Put on Your Thinking Cap and Learn for Free with OCW

How do we spend our time online?  We can catch up with friends via email or Facebook, shop (my personal favorite), catch up on the news, do research, reserve our library books, watch videos, pay some bills, take a defensive driving class, and a multitude of other activities.  We can also get A LOT smarter, as there is a world of free online learning right at our fingertips.

Most obvious but often overlooked is YouTube.  Yes there is a lot of silly stuff out there, but also a lot of good stuff.  YouTube is my favorite source to find out how to do something, for instance how to zest a lemon or teach a dog to skateboard.  However, did you know that YouTube has an Education category where you can watch lectures from Harvard and MIT?  For instance you can watch all 23 hours of 24 lectures from MIT’s Intro to Psychology from the Fall of 2011 if that interests you.

Open Courseware (OCW) is course material created by universities and shared freely via the Internet.  You can find some of it on YouTube, as in the prior example.  Note that you can’t get any credits, certificates or degrees from OCW.  Typically there is no enrollment or registration, you just go to the site and learn!

MIT OpenCourseWare,  http://ocw.mit.edu/index.htm encompasses MIT course materials that reflect almost all the undergraduate and graduate subjects taught at MIT – choose from a mind-boggling 2100 courses.  You can find Notre Dame’s Open Courseware at  http://ocw.nd.edu.  Explore that hankering of yours for  architecture,  aeronautics, environmental engineering, or theater arts for instance – the list is almost endless.

Of course (no pun intended) you can do your own search to find OCW,  or check out the following resources to find some free online learning opportunities:

http://opencourseware.us

http://www.statestats.org

http://www.openculture.com/freeonlinecourses.

Enjoy, and happy learning!

Unplugging on Vacation?

I always look forward to vacation time as a time to unwind and unplug.  I leave my laptop at home as I try to stay off my email and the Internet.  I also try to limit the use of my smartphone.  However, I recently discovered this can actually be a disadvantage, as there are useful phone apps that might just come to your rescue, or at least make your vacation planning easier.  I learned this on a Disney vacation earlier this year.  While watching a Disney promotional video, I learned there was a smartphone Disney app.  I downloaded a free version and it changed my vacation experience.  Not only did the app provide park maps and park hours, but it also detailed attraction wait times, and even express pass return times.  The app became our daily navigator and enabled the family to cover more ground.

I used to be judgmental about people on vacation whose eyes were glued to their phone, thinking “what a shame they can’t relax or put their phone away and enjoy their surroundings”.  Hmm… maybe these folks did have an email addiction, but maybe they were doing some on the go vacation planning.  After discovering the Disney app, I felt as if I’d been living under a rock.  I guess you can’t know about every app that’s out there, but it does pay to check the app store because it is likely “there’s an app for that”.  There are new apps being launched every day.

Just in case you are like me, and you’re not taking advantage of the many helpful phone apps, here are a few “helpful on vacation”  free phone apps that you may want to check out.   They are also pretty handy to use on a daily basis.

“Weather” Apps –  in an instant you can see today’s weather, or the weather for the week – quite helpful if you are deciding which day to visit the museums or hit the beaches.

Trip Advisor –  this app is great for finding hotels, attractions, and places to eat in the city of your interest.  All items are reviewed by travelers, some upload photos.  The reviews can really help you make travel decisions.

Google Maps – find out where you are and how to navigate to your next location.  Also helpful are traffic, satellite, and biking views.

GasBuddy –  finds gas stations by city, state or zip, details prices (where available), and provides directions to the station of your choice.

Instagram – when you take photos while in this app, (or you can move pictures to the app) your Instagram friends can see instantly see them.  The advantage is that you don’t have to spend time uploading or emailing, or messaging your pictures.  Snap your pictures while in the Instagram app and you are done, your Instagram friends can enjoy viewing them.

“Search for City” Apps – Wherever you are on vacation (or thinking about going) do a search for that city and see what free apps may be available.  Chambers of Commerce often provide apps or you may find local attraction maps, travel guides, event guides, or transportation guides, etc.

“Airline” Apps – Most airlines have their own apps where you can check your flight status, check in, and make or change flight reservations.

Carat –  While you are on vacation using your phone, you might have a concern about your smartphone battery life.  Yup, you guessed it – there is a new free app to help you monitor your phone battery life, called Carat.  Carat shows you which of your apps are draining your battery, and has an actions folder which tells you what steps you can take to improve your battery life.  Note that it takes a few days to collect data from your phone for some of the reporting to start.

What apps are you plugged into while on vacation (or do you try to stay unplugged)?

Drowning in Digital Photos

Is it just me or are you too feeling like you are drowning in digital photos?  Back in the day when we bought film to load our cameras, and paid to have our pictures developed, I was a bit stingy with my picture-taking compared to today.   I took a moment to evaluate, is this worth the shot?   Now that we take photos digitally, and can instantly view them without costly development I generously click away.   I find I often take multiple photos of the same scene or object at different angles or zoom levels.  Since I always carry my phone, I always have a camera with me ready to capture the moment, which I do almost daily.   Now I take more pictures of greater quality at less monetary expense than before, but alas now there is a new cost, the maintenance of all these pictures!

First we have to decide what to do with our digital images.  After uploading the images to our computer and admiring them we have some decisions to make.  Do we edit them?  Do we print some?  How do you organize these photos?  Which ones will we post to Facebook, or other photo sharing sites like Flickr, Shutterfly, or Picasa?  Or maybe you’ve been dabbling with Pinterest, or Instagram and want to add some photos there too.

If you take 200 or more photos on vacation, this can start to be a chore.  If photography is your hobby you are in heaven.  If like me you enjoy taking and preserving pictures for the memories, and tend to capture many moments at multiple zoom levels, well, now you’ve got a small project on your hands.

Next we have to think about backing up our digital creations.  You don’t want to lose your photos if your computer’s hard drive fails.  Now that storage costs are so low, buying a backup external hard drive is a simple way to keep a backup.  Just copy your new picture file to the backup drive.   Sadly even a backup hard drive can fail and won’t last forever.   Technology changes, and someday the CD or DVD you saved your photos on will be obsolete.  In the future, the website that is storing your pictures may no longer exist.  Are you using Kodak Gallery? Who would have thought that a Kodak site would shut down?   Fortunately Kodak is moving your photos to Shutterfly.

The best advice for preserving your photos may be to print those pictures that you don’t want to lose. Somehow I thought the digital photo world would free me of all the clutter of photo albums, and photos stashed in shoe boxes, drawers, etc.   But the truth is I can’t help not looking at these photo albums, they are there on the shelf or the storage boxes, they are tangible.  My digital photos must be retrieved, are in danger of being lost, and yes to my fault are overwhelming and not as well-organized as my printed photos.   Sometimes less is more?

For easily understandable tutorials on organizing and preserving your digital photos I recommend visiting http://www.savemymemories.org.

While I don’t think we should lose sleep over the safety of our digital photos, as options for digital conversions should be available, I do think I will try to take FEWER pictures, and be disciplined about printing my favorites.  Happy snapping!

Our Online Distractions – Do We Have Time for All This?

I admittedly spend too much time online.  My goodness there is so much to do here it is almost becoming a chore.

Let’s see, I must check my personal and work email persistently throughout the day.  I find I must keep up with all the junk mail so as not to miss any real important email.    I will also pop onto Facebook at least once a day, more often if I receive an email or smart phone notification.    I check out Patch daily for local news and events.  I’ll visit LinkedIn and Twitter perhaps weekly.  Of course any thought that pops into my head I am Googling to find out more about it.   I will also admit to my Words with Friends addiction.  I have about 15 games going – with both friends and strangers.  I feel good about this, as it’s fun and stretches my mind a bit.

This is keeping me quite busy.  But now what about Instagram and Pinterest?  Do I have time for these too?  (Actually I have checked them out and they are pretty cool but I am resisting).   I am sure there are a whole bunch of apps that I am missing out on but I just don’t have time to get addicted to any additional online endeavors.  And yes Facebook addiction is real:   http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/08/facebook-addiction-test-women_n_1500656.html.

Last August I wrote about taking a vacation from Facebook and online distractions http://wp.me/p1CHug-N.   I should really take my own advice, perhaps put myself on an online diet and get some of those lingering household projects done!

It used to be easy to be offline.  We started out with desktop personal computers. If you wanted to be online you had to be where your computer was.   It was great when laptops, wireless,  and Wi-Fi came along – we no longer had to be tied down to our desks (or where ever our PC was hooked up).  Now we could be online in any room of the house or public Wi-Fi area.  We were able to naturally take breaks from our email and other online distractions when not in front of our laptops.   But now we are carrying our smart phones and tablets around with us and at any and every moment we are plugged in.   Our only control is our own self-control, and oh boy good luck with that.  Admittedly there are more apps today to win our attention.

I see couples young and old in restaurants waiting for their tables or food, and instead of talking with one another, each is tapping away on their own phone.  At any small moment of boredom our habit has become to engage in an electronic endeavor – checking email, texting, Facebook, Twitter, Words with Friends, etc.  Perhaps this is a good time management technique, but at what cost?  I wonder where our minds might take us if left on their own to ramble unplugged for a while.

Are we missing out on the real world or has this become our real world?  Sorry, gotta go now, my real world laundry awaits!

12 Free App Suggestions

In the world of smart phones and iPads and tablets and readers, we have a new world of apps (applications) to use on these devices.

Yes your device will come with apps already loaded, but there are thousands of additional apps available to choose from.

I usually don’t go looking for apps, the ones I like best are ones that have been suggested to me.

Here are a few free apps I’ve downloaded (not in any particular order) that you may want to sample if you haven’t already.  They are available on both IOS and Android platforms unless noted.

1.  Flashlight – a variety of flashlight apps are available which are very handy.  The apps use the LED flash of your camera.  You may not know where your flashlight is in your car or at home but you always know where your phone is.  The app is also helpful in dark restaurants.

2.  TuneIn Radio – tune in to live local or global radio stations.  It is worth downloading to marvel at the availability of global stations.  Every country you can think of and those you didn’t even know existed can be found.   Browse categories include talk stations and podcasts.

3.  MyFitnessPal – this app keeps track of your calories, exercise, and weight loss goals.  You can view a demo of the interface at www.myfitnesspal.com.  The food database is extensive, includes items at your favorite restaurants, and it allows you to scan food labels for calorie content.  It will tell you how many calories to consume daily to reach your weight loss goal.  Record your exercise and you can eat more!   No more excuses, this makes it almost fun to count calories and lose weight.

4.  Optimum – if you are a Cablevision subscriber with DVR service,  you can use this app wherever you are to review TV listings and set your DVR to record, or erase recordings.   This is much easier than using your TV to set the DVR.   If you are an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch user, you can additionally watch TV on your device while at home.

5.  Songify – (not available on Android) – turns your spoken words into a song.  Sounds silly but it is a lot of fun.  Try it, you will be entertained.

6.  LiveScore –  a great app for keeping updated on nightly sports scores (reported to me by a sports enthusiast).

7.  Words With Friends – is a scrabble type game.  You can play with someone you know or someone at random.  You can take days, hours, or minutes to finish a game, depending upon how often you play your letter tiles.  It is highly addictive as you can play multiple games simultaneously.  The app will tell you if a word is not valid without any penalty which makes playing the game quite easy.

8.  Whirly Word – is a simple word game where you try to find all possible words from a set of six letters.  It is easy, fun and addictive.

9.  TripAdvisor – the phone app works much like the web app.  You can find hotels, restaurants, things to do, read reviews, map a location and get directions.  The app is very handy on the road.

10.  Ride LIRR – find all LIRR train schedules, maps, and check advisories.  No need for paper schedules if you have your phone.

11.  NYC Mate –  this app has all you need for getting around New York City – subway  and rail (LIRR, Metro North, NJ Path) maps as well as bus maps for all boroughs and NJ transit.

12.  Square – for the small business owner,  Square  allows you to take credit card payments from your  iPhone, iPad or Android device.  There is a flat service fee of 2.75% on transactions.  Go to www.squareup.com to sign up and receive the reader free.  I use it for my own business and it’s great.

Do you have a favorite (or not so favorite) app to suggest?

10 Habits of a Baby Boomer Changed by Technology

The holiday season is upon us, electronic and technology gifts abound.  Even if you have an idea of what you want to buy, the number of choices can be overwhelming.  I thought it would be simple to find quality speakers to listen to the music on my iPhone, yet it has become a project for me.  (Yes the CD collection is now starting to gather dust like the LP collection.)

Feeling sentimental about my lonely CD collection, I realized how many of my daily habits have changed in the past few years due to new technology and gadgetry.  The end of the year is always a time of reflection, and since habits are hard to change, I thought it was worth documenting.  Here is my list – so far.

1.  My watch has become an ornament, a piece of  jewelry that I wear on my wrist.   I use it quite infrequently to tell time.  Instead I find myself relying on my cell phone, PC, cable box, and microwave.  My 26-year-old daughter would never let me buy her a watch – she told me she would never use it.  I now agree with her on this one!

2.  I no longer use my clock radio to awaken me.  I use the alarm on my phone to wake me up.  I picked up this habit on vacation and it has stuck with me.  I will never oversleep due to a power outage as long as my phone is charged.

3.  I keep an online calendar.  It is very handy, especially since I can view it on my smart phone, and set alerts to remind me of appointments.  However I still keep a desk and a wall calendar!  So now I update my desk calendar, wall calendar and online calendar for my appointments.  Yes this is redundant and neurotic (am I the only one who does this?).   Yes, I could print out the online calendar and save myself some trouble, but I like keeping the written calendars.  Perhaps this will go the way of my watch in a few years.

4.  I rarely watch live TV to view my favorite shows, they are always recorded.  This way I don’t miss any shows,  I can view them at any time,  and bypass commercials.  I may record shows I watch live as it is helpful should I fall asleep, I can replay the parts I’ve missed.

5.  There is no newspaper in my house – I rely on online sites.  This also cuts down on the amount of paper I need to recycle.

6.  Going out to the movies always starts online with moviephone.com or fandango.com to find a movie, read reviews, and find theaters and times.  While I am there I order the movie tickets online if I think the show might sellout.

7.   I’ve been an online shopper for years now, and find I am going online to research prices, even for store purchases.  Often the online prices are better especially when there is free shipping.  I may go to a store to touch and feel an item, then go home and order it online if it is cheaper and I don’t mind waiting for it.

8.  At the risk of sounding nerdy (not that there is anything wrong with that) I will admit I keep spreadsheets for my grocery list and vacation packing, rather than constantly making new lists.  I have been doing this for years now, and I rarely miss or forget items, as my lists have been revised and improved upon over time.

 9.  I rely on my car’s navigation system when traveling, rather than printing maps and directions.  I did print directions as a backup in the past, but I don’t bother anymore.  I do still check directions online first if I have the time.  I also use tripadvisor.com to do all my travel research, rather than read travel guide books.

10.  This last one is not a habit of mine, but I do know more than one person who takes their iPad on bathroom visits rather than a magazine, book, or newspaper.  I will admit I am guilty of keeping my iPhone with me at all times.

I am sure this list will continue to grow.  I can’t add listening to my iTunes library as replacing my CDs yet.  Perhaps once I decide on speakers for my iPhone that may change. 

How has technology and gadgetry changed your habits?     What can you add to this list?

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