Sunday, April 29, 2012

Your brain is smarter than you

This interesting study pretty much confirmed what I've thought for a long time: focus groups are waaaastes of tiiiime, and we more or less have very little idea about what influences our behavior (at least when it comes to advertising, I guess). 


  1. People are shown three (3) TV ads.
  2. Everyone gets a brain scan! (I'm assuming in a presentation a la Oprah).
  3. They're asked to rate the ads in order of effectiveness.
  4. Consensus is A [most], then B, then C [least].
  5. Their respective brains sigh in exasperation, and tell the scanning machine that no, the order is actually C-B-A, and that these people are pretty much clueless about themselves.
  6. Follow-up data on the effectiveness of the ads in the real world show that "ad C" indeed resulted in the strongest response.
  7. (Brains probably sigh again, knowing that this pattern will likely repeat itself in the future.)

Original post over here:

Sunday, January 29, 2012

On standing and walking

Rory Calhoun
Pioneer of standing and walking
You may have always worked under the assumption that the healthiest thing to do in life is to stay in a seated position all day without any exercise or breaks to stretch out. After all, why would we have been given such nicely padded butts if not to sit on them? Well it's time to throw that conventional wisdom right out the cubicle!

So are you sitting down right now? Well DON'T. In fact, the sitting that you may be doing this very moment could be KILLING YOU. Yes, you read that right: KILLING YOU (CAPITAL LETTERS FOR SHOCKING EMPHASIS). Like, greatly increased chance for heart disease and years taken off your life (see this frightening infographic for more of the gruesome details). It's a pretty grave situation, to be sure.

Fortunately, the murderousness of sitting is actually pretty reversible, and, if can be trusted (editor's note: it has saved my life on several occasions), all you really need to do is schedule in a brief standing-and-walking break after every 60 contiguous minutes of sitting. Simple as that. And for good measure, you should exercise for at least 30 minutes a day.

I know that with our busy schedules, structured exercise can be hard to do sometimes, but try to get a little creative. For example, instead of walking the dog, strap him to some rollerskates and go for a sprint! Or instead of taking the elevator at your building, buy some suction cups and climb up the side!

Now go take advantage of those few extra years of meaningful existence that I just gifted you.
(And if you didn't catch the link above, read the full article here.)

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Music and reading

Sound comprehension: Listening to music while reading/studying can be a good thing (with instrumental stuff, at least), but make sure that it's not both loud and fast.

Soft and fast is okay, though, so your "speed soft jazz" collection is still safe during those late-night study sessions.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Handwriting on the iPad

UPDATE (1/28/2012): Notes Plus is an app that has made some very excellent improvements recently, and I plan to add information about it soon. In the meantime, I'll just say that I may consider moving to it from my current favorite, Noteshelf.

And now back to the original post...

With all of the high-technology awesomeness of the iPad 2, one of the things that I was most excited about was the prospect of using it to take handwritten notes. There's probably something wrong with me.

But I digress.

Somewhat surprisingly, I found that there aren't many apps on the iPad that do a good job of handling one's handwriting. Of seven that I tested, only two were really acceptable: Noteshelf (currently $4.99) and Penultimate (currently $1.99), with Noteshelf edging out the top spot in my eyes.

I found that Noteshelf did the overall better job in accurately representing my handwriting, while Penultimate did a better job handling "wrist protection," which attempts to discern intentional writing with your finger/stylus from unintentional writing with your wrist or palm. Both apps feature their own types of wrist protection, but Penultimate makes an attempt at automatically detecting incidental hand-touches, while Noteshelf simply allows you to set aside a portion of the screen for your hand to rest. Although I usually just end up trying to keep my hand off the screen, since neither app is flawless in this domain (and if your wrist is really causing problems, the best solution is probably to wear a fingerless glove on your writing hand (as long as you're fine with the comments from your friends and co-workers (Michael Jackson and whatnot))).

What I've found to be the most helpful handwriting feature of Noteshelf (which you'll see in other note-taking apps, but not Penultimate for some reason) is the "zoom," which lets you write smaller text in a more natural and comfortable way. This allows for flexibility in the amount of note-taking you can fit on a page, as well as for adding finer details when needed.

Here's a sample of what my writing looks like using a Boxwave stylus in Noteshelf:

And here's an example of Penultimate's output:

A few extra notes:
  1. Both Penultimate and Noteshelf allow you to export via PNG or PDF (with Noteshelf offering Dropbox and Evernote support (warning: shameless Dropbox referral link hidden in there))
  2. Both give options for various pen thicknesses and colors
  3. Both have a variety of "paper" styles (lined, plain, organizer, music, etc.) — with Noteshelf including a better variety for free, but Penultimate having a larger library available for purchase within the app
  4. There is also a fraction-of-a-second writing lag in both apps that could be an irritant for some folks, but if you're able to ignore it, it can quickly become a non-issue
Ultimately, I've found myself consistently gravitating to Noteshelf for my manual note-taking because it does the best job of representing my regular analog handwriting while offering solid tools that help me do what I need to do without much fuss. The extra $3 was well worth it to have something that works exactly as I want it to. That isn't to say that you'll be disappointed with Penultimate, which is totally capable (especially for its price), but depending on your needs and expectations, the little things can really make a difference sometimes.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Broken keychains from the future

After getting my beloved MacBook Air back from repair yesterday, my Keychain (the place where passwords, security certificates, and the like are stored in OS X) appeared to be terribly corrupted. I couldn't log into any previously-known wireless networks, I couldn't access my MobileMe information, and I couldn't view any stored passwords (via the dreaded "Access to this item is restricted" message). It took me entirely too long to figure this out, but what happened was that my clock had reset to 1/1/2001 after Apple did their repair, and my computer was totally freaking out about it.

So for anyone else out there having keychain issues after your Mac comes back home from surgery, try to just manually change your date to the present day, and hopefully all will be well in the world again. (Or at least you'll be able to get back online without having to tear your house apart trying to find that scrap of paper where you wrote down your 26-character network password three years ago.)