Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

Never guess at multi-time zone meetings again

I've been traveling internationally quite a bit this year, and often find myself scheduling meetings with people in a variety of locations.   One of the challenges is mapping the time zones correctly so that everyone actually shows up at the right time.

I've tried a variety of methods to resolve this, but have found an iOS app that is just great for this.  The app is called "AllHours" and it makes time zone coordination a snap. 

In the interface, select the desired time in one time zone (generally the one you're in)  and it will adjust the time in the others to show you what the various local times will be.  

You can then tap on the little envelope button (see the screen shot) to open your email client with a pre-composed list of the cities and the local dates and times you've selected in the UI.  That makes it easy to send proposed meeting times to others to review.

If you're ready to schedule the meeting, tap on the little calendar icon and it will open a meeting request for the time you've selected.

AllHours is a great (free) solution for iOS.  If you've found a good app like this for other platforms, please leave a comment with your suggestions. 

Review: Focused Space Incubator Backpack

I recently started using "The Incubator" backpack by Focused Space, and I really like it. In fact, I think it's one of my favorite laptop / travel backpacks so far (and I've used quite a few).

Looks and comfort

Click to embiggen

This definitely feels like a high-end backpack, with quality on par with Tumi, Briggs & Riley, and other high-end backpacks and I think it is reasonably priced considering the quality.

 The Incubator backpack has a trendy design that looks business-oriented enough that you can take it to any meeting, but trendy enough that you can use it for non-business use.  It is very sturdy and the fit & finish is exceptional.  It is also pretty light, so it doesn't make things too heavy on its own and it keeps a fairly slim profile so it fits under the seat easily.

The straps are very adjustable, comfortable (memory foam), and have a sternum strap to keep it in place for longer walks or hikes.  I'm a pretty tall person and this fits me well (many business backpacks have dinky straps that don't work for me)  and it will also adjust down for the typically-sized person.

There is a handle on top so you can carry this backpack (the handle is a tad small, but works fine).  There are also a lot of small loops on the top and on the straps that you can use to attach things to the pack ( the hoops are handy - I use one of these loops with a small "Bandits" bungee cord to hold the bag on my roller bag when I'm walking through airports).

Pockets galore

One of the things I like best is that there are a lot of pockets in this backpack.  I have a lot of gadgets, charing cables, and small odds & ends, and this bag has enough small pockets inside to create a "place for everything" kind of organization system.

There are also two large zippered compartments on the fron for keys, breath mints, your phone, hard drives, and other things you may need to access quickly. 

Click to embiggen

For larger electronic devices, the main compartment features a laptop / notebook pocket with a very soft lining, which will hold a 15" or smaller device comfortably.  There is also a smaller, dedicated pocket intended for iPads or other tablets. 

There are smaller side compartments you can use for storage (I keep my backup hard drive in one, and my business card wallet in the other). 

There is a small pocket on the front that you can use for things like glasses (it's plush-lined), or earbuds (my preferred use for this pocket) to allow easy access.  

There is an additional, larger pocket at the top of the back panel that is hidden and can be a good "stash" pocket for ID's, passports, thumb drives, an MP3 player or other larger, special items. You can see it in the picture on the right, at the very top of the back of the bag, just underneath the top part of the shoulder straps.

Good organization, nice amount of space

These pockets make it easy to organize the small stuff, and leave a nice amount of room for everything else.  There is plenty of room for files and a couple of books, noise canceling headphones in a case, etc.

Speaking of folders, check out my earlier article on how to create backpack folders, which I created for my previous backpack.   They work great in this one, as well.

In spite of the large amount of space, this backpack doesn't balloon up like others I've had - which I consider to be a plus.  This backpack still stays snug and streamlined looking even when it's full, which makes it easy for air travel. 

Awesome, but not perfect

As I mentioned, this is my favorite backpack so far but it still has a few things that get in the way of perfection:

  • I mentioned that this backpack is snug.  If you are used to over-stuffing a backpack, you can't get away with that on this one - it doesn't stretch a lot.
  • While it isn't an issue for me, I now a lot of people who carry water bottles with them when they travel, and this bag doesn't really have a suitable external pocket for that.  If you have a water bottle with a clip / carabiner on it, you could clip it to the outside of the bag, but there isn't a water bottle pocket. 

The bottom line 

In summary, the Focused Space Incubator backpack is an impressive, business friendly backpack with strong organization, good protection for your gadgets, and a very comfortable travel companion.

My Pebble Watch: A Two-week Review

A long time ago, I put in an order for a Pebble watch which bills itself as an "E-Paper Watch for iPhone and Android."  If you're not familiar with this, this was a Kickstarter success story.  They initially appealed to the public for funding and got $10.2 million in about a month - pretty impressive. 

They've sold somewhere north of 75,000 watches and are scurrying to catch up with their backorders.  They started shipping in March and I was somewhere in the low 40,000's and got my watch two weeks ago - in my opinion, they are making good progress. 

My Observations So Far

As I mention in the title, I've had this watch for a couple of weeks (I got the black one) and I'm pretty happy with it.  Some observations based on my brief experience:

Look and Feel

  • The watch is well-made and looks nice.  It is a bit on the large size, which suits me fine as I have big wrists, but I'd be interested in hearing how people with smaller wrists feel about the size (this is a unisex, one-size watch at the current time).
  • It does fine with random exposure to water, and lives up to the water-resistant claims (showers, dishwashing, etc. - haven't tried swimming with it yet). 
  • The look is sleek and clean.  My only concern with the design is the durability of the "glass" screen.  It feels like a tough plastic, and I'm thinking it will probably scratch over time so I plan to be careful where I wear this watch.
  • I have gotten a lot of comments and compliments on the watch, as it looks very striking.   I think the watch faces have a lot to do with this - they are very clean, readable, and can be changed to match your style or mood (you can have quite a few watch faces loaded on the watch, and cycle through them with the watch buttons).  My favorite watch face is one of the "built-in" faces - the one that shows the time in words, as you can see in the picture above.

Connectivity

  • The watch syncs easily with my phone (an HTC One) via Bluetooth, and automatically connects and disconnects when I'm out of range, with no intervention from me. 
  • I travel a lot, and the watch adjusts automatically to my local time zone, which I like very much. 
  • It is easy to download new watch faces using the browser on my phone.  Once I download a watch face, it syncs to my watch and becomes available immediately.  My favorite site for Pebble watch faces is AllPebble.
  • It's also easy to download apps for the watch, though there aren't many of them yet.  Pebble just opened up their SDK for developers, so expect we'll see a lot more apps soon (I'm hoping for one that acts as a pedometer and sleep monitor - the watch has the sensors to do it, it just needs the software.
  • One of the coolest aspects of connectivity is the built-in music control.  I can use my watch to start & stop music, and go to the next and previous tracks.  I didn't think I'd use this very much but it has been a great way to control music while I'm driving without taking my eyes off the road.  Another cool side benefit of the music controller app is that it will show the name and artist of the song on your watch face. 

Alerts and Notifications

  • Since it's paired with your phone, you can use the Pebble as a remote display for app notifications, SMS, email alerts, and things like that.  This is pretty configurable - for example, I only use the watch for text messages, WhatsApp! alerts, and meeting reminders.
  • The Pebble has a vibrating alarm, which is very nice - it is a non-jarring way to wake up, and I can set an early morning alarm without waking up my wife.   Also, you can set the alarm directly on the watch, which means you can adjust alarm settings even when you don't have your phone or it's in Airplane mode.
  • The watch warns you when it's running low on battery, and you have about half a day to charge it once the alerts start. 

Battery life

  • Battery life has been very good.  Pebble claims you'll get 4 to 7 days out of a charge, and I've been getting about 5 or 6, so the claims seem accurate.  The variability is mainly a factor of 1) how many alarms and alerts cause the phone to vibrate every day; and 2) how much you use the backlight (you can have it come on automatically when you shake your wrist, or when you push a button).
  • Charging is easy - the charging cable works on any USB port or USB wall charger, and has a magnetic charging "plug" that attaches to the side of the watch.  The watch charges in an hour or two, depending on how low the power level was when you started the charge cycle.  Be careful with your charging cable, by the way - they aren't selling extras until after they fill the full backlog of watch orders. 

In short, I'm very happy with the Pebble watch so far and can't wait to see what apps become available for it in the future. 

Pack a sport coat, suit coat, or blazer without wrinkling

Last week, I shared some of my tips for packing without wrinkling.  I mentioned the Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Folders that I love, and stated you can use them for dress shirts, pants, and jackets.  That is true, but I stopped using them for jackets in favor of another method.

You see, I am tall, and have wide shoulders, so my jackets didn't fit inside the Pack-It folders very well.  I now use the method shown in the video below.

This method works very well and I use it all the time.  When you arrive at your hotel, simply unfold and hang the jacket in your closet, and it will look great the next morning.

This method has another advantage - if you decide you want to toss your jacket into your suitcase (to be more comfortable on the plane, for example), you simply fold it like this, open your suitcase, put the jacket inside on top of your other clothes, and carefully zip the suitcase shut.  Very simple.

Pack Without Wrinkles - New Updates

Note:  Packing without wrinkles is something I've written about quite a bit, and I wanted to take some time to provide some updates.

As a frequent traveler, I want to share some packing tips that have helped me stay free of wrinkles. I have tried many methods including a classic method detailed on the Men’s Wearhouse site; steaming my clothes in the bathroom on arrival, voodoo, etc. None of these methods quite did the trick, even with wrinkle-resistant clothing (see my note at the end of this article).

My wrinkle-free status improved significantly recently, when I discovered Eagle Creek’s Pack-It Folders. These are phenomenal for keeping dress shirts, pants, and jackets wrinkle-free in your luggage (they also work with skirts, but I haven’t tried that).

Eagle Creek also offers Pack-It Cubes, which I use for general organization (you’ll see how it all works together to tidy up my suitcase, below).

 The Pack-It Folders come with a sturdy plastic folding board, which has detailed folding instructions printed on it. The diagrams on the board guide you through the folding process, and are very easy to follow.

Folding a dress shirt with the Eagle Creek Pack-It Folder 

Click thumbnails for larger view

    • Start by buttoning a few buttons on the shirt (I button the top, third, and 6th buttons), smooth it out, and place it buttons-down on a flat surface. Then, fold the right sleeve across and fold the sleeve down at an angle, as shown in this picture.

    • Next, fold the other sleeve across the folding board, then angle the sleeve down just like you did for the first – as shown here.
    • Next, fold the tail of the shirt up to the collar (the board forces you to fold it in the right spot), then flip the shirt over, place it in the center of the Pack-It Folder, and remove the board. You now have one neatly folded shirt.

    • You can fold several and stack a number of shirts (the number depends on the size Pack-It Folder you are using). When you’re done, you place the folding board on top of the whole stack to help keep everything flat.
    • Next, fold the flaps closed on the Pack-It Folder to make a nice, tidy bundle.

    The Pack-It Folder and the Pack-It Cubes work together to make a very tidy suitcase. And, when you reach your destination, you can unpack and things look almost as crisp and fresh as when you got them back from the cleaners. Click the image for a tagged version of what’s what in the picture.

    Note: For maximum effectiveness, I recommend buying wrinkle-resistant dress shirts and pants. I prefer Lands’ End or Nordstroms' line of "Smart Care" shirts as they come in exact sizes and are fantastic when it comes to shedding wrinkles. As a bonus, they are also stain resistant!

    Next time, I'll share how I deal with jackets (suit coats, sport coats, etc.)