Begone foul noise!

It’s not just Bose that can do the trick, other brands such as Sennheimer or Sony can deliver the same peace of mind and piece of silence.  I’m talking about a good set of noise-cancellation headphones.  Even though a good set can cost you $300, it is so worth it, for frequent business travel or the occasional vacation travel.

Not only is it great for canceling out ambient noise (planes, babies, snoring neighbors), but it also makes music and movies so much more enjoyable, be it on your smartphone, tablet device, or laptop.

Headphones

One time I stayed at a hotel at Piccadilly Circus in London, and construction was going on outside.  My noise-canceling headphones saved the day, or more accurately my night.

The only downside was, I woke up with headphone hair.
Also, if one day you are not feeling especially sociable (we can’t be happy, over-easy, sunny-side up every day), you can wear headphones to deter your neighbor’s socialization attempts at work.
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Scanning receipts/documents couldn’t be easier: Evernote & Scannable

So why this post?  Why should you care about scanning receipts or documents?  Do you like shoe boxes full of old receipts, or even worse, having to dig through jacket pockets, laptop bags, and underneath the car seats, to find those elusive receipts?  Business receipts equal money back in the pocket.

Scanning receipts as you receive them saves time and hassle.  Picture this for a moment:  You’re done with your business meal, still sitting at the table, signed receipt in hand.  You could fold it neatly, put it in your wallet or purse and deal with it at the end of the week.  Or.. you could use your iPhone which hasn’t left your side, take a picture and with a few taps be done with it.  You could then crumple up the paper receipt and yell “Begone, foul miscreation!”

Prerequisites:

  1. EverNote account
  2. EverNote app on iPhone
  3. Scannable app on iPhone

If you haven’t heard of Evernote, I highly recommend this free program/app for tracking notes, shopping lists, to do lists, recipes, web pages, etc. It’s easy to enter information and say you paste in a PowerPoint slide, EverNote will actually full-text index the words. I might do a post just on Evernote – let me know by leaving a reply if you’re interested.

I already posted about expenses and how important it is to keep track of all those receipts. *Scannable* to the rescue. This (free) iPhone app by Evernote can take a picture of a receipt (or any document), brighten it up, make it crisp and store it….(drum roll)… in Evernote as a new note! The quality of these resulting scans can be better than actually scanning said receipts in a traditional scanner! Two words I never use, but Evernote combined with Scannable deserves them – *total awesomeness*.

Below is the high-level procedure I recommend for making use of aforementioned *total awesomeness*:

  1. In Evernote, create a new notebook called _SCANNABLE or _RECEIPTS (or whatever you wish to name it). I added the underscore (_), so that it would be listed at the top of my notebooks (underscores come before letters).
  2. Set up Scannable to use the Evernote notebook above.
  3. Scan.
  4. Enjoy *total awesomeness*.

Let’s get into it:  Open the Scannable app and tap Settings.

Open the Scannable app and tap on Settings.

Tap File Type, select Auto, then tap the Back ( < ) icon.

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Tap on Evernote, then in the Notebook section tap >, select your notebook to use, then tap < to return to the previous screen.  This concludes the one-time / administration set-up.

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That’s it for the one-time / administrative set-up.


Now we’ll deal with the actual fun. Get close up to your receipt and Scannable will pick it up.  Unless you have multiple pages to scan into the same file, you are done and you tap the image of the receipt.

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Tap the “Receipt” name, then type in what you want to save this as in Evernote.  Then tap Done.

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Tap the upload button (bottom of screen) and see the confirmation that your receipt was scanned into the appropriate Evernote notebook.  If you have more scanning to do, you could hit DONE.  For now, tap VIEW IN EVERNOTE.

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In Evernote you will see the newly create note. Tap the note to see the original receipt. *Total awesomeness*

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Meetup

You might be stuck somewhere for the weekend and don’t know what to do.  A good way of exploring your host city and finding something to do for the weekend is to browse Meetup.com
 

Meetup is not a singles club!

Meetup groups help people:
  • Find others with shared interests
  • Get involved locally (truly locally or locally away from home – awaycally?)
  • Learn, teach, and share things
  • Make friends and have fun
  • Rise up, stand up, unite, and make a difference

This is useful for travelers.  You might have a hobby or interest back home that you want to continue to pursue while on the road, even during the week – international travel, hiking, reading and reviewing books, cooking, etc.

Finding and subscribing to one or more ‘local’ Meetup groups will help you explore your host city and increase the life portion of that much sought-after work-life balance.

Even if the work-life balance thing seems too theoretical to be true, it helps to be part of a Meetup group, have an event at least penciled into your calendar.  At best you have an excuse to leave the hotel room or get away from yet another late meeting.  Work will await you as you get back, but at least you’ll have had a constructive break good for the mind, good for the soul.

I joined a local “Shut up and write!” group.  Every Thursday night a group of 8 of us met at a Starbucks, did 15 minutes of chit-chat and then the moment came: The organizer told us to shut up.  From then on we had 60 minutes of focused quiet time, to do some writing.  There was no pressure to discuss our writing, and 15 minutes of pre-chit isn’t that bad even if you’re a little socially awkward or shy.  After the hour is up, we chatted a little longer or took off.

The point is, it is a refreshing break.  I did have to make constructive use of the hour though – no emailing, no work stuff, just focused personal time.  If I wanted to plan a surprise birthday party, that was fine.  I did something via this Meetup for which I’d usually not have uninterrupted time…. or wouldn’t make time.

Onsen and Moonlight

It’s 4AM.   We lay on the futon on the tatami floor of our Japanese-style hotel.

  

We’re awake and know that we’ll surely be tired later in the day if we get up now. . . but can’t go to sleep.

  

We make our way to the hot spring area in our Yukatas (Japanese casual robes). Our hotel is built into the mountain on one side of the valley and the hot springs are situated on the other side below. We crossed the bridge over the running creek that cuts through the valley.  We can’t see over the mountains.  There are dim lights along the pathway.  The hot springs are carved out like cul-de-sacs along the side of the mountains.  Its chilly, about 55 deg. F and the humidity makes it feel like a damp cool mist on your skin. We move quickly, but not too fast as to avoid slipping on the unpaved pathway and smooth rocks.  We can see the steam/mist above the hot spring as you approach.

  

No one is there, but us.

  

We disrobe, leave our Yukatas to the side, and walk in. (It’s customary in Japan not to go in with clothing, this is not some x-rated writing). The water is hot, yet the perfect temperature after the brisk chilly walk.  There are smooth rocks you can sit on in the hot spring so that the water goes up to your neck.

  

It’s November and the season’s turn is visible.  The trees along the valley are orange and yellow in the daylight.

  

We talk about our life, how dinner was the night before, how nice it was to have the whole pool to ourselves, plans for the rest of the day . . . .

  

From the top tiered pool, there is a bamboo pole that extends out about 10 feet above. It trickles a small stream of cool water to the lower pool.  We make our wishes as the water falls over our heads.

  

After an hour or so, there is a hint of light starting over the valley.  Other hotel guests are starting to feel the effects of jet lag too, so we make our way back to our room.

  

I don’t consider myself overly imaginative sometimes, but what I love about travel is that you can reminisce about moments in time that can seem surreal in hindsight.  Of course special moments can happen at any time and anywhere. . .but getting yourself on a plane, traveling to a valley far from the city, into the mountains, and wandering around pools of hot springs in the night is sure to elicit some feeling. These are the moments that you can think about that make you smile and be happy to have experienced.

  

I can picture myself in the hot spring before dawn, making a wish under the trickling water fall in the center of the pool, and sharing that with my best friend.

   

DATE:  November 2013

Dry-cleaning

Are you afraid of the washer/dryer monster lurking in the garage (or wherever your combo lives)?  Do you hate doing laundry?  I don’t judge.  Do you hate ironing?  I might judge. Nonetheless I hear you and your pain.

  

  

The below approach solution will not save you money, it will cost you more, but you will gain convenience in 3 ways:

  

  1. No need to do your own laundry
  2. No need to make room for it in your luggage (passed the first two weeks)
  3. No need for ironing your own clothes

  

Let laundering or dry-cleaning be your friend.  To get started, you will need to have 2 weeks’ worth of clothes (shirts, blouses, pants/trousers).  The below approach will involve you, a dry-cleaner, and a hotel concierge.  You will be switching weeks’ worth of clothing between these.

  


  

Suggested schedule (for locals/non-travelers):

 

      • Week 1:
        • Wear a week’s worth of clothing (“WWOC 1”)
        • Drop off WWOC 1 at the dry-cleaner’s

 

 

      • Week 2:
        • Wear a week’s worth of clothing (“WWOC 2”)
        • Drop off WWOC 2 at the dry-cleaner’s and pick up WWOC 1

 

      • Weeks 3, 4:
        • Repeat weeks 1 & 2

 

 

This approach works great, if you work locally.

 

Suggested schedule (for travelers):
Option 1 – staying at the same hotel week after week, with dry-cleaning services.
WWOC = Week’s worth of clothing

  

    • Week 1:
      • Wear WWOC 1 (you will have to bring this in your luggage)
      • Drop off WWOC 1 at the hotel’s dry-cleaner (last day)
      • (Optional) Upon check-out, ask if WWOC 1 can be delivered to your room the following week

 

    • Week 2:
      • Check into the hotel, pick up WWOC 1 (or it might be waiting in your room)
      • Wear WWOC 2 (you will have to bring this in your luggage)
      • Drop off WWOC 2 at the hotel’s dry-cleaner (last day)
      • Leave WWOC 1 (still pristine in its plastic wrapper) with the concierge (last day)

 

    • Week 3:
      • Pick up WWOC 1 from the concierge
      • Wear WWOC 1
      • Pick up WWOC 2 from hotel dry-cleaner
      • Drop off WWOC 1 at the hotel’s dry-cleaner (last day)
      • Leave WWOC 2 (still pristine in its plastic wrapper) with the concierge (last day)

 

    • Week 4:
      • Pick up WWOC 2 from the concierge
      • Wear WWOC 2
      • Pick up WWOC 1 from hotel’s dry-cleaner
      • Drop off WWOC 2 at the hotel’s dry-cleaner (last day)
      • Leave WWOC 1 (still pristine in its plastic wrapper) with the concierge (last day)
    •   

    • On-going:
      • Repeat this schedule

 


 

Option 2 – staying at the same hotel week after week without dry-cleaning services

or staying at different hotels

 

    • Week 1
      • Wear WWOC 1 (you will have to bring this in your luggage)
      • Drop off WWOC 1 at dry-cleaner’s close to work or the airport or the following week’s hotel

 

    • Week 2
      • Wear WWOC 2 (you will have to bring this in your luggage)
      • Pick up WWOC 1 from dry-cleaner’s
      • Leave WWOC 1 with the hotel (last day; if changing hotels, remember to leave it at the following week’s hotel!)*
      • Drop off WWOC 2 at the dry-cleaner’s close to work or the airport or the following week’s hotel

 

    • Week 3
        • Pick up WWOC 1 from hotel
        • Pick up WWOC 2 from dry-cleaner’s
        • Wear WWOC 1
        • Leave WWOC 2 with the hotel concierge (last day; if changing hotels, remember to leave it at the following week’s hotel!)*
        • Drop off WWOC 1 at the dry-cleaner’s close to work or the airport or the following week’s hotel

       

    • Week 4
      • Pick up WWOC 1 from dry-cleaner’s
      • Pick up WWOC 2 from hotel
      • Wear WWOC 2
      • etc.

 

 


 

*I have done a fair bit of hotel-switching from week to week, sometimes from day-to-day, so I know it’s easy to forget which hotel you’re at next.  I have had quite a few embarrassing moments when the hotel front desk couldn’t find my reservation because I didn’t have one for that day.  The same thing happens with dry-cleaning.

  


 

This approach (especially the flying business traveler one) won’t work for everyone.  If you’re somebody who can survive on 10 shirts or blouses and doesn’t care too much about mixing it up every 2 weeks, this works.

  

If you need more variety, you could use a slight variation:
On your first trip, pack as many business outfits as you want (you might have to check a suitcase).  I hate checking luggage, so I never did that.  Nonetheless, you can now keep all your business clothes at the hotel.  You can still follow the above approach, you just will need to leave *more* clothes each week with the hotel concierge.

  

If you have a dedicated cubicle or office at work with a closet, you could also store the laundered/dry-cleaned WWOC at said closet.

Travel to foreign countries

Flying from the US West coast to the East coast can be very expensive at times.  For a little bit more you could discover a completely new foreign country (other than South Carolina).  That is why you should consider spending your hard-earned air miles, hotel points, and/or money on leaving the country.

A few things to consider:

  1. Time of year / seasons: The seasons switch between the Northern to the Southern hemisphere.  You can go skiing in Chile in August, since that is Chile’s winter.
  2. Weather: This ties into the time of year.  Don’t just consider temperature, but also humidity.  Some South-East Asian countries will be hot any time of the year, but have varying levels of rainfall and/or humidity.  Do you want to be sweaty hot or drenched hot or just steamy hot?
  3. Language(s) spoken: English gets you far, but there are limits. You might have to resort to pointing and smiling.  This works fairly well in restaurants, if you’re not a picky eater.  You see some interesting dishes on the table next to you, so you point and say ‘gimme dat’.  Try to learn some basic words/phrases (yes, no, thank you, hello, left, right, how much is that dead parrot in the window).
  4. Travel time to get there and back. Going from the US to Australia could cost you 2 days getting there, with flight times and time zone change, so if you only have 4 days for your vacation, this might not be the best use of your time.  You do gain a day back on the way back, but that just means you’ll be traveling for a very long day – you might leave on a Tuesday morning and arrive Tuesday afternoon, even though 30+ hours passed.

    Don’t be put off by the journey!  You won’t care 6 months later that you spent 17 hours on a plane to Melbourne, Australia.  It’s trivial, it’s a nuisance at the time, but don’t dwell on it.  You really should focus on the destination, not the journey.

  5. What do you want to do? Sip wine, zip line, eat swine; dance, trance, enhance; bike, hike, open mic..
  6. Your age and energy level. Most first-world countries don’t require much stamina, so you can always do those trips later in life. Italy is nice, but you could strike that off your bucket list during your retirement years.  On the other hand, you might want to do skydiving, mountain-climbing, and scuba-diving trips earlier on in life.
  7. Priorities on the bucket list of countries to visit (taking into account the above points)
  8. Paperwork (Visas, permits, public transportation):  What do you need to enter the country?  In some cases you should buy tickets (museums, transportation passes) before you enter the country.  The Japan Rail Pass is a very cost-effective solution to traveling around Japan by rail and even includes the Shinkanzen (bullet train) network.  This pass is only available to tourists and only sold outside of Japan!  Once you’re in the country, you’ve lucked out, if you haven’t bought it.
  9. Political situation – is it safe?

Once you’ve figured out the country and city, look at package tour websites or do some Google searches on what there is to do. The package tour websites often describe their itineraries, and what’s needed in terms of money, shots, and other trivial, yet very useful tidbits of information. If you’re brave enough, repurpose these itineraries and make them your own! Traveling outside of a tour group speeds things up, if you’re organized and have done all the necessary research.  On the flipside you could get slowed down, if you don’t have the necessary paper work (permits, tickets, visas) and/or shots.

Armed with your list of activities/things to do, head to TripAdvisor, to research them and discover what other people have to say about them.

Finding the right destination can be a challenge, with so many countries out there, but there are plenty of resources to help you put together a travel agenda. Do your research, go to the library and get books (and DVDs!) out on the country you’re planning to visit.

Spend some time at the book stores, take mental notes, assemble a list of activities, restaurants, day trips. If you’re afraid too much research would make the trip boring or take away from the excitement, don’t be. Even if you had reams of notes and pictures assembled, the real thing cannot be captured in any book or video.

Useful links:

My wife and I traveled to Peru and our preconceived notions were blown away. It was a great country, the people were friendly and helpful, and it felt safe. At first we were paranoid about pick-pocketing and general safety, but we soon relaxed and were able to enjoy our trip to Machu Picchu.  There probably are some countries we will still avoid, but that’s because we’re chikkins.

Always use common sense, wherever you go – abroad or at home. If you get a funny gut feeling or the alley looks a little dark (even though it might save you walking 7 extra blocks), trust your instincts.  I wouldn’t go down a dark alley in San Francisco or New Orleans so it’s no different from avoiding the same in Buenos Aires, Munich, or Tokyo.

John Hancock

You’re away from home, but urgently need to sign some paperwork and fax it back. Not only that, but you have to scan and return an electronic copy.  That can be very frustrating if you don’t have access to a printer and/or scanner.

  

I recommend doing the following next time you’re close to a scanner (at home or at work):
  1. Write your signature a few times (with slight variations) on a piece of paper
  2. Scan the piece of paper
  3. Save the individual signatures as JPEG or GIF files.

 

john_hancock_logo_black

 

john_hancock_logo_black2

 

You’re set!  Next time you need to submit a signed expense report or fax a letter or sign a PDF document, you can do all this from the comfort of your laptop.

  

Open the expense report (or whatever digital paperwork you need to sign), be it in MS Excel or Word or even PDF format, and add one of your JPEG/GIF signatures into it, size the signature appropriately and save the document as a PDF file. For Excel or Word, just import the signature file. For PDFs do the following:
 
  1. Open the PDF file to be signed.
  2. Under Tools click on “Fill and Sign”
  3. Select “Place Signature”
  4. (If doing this for the first time, you will need to update/change the saved signature)
  5. Place the signature
  6. Save the PDF file

  

Next, email the PDF file.

  

Next, marvel at the wonders of technology.
  
On a side note, the signature of John Hancock on the Declaration of Independence arguably is the most flamboyant and easily recognizable of all.  John Hancock died 222 years ago and was an American shipping magnate who became famous for his role in the American Revolution. He served as President of the Second Continental Congress, and later became the first post colonial governor of Massachusetts. (Source: Urbandictionary.com)