Slider by IWEBIX

Five Ways To Use #Tech For #Halloween

I was not going to post on Halloween but I was so inspired by the fun press outreach (and seeing what my fellow bloggers wrote) that I wanted to share some of my Halloween inspired tech favorites. Please share yours and have a safe and happy Halloween!

 

1. LED and Laser Pointers to Light Up Your Jack-O-Lantern!

 

deathstar  pumpkin

PHOTO CREDIT: Fantasypumpkins.com

 

Our family favorite Make Magazine had a great link list of creative pumpkin carving ideas, including a Death Star and using LED’s and laser pointers to light up your pumpkins. The Death Star Pumpkin masterpiece is from the website Fantasy Pumpkins. May the Jack-O-Lantern Be With You!

 

2. Check out websites for last minute Halloween ideas

Cool Mom Picks has a post with the UItimate Last Minute Halloween Guide. Of course, Pinterest has a vast amount of Halloween inspirations to keep you busy for hours. Growing Up Goofy has (our family favorite Disney) Mikey Mouse Halloween crafts and Tinker Lab has Halloween craft ideas for kids. There are many other food and design blogs online to get ideas. Z Living and Rookie Moms have tips for a healthier Halloween. For Halloween fashion tips, I found a great R2-D2 skirt at I am a Funny Girl’s Fashion Friday post. For super last minute tips, Mashable posted with costumes you can make in 15 minutes…

 

 

3. Halloween Spirits For Adults

 

Halloween Cocktail Photo by Steve Murello  via HGTV

Halloween Cocktail. Photo Credit by Steve Murello via HGTV

 

 

After all the work creating costumes, decorations, food and more I think it is important for parents to give themselves some Halloween Holiday spirits. When searching online for Halloween ideas for kids, why not also search for some Halloween adult drink ideas to die for like the recipes over on the website HGTV.

 

4. Apps to help with Halloween Decorations

 

Home Outside App Holiday Halloween

Home Outside App – Holiday Halloween

 

 

Today I received a press release about an app called Home Outside that can help you create a landscape design for Halloween or for any occasion.  I may even try this app to make another attempt to landscape now that my boys are older. The last time we tried (many years ago) we had toddlers who went and pulled the tubing from our drip irrigation. I am sure there are many other Halloween apps to decorate inside and outside your house.

 

5. Think Geek – One Stop Halloween Shopping

 

 

thinkgeek halloween

Think Geek Halloween – Minecraft

 

The website Think Geek has the best selection of techie Halloween fun including costumes (regular and cosplay), decorations and accessories including lights and lasers to light up your night. Of course, many of the accessories, such as the Think Geek: Mega Stomp Panic, would be great for geeky fun throughout the year!

 

 

 

 

 

What are your favorite Halloween ideas? I know that we will celebrating throughout the weekend…

 

 

 

 

 

 

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!

PRIZE:

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

RULES:

1. One Blog Post comment per person. One Blog Post comment is equal to one entry (so only one entry per person)  2. Winners are limited to US residents only 21 years of age or older. 3. If a valid email address is not provided in the entry, another winner will be chosen. 4. The prize is not redeemable in cash and must be accepted as awarded. 5. Approximate value of prizes may vary. 6. All decisions are final 7. By entering any giveaway on this website you release Techmamas.com from any liability whatsoever, and waive any and all causes of action. 7. Contest starts Oct 2 and ends Oct 6 2014 -10am pst. Winner will be announced by Oct 7 2014.

 

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.

 

 

 

 

Pantech Vybe Review: First Phone For Kids

Pantech vybe first phone kidsBack to school is a busy time for parents, preparing their kids for the classroom, fall sports and other activities. Choosing a new phone and managing cell phone use is also at the top of many parents’ list. Kids nowadays use phones as one of their main forms of communication with other kids as well as pesky parents who pick them up and drop them off places. I covered the topic of deciding on the right age to buy a phone and tips on setting up your kid’s first phone in a recent back to school post.  I drove to the AT&T store myself to try to figure out which phone I was going to buy for my twin boys who are starting middle school. After receiving an email about the Pantech Vybe, I decided to do a review of the phone with my twins.

 

As I mentioned in my “tips for buying your kids a phone” post, I believe phones should be given to kids on an as-needed basis. My kids are taking the bus, riding their bike or walking to school and activities on their own now we decided it was time for them to have their own phones. Because they are just starting middle school, I just wanted to have the ability to call, text and use phone tools while not using any social network or the mobile web. The Pantech Vybe is a great first phone because in addition to making calls it has a slide out keyboard that’s perfect for texting and has its own operating system so kids can’t use app stores to load up on apps and games. We also found it helpful to have the option to disable data on the phones if necessary.

 

Of course at first we the kids pushed back. They wanted an iPhone or another fancy smartphone like some of their other 11-year old friends. Beyond being RIDICULOUS that 11 year olds have full featured smartphones in the first place, tweens especially may not understand the consequences of all of their actions – so why give them mobile tools to do so?  We do believe as a family that all kids should be educated and make informed decisions about Internet safety but temptations and peer pressure can be hard for tweens/teens to resist. Already one of their peers is posting things on Instagram that are pretty alarming for their age group.  While many kids have full access to browsers and apps on tablets, desktops and laptops at home – at least those devices are being used at home and not being taken with them every day and used without supervision.

 

PANTECH VYBE SPECIFICATIONS AND FEATURES
FEATURES:
Here are the features of the Pantech Vybe:

  • Slide-out QWERTY Keyboard
  • 3.2” Touchscreen Display and 3 Customizable Homescreens
  • Hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command button”

 

The user manual has information on setting up and also found the Pantech support section of the AT&T website useful because of the setup videos.
pantech vybe home screen

 

Touchscreen Display, Navigation and Customizable Home screens:

The touchscreen display is 3.2 inches and can be customized with favorite apps such as notepad, calculator, contacts and more.  There is even a hands free one-touch “Say-A-Command” button. Pantech included a proprietary dual-user mode: “Easy Mode has one home screen and a simplified menu for a truly intuitive user experience. Advanced Mode is customizable and offers more options and flexibility. You can safely switch back and forth between modes without losing your contacts or favorites. ”

 

What I found useful to understand is that there are two types of “menus” in advanced mode. The main menu is called the home screen (starting point for using applications on your phone) . The home screen can be customized with a picture or standard backgrounds (customizable from “display” section of tools). One of the home screens can be customized to display shortcuts for favorite apps (Max 9 icons can be added) and another for web addresses. Once the main screen is set up it is simple to use the phone (unlock, tap and go).
The second menu is listed on the home screen in the navigation at the bottom as “Menu”. This has access to load lots of different tools (more than the 9 max on the home screen). In the tools area we loaded shortcuts for pre-loaded apps such as sketch pad, notepad, calculator, alarm clock voice memo, pictures, address book, video player, and camera.

 

Entertainment:
The “My stuff” folder has applications, games, audio (alert tones and ring tones), music, pictures, video, other files and info on memory. Available games include brain challenge and UNO (we bought the full version of Uno). You can insert a memory card if you wanted. For kids who do have data plans there is a video player and for those who want to load music there is a music player. The help section of the website has instructions on how to transfer music to the Pantech Vybe.

 

What I like about the Pantech Vybe is that it does not have access to an app store so kids are limited to what is loaded on the phone. As I said in my “getting your kid their first phone tip post”, having access to app stores can be expensive and give access to inappropriate apps for kids.  While the Pantech Vybe does have Facebook, Twitter and mobile web apps – I explained to my kids that we blocked the data plan so they can’t use those apps anyway.

 

AT&T Services:
Along with the other apps, the Pantech Vybe has AT&T services apps preloaded such as like AT&T Navigator, AT&T Address Book, AT&T Family Map, AT&T Drive Mode and myAT&T so I can help them see their account information.

 

Specifications:

The specifications have the phone at just 4.94 ounces so it is light for the kids to either carry in their pocket, bags or backpack pockets. It is also slim at just 2.32 inches width and 4.49 inches height (depth is only .51). The 3.2″ TFT Touchscreen Display has nice resolution (240 x 400) for a first phone and the touchscreen makes it more intuitive to use. Calls made to my sons on the phone sound great. I am able to hear them clearly and they have been able to hear me (even if they don’t want to!).

 

The proprietary operating system (Pantech Proprietary J2ME)  gives me comfort that they can only use the apps pre-loaded on the phone.  The Pantech Vybe has cellular technology to meet my kids need (2G – Quad Band (GSM/GPRS/EDGE) – (850/900/1800/1900 MHz) 3G – Tri Band (UMTS/HSDPA) – (850/1900/ 2100 MHz) and Bluetooth if they want to use it with wireless accessories.

 

Overall my kids are very happy with the phone and were able to start using it without any instruction from me. But we did of course spend the time to go over the family phone use rules, multiple times to make sure they understand (even though I had to hear “I KNOW Mom!!” multiple times).   With the Pantech Vybe I have the comfort of knowing they can call and text with a phone that has all the features they need right now (as a middle schooler) without having too much access to the wide range of apps available on other smartphones and in other app stores. When my twin boys turn 13, maybe we will allow them to use the Pantech Facebook app

 

Pantech Vybe Overview from press release:

Purchasing your child’s first mobile phone has become a rite of passage for tweens and young teens, and parents too. The big question looms: Is your tween ready for a cell phone?  The Pantech Vybe is a great compromise, offering your child plenty of must-have features like messaging, easy camera access and social media without unrestricted access to apps and a high data plan. The Pantech Vybe is your solution.

The Pantech Vybe is an affordable, easy to use quick messaging phone, with access to the features and apps kids want at a price parents love. With a low-cost monthly plan for talk and text, the Pantech Vybe is an attractive option to add to a family plan at an affordable price.

In addition to being budget-friendly, the Pantech Vybe is tween and teen-approved with a slide-out keyboard for quick and easy texting, social media shortcuts, quick camera button, multiple customizable home screens and music and video players.

 

The Pantech Vybe is $29.99 with a two-year contract and can be purchased exclusively at AT&T. For more information on the Pantech Vybe, visit MyFirstPhone.com”.

 

 

Here is a video I received with the press release:

 

 

 

Disclosure: I have received products for review purposes.

 

 

 

Sponsored: CES 2014 Whirlpool Innovations

While at CES 2014, I had the opportunity to learn more about the new Whirlpool innovations. The concepts are exciting because they will not only add more functionality and control over my kitchen but also enable me to be more productive. Listed below is a summary.

 

Whirlpool Induction CooktopInteractive Cooktop:  One of the most exciting demos was of the Whirlpool interactive cooktop concept which turns a simple surface such as a cooktop into a multi-functional information, cooking and entertainment space.  For example, while I can cook anywhere on the surface I can also browse the internet to pull up a recipe to view on the same surface! While entertaining, I can cook while checking the guest list online.  Combing the functionality of a cooktop with digital connectivity will enable a busy mom like myself to be much more productive in the kitchen.  With three “always hungry” boys I spend lots of time in the kitchen so I need all the help I can get! The Interactive Cooktop concept would also allow me to have less devices in the kitchen but still have access to digital connectivity on capacitive touch surface or hands free when needed.

 

Here is a Whirlpool video about the Interactive Cooktop:

 

 

Whirlpool Wash AppConnected Appliances: Whirlpool also introduced a digitally integrated suite of appliances and smartphone app that would not only give me more control in the kitchen, but also on the go. Because my appliances would be connected via a WiFi network, they can be controlled via a smartphone. This would allow me to do things such as saving energy by using my smartphone to run my washer during the right time of day, even if I am not at home.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Here is a video that explains more about Whirlpool Connected Appliances:

 

 

 

Whirlpool Duet Series PaisleyDesigner Duet Series:  The Whirlpool Designer Duet series goes behind the simple solid colors to allow for personalization such as paisley or chrome bubbles. This type of customization is exciting because it would enable me to bring some stylish touches into my laundry area.  The Duet series also has technology to help whoever is doing the laundry (hint, hint to my older sons who need to start doing their own laundry!).  The Adaptive Wash Technology in the Duet® washer automatically selects the cycle settings for every load and Advanced Moisture Sensing technology in the dryer prevents over-drying clothes by sensing how long the dryer should run (and also saves energy!). I could even use the Whirlpool WashSquad app to assign laundry tasks to my sons!

 

 

 

Here is a Whirlpool video on the Designer Duet series:

 

 

 

 

Whirlpool CoolVoxThe CoolVox™ sound system refrigerator concept (available Q2 2014) extends the functionality with wireless Harman Kardon Speakers built in that are not distrupted when the doors are closed! This would allow me to listen to music or podcasts from my mp3 player, tablet, smartphone or computer (Note: “Only one device can be paired to CoolVox™ at a time“). I can also use apps such as Pandora, Spotify or my playlists.

 

 

 

 

 

Here is the Whirlpool video on CoolVox:

 

 

  • Since Whirlpool 20/20 is all about a future focused on you, we, want to hear your ideas for it. Leave a comment below telling us your idea for the future for your home and be entered to win a $1,000 grand prize.

 

Sweepstakes Rules:
No duplicate comments.

You may receive (2) total entries by selecting from the following entry methods:

  1. Leave a comment in response to the sweepstakes prompt on this post
  2. Tweet (public message) about this promotion; including exactly the following unique term in your tweet message: “#SweepstakesEntry”; and leave the URL to that tweet in a comment on this post
  3. Blog about this promotion, including a disclosure that you are receiving a sweepstakes entry in exchange for writing the blog post, and leave the URL to that post in a comment on this post
  4. For those with no Twitter or blog, read the official rules to learn about an alternate form of entry.

This giveaway is open to US Residents age 18 or older. Winner will be selected via random draw, and will be notified by e-mail. You have 72 hours to get back to me, otherwise a new winner will be selected.

BlogHer will pool entries from participating blogs and select a sweepstakes winner at random and will contact the winner with details about fulfilling the prize.

The Official Rules are available here.

This sweepstakes runs from 1/2/14 – 1/18/14.

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All of my words are my own.

 

 

 

Tips To #NavigateTheHolidays With Gift Offerings at GameStop

*Disclosure: Sponsored post.

 

I am a regular Gamestop customer, whether it’s pre-ordering a new kid’s video game or buying used video games and accessories.  So, I was excited to recently host with Techlicious – a Gamestop event and tour at my local GameStop store. We had a fun group of bloggers, many who were already GameStop customers and excited to learn even more with a tour by the local GameStop team. Beyond being the “world’s largest, multi-channel video game retailer“, GameStop offers:

 

***Video games for  all types of consoles (Xbox, Sony PlayStation, Nintendo Wii) along with Video game consoles,  portable gaming devices, tablets and more.

 

 

***Tech accessories including headsets, tech toys such as Skylanders and Disney Infinity and even my kid’s favorite Lego video games (that compliment nicely all the Lego building they do).

 

 

***Gift Cards and Stocking Stuffers.

 

 

Best of all GameStop has affordable “Buy-Sell-Trade programs for video game hardware, software, digital content accessories, consumer electronics (including Apple Devices) and more“. To keep within our budget, we have our kids identify games they no longer play with to help save up for new ones. I was happy to find out that “GameStop also offers more then 2,500 video games under $20″. That also helps with the budget!

 

When looking for video games at GameStop we can always first check if there are used copies available. Long ago my teen figured out that we should sign up for the GameStop Power UP Rewards (customer loyalty program) – so we did. Along with the rewards, exclusives, point earning opportunities and extras, the GameStop’s PowerUp Rewards benefits include earning points towards future purchases.

 

 

 

We also had a lunch where we discussed holiday tech shopping tips, trends, tips on choosing video games and more from Suzanne Kantra of Techlicious and the GameStop team.

 

 

 

GameStop, with research partner Brierley+Partners, asked 500 U.S. gift givers what was at the top of their purchase lists this holiday season (fielded from November, 2013). Listed below are some highlights shared from the event and a press release:

  • 42 percent of shoppers surveyed plan to purchase video game related items for their children this holiday – including video games, consoles, and accessories.” While we’re always thrilled for the holiday season, this one is especially exciting as we welcome the first new gaming consoles in nearly a decade, along with a flurry of new titles to show off the systems’ next-gen technology,” said Ashley Sheetz, chief marketing officer of GameStop. “It seems more people than ever, at almost any age, are getting into gaming, and if this survey is any indication, the number of gamers will keep on growing thanks to the holidays this year!”
  • 84 percent of ‘gifters’ are aware of store and website trade-in programs, and nearly 20 percent are planning to use them to help defer gift costs. We learned that “GameStop offers instant store credit or cash on a vast range of products, from old video games, consoles, to smartphones, tablets, and other electronics sitting in drawers and on shelves. And with special holiday trade-in bonuses, the savings can grow large very quickly!”
  • 82 percent of ‘gifters’ expect to turn to store employees when making purchasing decisions this holiday season. “We know holiday shopping is stressful and even more so when presented with the plethora of gaming choices out there,” said Jason Cochran, vice president store operations and strategic initiatives of GameStop. “Our goal is to relieve some of that stress with our trained employees armed with the latest gaming knowledge, as well as through our loyalty and trade-in programs that can make the financial strain of the holidays less stressful.”

 

When it comes to video games for my kids, I spend the time to gather information about the game by using not only sites like Common Sense Media and ERSB, but also knowledgeable GameStop salespeople. Over lunch, we had a chance to talk about screen time and tips to understand if a game is appropriate for kids/family use:

 

  • Current state of kids & technology:  83% of parents set rules or have a conversation with kids about the safe use of technology, with the majority of parents setting limits starting at ages 5-8*, Overall daily screen time for kids under 8, 1 hour 55 minutes, decreased by 21 minutes per day vs 2 years ago.** More time on: mobile devices, Less time on: TV, DVD, Computers, Video Games.*From Microsoft/Comscore study 2013 .
    **From Common Sense media 2013 survey: Kids 0-8.
  •  Games are social: 40% of gamers play with friends with 17% playing with their spouse or significant other and 34% playing with other family members. Video games are a family activity: 40% of parents play video games with their children at least weekly. Most video games being sold are appropriate for kids with 73% of the 245.6 million video games sold in 2011 rated Everyone (E), Teen (T) or Everyone 10+ (E10+). Ninety-one percent of games evaluated by ERSB in 2012 were rated E, T or E10+, From Entertainment Software Association.
  • American Academy of Pediatrics Recommendations : Establish screen-free zones, turn off electronic devices during dinner.  For children and teens: limit entertainment media to no more than 2 hours per day (does not include homework). For children under 2: no TV and entertainment media.
  • Recommendations to help find the appropriate video: Common Sense Media offers the ability to search game titles for younger kids and drill down by age, content, educational benefit and more. PluggedIn.com offers the ability to sort by rating, platform and genre. ESRB rating search app (and website) flags “Interactive Elements” so you’ll know if the game shares location, personal information or user habits. ESRB recently expanded search filters for exclude/include content type (violence, language, nudity etc) or a specific rating, plus access to rating summaries for packaged games.

 

How do you choose which games are appropriate for your family? What types of family technology are on your holiday shopping list?

 

Here are some posts from other bloggers at the event:

Mom With Apps: Three Tips for Family-Friendly Gaming
ParentGrapevine: GameStop – The Place to Shop, Sell, Trade-in and Buy for the Holidays
 

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored post. All of my words are my own.

 

 

 

 

Tips And Tools To Get the Best Deals For Holiday Shopping

Disclosure: This is a sponsored series

While “Black Friday” and “Cyber Monday” are over, there are great deals during December, January, and the rest of the year. In my holiday shopping guide, I highlight that the first step is always to create a shopping plan that organizes your shopping list, identifies the right tools and timing to get the best deals. So here are my tips to plan and find the best deals:

 

Shopping Plan:

In my book, My Parent Plan, I mention that it is important to look at your purchases throughout the year, create a budget and then create a shopping plan. For the holidays, this includes your holiday gift budget. If, like many, you have a tighter budget this year than in past years, then consider giving the gift of “time”.  Take a friend’s kids for a night so they can go out, cook your special food for someone you care for, work together with the kids to create crafts for teachers, and other creative and budget-friendly gifts. One of our relatives gives our kids the gift of individually planning a day out at a museum or other community event. The kids love spending private time with this relative and without their siblings. The gift of spending time together with family or friends is priceless!

 

After you have identified your annual gift list and budget, then start to get an idea of how prices change by location and time.

 

Timing:

Consumer Reports, LifeHacker and other websites published reports on the best time to buy different items. Many may think that Black Friday and CyberMonday are the only days to get deals but that is not true for all items. For example, I have been looking for a desktop computer to replace my two year old work laptop. I started pricing during BlackFriday and Cyber Monday sales and for the type of powerful desktop I am looking for, the stores were only offering $100-$200 off. Last year, the New Year’s sales were even better so I am going to take my chances and shop for a new desktop in the beginning of January. At the same time, I will also keep track of the pricing in December just in case I see a really compelling sale. To automatically keep track of pricing, I am trying out product tracking sites including Digital Folio, CamelCamelCamel and others.

 

Using these sites, I have been following the prices on a few appropriate desktops, including the Lenovo IdeaCentre K450, that fit my top work computing requirements of a fast processor (Intel i7), 2TB hard drive, 12GB RAM and Windows 8 . From the price analysis on the CamelCamelCamel website (that matched with my other research), the lowest price the whole year was $848, the highest was over $1,000 now the price online is $898.

 

 

 

Then, I checked the Lenovo website and realized that some CyberMonday deals were going on until Dec. 6th offering a price of just over $800, a really great deal. Because my holiday purchase budget was already spent, I’ll likely make this purchase in January, waiting to see what deals come out for the New Years sales. I now know that $800 is the lowest price I found so if it’s close I’ll be ready to buy!

 

Lesson learned is that all price trackers can not monitor of all the special holiday pricing. It’s therefore a good idea to first identify your budget and what you want to buy, then use the price trackers and product manufacturer’s website to get an idea of pricing during holiday sale time.

 

Tools:

Black Friday and New Years sales have lots of “in store” sales as well, so setting yourself up for mobile shopping is essential. Here are some of the tools to prepare for using technology to shop while on the go.

 

  • Shopping Comparison Sites: Along with price trackers mentioned above, there are many other sites including Google, Bing and others to help find and compare pricing. ShopSavvy is an app that can be used to find items, prices and use a barcode scanner in store (iPhone, Android, and Windows Phone).
  • Coupon Apps: RetailMeNot and Coupons.com (will add links to apps) are just a few of the apps that can be loaded to your smartphone to show in-store and online discount codes. I especially enjoy using the RetailMeNot app at Kohls, which usually helps me get an additional discount off the full amount of my purchase!
  • Mobile WiFi- When I was shopping the New Year’s sales last year I found some new items that met with my product specifications but were not on my initial list. I also found that having my own mobile WiFi in the store gave me more freedom to check pricing and product information regardless of my location. I also used this as a bargaining tool. At one tech store that says they “match” prices, they honored a lower price I showed them on my laptop using my AT&T Unite mobile WiFi.  On the topic of shopping, I am putting an AT&T Unite on my list as a gift for my teen since using my mobile WiFi always impresses his friends). So I think it is time for my teen to have his own mobile WiFi device.

 

How do you plan for shopping to find the best price?

 

Disclosure: This is a sponsored series. I received an AT&T Unite as part of my sponsorship. My words are my own.

For more information, visit att.com/Unite or connect with WiFi Family powered by Netgear.

 

 

 

 

Black Friday Roundup: Tips and Tricks!

Today is BlackFriday and many people are probably not reading posts but working like crazy to check off their shopping lists. I wanted to provide a roundup to save time of some of my favorite BlackFriday posts. Please share your tips!!

 

1. SHOP SMART – USE PRICE TRACKERS & AVOID SCAMS: Save money by understanding the true pricing across stores by using a price tracker. Also, take time to learn about the scams.  Here are some recommendations from Techlicious:  Price Trackers that Can Save You a Fortune  and 3 Holiday Online Shopping Scams To Watch Out.

 

 

2. MAKE A HOLIDAY SHOPPING PLAN: I shared my Holiday and social time shopping tips to recommend taking time to make a shopping plan but also a plan for spending time with family and friends. For example, instead of just shopping for gifts at stores, check out gifts for your loved ones or yourself that invest in your health or provide fun throughout the year: Health Club or Sports Club Memberships (like in San Franciso area memberships to YMCA or JCC’s, Western Athletic Clubs, Indoor Rock Climbing or more), Memberships at Art or Family museums (such as Exploratorium), Season tickets for your favorite local professional, minor league, college or sports teams (like the SF Giants or Stanford Sports – GoStanford in my area!).

 

Also look for opportunities to invest in education for yourself, kids or the whole family (cooking classes?) by purchasing online or local classes/instruction. I purchased indoor rock climbing lessons for our family as a holiday gift and will be purchasing tickets for the SF Giants and Stanford Sports.  We also want to learn how to program ( i.e Code Academy, Tynker, Girls Who Code and TED 10 places to learn to code) and to speak Spanish, so we are looking for education classes in those areas to invest in. Use the holidays to invest in a success plan for yourself and your loved ones!

 

 

 

3. SHOPPING ONLINE IS A GREAT OPTION:  Develop a shopping plan that is less stressful by doing some shopping online! First make a list of your favorite stores and check online. Then check the holiday gift guides online such as for Cool Mom Tech, Cool Mom Picks, Techlicious, Mom Trends, The Shopping Mama and more. When shopping online, check the coupon sites for coupon codes (such as Coupon.com and RetailMeNot.com). I found a 30% off code for pants for my teen from RetailMeNot!

 

4. Mind Your Budget, Walk away if needed:

 

 

What are your favorite Black Friday Shopping Tips?

 

Tips For Planning Your Holiday Social And Shopping Time

In my book “My Parent Plan” I discuss that making a plan before doing an activity will help gather your thoughts, consider options and make a strategy for best use of your time. Of course, holiday social and shopping time are one of the top activities that benefit from a plan. Here are some of my tips:

 

1. Time for Charity: Holiday time can be hard for everyone, but especially those in need. We decided early on to get our kids involved in volunteering with charities during the holidays. Whether it be collecting food for a food bank, cooking food for shelters or assisting with charity drives, there are many options to give to charity. We are excited this year to buy the food donation bags at our local grocery store for Thanksgiving and cook along with my fellow local community members for a homeless shelter on Christmas.


2. Time to Pay It Forward: Along with giving to charity, the holidays (and all year round) is a great time to pay it forward by helping family, friends and others that need assistance.  I decided this holiday would be a good time to help some of my friends that are returning back to work learn computer skills.  A few of my friends specifically asked me to teach them to use Microsoft Office because it is listed as a skill needed for the job they are interviewing for.

 

3. Time To Show Teachers and Family Service Providers Your Thanks: Holiday time is the time I like show the people that contribute to making my families life more special – special as well. Gift cards seem to be the most popular gift, but I suggest putting the receipt with the card in the envelope just in case the card has an error. I bought a gift card for a teacher one year and she returned it to me (thanking me and apologizing) because it did not work. I had to take it back to the store and to re-issue the card because I had the receipt. I felt bad, so now I make sure to get individual receipts for each gift card and include it in the gift. Another option is sending online gift cards.

 

4. Make A Social Plan: Holiday time is the best time to turn off spending time on your online networks and turn on spending time in real life social events. When you are with family and friends, try to do activities where everyone can join in. There are also many other options for holiday social events. One example is finding other people with similar hobbies. Our family is taking up indoor rock climbing and ice skating over the holidays and finding other families to come with us. There are local email groups and general sites like Meetup.org that provide groups and activities for every type of interest.

 

5. Make A Purchase Plan: In my book “My Parent Plan” I have a chapter on creating a Purchase Plan to identify the purchases you need to make over the year to figure out the best timing and family budget.  For example, because we identified that an electronic drum set was on our family purchase plan for this year and realized it was expensive,  we decided to give it to our boys to share as a holiday present. Our boys had to wait awhile to get it – but it is something they will really value at holiday time as a gift! Or my husband made a request months ago to have a work area in the garage to do building projects with our kids. So I looked at converting our broken down utility cart in the garage into a workspace by purchasing a garage system from an organizational store. That space will not only be a special present, but give year around joy.  A post on Square mentioned gifts for the Junior Chef, which is a great idea because gifts that also support kids spending time cooking with family members is something kids will never get tired of.

 

 

 

Setting a family budget may also help balance the need to over-shop with what is really in the budget. Family and friends always appreciate a gift, but not if it is at the expense of a friend overspending past their budget. There are also ways to offer your time that in the end is most valuable thing, such as “drop your kids off at our house for movie night”  or a “one hour how to play guitar” teaching certificate. Or instead of impulse buying items just to check off the list, research budget friendly alternatives instead.

 

6. Make A Shopping Plan: No matter what your holiday plans are, most people need to do some sort of shopping.  If you don’t want to shop during the Black Friday weekend then don’t feel the pressure to do it. Shopping with the crowds can be stressful and you may not get the best deals. A post on CBS gave the following reasons not to shop on Black Friday (which I agree): ” Door-busters are mainly second-tier products , you can find some of the same deals online, you’re more likely to overspend, layaway may not be available and return policies may be stricter.”   But if you do enjoy shopping over Black Friday weekend, join in the fun but try to still create a shopping plan to check as much off your list as possible. And make sure to wear comfortable shoes..

 

If you, like many this Thanksgiving weekend, are to busy to shop – don’t worry because next Monday is CyberMonday – the day that online deals are posted for cyber shoppers. Mashable posted about tips to shop discreetly at work for Cyber Monday. But really shopping at night during your free time will be just as effective – and not have the danger of losing a job that is needed to pay for the things you are buying!  Deals are even online now so you can start by visiting your favorite online sites and general deals sites to look for their Cyber Monday (or Cyber week!) sections.

 

7. Make A Technology Shopping Plan: If technology is on your holiday shopping list, it is important to make a technology shopping plan. Because there are so many types of technology, the first step in holiday technology gift giving should be to understand the workflow of the people you are giving the gifts to. What technology do they already have? How old is their technology? What types of things do they want to start doing (such as getting in shape, getting into photography, listening to more music, making videos). When do they use technology, is it on the go or mostly at home? What’s not working for the technology they are using now?

 

Then once you understand their interests and workflow, the next step is to understand what technology the recipient of your holiday gift already has.  Do they need more features and functionality? Would they benefit from an upgrade or a new device? Are there new accessories for the devices?  Are their new colors or styles out for accessories they already have? Do they have specific activities that could benefit from a specific accessory (such as a waterproof sports earphones good for jogging)? Are there ways to personalize technology accessories to give it a personal touch (like a smartphone case that has a family picture or kid’s art)? Can a new device take the place of multiple old devices? For example, can an updated tablet, computer or smartphone offer more productivity and entertainment options then the multiple devices they currently use?

 

Best yet, for families it can be a great time to “pool” gifts to invest in technology that can benefit everyone. For example, replace an older TV with a new internet enabled TV to allow entertainment streaming. Replace an older family computer with a new computer that has a big enough screen to also watch movies online. Is there a specific teen in the family that may benefit from a smartphone to help manage their “own” schedule with an online calendar and using dictation apps to help write their papers? Then that would also help their “parents” by enabling their teen to be more independent. We did this with our teen by  updating his phone from a regular phone to a smartphone (with a data plan) so he could use productivity apps for school and an online calendar to help manage his schedule. We had to make sure he followed appropriate smartphone online safety etiquette and family technology rules, but after we set that up it was a huge benefit not only to our son but also our family schedule.

 

8. Make A Plan to Live In The Moment:  Most of all, take time during the holiday to live in the moment, take a walk, connect with your loved ones or meet new people. Kimberley Clayton Blaine has a great quote on the Simple Reminder’s website that I remind myself of on a regular basis -especially now with one relative that just passed away from Ovarian Cancer and another that is still fighting bravely.  When I feel frustrated or get wrapped up in things that are not important in the “long term”, I remind myself that when waking up each morning it is a gift. I remind myself to treasure the moments with family and friends. I remind myself:

 

 

9. Make A Plan To Exercise: On the prior note of keeping perspective in life, I try every day to do some sort of exercise – even if that “exercise” is taking a quick walk, doing situps and pushups on the floor for 10 minutes, stretching or jogging. Even better are those special days when the stars align and I have time to take a hike with family or friends, go  to a group class or working out at my gym. Days when I am with family, I try to find activities that the whole family will enjoy that is also exercise.  But the reality of the holidays is that time is tight, so just fitting in some sort of exercise when I can is my mantra. Even if it means parking really far from the store to fit in a power walk in the parking lot!

 

10. Make A Plan To Just Breath:  If you do every feel stressed, remember to just breath..

 

 

 

Video: Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 Midnight Launch

*Sponsored. See Disclosures below.

Technology product launches, when done right, can be a real celebration of software and silicon. I always enjoy fun technology events, especially when the products are more exciting than the entertainment.  On October 21, I was thrilled to cover the Midnight Launch of the Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro in San Francisco. Throwing on my leather jacket, I headed off to San Francisco for the 10pm to Midnight launch and capturing all the fun on video.

 

 

I have been using Windows devices for many years, and the new Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro computers are making me itch to switch away from my laptop to these new devices. The Surface 2 Pro is not only the perfect size (and weight) for my handbag, but is also has powerful, pre-installed productivity features including productivity, with touch optimized versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote. Also included is 1 year of unlimited4 free voice calling to landlines in over 60 countries as well as free Wi-Fi at Skype hotspots. The Surface 2 also includes multiple storage options, long battery life, cover options and entertainment features

 

Below is my video of the Surface 2 Midnight Launch in San Francisco. The celebration started with a line outside the store and continued with a DJ to set the upbeat tone with music, food, beverages and giveaways (hats, tees, gift cards, etc.). Three-time Super Bowl Champion Roger Craig, provided autographs, and the Microsoft team was giving away games and offering test drives of the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro. I was in the market for a new laptop, so after taking a test drive of the new Surface 2, I decided to start saving up for the Surface 2 Pro with a Type Cover 2 and a docking station.  That will enable me to have a “fit in my bag” powerful and productive device for mobile use as well as a laptop experience for home use.

 

DISCLOSURE: This is a sponsored post. All of my words are my own.

Check out the Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro at http://www.microsoft.com/surface/en-ca/.


 

 

 

Midnight Launch of Microsoft Surface 2 and Surface Pro 2 #spon

*Sponsored giveaway. See giveaway details and disclosures at the bottom of this post. UPDATE 10/22 Winner was chosen and notified.

 

Our family desktop computer and my work laptop are all running Windows 8. I appreciate the seamless integration between the devices, including single account sign-in and one common user interface. The next step is to add a Windows 8 tablet to the mix, aiding in productivity and mobility for the entire family. Want to win your own Surface 2? Meet me at the Microsoft Store in San Francisco for the midnight launch, tonight from 10 p.m. to midnight! The details are towards the bottom of the post.

 

 

*******In preparation for my participation in the upcoming Surface2 and Surface 2 product launch event, I was sent product information. Here are some of the features that I’m most looking forward to checking out at tonight’s Microsoft Surface 2 (10pm to) Midnight Launch event (where I will be able to take my first test drive!)  You’ll learn more about the cool things happening at the event below.

 

 

PRODUCTIVITY

 

  • The Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro are great not only for parents always on the move like myself, but also to help kids stay productive in between school projects and their many activities. The Surface 2 has a Tegra 4 chip with always on and the Surface 2 Pro has 1.6GHz Core i5 Haswell processor, which is especially important for parents who need fast devices to get things done during the few free moments in their busy day.
  • The machines come with multiple storage options. The Surface 2 comes with either 32 or 64 GB of memory and the Surface 2 Pro has up to 512GB flash. Both models include a hearty 200GB storage on SkyDrive, a full-size USB and a microSD card slot for adding as much storage as your heart desires.
  • Both the Surface 2 and Surface 2 Pro have out-of-the-box (pre-installed) productivity with touch optimized versions of Outlook, Word, Excel, Powerpoint and OneNote, along with 1 year of unlimited4 free voice calling to landlines in over 60 countries and free Wi-Fi at Skype hotspots .
  • Beyond the convenience of a tablet, they also convert to a laptop form factor with a kickstand angle and  two cover options:

 

The  TOUCH Cover 2 is similar to the original Touch Cover – it acts as a both a keyboard and screen protector. It now features backlighting and is thinner and lighter than the previous model, measuring only 2.75mm. The magnetic cover easily snaps on and is pressure-responsive so you won’t accidentally type while it’s closed.

 

The TYPE Cover 2 , now also with backlighting, is similar to a regular keyboard where you get to feel the keys work. It has a QWERTY keyboard, a full row of Function keys (F1-F12), shortcut keys, media controls, and trackpad. It’s also more rigid, offering a better experience when you’re using the Surface 2 in your lap.

 

 

  • The Power Cover  (coming out soon) will also be new for the Surface 2. It will offer a similar experience as the Type Cover while extending the Surface 2’s battery life up to 70% and the Surface 2 Pro’s up to 50%. If you’re constantly in action, this one is a great choice!

 

BATTERY LIFE

 

  • The Surface 2 has up to a 10 hour battery life and is ultra thin and light (less than 1.5 pounds and just 8.9 mm thick.) Ten hours of battery life will get me through my day, even though the days of work and kid management can seem endless (but fun!)

 

DOCKING STATION:

 

  • If you’re looking to replace your laptop, try using the Surface 2 Pro in conjunction with the new Docking Station. It can literally transform your mobile experience to desktop, connecting to an external monitor while charging both the tablet and a cell phone. You can also run an external hard drive while making a Skype call on a USB headset.

 

 

ENTERTAINMENT:

 

  • Surface 2 offers a full entertainment experience including a widescreen Full 10.6″ 1080P ClearType HD touch display (Resolution: 1366 x768) providing a large view of your TV shows and movies. The audio has stereo speakers and microphone, as well as sensors (including Accelerometer, Gyroscope and Magnetometer) that will bring gaming to life with interactivity that my kids (and I) enjoy.
  • With the Surface Music Kit you can even mix your own music. My teen son has always wanted to DJ for either his friends or at school events. The music kit will allow him to mix his own music and share it using the Microsoft Surface. For more information, check out the #RemixProject website.

  

 

GIVEAWAY & LAUNCH EVENT DETAILS!

 

If you live near San Francisco, JOIN ME TONIGHT from 10 p.m. to Midnight for the launch of Microsoft Surface 2 & Surface Pro. You can win a gift card for a Surface 2 of your own! Here is the link to the event page: http://bit.ly/SFsurface.

 

 

Event details:

  • There will be a DJ, food and beverages and giveaways (hats, tees, gift cards, etc.) throughout the night
  • Microsoft Store will also be hosting a series of challenges for a chance to win a trip to the Orlando Store opening tomorrow morning, complete with a live performance and VIP meet-and-greet with Pitbull.
  • Three-time Super Bowl Champion Roger Craig will also be in attendance to meet and mingle with fans. He’ll be giving out autographed photos to the first 150 guests at the event!

 

Win your own Surface 2! In addition to the activations sponsored by the Store, you can also win a $550 gift card for a Surface 2 of your own from me! It’s easy to win, just answer the question: “How can you do more with Surface?” between 10 p.m. and midnight PT tonight!

 

Everything happens via social media, so you must do these two things in order for your entries to count:

 

 

I’ll be selecting the winner tomorrow and notify them via DM. Check out the complete rules here .

 

 

DISCLOSURE: This is a sponsored post and giveaway. All of my words are my own.