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Archive for the ‘technology’ tag

December 18th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Tips for Taking Better Holiday Photos with Your Smartphone

Here come the holidays! No doubt there will be many photo ops with family, friends and children opening presents. Back in the day, we would grab our camera and click away. These days, many of us are more likely to grab our phone. It’s always nearby and it’s easier to click and share, so it’s not surprising that we’re using our digital cameras less frequently, even though the cameras are a much better device.

Here are a few tips for taking better photos:

  • Get Close. Always take the photo from as close to your subject as possible rather than using the digital zoom option.  You’ll get a better quality image.
  • Zero in on the Subject. Eliminate as much background as possible, especially lots of sky.
  • Turn off the Auto Flash. Don’t rely on your phone’s flash. Most of the time the results are disappointing. If others are around, enlist their flashlight apps to help light the scene. Use the angle of the light to enhance the shadows and highlights.
  • Step Aside. Consider taking the photo from the left or right rather than straight on. You’d be surprised at how much this helps create more interesting shots. Or for fun, try sneaking in some photos from waist level or from a dog’s eye view. You can get some really fun shots from an unusual angle.
  • Hold steady. A shaky hand does not produce a good photo. Hold your phone close to you rather than at arms length. Or better yet, use a tripod-type gadget like a Gorillapod to hold the camera still for a nice clear shot.

And some general housekeeping:

  • Make sure your lens is clean. Give it a wipe with a lint free cloth to clean out any dust or dirt. How many of you have ever done that?
  • Check your settings.  Make sure you’re on a high enough resolution to get the best pictures you can.
  • Know your phone. Get familiar with all of the settings and options so that you can easily choose or change them in a pinch. Take some time and play. See what results the different options deliver. Then you can have some fun. This will also help you capture the unplanned photo opportunity with confidence rather than fumbling with your phone and missing it altogether.

Add some Free apps and you’re off and running:

These are some great tools that enable you to have fun making  beautiful memories with your phone. Be careful though, you might become the designated photographer!

From my family to yours, may you find joy and blessings this holiday season in the love of your family and friends.  We’ve all been reminded of how precious our families are. Enjoy every moment.

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

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September 26th, 2012 at 8:46 am

Unleash The Inner Geek in Your Child

Once upon a time being referred to as a geek was a putdown. Now, it’s a compliment, a badge of honor.  It’s only logical that we admire those who really understand the technology that is now such a dominant part of our every day.

We all need to know how to use the gadgets and devices that are such an integral part of our daily lives. Internet on your tv, tv on your phone, phone on your computer. It takes effort to stay current and fluent, even as a casual user.

Moving forward, it’s only going to get more integrated. No doubt about it. In the future, we need to make sure we have enough really smart people to understand the technology on the inside, not just as end users. What we also need is to make science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) curricula more attractive and encourage more of our children to follow these career paths.

One way to do this is to start them young. Get them interested in science by removing the fear of how difficult it all is and make it more fun.

Wired magazine, the geekiest magazine that isn’t a technical journal, is a great source of inspiration for this. Even if you don’t get the magazine, you can still take advantage of their geekmom and geekdad blogs, which are chock full of ideas and projects that can help you unleash the inner geek in both you and your child.

I got inspired by this when I read a feature this summer on How to Be A Geek Dad by Adam Savage from Mythbusters. It was a great article with some easy and practical projects that provide a perfect springboard for getting your geek on.

The Wired website has a ton of great links and resources for exploring technology from the ground up. It’s never too early to inspire your child. Our future competitiveness depends on a well educated and tech savvy population that not only uses technology but understands how it works and can build the next generation of products and applications.

It’s cool to be a geek.

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

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September 18th, 2012 at 12:53 pm

Road Trip Apps – Don’t Leave Home Without Them

Hitting the road for a long drive? Used to be you brought along an atlas, some snacks, some music and prayers for a smooth trip.

These days, there are some great tools on your smartphone that can help make the trip easier and more hassle free than ever.

First, there’s Google Maps (Android). For navigation, it’s amazing. Enter your destination, turn on the navigation and get turn by turn instructions either visually or with audio. Turn on the Traffic layer and you can keep an eye on delays and bottlenecks. On our recent trip, we were able to avoid hours sitting in traffic due to a closed interstate by rerouting on some back roads.

Getting low on gas? Type “gas station” in the search box and GMaps will pinpoint all the stations on your route. GasBuddy can help you find the best prices. This is great for avoiding the dreaded “30 miles till next exit” when you’re low on fuel, bladder control, or wakefulness.

For lodging, type in “hotels” and see what’s around. Each map pin has information about the hotels so you can find the brand you want and get additional information. To get rating information, TripAdvisor is great for finding out the particular pros and cons and getting good insight from past travelers. The Travelocity app is also feature rich for this. If you’re a frequent guest at a particular hotel, make sure you’ve downloaded their app for quick and easy reservations. And if you’re near a large city a newer app called HotelTonight can provide deals on last minute hotel reservations.

Hungry? If you’ve got Siri, simply tell her that you are or what you feel like eating and let her come up with some suggestions. Or you can use Yelp, Good Food Near You, or Foodspotting (see my post from a couple of weeks ago) to see what’s nearby.

And if you want to explore the area you’re in beyond gas stations, hotels and restaurants, try Roadside America (iphone $2.99) for tips on finding the fun, funny and absurd attractions nearby. Or let Woofound match you up with your favorite activities away from home.

When I was 15, I went on a family road trip cross country armed with a box full of AAA TripTiks and hotel catalogs and spent a lot of time stopping and checking hotels and restaurants. Before cell phones (forget smartphones), it was a lot of hit or miss, with enough misses to write a book.

My husband, daughter and I recently spent 11 days on the road covering over 2700 miles. As the designated navigator and mission control, I used all of these apps to ensure the trip went as smooth as possible, with mostly hits. It was a blast.

 

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

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July 10th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Firefox Tips and Shortcuts

If you’re anything like me, your Firefox sessions are full of movement. Lots of tabs, long lists of search history, and overall too much clutter. You may not be aware of some of the features that come with Firefox that make navigating all of this clutter easier.

Here’s some tips that can help you use Firefox like a power user.

  1. The best feature of today’s browsers is the tabs. In order to make even better use of this feature and save time the next time you open Firefox, make sure that you have set the option to “Show My Windows and Tabs from Last Time” under Tools/Options/General.
  2. You can save space on your tab bar keeping your favorite and most used tabs organized at the left end of your tab bar by pinning them. Just right click on any tab that you want to always show, and choose “Pin as App Tab”.
  3. Just as multiple tabs are a blessing, they’re also a bit of a curse. It’s so easy to keep opening new tabs that you soon find you can’t even see all of your tabs without scrolling. Hate that. So you tidy up by closing, but then you end up closing tabs that you want to get back. To reload a closed tab, simply right click on the last tab and choose “Undo Close Tab”.
  4. When you open a new tab, it opens at the right end of your tab bar. When you click on a link that opens a new tab, it inserts it on the left end. If you’ve got a lot of open tabs and want to organize them more efficiently, just click and drag the tab to where you want it.
  5. When you Google search you click from link to link and find yourself many clicks away from the original search results page. You can right click on the Back button and see the list of all the links you’ve visited in that tab.
  6. Find a webpage that you want to save as a bookmark? Just click on the white star in your Address Bar and it will save it in your unsorted bookmarks. Click on the (now yellow) star again and you can organize the bookmark with a name, put it in a folder, and add tags to help you find it later.

And to give you even more speed and power, here’s a few keyboard shortcuts that you need to know:

  • Spacebar – scrolls down a page
  • Shift+Spacbar – scrolls back up a page
  • CTRL+T – opens a new tab
  • CTRL+Tab – moves through your tabs
  • CTRL+= – increases font size of your webpage
  • CTRL+- – decreases font size of your webpage
  • CTRL+F – brings up the Find option – just type in the word or phrase you are looking for
  • F5 key – refreshes the page

Here’s to saving time and clicks while you’re surfing the web!

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

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May 29th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Your Family’s Medical History at Hand When You Need It

When my kids were born, we had these little green notebooks for recording all of the important medical info, vaccinations, weights, heights and other pertinent statistics every time we visited pediatrician. This was a really useful book to keep on hand, but it was only as handy as my memory. Too often, I’d forget to pull it out of its folder and bring it with me on doctor visits.

It’s still a great resource for referring to all those early medical milestones, but in this day of handheld applications that do just about anything, it’s no longer the most effective solution.

How often do we need to visit a new practitioner or specialist and have to fill out the dreaded medical history form? How are we supposed to remember the last time one of us had a tetanus shot? My brain just can’t hold that kind of data for very long. And I’ve long since stopped keeping the medical book up to date or bringing it along.

That’s why I’m ready to check out an app for keeping my family’s medical history on my phone. How cool it will be to just whip out my device and have all the dates, times, and historical records of illnesses, doctor visits, allergy info, and medications at hand whenever I might need them? I think very cool.

So I did a little research to find out what options are out there and I found a few. There are some free apps but I also looked at the paid apps to see what they offered. I wanted apps that allowed me to keep information on multiple members of my family, not just me, and it was worth the few bucks.

The apps seem to be pretty similar. There’s a place to record allergies, medications, vitals, doctor visit histories, illnesses, surgeries and other useful information related to your health, well being and healthcare. You can store contact information for your doctors, dentist, insurance company and pharmacies and customize the categories to suit.

For Apple users, there’s two apps, My Medical ($2.99) and Family Medical History ($3.99 iPhone, $4.99 iPad) that both provide an easy to use interface for entering your information. You can take photos or attach files to keep an even more comprehensive record of x-rays, prescription bottles, caregiver instructions, and any other pertinent documentation.

Each of these has an app for iPhone and iPad, as well as a website interface, but only for Macs.  For me, a Windows user, I can take advantage of the iPad apps, but there’s no cross-platform support so it won’t be available on my Android or my pc.

For Android users, there’s a similar app called My Medical Info ($1.99) that offers most of the same database features for recording your information. However, there is no option for adding photos or documents and there is no associated website app for easier data entry and synchronization. There’s no iPad app either. That’s too bad. I hope they add these features soon. It’s a lot easier to enter lots of data on a keyboard than a smartphone.

So when it comes to taking advantage of this very useful application, Apple device users have the best options. But my guess is that before long that functionality will exist for us non-Apple folks too. I’ll be waiting.

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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April 17th, 2012 at 5:00 am

Laptop Versus Tablet? 5 Things You Need To Know

With the advent of the sleek, sexy and lightweight tablet, many of us dreamed of being fully functional on a device that can fit in a purse or small bag. That dream is not quite a reality and here are 5 reasons why.

  1. Applications – First and foremost, if you use your laptop for creating documents, presentations, design work, and spreadsheets, tablets just don’t measure up. None of the workhorse applications we use daily are available in fully functional tablet mode. The slimmed down versions and pseudo apps just don’t have the features.
  2. Compatibility – When moving files from one platform to another (i.e. Windows to Apple), there are bound to be compatibility issues. Add the fact that tablet apps are slimmed down or third party versions of PC applications, you can count on issues. If you’ve ever tried to run even a moderately sophisticated PowerPoint presentation on your iPad, I share your pain.
  3. Storage – The highest end tablets come with 64GB of storage space. Music and videos will eat that up pretty quickly. Laptops start at 320GB. The other task you might not have considered is how to get files to and from your tablet. You can’t plug in a flash drive, so you need the cloud. File transfer options include iTunes, or storage sites such as DropBox, Google Docs and iCloud, but only for certain apps.
  4. Multitasking – I spend all day moving from app to app on my laptop. I run multiple browsers, Office apps, and other programs simultaneously and with Windows, I can easily move between them with a click. Not so on my iPad. In order to switch between apps, you need to return to the home screen, which essentially closes the first app. Not a good productivity feature.
  5. Printing – With a laptop, simply plug in your printer or access it wirelessly on your network. Setup is easy, drivers are readily available and it’s not a big challenge. Since tablets have no usb ports, plugging in isn’t an option. If you happen to have a wireless printer that is AirPrint ready (iPad), then you’re in luck for some printing tasks. But not all apps are designed for printed output. And the printing apps available such as PrintCentral don’t print everything.

Beyond the obvious basics, like lack of a keyboard and USB ports, which have workarounds or add-ons, there are ways to make a tablet (mostly) acquiesce to your needs. And in many cases, once you install the right middleware app and set up the procedures that make them work, it becomes routine. But I wasn’t prepared to have to work so hard to make my iPad behave more like my laptop, and with questionable results.

The bottom line is that tablets are excellent for consuming web and other media content or playing games or just taking advantage of the thousands of apps that didn’t exist a few years ago. However, if you’re a content creator who needs to produce full featured documents and design content, while multitasking through your day, you need your laptop. There’s value in that extra weight and horsepower.

So, although I would like nothing more than to leave the laptop home when I travel on business, I just can’t. Yet. I love my iPad, but it doesn’t get as much use as I thought it would.

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

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April 10th, 2012 at 5:00 am

The People Speak via Change.org

“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi

We hear these words often and at times they might sound cliché, but in reality, we need to participate in making our world a better place. Without input from the public, legislation is passed or unfair practices remain in place that do not serve the best interests of those affected. In turn, a loud enough outcry can move mountains.

A time honored way to show dissent for unfair or unrealistic practices is by petition. Gather signatures from the people most affected by the regulation, let those in charge know how unpopular it is, and hopefully you influence change for the better.

In the past, a petitions meant physically gathering signatures from individuals. It required paper documents, person to person contact and in order to get large numbers of signers, a lot of footwork.

Today, thanks to the internet and a choice of options, we can easily create petitions and gather signatures electronically. Depending on your networking reach, gathering thousands of signatures can happen quickly and easily. Recently the proposed internet piracy legislation, SOPA, threatened internet freedom under the guise of protecting media copyrights. Within a few weeks, Google reported that its petition against SOPA had gathered 7 million signatures! Washington took notice, and not surprisingly, the legislation did not pass.

I found that inspiring. Too often, the public is not aware of legislation being passed that affects our way of life. Rules are changed, decisions are made, and regulations put in place that can be detrimental to the those on the receiving end.

Recently, as my school district was facing another year of budget cuts, we took a hard look at the state funding formula that has been historically unfair to our town. It looked like the committee that could potentially help rectify the situation was unwilling to address the disparity, so a group of committed citizens got together and decided to create an online petition.

It was actually quite easy. We used change.org, which offers a simple process for creating and initiating your petition with tips for publicizing it and information on how to get the results directed to the right people for action. There are templates you can follow and a responsive help desk for questions and tech support.

Once you’ve created the petition, you have a link that you can share via a website, email, Facebook or any other online method. You can watch the numbers as the signatures come in.

While you can download name, city, state, country, zip code, and time and date of signing, you cannot access the email or street addresses of your signers. Keep this in mind if you think you will need that information. There is an option of becoming a sponsored partner, which will enable you to build your email list, but without that, you only have access to the names.

It’s very empowering to see support grow for something you care about . And with this support, we are getting attention focused on how our town gets its educational funding and are continuing to press for change. And I’m happy to report that we’re making progress.

Just another one of the many reasons I am so grateful to have the power of technology at my fingertips.

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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