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Weather Alert: review these storm preparedness tips

Precautions You Can Take Against Lighting As A Homeowner

Warm weather usually means fun in the Carolina sun, but summer heat also can bring severe weather. Threatening thunderstorms often loom large on summer afternoons, so it’s important to be prepared for downpours and accompanying lightning. Consider the following suggestions when planning both outdoor and indoor events this summer to reduce the risk of a lightning strike.

  • Watch the weather. Pay attention to your local weather forecast before participating in outdoor activities. If there’s a chance of thunderstorms, consider rescheduling or moving the event indoors. If that’s not possible, have an emergency plan in place in case a severe storm rolls in, and designate a sufficient nearby structure as an emergency shelter.
  • Stay inside. If severe thunderstorms are imminent, go indoors and wait until they pass. Safe, enclosed shelters include homes, schools, offices, shopping malls and vehicles with hard tops and closed windows. Open structures and spaces do not provide adequate protection.
  • Duck and crouch. If you’re caught outside during a severe storm, it’s important to crouch low on the ground, tuck your head and cover your ears to help protect yourself from harm. Do not lie down; lightning strikes can produce extremely strong electrical currents that run along the top of the ground, and laying horizontally increases electrocution risk.
  • Turn off faucets. During a thunderstorm, lightning can sometimes be conducted through the plumbing. Avoid any type of contact with running water, including bathing, showering and washing your hands, dishes or clothes.
  • Turn off electronics. All electrical appliances—televisions, computers, laptops, gaming systems, stoves and more—that are plugged into an electrical outlet could carry a current from a lightning strike. Surge protectors will reduce the risk of damaging electronics.

Stay away from windows. Not only is lightning a threat, but high winds and hail create flying debris that could be harmful during a thunderstorm. Close all windows and doors and stay as far away from them as possible.

Smartphone Photography Tips

With the advent of smartphones, it’s easier than ever to take and share photos these days. Here are 10 tips from your HOA for making the most of every photo opportunity:

Forget the flash
Because the duration of a smartphone’s flash is too long, it doesn’t freeze the action in a frame the way a traditional flash does. This results in a blurry and poorly lit image. Unless you have no other option, avoid the flash and look for more creative low-light solutions.

Perfect your lighting
Use natural light whenever possible, with the sun behind you or over your shoulder. When shooting indoors, find the brightest spot in the room and position your subject directly under it.

Compose your shot
Avoid placing your subject dead center—you create more visual interest if you vary your composition. Keep the horizon as straight as possible unless you are intentionally shooting an angled shot.

Stay steady
Your photo’s clarity depends on how steady you keep your phone, so support your device with your palm, keep your grip firm and lean against a wall or other support when shooting.

Move in close
Small details can often make a photo more interesting—move in closer when shooting. Avoid using the zoom feature—it enlarges pixels but does not bring your subject any closer.

Tap, then snap
Just before taking a photo, tap your subject on the touchscreen—on most smartphones, this will adjust the lighting and focus on the subject.

Rein in the rays
To remove glare and soften harsh lines and shadows in outdoor shots, hold a sunglass lens over the camera lens as close as possible.

Turn on the HDR (high dynamic range imaging) setting to enable your device to take two photos—one that focuses on bright areas and one that focuses on dark areas—and merge them for an optimal image.

Keep it clean
Chances are your smartphone gets a lot of use and a lot of smudges, so use a Q-tip to gently clean your lens periodically. 

Style and share
There are a wealth of apps for editing your digital images, so use them! Instagram, Hipstamatic, Retro Camera and Vignette are just a few of the popular tools for perfecting (and sharing) your pictures.

Home Improvement Apps Tools You Need

Ready to tackle a few home improvement projects? There’s an app for that. Here are a few that homeowners associations recommend:

Houzz Interior Design Ideas:

This highly-rated app lets you discover new ways to personalize your home through a large database of design ideas. You can browse photos by style, room and location, and save them to a virtual idea book. You can also find product and local professionals, and read articles by renovation experts. You can save your ideas for offline access and ask for advice from the app’s community. Available for free in both Apple and Android stores.


There are many paint color apps, what sets this one apart from others is that it lets you save colors based on their PANTONE ID and create color palettes from inspiration. You’ll be able to share the exact hue you like with designers, manufacturers, family and friends. It suggests complementary colors as well. Available for $9.99 in the Apple store and $7.99 in the Android store.

iHandy Carpenter:

This app turns your phone into the tools you need to complete your improvement project. It features:

  • A surface level
  • A bubble level bar
  • A protractor to measure angles from 0 to 180 degrees
  • A ruler with both inches and centimeter readings
  • A plumb bob to verify the verticality of lines or walls

Once calibrated, the plumb bob, surface level and level bar also can be used as an inclinometer/clinometer by reading the angles on the screen. Available for $1.99 in both Apple and Android stores.

Mobile Marketing: Instant Info Anywhere

You may have noticed small, black and white, pixilated squares recently appearing in magazines and marketing materials or on signs and product packaging. Designed to work with cell phones, mobile tags instantly link to additional information when you scan them. They’re decoded by a tag reader application installed on a web-enabled camera phone. When you scan a tag with your phone’s camera, it opens a web page, displays a message or takes some other action on the phone to connect you to new content. This is the generation of technology.

Mobile tagging is rapidly increasing as businesses and individuals discover creative uses for the technology. Homeowner associations use this tool for communication among residents for meetings, alerts and other communication strategies. Businesses are capitalizing on the marketing and sales potential of the tags by driving consumers to websites for special offers, launching surveys, linking to additional product and service information and delivering exclusive content. Individuals are using tags on business cards and resumes to automatically download their contact information to a recipient’s phone or to provide virtual work samples.

There are a number of different types of mobile tags, including Microsoft Tag, QR codes, Data Matrix, Cool-Data-Matrix, Aztec, Upcode, Trillcode, Quickmark, ShotCode, mCode and Beetagg. Your HOA, for example, takes advantage of these different types of mobile tags, along with other organizations. Different types of tags require different types of readers; most are available as free downloads. Many of the tag types also offer free tag generators for personal and commercial use.

Cloudy with a Chance of Technology

We are all familiar about the clouds that shade the sun and carry rain. Now it’s time to get to know the other cloud—the one that delivers computing power, handy applications and the ability to share information with others in your HOA community wherever and whenever you need. Like the atmospheric mass that provides its name, the technological phenomenon impacts our daily lives.

Cloud computing sounds mysterious and untrustworthy, but chances are you’re already working, playing and surfing in the cloud. If you’ve purchased an iPhone, Kindle, or any smartphone, tablet or computer recently, you’re probably taking advantage of its benefits. If you’ve downloaded a song from the Internet, chatted on Skype or purchased something from Amazon, you’ve used the cloud.

So, what does the cloud mean to you, and how can you harness its power?

It means you can pay your assessments online. You can access your homeowners association documents and board meeting minutes from wherever you are. It might also mean, for the owners of second homes, that you can tune into board meetings from the other side of the country.

It means you can work from a remote office without losing a beat. You can collaborate with others on a document without having to e-mail the file back and forth. You can store photos, music and files online without taking up precious space on your computer.

The cloud offers cheaper, stress-free alternatives to expensive hardware and maintenance. All you really need to take advantage of the cloud is reliable Internet access, but you should carefully consider security, privacy, the provider’s reliability and contract terms first.

How secure is your data and information on the cloud? What privacy rules are you subject to? Some cloud services include clauses that allow providers to access and use a customer’s data —often for marketing purposes—and can retain that data long after you’re done using the service.

What if the company providing the cloud service goes out of business? What happens to all your information? Do contact terms lock you into one program or application?

These are important questions to ask. And though the cloud is relatively new, it’s here to stay and will become even more prevalent over time. To see a list of cloud computing providers, visit

Government Support is One Click Away

You’ve probably heard the old joke, “I’m from the government, and I’m here to help you.” While there are times most would agree this is a contradiction, government agencies do provide an unlimited variety of free advice, guidance and information, and most of it is now a computer click away. However, finding what you need among millions of websites that populate the Internet can be difficult.

For those times when you need some help, there is one website your homeowners association recommends you should put on your computer desktop or save in your browser. It’s the U.S. government’s official web portal: The information is arranged by topic and includes consumer guides, family home and community, money and taxes, public safety and law, voting and elections and many, many more. The website also provides a convenient resource called “Get It Done Online,” an alphabetized list of government services you can access from your computer. This resource connects you to more than 100 tasks you can complete via computer, which includes replacing vital records, contacting elected officials, acquiring or renewing passports, renewing your driver’s license and even shopping government auctions. Perhaps best of all, you can find links to your own state and local agencies at:


Recycle that Cell Phone

The next time you’re ready to upgrade your cell phone, recycle the old one! If all the estimated 100 million dead cell phones were recycled, the U.S. could save enough energy to power more than 194,000 U.S. households with electricity for one year, according to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Unfortunately, less than 20 percent of unwanted cell phones are recycled each year.

Recycling can help the environment by keeping usable and valuable materials out of landfills and incinerators. Cell phones are made of precious metals, copper and plastics, which require energy to mine and manufacture. Recycling these materials not only conserves resources, but reduces air and water pollution and greenhouse gas emissions. Earlier this year, the EPA teamed up with cell phone retailers, manufacturers and service providers to develop collection programs. Some charitable groups and state or municipal solid waste programs also offer cell phone recycling.