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Free a Senior From Technology Hassles Today

Technology can help seniors without driving them crazy.  You’ve just got to do a little friendly setup and send them on their way. After all, that’s part of the reason they had you in the first place.  Built in tech support.  Here are a few easy tips. 

The Cloud to the Rescue :  The Cloud may sound like some ominous weather forecast but it really means that you can access information anywhere and from any device. Because the information does not reside on a single server but rather in accessible cloud storage you can be at your folks house or across the country and still manage many of their online tasks.  Sound obtuse?  You bet, but here’s a practical example.
Le’st say your parents use Netflix. (Research shows that the 50+ demographic are still the ones most interested in getting shiny DVDs in the mail. Kids would rather stream movies via the PC.)  Well, instead of making your parents go through all the trouble of maintaining a queue, do it for them.   That’s right set up the account and load ‘em up with a list of movies. (Remember to stay away from hard to read subtitled movies and topics that may appeal to you, not them.)  Freshen the list every few weeks and your parents and have an endless source of entertainment.
Pandora for music to abide by. Why Pandora over Spotify?  I think that Pandora is a bit easier to track genres of music. Type in Frank Sinatra and you’ll get all “like sounding music”. Spotify is more driven by what your friends listen to and a bit more convoluted.  Driven by personal tastes it’s easy for you to set up a few channels (even just choose a decade of music) and I guarantee they’ll use it . According to the NPD Group study, roughly 60% of CD sales revenue comes from consumers aged 36 and older–a demographic that hasn’t quite found comfort with new-era streaming music services.
Google Chat  Sadly, Microsoft hasn’t  done much with since it purchased Skype.  PC users will find that setting up Google Talk  for voice conversations and Google Chat for video conversations is really easy and works well. And if you want the whole family to chat at once Google+Hangouts  is just as easy to install.  Yeah, there are more variations on how to do things the Google way,  than with Skype  but they all work easily. And if you’re too embarrassed to tell the old folks you don’t understand read Dan Gookin’s Dummies Book.

Smartphone Photos Unless the elders in your family are photographically inclined get them a mobile phone with a built-in camera. (A flash and autofocus and at least 5 MB of resolution will do the trick. Taking a photo is easy, but more important, sharing a photo via mobile phone tends to be easy, too. Most smartphones figure out whether you use Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, Picassa, iPhoto,  their own photo sharing galleries, automatically and will share your picture with a click.  Just get them registered for d at least 5 MB of resolution will do the trick.) Just get them registered for a service you like and go for it.

Heavy Baggage: One of the biggest problems the elderly face is shopping.  Well, not just shopping, but especially shopping for bulky items that are hard to carry.  is a one stop shop for everything from laundry detergent and paper towels, to basic foods and kitchen items. The site is well organized ( I like going room by room through my home). The savings are pretty good.  The packaging is reasonably ecological and they’ll keep a recurring list for you.  Great way to get household supplies in the house.
Encourage a sense of play. them and can According to the Mayo Clinic, seniors who engage in cognitive activities, play games or participate in crafts enjoy less decrease in memory. A turn by turn game of Words with Friends, Draw Something with a family member, or brain games like Suduko are free or inexpensive.Some games can be played alone and others with friends or pickup friends (careful of scammers).  Games based on scientific neuroscience from companies like Dakim and Posit Science cost more, but have more science theory backing them. 



Back to School High Tech Rules: Part One – The Mobile Phone

As summer draws to a close, it’s time to think about the inevitable return to school. For today’s parents that means thinking about technology, specifically cell phones and smartphones, as much as new pencils and notebooks. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Make some rules. Many schools already have rules about mobile phone usage. The most typical scenario is that your school will allow your child to carry a mobile phone but not allow use during class. These phones, after all, can be of educational value for everything from keeping your homework assignment to getting a little extra coaching. To keep cell use in line, many schools have a policy where if you’re caught using your phone when you’re not supposed to, it’s taken away. In some cases you must pay a fine to buy it back; in other cases parents are notified, and there are all sorts of other in-between scenarios. 

Some schools have policies where students check their phones at the door and pick them up after school. This June the New York Post ran an astonishing story about a new business where trucks would station themselves outside of schools and hold the student’s phones. For a price, of course: students would pay $1 a day to store their phones either in trucks that park around the buildings or nearby stores. And according to the Post, profits for some locations were as high as $22,800 a day. 

I’ve assembled some good, basic guidelines for any parent wondering about dealing with their kid and their kid’s mobile phone during the school year:

1. Find out what your child’s school’s policy is regarding the use of mobile phones.

2. Decide whether you want to get your child a smartphone that might actualy have more educational relevance or a simple mobile phone for emergency calls and texting only.

3. If you settle on a smartphone, establish some rules for app store purchases: a budget, and what sorts of apps are OK to buy. Can they buy ringtones? Educational apps only? Will you have an app allowance? 

4. Decide on “phone off” hours. No texting, games, or other mobile diversions during dinner and after bedtime, for example, should be part of the contract.

5. We all lose our cell phones sometime, but if your child has a predilection for misplacing and breaking them, there should be some penalty to pay.


Free Classes to Help Seniors Learn Tech

I stumbled across this site the other day:  The program is sponsored by Goodwill Community Foundation International to offer learning opportunities ranging from reading to math, but the technology section is particularly good. From Facebook to Pintrest, online banking to Skype, anyone who wants to improve their technology literacy skills can benefit.


Back to School for Moms and Dads

I know what you’re thinking: not another back-to-school shopping list! Moms and Dads, you’ve probably had an eyeful of what to buy for the kids this season. But this one’s for you: a few suggestions for staying cool, calm and connected during back to school season.

Cozi: Face it. School life revolves around the calendar. One of the most respected leaders in family calendaring is Think about a color-coded calendar detailing the activities of each member of your family. And because life happens when you’re not at your computer, the Cozi mobile app lets you enter appointments, to-dos and other notes from your mobile device.  There are templates to make your calendar look like you’re an event planning pro, and a to-do list that even includes a chore list for the kids. Two of my favorite back-to-school areas are the Cozi Family Dinner Club with recipe and shopping lists and the back-to-school supply list.

About One: If you’re looking to go beyond the calendar into full frontal organization, AboutOne is an interesting choice. The program helps organize everything from the kid’s health records and immunizations, to legal documents and car maintenance schedules. It’s a strong program for managing you contacts (separate groups are easy to create for the soccer team or Girl Scouts), and data is easily imported from existing contact databases. AboutOne has no calendaring feature on the web yet, but plans to work with the calendar of your choice. It does have a calendaring companion app called Family Organizer for Windows Phones. Through the app, you can enter calendar items, scan or snap photos, and enter paperwork and link it all to your AboutOne contacts. It’s an interesting hybrid solution that I expect will continue to grow more robust.

Life360: Your kids probably are heading to school with their mobile phones on their persons. And you probably have yours with you 24/7. That’s why I like It’s a mobile app that tracks your kids’ whereabouts via GPS. When you do a “check in” the app displays a map and pinpoints precisely where they are. Or, if you’d rather, you can have the kids check in when they get to a point – like school or a friend’s house. The app is free – the kids know you’re using it since you request their permission to be in your life circle.  Additional premium features like phone loss protection and the ability to locate family members who don’t own smart phones will have monthly fees attached. If your family is running all over creation, this app is truly a lifesaver.

Back it up: A little advice. All the organization tools in the world won’t help if you don’t back up your data. Whether it’s the kid’s schedules or their homework, you’re going to have deep regrets. While there are many excellent backup solutions, two to consider are a hardware based one from Western Digital called My Book Live ( $159.99 for 2 terabytes). I like it because it can be connected right to your broadband internet connection, which means anyone in the house (or even remotely) can access the files. Mobile phone users can access the device via a special app that comes with the drive.  Reviewers call it your own personal “cloud,” with no monthly fees. Other popular online backup systems include SugarSync, Carbonite and DropBox. These are all password-protected, cloud-based backup services that can be shared by the whole family. Costs vary depending on how much data you store.

Printed Copies: Whoever said the digital era would herald the end of print wasn’t paying attention. Good students and their parents will need to print things to stay organized – from schedules to draft reports. Both Epson and HP get my vehement nod this year for maximum quality at minimum price. Both the HP Photosmart 5510 e-All-in-One and the EPSON Expression Home XP-200 Small-in-One give you a printer, scanner and copier in one machine. Plus they’re both web-enabled, which means that you can print documents or photos, remotely and wirelessly, from any computer, smartphone or tablet in the house or remotely.

Team Snap: Parents of kids involved in sports should check out TeamSnap for iPad or iphone. It makes it easy to set up team rosters, newsletters, player information, schedules and get them out to the gang. Take your iPhone or iPod Touch to games and events and have on-the-go access to your team. View photos, map the directions to a game, and appoint the snack person, too.

Organization Freaks: For the organizationally insane check out this mom’s mind-blowing blog dedicated to organizing: She’s a cross between the Energizer bunny, Martha Stewart, and an obsessive compulsive, but she’s got amazing ideas to keep you organized for the school year. One good example to see if you’re up to the task? Look at her paperwork storage center project. This is a mom on organizing steroids.  

Moms on the go: You’ll want juice for your gadgets always. One that I’ve used is Voltaic’s solar backpack. Ok, it’s a little clunky, but you get to be green, charged, and able to charge your kids devices as needed, too! Not bad.