How to Make Your Home Office Productive

How to Make Your Home Office ProductiveWhether someone is a telecommuter or runs their own business from home, I’ve found it’s ridiculously important to establish ground rules for how I operate and work from my home office. Some people have a home office tucked away for this kind of work while others have to turn dining rooms, living rooms, and even bedrooms into workspaces — and sometimes this can be very challenging. How do you retain a semblance of peace, concentration, and such when all of your favorite things are sitting around you?

Good thing that you’ve got me here to help, right?

First off, all of these are absolutely interchangeable and if you’ve got your own thing that you want to slide in there, your own flavor of it: go for it! Remember, this is to help you make your home office situation easier.

Maximize Your Home Office Space

Wherever you choose to work from in your house, make sure you can spread out. Don’t sit in a corner or set yourself up with a cubicle, because you don’t need to. People in regular office situations hate that, and you’re at home. Why not enjoy the fact that you can turn a whole table into your home office workstation for a few hours a day? Even if you’re using your bed, prop some pillows around you for support, make sure your bed is neat, and lay out the things you’ll need. Are you using a laptop? Get a laptop table to go beside your bed or perhaps even a laptop stand for ease of use. You’ll work better, smarter, and faster if you feel organized and can get to everything you need in your comfortable, makeshift home office.

Four of the Five Senses in the Home Office

Like any big production in a regular office, the reason you feel comfortable enough to work is that you’re lacking in the normal distractions and sounds you’d hear in your home office. Minimize those! Sure, you need your cell phone on but don’t keep your television on and don’t put movies on whilst you work — because those take, even at the least, minutes away in small chunks. There’s a reason your bosses don’t let you do it in an actual office, right?

Be that as it may, you’re still working from home and need to be comfortable and have the right amount of structure without stifling yourself. Try light-level lamps that have a soft, ambient quality. My room contains two paper covered lamps. One hangs from a corner with a soft teal paper and the other is a lamp with a rice paper covered shade. The reason for that is that light tends to be intense and not many people have overhead lights in their homes, you know? Did you know casinos black out their windows so you don’t see the passage of time and thus you don’t become too tired and leave? It’s true! The more light that hits your pupils, the more tired and overworked they become. Soften the blow by softening the lights. (Don’t go completely dark; you’ll get sleepy.) I’ve also heard instances of people putting architecture paper over windows in their rooms and offices that get a lot of direct glaring sunlight. It softens the light without darkening your home office surroundings.

Sound is an important part of keeping your focus up and your energy going. Some people can handle blasting music and working alongside it and in regular offices, you see this often because sometimes office chatter or people walking in and out can be distracting from your job. In this instance though — you control your home office headspace and your workspace. For me, I turn my PS3 on, get the YouTube app going, and play ambient videos in which I can hear light chatter, clinking of things, and obvious activity but nothing that disrupts my workflow. Why? Because it is proven to keep concentration levels up when you feel that things are happening around you but not directly in contact. (I included my favorite to give you a good idea of how I use it in my home office, and also try for when you don’t have YouTube abilities.)

There are so many odd little things that energize your senses while you’re working from a home office. Candles, oil diffusers and such can actually do you a lot of good and keep you wide-awake and focused. Scents with citrus, eucalyptus, cinnamon, cedarwood (I included a link to my personal favorite), and pine are well-known for wiping out lethargy and getting you squared away in terms of setting your own productive scene. On a taste level, if you feel like you’re dipping a bit low but need some energy, try snacking on dried ginger or, my personal favorite, honey straws. Straws filled with honey make for a no-mess and idle concentration tool while providing honey — an incredible food known for its vitamins, antioxidants, antiseptic properties, allergen cures AND energy-enhancing. Yes. Honey, my friends. (I included an amazing DIY project to make your own honey sticks if you can’t find them at your local stores. Places like Amazon are known to carry honey sticks, and lots of candy and tea stores local to you may have them as well. Local honey is the best for you since it comes from indigenous pollens.)

What you do not want is consistent distraction. Do what you can to minimize those without risking the comfort of working from home.

But What About Facebook in the Home Office?

The Internet — let’s be honest — is easy to get lost in. Friends send links, people check on their Farms and before you know it you’ve been Tweeting for three hours and haven’t managed to get four words on a page. What about Skype? Oh, yes. All of these things — together — spell absolute disaster for someone working from home and on their own time. If you need to connect with people from your work or even with people in general, choose Skype or an another Instant Messaging program. Try to avoid Facebook unless you’re taking a break, but limit those breaks. Have things to Tweet but want to avoid sticking around? Try using TweetDeck (Which has an amazing Chrome integration) or HootSuite and scheduling those tweets to go out rather than let temptation lure you into your friends feeds.

Giving Yourself a Break (or Two) from Your Home Office!

Look, just because you’re working from home doesn’t mean your body doesn’t still need activity. You still need to take breaks and manage a normal, reasonable meal period. Once every two hours, go take a ten minute walk and if you don’t want to leave the house, go get yourself a light snack — preferably without carbs, because those will make you sleepy, too — and walk around your house. Do some stretches. Blood flow is important no matter where your home office is, and this is no exception. The point is to completely walk away from your computer and go get your body moving.

Taking a meal break is the same concept. Step away from your work, make yourself a light meal and keep yourself restricted to 30-60 minutes. Use that time to cook yourself something, make some of those friend calls, run a quick errand or whatever. That time is yours and you’re not running your own sweatshop. Make sure you take it. Personally, I like to make myself a small lunch and play some pinball or video game golf. Something I know I can easily stop playing but zone out to before I head back into my writing.

Set Realistic Home Office Boundaries

It’s easy, and I know from experience, to not give yourself a schedule when you’re working from home. You just start whenever and end whenever but the problem is — your body never gets used to it. Whether you realize it or not, your body pays attention to when you’re “on” and if you are irregular with when you turn it “off” — you can never fully relax when the work day is over. Set regular hours. Tell people these hours. Stick to them. If you start work at nine in the morning, be done by five. Tell your co-workers and boss that these are strict and stay with it because you’re a human being and you need to have a human being’s life. All those movies where the woman charges ahead of others because she works herself to the bone to impress the head honcho? Those are movies. Be reasonable with yourself and don’t go too hard. I’ve learned this the hard way; in the end, your work is better when you find your pace and keep at it.

So! There you have it! I’ve given you all the tools to lead a successful workplace within your home. Do you have certain things you do in order to keep yourself on task whilst working from the home?

[Image courtesy of Vera Kratochvil]

The Day Spotify Changed My Life

The Day Spotify Changed My LifeWhat the heck is a Spotify, and how could it change my life? I always feel like, when I title something in the way I’ve titled this post, I should write “Candice: grade four” beneath it and etch the name of my teacher as if she’s unsure who she is when she grades my papers. Things were simple in grade four, weren’t they? You weren’t in fifth grade where you’re preparing for junior high and you weren’t in third, which was just like a swan song for learning what shapes and numbers do. Fourth grade was when you could just slide through for a full year and enjoy yourself as a child. Put your hair in a sideways ponytail, and wear out your New Kids on the Block cassette tape in your branded Barbie Walkman. (Back off; I was a kid in the late ’80s.)

Music and the industry surrounding it have gone through so many changes over the years I’ve been on this planet. It’s kind of funny to look around and see all of the people inhabiting Earth who don’t even know what music was like before MP3s and they find the concept of cassette tapes and records absolutely ludicrous. Not the rapper, mind you, but he was popular for quite a time, too. Weird. Everything has its inevitable life cycle. Cue the lazy teardrop at the corner of your eye, folks.

Buying Music on the Internet

Now as an adult, I’ve only really had MP3s in my arsenal unless you count the CD “hard copy” I will buy when I truly enjoy an album. Once Amazon started selling DRM-free digital albums, I actually joined that movement because I didn’t want to have to purchase music through an MP3 playing program. Sure, I know, Apple enthusiasts will say “But it’s so much more,” but let’s be real here: you own a marketplace for music, movies, books, and apps that just happens to play those things as well. It’s like letting a company plant a billboard in your house and when you touch it, you’re standing in Tower Records. Seriously. That’s what iTunes is.

Amazon didn’t do any of that. It essentially said “We have music if you want it, but that’s not all; we have blenders and shoes and that little doo-hicky for your computer that you need but don’t want to spend $70 on. We have that.” and I appreciated that. Amazon became the Walmart of the Internet and it wasn’t pretentious about it. So, when it came time to actually invest in music rather than ripping through the CDs that I had and listening to the whir of my CD in the tray, I happily gave the company my money instead.

The problem, however: I was spending a lot of money on music that I just wanted to try out. Music that was catchy on a commercial was now music in which I was investing, but I didn’t feel good about the purchase because of the rate that I go through music. I have a 500 gigabyte external hard drive that glares at me whenever I buy new albums, because it is full. Legitimately full of all of the media I’ve poured into it and haven’t touched since. Sometimes I’ll plug it in and tug a few songs or such free, but I rarely do that. Why? Been there. Done that.

Reaching Beyond Radio

Then, the magical and mystical Spotify came out. For years I had heard everyone using things like Pandora and its ilk, but I never understood it. Radio was radio. A bunch of tracks you couldn’t truly choose? Who wants that? If I wanted that, I’d turn on an actual radio, right? When people told me about Spotify, I expected that it wasn’t any different and I let it go. Until, well, one day I was seeking out something to listen to while I was at work and wanted something easy on my phone. Spotify rested there, like a beautiful beacon lit by shimmering angels as they echoed their choir on high.

That sounded dramatic, I know. It’s seriously how I felt, though. Promise.

Spotify took something that was costing me hundreds upon hundreds a year and it provided a service: freedom. It could charge me money and I could listen to whatever I wanted (provided the service had access to it, and it generally does) without concern. I could make playlists, sync them up to my phone or my Kindle Fire, and walk away. That easily. I could share my playlists, even specific tracks, with my friends and family on Facebook and Twitter and educate as well as entertain people with my broad song selections. Spotify is the one time I truly appreciate social media, and it has to do with music. That’s the degree to which I love music though, and Spotify stopped making working within the music industry about money and turned it into something real: sharing.

Spotify is a Musical Smörgåsbord

Back when I was just buying the music I wanted to hear, it was about being thrifty and only buying a track that I wanted unless I had the option to hear the whole album. Now, I can use Spotify as a source to try out music and get a feel for it before I go buy the actual album. If anything, it’s supporting a healthier landscape for the music industry where people aren’t afraid of buying an album’s worth of material because they get to try on that ruby slipper first. The first time I ever heard Fun was over a year ago; I saw that Spotify had not only the album, but a full-length commentary from the band that you could listen to after hearing Some Nights. Before I headed off for the train station that would take me to San Francisco from Los Angeles, I loaded it up and downloaded the whole thing to my phone so I could listen to it.

I fell in love.

I came home and immediately bought the album through Amazon not just for myself, but four other people. When I saw the hard copy in a gas station during another road trip out of Los Angeles, I bought that, too. Spotify wasn’t making me depend on it as my only source of music; it was setting the stage for me to have a blind date with new bands, fall in love, and start a whirlwind romance before I settled down and held that CD in my hands weeks later.

Spotify Competition Needs to Step Up Its Game

How can you not love that? Sure, the majority of people are still on the fence and there are plenty of things I wish Spotify could connect with so that I can have it wherever I am, but it opened my mind. I recently nabbed a thirty-day subscription of Music Unlimited by Sony to see if it was the company’s answer to Spotify for Sony products and was horribly let down by the complications. Sony wanted Music Unlimited to be the classy and pretty girl with nothing going on upstairs that you let sit next to you because you knew she went to charm school. It’s got tons of buttons that don’t do what they say they’ll do and pretty visualizations that don’t mask the fact it’s just a music player that you pay for that doesn’t do half of what Spotify does without having to teach it.

I’ll choose experience every single time.

So where do you guys sit when it comes to listening to music online? Do you prefer the ambiance of Pandora and SoundCloud, the user-friendly love-fest of Spotify, or do you go old school and rock out to only what you buy on iTunes? I know one thing: this is one jump ahead in technology of which I’m ecstatic to be a part.

Image: Spotify with some personal modifications by the author

The Real Rundown of the Kindle Fire HD Shows Definite Promise

The Real Rundown of the Kindle Fire HD Shows Definite PromiseEver since Amazon first shook the tablet industry with the announcement of its attempt to make a tablet PC — the first Kindle Fire — it has been in the tablet scene spotlight. This is mainly because the Amazon Kindle Fire is perfectly respectable enough as a tablet PC to be recognized even though it may not be as strong in terms of performance compared to the larger, less “budget” type tablets that Apple and Samsung are churning out.

What the Kindle Fire Promised

It was so functional that it was even (at first) rumored to be an iPad killer. Although the Kindle Fire ultimately didn’t live up to the hype, the fact that the Kindle changed the game is still significant. This shows users that it was possible to have an adequately working tablet computer that, with the proper phone service, will be able communicate and function as well as the larger tablets for a lower price.

The New Kindle Fire

This was never more evident than with the Kindle Fire HD recently released by Amazon. Now that it is in the hands of users for full review, here are some of its impressive specs:

  • The screen — The Kindle Fire HD has a high-definition, 8.9 inch screen boasting an impressive 1920 x 1200p resolution. This ensures absolute clarity and sharpness when it comes to displays that could range from high-graphics websites to videos.
  • Magazine, music, and video capabilities — Now, before you start saying “but any tablet is expected to do that,” you should remember that Amazon’s Kindle was essentially what we all knew it as: an e-book reader. The last incarnations of the black and white Kindle had the “experimental settings” Web browser at the very least, but nothing Amazon had produced in the past was capable of the kind of things a tablet can do. The Kindle HD, on the other hand, is now capable of doing all this natively, which is quite a feat. This is especially attractive to users who want to look at picture e-books or color magazines bought straight from Amazon.
  • HDMI out — Yes, you can go ahead and connect your Kindle Fire HD to a big screen and play things, which means HD movies or TV shows can be viewed on any HD screen.

What to Expect

If you compare it to anything Amazon made pre-Fire, this is less a mere step forward and more a gargantuan leap of technological advancement. It is capable of running apps and runs on a skeleton of Android that has been modified to fit its “Kindle” look, has a gorgeous display, and has fully functional video and music capabilities. The screen itself is so large that it can no longer be called an e-reader. It is, without a doubt, a tablet PC.

The apps that are supposed to run on this Kindle make it extremely flexible and ultimately as useful as any other out there. If you’re looking for a tablet that can do the job well and still be affordable, the Kindle Fire HD is an excellent choice.

Can Kindle Serials Revolutionize Publishing?

Can Kindle Serials Revolutionize Publishing?Just to state that someone or a particular company has revolutionized an industry is a bold statement. To claim that Amazon brought digital reading to the people is an equally bold claim, which will no doubt bring out the protesters. When it comes to actual content creation, it’s a wholly different tale. Writing, especially, lends itself to so many different platforms. From the printed page to digital format isn’t a big leap at all.

Amazon Publishing introduced Kindle Serials, a digital facsimile of serialized novels, where customers pay once and receive several segments of an ongoing story. The Kindle Serials feature launched with eight series. Each is priced competitively at $1.99 per episode, including a re-release of Oliver Twist and The Pickwick Papers, by Charles Dickens, who is credited with popularizing serialized novels. This is a good option for writers who wish for a steadier and quicker income than might be realized from publishing their work in lump sums. For customers, it means paying once to get a whole book delivered in parts. So far, there exist nine Kindle Serials.

From the printed page, as invented by Gutenberg in the Middle Ages, the format of the written word has seen many updates. While the writer is always the beginning, organic part of the process, it’s the particular delivery of written content that can enhance, translate, or even change the writer’s intended message by the time it gets to the reader. In the case of film, it’s obvious how a visual execution can benefit — or even detract from — a story.

In some cases, a whole story hasn’t even been written, which can make its presentation seem almost like watching a TV series — for better (if done well) or for worse (if disjointed from part to part). In the case that a novel doesn’t live up to its potential, readers can provide feedback. Amazon hopes this gives the genre a fresh and modern approach. Discontented readers can also stop buying future episodes.

From a storytelling perspective, it could mean more cliffhangers and more immediacy added to an unfolding tale. As a writer, I believe that this is certainly a great opportunity for newcomers. Pitching a plot, and consequently writing a couple of chapters, can be less daunting than wanting to write a whole novel before submitting it. I know how much effort completing a book requires. The demand for discipline is extreme. For his Kindle Serial, Downward-Facing Death, Neal Pollack wrote a 10,000 word draft of the first segment, and three months later, it was published. This is paradise for any writer. You can read Neal Pollack’s account of writing a Kindle Serial at Huffington Post.

Just like the Kindle did for reading, Kindle Serials could inspire again an appreciation for good stories. Digesting a novel in individual chapters can make it easier to follow the plot, and help remember characters better. A serialized novel also means that each chapter could be constructed more like an episode of a TV series.

The book industry is still going strong, despite the rise of electronic reading. Readers around the world still like the feeling of holding a book in their hands. This is something that no device on the market can simulate yet. Some future invention may well chance that, however, momentarily holding a book elicits a closer bond with the story. It’s almost like you’re holding the key to the story. If the ongoing success of blockbuster series like Harry Potter or Lord of the Rings are any indication, physical books will, for a long time, still be important.

From a business perspective, an aspiring author needs to make a living, and Kindle Serials could be a viable springboard into a professional writing career. Today, a writer has many different ways to spread the word for the story he wants told, and the reader enjoys more choice for preferred formats as a result. Serialized e-books aren’t a new idea, but Amazon’s Kindle Serials’ pay-once buying process and automatic downloads succeed where similar efforts haven’t. It’s still a nice addition from a writer’s point-of-view. It will hardly revolutionize publishing, though.

Agree? Disagree? Leave a comment below and let’s converse.

Image source: Amazon

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!Sometimes, I feel like a misfit. Not the cool kind, you know? I’m definitely not the kind that you’d find rebelling against The Man or anything and I’m all right with that. As it has been stated in previous articles (My Life as a Windows Phone Pariah), I have never truly been the type to clamor towards the favorites or the Most Popular. Maybe it’s because I knew that the head cheerleader usually ended up pregnant with six kids and a horrendous drug addiction; popular doesn’t always equal the immediate response of “I must have this.” because so many better-looking flag girls get left behind with that notion in mind. (Note: I was never a flag girl.)

With all this said, I never bought into the iPad phenomenon. I didn’t need to, really. I had an iPod touch and, to me, that felt like a slight version of an iPad and that was enough for me. Often left uncharged and abandoned for days, my iPod eventually became a gift to my younger sister, who I knew would take care of it. She, much like me, cared so little for its popularity that she, too, gave it away to our little brother. Our mother really never raised us for reliance on a brand and maybe that’s why the apple didn’t fall far from the tree. Use what feels good and what suits you; don’t just buy into the ridiculous hype put together by blindingly colorful ads and a promise of something greater when, let’s face it, it’s just about convenience.

This, my friends, is why I fell in love with my Amazon Kindle Fire.

Like a lot of people who jumped for the Kindle Fire, I was swayed by its possibility. Not only could I have something on which to read books (it has been documented that I have a skin allergy with the glue that makes most papers and, thus, I have a severe reaction when reading books, touching cardboard, or doing reams of paperwork), but I would have something on which I could enjoy useful apps, listen to music, and watch movies that wouldn’t dominate my life. It seemed alluring, but the price point was what had me locked in because I knew it was an Amazon product and it is known for on-point customer service for that dollar amount. Think about it: I was being offered a tablet with a touch surface that would focus on reading (which I love) and everything downloaded would come in seconds? I was all about that. I didn’t need hundreds of dollars in hardware that was never intended for any specific purpose. I wanted to spend $200 and get exactly what I wanted: entertainment that didn’t talk down to me or expect very little from the attention deficit disorder addled masses.

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!

I know plenty of people who have rooted their Kindle Fire to essentially be an Android tablet, and it has worked beautifully for them. If you feel like ever taking a risk and possibly bricking your Kindle Fire, it has been done and people have reported that the processor for the Fire is more than capable of running far more than its design intended. However, again, there is just nothing wrong with the Kindle Fire’s Android-based Kindle OS. I want to read books, jot down notes, play Uno and Scrabble with my kid, and wage war against plants and undead hordes. I don’t need much else, you know?

With that said, when the Kindle Fire 2 rumors started pushing forward, I was engaged completely. Possibly upgrading the hardware, adding a camera to the Kindle Fire’s already impressive build (again, remember the $199 price point, you guys) — and reams of other rumored features that will be either confirmed or put to rest tomorrow by Amazon itself — pleases me. I would easily hand my child my Kindle Fire and upgrade to a more feature-packed version of what I already feel is the most user-friendly tablet available. Amazon never wanted its customers to feel like it would peddle cheap machinery into the world, and I trust the company implicitly to give me quality.

Kindle Fire 2? Yes, Please. Keep Your iPad!

Apple, on the other hand, wanted to pile everyone into the same horse and march into the handheld tablet market with plans to burn everyone’s village to the ground and take it by storm. As I’ve stated before, though, that was just never my bag. Amazon stared down to me from its cloud-puffed, heavenly perch and watched, palm to its chin, as it didn’t stress its consumers out or try to oversell. In this way, it’s far more innocent than even my beloved Microsoft as it just kind of hopes you enjoy yourself and it wants to make sure you know that reading, above all else, is what promotes education and enrichment. Playing its lute and lazing about on its pristine pedestal, Amazon awaits to give us details tomorrow while people still lament over the fact that they keep buying new iterations of the iPad with very little differences just to say they have it.

“Right, but my iPad 9 is .000003 % thinner than the iPad 8.5,” they would cheer with glee, clutching their highly priced tablets to their chest, which would essentially just be houses to hundreds of apps that took productivity away and offered filler until the next release.

And I can’t respond because I’m too busy reading from my Kindle Fire and appreciating the possibilities of something built for people who know exactly what they want.

In which camp do you find yourself? Leave a comment and weigh in with your pros and cons!

Can Mobile Tech Make You More Productive?

Can Mobile Tech Make You More Productive?For the working man or woman, the year 2012 promises to be the year when mobile devices take over the traditional roles previously held by the PC. I base this assumption on the upcoming Windows 8 platform that has designed for use on all tablet systems. Putting arguments aside, one must admit that Microsoft has come to the realization that mobile devices, of all types, will be the new computing norm for many consumers and businesses. Therefore, the company has responded with an OS that it hopes will help it maintain its niche in the computer software market. However, the question then becomes: Can mobile tech really make you more productive?

This really depends on how you use the technology. If your goal is to be connected 24 hours, seven days a week, then this is probably great for you. But being connected all the time has major disadvantages. One of these disadvantages is the loss of direct contact with people in social settings. Without this interpersonal contact, we become nothing but technological ‘zombies’ who are socially isolated from the people around us even though we stay connected no matter where we are or where we go. This is evident everywhere from movie scenes to grocery stores. We see it in our families’ reliance on gadgets from when we awaken until we fall asleep and, even then — unless we turn our devices off — we may find ourselves subject to the demands they make.

And then there’s the matter of shrinking manners. If I invite someone into my home to spend quality time with me and my family and they proceed to engage with their smartphone to text message, browse the Web, check stock prices, or whatever, I consider it rude and I’ll silently pray for a catastrophic battery failure to plague their device.

That being said I, too, find myself increasingly dependent on my toys. But I have learned that, in order to be productive, I first have to determine what my goal is.

Now, remember if you use your tech toys for simple surfing, Facebook, or sending text, this article is not for you. If, however, you use your devices to create a product or to provide a service, you will need to discipline yourself and learn how to use all of your electronic resources to meet your specific needs and wants. You will also need to learn how to use multiple platforms to find out which services, products, or applications are available as well as which ones will be compatible with one another.


This applies to those of us who actually use our computers for work such as writing, blogging, reports, and so forth. If you happen to fall into one of these categories, Evernote is a must-have application. I have been using Evernote on my devices for the past year or so and have found it to be an invaluable tool for several reasons. First and most important, Evernote has a version for all of the major operating systems and browsers, including:

  • Windows
  • Mac OS X
  • iPad, iPhone, and iPod
  • Windows Phone 7
  • BlackBerry
  • webOS
  • Safari
  • Chrome
  • Firefox

For me, Evernote provides a much-needed platform that I can easily access with any of my devices when I need to jot down ideas for an upcoming article, things I need to remember to do around my house, or items I need to pick up at the grocery store. This has been especially helpful at night when I wake up with an idea for an article, knowing full well that I will forget it by morning if I don’t jot it down.


Another application that I find invaluable is Pulse. However, one drawback to the Pulse app is that it is not available for every OS. In fact, to my knowledge,it is limited in availability to the following devices:

  • iPhone and iPad
  • Android
  • Kindle Fire
  • Nook

If you have one of the above devices, Pulse is an excellent way to stay on top of the latest news in the technology field. What I really like about Pulse is the way that the information is presented in a simple window format.

Can Mobile Tech Make You More Productive?

Pulse on Amazon Kindle Fire

Gmail and Google Docs

My next favorite program is Gmail. Whether it is on my laptop PC, Chromebook, Apple iPad, or Samsung smartphone, it has always proven itself to be reliable and easily accessed. Even when I have needed to use someone else’s device, I have found Gmail to be compatible, allowing me to forward links to my own or someone else’s device.

Since Google has made a vast improvement to all of its online products, Google Docs has become yet another one of my favorite applications. Knowing this, I can choose to use any of my devices and be lazy whenever or wherever I am. This simple-to-use online application can be accessed from anywhere you have an Internet connection and from any mobile device of your choosing.

As you can see, I judge all of these applications to be easy to use, as well as reliable and functional. This may cause some of you to wonder if they are too simple for everyday use; I obviously don’t believe this to be the case. Instead, I believe that people, in general, tend to overcomplicate their lives, thinking that if something is easy and works, there has to be something wrong with it. However, remember the old adage KISS (Keep it Simple Stupid); this also applies to how we use our mobile devices.

So, with that being said, I know that I can only offer my opinion and tell you about my personal experience with these software programs. I also know that, although they meet my needs and have helped me to reduce my work time by at least 25% over the past year, your mileage may vary.

Comments welcome.

Read Free E-books Without an E-reader

Read Free E-books Without an E-readerIt is amazing to me how few people realize that e-books can be viewed without the need to purchase an additional electronic gadget.

This point was driven home to me this past weekend when I was privy to a conversation in which two individuals expressed their belief that, because they didn’t own an e-reader, they couldn’t receive free e-books. This was despite the fact that both of these individuals owned computers and tablets. In fact, one person stated that not having an e-reader was one reason they continued to purchase paperbacks and hard cover books. This made me consider how much of these misconceptions were fueled by the e-reader marketers versus users just not understanding how they can gain access to free e-books. That, in turn, led me to write this article as a way to eliminate these misconceptions.

Free e-readers available for all

Because the industry is changing so drastically, many providers, such as Amazon and Barnes & Noble, are offering free software and applications as a way to introduce end users to this new technology. For example:

  • Amazon offers free software for many popular devices including Apple iPads, iPhones, and iPods; its Kindle software focuses on making this new technology available (for free) for desktop computers, laptop computers, tablets, netbooks and even Mac computers. This means that, since these programs are available for free for almost any currently manufactured electronic device, reading e-books from Amazon has never been easier. With these programs, Amazon also offers what it calls ‘Whispersync’ technology, a feature that allows you to automatically save and synchronize all of your page readings, your bookmarks, notes, and highlights. Once saved, all of these will then be displayed on all of your selected devices. The major advantage of this feature is that you can then start to read an e-book on your desktop computer or other device and finish reading it on any other device on which the Kindle software is installed.
  • If you choose to use one of the Barnes & Noble applications, you will find that the company, like Amazon, offers free software for all popular computing, tablet, and smartphone devices. Also, like Amazon’s Kindle, Barnes & Noble offers free books for your reading pleasure and will transform many electronic devices into free e-readers.
  • So, while the two above are probably the most well-publicized producers of free e-books, Sony also offers free e-reader software for many popular devices including PCs, Macs, Androids, and Apple’s entire popular lineup of devices. To support its application, Sony also offers a selection of free e-books.
  • However, one mustn’t forget the ever-popular Apple products such as the iPad or iPhone. For these devices, Apple offers free books from its very popular iBook store.
  • Last, Google has jumped into the market by offering its free e-book reading software that will work for its popular Android devices.

One other option is to search out third-party software, such as Kobo. Kobo supports not only the aforementioned electronic devices but also BlackBerries. An additional advantage to this software is that it not only offers an extensive library of free e-books for its free e-reader, but includes the option to purchase those e-books for which the author is charging a fee to read. Remember that, since e-books don’t require a printer, they are usually less expensive than purchasing a soft bound or hard bound copy of the same material.

While this article is aimed at helping you, the reader, to use this new technology and save yourself some money, I am hopeful that it will also encourage those of you who aren’t currently receiving free books to search out the proper free e-reader for yourselves. My opinion is that no one needs to spend their hard-earned cash on yet another electronic gadget if they can enjoy the exact same thing on a device that they have already purchased.

Comments welcome.

Sources: Kobo, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Sony, iBook

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Constance Wiebrands

Are Men Really Outshopping Women Online?

Shopping online has become one of my favorite pastimes. For the past five years I have been a client and advocate of Amazon Prime. If you are not familiar with what Amazon Prime is or does, here is a brief breakdown of the benefits Amazon Prime offers.

  • Cost is $79 a year.
  • Free shipping in the US for any ordered product with no price limit. For instance, you can order a product that costs 99 cents and receive free shipping.
  • Second day receipt of your purchase is guaranteed. The exceptions is that, if you order on a Friday, the item may not ship until Monday.
  • Free movies offered for streaming.
  • Free Kindle e-books with a limit of one per month.

So is a Prime membership from Amazon right for you? It all depends on how much you purchase during the year. For me, the benefits are well worth the costs since I order about 80% of all of my online purchases through Amazon Prime. In addition to the savings I have received on shipping costs, I have also received products for free if they have not arrived within two days as guaranteed by Amazon. As with any service, there are some limitations and I would recommend that you read the service guarantee as provided by Amazon on its website.

With that being said, I did not find it surprising that, in a recent study by iProspect, researchers found that affluent men over 18 years of age have flocked to online shopping sites in droves. In its report, iProspect, in the table below, also concluded the following:

  • Affluent males are described as being over 35 years old, making $100k to $300k a year, and having no children.
  • 70% of these men use the Internet (by home computer, smartphone, or tablet) to research and buy products.
  • The top websites visited are Amazon (41%), Yahoo! (37%), Google (29%), and eBay (20%).
  • These men are also social in that they visit Facebook (55%) and Google+ (39%) on a daily basis.

So I asked my fellow Gnomies what their online shopping experience has been, and here are the responses that I received:

Zach Bornheimer

I’m an Amazon man, myself ;)

Michael Epson

Definitely Amazon, and its Prime service is too great to describe, here. I use every part of it that I can. I’m a huge reader, and Kindle is king in our house.

William R. Reynolds Young

Amazon, Zappos, and eBay. More than 70% of my shopping is online.

Ryan Hayes

Amazon for most things that are available with Prime. Sam’s Club for other things. In general I’m patient, so I use stores to check out things, but only buy there if I need something the same day. Even in brick and mortar stores I use my iPhone to get a ballpark estimate to see if I should get it, not get it, or wait for something better. Internet access is key to getting the best deal.

John McKinlay

Amazon UK,, Maplin Electronics, eBay, and a lot more besides. I do most of my shopping online; only around 5-10% is done within a bricks and mortar business.

Aryeh Goretsky

NewEgg, Amazon, and eBay. I sometimes go someplace else if Froogle shows it as being less expensive and the site still has decent reviews.

April Elyse Weir

Amazon,, and eBay ( and for music). I do like to shop at physical stores, but I don’t have a car, and things in physical stores tends to be more expensive than online. Although there are certain times where buying online is impractical — as with clothes or shoes as it’s hard to get the right size. Online can’t really recreate the feeling of going through racks and discovering stuff, pulling stuff out, and feeling the fabric and seeing how it fits. In physical stores, you know exactly what you are getting, so there is no dissatisfaction later on.

Richard Arblaster

When I had money, mainly,, and

Craig Chamberlin

Exact same as Aryeh Goretsky: Amazon, Newegg, and eBay. I seldom do brick and mortar unless I need it the same day.

Schyler MagicTrax

Johnson I shop online once in a while. Usually I shop from,,, and occasionally Amazon. I try to buy at brick and mortar stores when it’s possible, but quite a lot of stuff isn’t available around here.

Bryan Miner

I love shopping; the only thing I am not comfortable shopping online for is clothes, but anything else — if I don’t need it right now — I go to Amazon for it.

Troy Rutter is the obvious one, but I actually did buy some jeans on, since I hate shopping for clothes. The fit was a bit of a gamble, but ended up okay. I’d say 85-90% of my online shopping is Amazon; the rest is eBay and miscellaneous.

Mark Dalton, eBay, and that’s it, really.

Kyle Kimberlin

Amazon for me. I figure if I can’t get it from Amazon, or within five minutes of my home, I probably don’t need it.

Nate W. Thibodeau

Amazon and Newegg. Occasionally MicroCenter.

What is surprising in the answers is that the majority of Gnomies use Amazon as one of their favorite online retailers.

In a recent article at Forbes, the focus was on why Best Buy would gradually collapse. One argument that brick and mortar stores use for what they perceive as unfair competition is that online stores normally do not charge sales tax, which makes the online product more attractive because it is cheaper.

What the brick and mortar stores do not understand is that is not the only reason. For any of us who have made purchases from online companies such as Amazon, we recognize that these online companies excel in their customer service. Returning items is a breeze and getting a refund is as easy. I once received an item that I did not order and Amazon told me to keep it. I have also returned items that did not meet my needs without an issue. Amazon does bend over backwards to make your shopping experience the best it can be. The company wants our business and is willing to provide the absolute best customer service available.

When it comes to us men, we prefer letting our fingers do the walking and searching. I know that I rarely go shopping at retail stores — particularly malls — and prefer the convenience of shopping online.

How do you do your shopping, and which do you prefer: online or at a physical retailer?

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo at the top of the page shared by joshparent

10 Must Have Kindle Fire Tips and Tricks

10 Must Have Kindle Fire Tips and TricksLast week, I wrote about how to change your Kindle Fire over to look like Ice Cream Sandwich. Since then, however, I have discovered several other tips that I think will make your Amazon Kindle Fire experience more enjoyable.

Silk browser

Like any other browser, the Silk browser can get clogged with junk and gunk. To free up your resources and improve the speed of the Silk browser, open it, go to the Menu option, and choose Settings. Then, scroll down to Clear All Cookie Data, followed by Clear Cache and Clear History. Just tap on each separately and your browser performance should improve.

Transferring files using Send to Kindle

After setting up your Kindle Fire for the first time, you are automatically assigned a Send to Kindle email address. To locate your Kindle address, go to Settings, More, and then My Account. Under your user name will be the email address that has been assigned to you, and it is the one you can use to send files to your Fire. The Kindle email will usually begin with your name and look something like this: [email protected] However, before you can start sending files to your Fire, you must add the sending email address to the ‘Sent From‘ address in the Approved Personal Document E-Mail List. This will be found within your Amazon account. To find your account, go to and log in using your Amazon username and password. Once you are logged in, select the Add Address option. Fill out the required information, and you will then be able to send emails with attachments to your Kindle address. You need to be aware, though, that there is a 50 MB file size restriction, and that Amazon limits the number of attachments per email to 25.

Using QuickOffice

QuickOffice comes preinstalled on the Amazon Kindle Fire. Using the QuickOffice built-in programs, you can open transferred files from Word, Excel, or PowerPoint. You can also locate, in the Documents folder on your Kindle Fire, files that you have transferred from other programs as well as saved email attachments. Additionally, QuickOffice has a built-in file manager and search feature to assist you in finding any open documents that you have saved on your Kindle from Google Docs. If this resource doesn’t uncover one of those elusive files, you can try a free application that I use called ES File Explorer. So far it has successfully helped me and the price is right.

Keyboard quick numbers

Like most Android devices, when you have to put a number into a document, you must change the keyboard from alphabetic to numeric. But with the Kindle Fire keyboard, there is a trick you can use when inserting numbers. To insert the number, hold down any one of the keys on the top row of the keyboard. The number above it will appear, [in orange], and will then be automatically added to the document. Here is a picture of the Kindle Fire keyboard that shows the number 1 being displayed when the letter q is pressed. Each subsequent key will display a number from 1 to 0 (w=2. e=3, and so forth).

Parental controls

Many of us enjoy the many games that Amazon has to offer — some free, some paid However, if you have children at home, you may wish to activate the built-in parental controls for your tablet to prevent them from downloading applications without your permission. Some parents haven’t been aware that their children have downloaded several full price games until they become the victim of credit card shock. Sadly, they could have avoided this problem if they had just activated the parental controls that are available. To activate them, choose Go to Apps Store, and select the Menu button, followed by choosing the Settings option. When this dialog box comes up, select Parental Controls and enter in your Amazon password. Once you are allowed entry, you can choose to restrict access to your account by changing your Amazon entry password to a PIN number.

Where is that link going to take me?

dle Fire Tips and TricksWhen surfing the Internet, there are a million links to follow, but sometimes that link may take you to a place you don’t want to go. If you want to avoid this problem on your Kindle, long press on a link and the window will appear with several options. Note that the link description is displayed on the top of the screen, indicating exactly where the link is going to direct you. Next you can choose to open the link, open the link in a new tab, or any one of a variety of other choices.

Blocking pop-ups

Pop-ups can appear at the most inopportune times and this is not unique to any system or browser — including the Silk Browser. In fact, I was more than a little irritated this morning when one popped up while I was right in the middle of a page that I was viewing. To make it worse, this particular nasty pop-up refused to turn off until I persistently started clicking on the X box [aka close]. In order to help you avoid this irritation, the Silk browser has a built in pop-up blocker that can be activated by going to the Menu, Settings, and then scrolling down to Block Pop-up Windows. Once in this dialog box, select the Always setting. You must be in the Silk browser to activate this setting.

Default search engine

By default, Google is set as the search engine on your Kindle Fire’s Silk browser. For many of us, this is fine as we already opt to use Google, but if you prefer, you can change this default setting to use either Yahoo! or Bing. To do this in the Silk browser, click on the Menu, Settings, and then select Set Search Engine and make your choice.

Change the Web font

Even with a 7″ screen that allows plenty of real estate to view the webpages you visit, the text may be too small to read. To enlarge the font size used within your Silk browser, select Menu, Settings, and then scroll down to Text Size. You will be able to then choose either the Large or Huge font size option to make reading websites easier. Be aware that on some websites you may need to scroll from side to side to take in all of what it has to offer.

Using a USB cable to transfer files

To take advantage of this option, you will need to purchase a USB to Micro USB cable if you don’t already have one. These are sold separately for the Kindle Fire and can be purchased from Amazon (or other electronics suppliers). However, you may find that you already have this type of cable since they are sometimes included when you purchase a camera, back drive, or smartphone. I find that the cable that came with my Samsung smartphone works just fine.

Once you have connected the cable from your computer to your Kindle, your Kindle Fire will be displayed under Computer or My Computer as a USB drive. You can then access your Fire just as you would any other USB drive. In fact, I have successfully transferred applications from my Android smartphone to the Kindle Fire using a free application called Easy Installer.

I hope that these tips help you to enjoy your Amazon Kindle Fire and add more value to your tablet device.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above of Amazon Box Man shared by

Amazon or Google: Who Will Win the Tablet Price War?

Amazon or Google: Who Will Win the Tablet Price War?On Saturday morning, March 31, 2012, while performing my daily ritual of searching for subjects of interest, I stumbled across an article written by Mike Elgan of PC World. In his article he made an assessment of the tablet market in which he predicted an upcoming price war between Amazon and Google. In reading his thoughts of the upcoming battle, there were many points that I wouldn’t hesitate to agree with, but there was one issue to which I took exception — that being his comparison of the upcoming price war between these two industry giants.

The parts of the article that I would tend to endorse include the concept that Apple has little to fear from its less expensive (aka cheap tablet systems) competitors. Of course, those of you who read my articles are aware that I believe that Apple is, in fact, the company that is and will continue to be the dominating force in the ‘luxury tablet’ market. This makes me question just where Amazon and/or Google will find themselves since companies in recent history — in the form of HP, Asus, Motorola, and Samsung — have previously attempted to garner a share of the tablet market only to find that the consumer preferred to remain loyal to Apple and its superior iPad and iOS.

Now, admittedly, this is assuming that Google is actually going to introduce a tablet computer, of some type, in the very near future. Over the past few weeks, speculation has run the gamut, but overall seems to point toward Google introducing a 7″ model, manufactured by Asus and/or Samsung, that will operate via some form of Google Android. So, while I tend to concur with this thinking, we need to look at a few of Google’s past missteps in other markets.

To list just a couple, you can look at either Google’s attempt to enter the smartphone market with its Nexus mobile phone, or its attempt to introduce the pint-sized Google Chromebook into the laptop market. Both of these attempts failed due to the lack of public interest in already oversaturated markets. However, while the smartphone was the first to be withdrawn from manufacturing, Google moved ahead with the Chromebook, allowing a few to be distributed for testing. I was fortunate enough to be included in this testing process and obtain one of the first Cr-48 test units. It is worthy to note that this small unit still works and I find it useful when traveling. This means, at least to me, that the idea was sound and that Google had every reason to expect the Chromebook to be successful — but it wasn’t. It seems that consumers turned their noses up at it merely because the tablet computer is just more fun to use.

In reality, this is probably because, for the majority of us who use a computer to play a few games, write an occasional email, and/or do some surfing, a tablet computer is all we may need. In addition, a tablet makes an excellent venue from which to read books, magazines, or other documents. The reason behind this is how much easier the tablet is to maneuver in comparison to a hard copy book; now that the clarity of the new screens has been improved, one can’t beat it as a means of relaxation. Note that, today, tablet screen clarity is far superior to that of the original Kindle models — to the point of affording the consumer the ability to control screen brightness, font size, and background at the push of a button. Additionally, smaller tablets, such as the 7″ Amazon Kindle Fire, are far easier to carry around in either a women’s purse or, in my case, in my jeans pocket.

Amazon or Google: Who Will Win the Tablet Price War?In Mr. Elgan’s article, he suggests that Google may have a huge advantage over Amazon in that Google can market its tablet as being built by various vendors. This is where I tend to disagree. I don’t think that this will necessarily be the case and here are a few facts to counter this assumption:

  • The Amazon Kindle has a loyal clientele of followers who buy a ton of books from Amazon and Amazon alone.
  • Since the Fire was introduced to the market in November of 2011, it has become one of Amazon’s most successful products.
  • Though Apple leads the pack in revenue generated for application developers, Amazon already holds the number two position, placing Google in dead last place.

Last, I took offense to Mr. Elgan’s comment that people who buy the Amazon Kindle Fire are cheapskates who wouldn’t support Amazon by making future purchases from its marketplace. I own an Amazon Kindle Fire as well as an Apple iPad and have found a huge variety of movies and books that I have chosen to purchase from Amazon’s marketplace. This is in addition to the applications that Amazon provides for Kindle users. I believe that Amazon is a profitable company because it pays a higher rate to developers for creating worthwhile, affordable applications for its product. In addition, anyone who orders from Amazon — even those who do not consider themselves cheapskates — may wish to take advantage of Amazon’s Prime account that offers free shipping for all products as well as free entertainment in the form of movies, TV, and games.

So even though I admit to being a regular Amazon user who owns a Kindle Fire, has a Prime account, and buys applications from the company, I am also a fan of Google. My opinions and comments are not the result of any economic attachment or interest in the survival of either company. It is just that I personally believe Amazon is currently in a better position to win this particular battle.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Updates, Plus New Tips and Tricks

Amazon Kindle Fire: Updates, Plus New Tips and TricksOn March 28, 2012, Chris notified me that Amazon released the latest version (version 6.3) of its Kindle Fire. At that time, he included a list of the newest features and performance upgrades that Amazon has added or changed from the previous version. Since this is a device that I have written about in the past, I told Chris that I would install the update and check out these new features and write a review on my findings. In preparing to write the article, I also decided to include a section on some of the new tips and tricks that I have discovered while investigating what the Amazon Kindle Fire brings to the plate for our folks here at LockerGnome who own their own Amazon Kindle Fires.

Of course, all articles begin with testing or researching your topic; so, after receiving the email from Chris, I immediately updated my system. To follow along with me, you can update your system and confirm you have the latest bells and whistles by clicking on the cog wheel located at the top right of the screen. Doing this allows you to then select the Sync icon, which in turn then allows the update to be downloaded and installed onto your system. If you still have questions, you can then confirm that you have the latest update by clicking on the More icon, then Settings followed by choosing the Device option. Once on this screen, look under the System Version to confirm that you do, in fact, have version 6.3. You can read about all of the new features at the Amazon Kindle Fire update site.

So what makes this latest update worthwhile? It comes down to the following sentence taken from Amazon’s website:

‘This update will also bring some of the features customers have requested, including faster re-connect of Wi-Fi after Kindle Fire has been asleep, and general performance enhancements.’

After reading this sentence, I knew that, for me, it was a must-have update. Don’t get me wrong; I believe that all of the enhancements being offered will benefit most users, but a faster re-connect of Wi-Fi is one of my pet peeves and here is why. I have set my Gmail account to automatically be checked any time I crank up my Fire. However, due to the slow Wi-Fi connection, I usually end up with nothing more than a message stating that the program has failed.

Did the update work? Yes! My email now magically appears as soon as I start my Fire.

While this was particularly satisfying to me, there are several other new toys worth mentioning. I even believe that some of these new toys will ultimately change the user’s experience. Fortunately, these innovative changes don’t even require your Fire to be ‘rooted’ before you can enjoy them.

One such change was my ability to change, for free, the look of my tablet’s screen to the appearance of the Android 4.0 Ice Cream Sandwich. Below is a picture of that change.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Updates, Plus New Tips and Tricks

So let’s get started in transforming your standard carousel, bookshelf, and ho-hum desktop environment into what looks and works like Ice Cream Sandwich. Don’t worry. If you don’t like the changes, you can revert back to the standard desktop at the click of an icon or you can uninstall everything and return your Fire back to its original appearance.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Updates, Plus New Tips and TricksThe first step in making this change is to enable the installation of third-party applications. To do this, click on the cog wheel, followed by More, then Settings, then click on Device. After this, scroll down until you are able to click on the Yes button where you will find the option to Allow Installation of Applications from Unknown Sources.

Next, we need to create a file manager so that we can locate some of the files that we will be downloading. I have found a good file manager that is called ES File Explorer. This program can be downloaded, for free, from the Amazon App Store. However, to use it, you may want to take advantage of another free program offered at Amazon’s App Store called Easy Installer. This program makes installation of other non-Amazon approved applications a cinch.

For those of you who have tried installing apps from Google Android Market (aka Google Play) onto the Fire, you have found that these apps are blocked by Amazon and will not install directly. If you find that this is your problem, go to the developer’s website, find the programs we will be using, and download them to your Amazon Kindle Fire (or onto a computer, then transfer the files over to the Fire). Either way will work.

The application we next need to download and install is called Go Launcher EX. Once again you have the option of downloading it directly to the Fire or onto a computer. If you choose the latter, the file must be transferred from your computer over to the Fire via a USB cable. Once Go Launcher EX is on your Fire, go to Easy Installer, select Go Launcher EX, and it will be installed for you. For some of you, this may be as far as you wish to go since Go Launcher EX comes with different themes and changes to enhance the desktop of your Fire.

The great thing about using Go Launcher EX is that you can set your system to boot into the new desktop or the old. In addition, a Launcher icon will be incorporated into your new theme so that you can continue to access the carousel bookshelf.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Updates, Plus New Tips and Tricks

However, if you want to install the Ice Cream Sandwich theme from Kovdev, you will need to download the .apk file to an Android phone or other device that has access to Google Play. Unfortunately, I am unaware of any reputable sites on the Internet from which one can download the file directly. However, once the file is transferred over to your Amazon Kindle Fire, Easy Installer can be used to install the Ice Cream Sandwich theme. Then, once it is installed, you can launch the theme through Go Launcher EX. Once it is installed, you can use ES File Explorer to clean up any downloads or other .apk files that are no longer needed.

Comments welcome.

Note: I discovered that I personally preferred booting into the standard desktop first, then launching Go Launcher EX after the standard boot. Why? For the most part I enjoy using the standard Amazon Kindle Fire desktop carousel shelving experience. However, I also like the Ice Cream Sandwich interface. Here is what you need to do to reverse the order of which GUI boots first. After installing Go Launcher EX, you will be asked which launcher you wish to use. If you select Launcher as the default, you will first boot into the standard desktop GUI. If you choose Go Launcher EX, the default will be booting into Go Launcher EX or Ice Cream Sandwich if you choose the ICS theme.

Amazon Kindle Fire: Updates, Plus New Tips and Tricks

Either way, you will enjoy a new and unique experience.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by IntelFreePress