Web content & PDFs – Instapaper & Kindle Miracle Solution

2 December 2010 Leave a comment

Its been a while since my last post….sounds like a confessional..however I’ve not really been drawn to write a post until now and blogging for blogging sake is a waste of everyone’s time.  Hopefully you’ll find the following information/solution as useful as I have.

The problem part 1: loads of RSS feeds, iGoogle dashboard widgets with tantalising headlines, pdfs with industry analysis, MS Word based thought leadership papers etc.

The problem part 2: I want/need to read it all but not in 3 or 4 different locations (ie. Instapaper for web files, Goodreader/Evernote on iPad for PDFs, Laptop for either and/or Word files)

The problem part 3: I need to prioritise reading below other recurring daily tasks (ie normal work) but still be able to consume the content.

The problem part 4: Serious eye strain from looking at backlit screens (laptop, desktop monitor, iPhone, TV, iPad).

The solution:


  1. Get a Kindle
  2. Use Instapaper as the one stop solution.  Set up an account here
  3. Install the bookmarklet in your browser.
  4. Install Mobipocket Creator from here – sorry PC only.
  5. Install dropbox – why haven’t you got it already?
  6. Install Ephemera from here if you use OSX – or Wordcycler if you’ve got a PC [Note: I use ephemera as I collate/collect content during the day on my PC and sync my Kindle with my Mac when I get home]


  1. For every blog post / web page that you want to read, open it, clip it with the bookmarklet, close it.
  2. Use Mobipocket to convert PDFs into an ‘instapaper’ folder within your Public dropbox folder. [Note: only do this with documents which are not confidential as by saving them within your public folder you’re placing them in the public domain.]
  3. Open the instapaper folder and then the converted document folder, right clicking on the html file and choose the ‘Copy Public Link’ from the dropbox contextual menu.
  4. Open a browser, paste, and use the Instapaper bookmarklet to clip it for later.
  5. Plug Kindle into Mac/PC and Ephemera/Wordcycler will sync your content to your Kindle for reading at your leisure.

The real genius with the above solution is getting PDFs converted to text by Mobipocket Creator so that Instapaper can do its magic and Ephemera can get it onto your Kindle with the minimum of fuss.  Googling, I noticed a lot people wanted to ‘clip pdfs to instapaper’ but found no solutions – I hope the above workflow works for you.  It may seem onerous but initial set up is 15 minutes max and the main workflow is actually very quick.  The key is that I can capture information I want to read but not have it interrupt my working day.


Why Blackberry is a big FAIL!

19 July 2010 Leave a comment

I used to sing Blackberry’s praises.  I was one of the ‘early consumer adopters’ of the device and it was fantastic for picking up my emails and reasonably good at making calls – great for accessing my personal mail when these services were blocked by employers! It was a few years later until I was deemed important enough to be ‘granted’ one for work purposes and at the time the device turned up working for me.  I generally had no complaints using the device but when compared to the iPhone, it was a hardly a comparable experience so I ditched the Blackberry and migrated my work email / contacts / task manager over to my personal iPhone.

Only recently have I had the ‘pleasure’ of provisioning one for myself.  The results….disasterous.  I compare my experience to that of my iPhone 3GS.  As a self certified Apple Fanboy, you may think I’m not the most objective of individuals to comment however if any of the following rings true to you and stays the same, Apple quite deservedly should trounce the smartphone market.

Why was I doing it – I was reviewing our in house contact management system and have been trialling new two way syncing functionality.  I needed one of each device (Blackberry, Nokia, iPhone) to test various performance and usability criteria.  What I wanted was a ‘test phone’ which I could use for a short period principally for data but possibly making the odd test call.

For the iPhone, I used my current personal & business phone, I added another MS Exchange account (thanks to iOS4), keyed in the login info and server address, decided on mail, contacts, and/or notes, and selected ok.  Done. OK, so I had to wait c. 30 minutes for the c.5000 contacts to download to the device but that was it.

Next, the Blackberry.  First, you have to apply to the hosted email provider for a ‘Blackberry Enterprise Server‘ licence for the princely sum of £15 per month – I still don’t know what this is for – presumably the ‘push’ functionality however its strange how my iPhone ‘pings’ well before my Blackberry ‘vibrates’ with the arrival of new mail.  Next you need a ‘Blackberry data’ account.  Normal data just won’t do….it has to be ‘Blackberry data’…..That oh so special ‘Blackberry data’!!

So I couldn’t just swap my iPhone (data enabled) sim into the Blackberry to do the testing.  I needed another sim.  Right, well I didn’t want a contract as I only wanted to do adhoc testing.  So pay as you go seemed the smart move.

I tried 3, Vodafone, T-Mobile, and O2 – when I said I tried I don’t mean I went into the store….I mean I actually obtained a sim, charged it with credit after confirming that it would work with the relevant customer service staff and tried the activation sequence with the password issued by the email hosting provider that was providing the ‘Blackberry exchange server’ licence.  The result.  It didn’t work.  After various attempts, hours on the phone, and wasted visits to the stores and calls to customer service personnel, I eventually discovered that the networks don’t support ‘BES’ on pay as you go, only ‘BIS’ ie. ‘Blackberry Internet Server’.

My options were a 24 month contract (minimum £10 per month + a £5 Blackberry tariff) on vodafone, a £28, 18 month contract on O2, no option on 3 as the phone was too old! – a 2 year old Blackberry Curve 8310, or £15, 18 month contract on T-Mobile.  What a farce…I wanted a limited, short term, low cost, data only sim and no one could do it.

The comparable sim that would enable the same testing functionality on the iPhone as I was after on the Blackberry, was a 30 day rolling contract with 2 Gb of data from 3 for £5 a month.

The whole process took over a week and when compared to the c.10 minutes the iPhone its no wonder the iPhone is becoming more popular in IT departments around the world.  Unless Blackberry/RIM really ups its game and abolishes the ridiculous server side licence charges and ‘Blackberry data’ protocol they’ll see their market share diminish significantly as iPhone and Andoid devices make the user’s experience that much easier.

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Great sadness at the fall of a giant

28 April 2010 Leave a comment

Like many others I’ve been reading the press around the expected demise of one of the consumer electronics most innovative companies – Palm.

With the exception of the Psion Series 3A, (which I used occasionally), my Palm III PDA (bought for me by my Dad when I was at school) was my first foray into the world of gadgetry and the beginning of a long love of gadgets thereafter.  Whilst my schedule in those days was significantly less hectic than today, I was still able to update my basketball and football practices, and phone numbers and addresses (no emails in those days) of my buddies; have access to a calculator, and various other productivity tools.  I was always amazed at the handwriting recognition (albeit one letter at a time but incredibly accurate ‘Grafitti’) and occasionally marvelled at the ability to beam notes and contacts to other Palm users (well, my Dad).

After a few years with the Palm III, I upgraded to the Palm V, a little slicker with a bit more memory and an SD card interface which meant you could add addtional programs, storage etc.  A popular addition was that of a dictionary/thesaurus – too expensive for me at the time I recall (£40).  With the addition of an infrared enabled Nokia mobile phone I was also able to connect to the internet which was quite an experience!  Not exactly quick but good enough for downloading some weather info for sailing while abroad.  I remember being very efficient as a data call back then was an expensive international call from a mobile phone (no Vodafone passport then!) – given the speed of the Nokia modem, I dread to think how much the data transfer costs would be per Mb.

Latterly, I used the palm as a first gen ebook reader.  I have to say that even now it could give the likes of the the Nook, Kindle, and iPad a run for their money in terms of ease of use and reading pleasure and that was over 10 years ago.  The mono-chromed non-backlit display gave no eye strain and the size of the pda (similar to the iphone) was comfortable to hold with the central up/down cursor button making it easy to change pages.

The move to a rechargeable battery was good in some senses (slimmer, cheaper to run etc.) but but bad in others.  As we all know, rechargeable batteries that cannot be removed, result in devices having a very definate shelf life – the fate of both my Palm Vs.  I suspect if I still had a Palm III I could slip a few AAA batteries and get up and running in a couple of minutes.

I’d like to think that Palm isn’t done yet and that its going to come up fighting.  I love my iPhone and think that the Palm Pre was a poor imitation but it was still a lot better than the majority of android devices I’ve seen.  Come on Palm – step up to the mark and reclaim your place as one of the world’s leading consumer electronics firms.

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Excel and Autorecover not working – a fix

23 April 2010 Leave a comment
Microsoft Excel (Windows)
Image via Wikipedia

Excel is undoubtedly a key tool for the financial modeller.  Part of my job is financial modelling so I spend most of my days with Excel open at least in the background and rather than having to rely on myself to save files in the event of a computer meltdown, I rely on Excel’s Autorecover feature.

This has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.  Frequently Excel has crashed under the strain of my underpowered Dell and I’ve looked in my saved dropbox directory for the latest saved version only to find that it is more than six hours ago….a day wasted..or perhaps not.

The first port of call, open excel and hope for a recent autorecover with no repairs.  In 95% of cases this usually occurs and you can get away with losing at most an hour of work – anoying but less so than losing six hours.

Anyway, today was the first time in memory (where I’ve had autorecover enabled – I sometimes turn it off but more on that in a later post) where I opened a fresh instance of excel after a crash….no autorecover file.  After a couple of expletives I  checked my autorecover settings and indeed excel should have opened a recovery file.  It did not.  There was a file there indicative of an autorecover that had saved about 15 minutes before the crash so why was Excel doing nothing?

Now what.  Google help, as I last saved the file 3 hours ago!

Google was no help.  It provided me with a couple of links to Microsofts support site (or useless confusion site I as I prefer to refer to it as) explaining what autorecover was but no tangible support on what to do when it didn’t work.  What I did managed to ascertain was that Excel uses .xar files for autorecover.  So I navigated to the appropriate directory and tried to open the .xar file.  The usual ‘Which program would you like to use’ dialogue box opened up – generally meaning the computer has no idea what to do with the file.  I therefore cancelled the option and fretted for a couple of minutes.

Then I tried going into excel and opening said .xar file from the menu selecting the ‘All Files’ option and choosing the apparently created autorecover file.  Hallelujah – it worked – document opened with only a couple of minutes work lost.

Was definately worth checking if I could use that apparently unactionable .xar file.

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Come on studios – get in the game

12 April 2010 Leave a comment

I was reading a post on Mashable the other day (http://mashable.com/2010/04/09/netflix-new-releases/) and couldn’t help thinking that the Hollywood film studios are their own worst enemies.  Netflix has recently signed deals with Twentieth Century Fox, Universal, and Warner Bros to delay new release rentals by 28 days.  As Mashable rightly points out, this is the studio’s attempts to force the consumer’s hand into paying substantially more for the earlier release.  Now as an early adopter myself I understand that if you want something sooner rather than later you often need to pay more for it.  However, where this relates to digitally distributed content which can be easily pirated the studios might be smarter to allow full access (ie rental and purchase) from day one.  Why – whilst they potentially miss the opportunity for higher revenues from early adopters/consumers/fans they’ll offset that loss of revenue from the tranche of society that would probably pay a nominal rental fee but would rather ‘get a copy from their mate’ than pay the high purchase price.  Those that wish to buy the DVD will (for keepsakes purposes) however it will not prevent those wishing to enjoy the content from contributing to the studio’s revenue line.

A delicious cloud

28 April 2009 Leave a comment

For some time now I have been using delicious across my various pc’s to synchronise my bookmarks and share interesting things I’ve found on the web. Whilst I don’t find a ‘cloud’ of those tags particularly useful for using as clickthroughs its quite an interesting visual representation of the links that I find interesting and bookmark for later. A new (well new to me at least) service called Wordle enables you to input a bunch of text, an RSS feed, or delicious account which then creates a visual ‘cloud’ of relevant search terms. Unfortunately the pictoral representation of terms is not hyperlinked but makes for an interesting addition to a website of a snapshot in time of an individuals internet stumblings. Here the wordle of my delicious account (http://delicious.gusneil.com):

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My Social Media Footprint

14 April 2009 Leave a comment

I went through an interesting exercise the other day by making a list of all the various social media sites that I dabble with and then using Excel‘s flowchart functionality to show the interconnections between them. To create a more connected online presence, I have various RSS feeds that drive content to and from other sites namely: http://blog.gusneil.com http://twitter.com/gusneil http://delicious.gusneil.com and http://photos.gusneil.com all generally aggregated at http://gusneil.com

This is something I’m going to monitor over the next few month to see how the map changes and indeed which services are added and which services drop off. There are various auto posting tools out there but the use of RSS on various services to import and export makes some of these programs a waste of time. One consideration which I will be taking account of is if all the content is being fed everywhere, why not have one site rather than multiple sites. Lets see how it unfolds. Related articles by Zemanta

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