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Online Learning @Curious, From #DIY Beading Jewels to #Coding Ruby on Rails

Check on the bottom of this post for a special link to get a Curious.com Course Credit.

 

Curious.com Sunset #GiftofLearning

 

 

Online learning has captured the attention of my friends and me as our children progress through Middle School and High School and we keep wondering why our kids should have all the fun, learning new skills and information online. Curious.com is a great resource in the quest for online education. It is a marketplace for lifelong learning that offers a wide range of online courses in formats friendly to anyone who wants to learn something new or advance their skills. The site offers “more than 10,000 interactive, video based lessons and courses available to anyone, anytime they feel like learning something new. Most courses typically range from $9.99 to $9.99“.

 

 

This month I was invited to a Curious.com DIY Holiday Gift Making and Wine Tasting media event featuring Sunset Magazine and The O’Neil Sisters. I was already looking at sharing the gift of learning with Curious.com gift cards to family who want to learn how to use a DSLR or learn more about coding in HTML/CSS and Ruby on Rails. At this event I was faced with something that my years of technology background could not provide: DIY beading.  It is well known in my circle of friends that I can bravely stand up to any technology challenge but I do have a fear of crafting. I want to learn, but let’s just say it does not come naturally to me.

 

I have been reading Sunset Magazine for years and enjoyed hearing the Sunset Editors at the event discuss tips on choosing wines while we did some tastings at the event. The Sunset Seminars on Curious.com already helped me learn how to cook a holiday meal,  so I was looking forward to learning more by checking out the Sunset Essentials of Wine class and maybe event setting up a Container Garden. But could I get over my fear of crafting and make a DIY Beaded necklace?

 

DIY Beaded Jewelry O'Neil Sisters Video Curious.com

 

 

The O’Neil Sisters came to the event to do a live presentation of their DIY Beaded Jewerly class.

 

 

Curious.com O'Neil Sisters DIY Beaded Jewerly Class

 

 

The O’Neil Sisters helped me overcome my fear with their step by step instructions. I was thrilled to have finished my first official DIY project! To be honest, I was actually hyperventilating when I first saw the bag of beads and the hardware. But in the end I realized it was not that hard if you have the right instruction. My friends will be completely surprised to hear me say this, but I may actually start doing some crafting to make holiday gifts!

 

 

DIY Beaded Jewelry O'Neil Sisters Curious.com

 

 

Curious.com online learning classes also make great gifts. There are a range of courses including more DIY crafts, languages such as Mandarin and Italian, Spanish for Kids, Knife Skills and other Foodie classes, Health and Fitness including daily workouts, Music classes including rock drumming and beginning guitar, classes for Entrepreneurs such as business builder workshops and unique classes such as indie film making and ninja training.  Here are the instructions from their site on giving the #GiftOfLearning : “To gift a course, go to Curious.com and click on the gift icon next to any course. Gift-givers can them crate a personal gift message and schedule a delivery date. The course recipient will own the course and will be able to watch it again and again. Delivery of the gift messages and course access happen instantly. If the gift recipient prefers a different course instead, no problem — the course credit is fully transferable to any other Curious.com course.

 

 

At the event I was excited to learn that I would be able to share a course credit code with my readers! Sign up for Curious.com with this link: https://curious.com/invited/EKusCX-M44Q and you will get a $25.00 credit applied to your account.

 

 

What type of online class would you be interested in taking? Anyone else have a fear of crafting they want to overcome?

 

 

Disclosure: I was invited as media to the event and given a Curious.com course credit. All of my words are my own and I really crafted that necklace (with a little help from the O’Neil sisters and Curious.com)!

 

 

 

 

Tech To Prepare For Severe Weather Like #BayAreaStorm

Growing up in the East Coast helped me prepare for extreme weather. As a kid the school closing for a snow day was so exciting because it meant a day of sledding with my friends. But as an adult I have seen how dangerous extreme weather can be. In California we have had droughts the last few years which was dangerous in it’s own way. But it almost made me forget the steps to prepare for Winter weather.

 

Tech For Extreme Weather #BayAreaStorm

 

The good news is that today is big rainstorm (#BayAreaStorm) in a state that has been suffering a terrible drought.  The bad news is that rainstorms in my area of Northern California can lead to flooding, dangerous driving conditions, power outages, trees falling down and more. The current #BayAreaStorm has heavy rain and wind gusts. We dropped our kids to school this morning but there was flash flooding and road closures I had to watch out for on the way home. We started preparing last night for the storm and all the research inspired me to create a post to share some of my steps we did to prepare for our storm.

 

Step 1: Setup Up Websites, Apps and Alerts To Automate Monitoring Weather Conditions:  We find it important to always monitor weather conditions and with all of the websites, apps and alerts there are many ways to do that.  Websites such as the National Weather Service are used as basis for apps like the WeatherSphere Weather Alerts and other products and Simple Weather Alerts. States also have Emergency Services pages with sections for Floods and other weather emergencies. Weather.com and Accuweather have weather updates and alerts on their websites and apps. I like to sign up for alerts so I get updates for emergencies such as flash floods. There are alerts that appear on apps but also text alerts.  Luckily there are local emergency services that also automatically send out alerts because I received a text on my phone this morning about a flash flood that was not something I had signed up for. There are also websites such as Nixle that gather information from “over 7,000 public safety and government agencies at the local, county, and state level”.  Many phones or tablets enable you to load a weather widget on your home screen which automatically shows the weather each day.

 

 

NOAA Weather Alerts - Severe Weather Push Notifications & Warnings

NOAA Weather Alerts – Severe Weather Push Notifications &Warnings

 

 

Step 2: Charge Up Smartphones, backup batteries and gather charging supplies: As soon as we heard about the Bay Area Storm, we set up a plan to get ready. First we made sure we had enough flashlights, batteries for flashlights, candles & matches, backup batteries for the phones and emergency supplies up to date.  The day before we charged up all of our phones and computers but also multiple back up batteries to use if power was out for an extended time.

 

Today (day of the storm) we are keeping our phones plugged while at home to keep the charge going.  We also made sure we had extra backup phone chargers and a full tank of gas just in case we did need to leave the house for an extended time. The type of extreme weather we prepared for is just power outages and minor flooding. I know friends in locations all over the world that have different steps and supplies for their weather emergencies. So it important for everyone to check with their local emergency services website or office to get the right list for their area.

 

 

 

Step 3:  Organize alternative WiFi and Devices:  Because extreme weather can effect home WiFi, I like to have another backup WiFi source.. For example, I use the AT&T Unite Pro as my alternative WiFi device that I can also take on the go which is important especially for emergencies.  Radio Shack has a great supply of weather radios that are important to have if all WiFi and cell coverage is down.

 

 

Eton weather radio

 

 

PLEASE SHARE YOUR TIPS IN PREPARING FOR EXTREME WEATHER! Every area has unique weather conditions to prepare for.

 

 

 

 

 

Tips To Help Kids Learn To Code #HourofCode

Tips For Kids To Learn To Code #HourofCode

 

I studied business in college but early on realized computer programming was my real passion. I took as many programming classes that I could but still wanted to get a business degree to help (at that time) get a job. Today coding programs are well developed not only in colleges but also primary schools across the country (world!) and coding is one of the top STEM related skills for getting a job. This week starts what is called  #HourofCode  to inspire students to learn to code, even if just for one hour: The ‘Hour of Code’ is a global movement by Computer Science Education Week and Code.org to introduce millions of students to one hour of computer science and computer programming.”

 

After college my first job was in corporate finance, but after a few years I was able to switch over to the Computer Information Systems.  I started out as a programmer coding in a language called “COBOL”. I am proud that not only was COBOL co-invented by a woman ( Grace Murry Hopper) but also the first computer programmer was a women (Ada Lovelace).  I loved coding because it was very logical: you write a string of commands using the syntax of the programming language with the goal of automating a process. While I started programming on mainframe computers (workstations and servers networked together to process large amounts of information), today you can program on almost any device from a tablet to a personal computer. If you use the right syntax to carry out some sort of process, then it will work. If you do not use the right syntax or design an incorrect process then the program won’t work.

 

 

I enjoyed my programming jobs even if it meant going through lines and lines of code to find one letter or symbol that was wrong. I moved on to jobs in database design, international computer auditing, computer security consulting at one of the biggest firms in the world and then on to founding my own website. The ability to understand programming basics has opened up many career doors and opportunities. My love of technology has also kept my skills current because I enjoy learning new programming languages and social networking platforms (and invest my time doing so).  My website TechMamas.com is a wordpress blog that has a rich text option that takes care of programming behind the scenes (I just create my blog post like I would a word processing document). But I also do my own coding to fix blog post formatting and make design changes. Even knowing HTML has opened up so many opportunities for me!

 

I suggest every parent give their boys AND GIRLS the opportunity to learn how to code. Code.org is the main website with information and the President of the United States has a great kick-off video with more information:
 

 

One of the most important things said in the video was: “Don’t just consume things – create things”.  I feel it is important to show our kids, who are growing up in the digital age, that technology should not only be consumed but also used to create. Here are my tips to help kids create their own projects by learning to code. What are your tips?

 

Tip 1: Start younger kids on “drag and drop” then easiest programming languages first:
 
Learning to program requires patience, creativity and a realistic view of the time commitment.   Many kids are used to apps that have quick response to actions, but programming does not always have a quick response. In fact, most of the time coding is a slow process with a small outcome. But all of those small outcomes put together can lead to big amazing outcomes! Business Insider posted with a flow of languages kids should learn. This flow is something I agree with and have experienced with my own kids. My younger kids engaged better with drag and drop programming. My teen wanted something more sophisticated and signed up for a computer programming intro course that focused on Python.  I know many teens that program in Javascript and Ruby in Rails that even get part time jobs after school and summer internships because of their coding knowledge! Here is a flowchart I created inspired by the Business Insider post “The Best Programming Languages Every Beginner Should Learn” by .

 

Business Insider flow programming kids coding

 

Tip 2: Inspire Content Creation and have family time “low stress” fun: 

 
The next tip is to make learning to code a fun family activity and inspire kids with logical incentives if needed. It is important to participate with your child when they first learn to code and to be supportive when they need help. It is also important that learning to code is a fun activity, so if incentives are used they should be “positive” instead of punitive.  For example, our family logical incentives are creating technology projects (including coding, video, building, designing) will earn them screen time/consuming technology.

 

It is also important to help kids find the right type of programming language and platform to make learning fun – not all drag and drop are created equal!  We tried some drag and drop programming platforms that were confusing. Other platforms, like the ones mentioned in this post on Edutopia “15+ Ways of Teaching Every Student to Code (Even Without a Computer)” such as MIT’s Scratch and Tynker, were fun and had a great interface. Both of my middle school twins enjoy using drag and drop programming and have now even moved on to platforms such as Youth Digital Minecraft Mod Design which give an introduction to Java programming through mod design.  Another online Minecraft Modding class is called ThoughtStem Minecraft Modding Class . There are inspirational programs such as Girls Who Code that  “inspires, educates, and equips girls with the computing skills to pursue 21st century opportunities”  There are also sites such as Roblox and those explained in Common Sense Media coding section that offer ways for kids to create their own apps and games. I will cover the range of platforms available in a separate blog post because there are so many!  Luckily, the Code.org/Learn section also lists great coding websites for kids.

 

When parents ask me how to get their their kids started in programming I say:

Expose your kids to different computer programming languages (starting off with drag and drop for younger kids) and see if they have an interest in any of them. If not, see if they can just do some basic programming to understand how coding works. If they have an interest then your kids will initiate learning more about programming and developing their own skills. If not, help them find other ways to become a technology creator” 

 

When my teen took the Python class he did understand the basics but was not as interested in programming as he thought he would be. So we told him to do the best he could in the class and find other ways to be a technology “creator”. Knowing that he just needed to do the best instead of feeling the pressure to “master” programming helped him feel less stress while learning.  We wanted our son to discover what his technology passion was. Luckily it did not take our teen son long to figure out that his true passion was computer design (engineering). He can spend hours going over computer specifications and features. He loves to fix anything related to a computer and technology. He decided that his “creator” project would be building his own computer! So if your child is not excited about coding, he or she may be excited about computer design, photography, video editing or other ways to experience content creation. Finding your child’s passion will turn something that could be stressful – into a skill they develop on their own because they love doing it.

 

When kids have a passion to learn coding, online computer programming courses can help take learning to the next level. There are sites such as Code.org and Khan Academy which are geared towards kids but there are also an unlimited amount of courses for teens and adults that are either free or available to purchase. Some examples are Edx, Coursera, Udemy (like this course on Python), Curious (like Ruby on Rails and HTML/CSS) and many more. Parents that want to update their job skills could also participate in the #hourofcode and look into sites such as Udacity that has Nano Degrees.

 

This #HourofCode video from Khan Academy discusses all of the different things you can do if you learn to code, has coding challenges plus it gives you a great overview:
 

 

Here is the Khan Academy video on making web pages:
 

 

Click here for the full list of Khan Academy Computer Programming videos.

 

Most of all remember that every child has their own special skills, so it is important to help them find their path. If your child does have an interest in programming, then show them the world of opportunities available to them to learn coding online. If your child has no interest in programming then ask them “What are you interested in?” and help them pursue that path.  While one of my twins enjoys learning Javascript his true passion is History. He reads non fiction history books during his free time so we may also do an ” #hourofhistory ” this week as well!

 

 

3. Help kids understand the relation of technology skills to future job potential (but also low stress): 

 

Because my husband and I have tech jobs that we got based on our tech skills, we like to talk to our kids about all of the different types of tech jobs (and other jobs) that utilize tech skills.   Having a basic understanding of programming and technology can be a prerequisite for many careers. It is also important to help them understand that programming can be challenging. My earlier career as a computer programmer helped me understand the reality of the commitment. Another Business Insider article titled “A Programmer Describes How He Nearly Went Insane Learning To Code” shows the reality of having a career in programming.

 

At the same time, there are unlimited examples of how kids that were truly interested in programming and engineering created amazing things. Kimberley Bryant, Founder of Black Girls Code, shared that when she was a freshman in Electrical Engineering that Fortran and Pascal were the popular programming languages (Note: I studied Fortran in college). Marissa Mayer earned a Bachelor of Science in symbolic systems and Master of Science in computer science and went on to become Google’s first female Engineer. Mark Zuckerberg’s programming skills helped him create Facebook. Bill Gates was 13 when he first got access to a computer and before he knew it- he and some friends were teaching the programming class. Even NBA Superstars like Chris Bosh believe that everyone should learn to code.

 

Are you going to have a family coding day this week? Sam Patterson posted on Edutopia with some ideas for that!

 

 

 

 

 

Screen Smart Parenting

Screen-Smart ParentingOne of the top questions I get from readers is how to control their kid’s screen time. Now that kids have access not only to computers but also smartphones, tablets and other devices it is even more challenging to set up a system to help them be safe and limit the time they spend using devices.  I have explained in many of my posts that I believe helping your kids control their screen time and understanding internet safety starts with age appropriate and regular family communication on those topics.

 

 

Jodi Gold MD is a child and adolescent psychiatrist that has a unique perspective, especially when it comes to family communication! When I found out that she just wrote a book called SCREEN-SMART PARENTING: Screen-Smart Parenting: How to Find Balance and Benefit in Your Child’s Use of Social Media, Apps, and Digital Devices (Guilford Press, November 1, 2014, paperback) that had research and practical strategies, I wanted to find out more.

 

 

 

Screen Smart Parenting Jodi Gold MD1.       What motivated you to write SCREEN-SMART PARENTING?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “I am a child and adolescent psychiatrist.  Every day, I went to work and listened to my patients.  A theme began to emerge.   This one got dumped on text and that one was playing too much World of Warcraft.  Parents were worried that their kids were distracted during homework and increasingly concerned about how their children presented themselves online.  Then I went to pick up my younger children (aged 5, 7, 9) at school and this mom was concerned about too much TV and that one was upset that her 4 year old could navigate an iPhone. I realized that if I listened carefully, I couldn’t make it through the day professionally or personally without confronting the realities of our changing digital landscape.  I wasn’t startled that technology was ubiquitous or that current parents are the last generation of digital immigrants.   I was surprised at the fear and ignorance. Parents, teachers and families were constantly fearful and distrustful.  I went looking for answers on how to embrace technology and use it for good, but found little guidance.

 

At the same time, I had been presenting nationally about treatments for ADHD.  A senior editor from Guilford Publishers approached me about writing a book for parents about ADHD.  I really felt like there were many good books about ADHD already on the market.  I was convinced that the Guilford editors would think that I was scattered and crazy but I told them that I really wanted to write a handbook for raising kids in the changing digital world.  I wanted to reach both physicians and parents.  I had begun to talk about the digital world with my patients and their families within a developmental framework.  We spoke about when children should be reading, making friends and going out alone.  Theses are all normal parts of growing up.  I realized that reading an e-book, getting a phone and creating a social media profile were also part of growing up but we didn’t have any graphs, charts or handbooks.  I wanted to write a book that looked at the existing research and offered concrete recommendations based on an understanding of research and child development.  Guilford didn’t think that I was crazy and they agreed to publish it before I wrote the first page.”

 

 

2.    Tell us about how you brought your background in as a doctor to helping explain these issues?

 

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Both the Academy of Pediatrics and the Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry have begun to weigh in on parenting in the digital age.  It is critical that physicians make this a priority for research and policy.  I believe that we should be adding “digital milestones” to our list of developmental milestones and challenges.  I hope that Screen Smart Parenting will deepen the dialogue on raising digital citizens in both the medical and parental world.

 

In medicine, we base our decisions and approaches on double blind longitudinal studies.  When they are not available, we do our best find evidence based research.  The goal is to use sound research to support our medical treatments and decisions.  In pediatrics, we view everything on a developmental framework.  Children are not little adults.  We need to understand children and adolescents from a developmental lens.  We misperceive and mistreat children if we apply adult rules to them.  In psychiatry, we use what is called the bio-psycho-social model.   This means that we try to understand children and adults in a multi-faceted way that encompasses genetics, psychology and the realities of family and home life.  In psychology, we understand human behavior so we can develop incentives and plans that help children internalize healthy behaviors.  We need to use this knowledge as we build behavior plans and create consequences around digital devices.    I used these basic principles from research, medicine and psychology to write Screen Smart Parenting.  I believe that it is one of the first books on this topic written within a medical model from the standpoint of a practicing clinician.”

 

3.   What is screen smart parenting and what areas does your book discuss?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “Screen Smart Parents are parents who are thoughtful and communicative about managing digital technology.  They want to cultivate online resilience which scientists increasingly feel is linked to happiness and success in life.  They want to instill in their children the tenets of digital citizenship.  Eventually, screen smart parents will have the experience of being digital natives and citizens.  Right now, most of us are digital immigrants with newly stamped passports and limited command of the digital language.  Screen Smart parents do not need a Ph.D. in computer science but they need to check their fear and be willing to learn from and with their children.

 

In Screen Smart Parenting, I ask parents to figure out their parenting style, understand the digital landscape and develop a family technology plan.  In order to parent your children through the digital landscape, you need to understand your family culture and your own relationship with technology. It’s important to understand the developmental evolution of the use of digital technology: what happens at what age. It’s also essential to get a feel for how digital technology is actually used today by children and adolescents.  In the book, I write about how technology does affect your child’s development.  I also introduce the hot topics that monopolize our conversations from the iBlankie to the proverbial 5 minutes of Facebook fame.  In the second part of the book, I write about different age groups, each of which explains how digital technology intersects with what your child needs to achieve during those years and how you can promote technology as a tool to support, not hinder, healthy development. In the third section, I take a more sophisticated look at children who need more attention and parental involvement and may exhibit red flags for attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, and depression. These “orchid” children may need extra care and modified digital parameters.  In the conclusion, I used my experience with behavioral interventions and plans, to give parents the tools to build a realistic and effective family technology plan.  I offer age-appropriate templates and suggestions on how to trouble shoot.  The goal is to build a family plan that includes your children’s voice in finding balance and using technology as a tool.”

 

 

4. What’s the right age for a phone/smartphone/social media access?

 

Jodi Gold, MD: “This is a personal family decision but I can give you some guidelines as a mother, physician and expert in this field.  Your child will eventually own a smartphone so the question is not “if” but when.  You should give your child a phone when he/she truly “needs” one.  Most kids get their phones and smartphones between the ages of 11 and 14 years of age.  Here is a list of reasons for why you might choose to give your child a phone prior to the age of 11.

  • Parents are divorced and the child would like to have more control over his or her communication with the non-custodial parent, and/or there is shuttling back and forth.  A phone may help with the transition between two households
  • A child is taking long bus rides and needs to communicate with parents for some reason
  • The child has a chronic medical condition and needs a phone in case there is an urgent need to reach parents and caregivers
  • The child has a psychiatric or medical condition that causes her to miss a lot of school.  A phone may help to keep in touch with friends and teachers

It is likely that this decision will be somewhat driven by community/peer pressure.  It is important for parents to be thoughtful about when and how they introduce a phone.  A phone should be introduced in a developmental way (especially if you are giving a child a phone at a younger age).

*I can talk more about social media but similar rules apply.  However, there is some social media that is targeted for young children.  I encourage interested children to start with child-friendly sites before they move onto Twitter and Instagram.”

 

 

For more information, check out her website Screen Smart Parenting.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Women Rock The Vote! Websites To Help Find Polling Places

VotingToday is voting day for 2014 Mid Term elections.  I usually don’t talk about politics, but I do want to talk about how important it is for everyone to vote. It is especially important for women to vote to make sure their voices are heard. I remember my mom taking my brother and I to vote after work because she worked full time. I kept that tradition and have taken my boys with me for years to vote. Today I cleared some time during lunch and will take a run to my local poll location (exercise and voting at the same time)!

 

To do my part, I also wanted to share the online websites that can you help you find your local poll locations.

 

1. Vote411.org  is a website created by the League of Women Voters and asks users to “enter their addresses to find their polling place, build their ballot with an online voters’ guide and much more!”

 

2. Get To The Polls (Voter Information Project): Get to the polls is a great website just to find out where you can vote. This website worked the best for me quickly finding my local polling location.

 

3. Can I Vote Website: The Can I vote website has information on polling places by state.

 

4. Make a pledge to vote #WhyIVote at MomsRising The website Moms Rising posted with a request to make a pledge to vote:  “Why pledge to vote? Elections, particularly local elections, are sometimes won or lost by fewer than 20 votes.  So when you pledge to vote you’re also part of activating moms and dads across the nation to show up on Election Day to make a critical difference. Women are 53% of the electorateand if we all show up to vote, we can determine the outcomes of elections.” The Moms Rising Facebook Page has great stories that women shared on why they voted. Here is one from Ariana Huffington:

 

Moms Rising #WhyIVote

Photo Credit: Moms Rising

 

 

Please share “Why You Vote” and make sure you head to the polls today!

 

 

 

5 Tips To Reduce Stress

Disclosure: I am a member of the Invisalign Teen Mom Advisory Board

 

How To Deal With StressWhether as a  busy parent working through the challenges of work or home, or a as kid managing school and social pressure, managing stress is a very important skill. There are so many theories, books, articles and blog posts discussing stress reduction that just reading through all of the information can be stressful. I decided to take a step back and examine each of the “stressful” areas in my life one by one. Here are some of the strategies I used to reduce stress each day. Please share what you do to deal with the things that cause you stress.

 

1. Get Sleep: Arianna Huffington’s book (Thrive: The Third Metric to Redefining Success and Creating a Life of Well-Being, Wisdom, and Wonder) was the original inspiration for my own journey to get more sleep each night. I realized that part of my stress each day was because I was tired. With work, kids and so many other daily responsibilities keeping me active, I decided to use sleep as my main secret weapons to manage it all. With a good night’s sleep, I feel less stress and more energy to handle the daily juggle. I started to work backwards from the latest I can go to sleep (11pm) and determine what time I need to complete household tasks, say good night to the kids, and shut off all electronics. This calculation revealed that I need one hour of quiet, reading or relaxing time before bed.  That means that I *try* to get in bed at 10pm and start my process of relaxation. While this does not always work, it provices a schedule framework each night. Sometimes I just quietly meditate for 10 minutes before bed, closing my eyes and thinking of the beach, smelling the ocean air and hearing the waves. Another way I like to relax before bed is doing yoga or stretching exercises while listening to calming music.

 

2. Daily Exercise: Another thing causing me stress each day was trying to squeeze in exercise time. With my schedule, I could not fit in long runs, trips to the health club or attending exercise classes on a regular basis. So I decided to simplify my schedule by counting things such as walks outside, exercises at home (planks, sit-ups, squats and using inexpensive exercise equipment) or just a quick basketball game with my boys as exercise. Suddenly the word “exercise” did not cause my stress because I had so many options. I even limited lunch invitations to those that included some sort of walking, including parking far away and walking to the lunch meeting.

 

3. Spend Time with Friends: My family and I enjoy socializing and seeing friends whenever we can, but our schedules and our friends’ schedules became so busy as our kids got older. We needed to plan family get togethers months in advance. We did not want our whole social life to revolve around the people we saw at our kid’s activities so we contacted groups of friends who knew each other and make plans. The kids really appreciated our offer that they invite friends over for a movie night.

 

4. Time Management:  Managing the family schedule, together with work schedules, was another contributor to daily stress. I decided to initiate this school year by putting all known school events in an online calendar that I shared within the family. This included creating  different calendars for each of my kids. One of our goals included having my teen son check his smartphone, which has access to his online calendar, to help manage his schedule. Having all of our events in an online calendar helped release some of the stress for managing time because I had home and mobile access to daily schedules.

 

5. Set Up Health Appointments:  After I set up our family schedule online, I decided to then go ahead and schedule health and dental appointments. Time went by quickly and before I knew it I was behind in my own appointments, including the scheduling of my mammogram and dental checkups. This included dealing with issues that I had been postponing. My dentist had told me that my daily stress was causing me to grind my teeth at night, and I needed to do something about it. After seeing my son easily fit his Invisalign Teen treatment into his daily routine, I realized that it may just be time to look into fixing my own dental issues. My teeth crowding has been sending me to the dentist on a regular basis (causing stress) and also I realized I was not smiling as much because I was self conscious (causing more stress!).  I have seen my friends fix their smile with Invisalign, so it is time for me to consider fixing my own smile by making an appointment with an orthodontist for myself!

 

 

 

 

Disclosure: I am a member of the Invisalign Teen Mom Advisory Board. My son has received complimentary treatment from Align, but all opinions expressed are my own. Here is information on the Invisalign smile assessment, treatment process and how to find a Doc.

 

 

 

Dolby Atmos Audio Tech

10am Oct 6 update: Giveaway is closed.

 

Dolby Atmos There are so many different technologies that need to come together for a movie to be immersive. While many of us first think of the visual aspects (3D for example) the sound plays a very big role in a movie experience. I first realized this when I went to a Dolby press event in San Francisco last year. Dolby creates audio, visual, and voice technologies for cinemas, home theaters, PCs, mobile devices, and games. The press were given the opportunity to sit in the Dolby Theatre and watch one of the 2013 Dolby Atmos Movie Releases: Monster’s University.  When the movie started I wondered if I would really experience the sounds in the movie as if they were above, next and behind me. Well I can tell you that it was an audio delight to experience Monster’s University with Dolby Atmos because the sound was completely immersive adding another dimension to the movie experience.

 

 

 

When Dolby contacted me about one of the new movies out with Dolby Atmos, I could not resist taking some extra time to also learn more about how Dolby Atmos works. But first I got the opportunity to give away 3 copies of Transformers: Age of Extinction (one of the 2013 Dolby Atmos Movie Releases).

 

 

Transformers: Age of Extinction with Dolby Atmos

 

TO ENTER:

Leave a comment on this post talking about how you like to experience movies at home to an “immersive” experience. For example, we have a sound bar but I never thought about installing speakers at home to make our movie night more immersive!

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3 commenters will each win one Transformers: Age of Extinction DVD.

TIMING:

Contest starts Oct 2 and ends Oct 6 2014 -10am pst. Winner will be announced by Oct 7 2014

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Dolby also provided me some fun facts in their press release about Transformers: Age of Extinction:

●     “Besides the fact that it’s a Transformers movie, what makes this release so great? It’s the first Blu-ray released with Dolby Atmos technology.

●     Transformers: Age of Extinction, released Sept. 30, is the first movie mixed in Dolby Atmos for home theaters. This fall will see more Dolby Atmos titles for home theater on both Blu-ray Disc and from streaming video providers like Vudu.

●     Dolby Atmos makes it easy for filmmakers to place or move specific sounds anywhere in the movie theatre, including overhead. As a result of this multi-dimensional sound, audiences feel as if they are inside the film, not merely watching it. Major Hollywood studios are partnering with Dolby to create Dolby Atmos home video versions of current box office releases and previously released favorites. Dolby Atmos debuted in 2012 in the hit film Brave. Since then, it’s been used for more than 180 theatrical releases, including hits like Godzilla, Guardians of the Galaxy, Gravity, and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes. In addition to global studio partnerships, Dolby is partnering with game, music, and broadcast content creators to take advantage of Dolby Atmos technology for future home theater use.

●     Even if you don’t have a Dolby Atmos home theater, content mixed in Dolby Atmos sounds better. This format gives filmmakers the tools and freedom to bring more sound off the screen and into your living room creating a more enveloping experience – it’s as if you’re actually in the movie.”

 

I also received a press document that covered more details about the Dolby Atmos technology.  I was happy to know that even in my house I could create an immersive experience with Dolby Atmos enabled speakers in our own living room.

“Dolby Atmos enabled speakers can produce an incredibly accurate Dolby Atmos experience in many types of rooms. You’ll get the best sound if your ceiling is flat (not vaulted or angled) and made of an acoustically reflective material, such as drywall, plaster, concrete, or wood. Dolby designed the technology for rooms with ceiling heights of 8 to 9 feet (2.4 to 2.7 meters ), but testing indicates that you can still hear incredible Dolby Atmos sound in rooms with ceilings as high as 14 feet (4.3 meters), though the effect may become more diffuse in rooms with higher ceilings. There are some rooms in which we don’t recommend using ceiling speakers…”

 

 

 

Dolby Atmos Speaker Placement

 

 

The press document also had information about how the Dolby Atmos technology works:

“Dolby Atmos is based on the concept of sound objects. In the cinema, Dolby Atmos relies on a combination of 9.1 “bed” channels and up to 118 simultaneous sound objects to deliver an enveloping sound scene. Every sound in a scene—a child yelling, a helicopter taking off, a car horn blaring—can be a separate sound object. Each of those sounds comes from a specific location in the scene, and in some cases, they move. The car careens from left to right, while the yelling child runs up a set of stairs. Using sophisticated content creation tools that represent the sound objects in a three- dimensional space, filmmakers can isolate each of the sound objects in a scene and decide exactly where they want them to be and how they want them to move. In the final sound mix, the sound objects are combined with metadata—additional data that describes a number of parameters about the sound object, including its location and movement, if any.”…

 

 

Dolby Atmos Speaker Placement

 

 

The Dolby website also has speaker recommendations and information on how to set them up. The press release explained some of that information and I learned that one of the main things you need to start is an AVR – which is an “AV receiver – which magnifies sound from multiple sources” and if I already have have conventional speakers you like, you can simply buy Dolby Atmos enabled add-on speaker modules:

“Although Dolby Atmos is a revolutionary new home theater format, it doesn’t require that you start from scratch. Although you will need a new AVR, in most cases, you’ll be able to keep most, if not all, of your existing speakers. But if you already have conventional speakers you like, you can simply buy Dolby Atmos enabled add-on speaker modules. These include only the upward-firing speakers. You can place these add-on modules on top of your current speakers or on another nearby surface.

 

Dolby recommends that you use four Dolby Atmos enabled speakers when possible. Use of four speakers will make the placement of overhead sounds more accurate, and you’ll get more precise, realistic sounds as an object—such as a helicopter—passes overhead in a video..  Two of the speakers (whether they are integrated speakers or add-on modules) should be in the front left and front right speaker locations of your system. The other two should be positioned in the surround sound speaker locations, ideally the rear surround speakers, if you have them…. Some home theater enthusiasts will also be able to install speakers in or on their ceilings, but you don’t have to. If you use ceiling speakers, Dolby recommends that you use four or more speakers when possible, though two speakers will still provide a great experience. If you use four ceiling speakers, you should place the front pair of ceiling speakers in front of the position where you’ll be listening and the second pair of ceiling speakers behind you when you’re seated. If you use two ceiling speakers, mount them slightly in front of where you’ll be listening.

 

 

There is one important consideration in expanding your system: new speakers must be added to your Dolby Atmos system in pairs. A new speaker on the right side of the room must be matched by a similar speaker on the left side of the room. This is true for speakers located on the floor as well as in the ceiling. This pairing ensures a balanced soundstage. The exceptions to this rule are when you add speakers in the center or center surround locations.”

 

 

Home theater manufacturers started announcing Dolby Atmos enabled equipment in June. The first Dolby Atmos receivers and speakers are starting to appear in stores now. More information about Dolby Atmos can be found on the You can get more information about Dolby Atmos on the Dolby website and Dolby blog or follow updates on Facebook and Twitter. on our website and on our blog.

 

 

Disclosure:  This is a press post. One copy of Transformers: Age of Extinction was given to me for review purposes. The giveaway is being offered as value to my readers – this is NOT a paid post.  All of my opinions are my own.

 

 

 

 

Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard: Tips and New Features

Facebook Family Tech ChalkboardWhen Facebook reached out to me and other parenting journalists to attend a “Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard” meeting at their campus, I was excited attend a press briefing on their new features.  As parents we have the dual role of using Facebook to communicate with our own friends (and family) as well as advising our teens on topics such as privacy and social media etiquette. Those of us with businesses or websites also use Facebook Pages to engage with our customers or readers.   Listed below is a summary of the topics discussed.

 

 

  • Facebook Groups Updates:
    • Facebook groups is a great way to have separate discussions with different “groups” of friends. I wrote a post (Tips For Moms on Using Facebook Groups) that discussed the different types of groups and details for setting up Facebook Groups. At the meeting we shared stories on how we use Facebook groups.
    • Facebook Groups for Schools: We learned about Facebook feature called “Groups for Schools” which allows people with an active school email address to join groups at their college or university. I am happy that Facebook still has this feature to allow only people in the college (that have the college “email” address) to join the college Facebook group.

     

    Facebook groups for schools

    Facebook groups for schools Photo credit: Facebook

     

  • New Facebook Feature “Save for later” The new Facebook “Save” feature enables you to save items (links, places, movies, TV and music) you find on Facebook for later. From a privacy standpoint we learned that only you can see the items you save unless you choose to share them with friends. This is a feature that is especially important to me  lately because while I find the most interesting articles on my timeline, I rarely have time to read the full article. Now I can “save” it and come back to it! Sometimes I flip back and forth in my Facebook timeline between top stories and most recent to see what articles people are sharing. But I always seem to go back to “top stories” because that is where some of the most talked about articles seem to show up.  My next step will be to create my own Facebook “friends lists” of my tech friends, parenting friends and more to help curate updates on my timeline (which I can now share!).

 

Facebook Save

New Facebook Save Feature. Photo credit: Facebook

 

 

 

  • Facebook Privacy Checkup:  The new Facebook feature called “Privacy Checkup“  offers a guided approach to setting up privacy controls. It will take users through steps to “review things like who they’re posting to, which apps they use, and the privacy of key pieces of information on their profile“. While I already went through the Facebook privacy settings with my teen when he first set up Facebook (and for myself), the privacy checkup is also a good way to have a guided review of settings.

 

 

 

 

 

  • Facebook Login & Anonymous Login: New Facebook login features, announced at the last Facebook Developer’s conference, offers “a brand new way to log into apps without sharing any personal information from Facebook, along with a new version of Facebook Login with even better privacy controls.” The  announcement explained the three new features as:

1. Anonymous Login:An easy way for people to try an app without sharing any of their personal information from Facebook.”

2. Facebook Login:A new version that gives people the option to pick and choose what information apps get.
3. Redesigned App Control Panel:A central place for people to see and manage the apps they use.

 

Facebook Anonymous Login

Facebook Anonymous Login. Photo credit: Facebook

 

 

The ability to signup for new apps without having to share all of my personal information is an option I have been looking for some time. App developers have a year to utilize this new feature so we will see this rolling out soon.

 

 

The last topic we discussed was Facebook Pages. I not only have a Facebook page for TechMamas but also manage some Facebook pages (and ad campaigns)  for clients so this is an area of great interest to me. At the same time, there is so much information to cover on this topic that I decided to split it up to be covered in my next post on Facebook Pages (so keep an eye out for that post coming out soon!).

 

At the end of the event we had a tour of the Facebook Campus and could not help but have some fun in the Facebook store with fellow parenting journalists – including Jessica Rosenberg who helped me model some fun tee shirts!

 

Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard Tour

 

 

Disclosure: The Facebook Family Tech Chalkboard was a press event. This post is a press update.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Tips For Moms on Using Facebook Groups

Tips For Moms: How To Use Facebook GroupsHow people communicate has changed significantly thanks to social media networks, especially Facebook which covers family, friends, business networks and more. I have written before about Tips for Parents: Facebook Privacy Settings for Teens but this time I wanted to cover Facebook Groups. It is important that parents understand online security and privacy settings in social networks, then help educate their kids and set up regular communication to help guide them when needed. In addition, moms can use Facebook Groups in several ways to assist in their own communication. I even showed my teen (and did it for myself) how to create a Facebook “close friends” list to see more of their updates on his timeline.

 

 

Lately it seems that every conference I attend, social media groups I am involved with and “In Real life” groups I join use Facebook Groups as communication central. I even have a Facebook Group for a business group I joined in college (made up of business majors from my alma mater). They use a Facebook Group to keep in touch and coordinate events. I recently attended their annual reunion and it was magical to sit with them in real life and catch up on information beyond their frequent online updates.

 

Coincidentally, I was able to join this local reunion because I was in town speaking at a social media conference which used Facebook groups to organize attendee communication.

 

As a mom, Facebook groups are a powerful tool to help organize school, meetup, sports and even fitness group meetups. I just joined a Facebook fitness group with other moms to help inspire us to exercise. My experience as a Facebook Admin for many groups helped me gain information that I have shared with other moms to help them set up their groups. For example, the Facebook Group Admin Help section has basic information on privacy and settings.

 

The most important decision for setting up a Facebook Group is whether your group will be open (anyone can join or be added or invited by a member), private (anyone can join, but they have to be added or invited by a member) or closed (anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member). I view Facebook Groups as set up for group communication. Some of my friends have businesses and they want to communicate with customers. I suggested Facebook “Pages” to them as a great tool for customer and community interaction. My next post will cover setting up Facebook Pages.

 

One of Facebook Group’s features is the ability to store files (including DropBox files). For social media conferences, we create group files that contain everyone’s website URL and social media profiles so we can follow and connect with each other online. You can also load photo’s and video to Facebook Groups. I recently just started using this tool called Canva to create not only Facebook graphics but also Facebook banners for Groups and Pages.

 

I also stress the importance of establishing Facebook Group community guidelines with admins such as banning people who say inappropriate things. Communication can flourish in a Facebook Group that is focused on a theme (i.e. fitness, networking group, conference, mother’s group) and, in the same light, shut down if members don’t speak to each other in a respectful way, keeping inappropriate topics and language off the group’s timeline.

 

Managing any group of people can be challenging, especially one that is online. But with the right guidelines and members, it can be a vital source of connection and information exchange.

 

Facebook did some research related to moms and Facebook Groups and shared it to press. The information below is from that Facebook press release.

 

Facebook Press Release: Insight from Moms Group

 

Access/Usage:

  • Check the Group daily, as often as News Feed
  • Access via both mobile and web; also utilize email notifications to see new items in email and flag for follow-up

 

Why they use Groups

Top Reasons:

  • A robust resource – Group members are from all over the US and the world, so you feel that you can ask a question and get a variety of responses and perspectives.
  • They can relate – Moms can ask any question to see if someone else has gone through the same thing, what the outcome was, any first-hand advice.  Your friends or family may not have children, or children at the same age, whereas in the Group, you can connect with other moms in the same situation that you’re in.
  • It’s separate – The Group is separate from other friends/family/co-workers on Facebook so you feel comfortable posting in a secure, like-minded forum.
  • It’s fast – “It’s so easy to post a question and get several responses within minutes”

 

How they connect w/ other moms

 

Moms use Facebook Groups mostly to connect with other moms outside of their friends/people they already know, in some cases developing deeper connections –

  • “I have friended many of the women in this group, even though I have never met them. I started to recognize certain names and stories. I felt like I knew these women personally. So I would reach out and say hi and then our friendships began.”
  • “There are a few groups that have been spun off from this group. In some ways, there are moms that I see in multiple groups and stay in contact with them more than I see my husband’s posts!”
  • Some noted that the Facebook Group is even more supportive than local meet-ups in-person.
  • “I use a local meet-up group as another source of information and way to meet people, but this group is by far more supportive. Interestingly, my local group has since moved onto Facebook.”

 

How-To

Facebook Groups is an easy way to connect and share things with family or specific sets of people like teammates, coworkers, or anyone with a shared interest. Over 500 million people use Groups each month and hundreds of thousands of Groups are created each day with the goal of connecting with others on common ground.

 

Below are some tips from Facebook on how to create a Group as well as how to continue to maintain a successful and active Group:

 

How To Create a Group:

  • On web: From your homepage, go to the Groups section on your sidebar and click on Add Group. Click Create New Group, from there a window will appear where you’ll be able to add a group name, add members and select the privacy setting for your group. Click the Create button when you’re finished.
  • On iPhone: Tap More, then under Groups, tap Create Group and enter Group name, description, privacy setting, and an icon.  Tap Create in the top-right corner to confirm.
  • On Android:  In the menu, scroll down to Groups, tap Add Group, enter the group’s name and select the privacy setting.  Tap Continue to confirm.

 

How to Join a Group:

Go to the group you want to be part of and then click Join Group in the top-right corner. You can also join any Open group that you see on the About page of someone’s Timeline by clicking Join.

  • You may have to wait for a group admin to approve your request. In some groups, you can also be added by a friend who’s already a member.
  • Customize Your Groups Privacy Setting: You can select one of three privacy options for each group you create: Open, Closed or Private.
  • Open: Anyone can join or be added or invited by a member
  • Closed: Anyone can ask to join or be added or invited by a member
  • Private: Anyone can join, but they have to be added or invited by a member.

 

Tips for Creating and Maintaining a Successful Group:

  •  Post Early & Often: Groups are more successful when the Group founders visit the Group early in its existence and post more often – get your Group started with posting on topics that encourage members to engage, share from the get-go and Like posts from other members.
  • Spread The Word: Groups thrive when more than just the original Group founders invite people to join – add additional people as administrators for the Group and encourage other Group members to invite their friends or networks. For Open groups, add tags like life, sports, food, and more so that other people can find your Group and join.
  • Make it Visual: Facebook found that flourishing Groups include logos, pictures, descriptions, or other visuals.  Consider adding a link or visual to every post on the Group page. You can also add files to your Group – here’s more info on sharing stuff from your Dropbox with your Facebook Group.
  1. On your group’s page, start a new post and click Add File. You’ll see a “From Your Dropbox” section next to Facebook’s regular file uploader.
  2. Click Choose File. If you haven’t already, sign in or create a Dropbox account. If this is your first time, you’ll also be asked for permission to link your Dropbox account to Facebook.
  3. Select the file from your Dropbox, and a link to the file will be added to your post. You can also include a message with your post.

You can curate your News Feed for content posted to your Groups.  If you’d like to modify what you see from your Groups in your News Feed, click on the drop-down in the upper right hand corner of a post on News Feed, and select one of the following options:

  • I don’t want to see this
  • Unfollow your Friend
  • Unfollow the Group

 

You can also control the Notifications you receive from your Groups.  On the Groups page, click on “Notifications” in the upper right hand corner and select one of the following options:

  •  All Posts
  • Friends’ Posts
  • Off

 

 

How do you use Facebook Groups?

 

 

Disclosure: This is a press post.

 

 

 

Back To School Organization Tips – Family Online Calender

Back-To-School-OrganizationAs kids head back to school many families start the process of organizing their schedules and lives.  I will be covering the tools, apps, tech and processes that I have found helpful for back to school organization over the next few weeks , and hope to hear from my readers what works for them. Because organizing for the new school year can be overwhelming, I suggest starting with setting up the school year and after school activity schedule.  While there are many paper based organization systems, my family prefers to use online calenders.  Here are the steps we took to set up our family schedule online:

 

STEP 1: Pick an online calender.

 

There are individual sites such as Cozi.com that have web and apps to capture family schedules, but there are also online calenders such as Microsoft Outlook, Apple iCal, Yahoo and Google Calenders. To help choose, look at the email accounts and operating systems that most family member’s use. At the same time consider that because online calenders can be accessed over the internet, they do work across operating systems and devices as long as you have either WiFi or a data plan for phones.

 

STEP 2: Gather School, Sports and After school Activity dates:

 

Gathering a list of school, sports and after school activity dates make seem time consuming, but it is worthwhile investment. Setting up an online calender in the beginning of the year (and updated seasonally) will help organize the family schedule and family life in general. Some schools and sports leagues have online calenders you can load to directly to personal online calenders (look for the “+” calender or “add calender” option).  If you only have paper printouts our online lists, I suggest putting those in a folder then pick a time that I call “input day” where I just input everything into the calender. It may seem like a big task, but it actually does not take as long as it would seem it I just start it at the beginning of each school year then just update as needed.

 

 

STEP 3:  Input school, sports and after school dates into the online calender.

 

Next pick a time (or a few times) to input the school year calender dates into the online calender. Check out the features of the online calender system so you know in advance the ones you want to use. For example, I use special features like “repeat” for the timing of each school day (8:15am-3pm) so it just repeats each weekday for a whole semester at at time. Then I delete or change the timing for vacations. I “invite” family members to events so they get it on their online calenders (such as school concerts).

 

 

But my favorite feature is the option to color code different calenders to represent different kids in my family of three boys. I then “invite” my kids via their email address to access their calender so they can not only see their schedule but also learn the process of managing their schedule. The goal is as they get older they will become independent by setting up their own online calenders. Color coding has also taken care of any “you did not tell me about that appointment” complaints because I can always say “it was on your schedule – so please check it”.  My teen has a smartphone with access to a data plan so I have higher expectations for him to regularly check his schedule versus my twins who have talk and text phones with no internet access.  I also try to print out my kids “color coded” online schedules and have them up in the kitchen as a reminder.

 

How do you set up your family school year schedule?