Tech wizardry is yet another skill set the 21st Century demands. Don’t know basic html? You are in such trouble. Haven’t a clue how to configure an iPhone? You hack.

Life. It’s complicated.

Apart from feeling like the IT department, nay, the CIO of my family, I have been called to stretch my mind way farther into the Cloud than most people

As retrieved from CloudTimes.org

would admit. Upon the recommendation of a dear friend who’s just as iPhone-happy as I, I cheerily downloaded the latest iO5 software, which is iSpeak for a sleeker operating system that allows the iPhone to do cool things like check your email and let you surf the ‘Net (does anyone even call the Internet that anymore?), which is what prior operating systems let you do too, only this one is supposed to offer a more svelt experience. I, on the other hand, nearly died.

You see, my nifty little update completely erased all my phone contacts. And disengaged my iPhone from the mobile network. So, like many who experience an unexpected power outage, I panicked in the dark. That is, in the light. The light-ness of my dismembered inbox.

I sniffed. I snorted. I stomped. Dagnabbit! Someone else must have experienced the same thing. So I went to my (Microsoft!) desktop and checked out a few forums. Soft ways, hard ways, go to the Apple store ways. None of it helped. Until I remembered my mobile phone provider gave me a manual configuration sheet to follow when I first set the thing up. So here’s what you need to do if you too are lured into the sexy surrender of a software update on your iPhone that then paralyzes the use of your mobile network.

Step 1: before you do absolutely anything tricky like connect your iPhone to your iTunes account and expect it to innocently choose only those things that will make your life more convenient and not do a general swipe/swish/swoosh when you press ‘update’, forgettaboutit. iPhone does what iPhone wants. So keep that manual configuration data handy that your mobile provider used to set up your phone in the first place.

Step 2: Go to >Settings.  Tap >General, then >Network. Tap on >Mobile Data network.

Step 3: If your data has not be erased, genuflect to the tech gods who did well by you. If it has been, go to the next step.

Step 4: Put in the configuration data as it is listed on the sheet your mobile provider gave you. Don’t have it? Call them.

Step 5: Leave a comment here telling me about your experience. Did it work? Are you cheering gimme a P-O-W-E-R-O-F-S-L-O-W! What does that spell?

Ah. Forgettaboutit! But do leave a comment because we tech minds have to stick together. It is far too easy to get lost in the Cloud.

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Wednesday Wait a Minute!

October 26, 2011

In my new Wednesday Wait a Minute! video series, I will be exploring timely topics that will help you take one minute to pause. This week’s video looks at texting drivers and what we can do to reclaim the road with both hands.

Decluttering Made Easy

October 25, 2011

As the trees slough off their leaves, I am inspired to clear away my own detritus. For six weeks I have culled, cleaned and decluttered my house. Not without effect.

It was evident that our new-found roominess was having an impact on my family. Just last weekend I caught my husband with arms outstretched at a 45° angle from his sides. He bobbed to the left, then to the right.

“Something feels different,” he remarked. “I’m not banging into anything as I walk down the hallway.” After a pause, “What is it?”

This from a man who doesn’t notice my new hairdo after I’ve spent three hours at the hairdressers. Hard work, I tell you. Hard work!

“I got rid of three major pieces of furniture, sold all the kids’ toys* and removed 25 pounds of books from the shelf. What’s for lunch?”

Decluttering is a tactile thing. You really feel the space clear as you reclaim it. My clutter diet has changed the way even my husband perceives our surroundings.

Everything just feels lighter. I see swift surfaces on which you can glide your hand. No knees are knocked or knuckles scraped. Air mingles with the few items left. Wind dances between things.

It is bliss. And it makes me ask myself “Do I really need this?” before I bring anything new into the space we just cleansed.

Defragmenting your own home doesn’t have to be hard. Be realistic. These things take time so tackle smaller projects, one after the other. For instance, if you want to make more room quickly, consider getting rid of extra furniture that no longer works for you. Donate old books to your local library (and enjoy a possible tax deduction). Clear out one closet per weekend until they are all clean.

What area of your life needs clearing today?

 

*Editor’s Note: We sold the children’s toys at their behest. They’ve moved on. So have we!

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For those of you who have followed this blog for a while, you may recall my post on Barbara Kingsolver’s Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, a book that recounts the author’s year-long foray into the Slow Food movement with helpful recipes and daunting tales of raising heritage turkeys, making her own pasta and eating only food born, raised and slaughtered within a 50-mile radius of her house.

It promptly made me want to plant my own veggies, raise my own chickens and never, ever buy another loaf of bread again.

I lasted about a week, then reverted to most of my former buying habits: organic, store-bought with an occasional jaunt to the farmer’s market if I happened to be in the area.

Feeling like a complete failure, I was certain I could never measure up to the Kingsolver clan and was about to abandon all hope of ever feeding my children something that didn’t come from a box when Jennifer Reese came along.

Jennifer is my culinary hero.

Her cookbook, Make the Bread, Buy the Butter, made me laugh so hard I nearly fell out of bed the first night I picked it up.  A cookbook that is funny? Let’s just say Jennifer is Barbara Kingsolver meets Erma Bombeck. She is seriously funny. Or funnily serious about food and what you can do to make your lives a little easier…and tastier!

For a delicious week, I savored every page as she unhooked me from my own First World guilt about Industrial Food and the harmful things we’re doing to the planet.

The book arose out of Jennifer’s own desperation. A victim of the 2008 recession, she suddenly found herself a formerly employed book critic for Entertainment Weekly. Watching the apple tree cast off its final fruit onto her Northern California lawn, Jennifer wondered if making apple sauce and living off the suburban land could save her. She set out to experiment with homemade food, starting her own silent from-scratch revolution.

But she is no proselytizer like some of her foodie contemporaries. Her side-splitting humor and distinct honesty about what is easier to make and what is easier to buy is extremely empowering and liberating.  For Jennifer, food is not political. Food is food.

Her expression about buying ducks, then selling them because of their gang-ish, bullying treatment of the other suburban-yard foul, reveals a truly authentic voice. Just listen to her description of the turkey farm where she bought what she called a Frankenbird with a bad boob job whom she didn’t have the heart to kill for her Thanksgiving meal:

“[The] farm was strewn with rusted car parts, overturned boxes of trash, empty,2-liter soda bottles, crushed cans, and downed trees, and through this WALL-E wasteland wandered dozens of chickens, cats, dogs, and three bloated, broad-breasted white turkeys – the standard factory-breed…the turkey may well have ingested STP,  Mountain Dew, and crystal meth, but I remained confident that she was never polluted by an antibiotic. We loved her instantly…”

She tried it. It failed. Onward!

Unlike Martha Stewart’s exotic list of ingredients for virtually every recipe she provides, Jennifer’s book is chock full of easy-to-make items whose components are in everyone’s kitchen. Flour, eggs, milk, salt, sugar. She brings food back to the basics. I will say, however, that some of the appliances may not be of your average variety. I, for one, don’t have, or plan on having, an ice cream maker. I did go out and buy a food processor/blender hybrid for the Nutella recipe. Yes! You can make Nutella from scratch. I still have to refine the amount of cocoa my kids can handle, but my daughter, the Nutella connoisseur, highly approved of the healthier version. No transfats. No aromas. Just plain and simple ingredients that came from the Earth.

Make the Bread, Buy the Butter is a doable look at how we can embrace slow food with humor, grace and a pinch of kosher salt. I bet even Barbara Kingsolver would approve.

According to the 2011 Traffic Safety Culture Index released by AAA, mobile phone users know they shouldn’t text and drive. Yet many do.

  • 95 percent of drivers surveyed admitted concerns about the risks associated with the dumb use of smartphones in the car (texting or e-mailing while driving)
  • 93 percent said they were concerned about drinking and driving;
  • 87 percent claimed they would support laws against reading or typing while driving.

But check it out. 35 percent admitted they text or read/write emails while driving.

It’s tempting. I know. You’re sitting at a red light so what’s the harm, right? Well, foot off the brake, eyes off the road. The next thing you know you’ve rolled into the intersection.

Distracted driving is a serious issue.

It’s not just the phone, either. Fiddling with the radio, eating, drinking or dealing with children in the backseat can also drive people to distraction.

My power of slow tips for you:

  • If you can’t keep your hands off the hand-held, toss it in the trunk. Really.
  • Drive without the radio. Just try it to see how focus can help with your safety record.
  • If backseat riders get too rowdy, pull over at a nearby rest area or parking lot. Your destination can wait five more minutes. It’s more important that you arrive in one piece.
  • Eat at the kitchen table. Your car is not a restaurant.

What challenges do you face to keep your thumbs on the wheel and your eyes on the road?

 

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For a full three days the world went dark for many on the planet. That is, for much of the BlackBerry users whose thumbs got a rest while Research In Motion (RIM), the BlackBerry manufacturer, fixed a glitch in their UK network. In an effort of honest reciprocity, RIM is trying to apologize through premium app giveaways all those users effected by the breakdown. It’s a nice thought, but the repercussions of their digital dilemma makes me worried.

Not only have we become so dependent on our devices that we screech to a halt, then throw it in reverse when we’ve discovered we left our handheld on the kitchen counter; we also become paralyzed as citizens of the planet when the system crashes. Worldwide.

And that’s what is happening more and more as we teeter-totter toward more interdependencies. The BlackBerry Blackout has taught us that we’re in this together.

As a wannabe screenwriter, I often daydream about catastrophic films in which the data itself takes over the world. Like the Matrix, we humans wander about in dim lighting and blackclothing, wondering where Nature went, whose got the power (because that’s what information is today) and what happens to all that big data we’ve put ‘out there’. What if it grew so large it took over the planet?

We’d be the planet of the apps*, searching aimlessly for device-free land in a world gone dark.

*This term was borrowed from a brilliant research report compiled by Chief Learning Officer about learning technology. So I can’t claim it. But I used it shamelessly. So there.

The average American spends 1,778 hours at work each year; the average Brit 1,647. For many, a lot of that time is spent in a pool of stress.

Workplace wellness goes beyond OSHA directives. It’s not just about safety, but also about a feeling of engagement, centeredness and motivation. Yet stress-related absenteeism is at an all-time high, according to a recent study by the Chartered Institute of Personnel Development. In the UK stress is now, in fact, the number one reason for long-term absenteeism from work.

What is stress? Not all of it is bad. In fact, good stress keeps us feeling alive, But what I’m talking about here is the negative stress that keeps you up at night. And it has increased in recent years.

According to a recent Gallup poll as reported in Manufacturing Weekly, 34% of those surveyed pointed to general job-related stress as the thing they despised most about their current position, as compared to only 28% in 2008. At the same time, and in true American style, only one in five complained about the amount of vacation time they had.

In light of these statistics, wouldn’t it make sense for employers to recognize this trend and do something about it?

Many have.

One such company that sees the preventative value of stress-reduction is GovernmentAuctions.org, a Web site that compiles and provides information about government auctions of seized and surplus merchandise from all over the country. According to CEO Ian Aronovich, they do a number of things to relieve stress such as Thursday six-pack lunches (yes, beer!), a year-round membership to a gym within walking distance from the office, an in-house inflatable punching bag to release any extra aggression while at work, a chin/pull-up bar to show off physical prowess (and give the brain a rest) as well as casual dress and music during work hours. Sounds like a hip place that recognizes the importance of letting off steam.

Debi Goldben, a former child welfare worker in Illinois, used to enjoy a meditation room with a reclining chair, a CD player and candles, which the executive director personally organized.  Inspired by this benefit, she is now transitioning to become a holistic life coach to encourage mind-body-spirit integration, regardless of where people work.

According to Workforce magazine, the California branch of Blue Shield, a leading US insurance company, realized many of its workers were snacking on unhealthy foods and that 65% were actually overweight. In an effort they termed “Wellvolution”, the company replaced vending machine fare to reflect its commitment to employee health.

Savvy companies look at their workers as whole people rather than coin-operated machines. It’s not a waste of time. It’s simply smart business.

It doesn’t take much to regain our internal alignment, but it does move beyond just acquiring certain time management skills. through online time management games or training. Healthy food choices, moments of relaxation and enough time to breathe for proper mind-body-spirit integration are great ways to embrace the power of slow while spending those 1700 odd hours at your workplace.

What does your company do to keep you in alignment? Paying you is one thing. Paying attention to what you need to stay productive is entirely another.

 

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Want to go to India, China or Italy without even stepping outside? Bring the flavors of the world to your stovetop with Judtih Finlayson’s unfathomably fabulous new cookbook, The 150 Best Slow Cooker Recipes. Believe me when I say you’ll be glad you took a peek.

Undeterred by the lack of slow cooking pots in Germany, we tackled a few recipes over the weekend. No matter which page I flung open, the bright, inviting images and easy-to-make recipes brought delight, not despair, as I made a note to upgrade my spice rack and delve into the mysteries of slow cooking. The red lentil dish I whipped up was refined by my husband’s mastery when it was time to eat it the next day. In fact, we completely forgot to make any main dish with it. It was that delicious!

The book is well-organized into your typical categories of appetizers, fondues, soups, meat, fish, poultry dishes and so on. The imagery makes your mouth water!

For those of you without a crockpot or some other slow cooking crockery, never fear! Most of the ingredients can be cooked at the regular temperature and speed by altering how high the heat is on your stove.

Slow cooking is a great way to prepare fresh meals without the haste or waste. With helpful sidebar tips for halving recipes

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Bear with me. It sounds complicated, but really, it’s not.

My e-friend Bernadette Noll, who is friends of friends of my friend living in Munich, is the co-founder of the Slow Family Movement, the idea of investing time in our families instead of the activities that keep us away from them.  It is incredibly encouraging that mainstream media outlets such as yesterday’s USAToday have embraced the idea of the power of slow in so many areas of our lives.

And here’s the thing. It works.

This morning our kids were calm, centered and ready for their school week. It wasn’t only because we opted to do virtually nothing this weekend. It wasn’t only because my husband and I joined them in doing, well, nothing. It was also because the kids are firmly rooted in the understanding that we want to be with them whilst doing nothing. They built a fort out of chair and blankets, then slept under them at night. They played horse on their bikes and gathered walnuts that had fallen from our tree in the yard. They were happy just being. And it was beautiful to watch.

At the risk of sounding pious (and I really don’t mean to), you reap what you sow. And lately I’m beginning to understand what Bernadette Noll means when she says less is more for families too.

I spend a lot of time with my kids. Sometimes toooooo much time, if you know what I mean. But the truth is I wouldn’t change a thing. Their time at home is limited to a handful of years. That’s all we have before the comings and goings and laundry drop-offs begin. It is a precious time of instilling how valuable they are as human beings. If we didn’t invest time in them, what would they think about themselves and the world they inhabit? I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be the one to show them the way than to leave it to chance…or television and YouTube.

Investing in your relationships, whether with children or other loved ones, is the best insurance policy life can give you. It is time well-spent, or in the eyes of Bernadette and myself, invested ~ for the future is tomorrow’s present and your time is a present too.

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Congrats to Shannon for winning the giveaway!

We all love (and have grown accustomed to), the swiftness of a new computer. It glides like a gazelle from one application to the next with nary a glitch. We expect it to go faster than a speeding bullet. But does anyone ever ask what happens to all the tech trash we eventually ditch?

U.S. consumers toss 10 million computers into landfills every year.  In fact, the average age of a US computer is just 2.4 years before it is discarded. Only 11% of all computers get recycled and, according to NPR, many of them are disessembled by workers in Third World Countries without any protective clothing to guard them against such things as brominated flame retardants.

Before you give cast off your PC because it’s simply too slow, consider a software optimizer that can return your PC to its original speed. System Mechanic** is one such software that, at a retail value of $39.95, can extend the life of your existing computer at a fraction of the cost.

But there’s more.

The developers at Iolo.com, the makers of System Mechanic, have offered to give away ONE software package that you can upload to every computer in your single family household for an entire year! They gave me three-year access to it myself so I could try it out. It has restored my kids’ laptop  to its like-new speed. My home office computer  has also returned to its initial speed. There is power in slow. But when it comes to computers, we take exception.

Enter to win by leaving a comment that tells me whether or not you have a gadget-free zone in your house? If yes, where is it and why? If not, that’s fine too.  The winner will be drawn from a hat and contacted via email by October 15th.

 

**Editors note: (System Mechanic 10.5 works on Windows® 7, Windows Vista, Windows XP. System Mechanic is designed to work on all recent Windows operating systems, and it is both 64-bit and 32-bit compatible. It also works on Windows 2003 Server. Support for Windows 2000, ME, and 98 is discontinued.)

 

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