Sara’s Tech Tips

Sara’s Tech Tips: How To Clean Your Gadgets

May 24, 2011 at 9:48 am , by

Whether the dust that has created a protective barrier between you and your ability to see your TV screen or the computer keyboard contains at least one crumb from every meal you’ve multi-tasked over the last several months… our gadgets can get pretty nasty. Here’s the scoop on how to clean them (without ruining them!).

What you’ll need: Water and isopropyl alcohol (mixed 60/40,) a bottle of compressed air, microfiber or electrostatic cloths (like Swiffer or Pledge dry cloths) and cotton swabs.

Remember: You should always turn off and unplug all devices before cleaning them. Also, rather than vigorously scrubbing your gear like you would your dishes, channel the image of handling a baby when cleaning your gadgets. They may seem tough with the ease in which they solve all of our problems, but they are fragile (expensive!) machines to be handled with care.

Screens (computer, TV, and smart phone) seem to be magnets for dust and grime. Even the cleanest among us will notice a layer of dust coating the surface of the TV or computer. And don’t forget about the smudgy finger prints. First, wipe them down with a microfiber cloth (which traps dust between fibers) or a electrostatic cloth (which has synthetic fibers that create magnetic charge to pull dust to them). By doing this, you actually remove dust rather than spreading it around or unsettling it just to have it land back on your screen within minutes. Then, use a cloth dampened with the water/alcohol mixture to remove the fingerprints. (Paper towels and napkins are too abrasive for standard screens and can leave minute scratches on the surface).

Keyboards (computers and smart phones) are a more delicate area to clean because any fluid you use can drain into the actual machine, causing damage. That’s why it’s important to spray liquid cleaner (like the alcohol/water mix or other gadget-specific cleaning products) onto a cloth and NOT onto the device itself. Wipe the top of the keys off with a cloth and then use a cotton swab dipped in alcohol to trace the sides of the keys. Finally, use the compressed air to blast any dust and grime out from the inside of the keyboard.

Earphones often end up attracting earwax or other unidentified yuck from the bottom of the bag or purse they have been riding in. If they have soft removable covers, take them off and soak them for 10/15 minutes in a glass of water mixed with a couple drops of soap. Then, using an alcohol-dipped cotton swab, wipe over the earphones themselves. Let them dry for 20 minutes afterward to ensure that all of the water has evaporated.

Sara’s Tech Tips: The Best Online Games

April 7, 2011 at 9:12 am , by

sara-phoneLet’s mix it up and have some fun this month! Sure the web is great for saving time and money, but it’s also a good place to kill a little time—and have a lot of fun—with addictive online games. Here are a few of my favorites (and yes, I spent way too much time playing these to write this. Hey, I had to “test” them for you guys!)

The more the merrierWords With Friends (available online, as an app and on Facebook) is a Scrabble-esque word game that allows you to play with friends anywhere. You can either search for people by your contact list or play a random opponent. Either way, you’ll find yourself unable to stop this one!

Oldies but goodies – Retro games like the ones at or are fun a way to get in touch with your inner 80s self. I often crave the days of the old joystick, while visions of Space Invaders and Donkey Kong dance through my head. Check out these sites for all of your old-school faves. I’m sorry, did somebody say Frogger?! …I gotta go!

Choose your own adventure (kind of)Fancy Pants Adventure World 2 is a game where you get to do random stuff, prompted by messages along the way, just for the heck of it. With a mix of stick-figure illustrations and monopoly-esque prompts (a la community chest), this game will have you playing out of pure curiosity for what comes next.

Not all dots are created equalDots is a heart-pumping game that has you hitting certain dots while avoiding others (or you lose). While trying to hit or avoid certain dots based on color, the game goes faster and faster. It’s one of those “…just one more game, and then I’m REALLY stopping” ones. Trust me, it’s addictive!

Train your brain – Any of the brain teaser games at will have you glued to your computer for probably too long. From Crime Scene where you have to identify a suspect from a line-up after seeing a skewed image to SpeedType which harkens the day of high school typing class (you type the words as they fall and it gets faster and faster), you’re bound to find several games that you could totally pass off as “good” for your brain.

Sara’s Tech Tips: Spring Clean Your Computer

March 1, 2011 at 3:43 pm , by

sara-phoneSpring is here, so you know what that means – spring-cleaning!  As much as any room in the house, your computer needs a little cleaning love too.  Here are 4 steps to help you get started:

  1. Straighten your desktop – If you have programs on the desktop or start up menu that you haven’t used in the last year, you probably aren’t going to use them.  These programs take up memory and slow your computer down, especially when booting it up.  In order to get rid of them, you need to “uninstall” them (dragging them to the trash/recycling bin only removes the icon/shortcut, but NOT the actual software.)  Also, make some folders for the documents, pictures, and everything else that’s cluttering your desktop. Even if it is titled “random” or “Sara’s stuff,” at least it’s a start!
  2. Eliminate duplicates – One of my computer pet peeves is duplicate pictures.  I like to have them saved at work and at home.  So, every time I sync my mobile phone, I end up with two or three copies of every picture, argh!  Duplicate File Finder (also duplicate image and song finder) is free software that will do the job for you.  You can even narrow down what files/folders you want searched.  After they are identified, you choose to delete, move, or even copy to somewhere else.  Let the type A personalities rejoice!
  3. Clean up & Defrag – Both the disk clean up and defragment can be done right from your own computer.  I like to compare it to the self-cleaning oven (not that I ever use my oven…).  On a Windows computer click the start button and then go to Programs>Accessories>System tools. The clean up will get rid of all of your temporary files and caches, whereas defrag will help your hard drive to work more efficiently by grouping pieces of related data back together.
  4. Back it up – The first question any IT person will ask you when you’re frantic because you erased or lost a recently perfected resume, or the pictures from your family vacation: Did you back it up? We’ve all been told to back up, back up, back up—but now it’s time to do something about it. It will cost you a little money, but can you really put a price on your family photos?  Starting at about $100, you can buy an external hard drive to store files, or utilize an online back up service like Mozy or Carbonite for a mere $5 a month or so.

Sara’s Tech Tips: Spring Cleaning Your Gadgets

February 20, 2011 at 10:16 am , by

sara _0079Editor’s Note: We’re excited to introduce LHJ’s new tech contributor, Sara Haines of NBC’s Today show! This month she’s got some great tips for spring cleaning your tech clutter.

Chances are, you’ve got an old cell phone or two stuffed in a drawer. Maybe you have an outdated TV gathering dust in the basement or a printer that doesn’t really work any more. Most of these gadgets can’t even be fixed (or in many cases it’s cheaper to buy a new one). Or maybe your kids had to have that new game system and quickly forgot the old one. But what should we do with all this tech clutter? Unlike your usual spring cleaning, it’s not as simple as dropping these outdated tech toys into the trash. Some of the materials, like the cathode ray tubes in televisions, can be hazardous in landfills, and other items that still work can be donated instead of ditched. Here are my three favorite tips to help you “spring clean” responsibly when it comes to your has-been electronics.

Company “take back” programs. Many big chain stores (such as Staples and Best Buy) and manufacturers (like Apple and Sony) have beefed up their “green” game by offering incentives or resources to recycle old consumer gadgets. Check out Engadget to find the most comprehensive list (including stores, manufacturers, and government agencies) for these “take back” programs.

Recycling. The resources are available for electronic recycling vary depending on where you live, but many gadgets can be recycled. Here are a few sites that can help you find the best options for your area. and both allow you to search for a recycling center by ZIP code. is also a great resource to find collection events taking place locally.

Tech patience. Practice self control when it comes to new gadgets. It may be hard for you (or your husband or kids) to pass up that shiny new gizmo, but holding out for the second round of a product gives manufacturers time to work out early developmental glitches. Buying later also practically guarantees a lower price. Patience is a virtue that will reduce electronic waste while saving you money!

Sara’s Tech Tips: Free Stuff Online!

December 22, 2010 at 12:39 pm , by

sara-phone You’ve probably seen emails or wacky links that promise all kinds of free stuff—the web is full of them. But how do you distinguish the real offers from the ones that are total rip-offs? The classic rule of thumb definitely applies here: If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. You’re really not likely to score an iPad for answering 3 questions about Lady Gaga. If you provide your name, email, and address to the scammy site, you are likely to get spammed (or worse, your identity stolen). Check out’s guide to avoiding freebie scams for more tips.

But there are awesome freebies to be found out there! So I compiled a cheat sheet of my favorite (totally scam-free) online scores—because what’s better than 100 percent free?

FREE music: Whether you log on to the site or access Pandora Radio via a mobile application, you can listen to up to 40 hours of streaming music a month without paying one cent.

FREE ebooks:’s Kindle Store. As easy as the Kindle has made it to shop for a book from the comfort of your own couch, now you can do it for free. There are over 16,000 titles that will cost you absolutely nothing, including classics like “A Tale of Two Cities” and “Little Women.”

FREE products: From t-shirts and mugs to coupons and calendars, this website is devoted to finding the best freebies on the web. After perusing available deals by category, click on the desired link. You’ll be taken to that company’s website where you enter your mailing address and send your free loot on its way to your front door.

FREE services: U-exchange is a swap site that specializes in any type of trade. You can write a post asking for anything that you need (a handyman, an ipod, a couch, babysitting) in exchange for something you have to offer, whether it’s an object or a skill.

FREE stuff: Freecycle is a non-profit network that has over 7 million members in almost 5,000 groups around the world. The aim is to keep good and useful stuff out of landfills. After joining the free group, you can peruse the available items in your area. Whether you’re looking for a piece of furniture or something smaller like a book, you are sure to find it here—for FREE—if you’re patient in the hunt.

FREE designer clothes: Swapstyle is a fashion website where members can swap (rather than buy) an unlimited amount of designer duds with each other. With the exception of any shipping costs, female fashionistas can shop for free, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn’t get any better than that!

Sara’s Tech Tips: Techie Stocking Stuffers

November 16, 2010 at 11:16 am , by

sara _0079Let’s face it: Tech gifts can get really expensive. That’s why I picked out my favorite stocking stuffer ideas. The gadget-lovers in your life will love these great techie gifts that add a little buzz-factor this holiday season—without breaking the bank.

78336Iphone Charging Leather Case, on sale for $25 – When I’m traveling or just away from my desk, there is nothing more frustrating then trying to salvage the little battery life my phone has left as it creeps into the red zone (i.e. EMPTY). This charging case provides up to 3.5 hours of additional talk time and the case can recharge an iphone (or ipod touch) up to 1.5 times before it needs to be charged itself. It’s a lifesaver when an outlet is hard to come by!

41fh4SaJUUL._SL500_AA300_WowWee Paperjamz, $20-24 – What kid hasn’t dreamt of being a rock star? Well, now you don’t have to spend hundreds of dollars on instruments. Paperjamz are paper cut-outs of a guitars, drums, etc. with circuits embedded inside that allow kids (or the young-at-heart adult) to play the instrument by touching the right spots on its surface.  All of the instruments have internal speakers (and volume control!). Their website even offers tutorials that will help you get started.

314ymcAuxoL._AA300_Tao Photo Keychain, $10 – What is the one thing you can’t leave home without?  I hope you didn’t say your phone because we all know how many times we forget that! The correct answer is your keys. Now, wherever you go, you can take up to 99 of your favorite photos on your keychain. With an 1.5-inch LCD screen, this Tao keychain ensures that you aren’t empty-handed for those unexpected run-ins (and photo show-off opportunities!).

415JDEy6eyL._AA300_Menotek Flexible Bluetooth Waterproof Mini Keyboard for the Apple iPad, $30 – iPads have been the hot techie gift of 2010, but anyone who has worked on a touch screen can appreciate the comforts of a regular keyboard. This Menotek keyboard literally folds up (like a sleeping bag) for easy transport. And with its bluetooth technology, there is no need for any cords (except for the retractable USB cord that is used to recharge the keyboard). It’s also waterproof, which I love: Who hasn’t had the unexpected overflow when trying to work and eat at the same time?

varioVario Stand, $70 – With an almost 10-inch high-resolution screen, watching movies, music and videos remains one of the most appealing features of the iPad—but who wants to hold it up while you sit through a movie? Problem solved! Vario is a 360-degree rotating stand that allows you to prop the iPad vertically or horizontally. With its fold-flat design and smart-drop exterior, you can easily slide this into any case when you are on the go.

Sara’s Tech Tips: How To Connect (For Free!) Via Sykpe

September 30, 2010 at 3:54 pm , by

sara _0079The holidays are about being with family, but sometimes the miles between loved ones makes it impossible to be together in person. Whether you have a son or daughter studying abroad or a family member who moved across the country, Skype makes it possible to bridge the gap. Skype is a free video conference service that allows you to talk—and see each other—when meeting up in person isn’t an option. And it’s easy too! All you need is a computer, internet connection and web cam (many computers made within the past few years have built in cameras). Follow the steps below and you will be chatting in no time.

skype1. Download Skype from their official website. Select “get skype” at the top of the screen and follow the prompts. When you get to the “download now” screen, you will see options on the right side of the screen to pick the version for your operating system.

2. Once you have the program, when you open it for the first time it will prompt you to create an account or sign in. It’s a super-quick process to create an account, so go ahead and do that and then continue.

3. Now that you’re set up, you need to find someone to Skype with! If family members or friends already have accounts, search for them by going to the “contact” tab and clicking the button to add new contacts. Search by either email address or phone number and then once you’ve found your friend or family member, add them. If the person you want to call doesn’t have an account, have them complete the first two steps too.

4. You’re all set to make a call! The person on the other end needs to be there with their computer on, so it’s often a good idea to set a time you’ll be Skyping so you make sure to catch them. When you’re ready to go, just select the person in your contact list and hit “call!” Happy (video) chatting!