Tag Archives: gadgets and/or tools

Jun
22
2012
Photo Friday: Obsolete

I’d say I’ve been phoning it in recently, but it’s more like calling in sick. All my blog energy went into finalizing the redesign, and now I’m left with a backlog of five dozen post ideas and no idea where to start. How about more crap I found when cleaning my office?

Please don’t tell me you can’t recognize these, it will make me feel old:

This one reminds me of those “Eyeball Bender” puzzles from Games Magazine.

I can sort of forgive myself for keeping the couple dozen floppy disks with stuff from grad school on them. But 10 blank disks? Seriously? Why was I keeping these?

If you think I didn’t color code by course, you don’t know me very well.

I still haven’t thrown out the disks with stuff on them. The hoarder in me wanted to clarify what was on them first. But then I remembered I have no way to read them. So I put them on the trash pile, only to grab for them to check what was on them before throwing them in the trash can…only to remember I can’t read them. Repeat futile cycle of hoarding obsolete technology until exhausted.

I asked Dave how to dispose of them and he laughed at me. He says I should just toss them…no one can read them (duh, including me!). God bless anyone who still has the means to read a floppy disk and who would be willing to rummage through trash to dig these out. Your reward…the results of the survey I fielded about Niagara Mohawk’s energy saving light bulb program? My thesis? My resume circa 1996? Enjoy!

Maybe I’ll hang onto this green one, it’s so pretty.

I stumbled upon an out-of-the-way deserted little filing room at work a few weeks ago. I’d never been back in that suite of offices before and I was curious (and on the prowl for my favorite size post-it notes that our division never seems to order anymore–shh!). I wandered back there on my way out one evening and got thoroughly creeped out. There were 5 1/4 inch floppy disks back there! And a word processor. And an ashtray. I was afraid I’d accidentally entered the early 90s. Luckily I made my way safely back to 2012. That experience actually helped light the fire under my ass to clean my own hellhole of an office.

Do you have any unusable media lying around? Do you think it’s weird that I brought blank floppy disks home so I could take photos? Have you ever felt like you’d gone back in time?

Feb
22
2012
An Ambush of Alarms

How do you feel about getting up in the morning? Do you need an alarm…or four?

When my alarm goes off on work days, I sometimes ask God to kill me. I don’t mean it, of course, but that gives you a taste for how much I hate waking up.

Thus, I use several alarms. To steal a phrase from Elvis, circa Aloha from Hawaii, I’d like to introduce the members of my alarm clock team to you, before we go any further:

For those of you counting at home, there were three alarm clocks in my reenactment video. Some of you might also remember Tocky, my fourth alarm clock who has been on the injured reserve list for several months.

While I waited to see if the Tocky people would send me a replacement (and they did, yea!), I purchased the light alarm clock in the first video. I thought it would be a more natural, less jarring way to wake up. Less jarring is right…zzzzzzzzzz. Also, the chimes gave me tinnitus. Well, I never stop hearing them anyway.

I had hoped being exposed to that light would make it easier to get out of bed in the morning. But that hasn’t happened. That will require more sleep.

A 14-year veteran of Catholic school, I find Lent to be a tonic for my otherwise weak will. So even though I’m no longer religious, I continue to make use of the Lenten season to work on stuff. I’m pretty sure Jesus won’t mind.

Even though I failed miserably last year, I still need to work on my sleep issues, so this year is Lenten promise: Sleep Edition, Part 2.

Lenten Promise 2012

1. No screens after 11pm.

2. In bed by midnight.

So let it be written…so let it be done.

Speaking of writing…since I do most of my blog-related crap during the late evening/night hours (as you can see by the clocks in the first video!), I expect my post frequency here to suffer. But if I get more rest, maybe I’ll make more sense when I do post. We can all look forward to that.

Do you give up anything/do something special for Lent? 

NOTE: For the title, I wanted to use an animal group name that starts with “A” for alarm or “C” for clock. Did you know a group of tigers is called an “ambush?” Seemed appropriate for my alarms. Also seemed appropriate given the mini stuffed cheetah who stars in the first video. Dave gave him to me after I finished my first half marathon and I mistook it for a tiger because I am a moron.

So I call him “chi-ger” now. By the way, a group of cheetahs is called a “coalition,” which I considered using for the title (“a coalition of clocks”), but that sounded a little too civilized for alarm clocks.

Feb
3
2012
Photo Friday: From Cow to Cone

Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post and shared tips. Ice Cream 101 at Penn State was great, but overwhelming. The “it’s 5am and I’m still awake and my alarm is set for 6:05″ insomnia Friday night into Saturday morning didn’t help. I haven’t had a chance to catch up on sleep so I’m still exhausted. In brief, I learned a lot and the class didn’t fully talk me out of this ice cream business idea. I plan to write about what I learned, but only after I’m no longer hallucinating from exhaustion.

In the meantime, here are two photos from the weekend. It was hard to get decent shots with only our small point and shoot and its max ISO of 400.

We got a behind the scenes tour of Penn State’s Creamery. There were pipes running everywhere, all carefully labelled as to their contents (raw versus pasteurized milk, etc…).

I didn’t get any good shots of ice cream being extruded during the batch freezer demonstrations, but here’s a shot I like of ice cream being mixed and frozen in a cool European machine. It seemed like more of a novelty machine than a workhorse. The only way to get the ice cream out of the tub is with this huge paddle-like thing. The company representative demonstrated how you can make the ice cream in front of your customers and then basically shove the paddle full of ice cream in their face offer up the paddle full of fresh ice cream for them to sample. Kind of reminded me of fudge demonstrations at Niagara Falls.

Jan
24
2012
Run to the Hills

The alarm sounded, music uploaded onto the clock interrupting their sleep.

Honest to God, she’s never going to change that music, he thought. At least “Run to the Hills” accurately reflects the annoyance of waking up this way.

I hate when she lets the alarm go on and on, it’s so inconsiderate. Doesn’t she realize how exhausted I am?

He rolled around with his anger for a bit and toyed with the idea of turning off the alarm before she got up, but that would really piss her off. He considered an escape from the room, but he didn’t have the energy to right himself. His movements always felt awkward in the morning.

He tried one last time to roll over, but felt like he waded through thick brush. After about 30 seconds, he gave up and allowed himself to roll over onto his back. Positioned just right, he could muffle the sound of the alarm and rest.

He dreaded the days she slept through the alarm. She would check the time, panic, and start spewing profanities about the alarm’s uselessness, making him wince. Yeah, blame it on the clock. Why can’t you just go to bed earlier, woman?

After about a year of this torture, he couldn’t take it anymore. He cracked. Fuck this noise, he thought.

He made sure the alarm would never sound again. It didn’t help her get out of bed anyway. Silence, blessed silence, and rest awaited. 

 

This post was inspired by the Write on Edge RemembeRED writing prompt on personification: “tell a piece of your story from the point of view of an object who bore witness.”

This post is written in memory of my Tocky, who tried to roll around (as you can see from the video, pretty half-heartedly) and play music (only three songs worth, though it held many more) to wake me up for about a year, and then decided he’d had enough of my nonsense and my thick shag carpet and died an untimely death. After much back and forth with the company, they promised to send me a new one. We’ll see how Tocky2 fares.


Write on Edge: RemembeRED

Nov
21
2011
Cupcake Maker, Thy Name is Oven

The future of the corner bakery is at risk. The cupcake craze, in particular, has peaked. Baking at home will never be the same.

You may be curious how I know these things. Well, Sunday I saw this George Foreman cupcake grill at Wegmans and then I knew.

This is a game changer, people. Cupcake-making technology is now available to the home baker!

As you may know, I really enjoy a good cupcake. But who can be bothered to make cupcakes at home? I don’t know about you, but I don’t have that kind of time.

But now, we have a machine that easily molds batter into cupcake shape. Come on, we’ve all been there…you prepare your cupcake batter and painstakingly hand-mold it into a cupcake shape only to have the batter ooze all over your counter when you let go to form the next one. There had to be a better way!

I also never understood how the professionals got that baked consistency. No matter how long I let my cupcake batter sit, the cupcakes never had the freshly baked quality I love so much in a cupcake. Obviously the professionals knew something I didn’t.

Enter the innovative manufacturing company, Select Brands Inc.

They produce small appliances that allow us to “bring the corner bakery into our own kitchen.” Good news for us, bad news for the corner bakery.

I know what you’re thinking. “OK, so the cupcake maker solves my cupcake making needs. But what if I need to make 4 tiny pies?”

Oh yeah, baby.

Surely they can’t have figured out the pie pop?

Think again! Also, pie pop? Huh?  

While Select Brands is working hard to solve all of the most difficult challenges faced by home bakers (one self-contained, kitchen-cluttering baked-good maker at a time), they are being left behind in one area. Are you interested in making eight, and only eight, pre-cut brownies, in a machine that does nothing else? Well, Select Brands can’t help you.

But Bella Cucina offers this problem-solving innovation…because pouring brownie batter in a 9×13 pan and then having to cut them into squares ourselves is beyond most of us.

I love the one Amazon review of this product so, so much. Kelli provides a thorough review of this little uni-tasking machine and concludes, “After trying this device, I could just as easily have turned on the oven & baked a full batch in a pan faster. Frosted them when cool & cut them.”

Whoa! What is this oven thing of which she writes?

Kelli also laments the difficulty of cleaning her brownie maker. Pshaw! As a happy customer rhapsodized in a review of the revolutionary whoopie pie maker, “Are you kidding? For the price this is fabulous.” At these prices ($29.99, but currently on sale at Amazon for $19.99!), why clean them? They’re practically disposable, just buy a new one for each batch!

——————————————-

This post was inspired by this week’s Studio 30 Plus prompt:

“And then I knew…”

I made two batter, everything but the kitchen sink brownies (I threw Twix bars in them!) over the weekend for National Family Pajama Night. Recipe, photos, and review coming soon. If only I’d had the brownie maker (then I could have wasted over half of the batter! A picture of me, Dave, and (poor tortured) Chuck in our PJs will be this week’s Photo Friday.

Jul
23
2011
How I Get My Lazy Ass Out Of Bed

I’m So Tired, I Haven’t Slept A Wink…

Staying up too late is the worst thing I do to myself and I apparently have no willpower to stop it, as evidenced by about 20 years of being unable to stop it. Ironically, I love sleep. I just don’t seem to want to do it at 11pm (or midnight, or 1am). 

The Sleep Equation: Bedtime

My Lenten promise of getting into bed earlier and thus getting more sleep was a complete bust. During Lent my plan was to attack the first, and probably most important, part of the sleep equation: my bedtime. The idea was to get into bed by 11pm. That happened exactly zero times. I got into bed before midnight four times. My average bedtime in the time period before Lent was 1:07am. My average bedtime during Lent was 1:17am. Oops.

The Sleep Equation: Wake Time

Not surprisingly, I never want to get out of bed in the morning. My late mornings affect getting to work on time, how much I can accomplish on days off, and what time I’m tired at night (perpetuating the vicious cycle of sleeping in and then staying up late). I’m sick of feeling like a deadbeat, of missing out on weekend mornings with Dave, of running when it’s already sticky hot in the summer, of feeling behind all the time.

I subjected my Twitter followers to a daily update on my Lenten promise failings and on a day when I lamented being late to work, someone suggested moving my alarm clock across the room.

Enter Tocky, The Alarm Clock That Runs Away

Tocky is advertised as an alarm clock that will “jump from your nightstand and roll away to get you out of bed.” Dave actually got it for me for Christmas. I was 95 percent amused and 5 percent offended. OK, I get it, I’m a deadbeat!

I used it a couple of times in January, but was not impressed. I revisited Tocky during Lent and now I find it much more useful.

The first few times I used Tocky, I placed it on my nightstand, as recommended. This is a very dumb idea. No one’s reflexes are too slow to stop Tocky from jumping (falling, if we are being honest here) off their nightstand. Tocky never made the plummet to my shag carpet, so I concluded I was considerably smarter than Tocky and put it away until failing at Lent.

My first Lenten attempt involved putting Tocky on the floor on the side of the bed I use to get up, but far enough away that I wouldn’t be able to grab it. When Tocky went off the next morning, it rolled right to me. Dumb ass.

So then I put Tocky on the other side of the room. Success! Having to get out of bed, walk around the bed, and reach down to turn Tocky off turned out to be sufficient most mornings to stay out of bed.

Tocky Details

Tocky is expensive, he is $69 (yes, Tocky is a “he”). And quite frankly, given the way I use him, his $69 rolling capabilities are completely unnecessary. But the novelty of it adds some fun to the horror of getting out of bed in the morning.

One fun thing is you can upload MP3s to use as your alarm. You can also record a message, or you can just stick with the cute little electronic gurgling noises Tocky makes.

On the annoying side, the button used to set up Tocky is hard to press and it doesn’t always respond the first time. The dial used to change the clock and alarm times is very touchy. It either spins around uncontrollably fast or won’t respond at all.

If you really feel you need the rolling aspect of Tocky, keep in mind he doesn’t roll around very long, only for about 30 seconds. Lazy ass.

Also, the music option is misleading. While you can upload up to two hours worth of MP3s, Tocky shuts off after 10 minutes. So I suggest selecting two to three songs that will make you want to get out of bed.

Here is a video of my Tocky in action. “Run to the Hills” was an inspired choice, it seemed appropriate for a clock that’s supposed to run away from you and it’s pretty jarring first thing in the morning. As you can see, try as Tocky might, he’s no match for my shag carpet. I barely had to move my camera. He can move quite a bit more on a solid surface.

Results?

Tocky has definitely helped me get out of bed earlier. I’m no longer hitting snooze 800 times.

But I’m also getting less sleep now. I had hoped getting up earlier would eventually, naturally, push my bedtime back. That something would have to give if I were more tired. Unfortunately I’m even more stubborn than I thought. My bedtime hasn’t changed. So now instead of averaging about 7 hours of sleep per night (due mostly to hitting snooze on weekends), I’m down to an average of about 6 hours of sleep.

I miss my executive functioning.

May
3
2011
Go Back Up, I’ll Wait…

This unplanned break in regularly scheduled blog posts is brought to you by my iMac and its fried hard drive. The WordPress interface on my iPad won’t allow me to post anything more substantial until I get my computer back from Apple with a new (heartbreakingly empty) hard drive.

Stay tuned for a backlog of posts that will be as timely as last week’s headlines.

Apr
13
2011
My Mind On My Money And My Money On My Mind

Does this spreadsheet make me look anal?

Biggie said “mo’ money, mo’ problems,” but I say “mo’ money, earlier retirement” (unlike Jay-Z, I’m serious about retirement), so we started working with a financial planner several years ago. One of the first things he asked us to do was create a budget. At the time, he didn’t know the kind of behavior he was enabling.

(When I was younger I got a tee-shirt for my birthday that said “Does anal-retentive have a hyphen?”. Everyone at my party roared with laughter, but I wasn’t 100% sure what that term meant or how it applied to me. Didn’t sound good, so I looked it up (because, as it turns out, I am anal), and saw that the definition included the following helpful explanatory terms: meticulous, compulsive, and rigid. Yes, yes, and yet still more yes.)

You could say I’m compelled to document things. You never know when you might need information on things you did, food you ate, or money you spent several months or even years ago, right? Dave likes to tease me when I’m talking excitedly about some new idea by saying “I think you need a spreadsheet for that.” And I probably do.

Our financial planner wanted us to track our spending for a few months. But I created the following budget template and have entered every cent we spend into it since 2005.

The problem

This is admittedly old school and time consuming. For years, I entered transactions several times a month, sometimes during a Friday lunch break and often catching up on weekends. This worked for years, until it didn’t. Demands on my time increased and, I don’t know, maybe I got a life or something, because I just stopped feeling like spending significant chunks of my weekends catching up on this task.

Last year, I stuffed my expandable zip envelope with receipts until it no longer closed. The stack of monthly statements grew higher. At the end of each weekend without having made any progress, I moved the budget task to the next weekend in Good Todo. That is how I came to spend over 16 hours of my Christmas vacation entering our 2010 spending into the spreadsheet.

SIXTEEN HOURS. Merry Fucking Christmas.

Frustrating when I stopped to consider that’s only about 20 minutes a week if I’d just kept up with it throughout the year. But here’s the thing, it’s already April and I’ve entered only a handful of receipts and the January statements so far. So I have considered saying screw it, five years is enough, I know what we spend, we are OK, I quit. But I am compelled to keep tracking our spending, it gives us piece of mind. Our optional and incidental expenses are not very predictable, and even our regular spending sometimes surprises us, so keeping the spreadsheet helps us stay on track.

For example, did you know that although our household consists of two people and a dog, we spend a third of what the Duggars spend on food each month at the grocery store (assuming their restaurant budget is separate, otherwise we spend TWO-thirds what the Duggars spend on food each month)? Of course you didn’t know this and we didn’t either, until we tracked our spending. There is no way we would ever have guessed we spent that amount.

The key to saving money on groceries???

Which of course is the key ingredient of this

Keeping the budget spreadsheet also helps us decide when we can splurge and how much. For example, a few weeks ago I happened upon the most adorable bag (see below, adorable right?). While it cost more than I usually spend on such a thing , we made an instant “connection” (if I were watching the Bachelor right now, Dave would tell me to take a drink). I loved it, I knew how I would use it, and I knew we could afford it. So I bought it and didn’t feel one bit guilty or anxious about it.

The Solution?

So I decided to continue to keep the budget spreadsheet, but do some research into options for making the task more efficient. Our financial advisor suggested that using an online system like Mint might make my life easier. I didn’t think that my budgeting needs were very demanding, but apparently they are because I haven’t found anything suitable.

What do I want in a budgeting service?

  1. Automatic updates for my key accounts (checking, credit cards)
  2. Customizability of budget categories
  3. Ability to retain ownership of my own data

I signed up for Mint and spent a little time setting up my key accounts and looking at the different features. I don’t need most of what they offer–fancy budgeting tools, colorful charts, or emails warning me that I spent more than usual on clothing last month (I know, I bought a purse, I was there!).

What I really want is for someone else to update my budget spreadsheet for me. In lieu of that (!), I would settle for being able to export my budget information in a way that allows me to easily recreate my spreadsheet or something close to it. But Mint is apparently the Apple of online budgeting and does not want you to be able to manipulate your own data. There isn’t an option for exporting your budget, only individual transactions. Organizing an export of transactions into a useful form (you know, by category and date) would take even longer than my current process.

Mint’s connection to my bank is also wonky. Mint wasn’t able to update my checking account transactions for over two months, but today it magically worked. So even if I were willing to give up on the exporting function, I would not be confident that Mint would have up to date bank transactions.

Unless I find a tool that meets all of my needs, I am stuck entering all of my transactions manually. Am I missing a great tool that offers all three of my critical features? What tools do you use to track your spending?

Jan
25
2011
Do You Have A Minute?

I’ve been meaning to link to this for weeks, but I’ve been steady busy, as my Dad would say. Catalogliving.net cracks me up, but this (semi) recent entry really spoke to me given my task-timing experiment.

Is the fact that this entry is funny a sign that it would be rude to use my timer to limit office intrusions??? Because my first reaction to this entry was to laugh, and my second reaction was, what a brilliant idea, Elaine…

Nov
14
2010
Good Todo

Good Todo is an online to do list that I use. It is a vast improvement over my old paper-based system that involved me writing tasks on whatever slip of paper I could find (often post-it notes) and constantly having to consolidate and re-write the list. I’ve been using Good Todo since August 2007 and now I don’t see how I would get along without it.

About three years ago, my e-mail situation at work got so out of hand that I was reaching the storage limit daily. Just to send a simple e-mail or respond to one, I spent demoralizing amounts of time frantically searching for e-mails to delete while cursing more loudly than I should at work. Somewhere I heard about a book on increasing productivity by letting your “bits” go called “Bit Literacy.” I ordered the book for e-mail management help, but the key thing I gained from the book was learning about Good Todo.

Good Todo is a “bit-literate” online to do list created by the author of “Bit Literacy.” The key feature of Good Todo is its compatibility with e-mail, which is critical in helping with e-mail management. Emptying your inbox and keeping it empty is easier using Good Todo because you can forward e-mails that are tasks directly to your to do list. With your task safely on your to do list, you can delete the e-mail. Since each task is associated with a specific day, you no longer have to use an overflowing inbox as a to do list. You can also create your own tasks via e-mail or on the Good Todo website. Each task has a brief title and the program also allows you to add a longer description or instructions for the task (analogous to the subject and body of an e-mail).

I use Good Todo to store all my tasks: work and home, recurring, errands, and big projects and ideas. I look at Good Todo each day to remind me what tasks to do. I try to forward all tasks that enter my e-mail inbox to Good Todo right away if I’m not going to work on them immediately. You can also use Good Todo to make it appear that you never forget anything, which is fun. Just include Good Todo on any e-mails you send to assign a task to another person (for example 7 days from today). This adds a task to the future date you specify so you remember to follow up on that date.

It’s not free, but the cost is reasonable ($18/6 months) and the customer service is impressive. After I signed up, they asked for my feedback and they actually make changes based on user suggestions. Most of the things that concerned me about using Good Todo have been remedied. For example, I think categorizing is critical for keeping those “someday” tasks from taking over your to do list. Good Todo didn’t allow any categorization of tasks at the beginning but now does. Also, there used to be only one option for prioritizing tasks within a day–clicking on up and down arrows allowed you to move a task up or down one spot at a time or to the top or bottom of the list. The arrows were cumbersome and drove me crazy. Now you can drag and drop tasks to re-organize their order, which is much better. While you could always search for a specific task and click on any future date to see if there were any tasks planned, originally there was no week or month view, which is important for longer-range planning. They recently updated to allow viewing tasks for the next 7 or 30 days, or all tasks in a category.

Some nit picks remain. Creating recurring tasks is now possible, but the available frequencies are limited. Good Todo won’t create tasks that recur biweekly (time sheets at work, changing bed linens…what? you do that more often?) or yearly (sending birthday cards, etc…), which are two of my most used frequencies. Something else that I’d like to see is automatic tracking of the date a task was added. For logy procrastinators like me, I think the shame of seeing just how long some tasks have been on the list uncompleted might help light a fire under my ass.

As I mentioned in the previous post, I have a lot of tasks.  Each task assigned to a day that is not completed by midnight automatically moves to the next day. This means that on Fridays, I spend a good amount of time moving uncompleted work-related tasks to the next week so that I don’t have to look at them on the weekend. Weekend days often have so many tasks listed that I have to scroll to view them all, which is not conducive to prioritization. Creating a “someday” category to dump things that I want to do but aren’t going to happen anytime soon has helped.

Overall, Good Todo includes all of the features I think are most important in a to do list, the price is right, and the customer service is excellent.  I highly recommend Good Todo to anyone looking for an online to do list.