Saturday, October 15, 2016

Family Tech: Internet of Things is already here - October 14, 2016

It used to be the only thing in our homes hooked to the Internet were our PCs. In a short amount of time, we added phones and tablets. Now, there are a multitude of things we can connect to the net, in our home and in the outside world.

This concept is called the Internet of Things, or IoT for short. The Internet of Things will dramatically change the world and, if we choose, our homes.

IoT in the world can be sensors along the roadside that report traffic flow. It can be power meters already in many homes that automatically report meter readings to utility vehicles that pass your street.

IoT can be sensors monitoring pipelines, medical equipment monitoring patients as they go about their day, buoys at sea watching for tsunamis, remote seismometers, and new uses every day.

IoT may already be in your home. There are home automation lights you can control from your phone, the Harmony remote control system for controlling TVs and other home entertainment, the Ring doorbell or any of the multitude of connected home automation devices.

The Amazon Echo, and Google’s just announced Home, let you ask questions, receive answers and command some home automation products. The Echo makes it easy to order from Amazon simply by asking for a product.

The Ring doorbell is mounted by your front door. When someone touches the button, thinking it is your doorbell, you are alerted on your phone. You can see them and have a conversation with them. They do not know you might not be in the house. Burglars often ring the doorbell first to see if anyone is at home before entering a house.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

Family Tech: Be sure to ensure the kids’ safety online - September 30, 2016

My brother’s granddaughter called her grandmother four times Friday after school.  When an 8-year-old can place a video call for free, cross country, from her own tablet, it struck me again just how easy kids can communicate these days.

Therein lies the great benefit, and the profound risk of online life.

The 8-year-old can communicate with friends--hopefully ones she knows in real life--but also ones she has met online.  How do you teach a child that not everyone is good, not everyone is really 8 when they say they are, and the other cautions they need to learn sooner than later?

And it is not only children who need to be taught to be safe online. We can all fall prey to bad actors online. And we need to help our senior citizens understand the dangers online as they are often the target for financial scams.

Thankfully there are some powerful resources out there to help parents, kids and seniors.

Our county schools teach from materials found at Parents should review the materials there.  There are sections for kids of various ages: teens, tweens and younger children. There are also sections for parents. Material is available as articles, presentations and videos.

The teen sections have real life stories of the consequences of being unsafe online.

Larry Magid of CBS News is the power behind  It has a contract families can agree to for safe surfing. They also have resources on how to stop cyberbullying, how to prevent sexting and how to recognize when your child is being groomed by a predator.

Cyberbullying is especially worrying. It used to be your child could only be bullied in the presence of the bully: at school.  The home was a safe place from bullying, and after school hours could be peaceful respites from bullying.

Read the rest at

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Family Tech: Aftermarket car tech can save thousands of dollars - September 23, 2016

Our recent venture into the wonderful world of car buying brought home the nicest car I’ve ever driven.  That’s saying a lot--but on the other hand my brother never has let me drive his classic roadster or Lexus --but I digress.

We ventured forth with a list of must-have and nice-to-have features.  We came home without any of the nice-to-haves.

Our list of Android Auto, heated seats and a backup camera were available but added thousands to the cost.

And in one vehicle the package with those items came only with a third row of seats--seats that only a toddler would fit in, and would take away useful storage space. 

This is my first car with Bluetooth technology. I enjoy listening to podcasts and having phone calls through the speaker system instead of my Bluetooth earpiece. Coincidentally, last week’s column was about earpieces. Tech changes fast. Seriously, an earpiece is still good if you are not the only one in the car and you want to listen to something other than what the rest have chosen. 

Thankfully, I have found ways to get my nice-to-have features at much lower cost.

Android Auto and its Apple equivalent, Apple CarPlay, are devices in some cars that bring some of the functions of your phone to the dashboard.  Usually they display map and navigation information in large, easy to see and use displays.

Likewise, they make extensive use of voice to read your text messages and permit you to send texts and place calls using voice.

Some cars were available with only one of the systems. Some cars had both.

Your smartphone, mounted in a dash mount, can do many of the features of Android Auto and CarPlay.  Apps, in their respective app stores, duplicate many of the functions.

Read the rest at

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Family Tech: Apple’s new phone calls for earpods - September 16, 2016

Apple’s announcement of the latest iPhone and a new Apple Watch was overshadowed by one feature of the new phone. Or rather, a feature removed from the phone.
Gone is the headphone jack.  Instead, iPhone 7 will come with earpods that connect through the phone’s lightning connector.
Removing the old connector, which provided a hole into the body of the phone, improves the water resistance of the phone. Anyone who has ever dropped a phone into the sink (or worse!)  will appreciate that feature.
What really upsets long time iPhone users though is this renders their huge collection of earbuds, headphones, remote speakers and such harder to use. Apple is including a dongle with the iPhone 7 that permits previous devices to work, but the dongle is an ugly appendage hanging off the phone, likely to break or get lost.  And replacement earbuds from Apple cost $29, the same as the old wired earbuds with the 3.5 mm plug that is now gone.  What is not certain is if third parties can produce earpods with the lightning connector as inexpensively as they did earbuds with the 3.5mm plug.
This brouhaha shows how much phones have become part of an entire ecosystem. The devices we connect to our phones are important to us and often make the phones work better.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Family Tech: Public libraries critical to community - September 9, 2016

Our county libraries are bragging they are Pokemon Go gyms, where players of the game can capture virtual Pokemons. 

This phone game is all the rage now with kids through adults. I know a minister who plays and is proud his church property is home to three Poke stops.

I’m happy to see the library promoting this on its website.  Staffers understand that being a Pokemon gym is a wonderful way to attract patrons who may have forgotten about the library.

Are public libraries obsolete?  It is understandable to wonder this in the world of broadband, eBooks, Netflix and are other digital media services.  The library does not seem to have the same gravitation pull it once did for many of us.

In reality, our public libraries are more important than ever.

Not everyone can afford a computer, or if they can, also afford broadband. Yet most jobs these days require you to fill out online applications.

Our public libraries and their free computers and internet access let those folks find jobs. It also gives all of us a critical backup to our home infrastructure. If our computer breaks the night before an important project is due, we can always go to the library.  In a recent column on contingency plans for when things go badly, the library was an important component.

Have you converted to ebooks?  I love having a book always with me on my phone.  While perhaps not as tactically satisfying as a paper book, the availability of reading material wherever I am is nice.

Read the rest at

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Family Tech: Pay attention to social media - a must in this presidential election- September 2, 2016

When my employer and I decided to relocate me from California to Virginia in 1999, the owner of the company said, “I wonder if you’ll become politically passionate like everyone else we’ve moved back there.”

There is something about this area that infected me. While I’m not passionate, my interest in the process has increased.

In the midst of a presidential election cycle, we all find ourselves a bit more caught up than usual. There are online tools to help us follow the elections. 

More and more, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are conversing with voters via social media.

I have followed the tweets coming from the various candidates through the primaries and now into the general election. I use Twitter’s Tweetdeck product. It allows me to have columns of related sources together.

I created a Twitter list of candidates and another of news sources. While I don’t read all the tweets, a quick glance gives me an idea of the ongoing conversation Clinton and Trump are having with the voting public.

Friday, August 26, 2016

My LG G3 from Sprint is now 2 Androids versions behind

I thought I had Sprint's commitment that Marshmallow was coming for the LG G3 back in April.

Alas. With the release of Nougat, my phone is now 2 versions behind.

I've tweeted them again. Let's see if I get real information this time.

I would be content with a statement that they do not plan on updating the LG G3 again, instead of being strung along.

At best, would be a firm date we should have it by.

At worst, would be a statement again that no date is announced, and to watch their press room for an announcement.  That should be shining users on.