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Hidden: A Mobile Wireless Speaker with a Fresh Design

They look like a collection of  tin canisters. There’s no sign of a logo anywhere on the device. Aptly named “Hidden” this speaker is one of the easiest and elegant wireless solutions we’ve seen. You simply press down and twist the cannister, the way you might open a pill box. Suddenly a delicate blue light indicates your Bluetooth connection awaits and a hidden 360 degree speaker emerges. The further you lift the cap, the more the volume increases. (It tops out at over 90dB.) It’s compact, lightweight and sounds surprisingly full and robust. 

The designers are industrial designers with an eye towards simplicity and elegance. They began their efforts on Kickstarter and quickly garnered nearly a million dollars in funds. To connect your Bluetooth device you turn the device (iPad, mobile phone) on. No complicated pairing or bizarre codes to enter. As an extra benefit there’s an AM/FM radio built in, though there is no manual station selection — it’s a seek and find. The batteries support 30 hours of streaming music. Or get creative and use it as a table top speaker with a Skype call. Price: $119. 

To see them in action watch this Vimeo clip.


Ebook or Print: What’s a Parent’s Choice?

The Joan Ganz Cooney Center studies children’s media from various vantage points. Their most recent study looked at parents’ preferences when it came to reading with their young (ages 2-6) children. What they found was a mixed bag.

While parents who read iPad books with their kids found certain features helpful, they found others distracting. They gave the thumbs up to audio features like clicking on a word and hearing it pronounced. They were less enthralled with embedded games and videos that are ubiquitous in ebooks. Parents found them distracting and a deterrent to reading with their kids.

The study also found that a parent’s enjoyment of reading on an iPad didn’t necessarily transfer to reading with their child on an iPad.  

Interestingly, the study also found reading e-books has not replaced reading print books altogether in families with iPads. The majority of parents preferred to read print books over e-books with their kids.

I’m not surprised by parents’ voting for print over e-books when reading with their children – are you? Electronics have earned their place – at least for this generation – as electronic babysitters. My hunch (and I wish the study had asked looked at this) is that for now kids enjoy ebooks more than print books when nobody is there to read with them. The iPad is still an electronic babysitter, but no replacement for a parent’s lap and a printed page.


Necomimi Perks Up Your Ears

In the “truth is stranger than fiction” category, I bumped into a Necomimi-wearing woman at an event the other night. Necomimis are “brainwave-calculating” animatronic animal ears. They sense your “mood” and flop down or perk up accordingly.

The Necomimi consists of a headband and fuzzy cat ears – like a fuzzier Catwoman. The ears are battery operated and have a servo motor inside them. Attached to the ears is a small sensor the size of a bindi that sits smack atop your eyebrow.  The sensor reacts to your expression changes and the ears react accordingly. Not exactly reading your mind (or your brainwaves) but Groucho Marx’s ears would have really done some flip flopping.

The ears react to four things: full relaxation, mild interest, peaked interested, and intense focus, based on your eyebrow movements. I wouldn’t use this as a mood detector, and certainly not a lie detector but if your Halloween costume involves a fuzzy suit and a tail, you really need these ($100).


Trend Micro Focuses on Social Networking Protection

It’s a constant game of social networking leapfrog: the good guys versus the bad guys trying to scam you into someplace you shouldn’t be, leaving you and your family’s online security at jeopardy.

Titanium, Trend Micro’s latest product, offers its usual state-of-the-art anti-virus protection, but the newest features are designed to protect the modern social networking family.

To begin with, Titanium scans messages from the big social networking sites: Facebook, Twitter, MySpace, Mixi, LinkedIn, Google+, Pinterest, and Sina Wiebo (popular in China). If you receive a message or an update with any link in it, the link is either highlighted in green which means it’s safe, or red which could be malicious. Definitely helpful for those situations where a friend’s account may have been hacked and they unknowingly send you a link that could compromise your online safety.

In addition there’s a quick assessment tool built into Titanium that looks at your Facebook profile and privacy settings and makes suggestions on how you might make those settings more safe. In addition the program protects multiple devices, includes parental controls and monitoring, manages IDs and passwords, and syncs your files, plus the standard  antivirus, antispam, antiphishing, and malicious link locking. There are four versions of Titanium for sale, and all of the aforementioned features are included with the entry-level product, but if you have a family that has multiple devices you want to look at the Maxium or Premium versions. Titanium is on sale for $67, with a free trial period included.


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 http://www.wolframalpha.com/website. 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.


MobileTrax Weighs in on Nokia’s New Lumia 920

Excerpted from Gerry Purdy’s MobileTrax column, the Nokia Lumia 920 may be just the ticket for its versatility. It incorporates speed, a back and front facing camera and an enhanced system that improves photos taken in low light conditions:

Read Gerrry’s review:

Nokia and Microsoft are continuing their close partnership. They almost come across as a joint venture equally owned by both companies. Although it was clearly a Nokia press conference in New York City, Microsoft played a major role in the announcement of the Nokia Lumia 920, the first smartphone to incorporate Windows Phone 8.

The Lumia 920 incorporates a 4.5-inch HD PureMotion display with a Qualcomm dual-core Snapdragon 1.5GHz CPU. It also includes LTE, NFC, Bluetooth 3.0 and Qi wireless charging. It includes a rear-facing 8.7MP PureView camera, plus a 2MP front-facing camera. It comes in yellow, red, white, gray and black.

The Lumia 920 looks similar to the 900, but internally, there are a number of changes including an image enhancement system called PureView that dramatically improves image capture in low light conditions as shown in the following diagram.


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.