Archive - September, 2010

Livescribe for Taking Notes

For the past five weeks I’ve been taking notes with a Livescribe Pulse 2GB smartpen, a system that records audio as you write notes. The Livescribe pen plays back audio as you move the tip to a point in the notepad you want to hear. I’m using the Mac version of the software.

It’s an ingenious, helpful system. Battery life for the pen has lasted for a full day  before recharging. It’s recharged by connecting to a laptop with a standard USB port with the Livescribe cradle, or by using a wall plug charger. Both are supplied with the basic kit.

The pen is about triple the size of a normal ink pen. It’s not unmanageable. It contains an led screen that gives time, date, battery status, and, most important, a menu that  progressively leads you to various tasks. It’s activated by pressing on icons on the Livescribe paper.

Livescribe requires dot-imprinted paper. It won’t work on plain copy paper. However, it’s possible to print your own paper on a 600dpi (or higher) color printer using a utility provided with the desktop software. And Livescribe notebooks and paper in varying sizes can be purchased online or at many Best Buy and Target stores.

I’ve read that some users find the pen runs out of ink sooner than other pens. The cartridge is smaller than most standard ball point refills. Refills can be ordered online or in the stores above. I use the pen to note key points, not to write a detailed narrative as I do when taking notes without the smartpen. Using it in this way, I haven’t experienced a shortage of ink.

The main menu allows you to replay a recorded session, draw a musical keyboard for a piano, demo the translator function in the software (write a word and a definition scrolls the pen’s led screen), delete a session or all sessions and create a security password.

Icons on the paper allow you to start recording, pause or stop. You can playback, jump ahead, go back, adjust volume and adjust playback speed.

With the smarten attached to a desktop, you can view notes on-screen and playback audio. Using the mouse pointer, audio playback can be started at various points. This is the ingenious part of Livescribe. It will accurately take you to audio where you have written key points you want to review.

You can also upload notes to your private account on the Livescribe website where you can work with the notes and audio and share them with co-workers if you choose.

Co-workers can see the notes and listen to the audio as well. I’ve used this collaborative capability with two workgroups and we’ve found it very useful.

I nearly panicked when I uploaded the first time, however. Livescribe calls uploading “Share with community.” When I thought I had mistakenly uploaded internal notes to a wider community, I nearly had a panic attack. But after a call to Livescribe support and a more careful reading of the user manual, I learned that despite this misleading label, uploaded notes are locked and private until the user adds the email addresses and names of those who will be given access to them.

I’m impressed with the quality of the recorded playback on a laptop system. I’ve used the pen only in conference room settings, I haven’t tried larger halls, but I’ve seen photos of people using the pen, holding it as if it were a microphone. A set of earbuds plug into the pen for private listening, a handy tool that could prevent you an embarrassment I experienced.

In order to review a recorded comment, I held the pen to my ear during a break at a recent staff retreat. I took a good deal of razzing about having a large pen sticking out of my ear.

The variable audio quality and adjustable volume offer surprising fidelity. One of my co-workers called me after logging onto shared meeting notes and described the playback as “awesome.” I don’t normally receive that kind of response to new media from our technologically jaded crew, so I take that as a great compliment to Livescribe.

Files can be organized into project notebooks and are searchable by keyword. A third party utility can turn handwritten notes into text. Alas, no transcription for audio to text. Wouldn’t that be something? But, hey, this little smartpen can do a lot and do it very well. I’m enjoying using it.

Is the connection fraying?

Recently someone “deeply involved in budgeting” for a local church contacted United Methodist Communications seeking financial information. When we suggested contacting the conference treasurer, the response was complete lack of knowledge about who, or what, a conference treasurer is.

This is not an isolated occurrence. We often encounter United Methodists who are unaware of how our connection works, what it is doing in the world or what it teaches.

Is the connection connected?

An anecdote does not make a trend. However, when asked by United Methodist Communications researchers if their local church understands the concept of connectionalism, only 18 percent of pastors and 12 percent of laity strongly agree that they understand it. When clergy and laypersons are asked individually if they understand the church’s structure, 38 percent of clergy and 17 percent of laity strongly affirm that they understand it.

Couple this with participation in connectional giving and the story is consistent. The most widely observed offering in the church is One Great Hour of Sharing, yet only 28 percent of United Methodist congregations participate in it. This is the highest rate of participation for any of the general church offerings.

At a time when global realities call for deeper understanding of our interrelatedness and interdependencies, the fraying of the connectional system of The United Methodist Church is a cause for concern. The lack of awareness about how we are connected from the local church to the annual conference and from the annual conference to the general church is important, not only to us as a faith community but also to the world.

Let me illustrate. It is noteworthy that the World Health Organization is reporting that malaria is claiming fewer children today than in previous years. What does this have to do with the connection? I believe when the people of The United Methodist Church entered into the fight against this killer disease, we encouraged others and helped, along with other partners, to focus on something the world could do together: tackle a disease of poverty.

It was our scale partnering with others of scale that gave hope that together we could alleviate human suffering and death in a global movement. Our connectedness was, and is, an immeasurable asset in the mission to embody the leading causes of life, to quote Gary Gunderson’s marvelous phrase.

If we reclaim an understanding that the connection is about making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world (that’s scale), and that discipleship is expressed through missional outreach to the world (that’s scale), we can participate with God in the transformation of the world (that’s real scale).

I know there are many complex reasons the connection is fraying. But I’m asking a simple question. What if the connection were viewed less as a bureaucratic organizational model that’s a drag on finances and more as a life-giving movement for the healing of the world? What if we viewed it, interpreted it and embodied it in this way? What might happen?

Information Overload

The flip side of the behavioral change that results from new media that I wrote two days ago is information overload. It’s a many-sided dilemma. We can’t manage the information that’s available to us. We’re burdened by too much information. Too many book recommendations, articles, websites and social media messages.

In this climate it’s difficult to determine the truly important and meaningful from the trivial and fleeting. It all comes at us with speed, volume and missing context. We lose our bearings.

Easy access to so much information can lead to a demand for a continuous flow of new information even if none exists. It’s been suggested that this creates a treadmill for producers to stay ahead of our expectations. So they send along less significant,  less meaningful content that adds to our overload and further homogenizes the truly useful.

I was reminded of this by the cover story in the Columbia Journalism Review that equates higher production of less important content to a hamster wheel. Journalists are producing more and reflecting deeply upon less, according to the article.

It raises the question: Do we really need all that’s being churned out? Is it driven by insatiable appetite and addiction to the continuous flow, and not by a functional need? (There are currently 14,800,000 Google results for Twitter addiction as I write this post.) Can’t we form an opinion, or act upon what we already know?

It’s been argued that our appetite for new information is reducing attention span. I’ve thought a lot about this and I remain a skeptic. I became aware of my own shortening attention span long before digital media entered my life. I noticed it when I was working in New York in a communications job that required me to manage several projects at once, supervise staff, attend meetings and write, edit, and produce.

I found myself juggling several balls at once, unable to give undivided attention to any one of them as I preferred.

Even before that I took a course in speed reading well before the Internet was a gleam in anyone’s eyes. And I’ve practiced some of those techniques ever since.

As for the claim that content is less meaty than in the past, I’m not sure. The cjr article seems to say journalistic quality hasn’t suffered even as output has increased significantly. My recollection of pop culture and mass media is that it’s always run on the fuel of dross-celebrity, scandal and crime or fears of crime, especially during sweeps months when audience measurements are taken.

I tune out local TV news for the most part because of this. And I think this is a point worth remembering. I can be more selective in my use of media today than ever before. I filter out much that I consider trivial and not worth my time. And, of course, like everyone else, I still probably waste time in these media.

But that’s not new. I managed to do that even before new media came along. What about you?

How New Media Are Changing Me

As I wrote yesterday, the media environment is changing. As this happens, we who use new media are changing too. At least I’m changing. I’m aware of some of this change, but perhaps insidiously, some of it is subtle and less conscious. I’m guessing this is true for others as well.

For example, I frequently discover upon opening the front page of my physical newspaper (even the language is required to change) that I’ve already read much of it. It’s been published on the web, sometimes hours earlier. I use Pulse on the iPad and YourVersion on a laptop or iPad. I also go to the NY TimesChristian Science Monitor, BBC, Thomson Reuters, USA TodayWashington Post, The Guardian and Newsy. Often, I send an article I want to read later to Instapaper.

This is causing me to think I don’t need the paper edition, a huge change of attitude for me.  When we moved from the New York city region several years ago, the one heartbreaking reservation I had to accept was moving away from the print version of the New York Times. This was before it was widely available in print nationally.

When I stop my print subscription it will be a big, emotional step, but I can sense it’s coming. And it’s a bit disorienting.

Another significant behavioral change is the way I start the day. In one of those insidious changes, I recently realized I review social media first by reading it on Flipboard on an iPad or TweetDeck on the iPad or laptop. I sometimes follow links friends have sent. Then I review several news sources by going directly to websites or by looking at aggregated content.

When I find pertinent articles, video, photos or audio in my surfing, I often link to them and share the link via Twitter and Facebook. In the past, I clipped physical articles and filed them for reference later. Today, I clip media to Evernote and file in an electronic database called DevonThink which has an iPad app in beta testing now. What I once did manually, I now do electronically, seamlessly and instantaneously.

I still read physical books but I’m reading more electronically and even listening to audiobooks, which I’ve never done before. My audio listening is done while driving to work. As a result, I haven’t listened to radio much in the past nine months. One victim of my changing media habits is my morning rendezvous with NPR. Doesn’t happen anymore. And I’m aware that I retain audio information in my memory as well as, if not a bit better than, information I’ve read.

I find I’m reading more. I have iBooks, Kindle, nook, BibleReader and Audible on an iPad. I even have an audio reader on a GPS unit in the car. Digital readers haven’t diminished my reading, they’ve actually increased it.

As a writer and media producer, my research methods have changed substantially. Commonly, my research is likely to begin with a database search on Google, then to other sources including physical references. I haven’t used a brick and mortar library in recent memory except to vote. But I’m doing more research than ever.

Finally, I’m more connected across geographic boundaries than ever, and I’ve been globally connected for a long time. But now my connections are quicker, more available and more accessible than before digital media.

This isn’t the whole picture. I’m sure these media are also changing our learning styles, attention spans and cognition in other ways. But as I survey the critiques and endorsements of new media, I don’t get a clear enough picture to know the cumulative nor ultimate result. I doubt it was any different with the advent of the printing press, telegraph, telephone, radio, or television. It’s clear any new medium changes how we access information, use it, store it and, perhaps, even how we act upon it. But, for now, this is a fair assessment of how these media are changing some of my daily routine.

I’m curious how my experience squares with or is different from how you are using new media and if it is also changing you in unexpected ways?

‘The People Formerly Known as the Audience’

That’s the description Professor Jay Rosen expanded upon after journalist Dan Gillmor wrote about the “former audience.”

It’s about the new relationship we have with each other and traditional media as a result of new media.

In its simplest definition, it means that we are no longer passive receivers of information sent through elite media channels controlled by someone else. Those channels continue to exist, to be sure, but they are no longer our sole sources of information, and because we have access to a variety of media ourselves, we have the ability to participate in news coverage by commenting upon it in ways unknown until now. Under certain conditions, we even make news through these new media.

This is turning traditional media on its ear because it upsets a fundamental business model that has served to create huge media conglomerates over the past 70 years.

A new survey report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press gives an even more interesting and complex picture of our use of news and information. The researchers say we’ve moved into a new phase even beyond a participatory culture for news. We are now utilizing specific platforms in different ways to receive, process and utilize news.

This means a smartphone is used for one purpose, a tablet for another and newspapers for yet other reasons. Moreover, we’re using specific newspapers for specific reasons–USA Today for news updates, the New York Times for in-depth reporting.

The report also finds the power of social networking as a news source. Many of us turn to Twitter to get immediate information about breaking stories before we turn to major media.

What this means for the church is also telling. The same people formerly known as the audience make up the community formerly known as the congregation, a phrase popularized by blogger Bill Kinnon.

On the one hand, we no longer sit passively and receive pronouncements as if we are simply on the receiving end of the church’s messages. On the other, there is great opportunity in the current media landscape. It is the opportunity to be connected, resourced and empowered in new ways.

For United Methodists, for whom connection has been a part of our community life from the beginning, this is an exciting time to be exploring new ways to be the church. These tools provide us the means to test new ways of learning and acting together. They provide us with information greater than our ability to absorb. They reveal the world to us more immediately and comprehensively than we’ve known before.

How are you managing these new media to connect, learn and act?

About the People Formerly Known as the Audience

The people formerly known as the audience.

That’s the description Prof. Jay Rosen expanded upon after journalist Dan Gillmor wrote about the “former audience.”

It’s about the new relationship we have with each other and traditional media as a result of new media.

In its simplest definition, it means that we are no longer passive receivers of information sent to us through elite media channels controlled by someone else. Those channels continue to exist, to be sure, but they are no longer our sole source of information and because we have access to a variety of media ourselves, we have the ability to participate in news coverage in ways unknown until now. We can comment, add information, update and, under certain conditions, we even make news through these new media.

This is turning traditional media on its ear because it upsets a fundamental business model that has served to create huge media conglomerates over the past seventy years.

A new survey report from the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press gives an even more interesting and complex picture of our use of news and information. The researchers say we’ve moved into a new phase even beyond a participatory culture for news. We are now utilizing specific platforms in different ways to receive, process and utilize news.

This means a smartphone is used for one purpose, a tablet for another and newspapers for yet other reasons. Moreover, we’re using specific newspapers for specific reasons–USA Today for news updates, the New York Times and Wall Street Journal for in-depth reporting.

The report also refers to the power of social networking as a news source. Many of us turn to Twitter to get immediate information about breaking stories before we turn to mainstream media.

What this means for the church is also telling. The same people formerly known as the audience make up the community formerly known as the congregation, a phrase popularized by blogger Bill Kinnon.

On the one hand, we no longer sit passively and receive pronouncements as if we are simply on the receiving end of the church’s messages. On the other, there is great opportunity in the current media landscape. It is the opportunity to be connected, resourced and empowered in new ways.

For United Methodists, for whom connection has been a part of our community life from the beginning, this is an exciting time to be exploring new ways to be the church. These tools provide us the means to test new ways of learning and acting together. They provide us with information greater than our ability to absorb. They reveal the world to us more immediately and comprehensively than we’ve known before. And if we act in concert we can achieve scale at a level that is far greater than if we act individually, in my opinion.

But that presents the great question. What is the Connection and how do we envision it? Time will tell. I hope we envision it well.

How are you managing these new media to connect, learn and act?

19 Ways I used the iPad while traveling in Africa

The iPad has been described as a tool primarily for consuming media. That may be too limiting. It’s useful for many other reasons.
While traveling in Africa, I discovered several uses that go beyond consumption. Some of the most useful apps are free. Some I bought on the app store. Because apps are being added daily, I might have chosen differently if options had been available when I made my trip. 

Here’s the list and how I used the apps:

1. Travel monitor for flight status, itinerary planning, electronic ticketing, seat selection using an online airline site and TripIt, FlightTrack and Flight Status apps.

2. Note-taking using the Notes app supplied with the iPad. I also have added Pages, Apple’s word processing software re-worked for the iPad, and Docs to Go from the app store. The Notes app is sufficient for quick note-taking but does not have formatting functions for document creation.

3. Calculator XL to determine exchange rates. This is always a trial for me. I’m mathematically challenged when it come to valuing dollars to local currency.

4. Business expense record using BizExpense. Extremely useful app that can scan in, or receive from an iPhone camera, copies of receipts, which can be assimilated into an expense record and e-mailed for submission. Of course, accounting will require the real thing, but nevertheless, this is a great record of expenses.

5. Free telephone calls back home using Whistle. This app worked amazingly well when the wifi signal was strong. A weak signal renders the app much less useful. You have to listen to a 15-second ad using the free version, but it takes me that long to plug in my earphones and adjust the volume, so it doesn’t bother me. I called my wife, Sharon, on our home landline and on her cell phone from the iPad — for free.

6. Real-time text messaging in-country to another iPad and to Sharon and my daughters in the U.S. using TextNow, also free.

7. Reading the news using the Safari web browser supplied with the iPad in addition to Pulse and Flipboard. OK, children, now gather ’round. I remember the days when I would buy a Sunday NY Times to hand carry to staff in Africa who had not seen a recent newspaper or magazine in months. Given this history, I’m amazed to be able to sit in a wifi zone and read today’s news online, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.

8. Alarm clock using Alarm Clock Pro. A reminder: At this writing the iPad doesn’t multi-task, so an alarm app must be open for the alarm to work. It doesn’t run in background — yet. So, if you want to wake up on time, plug your iPad into the socket to charge up overnight and make this the last app you open before going to sleep.

9. Posting to Facebook and Twitter using the Facebook mobile app and Tweetdeck. Here’s another amazing change. (Maybe I’ve just lived so long everything new is amazing to me, but I can remember when it was nearly impossible to call from the African continent. That was when the postal service ran the telephone service and you had to schedule a call at a post office, take your turn — perhaps a day later — pay for the call, wait for the operator to place it and take your place in a booth when your name was called. Really! It was this way across Africa.) So, as we’re driving into rural Manjama village, I’m texting our arrival using the 3G connection on the iPad, notifying whomever cares in the U.S. of our whereabouts, and remembering the old days.

10. Bible reading using the Olive Tree app. I’ve put The Message, The New Revised Standard Version and the American Standard Version on the iPad. The new Common English Bible wasn’t released when we were traveling, but I’ll put it on when the app is available from Cokesbury. Incidentally, I note that most mainline publishers don’t have the extensive variety Bible reader apps available from evangelical publishers.

11. E-mail using Google’s gmail, Apple’s mail and our Microsoft Exchange server at work. The iPad syncs up transparently and effortlessly with these mail apps and functions without a hitch. I’m very pleased with this seamless operation.

12. Calendar management using the calendar app that comes with the iPad. This, too, is a great tool. If you’ve wrestled with getting Entourage, Mac and Google calendars to sync, you know how frustrating it can be. Sometimes they work, sometimes they duplicate entries, drop entries, and generally make you want to tear out your hair. But the calendar app on the iPad syncs easily with the exchange server at work without the hassles of duplicate entries and other glitches. I am using the iPad calendar as my primary calendar for work because it functions so flawlessly.

13. Filing addresses using the native iPad address book from Apple. As with the calendar, this app has become my primary address book because it works so flawlessly and does not fight with all the other address books I’ve got elsewhere. When they play together well, I’m satisfied.

14. Document-sharing using Dropbox. This free app is a workhorse for me. It’s a cloud-based storage location to which I can upload documents and photos and then share them with others. This avoids e-mail size limits that frequently make document sharing a problem, especially photos or video files.

15. Research using Google. While I’m overseas, I often find need for information that escapes my memory or that is pertinent to a discussion I’m engaged in. I use Google to get me up to speed. And, speaking of speed, while it wasn’t available at the time of my trip, I’ve been checking out the Google Realtime search the past few days and it’s an impressive search engine that returns immediate results from various sources in real time.

16. Saving and storing notes. I’m an inveterate note maker. I don’t mean meeting notes, I mean notes on napkins, boarding passes, receipts or any other ephemera that I have in my pocket at the time. Needless to say, these sometimes survive to the end of the day and sometimes don’t. So I’ve been using Evernote, a free online note service that is another workhorse app. I file a variety of material to Evernote and then transfer to other places as appropriate. However, Evernote syncs to my laptops, desktop and Android smartphone in addition to the iPad. It illustrates the real value of cloud computing. I also use DevonThink database (it’s not an iPad app) for my heavy-duty filing system on my laptop, but Evernote comes in handy for reminders, thoughts, to-do lists and article links I intend to return to in the future, among other things.

17. Planning and diagramming processes using Popplet, a free app. As we discussed a communications process for Imagine No Malaria while in Sierra Leone, I mapped out my own version of the process on Popplet on the iPad as the discussion progressed in the meeting. When the discussion was concluded I shared the diagram with members of the committee via e-mail on the spot. There are other more full-featured apps like Omni-Graffle, which I use on my laptop, but it’s pricey for the iPad and for what it does. Popplet worked fine for me in our meeting.

18. Listening to audio books using the Audible.com app. I find I retain as much by listening as by reading. I read a lot, but listening to some types of information seems to cause it to stick in my consciousness and I can recall it in a way that’s not true when I read. Maybe that’s why I loved radio when I was on the air. Whatever the reason, I listened to audio books in-flight and at night when jet lag made sleep impossible. Audible’s app is not as full featured as reading apps yet. It doesn’t sync to multiple devices, it’s too easy to accidentally touch the screen and cause the reading to jump to another location and it needs an easy “return to last location” function. These limitations aside, I like listening to audio books and Audible is a good source for the most recent and the largest selection.

19. Mapping our location using Google maps and related apps. For example, iTrips includes a Google map when it prepares a selection of travel information for you. The Google map for Freetown, Sierra Leone, from iTrip identified landmarks and even showed a British Methodist church we happened upon while in downtown Freetown. It also located the United Methodist church where we worshipped and other key points of interest to us. I wouldn’t use it for a true GPS, but for these kinds of sightings, it was a useful tool.

So that’s how an iPad becomes more than a tool to watch YouTube and play games online. I’ve purchased a keyboard, which makes it even more functional for note taking in meetings, and I got a camera adaptor that allows me to download images from my camera to the iPad and send them to interested friends via Facebook, Twitter and other programs.

Others may have found different ways to use the iPad. I’d be interested in hearing from you, and hearing about your most useful apps.

19 Ways I used the iPad While Traveling in Africa

The iPad has been described as a tool primarily for consuming media. That may be too limiting. It’s useful for many other reasons. While traveling in Africa I discovered several uses that go beyond consumption. Some the most useful apps are free. Some I bought on the app store. Because apps are being added daily, I might have chosen differently if options had been available when I made my trip. Here’s the list and how I used the apps:

1. Travel monitor for flight status, itinerary planning, electronic ticketing, seat selection using an online airline site and TripIt, FlightTrack and Flight Status apps.

2. Note-taking using the Notes app supplied with the iPad. I also have added Pages, Apple’s word processing software re-worked for the iPad, and Docs to Go from the app store. Notes is sufficient for quick note-taking but does not have formatting functions for document creation.

3. Calculator XL to determine exchange rates. This is always a trial for me. I’m mathematically challenged when it come to valuing dollars to local currency.

4. Business expense record using BizExpense. Extremely useful app which can scan in, or receive from an iPhone camera, copies of receipts which can be assimilated into an expense record and emailed for submission. Of course, accounting will require the real thing, but never the less, this is a great record of expenses.

5. Free telephone calls back home using Whistle. This app worked amazingly well when the wifi signal was strong. A weak signal renders the app much less useful. You have to listen to a 15-second ad using the free version, but it takes me that long to plug in my earphones and adjust the volume, so it doesn’t bother me. I called my wife on our home landline and on her cellphone from the iPad–for free.

6. Realtime text messaging in-country to another iPad and to Sharon and my daughters in the U.S. using TextNow, also free.

7. Reading the news using the Safari web browser supplied with the iPad in addition to Pulse and Flipboard. OK children, now gather ’round. I remember the days when I would buy a Sunday NY Times to hand carry to staff in Africa who had not seen a recent newspaper or magazine in months. Given this history, I’m amazed to be able to sit in a wifi zone and read today’s news online, as if it were the most natural thing in the world to do.

8. Alarm clock using Alarm Clock Pro. A reminder. At this writing the iPad doesn’t multi-task, so an alarm app must be open for the alarm to work. It doesn’t run in background–yet. So, if you want to wake up on time, plug your iPad into the socket to charge up overnight and make this the last app you open before going to sleep.

9. Posting to Facebook and Twitter using the Facebook mobile app and Tweetdeck. Here’s another amazing change. (Maybe I’ve just lived so long everything new is amazing to me, but I can remember when it was nearly impossible to call from the African continent. That was when the postal service ran the telephone service and you had to schedule a call at a post office, take your turn–perhaps a day later–pay for the call, wait for the operator to place it and take your place in a booth when your name was called. Really! It was this way across Africa.) So, as we’re driving into rural Manjama village, I’m texting our arrival using the 3G connection on the iPad, notifying whomever cares in the U.S. of our whereabouts, and remembering the old days.

10. Bible reading using the Olive Tree app. I’ve put The Message, The New Revised Standard Version and the American Standard Version on the iPad. The new Common English Bible wasn’t released when we were traveling, but I’ll put it on when the app is available from Cokesbury. Incidentally, I note that most mainline publishers don’t have the extensive variety of Bible reader apps available from evangelical publishers.

11. Email using Google’s gmail, Apple’s mail and our Microsoft Exchange server at work. The iPad syncs up transparently and effortlessly with these mail apps and functions without a hitch. I’m very pleased with this seamless operation.

12. Calendar management using the calendar app that comes with the iPad. This, too, is a great tool. If you’ve wrestled with getting Entourage, Mac and Google calendars to sync, you know how frustrating it can be. Sometimes they work, sometimes they duplicate entries, drop entries, and generally make you want to tear out your hair. But the calendar app on the iPad syncs easily with the exchange server at work without the hassles of duplicate entries and other glitches. I am using the iPad calendar as my primary calendar for work because it functions so flawlessly.

13. Filing addresses using the native iPad address book from Apple. As with the calendar, this app has become my primary address book because it works so flawlessly and does not fight with all the other address books I’ve got elsewhere. When they play together well, I’m satisfied.

14. Document-sharing using Dropbox. This free app is a workhorse for me. It’s a cloud-based storage location to which I can upload documents and photos and then share them with others. This avoids email size limits that frequently make document sharing a problem, especially photos or video files.

15. Research using Google. While I’m overseas, I often find need for information that escapes my memory or that is pertinent to a discussion I’m engaged in. I use Google to get me up to speed. And, speaking of speed, while it wasn’t available at the time of my trip, I’ve been checking out Google Realtime search the past few days and it’s an impressive  search engine that returns immediate results from various sources in realtime.

16. Saving and storing notes. I’m an inveterate note maker. I don’t mean meeting notes, I mean notes on napkins, boarding passes, receipts or any other ephemera that I have in my pocket at the time. Needless to say, these sometimes survive to the end of the day, and sometimes not. So I’ve been using Evernote, a free online note service that is another workhorse app. I file a variety of material to Evernote and then transfer to other places as appropriate. However, Evernote syncs to my laptops, desktop, and Android smartphone in addition to the iPad. It illustrates the real value of cloud computing. I also use DevonThink database (it’s not an iPad app)  for my heavy duty filing system on my laptop, but Evernote comes in handy for reminders, thoughts, to do lists and article links I intend to return to in the future, among other things.

17. Planning and diagramming processes using Popplet, a free app. As we discussed a communications process for Imagine No Malaria while in Sierra Leone, I mapped out my own version of the process on Popplet on the iPad as the discussion progressed in the meeting. When the discussion was concluded I shared the diagram with members of the committee via email on the spot. There are other more full-featured apps like Omni-Graffle, which I use on my laptop, but it’s pricey for the iPad. For what it does, Popplet worked fine for me in our meeting.

18. Listening to audio books using the Audible.com app. I find I retain as much by listening as by reading. I read a lot, but listening to some types of information seems to cause it to stick in my consciousness and I can recall it in a way that not’s true when I read. Maybe that’s why I loved radio when I was on the air. Whatever the reason, I listened to audio books in-flight and at night when jet lag made sleep impossible. Audible’s app is not as full featured as reading apps yet. It doesn’t sync to multiple devices, it’s too easy to accidentally touch the screen and cause the reading to jump to another location and it needs an easy “return to last location” function. These limitations aside, I like listening to audio books and Audible is a good source for the most recent and the largest selection.

19. Mapping our location using Google maps and related apps. For example, iTrips includes a Google map when it prepares a selection of travel information for you. The Google map for Freetown, Sierra Leone from iTrip identified landmarks and even showed a British Methodist Church we happened upon while in downtown Freetown. It also located the United Methodist Church where we worshipped and other key points of interest to us. I wouldn’t use it for a true gps, but for these kinds of sightings, it was a useful tool.

So that’s how an iPad becomes more than a tool to watch YouTube and play games online. I’ve purchased a keyboard which makes it even more functional for note taking in meetings and I got a camera adaptor that allows me to download images from my camera to the iPad and send them to interested friends via Facebook, Twitter and other programs.

Others may have found different ways to use the iPad. I’d be interested in hearing from you, and hearing about your most useful apps.

Sharing our lives in a connected world

Villagers in Manjama, Sierra Leone, welcome a
group of United Methodist visitors in August.

Two weeks ago as we drove into the village of Manjama, Sierra Leone, after a four-hour drive from Freetown, I tapped notice of our arrival into my iPad and posted it on Twitter and Facebook. The import of this led me to flashback more than 20 years ago.

I was in a remote village in east Africa. Back home, my son was in need of emergency surgery and my wife was attempting to reach me to discuss how to proceed. I was two days from the nearest telephone service, which was housed in the post office of a regional city.

A Lutheran World Relief staff person got the message from Sharon, drove two days to reach me, and I went to the post office to schedule a telephone call. All told, the effort took three days.

By the time I would return to the U.S., my son would be recuperating. That’s what life was like before cell phones and satellites. For rural Africans who could not get to a post office, it was a disconnected, isolated world.

Now, using a relatively inexpensive device and equally inexpensive airtime, I was messaging my arrival at a remote point in the most unremarkable way. Moreover, I had spoken with Sharon earlier using the iPad and a free app called Whistle.

Beyond noting the obvious — my, how things have changed — there is within this tale a more significant learning. The world has shrunk. We are not disconnected. Our destinies are interwoven in ways never conceived by our parents and grandparents.

Our hopes and aspirations, dreams and desires — even our arrivals and departures — can be shared globally. Knowledge is no longer contained in hierarchical institutions or organizations. Relationships are no longer limited to the people in our geographic village. We are influenced by an emerging global culture that sometimes battles with and sometimes complements our own local culture. We can tell our stories without the mediation of professionals who add their own judgments and analyses.

How we understand ourselves and our place in the world is changing, and it will continue to change and evolve as new technologies become affordable, dispersed and accessible. Forms of this technology have already penetrated the most isolated places. It’s no longer just the elite who are connected.

The key question that will be answered, perhaps generations from now, is this: How will this technology change the quality of life, especially for those who have been isolated and voiceless? We don’t know how. We’ve only scratched the surface.

It’s a theological question. A faith question. A question about community. As I looked into the faces of the people of Manjama, I thought, “Things have changed. And it’s only just begun.”