Saturday Spotlight Ten – Apps That Made Me A Better Person

Hello readers! Have you all had excellent weeks?

I had a very busy day today: my Tarot group met at midday and I had to teach the complicated rules, in French, to two new joueurs; then I cooked soupe à l’ognon and ganache for some friends, after which Nicole and I were so sick of French food that we had to book a week-long trip to Italy to escape it all. Yes, it’s February, but I have a week off classes and I intend to make good use of it!

Now, here’s something about me you might not know because I haven’t had cause to mention it: I love apps. It amazes me how they can be so cheap yet sophisticated, simple to use yet intricately designed. There are probably millions of apps out there and I’m sure half of them are useless, but these ones in particular deserve a spotlight because they go beyond ‘useful to have around’: these apps have truly enabled me in many ways to be the sort of person I want to be. Does it reflect badly on me that I need an app in order to grow and evolve as a human being? Possibly. But the apps really are great.


I want to be… Someone who sleeps right.

There’s an app for that: Sleep Cycle!

The Sleep Cycle App is the 2nd most popular paid app in the Health and Fitness section.

Yes, it’s difficult to see how an iPod app can scientifically and reliably track and use your sleep cycle to your benefit, but give it a try and you’ll see why everyone is going crazy for this app. We all know by now that you’re not just either awake or asleep: you go through cycles of light and deep sleep. And you know that ‘woken up on the wrong side of the bed’ feeling? Well there’s a physiological cause for that, and it’s that your alarm has gone off when you’re at the deep part of your sleep cycle. You would never naturally wake up at this point, you’re not designed to, so forcing it is not helpful. That’s why Sleep Cycle uses the accelerometer on your iPod or iPhone to track your movements while you sleep (you have to place the iPod on your bed and leave it there all night), and uses these movements to determine how deeply you’re sleeping.

If you pay attention, you can come to understand your sleep better and learn what will help or stop you getting a good night's sleep.

You define the latest time you can sleep until, and Sleep Cycle will choose, within the half-hour preceding this time, the point where you are in your lightest sleep. Then it will softly begin to play a wake-up sound of your choice, or a song from your music library, and this will crescendo until you are fully awake. Then you can view a nice simple line graph showing you your sleep pattern for the night. It sounds a little out-there, but I swear, when I wake up feeling groggy and look at my sleep chart, I can see exactly why. And when I wake up on top of the world, my graph shows several beautiful parabolas indicating a very healthy night’s sleep. This app really could change your life.

The Sleep Cycle app costs 99¢ or 69p, and requires that your iPod be in your bed and charging, i.e. connected to the wall/computer. It does not require a Wi-Fi connection unless you want to share your sleep chart by email or Facebook. (But why would anyone want to do that?)

I want to be… Organised.

There’s an app for that: Weave!

The Weave App helps you organise your day-to-day life.

I’ll admit, my physical paper organiser has actually taken over from this lately, but I might get back to using this app more because it totally helped me get things done last semester. It lets you add ‘Todos’ (confusing in Costa Rica where ‘todo’ means ‘all’!), group them together into larger Projects, set deadlines, and add income, expenses and time spent on each task. This is great for craft projects and work assignments, and would probably work well for businesses too; but it’s also handy for everyday tasks. What’s so handy about it? Well, you input the data once and Weave can present it to you in different ways. For example, it can show you how close you are to completing a particular project, or it can show you your tasks for that day, in the order they need to be done. It also has alerts for upcoming deadlines, which for me makes the iPod the perfect platform for this tool as it’s the one device I use almost constantly, all day. (Yes, I look at my iPod more often than my phone. That’s why I didn’t reply to that text you sent me hours ago).

The Weave app is free, and requires a Wi-Fi connection in order to sign in; thereafter no connection is required.

I want to be… Fit.

There’s an app for that: Nike Training Club! (for women)

The Nike Training Club App is a thorough introduction to the world of being fit.

I know exactly what they’re trying to do here: get me on their side, make me a Nike loyalist, exploit my weakness as a newbie to regular working out. But it’s absolutely perfect for my purposes. Sometimes I feel like guys’ workouts are simpler than girls’: they choose a muscle group to bulk up, they find out what machines to use for it, they see how many reps they can do and they do it. I don’t like to only use machines – I need to know I’m doing a well-rounded workout approved by someone who knows more than I do. I also need to know I’m improving my cardio fitness above all, because that’s my real weak point. (Seriously, put me on the elliptical for ten minutes and my heart rate will shoot up to 200 and beyond). So while I found a lot of apps that tell you what workouts to do for particular muscle groups, this one was the only one I felt was structured enough to give me the confidence to go to the gym and do a ‘real’ workout. There are dozens of ready-made drills arranged according to fitness level and goal (cardio, muscle toning, strength, targeting a muscle group); there are helpful instructions and videos to show noobz like me what on earth a ‘burpee’ is; and there are rewards to keep you motivated and focussed. Since downloading this app, I visit the fitness room faithfully every Monday, Thursday and Saturday, decide if I want to do cardio or toning, select a workout and go for it. Many of the drills don’t even require any equipment, and I still come away beetroot-faced, triumphant and feeling a little more acceptable as a human being – although that might be more to do with the fact that the machines’ heart-rate monitors don’t work!

Yes, the models in the demonstrations are wearing Nike clothes - but what did you expect from a free app?

Seriously though, in short, this app will knock down any reason you ever thought of not to become a worker-outer.

The Nike Training app is free, and requires a WiFi connection to share or schedule your workouts. In order to collect rewards such as bonus workouts and smoothie recipes, you must create an account with NikeWomen and periodically sync your minutes of workout time.

I want to be… Crafty.

There’s an app for that: Easy Stitch!

The Easy Stitch app will get you started knitting, crocheting and/or embroidering, easy as pie!

I have several great crafty apps and am always open to suggestions for more! So far though, the best I’ve found for picking up techniques is Easy Stitch. It has three sections: knitting, crochet and embroidery, and while I know nothing about embroidery and am in no position to analyse the app’s thoughts on the matter, I’ve found the crochet and knitting sections to be more than thorough. In the ‘Kn’ section (it’s periodic-element-themed), you have instructions for dozens of different techniques, from simple rib stitch to more complex chevrons, to lace patterns and trim styles. The ‘Cr’ section offers much the same sort of advice, plus some complete granny-square and motif patterns. This app will get you from ‘is-it-crotchit-or-crowshay’ to ‘what’s-so-oxymoronic-about-a-half-double-crochet?’ and beyond: I can’t imagine ever mastering every stitch pattern described in this app, so once you’ve reached expert stage it can count as a handy reference too. At $3, it’s absolutely worth investing in, whatever your level of proficiency in knitting, crochet or embroidery. Even if that proficiency is zero.

The Easy Stitch app costs $2.99, and requires no WiFi connection after download.

I want to be… A straight-A student

There’s an app for that: WordReference!

If you ask me, WR needs to do some serious rebranding, but functionally it can't be beat!

This only really applies if you study languages like me, so this may not be relevant to all of you: but boy has it served me well! The WordReference website is my first stop for speedy but full translations, and the forums are excellent for discussions of the finer points of those tricky phrases and expressions. While Le Grand Robert will always be my Bible as far as interpreting French texts goes, for instant translations on the move the WordReference app is an extremely useful companion to the semester abroad!

The WordReference app requires WiFi access to get translations.

I tried to pick good examples of apps for beginners in each field, because these are what have helped me to take a lifestyle change that had seemed daunting, and see it as a genuine possibility. Each one of these tools provides you with the know-how you need to turn a hope into a reality, if  you really do want to change something about your life. As I said, I love apps in general, for their compact convenience, their accessibility and the low commitment involved in buying them. Many of them are free, and even the more expensive of them still cost less than a trip to Starbucks, so if it’s not for you, no big deal! Check ’em out – these simple apps might just make you a better person, too :)

Best wishes for the weekend and life,





Filed under Crafts, Saturday Spotlight

5 responses to “Saturday Spotlight Ten – Apps That Made Me A Better Person

  1. Ooooo, easy stitch looks like fun! I’m whipping out my kindle fire to check that one out! :-)

  2. Colm

    Is that sleep fixer thing available for Android? I want to go to there.

    • I don’t think it is actually :( There’s another thing I found called the WakeMate, which is available for Android, but it’s a much bigger investment. Looks much more high-tech but costs like $59.99.

  3. I am totally trying that sleep cycle thing! I’m at home for the weekend and had an old friend visiting and she said she was gonna try it… do you use it every day? And can you honestly say it’s helped you wake up? Cause I’m struggling these days. :/

    • Yeah it actually helped me a lot in Costa Rica. I mean, it’s not a replacement for the whole 8-hour thing, but I did wake up with more energy for a long time. And I use it just about every day, yeah. On weekends I turn the alarm off and just run it so I get my sleep graph and a record of how many hours I slept.

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