I am so grateful that I felt compelled to pen this email to the reporters at FiveThirtyEight.com, praising them for their work on the Live Blog that has been my mainstay these past few days. I thought they deserved public recognition (such as it is on this badly-neglected site), so I’m reprinting it here.[Read more…] about An Open Letter to FiveThirtyEight.com
The Digital Home Hub – Family Calendar
If your family is anything like mine, every day is aflutter with activities — Cub Scouts, Football Practice, Soccer Practice, Parkour Class, etc. And as our eldest enters Junior High next year, the number of goings-on is only likely to increase.
With all this hubbub, we’ve experienced mornings when we’ve started hustling the kids out the door to get to school, only to realize that today is School Picture Day or Field Trip Day or Crazy Socks Day or whatever the school has cooked up. And, of course, we simultaneously realize that our child is woefully unprepared for the occasion — dressed all wrong for picture day, failing to have the correct accouterments for field day, and with socks that are unmatched, but not exactly “crazy”. [Read more…] about The Digital Home Hub – Family Calendar
Alexa as a part of the family: We got Skills
Since we added the Amazon Echo to the household last year, it’s been fascinating to see how my children (now 7 and 10) have adapted to “her” presence. The youngest delighted in asking Alexa to tell him corny jokes and, more practically, used the device to time himself when doing his homework. The oldest learned quickly how one needed to ask her questions to yield useful answers. Digital natives, to be sure.
Since then, Alexa has become an integral part of our lives. I use her to entertain me and answer questions while my hands are occupied with cooking or washing dishes. She’s set to remind us of when we should be headed out the door every school day, and we’ve set up a Friday playlist on Spotify — which, of course, include two versions of Rebecca Black’s classic — to cheer us and get us moving on the last day of the work/school-week. I even replaced my bedside alarm clock with a Dot.
So when I started to investigate the idea of Alexa Skills, it was natural that I involved my kids — well, one kid in particular who happens to love trains.
[Read more…] about Alexa as a part of the family: We got Skills
How I made my drip irrigation system “smart” and automatic
X-Post from my other personal site, Free-Range.org
Though this site mostly chronicles my adventures in the natural domain, astute readers may have guessed what a tech dork I actually am. If you haven’t, you’ll be certain after this post.
In my work life, I’m online all the time and I’ve seen software developers make great strides recently toward automating formerly mundane tasks. For example, when someone fills out a form online, I used to be emailed the output and that’s all. Now I can have it auto-imported into a contact management database and sent to a spreadsheet at the same time, so I can sort it, update it and refer to it super easily. Previously, this would have required me to do data entry in a variety of different places — and each time there was the potential for me to make an error.
Of course, I’m eager to apply these time-saving shortcuts in my non-work life, as well. Hence, the project I’ll outline here. [Read more…] about How I made my drip irrigation system “smart” and automatic
On Apple: “Branding” Is More Than Just Marketing
The Apple phone unlocking issue hit the Republican debate last night, with candidate Marco Rubio accusing the technology company of putting branding before patriotism.
“They think it hurts their brand,” Rubio said. “Well, let me tell you, their brand is not superior to the United States of America.”
It seems the presidential candidates have a mistaken idea of what a brand really is. Branding isn’t just marketing — advertising, email marketing, etc. Branding is about everything that your company and product are about.
You express your brand through all of your formal communications, yes. But the design of your store, the demeanor of the person at the call center, the expertise of the kid behind the counter — not to mention what your top executives say in unguarded moments — all combine to make up your brand. If there is dissonance between elements, people notice, and it affects your business.
So Apple standing up to the U.S. government isn’t about a trifling attempt to protect its “image.” It’s really about Apple doing what it, as a company, believes to be the right thing. The right thing for its business, yes. But also the right thing for the country and its people.
Others may disagree, but I hate the idea of people diminishing the importance of Apple’s stance by dismissing it as mere branding. If you want to put it in those terms, one might say that the U.S. is hurting its own brand by chipping away at the personal freedoms that it purports to be protecting.
Teaching Kids STEM With Cooking
There’s no better way to really learn than to use your newly-gained knowledge in a practical way. Growing up, math was never very interesting to me, in part because I had zero idea of how this information would be at all useful. Now, as an adult, I find that in everyday life, I use my math skills and science knowledge most often in a seemingly mundane task — cooking.
A couple of years ago, I was spending a weekend at my brother and sister-in-law’s house, and I volunteered to make pancakes from scratch for breakfast — something I do at home all the time. We were a big crew, so, though I had the written recipe, I needed to double it to make a sufficient quantity.