YouTube The New Age Learning Centre

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YouTube is a platform where people can share videos with each other.  The content varies dramatically from how-to videos to advertisements to entertainment, and everything in between.  And it’s all free, at least for now.

Over the years I’ve found YouTube to be invaluable for figuring out how to do something on my own.  This is especially true when I have to do something with technology, such as install something on my blog/website or do something new on my phone, etc.  I’m not a techie by nature, so having a video demonstration I can watch repeatedly while performing the actions on my device (e.g. smartphone) is key.  It gives me the confidence to try something new outside of my comfort zone, though it is critical to watch a video by somebody who knows what s/he is doing.

I’ve also found videos useful for learning how to assemble or fix something.  The other day I even felt brave enough to fix a rear flat tire on my friend’s bike.  I had just taken a basic bike maintenance course where I watched a flat being fixed.  But I also knew if we got stuck, we could watch a couple of YouTube videos.  My friend, however, decided to take his chances with the bike shop before I could make an attempt.

I frequently use YouTube when I need to learn a new piece of music for my orchestra.  I enjoy being able to watch and hear the performers, especially when we’re doing an opera.  Even though I’m usually too far back on the stage to see a lot of the action, it’s useful for me to see and hear how my parts fit in with the singers, the action, and the other musicians.

Last summer I attempted to teach myself harmonica with YouTube.  After several frustrating weeks, and many, many videos on how to “bend” notes, I eventually paid for a lesson with a professional.  By the end of the lesson I was squeaking out some baby bends.  But this summer, armed with my new bending technique, I’ve decided to continue the self-study by “jamming” to YouTube videos.  I’m a classically trained musician, but my more hip musician friends tell me that I can practice improvising with YouTube videos, the go-to source for learning, and seemingly everything else.

What do you like to watch on YouTube?  Please comment below.

Selecting an App

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Every time I find myself spending too much time, or taking too many steps, to accomplish one thing, I think to myself, “there must be an app for that.”  And then I pick one that looks good.  Too often I’m seduced by the miracles promised, only to be sorely disappointed later with another useless app hogging up data and containing my information, some of which may be personal or sensitive.  

I’ve learned a few things over the years and refined my approach, as described below.

    1. I identify my needs.
    2. Then I search to see which apps match my requirements.
    3. After narrowing down the options, I read reviews and check ratings.
    4. Then I try it out.

For example, I’d been using Trello, a task management system, to manage my grocery lists.  It wasn’t ideal, but I made it work.  However, I couldn’t get Trello to alphabetize, or categorize, the items automatically.  It was time consuming to alphabetize my lists manually.  I shopped around for a new app with alphabetizing and categorizing my list (e.g. produce, dairy, meats, etc.) as a top requirement.  Now I’m using Out of Milk.

Here are some things to think about when selecting an app:

  1. What do you want the app to do? Will it be able to accomplish this?
  2. How much time and effort is involved to set up the app?
  3. Does the app and/or the company have a good reputation? Has it been around a long time? What are the risks of the company failing, or getting bought out, and then not supporting the app in the future?
  4. What kind of security does the app have?  How will private and personal information be protected?
  5. What are the deletion policies? Will you be able to leave the app and remove your information? (Check justdelete.me)
  6. What features are free and which ones cost money?
  7. Where will the data be stored (e.g.the US, Canada, another country)?  Will the app sell or give away my information to a 3rd-party?

Unfortunately, the answer to many of these questions will be buried in lengthy service agreements in language that is challenging to understand.  Additionally, many apps will also require access to data stored on your device (e.g. contact lists, photo galleries, etc.).  Read more here.  And here’s a useful website called “Terms of Service: Didn’t Read.

Apps are an investment.  I recommend learning about an app before installing it.

Silly Scraps: The Digital Edition

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Last week one of my readers posted an insightful comment, reminding me of some terrific technology solutions for dealing with silly scraps of paper.

The first option is to avoid getting the paper by receiving things electronically instead.  Many companies now have the option to email receipts.  Or if you have an account, it’s likely all of the invoices and orders would be accessible online through your profile.  I use both of these options whenever possible.

Apps can also be a wonderful way to deal with little scraps of paper, especially if you are a small business owner who is on-the-go all the time and needs to retain all those tiny receipts.  Prior to investing time, money, and energy into setting up an app, it’s important to understand what your requirements are.  Many apps will allow you to scan, or photograph, a receipt right to your smartphone for instant processing.  Some of them are even quite good at automatically transferring information (e.g. amount paid, date, vendor name, etc.) from the receipt to a tracking system.

If you decide to go for an option to scan, or photograph, receipts (and other scraps of paper), here are some tips.

  1. Make sure the scanned image, or photograph, can be searched.  Typically this means the paper has been scanned with OCR [optical character recognition].  This will allow the text on the scan to be searched.
  2. If you need to have the receipts available for your taxes, check the IRS, or CRA, requirements about accepting scanned reproductions in place of a paper original.  In Canada, the CRA will accept the scans, but require the electronic reproductions to be made according to certain procedures.  Read about it here.
    1. Ensure the scans/photos will be useful for your accountant, or bookkeeper, if you use one.

In the end, regardless if you prefer to maintain your silly scraps in a paper or electronic format, they will still need to be managed.  For electronic documents, this means having a way to search content, naming them appropriately, and storing them in a place that is secure.  And similar to my set up with paper documents, I prepare my electronic spaces too.  For example, I have a folder in each email account where I store receipts until I’m ready to process them.  Another trick is to set up rules in email to automatically sort them.

Silly Scraps of Paper

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I’ve been trying hard to become more electronic in my daily interactions and transactions, but at the end of the day I still seem to have loads of paper in my pockets and wallet.  I’ve tried to set up some experiments to analyze what I actually collect on a daily basis, but I found it too annoying.  I usually end up throwing out, or filing, the scraps long before I do any analysis.

Accumulation of paper receipts.

As a small business owner, I must now dutifully collect and manage most paper receipts for my taxes.  I know from experience that if I don’t make something easy for myself, the chances of it getting done are pretty slim, especially if the task is tedious.  Over the last 4 years I’ve refined my process for dealing with paper (and electronic) receipts.  My system is not fancy, but it’s fast and easy, increasing the chances of me actually doing it.

After years of keeping a pen in my mailbox to instantly label mail “return to sender”, I decided to replicate this practice (rule 3 below).  Here are 3 quick and easy rules I created.

  1. I dedicate places to collect and store paper receipts when I’m on the go.  Typically I designate the inside pocket of whatever jacket or purse I have with me, or a special spot in my wallet.  I have multiple spots so I always have an option regardless of what I’m wearing or doing.  This is especially useful when I’m traveling.
  2. I dedicate places in my home to store the paper receipts.  Again, I have multiple spots to ensure I always have a quick access spot to dump my collected receipts.  I have one bowl near the front door, a common spot to unload my wallet.  I have another box in my office, which is the “official” holding spot for the receipts until they get entered as expenses.
  3. I prepare the dedicated places with the tools I need (e.g. pen, stapler, labels, envelopes, post-it notes, etc.).  For example, I like to staple the original receipt to the credit card slip.  Then I use a pen to write the amount and a short description directly onto the receipt, in case the receipt ink fades.  Each box contains a stapler and a pen because this makes it easy for me to prepare receipts instantly.

This process saves me hours of time in searching each year.

Document Naming Tips

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Overt time I’ve realized the importance of using standardized naming conventions for documents and folders.  Essentially, “standardized naming conventions” means using a set of rules to create names so they remain consistent and meaningful over time. It sounds like basic and easy practical advice to follow, but even I feel stumped by it sometimes.  The rules I’ve created definitely help, especially when saving draft documents, or notes that contain more than one topic.  It takes a few extra seconds to name a document properly, but saves me minutes (and hours) of time searching for it in the future.

Last year an exhibit at the Royal Ontario Museum featured a newly discovered dinosaur, plus the standardized naming convention rules for naming the new dinosaur species.

Why are good document names important?

They help us locate our documents quickly, with a high rate of success. Standardized document names are beneficial regardless if we prefer searching (i.e. entering keywords into the search box) or browsing (i.e. following a folder chain).  And they’re incredibly useful when co-authoring, or sharing, documents.

Standardized naming will sort documents alphabetically, naturally grouping ones with similar titles.  This is useful for keeping track of recurring documents, or drafts with versions (e.g. v1, v2).

What makes a document name good?  

Good document names are descriptive of the content, have meaning, and are created consistently. Document titles such as “misc. stuff,” “notes Jan 17, 2017,” or “important to dos” quickly lose relevance and become ineffective for locating the document.

Consistency is critical.  I use standardized naming for monthly bills to find them quickly and to see if I’m missing something.  Here is an example of how I name monthly phone bills.  Instantly, I can see July is missing.

How to create good document names? 

  1. Develop standardized naming convention rules for your most commonly used documents.
  2. Structure document titles in a way that aids finding the documents.  I tend to use the document type as the first part of my naming convention (e.g. Template + type of template (handout, expense form, report, etc.) or Vendor name + type of expense + date).
    1. Put the piece of information most important (meaningful) to you at the start of the document name.  It could be the project name, the subject, the document type, the expense type, the vendor, the date, etc.
  3. Write the date according to ISO standard: yyyy-mm-dd (largest to smallest).
  4. Educate collaborators about the rules.
  5. Use them.

Dealing with Digital Photos

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Some years ago I designated iPhotos as my master digital photo repository. iPhoto was the photo app that came with my MacBook Pro. As a first step, I had to understand how the app worked so that I could organize the photos how I liked to see them.

By default, iPhoto would group my photos by “event”, or in other words, by the date the photos were taken OR imported onto my computer (i.e. Email downloads or sometimes transferring from one device to another).  Initially I thought this was kind of confusing and not all intuitive to how I would think to find photos.

However, I quickly learned how to rename events and group them together in a way that made more sense to me.  Often I liked to group photos together by location or activity, rather than the exact date they were taken.

I wasn’t entirely satisfied with the Event option, but it worked well enough.  I intentionally avoided upgrading my operating system specifically because I didn’t want to use Photos, the new version of the iPhotos app.

The day I had LASIK, I mistakenly updated my operating system and ended up with Photos, likely because I was still on Valium and couldn’t really see.  At first I couldn’t find any of the Events that I had spent hours preparing and naming meticously from iPhoto.  I was so dismayed that I stopped organizing my digital photos and the pile up started.

I decided to work on my digital photos for my Spring Cleaning Challenge and that meant learning more about Photos.  I quickly discovered a folder called “iPhotos” that contained all my events.  However, Photos offers a variety of options to organize photos including Albums, Moments, Memories, Collections, Years, etc.  I find the options overwhelming and I’m still making sense of them.  Plus I now I have to integrate my old system of Events into whatever the equivalent is in Photos.

I’m still committed to aggregating all my photos in one place, but it’s going to take a bit longer to get there with the current options available.  For a long time I always thought the biggest challenge with digital photos was the volume, but now I think we also lack adequate tools.  I know that AI has made great improvements to help get through the volume faster, so maybe that will be a good option.