Technology

Coding While Female: Getting Our Girls on the Technology Bandwagon

Written on June 30, 2014 at 2:21 pm , by

You’ve probably been hearing a lot about coding in the news lately, and perhaps wondered what it is. Simply put, coding is the act of writing a program using a programming language. This is what makes it possible for us to create things like websites, apps and computer software, but I recently discovered that coding is so much more. It basically opens the gate to an array of exciting creative careers, but unfortunately, women aren’t getting as involved as we ought to be.

According to the National Science Board, women make up a mere 26% of computer science and mathematics professionals in the United States. Female participation in computer science has actually declined to 18% from its peak of 37% in the mid-1980s. This is disquieting because STEM professions (science, technology, engineering and math) are expected to grow by 17% from 2008 through 2018, compared to 9.8% for non-STEM jobs. There are some incredible opportunities out there, and women are severely underrepresented. We have to change that, starting with our daughters.

Personally, I’ve been bugging my 14-year-old for the past year. “Look at these crazy stats! Don’t you want to learn to code?” Her response: “No, Mom, it’s not me.” Argh. This conversation went on and off. I didn’t want to push her if she felt it wasn’t her passion, but I wasn’t quite convinced that she understood all that coding encompasses or all that you can do with it, because quite frankly, I didn’t either. Well, Google to the rescue.

Mindy Kaling speaks on stage at the “Google’s Made With Code” launch event to inspire girls to code.

Last Thursday we were lucky enough to attend Google’s Made w/ Code launch here in New York, and it turned out to be a game changer for both mother and daughter. Host Mindy Kaling, special guest Chelsea Clinton and an outrageously talented and diverse group of women who code made a roomful of young women understand the endless possibilities. Danielle Feinberg, director of photography for Pixar, talked about her work on Toy Story 2, Finding Nemo and Brave; Miral Kotb, creator and CEO of iLuminate, discussed marrying her two passions, tech and dance, in her choreography; and Erica Kochi, cofounder of UNICEF Innovation, shared how she helped spearhead the development of technology that does things like track the distribution of 63 million insecticide-treated mosquito nets in Africa.

It was pretty exhilarating.

These dynamic women managed to make coding not only more accessible as a concept but fun, and my daughter and I were finally able to grasp all that coding can do. Now I’m scrambling to find her a coding class (nothing like trying to make last-minute summer arrangements!), but I don’t mind because she is open to learning a whole new set of skills that could possibly guide her toward a fascinating, ever-evolving career.

Perhaps Kochi put it best: “Coding is not some random numbers running across a screen; it’s a powerful tool that you can use to build the world you want to see.” Start building, ladies.

 

 

 

 

A More Efficient Way to Study for the AP Tests

Written on May 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm , by

We are in the thick of AP testing in my house. The student—Cole—who is facing these exams is not known for his aggressive study habits. One thing I have discovered is that studying for these tests is slippery. This may be why over half the students who take them don’t get a passing grade. And these tests are expensive. Therefore, I did my part: I nagged. I shut off all the distractions I could control. As the day grew nearer, I asked—with increasing desperation—if he was ready. Most of my efforts were met with an unnerving calm and the insistence, “I got it!” So when McGraw-Hill offered me a demo of its AP test prep program SCOREboard ($20 per test), I was in.

First SCOREboard offers a practice test that assesses where your knowledge stands right now. Then it prepares a customized study plan based on what you don’t know. Next it drills you, watching which answers you get right or wrong and asking how confident you are in your answers to determine whether you are guessing. Then you test again (up to four times). It keeps adapting the questions it asks so that you study only what you don’t know. Because, if you’re anything like my teen, you aren’t going to spend enough time on this and you don’t want to waste any of it. SCOREboard sets you up with a study plan that tells you—based on what you don’t know and how quickly you’re learning–how much time to spend studying before test day.

I came upon SCOREboard a bit late in the year for Cole to use it for any more than last-minute cramming. Still, it did give me another tactic to use while I was nagging. Armed with a code to try a practice test, I knocked on his door. “Are you playing video games or studying for your AP science test?” I asked. (I could see he was playing video games.) “I’m doing both,” he tried. “I’m playing video games while I study. But I’ve got it. Calm down.”

“Take this assessment test,” I responded, sending him the link from my phone. “If you do well on it. I’ll calm down and leave you alone with your video game.” That worked. He took the test, sure he’d ace it and get me to leave him alone. But when I came back to check on how it had gone, he was studying. “How’d you do?” I asked, fully aware that the only thing that would make him study was a very poor assessment. “Yeah. I’m studying,” he growled, clearly chastened by a dose of reality.

Cole took his AP test yesterday and believes he did well. Hopefully, that last-minute, targeted cramming helped. (It certainly did more good than the video game.) But we won’t know till July.

If you have a high school student, you might want to bookmark this site now so that you can get a jump on things early when the tests come around again.

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.

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.

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.

Teaching Your Teen to Drive Just Became Less Stressful

Written on March 5, 2014 at 11:43 am , by

My daughter recently got her learner’s permit. My son has been driving for about a year. That means when we go on a road trip, my husband and I can sit in the backseat, bicker, snarf down snacks (leaving Goldfish crackers all over the seat), watch movies and ask—every three minutes—“Are we there yet?” So you better believe we’re planning some road trips!

In fact, that’s my sneaky way of teaching my two teens some essential driving skills not covered in driver’s ed: budgeting, route planning and time management. And Google has stepped in to make those all easier, by completely updating the web browser planning tool Google Maps, which is now better than ever. Here’s how:

 

Is driving the best idea?

Teenagers don’t have a lot of life experience, which is why my son recently assumed the best way to go on a weekend trip with friends was by car. I spent 20 minutes calculating time, distance and cost with him before he understood that driving would be expensive and he’d spend most of the trip getting there and back. The updated Google Maps would have simplified this conversation. Ask for directions to your destination and it weighs all your options. If flying is a possibility, it will do a quick calculation—based on actual flights—and include the time and price in your directions. I would still have to calculate the cost of gas for driving, but seeing all that info spelled out quickly is an easy reality check for a teen.

 

Deciding what to do

We often spend a lot of time deciding on activities and restaurants when we get to our destination. Google Maps has stepped up to improve this conversation too. For example, if we’re planning a trip to D.C. and search for a museum, Maps quickly grasps what we’re doing and highlights all the museums in the area to help us make more informed decisions—and include the kids (who probably don’t know what the options are) in the discussion. Search for Indian restaurants and it will focus on those too.

 

Taking public transportation

When we ask for directions from, say, our hotel to the White House, Maps will display not only various driving routes but any public transit choices. Just choose the bus icon and click “List All Times and Options.” It will show you a grid of possibilities so you can see how far you’ll have to walk. This is a quick way to explain to a teenager that sneakers will be a necessity, no matter what the Pretty Little Liars are wearing.

 

What’s going on?

Want to make sure there’s a ballet or concert worth seeing while you’re in town? Locate a venue on Google Maps and click “Upcoming Events” to see what’s scheduled for the coming week. Quick and simple—so the kids stay focused on our trip planning instead of sliding headphones on and disappearing again.

 

Sharing plans

Once we come up with an itinerary, I can share it with my entire crew so they can’t claim I never tell them anything. The updated custom map section of Google Maps is super powerful. Learn how to use it by clicking “My Custom Maps” from Google Maps. Next, click “Create” and select the gear icon in the top right-hand corner. Then go to “Take a Tour” for an introduction to creating a map.

 

Map to go

After I’ve created a custom map, I only have to save it from Google Maps on the web and it will automatically be saved to my smartphone (as long as I sign in from my phone with the same Google email address I use for Google Maps online). So when we get in the car to leave, I can simply turn on Google Maps and tell it to navigate. Then my husband and I can put on headphones and watch True Detective till we arrive at our destination.

 

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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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.

Video: Mom’s Heartwarming Birthday Surprise to Son Goes Viral

Written on February 12, 2014 at 2:27 pm , by


A Michigan boy is in for a very big birthday surprise, all thanks to his mom.

When Jennifer Cunningham asked her 10-year-old son, Colin, if he wanted a birthday party, the response she got back was heartbreaking. He said no, because he had no friends to invite.

Colin has a hard time connecting with kids because of a condition similar to Asperger’s syndrome.

Jennifer decided to make a Facebook page, “Happy Birthday Colin,” with the hope that friends and family would wish Colin well on his special day. To her surprise, the page went viral and now has over a million likes and counting. Strangers from across the world are sending messages for Colin’s big day. And the best part is Colin doesn’t know about the page at all. The plan is to reveal it on his birthday, March 9.

His little sister (who is keeping the secret as well) thinks that when Colin sees the messages he will “scream his pants off.”

The web can lead to wonderful things, don’t you think?

 

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.

The Future of Technology Looks Seriously Cool

Written on January 15, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

 

I survived—once again—the International CES in Las Vegas. Amid the massive displays of curved TVs, truckloads of consumer electronics, madding crowds and cacophony, there was an amazing amount of innovation.

If you read my article “Your Future Car” in 2013, maybe you doubted that the future held cars that could drive themselves. Well, I’ve seen it. Bosch demonstrated (above) a car that could park itself  even if you step out of it, so it can fit into a small space. Delphi Automotive showed off a prototype future-vision Tesla that possessed enough sensors to drive itself  (in a future where the infrastructure exists for it) and keep an eye on the driver so it knows who’s behind the wheel. It could also display a movie on the inside of the windshield and create an immersive gaming experience in the back seat for the teens, with each back seat boasting a set of speakers that play only for the person in that seat.

My photo of the interior of the future Tesla, taken with a DSLR and sent to my phone with the Eye-Fi Mobi.

If you read my article “Your Future Home,” you might have taken those developments for science fiction too. But I walked through a house where the appliances knew I was coming, turned on the lights for me, welcomed me home with a soothing “Hello, Christina!” and readied the kitchen for dinner. In the kids’ room, the lighting, Teddy bear and music all cooperated with the alarm clock to set a mood for the kids to go to sleep or wake up. And if a young one decided to sneak a tablet under the covers to watch some silly cat videos instead of sleep, the TV in the master bedroom would tell me by flashing a warning across the screen (all of this powered by Qualcomm’s Alljoyn technology).

If you doubted my research in “Your Future Body,” this year’s CES was all about wearable computing and a future where the Internet of Things (your appliances, car, house) will know all about you because of the accessories you sport. There were so many “smart watches” (watches that convey key information from your smartphone so you only have to glance at your wrist to see who’s calling or texting) that I lost count. Activity trackers and wearable monitors were everywhere, in every shape and form. And more and more of them are getting ready to talk to your home and car.

It was a mind-blowing trip to the future, and I’ll be sharing items, services and cool ideas here as they move from prototype and proof of concept to actual products you can buy. I will say this, though: The future looks seriously cool!

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.

Social Media Sharing Can Boost Your Holiday Spirit

Written on December 18, 2013 at 12:00 pm , by

Google’s Auto Awesome tool can help you find your holiday spirit.

I’ve been so busy this holiday season that I’ve had a hard time getting into the spirit. Fortunately, sometimes it doesn’t take much to go from “Bah, humbug!” to singing Christmas carols. For me, it was a photo of a Christmas tree that did it. While I was traveling, my family trimmed our tree. I’d told them to go ahead whenever they had time, even though I wasn’t there. I didn’t think I’d mind, but when my husband sent me a text picture of the trimmed tree, the effect just wasn’t the same as sitting in front of it with a roaring fire. I fixed that quickly, though. Since I’d started using Google+ for my photos, I took advantage of a new feature in its Auto Awesome tool.

I simply uploaded the photo my husband had sent to Google+. And that’s all I did! Google’s Auto Awesome tool automatically animated the lights so they flickered and twinkled. When the work was done, I got a notification. Then I shared that animation with my family. Suddenly, I’m in the (geeky) holiday spirit!

You can also turn snaps of snowy landscapes into wintery animations by uploading them to Google+. Auto Awesome will automatically animate your photo with falling snow, let you know when it’s finished, and make the animation easy to share with friends via Google+ or email.

If you’ve ever signed on to go caroling and found yourself standing in the cold lip-synching because you can’t remember the words, Google and your phone can help with that too. Just tap the microphone on Google Search (on your iPhone or any Android phone) and say, “Let’s go caroling.” Before any of the search results, you’ll get a list of popular songs. Click the one you want to sing and your phone will play the music and show you the lyrics. All you have to do is follow along.

 

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.

 

The Essential Skill Schools Don’t Teach

Written on December 11, 2013 at 10:00 am , by

Last week I asked you to help your kids understand how much human brilliance went into creating a world where we can ask for a portable touchscreen tablet that connects to the Internet—and reasonably expect to get one—for Christmas. This week is Computer Science Education Week (CSEdWeek), so I’m asking again: Would you teach your kids to read without teaching them to write? No. But that’s what lots of people do with technology. We give kids a phone, tablet or computer and let them use it, but we never even suggest that they learn to program it.

Software coders contributed to the computer I’m writing this on, the phone I use 30 times a day, the website I just shopped on, and the economic growth of the last 50 years. I want my kids to know how to code. It’s not even that hard. And it’s certainly a necessary skill for the future. Computer programming jobs are growing at twice the national average and are among the top-paying jobs available.

I’m not alone in wanting kids to learn how to code. Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook and Twitter all agree on how important this is. But 90% of schools don’t teach it. Less than 2.4% of college students graduate with a degree in computer science, and not a single U.S. state has computer science as a graduation requirement.

Step up. Help your kids learn this essential skill. And sign a petition to get schools to teach it. Head over to Code.org, watch the video (above) and get in the game to raise awareness about the importance of putting computer science classes in schools, and to encourage 10 million students to join the “Hour of Code” campaign this week.

If you’re still shopping for holiday gifts for your kids, help them to think of themselves as creators—writers—of the future, instead of just passive consumers—readers—of its innovations. Here are some toys and games that will inspire their creativity and help them see themselves as builders of technology.

Scratch 

Bookmark this programming language and online community and help your youngster learn to program and share interactive media such as stories, games and animation with people from all over the world. It teaches kids to think creatively, work collaboratively and reason systematically. It also helps them learn to code—and code to learn.

Kerpoof

This site lets kids click and drag to create animated movies and stories. Got an iPad-toting younger child (6 to 8)? Install the mobile app.

Roominate

A dollhouse—with circuitry—that encourages girls to build structures to meet their own vision. Created by two female engineers determined to inspire a generation of girls to become engineers.

GoldieBlox

This set of building blocks appeals to a girl’s desire to tell stories as she plays. Also designed to inspire the next generation of girls to think of themselves as engineers.

Kodu Game Lab

Playing games is fun, but building them is creative. Help your kids tap into their creativity and get them excited about computer engineering with this game-design tool that lets them build their own video games in minutes. Available for PC or Xbox.

Lego Mindstorms

Take that impulse to build things with blocks into the world of robotics with the programmable robotics kit from Lego. Or install the app on that new tablet and use it to help your teen think like a programmer.

 

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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Why I Use Google+ to Capture Family Moments

Written on November 20, 2013 at 1:30 pm , by

I have been having a blast with my photos since I started using Google+ (free; apps available for Android, iOS and Web) to back them up online. I once took photos with the intention of someday finding time to edit them, turn them into little animated vignettes, create slide shows and share them with friends and family. Now I just take the photos, and the Google+ Auto Awesome feature does the rest. Even uploading my shots to Google+ happens automatically.

I discovered Auto Awesome completely by accident when I snapped a series of photos of my husband at the beach. He always makes a face (not his best face) when I point a camera at him. He wanted a new picture for his Facebook profile; I wanted one picture of him not making that face. So I took 20 photos in a row, hoping I would catch a candid expression. When I opened the Google+ app on my phone to browse through the photos, though, I discovered it had automatically made a short animation of my husband from some of the shots. The animation was terrific. It was short, but it caught the movement of his hair, the wind and the ocean, and a range of expressions that eliminated all my concerns about “that face.” It was like those animated newspaper photos in the Harry Potter movies. I sent the animation (GIF) to my husband and he loved it so much that he posted it all over his social media pages. He was impressed with my photo-editing and animating skills, and grateful that I had spent so much time on the project. I didn’t explain. I just said, “You’re welcome.”

Since then, I intentionally take a burst shot of photos or a series (I take at least five to give Auto Awesome enough to work with) whenever I’m shooting something that looks like it would make a fun animation: the cat chasing our bird, my daughter goofing around, sporting events, a car race, birds on the beach. It’s super fun. And I don’t have to do anything except check out what final result Auto Awesome has come up with.

Auto Awesome is not limited to animations. Sometimes it decides my photos would make a nice panorama, so it stitches my landscape photos together. Sometimes it takes a series of portraits and merges them into one really great shot of my subject. Sometimes it decides a series of pics would translate nicely into a photo-booth-style grid. And sometimes it just fixes the colors or lighting in my shots. I can undo any of this, of course. (It marks any photo it has retouched with a sparkly Auto Awesome icon.) But mostly I’ve been very impressed with its choices. (And I can also do editing of my own online if I get ambitious.)

Google has just launched an Auto Awesome movies app feature. (To access it, you will need the latest version—4.3—of Android.)  Choose the photos and videos you want to turn into an Auto Awesome short film, and the app does the rest. It’s a great way to share a happy moment—like this man did of the day he became a dad—or a holiday get-together with friends and family.

 

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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