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10 Essential Mobile Apps for Your Next Road Trip

10 Essential Mobile Apps for Your Next Road Trip

10 Essential Mobile Apps for Your Next Road Trip

     

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    I’m getting ready to embark on an 1800-mile road trip. In addition to having my car checked out, packing my bags, and picking out a selection of fine roadfoods at my local Trader Joes (ah, Sweet and Salty Trail Mix…) I’ve also been loading my blackberry up with useful software to lend a hand on the road.

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    While some rural areas don’t have data coverage, by now most interstate corridors do, as well as just about every reasonable-sized town. So at worst, I’ll find myself in a data blackout zone from time to time, usually as I navigate the straightaways between towns where I won’t need to look anything up anyway. (Just in case, I’ve marked my route on a current road atlas, and have printed out information about anything I know I definitely want to check out along the way.)

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    Wit location-aware phones becoming more and more common, a smartphone can take a lot of the sting out of driving. From finding a place to eat or fill up your gas tank to avoiding traffic jams and speed traps, as the folks at Apple would say, “there’s an app for that.”

    Here are the ones I’ve decided are essential. I’m listing them by category, naming the one I’m using on my Blackberry, and naming some alternates in case the same app isn’t available on other platforms.

    1. Maps: Even if your phone isn’t GPS-enabled, as long as you have a connection to a cell tower today’s phones can pinpoint your location reasonably well. Although there are many high-quality paid apps out there, I am perfectly happy with the free, cross-platform Google Maps (you can download one, some, or all the Google Mobile apps at that link). Google Maps does a great job of creating directions, finding nearby businesses, listing traffic in major metropolitan areas, and if you’re not too worried about the privacy implications, letting selected family members know where you are (using the new Latitude system).
    2. Local Search: Google Maps is pretty good, but sometimes a dedicated local search app will find businesses that Google doesn’t – or present other information in an easier-to-use way than Google. On my Blackberry, I like Poynt. It’s slick, easy to use, and does local search and movies (for when I’m back home). It also has maps, but like I said, I like Google Maps best. Similar apps on other platforms include Live Search Mobile for Windows phones and Yelp Mobile for iPhone (non-iPhonies can access Yelp through their phone’s web browser, too). Palm users are pretty much stuck with Google Maps, which sucks because once upon a time they had the best of all local search apps, Vindigo, now gone forever.
    3. TwitPic: Technically not an app, TwitPic is nonetheless useful on the road where you might not have the time or ability to download pictures and email them to friends and family as you travel. Instead, take a picture with your cameraphone and email it to your personal TwitPic email address (under “Settings” – TwitPic is free, by the way) to have the picture posted online and a tweet automatically sent to Twitter with a link. Any phone with email can use it, although some Twitter clients have TwitPic functionality built in, too.
    4. A Twitter client: On Blackberry, there’s really just TwitterBerry. On Palm Treos, there’s MoTwit. Windows Mobile users like PocketTwit. iPhone users have 16.482 different Twitter clients to choose from, all of them good. Point is, you’re traveling – forget email. Forget postcards. Tweet. 140 characters from the base of Carhenge (in Alliance, Nebraska – go now if you’ve never been!) or the rim of the Grand Canyon is enough. Keep the wordiness for when you get home.
    5. GPS Tracking: Track every step of your trip with a good GPS tracking program. The best are the ones that produce a stream that can be merged with your geotagged pictures to create a visual map of your voyage, but even if you can’t (maybe your camera doesn’t geotag?) you can still create a pretty nifty map using something like GPSed on your Blackberry, iPhone, Win Mobile, or Symbian device. (Sorry Palm users – if it’s any consolation, maybe the release of the Pre next month will attract developers? In the meantime, Garmin used to make a pretty good GPS tracking program that it sold with it’s Bluetooth GPS devices – and maybe still does?)
    6. Qik: Qik is in a category of its own, allowing you to stream live video  from your phone. In a rare turnaround, iPhones aren’t supported (yet); everyone else can look for their phone on the supported phones page. Streaming video from your phone will burn through your battery pretty fast so make sure you have a car charger handy…
    7. Picture Shopping: On the road is nowhere to be buying everyday items. A wooden carving of Mt. Rushmore, certainly, but not a wrist-rest for your mouse. Now image recognition technologies allow you to use camera-enabled apps to shop – you just take a picture of the thing you want and the app figures out what itis. On the Blackberry, there’s Amazon Mobile, which will add the item to your Amazon wishlist (or you can order it immediately once the picture is identified, which takes about 10-15 minutes – this isn’t on the spot shopping!), which is also available for the iPhone. iPhonies have another choice, though ,that’s arguably better: SnapTell(also available for Android phones). SnapTell reportedly works faster and searches more sites than just Amazon.
    8. Speed Trap Finder: Trapster collects data from thousands of users to warn you of impending speed traps, red-light cameras, and checkpoints to let you know what’s coming up. To make sure the reports are accurate, Trapster gives more weight to reports confirmed by multiple users, and you can set the level of reliability you want to respond to. Trapster runs on most phones except Treos (and Android, it appears).
    9. Weather: There are a million of these, take your pick. Try to find one that lets you track weather in several locations, and add your destination for each day. I use WeatherEye (to save memory, I only install WorldMate – see below – when I’m traveling by plane). Unfortunately, you can’t add a second city – but it does pretty good short- and long-term forecasts that kind of make up for that.
    10. Travel Planner: WorldMate runs on Blackberry and Windows Mobile; you’ll have to search around for other platforms, because I don’t know anything quite like it myself. WorldMate stores itineraries, and sends you reminders for flights and other time-sensitive events. It also does weather for several locations, so scratch #9 above if you can use WorldMate. The neat thing about WorldMate is that you can forward reservation confirmation emails to them and they’ll automatically enter them in your itinerary – and they do a pretty good job of pulling the relevant data, too!

    There you go – 10 great mobile apps for travelers. Tell us what you use in the comments!

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    Last Updated on September 18, 2019

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    How to Take Notes Effectively: Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    Note-taking is one of those skills that rarely gets taught. Almost everyone assumes either that taking good notes comes naturally or, that someone else must have already taught about how to take notes. Then, we sit around and complain that our colleagues don’t know how to take notes.

    I figure it’s about time to do something about that. Whether you’re a student or a mid-level professional, the ability to take effective, meaningful notes is a crucial skill. Not only do good notes help us recall facts and ideas we may have forgotten, the act of writing things down helps many of us to remember them better in the first place.

    One of the reasons people have trouble taking effective notes is that they’re not really sure what notes are for. I think a lot of people, students and professionals alike, attempt to capture a complete record of a lecture, book, or meeting in their notes — to create, in effect, minutes. This is a recipe for failure.

    Trying to get every last fact and figure down like that leaves no room for thinking about what you’re writing and how it fits together. If you have a personal assistant, by all means, ask him or her to write minutes; if you’re on your own, though, your notes have a different purpose to fulfill.

    The purpose of note-taking is simple: to help you work better and more quickly. This means your notes don’t have to contain everything, they have to contain the most important things.

    And if you’re focused on capturing everything, you won’t have the spare mental “cycles” to recognize what’s truly important. Which means that later, when you’re studying for a big test or preparing a term paper, you’ll have to wade through all that extra garbage to uncover the few nuggets of important information?

    What to Write Down

    Your focus while taking notes should be two-fold. First, what’s new to you? There’s no point in writing down facts you already know. If you already know the Declaration of Independence was written and signed in 1776, there’s no reason to write that down. Anything you know you know, you can leave out of your notes.

    Second, what’s relevant? What information is most likely to be of use later, whether on a test, in an essay, or in completing a project? Focus on points that directly relate to or illustrate your reading (which means you’ll have to have actually done the reading…). The kinds of information to pay special attention to are:

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    Dates of Events

    Dates allow you to create a chronology, putting things in order according to when they happened, and understand the context of an event.

    For instance, knowing Isaac Newton was born in 1643 allows you to situate his work in relation to that of other physicists who came before and after him, as well as in relation to other trends of the 17th century.

    Names of People

    Being able to associate names with key ideas also helps remember ideas better and, when names come up again, to recognize ties between different ideas whether proposed by the same individuals or by people related in some way.

    Theories or Frameworks

    Any statement of a theory or frameworks should be recorded — they are the main points most of the time.

    Definitions

    Like theories, these are the main points and, unless you are positive you already know the definition of a term, should be written down.

    Keep in mind that many fields use everyday words in ways that are unfamiliar to us.

    Arguments and Debates

    Any list of pros and cons, any critique of a key idea, both sides of any debate or your reading should be recorded.

    This is the stuff that advancement in every discipline emerges from, and will help you understand both how ideas have changed (and why) but also the process of thought and development of the matter of subject.

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    Images

    Whenever an image is used to illustrate a point, a few words are in order to record the experience.

    Obviously it’s overkill to describe every tiny detail, but a short description of a painting or a short statement about what the class, session or meeting did should be enough to remind you and help reconstruct the experience.

    Other Stuff

    Just about anything a professor writes on a board should probably be written down, unless it’s either self-evident or something you already know. Titles of books, movies, TV series, and other media are usually useful, though they may be irrelevant to the topic at hand.

    I usually put this sort of stuff in the margin to look up later (it’s often useful for research papers, for example). Pay attention to other’s comments, too — try to capture at least the gist of comments that add to your understanding.

    Your Own Questions

    Make sure to record your own questions about the material as they occur to you. This will help you remember to ask the professor or look something up later, as well as prompt you to think through the gaps in your understanding.

    3 Powerful Note-Taking Techniques

    You don’t have to be super-fancy in your note-taking to be effective, but there are a few techniques that seem to work best for most people.

    1. Outlining

    Whether you use Roman numerals or bullet points, outlining is an effective way to capture the hierarchical relationships between ideas and data. For example, in a history class, you might write the name of an important leader, and under it the key events that he or she was involved in. Under each of them, a short description. And so on.

    Outlining is a great way to take notes from books, because the author has usually organized the material in a fairly effective way, and you can go from start to end of a chapter and simply reproduce that structure in your notes.

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    For lectures, however, outlining has limitations. The relationship between ideas isn’t always hierarchical, and the instructor might jump around a lot. A point later in the lecture might relate better to information earlier in the lecture, leaving you to either flip back and forth to find where the information goes best (and hope there’s still room to write it in), or risk losing the relationship between what the professor just said and what she said before.

    2. Mind-Mapping

    For lectures, a mind-map might be a more appropriate way of keeping track of the relationships between ideas. Now, I’m not the biggest fan of mind-mapping, but it might just fit the bill.

    Here’s the idea:

    In the center of a blank sheet of paper, you write the lecture’s main topic. As new sub-topics are introduced (the kind of thing you’d create a new heading for in an outline), you draw a branch outward from the center and write the sub-topic along the branch. Then each point under that heading gets its own, smaller branch off the main one. When another new sub-topic is mentioned, you draw a new main branch from the center. And so on.

    The thing is, if a point should go under the first heading but you’re on the fourth heading, you can easily just draw it in on the first branch. Likewise, if a point connects to two different ideas, you can connect it to two different branches.

    If you want to neaten things up later, you can re-draw the map or type it up using a program like FreeMind, a free mind-mapping program (some wikis even have plug-ins for FreeMind mind-maps, in case you’re using a wiki to keep track of your notes).

    You can learn more about mind-mapping here: How to Mind Map: Visualize Your Cluttered Thoughts in 3 Simple Steps

    3. The Cornell System

    The Cornell System is a simple but powerful system for increasing your recall and the usefulness of your notes.

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    About a quarter of the way from the bottom of a sheet of paper, draw a line across the width of the page. Draw another line from that line to the top, about 2 inches (5 cm) from the right-hand edge of the sheet.

    You’ve divided your page into three sections. In the largest section, you take notes normally — you can outline or mind-map or whatever. After the lecture, write a series of “cues” into the skinny column on the right, questions about the material you’ve just taken notes on. This will help you process the information from the lecture or reading, as well as providing a handy study tool when exams come along: simply cover the main section and try to answer the questions.

    In the bottom section, you write a short, 2-3 line summary in your own words of the material you’ve covered. Again, this helps you process the information by forcing you to use it in a new way; it also provides a useful reference when you’re trying to find something in your notes later.

    You can download instructions and templates from American Digest, though the beauty of the system is you can dash off a template “on the fly”.

    The Bottom Line

    I’m sure I’m only scratching the surface of the variety of techniques and strategies people have come up with to take good notes. Some people use highlighters or colored pens; others a baroque system of post-it notes.

    I’ve tried to keep it simple and general, but the bottom line is that your system has to reflect the way you think. The problem is, most haven’t given much thought to the way they think, leaving them scattered and at loose ends — and their notes reflect this.

    More About Note-Taking

    Featured photo credit: Kaleidico via unsplash.com

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