5 Apps to Make You More Productive

College life can be overwhelming as you try to manage your classes, extracurricular obligations and social life. Some students get so flustered that they procrastinate or miss assignments, with their grades suffering in the process.

College life can be overwhelming as you try to manage your classes, extracurricular obligations and social life. During this busy time, technology can make your life more manageable. Here are five apps that will help you organize your time and increase your productivity:

1. Evernote

Not only is Evernote free, it is on the list of The New York Times “Top 10 Must-Have Apps.” With this app, you can write notes, capture photos, keep to-do lists and record voice reminders. You can sync Evernote with all your devices and search for specific notes. You can organize notes into specific “notebooks” or with tags and email them to others via Twitter or Facebook. College students can use this app to snap photos of PowerPoint slides and textbooks, take and organize class notes for studying later and even to upload their favorite recipes and grocery lists.

2. Dropbox

As a student, you may do work on multiple computers, even working on your smartphone when you’re out. Dropbox eliminates the need to email documents from one computer to another. It also eliminates the need for a flash drive. By installing the free app on your computer, phone or tablet, you can save any file to a Dropbox folder that you can access from anywhere. You can even create folders that you can share with other people.

Sign up with an .edu email address and get extra space!

3. iStudiez Pro

Hailed as a “sophisticated student’s planner” and a bargain at 99 cents, iStudiezPro helps you organize your life. It is a virtual planner, complete with class schedules, a calendar, grade book and homework tracker. The grade tracker helps you estimate your current GPA, and notifications will remind you of future classes, events and due dates. You can even back up your data via email or a cloud option.

4. gFlash + Flashcards & Test

Another great freebie, gFlash + Flashcards & Test lets you create and edit an unlimited number of flashcards for studying, with the option of adding images and sounds. You can also download existing cards from the gWhiz collection. Cards can have up to nine sides, and as you quiz yourself, you have the ability to track your progress. Because it’s free, there are some ads, but they don’t get in the way of your studies.

5. GradeFix

For all of the procrastinators out there, there is finally a planner with intelligence. GradeFix will organize your tasks for you: By entering details of your upcoming assignments, this app uses algorithms to plan the best schedule for you. Your work is separated into four categories (reading, homework, quiz study, test study) and prioritized. If you somehow miss an assignment, it will be placed at the top of your priorities. The only catch is that while it is free to sign up, it costs $5 per month to use.

Melissa Woodson is the community manager for @WashULaw. In her spare time, she enjoys running, cooking, and making half-baked attempts at training her dog.

Ergonomic Tips in Using Your Laptop

While laptops give us convenience in many ways, they also place us at risk for injuries. The reason being is because the keyboard and the screen are attached in such a way that you cannot work your way around this particular design.

writing an essay

The risks –

  • Awkward wrist position
  • Pressure on the carpal tunnel
  • Flexed neck
  • Rounded shoulder

The best that you can do is to minimize the risks associated with using laptops.

  • Work on a table that is appropriate for your height
  • Sit close to the table on a comfortable chair
  • Bend your head as little as possible
  • Make sure your ears are directly above your shoulders
  • If you intend to use your laptop for long periods of time, it is best to get separate monitor, mouse and keyboard to decrease the risk for injuries
  • Have a laptop stand or alternatively use books underneath the laptop
  • Do not rest for your hands on the laptop surface while typing and make use of a 3-ring binder under the laptop. This decreases the risk for carpal tunnel syndrome.
  • Make sure your elbows are not bent more than 90 degrees and this is best achieved by getting a high-enough chair
  • Reduce strain on your back by making sure you have footrest if your chair is high.

There will never be a true ergonomic position when using laptops thus it is still important to take a break and change position often.


Why I don’t hate Vista

Vista Back in August, I purchased a Gateway ML3109 laptop and it came with Vista (Basic, I believe). At first, I was upset because I’d heard only horrible things. I’d seen screenshots of the changes and new features and wasn’t impressed. I was even less impressed because I’d heard Vista was a memory hog so when I bought the laptop, I had them upgrade the RAM to 1.5GB instead of just 512MB.

I took the laptop home and first thing off, I reinstalled Vista, taking out the unnecessary software. I installed a few of my own programs and now I’m actually pretty satisfied. I turned off all the enhanced security features and don’t use any of the new stuff – not sure I actually have any though and it works pretty well. I mainly use it for word processing and simple surfing because I feel less distracted on it than on my Mac. Once you get passed all of that, it’s really not that bad of an OS. It certainly beats Windows 2000.

What I like about Vista

  • Start search box (which you can turn off)
  • New control panel – confusing at first, but once you get the hang of it, it’s better
  • Not running all programs as administrator – helps with security
  • Network and sharing center – same with control panel, confusing at first, but much better for novices
  • It’s pretty – I like the new look, it’s simple, but nice
  • It’s much, much better for non-geeks – everything is simple and it doesn’t let you mess with things unless you know what you’re doing

I don’t have anything negative to say about Vista now that I’ve used it. Good job Microsoft.

8 tips to save your battery

My MacBook’s battery lasts ages, even when I’m running ten programs and watching a movie. But my Gateway laptop’s battery lasts about an hour, and it’s new. PCs generally have very limited battery life and here’s some tips I’ve gathered to help keep your battery lasting longer.

Make your battery last longer now

  • Let your laptop control the battery. They usually have default settings that will minimize battery usage and when you need the battery to last through an entire flight, keeping it on those settings will help.
  • Don’t multi task. Running just one program at a time can seriously help.
  • Power down when necessary. If you’re waiting in line or otherwise can’t use your laptop, turn it off to avoid battery drain. It’s small, but it still helps.
  • I know laptops are called that for a reason, but avoid putting it on your lap unless you have to. There’s plenty of tables and other flat surfaces that will help keep the heat down.

Extending battery life

  • Don’t leave your laptop on a bed, couch, or pillow for long periods of time. Your computer is unable to breathe, which leads to higher temperatures, which lead to battery death.
  • Don’t leave it in a car on a really hot day (90 degrees Fahrenheit or more), if it’s hot enough to kill a dog, it can kill your battery.
  • Don’t expose most batteries to extreme cold temperatures either (Lithium Ion batteries, however, are best stored at freezing temperatures.)
  • If you aren’t going to being using your laptop/cell phone/ipod for a month or longer, take out the battery and store it properly. If it’s a Lithium Ion battery, you can freeze it at a 50% charge.

For more battery related information, check out the Battery University.

I am the proud owner of a MyBook external hard drive

Western Digital MyBook I am a serious computer user and I slow mine down. No matter what the specs are, I always manage to somehow make even the fastest computer slow. I’ve had both PCs and Macs and both have needed to be fixed up a few times. I don’t know how to reformat hard drives and for what I’m trying to do, reinstalling the operating system works fine. This is the second time I’ve reinstalled OS X on this MacBook, which I got in January 2007. To make things easier this go around, I bought a Western Digital MyBook external hard drive at Circuit City.

It’s a 320GB Essential Edition, is plenty for me, especially because it was only $100. It doesn’t have a lot of fancy features, but I really just wanted something inexpensive and reliable to back up my files on. I’m going to store my enormous media collection on it, mostly filled with movies and TV shows, as well as keep backups of my very important website files.

So far I’m very happy with it, except it took me ages to move everything over last night, but I think that was because my computer has been incredibly slow lately. When I moved files back to the fresh OS, the transfer went much smoother. I’m going to leave Illustrator and Photoshop on MyBook because they take up a lot of resources and I don’t use them very much. I think I’ve used Photoshop once. Illustrator is more for when I’m actually feeling inspired, which hasn’t been lately.

Don’t spend money on software

Finding good, reliable software is hard sometimes, especially after being spoiled by programs like Photoshop or Coda. But spending precious money on software is not the smartest thing to do when you can find equally good (and sometimes better) programs for free. Almost all of the programs on my computer were free, with the exception of Illustrator, Photoshop and Coda.

Software for Starving Students is a great resource for both Mac and PC users. (Again, sorry Linux) Their collection of freeware is geared toward students, although anyone could find most of the programs useful. They have a version for both Mac and PC. There is a good number of programs (30+ in both packages) and I have most of them. Unfortunately, you have to download the file and burn it to a CD that will install everything. If you don’t want to do that, they have a list of all the included software and you can pick and choose which to install.

Two other great websites are Open Source Windows and its Mac equivalent, Open Source Mac. They list the essential types of software, including browsers, word processors, graphic programs, and instant messengers.

For Mac users, FreeMacWare is a great resource for free software. They have almost every free program that’s available. If you’re looking for programs not offered at the above websites or just want to clutter up your Applications folder, this website will help you.

Considering the switch?

MacBook I’ve had people come up to me when I’m on my Mac and ask questions. “Is it really much easier to use?” or “Are they worth it?” In short answer, it depends on who you are and how you plan on using your computer. The switching debate has been around for awhile and I want to put in my two cents because even though they aren’t worth that much, it might help someone out.

Before you decide whether or not to switch to a Mac, ask yourself this question: “What do you plan on doing with your computer?” If your answer is writing a paper here and there and checking your email, then stick with a PC. Why buy something expensive you’re barely going to use? It’s not going to make a difference what computer you’re on if you’re just using Microsoft Word anyway. If you’re going to play games, stick with a PC, obviously. But if you’re going to be spending a lot of time on your computer, especially if you’re designing, you might want to consider a Mac.

Why Apple? The Mac community will tell you a thousand times over that Macs just work. And they do, usually. There’s cases where they break, where their hard drives crash and so on. But the amount of those cases are significantly lower because they’re higher quality. Apple is an American company and while Dell is, too, tech support for Dell is in India. Apples are more expensive, but if your Apple lasts you ten years while your Dell lasts you two, what’s the better deal? Even if the Dell was only $500 and the Apple was $1500, you’re saving money.

Another thing Mac users will testify to is that they work right out of the box. And that’s true. You don’t have to customize anything. No tweaking all the settings, no uninstalling fifty trial programs you didn’t want in the first place. (Although Macs do come with trial software, such as iLife, you can simply delete it if necessary, and that’s only one trial, not twelve.)

Honestly, my favorite thing about Macs is the software. People can say what they want about the hardware, the GUI, but my favorite is the software. I’ve found so many freeware programs that do exactly what I need. I do have a PC also and when using it, I get sad that I don’t have my Quicksilver or my Cyberduck. Yes, Windows does have freeware, but the quality of those programs just isn’t the same. I’ve also yet to find a good Windows equivalent to Coda (yes, I know it’s not free, but it’s worth it.)

Another thing in the debate is the Mac community, or cult if you will. They’re right. If you have a Mac, you’re automatically in a secret society where members help each other out, simply because they own a Mac. I still don’t know why this is, but it’s true. I’ve instantly liked someone because they belong to the Apple fan club.

There are many reasons to choose a Mac, reliability, aesthetics, or even the community and many reasons not to, price and the fact that they aren’t as common (big effect on students) . But the bottom line is, the decision should be based on what you’re going to use the computer for because I can tell you it’s not worth it to pay $1500 for a Mac you’re just going to check your email on. If you’re going to be an amateur movie director, by all means, get a Mac. All that software comes with it. But if you’re not, spend the extra money on something more worth your time.

Replace Microsoft Office

I personally don’t use Microsoft Office for two reasons. One, I hate it. Two, there’s other options. My mom was able to get me an educational version for $15 last year from her university’s bookstore. The Office for Mac is the same formatting Nazi that it is for Windows. Because of that, I decided to try out NeoOffice, an open-source office suite for Mac (its Windows base is OpenOffice.) It doesn’t have the weird automatic formatting, but it’s able to do everything MS Office can do.

There are also no-download-required options to replace Microsoft Office.

I’ve only tried Google Docs and found it to be very nice. I still prefer to have actual software on my computer for some reason. But it is nice if you’re on a computer you can’t install software on (or don’t want to).

No Download Required: 30+ Apps That Are Killing Microsoft goes into detail about more web apps that aren’t only office suites, but simple replacements of Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc. Mashable has very nice articles, although I find they’re hard to locate.

P.S. When reading Study Hacks, I came across a link to an article, Living with Microsoft Word: Tips for Survival. So if you do like/want to/have to use MS Office, that article will give you some tips.

Ways to protect yourself online

I was just browsing through Digg and came across an article called Ungoogle Yourself. Because social networking sites are increasing in popularity, reputations and behavior on the internet is no longer anonymous. A lot of students get into the problem of posting pictures of themselves on their Facebook or Myspace that they wouldn’t want anyone but their friends to see. Such pictures would include them partying, holding a beer, smoking a pipe, sucking a dick, you get the picture. But with the power of Google, your new boss can find you, or worse, your mom can find you.

Teachers are getting to where they lecture their students, particularly college students, about what they post on their Myspace or Facebook accounts. Now, there’s not as much of a problem for people who are like me and have been designing websites for years. We know how to keep our online and offline lives separated because we’ve been dreading our “IRL” friends from finding our blogs and finding out about the real us.

Make an alias. It can be the Japanese word for spring or it can be an actual name you’ve always wanted to have.

If you decide you don’t want to use an alias, don’t use your last name.

If you really want to use your last name, don’t post embarrassing photos or stories because they will be found.

When posting photos, don’t post anything where you’re doing something illegal or something you wouldn’t want to show your boss, mother, daughter, etc.

Avoid drama. Can’t stress this enough. Don’t get in a flame war with some idiot and have nasty comments back and forth on each other’s websites. That’s just more search results linking to your stupidity.

Add a privacy feature. This isn’t full proof, especially for websites you don’t own, but it helps. If it is your blog, password protect any posts you might not want everyone to see. Safeguard the password and give it to people you trust.

Always safeguard any credit card information. Don’t submit anything on an insecure website that you don’t know.

Free programs to help

Mac OS X and Vista both have nice firewall software built into their operating systems. Vista’s is a little over the top, but once you disable the user account feature (where it asks permission to do anything), the firewall is quite nice. Apple’s firewall is just fine, no necessary changes.

Online storage

Some schools give their students some space on their servers to store files, which is great because then when your professor loses your paper, you can just print it out again, no sweat. Unfortunately, most schools don’t give students any web space. My school didn’t even give student emails until this year, but that was only because they needed an easier way to get in touch with students in an emergency.

Personally, I use my gmail account. There are programs, such as GSpace or Gmail drive, but I just email myself files. I don’t need access to my music or photo collection, so this works out better for me. Also, there are rumors that gmail accounts have been frozen for turning it into storage.

Websites that provide free online storage

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