Archive for Productivity


When I heard that ZipList was closing down earlier this month, I panicked. As mentioned in my post about ZipList earlier this year, this is one of the top few apps I use on a daily basis. The discontinuation of this app comes at a very bad time of year, so I’ve quickly had to do my research to find a replacement! And since I raved about ZipList and may have even lead some to start using it themselves, I feel the need to direct you all to another shopping list solution!

After reading about and considering a few other shopping list apps (Shopper, GroceryIQ, Grocery Gadget, and others) I have ended up with OurGroceries. (Available for both iOS and Android as well as via most PC web browsers.)

Our Groceries ListOur Groceries List 















So far, am really liking it. As I confessed in my ZipList post, I am not a grocery shopper. I go only when I must. My role is the list maker; my husband’s role is the store-goer. So the ability to share shopping lists in real time, is key. I like to sneak one or two more items on the list while he’s actually at the store!

In addition to list sharing, other shopping list app features I require include the ability to:

  • sign up for an account without linking to Facebook. (This was the deal breaker for Shopper. I did not see a way to share my lists without registering with my Facebook login and like others, I’m still suspicious of “anonymous login.”)
  • make lists for multiple stores: Publix, Target, Home Depot, Beth, Bath, & Beyond, etc.
  • categorize items by type of product and/or aisle in store

I didn’t find myself using ZipList to search for recipes and then automatically add recipe ingredients to my shopping list, so for those who like the sound of that, OurGroceries is probably not for you. You can store recipe names and ingredients but must manually enter that information. There is no place to store the actual recipe instructions. To me, the recipe part of the app is pretty worthless. I guess just having a list of recipe names might be helpful if you’re at a loss for what to cook and need to skim a list.

Some features OurGroceries doesn’t have (or not yet) that some of the other similar apps have include barcode scanning, price tracking, coupon integration, and photos of products. For now at least, I’m enjoying the simplicity of OurGroceries.

There is a free version of OurGroceries, which includes ads. So far, the ads have not been too much of a nuisance to me. For $4.99 (in-app purchase), though, you can upgrade to OurGroceries+ and go ad-free.

Almost Painless Biosketches

sciencv logois an online tool that assists researchers in creating and formatting biographical sketches needed for federally funded research. Because it generates reference lists from My NCBI and imports grant information from eRA Commons, it is fast!  Save your templates to modify and update later.

Formatted Biosketch

  • Developed by NCBI (NIH) for the SciENcv interagency working group: DOD,DOE, EPA, NIH, NSF, USDA
  • Used to create, save and maintain multiple NIH biosketches for grant applications and annual reports. Includes template for NIH Biosketch now, and NSF is to be added Fall, 2014.

This video from NIH demonstrates the features of SciENcv.  Prefer to read? See these detailed instructions.  Or check out this guide to get started working with My NCBI.



Wearable Tech

From Google Glass to a variety of wearable fitness trackers to smart watches to gesture rings, is resistance really futile? We can already control most of our lives with a smart phone and now it seems we’ll be able to do the same with a stylish wearable accessory. It is kind of ironic really. We buy an activity tracker to help be fit but then buy a gesture device, like the Nod Gesture Ring, that will let us control our TV, house lights, and environmental controls without moving from our seat on the couch.

According to Daniel Bulygin on, 82% of Americans that have wearable tech believe it has enhanced their lives. No doubt that technology has enhanced lives throughout history. The flushing toilet alone was certainly an improvement over the outhouse. But for the everyday person, how much of this really makes our lives better or easier? I’ve kinda decided that wearable tech is kinda like library instruction without a course assignment. It isn’t very useful until you actually need it for something.

For instance, a gesture ring could seriously improve the life of someone who is wheelchair bound. If someone is really motivated to get fit then a health tracker could make a real difference.

So what is the verdict on wearable tech? You tell me.

Now where was I….?

Does everyone struggle with distraction these days?  We all have so many things to do and whether you are trying to AVOID doing something or you have SO MANY things to do that you jump from one to another, getting them all done seems impossible.  Especially this time of year when there actually IS something shiny over there beckoning to you. So how to stay focused and get things done?

Know WHAT it is you need to get done

I’m a firm believer in to-do lists.  There are so, so many available now and we’ve covered this topic (use the blog search feature to find previous posts) before so I won’t go into great detail here but as I tell my kids, how do  you get stuff done when you don’t know what actually needs to get done?

Pick the right TIME to do it

I have better focus in the morning but my son isn’t even fully awake until afternoon, I don’t think.  I have learned that 7 to 9 am is my best shot at getting any writing for the day done.  Look at your own schedule and preferences.  You can’t always set your own schedule but when you can, use your time most productively.

Create the right ENVIRONMENT

If I’m trying NOT to do something it is amazing how being hot/cold/hungry/restless can throw me off.  I could get this post written if only had a cup of coffee.  Set the stage as best you can.  If you are really struggling try standing or exercise. Standing desks apparently can make you more productive.  I’m not sure if I can say that I believe this is true but I do agree that if I sit too long I get fidgety and want to get up and wander around.  In fact exercise can help you focus and remember it seems.  So maybe a few minutes of wandering around can help me get back to work.  You can also try music if that isn’t just another distraction.  Spotify has some great playlists for work. (Browse or search playlists.)

Let TECHNOLOGY help not hinder

If you can’t be trusted not to be on Facebook when you opened a browser to do research try an app blocker on your computer set to limit what you can use.  Cold Turkey is a new one designed to block certain apps at certain times.  (Since this one is SO hard to get around I’m afraid to try it.  It is tempting though.)  The app is user supported–pay what it is worth to you.  There are lots of others depending on the tool/operating system/app you want to block.

Is it important to manage distractions?  Yes.  Yes, it is.  Is it hard to manage distractions?  Yes, it is.

Lifehacker addresses this question often, they have some great advice.

Stay focused on the current task with a “procrastination pad”

Don’t do research when  you hit your writing groove

How can I improve my short attention span?

Master the art of the to-do list by understanding how they fail

How to focus and stay productive when you’re expected to always be available

Good luck and make 2014 your most productive yet!


3D Printing and the Future

Ever since I first started watching Star Trek I have wanted a replicator. The thought of coming home and saying “Computer, wine, Merlot” just makes me smile. And the clean up! You just put the empty class back and it disappears.

Tea, Earl Grey, Hot.

As it turns out we may not be far away from having that replicated cup of tea or wine. In fact, we may be really close to things a lot more important.

3D-printing has been around since mid-eighties but it was expensive and no one could think of really cool ways to use it except for things like architectural models and prototypes.

3D printers create solid 3-dementional objects by adding layers from the bottom up called an additive process. For a couple of thousand bucks you can buy a 3D printer that can happily “print” plastic thingies for you. Break your sun glasses? Just scan the pieces and print out a new pair.

Now this is all nice but what if the printer used other materials besides plastic thingamabobs? We are in the health sciences so let’s consider some of the applications that folks are researching right now.

  • Made to order prosthetic limbs.
  • Your custom prosthetic limbs can also be printed to be more like an actual arm or leg with moving joints even in the toes.
  • Chemicals smaller than a grain of sand are also being printed. Thus, your drugs can be made custom as well.
  • Bio-Ink can used to print tissue. Cartilage and bone has already been developed and skin for burn victims is being developed.

Imagine for a moment what 3D printing means for people needing an organ…..

Want to know more? Check out these two videos.


Ipad/iphone Apps for Reading the Current Literature

Keeping up with the literature in your field is necessary, but can be time-consuming!

This post is about 3 different, but similar, FREE apps that are designed to make the process much easier. Each has included the UAB proxy server in its options, so you will be able to link to the full text PDFS in a click for many articles that UAB licenses. Which one(s) you use is really a matter of personal preference. The apps are Docwise, Docphin, and Read (by QxMD.) You download them at the iTunes App Store.

All 3 of them feature:

  • An easy-to-use interface.
  • Settings to choose the journals to display whose current issues you want to read.
  • Searches to find a specific article, or articles on a topic (keyword searches.)
  • Once the topic is found, the ability to set alerts and topic updates so all new articles will be identified when published.
  • Can have email updates when new articles meeting your criteria are published.
  • One click sharing through Social Media such as Twitter.
  • The ability to favorite a PDF so you can read it when you are offline or traveling.
  • Easy access to the full text article for most UAB holdings (after you set  automatic log in with your Blazer ID and password.)
  • Please note:  These links work very well for content UAB licenses directly from the publisher, but may not work for content purchased from other vendors and will not work for unlicensed content that is not freely available.
    • The app developers work with the publishers and Lister Hill Library simply provides the proxy settings.  Often it is not clear why full text is not displayed, but the library cannot do anything about it.  We can help you get any articles need, though.  Simply Ask a Librarian.
    • Still, for a great many journals, this process is fast and nearly seamless.

Docwise   Read Review    Read Review

Docwise includes a customizable news feed from sources including CDC, FDA, Forbes, Time,  Washington Post, CNN, Medscape and more.   If you want to be able to scan current medical news in the same app as literature, this is very useful.

Click on the images to enlarge them.

Docwise_journal docwise_topic

Docphin:  Read Review  Read Review

Docphin includes a section on landmark articles, by speciality.  The app covers approximately 250 carefully selected journals. News from feeds chosen by Docphin, and including some Twitter feeds, is aggregated into the Medstream feature.

docphin Medstream Docphin journals


Ckick on the images to enlarge them.

Read by QXMD  Read Review   Read Review

Read allows you to choose to follow specialties, journals, collections and keyword searches.  It aggregates and highlights important articles under the “Featured” tab, although it is not clear how these are chosen.

Read_list Read


Graphite Lite App.

A while back I wrote about picking up sketching again and now I am seldom without my sketchbook and pencil. I never really considered sketching electronically until I started watching tutorials by Sycra Yasin.

Yasin made such neat sketches and made sketching electronically look so easy I thought I’d give it a try.

After reading about the different apps in the App Store I settled on Graphite Lite because it looked to be the best for regular plain ole sketching. I didn’t want stamps, architecture tools, or paints. Graphite also had good reviews for their pencil and charcoal tools.

I downloaded the free version to check it out and liked it so much I went ahead and spent the 2.99 for the full version.

For tools you get charcoal and pencil as well as a regular hard pencil eraser and a kneaded eraser. This version also includes a blending tool.  For all of these tools you can set the color and size (width) of the mark and the pressure.

The app also includes undo, redo, and zoom — zoom is really handy for working on small areas like eyes.

What I really like though is you can import a photo and trace it. This is really useful for practicing hard shapes like puppy noses. You can also save your work and email it or share through social media channels.

The interface is really easy to use and help is conveniently provided in the area with the icons for the pencil, charcoal, etc. Actually drawing, however, took a little getting used to. I tried using my finger first and that didn’t work out very well. Then I tried a regular old free stylus that came in the mail. Both my finger and stylus were too wide to get the precision needed to use the pencil very well. Using the charcoal worked better. Overall, this is fun and easy to use app but if you are serious about doing drawing electronically you will want to invest in stylus designed for artist.

So how did I do? Below is a picture of my dog, Ellie, and a quick sketch I did of her. I was using the charcoal tool mostly.

ellie elliesketch








This won’t replace my paper and pencil though!



If you’re anything like me with a hectic schedule, you’re constantly trying to find a way to keep organized and manage your physical, mental and creative space. You may use it to collaborate with team members on projects and track the stages of said project. I have good news for you; with Trello you can do just that and more.

If you’ve ever had to manage any sort of project or just try to accomplish all your personal to-do items, you know how hard it is to figure out how to track everything in a simple way, find a balanced way to prioritize all the things you have to do, and actually get them done.

Trello is awesome way to make this easier. It takes two basic steps:

First, sort your personal to-do’s into three spaces: physical, mental, and creative.

Second, use Trello.

What exactly is Trello you ask?

Trello is a free web application that you can use to track pretty much anything you want. Just go to and register/log in using your email address.

So give Trello by first:

Sorting your personal to-do items (3 spaces) physical, mental & creative.

Trello’s three main building blocks are cards, lists, and boards. Cards are things you’re working on, lists are collections of cards, and boards are collections of lists. You can put all kinds of things on the back of cards: comments, color-coded labels, checklists, file attachments, due dates, voting, and more.

One of the greatest things about this flexible (easy to use) is that you can access it on pretty much any device you choose including your pc, laptop, tablet or even smart phone. It also works with


Sorting your personal to-do items (3 spaces) physical, mental & creative.

Other than the 3 categories mentioned above there is also a “to-do list” as well as a “doing/waiting list” and finally the “done list”. Keep in mind you have the flexibility to edit or rename or add or delete any list as you see fit. Each item may be dragged and dropped appropriately. A great tool to use and also an alternative to the ever so popular Evernote!

Zotero Update

Zotero bills itself as a “free, easy-to-use tool to help you collect, organize, cite and share your research sources.”  For an overview of Zotero, check out our previous Tech Lister post. For detailed instructions, visit the Lister Hill Library Zotero guide.

In April, Zotero released version 4.0, providing even more functionality than previous versions.  New features include:

Colored Tags

4.0 allows you to assign up to six different colors to the tags of your choice. This makes it easy to identify items you would like to find at a glance.

To assign a color, simply right click the name of the tag in the tag panel. Note its assigned number.  You can apply the tag to other items by pressing the number when it is highlighted.

On Demand File Syncing

On Demand File syncing allows a user to choose what to sync to which device. This could be particularly handy when the full library isn’t necessary on a device with limited storage.

Automatic Journal Abbreviations

Zotero now has built-in journal abbreviations. Previously, Zotero populated this information from a journal abbreviation field that many databases didn’t use.  The hope is that this will save the user from having to manually correct this information.

For a full list of the changes, check out the Zotero blog on the 4.0 release and the 4.0 change log.

Also worth noting is that the beta “Zotero Everywhere” mentioned in our previous post is now “Zotero Standalone.”  It uses “connectors” to make Zotero compatible with Chrome and Safari as well as with Firefox.


I mentioned Pocket in my Get Organized class but since then I have begun to use it a lot more and find it to be a really valuable tool.  Pocket was formerly known as “Read it Later” and I have to admit, Pocket is a lot catchier.  And it is still free.


It is designed as a place to store stuff you want to read or watch later.  There are lots of other things that can do that–you can store links in email or flag stuff in your reader or clip things to Evernote.  The benefit I have found in Pocket is the that it stores the item itself so I can read offline (if allowed by the site) and it gives me one place to look when I have 15 minutes to kill and need something to read.

Basically as I go about my day, I run across blog posts or articles or videos that I want to explore but don’t have time to look at right then.   Using the Firefox extension, I save it to Pocket, go on with my day, then at lunch, or while waiting for a meeting to start, or later in the evening I will open Pocket on my iPad and read or watch something.  I’m managing distractions basically.

Pocket makes it very easy to add content to your account:

Some other great Pocket features include:

  • Send to a Friend:  interface allows you to easily send links to others whether they are Pocket users or not.
  • Organizing via tags
  • Archiving for those things you’ve read but want to keep
  • Ability to star important items

Now all you have to do is go back and read all those things that looked so interesting!