Charitable Gift Giving

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Solar-Powered Flashlight from THRIVE Solar Lanterns

May 23rd, 2015 · Amazon

Late breaking news: THRIVE Solar Lanterns is raising funds through IndieGoGo to help victims of the recent earthquake in Nepal. You can help by going here.

Please spread the word! And read more about this amazing organization below.

As a wanna-be comedian growing up, I once came up with a little routine where I’d think of silly products. There was instant water (just add water). There was bottled air. And of course, there was the solar powered flashlight. The joke as a kid, of course, was that if you already had sunlight to power your flashlight, why would you need the flashlight?

Well, a lot has changed since I was a kid. They actually do sell water in bottles now, and in some places I hear tell they even sell air. But the innovation I find the most useful and practical turns out to the solar-powered flashlight.

Of course, solar flashlights aren’t only on when the sun is on. A solar cell charges a battery, and it’s the battery that powers the flashlight. Over the years I’ve always been fascinated by solar technology, and have purchased a number of solar devices, mostly radios and incandescent flashlights and cell phone chargers. In most cases I’d been disappointed. I’d charge an emergency light for three days and then when I’d switch the light on maybe it’d last 20 seconds.

But a few technical advancements in the past few years have gotten us to the point where the technology is pretty impressive–and pretty cheap. THRIVE Solar Energy has done something remarkable with this. They created the Thrive Solar Lantern, which happens to be one of the best reviewed solar flashlights on Amazon. It’s a nifty portable lantern that uses LED lights, meaning that not only do the bulbs draw less power, they also don’t burn out or need to be replaced. Even the batteries don’t need to be replaced, as the built-in battery is charged during the day.

This is by far the best product you can have handy for emergencies like blackouts or power outages. Rather than running to the store and trying to fight with your neighbors to get that last set of batteries, all you need to do with the Thrive Solar Lantern is to leave it in the sun and by the time the sun goes down you’ll have light to help you get through the night for however long a power outage lasts.

I had the opportunity to try the Thrive Lantern out for myself. At first I admit I was a little taken aback because it didn’t look exactly like a “high-end” product. I’ve gotten accustomed to flashlights being in slick packaging and having slick designs like the Maglite. So when I saw a generic-looking box…

solar powered flashlight box

…and the unit itself in bright green plastic…

solar powered flashlight

…I wondered to myself how high the quality really was.

The answer came to me in a flash. Literally. I pressed the black button in front and then a blinding light came out of the unit.

powerful solar flashlight


It was quite literally one of the brightest flashlights I’ve seen, easily brighter than any of the other flashlights I have around the house. It easily lit up my whole living room. Something else I like about it is that as a “lantern”, I could place it down or hang it from my belt, something not as easily done with handheld flashlights.

As for my initial perceptions of it not being high quality, it dawned on me that this was just the result of years of marketing brainwashing which convinced me that flashlights somehow had to be heavy, metallic, and as slick-looking as luxury cars and to come in slick, over-produced packaging to be any “good”.

But that’s just silly–a flashlight above all needs to have substance over style and function over form, and in this case the plastic made the unit extremely lightweight and portable and useful in any situation you can think of, not just lighting a room during a blackout, but also useful when working on the car, hiking, camping, finding something in the closet, and any other situation that needs illumination. As someone who’s lugged heavy lanterns on hiking trails, let me say that weighing in at only 3 ounces, the lightweight nature of this lantern literally takes a big load off.

And it dawned on me that I really appreciate that they don’t waste money on slick packaging and marketing to keep the price amazingly affordable at under $20. How they do this is fascinating and brilliant. They do it by cutting out the middleman. They set up facilities in developing nations (currently India, Kenya, and Ghana) and as much as possible source its raw materials and equipment locally. They help local communities by providing jobs (one of the facilities in India employs 320 people, 260 of which are women) which provide them with livelihoods and help them support their families. It’s so rare to see an organization where whatever profit they make go towards directly to helping build economic opportunities in the developing world, not to governments and corporations that maximize profits at the expense of human rights.

I equally was pretty impressed by the unit’s engineering. The entire back of the unit consists of the solar cells that charge the batteries that power the LEDs.

solar cells

The LED itself is new technology that was invented by Shuji Nakamura, who received the 2014 Nobel Prize for Physics for inventing a new kind of efficient and bright light emitting diode. The unit will provide 8-10 hours of light in its normal mode, or 5 hours in its bright mode.

But what impressed me the most was the note I got from Maria Caluag, the owner of Cosas AutoSuficientes, LLC, who partners with THRIVE Solar to sell their products online. Marisa herself was a Peace Corps volunteer who worked in the developing world and runs the Amazon shop that sells THRIVE lanterns.

THRIVE’s itself has an amazing history. It was formed in 2001 as an NGO in India aimed at tackling the issue common to many developing countries of children and families without electricity who relied on dangerous, expensive, and hazardous kerosene lamps just to do basic things after the sun goes down. We take it for granted here, but just the ability to have light to study at night is a luxury many children don’t have.

They started out by purchasing and distributing solar lamps, but there simply weren’t any products out there that lasted more than a few weeks before breaking. That’s when the founder of THRIVE started a company to manufacture its own solar lamps that were more durable, brighter, and lasted longer than any other.

To date, they have helped well over half a million school children receive study lights, and have helped over 1 million families benefit from solar lighting systems off the grid.

It’s rare to see a company that started as a charity and created innovative technology that creates a virtuous circle of helping not just people who use their product, but also entire communities who make their product and the many, many people who benefit from their philanthropic mission.

And best of all, the product is absolutely fantastic. It’ll be the flashlight of choice I use in my household moving forward an I don’t say this out of “charity”, I say it because this is truly the best flashlight I’ve ever owned.


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The Give Back Box – A Convenient Way to Donate by Mail

April 21st, 2015 · Goodwill Industries

logowhiterimWell, April 15 has come and gone.

One thing that Uncle Sam lets us do is to write-off donations to charity. Now I’ll start this post off by the usual disclaimers that I’m not a tax expert and you need to consult your tax advisor on any of this stuff.

That said, one thing I’ve become acutely aware of after getting married is that I have a lot of junk. Well, prior to getting married I thought this was treasure, but my wife has helped open my eyes to certain things. Like how our clothes closets aren’t being used to store clothes but boxes of things. Or how our second bedroom isn’t being used as a bedroom, but as a storage unit.

My first reaction was to go on eBay and sell as much as I could. But boy did that become a hassle. You have to take the time to write a listing, take pictures, get payment, box it carefully, buy postage, and drop it off at a post office. At the end of the day, the few dollars I earned from it almost seemed not worth it.

Donation of goods is never something that really crossed my mind before, but when you think about it, it’s a fantastic idea, whether or not the tax write-off. You have stuff you don’t need that’s taking up space–furniture, lamps, appliances, clothes, shoes. They’re not in terrible shape, but for whatever reason you just outgrew them. But donate them to charity, and the charity will re-sell it to someone else. That person gets your used items are a huge discount over what it’d cost to buy it new, the charity will get a little bit of profit, and that profit will go towards helping someone who’s in desperate need. All while keeping your local landfill from being cluttered with your stuff.

One brilliant idea I recently heard of is the GiveBackBox.Com. The concept is simple. How many times do you receive boxes of more “stuff” from UPS or FedEx or the post office? Oftentimes, you’ll unpack the box and then throw it away.

With, you can print a pre-paid shipping label. All you have to do is empty the box you received from your e-commerce purchase, tear off all the labels, stuff the box with household items you want to donate (as can fit in the box), slap the label on the box, and call UPS for a pickup. Your donation will be send directly to Goodwill, where they’ll sort your items and sell it in their stores, with money going to help strengthen communities and help youth, seniors, veterans, the disabled, and others through education, skills training, and finding jobs.

Just a few suggestions that aren’t on their Web site. Avoid the temptation to donate things that are too old and raggedy–no one wants you old stained pair of sweatsocks or your underwear with the holes (and while I’m no tax expert, something tells me the IRS wouldn’t be too keen on your assigning value to those things). Instead, donate things that have value; the sweater you only wore a few times, the appliance that still works but that you don’t use anymore, and so on. Things that you believe that someone shopping in a Goodwill store would snap up as a bargain. Also, be honest with yourself and with the IRS about the valuation.

As you put things in your box, be sure to keep track of them, of course. You can get a donation receipt from the attached link.

I love this idea because it avoids so many of the hassles that usually prevent us from donating. Driving to a donation bin and finding that people are basically using them as dumpsters. Driving for miles to the nearest office of a charity who may or may not be open. Scheduling an appointment for a charity to come pick up your items. Already, companies like NewEgg and Amazon are jumping on the bandwagon.

This won’t (and shouldn’t) replace you from donating to other charities (The Lupus Foundation is one with special significance to me, whose bags I will continue to fill), but it’s a great way to remind you that whenever you get cool new “stuff”, it’s time for you to evaluate which of your “cool old stuff” you can donate.


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The Best Ball Tossing Toy for Dogs – the Bamboo Wood Chuck from Planet Dog

April 10th, 2015 · Animal Causes

Ever since my sister adopted Clancy as a rescue puppy, you probably notice I’ve been taking every chance I get to highlight dog treats and dog toys. Part of the reason, of course, is that animal and pet charities are near and dear to my heart, and when I come across companies that make great products that contribute to them, I’m always eager to showcase them and let people know about them.

But another reason is that it’s just so darned fun to try out new products with Clancy. He’s still in that puppy mode where he just wants to play, play, play all the time. And as I’ve shown in previous posts, he’s turning into a very, very athletic dog with an energy that doesn’t quit.

Now my sister will readily admit that she’s the epitome of the phrase “throws like a girl”. And while my arm is a little better than hers, I don’t think if I were a centerfielder I could throw a baserunner out at home on the fly, or even after five bounces. But luckily for both of us, there’s the awesome ball tosser from Planet Dog called “Wood Chuck”.

best dog ball tosser

Like other ball tossing toys, this one uses the laws of physics to allow someone with girly or girly-man muscles to throw a ball like a major leaguer. I’m no physicist, but I believe it uses the concept of leverage to let someone who ordinarily couldn’t throw 10 feet to throw 100 feet. And for dogs that love to run, no doubt they’re saying “it’s about time”.

At first I wondered if they built it with wood just so they could name it with a silly pun. But after trying it out, I’m finding that it’s one of the best ball tossers I’ve ever used. Unlike plastic, which get dirty and icky and can break pretty quickly, the bamboo wood used in this product stays clean and beautiful looking and is very, very durable. One end of the toy is a “claw” that is perfectly sized to hold Planet Dog balls (in their catalog, they mark certain balls as being “Wood Chuck Friendly”), and can also hold tennis balls. One added benefit–for the inevitable point of play when your rubber ball becomes totally covered in drool, you can actually load up this toy without touching the call–just put the “claw” over the ball and press down on the wood with a little force. Voila–you’re loaded up for another long throw.

The other end of the tosser is the handle, which is made up of smooth, rounded, and solid cork. It’s extremely comfortable on the hands and is ergonimic–no matter what your tossing style or whether you toss with one hand or two hands, it feels great. On a side note, both the bamboo and the cork are natural, the wood is produced sustainably and the cork is made from reused scraps. It’s always fun to read the labels on Planet Dog products–they have the familar recycling logo with the three arrows, but the words read “Reduce, Reuse, Rewoof”.

Cleanup is a snap–just wipe it down after each use, and don’t leave it in the rain or out among the elements. And of course, keep it out of doggie’s reach if doggie thinks everything is a chew toy.

Planet Dog also makes the best dog balls around. My sister said that Clancy’s favorite ball by far was this Orbee-Tuff Glow For Good ball from Planet Dog. In fact, it was such a great dog that one day my sister came home after a session in the park, only to realize that one of Clancy’s pals in the dog park ran away with it. Happily, we have another one now to take its place.

best dog ball

This ball has a lot of great things going for it. First of all, it scores 5 of 5 chompers on the “chew-o-meter” scale, which is Planet Dog’s measure of how durable a toy is. As I’ve mentioned in past posts, there isn’t a dog toy yet that Clancy hasn’t totally destroyed and disemboweled, but even after hours with this ball, it’s good as new.

There are other great things about this ball. It’s got a minty flavor (when I opened the box, the whole thing smelled minty fresh); I’m not sure how much this really does towards freshening doggie’s breath, but on the positive side you don’t need to hold your breath as you might with an old tennis ball with weeks and weeks of slobber baked in. It’s also glow-in-the-dark (the kind where you hold it up to a light for a while), which is useful for late night sessions. And there’s a “treat hole” in it, like a Kong, so doggie will have hours of fun trying to get it out (my sister, who’s a vet, explained to me that it’s not mean and dogs don’t get frustrated like humans do, as this just encourages their natural instincts.

Here’s some video of Clancy and me at a house we rented over the weekend with a huge (and I mean huge) meadow. I figured, what better opportunity to put the Wood Chuck to the test? Here’s a video of me chucking the ball to Clancy.

As you can see, the Wood Chuck has a nice long handle, which means I can throw the ball really far–I was getting close to 80-100 yards at one point, which made me start feeling like Peyton Manning. It was about double what I could throw just with my hands. And as you can see, it took me a little while to figure it out, but once I got the hang of it I could grip and throw the ball without touching it, meaning that the none of Clancy’s dripping drool got on my hands.

You can see from the video that Clancy was having a ball (literally). This video only shows a few minutes, but we were out there about an hour, and he just didn’t seem to get tired–and then he wanted more that evening, the next morning, and the next afternoon; he just didn’t get tired; from start to end of our tossing sessions he’d run to fetch the ball at full speed and run back at full speed.

I was throwing the ball so far that there were times he’d lost track of it, but then his hunting instincts would kick in and he’d be able to use his nose to track the ball down, his tail tagging vigorously the whole time he was looking, and then he’d prance back to me proudly once he found it. Clancy’s a mutt, so we’re not sure what breeds he has in him, but clearly he’s got the athleticism, the nose, and the unbridled enthusiasm of a great hunting and sporting dog.

This weekend was one of the most fun weekends I’ve had in a while, and a lot of it is thanks to the Wood Chuck. While ordinarily my arm would get sore from all that throwing, this toy let me keep up with Clancy and really maximize his exercise. He was pretty conked out, sleeping like a puppy through the whole night.

And best thing about these products is that, 2% of all purchases at Planet Dog funds a great cause. Purchase of the Wood Chuck in particular goes to the training, placement, and support of service dogs that help people in need nationwide. And purchase of the Glow for Good ball, as the name suggests, goes even further. 100% (that’s right, 100%) of the proceeds of the ball support the Planet Dog Foundation and the various causes it supports.

For more information, visit the Planet Dog Foundation Web site. This great cause has supported over $1 million in amazing causes, thanks to the purchases and donations of dog lovers everywhere.

I have some more Planet Dog products to show you, but the Wood Chuck and a durable Planet Dog ball should be on the “must have” list of every pet owner out there. If you know a pet owner who doesn’t have one, there are few better “essential” gifts you can give.

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The Best Radio to Have When the Power Goes Out – Eton’s FRX3

March 24th, 2015 · American Red Cross

A few years ago during Hurricane Sandy, all of the power on Long Island went out for weeks. Now I thought I had been prepared, and had about 30 AA batteries charged, thinking that would be enough to allow me to charge my phone, power on a radio, and power my flashlights. All the batteries were drained within a day.

I’ll admit, my wife and I ended up having a pretty nice time. We played a full round of Monopoly by candlelight, and heated up food by the heat of the candle.

playing monopoly during hurricane sandy

That was fun for one night. But the next night, and the night after that, and the next few nights after that weren’t as fun as we began to realize how much we really rely on technology. It’s important to be able to have a radio to hear updates on the weather, especially if there are evacuation warnings or news of danger. And it’s really, really important to have a cell phone to keep our loved ones updated (and yes, to play the occasional game of Candy Crush Saga to help pass the time).

Now in our tiny apartment, we can’t buy a generator (not that we could have gotten any gas for it). And I’d purchased some solar powered battery chargers that didn’t seem to work (they need a full day of full sunlight to even have a hope of charging one AA battery).

the perfect radio for a power outageIf there’s one radio I wish I’d had, it’s the Eton FRX3 Radio. I had a chance to try this radio out, and my first impressions is that this is like the “Swiss Army Knife” of portable radios. It is truly the next best thing to having a generator. It won’t power your TV or your microwave, but it will do just about everything else, including:

  • Allow you to listen to AM or FM radio
  • Allow you to listen to NOAA weather radio
  • Charge your smartphone
  • Let you see in the dark with a bright white flashlight or signal for help with a flashing red light
  • Play audio from other sources using an AUX input
  • Let you listen in quiet with headphone output
  • Wake you up with an alarm clock

The unit lets you switch between two modes of power: battery mode and “dynamo mode”.

Battery mode will power the radio using AAA batteries under normal power conditions.

In Dynamo mode, when the AAA batteries are drained, you can continue to power the unit through an internal rechargeable Ni-MH battery that can be charged in one of three ways:

  • A solar panel on top of the unit (must be exposed to direct sunlight, not a lamp or through a window to work).
  • A hand-crank turbine.
  • A USB port with DC input (you can use this on normal days to quickly charge the internal battery using a USB source like your phone charger. If the power goes out, you can also charge it using another device that provides emergency power through a USB port like this one we’ve highlighted in the past). A USB-to-mini USB cable is included.

The explain how the dynamo feature works, think of The Professor’s bike on Gilligan’s Island. You’re basically taking your mechanical energy and converting it to electrical energy. The hand crank is as pleasant as it can be to use–it turns loosely with a slight “whirring” sound, and the handle itself rotates for efficiency and comfort. That said, you might want to take turns as a family cranking it, as it does get tiring.

attach the rechargeable battery to the eton radioWhen you get the unit, setup is easy. First, you open the battery compartment and make sure the Ni-MH battery is plugged in (I missed this step at first and tried to figure out for the longest time why all my hand cranking was doing nothing). Then, just charge the Ni-MH battery using USB until it’s full.

As with all rechargeable batteries, this battery pack has a limited number of charges it can hold, but the good news is you can buy additional packs from Eton for the really low price of $8.95; buy enough of them and you can ensure that you can power your smartphone all throughout the zombie apocalypse (and listen to some cool zombie tunes when they take over the FM radio).

From there, it’s just a matter of pushing the right buttons to listen to radio. Push the power button to power the device on. Turn the knob of the left for radio volume (clockwise for softer, counter-clockwise for louder), and turn the knob on the right for tuning. Use the clicking switches on top of the hand crank to switch between AM, FM, and one of seven weather bands, at least one of which should be broadcasting in your area (assuming there isn’t a government shutdown going on!). An LED panel tells you your band, frequency, and battery charge level.

To set the time and the alarm clock there are buttons on top, under the handle. To set the clock, make sure the radio power is off and then press the “Set” button and then adjust the hours by pressing the “Up” and “Down” buttons. Press the “Set” button again to adjust the minutes, and then 12/24 time format. You can do the same for the alarm by clicking “Alarm On/Off” follow by “Set”.

There’s also an “Alert” feature. To use it, set your radio volume to a comfortable one, move the dial to a working weatherband frequency, and press the Alert button on top. The word “alert” will start flashing on the screen. Now, in the case of a weather emergency, your radio will power on and you’ll get the news right away.

bright flashlight perfect for blackoutsUsing the Flashlight is a snap. Just press the button on the front of the unit to unleash a really powerful flashlight with two bright white LEDs (so powerful when I just accidentally looked into the light I still see spots). There’s also a single red flashing LED for emergencies, also really bright.

And now, for the most important feature IMO: charging a cell phone. To do this, you first make sure your Ni-MH battery pack is sufficiently charged–if it’s not, turn the crank, set the unit in sunlight, or charge it with a USB power source to get it there.

Then, you plug one end of your phone charger cable into the USB port…

charging a cell phone in a power outage

…and the other end into your phone. In my case, I used an iPhone 4S whose batteri I’d run down to nothing. Then, you press the “Cell” phone on the top right, under the handle. You’ll see the word “Cell” appear on the LCD panel.

eton radio charging iphoneVoila! I could see the battery indicator on the radio start to flash and the charge on my iPhone start to go. In a half hour, the iPhone battery charged to 23% before the Eton radio gave out. Not a full charge, of course, but more than enough if you’re desperate in a total power failure.

As for how long the unit works after charging it using these various approaches, here are some figures:

  • It’ll take about 2 hours to fully charge the Ni-MH battery with a USB adapter, or about 10 hours of direct sunlight. With a fully charged battery, the radio will run about 3 to 4 hours at low volume.
  • 90 seconds of hand cranking will charge the Ni-MH battery to a point where it can power the radio for about 5 to 7 minutes at low volume, or run the flashlight for about 20 minutes continuously. If you’ve got the strength, you can keep cranking to more fully charge the battery (the manuals says to continually crank at least 2 or more revolutions per second, and if you stop for any reason, to take a 5 second break before starting to crank again).

I can’t say enough good things about the usability of the radio. It’s not the prettiest radio in the world, but they’ve definitely made up for it in functionality. All the buttons are intuitive and easy to master, something I appreciate in an emergency.

And I haven’t gotten to the best part. For every radio it sell, Eton donates 57 cents of the sales price to support the American Red Cross. Moreover, Eton has been active in helping in areas ravaged by natural disasters, most recently during the Colorado floods. Eton was there, donating many of their products to help many of those affected by the storms.

Whether it’s hurricane season, tornado season, snowstorm season, a truck runs into a utility pole, or the zombie apocalypse, you never know when you’ll completely lose the power to your house. This is definitely the radio to get when it does.

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Wonderbag – Works like a Crock Pot with no Electricity!

February 15th, 2015 · Amazon, Developing Areas

I love my Crock Pot. Granted, I lug it out almost as often as I lug out my ice cream maker or Ronco Rotisserie (meaning almost never other than the first two weeks I owned them when I used them constantly). But whenever I do have a slow cooked meal it’s always heavenly. I can’t go back to cooking beef stew any other way.

The Wonderbag is an ingenious product that’s a slow cooker just like your Crock Pot, except that it doesn’t use any electricity. No plugs, no cords, nothing. You basically bring your dish to a boil on the stove in a pot, place it (pot and all) in the bag, and then just plop it down on a counter or anywhere else. For the next 4-12 hours your food will continue to cook, thanks to the clever way the bag is insulated. Any pot from two to nine quarts will work; cast-iron pots like ones from Le Creuset will work the best.

Unlike with the Crock Pot, you’re not running electricity all day, so it’s friendlier to the environment. And you’ll be amazed that just like with the Crock Pot, your food will come out steaming and ready to eat.

the amazing wonderbag slow cookerThere are a ton of uses for these. If you’re entertaining during the holidays and only have one Crock Pot, why not use this Wonderbag as its “understudy” to cook larger quantities (you can even do a “taste test” between the two). Or, take one camping with you and instead of cooking pork and beans on the fire, upscale it to butternut squash soup (it comes with some great recipes). You can also steam rice in an hour.

While they’re cleverly pivoting the marketing of Wonderbag to sell as a kitchen appliance for us with first-world problems like wanting to save money on our electricity bills or wanting the novelty of cooking without electricity, Wonderbag actually got its start in the third world to solve much more important problems. Specifically, in many areas of Africa and the Middle East, there is no access at all to energy. Charcoal is expensive, so many people have to cut down trees, resulting in deforestation. Both charcoal and wood cause smoke inhalation. And women usually are the ones who are left to forage for wood and cook, meaning that girls who could otherwise be in school can’t be. And worse, often when women and girls have to wander farther and farther away to forage, they are open to attacks.

South African entrepreneur Sarah Collins and poverty activist Moshy Mathe designed Wonderbag to help societies like these. Hundreds of thousands of Wonderbags have been distributed to countries like South Africa, Rwanda, Kenya, Syria, and Jordan. It’s saved poor families upwards of 30% of their household income, provided for healthier air to breathe, and reduces time cooking which opens up more time to raise kids and get educated. A side benefit is that because the Wonderbag “locks” moisture in, which means less water (another precious commodity) is wasted. Another side benefit is that because food is simmered and not cooked on an open fire, less food gets burned and wasted.

They’re still distributing Wonderbags to the poor, and that’s another reason you should buy one: for every one you buy, one will be donated to a poor household. So what we might see as a relatively inexpensive novelty could be a life-changing gift for someone on the other side of the globe.

The Wonderbag comes in three colors and costs under $55. It’ll make a great gift for the cook in your life who already have everything else. You can get yours here.

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Going 100% Paperless with Evernote

January 29th, 2015 · Causes

(If this article piques your interest and you’d like to try out Evernote Premium yourself, click here and you’ll have a free month of Premium to try it out!)

evernote-logoAs someone who came all the way back from the 20th Century, I have boxes and boxes of papers. I mean literally I have credit card statements, banking statements, invoices, utility bills, and receipts. Lots and lots of receipts of every size and shape.

I downloaded the Evernote app years ago but it pretty much sat on my phone without any use at all. I thought it might replace the Notes app since I could access my notes from anywhere (my phone, my laptop, my work computer). But at the end of the day, I realized I really didn’t need to access my Notes in so many places, and the Notes app was just so much quicker and more convenient.

Just this past month, Evernote released a new app called Scannable. And this app completely opened my eyes. It’s a smartphone app where you can simply hold your phone camera over a receipt of any size and shape and it’ll click it and let you upload it to Evernote in one fell swoop.

Suddenly I realized that Evernote could be used as an archival tool. Not long after that I was clicking and storing all my receipts. Out of about 10 boxes filled with papers, I ended up clearing and tossing about 4 of them so far–and counting.

They have a 60 MB limit a month, which is probably fine for normal use, but in order to accomplish my goal of digitizing all 10 boxes of papers I had to upgrade to the Premium account ($5 a month) which lets you upload up to 4 GB a month. And they do have unlimited storage, meaning that it’ll hold 10 or 100 or 1000 boxes of your scanned papers.

Just to give a short review of the Scannable app–I love it. It’s fast and it does a great job of taking the document you’ve snapped, optimizing the focus and resolution, and automatically sending it to Evernote. You can snap one receipt by itself and send it off to Evernote, or if you have a multi-page document you can combine all the pages and send it to Evernote at once. The optimization is impressive: you’ll see a grey-scale image get converted to black-and-white (which saves storage space) and if you’ve taken your picture at an angle it’ll even straighten out the picture for you. And another cool thing about it–once it’s in Evernote, it’ll do OCR so that you can do a text search (it’s not perfect, but it’s better than nothing).

My next goal is going to be to start digitizing all my bank and credit card statements. I’ve admittedly been hesitant to sign up for electronic statements because most financial companies will store only up to 24 months. One thing I’ve learned the hard way is that sometimes I do need stuff from years ago, and by that time it’ll have disappeared from their Web site. And most of those financial companies have such horrible interfaces that it’s a pain in the neck to save the PDF month after month. So I’ve opted to receive paper, which is tangible and feels more “real”. I’ll keep it for a while, and then when I’m reasonably sure I won’t need it anymore, that’s when I’ll scan it into the cloud.

Now that Evernote got me hooked on them and the Scannable app, I decided to bite the bullet and get a Fujitsu ScanSnap iX500 Scanner for PC and Mac (PA03656-B005). From reviews, this is THE scanner to get if you have lots of papers to scan. (Note that there is a similar model called the “Evernote” model, in a clever bit of cross-promotion, but you want to get this original model as it has more features and is more flexible).

So between Evernote, Scannable, and the Fujitsu scanner I’m finally going paperless. If you’re interested, click here to sign up and if you can get a free month of Premium yourself (enough to upload probably all the papers you have lying around and then some).

Even cooler, if you’re a charity or 501(c)(3) non-profit, you can get 75% off if you have 5 users or more, according to this post from Evernote. They’ve always offered this discount for schools, but according to their post, they’ll apply the discount to any 501(c)(3).

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Accurate Digital Bathroom Scale from Weight Gurus on Sale at Groupon

January 24th, 2015 · Children's Charities

So I’ve been in the market for a scale since New Year’s. No, I didn’t make a New Year’s resolution this year. But my wife, who’s generally underweight, needs to gain weight, I of course perennially need to lose weight, and the one scale we have today is rickety, falling apart, and gives wildly inaccurate readings (which on certain days I welcome wholeheartedly).

I did research on the best bathroom scales to buy, and happily, one of the best reviewed ones happens to be from a company that also does good, called Greater Good. Specifically, they have a line of scales called Weight Guru that reviewers on Amazon love.

It happens this week that Groupon has a Weight Gurus scale on sale for the great price of $25.99.

Or if you miss the Groupon sale, Amazon has essentially the same model for $39.99.

The scales are largely the same. They both measure your weight, but break down your body composition into fat, lean mass, water weight, and bone mass. The scales both contain four weight sensors for extremely precise measurement, exact to within 0.1 pound. They uncannily are smart enough to know who (up to 8 people) is standing on the scale. Both have large, easily readable LCDs. And both can sync up to your Android or iPhone by displaying a QR code that you can scan into their free Weight Gurus app.

If the breakdown into fat isn’t that important to you, Amazon also has a more basic model that’s only $24.99.

There are few minor differences between these scales. Amazon’s has a blue backlight for low-light conditions. In addition, Amazon’s has a near little feature where it’ll say the amount of weight you gained or lost since the last time as opposed to the actual weight. And with Amazon, you’ll have a few more color options.

Aside from producing this scale that everyone seems to love, Greater Goods is a supporter of Love146, a charity that works to end child trafficking and exploitation; The Global Orphan Project, which works with local churches to provide care for orphaned and abandoned children in their communities; and Now Adopt, which assists families in covering the high cost of domestic and international adoptions.

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iTunes Store Apps that help the fight against AIDS and the RED Global Fund

November 26th, 2014 · Uncategorized

For years, Apple has worked with PRODUCT(RED) to support efforts to fight AIDS in Africa–we’ve covered some of these products in the past on this blog.

This year, Apple has extended this to Apps and Games in the iTunes Store. Some of the most popular games and apps have special red icons which means that buying the app or make an in-app purchase from November 24 to December 7, a portion of proceeds will go to the Global Fund to fight AIDS.

The selection of games are excellent, and include old favorites like Angry Birds, Rayman Fiesta Run, Frozen Free Fall, and Cut the Rope 2.


apps for red

There are also a number of excellent apps, including Clear – Tasks, Reminders & To-Do Lists (a great To-Do list app), GarageBand, and Star Walk™ 2 – Guide to the Sky Day and Night (an excellent night sky viewer).


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Heavily Discounted Designer Clothes that Help Charity, from Fashion Project

November 22nd, 2014 · Uncategorized

Fashion Project is an organization that calls themselves “the leading charitable online consignment retailer”. Now usually when you think of consignment, you probably think of those dirty collection boxes overflowing with old moth-eaten clothes or thrift stores with ugly castaways.

Fashion Project has a different take on things. First of all, they only accept items that are new or in great condition from selected brands. Second, they only take women’s clothes, shoes, bags, and accessories. When you think about it, this is a fantastic idea–unlike other “fill up the bag” charities where charities get pennies on the dollar because the consignment company reimburses by weight, here you’re reasonably sure that your donation will be sold at a fair market value price. In fact, 55% of the proceeds will go to support a charity that you choose among over 100 of the charity partners they list on their site.

And if you’re buying and not donating, you can get a staggering selection of high end designer goods for a fraction of their retail price. And visit on Black Friday or Cyber Monday and you can save even more on top of the normal heavily discounted prices.

Black Friday steals and deals include:

  • Black Boutique (all black products)
  • Tops Under $39
  • Dresses Under $39
  • Bottoms Under $25
  • Shoes Under $49
  • Handbags Under $59
  • Accessories Under $39

Cyber Monday – The more you spend, the more you save:

  • 10% off orders $100+ with code CYBER10
  • 15% off $200+ with code CYBER15
  • 20% $300+ with code CYBER20


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Great Gift for Music and Animal Lovers from Morrison Hotel Gallery

November 17th, 2014 · Uncategorized

The Morrison Hotel Gallery is the leader in fine art music photography, representing 90 of the world’s top music photographers and their archives. If you visit their Web site at, you’ll find official photo collections featuring an amazing array of iconic photos of the greatest musicians in history.

Here’s a great gift idea for someone in your life who loves music and loves animals. This collection of Artists with Animals Mini-Print Notecards features fine photography of John Lennon, Bridget Bardot, Neil Young, David Bowie, Robert Plant, Billie Holiday, Bob Dylan, Patti Smith, Nelly and The Beatles with their pets.

musicians and their pets

The set costs $20, with the photographers who own these photos generously donating all proceeds to benefit Rational Animal, a New York-based non-profit organization that increases awareness and encourages kindness towards at-risk animals. They have a number of innovative projects like their Mother’s Comfort Project, which has provided thousands of homemade sewed beds for homeless animals at New York City shelters.

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