iPad as Laptop: Week 1

I recently switched from my MacBook to an iPad because a.) my laptop is wearing out and b.) I’m going to be reading tons of ebooks and PDFs on the move this year due to the upcoming move to Singapore and I wanted something more portable for the numerous plane rides, bus trips, and subway commutes that are all part of living on the island. Since ebooks especially can be a pain to read on a laptop (especially on a moving vehicle), the iPad seemed like a win-win.

The only problem is an iPad isn’t really supposed to replace a laptop. It was designed as an entertainment device with some pretty wonderful features for personal movie viewing, e-book reading, photo sharing, social media use, and gaming. It does not come with built in word processing apps or a full keyboard or apps for reading PDFs or a spreadsheet program for keeping track of grades. iPad is not built for flash, so even viewing some websites can be a little tricky. So how to get it to do everything I needed and wanted it to do for the sake of my academic sanity in the coming years?

I did a fair bit of research (yes, it is a transferable skill…) before making the purchase and thought I’d share the most useful tips I gleaned along the way as well as some tricks of sorts I’ve picked up through using the iPad as a work device over the past week or so. Which isn’t to say I’m an expert or that everyone should make the switch – only that if you want to do so, this will hopefully give you an idea of what it takes in terms of preparation, hardware, apps, and financial investment.

Prep work:

Maybe people more tech savvy than myself could just sync up their iPad to their computer and go, but I found I needed to do a bit of prep work in order to adjust for a more limited amount of storage space on the iPad as well as for a lack of laptop to sync to at a later date, since I don’t plan on keeping both the iPad and MacBook. To that end, there were three big things I needed to find storage for ahead of time: documents, photos, and music.

1. Documents. Since my MacBook pre-dated the release of the Pages app (more on that below) my documents are still all Word documents, originally stored on my computer and an external hard drive, for backup. But I don’t use all of them all the time, so there was no reason to try to transfer them all to the iPad – web storage would be just fine. I chose Dropbox, though Google Drive or Evernote might have worked as well. It’s free, you can garner extra space for participating in their how-to demos and by recommending it to friends, and their iPad app looked easy to use. I downloaded the MacBook version first, dragged and dropped the files I wanted from my computer and hard drive into the Dropbox folder, and voila! They were all available online. And yes, there’s plenty of space. I have 3.2G total to use and only occupied some 40% of it with nine years worth of Word files and a fair number of PDFs.

2. Photos. These take up a ton more space – especially if they’re high resolution photos, like the 1200 from our wedding. So Dropbox wasn’t an option for all my photos (though the app does offer storage for photos as well). I could have made private albums on Facebook, but I wasn’t sure about available space and sometimes re-downloading photos from the site can be a hassle. After looking through other options (Picasa, for instance) I went with Flickr on this one. The site offers a terabyte of space, which I’ll never occupy, and the uploading process was simple, even from CDs. The web format is attractive and albums can be kept private for as long as I like. It did take a long time to upload the larger files, but I was able to work on other projects in the process, so it wasn’t too much of a nuisance.

3. Music. This was, alas, the file format that did not allow for a free solution. I couldn’t find any sort of free cloud format that provided enough space to store five to six thousand songs and I didn’t think it would be wise to use a full 28G of the 32G available on the iPad just for music. So to iTunes Match I went. It’s not a bad deal, really. For $24.99/year, I can store all of my music (up to 25,000 songs), access all of it via wifi on both the iPad and iPhone, and cache music on either device when I’m on the go. It isn’t the most perfect solution – caching music definitely takes some time, so I have to plan ahead for road trips or running – but it’s feasible and didn’t dig too deep into my pocket.

Hardware:

With prep work completed, I was ready to purchase the iPad along with two pieces of hardware to make the machine work more like a laptop (for me at least).

1. An external keyboard. I went with Apple’s bluetooth keyboard ($69) because I know there will be plenty of times when I just want to use the iPad by itself just for reading or browsing the web. I know others who swear by the keyboards built into cases, like these from Brooks Brothers, and that seems like a sound option if you don’t mind the extra accessory when you’re reading. I also wanted something that mimicked the keyboard on my MacBook fairly closely and thus far I’ve appreciated the similar feel of the keys, the presence of volume control key, and the familiar placement of the command functions. The only thing I’ve found slightly irritating is the necessity of turning off the bluetooth keyboard when I want to switch back to the pop-up keyboard on the iPad. But I think that’s just taking a little getting used to.

2. A lightning to VGA cable. This was a preemptive buy on my part and not necessarily something I’m going to use on a daily basis. Just a piece that’s good to have around for an academic, or anyone who frequently gives presentations, I think. Said cable (which retails for $49) will allow me to present slide shows, YouTube clips, and interactive maps, for instance, through the usual set up in a classroom. I used the equivalent cable for my MacBook at least twice a week when I taught this spring.

3. While I only found two pieces of hardware necessary to this early endeavor, there are a few cables and cords that would probably be useful or at least nice to have in the future. A lightning to AV cable would let me hook the iPad up to a tv for movie viewing via Netflix; an external mousepad might make document editing a little faster (though thus far just tapping and highlighting on the screen or using the keyboard arrows has been simple enough). If I was going to do more music recording via GarageBand or some serious podcasting, an external mic might also be nice.

Apps:

This has been the category with the biggest learning curve, a noticeable financial investment, and by far the most fun to figure out. I knew some of the apps I needed ahead of time, but I’ve been finding others as problems crop up. Here’s what I’ve found to be most useful or essential for productivity and play thus far:

1. Pages and Keynote. There’s a good chance I’m going to write some or all of my dissertation on this machine, so a word processing app was a must. There are other apps with fewer bells and whistles than this one, but after trying to format Publisher documents to no end of frustration over the last few years, Pages with its multiple document formats and easy to use templates was worth the $9.99. Ditto to Keynote (also $9.99), which will stand in for PowerPoint.
2. iAnnotate. I frequently utilize JSTOR, Sage, PubMed, ProQuest and the like for research purposes and I like the option of downloading, saving, and marking up a PDF version of an article. While you can read PDFs whenever you like on the iPad with Adobe’s free app, storing, organizing, and annotating is another story. I went with iAnnotate on this one because the review were better – though Good Reader is a little cheaper. iAnnotate allows for underlining, writing, highlighting, and commenting and there are additional markings for grades, bookmarks, stamps, etc. if you wanted to use it for grading and/or feedback. It syncs with Dropbox (hooray!) and allows for organization via file folders on the iPad. Nifty, right?

The only hitch so far is that some PDFs don’t allow me to use all of the features – for some files from Sage, for instance, I can underline manually with a stylus or my finger, but I can’t use the highlighter function. Files from JSTOR, by contrast, allow for the use of all tools. It’s not a huge deal, but I didn’t expect that particular limitation.

3. Kindle for iPad. iBooks just doesn’t carry everything, so occasionally I need to purchase an ebook from Amazon instead. I’m not a huge fan of this reading app – there’s no continuous scrolling, for instance – but it does allow for highlighting and commenting, which is helpful and it’s free.

4. FlickStackr. When I tried to access and organize some photos on the Flickr free app, it just wouldn’t work. I could view everything, but I couldn’t do anything with it. Enter FlickStackr, the companion app ($3.99). This is where I can organize, edit, share, and upload and it’s super easy to use. I’m a little peeved that I had to pay for it (was forced to, really) but it was an easy enough fix and it’s been worth the few dollars it cost.

5. Puffin Web Browser. Remember how iPad doesn’t run flash sites? Well that’s an issue when you want to chat remotely with someone for your bank, for instance, or you want to access the site of the DJ you used for your wedding so you can recommend him to someone else. Again, this wasn’t something I figured on, but it was a quick fix. Puffin Web Browser, somehow or another, runs flash. It has a free trial (14 days) and is only $2.99 after that. It’s faster than Safari and you don’t have to second guess whether a site will appear. It still has it’s limits – I can’t use Shutterfly or Blurb, alas – but seems to work for most of what I need it to.

6. KeepShot. What to do for photobooks, calendars, and kitschy Christmas mugs then? Enter KeepShot, a free app that works with Flickr and Facebook, has reasonably priced photobooks (50% off for new users, even!), and a fully customizable layout. It’s a great app – when it works. It definitely crashes pretty frequently and I’ve read that some users have difficulty ordering through the site (I haven’t tried that yet…). But if developers can fix the bugs (the app is still pretty new), this will be a wonderful thing. I’m holding out hope.

7. Blogsy. I’m writing to you today from an app, not from WordPress. Because WordPress, Blogspot, etc. haven’t quite gotten the hang of providing for mobile and iPad users yet. But again – a quick fix, and this time a free one. Blogsy syncs with multiple blog sites as well as with my Photos, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, Instagram, and Picasa. I can type and edit and format and add photos in the app then publish directly to my site. It’s handy and easy to use with most of the bells and whistles you’d hope for – easy insertion of hyperlinks, font options, the ability to save drafts, and easy access to photos and videos. (Though I’m having some trouble locating the spell check, if there is one…) I won’t use this one a lot, because I’m terrible at remembering to blog half of what I think I might, but it will come in handy now and then.

8. And then there are the “just for fun” apps that are great for the occasional (or frequent) distractions. Netflix and Amazon Instant Video have apps. Spotify gives access to its radio stations, though not the entirety of its collection (which is a little disappointing). Heads Up is an easy, social, sometimes riotous game that combines Taboo and Charades and parts of Cranium. Feedly is a replacement for Google Reader and keeps me up to date on the blogs I follow, all in one place. And then there’s the Newsstand with at least partial freebies from the New Yorker, Economist, Atlantic, HuffPost Magazine, Ms., and the London Times, among others. I also added the NYT – a $1 subscription for 3 months digital access? Why thank you, LivingSocial app. Don’t mind if I do.

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A New Space

I’ve started a new blog as a space for working out some more substantive thoughts about feminism, academia, faith, and recent events. “Show Off” just didn’t seem like an appropriate title for that sort of writing. I’ll keep this space open for indulgent projects and Singaporean feasts and creativity more generally and I’ll blog over at In/Between about some of my ideas in process. So, since the first post is up in that space, I would welcome you as a reader, commentor, and conversation partner.

Running as Life Lesson (Part 1000th)

My friend Katherine and me after finishing the Beach to Beacon 10k in Maine. Winners.

Me and dear friend Katherine after finishing the Beach to Beacon 10K in Maine. Winners.

It seems like every time I lace up my sneakers and hit the sidewalk or the treadmill for a run, I’m struck by how well running serves as a metaphor for my work as a graduate student. Most days, the metaphor is about discipline. It’s about doing something daily so that it becomes habit. It’s about how running that extra half mile teaches me I can push through another thirty pages of reading or another ten exams at the end of the night.

But yesterday was different. Full disclosure: I haven’t run in at least a month, in large part because this semester has been the busiest yet and I’m not always great at structuring my time well. So when I stepped out the door into a cold, windy, March day in Jersey, I knew it would have to be a short run. There was no way I could go the three to four miles I was running a month ago. I don’t have the strength and endurance for that now. Two miles, I knew, would be enough to get me back in the habit and still leave me strength to get out the door again today. Yesterday’s run was about knowing my limits and learning how to say, “This is enough.”

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t intend for two miles to continue to be my limit. Today I’ll go a little farther and start working back up to three, four, or five miles. I’ll start setting goals to move faster; I’ll run with people who push me. But yesterday I had to face what I was capable of – and what I was not capable of.

And this is especially important for me as a grad student this week. I have a to-do list a mile long and I haven’t yet accomplished the goals I set out for myself on any given day. Matter of fact, I’m three days behind the schedule I typed out on Monday. But not because I haven’t been focused or productive. It’s because I haven’t been setting reasonable limits for myself. As a person who does not function well on too-little sleep, I cannot expect to grade all of the midterms for my class, write an internship application, read three hundred pages, attend a two-hour choir rehearsal, and have a run all in one day. (I’m not exaggerating – this was supposed to be yesterday’s schedule.) It’s like trying to run a marathon. I can, however, grade the midterms, read an article, return books to the library, catch up on emails, run, and attend choir practice. That schedule, on the other hand, is a two-miler.

Maybe I’m underestimating my abilities – I’m the first to admit I have some time-wasting habits that need to go. But at the end of the day, I need these more confined task lists and shorter runs to escape the my own nagging voice that says, “Not enough. Never enough.” At the end of the day, I need to be able to recognize that what I have accomplished is enough, even if I acknowledge there are ways to be a better student tomorrow. I need to learn to say to myself, “Two miles is enough today.” Even if I’ll run farther and faster tomorrow.

Twenty Women

113th_Congress_freshman_class__large_Today is a big deal. A really big deal. Today there are more women in the United States Senate than there have every been before. A whole twenty of them – which isn’t even close to the fifty it ought to be, but okay. It’s a step in the right direction for the nation that fell from #17 to #22 in the 2012 Global Gender Gap Report. I can’t do them justice on my own, so I thought I’d share the wisdom of the blogosphere as well as alternately infuriating and informative stories from the national news media. Enjoy! (And don’t forget to write your favorite female senator a letter of congratulations for her success.)

How I will teach my daughters about Proverbs 31

yarn_675x4001Proverbs 31 is one of those texts that gets whipped out at college bible studies and women’s conferences as an instructive text for women looking to become wives. Verses 10 through 31 describe a woman (a wife, more specifically) of incredible talent and skill – she sews, she cooks, she brings home exotic foods, she invests in real estate. She does it all, effortlessly apparently, and Christian teachers (both male and female) have long taken the text as a template for the ideal Christian wife.

The problem is that if the text is in fact meant to be instructive, all of us church gals are supposed to be Superwoman. Proverbs 31, as it is most commonly taught, creates an impossible standard. And consequently, many of us walk around with a complex for a fair portion of our lives, feeling like failures because we haven’t stayed up late enough, gotten up early enough, accomplished enough with our limited time and energy. Reading Proverbs 31 as instructive to all women is, in short, a deeply destructive practice.

But that isn’t the only way to read it.

In her poignant and humorous book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, Rachel Held Evans digs into the linguistic context of the passage as well as the use of the passage in Jewish rituals. In one of the most eye-opening passages of the book (at least from my perspective), Evans explains that this portion of the Bible is, of all things, a warrior poem. (See January: Valor, p. 75 – 76.) While most English translations read, “she provides food for her family,” the Hebrew is literally “prey” (v. 15). Ditto for “her husband…lacks nothing of value” (Hebrew: “booty”) and “she girds herself with strength” (Hebrew, “girds her loins”).

So first and foremost, this isn’t a retiring, domestic-type woman. She’s a hero, a la Beowulf or Roland. (Or Xena, I suppose. If you must.)

More importantly though, this warrior woman isn’t meant to set a standard to achieve – according to Jewish tradition, she reflects the talents and abilities inherent in all women. Evans’s friend Ahava, an Orthodox Jew, explains:

“Here’s the thing: Christians seem to think because all the Bible is inspired that it all should be taken as literally as possible also. Jews don’t do this.  I get called an Aishet Chayil (virtuous woman, Prov. 31 woman) all the time.  Make your own Challah instead of buying? Aishet Chayil!  Do work to earn extra money for the family? Aishet Chayil!  Make Balloon animals for the kids on a holiday?  Very Aishet Chayil!! You see, even though [Orthodox] Jews take the TORAH very literally (all 613 commandments!) the rest is seen differently, as a way to understand Our Creator, not as literal commands.  Every week at the Shabbat table, my husband sings Aishet Chayil (right after blessing the kids) and it’s special, because I know that no matter what I do or don’t do, he sees everything past the minimum needed to survive as me blessing the family with my energy and creativity.  All women CAN do that, and many do already.”

My dear sisters of all faiths and ages, this is who we are already. Not who we ought to be. This woman is already my grandmother, Norma, who used to sew awesome clothes for the teenaged version of my mother. And my housemates Maya and Dana, who are awesome hostesses. She is my sister-in-law Becky who makes amazing wall art for her kids’ rooms. She is my mother, Sharon, who is opening her home to thirty people this Saturday in celebration of M.L. and my upcoming marriage. She is my soon-to-be mother-in-law, Carol, who carries on the Polish traditions of her parents and visits elderly relatives. She is Stephanie, another sister-in-law, who selflessly lets others bask in the joy of holding her newborn daughter. She is Kate in Houston, who has homeless friends, church friends, and friends around the world. She is Katherine in Buffalo, who skillfully nurses old people, young people, nice people, impatient people, and hurting people. She is every woman pastor and professor I have studied under and every church lady who brings casseroles to potlucks or sings in the choir.

So this is how I will teach my daughters, should they ever exist, about Proverbs 31. Through the books and blogs and lives of the women of valor around them and through all the good things such women work in the world. Maybe I’ll just teach them to shout Aishet Chayil! at every woman in their lives.

Did you know…

That New Year’s Day used to be a more popular holiday than Christmas Day?  New Year’s was a traditional festival in pre-industrial English towns and villages and, according to historian Hugh Cunningham, mid-nineteenth century employers had a difficult time convincing their newly-urbanized workers to give it up. Some managers gave up completely, allowing workers a holiday on New Year’s and Easter Monday rather than on Christmas Day and Good Friday, the two holidays revered by Parliament.

It makes sense to hold New Year’s Day as a holiday – a day of leisure or time with family that allows a body to sink into the thought of a fresh start in a new year. I tend to make resolutions on a weekly basis rather than a year basis – because that’s about how long I can keep them most of the time – but I thought I’d share some general goals for the coming year. These are hopes rather than rules, I think, but ones that I’d like to have a go at:

1.) Blog once a month – and if all of my potential material seems uninteresting, find a way to make it fascinating.

2.) Read some of the classic Christian spiritual writers and/or try contemplative prayer. (Thank you, Rachel Held Evans, for the inspiration to delve into Julian of Norwich, Theresa of Avila, and the book of Proverbs.)

3.) Set reasonable goals and work hard to meet deadlines. My housemate, Maya, and I have been in continuous conversation about this over the semester. Here’s to a new semester in which to succeed.

4.) Recommence the practice of giving. Growing up evangelical, tithing is one of those things you just learn to do. I’m part of a congregation now that is particularly good at it, and it’s time for me to get back in the habit of giving to church and charities on a regular basis.

5.) Be more gracious about losing…and winning. I am a petulant loser when it comes to card games, board games, and mild competitions of all varieties. I also gloat when I win. This might seem like a small thing to resolve to change, but I’d like to think that cultivating graciousness in this specific area of my life will lead to greater grace in other areas as well – like wedding planning and the politics of academia and communications with friends.

There you have it. Some goals for the year. I’ll undoubtedly add others as the month (or week) wears on, but at the very least I’d like to strive toward these hopes and share my successes and shortcomings in them throughout the year.