Toolie Travel Blog

A million-mile flyer talks about the life of a business traveler.

Newsletter: Kindle as a Productivity Device

Well it's been a month since my Kindle Fire HD arrived, and I've been having a lot of fun with my petite tablet device.  Shortly after it arrived, I found a suitable cover for it that has protected it well.

Go to to see the one I bought on Amazon for $15.23. It sets the Kindle up for easy viewing, and the magnet in the cover activates the standby feature in the device.

The App List to Date

I think I mentioned buying an office suite app for taking notes on my Kindle.  I've only used it a couple of times because my Verbatim keyboard is paired primarily with my iPhone.  I can however switch the keyboard at any time.  Now that I have a case that stands the Kindle up for good viewing, I suspect that I will use both the keyboard and the Kindle more for note-taking.

The rest of the apps I've loaded have been free apps: an Amazon Web Services Console app (that's the division in Amazon where I'm currently working), Facebook, LinkedIn, Skype, a calculator, GoToMeeting, IMDB, Pandora, Pinterest, and Wikipedia.  I've used all of them so far except Pandora, but eventually I will use Pandora because the speakers on the Kindle Fire HD are fantastic!  Even with the case on, the sound comes through loud and clear.

The Accessory List to Date

I have recently gotten a lesson in the High-Definition Multimedia Interface or HDMI.  This is the video-out connector from the Kindle that can be used to connect your device to a number of video screen types.  The Kindle connector is an Micro HDMI Type D (very tiny!), and I found an adapter on Amazon for about $6 that would connect my Kindle to a standard HDMI cable ($7) that had a DVI monitor connector on the other end.  So that beautiful widescreen monitor I inherited from Dad becomes my Kindle big-screen when I'm sitting here working on my laptop.

I also ordered a Micro HDMI to VGA adapter for use when I want to connect my Kindle to a standard projector.  That device was about $18 because it involves converting the video signal (in this case downgrading it) to a VGA.  Needless to say the resulting image is not as nice as what my Kindle displays, but it's a good adapter to have if the projector available doesn't have DVI.

Still on my list of adapters to buy is a composite video cable or possibly an SD cable (if such a thing exists) so that I can stream video on through my Kindle to either the TV in my office, or the big TV upstairs.  Lately I only have time to watch video while I'm working, but that leads me to the next topic.

Oh My What a Video!

My decision to get the Kindle Prime Membership is definitely one of my best decisions of 2012.  I discovered that through the Amazon Instant Video site, I can stream hundreds of movies and thousands of TV episodes.  The first 8 seasons of Mythbusters episodes is included in my membership, which means I can watch any of them anywhere I can get a wireless signal.  I watch Mythbusters episodes at night to relax, so that alone makes Kindle ownership a complete success for me.  Beyond that, you'd only spend US$1.99 for most TV episodes and US$2.99 for most movies.  I have dozens of movies on my Watchlist, waiting for me to spin them up on-demand.

I had no idea how much I'd enjoy the Amazon Instant Video as part of Kindle and Prime.  I've already borrowed 2 Kindle Books from the Kindle Owners Lending Library, so portable entertainment is leading the usage stats on my device.

Nevertheless, when my time at Amazon is over, I suspect I'll be watching and participating in social media for my business, using the Kindle as a "third screen" devoted to those activities.  The convenience factor is very high, and the fact that I'm not looking over my glasses at a tiny iPhone screen to post on LinkedIn is a real advantage, given that I'm now in my bifocal era.

By the way I retaliated on McAlister by arranging to get him an iPad for his recent milestone birthday.  Now we have dueling tablet devices at the dinner table.  If he ever looks the other way long enough, I'll snatch his iPad and write about it here also.
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Newsletter: Encounter with a Kindle Fire HD

My contract with Amazon Web Services has given me a unique view into the world of corporate computing.  I don't interact with the Amazon retail side of the business, but I have found myself visiting the company Kindle store to download the AWS documentation.  That was the first time I ever thought about owning a Kindle.

Pondering the Tablet

You don't have to have a Kindle device to read books formatted for Kindle.  You can download free software from the website to run on a Mac or PC.  The first Kindle book I ever bought was a technical book that I needed in less time than it would take for the book to be shipped to me.  After that I was hooked.

Because I'm working on a book about AWS, I started reading the AWS documentation on my home laptop, then on my iPhone.  As time passed I began considering purchasing a Kindle.  McAlister and I had talked about getting a pair of iPads, but the one thing I wanted for myself that an iPad wouldn't get for me was access to the Kindle Lending Library.  If you own a Kindle device and you're an Amazon Prime member, you can check books out (new books in Kindle format) of their Kindle owners' library for free.  This is made possible by a program that Kindle authors can join that requires the author to allow the book to be borrowed for a brief time.  It's wonderful exposure for the authors, and a great benefit of being a Kindle device owner.

Ah well.  Having a Kindle was not in the budget.

McAlister Goes Rogue

The day after Christmas McAlister admitted that I had one more present coming to me: a Kindle Fire HD 7" device.  I shrieked with joy!  He wasn't supposed to spend that much on my presents, but of course, I didn't decline his generosity.  The Kindle of Joy arrived last Friday (3 days ago).  We had plans for the evening, but given its petite size, the Kindle slipped nicely into my purse and kept me company while we were in the car.

Enter the Tablet

While in transit to our evening activity, the first thing I noticed was how much I had come to depend on Internet access independent of indoor wireless access on my wireless devices (the iPhone).  In other words, my Kindle didn't have a cell phone connection so that I could keep browsing.  Ah!  Must plan ahead.

The next thing I noticed was the substantial difference between the operating systems on the iPhone and the Kindle (Android).  These are two competing operating systems that do use similar enough user actions that I was able to adapt quickly.  To unlock the Kindle you sweep your finger over the log from right to left, instead of left to right, etc. The menus worked differently, but the icons were easy to decode.

I tried pairing the device with my Verbatim Bluetooth Keyboard; that worked like a charm.  Later that evening I spent $12 on reasonably good office suite software so that I could author documents on the Kindle, not just read them.  If I do enough writing on the Kindle I'll eventually pay for a wireless printing app so that I don't have to rely on Google Print (sending my documents through their servers -- no thanks).

Audio, Video, and the Form Factor

A 7" (diagonal screen size) device is just right for slipping into a computer bag or large purse.  I can still pick it up with one hand, though, which is helpful.  What I find truly amazing though is the SOUND coming out of that device!  It has small built-in speakers that deliver terrific audio.  It does have a headphone jack so you can use external speakers, but really, there's no need.  The video is crystal- clear.  So far I have watched only Amazon conference videos (did you forget I'm a geek?), but don't worry, the Amazon Instant Video library is calling my name.  As a Prime member, I get access to video-on-demand through my Kindle, with hundreds of titles available to watch for FREE.  I'm also a movie buff, so I'm ecstatic about that!

The only thing missing right now is a case for the Kindle.  As with any other small electronic device, there are a myriad of cases for the Kindle, but be careful that you buy one specifically for the Kindle you own.  Initially I ordered the wrong thing and I barely managed to cancel the order in time.  The right case arrives Thursday or Friday.

The Screen Gang

So for the last few evenings, I have picked up my iPhone AND my Kindle and taken them upstairs with me at the end of my workday.  (I feel like a Mom herding her electronic children.)  Will the Kindle go everywhere with me?  No, probably not, simply because of the size of the device.  But hey, it's only been 3 days, what do I know?  I can say definitively that since I commute to work for 30 minutes each way using mass transit, I will be taking it with me to read on the way.

What small tablet or reader do you own?  Which ones would you like to own?  Leave your comments below.

Happy New Year to You!


Recent Comments
Guest — J.D.
My wife and I each has our own Kindle Touch, which is no longer offered. The new Paperwhite appears to be the replacement. We op... Read More
Monday, 31 December 2012 7:07 PM
Guest — Anne Combs
How can I add another device to my amazon account? so I can share my books on kindle applcation?
Monday, 22 July 2013 6:06 PM
Guest — Toolie
The device has to register itself with your Amazon account. If it's a laptop on which you want to read books, then download the Se... Read More
Saturday, 31 August 2013 5:05 PM
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Newsletter: Meeting Holiday Obligations while Traveling on Business

I can't believe it's the end of November already; the year 2012 has simply flown by (a little business travel humor there).  With just 4 weeks left until Christmas, my thoughts turn to surviving the holiday travel season one more time.

In the USA, the Thanksgiving holiday weekend is actually a much more difficult time to travel than in December.  Thanksgiving is a USA- specific holiday that cuts across cultural and religious boundaries.  If you're American, you celebrate Thanksgiving, and that means visiting family.

Nevertheless, there are other priorities that come to a head during December, namely holiday greetings and gift-giving.  Two phenomena have radically changed the process since the time I began traveling for business: 1) the rise of the Internet, and 2) the power and convenience of smart phones.

Shopping via the Internet

In mid-2000 I was still working for Microsoft, and while in Hong Kong on a layover, I paid a visit to Nathan Road in Kowloon, home of neon building signs with greater glitz than any Las Vegas has to offer.  Nathan Road is also the home of more electronics shops than you can hope to find in 1 square mile anywhere else in the world.  I was shopping for a pocket digital camera at the time, and there were several Nikon models available that caught my eye.

Internet shopping was in its infancy at that point, as were high-speed Internet connections in places outside the USA.  As a result, I paid far, FAR too much for the camera I bought.  Had I checked online at the time, I would have realized how overpriced the camera was that I bought.  Thank goodness THOSE wretched days are over.

Now with a few search engine skills, you can find nearly anything you can think of, buy it, and ship it to your recipients with greater ease than we could possibly imagine in the year 2000.

Ratings as Guidance for Shopping

There are a number of online retailers that feature ratings as an essential part of their retail experience. is one; is another.  If you've never paid close attention to the reviews that other buyers have posted, it's time to squint and read before you buy.  Having the ability to post and read ratings has vastly shifted the buying landscape because you have a chance to hear what others think.  Not all online retailers with rating systems have an unbiased system, but it's still worthwhile to pay attention.  Caveat emptor (buyer beware) is answered to a great degree by rating systems.

The flip side of that scenario is that after you buy, you should return to the retailer's site and contribute to the ratings repository.  Give yourself enough time to adequately evaluate and use what you've bought, but do give back to your fellow shoppers by logging onto the site and adding a rating for merchandise you've purchased.

Shopping by SmartPhone

In the last 12 months more of the large retailers have gotten the message that having a mobile-friendly website is not a luxury, it's a necessity.  In case you wondered, I can confirm that making a website mobile-friendly is no easy task, so if your favorite retailer has not yet gotten the message, you'll be doing a lot of zooming and panning on your smart phone.  Tablet devices will probably be a better choice for shopping simply because you can SEE better what you're buying.

Nevertheless, it's feasible now that you can do your shopping and shipping from your phone if you're patient.  Most online retailers offer some kind of gift-wrapping so you can make your selections online and having them do the work of getting it to your loved ones.

The trick here is timing.  We've already passed Cyber Monday (the Monday after the Thanksgiving weekend) when most buyers who have pounded the pavement and given up on finding gifts, turn to the Internet to shop.  The difficulty is that there are a precious few weeks for shopping during which shipping using "ground" methods will ensure that your packages arrive on time.  After that, your holiday shopping gets very expensive.  So get going!  Use that time at the gate or on the plane while waiting for push-back from the gate to browse and get your shopping done.

Sending Holiday Greetings on Paper

I know, I know; with the ease of sending e-cards, why would you bother?  Well, there's something to be said for taking time to send paper cards to key contacts on your business mailing list.  Even so, you can personalize and automate the sending of cards with a number of online greeting card websites.

I've been using SendOutCards for the last 5 years, and they just keep getting better.  The card catalog is sizeable now, and their card creator is much more sophisticated than it was when I started.  The quality of their cardstock has always been good, and it's very easy to sit down, compose a card, and send a whole bunch out to family and friends with just a few clicks.  You can even import contacts and retain your list there from year to year.

SendOutCards is a multi-level marketing company of which I am a distributor, though I use it mostly for my own business purposes rather than making my membership in it a business.  Nevertheless, if you'd like to try sending a free card to yourself to check it out, head over to to learn more.

Got a favorite retailer who has served you well during the holidays?  Go to and comment there.
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Newsletter: Cloud Computing for Business Travelers, Part 3

In July and August, I wrote two newsletters about Cloud Computing for Business Travelers. At that time I mentioned that Cloudberry Lab, my favorite vendor for Amazon S3 tools, would be releasing their Cloudberry Drive application in a few weeks.  Well it's fresh off the shelf, happily installed on my hard drive, and I am delighted.

There are so many benefits to having a cloud drive mounted as a local drive that I scarcely know where to start.  But before I get into that, let me remind you why I have embraced cloud storage in the first place.

I am a content producer; my intellectual property is the lifeblood of my business.  I'm also the system administrator in our household.  When the domain controller goes down, or a hard drive fails, I'm the one under the desk replacing the hardware.  I've had two very large, very significant hard drives fail on me in the last year; one may be unrecoverable, the other still has a fighting chance.  I'm just waiting to assemble the $300-$550 EACH that it will probably cost me to recover that data.

I don't think I spent more than $100 each on these hard drives, but it's going to cost me 3-5 times that much to get the data back.  You never know when a hard drive is going to fail for sure, but the last few I've had failed right on schedule -- immediately AFTER their warranties expired.

Imagine Hard Drives That Never Die

I was listening to a YouTube presentation about Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3), and the speaker talked about the "durability" of S3.  They claim "Eleven 9's" of durability, which means that if you stored 100,000 objects (documents, photos, etc.) with them you'd lose one object every 1 million years.  Suddenly I realized how foolish I've been to rely completely on spinning hard drives to safeguard my data.  I could back up to DVD, but when you have over 3.0 Terabytes (3,072 gigabytes) of data, it is an unrealistic task.

Amazon S3 uses both spinning hard drives and solid state drives (no moving parts), but they make enough copies of your data within their network that the chances of them losing your data are too small to even contemplate.  Some people balk at the idea of perpetually paying for data storage, but in truth you are doing that now.  It's just that you're accustomed to paying money up front for a hard drive instead of paying a little each month.  But as you can see, the cost of that hard drive is going to be even greater for me than either the initial cost or the recovery costs because of lost revenue from that intellectual property.  So this is why I rejoice over the arrival of Cloudberry Drive.

Cloudberry Drive Makes It Easy

Cloudberry makes it incredibly easy to get set up.  I installed the software, created a new bucket in Amazon S3, entered my Access Key and Secret Key from Amazon S3 into Cloudberry Drive, and mounted the drive.  Now I have a hard drive of unlimited size that is vastly more durable than even the newest solid state drives, because Amazon makes backup copies for me.  And I would gladly pay more than the 12.5 cents per gigabyte per month that I pay Amazon S3 simply because I know I don't have to worry about losing that data.

One of the main reasons why I chose Cloudberry Drive over other cloud storage is that it presents me with the same view of my S3 bucket data as their other tools. If I mount a bucket as a drive and then look at the bucket using Cloudberry's S3 Explorer PRO, I see exactly the same files. I don't need a fancy interface, I just want to see and work with my files, and Cloudberry drive does that for me.

You can even mount multiple drives from differing Amazon accounts if needed.  I have Cloudberry Drive installed at work so that I can access files I've posted from home.  But even when I'm home, I don't have to move files between computers, I can just drop files into Cloudberry Drive and access them from the another computer that has the same bucket mounted as a drive.  It's a huge time-saver as well as peace of mind for my intellectual property.  And as a business traveler, it's the fastest easiest way to park an accessible copy of my presentations and documents if something goes wrong while I am on the road.
Recent Comments
Guest — steve
Do you plan on switching to Amazon Glacier, eventually, for your every day backups ( since cloudberry supports that now ) ?
Wednesday, 23 January 2013 11:11 AM
Guest — Toolie
I don't think I would use Glacier for everyday backups; I might keep 10 days of backups in Amazon S3 and then cycle them into Glac... Read More
Friday, 31 May 2013 7:07 PM
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Newsletter: Have You Ridden a Bus Lately?

I have just wrapped up month 4 out of 6 on my contract with Amazon Web Services where I'm writing technical documents, creating how-to videos, and crafting architectural diagrams.  I've been commuting via mass transit all this time, and I admit to liking it a lot.  It's a far better option than trying to drive into Seattle and paying for parking.  Plus, I'm on a commute schedule so that keeps me from working any longer than I'm permitted -- no overtime on this contract.

Yesterday the Seattle area bus schedules changed.  My eminently convenient bus trip has been shifted a bit because the Free Ride Zone in downtown Seattle was phased out.  There were economic reasons for doing so, but also some logistical reasons.  It takes far less time to have people pile onto the bus downtown and pay when they get off than it does to wait while everyone pays as they get on.  I'm riding double- length busses that can carry nearly 100 people, and even when everyone has bus pass cards that they tap to pay their fare, it's time- consuming.  So my bus is moving out of the very convenient Seattle Bus Tunnel, and out onto the streets.

Nevertheless, I wouldn't trade my bus commute for an automobile commute for anything.  I've read more books during my two 30-minute commutes per day over the last 4 months than I've read in the previous 4 years.  And while I could drive, I choose not to.  Neither do a lot of other businesspeople I see on the bus; it's smart, convenient, safe, and economical to share the commute.

This Isn't Your Grandma's Bus

There was an article this week in the Wall Street Journal about how mass transit organizations are trying to attract more businesspeople like me by improving the quality of the ride on their busses.  Seattle was mentioned among the cities who are taking this approach.

Seattle's new RapidRide busses just added 2 lines to their schedule that are designed to make getting to work at large employers like Microsoft much more convenient.  When I was at Microsoft in the last 1990s, there were a lot of co-workers who "crossed the bridge" to work on Seattle's Eastside area where Microsoft, Nintendo, and Eddie Bauer all had major corporate installations.  My co-workers complained though that it was a lengthy commute because it required an interim stop at the Downtown Bellevue Transit Center, and that schedules didn't mesh very well.

After much research, King County Metro (the mass transit agency) added a bus that runs directly from Downtown Bellevue to Microsoft's Redmond Campus with only a few stops along the way.  These busses have their own distinct color (deep red), well-constructed bus stops with good weather protection, and illuminated, real-time schedules displayed on overhead signs that tell commuters when the next bus will arrive.  High-tech has come to mass transit, and it's making a difference for those of us who appreciate the effort.

Business Travel, Mass Transit, and You

What does all of this have to do with business travel?  Well if you've been reading my newsletter for any length of time, you know that I'm a big advocate of using mass transit while traveling for business.  If your work takes you to metropolitan areas, it's worth investigating the local transit schedules.  Check everything from trains between the airport and downtown to local transit that can take the stress off trying to find your way around in a rental car.

Most transit agencies now have full schedules listed online, and you can either use a search engine to find those websites, or check the Ground Transportation section of the local airport website to find links to the local mass transit agencies.  I'm very proud of the fact that Seattle's LINK Light Rail now travels swiftly between Sea-Tac Airport and the very center of downtown for a mere US$3.00 (as opposed to $30-35 in a taxicab).  The trains are sleek, quiet, clean, and well- maintained, and of course, Seattlites are well-behaved and courteous while riding the trains.

And with this new effort to attract professionals and business travelers to mass transit, it's quite likely that your business destination is served by busses and trains that will give you those extra few minutes to polish your presentation.  You'll be whisked along to your destination in a stress-free mood because you won't have to worry about getting lost.  Give it at try!
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