Tech I Use: Microsoft Surface Pro 4

For more than a decade, my computer has a been a Dell laptop. I never had any complaints about them and they always did a great job for me. Regardless, this last summer, when I knew that I had to replace my laptop, I turned to Microsoft instead of Dell. Why?

Microsoft Surface Pro 4This decision had nothing to do with Dell. I would not hesitate to get another Dell. However, I really wanted the options offered in the Surface form factor. I liked the pen and its ability to write on the screen. This works great for taking notes during a deposition. Also, I like the size of the machine. The screen is slightly smaller than the laptop that I had before, however, the device is much slimmer and lighter. I really like the size of the machine and have no desire to go back to a regular laptop.

I tend to buy computers with good specs with the idea that they will last me for years. I did the same thing here. I got the i7 processor with 16GB of RAM and 512 GB hard drive.

I have had the computer for just over 6 months and I have not once regretted the decision to go with the Surface. If you regularly work with your computer sitting on your lap, then the Surface is not for you. It is definitely a portable computer. However, it is not a laptop. The detachable keyboard and the kickstand do not make a stable based to try to work from on your lap. If this is your situation, then you should definitely shop elsewhere. If, however, you work with your computer on a solid, flat surface, then you may want to consider the Surface when you buy your next computer.

iPad Keyboard Shortcuts

One of the things that I do is serve on the Illinois State Bar Association Standing Committee on Legal Technology. One of the things we do as a committee is to try and help attorneys use technology in their legal practice. To that end, the committee has created a series of short videos that detail some technology tips for attorneys. I recently shot one of these videos on the use of iPad keyboard shortcuts. This is one of the most used features on my iPad and I am constantly amazed at the number of people who do not even know that it exists. One key thing to remember is that this tip works only if you are using iPad keyboard.

Other Tech Tips can be found on the ISBA Lawyer’s You Tube Page. I urge you to watch them all.

Securifi Almond Router

I have discovered a new router that I absolutely love. It is the Securifi Almond Touchscreen Wireless Router/Range Extender. You can pick it up on Amazon for $90.

Almond_The thing that I love about this device is that it is unbelievably easy to set up. On the Amazon page, they promise a 3 Minute Setup. This was certainly true for me. I daresay, that it would be true for most people.

The innovative concept is that the controls are operated by the touchscreen on the side of the device. You don’t have to log in to it from your computer, or any other device. Instead, you plug it in and follow the directions that appear on the touchscreen.

Really, it is that simple. You can easily change the name of your network and the password to access it. Again, you do all of this through the touchscreen. Best of all, the device works either as a router or a range extender. I bought two for my house. One I use as a router. The second I have upstairs and use as a range extender.

The setup for the range extender was just as easy as setting if up as a router. In addition to its ease of use, you can also choose to have the display go dark, or show either the time or the weather.

The only thing that I did not like about the router was that it has only two Ethernet connections. This problem was easily solved by adding a switch to the network. However, I would prefer a couple of more connections.

If you are in the market for a new router or a range extender, or if you are looking for one to purchase for that relative that might be technologically challenged, I urge you to check out the Securifi Almond.

Gizmos, Gadgets & Widgets

Recently I had the honor of  presenting with Nerino Petro at the ISBA Solo and Small Firm Conference. One of the sessions that we did was a Gizmos, Gadets & Widgets session at 8:30 on Saturday morning. I was pleasantly surprised with the number of people who turned out early Saturday morning for the presentation.

KeynoteAs usual, we had great fun with this presentation. At the session, we mentioned that we would make our presentation available on my site. Thus, you can now download a PDF of our presentation Gizmos, Gadgets & Widgets. You can also find this and many other files on my Files page.

If you have any questions on any of the items, feel free to contact either Nerino or myself.

The Droid Bionic: My New Favorite Phone

My philosophy is that every new cell phone that I get should be the best cell phone that I have ever owned. Unfortunately, that has not always been the case. However, it is certainly the case with my new phone the Motorola Droid Bionic.

Droid BionicI have the Bionic through Verizon Wireless. Verizon is not perfect, however, I have used them for several years now and, for the most part, I am pleased with the service that I receive from them.

I have had the Bionic now for a little over 2 months and I thought I would jot down my thoughts about the phone, both good and bad. On the whole, I am quite pleased with my purchase and, if I had it do to over again, I would buy the same phone.

Below are some of the things I like about my Bionic:

  • It’s fast. This may have more to do with my old phone, which at the end seemed to be painfully slow. Regardless, the Droid is much faster and responsive than any previous phone I have used.
  • 4G. Yes, it is not available everywhere yet. However, when it is available, it is great.
  • Hotspot. I love being able to use my phone to create a wireless hot spot. It is much more convenient than my MiFi ever was, simply because I always have my phone on me. I use this feature at least twice a month.
  • The screen. The screen is big, beautiful, and bright.
  • Operating System. I still like the Android operating system. This is my second Android phone and I have no real complaints about the operating system nor have I had any problems with it.

Some of the things I don’t like about my Bionic are:

  • It is big. The weight is actually too bad, especially considering the size of the phone. However, this is a large phone.
  • The data connection. The 4G is great. The 3G is pretty good. However, if I have lost a data connection while traveling, sometimes, I have to restart the phone to get it to obtain a data connection again.
  • Contact Pictures. I still don’t understand the issue here. In Outlook I have pictures for a large percentage of my contacts. With my original Droid, all of those pictures synched to my phone (through Exchange Server). With the Bionic, these pictures do not sync. I know that this seems like a small thing, however, I have used these pictures in the past to identify other attorneys in court that I had not yet met.
  • Battery life. In general, the battery life on the phone is about what I expected. Which is not great, but I can usually make it through the day (please note, however, that I have desk chargers both at the office and at home along with a car charger, just to make sure). However, when I use the phone as a hotspot, I can practically watch the battery level drain.

I recognize that, for the most part, the battery life issue is one that most smartphones have and it is something we have to live with while we wait for battery technology to improve. I would love to see either Motorola or Verizon, or the two together do something to fix the data connectivity problems. The disconnection happens often enough that it annoys me.

Regardless, if you are looking for a new Android based smartphone, I will tell you that I am quite happy with my Droid Bionic.

Time to Kill the Fax Machine

I recently came across a article from 2009 that discusses 10 obsolete technologies to kill in 2010 (hat tip Above the Law). The article is an interesting read. However, I practically cheered when I read the entry on fax machines. The other begins with:

The fax machine was obsolete 15 years ago. When someone says “fax it to me,” I always feel like I’m being punk’d. A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.

Talk about hitting the nail on the head.

The author then describes the process that it typically takes to send and receive a fax:

Documents that are faxed usually start out in digital format. So, to send a digital document digitally, it must be converted into a paper format. You insert the document, and the fax machine scans it back into a digital format. It then uses an analog modem from 1993 to convert the digital image into sounds!

The modem plays the noise over the phone line. At the other end, another fax machine also has a modem, which listens to the sounds, and converts them yet again into a digital document, just before it prints it out on paper. Now the data in the document has to be converted somehow into a digital format — either scanned or typed in by hand.

He then points out:

The document almost always begins and ends in digital format. But during this epic journey, the document is digital four times, paper twice and sound once.

Finally, he debunks the argument that I have never understood.

The mass delusion that perpetuates this obscenely inefficient technology is that paper “hard copy” is somehow more legitimate. In fact, gluing a copy of someone’s stolen signature to a document, then faxing it, is the easiest way mask a forgery because of the low quality of fax output.

Obviously, I agree with the author. My favorite point is the one he made in his first paragraph, “A fax machine is nothing more than a printer, scanner and an obsolete analog modem that work together to waste time, money, paper and electricity.” Let’s cut the waste. If you do have to fax, at least use a fax service, not an actual fax machine.

A New Member of My Office Staff

My goal is to replace my computer about every three years. My computer will hit three years in March 2011. However, I had noticed that it has been running really slow lately and I could see that the end was neigh. Rather than waiting for it to die before I replaced it, I recently ordered a new computer. Although it was not supposed to arrive until after the first of the year, I got it just before Christmas.Dell-latitude-e6410-red

I bought a Dell Latitude E6410. From what I can tell, this is the successor to my old D630. It is approximately the same size as my D630, although it seems to weight a little less. Also, they have moved the battery from the front to the back. I like this change a lot, although it means that my VGA connection has been moved from the back to the left side of the machine. In other respects, I like the machine a lot.

For the most part, it is an updated version of what I used to have. However, it has a few notable differences. First, I got a lighted keyboard. This is absolutely awesome. I have used it several times already and don’t think I will buy another laptop without this feature.

dell-latitude-E6410Second, the computer came with Windows 7, which I am enjoying so far. This is a legitimate successor to Windows XP, which I have used for several years. It is responsive, fast to boot up, and works without a hitch. I had heard several good things about Windows 7, and I am glad to see that it works as well as advertised.

Additionally, on my old computer I was using Microsoft Office 2007. With this new computer, I upgraded to Office 2010. There are a lot of similarities between 2007 and 2010. However, there are a few differences, that I think are improvements. First, the file menu is back. This seems like a small thing. However, I like it. Also, in Office 2007, the interface for Outlook was essentially Office 2003, with some 2007 features. With 2010, Outlook now works just like the rest of the suite.

As an added bonus, Outlook is working much faster. I don’t know if this is because Outlook 2010 is a faster, leaner, program, or if it is because of Windows 7, or if it is because I have a faster machine with more RAM (or some combination of the three). Regardless, Outlook 2010 loads a lot faster and works a lot faster for me that 2007 ever did.

Finally, my new computer is red. I prefer this greatly over the silver that  I have had on my two previous laptops. I know that this is a small thing, however, I am glad that I went with a color other than silver.

Addendum:I forgot to mention that there is one change on my new computer that I do not like. On my old laptops, the tops were secured by a locking mechanism that I had to slide to unlock. With my new computer, the unlocking method is to push a button. The lock that locks the top seems to require more force to make sure that the lid is locked. Also, the button release makes it much easier to accidentally release the top.

Multiple Monitors Does Not Mean Multitasking

I am a big proponent of using multiple monitors. Given this, you might be surprised that I agreed with much of what John Heckman had to say in his recent post Dual Monitors and Multitasking–A Contrarian View. John explains:

I recently reorganized my office and wound up with an extra monitor.  Since “everybody” swears by dual monitors (or more) I thought I’d give it a shot.  Much to my surprise I found the extra monitor distracting and somewhat annoying.  After using the second monitor for a couple of weeks to see if it would grow on me, I finally dumped it.

This will probably stir up vigorous protests, but in thinking about it, I realized that dual monitors is a special case of multi-tasking. While I can see certain cases where it would be useful, in general I think people are kidding themselves if they think they are being more productive when multi-tasking.  Some exceptions include things like sending emails on your Blackberry during boring meetings (which by definition aren’t very productive anyway), or having multiple documents displayed side by side when you are trying to consolidate them.

John then goes on to talk about a Stanford study that shows that humans are not good at multitasking. And that what we often think of as multitasking is really just dividing our attention between multiple things for short periods of time.

The fact of the matter is that “multitasking” in a real sense (or as a computer would understand it) does not really exist. What multitasking really amounts to is that you divide up your time into more or less small “slices” and simply switch rapidly from one “slice” to another. You are still doing one thing at a time, but switching back and forth in rapid succession. So if you “multitask” by doing four things in twelve minutes, you actually focus (for example) on each one of them three times in one minute “slices.” For better or worse, human beings simply do not have quad core (or even dual core) brains.

I agree with everything that he has to say here. Multitasking for humans just means we do more things less well. However, that is not a reason to abandon a multiple monitor set up. Now, if you are using your multiple monitors to monitor Twitter, constantly check your email, follow your Facebook friends, watch the stock ticker, and monitor the score in your favorite game, you are likely not increasing your productivity at all. In fact, I feel pretty comfortable that your productivity is abysmal.

Multiple monitorsHowever, I do believe that multiple monitors can benefit many attorneys. An example of this how I use multiple monitors in my practice. At my office, I work with a three monitor set up. I have my laptop monitor along with two external monitors. the external monitors are the same size and resolution.

The external monitors provide more space to work on and they are my primary working monitors. On my laptop, I keep open my time and billing program, thus helping to ensure that I do not forget to keep track of my time. I also use this monitor to stash any programs or documents that I have open that I am not using at the moment.

I use the monitor in the middle as my main working monitor. In my experience, when I am working on something, I am almost always looking at something else. Sometimes it’s other pleadings, sometimes it’s discovery documents, other times its legal research. Regardless, it is usually something. This something, is what I have on the left monitor.

Thus, I regularly use multiple monitors, however, I am not using it for multitasking, I am using it to keep the information I need to do my job in the best position for me to work with it.

Obviously, my set up will not work for everyone. However, I think it is something to consider.

Note: I believe that John acknowledged these benefits in his post.

Second Monitors Allow You to Work Smarter

I know that I have written about this concept a lot. Thus, rather than blathering on about how much a second monitor can increase your efficiency, I will point you to an excellent post from Laura Calloway, the PMA for the Alabama State Bar. She begins:

If you’re not already doing so, one of the most productive (and cost effective) technology changes that you can make is to add a second monitor to your computer.  Adding a second monitor is inexpensive, (generally under $200 for the monitor and an additional video card, if you need one).  If you already have an extra one lying around the office, so much the better.  And unlike lots of other technology upgrades, adding a second monitor won’t tie up a whole afternoon – or longer – and make you want to pull your hair out.

Go here to read her entire post.