Thursday, April 17, 2014

4 Productivity Apps I Can't Live Without

Screen shot of an Any.Do list
Most of the apps on my phone and tablet are utilitarian; I don't have a lot of games (although I do have the Marvel Comics app which is great for road trips). I'm always on the lookout for a good app that will help me organize my to-do lists since I have so much to keep straight between work, the Dude, the blog and community stuff that hubby and I are into. I used to compartmentalize, but realistically, that just means too many lists in too many places. So, I've been trying to find apps that will help get me organized and here's what I've come up with:

  • Evernote: you know me and my love for Evernote. I use it for everything: capturing blog post ideas (Share to Evernote via Chrome plugin or mobile app), notes (email to Evernote is good for this one), wines (snap a pic of the label directly into Evernote), books, movies, recipes, drafting speaking notes, I mean, literally everything is in there. I usually use the mobile and web versions, but I logged into the desktop app this week and WOW the recent design changes are fantastic. Here's more about why I can't imagine my life without Evernote.
  • this is a mobile app and Chrome plugin that I use to log and schedule tasks. I love the clean interface and the simplicity of the app; no ads, no extraneous features. It's a to do list, plain and simple. With a scheduler. Including repeat function. And the Chrome extension ties into Gmail so it actually scans the language in your email and displays options right above the reply box: do you want to set a task to follow up with [name]? schedule an appointment for [date, time]? Which I find incredibly handy. Here's more on how combines the best of GTD and laziness :)
  • Cal: This is a new one I discovered thanks to hubby who I also converted to iCal is the calendar tie-in for; it brings together your task list and your Calendar into one nice clean interface. I am loving this one on my phone because it displays both my appointments and my scheduled tasks in the same interface. And it's so much cleaner than Google Calendar on mobile. In fact, it reminds me more of Google Now Cards.
  • Coffitivity: This one I just discovered this week. I work in a shared office: there are 5 desks and currently 4 of them are occupied. My current office-mates are incredibly quiet most of the time; you could head the proverbial pin drop in that room on most days as all 4 of us sport our headphones. However, they are all working on the same project, so sometimes they need to meet which means I need something to drown out the conversation. Naturally, I took to Twitter to ask for white noise apps, and my colleague @pascalLaliberte suggested Coffitivity. Basically, it's coffee shop background noise. I wasn't sure about it at first, but I realized that it was perfect to both drown out the bit of conversation I could hear from my colleagues and provided the perfect white noise to concentrate. Not to mention, I think on some subconscious level it "took me away from the office" which is always a nice break. Even if it's just a suggestive break. I tried playing it on a speaker with some other music for that cafe feel, but realized that I prefer this one in my headphones, drowning everything else out instead.
Do you have any apps that you swear by for productivity? What are your faves? Tweet me or leave a comment!

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Han Solo in Carbonite Rug is The Ultimate in Nerd Decor

I love me some Han Solo in Carbonite artifacts.

Like this iThing case.
And this ice cube tray.
And of course the coffee table.

And now, ThinkGeek is offering this:

Han Solo in Carbonite Rug (Credit: ThinkGeek)
The Han Solo in Carbonite area rug.

Sooper silly nerdy Star Wars loving fun. And I would love to have it in the the Dude's playroom. (I kind of want to hang it on the wall to keep it nice :) although ThinkGeek suggests that you make it a hallway runner to let people know not to mess with you when they enter your home. Hmm...

Here's a better view. Check out ThinkGeek for full details.

Han Solo in Carbonite rugs (Credit: ThinkGeek)
Love. Love. Love. Would you ever put something this blatantly nerdy in your house? I would; but I think I might have a tough time getting hubby to agree. For now, I will just covet it online. (And if you *do* get one, I want to see an action shot!)

Monday, April 14, 2014

KickStarter Campaign Seeks to Install a Little Free Library in Ottawa Neighbourhood

Little Free Library box (Credit: KickStarter)
I was checking out local KickStarter projects last night and this one caught my eye.

I've been a fan of Little Free Library since I first heard of them and now there's an Ottawa-based KickStarter seeking to raise a measly $500 to start a Little Free Library right in our own community!

If Little Free Library is new to you, here are the basics: it's a movement to put adorable little birdhouse-type structures all over residential and urban areas to house books for giving and taking. Essentially, these little boxes are the most basic way to promote sharing information and love of reading: You put one in a public area (e.g. your front lawn), fill it with used books and people can come by to grab a new book or donate their own used books.

Instant library.
So. Much. Like.

And this Ottawa KickStarter is just looking for enough funds to install one on a lawn in Fisher Glen and fill it with books. Once the library is ready to go, any additional funds will be spent to continue filling it or possibly installing more Little Free Library houses elsewhere in Ottawa.

A DIY library? I mean, come on! This is a no-brainer!

Now, wouldn't it be absolutely amazing if Ottawans blew the roof off this KickStarter? And we funded it enough to build a whole BUNCH of free libraries all around Ottawa? I pledged. Why not go give them a few bucks (or more :) and help them get to their goal.

Find out more about the Little Free Library project:

Friday, April 11, 2014

Minute Physics Takes a Sobering Look at the Conflict in Venezuela

I have featured a number of Minute Physics videos over the past couple of years but this one is definitely the most sobering.

As someone who has extended family in Venezuela, it's been concerning (to say the least) to see the footage coming out of the country and see the reports in both the media and social networks of all the chaos. I think this video has one of the most poignant perspectives yet.

It's only 6 minutes long; 6 sobering minutes long. I hope you take the time to watch.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Game of Social Thrones Video is Fitting Tribute To Our Fave Show

Just a great little find I wanted to pass along!

Hootsuite released this fantastic video inspired by the opening sequence to Game of Thrones. And it's as well executed as it is fun.

Here's what Hootsuite has to say about it:
This clip is inspired by the beautiful opening sequence of the hit HBO show (whose 4th season premieres on April 6th!). The animated clip portrays some of the world’s biggest social networks as kingdoms (which, let’s be honest, they kind of are). Just like at the start of the show, geometric buildings emerge section by section from a flat plane as you fly over them from above. Each of the kingdoms has unique characteristics and features unique to the social network they represent, from Google’s YouTube coliseum to the big job market of LinkedIn. There are also a few hidden easter eggs — see how many you can find.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

THIS WEEKEND: Hack Migration at Datafest Ottawa (April 12-13)

Datafest Ottawa logo
How do you foster and inform conversations about migration and immigration?
Why, you hold a hackfest!

Wait. What?

This weekend is Datafest Ottawa, billed as "a two-day creative, collaborative blitz." (Love that) Here's a bit more:
We’re bringing diverse expertise together to brainstorm ways for technology to shed light on challenges in migration, whether through practical tools for newcomers, innovative visualizations or crunching data to tell essential stories.
I don't think I would have ever put immigration and hacking together, but that is why I love all things hacking, freedom of information and open data: by bringing together people from multiple disciplines, you can look at an issue from so many different perspectives and generate solutions that you might not have otherwise. In this case, the organizer, Louisa Taylor, is coming at the problem with a journalist's perspective. She is working with Open Data Ottawa to put together an event that will come up with solutions to help tell compelling stories and enable the better use of technology to address immigration and migration issues:
I’m not tech savvy at all, but I know a bit about what data can do for journalists, and what it can do for non-profits and researchers. I also know that while the field of immigrant settlement and research in Canada is huge, the sector is way behind when it comes to embracing digital design, social media and all the amazing new tools technology is creating every day... 
I saw the hackathon as a way to start conversations and connecting at the grassroots, and to bring together people who don’t normally sit down and talk about their work and passions.... what has been most exciting, seeing the positive energy build as the switches flip and people start to see what open data, tech and migration might be able to do together.
Datafest is running over Saturday and Sunday this weekend, and will consist of the usual hackfest format: pitches, forming of groups around ideas, working on ideas, developing pitches and presenting to a panel of judges. And there are prizes (including my new fave toy, Wipebook :)

If you don't get a chance to head to the event, follow along on Twitter via #datafestott.

Monday, April 7, 2014

SHAPE: Video Aimed at Kids is A Wonderful Intro to Design Thinking

Credit: Make Shape Change
This lovely little video was developed by Dublin City Council to explain design thinking to students.

It's part of a campaign called Make Shape Change which intends to get kids thinking about the design of everything around us:
Design is a simple thing that we can all use. Creative thinking for a practical purpose. Being able to imagine a stone as a spearhead, a cave as a house or a rock as part of a wall. It's a bridge between what something is and what it could be. Between the things we make and how we use them. It's not the whole story of the world we make around us, but it's an important part. It's always been there, helping us progress, and making things work better.
This is great on so many levels:
  • Kids definitely need to learn about design thinking, so +1 right off the top.
  • The visuals are so simple and convey so much information. It's not only informative, it's fun and cute!
  • This is suitable for all ages. If you want to know more about design thinking or need help explaining it to your clients/ colleagues/ kids, then you'd best bookmark it!

(Source: Fast Co. Design)

Friday, April 4, 2014

Nerdy Thing To Do This Weekend: Ottawa Regional Science Fair

Ottawa Regional Science Fair logo
If you're looking for the Dude and I tomorrow morning, we'll be at Carleton U Raven's Nest checking out the Ottawa Regional Science Fair.

And if you want to do the same, you've only got two opportunities to check out the projects: public viewing is today (Friday) from 2-4pm or tomorrow (Saturday) from 9:00-11:30am.

Science fairs have come a long way since I first built a flashlight in grade 4. In fact, I was often blown away by some of the projects my peers came up with. The most memorable project in high school was by 2 sisters who studied hydroponics as a method for growing food on the space station and actually filed (and received) patents for their work! What an achievement by the age of 16.

This year the Fair has adopted the Canada-Wide Science Fair project categories which means moving from discipline-based projects (biotech, engineering and computer sciences, etc.) to 7 themes (which frankly, sound more challenging):
  • Discovery - create new knowledge by asking a question and using scientific inquiry to develop an answer;
  • Energy - improve our use of current energy resources, transition to alternative sources or reduce our footprint;
  • Environment - reduce our impact, improve our understanding, ensure the quality of air, water, soil and the diversity of living things;
  • Health - increase understanding of the human body, improve health, control disease or support aging population;
  • Information - enhance communication using digital and networking technologies or new media;
  • Innovation - develop a new material, structure, device or system to solve a problem or improve an exiting solution;
  • Resources - develop better ways to use our natural resources for sustainability or prosperity.   

Needless to say, I'm pretty excited about the projects we'll get to see tomorrow. And naturally, I have a bit of a not-so-hidden agenda in bringing the Dude with me: exposing him to all of the great thinking and work being done by kids only a few years older than he is right now. He's always so excited when he walks away from these types of events; my guess is that on some subconscious level, seeing what other kids are capable of open his mind to his own potential.

And, hey, a nerdy outing? What a perfect way to spend a Saturday morning ;)

(Don't worry, though: If you can't make it, just watch my tweet stream for updates.)

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Ottawa to Pilot ImmersEd: First-Ever Virtual Reality Education Program

By Skydeas (Own work) [CC-BY-3.0], via Wikimedia Commons
Now this is exciting.

Last week, the Dude and I had a sneak preview of an incredible leap being taken by the Ottawa Public School Board.

Now you know me and my complaints about the lack of tech ed in schools... well, honestly, I was blown away. It's (dare I say it) ground-breaking!

If you missed the announcement yesterday, Ottawa is going to be the pilot location for an unbelievable experiment: homeschooling via immersive multimedia. Immersive multimedia (aka virtual reality) has been in the news a lot lately with the recent acquisition of Oculus Rift by Facebook. Companies such as Sony, EA and others have all been working on consoles in this area for years.

Now we're not talking about virtual reality like Second Life, this is immersive: helmet with screen, some sort of touch device (like a glove), and all materials delivered in a truly virtual classroom. This new venture is the brainchild of Kanata-based, ImmersEd (cute) whose goal is "A Strong Foundation, Limitless Possibilities."

The kids who are admitted into the program will log on to the system for 4-6 hours per day including some physical activity delivered with the system. This is intended to be a homeschooling program, so parents will be responsible for arranging outdoor time (i.e. recess or physical breaks). The curriculum will be mixed:
  • "live-action" taught by teachers in remote locations (e.g. Ottawa schools and abroad), 
  • prepared multimedia products such as Ted-Ed lectures, 
  • self-study and homework exercises such as virtual science experiments and learning games.
One advantage is that the program will be heavier on the STEM component (science, technology, engineering and math) than the current in-school curriculum. With simulations, the students will be able to try out building, programming and experimenting in ways that would not be possible in the physical classroom. And the technology also opens up the possibility of classes and discussions with experts from around the world and real-time remote experiences that aren't always convenient in the classroom, like studying work on the space station via the Nasa channel.

According to analysts, this could potentially reboot Ottawa's status as Silicon Valley North. (Remember that? I do. The layoffs, the severance packages. Now those were the days ;) ImmersEd has received funding from both local venture capitalists and some VCs Silicon Valley to get the pilot off the ground.

Now they are looking for participants to enroll into the program. For the first year, the pilot class will consist of 10-12 English board students in grade 9 (age 13-14). Obviously, hubby and I are incredibly excited by the prospect of the Dude participating in the program in 3 years, but for now we have to wait. (Boo! ):

If you're interested in finding out more, the link to the application site is below. ImmersEd asked me to first post this disclaimer, so parents are aware of the potential side effects of immersive tech:
Disclaimer: Immersive reality technology can cause motion-induced illness including dizziness and nausea, disorientation, headaches and perceptual distortion leading to susceptibility to April's fools jokes.
Gotcha ;)

Monday, March 31, 2014

Wipebook: The Amazing Whiteboard Notebook

I love whiteboards. When I've had my fill of sitting at my desk or in meetings, nothing helps me focus more than standing up at my desk and whiteboarding something: a to-do-list, process flows, wireframes, use case diagrams, an document outline, pretty much whatever I am working on. Sometimes, I will just write out my work before typing it out. There's something about standing, the process of writing slowly on the board... it's almost meditative. When I have very heavy weeks, it's common to find me whiteboarding on Friday; it's a great way to clear my head and get productive when I would otherwise feel tired or overwhelmed if I just sat at my desk.

Which is why I love Wipebook. It's basically a notebook in which all of the pages are little whiteboards!

(Credit: Wipebook)
Now, you might be thinking that it looks like an ordinary notebook but the pages are laminated so that you can write on/ wipe off everything you put in the book. Super handy.

I was lucky enough to receive a Wipebook as a gift from my friends, @mhellstern and @kentdaitken. And I can attest to its sheer awesomeness; I worked on a presentation this weekend using the wipebook to document and sort all of my ideas. Love love love it.

What makes it even better is that it was developed by some MBA students from University of Ottawa during their entrepreneurship course. They sold 100 books by word of mouth and then launched a KickStarter. That's when things got crazy:
It has been a crazy start here at Wipebook, most notable is the unexpected demand growth encountered during our Kickstarter campaign that was funded at 100 times the original goal. The intent of the latter-mentioned campaign was to essentially raise additional funds to augment development efforts surrounding the ensuing version of the Wipebook, the Wipebook 2.0. And from the campaign's inception, backers cordially received the product, such that within 24 hrs we had exceeded a pre-defined revenue goal of $4,000. Within 3 days, we had surpassed that value by 800%, with over $30,000 in generated revenue. At this point we were projecting $200,000 in total at the campaign's termination date of December 23, 2013; however, this approximation had literally doubled -- we eventually exceeded $420,000 in backer revenue. Needless to say, we think that we have identified a nascent need for a whiteboard-notebook.
How amazing is that? If you want one of these gems, you can pick one up on the Wipebook website for $30. They come in blank, lined, grid, mixed variants and music. If you're as much of a whiteboard aficionado, this is a must in your office arsenal.

Check out the video for more detail: