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The next generation of smart devices is here, to make your life easier, and more fun!

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The joke among tech geeks at the 2017 Consumer Electronics Show, the annual massive showcase of new gadgets, was “Does it work with Alexa?”

Indeed, Alexa will soon be commanding the market – or rather we will be commanding Alexa – and the innovators at the helm are the ones finding new and exciting ways to incorporate the voice controlled app into our homes and lives.

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One of the most anticipated incarnations of this technology is TCL’s Xess, pronounced “excess,” the next generation of Amazon Alexa enabled devices, in the form of a tablet. Similar to Amazon’s Echo and its offshoots Dot and Tap, and Google Home, the device uses the Alexa wake word, or it can be programmed with the user’s chosen word, to turn respond to voice commands. In addition to following voice commands, the Xess 17.3-inch touch screen responds to hand gestures, which can control functions like scrolling, taking pictures and other tasks.

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Xess also comes with a home security camera that can remotely monitor a room on 1/3 of the screen or on the full-screen, to keep an eye on kids, pets, or an area of a home.  Tapping on the camera icon can activate a video recording or capture still photos.

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Using Alexa app on Xess I am able to turn lights on and off and dim them, and I can also raise or lower the room temperature of my Honeywell Lyric thermostat.  I can also listen to my New York Times or NPR news briefs, get the weather or traffic report, find my phone with a tracker, ask Alexa to tell me a joke, and even be inspired by a daily motivational quote or guided in meditation or lulled to sleep by various skills I have enabled for those purposes.

My favorite companion for Alexa is the Lutron app, which works with Lutron’s Caseta wireless lamp plug-ins and remote controls as well as other peripherals, such as Sonos.  At this time Xess and Echo and its offshoots are not Alexa-enabled to use voice commands to control Sonos, but using the Lutron app I can play music on Sonos using scenes.

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Using programmed scenes on the Lutron app, which I can assign custom names and icons on the Lutron app, I can set lighting and music to match a desired mood or activity, such as dimmed lamps and mellow music for nighttime, or pop music and bright lights for my workout, which I can activate with the commands, “Alexa, turn on Sonos Chill-Out,” or “Alexa, turn on Sonos for Workout.”

Another terrific aspect of using the Lutron Caseta wireless platform is that the plug-in lamp dimmer acts as a range extender, which relays the wireless signal between smart devices, giving me an extra 30 feet for spacing devices.

At this time Xess is not integrated to use voice commands to play music from Amazon Music or read Audible books from Amazon and the like, but you can use these services on Xess just as you would on any tablet by selecting their apps on the screen and using the tablet interface.

One big difference between Xess and Echo/Tap/Dot and Google Home is that Xess can be controlled by hand gestures, such as an open hand to stop playback, a swipe motion to move screens or turn pages, a countdown with fingers for photos, and a shushing finger-in-front-of-the-mouth gesture to mute Xess.

Whereas the speaker-style Alexa enable devices are designed to be discreet, tucked away on a shelf or residing unnoticed on a countertop, the Xess is made to see-and-be-seen.

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The Xess is basically a portable mini flat screen TV. It features a retractable carry handle and an adjustable stand, so it can be set down on any flat surface and set a variety of angles. It comes loaded with a couple very useful apps, such as Kitchen Stories, a step-by-step cooking demo app loaded with recipes, making it a great chef’s assistant.  It also has a pop out hub for connecting USB devices, headphones and inserting memory cards.

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As an Alexa addict, I love having two dimensions in which to interact with the Alexa app. I still love my Echo, for its awesome seven-speaker sound capabilities, but Xess offers another dimension with its visual capabilities, plus it features JBL built-in audio for decent sound; and besides, when I am not using it to control my smart home, it’s a carry-anywhere oversized tablet, for homework, online shopping, or streaming video, like this great video series of Xess how-to videos:  https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLnby6EE00VpVsaAP8pPR39Kgvddasgers.

If you would like a chance to own a Xess, compliments of TCL, valued at $499, please follow these easy steps to be entered into a random drawing, to be held April 6, 2017.

  • Like TCL’s Facebook page and on Twitter using the hashtag: #TCLXess.
  • Like this blog’s Facebook page and Follow us on Twitter
  • Post a comment on this post stating what feature(s) of the TCL Xess would get the most use in your home.

Extra chance:  Tweet and share this story on Facebook for one extra entry!

The recipient of the Xess giveaway will be notified by Twitter and Facebook. Good luck!

 

 

A Krav Maga black belt offers parents and kids advice on staying safe and self defense

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Unsupervised times when children wait for the school bus or walk to and from school are great opportunities for children to experience limited independence, but this is also the prime time for bullies and other predators,  which is why parents need to make sure their children are prepared to handle potential threats to their safety.

In addition to pencils, pens, paper and a backpack, parents also need to make sure they have taught their children basic self-defense and safety skills that could save their life if they are ever attacked. Krav Maga Worldwide, a leading self –defense organization has created a list of tips on what parents need to be teaching their kids now to make sure they stay safe throughout the school year.

These unsupervised hours pose unique dangers for different age groups.

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Lack of proper supervision is rare for this group except for very short periods of time. Children of this age are most commonly left alone during a short walk to and from school. Here are a few practical tips to ensure that this time is as safe as possible.

  • Always walk with a buddy who lives very close by.
  • Be sure to go straight to school or home. No detours or goofing around.
  • If a stranger says, “hello” they can smile, make eye contact, waive, and say “hello” back, but they should always keep walking toward either the school or home no matter what.

Grades 6-10

Lack of supervision is relatively common in this group. At this age children take on more responsibility and are less susceptible to the dangers faced by younger children. However, the dangers that children in this age range encounter are more commonly imposed by friends and acquaintances.  These peer pressure based dangers are experienced by every child in this age group. But the risk can be mitigated by ensuring that your children’s time and attention is occupied during these key hours. Here are a couple practical tips for this age group:

  • Get them involved in after school activities that they genuinely enjoy
  • Schedule the time after school for them to complete their chores or homework. Ensure that you hold them to that expectation when you come home from work.

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  • Communication Is Key … Make sure your children understand that there is no such thing as communicating too much. By letting them know that you expect regular updates you will feel better leaving them unattended.  Before leaving them for the first time set expectations. Let your kids know what you expect whether it be staying inside while you are gone or coming straight home after school.
  • Talk to kids about knowing their surroundings. By explaining to them that they need to be fully aware of what’s going on around them can avert dangerous situations from happening.
  • Confidence in speech (projecting, clear) and body language (posture, eye contact, etc.) are the single most important factors that can increase your child’s chances of safety. Regardless of the dangerous situation or the age, a child with a strong presence is less likely to be at risk than those that project shyness or aloofness.
  • Children should always listen to their instincts, if something doesn’t feel right they should leave the area immediately without hesitation or fear of getting in trouble.

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Matt Romond is a 3rd Degree Krav Maga Worldwide™ Black Belt, the Director of Krav Maga Worldwide’s™ KM-X Kids program and has over a decade of experience teaching children and adults Krav Maga self-defense and fight classes. 

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If you have kids that wander the hallways at night — getting up to go to the potty, get a drink of water, or coming to get mom or dad to scare away the monster lurking in the closet, leaving a light on will  keep them from going bump in the night, but that can be costly.

A better option than traditional nightlight is the OxyLED OxySense T–03S Wall Sconce, a stylish nightlight that is perfect for lighting spaces such as hallways, balconies, stairs, attics, basements, closets and other places where it’s not feasible to install a permanent light fixture, or where you need the convenience of lighting that comes on and goes off only when the hall or room is occupied.

This nightlight, which gets its bright, white light from 14 energy-saving LEDs, is larger than a typical plug-in nightlight, measuring approximately 6 inches wide, and 4 inches tall. It does not require an outlet nearby, because it is charged using a USB micro plug cable or four AA batteries. The light can be mounted with the included adhesive strip or using the supplied screws.

The unique design features a translucent disc that is illuminated behind a brushed silver-look band that features a jewel-cut globe in its center for decoration. The small globe also lights red while the unit is charging and changes to green when it is ready for use.

The fact that this light can be recharged with a USB is a selling point for me, because I hate to be constantly replacing batteries, and because this light uses so little energy, it only has to be recharged approximately every six months. Because of its wireless design and its modern styling, the light can be placed just about anywhere, whereas some nightlights have an industrial look more suitable only for garages or hidden spaces like closets.

I have used other light sensor fixtures, but this by far is the most sensitive, lighting up automatically when it senses human motion within approximately 10 feet, and it turns off 15 seconds after you walk away out of its sensing range.

While it can be moved around as needed to light dark spaces, my OxyLED is permanently affixed above the door in my basement, where now when I enter the room my path is lit so that I can find the light switch, which has always been an irksome task, because the builder decided to hide the light switch behind the door.

If you need a small space lit for convenience or safety, this is the best-looking and easiest night light of its type that I have found.

teens-cellphonesParents of teens and even elementary school age kids are often complaining of them being addicted to their smartphones and social media, and the sad reality is that these habits start early and follow them into adulthood.  In fact, many of them are modeling the behavior of their phone-addicted parents.

March 3 is a day to unplug and look around at all else the world has to offer, off of our phones, tablets, laptops and other devices. For many, it will be a day of reckoning, when they realize just how often they turn to their phones instead of human interaction.

According to a NationalToday.com survey, 77% of women and 68% of men spend 3 hours or more per day on their computer, phone, or tablet. Half of women and 41% of men spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen.

To conduct the NationalToday.com Day of Unplugging Survey, conducted Feb. 14, 2017, the pollsters at National Today [www.nationaltoday.com]—an online destination dedicated to quirky and fun holidays—asked 1,000 Americans to dish on their digital dependence.

TOP 3 MOST INTERESTING INSIGHTS ABOUT OUR DEVICES
#1: When I have down time, I spend it on my phone, computer, or tablet (35%)
#2: I spend more time interacting with people online than I do in person (13%)
#3: I feel like I’m addicted to my phone (13%)

MOST AMERICANS SPEND 3+ HOURS A DAY ON THEIR DEVICES
75% of Americans spend 3+ hours per day on their computer, phone, or tablet. 48% spend 5 hours or more per day looking at a screen, while 13% spend 10 hours or more.

TOP 5 PLACES AMERICANS SPEND THE MOST TIME LOOKING AT THEIR PHONES
#1: When I wake up (32%)
#2: When I’m in bed going to sleep (26%)
#3: On work breaks (20%)
#4: In the bathroom (10%)
#5: On my morning commute (4%)

BED ISN’T JUST FOR SLEEPING ANYMORE
For 58% of Americans, bed is the most popular place to check their phone, be it when waking up (32%) or when going to sleep (26%).

RANKING OF THE TOP 3 DEVICES AMERICANS SPEND THE MOST TIME ON
#1: Smartphone (76%)
#2: Computer (17%)
#3: Tablet (7%)

MEN CARE SLIGHTLY MORE THAN WOMEN ABOUT THEIR SOCIAL MEDIA IMAGE
5% of women say they closely monitor how many “likes” they get on social media, compared to 7% of men who say the same.

If you are looking for ways to unplug in life and stop and smell the real versus virtual roses, check out a great book that really made a difference in my life, Hands Free Mama: A Guide to Putting Down the Phone, Burning the To-Do List, and Letting Go of Perfection to Grasp What Really Matters!

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And have a happy National Day of Unplugging!

 

img_4708Just like the old punishments are not working anymore – my son scoffs at time-outs these days – the former perks of points and stickers don’t have the same motivating effect either, so our family has a new reward system. Donuts.

For each A grade, chore completed without asking, extra kind gesture to a family member or friend, it’s a donut of his choice at Dunkin Donuts. Considering my son has a weekly spelling and math quiz, along with random pop quizzes, and a list of weekly tasks around the house, his chances are good to bring home a cool half dozen to share with family and friends each week.

I had tried other bribes, even dollar bills, but when my son says things like, “It only cost a thousand dollars, get it!” the value of money is lost on him. Likewise, the dollar bins at Target have lost their appeal, as there’s only so many bags of marbles, sling shots, rubber balls and harmonicas that a boy wants.

Donuts are a special treat around our home, so this reward is something he is excited about, and since he can share his bounty with friends, he can be king among the neighborhood gang.  The other great thing about donuts is they go quickly, so he needs to earn them again.

Like most kids, half the fun of donuts is choosing them, so he relishes going to the shop to see all the varieties; and very sweetly he selects specific ones for me and his grandmother, since he knows our favorites are eclairs and cream filled varieties.

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Since we have a Dunkin Donuts near our house that we pass every time we go grocery shopping, it’s a constant reminder for him to do well in school and play nice. The other great thing is that local Dunkin Donuts shops are always doing something charitable, so it’s a great learning opportunity to see the displays and talk about giving back to the community.

At the recent opening of a new Dunkin’ Donuts in at 7203 Van Nuys Blvd., in Van Nuys, California, the company mascot, Cuppy, along with local dignitaries, presented a $1,000 check to Valley Family Center, a counseling and education services organization that helps local families in need. Now that’s a good deed worth at least a thousand donuts!

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A new charity called the “Believe in Yourself Project” is helping to replace the poor body image that afflicts many girls and women. This image is heightened by what the traditional fashion industry deems as beautiful: Women are expected to appear a certain way and live up to a manufactured and unrealistic notion of what beauty is. At the same time, strained finances can prevent many girls from keeping up with what’s trending or cool, making them feel isolated among their friends for not being able to afford clothing that is deemed as “in” socially.

In an attempt to promote a positive body image, Believe in Yourself http://www.believeinyourself.org aims to help women feel better about themselves and their physical attributes and to promote healthy self esteem among young girls at an early age, empowering these young women to take on active social roles within their school communities.

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Over the past year, UsTrendy Founder and Believe in Yourself President Sam Sisakhti has given formal dresses to underprivileged high school girls and college students across the country, for them to wear at their school dances. Donations began last winter, and Sisakhti reports that many of the girls in the program have had the self confidence to attend their first school dance.

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This month, girls with limited financial resources in the Washington DC Area received dresses.

“It was such an amazing and humbling experience to hear the stories of the girls and see their excitement about receiving a brand new dress to wear for their upcoming dance. Many of them said it was one of their first new items that were not handed down” says Sam Sisakhti.

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brownp0710Unfortunately, nearly half of marriages end in divorce. For couples with children, this means potential conflict that can disrupt children’s lives and have a long-lasting negative emotional impact on them, unless the break up is handled in the most constructive manner, with the children’s best interests in mind.

Assuming there is no chance at reconciliation, end the relationship and move out as quickly as possible. The worst fights occur in this twilight of a relationship, when the couple knows their days are numbered, and all the resentments and frustrations of the failed relationship surface.

Most parents know not to argue in front of children, but sometimes stuff happens. If you and your ex cannot get along for the few minutes it takes for a custody exchange, here are a few general rules that judges often order to help keep the peace in front of the kids.

Don’t go to the house. Arrange drop-offs and pickups at school or daycare so that there is no interaction between parents. For instance, for a weekend visit, the custodial parent picks up the child Friday after school and then returns the child Monday morning.

Stay in the car. If you must do an exchange at either parent’s home, park in front of the house for a drop off or pick up, and have the child go from the house to the car alone. The other parent stays in the house. The parent who is driving can text or call when he or she has arrived. Obviously, the child has to be old enough to safely walk from the house to the car unaccompanied. If a parent needs to walk with the child to the car, the parents should not speak, unless they can manage a cordial “hello” in front of the child.

Be Separate but equal. At children’s events, such as school concerts or sports games, parents should sit apart and avoid interaction. Each parent should allow the other to visit with the child independently for five or 10 minutes, as time allows, before or after the event, for hugs and photos etc. The parents can arrange in advance who gets the first shift. If this is too contentious, then the parents should split up the events, so they alternate attending them.

Share the holidays. If it is not court ordered otherwise, parents should split up holidays fairly, either dividing a full week in half for longer breaks, like spring break or the winter holidays, or alternate years for shorter holidays, like Thanksgiving. The same drop-off pickup rules as weekend visits can apply, whereby the parent picks up and drops off at school; otherwise the “stay-in-the-car” exchange applies.

Leave new boyfriends, girlfriends, and spouses out of it. Whenever there is no way to avoid an encounter between warring parents while the kids are present, ask your new partner to wait elsewhere while you interact with your ex.

Do not talk about the ex in front of the child. Even if your ex did something horrible to you, chances are your child still loves him or her dearly, and your attacks only exacerbate the internal conflict within the child, who feels torn between loyalty to two parents.

Do not ask the child about the ex. If the child wants to tell you what he or she did with the ex during a visit, the child will volunteer that information, but do not ply the child with questions. Otherwise the child will feel put in the position of a spy.

Do not make the child a messenger. If you have a message for your ex, then send it in an email or a text or call when the child is not present. This includes any notes, child support payments, or the like. The child should never be a go-between for the parents.

Apply the “mother” filter. When you are speaking with your ex or writing to him or her, pretend your ever-gracious and forgiving mother is listening or reading over your shoulder. Of course, if your mother hates your ex too, and substitute in your Sunday school teacher, a respected counselor, or other person of calm mind and voice of reason.

In the end, civil relations between you and your ex will have a big impact on your child. Children are the ones who suffer when both parents cannot be present at their piano recital or big game. Even if the child is not exposed to arguing, they feel the tension and negativity around them, which can cause them to feel sad, angry, confused and mixed emotions that may result in them acting out in harmful ways. Even if you don’t want to improve your interactions with your ex for your own sake, you need to do it for your child.

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