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.


Using New Tech for A Better Night's Sleep

Having trouble sleeping is not only frustrating, it's also inconvenient. Your entire day can be ruined by a terrible night of sleep. Some people have more trouble than others, while some simply aren't aware that they're having trouble. Here are a few signs that probably indicate a lack of sleep:

  • You're cranky and easily stressed
  • You're not as productive as you could be
  • You're putting on a few extra pounds.
  • You look tired all the time
  • Your coffee intake is at an all-time high due to drowsiness

These are some of the most common signs that you might need either more sleep or better-quality sleep. Thanks to the new technology, you can not only get help with your sleep, but you can determine what's really going wrong.

Sleep Masks

The classic sleep mask is always a good go-to. Blocking out light is what signals your brain to start producing melatonin, which is the chemical that makes you fall asleep. However, these can be uncomfortable for people with long lashes or just don't like anything that close to their eyes. There are options like the Glo to Sleep mask that rest above your eyes, so they won't bother you while you're trying to sleep. This particular mask also features blinking blue lines that are meant to train your brain to fall asleep.

When I travel, I usually keep a sleep mask tucked away in my bag just in case you are in a bright hotel room, want to take a mid-day power nap (more on that in a bit), or want to try to grab a few minutes of sleep on the plane.

Supportive Pillows

Any pillow will do when you're trying to sleep, right? Actually, chiropractors recommend using a pillow, like this one, that will hold your head in the correct place and will support your neck while you sleep. Not only will this help you get a more comfortable night's sleep, it will also prevent injuries that will send you to said chiropractors.

I happen to like lots of pillows to provide extra support. I sleep with 3 pillows at home, and always request extra pillows at hotels when I travel (I use the Hilton HHonors app a lot, and you can request extra foam pillows before you even arrive).


The thing about changing your habits is that you can't change what you can't measure. If you don't know how bad of a night's sleep you're getting, how are you going to accurately address and fix the problem? While buying a lower-priced wearable will be able to do some of the same things as a more pricey model, your best bet for fixing your sleeping habit is to go for the one that will be able to give you a better sleep reading like the Apple Watch Sport. Taking the plunge and spending more money can seem intimidating, but with the Apple Watch, you have access to a wearable without having to pay for it upfront.

There are also apps that use your phone to track sleep, typically by putting the phone under the mattress. That doesn't really work for me, but I know a few people who swear by it.

Noise Machine

We've all heard about white noise machines, but the Sleep Genius app helps you fall asleep by using what is known as pink noise. Developed by neuroscientists for astronauts, the app uses pink noise as a softer variant of white noise to help lull you to sleep. It also uses neurosensory algorithms to trick your brain into thinking that you're being rocked to sleep, just like a baby.

Not getting enough sleep can be stressful and downright harmful to your health. It may not be your first instinct to look to technology to be a sleep solution, but thanks to the huge strides that humans have taken towards helping each other live better lives, it can be that and more.

Power Napping

When all else fails and you are tired anyway, a 15-20 minute power nap can do wonders. Perhaps you sit in your car for a few minutes during lunch, or find a quiet corner to snooze - it can make a huge difference in your mental state.

To keep from sleeping too long, I use an app called "Pzizz" which is an audio app that has a voice-guided talk track to coach you into a relaxed state for napping. It then plays soothind sounds and music for the duration you specify, and gently wakes you when the time is up. I swear by this app!

By the way, Pzizz also has deep sleep mode that can help you get to sleep, by guiding you into a relaxed state, then fading away without waking you up. This is also helpful while traveling.

If you have other tips, please share them here!

eero dramatically improved my wifi signal at home

I've got a pretty decent broadband connection, but it's been slow for the last couple of years. I've tried a lot of expensive wireless routers, range extenders, high-gain antennas, and so forth but nothing helped very much. I still had lots of buffering while watching streaming media, and felt like I wasn't getting the benefit of the high-speed broadband I was paying for.

Recently, I heard about a product called "eero" which claims to be a better WiFi solution so I picked up a 3-pack on Amazon (pictured above). I installed the eero units and did some tests. 

Easy setup and worth the cost

The setup process for the eero was extremely easy - you simply follow step-by-step directions in the eero app on your smartphone, and it guides you through everything you need to do.

The setup process includes guiding the placement of the eero units to maximize your WiFi speeds. You see, one of the ways eero improves your WiFi performance is by using a different (non-WiFi) sub channel to create a "mesh" communication model in your home. An informative post on the eero blog goes into why and how their approach is different from traditional range extenders, if you're interested in the tech.

Check out the two speed tests below for before and after comparisons.

You can see that my speed just about doubled for both downloads and uploads - and this is using the same broadband router for internet access, the only difference is the WiFi gear.

These were not cheap, but I am getting so much better performance - and greater range - that I think it's worth it. Not only am I getting faster speed for all the connected devices in my home, and our streaming media works flawlessly now.

eero recommends:

If you need better WiFi performance or increased range in your home or office, I highly recommend eero as a solid choice.


Finding Relaxation in a Busy City

Did you know that where you live may be increasing your stress levels, hindering your motivation or even causing depression? Your mental health is an important part of your life, and it is vital that you learn what affects it and how to improve it.

According to the University of Minnesota, living in a busy city in particular can take its toll; the hustle and bustle may increase stress levels and make it more difficult to relax. But that doesn't mean all hope is lost for city-dwellers. If you are looking to move to a new city, here are some tips to finding peace in your fast-paced new life. They may also provide some ideas for how to make the time in your current city more enjoyable.

Choice of City

Before you take the leap and move, do plenty of research on the different neighborhoods in the area, looking specifically for the busy vs. the calm areas. If you love being near the water or find peace surrounded by trees, search out a city that caters to these needs. Helpful resources such as ParkScore, rank the average resident's ease of access to green space by city. Philadelphia, for example, might not have many open spaces, but just a quick train ride out of the city will bring you to more rural areas of Pennsylvania. Love hiking to relax? A place like Denver will provide you with that option just a few minutes outside the city lines.

You can often find reviews of your city online via Yelp!, local community forums, and by connecting with people you've met who live or work there. I have found good connections that can provide a local's perspective through connections on LinkedIn and Facebook, for example.

Location of Home

Once you know where you are going to move, it is time to find an apartment or home in that area that will keep you stress free. Take Chicago as an example. While the city is highly populated and full of action, you can easily find homes that fit your criteria. Start by checking online for available apartments to rent — you may find listings that face Lake Michigan, giving you a scenic view of the water, or overlook one of the many parks in the city. Be sure to read user reviews to find out if complexes attract busy and loud neighbors. If you are someone who needs peace and quiet for your mental well-being, see what the tenants say about the building before making a move.

Think about your commute and other lifestyle elements when you decide where to live - if you like to cycle, living near a good bike path would be helpful. If you plan to commute, make sure you know what you're getting into (distance, time in traffic, options for public transportation or biking / walking to work, for example). This is a good reason to rent for a while before you buy - try they location for a while to see if it is compatible with you.

Peaceful Activities

You can participate in peaceful activities like yoga, meditation or writing in any city. If you don't have a lot of access to the outdoors or quiet places, turn your apartment into a serene oasis. Set aside time each day to meditate to clear your mind and relax. If you are new to the practice, use an app like Calm, which lets you choose the length of your session, voiceovers, background sounds and more. With a pair of headphones and your eyes closed, escape to the peaceful area of your dreams. Try a few different activities and reflect on which makes you feel the most calm, and then stick to a routine to improve your mental state.

Moving to a busy city doesn't mean your mind has to speed up to keep pace. There are plenty of places to relax and find peace if you do your research and set aside time for your mental health.

I like to get out into the country for a hike, horseback riding, or volunteering at charities - all of these are relaxing for me. Your particular relaxation needs might be different, so make a list of "must haves" and "nice to haves" from an activity and amenity perspective, and plan so you have good options for the things that are important to you in your new home city.

Close Multiple OS X Alerts With One Shortcut

If you're like me, sometimes you come back to your Mac screen and find a bunch of alerts hanging around on the screen - a collection of items ranging from "you didn't eject this disk properly!" warnings to calendar alerts, or alerts from other applications. Look familiar?

I know these alerts are meant to be helpful but when you're in a hurry (and sometimes there are many more than 4 of these), it can be annoying to through the process of clicking on each individual alert box to close them all. And, as far as I know, Apple doesn't provide a way to "mass approve" these alerts.

If that bugs you, too - I have a solution that lets you get rid of all the open alerts in one keyboard shortcut!

Applescript Is for Closers

Using a simple Applescript you can close all open items at once (note that it clicks the first button choice on each of these, so it will Close every alert - if there are any you want to Snooze, Accept, etc. make sure you do that before you run or automate this script).

Here is the script:

my closeNotif()
on closeNotif()
    tell application "System Events"
        tell process "Notification Center"
            set theWindows to every window
            repeat with i from 1 to number of items in theWindows
                set this_item to item i of theWindows
                    click button 1 of this_item
                on error
                    my closeNotif()
                end try
            end repeat
        end tell
    end tell
end closeNotif

This is pretty straight-forward and doesn't do anything scary - it simply automates clicking on the first button in each of the alerts until there are no more alerts on the screen.

Automation Is Your Friend

To make this really useful, we turn to automation, and there are a couple of options:

  • You can save this script as a file on your system, create an Automator Service that calls the script, and then assign a keyboard shortcut to run the Service through your computer's System Preferences. I won't describe the full process here, but you can find instructions for creating such a service elsewhere online.
    • Note: I tried this approach first, but found myself stumbling on a bunch of odd problems related to "Accessibility" permissions with Automator Services - they were a pain to work through.
  • My preferred option is to automate this with Keyboard Maestro, which is one of the most useful (and often under-rated) utilities I've ever used.

If you have Keyboard Maestro, the process is pretty easy - you just set up a workflow as seen below, and assign a hotkey to run it (I use Command-Option-0 because it is easy and doesn't conflict with anything on my system:

This is one of my most-used shortcuts - I hope you enjoy it!

4 Great Lessons to Be Learned from an Entry-Level Job

College graduation time is here. Around the country, hundreds of thousands of fresh-faced 20-somethings are raring to go out and make a difference in the world. For many, this includes getting an amazing job with a killer salary and lots of benefits.

While this is a great dream and certainly a reasonable goal to strive for, the reality is that most grads will be hired for an entry-level position — one that will pay the rent and not much more. But as it turns out, these basic jobs can provide you with all sorts of invaluable lessons that are worth far more than a beefy paycheck.

My son happens to be graduating in a few weeks, and that gets me in the 'pondering' mode about what's next. He and I have spoken about entry-level jobs, and he is definitely pragmatic about getting into a "grunt work" kind of job in order to prove himself.

So - what are the benefits of an entry-level job anyway?

Entry-level jobs offer a peek into the industry

A low-paying position in an industry that you are interested in offers an insider’s look at the company and the way that the business handles the executive roles. In some cases, you may realize pretty quickly that what you thought would be your dream job is actually a nightmare position. You may hear stories from your boss about 90-hour work weeks, endless business trips and very little time with his or her family. Starting at the bottom rung often helps you realize that you don’t want to climb that ladder any further.

One of the things I've noticed is that there are an awful lot of people who end up doing something totally different than what their degree area - an entry-level job can be a great way to figure out if you really want to focus where you once believed you would.

Additionally, you'll learn a lot about the culture of a company from the way they treat the inexperienced new employee. If you don't like the culture, you can always look for another place.

Entry-level jobs provide great lessons in self-discipline

Entry-level work offers an outstanding opportunity to learn self-discipline and persistence, especially if the job is with a company that you really like. It can be time consuming and challenging to move up in the corporate world, and these first jobs really help hone those skills of striving to do more than is required and putting in extra hours to make a favorable impression on the managers. If you want to take a more self-directed and entrepreneurial route, look for entry-level positions in companies like Amway that offer these types of opportunities.

Entry-level jobs are an excellent vehicle for learning the basics like: showing up on time; listening well before acting; figuring out how to meet and learn from experienced people; determining what you'll tolerate for a commute; and so forth.

Entry-level jobs help you learn “soft skills"

Higher level positions may include some major training and learning significant skills like heavy duty software systems and more, but the “soft skills” one learns in entry-level jobs are also incredibly important. Never discount how crucial it is to learn how to communicate with managers, work in a group, speak with customers and be on time for work every day. In many ways, these basic-yet-invaluable skills will be used far more over your career than a more specific task.

Entry-level jobs help you learn to see the big picture

Sometimes, when young employees are getting started in their careers, they are so focused on making the big bucks that they forget that jobs are about much more than a fat paycheck. In many cases, the happiest people are those earning a small salary doing a job that they genuinely love.

Jobs that people may consider to be menial or not important can be immensely rewarding, and they are also positions that have a lot of merit and are important to the company. The ultimate goal should not be a certain title or annual salary, but rather to find work that makes you feel good about yourself.

When I think about my early jobs, I still remember some key things from my first couple of jobs:

McDonalds: I was lucky enough to work in a franchise owned by the Valluzo family in Louisiana. They insisted on quality, cleanliness, and customer service in their restaurants and drilled it into the employees' (and managers') heads - and their McDonalds locations stood out. If you didn't have high standards, you didn't last in the Valluzo's franchise. I started out mopping floors and ended up doing just about every job at the restaurant over time.

A lot of the things I learned there still stick with me, including how to treat your employees like team members, not subordinates.

In short, embrace the entry-level job - it can be a great foundation for your future.