Archives

Monthly Archive for: ‘April, 2012’

  • What Gets Your Inner-Fitness Going: Data or Friendship? Or Both?

    A recent study from NPD shows that one in five consumers want a fitness device that they can hook up to their PC. Today’s question is “will people have more incentive to actually buy these devices if they can use them with friends”.

    Striiv, a smart pedometer that caters to casual exercisers who like rewards, thinks that collaboration with a friend is going to increase the likelihood of using your device effectively. Last year the company introduced a pedometer that allowed the user to either win game play or make a donation to charity upon meeting goals.

    The new version released this week adds the “friend” element. You can now see your goals and progress side by side with others in your group. Dan Wang, the company CEO calls it the “social pedometer” where the motivation comes from games, rewards, friends and charity.

    Other devices like BodyMedia, Fitbit, and Jawbone focus on data analysis – tracking your movements. Fitbit keeps a record of caloric intake, BodyMedia does that plus tracks sleep. Jawbone now lets users post a food photo diary to share with others, and offers online incentives.

    More serious athletes turn to devices from Polar and Garmin. Polar offers built-in coaching as well as endurance and recovery time training in their devices. Garmin offers special devices for runners, cyclists and even golfers.

    The benefits of using technology to monitor your workouts have become nearly undisputed. But is monitoring yourself with friends more effective than going solo? 

    Research presented in the Economist gives examples of group training being more effective (the secret is endorphins). And the Telegraph in the UK found similar results. Women in particular do better exercising with friends, says a Motley Fool advice column. On average, their article finds a women will lose 10 pounds more if they exercise and diet with a female friend, and that 20% of women that exercise alone do not lose any weight at all.

    So which type of fitness buff are you? The lone Rocky Balboa or the grab a buddy and go?

  • Penveu Challenges Interactive Whiteboards

    Interactive whiteboards in the classroom have been plagued by any number of problems.  Often mis-calibrated, sometimes proprietary, always expensive – and it forces the teacher to be in front of the classroom. It’s high time for an alternative to the old “teacher stands in front of the whiteboard” trick.

    Enter Penveu, a very different approach to the standard teacher/whiteboard interaction. Penveu looks like a big fat pen. Hidden inside the pen are 12 accelerometers, 3 gyroscopes and an optical system. Invisible targets are embedded on the screen – hidden to the viewer. All this tech means it never needs to be recalibrated.

    The pen can be used as a either a pen to draw, write, or mouse. You can highlight and erase. The teacher can use it from anywhere in the classroom, or hand it over to the child in the back row. Penvue is compatible with any large screen display or projection device.

    The pen is sold with a “black box” peripheral that accepts a VGA cable from the display and a VGA cable to the PC. The pen itself is wireless. The cost? $500, a fraction of the price of an interactive whiteboard and way more portable and flexible.

    Switching Penveu between pen and mouse, and learning its other, more specific capabilities (for example pressing harder in pen mode draws a thicker line) takes some getting used to, but gaining the freedom to walk away from the board and pass the pen around the classroom could make a huge difference in how teachers teach.

    To see the Penveu in action, watch the videos. It’s a product worth investigating for classrooms or boardrooms.

  • Stress: What Would Arianna Do?

    Arianna Huffington gets stressed out too! I don’t know why, but I take great comfort when people who look pressed and pretty all the time confess that they need to deal with stress just like the rest of us. But unlike the rest of us who keep our stress to teeth grinding or lip biting, Arianna Huffington shares her taming stress message via a new campaign – a GPS for the Soul app.

    Hopping on the “body as sensor” technology movement, the Huffington Post announced GPS for the Soul, a movement designed to tame the stress monster. It will take the form of an app created in partnership with HeartMath (creators of EmWave2, a handheld biofeedback like device that tries to achieve what  they call “heart coherence”) and bLife, an app developer that specializes in health-related apps.

    The goal is to provide people with tools, techniques and technology to take charge of stress and find more joy, peace and quality in life.  The GPS for the Soulwebsite on HuffPo is already providing content devoted to reducing stress and enhancing spirituality and mindfulness.  

    Unrelated to the HuffPo campaign, we’re seeing attempts to bring rising stress levels under control. I’ve been playing with ZEO, a $99 bluetooth-enabled sleep monitor that works with your smartphone and an app to track sleep patterns, diet, exercise, and other lifestyle factors for achieving optimal REM and deep sleep. Better sleep quality, according to research, leads to less stress.

    And just for kicks, according to the American Psychological Association, Americans are masters of stress, with 22% reporting being extremely stressed, and study after study linking stress to chronic disease.

  • Recharge Your Systems the Green Way

    Technology and thinking green did not always go together very well. Filled with icky harmful metals and substances, never recyclable and persistent energy hogs – electronics were known for creating more environmental problems than they solved.

    One problem being solved in innovative ways is device recharging. Our phones, TVs, game machines and household products are electricity gobblers. Here are some Earth Day alternatives that we should use all year long.

    Scosche solBAT II Solar Battery Charger: Scosche’s solar battery charger ($29) works with most USB-powered devices to recharge them using the power of the sun. Included with the rechargeable solar battery is a suction-cup windshield cradle so your mobile phone can charge as it soaks up the sun. ($29   at  

    Solar Firefly Lights: For kids starting to learn about the magic of solar power, for some great porch decorations, or even a night light, go to Think Geek. They’ve got some sweet little mason jars that store up solar energy for built in LEDs – the result is a firefly in a jar ($35).

    Voltaic OffGrid Solar Backpack: One of my favorite solar gadgets is from Voltaic. The company makes a line of solar products that combine fashion with solar recharging. Take a look at the OffGrid Solar Backpack ($229). It’s versatile in that you can remove the solar pocket and attach it other things. It’s got lots of storage, and includes a laptop sleeve and a place for your cell phone. As long as there’s sunshine, you’ve got power and style.

    nPower PEG: If you’re ready to put your whole body into green energy try the Kinetic nPower PEG Charger ($159.99). This device builds up charge as you walk, hike or bike. Toss it in your briefcase or pocket and start moving. It’ll work with plenty of gadgets – including iPhone and BlackBerry handsets.

    Belkin Has You Covered: Belkin’s got an entire line of green products to help with your gear and gadgets. One of my favorites, The Belkin Conserve Valet Energy Saving USB Charging Station ($40), charges up to four devices at once. Even if your device is plugged into it for a charge, the Valet shuts off automatically once a full charge is achieved – preventing wasteful use of electricity. And many gadgets draw energy even when they’re turned off (like your TV). Because the Belkin system uses zero energy, you know that the idlers have been silenced. Added benefit? You use only one wall outlet instead of four and it looks tidy too. The Conserve Valet draws zero power when not in use and that saves a bundle of electricity.

  • Kid Tested: Kinect RUSH is a Rush

    Can’t decide which Pixar movie is your fav? Don’t give it a second thought. If you own a Microsoft Kinect you can grab a copy of Kinect Rush: A Disney Pixar Adventure where you’ll get a taste of all your favorites with you staring as the added attraction. It’s fantastic and tailor made for an ADD generation that loves to surf from one Disney fav to the next.

    In this case, you’re immersed in the worlds of The Incredibles, Ratatouille, Up, Cars, and Toy Story at your choosing. Kinect scans you in and you actually become a character in the movie. I wish you could “take it from me”, but my nephew Drew absconded with the disc, promising a review in his own words.  (Just remind me to hide the discs next time he comes over).

    RUSH (by Drew Raskin)

    “Disney’s Pixar Rush is a great game. If you’re looking to go on an adventure Rush is the game for you. It feels like you are in the adventure. I know I love adventures so I knew this was a great game for me. There’s Ratatouille, Up, The Incredibles, Toy Story, and Cars. All of those in one game! It makes you feel like you’re playing all these games with your friends. And if it’s not fun to play alone you could play with another person. I really think this is a good game for people who love to go on adventures. For Up, it’s like your hiking with Carol and Russell. For Cars, it’s like you’re driving with Mater and Lightning Mcqueen. For the Incredibles, it’s like you’re fighting crime with the family. For Toy Story, it’s like you’re playing with Woody and Buzz. And for Ratatouille it’s like cooking with Remy and Linguini. It’s almost as if you’re sucked up into the game.”

  • Why Instagram Might Lose Its “Instant-ness”

    Free, fun and simple – that’s what Instagram was all about. You took a photo with your mobile phone and applied some crazy effect so that your friends would never be bored with your photos again (though they might be trying to figure out what the heck it was a photo of in the first place).

    In a cash/stock deal, Facebook bought Instagram for one billion dollars and intends to integrate it into the Facebook experience. Facebook has already begun confusing members out of using the website, and I’m hoping that Instagram won’t add to the mix.

    Posting photos to Facebook has long been a standby on my web-posting decision tree. For various reasons I split them carefully between Facebook, Google+ and Picasa, Flickr, and Kodak Gallery, to name a few. Now I’m musing over what Facebook will do with my Instagram photos.

    On the privacy jitter side of the equation the possibilities are endless. Will it learn my location? Learn my likes and dislikes?  Invite me to be friends with people who take the same photos? Offer my demographic the special anti-aging filter?

    On the usability side,  it could be fun, if done correctly. Facebook already has mobile uploads of photos and videos. And despite the instruction page, they are pretty simple. What Instagram presumably adds is the notion of having a little fun with your photos prior to posting. That can either make them a lot more interesting to look at (or at lot less) depending on your tolerance for special effects. Because my Facebook wall already looks like the abominable graffiti monster took a swipe at it, I’m not looking forward to seeing Instagrams from friends on a minute by minute basis. Prove me wrong, Facebook?

    For the real pessimists amongst us, Gizmodo writes about Instagram.me, a way to get your photos off the site before they wind up in a Facebook timeline.

  • Ebooks versus Apps for Kids

    What’s the difference between a kid’s app and a kid’s ebook?   Oh, about $10.

    There are a few other differences, sure.  E-books tell more of a story and have less in-book games. Apps have more interactivity and play.  But just by calling something an ebook and not an app you can command a higher price. Call it an app and you can expect to charge anywhere from 99 cents to 3 or 4 dollars, and fall subject to all of the app store rules. Build a similar product, call it an ebook and you can get $9-$15 – very similar to what you’d pay for the hardcover printed version.

    Stranger yet, interactive books tend to be easier to produce. Much less programming and coding. Without the built in game experiences of number of interactive diversions, they require less work. It’s an irony that’s not lost on companies like Disney and Sesame Street as they plan their next title launches.

    Attending a WiCM (Women in Children’s Media) event called Turning Books into Apps, you could see the audience’s collective mouths drop open as this tidbit of information was released.

    I decided to do a little investigation.  Chomp, a children’s book by Carl Hiasen listed for $10 on the Nook, one dollar less than the hardcover book. Angry Birds Space, the bestselling app of the week on iTunes was available for 99 cents. Tangled, what Disney calls a StoryBook Deluxe, with a storyline, character voices, coloring activities and a few games sells for $6.99. Disney’s Motor City, a full fledged car racing game for kids is absolutely free.

    There are exceptions to the rule: Marvel’s iStory Books – a collection of stories for kids –  is free on Android, but while they call it a book, it’s basically a bunch of games…more like an app. Cinderella from Nosy Crow, a true interactive book experience, is priced at $9. The Lorax by Dr. Seuss from Oceanhouse Media is only $3.99 – a good value for a book. In part, it’s because Oceanhouse has created a publishing platform to turn ebooks out quickly.

    Of course part of the reason for the discrepancy in price is cultural. Our expectation is that a book is more expensive than an app.

    WORTH EVERY CENT

    And parents should take notice that ebooks can be really well done. Julie Hume’s study appeared in the School Library Journal and the results are pretty impressive. Hume, a reading specialist in Missouri, decided to set up her own experiment, comparing the results of 24 3rd-5th graders who struggled with reading. Half spent their reading enrichment time at a computer working with the Tumblebooks ebook program, the others received traditional intervention from a teacher with paper books.

    Last November, three months after starting the project, the average fluency rate for the Tumblebook group was 23 percentage points higher than that of the control group. By January, all the children in the ebook program had achieved enough fluency to be integrated back into their regular classrooms. It took the control group two months longer. (See: Are Ebooks Any Good? )

    Of course there are hybrids in the works, and you’ll start seeing more and more ebook reading. “E-enhanced” apps like The Death of Bunny Munro are offered up as examples of the future of the ebook. For $16.99  you get “the full ebook, the unabridged audiobook  synchronized to the text, read by the author with an original soundtrack by Nick Cave and Warren Ellis, and 11 videos of Cave reading from the novel.”

    Also note that e-books tend to require more storage on your device, in part because of the rich art and spoken word.

    No doubt that over time, ebooks and apps for kids will grow closer in capabilities and in price. But for the moment, publishers are pretty happy to publish an ebook title, and are still trying to figure out how to make a buck off of an app.

  • Tax Season Jitters

    There was a time when the only tax time jitter you had was getting things done in time and coughing up your dough.  Now, the problems are compounded digitally.

    Between now and April 15, approximately 155 million people are filing tax form, making identity theft  a larger concern, if only by the numbers.  Add to the recipe the fact that more and more people are filing electronically.  According to comScore, one in seven people in the U.S., ), visited online tax sites in January. While no one can say with any certainty that tax time increases the number of identities compromised, it certainly increases the possibilities.

    I spoke via email with Robert Siciliano, online security evangelist for McAfee, who cited these scams and remedies.

    Phishing scams. An unsolicited email or fake websites that poses as a legitimate site.  It will often appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).  Often they tell you that they’re missing some key pieces of information in order to process your files.

    What to Do? The IRS generally contacts people by mail and will not email or text consumers, so take care not to respond to emails or messages from the IRS. Just delete them.   If the emailers get especially adamant about needing your information like your social security number, it’s a good tip off that they’re not the IRS.

    IRS scams. Beware of scammers posing as IRS agents via phone or email. They are often prepared with a few personal details that were likely gleaned from public records.  They may offer you a tax refund, pressuring you to comply with their request.  It gives the “we’re the IRS and we’re here to help” a new level of terror.

    What do Do? Refuse to provide information.  Tell them to contact you via mail.  In January, the IRS announced the results of a massive, national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.  Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states.

    Rogue tax preparers. Sometimes the scam is physical according to the Citizens Voice. A group actually comes into town and rents and office space.  The scammers prepare a false tax return with a large refund that goes to the scam artists, not the people.

    What do Do: The takeaway here is to use a reputable firm that‘s been in your neighborhood for awhile and doesn’t make insane promises. Siciliano cautions against questionable return preparers who will skim off your refunds, charge inflated fees and make false promises.  Anyone can hang out a shingle and claim to be a credible accountant but that shouldn’t be enough to persuade you to disclose all your financial records.

    Checking licenses is always smart, he says. Each state has a division specifically for licensing. The account should be able to provide a website address and license number. Any legitimate CPA will have no problem providing this information. Avoid rogue tax preparers by finding them in reputable places (via referrals, for example) versus places like Craigslist. Don’t respond to any who have emailed you directly, and definitely don’t use one that opens shop from February to April.

    Other Tips:Have your refund directly deposited into a bank account, so you don’t have to worry about a paper check being stolen from your mailbox. It will also get you your money faster: within 10 days instead of six to eight weeks, he said. You can track your return on the IRS website.

    Read the IRS  Dirty Dozen list of the most common tax scams. http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=254383,00.html .  Also included on the list are offshore money, claiming zero wages, inflated income and others.  For the full list visit the IRS Dirty Dozen.

    Keep Your Anti Virus and Anti Phishing Software up to date.   If your PC is riddled with malicious software, you risk having their identity stolen and taxes filed by a hacker.  While McAfee  is one of these, Norton AntiVirus, Kapsersky, AVG, Trend Micro are all solid brands that can keep you out of trouble during tax season.  To read more about phishing.

     

     

    Tax Season Jitters

     

    There was a time when the only tax time jitter you had was getting things done in time and coughing up your dough.  Now, the problems are compounded digitally.

     

    Between now and April 15, approximately 155 million people are filing tax form, making identity theft  a larger concern, if only by the numbers.  Add to the recipe the fact that more and more people are filing electronically.  According to Comscore,  1 in 7 people in the U.S., according to comScore), visited online tax sites in January.   While no one can say with any certainty that tax time increases the number of identities compromised, it certainly increases the possibilities.

     

    I spoke via email with Robert Siciliano, online security evangelist for McAfee http://home.mcafee.com/store/all-access-security, who cited these scams and remedies. According to Robert.

     

    Phishing scams. An unsolicited email or fake websites that poses as a legitimate site.  It will often appears to be from either the IRS or an organization closely linked to the IRS, such as the Electronic Federal Tax Payment System (EFTPS).  Often they tell you that they’re missing some key pieces of information in order to process your files.

     

    What to Do? The IRS generally contacts people by mail and will not email or text consumers, so take care not to respond to emails or messages from the IRS. Just delete them.   If the emailers get especially adamant about needing your information like your social security number, it’s a good tip off that they’re not the IRS.

     

    IRS scams. Beware of scammers posing as IRS agents via phone or email. They are often prepared with a few personal details that were likely gleaned from public records.  They may offer you a tax refund, pressuring you to comply with their request.  It gives the “we’re the IRS and we’re here to help” a new level of terror.

    What do Do? Refuse to provide information.  Tell them to contact you via mail.  In January, the IRS announced the results of a massive, national sweep cracking down on suspected identity theft perpetrators as part of a stepped-up effort against refund fraud and identity theft.  Working with the Justice Department’s Tax Division and local U.S. Attorneys’ offices, the nationwide effort targeted 105 people in 23 states.

    Rogue tax preparers. Sometimes the scam is physical according to the Citizens voice.http://citizensvoice.com/news/with-tax-deadline-looming-irs-warns-of-scams-1.1294080#ixzz1qyfLcB9o

    A group actually comes into town and rents and office space.  The scammers prepare a false tax return with a large refund that goes to the scam artists, not the people.

     

    What do Do:

    The takeaway here is to use a reputable firm that‘s been in your neighborhood for awhile and doesn’t make insane promises. Siciliano cautions against questionable return preparers who will skim off your refunds, charge inflated fees and make false promises.  Anyone can hang out a shingle and claim to be a credible accountant but that shouldn’t be enough to persuade you to disclose all your financial records.

     

    Checking licenses is always smart, he says. Each state has a division specifically for licensing. The account should be able to provide a website address and license number. Any legitimate CPA will have no problem providing this information. Avoid rogue tax preparers by finding them in reputable places (via referrals, for example) versus places like Craigslist. Don’t respond to any who have emailed you directly, and definitely don’t use one that opens shop from February to April.

     

     

    Other Tips:

    Have your refund directly deposited into a bank account, so you don’t have to worry about a paper check being stolen from your mailbox. It will also get you your money faster: within 10 days instead of six to eight weeks, he said. You can track your return on the IRS website.

     

    Read the IRS  Dirty Dozen list of the most common tax scams. http://www.irs.gov/newsroom/article/0,,id=254383,00.html .  Also included on the list are offshore money, claiming zero wages, inflated income and others.  For the full list visit the IRS Dirty Dozen.

     

    Keep Your Anti Virus and Anti Phishing Software up to date.   If your PC is riddled with malicious software, you risk having their identity stolen and taxes filed by a hacker.  While McAfee  is one of these, Norton AntiVirus, Kapsersky, AVG, Trend Micro are all solid brands that can keep you out of trouble during tax season.  To read more about phishing http://www.phishing.org/resources/anti-phishing-software/.

     

Living in Digital Times Focuses on Technology for Life's Transitions