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Productivity Booster

10 More from the Cleaning Crew

Talking about screen maintenance created enough discussion that I wanted to put out a few more things I’ve found. Here’s the cleaning process when one of my family drops off one of their dead or spyware encrusted machines:

  1. Get the dust out. I never used forced air cans anymore, always a vacuum cleaner. They both do a decent job but the forced air just moves the grime to some other (hopefully not worse) place, the vac solves the problem. The key here is put the screws and parts somewhere far away from where you are vacuuming.
  2. While you have the box open check to see how much these upgrades would be: more memory, bigger hard drive if necessary, solid state drive if cost effective. These three updates can give huge performance boosts.
  3. When working on a machine, especially laptops, if you Google hard enough you’ll find PDFs that the manufacturer’s have for their tech people that show you, step by step, in detail how to do most common tasks like replace drives, memory and laptop screens. Sometimes you will find similar stuff on YouTube (usually from people selling the parts you’ll need).
  4. Remove keyboard grime with Mr. Clean Magic Eraser. I used to just suck it up and buy a new keyboard every 3 years or so, they are cheap enough and tend to get gross. Mr. Clean has changed that, I have been using a Microsoft Natural Keyboard for almost 10 years now. You can pop off the keys and wash them in a bucket of cleaner with a brush, vacuum the case out and wipe out the wrist rest grunge with the eraser.
  5. I also discourage Bluetooth or wireless mice and keyboards. I’ve never had a cabled set fail on me, but have had plenty of situations where people forget they need to change the batteries in them and are wondering why they are getting weird behavior. I’m also comforted by this as it proves that even though I like to clean stuff I am not compulsive (like people that buy wireless components because they can’t stand to have a cord on their desk).
  6. Drill – Just like the pit crew, having a drill with a phillips head tip makes it a lot faster and easier to get cases open and shut. Two things here – spend the money for one with a clutch so you can set the torque instead of stripping screws, and you can usually get a spring extension so if you bend it around a corner – very useful in tight situations.
  7. External Hard Drive Enclosure – Two reasons for this – if you are upgrading a hard drive you will use this to clone the new drive so you don’t have to install everything from scratch, or if you are virus busting you can pull the drive from an infected machine and plug it in on some other spare machine to pull the data and not have to deal with whatever stupid reason windows is not booting up (please, not YOUR primary machine for the love of all that is holy, I’ve never seen a cross infection, but that’s nothing to play with). For $30 this one does both the big drives in tower machines, and the smaller laptop 2.5 inch form factor.
  8. Rescue thumbdrive  – I have a 16GB stick with a bunch of common tools that I may need to try first before ripping a machine apart.
  9. Backups – since it’s family and most of the time I’m upgrading a hard drive, I keep the old drive as backup (or when virus hunting, I usually pull their data to an external drive and then do a clean install, I’ve never found repairing an infected machine to be worth the time it takes). Odds are, even though you tell them every time they have a disaster, they are not doing it. While you are doing that throw in all the PDFs you found in #3.
  10. Set minimum thresholds for your IT organization. I used to keep all kinds of spare parts and spend time working on machines over 6 or 7 years old, now I tell people to bite the bullet when I’m going to have to order special parts and can’t guarantee that something else won’t crap out in the next 6 months. Don’t have eSATA hard drives? Time to replace it. I’m also reaching a point that if one of my nieces or nephews doesn’t step up I may say I only support Mac. I’m just not up for spyware battles anymore.

Any tricks/tips you’re using?

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Productivity Booster

Cleaning Your Screen

Knowing how to sharpen the saw is one of the 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (which is only $3.99 for the Kindle by the way). Doing some work prior to stepping on the battlefield can tilt the outcome to your favor. For anyone who is a knowledge worker, maintaining your computer equipment is the equivalent of keeping your guns clean. Odds are, as a reader of this blog you are also your family’s IT department, keeping the fleet running.

Over the years I’ve picked up a few tricks on maintaining machines, and during time spent working with the differences that show up in an image on screen vs. in print, I have learned the value of a good screen.

A dirty screen creates eye fatigue, if you aren’t cleaning your screen on a regular basis wait until you have a good layer of dust and clean it up at the end of a long day. You’ll be surprised to see how it takes a load off your eyes.

How to clean it is another question. For years I have used Bausch & Lomb Sight savers, single wipes like the napkins you get at better BBQ joints (better as in food, not as in fancy). These have alcohol in them and they were great for cleaning CRTs, but I’ve heard mixed statements about using them on plastic LCDs. I’ve never noticed a problem or had any scratches, but after 3 years I tend to have either bulb problems where the monitor is not as bright as it has been, or other issues with laptop displays which require a replacement.

Recently I purchased TV Armor, a plastic shield that goes over the TV so now my son can throw Thomas the train at it all day without harming it. It came with a two stage wipe from Brillianize, which did a very nice job so I decided to buy more and run a test of the Bausch & Lomb vs. Brillianize vs. Klear Screen Travel Singles. I was surprised by the results, the key is not in the application of the cleaning fluid, but in getting it all off the surface afterwards. The Bauch & Lomb wipes (from my local BJ’s warehouse) do a good job if it’s not really dirty (or greasy), and if you keep wiping until it’s evaporated. If you wipe quickly and stop it will remain streaky.

Brillianize and Klear Screen are almost exactly the same. The Klear Screen wet wipes are a bit thicker than the Brillianize, but not by much. The dry wipes from Klear Screen are thicker but have a more cotton texture that left some residue not on the screens but on other surfaces such as laptop cases. The Brillianize dry wipes are more of a paper and leave no residue (even cleaning up the Klear Screen residue).

What made a huge difference was that the Klear Screen came with an iKlear, a small Antimicrobial Microfiber cloth. I thought this was all hype until I used it, it took more of the cleaning agent off the surface than either of the dry wipes and gave my laptop and iPad an amazingly clean surface. Once the grime is off with the cleaner if you are only wiping fingerprints the cloth does fine on its own. Since then I have noticed the staff my local Apple store using a similar cloth to wipe down their gear to get rid of “fried chicken fingers” off the hardware.

I have another post I’ll drop in a day or so about other cleaning things I’ve tested, but that’s it for screen cleaning.

PS – I’ve learned that screens are like photographic gear, the more you spent the better they are. There’s a reason why the Apple Cinema Displays cost so much, and it’s the same reason why film and photo editors use them. From my own anecdotal evidence I’ve found that I’ve only needed screen calibrators on cheap or really old monitors. If you spend enough up front and upgrade after a few years, calibration is never an issue.

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Productivity Booster

At the Half

Second Quarter is gone and we are looking at the back half of the year. Here’s the update:

No real movement on the family front, the big goals there are to get the summer vacation in order and visit my brother, both of which are still in the planning phase. I also need to find a huge pile of cash to get back on track with little man’s college fund, that will prove difficult given the current cash flow situation of the full time mom (a sacrifice that is well worth it in my mind).

On the personal front my fitness and weight loss goals are on track – primarily thanks to mid-foot strike and no processed flour and sugar except for my cheat day. I also had my “fun” goal of seeing some live music (was it really 3 years since I’ve been to a concert?) which I did with the power of the 80’s – Peter Gabriel and Def Leppard.

Financial goals are on track thanks to Run to Home Base, that raised a big chunk of my donation goal, and another donation that will involve us visiting the set of Extreme Home Makeover, which will be excellent.

Work is going very well, in the hobby section the podcast model needs a bit of tweaking, but writing is taking precedent this quarter.

One change I made this year was to hit my weight goal by end of Q3, because it’s foolish to think I’m going to lose weight with Thanksgiving, Christmas, and the end of outdoor running in Q4 (all I want to do is maintain, and that gives me some cushion if I’m not at 100% by end of Q3). Only one other bummer, I missed the deadline for the Falmouth Road Race, which would have been my 10th. I may have to get the black Trans Am to go bandit.

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Productivity Booster

Best Stylus for the iPad – Six Months Later

Boxwave from Round 1 with Newcomers Acase 2 and Pogo Sketch 2

A while ago I wrote a post about the best stylus for the iPad. Since then I have run more than 10 styluses through the paces. If you want the backstory check out the other post. If you are just looking for the punchline – here it is:

At the time I rated the rubber tip styluses as the best. When you take them out of the box, they have a great smooth feel. The problem is that over time they wear out. From what I’ve observed, after a couple of months of heavy use the tip gets smoother, which then causes it to stick to the screen more and get more difficult to use. For two of them it got to the point where the tips tore because of the friction.

Fortunately, just like Balboa in Rocky 3, one of the best that got smacked down has returned better than ever – the Pogo Sketch. It uses a fabric tip that is not as fast as the new rubber tip, but is faster than the rubber tip after one month – and it stays that fast. The Pogo Sketch was the first stylus I had tested and my favorite until the plastic clip broke off, the new version has a metal clip so it looks like that problem has been solved.

The other new one I tested is the Acase 2. The same rubber tip, but a bit smaller, and a leash so you can plug it into your headphone jack (I’m not really psyched about doing that since if something goes wrong there you are screwed). It also makes some noise and I’m not into the whole jingle bell thing outside of December.

I’ll give it another six months and we’ll see how it goes.

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Productivity Booster

Q1 is Over

Q1 2011
Goals for Q1 2011

The first quarter has already come and gone, and thankfully it took the snow with it. On my quarterly goals things are looking very good, financially the taxes are done and charitable donations are on track thanks to the Run to Home Base (wouldn’t it be great to sponsor me to support Veterans with traumatic brain injury and PTSD?).

Family goals are on track with a big summer trip to catch up with everyone, the personal goals are going well thanks to training on my running technique – ChiRunning which has allowed me to both increase my amount of training and reduce fatigue at the same time. It took me a while to come up with my one “Something Fun” goal, until last month when tickets went on sale for Peter Gabriel and Def Leppard –  my fun will be a summer 80’s revival. Work is going well and Marketing Over Coffee continues to be a lot of fun with the LinkedIn group picking up steam.

I’m glad I stopped to look back because it seems like this last quarter has been  a whole lot of pain, but at least a lot got done. How was Q1 for you?

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Productivity Booster

Traveling with an iPad

On my last business trip I left my laptop behind to see if it would be possible for me to get by without my laptop. I’ve done it for personal travel and the results were the same – aside from wanting to jump into photoshop a couple of times and having to wait on that, I have been able to get by on the iPad alone.

One test point was international – I was down near Cancun, Mexico so I bought the international data plan for one month. It seemed a bit slower than the 3G connection in urban Boston, but it worked very well.

I did find an issue that travelers should be aware of though: I bring the component cable with me so that I can charge it and plug it into the hotel TV to watch my own movies or TV series. The problem was that I also use the iPad as my travel alarm clock. When the component cable is plugged in, it disables the internal speaker so if the alarm goes off you can’t hear it. The only good news is that the component cable and the charging cable can both use same AC adapter, so you just need another cable, not a second wall wart.

Also on the iPad front, if you are into using a stylus, I got a Stylus Socks Pro to review and have added that to the Best Stylus for the iPad post. Shape Dad also has styluses for those who need a mouth stick, or a T-Stick for more stability.

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Productivity Booster

11 Little Secrets

Going through the draft bin I had a note about 11 Little Secrets from Christopher S. Penn, my co-host on Marketing Over Coffee. Check out his list of 11 things that can make you more productive. None of them are earth shattering, but when applied can deliver significant results.

Here are some things that help me:

  1. Get enough sleep – the goal is to be able to live without an alarm clock, which may be more wishful thinking than reality. You’ll find that if you pay more attention to getting adequate rest you won’t get sick as often and I find that when I am more tired, my patience suffers.
  2. A place for everything – Being organized saves time in the long run, my keys are always in the kitchen near the door. I never lose time looking for my keys.
  3. Travel Bag – I have a second set of the things I need when I travel. Rather than keeping a list or possibly forgetting stuff, the bag always has my chargers, toiletries and an outlet extender in it.
  4. The Calendar – Where it all happens. Quarterly goals get broken into monthly and weekly chunks, the calendar is where you allot time to make your plan happen. By scheduling the important stuff first you won’t get crushed by the tyranny of the urgent.
  5. Quicken – Managing cash flow and being able to accurately forecast expenses is invaluable
  6. Avoid the white stuff – flour and sugar. This alone will allow you to drop weight at will.
  7. You need more than one monitor – Having a laptop with a docking station that lets you use a second screen is a huge productivity boost. As I write this post I can grab affiliate links from the other window and refer back to Chris’ original post.
  8. Notes – Between your calendar, a shopping list, and the draft bin for your blog, you should never have to remember anything. Write it down and leave your brain free to be creative or solve difficult problems, not “remember the milk”
  9. Media On Deck Circle – Have a couple of movies, books, and music playlists ready for when you travel. Running around the night before you leave trying to get a 2GB file down from iTunes is not always easy.
  10. Buy the tools – Anytime something breaks, consider learning how to fix it. If you know how to fix a leaky pipe or repair your own cellphone you not only save money, you are no longer at the mercy of others
  11. Buy Cheap, Buy Twice – This was the motto at a ski shop I worked at in High School. Yes, you can get the cheap one, odds are it’s also the crappy one. Yes, the Honda Lawnmower is a lot more expensive, but ask around and you’ll hear the stories of people that have had them for 20 years. Nothing’s worse than getting the cheap drill from Home Depot and having it crap out when you need it.
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Productivity Booster

Using Your iPad as a Desk Clock

I have a set of logitech speakers that are vintage 2006. They are one of the first ones that came out and I got them after Adam Curry plugged them as he used them in his San Francisco apartment. They are still great, but only one downside, they don’t charge the current generation of iPod Touch. Since the H-Bomb uses it in his room we had to upgrade to something that would charge. I swapped it out with my XtremeMac Luna Alarm Clock – it charges, sounds great, and has a dimmer control – a great product.

Now I needed a new alarm clock so I took the Sony Dream Machine from the office. The bummer with that is that it’s at least 10 years old and the CD player doesn’t work anymore. Since I can only wake up to the buzzer I now have the XtremeMac Micro Dock on my Amazon Wish List.

As the dominoes continue to fall this means that I now no longer have a clock in the office. I didn’t think it would be a big deal, but after half a day I realized I needed to get one. I have a Griffin Loop and a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad so I thought I could set that up and try a desk clock app.

After Googling and checking out the AppStore (btw if you are not using AppShopper you are missing out on a great tool to find stuff in the AppStore) I found 4 apps to test out:

My Frame – Tried to add pictures and it crashed on every 3rd or 4th one. At that point I got frustrated and deleted it.

myPhotoAlarm – Deleted all but 1 of the stock photos and I couldn’t add my own, again I gave up and deleted it. Update: Right after this was posted, Gregg responded and apologized for a bug that’s due to the 4.0.2 update. I will reinstall and see how the update arrives when the folks at Apple let it through. Points to Gregg for great customer service.

Lifelike Clock – Is one I have kept, it doesn’t have photo capability, but it does allow you to access your music library for alarms. This is a good one if you want your own alarm clock when you travel. It also includes weather.

Nightstand HD – Was my winner, it allows you to select your own photos (although there is a bug I’ve hit after 10 photos where I’ve added new ones and they don’t show up. It also has weather functionality. If it had the ability to hit my music library for alarms it would be the sole survivor.

I’m also playing the Christmas levels of Angry Birds, if you have any great apps please comment so I can check them out!

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Daily Life Productivity Booster

Q3 Status Report

Q3 mindmap
74% Complete for Q3

And here we are in the 4th Quarter of 2010. I really hate the 3rd Quarter. It’s always the same, the whole world is on vacation so nothing gets done in July or August and then it’s a mad dash to close business in September. Many times I think it might be better just to take all of August off.

It’s also time to look at the goals I set myself for this year. I was pleasantly surprised that things are going well, with 74% completed. The key takeaways – things are going well on the Family front but I have not been able to visit my brother and his family yet this year. Unfortunately changing jobs means I have no vacation in Q4 so I may have to do a red-eye for a weekend if I want to make that goal.

Personal is going well having run the Falmouth Road Race and losing 20 lbs year to date. I need to get a gym membership going because soon it will be too cold to run outside for me. I had a hard time coming up with a “fun” goal for myself, but I did upgrade all of my media equipment so I’ll take that as completed.

Financial Goals are a bit behind, we’ve been burning through a lot of cash with the baby here and Carin working few hours. The good news is that the ReFi happens tomorrow and with my new job there’s a good chance we can up the savings for year end. An interesting thing here is how sometimes you are painted into a corner with these things – Carin can’t work more hours because if we had to use daycare that would eat a huge chunk of the income and I’d rather she take care of our son. I also have a goal for Charitable Donations, but now that becomes a classic numbers game – do I get closer to the goal by giving it to charity or hitting my savings goal? Both the numbers game and my heart are leaning towards charity so I guess you could say the goals are properly aligned.

On the Professional front landing the new job accomplishes most of what I wanted to do this year. I’ve been doing 4-5 year stints so I should be set here for a while. The only question mark here is what should happen next with Marketing Over Coffee. I don’t have the time to do more with it so I may look at outsourcing some stuff via a virtual assistant.

Also new this quarter has been motivation from The Ultimate Warrior. Yes, the man who hoisted a belt at Wrestlemania Ultimate Warrior. A co-worker of mine sent me a link to his blog, Warrior’s Machete, about a year ago and I have been hooked. This is a whole post in itself, which I promise I will put out there eventually. I was just glad to trade email with him, and he ended up sending me a lot of great advice. If you are looking for motivation you should sign up for his email list.

On to Q4!

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Productivity Booster

Best Stylus for the iPad

More years ago than I care to count I bought a PalmPilot 1000. It rocked. I was so excited just for the fact that PalmPilot 1000I would now no longer have to get a new calendar book every year and copy all of the birthdays and important dates across to the new one. Ahhh, the first spark of fire in the dark ages.

The Palm hooked me on the idea of a stylus instead of my KFC grease coated finger for touching the screen. It’s more precise and the one that I use in my smartphone has a pen in it so I’m never without a writing implement.

When I picked up an iPad I noticed that the guy working at the store used a pogo Sketch so I decided to pick one up. It fit well into the bottom of my Dodo Case (which now comes in green and I want a new one) and all was good for about 3 months. Then the clip broke off and when I looked on Amazon to replace it there were now more options. None of them were that expensive so I decided to order a bunch of them so I could do my own shootout and see what worked best.

The Contenders:

Amazon showed Griffin with one coming out soon so that prompted an email to Dave Delaney, who has hooked Marketing Over Coffee up with stuff in the past. Here’s the required link from them saying they give out stuff for people to try and to blog about. Please also note that the links below are affiliate links so if you could use them I can send my son to college.

I also tested one sold by a company called Acase, which was exactly the same as the Griffin. With the exception of the Griffin logo, it looks like they came from the same factory, the Acase cost me $2.94 more than the price of the Griffin, so I’m only linking to the less expensive one.

The elago is also very similar to the two above, same tip a bit lighter with a different style clip.

The BoxWave is also in this family, again same tip and similar look and clip, but it’s about $10 more and heavier because it has a cap and a real pen that is pretty good.

The iClooly was the unique one of the pack, unlike the others.

I also got some cheapos at $3.95 for a 3-pack that I thought might compare to the pogo sketch.

The Results

iPad Styluses
L to R:Griffin, Acase, BoxWave, elago, pogo, iClooly, & el Cheapos

After a week of use I’ve found that I like the Griffin ($13.04) best. It has a rubber tip that’s sort of like a mushy racquetball. A similar tip is on the BoxWave, Acase and elago.

In second place would be the BoxWave which is almost the same, on the plus side it also has a pen, the cost of that is that it’s more expensive ($24.95 was the price when I bought mine) and a bit heavier. Update : after about 2 months use the tip on the BoxWave did not write a smoothly as the Griffin or the Acase, I tried cleaning it and that made no difference.

The elago is in third ($14.99), very similar to the ones above except for two things – it has their brand and the phrase “Design is Improvement” on it. This is a bit odd to me because the whole Apple thing is not to print anything on an object that’s not required. Ever look at the bottom of a Macbook versus a Dell? Also the clip on mine is slightly loose and rattles a tiny bit. Rattling doesn’t fit well with the Apple design thing either. Otherwise it’s about the same as the previous two.

For Fourth I would replace the pogo ($10.73). The tip is like a tiny peice of shag carpet and it’s thinner and lighter than all of the above. A good choice but for the plastic clip.

The iClooly was less expensive (only $9.99) but very well made. It has a unique tip which is like a very short paintbrush. It’s retractable so you have to click it like a ball point pen. That’s the reason I don’t use this one, it’s two extra steps to take off the cap and click it open. The brush cap is closer to the barrel and pulls straight off, the cap has a second tip in it that you unscrew to access with a plastic point for a resistive touch screen (as opposed to capacitive on the iPhone, iPad family). It’s nice but I found the tips on all the other ones work on both types of touchscreen.

It should be noted that all of the above performed the same. I tested them all on Note Taker HD and they all worked fine. You may have a preference of rubber tip vs. cloth vs. brush for feel, but they all work. I thought the rubber was very similar to cloth, the brush didn’t seem to give as much resistance. If you like the feedback the rubber and cloth work best, if you like it to be frictionless the brush is better.

The only fail in the test was the 3 pack of cheapies ($3.92, but no link because you don’t want them). The rubber tip on the better ones have a matte finish, the cheapos have a glossy rubber tip that sticks to the screen making them unusable. When you want to slide panels on the screen it literally gets stuck to the screen. For uber-geeks out there, I did try using the dremel tool to grind the glossy finish off, it does work better, but still not as well as the ones above. I roughed it up with about a 75 grit sandpaper and could try other stuff but at about $15 for the good ones it’s not worth the time.

That’s the wrap up, enjoy your clean screen!

Update: I’ve been sent a Stylus Socks Pro to review and played with it for a couple of days. Ivo has done something interesting with a different approach – the handle is like a paintbrush with a soft tip and about half of it has a sock made of a capacitive fabric. It’s very smooth and has a unique weighting so it’s a nice alternative. My wife enjoys this one, I stopped using it when I realized I have a habit of holding the stylus as far as possible from the tip. For this model if you are not touching the fabric it will not work. What was more interesting to me in his store were styluses for people with disabilities – there’s a mouthstick for anyone that does not have use of their arms, and the Steady Stylus that has a full hand grip that would be useful for anyone that has difficulty with fine motor control. I’ve never seen these before and was quite impressed.

Update 2: With 6 months of testing under my belt there’s a new champion. Best Stylus for the iPad – Six Months Later