Monthly Archives: July 2011

The Case for Home Education

Pros:

  • (relative) Freedom from regulation
  • A curriculum adapted to suit each child’s needs
  • The ability to focus on a child’s passions, keeping them focused
  • Focus improved by lack of distractions
  • The ability to impart knowledge outside of “school” – ethics, values, etiquette, etc… that often is left out at public schools
  • Religion to be incorporated – or not – at the discretion of the parent
  • Improved test scores in many cases
  • Sheer flexibility of program and scheduling
  • Studies show that homeschoolers grow up to be more self-confident and less peer-dependent (and therefore less likely to give in to peer pressures)
Cons:
  • Increased cost, still less than private school – Homeschooling is not generally government funded
  • Loss of income – one parent is home at all times, and therefore not generally working (or working much less)
  • The loss of “grown up time” for a parent that is at home with children at all times
  • Lack of regulated standards (a societal concern)
  • Possibility of unmonitored child abuse (societal concern) – there is no evidence of a higher risk than in public institutions

Chin up, look for ergonomic technologies

Are you reading this on a computer, smartphone, or tablet?  If it is a computer, is it a desktop, laptop, or netbook?

Studies consistently show that chronic back and shoulder pain is on the increase.  The culprit is likely the increased use of technology.  Specifically, it is the increasingly mobile technology that is causing the problem.  Poor posture pulls your body out of its correct alignment.  Even five, ten years ago, posture was better and related chronic pain was less common.  This is because as America tranwsitions to more mobile solutions like laptops, netbooks, and tablets, we crane our necks further and further.  Desktops, while not perfect, at least put the screen closer to eye-level, reducing neck strain.

This is not to say that one shouldn’t use these technologies;  the trick is to use the with awareness.  Pay attention to your posture.  Make a point of getting up and walking around every hour or so.  Physical activities and stretching can also help.

If all else fails, try a more ergonomically correct office arrangement – a better chair, better keyboard, a mouse that fits better, or maybe a monitor stand/riser to bring the screen up to eye level.

Where the tablet falls flat

Today I stumbled across an interesting
article
about iPads, which I rather agreed with. These are fun little toys,
and work great for casual surfing on the go. You can even check your email, if
you use a compatible account.

There are downsides aplenty, of course. The most discussed
short-fallings are things like lack of Flash support, or sheer adaptability.
Flash is necessary to many web applications like video. iPads come with iOS and
are strictly regulated, as far as things like compatibility with third-party
applications, programs, and software. To make an iPad (or even iPhone) do many
of the things Android tablets do, users must “jailbreak
them.

Leaving all the software short-comings aside, the obvious failing
of an iPad — or any tablet, for that matter — is the lack of physical
controls.

Like many users, I have been impressed with the predictive text
software on an iPad. This makes it significantly easier to use. However,
sometimes an otherwise innocuous typo, caused by the smoothness of the screen
and less-than-Olympic level accuracy, is auto-corrected into something
completely ridiculous. Oft-times, it is also difficult to navigate on a tablet
due to some combination of the webpage or app you are looking at and the way
the gestures are intended to work.

Although I am easily classified into the “digital
generation” and grew up with technology, I also have to put myself in the
“old-fashioned” camp that longs for a tactile keyboard for anything
other than “casual” surfing.

 

Temper Tanrums

Today I was talking to some people about education and the topic of temper tantrums came up. With younger children, especially, this can be a trial for both parents and teachers. This can be an even tougher challenge when it involves children with special needs.

I found an interesting article about tantrums that suggested that by merely helping children to identify emotions, we can help them stay calm. When someone can not only recognize that they are getting upset, but also why, it becomes much easier to take a moment to put that feeling away and focus on something soothing.

In the same vein, but for a different reason, it helps if the people around, adults especially, make a point of noticing how a child is feeling.  The expression of empathy alone can make the difference.  Children who feel ignored are much more likely to act out.  That may seem like common sense, but so often its tempting to try to ignore something and make it go away.

Some other strategies for calming a child before the tantrum erupts include giving them space, avoiding stressful situations like hurrying, encouraging the to distract themselves with a physical activity or something they are very interested in, and suggesting deep breathing.

Got the Invite, Google+ exploration

This past weekend, as I was browsing Facebook, I was excited to discover that a friend had been invited to Google+, and not just from the irony.  Within minutes, I had an invite, but no computer at which to explore.  This week will be a learning week for me, as I interact with Circles, Sparks, etc…

In a previous post, I discussed some of the features of Google+, and I will soon have a review of those features up for you.  I the meantime, I’ve been inviting people.  The main drawback to the service is currently two-fold for me: not many of my contacts are using it yet, and I cannot take my Facebook photos with me.  For many of use, Facebook has become the main home of our photo albums.  Personally, I have nearly 2000 photos uploaded over the last four or five years, which I do not want to part with.  Further, Google+ is offering a growing suite of editing tools that make its photo albums enticing.  Hopefully a resolution will be found that will allow Google+ users to keep their Facebook photos and integrate them into the new service.

I am also excited to see how Google+ flows into ecommerce and online business.

Since the whole application is still in Beta, we can expect to see quite a few changes and additions before it is widely released.  In the meantime, I’ll be making notes and sending invites.

Autism – Nature vs Nurture

The cause of autism and ASD has been a topic for much discussion, research, and debate for years, more so as the prevalence of this disorder increases.  There has recently been a quantity of research regarding genetic links to ASD.  In fact, in a post from last month, I discussed a couple of these studies, which were finding more solid links between certain genes and proteins and autism.

Today a new study reports a more tangible link to environment in development, as well.  Often, children in a family are more likely to have autism if another family member also has it.  This study on twins and families indicated that up to 55% of the cause of autism may be environmental.  While this seems to be contradictory to the previous studies, it is not.

It is becoming more and more clear that autism is not simply something you are born with, an “in your genes, if you have it you have it and there’s nothing to be done” disorder.  Instead, while ASD is certainly linked to genetics, it is also largely influenced by environment.  A child with the genetics that say he or she may have ASD will not necessarily develop autism.  Instead, whether or not they present autistic symptoms may be determined by other factors.

Think of it like this.  Everyone who gets speeding tickets and traffic violations has (or had) a vehicle, or at least used one.  However, not everyone who has a vehicle gets traffic violations.  Having the vehicle is necessary to the ticket, but is not the sole factor.

Likewise, it is appearing more and more likely that while genetics may determine who is at risk or likely to develop ASD, environment plays a role as well, possibly even in larger part than genes.  When it comes to ASD, nature and nurture work together to decide if an individual will begin displaying autistic symptoms or not.

Google Plus

Google is the number one search engine.  When they roll out algorithm updates, it shakes the SEO world and everyone scrambles to catch up.  Adwords and Analytics are household names in the web industry, like how most disposable adhesive bandages are automatically referred to by the brand name Band Aid.

In the past, Google’s forays into the world of social media have been pretty un-spectacular.  Now, however, they have started to release what may well be a game-changer.  Google+ is a social networking application for PC or mobile that brings all of the best features of sites like Facebook and combines then with the Google innovation and resources.  Tying in to their array of currently available services, this new product is currently available through invitation only.  This makes it more desirable and allows the early-adapters to get the hang of it before it becomes widely used.  It also allows Google to respond in real-time to any concerns from users.  I found in my research a couple of places where users had made suggestions and replied a day or so later, thanking Google for actually responding – something many people have despaired of in regards to Facebook for ages.  (Internet ages of course, something like several months or a year in the real world, I suppose.)

The down side to the invitation only releases of Google+ is that a social networking site can only get so far if only a fraction of your social network has it.  If no one you know is no it, the only draw is the novelty – there is no practicality until it becomes more widely used.  That same factor was probably the largest downfall of Google Wave, discussed in my previous post.  Every network has to start out with only a few users, however.  The bigger question is whether Google+ will be able to over take or co-exist with Facebook, as Facebook was able to do with MySpace.  (In related news, I have heard rumors that Justin Timberlake recently was involved in a buy-out of MySpace, with plans to revamp it largely as a music sharing site.)

Some distinctive features of Google + include:

  • Circles.  Rather than a post going out to everyone you know and then some, you will be able to filter your posts and feeds by your social circles – work colleagues, family, friends from school, friends from *insert hobby here*, etc…
  • Sparks.  I haven’t used Google+ yet, but it sounds like this feature includes things you’re likely to be interested in in your stream without requiring that you go out and find it first.  It also allows you to connect with others with similar interests.
  • Hangouts.  This features allows you to jump into a video conference when you feel like it, “stopping by,” effectively.  This allows multiple users to swing in and out of video chats as they are available and smoothly shows all the webcams.  Don’t have a webcam?  Get one.  Or get an awesome, rugged, portable laptop that comes standard with a great one built in.
  • Mobile Upload.  Google+ allows you to sign up for a service that automatically adds pictures to a private album in the cloud so that you can post them anytime any where without the hassle of uploading.
Will these features be enough to push Google+ past the shiny-and-new-and-exclusive stage of its current popularity?  That remains to be seen, but there are rumors and comments indicating that there may be a multitude of extra new features in the works, including shared games directly on the networking service, among other things.  I for one am anxiously awaiting an invitation from my early-adopter friends.  

Google is making Waves in Social Networkingg

How many of you out there remember Google Wave?  How about Google Buzz?  


Google Wave was a service based on online real-time collaborative editing.  This service was released by invite only, at first, and allowed users to video chat, share documents, edit those documents, and see changes made by other in real time.  It also tracked the changes so you could see who had done what.  This could have revolutionized group projects and business proposals.  There were only two problems.  First, as a completely new type of service to most people, there was quite a bit of a learning curve, not just to learn how to use but also in what situations it would be helpful to use the service.  Second, because of the slow, invitation-only roll-out, there were relatively few others using the service.  Speaking from personal experience as one of the first users of the wave in the general public (I don’t consider myself part of the beta, early-adopter, trend-setting crowd), only one of my contacts was using Wave.  There was not a whole lot of incentive to learn all of its features, and we had few applications for it in our lives.  Google Wave is still available, to the best of my knowledge, but I believe that it is no longer being developed or released for new users.


Google Buzz is a social networking service that takes Twitter’s lead and moves further.  You can post links, comments, pictures, etc… and share them with your contacts.  What’s more, it is integrated directly into Google’s mail application, which currently holds over 7% of the market share, if you will, for email clients.  Moreover, Google’s mail app is growing in usage by over 20% annually, making it the second fastest growing email client, next to iOS devices like the iPhone and iPad.  Even so, most people don’t bother with Google Buzz.


Now, Google is rolling out a new, more extensive, social networking site.  Look for my next post, with more details.

More Hacking News

Lists are fun!

  • Hacking can be good or bad, white hat or black hat.
  • Many of the “rogue” hacking groups lately gaining media attention are “grey” hat.  They aren’t out solely to take advantage for their own gain, but they also are not working for companies or governments to help patch security flaws.
  • LulzSec, discussed in a previous post, hacks “for the lulz.”  They sometimes maliciously steal information and disperse it to the “Twitter Horde” to use as they will, but they also sometimes use their powers for good – exposing individuals who view or purchase child pornography and stealing their information in order to make their lives more difficult, for instance.
  • LulzSec has also been releasing documentation lately illustrating that they have been alerting organizations to their security flaws and giving a grace period before attacking.  They are actively forcing companies and organizations to close their security gaps.
  • Other “grey hat” hacking includes hacking that is neither malicious nor done to benefit others, like hacking the Microsoft Kinnect to do interesting things.
  • The future of hacking promises to be exciting to say the least.  While the actual volume of hacking has not increased, it is becoming more publicized.  Additionally, the technologies at work are increasing and changing all the time.  Bill Gates has said that the future of hacking is in biology – learning the code of genetics well enough to manipulate or replicate in technology.
  • The future of hacking seems to be of growing interest to many.  The first-ever Defcon Kid’s conference is being held in Nevada this, and focuses on young and aspiring hackers, teaching the to use their powers of inquisitiveness for good.  Word has it that the ever-secretive NSA (National Security Agency) will be scouting young talent, as will many other organizations.