Friday, November 13, 2015

Fitness with FitBit

I've recently purchased a FitBit device so that I can pay closer attention to my activity level and overall fitness.  I like the dashboard that gives me steps, distance, and other statistics at a glance.  I can also track my sleep, my food intake and any exercise.

Once  I reach my steps goal for the day, it vibrates and flashes on my wrist, so I know that I've made it.  It's nice to get that little bit of feedback.

Unfortunately, it does not register steps when I use a stationary bike.  That's a bummer, but it's perhaps a good excuse to buy either a treadmill or elliptical machine.

There are a lot of great fitness apps, including pedometers and other trackers, that are available for my smart phone, as well.  I'll have to try out a few and give some thoughts on them here... stay tuned.

I'm way too sedentary most days, so I really need to "step" it up... wish  me luck!

Small Business Saturday is 11/28!

Have a favorite shop in your local downtown?  I know that I have a few.  The "official" small business Saturday event is always Thanksgiving weekend, so it's coming up on 11/28.  I'm not sure who started this concept, perhaps some retail association, but it's a great idea.

So get out there and start your holiday shopping on Saturday, 11/28 at all of your local shops.  The small business owners will really appreciate it, and it's a big help to your whole community.

If you're local to the western suburbs of Detroit, try downtown Milford or Howell for some unique shops with great gift ideas.  Maybe I'll see you there!

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Fall Clean Up for Your PC

The colors are changing outside, and I'm thinking now would be a good time to do some basic maintenance on your PC in order to improve performance.  As always, if you need assistance with any of these tasks, feel free to contact me.

Here are some suggestions, including links to some free tools:

  1. Do you have old photos or other files that you no longer need on your hard drive, but can't totally delete?  Purchase an external hard drive and move them off your hard drive and onto the external drive as an archive.  
  2. Backup your essential files, if you're not doing it already.  You can use a tool like Microsoft's Synctoy to easily run a comparison of selected folders and back up any files that have changed since your last run.  To download and install Synctoy, which is easy enough for a novice to use it, click here, it's free.  If you have a backup tool such as Ghost, set it to run automatic backups for you on a regular basis (again could use your external drive).  This is good practice for your own protection.
  3. Run a tool like CCleaner to get rid of old browsing history and other junk files that can clutter your PC and degrade performance.  Download CCleaner here.  There are several versions, including a free one.
  4. Start using a password manager, such as RoboForm, rather than using the same password for everything (or writing them down).  Download RoboForm here.  There are free and paid versions, but I recommend the "Anywhere" version so that you can use it on all of your devices and any changes you make are synced.
  5. Set up a DropBox account, if you don't have one already.  Take advantage of their feature which automatically uploads a copy of the photos from your phone, so that you have a backup (and easier access to them).  It's also great for sharing files with friends, family and business associates.  Download DropBox here.
  6. If you have an anti-virus package, and you're not running scans automatically, you should run a scan right away.  Also, turn on the automatic scans so that you don't need to remember to do it regularly, it is dangerous not to do it often.  Hackers and scammers don't take vacations...
  7. Apply any windows updates that are pending for your system.  If you don't have them set to update automatically, you should consider it, especially if you don't do regular maintenance yourself.

Friday, September 11, 2015

iPhone Setup for Emergencies - Medical Data

Hopefully you'll never need this, but just in case...

If you are ever hurt and end up unconscious in a hospital, how will they know who you are or contact your family?  You can save basic medical data such as allergies, emergency contacts, birthdate, etc. into the Health app on an iPhone (it's a built in app).  Open the Health app and touch the "Medical ID" option at the bottom right.  Then type in what ever details you'd like to save (you'll be able to look up your emergency contact information in your stored Contacts).

If and when it's needed, medical personnel can get to it on your phone by touching "Emergency" on your lock screen (bottom left corner).  When the screen changes to the "Emergency Call" style, it has an option at the bottom left that says "*Medical ID" that they can touch.  It will then display the details that you saved in the Health app.

I originally saw this posted on Facebook, and I've done it myself so I know that it works.  I hope you never need it...

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Small Business Survival - Do You Have a Website?

This week, I needed to get in contact with a landscape contractor who I'd spoken with in the past.  I didn't have his phone number or name in my mobile phone, and I couldn't remember the name of his company.  I did a few google searches in an attempt to try to find him, and could not find him.

Fortunately for him, I was able to find his advertising postcard later that day, so I was able to contact him in the end.  Apparently he does not have a website for his company, which surprised me.  So many of the smallest businesses all have websites now, which it makes me wonder why he doesn't have one.  I'll have to  ask  him about it...

I also have a friend who owns a small business and we've talked about websites for her company many times in the past.  This week she contacted me about doing a website for her, so that project will be in my very near future.

I'm sure the slow economy has caused the death of many small businesses over the past several years.  I wonder how many of them had never bothered to create a website, thinking it was an expense they couldn't afford.  Perhaps some of the ones that survived were the ones that had websites and/or other technology tools that they were using effectively (email marketing, client databases, mail merges, accounting software, etc.).

Creating a website doesn't have to be expensive, and you don't need to be an expert.  Don't assume that you can't afford to hire someone to do it for you.  It is always worth it to ask around and get some quotes from providers that others have recommended to you.

If the price for a custom site is out of reach, then there are services available now that you can use to do it yourself.  Beware - sometimes a really bad website is worse than having no website at all.  Ugly sites with loads of text and colors that clash will not help your business to attract customers.  Try to focus on the most critical, minimum information and use a simple but attractive design.  Even if you just have a home page with your contact information and some basic details of the services you offer, that's a useful tool.  Give people the ability to find you in those google searches, and good things will come your way.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Are Phone Conversations Becoming Extinct?

I have two sons, ages 10 and 13.  I've recently noticed that they avoid using our house phone as if it's a rabid animal about to bite them.  Neither of them have mobile phones yet, so if they want to contact a friend, they typically ask me to call or text the mother.

One day recently I refused to make the contact for my older son, since he has the phone numbers of his friend (both home and mobile).  I forced him to actually CALL his friend himself. What a revelation.   He could barely use the house phone (and habitually uses the speaker function rather than holding it to his head, oddly).

What the heck are we teaching our kids?  Is it really such a big deal to call and actually SPEAK to someone?  What will he do when he gets a mobile phone later this summer?  I suspect that he'll use it almost exclusively to text, rather than to actually make phone calls.  I'm curious to see how that pans out over the next few months... stay tuned.

I suspect it's laziness that is at play here.  I mean really, is it that much more effort to call and have a 5 minute conversation?  Especially if the person you are trying to reach is not responding to your texts?  My kids just have no idea about the normal etiquette for contacting people.  When you try to text someone and they don't respond, then try to call and they don't answer - it's pretty obvious that they are not home or not available.  Calling them repeatedly is not going to change anything, and you're being a pest!  Yet another thing that I'll be teaching them, starting now.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Transferring Your Website to a new Hosting Vendor

Unhappy with your current hosting vendor for your website?  Running out of space or paying too much?  If you're thinking of moving your site to a new home, please keep these questions in mind:

  • Where is your domain name registered?  Find out, because you'll have to login to the account with your domain registrar and tell them the new DNS (server name) of your new website host.  If you don't do this, your site will not actually be "moved" because people will still be seeing the contents at the old location when they go to your domain name.
  • How much space do you currently have?  How much do you need?
  • Do you need any special tools, such as PHP, web statistics, or others?
  • Do you know how (and have access to) to move the contents of your site (text, images, etc.)? 
  • Or do you have a support vendor that will need to actually copy your site contents to the new location?
If some or all of these questions are completely confusing to you, please contact me.  I can educate you on what is involved in a website move, and assist with moving your site, if needed.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

New Wireless Network Router has "Parental Controls"!!

Recently we've purchased a new router for our home wifi and we've discovered a nifty new feature. We had our old router for several years, so of course the technology and available bells & whistles have changed a lot.

Our new Linksys router offers better coverage in our house as well as better speed.  It also offers a "parental control" feature that lets us set specific times when specific devices may be on the wifi.  This means that I can set it to shut off the wifi to our PS4, iPad minis and any other specific device at bedtime!  We are loving that, although the accompanying moans and groans from our kids were pretty loud at first.  Now if I could just set an automatic "off" time for all of those same devices to make them totally unusable at a certain time, that would be even better...

The router came nicely boxed and it was very easy to set up.  I had it working within just a few minutes.  Some of its other features include:

  • a web-based dashboard to change settings, passwords and use the parental controls
  • an app to give access to those same things on a mobile device
  • it's dual-band, which means that I have two different networks that I can join from my devices - a faster option and a slower option.  It's nice to be able to hook up my work computers to the faster network and give the kids the slower one.  
  • offers "guest" networks, too, with their own passwords, separate from my main network
  • parental controls to turn wifi on/off for any specific device, or set specific times when it is available

Here is a link to a description of the specific router that we purchased (from Staples):

Happy wifi!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

YouTube Videos to Replace Flash

If you'd like to embed a video on your business or personal website, one approach is to link to it on YouTube.  If you load it to YouTube, you don't use space on your website's server, and you don't have to worry about the different devices that users might have when they view it.

Most embedded videos on websites use Flash, which does not work on any Apple devices (iPad, iPhone, etc.).  That's pretty limiting if you know that you have a large audience that will use mobile devices to view your content.

I've recently tried uploading a video to YouTube and it was pretty simple.  Once it was loaded to YouTube, I was able to easily copy the link from YouTube into a client's website.  Now their video will work for anyone, even if they're using an Apple device.  And they're saving storage space on their website, which is a nice bonus.  Video files can be BIG.

Try it out and good luck!

Travel Tips

A while back I mentioned that I was requesting a "Known Traveler Number" from the TSA in order to make travel simpler.  I went through their process, paid my $85 and got my number back within just a couple of weeks.

Since that point I have traveled several times and I've been 'selected' for the pre-check line at security every time.  The pre-check line is always shorter than the regular line.  I also don't have to take off shoes or belts, and I don't have to take my laptop out of my bag.  It's been a huge help to make security checkpoints a much less time consuming part of travelling.  I don't think pre-check is available at every airport in the US but it's been at every airport I've used so far (a handful).

There are other similar programs, so you should see the TSA website for more details on the differences and which one might suit you best.

See this link for more information:

Next I need to renew my passport which expires in a few months.  I found an online form that I could fill out and print, so I didn't have to write the application form by hand.  All I had to do was write my check for $110, put in a passport photo and my original passport, and mail it off.

Please note that there are websites out there that will do the process for you, for a fee.  It's really pretty simple so I don't recommend going that route.

See this link for passport request and renewals information with the US government:

Safe travels!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

iPhone 6 Issues

I love my iPhone 6.  I got it in October after a three year long relationship with my iPhone 4s.  It was dying so I was ready for a change.

Unfortunately, I dropped it after only having it for six weeks.  I didn't have a protective enough case on it, so the screen shattered.  Thank goodness for the Apple Plus protection plan, because they replaced my broken screen quickly and for a nominal cost.  It was totally worth the $99 for the plan.  Please note - when taking in an iPhone for repair, it is always a good idea to do a full backup in iTunes first.  According to the Apple Geniuses, there's always a small chance that your data could be lost during the repair process (for example, if my replacement screen had not connected successfully to the unit).

I am sad to report that today, my iPhone 6 is now acting oddly.  I tried to use the camera earlier and it would only display a black screen.  When I tried to go back to the home screen, the screen went totally dark and has not come back on again.  If I hold down the home button, I do hear Siri's voice sometimes, so it is still working.  I was able to do a full backup to my computer also, so at least I haven't lost any data.  Looks like I'll have to visit the Apple store again and get another new screen.  Sigh.  This is not how I wanted to start my weekend.

Google Forms - A Testimonial

Over a year ago, I set up a Google form to accept applications for a youth camp on behalf of a client.  The setup was fairly straightforward and it was quickly working well.

After the application process was completed for the year, my client gave me feedback that it worked well for them to have access to the results of the form in Google.  We've used it for two seasons and have had to do only minor tweaks for the annual dates, etc. to keep it current.

Next I'm going to create a new Google form to replace a PDF fillable form for that same client to accept the details on donated items.  Fillable PDFs are great if you use Outlook for email, but unfortunately it is not so easy to use for non-Outlook users or those who are not tech savvy.  Non-Outlook users have to fill out the form, and print or save it to a PDF file so that they can then send it as an email attachment in their email program manually.  Google forms will be much easier both for those completing the form and those receiving the information.  Stay tuned for the results of this project in the near future.

Friday, February 6, 2015

New Year, Clean Slate

Feeling like you'd like a fresh start with your technology in the new year?  Here are some clean up tips and other things to consider for your life with technology.

Clean up Your PC - download & use these tools
CCleaner - to clean out the junk on your PC
DeCrapifier - to remove bloatware that might have been pre-loaded on your PC
SyncToy - to create backups easily to/from your PC or any flash drive
DriverMax - to update all of the drivers on your PC

Some of these are totally free, some have a nominal charge beyond a trial period, but all of them are worth using periodically to maintain the performance of your PC.

Organize Your Digital Photos
Organize your folders for photos by year, month and event, such as 201412 Xmas, 201404 Spring, etc. so that you can easily find the images you need.  Don't leave all of your digital images on the memory card unless you're actively going to use that card to print them at the local WalMart or whatever.  You need to copy them onto a PC or into the cloud - it is WAY too easy to lose those tiny memory cards and without a backup somewhere, you are screwed!!

Back up Your PC
You can use an external hard drive or flash drive, depending on the amount of data you have.  Tools like SyncToy or Ghost can create backups of selected files or of your entire computer.  It's definitely a good idea to have an image copy of your entire PC, just in case your hard drive dies completely.  Be sure to include backups of your photos, which may require a large amount of space.  You should store your backup drive in a safe place away from your PC if possible.  Ideally, keep it  in a fireproof safe in a different room of your house, so then you're likely to actually be able to recover from a fire or flood.  If you keep your backup and your PC together all of the time, you greatly increase the chances that if a catastrophic event occurs, you'll lose both.

Use a Password Manager
I can't stress it enough - you need to use different passwords on all of your most frequently visited websites, especially any that have your credit card details, your financial information or other sensitive personal information!  I know that is a LOT of passwords to remember, but password manager software is the key to keeping your sanity.  I recommend RoboForm, which is low cost, easy to use and has several useful features.

Turn on Your Router's WPA2 Password
Keep the bad guys out of your wifi network so they can't steal your data or your bandwidth.  Check your router's documentation to find out how to login to the admin function and set this up, and do it now.

Use Firewall and Virus Protection
Everyone should already know about these, but I would be remiss not to include them.  If you don't already use both a firewall and a virus protection software package, get them and start using them right away.  You are just asking for your identity to be stolen or for your PC to be compromised without these tools.