Traveling with Tech

I had written about this in a previous blogpost but I wanted to comment or update based on a bit of traveling and focus in on devices and gizmos that made traveling light easier. Traveling light is not only carrying one rollerbag by the way. Rollerbags are evil things meant to roll over feet in airplane aisles and be used as carry on luggage when obviously the bag is over the size limitation. No friends, traveling light is a travel backpack of carry on size. For me its the Tortuga Outbreaker bag. It has enough organization to keep me busy but not allow me to go crazy. So far the bag has taken me to Japan and Vancouver previously. The freedom of traveling carry on only means you never have to worry about lost baggage in checked luggage or having a bag checked all the way through as happened to me on Singapore Airlines going from SFO to Singapore and then to Chennai India. The company had made a slight logistical error and my baggage was held because the next flight was only hours away. Besides the point of already having flown 17 hours to get Singapore and having to board the next flight in hours; all my “real stuff” was in the checked baggage. Bummer. I learned from that point to never ever go checked luggage again.

But on to the real point here if there is one. What are the key tech ingredients for me that made the final cut?

  1. Macbook 2017 12 inch. A marvel of a laptop that weighs in at 2 pounds. Its meant for crowded flights and buses and light rails. Its responsive. Find a dongle and embrace the dongle life though. I have a dongle which takes power and memory cards and a variety of USB connections. it makes the whole thing easier.
  2. iPhone 7 plus unlocked. This has been great since I simply plopped in a NTT Docomo data Sim Card and now have 5gb of data to use up over my two weeks in Japan. I will find another great deal in Vietnam. I don’t need cell service to call and chat with people. Hangouts or Facebook Messenger work just fine. Be sure the phone is unlocked though. You can check using a service or call your stateside carrier. I bought a phone from Swappa that was verified unlocked and it was!
  3. The flexible FujiFilm X100F camera. This camera and the zoom and telephoto lens are so easy to pack. I wanted to learn more photography while in travel mode and the camera makes it possible to try different film simulations, manual shooting, fully automatic, or other variations on the same. My favorite uses of the camera are everything besides where I just use the iPhone because its easier. If you want a travel friendly camera buddy check them out. I could not see carrying some camera with a hundred lens and tripods and stuff bulging out of a bag that probably weighs 10 pounds. That’s just me though. I am a rank novice at this. Professionals require a different level of commitment and gear support I bet.

A final note here is about electricity in different places. Do you know your way around 110 to 240? Check those chargers before going. Most will say on them what they support. Be careful. Electricity is beneficial but it can ruin your whole day if mis-applied.

Finally… A Travel Note.

Today is a transit day for me. I get onboard the Nozomi Bullet Train from Hiroshima to Osaka for 4 days and do the same adventures one more time there. On Friday I fly out to Vietnam from Osaka airport. Big times ahead!

Sitting in my nice but slightly small room in Hiroshima sees me drinking some room coffee and eating some pastry bought on the cheap at the local convenience store. Its a great deal when the coffee is free and the breakfast cost me ¥208 total. That’s a few US dollars compared to what the hotel buffet would cost me. I make a rule to not buy beer in bars here nor do I buy for the most part expensive food. For dinner last night I had a large bowl of Katsudon for about ¥600. Probably my big meal out is lunch but this time I have also done dinner out a few times because of the food choices here. Japan can be quite expensive! One time in Kyoto, I had a single 12oz glass of beer and it cost me over ¥1000. Really? I bought 5 cans of beer in a Circle K for that much and took it back to the room. I also do dinner on the cheap here by buying instant noodles in a convenience store and cooking them in the room. Its not as romantic or exciting but I try to be conscious of the money that things cost here.


Tools and Writing

Creating content is a thing I’ve been interested in for awhile. Whether its starting a story or writing a journal or creating notes about my upcoming changes. Writing is both a creative thing and a relief thing for me. I standardized on the Apple tools including my MacBook and iPhone 7 plus because I wanted a consistent interface and tool that would hold all my writing. Instead of multiple environments, I find it easier to use one tool which I can adopt and adapt to for creation.

I went through a selection process before and evaluated a variety of tools and ended up with Ulysses on the Mac and IOS. Prior to me joining the fold, Ulysses changed from a classic model to subscription and there were a lot of people that left. Perhaps they went to something like Byword or another tool. I’ve tried Byword on the MacBook and while it has a very nice and pure writing environment, I’ve become spoiled on the organization that Ulysses provides. Byword is simply too freeform for me to create on. I want the library structure plus being able to theme the writing and editing panes the way I want. I also looked at how I can do a variety of writing and how well each tool handles it.

Simply put, Ulysses handles the type of writing I do better. My use case is spontaneous blogging, creation of a basic note in the Inbox with some ideas around a story, management of lists for traveling plus creating a complete folder based environment for places I am going. I also write rather freeform journals in basic text files. A year is one file with dates sprinkled throughout. I don’t want it searchable or indexable but I can search if I want. The journal is different than the blog in how I create content.

For the less structured needs, the ability to start a note or sheet using the Ulysses parlance and then split it off into a new one at my whim is very powerful stuff. Creating a list and moving it to iCloud and then being able to further edit on my iPhone creates a workflow I really like.

Traveling with the workflow

This is an area I am interested in exploring more. My idea is to start a basic set of information as a note in a folder I have created for 2018 Travel. The note may become a blog post or it may live in the travel folder I created. There are actions to be taken as I drill down the number of days until leaving. I want to journal and blog the trip I take but not let both rule my movements. As I have done before, I want to create the content and then select what blogging I will do.

When in Japan in about a month, I will visit three cities. The thing that ties it all together is the wonderful Shinkansen movements between them. I want a central place with the travel information so if I wonder where and when, Ulysses can tell me.

Past that, I have created travel folders for Vietnam and populated that with the travel information for my flight and train trip from Hanoi to Ho Chi Minh City. Some will become a blog post and others will live out time as a reference. Images and notes are also supported so I can capture the railroad ticket information by printing to PDF and attaching.

Taking it all to the Next Step

The next step is to create the stories and content for that writing. That can be explosive and subjective and full of malformed paragraphs and sentences. Its the ebb and flow of a process I use to create longer form information. None of it is suitable to share but one day my dream is to publish them on the blog as static content files. I don’t know how WordPress will deal with this. I do know from the creation point forward, its Ulysses for me.

Perhaps you have a different need on creation of stuff. I am still looking at tools but I love the interface and use of Ulysses to catalog, track, and create content. It gets out of the way when it needs to but gives me the structure I want for things that are more uniform.

There are rules for writing for me. One is some things have no rules and the tool must support that as well.

Traveling and Walking with Sound

Lately I’ve been looking at the portability of choices especially for listening to music on my travels. Bluetooth headphones are essential to me since having some cable that runs to an adapter on my iPhone is not ideal. Nor is a cable around my neck or between the earbuds. When I go walking for over an hour a day or like last night for two hours, I want something that can be easily used and then maintained afterwards. I’ve had cables snagged on tree or bush branches, got cables all twirled around in a mess, and had to carefully place expensive bluetooth headsets into a type C or micro USB cable to charge which just adds another thing to manage.

Since I’ve simplified to a two device footprint that are apple devices, I decided to go with these little guys.

There are a few reasons why these fit the bill for me. First off, they are easily transportable to the point of being able to be lost and I’ll cover that in a moment. Second they fit into the choices I made very easily since the case is a charger and the case takes a lightning cable which makes it fit inside a traveling ecosystem. Third off, the sound and pairing is excellent to my non-discriminating and audiophile ears and they do not pop out of my ears. Finally, no cables or distractions from actually listening to the music.

One of the points though is tracking and keeping these things. By themselves, I could see just losing track of them in a rush to pack or leave a coffee shop or something. I started looking for something to help me remember to pack or hook these to the inside of a daypack or my Tortuga Outbreaker. Enter the PodPocket case which comes in handy colors from my travel buddy Amazon here. The case I bought is the blazing red one like this.

The attraction thing is the color and the keyring and still maintaining the portability of doing the primary stuff with it. Simply place the whole thing in the daypack or pocket or attach via the keyring. I think its harder to lose a thing that is bright red and cries out for attention.

I’ve read others that downplay the audio quality and claim you have to carry another device for X or Y reason. I don’t see that. I listen to music with them on my iPhone 7 plus and I hear all the wonderful sounds. They seem to stay active with no cutouts and the quick maintenance and placement into a case is the best. Charging in the car is easy as well and I can quickly slip them into the case which charges them.

Perhaps they do not have some audiophile quality sound but these tech things are still emerging and how we use them is too. The AirPods are just a update to a bunch of cables and chargers and leave me feeling more productive and able to enjoy music faster. I am not real Apple lover but I chose the ecosystem because of the devices which do not take up space when traveling. Having the 12 inch 2017 MacBook and the iPhone 7 plus lets me go with things in a compatible technology. I can take or read notes on Ulysses on my iPhone or read a story that I have started working on.

The AirPods are just a generational leap forward and perhaps in a year there is something else better. For me, having a set of devices which link up by opening and store the configurations in iCloud mean an ease of travel.

Its a Dongle Life we lead

Its a dongle life one way or the other no matter what device I decide to travel with. I’ve settled on a laptop which is the MacBook 12 inch 2017 model with a single Type C connector. It has a headphone jack too. A single Type C connector for all the “connectedness” that I may have.

What’s needed then is a dongle. I must dongle. So I go shopping for a single dongle which will do power, memory card, USB drives, etc. There are a few types. One type plugs right into the port and sits against the body of the laptop. I don’t particularly like those. The second type has a type C connector and a separate body which sits apart from the laptop. I like these better. So, I went shopping for one on Amazon.

I found this one which I have tested a few ways.

This one has a variety of inputs and also does power but it has the little cable connecting it and sits apart from the laptop. So I tested it a bit on the laptop by:

  1. Time Machine backup while the device is powered on the dongle with a 2TB USB drive. Success!
  2. Basic power supply with my type C power connector. Success!
  3. Memory card access. Success!
  4. Small Flash drive access while powered up. Success!
  5. And… multiple things at the same time. Success!

So the dongle life is good and by buying a device on Amazon, I extend the ports significantly while still allowing power delivery. If you’re interested in the device, I can recommend this one on Amazon. It works very well and is not terribly expensive. It does not sit flush against the laptop body and that may be an issue for you. For me, its what I want.

We’re getting to the point hopefully of a single interface on laptops and maybe someday on phones that is a Type C connector. The important part is that my laptop only has a single port while yours may have multiples. What I give up though with this laptop is made up with the form factor to me. The 12 inch MacBook 2017 model is the bees knees for productivity and mobility.

Just remember you need to lead a dongle life!

Ulysses is my Tool User’s Choice

I’ve been thinking a lot about a centralized publishing and writing application on my new ecosystem; namely Apple. The truth is that Apple devices whether they are MAC or IOS are very well suited for finding a single application which can provide service to write short-form articles or longer term book or story type publications. I’ve settled on Ulysses on my IPad Pro as the central environment from which I can do blog posts like this, write longer form stories, or diary and journal entries.

What does it take to have a single application that will provide a full and multi-faceted document creation and management environment? I’ll play back a huge error I made in Starbucks today and you can see what you do want.

I inadvertently deleted three years of journal posts in long text files which I painstakingly imported from google docs into Ulysses. I was mad and disappointed at the stupidity of what I had done. Then I remembered that I had chosen Ulysses for a reason. It does really nice backups and restores. So I launched the “manage” function and found the latest backups for my journals and restored them. This was the “huzzah” moment I must say. I then knew that Ulysses with its intelligent handling of backups and restores was my perfect thing. You can have a wonderful integrated environment but with no service wrapped around it, a stupid yet human error can bring it all down.

So the single application you want manages all that and when the time disaster recovery time comes you have the acid test of how it handles a oops. I got my files back with a single touch or maybe two. I became a happy camper at Starbucks and realized that I should not split the journal across multiple apps nor should I install a second app that may provide writing services. You want to find an application but you really want the service that backs it up and makes it relevant and useful. We are all tool users and the idea that a single thing with intelligent handling of my files really makes the subscription worthwhile to me. I don’t mind paying for a thing that provides a set of values and when disaster hints offers me a path.

Here is where it ends up at least for me.

The use of Ulysses is not just a text or writing application. It’s an integrated solution which lets me create but it also protects me from myself. I don’t want to lose things so if I split things across multiple applications or clouds I may lose sight of where a thing is or the latest. Multiple applications cause that faster because I will hunt which app was it that I put X or Y in.

When I go to travel first part of next year, I will want to record the things but have a place to track my things when I get ready to leave the US after my train trip across it.

If you are looking for an application and you are on this ecosystem, consider Ulysses. I moved ecosystems to IOS because I wanted that centralized set of tools that I believed Apple offered. Sure I could have done it all on Google Docs. But I wanted the presentation layer too. I wanted a thing which made creation fun and extended my use. I am not an Apple lover. I don’t really care for it one way or the other. What I do care about is the presentation of information it does and how the applications I have chosen extend across the available environments. If you are a tool user like me, a habilis by trade, you know. You don’t want to use a metate for a projectile point.

Find the tool that may work. It may surprise you when you weigh what it can do. I sure was.

Digital Doodads and Sunday Thoughts

I’ve been considering my upcoming trip next year a lot lately. One of the areas which is key for me is what mobile technology to bring. I have some requirements especially for train and international air travel. I also have a few devices I am currently testing which may or may not survive.

MacBook Pro 2017 13 inch no touch bar. I love this device. Its made for creating, being productive. Its speed and reliability is perhaps legendary and the applications and the OS are sturdy and resilient. Battery life is not so bad. One needs to have a Type C dongle or two. I have a multi card reader which works very well for taking photo’s off my memory card and then populating Google Photos. I don’t really need more dongles but the face I am even discussing dongles is interesting. One must consider dongles with the new Type C laptops though. The laptop wins in many areas for me such as size, speed, use.

iPad Pro 10.5 2017. This is a newcomer to the battle zone. It has some advantages since I also have the apple keyboard case with it and have bought the pencil. Battery life is no slouch and I get a group of apps I really like to consume, read, and do tasks. I could share the same dongle if there were an adapter from type C to lightning which seemed decent. Most of them on Amazon get three stars and they look cheap. The iPad wins due to its flexible screen and size, ability to fold it up on itself and save a lot of space. I don’t have to remove it going through security at airports. It runs Ulysses which is where just about all content comes from these days.

I don’t have to make some final choice for some months. I can dally around and test each and enjoy both of them. The real test is the one that takes place when I go though. I won’t know which one is the best or most reliable or useful until I go. I can read thousands of blogs and news sites which tell me that one or the other is better. There is no way of knowing until I actually use one or the other in my real life adventures. I think when I do the rail trip here next year, I will have an idea about which one will work. My gut feel is that the MacBook Pro is the one. But the iPad Pro has a lot of nice things going for it.

Notice there is no smartphone included. I’m pretty convinced a smartphone, with its requirements for a SIM card and data plan and phone number and more cables and all that is not a choice. There is nothing necessary about the need for a smartphone when traveling. Google Voice/Hangouts, Skype, or a VOIP service can do it all and mean no extra cables or charges for data plans.

The idea is to travel light and flexible and not have enough stuff where you forget a cable or plug or something. A single device is the way to go when your duffle is limited and you plan on moving slow.

What do you all think? Best device to interact with a real camera? Best to use in a life spent on the road? I will not use the term digital nomad. That seems to carry a certain connotation which I am not desiring. I will say “on the road with no clear destination”. There’s a device out there which fulfills the requirements and I may own it now. I hope I do. I don’t want to spend more $$ on digital doodads.

Integrating Ulysses – some ideas

Writing on Ulysses – An exploration

I decided awhile ago to explore different tools which allow me to have a central environment to writing and exploring whether its a journal, blog post, ideas about travel or planning. I started using Day One for journaling but now it appears I could use one tool instead so will investigate the use of Ulysses to record daily thoughts as well.

I store everything on iCloud having bought more storage there. I wish Ulysses would integrate with Google Drive natively. That would be ideal but I’m a realist.

So here’s my first attempt at publishing to WordPress using Ulysses. I have yet to learn keywords and categories.

For the journal, I believe that a single drawer for each year would suffice but I will explore more and if Day One is not the best solution, will change. I would prefer to have everything in a single elegant but easy application which backs up to some cloud out there.

Moving Tech

I’m a tool user by trade so I find things which will work for tasks or things I want to focus on. I decided long ago that open source provided answers to questions that a lot of smaller businesses would ask. I still do not see a compelling method for bringing small business and open source together. Perhaps there is a business in there somewhere.

I also really enjoy the personal technology choices or changes. I used Android and Chrome OS devices for a long time. I liked the flexibility and choice around it. In my latest update I went to a MacBook Pro 13 inch 2017 version. This choice resonated at a few levels. There are tools and applications and approaches which blend the laptop with Apple tablets and phones in a way that Android cannot do. So I made the choice to buy the iPad 2017 model because tablets do have a place but the tablet must be intelligent and swift and usable. On the Android side, the ecosystem there is changing. Android tablets were never a big deal yet we invested in them because we wanted to show our love and support. The truth is that iPads are still superior media consumption devices.

Now we get to the choice of phones. I’ve been using a Nexus 6p android phone for awhile but now that will also change. I have a iPhone 6s plus waiting for a sim card from Tmobile and I will retire that phone and end up using Apple gear again. There’s nothing wrong with me nor is there something globally good with Apple stuff. The truth is we all need change and we need to see how another thing will work to satisfy our tool using needs.

I think there are a few main precepts to this whole thing which I elucidate below for my satisfaction and your disagreement 🙂 –

  1. We choose devices because we want to use them in certain ways and we want them to integrate with services whether cloud or cloud enabling that lets us build our repositories of use. We move around to new devices because they promise more of that use. We also change platforms because we believe the competing platform and its ecosystem goes over the 80% threshold of satisfaction.
  2. We want technology that stimulates us, makes us more productive, challenges us. Its best if the things all talk together, build components within applications that we can share. This lets us use a variety of devices keyed to use parameters and that excites us.
  3. Life is too short to use dumb technology that does not do 1 or 2 above and I believe if we just stay a certain way with a certain thing we cannot explore more of what another ecosystem and platform may offer. Imagine hunter gatherers in their choice for making flaked stone tools with obsidian or the cherts using granite. Not the best choice and by choosing the right thing the use magnified and was built upon by succeeding generations and uses. Dumb technology does not excite, enthrall, or keep us signed up. To do that though, the competing technology needs to allow us to move over gracefully. We don’t need ivory towers of technology where you cannot find a way to peacefully change.
  4. Finally, we want freedom. Our data and its use must reside in a place we can access on many tools or devices. This lets us read, write, create, manage the data bits that are important from many locations. We also travel our landscape with technology and we capture and use that for things which excite, make us mad, or in the end set us free.

I don’t know if its a manifesto for technology freedom and use but what it does provide is a method and reason for us to be those tool users and experiment and use new things or competing things. It enriches out moments by not allowing us to use the same staid technology year in and out. Be bold and try what you hate! You may find more to love in what you hate. The OS ecosystem is rich and tapestried and both have sets of compelling tools. How will you know what’s good or bad if you don’t play the tool user?

Accumulating Stuff

I slimmed down some old paperwork and gizmo cables, old routers, and a few cameras before. Today I did the same with a collection of suitcases, a TV, a fan, some chromebooks and a new router and powerline ethernet kit. This stuff accumulated since living in the current place and today it goes away. Its amazing how the stuff builds up but I always feel better when it goes and nothing replaces it. I don’t know why I managed to accumulate so many suitcases other than I’m a bag junkie and I like to find carry-on bags for my trips that fit what I need. I slimmed the bags down to one today which is the newest one. I bought myself the Tortuga Outbreaker bag. I believe it represents the best value for carry-on at this point.

This bag combines the best of two bags I had before with its integrated laptop and device containers plus a decent zip around main compartment. It means I don’t need two carry-on devices which I travel which is a big deal. None of the previous bags included this.

In the main compartment there are 4 zippered pouches for carrying the smaller things like socks and underwear. This means I change my bundle wrapping to a new technique to use the space I just got. I’m going to do rolling plus folding in the one bag. Going to fold the bigger things like jeans and roll the smaller things like t-shirts, underwear, and socks.

I also bought a daypack but its use is questionable. I most likely would carry my camera bag only which is the ThinkTank Mirrorless Mover 20. This holds my Fuji X series, its telephoto lens, extra batteries and memory cards with room to spare and it slings over the shoulder. I recommend the bag highly. It looks like this.

This is not a minimal bag but its also not huge. Its that middle range bag that has some nice internal pockets and compartments but still has room if I decided to get the wide angle lens for my Fuji.

Considering what will be left after this “purging” event, I will be down to a significant few things of value that I need and a few things I want to keep.

Vacation Bound!

I also am vacation bound in a week and change. I’ll take a week off from work and its craziness and fly up to Vancouver BC and do the last walking trip of the year. I’m happy to be able to get a second trip in this year. I also lock in my frequent flyer miles for 18 more months with this trip so when I’m really ready to pull the plug on the whole work thing, my miles are waiting. I will spend most or all of them next year I think.

A friend asked what I expected to accomplish in Vancouver. My answer is nothing. I am not going to accomplish a thing. I am going to walk the streets, see the city, meet the blocks I can walk down head on. I’ll tire out these old legs and head back to the room after having lunch and a beer out. I’ll repeat it each day and be glad I was able to do the last city on my list.

I’ll also take a lot of photographs with the Fuji and get them saved here and there. I love taking photographs with it and learning more.

Workflows at a cheaper cost point

One can spend umpteen hundreds and perhaps thousands of dollars on Apple gear and high end photo editing software or one can take another approach. What are the primary goals in getting photographs from the camera memory to a place where the applications can work on them?

  1. Transfer photo files from the camera to a holding place where they can be shared, edited, copied to new albums. I use a Samsung Chromebook Plus for my day to day compute needs so I insert the card reader with the memory card from the camera and the laptop mounts up the drive and I can open the gallery application and view the photos. At this point, I choose which ones I want to upload to Google Photos.
  2. I open the web version of Google Photos initially and upload the photos I have chosen from the memory card to Google Photos. When this exercise is done, I close the web version and start the Android version of Google Photos since I now can use the Android applications on Chrome OS.
  3. I can leave the photos the way they are or open them from the Android Google Photos in Android Snapseed to do post processing. I am not big on post processing because I’m still learning the ropes with the camera so I more often delete the memory card contents or reformat after saving only a few.
  4. Here is where the productivity mode kicks in with these Android applications. I can see them in windowed mode like this.

Screenshot 2017-06-10 at 4.01.57 PM

This creates a more compelling experience for me since I can see both applications running on the screen, use the keyboard and interact with both applications much easier. I think that this is one of the compelling use cases for the chromebooks which have or will have Android app support. This windowed mode is very useful and beats the full screen thing on iPads or Android tablets completely. I can also open a web browser if need be.

The other major factor with this is cost. I did spend more on the Samsung Chromebook Plus because I wanted the stable android apps and the screen resolution but other chromebooks can do this easily at lesser of a cost point. You can get the same apps on a Apple device but the cost of entry is a bit more and you will not get windowed view quite like this. Perhaps you will have it in newer IOS releases though.

The final thing with this workflow is that the android apps are technology I am used to using and I can build the supporting flow to allow easy backups to Google Photos.

Since my chosen FujiFilm camera uses regular memory cards, I bought a cheap card reader with both a Type C and regular USB connector on each end. Very useful as well and quite cheap.

If you are looking to build a workflow and use case which will let you harvest your photographs or images, the Chromebook with Android app support is a reasonable and cost effective solution. Having Google Play Store support makes a lot of difference but the laptop form factor, apps in windowed mode, and the obvious productivity enhancements like keyboard and larger screen that can be split or use with other tools is very nice.