Zoho Mail and Its Limitations For Free Accounts

Screenshot of Zoho Mail

There once was a company called AdventNet that created IT software – network monitoring, help desk ticketing, etc. Eventually they started this fledgling division called Zoho which seemed to me (at the time) like a distraction from their IT business. But Zoho grew and grew and eventually AdventNet changed its name to Zoho. Zoho still makes a line of IT software, but it is their Zoho Suite that more people are familiar with.

Screenshot of Zoho Mail

I’ve always liked their software, though sometimes it has been a bit rough around the edges. Part of this is because they usually offer free versions with a fairly robust featureset for those who only need a few users or to monitor a few systems.

In general I haven’t found these limitations to be too much of a nuisance, but I recently started using Zoho Mail and have been frustrated by the number of features which are only available in their paid version. Granted, the paid version isn’t bad – $28/yr. per user – but it isn’t what I’ve come to expect from Zoho.

I figured it would be helpful for others who are considering Zoho Mail as a solution for their needs to have a concise list of some of the more notable of these limitations…as the 25 free users offer is quite attractive at first glance. Without further ado, here is my list of functionality not available in the free version:

  • Mail Forwarding – Want to setup an email address [email protected] and forward it to [email protected]? You can’t on a free account. (Granted, you can create an email alias for an account).
  • POP/IMAP/ActiveSync – These are all methods of retrieving mail from Zoho’s server and are used by email client software like Microsoft Outlook, Mozilla Thunderbird, or Mailbird. (Zoho does have a robust web interface, similar in functionality to Gmail’s, so this is only a deal breaker if you use a software email client).
  • Email Routing – Want to have emails sent to [email protected] routed to a third party helpdesk like Zendesk or Freshdesk? You can’t, it’s a premium feature. (That said, you can probably setup these and other services to access the account automatically and pull the emails).

Besides these limitations, Zoho Mail seems full-featured, the user interface is quite nice, and one can customize things with one’s custom domain rather than having @zohomail.com emails.

What alternatives do you have? At the price of free I’m not aware of many with any robust implementation. I’m luckily enough to be grandfathered into a G Suite account from back in the day when Google was still handing them out for free. ūüôā

The only other completely free solution I’m aware of (at least for a few users) that offers similar functionality to Zoho Mail (e.g., custom domain email rather than @provider.com email) is Bitrix24, but I’ve never personally used them (interestingly, they also have a decent suite of applications and offer a free phone number as well – though it doesn’t appear to come with any minutes, but per minute pricing is cheap). Do you have suggestions for alternatives?

If we look at paid alternatives things begin to open up a bit for us we can add Google Suite, Microsoft Office 365, Rackspace, and so on to the list. Yet Zoho Mail’s prices still seem to be among the best.

Its also worth noting that most web hosts I’ve used (e.g. Bluehost, SiteGround) offer free email hosting as well. These services tend to be fairly full-featured but really lacking in the UI department.

Turmoil in the Medical Transcription World – A Career Path Full of Potholes and Dead Ends

Photo of a Pothole in a Road

In my last post I discussed working from home in general. ¬†In this post I’d like to delve a little more specifically into what it is like to work in the medical transcription field.

Many people are familiar with the term medical transcriptionist.  We are also known as medical language specialists.  I think that is actually a more accurate title, because to do this job well requires so much more than typing.  You have to understand what you are transcribing and have a really good grasp of anatomy and physiology as well as medical terminology, pharmacology and grammar.

The medical transcriptionist listens to and then transcribes recordings of physicians describing their interactions with patients.  These may include clinic visits in cardiology, gastroenterology, neurology, psychology, orthopedics, physical therapy, etc.  You may type emergency room visits or descriptions of surgical procedures.  If you were to work for a local physician, say a neurologist, you would type mainly neurology reports and you would quickly become proficient in neurological terminology.  When working for a transcription service you must be proficient in all the specialties and familiar with all the medical terminology that goes along with them. In addition to that you will have a very large number of physicians you will be typing for, which often presents a challenge as you strive to learn all of their varying accents and idiosyncrasies.

With the advent of new technology the transcription of reports is frequently being replaced with editing of reports.¬†¬† Computer software translates the physician’s spoken words into text which the transcriptionist then must edit while listening carefully to the dictation.

I personally prefer typing over editing, finding editing too monotonous, but I know people who love to edit.¬†¬† You can edit more lines per hour than you can transcribe, but don’t get too excited – the companies also pay less per line for editing! ¬†For transcribing dictation the rate may be 8 cents per line but the editing rate will probably be closer to 4 cents per line.¬† Yes, as a transcriptionist you work for pennies!¬† These pennies really do add up though and it is possible to make a good income as a transcriptionist or editor, but it takes a lot of skill, determination and self discipline…and often a¬†good dose¬†of luck as well, as I’ll explain¬† in just a bit.

There are, however, many drawbacks in the field that make it difficult to earn that good income. “Back in the day” it was a lucrative career, a profession.¬†¬†¬† Today it can be quite difficult to make even a decent wage in this profession.

I am currently sitting here typing this article instead of working at transcribing reports because there is no work available this morning.¬† I was tired, but got up with the 4:30 a.m. alarm to prepare for my day at work.¬† Settled in at 5 and ready to begin my workday when the all-too-familiar message appeared on my screen “While your queue is empty, work arrives continuously.¬† Please contact your QManager.”¬† Well, 1 hour and 20 minutes later and still that continuously arriving work is nowhere to be found!

I didn’t even bother to contact the QManager this morning‚Ķchoosing instead to write this article. The days I do contact the QManager I either get a message back saying “keep waiting, work is slowly coming in”‚Ķin other words, there is no work, sit tight and eventually there will be some.¬† The other option is that the QManager will find another account and have me begin work on that.¬† This can be a frustrating process as new accounts mean reading through pages and pages of instructions about what the client (hospital) expects.

There is so much variation from client to client. For example:

  • Some want their headings in bold, all caps while some want them in bold mixed case while others want all caps, but no bold.
  • Allergies in caps or not, bold or not.
  • Number all lists.¬† Don’t number lists.¬† Only number medications.
  • Patient names allowed in the report.¬† Patient names not allowed in the report.
  • Remember Dr. So and So; he wants to make up his own rules which you need to remember too.

You are expected to study these rules and remember them (or have notes everywhere as reminders!).   This is something that is done for every hospital or clinic you type for.  I currently have 4 hospitals I type for….so 4 sets of rules to keep straight.  You might type 3 reports for 1 hospital, then 2 for a different hospital, back to the first hospital for 1 report, onto a different hospital for 2…so you have to keep all these rules for all these different clients straight. So, sometimes I would rather be out of work and not typing than wading through trying to learn all these new rules for a temporary account.

One of the big downsides of being a transcriptionist is that we are only paid for those lines produced which means the time you spend studying those client expectations, time spent reading emails from your supervisor, time spent researching medication doses or unfamiliar terms or the name of the taco joint in St. Louis, Missouri the doctor mentions that the patient works at‚Ķ.all the time you spend doing any of these things you are not compensated for. The time spent waiting to see if any work comes into your queue isn’t compensated for, either (I know of one company that will pay you for up to 15 minutes of out of work time per day; not very helpful if you are out of work for 2, 3 or 4 hours!).

How many other professions are there where you are expected to report to work on time and not get paid if when you get there they have no work available for you to do?  This policy seems like a real injustice to me, but it is the norm in the medical transcription field.

Some companies require that you stay near your computer and “keep checking back” throughout our shift for work.¬†¬†Some employers offer “flex time.” If you come to work and there is none available¬†you can request flex time.¬†¬† This is helpful in a way as you can then go do something else for a while and work again later in the day when there is work available again.

But what if your schedule isn’t flexible?¬† I’m currently caring for my elderly mother who needs my full attention during the day…I get up early in the morning to work, before she is up.¬† If there is no work I don’t have the ability to come back 3 or 4 hours later to see if there is some available.¬† The result?¬† No pay for the hours lost.¬† This can make budgeting difficult and this lack of having a consistent dependable income¬†is one of the biggest problems that I see for¬†the medical transcriptionist.

There is another practice in the medical transcription field which I really don’t understand or like, because it means two transcriptionists with equal skills can be earning very different income based on the accounts they are doing and the rules of those accounts.

Let me explain.  We are paid by lines…so for example for every 65-character line we might be paid 8 cents for typing or 4 cents for editing.  I recently had been working at one company where my accounts were all straight typing, which I loved!  I had one account which had many macros (pre-typed text you can copy and paste into the report; this only takes seconds, but you get credit for all those lines just as if you had typed them) and it also had text often plugged right into the report, so before you typed anything at all you might already have 30 or 40 lines to your credit.  Other accounts never did this, so my line counts were always much lower when I worked on those accounts.

There are also varying rules for each account regarding how many blanks you can leave.¬†¬† The transcription companies put a lot of weight on how many blanks you leave and it counts against you if you send in too many reports with blanks.¬† The problem comes when one account might allow you to have 3 blanks in a report and not send it in for corrections while another account allows no blanks.¬† So it’s harder for the medical transcriptionist on the account with zero blanks to keep her submission rate low than it is for the transcriptionist on the other account, but there are no allowances for this (at least not at any companies I’ve worked for).¬† Since this is often tied to the amount of money you make it really can be more of a situation where luck of the draw (which account you are on) determines your paycheck more than how good a transcriptionist you are¬†or how hard you are working.

One company I know of will reduce your line rate to a mere 7 cents per line for straight transcription if you send more than 5% of your reports to QC for corrections.¬† Many times these submissions are not the transcriptionist’s fault.¬† I have had to send in reports when there was no dictation, the attending physician’s name was not dictated, or some other similar situation which couldn’t be avoided‚Ķthese reports counted against the QC submission rate and can result in a significant decrease in pay.¬† All rewards for 100% accuracy and high line counts disappear if the QC submission rate is deemed too high.¬†¬† We are always told not to guess, to flag anything we are unsure of – but if we do it just one too many times we can pay for it, literally.

I actually had this happen to me (I went from 11 cents a line to 7 cents a line) because I was 0.1% over the quota for that pay period…and I know that I had 2 reports¬†during that time¬†that were no dictations; it was almost certainly one of those reports that caused me to exceed the limit and lose several hundred dollars in pay that pay period.

I am writing this article not to discourage anyone from becoming a medical transcriptionist, because there are some positives things about this career, but there are also many downsides and I hope this article helps you go into it with your eyes wide open.  The charge for tuition to learn transcription is significant and learning this trade also requires substantial investment of time.

I went into this profession expecting to make very good wages and be appreciated for producing quality work.  Neither has happened, in nearly 12 years as a transcriptionist.  One of these days I will go back to school and finish my degree and get a better job.  But for now, I type on.

If you choose this profession I wish you well.  I hope you are one of the fortunate ones who can find a company that rewards your efforts and skill appropriately.

Earn.com A Little Extra on the Side

A Photo of a Clock with Small Piles of Money Near It

 

A Photo of a Clock with Small Piles of Money Near It
This photo was generously provided by Nattanan Kanchanaprat and Pixabay.

(Post Updated: Feb 13th, 2018)

What is Earn.com?

Earn.com is a nifty site where individuals can receive and respond to messages from various organizations and other individuals in exchange for a few dollars. For example I’m a member[1] of a number of lists including:

  • Facebook Users
  • GitHub Users
  • HTML Programmers
  • Instagram Users
  • Pinterest Users
  • Reddit Users
  • Twitter Users
  • YouTube Users

When someone wants to communicate with a certain population of individuals (e.g. twitter users), they can send a message through earn.com which pays x amount for each response. Or if someone wants to communicate with a specific individual they can reach out to that person with a message and an offer of payment for a response.

Why Would Anyone Send Messages Using Earn.com?

There actual use cases where one would want to send a message a groups of users or a specific individual For example:

  • Send a poll to Facebook users providing images of two different potential ads and asking which one would interest them more.
  • Sending out some content to Pinterest users you believe will go viral in hopes that they will pin it and share it.
  • Sharing a link to an awesome new YouTube video.
  • Contacting a CEO of a company you believe will be interested in your product or service.
  • Communicating with a well-known scientist who might otherwise not see your email among the innumerable she receives each day.

The more general the group the less one is likely to get paid per message…but there are also all sorts of niche groups – for example digital currency investors, hackers news users, and so on. I tend to see offers from these a bit more frequently – the cryptocurrency related messages seem to pay especially well.

Is There Any Money In Using Earn.com?

Sure. You aren’t going to get rich off it, but it is fun and provides some extra pocket change.

I’ve been on the site for a while[2] and accumulated around $120 with relatively little effort.

But there is more to Earn.com than pocket change for the occasional message…

Using Earn.com to Monetize Your Email

Earn.com can integrate with Gmail (your choice, I personally haven’t integrated yet). When you receive an email from an individual or organization that you don’t necessarily want to spend time responding to, you can “bounce” the email to Earn.com to gauge how serious they are in their desire to talk to you.

The individual or organization receives a reply email from Earn.com that indicates how much it will cost them to receive a response from you. They can then choose to go find someone else to bother or, if they are really interested in what you have to say or really think their product is meant for you, they can pay up. You spend a few moments replying to their message, pocket the cash, and if it is something you are actually interested in, the relationship continues from there.

Granted, this isn’t something that is going to work for everyone. But if you own a business and are being constantly propositioned by sales people, one way to weed out those who are running through an address book name by name is to charge them a few dollars for a response. They will probably move on to the next name on the list.

Similarly, if you are a public personality of some sort (e.g. actor, author, blogger) and you receive a lot of communications you could choose to charge a few dollars to get a response.

Obviously, this tool could be used poorly. I wouldn’t recommend charging your own family and friends to contact you.[3] And if you are an internet personality I’d suggest not requiring payment for every correspondence. On the other hand, it might be worthwhile to bounce some of those requests for guest posts (or to review a product) to Earn.com to test their seriousness and to make a few bucks.

Bonus: Your Money is Bitcoin

You’ve probably heard the words Bitcoin, digital currency, or cryptocurrency being thrown around on occasion – whether on/in the news or by a geeky friend. You probably also know that Bitcoin is worth a lot of money – I mean thousands of dollars for a single Bitcoin. Unfortunately, there isn’t an easy way for folks to get Bitcoin without spending a significant amount of money at this point in time (kind of like buying gold).[4] But Earn.com keeps your earnings as Bitcoin. As such your earnings can increase with Bitcoin price increases[5] and you can cash out in dollars or in Bitcoin.

In general I’m not recommending buying Bitcoin at the moment (I’m not a financial advisor, so go talk to someone who knows what they are talking about to decide whether to buy or not) due to the significant price fluctuations occurring (and the likelihood that another technology will supersede Bitcoin), but I would suggest keeping your Earn.com earnings as Bitcoin.

What About Those Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs)?

There are tons of companies right now trying to get in on the cryptocurrency boom. Some are for real but many of them aren’t. Of those that are real it is almost certain a majority of them will fail. If you get an offer to buy into an ICO I recommend, in general, not investing. If you decide you really think it is worth investing in, be sure to do your own research and DON’T INVEST MORE THAN YOU CAN AFFORD TO LOSE!!!!

Closing Thoughts

Earn.com is a fun, free way to make a few extra bucks. It is also a way you can contact individuals (and actually receive responses) that you might not otherwise be able to converse with (e.g. CEOs or blogging personalities). Because your earnings are kept as Bitcoin you also have the opportunity to get into the Bitcoin market at no monetary cost (just a few minutes of your time).

For those who are confused about what Bitcoin is and how it works – don’t worry, I plan on releasing a few articles in the near future on how cryptocurrencies work.

 

  1. [1]You can see my profile at: earn.com/davemackey/referral/?a=aj1r4df6vzgufrio
  2. [2]I don’t recall how long, long enough that I was on it before it was called earn.com
  3. [3]Doing so may result in the loss of said family and friends.
  4. [4]It used to be one could “mine” Bitcoin using one’s computer. These days there are specialized machines mining Bitcoin which make it almost impossible to earn anything significant using one’s own computer.
  5. [5]That is how I hit $120 so quickly….the value of my earnings increased with the increasing price in Bitcoin!

Diigo – Software I Use Every Day

Screenshot of Diigo Highliths

Diigo (a “personal knowledge management tool”) is a browser extension[1] that allows one to collect all sorts of information from across the web in a central repository where it can be easily accessed, shared, annotated, searched, and remembered.

Screenshot of Diigo Highliths
This is a screenshot of some of my Diigo highlights.

I don’t know that I aspire to be a¬†polymath, it is more like I hunger to be one. I consume information¬†in copious amounts and synthesize it together to help me understand the world (and share what I learn). But this presents a great challenge – how can I consume massive amounts of information while not losing what I have learned previously?

The answer is augmentation (along with an acceptance of my finite nature). In the past this might have included a physical filing cabinet, for me it consists of Diigo and a few other primarily digital means.

When one saves a site or article to Diigo, Diigo creates a record associated with that specific page. I then add one or more tags to categorize (create a taxonomy) this record among all my other records.

In addition, if the page includes content I consider to be of important, I highlight it and Diigo saves my highlights as well. It also allows me to add notes to the page. Recently I was reading an article about Thomas Oden and something he said connected with something William Barclay had said, so I added a note about the association.

Sometimes the pages can be summarized in a paragraph or two – in which case I attach a description to the page. I also use the description as a place to remind myself why I cared about this page.

Right now I have 25,361 items in my Diigo. An item is a record which is associated with a specific piece of content (usually a web page). Under many of these items are highlights and notes which help me remember the importance of the content.

I personally pay for their Professional level. It is around $60/yr. ($5/mo.), but I consider it well worth it.

There are some features/enhancements I’d like to see Diigo add in the near future, I’ve outlined my ideas below:

  • Archive.org Integration – Right now Diigo can¬†save a copy of a page if requested, which is great, but I’m wondering if it would make sense for Diigo to integrate with The Wayback Machine and cache every saved page.
  • Implement Hierarchical Taxonomies – Right now tags are a flat taxonomy, that is, no tag is a parent or child to another tag.
  • Separate DB of Trash Links – Right now I tag worthless pages as f-value, so if I come across them again in the future I don’t waste time rereading the material. It would be nice if Diigo maintain a per-user database of trash links and had a small visual reminder when we visited a useless site (e.g., a small trash can on the Diigo button).
  • Acquire / Integrate Zlink’s Better Search Chrome Extension – This nifty little extension lacks transparency about how it handles data, where it is stored, and hasn’t been updated since late 2015, but it offers a number of highly useful features. My favorites are:
    • The ability to vote up or down search results, also to delete search results (thus when one searches for the same term again, one sees customized search results).
    • Customization of search pages with navigation to other sites – e.g., makes it very easy to repeat the same search using another search engine with one click.
  • Expand API – The API currently supports only two methods – retrieve bookmarks and add bookmarks. It needs (at a minimum) the additional abilities of editing and deleting bookmarks.
    • I’d also like to have a way to exclude certain tags / sites from the retrieved bookmarks.
  • Ability to Save Chrome Extension Pages – For whatever reason, Diigo doesn’t seem capable of saving extension pages from Google Chrome’s store of extensions.

 

  1. [1]They also offer mobile apps, but I rarely use.

So You Want to Work From Home….

Photo of Margaret Mackey with Kittens Typing

kittens at workYou’ve heard the ads, perhaps dreamed of working from home. You envision yourself positioned in your own little office in the spare bedroom or a cozy corner of the kitchen, working away while the children play quietly nearby, the dog sleeps by your feet and the money just keeps dropping into your bank account as you faithfully apply your skills.
As a seasoned medical transcriptionist with nearly 11 years’ experience, I’d like to take this opportunity to share with you some of the ups and down of working from home.¬† There are many reasons people choose to work from home and certainly there are a lot of benefits from doing so.¬† For me, my venture into this lifestyle started when my marriage fell apart and I was suddenly the sole provider for myself and the 3 of my 7 children still at home. I had been a stay-at-home mom for over 22 years and the thought of diving headfirst into the regular workforce was terrifying. I think it was a real saving grace for me and for my kids that during this time of great upheaval in our family I was able to still be the at-home-all-the-time mom¬†while being¬†able to work and provide for us. Being able to avoid the need for before and after school care and the predicament of knowing you really need to be in the office when your 6-year-old is running a fever significantly lessened the load for all of us. Snow days weren’t a problem, because I was home. Teacher conference days, Christmas break, summers‚Ķ.all were handled with so much more ease because I didn’t have to feel quite so pulled in both directions. I know a lot of women seem able to juggle working outside the home and family and do it really well‚Ķbut I will always be grateful I had this opportunity to remain in my home full time.

So, for me having the chance to work from home really was a lifesaver and a blessing and I do encourage mothers (especially mothers with young children) who need to work to consider working from home. But, there are also special challenges and drawbacks and I’d like to present some of those here, because I think knowing what you’re up against can strengthen you to face the challenges and still achieve your goal of working from home.

obed at workThat picture of the kids playing quietly and the dog by your feet? Yes, it happens sometimes‚Ķmaybe once or twice a year?! Seriously, one of the biggest challenges to working from home is that because you are home everyone assumes that means you’re available‚Ķthe kids, the neighbors, the dog, the cat. There have been so many times I’ve been on a roll typing away when one of the animals would get sick, or the dog would bark to go out. Then there were the times I would spot something outside my window‚Ķyep, the goats had broken out of their fence again and were running down the road or worse yet, heading for the neighbor’s garden! So keyboard tossed aside and a dash out the door to do a little mid-morning goat wrangling, or clean up after the dog, or answer the phone and talk for a few minutes with a lonely grown daughter in another state. I found the best way for me to handle distractions like these was to work either early in the morning (really early, i.e. 4 a.m.) or late at night, after kids were in bed and life had quieted down. Some companies will allow you to choose your own schedule and are pretty flexible while others are very rigid. If you can choose to work when there are fewer distractions that’s great. If not I think establishing firm boundaries right from the beginning is a key. Set up your answering machine stating that you are working and will return phone calls when you are finished. We have a code in our family that if we are calling home and really need someone to pick up the phone we call 3 times in a row. That is the signal that somebody needs to answer the phone right away! So you can either use caller ID or a code or another idea of your own so you are accessible in emergencies, but really try to guard yourself from phone interruptions.

Teach the kids right from the beginning that you are not to be interrupted while working unless it is urgent‚Ķand be clear on what is urgent. The younger your children the harder this will be. Of course when the goats escape‚Ķthere’s nothing to do but catch them!

goats4Working from home can be pretty lonely. I’ve spent decades at home‚Ķfirst as a full time stay-at-home mother and then as a working-from-home mother. While there is no workplace drama, there is also no workplace conversation or adult companionship. So, you have to find that on your own. Scheduling in coffee with friends or other activities that feed your soul can help to revitalize you and keep you sane, sometimes literally!
Some of the other positives include being able to keep handle on running the home with a little more ease than a mom who has to be gone from her home all day‚Ķyou really can get 4 loads of laundry done and be there to turn off the oven when the brownies are done baking. And I believe scheduling a break so you can be there to greet the kids when they arrive home from school is a priceless gift you can give them, and yourself. I also scheduled a break when my kids were getting ready for school in the morning. One of my fondest memories is that every morning one of my teenage daughters would come into the kitchen while I was packing up lunches and say “Hey mom, listen to this song” and she would play me a new-found favorite song on her iPod. Just a little thing, but I was there for it and now that her high school days are over I’m glad I didn’t miss it. So, those are what I’ve found to be some of the basic ups and downs, positives and negatives of working from home. If it’s something you have been thinking about I’d definitely encourage you to do it!

Please feel free to post questions regarding working from home in the comments section below; help me determine what other topics I should cover in this series!

In my next post I will discuss working from home specifically as it relates to being a medical transcriptionist…the good, the bad, and the ugly…stay tuned!

If you are interested in becoming a medical transcriptionist I highly recommend CareerStep.¬† It’s the school I graduated from and it’s graduates are highly sought after by transcription companies.¬† They also offer the following programs:¬† Medical coding and billing, medical office management, medical administrative assistant with EHR, pharmacy technician, health information technician, computer technician, executive assistant, medical billing, and veterinary assistant.¬† Visit them today at http://www.referral.careerstep.com/ref12112.

Blinkist: Staying Current in a Break-Neck World

Overview of Blinkist

I’ve been using Blinkist for well over a year now and am quite happy with it. There are free accounts (one Blink available to read each day selected by Blinkist) but I’m a paying subscriber ($4.16/mo.), I’m a little tempted to go Premium ($6.66/mo.) just to gain the ability to export my highlights to Evernote,[1] but for now, I’m being good.

Photo of Book, Glasses, and Phone
Image thanks to Dariusz Sankowski

What Blinkist does is summarize important non-fiction books which generally take 10-20 mins. to read. It allows one to be familiar with the book without investing hours into it.

I also use it to figure out which books I really want to read. It is great to read a brief summary and quickly see whether a full reading will be productive.

Blinkist is accessible on smartphone, tablet, and via desktops/laptops. I tend to read most frequently on my smartphone.

Guide to This Post

You’ve already made it through a quick overview of Blinkist, but there is still a lot of material I’ll be covering, so here is a quick guide to what follows so you can jump around if you so desire:

  1. Blinkist Features I Love
  2. Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – This main consists of inconsistencies in their user interface – features aren’t available on mobile that are on full web, and vice versa.
  3. Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist – I have three specific features I’d like to see in Blinkist to make it more useful.
  4. Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book
  5. Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks
  6. Blinks I’m Currently Reading
  7. Blinks I’m Most Eager to Read

Blinkist Features I Love

  • Favoriting – If you like a Blink you can favorite it. I use this to keep a list of books I want to buy / read in full.
  • Highlighting – I love being able to highlight portions. I actually have OCD and my highlighting is more than a bit compulsive, but I’m still happy to have the feature.
  • Introductions – Provide a brief introduction to the book, oftentimes highlighting the books major topics, and usually including a small bio of the author.
  • Final Summaries – Sums up the main point(s) of the book, recommends a related book to read.

Small Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist

  • The ability to take notes like one can on the Amazon Kindle.
  • Consistent features¬†across devices, e.g.
    • Web App Lacks:
      • Ability to add to one’s To Read list.
      • Ability to add tags to a blink.
      • Ability to add Blink to favorites.
      • Ability to delete book from Currently Reading.
      • Ability to listen to audio.
    • Mobile App Lacks
      • Ability to add via the wish list items for Blinkist to create Blinks of.
      • Ability to buy book from currently reading list.
      • Finished List of Blinks completed.
    • ¬†from the web app.
  • The introductory material (especially the blurb about the author), quotes, and heading sentences for each “page” to be highlightable.
  • When highlighting on the mobile app, sometimes the arrows allowing one to expand or contract the selection never appear (I find this inconsistently happens when selected the first [or last?] word in a line).

Big Things I’d Like to See in Blinkist

There are several rather large changes I’d like to see Blinkist bring about. All three have to do with making the Blinks more productive and useful.

First, there is the need for page references. Right now one knows the Blink is about the book, but not the particular pages or even chapters being referred to. Ideally, there should be chapter and/or page references for all the major points the Blink summarizes so one can pick up the actual book and quickly read the specific section one wants to read more deeply, rather than needing to browse the entire book.

Second, it would be great if there were quotes from the book summarizing each of the major points the book makes. These could be footnotes included in the Blink. They’d allow us to read controversial viewpoints in the author’s own words.

Finally, it would be great to be given resources to see what the critics of the book say. For example, Noam Chomsky criticizes American Foreign Policy in Rogue States, but how would his opponents rebut his arguments?

Another, even more important example is those books dealing with health and psychology. Authors make statements but it is unclear their sources or whether this is the author’s own opinion of scientific consensus.

Blinks I’ve Read That Convinced Me I Should Read the Book

  • (3) Jennifer Kahnweiler. The Introverted Leader.
  • (1) Dr. Eric Berne. Games People Play.
  • (3) William James. The Varieties of Religious Experience.
  • (5) Dr. David Perlmutter. Grain Brain.
  • (5) Dr. William E. Paul.
  • (4) Noam Chomsky. Rogue States.
  • (4) Leonard Mlodinow. Subliminal.
  • (5) Atif Mian and Amir Sufi. House of Debt.
  • (5) Giula Enders. Gut.
  • (4) Joseph Campbell with Bill Moyers. The Power of Myth.
  • (3) C.L.R. James. The Black Jacobins.
  • (2) Stephen R. Covey. The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.
  • (4) Tim Spector. The Diet Myth.
  • (3) Roy F. Baumeister and John Tiernye. Willpower.
  • (4) Daron Acemoglu & James A. Robinson. Why Nations Fail.
  • (3) Susan Cain. Quiet.

Books I Don’t Feel the Need to Read After Reading Blinks

  • Dr. David Perlmutter with Kristin Loberg. Brain Maker.
  • Laurence J. Peter and Raymond Hull. The Peter Principle.
  • James Rickards. The Death of Money.
  • Carl Zimmer. A Planet of Viruses.
  • Michael Alvear. Make a Killing on Kindle.
  • Timothy Snyder. Bloodlands.
  • Tim Ferris. The 4-Hour Workweek.
  • Rachel Botsman and Roo Rogers. What’s Mine Is Yours.
  • Walter Isaacson. Einstein.
  • Amir Levine and Rachel S.F. Heller. Attached.
  • Margaret Cheney. Tesla.
  • Stephen LaBerge and Howard Rheingold. Exploring the World of Lucid Dreaming.
  • Marshall Goldsmith and Mark Reiter. Triggers.
  • Jon Ronson. So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed.
  • Alex Epstein. The Moral Case for Fossil Fuels.
  • Christopher Hitchens. The Trial of Henry Kissinger.
  • Christopher Clark. The Sleepwalkers.
  • Chris Brogan. The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth.
  • John Lanchester. I.O.U.
  • Benjamin Graham and comments by… The Intelligent Investor.
  • Philip Zimbardo. The Lucifer Effect.
  • Gary Taubes. Why We Get Fat.
  • Suki Kim. Without You There Is No Us.
  • Thomas Paine. Common Sense.
  • Edward W. Said. Orientalism.
  • Phillip Coggan. Paper Promises.
  • Edward D. Kleinbard. We Are Better Than This.
  • Kevin Roose. Young Money.
  • Ha-Joon Chang. 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism.
  • Kabir Sehgal. Coined.
  • Ha-Joon Change. Economics: The User’s Guide.
  • Robert Skidelsky and Edward Skidelsky. How Much is Enough?
  • Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto.
  • Eric D. Beinhocker. The Origin of Wealth.
  • Karl Pillemer. 30 Lessons for Loving.
  • Niall Ferguson. The Ascent of Money.
  • Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. Sex at Dawn.
  • Masha Gessen. The Man Without a Face.
  • Niccolo Machiavelli. The Prince.

Blinks I’m Currently Reading

  • Stephanie Coontz. Marriage, a History.
  • Abhijit V. Banerjee and Esther Duflo. Poor Economics.
  • Ha-Joon Chang. Kicking Away the Ladder.
  • Todd Kashdan and Robert Biswas-Diener. The Upside of Your Dark Side.
  • Karen Piper. The Price of Thirst.
  • Jeffrey A. Leberman, Ogi Ogas. Shrinks.
  • Steven Pinker. The Better Angels of Our Nature.
  • Adam Braun. The Promise of a Pencil.
  • Seth Godin. Tribes.
  • Lawrence Lessig. Free Culture.

Blinks I Am Most Eager to Read

  • Tom Rath. StrengthsFinder 2.0.
  • David Richo. Daring to Trust.
  • Oliver Sacks. The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat and Other Clinical Tales.
  • Doris Kearns Goodwin. Team of Rivals.
  • Mark Goulston. Talking to Crazy.
  • Donella H. Meadows. Thinking in Systems.
  • Dr. Richard Bandler, Alessio Roberti and… The Ultimate Introduction to NLP.
  • Noam Chomsky. Failed States.
  • Jeremy Rifkin. The Zero Marginal Cost Society.
  • Ori Brafman. Sway.
  • Walter Mischel. The Marshmallow Test.
  • Helen Fisher. Why We Love.
  • Robert Karen. Becoming Attached.
  • Brene Brown. Rising Strong.
  • Thomas Lewis, Fari Amini and Richard Lannon. A General Theory of Love.
  • Ray Kurzweil. The Singularity Is Near.
  • Josh Kaufman. The Personal MBA.
  • Richard Koch. Living the 80/20 Way.
  • Brian Tracy. Eat That Frog!
  • Donna Jackson Nakazawa. Childhood Disrupted.
  • Laura Putnam. Workplace Wellness That Works.
  • Patrick M. Lencioni. The Advantage.
  • Ron Friedman. The Best Place to Work.
  • Daniel Goleman. Emotional Intelligence.
  • Dr. Frank Luntz. Words That Work.

I Make Money

I try to write only was is worth reading and to only recommend products I believe in,still I figure you deserve to know that I will get paid if you sign up for Blinkist through one of the links on this page.

  1. [1]Honestly, I have a love/hate relationship with Evernote. I wish there was something else that worked better than it did, but I haven’t found it. Microsoft OneNote seems significantly clunkier.

jpegMini: One Simple Step to a Faster Website

TLDR;

If you have a website, you should be using jpegMini. It is an amazing tool that decreases the size of (JPEG) image files without decreasing the visual quality of the images.

Why Does the Size of My Image Files Matter?

When someone visits a web page in a browser (ex. Google Chrome or Internet Explorer) the browser downloads all the files associated with that specific page to the local computer. The larger the files, the longer it takes for the download to complete. The web page can’t be fully loaded into the browser until the download is complete.

Most people won’t wait long for a page to load – after a few seconds most will browse to another website that offers the same information faster.

Decreasing the size of your images decreases the amount of data the browser needs to download which makes the page load faster and results in happy people (your viewers).

What Makes jpegMini So Special?

Some of the most popular options for reducing image file size are compressing, resizing, and (automatically) intelligently choosing images. Google has a great article explaining these and other methods of optimizing images.

jpegMini can be used alone or in combination with some or all of the above mentioned options and it will deliver size reduction even after all of the other options are run.

jpegMini uses complex algorithms to reduce the amount of data in the image while maintaining the same visual appearance. Essentially, the algorithms exploit the way our vision works – we don’t see perfectly and thus two similar images can appear identical to us.

Lets take a look at how this works in real life.¬†I downloaded this image of a baby from Pixabay¬†at 1920×1280 pixels. It is 521 KB in size. I run it through jpegMini and the file is now 226 KB – a 55%+ reduction in size! Try comparing the picture I linked to above with the jpegMini optimized file below.[1] Can you tell the difference? I didn’t think so!

Photo of Baby Sitting on Table Optimized by jpegMini

jpegMini is Free / Super Affordable!

You can download jpegMini for free and use it to optimize up to twenty images each day! This is more than enough for most small/medium sites.

If you want to optimize more images on a daily basis or simply express your appreciation for a great product, a license is $20.

There are several other options with jpegMini, most beyond what the average site requires – but these are also reasonably priced.

Do I Have to Be a Super Geek to Use jpegMini?

jpegMini is one of the simplest applications to use ever. Launch the application then drag and drop the file(s) you want optimized onto the application. Wait a few seconds and the files will be optimized and can be uploaded and used just like any other JPEG file on your website.

Conclusion

jpegMini is an awesome application that will help you reduce image size and thus reduce the load time of your website resulting in happy people. The application is easy to use and the price is right – what are you waiting for!

 

  1. [1]This image is smaller than the original image in canvas size. If you click on the image you can see the image at its full size.

Fluidstance’s The Level: Crucial or Overrated?

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.

Prelude

I believe it was August when Fluidstance first reached out to me about reviewing their product, The Level. Of course, I was amenable and eagerly awaited its arrival. It wasn’t until October that I realized the packaging containing The Level had been stolen off my front step before I ever saw it. I wrote a post about this theft and The Level generally and Fluidstance generously sent me another one!

I’ve been using it for the past few months few years. I didn’t want to write a review too quickly as products like this can be so bright and shiny and fascinating when they first come out but as time passes they fall into disuse – just another item to stuff in the closet/garage/ attic.

It Is All About Me

A photo of someone's feet and lower legs standing on The Level.
Fluidstance’s The Level (Natural Maple), available for $289.

Before I review The Level I need to give you a little bit of context about me. If you already know me, you can skip this section, if you don’t, I think a minute or two of your time will really inform your understanding of my review.

I have a number and diversity of ailments oftentimes not seen in someone twice my age. Most of them don’t connect with my review of The Level but a few do. Namely, I have chronic leg pain. These days it is usually low intensity though occasionally it will flare up with a vengeance. Combine this with some knee and lower back pain and I’m a bit of a disaster.

Why does this matter? Because my review comes from the place of someone with chronic health issues and will tend to be informed from that perspective. I hope it will be of use to everyone, but I think it will be especially useful to anyone suffering from chronic pain.

The Presentation

Fluidstance is an Apple-esque company. They don’t make a lot of products but what they do make is top notch in quality and you know this from the moment the box arrives at your door. It is a bit like unpacking an iPhone back in the day before everyone else caught on to how presentation could really affect consumer’s buying decisions.

Inside is a nice sack into which one can insert The Level (I suppose to keep it from getting scuffed, wet when raining, etc.). Then there is The Level itself. It is beautiful with a nicely finished bamboo top and a sturdy aluminum base (I know, sturdy is not the first word that comes to mind when someone mentions aluminum, but this is not your soda can’s aluminum!).

Fluidstance positions itself as an eco-friendly company, something which is especially popular these days, but they aren’t just saying a popular slogan to gain customers. Check their website and you’ll see that the use of bamboo for the wood was chosen because of it’s abundance and renewable nature. The base is recycled aluminum made in a solar-powered facility. Even the finish was chosen due to its low emissions.

I like the company culture this seems to express. Fluidstance’s serious commitment to the environment makes me feel that they are concerned about more than making money (not that there is anything wrong with making money, we all gotta eat, sleep, and play) and makes me optimistic that they will steward well in other areas – e.g., genuinely helpful customer support, pride in the quality of the product, and actually caring for their employees.

The Quality

The Level is a solid product. There is no planned obsolescence built in! Seriously, I believe this product will last years – assuming you don’t light it on fire, allow your dog to repeatedly chew on it, submit it to a world’s strongest man crushing objects competition, etc.

You’d think that a product like this, which has a decent amount of weight placed on it day in and day out and which has someone standing on and scuffing around it would begin to deteriorate. Other than a  few cosmetic scratches on the bottom of the aluminum base (which is wobbling around while you stand on it and which may have come via other means – e.g., me not being the best at occasionally moving through doorways or hallways without bumping into them) it looks as good as the day I received it (several years ago!).

Does It Work?

We know its beautiful and responsibly manufactured, but does it work? The short answer is yes, the longer answer is yes, and especially for me (and you?) with chronic pain.

I bought a sit/stand desk because in addition to being healthier than sitting and burning more calories I experience significant flare-ups in my chronic pain if I remain in any one position too long.[1] It worked, but not as well as I had hoped. I couldn’t stand for prolonged periods of time without the pain flaring, so I had to spend more time going back and forth between sitting and standing than I wanted to.

Then came The Level. I was worried at first it was just a placebo effect, but it has been lasting. I can stand for much more extended periods without causing significant flareups in my legs (primary pain point), knees (secondary), or lower back.[2]

These days I’m likely to do 2.5 to 3 hrs. standing before I need a break. Previously there were times where the pain began to flare almost instantaneously and it was certainly significant within 1.5 to 2 hrs. These days I might even go 4 or 6 hours standing at one time.[3]

The Level keeps my legs moving a little bit all the time and, if I begin to feel some tension (or for the fun of it), I can increase the amount of movement significantly, all while still working productively.

Found Out the Hard Way

When I first received The Level it didn’t move much and I was surprised. It isn’t meant to be an aerobic experience, but I did expect a bit more movement. Ends up this was entirely my fault. I had one of those rubber mats one stands on to relieve foot/leg/knee pressure incurred standing on a hard floor. I knew The Level wasn’t supposed to be used on smooth floors (too slippery) but I figured that a rubber mat would serve the same purpose on my hard floors as a throw rug/carpet[4]. I was WRONG. Once I started using The Level on carpet I experienced a significant (though not unpleasant) increase in motion.[5]

Unless you only want The Level to move only when you move (e.g. it will move when you shift body weight) and not a sort of constant, fluid motion  – use carpet!

Price

The Level isn’t an inexpensive product. The American-Made Level (Bamboo) I was sent retails for $389. Not the sort of money one drops without consideration (at least, not that I do). There are lower priced models available – The American Made Level (Maple with Walnut Finish) for $339 and the American-Made Level (Natural Maple) for $289, but these are still not your bargain-value prices. More recently they’ve released The Plane Cloud which comes at $189 but even this isn’t a spur of the moment purchase.

Is It Worth the Price?

As you consider whether this is something you should invest your money in, let me provide a few questions for consideration:

  1. Why would I buy this product? Is it because it is new and cool looking or because I’d actually use it?
  2. How much of my life is spent at a desk? Lifehacker once recommended spending your money where your time is spent – and I think this is spectacular advice. Most of us spend a lot of time at our desk most days!
  3. Could this help with any ongoing health issues I have?
  4. Would this help me significantly increase the amount of time I spend standing rather than sitting?

What About Inexpensive Competitor Products?

If you decide to buy something like The Level the next question is whether you should actually buy The Level or should go with a less-expensive competitor. A few questions for consideration on that front:

  1. What is the difference in price between The Level and the competitive product I’m looking at?
  2. What is the quality of the two products? Am I getting more product quality for the extra price of The Level?
  3. What is the reputation of the company? Do they care about their customers? Do they care about this product? Will they be around next year?

Use the Middle of the Road Approach

Personally, I’m a fan of the middle-of-the-road approach. I don’t need luxury, but I also know that buying cheap oftentimes means buying multiple over time. I’d rather spend a bit more upfront to get a quality product that is going to last than one that will soon need replacement or repairs.

For me, time is my most valuable asset, not money. If the competitive product will last five years but need to be repaired twice and this takes me 1 hour each time to call the manufacturer, secure an RMA, go to the post office, etc. – how much is that time worth? This is not necessarily what you are paid, but what you believe inherently is the value of your time. Is your time worth $10, $30, $50, $100, $250, an hour? Factor in the time you are likely to spend maintaining the lower quality product. Is the price once you include your time still lower for the competitive product? If not, you know what to do!

2019 Update

I’m still using the Fluidstance most days, sometimes for the entire day, sometimes swapping back and forth between sitting and standing every few hours and I still love it. The only change I’d love to see at some point is an (optional) increased angle to require more effort balancing and increase movement overall. Using it for a few years I’ve mastered my balance at the current Level angle but would love to up the ante a bit to keep my body moving/working throughout the day.

Conclusion

I can’t speak for everyone, but for me, The Level is a worthwhile investment. Yes, it makes me cringe a bit to think of buying something so simple for so much[6] but if I divide the cost by the number of days I’ll use it this year it becomes much more reasonable. How many days do we work in a year? Lets say 240. Now we are talking about paying $1.20 per working day for this convenience if we purchase the lower end Level. If we purchase the highest? $1.62/day. Pretty reasonable for a product that will probably last years.

The Level does what it promises – helps one maintain motion even while standing at a desk and thus relieving pressure on the body. For me, personally, I see reduced pain in my legs, knees, and back from using The Level.

What do you think? I’m eager to hear from everyone but would be especially interested to hear from anyone else who is using The Level and has chronic health issues and whether it helps with these. Am I unique in experiencing some relief?

  1. [1]In the past the pain would get bad after as little as ten or fifteen minutes. Doing extended work while seated could be debilitating. Thankfully these days it isn’t nearly as severe.
  2. [2]I generally don’t notice back pain, unless my leg and knee pain is really low. Its sort of that, “Your head hurts? Let me smash your foot with a hammer and your head will feel much better” gag.
  3. [3]Sometimes this still occurs, but I find myself going through cyclical patterns where sometimes I can stand exclusively for multiple days and other times I just want to sit (not because of pain, more my legs feel tired.
  4. [4]Is there a difference, I don’t feel like asking Master Google at the moment.
  5. [5]Besides the placebo effect, this was another reason I’ve taken a while to write this review. Once I realized I was sabotaging The Level I wanted to spend some time using it correctly before reviewing.
  6. [6]Okay, if you haven’t caught on to this yet, I grew up quite poor.

Fluidstance and the Thief

Occasionally folks reach out to me with a product or service they would like for me to review – Fluidstance was one of said companies. They told me they were shipping me The Level so I could put it through its paces. I eagerly anticipated its arrival…and I waited for it…and I waited some more.

As time passed I figured they must have decided not to send me The Level after all…maybe they decided my blog wasn’t getting enough traffic, maybe they had run out of units to send out to bloggers. I was giving up hope.

Then I received a followup email asking how things were going with The Level. I was confused. Wait, you sent me The Level? When? FedEx delivery confirmation shows that the package was successfully left on my doorstep nearly a month ago. Gahh!

Photo of legs standing on Fluidstance The Level

This is the first time I have ever had mail stolen off my front porch (at least that I am aware of) and it sucks. I was really looking forward to giving The Level a try.

I find my knees begin to hurt after a period of standing at my desk and I have to revert to sitting and I hoped that using The Level might allow me to spend longer periods at a time standing.

So, it sucks for me, but it also sucks for Fluidstance, since they sent me a moderately expensive product for review and I can’t review it because someone stole it.

As a poor substitute, I’ve compiled some resources together below to help those who are interested in learning more about The Level do so.

Gahhh! I just went through the first forty results in Google for “fluidstance” to garner the above reviews and now I am even more disappointed than before. Without exception, every one of the reviews I found in those first forty results where positive!

“But Dave, you should have Google ‘fluidstance review’, that would have given you better results.” You are so right, so I did and found the following:

Well, no, those additional reviews don’t make me feel any better about having mine stolen before I ever laid eyes on it.

Soylent 2.0: A Better Meal Replacement?

A Little Background

I enjoy eating sometimes but oftentimes it is more of a chore. Unfortunately, eating is a necessity if I want to be healthy, energetic, productive.

Soylent 2.0 being poured into a glass.
Photo of Soylent 2.0 from official Soylent site.

I’ve written about Soylent, a meal replacement drink, in the past here and here. I’ve tried other meal replacement drinks like RAW Meal¬†and Shakeology (also here and there, and up there and down here).

I’ve written about and regularly consume Ensure, I don’t care that I’m not the target audience.

When Soylent started out (and when I first began consuming it) it was a powder which one mixed with water and then added some bottled oils to. It only took two or three minutes to make a days worth and I thought it tasted decent – much less grainy than either RAW Meal or Shakeology – but much more grainy than Ensure.

I Try 2.0

Recently Soylent announced and then began shipping Soylent 2.0 – which comes bottled similar to Ensure. Now there is no prep time, just take a bottle out of the fridge. I purchased my first twelve pack and have consumed them all. I’ve now upped my order to 24 monthly, which will cover almost one meal a day. I expect, if I continue to like it, I will up my order to perhaps 48 bottles/mo., which would make almost two a day.

While I didn’t have a problem with the old Soylent’s taste, the new Soylent is significantly better. It tastes and has the texture of almond milk.

At first I thought I would need to mix something with it to drink it with great consistency and I tried some chocolate syrup as well as some V8 juice – the latter worked rather well. But as I have continued to drink it I find my taste buds developing more and more of a liking for it and I don’t see myself needing to mix anything else into it.

Why Else I Like Soylent

Besides Soylent providing me an alternative to meals there are a number of other techie reasons I like them.

First, their recipe is¬†open source and this has resulted in a cottage industry producing similar products. I’m a¬†huge fan of open source.

Second, they provide release notes with each version as well as providing detailed blog posts about why they do what they do and when problems arise. I am especially fond of the latter.

Third, they are constantly¬†iterating on Soylent. 2.0 is great, but I’m sure 2.1 will be better!

But Dave…

“But Dave, this can’t be as good for you as eating real, organic food for meals.”

You are absolutely correct – thing is, I don’t eat real, organic food for meals. Soylent is a healthier alternative to a lot of the standard American diet / standard Dave diet. So, while not perfection, it is a step in the right direction…

And I won’t stop eating real food altogether. In fact, I may eat healthier the rest of the time b/c I am drinking Soylent. I always feel so time constricted – so much more I want to accomplish in a day than I can – if I feel a little less time constricted I may be more willing to invest in a meal (no promises, but hey, it’s possible!).