iPad and the Foreign Service

Since I’ve arrived in Ottawa, I haven’t really driven anywhere.  Before arriving, I found a place to live that is walking distance to both the Embassy and the downtown Byward Market area.  Restaurants, bars, shopping, coffee shops, dry cleaning, and music venues are all within a 15 minute walk from my front door.  Thus, other than grocery shopping and the occasional run to the airport to pick up visitors, the car has remained in the garage.

So, what could motivate me to jump in the car on a beautiful Saturday morning and drive over an hour into the countryside, over a nerve-wracking rickety metal bridge over the St. Lawrence River, to a small town that promotes on the front of its web site a petition drive to “Save our Prison“?  A UPS store, of course.  More specifically, a UPS store just over the border that took delivery of my new Apple iPad.

Yeah, a little twisted, but I love gadgets.  I pre-ordered the day it was announced with complete confidence that it’d be a hit.  At least for me.

I won’t bother writing a general review of the iPad.  Just do a Google search (or use Bing if you think Google has become the new Microsoft) and you’ll find scores of in-depth reviews making conflicting conclusions.  It’s the best thing since sliced bread.  It’s just a big iPhone.  It’s wonderful.  It’s awful.  You’ll find an opinion to match your own gut reaction to Apple products and marketing.

After a few days playing with it, I think Slate got it right.  You don’t need an iPad, but once you try one, you’ll probably want it.  For me, the iPad does everything I was expecting (books, photo display, email, newspapers), along with a couple of surprises (Netflix).   It does not replace a laptop or the iPhone, but that’s not the intent.

The new buzz-phrase used to describe the iPad’s core functionality is “content consumption.”  If what we do now is consume newspaper, books, magazines, TV shows, movies, and web sites, then Apple has just invented a pretty damn good fork.  I like the feel of chopsticks (newsprint and books) every once in awhile, but I can see myself sticking to the Apple’s new-fangled fork for most meals.  Here’s a quick run-down of my initial key apps:

iBooks.  I’ve been using an e-reader for several years, but my first generation Sony died a few months ago.  I filled out the online order form a couple of times for an Amazon.com Kindle and a Barnes and Noble Nook, before deciding to hold out for Apple’s entry.  I was not disappointed.  For the geeks out there that know and care about e-ink vs. backlit LCD, I actually like the iPad better for reading.  Between work and home, I have already spent more time reading from a backlit screen than from paper and my eyes haven’t yet felt tired as a result.  I’m not even sure what “tired eyes” means.

Reading books is the one function that I required of this device and the experience is very satisfying.  It took less than a minute to download my first book from the Apple bookstore (Ali Sethi’s The Wish Maker).  It launches very quickly and brings up the last page I was reading when I left the book.  Screen brightness can be lowered for bedtime reading (it is very bright, even at half-power) and the font can quickly be adjusted, both size and style, to match what I find most comfortable.  I can search for specific passages (not necessary for a novel, but very useful for non-fiction), and set multiple bookmarks that create an instantly accessible index.  All this, and it still feels like I’m reading a book.

Newspapers and Magazines.  This is a category rather than a specific app.  Every morning over coffee in my dining room, I can finally read pieces from the New York Times, USA Today, NPR, the San Jose Mercury, and the BBC.  It’s not perfect, but give them time.  The New York Times’s Editors’ Choice app is beautiful, seamlessly merging the paper’s traditional layout with color photos and video.  It’d be perfect if the app provided the entire paper rather than just a few regularly updated pieces.  The iPhone app actually has more content and the website has everything so it’s just a matter of time.

Magazines will be revolutionized by electronic distribution.  Some have their own dedicated app (Men’s Health, Time, Outdoors, and more to come) while others distribute through an app called Zinio. Again, the interface is very intuitive to swipe through pages or use the more interactive options.  It will only get better as publishers and advertisers maximize the technology (wait for Wired‘s app — the description looks amazing).

One app that I haven’t read much about but has the potential to catch on is Fluent News which aggregates news material from a variety of sources.  It organizes the content in sections the way a newspaper would and let’s you decide which sources to promote or eliminate (e.g., more content from the Washington Post and none from Fox News).

Photos.  At work, the iPad provides an amazing photo frame, cycling through hundreds of family photos at my desk.  The interface to sort through photos is beautiful and the screen really shines.

Video.  I have a bunch of video files ripped from DVDs that I can drop straight onto the iPad through iTunes and they look great.  The speaker is surprisingly full and loud so headphones are not necessary unless you’re in a public space.  The NetFlix app was a fantastic bonus.  There’s a ton of content, movies and TV shows, all of which loads in about 25 seconds at the tap of an icon.  Same with the ABC Player (although the content is limited by that network’s offerings, there are a couple of my guilty pleasures like Modern Family and V).

WordsHD.  I’ve already blogged about my obsession with this Scrabble game.  The iPad version is a bigger/slicker version of the same thing that allows me to continue playing my friends and family who are using the iPhone version.

No doubt there will be many more apps that I’ll find useful and entertaining in the months to come.  The bottom line is that the device provide a very convenient way for me to stay current on what I find important from home while being thousands of miles away.

Suddenly my iPhone screen feels puny.


3 thoughts on “iPad and the Foreign Service

  1. It’s Friday, and that means that the Two Month Blogiversary of the Weekly State Department Blog Roundup is up – and you’re on it!

    Here is the link:


    (If I quoted your text or used your photo(s) and you would rather I had not, please let me know. Please also be sure to check the link(s) that I put up to you, in order to verify that they work properly. If you would rather that I had not referenced you, and/or do not want me to reference you in the future, please also contact me.)


  2. Hello,

    My name is Lidia Perez, and I’m a student at Arizona State University majoring in Global Studies.

    I’ve been browsing around Foreign Service blogs for a while now, because I’m quite interested in the Foreign Service as a possible career track in the future. I read quite a bit of your application process posts and enjoyed them immensely. 🙂

    I’m also in a Global Career class right now, and one of out assignments is to interview someone who has our ideal career. I was wondering if you would be interested in/available for me to interview you sometime soon. The fact that you have experience as an attorney as well is awesome, because right now that is my plan: Go to law school, practice for a while, apply to become a FSO.

    If you are willing to help, please e-mail me. I can then e-mail you the questions or we can set up an appointment over skype that works with both of our schedules.

    Thanks so much. 🙂

    Lidia Perez.


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