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Capital Gains: DC Again Ranks Best For U.S. Internet Speed

North, south, east and west, Internet speed matters. From small-town America to the nation’s most populous places, commerce, education and entertainment rely on high-speed Internet. For the second consecutive year, the Internet Providers staff has examined data on Internet connectivity and security, and especially speed. How does last year’s fastest community rank this time around? How is the United States trending for global Internet speed? See where your state ranks, and read about initiatives to bring fast Internet to more people and more places.  

Cloud services provider Akamai tracks connection speeds nationwide, and Washington DC has now placed first for 2 years in a row. Treating DC as a state, the study discovered web subscribers there have an average speed of 22.47Mbps. That puts the nation’s capital atop the list for Internet speed for the second consecutive year. Akamai’s study covers Internet connectivity and security. DC registers 3Mbps faster than second-place Delaware (19.57). Massachusetts (19.39), Rhode Island (19.37), and Maryland (18.58) round out the top 5. Utah (18.45) dropped out of the top 5, to sixth. Rounding out the top 10: New Jersey (18.11), Virginia (17.87), New York (16.84) and Washington (16.84). The report also includes data on average and top speeds in 10 countries. It shows the U.S. (15.22) second to Japan (in Internet speeds, 17.2). The United Kingdom (14.63), Canada (13.41) and Russia (11.77) rank 3-5. Of the 10 nations studied, India still lags behind with 3.73Mbps.

Other tidbits from the findings:

    • Washington DC’s average speed is twice that of 45th-ranked West Virginia (11.16Mbps.)
  • Once again, the South didn’t register until the middle third, at No. 20. Tennessee (15Mbps) leads the way again south of the Mason-Dixon line, followed by No. 21 Florida (14.91), and No. 25 Georgia (14.59). That reads like college football rankings.
   

States with the most growth

Ohio (82.18%) jumped the highest compared to last year, more than 50% higher than the second-fastest moving state (Alaska, 29.70%). New Mexico (28.38%), Oklahoma (25.91%), and Montana (23.97%) also had considerable increases. None of those states, though, averages more than 14Mbps. Rhode Island led the way with 75.55% of residents who have access to at least 10Mbps speeds. All but two states in the top 10 in this category were also ranked among the 10 fastest for average speed. Connecticut (60.99%, ninth) and New Hampshire (60.48%, 10th) were the only outliers. Two notable initiatives: COLORADO | In November 2016, 26 communities approved ballot measures that allow them to offer broadband Internet service. That vote allows towns, now up to 95 in the state, to invest tax dollars in broadband networks. Longmont in 2011 first offered residents gigabit Internet as part of the initiative. RURAL AMERICA | America’s Electric Cooperatives, along with 71 Congress members, called on President Donald Trump to help deliver broadband Internet to rural areas. The push is not just for education in those regions, but also to integrate web-based programs in the agricultural space.

What else can we learn?

That Internet speeds continue to rise globally isn’t the story. It’s what’s happening as a result. Cities such as Chattanooga have developed municipal fiber networks. Chattanooga leases the infrastructure it built with a federal grant to Internet carriers. Businesses in the network area pay about $300 monthly for incredible 10-gigabit Internet. Santa Monica, Calif., leaders built a network with similar roots as Chattanooga’s, in 2000. Business and residential customers can buy service on the network. Santa Monica upgraded the infrastructure in 2016 to support 100-gig speeds. The network is the first nationwide to reach those speeds. Remember when Google chose Kansas City as its first fiber city, in 2012? Six others have since joined: Austin, Texas; Provo, Utah; Atlanta; Charlotte and Raleigh-Durham, N.C.; Salt Lake City; and San Antonio. Effect of increasing speed and bandwidth EDUCATION | Initiatives to bring faster Internet to rural communities have parallels in metro areas. High-speed Internet costs have dropped, but remain prohibitive in some places. A competitive market benefits potential customers who haven’t had options. STEM ACCESS | An uptick in faster Internet access also helps kids, especially girls. Kids can gain exposure to science, technology, engineering and math. Global competition for university admission and in the job market make it crucial that kids in the U.S. keep up. BUSINESS GROWTH | Especially for a startup, greater broadband means gains in less conspicuous areas. This includes cloud storage and the need for large-file upload. As download times become faster, so too do symmetric, upstream speeds. They're used for sending data to the web, rather than extracting.

How fast is fast?

How much speed do you need? We took a look at popular speed tiers common Internet service providers offer. Here's what they’re capable of. True speed isn’t easy to gauge. Several factors can affect how much speed you get at a given time. Some of the more common include: COMPUTER COMPONENTS | Fiber Internet can’t reach its potential on outdated devices. Low memory, slow processor speeds and computer configurations can bog a network down. WI-FI STRAIN | Even fast broadband isn’t infinite. The more devices you connect to a network, the less speed there is to go around. Also, those connecting in rooms far from your router won’t get the full effect of network speed. Wireless repeaters can strengthen your signal in more rooms. BROWSERS | Which browser’s best? Depends on who you ask. Many devices default to Internet Explorer. That platform has improved in recent years. Plenty of users, though, choose alternatives, such as Google Chrome, Opera, and Mozilla. Some browsers are also better for customization and privacy.

What can I do with my speed?

5MBPS | Usually a base offering from providers, this speed will usher you easily from site to site, email to email. Conducting significant downloads or letting many users on the network won’t be so easy. 12MBPS | It’s likely not strong enough to support a family of browsers. A single user who doesn’t game and stream all the time should find browsing, social media and video clips a smooth operation. 24MBPS | Song and videos will download in half the time they would at 12Mbps. At this speed, you should notice an upgrade in sound and video quality, too. 50MBPS | Stream, game, and connect everyone’s device to the network. You could even begin that startup in your basement at this speed. Cloud computing is also within your realm. 75MBPS | This’ll support a startup or family with several users. Symmetrical speed at this tier would be excellent for sending video and audio files. 100MBPS | Video chats, streaming TV, gaming, and other bandwidth-dependent activity becomes virtually buffer-free. It doesn't matter if you're using several devices. As a home network, 100Mbps can handle about anything.

Internet speed tests

Your Internet service provider likely has one. So does Google, as well as other independent sources, if you’re skeptical. A typical Internet speed test will measure data speed through a connection. It will account for download and upload speed, download first, usually. It also takes into account latency, that pause between a request and answer from a server. Turn off access to all other devices when you conduct a speed test, to ensure the most accurate results.

Sources:

http://www.internetproviders.com/shortcut/us-internet-speeds-2016/

https://infogr.am/8d348251-a1b3-4c48-b65f-0d9933b01fc8

News

Best of the Best Series 1: Sites That Will Elevate Your Coding Game

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Best of the Best. This series will examine our favorite things on the web. Look to us for the top picks for assets, resources, and other must-see items online. The lists will be a culmination of surveys, editor’s picks, online reviews and our personal favorites. Looking to learn to code? You won’t have to look far. Code refers to the complex binary instructions written in 1s and 0s. It helps to power computers, smartphones, and even automobiles, with software capable of communicating and receiving data. The onslaught of programs and websites to teach code appeal to an array of users. Children, computer scientists and multitudes in between them use these sites to learn code. With a considerable breadth of code-reliant devices, demand for coders – those who write these binary instructions – has been on the rise for years. Yet, 17 states don’t recognize computer science for high school graduation requirements. The site code.org says 42,969 computer science grads ventured into the job market last year. As of Q1 2017, 512,340 open computer jobs have gone unfilled. Coding isn’t a one-size-fits-all language. Far from it. Code education caters to a variety of needs. We’ve found helpful sites, for those who know the difference between Ruby and Ruby on Rails, and for those who don’t. (They’re different programming languages, by the way.) Some designers up their game with these sites. Others go there for the basics. There’s learning space for bloggers, game developers, website administrators, and more. We’ve chosen the best of the best when it comes to popular categories of code education.  

FOR THE BEGINNER

1

 

Code Avengers

https://www.codeavengers.com/ Code Avengers offers free and for-pay courses. Users pay per course, not a monthly fee, as with some schools. At about $21 per course, Code Avengers’ curriculum is geared for the true beginner. Bigger outfits such as Treehouse and Code School have more offerings. Code Avengers’ laid-back feel and a la carte course selection give it the edge for beginners, though.

Honorable mention

UDEMY | Lots of free, self-paced online courses. It’s also a marketplace for users to sell or offer free teachings through courses. LEARN CODE THE HARD WAY | It’s less a code school and more of a library for code beginners. Following a “learn, then implement” style, it offers online, print and video options.

FOR THE INTERMEDIATE CODER

1    

Scratch

https://scratch.mit.edu Designed for kids 18 and under, Scratch caters to users of all ages who have a grasp of coding principles. Scratch is by no means an easy platform. Its superpower is that it breaks code into logical sections such as motion and sound. Like Code Avengers, Scratch takes a simple approach to education. Users can download projects from this platform for use in other places.

Honorable mention

LEARNPYTHON.ORG |Python is a code language that uses a simpler syntax than other high-level programming languages, with similar results. UDACITY | This site includes training for several jobs, including computer science and programming. Users can access coaching and standardized feedback tools, and receive verified certificates.

FOR THE EXPERT CODER

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Coursera

https://www.coursera.org/ Coursera has online courses from dozens of top computer science universities. The courses are free, and come in five languages. Video lectures run about 20-30 minutes, a fraction of time a user would spend in class at the schools. Quizzes and tests from college professors and varied final-exam formats set Coursera apart.

Honorable mention

CODEPROJECT | Subscribers can take part in forums and access a Quick Answers section. They can also register for weekly updates. Developers worldwide contribute to the site’s article library. 4GUYSFROMROLLA.COM | Demand remains high for coding on the .NET platform. Experienced coders visit this site for ASP and ASP.NET tips and JavaScript tutorials.

FOR PERSONAL BLOGS

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WordPress.org

https://wordpress.org/ More robust than the free .com version, WordPress.org offers capacity to customize. Popular with bloggers and business site developers, WordPress.org offers custom plug-ins. These create a multitude of functions on a website, such as flash players and PDF readers. The .com entity, WordPress’ free site, works well with beginning bloggers. It includes plenty of contemporary templates for basic blogging.

Honorable mention

GHOST | Site developers created Ghost to make life in code easier for bloggers. Its Kickstarter campaign raised$320,000 in 48 hours to ensure its launch. DRUPAL | While not one of the easiest platforms to navigate, Drupal offers a ton of functionality. This includes advanced menu management and a graphics modifications tool. Bloggers can create advanced sites, boards, social networking pages and more.

FOR VIDEO GAMES

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Game Development @ Tuts+

https://gamedevelopment.tutsplus.com/ This platform can carry the user from beginner to advanced. Experienced game developers offer e-books, free tutorials and online courses. The concept goes for building and designing games. The courses and community discourse cover game development and theory. That includes understanding steering behaviors, creating a 3D city and more.

Honorable mention

INFINITE SKILLS | Go here for user-friendly classes and a vast video library. Some videos are free, and users choose from downloads, DVDs, and on-demand viewing. The site even has an iOS app. GAME CODE SCHOOL | It’s tough to find a more comprehensive course offering. Industry pros offer screencasts on this site, just be aware the material is not for beginners.

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10 Romantic Gifts (Technically Speaking) for Valentine’s Day

Planning on that classic box of chocolates this Valentine’s Day? A bouquet of roses? Good luck. What’s classic can feel a bit … trite. There’s gobs of competition, too. Why fuss around with something predictable? It’s 2017, people. We’ve come too far to lean on the trusted standards – at least completely – to move the hearts of our valentine. It’s gotten techy, Valentine’s Day. Get with it, with these winners we’ve found. Hurry, though, and don’t wait for the last minute. You’ll find yourself in line for an overpriced and picked-at selection of flowers if you drag your feet.

For those who can pull off the classics

Bloomsy

Bloomsybox.com | $39.99-$48.99 per month To whip out a bouquet on Feb. 14 is expected. Having a bouquet of seasonal blooms hand-picked and delivered to your amor's door? A higher level altogether. Pick (see what we did there?) from three-, six- and 12-month options. They’re delivered with love – and info cards about the blooms, too.

Honorable mention

From Your Flowers | Besides flowers, nothing shows affection quite like confections. Vermont Teddy Bear | Log in and pick out the perfect teddy for your squeeze.

For the succinct wordsmith

Telegram Stop

Telegramstop.com | $7.45 I<stop>LOVE<stop>You. Okay, you’ll want to be more elaborate and creative than that, obviously. Type a love message into the site, something profound and wonderful. Preview what your telegram will look like (not even Thomas Edison could do that!) and TelegramStop will lick the stamp.

Honorable mention

The Holiday Spot | Readymade love letters, for free. For the thrifty and energy-efficient. Love Poetry Generator | An ad-lib approach. Enter factors such as feelings, colors, and verbs, and voila.

For the long-form wordsmith

Kind Notes

Kindnotes.com | $34.95 and up When you can’t say it in one, send 31. Pick a jar, a stationary, envelope style, and ribbon. Pick from ready-made messages of love, or craft your own. The Kind Notes staff with hand-write them on each card. Your darling can read one a day, or one an hour, or whenever they could use a little love.

Honorable mention

Invisible Boyfriend | Or girlfriend. Build a beloved to send you sweet nothings. Baggage not included. Timeless Message | Send a message in a bottle - not an S-O-S - to your L-O-V-E.

For the ‘appy lovers

Avocado

Avocado.io | free The Aztecs considered avocados as symbols of love and fertility. This avocado is also an app, for two and two alone. No virtual PDA. Share chats, photos, lists, and more. Speak your own love language to each other, with taps and swipes. Sync it with Google calendar and it’s your own one-on-one dating app, too.

Honorable mention

Valentine’s Day Special |  You can’t buy love – but you can add it up on this app’s love calculator. Red Stamp | Free iOS app lets you stamp photos with text and send by mail or social media.

For device-driven love

Kissenger

Kissengers.com | $74.99 Send a replica of your kiss to a far-off love through a high-tech transferal device.  The unit looks like a mini water tower with lips.  Lay one on the device with your heart in it, and your connected connection will feel it. When the miles stretch out between you, though, let tech bridge the divide with love.

Honorable mention

SleepPhones | These wireless headphones for bed could save your love life (if you’re a snorer). Polaroid Snap Instant Digital Camera | Court old-school with your honey with instant photos.

For practical partners

The Trackr

TheTrackr.com | $29.99 Give the gift of not having to rummage for your phone or keys every time it’s time to go. Imagine the quality time you could recoup. TrackR attaches to your love’s oft-lost item. Locate it through the TrackR app. Works with – but isn’t recommended for – use on your actual partner.

Honorable mention

Rainbow8 multi-color LED smart bulb | Set the mood with this Wi-Fi enabled light bulb. Chocolate Smartphone | The only swiping you’ll do on this phone is stealing a bite after you give it.

For those with a song in their hearts

Milktape

Milktape.com | $14.99 Handpick 15-20 songs, straight from your heart. Drag and drop them on your iTunes account. Plug in the USB hidden in the case casing, and let Bon Jovi and Celine Dion belt out all the love you feel inside. You can even scribble love notes on the tape cover like your parents used to do.

Honorable mention

Revolution Turntable | Spin the vinyl on your romantic night – and rip your tunes to an MP3. Mars Levitating Speaker | Dazzle her with space-age, gravity defying musical magic.

For those who could write the book of love

LoveBook

LoveBookOnline.com | $44.95 Tell your love story in a printed book. You create it, from title to cover concept, illustrations, and personalization. LoveBook will print and ship your creation to your dearest, anywhere in the world. Go paperback for the fleeting romance, or hardcover if you’re not even playing.

Honorable mention

Amazon Kindle | Keep your flame kindled with all the love stories she can take in. Smart Pencil Stylus | Nothing says love like a hand-written note sent to your Apple device.

For those who stick together

Tine

Shop.tinetag.com | $9.99-$14.99 Don’t settle for a note to your long-distance love. Send a voice or video message on a tag sticker. Each tag contains a code that holds your message. When your honey scans the code, they receive your message, in living color (or sound). (The app will let you know he's scanned the message, too.)

Honorable mention

Aera Smart Fragrance | Forget candles. Share scents in your room and his for long-distance ambiance. Medis 24/7 Xtreme charger | Ensure his device is ALWAYS powered to get your calls and texts. Every single one of them. ALWAYS.

News

On Clothing and Human Dominance: Why the New England Patriots Will Win Super Bowl 51

You can bet there will be tons of wagers for Super Bowl LI. Bettors plunked down a record $132.54 million on Super Bowl 50 last season, according to ESPN.com. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton's five-year contract is worth $29 million less than that figure. For $132 million, you could renovate a college football stadium. (That’s what the University of Illinois did with that kind of dough, for perspective.) When it comes to wagering mega bucks, you’d think gamblers would lean on a surefire way to pick the winner. This might involve heavy analysis of match-ups and key players. There's also coaching acumen and style of play to consider. That’s not always how it goes. Here are unorthodox methods of choosing a Super Bowl winner. So long as you win big on the big day – it shouldn’t matter how you got there, right? Keep that in mind for Sunday as you pick a winner between the Atlanta Falcons and New England Patriots.

The white jersey factor

American Football Conference and National Football Conference champions alternate as official game hosts. Hosts get first dibs on uniform color choice. This season, the NFC’s Atlanta Falcons chose to wear their red jerseys. The question is: Why?? Teams in white jerseys are 32-18 in Super Bowls, including the Denver Broncos last season. Broncos general manager John Elway shook up the recipe and chose to leave the team’s signature orange jerseys back at the ranch. Denver had worn orange in four Super Bowls – and went 0-4 in those games. Opponents have outscored them 167-38 in those four losses, too. In white, Denver lost Super Bowl XXI to the New York Giants, beat the Atlanta Falcons in them 12 years later, and won against Carolina last season. (Denver also has a win in blue jerseys, vs. the Green Bay Packers in Super Bowl XXXII.) There's one exception in the white-jersey era. The Green Bay Packers defeated the Pittsburgh Steelers, in green jerseys, in Super Bowl XVL. Atlanta wore black jerseys in Super Bowl XXXIII, it’s only other game appearance, but Denver won that game 34-19 in – you guessed it – white jerseys. Edge: New England. The Patriots are 2-1 in white jerseys in Super Bowl play.

The game before the game

Before players take the field, gamers take a seat and play out the game on a flat screen. Will Brinson of  CBS Sports simulated the season game-by-game before a single game was played. He used the popular EA Sports video game  7. That model pitted Atlanta and Pittsburgh in the Super Bowl. Atlanta won that pretend game, 41-35. The video game, notable for incredible graphics, enhanced control and attention to detail in each new rendition, accurately predicted a surprising disappointment of a season for the Arizona Cardinals. It also gave the Jacksonville Jaguars far too much grace with a division title and conference title game appearance. The Jags actually finished 3-13 as the AFC’s worst team. The official EA Sports simulation has predicted nine of the past 13 Super Bowl winners. That includes three of the past five. It missed on the Carolina vs. Denver Super Bowl last season. It also pegged the winner (New England) and final score (28-24, vs. Seattle) the season before. Edge: Atlanta. Not bad for a team that opened the season with 40-1 odds of winning the Super Bowl.

Other predictors

Talk shows and other creative outlets roll out porcupines and a panel of puppies to pick a winner. But even methods with decent track records are little more than chance. For instance, being first in the alphabet for your location name holds no advantage. Same for being northernmost or southernmost in your matchup. (Easternmost has a 30-20 edge on the West through 50 Super Bowls.) One spot that plays out bigger than geography or alphabetization: Man vs. Animal. Exclude the one machine vs. animal Super Bowl (Jets 16, Colts 7). Suspend belief long enough to consider Giants and Saints human. Do that, and there’s a distinct mascot trend. Humans have beaten animals head-to-head in 23 of 28 Super Bowls. Much of that, but not all, can be attributed to dynasties from the 49ers, Steelers and Patriots. (Also to rough Super Bowl histories from Denver, the Buffalo Bills, and Miami Dolphins.) Edge: New England. A bird of prey from the genus Falco, despite all its majesty, is no contest for a trained soldier with a musket. Especially if he’s wearing white. Patriots fans can order those championship hats. Wearing the jersey of champions lately (New England’s white jerseys) and given mankind’s dominance of animals in the NFL world, too, the odds are looking good for Tom Brady and his teammates. Unless Atlanta leaves them seeing red.

Sources:

http://www.espn.com/chalk/story/_/id/14742837/record-132-million-bet-super-bowl-50-nevada-sports-books-doing-well

http://www.chicagotribune.com/sports/college/ct-illinois-football-renovation-project-20161003-story.html

http://www.nj.com/sports/index.ssf/2017/01/super_bowl_2017_what_color_uniforms_will_patriots.html

http://newsfeed.time.com/2013/01/29/super-bowl-2013-9-wacky-ways-of-predicting-the-winner/

News

5 Terrific (and Unusual) Pinterest Boards you Should Follow Now

I recently saw a tweet from Tragically Ally, a popular champion on Twitter. And it made me laugh. It also made me think:

Turns out funeral pins are a thing. Just search for funeral pins in Twitter – some tweets are in jest, sure, but not all. I didn’t get swept away in thoughts of my own funeral. I did, however, begin to think of other Pinterest boards that might exist. Here are some eye-catching Pinterest boards. They're work safe.

1. Alternative Disney

https://www.pinterest.com/banderbear/alternative-disney/ Mashups rock, don’t they? Take a look at what characters such as Ariel and Pocahontas would look like if they were in The Walking Dead. Check out a real-life, man-sized Buzz Lightyear. And check out impressive Disney poster GIFS like this one:
disney-pin

2. Cartographic Curiosities

https://www.pinterest.com/brainpicker/cartographic-curiosities/ This board boasts more than 12,000 followers. It includes a book lover’s map of literary geography, circa 1933. It features cartographic works of art that originated in Boston and Cambridge. See a historic atlas of the Transatlantic Slave Trade. And have a look at this visual history of mapping the universe:

3. Funeral ideas

https://www.pinterest.com/explore/funeral-ideas/ It’s not all about how folks hope to peace out of this world. Pins include balloons printed with “You are loved, you are missed, you are remembered.” Find ideas for how to display a favorite quote at the service. And peruse the collection of poems, such as this one:
funeral-pin

4. Humor fingers (dedicated to the art of finger people)

https://www.pinterest.com/dollzbyelectra/humor-fingers/ With this board I’d need both hands and feet to count my favorites. You have to hand it to people who can be so clever. Lots of people have nailed it on this board. Others kind of toe the line. Here’s a favorite of mine:
finger-pin

5. Too PRETTY to EAT!

https://www.pinterest.com/andrejcick/too-pretty-to-eat/ This board takes dessert to a sweet, creative level. Check out a detailed ruffle cake, in deep purple. There’s a jaw-dropping wedding cake that looks like it’s part of an enormous carnation. I loved this one, of Alice in Wonderland, even though I’m not sure whether to eat or pour tea from:

News

5 Awesome Sites to Boost Your Elf on the Shelf Game

As if Christmastime madness wasn’t mad enough. A tradition has emerged between Thanksgiving and Christmas. (AKA, the longest month ever when you’re 5; the shortest, as a parent):  The Elf on the Shelf. He’s an 8-inch spaghetti-armed Santa spy on a mission. He carries in his plastic noggin a dossier of iron-clad rules – don’t touch me, being foremost. Author Carol Aebersold and daughter, Chandra Bell, introduced the elf in a rhyming kids’ book. It published in 2005, and a marketing blitz ensued. When the stardust settled, the elf became an award-winning toy. All as Santa’s heavy for tracking behavior of naughty girls and boys worldwide. Parents move the elf every night around the house and into his next adventure. He often leaves clever notes (imagine an elf with a miniature surfboard and a sign that reads, “surf’s up! And you’d better be too – time for school!) Usually, the elf emerges on the day the family tree goes up. Kids find the elf each morning, revel in his antics and read his message. If they touch him, he loses his magic. This calls for an apology letter to Santa, and a sprinkle of cinnamon next to the elf’s magic-stripped body at bedtime. Ten times out of 10, he’s good as new the next day. Love him or lump him, you must give him his due. This elf has flung himself into the American mainstream holiday environment. He’s not self-sufficient, either. He relies on parents who rack their holiday-assaulted minds for clever placement and theater. Parents seek tips for colic and advice about SnapChat on the Internet. Now, too, elf ideas. Entire blog posts and Pinterest boards exist for his glory. We’ve compiled three clever elf treatments found on the web. That’ll carry you through almost a half a week! You are welcome.

For the lazy parent

Doctor’s Note

Darn Kid Reindeer live in a hostile, frigid environment. It stands to reason that environment fosters the survival of the fittest, even for ticks. Ticks cause Lyme disease, transmission to reindeer and to elves, and, well, time missed from work. Herein lies a parental work-around. This idea earns you a one-year reprieve.

For the planner

30 Days of Elf

Macaroni Kid If you’re like most parents,Elf planning, dinner planning, or – who are we fooling? – LIFE planning, a source that gives you a step-by-step guide for an entire month of ANYTHING is akin to a gift from Santa himself. Blogger Christel Hoydic. The writer behind Macaroni kid, advises rookies to start modestly. Christel’s suggestions include:*
  • Pitting the elf in a wrestling match with a gator
  • Granting him access to mom’s makeup kit
  • Throwing him into a marshmallow war with a Captain America figure
*The elf has acquired a taste for messy mischief over the years. [Check out Christel’s Elf Pinterest presence, too. #ElfLife]

For dads out of ideas

Appliances, solitude, mystery

Daddy Realness We’ve known this from Ward Cleaver to Fred Flintstone: Dads possess an alternate world view. Not down with plopping your elf in the middle of an intricate handmade peppermint forest? This blog will lend some real-life (and Breaking Bad-like) ideas. Mike’s suggestions include*:
  • Leaving the elf in the middle of the floor
  • Framing the elf with empty beer bottles
  • Forcing the elf’s antics outdoors
*Mike says “I’m not that creative. Guess I should have led off with that.” [Check out Mike’s blog, with straight talk about fatherhood.]

For the family-friendly family

Naughty-behavior strikes, flour messages, and cookie-and-pretzel dumb bells

Skinny Mom Gator-wrangling and outdoor exile aren’t for everyone. Still, there’s a lot of room for creativity. Jenna Gross writes for the blog Skinny Mom. She crowd-sourced for ideas for parents whose brains are “completely elfed out.” Her 101 ideas more than covers the season – and could spur your creativity. Jenna’s ideas include*: The elf beginning a holiday-themed coloring page for the kids to finish A rigged game of UNO with a Christmas gnome Hidding in the freezer and binging on ice cream *Jenna’s post links to tons of clever parent blogs [Check out Jenna’s posts on fitness, food and other fun.]

For the overachiever parents

Upgrades, downgrades, and ways to snuff him out

The elf is head-heavy and spaghetti-armed – if he had the mobility and strength of, say, a He-Man action figure, can you imagine? Also, you must consider the elf’s Christmas exit and farewell until next year. For some parents, though, a more permanent close is tantalizingly close, too. Check out these sites: Dirty Diaper Laundry | Kim Rosas’ tutorial will demonstrate how to give the elf’s arms some muscle – and his hands some grip. She knows | Elaina Verhoff’s suggestions include packing a suitcase for his Christmas-day departure, serving Santa his Christmas Eve cookies and milk, and the gift of pajamas for the big night. Sunshine and Hurricanes | It’s easy to find ideas for violent ends to the elf’s service. Blogger Kira Lewis simply says, “hey, elf. It’s me, not you.” She’s penned the perfect breakup letter for the elf.

Tech

10 Insanely Cool Holiday Gifts to Make Your Techie Happy

What I want, is something Boxing-Day-proof. Never mind that I live in the U.S., where Boxing Day remains an idea for our neighbors to the north. The concept is the same. Boxing Day is for getting rid of belongings you don’t want anymore. It's right after you land the goods you do want, for Christmas and Hanukkah. This year I’d like to receive gifts impossible to toss out for years, they’re just that awesome. And I’d love to give gifts that prove impossible to toss out for years, they’re just that awesome. Something other than those gaudy sweater vests and droll board games. We’ve combed the web for top-tier gifts for a variety of recipients. Even the vexing loved ones impossible to buy for. All you have to do is order it, and you’re an instant gifting champion.

For the self-made selfie pro

Spivo Stick

Spivo.com | $49.99 Spi It’s a Hall of Famer in the GoPro world. Ergonomic and waterproof, the Spivo Stick, with its swiveling camera mount, allows users to change perspective 180 degrees with the flick of a trigger at the bottom of the stick. Capture a panoramic sweep of friends and family. Swing your camera in time to capture someone getting sick air. Choose from 12-, 18- or 26-inch models.

Honorable mention

iPhly | Device allows user to operate remote-controlled planes and cars on your phone, through an app. (Car or plane not included.) 53 Pencil | Fresh new stylus for the 53 Paper app for drawing. It’s Bluetooth-powered.

For the serious chef

Cookbook and tablet stand

Food52.com | $24 Food52 No more cookie-dough-stained cookbook pages. No more spaghetti sauce splatters on your tablet. This cookbook and tablet stand, of steel and ash construction, cradles your recipe source out and away from the culinary chaos on your countertop. When dinner’s served, the cookbook and tablet stand cleans in a flash and stores like a stowaway.

Honorable mention

Digital Volumetric Spoon Scale | Replace all your measuring spoons with one digital one. One-Click Butter Cutter | Just load a stick of butter, slice, and add you get perfect pats, every time, for your pancakes, corn, popcorn, grilled cheese, and T-bone steak (who are we to judge?)

For the mindful soul

Spire

Spire.io | $99 Spire It’s the friend who chimes in with a well-timed “relax” when you need it. (Without actually telling you to relax.) Spire, less than an inch long and weighing in just under an ounce, notifies a wearer if they’re tense or haven’t taken a deep cleansing breath for a while. It’ll suggest breathing exercises and meditations to guide you back to center. It’s portable mindfulness, and even comes with an app.

Honorable mention

Brookstone Shiatsu Neck and Back Massager with Heat | Ah. The name speaks for itself. Headspace | It’s a daily meditation app for plenty of Zen in just 10 minutes a day. Billed as a “gym membership for the mind.”

For the off-grid adventurer

goTenna Mesh

gotenna.com | $149 goTenna Be in touch, off the grid. This 4.2-inch device sends text and shares GPS locations through the network of devices. Leave a digital footprint when you’re in the wilderness. With a range of 3 miles in open environments. goTenna Mesh devices (two per pack) use UHF radio waves to create a unit-to-unit network. Water-resistant and dust-tight, the goTenna Mesh carries more than 24 hours of battery life.

Honorable mention

ALPS Mountaineering Eclipse Table | Folds out, with a level for drinks and one for plates and games. It seats four (eight if you don’t mind sitting at the corners.) MPOWERD Luci | This inexpensive, portable solar light will light up your (camping) world.

For the fantastic photographer

Viddy

The Popup Pinhole Company | $35 Viddy There’s a camera in the cards. Punch out the shapes for construction from a sturdy recycled card. In 30 minutes, see it transform into a camera that accepts medium-format and 35mm film. It’s a classic look in four basic colors. Stickers, stick pins and a dollop of craft glue hold together your new camera. No scissors required. Shh – if you give it to a kid, don’t mention that constructing it is educational.

Honorable mention

iPhone telephoto lens | It’s a wonky look to a smartphone that helps capture stellar photos. Just attach it to your smartphone camera, and shoot. Snapgrip | A selfie-snapping aid designed for those who struggle with their selfie-snapping game.

For the hyper-focused cyclist

Hammerhead

Hammerhead | $130 Hammerhead It’s like a GPS, if a GPS guided you with intuitive light patterns instead of robotic demands. Mounted to handlebars, Hammerhead indicates trail patterns and upcoming turns in colors and patterns. It’ll even recalculate your route should you get lost. Hammerhead’s design keeps your eyes on the road and makes just about any ride easy. (Except that 37-mile all-uphill trek some of you insist upon.)

Honorable mention

Scosche BoomBottle | A weatherproof wireless speaker that fits in a bike water-bottle cage. (Don’t forget to hydrate.) VeloComputer | Sensors feed data from your bike ride by Bluetooth to a unit in your seat bag. You get a real-time display of your vitals.

For the superb listener

Even H1 Headphones

Even | $179 geteven They’re headphones that listen to you, for a change. EarPrint technology customizes the user’s listener experience to the way they hear the world. In 90 seconds flat, H1s map eight audio frequencies per ear. They’re made to equalize hearing imbalances droves of us have - but don’t know it. Whether its podcasts or punk rock, what you hear is custom-made for you.

Honorable mention

Hercules DJControl Compact | The closet DJs on your shopping list can spin on the 1s and 2s wherever they go. You get the essentials of mixing, all in a unit smaller than the average keyboard (or loaf of ciabatta bread). Portability status: Extreme. Binauric BOOM BOOM! Speaker | Bluetooth speaker that can also record 3d audio with a smartphone.

For the clean-conscious

PhoneSoap 2.0

PhoneSoap | $59.99 PhoneSoap It’s the cleanliest multi-tasker since June Cleaver. Pop your mobile phone into the PhoneSoap case. While it charges, it receives a marvelous scrubbing – well, with UV rays, anyway. Your phone definitely needs it; Fox News reports a phone is 18 times nastier than a toilet handle. PhoneSoap doesn’t use heat, liquid or chemicals. Don’t lather up your device – use UV rays to keep it nice.

Honorable mention

Airmega | Monitor air quality in your home and maximum energy efficiency with this smart air purifier, and a smartphone app that goes with it. Okki Nokki Record Cleaning Machine | Still spin vinyl? It’s the new way to keep the old school spiffy.

For the globetrotter

Tag Cable

Native Union | $49.99 NativeUnion The top questions asked when traveling are “where’s the bathroom?” and “do you have a charging cable I can borrow?” No more, on the second one, at least, with the Tag Cable. It’s always-ready convenience wrapped in crafted Italian leather. Loop it to your bag strap or key holder, and you’ll have a charging cable with you whenever you need it. P.S. People are going to want to borrow (and swipe) this one.

Honorable mention

Griffin wired keyboard | It’s a real keyboard for your Apple device. Especially helpful when Bluetooth isn’t an option. Luminette Eyewear | It's a device you wear, like eyeglasses with a visor instead of lenses, for light therapy. It can improve sleep, boost energy, and help wearers recover from jet lag.

For the high-tech cook

Pantelligent

Pantelligent | $129 Pantelligent Efficient with a spatula in your hand? Then you’re qualified to step up to Pantelligent. This culinary master of a frying pan uses temperature sensors to communicate with an app. Pantelligent also feeds the cook step-by-step orders. Flip your salmon at just the right time. Adjust the heat on your stove when it needs it. It even comes with an autopilot feature that comes awfully close to having a live-in chef.

Honorable mention

Chefsteps Joule | This gadget melds the old country technique of sous vide – cooking in controlled, low-temperature water – with modern-day tech perfection. An app preheats the water in the Joule to just the right temp. Soda Stream | Feel the fizz: Create sparkling water right from the tap.

News

The Ways to Conquer the Great Grammar Divide

My daughter actually wrote a paper for school – on her phone. I. Can’t. Imagine. I struggle with a simple text. Zeros become 9s, Ps are Os, and forget the backspace vs. M battle. Middle-aged eyes and letter keys that could fit under a chocolate chip? Not a good match. Yet, for this generation, texting and social-media posts are more comfortable than actual conversation. Forget emoticons and all-lower-case entries for a moment. Let’s not concentrate on spelling. (Although another of my kids once texted, “we picked up meet at the grocery store!”) Grammar – the framework of writing – is taking a hit. What role has social media played in this slow-burning yet seismic downgrade of grammar?

The Grammar Police

To let your grammatical guard down among friends is one thing. But what if your words represent a brand? Readers once pounced on typos in local morning newspapers. Now, some people read with similar scrutiny blogs and social media posts. They search and destroy brands who post updates with errors of grammar and spelling. Quick to grill a company for missing commas? Consider this: Brands that relate to their audience succeed. Brands such as Sephora, ThinkGeek and Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center convey personality. They connect not because of impeccable grammar, but with messages that resonate. Friends and contacts like and share content that resonates. They also frequent their content, and buy their products.

The evolving language of communication

There’s always a moment. Your grandmother sends btw in an email. Your own father uses 4 for for and 2 for too in a text. Chances are, they’d stop for a moment if they saw these deviations in ad copy for luxury cars or cereal. So why use it themselves? Corporations, small businesses and bloggers must weigh the cost of hardline grammatical compliance. Is striving for perfection best? Or is there value in a conversational tone that evokes genuine connection? Could it be that we place far too much emphasis on the written word? Our smartphones give us a free pass. We use disclaimers such as please excuse any grammatical errors, sent from my mobile device. If only we could tag this to social media posts, email and pick-up lines, too, right? Grammar sets us off, but it’s not the only evil of the English language. Blogger Mandi Castle, of Cellulite Looks Better Tan, summarized the struggle. She wrote a post titled Things You Should Have Learned in Grade School but Obviously Didn’t, In it, Mandi laments gaffes of a lot and cannot but also it’s and nother and literally and figuratively. “Feel free to share this on Facebook,” Mandi writes. “As I’m certain 99.7% of people who use it daily should have had to sit through Mrs. Lawrence’s third grade grammar lessons because they still say ‘should of.’”

Literally (or figuratively?) the final word

A teacher friend recently graded third-grade grammar quizzes. “I fear for the future of interpretable communication," she told me in a Facebook post. "Yikes.” Kids, though, have jacked up the English language for generations. We often consider it adorable, with backward letters and everything. On the surface, the divide seems sharp: Either you’re a stickler, or you wing it. There’s a lot of rules, though, and even stickler status doesn’t guarantee expertise. It’s unofficial. It seems, though, the key to forgiveness for all writing wrongs is simple: How do you feel about the person or entity who made the mistake? A fan of your favorite team can bust the “you’re-your rule” in exuberance over a victory. You’ll likely thumbs-up the comment, no questions asked. A member of an opposing political party forgets to capitalize Boise, and he'll have upon him a literary wrath of biblical proportions. It’s about how the words make you feel. Unless you’re in the grammar police. Then, you must ask yourself, has the slip-up spoiled the message? Good grammar doesn’t guarantee compelling prose. Imperfect discourse isn’t wholly deemed unfit. A messy cookie is likely more desirable than broccoli fixed to perfection, right? Maybe. I’ll text my kid and ask about that.

3 websites to boost your grammar

GRAMMAR BOOK | This site promotes a book, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, by Jane Strauss. It offers quizzes, a newsletter and a list of grammar rules to follow. LOUSY WRITER | It’s a free online resource to strengthen your writing overall. It includes how-to guides to many parts of speech, as well as tips for writing everything from a thesis to a screenplay. PURDUE ONLINE WRITING LAB | Purdue University hosts this site. It covers grammar and mechanics, job search and professional writing, and popular writing vidcasts.

News

3 Tech Tools for a Happy, Bright Holiday

I couldn’t wait to get the Sears catalog when I was a little kid. In my preteen years, I moved up to Target fliers that I waited for with as much anticipation. In those pages I’d find dozens of gifts I wanted under the Christmas tree or stuffed in my stocking on Dec. 25. (I estimate 98.9% actually made it there.) That air of anticipation made magic out of ordinary catalog pages. Holiday Anticipation, 2016 style, is a little different. My kids can make wish lists online. Forget visions of sugarplums. Children sneak a tablet into bed and track Santa’s progress online. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could check up on St. Nick on Snapchat. Even before Thanksgiving, Christmastime seems to be here. So why not get a jump start on the season? Here are three online holiday tools for those who just can’t wait for Christmas to get here.

Online Wish Lists

I circled the NFL jackets and Star Wars ships I wanted in catalogs. Kids now can establish a registry, as you might for a wedding. A child can share his or her wish list through Facebook – which increases the chances a family member will pick up the  Wow Wee Coji with Remote at the top of the list. Giftster| For desktop or mobile, register the whole family for gift-giving perfection. Toys R Us | Sign up on the toy giant’s site for all the toys. WishMindr | It’s the app that lets you add gifts from any site – right on your mobile device.

Santa Online

For generations, kids hand-scribbled their wish list to Santa. Today, they can fill out an online form. aLetter4Santa.com promises the Jolly Old Elf will reply to letters submitted immediately. (Now that's customer care). Kids can also color Christmas pages on the site. NORAD Tracks Santa | Starting Dec. 1, check out St. Nick’s progress in his global expedition. Reindeer Cam | Watch Chris Kringle feed the reindeer three times a day. Capture the Magic | It’s the place to get pics of Santa in your living room. How? Magic. (Parents send photos in of living space as it will appear on Christmas Eve. In return, they get a photo of Santa making his rounds in the room.)

 Appy Christmas

Parents herd the kids in to watch Charlie Brown shows for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Why? Their parents herded them in to watch Charlie Brown shows for Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s why. Now, there’s an app for that. A Charlie Brown Christmas ($5.99, iTunes) | It’s interactive! Christmas Crystal Ball (Google Play, free) | It’s a virtual snow globe for your mobile device. Red Stamp (Google Play, iTunes, free) | Design Christmas cards to have printed and sent. These online resources can help kick off your digital Christmas. You’re on your own for the eggnog.