Organizing your reading effectively with Goodreads

Goodreads is the internet’s largest site for book discovery. Countless book lovers use it every day to find titles to read, talk with each other, post reviews, and interact with some of the authors they admire. That’s fun, but there’s so much more you can do with an Goodreads account. The following are suggestions for how to get the most of Goodreads.

Stats on books you’ve read

To visit your stats page, log in to your Goodreads account, then click My Books at the top of the page, and then Stats on the right. Here you’ll see all of the books that you’ve told Goodreads that you’ve read, sorted by year.

Click Pages to see the total number of pages you read in a given year, and hit Publication Year to see how often you read books published within a given year. Additionally, click Details next to each collection to see the specific titles you read as well as their ratings. Lastly, I like to click View Books From [year] for a list of those titles, and sort the result by rating, author and more to try and spot trends. Did I enjoy a certain author’s work? Was there a genre I went to more often than others? It’s a fun and very organized way to take a good look at your reading habits.

Barcode scan books you want to read

The practice of “showrooming” — visiting a brick-and-mortar store to do research before making an online purchase — is real. The Goodreads mobile apps for Android and iOS includes a barcode scanner that’s much more versatile.

Instead of making a purchase, you can use the app to quickly find reviews of a book you might buy right then and there. I’ve done that several times. If you do buy the book, you can add it to your “shelf” to share what you’re reading.

Join a reading challenge

Each year, Goodreads challenges users to read a certain number of books. It can be fun, and the 2016 challenge is underway. Once you’ve joined, your followers and friends can note your progress and cheer you on. Of course, this isn’t for people who don’t want to make reading a competition, but others can enjoy it.

Customize shelves

Goodreads lets you sort books into categories, or “shelves.” By default, you start with three: Want to Read, Currently Reading, and Read. You can create as many custom shelves as you want for additional organization.

To create a shelf, click My Books at the top of the page and then Add Shelf on the left. The rest is up to you: “vacation favorites,” “guilty pleasures,” “business and work,” “borrowed from friends” and so on. With a click you can see only the books that are on any shelf.

Get useful recommendations

Goodreads also will recommend books you might like based on your habits. You can improve its accuracy by liking and rating lots of books. Also, note the books you don’t like and lastly, keep sorting books into your custom shelves. You’ll notice your recommendations improve over time.

With a little time and organization, you can turn Goodreads into a very valuable organizing service. Spend an hour or so with these tricks and you’ll have a much more satisfying experience.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

Spring is finally here (well, at least for those of us in the northern hemisphere) and it’s time to do some spring cleaning. Previously, we’ve discussed how to prepare, start, and focus your spring cleaning efforts on specific areas of your home, like the yard. Today, I’m looking at your smartphones and tablets because your electronic devices need to be cleaned, too.

This topic deserves more attention than you might think. Given that tablets and smartphones are sensitive electronic devices — not to mention expensive — there is a right way and a wrong way to clean them. Additionally, keeping your devices looking great no only makes them more pleasant to use, but it usually enhances its resale value.

First things first

The simplest bit of advice for keeping your smartphone and/or tablet clean: Keep your device in a case. You can buy a protective case for the most extreme conditions (think protection from water, dirt and falls), but if you’re simply interested in avoiding dirt, lint, and other day-to-day messes, a simple case will do. I use a plain leather case from Apple most days and it does its job well.

Screen protectors are another option. These adhesive bits of transparent plastic are custom cut to fit perfectly over your phone’s screen, offering a layer of protection without sacrificing touchscreen features or sensitivity. Most peel off without leaving any residue as well.

How to clean a smartphone or tablet

First, get a microfiber cloth. Unlike paper-based tissues, a microfiber cloth does not pose a risk of scratching your device’s casing or screen. They attract oils and dust for complete removal, versus your cotton t-shirt which just spreads stuff around. Microfiber cloths are readily available, and you might even get one for free if you ask your local optometrist nicely.

Next, turn your device off or put the display to sleep. This is done to make it easier to see the grime. Wipe to clean one section and then move on to the next. Soon the whole device will look shiny and new.

It’s important to keep the cloth clean as well, as repeated use will cause a built-up of the oils and dust that you remove. Just briefly soak it in warm, soapy water, rinse well and let it air dry. Don’t ever throw it in the dryer with a sheet of fabric softener.

If you don’t have access to a microfiber cloth, just grab some scotch tape. It does wonders for lifting fingerprints and dust from a glass screen. Just press it on and then lift it off. Repeat until you’ve cleaned the whole screen. It’s a bit more wasteful than a cloth, but will work in a pinch.

What not to do

First and foremost, never spray cleaner or water directly on your device. Ever. Also, never use alcohol-based cleaners. These can damage or remove the protective coating that exists on the screens of many smartphones and tablets.

Next, don’t spend too much money on those commercial cleaners. If you have a stubborn bit that the cloth can’t remove on its own, you may turn your device off and then dab a small portion of your cloth into water and then gently scrub at that bit on the screen or casing. Most times that will work just as well as the cleaners. Just don’t get the water near any openings (speaker, jack, etc.) and don’t dilute alcohol and water together. It’s been demonstrated that even a diluted alcohol solution can damage a device.

Finally, paper towels, facial tissues, napkins and the like have a very high likelihood of scratching a screen. Avoid them entirely when it comes to cleaning your tablet or phone.

There’s how to safely extend spring cleaning to your devices. With a little TLC they’ll work for a nice long time, until you’re ready to sell for a good price.

Book review: Your Digital Afterlife

Some of our most precious possessions are now in digital form. In many cases, email has replaced hand-written or typed letters. Digital photos have largely replaced those taken with film. And then there are the components of our on-line presence: websites, Facebook pages, etc.

Your Digital Afterlife, by Evan Carroll and John Romano, explains how you can help ensure that these items get handled according to your wishes after your death. The book is copyright 2011, which might make you think it’s dated. But while specifics regarding websites may change, most of the book deals with issues and strategies, not the tools you might choose to use. And the legal status of digital executors and digital estate plans, largely undefined at the time the book was written, is still largely undefined — although some states have passed legislation about this.

The first part of the book explains why planning for your digital afterlife is so important and why that can be challenging. For example, the authors wrote, “One of the many issues with preserving your digital content is that much of it does not reside on a computer over which you have direct control.” The service providers you rely on may go out of business or may have terms of service that restrict how others can access your account after your death.

There are also issue related the sheer volume of our digital stuff. The authors wisely suggested:

Do your heirs a favor and think ahead during your life and tend to your date. Curate and weed your collections. Consider tagging your favorites, deleting the duplicates, editing them, and tagging them. … You could certainly keep all of your photos, but be sure that your favorites are kept separately.

The second half of the book deals with creating an inventory of your digital assets and a plan for sharing that inventory so your wishes can be honored.

The inventory is critical because no one can do anything with assets they don’t know exists or that they can’t access. For example, would anyone know I have a subscription to the Associated Press Online Stylebook, that auto-renews, if I didn’t have it in an inventory?

The inventory would include user names and passwords, along with your wishes for how each item should be handled. For example, do you want a social media or photo sharing account to be deleted? Do you want some photos within those accounts to be shared with others?

While the authors show the inventory as a spreadsheet, I realized my item listing in 1Password can serve as my inventory. I would just need to add comments indicating what I’d like done with each item.

Once you have the inventory, you need to determine how the right person gets access to that inventory after your death. If you totally trust the other person, as I trust my brother, you might send that person a copy of the inventory file — or make sure the person knows how to access your computer where the inventory is stored. Otherwise, there are digital estate services that can provide information to the appropriate person once they receive the necessary documentation, including a death certificate.

Your Digital Afterlife is a quick read. Some of the early chapters seemed to be stating the obvious, so I skimmed through them. The inventory forms seemed a bit too simple in some cases — for example, they had no place to enter the answers to the questions that some sites (such as my bank) ask before granting access to your account. But the general concepts are logical and well explained. It’s a good book for getting you started thinking about a complex and sensitive topic.

Make time to achieve your goals with Google Goals

Technology’s great promise of an easier life is realized with varying degrees of success — sometimes you find the perfect app that saves you time and other times you have a printer you’d like to toss out a window. Last week, Google released a new Calendar feature that focuses on a single aspect of achieving a new target or habit: finding the time to work toward your goal. And I’m glad to report that
Google Goals is quite helpful.

Google Goals works simply. Tell the Calendar app about a goal you’d like to achieve, and Goals looks at your appointments and schedules time for you to work toward it, based on your availability.

Right now, Goals is available on the Google Calendar app for iPhone and Android.

To add a new goal, open the app and tap the “+” in the lower right-hand corner. Three options appear: Event, Reminder, and Goal. Tap Goal and then:

Choose a goal

There are five categories: exercise, build a skill, friends and family, me time, and organize my life. Tap the one that likely fits your goal.

Define an activity

Tapping “organize my life” reveals four options: plan the day, clean, do chores, and a custom option, which can be anything you like.

Choose the frequency

How often do you want to work on this goal? Weekly, twice a week, or something else? Make your selection, and then determine how much time you plan to spend on that task.

Time of day

Lastly, pick your preferred time of day to work on your goal. Again, Google is going to do the specific scheduling for you, so make a general selection like morning, afternoon or evening. Once you’re done, review your choices and confirm the new task.

Google then looks at your calendar and all that you’ve got going on to find the best time for you to work on your goal. I’ve been using it for finding time for my daily walks with great success.

Again, note that Google Goals focuses on one aspect of achieving a goal: finding the time to work on it. The rest is up to you. For help with goal setting, check out our previous posts on realizing your goals.

How to organize business cards

Do you have a stash of business cards hanging around somewhere? Jon Carroll (a former columnist for the San Francisco Chronicle) has one, and he wrote:

I have a top drawer in my desk. It’s where I put important things. Alas, a lot of things have seemed important over the last 30 years. So the drawer is jammed full — you have to pat it down just to close it. …

I recently made an [sic] pathetic attempt to, uh, curate the drawer. I got no further than the large pile of business cards I had thrown in there over the years. A lot of them were entirely mysterious, people I had no memory of ever meeting. (I bet you have a similar stash of business cards somewhere; it might be amusing to try to cull them sometime).

Jon also found cards that were meaningful or delightful in one way or another, beyond those from people he does know. For example, there was the card from “Le Bar a Huitres, a restaurant in Paris I have no memory of entering. But I love the maps on the back, with appropriate landmarks and useful data, including Metro stops.”

If you have a collection like Jon’s, what do you do with it? If you just enjoy pulling them out and looking at them — as memorabilia, a source of cool design ideas, etc. — then saving them in a drawer or a box, in no particular order, may be just fine.

But if you actually want to make use of the information on the cards, you’ll want a more systematic approach to dealing with them. The first step would be uncluttering. Get rid of cards from people you don’t recognize, and vow that in the future you’ll make a note on such cards when you get them, to jog your memory. You can also discard cards from businesses that have closed or that you no longer choose to patronize, and cards from stores and restaurants in cities you’ll never visit again. If any of these qualify as memorabilia, you might want to hold onto them but keep them separate from those that have useful information.

Now, what do you do with the cards you’re keeping? If you’re someone who deals best with physical cards rather than digital information, you might keep them in a business card book or file. I’m pleased with the business card file sold by The Container Store.

Another tip: If you have phone numbers just jotted down on pieces of paper, you can tape those papers onto blank business cards (or rewrite the information on the blanks) and file them with the other cards.

The other option is to store the information electronically, and there are many ways to do that. I don’t deal with many cards at a time, so I just enter the information manually into my computer contact list, which syncs with my smartphone. Once I’ve done that, I recycle the physical card.

If you’d prefer to scan the cards, there are many ways to do that. You could use a scanner such as one in the Fujitsu ScanSnap family. Or you could use a business card scanning app on your smartphone; there are many to choose from. Evernote has its own free Scannable app, which may be ideal for Evernote fans. Currently, it’s only available for iPhones and iPads.

One nice thing about digital storage is that you can search and retrieve information in many ways. For example, when I enter cards for doctors, I’ll note their specialties and the names of the people who recommended them, so it’s always easy to search and find the doctors if I forget their names. I also create groups of contacts, which is another way to make them easier to find. If you’re using a paper filing system, consider whether filing by name or by category would make it easiest to find the right card when you want it.

Have a family technology manager

Keeping your tech gadgets in working order is an aspect of general home maintenance. Just like you make sure the refrigerator is running well and the rain gutters are clean, many contemporary home owners must maintain a family’s digital life. To that end, it’s helpful to designate a “family IT manager.”

I want to differentiate this role from that tech-savvy family member who begrudgingly answers computer questions over the holidays. While it’s nice to tap into that person’s knowledge, he or she isn’t a long-term fix for ongoing needs. Plus, it’s easier than you think to adopt this role yourself by focusing on three main areas: passwords, backups, and updates

Family passwords

For many, password management is a bag of hurt. You’ve got yours, your spouse has others, and the kids have theirs. Managing multiple databases is a nightmare, especially when you’re standing in the hotel lobby and the password you need is on a 3×5 index card in a drawer back home. The best thing you can do is get everyone’s passwords and usernames in a centralized, secure, and accessible location.

1Password Family is what I recommend. For $5 per month, a family of five gets an accessible, shared repository of passwords and other critical information. Safely store information like passwords, credit card information, secure notes, and more, including 1GB of secure document storage. Plus, the online tool is so easy to use, and there’s an app for nearly every operating system.

Take charge of backups

Some day you will need to restore something from a backup. It’s going to happen, so be prepared. I talked with Peter Cohen about this, technology writer at Backblaze who also has experience working with Mac users in a retail setting. “My customers generally broke into three categories,” he told me. “Never backed up, never thought it was important; backed up once, a while ago, and then for whatever reason stopped; or came in with a backup ready to go. Of those three customers, only the last one typically walked away happy.”

Peter recommended a two-tiered backup approach. “Back up locally with an external hard drive and an app like Apple’s Time Machine, paired with offsite backup through a cloud service like Backblaze (starting at $5/month) or CrashPlan (free starter plan, as well as paid options). It’s twice the effort but it also eliminates any single point of failure that will keep you from accessing vital data.” Eliminating a single point of failure is something I’ve discussed on Unclutterer before.

If you have lighter backup needs, consider Arq. For a one-time fee of $40, you can backup to your own cloud storage (Dropbox, Amazon web services, etc.).

At the very least, use a cloud service like Dropbox or Box.net as your computer’s “Documents” folder. That way, when your hard drive on your computer dies (and it will), you need only to log into Dropbox for its replacement.

Maintaining the hardware and software

Finally, you’ll need to contend with hardware and software updates. The former is pretty easy, as it becomes obvious when a computer, phone, gaming console, or TV needs to be replaced. I go for a new computer every six or seven years, and I’ll replace a TV, well…when smoke comes out of it. I tend to hang on to TVs.

Likewise, your computer or mobile device will prompt you when an update is available. Designate a person to be in charge of running these updates, either the device’s owner or the family IT manager.

I want to make a special note about Apple’s auto-update feature for iPhones, iPads, and Macs. When enabled, a device can download and install updates on its own. It’s convenient, hands-off, but potentially problematic, as it’s possible to auto-install an update that breaks something. I recommend enabling auto-updates with caveats.

I discussed this topic with Mike Rose, Solution Engineer at Salesforce and a former colleague of mine. Mike noted that if a device is more than four years old, do not enable auto update. Gadgets like iPads, iPhones, and Macs have a ceiling for operating systems. It’s possible for a piece of software to receive an update that renders it unusable. If your device is only a couple of years old, go ahead and enable auto updates. I completely agree with this advice.

I hope this was helpful. Another aspect of this job could be supporting remote family members, like those in another town or state. But that’s another post entirely.

What’s in your pocket?

Long before Samuel L. Jackson asked about the contents of your pocket, I started to document what I kept in my pockets each day. Since then, many people have taken up the practice, including myth buster Adam Savage. And, if you’re a curious person, learning what other people carry can be interesting.

What I carry

Today I’m looking back on what I used to carry in 2007, in 2010, and now in 2016. I’m glad to say that I’ve trimmed things down a bit, but not completely. First, let’s look at what I had on me in 2007.

Back then, I carried a Moleskine notebook, an original iPhone with headphones, a Pilot G2 pen, a wallet, keys, and a 512MB flash drive. The flash drive is especially hilarious today, not only because it had a capacity of 512MB, but because I schlepped it around in the first place. Today, with nearly ubiquitous internet and cloud services like Dropbox, I simply don’t need the flash drive anymore.

Field Notes Brand notebook, and the original iPhone became an iPhone 4. I ditched the earbuds because I only listen to the audio while in the car. The wallet and keys are exactly the same (minus Chewbacca), though the wallet contains fewer “Bonus Club” type cards than it used to.

Drafts, which accepts dictated notes via my Apple Watch. When you get over the embarrassment of talking to your arm in public, you realize how amazingly fast it is to say, “Remind me to buy milk” to the Apple Watch, knowing that your words will be transcribed to a note-taking app on the iPhone. I love it.

A newer model iPhone has replaced what I was using in 2010 and my wallet has become a bit smaller. I’m very pleased that I’ve gotten rid of the store loyalty cards, as they’re a hassle. Finally, Yoda has replaced Chewbacca. Noticed that, you did.

Where I carry it

What’s even more important than what I carry is where I carry it. Each item goes in the same pocket every single time. Here’s the breakdown:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Left front pants pocket
  3. Keys: Left front pants pocket

There other rules. I have a billfold wallet that folds in half. It always goes into my pocket with the “hinge” if you will facing up toward the sky. That’s because if I put it in with the hinge facing down, I’ll inevitably put the keys “inside” the wallet, so that I can’t pull it from my pocket without taking the keys with it.

The rules change if I’m wearing a coat:

  1. Phone: Right front pants pocket
  2. Wallet: Jacket inside pocket
  3. Keys: Right breast pocket

Moving the keys is important here, as a bulky coat typically makes it harder to get into jeans pockets, so the wallet and keys — the items I access most often — are made more accessible.

Why go through all this nonsense? Because when you know where things are, you save huge amounts of time. For me, it extends beyond my pockets. For example, when I park the car at the grocery store, I always park in the side lot to the far left of the store. When at the drug store, I park at the end near the dumpster. I never have to wander the lot wondering where my car is because I make parking in the same spot a habit.

What do you carry and where do you carry it? If you haven’t ever thought about your choices, maybe spend a few days taking notice of what you need and when you need it, and then streamline the process. Doing so will certainly help you save time and effort in the future.

Organize your email inbox with SaneBox

For many, dealing with email can be a full-time job. New messages arrive before you’ve attended to the old. What’s worse is that messages can be lost, misdirected, or marked as spam and unintentionally end up in the trash, and finding the important emails among so many duds is a real time-waster. In my constant pursuit to get email under control, I’ve found a fantastic service that I’ve been using for months now that is helping me to effectively deal with my email woes, and it is called SaneBox.

To use SaneBox, simply create an account by entering the email address you wish to tame. Right away, SaneBox begins analyzing your email history, noticing the addresses you respond to, and those you don’t.

Right here I want to address the security questions that some of you probably have. When I started researching this software, my first question was, “Wait, they’re accessing my email?” Well, no. First, email never leaves your server. SaneBox does not take possession of your messages. Also, they only look at the email headers, which are composed of the sender, receipt, and subject. They look at the patterns in your email behavior (messages you’ve opened, responded to, etc.). In other words, they’re not reading or downloading your email. Phew.

Back to the service. When the setup process is finished, SaneBox creates a new folder in your email software for you called @SaneLater. The messages flagged as “unimportant” during that initial analysis are moved there. The rest, or the “important” messages, are left right in your main inbox as usual. The result: you only see the messages that mean the most when you glance at your inbox. This has saved me huge amounts of time.

Messages moved to @SaneLater aren’t deleted, so don’t worry. They’re simply in a new folder. While SaneBox is learning, it might place a message in @SaneLater that you consider important. In that case, simply move that message to your Inbox and future messages from that sender will stay in your Inbox. After a few days of training, I just let it go with my full trust. I’ve gone from around 40 messages per day to six or seven.

There are other options beyond the @SaneLater folder, all of which are optional. @SaneBlackhole ensures you never see future messages from a certain sender. @SaneReplies is my favorite folder. It stores messages I’ve sent that haven’t yet elicited a response. @SaneTomorrow and @SaneNextWeek let you defer messages that aren’t important today, but will be.

What’s nice is that SaneLater doesn’t care if you’re using Mac OS X, Windows, iOS or Android. It also sends you a digest (at a frequency you determine) of how messages have been sorted, in case you want to make any adjustments.

SaneBox offers a 14-day free trial. After that, there are several pricing tiers, available on a monthly, yearly or bi-yearly schedule.

Organizing video games

I really enjoy video games. My favorite one is, “Where am I going to put all this bulky junk?” Wait, that’s real life and it’s far from being a fun game. Along with playing video games comes games boxes, consoles, controllers and more cables than you’d ever want to see spread like locust around the TV, the entertainment center, and the house at large. If you’re a gamer, the following advice may help you to tame the swarm and organize your video games and accessories.

Game boxes

Games sold on physical media (that is to say, not games downloaded from a digital app store) typically come in decorative plastic boxes. They’re stackable, uniform in size, and clearly labeled with the game’s title. Still, finding the one game you want can be a hassle. Here’s what we do at home to keep things straight.

  1. Put all game discs in their proper boxes. It’s so easy to grab a disc and pop it into the nearest box, saying, “Eh, I’ll put it in the right box later.” In my experience, “later” never comes. Take the extra few seconds to store the game properly. Make sure you eject any disc in your console/computer before you begin this task.
  2. Spread out all of the boxes on a large table or even the floor.
  3. Sort alphabetically. Put all games starting with “A” in one pile, “B” in another and so on. And then again within each pile, “Marvel Nemesis” precedes “Medal of Honor.”
  4. Find a home for the alphabetized lot. In our house, we line them up on a shelf like books, but you might find it easier to put them in a box or drawer based on your space.

Those with a lot of games may want to sort by category. For example, after step two above, sort games by type: shooter, racing, educational, etc. Then do the ABC sort. Next, make labels for wherever you store the boxes so you can jump right to the category you’re searching and so it’s easier to put the discs away after use.

Game controllers and accessories

This is most likely where things get messy in your home, at least it’s that way in mine. Controllers are bulky and vary quite a bit. Some have wires, some don’t. Many have replaceable batteries, others don’t. Certain models must be charged regularly and/or require protective cases.

Storage

Video games are often played by kids, so a kid-friendly shelf is a good way to go if this is the situation in your home. An easily accessible shelf puts devices within reach and also out of the way. (A basic, no-frills option on Amazon, if you’re interested.) I also like wall-mounted models, as they’re one less thing on the floor and can hide cords more successfully than a shelf.

There are personalized game controller tubs on Etsy, which are cool, and look great while keeping unwieldy controllers in one place. Additionally, Instructables has a tutorial for wall-hanging your controllers, which is well done.

Charging

As nice as these solutions are, they don’t account for devices that need to be charged. A hidden drawer is a great way to go, as you can charge up the devices without having to look at them in the meantime. You may need to drill a hole in the back of the drawer for cables, if there isn’t enough space to run the cables currently. A converted storage box is another great-looking and effective option.

Game consoles

Xboxes, Playstations, Wiis, and other gaming towers are usually bulky and are stored on a shelf of the media center. There aren’t many options when it comes to disguising them while keeping them useful, however, there are some things you can do to keep them from being an eye sore.

First, keep them clean. A game console is just a powerful computer, and as such they give off a lot of heat. Make sure they’re stored so that all vents are unblocked. Additionally, dust them periodically as a build-up will hinder heat dispersion.

Keep cords in the rear separate. Twist-ties work very well here, and labeled ties are even better for keeping your cables organized.

Try to keep them clear of areas with heavy foot traffic or bounding pets. Gaming systems really don’t like to be suddenly flung onto the floor.

Really, the best thing to do is to get all of the gamers in your house into the habit of cleaning up after saving the universe, offing a zombie, or rescuing the princess. It only takes a minute and is a lot more fun than playing “Now Where Did I Put That?”

Tech to keep you on-time (and even early)

Yesterday, I wrote about my transition from being chronically late to being perpetually early. This was quite a journey that required some serious reflection, as well as behavior change. There’s a secret I didn’t share with you yesterday that I’ll divulge today, and it’s the little app that’s been a big help: Google Now.

It’s billed as an “intelligent personal assistant,” but really it’s a suite of services that’s closely tied to your Google account. There are free mobile apps for iOS and Android, which I just adore. The following is and explanation of how I use Google Now every day.

The app presents information via what it calls “Cards.” The information you need, like directions, weather, and more, are presented on a series of informative cards. Flip from one to the other to see what’s coming up in your day. Now here’s the cool part: Google presents this information “just when you need it.”

For example, let’s say you have an appointment across town that begins at 12:00. Google Now does so much more than remind you of the pending appointment. It notices where you are, estimates how long you’ll need to get there, and prompts you to leave about five minutes before you need to, based on distance and traffic conditions. It even polls for traffic and picks the quickest route for you.

Here’s my other favorite trick. I can tell Google Now that my daughter has dance class from 12:00 – 3:00 on Saturdays. Not only does it prompt me to leave in time to arrive before noon, it also lets me know when class is about to end, so I can arrive in plenty of time to pick her up.

There are a slew of cards available, which can help you find fun things to do, monitor sports scores, get the latest news, and so much more. For me, it’s all about the scheduling. And, if you use Google Calendar, integration is seamless.

Note that Google Now is most effective when you have a Google account and actively use its mail and calendaring services. That stuff is free, which is another bonus.

I don’t typically gush over software but Google Now is something I use every single day. It helps me do what needs to be done in an elegant, effective, an unobtrusive manner. I recommend checking it out.

Organize your favorite destinations with Rego

I really like to travel. Whether it’s a week exploring Paris or a free afternoon in a neighboring town, I’m game for it. It’s such fun to see new things, meet new people, and discover new treasures to visit or experience again and again. Years ago, I recorded my travels with Gowalla, the now-defunct location-based social network that let you record your trips while turing it into a bit of a game.

Today, I use Rego by Makalu Interactive and have for years. It’s a simple app designed to let you note the places you’ve been, as well as spots you hope to visit someday. It’s not a social network — though sharing options do exist — but more a personal, private database. To me, that’s a big plus.

Looks

Rego is simple and straightforward. (Tour the app.) Up top you see a map depicting your current location; below, a list of your favorite places. You can “pull” the map over the list for a larger, distraction-free view. Your current location is noted by a blue dot, while points of interest you’ve previously noted appear as yellow dots.

As for the list of spots, tap any one to view its details, including notes you’ve written, any collections it belongs to, GPS coordinates, date added, and more. There’s even an option to discover nearby places, further adding to Rego’s usefulness.

Use

What I like about this app: Rego is a list for me. There’s no liking, sharing, thumbs up, or comments to post out of obligation because someone you knew 25 years ago said something about a pizza place you both visited in the ’80s. Instead, Rego is a list of places I love at home and abroad.

I can share if I want to, but… I don’t. Instead, I add a spot by traveling to it, tapping the “+” icon in the upper right and tapping Save.

Once that’s done, a new screen is created for that spot. From here I can add a note, snap a photo, and read an inspirational quote. It’s all quite easy.

Collections keep things tidy. You can create as many collections as you like (Restaurants, Sentimental Spots, Beautiful Views, etc.) and add a spot to any one with a tap. And yes, a spot can be in more than one category, like “Sentimental Spots” and “Restaurants.”

Rego also lets you add spots you hope to visit, or aren’t currently occupying. To do so, pinch the map to zoom out. You’ll notice a target icon appears. Move that to the location you’re after and then create a new spot as described above. It isn’t entirely accurate, but I’ve been assured that you’ll be able to add spots via address in a future update.

Conclusion

Rego is quite nice. It’s easy to whip out and record your travels, and just as useful when browsing or searching for new places to visit (pull down on the list of saved spots to reveal the search field). You can also opt to open any spot in a maps app, like Apple’s Maps or Google Maps for iPhone. Now you’re a tap away from travel directions.

A tidy and useful tech bag

A messy tech bag is a nasty thing indeed. You’ve got expensive gadgets bumping around and cables getting tangled, knocked about, and covered in who-knows-what. But there’s no need to fret — you have several options for keeping your tech bags nice and tidy, as well as a few setups for various purposes.

Before I delve into what to put inside a tech bag and how, let’s consider the bag itself. Of course, there are limitless options to make the decision-making process confusing. To limit the field, I prefer something simple with no more little pockets and compartments than I’m going to need. (Less temptation to fill them with clutter.) Where pockets are concerned, it boils down to:

  1. A place for my laptop
  2. Two pockets — one for my laptop’s power cable and a charger for my phone
  3. A spot for headphones
  4. A pocket for a mouse

Envision your bag like a small home: where there is a place for everything and everything has a place.

Comfort is your next consideration, and I love a good shoulder strap. That way I can keep both hands free while I’m moving about.

A quick note! Before I look at individual bags, I’ve got to mention an item that deserves a spot in every setup: cable wraps. Cables love to get tangled up, and for some reason they see the inside of a bag as the prime opportunity to do so. It’s as if they say, “We’re in a bag! Quick, form an impossible rat’s nest!” These simple Velcro models are inexpensive and reusable. I know Erin is also a fan of the Grid-It Organizer, which is different but provides the same results.

The student bag

Students have more to carry around then tech goodies, but the gadgets are often essential. To manage the weight of a laptop and books, I recommend a large and well-made backpack-style laptop bag. Look for one with a padded laptop sleeve.

The traveler

Again, a backpack-style laptop bag is a good choice for travelers, but often you won’t need something as big or bulky as what a college student might use. Ogio’s Covert Shoulder Bag for 13-Inch Tablet/Netbook fits the bill, as it’s tidy, small, and easily carried from bus to plane to train. Add a laptop, charger, map and tickets and you’re all set.

The conference attendee

I love this post from iMore’s Serenity Caldwell, which details exactly what, how, and why she packs for an extended stay at a tech conference. Not only is it an interesting look at how a tech journalist preps for work, it’s a useful description of why.

The remote worker

I occasionally get to work remotely, and it’s great. In my laptop bag I include the usual stuff, but also: some money for the coffee shop, a power strip for sharing an outlet, water for hydration, and a “trash pocket,” usually big zip-to-close plastic bag, for wrappers, etc. should I not find a bin.

There you have a few options for a tidy and useful tech bag. Keep your expensive gadgets safe and organized, folks. And don’t forget one of the most important step in all of this: clean out your bag immediately, every day, upon returning home.