Sunday, May 8, 2016

5 Cell Phone Accessories You Don't Want to Live Without

Modern cellular phones are miraculous devices that have a mind-boggling array of accessories. Some accessories are gimmicks, but some are entirely necessary. What I’d like to do in this article is take a look at five accessories in particular which you’ll find invaluable. Some are specific to certain phones, but for those ones, I’ve chosen phones which are immensely popular and so the accessories would be used by the great majority of people. In all cases, these accessories are not necessary but they do make the life of the owner much easier and they help to extend the life of the phone – which, after all, is an expensive investment. All of these products are pulled from the same online shopping website, but don’t read too much into that – I’ve had great experiences ordering from this site in the past, but beyond that, I don’t have any affiliation with the site and I’m certainly not “getting anything out” of the fact that I’m recommending them as a source. Feel free to find your own source for these products! Without any further ado, let’s get started.

#5 on the list: A universal (3.5 mm) in-ear headphone, complete with an on/off microphone. I just use one of the earbuds, as it allows me to hear other sounds nearby. I can’t say that I recommend using these when driving an automobile, as I prefer to have all of my senses completely focused on driving, but for the workplace / walking around downtown, this accessory seems to work quite well. Please, please don’t get me started on the “Bluetooth” line of headset products. First of all, they look absolutely ridiculous. A discrete ear bud is so much better. Also, I’ve seen some scattered evidence that Bluetooth is not entirely secure, and the last thing I need is for people listening in to discover that I order my coffee with skim milk. Attractively priced at $8, and it fits most phones.

#4 on the list: A universal two port AC adapter. You plug this into a standard wall socket, and then plug in your USB charger cable. It works to power both iPhones and iPods (at the same time, even). Not everyone has access to a laptop or desktop on the road to serve as a charging station for their electronic devices, and so something like this is a lifesaver. It’s quite a remarkable device actually, as there is a lot of “step-down” involved in transforming wall current to the current necessary for the USB devices. No owner of an iPhone or iPod should be without one of these. You still need the white USB charger cable that came with your iPhone, of course, but other than that it’s a foolproof operation. Only $9, which again, is a great deal.

#3 on the list: A clear white rubber case for the Apple iPhone 4. This solves the embarrassing “signal loss” problem that results from the exposed metallic antenna on this brand of phones. It also protects your valuable phone from scratches and dings, and gives you a better grip on your phone which is especially important if your hands are sweaty or wet. The skin slips over your phone and fits perfectly, and is completely shatterproof (although, your phone is not, of course – use caution!). This item is slightly more expensive than other items on the list so far (retailing at $11), but scratches are forever, and too many screen scratches can practically ruin the phone. So, invest in this product and protect your cell phone investment. You won’t be disappointed.

Next on the list, at #2: FM transmitter complete with cigarette lighter attachment. I love this device. One end plugs into your cars cigarette lighter (which it uses as a source of power) and the other side plugs into the headphone jack of your cell phone. You then use the digital control on the device to dial into an otherwise empty FM radio band (which will vary, depending on how crowded the airspace is in your particular area). Then, all of the output from your phone – conversations, music, whatever – is broadcast on that FM band and is picked up by your car radio, which is then played over your car stereo system. For those of us with mp3 files stored on our cell phones, or those of us who follow audio GPS directions from our cell phones (and always strain to hear those crucial “turn here” warnings), this device is a godsend. The only caveat is that if you do drive into an area which has an FM station at that frequency, you’ll start to run into interference, and eventually the radio station will completely drown out this device (which is, after all, a very low powered FM transmitter). There doesn’t seem to be a tremendous problem with neighboring vehicles picking up on the transmission (most of it is blocked by the metal shell of your car) and so it’s a wonderful device for amplifying the audio output of your cell phone. This device is a little pricey at $30, but well worth it.

At the top of the list at #1: a universal car charger for cell phones, with a large selection of wire “plugs” which fit the majority of cell phone brands. Nothing upsets me more than each individual cell phone producer making their power inlets require some type of proprietary plug, so that you end up buying a new phone charger everytime you upgrade your phone. Don’t play their game! Buy this car charger, plug one end into the cigarette lighter, and then use one of the six included plugs to become compatible with dozens of different types of cell phones. It’s probably the last car charger you’ll ever buy, which is welcome news indeed, especially at its low cost of only $10.

This completes my list of top cell phone accessories. I hold to hope that, one day, cell phone producers will include these functionalities into their base devices. Until they do, don’t be afraid to turn to the secondary market to address your needs.

Tags:5 Cell Phone Accessories You Don’t Want to Live Without

5 Cheap Accommodation Options when Travelling in Japan

I live in Japan and I travel a lot, but I don’t like spending a lot of money on a hotel that I only use to sleep in. Thankfully, I don’t have to and neither do you. Here are five inexpensive options for where to spend the night in Japan listed from cheapest to most expensive.

1) Couchsurfing
Stay at someone’s home for free. is a website where people all over the world register to open their homes to travelers. There are many people in Japan who are willing to let you stay with them at no cost. Some are local Japanese people but many are foreigners living in Japan.

2) Internet Cafes
In most Japanese cities, there is at least one 24-hour internet cafĂ© where many people spend the night. The front desk will have a list of options, usually with pictures, to help you decide what you want. The cheapest overnight options will often be US$15-25 for a private cubicle. Many have showers available (usually for an extra cost). There is usually at least one of these cafes near the train station. Most don’t accept reservations.

3) Capsule Hotels
These hotels are made up of rows of tiny enclosed capsules, usually about 1 meter x 2 meters (3’x6′), which are just big enough to hold a small bed, a light, an alarm clock and a TV. A capsule usually costs US$25-40 a night. You are usually provided with a locker and all bathroom facilities are shared.

4) Hostels
Hostels vary greatly in Japan both in cost and quality, but there are quite a few. You can usually get a dorm bed for US$20-35 a night, and many offer cheap private rooms as well. All facilities are shared, and there is often a communal kitchen.

5) Hotels
Contrary to popular opinion, there are a lot of cheap hotels in Japan. In most places (including Tokyo), a single room can cost as little as US$35. Cheaper hotels usually have very small and efficient rooms, but are also usually very clean and a great value.

It is usually a good idea to book ahead in Japan, and the last three options all take reservations. I usually use because it offers many options including capsules and hostels. Have a wonderful trip and a great time in Japan.

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5 Cheap and Easy Holiday Gift Ideas for Kids

If you are like my family, every year there are more gifts to buy, more family birthdays, holidays, etc. It seems there are far more gifts needed than the money available to buy them with. If you are looking for cheap and easy holiday gift ideas for your kids then look no further than your local dollar store. Every city has them but the best I have found is the The Dollar Tree. If you spend just a few minutes looking around your local Dollar Tree you will find some of the greatest simple holiday gifts for your kids.

1. Flashlights. Depending on how old your child is I have found kids always love their own flashlights. There is nothing better than having control of the dark spaces in the house. During a power outage kids pull them out immediately to show they are in control and able to help. Under the covers it lets them read their favorite book when they are supposed to be sleeping. At night in the back yard it lets them seek out the cool hopping toads, creepy crawlers, and other interesting scientific discoveries.

2. Yo-Yo’s. Every child and adult alike seem to get involved the moment a yo-yo is presented. Why is it so important to be able to get this little toy to come back up the string? Do you remember trying to ‘walk the dog’ or go ‘around the world’ ? When you actually got it to work correctly you felt as if you were some amazing architect that just suspended gravity. Yo-yo’s present hours of fun for everyone and are cheap and easy items for anyone no matter what age to learn quickly.

3. Coloring Books. The Dollar Tree and most other local dollar stores have coloring books galore. Everything from Disney movies to religious themes. Your local dollar store will have a massive collection of cheap coloring books. Our family likes to get coloring books for each member adults included so that we may spend several hours being creative together. For one more dollar you can get a box of 64 crayons as most boxes at home have already lost several crayons throughout the year. Some kids like markers and they have a wide selection of great markers and colored pencils for those more picky kids.

4. Writing Journals or Scrapbook kits. Every time I have been to a Dollar Tree or local dollar store there are many stylish blank writing journals for your kids to enjoy keeping their memories or secrets in. Their scrapbook kits rival the most expensive you find at specialty stores like Hallmark or major department stores such as Target. It is such a great experience putting together pictures, clippings, and writings with your kids that capture the good memories of your life with your kids. It is a great way not just to buy a cheap and easy gift for the kids but to create more lasting memories putting them together because it takes creativity and thoughtfulness and you get to spend more time together. The holidays are about creating lasting memories of being together and there is no better way than to scrapbook together.

5. Picture Puzzles. If you haven’t ever spent time piecing together a 500 or 1000 piece puzzle than you are missing out. This is a great way for the kids to use their critical thinking skills and it gives a real sense of accomplishment when you actually finish the project. Every local dollar store has them in Disney themes, Strawberry Shortcake, Holiday Themes, cute animal themes, Nascar, amazing ocean paintings of dolphins, etc. In this day and age of video games and instant gratification it is important to teach your children patience and commitment to finishing difficult and time consuming tasks. It gives you one more way to spend time with your kids and it is a cheap and easy way to get holiday gifts.

Our family loves the dollar store because it provides not just the items discussed but thousands of other interesting items that can be given as cheap and easy holiday gift ideas. In this difficult economy with fluctuating high gas prices, an uncertain job market, and a wavering feeling of economic security, the dollar store provides an outlet to achieve many holiday gifts on a budget.

Cheap and easy gift ideas for your kids or family are right down the street at your local dollar store. Happy gift hunting.

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5 Chores Your Toddler Should Be Doing

Toddlers want to help, so let them! Cleaning up is a part of life. The following chores should be delegated as soon as physically possible. Hint: that is sooner than you may think! With a little training, lots of reminders and patience, jobs can be delegated. It may seem as though you could get it down a whole lot faster, but don’t give in to that temptation. If you do, you will be left to do it all on your own.

So with that said, let’s get down to what chores a toddler can do. Grab them while they are still excited to help.

Toy manager
Toddlers that are capable of dumping all the toys on the floor are equally capable of putting the toys back into bins. Make clean up easy by using sturdy bins or baskets as containers. Keeping the toy collection manageable also helps a lot. Box up half the toys (or more) and keep out of sight. Rotate the toys occasionally to keep play time fun.

Laundry helper
Thanks in part to their presence, laundry is a never-ending chore. Get your child involved by delegating parts of the job. Toddlers can fold and put away dish towels, sort laundry into piles and even carry items to the proper room. We set a timer and turn laundry time into a challenge. If you are encouraging them to see how fast they can put the towels in the drawer and come back, the job gets done with a smile.

Kitchen crew
Like laundry, there is always something to be done in the kitchen. Set up your drawers and cupboards to accommodate very short helpers. Instead of keeping all the cups and plates up high, designate an area for the unbreakables that your toddler can reach. Little kids can also help sort silverware, as long as you remove the sharp knives.

Bathroom supervisor
Once a week, send your child in the bathroom to get the trash can. Little waste baskets are not heavy so you can give this to your toddler as an exclusive job. Putting them in charge of something starts to build their sense of responsibility. If you do not want them carrying trash cans, then give them the daily job of checking to see if the bathroom has towels hanging where they should. Somehow with four kids using one bathroom, the hand towel is often MIA.

Plant duty
Toddlers love to play with water. Harness this skill by giving them a small watering can. They can go around pouring water in all your potted plants. With a little instruction, they can even be taught to restrain themselves from drowning the plants.

Whatever job you give to your child, be sure to praise them for a job well done. Make it a point to smile and encourage them as they are working alongside you and you will have a willing helper.

More by Sylvie Branch:

Boost your child’s brain power: Focus on these 5 categories

Stop judging the picky eater

Risky behavior: Why climbing, falling, and failing are good for children

Tags:5 Chores Your Toddler Should Be Doing

5 Classic 1960's Summer Samurai Films

Summertime and swordplay just seem to go together. Here are 5 samurai-themed films that I picked for their slashing swordfight action, not necessarily for particularly complex plotting. These are energetic entertainment from the classic era of the chambara* movie in Japan (the sword-swingin’ sixties)! These movies are only offered as Japanese language with English subtitles, unless there are some old VHS dubbed versions floating around that I don’t know about, but for samurai flicks that is the way I like it. My choices here reflect my bias for the mid-to-late Tokugawa era jidai geki settings (around 1800-1868 or so). So without more ado, let’s get past the staredown and proceed straight to the quick draw!

1. Zatoichi at the Fire Festival (1969): Shintaro Katsu’s blind swordsman Ichi is matched here against a yakuza boss who is equally blind and delightfully evil; Katsu was adept at pathos AND bathos, i.e., grotesque comedy, and it shows here in a romp directed by Kenji Misumi, the man behind many of the Lone Wolf and Cub films and several other Zatoichi flicks. His films are colorful and packed with energetic swordfights. This is no exception. Watch for transvestite actor Peter as he tries to seduce Ichi, and some repeated encounters with angry, sword-swinging Tatsuya Nakadai, who wants to kill Ichi but not just yet — an action-packed romp with some great set pieces. Probably the most fun to watch of all the Zatoichi films in my opinion.

2. Yojimbo (1961): Akira Kurosawa’s light-hearted but gritty (in a Western way) tale of a ronin named Sanjuro (Toshiro Mifune) who pits one yakuza gang against another in a rundown late Tokugawa era town (the year is 1860, just before the Meiji Restoration). There’s lots of posturing and plotting going on, but all you need to know is that Mifune is playing one side against the other, and most of them are dumb enough to fall for it. The only man in town with a gun (Tatsuya Nakadai) is also the only man in town with brains. He catches on to Sanjuro’s scheme and the showdown begins!

3. Nemuri Kyoshiro 4: Sword of Seduction (1964). Nemuri Kyoshiro roughly translates as “Sleepy Eyes of Death,” which is its American series release title. There are several Kyoshiros, but the one everyone knows is played by Raizo Ichikawa, once called the “James Dean of Japan.” He has a laconic manner and a melodic, deep voice that can menace or seduce. Kyoshiro is a half-breed, born of a Christian father and a Japanese mother. His trademark is his deep red hair and his secret Full Moon cut, which no swordsman has witnessed and survived. As sure as Mifune’s Sanjuro inspired the “Man With No Name” of Clint Eastwood’s spaghetti westerns, so Ichikawa’s Kyoshiro follows in the same mold, except Kyoshiro tends to get laid a whole lot more. He also seems to be an eternal target. So expect lots of seductions and swordfights in this number 4 entry in which he is called upon to protect a Christian nun who has a few secrets of her own. Look for a rousing appearance by “Lone Wolf and Cub” leading man Tomisaburo Wakayama as Chinese boxer Chen Sun. Always a joy to watch!

4. Sword of Doom (Daibosatsu Toge, 1966): OK, this movie does have a complicated historical plot featuring the Shinsengumi and a bizarre karma theme, but you don’t HAVE to watch it on that level. You can enjoy it on a simple level of watching Tatsuya Nakadai as Ryunosuke, a badass, amoral swordsman with the baddest of bad attitudes. He enjoys sake and killing, not necessarily in that order. I tried compiling a body count for this movie once and came up with 88. Not a record, but for sheer style and doggedness, no one beats Nakadai! Watch for Nakadai’s traditional archnemesis, Toshiro Mifune, in a small but memorable role as a sword instructor who embodies the heroic ideal of “the sword is the soul.” Note for those of you in anger management courses: you might be cheesed off at the ending of this one, but as someone who is familiar with the source material, I find the ending of this film quite appropriate.

5. Red Lion (Akage, 1969): It is 1868, and the Tokugawa Shogunate is on its way out, while the new Imperial forces are making their way up the major highways from Kyoto to Edo (old Tokyo) to proclaim their new order and gain support. A bumpkin farmer named Gonzo (Toshiro Mifune) wants nothing more than to bring the message to his home village after his 10-year absence and make a name for himself in the process, while overthrowing the corrupt Tokugawa officials that have, in his view, ruined the town. He finds out that all is not as it seems, and the Imperials are not the godsend he thought they would be. Some people find this film to be socialist or intricate in its plotting, but it has enough broad comedy and action to overcome that, in my opinion. Etsushi Takahashi as the obligatory taciturn samurai bodyguard who is willing to wait til Gonzo gets it together to face him, if the Imperials and the Shogun’s men don’t get there first!

Yojimbo and Sword of Doom are widely available, and both have been given the Criterion collection treatment. For those lesser known classics, visit , whose tireless efforts have brought many of the slightly more obscure but equally great samurai epics to a wider Western audience!

*Chambara, also spelled “chanbara” is a Japanese term for a swordplay film, a subgroup of jidaigeki, which is a historical film, television show or play (usually Edo period:1603-1868).

Tags:5 Classic 1960’s Summer Samurai Films

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