rTracker

The rTracker is currently one of the most versatile and customizable apps for self-tracking on the market. Unlike other tracking apps that offer you a fixed set of questions pertaining to only one or two areas (e.g., your body measurements or mood), rTracker allows you to set up your own questions, so you can log any aspect of everyday life, all in one app.

I personally use it to log and store data for about 70 different life variables, including heart rate, weight, mood, social interactions, situational context, etc.. The rTracker also offers a great selection of measurement scales, from boolean (“checkbox”) to multiple choice (“radio-button”) to numeric and text input. I especially love the “sliding” scale, which better represents latent continuum (e.g., mood or happiness) than Likert scales.

Viewing your past records is easy, and you can always go “back in time” and change or add the data point for any given day and time. Another awesome feature of rTracker is shareability: you can export not only data, but also the questionnaire set up so other people could install the same questions on their phone.

The “function” feature of the app allows you to carry out calculations and data manipulations “on the fly”, right in the app. For example, I track my self-esteem on a daily basis using three questions. The “function” automatically calculates the arithmetic average of responses to all three questions in order to get the summary score.

For those of you who are concerned about privacy: rTracker stores your data directly on your phone, and you export it by plugging the phone in the computer and using iTunes.

Finally, rTracker is truly “mobile”: you are not “tied” to the computer, and can log and view your data “on the go”. It also does not require a wireless signal in order to open and use it.

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rTracker for iPhone
99 cents



Inflatable Bed Wedge

The doctor-recommended solution for acid reflux is to sleep on a gradual incline to prevent acid from traveling up your esophagus. I have acid reflux and I use a dense foam, six-inch-high wedge that lives under my actual mattress.

I used to be miserable when I slept on a hotel room’s flat bed. I tried to stack pillows but it was never comfortable. I also tried short wedges. One was an inflatable wedge about the size of a pillow (totally did not work). The other was foam and went from my head to my waist (not comfortable either).

My wife found this full-length inflatable bed wedge. I bought three and placed them under a king size mattress on week-long vacation. It was the most comfortable I have slept on vacation in years.

On overnight travels by myself, I just take one and place it on top of a flat bed. It’s not perfect, but much better than sleeping on a flat bed.

After searching for and finally finding something that worked I thought it was definitely a cool tool!

-- Jon Carm  

Inflatable Bed Wedge
$90

Available from Amazon



Shave Well Fog Free Shaving Mirror

All the experts (as well as first-hand experience) will confirm that shaving in the shower results in the best shave. However, doing so isn’t necessarily convenient.

One of the obstacles is being able to see yourself. There are a lot of “shaving mirrors” on the market — I’ve tried a boatload — but none of them have worked as well as I’d like.

The Shave Well Fog Free Shaving Mirror is the best I’ve found. It’s large enough to see most (if not all) of your face at the same time, the optics are bright and distortion-free, and they truly have solved the fogging problem.

The reason a mirror fogs is simply a matter of environmental science. Those fancy mirrors that you plumb into the shower water are horrible (I’ve tried a couple of them). The Shave Well mirror solves the problem with its acrylic construction and simple design. Before you use the mirror, you simply lift it off its hook, run it under the water for a few seconds, then hang it back up. This equalizes the temperature and prevents it from fogging. If you’re taking a long time to shave (perhaps because you’re using the excellent HeadBlade on your scalp) the mirror might start to fog a little after it cools, in which case you just run it under the water again.

The mirror is light, won’t break, and is easy to travel with. (Take a suction cup hook with you.) It’s also a lot less expensive that many other mirrors that don’t work nearly as well.

-- Gordon Meyer  

Shave Well Fog Free Shaving Mirror
$10

Available from Amazon



Orange Uvex Skyper Safety Glasses

Uvex Skypers are protective eyewear that have built-in side shields and a brow guard. Lightweight and comfortably snug, they fit me perfectly out of the box, but they do come with a nose bridge and an adjustable temple length for those who need to customize the fit. With great eye coverage and total comfort, I’m sure they fit the bill when it comes to safety glasses, but that’s not why I use them.

With interchangeable lenses that come in an array of colors, I’ve finally found the missing ingredient that completes my nighttime recipe to combat insomnia: the Extreme Orange Anti Fog lenses! For years I’ve had chronic insomnia, and have tried everything from herbal teas to hot baths to the occasional prescription. These things would help for a night or two, and then the insomnia would come back like a tenacious weed. I knew that looking at blue light after dark suppresses melatonin production (a hormone that regulates sleep), and I really did try for one night to avoid my iPhone, iPad, and television in the evening hours. Let’s just say that wasn’t a realistic solution.

Then my husband gave me these cool orange shades that block all ultraviolet, violet, and blue light while allowing green and red wavelengths to pass through, and it’s made a complete difference in my sleep! I try to remember to put them on a little after it gets dark, but even if I wait until just one or two hours before bedtime I still seem to get good sleep. The color might be too dark for those who want to work in their garage, but since the lenses are interchangeable that won’t be a problem.

-- Carla Sinclair  

Orange Uvex Skyper Safety Glasses
$10

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by Uvex



You Need A Budget

I had used Quicken for many years before stumbling on YNAB (it stands for “You Need A Budget”). The YNAB concept is very different from Quicken or other Quicken-like tools. Primarily, it is not an accounting software telling you in which accounts your money can be found, but rather it is a true budgeting software that helps you manage where your budgeted money is.

YNAB operates under 4 rules, which are explained very well via the website and free periodic webinars held by the YNAB team:

  1. Give every dollar a job
  2.  Save for a rainy day
  3.  Roll with the punches
  4. Live on last month’s income

By shifting how you think about budgets from “how much do I have in checking” to “how much do I have in my entertainment budget”, you can really see where you are spending your money, as the budgets roll from month to month. With Quicken, if you go over/under in certain categories for a month, you just tell yourself you will try and do better next month, but the behavior never truly changes.

The initial investment of $60 may feel steep to some when compared to Quicken ($40-50), but the savings you’ll soon gain will more than compensate for the upfront cost. There is also an iOS/Android app, which syncs wirelessly to the cloud (using Dropbox) and allows your budget to be fully up-to-date, whether you check it on your iPhone, your significant other’s Android, or your home PC. You can enter your information immediately at the time of purchase and assign the purchase to the appropriate budget category.

All in all, I couldn’t be more pleased with YNAB. I have a full picture of where each of my dollars are budgeted, and it has changed my spending behavior to be more in-line with my financial goals.

-- Ryan White  

YNAB
$60, or free 34-day trial

Available from You Need A Budget

Sample Excerpts:




Swim Smooth

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I’ve come back to swimming after about 100-years of being out of practice. Spine and knee injuries had kept me off land with poor aerobic capacity, and I was looking for ways to improve both my fitness and technique. I came upon Swim Smooth’s website and their Swim Type guides.

The concept behind their methodology is based on identifying what kind of swimmer you are. The types are based on common problems encountered with swimming technique that group together like a chain of events. The approach then is to tackle not each individual flaw, but what is causing them to begin with.

First, you determine what your type is by reading descriptions and filling out some info. In my experience, getting yourself on video is king; what you look like while swimming can be very different from your experience of it. In fact, I now use my smartphone as a tool to track my progress, by videoing every couple of months, and using instant-playback at the pool.

Each 18-20 page PDF guide for a particular swim type is written in a clear and concise language, and includes four sessions that work directly on what it is that makes your stroke wonky in a sequential manner. There are different ways to use them; you can incorporate them into your swimming routine, concentrate on one before moving on to the next. I cycled through them religiously for about three months, meaning 1-2-3-4 every week. My stroke and fitness both improved, allowing me to begin training for endurance. Before I was simply out of breath after just one lap. I now go deeper into one session for a number of weeks, with two other different swim sets thrown in. It’s up you how to keep using them once you have improved.

There’s also a nifty app featuring an animation of the ideal freestyle stroke. You can control the speed and view from different angles. Sometimes while I’m swimming, a question about a movement pops up and I like to go back to the animation and check it there. It’s free to download on the main Swim Smooth site.

They have a number of other products, from DVDs to swim suits designed for each swim type, and also conduct workshops in the UK. I haven’t had the chance to try these yet. I have no idea about the size of the operation, but my exchanges with them have been very attentive, and make it feel very personable, I would even describe them as the ‘mom and pop’s’ of swimming.

-- M. Katz  

Swim Smooth
Free tutorials and videos

Swim Type Guides
18-20 page PDF
$20

Swim Smooth DVD Boxset
$60

Available from Swim Smooth



What Color Is Your Parachute?

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Still the best job-hunting guide and advice there is. Get the current year’s edition. This is a fantastic tool useful to almost everyone. The first edition appeared 40 years ago, but author Richard Bolles has updated his advice every year (!!!) since then, improving it, keeping it relevant to technology and the economy, and refining his message of matching you and your work. It is now a better career counselor than ever.

Everyone should read this book in high school long before you apply for a job. You should study it anytime you are looking for work or changing careers, and you should browse it every now and then even if you have a job. It’s so darn useful because it is about more than just “finding a job.” In recent editions, Bolle emphasizes that “making your own job” may be the way to for some. There are a lot of other good sources about finding your passions, or writing resumes, or conducting an interview, but none put them together as well as this classic still does. I’ve used Boole’s wisdom and insights myself (always been happily employed) and with my kids (ditto), and with relatives (ditto again). It’s worth your time.

-- KK  

What Color Is Your Parachute? 2012: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers
Richard Nelson Bolles
2012, 384 pages
$13

Available from Amazon

Sample Excerpts:

One way to bring values to your consciousness is to imagine that shortly before the end of your life you are invited to dinner–and to your great surprise people have secretly come in from all over the country and all over the world, to attend a surprise testimonial dinner for you.

At the dinner, to your great embarrassment, there is one testimonial after another about the good things you did, or the good person you were, in your lifetime. No mention of any parts of your life that you don’t want to have remembered. Just the good stuff.

So, this brings us to some questions. If you get the life you really want between now and then, what would you hope you would hear at that dinner, as they looked back on your life?

*

You ask that question again and again of everyone you know, or meet, until you find someone who says, “Yes, I do.” Then you ask them:

“What is the name of the person you know who works, or used to work, at Mythical Corporation? Do you have their phone number and/or address?

“Would you be willing to call ahead, to tell them who I am?”

You then either phone them yourself or make an appointment to go see them (“I won’t need more than twenty minutes of your time.”). Once you are talking to them, after the usual polite chit-chat, you ask them the question you are dying to know. Because they are inside the organization that interests you, they are usually able to give you the exact answer to the question that has been puzzling you: “Who would have the power to hire me at Mythical Corporation, for this kind of position (which you then describe)?” If they answer that they do not know, ask if they know who might know. If it turns out that they do know, then, you ask them not only for that hiring person’s name, address, phone, and e-mail address, but also what they can tell you about that person’s job, that person’s interests, and their style of interviewing.

*

It works because everyone has friends, including this person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you. You are simply approaching them through their friends. And you are doing this, not wimpishly, as one who is coming to ask a favor. You are doing it helpfully, as one who is asking to help rescue them.

Rescue? Yes, rescue! I cannot tell you the number of employers I have known over the years who can’t figure out how to find the right employee. It is absolutely mind-boggling, particularly in these hard times when job-hunters would seem to be gathered on every street corner.

You’re having trouble finding the employer. The employer is having trouble finding you. What a great country!

So, if you now present yourself direction to the person-who-has-the-power-to-hire-you, you are not only answering your own prayers. You are hopefully answering the employer’s as well.

*

Fourth Interview Tip

You don’t have to spend hours memorizing a lot of “good answers” to potential questions from the employer; there are only five questions that matter.

What do you know about this company?
Tell me about yourself.
Why are you applying for this job?
How would you describe yourself?
What are your major strengths?

*

When To Discuss Salary

Not until the following conditions have been fulfilled–

Not until they’ve gotten to know you, at your best, so they can see how you stand out above the other applicants.

Not until you’ve gotten to know them, as completely as you can, so you can tell when they’re being firm, or when they’re flexible.

Not until you’ve out exactly what the job entails.

Not until they’ve had a chance to find out how well you match the job-requirements.

Not until you’re in the final interview at that place, for that job.

Not until you’ve decided, “I’d really like to work here.”

Not until they’ve said, “We want you.”

Not until they’ve said, “We’ve got have you”

–should you get into salary discussions with this employer.

*
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Gantto

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I am a self-employed writer who publishes a new book every 9 months and primarily works from home. For my first several books I struggled with time management and found I was constantly playing catch-up for the two months before my books were due. Then my engineer husband introduced me to the application he uses at work to organize his projects: Gantto.

For my last book I used Gantto to plan out my book publishing process, goals, and the milestones I needed to hit. Early schedule items consisted of writing so many words a week (with milestone markers for finishing a quarter of the book, half, etc.), middle items included submitting drafts and doing revisions, and latter marks included publishing house schedules and promotional items — all ultimately leading to the release date of the book.  The great thing about Gantto is that I can visually see how all of those little steps lead to the final goal on one page, and if life events (illness, family trouble, etc.) crop up during the project, the whole timeline shifts to where end-goal estimation becomes far more accurate. Vacations can be added at any time for scheduling purposes.

For me, seeing the gantt chart really helped put my daily work in perspective, and I found I was much less likely to procrastinate.
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There was still a bit of a crunch getting my last book out the door (unfortunately, the tool couldn’t write the book for me), but my process was tighter and the last week was far less painful than submissions for previous books. I am definitely using Gantto for my next book.

The real time collaboration aspect is likely not as key for the self-employed business owner as it would be for a larger team/business, but I actually found it a fantastic feature. If you are collaborating between two writers or a writer and an assistant, both of you can go into the schedule (simultaneously) and make changes.

As someone who has used spreadsheets in the past to track projects, the ability to shift an entire schedule of events with one click is mind-blowingly great. Add that to the price (free for one month, with subscriptions starting at $5 a month) and I am delighted with this tool.

-- Anne Mallory  

Gantto
http://gantto.com/
$5/month



Beeminder.com

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I have a number of goals I find hard to reach because I struggle with self-discipline. Losing weight, for instance. Great tools like the previously-reviewed Hacker’s Diet have helped me lose weight in the past, but, like most people, eventually I just put it back on again, with interest.

The reason why people have self-discipline issues is that different parts of our brain run us at different times. The person I am as I’m walking past the refrigerator at 10:00 at night is a different person who swore off late-night snacks at 10:00 in the morning. The ancient Greeks had a fancy word for when we do things we know we shouldn’t do, or fail to do things we know we should do: akrasia. Beeminder is an anti-akrasia tool.

For any goal with quantifiable steps, like losing a certain amount of weight per week, or doing something every day, or keeping something to a set minimum, etc., Beeminder allows you to set and track a commitment contract. It then displays a pretty graph of your progress (the Hacker’s Diet-style weight graph is a particularly nice example – here’s the chart of my weight loss in Q4 of last year.
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If you fail to keep on track with your goal, you can reset it. But here’s the akrasia-defeating catch: resetting the goal requires you to pledge money, and each time you need to reset it, the amount you must pledge increases exponentially. This exploits a neat psychological trick called self-binding, which you can read more about here.

The bottom line is that Beeminder is a great tool for fooling yourself into doing what you really want to do.

-- Glenn Davis  



FitBit

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I’ve been wearing a Fitbit since late 2009 and overall I highly recommend it.

The Fitbit is expensive for a pedometer ($99), but in return you get wireless syncing of your steps to your computer and to fitbit.com. Plus you can add friends as “Fitbit buddies” to compare how many steps everyone took each week. I’m currently in a year-long competition with my brother-in-law to see who can take more steps. Inspired by the Fitbit, I will often do 1:1 meetings as a “walk and talk” around the block instead of sitting in a room. I take the stairs at work instead of the elevator. I park my car a couple hundred yards from work instead of close to the building. So far since later 2009, I’ve taken 7,715,383 steps. That’s 3000+ miles towards better health!

What’s not so good? The Fitbit costs a bit much, although I think it’s worth it. If you’re looking for something a little less expensive, try the Omron HJ-720ITC . It’s only $30 and it’s just as accurate, but you have to sync the pedometer to your computer with a cable. The Omron also doesn’t have social features.

The other (mild) issues I have with the Fitbit are that:

  • Water can short it out. Don’t go swimming with it on, and attach it somewhere that won’t get 100% drenched in sweat.
  • There’s no software for Linux (Mac and Windows, yes).
  • After six months to a year, the clip isn’t as strong. This hasn’t been a huge problem for me, as I tend to be quite hard on my Fitbits and short them out or lose them once a year or so.

Overall, I think wearing a pedometer (Fitbit or otherwise) is one of the easiest/best things you can do for your health. This tool is highly recommended.

– Matt Cutts

I use a Fitbit, too. The wireless syncing means that you don’t need to think about it. The hardest part for me is to remember to move the device if I change my pants. The simplicity of the website, and of the user interface on the object, entice you to use it, and to pay attention to the results. It is a small thing that works well and a habit that is very sustainable over the years.

– KK

 

FitBit
$135

Available from Amazon

Manufactured by FitBit