How to Get Faster Service From Cable Providers

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I was getting seriously frustrated with our cable service provider until I realized that I could be a bit proactive and get faster Internet service on a budget for our techie family.
Look Into Your Modem Situation
If your Internet is going slowly, consider how many devices you are asking your modem to handle. You might be inadvertently causing an informations traffic jam. To fix this, extend your network with another wireless router so together they can easily handle all your devices.
Internet Service From Cable Providers is Crawling
Is it my fault or their? I know sometimes all our devices created a backlog, and we have to reboot. The problem is definitely on our end in that scenario. Other times, the cable company is at fault. My first step in figuring out the problem is checking the lights.
I can never remember which lights should be blinking on the modem and routers. One day I had a Eureka moment. I took out my camera. I recorded my entire Internet setup from cables to blinking lights. When the Internet goes out on me, I check my video archives to see which lights should blinking or highlighted and call the cable company if some lights are out. If the lights are all blinking properly, I try a reboot.
How to Reboot Your Cable Box and Routers
Sometimes your surfing and game go slowly because the router is messed up. Many routers will perform the DNS function for your local networks. It is not uncommon for the router’s DNS cache to get messed up. Here’s how to reset the router, wiping the cache clean:

  1. Figure out what feeds into what for your wireless configuration and write it down. Example: Our cable modem is the main source of connectivity. It links by ethernet to our old Vonage modem, which links via ethernet to our Airport Extreme router. Downstairs, we extend our network with another Airport Extreme.
  2. Unplug everything (all your routers and modems).
  3. Wait 30 seconds.
  4. Plug in your cable modem, but nothing else.
  5. Wait for approximately a minute to make sure it’s up and running.
  6. Plug in the next item in our connectivity queue (for us it would be the Vonage modem). Wait 30 seconds (just to be safe). Plug in the next item on your list (ours would be the Airport Express upstairs). Wait 30 seconds then go on to the next device on your list until all our modems and routers are connected.

The Speed Test
If your connection is still going slow, and you are tire of hearing your children’s screams as they lose in online games because their speed is too slow, then try running a speed test. This is a simple online test you can perform by going to a specific website for a speed test.
After you find out your speed (try several times over a period of 10 or 15 minutes to get a good average), check out your cable provider plan (shown online or you can ask a customer service representative). If the speeds are below the speed you are paying for, notify the cable company. They can reset things on their end to make your speed faster.
Stick to Your Guns
If you know you are getting a slower speed than what you are paying for, then double check the speed after the company says they have fixed it. Once I was promised that it was fixed, but it was still slow. I called back, and we discovered that our speed was adjusted in a local cable provider computer, but the main provider in another state had to “make a switch” that never happened until I brought it up.
I’m still not certain how that all works, but I do know that after that second call, our household had much faster Internet service, and I didn’t have to pay a penny more.
When you have Blu-rays, computers, tablets, Wii games, and other devices running, it’s easy for technological equipment to go on overload and clog up. Knowing how to keep it clear offers you the best service for your dollar. Your kids will really appreciate it, too. No more getting annihilated online due to slow speeds…

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Free Kindle Books You Can Read (Even if You Don't Own a Kindle)

Winter is coming, my bookshelf’s getting fat…my virtual bookshelf, that is. Ready to cozy in with the kiddos for some great winter reading? You don’t have to worry about risking your life heading to the library during a snowstorm, you can download a book onto your computer or electronic reader using your Kindle. Your computer? Yes, that’s right. Many don’t realize that you don’t have to own the actual device. But it’s true. You don’t.
The Kindle Question – Do You Really Need One?
Okay. A while ago I published an ebook that could be read on the Kindle (I would name it here, but this article is about free books, and I haven’t figure out how offer that book for free now that it’s listed). I sent out an email/Facebook blast when it went live, and a bunch of people expressed interest in reading it, BUT they couldn’t because they didn’t have a Kindle. What they didn’t realize was that you don’t need to own a Kindle to read Kindle books.
I have many friends who swear it’s worth the investment to purchase the handheld device anyway because they adore their Kindle experiences, but that’s a whole different topic. So, moving on, you can get a free Kindle Reading app for reading free Kindle books by going to the Kindle App website and selecting whether you want to download it for your iPhone, Windows PC, Mac, BlackBerry, iPad, Android, or Windows Phone 7.
How to Get Free Books For Your Kindle
I have 82 books on my iPad Kindle App at this very moment. Around 75 of them were free. How did I do that? By checking my email. I subscribed to receive Ereader News Today, an email that lists bargain Kindle books and FREE Kindle books (guess which ones I go for?). I love how I can easily browse through the email, checking out topics that interest me since each book is clearly labeled. The daily offerings include book genres such as sci-fi, children’s, young adult, religion, romance, Christian romance,  financial management and horror (not to be confused with financial management – those really are two separate categories).
Sometimes I go days without seeing any topics that interest me, then other days I grab three or four titles off the page for free download. You click the link in the email, and it opens another window on Amazon.  Select what device you wish to download to, and “purchase” your free book. ***TIP–Always double-check to make sure the price is set at $0.00 (it warns you of this in the email, but it’s easy to overlook). Most of the time the prices are accurate, but I’ll admit to clicking too fast at times and accidentally paying a fee.
Bonus Benefits of the Kindle App
As if free books and portability weren’t enough, the Kindle app offers even more great stuff. It’s the perfect teaching tool. You can highlight and take notes to your heart’s delight. You can also use your Kindle books on up to six devices at one time. For example, last month I read The Boy in the Striped Pajamas, which I decided would be the perfect way to open up discussion on World War II with my 12-year-old son. I had already purchased the book so all I had to do was sign into my account and add his device to it then I download the onto his device even though it was still on mine.
When you or your child want to highlight something or take notes, all you have to do is tap the word or section and select “note” or “highlight.” The notes and highlights sync devices and merge into a single page you can access online when you log into your account on your Amazon Kindle page. You can also get the definition and pronunciation of words by double-clicking the words in the text. It’s perfect for homeschoolers and others who love to dissect and savor text.
Lighting and Fonts on the Kindle
People frequently wonder about the lighting. You can choose a black background with white text, a white background with black text, or a sepia background with black text. After choosing one of these, you can adjust the brightness with a slider bar. On all apps, including the one on the computer, you can choose the size of the font.
We figure that using the Kindle App on our devices goes a long way in saving energy while reading in bed at night. The kids are more apt to read in bed, and overhead or bedside lights don’t keep sleeping companions awake. As far as I’m concerned, anything that encourages reading is a good thing, and the Kindle sure goes a long way in making reading enticing for our family members.

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Pay it Forward Using Technology

Help Others
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This morning I benefitted from someone “passing it on.” My friend Peggy was kind enough to take the time to post a link on Facebook. That link led to a blog post from What a Ride! In this post a woman wrote about how she spent an amazing day helping out others. Best of all, she did it with her kids.

What Does it Mean to Pay it Forward?
Many people are familiar with the concept of Paying it Forward from the “Pay it Forward” novel Catherine Ryan Hyde published in 2000. It later became a popular film created by Warner Brothers.
According to the Central Singapore Community Development Council the definition of Paying it Forward is: … premised on the simple idea of triggering a chain reaction of goodness. An individual does another a favour without expectation of self-gain. Instead he/she requests the recipient of the goodwill to pay it forward to other people. In turn, these other recipients will then pass it on to others. This sets off a chain reaction of goodness as described earlier.
The concept dates back even further than one might imagine. In 1784, Benjamin Franklin  wrote to his friend, Benjamin Webb: I do not pretend to give such a Sum; I only lend it to you. When you […] meet with another honest Man in similar Distress, you must pay me by lending this Sum to him; enjoining him to discharge the Debt by a like operation, when he shall be able, and shall meet with another opportunity. I hope it may thus go thro’ many hands, before it meets with a Knave that will stop its Progress. This is a trick of mine for doing a deal of good with a little money.
How Can We Pay it Forward?
When I think of helping someone, it usually means editing a paper for them or offering tips on children’s media. I am grateful for the fact that my information computer was a conduit today, educating me on different, creative ways to help others with my kids.
It inspired me to think of creative ways we can reach out to help others as a techiefamily.

  1. My composer son can create music that we burn to disc and share with friends – free of charge.
  2. I can use my bread machine to make fresh bread as a thank-you gift for someone we appreciate in our lives.
  3. We can design a book for a shut-in.
  4. We can create a how-to video to share with others who struggle with concepts we understand (ex: tips on long boarding tricks or fixing a common car problem).
  5. We can sell items on Ebay and donate the proceeds to a cause.

That’s just a start. I’ll have to think of some more because helping others is awesome. Thanks for the nudge, Peggy and What a Ride. Now it’s our turn to pass it on.

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Publish Ebooks as a Family

Fact or fiction –  you and /or your kids can make a professional-looking book as easy as pouring yourself a cup of tea.
You know those really cool action shots you took on last summer’s vacation? Turn them into a wild, crazy fictional adventure. Or, if you’d rather, take a nature walk and photograph the plants and animals that amaze you. When you get home, write about what you have seen, adding in a bit of research.
These are tried and true ways to bond as a family, but now you can take your adventures one step further. You can make them into an ebook for the iPad using the uber-affordable Blurb or the free Demibooks Composer app.
Use Blurb to Make and Publish Ebooks
I just read about Blurb on the  ReadWriteWeb blog. You can use this program from any computer , and it doesn’t require any downloads. Simply use the template offered, or choose to design your own. Import your images, write your blurbs, and save the final product.
If you want to purchase the final product in a book form, , you can choose a softcover or hardcover with a dust jacket, or even an ImageWrap cover. My personal favorite feature of this book making process is that it’s a wonderful way to give loved ones a special birthday or Christmas gift.
Use Demibooks Composer to Your Ebook an App
As a professional writer, I have to say I LOVE this idea of the free Demibooks Composer app I discovered on the iLearn Technology blog. How fun would it be to write a book with my bambinos then use our iPad to turn our story into an app that we can share with others?
This app lets you create as you learn all about storyboards and creating effects without every having to learn how to code. It even lets you add audio! I’m going to make it a personal priority to use this one soon. I’ll let you know how it goes.

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How to Help Non-Techies Learn to Use the Internet

There are certain members of  my family who are amazingly smart and skillful in many arenas – just not the technological arena. This has become a bit of a problem since people try to send them information by email, and they want to order products online. We have tried numerous ways to help them become hip to the net (I know, my boys, eye roll time at my old-school word usage). At first it seemed like nothing would work, but recently I have begun to have hope. Here are some steps we are using to smooth the path to the Internet highway:
Offer the Proper Tools to Learn to Use the Internet
Time is in your favor here. Years ago we tried to teach our non-techie loved ones how to use the computer. It was sort of dismal. We literally drew arrows on the CPU and monitor to show how to turn it on and spent a ridiculous of time trying to explain how to use a mouse without clicking so many times that the computer would freeze. All it did was make them feel down on themselves, and now they are techno-phobic.
Then the iPad came along. Quite frankly, any tablet would do (sorry, fellow Apple fans, I just had to be real for a moment there). It is so much easier to tap a screen than it is to manipulate a mouse. It also helps if the person who is using  the technology can move around to a spot where they are comfortable. If you do choose to use a laptop or desktop, set it up to avoid as many pop-up screens as possible. They can really be overwhelming to a newbie.
Consider Unique Personalities
What will appeal to your non-techie the most, giving them incentive to use Internet tools? One person in my family is really into classic church hymns, so I set up the iPad to play George Beverly Shea and Gaither stations on Pandora. Now the family member can hear the music with only a couple of taps. Another family member loves to watch photos so we uploaded a bunch of family photos and turned them into the computer screen saver so now the person has incentive to boot the machine. It’s a start, right?
Set up Email and Other Accounts in Advance
While it’s nice to have a person have a say in what their email is going to be, this might be overwhelming to the techie novice. Before you lead them to the computer for email, set up an account and add a few close family members or friends to the address book. Don’t give out the email address to others until the person is more comfortable with the programs. Stick by them as they learn to compose, respond and forward as well as open attachments. Once they become comfortable with email, you can offer to change their email address if desired.
Explain How to Use Video Cams 
This might be a step that seems too advanced for a beginner, but it might be the most important. While the videos showing couples trying to figure out cameras might be amusing, it’s really better for everyone if you can make the process smooth. Video chatting can be invaluable, especially when you have elderly relatives who don’t see and type well. It’s also helpful for visual check-ins on relatives and friends who live far away.
These suggestions are the tip of an iceberg, but they really help non-techies get comfortable with the web, and that benefits everyone. Slow and steady. It’s a good way to go.

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Find a Church Service on The Web

There are so many reasons one might want to use technology for church or other type of religious service. (I’m going to use churches in this article because it’s what I’m most familiar with as a Christian). You might be ill, the roads might be dangerous, you might be traveling, or you might have a hard time picking which church you wish to attend. That’s just to name a few reasons, and it’s not even counting the times you attended a service and wanted to listen to a message again. The solutions to these issues might be right in front of you – and you just don’t know it yet.
Catch Sermons Week-to-Week
When my kids were younger, we were in a quandary. They were too old for children’s church, yet the adult church was just a bit, well, too adult-y. The material presented wasn’t age-appropriate, and for the life of me, I couldn’t remember any place in the Bible that dictated that being a Christian included a three-point sermon. My husband and I decided that we still wanted our children to learn about God, but in an age-appropriate setting. We chose to send them to Sunday school and not make them come to the church service.
This was great for them, but not so great for me. I missed the sermons. Fortunately there was a solution. I discovered that our church offered a podcast, available on the church website and on iTunes. It’s a free download that updates weekly. As I browsed through the Internet, I discovered that many churches offer this podcast option.
Find a Church Service on The Web For Special Holidays
Another issue we faced was the holiday one. My husband isn’t really big on crowds, and the religious holidays tend to have people packed into the church so tightly that one could feel like a a mummy in a sauna.
Our solution? We catch a service on the Internet, watching a service in real time with the computer hooked to the speakers, so we can enjoy the music and the message without the crowds. On non-holidays, we can watch services online at any time using sites such as ChurchOnline. My favorite part of the online services is that I can worship with people from all around the world.
Wedding, Baptisms, and Funerals
There are, of course, the special services, too. The services that you want to hold on to forever. Thanks to digital recordings, these special services are there for you to keep in your files so you can listen to them whenever you want.
If you want to give church technology a try, there are a few points to consider. If you are a church music fan, you might be better watching the services online or get the app for a church such as the Saddleback iPhone app. Most churches don’t offer music in their podcasts due to legal reasons. Also, find a church (or two or three) that you love, and ask what they offer. Some churches offer basic sermons while others do Bible studies and prayer sessions. Some even offer youth group online.
Give it a try, and let me know if you come across any great podcasts.

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Car Trouble – It's Okay. I have my iTouch

iPod Touch
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Disaster struck this summer while my boys and I were away at camp. My husband, who stayed home to work, became very ill. Off I went to the rescue with fluids and fever-reducers tucked safely into my trusty steed (aka, our stunning electric-blue new-to-us “hope we make it through the summer” mini-van).
Two hours into the three-hour trip my steed faltered. Actually, it decided to travel no more that day. But it was kind enough to limp into a hotel parking lot for recovery. (Thank you, Hampton Inn in Geneva, for letting us store our car in your lot). I am fortunate enough to have one of those husbands who can fix anything. I knew that if he were there, he could fix it in a heartbeat. However, I am not my husband, and I didn’t have a clue. My husband was too sick to help with anything. While I was waiting for a friend to pick me up, I grabbed my iPod touch and filmed the damage.
Since I was recording, I could clearly describe what I was seeing and smelling at the moment (it smelled VERY hot) and a belt was clearly frayed. A few days later, my husband recovered enough to travel back to camp with me. Thanks to the video, he knew what the problem was and which part we needed to purchase to replace the old. He had it fixed in less that half an hour.
Here’s the Car Engine Video from last summer – it’s kind of boring, but it shows you how I did the recording. Please kindly keep in mind that I recorded it for information purposes only. If I had thought I would use it in a blog I would have tried to sound more vibrant (:
 

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A Podcast to Inspire Family Tech Chat

Podcast or podcasting icon
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If you’ve got teens or tweens who want to keep their fingers on the pulse of technology, check out the podcast 350 Third. Hear an analysis of new products on the market and get a glimpse at trends coming to the forefront from technology geniuses Scott Barstow who runs Rocket Hangar and Anders Brownworth, head of research and development at Bandwidth.com.
Are Cell Phones The New Cigarette?
This is one intriguing question Barstow and Brownworth address in detail during Episode #7. Other issues addressed are the use of drones in reaching third world cultures with medications and tablet rentals.
Get the Family Talking
My favorite part of 350 Third is that it respects me as a non-official techie. These guys really know their stuff, but they talk about technology using verbiage my teens and I all understand. Each episode opens with current technology news then focuses in on topics of special interest. Links on the 350 Third site offer information and sources that expand on our family’s education. When we’re all done listening, we all start talking – and dreaming of what we can do.
You can subscribe to the 350 Third podcast for free on iTunes. The weekly episodes are easy to fit into busy schedules since they each run less than an hour.

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