Sunday, March 31st, 2013
So many times we don’t think about backing up the data on our computers before it’s too late. When the blue screen of death appears or the contents of one’s coffee cup start to seep between the keys, shorting out your laptop, you’re often just minutes away from losing important documents and photos. In honor of March 31 being World Backup Day, it’s a good time to think about how you back up your home computers.
World Backup Day was started as “a day for people to learn about the increasing role of data in our lives and the importance of regular backups.” According to WorldBackupDay.com, more than 60 million computers worldwide will fail this year and with only 1 in 4 people backing up their information regularly, there will be about 45 million incidences where files will be lost for good. These files include thousands of photos, conversations, calendars, and more that could be gone in an instant. Baby photos, kids’ school assignments, and address book entries that could potentially be lost.
Now is a great time to take stock of how you’re currently backing up your data to figure out what you need for complete system backup before any mishaps occur. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, start by thinking about how many computers, tablets, and smartphones you have in your home and what is most critical to keep for eternity.
Most families worry most about precious photos and video clips that document a child’s life. According to Techzilla.com Expert, Ben Weissman, the most important thing to back up are your pictures. Weissman says, “You can always buy a movie or music, but you can’t ever buy back memories.”
Portable external hard drives or cloud backup solutions through services like Carbonite provide the most comprehensive home backup systems. With Carbonite, you get unlimited backup space but if you’re purchasing an external hard drive, you’ll need to assess how many gigabytes (GB) of storage each of your devices is using to figure out the size of backup drive you’ll need. It’s always better to purchase the largest external hard drive available (usually 2 Terabytes) that can grow with your needs.
While you’re backing up your computer, also be sure to sync any tablets and smartphones to your machines regularly. Downloading photos from your phone to your computer is a way to safeguard content if your phone is lost, damaged, or stolen. Also be sure to backup content you may have shared on social networking services. Since smartphones are widely used as photo capturing tools that post images to social networks, it’s also important to backup photos and videos on your phone and ones posted sites like Facebook, Flickr, or Instagram.
A complete backup solution should provide a complete backup system to house files, photos, and videos all in one place. If you’d like to learn more about different backup options, read my piece on Parents.com called 4 Ways to Backup Your Computer.
Happy female photographer in studio with camera and laptop computer via Shutterstock
Thursday, March 28th, 2013
If you’re in the market for a new car but haven’t started shopping, there’s a dizzying array of new technology features that are designed to enhance the in-car experience. Cameras, sensors, and voice recognition technology are only some of the new features that have been added to vehicles since your last trip to the dealership. Here’s a look at 9 tech savvy features designed to enhance your driving experience and ultimately make your ride safer.
Proximity sensors— Microchips in your car’s key fob and in the vehicle itself know where you are. Many of Kia’s models such as the Sorento, Optima, and Rio allow you to press a button on the car’s handle to unlock the doors without even taking the key out of your pocket or purse.
Push button start— Car owners who are used to starting their cars with keys are often confused by new cars that feature push button start to the right of the steering column. Proximity sensors know when the key is inside the car and allow you to push the button to start the car.
Embedded cameras— Rear vision cameras not only can assist drivers in providing another set of eyes to ensure that you’re backing up safely but cars such the Cadillac SRX also feature cameras on both sides of the car that serve to keep cars in their lane. When veering too close to the left side lane line, the Cadillac SRX alerts the driver by vibrating the left side of the driver’s seat. Veer too close to another vehicle or object on the right side and the right side of the seat will vibrate alerting you to possible danger on that side of the car.
Bluetooth pairing for hands free calling— With many states passing laws prohibiting the use of cell phones while driving, Bluetooth pairing is becoming more common in vehicles on the market. Calls can be taken or made by pushing buttons on the steering wheel or using voice commands that ultimately allow us to keep our eyes on the road and be less distracted while driving.
Touch screens— Touch screens in the center console serve as the car’s information hub and place where systems like Toyota’s Entune allows drivers to make calls via Bluetooth pairing, listen to music from Pandora, Sirius, or the radio, while also displaying helpful information such as your average speed, MPG for your trip, and the distance you can travel on what’s left in your gas tank.
Improved vehicle stabilization— Mercedes ML350 features Active Curve Assist as part of the new BlueTEC 4Matic that works to stabilize the vehicle to keep it from tipping over in hazardous weather, navigating the urban jungle, or off roading. The Active Curve System features active anti-roll bars that are split in the middle to help regulate the cars’ hydraulics. Counteracting bars prevent the vehicle from rolling and also keeps passengers from getting thrown around. A warning system does indicate when the car is operating in unsafe conditions and acts by emitting an audible beep and lighting up the red lights mounted to the top of the dashboard. The car’s Electronic Stability Program (ESP) also works to determine the path being steered in relation to the car’s actual path and when combined with the Active Curve System, both help keep passengers upright while riding in the vehicle.
Integrated USB— Powered USB ports in the car’s center console and also in the front center armrest allow drivers and passenger alike to charge their devices when on the go. USB ports also allow for you to play music from your iPod or smartphone through the car’s stereo. The best USB ports are hidden to keep phones and other devices out of view.
Integrated navigation— Gone are the days when you need to rely solely on a separate navigation system suction cupped to your car’s windshield to get to where you’re going. Beautiful touch screen displays in cars such as the Ford Escape not only safely guide you to your destination but Ford Sync provide an almost 3D representation of buildings and landmarks along your route in vivid color.
Improved fuel economy— The price of gas is rising with no indication that what we pay at the pump will drop anytime soon and thankfully car manufacturers are responding with cars that get more miles per gallon than ever before. Fuel efficiency can be found throughout car manufacturer’s lines without even looking at hybrids. Cars such as the sporty Mazda M3 have been known to average 33 MPG.
Happy family with a new car via Shutterstock
Monday, March 25th, 2013
Seasonal transitions often cause the desire to clean out the old to provide a fresh outlook for the coming season. While it’s great to write off donated items on the following year’s taxes, sometimes it’s better to recoup money spent on items.
Where do you start and how do you know what items might be worth your time to sell versus donate? eBay makes selling easy for novices and experienced sellers alike but sometimes to fetch top dollar, it’s good to look beyond eBay to more specialized sites focusing on niche items that appeal to fellow consumers. Here are 7 sites worth looking into as you look to declutter your home.
thredUP.com— This online consignment service provides a way to clean out children’s closets and turn outgrown clothes into cash. Start by ordering a thredUP bag and when it arrives, fill it with kids’ clothes and earn up to 40% of the resale value. For those who are looking to buy items from thredUP, rest assured that consignors inspect every item and resell only the best clothes.
EcoATM— As you look to replace outdated technology with newer and faster models, what do you do with your old items? It’s true that even broken computers sell on eBay, often to buyers who are looking to purchase parts, but if you’re looking to reduce time spent listing, packing, and selling, try EcoATM. This easy-to-use service is an automated, self-serve kiosk that quickly evaluates your items before buying them back and giving you cash. The best thing about it is that EcoATM makes it easy. EcoATMs can also be found nationwide through their website.
Chairish.com— Furniture can be a trickier thing to sell because of its size but if you’ve inherited valuable pieces that just don’t quite match your décor, try Chairish. Submit your furniture details through the site and Charish will take care of payment, insurance, and even white glove shipping for grandma’s curio cabinet. If you’re in the market for new furniture, Chairish’s curation team approves listings to ensure the best furniture quality for their buyers.
GoldFellow.com— Chances are you’ve seen the Cash for Gold advertisements and heard of gold parties where people bring their jewelry to parties and leave with cash but GoldFellow.com is another option for pieces that were once favorites. GoldFellow even takes broken jewelry!
BookScouter.com— Book lovers who just have too many titles around the house can use BookScouter.com as their book broker. Simply type in the ISBN and Book Scouter searches all the sites that are currently paying for used books and gives you a quote.
GiftCardGranny.com: Gift cards can be a welcome gift until you get the odd one that you just can’t seem to spend. GiftCardGranny.com is a gift card exchange that helps you trade in gift cards you aren’t planning on using for gift cards you will use or cash.
UsedInstrumentBuyer.com— Musical education in schools is wonderful until your child loses interest in playing and you don’t know what to do with the instrument you’ve purchased. You could pass them along to another family or try selling them on CraigsList but why not find out how much you might be able to get for them on UsedInstrumentBuyer. You’ll get a quote from the site and if you choose to sell through them, the used instrument will ship for free.
Secondipity.com— Large items like TVs aren’t easy to sell other than through local listings on Craigslist or eBay Classifieds but Secondipity.com provides a third option for bigger items. You can also feel good about selling through Secondipity because for each item you sell, they’ll make a donation to a classroom in need.
Volunteer with clothes donation box at second hand store via Shutterstock
Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
1099s, receipts, bank statements, tax deductions, and medical spending are just some of the documents that a family needs to pull together come tax time. The sheer amount of paper can be overwhelming but free online tools that have accompanying apps can assist with tracking expenses, storing copies of important documents safely, and capturing expenditures so you can throw away receipts.
Tax season doesn’t have to be daunting if you are good about keeping track of expenses throughout the year. Streamline your taxes by going paperless with these six helpful tools, which can be accessed through apps for your iPhone, iPad, or Android device and also on the Web.
Mint— If you’re a family that struggles with budgeting or likes to account for every penny spent, Mint helps pull together your bank accounts so you can view all of your financial information at the same time. Take a look at balances and transactions on the web or on your smartphone to get a big picture view of your family’s finances.
Expensify— Technically designed to assist with expense reports, Expensify can also be used to organize a freelancer or consultant’s business expenses and helps eliminate endless receipts. Start by logging into the website to create an account and then download the mobile app to use Expensify to capture and upload receipts. Use your smartphone’s camera feature to take a picture of your receipt, fill in information such as expenditure category, add some notes, and save it in a report that can be viewed online at a later date.
Slice— Slice works with your email inbox to pull information from your e-receipts and organize them all in a single, easy-to-access record of past purchases. Slice keeps a record of online purchases through e-receipts so it can instantly assist you in finding lost or forgotten deductions and receipts such as textbooks, small business expenses, and travel. Slice presents purchases in an easy-to-browse list and stores your receipts so you can print them out or take a screenshot for your records. It also allows you to download and export purchase data to a .csv file.
Freshbooks— Small business owners or consultants who need to keep track of invoices and payments will appreciate the ease of Freshbooks. This cloud accounting service makes billing painless thanks to an easy to use interface. Freshbooks helps business owners create professional invoices and then send, receive, print, and pay them too. For added convenience, Freshbooks integrates with Expensify.
Evernote— If you’re in need of an organized, paperless tax process for your personal finance documents, Evernote can help. Scan and save documents such as receipts and financial statements, save logins for online accounts, or store contact info for tax professionals and accountants you work with. All information can be organized in a notebook or with a tag before sharing it with your spouse or partner if filing jointly.
Master Lock Vault— With so many online accounts and apps to help reduce the paper associated with tax season, it’s easy to forget each site’s login credentials. Master Lock Vault is a free service that works online through your desktop computer and a mobile app as a way to store and organize important information. It securely stores logins and passwords but also digital copies of your passport, social security card and other confidential data such as debit or PIN card numbers or online credit card account log-in information.
Closeup woman’s hand writing messages on business desk via Shutterstock
Categories: Apps, Must Read, Tech Savvy Parents, Website | Tags: accounting, Expensify, free, FreshBooks, invoicing, Mint, online tools, receipts, tax preparation
Saturday, March 16th, 2013
With spring break and Easter rapidly approaching, give your iPad a seasonal makeover with some affordable Easter-themed apps that will appeal to your toddler and preschooler without breaking the budget. These 5 apps provide diverse learning opportunities are are guaranteed to capture their interest but along with great game play, some of them also provide perfect opportunities to begin the discussion about social sharing and the pitfalls of in-app purchases at a very young age.
Practice hand-eye coordination
Preschoolers will have to be fast to spot adorable white rabbits and tap them as soon as they stick their heads out of holes. Bunny Bop (free) is like the Whack-a-Mole of the rabbit set where the goal is to bop the bunnies as fast as you can before they steal a carrot. Kids will love the independent play and competing against themselves as they try to increase their score with each game.
Decorate a virtual egg
Kids anxious to get decorating will love creating a virtual egg using the PAAS Heinz Egg Decorator site or iPad app (free). Start by selecting from 10 different egg dye colors, use the slider to watch as you adjust the color from lighter to brighter, and then choose tools like a paint brush, chalk, glitter glue, and assorted stickers to adorn the egg. Make a mistake? No problem! One of the tools is an eraser that can easily clean up any decorating mishaps. It’s also very easy to decorate all sides of your egg thanks to the rotate and tilt feature. Click on the arrows to spin the egg in the direction you want and hit the stop sign to make it stop. Grab your favorite tool and start the egg spinning to decorate all sides.
Read an eBook
Happy Easter, Little Critter ($.99 at time of press) supports early literacy for young readers with a familiar character. Words in the story are highlighted as they are read, providing kids with a chance to build up their site word vocabulary. Individual words and pictures can be tapped to help children make the association between pictures and the written word. The record feature also helps motivate beginning readers to read the story out loud for the reward of hearing their voices played back as often as they want. Another fun element is the hidden egg feature. 100 are hid throughout the story, providing the challenge of finding more with each reading of the story.
Work on problem solving and spatial abilities with puzzles
Puzzle Me!! Easter Free (free) is an iPad app that features 4 different levels of puzzles including 6 piece puzzles that are great for toddlers and ones with more pieces for older brothers and sisters. If a child is using the family’s iPad or a parent’s phone to play, there is the option to share success via Facebook so this provides a great opportunity to discuss social sharing with kids even at a young age.
Practice visual discrimination
Easter Find the Difference (free) provides kids and adults alike the opportunity to practice visual discrimination as they spot the differences between the two pictures presented side by side. Two different levels makes this game great for toddlers through adults as each will race the clock to find the differences that are randomized with each game. There are two different scenes that are free but do be aware that additional ones are available as in-app purchases so talk to your children about what to do when the pop up appears since additional levels will be charged to your iTunes account.
Beautifully decorated Easter eggs via Shutterstock