Category Archives: review

My Favorite: Pen (you can get at your favorite Office Supply Store)

Listen, I get it.  You have been waiting for me to write this.  I have had countless friends, Tom, Jack, David, and others, hounding me wanting to know what I think the best inexpensive pen you can buy from most office supply stores.  So I’m going to tell you.

The best you can get!

The Pentel Energel Needle Tip in .5 is my go-to pen.  It is cheap enough so I don’t mind giving them away or losing one, but a great writer on any paper.  Surprise, surprise my favorite feature is the almost instant drying time. #leftyproblems  But it isn’t just how fast it drys.  Pentel’s blue ink is one of the most vibrant I have seen (apart from some Fountain Pen inks, I’m looking at you Noodlers Baystate Blue!).  I have been pleased with all of the colors I have used, Black, Blue, Red, and Green.  Although I have seen some bleed through on the green with some types of paper.  Pentel gives you plenty of options in style, pen tip (Classic or Needle tip), and width of the line (from .38 to 1.0).   You can learn more than you care to know about them at a great blog post at JetPens.

I would also add an honorable mention to the Uni-Ball Signo RT1 .38 for my favorite micro gel pen.  You can’t get this style in stores in the U.S. (sorry Tennessee).  I discovered both of these and more from Brad’s Pen Addict list of Top 5 Pens.  It is really the place to go if you want to start exploring some other options.  The Signo RT1 gives an incredibly thin line (I write small!) and looks stylish and distinct.

So to recap.  Throw out your terrible Pilot G2.  I know they are everywhere but so is trash and I don’t see you picking that up and writing with it!  Spend $5 on a 3 pack of the Energel pens.  If you don’t love them, mail them to me!  I will gladly use them.

Fountain Pen Ink – Sheaffer Skrip Red

Sheaffer Skrip Red or Sheaffer Red is an ink I heard about from the Pen Addict Podcast when they had Mike Matteson from Inkdependance.  He is an established and thorough ink reviewer.  He knows his stuff. On the podcast, he was asked what his favorite Red ink is and he said Sheaffer Skrip Red.  It is a little surprising considering how many varieties of red inks their are to settle on a relatively commonplace ink.

Sheaffer Skrip Red in Lamy Safari

I got a sample from Goulet Pens and put it in my Lamy Safari with a Fine nib. I have to agree with Mike, this is a great color.  It is vibrant without being so “red,” that you can’t use it in day to day use. It is just a fantastic color.  The drying time is a little bit of an issue. Being a lefty stinks when it comes to most inks.  That isn’t Sheaffer Red’s problem, probably more of my writing style.
I would absolutely recommend it.  Again, go check out Mike’s post about it to get a fuller idea about what it looks like and how it handles on different types of paper.

Fountain Pen Ink – J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche

When I got my first TWSBI Eco (Extra Fine) I decided that I needed to have a real bottle of ink to have a real experience of “fountain penning.”  After looking around JetPens for a while, I settled on the J. Herbin Bleu Pervenche.  It wasn’t because I loved the color. The truth is it was because I didn’t want to spend $10+ on an ink that I would probably never finish using!  I’m a little bit of cheapskate.  I settled on the smaller bottle and got to writing.

On the website the color didn’t blow me away, but it had a fast drying time which is my top priority as a lefty writer.  I have to say that I have been pleasantly surprised by the color.  It isn’t washed out like the swab on the JetPen’s website led me to believe.  It is a solid and consistent turquoise blue.  It handles great on my go-to notebook (Muji Notebook) and on copy paper without much feathering or show-through on the other side of the page.  Here is a great review from Matt at the PenHabit.  He is extremely thorough and gives you tons of visual samples of the ink on paper.  If you are looking for a solid ink that is economic and will work on just about any paper I can’t say enough good things about the Bleu Pervenche.

Fountain Pen Ink – Diamine Orange

Let me begin by saying that my habit for pens has gotten worse.  After listening to and dabbing in some cheaper fountain pens, I took the plunge into the lower end the fountain pen world.  Specifically, I got couple of TWSBI Ecos (Extra Fine) and a Lamy Safari (Fine).  I’m a lefty and primarily use a “Side-writer” position for writing.  So I am prone to smearing and smudging naturally.  Almost all of my writing is done in my Muji Notebook which is my everyday carry and cheap copy paper.  The Muji Notebook is a recycled paper so I’m sure that has some bearing on my results with various pens and inks.

Awesome color…terrible drying time.

I recently got some new ink samples from Goulet Pens to see what fit my writing style and fancy.  So I’m going to take some time and let you know what I have thought about those inks.  I’m not a professional anything and surely not a professional ink reviewer.  I recommend Matt at Inkdependence if you want great reviews.  But I’ll sure what I experience.

First up is Diamine Orange.  What a great shade of orange and what a mess when it comes to drying time!  I recently inked up my Twsbi Eco Extra Fine and was stoked to see how this orange ink looked.  I was immediately impressed.  It is a great shade of “orangey” orange.  But using it has proved to be disappointing.  My disappointment is all about the drying time.  Jetpen’s great post on Fast Drying Fountain Pen Inks warned me about their slow drying time, but I tried it anyway and got results that corroborated their evidence.  It handles the paper well, no feathering that I can see, but it drys slowly (10-15 seconds) which is a deal breaker for me.  Here is the best qualified review I have found for it so maybe that will help you if you are thinking about it.

 

The Quest for Productivity: Part II

It has been a couple of since I began The Quest for Productivity!  Since then, I have tried out two productivity systems. I settled on two systems to test drive and really invest some time in:  Doit.im & Todoist.

You can read great reviews about them here:

Doit.im Review (Appstorm)

Todoist Review (Appstorm)

 

My requirements were (and still are):

  • Great interface (fun and easy to use)
  • Mobile Apps that aren’t gimped versions of main app
  • Affordable
  • Multi-platform (iOS, Android, Mac, and web)
  • Not build just for teams

Doit.im:

I very much like fact that Doit.im is unapologetic about it’s GTD (Getting Things Done) integration. If it is in the book by David Allen, then you can do it with this app. The interface is VERY similar to Things (by Cultured Code) if you have worked with that on the Mac platform. It looks great and has plenty of features and is reasonably priced (for only $20 you get all the features available). My frustration came in not the app, but in GTD, which it is build on. GTD has about two extra steps that I don’t find as helpful as some people might. I don’t need to have every action be location based and I am not as concerned with the priority of something.  If I put it on my to-do list, then it is a priority.

Todoist:

Todoist has a sub-par name, but is a great system. It can be a simple to-do list or a more full featured system for just about anyone. It has all the usual features of quality offerings and delivers them in a helpful and simple set up.  One of my complaints, is that you don’t have access to make notes for an individual task or item without being a Premium subscriber.  But that is still only $29 for a year which is worth it. And they offer a free month trial after you set up your account.

 

Verdict:

I have settled on Todoist. It helps me get task out of my head and onto my list. It isn’t too much to deal with when I am in a rush, but it allows me plenty of options to get it in the right place in my life.

New Nexus 7 – Initial Impressions of the Google Tablet

I am not a full time tech reporter or reviewer. I just spend a little bit too much time reading about products I rarely purchase.  But with the New Nexus 7, released on July 30, 2013, I have jumped in feet first.

I have had a limited experience with the Android OS, using it on a Motorola Droid 2 in 2010 for about 12 months. It was Android 2.2, whatever was before Gingerbread update. As I told my friends, I like everything about it, but it doesn’t make phone calls very well.  Overall, it was a rough experience and I went back to iOS as soon as possible.

However, with each Android software update, I have continued to be impressed with their direction…in theory. In theory I loved what Google’s OS was doing, but in practice I as miserable.  So, it was with excitement and nervousness that I decide to bite the bullet and get the new Nexus 7 this past month.  Thankfully, with this 7 inch tablet, I want to do just about everything BUT make phone calls! This is my second experience with a tablet, iPad3 user for 12 months in 2012 on iOS 6. So, I have high expectations for what a device can and should do. I am seeking a tablet that will me access my content (books, articles, documents/Evernote) and web content in a pocketable but usable device. I have an iPhone 4s and I am tired of typing on the unforgiving keyboard and squinting at a microscopic screen.

Initial Impressions:

I very much like it, in fact, it might be love.

Pros:

  • Operating System (OS): One of my biggest frustrations with my first experience with Android OS was that it wasn’t smooth. Google has been working on that (in a strangely titled project, “Project Butter,” as in “smooth as butter”) with each OS update. With OS 4.3 Jelly Bean they have nailed it. It is smooth and responsive. 99% of my “touches” are acknowledged and the tablet responds flawlessly.  At this point, granted it is early, I have very much enjoyed this improvement from previous Android experiences.
  • Screen: The screen is amazing. The colors pop and I can’t find a pixel (that is a good thing). At times, the width is a little tight.  It is a 16×9 ratio which is great for movies, but does make PDFs & webpages tricky to find the sweet spot.
  • Value:  It is a great price point ($270 for the 32 GB which is plenty) and looks like it has the specs to be a good tablet for the next 2 years. I am sure you can find it cheaper by looking online a little bit. I think you could also get away with the 16GB version which is $230.
  • Size/Form Factor: As most reviews have said, it does at times feel “tall.” But it doesn’t feel awkward. It is comfortable in one hand and isn’t heavy. The back feels very good, it is a non-slip feel but doesn’t feel tacky/sticky.

Cons:

  • Google Play Store: The bottom line is that iTunes and Apple’s philosophy about having an easier platform to develop for (App makers only have to worry about 3 screen sizes) does make their offering of apps better. Even with “many, many” apps available on both platforms. I have found most of the apps I use on my iOS (iPhone & iPad) that are really innovative (example: Drafts for iOS, Tweetbot, or Checkmark), aren’t available on Android.  Apart from having to purchase them gain, I just can’t find them!  This isn’t the Nexus 7 fault. But it is a problem it has to deal with.

If you are looking for a tablet, this is a great choice. Is it “better” than an iPad? I think it is better than a non-retina iPad (i.e. iPad Mini or iPad 2).  If you have $400+ to spend on a tablet, by all means, get an iPad 4. If you are like most people, you need to find a balance between value and quality, this is the tablet to get.

 

The Quest for Productivity!

Well, I am back at it. With the new school year (and me finally being out of school!) and me now a few months into a new job (Pastor of Wrightsville First UMC), I am exploring a productivity system (i.e. GTD/To Do List/Project Management software) to help me thrive with my life and career.  In the coming weeks (probably months) I will be back to reviewing and exploring various To Do apps and systems and will post my thoughts here.

Cartoon from Natalie Dee

The programs I am considering:

  • Asana: This has been my system of choice for most of the last year. But I have been continued to be frustrated with it’s poor mobile apps. As of today, this is what I have been using, but I am hoping that their are better options.
  • Nozbe: Recommended by Michael Hyatt which says something (he is a productivity nerd). It has some great looking features and has a great track record, pushing 6 years in the GTD “game.”
  • Remember the Milk: Some people love this software and the name. I hate the name and have been unimpressed with my limited (a couple of days) use. I will keep trying it. It does some things amazingly and some overly difficult.
  • Toodledo: I like the philoshpy of this system. It isn’t about “projects” but goals. But sometimes I just want to do a project. So, we will see.
  • Trello: A newcomer, only a couple of years old if that, but it really turns task management/to do’s on it’s ear to see what works best. Imagine comparing this as a church plant with Nozbe being First Church Downtown. It will be able to try things that the other apps won’t even consider.
  • Todoist: I don’t know how far I will get to in this. I don’t want to miss out on a simple system though.

What I have used in the past and won’t be revisiting:

  • Things: Mac only and while beautiful seems to improve VERY slowly. 
  • Producteev: They were bought out about a year ago and I can’t figure what the point or their goal is. To help me GTD or to create a social platform.
  • Wunderlist: Pretty? Yes. Helpful for my needs? No. They continue to improve, but I just don’t think that they are heading in a direction I am going. I want easy, not simple.

What I value and want:

  • Great interface that has quick and through input without having too many choices I have to make for every single entry
  • Mobile apps that offer everything that I need to get things done while away from my computer
  • At this point, I am willing to pay for a GREAT system
  • I am currently using four platforms to work: Mac OS, web, iOS, and Android (thanks Nexus 7!) – I would like to have something that can talk and play nicely with each other!
  • I work alone currently. I don’t need to share my list and I don’t have a team that works together on projects.

 

Ok. The quest has begun. I will you know. Until then I recommend a great site: AlternativesTo. It will help you find some options which you might not have even heard about.

 

2013: Things vs Producteev vs Wunderlist

I have always had a soft spot for “To Do” list. I came across the book, Getting Things Done by David Allen in 2007.  Since then I have been on a search for the “perfect” GTD/To Do application.  In March of 2013, I have begun the search again.  I realized that I might not be alone, so I have decided to share my thoughts and experience with the programs.

TvPvW.001

To preface this, I know some would argue that “to do” list and GTD proper are to two separate mindsets and workflows.  Whatever.  I am just a user who has dabbled in both and have found the following systems and apps to be helpful in creating an plan that helps me check off my list and get things done.  I am currently using Apple products.

Things (Version 2)

I have been a fan of Cultured Code’s Things for about 4 years.  I jumped into the Beta early in the development process and even purchased the Mac application and iPhone app (totally around $50).  It was and still is simple, easy to use, and powerful enough for my wants/needs.  Things 2 came out in 2012 with a much needed upgrade to include Cloud syncing so all of your “to do’s” were up to date across the various apps.

In my return to Things 2, I have found the stuff I loved about it, I still love (great looking, simple, and slick).  My biggest frustration is it’s lack of customization.  While on the surface it appears to have a robust set of options in the Preference pane, it wants to keep you doing GTD it’s way.  I continue to find myself losing my “to do’s” under the numerous view options (Today, Next, Someday, Projects).  Reoccurring or “scheduled” tasks as they call them, disappear in what I usually use as my main “to do” list (the “Next” tab).  But they are curiously missing from the “Next” tab when I am trying to attack my day.

It also has an annoying habit of making me click things too many times! For example, when I schedule a task for today it automatically puts it into the “Today” tab.  Not a problem.  But then within the “Today” tab I have to confirm (1st click) that I want to do it, before I can check off (2nd click) that I have done it.  It is a system that is made to keep me from missing a task, but it has me getting behind on my “clicking” and then have 10 items that I have to click twice to get my “to do” list cleaned up! Don’t get get me started if you happen to have a reoccurring task!  When I returned to this app from a 5 month lay off, I literally had to click about 25 items twice to get a clean slate to begin using the app again.

I know these are petty complains, but when I am actually trying to get things done, I want to get them done!  Not have to search for my list and click myself into aggravation.  It is also frustrating to know that if I had to leave the Apple eco-system, I am out of luck and my financial investment is lost.  No web services and no Android options stink if you are listening Cultured Code.

SUMMARY: Things 2 is an excellent app IF you can get over the fact that you are paying a lot of money for Cultured Code to tell you how to use their app.  I also find it reprehensable that they charge $19.99 for their iPad app.  The Mac program is $50 and it is another $10 for the iPhone app.  But without any web interface available, you are really locked into doing Things the way they (Cultured Code) wants you to do Things!

Producteev (Version 3)

Producteev came on my radar around 2011.  This was during my first bout of frustration with Things. I wanted a full featured GTD/To Do software which was more than a simple list (i.e. Google Tasks), but not as controlling as Things.  I used this for about 4 months in 2012 as I continued my search for the right app using the Mac app and the iPhone app.

In my experience with Producteev in March, I have just about the same program, but with some improved number features.  My one word to describe Producteev is: overkill.  Again, I realize this is only my opinion, your usage might vary.  I have found that it is all just too much!

Ok, I get it. You have a LOT of options.

When you create a new task you are offered the chance to: determine it’s priority, put it in a specific workspace, assign colleagues to the task, pick a due date, insert any tags, and attach a file to it.  I am tired just typing all that!

While the customization is nice (I remember I just complained about NOT having customization…I am an enigma).  Usually, when I am creating a task, I want to unload the item out of my head and get it into my task manager.  I feel like creating a task in Producteev is more work than it should be.

It isn’t all bad. In fact, it is an excellent system.  Producteev has iOS apps, Android apps, a Mac App, and a web interface so you can find your list wherever you are. And for the most part, any individual will be able to use it for free.  It really is a full featured system. You can sort your list just about anyway you want, share your task, and set alarms/notifications.  You can also create tasks from emails and Producteev has Evernote and Google integration to boot.

SUMMARY: Producteev (version 3) does a lot right. But it is everything that can trap me in my GTDing.  It has more bells and whistles than I need and thus I spend all my time playing with them, instead of doing my tasks.  If you want a powerful “to do” task manager that is free (will be for most individuals at least) and can do just about everything you could need, then consider Producteev.

Wunderlist (Version 2)

My experience with Wunderlist came just before I found Producteev in 2011.  Wonderlist 1.0 was a basic “to do” list manager.  For what it lacked in features it made up for in ease of use and simplicity.  It is a sleek and clean app that is easy on the eyes and doesn’t take a degree in GTD to create a list.  While I enjoyed my first time using it, it was only for a few weeks.  I quickly saw that I wanted something with more features and substance in my “to do” system.

During my time with Wunderlist, this time as Wunderlist 2, I have found that while my needs have changed a little, the app has changed a great deal.  Wunderlist has improved its options while maintaining its minimalistic design.  It has added the option of having sub-tasks within a task that help you create multi-step projects.  This is an added bonus for my workflow, as some of my list are more than “Call Bob,” but instead “Plan Event A.”  Being able to quickly create and flesh out a group of “to dos” and then move on to the next is huge for me.

It does still lack some important features.  It doesn’t have a lot of options in sorting tasks and or tag options.  But in the end, I don’t think that is a deal breaker, just a sacrifice.  It has excellent iOS apps, Android app, Mac App, and web interface that are synced via the cloud (but what apps don’t at this point?).

SUMMARY: You will be hard pressed to find a simpler list manager. It does what it offers and doesn’t promise to be anything more.  If you want something that will let you create a task in a second and has some elements that will help you manage your “to dos,” then you can’t go wrong with Wunderlist.

 

Final Thoughts:  I am going to go with Wunderlist.  At this point, I am not creating HUGE projects with teams, I am trying to get things out of my head and onto a list.  And then actually do the list.

My recommendation is to try them out.  Things offers a free trial, but I would recommend you begin with the other two.  Producteev & Wunderlist only take an email and a few minutes to sign up for.  All three are outstanding systems and applications.  For what it is worth I also spent a little bit of time with a couple of other apps but did not find them enough to my liking to say much about them.  Here are those and my thoughts:

  • Any.do – to simplistic
  • Trello – to different
  • Nozbe – to much of an emphasis to get me to spend money