Gmail Tips and Tricks

I’ve used Gmail as my primary email service for years. I’m a big fan of its user-friendly interface, security, and simple features like being able to color code my messages into categories. But with over 1.5 billion users, it’s inevitable that mistakes will get made. Ever hit Reply All when you intended to send it to a single recipient? Or maybe you accidentally attached a crazy-eyed picture of Nic Cage instead of your resume on a job application. 

Fortunately, Google is well aware of the potential for user error, so they added an Undo option to Gmail to rescue us from those awkward emails. But that’s not all – there are several lesser-known features that make using Gmail a smart choice to help navigate instant remorse when you regret hitting Send, filter spam, and to enable you to message other people’s phones after yours has died.

Unsend Gmail messages

Whether you hit Reply All instead of sending to a single recipient, noticed a typo, or have sender’s remorse for that “Per my last email” message, Gmail’s undo feature is a gift from the email gods. By default, Gmail gives you five seconds to unsend, but, the good news is you can bump that up to 30 seconds to give yourself more time to fix a mistake. 

To adjust the time, click the gear icon in the upper right-hand corner. Go to Settings > General. Near the top of the list of settings, look for Undo Send: followed by a drop-down menu. 

You can choose from 5,10, 20 or 30 seconds. Next time you send an email, a box will pop up in the lower left-hand corner giving you the option to unsend and will stay onscreen for whatever length of time you’ve selected. 

Clean Up Your Inbox

  1. Click on the gear icon in the upper right corner then go to Settings.
  2. Select Filters & Blocked Addresses from the ribbon at the top of the page.
  3. Click Create New Filter.
  4. Enter keywords in the relevant field: From to filter by sender, Has the words to scan entire emails, Matches: from:(random@cantv.net), etc.
  5. Click Create Filter.
  6. Assign an action to the filtered mail: Delete it, Skip the Inbox (Archive it), Mark as Read, Important, etc.
  7. Click Create Filter.

Multiple aliases/addresses

If like most Americans, you’ve signed up to receive emails or newsletters just so you can get a discount or free shipping, you’re likely bombarded with emails and regret your decision every time you open your email. Unsubscribing to each one is tedious, and though you can use a third-party service like Unroll Me, Gmail has a feature that allows you to collate all those unwanted emails without having to start over with a new account. 

By adding a + to the end of your username (before the “@”) you can create unlimited variations of your Gmail address. For example, username+junkmail@gmail.com will direct email to your main address without giving it away to spammers. Then, you can filter the “username+junkmail” messages straight into your junk or trash folder. 

This is more than a junk mail filter – it allows you to customize addresses for different aspects of your life – think of it as organizing into categories before they even hit your inbox, all while maintaining a single login for all of them. Part of a book club? Create a “username+bookclub@gmail.com” to track emails from other members.

Create More Specific FIlters 

Filters can do more than organize emails into categories. For example, you can create a filter that will scan incoming messages for the word “unsubscribe” and automatically send them to your junk folder. 

If you’re an online shopper, creating a filter for “tracking number” collates tracking info for all your purchases into one designated folder. If you’re as obsessive as I am about that icon telling you have seven unread messages, you can create a filter that automatically marks them as “read” so you never have to obsess again. 

Send Texts from Gmail

One of Gmail’s handiest hacks is that you can send SMS text messages from your desktop. 

You will need to know the recipient’s phone number and carrier, but to send them an SMS, use their 10-digit phone number (no dashes) as the username and their carrier’s gateway address (available on carriers’ websites) as the domain in the “to” field. 

For example, an email-based text to a Verizon customer would look something like 0123456789@vtext.com. Other common domains include @mms.att.net for AT&T, @messaging.sprintpcs.com for Sprint and @tmomail.net for T-Mobile. SanDisk has a comprehensive list of gateway addresses for major carriers worldwide. 

Log Out Remotely

If you’ve ever used a library or other public computer and forgotten to log out, you know the gut-wrenching feeling of knowing you’ve left your privacy and online presence unprotected. Once again, Gmail has you covered and allows you to view and log out of any computers or devices you’re currently logged into. 

Open Gmail and scroll to the bottom of the page, click Details (the link is directly beneath the message that reads Last account activity), and a page comes up that shows everywhere you’re currently logged in. Simply click on Sign out all other Gmail web sessions, and you’ll be logged out of every session other than the one you’re currently in. 

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Best Smart Watches for Kids

By Tracey Dowdy

If your child isn’t ready for a smartphone but you’d still like to track their activity or stay in contact with them, a smartwatch is a great alternative. Since it’s literally strapped to their body, they’re less likely to lose it, and because they’re designed for kids, the designs are more robust to withstand the wear and tear of daily use. 

These are some of your best options:

The Joy Octopus V2 ($59.99) teaches kids time management skills through a customizable scheduler that prompts them to brush their teeth, catch the bus, get ready for bed or anything they need to be reminded of. It’s a great option for very young children or those who can’t read yet, the Joy Octopus V2 uses icons so the child can clearly understand what’s being asked. It doesn’t emit sounds so it’s unobtrusive, doesn’t require a SIM card or phone plan, and doesn’t have a GPS tracker. The Joy Octopus V2 is available now for $80.

The Timex Family Connect offers secure two way calling within private groups you create through contacts set up in an app on your smartphone. It has real-time location sharing, in-app voice and instant messaging, and it’s SafeZone feature allows you to set up virtual fences around physical locations. Anytime the child leaves or enters a SafeZone, you’ll get an alert. The Family Connect’s one limitation is that it is exclusive to TMobile, so if you have a different provider, you’ll need to look for another device. TMobile customers can get the Timex Family Connect for $99 when you add a qualifying line.

The VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch DX3 features an augmented reality game, a pedometer, active play challenges, and two cameras that allow your child to capture everything from action video to selfies they can later upload them to a computer. Available for $59.99

The Garmin Vívofit Jr. is durable, features a full year of battery life year with constant wearing, and connects to your mobile app so you can track chores and manage behavior. It tracks steps, sleep, and 60 minutes of daily recommended activity is waterproof and swim-proof, and even offers fun, educational adventures for your child that allows them to earn coins to redeem for agreed-upon rewards managed by you. The Garmin Vívofit Jr. is available for $69.99.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

iMessage Tips and Tricks

I’ve been a loyal Apple cult member product user for many years, and hands down one of my favorite features is iMessage. Each software update improves its usability, but at the end of the day, it’s iMessage’s clean interface that makes it the simplest way to exchange texts with my family and friend iOS and Android users alike. 

One of my favorite features is QuickPath, which – to be fair – is a feature that Android users have had for almost a decade. QuickPath is a swipe keyboard that you can access directly from the iMessage screen. Previously, users had to open the keyboard options and toggle to swipe instead of type, but with iOS 13, QuickPath is native. Instead of tapping each key, simply drag your finger from one character to the next to spell out the text. Stop when you get to the end of a word, then start the next word. To insert a period, tap the space bar twice and start a new sentence. 

If you want to share your name and photo, Go to Settings > Messages > Share Name and Photo, then tap Choose Name and Photo. You then have a choice to select a photo to use or tap the ellipsis icon (…) to select an image from your library. Or, if you prefer, you can create your custom memoji – simply strike a (facial) pose and snap your photo as you would with any selfie. You can even add color or filter to your image of choice. You then choose if you want to use the image with your Apple ID and contact card and whether you want to automatically share this image with contacts only or have the app always ask whether or not to share it. If you select Name and Photo Sharing to Contacts Only, your new image is automatically shared with anyone you text but if you choose Always Ask, each time you compose a message a notice will appear at the top of the screen asking if you wish to share.

If you want to run a search for something within your text history, it’s easy. From the main Messages screen, swipe down to reveal the search field at the top of the screen. Tap the box and the app will display several suggested items such as contacts, photos, locations, links, and attachments. Type a search term in the field and the results will list any related photos, conversations, etc.

The Info icon at the top of a conversation is linked to related content about that contact. Simply open a conversation, tap the individual’s name at the top of the screen, then tap Info. Then, swipe down to see photos, links, and other content associated with that person. To see it all, tap See All Photos or See All Links.

You can also ask Siri to announce your incoming text messages to you through AirPods (second generation), AirPods Pro, and certain supported Beats headphones. To turn this feature on, go to Settings > Siri & Search > Announce Messages and then tap Messages. Select whether you want messages announced from favorite contacts, recent messages, all contacts, or everyone.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Resources for Teaching Your Kids About Martin Luther King Jr. Day

January 20, 2020, is Martin Luther King Day and marks the 25th anniversary celebrating the civil rights leader’s life and legacy. 

It’s important to note that contrary to what most people consider it, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, annually observed on the third Monday in January, is “a day on, not a day off.” It’s the only federal holiday designated as “a national day of service to encourage all Americans to volunteer to improve their communities.”

In preparation for such a significant day, it’s important to help students put in perspective the life of Martin Luther King, Jr., his impact on the civil rights movement, and on American culture and history. This list of resources can reinforce what your children will be learning about at school and be a stepping stone to important conversations and teachable moments.

King Crossword – A fun printable crossword for elementary students that includes an interactive version and an answer key.

The PBS LearningMedia site provides 13 activities for students K-12 including videos, interactive games, photos, and historic documents explaining his legacy and influence on America. 

EDSITEment, a partnership between the National Endowment for the Humanities and the National Trust for the Humanities, has numerous activities, lessons, and webpages detailing not only Dr. King’s work but significant civil rights events like the March on Selma and the Emmet Till case.

The NY Times archive of articles on the Civil Rights movement is extensive and an opportunity to not only learn about Dr. King’s work but how he and the events surrounding civil rights were covered by the mainstream press. 

The King Center, King Institute, MLK Online each offer resources about Dr. King and include interviews and first-hand accounts of his work, his message, and the ongoing legacy work being done in his honor. 

Printables

Videos

The History Channel provides a collection of 49 short videos on Dr. King and his career.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Encourage Girls to Pursue STEM Careers

Last October, American astronauts Jessica Meir and Christina Koch made history when they left the International Space Station (ISS) to perform a spacewalk. It was the first time a spacewalk has been conducted by two women. Last Wednesday, the pair stepped outside the space station again for the first of their two scheduled January spacewalks. (Follow along in the embedded livestream here). Meir and Koch are replacing nickel-hydrogen batteries with “newer, more powerful lithium-ion batteries” as they upgrade the power systems on the ISS Port-6 truss structure.

Both of these remarkable women have a strong background in STEM-related areas of study, coming up through the ranks when there were even fewer opportunities for women to find careers in science and engineering. 

Koch is an engineer with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and physics and a master’s degree in electrical engineering, both from North Carolina State University. Meir is a physiologist with a bachelor’s degree in biology from Brown University, a master’s degree in space studies from the International Space University, and a doctorate in marine biology from the Scripps Institution of Oceanography. 

Women represent a mere 26% of the STEM workforce, so when women like Koch and Meir make history, it’s a perfect opportunity to demonstrate the doors STEM education will open.

Technology is constantly evolving and it’s impossible to anticipate what innovations and inventions will drive our culture in the next five or ten years. An education in STEM will help prepare your daughters for possible opportunities and put her in a position to work in a career she’s passionate about while earning a higher than average salary.  Employment in STEM occupations is expected to increase much faster than the overall growth rate for occupations in other fields. 

If your daughter is interested in STEM, encourage her questions. When you think about it, research and innovation begin with scientists and engineers asking questions and then looking for solutions. Choose toys that help develop STEM skills and encourage your kids to explore and be curious about the way the world around them works. Creative, imaginative play is highly effective as a teaching tool and can help build confidence in STEM fields from an early age. 

It’s important to encourage your child to pursue STEM opportunities while they’re still in elementary and middle school. Laying that foundation means that once they reach high school she’ll feel confident choosing STEM-related classes and start refining her career choices. 

One of the most effective ways to encourage girls to pursue a career in STEM is to connect them with a mentor, specifically a woman who has succeeded in a science, technology, engineering, or math career. Have a role model not only open their eyes to who can do STEM, but it also expands their vision of possibilities in their future.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Your Smart TV is Watching You

A recent study of smart TV privacy and security by Consumer Reports asked, “How much does your Smart TV know about you?” They looked at several major TV brands: LG, Samsung, Sony, TCL—which use the Roku TV smart TV platform—and Vizio.

Smart TVs connect to the internet, allowing users to stream videos from services such as Hulu, Amazon Prime, and Netflix. Consumer Reports found that all smart TVs can collect and share considerable amounts of personal information about their viewers. Not only that, so can the countless third-party apps that work within the platforms. 

The Oregon office of the FBI released a warning back in December cautioning consumers that some smart TVs are vulnerable to hacking and a number of them have built-in video cameras. The good news is that newer models have eliminated the cameras – Consumer Reports’ labs haven’t seen one in any of the hundreds of new TVs tested in the past two years.

However, privacy concerns are still an issue. Researchers at Northeastern University and Imperial College London discovered that many smart TVs and other internet-connected devices send data to Amazon, Facebook, and Doubleclick, Google’s advertising business. Nearly all of them sent data to Netflix –  even if the app wasn’t installed – or the owner hadn’t activated it. 

A third study, this one conducted by researchers at Princeton and the University of Chicago, looked at Roku and Amazon Fire TV, two of the more popular set-top streaming devices. Testing found the TV’s tracking what their owners were watching and relaying it back to the TV maker and/or its business partners, using a technology called ACR, or “automated content recognition.” There were trackers on 69% of Roku’s channels and 89% of Fire TV’s channels – the numbers are likely to be the same for smart TVs that have Roku’s and Amazon’s native platforms. 

Testing found the TV’s tracking what their owners were watching and relaying it back to the TV maker and/or its business partners, using a technology called ACR, or “automated content recognition.”

On the surface, we love the technology behind ACR because it’s what makes our systems intuitive and recommend other shows we might enjoy watching. The downside is that the same information can be used for targeted advertising or be bundled with other aspects of our personal information to sold to other marketers. 

Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology at Consumers Union, the advocacy arm of Consumer Reports, says “For years, consumers have had their behavior tracked when they’re online or using their smartphones. But I don’t think a lot of people expect their television to be watching what they do.”

If you have privacy concerns about your Smart TV, check the manual on how to revert the device TV to factory settings and set them up again. Be sure to decline to have your viewing data collected.

For a more detailed analysis and instruction on protecting your privacy, check out Consumer Reports story How to Turn Off Smart TV Snooping Features.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.

Resolutions for Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

It’s the second week of 2020. How are those resolutions coming? Don’t worry if you’ve already gone off the rails – it happens to the best of us. 

As parents, we want to be the best version of ourselves so we can model the behavior and character we want our children to have. When we fall short, we’re harder on ourselves than we are on others and even the most self-assured among us sometimes question if we’re doing a good job. 

It’s healthy to consider the example you’re setting. A great way to model the character we want to see is through setting healthy goals that help you grow personally and as a parent. So even if you’ve fallen short or gotten sidetracked, there’s no time like the present to regroup and make 2020 a year of growth and accomplishment for you and your family. 

Make time for self-care. Setting aside time to take care of your own needs isn’t selfish – it’s healthy. Think of it in terms of emergency procedures on a plane – you put your own oxygen mask on first before you assist others. If your emotional tank is empty you won’t be the kind of parent you aspire to be. Self-care doesn’t have to be elaborate or expensive – take a walk to clear your head, go to bed early, set up a date night with your partner or a game night with friends – whatever fills your tank.

Be intentional about family time. When it comes to spending time with your kids, it’s not quantity or quality – it’s both. When they’re grown and looking back on their childhood, your kids won’t care how tidy the kitchen was or even what they got for Christmas most years. What they will remember is the bedtime stories, projects you worked on together, playing games in the park, family road trips, a movie nights on the couch. These are the times that teach your children how much you love them, want to be part of their lives, and how proud and grateful you are to be their parent.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Are you even a parent if there aren’t days you’re overwhelmed and don’t know which way is up? There comes a day in every parent’s life where we hit the wall and want nothing more to tunnel under the heaps of laundry – clean or not – and hide. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. When my kids were little, our friend group would trade-off babysitting playdates so that we all got a break to relax or clean our house – whatever we needed. We were all in the same boat – even if we needed to bail out our boat sometimes. It’s a simple way to engage in healthy self-care.

Date your partner. In the busy-ness of day to day life, it’s easy for us as parents to focus all our attention on our children and neglect our partner. It’s important to be intentional about spending time with one another, reminding yourselves of why you came together to build a home and family in the first place. One of the best gifts you can give your children is modeling a healthy, loving relationship with your partner. Someday your children will move out and start families of their own, and you don’t want to be left in a relationship with a stranger. 

Work on your weaknesses. Every one of us has an area of parenting where we fall into unhealthy patterns, and as you read this sentence, you’re already thinking of what yours is. Instead of beating yourself up, work on it. If you’re impatient, learn simple anger management techniques to settle yourself and keep you from flaring up. If you’re disorganized, commit to creating a calendar with digital reminders to help you stay on top of what’s coming up. There’s no shame in falling short – it’s only a problem if you choose to let it continue to derail the family. 

Finally, give yourself some credit. Look back over 2019 and think of all you accomplished. Most of us had far more highs than lows and have much to be grateful for. Celebrate your victories, learn from your mistakes, and make 2020 your family’s best year yet!

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Washington DC. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances, edits and researches on subjects ranging from family and education to history and trends in technology. Follow Tracey on Twitter.