Textbooks and Digital Ownership

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When I started taking Spanish in January, I knew right away that I wanted to purchase the e-version of the textbook.  The textbook is designed to be used for 6 courses.  It’s big and heavy.  The ebook cost over $100 less and was weightless.  Sold!

I purchased the ebook noticing that it would only work with an iPad in the fine print.  No problem I thought, as I had been planning on using my iPad in class and for studying.  I was also required to purchase access to Supersite, an online service accompanying the textbook that contains exercises, tutorials, videos, practice exams, etc.  With Supersite, I could also access the textbook from any device with an internet connection.  A classmate asked me for how long I would retain access to the electronic textbook.  Since I had paid full price for the ebook-Supersite combo, it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t actually own it.

Challenge #1 – After investigating, and contacting the company several times, I discovered that I could only download and use the textbook on my iPad.  When I read that in the fine print, I didn’t realize there would be no option to download, or move the file, anywhere else.  The textbook download looks like an app, even though it’s just the book.  The real benefit is that I can access the textbook without an internet connection.  With my paid subscription, I can access the textbook through Supersite for 3 years.

Challenge #2 – I purchased my iPad in 2013.  Although it still works perfectly, it’s one of the models Apple has decided to discontinue servicing.  In the near future, I won’t be able to update my iPad and eventually it will become obsolete.

At some point, I will have to figure out what to do with my unsupported iPad and the Spanish textbook, leaving me with 3 options:

  1. Purchase a new iPad and transfer the textbook over, along with everything else.
  2. Purchase a new non-iPad tablet, but maintain the old iPad just to access the textbook in the future.
  3. Purchase a new non-iPad tablet and pay for the textbook in print.

This was definitely an unanticipated dilemma of purchasing the e-version of the textbook, but I think it’s one that as consumers, we will have to get a lot better at navigating.  I purchased the book, but I don’t “own” it.  In reality, I’m paying to access it, unless I go with option #1.

The Importance of Settings

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Settings was the kind of thing I used to dismiss until I started library school.  Often in school, our homework would be to explore how search systems worked and which options were available in the settings.  Consequently, my confidence to try things with technology improved.  Whereas before I may have been afraid to try options, now I like to experiment and see what happens.  However, I do take precautions.   When I remember, I back up everything first.  I often create test samples to play around with.

Typically, settings exist for every app you use and for every device you own.  It is usually denoted by a recognizable icon of a gear, which often looks similar between most apps and operating systems.

When I get a new device, one of the first things I do is create a shortcut to settings on my home screen.  Then I check out what is available and what it controls.  For apps, settings can often be found with your account profile, or as a menu option.  Typically settings will control things like:

  • appearance (e.g. colors, size)
  • privacy
  • connections (e.g. wifi, internet)
  • actions (e.g. my swipe action in gmail is “delete” by default instead of “archive” – read more here)
  • security
  • notifications (e.g. especially for social media apps)
  • general management

Here is a screencap of the options available through the settings on my smartphone.  On an Apple computer, look for system preferences under the apple menu.  And for computers running Windows, check out the control panel.

There are different types of settings.  Some may be used to control things on a global-level.  In other words changes can be set that will apply to your entire smartphone (e.g. only upload data when connected to wi-fi).  Whereas other settings may be specific for one app, or may only control one area.

You have likely already used settings on numerous occasions to do things such as change the wallpaper on your home or lock screen, add wi-fi connections, or put your smartphone into flight mode.  Or you may have used it to adjust privacy settings for your Facebook account, which Facebook is always changing.

Your challenge:

Look through the settings on your devices and for each app.  Investigate what can be controlled, or changed.  Then you can customize apps and devices based on your needs.

Productivity tip: Try this when you’re waiting for something, or on transit.

When Technology Advances Faster than Humans

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I purchased a new laptop in February 2017.  I went to the store fully intending to upgrade my “vintage” model with the most recent one.  However, things didn’t work out that way.

The newest model from late 2016 was beautiful, sleek, shiny, and incredibly light.  But… it only came with Thunderbolt 3 ports and one for headphones.  This was already the most expensive model. I knew I would have to shell out additional money for adaptors to connect pretty much anything I would use to my new computer.  No USB ports.  No CD/DVD drive.  No SD card (digital camera).  No port for my existing adaptor.  Click here to read more about Thunderbolt 3 ports.  Thunderbolt 3 ports are advantageous for transferring large amounts of data, video output, and fast charging.  However none of these things are necessary for me.

I eventually purchased the older 2015 model because it had familiar ports I could use.  I understand Thunderbolt 3 ports are the future, representing superior technology for transporting and displaying information, among other things.  But if nobody else has them, it can be a frustrating experience to use the computer with anything else.  I would always have to carry adaptors, which seemed inconvenient and annoying.  Even the sales person at the Apple store agreed with my decision.

I already experience this type of inconvenience almost every time I give a talk somewhere.  Usually when I speak at conferences, they are only equipped to handle a PC connecting to the projector.  I developed a habit to pack an adaptor with my gear.  A couple of times I’ve forgotten it.  Naturally, this has caused me a lot of panic and stress figuring out how to present content on my computer without using my computer.  It’s a total pain.  Even switching to web-based presentation software, so I can present from any computer, has not resolved the problem.  Sometimes the internet connection is bad, or unavailable.

I still ended up buying an external CD/DVD player.  I have some DVDs I can’t upload because of copyright.  The cost of repurchasing the items digitally was more expensive than the player.  And I have some personal CD/DVDs I keep forgetting to upload.

I love how technology advances and improves constantly.  However, the transitions are still painful.  Can’t technology help us out so we’re not always buying extra stuff to make something new work?


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In terms of managing tasks and appointments, the calendar is still one of my favorite tools.  It’s easy to use and understand.  If I write something on a particular date, it means I’m doing it on that date.  I now rely on my smartphone calendar instead of a paper one, but I still miss certain features of the paper.  Read more here.

I used to load up my paper planner with all kinds of information.  For example, when I used to work as a freelance caterer, payments were tracked in my planner alongside the details of the job (e.g. hours worked, location, company, dress code, etc.).  Since I worked for multiple companies, all with different pay schedules and rates, it was sometimes difficult to track how long I had been waiting and when I received a payment.

The problem was that the information was trapped in my planner, sometimes on a specific date.  I had no tracking system, no way to get summaries, and no search box.  Eventually I transferred the information to an excel spreadsheet for better tracking and summaries.

I love many things about my smartphone planner, including how it is synced with my computer for backup.  But I still miss being able to load up so much information directly into the paper calendar.  There was no limit to what I could write on the pages.  Now I’m limited by screen space and by what is available for integration from the phone to the calendar.  The available screen space is often too tiny to see everything I could easily see with a glance at my paper planner.

In order for me to get something on my smartphone calendar without manually entering it, it has to be stored somewhere else.  For example, my smartphone calendar has seamless integration with my contacts.  When I enter in an appointment with someone, the important details (e.g. phone number and address) magically appear in my calendar.  I also love when this happens after I sign up for an event.  Typically when the confirmation email arrives, the event details appear on my calendar including time, name, location.  If I’ve signed up for a webinar, the calendar event will include the url for me to access it.  Super useful.

The next step is to find a proper task management system that integrates seamlessly with the calendar.

Common Courtesy

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In a world of deteriorating civilities, I’ve found it oddly comforting that people seem to share a common courtesy when it comes to taking pictures in public.  Ever walked down the street and slowed down, or stopped, to allow someone else to take a picture?  Ever changed the path you’re walking on because someone was trying to take a picture?

I certainly have, even for people posing with selfie sticks.

Part of me is cautious out of fear.  I’m always nervous about accidentally photo bombing someone and ending up on his/her instagram feed with an unflattering caption.  The other part of me feels more empathetic.  I know what it’s like to want to capture an important moment instantly, or to take a picture of that special someone with just the right setting in the background.  It’s fun!  And easy, and convenient.  And we all do it. Perhaps this is why I see so many people willing to extend these small courtesies to each other when it comes to taking pictures.

Ever since I started carrying a smartphone, and therefore a camera 24/7, I’ve become more aware of how I take pictures in public.  It is this heightened awareness that has impacted my willingness to accommodate people taking pictures in public.  At times I have changed my path, or stopped moving for a few seconds, to allow someone to finish with the camera.  This is also influenced by the number of times strangers have reciprocated this courtesy to me.

Last year while vacationing in NYC over the holidays, I was surprised at how easy it was to take pictures.  Even in crowded areas like Central Park, people stopped moving for a few seconds, or altered their path, just so I could finish with my camera.  I naturally found myself doing the same thing for others.

It is curious that people can’t seem to take the time to write anything with proper grammar and punctuation, but they’re willing to stop moving, or go the long way, so a stranger can take a picture.  It’s something I’ve observed for several years.  I would’ve thought with so many people snapping pictures constantly in public that we would become immune and stop noticing, or accommodating this behavior, but that’s not what has happened.  Instead we’ve collectively become more aware and modified our actions to be nice to each other in this one area.


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My family and I make a point of getting together, or supporting each other, on my father’s deathday.  Somehow we decided organically to acknowledge the day he died, instead of his birthday.  We didn’t plan it this way, it just kind of happened.  Similarly, my friend and I have a long standing tradition of going out for steaks on her brother’s deathday.  Her brother was one of my greatest friends when I lived in Vancouver. (Read more here.)  Interestingly enough, both my father and my friend died within a couple weeks of their respective birthdays.

Initially, it seemed strange to me to be experiencing anything remotely joyful on the deathday.  But then again, it also felt weird to acknowledge the birthday.  He wasn’t around anymore, what was I celebrating?  The birthday was a painful reminder of what I was missing.

In the first few years following my father’s death, the deathday served as a new calendar for me to mark the passing of days and events.  Life before…and after.  Each occasion in those first couple of years served as some kind of milestone, or a reminder that I could get through another day, another event, another anything.  One month without my father, my first day of school without my father, my first holiday without my father, even my first birthday.  I was definitely in a fog the first year.  Even on today’s date, June 19, I still sometimes experience a haunting flashback of the last time I ever heard my father speak, over a decade ago.

Grieving is a process.  As time moves on, I’m often surprised at the intensity with which I can still experience the grief, the sadness, and the heartbreak, all in an instant.  Fortunately those instants have become less frequent with each passing year.  And in between I often recall lots of pleasant memories.

Birth and death.  Two things we must all experience.  I now take comfort in commemorating the deathday of my loved ones.  It’s given me a way to honor and value the life they lived.  It feels fitting to celebrate the day my loved ones left, rather than the day they were born.

Pictures below are from one of our “deathday” trips to Alaska in 2007, a place my father loved.

View in Denali National Park, commemorating the deathday in June 2007.


A rare treat to see Denali. Normally it’s enshrouded in mist and clouds.