Tools that make my life easier

Welcome to a post about five techie things I do that make my life a lot easier, and which are not horribly expensive (or at least, pay back the investment in cost handsomely.)

1) Car mount for my phone

What: This mounts (via a suction cup) on the dashboard on the passenger side. It holds my phone (in its case) up where I can see it easily.

Why: I got it when I was doing a tremendous amount of driving for interviews (which is what happens when you job hunt, you’re 3-4 hours from the state you’d particularly like to end up in, and that state is also the closest easy terminal point for most flights and trains.)

I still use it all the time, because navigating in the Boston metro is complicated. (I know my actual commute now, but I use the Waze app to alert me to unusual traffic so I can take alternate routes.)

Anyway, it keeps my phone where I can see it for directions easily, without being in the way.

Cost: Variable, but mine was $25 or so.

2) Radio transmitter for my phone

What: I have a 2007 car, with a CD player, but no tape deck (so I can’t use one of the common methods for playing things from my phone) and no media jack (so I can’t use the other.) The solution? A radio transmitter that uses an unused radio frequency to do a short-distance broadcast.

I’ve actually had a couple: the current one (a recent generation iTrip when I bought it about 18 months ago) is still going strong, and gives me less static than previous versions.

There are some tricks to using it – if you’re doing a long drive you may have to rummage for a different radio band. (For routine driving, I have found one that works reliably along my usual routes, saved it as a station on the car radio, and just flip to it when I want it.) Also, if someone else is driving near you using the same kind of thing on a nearby frequency, you may get their music (or they may get yours) which can be kind of weird.

Mine comes with a USB thing that lets me plug my phone in at the same time, which I recommend, since it can burn battery. (As can using it for navigation, as in point 1)

Other things to know: If you’re listening to podcasts, set up a playlist or sequence in advance for long drives. (During my regular commute, I usually hit a couple of stop lights, so if I want to change what I’m listening to, I do it then.)

Cost: Variable, but I think my current version was about $60. Very well worth it.

3) Second screen for my office computer

AKA: thing that made me think I should do this post.

A couple of weeks ago, I put in a request for a second monitor for my office computer, and I’ve had it set up for a week now. It’s lovely! I have one screen directly in front of me, and the second at about a 30 degree angle to the right. I mostly work on the one in front of me (better ergonomics) but can use the second one to have a copy of something I’m referring to up.

I actually requested it because our catalog backend really likes to be a full screen window, and this has made it annoying to go back and forth between an email of titles someone wants (our catalog front end can tell us if we own the books, but not if they’re all checked out). Also handy if I’m typing info from a window into an email. Or keeping someone’s email up while I do research on their question.

So very handy. And while it’s the most expensive thing on this list, second screens are down to a few hundred dollars these days, and can be a huge boost to productivity and just generally not losing things in a pile of computer windows.

Incidentally, I’m also finding that I get distracted less – when I have to sift through windows to find something, there’s a decent chance I’ll go “Oh, yeah, I had a thought about that” and write a sentence or two that could have waited, before going on to the thing I meant to do in the first place. When I can keep two or three things visible without rummaging, that’s happening a lot less.

4) Extra phone charging cords

One trick I started doing a while ago was buying extra USB phone charging cords, enough to have one anywhere I might reasonably want to plug my phone in.

This means:

  • Two on my computer (shared by phone, iPad, and rechargeable trackpad)
  • One at the head of my bed (used for charging overnight)
  • One in the car
  • One at work
  • One attached to my portable battery, so I never have to rummage for one.

5) More storage on my phone

I recently got the iPhone SE (which I’m loving – I’d previously had the 5s, and I’m appreciating the response time to the fingerprint sensor, and just general speed of doing things. Also the battery life has been really great.)

But as part of that, I took the leap from 16 GB to 64, and am currently living in a world where all the music I regularly listen to is on my phone and all my ebooks. I like that part very very much. Picking the ‘less fancy smaller screen’ option in my case is nto actually a problem, because I have small hands, and one of the things I use my phone for heavily is reading, so being able to read with one hand while about to fall asleep, or on a bus, is great, and I was concerned that the 6 and 6 plus were going to be too big for my hands.

Basically, my summary of this one is ‘get the technology that best suits your actual life, as much as you can’.

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Hi, I’m Jen

Librarian, infovore, and general geek, likely to write comments about books, link collections, and other thoughts related to how we find, use, and take joy in information.

I'm the Research Librarian at the Perkins School for the Blind

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