8 articles Articles posted in Technology

Getting Your Act Together: Easy to Use Apps to Help You Organize Your Life

Most of us resolve to be more organized each year, but it often doesn’t happen because organising itself can be so time consuming. Staying on top of your to-dos, files and habits is a tall task. Prioritising and scheduling tasks or projects (over the short and long term) requires good daily management. Here are some simple apps to make organisation far easier.

Self-Organization Apps

Apps can help you organise your files, to-do’s and budget. Dropbox lets you keep all your files – be they photos, videos, or documents of (almost) any format and size – on the one cloud service. These are then backed up and synced to the app and can be shared across any device (provided you send the right link or log-in). 24me acts as a personal assistant which automatically organises your tasks by synchronising your calendar, to-do lists and notes, prompting you to tap your daily errands to complete them and receive reminders for upcoming tasks or events. For a more gamified and social experience there’s also Habitica. Google Calander helps organise events and Evernote lets you record and store your notes in a variety of ways. Lastpass makes sure you never forget your passwords by securing them all in central location you can access with TouchID or one “master” password. Mint lets you manage your budget by logging your expenses and tracking your savings. Automatic Call Recorder lets you manually or automatically record calls so you can review them later, with several other features you can learn more about here.

Streamlining Apps

Remember the Milk also lets you set up to-do lists and sends you reminders for due dates but It incorporates your other services including Gmail, Twitter and Google Calendar. If (If This Then That) is a kind of super app that connects up to 300 apps together (such as Spotify, Instagram or Google Drive) to let you sync files across platforms and receive relevant notifications about topics from whichever platform they’re being noticed. Likewise, Pocket lets you save links, articles and videos from across your social media to a single location to be accessed across your devices and even includes reading aloud using text-to-speech. SmartNews is a similar service but specifically designed for news articles. AroundMe lets you locate your nearest amenities, restraints and movie theatres.

Thinking Outside The Box

Sometimes the thing you need is to destress or jog your mind with a bit of creative recreation. Simplemind lets you brainstorm easily by dragging, dropping and editing text and visuals together. Unstuck acts as a digital to help you overcome creative blocks with various tips and tools. Any creative activity you can think of, be it drawing, image editing or making music – there’s an app for it!

Now you can organize your stuff, plan ahead, streamline your apps and get your creative juices onto any problem. Looked for an app to fill some niche but couldn’t find it? Checkout Kickstarter: it may already be in development!

Paige Carter knows how to manage her time; she’s a Mom to 3 girls and works multiple freelancing gigs as well as helping with her friends business. Read how she manages it all in her articles!

Replacing Old Faithful (Or: “When a Laptop Goes to Tech Heaven”)

A few years go, Husband decided that I needed a new laptop if I was going to be making a serious go of this blogging and copywriting stuff, so when my birthday came around he took me to a shop and let me choose a shiny, brand-new one in order to make my life easier. My previous model was grinding to a halt with even the most simple of tasks and it just wasn’t conducive to any sort of productivity.

Since then, maybe 4 and a half years ago now, the laptop and I have gone through blogging, social media work, blogging conferences, copywriting commissions, the birth of a baby, several house moves and everything else that life has thrown our way. It’s not as speedy as it once was, but bashing away on its keys is like slipping into a pair of well-worn leather gloves; my fingers just fit and everything is exactly where it should be.

A couple of days ago, my laptop got knocked onto the floor, breaking the charger and the inside of the port it goes into and, if we’re being realistic, it’s probably more economically viable to replace the whole laptop than try to buy new chargers and replace the internal port. I’m sad to see Old Faithful go to laptop heaven, but excited to be scoping out the best budget laptops in the UK.

At the moment, I’m using Sausage’s Chromebook, which actually works really well (probably because she basically NEVER uses it!) and I really like the fact that it’s essentially an Android device like my phone, which means I can use the same apps for my emails and things like photos and notes sync across the two devices really well. I’ll probably keep using this one for a while, until I’ve saved for a replacement, but a newer Chromebook is definitely high on my list of replacements.

Do you have a laptop which feels like a trusty old friend? Have you recently invested in something new and have a great suggestion of what I should be buying? Or are you in the same predicament as me with no idea what to buy? Do leave me a comment below if you have any pearls of wisdom which might help me out!

 

Technology and Kids: Moderation is the Key

kids and technologyTechnology. It’s one of those things which can be SO good when it works but can also be the bane of your life when it doesn’t. We’re quite “techy”, here in the Mum’s the Word house, and all of us have various devices that we use on a daily basis. The girls have tablets and Sausage has a mobile phone which she got for her last birthday, mostly to allow her to go Pokemon hunting without needing to use my phone!

However, it’s not without it’s issues; I often find myself spending far too much time on Facebook or Reddit or playing some mobile game and sometimes I realise I’ve spent almost all day staring at a screen, and naturally, Sausage would be the same if we allowed her unfettered access to her phone. She only uses her phone at home, but just recently My Voucher Codes conducted a survey which found that 75% of parents feel that mobile devices have a negative effect on their children’s education and how social media platforms have become so distracting to students that they are less likely to concentrate during lessons.

I do think that a lot of the problem is the lack of monitoring that goes on – just because Sausage has her own technology doesn’t mean that she is able to use them autonomously – Husband and I have to approve every app she installs and we like to ensure she has a mixture of fun and educational apps. Pokemon Go encourages exercise, so we’re happy for her to use it, and she also has apps which help her to learn foreign languages, her times table and which encourage her to train her memory.

I also think that the issue is WHEN children are allowed to use their phones. Until she’s a LOT older, Sausage won’t be allowed to take her device to school because she simply doesn’t need it. Also, when she’s at home she has to have completed her homework before she can use her phone and we don’t let her use it for hours on end. She also has to put it down at least an hour before bed because it’s now been proven that looking at screens can interrupt a person’s circadian rhythm and we certainly don’t want her to be unable to sleep!

Chris Riley from My Voucher Codes thoughts on technology for kids echo my own:

“It’s interesting to see that three quarters of parents feel that mobiles, tablets and gaming devices have a negative effect on their child’s education, yet half admit that they do not restrict the time that their child spends on the internet.

“Monitoring your child’s internet and social media usage is now more important than ever. Although there is a range of benefits from spending time online, including increased communication and access to information, there is also the risk of online bullying, depression caused by online altercations and exposure to inappropriate content. Setting ground rules, checking privacy settings and monitoring what your child is sharing are good steps to take to ensure your child stays safe online.”

He added: “We find using our mobile or tablet devices can easily take over our lives and those of our children. Setting times when you children can use these devices means they are not on their phones 24/7. It will also be beneficial to their health if they are not on devices late into the night as well as improving their concentration in class.”

How do you feel about mobile devices for kids? I’d love to hear your thoughts so do leave me a comment below.

Living in a Digital World

Olpc-xo2I’ve written in the past that I’m definitely on the ‘for’ side when it comes to kids using electronic devices, and Sausage has a few which she uses regularly, including a Chromebook and a Nexus 7 tablet. She has a mixture of fun apps and sites that she uses, as well as some more education-driven content like the Babbel language app which she uses to learn rudimentary French. However, her time on these devices is pretty closely monitored, not least of all because looking down to use them has, on occasion, given her a headache.

That’s why, when Lenstore got in touch to ask me to take a look at the results of a survey they’d conducted and share it with my readers, I was pretty shocked by some of the findings. In the age bracket which Sausage falls into, 5-7 years, parents reported that their kids were using ‘digital devices’ for an average of 8.02 hours PER DAY, and of those hours the kids were predominantly using their devices for gaming. According to the survey, the main concerns expressed by parents were behavioural problems (31%), attention deficit (29%) addiction (24%) and eye strain (24%).

To be honest, my main concern is that some parents are letting their kids use a tablet or gaming system for EIGHT HOURS A DAY! No wonder these kids are getting eye strain! And, do bear in mind, 8 hours is an estimated average, which means that some parents must’ve reported times which were significantly higher, too.

The one part of the survey which did make me a little sad is that kids are also more likely to confidently use a mobile phone before being able to read or ride a bike. Parents these days are busier than ever, with many families being forced to have two full-time workers in order to afford to simply live, which means that it’s a lot easier for parents to let screens do their baby sitting, rather than having time to get the kids outside or teaching them how to ride a bike.

One thing which worries me is that less than half of parents surveyed with children aged 5-7 (41%) and 8-10 (49%) said they check their child’s online activity or even monitor their use of digital devices (5-7 year olds – 47% and 8-10 year olds – 48%). Husband and I are aware at all times of what Sausage is playing or browsing and we monitor closely which apps she installs, not just because of the potential for bankruptcy with the horrible ‘in-game extras’ which many apps advertise, but also because of the suitability of many apps. Kids are so computer savvy, which is mostly a good thing, but its all too possible to be too trusting of app developers when it comes to allowing kids to install things autonomously.

As long as Husband and I continue the way we are and monitor Sausage closely, I’m confident that we’ll manage to keep her safe and healthy, but I’m afraid to say that I can’t be so certain for other families.

Do you kids use digital devices? Do you monitor their screen time? Do you have concerns? Leave me a comment below.

Seagate Expansion Review

Review by Tony Crammond

We’re a completely digital family. We don’t do tangible incarnations of media at all and we love the freedom and space that goes along with it. On the road and want to watch a movie, sign in to BitTorrent Sync, wait a few short minutes and away you go – it really is the only way to fly. Naturally though, we use a lot of disk space, so when Tesco Compare home insurance asked us if we wanted to try out Seagate 3TB Expansion Drive, we jumped at the chance.

When we opened the box the first impressions were good. It’s a fairly small, unassuming little package with no gaudy, eye-catching decals or unnecessarily ugly ‘features’ like superfluous knobs or disco lights. It’s compact, black and well vented, which means there shouldn’t be any temperature related shenanigans. This was a plus one for Seagate, right off the bat.

Seagate Expansion 3TBDomo Kun Not Included!

Setting up the Expansion was a breeze. It was a case of sliding the correct plug adapter on to the plug and jamming both ends of the included USB 3.0 cable in. There’s no software to install or settings to fiddle around with. We have no qualms in saying that literally anyone could pick one of these up and have it up and running in no time with no outside assistance.

Now, aesthetics and ease of use are one thing, but we don’t buy removable storage for its looks or how easy it is to set up, do we? No, we buy it so that we can have somewhere secure to store all of our important media, be they back-ups for work, family photos or your entire HD iTunes movie collection, and in this capacity the Expansion was exemplary. Once you’ve plugged it in to your PC or laptop, you’ll notice a new drive appear in your ‘My Computer’ screen and you can dive right in, adding files to the drive.

The Expansion is fast, thanks to its USB 3.0 credentials, but USB 3.0 isn’t a necessity. You can go ahead and jam it in to your USB 2.0 port just as easily and while you won’t get the same nippy transfer speeds, you’ll still get solid performance. In our test run (using USB 3.0) we were able to copy a 1.2GB movie file from our home drive, which is a Samsung SSD, to the Expansion in about 10-11 seconds, which is more than fast enough for our everyday needs, and made moving a large portion of our media collection a painless affair.

The drive has so far excelled in stability too, with no drop-outs or outages in over 2 weeks of continuous use. Temperature hasn’t been an issue for us either, despite us having to keep our home at a balmy 22 degrees constantly to appease our new baby (who we think might be part lizard – but that’s another story, for another day).

So, overall we would like to give the Seagate Expansion (3TB) a huge thumbs-up. Its simple, effective approach to expanding home or office storage was a breath of fresh air and with an RRP of about £78 we can’t think of another device which we would choose above it.

Mini Pupstars iPad App Review

Recently, we were asked to download and review Mini Pupstars, the interactive iPad app for kids. The name alone was enough to let me know that it would definitely be worth a look for my animal-crazy five year old, so this weekend we set about finding our way around the app. These videos show you what it’s all about:

The app, which is basically a virtual dog grooming parlour, allows kids to give their chosen Pup a trim, shave, shower, wash, blowdry and add numerous colours and accessories to them to make a new and glamorous Pupstar each time. They can then photograph their preened pooch and add them to their gallery. There are three dogs to choose from and it’s completely ad-free and doesn’t feature any in-app purchases, which is really important to me as a parent.

Sausage took to the game right away; she’s a very tech savvy kid but she literally picked the iPad up and started playing, with no instructions needed, which tells me that it’s very user friendly. The app is aimed at kids aged 5 and over, so Sausage is the prime age for this app, but I also think she’d have been more than capable of using it a year or two ago, too.

She’s spent probably about 2 hours playing the game on and off over the course of the weekend and she’s really enjoyed all of it. There are no ‘wrong turns’ in the game, so she hasn’t needed help to go through the menus or work out what she’s doing and the fact that you can take snaps of your dog from within the app means she doesn’t have to agonising over losing all of her work whenever she’s ready to create a new pooch.

Mini Pupstars

Both Husband and I have sat with Sausage while she’s been playing and here’s what he and Sausage had to say about it:

“I liked the spray can and I like the hats and necklaces for the dogs. I thought the app was interesting and fun!” – Sausage, age 5

“The app looks quite enjoyable, novel and fun for kids. The accuracy could do with some improvement when using the tools, but it’s still a good kids app” – Husband

All in all, we really liked the Pupstars app. I like the fact that it brings out the creativity in kids in a fun and engaging way and the user interface is super easy to get to grips with.

It would be nice to see more breeds of dog and more customisation options available in the next update, but overall it’s definitely a good app for both boys and girls alike and we’d all recommend it highly.

Why Are Electronic Devices for Kids Still Frowned Upon?

Child playing on an iPadI was at the hospital yesterday, waiting for an appointment and whilst in the busy waiting room, I overheard a conversation. There were several mums with their kids and one child was happily playing on an iPad whilst his mum waited for her appointment, whilst another boy of about 8 was looking on with interest. At this point, I got called into a sub-waiting area, but about five minutes later the mum and child without the iPad got called through to where I was sitting (bear with me, this is going somewhere…)

As they walked through, the boy was asking his Mum if he could play on her phone, seeing as he didn’t have an iPad to play with, and she turned to him and said “Don’t be ridiculous, stop asking for my phone, YOU don’t need to stare at an electronic device to keep you entertained, I raised you better than that!”.

I was quite shocked by her reaction (shocked enough to put the phone that I’d been contentedly engrossed in, whiling away the wait with a few games of ‘Where’s my Water’), but her words really got me thinking; is a child’s need for entertainment really about their upbringing? And why are electronic devices frowned upon?

I’m well aware that there’s an obesity epidemic in children that people claim to have been directly related to time spent playing computer games, but with children able to play outside less and less, is it really that much of a surprise that they look for entertainment elsewhere? And surely it’s not about the devices themselves, but the parental moderation involved?

Sausage owns a Nexus 7, a Chromebook, a Nintendo DS and Wii, an Xbox, an iPod Touch…but despite that, she doesn’t spend all of her time glued to a device because we simply wouldn’t allow it. I can’t stand the implication that once we give our kids consoles or gadgets, we relinquish all control over how they spend their time, or their wellbeing. Nor can I abide the assumption from a small amount of parents who feel like giving kids something with a screen is a substitute for parenting.

The other thing that bothered me about what the mum said was that if you need entertainment during down-time, you must’ve been raised badly. Surely the need for entertainment is a trait that’s shared by all humans? Of course, the type of entertainment varies from person to person…I love to read and blog, others watch TV, others play an instrument, others play games. There’s no right way to be entertained, but surely training a child to sit quietly with their hands in their laps instead of stimulating their brain in some way is limiting them? There’s a lot to be said for quiet contemplation, but I can’t get my head around the thought that a bored kid is a bad kid. It just doesn’t compute.

The real irony of the situation is that after that comment, the mum in question checked her phone no less than a dozen times in the period that we were sitting in that area, completely negating her own argument. Obviously, her comments got my back up on a personal level, seeing as I was sitting there on my phone at the exact moment she said it, but the urge to ask her if she’d also been raised badly after the 10th time of staring at her screen did get rather overwhelming!

The flipside of this is that, in my humble opinion, limiting a child’s access to computing is setting them back, in this day and age. We live in a world where computers are everything, and kids who aren’t highly computer literate are simply going to fall behind. Given that we now teach elementary coding in Primary Schools, we should be giving our kids more screen time in the hope that computer literacy is second nature, not something that’s like pulling teeth, which is how it seems to be for older generations for whom computers simply didn’t exist when they were young enough to soak things up like a sponge.

Aside from all of that, gaming needn’t be mindless – there are myriad apps and games out there which encourage literacy, numeracy, fine motor skills, languages and so much more. We’re happy for these things to be taught in schools, so surely we should embrace anything that broadens our children’s minds?

What do you think? Do your kids have electronic devices? Do you think that a child’s need for entertainment means that they haven’t been raised correctly? Leave me a comment below.

Nexus 7 Kids Apps – Our Recommendations

We’re big fans of Android in this house – Husband loves being able to root his phone and use custom software and I love being able to customise my device to my requirements and the Open ethos of Android lets us tinker to our hearts content. Last Christmas, we decided to buy Sausage a tablet PC and the Nexus 7 was the obvious choice.

She uses it for so many different things, surfing the web, sending emails, using Plex Media Server to connect to the family PC and watch films. Obviously, a big part of tablet use is the apps that are available, so we thought we’d put together a guide to our favourite Nexus 7 apps for kids, to show you what’s available. There are free versions available of some of the paid apps, but I’ve added the paid ones here as I don’t really like Sausage being exposed to adverts all the time.

Toy Story Smash It – £0.65

This is a physics-based game featuring all of your favourite Toy Story characters and is not entirely unlike Angry Birds, in that the aim of the game is to throw balls at the aliens and knock them off of their perch. It’s great for practicing aim and timing and is immersive for adults and kids alike.

Disney Fairies: Lost and Found – £0.65

This app is based on the newest Tinkerbell film, Secret of the Wings and features beautiful graphics and music from the movie. As you move through the levels, you travel around the different areas of Pixie Hollow and the aim is to find as many ‘Lost’ items as you can in as little time as possible, which in turn unlocks new chapters of the story book. The game is great for reflexes and observation and really is beautifully made.

Dr. Seuss Read-Alongs – £1.33 to £3.34

The Dr. Seuss read-along books are a brilliant aid to learning as you have the option to read the book to yourself or have it read aloud, and the read-aloud option highlights each word as it’s spoken, so your child knows what the words look and sound like all at once. There are also interactive parts of each page, so you can tap pictures and the name of the object is read aloud and will appear on-screen. The Lorax is a particular favourite of ours although we’d happily recommend anything by Dr. Seuss.

Wreck it Ralph – £0.65

If you have a child who’s a fan of the Wreck-It Ralph film, they’ll LOVE this game as it’s really close to the content of the movie. You get to choose from three games, Wreck-It Ralph, which is an exact replica of the game in the film and requires you to help Fix-It Felix Jnr fix the building before Ralph wrecks it entirely. Hero’s Duty is a top-down shooter in the vein of Smash TV (if you’re old enough to remember it!), where you have to shoot as many Cybugs as you can whilst moving around the map and Sugar Rush: Sweet Climber is set in Candy Land and requires you to get Ralph as high up in the Candy Tree forest as he can, whilst collecting candy along the way. The whole game is beautifully animated and contains some of the great music from the movie too.

Blackboard – FREE

This one does exactly what it says on the tin – it’s simply a blackboard. It allows you to use your finger as chalk and has been absolutely brilliant for Sausage as she perfects her reading, writing and arithmetic. We use it to write words for her to read to us, giving her words to try and spell, writing sums for her to do and all manner of other things. If you have younger children, it’s also a mess-free way to start mark-making with them. For a free app, it really does have a lot of uses and you’ve got nothing at all to lose by giving it a try!

Nemo’s Reef – FREE

The aim of Nemo’s Reef is to build and maintain the best underwater reef, collecting new species of coral and fish along the way. It’s educational as it teaches kids about marine life and also gives a concept of responsibility as it requires a certain level of attention to maintain what you’ve built. Even aside from the education factor, it’s a lovely little game, very relaxing as the music is ambient and calm and the graphics are really attractive.

Club Penguin Puffle Launch – £0.65

This fast-paced game is amazing for the reflexes as you shoot the Puffles from canon to canon, collecting gold rings long the way and trying to make sure your timing is exactly right, otherwise you’ll end up in the water and out of the game. It’s great for the whole family and totally draws you in. Addictive!

Pou – FREE

I have to admit, I ummed and ahhed about including this game as it’s a bit like Candy Crush in the respect that there are several areas of the game that encourage you to spend money and use paid-for add-ons, which can really pile the pressure onto parents, something that I don’t encourage. And that’s not even factoring in the fact that you’re caring for, well, a POO.

Having said all of that, I actually really like this game. It’s kind of like a modern day Tamagotchi in that the point of the game is to care for Pou with food, entertainment, exercise and sleep and she becomes ill and dirty if you forget about her. There are also some in-app mini games which are really fun and some are even developmentally positive too, so as long as your child’s Google Wallet is password-protected I’d still recommend this app. I must admit, I even sneak a go when Sausage isn’t looking..!

The Croods Movie Storybook – £1.96

We discovered this after going to the cinema to see The Croods and it’s pretty similar to the Dr. Seuss read-alongs. Another great aid to learning to read and some lovely graphics too.

 Were’s My Perry? – £0.65

This is another physics-based puzzle game where you have to use water in its different forms (water, ice, steam etc.) to help you solve the puzzle and save Perry the Platypus. It’s a seriously fun game and manages to be educational without the kids even realising it!