Let’s Talk About Pocket

Pocket, the web bookmarking service, is an invaluable tool for me (and many others) to hold temporary bookmarks. I’m using ifttt to copy my “starred” articles to pinboard, which is my favored bookmarking service.

I really like pocket. I had an account when it was “Read it Later” and I never really got into it. I don’t think I really got it because I wanted something that would sync between my different browsers. It didn’t work that way so quit using it in favor of Instapaper.

I love this service. It is awesome to read things on my phone and ipad because it strips out extraneous formatting and makes it much easier to read. Also, it’s perfect for temporary bookmarks. If I’m reading something in my RSS reader and I want to save it for later I can just send it to my Pocket account. Then the articles sit there waiting for me to have 5 or 10 minutes to read something.

This service is something that is totally worth trying out.  They have apps for your android device, Mac, ipad/iphone, and Chrome.

What’s on my Tablet, September Edition

I haven’t done a lot of writing about my iPad recently, and I’ve especially not done a roundup of my favorite and most used apps.

Here we go!

First, a screenshot:

I have an Adventure Time wallpaper that I found online.  I’m wondering if I should try something like Launch Center Pro.  But I digress.

Along the bottom you’ll see BoxerPocket, iBooks, Reeder 2, and Hangouts.  They are probably my most used apps, with the exception of Chrome.

Along the top I have the calendar app, Yahoo Weather (an awesome weather app that allows for multiple locations, my “Web” folder, which contains the following:

  • BaconReader (Reddit app)
  • Google+
  • Twitterific
  • Facebook
  • Tumblr
  • GoodReads
  • Wikipedia
  • Google Search
  • Mail
  • Facetime
  • Messages
  • Safari
  • Xkit

I am thinking of moving BaconReader (which I will do full review of soon) out of my web fodler and into the bottom “dock” but I’m not sure.  It’s an awesome Reddit reader; I use it on my android phone too.  Most of those apps are standard things that most tablets will have.  I don’t use the last five apps as much.  Xkit isn’t robust enough on the iPad for regular use for Tumblr, but once it gets updated it will be.

My “Games” folder is next to my “Web” folder.  I’m not going to go through the games that I have, but suffice it to say that I have a few and I love each of them, from Candy Crush to Smule.

The next row is my “Entertainment” folder and I have the following in it:

  • Netflix
  • Hulu+
  • TuneIn
  • Spotify
  • Pandora
  • 8Tracks
  • Play Music
  • Roku
  • MetroTimes
  • WatchESPN
  • PBS
  • TitanTV (TV grid for OTA/Cable listings)
  • Youtube
  • Videos
  • Music
  • Podcasts

I don’t use the standard Apple Videos, Music, or Podcasts apps, but all the others I get a decent amount of use from.  They are mostly self-explanatory.  MetroTimes is a local alt newspaper in the Metro Detroit area that has local events and some cool writeups about local interests (DEMF and Movement come to mind).

The next folder houses the following under “Utiliities”:

  • M. Cycles
  • Google Maps
  • Chase
  • OverDrive
  • iTunes Store
  • Camera
  • Photos
  • Swiftkey (awesome keyboard app that I use here plus on my android phone)
  • Other iPad apps that I don’t use: Contacts, Notes, Photo Booth, Clock, Maps, Reminders, Newsstand, Tips.

Next is “Productivity”:

  • Evernote
  • Evernote Food
  • Penultimate
  • Skitch
  • UFYH
  • Dropbox

I love the Evernote suite of apps (Evernote, Food, Penultimate, Skitch).  They’re awesome for the iPad, phone, or an Android tablet.  UFYH I bought to support the blog that I use daily and for motivation for keeping my habitat picked up. Dropbox is indespensible for anyone who has more than one internet connected device.

Lastly, I have a guitar tuner (that I use for my ukulele!); Groove Bank, which is a drum machine that can keep me on beat for my uke playing; and Chrome.  I don’t use safari because I need bookmark and tab syncing between devices.

The second page just holds my Settings and App Store icons.

A tablet is a really personal setup.  I have what I need where I need it.  I like to keep things in folders to keep the front page sort of clear so I can see the awesome background I have.

 

New Phone Home screens

I got a Samsung Galaxy SIII recently and I’ve set up the Google Now launcher with three homescreens: Google Now, the main with Dashclock, and another with my most used apps.

I’m not going to show google now, because most should know what that looks like.  Anyway, here’s my main screen:

2014-09-07 22.21.53

I’m using the weather, battery, and g-reader pro widgets on there.  I also have the hangouts and facebook ones enabled, but since I don’t have any messages, they’re not visible.

Now for my second screen:

2014-09-07 22.21.58

I’ve got my apps in folders and my quick-access apps in the second row.  That walking man in the corner is Noom Walk and it shows the number of steps I’ve taken today.  I didn’t have my phone with me for most of the day, so it didn’t really measure very many steps.

And now, the lock screen:

2014-09-07 22.22.57

Simple.

I really like this phone.  It’s a hair big, but it has more internal space than my last one.  Also, it’s running Android Kitkat 4.4.2.  This was Samsung’s flagship two years ago, and it’s still got plenty of power to do what I need it to do.

Records and Music

I got a record player for my birthday. It’s not a huge system, just something to listen to records on and transfer them to my computer if I want to. A Crosley.

crosley_player_turntable_with_usb_connection_record_vinyl_to_digital_cr6017b___ma_6_lgw

It’s not perfect and it’s not huge and it has mixed reviews, but it allows me to wander the aisles at the 2nd and Charles near my apartment and not be limited to what media I can pick up and listen to (CDs and records instead of just CDs).

I found Carole King’s Tapestry, Nat King Cole’s L-O-V-E, and The Monkees self-titled album. These are three albums that I’ve always wanted but could never find in CD form.

I got them home last week Wednesday and the first one I put on was Tapestry. Now, I love Carole King and James Taylor, but I’ve not heard a ton of her own work; I’ve mostly heard it through James’ voice or her King-Goffin hits sung by others. I sat on the floor and listened to the whole thing through, and then since I was interrupted, I played the second side a second time.

Wow. Just a great album. The sound would be better with a better speaker, but hey, I live in an apartment, so I don’t need powerful speakers. The small one on the player gets the sound across. Anyway, if I want it louder, I can hook up a pair of headphones to the jack on the front.

That night, I also listened to L-O-V-E. I love Nat King Cole’s work and this is one of his most famous records, so I knew I needed to listen to it. And listen I did! The arrangement is a bit faster than I remember from what I’ve heard before, but I like it. It sounds beautiful.

I listened to The Monkees self-titled the following night and it was super fun.

The other thing I love about records are the covers. They’re huge and they’re art!

I like this format and will be listening to it for a long time coming, I think.

 

Retina iPad Mini Review

I said I didn’t want an iPad.

Well, I caved and bought one a few months ago.  I’ve been using it for a couple months now and I absolutely love it.  I loved my Nexus 7 (it has a happy home at my friend’s place now) but I had a couple issues with it, namely lack of decent accessories (I know, that’s a stupid excuse) and the nagging feeling that Google will discontinue support now that they are encouraging OEMs to make Google Play editions of devices.

I wanted an update to my tablet (been almost two years) and I felt like the best option for me at the time was the iPad Mini Retina 32 GB.  I got the “smoke grey” version and a blue iPad smart case because I wanted to protect the thing (it was expensive!).  And just today I picked up a Logitech “hinge” case that allows for more options when propping the tablet up for watching films and whatnot.  It actually kind of looks like I covered my iPad with a carpet, but you’ll see that in the pictures.

Speaking of… pictures:

2014-06-16 18.27.11Everyone’s seen an iPad mini by now, but here’s my setup start screen.  You can see the relatively small bezels on the sides.  I wasn’t sure about it at first, but I really don’t mind them at all.

2014-06-16 18.27.23

2014-06-16 18.28.31
These next two are the cases.  I got the smart case at first and I love it, but I don’t see a lot of protection save for scratches and very short drops (like from the couch to the carpeted floor).  I went to Best Buy tonight and found the second case.  It’s a Logitech “hinge” case that is highly adjustable and has more options for propping the tablet up than the smart case.  The smart case is significantly lighter than the Logitech case, but I think the advantage in extra protection is worth it.

Anyway, this little machine went with me to Supreme Session in Omaha and was my main device to take notes and check email on.  I accomplished this with Evernote (I sprung for Premium; totally worth it when I didn’t have any online connectivity).  I love Evernote and I’m using it much more, but that’s another post for another time.  Anyway, I also picked up a stylus but I’ve not used it as much as I thought I would.  I was going to try to use Penultimate but it’s actually faster for me to type my notes directly into Evernote from the on screen keyboard than it is to try to write them in Penultimate.

In the next two pictures, you can see how the tablet is propped by the different cases.

2014-06-16 18.27.59 2014-06-16 18.29.10

So, dear readers, you’re probably wondering where my pro and con lists are.  Right… here.

Pros:

  • Size.  I love this size.  I wouldn’t be able to wrangle an iPad Air easily, but this I can fit in one hand and poke at with the other, much like I could with the Nexus 7.  I like the 7″-8″ form factor; it’s perfect for reading, playing games, watching Netflix/Hulu in bed, and taking notes in Evernote.
  • The screen.  Oh my.  The screen is beautiful.  I’m glad I held out for the retina version and splurged on it instead of the cheaper original mini.
  • Speed.  This thing blazes.  I have a few beefs with iOS but that’s me, not the operating system.  I prefer some things related to Android (the notification shade, for one) but I’ve gotten used to iOS.  It works and generally gets out of your way.
  • Weight.  This thing is light.  It’s a hair heavier than the Nexus 7, but it also has a metal backing instead of plastic (I’m not knocking plastic here, but it’s something to consider) and a slightly larger screen.  Anyway, it’s lighter than the 11″ Macbook Air that I have (not that it’s heavy by any means).
  • Build quality.  Holy shit this thing is built well and has awesome fit-and-finish.  As a mechanical engineer, I really appreciate good fit-and-finish.
  • Battery life.  Holy whoa, I get almost two days between charges, more if it sits in standby.

Cons:

  • iTunes.  This program is really shitty on Windows.  It’s slow and bloated, but luckily, I can manage most of my stuff from the iPad itself and I don’t have to deal with the program.  I could transfer everything to my Macbook, but I’m limited on space there, so I don’t really want to.  I cheat and use dropbox a lot.
  • The aforementioned lack of decent notification shade, which is something I love coming from Android.
  • No back button.  You don’t realize how much you get used to that hard-coded back button on Android till you go to iOS.

So.  This is a definite buy if you’re looking for a new tablet.  If you’re happy with Android, get the new Samsung Galaxy Tab S, but be aware that the storage situation is slim.  I think it starts with 16 GB and doesn’t increase it, but you can expand to more with an SD card.  I’ve never had luck with that, though, so you’re mileage may vary.

 

 

 

May 2014 Desk and Office Setup

I’ve not done a desk/office setup on here in a long time, so I figure it was overdue for a write-up.

A note: I still have the same desktop but I’ve upgraded my speakers, printer, scanner, and done some cleanup and organization.

Right-ho!  Let’s have some pictures!

2014-05-18 12.19.13 2014-05-18 12.19.21 2014-05-18 12.19.28 2014-05-18 12.19.42

This series shows the whole office.  Up top, you can see that I have the printer/scanner/backup drive/microphone all on a pretty sweet table I picked up at Staples for about $26.  This is a fold-able table that is height adjustable and would be great for an extra office work area or even a portable-ish game table for the living room.

Picture two is my storage for various things… games, notebooks, sketchbooks, filing (yes I’ll get to it), Linux manuals, and a CD holder.  This stuff doesn’t fit in the desk well and I don’t mind having it out and visible, so it’s fine.

Picture number three is my bookshelf.  I think I should do something to organize it a bit better but it’s fine for now.  Also yes, I have a radio because I don’t always want to stream.  Oh and a file cabinet I got from home for free!  (Thanks Mom!)

The last pic is a closer-up look of my desk.  I really like this desk; it’s comfortable and a good size.  I could go for a larger one, but this one is sturdy, comfortable, and has great storage in the drawers.  If I move, I might get a place with two more equal sized bedrooms and have a craft/project desk and a computer desk.  Right now that’s not going to work, but it’s something to look into for the future.  I’d need a new computer desk.

2014-05-18 12.19.51 2014-05-18 12.20.00 2014-05-18 12.20.07

This set of pics shows some of my peripheral awesomeness.  Picture one is an artsy-fartsy picture of my MaxKeyboard Blackbird TKL (brown switches) board.  I alternated between this one and a Ducky Shine Zero (black switches) full sized board.  I’m using the TKL right now for a different switch feeling and also for more room on the desk.

Picture number two shows a kind of artsy-fartsy shot of my Steelseries Sensei RAW mouse.  I love this mouse and I should have picked up a second one of these instead of the the Corsair for work.  Anyway, it’s super comfortable and for less than $50 you can’t go wrong ($44 on sale at Best Buy, woo!).

Picture three is the newest hardware to join my desk; JBL Jembe 2.0 wired speakers that sound decent.  They have an auto-off function that seems to annoy most reviewers on the best buy site but I don’t have a problem with them.  I replaced a $30 pair of Logitech speakers with these and I couldn’t be happier.  I wanted the Creative T20s but couldn’t justify dropping $100 on new speakers for my computer and driving down to Microcenter for them.  Maybe in a few years.  I don’t know.  I like the smaller form factor of the JBLs rather than the larger speakers.  My desk is small (I don’t have a lot of crap on it even!) and I just seem to like more clear space I guess.

As you can tell, I pretty much like neat and organized spaces.  I did minor pickup before these photos and I can’t be happier with my office.

MaxKeyboard Blackbird

I’m not exactly obsessed with mechanical keyboards, but I do know that I love a great computer experience, so I’m attempting to make my home computer the best it can be.  That does include having decent peripherals.

After I built my computer I was using a MS Natural keyboard that I’d had from about 3 computers ago.  I liked it, but I wanted something better, so I “upgraded” to the newest version of the MS Natural.  These are decent enough keyboards but they’re hard to game on.  They’re great for typing and keep your arms at a comfortable angle and whatnot but I wanted something better.

I went to Microcenter and found a Razer BlackWidow on sale for $75.  Granted, this is much more than I’ve ever spent on a keyboard (I usually used the ones I got for free with a PC purchase or the aforementioned MS Natural that was cheap).  The BlackWidow has Cherry MX Blue switches and it’s quite heavy.  It typed fairly well though, so I was happy.  Or so I thought.

I started hanging out on Reddit quite a bit more and found a community for people who tweak their workstations called “/r/battlestations”.  I looked over it quite a bit and I noticed a lot of people had mechanical keyboards and there were quite a few cross posts to another community called “r/MechanicalKeyboards”.  So I started hanging out over there and reading reviews and recommendations and discussion.  I noticed that the community didn’t have a lot of respect for Razer (I didn’t know why then but I do now) and I started reading more and more reviews.  I figured I wanted to try a different switch as well as get a smaller keyboard.

I agonized over this decision.  I read review after review and decided that I wanted a Ducky Shine 3 TKL with Cherry MX Browns.  I could not find it anywhere.

I also looked at customizing a WASD board but they had no backlighting and I figured I might as well get something with backlighting so I can use it more in the dark.  Besides, I think backlighting looks cool.  Well, their CODE keyboard had backlighting but not the switches I wanted, plus it was sold out.

So I started looking for alternatives and stumbled upon MaxKeyboards.  They have a limited selection of switches (blue and brown for the board I was interested in) but the biggest plus for me was the fact that they didn’t have any software needed for their boards.  The Razer needed their Synapse software drivers to work and it was becoming beyond annoying to deal with that updating all the time.  I needed a board that would work with no problems in both Linux and Windows.

So I looked through the choices and picked out the Blackbird.  I’d never tried Brown switches before but I’d read about them and they were close to the Blues I’d been using but with a less audible click, more of a bump.

Anyway, I ordered it from Amazon and it finally arrived up at my mom’s house and I was able to pick it up this past weekend.  I’ve been using it a couple days now and let me say… Wow.

Well, before I get more into the review, how about a picture or a few?

2014-02-09 18.15.40 2014-02-09 18.15.57Here is the box and what comes in the box.  As you can see, it’s a really simple affair, with the keyboard, the wrist rest, and a info sheet about all the lighting options.

The lighting options are easy to understand and most are activated by hitting the function button and then the page up or down button (to change brightness), the insert or delete button (to light certain buttons like WASD and the arrow keys during a game), and the escape button to change the lighting timer on the board.

There are also some other options to control volume and whatnot that are activated by hitting the function button and F1 through F6.  This is great if you don’t have easy access to your speakers.  I do, so I don’t think I’ll be using them much.

Anyway, how about a quick compare between the Razer and the Max?

2014-02-09 18.18.03The Razer is on top and the Max is underneath.  The Max is much smaller than the Razer and I can easily hold my arms in front of me to type instead of having them off to the left a little bit.  This will hopefully help my shoulders and back and arms to not get fatigued while using the computer.

2014-02-09 18.20.06 2014-02-09 18.19.26 2014-02-09 18.20.35These next photos show the board on my desk.  Also, my shoe is there for Reddit and keyboard SCIENCE.

Anyway, you can see how it sits on my desk and how it’s directly in front of the chair.

Typing on this board is a dream.  It’s easy to actuate the keys and not totally bottom them.  Well I usually do bottom but I don’t have to thwack them as hard as I do a membrane board like the one I have at work.

There’s not a satisfying click-CLACK like there is with the blues, but I’m very happy with the browns.  I love the sound they make and they’re not mushy at all.  Also, it’s quieter than my other board.  I’m not sure if my upstairs neighbor could hear me (I hope not) but if they could I’m sure they’re happy that I’ve switched boards.

I’m not really missing the keypad on the right; it makes for a quick switch to the mouse when I need it.  The only issue I will find is when doing something with numbers, but I have the Razer that has a keypad on it so I can use that for that application.

Now I want to get a Ducky for work.  I want the Shine 3 but if I can’t find that, I’ll settle for a Zero.  I should also look into getting either Blacks or Browns and putting O-rings on the keys so they’re not as loud.

Anyway, I love this board and it’s a 5/5 for me.  No extra crap, no special drivers, works in Linux and Windows (and Mac for that matter), and it’s small and backlit.  Everything I need.  Nothing I don’t.

Oh, and regarding the non-love for Razer that I mentioned above… I see why many people don’t like them as a company because their boards are… somewhat gaudy and light-covered.  Mine was not, but it was HUGE and I’m glad to have more desk space with the smaller board.  Also, some have had quality issues with their boards.  I’m glad I’ve not, but it’s always a possibility.  Oh, and they market to “gamers” so their boards are a bit pricier than they should be as well as having the lower quality.  So that’s a problem.  I still like my Razer DeathAdder mouse; it works well and I’ll be keeping it for awhile.