GetRicher.in – A new blog for everything about money

I am going to move all posts about money, personal finance and investments into a separate blog – GetRicher.in. A site which will help you become richer – than your friends, neighbours, co-workers or even yourself compared to your earlier years.

Apart from writing about what I learnt from handling my money (mistakes I did), I will also be writing about good investments that one can do, good stocks and mutual funds that one can put their money in and also on saving more by paying less taxes.

So if you want to earn/save money, head over to getricher.in, subscribe to the posts by email/RSS.

What will happen to Blogial.com

I don’t have any idea on what to do with blogial.com right now. I will just have this blog open for few more months and then remove it. I will move some of the other important posts to my personal site and will just suspend this page.

The domain is registered till next year, so if I can think of something by then, will use it. If nothing comes up will just let it expire.

 

How to wake up fresh with a smarter alarm

Most of you might not know that your brain is in various phases while you sleep. Yes, even if you think you are a deep sleeper, you aren’t in the “deep sleep” stage the entire time you are in the bed. The brain alternates between various stages and there are times when you are in deep sleep and times when you are in the light sleep stage.

The problem with traditional alarm clocks are that it is based on a fixed time and what stage you are during that time is totally dependant upon what time you started sleeping (not what time you went to bed). Waking up to the “nuclear warning” sound of your alarm clock while you are in deep sleep is the worst way to begin your day.

You can wire up your brain and monitor what stage you are in and ask someone to wake you up at the right moment. But It is too costly and no human would be willing to monitor and wake you up every single day.

The alternative is to use the various sleep monitoring apps available for your smartphones. These apps use the accelerometer in your smartphone and detect the minor movements you make when during the lightest stage of your sleep. Using that, it can wake you up at the right stage and you would wake up refreshed and not wanting to kill everyone.

SleepTime alarm set screen

SleepTime alarm set screen

The app I use is SleepTime by Azumio, which is available for both iPhone and Android phones. All you have to do is set up a Alarm Time by which time you “should” wake up. The App chooses a 30 minute window before the set time. Whenever you are in the lightest stage of your sleep within that 30 minute window, it wakes you up. It also has nice graphs of your sleep stages and how often you woke up, etc. It is interesting if you love to measure metrics about everything.

The alarm sound is also very light and pleasant sounding (much relief to my wife) and since you are in the lightest stage of the sleep, even the lightest sounds is enough to wake you up. I tried similar apps long time before but the old android smartphones were more of a battery extractors and the phone died out before I could even finish a night’s sleep. Constantly monitoring the accelerometer is a battery drain.

But nowadays batteries are much better and on my iphone I lose about something like 20% of battery from a fully charged state. I did try this app many days and I have definitely been woken up at the lightest stage of my sleep to the lowest volume. There was an exception on a day or two, but that was because I was too tired to wake up because of not enough sleep (I am a night owl).

If you are a normal living person and want to wake up fresh everyday, do try SleepTime. You would notice a small difference in how you wake up.

Learn Social Psychology on Coursera

Ever wondered why people do what they do? How simple things that is not very noticeable, alters human behaviour. Why we like some people and dislike someone else? How some can be very persuasive when they talk to others?

social-psychology-courseraAll this can be understood from the online course on Social Psychology, from Coursera. It is a 6 week long course and the workload is about 4-8 hours per week. It is taught by Scott Plous of Wesleyan University who has also made parts of bonus materials free for students. Also students of this course get to subscribe to the Social Psychology Network for the lowest rate of $10.

The course starts from Aug 12th, though early subscribers have had the first week’s modules available as an early release. Plus, if you complete with enough credits, you could get a Statement of Accomplishment.

I have the nasty habit of starting these courses and not sticking with it after 2-3 weeks. But now I am determined to follow through as I have blogged everyday for more than a month. This shows that if I want to, I can make something as an habit. Maybe I will have to cut down on my blogging (to 1 or 2 posts a week) and spend more time on these courses and my other hobbies.

Overall this is looks like a nice introductory course to have a basic understanding of how people think and I do want to complete this course. I have already finished 6 lecture videos of the first week’s modules (released early) and must sit down for the first assignment.

Bonus: To make you interested in this course, here is a nice video (part of the course) that demonstrates the effect of Change Blindness – Colour Changing Card Trick.

Tracking your workouts using your smartphone

For a long time, I was tracking my workouts (which was just plain walking and jogging) using an iPod Nano which had a simple pedometer. It could track how many steps you take and how many long runs you do and a very simple calorie calculation.

From Wikipedia

From Wikipedia

It worked great as I can listen to podcasts and also silently tracked my workouts. But it doesn’t work for cycling. There are however a few options where you could buy a cheap cyclocomputer which can measure your average speed, max speed, workout time, distance travelled in a trip, etc.

If you want to track more info about the route you take, you can use some of the costlier GPS solutions which track the elevation gradient, draw your route on a map, etc.

Or if you want to just start tracking your workouts today, there is however a device which you already have in your pockets – your smartphone. There are apps for both Android and iPhone which allow you to track the speed, distance, route, etc., all using the built-in GPS.

There are two apps that seem popular among the community. Best part is, both these apps work for running/jogging/cycling.

Strava: This is a free app for both iPhone and Android. It does have a monthly subscription for premium features. It looks very polished and seem to work really great for me. Can track your average/max speed, elevation gain, calories, routes, etc. It also has social features where you can follow the activity of your friends and even compete on segments for the fastest time. It also works with some of the other GPS devices you may have.

Endomondo: It is also very similar and has the same functionality of tracking speed, elevation, route, etc. Can work on both iPhone and Android or any GPS enabled device. Free, though there are membership plans for some advanced features.

You can choose either of these and start tracking your workout easily. The only problem is having a heavy smartphone in your pocket, which is easily solved if you can get an armband for you phone.

Once you are into serious training and want to track really long distances, you can choose to get a GPS device which does its job well and integrate with your account on either of these two sites. Till then, I will be using my smartphone app to track my workouts.

Cycling after 9 years

Today’s post isn’t about money or investments. Instead it is cycling. It was something I used to enjoy when I was a kid, which was the primary mode of transport from home to school. But soon, I got my license and stopped cycling.

After 9 years, I was looking back at cycling and found that there is a good community around bicycles. Even though cycles form a very small percentage of vehicles on the road in India, young people have started cycling – both as a hobby and also competing amongst others.

I wanted to start cycling again after a 9 year break for various reasons:

  • I am not so badly out of shape, that I need some form of exercise. Running and jogging? Nah, I wasn’t motivated enough because all I could run around was the neighbourhood. Gyms? I don’t want to pay the money and let the membership go waste.
  • I do need some time out of my home office as I was getting bored and irritated sitting behind the desk all day long.
  • I want a new hobby and also to meet some people who are passionate about it. And Chennai does have a lot of groups who are interested in cycling.

I read through various forums, articles and learnt a lot about the various types of bikes and finally last week I went and got a very simple bicycle.

montra-jazza-blue-new

I did cycle for 4 days getting up early in the morning – not very long distances, but enough to make me go out of breath (given that I weigh quite a bit more than 9 years back). I couldn’t get up early then because of my cold and a painful sore throat.

But I am determined to cycle regularly and I find it is fun. I seemed to have forgotten all the fun I had cycling so many years back. I don’t cycle because it is green and saves the planet and is faster to commute in traffic or other reasons. I cycle because I need a hobby and I find it is fun.

You should also try it too. A quick search would get you lot of information about cycling, maintenance, etc. But I would suggest starting out with this thread which discusses about the various types of bikes and which is best suited, especially for Indian readers.

P.S.: Check out my stats in my Strava Profile.

Increase your concentration using the Pomodoro Technique

real-world-pomodoro-timerThere are times when you would want to sit down and work on a task, but lack the determination & concentration to sit through it and finish it completely. Add colleagues or family members who constantly disturb you for petty things and you have got the perfect recipe for a huge list of tasks that are half-complete and you don’t even know where your entire day had gone.

After trying lot of techniques for handling my time and task lists better, I finally found the Pomodoro Technique which is quite easy to stick to and also leads to much higher productivity. Pomodoro technique divides your entire work hours into 25 minutes intervals with 5 minutes break in between. There are also times when you can take a longer break. But the 25 minutes (called a pomodoro) is purely spent only for work with no distractions (there are ways to handle interruptions too)

Starting on the Pomodoro Technique is quite easy. All you need is a piece of paper, a simple countdown timer and some tasks which you must get done. You can read the official book which does a good job of explaining in detail how to start using the technique. But here is a very quick version that you can read now. Once you see how effective it is, it is hard to not use it when you want to be productive.

Step 1: List out all the tasks you want to be completed today. Order them by the highest priority first.

Step 2: Pick the first task, start your countdown timer for 25 minutes and work on the task at hand.

Step 3: When 25 minutes has passed and you hear your alarm, stop working, mark an “X” against the task and take a break for 5 minutes. If you are programmer, get out of the desk and go drink water and look out the window.

Step 4: If the task you picked is completed, strike out the task and pick the next task. Else continue working on the same task. Now start your next pomodoro (25 minute counter) and repeat until all tasks you listed are completed. At the end of the day, the task sheet you have will show you how productive you were and how many tasks you got completed by the day.

Note: After every 4 pomodoros, take a longer break of 15-30 minutes. You could do anything during this break like checking email/facebook, having lunch, drinking coffee, etc. So you get a big break every 2 hours.

This is the very short version of the technique and is enough to get you started. But do read the book (you can complete it in 1 or 2 pomodoros) and it explains in details on how to handle interruptions (both internal and external). It also explains how to do time estimation and lot of other tips that may be useful for advanced users.

There are various apps for smartphones, for the pomodoro timers. Even though I have a physical timer (the pomodoro shaped one) I got from Chile, I use the Mac app Pomodoro Desktop which also has a free open source version for download. The good thing about it is the ticking sound which when you hear on a earphone, will drive you to push yourself harder to complete as much of the task possible before the current pomodoro completes and I love this for just that.

Stop procrastinating using this 2 minute rule

Are you a super procrastinator like me? Do you always wait till the last minute to finish off something? Use this 2 minute rule to finish off the small tasks and have a clear head for your important tasks which take longer time to finish.

If something can be done in 2 minutes, do it NOW. 

Simple. Thats it. These include things like throwing the garbage out, calling your bank to enquire about a transaction you don’t remember, booking your travel tickets, etc. Some of the tasks might require some thinking (like the travel dates) and it wouldn’t be complete in 2 minutes exactly (like the phone call). But you do get the idea right?

If it is so simple and can be done in a very short duration, do it immediately and strike it off your task list (you do have a task list right?). Your mind has limited bandwidth and once these silly tasks are completed, you would be off to solving real problems that matter.

Throw out the crap

recycle-binMost of us have lot of crap filled in our homes – as dresses that don’t fit, books that we don’t read or finished reading, electronic gadgets, chargers & earphones that don’t work anymore, etc. The above list is just a sample of things I could see around in my room.

Last month my wife and I decided that we would clean up our room every month – throwing out things that we don’t use. Last month we cleaned up the entire room – lot of paper, small things that hide in corners or behind tables, etc.

Today, I sat down and pulled out all my jeans in the closet and tried them one by one. I found that most of the old ones don’t fit me anymore (I prefer to say they shrunk, but my wife says I have become fat) and they won’t fit me anytime soon. There were two that fit now and would be comfortable if I lose a few kilos. So I saved those two and threw the rest in a bag.

My wife took out her entire closet of clothes and found lot of old clothes that either don’t fit or are too old to be worn at all. She has packed a bigger and heavier bag than mine. These bags will be collected from our house by people from charities who give these clothes to people need good clothes to wear.

Result: We now have cleared quite a bit of space in the closet. Hope wife doesn’t go out and buy more clothes to fill the empty space.

Next month I will throw out the old desktop that doesn’t work and maybe also a few other gadgets that we don’t use (like my wife’s extra hair iron & curling iron).

Why don’t you try throwing out things you haven’t used in years – once a month and minimize the clutter in your life? Look at your closet, drawers and shelves and put those things in a bag and give it away, today.

Why your bounce rate is so high and how to fix it

Whenever one starts a new blog, one of the few plugins installed first is for tracking the website stats on Google Analytics. Google Analytics does a great job of tracking so many metrics about your site’s users like number of visitors, traffic sources, demographics, etc. You can embed the analytics code in your themes, but its better to use a plugin and I use the Google Analyticator for that.

In Google Analytics, there is one metric which is pretty important in telling how long a user stays on your page before going off to another site. It is the Bounce Rate and it explains how quickly a visitor ran away from the page as soon as he landed. Normally pages which has no useful content to your reader has a high bounce rate.

bounce

Let me explain with an example. Imagine you have a blog about some new programming language and a user searches for, lets say “hashing passwords in language X” and you happen to have a post which teaches exactly that. The search engine points the user to your specific page, user comes to your site, reads the post (you do explain it in detail, right?), tried your code and is happy to see it works. Once he is done coding (it took him just 5 minutes to finish it with your help), he closes the browser tab and goes home happily.

Now you, as the blog owner, would expect that Google Analytics would show 5 minutes as the visit duration, but you would be shocked to see that it is marked as 0 seconds (yeah, that isn’t a typo) and bounce rate as 100%. I hear you say, “WTF? That is impossible”.

Unfortunately, that is how Google measures bounce rate and the reason they cite is since the user didn’t go to any other page or perform any other action during the visit it is technically a bounce. Google also has a solution for this particular problem – using something called Event Tracking.

And all you wordpress blog owners, can fix it by installing a simple plugin, conveniently named “Reduce Bounce Rate“. It is pretty simple and doesn’t even have any complex settings page to confuse you.

Once activated, whenever a reader comes and stays on your blog reading stuff, the plugin regularly (every 10 seconds) gives a shout out to Google Analytics saying “Hey, this awesome reader is still reading my stuff. Don’t count him as a bounced visitor”. Result: Your bounce rate and average visit times improve considerably and showing you the true numbers.

So, make sure your blog has this plugin if you use Google Analytics for statistics. Of course all this works only if your blog has awesome content – so go there and write some now.

How to display the author profile in WordPress Twenty Twelve theme

When I installed the new wordpress site for Blogial, I used the default Twenty Twelve theme and it looks great for a starter theme. It is a no-frills theme and doesn’t have all the fancy drag and drop customizations available in other premium themes.

This is good enough for now (see the 85% solution) and I would probably go for a custom theme when I get more readers. But there was something which was missing in the posts – the author name. After a bit of searching, I learnt that the Twenty Twelve theme does something smartly when it comes to displaying author names.

When a blog has a single author, it doesn’t display the author info – which does make sense. But after so many years of having the author name displayed below the post, I wanted it badly and at last I found a solution.

Basically, there are three ways you can get it:

  1. This is the most obvious one. Have another author register in your blog and make him write at least 1 post.
  2. Copy over the content.php file from twentytwelve folder into the child theme folder (twentytwelve-child in my case) and delete the && is_multi_author() in line 47.
  3. In your child theme’s function.php, add this line add_filter( 'is_multi_author', '__return_true' );

Just choose one of the above three options and you would have your author profile along with your profile image inserted at the end of the post. Remember, to change your profile picture head over to the Gravatar site and upload a new image for your email address.