Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.

 

4 Apps That Will Help You Achieve Your Daily Goals

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Many of us are busier than ever and increasingly more stressed. If you’ve got a long list of goals to accomplish, you might need a little help. The good news is there are apps you can download onto your smartphone that can help you accomplish those goals. Here are 4 that are interesting and a bit unusual, with a variety of focuses:

Pact

Going to the gym is something you know is important for reducing stress, helping your self-esteem and giving you more energy to do everything else you need to do. But, at the same time, working out tends to be one of the first things you put off.

To eliminate that problem, you can try using money as a motivator by downloading Pact. The concept is pretty interesting: LInk this app to your bank account and if you don’t go to the gym, Pact will take money out of your account. Where does the money go? It is redistributed to those who did make it to the gym. If you do accomplish things like completing your gym workout or taking 10,000 steps in a day, you’ll get a cash reward paid by those who didn’t meet their goals.

You can’t fake it either. GPS, photos and other services are used to keep everyone honest. It can also be used for other challenges, such as eating your veggies or tracking the food you eat.

CARROT

I've seen some people call CARROT "sadistic" because if you don't finish your tasks, the app gets very upset. However, it's not all bad -- if you complete your tasks, the task master will praise you.

This unique app works by calling you out for being a slacker. If you tend to forget to pick the kids up after school or don't pick up your dry cleaning, this app strives to ensure you don’t do that again. It can also be used like a tyrannical gym instructor if you’re trying to get fit or help you stick to your diet plan. CARROT will force you to accomplish your goals as if you have a nun hovering around with a ruler just waiting to make it sting. This one is a little intense for me, but you might like it.

BetterMe

If you have a difficult time waking up in the morning without several alarms or someone shaking you awake, BetterMe is an app that can do the trick. The twist? It’s based on public humiliation rather than private shaming. If you don’t get up when you’re supposed to, the app will post a message to your Facebook page that tells your friends you were too weak to get out of bed.

In addition to serving as a rude alarm clock, it can help you get to your classes or work on time. All you have to do is input the address and time of your commitment, and the app will use GPS to see if you’ve arrived at your destination on time. If not, it could be a little embarrassing when all your Facebook friends start asking why.

SmartyPig

If you’re having trouble saving money, SmartyPig is an app that can help you save for a specific goal such as a vacation or a down payment on a house. It also allows friends, family members and other users to contribute to your savings goal. It can make saving fun by "feeding the pig” and encouraging you to add money you would have spent on a latte into your savings instead. Because it shares your goals via Facebook, Twitter and other social network sites, it makes it a lot more likely that you’ll stick to those financial goals.

If you like edgy, you might like one or more of these apps. Enjoy!

OurGroceries Is A Great Family App

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For the past 6 months or so, my wife and I have been using an app called "OurGroceries" to manage our shopping lists, and I recommend it highly. Through a smartphone app, we can easily add things to various shopping / errands lists, see instantaneous updates as we shop, and a lot more. The app is very easy to use, both in adding and crossing off items on your shopping list - we use the iOS version on our iPhones, and there is an Android version, as well.

In spite of the "groceries" reference in the title, you can use this for just about any shopping or errands list. As you can see in the screenshot, we've set up lists for a number of our commonly-visited stores, as well as a general purpose "Groceries" list. As we think of something, it is very easy to add it to the list, and it automatically shows up for the other person.

As you use the list over time, you tend to repeat items, and the app makes it easy to add those items to the list. You can either start typing and it will autocomplete based on your history, or you can tap on one of the crossed off items (as seen below) and that item will be moved back to your list. I also find I am less likely to forget things if I scan through old items to jog my memory.

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Another cool feature is the ability to set up recipes (we only have one, at the moment as you can see in the first screenshot). With recipes, you can bulk-add items for a specific recipe or project. Once you define the recipe, a single tap will add all of its items to the appropriate lists. The recipes don't have to be literally recipes - for example, you might have a "Backyard BBQ" recipe that includes a bunch of items you want to stock up on to prepare for an upcoming event.

OurGroceries has two versions - a free, ad-supported version and a paid, ad-free version (paid via an in-app purchase). After seeing the value a few weeks in, I paid the $4.99 for the ad-free version and I haven't regretted it.

You can also edit and manage your lists via OurGroceries' website. We don't really use it that way, but it is good to know that the option exists.

If you need to coordinate shopping and errands with other people, give the free version of OurGroceries a try - I think you'll like it.  

Why Getting Out of Your Comfort Zones Can Make You Happier

What do you do when things are "going fine?" Think about it: generally speaking, you like your job; your boss and co-workers are cool (for the most part); you have a pretty short commute, and the work that you do is interesting and fulfilling. If all that is true, why do you catch yourself daydreaming throughout the workday about learning how to rock climb, or heading out for an epic road trip with some of your buddies?

Actually, the desire to try new things is a normal and natural feeling. As Life Hacker notes, stepping out of your daily routine can actually help you to be more productive and happier at work, as well as in the rest of your life.

Some of the many benefits of getting out of your comfort zone

By expanding your boundaries and taking on new hobbies and interests, you can actually learn to handle any and all of life’s uncertainties. Whether it’s signing up for a cooking class or deciding it’s finally time to take those sky diving lessons, you are ultimately challenging yourself to do something you normally wouldn’t. Once you start stepping out of your comfort zone, you’ll probably find it gets easier to do, in part because you’ll get used to that vague sense of anxiety and fear that trying new things can cause. Over the long term, learning new skills and experiencing all sort of adventures can even help you to become more creative, as well as broaden your mind.

Fortunately, getting out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to be difficult and there are several simple changes you can make to help you ease into the idea of breaking from your comfortable routine once in awhile. Consider the following:

Vary your everyday routine

Stepping out of your comfort zone doesn’t have to involve stepping out of a perfectly good airplane to free fall into space — unless you want it to, of course. As it turns out, even some seemingly simple and innocuous activities can stretch the bounds of your day to day life and open you up to new ideas and experiences. For example, if your commute doesn’t involve only freeway driving, consider riding a bike to work every day for a week. Give up your Wednesday-is-pizza-night tradition once in awhile and try a cuisine that is new to you, like Indian or vegetarian. If you normally wait for a movie to come out on DVD before seeing it, head to your local theatre and catch a matinee of the latest comedy or adventure — and don’t read the reviews first, just go and have fun. These small but different activities can help to jump start your creativity and help you see the world in a different way.

Try a new hobby

Another great way to step out of your comfort zone is to take up a new hobby. As Thought Catalog notes there are plenty of fun, new activities that you can try. If you have always wanted to learn a new language, Duolingo offers free language courses in Spanish, French and more (my daughter loves their Spanish lessons, by the way). If you daydream about owning a motorcycle, why not turn that fantasy into reality by joining a motorcycle club? You can purchase a pre-owned bike or a basic model and then shop for accessories at an affordable company like BikeBandit.com. Once you have your needed gear, look up local clubs that will introduce you to new community of people and some like-minded souls who love the feel of the wind in their face. Other ideas include checking out the community center calendar for dance or cooking lessons or joining the choir at church and giving your pipes a good workout. If you love animals, try adopting a new pet. All of these activities will provide you with new experiences that will help make leaving your predictable routine a positive and desirable thing.

Volunteer

Finally, think about volunteering to do something fun that helps others. Personally, I spend a lot of my time volunteering at a Boy Scout Horse Ranch which allows me to get outdoors, do some physical labor (very different than my routine during the week), and help young men and women develop leadership skills. It is extremely fulfilling.

Whatever you decide to do, don't just do "the usual" - adding some new variety to your life can do wonders for your outlook.

Apologies for site issues and kudos to Hover.com

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Some of you have sent me emails, messages, etc. over the past few days regarding this site being offline. I apologize for that, but have good news: everything is back to normal now.

Yes, GenuineCuriosity.com was down for about a week due to a snafu at my domain registrar. All should be fine now, and you'll see some posts showing up here soon (I have a backlog).

Kudos to Hover

Part of the solution to my issue drove me to change domain providers. I have heard a lot of good things about Hover in the past so I decided to give them a try. Actually, I've been an email customer of theirs for a long time - I bought a vanity email from a company called NetIdentity in the mid-90's and Hover acquired them at some point. I've been very happy with the email service, but just never had a compelling reason to move my domains there until I had this outage.

One of the things I liked about Hover was that I was able to just hand the problem to them using their "Valet Transfer" service. I gave them access to my old provider's account and they went through all of the steps to unlock and transfer my domains to Hover, as well as configuring my settings on Hover to restore service.

This was amazingly easy, and I highly recommend using the valet service. They charged my $9.95 per domain to do this work, but also extended each of my 7 domains by a year.

On top of that, some of the services I used to pay extra for at my old provider (rhymes with GoDaddy) are now included in Hover's service (such as domain privacy, protection from unauthorized transfers, etc.

If you're looking for a great domain provider, I can recommend Hover without reservation. And no, I don't get any compensation from them - I just think they are a good company to work with.

Sharper Minds Through Video Games?

I play a lot of video games during my travels - it is a great release to unwind in my hotel room, and I find it very relaxing (yes).  I flit from one to another quite often, but my current favorites are Borderlands 2, Diablo III, and Call of Duty: Black Ops.  I also tend to apply lessons I learn from video games into how I view the world; for example, I have given multiple talks about what information security can learn from video games - such as this brief talk the RSA Security Conference earlier this year).  

With that in mind, I wanted to make sure I wasn't deluding myself - to find out if there really is something to this "learning from video games" thing I preach about all the time.

According to the Entertainment Software Rating Board, 59 percent of Americans regularly play video games, with the industry earning more than $10.5 billion in revenue annually. The survey also showed 44 percent of respondents play video games on their smartphones and 33 percent play on wireless devices. The rise in popularity of gaming has also led to the rise of studies investigating the potential negative effects they have. The Ohio State University found an increase in violent video game playing resulted in a spike in aggression.  

For what it's worth, I can definitely tell the difference between video games and reality and I think this resultant increase in aggression might be true of any competitive activity, such as organized sports.  Of course, that is just my theory...  

Since I know I benefit from playing video games and I don't feel they are harming me, I was curious about the "other end of the spectrum" when it comes to the impact of video games.  As it turns out, more researchers are looking into how video games can benefit us and report surprising results. Boosting memory, delaying cognitive decline and increasing multitasking ability and confidence are just some of the ways we can benefit from regularly playing video games.

Boost your memory

Recent studies from the Georgia Institute of Technology show gaming won't necessarily improve reasoning and problem solving, but can help boost your memory. Working Memory Capacity (WMC), is our ability to recall information relatively quickly even while distracted. The study showed that gaming can help strengthen our memory skills, along with our ability to work on a variety of tasks or switch between them quickly.

That makes sense, since practice with just about anything - including retention of data - tends to improve your abilities in that area.

Prevent cognitive decline

Playing games and using the computer may help prevent cognitive decline and preserve brain function. Staying mentally and physically active — whether by socializing, exercising or playing games — could also delay the onset of Alzheimer’s. Game resources like iWin carry a variety of puzzle games and mind teasers that could help strengthen memory, improve hand-eye coordination and encourage problem solving on convenient mobile devices or tablets.

I used to play Brain Age on my Nintendo DS to help in this area, and I know people who swear by Sudoku and other puzzles as a way to keep their memories and minds sharp.  I say you enjoy it and it doesn't cause any harm, why not?

Improve Multitasking

Researchers at UC San Francisco discovered video games, especially 3-D varieties, can actually improve overall cognitive performance in older, healthy adults. Senior citizens who played the games for 12 hours over the course of a month showed an improvement in working memory and sustained attention. Their ability to multi-task also improved as they became more skilled at switching focus during their gaming activities.

Of course, we can't truly "multi-task," but the better we can context switch and get back on our mental feet when switching from one task to another, the better.  I've noticed that my eyes take longer to adjust from close vision to far vision as I get older, and I suspect that resistance to switching from one context to another is a challenge from a mental perspective.

Build Confidence

Scientists at the University of Essex explored if people's self-esteem improves while gaming because it gives them the chance to experiment with characteristics they envision their ideal self possessing. The Researchers discovered gamers enjoyed gaming the most when there was little overlap between their actual and ideal self. Participants reported feeling better about themselves after playing with the personality traits they wanted, such as being outgoing.

I definitely agree with this.  Even though it is an artificial world, I find that taking risks in video games makes it easier for me to take risks in the real world - it can help you feel less anxious in the face of the uncertain.

Improve your vision

While some say excessive video gaming can hinder your eyesight, some new studies show the opposite to be true. Researchers at the University of Rochester discovered action video gamers who play a few hours a day over a month improved their vision by 20 percent. This improvement came from being able to pick out letters from a clutter of images. Gamers played for about 30 hours and saw a significant increase in their vision's spatial resolution.

Again, this feels right to me.  Not only do video games improve my reaction time, they force me to expand my attention to take in more things - this is true from a visual point of view, but also from an overall situational awareness perspective.  I need to keep tabs on where I am, how I'm doing versus my objectives, how the others in my party are faring, pay attention to new threats and opportunities, etc.

The bottom line

OK, so maybe I'm guilty of contrived rationalization, but in my book, the data says playing video games is good for me.  Enough said - I'm sticking with it!