Oh Baby, There’s a Free App for That – But Should You Use It ?

It’s been some time since my last post due to the arrival of my grandson.   I thought his arrival would provide some family time away from technology which it has, but I’ve also learned that from pre-pregnancy through childbirth and beyond, there is an app for that!

There are fertility apps that help you track best time to conceive.  Once pregnant, there are apps to track how your baby develops, doctor appointments, and what to expect.   Once in labor of course there are apps to track your contractions.

As a grandparent there are apps that help you share your caretaking activities with baby’s parents.  It’s good to know there are also apps to help soothe and entertain baby if you choose to use them.

The challenge is sorting through all that is available!  Most apps you can download for free, with optional pay for add-ons.  Here are a few apps I’ve been using in my new grandparent role that have been helpful.

Glow Baby Newborn Tracker – this one both my daughter and I use.  It logs feedings, sleep, diaper changes, milestones, and has a community of users you can communicate with.  The nice part is I can see how long it’s been since baby has eaten or slept, and it shows feeding and sleeping patterns.

Cradle  (Baby Sleep Sounds – Cradle) – This app offers animations and a multitude of sounds to soothe baby as well as sleeping tips.  My favorite (and only free) animation is called Dreamsea.  The music and animation instantly calm baby. Sorry Android users this app is IOS only right now.

Smart Rattle  (Baby Rattle Games: Infant & Toddler Learning Toy) – this is a really fun one.  Each screen has a different category of items floating around – animals, cars, toys, instruments, etc.  When you touch one it twirls around and comes to the front of the screen with an appropriate noise.  Sorry Android users this app is IOS only right now.

YouTube of course also offers all sorts of free learning videos which older children may benefit from.

Naturally we should have concerns about too much screen time, and limit time spent.   I’d be remiss if I did not mention that The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends keeping all screens off around children younger than 18 months! This includes TVs too as screen time can interfere with language development, cognitive skills,  socialization, as well as cause sleep problems.  Apps, TV, and learning videos are not a substitute for hands on and social interaction learning which is how children actually learn.   If baby is distracted by a TV, baby is not concentrating on developing other skills.

What to do?  Do your research if you have concerns, and use your best judgment.  As a grandparent (and parent) occasional use of apps and YouTube can be helpful and fun in moderation.  If the TV is always on in your household – whether you are watching or it’s just on in the background,  you may want to consider some quality shut off time.

What is your opinion on this?  Are there any pre or post baby apps you’ve used and would recommend?





Fitbit HR?

Fitbit HRThere are dozens of devices on the market to track fitness, ranging from the simplest step counters to high end smartwatches.   To be honest I wanted an Apple watch last year, but even the smaller version was a bit large for my wrist and there were rumors of the next version on the horizon, so I decided to wait and purchased a more reasonably priced Fitbit HR.  I’ve worn it consistently for over 6 months now and I do mean consistently, only taking it off to charge or when it may get wet.   Many friends ask me what does it do, do I like it, and what about the new Fitbit Alta?  So, here’s my 6 months worth of Fitbit HR wear experience.

I knew I wanted a wearable to track my steps, heart rate, and sleep (yes have to wear it while you sleep).  I did not realize I would become dependent upon it as my watch with current date.  It also tells me floors climbed, calories burned, miles walked, as well as providing me with exercise stats. The big bonus is that as long as my phone is in range, it alerts me to phone calls with a vibration, and caller ID taken from my smartphone’s contact list.

It syncs with the Fitbit app, which will provide all sorts of stats for you, including your sleep patterns.  You can also view your stats at fitbit.com.   Finally an excuse for crankiness!  ”Well of course I’m cranky today honey, I only slept 5 hours 12 minutes, was awake 3 times, restless 19 times, and awake/restless for 37 minutes!” You can create a fitbit.com account online even without the device for a preview 0f available tracking.

Measuring steps like all the Fitbit stats is a guideline – if you walk without moving your arm that it’s attached to, it won’t register. If you move your arm while you are sitting, steps will register, so it should even out.  You get a friendly vibration when you’ve reached your 10,000 step goal (which you can change via the app).

What I love is that I also purchased a Fitbit Aria WiFi Smart Scale and once connected to your home WiFi network, it automatically records weight, BMI, % body fat, and lean mass on the Fitbit app keeping weekly averages.  These stats are also viewable via fitbit.com.

If you feel like being social, you can do challenges with friends, and see how many steps they’ve done for the week too. The Fitbit app also integrates with the Weight Watchers app automatically allotting you activity points.

Fitbit Alta

The new Fitbit Alta is sleeker, and more stylish and has the added benefit of being able to view text messages and calendar alerts.  However it does not track heart rate or floors climbed so choose your Fitbit dependent upon what’s most important to you.  You can switch out the Alta wristband.   The HR has a watchband closure unlike the Alta, but cannot be switched.  Visit fitbit.com/store to compare all Fitbit models as well as view details about the Atria WiFi Smart Scale.  These items are also available at Amazon of course.

If you are looking for a fitness tracker, do your research as there is much to choose from.  One caution about the Fitbit HR, there are complaints by some that the wristband or the charging port causes a skin rash, especially if worn tightly or in the warmer weather so be mindful of this. You don’t have to wear the wristband tightly for it to work.  Try coconut oil on your rash and switch wrists should this happen.  Regardless,  I’m still a fan.  I’d love to hear about your experience with this or other fitness trackers. All these stats can be a bit much.  Sometimes it’s good to just relax, get your exercise in, and not worry about tracking too!

My 8 New-ish Tech Words for 2015



Technology is ever evolving, and so too our vocabulary along with it. Here are some new-ish tech words that have entered my vocabulary this year, or new uses for already existing words. In some cases these words are not new, but I have not used them in conversation (or in my head) until this year.  The 8 words I’ve started using this year include:

Accelerometer–  We all carry one of these around in our smart phones.  If you are counting your steps with a fitness app or switching from landscape to portrait view when taking pictures on your phone, you’re using your accelerometer!  Okay I know accelerometer does not easily roll off your tongue, it’s easier just to think of when using it.

Chip (aka Smart Chip) – A chip used to be something in our cookies (the edible not computer kind), now it’s on our credit cards. And since not all point of sale devices have been updated, “chip or no chip” has become my new phrase when checking out.  Hopefully by this time next year I’ll no longer be chanting this phrase.

Emoji – Often in my head I say, “is there an emoji for that?”.  Check out emojipedia.org and you’ll find more emojis than you can handle. Who would have thought we would be expressing so much with these little pictures.  When texting or emailing I often resort to emoticons “:-)” because it’s just faster than searching for the perfect emoji which I’m not sure my recipient will even understand (unless they are 35 or under).

FOMO –  That’s the acronym for Fear of Missing Out.  I would typically use this term with those 35 or under.

Smart Home – Yes now we can control our lights, front door, thermostat and other appliances with apps on our phones or tablets.  My home is still stupid for now.

Smart Scale – any scale that tells me I’ve lost weight or body fat, gained lean mass, measures my BMI and can wirelessly update my account which I can see on my phone or computer is indeed a smart scale.  If it tells me I’ve gained weight, increased body fat, or  lost lean mass, well then I am not so sure.

Smart Watch (or Smartwatch) – I wasn’t seriously speaking about smart watches last year, thinking they weren’t ready for prime time and a bit self-indulgent, but one was on my holiday list this year.   The Apple watch is not the only one on the market, there are numerous offerings.  Just google “smart watch brands” and see the variety.

VR – Virtual reality has become reality.  It really is here, although future  improvements can be expected.   Perhaps not mainstream yet, applications abound including gaming, theater, music, travel, and real estate. You never know it could be a “hot item” on holiday lists for 2016.

Do you have any new-ish tech terms you’d like to add to the list?

Wishing you and your loved ones a Joyous, Healthful,

and Peaceful  holiday season and 2016!



Cloudy Over “The Cloud” ?

the cloud

If you are unclear or cloudy over cloud storage you are not alone.   Many people I speak with, roll their eyes (and sometimes their heads too while spinning their finger in the air) when they mention the cloud, like it is floating about somewhere in the atmosphere.  All  this rolling and spinning is getting me a bit dizzy, so I thought I’d attempt to lend some clarity to “the cloud”.

It’s simple.  When you use cloud storage, you are saving your data (via the Internet) on a remote database owned by a company, instead of your computer’s hard drive or one of your physical backup drives.  With your data stored in the cloud, you now can access it via Internet access; it is not restricted to one device.   Additionally should your computer or hard drive backup fail, your data is not lost.

Your photos on Facebook are a simple example of cloud storage. You’ve uploaded your favorite photos to Facebook via the Internet, and whether you are on your phone, tablet, laptop, or even a friend’s device you can access them.  With Facebook, others that you authorize to share with can also see your photos.  TADA!  You’ve been using cloud storage ever since you’ve been on Facebook.

Another example of cloud storage is the iCloud for your iPhone and other Apple devices.  Once data is on the iCloud it can be accessed from any of your Apple  devices (phone, iPad, iPod, computer).

Most cloud services allow you a specified amount of free storage (2-15 GB depending on the service), and then charge additional fees for additional space.  Amazon Cloud, Apple iCloud, Dropbox, Google Drive, Microsoft OneDrive (previously SkyDrive), and Verizon Cloud are current  popular cloud services.

Having a backup of your data, being able to access and share your data across multiple devices, and document sharing  are the big pluses of cloud storage.   However privacy and security concerns exist.  Data breaches are unfortunately common today which is why I shy away from using the cloud to store financial, personal, or sensitive documents.  Music, photos, and contacts that would be hard to replace are my best candidates for personal data on the cloud.   

The cloud is also great for file sharing, but again I would not share any documents of a sensitive nature, or anything that could compromise intellectual property should there be a data breach.

Perhaps I am being overly cautious as the convenience of storing your data in the cloud and file sharing may in fact outweigh the potential risks.

How do you feel about storing your data in the cloud? 

Using Wireless More But Enjoying It Less?


050I was awakened on a Sunday morning to a text message from my cable provider, apologizing for an outage and assuring me it would be remedied as soon as possible.  All was restored about 5 hours later, but alas my wireless router did not survive.

There was about an hour of panic over my lack of Internet access, until I remembered I could connect my laptop directly to the cable modem and forego the wireless router (duh).   At least now I could research routers online and have an idea of what I should buy before shopping that day.  Ordering online and waiting a day or two for delivery was not an option for this wireless household. So I researched and headed out, leaving the evening open for the hours of setup.

Setup of the last wireless router, I am guessing about 8 years ago, was not fun.  So, after arriving home with my new purchase I was planning on a long evening of possible frustration over the promoted  “easy setup”. But it really was easy.  It was just a matter of plugging the router into a power source and connecting it to my cable modem. The wireless devices in the household easily found the new network connection. Tada!  But that was not the only surprise…my wireless life has changed.

Now that I have my new router, I realize that I really needed a new one.  When I watch television on my iPad in the kitchen, it no longer pauses, and the best part is that I don’t lose the program when using the microwave.  I can also move my iPad to a corner counter in my kitchen (where I usually assemble a salad ) without any program disruptions. No pausing anymore when playing YouTube on the iPad either. I had wrongly assumed that any issues I had with streaming resided with my provider.  I never questioned the capability of my wireless router, since my Internet was always fast and trouble free. (The microwave interference and disruptions when re-positioning my iPad should have been a clue that my wireless router was the culprit.)

I was shocked when I  counted 10 devices in my home capable of using our new router:  3 laptops, 2 smart phones, 1 iPod, 1 Kindle, 2 iPads, and a smart TV.  Of course they are not all used at the same time, and we are not big gamers.  Yet my new wireless router has greatly improved the quality of my wireless life.  Streaming TV on my  iPad  is much better, and with dual band I now have the luxury of choosing from 2 bands (either 2.4 or 5 GHz) when connecting a device to my home network which avoids devices competing with one another.

This article will help you understand all the latest wireless router options, and help you decide what router options are a best fit to your needs.  Perhaps you can also benefit from an upgrade as I did.




So Much Social Media, So Little Time

Social Media Logo

If you were asked to name a social media website, Facebook, Twitter, and perhaps LinkedIn immediately come to mind.  Ah, but there are so many other social media sites!  So what if you don’t have the time to use them all?   

With so much social media availability on desktop and mobile it can be confusing, so here is a small glossary of some of the more popular social media websites (ordered by launch date) which also have their mobile app counterparts.  A few here are only mobile.  If you’d like to see a demo of a website or mobile app, check out YouTube, where you can likely find a tutorial.  Note that website and mobile app navigation will be a bit different for a particular company (for instance Facebook), but you can access your data using either.

Also note that these social media platforms share common functions, yet each has it’s niche and plethora of loyal users. Social beings that we are, we seem to love and can’t stop sharing, following, subscribing, commenting, liking, and hashtagging.  

LinkedIn –  launched in 2003, yes it really has been around for over 10 years.  It is used for professional networking.  Your profile contains your work history. You can give and receive recommendations, as well as job hunt and join professional groups.

Facebook – launched in 2004, it is now the world’s most popular social media site, used for sharing posts, pictures, videos, and interests. Both individuals and businesses have Timelines.  Note that you don’t need an account to visit a business page on Facebook which is why you often see facebook.com/username in advertising.

Flickr – launched in 2004, and is now owned by Yahoo.  Flickr (yes the e is absent) is great to use to store, organize, and share your photos and videos. You can share your content with friends, family, make it public or keep it private.  You can tag to categorize and easily retrieve your items.   A free account gives you a whopping 1 terabyte of storage.  Flickr users are quite passionate about their love of this application.

YouTube – launched in 2005 and now owned by Google is where we watch a lot of cute pet videos, but you can also use YouTube to research and find solutions on almost any topic, as well as view movies, tv, music, and even view college courses.

Twitter – launched in 2006, Twitter is the world’s second most popular social media site.  Tweets (posts) are limited to 140 characters.  Twitter now also supports photos and short videos.  You don’t need an account to view content using a web browser. Go to twitter.com/twitter and then use search to view celebrity, company, or anyone’s tweets.

Tumblr – launched in 2007, and yes another site name where the “e’ is not there.  Tumblr is considered a micro-blogging site, currently owned by Yahoo, where users follow one another.  Users primarily post pics or other content and short posts.  If you have something to say or something to show and you want quick and easy, you may want to express yourself on Tumblr.

Foursquare – launched in 2009, Foursquare is location based.  You check in to a location, (restaurant or store for example).  You can find friends who have also checked in.  Venues may offer discounts or specials for checking in.  The website provides suggestions of places to visit and discounts offered.

Pinterest –   launched in 2010, Pinterest allows you to pin (save) web pages on bulletin boards.  It’s great for projects like bathroom makeovers (save web pages with pics of bathroom vanities for instance), or wedding planning (save pages of flowers, dresses, shoes, etc).  You can follow other pinners and be followed.

Instagram – launched in 2010, Instagram is used to share photos and short videos taken with your mobile phone.  Users follow one another.  You can use a filter to change the image. Images are square, similar to the old Kodak Instamatic pics us baby boomers used to have.  Instagram was acquired by Facebook. Content can be shared on other sites.

Google + – launched in 2011, similar to Facebook, Google + allows you to share content with others.  You create circles of people who you share content with. Hangouts is a video chat feature for up to 10 people.

Snapchat – was launched in 2011  for mobile devices.  Snapchat enables you to send a picture or 10 second video which automatically deletes.  New functionality allows you to string photos and videos together to create a story. Stories don’t disappear, but each piece of the story is only available for 24 hours.

Vine – a mobile app, was recently launched in 2013, and is now owned by Twitter.  You can create short 6.5 second videos which can be posted on both Twitter and Facebook.

There are always new social media apps popping up, new ways to use them, and companies buying them out.  If you’ve read this post quickly it may just be up to date!

Hashtag Mania

hashtag mania

I have to admit I am a bit perplexed by the overuse of hashtags.  If you are perplexed by what a hashtag is, it is the use of the symbol “#’ prior to a  word or phrase (no spaces between words) to label it on a social media site. You can then search for that hashtag or click on the hashtag in a post to see other posts using that hashtag.  Most social media sites now support hashtags – first popular on Twitter but now Instagram, Pinterest, Facebook, Youtube, Google+, and others support the use of hashtags.  So that sounds pretty handy.  For instance on Facebook , you can post a picture of your adorable cat and comment on it by adding “look at my cute #cat”.    Then if someone searches for #cat or clicks on #cat in anyone’s post, your post will be included in the search results (if your post is public, otherwise  Facebook shares according to your share settings). I’ll admit there are some pretty cute kitty photos out there.  But if hundreds or thousands of people are also posting with #cat it makes me wonder who will actually see your post?

People are #ing their hearts out.  For what reason?   Perhaps to be heard and be counted and be a part of the collective conversation of social media, or to help make and be a part of a trending hashtag?  A trending hashtag would be one that is the most popular at the moment, what people are “talking” about.  You will often hear the phrase on news shows,  “what’s trending now”.

Business has capitalized upon this concept to create “buzz” about their products.  There are even companies that track hashtags which you can pay to see how well your hashtag is doing .  You can create a hashtag simply by inventing a clever name and using it.

On a smaller scale I understand hashtags can be helpful for events.  A hashtag can create a space where people can connect on the same topic.  There can also be fun and creativity associated with hashtags.  For example Instagram has a Weekend Hashtag Project where you can submit photos  on a weekly topic with a specific hashtag, with the hopes of your photo being chosen to be featured on Instagram’s blog.  You’ll find extremely clever photos there.  Many companies offer contests where using a specific hashtag becomes your contest entry.

And of course for a major event or crisis a hashtag can be a good way to get immediate feedback from people as long as their posts are intelligible and not every word is a hashtag.

In case you were wondering  yes, you’ll find  #hashtagmania posts on Twitter as well as Facebook – people will make up any word they can think of and tag it!   So much for trying to be original (my original title for this post was Hashtag Smashtag and sure enough #smashtag is out there too).

So, happy hashtagging to all those  hashtaggers out there.  As for me, #notalifechanger but #goodtoknow.


Big Data is a Big Deal

big data

Have you heard the term big data yet?  Big data involves the collection of data and the relationships that can be drawn from it.   It’s not a new concept, but discussion of big data and its usage has recently become more mainstream.

Data, data, and even more data is being collected on a gigantic enormous  scale.  Technology created it and is collecting it.  Business decisions and policies which affect our lives are being driven by it.  Retail transactions, social media use, search queries, electronic health records,  and our smart phones are just some of the sources feeding data collection (did you know that your  phone’s wifi signal is tracked by some retailers as you shop?).  Analysis of all this big data is a big business which has fortunately created a demand for IT specialists.

As an example, the CDC uses data collection from flu reporting and  flu samples to determine which flu strains are included in annual flu vaccines. With the aid of Google Flu Trends (data collected by Google searches on flu symptoms) current flu activity around the world can be estimated, even earlier than conventional CDC methods.

Another interesting example is predictive policing (forecasting where crime is likely to occur).  Fueled by big data analytics,  predictive policing is aiding in crime prevention.  A further illustration of big data, one which troubles me a bit is targeted marketing.  After searching for dresses online for an upcoming wedding, my Facebook account was suddenly inundated with dress ads.  Although I admit checking out a few of these ads it was a bit creepy seeing those ads pop up on Facebook after my online shopping spree.

Big data was recently added to The Oxford English Dictionary, defined as “data of a very large size, typically to the extent that its manipulation and management present significant logistical challenges.”  So by definition big data is “messy”.   Google Flu Trends  overestimated US flu outbreaks in 2012, whereas its prediction was fairly accurate in past years.   The decisions made from the analysis of big data are only as good as the analytics behind them, subject of course to human error and changing data.

Don’t be surprised as you start to hear more and more about big data.  Instead of Big Brother we have Big Data collecting us, storing us, sorting us, trending us, suggesting to us, but also hopefully curing us, making us safer, and enriching the quality of our lives without too much risk to whatever privacy we may still retain!

Your Digital Afterlife

Facebook Legacy

Now that most of us have a digital presence (Facebook,  Google +, Twitter, Pinterest accounts, digital music libraries on iTunes, pictures on Shutterfly, email, cloud storage), what happens when we are no longer around to manage our various social media or online storage accounts?   An estate executor knows about closing bank and investment accounts, but what about social media and other online accounts which store our digital assets?   Will anyone have access to retrieve paperless account statements via email?  Could our digital footprint be causing an increase in postmortem identity theft?  Have no fear, digital estate planning does exist and we are sure to be hearing more about it as our online content grows.

A student specifically enrolled in my Facebook class to learn how to close her account due to suggestions she received from Facebook mentioning her deceased cousin.  I would agree that getting a friend request from a deceased relative or acquaintance is unsettling.  In contrast, I recently visited the Facebook Timeline of a deceased coworker and friend.  Although he passed well over 2 years ago, his Timeline is full of recent loving messages which hopefully are a comfort to both his family and friends.

Each online service provider has its own policy regarding handling of deceased account owner’s data. Most policies do not allow another party access to a deceased’s account.  Facebook provides two choices.  You can memorialize the deceased party’s account or family can request the removal of the account.  Using Facebook’s help feature you can use the search term “deceased” to find information and exercise one of these options.  Facebook also allows you to create a page as a memorial for a deceased individual (but not a personal account).

Recently Google released an Inactive Account Manager which allows you to determine what to do with your data from its various services once you can no longer use your accounts.  Your accounts can be deleted or data transferred to someone you specify after a specified time of inactivity.

As social media continues to evolve and more people have active digital lives, there are sure to be new developments on this topic.  Much is still unclear and confusing as Federal and state laws are inconsistent, and providers have their own terms of use policies.  Your estate planning attorney should be able to help address your digital asset planning needs.

Hmmm….remember when computers were supposed to reduce paperwork?

Are You a Good Googler?

Most people I ask think they do ok using Google or Bing search engines, they find what they need pretty quickly.  Search engines have become quite smart and sophisticated making our search efforts almost effortless.  Yet there are times when we need to search a little smarter to find what we are looking for.  I recently completed Google’s free online Power Searching course and learned a few tricks worth sharing.

My favorite tip is searching using a date range.  Once you have your search results you can narrow your results by timeframe.  Click on Search Tools just above your search results.  You can limit results to the past hour, 24 hours, week, month, year, or enter your own date criteria.  This is so helpful when you are looking for current reviews or research, or you are looking for older documents.

Only use quotes around words if you want results that contain the phrase that you’ve put  in quotes.  For instance if you search for  “street signs in Montreal”  vs. street signs in Montreal,  varying results will be returned.

Suppose your search contains too many results and you’d like to filter out results that are not what you are looking for.   Simply add  a minus sign before the word you don’t want.  For instance if you are looking for results for the name Anna Maria but don’t want results about Anna Maria Island or Anna Maria College, search this:  anna maria -island -college.  By the way capitalization is ignored in your search.  However as you probably know word order does matter.  If you search Maria Anna your results will differ from searching Anna Maria.

Are you looking for information on a subject (solar energy)  from a particular website (nytimes.com) or type of website (edu or gov)?  Use site:name of site.  For instance,  solar energy site:edu  or solar energy site:gov  or solar energy site:nytimes.com.

If you can’t remember these search rules, you can  click on Advanced Search which allows you to fill out a search criteria form.  You can find Advanced Search if you click on the tool gear from the top right of your search results, or way on the bottom of your search results page.

Here are a few handy dandy searches you can try:

Weather with city or zip code will provide you with the current forecast and weather for the next few days ahead  (weather  11743).

Time with city or zip code will provide the current time at that location (time london).

Flight with airline and flight number provides departure and arrival information (flight southwest  157).

You can convert quantities by using in:  30C in F will convert Celsius to Fahrenheit.   Other conversions work as well; meters to miles, cups to quarts, etc.  You can also put calculations into the Google search bar.

For additional search shortcuts, you can check out Google’s tips and tricks page.

If you’ve managed to read this far (thanks for sticking with me on this one), you may also be interested in this Google video  about how Google search actually works.

Happy searching and may you always find what you seek!

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