Your TV May be Watching YOU

I took a little heat the day my son walked in and noticed the tiniest piece of Gorilla Tape I’d strategically stuck over the built-in camera on my MacBook Pro. “Paranoid much, Mom?”

022615image

Ever since I’d read a news story about how identity thieves are hacking into webcams and computers to do their dirty work, that tiny dot-sized camera had become a giant eye staring at me and it was giving me the creeps.

I figured some do-it-yourself pre-emptive action on my part couldn’t hurt, if only to give me some peace of mind. It worked.

I didn’t think much about it again until I watched my friend and cybercrime expert, Bob Sullivan, on TODAY discussing Samsung Smart TVs. It seems that these Smart TVs that come with voice control (also known as voice recognition) are super smart with an interactive feature that allows its owner to use many of its features with voice commands. Simply put, you talk to the remote control instead of fiddling to figure out which buttons to press. 

Samsung SmartTV is listening all the time, too. It not only collects what you say into its remote control—Samsung uploads and stores everything Smart TVs hear from the room  without encrypting it. You can read about it in Samsung’s privacy policies

“That means anyone who can insert themselves between your TV and Samsung’s collection devices and its partners can hear what you say on your couch. Not a surprise,” said Bob. “New gadgets always arrive with features first, security second.  Watch this pattern play out again and again as The Internet of Creepy Things invades our home.”

Samsung is not alone.

25 Ways to Chop Your Grocery Bill

Need a foolproof way to cut your food/grocery expenses by 25 percent this month? Announce to your family that there will be a complete ban on the consumption of food during the first week of every month. There. That should do it!  25 percent right off the top.

022515image

What?! Don’t think you can pull that off? Me either, but not to worry. Here are some less painful—and I hope a bit more realistic—ways to get a handle on your food expenses.

Make out your shopping list at home when you are hungry. You will be more creative and thorough.

Never shop when hungry. You will be compelled to buy everything in site regardless of what’s on your list.

Leave the kids home. You will stick to your shopping list with much less frustration and stress if you fly solo.

Don’t shop at convenience or specialty stores. You won’t find many bargains there.

Enlist a kid. When you need to make milk and produce runs between your regular major shopping trips, make a precise list and engage the services of an errand runner (like a responsible child.)

Hidden Benefits in Your AAA Membership

When I pulled out my AAA membership card to get a discount for Sea World tickets  this past weekend, I locked eyeballs with “YEARS AS MEMBER: 40” printed on the card. I nearly nearly passed out. That seemed absolutely impossible, until I did a little mental calculation. It’s true. AAA has been an important part of my life for four decades.

If you are a member of AAA, it’s likely that you depend on it to get you out of an automotive bind with a roadside jumpstart, a gallon of gas or a tow. Just so you know, they also come to the rescue should you ever lock your keys in the car. Or a sleeping baby. Let’s just say that AAA has saved my bacon on more than one occasion.

022315image

photo credit: EdenPictures

AAA membership has so many other benefits that just roadside assistance—some I’ve taken advantage of in the past, but many others I didn’t even know about. If you’re a member, perhaps you’ll be surprised too, by all of the hidden benefits in your membership.

Secrets of a Cheapskate Gardener

I love a beautiful yard, but I hate spending money to get it that way which explains why I am always looking for do-it-yourself cheap ways to kill weeds, grow flowers and feed lawns.

I have come across some very clever tips and tricks, not the least of which is to reclassify the dandelion as a low-maintenance, hardy ground cover!

DANDELIONS

While you ponder that suggestion, take a look at these clever ideas to make your own landscape supplies.

LAWN FOOD: Mix four pounds magnesium sulfate (Epsom salts) with a bag of your favorite lawn food that covers 2,500 sq. ft. Now feed your lawn only half the amount of this mixture as recommended on the lawn food bag You’ll save a lot of money because you’ll be using less than half the normal amount of fertilizer and this formulation cuts down on the nitrogen which makes your lawn grow so fast. You’ll have the wonderful deep-green color, better root structure and you won’t have to mow as often.

LAWN SNACK: Try this on your lawn every three weeks during the summer. (With every third snack, add 1/2 cup clear corn syrup or molasses to the mixture.)

Pour the beer and shampoo (and corn syrup when it’s the third snack) into a 20-gallon hose-end sprayer jar; fill up the jar with ammonia and apply, following the instructions on the hose-end sprayer. You’re going to have very happy grass.

Insurance Coverage You Absolutely Don’t Need

Some kinds of insurance are necessary. The following, however, may not only be unnecessary but downright ridiculous.

14715990_m

ACCIDENTAL DEATH INSURANCE. Why pay extra for this kind of insurance? Statistically, it is highly unlikely you will die in an accident and even if you do the basic life insurance you carry should be sufficient.

CHILD LIFE INSURANCE. Life insurance should be carried only to the extent that others depend upon the income of the insured, whose early demise will leave those people financially destitute. Children don’t fall into this category unless, of course, your kid is Griffin Gluck. Insuring the lives of children is unnecessary and does not guarantee insurability when the child reaches adulthood as some agents would like you to believe. Actuarially speaking, the chances that your child will die in childhood, leaving you with big burial costs are so small, they’re barely worth talking about and a risk parents should agree to self-insure

TRAVEL INSURANCE. Never purchase this kind of insurance before taking a trip. If in the unlikely event the plane crashes or ship sinks, your family is going to sue. This kind of last minute insurance is costly and a major rip-off. Ditto for trip cancellation insurance.

Beat the Clutter Improve Your Life

Getting organized is like dieting. Everyone knows how to do it. The problem is getting around to it and then maintaining the results.

021615image

A few years ago, when we remodeled our kitchen I emptied every cupboard and drawer. When it was time to put everything back, I decided to put things away as I used them. I quickly realized why it was such a problem to keep the kitchen neat and tidy. We had too much stuff we never used. Getting rid of the unused left so much space to organize the essentials.

Face it. If you don’t have enough closet, drawer and storage space to comfortably handle your possessions, you probably own to many things. Give away, pare down let your rooms closets and drawers appear serene and controlled–kept.

There’s no single “right” way to organize your possessions and home. Organization must fit your style, your energy and your schedule. Find a system that functions best for you and your family.

No matter the way you do it, let this be your mantra: Eliminate and concentrate.

Weird Ways to Earn Money on the Side

Recently, while brainstorming with a reader who needed to supplement her regular full-time job, I made a quick list of the ways I’ve done that in my life. I wanted to help her discover what she does well that others might pay her to do for them. 

11941179_m

PROCESS SERVER. I worked as an independent process server for a company that attorneys hire to have subpoenas delivered in their civil cases. Whenever I had a couple of hours to spare, I’d pop into the office, pick up a stack of subpoenas and head out to attempt to “serve” unsuspecting defendants in civil law suits.

My mission was to locate the defendant then address said person by name (Laura … Laura Smith?). By law, I was required to make sure I had eye contact, wait for that look of “knowing” and then hand off the document. Even if the person refused it, turning to walk (run?), I could legally assert that I had completed the mission.

The best part? I got paid $35 per attempt to serve. That means if I knocked on the door and no one was home, attempt complete and back into the stack that document would go for a future attempt. I could easily “attempt to serve” two or three subpoena’s per hour. The attorney service company I worked for loved me because I was available at odd times, like late at night or early on a Saturday.

Process servers are legally required to serve papers in the correct manner laid out by their state. Process serving laws differ by state. But basically, if you are an adult, have not been convicted of a crime and can engage strangers in a warm and friendly way, you too could be a process server in your spare time.

PIANO TEACHER. I got started young at age 15 as a student teacher in a music academy. I loved it—not so much the teaching, but the $5 per lesson. My little students did well and soon I was teaching on my own, at home after school. Teaching private piano lessons was the way I paid my way through college. At one point I had 72 students, giving each one a 30-minute lesson per week.

The Mystery of Hair Conditioners

Considering the huge reader response on a past article on how to know which cheap shampoos are actually good for your hair, it seemed only right to follow with a similar piece on conditioners. Unfortunately, conditioners are not quite as simple as shampoos.

20761154_m

First, we need to demystify the term “conditioner.” It is a vague term that refers to a wide range of hair products designed to make hair more manageable and also treat common hair problems.

Conditioners fall into general categories according to what they do and the problems they solve.

Using the wrong product for the specific condition of your hair will produce disappointing results. For example, if your hair is thin and fine you are not going to be happy with my industrial-strength conditioner for thick, coarse, frizzy, color-treated hair.