Transparency

Transparency

Something that I really enjoy is configuring my devices to be as transparent as possible. A good tool is one that you don’t have to think about using – you just use it. It should fade into the background of your day and let you frictionlessly get things done. For me, the device of choice … Read more

Something that I really enjoy is configuring my devices to be as transparent as possible. A good tool is one that you don’t have to think about using – you just use it. It should fade into the background of your day and let you frictionlessly get things done.

For me, the device of choice is my iPhone. However, aside from actually using my iPhone, I tend to tinker with it. I like to move apps around, much to my girlfriend’s dismay, and frequently change folder names / sorting methods for my home screen. I don’t think I’ve gone more than a couple days without something changing.

Unfortunately, this habit of mine directly contradicts what I want my iPhone to be – transparent. If I’m constantly shuffling apps around and changing things, my mind doesn’t have time to build any sort of time saving habits. Instead of just knowing that Mail is on the bottom right of the first screen, I have to scan for the blue and white envelope every time I switch its location.

At the start of this month, I said enough and started an experiment. Many, many apps were deleted and everything was rearranged one last time. This is now my current homescreen:

app homescreen

That’s it. I have my three most used apps on the Dock, and the next seven most used in the folder; sorted alphabetically. It was hard to get use to, but now I swear by it. I don’t have to think, and my screen gives way for whatever beautiful photo I have as the wallpaper (which does still change from time to time).

There’s a saying that goes “a Japanese garden is finished when there is nothing left to remove.” There is beauty to this system, and the results of this experiment have been astoundingly beneficial to my productivity and sense of peace in general.

When there’s nothing left to tinker with, you tend to stop tinkering.

Too Long; Didn’t Read

Too Long; Didn’t Read

photo credit We have a limited amount of time to catch up on the day’s news as a student. Between our classes, the sports schedules and all of our extra curricular activities – our reading time could be limited to just a minute at any given time. I use tools like Instapaper to help keep … Read more

tldr header
photo credit

We have a limited amount of time to catch up on the day’s news as a student. Between our classes, the sports schedules and all of our extra curricular activities – our reading time could be limited to just a minute at any given time. I use tools like Instapaper to help keep track of things I want to read, but that doesn’t create time later to actually read long articles.

TL;DR stands for “Too long; didn’t read.” It’s a message to the author of a given piece that their article was too long, and didn’t warrant the time of the reader. This may seem cruel, but it’s really just a manifestation of our inability to focus on paragraphs longer than three sentences while on the Internet.

So what can you do? You still would like to get caught up on the news, whether it be world, tech, design or sports. Several websites and companies have tried to fix this very problem. By summarizing an article down to just a sentence or two, they provide you with a quick way to browse the news. This lets you get the facts and then, if you have time, click through to the longer piece.

I’ve used several of these websites, and currently have a list of favourites you should check out:

TL;DR

TLDR website

These guys are the best. Short, succinct stories, with a click-through link to the actual piece if you have time to read. Plus, they have topics covering everything from sports to world news.

Summly

summly website

Following a similar pattern as TL:DR (although Summly actually launched first), this service comes in the form of an iPhone app with a unique UI that let’s you swipe between stories. Although I’m not a total fan of the way you interact with the app, it’s summaries are well crafted and efficient.

Evening Edition

evening edition website

The Evening Edition is a website and email newsletter that delivers the top couple world news stories with a paragraph of smart commentary. I’ve subscribed to the EE, and getting an email with the stories + commentary is a great way to go about reading them when you have time.

The Brief

the brief website

Following the steps of the Evening Edition, The Brief focuses more on technology news than world. The articles here are high quality, no link-baiting or garbage articles, and the writing is well done. If you enjoy technology, or are looking to expand your knowledge in that field, I’d recommend you subscribe.

There are plenty of other services that let you get a bite-sized version of the news, but these are some of my favourites right now. We have limited time to actually catch up on important news in the world, but these websites and apps help us keep, what I call, a responsible minimum of awareness.

Meet Google Chrome, a Better Web Browser

Meet Google Chrome, a Better Web Browser

If you’ve never heard of Google Chrome before, now’s the time to check it out. Surf the web faster, safer and have more fun with this Chrome. Read more

google chrome

I’m always curious what web browsers my friends are using. For our generation, the browser is where we spend most of our time when we’re on the computer. Since we use it for everything from email to Facebook, how fast it performs is something important to consider.

For most, few stray from the default Internet Explorer (Windows) and Safari (Mac). Those that have made the jump from a pre-installed browser are usually running Firefox. I’ve used all three. Safari and Firefox are good browsers – but about a year ago I switched to Google Chrome. Chrome’s speed, along with some fancy features, have cemented it as my default browser, and I haven’t looked back.

One of the best features of Chrome, is it gives you the ability to block plug-ins. This allows you to block Flash (including ads) and dramatically decreases page load time. Unfortunately, it also blocks things like YouTube videos, but a simple click will activate it again. The speed gained from using Chrome and disabling plug-ins is unreal.

When I got back to campus in the fall, I was happily surprised to see that IT installed Google Chrome on many of the computers in the labs. Chrome is a fantastic browser, and if you’re currently using Firefox or Internet Explorer as your default, you owe it to yourself to go download it for a test run. You won’t be sorry.

FourSquared

FourSquared

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Mayor of Mount Union

[Photo credit]

Foursquare, the mobile “game” where you can checkin to various venues around your city to get points, might just be coming to Mount Union in the coming year. While students have long been able to checkin to buildings on campus, an official launch of a Mount Union presence on Foursquare would bring a whole new dimension to this game.

Take the picture above for example. What would it be like if there were “rewards” for the mayor, the person who has the most checkins on a rolling 7-day average, scattered throughout the campus. Maybe the mayor of Mount Union’s University Store gets a 15% off voucher, or there might be a few reserved parking spots as well. The possibilities are endless.

There are some hiccups I foresee if Mount Union chooses to pursue the “rewards” aspect of Foursquare too quickly. For one, I don’t think it would be right to leave out the students who don’t have a smartphone from the fun and someone would have to keep a close eye on certain venues to make sure no one cheats. How would you check to see if someone who didn’t have their phone on them was the actual mayor?

However, these are all problems that arise only if Mount Union tries too hard to get into the Foursquare game. Although details are scarce, I think a good implementation of a Foursquare + Mount Union effort would be a corner of the website (mountunion.edu/foursquare?) or a place on the new media screens we have all around the Hoover-Price Campus Center. For visitors to the campus, they could unlock a “Purple Raider Badge” documenting their trip. Nothing too drastic, but a nice hat-tip to those playing.

Keep an eye out for news in the next year about Mount Union and Foursquare. I hope it shapes up to be another cool way to interact with current and incoming students outside of Facebook and Twitter. And while my dream of students being able to checkin to class for attendance seems very far off, this is a great first step to get people out and exploring our campus.

A template for telling someone you’ve unfollowed them on Twitter

A template for telling someone you’ve unfollowed them on Twitter

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Flying birds

Dear @you,

You may have noticed I unfollowed you on Twitter.

Don’t be mad. Don’t send me an email, text or message on Facebook. It wasn’t personal at all. I unfollowed you on Twitter. It’s that simple, and you don’t have to be upset about it. Let me tell you why:

  1. It’s only Twitter. Read that out loud. Good, now read it again. Odds are, since we’re actually friends, I’m going to communicate with you in real life sometime soon.
  2. Remember that my Twitter account is my Twitter account and I should enjoy using it. Your tweets probably started to infringe on my joy of using the service, so I unfollowed you to make my Twitter stream something enjoyable for me. Please don’t let this insult you. In reality, what should offend you is if I kept following you even though I absolutely despise what you’re saying.
  3. Just because I’m not following on Twitter doesn’t mean I don’t like you as a person. I just may not fully appreciate how you’re tweeting this week. If you really want me to see a specific link, picture or video feel free to text me and I’ll check it out.
  4. I may follow you again. My tastes change all the time. Sometimes, I do get on a I-want-every-quote-Taylor-Swift-ever-said kick and you are the best means to that end.

Thank you so much for the tweets while I’ve followed you. Your insight into various things has been very entertaining and I still have plenty of your clever quips favorited. I also sincerely hope that (insert artist, celebrity, professional athlete name) retweets / follows you soon.

Yours in Twitter,

My Name

iPad in the Classroom

iPad in the Classroom

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This past semester, Mount Union gave me an iPad … but only for the semester. The school gave everyone in my cognitive psychology class an iPad for the semester. We were one of three classes that were given iPads, as we were pilot groups to see if the University wanted to provide all incoming freshmen with iPads.

Every other week, we had to take a survey about how we use the iPad and how often we used it. I only used it in class when we were looking at Power Points or taking notes. Other than that, I used it maybe for one or two hours during the whole week. Our book was online, which was cheaper than buying the book. It was hard for me though to get motivated to read when the book is online and not physically in front of me.

I honestly used the iPad more for games and Netflix. I will admit that it is definitely convenient to use when I need to write an email or quickly check something else online. I also bought an app for learning muscles for athletic training but that was about it when it came to productivity of the iPad.

We took our exams on ANGEL while in class on our iPads. As for the essay questions, we had to type our answers on the iPad. I didn’t mind typing on the tablet, but I definitely type faster on a regular keyboard. Plus, I was less motivated to write more simply because it took longer. I shouldn’t be so lazy, but I still wrote enough to answer the question.

Having an iPad is convenient. I would still never buy one though. It didn’t affect my grades either; it was still up to me if I wanted to learn the material.  At first I thought it was going to be really cool having an iPad but at the end of the semester, I really didn’t mind giving it back

Instapaper

Instapaper

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instapaper

We’ve all been there. You’re being productive on your laptop when all of the sudden you click a link one of your friends sent you. One link becomes two links and before you know it, today has become tomorrow and you still have a paper to write.

The problem exists not because you can’t focus, but because you are worried that if you don’t go check out that link right now you will forget about it and may never see it again. Wouldn’t it be great if there were a way to save that article, video or picture for a later time when you aren’t working? Well, turns out there is and it is called Instapaper.

Instapaper is an online service I have been using for a very, very long time. Marco Arment, founder and single developer of Instapaper, describes his service as “A simple tool to save web pages for reading later,” and it does just that. See an article you want to read, but don’t have the time? Just click on the “Read Later” bookmarklet (bookmarklet. n. a small bookmark that performs an action on the current webpage, rather than directing you to a new one.), and watch a small box appear that reads “Saved!” Your article is now saved in the unread section of Instapaper’s website. You aren’t limited to just articles however, Instapaper can save any link you throw at it, be it video, image or text.

Now, being able to deflect possible distractions while working online is a blessing in and of itself, but where Instapaper really shines is in it’s mobile app. Officially available for the iPhone, Instapaper’s mobile offering allows you to use either your iPhone or iPad to read your saved articles on the go. However, instead of just serving up the normal webpage that you saved, Instapaper parses through the article for just the text. This means that when you load up an article in the Instapaper app, you won’t have to wait for ads or the whole webpage to load, instead, you will be greeted with just the text. This makes for a great reading experience.

instapaper comparison

The app costs $4.99 and is a universal application which means it has been designed with both the iPad and iPhone in mind and a specialized user interface for each. You might be put off by the higher price, but this is only if you want to take your articles with you on your device. The basic services of Instapaper, the bookmarklet and the website, are all free for you to use.

So go now and check out Instapaper and set up an account. The next time you see an article or link you want to follow, save it for later instead of checking it out now. Once you finish with whatever you had to do, just head on over to the Instapaper website and all your cool links will be there waiting for you.

Loved by hundreds of thousands of users, Instapaper has changed the way I work for the better and made me more productive. I highly encourage to give it a try and check it out.

Instapaper website
Instapaper on the App Store

Confessions of an appaholic

Confessions of an appaholic

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app

I’ll admit it. I’m somewhat of an appaholic. But I’m changing that and conquering my impulse buying at the same time.

iPhone apps appeal to me. They hover nicely in that psychologically-pleasing price range of .99 cents to make each purchase not sting as much as it probably should. New to do list manager? Sure, I’ll check it out! What’s that, it’s like Angry Birds, except with mice and cheese? Excellent!

No. It has to stop.

For one, I’m on a budget. Now, my definition of “budget” may be more loosely defined than others, but I like having money available for things that tie into life experiences. I have yet to find the real-world need to throw birds at buildings. Actually, it sounds quite cruel.

Secondly, it reinforces a bad habit I’ve had since I was a little kid – impulse buying. When I was younger, any money I got was quickly exchanged for whatever Walmart happened to be selling that day. I didn’t buy recklessly, but going into a store without a specific item of purchase in mind was the Angry Bird to my piggy bank.

Eventually I matured through high school and realized the value of money for things beyond that $15 to $20 threshold. All was good, and then the App Store hit. Thousands upon thousands of insanely cheap outlets for my free time were just a touch away. They were too easy to buy. One tap to change the Buy button to green, preparing for the go ahead. One more tap and you knew it was only a matter of minutes before a new toy was dropped off on your home screen. The receipt would be emailed to you in a few days, and you ended up spending less than you would have for gas to even get you to a physical store. I may not have thought it was much money at the time, but even the smallest grains of sand, when amassed, could cover hundreds of miles of shoreline.

Oh, and that .99 cent app you just bought? It, with tax added on, is actually costing you $1.06 (with Ohio tax rates at least). As soon as you shove the price up above that .99 sweet spot, things get a little more realistic. I knew the only way to really give myself an edge in this battle was to cut away completely. Five minutes later in my iTunes account settings, I had found, and removed the credit card I had on file. Since it will be a hassle to add it back every time I check out a new app, I see this being a very effective deterrent. So far, it’s working great.

Sometimes you have to go to an extreme to help compensate for a personal weakness. Mine was impulse buying. By removing my credit card, I can’t buy another app even if I wanted to. Drastic? Maybe a little, but if it means that I can start saving a couple dollars here and there for the things that really matter to me, then it’s worth every penny.

Dropbox

Dropbox

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How many times have you been using a computer that isn’t yours and wishing that you could have access to all of your files? This seems to be a common complaint amongst many of the students I have worked with on projects, papers, etc. What if all those files could be accessed anywhere, even if you didn’t have a flash drive or your computer?

dropbox

Enter Dropbox. Dropbox is a tiny application that you install on your computer. When you install it, you are given a single folder aptly named your “Dropbox.” Whatever you put inside that folder will be automatically synced to your online account at dropbox.com and will be able to be downloaded and accessed anywhere there is Internet. However, the real benefit of Dropbox comes when you put most of your files in that one folder. Then, you suddenly have access to every single paper, presentation or photo that you want from any computer.

For me, I dragged my entire documents folder into the new Dropbox one after I installed the app. Since then, having all my documents available anywhere has saved my grade many times over.

The elegance of Dropbox lies in how it handles the syncing between web and computer. Whenever you save a file, Dropbox will immediately sync that version you just saved. However, it will also keep a list of previous revisions you have made to that particular file over time. Mess up your paper and want to go back to the original version? No problem. Log into dropbox.com and restore a previous version.

In short, Dropbox is like having a flash drive with all your files everywhere you go. They even have mobile apps so that you can access your files on-the-go.

Of all the neat uses I’ve found for Dropbox over the years, the most recent one was having a quick and painless way to transfer photos from my iPhone to my computer. Before, I had to email the pictures, one at a time, and then go and download them onto my desktop. Now, I just launch the Dropbox app on my phone and upload the pictures there. Within seconds, the photos appear in my Dropbox folder on my computer.

I highly encourage you to check out Dropbox; the first time you use it to download that presentation you forgot to bring with you will prove how useful and efficient it really is. Check out this link here for an extra 250MB tacked on to the 2GB free plan. Happy syncing!

Dropbox Signup

 

Write and Forget With Simplenote

Write and Forget With Simplenote

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I’ve had a few people come up to me and say that they’ve really enjoyed the app recommendations from my last couple posts, so I’ve decided that one of my posts per week will feature a new app and how I’m using it to make college more fun, manageable or social.

Today, we’re going to depart from the game apps and take a look at a productivity app for all you note takers out there. Now, I know that most phones come with a built in notes application, but the one I’m about to show you has some great advantages over the competition for always having your notes available.

simplenote

With these last few weeks of school being increasingly important, it can help to have a “catch all” system for your ideas. Simplenote (link here) is an extremely simple way to sync your notes between your phone and the web. Along with having a web interface to access all your notes on the computer, it also has apps available for iPhone, iPod Touch, Android and WebOS. If using the computer is more of your style, it also has Windows and Mac applications to keep you in sync.

The beauty of Simplenote is how simple it is (no pun intended). You create a new note, write down some things you want to remember or keep track of and you’re done. All changes are sent to your account on their website and transferred to any of the applications you use.

I personally use Simplenote as a way to quickly grab ideas I have while I’m on the go, but may not be able to act on at that moment. For example, if I’m out and suddenly remember I need to email someone when I get back to my dorm, I throw it in a list called TODO and forget about it. Later, when I’ve gotten back to my dorm, I open up my TODO list and there are all the items I added, but didn’t have to remember.

The other ways in which you can use Simplenote are endless. For me, Simplenote has had a spot on my first page of apps since I first downloaded it. Being able to throw all my ideas in a note and then forget about them has been amazing and low stress. Never forget another thing on the go again.

Go check out Simplenote and its free apps (although there is a paid version to remove ads at the top of your lists) and give it a couple days of use to get accustomed to this new “write down and forget” system. I’m sure you’re going to like it.