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  • What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    What are we thinking? Reflections on Church and Society from Southern African Methodists.
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    Methodism in Southern Africa: A celebration of Wesleyan Mission
    by Dion A Forster, Wessel Bentley
  • Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    Christ at the centre - Discovering the Cosmic Christ in the spirituality of Bede Griffiths
    by Dion A Forster
  • An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    An uncommon spiritual path - the quest to find Jesus beyond conventional Christianity
    by Dion A Forster
Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling. by Dion Forster and Graham Power.
Download a few chapters of the book here.
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Entries in workflow (6)

Sunday
Dec122010

email is broken! 5 time saving tips for people who get too many emails!

I currently have 163 unread emails (*oops 166 between the time that I wrote this and when I took the screenshot) in my inbox (I have about 1000 unread emails in other folders - most of them are sent to those folders using automatic rules.

For example, if I am cc'd on an email with more than 5 others it must be less important than an email sent directly to me. Or, if an email comes from a person who normally forwards jokes, it goes into a folder automatically... You get the idea).

I don't know about you, but I find that email is broken! I get at least 300 emails a day in my 4 primary email accounts. Most emails are a waste of time. People email things to 'pass the buck', or delay having to deal with it themselves (the 'what is your view?' emails). Others are just information about meetings I have already sat through or prepared for.

I tend to get more critical and necessary contacts via twitter, SMS and to a lesser extent Facebook, and of course through phone calls. Perhaps it is because those persons make the effort to contact me, not just pop words into my inbox.

Of course I have my wife, boss and secretary on a priority list that keeps their emails in my inbox and highlights them for me to be able to scan the header quickly and see if I need to respond.

Most of my emails are read and answered on my iPhone, blackberry or iPad in the 'stolen moments' between meetings, before 6am, or after 10pm at night...

I found this post by Kevin Rose very helpful!

http://kevinrose.com/blogg/2010/8/17/email-sucks-5-time-saving-tips.html

How do you deal with the barrage of emails each day?

Sunday
Jun132010

Do meetings WORK!? What do you think?

Mmmmm... meetings for the sake of meetings, conference calls, powerpoints.... I've been reading rework by 37signals.  

We need to find a way to do work differently!  What do you think?

Sunday
Jun062010

A month (and a bit) with the Apple iPad in South Africa - a review

I'm privileged to be one of the few persons in South Africa to get my hands on an Apple iPad.  I got a basic 16Gig wifi version (you can read about that here) just over a month ago.
It is a remarkable device.  Having used it for a month now I can give a much more informed review of the iPad in everyday use.
I am frequently asked to comment on the iPad, and whether it can replace a laptop.  The simple answer is no.  It could not function as one's only computer (if you are a person who uses your computer for 'work').  You do need to have a desktop of laptop computer somewhere (whether it is at your home or office) in order to do some things (like print, get stuff off flash discs, CD's, DVD's etc.)
But, I have found that my laptop is now largely confined to my desk, and then also only used for 'heavy lifting' (like video editing, working between multiple documents (particularly when they're documents in different formats, such as working between Excel and Word for a presentation), printing, and recording my radio show).
That being said, the iPad works for just about everything else.  I use it to respond to email on my Microsoft Exchange account, on my gmail account and on my pop3 accounts.  It is my preferred device for web surfing, using facebook, twitter, and also for reading (I have only one book purchased in iBooks - the variety is just too limited at present.  I have numerous books on the Kindle).  It is also my preferred device for watching video (such as Ted Talks, youtube videos etc.)
My use case:
You may have inferred that I am a minister and theologian who works in a corporate environment.  That means that my work requires information on hand (my Bible, sermons, Bible studies, powerpoint presentations, reports, books etc.), it also requires me to keep a very carefully controlled diary (I have anything up to 15 individual appointments and meetings during the average work day - some involve meeting with individuals, others with groups etc.).  I have to keep notes in meetings (and have the notes and minutes from previous meetings on hand).  
I also keep the text from the books and articles that I've written on my iPad for reference during talks.  And, perhaps the application that I use most often is Mail (the email application on the iPad).  I have 5 email accounts and receive over 300 emails a day (excluding spam).  Every spare moment is spent replying to emails, following up with staff, volunteers and responding to requests etc.  
I also serve on the Lausanne Congress' digital communications team (heading up the social media strategy).  So, I spend a few moments throughout the day scanning RSS feeds, checking the Lausanne Twitter accounts, Facebook page, and the Lausanne Conversation site.
The iPad is perfect for all of these tasks since it is not obtrusive (it is smaller than a regular folder).  I can sit in just about any meeting and use it to stay on top of communication tasks and information.  Whereas others have to take notes, and then when they return to their office the notes are either filed (and so only accessible when they're near their files), or transcribed into a document.  My notes are done in the meeting.  They're searchable and always with me.  
They on screen keyboard on the iPad is fantastic for 90% of what I need to do.  If I have to do extensive text entry for any reason, I would take out my generic fold up bluetooth keyboard (an old one I bought some years ago to use with an iMate windows mobile phone).  It works like a charm!  I have written reports, blog posts (like this one), academic articles, reports etc. in Pages on the iPad and then either exported and emailed them for printing, or distribution.
Testing the iPad to its limits!
I used my iPad as my primary device during the Global Day of Prayer conference - I was the director of the program for the conference with close to 50 speakers in 13 concurrent venues, as well as a plenary for each day with multiple musicians, speakers, videos, powerpoints, dramas etc.  So, I had to have numerous spreadsheets with all the venue, speaker, and equipment data - email that to stewards coordinators, the sound and lighting people, etc.  The iPad worked like a charm!  It was light enough to ALWAYS have with me (I would never have carried my laptop around from before 5 am until after 11pm at night).  
The only down side was when I was given some media on a bluetooth stick or CD Rom / DVD that needed to be passed on to someone else.  In those instances if I needed the information I would dump it into my Dropbox folder (2 gigs free) and access it from there.  If someone else needed it I would carry it on my USB flash drive and pass it on from there, or log into my Dropbox account using a web browser on their machine and downloading the required file from the web interface.  The iPad simply went on and on working... I could switch it on (without the need to boot up), use it on any surface, or stand on the spot, and then switch it off (without fearing for a spinning hard drive) and drop it into my conference bag and go on.  Every bit of information was at my fingertips, as well as my emails.  It truly proved its worth!  
I was also one of the speakers at the conference (I spoke in one plenary session and two track sessions), so when I had a few spare seconds I would work on my Powerpoint presentations (in Keynote), check my speaker notes, create some 'buzz' about the talks on twitter etc. 
My book 'Transform your work life:  Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling'was also launched during the conference.  I was able to keep an eye on the guest list, respond to emails, and even had my notes for my talk, thank you list etc. on the iPad.
OK, one of the most common questions I get asked is whether my iPad is a 3G version.  Nope, it is not.  I use my Apple iPad with a Vodacom Mifi (a 3G data dongle that acts as a wifi hotspot for up to 5 devices).  The mifi lives in my iPad case.  The 3G iPad will NOT work in South Africa (until it is officialy released here) since it will need to be tied to a South African data provider, and the iPad uses a microsim which none of our cellular companies support (I believe Vodacom may get it soon, but MTN does not support it).  So, the only way to get it on the internet is to have a mobile wifi device.  I first used my Nokia E51 phone with a Joikuspot (which worked perfectly!  Except that it is quite heavy on the Nokia's battery life).  Then when I got my Mifi I use that on the road and my home wifi at home.
Pro's
- Battery life is a definite plus!  I am still amazed that I can get well over 10 hours of use WITH wifi activated.
- Instant on, instant off! It is amazing to have a hand held computer with incredible battery life that switches on and is working immediately (for appointments, spreadsheets, documents, contacts etc.), and then goes to sleep safely the minute you press the power button. While a netbook may have a similar size, some USB ports and a physical keyboard it certainly does not have the instant on, instant off feature!
- Size is a plus.  It is small, light, and very portable.  Yet at the same time the screen is absolutely amazing for watching videos, reading books and web browsing.  Also, as mentioned above, it can be used while standing (much like a notepad).  Because of the size (and light weight), I find myself using my iPad far more often, and taking it with me just about everywhere I go.
- Choice of apps!  The iPad section of the app store grows each day.  I have some incredible apps!  My favorites include:  Pages (Word for Mac), Numbers (Excel for Mac), Keynote (Powerpoint for Mac), Dropbox, Goodreader, Kindle, Twitterific, Squarespace blog app (for iPhone), Wordpress, facebook (for iPhone), Olivetree Bible reader (with NIV, NRSV, Greek and the Message installed).  Many persons have asked me how I can buy some of these apps (some of which are not on the South African iTunes store)?  I have a US iTunes account - I set it up when I was teaching at Duke University in 2005 and have used it since then.
- Using the iPad with the Nokia (and Joikuspot) or the Mifi for always on internet access.
Con's
- Lack of data input from US sticks and physical media. But, Dropbox is a great work around solution!
- The fact that the iPad 3G does not work in South Africa (see above).
- No multitasking...  No, I'm not just being grumpy... It is a REAL pain when you're going from a spreadsheet to an email and have to exit Numbers, open Mail, work on the message, save it as a draft, then go back to Numbers, open your document check it, close numbers, go back to your email, open your draft and carry on working...  Or, if you're on a skype call and get asked if you can make a meeting you have to exit skype (literally close the call down, exit skype), check your calendar and then start your call again!  It is frustrating!
- No camera.  Man, the iPad would have been great with even a simple 1.3 Megapixel front facing camera for Skype or iChat.  Perhaps someone will make one that plugs into the port at the bottom or connects via bluetooth at some point?
Must haves!
-  A good cover.  The iPad is a precious device and needs good protection (particularly if it lives in a backpack or bag, like mine does).  It also gets a lot of finger marks on it so make sure to carry a small soft cloth to clean it.  I also managed to get a cover that would let me keep my mifi with my iPad.
- The VGA dongle.  If you're going to use your iPad for presentations or showing videos it is pretty useless without the VGA adaptor!  If you're ordering yours from Amazon (like I did) be sure to get the VGA adaptor when you order it!  I had to find a friend who was traveling back from the USA to get my adaptor!
- Mifi or Nokia phone with Joikuspot.  The wifi version is pretty useless without internet access!  A secondhand Nokia E51, E90 or E71 should be quite cheap to get, then you simply ad Joikuspot and a prepaid sim card and you're on the road! Three of my friends here in SA are doing this  (just be sure to enable WEP on your Joikspot so that other users don't connect to your phone draining all your data).  The Mifi is the real answer, but not all of us are fortunate enough to be able to get one of those.  My data contract expired about two weeks after I got my iPad and so my mifi was my contract upgrade device.
- A free dopbox account (see above) - please consider signing up for drop box using the link in this post (I will get extra free space if you do so!  Your help is appreciated!)
- A US iTunes account. (again, please see above)
Conclusion:
The iPad is an incredible useful, very affordable, very stable, productivity device!  I would recommend it to anybody who needs constant internet access, a high level of productivity  in lots of meetings, doing lots of public speaking or someone who consumes lots of content (Kindle books, videos, audio books, web browsing etc.)  But, it could not be your only computer - if you're looking to own just one computing device that is small, inexpensive and portable then buy a good quality netbook.  If, however, you have a desktop, or laptop to use (e.g., if one is provided for you at work, or you have one to share at home) then the iPad could just be the device that you're looking for!)
Lastly, my kids love the iPad!  They watch videos in the car, play games at night... I have to wrestle it from them when I need to get some work done.
You're welcome to contact me to ask any questions about the device, how I use it, what apps I use, and how I ordered it from Amazon and had it delivered to South Africa.
God bless,
Dion
Friday
May282010

I'm leaving my iPhone (for an Android Milestone and an iPad)

Yup, that headline may come as a shocker, but after about 3 years of using iPhones (if my calculations are correct, I got my first generation iPhone shortly after they came out), I am considering moving on - in a manner of speaking - from my iPhone.

Let me give you a little background first.  I have a 16Gig iPhone 3GS that is running iPhone OS 3.0 (so that I can tether it to my Mac, and use it on the MTN network in South Africa).  The iPhone has been relatively stable for an unlocked / jailbroken phone. In truth, when you jailbrake an iPhone OS device it looses quite a lot of its stability!  The phone has served me well in most instances.  The one annoyance I have had is that every so often the screen stops responding (I have to power off and on to get it to work again), and because I'm on OS 3.0 there are a few applications that I cannot run on my iPhone.  Also, I have found that the iPhone does not always work when I travel overseas (I have had to take to keeping my old Nokia E90 on hand just in case I land somewhere and find my iPhone doesn't connect to the local network).

Well, my personal phone contract came up for renewal late last year.  I posted a poll to find out what phone to get and didn't find anything worth upgrading for (most persons suggested the Blackberry 9000 or the iPhone at that stage).  So, when I upgraded I got the Nokia E63 and gave it to my wife. Her contract came up for renewal last week and so she offered me the chance to get a phone - I was surprised to find the Motorola Milestone (basically a European version of the Motorola Droid) on offer without the need to make any additional payment!  So, I snapped it up!

The Milestone is a great little Android phone (Android is the Google OS) with a physical keyboard, an exceptional screen (much better than my iPhone) and a 5 Megapixel camera (you can see the full specs here).  I have had it for about a week now and am loving it.  It works with our Microsoft Exchange server, there are plenty of great apps to help me manage my personal and work related social media activities (twitter, facebook, flickr, tumblr, QIK, youtube, wordpress etc.), the camera is fantastic for stills and video, it has HSDPA data and an incredible screen.

So, my iPhone is no longer my primary phone... What!?  Yup, I have decided to relegate the iPhone 3GS to second place in my arsenal of communication technology.  You'll notice that I am NOT doing away with my iPhone - I, like many South Africans, am in the position to have two cellular phones.  I have a private contract and one supplied to me at work.  So, my work sim card has now moved from my old Nokia E90 into the iPhone.  

There are some things that the Android phone does not do too well.  That's where my iPad comes in!  The iPad and the Milestone make for a perfect combination.  I can use my Milestone as a wireless hotspot for my 16Gig iPad, and the iPad functions like a great full powered computer on the road!  Last week at the Global Day of Prayer conference I used my iPad to keep track of each venue, each speaker, the timelines for plenary and track sessions, all important numbers, and even to show and create presentations for my own talks (as well as videos).  I used a ticker app to manage my time when speaking and used the iPad with a mifi to download email, update facebook, and even make some calls on Skype.

Just perfect!

Is anyone else out there using an Android phone (I saw a journalist recently with an Google Nexus!)?  Has anyone else given up their iPhone for a different phone?  ALSO, are there any more people in South Africa who have got their hands on an iPad?

I'd love to hear your feedback!  Blessings, Dion

Sunday
Apr112010

The first Apple iPad in South Africa! (Perhaps?)

The 1st Apple iPad in South Africa (perhaps!) This is my friend Cois' iPad. I'm sorry that the video is taken sideways (and upside down!) please tilt your head ;-)  It could be user error... It's the first time that I've taken a video with my iPhone where it hasn't autocorrected the aspect ratio...

The iPad is amazing!  It would be an incredible tool for someone like myself who attends far too many meetings during the day (needing to have access to my schedule, my 5 email accounts, all my documents and spreadsheets, have a Bible and of course the ability to show promotional videos and copies of my books).  If I had one of these I could simply carry the one piece of hardware with me everywhere and have everything I need to get my job done!

Watch the video if you can and let me know what uses you could have for a device like this.  Who else wants an iPad!?

Sunday
Feb142010

My 3 year old iPad! Still going strong!

The Apple iPad is attracting a lot of attention. I know that there are a few VERY exclusive people who have iPad's to try. However, the ordinary consumer will have to wait 60 days before being able to get their hands on one of them. Let alone those of us who live in places like South Africa where it will probably take another year before Apple releases the iPad with 3G! Still, I love my iPhone 3G and would LOVE an iPad 3G!

If I had the money I would pre-order one! However, there are a few more pressing priorities at the moment. So, I have come to appreciate what I already own - I have a 3 year old iPad (in South Africa.... Sort of!)! And, what I own is Sony Vaio UX 180 P.

This photo was taken when I was attending the Oxford Institute at Christ Church, Oxford University in August 2007.

My little portable computer is a Sony Vaio UX 180 P. It is a Windows XP device with a touch screen, a 30 gigabyte hard drive, 512MB or ram, wifi, bluetooth and a 3 hour battery life. It is the perfect travelers computer! It is smaller than a DVD case, in fact small enough to put into a big pocket on one's 'cargo pants'!

It runs a 'normal' operating system and 'normal' versions of MS Word, MS Outlook and the google Chrome browser. This means that I can simply plug in my backup USB flash disk that has copies of all of my documents and files on it and work away! Moreover, since it has a USB port I can connect to the internet using my 3G modem wherever I am and get my email, browse the web, and even use MS Outlook to connect to corporate server.

In this picture you'll see the iPod I owned in 2007, my old Nokia phone (a great big brick!), the UX 180 is docked in its docking station (that adds a VGA port, firewire, ethernet, and 4 USB 2.0 ports). You will also see my batterygeek external battery (this battery gives me an amazing 20 hours of battery life for the UX 180! On my Macbook Pro it gives me an additional 5-6 hours). I also have a cheap foldable Bluetooth keyboard that I can use with the UX 180 P.

So, until the iPad arrives, (and of course until I get some royalties for my books and don't have a washing machine to fix, kids school activities to pay for, a car to service and a few other pressing things to pay for), I shall be using my UX 180 P as a 'road warrior' computer!

Just as a final note - if you have not yet used dropbox it is a MUST HAVE for a person who uses more than one computer. Dropbox is a free service (for 2 Gigabytes of backup, after which you can choose to upgrade your space for a fee). You install a small application (which I have on my Macbook, my iPhone and my UX 180 P), then it creates a folder in your documents folder. Any file that you drag into that folder gets updated on Dropbox (you can even log into dropbox if you don't have your computer with you, and download the file you want to work on and then update it!)

While I was working on my most recent book 'Transform your work life: Turn your ordinary day into an extraordinary calling' (Struik Christian Media, 2010 - the book is due out in May), I used this little tool (in conjunction with my Macbook and my UX 180)! If I found that I was waiting to go into a meeting and the person I was meeting was running late I simply connected did some editing and knew that when I got back to my office the most up to date version of the file would ALWAYS be on my computer! Moreover, if my computers got stolen, or my house burnt down at least I would have backups of these (and other) critical documents 'in the cloud'.

I would suggest you consider using dropbox - it is free! OK, back to work for me! And then when I've done editing the article I'm working on I'm going to hop into bed with the Amazon Kindle application for Windows on my UX 180 P and continue reading Malcom Gladwell's new book 'What the dog saw'!