Whoo-hoo! Happy spring.
The Treo mail alert Swoosh sounds a lot like the background piano drops in Kanye West’s song "Heard ‘Em Say," which is Track 2 on Late Registration (also available through iTunes). Every time mail is received, I start singing:
Nothing’s ever promised tomorrow today
Nothing lasts forever — but be honest Babe,
it hurts but it may be the only way. . . .
|The BBC World Service produces fascinating radio documentaries on various topics:|
- "Building Beijing": Construction within this Chinese city — the site of the 2008 Olympic Games — is happening at such a mind-boggling rate that a new map is issued every three months.
- "Memory": How does memory work, and how does it fail?
- "All in a Day’s Work": Exploring the ways in which people around the world earn their living. Profiles include domestic workers, soldiers, judges and clerics.
I couldn’t stop listening to the documentary about cell phones, which Europeans call "mobile phones." The program explores the history behind, uses of and cultural phenomena surrounding the over two billion mobile phones in use around the planet. How is the mobile phone changing the lives of the poor? Are mobile phone conversations secure? What is considered acceptable behavior of mobile phone use in various countries?
If this got you thinking about your own cell phone use, you may want to bookmark these guides to cell phone etiquette:
- InfoWorld‘s Ten Commandments
- LetsTalk.com’s Guide
- Microsoft’s 10 Dos and Don’ts
- Ask Yahoo’s answer
- Monster.com’s Six Gadget Etiquette Dos and Don’ts for the Workplace
- About.com’s How To Respect The Rules
- textually.org (a blog about texting, SMS and MMS): cell phone etiquette
- CNN.com’s Cell Phone Etiquette 101
- Road & Travel magazine’s Basic Rules of Cell Phone Etiquette
- and more . . .
The Solutions catalog offers all sorts of, well, solutions — or, as the company puts it, “products that make life easier.” Lest you think that Solutions products are akin to Kenji Kawakami’s 101, 99 More and The Big Bento Box of Unuseless Japanese Inventions: The Art of Chindogu, check out this sampling of potentially useful items:
- computer & TV screen cleaner
- desktop paper organizing system
- ATM savings bank
- machine-washable, slip-on walking shoes
- handsomely hidden cat litter box
- plug-in electric bill calculator
- multi-purpose ladder
- three-dish oven rack
- car wheel traction device
- 10-year journal
If you need help with home improvement or getting organized, Solutions also provides a handy list of free clever tips.
Knowing that I have an addictive personality — at least with regard to the "soft addictions" — I do my best to stay away from treacherous time traps like Freecell Solitaire. And if I owned a game console that could play Super Mario, I’d probably never see the light of day.
This morning, however, Fresh Air had an interesting story about a new video game that got my attention. The game is supposed to be both highly addictive and very popular — and not just among teenage boys, but among girls and grown women as well. Most intriguing of all, it’s not violent — at least in a kick-and-punch and shoot-’em-up kind of way. Produced by Namco Games, Katamari Damacy ("Roll It Up" in English) and the more recent We Love Katamari, begin with your avatar pulling a tiny ball that rolls around picking up random objects, like candy and game tiles. As you successfully pick up more and more objects, your ball grows larger and larger — first picking up animals and automobiles and then eventually skyscrapers and airplanes — until you’re devastating the landscape with your colorful mass of sticky stuff. The concept seems like an amalgam of the 1950s sci-fi flick The Blob and a black hole, with a little 3D PacMan thrown in.
I dare not start rolling around in such an appealing virtual world because of my aforementioned addictive nature, but if you’d like to give it a go, Katamari is available for Sony PlayStation 2 and other video game consoles.
Archie Bunker once mused, “You got your Thermos here, see? You can put coffee in it and it stays hot, or you can put beer in it and it stays cold, right? So my question is, how does it know?" Clearly, Archie never grasped the concept of insulation; nonetheless, Thermos products — three decades ago — worked so well that they seemed like magic.
Thermos has been updating its line of products, including its signature beverage bottles. The container featured here ain’t your parents’ Thermos. This lightweight, double-wall vacuum-insulated Food Jar with Folding Spoon comes with a stainless steel folding spoon that fits neatly into a storage compartment, which, by the way, has enough room to hold condiments and other small items. The Food Jar keeps your meal hot or cold, just the way you (and Archie) like it — and it looks cool to boot.
Oh, gosh, I have trouble getting up in the morning. I usually "negotiate" with my alarm clock for several snooze periods until I finally turn on the lamp and groggily make my way out of bed. Or I give up entirely, turning off the alarm clock altogether, too half-asleep even to think the words "forget it" consciously. Then the cat comes in and vociferously demands breakfast. There’s no way I can sleep through that — and once I’m up, I’m up for the day. While the cat is an effective alarm clock, the waking experience isn’t the most pleasant.
Sound familiar? Maybe it’s not our fault. The alarm clock wakes us up by the time of day (an external factor), not by the best time for us to wake up naturally (an internal factor). Aren’t there some times you wake up more easily than others, regardless of whether you’ve had your requisite hours of sleep?
On the January 2 episode of Dr. Phil (which I watch when I’m in the mood to feel self-righteous and falsely superior to others), guest LuAnn has profound trouble getting up in the morning. Even a high-decibel alarm located across the room from the bed isn’t enough to keep her up for the day (she gets up to turn it off and crawls back into bed). In addition to the expected psychological analysis (LuAnn doesn’t want to get up because she’s avoiding things she doesn’t like in her life), Dr. Phil gives her a SleepTracker alarm watch.
This is what intrigues me: the watch — not a clock, because it has to be in direct contact with the body — monitors the biological changes associated with the different stages of your sleep cycle and wakes you up during an "almost-awake" moment, which is the easiest stage for waking. Instead of setting the alarm for an exact time, like 7:00 AM, you set an "alarm window," such as 6:30 to 7:00 AM. The SleepTracker finds the "almost-awake" moment during that half hour (like, say, at 6:53 AM) and wakes you up then. It can also record your sleep data so that you can review your cycles and see what works best for you over time.
The Gear Live reviewer and others seem to love the SleepTracker, even if it’s a bit pricey ($150) for a geeky-looking carpal accouterment. SleepTracker maker Innovative Sleep Solutions also offers some rather obvious sleep tips as well as a forum for SleepTrack users.
How do you manage all the information in your life? For a busy person — and who isn’t these days? — it can be a challenge to find the right information management system. It may help to know that no system is perfect — each has its pros and cons — and you might end up using a combination of several tools to create a customized information management system that works best for you.
Professional organizer Julie Morgenstern advises choosing a single system — paper-based or electronic — for managing all your personal data (calendar, contacts, "to-do" list, notes, expenses, etc.) Time-tested paper-based systems include the venerable Filofax, FranklinCovey, Day-Timer, and my favorite (and best-looking, in my opinion) organizer pages, Day Runner. Desktop software applications include the robust ACT! contact management software, Microsoft OneNote and IBM Lotus Organizer. And, of course, there is a plethora of handheld devices and PDAs to choose from.
Because each medium has its own advantages, I use all of these in conjuction:
- Microsoft Outlook as my desktop PIM. I used to use Palm Desktop until the sheer volume of data I was managing unleashed some sort of glitch that crashed the application with increasing frequency. (Perhaps this bug has been fixed in subsequent versions.)
- A Palm PDA, with the data synched to Outlook, thanks to Chapura PocketMirror.
- A series of Excel spreadsheets to manage my business data, fitness record, reading list, wish list and generic weekly schedule.
- A good old-fashioned notebook and pen — although I haven’t graduated to the Hipster PDA yet.
While it may seem complicated to use all of these tools, all of my information is well organized, and if my desk isn’t already clear, it’s very easy to tidy up.
Other resources worth considering:
- FlexAddress Systems: a paper calendar system with removable contact stickers for easy management. This system was created by Judith Moncrieff Baldwin, author of What Your Little Black Book Reveals: The Incredible Secret Power of the Addresses You Keep!
- Calendar Creator software: features include hundreds of templates, FranklinCovey layouts, Outlook support, calendar displayed as screensaver, images and more.
- Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity, by David Allen. This has been on my bookshelf for a while, but unfortunately, reading it is something I haven’t yet done. (If only I’d read it so that I could learn how to get things done — and then I’d find the time to read Getting Things Done…ah, the old chicken-or-egg problem.)
|What’s in your ideal Swiss Army knife? Along the lines of the ultimate house, I designed my own ultimate pocket tool. My Swiss Army knife would include the usual:|
- knife, of course
- nail clipper
- nail file
- screwdriver (both flat and Phillips heads)
- can opener
- magnifying glass
as well as some high-tech mini-gadgets:
- audio player (which doubles as USB storage)
- alarm clock/timer/stopwatch
- basic PDA with calendar, contacts and notes functions
- wi-fi and Bluetooth connectivity
- transistor radio
- rechargeable battery
and other useful things:
- compact but strong detachable padlock
- measuring tape
- coin holder
- lip balm
- pill case
- sewing kit
Yeah, I realize this would probably make an awfully large tool, perhaps too big to fit into one’s pocket — but it’s a fun fantasy. In the meantime, however, we can content ourselves with the Victorinox Swiss Army knife with SwissMemory 1GB USB drive.
Does it fly? Can it cry? Can you eat it? Is it blue? Can you throw it? The Mind-Reading Electronic Question Game is a cool-looking device that can guess an object that you’re thinking of (although I can’t imagine that it could come up with obscure band names and scientific terms). Good for long trips, waiting rooms, bored kids and party ice-breakers.
Or you could just play 20 Questions online for free.