Author Archive for: ‘robinr’

No More Eye Patches: Kids with Amblyopia Wear Cool Electronic Glasses Instead

No, they’re not for skiing, or for looking cool. Amblyz electronic glasses are the modern-day answer for all those young kids forced to wear eye patches as a treatment for amblyopia. Amblyopia, often referred to as “lazy eye”, is a neural disorder affecting three to five percent of all children. For decades, young patients have been treated by patching or penalizing one eye with chemical agents. This forces the lazy eye to work harder and ultimately becomes normally functioning.

Amblyz glasses (created by parent company Xpand, makers of all sorts of 3D glasses solutions) are made to fit kids ages 3-10 and are meant to help de-stigmatize the disease. The glasses have a built in electronic shutter that intermittently makes one eye’s lens transparent or opaque, sort of like a shade coming down over the child’s good eye. The company believes that the glasses are much more appealing to kids and eliminate the discomfort – and social unease – of wearing a patch. Top ophthalmologists and optometrist have tested the glasses in clinical studies that demonstrate comparable effectiveness to current products and superiority in esthetics and comfort.

You’ll be able to buy XPAND Amblyz glasses at select ophthalmologists and opticians beginning in December 2012. Pricing will be about $500, and includes a guarantee against breakage.

Computing My Facebook Addiction

Wolfram Alpha is a search engine unlike any other. It’s called a computational search engine which, at the end of the day, means that you’re not searching for weblinks to other sites but rather getting a data analysis from information about those sites. It’s best used for searching on things that can be measured: cancer victims in the US., how often do we have blue moons, temperature change over time.

Now Wolfram Alpha is applying those smarts to your Facebook life. Believe me, it’ll provide insights into your behavior that no shrink could gather. Stephen Wolfram, creator of Wolfram Alpha, has been at the forefront of computational analytics forever.

How to analyze yourself

It’s pretty simple. In Wolfram’s blog announcing the new service, he says:

“It’s pretty straightforward to get your personal analytics report: all you have to do is type “facebook report” into the standard Wolfram|Alpha If you’re doing this for the first time, you’ll be prompted to authenticate the Wolfram Connection app in Facebook, and then sign in to Wolfram|Alpha (yes, it’s free). And as soon as you’ve done that, Wolfram|Alpha will immediately get to work generating a personal analytics report from the data it can get about you through Facebook.” 

What I learned about myself…

A bit haltingly, I relinquished my personal data on Facebook to Wolfram to see the results:

  • Since Jan 1, 2011 I’ve posted over 1,000 times. The majority of those are status updates. Photos seem to dovetail with vacations and sadly I’ve only posted one video (note to self: get on the ball with videos).
  • I have three time batches of “TMF (Too Much Facebook) Facebook activity almost daily: early morning, coffee break at three and late evenings (next note to self: quit being a creature of habit).
  • I have 41 photo albums but only .1% of my photos are tagged. (note to self: fear of tagging? )
  • Not surprisingly my biggest fan club sharing my posts and commenting on them are members of my family (yes, cousin Bernice, that would be you).
  • Surprisingly I spend a fair amount of back and forth with friends I consider close but not that close and haven’t seen many for years (but they are clever).
  • By a slight margin my friends are men, and by a huge margin they’re married (married men?).
  • And on and on…I went through a quick love affair with Words With Friends, and an onging and dangerous love affair with Groupon. My oldest friends are pushing 90 and my youngest claim to be 15. I’m happy to report that my friends do live all over the world, but that that their political and belief systems are more like my own than different (note to self: Listen to the other side).

If you upgrade to the pro service, you get even more information and can view it interactively. The service is $4.99 a month.

For individuals this sort of Facebook tell-all is instructive to help curb addictive behaviors, get a life, sort friends from coworkers, and figure out who you waste time with most. For companies this is a great way to watch user engagement.

But just remember: Facebook is addiction enough. Don’t get addicted to checking your analytics, too.

Are China’s Grandparents a Model for the US?

A guest column from Gary Kaye, founder of In the Boombox, and frequent contributor to AARP and AARP Radio.

I just returned from a fascinating trip to China, where grandparents play a very different role than they do here in the United States.  In every Chinese city I visited, each morning you could see grandfathers and grandmothers pushing strollers through the local parks with their grandchildren.  While here in the U.S., having grandparents raising children is the exception, in China it is the norm.  There are no nannies, there is little daycare.  Most middle class families consist of two wage earning adults, and because of China’s “One Child” policy, only one youngster.  In order to allow the parents to work, it is the grandparents who take care of the children as infants, then take them to school and pick them up when they get older.  The grandparents don’t view this is as a chore, it is something they are proud to do.  It is one reason why despite China’s many problems, its family unit remains a major strength.

The arrangement takes on even more importance in China’s rural areas where 70 percent of its population lives.  Parents seeking to improve their economic condition often seek work in the cities, in many cases getting construction work in China’s exploding urban areas.  But under Chinese law, these workers do not have the same rights as citizens of those cities.  They cannot bring their children to local schools.  They cannot have their children seen by local doctors.  As a result they leave their children behind for the grandparents to care for.  The fathers will send money back home, but seldom get to see their children, in many cases traveling home only at the Lunar New Year. 

Unintended Consequences

Because of the unintended consequences of the “One Child” policy, China is becoming a rapidly aging society.  In that same two wage earner family there may be four grandparents to support as they enter old age.  According to figures from the United Nations Population Bureau, in 1980 China had roughly eight workers to support every person in retirement.  But according to projections, by 2035 that’s expected to drop to only two workers for every retired person.  Right now the retirement age is 60, though the government is actively considering plans to push that back to age 65 or 68 as a means of relieving a huge looming pension problem.  In recent years China has actually expanded its version of social security, but now funding it for a rapidly growing aging population could prove daunting.

Changing Places

Here in the United States, the economic downturn since 2008 has forced more Americans to help support their adult children.  And while we hope those same adult children will help take care of us as we age, there is no legal obligation for them to do so.  Not so in China, where they are legally obligated to take care of them.  In a worst case situation, parents have been known to sue their children for support, a measure which bring s great shame to the family.

One way China is considering easing the burden is to construct entire cities for the elderly.  The Chinese government has approached the U.S. technology firm Intel, which is spearheading major research into “Aging in Place”.  The Chinese are said to be considering as many as forty brand new cities equipped with technology to help care for an aging population.  In theory that could bring huge economies of scale to eldercare, but it also raises fears of massive warehousing.

Bringing the Lessons Home

Intel is conducting aging research in 28 countries including the U.S. and China.  It’s already deploying systems through its joint venture with General Electric, called CareInnovations, to monitor chronic populations.  Together with institutional care providers such as Humana, CareInnovations has deployed hundreds of bedside devices that allow a congestive heart failure patient to be monitored on a daily basis.  The tablet style device is equipped to do videoconferencing, so each day the patient receives a call from a caregiver who asks about their condition, then has them step on a scale and use a blood pressure cuff.  By monitoring these vital statistics the caregiver can see if the patient is within normal parameters, or if an adjustment to medication or diet might be needed.  The results so far have been promising.  Congestive heart failure patients involved in these trials have significantly lowered hospital readmissions as well as reduced morbidity.  This means both a better quality of life for the patient and a significant reduction in the costs of treatment, since a year’s worth of daily monitoring costs only a fraction of the price of a single hospitalization.

For both the aging grandparent in Guilin or Chengdu and the congestive heart failure patient in Madison, Wisconsin, the issue is the same, how to receive affordable health care at a time when their numbers are growing and the resources to take care of them are diminishing?  One of the few solutions short of warehousing and sharply rationed care is new technology that, in terms expressed by Intel, will allow us to live longer lives better.

Free a Senior From Technology Hassles Today

Technology can help seniors without driving them crazy.  You’ve just got to do a little friendly setup and send them on their way. After all, that’s part of the reason they had you in the first place.  Built in tech support.  Here are a few easy tips. 

The Cloud to the Rescue :  The Cloud may sound like some ominous weather forecast but it really means that you can access information anywhere and from any device. Because the information does not reside on a single server but rather in accessible cloud storage you can be at your folks house or across the country and still manage many of their online tasks.  Sound obtuse?  You bet, but here’s a practical example.
Le’st say your parents use Netflix. (Research shows that the 50+ demographic are still the ones most interested in getting shiny DVDs in the mail. Kids would rather stream movies via the PC.)  Well, instead of making your parents go through all the trouble of maintaining a queue, do it for them.   That’s right set up the account and load ‘em up with a list of movies. (Remember to stay away from hard to read subtitled movies and topics that may appeal to you, not them.)  Freshen the list every few weeks and your parents and have an endless source of entertainment.
Pandora for music to abide by. Why Pandora over Spotify?  I think that Pandora is a bit easier to track genres of music. Type in Frank Sinatra and you’ll get all “like sounding music”. Spotify is more driven by what your friends listen to and a bit more convoluted.  Driven by personal tastes it’s easy for you to set up a few channels (even just choose a decade of music) and I guarantee they’ll use it . According to the NPD Group study, roughly 60% of CD sales revenue comes from consumers aged 36 and older–a demographic that hasn’t quite found comfort with new-era streaming music services.
Google Chat  Sadly, Microsoft hasn’t  done much with since it purchased Skype.  PC users will find that setting up Google Talk  for voice conversations and Google Chat for video conversations is really easy and works well. And if you want the whole family to chat at once Google+Hangouts  is just as easy to install.  Yeah, there are more variations on how to do things the Google way,  than with Skype  but they all work easily. And if you’re too embarrassed to tell the old folks you don’t understand read Dan Gookin’s Dummies Book.

Smartphone Photos Unless the elders in your family are photographically inclined get them a mobile phone with a built-in camera. (A flash and autofocus and at least 5 MB of resolution will do the trick. Taking a photo is easy, but more important, sharing a photo via mobile phone tends to be easy, too. Most smartphones figure out whether you use Facebook, Twitter, Adobe, Picassa, iPhoto,  their own photo sharing galleries, automatically and will share your picture with a click.  Just get them registered for d at least 5 MB of resolution will do the trick.) Just get them registered for a service you like and go for it.

Heavy Baggage: One of the biggest problems the elderly face is shopping.  Well, not just shopping, but especially shopping for bulky items that are hard to carry.  is a one stop shop for everything from laundry detergent and paper towels, to basic foods and kitchen items. The site is well organized ( I like going room by room through my home). The savings are pretty good.  The packaging is reasonably ecological and they’ll keep a recurring list for you.  Great way to get household supplies in the house.
Encourage a sense of play. them and can According to the Mayo Clinic, seniors who engage in cognitive activities, play games or participate in crafts enjoy less decrease in memory. A turn by turn game of Words with Friends, Draw Something with a family member, or brain games like Suduko are free or inexpensive.Some games can be played alone and others with friends or pickup friends (careful of scammers).  Games based on scientific neuroscience from companies like Dakim and Posit Science cost more, but have more science theory backing them. 


Back to School for Moms and Dads

I know what you’re thinking: not another back-to-school shopping list! Moms and Dads, you’ve probably had an eyeful of what to buy for the kids this season. But this one’s for you: a few suggestions for staying cool, calm and connected during back to school season.

Cozi: Face it. School life revolves around the calendar. One of the most respected leaders in family calendaring is Think about a color-coded calendar detailing the activities of each member of your family. And because life happens when you’re not at your computer, the Cozi mobile app lets you enter appointments, to-dos and other notes from your mobile device.  There are templates to make your calendar look like you’re an event planning pro, and a to-do list that even includes a chore list for the kids. Two of my favorite back-to-school areas are the Cozi Family Dinner Club with recipe and shopping lists and the back-to-school supply list.

About One: If you’re looking to go beyond the calendar into full frontal organization, AboutOne is an interesting choice. The program helps organize everything from the kid’s health records and immunizations, to legal documents and car maintenance schedules. It’s a strong program for managing you contacts (separate groups are easy to create for the soccer team or Girl Scouts), and data is easily imported from existing contact databases. AboutOne has no calendaring feature on the web yet, but plans to work with the calendar of your choice. It does have a calendaring companion app called Family Organizer for Windows Phones. Through the app, you can enter calendar items, scan or snap photos, and enter paperwork and link it all to your AboutOne contacts. It’s an interesting hybrid solution that I expect will continue to grow more robust.

Life360: Your kids probably are heading to school with their mobile phones on their persons. And you probably have yours with you 24/7. That’s why I like It’s a mobile app that tracks your kids’ whereabouts via GPS. When you do a “check in” the app displays a map and pinpoints precisely where they are. Or, if you’d rather, you can have the kids check in when they get to a point – like school or a friend’s house. The app is free – the kids know you’re using it since you request their permission to be in your life circle.  Additional premium features like phone loss protection and the ability to locate family members who don’t own smart phones will have monthly fees attached. If your family is running all over creation, this app is truly a lifesaver.

Back it up: A little advice. All the organization tools in the world won’t help if you don’t back up your data. Whether it’s the kid’s schedules or their homework, you’re going to have deep regrets. While there are many excellent backup solutions, two to consider are a hardware based one from Western Digital called My Book Live ( $159.99 for 2 terabytes). I like it because it can be connected right to your broadband internet connection, which means anyone in the house (or even remotely) can access the files. Mobile phone users can access the device via a special app that comes with the drive.  Reviewers call it your own personal “cloud,” with no monthly fees. Other popular online backup systems include SugarSync, Carbonite and DropBox. These are all password-protected, cloud-based backup services that can be shared by the whole family. Costs vary depending on how much data you store.

Printed Copies: Whoever said the digital era would herald the end of print wasn’t paying attention. Good students and their parents will need to print things to stay organized – from schedules to draft reports. Both Epson and HP get my vehement nod this year for maximum quality at minimum price. Both the HP Photosmart 5510 e-All-in-One and the EPSON Expression Home XP-200 Small-in-One give you a printer, scanner and copier in one machine. Plus they’re both web-enabled, which means that you can print documents or photos, remotely and wirelessly, from any computer, smartphone or tablet in the house or remotely.

Team Snap: Parents of kids involved in sports should check out TeamSnap for iPad or iphone. It makes it easy to set up team rosters, newsletters, player information, schedules and get them out to the gang. Take your iPhone or iPod Touch to games and events and have on-the-go access to your team. View photos, map the directions to a game, and appoint the snack person, too.

Organization Freaks: For the organizationally insane check out this mom’s mind-blowing blog dedicated to organizing: She’s a cross between the Energizer bunny, Martha Stewart, and an obsessive compulsive, but she’s got amazing ideas to keep you organized for the school year. One good example to see if you’re up to the task? Look at her paperwork storage center project. This is a mom on organizing steroids.  

Moms on the go: You’ll want juice for your gadgets always. One that I’ve used is Voltaic’s solar backpack. Ok, it’s a little clunky, but you get to be green, charged, and able to charge your kids devices as needed, too! Not bad.

Back to School High Tech Rules: Part One – The Mobile Phone

As summer draws to a close, it’s time to think about the inevitable return to school. For today’s parents that means thinking about technology, specifically cell phones and smartphones, as much as new pencils and notebooks. Here are a few tips to get you started.

Make some rules. Many schools already have rules about mobile phone usage. The most typical scenario is that your school will allow your child to carry a mobile phone but not allow use during class. These phones, after all, can be of educational value for everything from keeping your homework assignment to getting a little extra coaching. To keep cell use in line, many schools have a policy where if you’re caught using your phone when you’re not supposed to, it’s taken away. In some cases you must pay a fine to buy it back; in other cases parents are notified, and there are all sorts of other in-between scenarios. 

Some schools have policies where students check their phones at the door and pick them up after school. This June the New York Post ran an astonishing story about a new business where trucks would station themselves outside of schools and hold the student’s phones. For a price, of course: students would pay $1 a day to store their phones either in trucks that park around the buildings or nearby stores. And according to the Post, profits for some locations were as high as $22,800 a day. 

I’ve assembled some good, basic guidelines for any parent wondering about dealing with their kid and their kid’s mobile phone during the school year:

1. Find out what your child’s school’s policy is regarding the use of mobile phones.

2. Decide whether you want to get your child a smartphone that might actualy have more educational relevance or a simple mobile phone for emergency calls and texting only.

3. If you settle on a smartphone, establish some rules for app store purchases: a budget, and what sorts of apps are OK to buy. Can they buy ringtones? Educational apps only? Will you have an app allowance? 

4. Decide on “phone off” hours. No texting, games, or other mobile diversions during dinner and after bedtime, for example, should be part of the contract.

5. We all lose our cell phones sometime, but if your child has a predilection for misplacing and breaking them, there should be some penalty to pay.

Free Classes to Help Seniors Learn Tech

I stumbled across this site the other day:  The program is sponsored by Goodwill Community Foundation International to offer learning opportunities ranging from reading to math, but the technology section is particularly good. From Facebook to Pintrest, online banking to Skype, anyone who wants to improve their technology literacy skills can benefit.

You Are Your Own Brand so for Pete’s Sake, Deal With It

I first talked to Patrick Ambrose while he was still a student at Syracuse University, working on the earliest version of BrandYourself. Ambrose and his co-creators saw first-hand how otherwise good kids were getting bad reps from silly social networking mistakes. The idea behind BrandYourself is to create a service to surface the good stuff about their online reputations but not break the bank paying some high-falutin SEO expert to do it for you.

So, how do you fix a reputation? The first is to know about it. The second is to do something about it.

Free of cost, BrandYourself lets you grade your reputation by taking a simple test. Identify yourself to the program, and it searches through Google, pulls up references to you, and asks you to identify whether the references are positive, negative, or don’t apply to you (I must admit I posed as one of my kids and checked out their online reputation, too so it’s not difficult to scam the system).

The next step costs anywhere from $2 to $10 based on your action plan. BrandYourself offers advice and tips every step of the way. You create a BrandYourself profile, submitting positive links about yourself.  The website analyzes those links and suggests things you can do to boost the good links to the top. For example, you can share the good links with friends on social networks and keep adding more links. A meter keeps you informed on your improvement.

Your BrandYourself profile (which can be linked to all your other online profiles) automatically keeps watch for your name and can optimize the search engine results.

Pretty darn impressive: it’s basically the democratization of SEO. Without having to understand any optimization techniques, you can bring out the best in your online profile. Better still, you can identify a listing that’s not yours (even if it’s a person with the same name). One of the company founders got the idea for BrandYourself after looking for jobs only to find out that he and a convicted felon shared the same name.

Now, I don’t want to oversell this. James Holmes is not going to look good on the Internet no matter what he does, but BrandYourself gives you some modicum of control of your person Internet presence. It is a problem that it’s not hard to pose as someone else and actually give their online brand a walloping – all you need is an email and some links about them.

But if you’re out there trying to make yourself look good in a world where Google searches have become routine parts of the decision-making process, it couldn’t hurt to BrandYourself.

A Few of My Favorite Tech Things blogger Jenna Burch asked me for a few of my favorite things when it came to kid’s tech toys. Jenna ran with it and produced this lovely and thoughtful article.

The Space Shuttle Enterprise and the Smart TV: Unlikely Friends

Confused about the future of the television? No more so than the people who are building it. Research states that more than half of households in North America and Western Europe will be connected to the Internet through their television sets within five years, but how they’re going to connect is anybody’s guess.

Today, the majority of people who use Internet on their TV get there through Game consoles like Kinect, Nintendo Wii and Sony Playstation. Each has their own Internet world with a variety of online services and offerings – everything from movies to games.

But forecasts are giving consoles the thumbs down as Internet TV devices. The second generation of products like Apple TV, Roku, and Boxee are tiny little inexpensive boxes that are pretty good at delivering content like movies, games, photos and more to your TV. For $99, the Apple TV lets you play anything off of your iPad, iPod Touch or iPhone but it also offers Netflix, YouTube videos, and sports stations. Boxee offers similar services for the non-Apple crowd.

Still these boxes are probably just a stepping stone to what we really want – an Internet that’s really built into your TV. There have been many failed attempts in the past, mostly because installation involved a PhD in computer science. However, that’s about to change. I had a chance to play with the crème de la crème of Internet TVs the other day at a bizarre event (“Space Fest”) that Samsung sponsored on the deck of New York’s Intrepid Air and Space Museum.

At Space Fest, designed to introduce the public to the newest exhibit at the Intrepid, Space Shuttle Enterprise, Samsung set up a tent and showcased its flagship 75-inch ES9000 LED Smart 3D TV. Seventy-five inches of flat screen ($10,000) is awesome but more awesome was the integration of a really robust Internet experience. 10K seems like a lot to play a game of Angry Birds, but the featured activity on the TV was, in fact, a special version of Angry Birds controlled by gestures as you stood in front of the TV.

The new set also comes with 3D support and four pairs of 3D glasses, as well as a built-in camera. The interface lets you use voice command, gestures, and face recognition to enable many of the features. The UI featured a number of Samsung partners all accessible via a shockingly easy-to-use menu.

The Space Fest had its share of hokey moments, like the Samsung dome that projected a facetious journey through space as navigated by booth babes in astronaut suits that told a barely coherent story about a near disaster in the control room. I snapped these photos, feeling every bit like I was on a bad Disney ride.

And in middle of the fest a totally exciting (real-life!) lightening and thunder storm shook the deck, the domes, and the journalists to the core.

Still, seeing the space shuttle was a throwback to a glorious past of space exploration, and seeing Samsung’s TV was a good glimpse into how strong a player TV manufacturers will be in this emerging world of Internet TV.


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