Saturday, December 31, 2016

Family Tech: "Some Thoughts for the coming year" - December 30, 2016

Don’t we all start the New Year with optimism?  It is the time of the year the gyms fill up, only to dwindle back to normal traffic by late February.

And while our thoughts today may go to parties, soon practical thoughts intrude. Like getting ready to do our taxes, paying off those Christmas bills and organizing ourselves a little bit better the coming year.

I started using an app lately that helps me keep things straight.  It is a journaling app. There are any number in the Google Play and Apple App stores. I have not looked at many.  The one I’m using is not syncing right, so I’ll find another.  Even so, I’ve been impressed with its usefulness.

With it I can jot a quick note. If I choose, it also records my location and the current weather. Soon after I started using it, I had my once-every-10-years lower back spasm. I tracked when I took pain meds with it.

I also track significant events in my day so that I can jog my memory to them later on.

You could use it as a journal is meant to be used, pouring out your heart for only yourself to read. While that might be hard on a phone, there is a website for the one I started using—although, as I said--not all the entries I made on the phone are showing up in the web version.

My mother made notes on a monthly calendar not only of appointments but significant events. She kept those calendars for years. They helped years later when we had to track certain events.

You could also keep a note titled “Journal for Jan. 2016” on Google Keep and add to it every day.  At least I know it syncs well.  And then start a new note for each month. 

Keep is one of my use-every-day apps. It is my grocery list and jot pad for information I will likely move to another app later on.

It is totally free and works with your Google account.  I cannot recommend it more highly.



Saturday, December 24, 2016

It’s tough ending a 22-year relationship. Trust was broken not once, but at least twice. And while ultimately confessions were made, it was not until years later -- after it was too late to repair the damage.

Thankfully I had ultimately moved on to something younger and flashier. I’m talking about Yahoo.
In September they confessed they had been hacked, and half a billion accounts were exposed. If that wasn’t bad enough, they confessed the penetration had occurred two years earlier in 2014.
And then just last week, they announced a possible one billion more accounts had been violated. Worse, that penetration had occurred in 2013 and Yahoo didn’t find out until the U.S. government found out and let them know last month. 

From both hacks, hackers stole names, birthdates, phone numbers and even passwords that were encrypted with a weak encryption technique.

Are you one of the one billion monthly users of Yahoo?  I am. I started using Yahoo soon after they began in 1994.  The web was smaller then. If you created a web site, you submitted the link to Yahoo. There, actual humans looked at your site and categorized it into Yahoo’s index.
Of course the web grew astonishingly fast, so that human indexing method failed to scale with the net. Soon little bits of code were crawling the net doing the indexing first, with companies like Alta Vista and ultimately today’s behemoth, Google. 

Yahoo moved to web crawling in 2000.

In 1997 Yahoo began offering Yahoo Mail, a free webmail service.  For many years it was my primary email account.  Even when I began using Gmail from Google, I kept Yahoo Mail. Many of my utility companies were still tied to that since that was the email I was using when we bought our home.

So what do we Yahoo users do now?

The first inclination is to close our Yahoo accounts and walk away. That would actually be a mistake.
If you close your Yahoo Mail account your username will ultimately be recycled and used by another user. In fact, the hackers may watch for them to be freed up so they can register them. That way any future emails to that account from someone who does not know you are no longer using it, will go instead to the hacker and give them information.



Saturday, December 17, 2016

Family Tech: "The tech revolution is keeping us healthier" - December 16, 2016

High tech home medical technology used to be a thermometer.  If you were lucky, it was oral.

Today, a lot of technology you would only find in a doctor’s office or hospital has come home.  And what you find in the hospital today is truly futuristic.

At the hospital, we have robot surgical knives like the Davinci machine that can hold a scalpel rock steady. A few inches movement of the controller by the surgeon might move the scalpel a millimeter.  A tiny camera inserted into the incision along with the scalpel gives the surgeon a view he could not get without opening up a much larger incision.  This minimally invasive surgery allows faster recovery and safer surgery.

What’s even more amazing is the controller unit and the patient do not have to be in the same room.  Theoretically, this could allow a surgeon in New York to operate on a patient in Bangladesh, or on the Space Station.

Even more futuristic is IBM’s Watson.  Readers may remember Watson as IBM’s supercomputer that triumphed against “Jeopardy” champions.

They are now training it to aid in medical diagnosis.  By feeding in massive numbers of x-rays, MRI’s, cat scans and other patient data, it is hoped Watson will learn to recognize patterns indicating disease and growths human doctors might miss.

The same artificial intelligence that lets Google Photos recognize dogs in our photos and lets us search for them, could let Watson find tumors and other abnormalities.  A San Francisco startup, Enlitic Inc., claims its software in a test identified malignant tumors 50 percent more accurately than a panel of four radiologists.

Your doctor might have you swallow a large pill that is in fact a camera and transmitter.  A small unit you wear on your body receives and records the information for your doctor to examine.

At home we have our own wonders. Diabetics have blood testing units. There are home blood pressure cuffs that have digital readouts and Bluetooth connectivity to log readings to your phone.  Pulse oximeters that monitor blood oxygen saturation  help those with breathing difficulties control their breathing.

If you have someone with heart issues, for $1,200 you could have your own automatic defibrillator.  I learned in my last CPR course that home CPR is just to keep the blood flowing until a defibrillator can restore normal heart rhythm.  This can be done sooner and before the paramedics arrive with a home unit that is fully automated.

For those with other issues, there are even home breathalyzers.

Now that the baby boomers are well into their senior years — I’m on the trailing edge of boomers, so I can make this comment — home monitoring systems let our kids know we are doing OK while we remain in our own homes.

Read the rest at www.FamilyTechOnline.com


Saturday, December 10, 2016

"Let's Call it What it is: propaganda" - December 12, 2016

Fake news has been all over the news recently. Let’s call it what it really is: propaganda.

Why are we talking about this in a column about technology for families? Anyone online is inundated with information. Before the internet, there were certain filters in place when we got our information from newspapers, magazines, books and broadcasting.

It was expensive to print and distribute or to broadcast. The publishers and broadcasters had limits of how much content they could put out, so they were discriminating in their selection. And they had to reach a large audience to be economically viable, so they could not alienate a large portion of their audience by being unfair.

I do not mean to suggest propaganda techniques were not used, just that there were some filters in place. Today there are none. Anyone can publish to the net for only the cost of an internet connection. The only filter between publisher and audience is what the individual audience member provides for himself.

I learned about propaganda techniques in school, and I went looking through the Virginia Standards of Learning to find out our schools still teach about them -- albeit in the seventh grade.

That may be too late. Media consumption habits may already be well-formed by then, considering how much information even children are exposed to online.

As parents, we need to teach our children critical thinking at a young age. Have them learn to question what they read, see and hear. And also have them watch for propaganda techniques in their personal interactions.

When you see an example of name calling in an ad or speech, ask your child why the message needs to call someone a name. What are they hoping to gain?

Read the rest at www.FamilyTechOnline.com



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