Organizing Personal Technology

My Smartphone-centric Life

I recently had a couple of bad bouts of luck when it comes to my iPhone and it has forced me to realized how far I have come in terms of revolving my productive life around my smartphone. I found it really hard to go back to basics!

After returning an iPhone that would completely drain of its battery within an hour, I ended up getting an iPhone that apparently had some unknown hardware issues that would cause it to restart 3-4 times an hour randomly. Luckily I had Apple Care, who advised me to restore when I called. However, when I tried to restore, it would go in a restore loop for about 3 times because it kept thinking it was in recovery mode… until it could restore no more and was completely dead on a Saturday morning. I had no choice but to schedule an appointment to the Apple Genius Bar, but the only appointment at the Apple Store closest to me was on Thursday at 4:40pm, which would absolutely not work for me. So I ended up making an appointment at the Apple Store in San Francisco for Monday. A few days before the phone died , I had gotten a basic prepaid phone for myself for emergencies just in time for the phone to die. I was able to get around on my calendar print out and just letting a few friends who I had plans with know to contact my burner phone or my husband’s phone should they need to get in touch.

During the 3 days that I did not have my iPhone working I realized how much of my daily life depended on having a smartphone. The weekend was relatively OK because I have access my computer a bit more often and I don’t have much other than the usual kids activities and social plans to deal with, but Monday it was altogether another story.

Among the things I use multiple times on a daily basis are:

  • GPS with traffic conditions
  • Calendar
  • Contact
  • Google
  • Yelp (what’s good to eat around some place?)
  • Email without having to fire up a computer
  • Read my Kndle ebooks
  • Take photos
  • Check weather
  • Make lists (shopping list, to do list)
  • Music
  • Read news
  • Track food and exercise

On the day of my appointment, without my iPhone, I was no longer keenly aware of traffic conditions, when BART train would arrive so that I might get to San Francisco on time for my appointment. I didn’t know what new places to eat around the Apple Store other than the tried and true establishments that I already knew about. I even had to ask for directions. Luckily, in spite of it all I made it to the Apple Store only 6 minutes late for my appointment.

Once at the Apple store I quickly checked in but waited a while because my appointment was accidentally cancelled by one of the associates there… but an hour later I finally got out of there with a replacement phone, when the restore failed and the iPhone restarted again right afterwards.

Now I am a little worried about the new 8.10 iOS update… I will be eligible for the upgrade to iPhone 6 after Christmas.


Meanwhile my little Verizon prepaid basic phone has been off the charger for over a week and still have full battery indicator bars!


Home Organizing Personal

How I Manage Pictures and Videos

As the family historian, I spend a lot of time taking family pictures and video clips of the kids. I have looked at several different solutions for pictures and videos to help manage our family archive.


iPhone – Like most people, I take pictures via the iPhone. I have a 16GB phone, so not a whole lot of storage, especially since I do play around with lots of apps.

Digital Camera – I have a DSLR for special occasions but for the most part, I have a small digital camera (Canon Powershot).

Eye-Fi Card – I use the Eye-Fi card with the cameras so I can wirelessly upload my pictures.The Eye-Fi card also has social features that allows you to automatically upload to various online services.


My Online Service of Choice: SmugMug

smugmug The reason I choose SmugMug is because it allows me to deal with both photos and videos in one place. I don’t have to spend a lot of time to upload photos to one place, then videos to another. Quite often, I took both pictures and videos from one event and then upload to a single gallery. I spend $60 a year for SmugMug’s Pro version, which allows me to use my own domain, have more control over site designs, and to right-click protect my images. If I didn’t care for those things, I can save $20/ year and go with the SmugMugBasic. I cannot emphasize how wonderful it is to know that all our family’s photos and videos are stored on the cloud. There is nothing to worry about losing or degrading of quality as with physical photos and it is much more easily organized and shared. I originally found SmugMug to be a great alternative for my wedding photos since it allows people to print and purchase prints easily and inexpensively, but since then SmugMug has grown a lot more. Pros:

  • More customizable than competing services.
  • Lets you buy prints and photos.
  • Full screen slideshows.
  • Attractive new gallery themes.
  • Easy to organize by drag and drop
  • Has both Mac and PC solutions or plugins


  • No free accounts.
  • Almost no community features.
  • No Face tagging.
  • Social media sharing is not so robust.
  • No creative common designations.
  • RAW files require SmugVault using Amazon Web Service for additional fee.
Children Miscellaneous Parenting Personal

Update: Response from Fremont Fire Department

Two weeks ago I posted my letter to the Fremont Fire Department, and much to their credit, they are responsive to my complaint. The next day, I did receive the following email response:

Dear Ms. Shen,

Thank you for contacting me to express your displeasure with your recent experiences involving our Department and the Empire Montessori Preschool. I was saddened to learn of your disappointment because our relationship with the community we serve is of paramount importance to us. Please be assured that we will look into this matter fully and immediately. To that end, I spoke to Deputy Chief Jim Martin who heads our Operations Division first thing this morning and tasked him with reviewing the matter. The Fremont Fire Department is committed to strong community partnerships and fire safety education and we take that role very serious. Please allow Chief Martin a few days to conduct his review and in the meantime, if you would like to speak with him directly please feel free to contact him at:

Deputy Chief Jim Martin

Again, thank you for taking the time to communicate with us.


Geoff LaTendresse, Fire Chief
Fremont Fire Department

A few days later, I did receive a call from Deputy Jim Martin who explained to me their policy. Deputy Martin did acknowledge that the new fire captain should have suited up and felt that there was a miscommunication when coordinating with the preschool director. However, he was quite firm about the fire department policy about not presenting to children under age 5 due to lack of resources.

Deputy Martin indicated that while the Fremont Fire Department would not do presentation for children under age of 5, parents can take their children individually to fire stations. When I asked if the fire fighter might suit up and show the kids his gear, Deputy Martin said he is not sure. I let him know that I am keen on teaching kids fire safety myself but the one thing that I cannot do as a parent is to suit up in fire gear and show kids not to be scared of that in a fire. To that Deputy Martin said that he might try to pass along the idea of an open house event in the future.

In response to our conversation, I sent the following final email to sum up our conversation:

Hello Deputy Chief Jim Martin,

Thank you for having taken the time and effort to have an in-depth conversation today over the phone. I appreciated your thoroughness in investigating the incident that I complained about in my previous letter, and I also greatly appreciated the good conversation we had. I learned a good deal about the realities that the Fremont Fire Department faces. It was enlightening and I am glad I had the opportunity to learn as a Fremont citizen.Thank you also for sharing with me about the Learn Not to Burn program — I looked it up and the website had some good information worthy of sharing!

While I understand that there is no education department within Fremont Fire Department, I would like to share a few statistics that I have learned about in children age 0-5 and fire safety:

According to FEMA studies released in 2011, children ages 0-5 have the highest fire death rates among children of all ages and have the highest relative risk of dying in a fire when compared to older children. Children account for 15% of all fire deaths; children younger than 5 made up 52% of fire deaths among those 16 and younger. Fire and burns were the third-leading cause of accidental deaths, after transportation accidents and drowning, for children younger than 15 in 2007.

“U.S. Fire Administration (USFA) encourages parents to teach children at an early age about the dangers of fireplay in an effort to prevent child injuries, fire deaths and firesetting behavior in the future.”
Children ages 0-14 and under make up 15% of all fire deaths.1
Fifty-four percent of all child fire deaths occur to those under age 5.1 These children are usually unable to escape from a fire independently.

Researchers found that deaths among the youngest of children increased 2% from 2004 to 2007…
What’s most distressing, says Mark Shriver, chairman of the National Commission on Children and Disaster, is that “we’re trending upward. … It’s not getting better.”

Little kids can’t get out by themselves — they need to be rescued. This is why it is important for children to learn to trust and not be afraid of first responders at an early age. This is why I thought that having the children see the full fire suit would help them learn not to be afraid of a guy in a mask with an axe when they need to be rescued — that is something that I as a parent cannot do on my own.

I am not sure what process the department goes through in consideration of the internal policies, but I hope that education can become a greater priority in the department’s interaction with the community public. At the very least, I hope that Fremont Fire Department can work on providing more information and education to the public creatively that will target those under age of 5. Fire Station Open Houses, information and lessons provided via the website, and education targeting parents and teachers of young children can all contribute. Mr. Martin has indicated that experience has taught the department that teaching kids under age 5 is not effective compared to teaching children 5 and older. It is true that children under age of 5 has shorter attention span and greater need of repetition, and if the Fire Department does not have the priority and the resources to provide the education directly, then parents and teachers need to be given the tools as much as possible. I noticed in the Events section there is a Personal Emergency Preparedness class in October — perhaps similar events for children can be made available?

I am looking forward to getting more information on the text of the internal policy on public relations activities as it applies to children and any available educational resources to disseminate to other parents of preschoolers that I know in Fremont. October, Fire Prevention Month, will be right around the corner!


Irene Shen

Deputy Jim Martin sent the following response:


It was good speaking to you yesterday as well. As the Chief mentioned, we are committed to strong community relationships and public education. I have included a couple of Fire Safety links that you can share that may be helpful for you to share with all ages. Input like yours is appreciated, and evaluation of our current internal guideline on Public Relations Activities (PRA’s) will surely be reviewed. We are always striving to look at and consider new ideas and improved methods, while remaining within our budgetary constraints. With that being said, I have already had a conversation with our Assistant Fire Marshall on the issues you raised. Additionally, the Fire Prevention Division has several very good educational Fire Safety videos that can be loaned to the public. Please let me know if you have an interest in obtaining any of these. The Asst. Fire Marshall had suggested the NFPA website below, and also wanted me to relay that we are already considering educational improvements to our website.

City Website:

National Fire Protection Association:

Here is an excerpt of guidelines we have in place for Fire Station Tours.

“In addition to showing the kids the different apparatus that we use, try to insert a few safety
tips as well. Put one child in the seat and buckle them in. Talk about seat belt safety and
emphasize that even firefighters always wear their seatbelts.

When showing them our turnout gear, use the helmet as a prop to discuss the subject of
bicycle helmets and how important they are. However, do not put the helmet on a child’s
head as their neck may not be strong enough to support the added weight of a helmet
without injury.

Put on your turnout gear, including the S.C.B.A. and mask. This is especially important with
younger children, as the clothing and sounds may frighten them. Explain that this is what
we’ll look and sound like if we ever come to rescue them in a fire, and that they shouldn’t
be scared.”

Our guidelines for PRA’s currently are used by the Administrative Assistant who handles the PRA’s, and does not live within a policy. It is used as a guideline so that PRA’s are handled with consistency, and are effectively communicated to the field personnel that then are assigned and responsible for the presentation. Some of the guidelines followed that I relayed in our conversation are:

1. No Children under Kindergarten Age
2. 2-3 weeks advance notice
3. No more than 30 children
4. No Cost
5. Receptionist may schedule up to 3 activities per month per shift and station

I hope that this information is helpful, and can ultimately be a benefit to the children and citizens here in Fremont. Thank you again for your input.



Jim Martin
Deputy Fire Chief, Operations
Fremont Fire Department

In sum, I did learn a lot about the resources or lack thereof in my new city, and a whole lot about safety. I know that as a parent I took the availability of fire safety presentations for children by fire departments for granted, and that it is increasingly unavailable in many municipalities. As parents, we must take proactive steps to teach children what to do in an emergency, much as we take proactive steps to buy life insurance, write a living will, or even install a car seat.

While I am disappointed that Fremont Fire Department could not do more for our most at risk children, I am glad that they have at least taken the time to hear me out. Hopefully, other parents in Fremont might find this something worth voicing their opinions about as well.

Miscellaneous Personal

Open Letter to Fremont Fire Department

I want to teach my young children not to be scared of firefighters in mask with ax in hand.
I want to teach my young children not to be scared of firefighters in mask with ax in hand.

Today was supposed to be a fun day at my son and daughter’s preschool. We had arranged for the Fire Department to come and visit and instead the kids did not have fun. The youngest among them were frustrated and disappointed. As a parent who was there to witness it all, it got me boiling mad. I wanted to teach my children about the helpers, the real life heroes that will be there for them in times of danger and need, even if I am not there. Sadly, this did not happen. I decided to write the letter below and I sent it to the Fremont Fire Department and Fremont’s Mayor. I may never get a response, but I believe it is worth trying anyway.

To Fremont Fire Department and Mayor Bill Harrison,

I am a new resident to the city of Fremont and a mother of two preschool age children who go to school at Empire Montessori Preschool in Fremont. Having been previously in Castro Valley, the Alameda County Fire Department often conducted annual presentations to kids at the preschools there, and I have always had a great impression of every fire fighter that I have ever met because they have always been very gracious with the kids, including my own, even when we just see them out on the street during the day. As an involved parent, I try to do my best to help the preschool, so when I heard from the Director about how she had previously tried to contact the Fire Department about doing a presentation for the kids only to be refused, I told her that I would look into this.

I am writing to express my disappointment with the brief visit that the preschoolers had by the Fire Department.

I initially contacted Irene de Jong, who is the business manager at the Fremont Fire Department, back in the middle of July. She informed me that the Fremont Fire Department does indeed do presentations for young children, and that I should contact Pamela Franklin, who was then on vacation. After waiting for Pamela to return from vacation, I contact Pamela, and then waited a few more weeks before she got back to me. We were informed that the Fire Department is extremely busy, and usually don’t do presentations for children under age of 5. However, I was later informed by the preschool director that a presentation was scheduled and we were all very excited about the visit for Thursday August 15. After hearing about the Fire Department visit, some other parents actually arranged their children’s schedule so that their kids can benefit from this presentation.

Now I feel as if I did the teachers as well as all the younger kids a huge disservice as the fire department arrived only to disappoint them.

When the scheduled time arrived, all the teachers brought the children out to the playground, which was next to the parking lot where the Fire Truck was parked. However, the fire fighters informed the director at that time that there would only be 30 minutes available, and they would not present to the younger children who were also out waiting. Worse, the younger kids also did not get to receive a plastic fire fighter helmet or even a sticker. The kids 3 and younger were brought out, not able to play at the playground, and told to sit around only to be disappointed!!

I was completely flabbergasted — I have never seen such a weak presentation by a fire department. I know better than to approach the firefighters about this since they are doing what they are told. Even the fire department’s presentation to the children age 3 and older were far from complete — they didn’t dress in the full fire fighter outfit. I thought the whole point of a presentation is so that children can be familiar with not only fire safety but also be more familiar with what firefighters look like when they might encounter one during a fire. I most certainly did not understand why the presentation couldn’t be given to the younger children as well since they were all sitting out there anyway! When I talked with the teachers later on, they told me that not only were they disappointed, the children were very upset by the experience and it created more work for them. Instead of being happy, it literally ruined their day — Some refused to eat lunch, and some did not cooperate during nap time. and I imagine some parents will hear about it after the kids go home.

My previous experience with fire safety presentation in Castro Valley was so much better: Even though Redwood Forest Preschool was a bigger school and had children as young as 18 months, the Alameda  Fire Department did a thorough presentation which included full show and tell of fire fighting gear. They had one firefighter who would demonstrate what the tools did, one who dressed in full outfit to show what firefighters looked like with full suit and mask, and literally every one of the firefighter (3 as I recalled) had a job. None of the firefighters just stood around, as in the presentation today by the Fire Department. I mean, even if you can’t get full time fire fighters to do this kind of presentation, can’t volunteers be asked to do this?

I realize that instructing preschool children is low priority for the Fremont Fire Department, but I feel that the Fire Department should take pride in how they organize and present their fire safety presentations, ESPECIALLY to  young children who look up to them. This is the audience that would benefit the most from a good and thorough presentation, especially since there are quite a few actually afraid of fire fighters (I have come to discover).  How else are young children supposed to learn? Are individual parents supposed to bring the kids into a fire house? If you can’t count on fire departments to care about such things, who should? How else are children supposed to learn about those who Mr. Rogers call, “the helpers” when scary things happen?



Irene Shen

P.S. I will also be sending a copy of this letter to our Congressman Eric Swalwell.

UPDATE: I received the following response from Geoff LaTendresse, Fire Chief of Fremont Fire Department:

Dear Ms. Shen,

Thank you for contacting me to express your displeasure with your recent experiences involving our Department and the Empire Montessori Preschool. I was saddened to learn of your disappointment because our relationship with the community we serve is of paramount importance to us. Please be assured that we will look into this matter fully and immediately. To that end, I spoke to Deputy Chief Jim Martin who heads our Operations Division first thing this morning and tasked him with reviewing the matter. The Fremont Fire Department is committed to strong community partnerships and fire safety education and we take that role very serious. Please allow Chief Martin a few days to conduct his review and in the meantime, if you would like to speak with him directly please feel free to contact him at:

Deputy Chief Jim Martin

Again, thank you for taking the time to communicate with us.


Geoff LaTendresse, Fire Chief
Fremont Fire Department

Hopefully I will get more detailed information on Fremont Fire Department’s policies on children safety education.

Parenting Personal

Gym with Child Care in the East Bay

I never really liked gyms before I became a mother but once I became a mother, I needed to have a gym so I can workout. There are a few reasons for this. My body changed once I became a mother. I rarely had trouble with my weight before my children but after giving birth I had weight issues. I also lost a lot of freedom in terms of having the time and the leisure to just do things when I please, so routine became very important. While self-care is important, my children became the most important things in the world to me, and I had to find a way to make sure that they were well taken care of while I take care of me.

I started a fitness blog to keep myself accountable but I decided to post this review of East Bay gyms here on my personal blog. I had posted an article about gym child care in general but this is a bit more specific. Those who know me might wonder why I do not post this to Yelp. While I do enjoy posting reviews on Yelp, it felt to me to be less appropriate a place for this kind of a post because I didn’t become a member at all the gyms I have checked out and tried, though I did post a review for the place I did end up at and are quite happy with. Secondly Yelp has started to feel less like a good place for review with their filtered reviews. Although given my Yelp status it is not too likely that my reviews will get filtered out, I felt that my experience with the gyms is more personal so my personal blog would be the best place to post it.

So here is a run down of all the gyms I have checked out and my thoughts on their facility with  the point of view from a mother with young children, focused on child care facilities:

24 Hour Fitness

This is obviously the most popular of all gyms and they have different levels of gyms from”Active” to “Super Sport.” I actually checked out several different 24 Hour Fitness locations in the East Bay. Obviously the Super Sport tends to have more features like swimming pool, steam, and sauna, but the place in general is not kid-friendly because other than the child care room. Kids are not allowed anywhere else. Obviously kids should not be on the fitness floor, but I found the check in and check out process a bit painful since only one parent is allowed to be checking in or checking out their kids at one time. This can be a major issue when children are acclimating to the new environment. In one instance, I was called in after 5 minutes on the machine because my younger child was crying. My 3 year old was playing happily, so I left him alone, but I found myself stuck with nowhere to go. The only place for me to be was right outside the child care room. There was no cafe or lounge to hang out and be at. I could take my child for a walk in the parking lot, but that is obviously not desirable for safety reasons.  The childcare room itself was adequate and even equipped with with child-sized toilets and a changing table room, but the room is one big room with all ages lumped together. They do mind the staff to children ratio but the staff often are not tending to the children but talking amongst themselves. I had reasons to suspect that they don’t deal with kids too well since I was called in after merely 5 minutes away.


The information on Bally’s website is quite limited, so you actually have to call each club and go check it out for more information. There are not too many Bally’s located in East Bay, but the child care facility is somewhat limited compared to the others in terms of hours of availability. Much like Bay-O-Vista, child care is only offered 8am to 1pm, then 4:30pm to 9pm. Like ClubOne, you have to call and make a reservation. The child to staff ration is 12:1, so it is adequate. Bally’s doesn’t necessarily really have a pool facility in most of its locations in the East Bay, with the exception of the location in San Leandro.

Bay-O-Vista Swim and Tennis Club

Bay-O-Vista is the first gym with child care I had put joined as a new mother. I didn’t know anything back then, but we did join for the nice pool facility, which included a kids pool. My son loves to swim, so that was a major reason for us to join. My major gripe with the place has to do with the inadequate child care — bad staff to children ratio, general safety and cleanliness of the child care room, and lack of policy. Please read my Yelp review for more details.


ClubOne in Oakland City Center was recommended to me as one of the better places with child care. That may be true, but the club’s membership system is clearly designed for singles and couples. There is no family membership offered and the child care there is expensive, at $4 per hour per kid. On top of that, you have to make a reservation the day before you show up to workout at the gym. What is good is that they have excellent staff to children ratios, and “Playcare” offers the children activities, not just a place to hang while you work out. I have been told by acquaintances that their child care for young toddlers is excellent, but it was too far away from where I live to actually be useful especially with all the reservation requirements. We did not join, but it might work really well for someone who work and live close to Oakland.


There are several ClubSport out there, and most of them are affiliated with each other, but not all are. ClubSport San Ramon is independent of ClubSport in Fremont, Pleasanton, and Walnut Creek. ClubSport in Fremont, Pleasanton, and Walnut Creek are owned by Leisure Sports, Inc.

Each ClubSport is slightly different in layout in terms of the child care room. The facility is like a spa and geared toward moms, and  Kids World takes children ages 6 weeks and up. Some clubs’ kids activities are geared toward ages 7 or older, but some do have activities for younger kids as well. Generally the child care is more organized, and children are lead through productive activities as well as allowed free play.

ClubSport San Ramon

I joined ClubSport San Ramon as a member and my children and I have been very happy at this facility. As I have previously mentioned, this facility is independent of the other ClubSports in the area, so the membership isn’t good anywhere else. The cost of membership is a lot like the other ClubSport facilities, but I found the child care staff and facilities to be friendly to the younger children. In fact, they have many activities and classes for children ages 3 and up. There is a baby room, a bigger room for children ages 1 to 6, and another room for children ages 7 and older. There is an entrance for child care, which helps to cut the chaos and makes it safer when you are juggling multiple children. If you want to read more detailed review of ClubSport San Ramon, check out my Yelp post.

If you have any gyms that have great child care, please share it with me!