Saturday, December 3, 2016

Family Tech : "You might want to be a kid again when you see these toys" - December 2, 2016

Last time we talked about gifts for adults.  What about younger people fascinated with technology? What gifts can nurture an interest or spark an interest in science, technology, engineering and mathematics, STEM? 

Or best of all, show off the wonder of the world?

I’ll champion high tech gifts in a bit, but for showing off the wonders of the universe there is no better gift than a telescope. You can find entry-level telescopes starting at about $40.  I still recall my first view of the moon through a telescope as a life-shaping event. So much of what I had learned in school became much clearer.  Today, you can use a phone app to help point your telescope at planets and other celestial bodies.

Looking the other direction at the universe of life --in a drop of water-- is even easier today. There are microscopes that hook into a PC and let you manipulate them through software, as well as capture images.

Of course, links for these, and all the items we are going to talk about here are in this week’s Link Post at FamilyTechOnline.com.

For younger kids, there is the Code a Pillar, from Fisher-Price. It is a toy caterpillar. Kids build it by attaching its segments in different orders. For example, if the first segment is go forward, then the second is turn to the left, and the next is go forward, the caterpillar will move forward, turn and then move some more.  By playing, kids are learning the fundamentals of programming.

For the  Star Wars  fans, there is Sphero’s BB8 robot. Controlled from the phone, you can control your own piece of the Star Wars universe.

Doll houses have gone high tech with Barbi’s Hello Dream House. Children control it with over 100 voice commands to make the lights work, decorate for Christmas and even have the stairs turn into a slide.

The coolest technology gift I found this year is the Piper Computer Kit. It lets a person build a computer case and install a Raspberry Pi 3 computer along with sensors and peripherals.  When it is complete, they can play Minecraft on it. 

Read the rest at www.FamilyTechOnline.com


Saturday, November 26, 2016

Family Tech : Gifts for Geeks

The best kind of gift, someone once told me, is one someone wants and would never buy for themselves.

That theory works well in choosing gifts for the geeks on your holiday gift list.  I’m not using geek as a pejorative, but rather to refer to someone who enjoys technology, clever gadgets, superhero stories and science fiction.  When you look at how many people watch “Star Wars” and the movies with Marvel and DC heroes, you realize geeks are all around.

So how can you buy them gifts they will enjoy?

The good news is you can, and should, avoid the big ticket items. We geeks are extremely choosy about our phones and laptops.  We have to choose those ourselves.

And we will put more effort into that than we did into choosing a college.

The most expensive things I’d suggest would be an Amazon Echo or a Google Home. Both are small devices you place in your home. The device hears your commands when you call it by name, and you can ask it to do a variety of things: answer questions, set timers, tell you the weather, play music, etc.  

The Echo will let you order items directly from Amazon.  The Google device lets you add items to your Google Calendar and reads you your Gmails. Unfortunately it works with only one Google account. The Echo and Home cost $180 and $130, respectively.

These devices fall into the nice-to-have category and are not must-haves, so they fall squarely in the thesis of the gift giving I mentioned at the start.

In previous years, I have sung the virtues of Google’s Chromecast as a way to get streaming video to your television.  By now I hope most of you have something like Chromecast, such as RokuApple TV or the many alternatives.

Google recently came out with Chromecast Audio, which hooks to your speakers and lets you stream audio from your phone, PC or tablet. You may have the music coming to you from the music services available from Google, Apple, Spotify and many others.  Chromecast Audio is $30.

Fairfax based ThinkGeek.com has always been a go-to place for geek gadgets, do-dads and clothing.  I personally love the Jedi Fleece Robe and the Chewbacca robe.  They both look quite warm and powerful.


Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Visiting a B-17

A few weeks ago I toured the EAA's B-17 when it visited the Manassas Airport.



Of course I took our 360 camera.

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Post from RICOH THETA. - Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

I'd previously flew on the EAA's Ford Tri-Motor.

Saturday, November 12, 2016

Family Tech: On a road trip to grandma’s, take up reading - November 11, 2016

“Over the river the and through the woods, to Grandmother’s house we go.  The self-driving car knows the way to carry us through the white and drifted snow.”

OK, so self-driving cars are still a few years away, and their ability to work on snow has yet to be proven, but there are some tech tools to make long road trips a bit less painful for families this time of year.

Grandma may have once lived two farms over, but now she’s more likely to be in Florida. Costs for flying a family of any size that far pretty much means a road trip down Interstate-95.

On my family’s road trips as a kid, my mother was sure reading would cause car sickness so we were not allowed to read in the car.  As an adult, I found out I could tolerate it better than expected. I found a few tips on avoiding car sickness while reading.  

Reading in the car is a good way for kids to pass the time, and it promotes literacy too.  And parts of the trip that have sporadic cell coverage are a good time to promote reading.

The books can even be on their phones by using the Kindle app, and there are free e-books from the public library. If your child wants to read classics that are now in the public domain, they are totally free from the Gutenberg Project.

Watching movies in cars used to require a portable DVD viewer, and while they are still available even more affordably than ever, kids are also amazingly comfortable watching video on the tiny screens of the phone they might already have.

Streaming video from Youtube, Netflix, iTunes, Google Play or Amazon might be a bit difficult on a road trip where cell coverage might be spotty.  Usually coverage along interstates is fairly good. Away from the interstate is where you might run into problems.

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Waze needs to learn my ways

When I first tried to use Waze, the Israeli developed navigation app Google later purchased, I was not impressed and stayed with Google Maps.

On our visit in March to Israel I saw how every tour operator and taxi driver user loved their home grown app, so when I started my new job and new commute I began using it.

I run the app for the entire commute even though I know the way well.  It warns me of issues that arise since I hit the road and routes me around them.

Every morning though, it asks me to take a route through a small, congested, hilly little town instead of staying on the main route around it.  It makes no sense to me and I expected it would figure out in a few days my preferred route.

No.  It nags me every morning even weeks later.

According to Waze's FAQ :

Waze should always pick what it believes is, mathematically, the fastest or shortest route, depending on your settings. If, in your estimation, it doesn't, that means that there could be an error in the map somewhere along your preferred route, or there is a lack of correct speed/trafficdata for that route, or lack or correct speed/traffic data on the route it is trying to send you on. If it isn't too far out of your way, take the suggested route a few times and Waze will collect and start to use that data in its routing decisions.
Maybe one morning I'll follow their advice, but since I'm going to work in the dark I'm hesitant to do so.

The final part of my morning drive, I have three options for going from the main route to work.  Each morning, it seems to choose one almost at random.

I wish Waze had the ability to explain its decision.  As in "Turn Left on Maple.  The normal route of Elm Street has an accident."

LastPass multi-device support is now free

If you are not using a password vault, LastPass now gives you one less excuse. Their free level now lets you use it on multiple devices. Before you had to pay $12 a year for that feature.

I gladly paid the last couple of years. It made managing a multitude of passwords for my many sites easy when using either my PC or my phone.

LastPass is well regarded.  You should consider using it to help keep yourself secure.

Signup for LastPass

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Family Tech: "You can get the best tech tools, but…" - November 5, 2016

If you are into tech as I am, it is a never ending cornucopia of new apps to try, new gadgets to covet and new capabilities to instill that “We live in the future” feeling.

Alas, like everything though, there is a certain amount of housework to do.  Without the drudgery of protecting our devices and networks from viruses and attacks, the fun soon comes to an end, and what should be a friction-free environment for work and fun gets bogged down and aggravatingly useless.

Anti-virus and their ilk are boring to think about. I’ve even put this column off for months as I found more entertaining things to write about.

If you are running an antivirus on your PC already, give yourself an atta-boy.  Then go check to see if it is indeed still running.

Many of us get a free 90-day subscription to McAfee with our PCs.  Problem is that after 90 days we get nagged to pay for the subscription and, instead of paying, often just turn off the nags.

If you did pay, find the McAfee app on your PC and check to see when it expires. And check too for the last time it updated its signatures and actually ran a scan.

If you did not subscribe and it is not running, there are better choices out there than McAfee.  In fact, on the ratings site AV-Test.org, McAfee is not near the top.  That site tests and lists the best antivirus software for Windows, Mac and Android devices.  Microsoft’s Defender, a free tool built into Windows, is next on the rating list. If nothing else, use Defender.

The No. 2 choice on the list of top antivirus apps is free. Avast does a great job protecting my system. Yes, they want me to upgrade so I get the occasional popup, but it is not too intrusive. I may subscribe now, but I wanted to experience the free level for column purposes.

If you choose to go with their paid level of service, it is $50 a year for one computer or $70 a year for three computers[1] .  There is also a five PC level.