My 5 Favorite Nerdy Apps

Photo credit:  "Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon".

Photo credit: "Sharon & Nikki McCutcheon".

Do you spend a lot of time on your mobile using social networks or playing games? If you're like most people, you probably do... I am not saying I don't; I actually tracked how much time I usually spend on social networks and other distracting apps using RescueTime, one of the tools I recommend using for productivity management, and it's around 2 hours on average per day! Although you might be using each app for a few minutes every other hour, but these minutes pile up throughout the day, and you end up wasting hours with not much gain. I'm not advising you to quit social networking; as a social media consultant, it would be bad for my business if you do lol, but there are apps you can use to compensate for wasted time, and to enjoy as well as benefit from spending time on your mobile... Let's call them "nerdy" apps! So without further ado, here are the apps I recommend for some good mobile fun with great value:

Elevate - Your Personal Brain Trainer

I am IN LOVE with this app! Its aim is to "elevate" your skills in writing, speaking, reading and comprehension, listening and MATH (I know, I'm such a nerd lol). The free version of the app gives you access to a new set of challenges each day to build the skills you chose to elevate. Every challenge is a game designed in collaboration with experts in neuroscience and cognitive learning and are based on extensive scientific research. So basically, you'll have fun playing games that make you smarter! 

You get to train 30+ critical skills that are designed to boost productivity, earning power, and self-confidence; measure your performance and track your activity progress over time. You get to play three games every day, and have the option to switch a recommendation if you don't feel like playing a particular game, and you can replay the same game for a few times to enhance your score and reach a higher level.

As you can see, I'm all about math lol although I was originally excited about Elevate for the chance to improve my listening skills; they've got some fun listening games, with especially a practical one for name recall that would be quite useful when meeting new people and remembering information about them.

The app is available on iOS and Android.

Duolingo

I'm not sure if there is anyone who hasn't heard of Duolingo yet; in case you haven't, it's a FREE language learning mobile app that gives you the ability to learn a great selection of languages in a fun gaming setting. Learning with Duolingo is fun and addictive as you earn points for correct answers, and level up when you complete a set of lessons.

I am currently learning German, but previously I was practicing my Spanish, having learnt it on my own (prior to the existence of Duolingo). What I like about Duolingo is that it's fun, easy, practical and mobile... for anytime anywhere learning. The commenting feature on each sentence is also quite useful as native speakers and other learners often leave useful tips and links to supporting lessons that are helpful, and sometimes they just make really funny comments lol; giving you a feeling of learning in group or in class.

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What I don't like about Duolingo, however, is that it tends to repeat a few simple sentences for many times in a lesson, instead of adding new terms or more contexts, and sometimes some sentences seem to not make any sense (Have you spotted that in the example above?! lol). In addition, there are no explanations or materials to study and learn prior to lessons, which can sometimes make it very confusing and unclear, and you end up just playing a guessing game or learning through repetition like a parrot rather than clear understanding. So my advice is to couple the Duolingo lessons with another form of serious learning; my favorite is the Michel Thomas Method audio lessons, having used it to learn Spanish and some Japanese (before realizing that audio alone isn't enough to learn a language that has a non-Roman alphabet as I would also have to learn to read and write on my own). 

This app is available on iOS, Android, and Windows.

Mind Games

This one is actually more of a game, I promise... though for brain training as well! Mind Games is a great collection of games based in part on principles of cognitive psychology to help you practice different mental skills.  The games, ranging from free to pro, are aimed at enhancing various mind skills such as visual skills, focus and speed, working memory, and attention among many others.

I don't use this app as much as the rest, but it's still quite fun for short intervals every once in a while, to keep the brain sharp. While the design may not be that great, and the ad popups can be annoying, the games are fun and addictive, and they're far from being easy. All games include your score history and graph of your progress. The main app shows a summary of your best games and the day's scores on all games. Using some principles of standardized testing, your scores are also converted to a standardized scale so that you can see where you need work and excel. What's good about it is that it doesn't just track and measure your progress against yourself, but it also compares your score to the "normal standards" according to your age and gender, telling you if you're as good, better or worse than others like you.

Mind Games is currently available on AndroidApple iOSWindows Phone 8, and Windows 8.1.

QuizUp

If you're into classic fun and competition, QuizUp is the right app for you! It is a free, award-winning multiplayer trivia game, where you can challenge friends and meet new people who share your interests. The topics range from entertainment trivia testing your knowledge of music, movies, and series to more serious knowledge trivia like arts, business, history, language, sciences, etc... And everything in between! 

The app quickly turned into more of a social network, where you can follow and be followed by people, follow and like topics and communities, and get users' updates on these topics on your homepage, which you can also like and comment on. You can customize your own profile, search for users based on their age, gender, location and interests, challenge them, track your progress against theirs, chat with them, check their profiles to see what they play and what they're good at, their trophies and titles in each game and rank in their country.

Follow me on quizup!

Follow me on quizup!

As you can see, I'm among the top 10 in How I Met Your Mother and and #1 in Family Guy in Saudi Arabia :P. So although I don't quite use QuizUp for really brainy topics, but I still consider it a good memory and speed training app. Even if you're not particularly knowledgeable at a topic, the more you play, the more you learn and the better you get... All while having fun!

QuizUp is available on desktop, AndroidiOS, and Windows Phone.

EdX

Although it isn't quite an educational gaming app, but it is definitely worth mentioning. EdX is a massive open online course provider and online learning platform, hosting online university-level courses in a wide range of disciplines to a worldwide audience, some at no charge. It offers online courses from some of the world's best universities, such as Harvard University, MIT, Berkeley University, etc.

You get to take as many courses as you like, with flexible learning as most offer an open study plan to learn at your own place, anywhere, anytime. With over 500 courses in subjects like humanities, math, computer science, psychology, etc. you're sure to find something of interest to you, or that can actually be useful in boosting your career level. You can choose to pay for some courses to get a certificate acknowledging your course completion or you choose to audit courses for free, with no need for certification. Part of each course, you will find the detailed courseware with videos and information and quizzes, reading material, a discussion where you'll find a community of your classmates, and you can track your progress in the course. 

No matter what your interests or career goals are, I'm pretty sure you'll find courses you'd love to enroll in. I'm currently enrolled in an MIT User Innovation course and an Introductory Psychology course; not that I check in daily, but I try to make some progress from time to time whenever I can.

EdX is available as a full version on desktop, with a mobile version for iOS, and Android, giving access only to courses that are mobile-enabled.

So these are my favorite nerdy apps at this time. Do you use any of them? Or do you have any other nerdy apps you'd recommend I add to my list/mobile? Comment below!

Arab Tech Women Entrepreneurs

On September 23rd, I spoke at The Arab Women In Leadership & Business Summit in Dubai on technology-based entrepreneurship. I felt quite honoured to share the stage with amazing leading women who are ministers, founders, CEOs, chairmen (chairwomen?!), and managers of international and major brands, while I was there representing only myself as The Manalyst... That made me realise even more the importance and power of technology-based entrepreneurship. When I launched my website and online brand, The Manalyst, in 2009, it was not for the objective of having my own business, but merely to make use of the free time and internet I had in learning and sharing about the latest trends in my industry, while overcoming the limitations of being a professional in a male-dominated world (whether for being in Saudi Arabia, or generally in the business world)... I never thought that first step would lead me to be one of the influential bloggers and social media professionals in the region, covering and speaking at various related events such as this one I'm writing about, being interviewed by the media, and most importantly, having helped various brands and people with using social media to achieve their goals. 

In the 2-day event, I sat among the audience, of mostly women, listening to their stories, questions, concerns, and most of all... complaints. Some were legitimate complaints of social, cultural and work-discrimination struggles that might take long to change, yet many have overcame them; and some I found to be invalid, like the lack of role models in our Arab community... And that is what I aimed to prove wrong through my presentation, and this post.

First of all, one prevailing statistic in the Arab region is that almost over half of university attendees and graduates are female, yet that only translates to being less than a quarter of the workforce... So the problem isn't that Arab women lack the formal education or skills and capabilities to join or excel in the workforce. They're actually more likely to start their own business than to get a job, and even more women intend to do the same, yet that still doesn't transform into action.

There probably haven't been any formal studies or research of why there aren't more women in business, whether as employees or entrepreneurs, but common beliefs is that it is for one of the following reasons:

Cultural Pressures and Stereotypes, and Overcoming Women Unemployment Issues by Working from Home, with Flexible Hours

Even at this modern day and age, the role of women in the Arab world is still quite traditional... In most typical Arab families, a girl's priority is to get married and have kids. In some countries, such as Saudi Arabia, women are also often not allowed to work for cultural/social reasons or due to gender segregation laws. So while the majority of adult females attend university, graduate or even get to work, they do so as long as they are single. And those who have ambitions to pursue higher education and a business career face pressures from their families, or community, to focus on getting a husband instead, and if they're already married, then they should focus on their family and household instead. And in the business community, they're mostly viewed a "flight risk", as in, if hired, they might suddenly quit once married or with child, which makes them a bad investment. An example of a woman who faced and defied such pressures and stereotypes is Yasmine Al Mehairy.

Yasmine co-founded the Arabic parenting website Supermama with Zeinab Samir in 2011. She faced many negative cultural stereotypes as a single 30 year old woman entrepreneur but was positive about the startup ecosystem in Egypt being more supportive than it is in the West, and she was able to secure funding as bias towards male founders was not yet apparent in the Arab world as it is in the West. (Source: Middle East Monitor)

These cultural and employment issues that Arab women face is what drives some into tech entrepreneurship as they get the ability to work from home, or wherever they need to be, and with flexible hours thus having the ability to tend to their other affairs (whether they're students, wives and/or moms) at their own comfort. This is what drove Tasneem Salim, programmer and gamer, to co-find GCON -the world’s biggest and Saudi’s first girls-only yearly gaming convention and community in Riyadh-, encouraging girls to pursue careers in game development, and break the stereotypes that gaming is a boys-only industry. In Saudi, where gender segregation poses a challenge in the workforce, that consists only 20% of women, she believes that gaming can a powerful option for those who prefer flexible hours and working from home. (Source: Wamda)

Two other ladies who also found that drive to start their own tech business are Duna AlSiyari and Hussa AlShamran; two college students who kickstarted the eCommerce site Qurtsyah in 2012 as the first in Saudi to sell stationary online, enjoying the flexibility it gives them to work while also continuing their education. They are determined to grow their business to the GCC, and continue to apply their college learnings to practical business experience and starting their own line of Arabic-style stationary. (Source: AlEqtisadiah)

Funding and Financing, and How It is Countered by Low Costs/Barriers to Entry 

During the event, some women were repeatedly mentioned in the discussion as role models for women entrepreneurs, such as Sheikha Moza, Queen Rania, and other prominent names... While their work is to be appreciated and admired, not all women in the Arab region have the same access to family money, status and connections to support their business initiatives. The average Arab woman has to strive to attain funds and finance her business. Either there aren't enough sources for funds in the Arab world with high competition, or there is lack of awareness in how or where to attain funds. In most cases, women who want to start their own business are either discouraged by lack of funds or they resort to financing their business with their own personal money which often slows their progress. 

That is what Hanan Khader, a programmer and mommy of 3, had to do when she launched Aqar-estate.com in 2008, a real estate digital platform for the MENA, which was a challenge in a male-dominated industry that she had to finance herself until she secured seed investment from Oasis500. 2 years ago, she also started HelloWorldKids, teaching programming to kids and inspiring them to be tech entrepreneurs.

With the low cost and barriers to entry of tech-based industry, in case of most businesses, many women have taken up to the internet to start their own small businesses, starting from scratch depending on whatever knowledge or skills they have, and financing their business further with the earnings, until they're able to make some steady income from it... Which is the case with Farihan Amin, owner of Simplecious, an instagram-based home baking business. 

The Need for Women-Focused Support Network, and What YOU Can Do to Help!

It is safe to say that women can never be equal to men, we may want equal rights but at the end of the day, we will always be different, especially in the Arab/Muslim world because we believe in our role as housewives and mothers, even if we weren't all born to have that typical life or if we wanted to be businesswomen on top of being wives/mothers. So the aim is to have a business ecosystem that understands the characteristics, requirements and challenges of Arab women entrepreneurs and support them through their journey & in their lifestyle. That's not saying that Arab women can't already compete, succeed and flourish in the current ecosystem among men! May Attari, a Palestinian student, has certainly accomplished that, along with her peers, through her university's leadership program "Qiyadat", by co-founding Fadfid, an online psychotherapy platform that connects patients seeking expert psychological advice to specialists across the Arab world.

Think of how many more innovative startups we'd have, in addition to the economic benefits, if more women are supported and encouraged to become entrepreneurs! You can start encouraging them from a young age, by raising girls to overcome negative stereotypes and explore their interests in a gender-neutral environment, and learn tech skills from resources like: ScratchHacketyKhan AcademyCode.orgTahrir AcademyThe Little Engineer

Female students can also be encouraged to aspire for an education & career in tech by nurturing and developing their innate skills, and using educational technology to teach and inspire them, from resources like: Khan AcademyCode AcademyTechGirlsEdSurge.

And as entrepreneurs and business owners, share your experience and knowledge with them, support their entrepreneurial activities and intentions, and welcome opportunities to mentor and guide women with entrepreneurial activities/intentions, through platforms such as Wamda Mix n’ mentorArabnetWamda 4 Women; and various Linkedin Groups.

And lastly, as part of the community, support them, enable them, encourage them, share their stories, give them feedback…You can start by sharing this post or its presentation below, in hope that the women I mentioned here can serve as inspiration and role models for others out there who are just waiting for the right motivation to rise and flourish!

5 reasons yoga is good for you... Lenovo Yoga!

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Starting your day in a healthy active way is a must to ensure the rest of the day goes well… Perhaps you wake up early work out take a warm shower and have a nice breakfast before you head out to work. Ideally that’s how most of us want to start the day but chances are like many of us you start your day with your phone or on your laptop! 

As a social media professional, I start my day and spend most of it using my laptop, and in the brief moments I have to step away from it, I stay connected using my smartphone. Needless to say, the devices we use are an integral part of our day, and can help “make it or break it”… Well maybe not as dramatic as that, but I can’t imagine anyone having a good mood using a laptop that is slow, and keeps freezing and crashing! I know that too well from my previous experience with the Macbook White, even after upgrading its RAM from 2GB to 4GB, it was slower than Saudi customs officers. (Sorry, I had to sneak in this joke :Phaha)

But fortunately, about 2 months ago, and after the news about the rise of Lenovo, I switched to Lenovo Yoga 13.

After a couple of years of using a Mac, it was a bit uneasy migrating back to a Windows device, especially since the Windows 8 was quite different than the earlier Windows OSs. However, after a little of getting used to it, the experience was quite pleasing… Without getting too technical, since you can find tons of technical and specs reviews through google, here’s why Lenovo Yoga is great for me and would be good for you too:

1. Light weight, heavy multitasking:

I travel around often, so I need something easy and light to carry with me that won’t take much space in my luggage or add too much weight. Smartphones and tablets might be a substitute but they can never fulfill all my requirements: multitasking between internet browsing, working with documents, while also watching a movie/TV series (sometimes all together!). At 1.5 Kg, a 13” screen, and Intel® Core™ i5, Lenovo Yoga 13 fits the job perfectly!
 

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2. Long battery life:

Stressing on the importance of a light-weight heavy-multitasking device, a long battery life goes hand in hand, if you don’t want to have to carry the charger with you, and desperately seek and get stuck near power outlets. Lenovo Yoga 13’s battery will last up to 8 hours, so it is quite efficient when I’m out and about for the day. I know that it at least lasts for the train trip between Dammam and Riyadh, which is over 5 hours. Yes, that train is even slower than Saudi customs!
 

#NowWatching a new comedy series with Robin Williams running an #advertising agency, The #CrazyOnes. Love it! #funny

Posted by Manal Assaad on Friday, 22 November 2013

3. Multitouch Screen:

Touchscreens have become the norm, rather than the trend. I sure dreaded when smartphones quit tactile keyboards and turned all touchscreens; typing is one of my main activities and it’s just not as easy on touchscreens. But then you get used to touchscreens, and depend on them on your smartphone, and your tablet, so it only makes sense that your desktop PC or laptop joins the club! Using the touchscreen on the Lenovo Yoga makes multitasking easier as it gives you faster control over the task at hand, since you can just reach for what you need.

4. Different Modes of Use:

Lenovo Yoga is called so because of its flexibility, and the different modes (positions) it can assume. I use these modes depending on my need, flipping from full mode (typical laptop with keyboard) for heavy tasks to tablet mode for light tasks. It certainly helps to have one device fit for both roles, so I don’t need to also carry my tablet if I just wanted something sleek in my hands to browse through.

Having a lasertag wedding rehearsal dinner is an awesome idea! #himym

A photo posted by Manal Assaad منال أسعد (@themanalyst) on

 

5. Windows 8 OS:

Although many may point out the flaws of Windows 8, I haven't experienced any of them yet, fortunately. The OS is fast, and even with my HD almost full, tasks have been running smoothly, with no major crashes as I recall. Another notable feature is the InstantResume; I'd be watching something, pause it, put the laptop to sleep, and when I awaken it, it takes barely 10 seconds, and I can resume watching directly like the system was never interrupted! To someone with my impatience, seconds make a world of difference :P

So this has been my personal experience with the Lenovo Yoga so far! If you have any specific questions, post them in comments below. And subscribe to the blog to follow my updates about it or any other cool gadget I get ;)

The 1st Arab Social Media Forum: More Social, Less Forum Please!

 On December 11th, I had the pleasure of attending the 1st Arab Social Media Forum in Amman, Jordan. The forum was the 1st of its kind in the region to target only Social Media topics and share both clients' & agencies' experience dealing with Social Media platforms & different social engagement approaches / show cases (according to their website). 

The event, held in Regency Palace Hotel (which, on a side note I must say, has AWESOME beds XD), was under the patronage of His Excellency Mr. Marwan Juma, the Minister of ICT in Jordan, who was introduced by Mr. Malik Shishtawi , the man behind it all, a social media expert in the Middle East... A rarity indeed.

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Now honestly, knowing the agenda beforehand, I wasn't looking forward to the introductory speeches (and I know that not many of you do either so don't give me the stink eye >_>) because I figured they're just going to be boring, bureaucratic and seem too lengthy. Fortunately, to my surprise, they were very casual and interesting. Mr. Marwan, as shockingly as it is for a politician, was actually a pretty cool and laid-back man. He started his speech off by talking about the significance of such an event to the Arab region and to the future of Jordan, specifically. He admitted to being a geek and reminisced about the days "Email" was the new big thing.

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Next up was Rashid Al Balla from National Net Ventures; he shared a lot of interesting, if not shocking, insights on social media in the Arab world. Apparently, only 2% of Arabs online are comfortable using English. That makes you wonder of the amount Arabic social forums out there in the world wide web that are only in Arabic. Speaking of which, there was a huge debate throughout the event on whether forums are considered a part of social media or not. I would rather think they're not, but one can not deny the significance of forums in the Arab world, and how they are still the number one Arabic source of information.

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Brightening up the forum with his sense of humor, Mark Comerford  spoke of Social Media in a Changing Media Landscape. What perhaps most caught the audience attention was Mr. Mark's habit of... swearing. Oh, he swore a lot. Although, kids, that's not a good thing to do :P, but it lighten up the professional business world that tend to get over-serious. You can find Mr. Mark's presentation from the forum on Slideshare. You'll love it!

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The following speaker was Mr. Sameer Issa speaking on "Practical Strategic Approaches to Social Media" (found here); his presentation, although very useful, lacked one thing... enthusiasm! Let aside the fact that as a public speaker, you should engage your audience with your tone of voice and body language, but when you're talking about Social Media (and it's part of your job and who you are as a professional), then you should do it with so much passion that the entire audience can be motivated to listen. At the end, this isn't a boring academic lecture... THIS IS SOCIAL MEDIAAAA! < Mimicking the This Is Sparta meme, if you don't know what I mean then, know your meme.  "Listening & Monitoring: The New Way to Market" (found here) was up next with Mr. Patrick Atallah. Unfortunately, you will not find many tweets on Mr. Patrick's presentation because by then, there was panic and frustration in the room, by the social media addicts & bloggers, due to internet difficulties that left us all unfocused. Not to make this very long, I'll urge you to look at the forum's agenda here search for the rest of the amazing speakers who shared lots of wisdom on that day, of which, Silvia Cambie is most worthy of mention, being the only female speaker at the forum and spoke highly of women's role in Social Media for Social Change. Yes, I'm a feminist. 

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What I'd like to share with you most was how great it felt to be among the "ambassadors" who were there specifically to share the event happenings on Twitter. I went to the event as a regular attendee, and being the twitter addict that I am, I was surely tweeting like mad about the event. By the end of the event, that earned me -to my surprise and delight- a place among the ambassadors on stage with a special thanks from Mr. Malik. Darine Sabbagh, who was one of the only two people I knew on Twitter before the event (the other being the amazing Noor Al Hajri to whom I'm very thankful for helping me), spoke of her journey with the other Lebanese bloggers who came specifically for the forum.

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At the end, I'd love to thank Noor, (most sociable!), Darine (most adorable!), Ali AlHasani (a real sweetheart), Ata AlQadiMuoffaq QabbaniMohammed AzzamMahmoud AlDwairy (who's apparently a big shot and I didn't know :P and was part of the panel discussion as a representative of Jordan Open Source Association, Assaad Thebian (who introduced us to Jafra of the Palestinian culture and is quite an interesting person), Zamil Safwan, Kamel Al Asmar, Eleena KorbanBernard Sadaka, just to name a few of the many many people I met in Jordan who made me feel to be among a big cool family!