Category: gadgets

Three More Tips for FitBit Flex Users

I have been using my FitBit Flex since late April now, and it has been a mostly great experience. Unlike my old FitBit Ultra (which I ultimately lost) I don’t have to worry about losing it because I wear it on my wrist. I also don’t worry about forgetting it in the morning because I sleep with it on each night in order to track my sleep. The data is provides is great, and particularly useful for someone like me, who enjoys playing around with the data.

But I did say I was mostly happy. There have been three problems, both of which have been corrected, but which I wanted to mention here in case anyone else has experienced these problems.

1. Sudden drop in step count, despite the same amount of walking

Not long after I got my Flex, I upped my daily goal to 15,000 steps/day. At first, I had a little difficulty meeting this goal, but once I began spending my entire lunch hour walking, it became routine not just to meet, but to exceed this goal on a regular basis. A typical week of walking looked like this for me:

Steps - June 2
FitBit Flex steps record for the week of June 2, 2013

A few weeks later, beginning around June 23, I noticed a sizable drop off in the step count for the week:

Steps - June 23
FitBit Flex steps recorded for the week of June 23, 2013

Set aside the two days at the end of the week when we were driving up to Maine and I was in the car for most of the day, doing very little walking. What is odd about this week is that my step counts are down across the board, never even reaching 15,000 steps.

But the strangest thing of all is that I was taking the same 3 walks I do every day. I was not walking any more, but I was not walking any less. So why the lower counts?

Take a look at the data for Tuesday, June 5:

Steps on June 4

You can clearly see the steps for my three walks. You can further see that each time, they reach nearly 600 steps for the time interval shown, which I think is 5 minutes. Now take a look at the data for exactly 3 weeks later, the week in which I noticed lower step counts:

Steps on June 25

You can still see all three of my walks, but you’ll note that they barely reach 500 steps/interval, despite the fact that I tend to walk at the same pace and the same distance each time. For some reason, my Flex was under-reporting steps.

Of course, it could have been over-reporting for all of the other weeks, but since this week was the exception, I decided that it was under-reporting.

I tried a number of things, none of which seemed to make a difference, including resetting the device. We’ll come back to this shortly. First…

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Does Pushing a Stroller Affect FitBit Flex Data Capture?

We spent our Memorial Day afternoon hanging out with friends. Kelly took the kids to the local park to meet our friends while I walked to the nearby barber to get a long-overdue haircut. From the barber I walked to the park to meet-up with everyone. After a while, we decided to get something to eat and walked to a nearby Mexican restaurant. Lots of margaritas were consumed and great fun was had by all.

But yesterday evening, when I looked at my FitBit data, I noticed something strange. Although the walk to the Mexican Restaurant was about 1-1/2 miles each way, it seemed that my FitBit Flex had not captured those steps. It had captured the steps when I’d done roughly the same walk a week ago. Here is a profile of my steps for last Sunday:

FitBit Flex - No Stroller

The red arrows indicate the to- and from- of my walk last Sunday. You can see that I started my walk just before 10am. I walked about 2 miles, took a break (that small red line in between the tall green lines) and then walked back. Now, take a look at roughly the same walk yesterday:

FitBit Flex with Stroller

I’ve indicated where I walked to get my haircut and then to the part. The two arrows with question marks are where we all walked to the restaurant. Notice there is almost no steps recorded during nearly 3 miles of walking. But then, at around 6pm, my walk to the nearby grocery store is captured.

I was a little annoyed to lose those steps, and it occurred to me that my steps over the weekend, despite doing a lot of walking, seemed unnaturally low. So I started thinking if there was anything in common during those times when the steps were not captured. And there was!

During the time we walked to- and from- the restaurant yesterday, I was pushing a stroller. I was also pushing a stroller quite a bit over the weekend. But I was not pushing the stroller when I walked to get my haircut or when I walked to the grocery store. It seems to me, therefore, that the FitBit Flex has some problems capturing steps when the arm on which you wear it is fairly steady–as when you are gripping the handle of a stroller or shopping cart.

I planned to contact FitBit about this but checked their FAQs first, and found this tidbit in their accuracy FAQ:

Will Flex count steps when I’m pushing a stroller or a shopping cart?

Flex will count your steps when you are pushing a stroller or a shopping cart as we do want to give you credit for this activity. That said, because your hands are not moving, your step count may be a bit lower during this activity.

Although it is a little frustrating to lose all of those steps (I’d estimate that over the weekend, in excess of 8,000 steps are missing from my data because I was pushing a stroller), it was interesting to make and confirm this discovery entirely from the data and independent of the FAQ. The fix is pretty easy–push the stroller with one hand. And most importantly, I know that while FitBit reported my activity was lower, I was still getting the exercise I need.

My FitBit Flex and Sleep Tracking

One question I’ve been asked on several occasions is just how accurate the sleep tracer in the FitBit devices are. I used a FitBit Ultra for over a year and have been using the FitBit Flex for a couple of weeks now. I’ve used the sleep tracker in both, but unlike the Ultra, which required an awkward armband, the FitBit Flex is always on so it is easy to use the sleep tracker.

My experience has been as follows:

  • On nights when I feel like I’ve slept pretty well, the FitBit Flex shows that by showing that I didn’t wake up very many times, or wasn’t very restless.
  • On nights when I feel like I haven’t slept well, the FitBit shows more restlessness.

It is hard to put this to the test because I tend to sleep in waves of good or bad. That is, when I am sleeping well, I’ll sleep well for weeks on end. Then, when I’m not sleeping well, that will go on for weeks as well.

Last night, however, seemed like a very poor night’s sleep from my perspective. I was tired, but restless. I felt like I was looking at the clock every few minutes and really didn’t settle down into a deep sleep. I figured that last night would be a good test to compare my perception of my sleep to what the FitBit Flex recorded. Here is what the FitBit Flex had to say:

Sleep Chart

The red lines show when I was awake. The light blue lines show when I was “restless.” Looking at this, I think it reflects very well my restlessness throughout the night.The first red line, right around 11am, was when the Little Man came into our room to tell me he needed to use the bathroom. (This is a little difficult operation for him to perform at night by himself with his cast on.) The second red line, right around midnight, was when I awoke after an unusual dream1 and jotted a note about the dream so I wouldn’t forget it.

But look at all of those light blue lines, scattered pretty evenly throughout the night. It seemed to me that I was tossing and turning for most of the night, and that is exactly what the FitBit captured. Still, a more quantitative number would be helpful. When you drill into the details for the night’s sleep you see something like this:

Sleep Details

Here, you can see that I fell asleep in 4 minutes, was awakened 17 times (some of those times count as “restlessness” as opposed to being awake, the difference being how much movement there is each time. I was in bed for 7 hours and 54 minutes and asleep for 7 hour and 16 minutes. This makes my “sleep efficiency” for last night 93%/

I have sleep efficiency data for other nights, and it seems to me that when my sleep efficiency is above 96%, I feel like I’ve slept well. When it is between 94-96%, I slept “okay.” But when it falls below 93%, I feel like I’ve had a rough night.

I think this backs up my feeling that the FitBit does a reasonably good job of capturing the quality of your night’s sleep. The resulting data matches my perceptions very well. So when I am asked how well the FitBit tracks the quality of my sleep, I guess my answer is the same as it has always been:

It does a very good job, as far as I can tell.

  1. About which I’ll have more to say in a subsequent post.

FitBit Flex: My Initial Thoughts After One Week of Use

I got a new FitBit Flex last Friday, one week ago. It was a replacement for the FitBit Ultra that I’d used for more than a year, before losing it back in March. The Flex is FitBit’s newest activity monitoring product. You wear it as a wrist band instead of clipping it onto your clothing and it has some nice new features that make it, in my mind, an almost ideal tool for the job.

FitBit Flex

The basics

The FitBit Flex tracks nearly every activity captured by the Ultra and One devices. It tracks your steps, distance, activity level, calories, and sleep. The only thing it lacks that the Ultra had was an altimeter that allowed the device to track the stairs you climbed. The FitBit Flex doesn’t do this, but its other features more than make up for that.


I love the fact that you can wear the Flex on your wrist. It is unobtrusive, easy to put on, and then you can forget about it. You don’t have to take it off if you don’t want to. It is waterproof and safe to wear in the shower. I wore it once in the shower just to see, but I’ve taken it off since because it felt weird to have it on in the shower. But it is nice knowing you don’t have to worry about it getting wet.

The fact that you wear it on your wrist means you don’t have to remember to clip it on in the morning, or if you’ve left it clipped to your pants in the evening (with the subsequent concern that it might go through the laundry). You can’t really forget it if you are wearing it. And because you wear it on your wrist, you can sleep with it on to easily track your sleeping. With the Ultra I had to put on an awkward wristband and then slip the FitBit Ultra into the wristband. With the Flex, you just wear it to sleep the same way you wear it throughout your day.


The FitBit Flex does not have a display readout like the Ultra did. If you tap the wristband, you’ll see five dots light up for a second. After a second, the dots will steady to indicate how far toward your step goal you are. Each dot represents 20% of your goal. If you see 4 dots, you are 80% to your goal, if you see 5 dots, you’ve reached your goal for the day. And when you reach your goal, the device will buzz gently on your wrist to let you know.

The Flex also has a silent alarm. You can set a one-time alarm, or a repeating alarm, and you can have more than one alarm. This is a wonderful feature. I’ve setup my device to wake me at 6:15 am Monday through Wednesday, and 6:30 am Thursday and Friday. It wakes you with a gentle buzz that is completely silent, save for those vibrations.

It might seem like a downside not to be able to see your steps directly on the device, but the Flex has lower power WiFi via BlueTooth 4 that will sync with your iPhone (and other devices) so that if you want to see your numbers for the day, you simply pull out your phone and open the app.

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Writing with the Google Chromebook

I am currently away on an Internet Vacation. I’ll be back online on March 31. I have written one new post for each day of my Vacation so that folks don’t miss me too much while I am gone. But keep in mind, these posts have been scheduled ahead of time. Feel free to comment, as always, but note that since I am not checking email, I will likely not be replying to comments until I am back from my Vacation on March 31. With that said, enjoy!

A few months back I got a Google Chromebook. I wrote up some initial thoughts on my Chromebook, and now I wanted to talk about how the Chromebook works for me as a writing tool–which was, after all, the main reason I got it.

Physical attributes

The Chromebook is very light-weight. To me it doesn’t feel much heavier than my iPad 2. This is great because I can toss it into my messenger bag without fear of leaning to one side when I walk, the way it seems I do when I put my work laptop–a high-end Dell of some kind or other–in said bag.

The keyboard feels natural enough to me. At least, I can type as fast on the Chromebook keyboard as I can on any of the other keyboards that I use (we’re talking at the rate of 75-85 words per minute) and I don’t seem to make any more mistakes.

Perhaps the one drawback is the “litter box” scratch pad for the mouse. Just about every laptop has them these days, but they are not my first choice in mouse manipulation.

I think the battery life is around 6 hours or so, but I’ve only run the battery down once, and it was an accident on my part. (I thought I’d plugged in my Chromebook to charge overnight and I hadn’t.)

Finally, the screen. Until I got my Chromebook, I had been doing writing away from my home office on my iPad using an external BlueTooth keyboard. One of the reasons I wanted a laptop was because the iPad screen was a little too small for me. I prefer to setup my writing screen with larger, readable fonts and when I did that on the iPad, there wasn’t much screen real estate left over. The Chromebook is better. The screen is much larger and when I am in full-screen mode, I have just what I need to get my writing done.

Writing software

One sacrifice I made, switching to the Chromebook was to give up my beloved Scrivener for first and second drafts. I still use Scrivener, but now I use it for my third, polishing draft, from which I compile the manuscript that will be delivered to my editors.

After some floundering around with various simple, text-based editors, I eventually settled back on Google Docs. I was hesitant about this at first, but I soon realized that by writing some Google App Scripts, I could highly tailor Google Docs to my own needs. I could automate a lot of stuff that I’d done manually. Indeed, for the first time ever I am now able to capture what I write each day in Evernote and actually see what changed from the previous day. This is done entirely through automated Google App Scripts that I’ve written. I have an advantage here over people who don’t write code, but it is, after all, what I do for a living when I am not writing stories.

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Initial Thoughts on My New Google Chromebook

A few weeks back, I got a Google Chromebook. I got the machine so that I could have an easier time writing while away from my home office. I had previously been doing my writing on my iPad 2, using an external BlueTooth keyboard, and that worked out fine, but the screen size was a little too small for my needs. I needed something more comfortable, and the price of a Chromebook made it worth checking out. I’ve had my Chromebook for a few weeks now, so here are some of my initial thoughts on it. These are by no means comprehensive. I ended up getting the Samsung $249 model:



This model is extremely lightweight. And it boots up faster than any computer I’ve ever had, from cold shutdown to fully ready to go in well under 20 seconds. It also fits nicely in my messenger bag without adding a whole lot of weight, which is convenient.

The basic OS takes a little getting used to because it is essentially all browser-based. The upshot of this is that the browser in question is Chrome, which is what I used on all of my other devices and platforms anyway. There is plenty of local storage for my needs, but the idea is that this is mostly a thin client. Google Docs is ready to use and available offline, which is convenient, and one of the “goodies” that comes with the Chromebook is an additional 200 GB of storage on Google Drive, so I have plenty of space for documents.

But I generally don’t use Google Docs for my writing. I was looking for something cleaner and simpler, something akin to iaWriter on my Mac and iPad. The best product I’ve found is called WordFlow made by AwesomeSource and available through the Chrome Extension store. This gives me a full-screen editor that can handle markdown files (.md) just like iaWriter can. The files are available offline, and I can save them to my Google Drive so that I can work on them on other devices when I’m not using my Chromebook. The features are minimal, but the distractions are almost nil and the layout is perfect for the screen size. Here is a screen capture of WordFlow on my Chromebook, which should give a sense of how clean and simple it is:

Screenshot 2013-02-06 at 12.56.39 PM.png


As far as web browser, email, social network and blogging goes, there is absolutely no difference between the Chromebook and my iMac, since I do all of these from within the Chrome browser. That’s a nice little benefit to have. I try to avoid it on the Chromebook, because my whole purpose in getting it was not to distract myself with social media, but to focus on writing when I’m away from my desk1.

One of the most unexpected, and coolest features I’ve uncovered is the “Chrome Remote Desktop” application. With a little configuration, this allows you to access any machine over the Internet for which you have setup remote access. It has proven useful on several occasions so far, to be able to access my iMac while I am at work, or in another room of the house. You are prompted for which machine you want to connect to, and a special password to authenticate:

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  1. At the moment, I am writing this blog post on the Chromebook because I’m upstairs with my little boy, who is home sick today.

A Crucial Addition to My @ThinkGeek Bag Of Holding

On Monday, I posted about my new ThinkGeek Bag of Holding and how it contains my entire mobile paperless office within its TARDIS-like interior. There was one crucial item missing at the time. Indeed, I received the item the very evening I made the post and it has since been added to my Bag of Holding. What good is a paperless office without a scanner?


The good people over at Apparent send me a Doxie One scanner to see if it fits into my paperless lifestyle. And as you can see from the above picture, it appears to fit quite well, so far. I plan on taking the Doxie One on vacation with me and running it through a healthy trial. Two things I like about it already:

  1. It’s conveniently small and fits easily into my Bag of Holding without much added weight.
  2. The Doxie One has the Coolest. Instruction. Manual. Ever. It’s a comic strip, people!

You can expect a full report from me on the Doxie One when I return from my vacation in early January. In the meantime, you can drool over that picture up there.

ThinkGeek’s Bag of Holding Is Perfect For a Mobile Paperless Office

Every since I started on my journey to go paperless, I have found that I can carry less and less around with me and still be just as productive. One consequence is that, while I used a rather large backpack to lug things to and from where I was going, I made less and less use of the space in that backpack. So I began a cursory search of alternatives. I had an old messenger bag that I used to use, but after giving it another try, found it was too flimsy for what I was looking for. It occurred to me that many I wasn’t the only one with this particular problem, and so I sought out ThinkGeek as a possible source for a solution. And they came through.

I ordered their Bag of Holding messenger bag. It arrived and Friday and today is the first day I’ve really given it a good test run. And so far, the results have been great. It is a sturdy, canvas bag that isn’t too big or small for my needs, but just right. Here is mine sitting on a meeting chair in my office:


I tried to think through just what I’d need to carry with me in this mobile paperless office of mine, and then tried to organize it in some sensible manner. Fortunately, the Bag of Holding made this pretty easy. It has got a ton of pockets–some of which I haven’t even used yet–and yet remains compact. Here is how I carry and organize some of my paperless office:


In this front pocket, I keep stuff for which I might want easy access: my stylus, microfiber cloth, spare batteries, ear buds. And yes, those are business cards. Going paperless is asymptotic, you get very close but can’t ever seem arrive at that perfectly paperless plane of existence.

In a slightly larger pocked, I keep some other useful things like by BlueTooth keyboard for my iPad, or stuff that I have to put in the mail:


In yet another pocket are those things that I tend to take out for the bulk of the day once I am established in my workspace:


As I said, there are still at least 3 unexplored pockets. Of course, there is also a few more items that will need to fit in here, like some power cords. I’m also curious to see if the Doxie One scanner I am soon getting will also fit snugly in the bag. Despite all of the stuff I put into it, the bag is still slim, light and sturdy and I am really digging it as a functional storage space for a mobile paperless office. Way to go ThinkGeek!

My New iMac Workspaces

As you might imagine, I spent quite a bit of time last night–and as much as I could manage today–getting my new iMac setup. This included installing software and transferring data, something that isn’t nearly as complicated as it used to be. There were some things that took a bit of work. For instance, I use GeekNote to automate a lot of stuff with Evernote data and that takes some time to configure properly. But by and large, it was easy. All of my music is already in iTunes match. All of my data is backed up by iDrive. The installers for my most frequently used applications (Scrivener, Evernote, Mathematica, etc.) were all on my external 2 GB hard disk. Once I had that all transferred, I set about getting my desktop spaces configured optimally for how I work. I’m new to Mountain Lion and noted that the way Spaces used to work is a bit different. Nevertheless, I managed to set up 4 “desktops” that I can easily swipe between. They are as follows:

1. My Productivity Desktop

Desktop 1.png

My “productivity desktop” is made up of three main parts:

  1. Google Chrome, set to autoload Gmail, Google Calendar, Twitter, Facebook, and this blog. That is the window that appears on the left-hand side of the screen.
  2. Evernote, for which I have countless uses, appears on the upper-right part of the screen.
  3. Terminal appears in the lower right. I use the UNIX terminal to manage my todo list, and I like that it is always visible and accessible.

2. My Writing Desktop

Desktop 2.png

love being able to have Scrivener side-by-side with edits on the same screen. This is a huge bonus and makes the large screen completely worth the extra cost. In the image above, you can see an edited version of a Word document. In the same workspace, you can see the same document in Scrivener. It will make it so much easier to be able to work with these two programs side-by-side on one screen.

And putting Scrivener into Full Screen mode is a single mouse-click away. So that when I am working on new stuff (as opposed to revising), I have the entire screen dedicated to my writing, without any distractions.

3. My Entertainment and Reading Desktop

Desktop 3.png

Of course, sometimes I need to listen to some music, or take a break to keep up with my RSS feed. That is where the third desktop comes in. On the left you can see iTunes and on the right is Reeder, the app I use to keep up (best as I can) with my RSS feed.

4. Blank Desktop

Finally, I have a blank desktop I can use for miscellaneous tasks.

Each of these desktops is accessible through a simple 4-finger swipe in the direction I want to go. I used Mac OS’s Mission Control to set them all up and assign applications to the “Desktop” in which I wanted them to be anchored. Now, there is no clutter. I can easily get to what I want to work on in either a couple of swipes, or a quick chorded keystroke.

Aside from blogging, I haven’t yet done any real writing on the new computer, but that should change tomorrow.

Can you tell that I am totally in love with my new iMac?

My awesome little Fujitsu ScanSnap S1300i

Recently, the good folks over at Fujitsu sent me a ScanSnap S1300i portable scanner1. Until recently, I have been using my Canon ImageFormula P-150M. I’ve been very happy with the Canon scanner, but there has been one recurring problem I’ve had with it: page feeding. Half the time I load multiple pages into the feeder, they either pull through simultaneously or get jammed on their way through. Since many of the documents I scan are multipage, you can imagine this can be frustrating.

So I decided to try the ScanSnap S1300i, mostly to see if it solved this problem. It is comparable in most ways to the Canon, perhaps just slightly bigger. But when it comes to scanning multiple pages, it does a far superior job. In the 10 days that I’ve had the ScanSnap, I’ve fed dozens of multiple page documents through it, including documents that would jam the Canon and have not once had a jam. Nor has the scanner decided to pull through multiple pages at once. As far as I can tell, the page feeder is on the ScanSnap is better than the one on my Canon and this makes me very happy because it solves the only real problem I had with my scanning. I even scanned documents that were creased and folded at some point–these documents always stymied by Canon scanner, but no so the Fujitsu ScanSnap.


Beyond the ability to successfully scan multiple pages without issues, the ScanSnap S1300i also does the things I absolutely must have my scanner do:

  • Scans directly to Evernote. Load the paper, click the button and the document is automatically scanned into Evernote as a searchable PDF.
  • Duplex scanning in a single pass (scans both sides of the page at the same time, and knows to ignore blank pages)
  • Can handle different page sizes.
  • Will straighten out crooked scans.
  • Nice power management features.

While I like my Canon scanner, I think the ScanSnap S1300i is better because it doesn’t have issues with the page feeder. This saves me time and allows me to get my scans into Evernote on the first try.

There are lots of other features of the ScanSnap that I haven’t tried yet, but that look good. You can stitch PDFs together, you can scan in business cards and capture the information. You can use multiple scanning profiles. But for what I do–my 10 minutes of scanning each day–the features that I described above are all I need and they work great. I would recommend the ScanSnap S1300i for people looking for a reliable, portable, duplex scanner that can scan directly into Evernote. It’s a great little scanner.

  1. They did this because they know I am Evernote’s Paperless Lifestyle Ambassador, but they did so explicitly with no obligation to say nice things about the scanner or even review it at all. Happily, I really like the scanner.

Going iPad: One Year Later

It was one year ago this past Thursday when my iPad 2 arrived in the mail. So I thought it would be a good time as any to review my experiences with the tablet over the last year. To sum up the experience, however, the iPad was well worth the cost. Indeed, with the various apps I use, I have probably saved several times the cost of the device in labor-savings, efficiencies, and other cost-saving uses.

Me, this morning, celebrating the countless ways I've found to use my iPad in the last year.

The things I use most frequently

In the year that I’ve had to play and experiment, I’ve put together a “home” screen for my iPad that reflects my daily use and behavior.


Starting on the bottom are the apps I use most frequently. They are there because they’ll appear on any page I happen to be on. I think that my home screen reflects three activities that I do a lot of on my iPad:

  1. Reading (Kindle, Zinio, iBooks, Reeder)
  2. Writing and capturing information (Evernote, Paper, Penultimate, OmniOutliner)
  3. Social Networking (Gmail, Twitter, Facebook)

There are also a few apps here that I use to relax: SiriusXM satellite radio, Music, and HBO GO.

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“Jump gestures” for e-books

So in thinking about more use cases for traditional books and e-books, I came up with one that would be incredibly useful to have in e-book readers. I’ll use the Kindle App as an example, since that is where I do 97% of my e-book reading.

Let’s say you are reading, oh, I don’t know, George R. R. Martin’s A Feast for Crows. You have the physical book in your hand. Your reading a passage referring to some geographical point of interest so you flip quickly to the map and then back to the passage you were reading. Very easy to do in a physical book. Not so easy in an e-book.

In my Kindle App, there are a couple of ways I can do this:

  1. I can go to the table of contents, click the map, take a look at it, and then click the Back button a few times to get back to where I was in the text.
  2. I can bookmark the map, jump to the bookmark, look at the map, and then return to where I was in the text.

The problem is that each of these methods take at least 3 click to get to the map.

I think a very useful feature would be to be able to assign a single bookmark to a “jump gesture.” It would work like this:

  1. I bookmark the map page and assign that bookmark to my jump gesture.
  2. As I’m reading, when I want to refer to the map, I use the “gesture” (whatever that gesture might be, maybe a 3 fingered backward swipe, it really doesn’t matter) and I am instantly on the map. All I have to do is that swipe. To get back to where I was in the text: repeat the gesture.

This gesture acts as a toggle and would let me get to the reference point as quickly as I could in the traditional book. And of course, it would apply to other things than just maps. Maybe there is a passage you want to keep referring back to. Assign that bookmark to the jump gesture and you can swipe to it instantly.

I can’t imagine this would be a difficult gesture to implement. Maybe it’s just me but I would make heavy use of this feature if it was available.