30/30 Timer – My New Favorite iPhone Productivity App

30/30 Timer AppWhen I started my dissertation, I knew that it would be hard to keep myself productive and motivated on a year-long, self-planned schedule. What I didn’t realize until recently was that the key to keeping myself on that schedule was not to plan monthly deadlines, but to manage my hourly productivity each time I sat down to work. I’d sit down for an afternoon of research or writing, hit a block (obstacles are everywhere in a dissertation!), and spend 2-3 hours chasing bad leads, looking for distraction, or just staring and waiting for inspiration. Apparently, even a 4 hour block of time is too long for me to be left unsupervised! Enter 30/30.

30/30 Afternoon Study Schedule30/30 lets you create a list of tasks, sort them, assign them durations, and get notifications when it’s time to switch. It’s loosely based on the Pomodoro Technique, but it allows you to set any duration for any task.

My afternoon study list loops through 1 hour read-write blocks and 15 minute breaks. I can pause it at any time. (This week, I’ve found myself pausing at the end of a writing block so that I can get another paragraph or two done while I’m on a roll.)

30/30 helps me work by telling me what to do at this exact moment; it helps me avoid the seemingly endless Feedly breaks and focus on productivity, yet without letting the afternoon look like a long, boring block of time.

Get 30/30 for free in the App Store:

My New RSS Reader to Replace Google Reader: Feedly

So as you probably heard, Google has announced that they’ll shut down Google Reader on July 1, 2013. Even though that’s more than three months warning, that announcement sent many loyal users into a panic and overloaded several other RSS sites by trying to move all their feeds immediately to a new RSS reader to replace Google Reader. (Full disclosure: I may have participated in that stampede.)

Google Reader was awesome.

I’ve been using Google Reader for – honestly, I don’t even know. My Trends page says I’ve read 95,000 items since July 2008, but I feel like I’ve been using it for longer. At any rate, I have almost 200 feeds, get about 400 new items a day, and read about 75 of those items. (More disclosure: about 20 of those are humor posts or comics; another 25 get sent to Pocket for reading later or archived in Evernote; another 10 I probably only skim, but Google Reader marks them as “read.”) I probably read about 10-15 actual articles per day on various topics from theology to web development to sports. All that boils down to this: I used Google Reader heavily; if it disappeared, that would be rough.

My Google Reader Usage

Now I’m not here to complain about Google’s decision. (1) They owned it. (2) It was a free service. (3) There are other options. (4) Even if I had no RSS reader at all, life would continue with no qualitative decline. That said, I’m pretty excited about my new RSS Reader: Feedly. Here’s why:

Feedly is even awesomer.

  1. Feedly imports your Google Reader feeds automatically. Just sign into Feedly with your Google account and bazinga – it imports all your feeds and categories.
  2. Feedly is promising to create an API that mimics Google Reader. This is great news for anyone who has a favorite 3rd party app that accessed Google Reader feeds. If your app’s developer wants to maintain that app, they can use Feedly’s new API.
  3. Feedly Feed ViewFeedly’s iOS apps are easy to use. It’s a different way to read feeds than I was used to. I had been using Feeddler Pro; that app provided detailed functionality, was slightly clunky in use, and made no attempt at aesthetics. Feedly’s apps are quick, well-designed, and must faster to use! I never used the Feeddler iPhone app because navigation between categories was very cumbersome; with Feedly, you just keep scrolling! They put some thoughtful planning into the gesture design for their apps.
  4. Feedly MenuFeedly looks great, IMO. It’s more colorful than Google Reader, but it keeps the same flat, clean design aesthetic.
  5. Feedly has exactly the sharing options that I need. I can open links in Chrome instead of Safari, save to Pocket, Tweet, and more.
  6. Its icon isn’t blue.

Get Feedly.

If you’re looking for a good RSS reader to replace Google Reader, you can sign up for Feedly for free and get the awesome Feedly iOS app.

My Dissertation Workflow & Tools

I’ve just started dissertating (barely 6% of the way through…) but I’ve already been asked a few times about my dissertation workflow and tools. I spent a while planning this before starting. Honestly, I was terrified of the thought of getting 35% finished and realizing that my workflow was slowing me down or that I needed to change tools. Here are the tools I’m using to write my dissertation:

  • MS Word (for Mac, 2008)
  • Zotero
  • Evernote
  • Toggl

MS Word (for Mac, 2008)

Microsoft Word Toobox

I know that Microsoft made Office a lot faster in the 2011 update, but they also took away the Toolbox. Since the Toolbox gives me the fastest access to styles & formatting (the key to a consistent dissertation layout!) that I’ve seen in any version of Word, I chose not to update yet.

I’m aware that Word is not really a 300 page document application and will probably present some formatting problems down the road (pagination, TOC, embedded images & charts), but I’ve set up my own Turabian-compliant styles instead of relying on someone else’s template, so I expect to troubleshoot those concerns precisely.

Once upon a time, I decided I would learn InDesign or LaTex, two programs that are much better for long document work, but I never did. So I’m using Word. Also, Word lets me access bibliography information in Zotero.

Zotero

ZoteroZotero is the best free way to manage a bibliography. It started as a Firefox extension. Mac users now get a standalone app with a Chrome plugin as well. Zotero automatically identifies bibliography information on any web page: library listing, Amazon, JSTOR, etc. It adds an icon to your url bar that matches the resource type (book, article) and clicking that icon saves all the data available to a new item in the Zotero app.

Zotero Extension for WordYou can then fine-tune that bibliography data in the app (not all listings capitalize titles or format dates the same way), as well as add notes to the source. Best of all, it has an MS Word extension that allows you to insert footnotes, bibliography pages, and references from any resource you’ve saved to Zotero. All the data from Zotero is linked back to the database, so if you correct an error in a resource, you don’t have to search your entire dissertation for any reference to that resource; just refresh it.

I mentioned that it does notes as well. I chose not to use Zotero for notes, because Evernote has an awesome feature that Zotero doesn’t.

Evernote

Evernote Note View

Evernote is a note management software. I’ve long used it for classes, work, code snippets, project ideas, and recipes, so adding my dissertation wasn’t a huge deal. It has apps for just about any device you use, so it keeps my notes synced between all my computers, iPhone, iPad, and anywhere I use a browser.

Evernote Folder View

The feature that sets Evernote a mile above Zotero is its OCR feature. I can type quotations from sources into either Evernote or Zotero, but only Evernote lets me snap a picture of a page on my iPhone, then search the text in that image later.

To organize all my notes, I’ve got a main folder called Dissertation. Then I create a sub-folder for each source. I put picture and typed notes into their proper folder. If I had very distinct chapter topics, I could also sort the resource folders into topic/chapter folders, but my chapters have more overlap. I’m going to use tags to organize individual notes. This will let me quickly find all my notes that refer to a single tagged topic instantly, no matter what book or article they’re in.

Evernote is free to start. They offer a Premium version with some great features: 100mb uploads, increased monthly data limit from 60mb to 1gb, ability to search PDFs. I burned up my free 60mb in 2-3 days, so Evernote Premium is definitely worth it for me. You can get Premium for $5/mo or $45/yr.

Toggl

Toggl TimerThere’s nothing academic about Toggl, but I am tracking time spend on my dissertation. I use Toggl for work as well – it’s a simple, free web app with desktop / mobile apps available.

At the end of this process, I’ll be able to look back and see exactly how many hours I’ve invested in it. I don’t know if that will impress or depress me, but time-tracking does help me keep moving. Knowing I’m “clocked in” goes a long way in the battle against procrastination and distraction.

James and Audrey Jo Design

James and Audrey Jo Design

My wife and I just launched a new design site & blog. We love typography art and wanted to be creators, not just consumers. We’re selling variety of printable designs, including hymns, carols, Scripture, and photo cards. Right now, most of our products are Christmas (since it’s December!), but we’ll be adding more season-neutral prints early in the New Year. We’re also blogging some gift ideas and detailed descriptions of our designs.

Just so you’re warned, I’ll be cross-posting links to my articles here. Most of what I’m writing there is explanations of hymn texts and Scripture, so it’ll fit right in with the content you’re used to here.

Please take a minute to check out our new site. If you have specific verses or quotes you’d like to see designed, please send us an email – we love to hear from fans & customers!

Bible Reading (for geeks, nerds, or regular folks with iPhones)

Picture of iPad 2, iPod Touch (4th Gen), and iPhone 4SReading the Bible on my iPad is my new favorite way to do regular reading and meditation. I look for two things in a Bible app: a clean display of the text (without notes / links / distractions) and the availability of help if I want to read more. I also appreciate an app that can track my Bible reading progress and remind me to follow my plan. I’ve found some good apps that give the simplicity of focusing my eyes on the text alone, allow quick access to notes and cross-references if I want to study, and help me track my Bible reading progress.

Highly Recommended Apps

YouVersion

Download the Free YouVersion Bible App from iTunesThe free YouVersion app from LifeChurch.tv has the best feature set. It provides online access to hundreds of Bible translations in several languages, as well as offline access to dozens of those versions (including Ancient Greek). This app also has many built-in reading plans with notifications. Tapping a verse highlights it and displays a small icon that allows you to add a note, share the verse (via Twitter, Facebook, email, or text message), copy the verse to other apps, bookmark, or highlight the verse with a custom color. YouVersion also has a “Live Event” feature that allows users to interact and share during a message or event. This is my favorite Bible app and the one I always use for daily reading.

ESV Bible

Download the Free ESV Bible Bible App from iTunesThe smoothest Bible app is the free ESV Bible app from Crossway. Its interface is clean and fast. As soon as you scroll down, the header disappears and you see the text full-screen. Tapping a verse brings up a list of cross-reference links and a “Create a Note” button. You can also bookmark verses or quickly share them via Twitter, Facebook, or email from this page.

ReadingPlan

Download the Free ReadingPlan App from iTunesThe free ReadingPlan app does just what its name says: lets you select a Bible reading plan and helps you stay on track. It does not have a Bible in it, but it comes with several plans pre-loaded and lets you browse through dozens of others. ReadingPlan will send a daily push notification to your device and allow you to open your preferred Bible app or website to read the passages. The App Store description says that this app will let you “create your own,” however, I haven’t figured out how to create a custom plan yet.

Other Useful Apps

Logos

Download the Free Logos App from iTunesI rarely use the free Logos app. I don’t own a large Logos library package and this app is much more challenging to use than the ESV or YouVersion apps. If you do have a Logos package and use it for daily reading, the ReadingPlan app can open Logos to your current daily reading for you.

Bible+

Download the Free Bible+ App from iTunesThe free Bible+ app from Olive Tree has a few versions available at no charge, but most of the better translations are only available as additional purchase (in-app or through the App Store). The main benefit to this app is split-screen viewing on the iPad. The only time I use this app is when I need to read Greek and English side-by-side.

Conclusion

The best all-around app for Bible reading and plan tracking is YouVersion. It has the most features and versions – and the best price tag.

If you’re already committed to another app for reading and just need to add a plan tracker, get ReadingPlan; it will tailor well with your current reading habits.

Do you have a different favorite Bible reading app? Tell me about it with a comment!

Searching for the perfect font

I’m on a search for the ideal theological font.  That font will have several characteristics:

  • Serif, variable-width, academic quality: primarily for papers
  • Full unicode character set: I type a lot of Greek and a little Hebrew
  • Nothing that bothers me, viz.,
    • Getting smaller (Gentium, Times [New Roman]) or larger (Cardo) when italicized
    • Looking boring (Times [New Roman])
    • Lacking characters and substituting mis-matched letters from a “similar” font (Cambria, Book Antiqua, Garamond, Bookman Old Style)
    • Overly narrow characters or kerning

Recommendations, anyone?

Reader input requested! Crazy question of the day…

I’m taking a Greek class next semester that includes memorizing nearly all the vocab in the New Testament.  My goal is to use my iPod Touch for my vocab flash cards.  I’ve looked at a few apps that do vocab cards, but none specially set for all NT Greek vocab (yep, it’s not the most common college course).

What I’d like to know is…

  1. have you found a good app that already has most of the NT Greek vocab (sorted alphabetically) available for it,
  2. have you used any iPod Touch flash card apps (which, and what do you think) or
  3. do you have or know where I could find an electronic list of all NT Greek vocab (spreadsheet, csv, Access DB, etc.)?

If you’ve got helpful info, drop a comment below.  If you’ve got access to a file, I’ll reply to your comment via email.

Thanks much!

UPDATE: Thanks to some comments, tweets and research, I’ve got the list of all vocab words & glosses in a CSV file.  When I get access to a macro-capable copy of MS Office (i.e., not ’08 for Mac!), I’ll run the BibleWorks Greek to Unicode font, then start experimenting with an iPod Touch app to see what works best.  I’ll report what happens as I go…

Refalizer (Firefox)

Several months ago, I started using RefTagger from Logos on this site.  That free code snippet automatically adds hyperlinks to any Scripture reference I type in a post here.  That link will take you to the passage (online) and display a pop-up box with the verse(s) in it when you hover your mouse over the link.

That’s fine for my blog, but what about the dozens of other blogs I read (many of which don’t use RefTagger)?  Refalizer adds a very similar feature to Firefox so that you can have a hyperlink for every reference displayed in your browser.  (Well, almost every.  I typically use a period between the chapter & verse numbers and Refalizer quits at the period and only links to the book/chapter.  Perhaps that’s an update coming soon?)  Still, it’s quite an improvement over opening another tab to look it up “the long way.”  And as a Firefox extension, it’s a cinch to install.  It access a half-dozen or so different online Bible sites and offers quite a number of translations.  You can pick your personal favorite in the preferences (open “Addons” and click “Preferences” on the Refalizer extension box).

You can download the Refalizer extension here.