Tech Tip: Be cautious about posting vacation plans online

#TechTip: Be careful about what you post online over the holidays. Posted travel info can attract unwanted attention to your empty house.

The holidays are a great time for getting away from the cold to sunny spots down south.  Or maybe you’re planning a trip to visit family over the holidays.  Whatever your plans are, enjoy them.  Take lots of pictures.  Tell all your friends how great your trip was (or not so great, depending!) but just make sure to tell them AFTER you get back.

Social media is a wonderful tool to share your memories with friends and family about your travels and allow them to experience what you are in real time vicariously through you.  But this has also led to a number of unsavory individuals trolling the internet finding you your house is empty, and then proceeding to make sure your house is empty before you return home.

Here are a few tips to ensure you and your home are safe:

  • Don’t post your travel plans in advance on social media.  A tweet saying “Off to Cancun for the next week” might as well say “House is empty for the next week. Take what you want”
  • Know your Social media platforms. Twitter, Instagram and many others are public so anyone can see what you post.  Facebook and Google+ allow you to restrict who sees what posts.  If you are intending to post things online, choose outlets that reduce the likelihood of criminals finding out you are away
  • Foursquare is great for checking into places, especially when away, but make sure the list of people who follow you are actual friends, and don’t post your checkins to Twitter
  • Instagram is wonderful for sharing your pictures and videos, but again it is publicly accessible.  Save the pictures on your camera or smartphone until you have returned or are on your way home.
  • Make sure you have friends or neighbours checking on your place while you are gone.
  • Put lights on timers, or for those wanting to go the extra mile, set up a home automation system that you can remotely connect to while away

Don’t start the new year having to deal with insurance companies to replace all your home contents.  Take precautions and have an enjoyable trip.

 

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Tech Tip: What are Hashtags and how can they be used?

#TechTip: Hashtags make your content searchable. You can also follow conversations by searching for a hashtag comment

Everyone from news stations to popular comedians have been talking about Hashtags recently, but for someone following from the outside, you may ask yourself: What exactly is a Hashtag?

Good Question!  Put simply, a Hashtag is a word or phrase written on social media outlets that starts with the Pound or Hash sign ( # ) and makes content searchable.  Example:  #TechTip

How does that happen?  With social media, tweets and posts come at an alarming rate and sometimes make it hard to follow.  A Tweet has a very short life span.  Depending on the content, your group of followers and any retweets, a tweet can last anywhere from 30 minutes to 90 minutes before it falls off the radar.  Facebook posts and other social media platforms tend to have longer life spans, but even then not by a whole lot.  What a hashtag will do when added to your post or tweet makes it easy to be searchable.  It can actually do this in two ways.

1) Tweets can be seen in real time by people who do not follow you but follow the same hashtag.  You may not know who is talking about a specific topic, but if everyone who is uses a hashtag, then a quick search will pull up the current live conversation.  For example, if you wanted to see who was talking about Canadian politics, you can search for the hashtag #CDNpoli or about a specific event in Canadian politics such as #SenateCA .

2) Tweets can be pulled up even if they were sent out a while ago.  If you search for a hashtag, even one that doesn’t have a current conversation going, you can generally find that topic searchable.

There is a third use for hashtags that is a little different.  Since anyone can make a hashtag about anything, it has become common to use hashtags as a joke or to add emotion, emphasis or sarcasm to a tweet or post.  A tweet about hashtags could include something like #Whatiswithallofthesehashtags or something other to get a point across.

Hashtags can go anywhere in a post or tweet.  The only things you need to know are that you can not have any spaces between words and there can be no other punctuation in it.  Generally you should not include more than 1 or 2 hashtags in a post or tweet, but there are some exceptions for some social media platforms like Instagram where hashtagging almost every word to make it searchable has become quite common.

There are some great articles out there if you have more questions on hashtags such as this Beginners guide to Hashtags from Mashable or directly from Twitter.

There are many popular hashtags that people can follow such as #FollowFriday which encourages people to tweet out the usernames of people you think your followers should also follow.  Since anyone can make one, feel free to have some fun making your own or use it in a Google search or Twitter search for important or fun discussions online.

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Tech Tip: Using technology in the Kitchen

CookingwithTech

Tech Tip: Your Tablet and laptop can be great companions in the kitchen. Google recipes and clip the good ones in your notes application.

It seems rather fitting that we look at the use of technology in the kitchen today, being the American Thanksgiving and only a few short weeks away from family dinners around the holidays.  Laptops, tablets and smartphones all can provide a great deal of assistance during the dinner hours.

Deciding what to make can be daunting as it is. I have spent many evenings looking at the freezer and seeing what meats we have, only to get stuck on finding what would be the best way to prepare them.  This is where Google has been a great help to me.  A simple request asking for recipes for *Insert main food ingredient here* and I have a plethora of ideas from the simple to the gourmet available to me.  I find Chicken and Pork are the two meats that are staples in our house, but need to be changed up so as not to create the same boring meal every time.  Chicken recipes are plentiful on the Internet.  I’ve found many of my favourite recipes at allrecipes.combut it is by far not the only place to look.  That’s where Google comes in.  By entering what you want to cook, you will get a list of different sites and recipes.

What to do when you found your perfect recipe?

Recipe books and boxes to stash clipped recipes were great in the past, but instead of printing out that recipe, I back it up online.  As most regular readers know, I am a big fan of Evernote.  I have a notebook set aside just for recipes so I can merge the family traditional recipes passed on from my family as well as mix it with new recipes I find online.  You can tag each recipe with the main ingredient (such as Pork or Chicken) to make it easy to find later.  As a guy who really didn’t have many cooking skills until recently, I find it great to be able to easily access these on any device.  I can look up my meal choice, download it to Evernote from my computer at home, and then access it again easily from my Smartphone when shopping for ingredients. (Usually when I’m part way through cooking and realize I don’t have a main ingredient in the house!)

Timing the Turkey

Once you have your dinner prepped, depending what your cooking, you may need to time how long it takes to cook something.  Most clocks on smartphones now will have both a countdown and a count up timer.  Set your alarm for however long you need and walk away. (Don’t forget to check in now and then on your food though!)  Enjoy your company and not worry about missing the alarm on the oven, since you will probably have your phone with you.

Setting the ambiance

Now that dinner is cooked, use your smartphone to run some nice music through a pair of speakers.  You can find a pair of cheap, wired speakers almost anywhere for a few dollars, or splurge and go for a set of Bluetooth speakers.  iPhones are obvious choices for listening to music, but I actually use a music server called Subsonic.  It allows me to store all my music in one place and access it from any phone, computer or tablet I want through either an App or a web interface. So relax to some smooth jazz music, or blast out some Holiday cheer, whatever strikes your fancy when the family all shows up.

Hopefully these tips will help make your meal preparations go smoothly, and help change up the variety of foods and meals.  I can help you with the technology, but cooking skills…..you’re on your own!