Category Archives: Blog

Health Tracking Apps: A Great Way to Keep Your Resolution

It’s an annual tradition to make a list of things that we will do or accomplish in the new year and then, almost as quickly as we make that list, forget about it. At the top of most peoples’ list, is getting healthy. Whether that means losing weight, eating better, exercising more, taking charge of yourself medically, or improving your mental health, there’s an app out there that can help you keep those resolutions.

Sweat It Out

Fitness apps have become a great way to inspire motivation and track progress. Apps such as FitStar Personal Trainer and FitNet are like having your own personal trainer without the added expense. For those who’d rather play video games than run laps, there are apps that can motivate you by turning every step you take into a game, like Zombies,Run!3.

Eat It Up

As the saying goes, you are what you eat. So if you’re not eating healthy foods, you’re not going to feel healthy either. Now you can keep track of what you eat, look up recipes, and make grocery lists all from the convenience of your phone or tablet. If you want to count calories with MyFitnessPal or keep track of your carb count with CarbManager, you’ll be able to find an app for your dietary needs.

Think About It

Your brain is the most powerful muscle in your body and it can benefit from a healthy workout of its own. Using an app like Lumosity can help your brain flex its intellectual strength by playing games that are designed to improve memory, cognition, and problem solving skills. If you find that your brain is working a little too hard, you can use an app like Calm to help your mind relax through guided meditations.

Track It All

What better way is there to help you stay on track than keeping track of your progress? Using an app like MapMyFitness or Argus to track your activity and nutrition can not only keep you going, it can also be used to challenge you in the future.

When it comes to health, there are many factors that come together to create a totally healthy being. Balanced physical fitness, nutrition, mental health, and emotional health are all factors in the production of a healthy lifestyle. With so much of our lives constantly available with the touch of a fingertip, our health is no exception.

Foodies Have Invaded the Web and It’s Great for Everyone

Pictures of delicious looking meals have been a staple of social media since the invention of the camera phone. One thing that everybody can agree on is that good food is something that we all want to share. Whether it’s an amazing homemade meal or fine dining at a 5-star restaurant, a good meal can be the highlight of the day.

The term Foodie is tossed around a lot these days, as food culture has become trendy. A Foodie is described in the Merriam-Webster dictionary as “a person with an avid interest in food.” They’re people who do more than eat to live, they live to eat and they love to share their passion with the world around them.

If you fit into this category, there are a host of food apps available for all your Foodie needs. Whether you’re a culinary whiz in the kitchen or you love to discover the best dining experiences eating out, there’s an app for you.

For the budding epicurean, a cookbook just might not be enough to help you complete an in-home gourmet experience. An app like Epicurious and Week Menu make cooking a memorable meal at home easier by helping you find recipes, create meal plans, and even make grocery lists. But if simply making delicious food isn’t enough for you, there are apps created specifically for sharing your food enjoyment with like-minded individuals. Cookpad and FoodGawker are basically social media for Foodies.

If you love food but don’t love making it, there are apps to help you find the best places to eat locally or abroad. Looking for the tastiest restaurants in your area and making reservations is a snap with apps like OpenTable, Veg-Out, and LocalEats. If you’re a world traveler, an app like Tastemade is a great tool to be able to find restaurants and discover the best that the culinary world has to offer.

Web Tools to Organize Your Web Tools

In a world where accessing information about any subject at any time has become as easy as tapping a screen with your finger, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with data when you don’t have an organized place to store it. When your web experience is muddled up with a lot of bookmarked articles and no discernable organizing system, it can be a bit of a headache.

Having a tool to organize and store all of you bookmarks, pictures, and notes across multiple devices can make for a much more pleasant browsing experience. Evernote is one such tool that gives users the ability to easily save any image, article, and idea whenever they want, on any platform. That saved data can then be organized and easily accessed in the future.

If you’re the type of person that doesn’t want to let a good article pass you by because you don’t have the time to read it right away, then you would benefit from a web tool that bookmarks webpages and articles so that you can access them later. Instapaper gives you the ability to save web content and read it later on any device. Historious allows its users to bookmark sites, create a personalized search engine, and even share with friends.

For those who are into journaling, creating to-do lists, or just want to organize your own thoughts and ideas, 280Daily and ThoughtBoxes are great web tools to employ. 280Daily is geared more towards journaling and allows you to describe your day in 280 characters or less. ThoughtBoxes is useful for brainstorming and organizing ideas to help keep you on track.

With so many web tools, web sites, images, and ideas being thrown at us all day long, it’s nice to have a way to organize all of it while keeping it accessible at the touch of a finger.

Social Networking Is Connecting Teachers, Students, and Parents

Used both personally and professionally throughout the day, social media has become a natural part of how society communicates. While most people may be familiar with sites like Facebook and Twitter for personal use, or LinkedIn for professional networking, and the plethora of dating sites out there, lesser known are the sites and apps that are helping today’s teachers connect across the globe.

The internet has taken notice of how many educators have taken to mainstream social media and an outcropping of teacher-specific sites have popped up in recent years. In an attempt to give K-12 educators a more tailored experience, these sites aim to provide a safe environment to connect students, parents, and other educators.

Twiducate, Edmodo, and Wikispaces Classroom are all billed as safe sites for educators who want to be able to control who is in and what is shared on their network. These sites are especially supportive for elementary school educators.

For teachers that want to keep students engaged and learning away from school, there are sites that utilize a gaming environment as a part of their social media. MinecraftEdu allows students to collaborate and problem solve while learning the teacher-customized curriculum. Geared more toward younger students, Sumdog is another site that cleverly uses gaming and social media to keep students engaged in and out of the classroom.

There are many school districts that are jumping on the social media bandwagon and setting up course management systems like Blackboard and NEO LMS. Sites like these are making it possible for schools to connect and manage their networks at a district level.

Social networking in schools creates a natural progression for educators to be able to connect with students and parents and to collaborate with other classrooms across the world. Keeping connected through mobile devices while away from the classroom is a great way to keep students engaged and learning in this ever evolving tech savvy world.

2016 Promises to Be the Year of Virtual Reality

Over the past few years, virtual reality (VR) has grown significantly, and 2016 has the potential to be the most important year by far. The dream of experiencing VR will become a real world reality for the masses. Throughout the year a number of powerful virtual reality technologies will be available to consumers, revolutionizing the way people create and view virtual worlds.

Headsets
Some heavy hitters will be throwing their long anticipated VR hats into the ring. PlayStation VR, Oculus Rift, and HTC Vive will debut in 2016, and with the release of these VR headsets becoming readily available to the public, the potential applications are endless. Vacations without the travel, emergency scenario training, healthcare, and communications are all just some of the areas that VR headsets will be utilized in.

Filmography
For the cinematic aspect of virtual reality, there will be a couple of superior camera options for filmmakers upcoming in 2016. Ozo and Immerge are both spherical video cameras built to create 360-degree videos and pictures. These immersive movies can be viewed on a wide variety of platforms and could potentially be used for communications.

Gaming
Virtual reality is exactly what gaming has been waiting for. Companies are developing games and other experiences to go along with the headsets mentioned above. Games like Job Simulator and Eagle Flight will allow players to experience gaming in an interactive way that was never before possible.

2016 is going to be the year when virtual reality will become a reality for private consumers. The world will be eagerly waiting and watching to see what happens in the VR world. And although not all of the ventures into virtual reality will be successful this year, the advancements will continue to grow. As technology improves so will the advancements and applications for VR.

Learning Through Gaming

The idea of using games to teach is not a new concept, but it is one that’s constantly being reinvented and reinvigorated. Since the invention of singing the ABCs, learning through play has been a valued teaching method. Although there have been many opponents to the idea of using video games as educational tools, there’s no doubting their ability to pique a child’s interest in learning.

Over the years, the video gaming industry has been making their own contributions to education. While teachers have been increasingly utilizing technology and the internet in classrooms, it is no surprise that games are increasingly being used as a teaching tool.

To be considered an effective teaching tool, video games must fit into certain criteria such as playability, scholastic capacity, and inventiveness. Using these criteria, educators are able to determine which type of games will work best to engage and educate students and on which platforms they can be utilized.

Playability
A well-designed game should be challenging without being confusing or frustrating for the player. Games created specifically for mobile devices or for certain educational websites are often categorized by age or grade level and should be easy for those ages to navigate.

Scholastic Capacity
To be considered educational, a game must actually teach students a lesson or skill that fits into the grade curriculum. Whether it be word games, math puzzles, or just learning advanced motor functions, a game is only as useful as the information that can be retained by the player.

Inventiveness
The more versatile and interesting a game is, the more likely a child will keep playing it. Games that are accessible through multiple platforms and that use multiple methods of play have been found to be more beneficial in helping students retain new information and are successful in creating repeat players.

The rise in popularity of Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) programs in schools creates an overwhelming number of options to choose from. Many schools are utilizing educational sites like Starfall or are creating their own websites and apps for their students, parents, and teachers to stay connected and learn through play together.

YouTube Kids App Launched in the United Kingdom

People enjoy watching YouTube videos. Many use the service to relax or focus on light, amusing topics after a difficult day at work or school. However, some parents are concerned that YouTube isn’t child-friendly enough. Even sitting down to watch an old-school Sesame Street episode with your child can be off-putting, since many of the comments come from nostalgic adults who complain about new television shows or formats while watching their old favorites. Their comments contain everything from heavy cursing to sexual innuendo.

Is there anything safer for children to watch on the computer? For parents in the United Kingdom and all of Ireland, the answer recently became “yes.” The UK launched the child-friendly YouTube Kids channel after its success in the United States. More than 10 million American parents have downloaded the app, and parents in the UK are soon to follow.

YouTube Kids removes the commenting and uploading features. This keeps your kids from reading or responding to inappropriate comments or inadvertently seeing something inappropriate while watching videos with their parents. It also keeps kids safer online, because they can’t upload video of themselves, accidentally give out private information, or leave their computers vulnerable to viruses.

For parents concerned about too much screen time, YouTube Kids has a built-in timer that parents can set before children use the app. Additionally, the app blocks search terms such as “sex,” decreasing the likelihood of accidental exposure to pornography and other inappropriate content.

The UK version of YouTube Kids features family-friendly programming such as The Magic Roundabout, Morph, and Wallace and Grommit.

Parents are also concerned about the number of ads that run between the shows and what those ads may contain. YouTube representatives reassure parents that all ads are clearly labeled and contain intros. They are allowed on the channel only after a rigorous review process.

IBM and CMU Develop Navigation App for Blind Persons

Living with a physical disability presents many challenges, not the least of which is navigating one’s environment. Getting around can be particularly difficult for blind people, since layouts and obstacles often change suddenly, with and without their knowledge. With this in mind, IBM and Carnegie Mellon University (CMU) have developed an assistive technology application for navigation.

The app, called NavCog, draws on existing skills blind people use to navigate. It uses existing sensors in the environment to create vibrations a blind person can follow through his or her smartphone. These sensors are often built into the smartphones; others are Bluetooth beacons located on walkways and in other high-traffic areas. Signals from these beacons are converted into vibrations that are “whispered” into the user’s ear through earbuds, warning him or her of obstacles.

NavCog is available through IBM’s cloud-based Bluemix application. In addition to its vibration technology, NavCog contains a map editing tool and localization algorithms. These algorithms help blind people determine where they are in real time and in which direction they are facing. This increases the person’s independence and decreases the likelihood of getting lost or injured, especially in large areas such as college campuses.

One does not need to be legally blind to benefit from NavCog. A person with low vision or perceptual issues could use NavCog’s 3-D modeling tool, which uses the person’s smartphone to convert the surrounding environment into 3-D images. These images let the person see everything around him or her at once so the safest routes through indoor or outdoor areas can be planned.

Combining multiple assistive technologies into one app like NavCog is known as “cognitive assistance,” which augments missing or weakened abilities. Currently, cognitive assistance focuses on helping the blind but could expand to include other disabilities.

Science and technology experts are working on additions to cognitive assistance, such as ultrasound technology that would depict locations more accurately and facial recognition. The goal is to “open the new real-world accessibility era for the blind in the near future,” said Martial Hebert, director of Carnegie Mellon’s Robotics Institute.

The Dangers of Facilitated Communication

Disabilities come in all shapes and sizes. Some prevent those living with them from speaking, making communication difficult, although assistive technology has made great strides in helping nonverbal people communicate. For example, text-to-voice programs, including handheld speaking devices, are available. However, a harmful form of assistive technology still exists – facilitated communication.

Slate writer David Auerbach calls facilitated communication, or FC, “a cult that won’t die.” He says FC produces a “Ouija board effect” on the people with disabilities it claims to help. These words may seem harsh, but various cases have shown FC can be harmful, even fatal.

Facilitated communication does not allow the person with a disability to communicate directly. Instead, an aide, caregiver, or other person guides the disabled person’s hand on a keyboard, so that the person can indirectly type out desired messages.

Aides and caregivers have been accused of using FC to make disabled people behave in ways that are advantageous to them. For example, Professor Anna Stubblefield was accused of sexually assaulting D.J., a 33-year-old man with cerebral palsy, after D.J. allegedly asked for relations while she guided his hand on a keyboard. Stubblefield was convicted and faces 10 to 40 years in prison.

Some caregivers claiming to teach communication through FC have been convicted of other crimes. In 2014, pharmaceutical executive Gigi Jordan was convicted of first-degree manslaughter. Jordan said that her 8-year-old son, who had autism and was nonverbal, typed, “I need a lot of drugs to die peacefully … I wish u do it soon” through FC.

Many people believe facilitated communication was completely debunked in the 1990s, and members of the medical community have repeatedly rejected it as a communication tool. Yet, family members and caregivers continue to use it, out of hope that their loved ones will communicate in some way.

Schools, service boards, and communication task forces are stacked with FC supporters, and countless victims of FC continue to be ignored or under-represented. Caregivers, family members, and teachers are urged to find alternatives that truly give disabled persons a voice.

ISIS Has a New Favorite App

After the devastating attacks on Paris that left at least 129 innocent people dead, terror group ISIS is more in the spotlight than ever. People are anxious to know what the group is planning next. A new secret message application may hold a key clue.

The application, called Telegram, has been moved to the so-called Dark Web (visible websites that hide their Internet Protocol addresses). ISIS uses Telegram to make text messages invisible to government agencies. The group’s leaders encourage their followers to download and use the app. An unknown number of jihadists are using Telegram, as are drug dealers and other gangsters. However, what makes ISIS’ use of Telegram so insidious is that respectable, everyday citizens access and use it as well. In fact, Telegram users send over a billion messages per day.

After ISIS used Telegram to claim responsibility for the Paris attacks, CIA Director John Brennan issued a statement regarding the danger of this technology in terrorists’ hands. Without mentioning any apps by name, he said new technology is making it “exceptionally difficult, technically as well as legally” for intelligence organizations to uncover terrorist activities. Twentieth-century laws “cannot effectively deal with [the profusion of 21st-century technology],” he added.

Meanwhile, FBI Director James Comey and his supporters continue to push for more regulations regarding apps, email, and access to users’ private information. “Significant increase” in technological security has been reported, but Comey, Brennan, and other officials still worry that there are significant security gaps.

ISIS may not be tracking ordinary citizens through Telegram, but computer users are urged to stay vigilant online. Privacy settings on social networks and other apps should be set to the highest security level at all times. If you must use a credit or debit card online, especially on a social network, delete the information after use if possible. Always read and understand security terms and report cyber threats immediately.