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5 digital tricks to help you through the holidays

December is a month of simple pleasures: evergreens in the living room, gingerbread in the oven, carols on the stereo. What could be better?

But the holidays are also hectic, and technology affects every aspect of our winter existence. We shop online. We book e-tickets. We download recipes and exchange digital cards. Gadgets and apps can help streamline our holiday experience, but they can also complicate matters, or even give us a false sense of security.

To make your family plans as cheerful as possible, here are five digital tricks for the tech-savvy celebrant.

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1. Keep spies out of your holiday rental

December is one of the busiest times of the year for travel, and millions of Americans will find themselves in hotels, family homes and rentals. This might be a ski lodge in the Adirondacks. It might be a cheap motel in the middle of a long road trip.

As cameras shrink and lodging gets more informal, you’d be forgiven for worrying about spies. There are plenty of weirdos out there, and they now have the technology to watch you in your room. So how do you protect yourself from secret surveillance?

Use your senses: Many devices emit a low-level hum you may hear when the room is completely quiet. Many cameras have tiny lights you may see when the room is dark.

Use a signal detector: Designed to pick up the signal from a hidden camera, these devices are about the size of a small walkie-talkie and are often equipped with infrared lights. You can sweep them across the room to catch pinhole cameras. Click here for more about signal detectors.

Use your cellphone: When you make a call near a recorder, the device’s frequency may interfere with your signal. If all else fails, you can call someone and walk around the room, listening for a significant crackle or delay. Not sure what you’re looking for? Click here for 10 types of spy cameras that could be watching you right now.

2. Stock up on movies for the road

Thanks to tablets and smartphones, we are no longer at the mercy of an airline’s cinematic selection. Once you hit cruising altitude, you can pull out your device and start watching. Better yet, you can download films for cheap, thanks to an ever-growing library of downloadable content. Click here to manage all your streaming services without going insane.

Netflix: The original streaming service once vowed never to make films available for download, but it’s recently changed its tune. Just install the free Netflix app, and you’ll find thousands of movies and TV series available. With a decent Wi-Fi signal, the download is shockingly fast.

Amazon: Anyone can install the Amazon Video app and start watching films they’ve purchased, but the real gold mine comes with Amazon Prime, which allows you to save content with the same ease and selection as Netflix.

Vimeo on Demand: If you’re weary of the same big-budget features, you’ll find zillions of obscure flicks and docs on Vimeo, the premiere platform for independent filmmakers. Just like mainstream services, you’ll need the Vimeo app to save your selections, but you’ll be amazed how much diversity is out there.

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