Genuine Curiosity

Author Dwayne Melancon is always on the lookout for new things to learn. An ecclectic collection of postings on personal productivity, travel, good books, gadgets, leadership & management, and many other things.


Cyber Monday Shopping Tips


The Monday following the "Black Friday" shopping day has been declared as "Cyber Monday" and millions of people around the world are expected to do much of their holiday shopping online on that day.

With that in mind, here are some tips to help you shop more safely, this holiday season - whether you shop on Cyber Monday or not:

1. Be careful when clicking on email links

This time of year, people are especially vulnerable to "Click now for this amazing offer!" phishing emails. When you receive an enticing email offer, be careful when clicking on that link - what you see on the screen may not match the underlying link. Often, you can hover over the link to see where you're actually being sent but this can sometimes show you a long and confusing link, due to embedded tracking information.

If the sender is one you recognize, and the email is from a vendor to which you've "opted in" to receive email offers, you're probably OK. However, if you have any concerns about the validity of the link, it's better to be safe by typing in the address of the website directly rather than clicking on the link.

Which brings me to tip #2...

2. Use https:// instead of http://

When you're typing the address, you can ensure you get a secure connection by using the "https://" prefix on your web address. The 's' stands for secure, and it encrypts the connection between your browser and the site you're browsing.

More and more websites are offering (or even defaulting to) https: connections, but you can force it by typing the address in yourself. If your site doesn't support https: it is generally OK to browse there, but avoid using insecure sites for shopping, since your payment information  is not secure when you transmit it to the site.

Also, your browser can help you - it will often show a lock icon or other indicator, signifying that you have a secure connection to the website.

Clicking on the website address will show you the full path, which should start with https: as shown above.

3. Shop using official apps

If you shop from your mobile device and the site you're shopping with has an official app, use it. This can help you avoid spoofed sites (i.e. sites masquerading as a legitimate site, but in place to harvest your personal and/or financial information. If you go this route, you're best off going to the main shopping site from your browser, clicking on the app store link from their site, and letting that link redirect you to the correct app on the Apple App Store, Google Play Store, or whatever app store is used by your device.

4. don't Shop on Public WiFi networks

If you're shopping from a public WiFi network in a coffee shop, airport, library, etc. chances are, your traffic is being transmitted unencrypted (aka "in the clear"), which means an attacker could observe and capture this information. Unfortunately, in some scenarios, this can even expose your information when connected to an https: site due to something known as a "man in the middle" attack.

In general, you're best off not shopping on public, unsecured WiFi networks. If you really want to shop on these networks, and wish to do so in a secure fashion, you can use a VPN (Virtual Private Network service) to encrypt your device's traffic. There are some easy-to-use services that help you do this, such as Cloak (Mac and iOS only); TunnelBear (multi-platform), and WiTopia to name a few.

If you're not using a VPN, avoid sending sensitive information (such as your payment card data) over a public WiFi network.

5. Use a good, up-to-date security solution on your computer

Modern anti-virus and anti-malware technology can help protect you while shopping. Many of them not only scan your computer for malicious programs, they also have add-ins for your browser that are aware of know, malicious web sites and can warn you when you're in a dangerous spot.

Paid software is available for this, as well as free options. If you're using Windows and don't want to pay, the built-in Windows Defender is a good option. Companies like AVG, Avast, and Avira also offer free antivirus solutions for Windows and Mac computers.

Many Internet Service Providers (ISPs) also offer free anti-virus or anti-malware licenses to their customers - check with your internet provider to see what is available.

Bottom line, have something in place and keep it up-to-date with current malware and virus definitions.

6. Consider Using Apple Pay or Google Wallet 

Whether you're shopping online or in a store, if Apple Pay or Google Wallet payments are available, they offer a safe way to pay. Due to the way the security model on these systems works, your individual payment card details are never transmitted to the merchant.

Instead a one-time transaction credential is shared to enable the payment and a new one is generated each time you pay. That means that even if an attacker gains access to the transaction information they will be unable to use that information for a second transaction.

I hope you find these tips helpful, and I hope you find some great bargains on Cyber Monday!

Managing Money: 3 Unconventional Strategies to Adopt

When it comes to improving your money management knowledge and skills, a little unconventional thinking can go a long way. Instead of simply being a victim of your impulses, spend your hard-earned money in a more conscious manner.

Here are three strategies that can help you:

Shop Smarter, Guided by Practicality

Gone are the days when your location and a store's sales limited your shopping habits. Thanks to online shopping, the options are endless, making good bargains more accessible than ever before. You no longer have to wait for Black Friday to get the best deals on your holiday shopping, either.

But avoid emptying your bank account for the sake of fulfilling your holiday shopping list. To save more money around the holidays, downsize your list and check everything off before the holiday madness begins. Get creative by giving gifts you can create on your own. Or, if you must buy something for someone, make it as practical as possible. For instance, instead of buying your spouse a new iPad that they don't really need, buy them a new set of winter tires for their car, or a new winter coat. Necessities are the new "fun" gifts.

Think of the Future like the Present

Many of us fail to save as much money as we could — and should — due to plain old procrastination. Why do it today if you can put it off until tomorrow, right? But that line of thinking — the assumption you have plenty of time to save money — is precisely the problem, and it sneaks up on you.

UCLA behavioral economist Keith Chen found a direct link between our failure as a culture to save adequately and the manner in which we understand the future is near. Chen divides languages into two categories: futured and futureless. Like the English language, futured languages have different verb conjugations for the future tense. However, in futureless languages, like Japanese, Chinese and German, the same verb forms are used when the speaker is expressing something in the present or future tense.

This seemingly minor difference actually makes a major impact in how we perceive the "future" based on our native tongue. Those who speak futured languages tend to view the future as something significantly different from the present, thus making it easier to disregard its imminence and the need to save for it. Meantime, futureless language speakers view the future much more similarly to the present and, as such, tend to be much more successful at saving money for the future.

In order to better manage your own personal finances and savings, try to adopt the same concept of the future that futureless language speakers have. In other words, think of the future like it's tomorrow or just months away and allow it to positively impact your bank account so you can enjoy the benefits.

Question Your Motivations

Many industries are taking advantage of an emerging field called behavioral finance, which combines principles of cognitive and behavioral psychology. In business, the concept is used to manipulate consumers into doing what big business wants: for you to spend more.

To avoid falling for these behavioral finance ploys, it pays to be conscious of when your emotions are signaling you to make a purchase. Companies often use or take advantage of consumers' emotions in order to influence their decision-making and override their rationale. Instead, consumers like you should be especially mindful of their instinctive reasoning. Instead of going with the flow and following the herd mentality, be especially prudent of potential purchases if you know other people who have recently made the same purchase. A little extra caution will go a long way to help you better manage your money.

A Great Stand and Portable Charger for Apple Watch

The Nomad Pod in action.

I recently bought a Nomad Pod for Apple Watch, and I really like it. It is a pretty simple device: it is essentially a "shell" in which you install your Apple Watch charging cable, but with a twist - it has an internal battery that you can use to charge your Watch any time, whether you have access to electrical power or not.

From my experience, I can fully recharge my watch somewhere between 2 and 3 times before recharging the Nomad Pod. This has been handy in a number of situations:

  • While traveling, when I've forgotten to recharge my watch overnight (or when I don't realize the plug I've got it plugged into goes dead when I turn off the master room lights in a hotel);
  • During the day, after using the GPS on my watch to track an activity;
  • While camping - I put my watch in airplane mode while camping, so it lasts a couple of days easily but when I'm on the trail for a week, being able to recharge my watch every couple of days with the Nomad has been great.

The  Nomad Pod for Apple Watch is a great idea for anyone with an Apple Watch, as well as a cool gift for others in your life.

Inside the Nomad Pod. (click to embiggen)

If you're curious what the "innards" of the Nomad Pod look like, here is a view inside (at left).

You simply plug your Apple Watch charger into the base, wrap it around, snap the magnetic charging pad into the top of the Pod, and put the magnetically-attached shell on top.

To charge the Pod, you connect a micro-USB cable to the dock and that charges the embedded battery.

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Using New Tech for A Better Night's Sleep

Having trouble sleeping is not only frustrating, it's also inconvenient. Your entire day can be ruined by a terrible night of sleep. Some people have more trouble than others, while some simply aren't aware that they're having trouble. Here are a few signs that probably indicate a lack of sleep:

  • You're cranky and easily stressed
  • You're not as productive as you could be
  • You're putting on a few extra pounds.
  • You look tired all the time
  • Your coffee intake is at an all-time high due to drowsiness

These are some of the most common signs that you might need either more sleep or better-quality sleep. Thanks to the new technology, you can not only get help with your sleep, but you can determine what's really going wrong.

Sleep Masks

The classic sleep mask is always a good go-to. Blocking out light is what signals your brain to start producing melatonin, which is the chemical that makes you fall asleep. However, these can be uncomfortable for people with long lashes or just don't like anything that close to their eyes. There are options like the Glo to Sleep mask that rest above your eyes, so they won't bother you while you're trying to sleep. This particular mask also features blinking blue lines that are meant to train your brain to fall asleep.

When I travel, I usually keep a sleep mask tucked away in my bag just in case you are in a bright hotel room, want to take a mid-day power nap (more on that in a bit), or want to try to grab a few minutes of sleep on the plane.

Supportive Pillows

Any pillow will do when you're trying to sleep, right? Actually, chiropractors recommend using a pillow, like this one, that will hold your head in the correct place and will support your neck while you sleep. Not only will this help you get a more comfortable night's sleep, it will also prevent injuries that will send you to said chiropractors.

I happen to like lots of pillows to provide extra support. I sleep with 3 pillows at home, and always request extra pillows at hotels when I travel (I use the Hilton HHonors app a lot, and you can request extra foam pillows before you even arrive).


The thing about changing your habits is that you can't change what you can't measure. If you don't know how bad of a night's sleep you're getting, how are you going to accurately address and fix the problem? While buying a lower-priced wearable will be able to do some of the same things as a more pricey model, your best bet for fixing your sleeping habit is to go for the one that will be able to give you a better sleep reading like the Apple Watch Sport. Taking the plunge and spending more money can seem intimidating, but with the Apple Watch, you have access to a wearable without having to pay for it upfront.

There are also apps that use your phone to track sleep, typically by putting the phone under the mattress. That doesn't really work for me, but I know a few people who swear by it.

Noise Machine

We've all heard about white noise machines, but the Sleep Genius app helps you fall asleep by using what is known as pink noise. Developed by neuroscientists for astronauts, the app uses pink noise as a softer variant of white noise to help lull you to sleep. It also uses neurosensory algorithms to trick your brain into thinking that you're being rocked to sleep, just like a baby.

Not getting enough sleep can be stressful and downright harmful to your health. It may not be your first instinct to look to technology to be a sleep solution, but thanks to the huge strides that humans have taken towards helping each other live better lives, it can be that and more.

Power Napping

When all else fails and you are tired anyway, a 15-20 minute power nap can do wonders. Perhaps you sit in your car for a few minutes during lunch, or find a quiet corner to snooze - it can make a huge difference in your mental state.

To keep from sleeping too long, I use an app called "Pzizz" which is an audio app that has a voice-guided talk track to coach you into a relaxed state for napping. It then plays soothind sounds and music for the duration you specify, and gently wakes you when the time is up. I swear by this app!

By the way, Pzizz also has deep sleep mode that can help you get to sleep, by guiding you into a relaxed state, then fading away without waking you up. This is also helpful while traveling.

If you have other tips, please share them here!

eero dramatically improved my wifi signal at home

I've got a pretty decent broadband connection, but it's been slow for the last couple of years. I've tried a lot of expensive wireless routers, range extenders, high-gain antennas, and so forth but nothing helped very much. I still had lots of buffering while watching streaming media, and felt like I wasn't getting the benefit of the high-speed broadband I was paying for.

Recently, I heard about a product called "eero" which claims to be a better WiFi solution so I picked up a 3-pack on Amazon (pictured above). I installed the eero units and did some tests. 

Easy setup and worth the cost

The setup process for the eero was extremely easy - you simply follow step-by-step directions in the eero app on your smartphone, and it guides you through everything you need to do.

The setup process includes guiding the placement of the eero units to maximize your WiFi speeds. You see, one of the ways eero improves your WiFi performance is by using a different (non-WiFi) sub channel to create a "mesh" communication model in your home. An informative post on the eero blog goes into why and how their approach is different from traditional range extenders, if you're interested in the tech.

Check out the two speed tests below for before and after comparisons.

You can see that my speed just about doubled for both downloads and uploads - and this is using the same broadband router for internet access, the only difference is the WiFi gear.

These were not cheap, but I am getting so much better performance - and greater range - that I think it's worth it. Not only am I getting faster speed for all the connected devices in my home, and our streaming media works flawlessly now.

eero recommends:

If you need better WiFi performance or increased range in your home or office, I highly recommend eero as a solid choice.