Appsolutely Crazy

Page two of my home screen Despite my technological nerdiness, I didn't adopt a smartphone until 2009. After a lot of thought and gnashing of teeth, I gave in to the iTool and bought my first in 2011. For the first time, I didn't have to get text message notifications about my Facebook account. I was able to download useful apps and integrate them into my life and workflow.

But I didn't. Until earlier this year, all my apps were either social media outlets or iPhone presets. Embarrassing, I know, but I'd already gotten addicted to real-time texting and e-mail and Facebook and couldn't handle any more...or so I thought. Really, the problem was my slacking on time management, but it seemed like my phone was causing the trouble.

Before I had my run-in with Candy Crush addiction (it's real, people!), I started downloading apps. I discovered a ton of healthful, helpful and informative apps. Here are five of my favorites in alpha order:

  1. ArgusThis health app uses the iPhone's built-in pedometer and your input to track your activity, water consumption and caloric intake in a beautifully designed feed. If you're so inclined -- I'm not -- to share this information with others, you can connect with friends and family to share it all. Pros: Gorgeous design, easy use, great layout and data stream. Cons: The pedometer doesn't always work. The automatic switch over to running mode can also be buggy and it has been crashing randomly since the software update. Cost: $1.99
  2. DuolingoIf you want to learn a foreign language and are willing to spend a few minutes every day for it, download this app. Its game-based system gives the user a little bit of freedom to choose areas of vocab but also checks your pronounciation and corrects your grammar. Pros: User friendly, makes topic accessible, not very time consuming. Cons: If you don't practice daily by a certain time, you'll get an e-mail reminder. The tiniest grammar errors can ruin your score, which is fair considering a lot of words have very similar meanings. Cost: Free
  3. LearnVestAs I've mentioned before, LearnVest is my go-to financial organization web service/app. Daily e-mails from the service provide well-curated content that brings readers' experiences into a larger context. Pros: The service provides an easy way to link all your accounts with their dashboard and set both short-term and long-term financial goals. If you mainly use debit or credit to pay for all your expenses, this service is the hands down best way to track them. If not, you can add cash transactions, but the process is not as streamlined. Cons: Daily e-mails and offers on their website for paid services. That said, their newsletter and the free short call I had with one of their professionals have been extremely informative. Cost: Free
  4. On The BarAs a bartender and occasional bar patron, this app is the bomb. Bartenders can check in to let their networks know when and where they're working, and customers can tag their bar adventures. Pros: Easy to connect with and find your favorite bartenders. Cons: The app can be a bit buggy. Certain features aren't always totally functional. Cost: Free
  5. OverI downloaded this app during the App Store's Fifth Anniversary sale while it was free. It's been useful for giving photo credit and commentary within my Instagram posts. Pros: Easy and fun to use. Cons: Only a few fonts and graphics are available for free. The rest are available in bundles for a modest fee, but the ones that require paid access aren't labeled as such. Cost: $1.99

Split a decision with long division


When I landed my first big girl job, I panicked. Taking over responsibility for my health and car insurance payments seemed more daunting at the time than finishing hundreds of hours of physics research. I had budgeted my time and money before, but needed more support and clearly outlined goals. I needed to invest money in envelopes or time in finding a web-based service.

My first instinct was to go back to Mint. I had first adopted this service two years ago after researching quite a few budgeting and business apps for my first freelancing article. Though the Mint app was free, its interface was anything but intuitive. To this day, I couldn't tell you how to set a budget or savings goals on that website. After a few months of bill reminders and weekly spending reports, I abandoned that account.

Instead of revamping my Mint account, I started googling. Several articles later, I stumbled across LearnVest. The web-based service was still in Beta testing, but the interface was clean and the budget center easy to navigate. In 20 minutes, I had set a budget, marked financial goals and enrolled in a budgeting boot camp.

I spent several hours surfing their Knowledge Center section. Reading stories from others in their 20s, 30s and even 40s who were starting from scratch has been a powerful motivator. The daily e-mails about articles and service updates keeps me engaged and reminds me that my money and debt exist. It also reminds me that I am not alone.

Since then, LearnVest has introduced an app that miniaturizes most of the services available on the website including the articles. Using a combination of the app and online services and the envelope system, I reached my first savings goal last month. At the same time, we have built up a vacation fund by saving loose change and using a rewards-based credit card for all grocery (6%) and gas (3%) purchases.

Even though money is tight, a modest beach weekend is on the horizon with plans to travel to points further afield this summer. None of it would be possible without a budget and a plan.

Today's title is from Bo Burnham's "New Math." Full disclaimer: I did not receive compensation for this review.

All right, meow.

20121127-161046.jpg It feels a little silly to condense my current activities into a list while I'm surrounded by other lists that I've made. Somewhere in my red notebook, there's even a list of lists that I need to make or check off. Compulsive list making aside, what follows is a partial list of what I've been up to recently.

Watching: I don't have cable, and up until two months ago, didn't even have rabbit ears for the TV. Most of my television is streamed from Netflix or network websites. Currently, I'm stalled out in the most recent season of "Supernatural" after getting overwhelmed with the volume of commercials on Hulu. Aside from the occasional episode of "No Reservations" or "The Daily Show," I pretty much tune out everything to play on Pinterest.

Listening to: NPR has long dominated my driving time, and still fills most of my commute. Musically, I've been a little stuck on Young The Giant's eponymous album and The Strokes' "Is This It." An odd combo to be sure, but these two bands remind me of a couple of my favorite people.

Reading: I keep picking up "I Am Not A Serial Killer" by Dan Wells, but I just haven't found the time to sit down with it. Wells' debut novel is narrated by John Cleaver, a 15-year-old boy who is obsessed with serial killers. The deceptively simple prose underscores the tension between the boy's understanding of life and the events happening around him. That said, I'm only about 40 pages in. I keep getting distracted by new and exciting blogs I've discovered through Blog Like Crazy.

Planning: I already have a few pages' worth of resolutions for 2013 scribbled in my notebook. Writing more for fun and freelance is at the top of each. Money-wise, I've outlined a budget using the free LearnVest app and website. In my opinion, it's a more user-friendly service than Mint.

Thinking about: After Blog Like Crazy ends, I'd really like to drill down into social media, writing and combinations of the two.

Making me happy: Blog Like Crazy has been a rare opportunity for me to connect with other writers who both inspire me and demonstrate that I have no valid excuses for neglecting my writing. The feedback that I've gotten so far has been incredibly encouraging. I'm hopeful that I'll be able to continue with the same energy and purpose when I'm not writing from prompts.

Title comes from the Cat Game scene in "Super Troopers."