Family & Technology

11 Spring Cleaning Tips from the Geeks at Google

Written on May 14, 2014 at 12:00 pm , by

 

In my job, I get to ask some of the biggest geeks in the world to explain the tools and features they build into the consumer electronics we all use. This helps me stay just an inch or two ahead of my teenagers when it comes to knowing how to use a smartphone, tablet or smart TV. After speaking to someone at Google, I introduced them—and my husband—to Google Now. It was on their phones, but they didn’t know about it. Since then, that app has become part of most conversations in our house.

Example: “Do you think that actor is an actual hillbilly?” my husband asks while we are watching Justified. “No, I think he’s a good actor,” I reply. Then I ask my Android phone, which can access Google Now via voice, “Okay, Google, who plays Dewey Crow in Justified?”

The answer: Damon Herriman, an Australian. We are extra impressed with his southern accent.

Another example: “Mom! I need to go to the mall now!” my daughter announces, bursting into the room at 8:45 p.m. “Okay, Google,” I say to my phone, “what time does the mall close?” I hold the phone up to show that her timing makes this impossible. She leaves quietly. And so it goes, throughout the day. Answers, instantly. We all do it. What did we do before?

This app also knows where we are, where we tend to go, what we are planning to do next and offers helpful on-screen info at the time of day or night you most need it: weather, traffic, transit, appointments, flight and hotel details, package shipment information, news articles, TV show reminders and more. It shows places and events nearby, interesting photo spots in case you’d like to check them out, and more. You don’t need an Android phone to use it. It’s free and available on both iPhone and Android (look for the Google Search app), though not all phones let you speak your questions so easily.

In keeping with the theme of making life convenient, I also asked my geeks at Google for their best advice on uncluttering your Gmail—the buildup of inbox messages can be overwhelming. (As you can tell, I like Google products.) Here’s what they came up with:

Gmail Tips from the Geeks

1. NEVER SEND AN ACCIDENTAL EMAIL AGAIN. “Even the best of us sometimes type someone’s name wrong or forget to include an important detail in an email. Undo Send is basically an email mulligan. I set mine to 30 seconds to make sure I have plenty of time to change my mind!” —Alex Gawley, product manager on Gmail

2. MUTE GROUP EMAILS. We’ve all been on an email thread that just keeps popping up (for example, your coworker just shared photos of her new baby and everyone keeps hitting “Reply all” to say “Congrats!”). You can mute the thread by clicking the drop-down arrow at the top of the thread and selecting “Mute.” Don’t worry—muting doesn’t delete, it simply automatically archives the message for you.

3. STOP EMAILING YOURSELF TO-DO LISTS. Be honest: A lot of the emails cluttering your inbox are from yourself, with subject lines like “Remember to turn on dishwasher” and “Buy birthday card for Jackie.” Instead of adding to your unread count, create a task list that appears as a minimizable window in your inbox.  Simply click on “Mail” (right above the “Compose” button) and select “Tasks” to get started. Once you’ve created a list, you can email it by clicking the “Actions” button.   

4. SKIP YOUR INBOX. Keep your Gmail spic-and-span by setting certain emails to automatically skip your inbox and/or go directly to an appropriate folder. For example, you can set any emails from say, your alma mater, to automatically go into your “Alma Mater” folder, where you can read them when you have time. Go to “Settings,” “Filters,” “Create new filter.” After filling in your filter details, hit “Create filter with this search” and mark “Skip the inbox.”

5. MOVE YOUR CHAT BOX. Did you know you can move your chat box to the right side of your inbox? To enable right side chat, go to “Settings,” “Labs,” “Right side chat” and hit “Enable.”

6. CREATE A CALENDAR EVENT RIGHT FROM AN EMAIL. The next time someone emails you about meeting for coffee, you may notice that the day or date in the email is lightly underlined. Click it to create an event in Google Calendar with the relevant details pre-filled. It will even link back to the original email in case you need it for context later.

7. CHECK INTO YOUR FLIGHT FROM GMAIL. Instead of opening emails and digging through them for important information, use Gmail’s quick action buttons to check into your flight, rate a restaurant, go straight to a doc and more. You’ll notice an “RSVP” or “WATCH VIDEO” or “OPEN FILE” when appropriate—just click!

8. DON’T STRESS IF YOU FORGET TO SIGN OUT. While you should always sign out of your Gmail account when accessing it on a public computer, if you ever forget, Gmail has got you covered. You can click “Sign out all other sessions” to sign out anywhere else you are logged into your account.

9. DE-CLUTTER WITHOUT DELETING. “It seems like a simple thing, but a lot of people never fully embrace the power of the ‘Archive’ button. I never file away or delete anything: I just hit ‘Archive.’ If I need to look something up, Search in Gmail always gets me what I need.” —Phil Sharp, product manager on Gmail

10. UNSUBSCRIBE TO UNWANTED EMAILS. “Every time you report spam, Gmail’s spam filter adapts to your definition of unwanted mail and does a better job of catching similar types of messages in the future for you. Plus Gmail will ask you if you want it to unsubscribe you at the same time. Two birds, one stone! So put that ‘Report spam’ button to good use!” —Vijay Eranti, engineer on Gmail’s spam team

11. LOOK AT CUTENESS ALL DAY. “I use Custom Themes to set my Gmail background to a photo of my teammate’s newborn Cavalier King Charles spaniel. Every day, I get to enjoy reading, writing and checking emails while staring into adorable puppy eyes.” —Anissa Mak, product marketing for Gmail

A Little Sleep Self-Help for Your Home

Written on April 28, 2014 at 12:30 pm , by

Sleep—it’s that elusive thing all moms crave and rarely get enough of, especially with younger kids around. Most of the tips we’ve given you so far focus on the health angle—when to exercise, how to curb caffeine consumption and how to deal with a sleepless night. But when was the last time you considered what your home has to do with a good night’s sleep? Turns out there’s probably more of a connection than you think. The good news is that just a few small changes could have a big impact on the quality of your zzz’s.

Use your senses—smell, in particular.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, lavender has been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, which can make you feel extra relaxed. So try a lavender-scented candle on the nightstand before turning in, or tuck a fragrant sachet inside your pillowcase. Better yet, wash and dry your sheets, PJs and other nighttime linens in the new lightly lavender-scented Sweet Dreams collection from Tide, Bounce and Downy. If you’re sensitive to fragrance, keep it to a single dryer sheet. Even a hint of lavender could help get you into slumber mode.

 

Make the bedroom a gadget-free zone, especially at night.
Face it, with the popularity of tablets, e-readers and laptops, more work, reading and Netflix watching is done in bed these days than ever before—it’s just so comfortable and convenient. We’re not suggesting you never marathon a series or ban the Kindle from bed, but be sure to limit that activity to daytime. Dr. Ian Smith, celebrity physician and wellness expert from The Doctors, recommends turning off all devices, including your smartphone, at least 30 minutes before bedtime. If you want to read, do it the old-fashioned way, with a book. Don’t use your phone as an alarm clock, because that gives you an excuse to leave it on all night and be tempted to check it.

Keep your bedroom cool, dark and quiet.
Creating the right environment is key for falling and staying asleep. Shop for breathable sheets, PJs and other bed linens, says Kelly Ellis, director of integrated marketing at Serta International, who notes that flannel sheets, while certainly cute, are best avoided, even in winter. Dim the lights in the evening to tell your body that it’s time for sleep, and choose calming decor—think whites, blues, grays, tans and other tranquil hues.

Replace that old pillow.
Everyone seems to know that mattresses eventually need replacing, but so do pillows. According to Erik Brandt, VP of iComfort brand development at Serta International, they should be updated more frequently than mattresses for optimal comfort. (How long have you been holding on to yours?) The cooling action of the iComfort Scrunch Pillow’s memory foam particles is right on target for enhancing anyone’s sleep experience. At $79, it’s a bit of an investment, but what better to splurge on than a good night’s sleep, right?

These Kids Aren’t Spoiled: They’re Changing the World

Written on April 16, 2014 at 2:21 pm , by

I think it’s debatable whether todays’ kids are spoiled, overprotected, distracted, game-addicted or less polite than previous generations. That has not been my personal experience with the kids I know. And since the big, splashy, star-studded stage event We Day is currently touring the world, launching a year of social activism for youth called We Act, I happen to have some statistics at hand that I like—and that seem more in keeping with my experience—about today’s kids:

Through their involvement in We Act, over 2 million youngsters have gotten behind local and global causes, volunteered their time, raised money, attended camps to learn how to lead other youth to change the world, and used social media—another often-denigrated modern development—to raise awareness for causes they care about.

These kids have:

• raised $37 million for more than 1,000 local and global causes
• volunteered 9.6 million hours for local and global causes
• collected 4 million pounds of food for local food banks
• logged 7.5 million hours of silence to stand up for children in developing communities who are silenced by poverty and exploitation

It starts with the We Day event, which gets kids pumped up with the message that everyone—no matter how young—can make a difference simply by believing in a cause and doing something about it. Then the site provides schools and families with the resources they need to actually get involved in whatever social change they want to make happen. So maybe, instead of lamenting our kids’ failures (and our own parental mistakes that led there), why not watch the video (above) with them and see what happens?

If kids still doubt they can effect change, point out that We Day and We Act are part of Free the Children, which was founded in 1995 by Craig and Marc Kielburger when Craig was 12 years old. Craig rallied a handful of classmates to rescue children from child labor, and discovered that he could make a difference even though he was himself just a kid. Since then, Craig has become a social entrepreneur, a New York Times bestselling author and a syndicated columnist, and founded a youth organization that has taught 2.3 million young people that they can change the world for the better.

I’m sure there are some spoiled, overprotected kids out there. But they can change. And I can’t get behind this idea that today’s youth aren’t doing anything worthy. They seem like an impressive bunch to me.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Hit “Post”—Wait, Not So Fast!

Written on April 10, 2014 at 9:00 am , by

I remember when memories had expiration dates. What I mean is that if someone had a picture that you liked, you actually had to ask for the negative or request a copy of the photo. Occasionally, by the time you received the keepsake, you had long forgotten about the event. The good thing about formally requesting a reproduction was the implicit approval residing in the delivery of the image.

That was then. This is now. These days, a photo is taken and uploaded faster than you can say “Cheese!” A quick turnaround is wonderful for sharing a joke and capturing good times, but if you are looking for private moments, you won’t find them in this technological age. And when it comes to children—and more specifically photos of other people’s children—we’re not dealing with a laughing matter anymore.

A recent poll indicated that 57% of parents on Facebook strongly dislike having unauthorized photographs of their children posted. However, most parents feel like they don’t have control over the images. Their wishes and wants are conflicted. As a parent, if you don’t have control, who does?

Perhaps the answer is that every family needs to have a social media and sharing policy. Decide if it’s okay to have your little cherub’s face posted at any time by folks who are not part of your family’s tribe. If it is, have at it. If not, then diligently make sure that your wishes are enforced. That may result in the potentially difficult task of asking friends and family to delete unauthorized photos. By the same token, if you post a picture and are asked to remove it, please do.

In the future, schools and organizations may need to require consent for the release of photographs to protect your wishes. Until that happens, the wiser decision may be to ask, not assume, before hitting the “post” button.

Have you ever asked someone not to post (or to remove) a photo of your child from a website? If so, post a comment and tell me what happened.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

Gamer Moms

Written on April 3, 2014 at 1:35 pm , by

When I met some friends for dinner at a popular restaurant recently, waiting for a table was a given. We all happily used the time to start catching up—except for Annette, who whipped out her smartphone. Hoping to lure her into our group chatter, I teased her a little about being all work and no play. “Oh, this is play,” she said. “My mother lives by herself in Texas, so we do our best to connect every day through Words with Friends.”

Turns out, as gamers, these two are in good company. According to the Entertainment Software Association, 74% of moms play video games, usually on smartphones and mobile devices. Even more surprising: Women over age 18 represent a significantly greater portion of the game-playing population than boys age 17 or younger. (Hello, Candy Crush Saga!)

Like Annette, I enjoy playing games on my smartphone and tablet. Developers at Zynga (the California-based social game company that racked up 10 million users in six weeks when it debuted FarmVille on Facebook in 2009) say women tend to gravitate to games that suit their personality. Artistic, visually driven types tend to enjoy FarmVille 2: Country Escape (Google Play, iTunes, free for April), in which players create beautiful environments as they complete short quests. Personally, I like logic, trivia, narrative and word games that test my knowledge rather than my reflexes.

For me, a few minutes playing Mah Jong solitaire is a terrific way to recharge my weary brain. So is playing QuizUp (iTunes, free) with a stranger whose total recall of literary character names never ceases to impress me, or clashing vocabulary swords with my game-addicted teen in Wordament. And when all is said and done, let’s just say I’m not averse to passing time by tossing birds at pigs (Angry Birds; all mobile devices) or growing plants to kill the invading horde of zombies (Plants vs. Zombies; Google Play and iTunes, 99 cents).

After all, as the old saying goes, fun is where you find it. And my smartphone is always within reach.

Free SAT Prep Classes

Written on March 26, 2014 at 2:24 pm , by

My kids have frequently used the Khan Academy to improve their grades, catch up on classes and complete their homework. So the announcement (above) that this free online classroom has partnered with the College Board to make SAT prep free to everyone made me very happy.

My son has taken the SAT three times and plans to take it again. Every time he does, he plans to study. But somehow he never manages to get in enough studying before test day. Next time, he won’t be trying to drag himself through a book. And I won’t feel guilty if I can’t afford to buy him an expensive test preparation class. Because, according to David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, the Khan Academy will be the best place to prepare for this exam going forward. “To be clear,” explains Coleman in the above video, “this will be the only place in the world—and free to the world—besides on our own website, that students will be able to encounter materials for the exam that are focused on the core of the math and the literacy that matters most…There will be no other partnerships, so this will be the best there is.”

So that’s where my son will be taking practice tests, watching Sal Khan work through actual SAT questions, retaking tests, practicing with real SAT reading and writing problems provided by the College Board, and doing it all from whatever tablet, smartphone or computer he happens to be in front of. To make sure he’s on track, I can act as coach and check his progress online.

For 2016, the SAT will be completely redesigned to put the emphasis back on testing knowledge rather than mastery of test-taking tricks. The Khan Academy is working in partnership with the College Board to create study materials—available for free to everyone!—to go with the revamped SAT, too.

Free test prep for college, free college classes for all students. I love the democratic, egalitarian place the Internet is taking education. All we have to do is dial up learning instead of silly cat videos and we can change the world. It gives me hope.

 

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Broken Smartphones Are a Trend in My Household

Written on March 20, 2014 at 2:12 pm , by

 

It’s been a rough month for phones in my house. My daughter dropped hers on the floor in the locker room at school and shattered the screen. Mine took a small tumble out of my pocket, landed on an edge and suffered a crack. Both falls would have been immediately forgotten if we’d had a case on our phones. Instead, I found myself researching repairs. And while it’s not that difficult to get a phone fixed—or, in some instances, fix it yourself—it’s much easier not to break the phone in the first place.

I broke mine in the morning and got it fixed by noon at a small phone repair place that was only a few blocks away, but I spent nearly $200. (iPhones are probably cheaper to repair than my Nexus 5, since there are so many of them.) My son fixed a phone he broke by ordering a replacement kit from eBay and watching a how-to video on YouTube. Otherwise, you can usually call your phone’s manufacturer, ship it to them and have it back—good as new—two weeks later. The cost will depend on the model and the size of the screen. Newer phones are usually cheaper to fix, since replacement screens are more readily available.

For all the small drops we experienced, any case—even a cheap one—would have probably offered enough of a buffer to prevent the screen from cracking. Of course, you can also get a bit spendy and protect the phone from water, serious impact and other hazards.

Here’s a selection of cases to keep from shattering your screen—and your budget.

This simple Catch case ($35) from STM is also a wallet and offers a small amount of protection.

 

The Otterbox Commuter case ($45) also doubles as a wallet and offers lots of protection. (The video below, courtesy of Otterbox, demonstrates how cool it is!)

If you own an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy and want to express your interests, personality or fandom—or just have so much style that you can’t be limited by an off-the-rack product—check out the artist-designed cases at Redbubble.com. Warning! It’s very fun to shop there.

 

For utilitarian protection that will keep your phone out of trouble and give you the look of a pragmatic worker bee, consider this Pelican Vault ($75) case. You have to install it, but your phone will survive practically anything once you do.

If you don’t own one of the most popular phones, your search will be a bit more difficult. But until you find the perfect fit, swing by Amazon and buy a $10 case. Even a little protection is better than a shattered screen.

 

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

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Buggy Nights Is a Game (or a Movie?) That Will Have You Prancing Around the Room

Written on March 12, 2014 at 11:54 am , by

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I’ve been covering technology since before my kids were born. So my son (now 17) has seen a lot of tech in his young life: big beige computers, gaming systems that no longer exist, PDAs, laptops, smartphones, tablets and wearable technology. It’s hard to get him to marvel over innovations anymore. But the creators of Buggy Nights—an interactive video from animator and director Mark Oftedal, illustrator Jon Klassen, composer Scot Stafford and producer Karen Dufilho—got him up out of his chair, prancing around the room, making us stop what we were doing to look, and saying, “Wow! That is awesome!”

He wasn’t the only one in our house acting silly over this 3-D animated world you peer at through the screen of your smartphone. I got up to walk and spin around and “play” this animation that’s somewhere between a game and a movie and a lot like opening the secret door in the back of the wardrobe and plunging into a world of magic and whimsy. Even the people who were part of creating it are blown away by it.

“I have been working in computer animation for years,” Oscar-winning director Jan Pinkava, formerly of Pixar and now at Google’s Advanced Technology and Projects (ATAP), which created the hardware-software mashup that makes the Buggy Nights animation possible. “I was at Pixar for many years,” he says. “But I am still astonished by what’s possible in this little consumer device that’s in your pocket. One minute it’s about work, your calendar and email. And then…this world opens up in front of you. We are just scratching the surface of what is possible.”

Once you enjoy this production, what is possible is exactly what you will marvel over. I immediately started wondering what would come next. Longer films? Ways to see animations superimposed on the world I’m in?

“I feel that the technology is a bridge to a new territory,” says Pinkava. “We are hacking back the jungle, exploring a new territory of what we can do with this device. We can create this amazing interactive cinematic experience that is somewhere between a movie and a game—or a movie where you control the camera.”

Pretty amazing. It’s only on the Moto X at the moment because ATAP had to game the hardware and software together to make it all work seamlessly. But, as Pinkava says, this is just the beginning. If you have a Moto X—or know someone who does—look for Spotlight Stories in the Play Store or on the device. Buggy Nights is one of the Spotlight Stories.

 

 

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

A Crisis Line for Teens Via Text

Written on February 19, 2014 at 9:15 am , by

I have two teenagers, and I know a lot of things about these complicated young people. Here are two: They like to text so much that it’s become the best way to talk to them. And they tend to stay up late for no good reason. (I do my best to stop that, but you can’t force someone to sleep. All you can do is not provide distractions.) From those facts, I extrapolate that there will be times—probably some of them in the middle of the night—when they’ll want to send a text asking for help. I’d like to think that they would always feel comfortable sending that text to me. But I was a teenager once, so I’m pretty sure there may be things that seem too awful to those inexperienced minds to confess to Mom. That’s why I like the mission of Crisis Text Line: to provide teens with free, 24/7 emotional support and information via the medium they already use and trust, text.

The average teen sends 3,339 text messages a month (and opens every text she gets). Texting is quiet and discreet, so kids can do it even if they’re afraid of someone in the room. They can text from school, late at night, whenever and wherever they’re in need, and no one in their world has to know that their thumbs are sending out a cry for help. This makes it the perfect medium for teen crisis intervention.

But here’s the best case for why Crisis Text Line is a good idea: It didn’t come about because someone dreamed it up. It exists because teenagers asked for it.

Nancy Lublin is CEO of DoSomething.org, an organization that helps young people take action on causes they care about. That outlet discovered that the best way to get messages out to teens was via text. Lublin started the project that became Crisis Text Line because the staff at DoSomething.org started getting shocking cries for help from the teens they were communicating with. One of those texts read,

“He won’t stop raping me. He told me not to tell anyone. Are you there?”

Lublin could do little but refer that teen to a crisis center. But she decided she had to do something to create a texting help line for teens that was empowered to provide assistance.

And she did. So make sure the teens you know are aware that free help is available via text 24/7. They just text “LISTEN” TO 741-741.

A great side benefit is that this forum also provides terrific data on when, where and to whom bad things are happening. If the Crisis Text Line sees a spike in texts after specific events or at certain times of day, this tells them that schools or cities need to provide help in those places and at those times. Maybe, Lublin says, that will make it possible to stop kids from being bullied, from cutting themselves or from being raped. You can watch her explain all this herself in the video below.

 

 

 

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Safer Internet Day: Protect Your Kids Online

Written on February 12, 2014 at 3:15 pm , by

 

I worry about what my kids are up to online. I talk to them about it so often that they have started spewing back rules and advice at me every time I bring it up. This sort of sass makes me happy. They might still make mistakes, but at least it won’t be because no one told them to be careful.

Earlier this week was the first official Safer Internet Day in the U.S. Everyone from Microsoft to the Center for Missing and Exploited Children participated to get the message out to parents that we have to take Internet safety seriously. If you managed to miss it, don’t worry. It’s never too late to change a bad habit, and most of us have a few.

Do you know who can see what you post to social media? Do you have to type a pin to access your smartphone? (Oops. What happens to all that personal data if you leave the phone on the bus?) Do you have security software on your phone? On your computer? Do your kids understand how to behave safely online?

I’m sure you answered no to at least one of those questions. And you’re not alone. According to the Microsoft Computing Safety Index, only about one-third of people surveyed are practicing safe Internet habits. That is one expensive collective fail! Microsoft calculates that, globally, unsafe online behavior cost $23 billion last year. The biggest expense was recovering from a damaged professional reputation ($4.5 billion), and people are falling for phishing scams to the tune of $2.4 billion. But don’t panic. Just do something about it—right now! You’ll make the Internet more secure, not just for yourself but for everyone else who uses it.

Microsoft has launched a campaign and website to encourage people do “Do 1 Thing” to stay safer online. So do your one thing. Then go to Microsoft.com/saferonline and spread the world. We all live on the Internet, and the practices of each person affect how safe it is out there. If it was harder to steal your data, if no one overshared information, if phones were locked and not so fun to steal, criminals would have to work harder to make less money. Maybe some of them would be forced to look for honest work.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

Going to College for Free with MOOCs

Written on February 6, 2014 at 11:40 am , by

 

My son is conflicted about college: Does he want to go? If so, where? What should he study?

He knows college is a huge expense, so he wants to make a choice that’s worth the money and effort we all will have to put into it. But he doesn’t know himself well enough yet to know what he wants. So he’s paralyzed.

Fortunately, there’s an education revolution going on that means he can explore college subjects and take classes at some of the best universities in the world from some of the best professors—without paying a dime or leaving the house. That’s all thanks to MOOCs, or massive open online courses. To see them in action, just go to edX.org and browse through the class list. EdX.org is a nonprofit online initiative created by Harvard and MIT that offers courses from those two universities plus UC Berkeley and many others in biology, business, chemistry, computer science, economics, history, humanities, law, literature, math and more. See a course you like? Sign up, commit to taking the class when you have time, and learn. That’s it. Some courses let you register, prove your identity, do the work and get a certificate of completion. And some have been collected into programs, called XSeries, that provide an understanding of a topic, such as computer science, and earn you an XSeries Certificate to prove it. (They do, however, cost a bit of money.)

I met with Anant Agarwal, president and founder of edX.org, when I was at CES. “This is not meant to replace college,” he told me. An online class won’t give you shared late nights working out code, poetry readings at the local student hangout, or the immersion in college culture that becomes part of your identity. “But the education system—as it is—is broken,” he explained. “It should not break families financially to send a child to college.” MOOCs can make the education portion of higher education universally available. A kid who could never afford Harvard can still take astrophysics there. A student in a remote location with no hope of ever getting to Cambridge can learn engineering at MIT. A high school teacher can add lectures from renowned professors to her AP science class. And my son can find out—for free, while still in high school—if he wants to study engineering by auditing a class at Harvard.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

My Daughter the Photographer

Written on January 29, 2014 at 6:04 pm , by

 

My daughter is a bit of a shutterbug. When she was 8, she would grab my big, fancy (and expensive!) DSLR camera away from me and run around taking pictures with it. Despite her tendency to cover furniture and walls with sticky fingers and crayon mess at that age, she was very careful with that piece of equipment. She was also quiet and uncharacteristically focused when taking pictures. So I let her. And on her 10th birthday, I gave her that camera. In the five years since, she has surpassed my photography skills and knowledge by miles. In fact, she has surpassed the skills of most casual photographers. We frequently frame prints of her shots and hang them on the wall. She includes photography in every imagining of her future she comes up with. My husband, who disputed my insane decision to give a messy 10-year-old a $500 camera, now tips his hat at my ability to recognize passion in one so young.

I thought that camera would last her a lifetime. But the functionality of cameras has evolved. These days cameras can connect to the Internet so you can post pics directly to Facebook or Instagram the minute you take them. She wants one of those. Of course, she can take photos with her cell phone to post. But for someone who has learned to take great pictures with a real camera, that’s just not the same.

I’ve looked at some very tempting connected cameras lately. Some have onboard Wi-Fi and others are so connected that they blur the line between camera and smartphone. For example, when I was at CES I looked at the newest version of the  Samsung Galaxy Camera, a very-high-end mirrorless camera that, like a smartphone, runs the Android operating system. (I liked the previous version enough to put it in the holiday gadget guide.) Many of Sony’s wonderful interchangeable-lens NEX cameras are Wi-Fi-enabled so you can shoot awesome photos and post them directly to Instagram, Google+ or the online photo storage and sharing space of your choice. Not all of these camera are terribly expensive, considering their high-end features and interchangeable lenses for professional results. But I’ve already given my daughter a camera. And she loves that camera and knows all its quirks and features.

So instead of springing for a new camera, I gave her a connected memory card for the one she already has. The Eye-Fi Mobi ($50 for an 8 GB card) will send photos from her camera—almost as fast as she can shoot—to her smartphone or tablet as long as both are connected to Wi-Fi. From there, she can tell her phone where to post the shot, how to back it up, or what to say about each shot as she posts it to Facebook or Instagram.

Some manufacturers engineer their cameras to work seamlessly with the Eye-Fi in order to bill them as connected. But the camera you already own and adore might be compatible with the Eye-Fi too. There’s a full list of cameras that work with the Eye-Fi Mobi card here.

Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.

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