The Perfect News Reader

I often say that I live and die by my RSS news feeds. Yes, it’s an exaggeration but it does exemplify how important news feeds are to me. The tech world is constantly changing and every year, it feels that the change is accelerating. It makes sense – as technology becomes both faster and cheaper, there are new ways to solve different problems. Old limitations start to disappear and things that used to seem impossible are now very possible. With that in mind, I’ve been trying to find the perfect RSS newsreader for a while now. The apps I use to source my information today are Feedly, FeedAFever, NewsBlur, Flipboard and News360. They all have their strengths and weaknesses which prompted me to write this blog entry about the perfect news reader.

The perfect newsreader for me would allow me to focus on the articles that are most important or interesting to me. It would also go beyond the news feeds that I already subscribe to and introduce new articles or feeds to me as it learns more about me.

It would also group articles by topics. Often times, there are many articles written about the same topic. It’d be great to see them in a group and allow me to mark that topic as read or allow me to archive that topic which would essentially mean that any article associated with that topic would automatically be marked as read.

One of the best ways to know if a topic is well worth looking into is to leverage my network. My friends are experts in certain areas. If a particular friend shares an article, I’d often be interested in it. It’s also an easy way of introducing new articles or feeds about things that interest me.

Time is scarce and there will always be more information that I can consume. The goal of the perfect newsreader would be to allow me to focus on the things that are most relevant to me.

Lockitron Lets You Unlock Your Door With Your Phone

http://feedproxy.google.com/~r/Techcrunch/~3/VfTmLOLRmhI/

I’m loving this idea for my home because I rarely have my house key with me but I always have my phone. I currently have a Weiser lock that allows you to punch in a code to open the door but there are a few things that bug me about it based on how I use it.

Batteries run out
The only time I have my house keys on me is when I drive otherwise I’m reliant on the ability to come in through the Weiser lock. I remember a number of times when I am essentially praying that there is just enough power to turn the lock. It would have been quite unfortunate if there wasn’t.

Emailing keys to others
Every once in a while, we’d like people to have the ability to enter the house when we’re not home. They can be trades people or friends who need to pick something up. The problem with the Weiser lock is that is that it isn’t easy to change the lock code and as an individual, you have to remember the new lock code.

Web interface
The plus side of this is that it is easy to manage. Web interfaces tend to be more intuitive then remembering a sequence of buttons to press. However, I can see this being difficult to use by people who don’t have smartphones

One thing I’m unclear of is how does it align to other smarthome interfaces. It would be nice to have something that could not only deal with my locks but also with other things I would want to do with regards to making my home smart.

ExoPC, here I come

Reading Tristan’s article on the iPad gave me the kick I needed to get going on my own blog entry regarding slates and tablet computers. I’ll start off with I’m neither an Apple hater or lover; just like Tristan, I like technology based on its merits and how it helps me. For me, I’m a huge fan of OS X for the desktop, Android for mobile and Linux for home servers for different reasons. For the tablet, I am really looking forward to the ExoPC that should be launching in just a few weeks barring any more production issues

I’m not exactly new to using tablets. I’ve had my Asus R1F for a while but due to a number of issues, I’ve abandoned it as my primary computer and opting instead for my 15″ Macbook Pro as my primary laptop. However, I have very fond and positive memories of my Asus R1F as a tablet. It had three shortcomings as a tablet. They were that it was heavy, the batteries didn’t last more than 2 hours and it had a bug where it couldn’t be unplugged otherwise the screen would try to keep switching modes rendering it pretty useless.

In the past few roles I’ve had, I find myself to be in fair amount of meetings where I’m often not by a computer. In order to manage my day, I typically carry around a paper notebook and a printed copy of my to do list from Toodledo daily. At the end of the day, I would have to transcribe the information from my notebook to my toodledo list. I purposely leave my notebook at work because it’d be a disaster if I didn’t have access to it during a working day. However, there are often times when I am contemplating certain issues and would love to have access to that information with me.

So why ExoPC?

[image from itechdiary]

Believe or not, I’m buying the ExoPC largely because it’s on Windows 7. There are a number of reasons why Windows 7. The first is handwriting support is native to the OS. If the usage is anything like it was on my Asus R1F, I know that it works really well. Native support of the function means that all apps will have this functionality as opposed to just some apps. I manage my day mostly with Microsoft Outlook. It’s not just the ability to access my mail and calendar but also how I am able to convert emails to tasks and calendar appointments. My whole GTD process is done mostly through Outlook. I plan to use either Evernote or One Note as my primary note taking tool. To be honest, I MUCH prefer One Note over Evernote as purely a note taking tool because of the way One Note allows me to organize my thoughts on information. However, Evernote gives me the ability to access my notes everywhere including the web. I’m able to access One Note anywhere that I can have access to One Note via Dropbox but very few computers have it installed. Other additional benefits that come out of being Windows 7 include that functions like dual display, Remote Desktop and even usage of tools such as Synergy are mature and quite well established already.

I am quite intrigued with the ExoPC UI. Creating new UIs that sit on top of Windows 7 is not new. Companies like HP have long done it to support their multi-touch screens to make it more user friendly. ExoPC is now doing something similar for something smaller and for a very different device. From the demo, it looks like the UI seems quite well thought out. I like that they were smart enough to realize that the default close button for Windows will likely be too small for someone’s hand so they created an additional button to handle it. I would have loved to have seen more usage of the ExoPC being intertwined with Windows 7.

Some peripheral benefits would be the ability to not have to print out many documents before meetings because I’d have them handy to begin with. I also like the idea of being able to jot down my notes on the paper and have access to what I wrote electronically. Given that it has a mini-HDMI, there won’t be many issues trying to display from it.

Another big reason why the ExoPC? It’s being built by a Canadian company and we all know how proud I am to be Canadian.

I am a bit mixed about having USB ports. While the idea that I don’t need special drivers or adapters to use peripherals is appealing, I can’t really foresee how often I’d hook up something else outside of a mouse and keyboard. I think most of my data would already be stored somewhere in the cloud via Dropbox or access to my file server at home. 

Why not the iPad or an Android tablet?

To understand why not the iPad or the Android, we’d have to go back in time. All the way back to Windows Mobile. While people often laugh at Windows Mobile, people forget that Windows Mobile overtook Palm as the dominant PDA OS. It crushed Palm within a very short period of time. It wasn’t until late last year when the iPhone actually surpassed the total number of iPhones out there. While Windows Mobile was vastly superior than the Palm (and in my opinion still a much better mobile OS than the iPhone), it was quickly dominated by the iPhone. What the iPhone did really well was to recognize that people use a small device very differently than a desktop. All Windows did was, for the most part, shrink Windows into a smaller OS to be used on a smaller device. Very little consideration was given to how people used it. Apple seems to have taken the same approach for the iPad. It’s invariably taken an OS for a really small device and plopped it to a larger device. Already, I cringe when I see my co-workers try to type on their iPad when they are taking notes over a long period of time in meetings.

Currently, both the iPad and Android face the same challenge. The difference is that Google recognizes that FroYo is not ideal for tablets; they hope to fix this in Gingerbread. Don’t get me wrong; I’m not saying that it doesn’t work. Approximately 3.8 million people would say that it does. Although right now, there are very few alternatives to the iPad at the moment. As Tristan indicates in his blog, which I wholeheartedly agree, the iPad is great if you want to enter quick data, read books, play a few games and watch movies. For me, I need it to be able to also write notes, allow me to access information from multiple places, annotate existing information and access that annotation from other places as well.

So final caveat, I’ve never touched an ExoPC in my life. I’ve based a lot of my assumptions on videos as well as my previous experience using tablets in Windows 7. It’s also the reason why this is under my “Perfect-isimo” category which is more of a wish list type item. Hopefully the money I spent on the pre-order won’t go to waste.

Microsoft Courier – Potential Paper Notebook replacement

 

I’m really excited about the Microsoft Courier. If you’ve read some of my previous posts, I have reluctantly gone back to using my Asus R1F tablet and have indirectly given up on my Macbook Pro. Don’t get me wrong – there’s absolutely nothing wrong with the Macbook Pro or OSX. It’s still my desktop OS of choice. Everything just seems to work on the Mac.

Given then I’m no longer a developer, a lot of my work life is involved in meetings with the business team or the dev team to discuss new ideas, work out issues or discuss design. In meetings, I often find it a lot easier to use a notepad instead of typing on a computer to communicate or describe ideas. The tablet is both the happy medium and extension of these two solutions. It has the flexibility of a notepad and the ability to store and distribute digitally. The downside of my current tablet is that it is extremely heavy weighing at almost 7 lbs. The weight isn’t bad if all I’m doing is lugging it from home and to work. It’s a bit weighty to be lugging it around the office and sometimes across the street. The weight is not bad if you consider what it does but today, it is more powerful than what I need it to be today.

Here’s where I think Microsoft Courier comes in. From the demos on Gizmodo, the product looks more like a paper notebook or portfolio which I take to my meetings right now. It has two “pages” and the way it is designed to work is that one page is used for searching and research while the other is used to work on. The form factor is ideal and I love the idea of having both stylus and finger touch. The really interesting thing about the product is that most of the function that is being displayed here already exists within the Microsoft realm of products. The note writing, embedding of images, handwriting recognition, OCR and concept of pages is embeded in a combination of OneNote and Windows 7. If you’ve never tried, the tablet function in Windows 7 is phenomenal. The gesture support is already used in the Microsoft Surface products.

 

Courier User Interface from Gizmodo on Vimeo.

As there are still a number of things that are unknown about the product, there are also a number of things that I’d love to see incorporated into the device. Synchronization to a central service is key. Notebooks are really good to start ideas however at some point, most ideas need to be finished on a computer. Also for me I tend to work on multiple computers and other peripherals so inter-device accessibility is key. I’m not sure I would install a lot of different applications on the device but the additional applications that I would use on this device are instant messaging, email and multimedia player. Bluetooth integration would be a nice touch to connect to a wireless headset. While having the ability to do both multi-touch and stylus is really nice, I hope that the hardware is able to differentiate the two as when writing, my hand tends to touch the paper and could cause the device to go awry. The biggest unknown about the product is hardware. For me to be able to use it, it would need to weigh at 2 lbs or less. It also can’t be too big or too thin as this would be a device to supplement my MacBook, not replace it. Given that I’m usually moving around for meetings, it will need to last at least 4 hours and have the ability to change batteries.

 

At first glance, I’m not convinced that the Microsoft Courier is built to compete with existing PC Tablets. Think of the Microsoft Courier as what the iPhone is to the MacBooks. While the Courier is supposedly getting the full Windows 7 treatment, it’s use will be limited by its form factor. As for the Apple tablet, it looks like it’s going to be more of a multimedia device whereas the Courier looks to be more of a productivity device. All in all, I’m still very excited to get my hands on the product.

 

Zoompass – Zoom me please

Angry face

 

While I’ve had a Zoompass account for a few months now, I haven’t really had a chance to use it. I like the idea of it and just as importantly, it is a Canadian venture that as far as I can tell is based out of Toronto. This blog fits more under the ‘perfectissimo’ category rather than a review since I am writing based on how I think I will use it rather than the experience of using it.

First off, a little bit about me to understand why I am excited about it. In general, I don’t like dealing with cash but even less with debit cards. Too often have my friends been victims of debit card fraud. At the same time, the issue with using credit cards is that unless I’m checking constantly, it can sometimes be a surprise at the end of the month how much I have spent on miscelaneous expenses. Not sure about other countries, but there are quite a few services that offer “no fee” banking but one of the issues with that is the one I use in particular does not offer the ability email money transfer.

Looking at the services offered, I think that Zoompass offers a service that bridges the gaps in the financial services provided to me by the providers of my choosing. Here are some of the reasons why I am attracted to Zoompass

Transfer money to another person at a reasonable cost

Zoompass offers the everyday person the ability to securely transfer money from one person to another via money in their Zoompass account or a credit card attached to their Zoompass account. Zoompass to Zoompass transfers cost very little money. We have Email Money Transfer in Canada but for those of us who aren’t banking with the big 5 banks, the cost per transaction is quite high and quite inconvenient. Zoompass assists with this.

Act as a cash account that is integrated with PayPass and Mastercard

One of the things that I thought was very useful was the ability to use my “octopus” card (equivalent of TTC Metropass) in HK to pay for transit fares and other miscellaenous purchases. PayPass brings the same concept to Canada. It is also integrated with a Mastercard giving me maximum flexibility of payment. What I like best about this concept though is that it is truely a cash card. I like the fact that I can limit how much money is on the card. If the card is ever stolen, there’s a bit of a cap on how much money there is on the card. Also, it’s a good way to manage my incidental expenses. My issue with using cash is there its not tackable and the issue with using a credit card is that I don’t check for how much I spend until the end of the month.

A couple of things that I would like to see is the ability to transfer money to and from my credit card to Zoompass. I know that the reason why they don’t do it is for fraud prevention but it would be a nice feature nonetheless. In general, I’m paranoid attaching my personal bank account to any thing on the web and it is one of the reasons preventing me from using this more. Another thing that would be interesting and perhaps it’s just a matter of time is to use a service like Zoompass to facilitate micro financial transactions. I personally think there is a huge market opportunity there. Right now the only way you can transfer money via your mobile device is via an installed app or via the mobile app. SMS money transfer would also be an awesome service although I would be quite curious to see how they would deal with stolen phones or wrongful access of your phone.

I love the potential of Zoompass and definitely hope that it lives up to its promise.

Looking for The Perfect Camera Bag for Day-to-Day use

I currently use the Lowepro Slingshot 100 as my day-to-day camera bag.
There are many things I like about it. It's small, easy to access as I
can swing the bag quickly to the front and has some really useful
features like a waterproof cover so that I can cover the bag in case it
rains. But there are a couple of downsides. For one, the bag is
extremely uncomfortable to wear for long periods of time. It would also
be nice to be able to carry a tri-pod as well. My Gitzo doesn't come
with a sling.

So, the perfect camera bag for day-to-day use would have the following features:
* interchangeable slings between my right and left shoulder so I could distribute the weight
* means to carry my tripod
* ability to carry a water bottle
* space to carry miscellaneous stuff like manuals and sunglasses
* comfortable to wear for at least 5 or 6 hours a da

New Category – Perfect-isimo

I love trying new products; I think for the most part, we all do. For
me, it's always about trying to do things in a more functional or
natural fashion. Sometimes it's to make life easier for me or to
enhance my enjoyment of my many hobbies. So I decided to create a new
category called "Perfect-isimo." It's for the times when I'm using a
particular product and I'm thinking about "if only it had… then it
would be just perfect." I figured that if I had a particular need, I'm
sure other people are looking for the same thing too and it could be a
good way to note down the product discoveries together.