Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Goodbye Pen and Paper!

I used to go through dozens of ballpoint pens and paper notebook pads each year for taking notes while working.  If I were at an on-site meeting, I wouldn’t want to drag a laptop into the meeting to type notes and have that “barrier” (and distraction) between me and the other meeting participants.   When taking notes on a phone call, I’ve also found it always too hard to concentrate on typing while I’m also trying to listen to (or participate in) the conversation.   So, unobtrusive, quick and easy handwritten note-taking was the solution I always relied on.

When Windows Tablet PCs first came out, I had thought that would be my answer to kissing my paper notepads goodbye—but the interface was clunky and slow (as it tried to transcribe my writing rather than just accept it “as is”).

So, my next solution was a Scansnap scanner and Evernote—here, I could quickly scan in my handwritten note pages, tag the PDFs and upload them into my “cloud-based” Evernote account for later lookup and reference. That was better, but still not quite ideal.  

Enter Apple iPad, Penultimate, and a capacitive stylus!

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When I first got my iPad, I purchased nearly every handwritten note-taking app in the App Store.  Some had tons of bells and whistles (i.e. insert pictures, typed text, voice recordings, web pages), but few could do what I was looking for—a “fast as paper” solution with smooth ink, multi-page multiple notebooks, various levels of undo and eraser support, various pen sizes/colors, an “ignore wrist rests” feature to prevent unwanted pen marks when your wrist touches the screen, and finally, an easy way to export either one page or a whole notebook as PDF files for easy sending to my Evernote account.

One app met all those needs—Penultimate.  It’s now the most popular note-taking app in the app store with good reason—it’s effortless to use! (very elegant looking as well).  With just 1 click, I can start a new notebook and start writing a note.  When I fill up the page with and need a new page, a simple tap starts the next page.  Amazing how cumbersome other app developers designed their apps to accomplish these 2 basic steps—all software developers and product designers could learn a thing or two from the Penultimate team.

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While you can write with your finger pretty well on an iPad, a capacitive stylus (one with a soft rubber tip that won’t scratch the iPad’s glass screen) allows you to write faster and with better precision.  I’ve been using a Pogo Sketch stylus, but recently broke the plastic clip on it, so have now just ordered a stylus by Boxwave which I hope will be more durable. 

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Summer Family Vacation – Part 3 (Ontario and the U.P.)

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It was cloudy for our day in Lake Superior Provinicial Park and threatening rain, but I didn’t care.  My main goal was to get that “peaceful lake paddling” time that I’d been craving for the past few months.  We headed over to Crescent Lake where I took the inflatable canoe out on the water, while my brother and Millie hiked a trail that connected the 3 different nearby lakes to Crescent (of course, he had to let her try out each lake!)

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We drove up north to the town of Wawa to get some gas before heading back south thru LSPP again.  By the time we got to Katherine Cove, it had started raining, but the views were so pretty, we walked the trail and took pictures anyway:

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As we drove down to Pancake Bay Provincial Park, it began pouring rain—no worries, though.  All our outdoor activities were done for the day anyway.  We set up camp, rolled out the awning, and cooked on the grill staying nice and dry.

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The next morning, Lake Superior was as calm and peaceful as bathwater.  I took a short stroll along the beach before we left to drive back into the U.S. and to the Upper Peninsula (the “U.P.”) of Michigan.

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Once in the U.P., we took a brief detour to see the Upper and Lower Tahquamenon Falls.  First the lower falls:

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then the impressive Upper Falls:

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We stopped at the Wisconsin/Michigan border for dinner, and it was such a nice night, that we decided to just keep on driving finally arriving home around midnight.  It was a wonder week!

Friday, June 25, 2010

Summer Family Vacation – Part 2 (Ontario)

Mom had some events she wanted to attend back at home, so she drove home while my brother and I continued north into Ontario for the next couple of days.

I absolutely love Canada and try to get there at least once every year.  The scenery, “the similar yet different feel” to their daily life, and most of all to the friendliness and civility of the Canadian people.  Perhaps it’s naive, but I always feel safer traveling in Canada than I ever do in the U.S.—not quite sure why—is it the lack of handguns? less population density? less division between rich and poor? Not sure, but I love it.

My brother had never been to Canada before, so I knew exactly where I wanted to take him first—to the “British Columbia of the Midwest”, the Algoma region of Ontario along the northern shore of Lake Superior.

It was about a 4 hour drive to get there from Traverse City, and the highlight of the trip was crossing the Mackinac Bridge (a suspension bridge nearly as big as the Golden Gate that crosses the straight between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron).

We stopped in Mackinaw City for lunch and photos in front of the bridge before crossing it.  Only a $9.00 toll for the RV (sigh), but still worth the experience.

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Our next event was the border crossing from Sault Ste Marie Michigan to Sault Ste Marie Ontario and over the Soo Locks where large tanker ships pass through to get to Lake Superior.  I still can’t figure out how they get such giant tankers through such tiny locks, but they do!

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As we drove north on our way to Lake Superior Provincial Park, we made a few photo stops—one at the Chippewa River Falls, and another along a rocky shore of Lake Superior.   I decided to take the boring, distant, tourist shots while my brother hiked to get photos “from the edge”--

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We arrived to our campsite at Agawa Bay around dinnertime, or as Millie would call it “swimming time”.  Even though chilly winds were blowing in off Lake Superior and waves were 2-3 feet high, Millie thought she could still go swimming….that is, until she got slammed and engulfed by one of those waves!  She then learned better not to chase any sticks my brother was trying to make her go fetch in those high seas!

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We returned to camp to rest for the evening and watch a gorgeous sunset off of Agawa Rock.

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Thursday, June 24, 2010

Summer Family Vacation – Part 1 (Michigan)

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My brother is in town from Colorado for a few months this summer to help do some household projects for my mom.  It’s been years since all 3 of us have taken a vacation together, so we decided to take the View and go somewhere.  But where?  I wanted to relax paddling at some quiet lake in the north woods, my brother wanted to do some single-track mountain biking, mom wanted to shop, and Millie, of course, just wanted to swim.   Where could we possibly go to do all of that? We decided on the Traverse Bay region in northwest lower Michigan.

We set up base camp at the Traverse City State Park located right in the heart of Traverse City just across from a nice beach along Traverse Bay (unfortunately for Millie, not a dog beach).  “Grandma” and Millie posed for a first night shot behind our Fire Dancer portable LP campfire (if you’re like me and can’t light a real wood fire worth a darn, or don’t like getting your clothes full of smoke, it’s a great fast alternative).

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The State Park is adjacent to a great regional bike trail called the TART.  So the next morning, I rode the TART into downtown Traverse City to explore, while my brother road it the other direction out to find the Vasa moutain bike trail system.  A few shots from my ride:

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The next day, we took a trip over to the Leelanau peninsula (that separates Traverse Bay from Lake Michigan) and Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore (along the western shore of Lake Michigan).

This whole area of Michigan with it’s rolling hills, cool climate, and large bodies of water, is the prime location in the Midwest for fruit-growers and vineyards.  One of my brother’s friends from Colorado runs a family cherry and honey farm on the Leelanau peninsula, so we decided to pay him a visit and see the farm.

The cherries weren’t ripe just yet, so we couldn’t help out with that harvest, but they showed us their honey-processing barn and some of their bee hives (for which I, unfortunately, didn’t yet have my camera with me). But I got a few other shots, and we got some delicious “melt-in-your-mouth” strawberries!

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After spending the morning in the backseat of the car, Millie was quite bored with bees and cherries, and she now demanded to get her to the beaches at Sleeping Bear pronto!  On our way into Traverse City, we had stopped at one of the beaches south of Empire which was gorgeous, clean,  and huge (with large mountainous sand dunes behind it).  A number of the National Lakeshore beaches allow dogs, so Millie was thrilled.  Today’s beach was north of Empire at the town of Glen Arbor.  This beach was a bit smaller, but still had crystal clear water and got the Millie “seal of approval”!

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On our final day in Michigan, it rained, so we took a driving and shopping trip up to Charlevoix and Petoskey.  We also explored the neat little Victorian community just north of Petoskey called Bay View.

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Friday, June 11, 2010

Great Bong Trip!

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It had been a month since my last little trip to work from the road, so I decided to spend a few days at a park I’d never been to less than 2 hours from home—Bong State Recreational Area near Burlington, Wisconsin, about halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago.

Now before you start thinking why on earth the State of Wisconsin would name a state park after a piece of marijuana paraphernalia..they didn’t!  The park was named after Richard Bong, a notable World War II pilot who grew up in the area.

Since it’s a Rec Area rather than a State Park, I had previously avoided it thinking that it’d just be filled with a bunch of loud, smelly ATV’ers.  Fortunately, the park is huge and has plenty of room for the ATV and Motorcycle crowd, the horseback riders, the fishing and paddling folks, and the birder/nature-lovers…oh, and also the dog swimmers!

All of our local dog swimming holes seem closed this year or just too polluted to take a chance on, so I’ve had to take Millie out of town to do her favorite summer pastime.  I also had just got a new inflatable canoe that I wanted to test out, so Bong looked like the destination.

We had a great time!  The campground mid-week was empty and quiet, yet being so near the Milwaukee/Chicago metro areas, we had excellent cellular and digital TV signals.  So tech-wise, it was a great spot to work from.

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The lake was a 1 1/2 mile hike from the campground through a nicely restored prairie with tons of wildflowers, birds, and a few small ponds along the way

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Once we got down to the lake, it was time for some dog swimming!  I think the pictures show just how much Millie enjoyed it!

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