All posts by Tracey Dowdy

Turn Off Political Ads in Your Facebook Feed

By Tracey Dowdy

Did you know there’s a presidential election coming up in just a few weeks? How could you not? Everywhere you look, there are ads, campaign signs, and reminders to register to vote. 

Most of us don’t need a reminder, and I, for one, am done with the relentlessly combative tone of this particular election season. Thankfully, there are ways to block some of the content coming at you on social media, particularly on Facebook and Instagram. 

Facebook, who also owns Instagram, now allows users to turn off all political ads on both sites and apps ahead of the November 3 election. 

It’s all part of Facebook’s efforts to encourage voting, including its goal of helping 4 million people register, the largest voting information effort in US history. Their new voter center gives individuals information about how and when to vote, voter registration, voting by mail and early voting, and information on their efforts to prevent election interference

Both apps allow users to block all electoral or political ads from candidates, anything regarding social issues, and Super PACs or other organizations with the “Paid for by” political disclaimer on them from showing up in your feed.  

You have two options if you want to turn off political ads on Facebook and Instagram. 

Here’s how.

Facebook:

  • Go to Settings & Privacy > Settings > Ads > Ad Preferences. 
  • Tap Ad Topics > Social issues, elections, or politics.
  • Tap See fewer ads about this topic. 

If you scroll past a political ad in your feed, there should be a tag that says Confirmed Organization in the top-right corner of the ad. When you click on that tag, a window will pop up at the bottom of the screen. From here, choose from three options: Who paid for this ad? Why am I seeing this? See fewer ads about this topic. 

A new window will open. Tap to confirm that you want to see fewer ads about social issues, elections, and politics in the future.

Instagram

Go to your account settings. Select Ad topics and then See fewer ads about social issues, elections, and politics. 

Alternatively, if you see a political ad in your feed, tap where it says Paid for by and then select See fewer ads like this. 

Currently, these options are available only in the US, but Facebook has plans to roll out the same features to countries where they can exercise enforcement on ads about social issues, elections, and politics.

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.

Apps that Double as Math Tutors

By Tracey Dowdy

Sooner or later, it happens to every parent. One day you’re helping your child learn their multiplication tables, the next, you’re elbow-deep in quadratic equations and sinking fast. Don’t get me started on the sorcery involved in Common Core math. Do I look like Professor McGonagall? 

When that day comes, don’t despair. If an in-person tutor isn’t an option, these websites and apps can act as an online tutor, so your child doesn’t fall behind or figure out just how much smarter they are than you – at least not yet. Keep in mind that some of these options will solve the equation for them, so watch for cheating to ensure your child is learning, not just having the site do their homework for them.

Khan Academy will always be at the top of my list. It’s a free website and educational app that includes thousands of educational videos aimed at self-paced instruction, so if your child doesn’t get it the first time around, there’s no pressure to push ahead. The site offers tutorials from early learning through college-level courses with an almost unlimited library of practice exercises, organized by topic, providing students with instant feedback through a personal dashboard that tracks their progress. Most videos are short, and content is both user friendly and engaging. 

MathPapa – Algebra Calculator walks students through algebra problems step-by-step. The free version functions as a calculator: Students simply enter their algebra equations, including variables, and watch as the solution is worked through. The paid version includes algebra lessons and additional resources. The site does all the work, so you may want to monitor homework assignments to prevent cheating. The paid version is $9.99 /monthly or $59.98 a year.

Course Hero allows students to ask a tutor questions by submitting a photo of a problem or describing via text. A subscription is required, but a selection of downloads and questions are given for free. The site is peer-supported (content submitted by other students), giving users access to notes and materials for a range of courses — primarily for upper-level high school and college. Course Hero offers a Basic Membership for free with online tutors access at an a la carte price. Premier members may unlock up to 30 documents and/or User Questions and access all Textbook Solutions and Explanations in Course Hero’s library and receive up to 40 Questions. Paid plans start at $9.95 a month. 

yHomework is designed for students and teachers. Enter the math problem and, in one click, get a complete step-by-step solution, including explanations and the answer, in all methods of solving. Content covers multiple levels and topics, including basic math and arithmetic through pre-algebra, algebra 1, trigonometry, and pre-calculus. Students who struggle with multistep equations and reverse numbers or make minor calculation errors will benefit from the detailed explanations. Again, keep in mind that yHomework will solve students’ equations, so keep an eye out for cheating on homework assignments. 

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.

Smartphone Photo-Editing Apps For iOS and Android

By Tracey Dowdy

With all of us spending more time at home, things that we’ve said we’d do as soon as we got the time are suddenly getting done. If going through the pictures on your phone is on that list, these photo-editing apps may be enough to salvage photos otherwise headed for the trash. 

Adobe Lightroom has long been the industry standard for professional photographers, and the mobile version is designed with the same high-quality tools. Images sync in the cloud so you can start on one device and seamlessly switch to another. 

Available on iOS and Android – some functions available for free, or $4.99 per month for full access. 

 

Photoshop Express offers many of the features you’d find in Lightroom but cuts out some of the pro tools and cloud syncing found in Lightroom’sLightroom’s paid version. You’ll still have access to editing tools, including exposure, contrast, and color editing options, plus a selection of filters and overlay textures. You can also create photo collages, so though it’s not as extensive as other options in this list, you can’t beat the price. 

Available on iOS and Android – Free. 

 

Prisma isn’t your basic photo editing app as it’s filters transform your photos into art. Many of its effects are inspired by artists such as Salvador Dali and Picasso to create bold, painting-like images. Not every filter will work with every photo, but you’ll enjoy tweaking and playing with the effects. 

Available on iOS and Android – $7.99 a month or $30 a year.

 

Google-owned Snapseed is robust enough for serious amateur photographers, but its easy-to-use controls make it accessible for beginners. The toolbox includes exposure and color tools and filter options from vintage to modern styles, as well as HDR looks. 

Available on iOS and Android – Free. 

 

PicsArt offers a wide range of editing tools, from exposure and contrast to cinematic color grading plus a collection of dramatic filters to transform your images into painting-like artwork. You can even morph the tone and shape of your face in those not-quite-right selfies.  PicsArt also offers an Instagram-style social sharing element so you can show off your creations.

Available on iOS and Android – limited functions for free or $48 a year for the complete suite of tools.

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.

Filter Netflix Kids’ Shows by Title and Age Group

By Tracey Dowdy

With 167 million subscribers, Netflix is still king when it comes to online streaming, although 41% of Netflix users are watching without paying thanks to password and account sharing.

Nearly two-thirds (62%) of US households now have Netflix, giving them access to a library of over 5000 Hollywood and indie movies, TV shows, and documentaries as well as Netflix 1500 original titles. 

That library covers virtually every genre and interest, including a large catalog of content for kids, though there’s definitely content you may want to keep off your child’s radar. Netflix recently enabled a setting that allows parents to filter kids’ shows by title and audience age group, plus, as account owners, parents and guardians can see a complete viewing history in their child’s profile, and turn off autoplay of episodes. You can also secure your Netflix profile with a four-digit PIN to prevent your kids from accessing adult profiles – a workaround to your parental control settings. 

“Every family is different. It’s why we’re investing in a wide variety of kids and family films and TV shows from all over the world,” says Michelle Parsons, Kids Product Manager at Netflix. “It’s why we also give parents the controls they need to make the right decisions for their families.”

To review each profile’s setting, go to the Profile and Parental Controls hub within your account settings.

To change your child’s profile setting: 

  • Log in to your Netflix account as you normally would.

  • Click on your profile picture in the top right corner of the screen to reveal a drop-down menu and select Account.

  • Scroll down to the bottom of the screen to the Profile & Parental Controls section, where you’ll see a list of all the profiles in your Netflix account.

  • Select the down arrow to the right of the kid’s profile, scroll down to Viewing Restrictions on the list of options and select Change.

  • Enter your password when Netflix prompts you for it, and you’ll be taken to a sliding bar that you can extend or shorten to permit access based on titles’ ratings — from TV-Y to NC-17. You’ll also be able to enter specific titles in the field just below the rating restriction bar.

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.

Beware Scam Texts About Missing Packages

The uptick in online shopping hasn’t just been a boon for Amazon; criminals have seized the opportunity to turn a profit of their own. Over the past several weeks, people have received text messages asking them to reply with their credit card information as they have a package to claim.  

Nationwide, customers across cellphone carriers have received the same message: “[Name], we found a parcel from [a recent month] owed to you. Kindly assume ownership and confirm for delivery here.” The message contains a link that purportedly connects you with your missing package; however, it’s a phishing scam intended to capture your credit card information. 

Phishing is a fraudulent practice of reaching out to people online via email or messaging (usually pretending to be someone else) and luring them into downloading a file or clicking on an embedded link. 

Along with capturing personal information, scammers often drop malware on your device (software specifically designed to disrupt, damage, gain access to a computer system). There are dozens of kinds of malware, including adwareransomware, and spyware, that monitor and collect your online activity.   

Americans lose millions of dollars to scammers every year. They’ve figured out countless ways to cheat consumers via phone calls and text. Sometimes they pose as family members, employers, or even the IRS. Other times, they use fear or threats to push you into sharing personal information to commit identity theft in others.

Here are the red flags to look for when you receive a suspicious text or email that asks you to click on a link:   

  • Is the link in an unsolicited message?
  • Is the message urgent, misspelled, or asking for money or personal information?
  • Is the embedded URL different than the link shown?

If you click through to an embedded link that leads to a website that seems suspicious, don’t share personal information or download anything. Exit the website immediately and block the number on your phone. 

Remember, the IRS will never call to confirm personal information. You should never send cash or pay with a gift card as they are almost impossible to track, lowering your chance of recovering any losses. 

If you suspect you have been the victim of a scam, contact the Better Business Bureau Scam Tracker. If you’ve lost money to a phone scam or have information about the company or scammer who called you, report it at ftc.gov/complaint.

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.

It’s Okay to Hate Working From Home

By Tracey Dowdy

Are you among the millions of Americans for whom the idea of working from home sounded like a dream, but in reality, it’s turned out to be a nightmare? The blurred lines of work and home life, frequent interruptions, lack of dedicated workspace, and the logistics of working as a team via Zoom meetings and email have left millions of workers frustrated and longing for the structure and routine of the office or job site. 

Take heart. You’re not alone. Recently, the CDC partnered with the Census Bureau on an experimental data system called the Household Pulse Survey. They discovered that one-third of all Americans are struggling with depression or anxiety in the wake of COVID-19, up from the 18% reported pre-COVID

The effects of that anxiety and depression can manifest in many ways, but one of the most common is a lack of motivation and productivity. Ashley McGirt, a licensed mental health therapist, says, “Several studies have shown the connection between low work productivity and even mild forms of depression. A normal brain thinks about 70,000 thoughts a day; an anxious brain processes two to three times that amount of thoughts and can lean to low productivity from spending time perseverating on numerous thoughts. The current state of the world has caused immense grief, depression, and anxiety. Many people’s normal coping forms have been closed, such as going to the gym, movies, or [going] out with friends. As we have had to adapt to a new normal many of us have had to find new coping skills.” 

Alongside our rising stress levels is the seemingly relentless barrage of bad news – racial tensions, hurricanes, problems with our health care system, and a divided political landscape – while we lack human connection to mitigate those feelings. 

The most important thing to remember is that it’s okay not to be okay. This is an unprecedented season that no one outside a Cormack McCarthy novel could have anticipated. Allow yourself the grace you desperately need and accept that you aren’t at your best and may not be for some time. Beating yourself up for not meeting your pre-COVID standards only fuels your stress level. “It is extremely important to give yourself grace during this time,” McGirt says. “If all you do is get out of bed and brush your teeth consider it okay. We put too much pressure on ourselves to be productive and constantly working. It is important to slow down and rest and reflect. While we are dealing with many unknowns during this unprecedented time, it is important not to add the stress of productivity to your plate.”

One way to manage your expectations is to go through your to-do list and be merciless in eliminating what can wait. If you’re struggling to keep up with the dishes, use paper plates. If meal planning is overwhelming, switch to simple meals like breakfast for dinner or sandwiches to limit prep and clean up. 

Take breaks whenever you can, even if it’s just stepping out your front door and taking a few deep breaths to clear your head. Self-care isn’t only bubble baths and spa days; it can be as simple as savoring a cup of tea, taking five minutes to meditate, or getting up to move your body.  

Years ago, Mad TV had a hilarious recurring sketch, “Lowered Expectations.” Though your life may not be the mess those characters were, there’s nothing wrong with lowering the expectations you set for yourself short-term. Life is far from normal, so allow yourself to lower the bar and celebrate your wins every chance you get. Accomplishing everything on a shorter-than-usual-to-do list gives you a mental boost, whereas an incomplete list inevitably feels like failure. 

So, stand up straight, look in the mirror, and give yourself a “You’re doing great sweetie,” because you are. 

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.

Self-Care for Parents – Back to School

By Tracey Dowdy

I don’t know if you’ve been paying attention, but 2020 has been a wild ride. It sometimes seems like we haven’t had time to catch our breath before the sky begins to fall again. Self-care has always been important, but perhaps never more so than in 2020. It’s also probably never felt more impossible. 

It’s why flight attendants tell you to put your mask on first in an airline emergency. You can’t take care of someone else if you’re gasping for breath. Yet, across the country, kids are going back to school on campus, and online, offices and workplaces are re-opening, and everyone is trying to find their new normal. How on earth is there time to care for oneself when you’re wearing so many hats? 

Coming out of quarantine, depression, anger, and confusion are all possible due to the loss of connection with others, making self-care even more critical. Implementing a few simple changes to your routine can clear your head, refresh your spirit, and equip to save the world once again. 

In the words of the great Gloria Estefan, get on your feet! The American Heart Association recommends a minimum of 150 minutes of movement per week, which is just over 20 minutes a day. Have a dance party with your kids, grab a quick walk around the block or do some yoga before anyone else is up. YouTube and the Google Play and App store each have tons of free workouts if you need something more structured to get you moving. 

Not many things are better for your mental health than taking a break from social media. Simply putting down your phone and engaging in real-world conversation, making eye contact, and including physical touch boosts your serotonin levels. Create boundaries for when you are online and be sure to get your information from reputable sources like the CDC, WHO, and local health department.

Taking a few minutes a day to meditate or pray can help align your mind and put you in the right mindset to face the challenges of your day. If prayer and meditation aren’t your thing, read something inspirational, savor a cup of tea, do a breathing exercise, or unwind in a relaxing bath. All provide the same mood-boosting benefits. 

Despite the fact we’re all still social distancing, it’s never been more important to stay connected. Be intentional about creating virtual hangouts with your friends and play games, host a Netflix party or an online book club.  

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 Gadgets for New Parents

By Tracey Dowdy

Being a parent is a challenge in any season, but parenting, while you homeschool and work outside your home, from home, is a whole ‘nother level – like running through a tunnel with a boulder coming straight at you Indiana-Jones-style challenging.

Anything that’s going to take even a little pressure off can make a massive difference for your family. These gadgets ranging from the inexpensive to the not-so-inexpensive just may be the solution to at least one of your challenges. 

The 3-in-1 Hatch Baby Rest doesn’t do double duty, but a triple duty. It’s a soothing white noise machine, a nightlight, and when they’re ready, an okay-to-wake light that you can control remotely from a smartphone or tablet running on iOS (11 or higher) or Android (Lollipop or higher). You choose the brightness of the light and the volume level, and you can select from preset light and sound themes or create your own. It stays cool to the touch even if it stays on all night. (Starts at $59.99)

Midnight feedings, the bane of the exhausted parent. No more measuring and mixing formula while your little one wails. Toss the portion of formula in the Baby Brezza Electric One-Step Formula Mixer Pitcherpress a button, and voila! The paddle mixes the formula without clumping or adding air bubbles, meaning less chance of the baby developing uncomfortable gas after feeding. Dishwasher safe, easy to pour into bottles, and at 28oz, it’s portable and perfect for parents on the go. ($19.99 + 10% off with code MIXER10)

Once you’ve filled the tub with water, drop in B&H’s Infant Baby Bath Floating Temperature Thermometer, and not only will it tell you the exact temperature of the water (F/C), it’ll let you know whether the water is too hot or too cold. ABS/PVC environmental protection material and Plexiglas material, BPA free, 2*LR44 batteries included. ($15.99)

If your little one needs motion to self-soothe, the Munchkin Lulla-Vibe Vibrating Mattress Pad can be slipped underneath your baby to calm her nerves and settle her down. It’s portable and easily fits in a purse or diaper bag, stroller, or car seat. Turn it on and off with the push of a single button, it has a 30-minute timer, has an easy-to-clean neoprene cover, and is battery operated and cord-free, promising 24+ hours of soothing vibrations for your little one. ($25)

Though it may seem a little “extra,” of all the items on the list, the ZoLi Buzz B Electric Nail Trimmer is the one I wish I’d had when I had infants and toddlers. I hated trimming my girls’ nails. It’s battery-operated, includes a storage case, and four cushioned pads with varying grits to safely file down those tiny claws. 

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.

COVID-19 Back to School Checklist

By Tracey Dowdy

The Spring semester played out much differently than most of us anticipated, and despite our hope to the contrary, things are still somewhat uncertain as we kick off the 2020-21 school year. If your school district is offering in-person learning, the prospect of sending your child into a classroom this Fall may be daunting. 

But, rest assured, there are steps you can take that coupled with the precautions being put in place by administrators and teachers, will ensure your child is as safe as possible. 

Don’t send your child to school sick.  While this may seem like an obvious statement, it’s not uncommon for parents to send sick kids to school. The CDC has a checklist for parents that includes which symptoms to look for before you make your decision. Michael LaSusa, superintendent of schools in Chatham, New Jersey says, “First and foremost, parents should not send any child who is symptomatic of illness to school. This means that parents should develop a routine for quickly checking their child for fever in the morning and also confirm that their child does not have a cough or any other sign of illness. If a child does have a fever, the parent should not give the child fever-reducing medication and send her/him off to school, but instead, be sure to keep the child home.”

Backpack backpack. While classroom management can be difficult under normal circumstances, this year will prove even more of a challenge. School districts across the country have asked parents to provide their own school supplies as children will not have access to communal supplies. If you or someone you know is struggling to provide supplies, follow this link for a list of resources in your area.

Sanitize and mask up. Depending on your child’s age and cognitive ability, the prospect of them keeping a mask on all day may make you laugh harder than any stand-up routine. Do your best to model appropriate mask-wearing and encourage your child to wear their mask if they’re going to be in close proximity to others, such as on the bus. If possible, send them to school with at least two in case one gets dirty or breaks – you know they’re going to play with them and it’s not a matter of if but of when they’re going to break. It’s a good idea to ease them into wearing one for extended periods of time if they aren’t in the habit,” LaSusa says. “Parents should gradually build up face-covering ‘endurance’ in their children by having them wear a face covering for longer and longer periods of time. If a child spends zero time during the day right now in a face covering, then that child will have a tough time spending four hours wearing one when September rolls around. We need to build up this endurance gradually.” 

One thing that most children can comprehend is the importance of clean hands, whether through hand washing or using hand sanitizer. Look for brands that are at least 60% or higher alcohol-based, which kills most types of bacteria, viruses, and fungi.

Maintain your safer-at-home protocols. Though it may seem excessive and like adding a greater burden on already struggling families, having your kids wash their hands and change out of school clothes as soon as they get home to keep your home as clean and safe as possible. “When children return from school they should immediately sanitize their hands,” advises board-certified pediatrician Dr. Candice W. Jones. “At the very least they should remove clothes/shoes and place them in the laundry or in a designated safe place for disinfecting. A shower would be great, but is not absolutely necessary.”

Stay positive.  Noreen Lazariuk, superintendent of the Sussex Charter School for Technology in Sparta, New Jersey says, “My advice is to stay positive. As parents, you are constantly teaching your children. Your example is one they are exposed to more than any classroom or teacher. If your children hear you speaking optimistically about the school year they will adopt that attitude.”

LaSusa adds, “I think we all need to maintain a sense of flexibility and patience, and also recognize that students are going to need some time to reacclimate to school, especially when the adults in their school are wearing masks and the whole environment looks different. We need to adjust the expectations we have for children and meet them where they are, not where we think they ‘should’ be.”

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.