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It’s All About Patterns: Why I.Q. Doesn’t Matter November 6, 2014

I’ve always had mixed emotions when it comes to I.Q. tests. Most of these have been related to a strong desire to discover that I’m an untapped genius and a deep fear of discovering that I’m really a dunce. Despite that, at the encouragement of a friend, I finally decided to give it a try and downloaded the American Mensa Brain Test App.

According to a Mensa press release dated 16 September 2010, “The Mensa Brain Test provides genuine Mensa questions of the variety used in official Mensa test papers.” This seemed encouraging, since it was likely that if I did well with the app, it was a reflection of my actual mental acuity.

Much to my disappointment, my first test went quite badly. I did brilliantly spotting the patterns in the shapes and in the words, but completely bombed on the math. The result was an I.Q. low enough to be a genuine embarrassment.

Convinced that I really couldn’t be that stupid, I tried again. This time, I did marginally better. I reviewed the quiz and took note of the explanations for each answer. I was at least able to secure an “average” I.Q. rating which, if nothing else, meant that I wasn’t a complete idiot. (Though it did dash my dreams of becoming a child prodigy – a dream which probably should have been crushed by my 30th birthday.)

I set the app aside for several months and thought nothing more of it until I began re-watching the British TV series, “Sherlock”. I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but on that particular evening I felt compelled to give the practice test another try.

Again, I got an “average” rating due primarily to the math. In fact, I got nearly every question correct with the exception of the numbers. And that’s when I saw it: the number puzzles weren’t about math… they were about patterns. Patterns with shapes. Patterns with words. Patterns with numbers.

I tried the test again and watched as the I.Q. meter climbed… and climbed… and climbed some more until I was within the range of actual Mensa members. Of course, this could have been a coincidence, so I took the test again several times over the course of the next few days.
Each time, the results were nearly the same. And my heart sank. High I.Q. it seems, isn’t a matter of intelligence, but of observation. It’s an ability to see patterns. And it isn’t necessarily innate. I.Q. can be developed. It’s a party trick.

Of course, I’m not ready to discount the potential that exists in an ability to recognize patterns (particularly subtle ones). It’s easier to learn when you spot the patterns quickly. But just because something is easier for some people than for others doesn’t mean that those people are more intelligent, skilled, or knowledgeable than anyone else. (I had an innate gift for musical expression when I was younger, but no one who has heard either my sister or myself play will argue that I am the better player. Through hard work, she developed the skill and now plays at a level far beyond anything which I will ever be likely to achieve.) Raw ability doesn’t equal prowess. Developed ability does. Hard work and a willingness to apply oneself to learning are what make the difference. I.Q. simply doesn’t matter.


Guitar Toolkit August 21, 2014

I admit to being a bit of an App junkie. So it’s no surprise that I’ve spent some time perusing the iTunes App Store looking for the best guitar app I can find. And I think I’ve found it in Guitar Toolkit. Listed as the “most comprehensive” guitar app on iTunes (as well as the highest rated), this little app does just about everything a guitarist could possibly want.

Looking for a guitar tuner? You’ve got it… but this isn’t a standard tuner. Users can chose between standard tuning and no fewer than 70 alternate tunings! The tuner can also be adjusted to reflect the current capo position, allowing you to quickly tune and re-tune your guitar with ease.

Need a metronome? This one comes with a twist. The app allows the user the choice between a standard metronome and percussion. Play along as a variety of accompanying instruments keep the beat. With a $4.99 in app upgrade, you can select the instruments yourself, as well as create and save your own rhythms!

Guitar Toolkit also comes with a full catalog of scales. From pentatonic to Aeolian and everything in between, you’ll find the scale to fit your style.

Looking for a specific chord shape? You’ll find those as well. Users can search for major, minor, suspended, and diminished chords as well as many others within this well-rounded database. Swap easily from notation to tablature, select your chord, then strum the virtual guitar to hear how it sounds.

The app even includes settings for left-handed guitarists, ensuring that no one gets “left” out!
For just $9.99, Guitar Toolkit contains everything the serious (or not so serious) guitarist needs both at the home and on the go. It’s a single app for every situation and the perfect fix for a guitar-playing app junkie like myself!



Audubon Society Field Guide Apps May 29, 2014

I don’t usually pay much attention when my iPad is syncing. It is, in my opinion, a little bit like watching a washing machine at work. It’s a simple process which doesn’t demand much (if any) human intervention. Any involvement with it beyond plugging in the device and giving the “sync” command seems a waste of time.

This doesn’t, of course, prevent me from taking an occasional glance at the machine. A short while ago, I happened to look down and notice that my iPad was updating Audubon Insects and Spiders – A Field Guide to North American Insects and Spiders. And it is this particular app (and the explanation for its update) that sparked the idea for today’s post.

I began purchasing this particular series of apps nearly as soon as the Audubon Society released them. While I proudly own a full set of the original field guides (many of which were gifts from my fiancé), I’ve found that toting them everywhere I go can be a bit exhausting. The apps provide the perfect solution.

Instead of flipping through pages of colored plates in the hope that one might match up with the species in view, users can speed the identification process through an advanced search feature. It’s possible to quickly narrow a search to a specific region, season, color pattern, wing shape, and more… often producing a correct match within a matter of seconds.

The apps also provide a unique social feature. Through the use of GPS tracking, users can track and report their sightings to other users. This allows both amateur and professional naturalists to record the habits of various species and aids in conservation efforts.

Eleven separate guidebooks are offered in the North American Series with four of these guidebooks (Birds, Mammals, Wildflowers, and Trees) available as a combination within a single app. (Unlike the hardbound guidebooks, the Birds, Trees, and Wildflowers apps cover both Eastern and Western varieties.) If you aren’t interested in just an individual topic, take a look at the Ultimate Nature Series. Divided by region rather than subject matter, these provide a great resource for hikers, bikers, campers, climbers, and adventurers throughout the United States. Guides are available for iPod, iPhone, iPad, Android, Nook and Kindle – starting at just a few dollars apiece.

I smiled as I examined the explanation for the update to my Insects and Spiders Field guide: “Minor Bug Fixes.” I laughed and went back to work. As a regular user of the apps, I can tell you that these fixes (which I presume were to the app and not the insects featured inside) are minor, indeed. I wholeheartedly recommend these guides to anyone fascinated by nature and interested in playing an active role in conservation efforts.

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Language Learning with Duo Lingo January 30, 2014

Learning a new language takes dedication. Perhaps it’s for this reason that I never have. I don’t like conjugating verbs or rolling my r’s. The result is that I can speak a little Spanish (enough to get myself into trouble), a bit of Greek, and some Hebrew (my signature phrase is “Yesh bananot?” or “Do you have bananas?”). I can say “Yes” and “No” in Russian, French, German, Tagalog, and Klingon. But to be entirely honest, that’s the extent of my prowess.

This state of single language fluency is fairly common here in America, but far less so throughout most of the rest of the world. With nearly 7,000 spoken languages, it really isn’t surprising that, for many people, being dual-lingual or even multi-lingual is the norm. And this leaves me, sadly, at the back of the pack. When I travel, I do so in the hope that everyone I meet will be able to converse in English. Just in case they don’t, I carry a little phrase book that will allow me to point to the pre-translated version of whatever it is I think I want to say.

About twice a year, my frustration with my linguistic shortcomings reaches a peak and I rededicate myself to learning a foreign language. I’ve tried everything from traditional textbooks to immersion (which usually takes the form of cheap software which claims to be “as good as Rosetta Stone at a fraction of the cost”). I’ve used flashcards and foreign language podcasts. I’ve even tried reading familiar texts in an unfamiliar tongue. While each of these has its strengths, it usually isn’t long before I reach a roadblock and give up.

Several months ago, I heard about a new program for language learning: Duo Lingo. According to the webpage, instruction was offered in Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Portuguese. The program was entirely free and could be downloaded as an iPod app. Having received high praise from PC Magazine and The Wall Street Journal, I thought I’d give it a try.

The lessons involve a combination of image-association, speaking, writing, and translation (both from English into the language of choice and from the language of choice into English). Clicking on troublesome words brings up additional information regarding alternate translations, conjugations, and word usage, so I haven’t gotten lost, even when the learning isn’t as intuitive as I’d have liked. The program tracks when I’m struggling with specific words or syntax and reminds me to review lessons before continuing and, since the lessons are adaptive, I can’t simply memorize the material and move on. I have to internalize the lesson. This means that I’m not hitting the brick wall I’ve encountered when using other learning methods.

Each lesson takes approximately five minutes, so it can be neatly tucked into those “empty” spots in my schedule while I’m waiting in line, eating lunch, or between projects at work. The program provides “incentive” towards continued learning through a game-like interface and a link to Facebook which ensures that all of my multi-lingual friends can see my progress and cheer me on. (If you’re looking for even greater incentive, the program creators are actually using learners to help translate the World Wide Web into other languages. Click here to watch a great YouTube video which explains the process.)

With 52 levels, I’m sure it will take me some time to make it through the entire program for each of the five languages being offered, but so far, I’m impressed. I’m learning. I’m having fun. And I’m not hitting the brick wall.


“Star Trek” in the Real World November 14, 2013

I hadn’t meant to purchase an iPad.  At least, not at first.  I had a perfectly functional iPod Touch and, as far as I was concerned, that was sufficient to meet all of my needs.  Then, life changed.  A writer’s conference and the start of a school year drew my attention to the fact that my 15” laptop (hitherto used exclusively as a PC) was too unwieldy to haul back and forth to classes and seminars.  Its lengthy boot time (far less than that of the 386 on which I began my computing career) and limited battery life also detracted from its actual usefulness in these settings.  Something had to be done… and quickly.

Noticing my dilemma, my mother expertly drew my attention to the “nifty” Apple product.  She had purchased one for herself earlier in the year and with a flourish that would have made any Mac salesman proud, began demonstrating each of its features.

The urgency of my situation demanded immediate action and I’ve always been a bit of a gadget junkie, so I’ll admit that it wasn’t a hard sell.  Marching into our local Mac Store, I informed the sales clerk that I wanted a 64 GB, 4th Gen iPad, in black, with a keyboard and screen protector.  It was an order that he was more than willing to meet and, a few minutes later, I hopped into my pickup truck, nestling my new gadget securely in the passenger seat.

I spent the evening charging the device and downloading useful apps (many of which came at the recommendation of my fiancé who was born with a glowing, data-streaming Apple binkie in his mouth).  I set up Evernote (the access anywhere notebook that’s perfect for organizing everything from lecture recordings to notes and photographs), moved all of my Audubon guides over, and installed a few useful library apps.  As almost an afterthought, I decided to install Netflix as well… and that was my downfall.

While watching TV on my device had not been a part of the plan, I had recently begun listening to Ken Ray and John Champion’s “Mission Log” podcast.  A weekly look at the “messages, morals, and meanings” of “Star Trek”, I had made it a habit to watch along and I had yet to watch this week’s episode.

I quickly determined that this would be an excellent way to test my iPad’s video streaming capabilities.  Setting the device on the table, I propped it up on its kickstand and hit play.  In the blink of an eye, the screen was filled with images of Kirk, Spock, and the starship Enterprise… all digitally remastered for my viewing pleasure.

It nearly brought tears to my eyes.  I had spent much of my youth dreaming of technology like this and here it was… in my own home and capable of far more than any of us had ever imagined.  As I watched McCoy deliver a hypospray to an overly-excited crewmen, I couldn’t help feeling that this was the way “Star Trek” was meant to be viewed.  And that Gene Roddenberry would be impressed.


Helpful Fitness Apps September 19, 2013

Filed under: Apps,Fitness — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , , , ,

Except for a brief stint in High School when I wanted to get into the Air Force Academy, there has never been a time in my life when anyone could have confused me with a fitness fanatic.  Sure, I’ve had bouts of health-consciousness.  I’ve signed up for trial gym memberships and purchased fitness DVD’s.  I’ve tried my hand at swimming and kick boxing.  And religiously, twice a year, prove my control over my caffeine addiction by giving up soda.  (Actually, my addiction isn’t really to caffeine so much as it is to the bubbles.  I can’t help it, I’m a sucker for carbonation!)

Aside from these brief forays into the world of the health gurus, however, I rarely saw any wholesale improvement in my habits.  A few weeks of trying and I’d give up, sliding right back into the same old rut: a soda pop and candy bar each day for a snack and a few very valid excuses for sitting on my rear rather than going for a walk.  Enter: my iPod.

I admit that when I first received this nifty device (a gift from my parents) I saw it primarily as a cool toy with a couple of useful features.  What I didn’t expect was that it would soon become my constant companion and an avenue to any number of helpful life-improvements… including a new and workable fitness regime.

It all started with my introduction to SlimKicker.  An app designed to help users develop a healthier lifestyle, this program works more like  a game than a fitness regime.  Participants receive points for logging their meals, their workouts, and even the time they spend relaxing or exploring new hobbies. The more you log, the faster you level up, making it a great program for anyone blessed with a competitive spirit.  Join challenges and compete with friends and strangers for a wide range of prizes and rewards or check out the social feed where you can encourage and be encouraged by others who are pursuing a healthier lifestyle.  Bonus points are awarded for making healthy choices, so if you aren’t sure what “healthy” looks like when you start, you soon will.  A great app, it left me feeling like fitness could be fun.  And fun is easy to stick with.

It wasn’t long before I was exploring other apps and found myself enamored of a program entitled My Fitness Pal.  While this program doesn’t have the fun “play time” features of SlimKicker, it does provide users with a more advanced way to log calories and provides a nice breakdown of the nutritional elements which compose the food we eat.  Thanks to this app, I came to realize that the soda I loved so dearly was providing me with far more sugar than the human body wants or needs… and that I wasn’t getting enough fiber or protein in my diet.  The app allows you to adjust your daily values based upon your personal dietary needs (flexibility that doesn’t exist within the SlimKicker program) and even adds calories back into your daily allowance when you exercise.  More importantly, it helps you track your long-term progress towards your fitness goals.

Counting calories doesn’t necessarily equal a healthy lifestyle, so I began to look for some good exercise apps as well.  The problem?  I don’t always have the same amount of time available to work out each day… and I tend to get bored repeating the same routines.  I found the solution in Daily Workout, a family of apps that allow you to select either a full-body workout or to target specific areas like your arms or abs.  Set the timer for a 10, 15, 25, or 30 minute regime and you’ll be presented with a randomized set of video segments which walk users through easy-to-perform movements which improve strength, balance, and muscle tone.  Unlike other workouts, the focus here isn’t on the number of reps you do, but on the time frame in which you do them… so you needn’t worry that you can’t lift as much with your right arm as with your left!  Choose from workouts with weights, exercise ball, kettle, or no apparatus at all.  There’s even a stretching only app to loosen you up before a workout or at the end of a long day.  The best bonus feature?  This app allows you to listen to music or podcasts while in use!

The last of my favorite apps is one that’s well known by cyclists: Strava.  Utilizing the GPS in your phone or iPod, this app doesn’t require an internet connection in order to map your morning run or your afternoon ride.  Turn it on when you leave the house to go for a walk or to participate in a snowboarding adventure and it will track your path around the block or down a mountain… along with how fast you move and how many calories you burn.  Use it to connect with other athletes in your area and compete for the best times on marked routes.  It also makes a great repository for all of those stats you need if you’re going to feel like a real fitness guru!

While I’m still not a fitness fanatic, I can say that these apps (and their automatic “reminder” features) have made a huge difference in how I approach my health.  I don’t drink much soda anymore and I work out on average 3-5 times a week.  At least that’s a step forward!


Goodreads, Comic Books, and a Bit of Snobbery August 22, 2013

Filed under: Apps,Comic Books,Literature,Reading — acgheen @ 12:00 am
Tags: , ,

I finally caved.  After receiving repeated invitations from my literate friends, I decided to join the social media platform known as Goodreads.  I’ll admit that my reasons were purely selfish: I needed an efficient way to track both the books that I’m currently reading as well as those that I would like to read… someday… if I get the time.

It took a couple of hours, but I finally finished uploading each title.  I don’t know whether my friends will care about this disparate list of tomes.  Does it matter that I’m reading “Les Misérablesand The Pond Owner’s Problem Solver”?  Do they care that I’m enjoying slowly making my way through “Auto Repair For Dummiesand Introduction to Manuscript Studies”?  Will they gaze in wonder at the number of reference manuals I’m reading from cover-to-cover?  Or will they simply be overwhelmed by the fact that my reading list, at present, comes to 51 separate books? Yes, I’m out of control.

I’ve had this problem since High School. I’m fascinated by nearly everything; science, history, philosophy, art, language – if you can write about it, you run the risk of my wanting to read it.  And, since I’m in the mood for different genres at different times, my “active” reading list has rarely dipped below 35 books.  (For those who would ask, yes, I do remember where I am and what I’ve learned from each.)  This fits well with my marginally snobbish nature.

I’ve always valued the slippery and somewhat illusive title of “well-read”.  Unfortunately, the pursuit of this title led to some serious introspection as I sat, scanning one book at a time into my new-found social friend.  My gaze flitted towards the top of one of my many book shelves where a stack of comic books had been neatly curated.  Would it damage my image if I included those?

For most of my life, I’ve looked down upon comic books as the “reading” material of the illiterate and unimaginative.  Not that I’d have actually phrased it this way.  I had a few friends who enjoyed occasional issues of Marvel or DC and, while I didn’t actually read the comics, I did watch a few of the TV series’ based upon them.  (I used to have dreams of being the female version of “Batman” – only without the side-kick.)

Instead, my fall came much later in life… just after the premier of “Star Trek: Into Darkness”.  In the course of rediscovering my love of Trek, I came across a fascinating detail: the original series (TOS) was being reworked for the new timeline in the form of comic books.

I wrestled with myself for several days, then quietly stole away to a local comic book store where I picked up a used copy of “Star Trek: Countdown” and “Star Trek Volume 1” and sat down to read.  What I encountered astonished me.  These were not what I’d envisioned.  While the plots weren’t deep (a feature shared with TOS), they were entertaining.  And the artwork was beautiful!

I was astounded by the level of detail and captivated by the rich colors which filled each page.  It wasn’t long before I was able to identify the difference between the works of various artists and found myself looking for my “favorites”.  Comic books, it turns out, are not simply “a kids thing”, but a medium for self-expression with which (quite sadly) I had been hitherto unacquainted. My eyes had been opened.

But now I faced the delicate question: was it time to share my new vision with others?  Was it appropriate to include the soon-to-be released “Volume V” alongside titles like “The Exploration of the Colorado River and Its Canyons” or “The Arabian Nights”?  Would it damage my snobbish image to post it with a collection of language learning materials representing tongues which, if I ever speak at all, I will speak only poorly?

I pondered the question for some time before finally settling upon the belief that it was.  After all, what is literature if not a form of art: the personal, verbal expression of those worlds fictional or otherwise, which we as individuals have come to love?  Comic books express that love differently, but they express it nonetheless and it seemed that this entitled them to a place amongst the other tomes which made up my list.

This philosophical quandary laid to rest, I went about my day… never once admitting the truth that the comic books don’t belong on my list because they’re “art”, but because I simply enjoy reading them.  The snobbish side of me could never admit to that!


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