How to Check on a Pet When You Can’t Be at Home

PuppyThis is my puppy. He’s fourteen weeks old, and he is nuts. We named him Talmadge, after one of the longest-standing political families in the state where we live.

He is a great little guy to have around, but he really is crazy. No, seriously. Crazy. He weighs five pounds and can jump up to my waste already. He figured out how to climb out of his playpen before he was old enough to visit a dog park. Like I said, crazy.

When my wife and I decided to get a dog, we rationalized our decision by coming to two realizations:

  • Right now, we have fewer commitments than we will probably ever have for the rest of our lives. Why not get a dog now, while we still have a good bit of extra time on our hands and no one else to look after?
  • And, modern technology allows us to keep an eye on the little guy even when we can’t be there, at little to no cost to us. We both work a lot, and we need to be able to check in on him because we can’t come home to let him out for lunch.

So that’s the purpose of my blog post tonight. No, I’m not saying that to be twenty-something, you need to have a dog. What I am saying is – if you’re looking into it, know that it’s a big commitment, a great decision and not as expensive as the critics like to tell you it is. I really do love the little guy. Also know that there is an easy way to keep an eye on pets like Talmadge when you can’t be at home.*

Here’s what you’ll need:

  1. An internet connection
  2. A computer with a built-in camera or a webcam
  3. The free software program “Skype” or another video communication service.
  4. A cell phone/iPad/iPhone/Android, etc. that can stream video
  5. Oh yeah…you’ll also need a pet. Although I guess this could work as a security option in general.

And here’s how to do it:

  1. If you don’t already have one, set yourself up a Skype account. Accounts are free and the only cost associated with using the program occurs if you need to call an actual phone number and not communicate via internet. I’ve never paid a cent.
  2. Next, set up another Skype account (using a different e-mail address) for your pet. Yes, Talmadge has his own Skype account. No, you can’t call him.
  3. Once the pet’s Skype account is set up, you need to change some of the settings in order for this process to work correctly. Navigate on over to your preferences, and click the “Privacy” tab. I would transfer every single preference to only receive and allow messages from contacts. Then, I would only add your account to your contact list. This way, no sketchy pet people can watch your pet while you’re not home.
  4. Next, navigate to the “Calls” tab and beside Incoming Calls, click “Answer Automatically”. If you skip this step, you will not be able to successfully use this process. Unless your pet can answer his/her own Skype calls. Which would be awesome.
  5. Position your camera so that you can see your pet’s play space.
  6. Finally, mute the computer’s sound or turn off the computer speakers. It might make your pet go insane if they can hear you when you call to check in on them.
  7. Once you’ve done all of this, you can log in to your Skype account via your iPhone, iPad, work computer or whatever and your pet’s account should pop up as being online once you’ve logged in if you’ve added him/her to your contact list.
  8. Click “Make Video Call” and you should see and hear your pet momentarily. I recommend testing this out in another room before leaving home.

A special note: Skype is free, but it will use a good bit of your data if you’re not making calls over a WiFi network. I would recommend waiting until you’re in an area with a WiFi connection before making a call, unless you happen to have an unlimited data plan.

Some people think we’re crazy for doing this, but in the early stages of having a puppy, it has proven to be an invaluable tool for us. Remember how I mentioned that Talmadge figured out how to get out of his playpen already? I wouldn’t have realized that he had done that until hours later if it hadn’t been for this process, and my wife was able to turn around and put him back in the pen and calm him down.

What do you think? Am I crazy? What crazy things have you done for your pet?

*Do not misinterpret this post as an endorsement of being away from your pet for long periods of time. They love you and they need you, and you need to be there for them.

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No More Google Reader: What Now?

Google Reader will cease to exist on July 1. Most of what I told you about reading blogs revolved around syncing your RSS feed using Google Reader, so I apologize for that. I have been very happy with my RSS readers, and Google Reader has been the glue that kept them all together. I don’t have a recommendation just yet as to what you should do now, but I thought I’d pool some of my favorite articles about the subject together so that you can form some of your own opinions and try multiple options.

Surprisingly, this announcement from Google sparked discussion on the popular blog reader, many people expressing their frustrations with the program. I agree that Google Reader in and of itself was not impressive-looking, but it integrated with a majority of the RSS readers that work across devices, so it will be sorely missed by those who like to sync.

At least I have until July 1. In the mean time, learn with me:

  • This guy said “Good Riddance, Google” and made me realize I’m an “information junkie,” as if I didn’t already know that.
  • Lots of folks are talking about Feedly, which apparently does the same thing and looks better. Since Google announced the end of Google Reader, Feedly has gained 500,000 new users in less than a week.
  • Gini Dietrich over at SpinSucks offers a few of her own suggestions for reading blogs.
  • Flipboard is trying to capitalize on the announcement as well. Some people really like Flipboard, but I’d recommend it for people who don’t mind missing things sometimes. I prefer to see everything and opt-out of reading certain things if I don’t see the need, rather than letting the App do that for me.
  • John Dvorak over at PC Mag says Google should make Google Reader an open source code, like the WordPress platform I currently blog on. I disagree with how he got to this suggestion, but I think it would be great. The problem with this suggestion is that the main reason Google Reader is going to File 13 is to send more traffic to Google+. Making it an open source platform would not help achieve this goal.

A lot of you may be scratching your heads wondering what I’m even talking about, which is fine. This may be your opportunity to look more into RSS Feeds and develop a strategy for reading your favorite blogs.

If you prefer reading all of your favorite blogs via e-mail, I can’t blame you. Scroll on down to the bottom of this webpage and you can easily sign up to receive e-mail updates for this blog. Personally, I’d go nuts receiving an e-mail every time a blog I read published new content. RSS Feeds make this a lot easier, and, no matter how you do it, I highly recommend reading as many blogs as you have time to read. There is some great stuff out there!

What am I missing? What are you going to do?


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3 Ways to Improve Your Social Media Presence

How many times have you heard, “If you’re not on [semi-popular social media site], you are missing out! You need to create a profile ASAP!”? How many times have we then navigated to that social media site, downloaded the app on our mobile devices and then checked in periodically – but never on a regular basis? I’m guessing that, if you’re like me, you’ve probably done this a lot. You may even be doing this now because of what I told you last week about LinkedIn.

If so, consider these three ways that will help you improve your social media presence.

#1: Be deliberate about your social media usage and don’t overdo it.

Breaking news: you do not have to be on every single social media site in order to be relevant, contribute to a conversation or network with your friends, family and professional contacts. In fact, being on too many social media sites and neglecting to give the sites you really care about any attention will do more to hurt you in the end than it will ever help you. Consider all of the hackers who get into Twitter accounts and send private contacts sketchy links with viruses and spam via Direct Message. If you’re not using Twitter on a regular basis, you may not know that your account has been hacked. In the same way, your Facebook wall and profile that still offers up your favorite quotes from “Old School” probably won’t do much to help you land that interview you’ve been gunning for.

It’s ok to delete an account if you’re not using it. In fact, I’d recommend considering this at least once a year. I used to have numerous accounts promoting music I recorded in college online. While I still love to play music, those songs aren’t a very good representation of my current offerings. Last year, I deleted a number of those accounts in order to improve my personal online presence.

If you want to hold on to the account, but still don’t want to use it very often, take the time to keep your profile updated so that if someone searches for you, they’ll receive accurate information (i.e. changing your current city, profession, etc.).

#2: Don’t link all of your accounts together.

This is one that I assume will “convict” a lot of you. Unlink those accounts, y’all. If I’m scrolling through my Twitter feed and I see a tweet exported from a Facebook wall, I can’t see it unless I’m also logged in to Facebook. If what was said needs to be on both social media sites, take the time to reword the content to fit the site it’s being posted to. In the same way, whenever hash tags are placed on Facebook, the poster loses credibility. Instagram pictures look great. They really do. But hash tags are not searchable on Facebook. In addition, the point of social media sites is engagement. If you don’t have the time to engage in all of the sites you have an account for, it might be time to refer to #1 and get rid of some of the ones you’re not using as much.

#3: Learn about privacy settings for your accounts and use them.

I don’t see any reason for folks to protect their tweets. If your tweets are that bad, you probably shouldn’t be tweeting. Twitter is really not made for you, you vulgar kid. However, you may have a reason to protect your tweets that I do not know about. You may need to keep your Facebook account completely private and unsearchable. You may not want to put your picture on your public profile on LinkedIn. Whatever your preference, make yourself aware of how people that you do not know see you Google or Bing. Find out how your boss, potential boss and co-workers see you on Facebook and Twitter. If changes to your content are necessary, make the change. If you need to get more private or less private, do it. Just make sure that you’re aware of what you look like to friends and foes. And recruiters. Because all three are important.

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