Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Web Secret #306: Tech Support

Note: while I mostly reference Apple products in this post, EVERYTHING I discuss is equally relevant to your Android/PC/other devices.

I get these calls from my kids: "Uh, there seems to be condensation inside my iPhone/MacBook Pro/iPad screen."

To which I respond, "Uh, did you have your device near liquids?"

Over the years they have confessed:

"The phone kind off slipped into the toilet."
"I jumped into the pool and the phone was in the pocket of my swim trunks."
"I was tanning and a wave sort of went over my iPad."
"I spilled a hot chocolate/espresso/Mocha Frappucino on my laptop."

I also get these calls:

"Uh, my phone disappeared during the Skrillex concert."
"My iPad is gone. I guess I left my dorm room unlocked."

Finally, I get these calls from my friends and family:

"Uh, my phone isn't synching."
"I can't download iTunes - it won't let me."
"My email isn't working."

This is a public service announcement:

Unless you are independently wealthy or have the tech skills of an MIT undergraduate, if you own a smartphone, laptop or tablet, you need to buy device protection insurance and pre-pay for tech support.

Yes, it's expensive. It means that iPad Air isn't $499, (like it seems when you go onto the website.) Its actually $598, because you bought Apple Cares for $99.

But here's the thing. That Apple Cares gives you the right to call Apple anytime, with any issue, and the tech on the end of the line has to hold your hand and help you fix your issue no matter how long it takes. Better yet, if your mother/daughter/friend asks you to fix her wireless printer, you don't have to. You can have her call tech support.

With respect to insurance, I promise you the first time your child informs you that their brand new iPhone 5S "got lost," and you discover that the replacement cost is over $600, you will see the light.

The good news is that you no longer have to use your carrier's insurance. There are now third party insurers like Seccuranty, SquareTrade,, and more.

You can also purchase tech support like Fixnow and iYogi.

Caveat: if you meet the criteria for an upgrade and are planning to buy the latest and greatest, you can discontinue your insurance plan. If the device breaks, you just buy a new one.

Oh, one more thing. There are now companies that will buy your old devices. They give you an estimate in a matter of seconds, they send you a box in which to pack your device, you send it in and BAM, you get money. Check out Gazelle. You'll get less than if you sold the device yourself but it's hassle free.

Just remember to scrub your device completely before sending it in.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Web Secret #305: Facebook - take three

I first introduced Facebook to my blog readers in 2009. It was sort of a "Hey, you need to pay attention to this social media channel!"

In 2013, I wrote a post about Facebook privacy issues - particularly the pitfalls of Facebook as they pertained to the mental health industry.

Now it's 2014, and I am writing about Facebook privacy AGAIN. This is because Facebook periodically changes their user interface and we have to learn how to protect our privacy all over AGAIN.

Fortunately, the New York Times published a very useful article about Facebook privacy settings a few months ago. In theory, you have a great deal of control over everything you post on the service, in practice, adjusting Facebook’s dozens of privacy controls is very annoying and confusing.

Here are the essential points:

1. YOU CHOOSE THE AUDIENCE FOR EVERY POST: Facebook has a setting on the status update box that lets you set the audience for each item posted. On the desktop version, it’s right next to the "post" button. The "Friends" setting is what you will probably use most of the time. Unfortunately, Facebook makes it easy to accidentally overshare. That’s because whatever audience you choose for a post automatically becomes the audience for all future posts until you change the setting again. So if you chose Public to share a cute photo of your new puppy, everything you post from that moment on is public. Oops.

2. BAD NEWS - PRIVACY IS CONTROLLED BY THE PERSON WHO POSTS THE ITEM: Let me repeat, the person who posts an item controls the privacy settings around it. A lot of (try most) people don’t understand the implication of this. If you post a comment or a like on a public post, it can be viewed by ANYONE, with your name attached to it. How can you tell whether someone else’s post is public? Look for the little icon next to the time the post was made. A tiny globe symbol means the post is public; the silhouettes of two people mean it’s for friends only. The bottom line: When you share content, you’re the one that determines who sees that content. When you interact with someone else’s content, they’re the ones who determines who can see that content.

3. MORE BAD NEWS - EVERYTHING YOU DO ON FACEBOOK CAN BE USED BY MARKETERS: Facebook makes money through advertising. Increasingly, that advertising is targeted based on what you say and do on Facebook. Facebook scrutinizes every like, share and data point — even things you hide on your public profile. Your birthday may be hidden, but Facebook's algorithm knows it. Sometimes your actions on Facebook, such as liking or commenting on a brand’s page or post, can even become part of an ad that is sent to your friends. "Danger, Will Robinson!"

4. WORSE NEWS - FACEBOOK CAN CHANGE ITS RULES: Facebook can and does change its privacy rules anytime they feel like it - what used to be private can suddenly becomes public. Example: the company recently made it impossible to hide your profile from searches on the service.

5. SOME GOOD NEWS - DO THIS RIGHT AWAY: If you want to undo all of your previous less than private posts, you can do so with ONE CLICK. That handy url will take you to a page that says: "Limit The Audience for Old Posts on Your Timeline." If you use this tool, (ALL) the content on your timeline you previously (unwisely) shared with friends of friends or "Public" will change to "Friends." Once your there, click on "Limit Old Posts." In addition, though you can’t opt out of Facebook using your information to target ads, you can prevent your actions from being used as an endorsement in ads by going HERE, changing the box in the middle to "No one" and then hitting "Save Changes."

You've been warned.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Web Secret #304: Blurred Lines

Blurred lines.

No, I'm not talking about the Grammy nominated hit song by Robin Thicke.

I am talking about living in a time where the line between reality and science fiction is rapidly disappearing.

When I was a high school science fiction enthusiast in the seventies, there were very clear distinctions between the world I lived in and the imaginary worlds I read about, watched on TV or in the movie theaters.

In 1950, Ray Bradbury wrote "There Will Come Soft Rains," a haunting story featured in his masterwork, "The Martian Chronicles."

The reader of the story enters a vacant house where robots continue to function, even though the inhabitants are dead and gone. Breakfast is automatically made, clothes are laid out, and voice reminders of daily activities are called out. Robotic mice vacuum the home and tidy up.

When I first read the story, 20 years after it was written, none of the technology depicted even existed. But in 2014 you can program your toaster and your coffee machine to make your breakfast, be reminded of upcoming appointments by your smart phone, and have your house cleaned by a Roomba.

In an article written 50 years ago, Isaac Asimov, another science fiction giant, wrote his predictions for the world of today in "Visit to the World's Fair of 2014." Some of his accurate predictions included:
  • "By 2014, electroluminescent panels will be in common use." YES. Electroluminescent panels are the thin, bright panels used in retail displays, signs, lighting and flat panel TVs.
  • "Gadgetry will continue to relieve mankind of tedious jobs." YES.
  • "Communications will become sight-sound and you will see as well as hear the person you telephone." YES.
  • "The screen can be used not only to see the people you call but also for studying documents and photographs and reading passages from books." YES.
  • "Robots will be in existence." YES. 
IBM computers have defeated chess grand masters and Jeopardy champions.

As a human, I am beginning to feel diminished. Things are changing very quickly. You can easily see what's coming around the bend in the very near future. To me, it's a short step from 3D printing jewelry and handguns to having a home appliance that prints out my lunch.

Sometimes it feels like the only thing left to conquer is outer space. But then again, I recently heard a scientist explain that our belief that we cannot travel faster than the speed of light will eventually be shown to be as wrong as our earlier belief that we could not exceed the speed of sound, or run a sub 4 minute mile.

Fortunately, I recently learned something that made me feel a lot better.

My neurologist brother told me that he had just come across a 2005 article in "Scientific American" that discussed a study showing that "when you spot a celebrity on a magazine cover, your brain recognizes the image in an instant - an effect that seems to occur because of a single neuron."

Simply put, your brain assigns a single neuron for every person you recognize. We can afford to do this, because recent research has demonstrated that we have about 86 billion neurons. So we have plenty to spare.

Now this is where it gets amazing. In 2012, after a great deal of work, scientists were able to get 16,000 interconnected computers to recognize just one thing - a cat.

Seems that the sentient, self aware computer of science fiction is not here yet.

We can take a breather.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Web Secret #303: Quirky

This blog post can make you rich.

Intrigued? Read on.

Way back in 2010, I wrote a blog about the up coming importance of Crowd Accelerated Innovation, AKA crowdsourcing.

Simply stated, crowdsourcing is the concept that a large group of regular people can come up with very great ideas, and thanks to modern Internet technology,  rapidly impact and change the world.

Back in 2009, a 23 year old ran with that concept, and founded New York City based Quirky.

Here is Jay Leno interviewing Ben Kaufman, Quirky's CEO on the Tonight show:

Entertainment aside, there is some creative genius out there. Here is a more serious explanation:
Any of Quirky’s community members can become an inventor or person of influence by submitting ideas and helping to determine which products Quirky will design, manufacture, and sell. Inventors who submit ideas that are then created and people who contribute to those ideas share in royalties based on product sales.

The company solicits ideas for new products via and its iPhone app. Once an idea is submitted, the Quirky community vets it, praises it, critiques it, and votes for their favorites, many of which will eventually be made by the Quirky design team and sold online and in stores.

When determining which products to make, Quirky considers factors such as uniqueness, manufacturing complexity, and intellectual property rights, yet they are committed to working on ideas both big and small that make life better. Submitted ideas are voted on by the Quirky community, as well as by employees of the company at Eval, Quirky’s live webcast that is broadcast live at every Thursday evening at 7pm EST, where new inventors are crowned.
Some of Quirky's amazing products can be viewed in their shop.

Everything about Quirky is disruptive.

I love it.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Web Secret #302: 101 Gadgets That Changed The World

Popular Mechanics recently posted an article in which they listed "101 Gadgets That Changed The World," as selected by a panel of expert judges.

To make the list, a gadget had to be something you could hold in your hands, mechanical or electronic, and a mass-produced personal item. So besides the personal computer and the smartphone, what made the cut? Astoundingly, with very few exceptions, the overwhelming majority of these items were invented within the past 100 years.

Here are some of my favorites in chronological order:
  • The match: The first nonpoisonous match wasn't invented until 1910. Before that, a book of matches packed enough toxic white phosphorus to kill a person.
  • Sunglasses: Ten years after founding the Foster Grant plastic company in 1919, Sam Foster decided to focus to a new consumer product - sun-blocking eyewear. Voila! America's first mass-produced plastic lens sunglasses.
  • The blender: Who doesn't like a frozen Margarita? The blender wasn't invented until 1922, but it was Fred Waring who made the device popular by introducing the Waring Blender in 1937.
  • The zipper: The modern zipper didn't come about until the 1920s, when Goodyear put an improved version of the fastener on its Zipper galoshes.
  • The Zippo lighter: The Zippo was born in 1932. Considered indispensable, it was issued to our troops during World War II. It has become a collectible. I don't smoke and I carry one around. It makes me feel cool in a retro sort of way.
  • The sewing machine: Singer unveiled a portable version of the machine at Chicago's 1933 Century of Progress fair.
  • The ballpoint pen: The Reynolds Rocket, America's first ballpoint pen, cost $12.50 when it went on sale at Gimbels in 1945. Adjusting for inflation, that equals about $150 today.
  • The printer: Hewlett-Packard's LaserJet cost $3500 when it came out in 1984. That's $7,932.91 in today's money.
My personal favorite? The handheld GPS. Initially, GPS was the nav system for the U.S. military. The government opened up GPS for civilian use in 1983. Magellan sold the first handheld unit in 1989. Before GPS I didn't go anywhere without a map. I had 10 different road atlases in my car. Going any place new filled me with anxiety.

Now I am a fearless road warrior.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Web Secret #301: Lifehacker

In the beginning of the Internet age, a "hacker" was someone who sought to exploit the weaknesses of a computer network.

However, in time, the term "hacker" came to mean other things. I like the definition as it describes a person who combines excellence, playfulness, cleverness and exploration in performed activities.

And I like a blog called Lifehacker. Founded in 2005 by Gina Trapani, it cover a wide range of tech related topics, as well as general life tips and tricks. The Lifehacker motto is "Tips and downloads for getting things done."

It is one of those sites that you can count on to teach you something new and entertain.

Here are some typical posts: I like the concept that everyday life can be mastered.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Web Secret #300: the 6 most important blog posts

This is my 300th post since I started iWebU in 2008.

When it comes to technology, that's a very long time ago.

Consider that the iPhone was first introduced mid-2007 and the iPad made its debut in 2010.

For this august occasion, I decided to revisit the past, and select the most significant post I wrote from each of the years 2008 through 2013. I targeted posts that ended up accurately predicting the most important tech innovations of the present and near future.

2008: That was easy! Web Secret #32: Web 2.0. In that post, I introduced my audience of mental health professionals to social media. I urged them to:
  • understand the concept of web 2.0
  • be aware of the numerous web sites and internet platforms that emulate core web 2.0 principles, and their application to their work
  • potentially use some of these websites and platforms to enhance their businesses.
Now in 2014, we know that social media has had a major, disruptive impact on our work, our communication and our personal lives.

2009: Web Secret #67: Everything Is Virtual. In this post I told my audience that an increasingly sophisticated virtual world would lead to an explosion in virtual activity. I talked about the advent of 3-D TV and virtual currencies (Bitcoin anyone?) Everything I predicted has come to pass - already, for the most part, ahead of schedule.

2010: Web Secret #88: the iGeneration. In this post I talked about the Millenial Generation, who are beginning to enter the work force and their unique relationship with technology. I highlighted some of the characteristics of these young people, notably:
  • The newest generations will expect an instant response from everyone they communicate with, and won’t have the patience for anything less.
  • They will make less of a distinction between their online friends and real friends; virtually socializing might be just as fulfilling as a Friday night party.
  • They have relaxed notions about privacy. Information that Boomers and Xers kept under (literal) lock and key is freely shared on Facebook, written on Walls and everywhere else.
  • They will never be “off the grid.”
It is now 2014, and as I look around the older generations (Boomers, X, even Greatest,) we have become more like the Millenials. The technology that was important to them has become important to us. We had no choice - if we wanted to connect to them, we had to learn about Facebook, Twitter, and more. We had to learn how to text. We also enjoyed "Angry Birds." We jumped in. My 90 year old mother uses e-mail and orders her groceries online.

2011: Web Secret #141: Dunbar's Number. In 1992, long before the advent of social media, British anthropologist Robin Dunbar hypothesized that there is a cognitive limit to the number of people with whom one can maintain stable social relationships. By stable, he meant relationships in which an individual knows who each person is, and how each person relates to every other person. Though Dunbar did not assign a precise value to the number, (it lies between 100 and 230), the commonly used value is 150. So 150 is referred to as Dunbar's Number. Well surprise, surprise, on average, most people have 150 Twitter followers, 150 friends on Facebook, etc. And as it turns out, for most professionals, Dunbar's 150 strong ties will do just fine. A handful of key colleagues are usually more instrumental in getting referrals, speaking gigs, or even a new job, than hundreds of random "friends."

2012: Web Secret #196: Disruptive Technology. Simply put, we are living in an era of disruptive technology. "A disruptive technology... is an innovation that helps create a new market and value network, and eventually goes on to disrupt an existing market and value network... displacing an earlier technology." The classic example is the Ford Model T. The mass-produced automobile was a disruptive innovation, because it changed the transportation market. What's it to you? During the 20th century, the thinking was that disruptive technology would take a few years, maybe even decades to, well, disrupt. But in the 21st century, that is no longer the case. Disruptive technology can happen in a few months, sometimes even faster. As a statement about technology, in a blog written about the impact of technology, this may be the truest post I have ever written.

2013: Web Secret #274: The Power of One. Here are three important facts about the impact of technology on the world we live in:
  1. It's flat - when it comes to just about everything , the world is increasingly becoming a level playing field, where all participants have an equal opportunity.
  2. We live in different "time zones" - across our planet some of us are wearing Google Glass while others are plowing their fields with oxen.
  3. There is less than 5 degrees of separation between any two people on the planet - people can share ideas with only a few jumps to a large portion of the world’s population and with even fewer steps to the entire population of a nation.
A lone individual can have a huge impact on others.

In 2016, I will be writing my 400th post.

I'm scared and excited about what will happen between now and then.