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”

iPad Keyboard Case: Tablet to “Netbook”

I find myself doing much more work on my iPad. It’s lightweight, extremely portable, and simply fun to use.  I decided to buy a keyboard case because I do extended writing with iPad these days. Though I have become adept at using the onscreen keyboard, I simply couldn’t type as fast as with a physical keyboard. I tried using an aluminum Apple bluetooth keyboard, but that was unwieldy when transporting. A keyboard case seemed to be a solution.

After spending quite a bit of time investigating, I settled on one sold by ThinkGeek. The iPad slips easily into the cover, much easier than my Apple case. It sits are a reasonable angle when used at a desk. The cover folds back so you can hold the iPad like you would without the keyboard, though it is a bit thick and prolonged use may not be comfortable. The case and iPad weighs in at 2.75 lbs. USB charger is included. The Bluetooth keyboard case also fits nicely into my  STM Scout XS iPad bag. It has a “spill proof” silicone cover over the chicklet style keys (Thankfully so as I write this while eating egg drop soup and spring rolls!) It has several specialized keys for controlling the iPad. The home key works like that on the iPad, click once to return to the home page, or double click to switch to open the multitasking bar. Though Apple has done a fine job with touch-based copy and paste, it’s nice to have the familiar keyboard shortcuts to handle these operations. Arrow keys make it easy to move through text.  Keys to control the iPod are a nice addition.


If you’re looking for the stability of a laptop, you’re looking at the wrong solution. It’s a bit unstable sitting in your lap while typing, but not terribly so.  The angle at which the screen sits is a bit to vertical for me when on my lap, but fine at a desk. And the closing flap is a bit uncomfortable when typing in your lap.  The only major downside is the awful fumes that the case is off-gassing out of the box. The smell is dissipating after 24 hours of “airing”.

Some will think it blasphemous to add a keyboard to a touch device. But for me, it’s made my writing time much more productive. The iPad easily slips out of the case to convert back to tablet form factor. Having become interested in a minimalist approach to life and work, the iPad and keyboard case  are perfect fit.

Apps To Help Get Things Done

gtdI’m always looking for apps that keep my online work organized and efficient because I work from a variety of locations and on a number of different computers. Here’s a couple that have been a big help.


I use multiple browsers for my online work as each has different qualities that appeal to me. Doing so has caused the unfortunate problem of not having the same bookmarks available to each browser.  Though most can import bookmark files from other browsers, their implementation is often cumbersome and much editing has to be done upon uploading.  For the last few years I’ve used a program called “Foxmarks” to sync bookmarks across the Firefox browser installed on my home office and workplace desktops and laptop.  A new version of Foxmarks now syncs across Firefox, Safari, and Internet Explorer (if you unfortunately have to use it). Foxmarks has worked flawlessly for me and I highly recommend it. Check out the video below

Firefox Wired-Marker Extension

I’m a big fan of the Firefox browser largely because you can customize it to suit your needs. A number of browser add-ons or “extensions” have been created to do all sorts of things. One that I like is the “Wired-Marker” extension that lets you highlight text on a web page like you do in a print textbook and permanetly stored. Watch the video below to see how it can work with your online reading.

The downside is your highlights are stored on the computer that you make the highlights on. The highlighted web page text is not available if you move to a different computer. One way to get around this is to use the portable version of Firefox that can be installed on a flash drive. Students can take the USB drive to class with their laptop, fire up Portable Firefox, then highlight and annotate online lecture notes. No matter where they are at, their highlighted lecture notes are available on the USB flash drive.

Getting Things Done

frustratedThe demands on a professor’s time is increasing every day. For some, the expectations placed on them by their institutions is an ever-changing target. At my own institution, the emphasis has evolved from teaching to research and the need to seek extramural funding. In addition, the administration is seeking to increase the number of students at the institution without the addition of new faculty positions. The struggling economic situation of many states, including the one in which I live, does not bode well for funding education either. When trying to “do more with less” how can one “get things done”?

Time management/productivity books and sites have exploded over the last several years. Of special interest to me are blogs and online (“cloud”) applications that help me stay organized, though it seems to be a losing battle at times. Here are a few blogs and apps that I find particularly useful:

iGoogle – create a personal web portal that includes blog widgets to keep up-to-date with the latest in your discipline. Widgets are available for note taking, accessing online apps like Google Calendar, or chat. The best thing is that your notes, calendars, etc are available whenever or wherever you’re connected to the Internet. Set up different tabs to organize your widgets. You can group and arrange your widgets with tabs. I’ve got separate tabs for “Home”, “Office”, “News”, “Projects”, and more specific tabs for “Macs”, “eLearning”, “Lifestyle”

Getting Things Done – David Allen is the recent “guru” of productivity.  Check out “What is GTD” and GTD Times – the ultimate GTD blog.  Watch David Allen at Google:

Zen Habits – a great productivity blog written by a freelancer and father to 4 kids … you’ve got to be organized to live like this! Check out the productivity section

Lifehacker – is the ultimate blog for finding ways to be more productive, save money, and get things done.

“To do” or task managers – There are a number of “to do” managers available each with their own unique capabilities, I’m partial to ones that can sync between my various devices and include an online version. Here’s a few: Omnifocus, EasyTask, Things, Todoist, Remember the Milk. If you’re an iPhone user like me check this Lifehacker post out. I’m presently using EasyTask

43folders – As the site author Merlin Mann states “Right now, 43 Folders is focused on an arc about how to improve the quality of your career and life by managing your attention in a way that allows you to work your ass off on the creative projects that matter most to you.” Definitely worth checking out.

Firefox browser – can be customized in a variety of ways to help get things done. If you already use Firefox check out the productivity  add-ons.

Simplify Your Work Life by Elaine St. James – It seems that professors spend a lot of time waste in meaningless meetings, not delegating responsibilites to others, and taking on more than they need to and should. These issues are not only the fault of the individual but also university administrators seeking to squeeze more uncompensated work out of their employees. If you want to change, check out the little book Simplify Your Work Life. Here’s a snippet from the Amazon.com review:

.. St. James points out that most of the conveniences Americans rely upon to make work easier–such as fax machines, e-mail, and cell phones–really make it “easier to do more work” at any time of day or night. As a result, the 40-hour workweek is a distant memory. “American workers could learn a lot from the European workplace,” she writes. “In most European countries, the 32 hour work week is mandated by law.”

How is it possible to be like the Europeans and still get the job done? .. she asks readers to set firmer boundaries between work and home. She makes … suggestions, such as “stop working weekends,” “add one day to your vacation” (to allow for transition time), and “eliminate your commute.” She also offers on-the-job advice, such as “be selective in giving out your e-mail [address]” (to eliminate distracting messages) and “double your estimate” (“face it, things always take twice as long to complete as you think”). Ultimately, she suggests ways to be more efficient spenders in order to have more flexibility (which results in saner and more meaningful work). … –Gail Hudson  Read an excerpt

Time management – is a problem for many professors. Here’s Randy Pausch’s take on the issue:

Read It Later

Most academics I know are overworked and underpaid, but need to keep up with the latest happenings in their discipline. While working online, you might come across an article you want to read but don’t have time ….. so Read It Later.

Read It Later is a nice Firefox extension that bookmarks articles/sites to an online and offline list for later reading. Check out the demo below. (Audio is included so have your speakers on.)

iGoogle, RSS, and Keeping Up

I’ve been surprised of late at how few of my colleagues effectively use digital technology to make their lives more productive. Though they all recognize the need to keep abreast of current thinking and research in their respective fields, few tap into technologies that can help them do just that. A good example is utilizing RSS feeds and personalized home page portals like iGoogle or Netvibes. For me, iGoogle has been a great way to quickly scan recent articles from journals and news organizations related to my area of expertise, physical geography. I’ve added RSS widgets to iGoogle tabs so I can quickly scan recent titles and article summaries  from numerous journals and web sites without having to visit each site individually. If I find something of interest and don’t have the time to read it, I simply tag it using a Firefox extension like “Read It Later“. Better yet is “Instapaper“, a free and easy way to save web pages for reading later. Instapaper lets you read web pages online, on your iPhone or iPod Touch, or offline.

Beyond RSS feed, widgets for online notes and online calendars have been extremely valuable. No matter where I am and on what Internet-connected computer I’m using, the notes and calendars are always there.

%d bloggers like this: