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iPhone: How do I use thee? Let me count the ways

This post is a little out of character for me–my posts are all much about very low-tech subjects.  But since this blog is about being astonished and telling about it, I feel compelled to talk about one of the astonishing accomplishments of a person who accomplished his mission of “putting a dent in the universe.”

I, like so many others, have spent time over the past few weeks examining the achievements of Steve Jobs since he died in October.  So many friends of mine talked of actually having cried when he died–it was almost like when John Lennon died.  But Steve Jobs was not a rock star in the literal sense of the word.  In fact he was in many ways what the Occupy protesters are protesting:  the head of a huge corporation that made billions, and who knew instinctively how to make money (one case in point, talking Steve Wozniak into NOT giving away his early technological achievements back when they were both part of the Homebrew Computer Club).

What so many of us actually grieved for was the loss of the person who had such passion for his creations that he changed the lives of each one of us, and that sounds hyperbolic, but it is the truth.  I, for one, found out about his passing on my iPhone, and then used my MacBook to read the news in greater depth.  In a weird way I felt that this very fact connected us as if we were some kind of technological distant cousins.  Uncle Steve was gone.

The inspiration for this post was this:  I was at a job just last week in which a quick snapshot was called for of the notes that were up on the dry-erase board our team was using, so I reached for my iPhone, saying to my client, it seems these days if you a phone, you don’t need anything else.

So, that got me thinking about how true that actually was, based on how I use my iPhone:

  1. 6:00am:  I wake up early to work on a report, using my iPhone’s alarm.  I’ve chosen a soft, soothing ring, like “Harp” because I’m home and if I oversleep, no big deal.  But if I’m on the road and need to get up for an early meeting, it might be “Piano Riff” or “Xylophone”–much ruder, but much less likely for me to sleep over it.  No more calling the hotel desks for a wake-up call.
  2. 7:30am: I’ve worked on my report for an hour and half and now Nessie is looking to go for a walk.  I wonder if I need a hat, so I check the weather app–43 degrees. Iffy.  I grab the hat.
  3. 7:45am:  While I’m on the walk I see a turtle cross the path by the creek, so I take a picture with the camera, upload it to Facebook.  The rest of the time I listen to my iPod:  some music, and a daily Podcast by
  4. 7:50am:  Done with the walk, so I check my calendar to see what meetings I have.
  5. 7:55am:  I read the daily Liturgy of the Hours readings on my Universalis app
  6. 8:15am:  I catch up on my finances.  I check in with Mint and input transactions from the day before to my YouNeedABudget app.  Mint reminds me I have a bill to pay today.
  7. 8:45am:  After breakfast and 20 minutes of yoga I log my meal and excercise on my MyFitnessPal app.I really want to get that report done, so I use my TaskTimer app, which is like a stopwatch, which is great for me because I tend to get distracted very easily.  But when I use the TaskTimer, I know I’ve pledged myself to 45 minutes of straight work.  Amazing what you can get done in 45 minutes of concentrated work.
  8. 11:30am:  At lunchtime I’m meeting a friend for lunch at a restaurant I haven’t used before, so I can either use my map app, which came with the iPhone, or I can use the more GPS-like AT&T Navigator.  In this case, because I have to drive and there seem to be a lot of turns, I go with the AT&T Navigator.  On the way, I listen to my iPod.
  9. 12:05pm My friend is a little late, so I read some of my book on my Kindle app.  Surprisingly, it reads very well, considering the screen is so small.  I sync it with my Kindle purchases, and the bookmarks always are in sync.   Or I could play a little Tetris.
  10. 12:10pm Also while I’m waiting, I check my blog stats on my WordPress app.
  11. 12:30pm  At lunch my friend hasn’t seen my kids in a while, so I show her the photos on my phone.  We also talk about the hardships of traveling, so I pull up a really funny comic monologue on travel by comedian Brian Regan on YouTube.
  12. 1:10pm  After lunch, I check my email and voice mail in the car parking lot, and return a couple of urgent emails.  I can tell which ones to ignore–the ones that aren’t identified through my contacts.
  13. 2:00-5:00pm  The rest of the afternoon I spend at my computer doing assorted tasks, taking all my business calls on my iPhone.  Hardly ever use the landline.
  14. 5:30pm  I see a QR code for a magazine article I’m interested in, so I use the code scanner I’ve downloaded and get the article and a coupon to use on a shopping trip.  I save the article to Evernote.
  15. 6:00pm  On the dog’s evening walk, I check out movies on my Redbox app and reserve one for the evening.
  16. 7:00pm  After dinner, we check in with my son, using FaceTime.  (I actually hate FaceTime because I’ve seen myself on the reverse camera feature and it’s a pretty scary sight!  If they could only create an app with a gauze feature to soften those wrinkles).
  17. 10:00pm  And before bed, I want to say a rosary, but I can never remember those darned mysteries, so I pray using my Rosary app.  If only my grammar school principal, Sister Ellen Marie, could see me now!

So there it is:  17 ways to use the iPhone.  I could have added more, but that would have taken me to a different day, and I didn’t want to exaggerate the number of applications my iPhone has in a typical day.

I love it.   A clock, an alarm, a camera, an outdoor thermometer, a stopwatch, a navigator, a music player, a mail server, a breviary/rosary, an address book, a concierge, a filing cabinet, a TV, a movie screen, a motivational tool, a shopping assistant, a financial manager, AND, did I forget to mention, a full-featured telephone:  All this in one elegant pocket-sized package.

And that’s just the applications used in my tiny corner of the world.  Amazing.

How do you use the iPhone in YOUR world?

Little Houses


Photo montage by

Photo montage by

I’ve always had a big thing for little houses, and so until recently I’ve been a square peg in a round hole, with all my friends and neighbors buying up into McMansionland for the past three decades.   

But now, it seems that petite-chic is in.  I recently read about the Clayton ihome, named with “a nod to the iPhone and iPod” but really representing the shape of the house, with a large core, and then a smaller “flexroom,” representing the “I” and its dot.  The prototype is 1,000 square feet, and is built with the environment in mind.   It includes solar panels and other eco-friendly features.   

Others drool over industrial-sized kitchens and massive great rooms, but I drool over the homes created by the Tumbleweed Tiny House Company (see example upper left in the photo).   I first learned of these wee houses when one of the first owners, Dee Williams of Portland, was featured on the news.  I subscribe to their e-newsletters, because they have frequent workshops, with several this summer from coast to coast.  

Sarah Susanka, architect and author of many books on the topic of small spaces, speaks of a human need for specific proportions to make us feel safe and protected.  She says that while cavernous entryways are impressive, they do little to make us feel welcome.  What’s inspiring in a cathedral is not necessarily so in a home.   Frank Lloyd Wright was a master of proportion in architecture, using lowered ceilings in entryways to provide transitions from the outside, and being mindful that it is our own size that should determine the correct proportion for our living spaces.

Before this, by way of innate sense of comfort, had come the idea that the size of the human scale should fix every proportion of a dwelling or of anything in it.  Human scale was true building scale.  Why not, then, the scale fixing the proportions of all buildings whatsoever?  What other scale could I use?  So I accommodated heights in the new buildings to no exaggerated order nor to impress the beholder (I hated grandomania then as much as I hate it now) but only to comfort the human being.”  Frank Lloyd Wright, 1936

Grandomania!  I love that word.  It certainly describes what we have seen in our culture over the past decades.   Why should we live in places bigger than necessary for our own sense of comfort?   Sometimes we have dreams of entertaining big–and then we don’t have the time or money to actually carry that out.  Sometimes we need to accommodate our interests–we need a library, or a crafts room, or a kitchen with a baker’s station, or a way to simply store all the stuff we’ve accumulated.  

Sometimes I think it would be great to put all the stuff I have that is currently stored in the garage in the house, and then redo the garage into a little studio apartment to live in.   Have you ever noticed how cozy and appealing garage apartments sometimes seem?  I think about Cary Elwes’ apartment in “Crush” or Michael Keaton’s apartment in “Multiplicity” or Audrey Hepburn’s apartment in “Sabrina.”  

It seems worth exploring how to convert the need for quantity into a fulfillment of quality.   If you have less, you can make the less more with quality materials, design elements like wainscoting, coffered ceilings, columns and high quality windows and doors.   A friend I know has a big formal living room space–but no furniture!  She can’t afford it yet.  So she has this huge empty room just taking up half of her ground floor.    Why not buy less house, and decorate it in a way that reflects you, and make you feel good?  

Maybe it’s time for a housing recession in a different way–rolling back the neighborhood to smaller, more livable homes.  Maybe it’s time for our architects to design some kind of flex-home that expands and contracts to meet the needs of growing families–similar to what the creators of the ihome have done.   Maybe it’s time to mainstream all the great green ideas that architects and builders are currently dreaming up and creating.   Maybe it’s time for me to go clean out that garage!