7 Useful Things to Know About Facebook

As Facebook’s popularity as a social network has grown, so has its complexity. So much so, that very few people claim to use – or understand – even a fraction of the many features on offer. But hidden among all the updates and ads are some extremely useful tools that can turn your Facebook account from a disorganized jumble of unrelated posts into a highly streamlined news and special interest journal.

Here are 7 useful tips to help get you started:

Add Close Friends to organize your News Feed

There is currently a lot of debate over how Facebook organizes your News Feed and the various algorithms it uses to prioritize posts, but you can help organize your own News Feed by nominating certain friends as “close friends.” Just click on the Close Friends link on the left-side of your Home page and start typing friends’ names to add them to the list.

You can also receive notifications when your close friends post, so you are sure not to miss anything important.

Add Interests to see more on your favorite topics

If you are interested in a particular subject, you can add it as an interest and create a completely separate News Feed just on that topic. You can find interests by looking through Facebook’s recommendations or by searching for interests by name. Just click on the Interests link on the left-hand side of your Home page and start browsing.

If you don’t find something you like, you can always start your own Interest list by selecting the people and pages you would like to feature. You can also choose to make your Interest list public, just available to friends, or completely private (only viewable by you).

Visit the App Center to get apps you really want

When people think of Facebook apps, they think of games or those annoying horoscopes that keep turning up in your News Feed. But there are thousands of other apps that can provide a stream of useful information and entertainment options. Just visit www.facebook.com/appcenter and click on Apps. Whether you are looking for a recommendation on which book to read or help with your workout routine, there is a Facebook app that can help.

Hide updates from other people’s apps

Of course, if you want to block or hide updates from other people’s apps, you can do that too. Just click on the dropdown arrow next to the post you want to hide and select Hide all from [this app]. If you want to completely block an app from contacting you, then go to Settings and choose Blocking from the left-hand side of the page. Under Block Apps, specify the app that you no longer want to hear from. You can always Unblock at a later date if you change your mind.

Use Paper for mobile updates

Earlier this month, Facebook introduced Paper, a mobile app that transforms Facebook into magazine-style format with special interest articles blended into your regular News Feed. Currently only available for the iPhone, Paper does away with the cat videos and instead brings users more substantive articles chosen by Facebook’s own editors. How do those editors decide what you want to see? Good question but somehow it works. And the more you engage with Paper, the more closely the curated articles reflect your interests.

Create a shared photo album

It’s great to post your own photos to Facebook but some occasions – like a family wedding or a college reunion – are crying out for a shared album. A shared album is where you choose both the contributors and the audience, so everything is as controlled and as private as you want. Just click on an existing album or an album that you’ve just created and then click on Make Shared Album in the top left-hand corner. You can add any number of friends as contributors, and the album will then appear on their Timelines as well.

Change your Facebook language to Pirate-speak!

OK, this might not be as useful as the other tips but if you want a change of scenery – and get your friends a little worried about you – then you can change your official Facebook language. Go to Settings and click on Edit next to the Language option. There are over 70 different languages to choose from, including English (Pirate) and English (Upside Down).

Check your Home Port to find out what be troublin’ yer crew or scour the web for additional mateys. Just don’t forget to Adjust yer riggin’s when it’s time switch back!

What you should do about the Target data breach

Target today provided an update on the customer information data breach that was first disclosed last month. Instead of the 40 million individuals that were originally thought to be impacted by the breach, the number has now reached 70 million and is still climbing, with stolen information including names, mailing addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses.

The company stressed that this latest discovery was not the result of a new breach but rather was uncovered as part of the ongoing investigation into the original data theft. The unauthorized access took place between November 27th and December 15th, 2013 and potentially impacted every customer who used a payment card at any of the 1,800 U.S.-based Target stores during that timeframe.

As part of the latest announcement, Target again stressed that customers will not be responsible for fraudulent charges, although that offers little comfort to the millions of individuals who now realize they have been exposed to wholesale identity theft as well as credit and debit card fraud.

So if you are a Target customer, what should you do to protect yourself? Well, there are a few simple steps you can take and some that are a little more complicated. Here’s a quick run through of the recommended actions:

Check your statements

The first step is to thoroughly check your bank and credit card statements to make sure you haven’t already been subjected to fraudulent activity. As The New York Times reported, there was a ten- to twentyfold increase in the number of high-value stolen payment cards on black market web sites immediately following the Target data breach. While Target released a statement on December 20th saying it was aware of only a few incidents of unlawful activity, criminals will often wait until the early security scare has died down before initiating those first fraudulent transactions.

Cancel your card

This is a hard thing to do – it can be a huge inconvenience – but it’s a very important step in protecting both your credit and your identity. As suggested above, it’s easy to get a false sense of security when those fraudulent charges don’t show up in the first couple of weeks but that’s what the bad guys are relying on.

If you replace your card, go back over your credit or debit card statements for the last 12 months and make a note of all the automatic monthly payments and direct debits. They can include anything from Netflix fees to your iTunes account to domain name registrations. I replaced a commonly used credit card early last year and I am still getting notices from various service providers about declined charges.

Even though it’s an inconvenience, replacing the impacted payment card is the right thing to do. The data on that card has been compromised and it’s all too easy for that information to fall into the wrong hands.

Check your credit reports

If you don’t already check your credit reports, then this is the perfect opportunity to start doing so. Although you can request a free credit report from the three main credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion, this will only give you a once-a-year snapshot of your credit picture. If you’re at risk from the Target data breach, it would be better to engage a credit monitoring service, which will automatically notify you of any change to your credit status, however minor.

In fact, as part of its response to the data breach, Target is offering customers free credit monitoring and identity theft protection. Although details of the plan have yet to be released, the service will include complimentary credit reports, daily credit monitoring, identity theft insurance, and access to personalized assistance. While some customers might balk at the thought of handing over social security numbers and additional personal information to a company that was the target of one of the biggest ever data thefts, it is definitely something worth considering.

In summary, close monitoring of all your financial transactions and credit history is the key to coming out of this unscathed, and doing nothing is the worst possible option. Not surprisingly, Target is heavily engaged in damage control right now and you should be doing the same.

Dealing With Sexting

May I say how glad I am that there were no smartphones when I was a teenager. A cell phone? Sure, that would have been great, but a smartphone with a camera? I shudder at the thought. Fortunately for my generation, most of our bad decisions are just foggy memories or yellowing photos forgotten in a shoe box.

Not so for this generation. Cell phones are in the hands, backpacks or pockets of 78 percent of American teens. And not just any old cell phones. At least 47 percent are smartphones, which translates to having the Internet in all its unfiltered glory in those hands, backpacks and pockets. Teens are free to search and send anything – literally anything – they choose, including sexually explicit texts and images.

So, what do you do if you discover your child has been involved in sexting? First of all, if you suspect your teen is using his/her phone for sexting, do something. You are the parent and it is your responsibility to protect your child whether they are the one sending the inappropriate content or receiving it from friends. You do your best to monitor your home computer, the movies they see, and the games they play. Why is their phone exempt from the same level of scrutiny? Respect for privacy is important, but safety is a much greater priority.

Start with a conversation. Don’t lecture or accuse, but be honest about the risks and responsibilities. Agree to setting boundaries, with the understanding that you’ll be checking in from time to time. And don’t be afraid to follow up. Fear that mom or dad will find out isn’t the best reason for making a decision, but it’s saved more than one child from making poor decisions.

Second, if your suspicions are true and your child has been sexting, don’t panic. You were once a teenager and made mistakes. Teens make impulsive choices all the time, this one just has more potential for serious trouble.

Use this as a teachable moment. When your children were little, you disciplined to change behavior, not just punish, and the same rules apply here. You want to help them not to make the same mistake again. Accountability is crucial. They may not be able to undo what they’ve already done, but they can take responsibility for their actions.

It’s important that impulse-driven teens learn consequences. If the situation warrants, consider taking away the smartphone. If you’re uncomfortable with your teen being less accessible, give them a phone without internet access or texting capability. It may feel like a life threatening loss to them, but it’s a lesson not soon forgotten.

If you know sexting is a problem and you’ve exhausted other options, software is available that allows you to monitor your child’s cell phone activity remotely. All incoming and outgoing calls, texts, email and web browsing activities are tracked.

Next, if the content is shared, act quickly. If it’s been shared via social media, contact the site and report it. If the images have been shared at school, contact the principal and other authorities, so they are fully aware of the situation and can act in accordance with school policies. Be aware of the laws in your state. Sharing sexually explicit images of underage individuals is a serious crime. If the image has gone viral, contact local law enforcement so they too can act.

If your child is the victim, track everything. Take screen shots of messages on social media, chat rooms, or via text. You will want a virtual paper trail of the harassment so you have evidence for the authorities.

Also, if your child is the victim, encourage your child not to respond to the abuse. It rarely helps and often leads to further harassment. Don’t reply to emails or texts. Block those who are engaging in the bullying and take down your child’s social media profiles. Stay offline. Later, at a time when you and your child feel safe, you can start over with a fresh profile with stringent privacy settings.

Finally, if it’s all too much and you or your child feels overwhelmed, get help. The constant abuse and bullying may result in anxiety and depression, leaving scars that last a lifetime.

Parenting is a whole new game than when our parents were raising us. Who knew the 70’s and 80’s would seem like the 50’s did for our parents? Each generation faces challenges unheard of for the generation before. If our kids are going to be ready for the challenges of raising our grandkids, it’s up to us to start planting those seeds of common sense and restraint now.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, Ontario. After years working for non-profits and charities, she now freelances and researches on subjects from family and education to pop culture and trends in technology.

Here comes the next big thing, really

Anyone who works in the tech industry or spends their time playing with – I mean testing – gadgets could be forgiven for being slightly cynical when they hear people talk about “the next big thing.” There have been so many next-big-things in the last few years that it’s hard to imagine any new device that could shake up a sector that’s already awash with every type of smartphone, tablet, TV, laptop, camera, gaming console…OK, you get the picture.

But there is one device that’s currently working its way up the distribution pipeline that really could make a difference. A device so radical and Star Wars-like that it could literally change the way we go about our daily business. That device is Google Glass.

Google Glass, which is currently being shipped to app developers and Glass Explorers (more on them later), might just be the first wearable computer that anyone actually wants to wear. It comes in the form of a head-mounted display that can be fitted with lenses to look like ski glasses or acceptably cool-looking sunglasses.

Responding to voice commands or finger swipes, Google Glass can pretty much do anything a smartphone can do, including take pictures and video, look up things on the Internet, give directions, send messages, and display points of interest through augmented reality apps.

And that’s just for starters. One can easily imagine a world where Google Glass actually becomes a phone, a music player, a night-vision aid, and even a movie screen. Google Glass is Wi-Fi-enabled, or it can be tethered to a smartphone or tablet to connect with a 3G or 4G network.

How popular is Glass? Well, Google fanned the flames by holding a Glass Explorer contest, where potential early adopters were asked to say, in 50 words or less, why they wanted Google Glass and what they would like to do with it. And, oh yes, winners had to pay $1,500 for their Glass and travel to New York, San Francisco or Los Angeles to pick up their “prize.” Thousands applied.

Of course, privacy advocates have been quick to jump on the potential dangers of Glass. Apparently there is no way to know if a user is taking a picture or recording video, with potentially undesirable or embarrassing results. Businesses as diverse as art galleries and strip clubs have already stepped up to announce that Glass would not be welcome in their various establishments.

There is no word on when Glass will be available to the public and what the likely price point might be, but already Google is displaying an Apple-like ability to create pent-up demand. Whenever it goes on sale, there is sure to be great anticipation and a surge of interest in this unusual and ground-breaking device.

It might just be the next big thing.

What To Do with Your Old Cell Phone

Some people keep their phones for years but others (like me) seem to get a new phone every couple of months. While it’s exciting to get to know all the latest features and apps associated with a new device, we also have the problem of what to do with the old one.

Fortunately, there are now a number of different options for getting rid of unwanted phones – and none of them involve adding to that pile of electronics in your junk drawer! Here are a few of the choices, along with some tips on what to do before you let that old phone go.

Trade in or trade up
Most carriers now offer trade in and trade up programs. Follow the instructions online or take your old device to any store to get a valuation and a credit against a brand new device. This can save you a considerable amount of money as you upgrade to a better phone.

Sell your phone
You can also sell your phone on your own. Take out a classified ad; sell your phone on eBay; make a deal with friends and family; or you can use an electronics resale sight like Glyde.com.

Donate your phone to HopeLine
If trading in or selling your phone is too much of a hassle, then I encourage you to donate your old phones to Verizon’s HopeLine program, which supports victims of domestic abuse. The phones can be old or not working, as they will be refurbished by HopeLine technicians. They don’t even have to be Verizon phones, as HopeLine will accept devices from any carrier.

Before you part with your old device, make sure you do the following:

Restore factory settings
If you go to the Settings function of your phone, you will find an option to “restore factory settings.” This will wipe out all your data and apps and re-set the phone to the “out of the box” state it was in when you first got it.

Remove any memory cards
If your phone has an external memory card (SD card or MicroSD card), be sure to remove it. You can reuse the card in another compatible device.

Remove the SIM card
When you get a new phone, it is often possible to transfer the SIM card from your old device and retain your old number, address book, etc. Even if your old SIM card is not compatible with your new phone, be sure to remove it so your information remains private.

So how many old phones do you have around your house and what do you plan to do with them?

Robyn Wright is a social media specialist and blogs on her own blog, RobynsOnlineWorld.com, as well as several other sites. Robyn has a love for family, technology, food and lots of apps! 

7 Technologies That Can Help Keep the Elderly Safe

An adult child’s concern for an aging parent is nothing new, but as the baby boomer generation heads for retirement the Department of Health and Human Services estimates that nearly 20 percent of the population will be 65 or older by 2030.

The concern about aging parents living alone is about to reach an all-time high and, while the state of assisted living facilities continues to improve, many seniors prefer to keep their independence as long as possible. This begs the question, “How can we keep our parents safe and have peace of mind at a cost that we can afford?”

While there has been an explosion of wearable technology — devices that monitor an individual’s health and fitness levels, including sleep patterns and water intake to name a few — products just for seniors have been lacking. The good news is that is starting to change.

Asif Khan, CEO of Caremerge, a healthcare technology company dedicated to improving communication and care coordination within senior living  facilities, has identified several forward-thinking companies that have stepped up to help solve this problem.

Here is a list of 7 apps and technologies that can help families, patients, and health care providers keep our seniors safe:

  • Lively

    lively200Small sensors are placed on objects within the home – such as prescription pill bottles or the refrigerator – to detect when the resident is taking medications, getting food, or leaving the home. Activity signals are sent from the sensors to Lively’s website (no Internet or Wi-Fi connection required), where the data is held for family members and caregivers to monitor.
    Data is also shared via smartphones and email, with notifications on any irregular activity. A printed LivelyGram mailer with photos and messages from family members and friends is automatically created twice a month for the adult in the home.


  • WalkJoy

    walkjoy200As our parents grow old, the possibility of a fall is one of the costliest and most difficult risks to manage. Recovering from a fall at an old age is extremely difficult. It can result in a lack of mobility, causing depression and other serious conditions that can put the patient in a downward spiral.

    WalkJoy is a company that has set out to solve this problem. Its non-invasive technology aids in the restoration of gait and balance for people with peripheral neuropathy. Devices are attached to the knees to re-establish a signal, telling the brain that the heel just struck the ground. The brain’s central nervous system incorporates the new signal from the device, and the motor system responds as if there is no loss of sensation in the foot, thereby returning the person to a normal gait.

    The company also offers a second device, WalkingHealth, that serves as a walking diagnostic tool, helping to reduce falls by those elders suffering from mobility challenges.


  • RespondWell

    respondwell200Physical fitness and healthy daily movement are critical to healthy aging. However, most times it’s not easy to figure out how much physical activity or exercise is necessary. It depends upon a person’s physical abilities, their overall condition, and medications, just to name a few.

    RespondWell uses a Kinect sensor to help understand a person’s physical limitations and connect them with a therapist who can then create an individualized physical fitness plan. The plan is then plugged into RespondWell, where an avatar helps the patient follow along and determine progress. Feedback is again sent back to the designated therapist, so he or she can monitor progress and make changes to the plan accordingly.


  • Independa and LG

    independa200A meticulously designed interface known as “Angela” is a HAL-like personality built in to LG TVs and ready to use with larger screen fonts and higher contrast for the elderly. When activated for use, the viewer can browse the web, use video chat with friends and family, access simple e-mail, play games, see family photos, follow a daily schedule, get medication reminders, and more. Angela can even be programmed to call mom or dad to remind them to take medications. These services are available through TVs and laptops in private homes, senior living accommodation, and skilled nursing facilities.


  • PocketFinder

    pocketfinder200These discreet devices allow families to have peace of mind while their loved ones remain mobile with a GPS locator to help stay connected. These GPS locators provide real time location information and activity that can be viewed through a web-based portal or smartphone. There is also a PocketFinder device that mounts directly on to a vehicle and is powered by the car’s battery.


  • Guardian Medical Monitoring

    gmm200Guardian offers the Virtually There Care camera monitoring system, which allows family members to check in on their loved ones living independently via remove camera viewing and audible communication. This decreases the need for paid caregivers and daily check-ins, lowers home care costs in assisted living or nursing placement, and extends independence.


  • MC10’s BioStamp

    mc10200Although not quite to market yet (3-5 years), the BioStamp will put medical diagnostics on a whole new playing field for all ages. Applied like a band-aid or temporary tattoo, the BioStamp measures everything from hydration levels (critical for senior citizens) to body temperature, heart rate, brain activity, and even exposure to UV radiation. BioStamp uses wireless technology to upload data to a nearby smartphone for analysis, so grandma’s doctor can check in without having to visit!


Are We Moving Towards ‘Unlocked’ Cell Phones?

The House yesterday passed a bill that would allow cell phones users to “unlock” their devices so they could be used with any carrier. The bill follows a surprise ruling last year by the Library of Congress which made unlocking a cell phone illegal.

A cell phone or tablet is locked when it is tethered to one particular service provider. If you try to use that device with another company’s cellular service, either here at home or overseas, the device won’t work. Typically, a locked smartphone doesn’t mean you can’t transfer a SIM card from another phone, just that the SIM card and the new phone have to be from the same provider.

Wireless carriers lock their smartphones to their networks as a way to get consumers to commit to a long term contract. In return, the consumer gets a heavily subsidized phone and the ability to upgrade at a later date, although always with the same carrier.

Although locked devices and long term contracts are the norm in the U.S., that’s far from the case overseas. In some European markets for example, the overwhelming majority of new phones are unlocked, allowing customers to switch between carriers whenever they want. Some people believe this extra flexibility can result in a financial advantage over the usual life of a phone.

This is especially true if the smartphone owner travels a lot. Anyone who has recently landed at Heathrow or one of the other major European airports will be familiar with the pre-paid SIM card dispensers that are stationed in all the arrival halls. If you have an unlocked device, you can just buy a local SIM card, pop it in your phone, and avoid those costly roaming charges that would otherwise greet you when you returned back home.

Of course, locking a phone to a service provider is not just about tying the consumer to a network. Manufacturers like Apple have long been wary of unlocking the iPhone for example, because they want to retain control over all the applications that can be installed on the device. To get around this, some owners and third parties have resorted to unauthorized software changes, or what is commonly referred to as “jailbreaking” a phone. While jailbreaking can result in more user-flexibility in terms of  installing apps, it invariably invalidates the phone’s warranty and breaches the carrier’s Terms of Service.

Prior to the House bill, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the main wireless carriers had reached a tentative agreement whereby the carriers would notify customers when they become eligible for an unlocked phone, typically at the end of their two-year contract. Under the FCC agreement, the carriers would also have to respond to requests for unlocking a phone within two business days.

However, both the House bill – which faces an uncertain future in the Senate – and the FCC agreement leave a lot of unanswered questions, including how, if at all,  the FCC would try to regulate the inevitable secondary market for unlocked phones.