Category Archives: review

Review: Interview with an Android

Interview with an Android is a short sci-fi story written by R.A. Hobbs. It’s been sitting on my Kindle for ages, just waiting for me to get back around to reading again.

Full disclosure, I am friends with the author, and she has been a huge inspiration to me personally. She’s the one who initially introduced me to NaNoWriMo and gave me the kick in the pants to actually start the novel that had been kicking around in my head for some time.

That being said, I loved this story. It’s not very long, and I read it in a sitting. However, the ideas touched on in the book have haunted me, and I am still pondering them a week after finishing the story.

The best part about this story is how it’s set up: it’s basically a radio interview with an android named Paul Martin. Any information about the world, timeframe, and political climate are all inferred through the questions posed to Paul and his answers to those questions.

It touches on what it means to be “human”, what is love, and what is a soul. But again, these questions are brought up by the narrative, touched on, and then the story moves on. There’s no heavy handed “preaching” or any real indication of how the author feels about these issues. She just lets the characters talk about them briefly and moves on. This allows the reader to ponder the questions and wrestle with them on their own.

Reading this shortly after listening to the Both & series from Renovatus caused me to really ponder how quick we are to divide into “us vs them”. It was convicting and confirmational of the things that God and I have been wrestling over.

I wholeheartedly recommend this story. I found myself wishing I knew more about this world and Mr. Martin. The strength of this story is the constraint of only giving a snapshot into the world, but it was also the most frustrating because I wanted to know more about the world and the characters. Which honestly is some of the best praise for a story, eh? It was really good, just too short.

Links to Amazon are affiliate links for which I earn a small commission.

I love doing this: coding while the littles sleep. #fmsphotoaday #blacksunday

Review: So Good They Can’t Ignore You

So Good They Can’t Ignore You: Why Skills Trump Passion in the Quest for Work You Love
by Cal Newport is a book dedicated to trumping the “passion myth”. What is the passion myth you ask?

Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking. Don’t settle. – Steve Jobs, 2005 Stanford Commencement Address

This quote along with the advice of many a high school career counselor have led us to believe that there is a  magical job out there that will be everything you ever dreamed of, you just have to figure out what you’re passionate about and do that.

This book sets out to debunk that theory by saying that developing a valuable skill set will allow you to build up career capital that you can cash in for a job with more autonomy and flexibility.

Newport sets these two ideologies in opposition to each other. He uses anecdotes of people who did what they were passionate about and became disillusioned with the outcomes as well as those who became good at something and eventually ended up in a job they love. The stories are gripping and convincing.

However, these two ideologies do not need to be mutually exclusive. Passion is a nebulous idea, which the Oxford dictionary describes as a strong and barely controllable emotion; an intense desire or enthusiasm for something. Enthusiasm can come naturally or be grown. You may be naturally enthusiastic about dinosaurs, say, but does that mean you should become a paleontologist? Maybe.

More likely however, you decide to start up a little blog on the internet about how much you love dinosaurs. After a couple months, you decide you don’t really like how your blog is presented, so you decide to learn a little CSS, so you can customize your blog to how you want it. After a headache and a couple hours, you finally manage to get that banner just right. And you experience a little high caused by solving that problem. You gradually spend more and more time tweaking your blog, and eventually decide that the blogging platform you’re on doesn’t give you enough control, so you migrate to another platform. Eventually, someone asks you about your theme, and you tell them you built it, with a bit of pride in your workmanship. That leads to a job writing HTML/CSS for another company. Ten years after you started your little blog, you find yourself starting your own web design company with your husband. You discover something: while you’ve been trying to discover your “passion”, you built a passion around writing beautiful code and creating beautiful websites.

Ultimately, you enjoy what you’re good at. So if you work at building a deep skill set, you will come to enjoy and be enthusiastic about those skills.

What I liked about this book is that it challenges the conventional wisdom that the perfect job is out there somewhere. There is no job that is so perfectly aligned with your personality that you’ll never have to do something you don’t like. Every job comes with its imperfections and unpleasant parts.

I also love that he talks about the time you have to invest to get good at something. Even if you are naturally good at something, it takes an investment of time to hone your craft. However, he does this without falling into the trap of “just work hard and you’ll make it” American dream BS. You have to work hard at the right things. If you work hard at McDonald’s, you’ll get really good at McDonald’s, but a new, better job isn’t going to fall in your lap for that. You have to develop skills employers want in order to get a the job you want.

Things I didn’t like:

  • The writing style is a bit odd and redundant. I think some of the chapters could have gotten the point across in much fewer words.
  • Anecdote is interesting, but not scientifically vetted. While what he said matches my personal experience, it would be interesting to see if this pattern is born out over a wide range of skills, people, and industries.

I would recommend this book to anyone curious about why some people seem to enjoy their work more than others, to those who have become disillusioned by the “passion myth”, and to those just getting started on the career path who want to end up in a job they love.

Long and short of it, go get good at something and watch yourself enjoy it.

Amazon links are affiliate links for which I earn a small commission.

[Apps I Love] Finally, My Grocery App

I posted a teaser about this app in my first “Apps I Love” post (long, long ago) & am finally getting around to revealing it.

Dun-da-da!!

* Meet Grocery IQ. This app is one of the best ever.

No seriously.

 

Do yourself a favor & download this one. Then go download it on your spouse’s phone. It’s available for both iOS & Android.

Then, head on over to GroceryIQ.com & set up an account that you can use to sync all the lists together. Go ahead & bookmark this page on all your computers, too.

Because, if you’re ever away from your phone & remember that you totally need toothpaste, you can log into your account & add it to the list. Then, when you’re shopping & pull up your list, toothpaste is on the list.

Yay!

Aside from the automagical list updates (which get pushed to all phones linked to your family account, so those 2, no 3, no 6 things you need your spouse to pick up on the way home, yeah, all there).

Default list screen

The default list screen shows you all the items that are on your list, organized into aisles. This is one of my favorite features. When I walk into a section or an aisle, I know exactly what I’m getting there. For the most part anyway, sometimes a particular store will put something in a weird spot or have combined aisles that don’t make sense. But generally, this cuts way down on the amount of backtracking I do.

It also allows you to show the list for a specific store.

Next on the favorite features list, the ability to only display the items that pertain to the store you’re actually shopping in. It will also display items that haven’t been added to a particular store.

Item search screen. Sorry, I tried to get the keyboard to go away, but it insisted on coming back.

To add an item to your list, click the (+) button, and then it will take you to an item search. You can type in the text box, voice search, enter a barcode number, or scan an item. Personally, I only use the text search, but that’s just because I’m a text searcher. I haven’t even tried any of the other features. The database that it comes preloaded with is quite extensive & I’ve only had to add a few items out of the hundreds that we’ve used it for.

It is tied in with a coupon site that will let you know when a coupon is available for an item that you’ve added to your list. Since you still have to go to your computer & print out the coupons, I don’t often take advantage of it. But it’s there if I ever get the couponing itch.

List of stores

This is all the stores you’ve added to the app. I have found it more helpful to add the stores as we need to shop at them rather than trying to set them all up at once. It’s less overwhelming for me.

Aisles available for a particular store

Clicking the arrow next to a store name allows you to edit the store, including its aisles. You can add, rearrange, or delete aisles. For instance, it doesn’t come preloaded with a “bulk” aisle, so I added that to our Winco store.

And the web interface. Pretty similar to the app, so it works very similarly.

Happy shopping!

*Affiliate link

Apps I Love: Dropbox

About time I dust this little series off, eh?

Along with Evernote, Dropbox is the first app to go back on my phone after I’ve wiped it, rooted it, or un-rooted it.

*

I constantly tinker with my phone. I’m pretty pleased with the set up now, which is running CyanogenMod 9 (Ice Cream Sandwich). It has some bugs due to some major changes Google made with ICS, but for the most part has run smoothly & I think I will have a terrible time if I ever have to downgrade again. Jesse also made this mama very happy by surprising me with a Galaxy Tab 2* 7-inch tablet (also on ICS). Normally, he has a difficult time keeping these kinds of presents a secret, so it was a wonderful surprise.

Anyway, back to Dropbox. Dropbox, like Evernote, is available for pretty much any device you need it on. We have it installed on all of our computers, phones, & tablets.

One of my favorite new features they have for mobile devices is the ability to upload all the pictures your camera takes up to your Dropbox account. If you’re using the free version & are worried about storage space, you may want to skip this step, but I find it gives me great peace of mind knowing that all the photos of AJ are being stored in the cloud automagically.

What is Dropbox? At it’s most basic level, it’s another folder on your device that you can save files to. Once the file is saved into the folder, Dropbox scans that folder & uploads the updated files to their servers (the cloud, if you’re into using that kind of terminology). Then, any other device you have hooked up to that Dropbox account will automatically add that file to your Dropbox folder.

It’s integrated into your devices file system. So on my Mac, it just looks like any other folder in the finder:

On a mobile device, it’s part of the “share” options menu:

In short, between Evernote & Dropbox, you should never have to be with out your files, notes, or bookmarks again.

*Affiliate links

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Apps I Love: Evernote

A few weeks ago, a friend of mine was asking me about an app for grocery shopping, so I pointed her to my favorite. That, of course, got me spun off into several of my favorite apps & she told me I should do a blog series about my apps. Because I seriously love apps. I think I may have a bit of an app problem, actually.

I’m going to keep you waiting on the grocery app, because I want to highlight my “must-haves” first.

Also, if there is a particular app that you think I have to try or a particular type of app you’d like me to try a few out & let you know what I think, I’d be happy to use any app & report back what I think. (Caveat: I don’t want to spend money on an app that I may not like. So if it doesn’t have a free trial, you’d have to give me a pretty compelling reason to try it out.)

I currently have a Droid phone (which is my primary app vehicle) and a Nook (happy birthday to me from my awesome hubby). I have access to an iOs device, but would prefer not to use it. :P

Also, just to get this out of the way, I am not getting paid for this. I just love apps & want to share my favorites with you. However, the link below is an affiliate link to the Amazon where I can get a little kickback for purchases (can’t blame a girl for trying to turn a buck if she can, eh?). If that really bothers you, or you have a non-Droid device, you can head over to Evernote to get it.

So, to kick this little series off, please welcome Evernote.

Evernote is hands down my favorite app. I use it for everything, and I have a copy of it on all of my devices: phone, each computer I use, Nook, the extension in all of my browsers.

A little information about how it works.

It’s basically a note taking app on steroids. You can keep all of your notes in the defalut “My Notebook” section, or to really leverage it, you can organize your notes into notebooks. For instance, I have a notebook for AJ, one for the house, one for work, one for blog drafts. On top of that, you can add tags to your notes for an extra layer of being able to find things. Evernote also has an algorithm by which you can search text that is saved in an picture. (We’re living in the future here, people!)

The web and desktop apps work basically the same. There’s a column of your notebooks & tags, a column with the notes in the notebook you have selected, and then a larger column with the selected note displayed. From there you can edit, share, delete or print your note. Organizing notes in your “all notes” or “My Notebook” column is a simple drag & drop interface.

There is a web clipper available for all major browsers. The web clipper can save just the URL, a selection of a page, or a whole page. You can add a clip to a particular notebook and tag it during the clipping process. It makes bookmarking web pages an absolute snap.

The mobile app is the star of the show for me. I have used it extensively during all my dealings with the insurance companies following my accident (which I still haven’t written about, I know). You can snap a picture from your phone and add it to a note. I took a picture of the other driver’s insurance card so that I would have it for later. To this note I have added all of the information I have gotten from the two insurance companies and who I’ve spoken to, contact numbers, what was said to me. Then, no matter whether it’s Jesse or me talking to the insurance, we have all the information we need. I have used it to save coupon codes and invitations.

There is also a widget that makes it one click to add a note by typing, taking a picture, speaking or sketching. You can also just open Evernote or search your notes from the widget as well.

The Nook app requires an SD card (makes sense) which I don’t have yet, so I haven’t tried that one yet.

All of these apps sync to the cloud, so no matter where you are, you have access to all of your notes.

When I first started using it, I found the learning curve to be a bit steep, but eventually got the hang of it. Now I can hardly imagine life without it. I’m not even exaggerating. It’s the ultimate cure for mommy brain. I don’t even have to think about it. I can just take a picture, save to Evernote. Bam. It’s there wherever & whenever I need it.

The tag line is “Remember Everything” and they have built just the product to allow you to do that.