Advice about Facebook Messenger for Kids

Advice about Facebook Messenger for Kids

Facebook is rolling out a new version of Messenger aimed at kids.  Normally kids under the age of 13 are not allowed to sign up for a Facebook account, this is managed by the really hard to fool, birthday picker.

Is this a good idea, to give access to a powerful messaging app with their own logins and passwords?  Now parents will have to approve everyone that their child wants to communicate with, but this does open a couple other questions about safety and security.

According to Facebook, there is a high demand for kids who now are allowed by their parents to use tablets and smartphones to have access to Facebook Messenger.  I have to wonder, do our children, who are growing up steeped in non-traditional communication methods really need another avenue to avoid actual human interaction.  Nevermind the obvious safety and privacy concerns.

I feel that Facebook is rolling this out as a way to hook-em when they’re young.  The under 25 demo is leaving Facebook in droves for other platforms like Twitter and SnapChat.  Most kids don’t want to post their updates to a site that is shared with their grandparents.  Facebook isn’t as cool and unique as it used to be.

If Facebook can succeed in getting kids as young as 6 using their services, they will be the first social media platform these kids interact with, hopefully creating a user for life.  It’s the same strategy that Apple used in the 90’s by flooding the educational market with their computers.  Thinking that if kids got used to using their devices at a young age, they would continue using them as adults.

You can argue the success/failure of that approach for Apple.  Will this gamble work for Facebook, maybe, as long as they avoid any negative news that would be associated with this experiment going wrong.  Any news showing a child be exploited or there being anything untoward happening in their service will kill it before it has a chance.

So why would we need to give 6-year-olds an Instant Messaging service?  Why can’t they just us messenger on their parent’s device to have directly supervised conversations with grandparents, cousins, friends etc?  Are they so totally connected that they need to be reached all the time?  There is already so much research showing that the always-on connected life we lead now as adults is harmful, what will it do to our kids?

Kids need to have space to just be kids.  They also need to learn skills like talking on the phone, speaking to someone face to face, or even writing an email/letter.

The tendency of social media drives us to only present our more edited selves.  There is no space to be vulnerable or take a risk.  That’s why texting has become the most popular way to communicate with a cellphone than actually calling someone.  If you are speaking with someone you cannot take the time to craft the perfect responses or make sure you only come across a certain way.

This leads to a shallower level of communication.  Starting our kids at 6 or 7 years old to start operating in this form is bad for their still-developing brains.  Think I am crazy?  Try having a conversation with a 15-year-old and get them to look you in the eye.

So is there room for a messenger app for 6-13 year olds?  Maybe, I can’t think of one.  My kids (7 and 4) don’t even have their own “smart” devices let alone a Facebook account.  When my wife and I think they are ready we will have that discussion with them.  Until then, if they want to contact the grandparents, they can do with our supervision.

What do you think?  When is the right time to get your kid signed up for a Social Media/Messenger/Smart Device?  Let me know in the comments.

The State of Chromebooks – 2017

The State of Chromebooks – 2017

Google Chromebook Logo

 

It is not a secret that I am a huge fan of the Chromebook.  When it comes to a day-to-day laptop it is the best device for my needs.  The low cost and low power requirements of the ChromeOS means I can get high dollar like performance from a laptop with stats that would choke when trying to run Windows 10.

As we move more and more online the need for high horsepower laptops and desktop machines are dwindling.  Is there a market for those computers, yes, very much so.  I would say that for 99% of computer users a Chromebook would be a perfect fit.  I am talking about people who normally use their smartphone as their primary computing device, to do things like email, social media, and online shopping.  I am not talking about those who need to run applications like Photoshop or Microsoft Access.  If you need to run those kinds of applications, then you probably have a computer that can do that.

If you are the kind of person who likes to wander down to the local coffee shop or library and want to have the ease of creation that comes from a laptop form factor, then look to the Chromebooks.  They have come a long way from the “ugly” cheap looking plastic clamshells that they started as.

Major manufacturers, that you have actually heard of, are starting to put some serious design behind the Chromebook platform.  Samsung currently has two very good looking laptops, the Chromebook Plus and the Chromebook Pro.  There are not cheap machines in the original Chromebook sense of the word.  These are premium devices with aluminum construction and touchscreens.  The Pro even comes with a Pen interface so you can use the tablet function like a piece of paper.  Something the Galaxy Note users would be right at home with.

I personally use an HP Chromebook 13 G1.  I actually use it as my go to, day to day laptop, over my 13 inch MacBook Pro.  The Chromebook is lighter, faster and handles all the tasks I can currently think to use it for.  It has two USB-C ports, a USB 3.0 and MicroSD card reader.  While it only has 32gb of storage on board, the seamless connection to my 100gb Google Drive storage means I never run out of space.

Running Android apps on my Chromebook is something that adds another layer of usefulness.  I can take pictures with my Canon SLR and transfer them to my Chromebook, then edit the pictures in Adobe Lightroom and then upload them to my Instagram.  All from the same device.  Can’t do that with my Mac.

While the heft of my Mac makes it seem more substantial and the retina 5k screen is gorgeous, the HP I run has a 4k resolution that looks almost as good, if not quite as bright, but then, I paid $350 for my HP, not $1,300 for the Mac.  So some compromises are made, but nothing that is a deal breaker.

With the announcement of the Google Pixelbook last week, we are seeing a new page in the Chromebook evolution.  This Chromebook will be the first purpose-built laptop to take advantage of the Chromebook/Android Apps ecosystem.  The inclusion of the dedicated Google Assistant button also is a sign that Google is committed to continuing to improve the Chromebook experience.

The Pixelbook comes in at an eye-watering $999 for the basic model.  Is this price crazy?  Not really, when you compare it to most peoples other main computing devices, their phones.  The iPhone X is going to base retail for $999 and the iPad Pro with a keyboard comes in pretty close to the $1,000 mark also.  This should put the Pixelbook in the running for a lot of people looking for a powerful/futureproof laptop that can handle the day-to-day tasks they expect.  And the Pixelbook looks great also.

So, where are we in the state of Chromebooks?  Bright.  Chromebooks are starting to shake off the perception as cheap, throwaway devices, and are starting to be taken seriously as a viable alternative to Windows or Apple based laptops.  Now there are some cheap Chromebooks out there, and they are a value especially when compared to an Android tablet at the same price point.  I think the sweet spot for a Chromebook is around $400.  At that range, you can usually get one that is either a standard laptop or a 2-in-1 (you can fold it over to use like a tablet).  Touchscreens are becoming more the standard than the exception.  Backlit keyboards are also becoming more common also.

When shopping for a Chromebook I would say, as a baseline, look for at least 4gb of RAM and a 32gb Hard Drive, which will be in the form of eMMC or SSD.  The processors should be the latest in Intel Mobile chips Core m5 or Core m7, the 7 will drive the price up a little more, but if you tend to have a lot of tabs open or want to do some Photoshop type work, the faster processor will come in handy.

No matter what you are looking for in a laptop, there is sure to be a Chromebook out there to fit your need.  I use a laptop every day and I do not ever find myself really needing one of the “mainstream” operating systems.  The Chromebook fits perfectly into my life, and I think the ChromeOS system will only get better from here.

 

Get the latest Chromebooks from Amazon

The latest from #madebygoogle

The latest from #madebygoogle

Google no longer wants to be seen as strictly a search engine and house for all the worlds information.  They want to also be seen as a hardware company.  Stop me if you have heard this before *cough* Microsoft *cough* but maybe Google can do what the big M failed to do.

With the announcement of several new and updated devices on the 4th of October, Google is really looking for new ways to get people an exclusive path to the information and services Google provides.  At the forefront, again this year, is the Google Assistant.  Google answer to Apple’s Siri, Microsoft’s Cortana and Amazon’s Alexa services.  While in my experience the Google Assistant is the most helpful/useful, we are a far cry from the easy natural language searches and queries like they have on Star Trek.

That is where I would like to see this “AI” services get to, not just taking the words I say and turning them into a search query, but actually acting on what I am asking.  While Google Assistant does handle simple tasks, like setting timers or pulling up videos on Youtube, it does lack in other items that I would like. For example, I would like for it to be able to open an app and perform a task without me needing to actually interact with my device.  That will require 3rd party developers to integrate the service with their apps.  This is a big ask for a lot of developers.

So what is Assistant getting baked into?  Well for the home it is being integrated into the new version of Google Home, and the new Google Home Mini and Google Home Max.  Smart speakers that work a lot like Amazon Alexa speakers.  The assistant works with these devices to allow you to set timers, look up information, play your music and control your smart home devices, like the Nest Thermostat.  There is not a lot of shopping integration like Alexa, but then, Google doesn’t really have a storefront behind its device.  Alexa’s sole purpose is to make it easy for you to buy things on Amazon.

The highlights of the show were the Google Pixel 2 set of phones, in 5 inch and 5.8 inch (XL) flavors, just like last year.  The phone sport new screen designs and materials.  The camera has been improved and the processors are the latest from Qualcomm.  The phones still respond to the “Ok, Google” wake command but you can now also squeeze the phone to start an Assistant session.

The product they announced that I am most excited about is the new Google Pixelbook, which is a Chromebook with a dedicated button on the keyboard for the Assistant.  Think of it like the Window’s key we are all pretty used to by now.  The Pixelbook will also be the most powerful Chromebook ever built.  Packing quality materials like Aluminum and Glass for the chassis and a UHD screen.  Coming in at 12.8 inches it is in line with a MacBook Pro.  Even in price.  The base model Pixelbook will set you back $999 for a Core i5 processor with 8gb of RAM and a 128gb Solid State Hard Drive.  That’s a lot of overkill for a Chromebook.  Those stats do make the laptop future proof.

I personally run a Chromebook with 4gb of RAM and a 32gb drive and I don’t ever run into any performance issues, except, when I am editing a large number of my digital photos in the Lightroom app.  This new Pixelbook should be able to hand those kinds of tasks with relative ease.  For the average Chromebook buyer, or someone looking for an alternative to Windows or Mac laptops, the Pixelbook might be more than what’s needed.  For $1000 you can buy a well spec’d Windows laptop or a low-end Mac Laptop and not have to deal with the few limitations that Chromebooks do have.

All in all, I liked what Google put out as far as new products and I am looking forward to maybe getting a chance to try them out soon.  This tech right now is getting more and more ubiquitous so it is really hard to differentiate yourself in the marketplace.  I don’t really see anything really groundbreaking on the horizon.  I think it will be a few more years before we see another iPhone like product release that will completely change how we interact with our tech.

Why do lithium-ion batteries catch fire

Why do lithium-ion batteries catch fire

www.avgguytech.com - Exploding Batteries

 

It’s a matter of chemistry

Lithium-ion batteries are in everything nowadays.  Their lightweight and high capacity make them great for all kinds of mobile applications.  They can be found in wireless headphones, laptops, cell phones, kids toys and portable speakers.  If it needs a battery and has a large power draw, chances are the Lithium-ion battery is inside.  These batteries can be safely charged over and over again without issues or developing a cell memory.  Cell memory happens in older batteries when they are not charged and discharged properly.  I have discussed it before in an article about keeping your batteries in top shape.

So what happens that can cause these batteries, or really any battery to explode?  Let’s look at a couple of factors.

What is a Lithium-Ion Battery?

A lithium battery is a small cell that uses lithium compound that allows for the movement of electrons from one pole to the other.  I am really oversimplifying it.  Long story short, the Lithium is the medium used for power generation.  If you want to read more, here is the Wikipedia article about it.  It goes deeper into the chemistry than I can.  These batteries, or more accurately, power cells, provide a lot of the characteristics of a power source that is great for small scale applications.

What goes wrong?

The simplest explanation is that the battery/cell contains a flammable material.  Now, this is housed is a protective case that makes up the exterior of the battery.  The problem comes from when the battery is either overcharged or allowed to drain completely.  The chargers for these batteries and the batteries themselves are supposed to have circuits built in to prevent an overcharge/discharge situation.  Without a charge in the cell, the lithium gets hot and the gasses expand and explode.

While most battery manufacturers follow strict quality control to ensure the cells they produce are safe, some cut corners to lower the cost of their cells, i.e. the batteries sold to Samsung for the Galaxy Note 7.  These batteries were allowed to overcharge and that caused the explosion.  This is also what was happening with the “hoverboards”  cheap batteries in cheap toys, not the best mix.

What can you do?

First thing is to check the battery once in awhile, now this is harder with some of the newer smartphones that the battery is not removable.  But for your easier to access devices, it’s a good idea to pull the battery out once in awhile and make sure it is not damaged in any way.  If you see cracks or bulging stop using it right away.  Don’t throw the battery away but take it to an electronics recycler.

If you are using something and it starts to smoke and get hot, the best thing to do is dump it in sand.  Do not put water on it.  If you do not have any sand, just throw the item far from you and allow it to explode.  Then take care of the resulting fire.  Once the gas escapes from the cell the fire should put itself out.  If the fire catches other items on fire, that is a problem, and the fire you should fight if you can.

Also, make sure you check with the consumer safety groups in your country.  They usually maintain a list of items with known issues.  If there is a recall, make sure you stop using the item and return it as directed.

Bottom Line

These batteries are safe but need to be respected, like anything else.  They power our modern lives and I don’t see that changing anytime soon.  Some general awareness of the explosives you are carrying in your pocket or on your head is something to be aware of, but not afraid of.

Some new things coming…

Some new things coming…

I have been enjoying demystifying your tech

But I am feeling called to do a little bit more, don’t worry I will still be bringing you latest in tech news and reviews and how-tos.  I am going to be launching a new venture alongside Average Guy Tech.

I will be dropping a few hints along the way the next couple of weeks.  Those of you who read this, who know me in real life can probably work out what it will be.  Until then, stay tuned for some new and exciting content.

 

Average Guy Tech

What to do with your Baofeng Radio

What to do with your Baofeng Radio


So you picked up a new Baofeng radio, either a 5R or something else.  I will stick with the 5R for this article since it is what I know.  Now that you maybe have had a chance to try it out on the local repeater or simplex.  Maybe you have been using it to listen to the weather or local emergency channels.  Whatever you do, there is always a little more these little radios can do.

Programming

First things first, you need to get some frequencies programmed into the radio.  It helps to tag the non-amateur freqs with something meaningful, like City Police, City Fire, Weird TinFoil Hat Guy, just kidding on the last one, it’s too long.  The reason I don’t recommend you naming the ham repeaters is that when most hams refer to a repeater, they won’t use the call letters they use the freq.

Even that gets shortened.  Since all 2-Meter repeaters fall in the 144-148MHz range, it’s easy to shorten something like 145.190 to the 5-19 machine.  An experienced ham will know that someone is talking about a repeater at 145.190Mhz.  So best when programming your radio to just leave the freq in the display, it will make jumping to other machines easier.

Here’s a beginners guide to programming a Baofeng:

 A great place to find local repeater and emergency services freqs is http://www.radioreference.com/ there you can look up by zip code or region.  Usually, your radio can pick up stuff in your town.  Anything beyond that will require better antennas or a better location.

Also bear in mind that a lot of city services have gone to a digital trunking system, which allows multiple radios with the right key to be in the same group of frequencies without interfering with each other.  The downside is that your Baofeng won’t be able to follow the transmission around as it jumps.

Once you get everything programmed let’s take a look at what else you can do.

Radio from SPAAAACE!

Do you know there are literally tons of satellites orbiting the earth that you can listen too, even on a $25 handheld?  It’s easy it just takes a little preparation.  The are a couple of apps out there that track satellites for you and there are a couple of websites also.  You can check them out here:

Apps for your smartphone – ISS Tracker (Android) This is a great app you can use to find out when different satellites are passing over your area.  The paid version is well worth the $2.50 if you get more into this.  You can set a filtered list of the satellites you are interested in and it will let you know when it will pass over your location, for how long and where to look to see it, in the case of the ISS (International Space Station).

Website – Spot the Station – Shows the location of the Space Station and can send you alerts when it will be within range of your location

Website – Work Sat Great website for getting started in tracking and talking on ham satellites

There is no special equipment needed to listen to these satellites when they are passing over simply tune to the downlink freq and open your squelch all the way.  If the satellite is transmitting you should be able to hear it clearly as it passed overhead.  The ISS usually only transmits when they have a special event set up with a school, so it is unusual to hear them.  But the ham satellites are almost always busy.  One time I was in southern California and I heard ham operators from Idaho talking to people via satellite relay.  In order to transmit to the satellite and be heard, you have to set your Baofeng for dual mode.  Since you will be trans

I found it is best to point your antenna parallel to the ground, signals coming from space through the Earth’s atmosphere tend to “corkscrew” so you need to present as much of your antenna as possible to the incoming signal.  You should also be ready to move the antenna in a circle to keep the signal, remember the transmitter is flying overhead at around 25,000 mph, so you only have a small window to listen in.



Once you have your license, even the technician class, you can transmit on these satellites also, yes you can even call the ISS.  There is a little more specialized equipment needed to make a solid contact.  Here is a website that can get you started.  It’s cheap to get going, just takes a little bit of work, and a ton of patience.

Another space-based signal is the group of orbiting weather satellites from NOAA.  The POES series of satellites orbit the earth over the poles, hence the name POES (Polar Orbiting Earth Sensing) you can tune in their downlink freq and listen to the beeps and blips.  That’s not all, if you are able to get a clear signal, recorded of the pass, then run the signal through a decoder application and that will decode the image to the current weather picture.

 

K9AC WXtoIMG

Share your local repeater with the world

Another resource RadioReference.com provides is live broadcasts of local radio signals.  This is provided by a huge network of volunteers who connect their scanners and receivers to their computers and provide a live stream of the captured audio.  This is easy to setup with a dedicated radio.  While local amateur repeaters may not be the most active radio sources, they are a great addition to the RadioReference website.

You could also do this with local emergency services, but those are usually covered.  Check out the website for what source radios are available in your area and see where maybe you could fill in a gap.  You will need to setup your own server on your computer to provide the stream, but this is not really hard.  You just need a computer that is on all the time and a decent internet connection.

Stay up to date with weather in your area

The National Weather Service provides local coverage of weather observation and forecasting, it is a 24 hour a day 7 day a week signal.

162.400
MHz
162.425
MHz
162.450
MHz
162.475
MHz
162.500
MHz
162.525
MHz
162.550
MHz

Just find which of these signals is the best for you and lock it into your radio.  Having a weather radio is great during severe weather for staying current with what is happening.  TV and the Internet rely on power, a charged radio in listening mode can run for at least a day of continuous use.  This can be a lifesaver in the event of an emergency.

Bottom Line

There are a ton of things you can do with these radios, even before you have your license.  Once you do pass the exam, even more things are opened up to you.  There is a ton of things to do in the 2-Meter and 70-Centemeter bands.  VHF/UHF used to be very active before all the “Serious” hams moved on to HF.  So start with listening and move on to broadcasting when you can.

When you get your callsign, don’t be afraid to go onto the local repeater and throw out a Monitoring.  Who knows who might come back to you.  And if you hear that same call from someone else, feel free to reply.  The only way we will breathe life back into the local repeater is if people use it.  Don’t let anyone tell you that a good old rag chew is no fun.  You meet the best people on 2-Meters.

These little cheap Chinese radios are great, and at the price, you can get them for, get two.  You might get a dud here and there, but for a low-risk entry point to the hobby, they are great!