Mobile Tech to Help the Homeless

By Tracey Dowdy

Every day we use our phones, tablets and laptops for everything from researching good schools to checking out Yelp reviews of the new sushi place downtown. What we may not realize is that more and more homeless are using technology to access the Internet to stay in touch, connect to otherwise inaccessible resources, or even make a living.

A survey of the homeless population in Philadelphia showed 47 percent had used the internet in the past 30 days. In a separate study, 46 percent of homeless adults reported daily use of the Internet and 93 percent reported weekly use. Research out of California suggests that as many as 95 percent of homeless youth are accessing the Internet on a regular basis.

Those numbers surprised me but it makes sense. For homeless individuals, technology allows them access to support and services that would otherwise be outside their reach. Given how relatively inexpensive pay-as-you-go phones can be, many homeless individuals use them to stay connected to friends and family, help with job searches, access health care or a meal, or even find a safe place to sleep. Others access the Internet though public libraries and shelters, which also offer a safe place to recharge their batteries.

The non-profit St. Anthony Foundation partnered with Zendesk to produce Link-SF, a mobile-optimized website that offers resources for the homeless of San Francisco. From its home page, the site connects users with local providers of food, shelter, medical and hygiene services, and technology.

Searches are based on the user’s location and each category can be broken down into more specific sub categories. For example, clicking on the medical tab pulls up a list of clinics with the address, phone number, walking distance, a description of services provided, and a list of languages spoken. The benefits of Link-SF go beyond the individual who has accessed and searched the site, as the information is often passed along by word of mouth.

The homeless struggle to find work, not least because they are often difficult to contact. Access to a cell phone allows an individual who may be struggling to get off the street and make a living to be accessible to an employer. Even with no fixed address, individuals can leave their number for prospective employers or work on an as-needed basis.

Some homeless individuals make the most of Internet access and use it to make a living. Jessie Angle makes the park at Martin Luther King Plaza in Pensacola, FL his office and spends his days watching YouTube to earn bitcoins – digital currency. Angle can then convert those coins into a gift card for a restaurant like Papa John’s Pizza to supplement his food stamps. You don’t need a street address to create a bitcoin wallet, which makes it safer than cash when you’re sleeping on the street.

HandUp lets you directly donate to a homeless individual in need of specific help. “100 percent of your donation goes directly toward medical care, shelter and other basics needs. Our members access HandUp through community partners, connecting them with other services and helping them out of poverty.” Individuals set up online profiles, work with a case manager to set up a financial goal, like dental work they couldn’t otherwise afford or help getting into affordable housing. Donors can make a one-time pledge or an ongoing monthly commitment.

There’s no doubt that life on the street is hard, but simple, affordable access to the technology and resources that we take for granted could bring actual, physical life change to someone struggling to get back on their feet.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. 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.

How To Choose a Smartphone

According to recent data, almost 70 per cent of American adults now own a smartphone. For many of us, the smartphone has become an essential tool of everyday life. We use it to text our kids, check our schedules, take pictures, surf the web – and even make the occasional phone call! Often, our smartphones are the first things we look for in the morning and the last things we put down at night.

But eventually, every smartphone needs to be replaced. Maybe the current plan has expired, or we want a bigger screen, or maybe the phone just gave up and died. Whatever the reason, it’s time look for something new. And if it’s going to be our constant companion for the next two years or more, then we better make the right choice.

Here are some tips on how to go about it.

Choose a carrier first

The first step to being happy with a smartphone is being happy with your carrier. You can have your heart set on an iPhone or a Samsung Galaxy S5 but if your home or office is in the wrong place on those carrier coverage maps, then your happiness with your new phone will quickly turn into frustration as calls are dropped and data transmission speeds slow to a crawl.

Ask friends and family in your area about their experiences with the major carriers. If you can, check what kind of reception their phones get in various areas of your home. Think about how much you travel and where. If you travel abroad, not all carriers have the same access to international networks.

Finally, make a note of the quality of customer service you receive as you check out phones and visit the stores. Having a store nearby with a friendly representative behind the counter can be a huge help as you try to get used to all the unfamiliar features on a new smartphone.

Choose an operating system

There are four main operating systems for smartphones: iOS (iPhone), Android, Windows Phone and BlackBerry OS. All of them are very different, with clear distinctions in how they handle basic functions such as e-mail and web browsing and how they integrate with other devices.

That last criteria is becoming increasingly important, as more data is stored in the cloud and users constantly switch between smartphones, tablets and PCs. If you are a Mac user for example, it might be far easier to own an iPhone, so your contacts, photos, music and more are automatically synced as you switch between devices. Similarly, a heavy user of Google Docs may find it much easier to work with the Android mobile device.

While it’s quite possible to switch between operating systems, developing your own personal tech ecosystem has enormous benefits and it can make a lot of sense to invest in a single unified platform.

Choose a model

Now comes the fun part. For some people, choosing an individual smartphone is all about screen size; for others, it’s all about the camera. Whether you like to watch last night’s TV shows during your lunch hour or you are a compulsive smartphone photographer, make sure the smartphone you choose is going to satisfy your needs. If you want to enhance your photos with 3D effects or use your phone as a remote, keep looking until you find what you want. There’s nothing worse than being stuck with a phone that doesn’t do what you want it to do.

As well as getting recommendations from friends, do a little research. The carriers’ web sites will list all available phones, including their various features and any special deals. Don’t be afraid to visit Consumer Reports or some of the consumer tech sites like CNET. They review phones in terms that non-techies can understand and will often include straight-up comparisons between similar phones from different manufacturers or service providers.

Choose a plan

Once you have identified your preferred carrier and the phone you like, it’s time to select a plan. While this is slowly becoming less intimidating, setting up the right plan now requires you to estimate your data consumption, which can vary wildly depending from person to person.

Use the online and in-store support of your chosen carrier to guide you. There are also some useful online Data Calculators that can help you estimate data usage. They will break down your expected usage between e-mail, web-surfing, music or movie downloads, and more.

Whether you have an individual plan or are part of a family plan, make sure your monthly data allowance is sufficient, so you don’t incur those costly overage charges. Set up e-mail or text notifications as you hit data usage milestones, so you know where you are on your monthly plan. If you are likely to go over your plan, most carriers will allow you to adjust retroactively to minimize the cost.

Check for extras

Before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you understand the total commitment of the contract and what extra fees could be incurred. If you want to get out of the contract, is there an early termination fee? What if you wanted to upgrade to a different phone or add a line? What are the roaming charges and what happens if you go overseas?

Finally, all providers are required to give you a grace period – usually 14 days – during which you can return the phone for a refund. Don’t be afraid to do just that, if the phone or service doesn’t meet your expectations.

Depending on your comfort with electronics, finding the right smartphone can be fun or it can be a chore. But if you do it the right way, it’s something you will only have to think about once every couple of years.

How Tablets and Smartphones Can Benefit Toddlers

New research suggests that learning from screens can help young children

By Stacey Ross

New media technology is here to stay and has become part of the fabric of our everyday existence. But as with anything else shiny and new, we need to weigh the benefits with the risks, particularly when it comes to our little ones. Sure, let’s have them engage with tablets and smartphones, but when we are conscious of the extent and pace that we introduce gadgets into their worlds, we can encourage age-appropriate opportunities that involve the whole family.

It’s not news that the American Academy of Pediatrics warns us that screen time for children under the age of 2 is not advised. Research suggests that it delays language development and can disrupt sleep. Likewise, when used as a form of consistent and long-term babysitting, it also adversely impacts the cognitive and social skills that are essential to normal development.

Interactive games foster creativity

Good news, though: Researchers discovered that while excessive TV watching slightly increased a child’s risk for conduct problems, age-appropriate digital games did not! A 2013 study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood found that certain digital games seem to affect children differently than TV. Take a guess why!

Games that are interactive foster creativity and participation, while TV typically does not invite consistent interaction, nor customize feedback for each user. Studies show that the more parents speak to their kids and the more extensive their vocabulary, the better the kids perform intellectually and academically. Routinely engaging directly with our children is crucial for them to hit developmental milestones.

Promise of interactive media

Heather Kirkorian, an academic at the University of Wisconsin, reports that while research indicates non-interactive video isn’t educationally valuable for kids under 3, that “some studies suggest that toddlers learn from screens when they are interactive,” and that toddlers “are more likely to demonstrate learning from video when interacting with a contingently responsive social partner on screen.”

Kirkorian discovered that children aged 2 to 3 were more likely to react to screens that prompted for interaction than screens that didn’t. She also found that interaction was key when dealing with word learning: “Kids who are interacting with the screen get better much faster, make fewer mistakes and learn faster,” adding, “but we’re not turning them into geniuses, just helping them get a little more information.”

Promote balance

The goal for parents is to promote balanced exposure. Our devices should not be replacing outdoor fun, painting and other social interactive activities, but can be used as supplements that add value and engaging stimulation.

Young ones thrive when they have parents monitor and stay involved with their kids’ activities. For example, when parents practice “co-viewing” TV shows or interactive games, they can help increase their children’s comprehension skills. Cognitive, social and language skills are crucial for the development of healthy children!

Stacey_Ross_50Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

Using Docs and Spreadsheets to Monitor Health and Fitness

By Robyn Wright

When we talk about our mobile devices, we almost always mention some of the latest and greatest apps. However, apps are not always the answer. It’s still possible to use old-school computer programs to get a result that is just as good. With the cloud and the ever increasing power of today’s mobile devices, we can now create, view, and edit these programs from any device just about anywhere we choose.

Health and fitness monitoring is a great example of how we can use these more traditional programs. Tracking our exercise routines and dietary information can help us evaluate what we are doing (or are not doing), and assist us in setting realistic goals. Our doctors will also appreciate this information, so they can spot potential problems and develop treatment plans.

While many document and spreadsheet programs work across different platforms, there are programs that are optimized for specific operating systems. One of the benefits of using these more traditional tools is that you can easily print them out, create reports, and edit the layouts. While apps may offer some of these features, they are generally not as flexible as documents and spreadsheets.

Windows Operating Systems

Microsoft Office has options that let you use Word, Excel, PowerPoint and OneNote from virtually anywhere. There are basic versions included with your free OneDrive cloud account or, if you are a more robust user, Office 365 might be a better option. Along with the base programs, Microsoft has an extensive collection of free templates that include health and fitness, or you can create your own from scratch.

Android Operating Systems

Google Docs includes word processing, spreadsheet and presentation programs, as well other collaborative tools. With Google Docs, you can create, view, edit and store in Google Drive, Google’s cloud storage service. Google Docs also has a large selection of templates if you need help getting started, or you can create your own customized products.

Apple iOS Operating Systems

For Apple users, there is iWork for iCloud, a web-based office suite that includes Pages, Numbers, and Keynote. All of these can be stored and accessed through iCloud. iWork comes with many templates and there are a number of community websites that offer an even greater selection.

If you’re not a big fan of apps, you can still track and manage all your health and wellness needs in this more traditional format. Regardless of how you chose to manage your information, the most important part is that you are actively moving towards a healthier you!

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

Ignore No More: An App Designed to Get Your Child’s Attention!

By Tracey Dowdy

Sharon Standifird was frustrated by her children’s tendency to ignore her calls and texts. As a woman who served in the Gulf War and climbed Mt Kilimanjaro, Sharon was not about to let that slide. She turned her frustration into another mission, and several months later “Ignore No More” was born.

Currently available for Android devices, Ignore No More allows parents to remotely shut down their child’s phone, leaving the child with just one option: call the parent and ask for the code to unlock the phone. No games, no texting, no internet access, nothing. (The phone can also be used to call first responders in case of an emergency.)

Two minutes reading through the reviews on the app store and you can see there’s a pretty clear divide on the virtues of the app:

“Omg! Love it. Best app ever designed for parents.”

 “Great Thinking!!! This is just what I needed for the past 16-17 yrs. My daughter always ignores my calls/sms. Not anymore.. lol THX”

“Don’t like this. You should spend your time teaching manners to your children, instead of imposing this because you cannot control them in the good way. If you need this, it’s your fault.”

Not surprisingly, the majority of the positive reviews are from parents tired of texts being ignored on a phone they pay for, while the negative reviews are predominantly from indignant teens who think the app goes too far. Some experts agree. “Let the child know that you value their independence, which is why you want them to have the phone, but that in this family there are expectations [around its use],” says Dr. Doree Lynn, a psychologist from Washington D.C.

While having a cell phone has moved from being a luxury to a near necessity, it still carries the responsibility of ownership and use. If the owner of a phone is the parent – meaning the parent pays the bills – then the child is merely the user. Given that relationship, it’s not out of order for the parent to have reasonable expectations that the child will respond to calls and texts.

To me, this is all part of a larger conversation about responsibility and respect. If your kids consistently disregard your attempts to contact them, there is a bigger issue at play.

Before resorting to shutting down their phone, start by sitting down and having a family discussion. Explain your frustration, set boundaries, and make clear what your expectations are. If boundaries and consequences are discussed, the app may not be necessary. If the problem persists, remind your kids of the consequences and then follow through. Communication and consistency are key in allowing your children the freedom to make mistakes and then learn from them.

Tracey Dowdy is a freelance writer based just outside Toronto, ON. 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.

SummerSlam Delivers Both Inside and Outside the Ropes

While many people’s lasting memory of last week’s SummerSlam 14 in Los Angeles will be Brock Lesnar’s total demolition of John Cena in the main event, there were plenty of other highlights, both inside and outside the ring.

At the Staples Center, Bray Wyatt finally secured his place among the WWE Superstars with a fine win over Chris Jericho in what was probably the best match of the night. Elsewhere, Roman Reigns pulled out a win from nowhere in his grudge match with Randy Orton, and Stephanie McMahon looked like she hadn’t lost a step in her entertaining win over Brie Bella, albeit with an assist from husband Triple H and Brie’s sister Nikki.

Although the SummerSlam 14 action was acclaimed by both fans at the Staples Center and the huge PPV audience back home, just as important were the outreach programs that WWE organized in the run up to the Sunday program. WWE has a well-deserved reputation for making a difference in the communities that host its flagship events and SummerSlam 14 was no different.

On the morning of the Staples Center event, WWE Divas Layla, Lana and Lilian teamed up with Susan G. Komen to host mobile mammogram screenings at Northgate Gonzales in downtown Los Angeles. The Divas signed autographs and posed for photos while underserved and underinsured women were able to receive mammograms free of charge.

Earlier that week, Stephanie McMahon headlined a Be a STAR rally at the Boys & Girls Club in East LA. Three hundred kids, ranging from 5 year olds to high-schoolers, cheered for their favorite Superstars as they spread the message of ‘Showing Tolerance and Respect.’

Elsewhere, Naomi, Emma and Dolph Ziggler brought smiles to the faces of kids and their families at Mattel’s Children’s Hospital UCLA, and Titus O’Neil and Summer Rae hosted a Reading Celebration at ICEF Vista Academy. And, of course, the week wouldn’t have been complete without a few wishes being granted under the WWE-supported Make-A-Wish program, with Sheamus, Mark Henry, Sin Cara and the Bella sisters on hand to make some dreams come true.

This year’s SummerSlam marked the end of a 6-year run at the Staples Center in Los Angeles. Next year’s the event will move to New York/New Jersey where WWE will once again have an impact both inside and outside the ropes!

Protect Your Privacy: Check Those Facebook Apps

Although we may feel that we are on top of our Facebook privacy settings, there are a few areas that we rarely bother to review. One of those areas concerns all the third-party games and other apps that we have picked up – sometimes unwittingly – during our time as a Facebook member.

In many cases, we have given these apps permission to access our most personal data, whether or not we are still using the app or even know that it’s there. Depending on our friends’ privacy settings, those apps might also be “scraping” their personal data, resulting in spam, unwanted advertising, and even phishing attacks.

But first, how do we even find out which apps we have on our Facebook account? The best place to start is with our Privacy Settings, where we can also make the necessary adjustments.

  • Click on the arrow in the top right-hand corner of your home page, and then click on Settings.
  • Scroll down the left-hand side of the General Account Settings page and click on Apps.
  • The first item on this page will be a summary of all the Apps you use. These are all the apps that you have allowed to interact with your Facebook account. By clicking on the Edit button to the right of each app, you can see exactly what the app is allowed to do. Many Facebook users will be surprised to see the number of apps that they have acquired over the years, and the amount of personal information that each app is allowed to collect.
  • If you are no longer using the app, or you are unhappy with what the app can access, then you can click on the ‘x’ to the right of the app to remove the app completely. As Facebook will tell you in a new window, removing the app from Facebook      will only prevent the app from collecting additional data in the future. The app will still have the data it has already collected.


The Apps page also allows you to control how much of your information is accessible through the activities of your friends. If you click the Edit button to the right of Apps others use, you will get a window with a 17 different information categories, including everything from your photos and videos to your relationships and religious and political views. (See panel above.) Again, we recommend that only your basic information is made available to these third-party apps and web sites.

The Hard Truth About Sexting

By Stacey Ross   

I recently met a mom who was taken back when she found out that her 15 year-old son had received a photo from a classmate – namely a nude selfie that was circulating around the school. Sadly, the photo was of a young teenage girl, who was also in the boys’ class.

Had her son intended to forward or share the photo? Doubtful. Did the girl and those circulating the photo all contribute to the ensuing mess? Yes. Did everyone understand the ramifications of their actions? A big fat NO!

A sexting expert speaks

As the school year begins, Chris Duque, a cybersecurity specialist based in Hawaii, gathers parents together to enlighten them about the stark realities of the Internet, and how they can become more involved in their kids’ online worlds. He also diligently educates families of young teens about the life-changing consequences of sexting.

“Parents and teens don’t understand the ramifications of sexting until they get personally involved, but by then, the damage has already been done. My recent talk to parents revealed that most of them didn’t know the criminal liabilities their children face when sexing, but also the impact on their reputations and futures,” Duque said.

Here are a few of the points that he emphasizes:

1)     Children can face criminal penalties, as the photos or videos can be construed as child pornography.

Child pornography laws were originally designed to protect children against adult predators, but in the present digital age both consensual and non-consensual sexting can be deemed criminal when the person in the photo is under 18 years of age.  Depending on the state, consequences can include felony charges, mandatory sex offender registration, and even a prison sentence.

2)     Because of the permanence of the Internet, the photos can continue to haunt a child for life.

The internet is merciless and, sadly, what goes online is likely to stay online. As celebrities, musicians, and other online enthusiasts continue to reveal personal content at an increasing alarming rate, children run the risk of being desensitized, deeming images shared as playful and innocuous.

Duque urges everyone to take precautionary measures by steering away from images that are sexually provocative or are compromising to one’s character.

3)     Photos and videos might be used to bully the child or lead to ‘sextortion.’

Predators are very skilled at posing as teens on social media and gaming sites. They are also skilled at luring in vulnerable victims, who eventually grow to trust them enough to willingly send lewd photos of themselves to the predators. These people then reach into their bag of tricks to find crafty ways to extort money or additional images from their victims, who are trapped in the insidious racket.

Duque recommends that parents look at the sexting legislation where they live and have regular heart-to-heart chats with their kids about responsible behavior. He stresses the grave consequences of circulating compromising photos and asks students to think twice about the content of their posts. And that’s the naked truth!

Stacey_Ross_50Stacey Ross is an online consultant, social media enthusiast, freelancer and owner of A former teacher and middle school counselor, she is now a mom of two who researches and freelances about lifestyle topics involving family and well-being.

Music Apps to Help You Workout!

By Robyn Wright

Studies have shown that music can distract us from pain and fatigue; it can increase our endurance and elevate our moods. People who listen to music have been able to run farther, longer, and faster than those without music. Most of us instinctually synchronize our body movements with the tempo of a song, so fast songs and strong beats can really help us get moving.

Most of us have our favorite music to listen to while exercising. Some of us have even created our own playlists just for the gym. But for those that don’t have the time or the know-how to do this, there are several apps available that can help. These apps select music at just the right tempo to keep you motivated during your workout.
While many of the apps focus on running, you can use them for all kinds of workouts. Just give them a try and find the app that fits you and your exercise routine the best.


Children watching TVTempoRun categorizes your music by tempo, so you can have the right tempo to match your running speed. It also includes Streaming Tempo Radio if you do not have your own music already.

Platform: iOS
Cost: $2.99


Children watching TVRockMyRun is a service that provides mixes of music for running. The mixes are designed by professional DJs and they have a large variety of genres. You can also set the beats per minute for your music to match the tempo that you want to run at – either matching your current pace or pushing yourself to increase your pace.

Platform: Android, iOS
Cost: Free, Premium membership option

David Lloyd Playlist

Children watching TVThe David Lloyd Playlist app provides curated playlists of Universal Music artists’ songs to work out with. The playlists are updated each week. Tracks are selected to work with your type of workout, including jogging, cycling, rowing, or stretching.

Platform: iOS, Android
Cost: Free app with 28-day free trial of service

GYM Radio

Children watching TVGYM Radio is a streaming music service that selects only songs that are highly motivating for your workouts. You can also submit your favorite music for to add to the streams as well.

Platform: Windows Phone
Cost: Free


Children watching TVJust hit play in the DjRun app and start running or walking. The app will find music already in your collection that matches the tempo with your current pace. This makes it easier to keep going with your workout!

Platform: Android
Cost: Free, offers in-app purchases

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