It’s hard to believe that it’s been a whole year since the last installment of “Five Things That Helped Us Survive Summer,” but here we are. Your Profs. Hacker have collaborated once again to share what has helped us work through and enjoy the time in between traditional semesters.
To repeat a few words from last year’s post, we hope that you enjoy this post as much as we enjoyed putting it together; this post more than any other gives you a clear sense of our individual personalities. We also hope you’ll let us know your indispensible summer items in the comments.
- WordPress (for getting courses together): To judge by the number of posts that have mentioned it, a lot of us here at ProfHacker love WordPress. I’ve been using it for my own courses for a long time, and as I’ve been starting to put together my sites for this fall, I’ve renewed my appreciation for its customizability and ease of use.
- VirtualBox: I’m a Mac user, but there’s one program that, for a number of reasons, I need to run in Windows. I picked up a copy of Windows XP Home a few years back, and I used to run it in VMWare Fusion. When I prepared my Mac for its Lion upgrade last month, though, I decided to give VirtualBox a try, and I’m glad I did. In addition to letting me run XP without having to use Boot Camp, it provides an easy way to try out other operating systems if I want to. Thus far, I’ve found it to work as well as VMWare Fusion, and the price (free!) can’t be beat.
- Time with family: This one doesn’t require much commentary. No matter how crazy work life can get, time with those I love is always renewing—and treasured, since none of my family live nearby.
- A second monitor: I love the portability of a laptop computer; in fact, I couldn’t get along without it. The downside, though, is that there just isn’t that much screen real estate. Sometimes I’ll need to be reading from one document and typing in another, and flipping back and forth between windows gets old fast (as the folks over at HackCollegenoted recently). My work flows much more smoothly when I can spread it out across a second screen—and a second screen needn’t be terribly expensive. If you watch for sales (especially on models being discontinued) at your local office supply store, you can often find a decent 20” for under $100.
- A decent pair of running shoes: It’s been a crazy summer, and unusually hot and humid much of the time, so I haven’t been doing as much running as I’d like. Nonetheless, when I do get out, it’s important to have shoes that work well for me. In my case, that’s a pair of Asics Gel Foundations (I tend to overpronate, so I need running shoes that help correct for that if I want to avoid forefoot pain).
- Kinect: I’d love to say that summer is my time for getting out and enjoying the outdoors. But between the reality of long days at the office and 100 degree plus weather, I actually spend much more time sitting at my computer than I would like. My solution for staying active between marathon sessions of research and writing is the Kinect, a peripheral for the Xbox video game console that recognizes full-body motion. The technology’s not perfect yet, but games like Your Shape Fitness Evolved, DanceCentral and Child of Eden are a great way to get off the couch and fit some exercise into the day. These games also help me keep track of progress–the achievement system in Your Shape, for instance, pays attention to how much I’ve exercised and has progressive routines. It’s definitely easier than finding time to travel to a cardio class at the gym.
- Smartphone: I might be the last convert, but picking up my HTC Thunderbolt marks one of the few times a tech gadget has really changed my life. Teaching a hybrid course this summer would have been much more challenging without it. Having a barrage of emails follow me everywhere isn’t always fun, but it is convenient. As I’ve been using it alongside my iPad, it’s also been a real introduction to the different strengths of the two operating systems. I’ve appreciated the Google (and now Plus) integration along with the 4G speed for downloading PDFs and making decisions on documents at a distance–although I also invested in an extended battery to compensate for the phone’s power-hungry nature. I went very quickly from not being certain I wanted a smartphone to never going anywhere without it.
- Eat This, Not That: My summer has been filled with travel, mostly for conferences but occasionally even for vacation. While I enjoy a lot about traveling, including eating out, I worry about losing control of my meals. The Eat This, Not That restaurant guide has been essential in sorting out the desirable and less desirable options, particularly when trapped in airports or driving long distances and stopping at chain restaurants for meals. There are a number of options for finding information on calories and fat in restaurant food (Calorie King is another good resource). While confronting the reality of what some restaurants are serving up isn’t pretty, I think it’s better to know what’s on my plate before the consequences pile on.
- Amazon Prime: I mourn for the passing of my local Borders, but I have to admit I haven’t been a regular customer there or at any brick and mortar bookstore for a long time. While the feeling of browsing the shelves and discovering something unexpected remains unmatched, I now rely on Amazon Prime (which made the ProfHacker 2010 gift guide) for reliable and quick delivery of whatever I need. I used to let books pile up my shopping cart, but now I have new sources (and, admittedly, new fantasy and science fiction novels) showing up on demand. While I’ve also started reading on the Kindle app, I haven’t adapted to that fully. There’s still something exciting about a book on the shelf that the Kindle and its ilk can’t match for me yet.
- External hard drive: My practice of holding on to everything that could possibly be important recently caught up with me as my laptop filled to capacity. I picked up a SeaGate GoFlex portable drive and I’ve been using it both to sort out the digital files I have and start the archive I need for tenure and other future evaluations. I’ve been particularly impressed with how fast and portable external hard drives are now, compared to even a few years ago. While cloud storage is great, and I rely on it for my current projects, it’s easier to build and store archival data on an external hard drive and then back it up on my server and other machines for redundancy. Starting with the clean slate of an external drive also helps me break the bad habit of storing everything in sight.
- Toning Shoes: I have written elsewhere about my fondness for MBTs, and toning shoes more generally. Since this time last year, pretty much all major athletic shoe manufacturers (Reebok, New Balance and Skechers to list just a few examples) have put out some version of a toning shoe, all marketed to help their wearers tone muscles and lose fat in the lower body. Despite recent studies, which suggest these shoes are no more effective than regular running shoes at helping their wearing burn calories and get in shape, I am still a fan. I don’t care whether I’m burning more calories when I’m wearing them; I care that when I’m done walking, my body and my lower back in particular doesn’t ache. These days, I switch between running shoes and toning shoes from day to day, but I still stand by my MBTs for long days on the go.
- Hydration Pack: This summer, I made a concerted effort to spend more time outdoors. To that end, I bought a Camelbak pack to help keep me hydrated. I’ve been very happy with it on the trail, whether biking, hiking, or walking. Unlike a regular water bottle, these packs allow you to keep your hands free, and they hold greater volume of liquid (sizes range from 50oz to 100oz depending on the model you choose). There are also different packs with varying amounts of space for other stuff: food, keys, gadgets, an extra layer, etc. The tubing can be a pain to clean, but that inconvenience is worth the other benefits for me.
- Emi-Jay Hair Ties: By now, you are probably getting the sense that I like to be active. It’s true. The downside of my location is the summer heat, which has been especially grueling this year. Not only do I like to be outside, but I also have long hair–these two traits don’t mesh very well from May through September, so if you see me during this time of year, chances are very good that you might observe some version of braid, ponytail, twist, or haphazard pile. Enter Emi-Jay. These hair ties are expensive, but for those who have fine hair, they are a life (or at least a hair) saver. They are gentler than regular elastics, which can be quite harsh and damaging to hair like mine, which tends to break if I even look at it wrong. In any event, these ties come in many different colors, and the makers, two teenagers from Los Angeles, donate part of the proceeds to Locks of Love. Oprah is on board; so am I.
- My dog: I have written elsewhere in ProfHacker about the ways that walking my dog has affected my life as an academic, and those points all still hold true, but this summer, our relationship has been tested in new ways. My dog had fleas. Or rather, despite being a lifelong Frontline wearer, my dog got fleas and proceeded to share them with our household, which also includes two cats. Not only that, which was bad enough, but my dog also had some kind of allergic reaction to the flea bites. Many hundreds of dollars later, the allergies are cleared up, the fleas are (mostly) gone, and I have a new appreciation for my dog’s tolerance and patience. No matter how uncomfortable she got, and she got plenty uncomfortable, she still rejoiced in the little things. It’s a refreshing perspective that I will try to remember heading into the hustle and bustle of the semester.
- Speck MBP Case: Lest you think that I spent my entire summer running around outside with my dog, let me include a favorite tech accessory: the Speck case for my 13” MacBook Pro (2009). This case is a basic plastic cover that comes in two pieces: one fits over the laptop lid, and the other fits over the bottom. It’s unobtrusive (for the user at least–others would be hard pressed not to notice that my laptop is flaming fuschia pink!), lightweight, and vented on the underside to allow heat to escape. The cases are available in a variety of colors (I mentioned that I have pink, but it also comes in red, aqua, and clear plastic). It has protected the aluminum body of my laptop from any number of dings and scratches. Since I purchased mine (over a year ago), Speck has released a “satin finish” as well as the hard plastic, and there are also models available to fit the newer MBPs andMBAirs.
- My iPad: I wrote previously about how I acquired it, and it has been by my side almost every day. Through moving (again – albeit just across town), conference travel, travel to visit my family, and the like, it has helped me stay connected, take notes, and have fun.
- Evernote: I’ve had a million little things to keep track of this summer: research notes, paint color information from the previous owners of our house, travel loyalty program information, address change lists, restaurant recommendations from a collaborator in my field, lab purchases lists – this list could go on and on. Evernote has been my central storage place and I couldn’t live without it.
- Coffee (and rituals associated with it): Each morning, my husband gets up and makes us coffee; we’re really partial to the Chez Panisse blend from Blue Bottle in San Francisco, which we get through a subscription. The coffee is tasty and helps me get going in the morning, but the ritual of hearing my husband grind up the beans and start the coffee, and the joy of spending a few brief moments together in the kitchen sipping our cuppa before we dash off to our work, even if it is him going to his basement office and me to mine on the second floor, has been a stabilizing moment to me in the midst of a lot of busyness.
- SpiderOak/Dropbox/Mozy: This summer I dropped Dropbox in favor of SpiderOak (and to be honest, would likely drop SpiderOak if Mozy would let me into their beta sync service), but no matter what, storage and sync in the cloud has been absolutely essential as I work with two desktops, one laptop, and two mobile devices – not to mention having to share data with my student researchers. These services in one or or another have facilitated and supported my work, and I couldn’t work without them.
- Exercise: This summer was the first I started exercising regularly and kept with it. And just like my husband predicted, I love it and I now can’t live without it.
- This summer my department packed up from our temporary housing and moved back into newly renovated space. As department chair, organizational tools have been particularly needed this summer, especially Google Docs (which I’ve used for collaboratively keeping track of several constantly revised lists of action items), TeuxDeux (the To-Do List which I’ve used since Jason first introduced it), and a label maker (to finally get all my office and research files in order).
- I’m also a big fan of the Keurig coffeemaker that we have in our office. [For those of you concerned about the waste of a single use coffeemaker, we have the reusable cup which allows you to use your own coffee.]
- Like Amy, I love my laptop, but often need more screen real estate. But this summer I got a 22” widescreen monitor, and it’s proved to be incredibly useful when I need two documents or programs next to each other. [In Windows 7, the Windows-Arrow keys shortcuts make that side-by-side layout incredibly easy to set up.]
- Like Lincoln, I was late to the smartphone world, but when Verizon got the iPhone 4, I got one. Having been a long time iPodTouch user, the switch to the iPhone was easy. All the apps I’ve come to enjoy transferred, along with new ones to take advantage of the added GPS and 3G access. Particularly useful has been the hotspot feature, allowing me to use the phone as a wireless hotspot for my laptop, or my family’s other wireless devices at places where wifi isn’t available.
- Finally, like a lot of people who were concerned about the security issues with some cloud storage companies, I switched over to SpiderOak this summer. Though the initial setup was a little more complex than some other services, now it just works as an important part of my backup solution. I like the 50% educational discount on paid plans and find the iOS app makes it easy to access a needed file or two on the go.
Strictly speaking, I could get along just fine without any of these things, and have. But these are five things I used just about every day this summer.
- French press: I brew coffee in a French press that makes enough for a single serving. The coffee is much better than anything I’ve made with a drip machine, the laboriousness of making the coffee is actually enjoyable, and the cleanup is easy. Technically, I use the French press twice a day.
- iPhone: I was a little later than most ProfHackers to the smartphone revolution, since I only got mine early this summer. But for a summer where six or seven weeks were spent on the road, it was invaluable. The GPS got me where I was going, and wireless internet gave me a connection to keep up with responsibilities I was away from. As an added bonus, I use the camera every day to take a photo of or relating to my (soon-to-be-born) daughter to send to her grandparents. And most days it lets me leave the laptop behind.
- My little green notebook: I bought a 3”x5” notebook at a university bookstore for 50 cents. Inspired by the idea “don’t break the chain,” this is how I use it. On the first day of each week, I make seven empty check boxes at the top of a page. Then each day I check off the corresponding box is I’ve written at least one full page, along with a one line notation of what I wrote. Voila! Motivation at the beginning of the week, and satisfaction (or shame) at the end of the week.
- Briefcase: Whether during a summer of travels or a semester shuttling between home, office, and library, my briefcase is my vade mecum. It holds either the bare minimum of stuff, or a laptop and too many books.
- Summer seminar: I got to spend four weeks at a summer seminar with colleagues who became friends. It was a great way to read new literature, make new connections, and work on a topic that has jump started my dissertation.
- Last year I wrote about water bottles and electrolyte powder. Both are still crucial elements in my summer hydration plan. This summer I also started drinking a mixture of water, lemon juice, and sea salt, which helps alkalinize the body’s pH after strenuous exercise. (I’ve been checking my pH withPhinex strips, which is oddly fun to do and provides lots of interesting data to play with.)
- NetBeans Integrated Development Environment proved invaluable this summer for a PHP project I was working on: code formatting, code completion, diff view, and much, much more in a free open-source package for any operating system.
- Google Maps on my Android smartphone was a tremendous help when I was in London this summer. While using wi-fi at my hotel I could load up the map of where I was going and then keep it cached to avoid roaming charges on my data plan. I’ve always hated carrying around a paper map and now with a smart phone you don’t have to announce to all passers-by that you’re a visitor.
- Summertime reading: some of my favorites included Diane Ackerman’s One Hundred Names for Love: A Stroke, a Marriage, and the Language of Healing; Ann Patchett’s State of Wonder; and Jo Walton’s Among Others. Game of Thrones on my Kindle kept me suitably entertained through a 16-hour travel day.
- The Turkish Get-Up, a kettlebell training move that increases core stability and functional mobility. I first learned about it from Tim Ferriss’s 4-Hour Body. This video offers good instructions for a beginner. This one is just for gawking at.
- Our Portable Air Conditioner: As we all learned at some point in grade school or junior high, hot air rises and cold air falls. Because our bedroom is on the second floor of our condo, it’s usually warmer than the thermostat downstairs. My husband and I liked to sleep in the cold, but we don’t like paying to cool the entire house just to get one room on the top floor to a perfect temperature. Condo restrictions forbid us from using a window unit, so we bought a portable unit at the start of the summer. Now, we set the thermostat on that one machine, turn it on, and shut the door about an hour before the first one of us (meaning my husband) goes to bed. We then turn off the air conditioning in the rest of the house for the entire night. We end up with a lower electricity bill and a room chilled like a fine wine. Best purchase we’ve made in a while.
- Moleskine Notebooks: I have said before how much I love Moleskine notebooks. At the start of the summer, I bought two medium-sized red ones with completely blank, unlined pages. One became a private journal. The other functions more as an idea journal. I attended two different seminars in June–one on evil and genocide; the other on intellectual property–and kept my notes in this journal. As questions or ideas arose while reading or watching various things, they went there, too. I chose unlined because of the urge to write in non-linear ways: upside down, in circles. They both travel with me wherever I go and are each more full than I would have expected at the start of the summer.
- Summer Movies: In a previous post, I mentioned that my husband and I have a standing date to go to the movies every Friday night. Last summer, we struggled with finding something to watch, and we will watch almost anything. We love horror movies. We love summer blockbusters. We love indie Oscar bait. Last summer, we barely found anything worth watching, though. This summer, we are not going to be able to see everything we want. From the stunning brilliance of Beginners (“Are we married yet?”) to the end of an era with Harry Potter (I completely embarrassed my husband with my cheering for Neville) to the chilling remakes of our childhood favorites like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (we’ll see anything Guillermo Del Toro is involved in), this has been a summer where date night has been a lot more fun than in the past.
- LivingSocial and Groupon: Many of you probably know that LivingSocial and Groupon are websites where you can sign up for daily emails alerting you to special deals in your area on a range of products and services. My husband and I are famous for sticking to our routines (we even park in the same spot on date night), but the deals we’ve taken advantage of this summer have introduced us to a fantastic new restaurant a mile from home and finally pushed us to play mini-golf at the course we drive by daily but have never visited in eight years. I even got the chance to see the amazing Britney Spears and Nicki Minaj concert for cheaper than I have ever seen any concert in the past.
- Pandora Radio: I know Spotify is supposed to be the next big thing in streaming music, and I tried it for a bit, but this summer was all about Pandora for me. I love finding the exact station to fit my mood without being able to predict what song comes next, which is part of the fun of radio for me in the first place. If I want some New Wave flashbacks, I go for 80s Alternative Radio. If I want some old freestyle, I go for Lisa Lisa and Cult Jam Radio. If I want contemporary dance, I go for Robyn Radio. The last two are especially show why I love Pandora. If there is an artist whose music you like, you can choose the station for their name and listen to that artist and others. Pandora is often my background when I’m writing, as it is right now.
- I started last summer’s list with a hat, and I will do so again. Most years I mark the beginning of summer with the purchase of a new straw hat. This year I couldn’t find a hat that I liked—well, just about anywhere. I finally visited Hats in the Belfry while we were in the Washington, D.C. area. I found a great Panama hat there that I will likely wear through next summer (at least).
- Like, Jeff, I love my Keurig. After last Christmas, I ended up with a Keurig at home and another at the office. I’m the only coffee drinker at home, and when using a regular coffee pot I always make more coffee than I actually drink. During the summer, I’m the only one in the Writing Center at St. Norbert, and so again don’t need big pots of coffee. The Keurigs have allowed me to feed my lovable coffee addiction and keep working without wasting pots and pots of coffee.
- I’ve been doing a lot of collaborative writing this summer: a textbook chapter, a grant application, and planning for an MLA preconvention workshop. All of these collaborative writing tasks have been make easier because of Google Docs. Using Google Docs, I and my collaborators all have immediate access to what everyone has written, edited, or commented on. What’s more, we have access from wherever we happen to be—essential during the summer, when folks are often on the road.
- I’ve actually had my Kindle for awhile, but I honestly didn’t use it much until this summer. As we planned a trip halfway across the country with kids and a dog, it became clear that I couldn’t bring my typical suitcase ‘o’ books with me. So I spent the three weeks of that trip reading on the Kindle, and I loved it. I still don’t think the Kindle is quite right for academic reading, but for casual reading it was wonderful. I’ll tack on a a book recommendation here, too. Julian Comstock: A Story of 22nd-Century America managed to indulge my inner scifi and nineteenth-century geeks simultaneously while wearing a post-apocalyptic bow. Trust me: that’s a recipe for fun.
- I enjoyed nothing so much this summer as playing Portal 2. Honestly, this game deserves to be ranked among the best of all time. The game play is compelling and challenging, and the writing is inventive and truly funny—a feat few games ever achieve. Don’t just play the single-player game, either. Grab a friend, significant other, or child and play through the multi-player: it’s well worth the extra time.
Well, that’s us. How about you? What are some items you couldn’t have lived without this summer? Please leave suggestions in comments below.
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