App of the Week: TripIt

This week, we take a bit of a shift away from productivity apps primarily on devices and move to a system for travel that has changed my experience. As a frequent traveler (I've averaged more than 100,000 miles of air travel each year for the past decade), every trip has a combination of information that is critical to make the travel aspect of the trip as uneventful as possible. TripIt has changed my experience by remembering all of the details, keeping them in one place, and placing them into my systems in ways that are very helpful. TripIt is a combination of a web site and an app that collect itinerary information, transform it into trips, and then allow for distribution to other systems like calendars. As a result, it has become the centerpiece of my travel logistics and relieved me of the burden of tracking the details.

How?

Well, first, TripIt captures all of my itineraries. It does this when I send them to plans@tripit.com or by checking my Google email account for me and finding itineraries there. It processes plane, train, automobile (rental), hotel, and other reservations, parsing the details out of the itineraries and building out "Trips" that contain the overlapping information. For example, for me a typical trip includes a round trip on an airplane, a rental car, and a hotel for the week. All of these are bundled into a "Trip" in the TripIt app, and I can view each item independently or as a group. This provides me very fast access to the "next" element of my trip (picking up the rental car or getting the hotel location, for example).

I also have TripIt add this information to a calendar, and I subscribe to that calendar within my calendar apps. This means that I know precisely how long a flight is scheduled to last, and it gets blocked for me without me having to do anything else.

As a result, I haven't lost a rental car confirmation number, forgotten which of the hotels with similar names I've booked, or been too surprised by how long a flight lasts.

What do you think of TripIt?

App of the Week: Glympse

So far, App of the Week has been about various productivity apps that keep enable us to use all of our devices to engage with our content and data anywhere. This week, though, I'm going to let you in on a cool little app that helps me with the burning question, "When will you be home?": Glympse. Glympse is one of those apps that I find very useful and cool. It's a pretty simple app, with the simple idea that you may want to share your location and estimated arrival time with others. When you do, they can track your progress on a map in the app or on the Glympse web site. It's as simple as that!

I like using it when I am meeting someone, when our schedules are tight, or when I just want them to know when to expect me with high accuracy.

Check it out and let me know what you think!

App of the Week: Day One

It's the end of the year. It's the beginning of the year. It's a time of peace and goodwill. It's a time to look back. It's a time to look forward. I'm sitting in a hotel room along the beach in Hollywood, Florida. My plans for the day have changed, and I thought of you and the goals for the year. It occurred to me that you could gain much by writing down your thoughts more than you do, and so I thought of Day One, my primary journaling app.

Day One is a gorgeous journaling app made for the Mac and the iPhone and iPad (via a universal app). It's a great way to begin to collect your thoughts and experiences, with deep functions to grow as you find yourself writing more and collecting more of your life into it. Much of what you might want to remember is automatically recorded by Day One, such as the location of the post, the weather when you posted, and date and time. As a result, you can view the timeline of your entries or a map, and review what you were thinking, what you experienced, where and when.

This combination can create many insights as you review your year, look forward to the next, set your goals, and consider what's possible.

I also like that I can write in Drafts and then use an action to enter those thoughts into Day One. I'm not always sure when I start writing in Drafts what I will want to do with the thought once it's more complete!

So, here's my thought for you today: what would your life be if you began to write more, record more, review more, and be more intentional about what's next?

It's just a thought. But, it has the power to change your future.

App of the Week: OmniFocus

I'm sitting here in my office prepping this blog post on a snowy Colorado afternoon. As I looked down the list of apps I've created for this series, I got to thinking about the one that would really help as we turn the corner to a new year. That one is OmniFocus, available separately for iPhone, iPad, and Mac. Before I get into the details of the app, understand that I buy into the Getting Things Done (GTD) philosophy of productivity:

  1. Capture: Get everything out of your head and into a trusted system,
  2. Clarify: Process what it means,
  3. Organize: Put it where it belongs and where you'll see it when you can do it,
  4. Reflect: Review frequently, and
  5. Engage: Do what there is to do.

This set of simple steps is very difficult to actually do consistently. There is so much demand on our time these days, with the ubiquitous Internet, always-on communications, and ever-faster pace of innovation and work. Yet, it is the only way I have discovered to know what is "on my list," what is "off my list," what is "waiting for something or someone outside my direct control," and so on. It doesn't mean you'll get everything done. It does mean that you'll get more of the most important things done.

So, what about OmniFocus?

While there are a number of "to do list" apps, some of which are less costly (including some which are free), OmniFocus is the one I've chosen to use consistently because it allows me to best set up my life in alignment with GTD.

While OmniGroup describes OmniFocus on their web site, I approach it differently. Specifically, I look at how it enables each of the steps of GTD:

  1. The OmniFocus Inbox is the capture point. Whenever I come up with a new idea or an item appears that I need to address, I put it into the Inbox. That's my capture spot. I even put emails into the Inbox if they represent an action I need to take. This means there is only one place for my actions. OmniFocus does a good job of providing links back to the mail items, so I can file them in my Archive at the time I capture them.
  2. I review the Inbox during breaks in my day, and ask the GTD questions about each item. Based on what the item is, I take the appropriate action, whether addressing it right then, putting it as an action step into a project, or otherwise filing it. These are the Clarify and Organize steps.
  3. I perform a Weekly Review, checking all of the "still to do" items in OmniFocus and adjusting them as appropriate.
  4. I use Contexts (the various locations, tools, and energy levels of my life) to look at only those things that I can do at a particular time. For example, when I'm on a plane, I don't usually purchase Internet access. So, if a task requires Internet access, there is no need for me to see it during a flight. Thus, my "In-flight" context doesn't include those items.

Using OmniFocus I am able to maintain my sanity. I capture items before I forget them, I have one place where I look for actions to do, and I keep the available actions as clean as possible.

How do you get things done?

App of the Week: 1Password

So far today, I've logged into a dozen or so accounts on the Internet. I've logged in from my iPhone, my iPad, and my Macs. I've done some shopping, commented on some blog posts, reviewed RSS feeds, and more. Every one of the accounts has a complex password made up of a random set of numbers, letters, and punctuation. As an expert in cybersecurity, it'd be pretty embarrassing to have my accounts cracked. So, I'm careful. And the most useful tool in my arsenal is 1Password. When you do log into your accounts, how do you do it? Do you use one password for multiple accounts? Are your passwords easy for you to remember? How can you be sure they won't be easily guessed?

While there are a number of strategies for coming up with strong passwords, like this one from xkcd:

there are alternatives in the form of applications like 1Password that simplify the entire process, and given the large set of accounts we all typically have, I highly recommend it.

1Password is one of a set of applications called "password vaults" or "password managers." These applications provide a number of functions related to passwords and related sensitive information like credit cards, including encryption, generation, storage, and retrieval. From my perspective, having a password manager is a critical step in protecting yourself online.

1Password Workflow

1Password provides a broader range of functions than I use every day, and some that I don't use at all, but it is an application that I use multiple times every day on each of my devices. Here's the general workflow:

  • When I visit a new web site and create an account, I use the 1Password icon in my browser to generate a new password. 1Password prompts me for my 1Password master password to unlock the application, then allows me to generate a password with whatever characteristics I prefer. I typically use passwords that are as long as the site will accept, and as complex as it will accept, including upper- and lower-case letters, symbols, and numerals. 1Password will automatically fill in the password as I'm creating the account. 
  • When I submit the new account information, 1Password remembers the new account, including the username and password. It prompts me to store that information into the 1Password database. 
  • The next time I visit the site, I use the 1Password icon to fill my username and password.

The result of this workflow is the following:

  1. I only have to remember one password (hence the name!): the password to unlock 1Password.
  2. The password for the sites are on all of my devices, synced all the time.
  3. All of the passwords are use are long random strings of characters that are for all practical purposes impossible to guess or brute-force crack.

1Password offers a number of methods to keep your database synced across all of your devices, including Dropbox and iCloud. They also offer applications on iOS, OS X, and Windows.

I count 1Password as one of my essential applications, and you should, too.

App of the Week: Special Prices at AppSanta

Every once in a while, independent developers offer their apps at a special price. This holiday season, AppSanta is once again offering a number of favorite apps at discounts up to 80%. Drafts 4 is one of them, as are other apps I'll be covering in the future such as Terminology, Gneo, TextExpander Touch, Clear, Launch Center Pro, Manual, Calendars 5, and perhaps more. Check it out!

I'll post this week's App of the Week by tomorrow.

(Note: this is not a sales pitch, nor do I receive anything for pointing you to AppSanta; I just thought you might find the discounts useful.)

App of the Week: Evernote

So far, the App of the Week series has looked at two apps that represent the ends of a spectrum from long-term storage of your core content with Dropbox to short-term content collection with Drafts. This week, we're going to look at a category-creating app that bridges the spectrum: Evernote. Evernote includes a web browser interface, PC and Mac Apps, an iOS app, and more. There is also an entire ecosystem of apps that has built up around the core Evernote capabilities that are also worth exploring if you add Evernote to your workflow.

So, why would you use Evernote?

Originally created as a simple note-taking application to sync notes across all your devices, Evernote has evolved into an entire ecosystem of physical and virtual information capturing products. The Evernote Marketplace offers products as diverse as a high-quality stylus and scanner to unique carry bags and device stands. Evernote has also recently added specific features to provide for collaboration using Evernote, including Evernote chat.

However nice those aspects are, they are not why I use Evernote. I use Evernote to capture both text and images that will be archived so that I can search for them later. Everything you store in Evernote is indexed for searching, including images with text, making it easy to later find a quick note that you wrote, a receipt that you filed in it, notes that were on a whiteboard, or anything else. You can also tag items to add an additional set of searchable terms.

Image Text Search

When you upload images to Evernote, the Evernote servers go to work and run OCR (optical character recognition) on them and index the terms that the OCR finds within the image. This is how you can take a photo of a whiteboard and later find that photo by using terms that were on the board. This has saved my bacon more than once.

Workflow

Typically, on my mobile devices I use Drafts to capture text and my camera to capture images, then import them into Evernote. Other times, I'll open the Evernote app directly and use the text editor and image capture that's native in the app. I put the captures into Evernote Notebooks based on the area of my life for which they are useful (for example, I have notebooks for Personal, Speaking, and Writing in addition to notebooks for my clients and other technical and operational aspects of my work life). This allows me to narrow searches, as well as browse historical notes quickly and in context.

I capture notes like coupons, travel certificates from airlines and hotels, receipts from purchases and government sites, and gift ideas for friends and family. I also use Evernote to have notes available in multiple environments, like sharing between PCs I use for specific customers and all of my devices.

Summary

In short, to capture ideas, notes, and other temporal information for archival and retrieval, Evernote is a slam-dunk.

App of the Week: Drafts

Last week, we looked at Dropbox, a way to centralize your content so that you can access it from any device, anywhere, at any time. This week, I'm going to take you to the other end of the spectrum: Drafts, a universal iOS app for quickly capturing text you can then send to virtually any app or content store. The iPhone and iPad versions are optimized for use on each device type, and I use them extensively. The first thing to know about Drafts is that it launches instantaneously and gives you a blank canvas for writing so that you can capture your thoughts without delay:

As you can see, it gives you a simple white canvas, with a few buttons along the top for looking at your stack of Drafts, adding a new Draft, and taking actions. There's also a character and word count, together with an information button when there is something to know about the current draft.

Above the keyboard, there are also some new keyboard functions, including undo and redo, moving the sprite one character at a time, and various Markdown keys for headers, emphasis, and links. That list also scrolls, unveiling a few more options for a tab a special characters:

With this simple interface (and your choice of keyboard), it is easy to launch and quickly capture whatever is on your mind, from notes to journal entries to bits of code or anything else that you want to get out of your brain and into bits on your device.

Once you've got your text into Drafts, however, the magic really begins. Drafts is designed to be a catch-all for content and allows you to send the text virtually anywhere. Touching the icon in the upper right corner opens your Actions, providing you ways of sending the text to other apps, the clipboard, and more:

With this approach, you have one place to capture your text, and then you are able to send it to one or more other locations whenever and however you'd like.

Drafts keeps an infinite virtual stack of your Drafts, as well, and touching the icon in the upper left will show you your list:

You can flag items in the list, archive them, delete them, or simply keep the list running in case you ever want access to the items later.

I find Drafts invaluable, and it is one of the four apps on my iPhone task bar and is also one of the five on my iPad task bar. Take a look, and let me know what you think in the comments or by email or Facebook message.

App of the Week: Dropbox

Yes, I'm aware that Dropbox is less of an app than it is an online storage system, but that's precisely the point I made in my first post: the ability to transparently store your data in a way that is accessible everywhere changes every workflow. Dropbox was the first widely-available system that provided ubiquitous access to your files anywhere, and it does so completely transparently: from your perspective, your files are in a folder and sub-folders on your various devices. They are in the same place on every device. I have Dropbox on my Macs, my client PC, my iPhone and my iPad. My files are always at hand. The set-up is straight forward. Go to Dropbox, set up an account, be sure to use 2-factor authentication, and download the app for your Mac or PC, and install it. When you do, it will create a Dropbox folder in your home directory. Anything you put into it -- including both folders and files -- will sync to the Dropbox in the cloud, and sync to any other devices tied to the same account.

If you carry mobile devices, download Dropbox to them, as well. Now, your files are available anywhere you have any of your devices.

Dropbox Differences on Mobile Devices

By default, Dropbox on a Mac or PC syncs every file and folder on the device to and from the cloud. By default, Dropbox on a mobile device syncs none of the files and folders, but provides access to them through an Internet connection. Dropbox provides ways of changing this behavior, but the functions are different in the two environments, and you will have to decide how you want to interact with files and how much storage you want to set aside for them.

PC and Mac

Dropbox syncs your entire Dropbox to your PC and Mac, setting up a complete replica of the cloud version of Dropbox on your system. Given that most computer systems have sufficient disk space, this makes sense. However, there may be files or folders that are more archival or otherwise do not need to be always on your computer. If so, you can use Dropbox's "Selective Sync" feature (within the Account section of Preferences) to remove some folders and/or files from those that are always on the computer. Note that you can still access those folders using a web browser to Dropbox.com, but they will not be on the computer as local files, and won't be available when they computer isn't on the Internet. All other files will be available when you're offline, and will sync with the Dropbox cloud when you get back online. Dropbox handles conflicts smoothly, and uses icons and messages to communicate about the sync status.

Mobile Devices

On mobile devices, Dropbox works exactly the opposite: no files or folders are stored on the device by default. Instead, all interaction is by using an Internet connection through the Dropbox app. If you want a file to be locally cached (so that you can read it while on a plane, for instance), mark it as a "Favorite" by touching the star. This will cache the file on your device and also put the file into the Favorites section of the app.

Integration

More and more apps on iOS (and Android) interact directly with Dropbox, providing for workflows that store files in Dropbox that are edited or otherwise used by other apps. One common use, for example, is as a drop location for email attachments, both sending and receiving. You can even use a browser to download or upload files at any time from any where, including a friend's computer.

Workflow

I use Dropbox to store all of my files and data that isn't dedicated to one particular app on one device. I even store some of those in it. The fundamental advantage for me is that I have all of my files on multiple systems (my Macbook Pro, my Mac Pro, and even my client PC) so that I can recover the files if anything ever happens to Dropbox. And Dropbox has the files if anything happens to my devices.

So, as a result of this foundational characteristic, Dropbox is the first app/system in this series.

Don't forget to let me know in the comments or my email your thoughts on apps or workflows you'd like to see included.

 

Let's go!

Apps of the Week

Apps of the Week

Today, while flying over my beloved Rocky Mountain on the way to Phoenix to support my son Gabe as he competes in the Western Region Oireachtas Irish dance competition, this theme occured to me. As I have thought about the wide variety of topics on which I have written over the years, it became clear to me that one of the reasons that my posts have been so bursty is that I, as many before me, have wondered what I have to say that would be of the most interest. Over on the RedSeal blog, I post frequently on topics of cybersecurity and related networking challenges. However, especially when I wrote a column for InfoWorld, it was clear that there were topics that resonate and which people find helpful. 

Given the shift in applications over the past few years, it seems there is an interest in the systems and applications I use to do the work I do, both in my home office and as I travel to support clients around the world. So, beginning with the next post in the Technology section of the blog, I'll share with you the apps I use, how I use them, and why I like them. 

Purpose 

I could, of course, do this for any number of reasons, including that I'm being paid to do so. Let me start by saying that I am not. While I have acted as a beta tester for a number of the applications I'll be describing, most are simply those I have found by trial and error to be useful and effective for my work. You'll have to decide if they fit your needs and wants, and I'll do my best to help you with that process. Also, if you have questions about particular workflows, types of apps, others that I have tried but don't use, and so on, please ask.  

Also, perhaps through this process you and I will have an opportunity to influence some of the existing and emerging applications, and that seems like a reasonable purpose, as well. 

Most of all, it is my deepest desire to see you able to do your best art, whether it's writing a book, building software or hardware, teaching, or expressing yourself in any other way. If my insights into the applications you can use to make that work more effective is helpful, I will be delighted. 

Platform

The vast majority of my work is done on an Apple device. I use an iPad and iPhone (which run iOS), a MacBook Pro Retina, and an old 2008 Mac Pro (which run OS X) for my personal work. There are times when clients require me to use a Windows system, so there are some Windows applications that I use to shortcut and otherwise help me do good work in that environment, but for Windows applications (or Android, for that matter), my insights will be quite limited.

Perspective

There are a number of ways to view applications, the data on which they operate, and the systems and devices involved in the process. I have a very specific view that colors virtually everything I do: data is central and applications manipulate it. Applications are windows into and tools to manipulate data that is stored independently, accessible from any device anywhere. The ubiquitous Internet means that your data is available almost everywhere, and applications caching means that you can always have a copy of your data that will sync up when you are back online. As a result, my application choices and preferences are biased towards those that combine these fundamental concepts:

  1. availability across all my devices or cooperative interaction with an app on the other devices. For example, there are times when the same app isn't available on OS X and iOS, but there are apps that interact with the data compatibly, but in ways that take advantage of the particular characteristics of the different environments (touch versus keyboard interactivity, for example).
  2. caching. I am on airplanes and international destinations where use of cellular data is quite costly frequently enough that I must be able to cache data on my devices to continue to use it even when I'm offline. As I type this post, for example, I'm at 34,000' into Desk, I am not connected to the Internet. I'll post it when I get to my hotel, losing nothing in the process.
  3. cooperation. Apps that cooperate with other apps that I use help me more than those which are isolationist.
  4. nothing's perfect. I am always looking for apps to align more closely with the way I think, my preferences, and my workflow. Sometimes, I'll have 3 or 4 apps I'm using for the same thing, experimenting to determine which one fits best.

I think that's about it. Let me know if there are applications, workflows, or other related areas that pose as challenges or create questions for you. I'll do my best to address them either in a post or with a direct response.

Let's go!

The iPad 2 Cometh

Last week I contacted a local Apple store for the third time since the launch of the iPad 2. "I don't suppose," I began as I reached the store's business desk, "You have an iPad 2s?" After she asked what I was seeking (a 64GB AT&T version), she told me that she didn't have what I wanted, although they did have some iPad 2s (primarily Verizon and WiFi-only, it seems). She also asked if she could put my business into their system. I answered in the affirmative and let it go, figuring I'd keep my eyes open and maybe check back in a few weeks.

That all changed the next day.

I received a call from the Apple Store in the morning asking for my credit card information. During that call, her colleague asked, "When can you come get your iPad 2?"

"What???!"

20 minutes later, I walked out of the store with my new black iPad 2 64GB AT&T, a tan leather Smart Cover, and a few accessories. I've been using it since I sync'd it so it would have all of my apps, incuuding the WordPress app I'm using to write this post.

While I will review the iPad 2 in an upcoming post, right now I'll just say this: Mark Sigal is right. With the benefits of the Apple Stores and Apple's profit margin, it will be extremely difficult for Motorola or Samsung to make inroads into the Apple market.

...and that's a very big deal.

CES 2011 - Apple Follow the Leader?

As I have walked through the CES halls as all the exhibitors prepare for the onslaught of attendees starting tomorrow, the pre-show expectations have largely proven true. As expected, mobile devices like smartphones and tablets are all the rage, and Verizon is making a big splash with the 4G LTE network roll-out. Since I am spending my time working with Verizon and Ericsson in the Verizon booth, I'll hold off on specifics until tomorrow. Suffice it to say for now that there will be a lot of high-speed mobile devices to discover and explore. I've been getting Facebook and Twitter messages with questions about what technologies people are interested in understanding, so I'll be looking especially hard for those. If you have areas of interest, be sure to let me know either with a comment here on the blog or a message on Twitter or Facebook.

My observation thus far is this, however: CES is going to be a game of "Follow the Leader," and the leader isn't even here.

That leader is Apple.

With a $300B market cap and the most innovative products in the markets it serves, Apple's leadership cannot be disputed. Here are CES, smartphones are compared to iPhones, tablets to iPads, and mobile business to Apple's iOS ecosystem.

My question is this: Where's the innovation? I'll be looking for it. Any idea where I might find it?

CES 2011 - What do you want to know?

I am sitting inside the Las Vegas Convention Center helping to set up for the Consumer Electronics Show (CES). Since I am both working with a client who is exhibiting and am also a member of the press, I will be able to learn from both inside and outside. Just from walking the floor yesterday and today, it's clear that the anticipated focus on 3D TV, tablets/slates, mobile phones, and high-speed wireless will be the central themes. Sitting in Verizon's booth, you see a broad range of products that will take advantage of their 4G LTE network, including tablets and phones, but extending into other imaginative areas that I'll reveal after the show opens on Thursday.

RIM's booth is very large, and is all about their PlayBook. Android looms large, as well, and I'm sure there will be a broad range of announcements.

One of the more interesting booths I've seen is for the technology center in Beijing, China. Clearly intended to recruit companies to the "entrepreneurial center" of Beijing, reading the booth signs were reminiscent of reading an authentic Chinese restaurant menu.

I'll be bringing you more thoughts from CES, but if there are any products or categories that particularly interest you, let me know in the comments, by Twitter, Facebook, or any other means you have of reaching me.

Facebook's Security Mess

Last week I was sitting in my office working away on a client's iPhone app when my iPhone's text message bell alert rang. I picked up my phone to see my daughter's text message: "Free iPad event?" After an exchange, I learned that my Facebook account had sent her an event request with a link to a rogue quiz site that was offering quizzes for the amazingly low price of $19.99 a month. I also started getting emails from other friends who were getting the invitation from me. So, I got mad.

First, I deleted the event. Then, I posted to my wall about it. And then, I went on the warpath.

You see, I am very careful about my Facebook account. While I explore aspects of Facebook as part of my research for clients, I am aware of the dangers and am diligent in working through the possible issues. But, I got caught. So, I went looking for the source of the issue.

The first thing I learned is that I am not alone. There is even a Facebook group that has grown up to oppose it. But, no one seemed to know how it was done, so I began to investigate.

Given the invitation text and the targets, I figured out that it had to have come from an application with access to my account. I dug through my entire list of applications, eliminating many that were either old or that I don't use. But, it's important to understand that Facebook makes this process far more painful than it needs to be. If only Facebook would make a note on the wall posts, event invites, and other items noting what application was used to create it, we could track down the reprobates who build these cheap cheats. Twitter even does it:

So Twitter, with its informal nature, trumps Facebook in one of the most important aspects of security: transparency.

In my next few posts, I'll outline what you can do to scrub your Facebook account in a way that will make it much more hardened against this kind of attack. However, with the limited transparency of Facebook's system right now, there is only so much you can do.

How My iPad Makes Reading Better

As I sat finishing breakfast at our kitchen table yesterday morning with the Colorado sun filling the back yard and the kids enjoying their last few days of "freedom" before they head back to school next week, I caught up on my news reading using my iPad. I use Feeddler, an RSS (Real Simple Syndication) reader for iOS together with the Wall Street Journal and Guardian Eyewitness apps to stay current with news and insights from my favorite content sites. I thought about how this was so different than it has been for me until just recently. I no longer need to go to my desktop computer or pull out my notebook computer to check my favorite web sites; I just pull out my iPad. Not only that, but because Feeddler uses Google Reader to sync what I've read, I can use Feeddler on my iPhone and my iPad or Google Reader or one of the Google Reader compatible applications to stay up-to-date throughout the day.

Of course, I also use the iPad to stay current with email, some web browsing, and my eBooks, too (mostly using the Kindle app). I even use it for a bit of Bible reading and study using Logos.

As a result, what I have noticed is that my iPad, this small, lightweight device, has become the center of my reading world. It's like I'm carrying my entire stack of books, magazines, newspapers and websites with me all the time. I am beginning to see very clearly just how much the iPad has simplified my life. And this from a guy who definitely wasn't sold on the idea of an iPad for my own personal productivity.

Pretty interesting...

TripIt for Travel Gets Gmail

This morning, travel itinerary site TripIt launched a new integration with Gmail. Now, instead of forwarding your itinerary messages to plans@tripit.com as you have done in the past, TripIt will scan your mailbox for you and import those items into your TripIt account. To create the link, login to your TripIt account and look in the upper right corner of your landing page for the big orange button:

This is so clean that it's a reason to move your itinerary emails to Gmail just to get this capability.

Check it out!

The iPhone 4 for Business?

You may have heard or read something about the new Apple iPhone 4. Well, let's be real... Yes, I'm sure that you have. Apple had a very large launch of their newest phone, with 1.4M sold in the first weekend (3 million in the first 3 weeks), and, as often happens in the work of the press that is supported by viewers and page views: They jump on the success of a quality company.

On Friday, Apple addressed the negative press that they have received in the first 22 days of the iPhone 4's availability. Even though they have sold an average of a million units every week, the press has capitalized on reports of signal interference and loss that have been reported and posted to the Internet.

What do I think about the iPhone 4?

Simply put, if you are in the market for a smartphone and are OK with AT&T as your provider, there is no better alternative for a business person. Here's why:

  1. The iPhone 4 offers the most comprehensive set of business and productivity apps available
  2. The iPhone 4 screen makes it much easier to read and process information... especially for aging eyes!
  3. The iPhone 4 offers the full Internet, with all the important business sites making their video available on it without requiring Flash. Frankly, if a site won't allow you to see their videos on your iPhone, they don't deserve your business!
  4. The iPhone 4 camera is an outstanding communication system for business, from whiteboards to product photos and video demos.
  5. Email, calendar sharing, contact synchronization, and full support for multiple Exchange accounts work seamlessly.
  6. The iPhone 4 remains a device you can use without training and without a manual.

In short, for a piece of technology that you can take out of the box and begin to use to experience productivity, you cannot beat the iPhone 4. It makes it even better that you can take it to a nearby Apple Store at any time with questions, issues, or training, should you want it.

Buy one and move on to your next challenge.

How Safe are You?

It was the late '70s in a suburban Michigan neighborhood when I first felt it. I had bought my ten-speed bike--a beautiful brown Schwinn Varsity with tape-wrapped drop handlebars--back when no one had ever seen one. People would stop and ask, "Why do your handlebars go down?" That bike was special to me. I used it on my paper routes for years and rode it everywhere. But it was gone.

Someone had come into our garage and left with it.

I felt violated. If my garage wasn't safe, what was? It churned my emotions for a while, and I still remember those feelings.

Today, thieves don't have to break in to your garage. They can break into your computer. If they did, what would they find? Do you know?

I do, and now you can, too.

Identity Finder, created by the company of the same name, scans your PC, Mac, or enterprise systems for telltale content like credit card numbers, passwords, social security numbers, and more. I'm willing to bet that it will find content that you forgot. For example, remember that time you emailed your social security number? What about that friend who sent you their VISA card number for your trip?

Identity Finder will find them and remind you.

These scans show you the files where the content is found. The application also shows you a browse view of the file with the content highlighted. It let's you decide what to do with the information it finds, including allowing you to encrypt and archive the report.

In my case, between the first and second times I ran Identity Finder on my Mac, I had packaged information for my bookkeeper, including my credit card statements. Those files had my credit card numbers in them. I had been careful when getting them to her, but I had left them on my system unencrypted! And I had forgotten. Identity Finder reminded me.

There are, of course, a few imperfections. The application displayed some of the file previews with the entire file highlighted so it was difficult to determine what it had found. It took me a little bit of time to figure out what to do with files where multiple triggers had fired. But, these are small limitations, and I can still unequivocally recommend Identity Finder as protection against leaving your personal identity information just sitting on your computer storage.

What have you left laying around that a black hat could steal?

Identity Finder is an excellent way to find out.

Evernote: Notes Anywhere and Everywhere

With the emergence of real mobility as demonstrated by the Apple iPhone, Google Nexus One, Microsoft Windows Phone, Windows netbooks, and now the Apple iPad, we have a new problem: keeping track of our data and making sure that it's available everywhere we might want it. Last week, I wrote about using Dropbox to keep track of all of our files, and it is a key component to the overall system of keeping track of your stuff. Another key is to be able to capture notes, photos, web pages, and even screen shots and have them organized and available wherever you are and whichever of your devices is at hand.

Enter Evernote, the ubiquitous capture tool.

Like Dropbox, Evernote is a system designed from the cloud out, and it uses the cloud for some very interesting functions that I'll discuss more in a bit. First, though, let's look at the basic functions.

Capturing Where You Are

One of the keys to your personal organization is being able to capture your ideas, notes from meetings, white boards, web sites, and your computer screen in the moment wherever you are. Evernote is the tool I use to do that.

Two weeks ago, a prospective client invited me into their headquarters to meet with the CEO, President, two Vice-Presidents, and a member of their board who had introduced them to me. As we sat in the executive suite, I pulled out my iPad to take notes and opened Evernote. I typed into Evernote during the meeting, capturing their concerns, the key outcomes they wanted, the people involved, and the next steps. Then, before I left, I sync'd the note to the cloud. When I arrived back to my office, the notes were already there. They were on my iPhone, too. In other words, I could go to work on the project using my other computers without skipping a beat.

That's how I want to work! Do it once, use it everywhere. Perfect.

iPad App

The Evernote iPad app has even more interesting capabilities that make the overall system more powerful. For example, you can view all of your notebooks and see the number of notes in each:

You can also see everywhere that you created notes, provided the device you were using allowed Evernote to figure that out:

And you can look at all of your notes by tags that you create and assign to your notes:

Cloud Functions

In addition to the synchronization functions, and browser-based access to your notes, the Evernote servers also process your image notes and perform character recognition (OCR) on them so you can search their content. This is especially useful when you've taken a photo of a whiteboard and loaded it into your Evernote notebook.

The servers also organize your files using metadata plus information you enter yourself such as tags and the notebook into which you store it.

Together this creates a powerful storage and recovery environment for text, images, audio, PDFs, digital ink, and attached files (the latter with the premium service only).

Try it and let me know how it works for you.

Files, Files Everywhere!

As I have expanded my usage of multiple systems, from the iPhone to a Mac Pro, my first focus was making sure that whenever I needed files, I could find them. Fortunately, there are a number of solutions for this challenge, and, as usual, I've picked the simplest, most elegant solution, Dropbox. I did try other systems like Apple's iDisk and SugarSync's namesake system, but problems in using either of them in terms of performance and reliability have me avoiding them. Since I decided not to use them, I'll not spend time on describing them, but in outlining my use of Dropbox, you'll see why I like the simplicity better.

Dropbox is free to use as you get started, with a starting Dropbox storage of 2GB. First, you download the Dropbox installer to your Mac or PC. After you install it, you will see a new Dropbox folder in your home directory (on a Mac) or a My Dropbox folder inside your My Documents folder (in Windows). To begin to manage a file or folder using Dropbox, simply drag it and drop it onto Dropbox.

...and that's when the magic begins!

When you drop the file or folder there, Dropbox syncs it with the cloud version of your Dropbox folder. Then, if you've installed Dropbox on other devices, those devices sync with the cloud. This means that everything in your Dropbox shows up exactly the same on all of your systems. This is true whether your systems are Mac, Linux, Windows, an iPhone/iPad, or even a mobile device with a web browser, since the cloud Dropbox is available from any browser anywhere.

As a result, I have migrated all of my active files into Dropbox. The only files that are not in Dropbox are those that are in an archive somewhere. This means that all of my systems always have the latest copy of my files available wherever I am. I even use Dropbox to sync settings between computers so that, for example, my 1password and TextExpander shortcuts are the same everywhere.

I'll mention one additional function of Dropbox in this entry: You can use it to share files and folders with others. This has come in very handy when I am working on projects with others or just want to give them access to a big file. It's easier than using a file sharing service or trying to get it to them by email: I drag the file into a shared folder or into my Public folder in Dropbox and simply right click, copy the link to the clipboard, and email that link off to them.

Check out Dropbox to make it easier to manage your files and keep your life in order between your multiple devices and let me know how it goes.