Read it Later Apps

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Before trying the new “read it later” app, here are some options I’ve already tried.  Using the Apple “Save for Later” button, a built-in read it later app.  Sending things to my ebook, when I had one.  Bookmarks.  Syncing bookmarks (and open browsers) across devices with an account, which I found too annoying and disabled quickly.  Finally, saving links and articles in a variety of cloud-based apps (Evernote, Google Drive, Google Keep, and Dropbox).

I decided to try Pocket, a “read it later” app that ranked highly amongst several reviews I read.  I installed Pocket on my devices, including a browser extension. After one week, I’m enjoying Pocket on the smartphone.  The integration is seamless, neatly collecting my “read laters” in one place.  I can tag articles with key terms to sort, or find, them more easily later.  On the computer, I’m required to sign into Pocket to add something.  But once signed in, it’s easy to add and tag articles for later.

A couple of readers commented on last week’s post with their solutions to the “read laters”.  One suggestion is to download articles with long-term value, or to read later, to a cloud-based application (e.g. Google Drive or Evernote, a content management system) to ensure syncing across devices.  Downloading articles means content will always be available and likely you will also have options to add tags, descriptive terms, or put things into folders to help you find them later.  This also eliminates the need to maintain links.

I have tried some of these options already, but I’m selective when it comes to saving something. One of my biggest challenges is having a place to store articles until I can read them.  Quite honestly, most articles aren’t worth saving after I read through them. I’m not inclined to spend the time and effort, as minimal as that may be, to download and organize articles that will be deleted right after reading.  For this purpose, Pocket works well as a temporary “processing” area for articles to see if the make the cut.

Sometimes I need to save actual links for reference, for example, websites I refer to often that have dynamic content.  Pocket will not be a good solution for this, but I can continue to use bookmarks, or a different cloud-based application.

Now to find the time to read everything and avoid a backlog!

Saving Links to Read Later

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One of the best parts of the internet is the access to, and supply of, an abundance of information.  I continually find great, but distracting articles, “to read later.”

The “read laters” end up as browser tabs, which remain open for days, or even weeks, until I get a chance to read them. When the tabs are for research, I’m torn between investing time to organize them, or leaving them open until I can finish.

Here are five distinct challenges with “read laters”.

Challenge #1

Out of sight, out of mind.  I’m so busy handling the daily onslaught of things to read, that putting them aside for later means they get forgotten.  Or move to the bottom of the pile.  I never have enough time to read everything.  And finding that one special link later can be difficult.

Challenge #2

Links come at me from everywhere – emails, social media, notifications, surfing, recommendations, etc. Aggregating is difficult.

Challenge #3

Three distinct deletion requirements.

  1. Links that will have no value after I’ve read them and can be deleted immediately.  Of course, assuming I have the time to read them!
  2. Links with short-term value that I’m saving for research or a particular project (e.g. travel, purchase).
  3. Links with long-term value, like recipes and commonly accessed reference materials.

Challenge #4

Sometimes links lead to downloads, which must be managed in their own way.

Challenge #5

Syncing saved links across 3 devices: smartphone, laptop, and tablet.

 

I use a 3-part solution, but it doesn’t address all my challenges, like a continually open browser window and a hefty reserve of cool things to “read later”.

  1. I set time aside to read some articles.  Then I delete, or bookmark, them.
  2. Anything with retaining value gets bookmarked and tagged.
  3. For everything else I give myself a deadline, then I delete it and move on.

Occasionally I review my bookmarks and clean them up.  This is a great Friday afternoon project.  And offers a good chance to catch up on some reading, or rediscover something.

I searched for some new options and discovered a family of “Read it Later” apps.  After some research, I learned that bookmarks are the best way to save long-term links, which I’m already doing.  However, I can be doing better with my continuously open browser windows.

 

Stay tuned for next week’s posting on my trial run with a Read it Later app.

Grocery List App

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I started using Out of Milk a couple of months ago. I needed a better app to manage my shopping lists.  Read here.

Here are a few of the things I enjoy about the app so far.  It’s easy to use at a basic level. I can maintain a list of staple food items so I don’t have to rewrite them on the list each time.  Once on a list, items are assigned a category (e.g. Meat, Dairy, Produce), all of which can be customized and color coded.  Within each list, the order of items can be rearranged.

The assigned categories (e.g. Produce, Herbs & Spices, Baking & Cooking, Meats, Dairy) closely mimic where you would find something in a grocery store.  Typically the app will assign a default category to any new items added.  It’s usually pretty accurate. Or I can adjust the category to suit my needs. For example, I created a category called “Breakfast” for my morning staples, even though each item can “fit” somewhere else.

The app is useful for numerous functions, but I only use it to manage my weekly shopping list, “Groceries” and my pantry list.  The pantry list is used to track items used routinely in the kitchen.  Once on the pantry list, the quantity can be monitored either by indicating if something is low/full or using a number and unit measurement instead (e.g. 1 jar, 1 bottle, 1 carton, etc.).

If I select an item from the pantry list, I can then choose which list to put it on.  My big frustration with this feature is that the app allows me to add the same pantry item multiple times to the same grocery list.  It should be able to detect duplicates (or even triplicates!).

I use the grocery list when I shop.  Finding things is easy in their categories.  Once placed in the shopping cart, checked items disappear from the list and go in my “virtual” cart (bottom of the list).  There are other features I could be using, such as scanning bar codes and price tracking, but this is overkill for my purposes.

 

When I finish shopping, I can either “delete” the grocery items or “uncheck all” to repopulate next week’s list.  Pantry items deleted from the grocery list remain on the pantry list for reuse.

Another feature is that the list can be shared with other people.  Overall I’m satisfied with the app.

 

Textbooks and Digital Ownership

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When I started taking Spanish in January, I knew right away that I wanted to purchase the e-version of the textbook.  The textbook is designed to be used for 6 courses.  It’s big and heavy.  The ebook cost over $100 less and was weightless.  Sold!

I purchased the ebook noticing that it would only work with an iPad in the fine print.  No problem I thought, as I had been planning on using my iPad in class and for studying.  I was also required to purchase access to Supersite, an online service accompanying the textbook that contains exercises, tutorials, videos, practice exams, etc.  With Supersite, I could also access the textbook from any device with an internet connection.  A classmate asked me for how long I would retain access to the electronic textbook.  Since I had paid full price for the ebook-Supersite combo, it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t actually own it.

Challenge #1 – After investigating, and contacting the company several times, I discovered that I could only download and use the textbook on my iPad.  When I read that in the fine print, I didn’t realize there would be no option to download, or move the file, anywhere else.  The textbook download looks like an app, even though it’s just the book.  The real benefit is that I can access the textbook without an internet connection.  With my paid subscription, I can access the textbook through Supersite for 3 years.

Challenge #2 – I purchased my iPad in 2013.  Although it still works perfectly, it’s one of the models Apple has decided to discontinue servicing.  In the near future, I won’t be able to update my iPad and eventually it will become obsolete.

At some point, I will have to figure out what to do with my unsupported iPad and the Spanish textbook, leaving me with 3 options:

  1. Purchase a new iPad and transfer the textbook over, along with everything else.
  2. Purchase a new non-iPad tablet, but maintain the old iPad just to access the textbook in the future.
  3. Purchase a new non-iPad tablet and pay for the textbook in print.

This was definitely an unanticipated dilemma of purchasing the e-version of the textbook, but I think it’s one that as consumers, we will have to get a lot better at navigating.  I purchased the book, but I don’t “own” it.  In reality, I’m paying to access it, unless I go with option #1.

The Importance of Settings

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Settings was the kind of thing I used to dismiss until I started library school.  Often in school, our homework would be to explore how search systems worked and which options were available in the settings.  Consequently, my confidence to try things with technology improved.  Whereas before I may have been afraid to try options, now I like to experiment and see what happens.  However, I do take precautions.   When I remember, I back up everything first.  I often create test samples to play around with.

Typically, settings exist for every app you use and for every device you own.  It is usually denoted by a recognizable icon of a gear, which often looks similar between most apps and operating systems.

When I get a new device, one of the first things I do is create a shortcut to settings on my home screen.  Then I check out what is available and what it controls.  For apps, settings can often be found with your account profile, or as a menu option.  Typically settings will control things like:

  • appearance (e.g. colors, size)
  • privacy
  • connections (e.g. wifi, internet)
  • actions (e.g. my swipe action in gmail is “delete” by default instead of “archive” – read more here)
  • security
  • notifications (e.g. especially for social media apps)
  • general management

Here is a screencap of the options available through the settings on my smartphone.  On an Apple computer, look for system preferences under the apple menu.  And for computers running Windows, check out the control panel.

There are different types of settings.  Some may be used to control things on a global-level.  In other words changes can be set that will apply to your entire smartphone (e.g. only upload data when connected to wi-fi).  Whereas other settings may be specific for one app, or may only control one area.

You have likely already used settings on numerous occasions to do things such as change the wallpaper on your home or lock screen, add wi-fi connections, or put your smartphone into flight mode.  Or you may have used it to adjust privacy settings for your Facebook account, which Facebook is always changing.

Your challenge:

Look through the settings on your devices and for each app.  Investigate what can be controlled, or changed.  Then you can customize apps and devices based on your needs.

Productivity tip: Try this when you’re waiting for something, or on transit.

When Technology Advances Faster than Humans

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I purchased a new laptop in February 2017.  I went to the store fully intending to upgrade my “vintage” model with the most recent one.  However, things didn’t work out that way.

The newest model from late 2016 was beautiful, sleek, shiny, and incredibly light.  But… it only came with Thunderbolt 3 ports and one for headphones.  This was already the most expensive model. I knew I would have to shell out additional money for adaptors to connect pretty much anything I would use to my new computer.  No USB ports.  No CD/DVD drive.  No SD card (digital camera).  No port for my existing adaptor.  Click here to read more about Thunderbolt 3 ports.  Thunderbolt 3 ports are advantageous for transferring large amounts of data, video output, and fast charging.  However none of these things are necessary for me.

I eventually purchased the older 2015 model because it had familiar ports I could use.  I understand Thunderbolt 3 ports are the future, representing superior technology for transporting and displaying information, among other things.  But if nobody else has them, it can be a frustrating experience to use the computer with anything else.  I would always have to carry adaptors, which seemed inconvenient and annoying.  Even the sales person at the Apple store agreed with my decision.

I already experience this type of inconvenience almost every time I give a talk somewhere.  Usually when I speak at conferences, they are only equipped to handle a PC connecting to the projector.  I developed a habit to pack an adaptor with my gear.  A couple of times I’ve forgotten it.  Naturally, this has caused me a lot of panic and stress figuring out how to present content on my computer without using my computer.  It’s a total pain.  Even switching to web-based presentation software, so I can present from any computer, has not resolved the problem.  Sometimes the internet connection is bad, or unavailable.

I still ended up buying an external CD/DVD player.  I have some DVDs I can’t upload because of copyright.  The cost of repurchasing the items digitally was more expensive than the player.  And I have some personal CD/DVDs I keep forgetting to upload.

I love how technology advances and improves constantly.  However, the transitions are still painful.  Can’t technology help us out so we’re not always buying extra stuff to make something new work?