Friday, June 24, 2011

Beat the Heat with a Baseball Bat

Growing up in Arizona, if there's one thing I know, it's how cruel and unusual the desert can be. Right now, the summer is getting into full swing - and not just in the southwest.

So, pretty much everyone I talk to claims that the humidity kills 'back east' and is nothing compared to AZ's heat - even my father who was born and raised back there. And yes, admittedly, we are lucky 80% of the year with horribly dry weather, which makes frying more of a possibility than melting. BUT! With monsoon season approaching in little over a week, I do feel the need to clear up that it isn't this way for the other 20% of the year. I'm talking about an average of 109 degree temperatures plus enough humidity to melt a turtle.

I did some research a few hours ago, and did find that the average humidity percentage for Arizona is 56% - that's the average for the whole year. So, it isn't quite 70% humidity or even 60% as I previously guessed, but it's probably more than most people would think.

But let's combine those infamous 112 degree temperatures with that 56% humidity.

Now how about that 'back east' weather? Their average temperature in summer is 80 degrees. Their average humidity percentage is 80%.
So, by looking at the statistics, both pretty much average out to being equally horrid and filled with a bunch of ick. The difference is 30 degrees more or 30% more humidity.

Now, the question is which is worse? What you can handle?
The heat or the humidity?

*Note: My vote is to move to Alaska during summer seasons... btw... so I'm like... Switzerland.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Do You Use Morals?

Do You Use Morals?
By Stephen Tremp

Do you use morals, ethics, and social matters in your stories that manifest in a lesson learned at the conclusion?

This is a topic I love to discuss. As a writer, I think it is vital to weave into the plot concepts of morals and ethics that challenge the characters to do things they normally would not do. They will need to somehow find a way to overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. The result will be some kind of lesson learned. Many great authors and poets do this, some to a larger degree than others. Often (not always, example is the movie Se7en) we witness good triumphing over evil. However, a suspense thriller or a fantasy adventure should incorporate more than merely a battle of good vs. evil, where good ultimately triumphs in the end. Yawn.

There are a plethora of issues a writer can use, such as economic, ethical, human, legal, moral, religious, rights, and social matters that can question the core values of your character(s). These can be fantastic opportunities to introduce conflict, and conflict is necessary to drive the plot forward.

Question: as we address one or more of these matters, do we subtly incorporate some kind of lesson or question our present value system? And if so, what happens when we approach the end of our story? Do you tend to forget about your threaded morals and ethics, or are there consequences to your characters’ actions? Think back on what they did, conspired, and manipulated. What did they sow? Will they reap the whirlwind? If not, then you may be making your ending anti-climatic. It could be boring. Predictable (the worse scenario). Nothing special.

I note everything my bad guys think, say, and do. Ultimately, they will have to pay for their sins. They will need to be held accountable for their actions, either in this life or the next (think the ending of the movie Ghost where the bad guys are killed and their souls drug off to hell by dark evil spirits). So think about what you weave into your writings. Will they manifest at the end of your story in the form of judgment? If not, then what good is introducing morals and ethics in the first place?

Question: Do you use morals and ethics to achieve a lesson learned? Do you think about the consequences for your characters actions at the conclusion? Do you mete out justice and judgment, such as a guilty verdict in a court of law, the bad guy being killed by a cop, or the antagonist ending up dead and ultimately in a place of eternal torment?

Or do you feel lessons learned are too preachy and the lines of ethics and morals are too blurred to come to definitive conclusions? Or perhaps life’s not fair, so why try to tie a nice pretty red ribbon around the ending.

Stephen Tremp is author of the action thriller Breakthrough. You can visit Stephen at Breakthrough Blogs.

Friday, June 17, 2011

To-Do List Apps for the Busy Party Person

So, when I updated my iPod Touch, many of my apps went missing. The two main apps I used - Songbook and iProcrastinate - disappeared and it was quite tragic. Just ask my Twitter followers. They were there through my turmoiled tweets (is turmoiled a word?), they know.

Anyways, thankfully, I had recorded most of my songs in Songbook or had written them down before I thought it was a brilliant idea to put them all in an app without backing them up. But, I would have gone absolutely insane without my precious to-do list app. Turns out, the creator of iProcrastinate got too busy to update it. *sigh*

So, I had to go searching for a new app to keep track of my ever-changing tasks. I'm not too picky when it comes to apps, but I needed something to get the job done.

What was I looking for? First, it had to have scheduling capabilities (AKA that feature where you know when your tasks have to be finished by).

Second, it had to have "Badging" capabilities, which was quite important so I can see how many tasks I have to see how busy I am and exactly how much more I can take on without having a breakdown. *Bigsmile*

Finally, I wanted an app that screams at me when something is overdue (Which I didn't realize was a requirement until quite recently). Not literally screaming at me, but I wanted something that would turn red and be all exclamation-point-like when a task was overdue - or at least something similar.

So, where did I start? Like all info I need - I started on Bing (which is losing it's high status in my book due to their "pop-up-crazy-user-reward-ad-things" that keep popping up everytime I try to search something). I searched for the most popular to-do list apps and found that the most popular free to-do list app was DoBot ToDos.

The name, DoBot ToDos sounded epic. At first glance, I could see it's simplicity - easy on the eyes, plain, and very iPod-like. There was the feature of adding several lists, which was fine (often this feature gets in my way, since I only need one list). Inside the lists, there were sorting options and view options, but no other options, which bugged me a bit. It had the swipe-to-delete feature that I loved for quick deletion as well as a check-mark-for-completion thing that I never bothered figuring out to use.

This app said "Overdue" when tasks were past due, but it kept the blue text color for the dates no matter what. Which was okay. I may have been able to live with it... BUT! Then I realized... no badging. Which also would have been fine if it told me how many tasks I had on the inside of the app... which it didn't. So this app was marked off my list. Very nice - but not right for me.
I rated it 3.5 stars.

Next, I took a look at To Do. At first glance, the app had a "watered down, washed out" feel to it with it's light gray app color against white. Then, going inside the app, I was even more disappointed to find the same "washed out" tone throughout the entire thing with dark-gray task bars and light gray dates against an even lighter gray background. To say the least, it was painful on my eyes and didn't make for an easy-to-glance at to-do list. I really had a hard time seeing the dates. But, it had the basic features - scheduling and even badging.

I was preparing for my one week vacation, so I decided this app would be good enough until I returned. I inputted all of my tasks into this app, but I hadn't realized how crucial a good to-do list app was when vacations were involved. I scheduled everything around vacation and came back from my vacation to a big mess. I knew I had 11 tasks, I just didn't realize 7 of them were overdue! Turns out, this app has absoultely nothing that says when a task is overdue. It just had the date on it... date and time, which is a nice feature, but not good enough at all.

It has different colors for different priorities, which I appreciated, and even notes capabilities. But that definitely didn't make the cut for me. Not only was it ugly visually, it harmed my schedule - I just thank God my tasks were flexible. I couldn't use this task manager unless I checked it carefully everyday - wasting time rather than saving it.

I gave this one 2.0 stars
(Yes, part of it was from a vendetta I have against it for harming my schedule).

Recently, I took the search to iTunes for myself, tired of searching for suggestions. I was hoping for a free app (like iProcrastinate), but I was willing to pay a few dollars (NOT TEN! I don't care how fancy your app is. I'd rather visit Taco Bell with my family). Right away, I found a few nice apps.

I downloaded SeizeTheDay - a very nice little app that was instantly appealing to my eyes, gifted with both simplicity and style. I had a fondness for the organization system even though it was a bit more than I actually needed. There were plenty of settings, and I liked that. There was even a search feature - another bonus. From the homepage, you could easily add a task without having to navigate to the list you wanted to put it on. It had focuses for the tasks you wanted to do today, the upcoming tasks, and even a folder for those you don't want to put a due date on. At the same time, there was an option to view all of these tasks in one easy folder.

It did have badging. There was also a calendar view of the tasks - which was a neat feature that was neat even though I'd probably never use it. There was a reminder option (optional) - which I never had, but it sounded amusing. For each task you add, there was a set of advanced options, which including adding a note as well as tags. It gathered the tasks that were due on that day - and overdue ones in the "Today" folder. Which was nice, but it still didn't actually say that the task was past due. Which made me put this one down almost right away.

I gave it 3.5 stars.

Then I came across this fine little app titled Errands. I think I was in love with it before it even downloaded, and I knew that was what I'd been looking for. Sure enough, it had badging - but not just badging, it had badging options! Who would have known? When I exit the app, it leads me back to the same screen I was at when I left. There are several folder/screens, All Tasks, Focus, Unassigned, Work, Home, and Errands. All of my tasks are unassigned as I said before, I don't need folders - just all of them to be gathered in one place. The only thing that would have made this app better would be the option to add or delete these extra folders, or to rename them. 

Anyways, it was quite userfriendly and easy to use. It had a bunch of extra features, but what I liked most about it is how flexible the app it. It had the features I needed and extra features I probably wouldn't use - but everything had options. 

There are quite a few different view options: a condensed view, and a calendar view. You can add pictures to your tasks, you can add scheduling, alarms, due dates as well as due times. You can add notes. There are a variety of ways to delete or "mark-as-complete" your tasks, by touching a blue check box, by swiping and deleting, or by touching the "edit" button at the bottom of the screen.

This app had features that most paid apps had - I'm talking about the expensive $10 apps that I refused to look at after I saw the price. Still, the "Past due" didn't jump out at me like I was hoping. Didn't change color, but it did get astricks before and after the date when it does get overdue. But with all of the alerts and the features, I'll have it alert me before it does get past due. All ready it's helping me catch up.

OH! And! Another feature, which I loved was being able to schedule reoccuring tasks - which I do have.

What really won me over was the ability to customize not only the color of the text, but the font type too!  

So, this is a very flexible app. So flexible that I would say it would suit your needs whatever they are. If you're a busy person, this app probably has the features you need - and the option to veto or completely ignore features you don't.

I'm giving this one 4.5 stars.
Almost perfect, but could use a few tweaks. Way better than DoBot ToDos.