MINI Takes The States 2014

We did it again! Another MINI Takes The States road trip has concluded! This is our fourth year attending the epic MINI sponsored event (2008, 2010, 2012, 2014) and it just gets bigger and better every year. The event started in 2006 and runs every two years, with the routes and events changing each time.

This year’s adventure began in San Francisco and headed out east, eventually ending up in Boston. We did not do the entire route this year due to time constraints, but we still turned it into an awesome adventure! After the New Mexico checkpoint, we turned back west to head for the Grand Canyon and then back home.

As always, this event remains one of the best events put on by any company in any industry. This is just another reason that MINI customers are life long customers. Thanks to MINI USA, and everyone who attended this year, and we can’t wait to see you all again in two years! Start the countdown!! :)

Overall the trip took us the following route.

Trip Stats
7 Days
6 States
2876 Miles
1 Speeding Ticket
8 Stops for Gas
0 Cracked Windshields
1374 Photos Taken
178 Minutes of Video

Photos and Video from the trip
MINI Takes The States Photos

MINI Takes The States Video

Grand Canyon Photos

Bearizona Photos

Bearizona GoPro Car Video

Bonus Photos
MINI LEGO Creation Set

Collection of all MTTS event Photos

Opinion: No More Carry On Bags

Dear Travelers,

Air travel sucks nowadays. This is not news to anyone, and it didn’t just start sucking last week, it’s been gradually getting worse. This is not the main reason for this post. There are many aspects to flying that make it miserable that cannot be changed no matter how much people think they can be. There are fortunately, I think, a few areas that you can actually change to make things a little more tolerable.

  1. Waiting in the endless security line. This is your first or second step upon arriving at the airport, and often one of the worst experiences. Poor treatment, rude people, and de-humanizing acts. The only way around this is to get a Known Traveler Number which gets you into the TSA Pre Check line. Basically this is what it was like to fly in the 1990’s. It does feel a bit like extortion, but it is well worth the money in my mind. Also if you fly internationally, you can go through the process of joining the Global Entry program which is basically Pre Check for international travel. Getting Global Entry will also get you Pre Check for US travel.

  2. Stop bringing your giant “carry on” bags on the plane. That bag is huge, not a carry on, and you know it. Check the damn thing and make everyone’s life easier. Pay the baggage check fee, or join an airline program that gives you free checked bags. The entire flight should not suffer and wait while you find a place to fit your bag that takes up the entire overhead bin, plus your overstuffed backpack, and miscellaneous bag of tourist stuff, because you didn’t want to check your bags like you should.

  3. Learn some manners and be respectful of others. An airplane is small, cramped, and you are no worse off than everyone else. It’s an airplane, not your house. Clean up your stuff, be quiet, and quit bothering people. Every action you take is magnified by 100 because you are in a small, loud, smelly tube with 175 other people.

The last thing I want to say is that I know “all airlines suck”, and of course there are definitely some scenarios where they REALLY do, but I wonder how much of it is directly related to the passengers. Be cognizant of your actions when you are at the airport and on the plane. If everyone can just think about their actions, we may be able to get this process moving a bit smoother to our next destination.

For what it’s worth, I fly Southwest for the most part, and find them to be generally good.

Chromebook'd

We first heard about the Chromebook when it was launched in the form of the Cr-48 by Google toward the end of 2010. The premise was pretty simple: an entire laptop OS based on the Chrome browser alone. Not a computer replacement, but rather an extension of your curent computing environment. Like many of the things Google does, it was an experiment, and an interesting one at that. I unfortunately was not at any events during the laptop's lifespan that allowed me to get my hands on one, but it wasn't long before it was possible to Frankenstein your own Chromebook. In early 2011, I did exactly that and built a Chromebook using an older netbook that was collecting dust. The Chrome OS was still in its infancy and my primary computer at that time was a laptop, so a Chromebook didn't really make a lot of sense for me personally at the time.

Flash forward to today (2014). As mentioned here in a previous post, my current setup for the most part is a 27” iMac and an iPad Air. This is still the best combo for me, rather than just using a laptop. Every so often I find myself wanting to type more long form items, like this post for example, but the on screen keyboard of my iPad is not the answer. This got me thinking about Chromebooks again. An inexpensive keyboard and screen combo that lets me do research in the browser and write longer form entries in Evernote. Right about this same time, Woot had some Chromebooks, so I thought I would check out Chrome OS again. I got the coral 14” HP Chromebook, which has much better specs than earlier Chromebooks. It has a decent enough screen for browsing and writing, a fast enough processor, and enough RAM to handle what I wanted it for. Plus, as a bonus, it came with free 4G wireless data (200mb/month) from T-Mobile for the life of the device, and 100GB of Google Drive as well. A pretty awesome deal for $200.

I have to say, an HP Chromebook is NOT a MacBook Air in any way, shape, or form. But that is not what I bought it for, so it’s ok. Yes, it is kind of heavy, has a giant, gross power adapter, and is not made of aluminum. All that being said, it was purchased to be a third device, and it does an awesome job of it! Plus with all the bonus items it came with, I have no regrets and am very happy with the device.

Side Note: If you do not use Chrome as your main browser, a Chromebook is probably not the best idea for you, unless you really just want a blank web browser for your needs.

Chromebook Specs

I Thought I Was Done With Consoles. #PS4

"I am going to skip this generation of consoles and just game on the PC." - Jason

This is what I said after looking into the features of the three newest consoles (Xbox One, Playstation 4, and Nintendo Wii U) as they were announced and available at stores to be messed with. On the surface it just didn't seem like there was any need to have any of the new offerings. At the time of the launches we were in possession of an Xbox 360 and a Nintendo Wii. The Nintendo Wii mostly sat by the TV unused, and at one point didn't even have power connected to it, and you wouldn't have even noticed. The Xbox 360, on the other hand, was quite heavily used. In fact, Xbox has always been my go-to console throughout the last ten or so years. The Xbox has always served me well: great games, comfortable controller, and powerful.

Of the three new consoles, here was the breakdown of our feelings on them.
Nintendo Wii U
- Barely a refresh of the Nintendo Wii, which was already not being used in our house.
- More gimmicky controller interfaces that we wanted nothing to do with.
- In typical Nintendo style, we knew we would play a couple of first party titles, and then the console would be useless.
- Slow, slow, slow!
- We are not dealing with that stupid, wonky sensor bar again.

Xbox One
- The mandatory use of yet another gimmicky control interface (Kinect).
- New controller is pretty good.
- That same gimmicky control interface had to be out and present by the TV at all times.
- Large footprint. Big console, a giant power brick AGAIN, and that Kinect thing.

Playstation 4
- Looked to have great controllers.
- No need for extra gimmicky control interfaces.
- Camera and all that crap is optional.
- Integrated power supply!
- Cool looking design of hardware.

Now, if it is not obvious by the above feelings, the Playstation was clearly the frontrunner in the race for us. I haven't had a PS since the first one, so I have become VERY comfortable with the Xbox way of doing things: menus, controls, etc. (The only exception was the ever increasing annoyance at Xbox Live doing stupid things and being a barrier to just playing a damn game.) So, going to a Playstation would be a pretty interesting transition.

So how did we end up with a console again? Well, after looking at the 360 and Wii sitting there being unused, and further discovering that the Wii was not even connected and we had zero Xbox 360 games in the house, it was clear that it was time for those two consoles to go! We commenced cleaning them off, wiping the data, and packing them up to go sell. Doing the Gamestop dance, we ended up with a fairly decent amount of money from the games we had left and consoles themselves. With that, we decided it would be worth giving the PS4 a shot!

Every step of setting up the PS4 was really well done; from physical connections to account setups, and navigating the menus to set the console up. Sony really nailed the experience on this new console: everything feels super fast, and I get the feeling someone actually used it and tweaked it before shipping it to customers. To continue the story of things being super fast, we tried some streaming video from Amazon (which is not something we usually do since we primarily use an AppleTV for video content) and the results were amazing. The video loaded very fast and the 1080p quality was the best I have seen on a streaming device. I suspect we will be watching quite a bit of streaming content on the PS4 going forward. On the other end of the streaming spectrum, live streaming of your gameplay on Twitch (my Twitch channel) is great as well! One button and you are able to setup and stream out your live gameplay. I never thought this would be a feature that interested me (too self conscious, mostly) but it is pretty cool to know I can do it, and because it is so easy, I suspect I will do it more often.

Ok, so what gives? You said no new console, and then you buy a PS4? Despite what many think, myself included prior to this purchase, there is something to be said for the couch experience. PC gaming is great, but sitting on your comfortable couch in front of a 70” TV with only a controller to worry about makes for a really great experience. PC gaming will never go away, but because of this couch experience, new hardware like the Steam Boxes are going to be huge, I think, as they are a merging of the two worlds. Finally, I have to touch on the lifespan of these consoles. It seems like every 6-12 months there is some new graphics card to buy for your computer to ensure you can play the latest games, but I could not believe it when I read that the Xbox 360 was almost 9 years old! Nine years old and still has plenty of life left in it. That says a lot about the staying power of consoles, and I suspect we will have the PS4 for quite a while as well.

P.S. The experience of the PS4 has been so good, I am now going to get one of the new slimmer, lighter PS Vita systems to see what they are doing in the handheld area. There is, of course, the nice bonus of the two systems working well together with features like remote play, where you can play your PS4 games on the PS Vita.

P.P.S. There is also a Playstation app for iOS and Android that lets you connect to your PS4, control it, and manage your PS profile. Nice added bonus.

UPDATE ADDED 2014-06-19 I decided to upgrade the Hard Drive in the PS4 and it was so refreshing to see that Sony designed the unit so the replacement was trivial! Our PS4 is now rocking an SSD and load times have improved quite a bit! I highly recommend it.

State of Mobile Apps. Please Trend This Way.

It is no secret that the state of mobile application software has been trending into a dark and terrible place in the last few years. This is, of course, hugely driven by consumers with warped perceptions of the value of quality software. A large population of app consumers feel that a developer's time is worthless and everything on the internet, including apps, should be free, and this is the number one reason why the internet at large is a trashy ad filled gutter of filth. Because of this lack of perceived value, developers are now pulled into this terrible practice of lacing an application with ads, or being forced to give the app away by limiting the full experience and enjoyment of the app with in-app purchases. These practices do nothing but further degrade the value of software as a whole. These trends are starting to jump the gap over to desktop software as well, because to most people, software is software no matter the platform. To the uninformed consumer, a shoddy free mobile game is the same as a PC game which took 10 months to create. I do hope that this trend changes, and in a hurry! Every so often I come across a game or application that is doing it right and it is a glimmer of refreshing hope. Most recently the game Monument Valley landed on my iPad. This game is beautiful, intriguing, fun, and something that felt like truly a new idea. Best of all, they are charging $3.99 for it and it is quite popular! It is a one time purchase, no in-app purchase crap to unlock levels or "pay to play", just a quality game at a very fair price. I hope this type of transaction becomes the rule rather than the exception as we move to a more mobile world.

Capturing Workflow. How I am most effective.

I have been organized for quite some time when it comes to collecting information and then digging it up at a later date. From complex file structure, to more simplified apps that manage files, I have gone from one end to the other. For the most part, over the last 5 or so years, I have relied predominantly on Evernote and OmniFocus to store everything in my life that I wanted to retrieve later. To be completely honest, it has always been a pretty good solution, but it was never 100% perfect. I don't really blame Evernote, because managing an app of that scale, which actually runs on damn near every platform under the sun, is no easy task. Slowly over the years, however, I began thinking about what other options there were for capturing and storing my life. Both Evernote and OmniFocus are great tools, but I was thinking they may not be the right tools for me. Starting in January of this year (not a 'new years resolution', just a convenient time to transition), I decided to start looking into some alternatives. I wanted to use the month of January to explore new options since the month is generally pretty slow and if things went horribly wrong, I would not be in the middle of major projects, etc. After trying some different setups during the first 1-2 weeks, I pretty quickly fell into a new flow that was working really well, and most importantly was really easy to maintain!

The great thing about Evernote was the ability to store everything and search for it. The problem I ran into more times than not, was actually being able to find the stuff at a later date. It seemed that the more stuff I put in, the harder it was to find something to get out. Speaking of getting things out, it is super easy to get things in to Evernote, but getting them out is quite a different story, and not a fun story. As for OmniFocus, it is a fine tool, but there were two reasons for me switching away. The first was that it was not the right tool for the job: it had way more bells and whistles than I needed. The second issue had to do with the apps. They do have an app on each of the platforms that I use (Mac, iPhone, and iPad), but the issue I have is that each of the applications looks completely different. Functionally they are pretty much the same, but when I am looking to capture tasks and get through them quickly, having to remember how each version works is not what I want to be focusing on.

The end solution for me became a more simplified approach. All my notes are captured as plain 'ol boring text. It seems kind of weird and ancient, but turns out to be very effective and much easier to work with. There are a bunch of way more famous internet people than me who tout the virtues of plain text, so I will leave it to them to teach you the ways! I have to say though, I was skeptical for a while, thinking that there is no way that plain text would be 'powerful enough' to capture everything, but in reality, it absolutely is. The flow of plain text makes for a much easier means of capturing, organizing, parsing, and archiving information. The biggest key to this process is having access to the same repository of text from a number of locations. The fact that plain text is readable and editable by pretty much everything, adds to its power. By keeping each note as a single file in a single repository, you can then act on those files from a number of different applications and locations, and always have the latest information available to you.

If you have a system that is working really well for you, don't switch; there is no reason to. If you have a system that is kind of working but you think, "there must be a better way", this may be worth looking into. Most importantly, if you are driving yourself crazy because you can never find what you need, when you need it, definitely look into this type of system --or any system-- before you completely lose your mind!

The tools I use to be the most effective.

27" iMac (home) / 11" MacBook Air (work)

  • nvALT - Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder 'Notes')
  • Byword - Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder 'Notes')
  • Dropbox - Storing all my text files and documents
  • Things - My master 'to do' list for short term and long term projects
  • Reminders - Various shared lists with my wife for shopping
  • Pocket - Saving links from various sources for later reading

iPhone 5s

  • Notesy - Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder 'Notes')
  • Byword - Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder 'Notes')
  • Things - My master 'to do' list for short term and long term projects
  • Drafts - A great launchpad to multiple locations for text
  • Dropbox - Storing all my text files and documents
  • Pocket - Saving links from various sources for later reading
  • Reminders - Various shared lists with my wife for shopping

iPad Air

  • Notesy - Capturing text (pulls from dropbox folder 'Notes')
  • Byword - Capturing text / longer form writing (pulls from dropbox folder 'Notes')
  • Drafts - A great launchpad to multiple locations for text
  • Things - My master 'to do' list for short term and long term projects
  • Dropbox - Storing all my text files and documents
  • Pocket - Saving links from various sources for later reading
  • Paper - Sketching and drawing
  • Paper Pencil - Hardware stylus used for drawing / sketching ideas
  • Reminders - Various shared lists with my wife for shopping

Non Digital

Looking for an insane comparison of pretty much every iOS text editor in existence!? Brett has you covered! iTextEditors

Notes Blog Graphic.png

UPDATE 2014-06-20
I am back with Evernote! I think what I needed more than anything was a fresh approach and look at how I was doing everything when it came to capturing text. Nothing wrong with plain text, in fact that is still the way I keep most of my notes in Evernote (in markdown too). An important thing to remember is that just because you can keep everything in Evernote, this doesn't me that I have to.

Umbrellas

I am growing concerned about the new age of what I am calling Tech Umbrellas: very large and very rich companies buying up all the great smaller companies. This seems like a trend that will not be sustainable in the long run. There are more companies being created now than any time period in the past, and this will only speed up as technology enables brilliant minds to start their own thing. Some may be a little misguided, some may just not be built for the right time, but the important thing is that they are being created and those creations give us choice. We have choices when it comes to buying our products. Depending on what market you look at, this may not seem as apparent, but choices do exist. Something that is seeming to become more the rule rather than the exception, however, is creating for the sake of selling. (Before you get all up in a huff, I like money just as much as anyone else, so I am not trying to get up on some soapbox about money. This post is simply an observation.) There have been at least 10 companies within the last 12 months that had what I thought was a sustainable model for being successful, and I had fallen in love with them, only to see them purchased and shuttered by larger companies. This left major holes in those markets which often times were not filled, as “entrepreneurs” were chasing the next market that was rumored to be on the auction block for those larger than themselves.

As I said already, this post is merely an observation. I propose no answers nor solutions. This is meant more to start a dialogue. What does this mean for you, for me, for everyone? If every winning innovation gets swept up into the large Umbrella, what are we left with? If we don’t like what the Umbrella is offering, do we simply hang our head and make the choice of no choice?

The tech world cannot sustain its growth on ads alone.

Giving 1% Back

I can do more. You can do more. We can all do more. As a town, a city, a country, a planet, a universe, we can all collectively do more to help. To help people. To help animals. To help causes. To help our planet and beyond. I am calling out to all of you to give back one percent. One percent of your yearly income, one percent of your time, one percent of yourself. One percent sounds small, and it is. That is precisely the point. It is an amount we can all comfortably survive without in order to lift society up collectively. When we help others, we make the universe a better place for us all to thrive. Start today with simply one percent.

Thanks to my awesome wife for the javascript wizardry!

Thank you so much for taking the time to read this and think about the potential. I hope this encourages you to lend a helping one percent.
— Jason

MacBook Air to iPad Air

After upgrading from my older Mac Pro to a crazy powerful new 27" iMac, it was time to look at the rest of my computing workflow and see where I could streamline. After moving from the Mac Pro, I was still using a Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, and Phone. This was a lot of devices to manage and there were a lot of overlaps between them all. I decided to go the route of three devices total. One desktop computer, one tablet, and a phone. Having used and preferred laptops since I can remember there being good laptops, this was a pretty big step.

For the desktop, since it would be the work horse, I went with a maxed out 27" late 2013 iMac. At the time of this decision I was using a first generation iPad mini. I knew I would need to upgrade this since it would ultimately be replacing my maxed out 11" MacBook Air and would be my mobile computer going forward. For this job I enlisted the iPad Air with WiFi and 32GB of storage. The only reason I didn't go with the 4G version is because I already have a 4G hotspot that I like and can be shared with multiple devices so there was no need to duplicate functions. And finally, my phone remained the same 32GB iPhone 5S.

Hardware Additions to the iPad Air

Key Pieces of Software

  • Evernote. I keep everything in evernote and having it sync across all three devices is fantastic.
  • Dropbox. This is basically my "filesystem" since there isn't a conventional one on iOS.
  • Penultimate. An advantage of using an iPad over a MacBook is the ability to input handwriting.
  • Writeroom. A great text editor. This is where I capture most of my text, including this blog post.
  • iWork suite (Pages, Numbers, Keynote). Great for interfacing with documents from my desktop.
  • Games. More than I can list. A lot more than you might have on OS X. This could be bad or good. :)
  • Video Chat (FaceTime, Skype). Great for video chatting with any other client.
  • Remotix. Really awesome Remote Desktop client. For those times when you absolutely need to do something on a Desktop, or you simply need to access something on your Desktop.
  • Screens. Another really good Remote Desktop client. This has the ability to traverse firewalls and lets you access from anywhere you have a network connection.
  • Prompt. Really really good ssh command line tool.
  • Codeanywhere. Could be a really good solution for coding on the go for quick fixes.

There are a ton of other great iOS apps that I use both on the iPhone and the iPad, but I tried to just focus on some of the ones that make the experience of using an iPad in place of a MacBook just as good, if not better.

This new setup I have has been going strong for about 6 weeks. Not once have I thought I made a mistake. The iPad Air has been the iPad I have always wanted. Great size and weight, and tons of power. I think anyone that may be in a similar position as me, wondering if this can work for them, should give it a shot! It will take some getting used to, and maybe a little research to figure out how you access certain thing. If I tried to do this even a year ago, I think this post would be ending differently, but I think you will find iOS has matured quite a lot over the last couple years and it is quite capable. Best of all, it will only continue to get better and more advanced!

Dragnet. Do the right thing.

Me next to to one of Jack Webb's stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Me next to to one of Jack Webb's stars on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The first time I heard the Dragnet radio show was when I was about 10 or 12 years old, and traveling across the country with my dad on a road trip to see many of our wonderful national parks and other beautiful sites in our country. He had episodes of the radio show on cassette tape along with some other old time radio shows and dramas that he would play as we were driving through the night to get to our next destination. For whatever reason, I don't seem to have a lot of vivid memories from my childhood, but there are times like this that have stuck with me throughout the years. I remember very well laying down in the back seat, listening to the shows and visualizing the scenes as they were impeccably described by Jack Webb (who I was unaware of at the time). The only person I knew was Joe Friday, the lead character in these wonderful crime dramas.

Everything about the stories intrigued me from the very beginning. From the overall architecture of the story, to the character development, all the way down to the smallest of details like sound effects of shoes clapping on the ground as they were walking through the halls of the police station. Every part of the story felt perfectly laid out and you could tell the creators were meticulous in the way they put the shows together. I have no way of proving or disproving this, but I do think that parts of my life, and who I have grown to be, were shaped by the series Dragnet. 

It wasn't until a good number of years later in my adult life that I would begin to research Dragnet and Jack Webb to learn the great story and time line of my favorite old time radio show. Beginning in my early teens, I always had an appreciation for "old" TV shows. I always preferred channels like TV Land, that played shows from the 50's, 60's, and 70's. When I found out that Dragnet also had a television series I was beside myself with happiness. Getting to see these great stories acted out by great actors was amazing to see. Seeing some of the same episodes that had previously been radio shows really was a testiment to the level of detail and thought that was put into the shows.

The character Jack Webb portrayed, Joe Friday, was a "stand up and do the right thing" kind of guy. He followed the rules and made sure everyone else followed the letter of the law. He was never interested in what was the easy way or the quick way, he wanted to do things the right way. Between Jack Webb's attention to detail in the creation of each episode of Dragnet, and Joe Friday's sense of doing what was right, overall it was a massively positive influene in my life.

I can't even fathom the number of times I have watched and rewatched every episode of the televsion show and listened to each of the radio broadcasts. This is a testiment to the quality of the product. When something is done right, it is timeless. When I look at things in my own life that I touch, I strive to create things that are done right, just like those who created these wonderful shows that I love. I don't like the "just get it done" or "good enough" mentality. I know there are always going to be wars regarding how best to complete a project or task, but I don't think anyone can ever be faulted for doing what is right.

My wife and I went to Los Angeles last year, and during the visit we took some time to go to the Los Angeles Police Musuem where they have a section of the museum dedicated to Jack Webb and Dragnet, and I was extatic! It was by far one of my favorite museum visits of all time. Being in LA, we also went down the Star Walk and looked around for one of Jack Webb's stars, and as you can see in the photo, we found it! I never did get to meet Jack Webb, as he passed away a mere 5 days after I was born (which I still think is very interesting), but that trip to LA did somehow close that loop for me personally.