For a phone, I use Android. (Specifically, an HTC One M8, which is now very old).

For my personal computers, I use Windows.

At work, I use a MacMini.

For reading, I use a Kindle Paperwhite (which I cannot recommend enough).

That is to say, I’m not an Apple fan. But, since I’ve recently started reading graphic novels, I realized that my Kindle Paperwhite was just not big enough. After practically putting the (300 DPI) screen on my eyeballs to read dialogue, I decided it was time to invest in a better comic reader.

All of my Internet research pointed me to the iPad (3 or above) with its Retina screen. The only comparable Android tablets either received terrible reviews or were extremely expensive.

At first, I was reluctnant to go down the Apple path but, at $90-$100 on Swappa, I decided to take the plunge with an iPad 3.

After unwrapping it and updating I realized there is one major problem: Apple prevents anyone with iPads 3 and under from downloading all the major apps by demanding you have iOS 10.0 or above, even though you cannot update iPad 3s or below to iOS 10. 

Google Chrome? Nope.

Amazon Kindle? Nope.

Google Play Books? Nope.

For some reason, this isn’t actively discussed or issued as a disclaimer and appears to only come up when you specifically search for the problem.

Now you know!

I previously wrote about keeping track of records requests in a spreadsheet, something that I encourage every journalist to do. That post has links to sample spreadsheets and various ways of keeping track of requests.

Public records are not the only thing that you can easily keep track of with spreadsheets.

Really, the options are limitless.

For personal use, you can keep track of accounts and user names. You can record all your serial numbers and item descriptions in case your house if burglarized or your stuff is otherwise stolen.

Having serial numbers at the ready makes it much easier for police to recover your stolen property because of national databases.

But working as a journalist, and more specifically as a cops/courts reporter, there are a few specific instances where I use spreadsheets to make my life that much easier.

Tracking criminal cases

Rio Arriba County has a high crime rate, as illustrated by the cases I’m following.

When it comes to being a cops/courts reporter, I keep a bunch of spreadsheets to track everything going on in my beat and, often, to keep track of what went on.

I have one spreadsheet I use to track all the criminal cases I’m covering.

As you can see, Rio Arriba County has a lot of ongoing and serious criminal cases, although one or two of those may be northern Santa Fe County.

Although not shown in the picture to the left, this spreadsheet currently has three sheets: “open,” “closed” and “master.”

The cases pictured are only the open cases. Everything goes into the “master” case list, is then copied to open cases and, when a case hits final adjudication (either through sentencing or the appeals process) it gets moved from open to closed.

The spreadsheet currently has the following sorting columns:

  • Type
  • Defendant Name
  • District  case number (higher court)
  • Offense date
  • Status
  • Victim
  • Ancillary case number (such as the pre-trial detention case number, a civil lawsuit or restraining order)
  • Weapon
  • Magistrate case number (lower court)
  • Report (if I have police reports for the case)
  • Appeal case number
  • Date filed (district court)
  • Date filed (magistrate court)

As shown in the screen shot, type refers to what kind of crime was committed.

I include fields for the date of incident as well as the date filed because the date of incident is a field that moves with court filings as they wend their way through the judicial system. That makes it a necessary number when sorting through court records.

While this does take a small, to moderate, amount of time to set up and initially populate, it’s well worth the time savings later on, the brain-wracking when you can’t remember which case is supposed to go to trial in a few months and from potentially missing important hearings.

While I’ve still missed my fair share of court hearings, keeping a spreadsheet makes it easier for me to check on statuses of everything I’m still covering.

Tracking lawsuits

As the cops and courts reporter, I also cover lawsuits against all our public entities, including the various school districts, our college, the city (and its police department/officers), the county (and the Sheriff’s Office) and even State Police.

Keeping track of all those cases requires a little bit of data entry, but it prevents me from forgetting about cases entirely.

Moreover, spreadsheets can have formulas which means you can keep a running tally for how much a specific entity has paid out in settlement agreements and court decisions.

It also means you can make a new “sheet” or tab in your spreadsheet, dump in all the lawsuits that name a specific person (think of individual officers named in civil rights lawsuits, or all of the lawsuits arising under a specific chief or president’s tenure, or all the lawsuits that are whistleblower claims) and create a simple formula to add up all the amounts.

Keeping a spreadsheet of lawsuits (I break mine down into groups, such as “city,” “county,” “state” and “schools”) also serves the same purpose as my spreadsheet keeping track of criminal cases: it helps me not forget about cases.

Tracking death (overdoses, suicides, etc.)

Once a year, I go to the Office of the Medical Investigator to photograph all of the autopsy reports for Rio Arriba County for the previous year.

It usually takes a few hours to take the pictures and then quite a few more to sort everything.

Each year’s overdose spreadsheet has lots and lots of sub-sheets. I didn’t even mention pivot tables, and the massive things you can do with them.

Once all the reports are sorted into their respective folders and sub-folders,  I start adding all the names to a spreadsheet, along with the day of death, the year of birth, age at the time of death, agency that handled the investigation, the place of death and a bunch more fields related to alcohol and prescription drugs.

I also have one column for all the drugs the person overdosed on. I also break these out into another sheet, with one drug per row.

That spreadsheet helps me with a couple of different aspects of reporting the story.

When I’m writing it, it’s pretty easy to crunch the numbers of how many deaths involved what drug or what drug combinations (as seen in my story on the number of deaths in 2014).  In 2016, for 2015’s deaths, I did the same thing:

Heroin continued its trend of being involved in a majority of overdoses. It was involved in 17 of the 24 deaths, or 70 percent. Three deaths were caused by heroin, alone.

Opiates garnered an even larger portion, being involved in 20 of the 23 deaths, or 87 percent. Heroin is an opiate.

The third most-involved drug was alcohol, contributing to 13 deaths, or 54 percent. Alcohol-only overdoses were not counted.

Prescription drugs, including the opiate methadone, were responsible for nine deaths, or 37 percent, while cocaine was involved in six, or 25 percent.

Having those spreadsheets handy also makes it easier for me to figure out what police reports I still need to request for which deaths.

I can also sort the sheet by age, by drug, by date of death or by location.

It makes reporting the story much easier.

Sorting salaries

Every October, we run the salaries for all the entities we cover.

That means going through whatever document has been provided and updating/adding to our salary list document from last year with new salaries, positions and deleting employees no longer there.

Doing this is easy when the salaries are provided as a spreadsheet.

Doing this is hard when the salaries are provided in a PDF. There are a few different solutions, depending on the layout of the document you were provided, but the point is to get them into a spreadsheet for future reference.

Even if your paper doesn’t run salary lists, it’s still a very good idea, once or twice a year, to request them.

There are a lot of things you can do with that data, including looking for pay discrepancies, but they are really important as reference documents.

Not sure how to spell that employee’s name? Salary list.

Someone got put on admin leave with pay? Salary list states how much he makes and you can then calculate how much he is being paid not to work, per week, per month, etc.

Someone got fired? Salary list states how much he made.

Tracking award entries

If you’re anything like me, your boss comes into the newsroom and says that you have a month to get him your contest entries for the state’s annual newspaper contest, and you then scramble to figure out what you’ve written in the last year that warrants entry.

My contest entry spreadsheet is tailored to New Mexico’s better newspaper contest and the way my paper keeps its archives. None of these entries won during the 2016-2017 contest period. I won second place for news writing.

There is a better way!

Instead of scrambling in June or July, and looking through old PDFs, paper copies and your pre-production text documents, you can keep track of everything you want to enter in a simple spreadsheet.

You only need a few columns to keep track of everything important:

  • Headline
  • Date (run)
  • Content (story vs series vs photo)
  • Continuing
  • Other dates
  • Location (in paper)
  • Collaborators
  • Contest category

The most important part of keeping track of contest entries is to put them into the spreadsheet shortly after the story runs so, at the end of the contest period, you can go back and cull what you think are the best entries to submit.

In the case of continuing coverage, it’s very important to update your entry with the new story dates because if you don’t, you’ll be scratching your head and asking your editor who has the better memory for all the stories that ran as a result of whichever broader story.

This post is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Only 4.0 license.

If you’re a journalist like me, you have a lot of records requests pending at any one time.

If you’re not already keeping track of them in a spreadsheet or similar fashion, this article is to show you how it can be easily done, offer up a template, examples, and some organizational tips.

When I first started out, I didn’t know much about record requests.

That all changed when I started working at the Rio Grande SUN. Now, filing record requests is second nature.

A spreadsheet for open records requests makes it so much easier to keep track of everything.

Since I’m in New Mexico, it’s a lot easier than most states. New Mexico has a very requester-friendly open records law that allows for free inspections of records and offers few exemptions for public officials to withhold records.

That does not preclude me from filing FOIA, or Freedom of Information Act, requests with public agencies, although those requests compose just a fraction of my work. (My FOIA spreadsheet is just a copy of my IPRA spreadsheet that I modified.)

Keeping track of all of those requests, their statuses, when they were filed and all of the other important information can be somewhat easy, but it takes a little bit of organization, a spreadsheet and the determination to keep the spreadsheet updated.

As an example, I currently have 148 (as of June 4, 2017) open records requests. Keeping track of all of those demands some sort of organization.

I’ve only come to the helpfulness of spreadsheets in the past two or three years. Before, I always thought spreadsheets were for things that dealt with numbers. For everything else, I would use a normal text document.

For records requests, I used to just not do anything, other than a search through my email. Oh, how wrong I was!

So, let’s dive straight into the spreadsheet.

(Personally, I use Sheets in Google Docs, mostly because it is available wherever I log into my Google account. Attached at the end of this post is also an Excel version of my template as well as the example spreadsheet.)

Rows upon rows

Before I go any further, please remember, spreadsheets are a somewhat personal thing. I suggest you use a spreadsheet to keep track of your requests, but you should format the spreadsheet’s rows or columns to match what information you want to access.

The first row I use to sort requests is agency. This could be replaced with date, depending on your personal preferences.

Next is the date the request was sent. This is very important because it dictates deadlines and how late a request is in being fufilled. Plus, it’s a great row to sort by.

Everyone needs the first four rows (date, agency, documents requested and status) for a records request spreadsheet. Everything after that is what data you need to help keep track of your requests.

As an aside, when I send requests, I put the date I’m sending the request at the end of the email subject line. I use this as a sort of master reference point when trying to find the string of emails attached to the request.

I also make sure to put a very brief summary of the content of the request in my subject line. This, just like a date, adds another reference point.

An example of a subject line, which I condense for the spreadsheet:

IPRA – May 8 incident reports, supplemental reports, investigative reports, audio/video from incident & communications from — 5-28-2015

The next row is the request’s status, along with the last date  of the last status, if it exists. If an agency sent the three-day letter (mandated in New Mexico law) on May 1, 2017, then I write: “3-day letter 5-1-2017.”


It’s already 2017 and I’m not much closer to finishing Jake Highton’s five-year reading plan than I was when I started back in the summer of 2013.

(Read the original post here and read the revised, shortened post here.)

I’d just been laid off from the Nevada Appeal, along with a part time person. I had the least seniority in the newsroom, so I was the one to get the ax and go on unemployment.

It was summer, I had a kegerator in the house and I lived next to the river in Reno.  I rode my bicycle up to the university to visit with my former journalism professor, Jake Highton.

Highton gave me two columns he wrote for the Sparks Tribune outlining the list of books, movies, music and plays he thought young journalists should consume, set to a plan of five years.

While I haven’t been doing much to finish off the list, I have made some progress.

At least two years ago now, I read Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring. Considered a masterwork in its time, I found a more critical reading of it took away some from the bluster it is normally buoyed with.

Although it is about environmentalism, chemicals, and the havoc we’ve been wreaking on the planet, I was really worried about some of Carson’s claims because they did not represent the whole truth.

I think the best example is her bemoaning of the havoc certain chemicals had on the lowly earthworm.

We all love earthworms, right? They’re fantastic. They do all sorts of things for the environment.

Except. Well, most of them are not native to North America, the place Carson was writing about. They vastly change the ecology, and according to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources, they’re really bad, especially in forested areas.

Farad Power Plant in California on the Truckee River

But Carson never acknowledges the lowly earthworm as an invasive species, or that it changes the ecologies of the places it is introduced to, or anything else. She only talks about how bad it is that chemicals are killing them.

While I certainly agree that the widespread use of chemicals is a bad thing, her complete and total lack of either understanding or acknowledgement of their invasive nature casts her entire book into doubt, at least for me.

As a critical reader, I now question every single premise she puts forth. I think to myself, what else is she holding back? What else is she ignorant about?

In short, her credibility is severely damaged for me, and as a result, so too is her book.

There are more examples, but, alas, I have lost or given away the copy I annotated.

Nonetheless, the only answer is to keep on, keepin’ on through Highton’s five-year list.

Since moving to New Mexico, homebrewing has taken a back seat to everything else.

12 packs and 24 packs, recycled, were the best way to store the brew.

I have 15 gallons of cider (in three separate batches) hanging out against one wall in my kitchen, a big bottle of iodopher sitting in my cabinet and a bunch of bottles sitting outside, behind a shed. I even have lactose and corn sugar to get those batches bottled. (I haven’t reinvested in a capper yet).

Unfortunately, with no dish washer to easily sanitize my bottles, I end up putting bottling off time after time after time.

However, when I did have access to a dishwasher, before I moved to kegging (which I cannot recommend enough) and I had friends to consistently drink and brew with, having enough brew on hand was a big issue.

Once we three started brewing, we quickly realized that we liked what we were making, that what we were making took a long time (relatively) and that we needed to be making loads right now for our future selves to have enough to imbibe.

(On another point, if you’re not kegging, getting enough bottles is definitely an issue. Fortunately, when I was living in Reno, there was separated curb side recycling.)

Another of our concerns, as broke young people, was how to maximize our dollars in comparison to our brews. That is, beer is great, but beer can be relatively more expensive to brew, so what about cider?

Cider was easy. Cider was super easy. Cider required less effort and took much easier to get 5-gallon buckets (rather than 6-gallon buckets).

20 gallons of cider in four 4-gallon buckets and one 5-gallon bucket.

So we started making cider, realized we loved it, then had a problem. There was no more cider left. Between ourselves, our friends, the people who lived in the house, the first five gallons of cider were gone in a heartbeat.


21. If using buses, protect your stuff if its raining

The first time it happened, I wasn’t angry. I was just sad. After a sleeper bus ride from Hoi An to Nha Trang, arriving at 6 a.m., I got my bag out of the bottom of the bus and found it was soaked. Not just soaked. Sopping wet. Still, I shouldered the bag, moved my smaller day pack to my chest, and trudged toward my hostel, soaking my shirt all the way through.

After getting a few more hours of sleep in one of the hostel’s empty dorm rooms, meant for travelers who don’t get to check in yet, I opened my backpack.

It was the worst possible scenario. All of my clothes in the bag were completely soaked. Not just a little. I could literally wring the water out of each piece of soaked clothing. Worse yet, two of my prime camera lenses had been wrapped in the same clothes. They appeared to be undamaged by the water, but I knew I was going to be staying in my dirty clothes until the following day, when I could pick up my cleaned and dried laundry.

Before I go any further, what should you do?

  1. Wrap your clothes up in plastic bags if you’re worried about the rains
  2. Buy rain covers for your bags.

(Read the rest of the story after the jump.)


20. Take other travelers’awesome evaluations of tours with salt

Maybe this doesn’t apply if you’re not talking to backpackers, I don’t know. Staying in dorms, that’s who I always ran in to.

Here’s the thing: it seems like most travelers want to be positive, nay, they want to be having the time of their lives and they can’t be having that once-in-a-lifetime experience if they admit that anything they did was less than amazing.

That means when it comes to the tours, either set up through your hotel, hostel or done through a travel agent, people often want the tour to have been fantastic, even if it wasn’t, to keep up the idea that they had a great time. That means often, you can’t trust their evaluation.

My example is Halong Bay, during my 2016 Vietnam trip, which I will write up in a later post. It’s supposed to be amazing! One of the best things in Vietnam, with the limestone islands and whatnot, dotting the sea.

Two guys I met in Hanoi had just been there, and done their tour through the hostel. Another couple had done the same. Get the tour! they said. That couple, two Americans, were doing the 6-month honeymoon through Southeast Asia. They wanted for experience to be amazing, reality be damned.

Later on, I talked to a French couple who have been traveling for a long time. They told me, instead, go to Cat Ba Island (slightly different name, basically the same place), rent a scooter, hang out for a day, scope out day tours, and do that the next day.

I decided the risk of the pair being right was outweighed by the ease of the tour through the hostel, as well as my limited time in country.

A German (right) cheers on an Argentine woman about to jump off of the top of the boat, Dec. 9, 2016, in Halong Bay, Vietnam. The limestone cliffs and palisades and the like can be seen in the background. The tour was described by others as being the best thing during their entire vacations. Taken on Dec. 9, 2016.


19. Your feet are going to swell

Maybe it doesn’t happen to you. Maybe it doesn’t happen to everybody and maybe it depends on where you go and the time of year but, me? My feet swell. Pretty bad, usually.

Other travelers I met, I’d mention it, and they had no idea what I was talking about. When I researched the topic, I found that I am not alone which means you may very well join my ranks.

The problem is we sweat. A lot. If I’m wearing my small backpack (which I cart around my camera and lenses in; I may reevaluate my camera options for a future trip), in Ho Chi Minh City in south Vietnam, pretty much as soon as I walk outside, I start sweating profusely. Within 20 minutes, the back of my shirt (cotton, which is the wrong choice) is soaked through. Completely. Wring it out and there will be lots of water on the ground wet. Hard to get dry again wet.

That’s a lot of water. Moreover, that’s a lot of salt water.

Depending on the time of year, where you go and if there’s a storm, humidity could be through the roof, further adding to your sweating problems.

To the north in Hanoi, in December, it’s not nearly as bad (a balmy 80 degrees) but it’s still a problem.

What to do about it? Drink lots of water or sports drinks (buy the 1.5 litter bottles) and eat lots of salty foods/snack foods. You need to replenish the salt your body is losing through sweat. When your body loses that salt, and it doesn’t get replaced, your feet swell.

Here’s where the real problem is: you drink 1.5 liter after 1.5 liter of water, and you never have to pee, because you’re sweating it all out. And you think that everything’s just fine, right? No headache. No other signs of dehydration.

Except your feet. They’re swollen. They’re giant. Problem is all that salt you lost that was not replenished by that purified water.

That’s where the salty snacks come in.

Sounds easy, right? Well, it doesn’t always work at that way, so be prepared if they do swell, and don’t be too horrified.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.

18. Wear a watch

Phones are great, except when you’re traveling and they’re confused as to where you are, or which time zone, etc. Or when they are low on battery life and all the electric outlets are taken. Or when you’re in the airport, for your layover, and you have no idea where they put the clock, you don’t have a SIM card for Taiwan, because you’re just traveling through to Ho Chi Minh City.

Sometimes, you want to make sure your phone is charged enough so when you do get in country, you an easily navigate so you can get to your hostel.

What’s better is to bring a watch that you can easily set for whatever the local time is, both while dealing with layovers on the way there and back as well as moving between countries.

This also means you don’t have to deal with either bringing your phone everywhere or making sure it’s always fully charged.

So, just bring a watch.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.


This little guy broke the bench! Go gasoline!

17. Have open travel plans

As a solo traveler, having open travel plans was the entire intention I have when I go so Southeast Asia. I usually land in the big city, stay there for a few days, talk to or make friends with some fellow travelers and figure it out from there.

Sometimes that means making travel buddies and sometimes that means I’ll use the advice from other travelers (taken with a grain of salt) to plan the next leg of my trip.

Whenever people ask me about my travels overseas, this question somehow comes up. When I say that I went without a definite plan, usually, people are thunderstruck, an entirely unfathomable concept, especially without having friends or family in country.

Going without travel plans is totally worth it, though. Things changes. People change. New people come into your life. Sometimes, a whole part of the country will be stuck in a monsoon during the dry season and you decide to flee to where it’s not.

I did not come up with this advice myself. I actually read it on a travel blog that was focusing on Southeast Asia. It was so right.

Maybe you want to go to Chang Mai in the north, or Phuket in the south or maybe you want to join some people on a trip to Cambodia. Maybe in Cambodia, you want to travel with someone. Whatever it is, keep your options open.

Having open travel plans only goes so far. After I landed in Thailand in December, 2015, I was a little lost. It was my first time in Southeast Asia and I hadn’t traveled anywhere outside of work for quite a few years at that point. A few years before, I lived and worked as an au pair in Germany, and backpacked across Eastern Europe, so traveling wasn’t entirely foreign.

I read the travel book (Lonely Planet) and re-read it after arrived in Bangkok. Finally, I got a taxi to take me to the backpacker district, which, in the evening, is one giant party.

I took this advice so seriously that I did not have any hostel reservations. Because I was so smart and decided not to get my SIM card immediately switched over, I was wandering around, paper map in hand, trying to figure out where to spend the night. The first few hostels I found were full up.

Finally, I found an empty hostel that was cheap, super cheap, with some dude sleeping downstairs, acting, I guess, as the hostel guard. Fortunately, they had AC. They were so cheapskate that I was their only customer that night. I passed right out.

Really, I should have already had a hostel reservation, at least for the first night. I later on went to stay at a highly rated hostel (and suggested in Lonely Planet) where I met a bunch of great travelers.

One of those travelers is the reason I was not entirely screwed when I lost my only debit card, yet another lesson.

Find all of the travel lessons curated here.


Christmas decorations in Downtown Bangkok. Make sure your travel plans are open enough.