Parenting the Pinterest Way: The Road to Insanity

Image: Sarah Pinault. Feet, a common photo across the mother-net.

When I became a mother, I didn’t realize how much I would be affected by those around me. Then I discovered blogging, then Pinterest came along, and suddenly I am surrounded by virtual mothers to compare myself to. Mothers to judge myself by. As I went deeper and deeper into the mother-net, I found myself coming up short more often than not. Technology is both friend and foe to the modern mom.

My name is Sarah and I am a virtual-mom junkie.

I’m a relatively sane person if such a thing exists. I have had my battles with PPD, a dose or fifty of Zoloft, I abuse caffeine on a daily basis, and I control my OCD tendencies by punching myself in the arm! I also have too much on my plate. I work full time, I have two boys under the age of four, I write for GeekMom and myself, I craft avidly in many forms, I have taken up running, and I volunteer at church. I overreach on a daily basis. So recently I decided to attack the thing that was compounding all of this into one massive ball of insufficiency – the internet.

I began to reduce the virtual moms around me in several key ways:

  • Pinterest. I had been surfing pinterest daily. Ostensibly compelled by a desire to improve myself, educate my children, and streamline using tactics that have worked for others, instead I found myself compiling monstrous to-do lists. So I went cold turkey and deleted the app from the Ipad. This in itself was a huge step. No longer at my finger tips, I found myself logging in on the laptop only when I actually needed something.
  • My blog feed. The demise of Google Reader came at just the right time for me to assess what I was reading and why. Several of the blogs I read contained beautiful pictures and wonderful ideas, but did nothing more than take up my time and make me feel bad about my own skills. Poof, gone! It’s hard to cut the cord, but sometimes you just have to let go.
  • Email notifications. The unsubscribe button is your friend. If you no longer receive the Pottery Barn sales flyer, you won’t go running to Pinterest for a cheap way to make the $3,000 canopy for your toddler’s room. If you no longer receive comments on posts you do read, you won’t be driven crazy by internet trolls and judgmental moms.
  • Limiting screen time. It’s not just for kids folks! I used to be on the internet while having breakfast, while cooking dinner, and even while watching television. It never seeped into my time with the kids, but boy do these portable devices make it into every other second you have. Delete the app, delete the cookie, then take the next step and put the device in its bag for the morning. Trying not to turn on the laptop when I turn on the kettle for my tea has probably been the hardest part. Now I listen to the chickadees in my garden and chat with my husband for a few more minutes each morning. Bliss.
  • Localize. The activities of a homeschooling mother in Utah or a military wife in Texas just have no bearing on my life. While I love broadening my horizons and seeing the world, sometimes those things can just make you feel bad about yourself. These days I focus on reading things local to New England, from people more reasonably within my own social bracket.

This may not be something I have to do for the rest of my life but for right now, limiting the ways in which I use the internet on a daily basis is proving to be far more effective than a latte or a date night.

Virtual mom junkie signing off.

Acer Chromebook C710-2055 Review

The new Chromebook C710-2055 by Acer. image used with permission
The new Chromebook C710-2055 by Acer. image used with permission

The new Chromebook C710-2055 by Aceris a device for individuals who need a compact computer and always have an internet connection. I had an opportunity to use one for a few weeks and run a few tests to see how it works.

The specs for an Acer C710-2055. Image used with permission
The specs for an Acer C710-2055. Image used with permission

We have mainly Windows computers at my  house. I bought one of the first Netbooks (also by Acer) which originally ran Windows 7  Basic and it is still working. It survived an entire iced tea spilled into the keyboard, being reprogrammed to run Puppy Linux, and has been my 7-year-old daughter’s school computer for the last two years. When the Chromebook came in the mail, I was pleased to see the size difference compared to our old Netbook and thought that it was going to be a bigger, stronger, and faster Netbook. But after some time using it, I found that bigger, faster, and stronger didn’t necessarily mean better.

It’s a completely different machine that has a definite learning curve.

I am used to using the Chrome browser on my Windows computers. Chrome as an operating system takes a few days to get used to since it is strictly an internet computer. Over the course of six weeks I put the Chromebook through a computer boot camp of sorts to see what it could handle, and what it couldn’t.

How long did it take to go through the tutorial? It took about thirty minutes, and then putting the new skills into practice took another day or two.

How easy is it to navigate? Similar to experiences Patricia had with the Galaxy Note 8, there was a learning curve. That being said, the navigation is deceptively simple. Really, the only thing different from Windows laptops is right-clicking is done by pressing in the middle of the track pad with two fingers together. Once I got in the routine of only using the computer for writing and internet use, we grew into a nice relationship.

How many tabs could I have open before the machine started lagging? I had about fifteen tabs open varying from text to video before the machine started thinking harder about what I was asking it to do.

How accurate is the battery indicator? (or, how long can video stream on one battery charge?) I started watching a string of Hulu videos at 5:14. When I started the videos, the battery had a full charge. It indicated 3 hours and 36 minutes left before the battery would run out. It shut off at 8:50 close to the predicted time.

How long could I work on one charge? There were similar results when using the computer for just word processing. The battery display showed around 6 hours of battery and it made it through six hours of typing emails and articles (with a smattering of surfing the internet thrown in). When the computer was not in use, it held a charge nicely. I was able to pick up the computer after a full day of not being plugged in and reply to a couple of emails on the remaining battery charge.

Are the apps in the Chrome Web Store any good? Meh. I spent most of a day scouring through the different categories of apps trying to find anything that I would use in the Chrome store. Most of the apps that would be good are “free trials” requiring you to sign up for a service when the trial ends. Others were just things like “change the color of your Facebook background.” Generally, they weren’t very useful. I did find myself going through the Chrome themes though, and adopted a Pinky Pie background for my Chrome webpage. Even though the computer was a loaner for review purposes, I still made sure to have a mash-up background featuring Harry Potter, Darth Vader, and other geeky characters.

Does the offline function work? Yes, you can work offline on documents you save to the cloud drive. But that is all. There is no internet access at my daughter’s Tae Kwondo class, so I tested over a couple of classes what I was able to complete for an article having no internet access. Basically, I could write a rough draft. I wasn’t able to put any link information or pictures in. I was quite happy with the retention of the computer to not forget what I had written while I was offline.

This being said, working offline takes pretty much all functionality away from this computer. When there is no internet, all I was able to do is type a word document.

Can I download and use Picasa since it is a Google program? Nope. I tried to download Picasa and was given a message that it is not compatible with my operating system. The Chrome Web Store offers apps that allow you access to your web albums, but not the Picasa program. I was unable to download the Gimp program, too, though I was able to go to the Chrome Web Store and add Gimp on rollApp. This means as long as I have internet access, I can edit my photographs.

The computer has 320GB of hard drive space and 4GB of RAM so I can use this computer for gaming, right? Not really. I tried downloading a game from PopCap only to get the message that I needed to visit the Chrome Web Store to find an app that could open this type file. I received the same message for downloading Gimp and iTunes. Since these are all Windows executable files, they aren’t usable on the Chromebook. Searching through the Chrome Web Store can sometimes find internet versions of the program or game you are looking for, but nothing that can be played or used directly from the computer itself.

Did I like the new Acer Chromebook? Yes, though it is not the ideal computer for my uses since I am not in an entirely WiFi community. There is no doubt that Acer puts out a reliable product. The Chromebook C710-2055 made me stick to work. I didn’t have a bunch of other windows, audio books, games, iTunes, and videos to distract me from writing. It stood up well to me asking it to do things it wasn’t built to do.

The idea of having an internet driven Netbook is a great one, if you have access to the internet wherever the computer is used. But I am not always connected to the internet, so working on the Chromebook C710-2055 from anywhere except home was difficult. I was unable to have my favorite games at my fingertips and unable to edit images as much as I would like. The Chromebook C710-2055 would probably be great for a student doing basic studying and report writing, and is affordable, costing around $280.

*An Acer Chromebook C710-2055 was loaned for testing and review purposes*

Not-so-trusted Third Parties: Why You’ve Been Getting “Your Email Was Leaked” Notices

Got a kid taking the SAT or AP exams? It’s time to have a little talk about how to avoid phishing schemes–their email addresses may have been lost to spammers last week. Epsilon, one of the world’s largest such companies, had their databases breached.

You may have noticed something was up this weekend when you got several emails from companies saying your name and email addresses had been leaked, or that their database had been breached. It’s because those companies used Epsilon, a third-party company for their email marketing. You probably don’t know the name Epsilon, but you know them in the context of “we may share your email address with trusted third parties” when you sign up for mailing lists.

Based on Epsilon’s estimate that 2% of their clients were affected, there are probably about 50 affected. They’re not naming the affected clients, though. I’ve been compiling a list based on news reports and complaints on Twitter. So far the affected companies I’ve seen reports of are:

  • 1-800-Flowers
  • AbeBooks
  • Air Miles
  • American Express
  • Ameriprise Financial
  • Barclays Bank Delaware
  • Beachbody
  • Bebe
  • Benefit Cosmetics
  • Best Buy
  • Borders
  • Brookstone
  • Capital One
  • Charter Communications
  • Chase
  • Citi
  • City Market
  • The College Board
  • Dillons
  • Disney Destinations
  • Eileen Fisher
  • Ethan Allen
  • Food4Less
  • Fred Meyer
  • Fry’s
  • Hilton Hhonors
  • Home Depot
  • Home Shopping Network (HSN)
  • Intuit
  • Jay C
  • JPMorgan Chase
  • King Soopers
  • Kroger
  • LaCoste
  • LL Bean Visa Card
  • Marks and Spencer
  • Marriott Rewards
  • McKinsey Quarterly
  • Meijer
  • New York & Company
  • QFC
  • Ralphs
  • Red Roof Inn
  • Ritz-Carlton Rewards
  • Robert Half Technologies
  • Smith Brands
  • Target
  • TD Ameritrade
  • TigerDirect
  • TiVo
  • US Bank
  • Verizon
  • Visa
  • Walgreens

If your kids are old enough to have their own email addresses, and you haven’t talked about email safety yet, this is a good time. And an excellent opportunity to talk about reading privacy policies and making choices about your email address. Although in this case, I suspect few people would have hesitated to join these lists.

***Edit 4/6 If you’re looking for a complete list of affected companies, please now refer to

FCC Approves Net Neutrality Order: What Does It Mean?

So much of what we do today–as moms, and simply as citizens of the 21st century–relies on an open Internet. We’ve really come to take it for granted. Chatting with Grandma over Skype. Being able to stream Netflix through the PS3 after dinner. Getting advice from other moms online. Yesterday’s decision on the net neutrality order at the FCC was critical to the future of that openness–but in which direction?

Many of the articles and blog posts leading up to the announcement were questioning whether we even need the order. Taking an even more opposing stand, in one headline The Wall Street Journal calls net neutrality “The FCC’s Threat to Internet Freedom.” The article’s author says, “Nothing is broken that needs fixing.” Chairman Robert McDowell repeated those words in this morning’s meeting, saying, “Nothing is broken in the Internet access market that needs fixing.”

And with that, they entirely miss the point–that we must make sure nothing gets broken. It’s a lot easier to just move the vase to a higher shelf than to glue it back together once it’s shattered on the floor.

And yet, that’s the main argument against the order. Everything’s going fine–why muck with it? But everything’s not going fine. Some ISPs are open about their packet shaping policies. It’s not at all uncommon for them to slow down certain types of traffic (most notably P2P sharing)–but it’s not just during peak loads, like you might expect or hope. These are the first chips in the vase. The day before the vote, BusinessWeek predicted an increase in “toll roads” fees for both consumers and content providers, particularly if the FCC fails to fight for net neutrality. The same piece summarizes the problem quite well:

Absent real competition and transparency, we need a framework for keeping ISPs from preventing lawful content from reaching subscribers or discriminating against content providers based on price. Ironically, it is also a perfect example of why network neutrality rules are problematic: They can act as a shield behind which content providers can attack ISPs for running their networks as they see fit. We need a strong FCC to arbitrate these issues at a moment when the FCC is at its weakest, with little to no power to regulate broadband providers. So the combination of a powerless FCC, combined with Comcast’s and Level 3’s spat, may indeed change the Internet as we know it. I’ll call it broken, while ISPs and Wall Street will call it profitable.

In their prepared remarks leading up to yesterday’s vote, FCC Commissiom members Michael Copps and Mignon Clyburn noted that while yesterday’s order isn’t the ideal solution, they believe something must be done. Copps said:

FCC Commissioner Copps on the proposed network neutrality order: “These past three weeks have been devoted on my part to intensive discussions about ensuring the continued openness of the Internet and putting consumers, not Big Phone and Big Cable, in maximum control of their online experiences….The item we will vote on tomorrow is not the one I would have crafted….If vigilantly and vigorously implemented by the Commission–and if upheld by the courts–it could represent an important milestone in the ongoing struggle to safeguard the awesome opportunity-creating power of the open Internet.

Ideally the FCC could create guidelines that would balance the ISPs’ need to manage traffic with the importance of an open network. It seems unlikely that that’s what yesterday’s order contains. Unfortunately, it has remained closed, so no one is quite sure about the contents, except for speculation and details like AT&T appearing to have had the bulk of the input from industry. It won’t be opened for several days yet.

Here’s what we do know so far, though, based on these @FCC tweets during the meeting:

  • Under the order, consumers can submit informal complaints regarding any alleged blocking using Won’t pay complaint filing fee.
  • Allow for reasonable network management. Won’t forbid tiered service offerings or charging based on bandwidth consumed.
  • Level Playing Field – No approval for so-called “pay for priority” arrangements involving some companies but not others.
  • No blocking of lawful content, apps, and services.
  • Transparency – Consumers and innovators have a right to know how their network is being managed.

PC World presents a pretty dim view of the future based on yesterday’s order (depending on your glass half full/empty stance). Senator Al Franken called the regulations “worse than nothing.” And many doubt the FCC even has the power to handle net neutrality, including Copps. His statement above relies on a lot of if and a lot of optimism. Approving this order is, as he references, a last-ditch effort, after other failed attempts through the FCC as well as the federal courts.

So yes, the order the FCC approved yesterday is a long way from the promises we’ve heard from Obama as well as the FCC. Yes, I’m gravely concerned about what the Huffington Post has referred to as “AT&T’s Internet.” But until the full order is published, I’m ready to try to hold on to some optimism that this can be a step on a path rather than the end of the road–because we have to. It’s vital that the fight for net neutrality continue, for the future of sharing and openness.

Cyberchondria: The Good, The Bad, and The Neurotic Side of Internet Diagnosis

vitruvian-man-475x664In typical GeekMom fashion when someone in the family gets sick, I hit my favorite medical sites to diagnose their illness. Sometimes this helps us avoid an expensive trip to the doctor and other times it causes us to make an appointment. Since I am a bit of a hypochondriac and have just enough medical knowledge to be dangerous, I usually jump to the worst possible disease that even remotely matches the given symptoms.

I just recently diagnosed myself as a cyberchondriac, but I digress.

Our now five month old son was something of a puzzle initially. He was terribly fussy, wanting to nurse all the time, and wouldn’t sleep. So I hit the internet to see what I could find. I came across a diagnosis called silent reflux. Our son had every symptom they listed. So, with information in hand and a small sense of dread, we made an appointment with his pediatrician. There have been other times when, armed with my internet diagnosis, the pediatrician has dismissed my claims. We have since changed doctors and I was pleasantly surprised after I presented my case that our new pediatrician agreed with me. Our little man was given an antacid prescription and has been a much happier baby ever since.

Given that anyone can post anything and call it fact on the internet, I typically stick with these sites when attempting a diagnosis or researching an illness:

  1. WebMD: this site has a fantastic symptom checker
  2. KidsHealth: this site has tons of info, but what I like best is that there are articles geared towards the different audiences of kids, teens, and parents. You could even let your geekling help diagnose a sibling… not that I would do that, but I’m just saying.
  3. Kellymom: this site has a wealth of information on breastfeeding, parenting, and various illnesses. This is the place where I first heard the term silent reflux.

So when someone in your house comes down with a mysterious ailment, do your research and present it to the doctor. The worst that can happen is getting a note in your chart that reads something like “Warning: this patient is a cyberchondriac and slightly off their rocker”. The best that can happen is that they agree with you and you have helped your family member get diagnosed and treated more quickly. I would take the note in my chart any day.