Friday, November 18, 2011

Writing on a Tablet

I do a lot of writing these days, some on my high end Windows laptop with dual 20 inch monitors and some on my 10 inch tablet with Bluetooth keyboard.

I have surprisingly discovered that I am far more efficient on the tablet. This is surprising because on the tablet I have much smaller screen (less than 100 square inches versus more than 700 square inches), I don’t have a mouse, and switching from my writing app to email or the web is more involved.

That last item proves to be the key item. Because the tablet is primarily not a multitasking device I tend to focus on writing when I’m writing. The lure of the emails lurking in my system tray is gone. The other browser windows in my giant multimonitor display do not call to me. The fact that my tablet can really only do one thing at time is not a limitation it is a benefit.

While at a certain level this is obvious it’s also interesting given the current debates about multitasking operating systems. At the same time that some OSs are claiming to be better because of multitasking some of the mainstream OSs are adding features to discourage multitasking! For example various flavors of Linux have the option to automatically dim all windows other than the active one. The idea is to reduce the lure of context switching.

All kinds of current research is showing that humans cannot really multitask, yet we want to pretend that we can. At the same time, we know that the key to writing is to…well…write. And as much as we love to write we also love anything that can distract us from writing. So using a “limited” system to do our writing on is really to our advantage.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

A few minutes with the Kindle Fire

I got to spend a few minutes with the Kindle Fire yesterday. Full disclosure: we have two kindles, an iPad, a smartphone and assorted laptops at home.

The iPad has almost completely replaced the laptop at home, and with a bluetooth keyboard I do most of my writing on it. It comes with me to the numerous evening Meetups I attend.

My kindle comes with me everywhere during the day, because it fits in my pocket which lets me squeeze in lots of spare minutes reading.

The smartphone has been relegated to making phone calls and checking gmail when out of wifi.

The KF is agreeably small and light and I could imagine it being with me everywhere. The screen is clean and crisp. Some reviewers have complained about slow screen response but I did not encounter that. Page turns while reading were very responsive and selecting items from the various menus was easy.

The touch screen made selecting and highlighting text much simpler than on the legacy kindle, so I might pick the KF for technical reading where I do lots of note taking.

One problem I did encounter was in getting to the menu screen. Most apps are full screen so to get to the menu and the Home button you have to touch the bottom of the screen. The location to touch was hard to find. It often took me lots of touches to bring up the menu resulting in lots of unwanted page turns. Presumably this would be something one would figure out over time.

Movies look nice on the KF, though obviously a smaller image than on the iPad. My kindle reading is largely opportunistic, a few minutes here and there. While I'm willing to read books a page at time I don't know that I'd want to watch a movie that way. When I know I might have blocks of time I bring my iPad. So movies wouldn't be a KF draw for me though they might be for my iPad-less wife.

Magazines look much better on the KF than on the legacy kindle.

In the end buying a KF or not depends on what devices you already have and what you want to do.
If you just have a legacy kindle or a smartphone and don't want to do content creation the KF makes sense. If you just have a iPad but no book reader you might get the KF for its extra portability.

For my wife who has a kindle plus dumb phone and wants some internet access we have a couple of choices. We could get a $300 smart phone plus two years of a $30/month add-on data plan; two year cost $1020. Or a $200 KF, possibly adding on the $79/year Amazon Prime membership. That seems like an easy choice for us. Your mileage may vary.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

New article published at Pragmatic Programmers

I just had an article published in the Pragmatic Programmer magazine on
the long history of root cause analysis