Archive for Productivity

Loyalty and Rewards Cards-Go Virtual with Key Ring

I have many rewards cards, but never with me when I need them.  I don’t carry keys, so the little cards that attach on the keyring don’t solve the problem.  When I recently signed up for the Plenti program, I was nudged towards needing a solution.  When I needed my Hilton HHonors info to get free wi-fi recently, push became shove!

I had heard of Key Ring in one of the sessions on handy akeyring2pps I attended (and Pat mentioned it in an earlier Tech Lister blog post), so I went to the Play Store and grabbed it for my phone.  I gathered as many of the rewards cards as I could easily put my hands on, and went to work.

The app is straightforward-you hit the big “+” to add a card, make shopping lists, or follow a store.


When you add a card, the camera on the phone opens to take a picture of the barcode; either snap the picture or select “no barcode” to set up cards without one.  You can also take pictures of the front and back of the card if so desired.

Turning on locatikeyring3 bluron services allows the app to find stores near you.  You also have the option to mark favorites that will appear towards the top of your list of cards.  The stores you choose to follow will also appear in the list.  When you click an entry, you can see sale flyers, coupons, and other savings information.

You can edit the barcodes and descriptions once you add them to the app. But what if I need passwords that go along with a loyalty program?  I found via trial and error that you can add notes to card entries via the web version of Key Ring (, but only there for some reason.  You use the same login and password to log in to this version of Key Ring.  In the example below, I entered “the password goes here” in the notes field, to see how it shows up in the app-it is available in the lower part of the screen, but can’t be edited.

bn edit


I’ve got the cards in, now I need to add passwords and I’ll be ready to go.  The info you put in Key Ring can be shared, so I’ll send them to my husband’s phone, too, so he can benefit as well.  I already made use of the app in the first week, when I booked a hotel room and had my reward number handy.  I will find out if there are problems with scanning the barcodes from the phone when I’m shopping; in those cases, the number has to be entered manually.  I’m looking forward to having all this info in one place, we’ll see how it goes!

AVS Audio/Visual Software Suite: Versatile, Easy, and Inexpensive

When I started working with the hospital’s on-demand patient education system 10 or so years ago, I found I needed a method for encoding videos in a specific format.  I was fortunate enough to stumble on the AVS software suite (  The $50 unlimited access suavs overviewbscription seemed like a great deal, so I whipped out the credit card and was in business.

Over the years, the video converter software has improved and additional functionality has been added to the suite, all covered by my initial $50 investment.  The AVS suite includes tools for managing audio and video, for burning files, working with images, and converting documents.  It also includes system tools like a registry cleaner.

A few of the tools are ones I use on a regular basis, andavs formats so I am more familiar with those.  I often use the video converter to save video files, whether .mov, .mpg, or .wmv, in the mpeg2 format I need.  I can also rip video files from DVD toavs web create streamable files.  The converter has presets for
various devices and the web, as well, making it easy to create format-friendly versions of videos.  The video editor lets me combine files of various formats and output them in a different format.

When I record voiceovers for PowerPoint presentations, videos, or automated phone calls, I use the audio recorder and audio editor to capture, clean up, and combine audio files as needed.avs audio

I haven’t played with the image editor or document converter as yet.  The document converter lets youavs document save files in various formats, and will extract images from a document as well.

This software suite has been one of my best investments, and saves me many hours of frustration in producing audio and video files.  The license key assures that I can reinstall the software when I upgrade computers.  When the occasional glitch has occurred, I have consulted with the AVS support team, and they have always been helpful.

Inbox for Gmail: a better way to manage email

Almost everyone already loves Gmail but what if you could make it better?  InBox transforms your mail from the familiar home screen to a more organized, color-coded interface.

Create this magic on your desktop, tablet or phone by requesting an invite (see below) and downloading the app.  I love that I can try it out and still get back to the familiar if needed.  In other words, I can use both at the same time.

The big difference besides the cleaner home page is that mail now works more than ever as a to-do list.  If you use your inbox in that way, you will love InBox.
Options for handling messages in InBox include:

  • Pin–move to the top; stay in front of me; you are important
  • Snooze–need to deal with this but not today; go away until I am ready to do something with you
  • Done–finished with you, go away
  • Bundle–you all go together

Get InBox by sending an email to request an invite.  Mine came right away, they don’t seem hard to get.

It has taken some time to get comfortable with the new interface.  For me the hardest part is seeing that I have a new message, that just does not seem as apparent as I’m used to.

I have played with my bundles to make them more useful (moving messages in or out to “teach” Google which are appropriate) and that has helped.

The hardest part of it for me is the lack of a delete button.  I know that it isn’t actually doing anything different, that deleted messages are still THERE but with InBox they seem in the way more.

I don’t know yet if I will stick with InBox but it is worth trying out for sure.

Of course Lifehacker has a great post about using InBox, How InBox by Google works, and How to Use it for More Productive Email.

Try it out.  Let me know what you think.

Meet Browzine™ Turn your tablet into your e-reader!

Keep up to date with your scholarly reading with Browzine™, a new way of browsing and reading your favorite journals from many major publishers on your iPad, iPhone, Kindle Fire, Android Tablet or Android phone. BrowZine is free. All licensed content is provided via UAB Libraries.



Get started in two EASY steps:

1.  Download the free Browzine app for your device.

2. When installed, choose University of Alabama at Birmingham as your university library. Use your Blazer ID/password when prompted.


Why use Browzine?

  • to scan the complete tables of contents of scholarly journals and read articles optimized for mobile devices
  •  to get one-click from journal tables of content to the PDFs of the articles you want to read
    • save specific articles for later reference and offline reading
    • create a bookshelf of your favorite journals for easy, fast access
  • to receive on screen notifications when new issues of your favorite journals are published

Other features:BrowZine_Article_Export_Options_iOS

  • Find journals by searching or browsing a title list, or by using a Browzine bookshelf chosen by subject.
  • Annotate or print articles by opening them in your favorite apps like Good Reader or iAnnotate.



Pushbullet is a great, free app designed to allow you to easily move items between your computer and mobile devices.











As promised, it is very easy to get started:

pushbullet get started
















I downloaded the app to my iPhone and iPad and added the Chrome extension to my computer.  I logged in with my Gmail account and that was it.  I could then use the app on my mobile devices to push items such as photos, files, and links to my computer.  I sent a couple of things from home and when I got to work the next morning there was a pop-up on my computer with the information.  Computer does need to be on though, when I sent one over the holiday it didn’t go through and I couldn’t easily resend it.

I did the same thing from my computer, using the Pushbullet icon in Chrome and instantly pushed files or links from one to the other.

Now I do have other options for moving things between devices but this is so fast and easy I likely will never use the other options again.  As I don’t have an Android phone I don’t have all the options (yet) but still find this FREE app to be a great time saver.

There are also some great IFTTT recipes for Pushbullet.

Apparently this app has been around for a while, I just missed it somehow.  If you have been using it and have suggestions on how to make the most of it, let us know in the comments.

5 Tips for a Happier 2015

Happy 2015!

Besides watching “happy” videos, here are 5 tips for a happier new year:

Simplify decisions  Create routines to simplify the decisions that don’t matter to you. Follow in the footsteps of Steve Jobs and President Obama by simplifying your clothing decisions with a uniform (grey suit or jeans and a black turtleneck) or just a few clothing choices that suit your style. Or simplify your morning routine by eating the same breakfast every day or packing the same lunch. Try these simple steps to reduce your decision fatigue so that you’ll save your willpower and energy for the decisions that really matter to you.

Log out It’s difficult to stay focused on a task if constant distractions lure you away. Improve your chances of getting things done by batching your work and logging out of email, Facebook, and Twitter for set periods of time. Close your browser and set a timer to work on only one thing for 45 minutes and see how much more you can accomplish without interruptions. When you do log back into email, spend 30 minutes deleting, responding or filing mail and then close the program till you check it later in the day. Need convincing that interruptions have a detrimental effect on the quality of your work? Studies show that constant interruptions zap your productivity so get more done by batching similar tasks and reducing distractions.

Clear out clutter It’s a great feeling to get rid of clutter. It’s frees up your physical space and gives you more room mentally. And it’s rewarding to know that the stuff you don’t need can benefit others. Clean out your closet and donate clothing and accessories to the Suits 4 Success drive or other worthy organizations. Help with the School of Public Health’s Pathways project by bringing in your unopened toiletry samples from hotels. Use freecycle to share things you no longer need as part of a 40 day de-cluttering challenge. Clear out clutter at work as well. Consider unsubscribing from email lists, sending fewer emails, and printing fewer documents to clear out clutter in your office. And enjoy the new space you have when you have fewer things.

There is always, always, always something to be thankful for

(Photo Credit: Pretty Organized)

Develop recharging routines We all need recharging. Develop habits that “sharpen the saw” and renew your well-being. Stop eating at your desk and use your lunch break to take a walk, listen to music, or socialize.  Sign up for a class or program (at the Campus Rec Center, Organizational Learning or Development or UAB Employee Assistance and Counseling Center) that expands your knowledge or develops new interests. Spend time noticing and acknowledging all that you have to be thankful for and take time to recognize and thank the people that are part of your life. Need inspiration? Visit Three Beautiful Things or join the #365grateful project. And while you’re recharging, make a routine to recharge your phone, tablet or computer.

Recognize that perfection is not attainable Do you suffer from perfectionism? You’ve heard the expression that “perfection is the enemy of good” but what can you do to combat this tendency? You can try stepping back and looking at the big picture to develop a proper perspective. You can divide projects into smaller goals to maintain momentum and set time limits for tasks to avoid obsessing over minor details. You can make peace with the fact that making mistakes is part of the process and that perfection is not attainable. And you can be happy that you’ve achieve some good things in the process.


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!