Wednesday, November 1, 2017

Cards in Motion puts video inside brochures

During a recent chat with a medical specialist, the doctor handed me a packet of information about a procedure he wanted me to consider.

When I opened the packet at home, I found a printed brochure, several other papers and a DVD. As you might guess, I started my research by watching the video.

In today’s world of YouTube and 500-channel TV services, we are all getting more focused on video. A story told with moving images and sound can easily have more impact than one told with world and static images.    

Cards in Motion is a media production company that has found a way to build a brochure that incorporates printed information, still images and full-motion video.

Their brochures represent a logical evolution beyond the DVD that my doctor gave me. In their brochures, the video plays on an embedded LCD screen when the front cover is lifted.  The video mailers are custom designed to fit each client’s needs and budget. Screen sizes can be as small as  2.4" — about the size of the screen on an iPod Nano - 10.1" — larger than a standard iPad.

Prices for the brochures vary, depending on the screen size and number of units ordered. To request a quote, visit the Cards in Motion website.

New wearable device shares your location and environment

Now that our daughter is old enough to have her own family, she’s delighted to tell us about all the tricks she played on us when she was a teenager.

We would drop her off at the local shopping mall where she said she would spend the evening with her friends. But in fact, they slipped out the back door where boys were waiting to take them to some unknown house party.

I’m betting that her daughters will all have the Lotus by Seam as one of their required fashion accessories.

Developed by Seam Technic, the Lotus is a small wearable device that lets parents and friends keep track of loved ones by recording and transmitting a variety of environmental information including GPS location , photos and audio.

At home, her mother could use a mobile app to see what she sees and hear what she hears. And if any difficulties would arise, she could make a hands-free phone call while sharing her location.

The Seam system lets users record audio and still images captured from two button-style recorders, one facing to the front, the other with a rear view.

Users can share the data and images privately with up to five friends our guardians. Or, they can have the system trigger a call to an emergency phone number while still capturing GPS location data. The data logs are stored in the cloud for up to three months while the service is in its launch stage.

As a parent, I was especially attracted by the safety element of the Seam system. But Seam founder and CEO Drew Henson said he created the system primarily to help his family members feel more connected to him while he was away from home traveling the world. “It’s a seamless way to feel connected, social and safe,” he said.

The Lotus by Seam is scheduled to launch a funding campaign on Kickstarter on Nov. 1. The Lotus recording devices are expected to see for $119 but early supporters will be able to reserve them on Kickstarter for up to 40% less.

The Seam apps are available now for free in the iOS App Store and the Google Play Store. More details are available on the Seam Technic website and @Seam_technic on Twitter.

Monday, October 30, 2017

This lottery runs on Ethereum blockchain

One of the reasons crypto currencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum have been getting more attention and appreciating in value is they operate on a blockchain, a sort of open-source digital ledger that makes trading activity accessible to everyone.

Blockchain technology is being discussed as a potential new platform for a wide range of activities, from banking to real estate transactions.

The people behind ETH93 have come up with another new idea. They’ve created a daily letter that that runs on the Ethereum blockchain.

Ethereum in particular has been gaining traction in the crypto world because its code can include “smart contract” created by developers. For instance, a smart contract might specify that fund could only be spent or transferred once a designated percentage of people agree. In this case, the contract code is posted on the ETH93 website.

Tickets for the ETH93 lottery cost 0.01 Ether (about $3.10 today). You can’t buy in with dollars or other fiat currency. The daily winner is determined by a random number. The payout gives 93% to the winner, 1% to the developers and 1% to ETH93 token holders. The remaining 5% goes to Heifer International, a charity devoted to fighting poverty and hunger.

For more details, visit the ETH93 website.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

Buying a used phone? Check the IMEI

You won’t see me standing in line to buy the latest Apple or Samsung phone, but I do try to stay up to date with the latest mobile phone technology. That means I’m often either buying or selling a gently-used handset.

And whether I’m the buyer or the seller, I want to know the full story behind the phone in question. That means checking its IMEI.

IMEI is shorthand for the phone’s International Mobile Equipment Identity, a digital profile that contains contains critical information about the handset, including whether it has been reported as stolen.

A good place to get that information is IMEI Checker, a website and iOS mobile app that can look up the status of most phones by either entering or scanning the phone’s IMEI number.

For most popular phones, you can find the IMEI number by entering a code from the keypad or finding it under a system information menu.

When you the number it into the app or website, IMEI Checker responds with a list of information such as the phone’s model, serial number, warranty status, purchase date, it’s initial carrier and whether it is locked to any particular carrier.

IMEI Checker is a free download in the iTunes App store. The fees for reports vary depending on how much information you request. For more details, check the IMEI Checker website.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Autogrammer puts social media posts on autopilot

Gizmo Editor Review

I thought I was doing pretty well using social media channels to promote my “brand” but it turns out I was missing a significant opportunity. While I was paying attention to Twitter, Facebook and a couple of lesser channels, it seems that a boatload of people were focusing on Instagram.

According to a site called DMR, Instagram has more than 400 million active users and more than 75 million use the service every day. And an article posted on Patrice Press outlines some of the ways companies and individuals are using the vast reach of Instagram to promote their products and services.

Clearly, I needed to get in that game and to do it right, I needed to do more than post an occasional image or item. I needed a way to schedule and even bulk upload my posts.

That’s what led me to Autogrammer, a new platform that lets users schedule Instagram posts along with content for other social media channels. In addition to Instagram, Autogrammer also supports Pages, Groups and Profiles on Facebook as well as the ubiquitous Twitter.

Users can set up a new account with a username and password or log in using their current Twitter, Facebook or Google+ account. Once inside, they’re presented with a dashboard to manage their posts on multiple platforms.

With just a couple of clicks, I added my Instagram account and my Facebook account along with Facebook Pages and Groups. Instagram required that I verify my account, but that was a simple process that didn’t slow me down. More details and a set of helpful walk-through instructions from Autogrammer arrived in an email.

Now I was ready to post some photos to Instagram. I clicked the link to my account from my media account list in the dashboard’s left panel, then clicked a “Add post” in the main screen to bring up Autogrammer’s posting window.

The window let me select which channels I want to post to, a date and time for the post to appear, the image I wanted to upload and any text that would appear with it, including a web link. An Edit button brought up a full palette of photo editing tools, including frames, contrast adjustment and tools to crop, resize or change orientation. Some of the photos I’ve seen on Instagram of parties, kids and pets would have benefitted greatly had their owners made use of Autogrammer's redeye removal tool.

Once a posting is saved, it appears on the dashboard with a calendar icon to show that it is scheduled for a future time or a checkmark to denote that it has been sent to Instagram. You can open a scheduled post to make revisions such as changing the time or text, but you can’t go back in time and change one that’s already been posted.

One of the most useful features of Autogrammer is the bulk upload option. I was able to upload several photos at once, then edit each one in the dashboard and set a publication date and time. That sure beat slogging through them one at a time in Instagram.

A trial account on Autogrammer is free. Upgrade packages that support multiple social media accounts start at $19 a month.  

Monday, October 23, 2017

miFon will find and protect lost Android phones

Gizmo Editor Review

Considering how much we love our mobile phones, you’d think we would take better care of them. One report I found said 3 million Americans lose their phones in a year’s time and 2 million more have their phones stolen. The numbers were higher in many other countries.

New phone-tracking apps are helping reduce phone losses, but no app that I’ve encountered takes tracking, security and recovery farther than miFon does for Androids. Developed by a group of Indian professionals working in the UAE, miFon is a collection of utilities and mini-applications designed to keep your Android phone secure, healthy and in your possession.

An example of the miFon features is an option called miVac that scans all of the apps installed on your phone looking for evidence of viruses, malware or other malicious code. Another called xFit weeds out unused and extraneous files to keep the phone working smoothly.

The app will automatically run backups on your contacts and media files and it places an SOS button on the miFon home screen so a user in danger can discreetly send a message to a trusted phone number. That’s four very useful programs, each of which typically requires a separate app, that miFon has packaged under one umbrella.

But I installed miFon because I was especially interested in the security and tracking features that it offers. Like other tracking apps, it located my phone as soon as I installed the program and it tags that location, with a timestamp, on a Google map on the miFon home screen.

I wanted to see what tools I could use if I left my phone on a park bench, in the back seat of an Uber, or if it got stolen? I logged into my account on the miFon website and used the miFon Genie to get its “last seen” location with GPS coordinates, directions from my location, and the option to see a satellite view.

Now, let’s say someone is messing with the phone. Using the Genie, I activated the seeKie feature, which caused the access screen on my phone to go black and display a stern notice: “This is a LOST PHONE” with a phone number to call to “contact the rightful owner.”  That’s not exactly accusing anyone of stealing the phone, but their’ll get the picture.

And if you want add some extra punch to that notice, you can deliver it with an accompanying siren. I tried that feature and it spooked the dogs and startled my wife, who was two rooms away from me. It will thoroughly get their attention.

miFon has other weapons in its security arsenal. The Genie will let you remotely change your screen lock code, for example. And a feature called thEfie will snap a photo of someone while they are trying to get past your lock screen. When I entered a few random numbers, thEfie silently activated the phone’s front-facing camera, snapped a photo, and immediately emailed it to me along with a location map. I was impressed by that trick, though not by my unexpected selfie.

All of the tools offered in the miFon app are listed on the miFon website and on the app’s download page in the Google Play Store. The listings are short on details and I had to learn the program using more experimentation and trial and error than I would have liked. But once I got comfortable with miFon, I was convinced that it would be a valuable addition to any Android phone.

Users who download the app for free can use the app’s advanced features such as thEfie for 30 days and can keep them after that period by paying an annual subscription fee.  

Tuesday, October 17, 2017

What's up with those bogus Facebook friend requests?

Every month or two, I get a request to become Facebook friends with John, a retired banker who I’ve known for more than 20 years. John and I have been Facebook friends for about three years, so why is he sending me new requests?

The answer is he’s not.  The requests are coming from someone who has taken over John’s account. Access to a real Facebook account can be a valuable tool for a hacker trying to create a false identity in the online world.

Over the past few years, Facebook has taken several steps to make its user accounts more secure and easier to customize. But it’s up to individual users to fine-tune their own privacy and security settings. These tips will help make your Facebook experience safer and more secure.

Change your password. That’s a good practice for all your online accounts, especially if you use the same password with multiple services. To update yours, click on the triangle in the upper right corner of your Facebook page and select Settings from the drop-down menu.

On the General Account Settings page that appears, you can enter and confirm a new password. Make it something that’s easy to remember but not easy for others to guess. You can share your password with a close friend or relative so they can get into your account in an emergency.

Get login notifications. Most people use Facebook only from their computer, tablet or mobile phone and Facebook can tell you if someone logs in using a different device.

From the Settings page, click the Security icon in the left column, then click Edit for Login Alerts. You can choose to be alerted through Facebook or by email or both.

For an additional layer of security, select and edit Login Approvals. There you can tell Facebook to send a code to your mobile phone when someone logs in from an unknown browser. If that’s you logging in from a public computer or at a friend’s house, entering the code will prove it.

Limit friend requests. While a Facebook page run by a business or organization may welcome any and all friends, many individuals prefer to get requests only from people they know.

To restrict who can contact you through Facebook, click Privacy Settings and edit who can contact you. Clicking Friends of Friends will limit requests to only people who are already linked to your current circle of friends.

Control your public profile. People looking for you can find your Facebook page using your email address, your phone number or by entering your name in a search engine. This can be helpful if you don’t mind hearing from a distant cousin who is researching your family history.

But if you would prefer a lower profile in the digital world, you can restrict who can look you up to just Facebook friends or friends of friends. The Privacy Settings also let you decide who can see what you post on your page.

Facebook makes it easy to adjust many of these settings with its Privacy Checkup and shortcuts. To get to them, click the padlock icon in the upper right corner of any Facebook page.
If you suspect that your account or a friend’s account has been hacked, the Facebook Help Center on the web has information on how to report that and other issues.

Friday, October 6, 2017

My night with the Q-Sleep pillow

Gizmo Editor Review  
Back in my teen age years, I thought it would be a great idea to quietly listen to my favorite radio stations in bed. For a couple of dollars, I bought disc-shaped speaker that plugged into the headphone jack on my transistor radio. The setup worked fine, but it had unintended consequences: Instead of keeping me entertained deep into the night, it quickly put me to sleep.
Years later, I remembered that little pillow speaker when I was offered a free sample in exchange for a review of the Q-Sleep Soundwave Sleep-promoting pillow. This is a high-tech system that goes way beyond that cheap speaker that attached to my radio. It includes both a foam pillow and a mobile app that plays soothing music to lull you to sleep and records your sleeping habits.
I thought I would be a perfect candidate to try the Q-Sleep system. I’ve been diagnosed with sleep apnea. I snore (or so I’m told). And, I occasionally trouble falling asleep. That’s probably because I often do what sleep experts tell you to avoid if you want a good night’s rest - I turn on my mobile phone and start browsing the news and social media. Although my body is tired, my brain is soon filled with new information and that’s not a healthy combination.
The Q-Sleep pillow and I got off to a great start. The pillow measures about 12 by 22 inches in a wedge shape. The actual pillow is a sculpted piece of foam material encased in a soft fabric cover. The cover has a zipper that allows you to remove the foam before laundering the case and the underside has a grommet that lets an audio cable and plug emerge
The first thing I noticed was the soft and pleasant feel of the cover. I could rub my hand over the surface without encountering any snags on my rough skin. I considered putting the pillow inside a standard pillowcase, but I liked the feel of Q-Sleep fabric better than anything in my bedding drawer. Just touching the pillow was a relaxing experience.
Getting the pillow to work with the Q-Sleep app daunting and complicated experience that started with poorly-written instructions written in tiny type on a tiny folded card I found inside the pillow box. The instructions directed me to download the Q-Sleep app from either the Apple iTunes Store or the Google Play Store.
The app was easy enough to find and install but getting it working was a nightmare. The app requires registration with an email address and password but never explains why that’s necessary. It also requires that your email address be confirmed by responding to an email sent by Q-Sleep. That email never arrived.
After several failed login attempts, I tried the “Forgot password” option which produced a screen asking for a phone number to receive a text message. My phone numbers were repeatedly rejected and I was later informed that Q-Sleep did not actually have the capability to send a text message in the US.
I switched to a different phone and a different email address and finally got a confirmation message. It was written entirely in Chinese, except for the confirmation link, so I was eventually cleared to use the app on my iPhone 6. I have the app on my iPhone 7, but it has no audio jack. I would have to use a Apple converter dongle and those things are notoriously easy to loose and expensive to replace.
Now that I was registered and had access to the Q-Sleep app, it was time for bed. The app displays a large round button where you a long press launches the sleep recorder. The bottom of the screen presents my options for bedtime music. There were dozens of selections available, but all the descriptions were in Chinese, except for a few graphics with English words, one of them offering music from Plants vs. Zombies.
I connected the cable to the phone’s headphone jack, selected one of the music options and pressed my ear to the pillow. Silence. I fiddled with the cable plug and heard some faint crackling noise. I turned the sound up to full volume and heard some soft, soothing music sounding as if it were being played far away.
And that’s just what I needed. Back in the days with my portable radio, I wanted to hear a disk jockey’s patter from Chicago or St. Louis. Now I wanted quiet music with no voices to help me drift off and that’s just what I got. I was asleep in less than five minutes. The app lets you set the music music to shut off after 10, 20, 30 or 60 minutes. There appears to be a fifth setting but it’s in Chinese, so don’t know what it does.
In the morning, I awoke feeling rested and refreshed. The phone was still connected to the pillow and had used about 25 percent of its battery power. The app’s Sleep Health report gave my sleep a rating of 72 percent or Ordinary - the middle spot between Excellent and Improve. It said slept for 7.4 hours, split almost equally between deep sleep and light sleep. I took that as a passing grade.
There are many elements in the Q-Sleep system that need improvement. A functioning registration process and labels written in English would be a good start. Even the text that is nominally in English is often indecipherable. Here’s an example from one of the app’s introduction screens:
Warm tip: before opening monitoring please ensure clear enjoy APP allowSend notification (in settings - notification management view)
In the end, the Q-Sleep system did what it promised to do. It analyzed and scored my sleep quality and, more importantly, it provided a comfortable place to put my head while it transported me peacefully off to dreamland. This pillow and I are going to be spending many nights together.

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