This may seem like a strange title, given that video games are generally paperless, but read on, dear friend and find out more…
Games have always involved paper in the form of the instruction manual. Back in the mists of time, I remember buying Knight Lore from Boots in Chester. It cost me a massive £9.99, but it did come in a huge box to justify the exorbitant price tag. I opened it while I waited for a lift home. Inside was a glossy game manual, detailing the games’s incredible (for the time) Filmation(TM) technology, as well as the cassette tape for the game itself.
Years later, PC games continued the fashion for large boxes. Quake and SiN wouldn’t even fit on my shelf, such was the hugeness of their casing. This trend continued for some time, until the industry came to its senses and PC game shrank into the same plastic cases as console titles. Shops displayed more stock, my bookshelves didn’t creak. Everyone was happy.
Recently though, things took a different turn. I bought a copy of FIFA 13 for the PS3. I should state at this point that I don’t like football. I never watch it, I don’t follow it, and World Cup fortnight is possibly my least favourite time ever. The only advantage is that the roads and shops are eerily quiet when England are playing, so it can be a chance to get things done.
Anyway, back to FIFA. Although I’m not in any way a football fan, I enjoy a kick about with my kids, both physical and virtual. Physically, I can hold my own, but virtually I always lose badly. No amount of button mashing can make the onscreen players do my bidding. I spend most of the game controlling the wrong player, hoofing the ball out of play, and sliding straight past the player I’m trying to tackle.
So I bought my own copy, with a plan of learning how to play properly so that I could beat my son. I cracked open the box at work, ready to read the manual and bone up on the controls prior to playing. However, the manual wasn’t there. That’s right folks. A fifty quid game had no manual. My first reaction was to hotfoot it back to the shop and complain. I did break the habit of a lifetime and buy it from a supermarket, where you take the empty box to the counter and a clueless member of staff goes to fetch the contents from a locked cabinet, while the ever-growing queue of people behind you fumes, less and less quietly.
A quick Google search though, informed me that this was as it should be. A paper manual was not available. Instead, it was available to download from the EA website as a PDF.
I was briefly annoyed until I remembered that I’m trying to go paperless. I had downloaded and Evernoted the PDF before you could say “Where’s the f***ing manual?”. Worries of losing the manual and never being able to play the game properly abated, as I daydreamed of it floating somewhere in the magical Evernote cloud, available to me at any time and place.
Paperless or not though, I’m still rubbish at FIFA, and my son roundly thrashed me (4-0) a few days later. I blame old age, or maybe the sheer amount of different moves that I need to learn!
I’ve been learning Spanish for years. When I first started, way back in 2006, Evernote didn’t exist and nor did the iPad or iPhone. Most of my work was done on paper. I’ve filled up five or six A4 notepads over the years – a complete record of every Spanish lesson I’ve ever had.
Dipping into Digital
I wanted to move some of my learning paperless for years, but I hadn’t worked out how. My Spanish teacher provided paper handouts most weeks, and my required textbooks weren’t available digitally.
My trusty iPhone provided the first step towards going digital. I have four Spanish dictionaries, from a pocket-sized paperback to the mammoth complete Collins version.
On a whim, with my fingers crossed, I bought the Collins Spanish dictionary for my iPhone – for fifteen quid! It’s still the most expensive app I have ever bought, almost four years on.
I’ve definitely had my money’s worth out of it though. It’s very comprehensive, includes full verb conjugation charts, and very quick to use. It’s proven itself to be faster than a paper dictionary on many occasions, and it’s great to have it in my pocket all the time; something that definitely wasn’t possible with my hardback tome.
I’d been using Evernote for a while before I integrated it into my language learning. At the start I was mainly using it for reference – I hadn’t yet moved towards keeping everything in it.
Gradually though, I started to keep notes of specific areas of Spanish that I wanted to improve, and then to clip articles in Spanish from the web. Pretty soon, I had a decent amount of Spanish content in Evernote.
My dead-tree notebooks are filled with new words that I’ve encountered over my years of learning. The trouble is that I rarely went back to these words to learn them. They were scattered over so many books and pages that it was always too much effort. I did start to keep a Moleskine notebook just for Spanish vocab, but I found that I wasn’t filling it in diligently enough, so I gave that up.
It was when I came across the idea of digital flash cards, Spaced Repetition Systems (SRS) and Quizlet that everything came together. Briefly, a Flashcard is a piece of card (or paper) with the same word or phrase written on both sides – one in your native language and one in the language you’re trying to learn.
SRSes are automated systems where a piece of software shows you one side of a card and asks you if you know what is on the other side. You rate how well you know it and, based on your answers, the software shows you those words/phrases that you’re struggling with more often than those you know well.
Finally, Quizlet is a brilliant website with tons of predefined vocab and sentence lists. You can also add your own. I use an app on my iPad called Flashcard sync that automatically syncs my Quizlet cards with my iPad, and hey presto, I’ve got a learning system with me wherever I go.
Once I’d put the pieces together, I started entering new words directly into my iPad during my lessons. However, I soon discovered that typing them was far too slow. So I started to handwrite them instead. A system was born.
This is my current paperless Spanish-learning system:
1. During my Spanish lessons, I use GoodNotes to handwrite my notes, using my trusty Wacom Bamboo stylus
2. When I get home, I transcribe any new words into a note I keep in Evernote. (CSV)
3. I then copy and paste the contents of this note into Quizlet and load up Flashcards sync to download the new version to my iPad and iPhone.
4. Whenever I have a spare moment, I review my cards and do some studying. It seems to be working, because my vocabulary is gradually increasing.
Going all the way
My system works for me very well, and I’m pleased with it. What I’d like to do though, is digitise all of my old Spanish notebooks and get them into Evernote too. While I’m sure that even the power of Evernote’s server farm and OCR technology couldn’t cope 100% with my scrappy handwriting, it would probably catch some of it, and it would make it a lot easier to browse through my old lessons on those long winter evenings.
Now, where’s that Doxie One?
Evernote have released a new version of their Penultimate handwriting app. I’ve just tried it out on my iPad. The interface is nicer, more consistent with their other apps, and the handwriting itself seems smoother.
Notebooks are now automatically synced to Evernote, which is very welcome. Just like in Evernote Food, if I make an update, it’s just there in Evernote automatically. Not only that, but handwriting is OCRed so it’s searchable. That’s a very cool feature.
There’s only one problem though… still no zoom mode. Many other note-taking apps allow you to write in a zoomed-in area, so that you can still write in a large space, but the actual text is a lot smaller. This really helps when writing on the iPad – without this, my writing always ends up too big, and I can only get about ten lines of text on the screen.
So for now, despite the syncing, handwriting recognition and lovely UI, Penultimate still isn’t my primary note-taking app. GoodNotes remains the winner, but I’ll keep coming back to Penultimate to see how it improves.
I was trying to find out when I first signed up for Evernote. I searched my GMail and discovered that I’d created an account back in November 2009. The only problem was, it was a different account. I had no idea what the password was, so I reset it and logged in. It felt a bit like discovering an old box of paperwork that I hadn’t look at it years. As in – it was initially exciting, and then not so much. I’d only created a dozen or so notes, most of which exist in my active account, and there really wasn’t much of interest there at all. Ho hum!
Back in the old days (before smartphones and even PDAs), I loved paper. I carried bits of it everywhere. I printed out my college timetable and put it in a plastic window in my wallet. I did the same with my contacts.
When I got my own place, I bought a filing cabinet and dutifully filed away all of my bank statements and important letters. I felt grown up.
Things started to change when I got my first PDA – a lovely Palm Pilot. It stored my calendar and my contacts. Along with my mobile phone, it was the start of my paperless journey.
I still kept a filing cabinet though. There was just nowhere else to store all my stuff. I suppose I could have scanned it all in and saved it to my hard drive, but space wasn’t as cheap back then, my scanner was slow and cumbersome to use, and cloud storage was nonexistent. The filing cabinet stayed.
Fast-forward a few years to the development of online storage services, smartphones and note-taking apps. My first attempt at paperlessness was with Springpad. I started to clip articles from the web, to record memos. I kept track of wine that I’d enjoyed by taking pictures on my phone and saving them in a notebook. Most of my bank accounts offered online statements, so the amount of physical paperwork I had reduced greatly.
Springpad was (and is) a great service, but it was slow. There were no native Windows or Mac clients, and the web interface was not brilliant. I had previously tried Evernote but didn’t get on with it. However, I decided to give it another go.
I migrated all of my Springpad data into Evernote (manually). I read Brett Kelly’s excellent ebook on Evernote and applied many of the techniques and ideas within to my own notebooks. It’s a good read, and I heartily recommend it.
Next, I installed the Evernote web clipper for Chrome, which allows me to clip any page, selection of a page, or image directly into Evernote. I also signed up for an Evernote premium account. This give me a personal Evernote email address – anything I send to it goes straight into Evernote. You can specify the target notebook and tags on the subject line as well. Finally, I installed the Evernote application on my Mac, my home and work PCs, my iPad and iPhone.
So that was me, all set up with Evernote. I then began the slow process of moving all of my paper archives into it. For scanning, I use JotNot Pro on my iPhone. It creates multi page PDFs from photos. A premium Evernote account OCRs these documents, thus making them searchable by text.
Cards and drawings from the kids, old letters from my Mum, gift tags from presents that I wanted to keep – all of this went into Evernote. I didn’t necessarily throw away all of these things, but it was comforting to have a permanent backup.
I also saved dozens of photographs that I liked. I’m an amateur photographer, and I now have several notebooks full of inspirational shots. They’re all tagged neatly and easy to find using Evernote’s powerful search.
Every time I receive a letter, I deal with it immediately. If it’s junk, I shred it. If I need to keep it, I scan it and then shred it. It’s then available wherever I am should I need to reference it.
I soon became an Evernote junkie. I clipped everything, scanned everything, I used it for my diary, for work, for my todo list. I begin using Evernote Food to keep track of memorable meals (yes, I’m one of those people!) I’ve moved beyond JotNot and I’m planning to get a Doxie One, to make things easier to scan when I receive them.
Although Steve Jobs famously told the world that nobody needs a stylus, I do. I use one to take notes at home and at work, and those notebooks are regularly archived to Evernote. My note-taking app of choice is GoodNotes, but some people swear by others. I tried about ten before settling on that as my favourite. Your mileage may vary.
NOT THERE YET
I’m still not completely paperless. Two small dusty filing boxes remain, filled with paper archives. I plan to deal with them both when I get the Doxie.
I was genuinely surprised at the announcement of Microsoft’s Surface. it had been rumoured for months but I assumed it would be another swivel-screen laptop with a stylus. The real surprise was that Microsoft have made something that looks nice, well-designed and, most importantly of all, desirable.
Would the Surface have surfaced if the iPad had never been released? Probably not, but that doesn’t automatically make it an iPad clone. Yes, the form factor is more or less the same. Yes, the covers come in a variety of bright colours. But it’s not a pure clone.
The built in keyboard is a work of genius. I love my iPad keyboard, and I don’t mind writing for reasonable periods of time on it, but it’s not as comfortable or as quick as a real keyboard. I’ve got the Bluetooth Apple keyboard but I never use it. Why? Because its another thing to carry. I’ve got to get it out and connect it and I can’t be bothered. Both of my iPads (yes, I’m greedy) have a flip-style cover.
Having a built in keyboard would be great. There are two advantages to having an offscreen keyboard for your tablet. One is that it’s easier to type on but the other, more important, advantage is that the entire screen is available for whatever it is you’re writing. I’m writing this on my iPad now, on my knee on the sofa. The Bluetooth keyboard isn’t practical in this situation, and only time will tell whether the Surface’s keyboard will be either. If so, then Microsoft are onto a winner.
Windows 8 – what a mess. Sorry Microsoft, but there it is. I run it on my primary laptop at home and I spent all my time at the desktop. Every time I press the Windows key and see the Metro home screen, I wonder what it’s doing there. It looks like two operating systems forced together – which is exactly what it is.
The Surface comes in two versions. One runs Windows RT, which is a cut-down version of Windows 8 that only runs Metro apps. Normal Windows applications won’t work. This isn’t a problem in itself because Office, Internet Explorer and other apps are all available. This should have been the only Surface version available. However, there’s another one, which runs full Windows 8 and is basically a laptop with the Surface form factor. These are two completely separate machines. It’s like having an iPad with a full Mac desktop. Nobody needs it.
If you’re buying an iPad, the choice is simple. Do you want to use the
Internet while you’re out and about? Then buy the 3G version. If not, get the wifi only. Other than that, you only need to decide if you want a full size iPad or a mini, choose your capacity and colour. That’s it.
Buying a Surface is a whole different issue. Microsoft has created a division between the two versions that is going to be difficult to explain to the non-technical audience that they are hoping to attract.
Apple has two OSes. iOS for mobile devices and OS X for Macs. iOS is simpler, but it gets the job done. Microsoft also have two OSes, but they’ve melded them together in a mash-up too far. They should have been braver, and released the Metro UI as a brand new OS for their tablets and phones. It’s got Office, it’s got a browser, it’s got email. Most people don’t want anything else.
To work out why, let’s think about what people do on a tablet. Email, web browsing, writing, spreadsheets, presentations. That could all be done on Windows RT. The iPad may technically be a computer, but to its users it’s an appliance. The full Windows 8 tablet will have Explorer, Device Manager, Registry Editor and DLL hell. Who wants that? No one. People just want to get the job done. A long as the surface has Office and a basic App/File Manager, that is enough. It’s time for Microsoft to realise that, for most people, Windows is overkill.
Microsoft missed a trick here. They’ve made a great piece of hardware and burdened it with an over complicated OS that nobody wants or needs.
I hope the Surface is a success. It’s a beautiful piece of hardware with some genuinely new ideas. The operating system divide is confusing though, and I wish they’d stuck with something simple for it.
So I bought an eReader. Not a Kindle though. Yes, other brands are available, although the Kindle has become the de facto standard in most people’s minds.
I love books and I love reading, and I have a wall full of books in my house. Over the years, I’ve watched the ever-growing eBook market with a mixture of amazement and dismay. I’m glad my children are old enough to have experienced real books, something I’m not sure future generations will do – at least not as the norm. Like it or loathe it, electronic books are here to stay.
Anyway, a friend of mine bought a Sony reader years ago and, while I was impressed with the screen, I was unimpressed with the controls and the software. I said to my friend at the time that it needed an Apple-style touch UI.
Anyway, years passed and Amazon eventually struck electronic gold with its Kindle, after several rather ugly-looking versions. However, I still wasn’t struck. The thing had a keyboard, and was pretty much tied in to Amazon’s online stores. These were two things I really didn’t want.
Enter the Kobo
I had more or less put the whole eReader thing from my mind. I was aware of the Kindle’s huge success and popularity, but it still wasn’t something that I wanted. Then a few weeks ago, out of the blue, I discovered the Kobo Touch. It is an eReader without a physical keyboard, with built in wifi and a touch screen. On an impulse, I bought one. It was delivered two days later, and as soon as I saw it, I loved it. There is no keyboard to get in the way, and it’s small and light enough to fit into my coat pocket.
As I mentioned earlier, I’m mainly using it to read free classics and library books, but if you are interested in reading all of your books on a Kobo, then rest assured that there is a huge online store containing millions of titles. Also, it’s possible to (using third-party software: I recommend Calibre) read books from the Amazon Kindle store on the Kobo also.
As a social-networking addict, one feature of the Kobo that piqued my interest was Reading Life. There are two parts to this. Firstly, the Kobo collects your reading statistics, telling you how many books you’ve read and how long you’ve read for, that kind of thing. The second part is an achievement system – you receive awards for reading several times between specific hours of the day, or for reading a certain type of book, for example. It’s a gimmick, but a nice one. I certainly wouldn’t read a book merely in order to unlock an achievement, but it’s still a nice surprise when it pops up on the screen.
Like all decent eReaders, the Kobo has a built in dictionary, and because it’s touch-screen, it’s very simple to look up a word. You simply hold your finger on the word for a second or two, then choose ‘define’ from the menu that pops up. If you’re reading foreign texts it’s also possible to translate between common European languages in the same way.
The Kobo also comes with a web browser, a Sudoku game and a Sketchpad application. None of these are of any great interest to me, but if you are a fan of masochistic number games, then they might be perfect for you!
I have to say that I love my Kobo. It won’t replace physical books for me but it definitely has a place in my reading life. And I notice that the entire range has been reduced in price, presumably to compete with the updated Kindles.
So I bought an Apple Magic Mouse the other day, to use with my MacBook Pro. In typical Apple fashion, as much thought has gone into the packaging as the product itself. It comes in a small, transparent plastic box, not much bigger than the mouse.
I unpacked it, switched it on and paired it with my Mac, and started to use it. At first, it felt strange – a mouse with no scroll wheel and no buttons. I kept messing up the multitouch, and scrolling without meaning it, going back and forward by mistake.
Ten minutes later though, and I was whizzing up and down web pages with a single-finger stroke of the mouse – just for fun. The inertia of the scrolling is so well implemented that it made scrolling enjoyable.
When I returned to work and took hold of my Logitech PC mouse, it felt – and looked – awful. All those buttons. And a wire. Ugh!
Apple products are expensive, but they show a commitment to design that I have rarely seen from any other technology company. They make things look easy, which is very hard work.