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How I Took A Wonderful Break From Technology

Piloting

The sun brightly peeked over the horizon and a cool breeze wafted through my car windows as I headed up Highway 41 to my friend’s house. A perfect day, this Memorial Day, for driving to Chicago – my favorite city and our vacation destination.

Alec and I originally planned to attend a two-day business seminar during our trip.  But circumstances necessitated the organizer move the seminar to the week before.

Our schedules couldn’t be changed on such short notice, so we chose to enjoy a much needed full week of relaxation in the Windy City.

 

Go Cubs!

Attending a Chicago Cubs game Tuesday night at Wrigley Field was the first highlight of our week. 

While waiting at the Addison CTA bus stop for the next bus to Wrigley Field, a limo pulled up offering a ride to the ballpark for only $10 a person.  That was a no-brainer! 

At least thirty people already crowded the bus stop and more were getting off the train headed our way.  We would have been uncomfortably stuffed like sardines on the bus.  So Alec and I hopped in the limo.

Fifteen minutes later we stood in front of the historic, charming ball park I’d only seen on TV.  Thanks to advice from another passenger in the limo, we quickly entered Wrigley through a lesser-used back gate.  We got our drinks and settled in seats with a perfect view of the entire game.

Despite their impressive winning season this year, the Cubs lost to the Dodgers 0-5.  I blamed it on Alec because he’s a Cardinals fan, but was wearing his grandpa’s favorite Cubs jersey.

 

Doing Touristy Things

Wednesday’s weather forecast called for a 90 percent chance of showers.  With umbrellas in hand, we spent the day touring Shedd Aquarium and the Museum of Science and Industry.

The rains didn’t last as long as the weather forecasters predicted, so after dining on the world famous Giordano’s Chicago pizza at Navy Pier, we rented bicycles and rode around the downtown area.

As evening fell, we stopped at Willis Tower and rode the elevator up 1,353 feet above the ground to Skydeck Chicago.  We captured spectacular views with our cameras as the sun lowered over the horizon and the night lights of the city illuminated the skies.

An hour later, we descended back to the ground, hopped on the bikes again, and headed over to Buckingham Fountain.  It’s a beautiful site to see lit up on a dark night.

 

Tan or Burn?

Beach day was Thursday.  I love sitting on a balcony in the shade looking out over white sand and blue water, but lounging on the beach in the hot sun really isn’t my idea of fun.  But Alec wanted to check out a Chicago beach, so I agreed.

After a long three-hour journey from our hotel to the Montrose Beach (it really shouldn’t have taken that long, but that’s a story for another time!), our toes finally touched the cool sand and even colder water of Lake Michigan.

Lathered in suntan lotion (because I don’t tan, I just burn), I laid back on the beach towel and relaxed.  The sounds of the waves, people splashing in the water, and the birds squawking as they flew by all allowed my mind to wander and take a break.

 

The Best Way to End Vacation

I couldn’t have planned a better way to end our vacation if I’d tried.

Imagine walking into the Chicago Executive Airport building, greeting your host, being escorted to a small private twin engine plane, then receiving instruction from your co-pilot on how to take off on the runway and guide the plane through the skies over the city and the lake.

Exhilarating isn’t a strong enough word to describe the experience.

Months before our trip, I’d explored various activities to do in and around Chicago.  I’ve always loved flying.  I found several companies offering helicopter tours of the city skyline.  I thought it would be fun and let me get photos of the city from a different angle.

But I stumbled on another company offering an airplane tour option called the “First Flight Experience.”  A trained pilot basically gives you a quick introductory lesson in flying a plane and then lets you actually do it.

I let Alec assume the pilot’s seat, while I nestled in the back passenger seat to capture awesome video and still footage of the experience.

After waiting for two planes ahead of us to take off, soon we were speeding down the runway at Chicago’s Midway Airport and lifting into the bright blue skies.

A little turbulence shook the plane after takeoff, but Alec steadfastly maintained control.  In five minutes, we were soaring over Lake Michigan with amazing sites of Navy Pier, Soldier Field, and the entire city. 

Our pilot provided Alec more detailed instruction about the plane’s operations and how to perform various maneuvers.  All the while I’m snapping pictures like crazy!

Wednesday night we were standing in Willis Tower looking out at the planes flying by.  Today, we were looking in at the people in Willis Tower from the plane.

An hour later, we safely landed back on the ground – smiles beaming from ear to ear.

How do I tie this into technology?  Simple.

The only time I used technology while on vacation was to post photos to Facebook and Snapchat and to use Google Maps to help us navigate around the city.

Enjoy some time this summer away from your computer, tablet, and smartphone.  Your body and mind will thank you for it.

*** 

Upon returning from vacation, I spoke with a new client who had called my office while I was out.  His compliment was humbling.

“Although I’ve never met you in person,” he said, “I feel like I know you just by reading your columns these past several years in the newspaper.”

Beginning in August, I’ll be producing a free print monthly newsletter filled with fun stories, practical life hacks for everyday living, a little computer advice, and more. 

If you’d like a copy mailed to your door each and every month at no cost, sign up at our website:  www.calibreforhome.com/monthlynewsletter.

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How to Make the Best Web Browser Even Better

Google Chrome

Once again, Internet Explorer created frustration for one of my clients.

Only a few days after having her laptop cleaned up and optimized with our biannual PC Tune-Up Service, Janetta called to report Internet Explorer kept closing every time she tried to check her email or visit Facebook.

She isn’t alone.  I field numerous calls every month from clients suffering grief because Internet Explorer quits working unexpectedly or encounters some sort of problem.

Internet Explorer, and Microsoft Edge in Windows 10, are the built-in programs in Microsoft Windows giving you access to the Internet.

Like most software developed by Microsoft, Internet Explorer is increasingly becoming a very unstable program.  It breaks easily even under normal usage.

In Janetta’s case, the problem started after she unknowingly installed a program that “hooked” itself into Internet Explorer.

I recommend you install and use Google Chrome as your primary web browser.  It functions in much the same way as Internet Explorer, but with many added benefits, including:

  • You will view websites faster.
  • You will experience fewer problems.
  • Your computer will be safer from hackers and viruses.

Google Chrome can download for free at: https://www.google.com/chrome/browser/desktop/index.html.

You can add programs – called extensions – to Google Chrome.  These add-ons provide more functionality and ease of use to an already great web browser.

Unlike Internet Explorer, reliable and trustworthy add-ons for Google Chrome don’t create problems and frustration.  It makes surfing the Internet more fun.

Here are several reputable extensions I use or recommend:

Save money with coupons

Getting deals rewards our shopping efforts.  But few of us have time to dedicate to searching for, clipping, and organizing coupons like the people on the TLC hit show Extreme Couponing.

Nothing is sweeter than the Chrome add-on Honey.

Honey (http://bit.ly/honey-chrome) automatically searches for coupons and sales as you check out at various online retailers.  All you have to do is click the Honey button in the menu bar of Chrome.

Of course, not all the coupon codes it finds will work.  But as Benjamin Franklin said, “A penny saved is a penny earned.”

Safely store & remember your passwords

Remembering passwords for dozens of websites is probably one of the worst things about the Internet.

Some sites, especially banking and medical ones, force you to create complex passwords and then make you change them every 90 days.  Even stipulating that you can’t use your previous passwords.

LastPass (http://bit.ly/lastpass-chrome) is the best program I’ve discovered that keeps all your passwords and personal information in one easy-to-access, secure place.

It’s free if you just want to use it on your computer.  It’s only $12 a year to add access to your passwords on your smartphone or tablet.

Block annoying pop-ups

Visit any major website often enough and it will infect your computer with a nasty virus.  That includes MSN.com, Yahoo.com, FoxNews.com, TWC.com, ESPN.com, and others.

The newest method virus writers and hackers use to spread their handiwork is via advertisements that appear on various websites.

AdBlock Plus (http://bit.ly/adblockplus4chrome) adds an extra layer of security to your PC by removing banner ads and pop-ups as you visit websites.

It also helps your favorite websites load faster.

Easily check Gmail

Gmail ranks as the world’s most used and best free email service.  It’s way better than the free email account offered by your Internet Service Provider.  I prefer it above a Yahoo or Hotmail account.

With the Google Mail Checker extension (http://bit.ly/gmail-chrome), a quick glance at the icon in your menu bar tells you how many unread messages reside in your inbox.  It also lets you quickly open your inbox with one click of your mouse.

Force yourself to stay off Facebook

As I’m writing this column, the temptation is oh so strong to slip over to Facebook and see the latest statuses posted by my friends.

If your willpower needs a little help to keep you focused on completing other computer-based tasks rather than mindlessly surfing the Internet, you should install the Simple Blocker add-on for Chrome (http://bit.ly/simpleblocker-chrome).

The app’s developers note it was primarily designed for students, “but can be beneficial to anyone who has a lot to do and seems to get distracted too easily.”

Simple Blocker lets you block certain websites for set periods of time so you can get necessary things accomplished.

And if you have the urge to just turn Simple Blocker off, you can even configure it to prevent you from doing so!

Make your emails and social media posts look like you’re an English major

Not sure how to spell a word?  Fingers type faster than your computer can keep up, resulting in misspelled words on Facebook or in your email messages?

Grammarly (http://bit.ly/grammarly-chrome) can make you look like a spelling bee champion and English major.  This extension “makes sure everything you type is easy to read, effective and mistake-free.”

I know a few friends who should be using this add-on!