**Observations Feed

Taking back your life....a good way to end the year, each year.

This is something I have done each January but now I'm starting in December and hoping there will be positive results in the new year.

Basically, I go through all the emails I receive as they come in [and then work back through those which have piled up] and if they are from non-personal/friend&family sources, decide which I want to still receive in the new year.  I then unsubscribe to as many as possible.  After all, if I miss the newsletter I can always sign up again.

I have an app which is part of Mail [MailButler] which does much of the unsubscribing for me, but I also have used Unroll.me - a website that will do much the same thing.  There are no doubt other ways of handling unsubscriptions, but this is what I do at the end of the year.

As for snail mail, that's a different thing to tackle, and a separate post.  In the meantime, a little hint of spring to keep people smiling.


Blocking phone crap and feeling great about it!!!

CRAP CALLS - I now spend a fair amount of time at home, not just doing nothing but doing loads of different things [loving it!].  Of course, since I’m here we do get phone calls thru the day.  I don’t mind, so much, human beings calling - whether fundraising or politicking or whatever.  I’m willing and able to be kind to them. BUT I hate those machine people calls = the ones for the back braces, car warranties, health insurance, you name it.  [I am on the DoNotCall list]. The ones which try to sound like a human, “Hello this is Jennifer”..pause to allow me to say something, then move right along and try to make me think this is a human. BUT I’m having a great time with my call-blocking phone = I’m sure other manufacturers make them, but the one we have is a Panasonic and when one of those machine calls come in [I answer on speakerphone] I hit the Call Block button and even if they’ve spoofed some innocent Iowa area code and number, they are blocked totally.  I’ve noticed in the past few days calls have come in and either died on the vine or show “Call Blocked” on the screen and I punch it off.  Not having to receive these calls has been great — I just thought I’d report this small success in fighting the machines.


Happiness is good!

The Pre-Trip Happiness is Good for YouThe benefits of travel don’t come to you just during and after your trip. The excitement and anticipation of going on vacation can considerably lift your spirits. According to a University of Surrey study, people are at their happiest when they have already booked a trip. Such people are also more positive about their finances, health, and overall quality of life.  

A Cornell University study found that people rate the happiness of anticipating a travel experience over that of purchasing a new acquisition.

Tip: Download a countdown clock app to help stoke your feelings of giddiness and excitement before the trip. The closer you get to the date, the happier you will be.


IMG_6954-Wild Lines12x16horiz
Wild lines in Seattle

More from Catherine Workman, part 3

Travel Relieves Stress

Our day-to-day responsibilities may be time-consuming, and sometimes we totter under the burden of living hectic, busy days on repeat. Travel is a delightful way to escape the commitments and stresses of our daily life, introducing refreshing change and novelty in the form of new sights, experiences and acquaintances. The goal is to relax to the point where both the mind and body reboots, free from the strains of work projects and burdensome relationships, says Margaret King of the Center for Cultural Studies and Analysis.

For many, travel is not about discovering new places as much as escaping from old ones that are adversely affecting our spirits. Vacations sever the feeding channels of stress connected to the activities and places we dwell in for work.

Tip: Sometimes vacations to busy cities like London or New York, while exciting, may overwhelm your nerves a tad. During such big urban adventures, be sure to schedule some down time, like a calm picnic or massage.



Dorsoduro visit to Etta Lisa 115
Boat in Canal in Venice

More from Catherine Workman

With Travel.....

You Learn to Be Flexible

When travelling, especially in new countries, you step out of your comfort zone and are forced to adopt to new customs and societal differences. This challenge “opens” your personality more, noted a 2013 paper by Zimmerman and Neyer. New societal adaptation calms your emotional reactions to changes in the day-to-day and boosts emotional stability, their paper concludes. At the same time, you meet new people, expand the size of your existing social network, and fortify your sense of congeniality.

Tip: Charm the locals you meet by learning and expressing, from time to time, typical expressions and idioms of the culture. Punctuating your phrases with a word of curious note will endear you to them.


Bhutanese Dancer at Festival

A guest post from Catherine Workman of Wellness Voyager

From time to time I become aware of other's writings on topics relating to travel, both encouraging it and providing helpful suggestions.  Catherine Workman of WellnessVoyager has written on this topic.  She has a great view of travel:  "Catherine believes we should all leave our comfort zones once in awhile. She uses travel to boost her physical and mental health and shares about her experiences on WellnessVoyager.

So, here is one of her discussions and I'll publish others in the near future. 

Here are a few reasons why springing for a pleasure trip is a terrific idea, coupled with trip-maximizing tips:    

It Sows Creativity

Experts on neuroplasticity (how our brain is connected) say our brains are tremendously influenced by changes in experiences and environments. Studies conducted at Columbia Business School have found that creativity is stoked when cultural immersion is deep. Open-mindedness blossoms when you shift your habits and newly tailor your life to the customs of the country you’re visiting.

Tip: Practice more than one creative outlet – such as journal writing, or craft learning – when traveling, to stir your creative synapses.

Woman walking in downtown Aix

SkyTripping versus Do it Yourself - screensavers

My sister told me about an app on her office's conference room that showed lovely aerial views of wonderful places around the world with or without background music.  I found the app which can be downloaded and used on AppleTV.     Skytripping

It does cost about $4 a month, but on the other hand if you want something lovely to soothe your soul, it’s a great option.

On the other hand, I have now set up something in my home office - I got an open box Apple TV and using iTunes on my iMac selected a photo folder to use via home sharing, selected music to play on my iTunes, and as I sit here, it’s playing my music and showing my photos from the selected folder….not quite HD Aerial View but really pretty cool anyway = I love the music in my library and now I can see what my images look like on a TV screen.
Happy Thanksgiving to all.

Taking Amtrak between Iowa & Chicago, a great time.

I wanted to go to Chicago for a long weekend, to attend OpenHouseChicago, which is another story.  After pricing airfares [$350+] and asking our daughter about Megabus [$90; she warned me I might not like the bathroom], I researched taking the train.

To take Amtrak from central Iowa to Chicago you have to go to Osceola [an hour south of Des Moines] and get on the California Zephyr.  It is the cross-country train between Chicago and Emeryville, California which for the whole route takes a little over two days.  The route from Iowa to /from Chicago is about 6 hours, although it can be a little more time coming from the West. That’s because Amtrak travels on freight rails and has to give way to freight train traffic.  

But, it cost me $100 to ride round-trip, leaving about 9:30am and arriving about 4:30pm, and returning from 2:00pm to 8:30 pm.  That’s $10 more than Megabus, but you have more room, the lounge car is available [as is the dining car], and I’d rather take the train.

Those who complain about the train ‘always’ being late generalize unfairly.  After all, even though the flight takes a little over an hour, you have to be there an hour ahead and wait for baggage awhile on arrival and pay three times as much.  There certainly are good reasons to fly to Chicago or elsewhere, but if you want to relax, read a book, work on your computer, sleep or play video games, the train beats a plane any day.

I also discovered something new [to me] in Chicago.  I arrived at Union Station to leave about 4 hours later.  Amtrak has created a Legacy Club for its passengers for $20 for a day pass.  That can be money well spent - free wifi, comfortable seating, free coffee and snacks, Clue and other board games, a happy hour twice a day and a place of relevant quiet [it has TVs running which I don’t care for, but that certainly is fine for most people and I can hide in a corner and ignore them]. 

So, if you have time and want to maximize it and enjoy it, taking the train makes a lot of sense.


Amtrak Union Station Chicago
Amtrak Union Station, Chicago




Heard from a friend this morning in an email at about 3 a.m. - 

"I just realized a short time ago that I probably left my I-phone at Jordan Creek....  I know I was using it about 7 p.m. when I wrote a message to you.  Can't find it and I  can't sleep.  Of course, I did not set up the Locate My Phone function!"

Luckily she found it back home, but it goes without saying that there's no sense in having a Find my iPhone function if it's not used.  If you have it, you can send a message to the phone [a reward to the finder?], you can send a loud beeping noise to help you find it if you did leave it in your home, you can wipe the contents if it is out of your control, you can track it and let the Police know where to find the thief...but if you forget to set up the security, you're S.O.L.

So do it now!


Gas & Fuel apps

Both AAA and AARP have helpful apps but you can also try to find good fuel prices by using dedicated apps:  AccuFuel, GasBag and GasBuddy [which I’ve used most of the time].  It’s silly to drive way out of the way to find a gas station and save a few cents per gallon.  But at least being able to see how much higher the ones in your area are from the lowest might justify stopping and getting gas right there.


Maps & Helpful Apps

There are all sorts of applications to provide maps for locations, so I'll just focus on a few that I've used.  You might want to check with some of the review sites or articles as to which will meet your needs.  

I use the iOS Maps app quite a bit.  It provides everything I might want, or almost everything.  I especially love it when I'm traveling and can watch the little blue dot move across and down the streets or highways to where I'm headed.  I find I use Maps to plot my route, to find out where I am and to find resources [hotels, restaurants, etc.] in an unfamiliar area.  Another alternative is MapQuest, which I haven't used much.  One nice feature is that it gives you buttons at the bottom of the screen to hit and find some basic catories of places.  However, since many seem to be copyrighted images [i.e. Holiday Inn's "H"] that's probably how MapQuest is paying for the app, which is free.

I also have CityMaps2Go which allows you to find maps to cities and regions in many countries [incl. the US] all over the world.  You need to have an internet connection to download them, but then they reside on your iOS device and you can use them offline.  You can also decide to pay $3 to get WikiPlus for your map, which will provide even more articles, lists of attractions, and images for your map.  This might prove quite useful if you want the information handy.  I did note, however, that the downloaded [free] map included "POI" [points of interest] which at least gives you some guidance before you choose to purchase WikiPlus.

A similar map app which allows offline access to information is 700CityMaps. The price is also $3 per map for offline reading and includes additional information for each map.

I just found AllTrails which is free and looks quite helpful for when you're hiking and trekking out in the countryside.  There are a number of other apps which will provide trail guides and park information [I have Chimani which focuses on national parks - and each of those detailed apps was free on Earth Day, when I downloaded them all!]

Apps to help with Travel Recordkeeping & Tasks

If you need a place to hold  your travel materials [tickets, itineraries etc.], Trip Case is one such app as is Tripit’s [which has an online component].  You can also transfer to your iPhone or iPad documents in PDF for later use, either in preparation for the trip or while on it through FileApp, Air SharingDropbox or Evernote or such cloud resources.

Other helpful or even essential apps are those for Translations, Currency Conversion, Unit conversions of all kinds, scanning barcodes and QR codes, apps which give you a flashlight or other utilities.  For the latter especially I like AppBoxPro, which comes in a free edition [AppBox] and also a paid one, which I have and use.  There are plenty of fine free apps for these uses, though.

For conversions I've been using Convex which has all sorts of unit choices [radioactivity, speed, temperature, time and a whole bunch more] and which is great for the visually/graphically inclined.  Of course, my favorite [AppBoxPro] has all those functions as well as many others.  

[Again, search for the above names of apps to find them in the iTunes App store]



News apps for iPhone & iPad travel

If you want to keep up to date while traveling, using various iPhone apps to do so is simple and, usually, sufficient.  I also use RSS feed readers [mainly Feedler] on my iPhone and iPad, but going to the actual source sometimes is necessary.  For direct news sources, then, I’d suggest:  BBC News, CNN, USAToday, NYTimes and NPR, and the apps such as Flipboard and FLUD which will let you aggregate sources in a visual fashion.


Apps for Travel with an iPhone or iPad

I thought I'd do a series of comments about applications for the iPhone or iPad which relate to travel, either to the places we are going or to help with getting or being there.  So this is the lst in a series of such.  All apps can be found at the iTunes App Store for iPhone and iPad [I would imagine there are others for Android to be found, if need be].  I'll highlight the names and you can search on those names in the search box.

Passing the Time

Downtime is one negative about traveling;  waiting impatiently to get where you’re going or to pass the time while you’re traveling.  One way to control your impatience and, possibly your temper, is to find something else to do with yourself if you can’t or don’t want to pass the time in conversation with others.  

Reading is one obvious way of passing the time and there are loads of apps for both the iPhone and iPad which will help with that goal.  All of these can be found through easy searches at the App Store in iTunes.  There are many others and you can search them out in the various magazine reviews or app review sites.

My two main reading apps, on both the iPhone and iPad, are iBooks and Kindle.  Both allow you to read downloaded/purchased or free books, magazines, and PDFs.  There are other apps as well [B&N’s Nook, and other ereaders], but I don’t use them as much.  Also, you can buy digital magazines and materials to read through Zinio.com and you can also read them with your Zite app.  

Another app is Stanza, but it apparently doesn’t currently work seamlessly with iOS5, so you might look for an alternative.  And if you want to convert readings and materials into an epub [rather than PDF], you can do that Calibre, which will also assist you in finding books to read in a number of locations

Suggestions for Travelers

I have just returned from Turkey and was talking recently to a friend about their upcoming visit to Europe and thought I'd pass along some ideas to get more out of your trips, stateside or overseas:

Try to find books, movies and TV shows set in or about where it is you're traveling to;  better yet, find those which are actually made in where you're going.  

Go to iTunes and check out the Podcasts, iTunes U offerings, iBooks etc.  Rick Steves has both audio and video podcasts that provide loads of helpful information, as do many others.  Put the city or country name in the search field and see what you find.

Go to the App Store part of iTunes and do the same:  find iPhone/iPad apps that are travel guides or other helpful apps about the place you're going to.  I am sure Amazon has a similar feature for Android phones.

Put your itinerary details in PDF form and upload to  your Dropbox, Evernote account, or wherever you maintain your cloud presence.  That way, if you need the details but you've lost the papers, you can find and download them whereever you are.

Go to iTunes and find the Radio selections and see if there's music from the country for you to listen to.  Then you can buy and bring back a CD of the country's music if it strikes your fancy.

I'll go thru my iPhone & iPad and see if I can suggest specific apps I've found helpful, but this is a start, perhaps.

Apps to Aggregate News and Information

I have been traveling and using various applications on my laptop [MacBookPro], my iPad and my iPhone and have some thoughts on good news aggregators.  My usual process is at the end/beginning of each day I review the unread items in these aggregators for up to date news and information.  I have several just for fun [Cozy Mystery blog is one example], but most are sites or blogs regarding interests of mine [news, politics, current events, photography, computers and Macs, etc.].  So, my thoughts:

I moved to Google Reader about a year ago and it's a good choice for a basic news aggregator, particularly since many of my other apps coordinate with it.

On the laptop or desktop, I access Google Reader either through its browser space or else through using Reeder [particularly on the laptop].  It integrates quite well with many/most of the other services I use [Instapaper, Evernote, etc.] and has a good interface.

On the iPad and iPhone, I use Feedler which I like much better than Reeder = both of these apps sync and pull in the Google Reader feeds and so the GR aggregator serves as the master and the others are chosen for their device usage and work with GR just fine.

When I review items in Reader/Reeder/Feedler and like them, I star them for future review, send to Instapaper, send to Evernote, share on Twitter or other places using BufferApp.  If I find something of general interest or worth passing on, I usually send it via Bufferapp to Twitter or put it in StumbleUpon.

I am in this turn of the year hoping to get myself more organized [having said that over many years!] and hope to improve on the above described process, but this is what I'm doing now.  Hope this is of some help.


[all bolded items can easily be found in a search via Google or whatever]

Iowa Flooding

I just put a few pictures up to my Flickr page/site to let people see how the flooding in Iowa has been.  I was driving east of Des Moines and got off at the Colfax exit and found the uploaded images there at that exit and also along Country Road F34 which runs E-W through the countryside.  Lots of tragedy also [ruined houses, crops and lost lives].  

Flooding neaer Colfax & Co Rd 34 40 - Version 2

VictoriaJZ at Flickr - the link to the flood images.

Design Artistry: An explanation from Steve Jobs

ON DESIGN ARTISTRY: When you’re a carpenter making a beautiful chest of drawers, you’re not going to use a piece of plywood on the back, even though it faces the wall and nobody will ever see it. You’ll know it’s there, so you’re going to use a beautiful piece of wood on the back. For you to sleep well at night, the aesthetic, the quality, has to be carried all the way through.

via thenetworkgarden.blogs.com

This is a quote from Steve Jobs in a blog comment by Mark Sigal - the whole blog post is excellent but I thought this was apropos of my own goal in my work and photography.


We returned late Tuesday night, uneventfully, and on waking up and reading the morning paper I felt a bit confused.  Reading the stories in the Des Moines Register I noted that I had already heard all this information before!   Evidently, by going online with my iPhone to read my RSS feeds at the various airports through the day, I was able to keep up with current information constantly so that I knew all the news reported in the newspaper the next morning, albeit not in as much detail.  That's not a slam at the paper, just a recognition that one can keep up to date on a number of topics and then look to newspapers and online journals for more indepth coverage and information.