Get blog posts into your mailbox

[jetpack_subscription_form title="Subscribe to the Blog" button="Sign me up" subscribe_text=""]

Living a connected life

When I’m asked how I got “involved in social media” I have to think back to January 2005, when I had a chance to help podcast the world’s first podcasted conference. I was a manager for a newsroom at the time and taught at the Missouri School of Journalism. It was the first time I really understood the concept of delivering information directly to the consumer instead of the consumer going to a website to get information. Back then, you had to download a program onto your computer to “grab” podcasts and then manually add them into you iPod. These days, iTunes has a massive collection of audio and video podcasts that you can subscribe to directly in iTunes. It’s so easy.

Podcasting was just the beginning. These days, we can tailor all types of information to deliver itself into RSS feed readers (I use Feedly), social media and apps on our devices. I have specific lists on Twitter that collect my favorite news sources, my RSS feed overflows with blog posts I want to read and I wear a Nike+ Fuelband to tell me about my activity when I use Bluetooth to connect to the app on my phone. I love having information constantly delivered to myself without doing much work to seek it out.

Screen Shot 2014-05-23 at 10.38.00 AM

That’s why I really love IFTTT. The website means “if this, then that” and it helps automate social media and other tools you use into a more customized way. You can create “recipes” that help take your personal automation to a new level. My favorite recipe collects the links I share on Facebook into my Evernote account. I also like trying out ways Life 360 can be used in a creative way. I use a recipe to send me a text message every time my son leaves his middle school. It’s just an extra reminder he’s going home when I’m working. The recipe that blew my mind was when you can start automating the devices in your home. Check out the Hue light bulbs which connect to your home’s wifi and with the help of IFTTT, you can have the lights turn on when Life360 notices you’ve arrived home. It’s a long way from podcasting for the first time. Automation is now available beyond content, it can be based on your location. I know we’re just starting to tap into its potential.

Widening your circles

widening circlesI’m currently on a business trip in Boston, and I’ve been using Life360 to help me stay connected to with associates. Life360 is primarily about keeping families connected, but now you can create other circles, either long-term or temporary.

When I arrived at the venue from the airport, it was quick and easy to send a message privately for directions to the meeting room. Also, I could actually see on a map where my work friend was. Life360 gives colleagues a quick and easy way to connect and communicate, either individually or to the larger group.

Location isn’t always necessary with work-friends, so it’s easy to toggle off when not needed. It would be useful if you needed to find each other in a big venue (like I’d use it with my Family Circle when we are at the mall or a warehouse store.) Catch up quickly in a cavernous convention center!

I’d feel secure using Life360 as a messaging service because they assure their “maps and chat channels are built with bank-level security.” Also, because it’s not through email or a messaging app that contains all your contacts, it won’t be accidentally forwarded when someone hits “Reply All.” Because that happens.

Thinking about how Life360 can keep you connected to other groups besides the people who live in your house opens up a world of possibilities. My daughter walks our neighbor’s dog. If the neighbor made a circle that just included just her and my daughter, she could get alerted on when my daughter arrives at the house, departs with the dog, and later returns. After dropping the dog off, my daughter can toggle off the tracking. This would work great with a sitter or other caregiver, especially if they are driving your children anywhere. You could track them safely home from the afternoon school run, especially if your kids are too young to have their own cell phones.

If you have parents who are getting older and need a little more assistance, upgrading them to a Premium account not only keeps you connected though location tracking and messaging, but also it provides them with a 24/7 Live Advisor.

With the push of a button, they get connected to a real live person who can provide crisis care, dispatching help for a medical emergency or a car problem. Also, the advisor will know info provided to the app, like name and family members to contact, and their exact location! The last time we had a car breakdown, it took hours for the tow truck to find us. Now, they can be guided with exact location information.

Life360 is one of the most useful apps on my phone. Now it can not only keep you connected with the people who live in your house, it can also make things easier in every area of your life.

The Amazing Race

Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 11.11.25 AMMy daughter’s favorite TV show is the Amazing Race. She loves how the contestants go to faraway places to compete in local challenges in an attempt to win a million dollars. She would love to be on the show one day and already has one of her best friends lined up to partner up with her.

One day my daughter mentioned to me how she’d love to have a joint Amazing Race birthday party with her friend. I thought it was a wonderful idea and I encouraged them to do their research and plot out their quests. It wasn’t much later when she came back to me and said it would be better if the moms planned out the party so it would be more of a thrill for them. Hmm….makes sense, but it sounded like a lot of work.

Fortunately, Amazing Race birthdays have been done numerous times before and generous bloggers and pinners have posted about their adventures. We came up with all sorts of fun adventures like…

  • Buying bunny ears and colorful leis at Party City…to be worn the entire race!
  • Eating an entire slice of mud pie at Red Robin (1 slice per 2 girls)
  • Looking up trivia questions at Barnes & Noble
  • Herding “sheep” from one corral up the hill to another hill at a local park
  • Singing the national anthem….LOUD…at their favorite store, Justice, to a sales associate
  • Drinking down a Kale smoothie at Juice It Up
  • And more!

The girls were given an envelope with their money and a taxi driver (parents) for the kids to tell them where to drive the car to. Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 11.11.33 AM Being the techie of the group (and rather competitive too!), I thought it would be a blast to install Life360 on each taxi driver’s phone so we could track where each team was through the city. I wanted to know who was in the lead!

Life360 was also handy for our sheepherder. She was at the park, setting up, waiting for the girls to arrive. She used the Life360 app to see how far away each car was (there were 6 cars with 3-4 kids in each). She had 80+ balloons with sheep faces on them ready to be herded.

I set up a Place around the park on her Life360 app so when taxi drivers were within a mile, she would be alerted that someone was on their way. I also created a “Sheep” Place zone 500 feet around her herd on my app so I would know if someone was reaching the sheep herd before me.

As with any planned event, there are always some hiccups. We found the Life 360 app very handy in communicating directly to the whole group at once, so we’d all have the latest updates. Screen Shot 2014-05-06 at 11.11.40 AM I’m happy to say the Amazing Race Birthday party was a smashing success and being able to track everyone through the Life360 app added an extra element of intrigue and competition. The parents had so much fun, now we want to plan one for us big kids!

When Life Gives You Lemons, Hit the Panic Button

Screen Shot 2014-05-07 at 1.26.05 PMAs a couple with no family in town, and two kids too young to have their own devices, my husband and I use the Life360 app as more of a private communication app. Our circle is very small. Small enough that one might call us online recluses. Honestly we kind of like it that way, call us the paranoids of the internet. But recently I was struck by how opening up our Life360 Circles would be helpful. It all started with pneumonia. My uncle went into the hospital because he couldn’t kick it. Then they discovered cancer, fast acting cancer. He is the kind of guy who is beloved by many, so those across the country were waiting on pins and needles and constantly bugging family in the waiting room to update us. When what we feared came to pass, I jumped in the car and began the ten hour drive to Texas. Per usual, I stopped for gas and checked in  with my home Circle so my husband would know where I was at. A little light bulb went off… it would have much easier to have shared the news of my uncle’s passing through Life360′s panic function.. My cousin would have been able to alert everyone in her Circle via a method they use with one push. As if to tell me how right I was, not ten miles down the road my husband pinged me. Figuring it was just a thanks for updating me, I ignored it. Until he called. In a panic because he had a last minute work thing he couldn’t miss and I was halfway across the country. And our twins were due to be picked up in thirty minutes. Talk about real life panic. As he worked text and email and I worked the phone, I kicked myself for not adding all of our family-friends to a Circle that could have been alerted at once. My driving would have been less erratic and my husband wouldn’t have had to hide in the bathroom for twenty minutes working the phone like a stockbroker. You win Life360, you totally win. You have lured me in with your connectedness. We are opening our Circles and letting those that love >us in. We’ll just mute them when we need to be alone.

Connecting with your teenagers

African ethnicity teenage girl on phoneThere is no doubt that all of us need to unplug at times but even with doing that our teenagers will still be on their smartphones, a lot. The world they are growing up in is far different than when we were teens. Being connected is very important to them, it is part of their teenage culture. So instead of telling them to put the phone down all the time to talk to them, instead pick up your phone and connect with your teenagers in their digital domain occasionally.

Now this does not mean to go post embarrassing baby pictures on their Facebook wall or leave “mom quotes” on their Tumblr. Mortifying teenagers does not go over too well generally, I speak from experience here, just ask my 19 year old son. Instead use things like text messages, Life360 check-ins, shared gaming and those types of apps to reach out.

  • Texting Many of us grew up and our home phones were crucial to staying in touch with friends or in school it was passing paper notes. Today’s teens use texting instead of those old-fashioned methods. Send a quick note saying hello, letting them know what is for dinner tonight, or even a quick joke. Funny pictures are always appreciated too. If they only give the quick “k” (okay) as a response, try asking them a question to get more out of them.
  • Gaming with Teens There are lots of games, like Words with Friends, that you play against others via smartphone. Most of them have chat features in them also now. These games are a great way to stay connected to your teens in a fun way. Make sure you ask them for suggestions on new games to play with you regularly.
  • Social Networks Facebook, Tumblr, Instagram, and Twitter are all social networks that some teens use. They tend to change around where they hang out most so be prepared for jumping around a bit. As a parent it is critical that we help our teens understand about being good digital citizens, not bullying others or allowing themselves to be bullied. Part of this is being aware of where and what they are sharing on social networks. Be prepared to not like, or even necessarily approve, of all the things they post though. Think back to your teen years, would your parents have approved of your stuff? Talk to your teens about what they are comfortable with you posting to their social networks and where they would like you to draw the line. Keeping an eye on things does not mean you have to comment publically. Make sure they know you are reading but respect their wishes on how visible you are there. It’s like if your parent wanted to hang out at the mall with you and your friends when you were a teenager.
  • Family Tool Apps like Life360 Take advantage of the extra features in Life360 to connect with your kids. Yes, you can locate them with it, but there is also a message function. Drop them a note inside the app. This also will encourage them to use the app for messages and checking in too. Remember, we have to model the behavior we would like from our kids.

Just like with all generations, there is a gap of some kind. Our teens are growing and learning to make their own decisions. We are less and less a part of their every minute as they get older but connecting on their turf makes things a lot easier on us and them. Embrace technology and use it to your advantage to connect with your teenagers.

One for the baby book: Kiddo’s first iPhone

jenpicI am so thrilled to be a Life360 Ambassador. My life and job revolve around technology and coordination so it’s exciting to be a part of a company I really believe in. That’s because I am the mom of two kids. Most importantly in my Life360 world, I’m the mom of a 12-year-old sixth grader who got his first phone at the start of the school year. I was hesitant about giving him an iPhone but I also knew I could customize it so it would meet my needs as a parent who travels a lot for work. My deal with him was I give him an awesome phone as long as he understands we are using Life360 as a way to stay in touch.

What I’ve discovered is Life360 offers me two versions of middle school-kid management. When I’m in town, the app gives me the heads up when the boy is on his way home. He walks home and I have a pretty good idea how long it takes to get from point A to point B. Since I work from home when I’m in town, I can sit out on the front step to welcome him home in person. I also get the heads up when he walks to his best friend’s house instead of ours BEFORE he calls to ask if he can stay. It’s kind of my favorite conversation:

“Mom, I’m at my friend’s house.” “I know.”

When I’m out of town, I know when my son gets home so I can FaceTime with him and hear about his day. There’s something really nice knowing I can passively keep an eye on his activities after school without needing to text or call and check in on him every second of the afternoon.

Now… If Life360 could also get locator that recognizes when he’s done with his homework, I could skip hiring sitters to make sure he completes his assignments!

The best part of using the app is how I can touch base very quietly. And what’s even better, my son can do the same thing. I’ve caught him checking the app to see if my husband is still at work or on his way home for dinner. I wouldn’t be surprised if he did something similar when I’m out of town. Life360 has gently become a quiet touchpoint that keeps our family more connected.

Simplifying life on the road with Life360

kristi screenshotI am a full-time traveler, meaning I live out of my car the majority of the year as I run half marathons and interview breweries around the US. I have been on the road for a year now and absolutely love it. I find that I use apps a little differently than most as I am always on the hunt as to how can I use their safety features.

Even though I am 40, my dad still worries about me traveling the US solo. As one of a handful of female solo travelers in the US, I have found that I use Life360 daily to keep me safe. Whether I am traveling up the Pacific Coast Highway in California, sipping mojitos in Miami, or relaxing on the beach in Mexico, my dad can check my GPS location easily from his laptop or his smartphone.

And he does.

All the time.

He loves to send me screenshots of where I am in the world. He will often ask me to check-in if he can’t see me. We have a policy that if I don’t check-in within a couple hours when he requests me to do so, he is to notify the authorities. He knows that if I am in trouble that I will hit the big red exclamation point that gets a Live Advisor on the phone in 10 seconds. I also wear a GPS watch and have Life360 active on all of my devices. Heaven forbid something were to happen to me while I am on one of my road trips, these devices can help the authorities find me anywhere in the world. That gives both me and my dad peace of mind.

Living on the road by yourself is tough, and using Life360 in this manner helps to alleviate a little bit of that stress. I have a few funny stories from the SXSW conference this year, but saving most of those for my next post. But I did find a rather creative way to use Life360 and is as a phone locator. I forget things everywhere. Seriously, it is a problem. My second night in Austin for one of the biggest conferences of the year, I left my phone in the back of a cab. Ugh. I went onto my laptop and watched my phone take a ride throughout the streets of Austin. I called the cab company and let them know where the phone was, but sadly, they wouldn’t return it. It was fun though to see all the places my phone traveled!

I am so happy to be a Blog Ambassador for Life360. I love the app, but I love the community even more. The company is stellar and this little San Francisco startup has helped me to travel solo around the US just a little bit more safely. Thank you, Life360.

Checking In for Cocktails

There’s a little known thing in Atlanta called traffic. I’m not sure, but Atlanta may or may not be ranked in the Top 10 Cities of Worst Traffic Ever. Until recently my office was one mile away from home and now it’s just down a flight of stairs at home. When I’m stuck in traffic I hear the angels sing when I realize my commute doesn’t involve hundreds of thousands of cars.

Not long ago I was sitting still on I-85 North when I heard the familiar ping notifying me of a text on my phone. I looked at my phone (remember, the car was stopped and I wasn’t texting!) and saw a note from the BFF, Carol, “BUSTED! I see you’re on I-85 RIGHT BY MY HOUSE and you’re not stopping for a drink? Seriously?”

It was true. I was alone in the car, and not doing carpool, so why wasn’t I stopping by her house for a drink? That is a question I now ask myself each time I’m approaching her exit, where my second home resides.

On the Life360 app, my family is defined as myself, my husband, my two kids and Carol. We are family the five of us. She likes to know that I can see where she is and vice versa. She is the one who uses the “Check-in” feature the most and I love that because even though I see her weekly it’s good to know she’s checking in on us. I especially like it when she is thinking about having me over for a cocktail. Like, I don’t know, sangria.

I am not sure that the team at Life360 team has added a “Share Cocktail Recipe” function (I’ll get on development about that) so I’ll have to do it the old fashioned way and provide a link to Pinterest, for this amazing White Strawberry-Lemon Sangria.

sangriaWhite Strawberry-Lemon Sangria

  • 1 Apple
  • 4 Cups of Lemon-lime Soda
  • 2 Lemons
  • 1 Cup Strawberries
  • 1/2 cup Rum, White
  • 1 750 ml Bottle White Wine

It is listed for six servings. Is that possible when there are only two of us drinking? I mean, she has a spare room with my name on it, so I can always stay overnight. You think Carol will have that pitcher of sangria ready next time I’m stuck in traffic and take a detour to her house?

I just need to go Check In with her first. That’s easy enough.

Cell phones and young teens

Screen Shot 2014-04-15 at 6.56.58 AMMy sons, now in their twenties, didn’t care what kind of phone they had in their early teen years. Smartphones weren’t the norm, and they weren’t big on texting. A standard flip phone fit their phone needs perfectly.

It’s different now with my daughters, who are 13 and 15. Smartphones are pretty much standard issue for kids even younger than they are. Before buying a phone for your children, make some determinations about what they really need.

Giving your child a smart phone puts the world in their hands, but it also puts them in the world’s hands. Help prepare your kids to be smart and safe.

Know Your Apps

Will they be able to load apps without your permission? Talking about your family’s rules in advance will help set healthy boundaries for what’s on their phone and how they use it.

Due to bullying or potentially inappropriate content, decide what social media apps you are comfortable with your kids using. If they’re on it, you need to be on it. You don’t have to stalk them, but you should know how their social media platforms work.

For games, are there in-app purchases? Who will be responsible for additional charges? If they go over data limits, will they be cut off for the month or pay for the overage out of allowance or with additional chores?

Be Clear with Your Boundaries

I have restrictions on phone usage during set times and during certain activities. Before you have kids texting non-stop during Thanksgiving dinner, communicate your standards for phone etiquette.

Off after ten? Put away during family game night? These are things to figure out and talk about before it’s a point of conflict.

A Right or a Privilege?

When the homework is undone, if the grades drop, because of a discipline issue—will the phone be something you take away or restrict? Although a lot of cell phone activity is optional, these days having a phone while you are away from the house can be a necessity.

Last year we decided it was time to buy our youngest child a phone after we were separated in a theme park and had no way to contact her. After that experience, we felt a phone was now a necessity for her.

Keeping Up with Family

Apps like Life360 help keep your family connected—effortlessly! And with Premium, you get the additional feature of being able to locate up to six misplaced non-smartphones. While losing a phone is only an everyday occurrence in my house, it can give you peace of mind with your kids’ first phones.

And if a phone is not lost, but stolen? Premium will cover up to $100 for a qualified claim.

Getting that first phone is an exciting modern rite of passage. Set your kids up for success by knowing what you’re in for and by planning for the bumps you’ll encounter along the way.

Spring Clean Your Mobile Devices

iPhone Full StorageAs daffodils, tulips and purple crocuses emerge from the ground, we’re on a tear to clean out our homes and yards to start the warm summer months off in a clean, fresh environment. It’s a perfect time to assess our mobile devices to clean up our apps and photos to free up memory, speed up processing, and organize our on-the-go lives. Here’s some tips to spring clean your mobile device:

Back up or delete photos and videos

A picture here, a video there, and the next thing you know you have gigabytes worth of photos and video that have accumulated space without you being aware. Before you go ahead and back up everything, consider flipping through your photos first to see if they’re worth keeping. It’s so easy to take multiple shots of the same scene to get that “perfect” picture, but you never delete the ones that didn’t make the cut. There could be hundreds of photos sitting on your phone that you don’t even WANT to keep, let alone back up. You could reclaim space doing this, and then if there’s still photos that you want to keep and quickly access, go ahead and back them up to your computer or even in the cloud. (By the way, you know all those photos you’ve texted your spouse, family, significant other? They’re likely taking up a healthy amount of space on your phone as well. Consider skimming through all those text messages and deleting the ones that have attachments.)

Clear the app clutter

Take a look at the apps on your device. Are you using all of them regularly? Are there a few that you haven’t touched since downloading them a year ago? Delete the apps you no longer use and you’ll free up memory space (for more photos and videos, of course!) and maybe increase your processing speed.

Clear your cache – and that includes your mailbox

Just like on your desktop, the web browser on your phone stores files to help speed up download time by having commonly used pieces of webpages stored locally. Over time that cache builds up and you may have a healthy amount of space being occupied by these files (that you may not really need anymore).

Separately, if you use email on your phone, sending messages – especially with attachments – or downloading attachments sent to you may be taking up more space than you know. While it’s not an ideal option, you may want to consider deleting your email account, setting it up again and let the email repopulate on your phone without having all those files weighing you down.

Wipe off the device

We’re talking here about physically wiping down your device, as in with a soft cloth to remove dirt build-up or a disinfectant wipe for the back of your phone. This is a good thing to do on a regular basis anyway, because the reality is these days, people take their phones everywhere (use your imagination here), and who knows what’s living on your device. Ick.

Get a new case

Brighten your day and must-have accessory with a new device case. If you fancy a fashionable on-trend phone case, check out the spring designs from Kate Spade, Tory Burch, and Michael Kors at Nordstrom. Or check out Shutterfly to create a custom photo case.  The traveler in me loves the state pride phone cases from Swanky Press. Of course, if rugged durability matters the most to you, my phones have always been well protected with the Otterbox and LifeProof cases.

Be sure to check with your individual phone maker (iPhone, Android, or Windows) as there may be specific directions that you’ll need to follow to spring clean your mobile device based on the type of phone that you have.