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.

 

Back for Seconds: Why Burglars Will Hit The Same House Twice

In 2015 more than 8 million property crimes were reported to the police, according to data reported by the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI). The FBI cites that property crimes include larceny-thefts, burglaries and car thefts. These crimes resulted in $14.3 billion in financial losses. A burglary can happen to anyone. Even if you’ve experienced one already. Here’s how you can protect yourself and your home against brash, back-for-seconds, criminals.

Secure Your Entire Home

Many homeowners will take precautions to alarm their homes, but some only secure the front of the home. Only securing the front of the home leaves the back of the house vulnerable to quick-thinking thieves. Gates that lock and deny access to thieves, movement-triggered lighting systems, window and door locks and security cameras can keep not only the front of the house, but the entire home protected against burglars. Lorex technology, a well-known brand in the home security industry, offers a wide variety of security cameras for the home. From weatherproof night vision cameras to high definition styles, you can sleep better at night knowing your home is protected with a security camera system.

Get a Home Security Check

In many areas, you can get your local law enforcement team to stop by your house and perform a home security check. During a home security check, local officers will come to your home and walk the entire house and around your property to identify any weak points in your home security. This service is underutilized but highly suggested. Whether you’re a new homeowner or if you’ve lived in your neighborhood for decades, scheduling a home security check can not only give you a sense of your home’s security, but peace of mind, too. The officers can also give you an idea of the types of crimes that are common in your area, so you can better prepare.

Store Your Outdoor Items Appropriately

You might think that there’s no harm, but items left out on your home’s property can lure thieves looking for "easy pickings." Bicycles, children’s play equipment, yard tools, expensive lawn mowers and other yard accessories are easy targets. And these items can also give thieves a good idea of what’s inside of your home, too. Police officers strongly advise storing these items in a locked shed or secured garage to avoid theft rather than keeping them visible to criminals in your yard.

Use Deterrent Strategies

Investing in a home security system is just one way you can protect your home and assets from thieves. However, there are a handful of additional methods that you can install around your home and property to prevent theft. From placing alarm company, Neighborhood Watch or Operation ID stickers on your doors and in your windows to planting uninviting bushes underneath windows, such as rose bushes or other thorny plants and even having a family dog, can make your home less of a target for criminals. And if you have a home security system, keeping a yard sign advertising that fact can help deter thieves.

Control Your Keys

While it may seem convenient to provide keys to friends, family and others who frequent your home, security experts advise against doing so. You never know whose hands your home’s keys will end up in. And while it may seem logical to provide a set of keys to your babysitter, maids or even contractors working on your home, don’t. Additionally, authorities cite to never leave your keys in your mailbox, underneath your doormats, a rock or other common hiding places around your property, as your keys can easily be found. Some of these may seem like common sense, but people still do these things all the time. If you really need to provide a key to someone, a temporary lock box is often a good compromise since you can bring the lock box back inside when the other person no longer needs access.

Is Your Garage Door Opener An Easy Way In?

One method thieves can use to access your home is to break into a vehicle that contains a garage door opener, use that to open your garage and enter your home that way. Even if the interior door is locked, they can close the garage door and brute force the inner door without worrying about being seen. If you have a garage remote control, either ensure it is not visible from the outside of your car or bring the remote with you when you leave the vehicle. Additionally, if you live in an area prone to break-ins, you may want to rely on the "standalone" garage remote rather than programming your garage code into the garage door opener that is built into your vehicle (note that some newer car models won't open your garage if the key is not present, but older vehicles often function any time you press the button).

These are just a few ideas to help you make your home more burglar-resistant. What do you think? Do you have more ideas?

The Benefits of Writing By Hand

Many traditions just aren't appreciated like they once were. Technology has changed the way people communicate, interact and play. So why wouldn't it change the way people learn too? College, high school, and even intermediate classrooms have integrated computers, in part because more time outside of the classroom is spent on computers or mobile devices. But the benefits of hand written notes do have some advantages. Handwriting is important, even in this digital age.

Notes By Hand vs Laptop

While most students can type much faster than they can write by hand, this doesn't mean it's a better way to take notes. While it's true that people who take notes with a laptop will, on average, take more notes than those who write notes by hand, there is a difference in memory retention that is reliant on the medium the notes are taken in. According to the Scientific American three experiments were done by Pam Mueller and Daniel Oppenheimer that tested different aspects of the handwritten word. In one study they had half the subjects take notes on a lesson with laptops and the other half take notes with pen and paper. While those with pen and paper took considerably fewer notes, they nevertheless showed a stronger conceptual understanding of the material. They were also more successful when asked to apply said knowledge.

I sometimes take notes by hand, and sometimes on my computer, and I've noticed that I retain and recall information from handwritten notes better, even when I don't go back and review the notes. I am not sure how much of that has to do with my bias toward visual learning, or whether there is something about how handwriting a note engages my brain - I just know it works well.

Verbatim vs Conceptual

Those who use computers for notes typically take down larger portions of information, mainly in verbatim chunks, because of the ability to take notes so much faster than those who take notes by hand. However, Mueller, via The Atlantic, said, “The people who were taking notes on the laptops don’t have to be judicious in what they write down," which causes some problems in retention. Those who write by hand simply don't have time for verbatim notes, and because of this, must conceptualize and write down ideas in their own language. This helps people internalize ideas instead of simply listen to them.

While notes by laptop should hardly be discouraged in the classroom , K-12 teachers should encourage handwriting whenever possible. For instance, word search puzzles help young students spot patterns, recognize words and practice handwriting.

In the workplace, handwritten notes are always fine, but I believe you can map the type of note taking (digital or handwritten) to the kind of meeting or notes. If I need to have a detailed account of a meeting, or if I know I'll need to share it with others, I gravitate to digital note taking using OneNote or Confluence. Examples of those meetings are status meetings, technical meetings, or project working sessions.

If the notes are more for my own use, or to capture concepts and ideas, I tend to use handwritten notes. I also take handwritten notes when a computer might interfere with the mood of the meeting. Examples of meetings where I take handwritten notes include  idea generation / creative sessions, customer "discovery" meetings, and listening to speeches or lectures.

Other Benefits

While notes by hand help people retain and conceptualize information more accurately, there are a host of other benefits. Writing by hand soothes people. Cursive connects the left and right side of the brain, and for young children, handwriting boosts cognitive skills that technology-aided writing doesn't. For older people, it keeps the mind sharp and some psychologists even believe it improves memory over time.

Perhaps the most basic, yet one of the most important perks of the written word is that a pen and paper limits distractions when you write. For young students with already short attention spans, this focus can be invaluable in the course of their education, and for older students, even those in college, the lack of social media may be painful, but ultimately helpful.

I've been doing a lot more journaling lately, and I get different results when I type and when I write thoughts out by hand. Like with note taking, I go back & forth between digital and analog journaling.

Practice and Improve

A couple of things can get in the way when you start taking more handwritten notes: if you're out of practice, you may have lousy handwriting and you may not be able to write very quickly.

Both of these can improve through practice. A friend of mine gave me a practice drill that works really welll:

  • Get a legal pad and a pen, and start watching a TV show.
  • Concentrate on one character, and try to write down everything that character says, doing your best to keep up.
  • After you get the hang of the content aspect of this note taking, begin to focus more on your handwriting - strive for clear, legible writing.
  • When you get really good at taking notes on one person's dialog, you can up your game by trying to record the dialog of two people.

This exercise can help you if you practice regularly (a couple of hours per week, for example).

CardNinja is a great minimalist tool

As the year begins, I am looking for ways to move gradually toward a more minimalist lifestyle. I recently ran across an item that can help - it's called the CardNinja and it is designed to add a wallet-like pocket on the back of your smartphone so you can slim down what you carry.

The CardNinja attaches to the back of your phone (or directly to your phone case) with some strong, yet safe adhesive. It holds fast, but can be removed without damaging your phone or leaving behind a sticky residue.

CardNinja has a flexible (stretchy) pouch on it and will hold 6-8 cards and some folded cash without interfering with the use of your phone. The profile is slim, so you can still put your phone in your pocket or purse and barely notice that the CardNinja is on there. Check out my gallery for some pictures.

I started out with a sort of teal-colored version and just ordered a black one so it will blend in a bit more in a business environment (there is a wide variety of color and designs to choose from).

It you're looking to slim down what you carry and possibly do away with your wallet, check out the CardNinja.

The Best Battery Case for iPhones

I don't often declare "bests" when it comes to gadgets, but I have tried a whole slew of battery cases for the iPhone series of phones, and I believe I've found an excellent choice. It's called the "BoostCase" and it is way less bulky and obtrusive than some of the alternatives (such as Mophie and other "battery jackets.")

I first started using a BoostCase when I had an iPhone 5 - it was purple, and I loved it. I've since used BoostCase battery cases on an iPhone 6 Plus and my current phone, which is an iPhone 6s (my last two were black).

What's the big deal?

First, let me tell you about my relationship with battery cases:

  • I like to use a case on my phone.
  • When I travel, I often run out of power on my phone and want an extended battery.
  • I don't want to put up with a bulky batter case all the time, but I also don't like changing cases or carrying multiple cases around.
  • I also need to have the battery case handy when I need it - and that is often not predictable.

The BoostCase works within all of those parameters. This is a two-part case.

  • One part functions like a normal case and is thin so I can leave it on all the time (that's the bit on the right).
  • The second part is a battery 'slice' that attacked to the normal case very securely, plugs into the Lightning port on my phone and has enough juice to recharge my phone at least once (that's on the left).

Yes, I know Apple just released their own battery case. Yes, I know there are a lot of options out there. But I'd venture to say that if you try the BoostCase, you'll be happy.

By the way, it comes with a microUSB cable (you can charge and sync through it), as well as a tiny adapter so you can plug thicker headphones in when the battery slice is attached.

If you're looking to boost the battery life of your iPhone, check out the BoostCase line of products.

Life Over Work: How You Can Balance Your Lifestyle

Stress can often times feel suffocating. It destroys relationships with both friends and family, and can leave you uninspired, and even hopeless. Don't let the stresses of work take over your life. With some simple steps you can detach your mind and body from work so that you can live a simpler, less stressful life when you go home to your family.

Make Home Feel Like Home

Don't let your home become a work space. That's what your office is for. Don't let your house become cluttered with projects, papers, invoices, and documents. These work-related items are constant reminders of what you've worked on or what you need to do tomorrow and in the coming weeks. With those reminders come stress and the thought of the future or past. Stay in the present by eliminating these reminders.

Boundaries and compartmentalizing things can help, as well. When I used to work from home, I used a spare bedroom as an office. This helped in a couple of ways - first, I was able to keep all my work-related stuff in that room so it didn't intrude into the rest of the house. Second, it provided a physical boundary that helped enforce the separation - when I went into that room, I was "at work" and when I left I was "at home." That kept me from working all the time, and also helped my family because they knew when I was available for home things and when I wasn't. Tricks like this help ensure that you feel at home when you aren't supposed to be working. 

If home still doesn't relax you, consider treating yourself to an act of self appreciation. Live a little with a gourmet gift basketfull of chocolates, cookies, or even some spa accessories, if you're a fan of baths.

De-stress Your Schedule

Most people don't schedule in downtime. Their daily planners or Google Calendars are filled with appointments, deadlines and obligations. Nowhere does it say spend a night out, or relax with a drink and watch a movie, or simply read. Schedule time for your hobbies, interests, time with the kids, or even volunteering. Selfless acts such as this can make you feel like something larger, and take your mind off the negative aspects of your own life.

More Meditation

Balance doesn't mean an equal amount of work and relaxation. Balance is achieved within the mind as much as with your schedule and actions. Meditation is a skill that can be learned and when learned is a practice of acceptance of the way things are, rather than the way you wish things were. A healthy habit of meditation, especially when you first wake in the morning, can start your day off right so you lead a more balanced day, even while at work. Studies have concluded those who meditate often respond better to stress, both physically and mentally.

I used to think that meditation was not for me, and was skeptical of its value. That has changed and I'm now a convert. Meditation isn't some new-age, religious kind of thing to me - it is a great way to slow down, focus, and mentally recharge.

If you're skeptical about meditation, or simply don't know where to start, Headspace is an accessible and friendly place to start with a free 10 day trial that introduces the basics of meditation. If you find this isn't enough, there is a subscription option that unlocks a plethora of guided meditations that focus on everything from stress and anxiety to creativity and relationships.

Exercise

Physical activity is proven to relieve stress. It pumps up your endorphins, which make you feel better and be generally happier. Exercise can take many forms. While the feel-good endorphins exercise releases are known as a runner's high, any exercise can give you the same effect. This includes a game of soccer, some ultimate-Frisbee, or a brisk, 20-minute walk around the block. Of course exercise is always more fun with a friend. Seek encouragement and partnership if motivation is a large obstacle for you - a workout buddy not only makes things more fun, it introduces some peer pressure that makes it more likely you actually go out and do something.

From my posts here, you may also realize that I'm a fan of exercise tracking gadgets. Not only do they help you track exercise and sleep, many of them can also notice when you've been sedentary for too long and remind you to get up, get out, and move around. That is a great way to make sure you don't get too focused on work and forget to take care of your physical health.

What about you - have you discovered techniques that help you lead a more balanced life? Leave a comment with your insights.