Better Reading with Goodreads

bookshelf
I grew up in a reading household. The morning paper was part of breakfast. Both my parents are avid readers and a number of the walls in their house are still lined with bookshelves. On some shelves the books are two deep.
One of the things I remember about my dad’s reading in particular was his lists of books. He kept lists of books he’d read and lists of things he wanted to read. I emulated that on paper when I was younger, but gave it up somewhere in my teen years.
I logged roughly 75,000 miles a year each of the last three years. One positive side effect of this travel was getting me back in the habit of reading books. Some great non-fiction stuff entered my world, but I also read more novels over that stretch than I had in a few years.
I started using Goodreads about the same time I ramped up my travel mileage. I use it the same way my dad used lists to track his books. Goodreads is free and works on iOS, Android and the web. The more I use Goodreads, the more I continue to find great features.
Below are some of my favorite features of Goodreads.

Finding Literary Events

This one is a little obvious because Events is actually one of the main menu items. I find it really useful when I travel. There are several great author readings and book signings I found because I checked Goodreads while I was in town.

Scan Books with the Android or iPhone App

Whether it’s a book already on your shelf or one you might want to read later, the Goodreads smartphone app makes it easy to scan either the cover of the book or the UPC code on the back and look up the title.

Link Goodreads to your Kindle Account

Amazon owns Goodreads, so it makes sense the Kindle platform is integrated. I add a steady list of books to my Want to Read list on Goodreads. When you link your Kindle account to your Goodreads account you can easily browse the Want to Read list on your Kindle when you’re ready to find your next book.

Share Kindle Quotes on Goodreads

I’m not a big passage highlighter, but this feature is pretty cool. Anytime you highlight something in a book on your Kindle, you have the option to share that quote to Goodreads along with any notes you made about the highlighted passage.

Custom bookshelves

Goodreads comes with three basic bookshelves. Read, Currently Reading, and Want to Read. From a web browser you can add additional custom book shelves (no clue why this doesn’t work in the apps). For instance, I started a book shelf to keep track of books I read to my daughter.

Compare Books

If you’re looking for something new to read, comparing books with each of your friends who use Goodreads is another great browser-only feature. You can click on a friend in your friends list, see how many books you’ve both read and also see how similar your ratings are. I find that I have reading tastes that are very different from many of my friends, but when I find one with similar tastes, it’s fun to browse their reading list to look for books I might want to read in the future.

Reading Challenge

After just starting to use Goodreads a couple years ago, I’ve started setting an annual reading challenge for myself. It’s a good way to keep me motivated to read. If you’re competitive, it’s also a good way to see how many books friends are reading and challenge yourself to keep up.
There are a ton of other features that make Goodreads one of the apps I’m willing to invest time in, but these are the big ones. Some people right amazing reviews and analysis of books that can be both educational and entertaining.
If you use Goodreads, what are some of the things you find useful? If you don’t use it, what do you use instead? Share your thoughts in the comments.

Adding a Header Row in Google Sheets

Is there a way I can add a header row to Google Sheets?
In almost every spreadsheet I create, the top row includes headers describing information in all the cells in a given column. That row persists as you scroll down through the cells and makes it easy to continue to understand the information you are looking at. Microsoft Excel makes it simple to create a header row, but Google Sheets is a little less obvious.
Assuming you want Row 1 of your spreadsheet to be your header row, following the steps below will make it easy to create a header in your Google Sheets.
First enter the text in each cell of your header. You can apply text treatments like bold, underline, or background colors to make the header text stand out. Once you’ve got the text entered, click one of the cells in row one so that it is highlighted.
Next you go to the View menu and choose Freeze from the menu, followed by 1 row. This freezes the current row, allowing you to scroll the document and still see the header information at the top as you scroll through it.
Create a Google Sheets header
If you have a secondary header further down in your spreadsheet, repeat the same steps above and choose the row you want to freeze in order to have an additional header.

Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 Review

Dell recently gave me the opportunity to check out the Dell XPS 12 2-in-1 laptop in combination with number of Dell accessories that allow you to greatly expand overall productivity on the desktop. I’ll talk more about the accessories in a follow-up post. Right now, I’m going to break down the features of the XPS 12 and talk about what I like and what I don’t.
As a 2-in-1 the XPS 12 has a detachable screen that acts as a standalone tablet when you aren’t using it as a laptop. Much like the Microsoft Surface product line, Dell has made this tablet feature much more usable by offering a active stylus usable as either an onscreen pointing device or as a tool for handwriting. I find this to be far preferable to relying on finger touch alone when using a Windows 10 tablet.
The only downside to the 2-in-1 form factor is maybe 1 out of every 50 times I connect the tablet back to the keyboard, there is a slight delay before the screen recognizes the keyboard. In general this pairing is fairly instantaneous.
The screen connects to the keyboard using magnets, which snap it neatly into place and hold the screen firmly enough that you can pick up the XPS 12 by the screen and not worry about dropping the keyboard (not that I recommend doing this).
Dell xps 12

Core Features

The XPS 12 manages to pack all the right features in a versatile form factor. The processor is a 6th generation Intel m5 (m5-6Y54). The touch-enabled screen is 3840×2160, which provides a great amount of real estate for things like video and photo editing. The version I reviewed has a 256GB SSD. There are two Thunderbolt 3 ports with the new Type-C form factor, which really make the add-on docking station mandatory if you want to connect your phone or other external devices, but when you do you only need to connect one cable for everything, including monitor and peripherals. If you’re a corporate IT guy, you’ll love these slots because it’s nearly impossible to find a thumb drive in this form factor. An SD slot makes it easy to offload photos or transfer files. If I have a single complaint, it’s that I’d still like 16GB of RAM instead of the max of 8GB for the XPS 12, but that’s largely because video and photo editing always benefit from more available RAM.

Webcams

One of my primary gripes about the Dell XPS 13 was the webcam placement. Dell placed the webcam on the XPS 13 in the lower left corner of the screen, which meant that sometimes your knuckles ended up being the star of the video. Dell opted for a more traditional center placement on the user-facing 5 megapixel camera on the XPS 12, which translates to a fairly standard perspective. There’s also an 8 megapixel camera on the back which takes nice photos and videos you can easily preview on the screen.

Keyboard Options

The Dell XPS 12 supports 2 different keyboards. The one I’m reviewing is the Premier Keyboard, which also includes the Premier Magnetic Folio. This combination is a fixed viewing angle when using the keyboard. As far as Dell keyboard go, I like the one on the XPS 13 better, but after typing on the Premier Keyboard for a couple days, I found it to be one I could certainly live with. While I haven’t tried it, the XPS 12 has the option to use the XPS 12 Slim Keyboard, which has slightly less travel in the keys and also supports adjustable viewing angles similar to the Microsoft Surface kickstand. The Slim Keyboard is $50 more than the Premier Keyboard as of this writing.

Battery Life

Dell promises up to 10 hours of battery life with the XPS 12. While I never managed to completely run the battery down, that estimate seems pretty accurate. It can handle multiple video renders, video playback and all the email you want respond to on a flight from SFO to JFK like a champ.

Bottom Line

I evaluate every laptop through the lens of my travel habits. I’m a carry-on only guy and am always concerned with the space vs. performance tradeoffs that go with an laptop purchase. This is a powerful laptop with great screen resolution, a high performance processor, and really all the features you could possibly want on the road. At 2.8 pounds when combined with the Premier Keyboard, it’s actually just heavier than the XPS 13, but it makes up for that slight weight difference with roughly a half inch less width. If you don’t need the detachable screen, I might opt for the XPS 13 instead, but having that screen is a nice way to watch movies or catch up on my reading without needing to bring an iPad too. The Dell XPS 12 may be the best 2-in-1 I’ve used to date.

HP PageWide Pro MFP 577dw Review

Cloud computing coupled with virtualization technologies significantly leveled the playing field for small and medium sized businesses in terms of their ability to have enterprise-class infrastructure at less than enterprise-class pricing. The latest generation of HP PageWide Pro multifunction printers brings a similar level playing field to document solutions for the small and medium sized business market.
I recently had the opportunity to review the new HP PageWide Pro MFP 577dw, which provides enterprise printing performance at a cost of ownership that’s pallatible to businesses of any size. More importantly, the 577dw does this without compromising on features in the process.
Below I highlight some of what makes the MFP 577dw a powerful business mutlifunction printing solution.
HP PageWide MFP 577dw

Printing and Copying

When you look at the output from the 577dw, you’d think it was coming from a laser printer and not from an inkjet. That’s partly because HP did a great job rethinking how ink-based printers should work. Gone are the days of the print head moving back and forth shaking your entire desk as it prints. The entire PageWide line of printers uses a print head that spans the page, allowing the page to move over the print head just like a laser printer moves the page across the drum. This allows the printer to output more quickly and generally promotes a higher quality image.
The 577dw includes native support for Microsoft Word and PowerPoint files, which means you don’t even need a computer with either app installed in order to print the two formats. You can insert a thumbdrive in the printer or even email either format as an attachment and expect the document to print.
Printing speed is definitely one of the more impressive features of the 577dw. Both printing and copying are possible at 50 pages per minute at best quality while draft mode for both can output as fast as 70 pages per minute. The printer even wakes up quickly from idle which means the first page should start printing within 7 seconds of the printer receiving the job.
For materials management, HP makes it easy to reduce the replacement cycle for both paper and ink cartridges. Cartridges are good for roughly 17,000 black and white pages and 13,000 color pages. Paper trays can be expanded beyond the base configuration to include multiple 500 sheet trays, which helps reduce the need for employees to frequently load paper. The base unit incudes one 500 sheet tray and the ability to side load odd paper sizes.

Scanning

The scanning funtions of the 577dw are probably my favorite feature. In addition to being able to do 1200dpi scans of up to 8.5×14 inch materials, the scanner can also autofeed pages as well. This to me is where the device shines among other printers in this class. The auto-feed option supports dual-sided scanning, meaning you can scan in full documents without needing to babysit the entire process. The scanner can send your job to a variety of destinations, allowing you flexibility in getting your documents to the right location.

Faxing

I do very little faxing these days, but sometimes it’s still the best way to send a document. HP bundles a solid set of faxing features into the MFP 577dw. The device can store up to 100 black and what pages or 8 color pages for faxing. With caller ID enabled, the 577dw can help block junk faxes. And the speed dial supports up to 99 numbers in the address book.
On the receiving end, HP Digital Fax technology will route inbound faxes to a computer or email address, reducing printing costs and avoiding printing any of the junk faxes that might sneak through the filters.

Enterprise-class Experience

While the actual day-to-day operations are what you should definitely appreciate, HP has done a nice job of including a true enterprise-class experience in the 577dw feature set.
The touch screen makes the process of choosing the type of job you are working on painless. The onscreen experience (walk through included in the embedded video below) is very app-like. You can hide features that aren’t relevant to your office and re-order the features so that the most commonly used components show up first.
With an NFC-enabled smartphone or tablet, you can walk up and print without needing the device to be on the same network as the printer.
On the security front, HP builds in several features that are more commonly found in enterprise printing solutions. PIN-based print job retrieval prevents the wrong people from seeing your print job. If you’ve got employees who abuse the use of color printing, built-in HP Color Access Control allows you to selectively enable color printing.

Conclusions

The MFP 577dw is a workhorse that handles fairly sizable workloads for organizations who demand fast print output and high volumes without needing to replace materials frequently. HP managed to lower the power usage to the point where a simple 2-prong plug is used rather than a grounded cable. As of this writing, the base package is available online for $899, which is highly competitive for the feature configuration in the 577dw.
While I generally like to point at least one or two flaws in a produc, I’m having a hard time coming up with anything this particular case. Maybe HP could have included some paper in the box to get me started?
Be sure to watch the video below for a walkthrough of many of the features discussed in this review.

How to Delay or Block Automatic Updates in Windows 10

Sometimes Windows 10 forces me to reboot for an update in the middle of a project. Is there a way to delay Windows 10 updates or block Windows 10 from updating until I’m ready for the software upgrade to happen?
Microsoft adopted a very different approach to updates in Windows 10, especially for any user with the Windows 10 Home edition. Instead of allowing you to choose when updates are downloaded and installed, Microsoft will automatically download updates in the background and only provide a fairly brief window of time before you are forced to install the update. Sometimes this results in needing to stop what you are doing and perform the software update whether it’s convenient for you or not.
There is one solution to this, which is to trick Windows 10 into thinking you are on a different type of connection than your home WiFi network. By browsing to Settings > Network & Internet > Wi-Fi you can change the configuration and Set as a metered connection. This setting basically makes Windows 10 think you pay for a limited set of bandwidth every month and prevents the operating system from blowing through your data cap without your permission.
This won’t prevent all updates, because Microsoft will still download priority updates automatically, but it will give you a greater deal of control over how often you are forced to update.

Upgrade to Windows 10 Professional for More Control

Windows 10 Pro users have more control over upgrades. If you want to define more specifically when you perform updates, paying the $99 to upgrade from Windows Home to Windows Pro can give you some piece of mind. Once the update is complete, you can use the Group Policy console gpedit.msc to define the following options for updates:
Defer upgrades for the following duration allows you to choose a length of time to delay major upgrades for up to eight months.
Defer updates for the following duration allows you to choose a length of time to delay both security updates and cumulative updates for a period of up to four weeks.
Pause upgrades and updates allows you to delay until the next monthly upgrade or update.

iMessage Waiting for Activation Error

When I upgraded to the latest iPhone, all my settings and apps were easily transferred from my old phone using iCloud backup. I signed into a few accounts and quickly started using all my favorite apps. When I went to send a text message from the Messages app, the message sent as a text message instead of sending as an iMessage, even though the recipient also had an iPhone. After trying another message with the same result, I went to Settings > Messages to see if iMessage was disabled for some reason.
What I found was a message that said iMessage was Waiting for Activation.
waiting for activation
I tried re-entering my Apple ID and password with no luck. The login seemed to get stuck and another test message went as an SMS message instead of as an iMessage.
After checking some other settings, like verifying that my phone was properly connected to the network, I ultimately had to follow the set of steps below in order to finally make iMessage work.
1. Go to Settings > Messages and turn off iMessage.
2. Go to Settings > FaceTime and turn off FaceTime.
The reason you turn both off is they are typically linked in this activation issue. When one doesn’t work, the other one generally doesn’t either.
3. Restart your iPhone (or iPad if you have this problem on an iPad).
4. Turn iMessage back on in Settings > Messages.
5. Turn FaceTime back on in Settings > FaceTime.
At this point, if you need to enter your Apple ID and password again, both iMessage and FaceTime should be active and able to send and receive as expected.

HP EliteBook 1020 and Dell XPS 13 Comparison

When it comes time to buy a new laptop, my general rule of thumb is to get the best combination of features I can afford. That generally means looking for the latest generation processor, the maximum RAM available and the biggest hard drive, combined with a great screen resolution. While these are absolutely important factors to consider, there are a number of other elements that can make or break the daily use experience. I walked through some of the reasons I think the HP EliteBook 1020 is a better choice than the Dell XPS 13 in this video.