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

Web Links for column : Apple’s new phone calls for earpods

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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.

Thursday, September 8, 2016

Links for Public Libraries Critical to Community - September 9, 2016

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Public Libraries Critical to Community - September 9, 2016

This column will appear online Saturday, September 10, 2016 at 9 AM EST on this website.

Premium Sites at PWC Library

Saturday, September 3, 2016

Pay attention to social media - a must in this presidential election- September 2, 2016

When my employer and I decided to relocate me from California to Virginia in 1999, the owner of the company said, “I wonder if you’ll become politically passionate like everyone else we’ve moved back there.”

There is something about this area that infected me. While I’m not passionate, my interest in the process has increased.

In the midst of a presidential election cycle, we all find ourselves a bit more caught up than usual. There are online tools to help us follow the elections.

More and more, Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump are conversing with voters via social media.

I have followed the tweets coming from the various candidates through the primaries and now into the general election. I use Twitter’s Tweetdeck product. It allows me to have columns of related sources together.

I created a Twitter list of candidates and another of news sources. While I don’t read all the tweets, a quick glance gives me an idea of the ongoing conversation Clinton and Trump are having with the voting public.

Recently it was discovered the Trump campaign put out some of the campaign’s tweets, while Trump did some of the tweeting himself. David Robinson, a data scientist, noted that some of the tweets came from an iPhone or Twitter’s web client, while others came from an Android.

Robinson noted that the tweets coming from the Android client seemed more “real” and more entertaining and less like what a campaign staff would put out. Soon after this report came out and about the time the Trump campaign got new leadership, the tweets stopped coming from the Android client.

Each campaign has its own Facebook pages too. Even if you have already made up your mind, it is good to follow the tweets of both campaigns and like the pages of both.


Don’t judge a friend because Facebook tells you the friend likes a candidate's page. Conscientious voters gather information on all the candidates, not just their preferred choice.

Campaigns live and die by polls. There are sites that help those of us not well versed in statistical theory understand what polls are telling us.

Nate Silver’s FiveThirtyEight has been amazingly prescient in predicting the outcome of the last three senate races and the last two residential races. His site shows the polls only results, and a poll-plus result that takes factors like economics and history into account. The site shows not only current data but past data. And the Electoral College map can zoom in to see recent polls on a state-by-state basis.

Another good analysis site comes out the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics. Larry Sabato’s Crystal Ball tracks polls and helps us to understand them.

Then there is a multitude of news sources available to us. One has to be careful to find our news from a variety of sites. While the professional news organizations – the major TV news services and leading newspapers – strive for objectivity, limiting ourselves to one or even a few can skew the balance of news we receive.

With so many news sources to choose, we have to be careful we do not construct our own echo chamber. If all you hear from your news source reinforce your already held beliefs, how do you know you are getting both sides of a story? Include news sources that challenge, maybe even enrage you on a daily basis.

New Sources

Memeorandum, a new consolidation site

Likewise, services like Google Now that watches what you read and gives you more stories like those in the future, can accidentally construct a filter bubble for you so you only see stories slanted like ones you have previously read.

A lot of things get said and reported during campaigns and good voters are skeptical of everyone’s statements. There are a lot of tools out there to help voters fact check candidates such as a Google search or Youtube videos of recent speeches. And there are fact-checking sites like, Politicafact, and others.

If you notice a trend on one of your sites constantly reporting stories debunked by the fact-checking site or continuing to report stories shown to be false, you should consider removing that news source from your regularly read news feeds.

Critical thinking is our best political tool.

In years past, the link post for this column probably has the most resources of any column in the seven-year history of Family Tech. I have included sites on polling, social media, campaign web sites, fact checking and campaign contribution tracking.

Voting competently is one of our greatest responsibilities we have as Americans. And no matter where you are on the political spectrum, we all agree this is one of the most unique presidential races in our history. Let’s watch it closely, apply critical thinking and vote Nov. 8.

Voter registration ends on Oct. 17 in Virginia.

Thursday, September 1, 2016