Going Above and Beyond

Four years ago I created a charity: water campaign for my birthday to raise money to build a well to provide clean water for people who didn’t have access to the most basic need in life.



Through the generosity of friends, family, blog readers, and maybe even you, we raised $5,004 and helped build a few wells in Africa. If you’re curious, here’s an infographic I made about the project.

For the last three years, the remarkable team at charity: water has wished me a happy birthday–the first year through a YouTube video, then via phone calls the last two years.

There are celebrities and superstars who partner with charity: water. Projects raise far more than mine. And yet they’ve gone out of their way to say thanks over and over and over again.

I don’t have a new charity: water campaign running, but I think it’d be awesome if you did. Start a campaign or donate by providing water this holiday season. The folks a charity: water won’t be the only ones who are grateful.

I have a lot to learn about gratitude to charity: water, and I don’t think we can underestimate the power of a genuine thank you, especially one for something that seems almost too old to say thanks for.

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4 Tools to Make Language Learning Easier

I’m learning a second language for the second time. Normally you’d consider that a third language, but when you don’t properly learn a second language the first time (read: via high school Spanish), your second second language is really your first second language.


After that clarification here are a couple tools I’ve been using to make language learning a bit more automatic on my Mac.

1. Using PopClip to make translation easier.

I’ve mentioned my love of PopClip before. It’s an extension that appears when you highlight text with your mouse on your Mac. There are two handy extensions you can find on the PopClip website. Translating via the Google Translate website and having a pop-up translation appear.

For the latter, if I wanted to know what “Ne razumem” 1means in Slovene, I can just highlight the text and click the PopClip extension that shows the translation overhead.

PopClip - autotranslate PopClip - autotranslate 2

What’s special about the second extension with the popover is that the translation is displayed and copied to your clipboard. I’ve found it better to translate from Slovene to English, thus setting English as the default option since I can guess what it means if the translation is a bit off. If I go the other direction, I’m likely to get a literal (i.e. bad) translation into Slovene.

Finally, I created an extension that searches the PONS online dictionary in English and Slovene. You can customize for any languages PONS has, and it’s saved me a ton of copying and pasting and switching windows. I just highlight the word or phrase and click the extension and it brings up the website for me. You can download PopMaker to make your own extensions.

PopMaker example

2. Using Drafts to keep track of new words

Another oft-praised app is Drafts, and I use it to save new words I’m learning. I’ve found that when you’re learning a new language, you constantly have new vocabulary you hear but don’t understand. I type those words in a draft 2and have an Evernote action set up to append those words to a running note. That means all the new words I’ve heard but haven’t figured out the meaning to are in the same list I can reference and research.

Here’s a screenshot of the action. I just use the default Evernote Drafts’ setting with the title of the note changed to my vocabulary list and change it from create to prepend, so my newest words are at the top.


3. Using TextExpander for non-English characters

Slovene uses ?, š, and ž. I call them c, z, or s with a hat. 3Anyway, if you press and hold on a letter key when you’re on an iOS device or Mac, you have an option to choose a different variety of that letter.

That’s handy, but I never need the other versions of the letters when I’m typing, so it takes a few extra steps.

  1. Press and hold the letter
  2. Wait for the pop-up dialogue
  3. Choose the proper letter

On the Mac the system also creates different letters if you hold down the option button and press the letter.

Letter S Pop Up

I never use the French c with a goatee (ç), the German little l 3 (ß) or Omega (?). So, I set TextExpander to automatically replace the Option + C or S or Z letters to replace with ?, š, and ž, or in the capital variety when I hold Shift + Option + C or S or Z.

To do that, just create a new snippet in TextExpander, place the character you want to type in your target language in the Content box and the default Option + Letter character in the Abbreviation box.

TextExpander letter c

4. Keyboard Maestro for searching words

I mentioned the PopClip option to search for words on the PONS dictionary. Unfortunately, not all websites are as good as PONS.

I use an older website called Amebis to look up conjugations of words in Slovene. I’m not sure how it works behind the scenes, but the website doesn’t return a new URL or search query, it just appears on the page.

So, I concocted a little KeyBoard Maestro expansion that copies a word, opens Safari, clears the text in the box, and pastes the copied word, and searches for the word. It saves me a ton of steps and hassle. It’s my favorite action I’ve created in Keyboard Maestro so far.

Here’s a 8-second video of how it works.

And here’s a screenshot of the workflow.

Amebis Workflow

What are your favorite tips for using technology to acquire new skills?

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  1. Don’t worry, “ne razumem” is a phrase I’ve mastered in Slovene.

  2. with context, preferably

  3. very technical language jargon

iOS 8 Widgets

It’s been two months since the release of iOS 8, and I’ve quickly taken to using widgets in the Today View. If you’ve updated to iOS 8 but haven’t explored widgets, you’re missing out.


With your phone unlocked, simply pull down from the top of your screen to see your Today View, and at the bottom click the Edit button to add widgets.1


Here are the widgets I’m currently rocking. … 

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  1. You can reach your widgets via Today View at any time, but you can only edit your widgets with your phone unlocked

The Unpacked Podcast Episode 6 – Curing Clutter

Jordan and Niki discuss the cure to clutter, how to figure out what stuff you don’t need, and best practices for eliminating clutter, after a brief detour about Harry Potter. Click here to listen.

Simple Chairs

I’ll use the made up word “unclutter” a number of times, we’ll chat about why clutter builds up, and how to feel more comfortable throwing out picture frames from your grandma.

Check us out in iTunes here or visit our podcast website.

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Awkwardness is a Choice

Calling out awkwardness is the new black.

Alerting the world to awkwardness is now cooler than sitting with the in crowd at lunch.

There are hand signals for bringing attention to awkwardness.
There are websites dedicated to awkwardness.
Awkward is the strange love child of American culture.


We’ve made it all encompassing.

When something is weird. When it’s uncomfortable. When it’s embarrasing. When there is more than one second of silence in a conversation. When someone mispeaks. Or misteps. Or misses a cue. When you do something clumsy. When you run into that old, former friend in an unexpected, ordinary place.

Everything is awkward.

Yet at the same time, awkwardness is a choice. 1

When someone says something weird, you can say, “That was awkward.” Or you can do something else. Let me encourage the latter, because awkwardness can be a cascading river of nastiness and strange feelings, and, well, no one wants to be the awkward inducer.

The next time you’re tempted to say, “That was awkward,” I encourage you to try some of these tactics instead.

Laugh at the circumstance instead of the person.
Help them, don’t mock them.
Shrug instead of feeling uncomfortable.
Enjoy the irony of a chance encounter.
Pick up the conversation where it left off.
Say hi instead of avoiding that guy.
Lean into the uncomfortable and love someone when they feel vulnerable.
Say, “No big deal.”
Affirm that girl.

Since adopting the awkwardness-is-a-choice mindset, I haven’t felt awkward nearly as much. Awkwardness truly is an option to embrace or reject or do something else with.

I’m human. I do strange, clumsy, unimpressive things. Often. And so does everyone else. So instead of blaring the awkwardness trumpet, I do something else, because that’s what I want other people to do.

Calling out awkwardness is played out. It’s no longer a thing. Move along.

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  1. Kudos to our teammate Melissa in Slovenia who was the first person I heard say this. And I agree wholeheartedly.