Thursday, December 27, 2012

How I Survived Finals Week Without My Computer

Technology is great… until it doesn't work, always at the worst possible time. For college students, this is especially true. We become dependent on our technology, doing most of our work on our personal computers and devices. So what happens when we can't use them? Unfortunately, during finals week of this past semester, with my computer out of commission, I found out.

I've talked to a lot of students who've dealt with computer problems during college. I've heard stories of losing papers the night before they're due, hard drives crashing in the middle of projects when they didn't have a backup, being forced to gather class notes from other people in the weeks before finals. Certainly doesn't help endear anyone to the idea of using technology in education.

We are told again and again to backup everything and often. But how many of us do? I certainly don't nearly as often as I should. So when I had to hand over my laptop for repairs the weekend before finals, everyone expected me to panic (and trust me I did for a few minutes). I thought about typing and turning in papers, studying for exams, all of my projects saved to my hard drive.And then, after about five minutes, I relaxed.  If only there was something that would back up all of my stuff, without having to think about it. Oh wait. There is!

Everyone knows that I love Evernote. I have all of my notes and a lot more in my account. So even though I couldn't access my desktop client, I had everything on my phone, my iPad, and in the web client. The web client became my most helpful platform. At Pitt, we have a pretty great computer lab system: 8 labs with over 500 computers, running 3 different operating systems. Any student can log onto these computers. So whenever I needed to work on something in my Evernote account, I logged onto a computer, went to Evernote's website, and picked up from right where I left off.

But what about editing files, formatting papers, working on presentations? While I could keep all of these in my Evernote account, it would take up a great deal of my monthly allowance. In comes Dropbox, another service that I'm a big fan of. For those of you who aren't familiar, Dropbox is a cloud based service that syncs files, photos, etc. to your account, making them available across your computers, devices, and from the web. I have my Dropbox account set up to sync everything saved in my Documents folder on my computer, meaning that I can then log into my account from any web browser, and download whatever files I need.

So no, maybe we don't run our backups as often as we should. But that doesn't mean that we have to be left in a jam when our computers decide to fail on us. Using a couple different services, we can easily have access to everything we need from anywhere.

How do you keep your files and notes backed up? Leave me a comment or let me know @OtterMC on Twitter! 

Monday, November 26, 2012

My Top 5 Evernote 5 Features for Students

Pretty recently, Evernote updated both Evernote for Mac and Evernote for iOS. Safe to say, Evernote 5 is pretty awesome. Each app got a complete makeover and they both look great (plus I still can't get over the fact that I'm in the intro of the iOS app). Evernote introduced a ton of new features into their apps and you can check them all out here (Mac) (iOS) but I wanted to look at 5 features that I think will be especially helpful to students.*

1. Shortcuts: There are certain notes/notebooks that I use all the time. My Homework Planner notebook comes to mind. With the Shortcuts feature in Evernote for Mac, you can add these notes and notebooks to your shortcuts on the upper left hand side, giving you access to your most important information quickly and easily from anywhere in the app. Right below your shortcuts is a list of your 5 most recent notes, which is also helpful for multitasking.

2. Activity Feed/Shared Notebooks: We all share information with someone. Whether we are using shared notebooks to work on a group project or just to make sure that someone else has access to important stuff, shared notebooks come in handy. It's great that now these notebooks are shown right with all of your private notebooks, both on your Mac and your iOS devices. Also, in Evernote 5 for Mac, Activity Feed is better than ever too, so you always know when someone has updated a notebook.

3. Notebook Stacks on iPad: Pretty self explanatory, but you can now view Notebook Stacks on iPad, which makes staying organized on the go that much easier.

4. Improved Page Camera: As students (or anyone really), just because we try to go paperless, doesn't mean that everyone else does. So sometimes we have to get our paper into our Evernote account. There are plenty of ways to do this: scanners, photos, etc. But Evernote has improved the Page Camera from within the iOS app. This is one of the easiest ways to get stuff into your account as quickly as possible.

5. TypeAhead Search: Last but not least is TypeAhead Search. College students are often pressed for time. While it may not seem like a huge time saver, seeing ahead to what notes you have in your account can be really helpful. Sometimes we have so much information in our heads that we can't remember exactly what we named a particular note or what information was where. Now we can see ahead, helping us remember.

What are your favorite new Evernote features? Let me know @OtterMC!

*All of this is my personal opinion.

Monday, November 12, 2012

My Visit to Evernote Headquarters

As I get closer and closer to graduation (166 days and counting), I've been thinking a lot about the things that have gotten me through the past few years. This past weekend, I had the opportunity to travel to Redwood City, CA, to visit Evernote Headquarters. As the Student Ambassador, Evernote is something that I definitely cannot picture my college experience without, which made my visit that much more exciting.

While I was sitting in the airport waiting for my connecting flight, I heard that Evernote 5 for iOS had gone live. Talk about perfect timing! I had just enough time to download the update onto my iPhone before I had to board the flight. Needless to say, I spent a good portion of the flight playing with the app rather than doing all the studying I promised myself I was going to do. If you haven't checked out the new app yet, do it now. And be sure to log out of your account once you've downloaded it. Then you'll get to see some User Stories, featuring five of the Ambassadors including myself!

After finally making it to Redwood City, I had the chance to meet up with my fellow ambassadors at Martin's West for some great food. It was so good to see everyone again and meet some new people as well!

Friday morning kicked off early with a workout at Evernote HQ with the Fitness Ambassador, Chad Williams (@AnthroPhysique). It was a great workout. Afterwards, we had a little time to explore before everyone else arrived.

Eventually the rest of the Ambassadors joined us for breakfast, which was accompanied by this awesome gift box.

Even before I opened it, I knew that it was going to be filled with complete awesomeness. I was right.

Lots of goodies from San Francisco, another Evernote Ambassador T-Shirt, some gift certificates from partners, and yes, a LiveScribe Sky Smartpen! Literally five minutes before opening this up I had been talking about how much I wanted to try this pen out. I can't wait to use it in my classes and meetings. Look out for a post on how it works soon.

In addition to all of that, I now have a smaller Moleskine notebook to keep my larger one company. I'll be writing up a post about using these for school as well.

The rest of the day was packed with sessions from pretty much every department imaginable from Evernote. We got to meet with product managers, developers, PR, plus the great people that we email and collaborate with all the time through the program. Oh yeah, and CEO, Phil Libin. Everyone was incredible and made us all feel like celebrities (that may have also had something to do with the cameras following us around all day as if we were on a reality show).

At the end of the day, we got to gather with all of the Evernote employees for drinks and… A S'MORES BAR. Anyone who knows me knows just how much I love s'mores. As if Evernote HQ had not already become my favorite place ever, this completely secured it in the top spot.

Overall, this trip was amazing. I can't wait to go back and see everyone again. If you aren't using Evernote, check it out. Feel free to ask me any questions that you have! Also, check out some of my fellow Ambassadors' posts about our visit:

You can find all of the ambassadors here.

Monday, June 4, 2012

Covering Up

     Every season on a singing competition reality show, someone performs a recent hit. The judges or coaches always say something similar: that it was just too big of a hit recently to be redone so fast. Apparently David Nail, who recently released a video of the Adele staple "Someone Like You," never heard them say that. And thank goodness he didn't.
     He proves with this performance that sometimes even the tiniest inflection can make or break a song. Even though "Someone Like You" is already an international hit, Nail's small twists make it an entirely new interpretation, rather than just one of the thousands of covers out there. He hits the higher notes fearlessly, without losing any of the passion of the lyrics. The video is simple and elegant, adding to the intensity of the feeling. Shot in black and white, candlelight casts shadows on his face and the keys of the piano, the only instrument used.
     With a string of country Adele covers coming out lately, Nail's manages to stay true to the original interpretation while still putting his own spin on it. An out of the ordinary song choice, "Someone Like You" showcases his range, both vocally and stylistically. As we wait for more new music from David Nail, we definitely now know that there is no limit to what this performer can do.

Cruisin' into Summer

     It's that time of year again. Time for all of the singles to come out claiming to be the "Song of the Summer." In the endless parade that is the summer anthem song list, "Cruise" by duo Florida George Line is one of those summer songs that should do very well, and already is.
     Combining country with a rock edge, FGL's vocals give the expressive lyrics of this song a unique sound that brings a breath of fresh air just in time for summer. The harmonies keep the melody from getting repetitive, giving it an added punch when the chorus comes around, without overcomplicating the tune. This will easily become a concert staple, with the singers holding their mics out to the crowd, who will be singing along with arms waving back and forth in the air.
     "Cruise" paints the picture of summer love, the desire to just drive down some back roads, and being care free. All the things that we all want from our summer. But more than just the well written narrative, this song is catchy and completely relatable. Because let's face it: who doesn't love to roll the windows down and cruise?

Monday, May 7, 2012

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles

I just recently moved into a new apartment and haven't really had time to completely adjust to the kitchen just yet (gas stoves are scary). So, to give myself a chance to get used to everything, I decided to make a super easy no-bake treat: Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles! Not exactly easy to say, not exactly easy to stop eating, but so easy to make. To all you dorm room dwellers who hate not having a kitchen as much as I did, all you need to make these is a fridge!

Now let me start by telling you that I normally don't eat the things that I bake. For whatever reason, after my treats are done, I'll have a little sample, just to make sure they taste good. And then I'm done. I have no interest in them. When I made these truffles, I took my test bite, and had to suppress the urge to shove every single one of them into my mouth one after another. That's how good they are! Rather than give myself a serious set of chipmunk cheeks, I hid them away, to wait for a roommate or visitor to arrive.

But… maybe I'll have another while I write this post. Just to refresh my memory ;)

So, first off, crush up your pretzels. The recipe that I used called for 1 1/2 cups of crushed pretzels. When I make them again, I will probably cut that down a little bit, but that is personal preference as to how crunchy you want your truffles. To crush them, you can use a food processor, or put them in a Ziploc bag like I did. A rolling pin would work better, but I used what I had.

Next, is the peanut butter mixture. I used my favorite peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co. They have tons of flavors of all natural peanut butter AND a sandwich shop in New York City, with all kinds of crazy sandwiches like the Cinnamon Raisin Swirl Peanut Butter Sandwich. Ah, someday…

Check out Peanut Butter & Co. at

To make the peanut butter mixture, you're going to cream together the peanut butter, butter, brown sugar, pretzels, powdered sugar, and just a little bit of salt.

Then it's time to get your hands dirty! Roll the dough into balls, whatever size you want your truffles. I made mine a little bigger than 2 teaspoons each. I only ended up with 13 truffles, but this recipe would be easy to double.

Throw them in the fridge to chill. For the chocolate coating, microwave chocolate chips and shortening together. Roll the peanut butter balls around in the mixture (a fork will come in handy to roll them), and put them back in the fridge to chill some more. Finally, if you want, melt some peanut butter add some drizzle! Don't forget to crush some more pretzels over them!

Chocolate Covered Peanut Butter Pretzel Truffles
(Recipe adapted from Six Sisters' Stuff)

1 1/2 cups pretzel pieces
1/2 cup peanut butter
1 tablespoon unsalted butter brought to room temperature
2 tablespoons light brown sugar
Pinch of salt
3 tablespoons powdered sugar
1 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening

  • Crush pretzels into very small pieces.
  • Combine peanut butter, brown sugar, butter, and salt in a small bowl. Make sure that the ingredients are completely blended, to a smooth consistency.
  • Mix in the pretzel pieces.
  • Add powdered sugar. Combine completely.
  • Put a sheet of wax paper down on a baking sheet. Make balls, about 2 teaspoons in size, and place on sheet. Repeat with the entire mixture.
  • Place the baking sheet in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • Once they have chilled, microwave the chocolate chips and shortening together for 30 seconds. Stir. Continue microwaving in 30 second increments until both are completely melted, combined, and smooth.
  • Roll each peanut butter ball in the chocolate mixture. Make sure the entire ball is coated in chocolate. Let the extra chocolate drip off before placing back on the wax paper. Repeat with each peanut butter ball.
  • Place the dipped truffles back in the fridge for 30 minutes.
  • When chilled, add a peanut butter drizzle and crushed pretzel garnish, if desired.
  • Keep in the fridge in an airtight container.


So as you can see, my blog has gone through a complete makeover! I want to make my posts more regular, as they obviously haven't been in the past. I'll still be posting music reviews too though! Music is a major passion in my life, but unfortunately, it sometimes takes more time (and money) than I have to bring you an insightful review. So, I am excited to welcome you to the new phase of my blogging: cooking! Or mainly, baking. Baking is another one of my passions and, as I am finally done living in dorms without a kitchen, I am completely able to bring you delectable delights and help you enjoy them yourself! Thanks for reading and look out for my next posts!

Saturday, February 11, 2012

One Dream, One Connection

As you're driving down the road, a song comes on the radio. That one song that, when you hear it, memories wash over you as quickly as water rushing through a river after a heavy rain. You can't help but smile as you're transported to another time, another place. The title track from David Nail's sophomore album, The Sound of A Million Dreams, explores the artist's point of view in creating those songs.

"Dreams," written by Scooter Carusoe and Phil Vassar, definitely draws on Vassar's piano skills. Throughout the entire song, the piano remains the solo instrument. The piano evens makes it's way into the lyrics, when Nail sings, "out of these piano keys, comes the sound of a million dreams." That same lyric opens up an immense ideal: that one song could connect a million dreams, a million people, a million souls.
You won't find a country twang in Nail's voice, but that in itself, sets him apart from other male country singers today. His voice brings soul to each song that he sings, "Dreams" included. He has a unique sound that really could give him a lot of cross-genre appeal.
David Nail has finally been starting to get the traction in the music world that he has deserved for a while now, with his first #1 "Let It Rain" (featuring Sarah Buxton) and his Grammy Nomination for "Turning Home." "The Sound of A Million Dreams" should get the same high praises. David's fans can only hope that other listeners connect their own dreams and memories to the song that could connect us all.