Are GPS apps rendering part of your brain inactive?

How to vastly improve your experience with maps and keep your head from getting lost in the map on your smartphone.

By Brad Beckstrom

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Cartography –  The study and practice of making maps.

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Remember paper maps? I’m talking about the big unfolding kind they used to give you at tourism offices, AAA or full-service gas stations. How about the slick plastic coated ones that you could access with one hand on the steering wheel trying to navigate in a city like Rome or Washington, DC? Or the jumbo 50 page city or county map books they used to sell at office supply and convenience stores for about 18 bucks, still popular with some realtors and salespeople who work in remote areas or haven’t jumped on the smartphone bandwagon yet. Or the mother of them all, The Rand McNally Road Atlas hundreds of pages just waiting to be explored. I always had a thing for maps. I was always up for exploring out-of-the-way places, and maps helped me get there.

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When my boys were younger, we used to play a game called “spin the globe”, wherever you land, you have to go there. I remember once my oldest son spun the globe and landed on Yakutsk, Russia generally considered to be the coldest inhabited city on earth with average temperatures of -58°F. He immediately added the city to the weather app on his phone and kept an eye on the place, occasionally sharing the sometimes ridiculous low temperatures. I don’t think I’ll ever see Yakutsk but I have a feeling he might.

Once GPS came along I knew I was hooked. (Finally an answer for my lack of direction in life.)   I played around with some of the earliest handheld GPS units, the kind where you had to load a CD onto your computer then somehow transfer maps to the GPS unit. These early units were popular with boaters because it’s very important to know where you’re going on the water. You also need to know about a third dimension, the depth of the water so you don’t end up on a sand barge, as I occasionally did.  At least I can blame the fricking GPS unit versus my lack of preparation with paper navigation charts. Read more…

If you’re traveling on a budget, plan a trip to a 4 star resort on a Greek Island.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Wait, The Frug hanging out at a four-star resort in the Greek Islands? That doesn’t sound very frugal. The fact is, it’s never been more frugal. This has a lot to do with the strength of the US dollar versus the Euro which is regularly hitting 10 year lows, but it has more to do with Greek  hospitality and choosing the right time and the right island to visit.

Location, Location, Location

While I was researching Greece, I was a bit disappointed to see pictures of summer crowds in places like Santorini and Mykonos. One website even included photos titled “perception” and “reality” showing a photo of beautiful whitewashed houses and windmills on Santorini next to a photo of the same spot, covered in tourists, with every alleyway bursting at the seams with dreaded shoppers and selfie stick wavers.

From the start, I wanted to avoid the crowds. That was going to be tough as our kids weren’t getting out of school til late June and, like many other families. we’d all be hitting the highways and airports about the same time. The strategy we came up with was to visit a few Greek islands that most Americans have never heard of, Paros and Antiparos.  We talked to some Greek insiders including a celebrity chef my 14-year-old son had been chatting up on Twitter and got the scoop on these two islands. They’re in the same Cyclades chain of islands with Santorini and Mykonos, but because Paros is a ferry hub, it’s often the first stop coming and going on the ferry from Athens. This would be our destination.

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Timing

The other key element in our plan was timing. Read more…

How to hack your Keurig Machine, make better coffee, and keep K-Cups out of landfills.

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By Brad Beckstrom

Ahh coffee, the fuel of empires. There is something about that hot, head-clearing beverage as it hits the back of your throat. I like to have two cups in the morning to get me going, any more than that I start shaking and develop twitches. I think of coffee as a do-it-yourself beverage, preferring to brew it at home rather than frequent coffee shop lines or convenience store baristas. You might think it’s odd that I have a Keurig machine, the hugely popular coffee system that unfortunately is filling our landfills with plastic K-cups. K cups are certainly not frugal compared to buying a bag of good coffee at Costco or grinding your own beans.

It turns out that the Keurig Classic is one hell of a coffee maker without the K cups. Part of the reason for the machines success is the ability to get the maximum amount of flavor out of the minimum amount of coffee. The problem is is that the K cups often don’t have enough coffee in them especially if you use the 8 or 10 ounce setting, you’re just adding more water.  

The Solution

A while back I purchased a Keurig Classic that was on sale due to the fact that a newer version Keurig 2.0 was coming out with an enhanced digital display. (Hint avoid appliances with digital displays, especially unnecessary ones). I had talked myself out of this purchase until I noticed the display of reusable K-Cups next to the coffee maker. I took the leap, calling it an experiment with the intention of returning the machine unless I absolutely loved the coffee. The results were fantastic, not only could I use my favorite coffee, I only needed half as much to get the same taste versus my old plastic drip coffeemaker.

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The Hack Read more…

The Frug’s List. The best free things on the internet (I’ve used for over a year).

The Frug's

By Brad Beckstrom

I should have made this list sooner, but I don’t like recommending something unless I’ve used it for a while, especially if it’s free, or it’s often too good to be true cousin (freemium).  Since I started this blog in 2013, I’ve written about all kinds of free things on the inter-webs so I thought it would be a good idea to consolidate these into an ongoing list that I can update when I discover new free things, or get pissed and take one off the list. You can be sure that if it’s on this list I’ve been using it for at least a year.

Some of the items on this list are what we call “freemium”, meaning the initial version of the app is free, with more full-featured versions available for a fee. I won’t include them on the list if I don’t feel the basic version will fulfill most people’s needs, and I’ll be sure to mention if it’s ad-supported or freemium.  These are not in any particular order, but in the future, I’ll add my latest discoveries to the top of the list.

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  • Craigslist, the granddaddy of useful free things on the web. Craigslist has been one of my favorite tools for getting rid of stuff, whether it means posting a curb alert to have your old stuff hauled away for free, unloading old computer equipment for cold hard cash, or selling some sports tickets without some service adding 20% to the price. It’s free, it’s useful, it works. The more you use it, the better you get. Always remember to use photos to get your items noticed. My favorite craigslist story was when our local UPS guy came and hauled away an old sofa that The Salvation Army would not accept.
  • Google Apps for Work. Including Drive, Calendar, Docs, Gmail. I’ve been using Google’s online suite of apps for years. It always amazes me that I can create or find something much faster online in my browser than I can waiting for slow apps from Microsoft and Apple to grind through their bloated routines. After 6 years, I am currently using about eight gigs of the 15 free gigs of storage Google includes with my suite of apps. If you’re worried about security, you can even add two factor authentication. You’ll get a code sent to your mobile device if you try to login to your documents from another browser. You can also sync and backup your docs to your computer using Google Drive for your desktop.

Read more…

8 things I’ve learned after 1 year on a 10,000 hour creative quest.

By Brad Beckstrom

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Just over a year ago I embarked on a creative project I called my Big Audacious Quest. My plan for this ambitious creative project is to master something I’d walked away from years ago, photography. The idea was to have this quest be about more than just photography. I felt that I had gotten into a creative slump over the years and wanted to create a body of work that would not only help me breakout creatively, but also write about it, and share what I learn. I also wanted to see what kind of impact things like photo sharing sites, digital cameras, social media, and photo management tools would have on my efforts. These are all things that were not around when I was first passionate about photography in the early 80s. So, after a year at this, here are a few of the things I’ve learned.

  1. How to define mastery on my terms.

To start I needed to define what becoming a master photographer would look like and put some clear goals and milestones in place along the way. In many ways, my quest is an actual journey so I also wanted to add some geographic elements to my goals as well. First, I had to address this whole mastery thing. In his book Mastery, Robert Greene talks about the origins of master craftsman guilds as far back as the early Middle Ages. Green gives examples of journeyman apprentices and masters on their own 7 to 10 year journeys. Green, Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and others talk about the 10,000 hour rule as the time investment required to truly master something. There are plenty of people who poke holes in this theory, especially as it relates to creative fields, but I feel these authors at least defined mastery and gave readers an idea of the type of time investment required.  For me, it was a great place to start. There’s no guarantee that investing 10,000 hours in something will make you a master but it allowed me to put some goals in place and begin the journey. So, I took the core elements of my quest: photography, geography, creativity, and time and put the goals down on paper. At the end of some crazy back of a napkin calculations on what 10,000 hours would get me, this is what the quest looks like.

100,000 photographs

10,000 photographs published

1,000 places explored

100 cities

10 years in the making

1 amazing journey

  1. How to hit walls

Sometimes going gangbusters at the beginning of a project can be the kiss of death, especially when you hit a wall. I knew if I was going in to stay on track, I would need to publish about 1,000 photographs a year from 100 places in at least 10 cities per year. Publishing can include, blogs, websites, photo sharing sites, and photo books.  After my first year, I’m ahead of my goal on certain items and behind on others. Over 2600 photos published, from 90 places, in 27 cities. Starting out I purposely kept the number of photos to publish goal relatively low as I knew i’d likely get ahead of the goal and later hit some obstacles that would slow me down, like a big work related project or the 3 months of crappy weather that we’ve had recently. Dealing with some of these obstacles has helped me put a daily practice in place so I can keep a few balls in the air and pivot between projects as needed.

  1. Don’t compare your beginnings to someone else’s middle or end

Read more…