Apps I Love: Seafood Watch

We were talking in Marine Bio the other day about sustainable fisheries and I was surprised to find out more people didn’t know about Seafood Watch, an app run by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. I only learned about it in January while I was eating brunch at The Border Grill in Las Vegas. The restaurant, whose chefs are familiar to fans of Top Chef Masters, is committed to including only sustainably-sourced seafood on its menu. They even go so far as to include a Seafood Watch cheat sheet in every check folder. It’s an easy move and a commendable effort at informing the dining public.

After a great conversation with my server, I downloaded the app and it’s been a pretty handy resource.  You enter in the type of seafood that you’re considering buying or ordering and the app will give it a rating – “Best Choice,” “Good Alternative” or “Avoid.” If you’re considering something from the “Avoid” list, the app will suggest more sustainable/environmentally-friendly alternatives. For example, let’s say you’re considering buying Atlantic cod from Canada. The app would tell you to avoid it and lead you to Atlantic cod from Iceland (which is caught using a handline, instead of a bottom-trawler), Pacific cod or even US farmed Cobia. Few, if any, consumers would notice a culinary change, but given how cod stocks in the North Atlantic have suffered over the past few decades, this small switch, if adopted by enough people, could have a major impact.

If you’re a fan of sushi, Seafood Watch’s sushi list is also really helpful, although it may be heartbreaking for many out there. On the “Avoid” list are some of my personal favorites – hamachi, maguro, ebi, unagi… There are some exceptions based on where exactly the species are sourced from and how they’re caught, but it’s a grim list. On the other hand, it’s been pretty fun to explore alternatives and to discover new sashimi and sushi I’d never considered before.

I highly recommend Seafood Watch for the environmentally conscious piscivores out there. It’s easy and eye-opening, and, if we can all do our part, we can help change consumer demand and give some sorely suffering stocks time to recover.

One fish, two fish…

• If you want even more Seafood Watch, check out the website. In addition to all of the stuff from the app, there’s an expanded section on the issues facing the world’s oceans, the double-edged sword of aquaculture/mariculture and other relevant issues.

• If you’re interested in this kind of thing, this article from NPR’s Food for Thought blog is pretty interesting, albeit controversial.

• I don’t know of any sustainable sushi restaurants in Boston, but there’s one in near Yale in New Haven – Miya’s. Expect long waits and an ever-changing menu.

Apps I Love: White Noise

I’ve never been a great sleeper. Since high school, I’ve gone through phases where I’ll alternate between having a hard time falling asleep and having a hard time staying asleep. Traveling the past few months has helped a lot. After flying through the night or running around in the sun all day, I’m literally too tired to stay awake and it’s not unusual for me to fall asleep on the couch watching a movie or playing on Duolingo.

But, the other big help has been the White Noise app from TMSOFT. I have the free Lite version, which has plenty of options for my needs. There’s a catalogue of 10 sounds that come with the download and you can add up to 5 more from their website. Instead of straight-up “white noise,” I err towards water sounds – beach waves crashing, extreme rain, thunderstorms. I especially like the mix function which lets you layer in multiple sounds and control their individual volumes, balances, pitches, speeds, etc. Plus, you can set timers so the app will shut off whenever you want. Mine’s set for an hour, but most nights I’m fast asleep within the first 10 minutes.

Admittedly, there are a few annoying sounds, like the ominous, monotonous grandfather clock ticking… ticking… ticking. It’s like trying to sleep with Edgar Allen Poe at the end of your bed. No thanks. And, although I personally don’t use an alarm, I can understand why users of the Lite version wish there were one.

Minor complaints aside, it’s a great app for anyone who has a hard time sleeping and especially for people who find themselves traveling in unfamiliar places. Having a standard playlist to fall asleep to every night can help make any hotel room feel like home.

To sleep, or not to sleep…

• Need more help falling asleep? A friend sent me this great list of resources from MIT’s Medical department. I found the ones on mindful meditation particularly cool.

• With more than half of Americans having sleep issues every single night, sleep research is surely an area in need of study. The New Yorker covered that need last spring with this article on sleeplessness.

Apps I Love: Duolingo

In January, I declared 2014 the year of all things Spanish. Spanish authors, Spanish restaurants, Spanish wines. My goal was to immerse myself as much as possible in anticipation of a bunch of trips throughout the Spanish-speaking world. My first visit to South America went off without a hitch in February with an awesome week in Colombia. I’m supposed to be in Spain right now, but that hasn’t worked out. What’s more, I’m starting to wonder about the fate of my June trip to Ecuador – I’m scheduled to volunteer in an orphanage in Quito for a few weeks and then go diving in the Galápagos. With things with my grandpa up in the air, I just don’t see that happening.

I’m really glad to be here with my grandfather, but sticking to my plan of “relearning” Spanish has provided a very welcome distraction. Like a lot of people, I took it in secondary school, but haven’t done much of anything with it since. I’ve been catching up using the incredible (and FREE!) app Duolingo. The app features a handful of languages – Spanish, Italian, French, German and Portuguese. (Fingers crossed they add some non-Western ones soon!) It’s a very Rosetta-stone approach and although it doesn’t seem as thorough as the 5-level Rosetta box set, it won’t set you back $350 either.

Duolingo has a clean, easy interface, with just enough competitiveness to keep you on your toes and just enough redundancy to make sure things are sticking. You can set daily goals for yourself and reminders to practice – I do about a half an hour a day, usually broken up into a 3-5 sittings. I strongly recommend it for anyone interested in brushing up before a big trip or just learning a language from scratch for the hell of it.

Buena suerte!!

Ponder the Platypus

I started doing Bikram yoga in October. I’m not going to lie, in addition to the physical benefits, it’s pretty entertaining to watch a bunch of other Type A people sweat their asses off as they desperately try to relax. While many of us fail to reach an enlightened state amidst 104° heat and 40% humidity, the teachers exist on a whole other level. Many of them came to Bikram from martial arts, dance and other types of yoga, and they can slip in and out of meditative states with enviable ease. I’ve been learning a lot about the value of meditation from them and while I still have a loooong way to go, I do think it’s helping ease my stress and improve my mindfulness.

One thing that’s making it easier is the Headspace app. No matter where I am, Andy Puddicombe’s voice can lull me into relaxation. It’s great on the road, in airports, hotels, planes, trains and automobiles. Inner peace may still elude me, but just remembering to take a second to breathe has been huge.

Just keep swimming.

Ok, they’re not platypuses (platypi?? platypa??), but if this doesn’t melt your heart…