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Archive for the ‘tech tips’ tag

May 20th, 2014 at 7:58 am

Saving and Sharing Family Memories

artmykidmade

We love our kids’ art. Somewhere in my attic is an artist’s portfolio folder filled to the brim with all of the preschool and kindergarten artwork of my first child. There isn’t one for my second child. Yep, the novelty had worn off by child number 2. Sorry sweetie pie!

Even so, I still have plenty of creations from both of them from their school years. I just can’t bring myself to throw them away. I finally did throw away my daughter’s dinosaur diorama from third grade. She’s 19….

Here are a few apps that let you archive the memories without having to keep the originals.

ArtKive is an lets you take photos of your artwork (or any other items of interest), tag them, upload them, and print photo memory books. The app is free, but the books run $25 for 20 pages.

ArtMyKidMade (free) is similar but links with Dropbox, Evernote or Facebook for storing and sharing.  Anything you share on the Art My Kid Made blog could be featured in their Artist of the Day pick.

Another option is Keepy. This site lets you upload photos, artwork, and other mementos to the site, make recordings that tell the story, and share it all with friends and loved ones, who can also reply or comment with text, voice recordings or videos.

Keepy is free for the first 31 items but also offers premium and ultimate plan options for $1.99/month for 101 images and $2.99/month for unlimited.

So get out those folders, baskets and boxes of fabulous art and get clicking. You now have permission to throw away the originals without guilt. Well, maybe save a few.

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May 6th, 2014 at 10:08 am

Turning Your Photos Into Art

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Looking for a way to turn a terrific photograph into an even more terrific memento or piece of art? Here are a few ways to take you beyond simply enlarging and framing your prized photos.

A really fun site is AllPopArt.com. Turn a headshot into a superhero comic book cover, a Warhol-style pop art poster or comic-style artwork. They are a bit pricey but if you’re looking to immortalize your pet or family members in a artsy, fun or funny way, there are a lot of creative ideas here. It’s fun just to browse the possibilities. And there are some great Mother’s Day gift ideas. Hint hint…

Another Photo-to-Art option is MyDavinci which offers options for transforming any photo into photo sketches, pop art, caricatures, a DaVinci sketch, and more. Gorgeous.

For the free apps that unleash your own creative photo editing potential, try Fotosketcher (Windows app), for artistic treatments, Waterlogue (iPhone/iPad) turns your photos into watercolors, and PicsArt (all platforms), the hugely popular photo editing app.

And when you’re ready to commit your masterpiece to a final product, consider these options:

FractureMe is a service that takes your photograph and mounts it on glass. Send them your digital image and they will provide you with a ready-to-hang or ready-to-stand ‘Fracture’.

And Walmart, Costco, and EasyCanvas are a few sites that print your photos on canvas in multiple size options. These make incredible wall art.

Happy editing!

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October 22nd, 2013 at 5:00 am

Don’t Toss Those Egg Cartons – Turn Them Into Toys

boxplayforkidsIsn’t it too funny when your kids have more fun playing with the box the toy came in than with the toy itself. I’ve got loads of photos of my kids climbing in and out of them or wearing them on their heads, walking around with only their little legs sticking out. And as they got older it was great to see what creative ideas they came up with for re-using leftover packaging for fun and imaginative play.

I remember many hours myself playing with boxes and containers as a kid. They provided the raw materials for my homemade version of the Barbie Dreamhouse, complete with furniture made from the styrofoam packing materials.

Well there’s a company, Box Play for Kids, that makes inexpensive stickers that transform empty boxes into fun toys that can entertain your child for hours. They have re-imagined half gallon milk cartons as animals or buildings and empty paper towel and toilet paper rolls as musical instruments and binoculars. My favorite is the keyboard sticker that turns an empty egg carton into a piano.

Check out their website and see what clever ideas they have for recycling everyday objects into something colorful and fun. They even have ideas and kits for parties that are wildly creative. These folks consider play time to be serious business and have created a terrific way to foster a child’s imagination and creativity with simple materials.

Which is your favorite?

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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August 27th, 2013 at 5:00 am

Software – Should It Stay Or Should It Go?

Do you have a lot of software on your pc? Do you actually use the programs or are some of them just excess baggage? We tend to become a little careless about cleaning out the clutter, and like our closets and cabinets at home, it’s good to purge once in awhile and get rid of the excess stuff.

When you install new programs, you sometimes end up with little “extras”. Download one thing and you might end up with an extra toolbar, virus scan program, adware or other pesky or even malicious software that you don’t want or need. Over time it adds up. You can go to the control panel and remove them but most of the time we just don’t know what the programs are or do, and don’t want to mess up the works by deleting something that actually makes something else work.

Should I Remove It? is a free app that scans your pc software and identifies what programs you’ve got and provides detailed information like what the it does, user ratings, publisher info, what operating systems it runs on, and more. It will even tell you what percentage of people uninstall it. While the real junk is pretty easy to identify, the background info (that isn’t available in the control panel) can help you avoid deleting something that is needed. If it should go, just click on the Uninstall button and it will thoroughly clean out the software.

Unless we’re really vigilant, we accumulate software clutter that bogs down system performance. This app lets you know what’s there and helps you make the right choice when deleting. Think of it as an organizing consultant for your PC.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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May 21st, 2013 at 11:53 am

Crowdfunding Locally or Globally – Every Little Bit Helps

So I’m pretty sure you, dear reader, are not the recent winner of the $650 million lottery. If you were I’m sure your charitable giving would help solve some of the world’s problems. For the rest of us who don’t have millions to give, there are still ways to make a difference.

Want to help a teacher fund a classroom project? Check out donorschoose.org and see how even small donations can add up to help teachers purchase things like art supplies, bookshelves, ipads, and musical instruments. We all know how much budgets are being slashed in our schools and how often teachers are paying for supplies from their own pockets. Donorschoose allows them to describe their classroom projects and items that they need for their classroom. Any donation amount you can give will help them reach their funding goal. Find projects in your own school district or anywhere in the U.S.

How about giving to a project half a world away? There are many non-profits soliciting donations for aid to third world countries. But your donation just seems like a drop in the bucket and it’s hard to know what that money is actually doing to help. Catapult is a website that connects you with specific projects happening around the world that impact the lives of women and girls, targeting those that don’t have access to education, proper healthcare or even clean water.

With both of these sites, your donation is targeted to a specific project, solving a specific problem. Empowering you to help empower those in need. It’s like putting your gift right into the hands of the person who needs it.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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February 26th, 2013 at 9:05 am

Cleaning Up Your Email House

How full is your inbox these days? Do you ever feel like just closing up shop to avoid the never ending barrage of offers, coupons, sales, and product info that just fills your inbox? Just when you think you’ve cleaned up, the stream just starts again. The actual emails that really matter can get lost amid all of the marketing and promo stuff that just keeps coming.

There are multiple ways to manage your incoming email. Filters help a lot by directing the mail to folders or labels. Or you could just delete them as you go. But that takes constant effort and vigilance. It’s like laundry. You get it all done, but only for a minute.

So I was intrigued by azigo.com. This app promises to manage your commerce emails by directing them to dedicated azigo address that you can access at your leisure. The beauty of this is twofold. First, the emails never get to your inbox so it’s a lot easier to get closer to the ever elusive Inbox Zero. Second, when you are ready to peruse the commerce offers and updates, you can go to azigo and view them in a visually friendly layout, or filter them by vendor to grab the deals you want to take advantage of.

We’ve all registered at our share (maybe more than our share) of stores and marketing sites. Sometimes they have terrific deals, but we don’t want them stuffing our inbox. We also don’t want to miss out on potential savings when it’s time to shop. So rather than unregister and lose out on savings, send them to your azigo address and visit them when you want.

You don’t need your email to be another job. You have enough of them. Azigo is a smart and easy way to get control of your inbox clutter.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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April 24th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Tidy Up! Spring Cleaning Your Computer

Spring is here and while we naturally feel the need to spruce up and clean our homes, how many of us take the time to tidy up our computers? Over time we collect everything from emails, to bookmarks/favorites, documents and files and all manner of other digital media that drain space and resources on our systems.

Taking a little time to clean out and reorganize can be both cathartic and smart, since the end result will be a clean-running machine and that certain peace of mind that we all feel when we’ve gotten rid of the clutter.

The first step should be something you do more than once a year, but even if you haven’t ever done it, now is a great time. The Disk Cleanup app in Windows looks at all of your non-essential files and provides an easy way to delete them. The most common files to eliminate are the Recycle Bin and the Temporary Internet files.

It’s easy to forget that actually deleting a file is a two step process and the Recycle Bin is usually full of long-deleted files. It’s like our household trash. Putting it in the bin is only the first step. We need to have it taken away for it to be really gone.

As for Temporary Internet files, these are hoarded by your computer every time you surf the web. And like a room full of collected stuff that doesn’t have it’s own space, it gets pretty hard to move around without knocking into things. Cleaning out these files allows your browser to perform better by not having to sift through unneeded clutter to get around.

Another helpful Windows utility is the Disk Defragmenter. This process re-organizes the files on your hard drive so that they are segmented in an orderly manner as complete files, not broken up into pieces as a result of writing and rewriting to whatever bits of space are available. You can schedule Windows to do this automatically on a regular basis. Good practice.

Next you should think about organizing your files and deleting old files. Any time I teach a computer class, we always spend some time on File Management and I preach the folders methodology. Think of your computer as a file cabinet. Rather than throw everything into a file drawer, we usually have hanging files, with labeled file folders inside, so we can easily retrieve what we’re looking for. Anything else is chaos. Windows makes it easy to create folders and folders within folders so you can organize your digital documents just like you would physical ones. And with Windows 7, the library feature makes it really easy to cross-reference and categorize your files to make them even easier to find.

Last but not least, let’s bring up your inbox. Every day we get more email and without vigilance it becomes unwieldy. The ultimate digital nirvana is zero inbox but forget that. I firmly believe it’s unattainable, or at least fleeting. However, I do try to regularly try to achieve a one-page inbox, no scrolling required.

Folders (again) and labels (for Gmail users) are a great way to organize. Setting up rules and filters to automatically categorize email as it comes in can really help with inbox management.

Also remember to use the spam features of your email provider. Don’t just delete spam, mark it as spam so that you train your system to know that future items from that sender will never make it to your inbox. And every so often, just take a look at your spam folder/label and check to be sure that what’s in there is really spam. If it’s not, use the Not Spam option so it won’t go there again.

A clean and organized home is a happier place. The same is true for your computer.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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March 13th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Join.Me – Easy Screen Sharing and Remote Control

Do you ever get a phone call from someone who needs help figuring out their computer issues? On their end, they are trying to explain and describe what is happening and you’re trying to envision what that actually is so you can help. This can be pretty frustrating. Unless you’ve had the same problem or they are really good at describing the situation, helping them out can be a challenge.

What really helps is to be able to see for yourself what’s going on. But making a house call isn’t always possible. That’s where join.me comes in. This is an amazingly simple way to connect to another computer so you can actually watch their screen, or even take remote control.

It’s easy to use. Just go to the join.me website. Your options are to either Share or Join. If you want to have someone else see your screen, you select Share, run a quick executable file to create a machine registration number, and bring up the join me popup. The other participant(s) enter the ID number in the Join field and presto – they can see your screen and all of your activity.

Features of join.me include a chat window or initiating a call via internet or phone. You can grant control of your machine to another participant so they can drive. You can also include up to 250 additional people for a conference call.

This is a great way to demo a new application, run a meeting, troubleshoot a problem or just let someone show you their work without having to send files. It’s a great teaching tool and a real convenience, especially for someone like me who gets help desk calls a lot, often from a different state. So easy to use and incredibly convenient.

The basic application is free but there is also a paid version which offers more business meeting and advanced features. There are also viewer apps for iphone/ipad  and Android.

I just love easy and elegant solutions.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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February 28th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Control Your Energy Drain With Belkin Conserve

Ever wonder how much electricity your appliances and devices really use? We see the bill every month and when it changes, we’re not always sure why. We expect air conditioning in the summer to cause a spike, but not all changes are obvious.

We also hear alot of tips on energy use and what things to do, or not to do, to save a few watts. For instance:

  • Don’t leave your phone charger plugged in when not charging your phone. A trickle of energy is used even when the device is not there.
  • Turn your cable box off as well as your tv when you shut down. Leaving it on drains a significant amount of power.

To help avoid some of this needless energy use, Belkin has introduced a line of products in its Conserve line that help you get control.

First is the Conserve Insight product. This is a device that sits between the wall outlet and your device. There is an energy use monitor attached that displays watts, CO2 output and cost per month or year.

I ran an experiment with my laptop just to see how much energy the various states of power required. The results showed that power consumption ranged from 1.8 watts when shut down to 37 watts while I was writing this blog.  Sleep mode brought it down to 8 watts and Hibernate brought it down to 2 watts.  Almost as low as when shut down entirely. I always knew it saved energy, but now I know how much.

Then I plugged my smartphone into it and found that without the phone plugged in it’s just a trickle, not measurable by the device. Actual charging drew about 6 watts.

Lastly, I plugged in my cable box and with the TV on it drew a whopping 113 watts. With the TV off, it went down to 18 watts. But when I turned off the cable box, it only dropped another watt, to 17. Not much of a difference here. Interesting.

So based on my data collection, neither of these energy saving tips amount to significant savings. That’s not to say you should leave things on or plugged in when not in use, but at least it’s not a reckless waste.

There are more energy conservation products in this line. Two of interest are the Conserve Socket and the Conserve Smart AV power strip.

The Conserve Socket is a single outlet device that will automatically shut down all power after a selected time of 30 minutes (for small appliances like curling irons or coffeemakers), 3 hours (for phone chargers, ipods, cameras), or 6 hours (for larger charged appliances like vacuums and drills). I’ve got one of these for my smartphone, so after 3 hours, it no longer draws those 6 watts, or the trickle when I unplug my phone.

The Conserve Smart AV is an auto-off surge protector for your TV/home theater system. It has different outlets, one for the master device like the TV, several for the items, like your cable box, that need 24-hour power, and two for devices that don’t need full time power, like your dvd.

The benefit of this is that when you turn off the master device, the ones that need power will be able to get it, but the components that don’t will be completely shut down, with no residual drain.

We’re all tightening our belts. I like these products because they give me a little bit more control over needless energy use. See the entire line of Belkin Conserve products at their website.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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February 14th, 2012 at 7:02 am

A Pinterest-ing Valentine’s

Happy Valentine’s Day!

Last week I gave you some ideas for some creative ways to celebrate and commemorate Valentines Day. Hope you had some fun with them.

I’m a recent convert to the Pinterest phenomenon and I’m having a great time browsing through the boards and finding inspiration. There is an incredible amount of creative, fashionable, clever, useful and funny content on that site. It’s really fun to see what people are pinning and re-pinning and I’ve gotten so many great ideas for cooking, organizing, decorating and shopping.

In case you’re not yet familiar with this newest social craze, check out an earlier blog by our favorite Monday blogger, Kim Ross for an explanation. She was an early adopter of Pinterest and her boards are chock full of fun and creative ideas.

In a nutshell, Pinterest is a social site where you share photos of things that interest you that you find on the web.  You create “boards” of a particular topic or category and pin your content to the boards.  It might be fashion, baking, home decorating, pets, fitness, etc. You can browse by subject or by what’s popular. When you see something you like, you can pin it to your own board, like it, and/or comment on it.

Say you’re interested in ideas for your garden or you’re planning a baby shower. You can browse the subjects and see what other people have pinned. The clever and useful ideas are abundant. The pins themselves are pictures from actual websites. Click through on the picture and you can link to its original site.

You can also put an applet in your browser to pin anything on the web that you find and like. You’ll  notice that many websites have added a “Pin It” button alongside the Facebook Like, Stumble, and Tweet buttons.

Consider this the web version of all the folders and binders you used to create with torn out pages from magazines, only much neater and well organized. We like organized.

And to show you what I’m talking about click on either of these links below to see an example of how I’ve used Pinterest to showcase my favorite Valentine’s Day ideas.

Be careful though, you might find yourself spending a little TOO much time browsing, pinning and generating ideas. It’s very addictive.

You can also find Paula on LinkedInFacebook and Twitter @techsmart319. Feel free to reach out if you have questions.

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