‘Rough’ Work Day, Running Lately and 5 Ways to Make Your iPad Your Main PC!

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I have mentioned before that I work in the ‘corporate engineering’ organization, but most people I talk to don’t know what that really means (nor did I really ‘get it’ until I started working at Corning. In my last job there were two divisions – one for microelectronics and the other for printed circuit boards, each with their own research, development, engineering and manufacturing people. Within a division we would work on a variety of technologies and products, and often remain linked to them … well, forever. You would report to your boss but the project lead would have your time. By the time I left I had estimated that 40% of my time was allocated to ‘baggage’ responsibilities from the previous 15 years.

For Corning, without being too specific, each business has employees to do development and engineering and manufacturing, and there is a corporate engineering division that supplies ‘center of excellence’ support to every other division. This allows divisions to streamline operations and the corporate engineering groups to focus on their core skills. Operationally, it means that you almost never see your boss or the people in your department. So I have an office in downtown Corning, but have been there less than a half-dozen times this year.

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‘Rough Day’ at Work

With all of that as introduction, you might understand why it matters for our department to have periodic ‘team events’. We have a monthly staff meeting and quarterly division meetings, but again those are functional and don’t help us connect as people, which greatly enhances our ability to work together effectively. So before I even joined Corning, the group started a routine of having a couple of smaller events and one larger all-day event each year.

For example, last year we had a cooking class day at the New York Wine and Culinary Center, have done wine tours, bowling, boat trips, and more.

This year for our ‘rough day’, we spent the day on a two-masted schooner and then eating at a nice lake-side restaurant.

We did a Seneca lake cruise on the ‘True Love’, which was the boat used in the film High Society when Bing Crosby serenades Grace Kelly on the boat. Because of the weather change from warm & humid to cool & dry, the lake was quite windy … making for excellent sailing! Because the boat is relatively small (capacity of 20 people, we had 14), when we were sailing with the wind the boat tipped so the rail was less than a foot off of the water! The weather was great, and the wind and waves made for a fun and active ride – it was possible to walk around and talk, but choppy enough that you wanted to sit when possible and there were a few drinks spilled. All in all a great adventure, and highly recommended if you are in the area!

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We had a late lunch at the Seneca Harbor Station restaurant, which is a place we’ve been to a couple of times before. Our experience was mixed but generally, and that pretty well reflects the experience this time. Coming in on a Thursday afternoon after 2PM the place wasn’t too busy, so we were able to not be cramped at all.

There were a variety of appetizers, then main dishes. They also provided ‘fresh’ bread that was drenched a sort of butter-oil-garlic … I tried it, but not a fan. I got a Southwest Chicken Salad that had fresh salsa (black bean, red onion, tomato, corn and cilantro salsa with tortilla chips and roasted jalapenos) as well as spinach and other greens and grilled chicken. The problem I had (aside from no tortilla chops and the jalapenos not being roasted, neither of which I minded since the jalapenos were fresh and not from a jar) was that the chicken wasn’t ‘fresh’. It reminded me of getting a big bag of pre-grilled chicken breast from Sam’s Club, reheating and cutting it up. In other words, it was fresh cut, but NOT fresh cooked.

As I talked to others at the table that ‘semi-homemade’ feeling was everywhere. My review of Seneca Harbor Station would be ‘Good’ – food was pretty decent, prices for an ‘on the lake’ place were also reasonable. Service was excellent, one benefit of the place having emptied out after lunch.

But the best thing about all of it was how both events allowed everyone to chat and move around easily – I heard about projects, locations, kids and spouses and parents and so on, planned out a possible course to teach next year, and so on. Excellent day in every possible way!

Running

I have only talked a bit about my running since returning from vacation, but a few things occurred to me as I was finishing up my run today and looking at the 9.07 mile distance … here are the bullet points:
– 10 runs since returning
– 92.5 miles total
– 9 out of 10 runs were over 9 miles
– Totally off last weekend, will run Saturday and take Sunday off
– All runs were ‘free-form’, base building … next week gets back to ‘purpose’.

I was concerned returning from vacation and hopping into running, so I ran with the Kinvara 5s for a few days them rotated back into the Virratas … and I have felt great.

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Five Steps to Make Your iPad Your Main Computer

I talk regularly about using my iPad as my ‘90% Computer’. I also get asked a lot about how to make the iPad useful beyond just ‘a toy’, so I thought I would quickly note a few ways to turn that tablet into your main computing device!

Realize what you CAN Do!

When the iPad first arrived, people dismissed it as an over-sized iPod Touch, and then as a simple ‘consumption’ machine. In other words, some of the obvious capabilities: email, web browsing, listening to music and watching videos. Guess what – the iPad is EXCELLENT at those things.

But very quickly the iPad killed the booming Netbook category and shook up the PC market completely … so it had to be more than just a basic consumption device.

Just by using what is built-in to the iPad and readily available for free from Apple, you get:
– Very capable email client for all common services
– Multi-tab web browsing with most modern features available.
– Calendar / Contacts / To Do
– Maps with GPS and directions
– Messaging and video chat clients
– Camera with integrated browser, separate powerful image editor and movie editor
– Video and music integration with cloud-based playback
– Music making and recording

That is quite a bit – and the hardware is powerful and incredible capable.

Make Use of iCloud, Google+ and Onedrive

One of the great things for me is the ability to quickly shift between iPhone, iPad and Mac in terms of images, music and data files.

For example, I can take a picture on my iPhone, then upload it to a post in WordPress on the iPad without ever downloading it to my device by using the Photo Stream. Using Google+ allows you to add all of the pictures you take to your Google image storage for use with a Chromebook or Android device, and Microsoft’s OneDrive has similar capabilities.

As another simple example, after our New York trip we wanted to look at pictures. We imported ones from our cameras to iPhoto, but the ones from our phones all auto-uploaded so we could just grab the iPad and browse through them all.

Apps, Apps, Apps!

My uses for the iPad?
– Productivity (including all of the stuff from above)
– Data analysis
– RSS browser
– Blogging
– Gaming
– Music making

Doing many of these things requires apps. I love jamming with Magellan Synth, recording up to 48 tracks in Auria, checking RSS feeds in Mr. Brower (uses Feedly), blogging with the WordPress app, and so on.

Whereas most of the best phone games are ‘time wasters’, on the iPad you can play a full game like Baldur’s Gate 2, or X-Com and so on. The screen size gives you the visual space as well as touch-screen space to have a great experience.

The same is true for music – you can use multi-touch to play ‘piano’, manipulate ‘knobs’ and ‘dials’ in real-time, and because of the processing power, an app like AudioBus allows you to string together multiple apps to turn your iPad into a real recording studio!

Accessorize for Success

If you look at the image above, you see I have my iPad in a keyboard case. Specifically I have the Belkin Qode Ultimate, which protects my iPad Air, doesn’t add much bulk, and provides a great Bluetooth keyboard with excellent battery life.

I also regularly use products from IK Multimedia such as the iRig Pro to hook in my guitar, and the iRig Keys Pro as a great portable keyboard.

Temper Your Expectations

Remember … this is NOT a laptop. I think this has fueled some disillusionment and a tapering of sales from all vendors. You WILL need a computer for some things, and to act as a ‘hub’, but you will also find you can use it much less.

That is how my iPad became my 90% computer. When I first got it, I had my work computer for work, but also a smartphone (Droid), netbook and LiveScribe ‘smartpen’. With the iPad the netbook and LiveScribe quickly went away – and so did my use of the Nintendo DS and Sony PSP! And many things I was doing on the Droid I could do more efficiently on the iPad.

When I was in Kentucky last year, I knew I needed my work computer (duh), but I needed some way to do my personal stuff and blogging … and didn’t want to lug two laptops. So I had to do a ‘trust fall’ and hope the iPad would work – and it DID. I was recording and editing and posting video reviews, writing, playing games, making music, emailing, Facetime-ing and so on! So for me, it has earned its place.

And finally – while it seems illogical – maybe you don’t NEED a tablet? As screens get bigger more people are able to use their smartphones for nearly everything. And I look at things and wonder – if Apple DOES release the rumored 5.5″ screen (or even the nearly-certain 4.7″), will the combination of that and my Macbook Air be enough? We shall see …

Have you sailed on a lake? What is your go-to computer / blogging device?

Six Things Saturday – My Favorite Video Games of 2013

Dice

Since I totally missed the ‘Five Things Friday’ or my usual ‘Friday Playlist’ because I am doing a year-end music round-up, I figured I would do something a little different – a round-up of my favorite video games of 2013! For a bit of context, I generally play games on the Mac or PC, as well as iPad. I have never been a console gamer (though we have a Wii & X360), and I stopped playing much on my Sony PSP and Nintendo DS when the iPad games became worth playing.

In general I consider 2013 a pretty weak year in games, especially in genres and platforms I care about. There were few games that met expectations as the search for blockbusters and franchise entries far outstripped innovation. Also, the growth of content-based DLC for PC & console games, and the explosion of the in-app purchase model for mobile games has dramatically altered the focus of gaming from satisfying gamers to figuring out how to get them to click ‘buy now’ on that $0.99 item every hours or so.

But for smaller studios and so-called ‘indie’ games, I thought it was a pretty great year, which is why most of my favorite games come from those studios. I know I called this ‘Six Things’, but I am actually putting up seven – six for Mac & PC, and one for iPad. Here we go – no specific order, just a list of great games!

Bioshock Infinite

Bioshock Infinite: The Bioshock games are spiritual successors to System Shock 1 & 2, two of the all time greatest games (I replayed SS2 recently and it is still awesome). The first Bioshock broke ground with excellent story-telling narrative in a shooter, and while the sequel was rather lackluster, Bioshock Infinite is perhaps the best story-based shooter since System Shock 2! I have a massive review at GearDiary, where I say:

With Bioshock Infinite Ken Levine and Irrational are back, with the best story yet, a challenging shooter, great character, great customization of your character, and loads of intriguing twists and turns along the way. Not only that, but unlike way too many games it is highly polished with few crashes or bugs, works very well across platforms, and scales well on low – or high-end PCs. I see this as a strong ‘game of the year’ candidate.

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Driftmoon: I thought I had completed a review for this, but apparently I never finished up my draft (embarrassed!), but this is a indie game from a small team that I’d never heard of that turned out to be one of my favorite games of the year! You get a classic ‘old school’ RPG with a fun yet intriguing story, top-down graphics that work well once you get used to them, and a bunch of enjoyable characters and locations to explore across the few dozen hours of gameplay. Since it is a RPG, you get to choose how to carry out your actions, what type of character to play and so on. For a small husband & wife team this is a very fun and effective RPG experience.

Drox Operative Invasion of the Ancients 3

Drox Operative: Invasion of the Ancients I am currently working on the review for this, but in many ways it is like every other Soldak game, and in some ways completely different. It is an action RPG with choices, consequences, alliances and so on – but now you are controlling spaceships! The gameplay is satisfying, the depth is incredible, and the replayability is tremendous due to the variety of options and actions throughout the game. Soldak is an incredible developer and you should really check out all of their games!

Avadon-2

Avadon 2 () The latest release from Spiderweb Software, who has been doing indie game development for 20 years now! I reviewed the Mac & PC release here, and there is an iPad version coming soon. The game contains all of the hallmarks of a Spiderweb game – great story, interesting characters, loads of side-quests, huge world to explore, challenging turn-based combat, and more. But one thing I appreciated was that my time as a gamer was valuable, so there was very little ‘grinding’. From my review:

In his personal blog Jeff Vogel reflects the values of loving gaming, but as a developer, husband, and parent he lacks the time to do all of the gaming he wants. I find that reflected in his development sensibilities – I never felt like he was wasting my time: by allowing me to enter regions from various points I don’t have to do excessive backtracking; by balancing the need for combat with the boredom of trash mobs my combat time felt well spent; and I never felt the need to go around bashing every barrel looking for gold nuggets like in Neverwinter Nights.

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X-COM: Enemy Unknown I loved the original X-COM games and have been a fan of turn-based combat games since the early 80s. So I was deeply concerned what would happen with this reboot – but it turned out to contain the best of the old and modern gaming conventions. The levels are fun and tricky, characters are well done, missions are deep with surprises that make you plan every element, and your research and engineering at the home base require careful planning to succeed. The iPad game is an incredibly faithful port that is a great value for the price.

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Metro Last Night Metro 2033 came from some of the developers of the STALKER series, which were hugely ambitious open-world shooter games with RPG elements. Metro was a tighter experience, but brought the best of the shooter elements. Now Metro Last Night comes along, taking us into a larger world with an even bleaker outlook. It is an easier game than Metro 2033, but you can compensate with a higher difficulty level. What is striking is how much better of a straight shooter it is, all while maintaining an intriguing narrative and tense environment.

The Shadow Sun

The Shadow Sun (iPad/iPhone) I continue to be impressed with iOS gaming, from the G5 hidden object adventures to ports like X-COM and originals like Ravenmark … but my favorite iOS game this year was The Shadow Sun which released just before Christmas. I reviewed it at GearDiary on release day, and have replayed it since – it is a great action-RPG that combines interesting story and characters with fun combat and loads of choices to impact the flow of the game. More than a few years coming, this IS the RPG mobile gamers have been waiting for!

And that is it – what games have you enjoyed this year?

Video Review – iPad Air Keyboard Cases

Belkin Ultimate

Something a bit different – I wanted to do a video entry, and have had a number of people at work and out and about asking me about my keyboard case for iPad Air and also about external keyboards for tablets in general … so I knew I had a topic!

Here are the products I mentioned:
Apple Bluetooth Keyboard ($64.99 on Amazon)
Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard for iPad ($49.99 on Amazon)
Belkin Slim Style (currently $57.28 at Amazon)
Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air ($146 at Amazon)
Kensington KeyFolio for iPad Air (reg $99, sale $59 now at Amazon)
Belkin Ultimate Keyboard Case ($120 on Amazon)

A couple of notes:
– Some of these are personal purchases, a couple are samples for reviews elsewhere, and a couple more are things sent along from friends after they reviewed them.
– I didn’t check the prices on several until AFTER I did the review. So I had no idea about the relative pricing, to that the Apple keyboard is the same price I paid several years ago whereas the Logitech keyboard is now $30 less than I paid a couple of years ago!

Here is the video round-up!