When 7-Eleven starts selling drones, you know it’s a hot holiday gift and perhaps you received one this year.
I do not have a drone, but I was listening to a podcast recently from a drone owner. One thing he strongly recommends is not to try learning to fly one outside, certainly not an expensive one. You will inevitably crash any drone you have.
You might be better off setting the expensive one aside for the time being and finding an inexpensive one in an after-Christmas sale or online for under $30.
Learn to fly that drone safely before trying to fly your more expensive one.
And, at first, fly both kinds inside as you learn how to maneuver them. If it gets away from you, it cannot go far and won’t end up in a pond. Air currents wreak havoc with flying these lightweight aircraft so learning in a benign environment is a better idea.
The Federal Aviation Administration recently decided to require many drones to be registered. Drones weighing more than .55 pounds must be registered. It can be done online and only costs $5. If you do it by Jan. 20, the registration fee is waived.
The FAA will assign a number that you must put on your drone.
Be aware, when you fly a drone, you are a pilot and there are rules that must be followed and consequences if you fail to follow them, especially around here with federal sites and other no-fly areas. Check out this week’s link post at www.FamilyTechOnline.com for some information from the FAA.
Also, since it’s the holidays, you likely have some new devices around. There’s a few things I always do when I receive some new gadget that makes my life easier down the road.
Take a moment to read the manual before you play with it. Then, once you’ve played with it and are ready to put it aside for a moment, take a photo of its label; the one with the model number and serial number.
Next, go online and search for a PDF of the manual that came with the device. Some items no longer come with a manual and the purchaser is directed to find it online.
If you didn’t receive a manual with the item, download it and store it and the photo you took in a folder, or better yet, in Evernote.
You may set the device aside for a while before you actively start using it. Take a few minutes and run through the operation of the device. Do it a couple times so its operation approaches second nature. That way you can operate it safely and well in a stressful moment. For example, if it is a new camera, you want to be able to just whip it out and grab a quick shot before the moment is gone. If you’ve learned the camera well beforehand you’ll be able to do so.
And finally, after you have used it for a while, sit down with it and the manual again. The manual will make more sense to you now. You will realize you failed to notice some features and you will get more use of your item.
With you and everyone around you taking photos this holiday, several people will ask you to email them the photos you’ve taken, and you in turn will ask them to do the same. Rarely does this actually happen.
Just in time for the holidays, Google added Shared Folders to Google Photos. Now you can move photos you want to share with others to a shared folder. Better yet, they can move photos they’ve taken to that folder and then everyone with access to the folder see all the same photos.
If you have the Google Photo app on your Android or iPhone, your photos automatically get uploaded to Google Photos and then you just simply move them to the shared folder.
More information is on the link post including a short video from Google explaining how it works.
Are you are going away for the holidays and do you plan to share your adventures via social media? There is a group who will pay rapt attention – and most importantly – when you will be home.
I’ve always found it unsettling how much information about being away from home some share online. Recently, a young couple we know avidly documenting their cruise.
Another friend, who travels frequently on business, uses Tripit to manage his various itineraries. Tripit will share your travels to Facebook, if you choose. I always know when he is leaving, and I am alerted when he’s on his way home. I worry about the wife and teenage daughters when he leaves at home.
A recent Facebook post from county police confirmed the danger of sharing your travel information online. It points out posts mentioning travel or showing check-ins at airports or airline lounges can indicate travel – to bad guys.
And social media sites like to post your location, as given away by the GPS in your phone. While it is an option, many people may not know it is on or have forgotten they left it on. The bad guys will see you are not at home and know precisely where you are. From that, they can easily deduce the soonest you will be home and the amount of time they have to gain access to your home.
This puts your belongings in danger as well as anyone still in your home, should burglars break in, expecting the home to be empty.
Your phone also records the location photos are taken directly into the photo. Facebook and Twitter do strip that data out of photos before it posts them. But if you send someone a photo, or share it on a photo site like Flickr, if will have that data embedded in the photo. That data is easily retrievable with free apps or displayed right along with the photo on a photo website.
Even if you are careful to block location data, the photo of you standing in front of the Eiffel Tower, or Niagara Falls is a dead giveaway to your location.
Thieves are adept at searching Facebook looking for public posts you might have made showing you are away. Are the posts you make for just your friends or are they visible to the public? You may think it is to friends, but Facebook's settings are byzantine and easy to get wrong. You may not know who is seeing your posts.
A common setting is to allow not only your friends to see your posts, but also the friend of friends. Who knows what some of your friends’ friends are about?
Even leaving the house for a few hours can make you vulnerable. Ever note in Facebook you’re watching a film at a theater, or brag you are at a concert, or a NASCAR race?
So what can you do?
Don’t post while away from home. Wait until you are home to post photos or even mention you’ve been away. That lets you choose the best photos and make a cohesive story from the many photos you have taken. If you store your photos at Google Photos, its assistant will even produce a photo story for you a day or two after you are back.
And avoid posts before you go saying you’ll be gone and off social media for a while.
You can also change your Facebook settings so only friends see your posts and not friends of friends. As I said before, Facebook settings are tricky and it is easy to make an error. And, Facebook is but one social service you may be using.
Finally, to judge how widely your posts are getting out there, reverse stalk yourself.
That is, use an Incognito Tab on your browser and Google your name, your name and employer, your name and city etc., to see what others can find out about you.
The Incognito Tab does not send cookies to Facebook and others telling them who you are, so it makes for a search as someone else would see it.
Safe travels – and hopefully a happy return to a secure home.
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It is available before in the December 18th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, December 17th in the afternoon. There are no links specific for this week's column.
I realize I am a bit old to be writing to you but I thought perhaps you would like a few suggestions on what to give self-professed geeks like me. Apparently, we are not easy to shop for.
Not everything we covet is expensive. For example, Google Cardboards begin at $5. They are cardboard headsets – much like the old View Masters – that hold your phone. It lets you watch 360-degree videos. Youtube even has a special section for the videos so they are easy to find. Cardboard lets you experience something close to Virtual Reality for just a few dollars if you already have a smartphone.
Where it can get expensive is if you want to begin making your own videos or have 360-degree photos. Ricoh makes the Theta S, a small camera that does just that. It cost about $350.
If your records show anyone coming close to being naughty for cursing about the phone battery giving out too soon, you may want to consider giving them a spare battery and charger for their Android phone, if it has a removable battery.
For iPhones and those Android phones without removable batteries, consider a portable battery charger. The checkout lines at pharmacies have little ones for $20, but they only charge the phone once before they have to be charged. Bigger – 15,000 to 20,000 mah – ones can be had for $30-$40. They can charge a phone six times or so before needing recharged themselves.
Amazon makes a clever little device, the Echo, which brings Star Trek-like conversations to our lives.
These $149 devices sit in your home and listen for you to say “Hey Alexa.”
“Hey Alexa, set a timer for 10 minutes.” Or you can ask it about the weather, to read you the news, to reorder paper plates from Amazon or a host of things. I’ve used one and it works really well. Home chefs love it for the timer aspect, as you can have it set multiple timers all by the command of your voice.
If you have an automatic automobile diagnostic device, it can interface with the Echo. You can say “Hey Alexa, how much gas is in my car?” and the Echo device will tell you.
The automatic and devices of its ilk work with most cars since ‘96 models, talk to an app on your phone and tell you the reasons behind your check-engine light, tell you the mileage you are getting, how fast you’ve gone as well as other useful data about your driving. Teen drivers beware. You do not have to have an Echo to take advantage of it.
Amazon also has a $50 7-inch tablet this Christmas. It’s no iPad or high-end Android tablet, but it is good enough for reading books, watching movies, Facebooking and playing games. And at that price, it is something you could give your kids with less fear should they lose or destroy it.
It doesn’t come with Google Apps or Google Play store, but if you search the web, you will find ways to load those on this tablet.
I know drones are an invasion of privacy and dangerous if they drop out of the sky or interfere with an airplane, but dang, they look like a lot of fun.
I do not know much about them, but I’d want one with a camera. There are ones for thousands of dollars, but there are cheaper ones for about $60. Maybe as a gift, you should give ones without a camera that cost less than $50. These are good to learn to fly without risking big bucks for when you inevitably crash.
Of course, schlepping around these cameras, extra batteries and tablets can get tiresome. Consider gifting a small shoulder bag for men. My wife calls them a “murse” – man purse – but I‘d rather carry a “murse” then have a dead phone.
Keeping a multitude of cables and small do-dads in the bag is a challenge. Grid-It organizers help. They are small boards with elastic straps on them. I have had a small 5x7 inch one for a while now.
The biggest problem I have in normal use is that items work their way out from under the elastic and drop free in the bag. That’s a hassle. Grid-It now has Grid-It Wrap cases. They are Grid-It boards inside a cover. The covers often hold a tablet too. It should keep items together, and organized.
We are awash in photos. Once, families took a roll of 12 pictures on a week-long vacation. Today, some people take 12 photos before breakfast – mostly selfies and shots of their breakfast.
Yet, our children may have fewer pictures of us and their own childhoods then we do of our own parents and our childhoods.
The digital cameras in our phones are always with us. With no cost for film and the delay of processing, we are able to take multitudes of photos. Burst mode in many camera apps let us take a dozen photos of one single shot to get the one with the best look on the subject’s face or the right moment in an action shot.
We send the photos to Facebook to share with friends. The rest reside on our phone, until we replace the phone.
Perhaps you use an app such as Google Photos, Amazon, Facebook or others to back-up your photos to the cloud.
So how can I say few photographs will be available for the next generation to view?
The sheer number of photos will be daunting. Imagine pulling up a loved ones photos and scrolling through the first hundred, and you’re still looking at the same vacation trip. That would get old fast.
That is even supposing the photos will even survive.
Who knows if Facebook or Google will even exist in 30 years. Internet companies rise fast – Facebook would still be in elementary school if it were a kid – and fall even faster.
Even juggernauts such as Google – only 17 years old – might have a change of ownership or control and decides to get out of the photo storage business.
And, technology changes. Will the formats we store photos in, such as JPEG or .jpg still be readable by computers in 30 years?
I’ve been mulling this problem for a while as have historians. Historians are fearful our generation may be recording more information than any other, yet leave less behind that historians can use in a generation or two.
Stored data will be lost due to technology failure, corporate changes and loss of support for the technology storing the data. The same is true of our photos.
I heard a tech mogul turned professional photographer speak about this problem on a recent podcast. His solution was an elegant one.
And old fashioned.
Photo prints. More than that, photo books.
He suggests that once a year, your family sits down and selects from their mass of photos, a small selection that best represents your year.
It will be hard, but who better to gauge the best photos then the ones who took them. Gather not only the photos shot by the parents, but if your kids are taking photos too on their own phones, ask them to send you ones they would like to keep. Give them a quota to force them to be selective.
Once you have the photos, maybe a hundred at most for the year, take a look around at photo book services.
Most stores with a Photo Department such as Walgreen’s, CVS, Costco, Walmart can make a photo book for you.
The professionals strongly suggested printing to acid-free paper. Acid-free paper will decay much slower than conventional paper. We are in this for the long haul; we want our great-grandchildren to have these photos. Pay a little extra to preserve these photos.
I searched online for “acid-free photo books printing” and found many sources.
Many come with apps for designing your book online. Just upload the photos, position them on the pages, add captions and hit submit.
The books come in a variety of sizes and covers. Looking forward 10 or more years, you can’t be sure the same company will be available or there will be the same cover choices. I’d keep it simple, so that if covers do change, it won’t be so glaring on the bookshelf.
And as easy as it is to make one book, you can make copies for grandparents or one for each child to take eventually with them to their own homes.
And despite what I said about long-term survivability of digital photos, I’d still make a DVD of each year’s collection of photos. They will be enjoyable for the next several years at least.
And, I’d consider taking a photo of each page, and post that to Facebook for friends to share your year-in-review. To Share this article on Facebook, Pinterest, Twitter and others, click the appropriate button below. Links for this week's column.
It is available before in the December 4th issue of Prince William Today on sale at these retailers beginning this Thursday, December 3rd in the afternoon. I searched online for “acid-free photo books printing” to find sources for photo books printed on paper expected to last the longest.
And Walgreen's, CVS, Costco, Sam's Club, Wal-Mart all offer photo books as well through their photo departments. Check their websites for details.