2/25/2013

Cord-Cutting Revisited


Last September, my teen drama and house-hunting television show loving family decided to take the leap and turn off our cable. I wrote about our personal set-up  and some other ways to handle cord-cutting, but
even after making the change, there was a major question mark about how would we handle this.
Would we turn back on the cable next month? Would I go into DVR withdrawal immediately and beg to have my hour-long melodramas back?

However, I can tell you six months later, that I don't miss cable, I don't miss my monthly bill, and I don't see myself signing back up anytime soon. But the road has not always been smooth and I have learned several great lessons that I wish I had known before taking the plunge:

1. You can't escape commercials.
When I did have cable, my DVR was my greatest tool. I rarely watch live television and being able to avoid commercials gave my vote to the creator of the DVR for the Nobel Peace Prize. When you do depend on apps or websites for your television fix, commercials and ads can not be skipped and can feel very repetitive over time. But this is not a negative anymore or a concern that should stop anyone for making the change. As a cord-cutter, I've come to accept and love the commercials I do have to watch because it means that advertisers see the value in supporting apps, web streaming, and alternative methods of viewing. It may not be easy at first, but as time continues, each commercial means another content provider might be willing to open up their shows for  non-subscribers.

2. Television doesn't need to be watched on the television.
A
lot of our initial planning for cord-cutting was how to facilitate still watching our shows on our television. While I love my Apple TV and I still would love a Roku, my greatest tools for watching television have been my iPad and my laptop. If you are considering getting rid of your cable, a tablet is a great addition to your set up and, as more television stations start apps, a one-stop viewing option that doesn't involve sitting on the couch.

3.  Free television is great television.
One of our biggest surprises was how useful and often we engage our antennae to watch local channels. When I purchased it, my only thoughts about how I would use it was in case of emergency and to watch "So You Think You Can Dance". Instead, I've turned to it for local news, live television, and on occasion, to just turn it on, flip through the channels, find nothing to watch, and remind myself why I don't need cable.

4. Cutting the cord means re-examining your watching.
While our initial goals for cord-cutting had been financial, and to watch less television, a surprising change for us has been examining what media we consume and how we consume it. When you have a television
easily accessible, it is easy to fall into reality television marathons or watching a show because it is on, not because you enjoy it. But moreover, when you have a DVR or on-demand, you may start to watch or continue to watch a series because it is there out of habit. When you do need to work a little harder to watch a show, you do start to question whether that show has earned an hour of your life.

Have you been thinking about cord cutting or have you made the change and have some of your own lessons learned?

Speak up in the comments and let us know your thoughts!

2/18/2013

Household of the Future or Ways to Make Cleaning More Fun



When looking over films and media of the past, a funny trend begins to pop up about the "home of the future". For the 1950s, these homes of the future contained automated appliances, touchscreens, and self-cleaning everything from sink to bathroom. But while some of these features come standard in a home of today, there is a world of new gadgets out there to help further improve your home and make your chores just a little bit more fun. Plus, if we depend on gadgets to make our planning, organizing, and life better, we can also depend on them to remove mildew a little bit more easily.

While we're still far away from Toyota's robotic maid, here is a brief list of some great additions you might want to consider. Just a note, in each case if I've mentioned a specific brand it is because we use it in our household and would recommend it for purchase.
  • HAAN Hand-Held Steam Cleaner
    Like many other gadgets, my steam cleaner was a purchase that I questioned at first how much I would use it and now feel like I can't live without it. My two least favorite things to clean are the tub and the oven, and this essentially uses hot steam to blast away dirt. Plus, no chemicals needed allowing me to even further green my household.
    Some other great options: Steamfast, DB-Tech
  • Bissel Steam Mop
    You may start to notice a trend that I love steam-based house cleaners. In our household we do try to limit waste and chemicals, and these appliances both do this. However, I'm also a fan of any tool that saves time and effort. Mopping can be tedious until you consider with the steam mop that your water supply is attached, your mop head is washable, and can be put away immediately when you are done.
    Some other great options: Hoover, Eureka
  • Automatic Composting Bin
    Composting is a great habit that normally requires regular work and is very difficult for urban dwellers. But for those who want to take part and may not have the room to manage their own composting pile, there are a new group of bins that takes care of the hard work for you. Best of all, no smell.
    Some great options: NatureMill, Envirocycle (more low-tech but a simple way to automate a time consuming chore)
  • Window Cleaning Robot
    While this has yet to premiere, this year the CES introduced the Winbot7. Adorably named but massively useful, the Winbot7 cleans your windows unattended. I might not have too many windows yet to need this tool, but for some homeowners, this would take over a very tedious chore and make it much simpler.
  • Roomba
    I don't own a Roomba but if my fairy godmother (or loving husband) wanted to give me a toy that I've always wanted, I would have a Roomba. First, I would own a robot which would be great. Also, the dream of being a little bit more like Tom Haverford and having my own DJ Roomba is too great to not actually happen one day. Plus, when we talk about the home of the future and see all of the great ways automation is making our life better, having a robot take over that chore actually feels like we are living in the future and one step closer to The Jetsons dream.

2/14/2013

Gadchick Reviews: Wonder Thread Interoffice Laptop Sleeve

I’ll be totally honest—in my household, laptops seem to quickly turn into coffee-table tops. My husband and I are both fans of a variety of TV shows, and the desktop is old and all the way (*cough*35 feet*cough*) in the library/office, which is not near the TV. And although we try to cycle the battery use like you’re supposed to, it eventually gets old, and it’s hard to justify buying a new battery when the cycle would just repeat itself. Regardless of our laziness improper use of a laptop computer, I was excited to get the chance to review Wonder Thread’s Interoffice

Laptop Sleeve. I mean, look at it:



How great is that design? I’m a huge fan of items (andcompanies) that don’t take themselves too seriously. (Wonder Threads is obviously having fun with their products—check out their Composition Notebook
iPad cases
, too.)

But I’m jumping ahead a little. The first thing I noticed when I received the sleeve in the mail was how nicely it was packaged.





The sleeve is also very well constructed. The outside fabric is a soft but sturdy feeling “poly microfiber,” and the inside is a fuzzy fleece—think the inside of a brand-new pair of sweats.





The whole thing is thick enough to protect from dings and scratches, but doesn’t add much weight or bulk; when I was slipping our 15” Apple MacBook Pro inside it, I had an initial thought that the sleeve was
nearly too snug, when it’s actually the perfect fit.





I don’t think the sleeve would protect the computer from a drop off a third-story balcony, but I wasn’t about to test out that hypothesis. The sleeve has a Velcro closure flap, and an additional string closure that adds to the authenticity of the interoffice memo envelope-look. The fact that it’s so snug also means that it+computer fit nicely into the tote I infrequently carry the laptop around in. And although it’s not designed for this—the sleeve makes a nice lap protector for when the computer gets a little too hot on the thighs.






Overall, I’d definitely give this product an A.

The Interoffice Laptop Sleeve comes in 11”, 13”, 15” and 17” sizes (and is available for iPads), and you can purchase your own right here. 

Wonder Threads provided our editor with a complimentary product of her choosing, but the opinions expressed above are hers alone.

2/13/2013

Gadchick Reviews: The Nokia Lumia 920

When Microsoft tries to innovate, bad things usually happen. Anyone remember Microsoft Bob? Windows Me? The MSN Smart Watch? The list goes on and on. When they announced the new Windows 8 phone, my first thought was about Kin. Remember him? The 1 billion (yes billion) dollar investment to create the first great Windows phone.

I shouldn't be too harsh on Windows- I did like the Surface. After getting my hands on the Nokia 920, I have to say something quite odd, however: This is becoming the year of Microsoft. For the first time sinse…well ever…Microsoft has not only created a innovating operating system (yes there’s a learning curve), but also a phone that stands it’s own against Apple and Android.

Like Windows 8, whether or not Windows Phone 8 is really going to depend on one thing: how do you feel about Metro? Metro is the customize menu that you see whenever you turn your phone on—think of it like the Start button in hyper-drive.  This is where all the programs that you use the most go; flick your finger from the right side, and you’ll see all of your other programs.

The phone is a little heavier than the iPhone 5. It's bigger, but so is the screen. I felt comfortable watching Netflix and browsing online, and the battery didn't have to charge for a few hours with heavy use. As for the performance of the actual phone, I don't have a SIM card so I couldn't make phone calls. Emails and app usage was quicker than the Android phones I've used.

For me, one of the features that really makes the phone is the Office suite. I love my Mac—but nobody does Word processing quite like Microsoft; it’s the one thing they’ve always got right. Obviously, it’s the mobile version of the productivity suite, but it still worked great. Unlike iWork for the iPhone, which tries to hard to be pretty and styling, Office felt a little clunky, but it worked.

The camera is “okay” but I still prefer the iPhone 5. It works, but indoor photos felt off and the saturation was off. The functionality was superior—unlike the other phones that make you push a shutter or a small area of the phone, Microsoft did it right by letting you touch anywhere on the screen.

The biggest area that this phone lacks is apps. It’s hard to complain about that when it’s still new. Most of the big ones are there—although some like Instagram were missing at this writing; but what has always made the iPhone and Android store great is the smaller apps from developers who create apps as a hobby but turn it into a full-time job.

Is it time to pack away the iPhone and Android phones and run to the Windows store? Not quite. But for the first time, Windows has a phone that you should consider when it’s time to renew your contract—especially once more apps start showing up on the app store.


2/12/2013

Gadchick Reviews: HTC Windows Phone 8X

This has been my first experience with a Windows phone and I have to admit that I am very impressed.





The Windows 8 Phone OS tile layout is beautiful and intuitive at first. Notifications and updates on your Live Tiles are what Google is working towards with Google Now, but with more information at the ready. After spending about 2 weeks with it though, it’s still obvious the interface is the first version of what I hope will be a great mobile OS. The tiles are customizable in various ways, but I keep having to try to create my own simplified layout to where I can memorize exactly what is where. I’m not sure if it’s because the tiles are animated, or because the interface promotes asymmetry, but it still has taken a while to memorize it. Perhaps it’s just me, coming off of years of simple grid icons.




The obvious bummer with moving to the Windows platform is the current lack of apps from their market. I found myself scratching my head at the limited selection just as did in 2008 when I first opened the Android Market coming from an iPhone (no Instagram for Windows 8 Phone! Ahhh!). Luckily, the apps that come pre-installed are prime examples of the capabilities of a Windows 8 phone. The People app feels a lot more fluid and organic than the Android or iOS contacts: after signing in Facebook, Twitter, Xbox Live, and various accounts, the phone comes to life more than Android or iPhone ever has. Seeing all of the social networks with pictures and updates makes it feel like the phone is a true real-time connection to people, more than just an app with settings and sync’d accounts running on a phone.
The physical feeling of the phone is extremely solid. I did not do any drop tests or anything, but I think it could take a beating with its hard rubber corner and backing. It better because the phone also feels heavier, weighing in at 130g (the iPhone5 is 112 grams). I wish that weight was packed into it’s battery, as it comes with a standard 1800mAh (although you can’t compare the power demands of various OS/hardware, the Nexus 4 has 2100mAh, but the iPhone5 has 1440mAh and is said to be highly efficient with it). The HTC Windows Phone 8X comes in various colors, a nice step away from the typical black and white. The phone is pretty tall, more than the iPhone 5, giving it a beautiful elongated look. It’s perfect for widescreen movie watching in landscape paired with it’s big Beats audio speaker. In portrait view, it feels a teensy bit too thin when navigating/typing with the thumbs. The desirable ultra wide angle front and back lenses are leaps and bounds ahead of other smartphones. This is without a doubt the dream phone for the selfie obsessed. The wide image formats, physical or “touch anywhere” shutter button, and 3-2-1 countdown timer make taking self portraits a snap.. and they look great.




Editor was provided with a complimentary HTC Windows Phone 8X, all opinions are her own.

2/11/2013

Get Your Code On!: Groups Engaging Women to Code

From venture capital groups in Silicon Valley to STEM field educators globally, the world of technology has seen a shortage of women entering coding and development-related fields. Nationwide in 2011, about 20% of all Computer Science degrees went to women and looking at some 2010 stats on women in technology show a widening gap in our participation in many related fields.

But in recent years, rather than waiting for women and girls to engage in computer science on their own, a new group of organizations dedicated to training and increasing the number of women involved in technology
fields have sprouted up to begin closing the gender gap.
  • Rails Girls
    Setting up day long conferences globally, Rail Girls is dedicated to teaching all interested women about Ruby on Rails. These free workshops bring together teachers and mentors from the local tech community with interested participants to code their first program and meet other women involved in related industries.
  • Girls Who Code
    A group dedicated to training 13-17 year old girls in technological skills, Girls Who Code recognized the education gap and set out to fill it. By bringing together major companies like Google and Twitter,
    they've set up an eight week program for interested girls to learn coding and hopefully move forward in a STEM field.
  • Web Start Women
    WSW is an example of a local group in Boston dedicated to running classes on a variety of technology projects but also uniting the community around them. Focused around web development skills, they provide both coding classes but also other skills like Photoshop for interested women.  If you are living in a major urban area and are interested to see if there is anything like this near you, check out meetup.com or do a quick Google search as these groups are popping up every day. Also look for an upcoming Gadchick post about online academies to increase your skills.
  • Girl Develop It!
    Providing opportunities around the world, GDI set out with the goal of engaging a diverse community of women in software development. By running classes for beginners or experts looking to pick up a new skill and also engaging participants through social gatherings and meet-ups, GDI is building a community of empowered women, But even if you can't attend in person, they also make all of their training materials available online.
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