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OneNote: Notebooks, Sections, and Pages August 3, 2011

Posted by shwaldman in Technology, Work.
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I have been looking for a good solution to keeping my thoughts in a place where I am not always wondering what I am forgetting. Before computers, people carried around these books called day timers or planners. It was a place to see your calendar and take notes. Now, many people carry around computers and don’t want another book to carry. But the computer is too big to pull out every time you have something to jot down. So, we (the collective we here does not included me, yet, though I do sometimes count my iPod touch) have smart phones that have computer capabilities in a small form factor. But there are still obvious space/size limitations of their screens.

On my iPod, I have tried using simple list programs, but they are often too simple. I have also heard lots of people talk about EverNote and I tried it but found it too complex and it requires an Internet connection to view or update content (which I do not always have with my iPod). I also could not find an easy way to integrate it into my desktop computing. I am looking for something that is JUST RIGHT. I finally think I have found something that meets MANY of my needs. So, I want to talk a little about OneNote.

It is a Microsoft “add-on” to the Office Suite (I am using Office 2010 now at work). It is integrated into all the main products, Outlook, Word, Excel, and PowerPoint. It has the same menu ribbon and common icons which are important when looking for how to do things, especially in a new product.

I am still getting used to this application, but I have some tips for anyone just starting out, especially if you want to use the full integration like I do. Essentially, this application allows you to maintain notebooks with sections (tabs across the top) and pages within each section. OneNote lets you attach multimedia to your heart’s connect, such pictures, videos, and other types of documents (like Word or Excel). As someone who likes to manage documents at the file level (in Windows Explorer or command prompt), I find it very interesting that Microsoft only creates a different directory using the notebook’s name. Within that directory, there is always a file named “Open Notebook.onetoc2” as well as a “.one” file for each section. If you want to rename a Notebook, expect to have to do some manually file management. This is reason number one that using this product requires some forethought.

When using OneNote, it is very easy to add content. You can send messages from Outlook with the dedicate icon in the ribbon (but the section must exist first). OneNote also installs a “Printer” that allows you to send a file to a notebook through the print function in ANY application. And with Windows 7 at least, you can drag and drop anything (text, images, etc) right into a notebook/page.

So, what do you do if you don’t have access to your computer all the time? (for now, let’s skip the smartphone). Microsoft recently rolled their versions of the Office Suite products into online applications. Much like the Google Docs that came out first, you can now manage Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneNote files through a web browser. The way this works is that you need a MS Live account, which includes Hotmail, MSN, Xbox, or Live mail accounts online. You can store all kinds of files in these accounts and now have access to these files from anywhere you have a computer. This service is called “SkyDrive”.

You can sync (or share) your desktop OneNote notebooks through your SkyDrive. Once this is done, the desktop application will try to Sync these files to the web, although I have found it to be buggy and that is required some time to manually sync at times. However, once you have these files are “in the cloud” you can manage your notebooks through the web applications which have the same interface as the desktop application. Unfortunately, the web apps do not have all the same functionality, but the core functionality appears to be there to create, update and format your notebooks. This will work well for me, when I am working on my OS X laptop that does not have the Microsoft Office application installed.

Now, what about when you don’t have a computer in front of you. If you have an iPhone or Windows Phone (6.5 or 7), you can also utilize the OneNote app on the go. As of August 1, 2011, there was still no release of Android or Blackberry versions, but I am sure someone is working on it. However, for those of you on Android or Blackberry don’t fret too badly, because you are not missing much. I can only speak to the iOS version, and I can say for certainly it is lacking majorly. I would certainly hope the Window Phone version is much better.

You can not Create notebooks in the iOS version. You can also not create Sections. This is the second reason you need to plan ahad before you start getting too far into using this application. I suggest setting up your primary structure tree (notebooks and sections) on your desktop application before using the iOS app too much. You can go back and add sections using the desktop or web apps if you need to do so. You can create Pages, however you have to be very careful, since it is very easy to create something that is not categorized and therefore goes into an “Unfiled” notebook that you will need to sort out later in the web or desktop version. The icon at the bottom right (page with folded corner and plus sign) only creates “unfiled” items. I recommend using the large plus sign within the section you want to create the new pages. And this is the only real functionality too. You can view recently viewed items and you can search items. If you created a page or when editing an existing page, you can add check boxes or bulleted lists. You can also pull in photo from your iOS photo album, but that is it. Oh, you can delete a page, too. I was happy to find that the syncing back to SkyDrive seems to work flawlessly and quickly.

All in all, I am hoping that the version 1.2 of the iOS app that I downloaded has some much needed improvements coming. But I think it is a good start and I am going to continue to try using it. I will allow me to access my notes from different places without too much planning. Of course, if I continue to have problems with the desktop application syncing to SkyDrive and I have to manually do this, I will walk-away and look for something else again. If you have any experience with OneNote, EverNote or something else, please add your thoughts to this post. Thanks for readiing.

What needs to be fixed in iOS4 for my Touch July 27, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Fitness, Technology.
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The new iOS4 has been out about a month now and I am having mixed feelings about it. I definitely like the addition of the folders in the interface. I also like that applications (like Facebook and Mail) can update their icons to provide notifications. I am not sure how I feel about the fast task switching feature. I am not going to refer to it has multi-tasking since I feel that is not what it is. There are some applications that can go background processing, but in general, applications are just being stopped and returned to in the same state.

But my two biggest complaints about the new operating system is the wireless network function and the calendar sync. First, prior to the upgrade, known wireless networks would automatically connect and work. There was no need to go into Setting and Networks and reselect the new network. Now, I have to do just that… and I seem to have to do that each time I put it to sleep. This is painfully annoying. Sometimes, it will connect if I wait a few minutes, but that should not be the case. The second issue I have is with the calendar sync. Previously, I simply had the Sync Calendar option checked in iTunes and it brought over all my entries whenever I did a sync. Well, at some point during the upgrade (whether it was iTunes 9.2 or iOS4 is not clear) the check box become unselected. It took me a couple of weeks to notice that I was not getting updates, but once I did, I tried to recheck the box. That was my big mistake as it crashed and corrupted my local (.ost) mail file the next time I tried to sync.

I was able to create work around that I am “okay” with, but I suppose I am lucky in that respect. A while back, I started using Google Calendar Sync to copy (one way) my Outlook calendar out to Google so that my wife and I could see each other’s schedule. So, my work around is actually to pull this calendar down into my primary iOS calendar. It works fine, except that I get notifications from my wife’s calendar on my iTouch. But Apple, seriously, why would you be good with this? I know they added a bunch a functionality with single mailbox and additional features, so it obvious that just mistakenly broke my sync. Unfortunately, it seems like when this happens, Apple does not often go back and fix these types of problems.

Another thing that continues to be a disappointment is the Nike+ application. I feel like I can complain about that here because this is a joint venture between Apple and Nike to bring pedometer-like functionality to the iTouch and Nano. And the Nike+ application comes built into the OS like the calendar, mail and Safari browser applications. The primary problem is that Apple refuses to support flash web sites AND the NikePlus.com web site is built entirely in flash. I would not be as disappointed if Apple took the time to improve their application to incorporate more of the website’s functionality. Instead I have to visit the web site on another device (computer). I feel like this a bad way to support their relationship with a partner.

Auto Review: 2010 Ford Flex July 27, 2010

Posted by shwaldman in Family, Technology.
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It is has now been seven months with our brand new 2010 Ford Flex. It is a “second” car since we have a 15K/yr vehicle on lease and we have been falling behind in putting miles that we are paying for on that car (Ford Escape). For that reason, we have only put about 6,500 miles on the Flex. But I think that is still enough to provide a good review of what I like and don’t like.

I will start by saying that there is not too much I do not like. The car was a little on the expensive side at 35K loaded with the mid-range SEL package. That does include a tow-hitch, but not a roof rack system. But the roof is actually two big windows; one is a sliding moonroof that works to vent and open wide to let the sun and sky in. The second window covers that back two thirds of the roof and provides two portal windows over the second row and one large window over the third row – all of which have nice screens that can be closed to dim the light coming through.

This model also is only front wheel drive which I decided on for the lower cost and better fuel economy, although it does not include the new EcoBoost engine system. I was also assured by the salesman that I would not have problems, even on my steep driveway. I have to say I have only regretted this decision about 5 times over the past winter. We have a steep (and curved) driveway and with any more than about 2 inches of snow or ice, I get stuck about two-thirds the way up. I suspect if the drive was straight, I would have less of a problem since I lose momentum once I make the turn. However, I feel like it is a small price to pay. I do not feel any other instability or loss of control when driving anywhere else. That being said, I know I should have taken my wife’s advice and paid the extra $2,000 to get the all-wheel drive. I am sure I will be paying for that each winter for the next ten years. You can bet I am hoping for a little more global warming!

And the only mechanical problem I have had with the car is the radio was defective. I had this happen (though less regularly) with another vehicle, but the problem was that the satellite channels would play in the back ground when the AUX line was in use. And since I routinely listen to my ipod, it is something I could not live with. Obviously, this was taken care of quite easily by the dealership by replacing the radio. Oh, and I also had a small squeak coming from up under the windshield which was also fixed by the dealership.

The best part of the car is its size. It is a big vehicle that has plenty of room for six adult passengers and then additional room for luggage behind the third row. I could not say the same thing about my Buick Rendezvous. And even though the car is big (and I have the smaller engine) I feel like the pickup more than sufficient and the ride is smooth – which is why I refer to it as a car. Thus far, I am averaging about 21 MPG total which is mostly work commute including lots of lights on a 55 MPH road. I really wish that number was higher, but when I compare it to my brother 16 MPG with his Expedition, I don’t complain too much. I look forward to hearing more about the 2011 Explorer which is supposed to get Camry like mileage in the mid to upper 20s. I like the Sync system in the radio. The Bluetooth works easily with my phones and even my iPod Touch – although I have not yet gotten them to work together at the same time. That will be a question for the dealership the next time I take it in (I could not find a definitive answer on the SyncMyRide website). I also really like the large windows described above and shown in the image at the top of this post.

The big leather seats in both the first and second row are super comfortable. And with heated front row, I could sleep in there. The A/C and heat both work well and the standard Sony sound system is quite good. I also like the push to open (and close) hatch, although I am not sure why you can not close the door with your hands. And if there was one thing I could change is the amount of “storage” space around the driver’s seat. The glove box is very small and while there is space in the arm rest, I feel like the designers could have made more room available around and under the center console.