Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Social Media Hall Monitor

Like most of us, I hate trolls on the Internet.  I really don’t understand someone who simply wants to provoke arguments and bad feelings with others on social media. Lately I have been fighting back in my own way, I have become a social media hall monitor.

Do you remember way back when schools had actual hall monitors, or the times when your teacher left the room but she would put one of the goody-two-shoes kids “in charge” of the classroom while she was gone because she knew those kids would tattle on anyone who misbehaved?  Well I have decided that the only way to help get rid of trolls and get back to some semblance of decency and civility on social media is to tattle on people.
Yes, I am tattling on anyone who posts nasty, awful, or untrue things and it is actually helping, at least a little bit.  Every social media platform has specific written guidelines for what is and is not acceptable, and they all have a relatively simple reporting mechanism, so I have begun to take the time to report when I see a post or comment that violates the guidelines.

On Twitter, you can report directly from an individual Tweet or profile for certain violations, including: spam, abusive or harmful content, inappropriate ads, self-harm and impersonation.  According to Twitter, here are the steps for reporting:
How to report a Tweet in a Moment for violations:
1.    Navigate to the Tweet within the Moment that you’d like to report. 
2.    Click or tap the  icon 
3.    Click or tap Report Tweet.
4.    Choose the type of issue you’d like to report to us.
5.    Once you’ve submitted your report, we’ll provide recommendations for actions you can take to improve your Twitter experience

Facebook also has a fairly simply mechanism for reporting abusive content. According to Facebook, The best way to report abusive content or spam on Facebook is by using the Report link that appears near the content itself. For example here are the directions to report a comment:

To report a comment:
         Go to the comment you want to report.
         Click Hide thisReport.
         Follow the on-screen instructions.

Taking the time to report these comments can be a hassle, but it can work.  

Recently I have been using the neighborhood group discussion. It is a fun and simple way to chat with your local neighbors, to ask for recommendations about home services or report a lost pet or any number of things you may want to share with your neighbors. 
Of course, with any social media, this group had a member who wanted to use the group as his own personal soapbox. He would write comments arguing with neighbors or promoting his own political agenda, which is clearly not the intent of this group and this behavior goes against the community guidelines.  I posted some community news and he proceeded to argue with me, so I took the time to report him. At first he was temporarily banned from the group, but upon return he continued to argue with me and other neighbors, so I once again took the time to report his comments and he has since been removed from the group permanently.  It is a small victory, but it is one step closer to regaining the civility and decency that I hope we can all return to.  

It won’t solve every problem on social media and it won’t eliminate trolls completely, but if we all take the time to report these trolls, social media just might become a nicer place. 

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Are you a Trusted Traveler?

Wanderlust has taken hold of me. Last year I travelled with a friend to Iceland and we had the most amazing time. This year I found an incredible deal on a trip to Bangkok, Thailand and we are heading there in the fall. I have always been inspired to travel. Way back in college I spent my life savings on a 21-day trip around Europe, and I have been finding ways to continue travelling ever since.  

After returning from Iceland, my friend encouraged me to get a Global Entry Card.  Basically a Global Entry is a special pass when you travel that lets you skip long lines upon re-entry to the United States.  Since travel is definitely in my future plans I decided to check it out, and after a pretty straightforward process that lasted about a month, I received my card so look out world, here I come.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with this program like I was, 
Global Entry is a U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) program that, according to their website, “ allows expedited clearance for pre-approved, low-risk travelers upon arrival in the United States”.
Although I have not used my card yet, according to the website, when people with a Global entry got to the airport they “proceed to Global Entry kiosks, present their machine-readable passport or U.S. permanent resident card, place their fingerprints on the scanner for fingerprint verification and complete a customs declaration. The kiosk issues the traveler a transaction receipt and directs the traveler to baggage claim and the exit.”  If you have ever had to wait in a long customs line you will understand the importance of this card. Basically it lets you skip much of the customs process.  This card works as a front of the line pass.  
The reason you are allowed to skip the line is that all travelers have to be pre-approved for the Global Entry program. Applicants undergo a background check and in-person interview before they are enrolled in the program.  The card also has a fee of $100 and lasts for 5 years.  Some travel credit cards will reimburse your fee for the program.  

Here are the required steps to apply for a card, according to the U.S. Customs and Border Patrol website 

Before you apply, make sure you are eligible for Global Entry.
It’s easy. Just follow these steps:
1.         Create a Trusted Traveler Programs (TTP) account. Regardless of your age, you must have your own TTP account.
2.        Log in to your TTP account and complete the application. A $100 non-refundable fee is required with each completed application.
3.        After accepting your completed application and fee, CBP will review your application. If your application is conditionally approved, then your TTP account will instruct you to schedule an interview at a Global Entry Enrollment Center. Each applicant must schedule a separate interview.
4.       You will need to bring your valid passport(s) and one other form of identification, such as a driver’s license or ID card to the interview. If you are a lawful permanent resident, you must present your machine readable permanent resident card.

Are You Eligible?
U.S. citizens, U.S. lawful permanent residents and citizens of the following countries are eligible for Global Entry membership:
·      Citizens of India
·      Citizens of Colombia
·      Citizens of Germany
·      Citizens of Panama
·      Citizens of Singapore
·      Citizens of South Korea 
·      Citizens of Taiwan 
·      Mexican nationals

Canadian citizens and residents are eligible for Global Entry benefits through membership in the NEXUS program.
If you are under the age of 18, you must have your parent or legal guardian's consent to participate in the program.

When I applied I received conditional approval within a few days.  There are enrollment centers at most major airports, but interview appointments fill up quickly.  I had to wait about three weeks for my interview, but the interview itself took only about 5 minutes.  The agent verified my personal data on the application, took my fingerprints and picture and then sent me on my way.  

One of the great perks of the card is that it also includes TSA precheck for domestic flights, which is another great program that allows you to skip the lines at airport security.  

While this program isn’t for everyone, if you are planning to do international travel this card can hopefully make your trip a little bit easier, and after a long international flight that sounds wonderful.  

Sunday, June 3, 2018

How many have you read?

Have you heard about the Great American Read? PBS is hosting a special program throughout this summer where host Meredith Viera is trying to help American decide which is America’s best-loved novel. The program has already narrowed the list down to 100 books, and they are asking viewers to go online and vote for their favorite.  

For me, as an avid bibliophile, trying to choose my favorite book is a nearly impossible task. It is like asking parents to choose which of their children is their favorite. I love so many books and I love them each differently.  Books that instilled my love of reading, books that helped me cope with grief, books that made my daughter’s childhood more magical, books that had me laughing out loud, books that made me cry rivers of tear; my life has been filled with so many books.  

I am curious which book will wind up the favorite.  I spent some time reviewing the list and so far I have read 20 out of the 100 books on the list. 

I have to be honest I completely disagree with some of the choices in their top 100.  How can any respectable list of the great American novel can actually include Fifty Shades of Gray?  There are also important books missing from this list. One of my all-time favorite books, Flowers for Algernon is not on the list. Many excellent recent books like The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah failed to make the list as well.  Even classics like Of Mice and Men didn’t make the list.  Somehow the committee decided to include John Green’s Looking For Alaska instead of his more popular book, the Fault in our Stars. The list includes Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer but did not include the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.  

One thing to note, when a book is part of a popular series of books, only the first book in the series is listed (i.e. Harry Potter or the Hunger games). 

How many of the books on this list have you read? Which book do you think will be named the Great American Read?

I am actually interested enough to watch and find out. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Why I love being an Aunt

Being an Aunt is such a special relationship – it is all of the fun and none of the work.  

I get to watch my amazing nieces and nephews grow into incredible people that I am really proud to know.

We have special secrets – just between us.  We have inside jokes that we like to laugh about in front of their parents just to bug them.

I get the chance to make fun of my siblings, which gives my nieces and nephews a chance to see their parents in a whole new way.

I get to share their interests and learn more about technology, sports and so many other things that I would not have learned without them.

I get to be a ‘Great Aunt’ (although let’s face it I am already a great aunt)

I have so much fun sharing memories with them, especially corny old pictures of the family and stories about our history.

Unlike their parents, I don’t give advice unless they ask me.  My only job is to encourage them and let them know how much I love them.

Everyone has that one weird uncle, but somehow being the weird Aunt is cool.

And yes, someday they will be the ones to sneak booze into my nursing home. 

Friday, May 25, 2018

Looking forward to Retirement

My husband and I have spent extra time talking about and thinking about our retirement lately.  As we get closer to retirement age, we have spent a great deal of time getting prepared. If you are anything like us, you have a lot of unanswered questions so I wanted to take some time to review some of the big decisions that retirement will bring.

First, and probably most important will be making a retirement budget. Sit down and think about all of the expenses you will have.  It is hard to successfully plan for retirement if you have no idea how much money you will need to live.  It is important to be realistic about your expenses, and be sure to include extras for those items that are hard to plan for, like car and home repairs, gifts and special occasions, etc.

While making your budget, you will have to look closely at any of your retirement income and weigh that against your decision of when to apply for social security. Applying at 62 or 67 will have benefits and drawbacks.  Waiting will increase the amount of your monthly check, but you might have less payout overall.  Women usually earn less than men, so married women will need to look at whether they should apply for ½ of their husbands benefit amount or if the amount they will receive on their own is a larger amount.  

Now is a good time to review all of your previous employment 401K and retirement accounts, and see which ones you can consolidate, which will make things easier to keep track of.  

The next big decision is whether or not to downsize.  We have given a great deal of thought to this topic. Right now we are in a big 2-story 4-bedroom house that is much bigger than we need.  Downsizing not only has the benefit of less house to clean and pay for, but often can result in additional funds that can be put into retirement investment accounts.  Additional benefits of downsizing include lower utility costs, reduced maintenance and upkeep, and for us the prospect of no stairs to deal with as our bones and joints continue to age.  Of course this decision is anything but simple, downsizing also depends on the real estate market at the time and the sentimental value of staying in your current home, not to mention the effort and expense of moving and having to get rid of possessions that will no longer fit into your new smaller home.  There may be some tax implications as well, so you should discuss this with financial professionals to be sure what the right decision is for you. 

Whether you choose to downsize or not, now is the time to begin to declutter.  It is important to let go of some of those possessions you no longer need, this will help you in moving into a new smaller place and your children have less to sort through after you are gone.  

It is exciting to think about retirement, I am looking forward to enjoying time with my husband and hopefully all of our planning will pay off.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Stay Smart to Prevent Fraud

There are lots of scams out there. Almost every week I receive one or more phishing emails telling me I won something or my account at such-and-such bank has been compromised so just ‘click here’ to update my info.  The problem is I usually don’t even have an account at that bank.  It is important to be smart online.   

Recently I came across some good basic tips for being safe and smart to prevent fraud so I thought I would go ahead and share them here. 
·       Never give your social security number for identification purposes, and don't give out personal information unless you are legally required to do so.
·       Treat your debit cards like cash and ensure a PIN number is required to make a purchase. 
·       Check your credit card and bank statements regularly.
(I actually check my bank account daily so I will know right away if something is wrong)
·       Obtain an annual credit report.  There are several banks and credit card companies that will tell you your credit score, but that is not the same as actually looking at your credit report.  A free service to check your credit is 
·        If you receive hard copy bills or credit card offers, please remember to shred the documents and sign up for electronic copies to have less of a paper trail where possible. I also take the time to shred all those pesky credit card offers I receive in the mail, I don’t want someone digging those out of the trash and trying to open an account in my name.  
·       If you receive an unsolicited call from someone asking to confirm information on your completed tax return or your bank account, DO NOT provide personal information. Hang up and call back using the company’s legitimate phone number, not the one you received by the caller. This will help ensure your information only goes to the legitimate company or service. Please note, the IRS will not call you to verify information on your return. Consider using the White Pages’ reverse phone look-up to confirm the identity of a caller, and ensure it’s not a scam or a hoax.

If you have any good tips for preventing fraud please share them in the comments below.