January 2011

I have been going to the MacWorld Expo for many years now and I’m really sad to see it losing much of its excitement. When Apple was there, showcasing new products and innovations, there was a vibrancy and energy. Ever since Apple pulled out of the Expo, I feel that it has been going downhill. Apple provided the weight to drive the show, and there were many large vendors who helped as well. With Apple nowhere to be seen, having moved most of their large announcements to their Developer Conference and press events, MacWorld 2011 to me seemed to be just another tradeshow.

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But don’t get me wrong, there were a few diamonds in the rough that I saw at the show that peaked my interest and deserve a bit of mention. I only spent about 2 hours at the show and had to rush through many of the booths. There were plenty of interesting Mac-related or compatible products to be seen and here are a few that I felt should be mentioned.

Nuance (Dragon Dictation)

I spent a little bit of time with some of the folks from Nuance, a voice to text company (dramatically over simplified definition). Their technology is powering many software and even hardware devices that we have. If you are familiar with Siri (purchased by Apple), or Dragon Search or Dragon Dictation or even the Amazon voice-enable product search, you are using Nuance’s voice recognition technology. It’s very impressive. Nuance also has desktop software for Mac and PC that allows you to fully control your computer as well as dictate to transcription. I hope to take a closer look at Dragon Dictate in the future.

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Part of my personal and professional job is creating content. Content for blogs, presentations, papers, emails, tweets, you name it. Contrary to popular belief, content can not just be created in a few seconds. It has to be born, nurtured, developed, rethought, rewritten, finalized and published. It’s an iterative process. And very personal. I wrote an article a while ago about how I write a blog post. The process hasn’t changed, but my time to do it has. I now seem to have more to do and less time to do it.

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I know that I’m not alone here. Finding that period of uninterrupted time is sacred. While I can’t clear your calendar for you, I can offer some tips and ideas on some ways that you might be able to find quality time to produce your content.

  1. imageOffice hours – this is an idea that I borrowed from college. We all know about how professors and teachers regularly post times when you can drop by to talk to them. Conversation is important in both your personal and work life. You cannot simply create content in a vacuum. Idea exchange is critical and can help you further your own thought process. This is more of a tip for the office place. During regular business hours, set aside 2 hours a day (more or less) where you set the expectation where people can come to talk to you. During that time, don’t expect to get any quality writing done. But once your “office hours” are complete, set the expectation (again) with those you work with that “sharing time is over.” Use the time after the office hours to think about what you talked about with your co-workers and then start formulating your thoughts.
  2. image “Quiet Time” blocks with no meetings – another strategy for the work place. Most offices tend to overbook people with meetings. I personally find meetings to be largely a waste of time. Out of an hour, there is probably 15 minutes of quality content and time. Luckily, where I work, meetings are generally 30 minutes in length, however I have seen some people’s schedules being entirely booked with meetings. For someone creating content this is not a good work environment for you. As I mentioned previously, you need to have quality time to think and write. So here is my recommendation, if your business runs via calendaring, suggest to your boss or HR the idea of “quiet time” – a period of time where no meetings can be scheduled and that people just have time to themselves. Many kindergartens and preschools implement this same type of rule, and I believe it is something that companies should implement as well. If your company doesn’t go for mandated “quiet time”, you can subtly implement one yourself by simply blocking out time, an hour or two a day, with “private” meetings…with yourself. Give yourself that private time to get your thoughts together and into writing.
  3. image Voicemail with email – voicemail is great. It provides a way for people to leave you a short message for a conversation that make take a lot longer if you had actually picked up the phone. Personally, I have a thing against picking up the phone for inbound or outbound calls and honestly, it is a flaw of mine. I would rather write out an email that documents what I want to say and leaves no room for misinterpretation or paraphrasing. But let’s face it, I like writing in general. Also, if the phone call is really important, people will either call back or leave a message. A little technique that I also use, since I’m a big advocate of email, is to be sure that my voicemail message says “if this is urgent, please send me an email with the details.” This way, wherever I am, I get the details and can respond. And, if the message is really urgent, people will take the time to email you the details. So how does this gain your some time back for your content creation? Well, for starters you don’t get sucked into useless sales calls or lengthy conference calls that can take away your precious thinking and writing hours. Lower the volume on your phone ringer and let your voicemail message (with your email hook therein) save you a few minutes more a day.
  4. image Software to prevent distractions – computers are now packed full with distractions. This can take the form of email, social networking like Facebook and Twitter, or just all of the other open documents that you need to work on. Recently, new applications are being created or existing ones re-architected to provide more of a distraction-free work environment. The newest version of Microsoft Word for Mac now has a view that strips away all menus and other background icons. I call it the light-box mode or full-screen mode. Apple recently implemented this with iPhoto as well. Similarly, there are some stand alone applications for both the Mac and PC like Think that will do the same thing. Even without software, you can eliminate distractions like hiding your dock or taskbar, or turning off interrupting applications like email or Facebook or Twitter. If you are going to write, do that!
  5. image Early bedtime for kids – some content creators don’t do their best writing at work, or perhaps their home is their office, or their day job has nothing to do with what they are writing about or the content they are creating. If you have a family, you have even less quality time to get your work done. In many cases, what I am about to suggest isn’t even feasible. Kids deserve your undivided attention, especially when they ask for it. You cannot simply put them aside because you need to write or create a video or some other type of content. But, if you have younger kids, you might want to try to get them to bed a bit earlier. Kids needs lots of rest when they are young so by making them go to bed an hour earlier (reasonable time of course) you are actually helping them succeed. So, you might be able to squeak out some extra hours at night for quality time for your content (or gasp, your significant other). But be sure to set the expectation early on and regularly that it is “your time.”
  6. imageHeadphones on” means “thinking” (even if no music) – this is a little trick that I use periodically for a couple of reasons. Get a pair of headphones and plug them into your computer. Put them on when you want to concentrate. Get some music that you like and/or have heard a million times or some that doesn’t have lyrics. Then when you want to write (yes, I talk about content WRITING a lot – there are other types of content), put on your headphones and get to work. If you make this a habit, you brain might get the idea that when you hear that particular music, it’s time to create content! Another trick that I use is that if you have some noise isolating or dampening headphones, you can simply put those on to give yourself a little silence. Also, save putting on your headphones for when you really want to concentrate. People will start to learn that when you put them on, you “mean business…content business.” And get a really big pair of headphones, just to make it easier for people to know.
  7. image Go for a walk with a microphone – sometimes there are simply too many distractions at your desk or in your office. At times like this, you need to grab some portable technology and head for the road. Grab a smart phone or a digital recorder, anything that can record voice memos, and go for a walk. A cell phone is a bit more ideal because people will simply think that you are talking to someone instead of recording ideas or thoughts. Just walk and talk and when you get back, you will be surprised with all of the fresh and different ideas you have come up with.
  8. image Quick notes for later concentration – you need to be sure that you can take notes and jot down ideas wherever you are. This sort of goes hand in hand with the previous point. Have a way to be able to keep a record of ideas handy. Send yourself an email with a list of bullet points or phrases. Or, and I highly recommend this, sign up for Evernote. Their free account is more than adequate to provide you with a digital notepad. They have apps for smart phones, for Macs and PCs. And all of your notes are synced across all devices. And you can take photos or make voice recordings as well as simply jot down notes with Evernote. This post actually started as just a series of notes that I jotted down and later built out into a full fledged article.
  9. image One-off work schedule (in early or work late) – if you have some flexibility on your in-the-office hours, try to mix it up a bit. First you need to figure out if you are more of a morning or afternoon type of person. Ask your boss what the core hours you need to be at work (e.g., must be in by 9 am but can leave by 4pm – either/or, not both), then work your schedule around getting yourself some concentration time during your “prime hours.” For example, I do my best content writing early in the morning so I try to be in the office by 7 am (which also means that I leave around 4pm, allowing me to get home early to spend time with my kids before they are put to bed – early – see point #5 above). If you work better in the afternoon, then get in a bit later and work late. The ideal thing that you are looking to do is find time at either end of your work day to have quality thinking time that is not interrupted.
  10. image Waiting during kid activities – last but not least, if you have kids, it’s pretty common for them to have activities that they need to be dropped off at and picked up from. Use these to your advantage. Bring a laptop, netbook, iPad or just a cell phone with you so that you can do some work. It doesn’t matter where you do the work, but what is nice is that you have a pre-defined period of time where you can do your thinking or writing. I personally like waiting for my kids and enjoy the distraction free time to get my work done.

What tips or tricks do you have when creating content, collecting your thoughts or just sharpening that pencil in your brain? Leave a comment and let us all know! And special thanks to CC Chapman and Ann Handley who inspired me to rethink how I create my content as well as figure out ways to produce better content. I recommend their book, Content Rules, which I’m about half way through and highly recommend – I would be further along but I suddenly have a lot to write about. Oh and as a mini disclosure, I do a weekly podcast with CC called Cast of Dads.

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Apple has tablet competition…and lots of it. The iPad has been reigning supreme for over a year and only now are some possible contenders starting to pop up. The next iPad model is due in April, or so the rumors are saying. By all intents and purposes, Apple is well ahead in the tablet race having come to market early on with a precise, full featured and elegant piece of engineering.

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But as I saw at CES 2011, new tablets are coming, and lots of them at that. Many manufacturers are going to come after Apple to try to topple them from their current throne, much the way the smart phone industry is playing out. iPhone dominated smart phones for a long time, but then there was an influx of Android-based smart phones which has pushed Apple from pure dominance (although we should pay attention on the ripple effect of having Verizon carry the iPhone now – will there be a shift to Verizon? Will AT&T loyalists be happy with freed up bandwidth? Or will Android phones continue to gain market share?).

This is what I’m concerned about for tablets, as it has already happened in smart phones. Customers are going to be overwhelmed by choices. What size tablet to get? 8″, 9″, 10″, 11″ or what? What Operating System would be the best? Android is clearly one of the best OS choices in my mind. But what about JoliCloud or MeeGo? Let’s say that the industry seems to gravitate to Android, will it become the same fractured mess that it is with smart phones? That is to say, with the Android phone market currently, different carriers have different versions of Android. While Google may release a new update, it could take weeks to months before it appears within a carrier’s smart phone line due to customization or testing. Will this be the same experience for tablets? Just walking around CES I saw Android 2.1, 2.2 and 3.0 devices out there. Obviously, you want the one with the later version, but then you need to look at the hardware powering it. Intel chip or Motorola? And what type of inputs? SD slots? And outputs? HDMI?

Another thing to consider in the tablet race are the apps. Apple has proven that the App Store is crucial and core to the success of devices similar to these. They are so behind the idea of the App Store, that they introduced it to their desktops running the latest Snow Leopard Operating System. The Android Marketplace is strong but it is sort of the uncultured cousin of Apple’s App store. Regardless, I do think that Android tablets may be the more cost effective and higher performing platform to get.

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At CES 2011, I was introduced to a fantastic digital camera made by Sony. It’s the NEX-5 and while it is not exactly a Digital SLR camera (I did mistakenly call it that in my video below), it is perhaps the smallest digital camera that has a detachable and interchangeable lens. I have used a few small digital cameras in my time, but nothing to the level of the NEX-5. It’s feature packed, is a 14.2 megapixel camera that also films 1080/60i HD video. But it isn’t just the multi-function and the small form factor that made me really like the NEX-5. It’s the fact that it is very full-featured and extremely easy to use.

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At CES, I got an overview of the NEX-5 which walks through a lot of its plusses. Possibly the most amazing thing was being able to put on a HUGE lens onto the tiny body of the NEX-5.

You can see some of the photographs that I took at CES 2011 on my Flickr stream.

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Two Celebrations of Life on the Same Day – Birthday & Memorial

January 23, 2011

Today is an interesting day for me. For starters, it is my 43rd  birthday. But it is also a somber and reflective day as it was a memorial service and celebration of life for a neighbor of mine that passed away much too early in her life at 41. So my thoughts are mixed and […]

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How To Automatically Set Up your Mac’s Work Environment Based on WiFi Location Detection – AirPort Location

January 21, 2011

There is a lot of great free software out there that provides tremendous value. Smart programmers always want to showcase their talents and I love the fact that there is a never ending stream of interesting applications coming from the developer community. I won’t even start to mention some of the free Mac apps that […]

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Install Video Monitoring for Home or Business in an Hour? You Can Do It Yourself with the Logitech Alert System

January 18, 2011

We are all paranoid, right? Well, most of us are. We worry about what is going on in the places where we are not. That could be your office when it’s the weekend or your home when you are traveling or there is a baby sitter watching your kids. Or maybe you want to keep […]

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Backup Strategy: The ioSafe SoloPRO External Hard Drive is Waterproof, Fireproof & (Almost) Bulletproof!

January 14, 2011

When was the last time that you backed up your data? Today? Yesterday? Last week? A month ago? EVER?! And where did you save your backup? To another drive? To CDs? To an external drive? To the cloud via an online backup service? The reason I’m asking these questions is because most people don’t make […]

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