Tag Archives: technology

Have Yourself a Greener Little Christmas…with Gifts that Last

The environment is top of mind for many this holiday season, after a year of horrendous natural disasters. That might mean we’re a little greener in our Christmas preparations this year. And even if wildfires and hurricanes aren’t pushing us to be greener, the rising awareness of plastic waste should be. As we switch to re-usable grocery bags and restaurants stop offering straws, we are paying more attention to that waste. And now is the time to do it, because the amount of trash we throw away in the U.S. increases by an estimated 25% between Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day.

Yes, that makes the holiday season an excellent time to step back and figure out ways to make less waste of all kinds…starting with gifts. To help you get greener, we offer four ways to give gifts they’ll love—with less waste.

Give quality gifts
Choose a higher quality product if it will last longer, and most definitely avoid kitschy things that no one really wants anyway. (Hint: If it looks like it belongs a White Elephant party, it belongs at a White Elephant party.) Spend a little more and give a little less if you have to make up the difference in price. When you spend more for a higher quality product that lasts, you benefit in the long run by cutting down on waste.

Restrict your buying to local, independently owned shops
One way to cut back on waste is by driving less and spending more locally. It’s easy to go online and go on a splurge, buying things people might not need or want and generating lots of plastic shipping material that gets thrown away. Try shopping locally and you’ll make less waste while benefiting your local economy. (We are trying an experiment at our house this year: We are taking the money we saved for Christmas out of the bank as cash and only using that to do our Christmas shopping, forcing us to shop at brick-and-mortar stores and not online.)

Give gifts that keep on giving
It might not be glitzy but a gift like home security is a gift that keeps on giving without generating more waste. It’s something useful and much appreciated. It doesn’t take up any room or need storage, but it gives plenty of peace of mind. And it’s a gift that causes the recipient to think of you every time he or she uses it. Home security can be a priceless gift that keeps on giving. If not home security, maybe it’s a subscription to a publication, or a donation to a charity, or something else your loved one would appreciate.

Wrap naturally
Although we’ve been saving and re-using the same Christmas wrapping bows for years now (and admittedly, some are looking haggard and worn!), we are transitioning to all natural materials for gift wrapping. Check Pinterest for ideas, and you’ll see how gorgeous this kind of gift wrapping can be!

As our awareness of plastic waste increases, organizations and businesses are taking steps to decrease the amount of that waste. You can read updates on the fight against plastic waste at the National Geographic website. And you as an individual can take your own steps to reduce waste by going a little greener with gifts this season!

Is Your Home Smarter Than a Fifth Grader?

As our phones get bigger and smarter and the technologies we use every day get more sophisticated, so too can our homes. With the Internet of Things now upon us, we’re poised to go from smart homes to smarterhomes in 2019 as home automation systems become commonplace and off-the-shelf products offer the convenience of smart home technology.

Here’s a quick look at just some of the tasks you can hand over to automation and smart home technology:

Home security: This one you’re probably already familiar with, but it gets better and better every year. Today’s home security systems offer video to let you see who’s at the front door, smart locks you can operate from anywhere, and even home automation features that let you program heating, air conditioning and lighting.

Lighting: Speaking of lighting, your home automation system can be set to turn lights on or off. You can now also buy lighting systems that let you control the brightness but also the color. You can even match the color of the light in a picture on your phone. This system can also turn lights on slowly to help you wake up in the morning.

Thermostats: Your home automation system can be used to control your thermostat or you can buy a “learning” thermostat that adapts to your lifestyle.

Household chores: Would you like to hand over some of your household chores to technology? You easily can. You’ll find devices that can handle some of the most mundane tasks for you, including window washing, vacuuming and floor mopping.

In the kitchen: We’ve heard all kinds of chatter about smart appliances already, like refrigerators that can track your groceries for you and ovens you can turn on remotely on your way home from work. But the one I’m ready for is the coffeemaker that knows when I wake up and brews my coffee just in time!

In the yard: You can lighten your load inside with smart home technology and automated devices, but you can also hand over some of the outside jobs too. Technology today offers automated lawn mowers and sprinklers, pool cleaners, and even a gutter cleaning device. (That’s the one at the top of my list! I do not like ladders!)

In the bedroom: Even your mattress can now help you sleep better, using biometric sensors and your smart phone.

And for the not yet smart? For those appliances that aren’t yet “smart,” you can get an outlet that lets you control whatever is plugged into it from your smart phone.

Experts say we are on the verge of the Internet of Things revolution, and that it will change our lives as fundamentally as the Internet did 20 years ago. As a homeowner, you won’t have to wait for the benefits of this technology, because you can easily start making your home smarter than a fifth grader with all the home security features and home devices already available to you!

What’s New in Home Security? We Look at the Latest in Locks

If your car is new enough, you probably don’t have a key to unlock the door or even to start the engine. Instead, you have a “proximity key” which means something you’re carrying will unlock your car door for you when you are close enough.

As someone who drives an older car with an old-fashioned key, I can’t quite wrap my head around that yet, but I’d better get caught up soon because door locks for houses are going high tech too!

A home security or home automation system is a smart way to protect your home, but—as we’ve said before—it’s not enough. You must take other steps too, including secure door and window locks. And those locks are getting ever more sophisticated while offering multiple advantages as high-tech locks. You can lock or unlock your door remotely using your smart phone when necessary. You can assign a temporary code to a non-family member who needs to access your house—say a neighbor who’s feeding the cat while you’re away. You can get a notification when the lock is used. And those are just a few of the new-fanged features!

When your lock’s looks count…
Your lock is a security feature, but it’s also prominent on the entry point of your home, so appearance might be of utmost importance to you. If you care about appearance and you want a lock that looks like a lock, you can find them. Some smart locks can be opened with a code on a keypad, as a keyless entry, or with a key, but they have a classy low-tech “lock look” even though they’re high tech on the inside.

When you want high-tech features with a low-tech look
Some new-fangled locks do double duty when they look like a regular deadbolt but are all high-tech. You can even find locks with a place to insert a key, but they work via a biometric scanner that’s hiding behind an innocuous looking lock. You put your finger under the scanner to gain access.

When you want your high-tech lock to have a high-tech look
Other new locks look as high tech as they perform–all sleek and streamlined, screaming they’re high tech and not pretending to be anything but!

Of course, you have other options for locking your front door that are low tech, and those options are fine too, as long as you’re using high-quality locks and the whole family is diligent about locking them. But if you want something more sophisticated, one of these high-tech options might be the best choice for you!

8 Cyber and Cellphone Safety Tips for Teens, College Students—and Parents

School is starting! That puts high school and college students back into the busy-ness of the academic year, as well as back into the social media fray. Sure, they spent an inordinate amount of time on their phones all summer long, but being back in school gives them even more reasons for screen time.

And that means it’s time to review some cyber and cellphone safety tips for teenagers and young adults. If you’re the parent of a high school or college student, read through this advice as well, so you’re better informed about the dangers your kids face.

#1 Keep some things to yourself. You don’t have to share every mood swing, angry moment, argument, thought or opinion. Nor do you have to post every single photo. When it comes to sharing, less is better. That applies to news about yourself too, including being home alone or going on a trip. You are entitled to your privacy, and sharing less helps to protect it.

#2 Remember that everything you do is going to become part of the public record.  Once it’s on the Internet, it’s not going away. Every email, message, post, tweet, like, share and photo might seem temporary because you’re not likely to see it again any time soon, but it could come back to haunt you later.

#3 Employers can access Facebook too, and they do. About 70% of employers will look at a Facebook profile when considering a job candidate. What will they see on your Facebook page? If it’s something you wouldn’t want a potential employer to see, it’s probably something you shouldn’t post. This could apply when you’re applying to internships too.

#4 Practice self control. Technology can make that hard to do, because we live so in the moment these days, but you can take the higher road. Put your phone away until you calm down. Choose not to react or respond. Talk to someone instead.

#5 Follow the same rules of good behavior online that you do offline. Don’t gossip, be mean, or spread rumors. If you wouldn’t do it in person or say it to someone’s face, you probably shouldn’t be doing it or saying it while hiding behind the supposed anonymity of a screen.

#6 Watch your step. You’re leaving a trail of everywhere you go. Every website you visit and link you click provides data that is recorded somewhere. Even if you’re clearing your cache to remove the evidence from your laptop, it has already been recorded.

#7 Remember that what you’re seeing online is often not real. The perfect looking people on Instagram, the pornography, the vacation photos…be hyper aware of how those unreal images are affecting your own self-image. Experts have noticed an increase in depression among teens in recent years, and some attribute that to social media. We know of a young woman who deleted Twitter and Instagram from her phone because looking at them caused her to feel so bad about her own physical appearance.

#8 Put your phone away for a while. Teenagers are averaging nine hours per day on social media. That’s more time than most people spending sleeping in a 24-hour period. Not only is that unhealthy, it’s dangerous too. Teens are at risk when looking at their phones when so distracted while walking down the street, and obviously while texting and driving, as these horrific videos show.

The Internet and social media have changed our world, in some ways for the better and in some ways for the worse. Teens and their parents can help make it a change for the better by practicing cyber and cell phone safety, starting with these tips.

Real-Life Lessons Learned When Scammer Uses My Password

So this happened: I received an email with my name and one of my passwords in the subject line. And the first words of the email are “Lets get straight to point. Neither anyone has paid me to investigate about you.”

Guess who got the latest sextortion scam email? Yep! Lucky me!

The email goes on to make accusations and to threaten exposing me unless I pay an extortion fee via bitcoin. You can read the text of the email here, as it’s making the rounds and plenty of people have received it. Warning: It’s nasty.

What set this email apart? My password
So it’s a scam. So what, right? Why didn’t I just delete it? Why was it such a big deal to get this email? There were two reasons why this email surprised me: One, I have my spam filter set very high, so I almost never get spam in my inbox. How did this one get past? I don’t know. And two, the subject line included a password that I’ve used a lot and no one would be able to guess. That got my attention right away, believe me!

As soon as I started to read the email, I knew it was a scam, but still: my password! How did they get my password? That’s when I started digging, and learned that more people are paying off these scammers because they see the password and think there might be some validity to the claims made. As Brett M. Christensen at the Hoax-Slayer website says, “The scammers know that if you receive an email that actually includes one of your passwords – even an old one that you no longer use – you may be much more inclined to believe the claims and pay up.”

So again, how did they get my password? When it was stolen as part of a data breach, it turns out.

Has your data been compromised? Find out
One very good lesson was learned with this disgusting email: I found out I could go to https://haveibeenpwned.com and see which data breaches have included my data. I strongly advise you to do this as well. I was shocked to see that my data had been compromised in eight (yes, eight!) different data breaches. That’s where the scammers got my old password.

I reviewed the list and made sure I had updated any necessary passwords or deleted accounts for each of the breaches. Sadly, one was a marketing firm that collects information on people to sell, and there isn’t anything I can do about that—except be annoyed that the information is collected and sold without my knowledge.

Changing old passwords
More good came from this: I then went through and discovered I was still using that old password in some cases. I was able to both change the password where necessary and delete old accounts that I don’t use any more. It was like cleaning out a digital closet! That felt good!

And finally, getting stricter about passwords
The final benefit to this experience was a renewed commitment on my part to using stronger passwords, as well as keeping up with changing passwords on a regular basis. To be more vigilant about your own passwords, follow this advice.

The sense of violation I felt to have this email in my inbox, the fear caused by the threatening tone even though I knew it was bogus, and the sorrow in knowing that there are people out there who will pay the extortion money are all still with me. It’s hard to shake off that negativity, and that angers me more than the actual email. But the scammers gave me a gift: new insights into keeping me and my data safe. I hope you’ll put these insights to work to protect your information as well.

Sometimes Safety Simply Requires Putting Away the Smart Phone

We have just returned from an amazing trip to a foreign country and I have bad news: I saw as many people glued to their smart phones there as I see in the U.S. On the one hand, you might argue that that’s a good thing, because it shows we live in a global, connected world. I say it’s a case of FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out) that has us all glued to our phones, but we should have another fear instead: the consequences of staring at our small screens.

What does it matter that we have home security systems and fancy car locks and smoke detectors if the real risk to our safety is the phone in the palm of our hand? Because if you look at the research, those phones are causing accidents and even deaths—and they would be less of a threat if we could simply put them away sometimes.

Let’s start with the obvious ones: accidents
We’ve all heard we shouldn’t text and drive, and it’s illegal to do so in many states. But still people do it, causing 1.6 million accidents per year. If that number doesn’t scare you, how about these statistics: 3,500 people were killed in distracted driving accidents in 2015, and another 391,000 were injured. Still not scared? How about this: 11 teenagers die every single day due to texting and driving. (You can find a whole lot more scary texting while driving statistics here.)

And it’s not just teenagers who are guilty of the crime. Nor is it just car accidents that are a regular occurrence due to smart phones. This short video demonstrates just how dangerous it is to walk down the street while on your phone. (Do you see the guerilla??) When people are on their phones while walking, they walk into walls, into fountains, into a loose bear, out into the street where they are hit by cars, or even right off a pier requiring a Coast Guard rescue. (I am not making any of this up!)

And then there’s our health
If reading that section above didn’t make you want to spend a little less time with your smart phone, let’s talk about the consequences on our physical well-being. Smart phone use is bad for our eyes, our posture, and our sleep. People who spend a lot of time on their smart phones are more likely to develop carpal tunnel syndrome, pain, muscle spasms, and chronic diseases. We can get eye strain and even dry eye syndrome. Our necks are bent down and our arms are uplifted in unnatural ways for long periods of time. That’s gotta hurt at some point! And bright phone screens suppress melatonin levels, making it harder to go to sleep.

Finally, our mental and social health
Spending so much time on our phones is dangerous as we drive and walk. It’s bad for our physical well-being. And, ironically, it’s bad for our mental and social health too. Kids and teenagers disconnect from the world around them—we’ve all witnessed that. But adults can do the same when too caught up in those tiny screens. Heavy duty cell phone use also reduces our brain activity and makes it harder to pay attention, either to a task at hand or to a conversation. Socially, we’ve seen a huge increase in depression and suicides among teens, and convincing research links those increases at least in part to smart phone usage because of social media.

I am as thankful for my phone as the next person. I can keep up with my kids, find my way to a restaurant, check the weather, and stay on top of work email when out of the office. With some apps, I have no choice but to use my phone—like if I need to buy a train ticket. But we all must be aware that there is a time and a place to have that phone out and our attention focused on that, and a time and a place to be focused on what’s going on in the world around us—no matter where in the world we live.

Is Your Brain Overloaded? Home Automation Takes on Task Saturation!

My husband recently introduced me to a new term: task saturation. Task saturation happens when your brain has so much information coming at it that it can’t absorb any more. I was complaining about being so forgetful lately and he suggested that my brain is overloaded. It sure is!

I’m not alone. Many of us suffer from task saturation because we have high-pressure jobs with looming deadlines, constant communications via email and text, financial stresses as we try to make ends meet, and more…in addition to simply raising our kids, making our meals, taking care of our homes, and getting through each day reasonably sane.

That’s where home automation can help. It can remove a few of the tasks from our lists and free up our brains to handle other information.

Free up brain space when you automate some tasks
Forget about setting the thermostat or regulating the air conditioner. Your home automation system can take care of that. In the winter, you can set it to warm up the house right before you get home but save money by keeping the house cooler during the day when it’s empty. And the opposite is true during the summer. If you have pets, your home automation system can be set to keep the temperature correct for their needs without using too much energy—and without your having to worry if the dog is okay on a really hot day.

Your home automation system can also turn lights on and off, so you don’t have to come home to a dark house on a cold winter’s night—and if your kids get home first, they’ll appreciate the welcoming look of a warm, well-lit house.

The big benefit here is you can simply stop thinking about heating and cooling and lighting. You’re welcome, brain!

Home automation also protects your home—despite your forgetfulness
Your home automation can also free your brain from worrying about home security. You no longer have to nag the kids to remember to lock up, because you can lock and unlock doors, and even arm or disarm your security system, remotely using your phone. Or maybe you forgot to double check something because you were rushing out the door to work and your brain was full of thoughts about that big meeting later in the day. It’s okay. If you did forget, you can take care of it later from your office or while on the road.

We don’t function well when we suffer from task saturation, so we should be trying to get out of situations that cause it if we can. But at least a home automation system can offer a little bit of relief on the home front.

Facebook Faux Pas: Giving Away Your Privacy When You’re Getting Away on Vacation

Are you planning a getaway this summer? Don’t answer that! Or at least don’t answer it publicly. Because you really don’t want to make your vacation vacancy public knowledge, although it’s easy to be tempted to do so.

Maybe you’re not one of those people who share just a little too much on Facebook. You know, the ones with no filters and apparently no need for privacy as their every mood, whim, argument and meal is documented on the social media platform. But when it comes to your vacations, you could be just as guilty of over-sharing, because you’re sharing information that puts your home and you at risk. To avoid giving away too much, follow these tips for protecting your property and your privacy when going on vacation:

Keep it to yourself
It’s shocking how much information people will reveal on Facebook, including details about their upcoming trips. Sure, you’re anticipating that getaway, whether you’re headed to the annual family reunion or you’re going to the beach. But posting about it ahead of time puts your home at risk when someone who does not need to know your house will be empty finds out your house will be empty!

Postpone your pics
Once you’re gone on your trip, post your pictures after you get home rather than advertise to the world that your house is sitting empty. This also gives you time to sort through the pictures so you only post the best of them, not all of them, because really, no one wants to see all of them.

In addition, not posting means no geotagging of photos, which can happen automatically without your knowing. Geotagging tells people wherea picture was taken, and not everyone needs to know your exact location at every minute of the day. Even if you don’t think you have reasons to keep your location to yourself, wouldn’t you rather err on the side of just a little more privacy than a little less?

Speaking of tagging…
If you simply can’t help yourself and you’re going to post pictures while away, avoid tagging the people you’re travelling with just in case they have different views about privacy. What’s fine for you to share might be too much for them.

Enjoy telling your tales after you’re home
None of this is to say you shouldn’t be allowed to do some bragging once you’re back! Of course you want to talk about the wonderful time you had and share your favorite pictures…and you should! It’s just the timing that we’re concerned with. Wait until you’re home again and your home is no longer vacant before you tell your vacation tales.

P.S. For tips on posting pictures people will like and respond to (while avoiding pictures you might regret later), see this useful advice.

It’s Good News, Bad News for World Password Day

Passwords. They are a necessary part of our lives, but we simply do not give them the attention they deserve. Just like exercise keeps us fit and healthy eating keeps us slim, so do strong passwords keep us safe. So why do we continue to neglect them?

Since we just had World Password Day on May 3 this year, the day we should all change our passwords, it seemed a good time to revisit the topic and see if we can’t up our game—and our level of security. So here’s the good news bad news on passwords in 2018…bad news first.

The bad news: We still use poor passwords
First, the bad news. We are still using poor passwords—as in really, really bad passwords. When SplashData published the worst passwords of 2017 list, they reported that almost 3% of us are still using 123456 as a password. Worse, almost 10% of us are using one of the 25 worst possible passwords, listed here:

  1. 123456
  2. Password
  3. 12345678
  4. qwerty
  5. 12345
  6. 123456789
  7. letmein
  8. 1234567
  9. football
  10. iloveyou
  11. admin
  12. welcome
  13. monkey
  14. login
  15. abc123
  16. starwars
  17. 123123
  18. dragon
  19. passw0rd
  20. master
  21. hello
  22. freedom
  23. whatever
  24. qazwsx
  25. trustno1

You can see a full list of the 100 worst passwords of 2017. And if you see your password on that list, change it!

The good news: An easy way to beef up your passwords
It’s not all bad news for World Password Day, however. Despite our tendency to choose poor passwords still, technology is making it easier for us to keep our information and data secure—should we choose to act on it.

This year at the World Password Day website, you’ll see a campaign for #LayerUp. Layering up simply means adding another “layer” of protection by requiring more than one step to access your data. Called either multi-factor authentication (MFA) or two-factor authentication (2FA), it’s a way to make your password require something else too, like a fingerprint or a code sent to your cellphone.

To try it out, I logged into my bank account online and sure enough found the setting to add the second layer right away. Now when I log in, I will need my password and a code sent to my cell phone. It took me less than a minute to do, and I’m glad I took the time. All you do is visit www.twofactorauth.org to find out if a website offers the extra layer, and many popular banking and social media websites do.

The World Password Day website still encourages a strong password (see password advice here), and we still encourage you to beef up those passwords a.s.a.p., but in addition to that, you can easily add this extra step or layer—and keep your information that much safer from those who would like to compromise it.

3 Easy Ways to Bolster Your Home Security

A home security system is one of the best ways to protect your home, both because the sign in the yard is a “line in the sand,” and because the noise of the alarm can scare off a burglar before they do much damage. But your home and family are safer if you have more than just a home security system. You also need a practical and pragmatic approach, one that will lead to comprehensive coverage.

Below are just a few easy ways to increase your home security setup:

1) Level up your locks and bolster your bolts
If your window and door locks came preinstalled, take another look at them and make sure they measure up. We’ve heard stories of those types of locks being easy for burglars to force open. Read more about types of locks and what to look for here.

And once you’ve leveled up your locks and bolstered your bolts, make sure you lock your doors and windows whenever you leave. This includes your garage and any outbuildings too. With the right home security system, you can lock doors remotely should you or your kids forget to do so. But it’s better to make sure everyone is in the habit of locking all entry points all the time—even second-story windows.

2) Keep temptations out of sight
It’s shocking how many people almost invite burglars in by leaving temptations in plain sight…things like fancy bikes or expensive equipment in the yard, or valuable objects that can easily be seen through a big window. Take a look around: What temptations are you leaving in plain sight? Hide them.

Packages on the front porch are also a temptation. They might not lead to a burglar breaking in, but they will lead to someone coming on to your property and stealing from you nonetheless…and giving someone a chance to get a better look at your house for a burglary later. Try these alternatives to getting packages without getting done in.

3) Be tricky about it
If you scan the Internet, you’ll quickly learn people have all kinds of ways to make their house less attractive to burglars. We usually suggest having a car in the driveway and using your home automation system to turn lights on and off so it looks like someone is home. But we’ve also read great ideas like leave a big pair of men’s work boots right outside the door, and a big dog bowl and leash on the front porch. Beware of dog signs seem to be useful too. Your goal is to make your house less attractive, and making it look like someone is home and that you own a big dog can help.

Your home security system will do a lot to deter burglars, but you’ll be even safer if you take other precautions as well to both make your house less appealing and make it harder to break into. The best burglar deterrent is a well-advertised home security system, but use commonsense to keep your home and family safe too!

View all of our security plans and features!

Customer Reviews

I feel so much better knowing my family is protected! I spoke with SafeStreets USA in the evening and a technician was able to come install the system for me then for my parents first thing the next morning. Very impressed with his knowledge and care!

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We had our ADT system installed by SafeStreets USA and were really impressed with the service we received from our technician. He was very friendly and answered all of our questions on the system and how it worked. He set everything up in a couple of hours and was a real pleasure to talk with []

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