iBooks Comes to the Mac in OS X Mavericks

A pleasant surprise revealed in Apple’s preview of OS X Mavericks during the 2013 WWDC keynote address was the announcement of iBooks for the Mac. The lack of an iBook app for the desktop has been frustrating and frankly impedes my productivity. I love reading books on my iPad but I do most of my academic work on my 27″ iMac or Macbook Air. Having my iBooks only available on the iPad or iPhone stymied my note taking and research. I compose most of my work in Pages for Mac and have multiple documents open on my virtual desktop and physical books on my real one. Voice dictation into iOS  Notes with my iPhone lets me easily create notes from  physical books and synched to all devices I use to for work. However, I have not been able to easily move highlights and notes from iBooks between my iPad and iMac. Soon I will because iBooks is coming to the Mac and several new features are squarely aimed at the education market.

ibooks_mac

Multiple open books is a new feature coming to iBooks for the Mac.

iBooks on the Mac will have the same features as those on your iOS devices — turn pages with a swipe, zoom in on images with a pinch, or scroll from cover to cover. Notes, highlighted passages, and bookmarks created on your Mac, are pushed to all your devices automatically via iCloud.  iCloud even remembers which page you’re on. So if you start reading on your iPad, iPhone, or iPod touch, you can pick up right where you left off on your Mac. Best of all is the ability to have multiple books open at the same time. When have you ever opened a book, then closed it before opening another to extract notes from, only to close it before moving to the next one? I doubt ever, especially not me. I’ve got multiple books spread out in from of me quite often to move back and forth through. Now I’ll be able to do the same within iBooks. Yes, iBooks in Mavericks puts multiple books on your virtual desktop just like your real one. Highlights, notes, bookmarks and other features are synched in iCloud and ready to use on any iDevice. A Notes pane gives you a list of all your notes and the highlighted text associated with them. The  ‘dynamic textbook functionality’  allows you to  convert notes into handy study cards.

Craig Federighi demonstrating note taking at WWDC 2013

 We’ve got a few more months before OS X Mavericks is released to the public. The new iBooks for Mac is a welcome upgrade that I can’t wait to start using. It will definitely increase my productivity and hopefully yours too.

All media courtesy of Apple Inc.

Review: Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover for iPad Mini

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The iPad mini has become my go to device for media consumption. Even without a Retina display, text is crisp, images pop, and it is ergonomically easier for me to use than my full-sized iPad. It has become my constant companion around the house and at work. It is a fantastic note taking and personal productivity device. Like my full-size iPad, I’ve had issues with the on-screen keyboard. I’ve gotten pretty good at typing on the mini, but longed for a regular keyboard. I considered using one of my Apple Bluetooth keyboards, but found it to be a bit overkill on size and not as portable as I like in a mobile office. Hence, I went on a search for a keyboard case for the mini.

I have a folio case for my iPad and know how they increase the bulk of the device. The reason I bought the mini was to decrease the load in my gadget bag, so I was hesitant to go with a folio option again. I settled on the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover, $79.99 with free shipping direct from Logitech.

cover_closed The build quality of the cover is excellent as is its style. The cover’s anodized back perfectly complements the iPad mini’s having nearly the same height and width dimensions. The cover comes in black, white, and red. I chose the black and it looks like it was original equipment from Apple when closed. The cover adds a mere .29 inches to its depth for a total of 0.57 inches. Made of aluminum and plastic, the case adds 0.45 lb. bringing the weight of the mini to 1.13 – 1.14 lb. depending on iPad model. The case attaches to the mini with a magnetic hinge similar to Apple’s Smart Cover. Like the Smart Cover, the mini is put to sleep upon closing and awakes upon opening the Ultrathin cover.

The mini detaches easily from the magnetic hinge and fits securely in the keyboard groove in either portrait or landscape mode. I find myself using it in landscape mode more often than not. Unlike some other reviewers, I did not find the angle at which the screen sets to be an issue in most use cases. The unit sat nicely on my lap without the floppiness that some folio cases I’ve used with my full-sized iPad.

The keyboard connects to the iPad wirelessly via Bluetooth. The keyboard is responsive and doesn’t have the mushy feeling that some less expensive iPad keyboard cases have. Some keys have been removed, moved, or combined like the combination A and caps lock key. Logitech included keys for cutting, copying, and pasting. It’s nice having the same media keys found on my Apple wireless keyboard on the Utrathin cover keyboard. Like other reviewers have noted, the keyboard is a bit cramped. I’m not good touch typist so this hasn’t affected me in a significant way. I’ll be typing as fast as I normally do within a few days of use. Unlike some, I didn’t find the size of the keys much of a problem, even with my somewhat larger than “normal” fingers. The only issue I have is reaching for the upper row of keys, missing, and hitting the bottom of the screen causing the cursor insertion point to move to an unintended place. I’m confident that my reach will adjust to the keyboard with continued use.

According to Logitech, you’ll get three months of battery life using the cover for two hours a day. Charging is accomplished with a micro USB cord, which is somewhat short for my liking. No wall adapter is included. A functional cleaning cloth is provided.

I am very pleased with the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard cover and use it often. Other reviews have suggested that you try before you buy. Though I didn’t, it’s probably a good idea to test it in person. It’s a welcome addition to my portable office and greatly enhances the iPad mini as a personal productivity device.

Suzie Boss on the use of Twitter

Suzie Boss, journalist and Edutopia.org contributor does an excellent job of describing her use of and how educators can benefit from Twitter.

Read in peace with Clearly browser extension

The Evernote Clearly browser extension for Firefox and Chrome sweeps away the distractions of reading on the web. My video compares the implementation of the Clearly browser extension in Firefox and Chrome, with Safari’s “Reader” mode.

iPad Mini: It’s What I Need in a Tablet

Image Courtesy Apple Inc.

Image Courtesy Apple Inc.

Apple recently entered the “mini” tablet space with it’s new iPad Mini. Sharing many of the same technical specs as the iPad 2, the iPad mini is “every inch an iPad” as Phil Schiller described it. Fitting the experience of an iPad in my palms is what I’ve been after for a while. Though I love my iPad, I turn to my MacBook Air to really get work done. Notice I refer to getting “work done” as opposed to getting “things” done. To get my work done such as creating interactive content for etextbooks, app development, research on technology enhanced learning, I’m much more productive on the Air. I need the functionality that Mac OS offers, especially having content in two or more on-screen windows to work from. I can certainly get “things” done on my iPad, e.g., personal productivity, check and respond to email, web research, and of course, entertainment. For me, the iPad is a wonderful consumption device and at this point a light-duty work device. During the work day I use it for keeping track of to dos, project tracking, note taking, reading eBooks and pdfs, and scheduling. I’ve found I don’t need a full-size iPad to complete these activities. The iPad mini better fits my work flow and content consumption. It will also make my mobile office lighter and more portable. I rarely take my iPad “on the go”, it’s the MacBook Air that nearly always is in my portable office. The new iPad mini changes all of that.

I’m locked into Apple’s ecosystem by choice. Like other Apple devices, the iPad mini can access my documents in iCloud. With the release of OSX Mountain Lion and an update to the iWork suite of applications, Apple implemented their vision of working in the cloud. Rather than using an app in the cloud like Google Docs, the app is on my device. Documents produced by iCloud-compatible apps are stored locally and synced to other devices via iCloud. Moving the document handling to the app makes so much sense, though you’re not locked into iCloud for document storage. Applications offer a choice to open from iCloud or your local drive. Rather than drilling through the Finder, your document is right there in the iCloud Document library. I’m thrilled at the offline editing and automated saving that iWork does. Living in a smaller community there are times when I have no Internet access but need to get things done. Having local copies of important documents accessible whenever and where ever allows me to do my work, Internet access or not. In fact, a portion of this post was written on my plane trip to a conference using my iPad. All of my work was instantly updated after I logged back in making it available to my MacBook Air once I arrived at my hotel. I’ll be able to do the same thing on an iPad mini.

With the new iPad Mini, my tablet returns to my portable office. Combined with iCloud it lightens my load as I can dispense with my external drive. All currently active projects and files for courses are in the cloud and also available to be used offline thanks to iCloud and Dropbox. Shrinking size without losing the features that help me do my work and enjoy my leisure time, is what I’m looking for in the iPad mini.

Disclosure: I’ll be honest … the above was pitch to my wife for why I needed one … and it was under the  Christmas tree this year. I love that lady.  :-)

How to Use Evernote for Everything

Evernote is my “go to” app for archiving notes, saving web resources, and drafting articles in the cloud. Check out Steve Dotto’s way of “How to Use Evernote for Everything”

Office Porn – no, not that kind

According to my New Oxford American Dictionary, porn is defined as “television programs, books, etc., regarded as catering to a voyeuristic or obsessive interest in a specified subject”. Office porn is then a  voyeuristic or obsessive interest in offices. For some of us who work from a personal home office, the search (longing?) for the optimal space for getting things done seems to be never ending. The right configuration, environment, lighting, clutter-free surfaces, is a delight to showcase and aspire to. Personal office spaces reflect a person’s occupation, identity, and personality. The main portion of my home office is shown to the right and a panorama showing the rest is here. I’ve outfitted mine with:

  • 27″iMac
  • Wacom tablet
  • Toshiba 350 GB portable drive – part of my portable office.
  • iPad (a first generation, 3rd generation will soon be delivered).
  • iPad keyboard
  • Apple Magic Track Pad
  • Wireless mouse and keyboard
  • Canon scanner
  • A bank of external drives for back-up under the scanner.
  • Not shown is my iPhone 4s (used to take the pictures for this post).

Shown in the panorama is:

  • 11″ MacBook Air
  • Airport Extreme
  • Logitech iPod audio player
  • Lexmark combo printer/scanner/fax
  • STM bags – part of my portable office.

I only have one file cabinet for paper files, the rest of my archived documents are (mostly) stored in Evernote or Papers for Mac. Yes, behind my main desk is my older 24″ iMac currently acting as a media server and TV using EyeTV. Click on the image of my office for a better view.

I enjoy visiting these two Flickr groups to get ideas on how to reconfigure my work space for optimal use and efficiency:

Mike Smith over at My Ink Blog found “100 Amazing Office Work Spaces” on Flickr.  I have to agree, some of these are amazing and a few are shared below. Maybe you’ll want to share yours on Flickr.

My Home Office III

Home office Nov 2010

Home office reorg "after" shot

A Portable Office

Because my teaching, research and much service work is done online, I split my time between my university and home offices. Doing so means having my work accessible no matter where I am, and whether I’m online or offline. I have been a big proponent and user of cloud services. But lacking ubiquitous and free wireless throughout my hometown, constraints are placed on my use of cloud stored documents. This is why I like the approach Apple is taking with iCloud, storage and “syncing” across all of my devices. The only issue with iCloud at this point is that it does not replicate Dropbox-like synching. Docs created on my MacBook Air do not automatically sync to my iMac. Until Apple comes up with true device-to-device synching, I’ll rely on a local, but portable storage system.

To get my work done, I use a 350 GB external drive that is slightly bigger than a deck of cards. This is backed-up automatically once a week to my home office iMac and another external drive. Yes, three backups. I keep all my university work on the external drive and back up the documents to my university office iMac. This may not be solution for all, but it works for me.

My 11″ MacBook Air is a joy to use, full-size keyboard, solid-state storage wrapped in an ultra-thin case. Though some might think it overkill, my portable office includes an iPad. Kicking back with the iPad makes long form reading much more enjoable. Add a Bamboo stylus and its free app and you’re set for serious notetaking. Fire up the $4.99 “GoodReader”  to highlight and annotate that “stack” of journal articles needed for  projects I’m working on. My iPhone 4s is a fantastic device with versions of my productivity apps, location aware reminders, and of course Siri, my digital assistant.

Apps are certainly important, and that’s where Apple’s controlled ecosystem works for me. Apple’s iWork suite is available across all my devices. Evernote is used to capture, what else, notes, and especially items from the web. Ominifocus is my project management software and ToDo integrates with iCal to handle my to do lists. These  apps sync across all my mobile devices and home office desktop.

My portable office is neatly stowed in a STM Bags Xtrasmall Scout bag. The Xtra-small is plenty big to handle the MacBook Air and an iPad. Two front pockets hold keys, iPhone, external drive, power brick for the Air, and stylus. A zipped pocket is provided, with a quick-open full size pocket on the back to slip a few papers in. I also own the vertical style bag when just wanting to travel with my iPad. Though this approach won’t work for all, it has been a near-perfect solution for me.

How Twitter is impacting my productivity

I generally have my Twitter feed running, even while I’m writing. At times it can be distracting, but with a 27″ monitor, it can sit in my peripheral vision, barely intruding. Today I noticed a tweet from Geographical Magazine (@GeographicalMag) alerting followers to their new iPhone and iPad app. Without hesitation I clicked on the link to the iTunes preview page. I rarely turn down free apps related to geoscience and so it was with this one. I retweeted @GeographicalMag‘s original tweet while installing and making an in-app purchase. Everything went so smoothly that I began writing a review of the app. Geographical Magazine thanked me for the retweet. I tweeted them of getting the app, the desire to write a review, and need for permission to use  screen caps. Approval came a few minutes later.

The app review will hopefully be up in the next day or so. My experience today shows how social media, and especially Twitter, is impacting the way some of us do our work.  I’m thankful for tools like Twitter that can initiate a conversation between publishers and end users so easily (especially between London, England and Stevens Point, WI) to get their work done.

Firefox Extensions I Can’t Live Without

20070520-firefox_logoThough I’ve used most browsers, I keep returning to Firefox as my “workhorse” browser due to amazing number of extensions and add-ons that have been created for it. Though I’ve bulked it up with several add-ons, there are a few that have proven especially valuable for my professional life.

Yoono is one of the most valuable extensions I use. It gathers in one place (the sidebar) my social networking sites, Google Reader to read my RSS feeds, web notes, and music streaming via lastfm.com and imeem. Web notes has been the most important feature to me personally as I write drafts of blog posts and conduct research. My web notes are stored “in the cloud” so they are accessible from any of my computers. I can even read, respond and compose in GMail without going to the application. All this while listening to my Pat Metheny playlist on Lastfm, so very cool.

Morning Coffee is the first add-on I use each morning. My daily routine consists of getting a real cup of coffee, starting up Firefox, then clicking on Morning Coffee. As the app’s site describes, Morning Coffee “lets you organize websites by day and open them up simultaneously as part of your daily routine. This is really handy if you read sites that update on a regular schedule”. It’s a great app to start your day.

TwitterFox is my light-weight Twitter app that I use when I don’t have the Yoono sidebar open or my Seesmic desktop app running. TwitterFox adds a small icon to the status bar and notifies you when those you follow have posted tweets. You can tweet from TwitterFox and it can handle multiple Twitter accounts which is particularly important to  me.

Evernote is my preferred information capture application that I’ve written about before. Evernote provides a toolbar button and context menus to add a selection or entire page to Evernote. If you haven’t used Evernote, you should check it out.

Xmarks (formerly Foxmarks) syncs my bookmarks across the various browsers I use on all my computers, i.e. laptop, home desktop, and office computer. It can also sync passwords. This one is a lifesaver.

The extensions/add-ons above are the ones I most rely on. I’d like to hear about the extension you “can’t live without”.

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