Dear Children: Let Me Explain This Thing Called Summer

Dear Children: Let Me Explain This Thing Called Summer.

 

Great read if you feel like an unpaid entertainer for your kids. I get this from my oldest on the weekend now. Will be putting this strategy to the test when summer vaca begins in T-30 days!

Confession: I Have a Drone and I Like It

Last year for our wedding anniversary, my husband came home with a huge case – resembling one of those ominous bomb cases you see in movies. I felt like Gru and Dr. Evil all at once as he popped open the case to reveal a DJI Global Phantom 2 Drone with a GoPro camera attached.

DGI Global Phantom 2 Quadcopter

“WE HAVE A DRONE!” I exclaimed and immediately told all my geeks what an awesome gift I had received for our anniversary. [Posting to all known social platforms; Stat]

After a few days of touting my awesome aerial photos of our neighborhood, I realized that I was WAY more excited than most folks about my new toy.

Most people immediately respond with “why did you get that?” or “what are you going to do with it?”  Some were almost accusatory as if I had an immediate intent to spy on them through their bedroom windows. My “drone-high” was killed after one friend responded that if I flew “that thing” over his house, he’d shoot it down.

You see, the term “drone” sets off a fire in the eyes of the patriotic. I can’t exactly be sure which patriotism they’ll agree on but those who hear the word “drone” and immediately feel deprived of their rights are a growing bunch.  Is it media crazy? People crazy? Why would a camera on a flying device be perceived as a sinister threat? Helicopters have flown the skies for years with cameras, tracking tools, etc., without the same reaction. It could be the attribution of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV’s) to the US Drone strikes overseas. Sure… I get it. BUT, ummmm.. I’ve got a 2ft x 2ft flying device that can’t hold much more than it’s own GoPro camera. AND IT’S ME! Married Mom of 2, with house and job and all that responsibility and track record of semi-sanity. Why did my posts elicit such a strong response from my friends and followers?

In order to find the truth, I did a little test [completely unscientific]:

1. I posted pictures from the drone of aerial views of my neighborhood where no specific people could be seen in the photos. I didn’t comment that these were ‘drone pics’ and just shared the beautiful view.

2. I posted pictures from the drone of aerial views of an area in upstate NY, again, where no specific people could be seen in the photos. I posted with a comment “new pics from my quadcopter”.

3. I posted pictures from the drone of aerial views of a non-inhabited area of the North shore of Long Island. No houses or people could be seen in the photos. I posted with a comment “new pics from my drone”.

Each posting garnered a different reaction from my friends and followers [responses came in person and online]:

  •  Post 1: [Pics w/ no name attached] Most folks thought it was cool, they were excited and asked me how I got the pictures.
  •  Post 2: [Pics w/ quadcopter called out] Most folks thought it was cool. Most also asked how they could get one too (i.e. the quadcopter)
  •  Post 3: [Pics w/ drone called out] Questions of why, what, who and threats to shoot it down ensued.

Each posting had similar pictures of beautiful landscapes but I used different words to describe them causing an interesting reaction from that weirdly patriotic group [NOTE: I’m not poking fun at the patriotic, just those that tie patriotism to unnecessary things like toys called drones] that think I have interest in spying on them.

I haven’t made up my mind yet.  Should I continue to call it a “drone” to laugh at the reaction or should I do what DJI Global did and remove the word from my vocabulary (notice their site is almost devoid of the term “drone” and they use terms like “high performance aerial camera systems”)?

Well, while I decide, I figured I’d post this confession today and share with you a few of the pics I’ve taken so far.

Confession: I have a drone, and I like it… and here are some pics to enjoy! (I swear, I have no interest in peeking into your windows.)

DCIM100GOPRO

Starting it up…

Check out those cherry blossoms

Check out those cherry blossoms!

drone1 drone2 drone3 drone4 drone5 drone6

Am I Allowed to Review the Apple Watch?

I’m no gadget guru but when new devices are released to the market, I often find a need to do anything and everything to get my own.  I was disappointed when I missed the Google Glass chance and then jumping for joy when a 3D printer was donated to our company game room. Again, I’m no expert but my reaction to new technology is somewhat of a kid in a candy store approach (with the sugar-high and all).

My birthday gift this year is the Apple Watch. At first I was hesitant to commit.  I mean, how would you react when all the Googleites with Android fever were surrounding you spitting on the subject that Apple could come out with a smart watch? But considering I’ve ‘gone full Apple’ over the past 10 years, I figured I could spare a birthday on an overpriced digital watch. So, I first tried to sell my Movado, and only scammers wanted it. Then I decided it was worth the risk to check out the new technology. We scheduled a fitting and marched into the Apple Store to try out the new toy.

I decided on the 38mm, stainless steel case with the milanese loop. I also added a white sport band so it would be more comfortable to run in.  The watch came about a month later and now that I’ve worn it for about 2 weeks, here’s my very basic review:

Likes:

  • Packaging – If Apple just specialized in awesome packaging, they’d make every gift a wonder. I seriously am keeping the packaging to share the experience with others… it was superb.
  • Look – It’s appealing, doesn’t look like a gaudy smart watch and passes as a professional piece. Most people don’t know it’s the Apple Watch until I point it out to them.
  • Fit – I’m happy I went with the 38mm (though I wanted the 42mm) because it fits well on my slightly small wrist. After a few days you get used to the size of the screen so that’s not a drawback. The milanese loop band which I wear most of the time not only looks nice, but fits nice and allows me to resize quickly and easily put it on or take it off. It does loosen a bit on it’s own, but can’t say I want to complain about that as it doesn’t bother me.
  • Alerts – Probably the most useful feature outside of the actual time keeping component is the ability to receive alerts on your wrist. I often forget my phone somewhere and then forget I’m supposed to be at a meeting or on a call, the watch has helped. The ‘heartbeat’ vibration is subtle enough (you get used to it) so that it doesn’t completely distract you from what you’re doing. I like the phone calls, text messages, meeting reminders and alerts from Apps like Fitbit saying I’m behind on my steps.  I recently started liking the Apple Activity Tracker app as it reminds me to stand up when I’ve been sitting at my desk over an hour.  [Wait, I have to stand now.] It’s a good habit maker.
  • Apps – Map My Run is cool, easy to start/stop/see stats during your run. I used it during the Brooklyn 1/2 Marathon last weekend and it worked very well (the screen even worked well in the pouring rain). Customizable home screen is helpful for me to see the time, date, temp, alerts and calendar at once. Clear app works well especially since my husband and I use it to day to track our groceries or lists of to-do’s.
  • Siri – Pretty good at understanding what I’m saying and putting it to text.
  • Phone Calls – Good for quick calls. Anything longer than 1 minute makes your arm hurt and people question your sanity. Noise reduction is good and volume is also good to keep your calls a bit private when in a public setting.
  • Navigation – The scroll works well, the swipe too. Looks like a good design for all that they want the watch to become. Elevating your wrist makes the screen turn on – that’s pretty cool and keeps your watch face private.

Dislikes/Needs Work:

  • I can’t garden with it. It’s too darn delicate and I’m worried I’m going to smash it into a rock or something. I can garden with my Fitbit Charge HR though. (I love my Fitbit)
  • Apps Suck – seriously, it’s as if they all thought about it 2 minutes before the watch launched and just put out 2 features to appease Apple early adopters and to get in the top 10 apps list. There are only like 3 apps that are worth using daily! Get on board app designers! Please! Why can’t Map My Run show me speed/pace?, Why can’t Instagram or Twitter show me more than 5 items total? Why can’t the calendar app show me weeks in advance? And what the heck is the point of the Solitaire app that shows me nothing other than what I haven’t done (no, you can’t play on your watch). It may be all memory issues as some suggest but I think it’s an app problem. Get on it developers! Memory is cheap!
  • Picture Taking is Creepy – my 7 year old was wearing my watch in the other room, I was on the phone and suddenly she’s taking pictures of me. #weird #creepy Give me a watch that takes its own pictures please.
  • Stupid font colors in email make it difficult to read on the Apple Watch. Dark blue on a black background makes me think I need glasses.
  • Text Canned Responses aren’t very nice – why can’t they combine “Ok” and “Thank you” by default? #manners
  • Apps don’t install.  What the heck do I have to do to get all my apps installed? I plug the watch in overnight, but still, there are apps that are partially loaded. I know I could just Google it, but I can’t do that on my Apple Watch!
  • I. Can’t. Google. – why oh why would you offer me a smart watch with no ability to search the web – not even through Siri? What were they thinking?
  • Login to Apps – you have my passwords in my iCloud keychain… take it, apply it to the watch at install and that’s that.  Stop making me sign in via my phone.  Speaking of my phone….
  • What the hell is handoff supposed to do? Well, rather, I know what it’s supposed to do but it doesn’t work. I never see the icon on the lower left of my screen. I have to login to my phone and then find the app. That’s not a handoff – that’s more of a fumble #fail
  • I still need my phone. At most, if not all times. It is not a replacement and I can’t go for a run and expect GPS to work without my phone… so with my phone, Apple Watch and Fitbit on all at once, I look like I’m on display at CES when I’m only trying to go for a run.

My cousin told me the Apple Watch was an overpriced remote control for my iPhone and I have to agree with him. HOWEVER, since I’m still an Apple Champion, I will give them another release to get this right (and to pay off a few app developers in the process). Also, I just want to support this guy – he’s just awesome.

MeetUp Success: Long Island Women in Tech

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while. Actually, every time I received a NYC MeetUp notification from Women Who Code NYC or Girl Develop It and realized I couldn’t make the trek into the city, I vowed to create a group that could meet out on Long Island, NY.

You see, the train into the city is at least 1 hour on the express and with juggling my work, life (kids, family, etc.) and play (my running addiction), it’s a struggle to add the 1.5 or so hours each way to my daily commute.

Well, I’ve finally done it! I created a group that can help Women in Tech, network, learn and grow in our technology roles while staying close to home. By forming this group, we hope to breathe new life into tech on Long Island by fostering technical education, sessions on software design and development, meetings on product management and ownership, discussions on agile framework, UX and usability design, becoming a tech leader, mentorship and sponsorship and more.

Introducing MeetUp Group: Long Island Women in Tech

Last night was our first meet up held in the CA Technologies office in Islandia, NY and we were able to meet 17 of the 50+ members of our group face-to-face.

IMG_3300

We started out with a quick ‘ice breaker’ using the LeanIN connection cards, then I did a brief presentation introducing the group, and last we tried out “Small Networking Groups” activity which is a slight spin on an Unconference.

All-in-all, the event was a success.  We had great participation, great conversation and excitement for what is to come.

IMG_3306

I’d like to thank my awesome volunteers for helping kick this off and running logistics; Gina Ribaudo, my awesome mother who setup and babysat for the mom’s attending the event. Jay Muller, my supportive husband who handled setup, tear down and the phone lines. Olivia Muller, my daughter who ran the sign in desk and created some awesome directional signs to get everyone to the right place. Michael Brennan, my helpful colleague and friend who took pictures and helped setup for the price of garlic knots. Christy Walsh, who let us borrow her meeting room, dragged in tables and chairs and searched for ice and whiteboards while doing her day-job.

I welcome you to join us in continuing the conversation via our LinkedIN Group – Long Island Women in Tech.  Even if you’re not a woman, not in tech and/or not on Long Island, you can join the conversation virtually and contribute or gain value from the great advice and questions posed by our members.

I look forward to connecting with you.

Here are some links to join us:

**Our Next MeetUp is in NYC at the Cloud Expo/ DevOps Summit – Join us here!**

5 Questions on How to Advocate for Women in Tech

Next week I have the unique opportunity to be one of the 8,000 women and men to celebrate Women in Computing at the Anita Borg Institute, Grace Hopper conference in Phoenix, Arizona.

After much pleading and begging to my very supportive manager, Rajeev Gupta, he and the team finally caved and let me take 3 days away during our busiest time of the year.  Yes, I am one of the key contributors to our next major release of CA Service Virtualization (due out shortly) and I also own the demo stations in the ca Devcenter area of CA World 2014.  But aside from reviewing, organizing, blogging, planning, designing, scripting, testing and communicating in my day job next week, I plan to take a good look at how I can do a better job of advocating for women in the tech industry.

I’ve decided to take a different strategy at this conference than I do at others.  For one, at most other technology conferences, I go, I listen, I take notes and I hope to bring some of that knowledge with me back to the office.  I do spend a lot of time networking and promoting my products or the technology space I am currently interested in.  For the Grace Hopper conference, I’ve decided to take a different tact.  I am listing out 5 questions which I consider my goals and am going to seek answers to these questions during the conference.

Here are the 5 questions I hope to answer next week:

  1. What things can I do in my everyday interaction to help my colleagues recognize the plight of women in tech? Not that they are in denial, but I see more and more people simply not recognizing that we have a problem in this industry with supporting women. So what can I do to get others to see what I feel every day? To get them to empathize and hopefully do something? I hope to network with women leaders to see what things they have tried with their teams and colleagues.  It should be fun putting these ideas to the test.
  2. How do I talk about the women in tech issue without sounding like a whiny little girl? Maybe it’s my own lack of confidence in the message but whenever advocating for women in tech, I almost feel like I’m begging. For instance, I was staffing the booths for CA World 2014 and felt like I had to justify staffing more women in the demo area. The women I chose are exceptional in their roles but I still felt like I needed to explain why I was pulling them away from their important day jobs to help showcase our latest and greatest technology. So maybe the goal isn’t to stop sounding like a “whiny little girl” but more to hone my message AND to build up my own confidence and delivery of that message.  I definitely plan to ask the women I meet what they do to advocate for women in tech today and how they pitch this message both within their companies and in their industry.
  3. How can I recruit more male advocates for Women in Tech? It is proven that in any minority struggle, finding advocates in the majority will help the cause excel more quickly and to more impactful levels. But how do I speak to the men at my company and in my industry to get them to see this as a valuable cause to fight for?  I will be looking for advice from the current male advocates who will be presenting at the conference.  Their perspectives should be insightful.
  4. How can I hold my company accountable for hiring and promoting women in tech? Being at CA Technologies over 14 years has taught me something – I will not shy away from making myself heard because this company does listen and will change for the better. You see, I’m disappointed. My executive management recently announced an organization change in higher level engineering management. This impacted up to 10 executive “general manager” level roles. Zero of the appointed or newly hired people are women.  What should I do now? I’m obviously distraught by this fact and feel like they haven’t considered enough women for these roles but I am unable to articulate the right message to the recruiting team or to our executive team to get them to understand.  I really hope to get advice on this subject at the conference next week and look forward to changing some high-powered minds at the top for the betterment of CA Technologies future.
  5. Which women-led technology development or research programs should I begin to support? I enjoy being an advocate for the little guy/gal.  The up-and-coming startup or the inventor of a new idea inspires me.  If I can give them time, assistance, promotion or even a bit of an investment to get them started, it not only makes me feel great but helps me expand my knowledge of technology.  I hope to find at least 1 or 2 new projects to support while attending the poster sessions at the conference.

Well, I’m excited about next week. I plan on making the 2014 Grace Hopper Celebration of Women in Computing a huge change agent in my career.  I look forward to blogging about the answers I found at the conference and hearing from you all as well.  What have you found to be successful?  What have you learned at the conference in years past?  Are there other questions I should be seeking answers to?

Share your thoughts in the comments section below and if you’ll be in attendance next week, don’t forget to meet up with me at the CA Technologies booth (#418) in the career fair!

[Also published on Stefana’s CA Community blog]

Dear Teacher: Please stop telling my daughter that Math is difficult

I have a confession to make.  I lied to my daughters teacher and said that her favorite subject is Math but it is not… or rather, it wasn’t.

You see, I believe there is an epidemic of negative views that ensure certain people never have a chance to excel in subjects they aren’t supposed to excel in. So, I did a little experiment of my own, using a bit of positive messaging and good intent to see if I can influence both my daughters’ perception of and confidence in math.

My daughters’ 1st grade teacher asked us to fill out a survey for the first day of school.  On that survey were two interesting questions (amongst others) “What is your child’s favorite subject?” and “What subject does your child excel in?“.  My natural response was to simply write “Math” and be done with it.  She did great in Math last year and loved adding and subtracting on her own.  But then the guilt set in.  Her favorite subject is likely Art.  She has an artistic mind and dreams in color.  She is creative and awesome and I’m proud of her.  I can’t force MY favorite subject on her!  Or could I?

Instead of jumping to conclusions, I asked her by listing out the possible subjects.  I said Spelling, Reading, Math… and she stopped me right there – “Oh no Mommy, I’m not good in Math!

WHAT?! I was quite shocked by this statement.  For one, I want her to LOVE Math (just like me of course).  Secondly, she excelled in the subject in pre-school and kindergarten – it’s always come easy to her so I didn’t even know we had a problem.  So, why on earth would my awesome daughter think that Math was difficult for her?  I was floored.

After a brief conversation on the subject (I attempted not to make a big deal about it while I was freaking out inside), I came to the conclusion that someone told her Math was hard and she didn’t want to be involved in something so difficult.  She wasn’t confident in it and it made her nervous.  But her grades and work didn’t reflect this sentiment at all!

So, stubborn me promptly told her that she was so good in Math that she was ahead of the class (not sure if it was true but I said it) and then I told her that her favorite subjects were Math and Art and wrote them down on the paper.  She of course agreed because she believes everything I say.  If my husband knew I had done this, he would have probably said I was forcing her into “my way” and influencing her decisions too much.  “Don’t tell her what she likes” he would say “you don’t like when people do that to you“.  But I wasn’t having it and I was not at all ashamed of my actions either. No daughter of mine was going to have trouble in MATH!!!

Fast forward a few weeks into the school year, Olivia and I were chatting about school and I asked her what was her best subject.  She replied “my best subject is Math“.  I asked her why that was and she said “I’m really good at it“.  And she was… her test results were flawless and she did her homework with ease; even teaching me a thing or two.  So my experiment worked!  But my reaction was a cross between guilt and absolute joy.  My attempt at instilling confidence and a love for math has actually influenced her so much that she actually believed it.  I can’t tell at this point if she actually likes it or if it was what I said that made her think she “has to” like it.  But did it matter?  She thinks Math is her best subject.  Isn’t’ that what I wanted? Sigh… the doubts of parenting.

A few weeks later we’re completing math homework – this new “common core standard” work called “Doubles Equations” where they want you to use a doubles equation (1+1 or 8+8, etc.) to find the sum of two numbers.  For example to solve 8+7, you would add 7+7+1.  Since you memorize your 7+7 doubles equation, this is supposed to be easier than just counting up from 8 or memorizing the addition sentence itself.  It’s an interesting concept.  I don’t disagree with it but it was initially difficult for me to understand since this is not exactly how I add in my head.

While trying to figure it out, Olivia floored me again with “Math is hard Mommy, my teacher said so“.  Ugh, I thought we were over this!  I responded to her.  “Math is not hard, it’s your best subject.  You tell your teacher that you’re really good at it.”  (Am I in denial, I wondered.) She responded to me that other kids in the class don’t understand the Math and that their parents write letters saying that it is difficult and doesn’t make sense. I told her that some people don’t read the directions properly and proceeded to teach her how to do the doubles equations. (Yeah, I was a bit high-almighty but I needed to get over that hump with her!)  She got it after a few tries and now has no issue with the doubles equations that she can do them with her eyes closed.

The next day the teacher sends a note home with all the children.  It reads something along the lines of “The new math is difficult, we’re teaching your children higher level concepts and critical thinking.  Stick with it and they will learn.”  Okay Teacher, I get you.  I like that you said “we’re teaching your children higher level concepts” but really, why oh why is it necessary to TELL the children and the parents that the subject is DIFFICULT?!

I don’t walk into a meeting with my development team and tell them “I have a difficult job for you but you have to do it and you’ll like it because I said so“.  I say “Guys, I have an exciting new idea that I think you’re going to like.”  It’s a bit of positive thinking, encouragement and giving them verbal confidence that this is fun and you will love it!

Confidence in young girls is one of the biggest drivers and detractors to success; in both academics and social situations.  It is often spoken about that young girls lack confidence in their looks, their body image is off, etc. etc.; Alternatively, I think it’s immensely important to cultivate confidence in the whole child (a bit Montessori of me).  It’s not good enough to just tell your daughter she is beautiful to give her confidence.  Tell her she is smart, that she is great at what she does and pay extra attention to the STEM subjects (Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

I’m quite passionate about making sure my children have confidence in all that they do.  I recently read an article by Annie Murphy Paul where the author quoted a study in 2010 that demonstrates how teachers’ unease with math can influence the students in their classrooms.  She wrote:

“The more anxious teachers were about math, the more likely the girls in their classes were to endorse negative stereotypes about females’ math ability.”

This study focused on teenage girls.  My 6-year-old daughter is feeling this today, in her 1st grade classroom.  We need to put a stop to it now.  So, Dear Teacher: Please stop telling my daughter that Math is difficult.  Tell her she’s good in Math, that she is better than the rest and that she will do even better if she practices her work.

I’m not ashamed of my little white lie, because what I intended to happen, happened.  My 6-year-old daughter is grasping higher level concepts in Math.  She’s so excited to move onto the next chapter that she finishes her full weeks worth of Math homework on Monday nights.  She even teaches her Dad and I the new methods – as she actually is paying more attention to the teachers’ lessons each day.  She is now awesome in Math because of her confidence in the subject.

But winning this battle does not win the war.  Seemingly unaware detractors and naysayers are reversing this confidence daily.  Each day I must reiterate her love for Math as well as other subjects.  Each day I have to make sure her confidence isn’t wavering.  It is my job as a mother to make sure the confidence we built together stays within her until she is able to reassure herself.

-S

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Home Tech Tips from a Disaster Survivor

One year ago today, super-storm Sandy hit the east coast of the USA devastating many of the well know waterfront areas of New York and New Jersey.  My home was unfortunately one of the many destroyed in the storm.  Now that we are finally back in our home, I’ve been doing a bit of reflecting on the challenges we’ve faced this past year and that we still face to this day.  Technology has helped us through some of these difficulties so I put together this blog to share some of the things we used, wish we had, needed last minute, before, during and after the storm.

DISCLAIMER:  Now, I’m no expert in disaster preparedness. If you need advice on that, FEMA has this nifty website, http://www.ready.gov/ that shares all the steps for being prepared. One thing is for certain, they did forget that in our ever-connected world, home IT preparedness is a necessity and no longer a “nice-to-have”.  In a disaster, it’s probably the last thing you’re thinking about but for a geek like me, it was on the top of my list.

Think about what would happen to your pictures, files, home videos, bill payments, etc. if your house was flooded? caught fire? the roof blew off? lost electricity for weeks?  Folks tell me that things can be replaced, but the digital pictures and videos of my kids and my bills spreadsheet and all my financial paperwork cannot be replaced.  There are things I did do right before the storm, things I didn’t.  Here’s what I suggest you consider if you want to be “tech prepared” for a disaster like super-storm Sandy:

Before the Storm:

  1. Back it up!  Your data/pictures/whatnot should be backed up into 2 other storage areas other than your computer or mobile device.  My simple suggestion:
    • Use an external hard drive as a primary backup:  The key here is the external hard drive is something you can grab and walk away with when/if you need to evacuate your house.  Some cheap suggestions: Buy a USB External Hard Drive for between $50 and $100.  Use the free software on your computer to create an regular backup – like the TimeMachine on your MAC or “System Image” function on your PC.  There are also programs sold to do this work for you like Symantec’s Backup Exec or Dropbox.  Some hard drives come with software as well – check out this CNet review for some good suggestions.
    • Use a cloud storage site as a secondary backup (back up at least 1x per week) – there are tons of options here; find one that works well with your computer and your mobile devices.  Most of these services have free periods or an amount of data for free – use this to test them out and pick one that works for you.  Here are a few suggestions: CrashPlan, Carbonite, Mozy, Dropbox
  2. Scan and Store Important Documents  Where are your insurance papers? your birth certificates? your important phone numbers?  your bank account numbers?  Right before the storm, I was shuffling through papers and packing them in plastic bags (a sight to be seen I tell you).  If I was prepared, I would have already scanned these items into my computer, stored them in a secured cloud and on my backup drive and simply carried everything out with me in one hand.
  3. Inventory your Stuff You not only have to know where your digital assets are, but more importantly, inventory your physical assets.  Take pictures of all the items in your home – down to the picture frames and coasters!  No one will believe that you had things unless you have receipts for them.  If you have receipts – see #2 above.  If not, take a picture and inventory it so that you know what you have now and are not struggling to remember after the disaster strikes.  This includes big items like appliances, furniture, counter-tops and cabinets as well as small items like your world-renowned shot glass collection.  Include the items in your garage, shed, basement, yard, etc.  Video is also good but can’t be faxed to the insurance folks so try for pictures first.
  4. Pay your Bills and Take out Cash  If you still pay bills manually via check, get it done before the storm.  If you pay online and it’s not auto-pay, do it ASAP or schedule it out for at least the next month so that you don’t have to worry about the bills during and after the storm.  This is a simple one but write down your checking balance somewhere so you know what’s in there and what’s coming out – just in case you need to write an emergency check to some random oil clean up company or an antiquated truck rental firm that has the only rental left in your area.  (Not saying I had this issue, not saying I didn’t.)  Keep your checkbook handy my technical friends… they still exist and are a great backup when things get tough.  Also, take out some cash in case none of the credit card machines work and you need to buy gas for your car after waiting on a line for 4 hours at the gas station and you find out that they aren’t taking credit cards.
  5. Get Power  Charge your devices to their full capacity before the power goes out.  Fill your gas tank in your car (days before if you can) and make sure you have a car charger for your devices.  Buy an extra battery backup for your smart phone, tablet or other internet connected device.
  6. Get Service  Internet service from our local cable company was down for weeks in our area after super-storm Sandy.  However, we had an AT&T 4G mobile hotspot that we used to get online since mobile service was working.  I suggest you find a few ways to get online in an emergency.  Here are some options:
    1. Regular Internet Service (cable, fiber-optic, etc) – During the storm, my parents had 15 people squatting in their home (all displaced family and friends).  They were one of the few houses in the area that had both power and internet up and running for most of the storm and aftermath. The problem? No one knew the darn wifi password!  Maybe your internet service at home doesn’t go down or a friend may have access to service and you do not.  Know your wifi password so that if someone else needs help to get online and you do have service, you can easily get them online without giving them full access to your computer.
    2. Public HotSpots – Wireless from a local public hot spot can be a godsend in a disaster.  Lots of these businesses have backups and will continue running service to help folks out during and after a storm.  Well-known locations are Starbucks, Panera Bread, Barnes and Noble book stores, McDonalds, your local train station and public library.  I found this website to be very helpful when trying to find an public hotspot: http://www.openwifispots.com/
    3. Mobile HotSpot – 3G or 4G devices such as your connected smart phone, tablet or an external device like the one we had are a great backup for internet access.  We used this for 4 months as we didn’t have cable in the location we were living.
    4. Work – If you work for a large company, they are likely to have internet service in a disaster due to their necessary disaster recovery plans.  Don’t forget that their T1 connection is likely to be up and running even though your house lost power/internet.  Of course you need to follow your company’s policy on internet use for personal reasons.  My company offered families a place to sleep, eat, shower and use the internet during and after the storm.
  7. Do it now! – Don’t wait for a storm to come – backup your stuff now and test out how you would recover from a disaster should everything go kaput.  Share this blog with your friends… be prepared!!!

During the Storm:

During super-storm Sandy my cell service didn’t flake out much.  There were definite dead zones in the most inopportune areas.  For example, we couldn’t use the phone anywhere near my parents house where we were staying for two weeks despite the fact that they lived on the only block in the area that had power. Instead, my husband and I would drive about a mile inland to a supermarket parking lot to use our phones and connect online.  At times, when driving was dangerous, we simply remained [gasp] offline.  I know this is difficult and we wish we had some sort of transistor radio to listen to what was happening during the worst part of the storm.  They’re cheap too!  Just $10-$15 and you’re able to hear what is happening when all else fails.  This site seems to go a bit overboard with their disaster preparedness kits, but their transistor radio is a cheap option for you – http://www.homefrontemergency.com/amtrraw.html

After the Storm:

Now, unless there is a total apocalypse, or a zombie takeover, the “Internet” will still be around when things settle down and you’ll probably be asked to send people stuff via email, fax or read things out over the phone.  Here are a few things you’re going to need to do:

  1. Get a Scanner/Printer/Fax machine ASAP If you were affected by the storm – lost your house, your car, or something else, you are going to gather a ton of paperwork, be asked to send folks a ton of paperwork and you could probably bury yourself in paperwork that is not at all useful.  My suggestion is to scan everything.  Scan all your files as you get them in including bills, receipts, any paperwork sent to you.  Organize them as best you can so that when someone asks for something specific, you can do a quick search for it on your computer instead of attempting to rifle through mounds of confusing papers.  The printer and fax machine are necessary too.  Your insurance company, FEMA, Mortgage company are living in the 80’s with fax machines instead of email.  They’ll want to fax you documents and then ask you to fill them out, sign them and fax them back.  Fax services are expensive and they’ll want you to send hundreds of pages.  Imagine paying $100 just to send your insurance company info that you’ve already sent 3 times.  It gets expensive – just buy a multipurpose machine to get the job done once and for all.
  2. Take lots of pictures of damaged items or property  Leave no item un-photographed!  Insurance companies love to downplay your loss and this could mean hundreds of thousands of dollars that you will have to pay out of pocket (I’m not kidding).  Make sure you photograph anything that you throw away and include serial numbers so that the price of items can be identified at a later date.
  3. Put things in the Cloud  Make your files accessible from anywhere.  You’ll never know when you need a phone number, id/account number, persons name, receipt, picture and so on.  My suggestion is to use a free online service like Dropbox to hold your “stuff”.  This allows you and others that you authorize to access your information from almost anywhere.  I can’t even count the times I was at work and needed a file to send to someone (insurance, mortgage company, FEMA, LIPA) and didn’t have it in my great big folder of files.  Finally when I decided to put everything on Dropbox, this became a non-issue – and I stopped lugging around a 50lb bag everywhere I went (my back thanked me).

So that’s that.  Everything I can remember about being prepared for and dealing with the aftermath of a storm/disaster from a home tech perspective.  I hope this blog helps others that are looking to prepare or even helps those that have to go thought the mess we went through this past year.

If you have any additions to this list, let me know in the comments!  I’m always looking for additional info or better ways to get things done.  If you’re going through this mess now and need some support, reach out as well.  Us disaster survivors have an uncanny ability to remember everything we went through and give some great advice to others.

Best of luck to you all.

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