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Five Things That Helped Us Survive Summer 2014

summer field

With the new academic season right around the corner, the ProfHacker team thought we’d share some of the things that we found especially useful, enjoyable, or interesting during the Summer months.  We hope you’ll find something useful or entertaining for the months ahead, especially since the weather will stay warm in many places for a few weeks. (You may also want to check out our 2010 and 2011 Things That Helped Us Survive Summer posts.) Let us know your favorite summer items in the comments!

Amy Cavender

  • International text and data. I spent about three weeks in Entebbe this summer, with layovers in Amsterdam coming and going. It was incredibly helpful to be able to send messages and do some light web browsing while I was overseas. I’m fortunate that my wireless carrier provides free text and data roaming (at Edge speeds, but it’s usable) in both Uganda and the Netherlands, and keeps costs for calls low. No matter who your carrier is, though, it’s worth exploring options for such connectivity if you’re going to be abroad for any length of time.

  • Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case. Erin reviewed this case last year, and several months ago I picked one up on an open box sale. I didn’t particularly want to travel with my laptop (which is fairly heavy) this summer. The Belkin made it possible for me to travel with just my iPad instead.

  • Travel adapter. Though both my phone and iPad are dual-voltage, their chargers aren’t compatible with the outlets overseas, so an adapter was essential. A quick search of Amazon will turn up a lot of inexpensive options; I found these did quite nicely.

  • Oyster. I do a lot of reading for entertainment, so I was initially intrigued by the announcement of Kindle Unlimited. Then I realized that (a) there’s significant overlap with the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library (I’m already a Prime subscriber), and (b) the top publishers are conspicuously missing from the program. Still, the announcement did make me take stock of just how much I’d spent on leisure reading over the past year, and I saw pretty quickly that I’d save money with a $9.99/month subscription, so I took a look at Oyster. They’ve got a good selection and a gorgeous app (especially for iOS), and some of the bigger publishing houses are on board. For me, it was a good choice.

  • GnuCash. I’m the accountant for my household, and I have to do a fair amount of reporting. For years, I’ve been using Quicken, but I’ve grown increasingly dissatisfied with them. I got tired of their forced upgrades, paying for features that I’ll never use just so I can keep automatically downloading transactions from my credit union. (Plus, Quicken was the only reason I was still keeping an installation of Windows on my computer; Intuit appears to hate Mac users, and they’ve apparently never heard of Linux.) Then a few months ago, my credit union made some changes that broke automatic account updates for all their customers; we now have to download a file and import it into Quicken. For some reason, though, Quicken steadfastly refused to import my files. That was the last straw, and I started looking for a replacement. I found GnuCash, which thus far is working well for me. It also has the advantage of being free, open source, and cross-platform.

Ryan Cordell

  • Like Erin, I was happy to do some pleasure reading this summer, including indulging my love of science fiction. I most enjoyed Kim Stanley Robinson’s 2312, G. Willow Wilson’s Alif the Unseen, Marge Piercy’s He, She, and It, Max Barry’s Lexicon, Dave Eggers’ The Circle, and, to cite one non-fiction book, N. Katherine Hayles and Jessica Pressman’s Comparative Textual Media.

  • Like many others on this list, I traveled quite a bit this summer, and perhaps nothing came in more handy than my travel surge protector, which includes both power and USB outlets. These gadgets make hotel life much more bearable, and virtually ensure you can find an outlet at the airport (if you’re willing to let others share it with you). During one extended stay at JFK this summer—thanks to the weather—we were able to keep our devices running and help some of our fellow stranded passengers do the same.

  • Along similar lines, my portable battery charger has saved my life several times, especially since my phone began draining power faster than it should. When my phone battery gets low I plug it in and voila!

  • I have kids, and when they’re thirsty, they’ll grab any available cup. Which is to say, they’re not (yet) discriminating, and so they share germs—if one gets a cold, we all get a cold. But this summer we visited my parents, and my mom had purchased a set of these plastic mason-jar style cups, each in a different color. Each of the kids was assigned his or her color, and remarkably it worked! They all wanted only “their” cup for the entire trip. As soon as we got home, my wife and I bought a set for the house.

If you dont find little, dancing Groot adorable, you have no soul. - Imgur.gif

  • The whole family also had a blast at Guardians of the Galaxy, which may be my favorite of the now-ubiquitous superhero movies. We are Groot. The DVD/Blu-ray/download won’t be available for awhile yet, but you can grab Peter Quill’s Awesome Mix Vol. 1 if you need a quick musical pick-me-up.

Natalie Houston

  • Rock Tape is my preferred brand of kinesio tape (other good ones include KinesioTex and KTTape). If you’ve participated in or watched a sporting event in the past few years, you’ve seen people with strips of brightly colored stretchable, breathable, adhesive tape used for both healing and preventing injury. Basically, this stuff works like magic: I’ve used it to speed healing of everything from a sprain to longterm overuse injuries. When treating a persistent case of tendonitis earlier this summer, I found the taping, massage, and exercise recommendations at Athletes Treating Athletes to be especially helpful.

  • SelectWisely cards. I first read about food allergy translation cards in Sloan Miller’s helpful book Allergic Girl: Adventures in Living Well with Food Allergies and this summer when I traveled to Europe I had the opportunity to use them. There are some free websites and apps that also provide multi-lingual translations of allergy statements, but I was very pleased with my purchase of the very detailed, laminated cards from SelectWisely. The seriousness with which serving staff treated my questions and requests after reading the cards (and taking them back to the kitchen to discuss with the cook) made me wish I could use them here in the States, where although there’s no language barrier, sometimes food servers are very off-hand about the possibility of food reactions.

  • ThermaRest Compressible Pillow. This pillow rolls up into a small, lightweight bundle that’s easy to stuff into your bookbag or carry-on, but then when you shake it out, it fluffs up to a surprisingly comfortable and adjustable pillow. I used the small size for airplane and long car trips this summer and found it to be the perfect travel companion.

  • Global Entry. I decided to apply for Global Entry status after reading Erin’s post Get GOESing with Global Entry, which gives you all the details on how and why you might find it valuable. I had no idea how much stress this would remove from my travel experience. I say a little thank you to her now every time I go through security with TSA PreCheck (an accompanying benefit for both domestic and international flights) and speed through customs for re-entry to the US. I don’t think of myself as someone who travels a lot – but even so, Global Entry is well, well worth it.

  • Books and TV.  If you haven’t been watching Orphan Black, you should be. This summer I also enjoyed Helix, Rachel Joyce’s Perfect: A Novel, Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch, V.E. Schwab’s Vicious, and  Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice. As a last treat of summer, I’m reserving the last days before the semester starts for reading The Magician’s Land, the third novel in Lev Grossman’s trilogy.

Adeline Koh

  • Taking Time Off. Even though I got tenure last year, it’s only just kicking in this summer that I should allow myself to take time off. I’ve spent the last two months recharging and writing more random things (I’ve started a collection on Online Education on Medium!), which has helped restore my sanity immensely. People say this often, but not often enough–we need to take time out to relax and to reflect.

  • Exercise. With my hectic travel schedule the last academic year, I had hardly any time to exercise and all my fitness went out of the window. This summer I started back on a Couch to 5k program (I’m on Week 5!) and the dedication to exercise has been very restorative. I keep forgetting that even though I hate it while doing it, I feel so much better overall.

  • My 11-inch Macbook Air. My little 2011 workhorse has cuddled with me everywhere this summer, and been my platform for writing, learning code and watching Netflix. I really love its size and barely-there weight, and how well it transitions from work to play for me.

  • Spending Time With Family. For me, this means my husband and my dog, Cooper (who even has his own Facebook page!). We’ve managed to take a few weekend trips and some longer ones to see both our families this summer, which we greatly appreciate.

  • Boomerang for Gmail. I am completely in love with this application, especially because the semester will be starting soon. It allows you to quickly tell Gmail to push a message up your inbox from anything from a few hours to a specific date in the future. Look out for my longer review of the app soon.

Anastasia Salter

  • Running. I had high hopes of training for several triathlons this year, but the reality is that the chaos of moving made it impossible to manage biking, finding a new pool membership, and keeping up with anything so dependent on a steady routine. Running is far less demanding of schedule and sanity: it requires little baggage and also serves as a great way to start learning my way around a new neighborhood.

  • Marvel Unlimited. Marvel’s digital comic subscription service is without question my new favorite app. With most of my print books spending their summer in boxes (and, let’s face it, with most of them likely to stay that way until I find free time to unpack!), my Marvel subscription gave me great new and old comics to read while in transit and for much-needed sanity breaks. I recommend the Comic Book Herald’s Marvel Reading Guide as a starting reference if you want to pick up the app and catch up on some great Marvel hero backstories. (They’ve also got a guide specifically for the “unlimited” collection, which is not so much unlimited as “big enough.”)

  • My Lenovo Yoga 2 Pro laptop. I finally treated myself to a new laptop this year, and while it brought with it the dreaded “upgrade” to Windows 8, it also brought with it a much more usable touchscreen than I expected. With my desktop mostly inaccessible this summer, and my iPad sadly returned to the university tech office from whence it came, I was surprised how well an up-to-date convertible laptop could fill the role of both.

  • Hearthstone. Absolutely my favorite game to play on the aforementioned touchscreen laptop, Hearthstone is a virtual card game from the makers of World of Warcraft with plenty of addictive qualities for those of us raised on Magic: The Gathering and other trading card games. It’s free to start playing (although it will try to tempt you into spending money on cards) and offers nice quick competitive play without too much unwanted conversation (you can chat with players you’ve friended, but everyone else is limited to emotes). It’s become my new go-to game for quick breaks between writing and research.

  • Zillow. There are a lot of apps out there for finding a new home, but Zillow worked best for me with its ease of navigating certain areas and moving quickly between various views and search queries. I didn’t have much time this summer to make the big decision, so it was great to have an app that made it easier to know when a neighborhood might be viable and when it was out of my league while I was driving through.

Erin Templeton

  • One of my favorite parts of the summer is the chance to catch up on reading. Some of the books I have read and enjoyed over the last few months include Wally Lamb’s we are water, California by Edan Lepucki, Robert Galbraith (J. K. Rowling)’s The Silkworm, Dr. Sleep (The Shining Book 2) by Stephen King, and The Truth About the Harry Quebert Affair by Joel Dicker.

  • I often travel a great deal during the summer, and like Ryan, I’ve been won over by Tom Bihn’s Aeronaut bag. When I bought mine in the spring, it was only available in one size, but since then, Tom Bihn has released a second, smaller bag. These bags are expensive, but they are all but bulletproof and after five trips, mine still looks brand new. Both are designed to fit in the ever-shrinking overhead carry-on bins, and I’ve not run into any problems yet, even under the stricter requirements of late.

  • I live in the hot and humid state of South Carolina. That means, among other things, that as a runner I have to be very careful about making sure that I stay hydrated (I sweat. A lot). Nuun tablets have been a game-changer for me. They’re not full of sugar or artificial sweeteners, but they do contain electrolytes, which really help me ward off dehydration and the headaches that accompany it.

  • In an attempt to manage the heat and humidity as well as to incorporate some cross-training into my fitness routine, I spent more time than usual at the pool. A good pair of googles and a swim cap (I like the silicon ones) made the laps go by much more quickly.

  • Lastly, the Squirrel Dude: my dog’s most favorite thing. I’ve written elsewhere on ProfHacker about the benefits of walking my dog, but in the heat and humidity of the summer, we can’t walk as far. The Squirrel Dude is a great way to get a bit more mental stimulation into the day. Unlike a Kong, which is almost as good, the Squirrel Dude has prong around its opening, so it’s a bit more of a challenge to get the food out. Parker, my dog, has spent many happy hours gnawing away. A busy dog leads to a tired dog, and tired dogs are good dogs.

[Creative Commons licensed image from flickr user bark]

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