piano

My Single New Year's Resolution

Last year I posted about my New Year's resolutions, and while they were really good things to do and I did pretty well with them...I am taking a different approach this year. This year my New Year's resolution is just one thing. This past year has taught me a valuable lesson, which is sometimes too much of a good thing(s) can be bad. The more items you toss onto the "pile of things to do" the more things that used to be fun or side projects become too much like work and not so much fun. I'm going to try to avoid that pitfall this year.

My single goal this year is to boost my piano playing skills to a whole other level, one I have tried and never successfully reached. I've been playing some kind of a keyboarded instrument since I was 10 years-old (be that an organ, piano or keyboard). I took lessons up until I got into college and at that point my teacher told me I knew everything I needed to know from him and learning the rest was up to me. I can play almost anything on the piano and I do mean almost anything. The problem is I can't read sheet music at a level that equals my playing ability. I can sight read up to a point, but I can't sight read anything beyond a simple melody line and a few bass notes or chords. I memorize very quickly, so I used that ability as a crutch against my poor music reading skills.

I've been playing piano and keyboards for my church for the past 10 years or so now, so I have kept playing in some capacity. In fact, playing for church forced me to re-learn how to play all over again in that I had to learn to improvise. I was taught how to play in the classical sense, so giving me a lead sheet and telling me to follow along was like dropping me alone on the surface of an alien planet. But over the years I got better and better at improvisation. But now I want something more.

So over my nice long break from work over the holidays I have been doing a lot of piano playing. I have found some pretty promising iOS apps to help me improve my music reading skills and plan to finally push my reading skills up to where they should be. I won't be able to do this overnight, but slowly over time I will get there. I also want to get better about chord structures and scales and bring that into my weekly church playing.

I'm hoping that by keeping my New Year's resolution to one thing I will be able to focus a little more on it and finally get the playing improvements I have been looking for.

BookBook Case for iPad mini Review

This is my review of the BookBook case for iPad mini. I have taken WAY too long to post this review. So instead of writing 1000+ words on how much I love this case I thought I would try something different. Below is a mind map I did to prepare for this post, and rather than write a typical review in text form I figured I'd change things up a bit and just publish my mind map and a gallery of photos instead. So enjoy! In case you are wondering, I used iThoughtsHD to creae this mind map on my iPad mini.

Bottom Line...This case works beautifully for me, but may not be the right case for you. I like being able to take my iPad mini with me everywhere I go and the protection and comfort in the hand of this case allows me to do just that and more!

Status on my resolutions

Resolutions

So I'm a month into my New Year resolutions...how did I do? Pretty darn good!

Diet

  • Lost 5 lb so far
  • Really enjoying the food
  • When I'm hungry I eat, no counting calories
  • No more desire for late night snacking

I've been on lots of different diets and so far this is my favorite. The Paleo Diet is really more of a lifestyle change than a diet, which in my opinion is why I think it works so well. My fridge is full of fresh fruits and vegetables (ok,ok and beer...I'm allowed a little beer).

Changing Banks

  • Totally switched over my traditional bank account to a Simple account
  • Transitioned about half my monthly credit card spending to debit (should be completely debit based next month)
  • Absolutely love the instant posting of transactions to my account 
  • Excellent customer service, finally feel like my bank cares about me
  • Very easy budgeting and goal tools built into the smartphone and website

Simple is still only accepting new customers on a limited basis. I still have a few invites left, so if you want to try them let me know I'll send you an invite. I think this is the future of banking, at least the future of GOOD banking.

Piano and Guitar

  • Success!
  • Been playing a bit of both almost every day for the last 30 days
  • Playing has become more of a natural habit now
  • Has re-prioritized my time to allow me to play both daily
  • Finally building up real calluses on my fingers for the guitar

Exercise

  • The only "failure" if you will
  • Decided the significant change in diet was enough of a change
  • Been slowly increasing my weekly exercise, just not on a specific program or routine
  • My flexibility with this goal has allowed me to succeed with all my other goals

Journaling

  • Wrote in my Day One journal everyday during the month of January
  • Kept me honest with my resolutions
  • Been nice to reflect on my day each day
  • Interesting to look back on the week, see the pictures I have taken and attached to my journal entries

So that's how I did with my New Year resolutions. I gotta say, I'm pretty happy with how I did. These are changes I have been meaning to make for a while now. I was probably a little crazy in attempting to make so many changes at once, but despite the number of changes I was able to stick to them. The main thing this whole experience has taught me is that good habits are a hell of a lot harder to instill than bad ones, but in the end it's worth the effort.

2013 Resolutions

I don’t typically do the whole New Year’s resolution thing. Generally, if there is something that I want to do or think I should be doing I make the change and get it done. That being said there are a few things that I am going to do this year to help ensure I stay on track with all of the things that I decided long ago to take on as tasks and a few minor changes I am making. What better way to stay honest than to publicly share what I’m doing.

One of the biggest changes I am making is with my diet. No, I am not GOING on a diet, I am changing my diet. The difference being that this change is more of a lifestyle change instead of something I am just doing to lose weight for a few weeks or a few months. Why? Because my current way of eating is makes it too hard to maintain a healthy weight and enjoy a physical lifestyle. Going to the gym and riding a bike on a regular basis and eating a bunch of processed foods don’t go well together. If last night’s dinner was an indicator, this new way of eating is going to be really tasty! Our family is going to start following the Paleo Diet. This one just makes a lot of sense. The human body doesn’t change overnight, yet the way our food is procossed has changed drastically over the last several decades. These changes and the rise in obesity is no coincidence. So how am I going to keep up a regular cycling training program on the Paleo Diet? Simple...it actually works extreemly well. With just a few tweaks of the paleo diet the very low carbohydrate intake can actually work very well with a heavy physical training routine. The book “The Paleo Diet for Atheletes” by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel explains how the paleo diet can be tweaked slightly for athletes such that the low carb diet can drastically improve recovery times between workouts as compared to a high carb diet.

The next change I am making is with my workout routine and schedule. With my wife in school full-time it is nearly impossible to find time to workout on a regular basis, much less have enough time to make significant progress with increasing my fitness. I did “ok” last year going to the gym and doing indoor bike trainer workouts, but only rode 301 miles outside on my road bike all year. In years past I would generally ride more like 3000+ miles! So this year I am starting off with the Cyclo90 90-day off-season training plan by Graeme Street. I’ve been using Graeme’s CycloClub workouts, especially his 30-minute HIT (High Intensity Training) workouts over the past few years and I never would have made it though some of the toughest days of the Bike Across Kansas segments if it weren’t for his training methods. So this year (starting today) I am going to start and complete the 90-day off-season training program and get back into shape on the bike! The great thing about this program is that you can do it anywhere...outside on the bike, inside on a trainer and at home or a hotel with no bike at all!

Another change I am making is taking back full control of my finances. I’ve always had a budget and stuck to it, but we also use credit cards for all of our purchases and payoff the balance every month in order to take advantage of the points. Not anymore. Credit cards can take 2-3 days before the transactions shows up on my account, so my budget is always several days behind what I have actually spent. How am I supposed to control my spending if I NEVER know how much I have spent so far for the month? So I am moving away from credit cards and moving away from my current bank and moving to Simple. Simple is a tech friendly budgeting solution combined with a banking institution all rolled into one package. I won’t go into a ton of detail, but the main feature for me is that Simple keeps track of everything you spend for you and is always up to date so you know exactly what you have spent. Your budget and savings goals are built right into the banking site and application so you always know how much you have left to spend and how you are doing with respect to your savings goals. It is centered around a debit card instead of the credit cards I have been using, but the way I see it is that I have the potential to save more money every year by making smart and informed decisions then I could ever earn in credit card reward points. So I’m making the switch!

The last change I am making is to make an effort to play piano and guitar EVERY DAY. I’ve been playing the piano since I was a little kid and have been teaching myself slack key guitar for the past couple of years. In fact, I play piano a church every Sunday but most weeks that is the only time all week I play the piano. I have always wanted to start playing more, but something always seems to suck up all my free time. So I am making a goal for myself to pickup the guitar and sitdown at the piano for at least a few minutes everyday. I really enjoy both the piano and guitar, so its not a matter of discipline but rather a matter of getting into the habit of allowing myself to take time everyday to do things I enjoy doing.

The key to keeping myself honest with all of these changes is the last change I am making. A few months ago I bought the Day One journaling app and have used it off an on. It is a great app, but I haven’t been using it nearly as much as I was hoping to. So I am going to start writing in it everyday. I am going to set an alarm for myself that will go off around bedtime to remind me to spend a few minutes writing about my day. When I do this I will also write about what did or didn’t do that day with respect to the changes I just talked about. Nothing will keep you on track more than having to write down every night that you failed to make any progress on your goals once again today. This will do one of two things for me...it will either keep me honest about my goals and make sure I make progress everyday or it will make me realize that possibly one or more of the goals I set for myself isn’t as important to me as I thought they were when I set them. Either way I will make progress and that’s the whole point!

Why I Switched to an iPad Mini

In my October 24th post I talked about who the iPad mini would work well for and who it might not work so well for. I firmly put myself in the category of not being a "good candidate” for an iPad mini because of the large amount of content creation I do on my iPad (specifically at work).  I am now using a brand new iPad mini (64 Gb white Verizon) as my one and only iPad. What happened?

Why I needed to make an iPad Purchase

Until last weekend I was using an iPad 2 and my wife had a 1st generation iPad. My wife’s 1st gen was, well, becoming non-functional. So it was time to do something. I tried (I really did) to talk her into getting new iPad, but I have a practical wife. She knew I was running out of space on my iPad and that I had been talking about really wanting to have cellular data with the amount of traveling I was doing for work...so she inherited my iPad 2 and I purchased a new iPad. So what changed my mind about me doing too much content creation to be able to go to a smaller screen? 

Two main reasons for my change of heart: my main work laptop and the situations I use my iPad for instead of my laptop. 

Why the iPad mini form factor was appealing for me

My main work laptop is a 13” MacBook Air which is not that much larger than my iPad 2. My main work use for the iPad is to use it in meetings instead of a laptop. I find using a laptop in meetings with the vertical display being up and open between me and the people I am meeting with to be a bit distracting. The whole purpose of a meeting is to MEET with people, not to insert a screen between you and them. I also don’t like people having to use their imagination about what I am doing on my laptop during meetings. Is he really typing away and taking notes or is he doing an internet search on how to beat the level he is stuck on in Angry Birds? Because the iPad is nearly horizontal when being used on a conference room table vs the vertical screen of the laptop there is less perceived privacy with the iPad, therefore less of a mystery on what you are doing on your iPad.  The iPad is much more like just carrying around a pad of paper and is, at least in my opinion, a lot less likely to be seen as something that is distracting me during a meeting rather than aiding me to be more productive. The iPad (and all iOS devices) after all operate in the mode of one app at a time. For me, true multi-tasking on-screen is a real distraction. For example, I only get email if I open the email app (and have hidden the mail app to keep me from being able to read email with 1 tap) so the iPad is not a distraction in a meeting for me like a laptop can be. So given that my iPad 2 and my 13” Mac Book Air were so similar in size, there wasn’t a huge portability factor in me choosing to grab one over the other. Not the case with an iPad mini. Choosing to grab an iPad mini over my laptop WOULD be a big difference in the size of device I was lugging around.

Why the smaller iPad mini screen is big enough for me

So for my use cases for an iPad the iPad mini seemed to make more sense, but would it be big enough? I had 2 main concerns...work and music. From a work standpoint the iPad needed to be big enough to take notes (both typed and hand written) and big enough to be able to do diagraming and graphics work on the go in OmniGraffle. So I headed up to my local Apple reseller down the road and started playing with the iPad mini. Typing wise, the on-screen keyboard worked just as well as on the full size iPad (at least for me and my hobbit sized hands...they really are quite small). I did some tests typing a full paragraph on both the mini and the full sized iPad and I was able to type just about as fast with the same amount of mistakes on the mini as I was the full sized iPad. In fact, I am writing the last half of this blog post on the mini while on an airplane. For handwritten notes I use Notability and on the mini I actually like hand writing notes better than on the larger screen. I’m not sure why that is, but it seems more natural to physically write on the smaller screen (maybe because it’s closer to the size of  a small pad of paper than a full 8 1/2” x 11” sheet of paper). Also, because the screen is smaller the issue of accidentally resting your hand on the screen while writing is greatly reduced. So typing and writing worked great for me. Diagraming in OmniGraffle also seems to work just fine. My workflow with OmniGraffle tends to be to start on the iPad and using a stylus to sketch out what I want in one layer and they add the stencil items on top of my sketch. From there I tend to move over to the Mac to do the more “fiddly” things like creating and moving the text and doing the formatting. So again. the iPad mini worked really well even for diagraming in OmniGraffle. So how about music?

Is the iPad mini big enough for sheet music?

By music I mean sheet music. I play piano every weekend at our church’s contemporary youth mass (catholic church) and I use my iPad to display all of my sheet music. I really struggled with trying to find enough information on the internet to determine if it was going to work. So I bought the mini before I really knew if it would work. I did this because I wasn’t going to make the decision on such an expensive purchase just based on one use case. I could always use my wife’s iPad 2 for 2 hours every weekend if the mini didn’t work out. So I pulled the trigger and last weekend I played with the mini at church and it worked great. The iPad in general works extremely well as a sheet music reader. I use an app called DeepDish GigBook with a bluetooth pedal, the PageFlip Cicada. Because I play a lot of contemporary Christian music I tend to read mostly lead sheets (chords and lyrics only), and the mini is more than big enough to clearly read lead sheets. We also play a lot of music out of a small form factor (9" x 7") spiral bound book, which isn't much larger than the iPad mini. So far the only problem I see with using the mini for sheet music if you sight read a lot of really complicated musical pieces or don't have the best vision, then you are going to want the extra real estate of the full-sized iPad. For me, I don't read a lot of intense piano sheet music and when I do I quickly memorize the piece (because I am a poor sight reader) and use the sheet music as more of a guide or visual reminder. To give you a better idea of how well the mini works as a sheet music reader I took a few photos:

Example sheet music from a 9" x 7" music book in PDF form on the iPad mini

Full sized sheet music shown next to PDF version on the iPad mini

Which pre-paid carrier & data plan to choose?

Now for the big question...which carrier to choose and do I sign up for a dedicated plan, go with a shared data plan or go pre-paid? 

First the carrier choice. For me, it was between AT&T and Verizon because I wanted LTE and I wanted to use the iPad for travel. My iPhone is with AT&T, but I am currently grandfathered into the "unlimited" data plan. So was it worth it for me to move to a shared data plan? The answer was no. My wife also has an iPhone with AT&T but she has the smallest data tier, so we would need to buy a shared data plan big enough to cover what we generally use per month combined plus what I expected to use with the iPad while on travel. A 1 Gb shared data plan would have actually been enough for my wife and I to comfortably share (yes, surprisingly I don't really use much of my "unlimited" data plan). So in order to to comfortably add the iPad on to that I would have to bump up the shared data pool to the next tier, which is 3 Gb. It ended up costing me an extra $30 a month to do that, which would buy me 3 Gb of pre-paid with AT&T. So why would I want to lock myself into any kind of contract or shared data plan? Better to stay flexible. Although I did seriously consider going the 2-year contract route given the current $100 rebate AT&T was offering when you buy an iPad and sign a 2-year contract. But my travel isn't constant enough that I will always need to buy data every month so it didn't make sense. So with the shared data plan out the window my choice of carrier was wide open.

Coverage and price per Gb

 It really ended up boiling down to who had the best coverage and the most attractive data plans. As of right now Verizon has the better LTE coverage, but AT&T has the faster network when you are in areas that don't have LTE coverage (AT&T 4G is faster than Verizon non-LTE). However, given the places I travel to the Verizon coverage for LTE is excellent and even more important...locally I have LTE coverage with Verizon and not with AT&T. Although, 2 days after I purchased my iPad AT&T rolled out LTE in the Melbourne, Florida area! In the end it wouldn't have change my choice of carrier. I went with Verizon because of the better overall nationwide LTE coverage and even more importantly the more sensible data plans. I plotted up the cost per Gb for the AT&T and Verizon pre-paid data plans and the low end data option for AT&T on a per Gb cost basis is off the charts!

Price per Gb for Pre-Paid Cellular Data

At the low end of the data usage spectrum Verizon is clearly the more economical choice with being able to pay only $20 per Gb (with the $20 1 Gb plan) verses the $60 per Gb with AT&T (with the totally ridiculous $14.99 250 Mb plan). Once you hit the 2 or 3 Gb amount or greater the cost per Gb is comparable between the two. I've found that 1 or 2 Gb tends to be more than enough in one month for the average user, but 250 Mb is just not enough. For example, on the business trip I just came off of I used about 150 Mb over 2 days. It was a pretty light use of data with my only need being light email use and some web surfing (no video streaming or music streaming). So a data plan as small as 250 Mb just doesn't make any sense unless you are an extremely light data user and the $5 more to get 4 times the data on Verizon breaks your budget. Now, by purchasing the 1 Gb plan I have enough data left over to use for my next trip (which occurs before my 30 days on this pre-paid plan expires). That does bring up one important point...wifi hotspots. The AT&T pre-paid plans come with free access to AT&T wifi hotspots and Verizon pre-paid plans do not get you free access to their wifi hotspots. When I travel I'm not near enough AT&T wifi hotspots to make it worth considering, but depending on where you go it might make a difference for you.

I know this was a long post, but since I really struggled to find any really good write-ups on how well the iPad mini worked as a sheet music reader and then trying to put all the pieces together to figure out the best carrier and data plan for me I decided to post why I made the decisions I did. Hopefully others find it helpful. I plan to write a post In a few weeks or so that talks more about how well the smaller iPad mini is working for me.

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