Archive for Technology

Have Kindle Fire HD Will Travel, er, Work

In my role as a journalist, there are times when I have to adapt and improvise. Such an occasion arose recently when I was working on a couple of stories for a special section.

Kindle Notes

The special section focuses on arts and music in the schools. I had conducted my interviews a few days earlier, but had not yet started to write my stories.

I started to write one of them while in a Burger King getting breakfast. I was between interviews in a city about 20 miles away from the office. Whenever I head out to this city, I like to have a number of interviews and stories to work on so I can maximize my efficiency and cut down on the amount of mileage the newspaper has to pay.

Because I had some time, I decided to go to the Burger King because it has free Wi-Fi. I proceeded to order a large caramel iced coffee and order of tater tots, sat down and whipped out the reliable Amazon Kindle Fire HD.

With my notes on the table and the tablet in my hands, I started writing my story in GoogleDocs on my Kindle Fire HD. I have written before about how this tablet has improved my productivity, and this is just the latest example. Though I had some down time in terms of interviews, I did not have to stop working because the free time was converted to writing time.

I could have brought my laptop with me and accomplished the same thing. The writing process would have been quicker because it is much easier to type on a physical keyboard than a virtual keyboard. But, it was a very cold day, and the laptop would have been outside most of the time in my Jeep.

Instead, the Kindle Fire HD stayed in my pocket instead of the Jeep, ready to be deployed at a moment’s notice.

Also, as I have written about before, I use the text-to-speech functionality of the Kindle to make my books audio books, and I listened to one of them on my drive out to do the interviews and on my way back to the office. (Check out all of my blog posts about this tablet here.)

My Kindle Fire HD cannot do everything, but it does a lot, enough to keep me busy, anyway. What about you?

Lessons I Learned Working with a Freelance Illustrator

When I dipped my toe into the world of publishing through Amazon’s Kindle Direct Publishing, I had no idea where it was headed. What I discovered was I landed a gig as an executive project manager on a fairy tale with a Christian message to it, so I needed to work with a freelance artist.

Princess Sketch Freelance

Actually, I began exploring all of the possibilities with publishing via KDP, and it occurred to me my wife, Wendi, had written a fairy tale that would be a good project. I had been reading Timothy Ferriss’ “The 4–Hour Workweek,” and he talked about working with freelancers through elance.com, which I decided to do.

We found an illustrator in Armenia, and we really liked her style. When we solicited bids for the project, she returned with a very reasonable price, and we came to an agreement. For us, this was an exciting time.

The project ran into some hiccups in the early stages, and I learned some things in the process. Based on my experience, here are just a few things you should consider when working with a freelance illustrator (when it is not possible to meet face-to-face):

  1. Communicate with the artist in broad terms, but clearly identify some boundaries. In sketch No. 1, this is all the direction I gave the illustrator: “A wide shot of Princess with Castle and woods in the background and the ability to use a close-up shot of the Princess.” That is exactly what was delivered, just as requested. Because this was my first time doing something like this, it would have helped if I also added: “Because this is a story with a Christian message, the princess needs to be dressed modestly.” Not fully understanding what I needed to communicate, it caused delays. I responded and told her that the neckline needed to be moved up. I used a photo editor to take her drawing, modify it and show her an example of what I wanted. This can be seen in sketch No. 2. However, leave the artist room to create and express herself or himself.
  2. Be prepared for the work flow to be interrupted due to time zone differences. Armenia is nine hours ahead of Ohio. When I am going to bed, our illustrator is waking up. When I wake up, our illustrator has finished her work for the day. There is no overlap, so if I want something changed, it is a two-day process, at minimum. To work like this, you need to recognize there is no immediate feedback or reaction. It is a process. If you are uncomfortable with this, find an illustrator in your town or the closest one you can find.
  3. When working on a project, plan for delays in the timeline: By not clearly identifying some boundaries, there were delays. One of the issues we ran into was a time when Internet service in Armenia was not optimal. This was not the fault of our illustrator. Also, after we communicated what we wanted from the original sketch, you can see in illustration No. 3 what was delivered. This was not what we asked for, however, mistakes happen. The illustrator could have been in a hurry with other things, maybe dealing with some traumatic things in life, and the result is the changes were not made. My full-time job is a reporter, and I make mistakes all of the time. Why the illustration came back wrong was not a concern to me, we are all human. Getting it corrected was, and you can see in illustration No. 4, our illustrator accommodated our wishes.
  4. Find a freelancer who recognizes this is a give-and-take relationship. It is important for the freelancer to understand while you will give them some latitude to be creative, at the end of the day, the project will bear your name, so it must be what you want it to be. The next time I hire a freelancer, I will articulate that I can be picky at times. It does not mean the work produced is bad or inferior, rather, I just want something else — it doesn’t work for me.
  5. Be a contractor who recognizes this is a give-and-take relationship. You, too, must understand that you must be flexible where possible. Do not give up your principles or values, but allow for the creative process to work. In one of the illustrations that will be in the book, we needed the princess to be shown in a work camp setting making bricks by hand. I have no idea what this scene should look like, but the illustrator came up with something, thankfully. I do not have the ability to express Wendi’s books in pictures, so I have to give up some control.

Working with a freelancer has its challenges, but understanding what they are going into the process will help provide for a better outcome. I am quite pleased with how this process is moving forward, and even with the delays, the project is still on track to be done on time. We are hoping to publish it on Kindle on our anniversary, March 4.

Stay tuned.

Kindle Fire HD 7 Continues to Score Big Here

It’s been nearly seven weeks since I purchased a Kindle Fire HD 7, and I am liking it more and more everyday. For good reason.

Amazon Kindle Fire HD 7

I remember reading on Michael Hyatt’s blog about how preferred the iPad Mini over the original, larger version, saying the Mini was what the iPad should have been from the start.

Having never owned an iPad, I cannot make the same statement, but I can say this: The Kindle Fire HD 7 is what netbooks should have been all along. When my wife’s laptop became old, outdated and slow, I wanted to get her a new one. However, there was something attractive about the netbooks. At the time, I did not fully understand what they were; I just thought they were slightly smaller laptops.

Well, in a sense, they are. Netbooks are smaller than laptops. And, netbooks kind of look like laptops. But, what we discovered is a netbook is not really a laptop. A laptop is for computing, and a netbook is mainly designed to surf the Internet.

My Kindle Fire HD does just that. It surfs the web, it feasts on Amazon.com content, it plays games and it even contributes to some productivity. After I first purchased the tablet, I carried it with me sometimes. Now, unless I know I am going to be totally tied to my desk at the newspaper, it comes with me.

Why I Carry My Kindle Fire HD All the Time:

  • It turns my vehicle into a mobile university: This is the No. 1 reason why it is with me most of the time. By owning a Kindle device, I can turn on Amazon’s text-to-speech function and listen to books while I drive. I just finished reading/listening to The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur (which turned out to be better than I initially envisioned). Whether I am in the Jeep five minutes or 35 minutes, I like having the option of listening to a book.
  • It keeps me up-to-date with my blog: I have a WordPress app that allows me to edit or create posts, check my site stats or do anything else I need to with my blog, as long as I have a Wi-Fi connection.
  • I keep my teaching notes on it: I teach an adult Sunday School class at Parkview Christian Church, and I send all of my notes to my Kindle device. I have a study Bible loaded on the Kindle, and I keep my notes for Sunday School on it.
  • I can capture thoughts using Catch app: When you start blogging, you realize how important it is to get your ideas down. With Catch Notes, I can do that. The free app allows you to write notes, record audio notes, take photos, set up reminders and create checklists. I used it the other day to jot some ideas down for future blog posts and a future book.
  • I can move my online reading offline: With Pocket, another free app, I can be reading something on the web and save it to read later. The app works across all sorts of devices. I can be reading something on the web at home, save it to Pocket, and when I sync my Kindle Fire HD, I will get a nice, readable version of the web page. It is important to sync Pocket’s content while you have Wi-Fi access. This is immensely helpful when researching. I have been using it to aid me in writing a book for mindreaders. It is invaluable.
  • I can keep up-to-date with all of my social networks: Again, as long as there is a Wi-Fi connection.

If you would like to purchase your own Kindle Fire HD, check out my affiliate link by clicking here. I recommend the 32 GB version because once you buy it, there is no expanding it. Might as well get the extra storage space.

The Kindle Fire HD  7 has been a great fit for me, but let me caution you by saying I made the purchase because I was an Amazon Prime member. It made sense to have a device geared toward watching the movies, TV shows and videos available for free to Prime members, getting the shipping discount from Amazon and the ability to borrow one book a month from the Kindle Owners Lending Library.

If you are looking for more of a computing tablet, then perhaps the iPad, iPad Mini or Google Nexus 7 are better options for you.

For me, it was the Kindle. You can see other reasons why by clicking here.

Create Stunning Photos for Your Blog with This One, Free App

No doubt about it, interesting and engaging photos can enhance your blog. But where can you get quality photographs on a limited budget? Glad you asked.

IMAG0426 - Ivan,Paint,Black

You can get them from your smartphone and use a variety of photo apps, some free, some for a nominal fee.

For more than a year, I have nearly switched exclusively to taking my photos with my HTC ThunderBolt. The image quality of the pictures vary depending upon the available light, but when there is sufficient light, the quality is amazing.

Most of the photos that appear in The Z Section are photos I have taken and processed. It saves me a lot of money, and I do not take time out to shoot photos. I stop and pause when something captures my eye while I am out doing something else.

Start experimenting with all kinds of photos: Trees, barns, busy streets, lonely roads, storefronts, animals, everyday objects at weird angles. Start snapping photos and processing them with the app of your choice, but today I want to recommend one that has served me well, and it is free! Did I mention it is free?

Read more

@GuyKawasaki Embraces Evangelism, What About You?

Guy Kawasaki appeared on my radar shortly after jumping into Twitter in late 2008, and I found it interesting he served as Apple’s “chief evangelist.” See for yourself:

Guy Kawasaki

Guy Kawasaki Chief Evangelist

I saw the photo above that Guy posted on Google+, and I was just tickled to read he boldly proclaimed he was an evangelist. I then began thinking about why was Guy so willing to embrace the term when many Christians and Christian leaders are not. Many Christian leaders like the title pastor. It comes from a French word for shepherd, who worked in the pasture tending to the sheep. Others like the word minister, which refers to a servant. All Christians should be serving one another, thus they should all be ministers. Some preachers/ministers/pastors use the term evangelist, but it appears to be the exception rather than the rule.

The Preacher as Herald

In “The Preacher’s Portrait” by John R.W. Stott, the author talks about the preacher as a “herald.” This is one who declares or announces or preaches good news. Citing Alan Richardson, Stott notes at the core of the words used “is the telling of news to people who had not heard it before.”

Interestingly enough, as I was scratching my head about why Christians have virtually abandoned the term “evangelist,” I stumbled upon a blog post from Guy dating back to 2006. This is what he said then:

Out of curiosity, I went to SimplyHired, a vertical search engine for jobs, and looked for openings containing the keyword “evangelist.” Amazingly, there were 611 matches–and none were for churches. It seems that “evangelist” is now a secular, mainstream job title.

via How to Change the World: The Art of Evangelism.

I followed suit and found similar results. I went through the first 150 job postings and not one was remotely related to church work, they were all IT, high-tech jobs.

If we were to intentionally think of ourselves as evangelists more, then perhaps performing the duties of an evangelist would become more important to us.

As Christians, we are evangelists for our favorite Christian authors, singers, bands, books and movies. Why is it easy to evangelize for those things, but not the saving grace of God through his son, Jesus?

Read These 5 Books and You Will Start that Business You Always Wanted To

Want to turn your passion into a profession? Your desires into dollars? Your yearnings into earnings? You get the picture.

Guitar
I have always wanted to have my own business, which led me to starting a desktop publishing business and a creating a newsletter geared toward families more than a decade ago. I tried and failed, but I never stopped yearning to have a business. I wish I knew then what I knew now.

I am reading five books that have absolutely reshaped my vision for what a business is. For me, a business is not a storefront. It is an ability to earn money doing what I love, and it is going to be online.

In some upcoming posts, I will give you some insights into what is happening in my world regarding a business (spoiler alert: It ends with me writing Sunday School materials in the evenings while working as a full-time journalist during my days). But, let me share with you how these five books are transforming me.

  1. Timothy Ferriss: The 4-Hour Workweek: This book provides a wealth of information. It will have you reexamining your life and your work, and it will inspire you to think of a product or find something to sell online, but only after you test out your marketing. It will teach you how to automate parts of your business and deal only with those things that really need a decision from you. One of the most helpful things is how Ferriss links his readers with where to find things, where to buy things, where to get a designer, a celebrity endorsement and a manufacturer, if needed.
  2. Chris Guillebeau: The $100 Startup: Talk about an inspirational book. Guillebeau will teach you how to create a microbusiness, something small that will help you earn a decent living so you can have the lifestyle you always wanted. There is a lot of good practical advice about how to come up with a product (even if it is an informational product, ebook, DVD lessons, online courses, etc.), market it, test it, launch it and then start looking for the next big thing. This book and “The 4-Hour Workweek” will get you excited about going into business for yourself.
  3. Michael Hyatt: Platform: Get Noticed in a Busy World: I am a big fan of Michael Hyatt. He offers nothing but imminently practical tips and advice on his blog. I started this blog based on advice he posted. Hyatt will take you by the hand and demonstrate how to establish a platform, build an audience and engage your fans, followers and tribe. The man meticulously documents just about everything he does, which is good for us. He will show you how you can do it, but it will take time and effort. This is a must-have book.
  4. Guy Kawasaki and Shawn Welch: APE: Author, Publisher, Entrepreneur-How to Publish a Book: If you want to write books, then this is the book for you. Kawasaki and Welch will walk you through everything you need to know about writing the book, editing the book, designing the cover, marketing the book, promoting the book and selling the book as a self-publisher. I have already incorporated some of the tips the authors share. If you read this, then the likelihood of you ever seeking to have a book published in the traditional manner will go out the window.
  5. Mike Michalowicz: The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur: I must admit, I have not spent as much time with this book as with the others (bear in mind I am reading all of them at the same time, not one by one), and I purchased it solely on the strength of the reviews. The language can be coarse, but I am working my way through this. Part of the reason I bought it was this blurb in the description: “Which three sheets of paper you need to successfully launch, manage and grow your business.” While I wholeheartedly recommend books 1-4, I am not at the point of saying you need to get this one, but it is one that I have been reading.

There is a lot of overlap with these books in regard to content, but that is OK with me. I see it as reinforcing what I have learned and helping me understand it better.

But the true value of all of these books is that they have shown me how to determine whether a passion of mine is a viable business opportunity. It might not be.

If you have an inkling to start a business, then check these books out. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

Disclosure: You should know, all of the above links are Amazon affiliate links. If you make a purchase, then I will earn a small percentage. Depending upon the cost of the book, it could be anywhere between 40-60 cents.

Kindle Fire HD 7: Five Reasons I Love It

It has been about a month since I purchased a Kindle Fire HD 7 for my birthday (I have such generous family and friends), and I have to say I am finding more uses for it today than ever.

Kindle Fire HD 7 screenshot

I am a geek in the sense I have studied computer programming (a long time ago), am able to rip open a desktop computer and add and change hardware and am all over social media (though I have yet to label myself a “social media expert” — when you figure out what that is, let me know).

However, I am not such a geek that I can tell you with clarity and specificity why, from a hardware and software and operating system point of view, the Kindle Fire HD 7 is an excellent machine that is better than the competition.

But, I can tell you there are five reasons why I am so grateful I purchased the Kindle Fire HD 7.

  1. I read more. Look at the screenshot above; I am reading those books and more. Generally, all I read was the Bible, The Daily Record newspaper and political websites. Now, I am reading more books about writing, building a platform and business. And, yes, I am still reading my Bible.
  2. I write more. I have actually begun working on some writing projects outside of my daily reporting duties at the newspaper. It feels good to be focused on some of these efforts.
  3. I watch less TV. With the boob tube blackened out most of the time, I have a ton of time to read and write.
  4. I blog now. The Kindle Fire HD 7 actually was a factor in me deciding to start my own self-hosted blog. I wrote about that here.
  5. I sell books in the Kindle store. It is really an article that I have sold, but it is a start. It would not have happened without the Kindle Fire HD connecting me with the Amazon website more and the Kindle store in particular.

Do you have a Kindle Fire HD? What are your thoughts about it?

To Facebook or Not to Facebook: Do You Even Need to Ask

KloutI am reading a book about getting your message out, and while I have not actually read the part where the author talks about not liking Facebook, I have seen others write about his position in reviews posted about the book.

I have a love-hate relationship with Facebook. I think think it can be too intrusive, and I think the company has not always been too concerned about privacy among its users.

However, I have been on Twitter longer than Facebook, and I just don\’t have the reach with my tweets as I do with my status updates. Like it or not, my Facebook interaction is the driver of my Klout score.

This, however, is a double-edged sword. Look at how Dan Zarrella described the two audiences:

If you are looking to sell something, then how likely are you to entice people you know to make a decision? Jesus said no prophet is accepted in his hometown. Do your friends view you as someone who has something to say or who is trustworthy? Regrettably, sometimes it is easier to close a deal with strangers.

As for me, I will continue to remain active on Facebook. As you can see by my Klout score, it garners a lot of attention and responses. I am building a platform to last, and I am not trying to complete it today.

Casual Productivity and the Kindle Fire HD 7

IMAG0798 - Tom,Burn,Pinstripe

I have written a lot about the Kindle Fire HD 7 device in the past couple of weeks, and for good reason, it really has me being more productive, something I call a “casual productivity.”

I am late to the tablet party, and I am sure those who have been using the iPad, Google Nexus, Samsung Galaxy series or any other tablet have discovered how useful they can be. I am surprised at just how much more I am able to do with my Kindle Fire HD.

Because the 7-inch model is nice and compact, it is easy to hold like any book (this is even more the case with the cover I have for it). As such, when my wife and I are relaxing at home, I can get comfortable on the couch and perform a variety of tasks.

If I am not particularly interested in the show on the television, I can read one of my Kindle books. I can work on a draft of a blog entry. If I have the kernel of an idea, I can jot something down in Catch and come to it later. I can catch up with the news using Flipboard, and I can play Words with Friends.

So, this tablet, which some might view as a time waster, is leading me down the road to increased productivity, casually, of course.

New “Wow” App Idea Sprouting Up

2012-06-02_1338649808My life’s goal has been a simple one: I wanted to get paid to write. I have realized this dream on several fronts since my first job at a newspaper in 1988.

Over the past several years,I have watched others start blogs,get on Twitter after me and become social media “experts” and build a national following. I have keenly watched what Michael Hyatt has been able to do with his blog, started reading his book Platform: Get Noticed in a Noisy World
and have followed much of his advice.

As I mentioned previously, several factors converged and led to the formation of this blog. In reading Tim Ferriss’ The 4-Hour Workweek, Expanded and Updated: Expanded and Updated, With Over 100 New Pages of Cutting-Edge Content,
the author infuses me with confidence,making me feel I can accomplish anything, and probably quicker than I imagine. In reading a Steve Scott ebook about writing a nonfiction book, How to Write a Nonfiction eBook in 21 Days – That Readers LOVE!, I have a blueprint for structuring the book and a timeline to get it done. In reading Hyatt’ s book, I am learning about coming up with a “wow” product, and his blog teaches you how to accomplish almost anything.

As I am digesting all of this information on my Kindle Fire HD 7, it dawned on me I could use an app to help me with what is swirling around in my mind. I jump over to the Amazon App Store to search for something, and I don’t find anything.

Could it be I have stumbled on a useful idea for an app? I might have done just that. However, I realized I needed to research this more because there might already be an app with the functionality I am looking for, but it is characterized differently than expressed through my searches.

I began writing this post on Christmas, reclining in a seat while others watched the L.A. Lakers game on TV. After doing more research earlier today, I discovered Google Play has something similar, and there seems to be a better version in the iTunes store, which is closer to what I was thinking. However, there is additional functionality I would like to see on the iTunes version.

At this juncture, who knows whether this idea will become an actual app. The fact there are only two products can mean one of two things: The concept in general is not needed, or the concept needs an idea like mine. Time will tell.