Having recently purchased my 11 MacBook Air I found all my bags were to big and things were floating around rather sloppily. I started researching for something that would fit my needs better (if you are reading in self-justification that is part of it). I love my Tom Bihn Ristretto bag but that has since become my work bag. I easily could have ordered the smaller Ristretto for the 11" but I thought I should vary it up a little. I was looking for something that I could keep the essentials with me as I create this new business. I also felt like I wanted to try a backpack again.

I already mentioned I was looking for a backpack. I wanted something small and sleek. I did not want it in leather. I do like modular systems for being able to switch out between bags. I made a list of wanted I wanted to have with me when I traveled. Essentials would include:

Nothing out of the ordinary. The paired down needs to allow me to do what I want to remotely. I started seeing a lot of talk about people using a backpack made my a company called Goruck. The bags were designed by an ex-special forces soldier to be incredibly simple and yet versatile. The bags come in black only and in 4 sizes. They not flashy in appearance, more of a tough minimal look and from what I can tell they are incredibly strong.

I went with the Goruck Echo as my choice. This is the smallest of the line holding 16 liters of gear. I was a little concerned that it might be too small. Patrick Rhone had also been kind enough to share his thoughts with me via email. The bag came in just in time for this short visit up north. Loading it up was a breeze and there is plenty of room left over. In addition to the list above I had a couple of magazines and light shell coat rolled up inside. It will certainly also be able to fit a small micro 4/3 camera. A larger camera would fit perhaps with one lense but I am trying to reduce the weight of the things I bring by bringing only what I need. With a larger camera I suspect I would feel compelled to bring more lenses just in case. The back pack straps are very comfortable, also built in is a carry handle on the top which is super convenient. I have only had the bag for 72 hours and will need much more testing but my initial impression is positive.

Review: Parrot MKi9000 Bluetooth Connectivity Kit

I might be in the minority but I am a huge fan of BlueTooth functionality for listening to music (not really a fan of the earpieces). A few weeks ago I wrote about my experience with the Bose Soundlink and how happy I was with it. Driving to and from work was another thing. My car does not have BlueTooth in it and the dealer aftermarket option was about $500. To use my iPhone to listen to music or podcasts required a rats nest of cables. The phone would sit awkwardly on the front seat with a power cord attached to the bottom and an Aux 2.5mm jack attached to the headphone input on the top. To say this was inelegant was an understatement. The wires floating around my car alone was enough to disturb my “clean line” sensibilities

I spent some time reseaching other aftermarket options and came across a company called Parrot. They make a variety of models and there are several cables that will work with the manufacturers cable to make installation easier. The problem I had was I did not want one with a screen. I know sounds odd. But I have a built in GPS screen in the car, a display speedometer and my iPhone. The last thing I wanted was yet another screen. Fortunately there was one model the Parrot MKi9000 without a screen. This model allows for both streaming of audio as well as integration with the phone for making and receiving calls.

I opted to have the unit installed through an auto audio dealer. Installation still requires that you remove the radio from the dashboard to attach the cable. Also if you purchase a unit that does have the telephone integration there is a small cable that must be installed to hold the microphone. The small controller can be mounted anywhere and it comes with an attachment that can be attached to the steering wheel. I opted for an area on my dashboard that was easy to reach.

Once you have paired your phone with the MKi9000 you never have to do it again. It also does support multiple phones if needed. The first time your phone is paired you get an audible message that says “Phonebook has been downloaded”. If you want to make a call you just have to press the green button on the controller and speak the name of the person you want to call. You must speak it in the same order as you have it stored in your address book, so if you have them stored last name, first name you must speak it in the same order. When you receive an incoming call it will speak the persons name and ask you if you want to “Accept or Reject” the call. After saying accept there is about a 1 second delay and then you are connected to the caller and speaking normal.

Playing a music through the iPhone is as easy as finding the song you want in the music application and clicking play. I have also used this setup with Instacast to play podcasts as well without any issue.

The setup also comes with a cable that is hidden that provides 3 input options if you have a device that does not support bluetooth. Standard connectivity includes a standard iPod / iPhone 30-pin dock connector, USB connector and a standard 3.5 mm line-in.

If you want a screen so you don’t have to use your phone for navigation there are several models you can pick from.

Overall I am very happy with this add-on to the car and I would recommend it highly.

The $100 Startup

A friend referred me to Chris Guillebeau’s new book called the $100 Startup. He thought I woudl enjoy it. I am “really” not creating a startup but I do always have a few projects on the side so I thought I would check it out. Initially I was a little skeptical by the title but was impressed with the reviewers who made comments about the book on his site:

“The money you have is enough. Chris makes it crystal clear: there are no excuses left. START. Start now, not later. Hurry.” - Seth Godin

“In this valuable guide Chris Guillebeau shows that transforming an idea into a successful business can be easier than you think … You are in charge of which ideas deserve your time, and this book can help you wake up every morning eager to progress to the next step.” -Tony Hsieh

I started reading and quickly figured out that this would be a book I enjoyed purely because of the case studies that are included. Over the course of writing the book Chris interviewed some 1,500 small businesses that met the criteria he included for submisstion. Interviews were conducted via Skype, email and in person and they were not limited to the United States. Another impressive point. Chris writes the book around 50 of the cases ( I would love to see another version with an addtional 50 going forward).

Lots of business books offer you advice but I think this one is a little different. Chris says this is “finding the intersection between your “expertise” — even if you don’t consider it such — and what other people will pay for.” which is different from others I have read.

Also this is not a “life-style” book that sells you on the promises of you can work from anywhere in the world. A few of the cases the entrepenuers did do that but that is more of the exception.

Several of the cases in the book hit a chord with me. For example the CFO who ran a specialized travel related site on the side and did not give up his primary job.

If you are interested in starting a business or interested in learning how to take your existing skills and combine them in a new way to make something new I would highly recommend this book. You can watch the book trailer here:

Insanely great read

I just finished reading Ken Segall’s “Insanely Simple” book that came out about two weeks ago. I have to say this has been one of my favorite books in a long time. Ken worked for Chiat Day who was part of the team responsible for some of Apple’s best advertising.

For anyone who thinks this book is just another book about Apple - you are couldn’t be more incorrect. This is a book about marketing and design, and how Apple uses it to make a better expereince. There are some great personal stories of Ken’s interactions with Steve included as well that really give you more of an insight into how he thought and his rational behind his decitions.

Ken also provides examples for comparision from Dell and Intel. He was a team member on those accounts as well. Some of the comparisons are brutal. While Apple could make a decision on the spot in a meeting one of the other companies might have to send it to committe and test it and get user feedback before there was any movement forward.

The premise that surrounds the whole books is this :

“People prefer Simplicity”

One of the things that I think confuses people is that because something is simple it should be easier. This is not the case at all. In fact it is usually quite the opposite.

Simple can be harder than complex. You have to work hard to get your thinking clean to make it simple. But it’s worth it in the end, because once you get there you can move mountains. - Steve Jobs

If you are interested in marketing, Apple, design or simplicity this is a must read book.

 Each chapter breaks down a concept into the smallest form. Think Brutal, Think Small, Think Minimal for example. The last chapter give a great summary of all guiding pricinples throughout the book. I highly recommend this its a fantastic read.

Aviiq Ready Clips Review

Carrying long cables in my computer bag is one of those sillly things that makes me nuts. First they used to float around my bag. Then I purchased a few little pouches from Tom Bihn to hold them and that helped. But then I find I was stuffing a bunch in there and they were all getting tangled. Most of the time now I just need a cable for an additional power top off from my computer.

I have looked at several smaller version of these type of cables. The ones I like the most were from Griffin. Just before I was about to buy them Aviiq annoucened a new line of cable products called the Ready Clips.

From the website:

Created to be carried like a pen and to be just as portable, the AViiQ™ Ready Clips are sized to match the stand pen size of 5.5 inches.

These cable looked really nice. Short, sturdy and several different connection options for you to pick from. One of my favorite features is there is a clip on the side of the cable which allows you to clip it into one of the pen size pouches that are in most backpacks and briefcases.

Cable clipped in to pen holder

Cable clipped in to pen slot in messenger bacg.

The cables are very well made and should stand up to the rigors of travel.

My one funny criticism when the using cables, is that if you use them in combination with the Aviiq Portable Laptop Stand, that unlike a soft cable that allows your phone or iPod to lay flat using these leave your device at an elevated angle. The distance is not a real issue but it caught me by surprise.

FlatOn Aviiq Stand

Overall I like the cables and they will especially be great for traveling.