Better Late Than Never Resolutions for 2016

Wow, the first month of 2016 is almost half over and it’s time for me to have a plan, or at least intentions, for both my personal technology goals and my technology help outreach.

In the personal technology goals category, this is what I want to accomplish in the short term:

  1. Begin to get control of my inbox by unsubscribing from all my Christmas shopping sites.
  2. Get my 2015 emails filed or deleted – down to my once a year Inbox Zero. I created a Slideshare about how to do this last year, and it really helped me keep my inbox under 100, until about November! It’s time to start over.
  3. Share my Christmas photos with family via iCloud sharing and Google sharing (for the two Android owners). Here’s an article I wrote about iCloud photo sharing.
  4. While I’m fooling around with those Christmas photos, take care of any photo tagging or organization in my preferred software, Photos for the Mac.

My long term goals are:

  1. Reduce my remaining paper files to only the most essential: taxes, health insurance, automobile records. Scan the others into a cloud storage program. Probably Evernote for most of them.
  2. Have a “Siri Day” where I try commanding Siri for just about everything. See what works and what doesn’t.
  3. Focus on really understanding iTunes. It’s always been a hit-or-miss black hole for me.
  4. Focus on understanding how to make Facebook my friend, instead of my enemy. I’m sure it’s all in the settings. I want to know everything my children post, but not when a childhood friend has a cold.
  5. Email the right people when I see products, processes, websites, etc. that don’t work. Be a part of the solution, not a whiner.
  6. Learn to write a simple iPhone app. Possibly one to alert when there are too many photos saved on the phone.

In the technology outreach realm, I intend to write how-to articles on the following topics. Some will be as a result of my own personal goals.

  1. Photos – management, organization
  2. Synchronization of contacts, calendars, notes
  3. Backups
  4. Passwords
  5. iTunes Basics
  6. Facebook for Introverts
  7. Using Siri more effectively

What about you? Do you have any personal technology goals for 2016? Or, is there a particular technology article you’d like me to write? If so, leave a comment below!

Have an awesome 2016!!!

What in the World is The Internet of Things?

In the past year or two, you may have noticed the phrase the ‘internet of things’ being used in news reports or articles. When I first heard that terminology, I wasn’t quite certain what it meant. Now that the Internet of Things (IoT) is a reality, I’d like to help you understand it and take a glimpse into what it will mean for us in the future.

When I was studying computer science in the late seventies, Professor LeBlanc told us about something that sounded incredible at the time. It was a network of government and academic computers, separated by many miles, that could communicate and exchange information with each other. It was called the ARPANET, and he said that one day we would all be able to share information through computers instantaneously.

It would be ten years before I heard the new word ‘internet,’ and I never could have imagined in 1979 how it would impact life in the 21st century.

The evolution of the internet has depended on technological advances in both hardware and software to create ever smaller, faster and smarter devices. You’ve seen this change too, whether it’s with your computer, your smartphone or the telecom company that provides your connection to the World Wide Web.

The theory behind the IoT is that we can do more than just connect computers and smartphones for sharing information. Now that the hardware is small enough and wireless networking is fast enough, we can connect, control and communicate with all kinds of systems and objects in our homes, offices and even cities.

According to Wikipedia, the Internet of Things (IoT) can be classified into five categories: smart wearable, smart home, smart city, smart environment, and smart enterprise. More than just providing  improved efficiencies in each of these categories, the IoT captures information that can alert us to problems so that we make more timely and smarter decisions.

For most of us, the prospect of a smart home is exciting and promises the biggest impact to our daily lives. You can already remotely monitor and control your security system, appliances, heating and air conditioning, door locks, irrigation, smoke detectors, DVR’s, music, garage doors, lights and water heaters! Other than cost, the slow migration to fully smart homes is because each manufacturer’s system has its own app or website for controlling their own devices. It’s bad enough having three remotes for my TV system, but using fifteen or twenty different apps to control my smart home is ridiculous!

Which is why the Internet of Things in your home is not yet an attractive option for most people – but it’s coming soon. One day, there will be a single app to remotely view or control all of your smart home systems. And even better, when you are in your house, you will be able to conversationally “talk” to your house and give commands like, “I’m cold. Turn up the heat by two degrees.”, or “Lock the front door.”, or “Turn on the oven to 350 degrees.”

When that day comes, I’m hoping that all of my kitchen is smart and I can say, “Chop those vegetables and make dinner!”

How to Plan a Ride on the Great Allegheny Passage Trail

***Warning – this is not my usual article about technology tips. It’s a review with travel tips for cycling the GAP trail. If that interests you – read on.

My husband and I love to ride rail-trails – especially longer ones so that we can spend the night in small towns along the trail. We just completed our third multi-day cycling trip in the States (we’ve also done this in Austria and Italy), and I thought it might be helpful to others to share how we planned and cycled the Great Allegheny Passage (commonly called the GAP) recently.

First of all, make lodging reservations as early as possible. These are SMALL towns with a limited number of bed and breakfasts or guest houses, and they fill up quickly on a trail as popular as the GAP. Secondly, the direction you choose to bike and the days you bike will make a difference. I prefer the peace and quiet of weekdays over weekends crowded with weekend warriors, so we chose to ride Sunday through Wednesday.

The majority of cyclers ride from Pittsburgh to Cumberland, either because of the common perception that the elevation change is easier or because they are riding beyond Cumberland on the C&O Towpath to Washington, DC. We decided to ride the less popular direction from Cumberland to Pittsburgh. It meant that most of our first day was a steady, but gradual uphill and then the next three days would be flat or an imperceptible downhill. It was the right decision for us.

We are not hard-core cyclers and like to ride about 40 miles a day, give or take a few. Last year while cycling on the C&O towpath, I made the brilliant decision to ride 60 miles the first day and then over 50 the second day. What a mistake!

Using the map on the GAP’s website, it was easy to choose the towns for overnighting based on  a day’s cycling of 35 – 45 miles. Our towns were Cumberland, MD (the night before we started), Meyersdale, PA, Ohiopyle, PA and West Newton, PA. My search for accommodations began with the links provided on the GAP website and TripAdvisor. As I mentioned, there are not many options in these little towns, but the reviews on TripAdvisor were very helpful. When I am looking for rail-trail lodging, my priorities are private bath, air conditioning and Wi-Fi – in that order!

Cumberland, MD has a newish, trailside Fairfield Inn & Suites, where we stayed last year. Unfortunately, it was already full when I tried to make reservations, so the next best hotel choice was an older Ramada Inn, a few blocks from the trail. I have since heard that there are some nice B&B’s in Cumberland, but the Ramada was fine. Plus, they allowed us to keep our car in their lot while we were cycling for four days.

Most of the towns along the GAP and C&O trails are shadows of their former selves. We noticed this last year while biking the C&O, and the GAP was no different. Cumberland, by far the largest of the small towns, has a lovely pedestrian-only Main Street with more than half of its storefronts standing empty. Walking along it on Saturday night, we heard live music playing from a pavilion in the “town square.” An excellent contemporary singer and cellist was performing to less than 100 people – part of the town’s free summer concert series. It made me sad. Obviously, Cumberland was once a thriving small city with lots of shops and restaurants. But the industries that provided work for its inhabitants must be gone and now, tourism is just about all they have.

This semi-ghost town effect was felt in each town we visited, with the exception of tiny Ohiopyle. In spite of the obvious economic struggles, I could really feel the pride in every well-kept street and flowering window box. In the friendly smiles and abundant helpfulness as we stopped in town after town. It really felt good to be spending my vacation dollars in areas that so obviously want and need tourism in order to survive.

Day 1

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Our first day from Cumberland, MD to Meyersdale, PA was only 32 miles, but there was an elevation gain of 1700 ft over the first 25 miles, so we were slower than usual. We stopped for lunch in Frostburg, MD at a small farm-to-table restaurant called Shift. It was delicious and extremely accommodating for cyclers, though we had parked our bikes and walked up the hill to the town.

Our lodging in Meyersdale was at the Yoder’s Guest House, and it was just right for us. There is a more upscale option in Meyersdale called the Levi Deal Bed and Breakfast (which was full when I made my reservations), but I would stay in Yoder’s Guest House again. Our room, the Maple Queen room, had a private entrance, private bath, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Perfect! A self-serve, continental breakfast was also included.

Dining in Meyersdale was limited to a hotdog stand, Subway, and a full-scale restaurant called the Morguen Toole Company. At 6 pm on a Sunday night, we were the only customers for dinner at the Morguen Toole Company until one other couple showed up around 6:30. It was a good option with a variety of salads, sandwiches and full-sized entrees. They had an amazing number of beers on tap, too.

As we explored tiny Meyersdale, we found a laundromat a few blocks from our guest house and took advantage of the opportunity to wash and dry our biking attire!

Day 2

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Our second day on the trail, we stopped in Confluence for lunch at one of my favorite GAP trail restaurants – the Lucky Dog Cafe. Great salad, sandwich, burger and beer options. I liked the food and the atmosphere.

After biking forty miles that day, we spent the night in Ohiopyle, PA. Ohiopyle isn’t like the other towns we visited on the GAP. It’s next to an extremely popular state park and a white water rafting river. The town is basically a couple of guest houses, a few restaurants and a handful of paddling and cycling outfitters.

We stayed in the Ferncliff Guest House, which was clean and air-conditioned with no Wi-Fi. I chose this guest house because there was one room that had a private bath – and that’s my number one priority! Thankfully, we were the only guests in the house that night. Of our three nights on the trail, this was the most basic and least comfortable. Our en suite room had two old double beds and only SoftSoap for bathing. Coffee, tea and banana muffins were provided for breakfast. There just aren’t many options for lodging in Ohiopyle, and staying in decent yet unusual places is part of the adventure we enjoy. If we ride the GAP again, I may try another option in Ohiopyle called the Yough Plaza Motel.

Dinner that night at the Ohiopyle House Cafe was a pleasant surprise. Everything is made from scratch, and the gnocchi bolognese was delicious.

Day 3

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Our third day on the trail took us through pleasant Connellsville with good lunch options, but it was way too early to eat lunch. So, we looked at the map and thought there would be other towns with restaurants before we reached our destination for that night. We were wrong. At least our 42-mile ride for that day was easy. We reached West Newton, PA by 2 pm and were eating lunch at the The Trailside restaurant by 2:30. My grilled roast beef sandwich with caramelized onions and Swiss cheese really hit the spot. No Paleo diet for me that day!

We stayed in the Bright Morning Bed and Breakfast which is right beside the GAP trail. It was by far our nicest lodging on the ride with a comfortable queen sized bed, private bath, air conditioning and free Wi-Fi. Plus, the owners served a delicious full breakfast the following morning. Quite a treat compared to our other mornings on the trail!

After reading reviews on TripAdvisor, dinner in West Newton had to be at the tiny West Newton Pizza House where two older women lovingly make each pizza to order in rectangular cookie sheet pans. I think the locals call and pick up their pizzas, but there were four or five tables and a cooler with bottled soft drinks for those wanting to eat in. The pizza was slightly thicker than thin crust pizza, with a crispy bottom and chewy top. Delicious!

Once again, seeing a laundromat near our B&B, we were able to do some much-needed washing so that we could don clean cycling attire the next morning!

Day 4

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Our final day of 36 miles transitioned us from peaceful woods and rivers to urban Pittsburgh, where the GAP trail ended at Point State Park – the convergence of the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers. Our scheduled shuttle back to our car in Cumberland, MD was with Golden Triangle Bike Rental, right beside the trail in Pittsburgh. We were a bit earlier than expected in Pittsburgh, and Golden Triangle was so accommodating in getting us back to Cumberland earlier than we had planned.

As opposed to the C&O Towpath, which I’m glad I did but have no desire to ride again, I would redo this cycling trip on the Great Allegheny Passage trail in a heartbeat. The scenery was beautiful and varied, the trail in good condition and the options for lodging and dining easy.

If you like cycling, I highly recommend that you ride the GAP!

Hoping to get control of your Inbox in 2015?

Each late December, when the new year is approaching, I instinctively think about goals for the coming year. Of course, that leads me to think about the resolutions I made for the current year and whether or not I accomplished them.

Many of my goals are technology oriented. You may have some technology goals yourself.

I often hear clients say that they want to learn how to use their iPhone or iPad better, or learn how to use cloud storage.

I must confess that I had mixed results with my resolutions for 2014.

These were my successful intentions for this past year:

  1. Get my husband’s and my computers set up to automatically back up in the cloud.
    Unlike an external hard drive, it’s the easiest and most cost effective way to protect your digital files from a disaster like fire. After extensively researching our options, I chose a service called Crashplan. Now, all of our files, folders and photos are constantly backed up on Crashplan’s remote computers somewhere.
  2. Learn something new on my iPhone, iPad or computer.
    This was easy because it has become a daily habit of mine. I am constantly looking for time saving apps or tips to make my life easier. And keeping up with all the changes those updates bring is mandatory for me.
  3. Create some online classes.
    I really loved creating video courses on “How to Create an iPhoto Slideshow” and “How to Use Your iPhone for Free (or nearly Free) in Europe.” Self-paced, online learning is a great way to learn a new skill, idea, hobby, etc.

My difficult and incompleted goals for 2014 were:

  1. Clean out and organize my digital closet (aka computer).
    Get files organized into folders, clean out the Downloads folder and delete old files. This is about as much fun as cleaning out the basement or garage! I started my digital de-cluttering, but it’s just so hard to finish it!
  2. Clean out my overwhelming Inbox.
    Delete, delete, delete old emails and organize the others into email folders. This might even be worse than organizing the files on my computer, but I’ve come up with a trick that might help me for 2015. I am going to have the computer automatically file emails from past years into folders labeled “Inbox 2014,” “Inbox 2013,”, “Inbox 2012,” etc. It will make the current Inbox look manageable and make it more rewarding as I tackle and clean out each old Inbox. It’s all a mind game!
  3. Organize my digital photos and video clips.
    I use an awesome program on my Mac called iPhoto (there are similar programs for PC’s). It can categorize pictures by date, location, event and who’s in the photo.

Which leads to my 2015 New Year’s resolutions.

Yes, I will continue to work on my digital housekeeping and I intend to create some more online classes.

The topics I’m considering will help you

  • learn how to use iTunes
  • learn how to organize and store iPhone/iPad photos, and
  • learn how to use the upcoming, new Photos program for Apple computers.

What about you? I encourage you to come up with some technology goals of your own.

The important thing is to keep learning, or at least striving to learn.

To help us both get started, here is my “Empty Your Gmail Inbox Mind Game!

Sharing a Holiday Chuckle

I came across this funny video while drinking my coffee this morning and thought I’d share it with everyone!

I May Be an Addict, But I Have a Gift for You

My mother thinks I’m addicted to my iPhone (and iPad and computer). What can I say? I guess “if the shoe fits…”

It’s not what you think. I rarely use social media. I apologize now to all my Facebook friends for not posting “Happy Birthday!” on your timeline when you were so kind to post on mine.

I NEVER play games. I used to play Words with Friends with my husband, but he quit playing after I slaughtered him three times in a row. Bad sport!

When I text, it’s because I have something important to quickly tell someone. Except when I’m sending a picture that I just know a family member would love to see!

I do not Snapchat, WeChat, Instagram, Pin, Whisper, Tinder or Vine with anyone.

But back to my mother.

I took a trip with her to Portugal this summer. Her treat. Before we left, I was obsessed with finding out whether our hotels and river boat cruise would have W-Fi. I refuse to pay for an international cell phone plan when I know I can do everything I want if I just have free Wi-Fi.

They did and I was as happy as a clam because I could stay connected with my life back home. In the mornings and evenings when we weren’t out sightseeing I’d email, text, listen to voicemails, make calls and look up stuff online – all for free. Except for paying 2.3 cents per minute when I had to call another phone back in the States. That’s basically free to me.

That’s why she thinks I’m addicted. But she certainly reaped the benefits when she was able to talk to her grandchildren!

Using an iPhone for all of this in Europe isn’t hard. It’s just those pesky settings and knowing which apps are best for the way you want to connect.

Here’s what I did.

First, I just wrote down everything I needed to do to prepare for using my iPhone in Europe:

  • Which settings did I need to change on my iPhone before I arrived in Europe to avoid cell phone charges.
  • How to set up my iPhone for free access to my Voicemail.
  • How to set up my iPhone for free texting.
  • How to call any phone, worldwide, for free or nearly free.
  • How to save and use maps for sightseeing.
  • How to return my iPhone to its pre-trip settings.

That led to writing an ebook about my little system which led to developing an online course to teach other travel-lovers how to use their iPhones in Europe for free (or nearly free).

Which leads to why I’m even writing all of this. My new online course “How to Use Your iPhone for Free (or nearly Free) is now live and I’d like to offer it to you, my readers, for free through this Thanksgiving weekend.

It’s on the e-learning site called Udemy and all you have to do is click on this link to register and get my course for free:

https://www.udemy.com/how-to-use-your-iphone-for-free-or-nearly-free-in-europe/?couponCode=FREEINVITE

If you have to re-enter the code it’s FREEINVITE.

Even if you don’t have an upcoming trip but think you might one day soon, go ahead and claim the free course. It comes with lifetime access.

Need more info? Here’s the promo video I created for the course:

And finally, I want you to know how grateful I am for you. For reading my articles or visiting my website.

Happy Thanksgiving!

Can Your iPhone Keep You Unforgettable?

It’s difficult to remember all the ways your smart phone, in my case an iPhone, can help you remember little things with a quick voice command. Each time you do remember to use it, pat yourself on the back.

It’s a great feeling when you apply technology as a tool to save time, solve a problem, or be more productive.

I just had a pat-myself-on-the-back moment the other day.

Upon returning from a week’s vacation, I was faced with a mountain of laundry. In our household, drying times vary depending on the items and I invariably need to check the dryer periodically to pull a shirt here, some shorts there.

It’s the “periodically” that gets me every time. I tell myself that I’ll come back in “x” minutes and then I forget!

As I berated myself for letting certain pieces get too dry, I had a revelation! It’s so simple that I’m almost embarrassed to tell you, but maybe you too have had laundry amnesia and would like to know.

When you load your dryer, tell your phone “Remind me to check the dryer in five minutes.” Or, you can tell it “Set the timer for 5 minutes.” 

We’re all busy with overloaded brains.

Think of all the ways you can let your phone keep you on track. Whenever you begin a thought with “I need to remember….”, tell Siri to remind you. Use it for staying on schedule, cooking, and remembering errands. You can even set up recurring reminders like “Remind me to call my mother every Sunday at 5 pm.”

There are two requirements for this to work, though:

  1. You have to keep your phone with you.
  2. Your notification sound needs to be loud enough for you to hear.

On the iPhone, you can change the alert sound for Reminders in the Notification Center settings. The Timer sound is set up directly through the iPhone’s Clock app.

Here’s how to set up your sounds for Reminders and the Timer.

First, check your Siri settings

  • Touch Settings>General>Siri.
  • Siri should be ON (green).
  • Touch General>Settings in the top left.
  • Press the Home button.

Change Notification Sounds

  • Touch Settings>Notification Center.
  • Scroll down and touch the Reminders.
  • Under ALERT STYLE touch Alerts.
  • Badge App Icon can be on or off, depending on whether you use that feature.
  • Touch Reminder Alerts and select a sound you can hear well.
  • Show in Notification Center can be on or off, depending on whether you use that feature.
  • Show on Lock Screen should be ON (green).
  • Touch Back>Settings in the top left.
  • Press the Home button.

Change Timer sounds

  • Touch the Clock app.
  • Touch Timer in the bottom left.
  • Touch When Timer Ends and select a sound you can hear well.
  • Touch Set in the top right.
  • Press the Home button.

How to Organize Your Family Vacation

Ahhh, summertime in the South. For many of us, that means multi-generational, family beach trips. And that means divvying up who’s bringing what and who’s cooking when.

My family’s annual beach trip is in its 75th year this summer. It began two decades before I was born. I guess we could it call the Diamond Anniversary Beach Trip.

This year, we will have fourteen adults and five children between two houses. That’s a lot of mouths to feed and food to coordinate!

Thankfully the internet and particularly Google Drive is making the back and forth tweaking of “the beach list” easy. Google Drive is an amazing free service for anyone with a Gmail address or a Google account.

It’s cloud storage, a word processing program, a spreadsheet program and more, all rolled into one.

The way we use Google Drive for our beach trip is that one person creates a document or spreadsheet with columns which list the items each attendee has agreed to bring. On a second page, the daily mealtime cooks are listed.

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