AT Friday: Mint.com

Budgeting your finances is one of the most annoying yet important tasks for a college student. Keeping track of all your receipts manually and putting them all in a piece of paper or even an excel spreadsheet isn’t our favorite thing to do, even for the “organized types” amongst us. Here’s where Mint.com comes in, a site and associated mobile apps that helps you manage your finances while helping you prioritize and cut back on your expenses.

mintSigning up for Mint is easy and free. Once you have signed up you can connect all your accounts: savings, checking, credit card and for different types of loans to Mint using their respective passwords. Don’t worry about the security of your account, Mint connects over APIs offered by the banks and financial institutions and doesn’t actually see your password. Moreover, it’s owned by Intuit, the same people that own Quickbooks and Turbotax, so they are reputable.

Once Mint collects all your financial information, it automatically categorizes your expenses. If you are a visual type like me, the various graphs and pie charts are very useful in understanding the various facets of your finances. For instance, there’s a very handy pie chart that shows you where you are spending your money. You can view a wide range of graphs and charts by selecting your time frame and the type of graph or chart you’d like to see.

Mint also lets you create budgets based on which it alerts you if you have exceeded the budget for a particular category during a month.  One nifty little add-on is the ability to compare your spending to the US average, which tells you where exactly do you fit in within the 99% (or the 1%, what do I know?). Another feature Mint offers is goals, which might be something you’ll use more once you have graduated.  There are several preset goals like Pay Off Credit Card Debt, Take a Trip, or Pay Off College.  You can also create a customized goal with an end date or a monthly amount.  Mint will help you track and accomplish your goal.

So what are you waiting for? Go ahead and sign up for mint and start budgeting. And once you have done that download their apps for iPhone, iPad, Android and Android tablets. If you are looking more choice, Pageonce (https://www.pageonce.com/) is another option to look at.

Tech Tuesday: Any.do

At the beginning of last semester I wrote about RescueTime (http://sites.tufts.edu/atfellows/2012/10/16/tech-tuesday-rescuetime/), an invaluable tool to help you analyze what exactly do you spent the most time doing while on your computer. Now that you know where your time is wasted, what can you do to ensure that your time is utilized productively in getting things done? Here again, technology comes to the rescue. Today I will talk about one particular task manager tool, Any.do that makes managing your to-dos simple and effective and in the process makes you more productive and efficient.

Any.do (http://www.any.do/) is a simple task manager available for Android and iOS. What sets this app apart from the plethora of to-do list apps out there is its simple, intuitive and easy to navigate interface, yet uncompromised functionality. Tasks can be organized either by date or folders; which can all be done using drag and drop. Gesture. One can do almost everything with the tasks using simple gestures like swiping right on a task akin to crossing it out, to mark a task complete. To add a task, one only has to drag down from the top of the screen, and task can also be added using voice commands. One can set reminder alarms for particular time and day for a task, or set a location based reminder, a feature that lets you set reminders based on when you arrive or depart a particular location! Additionally, tasks can be marked as high priority which displays them in red and notes can be added to particular tasks which can come handy to add links etc. related to that task.

Any.do also has a plugin for the Chrome browser, which lets one add tasks from ones browser. It integrates seamlessly with the likes of Gmail, so that one can add email follow-up reminders as a task on Any.do which can at time be much more useful than simply flagging an email.

There are great alternatives of course, and if you are looking for a hardcore personal task and project management tool, than Any.do is not for you. For that you can look at Things (http://culturedcode.com/things/iphone/) and Toodledo (http://www.toodledo.com/).

Tech Tuesday: Break from school, not from taking cool classes and learning new things!

With the semester coming to an end, you have perhaps started planning for the winter break whenever you get time between study sessions. If you are like me, your idea for a perfect break is probably relaxing at home, finishing all five seasons of Breaking Bad. But thanks to the internet though, end of the semester does not mean end to learning anymore. On the contrary, it might just mean taking exciting classes that either don’t fit into your schedule or aren’t even offered at Tufts; or learning a new skill like programming or even juggling! All online, for free!

The newest fad on the internet block is called MOOC, or Massive Open Online Courses; which are the coolest courses on the planet taught by rock star professors at top universities like Stanford and MIT, all for free! Here’s a list of the top MOOC course providers:

1. Coursera (www.coursera.org) Coursera works with 33 university partners, including Stanford, California Institute of Technology and Berklee College of Music. Coursera has 207 courses in 18 subjects including computer science, math, business, humanities, social science, medicine, engineering, education,….phew! Most courses have start and end dates, though it’s possible to join a course after it has begun, as long as it is before the registration cutoff date.

2. Udacity (www.udacity.com) Udacity is an independent provider started by a well-known Stanford Professor. Udacity has 18 courses across the fields of computer science, math and startups.

3. edX (www.edx.org) edX has courses from MIT, Harvard, UC Berkeley and the UT System ranging from Public Health to Electrical Engineering, 8 in all.

4. Canvas Network (www.canvas.net) Canvas has 24 courses from Basic Arithmetic to Game Design Concepts taught by teachers and professors from various schools and universities.

5. Venture Lab (www.venture-lab.org) Venture Lab by Stanford has courses primarily focusing on management and entrepreneurship, 5 in all.

If you are confused by too many options and too little time, sites like www.knollop.com and www.coursetalk.org will help you choose the best courses based on reviews by other students who have taken them before.

Want to learn something new, but not ready for the time commitment of an entire course? Try some of these: www.ocw.mit.edu, www.khanacademy.org, http://www.ocwconsortium.org/en/courses, http://webcast.berkeley.edu/, http://oyc.yale.edu/ among others. You can also check out iTunes U for a variety of courses ranging from iOS app design to finance http://www.apple.com/education/itunes-u/

How about learning to code? That would be fantastic, right? Sites like http://www.codecademy.com and http://www.khanacademy.org/cs are great places to start.

In case, you want to get away from all thing related to studying; there are sites that teach you new hobbies and crafts as well. Check out http://www.udemy.com/ Udemy has both free and paid courses, according to what you want to learn.

Well, that should keep your winter break schedule busy right? Happy Learning!

-Samujjal Purkayastha

Tech Tuesday: WolframAlpha

Google has become more than just a web search engine, especially for the average college student. It has become our primary research tool and even a calculator for simple arithmetic operations. However, Google was never meant to be used for anything that involved fetching and working with huge datasets or perform any advanced mathematical operations.

This is where WolframAlpha, the self-proclaimed Computation Knowledge Engine comes in. While I have been a regular user of the website www.wolframalpha.com ever since its launch, it wasn’t until the launch of its iOS app that I really discovered its true power and potential.

The home screen of the app has a very search engine-ey feel to it with the search box at the center of the screen on which you can type what you seek information on. Because of the range of data and information WolframAlpha can work with, a very useful feature is that the search engine gives you suggested keywords (operations and operands).

 

What really sets the iOS client apart from the website is that it adds three additional rows of numbers, symbols and equations which makes entering mathematical operations very simple, much simpler than even entering data into a calculator.

Having said that WolframAlpha isn’t really a calculator replacement. But what really sets it apart from a calculator and makes it so much more useful is that while a calculator solves problems for you; WolframAlpha solves problems with you. With WolframAlpha you have the option of seeing step-by-step solutios for multi-step problems like those ranging from simple algebra to advance calculus.
While my post until now has focused on the mathematical computation abilities of the app, WolframAlpha’s capabilities go far beyond anything I can possible write about in any blog posts. To get a comprehensive list of all the domains covered visit its iTunes page https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/wolframalpha/id334989259?mt=8#

One can use WolframAlpha to look up data and information ranging from credible sources, whether its data related to Economics like the unemployment rate in three US cities on finance, the stock analysis of Microsoft’s stock, for instance.

To sum up,

Thumbs up:

  • A Swiss army knife like app for all computational needs
  • Slick and intuitive interface
  • Great visualization
  • The built in keyboard

Thumbs down:

  • Requires an active internet connection
  • Does not seem to have any additional features than the web that the WolframAlpha Pro account does, for $3.99 a month

The app can be bought from the App Store for $3.99. The good thing about it is it’s a universal app, so the $3.99 lets you install the app on all your iOS devices: the iPad, the iPhone and the iPod touch.

-Samujjal Purkayastha

 

Tech Tuesday: RescueTime

Perhaps the most valuable result of all education is the ability to make yourself do the thing you have to do, when it ought to be done, whether you like it or not. – Walter Bagehot

Out of all that we are tested on in college, one skill that we are continuously tested on but never really taught is time management. In this piece I will introduce you to one particular tool that has immensely helped me manage my time better, and I am confident will help you do.

Computers are central to most of the things we do in college, whether it’s studies or social networking, for research or for watching movies. The problem is that it is hard to quantify our productivity while working on our computers. RescueTime monitors all your computer use and informs you when and how you’re both productive and distracted. It’s compatible with both Mac and Windows, and can work across multiple computers.

RescueTime has two parts. The first is a small downloadable software application that you need to install on your computer. The other is the website that shows you your statistics and also lets you change your settings. The software works quietly in the background, but also lets you access a few settings without having to go to the site. All you have to do is right click on the RescueTime notification icon in the notification area of the taskbar. Here’s a Windows screenshot for the same:

After a while of having the software running, you can go to the website to look at your data. The dashboard gives you an overview of how productive you have been during the current week, month, year and even day. The information is visualized very intuitively. You can see your total time spent on various applications like itunes, chrome etc. as well as specific websites and websites grouped under various categories. Here are some of the views:

RescueTime by default categorizes websites/applications using its own algorithms. But you can also create your custom categories of applications and websites. This functionality can also be useful if you have a job that entails researching or working on particular websites, for which you get paid by the hour.

Another simple but surprisingly effective piece of information RescueTime gives you is an analysis of when during the day you tend to be the most productive. This can be very useful in helping you design your daily schedule based on when you are most focused.

The RescueTime button on the task bar also lets you pause the tool, for whatever reason you might want to do that.

While the basic version of RescueTime is free, it also has a premium version which has some cooler features that may or may not be necessary. I use the free version, and it is good enough for my cause.
A useful feature in the paid version is that you can enable “Get Focused” from the task bar which blocks all apps and sites that have been classified as distracting by you or by the software for however many minutes you specify. But if you don’t want to pay the extra money, you can use tools like StayFocused for Google Chrome (https://chrome.google.com/webstore/detail/laankejkbhbdhmipfmgcngdelahlfoji) and LeechBlock for Mozilla Firefox (https://addons.mozilla.org/en-US/firefox/addon/leechblock/)

Another feature that’s available for the paid version is goals, which lets you set targets and limits on the amount of time you spend in any given app or category. Say you set a one-hour per day limit on the amount of time you spend using Facebook. RescueTime can alert you via an onscreen pop-up when you’re near the ceiling.

Here’s a very useful comparison of the paid and free versions: https://www.rescuetime.com/plans
You can download the free version from https://www.rescuetime.com/signup/solo/lite. Sign up, choose your plan and download. The paid pro version costs $9 a month, or $72 for a year.
RescueTime is a great place to diagnose your productivity problems, and then start your own time management plan.

Time Management is a holistic process, and has various parts to it. In college organizing your study materials and the plethora of information is also important. There are various tools out there that help you stay organized. One of the best tools that I have come across is Evernote. You can read more about Evernote in a previous post by former AT Fellow, Ammar Khaku http://sites.tufts.edu/atfellows/2012/04/10/techtuesday-evernote/