Friday, June 25, 2010

A Dutch Rubber Mop For Wet or Dry Messes

I really don't like traditional brooms. They get all messy and are absolutely disgusting to clean. And hair? They don't really sweep up hair. All the hair just sticks to all the other yucky stuff already sticking to the ends of the broom. And we live with it.

But, I first came across the dutch rubber mop while reading an article in Parents magazine (not an endorsement). I was intrigued. I looked it up on amazon. I watched this dorky video.

At just about $10 (price fluctuates), I figured it was worth the risk. I've had my rubber mop/broom for over a month now. I use it all the time. I haven't used my regular broom at all. In fact, I haven't used my mop at all (I used a Swiffer with a homemade fleece cover for mopping). I mop like the guy in the video above. But I have read that others take an old kitchen towel and attach it to the mop head with rubber bands for mopping. I'm sure it would be very easy to attach elastic to some terry cloth to make a cover for the rubber mop. I haven't bothered yet. I used this mop to scrub and clean my exterior windows too. I just love being able to rinse off the rubber broom head and always have a clean broom/mop. I cut my family member's hair and it does a very, very good job of cleaning that mess up. I would think that for someone who has wood floors and/or pets, a rubber mop would be better than a Swiffer because there are no refills to buy and it picks up everything! This mop is also advertised to pick up pet hair and dirt from carpets when vacuuming isn't enough. I haven't really tried that. I understand that it's quite an exercise. I do enough of that.

The only thing I don't like about it is that since it is 12 inches wide, it doesn't fit into my regular dustpan very well. So, I'll have to look for a 12 inch wide dustpan.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Still Paying to Make Long Distance Calls?

I think we're on the brink of an era in which the term "long distance" with regard to phone service will be a thing of the past. Why do I say this? Cell phones let you call anywhere in the US. Only thing you pay extra for is international calls. If you use Skype, it's a similar thing. Many VOIP phone services don't charge extra for long distance either: Phone Power, Ooma, & Vonage to name a few... And then there is even Google Voice.

For this post I want to focus on Google Voice. You no longer need an invitation to hop on the band-wagon. Just click on the link and set up an account. If you already have a Google account, just sign in with that to start your Google Voice account.

Just what is Google Voice? It's not a substitute for your current phone company, but it can offer you a lot of things that your current phone company charges you for... like free long distance calls (over your phone).

When you set up your account, you can pick your own phone number. Next you set up what phones you want the Google Voice number to ring to. For example: cell phones, home phones, work phones... (You can give this number out to people rather than your home number or vice versa.) You can set up your own voice mail, block calls, and listen to your voice mail from your inbox. Cool? Well, if those features aren't enticing to you, the ability to make free long distance calls should. This is how you make one. Log onto your Google Voice account. Input the number you would like to call and which phone you would like to make the call with (home, cell, work). Google voice will call the phone you selected, you pick up, and wait for Google Voice to connect you. Easy. Oh, and they have really inexpensive international rates too.

To learn more about Google Voice, visit their YouTube channel.

I told you-- They (Google) are taking over the world.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

You Can Try Linux!

It started when someone was talking to me about having an old computer and wondering what do with it since the it had so little memory (256 RAM). Well, I told her I thought a Linux operating system (OS) would be a viable option, but that I'd have look into it since I didn't know any off the top of my head.

And so I did a lot of looking, because I confess: this stuff is insanely interesting to me.

Here's what I learned:
  • Did you know you can try a Linux operating system on your computer without having to actually install it?
  • Did you know that there are some pocket size Linux operating systems that you can literally carry with you and use in any computer? --You can basically leave no trace on the computer you used. (Not that I need to be that stealthy, but it's cool).
  • Say your PC crashed and you need to get onto the internet. If you have a Linux OS image on a cd, you can, in many cases boot up your computer with it since it runs off of RAM, not the hard disk (where a virus is).
  • You can run a Linux OS without even having a hard drive on the computer too!
  • You don't even need anti-virus software for Linux! Talk about freedom.
Okay, that's all very cool and intriguing to me. If you aren't intrigued, read no further. If you are, here are the tiny Linux OS images I burned to CD and tried out this week:
You don't really need much to try these out. If you have a CD-R disc or a USB drive, you've got what you need. Now, of course, your computer has to be able to boot from either of these devices as well... so it can't be too ancient. But most computers born within the last 10 years can do this. Each website (Slax and Puppy Linux) have good documentation on how to download and burn the images to a CD or put on the USB drive.

The only really important thing that I ran into was burning the image to my CD. I have XP and it gives you only the option to write the file to a cd, which as I learned, is not the same as burning an image. To do that, I had to download a tiny file called ISO Recorder. It literally took less than a second to download. I used the handy tutorial to copy the image to a CD.

From there, it was just cool. I stuck the CD in my drive, restarted my computer and at the prompt hit F12 (different for different computers) to access the boot menu, chose option 4 (boot from CD). It took about 30 seconds for the Linux OS to boot.

At first glance, both Slax and Puppy Linux are great. Slax recognized my internet connection right away. Puppy Linux did not, but it was easy to set up. I just had to manually tell the OS to probe my computer for a connection. I haven't used either OS a whole lot, right now I think they are both great, though there is something about Puppy Linux I like more... I can't put my finger on it. Maybe it's just the cute puppy. :)

Other Thoughts: I was thinking about what this new knowledge does for me. Well, I'll be less hesitant to throw out a computer. Putting a Linux OS on a older computer for my kids would be a very viable option. For someone just needing a computer with just an internet connection and an open source office suite, why spend money on and operating system when there are so many free Linux distributions out there?

Update, April 26, 2011: Since posting this, I have had a few opportunities to help other people with their computers using these live CDs. On the whole, I started to favor Slax over Puppy because it is so good at automatically recognizing an internet connection. That just makes it more user-friendly since most people that have a compromised computer are just dying to have their internet access back. Also worthy of note, if you are trying to use either of these live CDs with a computer that has a wireless connection to the internet, it can get harry. Linux doesn't play really well with wireless connections yet. I say YET. Linux will get there as the demand increases, I am sure.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The ATM Ate My Money...

Ever wonder just how secure your money is once you stick in and envelope and pass it on through the ATM? I have. But it's just an unknown that I'd learned to live with. And I will try to continue to trust that it usually works without kinks... but it might take some time to get over my latest mishap.

A few weeks ago I lost $80 in cash in/at/around/though an ATM. I had gone to an ATM to deposit the money one day and found the ATM under maintenance. I decided not to go into the bank to do the transaction because I had three little children in tow and just didn't want to deal with that. So, I came back the next day instead. I remember pulling my money out, looking around to make sure that no one was watching me, and sticking it in the deposit envelope. I distinctly remember thinking that it was quite interesting that I could just put money in there and it would go to my account without any real evidence that I actually put the money in there. And how does my envelope stay with my transaction info? Oh well, finished the transaction and left.

The Story
About a week later I received a letter from my bank telling me that the deposit envelope was empty and that $80 was deducted from my account. What?! Why didn't they call me before the $80 was deducted? That would have been nice. I felt robbed. As I should. I don't have those $80 anymore. So who does? I figured I had a responsibility to report it. After all, what if this was happening to others? But, I knew that I had no evidence that I put money in the envelope, so the chances were slim that I would get my money back.

I called my local bank branch and they went ahead and credited my account $80 while they conducted an investigation. About a week and a half later I received a letter from the Bank (this is a large bank, so it was from headquarters) telling me that the investigation had been conducted and that the deposit envelope was indeed empty. Therefore, they would be withdrawing the $80 from my account on a future date (in two days... would have been nice to have that warning the first time they took money out!). If I wanted to look at the documentation used in the investigation, the letter said, I could just call their 24 hour number.

At this point, I was consigned to the fact that I'd been robbed and that I would most likely not be getting the money back. But, I was very intrigued as to how such an investigation was conducted so I called the Bank. This is were the fun started. The nice customer service representative told me he had no idea how I could get the investigation documentation and that he didn't know how they investigated these things. He told me to call my local branch. I asked the rep, "What is a person to do? How can they trust ATMs? How can I make sure this didn't happen to me again?" His answer: "Don't use ATMs to deposit money." Okay, I thought that was one of their purposes. Oh well.

I call my local branch. The assistant manager tells me that they don't know anything about the letter that I received and that they don't know how the investigation was conducted either. The lady who was handling my case is on vacation... so they didn't even know that an investigation had been initiated. They tell me they'll call me back. "Wait," I ask, "how often does this happen? Can I trust an ATM again? I was talking to a rep at the 24 hour hotline and he said not to use ATMs to deposit money. Would you agree with that?" Her response: "Absolutely not. Just get to know me." What is that supposed to mean? That would require that I go into the bank to do my transactions, therefore defeating the convenience of an ATM. I didn't press her anymore. She did go on to say that empty envelopes happen quite a bit. Okay... (I'm feeling less and less sure of either my bank branch or ATMs. I'm not sure which.)

I get a call back from the branch manager. She is just as confused as everyone else. I go through the whole story from start to finish. I just tell her that I've come to grips with the fact that I won't get my money, but that I am very curious to know about how the investigation was conducted. She didn't know... after all, she didn't even know that it had been conducted. But, in order to stop spending time on this, I suppose, she called it a loss for the Bank and said she'd make sure the $80 stayed in my account because I'm a "long-time customer" in "good standing." I told her that I had lost my confidence in ATMs and wondered how often this sort of thing happens. She told me that this was the second time she's seen it happen in 23 years. But the the assistant manager said it happens all the time... I didn't tell her that.

The End
I have my $80. I still have no idea how the investigation was conducted... and will probably never know. I have decided that for me personally, I will limit my ATM use because now I'm paranoid. Maybe I'll start using it all the time like I have for the last 13 years once I get over the paranoia.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Ironing Large Items Like Drapes

Next time you have a big thing to iron, you might try doing it on the floor instead of an ironing board...

I bought a nice set of drapes for my patio door. I made sure they were machine washable since I didn't want to worry about sending them to the cleaners. The washing part has been fine and dandy, but the ironing part is something I dread. If you've ever tried to iron a large item using a conventional ironing board, you know what I mean. Every bit of newly iron fabric inevitably falls to the floor and gets wrinkled again. Frustrating! Last time I ironed my drapes on the ironing board I timed it. It took over an hour! Sheesh. So, needless to say, when it came time to clean my drapes this year, I was really not looking forward to over an hour of ironing. Then I got smart:

Made sure the kids were out of the way first (napping), and then I spread my drapes on the floor. Just right onto the carpet. I went ahead and set my iron to the correct fabric setting and just ironed the whole thing right on the floor. I had to move the iron to a plug on the other side of the room halfway though since the cord wasn't long enough. But, since I wasn't having to move the fabric over an ironing board, the finished product produced far fewer wrinkles than my original method. My drapes are thick enough, I wasn't worried about melting my carpet underneath. I suppose I could have put down a large cotton sheet between the carpet and the drapes if I felt the need. And the biggest advantage of it all, ironing on the floor took about half the time.

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Getting Housework on Auto-Pilot

Six months ago I made a New Years Resolution to get the house more organized. Little did I know what a lofty goal this would be... only because it has opened my eyes. I started with little things like organizing the kids toys, the flow of everyday paperwork, and most recently housework.

I have often heard friends of mine describe an elaborate system for keeping their homes clean. It seemed so daunting. I'm not a messy person. I like things clean, but I've never had much of a system for it. I just cleaned as needed. This approach has worked for years. But, I started to notice that some things fell through the cracks. Things like cleaning out the garage, that happen yearly, can easily be forgotten altogether. And when my husband asks what he can do to help, caught of guard, I don't usually have a good answer. And, knowing that the summer is approaching and I'll have four children at home during the day, I wanted to make sure I was equipped to have them help me with the workload. So, I figured it was time to think about housework so that I could stop thinking about it.

Here's what I did:
  • Wrote a list of chores that need to be done regularly, acknowledging that the list would never be complete, but that trying is better than nothing!
  • Separated the tasks into daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, and semi-annual, and annual categories.
  • Sat at the computer and typed up my "Grand Chore Chart."
    I assigned weekly chores a certain day of the week, taking into account my schedule, and what I can actually do on any given day. For less frequent chores, I took into account, weather, and our family schedule as I assigned certain months for certain tasks.
Here's what I ended up with:
The Grand Chore Chart

I know, a lot of work. But I have heard it said, "the busier you are, the more time you should spend planning." This is true here. I've been running off this chore chart for about three months now. The benefits have converted me.

  • Weekends aren't filled with cleaning because I've taken care of so much of it over the week. Therefore, I'm finding more time to spend with my family.
  • When my husband asks what needs to be done or my children want to earn the right to play the computer or something else, I can quickly tell them what needs to be done.
  • I feel like the time during my day is freed up because I'm not having to think about what I might be forgetting.
  • The kitchen disposal isn't near as disgusting to clean when I do it weekly!
Of course, there are some days when I don't get the allotted tasks done. No biggie. I just catch up or leave them out altogether for the week. After all, since I'm doing them weekly, it's okay if I miss a week.