September App Review: myHomework

App: myHomework
Developer: Rodrigo Neri
Price: Free
Platforms: iOS, Android

As I wrote last week, school is back in session.  As much as I don’t like homework, I get pretty bored during the summer, so I’m always a little OK with going back to school (just a little, mind you).  Now that classes have started again, I have a lot of assignments to keep up with.  I’ve got my regular reminders app for my todo list, but I don’t want to clutter that too much with schoolwork.  Enter the myHomework app.


myHomework is pretty much a todo list app, and it’s got all the basic features required there.  All reminders sync across iPhone, iPad, Android, the web interface, etc.  In addition to this, however, it’s got some specific features that make it work especially well for homework.  For starters, it’s geared towards having multiple classes.  You put in what classes you have, and assign each one a color code (I can be really OCD, so I’m a sucker for color coding).  You can even put in the class times and the app with make you a calendar if you want.  After that, it’s pretty straightforward.  To add homework, you give it a title and choose which class it’s for.  You can also set whether it’s a paper, quiz, test, or any number of other categories.  Finally, you can set a due date and a reminder date for push notifications.

The app has a bunch of different views and menus, but the most important two are Homework and Calendar.  Homework does just what it says it does, it shows all the assignments you have in the app, sorted by date (simply labeled “All”), class, priority, or type.  From this screen, you can swipe right to mark the assignment as completed or swipe left to delete it.  The calendar page is similar, but it breaks things down and only shows you homework for a day, week, or month at a time.  I like using the day view, because it helps me to focus on what I have to do now, instead of worrying about other stuff.  The calendar view can also optionally show what classes you have that day.  (There’s actually a third useful view, called Upcoming, that’s only accessible by clicking the Upcoming button in the widget.  That’s a shame, since I like that view a lot and it’s helpful.)

Now let’s talk about push notifications and widgets.  Right off the bat, the myHomework app shows a counter of assignments as the app icon badge.  I think badges are one of the most useful features of notifications; it lets me see, at a glance, every time I open my phone, if there’s anything I need to work on.  Here’s the part I don’t like about the counter.  The counter shows the number of assignments you have for that day and the next school day (so if it’s Friday, it shows all weekend assignments and Monday).  I don’t like this, because as I said, I have a tendency to get worried about tomorrow’s assignments, when they’re set as tomorrow’s assignments for a reason.  Oh well.  Aside from badges, the app can also give you push notifications for assignments.  I don’t use this feature often, but it works as you would expect.  After notifications come the widgets.  myHomework actually offers two widgets, one that shows the classes you have that day and one that shows the homework due that day.  I don’t use the first, but the second is super helpful.  I’ve written about how much I like widgets before, so this feature really makes the app useful for me.

myHomework also has some other, more advanced features.  They recently added a tutoring feature, which allows you to get live help with assignments.  I’ve never used this, so I don’t know if or how it works, but it’s an interesting idea.  myHomework also integrates with a companion app for teachers called Teachers.io.  This allows teachers to post assignments, which show up directly in their students’ myHomework apps.  None of my teachers use this, but it’s definitely a cool idea.

I’m a control freak, and I feel best when I’ve got everything organized and I know exactly what’s going on.  myHomework helps me to do just that.  Now if only completing assignments was as easy as keeping track of them…  ••

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The Back to School Dilemma

This past week was my first week of real college.  I dual enrolled last year, meaning I had a few college classes and a few high school classes, but this year I’m an honest-to-goodness full-time freshman.  I’m excited.  Having dual enrolled, I already know what to expect, where everything is on campus, and all that stuff that makes freshmen nervous.  This semester’s going great so far.

Last spring, I wrote several different pieces on using my iPad instead of my laptop at school.  Last fall semester, we did lots of in-class writing in English, so I always brought my laptop.  But spring semester wasn’t like that, and so I opted for an iPad and a bluetooth keyboard instead of my heavier, less convenient laptop.  I really liked this setup last year; it worked well for me.  This semester is different, however, and I’m faced with a bit of a dilemma: do I bring my laptop every day, or my iPad?

I had originally planned for sure to bring the iPad.  I don’t have an English class at all this semester, so the only writing I’d be doing is this blog, which I did on the iPad no problem before.  However, the first day of class made it apparent there’d have to be exceptions to this rule.  My communications class tests will take place online, but will be proctored in person.  This means I have to bring my computer and take the test on it in class.  The teacher said you could bring a computer or a tablet, but I’m definitely opting for the computer.  Using the web on a tablet is great, but sometimes it gets a little wonky, and that’s not what I want during a test.

So no big deal, just bring the laptop on the days that I have communications tests.  It seemed like the rest of the semester I could just use the iPad.  Then I got to my Intro to Electrical Engineering class.  This class was going to have pop quizzes.  I don’t know whether they’ll be online, but if they are, I’ll have to bring the laptop to that class for sure.  Also, looking at the syllabus, it looks like we’ll be doing quite a bit of computer aided design and other stuff like that, so I’ll have to have the laptop there too.  (At first I was worried that whatever software we need wouldn’t work on my Mac.  Fortunately, it turns out that the professor used to work at Apple and is an even bigger Machead than I am, so I’m sure we can work something out.)

So it looks like I’ll have to bring my laptop on Mondays and Wednesdays, if only for the EE class and the occasional communications test.  Tuesdays and Thursdays I only have history class, and Friday I only have calculus class, so I can definitely get away with the iPad those days.  In fact, I may not need to bring anything at all.  I probably will, though, just in case.  I’d hate to be stuck at school and need to do something that really needs a computer, but all I have is my iPhone.  I’ve had to do that before; it’s not a pretty sight.  ••

On iPads and Bluetooth Keyboards

Last fall, I wrote about the technology I use on campus at SPSU.  At the time, it included my iPod Touch (now replaced with an iPhone) and my MacBook Pro.  Last semester, I did a ton of in-class writing for English.  The class did take place in a computer lab, but I preferred to bring my own laptop so I didn’t have to fiddle with saving my work to a thumb drive.  This semester, I just assumed that my class would work the same way.  Well, it doesn’t.  The professor is running it as a mostly online course, and we barely meet in class at all.  This means that I do all my writing at home, not at school.  For some reason, though, I kept bringing my laptop anyway.  I realized over spring break that about the only thing I use the laptop for at school is writing this little blog I do called Staring at Phones.  Then it hit me: what if I could do that on my iPad Mini, using a Bluetooth keyboard?

First, I knew I’d have to make some sacrifices.  Microsoft Word for iPad is pretty good, but not quite as good as Word for Mac.  If I ever needed to do any writing, it would be a little bit of a pain.  Also, I can’t upload documents to my online assignment submission from the iPad.  However, I figured that I could always submit when I got home, or if I absolutely had to submit right then I could go to the library and use a computer there.  So I decided that the hurdles wouldn’t be too big of a deal.

Then I needed a keyboard.  I wasn’t yet sure if this would really work out, so before buying a keyboard, I borrowed one that my dad had but didn’t really use.  I used this on campus for about two weeks (in fact, last week’s post was written on it), and decided…

…that I was still a little unsure.  However, I was intrigued enough to go ahead and buy a keyboard, since my dad’s is a little cramped.  It’s meant to be a cover for an iPad, so it’s narrower than a laptop keyboard.  Since I have an iPad Mini, a keyboard cover is completely impractical anyway, so I wanted a full-sized keyboard.  I found what looked to be a good one on Amazon* for only $11 (with Prime shipping).  It had good reviews, and I thought that for $11, it was worth the risk.

I’ve had the keyboard for about a week now, and so far it’s working well (I’m using it to write these very words).  I definitely like leaving my laptop at home; it’s much easier to just grab my iPad as I go and let the keyboard live in my backpack.  The keyboard is the exact same size as my laptop keyboard, and the layout is a total ripoff of an Apple keyboard.  This all means I get the same typing experience that I do on my laptop, which is really nice.  I’m using the WordPress mobile app to write posts, and so far it’s working pretty well.  It’s surprisingly robust.  It doesn’t quite have all the features that WordPress.com has, but I’ve found I can write a post on the iPad and then tidy up the little details the next day when I’m on the computer.  So it’s been working out OK.

The one thing I don’t like about the keyboard is that it’s really loud.  That’s not that big of a deal, but it is a little annoying.  Also, the Bluetooth connection sometimes drops out; I’m still unsure whether this is going to be a real problem or just a minor annoyance.*

In conclusion, I really like using an iPad as my school “computer.”  It’s so much lighter than my laptop, and the tools for content creation are getting better all the time.  (To be fair, though, the whole reason I’m using the iPad is because I’m not creating as much content.)  The iPad is a fascinating device, and it will be interesting to see where it goes as a productivity machine in the next few years.  I’ve got high hopes for it.  ••

*Update 4/9/15: The keyboard I bought is a little finicky.  The connection drops out from time to time, sometimes constantly so it’s impossible to use.  I’ve removed the link above, and I don’t recommend that you buy it (the link is here in case you still want to look at it).

What’s On (And In) My Desk

Two weeks ago, Jason Snell, one of the hosts of the Clockwise Podcast that I love so much, bought a new Retina iMac.  He then posted a picture of it on his desk.  Apparently, some people had been very interested in what Jason Snell had on his desk!  After the internet analyzed the photo, Jason actually made a post about it himself, detailing everything there.  Just for fun, I thought I’d do the same.

So what’s on my desk?  Not much really.  Right now, there are two solitary objects on my desk: an electric pencil sharpener, and my MacBook.  I like having a clean desk so that I have room to spread out with whatever work I’m doing.  Despite the barrenness of the top of my desk, there are many, many other things in my desk, so I’ll include those as well.  My desk has four drawers; two of which are pivotal to the work I do there.  The long drawer centered under the desk is half a useful drawer, half a junk drawer.  The thing I use most out of there is paper.  I use a lot of lined notebook paper for homework, so I keep some stockpiled.  I also keep my external hard drive and some USB cables in there.  Finally, there’s a mint copy of a local newspaper from the day I was born, which is super cool, even though it doesn’t really apply to my workflow.

The other, smaller drawer is where the magic happens.  This drawer is fully stocked with pens and pencils, as well as a graphing calculator, sticky notes, ruler, protractor, scotch tape, flashlight, erasers, scissors, highlighters, Sharpies, and a stapler.  The goal here is to never have to leave my desk for supplies while I’m doing homework.  Generally, it works pretty well for this.

In addition to my desk, I also have my backpack that I take to school with me.  This is like a mobile command center version of my desk, with everything I need to do homework from just about anywhere.

I’ve got one final plot twist to throw in here: I actually have another desk as well.  The desk I just described in the one in my bedroom, which I use most of the time (especially since I got my laptop).  My other computer, a Windows 7 desktop, is at another desk downstairs.  I share this desk with my brother, so there’s really not room on it for much more than my monitor, mouse, keyboard, and USB hub.  There’s also a shelf above, but that’s so full of junk I won’t even try to describe what’s on it.  ••

My (very clean) desk

My (very clean) desk

Update 11/22/14: I moved my nice desk chair upstairs from my desk downstairs.  I got the chair last winter, I’m not sure why I didn’t move it up earlier.

My "new" chair

My “new” chair