Category: Technology

‘Twas Time to Think

I drove to Red Wing, Minnesota from Richmond, Virginia recently, and back. It was quite the drive: about 18 hours there, and maybe 27 hours home (took the long way back—via Brampton, Ontario). During this very long drive, I used a friend’s Audible account to listen to audiobooks, because I knew I’d get bored–and also deeply sick of searching for acceptable radio stations. (I got standards, y’all.) This worked well and it helped pass the time, which is what it was meant to do. But it also stopped me from thinking. It felt intensely passive at times, and I just didn’t like how that felt.

On a more recent trip, I traveled from Richmond to Neshanic good writerStation, New Jersey, then to Newton, Massachusetts, and then to Bowdoinham, Maine. This was a three-day trip, so none of the driving days were anywhere near as long as the three biggest driving days on my previous trip. There was also more to see, it being the very densely populated Northeast—and the drivers were more demented. Also, the radio stations were much better. But I’d still planned on spending the trip listening to a book. Somehow though, without actually planning it, I didn’t end up playing an audiobook.

The result? Deep thoughts. Ideas. Solutions. Alliterative blog titles. Wandering daydreams involving…well, never mind about that. I even recorded some notes with a voice recording app on my phone. The point is, my mind was active. I did the sort of thinking that can only be done with stretches of time and nothing else to occupy me—I mean, aside from traffic, construction, rain storms, and a weird mass of press in a small town in Pennsylvania. (Only my GPS knows why I drove to Neshanic Station via PA.)

Time sitting still or walking is arguably better for such thinking, as it’s less distracting, but this experience reminded me that I have had essential epiphanies while driving. I’ve come up with such valuable connections and solutions, while gently trying to tease apart knots in plots or a dissertation chapter, for example, that I’ve pulled over to write, which is saying a lot for me.

And of course, it reminded me of how little time I actually spend bored anymore, with nothing to do but think. My cell phone has saved me from having to think while waiting on lines, sitting in waiting rooms, waiting for events to start, trying to wake up or fall asleep, and thousands of other times. Yay?

I do sometimes wonder what I’ve failed to accomplish because of this great benefit of technology. One thing I do know for sure is that I won’t be listening to an audiobook on my trip home from Bowdoinham. Not that I think they’re evil, and not that I won’t ever listen to one in the future—they definitely serve a purpose—but I need more thinking time, and this will be a great opportunity to take some.


Ironically, the day after I wrote this, an artist friend (Kim-Lee Kho) posted this article to Facebook. Brilliant minds, and all that.

Apps for productivity, learning, collection management, and other stuff

There are some apps I use on a regular basis that I completely love, and I thought it might be useful if I wrote about them. I will start with Lightning Bug, which is an app that plays sounds. It has a handy sleep timer, which I like to use while sounds of rain, thunder, and chanting (among others) lull me to sleep. I often have trouble sleeping at night, but it’s rare for me to make it through a full 30-minute cycle with this app and still be awake. There’s a nice array of sounds, so you can personalize it, and you can buy additional sound packs, too. (And if you like ambient noise while you work, check out Ambient Mixer on the web. I’m especially fond of the Harry Potter and Lord of the Rings environments. I find Arrival on the Shores of Valinor to be cheerful and energizing.)

There are lots of notepad-type apps out there, but I use and like Inkpad Notepad. Very easy to use and very simple, which is just what I wanted. I use it for making lists, taking notes during meetings and at conferences, and writing down late-night story ideas.

I’ve written previously about my love of Habitica, for forming habits. If you’re a fan of the Pomodoro Method, which I am, you might also like the Clockwork Tomato app, though I generally use the Marinara Timer on the web.

This is a Sengbusch custard glass Handi Pen inkwell. Isnt it gorgeous?

This is a Sengbusch custard glass Handi Pen inkwell. Isn’t it gorgeous?

For managing my stuff, I like the My Movies Pro 2 app, and the CLZ Books app. Both can scan bar codes, as well as allowing you to search for items manually, or enter the details yourself. They’ve been fantastic for helping to keep me from buying duplicates, though most of my books aren’t entered yet. It’s fairly time consuming to get everything in. For less common collections (I collect inkwells, mostly early 20th century), the Memento Database app is simply amazing. It helps if you understand something about database design, but a reasonably smart person can figure it out. I personally suggest keeping your database minimal. All three of these apps have limited free versions so you can try them out. Given the databases behind the first two, a charge is hardly unreasonable. And Memento isn’t very limited—I have yet to upgrade to the pay version, though I plan to.

For weather, the Weather Underground app can’t be beat. I enjoy using the Sky Map app for identifying stars and planets. And Alarm Clock Xtreme is the best alarm app I’ve found—necessary because my phone’s alarm clock app is dreadful. I really like having gently ascending music for my alarms, for example–great feature!

For studying Spanish, I use both Duolingo and Memrise. I think a mix of approaches is useful, though learning is SLOW for me. And I’ve been using Serial Reader as a way to make myself read some classics. It delivers a small chunk (8-18 minutes of reading time, on average) of your selected book(s) each day, which makes it possible to easily maintain a reading habit. (In related news, wow, Uncle Tom’s Cabin is depressing—but a great and important book, nonetheless.)

So, these are the apps I use most regularly. In some cases, I spent a lot of time looking at and sometimes testing the options. I hope you find them useful!