Category Archives: Reviews

Instapaper’s site on mobile is beautiful

While trying to see how many items I saved to Instapaper in my Read Later folder, I loved how everything looked on their site (Safari 7, iPhone iOS 7.1). Super easy to read. The layout has room to breathe, and elements are spaced well.

If you know someone who rarely needs to use Instapaper offline, they’ll love it.

(I enjoy Instapaper for iOS, too. Worth it.)

Another bonus: Instapaper Weekly and Product Updates are opt–in, the way it should be. :)

I never found my current number unread items, and I’m cool with it. Less stressful.

About these ads

Track shared data usage for two with DataMan Pro

I installed DataMan Pro on my iPhone on January 2nd. While it was slightly uncomfortable ditching my unlimited (grandfathered) data plan from Verizon Wireless when I upgraded my phone, this app makes it a breeze to track my cellular data usage.

From left to right, and top to bottom:

  1. Current usage from this month
  2. Smart Forecast estimates usage for the rest of the month1, while the Balance displays how much cellular data I can use for the rest of the day.
  3. Stats: Usage by day
  4. Stats: Usage by hour
  5. Settings > Data Plan
  6. Settings > Data Plan > Add Usage
  7. Stats: Usage by month

Setup Tips and Observations

Data Plan — Review a few monthly statements. If your billing cycle starts on the same day every month, use the Monthly plan type. (e.g. 14th of the month)

For Data Cap, I just switched it from 1,000 MB to 1 GB (screenshot not shown) because 1 GB = 1,024 MB. Every bit helps!

Add Usage — To start accurately, log into the account with your service provider to verify your current data usage.2 Add the largest unit byte (whole number), then convert the decimal (probably from MB to KB) to add that last portion.

Multiple people — Amy and I share 2 GB of data, so we’re splitting that in half for each person.

Notifications — DataMan Pro includes push notifications at four configurable thresholds (called Usage Alerts). The defaults are 50%, 70%, 90%, and 100%.

Verizon Wireless can send email or text notifications when you reach certain preset thresholds (50%, 75%, 90%, 100%). I’m going to disable them because they reflect shared usage. We’re only concerned with individual usage.

In context, if I’ve used more data than Amy in a month, it’s up to me to ease up. She shouldn’t stress about it. :)

Turn off Percentage Badge — If you’ll primarily rely on push notifications, you probably don’t care to see the percentage badge on the app icon, so you can turn that off in Settings > Advanced.

Interesting trends — When I’m home for most of the day, which is usually the case, I don’t use much cellular data.

However, when I’m out and about, Rdio, Day One, and Tweetbot can use up quite a bit if I’m not careful.

I’ve since disabled cellular data for the following apps in iOS 7 (Settings > Cellular):

  • Rdio
  • Day One
  • App Store
  • Netflix
  • Newsy
  • Scanner Pro
  • TuneIn Radio

Quirks

I always forget:

  • Swipe left goes to Settings
  • Swipe up displays your data usage over time.

Conclusion

I’m blessed to be able to work from home with a fairly solid internet and Wi–Fi connection. When not traveling, I don’t need to pay another $10/month for another 2 GB of shared data.

DataMan Pro will help us stay strong or realize when it’s time to fork over some extra cash. I gladly paid $4.99 for DataMan Pro, and will buy a second copy for Amy’s iPhone.


  1. In other words, if I don’t change anything with my service provider or data usage habits (like disabling cellular data for certain apps), I’ll use too much data on my account. With Verizon Wireless, overage costs $15 per GB. 
  2. Note the timestamp. That doesn’t update in realtime, so you may need to check several times and make multiple adjustments with Add Usage until it matches up. After that, DataMan should match exactly with your service provider. Should. ;) 

I love Scanner Pro for iOS

I grabbed Scanner Pro for free a few weeks ago via 9to5Mac. Awesome timing!

Previously, I was using a new, regular envelope each month to keep small paper receipts for over a year — shoved into a shelf in my home office.

I’m on a purging kick, so I aim to shred old receipts that aren’t important.

For receipts worth keeping, capturing with this app is quick, and the scan quality is phenomenal.

Which receipts are worth keeping? Here are some examples:

  • Health–related co–pays, medication.
  • Car maintenance.
  • Non–grocery items (gadgets, non–trivial household items).

I’ve decided to scan all receipts, and I’ll archive the less important items into a ZIP file every month. I’ll also do the same in the rare case I take written notes.

If you’re intrigued, Scanner Pro for iOS is currently $2.99 in the Apple App Store — originally priced $6.99, about 58% off — for less than 48 hours.1


  1.  I’m not sure when the promotion began, so just snag it. ;) 

How Things makes me even more awesome

Things 2 screenshotAround nine months ago, Isaac Keyet persuaded me to try Things for Mac by Cultured Code. I usually prefer plain text, but that’s too simple for the stuff I jot down.

With keyboard shortcuts galore, I quickly fell in love with this app. It costs $49.99 for Mac, $9.99 for iPhone, and $19.99 for iPad — and it’s worth every penny. I’ll explain how I manage tasks with Things.

At work

At Automattic, we communicate internally through IRC, private P2–themed sites, and Skype. However, I do receive email notifications regularly because it helps with my workflow.

At the beginning and end of each shift, my routine consists of processing my email (new post or comment notifications), and reviewing IRC or Skype messages I missed when I was offline. I skim messages, open batches of five to ten browser tabs, and delete the corresponding emails.

When I come across a post that requires more digging (i.e. longer than a minute), I press Control–Option–Space bar to use Quick Entry, which automatically inserts a link in the notes. That item gets saved to Things. (Inbox, by default.)

Without moving my hands from the keyboard, I can enter a title and tags for the item. When I’m done, pressing Return saves the item in Things and the Quick Entry window disappears, leaving me where I left off.

If there’s a block of text that’s perfect for the notes, highlighting it before pressing the Quick Entry with Autofill keyboard shortcut adds it to the notes after the link.

I also sort my Inbox items into Next or Scheduled after processing email. (This might be against GTD methodology, but I equate the Scheduled focus to my digital tickler file.)

If I have an idea that isn’t linked to a webpage or email, or if someone pings me and I can’t get to them right away, I can press the Quick Entry keyboard shortcut (Control–Space bar) and jot it down in seconds.

It’s exhilarating to know that I’m not missing anything as long as it’s in Things (or my calendar, of course).

Pro tip: Read through the keyboard shortcuts a few times, or print it as a reminder. I’ve been using my trackpad too much.

Not at “work”

Away from my desk, I can write new items or ideas quickly with Things for iPhone. I add items from the Things home screen, saving to the Inbox by default.

When I get home, I add additional context (tags, notes). If I’m browsing a site or Twitter, and something piques my interest, I’ll take the extra few seconds to copy the URL in my clipboard to paste in the item notes.

I used their mobile app with local sync via Wi-Fi (before cloud sync), and I think it’s superb now that cloud sync works perfectly.

Wading through tasks

I’m infatuated with tags, making sure I assign the correct one for each item. By doing this, my Next screen is super focused, allowing me to ignore stuff I can’t handle at the moment. Here are a few examples:

  • At work, my Automattic tag allows me to ignore errands and tasks I need to do at home. (Tag management side note: computer is a parent tag, while Automattic is a child tag since I’m in front of a computer when working.)
  • My home tag removes items I need to do at home and away from a computer.
  • My errand tag focuses my view to tasks when I’m out and about.

Relevancy

This process allows me to batch tasks. I’m not constantly changing gears between P2s, Trac, updating support pages, helping people using WordPress.com through email/forums, processing photos, or writing posts (like this one).

I’m also not worried about forgetting the context of an item. I add just enough notes to describe what needs to be done.

Conclusion

If you work on a Mac every day, you should check out the 15–day free trial. I’m pretty sure you’ll love it.

Thank you, Things, for keeping me sane. :)

Fuku Burger

Amy and I drove to Hollywood for dinner at Fuku Burger last week. I had a Tamago (egg) burger, Amy had the same with the falafel patty (no meat), and we split the garlic fries.

We both thought it was extremely tasty.

On a side note, the waiter called me “Mr. Fancy” since I ordered a glass of Merlot. (Why Merlot? It was a change of pace from beer, plus it was on my mind because of “The Yada Yada” Seinfeld episode.)

I thought the restaurant wallpaper combined with a cool Camera+ filter would work well here, so say “hi” to Amy! :)

I just want ice cream (a review of Mother Moo Creamery)

I’ve visited Mother Moo Creamery in Sierra Madre twice. While each visit brought spoonfuls of goodness to my mouth, it was overshadowed with bouts of service inconsistency and mathematical error.

The first visit was good. I ordered two scoops (cinnamon and chocolate) and got a heaping bowl which seemed to contain four scoops. Awesome.

After I paid and received my change, I realized that the employee had only broken my $20 (two fives and one ten). I ate my ice cream inside and waited until the other customers left before informing her of the error and paying.

The kicker: she didn’t seem to realize what she did wrong, even after I explained.

My second visit was yesterday afternoon. A lone employee was cutting strawberries, and a few customers enjoyed their ice cream at the tables. My girlfriend ordered two scoops in a waffle cone, and she was charged $3.50. I ordered two scoops in a bowl (cup?), and was charged $3.50.

One (or two) scoops from Mother Moo Creamery

I glared at the tiny cup size, clarifying that I’d ordered two scoops (cinnamon and coffee chocolate). I could technically see two scoops, but we told her that a two scoop order in the past has been much bigger — big enough to fit in a paper bowl.

Nope. We were mistaken. The employee insisted their sizes were smaller than most places.

I stared at the paper menu on their wall, and noticed the “official” pricing of their products:

  • 1 scoop (with an tiny drawing of one scoop): $3.50
  • 2 scoops (with a tiny drawing of two scoops): $4.75
  • Waffle cone substitution: $1.00 extra

The employee seemed unfazed, so I gave her a five dollar bill, expecting 25 cents in change. But, I received $1.50 in change.

By her logic, I ordered one scoop?

My girlfriend should’ve been charged $5.75, and I should’ve been charged $4.75.

I shouldn’t be confused at an ice cream shop. If I’m compelled to write a blog post about your customer service, your employees need to be retrained on your item costs, serving sizes, and pricing.

I’m not complaining as a disgruntled customer, but as someone who wants your business to flourish. Since this business is still new, I’d rather give them a chance to make things right for future transactions. Consistency.

I want to enjoy ice cream, not argue about correct portion sizes and arithmetic errors.

Additional notes:

Hello, MacBook Air (and Mac OS X)

After much consideration, I finally bought a MacBook Air. It’s my first Mac.

I chose the 11-inch model with a 1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 4 GB of memory, and 64 GB of SSD flash storage.

PowerMax got my money, not MacMall

I almost bought my Mac from MacMall. But, when I got to the payment step, the math wasn’t correct. The MacBook Air, USB ethernet adapter[1. I bought the USB ethernet adapter just in case.], shipping, and tax didn’t add up to the estimated subtotal (which was six dollars more).

Next, I stumbled onto Oregon-based PowerMax. Their site was visually much more pleasant. After over an hour of reading through their company information about pages, warranty information, and plenty of good feedback, I made my purchase.

Another bonus: I saved on sales tax and opted for free shipping.

After two days of processing and six days in transit, it finally arrived. Thanks PowerMax!

By the way, I finally heard back from MacMall. It took four business days (six days total). While I explicitly stated I did not want to order over the phone, the MacMall Account Executive replied:

If you call my extension I will be able to place the order for you with the correct price.

Wow. No explanation about the math error. That’s a shame.

Setting it up

Opening the box was an elegant experience. I wasn’t rushing. I couldn’t help but snap a few photos.

I’ve been following the directions and suggestions from “How to Switch to the Mac” by Tao of Mac. To minimize any botched accounts, creating a standard user after creating the first Administrator user was stated several times in the article. Once I got that out of the way, and skimmed through the booklet, I was ready to get going.

I updated from Mac OS X 10.6.5 to 10.6.6, plus a slew of other updates, totaling 529 MB. That took about 40 minutes. After rebooting my Mac, an iDVD 7.1.1 Update (36 MB) also needed to be installed.

Another security measure for working at public WiFi hotspots is to configure PPTP VPN to connect to my DD-WRT router at home. (See DD-WRT PPTP Server Configuration for Mac OS X. I needed to force encryption on my router. I should probably update my router firmware, then use OpenVPN.)

Third-party Software

I’ve installed the following:

  • Bean – My current alternative to Q10, a freeware minimal text editor for Windows.
  • Dropbox (referral link) – Now I really need to keep my Dropbox folder tidy, especially since I have a smaller amount of space than my desktop PC
  • F.lux – “It makes the color of your computer’s display adapt to the time of day, warm at night and like sunlight during the day.” I’m a long time user.
  • Google Chrome
  • OpenOffice.org – It’s been fine not using Microsoft Word, and I don’t see the need to try iWork at the moment.
  • Synergy and SynergyKM – Allows me to use my keyboard and mouse on my PC to control my MacBook Air.
  • Thunderbird – I didn’t want to try Mail, and I’m used to Thunderbird from Windows.
  • Tofu – Column-ize text to make reading on a widescreen easier. It might come in handy when I’m not reading from Instapaper or Google Reader.
  • VLC
  • StartupSound.prefPane – So I don’t annoy the class with the Mac startup sound if I have to power on or reboot my Mac.

Performance

The boot and wake speeds are ridiculously fast:

  • Cold boot to login screen: 15 seconds
  • Log in to desktop: 7-8 seconds
  • Go to sleep: 2-3 seconds
  • Wake from sleep: 3-5 seconds

With Google Chrome, OpenOffice.org, Bean, Stickies, iCal, and Activity Monitor open, my system is using 1.66 GB of memory, leaving 2.34 GB free. I would be usually running Thunderbird, too, and possibly iTunes. The best part: the system feels incredibly snappy. (I don’t think it’s just cool and new to me. Honest!)

Easter Egg: If you’re on Mac OS X Snow Leopard (10.6), try holding Shift while clicking a stack or folder in your Dock for some slow, smooth opening action.

Other odds and ends

  • Copy my address book from Thunderbird on my PC.
  • Setup printing to my USB-connected HP LaserJet 1020 that’s shared from Windows 7 Professional 64-bit.
  • Try MediaRover to sync my iTunes library. I’m not sure if I want to do this, but it depends on the size of my music library. I think it’s under 15 GB.

Why?

I wanted a MacBook Air since it was first released January 29, 2008. With the switch to SSD, it was even more tempting. I don’t need a lot of storage space this laptop won’t be my primary computer.

With a few textbooks, my messenger bag was already heavy. I didn’t want to carry a separate bag for my laptop, nor did I want to lug around one huge bag.

Furthermore, I’m not necessarily biased toward PC or Mac. I see strengths in both. While you can get a PC for much less than a MacBook Air with similar or better specs, it’s not all about specs. It’s a beautiful feeling to put my laptop to sleep in a couple seconds or less, then to jump back into my work much later without missing a beat.

The last six days

After reading Marco Arment’s thoughts on the 2010 MacBook Air, then trying the 11” MacBook Air at the Apple Store, I felt pretty confident that sacrificing screen size wouldn’t affect my usage. I love that it has a full-size keyboard.

So far, I’m extremely happy with it. I write, read (Google Reader or Instapaper), and check email. Speed isn’t a problem. Even right now, I’m typing this blog post from Bean while relaxing on my couch. The screen brightness is set at “4” and I can see everything on my screen pretty comfortably.

As I get accustomed to Mac OS X, you’ll probably start seeing related posts in the near future, so I’m stoked for another layer of diversity here.

If you have any articles for new Mac users, recommended software, or other usage tips, please leave them in the comments.

Review: Kindle 3G

Last week, I finally got the Kindle 3G (Graphite). Finally! My precious.

I’ve had my Kindle 3G for a little over a week, and I’ve logged about 20-25 hours of use. (Total guess.)

The short version: I love the Kindle 3G and highly recommend it.

Why did I purchase a Kindle?

I’m subscribed to a lot of sites in Google Reader.[1. If you don't know about RSS, see Common Craft's super simple and informative video, "RSS in Plain English." Looking to subscribe to someone else? View my Google Reader Shared Items.] Rather than starring items for later in Google Reader, I save lengthy posts in Instapaper.

Since I don’t read books as often as I’d like, I was hoping this would nudge me in that direction.

Why not get an iPad or laptop?

The Kindle does one thing very well: allow you to read comfortably.

While I could read and do much more on an Apple iPad or notebook (the usual comparisons), it wouldn’t be comfortable for long periods of time.

The other day, two and a half hours flew by reading on the Kindle. I stopped to get a drink of water.

I love being able to bring my Kindle everywhere with ease. Before, taking my [now unused] laptop to Panera was a hassle. Most of the time, I’m reading more than typing at length.

How does the free Kindle email address work?

When you send an email attachment to your Kindle free email address, it will only go through to your Kindle once you connect to a WiFi access point. Bypassing the 3G network is how you can transfer documents for free. (See Transferring, Downloading, and Sending Files to Kindle)

Why get the Kindle 3G+WiFi?

I can manually trigger Instapaper downloads from the actual website using the built-in experimental web browser.

If I need turn-by-turn or text directions, I can access Google Maps wherever I have a 3G signal.

Getting content (other than books) on the Kindle

There are three methods you may use to download content on your Kindle:

  • USB cable (free)
  • your_email@free.kindle.com (free if you’re connected via WiFi)
  • your_email@kindle.com ($0.15/delivery via Amazon’s Whispernet)

I use Windows 7 Professional 64-bit. So far, I’ve used the following software and services:

  • Wordcycler – two-way Instapaper sync for Windows and your e-book reader
  • Calibre – open source e-book management software
  • Instapaper – a simple tool to save web pages for reading later

I’ve used Instapaper since January 2008.[3. The oldest item I've saved is from January 28, 2008.]

Since I have over 200 items to read in Instapaper, I’m saving Wordcycler for later.[2. I had some errors, but rather than trying to troubleshoot, I'll see if a lower number of items helps.]

Calibre is the Swiss Army knife of e-book management. While the UI isn’t the prettiest, it’s an incredible piece of software.

Unlike Wordcycler, Calibre won’t automatically archive Instapaper items once you’ve read/deleted it on your Kindle. So, I’m manually reading the article listing on the Kindle, and simultaneously archiving them at the Instapaper website (on my computer). It’s a kludge, I know.

You can also schedule Calibre to automatically download items (especially from Instapaper) to your computer, then email them to your Kindle.

At the moment, Instapaper doesn’t support using the free Kindle email address. Calibre does. But, the $0.15/MB fee is cheaper than leaving my computer powered on at home.

By the way, you’ll be surprised at the small filesize of Instapaper deliveries. (20 items seems to be the max, and my latest delivery was 268 KB.)

I’d say the cost of running a dedicated (always on) computer to fetch Instapaper items is more expensive than an automatic daily delivery through Instapaper + Amazon Whispernet. If you transfer 1 MB/day, here’s the math broken down:

  • 1 year: $54.75
  • 1 month: $4.57
  • 1 week: $1.05

And, you can email your Instapaper account!

You can email links or forward long email messages, such as newsletters, directly to your Instapaper account. Each account has its own secret, random email address. Anything sent to that address gets added to Instapaper.

Try forwarding your most recent painfully long email message to it now, or send a link from any computer or iPhone app that can email links. (Instapaper Extras)

Problem: I’m not sure if Instapaper will keep sending items to my Kindle if they haven’t been archived.

For instance, I’m going to Philadelphia and New York next week for one week. If I enable the option to have items sent to me daily, and I don’t have a computer to archive the read items, will I keep getting duplicate content? (Yes, I’ll email Marco.)

Android app: Instafetch

When I get an Android phone[3. Late December 2010 or early January 2011.], Instafetch is another option to help save items to Instapaper, mainly because bookmarklets aren’t supported in the Android web browser.)

But, it’s too easy to send an email to your own Instapaper email address from an Android phone. Unless you’re saving stuff into your phone, you don’t need an app.

Stop it, Emily Dickinson

Amazon won’t let me remove her photo from the “screensaver” rotation when you put the Kindle in Sleep mode. Earlier today, I faced my fear and took a photo of her. I was going to include it here, but I changed my mind.

Just search for “Emily Dickinson Kindle” with Google Images.

PDF documents?

I haven’t tried any.

Bonus tip: Instapaper + Google Reader

The Instapaper bookmarklet(s) will also function while in Google Reader. It takes the permalink of the item you’ve selected. (Also, see “Can You Read Anything with the Kindle? Almost . . . with Google Reader” by FilterJoe.)

Additional resources

I wrote some of this like a supplement to the following:

Please share your thoughts on the Kindle in the comments. No flame wars, please.

Update: Added Kindle 3 First Impressions written by Marco Arment.

Tortilla Jo's in Anaheim doesn't want money

We will never attempt to dine at Tortilla Jo’s again.[1. I haven't given their food a chance, but after you finish reading this, can you blame me?]

Last Wednesday, I went to the House of Blues (Anaheim) for Scream It Like You Mean It featuring Silverstein and Emery. We got there a bit early to grab dinner before doors open.

We randomly chose Tortilla Jo’s.

There weren’t many customers, so we were seated quickly. The host gave us menus, someone else brought us chips and salsa, and…that’s it.

About 5-7 minutes later, the host that sat us asked, “Are you done looking at the menus?”

“Yes,” I replied.

He took them and walked away. There wasn’t an employee that offered us water or took our order. I counted at least twenty times where an employee or manager[2. I think he was the manager because he was wearing a long sleeve dress shirt.] walked by our table. Nobody acknowledged us.

After being there for 23 minutes, we left. (I know the photo shows 18 minutes, but we were there for about five minutes before I started my stopwatch.)

I didn’t want to say anything because of principle. We waited until after the concert for In-N-Out (La Mirada) on our way home — six hours later.

We will never attempt to dine at Tortilla Jo’s again.

Review: Sony MDR-7506 Studio Monitor Headphones

Since I don’t have a small bass amp for practicing by myself, I bought the Sony MDR-7506 headphones to plug into my Line 6 Bass PODxt Live. After using them for listening to my iPod, I haven’t used my Sennheiser CX300 Earphones.

Comfort

I could use them for several hours straight.

When using them for an hour while riding on the Metro Gold Line and Purple Line, the area covering the ear pads got warm and I broke a slight sweat. Air circulation helps.

The coiled cord minimized snagging when moving around.

Audio quality

I’ve listened to a dozen MP3 albums from my iPod with these headphones. I’m not sure if the bass is mixed low in the production/mastering process, but switching the EQ to bass booster gives the sound what it needs without being too much.

I’ve also played Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (PC) for “several” hours. The surround sound is amazing.

While setting up a few channels on my Line 6 Bass PODxt Live, I was pleased with its output. When it came down to plugging into my actual bass amp, my tone basically sounded the way I wanted.

Awareness

These aren’t noise cancelling headphones.

While riding public transportation, all sounds around me were ridiculously muffled. The only sounds that got through were the unusually piercing loudspeaker announcing each stop on the Gold Line.

Bulk

The cord is really long, so walking around with these headphones is a bit cumbersome.

Recommendation

I wouldn’t hesitate. Get it.