Taking the Long Way

Now that I’m finished with the bulk of the work on Your Money: The Missing Manual, I finally have time to do stuff again, to live life. Last night I went bowling with the MNF group. This morning, for the first time since late September, I took a stroll through the neighborhood.

“Hey,” Kris said as I rolled out of bed. “On your way back from the gym, I need you to pick up three onions and a bag of ice.”

“Ugh,” I said. I hate going to the grocery store when I’m soaked in sweat. “I have a better idea. Why don’t I walk to the store.”

“Fine,” Kris said. “But then you have to get me a medium latté extra hot from the Oak Grove Coffee House.”

“Deal,” I said. I pulled on a stocking cap, warm gloves, and donned my backpack, then headed out the door. I decided to take the long way.

Right away I knew I’d made the right choice. It was one of those cool and misty grey mornings we Oregonians are so accustomed to. But it wasn’t too wet. I strolled toward Risley Park, listening to the birds and the squirrels and the train in the distance. I waved hello to the folks who passed by walking thier dogs. I smiled to see so many cats watching from windows, waiting for their people to let them outside.

I walked up the hill at Courtney Ave. At the intersection with McLoughlin, I had to wait for the light. As I did, I listened to the murmur from the old men gathered outside GG’s Deli, smoking their cigarettes and sipping their coffee.

As I crossed the street, I spotted another fellow walking 100 feet in front of me. He, too, was wearing a stocking cap, warm gloves, and a backpack. And he was cutting across the old G.I. Joe’s parking lot as if he were headed to the grocery store.

In fact, that’s exactly what he was doing. I followed him the rest of the way: past the hardware store, down the side street, and across the parking lot to Fred Meyer. “I wonder if he took the long way, too,” I thought. I’d just spent about an hour walking three miles to make a one-mile trip. But I was too chicken to catch up and chat with him.

“I need to write this down,” I thought as I entered the store. I cursed myself for failing to bring paper with me. It seems like every time I leave my notebook at home, there’s something I want to write. No problem. I headed over to the school supplies, grabbed a a notebook, and now I’m sitting at a table in the patio furniture section, writing a blog post.

But I really need to get on my way. Kris needs three onions and a bag of ice (not to mention her medium latté extra hot), and I think I may want to take the long way home.

Why I Love the Apple iPad

Apple unveiled its latest product today: the iPad, a 24cm x 19cm (9.5″ x 7.5″) tablet computer. It’s a sort of hybrid between the company’s wildly popular iPhone and a traditional laptop computer. Reaction from around the internet is almost universally negative; most people think the iPad sucks. I’m not one of them.

The iPad is the computing device I’ve been waiting years to see, and I’m confident that it’ll be my primary method for consuming information when it’s released to the public in a couple of months. In fact, I’m willing to bet that the iPad will effectively eliminate my need to own a laptop.

To explain why I think the iPad looks so awesome, let me explain how I use the other computing devices in my life.

My computers
As you all know, I’m on the computer a lot. I produce a lot of content, both online and off. (My best guess is that I produce half a million words per year, which just boggles my mind.) To produce this content, I need an actual computer, one with a keyboard and USB inputs and a reasonably sized screen.

I do most of my work on a 24″ iMac with wireless keyboard and mouse. This setup is big and bulky — and thus immobile — but it meets my needs. I also have a 15″ MacBook Pro for home use, but to be honest, it feels like too much for content consumption (watching videos, browsing the web) and too little for content production (working with photos, writing a book). (I had a 17″ MacBook Pro for a while, but I sold it; it had the same problems as the 15″ model, but in a bulkier package.)

I’m not saying the MacBook Pro is a bad computer. It’s a great laptop — but it’s still a laptop. I can work with Photoshop and Word and other productivity apps, but to do so, I have to use the trackpad, and I don’t have as big a screen as I’d like. I do work on the laptop from time to time (I’m doing so now!), but if I really want to get work done, I walk up to the office and use the iMac.

The MacBook Pro is also our primary media-consumption device in this household. It’s where Kris and I watch our TV shows (purchased from iTunes or streamed from Hulu), and it’s the source of all of our music (streamed through an Airport Express). If I’m going to browse the web, I’m going to do it on the MacBook Pro. But here’s the thing: This device is overkill for these applications. It’s a $2,000 TV/stereo/web browser.

My portable devices
As a geek, I also own a wide array of special-purpose computing devices. I own an iPod, an iPhone, a Kindle, a digital camera, and even a portable audio recorder. The iPad won’t replace all of these, and I wouldn’t expect it too. (Though it will certainly replace the Kindle!)

I’ve been using an iPod since 2001. It took me a while to integrate a portable music player into my lifestyle, but now I couldn’t live without it. I use the iPod for a couple of hours every day. Or I did, anyhow, before the iPhone came along.

After some initial skepticism, I’ve become a fan of the iPhone; I like having the world in my pocket. It’s nice to be able to access e-mail and Google Maps and a web browser from anywhere. I also like the apps, especially the games.

But the iPhone is very limited. Yes, you can watch video on it — and I do all the time — but it’s not an ideal experience. (Except that I think it’s perfect for using while using the elliptical trainer at the gym.) And, of course, the iPhone is also an iPod, so it’s a great portable music player. But web browsing and e-mail? You can do them, but they’re limited. They’re there as a convenience, and aren’t meant to be industrial strength.

I also own a Kindle, the e-book reader from Amazon. I have very mixed feelings about this device. The form factor is gorgeous (I’d actually hoped the iPad would be this size and weight), but the screen is tiny because the keyboard takes up so much space. Navigation is tedious. And you can’t use the device for anything other than reading books. Plus it’s expensive. I do use my Kindle, and think it’s great for traveling, but I have regrets for buying it.

But here’s the thing: There’s a Kindle app available for the iPhone. It’s sort of senseless on the iPhone since the screen’s so small (though I hear Andrew Cronk uses it and loves it), but it’s there. Since iPhone apps will work on the iPad, I’ll be able to use the Kindle app to read all the books I’ve already purchased. Suddenly my Kindle is obsolete.

Why I’m excited about the iPad
If you were to read today’s online reaction to the iPad, you’d think the device was pointless. “Why not just buy a netbook?” some people ask. (A netbook is a tiny laptop running Windows.) “It’s just an oversized iPhone,” others say.

First of all, the iPad isn’t an oversized iPhone. It’s not a phone at all. Yes, it runs iPhone apps, but it sports a much larger screen, more storage capacity, and a faster processor. Plus, it does stuff. And why not buy a netbook? Because if I want a laptop, I want a laptop, not a dinky toy. And for my personal computing, I avoid Windows. (Windows is fine for other people, but I avoid it; I find it a miserable experience.) I’ve used a netbook, and found the experience maddening.

Here are some of things about the iPad that appeal to me:

  • Portability. The iPad is thin and light, but sports a large display. The screen is about the same size as the screen on a netbook, but the device itself is thinner and lighter. It’s more portable. I’ve seen how convenient it is to carry a Kindle, especially when traveling; the iPad will offer similar convenience.
  • Information consumption. While you can certainly produce information on the iPad — Apple’s making its office suite iWork available for cheap — that’s not what it’s designed to do. It’s designed to consume information. It’s designed to let you watch movies and TV in bed without a hot laptop sitting on your lap (and plugged into the wall). It’s designed to let you browse the web while riding the bus. It’s designed to let you read your e-books on the sofa. This is an media-consumption device without all the overhead of a media-production device.
  • Connectivity. The iPad sports built-in wireless, so you can use it on your regular wireless networks. The Kindle doesn’t offer this. The Kindle does give you free 3G connectivity, but that’s because all you’re really doing with the device is downloading text documents. You have to pay for your 3G use on the iPad, but it costs much less than similar iPhone service.

To be honest, I plan to buy an iPad as soon as its released. I’ve been waiting for something like this a l-o-n-g time. It’ll probably replace my laptop and, to some extent, my iPhone. In fact, I’ll probably carry the iPad with me everywhere I go.

I’ll use the iPad to browse the web, to read books, to watch movies, to listen to music, to look up maps to restaurants, to share my photos, and more. Yes, my other devices can do these things already, but they can’t do them in the same way.

It may be that the iPad’s market is truly tiny. Maybe the haters out there are right. Maybe it really is just a glorified iPhone. But from what I’ve seen, this is the device I’ve wanted for years.

A Beautiful Day

I turned in the manuscript for Your Money: The Missing Manual on Friday, January 15th (the one-year anniversary of Paul’s death), but that wasn’t the end of the work. No indeed. Right away, I dove into a marathon ten-day editing session. One by one, I’ve gone back over each chapter, polishing the prose and eradicating errors.

As part of this process, I called an emergency meeting of the Woodstock Writers Guild. Though our group hasn’t met for a couple of years, the fellas were kind enough to pitch in last Wednesday, each person critiquing three chapters.

Dave happened to draw the debt chapter, in which I have a section about the dangers of compulsive spending (something with which I am very familiar). “You want to be careful here,” he told me. “It’s almost like you’re giving psychological advice. Besides, do you really know that compulsive spending is a psychological disorder?”

This sort of threw a monkey wrench into the chapter, something I’d have to fix. I put the chapter on the backburner to deal with later.

Then, by a stroke of great fortune, on Saturday I received e-mail from Brad Klontz, a psychologist in Hawaii. He was pimping his new book, Mind Over Money: Overcoming the Money Disorders That Threaten Our Financial Health, which includes a section on compulsive spending. “Let me know if you are interested and I will send you a copy,” Klontz wrote.

“I’d love to see your book,” I wrote back. “But I need it today.” I told him instead that I’d head out to pick up a copy at Powell’s.

I didn’t get up to Powell’s on Saturday — I was too busy editing. In fact, I’ve basically lived in this damn office for the past month now. And for the past week, I’ve been working non-stop to finish my edits. (I have a hard deadline tonight at midnight, though I’m sure my editor would like to have all the chapters before that.) I’m down to my last two chapters now, including the chapter about debt, for which it’d be nice to have a copy of Klontz’s book.

So, late this morning, I managed to squeeze in a trip to Powell’s. I drove up, sunroof open to the blue sky, parked by the Bagdad theater and dashed across the street. Alas, Powell’s wasn’t open. They were closed for inventory until noon. No problem. Since it was only 11:51, I decided to grab a bite to eat.

The Hawthorne district is packed with funky restaurants, most of which I’ve never visited before. One such place caught my eye today: Nick’s Coney Islands. “A hot dog sounds great,” I thought, so I crossed the street to give it a try. The place was perfect: No nonsense, just coneys, burgers, and fries. I sat at the counter and ordered a coney dog and a diet coke. (I’m pretty much living on diet soda today; I need to stay awake to finish my book!)

While I ate, the waitress chatted with me. “It’s a beautiful day,” she said, pointing outside at the sunny streets.

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s gorgeous.”

“It makes me wish it was spring,” she said. “I’m from New York, so I’m used to winter weather, but days like this make me wish spring was here already.”

“Me too,” I said.

Taylor Swift’s “You Belong to Me” came on the radio. The waitress belted it out, paying no mind to me or the other customers. I tapped my foot to the beat.

“Have a great day,” the waitress said as I left. “You too,” I said. I left her a big tip.

I just missed the light at the crosswalk, so I had to wait. “Wanna sign my petition?” asked the kid on the corner. He looked like a beatnik or a Bolshevik. “It’s to stop off-shore drilling.”

I don’t normally sign petitions, but it was a beautiful day. Plus, I had to wait for the light, anyhow. I filled out the form. “Hey!” said the beatnik. “You live on Lee?!? Me too!” That seemed odd since Lee is a very short street. He told me which house he lived in, and I told him which one was mine.

“Thanks,” he said, as I crossed the street. “Have a great day.”

In Powell’s, I picked up a copy of Mind Over Money (along with the new edition of The 4-Hour Workweek and a book about budgeting, all last-minute research material). As I waited to cross back over to the other side, I realized that the man in the sunglasses standing next to me was actually my new friend, Chris Guillebeau.

“Chris!” I said. He looked at me for a minute, trying to figure out who I was. (To be fair, I’m very very scruffy today: Unshowered, unshaven, slovenly dressed — the usual.)

“Hey!” he said as his bus pulled up. “How’s it going, J.D.? What are you doing up here? I’ve gotta catch the bus, but I’ll see you Wednesday night, right?”

“Yup!” I said, smiling as he climbed on board.

Altogether, it was a slightly surreal hour, but fun too. It’s strange how all these connections tie together sometimes.

But now I need to get back to work. I have eleven hours to finish editing my book. I think I’ll do it, but just barely. And if I do, I’ll be able to say today was a beautiful day.