A Rugged, Lightweight Folding Bluetooth Keyboard.

I often use my mobile phone or tablet as a notebook during lectures and seminars. A Bluetooth keyboard is a must-have for long periods of typing.

This lightweight, 250mm long keyboard is ideal for traveling with the minimum equipment, and being able to take notes on a phone or tablet.

My search for the perfect pocketable keyboard has lead me into a few dead-ends. Most folding keyboards are in two halves and shift keys around. Often splitting the spacebar into two keys. The central hinge results in nothing being in the quite the right place.

The tri-fold keyboard I have found is the perfect compromise. The actual keyboard is 235mm or 9.25” long, so touch typists may have problems. They layout, however is excellent. It is a robust metal tri-fold design. The left and right ends fold over to cover the middle of the keyboard. It is spring loaded, and stays open or shut. Opening it locks the ends down with a click and switches the keyboard on, initiating the Bluetooth connection. My 8” tablet, once paired, now connects instantly, with no user intervention. I can switch from the on-screen keyboard to the folding keyboard in two or three seconds. The keyboard powers on as it is opened.

Bluetooth 4I carry a small rectangular piece of Coreflute with may as an almost weightless lap desk. The aluminium case slides around, so I have added 4 small plastic feet to the back. This keep the keyboard stable and stops it moving.

It is available under several brand names. I purchased a white keyboard, but most suppliers only have the black version.

The documentation is less than perfect, but basic functions are obvious. There are some options to configure it for iOS, Android or Windows.

This keyboard is here on Amazon.

There is also a full sized version here:

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A Light, USB Powered AA/AAA Battery Charging Solution

soshine AA charger
soshine AA charger

If there is one given in the portable office, it is the need for batteries and ways to charge them. The AA/AAA battery is a staple power source for many devices from mice and keyboards to a myriad of older devices. I have made a conscious decision to use as  many USB charged or powered devices as possible, but still wireless mice and keyboards are among the last holdouts in my mobile office.

For years I have used desktop or wall mounted multi-channel charger. The traditional multi-channel charger is heavy, often noisy, and for me, prone to failure. My last four-channel charger has gaffer tape over a dead third channel.

I have found the perfect solution, the SoShine LiFePO4 USB powered  charger. It charges a single AA/AAA Nickel Metal Hydride (NMH)  or Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4, LFE) battery.

It is small, light, and fast. It uses the less popular Mini-USB plug, but a cable (USB Type A to Mini USB is supplied) so it can be charged from any USB Charger, laptop or power bank. I now have two of these in my mobile office. They are fast and smart. They do a check of battery condition, and if the battery is no good, they stop and display a single red light. I have also had one shut down charging because I inserver the battery the wrong way round (Duh!).
They are small and light, so slipping two into my travel office is no problem.

If you are using old NiCad, you are out of luck, though… If you are, time to upgrade!

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Anker IQ 40W 5-port Smart USB Charger Reviewed

Anker 40W charger
Anker 40W charger

The best USB power supply I have seen is the Anker 5 port, 8 amp smart charger. It uses a so-called PowerIQ charging system to provide the best power possible for each device. It is a small brick shaped device that connects to the wall via a figure-eight cable.

A USB based charger can charge most portable devices, from Android phones and tablets, iPhones, iPads, Bluetooth headsets, Cameras, to a wealth of other devices.

Most of these devices come with a “wall wart” plug pack and a USB to micro or mini USB plug, or the Apple Lightning connector. Carrying the original charger for every device we own, and finding a power outlet for each is impossible.

The Anker charger is a small brick, smaller than a cigarette packet, (58 x 91 x 25mm) with 5 USB ports on one end and the small two-pin figure eight socket on the back. The advantage of this (and the wide power supply range) is that the charger can be used in any country with the addition of the correct cable. It can be found on Amazon here and eBay here.

Every USB device makes it’s power requirements known by talking to the charging port via serial communications through the two inside pins, or, for dumb charging devices, by being wired with certain resistors in the power lines. This allows a smart charger to supply just the right amount of power to each device. The Anker charger is very well regulated, and assuming the cables are of suitable quality, maximum charging speeds will result. Overcharging is impossible as long as decent cables are used. I label the cables that come with my devices and try to keep the correct cable with each device. I have only once seen a different cable to cause a problem. It was supposed to have a “Fast Charge” switch on the plug. switching to “Fast Charge” caused charging to stop completely! More about cables another time.

Anker 5 Port 40W charger
Anker 5 Port 40W charger

I found the results to be impressive, though I could never get my HP Chromebook 11 to charge at anything like the 3 amps that it’s dedicated charger is supposed to deliver. But I torture tested the Anker charger on a one week stay in Melbourne recently. I was sharing accommodation with three other device users. Each night four smartphones, three tablets, a USB charged HP Chromebook 11, a power bank, Bluetooth headsets, two keyboards and a USB powered Seagate WiFi hotspot and media server all had to be kept topped up by the Anker IQ 40W 5-port smart USB charger. It worked flawlessly for the week, charging everything, in some cases with split two headed charging cables connected.

Anker 5 Port 40W charger Replacement
Anker 5 Port 40W charger Replacement

The Anker IQ 40W 5-port charger comes with an 18 month warranty, and this is backed by an impressively fast and helpful customer support operation. My first charger had one port die within a week. Anker asked for the serial number of the device, and had a replacement in the mail within 24 hours. Since they are in the US and I am in Australia the replacement arrived with great speed. A tribute to a real belief in quality and customer support.

Anker now has a 60W version, but I seriously doubt it will result in faster charging except with the most extreme combination of devices. But if you believe more is better, here is a link to the 60W charger on Amazon.

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Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch Mouse
Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch Mouse

For many users of touch devices such as phones and tablets, mice are a thing of the past. For me, the mouse still has a huge place in my toolkit. It is essential for laptop and desktop computing, and even editing text on a tablet works better with a mouse.

I use a number of tablets and computers on a daily basis, and wireless mice have three drawbacks. They require a spare USB port for the dongle, they require AA or AAA batteries, and they are mostly fairly large.

I spend a lot of time using Laptops, Chromebooks and Tablets. None of these have a lot of spare USB ports, and some have none at all. So Bluetooth is the only option to get full functionality on all devices. If I am doing serious typing on my Nexus 7 Tablet, I connect a Bluetooth keyboard, and at times, having a mouse is handy.

If I am travelling, I will have a Chromebook or an Ultrabook. Long hours working on one of these devices on a table or on my lap is a sure invitation for a stiff neck, and back pain. So I carry a stand that tilts the laptop up to a level where the screen is comfortable.  This may require a Bluetooth keyboard, but always makes the trackpad difficult to use, so I always use a mouse if I have the room.

I have been using a Microsoft Sculpt Touch mouse, simply because it was the only Bluetooth mouse I could find here in Tasmania, Australia that was reliable. The Sculpt Touch is a good size, but has a tactile bar that replaces the wheel that drives me absolutely crazy. It is impossible to control on non Windows computers, and just plain bad on Windows. Scrolling becomes an exercise in frustration that has on one occasion literally driven me to throw the mouse across the room (onto a lounge chair, I was frustrated, not stupid) and resort to the touch pad. It also uses 2 AA batteries, and therefore is quite heavy.

I do not like mice that require batteries. When I travel I must take spare batteries, and/or a charger. I like everything I use to charge from a USB port. This makes it possible to travel for an extended period with only one charger. I have a USB powered AA/AAA charger, but it is another device, and unless I carry spares, I have to stop work and wait for my mouse batteries to be charged, or do without the mouse

So I went shopping for ANY mouse that was Bluetooth enabled and has USB charging. I took a few deep breaths before I paid out $90 for a mouse, and kept the receipt in case I could not use it, but I have found THE perfect mouse for me.

The Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch MouseThe Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse. I confess, if I had seen one, I may have gone for the T631 white mouse, but other than that, this is mouse is ideal for me. It is very small, 59 x 85 x 19mm and weighing only 70 grams.  The tiny size had me worried that it might be difficult to control, but it invites you to place two or three fingertips on top and control it that way. There is no wheel, the entire top surface is touch sensitive, and stroking the top surface up and down or sideways provides a scroll effect. The provided software works on Windows & Mac, and adds multi-touch functionality, but since I use Chrome OS, Linux and Android as well as Windows I have kept my use to the basic functions that work on every device.

Scrolling is smooth and effortless, and can be done almost anywhere on the top of the mouse. The Bluetooth setup is a function of the operating system, but the mouse seems to reconnect on wake-up very fast. It has been faultlessly reliable.

An added feature that a number of Logitech keyboards have is the ability to pair to two or more devices, and switch between them with the flick of a switch. The Logitech mouse has a switch on the bottom of the mouse that allows two connections. I would love the ability to connect to three devices, like my Logitech K810 Keyboard, but two is enough for most situations.

To keep the mouse clean and small, the micro-usb charging port is on the bottom, so the mouse cannot be used and charged at the same time. This is not really a problem. One minute of charging will run the mouse for an hour. I have only had the mouse go flat once, I plugged it in for a minute to get it working, continued worked until I wanted a break, and re-charged it the few minutes I was away from the computer. Basically I charge the mouse & keyboard up once a week, and just forget about it after that. I do not bother to switch it off unless I am travelling.

I am far more concerned with function than looks, but it is still a pretty mouse. it is small, works on everything (better if you have the Windows or Mac software, but I am happy without the extras) and has a simply beautiful scroll surface.

Watch out for the Click!

Logitech T630 Ultra-thin Touch MouseI have seen criticism of the buttons sticking down. The do NOT stick. The buttons are under the chassis of the mouse. There are no buttons on top of the mouse. It is a single, unbroken touch surface. The entire mouse moves down when you click a button. If (like me) your fingers hang over the sides of the mouse, and touch the desktop it is possible that when you click (press down) your fingers, resting on the desktop, will grip the mouse tightly enough to stop it coming back up. This is a user error, based on the very light, small and short travel of the mouse. As you become aware of this, you learn to be a little gentler in handling the mouse, and it then moves perfectly.

I became comfortable with the tiny, light and sensitive nature of the mouse quickly. the button held down issue took a few days. but now, when I have to use a normal mouse it feels monstrously big, and awkward. Having to deal with a shrunken tendon in my right hand makes this mouse even more friendly.

Overall, this is my choice for the best ever portable mouse, and in my case, the best mouse ever.

The quick and simple connection with Chrome and Android devices as well as the usual Windows and OS x devices makes it very versatile. Frankly, the best ever! It is small, light and a little different in use due to the tactile to surface, but once you use the mouse for a few days, you will not want to go backwards to an old, traditional mouse.

I am writing this on an ASUS Chromebox, with a Logitech K810 Keyboard and a Logitech T630 Ultrathin Touch Mouse in Google Docs. Despite the high price, I am trying to convince my wife that a second T630 Ultrathin makes sense for my office, where I use multiple devices on a daily basis.

The jury is still out on that second mouse… But I am hopeful…

“The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande

The Checklist Manifesto
The Checklist Manifesto

A Book Review – “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande.

I buy too many books, and often they sit on a shelf (or my Kindle) for months or even years before I read them.

In this case I bought “The Checklist Manifesto” by Atul Gawande almost as a stocking stuffer. I had bought a book I really wanted online, and since I have been trying out checklists to make myself a little more efficient, this looked like something to add to the order. I was expecting a book about how to write checklists.

Instead I got a book that verged on a thriller. The author has a brilliant, first person writing style, and personally pursued the use of checklists from aviation, construction, medicine and even five star restaurants. From visiting Boeing and seeing how a checklist could save an aircraft by getting in a simulator and experiencing an emergency firsthand to standing in a restaurant for a night counting how many dishes got sent back before they left the kitchen. How Walmart was getting relief supplies into a ravaged New Orleans days before FIMA and the federal government.

This book is fascinating, powerful, thought provoking and absolutely essential reading. I will never see complex processes and systems the same way again.

The author proves that our world has become incredibly, even dangerously complex, and demonstrates that the humble checklist can show us ways for the average, or even exceptional  mind to manage and tame the complexity.

He walks the reader through the process of creating a checklist for the WHO (World Health Organization) for use in surgery all over the world, from impoverished and overworked hospitals to the best in the world. What they did wrong (making them to long or complicated) and how they solved the problem.  The author, a top surgeon, decided to “eat his own dog food” and applied the checklist in his own operating room. It picked up problems immediately, and in one case, described in a humble and honest style, proves that the checklist worked, and saved a life on the author’s own operating table.

The statistics came back from hospitals and operating theaters around the world where extraordinary, and gratifying.

A team of smart people with almost no budget created a checklist, and a desire to use it, and sent it out to the world. That list will continue to save lives for years to come.

I read this book in one day, and will read it again, soon. And I am already writing checklists to help me manage my much too busy business and life.