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My Tech Picks from Last Year

  /   Sunday January 08, 2017  

A priest once observed made the observation of me that I use technology to simplify my life. Indeed, I do. I bought my first iPod because I didn’t want to carry around a bunch of CDs or mess with having to burn a collection (which is what I had just showed the priest). I got my first Palm device just for fun in 2003 (Wow, I’m dating myself!), but I quickly made use of it so that I didn’t have to keep up with contacts and notes on paper. I’ve read a number of parent and/or Catholic blogs that talk about the problems with technology use. I don’t see quite as much on how we can make good use of it.

So, I want to present four things that have helped me in the past year. These were not new this past year, but I just got to where I found a use for them. It’s kind of like the iPad, on which I am writing this, When I first learned of it, I didn’t think it would be helpful to me. Now, I hardly know what I did before I had it.

The first thing I’ll share is my secret to getting blog posts written because I love to share my “secrets” of his type. I am using an app called iA Writer. The app has been around, and I’ve had it for a few years. Last year, it got some major updates, including the ability to post to WordPress. It also has a new file view that lists all my compositions, and it has really good iCloud syncing. This means that I can start a post on my iPad while sitting up in bed, like I am as I write this sentence. Then, I can go up and continue on my iMac, and later I can make some final edits on the iPhone. The document is ready on any Apple device. I can also sync to Dropbox if I choose. It has been a few hours since I wrote the first draft on my iMac, and now I’m typing this sentence on my iMac. Once I am done, I can use any one of the devices to send the document to WordPress, where I can edit it further or just post it.

Second on my list is a fitness tracker. I have been using a Garmin Vivosmart HR but plan to switch to Fitbit. I used to wonder what was the point of these, but now I am trying to exercise and just be more physically active in general. The device gives me a good indication of how I have been doing on a particular day. The device also sets a goal for me to try and reach each day. This shows me how much I’ve been active lately and whether to keep going as I am or to make time for some extra physical activity. There’s an added bonus here, too. It gives me wrist notifications from my iPhone. At one time, I wondered what was the point of that as well, but I keep almost always my phone on vibrate and often cannot feel it in my pocket when it “rings.” The wrist notifications keep me from missing my wife’s calls and messages.

So, maybe you’d like to know why I am switching to Fitbit. There are a few reasons. First, the Fitbit iPhone app is better. It has a lot more useful tracking features and is more efficient to use. Second, the wrist notifications on the Garmin are an all-or-nothing thing. Either it gets every alert from my iPhone, or it gets nothing. I only want my calls and texts and maybe calendar notifications. I don’t need Facebook or YouTube alerts on my wrist. Fitbit lets me have only those alerts that I want. Third, the Fitbit allows me to set multiple alarms. The Garmin allows only one, and I have to set it to go off every day or every weekday. Finally, the Fitbit just looks better. I debated between the Fitbit Charge 2 and the Fitbit Blaze. I wanted to go with the Blaze but had concerns about its design quirks. For the Blaze, you have to remove the tracker from the band to charge, and the mechanism for doing so looks like it might not hold up over time. So, I’m going with the Charge 2. One tip is to look for one at allows you to change the band. These expensive trackers shouldn’t have to be replaced because the band wears out.

The third thing I have discovered is an app called Simplenote. I’m not sure how long it has been around, but I heard about it on someone’s YouTube. To be honest, it is mostly plain text with clunky markdown support. When you preview your markdown, line breaks get removed. It’s strength lies in the ability to sync very, very quickly and its compatibility with several platforms (Mac, iOS, Windows, Android, and Linux). Oh, and it’s free!

I mainly use Simplenote to store notes that I need on any device, but I found another use for it as well. Since my iMac is too old for the universal clipboard feature of MacOS Sierra, this becomes an easy way to copy text from one device to another. I paste from my iPhone into Simplenote, and it’s available on my Mac literally within seconds. I can then move the text wherever it needs to go on the Mac. Also, compatibility with multiple operating systems means that I can use it even if I completely change platforms in the future. Oh, and did I mention that it is free?

Well, my last pick is not free, and it’s actually pretty expensive for what it does. It has been around for years, but I have just started using it. It’s an app called Things. It has now become my main to do list. It has also helped me get things done that I have been forgetting about for a long time.

The beauty of the app is it’s organizational power. I can create a single task or a project with multiple sub tasks. However, unlike reminders, I can’t set it to send me a pop up at a certain time which I will then dismiss and forget about. Instead, it has a Today list that I check daily. When I create a task, I specify a due date, and then I tell it how many days before then to start showing in the today list. There is another list called Next that shows me all my pending tasks separated by an area of responsibility that I assign. If I don’t even want it to appear there because I can’t possibly do it yet (such as a car tag renewal that can only be done so many days in advance), I can put it on a Scheduled list and set a date for it to move to the Next list. There is also a Someday list for things that I hope to do but can’t now and an Inbox for things I want to categorize later.

It is now part of my morning routine to review the list with emphasis on the Today list. They have a syncing service, so it syncs between my Apple devices. The main downside of the app for me is that I had buy it separately for iPhone and iPad. The Mac app is quite expensive at $50, but many productivity apps are either just as expensive or require the purchase of a subscription for full features.

So, these are the tech picks that I have begun to use and found helpful. It’s now almost bedtime, and I am back on the iPad editing the final draft on my iPad using iA Writer. It’s time for me to post this. Then again, if you are reading this, I already did.

Note that the Amazon links are affiliate links. If you buy through them, I get a small commission, but you don’t pay more because of it. Other links are not affiliate links at this time.

Category: Technology



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