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Tuesday, November 29, 2011

How To Live an Electronically Synchronized Life - The Complete Digest

Part One - The Challenge

As some of you may already know, I live my alter non-author ego in the world of technology. Actually I think this is something that has helped me become a better Indie Author as the proliferation of self-publishing sites and software has evolved.

So today I thought I'd write a little about that other world I live in, in the hope that it is of some use to the rest of you out there. Let me start by defining my day-to-day problems. During a typical month I need to:

  • Travel to an office 'day' job
  • Continue writing upcoming novels
  • Market existing books and generally keep up with Social Networking sites
  • Travel for weekends away
  • Check my email and calendar from anywhere
  • Ensure that everything on all my electronic devices stays synced
It's a tough challenge and something that I am sure most of you are already familiar with. So how have I managed - someone who is supposed to be tech-savvy? Well first off, let me tell you that I still have not found the perfect solution. I live in hope of a fold-up PC with the power of a desktop, the closed footprint of a phone, and something able to give me, on demand, a screen that is at least 11 inches in size. Have I come close? Yes. But I'm still not there yet.

To give you a better understanding of why I need this synchronization, here are a few of my detailed challenges:
  • I want to be able to edit my plot ideas from wherever I am and have them available to me when I get home
  • I want to be able to write a page or two of my book if I suddenly get a great idea or I'm stuck somewhere with some time
  • I want to be able to check and respond to all my emails wherever I am
  • I want to be able to sit in a hotel room at 6 in the morning and crank out a chapter of my book
  • I want to be able to read what other people are saying about different topics and maybe contribute some feedback to them
  • I want to...
You get the idea. I'm no different to the rest of you out there. So that's it, the electronically synchronized challenge.

In the next post I'll give a little background to how I've tried to solve the problems during the past three years; what has worked and what hasn't. And then in the final post I'll write about the solution I currently use and the advantages and disadvantages to it all. I'm getting close to an ideal. Technology may soon not actually get in the way of real work!

Part Two - Three Years of Trying

It all started back in late 2008 when T-Mobile released the very first Android smartphone (The T-Mobile G1). This was a wonderful day for me. I'd been using a Blackberry phone for a couple of years, but the Android phone was several steps further forward. At last I had true web-browsing, email, alerts, music and more all on one phone. My life was complete! Or was it? I soon found out that the slide out keyboard really was a little bit of a pain and the Android phone was fairly slow at doing quite a few things. Add to that the relatively small screen size when viewing web pages and although the phone was a big step forward from my Blackberry, it wasn't the be all to end all that I had hoped for. I still needed my desktop and laptop PC.

Let's look back at my original list and see what was better:

  • Editing plot ideas and having them synchronized for when I got home? - NO
  • Write a page or two of my book? - NO
  • Check and respond to emails wherever I am? - YES
  • Sit in a hotel room and crank out a chapter? - NO
  • Do some reading / social media? - MAYBE
So, not such a huge success!

Wind forward 18 months or so and I decided to go the Apple iPhone route. This was about 3 months after getting myself an iPod and using it for all sorts of things. What impressed me the most were the apps - thousands of them that did just about everything.

Did the iPhone make a huge difference to me and do all the things I wanted? No. But I was getting closer.  And then when the iPad came out, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. Surely this was the answer to all my dreams? With the iPad I was suddenly able to synchronize things across all sorts of platforms and do some really useful work wherever I happened to be. Specific iPad apps started to appear and I thought I was finally going to be able to cross everything off my list and retire to the ultimate device.

I have had an iPad for about 18 months now and it has made a huge difference to my productivity. But there is one area where it just doesn't quite cut it. The area of typing. For surfing, notes, apps and lots of other things besides, it is a brilliant tool. But for cranking out a few pages or a chapter of my book, it falls a long way short. I even bought myself a bluetooth keyboard that I take with me when I go to hotels, but this really defeats the purpose of an iPad. The extra bulk and weight cancel out the benefits.

So, that brings us to November 2011. What is the next step forward? How can I solve all my desires and find the ultimate technological helper? In part three of this article I'll tell you how I've compromised in order to be able to write wherever I travel, but still have everything else available to me.

Part Three - The Ultimate Compromise

So, we've wound forward to November 2011 and I've finally come to the conclusion that my trusty iPad doesn't cut it for me when I want to write chapters of my book, or knock out a quick blog post. For that I need something with a keyboard.

In my quest to find the perfect companion to my iPhone and desktop PC, I scoured Amazon and read a million reviews. Should I buy the Macbook Air? Seems pretty nice and compact. But the downside was that it cost $1,000 and was not as Windows friendly as everything else I already used. So, how about the PC equivalent? I found several really nice looking mini-laptops that were Macbook Air knock-offs, but each was also around the $1,000 mark. Not really a cost effective compromise.

In the end I stumbled across the HP Mini 110-3830NR, a mini-netbook from Hewlett Packard that seemed to promise a lot for its very diminutive size. What's more, it was only $279 - a price I could live with. The netbook promised up to 8 hours of battery life, full Windows 7 compatibility, access to all my existing programs, and of course a real (if not slightly smaller) keyboard. Would I be in pig heaven at last?

I decided to take the plunge, paid the extra couple of bucks for next day delivery, and eagerly awaited my mini-lifesaver. It duly arrived just over a week ago and I unpacked it, amazed at just how small it was. It's really not any bigger than my iPad when it's closed up, and the quality of the screen and general construction are excellent. I am pleased to say I have not been disappointed. So, let's go back to my original wishlist of three years ago and see how I've done:
  • Editing plot ideas and having them synchronized for when I got home? - YES 
  • Write a page or two of my book? - YES 
  • Check and respond to emails wherever I am? - YES 
  • Sit in a hotel room and crank out a chapter? - YES 
  • Do some reading / social media? - MOSTLY
And I say mostly on the last point because the netbook is not really a reader, but it does allow reading, and for relatively short periods of time will be fine. I'll get a chance to give it a real try over the Christmas holidays when I try and read a few books. I may have to steal my wife's Kindle reader, but we'll see! But in the meantime my digital synchronized life is complete... At least for another year!


  1. Another insightful post. Thanks much!

  2. This sounds a wonderful piece of kit. I'll have to check it has a CD drive? I need this as I use an older version of Word.

    Martin Lake