Saturday, October 1, 2016

Be sure to ensure the kids’ safety online - September 30, 2016

My brother’s granddaughter called her grandmother four times Friday after school.  When an 8-year-old can place a video call for free, cross country, from her own tablet, it struck me again just how easy kids can communicate these days.

Therein lies the great benefit, and the profound risk of online life.

The 8-year-old can communicate with friends--hopefully ones she knows in real life--but also ones she has met online.  How do you teach a child that not everyone is good, not everyone is really 8 when they say they are, and the other cautions they need to learn sooner than later?

And it is not only children who need to be taught to be safe online. We can all fall prey to bad actors online. And we need to help our senior citizens understand the dangers online as they are often the target for financial scams.

Thankfully there are some powerful resources out there to help parents, kids and seniors.

Our county schools teach from materials found at Parents should review the materials there.  There are sections for kids of various ages: teens, tweens and younger children. There are also sections for parents. Material is available as articles, presentations and videos.

The teen sections have real life stories of the consequences of being unsafe online.

Larry Magid of CBS News is the power behind  It has a contract families can agree to for safe surfing. They also have resources on how to stop cyberbullying, how to prevent sexting and how to recognize when your child is being groomed by a predator.

Cyberbullying is especially worrying. It used to be your child could only be bullied in the presence of the bully: at school.  The home was a safe place from bullying, and after school hours could be peaceful respites from bullying.

With cyber bullying, the bullying can follow the child into the home, and long into the evening.  It is best to require that electronic devices not be in the bedroom at night, so that a young person is not tempted to monitor online conversations among their group late into the night to see what people are saying about them.

For a phone or tablet, it is a simple matter to make them surrender the devices at bedtime. But what if they have a computer in their bedroom, say a desktop, that can’t be moved.  

Your wireless router should have settings to let you block particular devices during specified hours. Check with your ISP to see how to set that up.

A sister site of is This site has articles for the elderly who want to be safer online.  There is an article, noted in this week’s link post, discussing safe banking, expressing views online, and finding new friends and online romantic partners online.

These guides also have advice on creating powerful passwords.  One popular and fairly secure method is to come up with a sentence that amuses you.  For example “Great Danes are lovers not fighters and amuse me.”  

That long phrase is not the password, instead you use the first letter from each word.  So your password becomes "gdalnfaam.” 

That is a fairly strong password as it is not a word or phrase that might be deduced. Many password systems require a special character and number to be part of the password.  You could choose to replace a specific letter with a special character.  Perhaps all Ss become $. Or all As become @.  Then that password becomes “gdainf@@m”.  

You can append a number at the beginning, end or elsewhere in the password.  Maybe the person’s age or street address, something they will remember.  So your password can become a very strong “gdainf@@m900”

All the user has to retain is the sentence, the letter to replace with a symbol and the number.

Special attention should also be paid to articles on Facebook security.  How much of your private information you do not mind your friends seeing on the public portion of your profile is available online? Spend some time reading up about this and choosing your security settings carefully.  

It used to be that making our child street smart was enough before they ventured out into the world.  Today, our child needs cyber smarts before they go into the online world.  There are  many benefits of being online — school research, social life and exploring the real world virtually — and we cannot realistically ban them from online adventures. We can make it safer for all of us.

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Links for "Be sure to ensure the kids’ safety online - September 30, 2016"

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 Be sure to ensure the kids’ safety online- September 30, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, October 1, 2016 at 9 AM EST on this website

Online Safety for Seniors

Facebook security

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Aftermarket car tech can save thousands of dollars - September 23, 2016

Our recent venture into the wonderful world of car buying brought home the nicest car I’ve ever driven.  That’s saying a lot--but on the other hand my brother never has let me drive his classic roadster or Lexus --but I digress.

We ventured forth with a list of must-have and nice-to-have features.  We came home without any of the nice-to-haves.

Our list of Android Auto, heated seats and a backup camera were available but added thousands to the cost.

And in one vehicle the package with those items came only with a third row of seats--seats that only a toddler would fit in, and would take away useful storage space. 

This is my first car with Bluetooth technology. I enjoy listening to podcasts and having phone calls through the speaker system instead of my Bluetooth earpiece. Coincidentally, last week’s column was about earpieces. Tech changes fast. Seriously, an earpiece is still good if you are not the only one in the car and you want to listen to something other than what the rest have chosen. 

Thankfully, I have found ways to get my nice-to-have features at much lower cost.

Android Auto and its Apple equivalent, Apple CarPlay, are devices in some cars that bring some of the functions of your phone to the dashboard.  Usually they display map and navigation information in large, easy to see and use displays.

Likewise, they make extensive use of voice to read your text messages and permit you to send texts and place calls using voice.

Some cars were available with only one of the systems. Some cars had both.

Your smartphone, mounted in a dash mount, can do many of the features of Android Auto and CarPlay.  Apps, in their respective app stores, duplicate many of the functions.

One app I’ve used on my Android phone reads incoming text to me. When I dictate a response, it reads out loud what it thinks I said so I can know for certain before sending it.

Other apps have large buttons taking you to apps you might want while driving, like navigation and phone.

And Google announced at their developers’ conference in June that Android Auto would be a stand-alone app for Android phones.  I am hoping it is one of the announcements they will make at their event on Oct. 4.

CarPlay and Android Auto units are available, too, from well-known manufacturers like Kenwood.

My wife’s car has heated seats, and it did not take me long to understand that what I first thought was a needless luxury was a delightful feature on frigid days. They would be nice on my commute.

I have found aftermarket heated seats at Amazon. Some install right inside the seats. From the installation video I saw, I would want them professionally installed, as the seats have to be removed from the vehicle and partially disassembled. Others sit on the seat themselves. One costs just $20 per seat.

A rental car I drove recently had a backup camera, and it took only one use to convince me these were essential for safety and efficiency.  I found I was being extremely conservative in my backing, often stopping many feet from the car behind me.

I found backup cameras on the internet for as little as $30.  They usually come with their own monitors.  With the phone, the dashboard could begin to fill up on displays. I found one model that used WiFi to send an image to a phone, but it was pricey and not well reviewed. An $86 model comes with a replacement rearview mirror that has a monitor built in.  That seems to be an elegant solution to the monitor problem.

The Automatic is a useful device for $130. It plugs into the diagnostic port that is in every car made since 1995. It tells you what a lit check engine light means. In the event of a crash, it notifies a service center via its built-in cellular communications. It does not need a phone to communicate.  And the cell service is free for the first year.

Together, I could add my missing nice-to-have features and the Automatic for less than a $1,000, much less than factory installed would have cost.

Friday, September 23, 2016

Links for Aftermarket car tech can save thousands of dollars - September 23, 2016

Links for Family Tech Column newspaper readers:

Aftermarket car tech can save thousands of dollars - September 23, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, September 24, 2016 at 9 AM EST on this website

Comparison : Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Apple CarPlay

Android Auto

Freestanding  units for Apple CarPlay and Android Auto

Heated Seats at Amazon

Automatic Car Device

Heated Seats

Back Up Cameras

Drivemode App for Android

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Apple’s new phone calls for earpods - September 16, 2016

Apple’s announcement of the latest iPhone and a new Apple Watch was overshadowed by one feature of the new phone. Or rather, a feature removed from the phone.
Gone is the headphone jack.  Instead, iPhone 7 will come with earpods that connect through the phone’s lightning connector.

Removing the old connector, which provided a hole into the body of the phone, improves the water resistance of the phone. Anyone who has ever dropped a phone into the sink (or worse!)  will appreciate that feature.

What really upsets long time iPhone users though is this renders their huge collection of earbuds, headphones, remote speakers and such harder to use. Apple is including a dongle with the iPhone 7 that permits previous devices to work, but the dongle is an ugly appendage hanging off the phone, likely to break or get lost.  And replacement earbuds from Apple cost $29, the same as the old wired earbuds with the 3.5 mm plug that is now gone.  What is not certain is if third parties can produce earpods with the lightning connector as inexpensively as they did earbuds with the 3.5mm plug.

This brouhaha shows how much phones have become part of an entire ecosystem. The devices we connect to our phones are important to us and often make the phones work better.

Apple announced wireless Airpods to use with the iPhone 7.  While initially unclear about the technology they use, they use Bluetooth technology to send sound to the Airbuds and send sound from its microphone to the iPhone.

They operate for about five hours, and can be recharged inside its case even when the case is not attached to a power source. The case has its own battery in it that can charge the smaller battery in the Airbuds.

That is not a new technology. I have used the Plantronics Voyager Legend for some time. It is a larger device, that is not as discreet as the Airbuds. It too recharges in its case.  I use it primarily for listening to podcasts in the car, and also for taking phone calls.
It works with my PC too, and I’ve found myself wearing it to watch Netflix without disturbing others in the room.

The latest rage in earpieces is those that fit entirely in the ear.  There also earpieces that measure your pulse.  The Jabra Sport Pulse also does VO2 Max tracking. They describe it as “maximum rate of oxygen that your body consumes during exercise, and helps determine your endurance level.”

Earpieces are now more than simple audio accessories. They are body monitors too, measuring pulse, and perhaps in the future body temperature, blood pressure, balance and other measurements.

A podcast I was listening to the other day mentioned a phone, I do not recall which one, that has a listening test built in. Once it understands the range of your hearing, it can modify the sounds it outputs to optimize your listening.

The Millennials may never have to confront the day when they have to begin wearing hearing aids. Instead, they might simply turn on a feature in the earbuds they normally wear to amplify the sounds around them.

More and more, our phone experience is about the peripherals we use with them.  And it’s not only earbuds, but also cars. New cars almost always come with Bluetooth interfaces so you can play music from your phone through the car speakers, as well as make and receive phone calls.

With features like Siri and Google Now, phones can be commanded by voice, letting you more safely use navigation and messaging apps while driving.

My phone has an infrared controller so I can use it as a TV remote control. While most phones do not have that, a Harmony controller can sit by your TV and other devices and receive commands via WiFi from your phone to control your devices.
With home automation your phone can turn on lights, open and close blinds or your garage door, and more. With the Ring video doorbell, you can see the person at your door, and talk with them, even if you are halfway across the planet.

WiFi enabled devices let you see, hear, talk to and even play with your pet while you are away at work.

Current high-end hearing aids can interfere with your phone, letting you control the device, and also feeding phone output to the hearing aid.

If you are only using your phone for calls and texts, you are missing much of its potential.

Thursday, September 15, 2016

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Apple’s new phone calls for earpods - September 16, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, September 17, 2016 at 9 AM EST on this website

Saturday, September 10, 2016

Public libraries critical to community - September 9, 2016

Our county libraries are bragging they are Pokemon Go gyms, where players of the game can capture virtual Pokemons. 

This phone game is all the rage now with kids through adults. I know a minister who plays and is proud his church property is home to three Poke stops.

I’m happy to see the library promoting this on its website.  Staffers understand that being a Pokemon gym is a wonderful way to attract patrons who may have forgotten about the library.

Are public libraries obsolete?  It is understandable to wonder this in the world of broadband, eBooks, Netflix and are other digital media services.  The library does not seem to have the same gravitation pull it once did for many of us.

In reality, our public libraries are more important than ever.

Not everyone can afford a computer, or if they can, also afford broadband. Yet most jobs these days require you to fill out online applications.

Our public libraries and their free computers and internet access let those folks find jobs. It also gives all of us a critical backup to our home infrastructure. If our computer breaks the night before an important project is due, we can always go to the library.  In a recent column on contingency plans for when things go badly, the library was an important component.

Have you converted to ebooks?  I love having a book always with me on my phone.  While perhaps not as   tactilely satisfying as a paper book, the availability of reading material wherever I am is nice.

And while I do not mind buying an ebook I might re-read, or at least need to refer to in the future, I do balk at buying the latest best seller. I always checked out those from the library, and did not mind if I had to wait a year or two for them.  Did you know you can reserve and check out ebooks from the library as well? 

Our libraries also give us access to online tools we could subscribe to ourselves, but likely would not because the subscriptions are too expensive just for occasional use.

The latest is, which has thousands of career oriented videos.  Without the library, Lynda costs $30 a month.  Via the Prince William County library, all those video are free.  If you are looking to learn new business skills, these videos are a fantastic resource. There are videos on marketing, design, programming, writing and many other topics.  There are even certificate programs you can complete to show future employers the new skills you have acquired.

The library also has a host of online databases we can access with just our library card number. A few can only be accessed while at the library, but most can be used from home by library patrons.  Back copies of the New York Times and Washington Post are available, legal and taxation files, military and intelligence databases, and many others are readily available.

And of course you can search the library's catalog online, and reserve books.  When the book becomes available you will be notified by email so you can get it.

Your passport is your library card, available for free by visiting any library branch.

And for all this, the library still provides reading programs for kids, a voting location, a meeting hall, a casual place for tutors to meet students and meeting places for groups and clubs.  They also have classes on computers, English as a second language and other topics.

Foremost among the programs for children is the 1,000 Books before Kindergarten program. Children get positive reinforcement for every 100 books, and special awards at the completion of the 1,000.  Research has shown that early exposure to books helps prevent reading difficulties later.  Get your child’s schooling off to a good start even before they are in school.

A public library is critical component of a vibrant community.  Recently there were thoughts of outsourcing the management of the Prince William library. I am glad we had second thoughts on that. A library’s primary measure should be the value it brings to its community, not to someone’s bottom line.