December 8th, 2010 by Geoffrey Bartlett

Things have gotten kinda stale around here, mostly because I thought nobody was listening. The Google Analytics for this site were riding around a steady 0 visits per day. I finally figured out that the theme I was using didn’t include the code for the Google Analytics call in each page, so I really have no idea if anyone was visiting the blog.

For now there’s a new [default] look (with the analytics hook), and there’ll be some new posts shortly.

Perpetual Notepad

October 30th, 2010 by Geoffrey Bartlett

Meeting notes have become an important tool for me to stay on top of discussions and action items, and I’ve become a far more prolific note-taker as a professional that I ever was as a student. Unfortunately, effective filing of paper is not among my talents, so attests anyone who bears witness to my desk and the many paper piles. Miraculously, I’m often able to lay hands on paper notes written long ago, but I’ve long sought a digital solution to eliminate the paper.

Many Attempts

In my quest for electronic notes I’ve tried several approaches that never quite caught on.

  • Scan my paper notes. Refer to the neat pile of unscanned notes atop my document scanner.
  • Optical pens that capture handwriting. I couldn’t get past their cost, their single purpose, and the need to always write on special paper in proprietary notebooks.
  • Laptop. Having that screen between you and your colleagues is too much of a barrier, and I don’t always carry the laptop.

Revisiting an Old App

I’d been using my iPad for about a month when I went to a conference in June. Thus far I hadn’t figured out how to make the iPad my note taking panacea. At a conference session a woman sat next to me with her iPad and the dock keyboard. She was feverishly typing away during the session, and I occasionally looked over to see what app she was using. At the end of the session we spoke briefly and I was reintroduced to Evernote.

I say I rediscovered the app because I had previously tried and discarded the iPhone version of the app, long before the iPad was on the market. At the time I’d concluded the iPhone wasn’t a reasonable note taking device (no big surprise). Trying Evernote again on the iPad was a wholly different experience. Keeping notes with the near life size keyboard on the iPad wasn’t a breeze, but it was close enough to typing on a real keyboard. Though Evernote on the iPad is little more than a basic text editor (not much more than the built-in Notes app), its few advanced features, and price (free*) make it a great choice. If you’re a good touch typist, add on Apple’s wireless keyboard and you can record notes almost as fast as a court transcriptionist.

More Than a Notepad

Those advanced features I mentioned? The most important and transparent feature is synchronization. There are versions of Evernote for every device you can imagine, and they all stay in sync by uploading your notes to the Evernote servers. I can write a note on my iPad, read it on my work PC, access it on the go on my iPhone (works on Blackberry and Android too), and then update it on my Mac. If I don’t have any of those devices with me, I can log into their web page on any computer with Internet access.

All your notes are searchable, can have tags (keywords), and can be filed into “notebooks”. Clever tagging makes it easy to pull up all notes related to budget, for example.

You can also create more than text notes. On the iPad you can record audio while you type using the iPad’s built-in microphone, though I’ve found that audio notes cap off at 20 minutes. On the iPhone you can make text, audio, and photo notes. How do you search for a photo note after the fact? The Evernote servers “read” any words in the photo using Optical Character Recognition, allowing you to search for any text appearing in the photo (but you can’t copy the text out of the photo). You can also set tags for the photo. At a recent meeting I used my iPhone to snap a photo of a paper agenda passed out. After less than a minute the photo appeared in Evernote on my iPad, where I was keeping meeting notes.

If the features don’t sell you, the logo features an elephant. Go Jumbos!

Evernote website

Vital Communications

October 15th, 2010 by Geoffrey Bartlett

Most people are probably aware that the iPad, like its cousin the iPhone, can check email, and surf the web. These were key back in May when I had an opportunity to evaluate my very new iPad as an emergency communications tool.

A Small Leak

Saturday afternoon, May 1st, I get an email from the Massachusetts Health & Homeland Alert Network (HHAN). The Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) was letting emergency managers know about a leak in a water main in Weston. I pictured a crack spraying water – big mistake. Nonetheless, our response began with a message composed to the community carrying forward the state’s request to avoid non-essential uses of water.

iPad as a Communications Tool

At the time I was in the Spring Fling command post. Our initial notification to the community consisted of an email message to all campuses. The draft was composed on the iPad, taking advantage of the built-in email client and spell check. Subsequent drafts were exchanged until the message was sent using the Announcements elist system.

Escalating Message Priority

Around 5 pm the state announced a boil water order. At this point the message priority was higher, and crisis communications plans called for a text message. Using the built-in web browser, I accessed the web-based notification platform, composed a text message, and sent it on the iPad. Using the combination of the 3G connection and the WiFi networking, I was able to stay connected and compose the message no matter my location on campus.

Incident Dashboard

As the incident progressed, the state communicated via websites and daily conference calls. Public-facing sites were accessible on the iPad, though the state’s primary tool for sharing information with emergency managers was a little difficult to access. WebEOC, a commercial product from ESi, is a shared dashboard for incident events. Unfortunately it’s not directly compatible with the mobile Safari browser on the iPad, but can be accessed by manually entering the dashboard address. It’s a little arcane for the non-technical user (ESi, are you listening?).

UPDATE Oct 21, 2010

ESi was listening! Here’s a pointer to make WebEOC work on the iPad:

  1. From your home screen, tap Settings: Safari.
  2. Turn the Pop-Up Blocker off.

I’m normally very strict about my browser security, but Mobile Safari will still ask your permission to show a pop-up, even with the blocker turned off.
Change this setting on your iPhone or your iPad to be able to view most types of WebEOC boards (I haven’t tested them all yet).

Early Conclusion

Around 4 am Tuesday I got the phone-call-email-text-message-alert from the HHAN that the boil water order had been lifted. Not wanting to fall behind in our communications, I took the time to compose the message and get a draft out for review. I reached for my iPad where it was charging on the bed stand, and put together an email directing the community on how to recover from the boil water order.

Read about the incident communications in a Tufts Daily Editorial.

Free Shipping & Handling

October 12th, 2010 by Geoffrey Bartlett

When Apple announced and demoed the iPad in January 2010, they said it would come three sizes and two flavors – with or without 3G – and would ship in April. That gave me a couple months to contemplate my purchase.

3G or not?

The 3G option is a factory-built-in module that allows you to send and receive high speed data over the AT&T cellular network. Including this option makes the iPad a truly mobile device. In January they also announced an agreement with AT&T to allow users to activate and deactivate 3G service on a monthly basis with no commitments, no contracts. There were a few factors that played into my decision:

  • You can only add the 3G option at the time of purchase – there’s no ability to “upgrade” after the fact.
  • The 3G module also adds GPS capability.
  • At $130, the option adds only 26% to the price of the low-end model.
  • If you travel, a hotel typically charges about $10/day for Internet service. At as little as $15/month (for up to 250MB of data transfer) an iPad 3G data plan is cheaper than two days of hotel Internet.

I committed to owning a 3G model, even if I didn’t immediately activate the service.

How Big?

The iPad comes in a 16GB, 32GB and 64GB size. Again, make a sound decision at the time of purchase, because you can’t upgrade the memory, and there’s no external storage. Still, a 16GB model will serve most people well, and what you can’t carry on the iPad, you can access remotely over WiFi or 3G. I was buying my iPad for business and pleasure, and one of my personal interests is photography. I wanted to be able to carry my photos with me, so I opted for the largest model. I carry my entire library of pictures – over 21,000 at the moment – and still have space for 4,038 songs (11.2 days of music), a few feature-length movies, and still have space for apps, books, and 10% breathing room. Suffice to say that the 16GB model should satisfy most business needs, with plenty of room for fun.


How Soon?

Apple began accepting pre-orders on March 12th, at a time when I was at the base of Mount Washington in Pinkham’s Notch, NH. Luckily there was WiFi at the base lodge and I placed my order immediately. Unfortunately the 3G model would come out about a month after the non-3G model, but I decided it was worth the wait (it was). My iPad would ship overnight [for free] and arrive on the same day it would be made available in retail stores, but without waiting in line. The last option I added is AppleCare, to extend the warranty to three years.

How Much?

iPad WiFi + 3G 64GB: $829
AppleCare warranty extension: $99
Protective case: $39
VGA adapter (for showing presentations): $29
Sales tax: $56.06
Shipping & Handling: $0
Grand total: $1,052.06


October 12th, 2010 by Geoffrey Bartlett

Welcome to iPad@Work. I’ve been using my iPad for work and fun since I received it at the end of April. Showing up to meetings with it has generated some interest, so I’m starting a blog of how I’m using it to do work. Stay tuned for more.

I’m also still learning how to use WordPress, the software used to host this blog, so bear with me.