The Power of Pocket

July 29, 2013 § Leave a comment

Pocket iOS App Icon Cookie

Image Source: Garrett Gee, iOS App Icon Cookies

I recently penned a post regarding my habit of not recognizing the unproductive things that I do on a continual basis.  In the piece, I mentioned an online tool that helps one to organize her, or his, reading life: Pocket (formerly Read It Later).  At the time I wrote the piece, I had downloaded Pocket onto my laptop (unbeknownst to me, a new feature) and had begun to Pocket articles to read later.  I thought this was the best thing, well, ever.

Not long after, I was at a meeting during which I learned that I was not the only one who had been keeping 39 tabs open, in perpetuity, so that I could keep track of what I wanted to read.  (There was some relief in that conversation, as there is most definitely a generational divide, of which I am on the far side).  I (extremely enthusiastically) mentioned my discovery and followed up with an email and link to the site site.

But my excitement about this new tool, and my rush to start using it, exposed another of my time sinks – not liking to read instructions, at all.  This latest shortcoming was revealed to me in two phases.  The first came as a nudge.  After having used Pocket for a few days, I was checking my Twitter feed when I noticed that the menu of actions I could take had grown by one, namely Pocket.  No clue. Of course, I had to test it.  I clicked on a link to open the page, “Pocketed” it.  All good.  And then I did the same, by simply clicking Pocket on my Twitter menu. Yes, it worked.

The second phase came serendipitously via Pocket itself.  I was reading an article that I had discovered via Twitter and saved to read later, “Apps for College Grads.”  Pocket was one of the tools listed.  Along with the description came this quote from one of the grads surveyed:

“I can’t live without Pocket,” said Marc Phillips, a marketing graduate from Ithaca College. “It allows me to save interesting links and stories to the cloud so I can access them on-demand from any of my iDevices and laptop.”

Really?  You see, I did not read the iTunes product detail or the site detail or the FAQs, and, thus, did not realize this.  I spent the next 15 to 20 minutes downloading the app, signing in to Pocket on my phone and iPad, and connecting them to my Twitter account.  Voila.

Now, my life really has changed.  Now, I don’t go mad standing in the interminable checkout line at the drug store. Instead, I pull out my phone and read one of my “Pocketed” articles.  Now, I know that I need to spend 15 minutes reading the prompts and product details to properly set up an application in order to get the most out of it from the get-go.

This is the power of Pocket.

For Friday: Five Entertaining Bits You May Have Missed

July 26, 2013 § 1 Comment

Eating breakfast every day.

Image Source: OnlineColleges.net via Fast Co.Exist

It’s potluck this week.  In particular, five (actually, six) stories that caught my attention.  More specifically, stories on topics that The Epicurean loves to cover, including food, photos, music and television.  Enjoy.

First up, something near and dear to my heart – food – specifically, breakfast. Morgan Clendaniel, editor of Fast Company’s Co.Exist channel, published an attention-getting piece, “People Who Eat Breakfast Are Smarter And Skinnier,” laying out the rationale, with a colorful infographic to accompany it.

Eat Breakfast 2

Second, the one-minute ad for Google’s just-announced Chromecast video streaming device.  Priced at $35 (plus tax), it’s a game-changer when it comes to entertainment.  How hot is the Chromecast dongle?  Well, when it launched Google was throwing in three months of free Netflix service, but that offer was removed after all of 24 hours, due to demand.  The ad, Chromecast: For Bigger Fun, shows off the device’s many uses and the fun to be had, all to music from the movie “Zorba the Greek,” which as you know, starts slowly and picks up speed, until it ends in a frenzied whirl.  Creating excitement?  You bet.  Sign me up.

Third, one of Buzzfeed’s always entertaining and often insightful lists.  In this case “24 Ways We Should All Be More Like Scandinavians: They have so much to teach us,” prepared by @TabathaLeggett, which includes common sense suggestions such as: 6. We really should stop giggling about nudity;  11. We should stop working so hard; 12. And sort out our schools; and 22. Let’s get inventive with our jams.

Buzzfeed - Scandinavia better schools

Fourth, music, specifically, ex.fm, the self-proclaimed “best way to find and share new music.”  I consider it streaming on steroids, 25 millions songs!  Netted by the Webbys reports, “Now Exfm is really, really smart. It taps into your favorite sites where music is being shared freely and legally – think Youtube, Soundcloud, and Bandcamp – and organizes all the music into one huge, free library with playlists, favorites, trending albums, and more.”  I love listening to what’s trending overall, but you can select genre –  blues, jazz, indie, classical, rock, and more – and combine with your own collection.  There’s even an iPhone app.  Trust me.  Try it.  You’ll like it.

Exfm

Fifth, a blog I discovered via Twitter, “Highlighted Life,” by New Yorker @JamesNord.  Why this particular site?  Well, it’s a Tumblelog and, thus, highly visual.  And James Nord happens to capture pretty much all of the people, places and things that The Epicurean loves: Florence, the Tuscan countryside, London, Scotland, New York Paris, really good food (see below), nature at its best.  Need I go on?

James Nord Highlighted Life: Pizzas made in a wood fire oven

Image Source: James Nord “Highlighted LIfe”

And, a bonus for this fabulous Friday.  In case you missed it, on Thursday, there was possibly the best Today Show  (formerly Friday) “Ambush Makeovers” and fan reaction, ever.  The KLG and Hoda makeover team of Louis Licari and Jill Martin outdid themselves.  Fan Denise Williams did not recognize herself.  Check out the before-and-after here.

Today Show, KLG & Hoda Ambush Makeover, Denise Williams

Image Source: Today Show, KLG & Hoda

Doing Unproductive Things (Over and Over)

July 23, 2013 § 1 Comment

Black-and-white clock

Image Source: Pinterest

I still have a Hotmail account.  Although it’s now technically a Microsoft Outlook account.  But I still consider it my Hotmail account, and I still type Hotmail.com to access it.  I’d like to do away with it, but it’s like a legacy system – it’s my back-up and I am afraid to let go.  I am afraid that by disconnecting it, I’ll lose some thread connecting me to something about which I need to know.  Not to mention that, no matter how many times I email my mother using my Gmail address, to which she will readily respond, when she initiates an email exchange between the two of us, she uses my Hotmail address.  So, how can I cut off my mother?

Given it’s secondary status in the hierarchy of my modes of communication, I don’t check the account all that often.  And, until recently, I checked it exclusively in my secondary browser.  For some reason, I kept two browsers going – Broswer A and Broswer B, one work and one personal – and relegated various sites and tasks to each.  The trouble is, that at some unknown point, I abandoned the original premise and used both for, well, both. Then, worse, abandoned the back-up browser entirely, with the exception of checking my Hotmail account.  This went on for weeks (okay, maybe months), until one day it suddenly came to me that there really was no reason to open Browser B, I could just type Hotmail.com into Browser A, and, voila, my mother’s emails would appear.

Yes, I know this is not “rocket science.”  But it got me wondering how many other little habits I’ve formed that had absolutely no purpose whatsoever or, worse, were total time sinks … like opening another browser when there was absolutely no reason to do so.  Here is what I came up with:

  • Not bookmarking a website, thinking, “of course I’ll remember,” and then spending 20 minutes trying to pry the name of the restaurant out of my memory and search history and NYMag.com.
  • Not keeping a notebook with me at all times, including the oft-recommended one beside the bed, knowing with certainty, I’ve got this; this is so great, there is no way I won’t remember it in the morning.  Then an hour or two after waking, remembering that I had a brilliant idea, but having no idea what the idea was – for the theme of an pretty damn important proposal.
  • Not signing up for fabulous (free) online tools to help me manage, sort and actually read the copious amounts of content I seem to need to feed my brain, and wasting more time trying to find it (again).  Feedly, anyone?  How about Pocket?
  • Not hitting “Control S” nearly often enough, and losing my work when the program gets irretrievably hung up, especially Word, or not frequently clicking “Save Draft” when I am preparing one of these posts, with the same result, when my Wi-Fi goes on the blink.  Re-do.

No doubt there are more – but you get the gist – and I am determined to find them.  In the name of productivity, not to mention my sanity, I am on a quest to question every habitual thing that I currently do without thinking.

Care to join me?

For Friday: John Mayer Returns With Paradise Valley

July 19, 2013 § Leave a comment

John Mayer - Paradise Valley

It’s music this week.  In particular, new music.  More specifically, new music from John Mayer.  The musician’s latest album, Paradise Valley, is set for release on August 20th and is already available for pre-order on iTunes.  I consider this cause for celebration.

Continuum and Born and Raised are in constant rotation on my iPhone.  I’ve pulled some singles for playlists, but my preference is to listen to them, from start to finish, each song in order.  They tell a story.  I like that.

To keep our musical appetites whetted, Mr. Mayer dropped his second single, ‘Wildfire,” via an upbeat, fun-loving, summer-concert-set lyric video. Watch, listen, enjoy.

M&J Trimming: Old Dogs Can Definitely Learn New Tricks

July 18, 2013 § Leave a comment

M&J Trimmings Project DIY

A suede tassel keychain, one of the first projects to launch on Project DIY.
Image Source: Courtesy Photo via WWD.com

Trimmings and notions – certainly not the sexiest aspect of the fashion business. You may not even be exactly sure what is meant by “trimmings and notions.”  So take a quick look at your jeans (or skirt or shirt).  Inspect the stitching (thread), the fasteners (buttons, snaps, zippers),  detailing (copper rivets, grommets). There you have it – trimmings and notions.

There are, of course, the more fanciful trimmings that tend to elicit sighs – rows upon rows of ribbons and lace, sequins and rhinestones – among a certain set; they are a crafter’s delight.  But, largely, these products, and their suppliers, are less “fashion business” and more “schmatta business,” less “cutting edge” and more “old school.”

Enter, M&J Trimming, the famous Fashion District family business that has been operating for the last 72 years.  As it often does, serendipity played a part at the outset; the grandfather of the current generation’s operators ran a linen shop, until a man in need of a $5-loan left a roll of lace on the counter as collateral. You can figure out what happened from there.  Today, the company has 170 employees, a 5,000-square-foot retail location on 6th Avenue in mid-town Manhattan, thriving wholesale and online businesses, and legions of artsy, creative New York fans.

Yesterday, this old dog announced a new trick: a subscription-based service called Project DIY, launching on August 5th.  “Created by the master crafters of M&J Trimming, Project DIY is a monthly subscription box that delivers runway and street inspired DIYs created from the highest quality materials and trimmings.” Love it.

Why?  Because in doing so, M&J is making a move into the 21st century.  They are jumping on two current consumer trends: the rise of e-commerce subscription services, whereby a box of goodies arrives on your doorstep each month; and the penchant today, especially among much-sought-after millenials, for DIY, do-it-yourself, crafty projects.  And they’re using Facebook to provide inspiration and build their audience.

Old and new, offline and online, established and emerging – success is always in the mix.

For Friday: 6 Movies Every Human Being Needs To See

July 12, 2013 § Leave a comment

It’s movies again this week.  In particular, not summer blockbuster fare.  More specifcally, a few movies that help show us what it means to be human, and reflect back to us our selves – good and bad, courageous and fearful, honorable and less so.  One in the theater, five available on DVD.

The catalyst?  “Fruitvale Station,” which opens today.  The film won the Grand Jury Prize for dramatic feature and the Audience Award for U.S. dramatic film at this year’s Sundance Film Festival.  It tells the true story of 22-year-old San Francisco Bay Area resident Oscar Grant, who “wakes up on the morning December 31, 2008 and feels something is in the air.”  New York Magazine’s David Edelstein says “It will rock your world.”  In his New York Times review, A.O. Scott voices the tough questions this film asks: “How could this have happened?  How did we – meaning any one of us who might see faces like our own depicted on that screen – allow it?”  A must-see this weekend.

Fruitvale Station

Next, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” the classic film based on the class novel by Harper Lee.  The performances, especially that of Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch, tug at the heart and mind.  This is a fine movie, in the highest sense of the word, showing us what it means to be tolerant, compassionate, wise and courageous.

To Kill a Mockinbird

Third, “12 Angry Men.”  Another classic, black-and-white film with outstanding performances, this time anchored by the legendary Henry Fonda.  “12 Angry Men” teaches how to build consensus among a group of people with differing backgrounds, biases, viewpoints and personalities.  “In 2007, 12 Angry Men was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congress as being ‘culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant’.”

12 Angry Men b

The next three belong to Steven Spielberg, who I believe has become the historical filmmaker of our time.  And I think we need one.  Someone who documents history, reminding us (because we need to be reminded), and in some cases teaching us, about what has taken place.  “Schindler’s List” and “Amistad,” so that we never forget – about The Holocaust and about the history of slavery in this country – so that they never happen again.  “Lincoln,” so that we understand the insight, strength, cunning and politicking required of one of the greatest U.S. presidents, in order to pass the Thirteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution (abolishing slavery) and to end the Civil War.  All three warrant repeated viewing, on occasion, so that we don’t forget.

Schindler's List

Like Attracts Like: Elevate Your Work to Art

July 8, 2013 § Leave a comment

American Horror Story Opening

Image Source: Designed by Prologue Films for Season 2 of “American Horror Story” via NYTimes.com

While preparing yesterday’s post, “Creating Anticipation: The Theme Song,” I went down the research rabbit hole, learning more about television opening sequences than I had planned.  In the process I began to question something: is it the awesome opening sequence that precedes the intelligent, entertaining television program or do the excellent episodes “in the can” inspire the incisive intro?  Obviously, an opening whose quality exceeds that that of show will not save the show, nor will a less-than-stellar opening kill a program that’s fantastic.  But I wondered.

It seems that the “golden age” of television title design was the 1960’s and that this latest round of “ingeniously designed title sequences … started with Tony Soprano.”  In her examination of the cause of this resurgence in her New York Times piece, “Opening Titles That Grab Viewers’ Attention,” journalist Alice Rawsthorn notes:

‘The Sopranos’ may have acted as a catalyst by reminding producers and directors how intriguing titles could be, but the design revival reflects television’s broader resurgence as a medium. Together with ‘The Wire,’ ‘Mad Men’ and other critically acclaimed series, ‘The Sopranos’ proved that there was a lucrative global market for intelligently made television shows. Budgets increased accordingly, enabling television to attract more talented producers, directors, writers and actors, many of whom were accustomed to working on movies like Neil Jordan, the Oscar-winning screenwriter and director who created ‘The Borgias.’ They have instilled similar design standards in their television projects, including the opening titles.

“Together with ‘The Wire,’ ‘Mad Men’ and other critically acclaimed series, ‘The Sopranos’ proved that there was a lucrative global market for intelligently made television shows. Budgets increased accordingly, enabling television to attract more talented producers, directors, writers and actors…”

I repeat this bit, because therein lies the crux of the matter.  It’s the creators of these seminal series who set off the chain reaction of events.  People who dared to believe that there was an audience for more involved, thought-provoking, adult-themed television programming, much of which is of such complexity that it demands your undivided attention (put down the mobile device, close the laptop) and it has resulted in the current trend to “binge view” (because really, who can remember every salient detail of what happened on last week’s episode of “Homeland” seven days later?).  And it is this intrepid crew attracts other exceptionally talented (although slightly less daring) people to be a part of what they’re doing.

Which leads me back to innovative opening sequences.  Yes, as budgets increased, so did the sophistication and capabilities of the technology, “digital animation and computer graphics,” making it possible to create the eye-catching imagery like that at the start of “Games of Thrones.”  But this development also helped attract talent, in this case the designers with the skills and creativity to deliver the high-level animation expected by the creators.  In turn, they, along with the composers, elevated the lowly intro to art.

Are you doing the same?

Quality attracts quality.  Create and be the best to attract the best.  Elevate your work to art.