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Transform Your Bright, Noisy Bedroom Into a Sleep Paradise

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Illustration for article titled Transform Your Bright, Noisy Bedroom Into a Sleep Paradise

Photo: LaylaBird (Getty Images)

Good sleep matters, but even if you have what it takes to get a good night’s rest you still have to combat the world around you. You can’t control the sun or the noise outside, but you can do a few things to make your bedroom dark and quiet when you need it so they don’t stand between you and a good night’s rest.

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The sun rises right into my face every morning at 7:00 a.m., even though I don’t need to get up quite so early. On top of that, the leaf blowers and music in my neighborhood get their start at about the same time. If you’re like me and would benefit from a few ways to survive the distractions, here are a few DIY tips and tricks that will make a world of difference without much sacrifice.

Dim your windows

Blinds only keep out the sun so much. If you’ve got a lot of natural light in your bedroom like I do, you’ve probably considered expensive blackout shades, but maybe didn’t want to pay the price. Additionally, if you actually like the light in your room at other times of the day, blackout shades only give you two options: really dark or really bright. There’s a good solution to each problem, and you can even combine them if you want.

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First, you can dim your windows with cut-to-size removable decals. I purchased this Gila Privacy Film, which costs about $17 per window (not much for just a bedroom), but pretty much any generic removable dimming film should do the trick. You just cut it to size, wash your window, and roll it on. You have to take time to press it so it stays, and if you have multiple window panes you’ll need to cut it into multiple pieces. I have 24 separate panes on one window and cutting took about an hour, so I caught up on some podcasts. You’ll probably have an easier time than I did, however, so I wouldn’t worry too much about the commitment. Speaking of commitment, you can just take the film off at any time if you like. I taped mine in some places where it wouldn’t stick, but it should stay on the window just fine if you leave it alone.

Second, you can make your own blackout shades. I prefer just the decals because I want some light to come in. With less coming through, I wake up closer to 8:00 a.m.—my desired time—so I usually don’t need to employ any other techniques. If you want to make your own shades, you don’t really need a lot of know-how. You just need blackout fabric, which you can find for as little as $5 per yard, a curtain rod, staple gun, and string. From there you just cut the fabric to the size of your window, staple the top around the curtain rod, mount the curtain rod above your window, and tie the fabric up into a roll with a string until you need to pull your blackout curtains down. Of course, these won’t look beautiful, by any means. It’ll look like you stapled a sheet of fabric to a rod. If you have a sewing machine, however, you can sew them onto the rod and seal the corners without much effort.

You can use whichever techniques suit you best, or both. You can also just buy an eye mask, if you don’t mind them. Either way, you’ll cheaply reduce the amount of light in your bedroom, and worry less about an early wake-up call from the sun.

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Plug your ears

You can block out the sun, but it can be harder to black out the noise. You can’t really silence your noisy neighborhood, but you can, however, plug your ears.

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You’ve probably thought of this. Ear plugs make for an obvious solution, but you want to get the right kind. Small foam inserts work best. You wouldn’t want them for a loud, damaging concert (you’d want these for that), you don’t need to block out a crazy amount of sound or maintain any level of quality. You just need to block out enough sound to stay asleep without causing much discomfort. You can order foam earplugs in bulk on the cheap. The simple cylindrical type tend to work best for sleep because very little protrudes, and you can get 50 for $11. The slightly-longer ones cost a little less, at $22 for 200. Either way, just shove ‘em in your ears at night and you’ll sleep a bit better. A vibrating alarm will supplant your noisy clock if you need a wake up call.

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Although ear plugs can solve the noise problem, they can create others if used over longer periods of time (for example, you need to safely clean your ears to avoid compacted wax issues). Also, if you toss and turn a lot at night you might want to avoid ear plugs because a quick change in pressure due to movement of the plug can cause damage to the ear drum. If you think it’s risky for you, consult your doctor or sleep specialist prior to using them. Custom-molded ear plugs usually solve problems for people with issues (and work better in general), but you’d obviously need to pay quite a bit more. If you really don’t want to plug your ears, you can always try a little DIY soundproofing, but we found that this barely helps with outside noise.

Manage your other senses

Light and noise don’t make up every sleep condition issue, but they do account for the most common. That said, temperature also affects many people in the summertime. If you need to deal with the heat, check out our guide to staying cool while sleeping.

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This post was originally published in 2013 and updated in 2020 to include additional context and meet Lifehacker style guidelines.

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How to use Google’s budget feature on Android so you don’t overspend

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Google has provided a budgeting feature in its Play Store that allows Android users to establish a monthly maximum they want to spend on digital content. This applies to apps, games, movies, TV shows, music, ebooks, and so on. As you get close to reaching your budget limit, you’ll see an alert that you’re nearing it — or have gone over the amount you specified.

You access it like this:

  • Open the Play Store on your Android device, bring up the left-side menu, and then go to the account section.
  • From there, you should see a “Purchase History” tab.
  • Choose the “Set budget” option and enter the amount you’re comfortable spending on your apps, music, movies, TV shows, and ebooks for a month. Then hit “Save.” Your budget can always be adjusted or removed altogether from this same screen.
Choose an amount for your budget
Choose an amount for your budget.

You can remove or edit the budget anytime.
You can remove or edit the budget anytime.

As Google notes, setting a budget won’t actually do anything to prevent purchases or subscriptions on your Google Play account once you’ve exceeded it. This feature is meant to be an easy reference for tracking your spending that you can take advantage of; it doesn’t implement hard restrictions like Google’s Family Link parental controls can. One other thing to know is that you can only set budgets using the currency of the country where your Google Play profile is linked.

Update October 20th, 2020, 2:37PM ET: This article was originally published on April 17th, 2019 and has been updated to reflect the fact that the feature is available to all.

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How to Vote If You Catch COVID

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Illustration for article titled How to Vote If You Catch COVID

Photo: Steve Heap (Shutterstock)

People are already voting by mail in record numbers this year, but what happens if you planned on voting in-person, but then get sick right before Election Day? Maybe it’s COVID-19, maybe it’s something else. Whatever it is, you want to make sure you don’t get any of the poll workers or other voters sick (plus you probably shouldn’t be doing something as strenuous as voting in person anyway). In that case, you may need to get an emergency ballot—some version of which is available in most states. Here’s what to do if that happens to you.

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First, check mail-in ballot deadlines in your state

When it comes to mail-in ballots, there are a few different deadlines to keep in mind—and yes, each state has its own timeline. In some cases, there is a deadline to request an absentee ballot, as well as other cutoffs stating the latest possible postmark on the ballot and/or the date it must be received by the local elections board. At this point, it’s pretty late in the game to request an absentee ballot, but as always, check your state’s election guidelines to find out when everything is due.

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How to get an emergency ballot

If you end up getting sick past the point when you’re able to request an absentee ballot, most states give you the option of requesting some form of emergency ballot. Again, check with your state or local election office to find out what the process involves, but it’s pretty safe to assume you’re going to need to find and fill out an application of some sort (which should also be available on your state’s website).

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) states handle emergency ballots in varying ways:

38 States permit emergency absentee voting in the case of a medical emergency

Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Hampshire, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, West Virginia and Wisconsin.

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Election officials in 6 states will deliver an emergency ballot to you if you’re unable to get to the polls because of a medical emergency

Arizona, California, Georgia, Minnesota, Vermont and West Virginia.

Hospitalized voters in 17 states may designate someone to request/deliver/submit their emergency ballot

Arkansas, Colorado*, Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Nebraska, Nevada, New Mexico, North Carolina, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee and Utah.

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*Colorado mails ballots to all eligible voters, but if there is an emergency or natural disaster after the deadline by which ballots are mailed and a voter can’t get a replacement ballot in person, they may designate an authorized representative to obtain a replacement ballot on their behalf.

For full details on the regulations in your state, see the NCSL website.

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Bored at home? Here’s 10 handy tools you can build with Python

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Python project ideas for developers

If you have made up your mind about the platform you’re going to use, let’s jump straight into the projects. Mentioned below are some fun projects addressed towards developers of all skill levels that will play a crucial role in taking their skills and confidence with Python to the next level.

Content aggregator

content aggregator tool
Photo by Obi Onyeador on Unsplash

The internet is a prime source of information for millions of people who are always looking for something online. For those looking for bulk information about a specific topic can save time using a content aggregator.

A content aggregator is a tool that gathers and provides information about a topic from a bulk of websites in one place. To make one, you can take the help of the requests library for handling the HTTP requests and BeautifulSoup for parsing and scraping the required information, along with a database to save the collected information.

Examples of Content aggregators:

URL shortener

URLs are the primary source of navigation to any resource on the internet, be it a webpage or a file, and, sometimes, some of these URLs can be quite large with weird characters. URL shorteners play an important role in reducing the characters in these URLs and making them easier to remember and work with.

The idea behind making a URL shortener is to use the random and string modules for generating a new short URL from the entered long URL. Once you’ve done that, you would need to map the long URLs and short URLs and store them in a database to allow users to use them in the future.

Examples of URL shortener:

File renaming tool

File Renaming tool created with Python
Photo by Brett Sayles from Pexels

If your job requires you to manage a large number of files frequently, then using a file renaming tool can save you a major chunk of your time. What it essentially does is that it renames hundreds of files using a defined initial identifier, which could be defined in the code or asked from the user.

To make this happen, you could use the libraries such as sysshutil, and os in Python to rename the files instantaneously. To implement the option to add a custom initial identifier to the files, you can use the regex library to match the naming patterns of the files.

Examples of bulk file rename tools:

Directory tree generator

A directory tree generator is a tool that you would use in conditions where you’d like to visualize all the directories in your system and identify the relationship between them. What a directory tree essentially indicates is which directory is the parent directory and which ones are its sub-directories. A tool like this would be helpful if you work with a lot of directories, and you want to analyze their positioning. To build this, you can use the os library to list the files and directories along with the docopt framework.

Examples of directory tree generators:

MP3 player

mp3 player built by Python
Photo by Mildly Useful on Unsplash

If you love listening to music, you’d be surprised to know that you can build a music player with Python. You can build an mp3 player with the graphical interface with a basic set of controls for playback, and even display the integrated media information such as artist, media length, album name, and more.

You can also have the option to navigate to folders and search for mp3 files for your music player. To make working with media files in Python easier, you can use the simpleaudiopymedia, and pygame libraries.

Examples of MP3 players:

Tic Tac Toe

Tic Tac Toe is a classic game we’re sure each of you is familiar with. It’s a simple and fun game and requires only two players. The goal is to create an uninterrupted horizontal, vertical, or diagonal line of either three Xs or Os on a 3×3 grid, and whoever does it first is the winner of the game. A project like this can use Python’s pygame library, which comes with all the required graphics and the audio to get you started with building something like this.

Tic tac toe
Image by OpenClipart-Vectors from Pixabay

Here are a few tutorials you can try:

More fun Python projects for game dev:

Quiz application

Another popular and fun project you can build using Python is a quiz application. A popular example of this is Kahoot, which is famous for making learning a fun activity among the students. The application presents a series of questions with multiple options and asks the user to select an option and later on, the application reveals the correct options.

As the developer, you can also create the functionality to add any desired question with the answers to be used in the quiz. To make a quiz application, you would need to use a database to store all the questions, options, the correct answers, and the user scores.

Examples of quiz applications:

Calculator

Developing a calculator with Python
Photo by Eduardo Rosas from Pexels

Of course, no one should miss the age-old idea of developing a calculator while learning a new programming language, even if it is just for fun. We’re sure all of you know what a calculator is, and if you have already given it a shot, you can try to enhance it with a better GUI that brings it closer to the modern versions that come with operating systems today. To make that happen, you can use the tkinter package to add GUI elements to your project.

Build a virtual assistant

Build a virtual assistant with Python
Photo by BENCE BOROS on Unsplash

Almost every smartphone nowadays comes with its own variant of a smart assistant that takes commands from you either via voice or by text and manages your calls, notes, books a cab, and much more. Some examples of this are Google Assistant, Alexa, Cortana, and Siri. If you’re wondering what goes into making something like this, you can use packages such as pyaudioSpeechRecognitiongTTS, and Wikipedia. The goal here is to record the audio, convert the audio to text, process the command, and make the program act according to the command.

Currency converter

As the name suggests, this project includes building a currency converter that allows you to input the desired value in the base currency and returns the converted value in the target currency. A good practice is to code the ability to get updated conversion rates from the internet for more accurate conversions. For this too, you can use the tkinter package to build the GUI.

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