Saturday, January 8, 2011

Things I still use (almost) every day

At the suggestion of a friend, I am updating my post from a year ago about the gadgets I use frequently.  I was thinking not much has changed, but there have been subtle adjustments.  This is because I think the past year has been mostly evolutionary in terms of technology.  The only big change is the iPad--of course I have one.  I got it on launch day and have used it almost every day since.

Let's review last year's list:
  1. Canon S90
  2. Vibram Five Finger Shoes
  3. Evernote
  4. Google
  5. iPhone
  6. Motorola BT715HS bluetooth headset
  7. Dropbox
  8. RSS & Twitter
  9. 1Password
  10. Xmarks
Of course, as I go over the list, I realize a few things have changed.

Let's add the iPad to the list.  While I am actually underwhelmed by the iPad as a laptop replacement, I still use mine every day to read the newspaper, scan RSS feeds and show videos to the kids.  I can now read the Economist, Wall Street Journal, New York Times and HBR on it.  With Hulu I can watch TV on it (though I don't bother).  You can read more about my thoughts on the iPad here and here.

The awesome portability but crippled power of the iPad led me to get a MacBook Air 13" in November.  The Air is an amazing machine.  It has almost all the power of the MB Pro 15" I purchased only 15 months ago, in half the size.  The difference in the weight of my bag is more dramatic than I expected.  Between the laptop itself and the smaller power brick, I have probably dropped about 3 pounds, but it feels like more than that.  See my review here.

The Canon S90 was in regular use until it met with death by Diet Coke three weeks ago, at the start of our family vacation.  It had seen some hard use and was not the camera it once was--picture quality was definitely waning.  I was going to replace it with the newer S95, but ended up getting a $100 Canon something or other at Target instead.  This was due to a combination of factors.  In the summer I purchased a Canon T2i DSLR, which takes amazing photos and is my go-to camera when I know I will be taking pictures, and can be bothered to carry it.  So I used the S90 less, and it was really my wife who was using it.  She just throws gadgets in her purse, which, judging by the abuse dished out to said gadgets in a short time frame, must be filled with sharp rocks.  The lens was covered in fingerprints, and the casing and LCD were scratched.  So, when I thought about what fate awaited the new camera, I decided something more disposable was in order.

Another factor is that we are both carrying the iPhone 4, which has a pretty decent camera on it.  It does not work well for poorly lit shots, but for everything else it is quite decent.  Add the ability to upload to Facebook or wherever immediately, and it becomes a compelling snapshot machine.  I am still thinking about getting an S95.  They can be had for $370 now, and carrying the DSLR is a pain.  Olympus just threw the XZ-15 into the same ring, with an even better lens, but it will be $500 and looks to be a bit bigger.  I have also considered getting a Micro 4/3 camera, but halfway in size between a point and shoot and a DSLR is kind of no man's land--you can't put it in your pocket, so why not carry the big iron?

Speaking of the iPhone, it obviously stays on the list.  The iPhone 4 was a nice, but not necessary upgrade from my 3Gs.  It is not really any faster, but I like the display and the better camera.  I also use the LED flash as a flashlight (using LED Light for iPhone).  Having a connected camera is really a game changer, and we are just starting to see the camera manufacturers figure that out with some of the products being launched this week at CES.  Sadly, my iPhone 4 tumbled out of my jersey pocket on a ride a month ago.  It survived with a few scratches, but it seems to be running at half speed, which is infuriating.  I have considered downgrading back to my 3Gs.  I have also considered waiting for the Verizon iPhone and swapping carriers if I have to get a new phone anyway.  For now I am in wounded iPhone limbo.

I have even considered getting an Android phone, but it still feels like the OS is not as slick as iOS, and the app ecosystem around it is certainly less developed.  Ultimately, I think that Android will be 3/4 of the smartphone market, but it will be the bottom 3/4.

I still have my Vibram Five Finger shoes, and they are still my preferred footwear for going to the gym.  I do a lot of my exercises from unstable positions (to activate my core), and these shoes really help you feel planted to the ground.  I don't wear them every day, though.  Mine have no insulation, so they are not great outside in winter (there are models with insulation).

I still use Evernote for taking notes and storing key articles.  Other options have come on the market, but Evernote for me is still the king.

I have further entwined myself into Google's web in the past year.  I still use them for mail and contacts.

All is not rosy, however, in my marriage to Google.  I was a bit disappointed that the Exchange integration for the iPhone requires that you enter your security code if you have not used the iPhone for 5 mins.  There should be more flexibility in those settings.  I also can't accept a meeting invitation from my wife, who is still using iCal, on my iPhone.  I can only seem to do it from the desktop browser.

Google also messed up my two tier identity.  I have a gmail that I use for lower priority emails and things like this blog, Picasa and YouTube.  When Google went to their single sign-on system, it made things harder, not easier.  Now when I log into a Google service with my Gmail handle, it logs me out of my primary Google Apps email.  So, I end up using a separate browser for my Gmail stuff.  That seems retarded, and hopefully they are working that out.  I know that they are focused on the problem, because a lot of people have a similar setup with a Google Apps account and a consumer Gmail account.

I generally use the browser client for Gmail, but when I feel like going desktop, I use Postbox.  It is miles better than Apple Mail for Gmail or Google Apps mail.

Chrome is now my default browser.  Firefox works a bit better for extensions and a couple of websites I use (eg. Strava), but it is slow, and seems to churn the processor incessantly.  And, it crashes.  With Chrome, each tab is a separate instance, and so only a single tab will crash, without taking down the whole browser.  A key enabler for me was 1Password (for filling passwords and forms) getting their Chrome extension sorted out, which really only happened towards the end of 2010.

Speaking of 1Password, I still use it, obviously, but I have been thinking about moving to LastPass, for two reasons.  First, I received one of the Google CR-48 netbooks with the ChromeOS, which I also use just about every day.  1Password does not work with ChromeOS yet, but that will presumably change soon.  LastPass also bought Xmarks, which is use for syncing bookmarks across browsers and machines.  Xmarks has been a bit balky lately, but I think that is because I was syncing Chrome with its built in synchronization option as well as Xmarks, and they were conflicting.  Roboform has also moved on to the Mac side.  Roboform was my choice for filling passwords and forms until I went to the Mac, and it was Windows-only until recently.  So now there are 3 good choices.  I need to play around a bit to decide which I like best.  That is not high on the to do list.

The ChromeOS is interesting, and almost to the point that I could use it as my travel machine.  The hardware is crap, especially the trackpad, but that will be fixed by the public release.  My bigger issue is that I am not ready to go 100% web-based yet.  I still use MS Office for a few things where I need more power than Google Docs can provide.  So the daily use prize goes to the MB Air, and the ChromeOS netbook gets used often, but out of curiosity as much as anything.

The Motorola headset has been replaced by a Jawbone Icon.  People complained constantly about the sound quality of the Motorola.  People still complain about the Jawbone, but not as much.  Basically bluetooth headsets seem to be a half-baked technology.  I use old-school Jabra ear gels on my headset to get it snug in my ear.

Dropbox is also still a huge benefit for me.  I work across multiple machines, and Dropbox makes it easy, as well as providing an additional backup for key files.  Speaking of backup, I should also add my Drobo to the everyday list.  My old external backup drive crapped out, leaving me feeling very vulnerable.  The Drobo is basically a faux RAID array.  It is not cheap, but it is very flexible and I can upgrade capacity as I need it quite cheaply.  I use a multi-layer backup strategy, which I will detail in a separate post because it is boring, and the Drobo is a key element.  Apple betrayed me in November when an iPhoto upgrade corrupted my wife's iPhoto file, causing much consternation.  I, of course, took the brunt of the blame for attempting so foolish a thing as an upgrade.  I learned a few things from that.

And that gets us, finally, to RSS and Twitter.  Despite some recent articles that RSS is dead, I still use it as my primary source for consuming news.  I use Google Reader on the desktop, and MobileRSS on my iPhone and iPad (which syncs fully with Google Reader).  Twitter has become more useful with Flipboard on my iPad, which dramatically improves the readability Twitter by previewing the content--most tweets now are just a headline with a link.

So I guess I should add Flipboard to the list--it is awesome.  And, it can now integrate your Google Reader feeds.  I still prefer an RSS Reader for this, though, because I find it more efficient, but that may change with time.

And we can add my Garmin cycling computer.  I use it every day that I ride, and that is most days.  I am a data geek, and I like to know everything.  The Garmin tells me where I have been, how long it took, my heart rate, power output, temp, speeds, etc.  What has made it cooler is being able to upload it to Strava and compare my performance against myself and others.

So, where does that leave us?  We lost a camera, but we gained an iPad.  The rest is mostly the same or swaps for incremental improvement.

  1. Canon S90--killed.  Missed but not replaced.
  2. Vibram Five Finger Shoes--still here.
  3. Evernote--still here.
  4. Google--still here, and more entangled than ever.
  5. iPhone--new version.
  6. Motorola BT715HS bluetooth headset--ditched for Jawbone Icon
  7. Dropbox--still loving it.
  8. RSS & Twitter--yep.
  9. 1Password--yes, but under review.
  10. Xmarks--yes.
  11. iPad
  12. Flipboard
  13. Drobo
  14. Garmin Edge
  15. MB Air 13"


  1. Sweet -- and fast too! Thanks. Let's get out riding soon! I may even let you beat me up Panoramic.....


  2. Update:

    I've been using RoboForm since January and am terribly disappointed. 75% of my stored passcards crash both Firefox and Chrome. Further, their Android app is pretty much useless. To make things worse, no one on their support desk cares.

    Evernote and Dropbox are, as billed, efficient workhorses.


  3. TJ--

    I have not used Roboform in years, but it used to be far better than any other option. If you don't like Roboform and are a windows user, try LastPass.

    I am still mostly using 1Password, I am playing more with LastPass for two reasons. My ChromeOS netbook only supports LastPass right now, and LastPass bought Xmarks, the service I use to sync my bookmarks.


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