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My happiness apps: Month 1 – Boost energy

4 Oct

The Happiness Project by Gretchen RubinA few years ago, while doing research for a story, I started reading Gretchen Rubin’s Happiness Project blog. When her book came out, I thought, “This is perfect.” I needed to jump-start some things in my life, and her “theme of the month” approach seemed perfect.

I’ve tried to start a Happiness Project a couple of times and failed utterly. Rubin talks a bit about having a tracking system for your various goals, but none of the ones I tried — those on her site, Google Docs spreadsheet (which kept me honest on my New Year’s Resolutions for a number of years), etc. — seemed to fit.

Finding the right tool for the job

And then I thought: Apps! This eclat coincided perfectly with a better reason to start the Happiness Project. Like Rubin when she embarked on the year-long self-study, I’m not unhappy. In fact, I’m really happy. So happy that I realize how important it is to stay happy.

So why apps? The best tool, ultimately, is the one that’s with you when you need it. The Happiness Project Toolkit required me to turn on my computer when I went home, go to the site, log in, and use its tools. Google Docs was more convenient (I could get to my resolution tracker within a few clicks of my home screen), but I still had to get on my computer.

My iPhone is the one thing I bring with me everywhere I go. I use Mint to track my spending (and before a recent update, I used CashTrails). I started using LoseIt to count calories and take off a few pounds. When I went back home, I used Nike Training to fit in a strength workout or two when it was too humid to run outside.

Apps for boosting energy

So, for the first month, I’m going to work on boosting my energy. Specifically, these are my goals, and the apps I’m going to use to keep me honest:

If all goes well, I’ll recount my experiences here, both with the apps and with the Happiness Project. We’ll see how it goes…

I heart my new speakers

19 Jan

Harman Kardon SoundSticks IIWhen I moved out of my last apartment (and the nice stereo system there), I didn’t realize that my laptop would become the center of my musical life, almost more than my instruments. I’m a power digital music user. To give you an idea, here are many of the musical things I use my computer for:

  • Listening to music (recreationally)
  • Learnig lyrics, melodies, and chord changes to songs
  • Slow songs down to learn and/or transcribe the mandolin or guitar parts
  • Transpose songs to different keys to learn the parts in a girl singer-friendly key (most bluegrass is sung by guys)
  • Transfer audio recordings of lessons, back-up tracks for practicing, recordings of new solos I make up to iTunes

You get the point. I should really have good speakers.

But it wasn’t until I realized I couldn’t finish working with our engineer on finishing mixing the Nellies‘ CD unless I could actually HEAR the mixes, that I finally bit the bullet. I read the CNET reviews, I read the feedback on Amazon, and I went for the cool-looking ones with the good sound but weird controls (otherwise known as the Harman Kardon SoundSticks II).

It sounds hyperbolic to describe new speakers as life-changing, but it’s really not. Music was starting to, um, bore me, which didn’t exactly put me in a panic — more like an identity crisis (who am I if I don’t devote a big chunk of my life to music). Now, I feel like I’ve found that joy of discovering new music again, only I’m listening to things that I’ve had on my computer for years. And when I heard how clearly Doyle Lawson’s mandolin comes through on the left speaker on the Bluegrass Album Band stuff, I couldn’t believe how I learned as much as I did on the Bluegrass Album Band Plan* with my teeny speakers.

Now playing: Buck Owens, 21 #1 Hits: Ultimate Collection.

*Bluegrass Album Band Plan (BGABP): A total bluegrass geek endeavor in which a few friends and I learned an entire album by the Bluegrass Album Band (a bluegrass supergroup) note-for-note Yeah, I’m a dork.

Cell phones and SIM cards

17 Mar

To get ready for my trip, I subscribed to Frommer’s podcasts. I was particularly interested in one on tech tools, because I want to be able to blog, upload photos, send email, etc. from my trip. I was disappointed when the podcast was actually about using your cell phone abroad, until, that is, I realized that my cheapo Motorola V551 is a quad-band phone, meaning I can use it anywhere in the world (except maybe Japan–I think they’re on a different frequency). AND, when I switch to another carrier (which I’m going to do when my contract is up), I can keep this phone and just buy SIM cards to use it in different countries. Perfecto.

So if you’re looking to use your cell phone in Europe (or another country), here’s how to do it:
1. What’s the frequency? First off, check to make sure your phone is compatible with the cell system of the country you’re going to. You can use GSM phones in 205 countries (all Cingular phones are GSM). Most foreign countries use 900/1900 frequencies, but the US uses 850/1800. Quad-band phones work on all four frequencies. So how do you know if your phone will work? Log into your cell phone account online and check the specs for your phone. Alternately, go to the manufacturer’s site.
The little quad-band phone that could.

So you have a quad-band phone. Awesome. That’ll save you from buying an unlocked phone on eBay or through Telestial or some other service. BUT, make sure your charger is multi-voltage. Mine says 110-240 v, 50-60 Hz on it, which means I shouldn’t have any problems in Paris or London. Knock wood.

2. Unlock your phone. Call your cell-phone provider to unlock your phone. For Cingular, you want a subsidy unlock code. It’ll take 5-7 days for them to get you the code, which they’ll send either by text or email.
3. Get a SIM card. is a great source of information and foreign SIM cards. As explained on the podcast, their cards all come with English language instructions, and they offer English-language support. You can also buy SIM cards from eBay or at a tobacco shop (are they still called that?) in the country you’re going to. I want to use one card in both France and England, so I needed international roaming, which Telestial’s UK card doesn’t offer. So I went with the French card, through Orange, for $59. C’est un peu cher. Fortunately, I found a promo code for 10% off (SLOWTRAV, if you want to use it) AND they gave me a discount on an international power adapter, so I’m saving $10 off the Brookstone price. Not so bad.
4. Set it up. Since I haven’t actually done this part yet, I can’t really offer much advice. But the instructions on Telestial’s site seem pretty straightforward. I’ll update this post later once I get the information.

Gmap Pedometer

10 Jul

Action Hero Melissa had a link on her website to the Gmap Pedometer, a hack that uses the Google API to figure out mileage of any route. You double-click for each point (the program draws straight lines between each point), and it calculates the total mileage.

Here’s my usual long (6 mile) running route.

I’m going to use it to map out some training runs for the Nike Women’s Marathon in October (I’m doing a half).

Distances include distance from my house (about .75 miles OAB):
4 mile loop
5 mile OAB
5.75 mile OAB
6.75 mile OAB
7.75 miles OAB
8 mile loop

Cassette vs. iPod

6 Jan

This startlingly insightful photo essay reveals the true winner:

Prentice and I were talking last night about the merits of MiniDisc (esp. HiMD) vs. iPod. She basically said, “With HiMD, why would anyone want an iPod.” And you know what? I couldn’t really argue with that. HiMD player/recorders are even cheaper (but they can’t store your calendar and contacts).