Category Archives: Tech Trends

New technology simplifies Kent County’s FOIA request process

Kent County’s FOIA web page

By Victoria Mullen, WKTV

 

Have you ever filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to get information from a governmental body? If so, you are likely familiar with how slow and cumbersome the process can be.

 

For those not familiar with FOIA, it’s a law that gives the public the right to request information from the federal government, often described as the law that “keeps citizens in the know about their government.” Enacted in 1967, it requires federal agencies to disclose any information requested unless it falls under one of nine exemptions which protect interests such as personal privacy, national security and law enforcement.

 

Michigan enacted its own FOIA (Act 442) in 1976.

 

Kent County currently processes more than 4,300 FOI requests each year. To streamline the process, the county’s Corporate Counsel’s Office has updated the website to allow the public to submit requests for public records online, through the County’s web page. The new electronic system automates the FOIA processing from submission of the request until final disposition.

 

Sangeeta Ghosh, Kent County Assistant Corporate Counsel

On June 15, Assistant Corporate Counsel Sangeeta Ghosh, along with AccessKent vendor Webtecs, rolled out the upgraded system for FOIA coordinators who serve at the Sheriff Department, Prosecutor’s Office, Purchasing Division, Health Department, and Animal Shelter. The new system will help process timely FOIA responses, as requestors have the right to file appeals or lawsuits that can result in increased civil fines, punitive damages, and legal fees and costs to a public body.

 

The upgrade lets users track the status of a FOIA request from start to finish. Upgrades to the system provide a faster turnaround in releasing records, uploading records online for a user to download from his or her preferred device, encryption of confidential records, retention of records, generation of reports, payment by credit or debit card, internal communication between the Corporate Counsel staff and coordinators on formal responses, and monitoring for legal exposure.

 

 

 

 

 

GVSU to host cyber security groups real-time hacking contest

Cyber security will be at the heart of a program at Grand Valley State University’s downtown campus next week.

By West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium

 

Much of today’s news seems to include a cybersecurity twist, but how do companies prepare for cyber incidents? They exercise or practice, as the West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium will at Grand Valley State University’s Pew Campus’s DeVos Center in Grand Rapids.

 

The 5th annual WMCSC Cybersecurity Exercise will take place Friday, July 14, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. (followed by a Networking reception from 5:30-8 p.m.), at the DeVos Center, 401 Fulton St. W.

 

The cybersecurity event is free and open to the public, but space is limited and interested attendees should reserve their space by Friday, July 14, by visiting wmcybersecurity@kentcountymi.gov

 

The day-long exercise will include Purple Teams — typically, cybersecurity teams are Red (offense) or Blue (defense); working together, they are Purple teams. The exercise will use the Michigan Cyber Range’s “Alphaville” virtual devices.

 

Alphaville, developed by Merit Network in Ann Arbor, is a collection of virtual machines simulating information systems that are networked together and assigned varying security levels modeled on how real towns across the country are configured.  It exists as part of the Michigan Cyber Range, a secure test bed designed to enable cybersecurity attacks and defense methods in a realistic environment without impacting production network traffic.

 

At the July 14 exercise, nine Purple teams will be challenged to capture, secure and defend email servers, web servers, and file systems, using security and hacking tools comparable to the systems found in most businesses today. They will compete against each other hoping to be crowned the winners for “owning” the most systems for the longest time.

 

The West Michigan Cyber Security Consortium is a multi-jurisdictional, public/private partnership whose purpose is to enhance the prevention, protection, response, and recovery to cybersecurity threats, disruptions and degradation to critical information technology functions. Its membership includes individuals from government, healthcare, law enforcement and private businesses. The group meets quarterly to share information around cybersecurity issues.

 

The Michigan Cyber Range prepares cybersecurity professionals to detect, prevent and mitigate cyberattacks in a real-world setting. Like a test track or a firing range, the Michigan Cyber Range enables individuals and organizations to conduct “live fire” exercises: simulations that test the detection and reaction skills of participants in a variety of situations. The Michigan Cyber Range also offers certification courses for a number of cybersecurity disciplines, with instruction available on-site and live online. A full training schedule may be found at the Merit Michigan Cyber Range web site at merit.edu/cyberrange/
The Michigan Cyber Range is hosted and facilitated by Merit Network in partnership with the State of Michigan and with the sponsorship of Consumers Energy and DTE Energy.

 

Merit Network, Inc. is a nonprofit corporation owned and governed by Michigan’s public universities. Merit owns and operates America’s longest-running regional research and education network. In 1966, Michigan’s public universities created Merit as a shared resource to help meet their common need for networking assistance.

 

Since its formation, Merit Network has remained on the forefront of research and education networking expertise and services. Merit provides high-performance networking and IT solutions and professional development to Michigan’s public universities, colleges, K-12 organizations, libraries, state government, healthcare, and other non-profit organizations. For more information visit merit.edu/

 

Business Matters: Steelcase and Microsoft design technology-enabled spaces to enhance creativity

Photo provided by Steelcase Inc.

Steelcase and Microsoft Corp. have joined forces to explore the future of work, developing a range of technology-enabled spaces designed to help organizations foster creative thinking and better collaboration. These spaces seamlessly integrate the best of Microsoft Surface devices with Steelcase architecture and furniture. Today the companies unveiled five new “Creative Spaces” showcasing how Steelcase and Microsoft can help organizations unlock creativity for every employee.

 

Additionally, Steelcase and Microsoft announced:

  • That Microsoft is expanding its partner network into the world of design by bringing in select Steelcase dealers as authorized Surface Hub resellers.
  • Steelcase and Microsoft are working together to develop technology-enabled workplace solutions built on Microsoft Azure IoT technology.

“The problems people face at work today are much more complex than they used to be. They require a new creative way of thinking and a very different work process,” says Sara Armbruster, vice president of strategy, research and new business innovation for Steelcase.

 

“We believe that everyone has the capacity for creative thinking, and people are happier doing creative, productive work. Together, Microsoft and Steelcase will help organizations thoughtfully integrate place and technology to encourage creative behaviors at work.”

 

The companies’ exploration of creative work found that creativity is a process in which anyone can engage and requires diverse work modes as well as different types of technology. People need to work alone, in pairs and in different size groups throughout a creative process, and they need a range of devices that are mobile and integrated into the physical workplace. Additionally, spaces should inspire people without compromising performance.

 

For more information on Creative Spaces and the partnership between Microsoft and Steelcase, go here or here.

 

Chamber names Valorous Circle ‘2016 Service Business of the Year’

Jonathan and Beth Mast, founders of Valorous Circle

By Victoria Mullen

 

WKTV

 

In this lightning-paced, online world, one of a business’s greatest challenges is to get noticed and set itself apart from a plethora of similar businesses. No mean feat — the Internet is a bottomless sea of noise, images and information.

 

But Valorous Circle — the Wyoming-Kentwood Area Chamber of Commerce’s 2016 Service Business of the Year — helps all kinds of businesses do just that. Since 2010, the website design company has focused on marketing instead of just a website’s functionality.

 

One only need look at co-founders Jonathan and Beth Mast’s foundational values to understand what sets Valorous Circle apart from its competitors.

‘We don’t really look for a lot of accolades other than from our clients’

“Obviously, a website has to work — no one is going to use a website that doesn’t work,” said Beth Mast, Owner and Chief Operating Office of Valorous Circle. “But beyond that, it has to be able to engage with the actual client’s audience. That was the primary focus that we began from.

 

“From there one thing that makes us very unique is that we give our clients full access to their website where that’s not typical. And we’re here to support them, to empower our clients to know that this is their asset, this is their website.”

 

The Masts work very closely in the community with nonprofits, ministries and primarily with businesses throughout the area, helping them create an online presence that “creates credibility for their business and then drives traffic to their website and more importantly, the right traffic,” said Jonathan Mast, Founder and Chief Internet Strategist. “We don’t just want to provide the client with a pretty website. We want to provide them with a website that’s going to appeal to their target audience.”

 

It is against this backdrop that the Masts received word that Valorous Circle was being honored as the Chamber’s 2016 Service Business of the Year.

 

“We don’t really look for a lot of accolades other than from our clients, obviously,” said Jonathan. “We just feel real honored that the Chamber is recognizing the work we’re doing in the community and showing some appreciation. We’re thrilled, very honored.”

 

The folks at Valorous Circle are big believers that a company should be involved in the communities where it does business.

 

“And although we are based in Grand Rapids, we do work throughout West Michigan and as a result of that, we’re members of the Wyoming/Kentwood Chamber, among other chambers, because we want to be part of that community,” Jonathan said. “We want to give back.”

 

Valorous Circle has come a long way since its humble beginnings, in a chilly basement.

 

“We currently have 10 employees, 11 if you count our dog, Yoshi, who is our Barketing Director and Happiness Hero,” said Beth. “We have employees that are in sales and marketing, we have developers and support and doing website design, project managers and marketers.”

 

Jonathan said the Wyoming Chamber does a fantastic job of understanding that a company’s first and primarily goal is to serve and at the same time make a fair profit.

 

“The Chamber is very focused on helping us become better businesses, become more involved in the community and do a better job of reaching that community, Jonathan said. They help promote each of the businesses that are members and encourage networking and collaboration among the members.

‘Our involvement with the Chamber is mutually beneficial’

“My grandfather taught me many years ago that a rising tide raises all boats. And it’s part of how we do business, it’s part of what we really respect about the chamber, that they understand that concept. That the better the area is doing, whether that’s the individual community, whether that’s the businesses in the community, or whether that’s other aspects related to that, it helps everybody out.

 

“And so by creating a stronger community, whether that’s a jobs area, whether that’s a business community, whether that’s better networking, whether it’s better collaboration between nonprofits and business, that rising tide benefits every single individual, and organization within the area and I think that that’s one of the things I’m so thankful that I learned early on and we’re really thankful for that the chamber seems to embody.”

 

Registration for Science Night at Grand Rapids Public Museum now open

The Grand Rapids Public Museum. (Supplied)

WKTV Staff

 

The Grand Rapids Public Museum (GRPM), recently announced that registration is open to host a science booth at this year’s Science Night at the Museum, taking place on Tuesday, April 18.

 

GRPM is inviting local and regional researchers, students and faculty to host a hands-on table display related to their research or field of study, according to supplied material  the event will be  from 5 to 8 p.m. The vision is to have lab groups or individuals putting together innovative ways to engage the public and communicate their research to the community.

 

A cash award will be given for the most innovative and hands-on interpretation of their research. One winner will be chosen by public vote and a second chosen by the Museum’s education staff.

 

Applications are open through Feb. 10 and can be found at grpm.org/ScienceNight

 

Government Matters: Sen. Peters meets Trump’s transportation nominee Chao

WKTV Staff

 

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI), a member of the Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee, on Jan. 9 met with Elaine Chao, President elect Donald Trump’s nominee for U.S. Secretary of Transportation.

 

U.S. Sen. Gary Peters (D-MI)

“I appreciated the opportunity to meet with Elaine Chao and discuss a number of transportation issues critical to Michigan and the nation,” Sen. Peters said in a supplied statement. “During our meeting, I was able to raise the importance of connected and automated vehicle technologies as an issue the federal government should continue to focus on in the coming years.

 

“Under the Obama Administration, the Department of Transportation has made significant progress to help support the development and deployment of these life-savings technologies, and I will be urging the Trump Administration to continue building on the progress that has already been made through efforts like the recent Federal Automated Vehicle Policy and proposed rule for vehicle-to-vehicle communications.”

 

Sen. Peters also stressed Michigan’s leadership role in the future of transportation technology innovation.

 

“I also shared information about Michigan’s role as a leader in the future of mobility and discussed the good work already underway in Michigan at test facilities like the University of Michigan’s Mcity and the American Center for Mobility,” he said. “I urged Ms. Chao to follow through on DOT’s current competition to designate national proving grounds to help connected and automated vehicle technologies reach their full potential. I look forward to continuing this discussion and hearing more about her plans for DOT during her confirmation hearing.”

 

President Obama signs innovation and competitiveness co-sponsored by Sen. Peters

 

President Barak Obama on Jan 6 signed into law the American Innovation and Competitiveness Act, a bipartisan legislative compromise originally introduced by U.S. senators Gary Peters (D-MI) and Cory Gardner (R-CO), along with John Thune (R-SD), and Bill Nelson (D-FL).

 

The first major update to federal research and technology policy to originate in the Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee in more than a decade, this legislation maximizes basic research opportunities, reduces administrative burdens for researchers, encourages scientific entrepreneurship, and promotes oversight of taxpayer-funded research.

 

“Scientific research and innovation are the foundation of a strong economy,” Sen. Peters said. “The American Innovation and Competitiveness Act will help leverage federal investments in basic research, strengthen STEM education to train a skilled workforce and support small and medium sized manufacturers to keep our country internationally competitive.”

 

The legislation also promotes diversity in STEM fields, incentivizes private-sector innovation, and aims to improve advanced manufacturing and the Manufacturing Extension Partnership (MEP), a public-private partnership to support small and medium-sized manufacturers.

 

Plugging back into real life

nature-laptop-outside-macbook By: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

 

Have you ever stopped to think about how ‘plugged in’ we are as a society that everyday life events are missed right in front of us? I’ve passed countless people looking at their phones instead of paying attention to their surroundings. I’ve seen the videos of people too immersed in their phones to notice they’re about to walk into traffic or take an unplanned dip into a pool; things that are blatantly obvious if only their eyes were watching life instead of watching their phone.

 

One time while sitting at a restaurant, I overheard a father telling his teenage son that if he continued to stare at his phone instead of being a part of the dinner conversations, than he would be left at home during the next night out. We are now so plugged in that my 5-year-old niece recently noticed a landline phone for the first time and asked what it was. She lives in a world where there are only cell phones!

 

social-networks-time-spentTechnology is a great tool that can oftentimes be misused or abused. Facebook, like the internet as a whole, is a great way to stay in touch with friends and family but it can quickly turn into a time suck. On average most people send about 50 minutes a day on Facebook alone. Add in other social media outlets and that number quickly climbs to over 2 to 3 hours, depending on age.

 

Have you seen the video on YouTube where a young girl goes through her day without a cell phone only to notice the abundance of phones around her? The video currently has over 49 million views and gives a perfect example of what we actually notice when we look up from our mobile devices. The simple act of enjoying life has been pushed aside with distractions of the virtual world.

 

So, what are we to do?

 

Well, we could organize burn parties and destroy all the technology! Okay… maybe that is a bit extreme, and bad for the environment, but we can add minor changes in our days. Type in a quick google search and there are many articles out there that discuss just this idea. However, I’ve already done the homework and condensed them down. Below are some of my favorites:

 

1.) Digital Diet: Specifically a social media diet. FOMO – The Fear Of Missing Out – is real thanks to a constant influx of social media. Turn off alerts on your phone to help limit the amount of time you’re online or delete the App entirely. On top of quieting your alters, try limiting the amount of posts you make. If you usually post multiple times per day, maybe tone it down to one or two. Facebook started as a way to stay in contact with family and friends, not to be a digital diary to spew your innermost thoughts. Well, at least in my opinion is isn’t.

 

2.) Chose a day to limit technology: Tech free Sunday? Mellow Monday? I’ve done this in the past and found Sunday works best for me. I enjoy morning coffee while reading an actual, physical newspaper. Afternoons are filled with family games or maybe a hike at a local park. Chose a day that works best for you even if you can set aside only part of the day. I have found my productivity to expand exponentially on my technological days off.

 

3.) Device hub: New house rule, no phone in the bedroom. It sounds harsh, doesn’t it? Try it and you might just thank me. Studies have found that consuming technology up to, or in, bed is bad. You sleep better when you back away from the tech world. Try and give the digital world up at least 30 minutes before bed. It’s a great way to reconnect with a loved one at the end of the day. I’ve tried it myself with my husband and we found it mutually beneficial and enjoyable as we both clearly have each other’s attention and focus. Your loved ones deserve your attention at the end of the day, not your phone.

 

no cell phone4.) Eat without electronics: It sounds like such a simple concept, to eat a meal without a phone check, but people struggle with it all the time. No email, no social media, and no taking a picture of your meal and posting it online. Just eating and being mindful of what you’re eating. Same goes when you’re with friends. We all have that one friend who can’t make it 10 minutes without looking at their phone for some reason or another. Heck, unfortunately it seems this behavior is becoming the norm instead of the exception.

 

I have one friends that is really good about being in the moment. If we are out grabbing a coffee or getting a meal, she often shuts her phone off. Yes, she turns her phone completely off! It was shocking the first time I saw her do it but quickly realized how important it was that she was giving me all of her attention. When’s the last time you’ve had that with someone?

 

5.) Make it simple: So, you can’t make it through a stop light without checking the phone? Take the necessary steps to make it more difficult to reach the phone during the car ride. For me, my phone goes in my purse which goes in the backseat of the car. The gentlemen reading this probably don’t have a purse, but a briefcase works the same was as does putting the phone in the center console. Out of reach, out of mind.

 

With the phone out of reach, I’m more mindful of my surroundings, like the soccer mom in the van coming across the lane because she’s busy texting and driving.

 

6.) Inform others: Let others in your life know you are cutting back. Don’t send me a message on Facebook if you need my immediate attention, call or text me. If you don’t have my number, maybe we should work on becoming better friends first. Are you planning on not answering your phone during certain hours? Make it known! I do this with my best friend who happens to love the idea. When my friends is working third shift, she can can keep me updated about her day while knowing that I’m not being disturbed by alerts. Thank goodness for the ‘Do Not Disturb’ feature on my phone. I keep it on daily from 11pm to 9am.

 

gertrude stein quoteGive a few of these ideas a try over the next week or two and see how it goes. You might discover how much you’re truly plugged in without realizing it. Disconnecting will give you something real back into your life. Disengaging from technology might take the stress down a little bit as you’re able to better concentrate on the task at hand. Whatever it is that you find, I hope you find a little bit of ‘real’ that you may have been missing in the digital world.

 

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West Michigan area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Metro Health to partner with U-M Health System

generic-metro-health

By: Mike DeWitt

Mike.DeWitt@wktv.org

 

Amongst all the medical facilities and providers in the greater Grand Rapids area, Metro Health Corporation can now be considered one of the ‘Leaders and Best’ after recently announcing their intent to join the University of Michigan Health System.

 

Both organizations signed a letter of intent to bring Metro Health’s hospital and network of doctors, nurses and other providers together with U-M (health system), expanding this academic medical center’s care in western Michigan.

 

“The U-M Health System is a top-ranked academic medical center with a world-class medical school, extraordinary hospitals and clinics, and groundbreaking research facilities focused on moving cutting edge discovery to patients’ bedsides in order to improve lives,” said Marschall Runge, M.D., Ph.D., executive vice president of medical affairs and Dean of the U-M Medical School. “We are excited about the opportunity to collaborate with Metro Health’s expert physicians and health care professionals in stepped up ways.”

 

While Metro Health already partners with U-M for clinical services like radiation oncology, this affiliation agreement gives U-M its first hospital near Grand Rapids.

 

Michael Faas, President of Metro Health, added that joining with the U-M clinical enterprise will bring additional options for complex care to Metro Health patients and to the greater Grand Rapids community.

 

“It is no secret that U-M has some of the best providers in the state and country,” said Faas. “By joining the ‘leaders and best’ we can build on our existing expertise and provide our patients and community with enhanced access to specialized health care services, scientific discovery and advanced technology.”

 

The letter of intent signed by both organizations is not a sale and no layoffs are expected at either health system. Also not expected, a U-M satellite medical campus like Michigan State University has with Spectrum Health.

 

“There are currently no plans for a medical school to come as a result of the partnership,” said Metro Health spokeswoman Ellen Bristol.

 

The partnership with U-M comes a year after a proposed partnership with a for-profit Tennessee-based hospital chain dissolved. The Tennessee organization was to contribute between $100 to $125 million in capital to Metro Health.

Power to rival a laptop? The iPad Pro leads the way

iPad Pro

By: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

 

Apple debuted the iPad Pro last September. A full size tablet with a 12.9-inch screen made it nearly the size of the laptop that I use on a daily basis. However, the iPad Pro came with a more beautiful Retina display for a crisper and cleaner viewing experience.

 

After it was introduced, my business partner – and husband – and I took the time to look into the tech specs and read hands-on reviews from other tech experts. When we completed our research, we looked at each other and thought: Is this the iPad we’ve been waiting for? The iPad Pro seemed powerful enough, and the drawing features kicked it up a notch from finger painting to a much more detail oriented Apple Pencil.

 

You see, it isn’t that we haven’t had an iPad before. We had bought the original iPad the year it was released, and we (me) liked it, but a full-sized laptop was still a better option to suit our needs. Fast forward to 2016, and we are again talking again about an iPad. While the both of us are heavy computer users, we started to find it almost necessary to have something just as powerful but more compact. We have our phones, but even on the largest phone screen it can be frustrating at time for our needs.

 

iPad ProEnter the iPad Pro… but smaller?

 

A few months ago, Apple CEO Tim Cook introduced the iPad Pro….again…this time with a smaller, more manageable, 9.7-inch screen. The size was certainly attractive, but Apple doesn’t just take the same product and shrink it down. Along with a smaller size, the smaller iPad Pro also added better features including a 12-megapixle camera in the back and a 5-megapixle camera on the front. With the better cameras came the ability to shoot 4K video and still work with the Apple Pencil.

 

So, we caved and bought a space grey 9.7 inch 128GB iPad Pro from $750, and it fits right in with our Apple family. Setup was easy and it seamlessly  integrated into our daily lives. Now I don’t have to pack up my laptop when going to clients. My purse is big enough to slide in and carry it around.

 

After purchasing our new work tool, the next logical step involved purchasing the Apple Pencil to take advantage of one of our favorite features – writing and drawing on the tablet. The pencil, costing $99, has some girth and feels like holding a nice, heavy pen. The touch sensitivity allows me to quickly change the pressure with how I write. I can change from a nice fine tip ball point pen with just a light touch to the screen to a much thicker line much like a sharpie when I press harder. Both the pencil and the iPad share by a lightning cable and charge quite quickly. The pencil requires bluetooth to function properly but I find that it lasts several days between charges.

 

Apple PencilOf course, once we purchased and had the device in our hands, it was natural to set out to find apps that were designed specifically for the iPad Pro. Drawing/Design and writing apps dominated the types of apps we searched for. When looking for a drawing/design app, we went to Adobe for our first choice.

 

Adobe Photoshop Sketch creates expressive drawing and painting without opening sketchbook. The artwork can be sent to Adobe Photoshop or Illustrator via the Creative Cloud.  So, if you are already a member of the Creative Cloud family, it’s a pretty handy app to have.

 

Adult Coloring books have become a recent trend and of course there’s an app for that. My favorite is Pigment. Pigment is a free app comes with several coloring “books.” Each book allows 3 free coloring pages, additional pages can be purchased with either a monthly or yearly membership. I’m currently making my way through the 135 free coloring pages.

 

When it comes to writing, searching for a note taking app wasn’t as easy as I thought it would be. Several of the free apps felt clunky and unrealistic to writing on a sheet of paper. While part of the challenge comes from writing on the smooth glass surface of the iPad Pro, the other difficulty is completely unrelated to the writing surface and deals with finding an app with the right type of features. A few of the apps gave me the option of just writing on a piece of plain white boring scratch paper. It took me about four different apps before I settled on one designed by Evernote called Penultimate.

 

Penultimate states that it “combines distraction-free, natural handwriting and sketching with the power of Evernote’s sync and search.” While an Evernote account is needed to utilize their ‘sync and search’ feature, you don’t need to have an account to use the basic program. Penultimates gives many options for writing like note taking, daily planners, graphing paper, music scoring, and even classic games like tic-tac-toe and hangman.

 

In the weeks since we brought the iPad Pro home, it has become integrated into our daily lives. By day, the iPad Pro is a tool of the trade for an executive assistant (me) to help clients near and far. When the sun sets, it’s becomes a release for my creative side!

 

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West Michigan area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

AT&T lauches “Puede Esperar” campaign to combat smartphone use while driving

Texting While DrivingBy: Mike DeWitt

 

It only takes one second, one glance down at your phone, to completely change a life. As technology and social networks continually innovate the way we communicate, they constantly vie for our attention throughout the day. Even when driving a car, a metal box hurling down the freeway at deadly speeds, it can be tempting to stay engaged to our social circles around us.

 

Back in 2010, AT&T created the It Can Wait campaign: a strong and simple message to put down your cell phone while driving. Now, in response to a recent findings on distracted driving, AT&T has shifted their campaign to reach U.S. Hispanics – Puede Esperar.

 

Puede Esperar is a direct response to new research that found 83 percent of Hispanics admitting to using their smartphone behind the wheel. That number is higher than an already staggering 71 percent of Americans as a whole that admit to distracted driving. Of that 83 percent, half admit to using their smartphone to social network while driving, more than a quarter (28%) take selfies or photos, and nearly 70 percent send texts messages.

 

The Puede Esperar campaign focuses on education and practical tools to help combat distracted driving. The campaign includes:

•    The AT&T DriveMode app is now available in Spanish and open to all carriers. The app helps curb the urge to text and drive by silencing incoming text messages once the car reaches 15 MPH.

•    A 360-degree video experience that simulates the potentially deadly consequences of glancing at your phone while driving. The video can be viewed on your smartphone.

•    A coast-to-coast virtual reality tour visiting local high schools and community events in more than a dozen cities by year-end.

•    A website to help share information and resources.

 

While the most recent campaign focuses on reaching the Hispanic population, it’s a problem that everyone needs to address.

 

“Now more than ever we need to focus on those who put themselves at high risk behind the wheel,” said Sandra Howard of AT&T. “We want them to know the dangers and take the pledge. Ultimately, we want them to keep their eyes on the road, not on their phones.”

 

Since the original campaign launched in 2010, It Can Wait has helped grow awareness of the dangers of distracted driving, inspired more than 8 million pledges to keep their eyes off their phones and on the road, and collaborated with AT&T data scientists on research that shows the impact statewide anti-texting laws have on the rates of texting while driving.

 

Remember, that text, snapchat, photo, tweet, and instagram post isn’t worth a life. Put away your cell phones and focus on the road ahead.

Code Red Robotics moving on to World Finals

By: Mike DeWitt

 

After a strong showing at the FIRST in Michigan State Championship, Kentwood’s own Code Red Robotics has earned a bid to the World Finals in St. Louis from April 27-30.

 

The State Championship at the DeltaPlex saw Code Red Robotics finish 11th in the qualifying rounds before eventually bowing out in the quarterfinals.

 

WKTV News will be sure to keep up on their journey!

It doesn’t have to be a hassle: Recycling Technology

Recycling Technology

By: Deidre Doezma-Burkholder

 

Earth Day is a day we are supposed to take time to take care of this planet we call home. We live here, and just like no one likes a messy house, a messy earth isn’t something fun to be in. I always try to do my part… I recycle, a lot. My recycling bin is nearly always filled to the brim by the time collection day comes. I donate clothes that are still in good condition but no longer fit my current styles. I even recycle my egg cartons to a neighbor that has several laying hens!

 

However, even I can get lazy with recycling, especially when it comes to technology. Technology feels like a little more effort needs to be put forth. Most of our technology goods can be recycled… but where? How? Ugh, I’ll just deal with it later.

 

ComprenewWell my friends, later is now! This year is the year that we clean up our technology that we have cast aside. Let’s start with Comprenew.

 

Comprenew is a company headquartered in Grand Rapids that has over 20 recycle drop-off locations throughout Michigan, including four refurbished electronic retail stores. The revenue generated goes directly back into the community by funding Comprenew’s educational and workforce development programs.

 

On Earth Day, Friday, April 22, Comprenew will be in downtown Grand Rapids along Monroe Center in front of Rosa Parks Circle collecting CRT’s, for certified recycling. Residents can drop off unwanted CRTs, for a small fee, from 8am to 2pm.

 

Best Buy has a large recycling program with a goal of recycling 2 billion pounds of electronics – from batteries, cameras, appliances, and even your phone – by 2020.

 

Looking to upgrade your phone? Best Buy and certain cellular providers offer trade-in value for you phone.

 

Have an iPhone that is past its prime? Check out what Apple is doing with old phones they are getting back. Liam was recently introduced to the world and this is a pretty cool recovery robot. Speaking of Apple, through April 24 Apple is donating 100% of the proceeds from participating apps and in-app purchases to help support WWF.

 

Kent County Recycling Facility
Kent County Recycling Facility

Lastly, if you really want to see the tech behind recycling, make sure to schedule a trip to our own Recycling Facility. Kent County allows scheduled tours of their three facilities to help educate kids on what happens after the recycling truck stops by.

 

With all this great, new technology coming at us faster each and every year, it’s important to recycle the old once we’ve moved on to the new. Recycle today for a longer tomorrow.

 

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West Michigan area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Do you really ‘like’ it? Facebook rolls out new emojis

The new Reactions emoji from Facebook.
The new Reactions emoji from Facebook.

So your Facebook friend posts about a tragic event in his/her life and you want to show support, but you don’t really like what has happened. Well all those 1.6 billion worldwide Facebook users will be thrilled to know that Facebook has come up with five new Reactions emoji to help you better express your feelings.

 

The new emojis – “Love,” “Ha Ha,” Wow,” “Sad” and “Angry” – were rolled out today creating quite the buzz on both social and regular media. Along with the well established “like” button, that makes a total of six different emojis users can use to express themselves.

 

To add one of the new Reactions emoji simply hold down the “like” icon on mobile or hover over it on the desktop which will allow you to see the new Reactions. Then you just tap or click on the one you want to use.

 

Like any new item, user response has been mixed, mostly because we all have to get used to it first.  Some people ❤️ it. Some people ? it and others just seem ?.

 

I did a quick survey of our office and response was neutral.

 

“I am kind of sad that my emotions are being boiled down to simple emojis,” said our young intern Brett Wiesenauer.

 

No worries Brett, there are still plenty of stickers.

 

“They really do need a dislike button,” said WKTV Managing Editor Mike DeWitt. That is correct, there is no “dislike” button that many have requested. According to Facebook, the social media company wanted to give users options to express their feelings and felt a dislike button would be too restrictive.

 

“I wish they had a middle finger,” said WKTV’s Victoria Mullen. I can honestly think of all the reasons Victoria would use this and totally get why Facebook did not and probably will never ever offer one.

 

As for me, I am happy that there is now a “love” emoji as often times there is something that I more than “like” and have to hit the like button and include “Love it” in the comments. I do wish they had an eye roll or “seen that” for those posts that get reposted umpteen times and then six months later someone reposts it again and all you can do is go “ugh.” I suppose the angry emoji would work as I am annoyed but I am not necessarily angry about it.

 

So what emoji would you have liked to see? Email me at joanne@wktv.org or post it on our Facebook page.

Amazon: The Dangers of Dashing

brett_wiesenauerRecently, Amazon.com started selling grocery items, available using their trademarked Prime Shipping, even though it isn’t technically available in 2-day shipping. To me, this new step seems inspired, what with the increasing levels of laziness in the millennial generation, myself included, but the system still has plenty of fine-tuning to be made until I personally proclaim it a successful venture for the internet shopping giant.

 

First of all, as mentioned above, the shipping takes too long. I experimented with ordering something the other day, but once I arrived at checkout for my measly package of Fanta, Pringles, and Dove soap, the site announced that the package should not be expected before Monday. This was Wednesday. For something called Prime Pantry, I expect a better status of shipping than using a third-rate electronics outlet operating out of Jakarta.

 

Second of all, not every grocery and health and beauty item is available for PP yet. For a system to work to the fullest, the majority of Prime-worthy items, lest they be on back-order, should be available to pick out and ship out together. It says something that I could use normal Prime shipping and get non-Prime Pantry grocery items more quickly than the heavily advertised Prime Pantry, Amazon’s prime outlet for grocery items. Um…

 

Third, the newest option for Prime Pantry is the following: The Dash Button.

azdshNow, in theory, this tech sounds downright brilliant: press a button, groceries appear. Brilliant!

 

I can appreciate the leaps in technology that bring us those couple of steps closer to The Jetsons. However, there is still the issue at hand regarding the reliability of unregulated Dash-ing.

 

The device is a simply designed tab with a single button and single operation:

trupBut what happens when little Donny Jr. gets his hands on the shopping button and presses it to his heart’s delight? What if the analog apocalypse strikes your house and you are unable to access your Amazon account and suddenly your checking account is slapping you with multiple overdrafts while gallons of Gatorade are dropped off in front of your residence, barricading you inside the dwelling with only Gatorade to sustain yourself on while anxiously awaiting rescue? Can we protect ourselves from such a promising, yet volatile new technology that connects itself directly to our financial arteries?

 

What happens if you accidentally set your tablet next to the device and suddenly your e-books have been corrupted, replaced by multiple incarnations of vintage Sears-Roebuck catalogs and Amazon promotional guides from 1995? Are you going to be hypnotized by the overt consumerism on display and spend all your hard-earned Monopoly Monies on dog-eared copies of The Bold Vegetarian: 150 Inspired International Recipes?

 

Is there no end to the ridiculous consumerism that permeates the pores of our pauper-ish patriarchal penitentiary? Can Brett finish this editorial before he leaves for the evening? Is there no end to the madness?

scared_tech

10 Star Wars Technologies on the Brink of Becoming Reality

Star WarsBy: Glenn McDonald – MacWorld

Set several years after events from George Lucas’ original trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens promises to update us on the adventures of Han, Luke, and Leia, as well as introduce a new generation of heroes and villains.

Like Hollywood’s other, lesser sci-fi franchises—that’s a personal opinion—Star Wars deals with futuristic technologies that often have their origins, or even their rough equivalent, in real-world science. It’s a tradition as old as science fiction itself. The writers and designers who dream up sci-fi systems, weapons, and vehicles begin their notional noodling with the actual technologies they see around them.

Here we look at 10 Star Wars technologies and shift our gaze deeper toward the inspirations and real-world science behind them. Blasters. Droids. Hyperspace drives. It’s good to be talking about these topics again, isn’t it?

Star Wars - LightsabersLightsabers

An elegant weapon of a more civilized age, the lightsaber remains the greatest contribution from Star Wars to the sci-fi weaponry arsenal of fame. Mythology holds that each weapon is powered by a quasi-mystical kyber crystal, which resonates both with the Force and with its individual Jedi—or Sith. The blade is made from focused plasma energy, held within an invisible containment field.

Lucas conceived of the lightsaber as a sci-fi update to the standard sword wielded by heroes in fantasy stories and film serials. The original name for the weapon, “lazersword,” was thankfully revised as the original film script developed.

Could we actually make a real lightsaber? Maybe. Back in 2013, researchers at Harvard and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology managed to get photons to bond together like molecules, creating a state of matter that had previously been purely hypothetical. “It’s not an inapt analogy to compare this to lightsabers,” said Harvard’s lead researcher at the time, causing worldwide swooning among the faithful.

Star Wars Imperial WalkersImperial Walkers

Possibly the single coolest combat vehicle in the Star Wars universe, Imperial Walkers, or AT-ATs (All Terrain Armored Transport), are used by Imperial ground forces to crush enemy resistance and morale. At the infamous Battle of Hoth, AT-ATs proved to be the decisive weapon in breaking Rebel defenses, and gave the original trilogy one of its signature set pieces.

Legend holds that George Lucas’ inspiration for the Imperial Walker came from giant cargo lifters on the San Francisco Bay—although this origin story has apparently been refuted by the the man himself. In any case, subsequent details gradually emerged in the Star Wars canon: AT-ATs stood 22.5 meters high and were powered by massive hydraulic joints using compact fusion drive engines.

In the realm of contemporary robotics, Boston Dynamics’ BigDog robot (inset) is similar in style, if not scale, to those massive Imperial Walkers. About the size of a small mule, the BigDog uses a hydraulic actuation system to power four articulated legs designed to navigate rough terrains. BigDog can run, climb slopes and carry more than 300 pounds of cargo.

Star Wars Moisture VaporatorsMoisture Vaporators

Not all of the technologies in Star Wars are Hoth-shaking monstrosities. Some appear as quick throwaway lines or references, which nevertheless have held an enduring fascination for fans of a sufficient intensity. For instance, on Luke Skywalker’s arid home planet of Tatooine, farmers must deploy “moisture vaporators” to pull water out of thin air. C-3PO’s fluency with the binary language of these vaporators leads to his employment with the Skywalkers, and subsequent heroics.

Techniques and technologies for pulling moisture out of the air actually go back hundreds and maybe even thousands of years. It’s simply a matter of cooling water vapor into a denser liquid state—the Incas were quite good at it, for instance. In recent years, engineers have developed some interesting variations on the theme, like the bicycle-mounted moisture vaporator.

Star Wars LandspeedersLandspeeders

Luke Skywalker’s junky landspeeder—the X-34 model, technically—was the first of many levitating vehicles that would be introduced in the Star Wars universe. Whether small or large, like Jabba the Hutt’s pleasure skiff, the vehicles were powered by antigravity technology known as repulsorlift engines, according to Star Wars lore. Repulsorlifts, in turn, were imagined as manufactured “knots” of space-time that could be directed to push back against existing gravitational pull.

Antigravity is a time-honored science fiction trope, going all the way back to H.G. Wells and some of the earliest sci-fi stories. As for contemporary theories about antigravity, the science gets extremely complicated and much depends on how you define your terms. But we certainly have plenty of “levitating” vehicles to choose from, including hovercraft RVs and maglev trains. Volkswagen is one of several companies looking into the idea of electromagnetic hover cars.

Star Wars HyperdriveHyperdrive

Han Solo’s many daring escapes in the original Star Wars trilogy often involve the Millennium Falcon’s rickety hyperdrive engine. A classic FTL (faster than light) device, the hyperdrive concept allows Star Wars ships and characters to zip across the galaxy to different planets, which makes the storytelling a whole lot easier.

FTL travel has long been a useful conjecture in science-fiction stories for exactly that reason. References to hyperspace and other modes of interstellar travel date back to the golden age of science fiction in 1940s and 1950s, where George Lucas found inspiration for many of space opera ideas.

We’re nowhere close to hyperdrive technology, but if a growing collection of reports is to be believed, NASA is indeed investigating an “impossible” alternative spaceflight technology. The controversial electromagnetic propulsion drive, or EM Drive, purportedly converts energy directly into thrust and continues to be tested at NASA’s Eagleworks Laboratories.

Star Wars BlastersBlasters

“Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side, kid.” So says Han to Luke in the original Star Wars movie, advocating for sidearms over ‘sabers. Referred to as blasters throughout the film series, these ranged weapons follow very specific rules throughout the entire Star Wars multimedia empire.

For one thing, don’t call them laser guns. Blasters are more accurately termed particle beam weapons, in that they shoot bolts of energized particles rather than beams of focused light. In the various Star Wars videogames that have been developed over the years, blaster bolts are treated as ballistic projectiles within the physics of the game.

In terms of real-world tech, blasters would be considered a kind of directed-energy weapon that fires highly charged particles of negligible mass. Directed-energy weapons are already in use by the U.S. military, most notably the Navy’s antidrone Laser Weapon System (LaWS).

Star Wars Tractor BeamsTractor Beams

The tractor beam concept is by no means exclusive to the Star Wars franchise—Trekkers can tell you all about it, for instance. But Star Wars does make use of the idea throughout the series. A kind of projected force field, a tractor beam is used to guide incoming vessels into space stations or ports. They can also be deployed to forcibly capture misbehaving ships in the vicinity—as when Vader’s Imperial Star Destroyer captures Princess Leia’s ship.

Scientists have been researching different kinds of tractor beam concepts since at least the 1960s, usually involving the projection of electromagnetic energy as a way to attract or repulse objects at a distance. More recently, engineers in the United Kingdom created a type of sonic tractor beam that projects sound waves to grab and manipulate lightweight objects. The device manipulates an array of 64 miniature loudspeakers to create acoustic fields of force. Neat.

Star Wars Protocol DroidsProtocol Droids

As he reminds us throughout the Star Wars films, C-3PO is a protocol droid specializing in “human-cyborg relations” and programmed to translate between languages. He is, in fact, fluent in over 6 million forms of communication. He never shuts up about it, really. Threepio’s essential function is a plot device that’s been inserted into all manner of sci-fi and fantasy stories—the machine or artifact that translates language between characters or cultures.

In the field of modern computer science known as natural language processing, real-time language translation has been a kind of Holy Grail for the past several decades. We’re getting surprisingly close: Skype is currently preview-testing a new service that translates spoken language in near real-time between callers. Skype Translator is currently available in English, Spanish, French, German, Italian, and Mandarin.

Star Wars Limb ProstheticsLimb Prosthetics

Attentive viewers of the Star Wars saga will notice that a curious number of characters get their limbs hacked off. Luke, most famously, loses his hand to Vader’s lightsaber in The Empire Strikes Back. But Luke gets his revenge in Return of the Jedi, claiming a hand back from Vader via lightsaber. In the prequel trilogy, we learn that Anakin already lost that hand—plus both legs—when he became Darth in the first place. Other characters that lose limbs: C-3PO, Mace Windu, General Grievous, Count Dooku, the Wampa, and Darth Maul.

The actual science of limb prosthetics has made tremendous strides in recent years, thanks to improvements in robotics, material science, and neural interface technology. In September, medical researchers successfully attached a prosthetic hand to a spinal cord patient that relayed tactile sensations directly to the brain. Electrodes placed in the patient’s motor cortex also allowed the patient to move the prosthetic hand with his thoughts. According to the research team, it’s the first time both capabilities have been put into the same prosthetic device.

Star Wars The ForceThe Force

Speaking of mind powers, it’s been almost 40 years (!) now since Star Wars introduced our planet to the concept of the Force. As a storytelling notion, the Force is much more akin to the magic of high fantasy than the technological speculation of hard science fiction. But then that’s always been a hallmark of the series, which proceeds from swords-and-sorcery as much as sci-fi—not to mention Westerns and samurai movies.

Here’s the funny thing: Very recent advances in high technology have resulted in instances of what might be termed Force-like powers. Neuroprosthetics are arguably a kind of telekinesis—people are moving things in the physical world simply by thinking about them. And experiments in brain-to-brain interface (BBI) have successfully approximated telepathy, enabling people to read each other’s thoughts via brain monitoring and stimulation.

Science-fiction author Arthur C. Clarke once wrote that any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic. Keep that in mind when you settle in for the next chapter in the Star Wars saga. May the Force be with you.

This article has been republished with permission from MacWorld.

Switch Getting Ready to Build as Bills Await Gov. Snyder’s Signature

Switch Pyramid campusAfter news broke that data storage giant Switch was looking to buy the old Steelcase pyramid building, and bring with it 1,000 jobs to the area within 10 years, the excitement permeated throughout not only West Michigan, but the entire state! One of the giants in the data storage industry, the Google of data storage if you will, was looking to make a home right here in West Michigan. A whole new industry looking to establish roots in the Great Lakes State.

However, things never go as smoothly as planned. Switch had one holdup before they were willing to make a home in Gaines Township, a tax break for data storage centers. After breaking a stalemate in the House late on Tuesday, the Senate signed off on the bills exempting data centers from sales and use taxes through 2035 if the industry meets job creation goals.

The bills are now waiting for Governor Rick Snyder’s signature to be put into effect.

Pyramid 1While the tax breaks were requested by Switch, they apply to all data centers in the state. The tax exemptions end if the collective data center industry doesn’t create at least 400 new jobs by 2022 and 1,000 new jobs by 2026.

Switch will move into the pyramid building at 4100 60th St. SE, a building that has been vacant since 2010. The building was purchased back in May by Norman Properties LLC. The company plans to use the site to build a 2 million-square-foot “SuperNap” data center.

It’s not just the tech industry that will see an influx in West Michigan, but also local businesses buoyed by Switch’s capital and economic impact. The company has a planned an initial $400 million construction budget and anticipates spending over $2 billion over the next decade. That money and business will be used primarily on local subcontractors.

The jobs created, and pay-rolled by Switch, are sure to bring a jolt to the local economy as well. Minimum wage for SuperNap jobs start at $15 per hour, plus benefits. Salary for a majority of the data center jobs pays between $60,000 and $200,000.

For a company with clients that include eBay, Sony, Boeing, Google, and Amazon to choose West Michigan as a major host site is an exciting opportunity to some, but for Gaines Township Supervisor Don Hilton Sr. it’s business as usual.

Steelcase Pyramid Interior“We’ve worked with many businesses before, and this one will be handled no differently. As of now, we haven’t received any requests from Switch,” stated Hilton who isn’t being caught up in the hoopla surrounding a new business coming into the area. When you’ve been on the job for 23 years like Hilton has, it’s all about the next step in the process.

With a new company also comes new employees who need a place to live. Gaines Township has vacant land available for real estate expansion and Hilton wouldn’t be surprised to see land developed as time goes forward.

“There are a lot of variables, but common sense says yes. With more people comes more demand for homes and real estate.”

Looking to Return a Techie Gift this Holiday? Make Sure to Clear Your Data!

returned tabletBy: Mark Hachman – MacWorld

The first tip that something wasn’t quite right about the open-box tablet I had purchased from Fry’s Electronics was that fact that Marvel Contest of Champions appeared on the home screen.

I had sought out the most run-down, crappiest tablet I could buy for our buying guide on productivity tablets, as an example of what not to buy during the holiday season. The Visual Land tablet I found for about $70 was two years old, with visible pixels and a loose power connector. I powered it up, just to ensure that it would work… and discovered that it was still keyed to someone else.

Almost as soon as the tablet connected to my local Wi-Fi, a notification popped up: “Account Action Required” for the user’s account, and that there was a corresponding sign-in error as well. The user had obviously changed his or her password after sending back the tablet, meaning that anyone who had purchased it (me) couldn’t access any critical personal information. Nor did I want to; I factory reset it, sending whatever personal information was stored on the tablet into oblivion.

Why this matters: Every digital device you own is a potential portal that someone can use to peer into your personal life: providing access to your email, social media, cloud storage, and other accounts. Yes, most of us have internalized some security practices: antivirus software is now a way of life, we advise friends and relatives not to click on suspicious email, and we usually know what to do if we lose a phone. But with all the rushing around we do these days, sometimes something as small as erasing a tablet falls through the cracks. And once you’ve returned a device to a store, it’s out of your hands.

Lessons to learn

The lesson to take away from all this, however, is not to do what the person who owned and then returned this tablet did. Yes, changing your password after you’ve returned a phone, tablet, or computer may lock out other prying eyes from accessing your account and other personal information. But if you downloaded email, photos, apps, or other data, any information stored locally will remain for anyone who wants to pore through your personal life.

So how do you ensure that your device is wiped clean of all data? Follow these steps. Just be sure that anything stored on the device is backed up to the cloud or elsewhere. Once the reset is performed, all the data on the device is gone forever.

Always make sure that you reset the device before returning or disposing of it.
Always make sure that you reset the device before returning or disposing of it.

Android:

Access the Settings menu, either by swiping down from the top of the screen and clicking the “gear” icon, or tapping the Settings icon directly. Scroll down to the “Backup and reset” option, and click. Play it safe and ensure the process completes before boxing up your return.

Note that this process should work for both phones and tablets alike.

iOS:

To reset an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch, access the Settings menu, then select General > Reset > Erase All Content and Settings. If you were using the Find My iPhone option, the device will ask your for your iCloud password to turn it off.

Apple OS X:

Macworld has an excellent in-depth primer on how to go about securely erasing your drive.

Windows 8 or 8.1:

Swipe in from the right edge of the screen, tap Settings, and then tap Change PC settings. (If you’re using a mouse, point to the upper-right corner of the screen, move the mouse pointer down, click Settings, and then click Change PC settings.) Then select Update and Recovery, then Recovery. Then click Remove Everything and Reinstall Windows. You’ll also have an option to either quickly or thoroughly clean your data; if you’re the paranoid type, select “Thoroughly.”

Windows 10:

Go to the Settings menu, then Update & Security > Recovery > Reset This PC. Make sure you select the option to remove everything, including your personal files. (You probably don’t need to apply the “scorched earth” policy of overwriting the data on the drives, although if you’re actually going to dispose of the PC, it’s not a bad idea.)

Windows Phones:

Swipe to access the Settings Menu, then click “About.” You’ll see an option to reset your phone.

Some devices also provide the option of remotely wiping them, or erasing their data, either using the native OS or a third-party app. But it’s far more reassuring to perform the reset yourself, with the device in front of you.

Tech to be thankful for

Apple WatchBy: Jason Snell

Last week was Thanksgiving here in the United States, and columnists writing things-I’m-thankful-for columns is as much a tradition as turkey and stuffing and family arguments. Who am I to buck tradition? So let me present my 2015 list of technology stuff that I’m thankful for.

Find My Friends. This year my son started middle school and my daughter high school. They’re both now using hand-me-down iPhone 5’s, and it’s extremely helpful to be able to find where they are when I’m wondering. Part of growing up is gaining independence, but that doesn’t mean dad’s feelings aren’t improved when I know that my son’s a couple blocks away and will be home on his bike in just a minute.

Apple MusicApple Music. It seems to be popular to rip on Apple’s fledgling music service, but I’m using it far more than I’ve ever used any other streaming service, and I’ve tried most of them. It’s great that Apple Music integrates into my iTunes music library, so I can mix and match music I’ve bought with music from the service, and I’ve come to really appreciate the curated playlists of new music from different genres. I have discovered a huge swath of great new music simply by subscribing to the A-List Alternative playlist. I wish my family would embrace it, though—my daughter loves listening to music, but is a devout Spotify user and won’t make the switch.

Shared shopping lists on iPhone. I’ve been using Grocery IQ for a few years right now, which lets my entire family place items onto our grocery-store list. Recently I switched to AnyList, which is more modern and full featured than Grocery IQ, and adds Siri integration, so I can say, “Hey Siri, add an aluminum turkey roasting pan to the grocery list.” Pretty great.

Time-saving features in Overcast. I listen to a lot of podcasts (almost as many as I make myself!), and since I work at home, I don’t have a commute to use as listening time. In order to get as many podcasts in as possible, I’ve come to rely on the Overcast podcast app, which has some pretty amazing time-saving features. Overcast’s speed-boosting feature is the first one I’ve heard that makes faster audio sound natural, and not choppy and artificial. And its Smart Speed feature scales down pauses and silences, saving time even if you’re listening at standard speeds. I’d never go back to listening to podcasts at 100 percent speed and without Smart Speed.

Keyboard IPadExternal bluetooth keyboards for iPad. Even before the iPad Pro came out, I’ve enjoyed writing on the iPad as a change of pace. It helps me get up from my desk and be productive in some other location, whether it’s a cafe, the kitchen table of a friend or relative, or even the bar in my kitchen, where I’m writing this right now. To write at peak efficiency, I like to use an external keyboard, and while Apple now makes its Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro, there are plenty of great Bluetooth keyboards out there that offer more keys, better key travel, and even backlighting in some cases. (I’m still using Apple’s excellent last-generation Wireless Keyboard, which works great, even with the iPad Pro.)

Digital comics. As a kid I read an awful lot of comics, but largely stopped between about 1986 and 2010, when the iPad came out. Now I’m back as a comic reader again. Switching to the iPad Air 2 from the iPad mini has made comics even more fun to read. I buy new comics from Comixology, read DRM-free comics using Chunky Comic Reader, and binge-read a whole bunch of stuff from Marvel Unlimited. No, it’s not cheap, but at $69 per year, Marvel Unlimited is a pretty great deal if you like Marvel comics and don’t mind being a few months behind on the latest releases.

Slack. I don’t work in an office with other people—my dog wanders in from time to time, but that’s about it—but Slack keeps me connected. It’s a place to plan projects, explain ideas, and yes, have those water-cooler conversations that no longer take place around the water cooler, because who has a water cooler in their house? Businesses can pay for Slack to get extra features, but you can set up a Slack group for free and use it essentially forever. Think of a group you interact with mostly online—college friends, a club, even your family—and give Slack a try. You may be surprised at how much fun it is.

Social news discovery. I don’t read RSS feeds anymore—if I ever did, really. But I follow a lot of interesting people on Twitter, and have built several Twitter lists full of people who cover non-tech things I’m interested in, most notably sports and science. Thanks to Nuzzel, a clever iOS app and web service, I can browse my Twitter feed and my various lists as if they were news sources. Links recommended by more than one person will float to the top. It’s improved my news consumption for the better.

Apple WatchApple Watch. It’s also been cool lately to slag off the Apple Watch, but I still love mine. Not only does it tell the time—the most important function of any watch—but the new Night Stand mode has allowed me to replace my old alarm clock. I love getting notifications on my wrist and seeing my activity for the day and the week. Yes, there’s still a whole lot here that needs to be improved—that’s another column—but I wear mine every day.

A really big DVR hard drive. My TiVo Roamio has three terabytes of storage on it, and that’s a good thing. Between broadcast and cable, there’s a shocking amount of good television on, and I just can’t watch it all. And TiVo has done a good job of supporting streaming, too. Streaming shows appear as peers in the Now Playing list, show up in searches, and play—whether on Amazon, Netflix, or Hulu—with a couple of clicks of the remote. And streaming shows don’t take up hard drive space, which is good, I guess?

There’s plenty to criticize about the technology we use every day, and the stuff that the tech world keeps trying to sell us. But it’s worth stopping once in a while to consider all the great tech stuff that we use everyday. (And for tech columnists, “once in a while” means Thanksgiving week.)

Techie Gifts for the Holidays

giftsBy: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

Whenever the gift giving season comes around I’m at a loss for ideas on what to ask for and, more importantly, what to give. Every year it never seems to fail.

Sure, I can ask/give the mundane gift card to a various store, restaurant or iTunes. I mean, that’s easy, right? Do gift cards really say “Happy Holidays”? Okay, maybe they do, but only because it is already literally written on the plastic card!

Technology is always a great gift idea, and it also happens to be my forte. So, without further ado, here is a quick and simple gift guide to five holiday gadgets–in no particular order–anyone could use!

1. A Streaming Media Player.

If you’re still watching Netflix, Hulu, or Amazon Prime on your computer or a tablet, it’s time to upgrade to a media player. There are several options available in a variety of price ranges. As I’m partial to Apple products, I can’t help but speak to my love affair with Apple TV ™. With the release of the 4th version just in time for the holiday season, it’s worth the trip to wander yourself up to a local retailer for a looky look.

Apple TV 4th GenI currently have 3 Apple TV’s in my home and have been using them for several years now. I love the ability to access TV, movies, and stream music directly from Apple as well as watch Netflix, Hulu, and sample other channels. An entry-level device starts at just $69 while the new models start at $149. However, if you’re dead set against anything Apple, make sure to check out either Roku or Chromecast as both give similar options.

2. SmartWatch

Now, before you start telling me there is no way you’re going to buy an Apple Watch, take a deep breath and let me calm your fears, I don’t blame you. I don’t have one most likely for the same reason you don’t, I’m not about to spend $350 for a watch. (Disclaimer, if you do have an Apple Watch let me know, I’d love to talk to you.)

SmartWatchAny who… there are plenty of other options out there for you. Fitbit and Pebble both have reasonable options for SmartWatches. If you want something to help track you in the health and fitness area, a Fitbit Charge or Charge HR are great options that connect to your smartphone. Interested in just the smarter part of the smartwatch? Take a look at Pebble. Pebble allows you to receive technology notifications and music right on your wrist at a much more reasonable cost.

3. Say Cheese!

Now that most smartphones have cameras that can rival most point and shoot cameras, there are a slew of accessories to further enhance your smartphone camera’s possibilities. Olloclip has a nice 4-in-1 lens kit that can slip right over your phone. The lens hug the camera giving the option of a Fisheye, 2 Macro’s, and a wide-angle shot. Brilliant!! If you’re more the adventure type, a quick look over at Optrix gives you lenses, cases, and mounts for the phone.

OlloClip Lense4. Play that Funky Music Caucasian Youthful Male.

Remember the BoomBoxes of the 1980’s? They were HUGE, literally. Those large musical boxes have disappeared from our shoulders and have now been replaced with something that can easily fit into a backpack or purse. Portable speakers come in all sorts of shapes, colors and size. In fact you can even find some that are waterproof in case you want to bring the beat into the shower.

5. Super Sleek Storage

It is probably one thing that is over looked because it is more practical than fun, extra storage for your digital device. Maybe it’s a new, larger hybrid hard drive for your son or daughter. It could be an external hard drive case for your sister who has been working on a genealogy of your family. Maybe it’s just something as simple as a USB 3.0 32GB Flash Drive for the kid’s school projects. It doesn’t matter the reason or for who, sometimes the gift has to be about need instead of a want.

I could easily list many other gift options, but if you didn’t know where to start, hopefully I’ve provided a clearer path to set you out on your shopping journey. Good luck!

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West MI area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Be Thankful for Family, Food, and, of course, Shopping!

Black FridayBy: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

No sooner did the ghost and goblins of Halloween get back to their homes to feast on their newly acquired sugar collection that Sleigh Bells started ringing. That’s right, the big push of the last holidays are upon us, and wow has technology changed the ways we celebrate.

The holidays seem to require three important ingredients – Shopping, Food, and Family.

First, let me start off by saying that I have never, ever participated in the Black Friday Madness. I have witnessed it but I haven’t woken myself up at 3am to make it to a store that was opening at 5am so I could buy a $50 Blue-ray player for $15. I will admit to looking through the black Friday ads and even looking them up online ahead of schedule. In fact, there is a website you can visit that is fully dedicated to Black Friday Ads that not only posts the ads for Friday’s event, but also the toy books that retailers put out and other deal specific items. Extra Kohls cash anyone?

While a lot of people still trek out on that Friday, more people are opting out and staying in for Cyber Monday. The first Monday after Thanksgiving is now dedicated to an online shopping bonanza of epic proportions. Many of your favorite retail stores will put on extra sales on Monday as well, but the online retail giants make a serious play for your holiday cash.

With Amazon being one of the biggest names in online shopping, the company makes Cyber Monday a big, big, BIG event. Certain deals highlighted and change hour after hour. It’s enough to make even the most seasoned shopper spin around with glee.

Small Business SaturdaySmack in the middle of Black Friday and Cyber Monday is now known as Small Business Saturday. A day in the weekend where your local small business owners hope to attract and entice you. This can be done in a physical location as well as through a website. Just a quick search using the “shop local” option on Etsy.com allows you to see what some of your own neighbors have brilliantly made themselves.

When all your shopping is done, the focus goes back on the two most important parts of the holidays, food and family! It seems like a no-brainer that you’re going to need food. Food that you can make while you host the holiday at your home, or something a little easier to transport as you go through the woods to Grandmother’s house.

If you happened to miss my article on technology in the kitchen, you can find it here.

Then there’s family. It’s suppose to be the most important ingredient in the holiday recipe. While technology can help, it can also hinder. Sure, through the power of Skype or FaceTime you can video chat with your niece or nephew who is serving overseas. However, is will also keep your 14-year-old niece or daughter from looking up the entire time you’re at Aunt Kathy’s.

Screen Shot 2015-11-19 at 11.15.20 AMSo, a holiday challenge for you. Can you and yours set aside technology for the holiday gathering and have little to no smart phone or tablet use while you are surrounded with extended family? No Facebooking, no tweets to be sent, and no text to be read?

Some may find this hardly a challenge at all while others will struggle not to pick up their phone when there is lag in the conversation. Putting the technology aside might be tough at first, but the end result will be lifetime memories with family and friends!

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West MI area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Switch has its eyes on the old Steelcase Pyramid

PyramidBy: Mike DeWitt

It’s truly a stunning facility. A seven-story, 670,000-square-foot, research facility shaped like a pyramid. Even the ancient Egyptians would be envious.

Much like the Egyptian pyramids, the $111 million building commonly known as the Steelcase Pyramid–it acted as the company’s headquarters since the building’s inception in 1989–has been a tomb since 2010. A massive slab of granite and architectural beauty sitting on 125 acres of property just looking for a purpose.

Enter Switch, a data company that intends to purchase the pyramid and build a $5 billion SUPERNAP data center on its campus.

Switch Pyramid campusThe 2-million-square-foot data center would be the largest in the Eastern United States. The inland location of the pyramid places the data center within millisecond protocols of major markets without the risk of natural disasters that come with having a facility on the coastline.

“SUPERNAP Michigan will be 2 milliseconds from Chicago and 14 milliseconds from New York,” said the company’s announcement. “The prime campus locations have low millisecond access to the largest people hubs in the U.S. without being burdened with the high power prices, taxes, and earthquake/hurricane risks associated with those cities.”

There’s one potential hangup here with Switch moving into the pyramid, and it has to do with taxes. No building has been sold, no one has been hired, and nothing has been signed until Michigan legislature is wiling to give data centers a tax break.

West Michigan legislators introduced three bills in the Michigan House and Senate last week. Rep. Ken Yonker from Caledonia is leading the charge.

Pyramid 3The purchase of the pyramid would be a huge boon for technology and information economic development in West Michigan. Switch not only brings a wealth of big name companies in its client base including Google, Amazon, eBay, Time Warner, Sony, Dreamworks, Shutterfly, and Boeing, but the new data center would also bring 1,000 new jobs within ten years.

If the purchase is finalized, jobs will be created, economic and technological development will be brought to the area, and one of West Michigan’s most unique buildings has a purpose once again.

“This is the most amazing building I have ever seen,” explained property manager Jim Faunce to WKTV back in August after moving from Colorado to head the project. “I am in total awe of it!”

So are we, and it’ll be an honor to see the building put to use once again.

Technologically Fit

iphoneBy: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

My sister-in-law confuses me. She likes to run…without music. I do not understand how she is able to do it. I must have music in my ear when I’m attempting to run, jog, exercise. I have used several different apps in the past to help get myself in better fitter shape.

Just as I’ve used different apps I’ve also had different products too.

Before I had a piece of technology to help it was the classic pencil and paper. Log your food and log your work out. Then I got an iPod Touch and my world changed. All of a sudden I had apps that would help me. Log your food in this app. Watch how to do weights on this app. Track your bike ride on this app. Apps, glorious apps, everywhere! Then I realized, as I was losing the pounds on myself, my iPod was starting to become bloated.

I see a lot of mobile devices in my line of work. People mention that after a while their device starts to feel slow. Sometimes it is due to age, but 8 out of 10 times their devices is bloated with data.

For example, if you have an iPhone 6 that has 16GB of data storage, a few of those gigabytes are set aside right away for the software to run your phone. So now that brings us down to about 12GB of space. That is still a lot if you maintain the space properly.

Devices work best when they have breathing room. I usually recommend a minimum of 2GB of free space. Photos and videos take up a lot of room. A LOT OF ROOM. It is probably one of the things I see the most; 600 photos or more taking up space. Out of those 600 photos, probably only 120 of them are actually wanted.

Cleaning up your photos gives back precious space. Delete them from the phone or what I like to do is download them into my computer and delete them there, I find it to be faster that way.

Music can clog up your memory as well. When is the last time you took a look through your play list? This is another thing I try to keep up on. I actively keep 3 playlists on my phone. One for the gym and two for the car. With the addition of iTunes radio and other music streaming services you may not realize that you are not using your playlist anymore. If you’re not using them, get them off the device!

Then there are apps. As I write to you today, I have 50 apps on my phone. I like to review the apps on my phone every couple of months. There are apps I’m more likely to use in the summer than the winter. If I’m going on vacation I have more travel apps on my phone than when I’m just doing my usual business. Sure there are a lot of apps that you use frequently, and I’m not saying you have to take things down to a bare minimum, but I’m suggesting that maybe you don’t need to have every app on there. I use a guideline I made up myself. If I haven’t used the app in about 1 month, then I don’t need it on my phone.

Mac StorageAlso a reminder, all of this memory clogging is true not just for our mobile devices but for our actual computers too. Your laptop or desktop machine store massive amounts of data.

Quick! When was the last time you went through and deleted emails? Not just the spam or the junk but emails. Imagine if all those emails were printed out and lying around the house. Can you see that in your house? The nice thing is that usually with your computer you have the option of upgrading your hard drive to add more space. Your computer likes some breathing room just like you.

Happy-to-sad-iphoneOur phones, and our computers, are a machine, just like our body, and it needs to be taken care of to run at its peak. Sure, on vacation we like to let ourselves go a little bit and enjoy the trip – taking pictures and downloading new apps – but we don’t live everyday life that way. Watch what you put into your phone and make sure to trim the fat when it’s needed!

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West MI area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Missing bride mystery pursued in WKTV Digital Cinema Guild tonight

Grandpa Havens holding his first great grandson
Grandpa Havens holding his first great grandson

My earliest memories of my Grandpa include climbing into his lap so that he could read the “funny papers” to me out of the “Kalamazoo Gazette.” He smelled like Old Spice aftershave, Prince Albert pipe tobacco, and Clove or Teaberry gum – my choice, he always had sticks of both to offer me. He was balding with blue eyes that defined the term “twinkly,” hands that curved to fit naturally around any tool or the curve of an infant, a never-ending smile for his family, and a huge secret. I think my grandpa was a bigamist.

It’s true that I don’t know for sure, but all the evidence my mother found cleaning out his home after his death, years after my grandma had passed on, points to that conclusion.

Delbert Havens in horse  buggy croppedHere is what I know about my grandfather. His name was Lyman Adelbert Havens and all our relatives called him “Del.” He was born in Byron Center, Michigan on September 27, 1898 and he died shoveling snow off his front walk on January 30, 1978 in Grand Rapids. He was 79 years old. I knew from childhood that he had grown up on a farm, because he had stories about bringing in hay, handling teams of horses, the hard winters. He loved to fish and hunt, and he taught me how to put a worm on a hook.

Grandpa HavensI knew that in 1919, he was 21 years old when he took a troop ship to Europe at the end of the First World War and changed his life. He went from simple farm boy to man of respect carrying precious cargo in an elegant machine.

 

-General_John_Joseph_Pershing_headshot
General John “Black Jack” Pershing

He was a chauffeur for a number of officers, including (he claimed) General John “Black Jack” Pershing, who led the American forces to victory over Germany, a point of considerable pride for both him and the family. I know I loved him very much, and still do.

Here is what we found out about my grandfather long after he had died. While he was in Europe, he met a woman named Dora Gallner. Tucked away in a box long untouched, my mother found five pictures of Dora, one hidden in a frame behind a photo of himself. One of the Dora photos had words in German written on the back that shocked the family. Translated, they read “For my dear Dell – your abandoned bride, Dora.” One of the other Dora photos shows her staring mournfully at the camera. The text on the back reads, “A picture of myself in the month where I received my sad news from you. I nearly died from the heartache. Your lost bride, Dora. It is very sad.”

Dora Gallner1
Dora Gallner

In addition, my mother unearthed three postcards written by Dora to my great-grandmother Grace, Del’s mother. The postcards are dated cryptically. One is headed “Frastang, 11. X 21.” It reads in English, “Dearest Mother! I shall fortnight ago of Bern to travel. It is excellent. Many greetings and loving kisses Dora” and something else we can’t read. Another reads, “Dearest Mother! From Feldkird, many greetings and loving kisses. Dora.”

So it seems he was indeed married. In May 1922, he was honorably discharged from the Army and returned home to Michigan from Europe, without Dora. One year later, he married my grandmother Ethel. In two words, what happened? But of course, a multitude of questions are huddled under that umbrella; was he denied permission to bring her home? Did my grandmother know about Dora? Could we have family in Germany we have never known?

Del  Ethel Wedding Picture
Del and Ethel Havens Married May 1923

This is the story my sister, Lynette, and I have decided to research. We are using the resources of the WKTV Digital Guild, which meets Tuesday, September 29 and continues every 2nd Tuesday thereafter from 7pm-9pm at WKTV, 5261 Clyde Park Avenue SW, Wyoming. If you have a story to tell, come check out this program. Get all the support you need as you think about how to tell your story and how to use the equipment you need. WKTV awaits!

Technology Hot off the Griddle

CrabCookingBy: Deidre Doezema-Burkholder

One to my favorite places to to use technology is in the kitchen. I’ve found ways to utilize my laptop, iPad, and my phone in the kitchen as a reference while cooking. Just recently, we delegated a first generation iPad to the kitchen. While the iPad itself is considered out of date, because it doesn’t run the current iOS, some Apps still function on this old piece of technology.

So, what still works?

Well, for starters, the web browser still functions with no problem. That’s all I need to pull up any cooking website or blog I want. I was also able to download older versions of apps like Pinterest, How to Cook Everything, and Allrecipes’ Dinner Spinner to name a few. I was very pleased to be able to access Pinterest because there are so many great recipe links that people share.

CookingCalendarThe iPad also has the Kindle App, so I’m able to access all of the cookbooks that I’ve already purchased from Amazon.com. I was able to get the one’s I’ve already downloaded as a free download!

Of course, before I even get to the kitchen, I try and have my meal plan already in my calendar complete with links to the recipe I’ll be making. I try and list the main dish with 1 or 2 side dishes that I would like to make with it. Sometimes the recipe link is the main dish, and sometimes it’s a link for the side dish.

While the iPad is a great technology to have in the kitchen, there’s a company that makes cooking even easier by delivering groceries! That’s right, Doorganics is a local company that specializes in delivering fresh, local, and organic food right to your home. I took the option to receive deliveries every 2 weeks. The Thursday before the food is delivered, Doorganics sends an email with a list showing what is planned for the delivery. If I need to, I can login to their website and change the order.

DoorganicsMeasuring is made so much easier by technology, and because of that, my digital scale has become a mainstay in the kitchen. I use it for measuring everything from the correct amount of flour for Great Grandma’s recipe to the correct portioned size piece of steak to have for dinner – 3 ounces isn’t as big as you think it is!

Of course, some of the basic apps on your phone can be helpful too. The clock app has a built in timer, and when I am cooking a lot of items for bit events like Thanksgiving, I will use the Alarm setting in the app to keep watch on multiple items.

Last, but certainly not least, is the camera built right into my Phone. Yep, I’m one of those people that shares their food. I usually post it on my Facebook page with a link to the recipe. Occasionally, the picture might be shared on Instagram, but I promise it is few and far between!

Deidre owns and operates Organisum: Technology Services, a business serving the West MI area. In her free time she likes to hike & bike local trails with friends and family when she isn’t pinning, instagram’ing or Netflix’ing.

Labor Day Salute

GM Plant exteriorThanks to Labor Day, over 500 employees at the General Motors Plant in Wyoming have the chance to be home with families today. Production Manager Rick Demuynck, says employees are a critical part of the GM worldwide success and more than deserve a special day off. “Labor Day recognizes the importance of family,” says Demuynck. “Our operations run regularly sometimes 6 days a week. Our folks spend a lot of time away from family, and that requires family sacrifices sometimes because it’s hard to be in two places in the same time. This is a chance to be with families.” GMCH GR Team_Buy American

Employees at the GM Plant are just a small segment of the nearly 200 million American workers honored by Labor Day, though some employees will be on the job during special sales or other holiday events. Our 24-7 life style guarantees that Labor Day looks much different now than when it first began, the result of an often turbulent history between labor, management, and the formation of unions.

Rick Demuynck Plant Mgr
Rick Demuynck, GM Plant Mgr, Wyoming

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, Congress declared the first Monday in September Labor Day in 1894.  The national holiday “constitutes a yearly national tribute to the contributions workers have made to the strength, prosperity, and well-being of our country.” Demuynck agrees that the recognition is fitting. “Obviously, the basic wages and benefits of workers in this community – and that’s about $50 million this year – that money goes right back into the community. Beyond that, investment for operations will double in size over coming years. “

Demuynck, whose father worked in the automotive industry for 47 years, says he is “proud and humbled” to be in charge of the GM Plant. “My earliest memories from my father are the importance of hard work, the importance of labor. We (GM) are the best in the world measured in quality, productivity, any way you want to measure, a direct result of women and men who work here.”

Even though technological advances have reduced jobs over the years, Demuynck claims it would be a mistake to think people are not critical to plant operations.

“Technology is present in different forms of assembly and manufacturing, it helps in quality, which is important in manufacturing. But at the end of day, this is still a people system. We will never be any stronger than the people in the operation in every department.”

 

So if you’re shopping today, eating at a restaurant, in need of a hospital or any of the other services that keep people on the job today, be sure to thank them. No matter how technical our world gets, people still make Labor Day worth celebrating.

 

Don’t Want to Wait in Person? MI-TIME Line Makes it Possible

MI-Time LineTwo more Grand Rapids-area Secretary of State offices now allow you to reserve a spot in line via the Internet or by phone, saving you time.

Secretary of State Ruth Johnson announced today that customers can schedule appointments and get in line from a home computer, with a phone call or text message at the following offices:

  • Northeast Kent County PLUS, 3742 Plainfield Ave. NE in Grand Rapids
  • Southwest Kent County PLUS, 1056 Rogers Plaza SW in Wyoming

The offices are the latest in the state to offer the innovative customer-service technology called MI-TIME Line. By September’s end, 18 of the busiest Secretary of State offices will offer the service.

When you check in with MI-TIME Line, you’ll get calls or texts updating you on when your turn is coming up — meaning you don’t have to wait in the office.

“MI-TIME Line has revolutionized the waiting experience for Secretary of State customers,” Johnson said. “Get in line online and then do what you want to do. We’ll contact you when it’s almost your turn at the counter.”

To get in line at the Plainfield office from anywhere, customers may call 616-710-3315 or text “plainfield” to 571-414-0207.

To get in line at the Wyoming office from anywhere, customers may call 616-420-8608 or text “wyoming” to 567-455-7660.

The service has been offered since 2014 in the Grand Rapids Area SUPER!Center at 3601 28th St. SE. For that location, call 616-988-3421 or text “grandrapidssos” to 616-710-3915.

13-inch Retina MacBook Pro Review: The Force is with Apple’s Workhorse Laptop

Retina MacBookFrom the outside, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display looks like the MacBook Pro we’ve come to know from the recent past. The major changes to the laptop are only apparent once you start using the machine: increased speed, and a new Force Touch trackpad that provides new input functionality.

The changes are most certainly welcomed, but overall, they may not be enough for anyone who bought a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro within the past three years to upgrade. But if you’re laptop is older, or you’re thinking about upgrading from a MacBook Air, you’ll see great benefits.

The new Force Touch trackpad

In System Preferences > trackpad, you can adjust the amount of pressure needed to perform a click.
In System Preferences > trackpad, you can adjust the amount of pressure needed to perform a click.

When you press it, the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro’s Force Touch trackpad feels like it clicks, but the click you actually feel is haptic—technology is used to create a sensation of clicking. For longtime MacBook users, you can notice a difference when the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro is off: You can still click a trackpad on an older MacBook that’s powered off, but tap on the Force Touch trackpad and it feels dead, like you’re pressing against the laptop case itself.

The Force Touch trackpad has sensors to detect how hard you’re pressing. You can press to click like you normally would, but you can also perform a Force Click by pressing a little harder; you’ll feel a second, more pronounced click. Force Click has different functions; it can be used for Quick Look in the Finder; Force Click on a date and a pop-up appear to add an event to Calendar; it can activate Look Up; it shows a preview when you Force Click a web link; and much more.

I’ve always used the trackpad as a last resort. I prefer a mouse because my fingers fumble when I have to do things like click and drag to select part of an image or a section of text. But Force Click has me using the trackpad more often because it’s so useful. I don’t see myself ditching the mouse soon, but I could be using it less and less.

What else is new with the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display

The other updates are inside the laptop. Apple replaced the Intel Haswell processors in the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro with new Broadwell processors.

The $1299 laptop has a dual-core 2.7GHz Core i5 processor, with Turbo Boost support up to 3.1GHz, 3MB of shared L3 cache, and 128GB of flash storage. The $1499 model has the same processor as the $1299 version, but it has 256GB of flash storage. The $1799 model has a 2.9GHz Core i5 processor with Turbo Boost support up to 3.3GHz, and 512GB of flash storage.

(On a side note, Apple updated the 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro during this review process. We’ll have a review of those laptops coming soon.)

Along with the processor upgrade comes a graphics upgrade. The new Intel Iris Graphics 6100 is still an integrated graphics processor, but Apple says it’s 40 percent faster than the Iris Graphics 5100 integrated graphics in the previous Retina MacBook Pro. Apple also says the flash storage is also up to two times faster than before.

Last but not least, Apple says the it has improved the battery life of the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, touting ten hours of “wireless web” use and 12 hours of iTunes movie playback. The previous model was rated at 9 hours for both use cases. (Battery life will be addressed in a separate article.)

Performance

As expected the performance difference between the new 2.7GHz and the 2.9GHz Retina MacBook Pro is marginal, with the 2.9GHz laptop about 5 percent faster than the 2.7GHz laptop in Geekbench 3 tests. But remember, the price difference between these models doesn’t just cover the processor upgrade; it also includes more flash storage capacity.

Even when compared to last year’s 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, the new models are only 7 percent faster than the older laptops they respectively replace. In order to see gains over 10 percent, you have to compare the new laptop to models released in 2013.

The graphics improvement is much more impressive: The new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro had a 29 percent increase over last year’s models in the Cinebench OpenGL tests. It’s not the 40 percent that Apple touts, but Apple’s testing was done with a different benchmark that includes three video games.

In the Black Magic Disk Speed Test, the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro posted an average write speed of 1156.1 MBps and an average read speed of 1299.9 MBps.

Bottom line

I’ve always been a fan of the MacBook Pro with Retina display. Though, my personal preference is for the 15-inch model, the 13-inch modeled I tested are attractive laptops in their own right. If you have an older non-Retina Mac laptop, it’s a good time to upgrade. Obviously, you’ll see a huge performance boost, but you’ll also be wowed by the Retina display and the Force Touch trackpad is cool. (If you’re sticking to your older Mac laptop because of its matte display, you’ll be disappointed to find that Apple no longer has a matte display option. It’s glossy only.)

However, if you bought a 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro in the past couple of years, you might want to stick with your laptop a bit longer, since you may not consider the speed gains worth the expense. The Force Touch trackpad is a great new feature, but it’s not vital to your workflow and not enough reason alone to upgrade.

Enhancement and Experimentation Keeps Celebration Cinemas Ahead of the Curve

mike_dewittBigger is better. At least, that’s what the movie industry believes.

Mike and Colleen D-Box
D-Box offers a whole new experience when it comes to movie viewing

Movies keep getting grander. Summer blockbusters continually break records – Jurassic World now owns the record for largest opening weekend box office with over $208 million – and it’s a go big or go home business. Everything is digital, remastered or filmed in 3D, and CGI (Computer Generated Images) has taken over.

CGI is so heavily used that when Mad Max: Fury Road decided not to use it, and rely on real stunts, it was applauded.

While the movies continually get bigger, so do those ticket prices. A night at the movies for a family of four can cost a small fortune. It’s an investment, an event, and Celebration Cinemas is innovating and evolving to make your movie experience truly one-of-a-kind.

It starts with the seating. The place where any movie goer will be spending the majority of their time.

Celebration Cinemas has outfitted some of their screens and theaters with D-Box seats that pitch, roll, and move with the action on the screen.”If you have a good action film going, this seats going to be moving all over the place,” explained Steve VanWagoner, Celebration’s Vice President of Marketing and Public Relations, “It’s a one of a kind experience.”

Oscar's Bistro brings a restaurant, along with a full bar, to the movie scene.
Oscar’s Bistro brings a restaurant, along with a full bar, to the movie scene.

D-Box seats aren’t the only unique seating choice Celebration offers. The entire front row of the IMAX theater is outfitted with recliners! That’s right, Celebration Cinemas outfitted their theaters with everyone’s favorite mode of relaxation. The recliners give a new twist to the phrase ‘home theater.’

The new seats are exciting and something new, but Celebration is cooking up a lot more than new seats. Select locations – Portage, Okemos, and now Muskegon – now have an Oscar’s Bistro. Oscar’s Bistro is a restaurant loaded with a full bar and dining options. It’s bringing a restaurant to the movies. Dinner and a movie can all be done in one place. Dates just became a lot less complicated!

On top of seating and food, Celebration is experimenting with new entertainment options. Instead of the focus being solely on Hollywood movies, Celebration offers live sporting events and concerts that play right in the theater.

Pork-(Small)
The pulled pork sliders at Oscar’s Bistro are quite the hit.

Independent films are being explored with independent film series at select theaters. It’s a way to encapsulate a new audience and give viewers something different.

Celebration Cinemas is constantly innovating to stay ahead of the curve. A family’s entertainment dollars are tight and with Netflix, TV, and home entertainment, the theaters need to offer a little more ‘oompf’ to its’ audience.

The new innovations are exciting and impressive. Go to the movies and try out them out, you won’t be disappointed!

Batteriser is a $2.50 gadget that extends disposable battery life by 800 percent

batterizer_on_black-100588215-largeBob Roohparvar tells a killer story of industrial espionage. He says the robbery occurred last October at his Batteroo office space in a sprawling Silicon Valley office park. The target was intellectual property surrounding Batteriser, a simple metal sleeve that promises to give consumers up to eight times more life from their disposable batteries, AAA through D.

The crooks clearly knew the building layout, and exactly what they were looking for—namely, a breakthrough technology that, if legit, could blow the lid off an alkaline battery industry that’s worth $3.4 billion annually in the US alone.

batteriser vertical
batteriser vertical

“It was a very, very professional job,” says Roohparvar. “They passed by all the offices with open doors, and then banged the hell out of my door, breaking it in. The doorknob was slammed so hard into the wall, it got stuck in the plaster. They took my hard disk and a bunch of USB drives. They took our Batteriser samples. They knew exactly how much time they had before the police would respond.”

Roohparvar, who has a Ph.D. in electrical engineering and a long career in power management including a VP stint at Broadcom and a CEO stint at FlexPower, says he’s not worried about the theft, because Batteriser has full patent protection. But once the battery manufacturers grasp what Batteriser can do—assuming it works as advertised—they might be worried by this simple gadget, which will cost just $10 for a pack of four when it goes on sale in September.

How Batteriser gives your batteries 8 new lives

A completely new alkaline battery is rated to generate 1.5 volts, but once its output drops below 1.35 or even 1.4 volts, it effectively becomes useless to many devices. The battery’s chemical cocktail is still loaded with juice, but the circuitry in many gadgets (especially more sophisticated ones, like Bluetooth keyboards and bathroom scales) considers the battery dead.

This is where Batteriser comes in. It’s essentially a voltage booster that sucks every last drop of useable energy from ostensibly spent batteries. So, instead of using just 20 percent of all the power hidden inside of your Duracells and Energizers, Batteriser makes effective use of the remaining 80 percent.

batteriser bt keyboard
Batteriser is thin enough to fit inside a Bluetooth trackpad, just like this one.

Voltage boosters are nothing new, but Batteriser scales down the technology to the point where it can fit inside a stainless steel sleeve less than 0.1 mm thick. Roohparvar says the sleeves are thin enough to fit inside almost every battery compartment imaginable, and the combined package can extend battery life between 4.9x for devices like remote controls and 9.1x for various electronic toys.

“The Batteriser has boost circuitry that will boost the voltage from 0.6 volts to 1.5 volts and will maintain voltage at 1.5—which is a brand new battery,” Roohparvar says. “There’s actually no IP [intellectual property] in the boost circuitry. Our technology is really a miniaturization technique that allows us to build the sleeve. We have some IP in some of the IC circuits that are in there, but the key is we’ve been able to miniaturize the boost circuit to a point that no one else has been able to achieve. “

Proving Batteriser actually works

To prove that he’s not peddling snake oil, Roohparvar gave me a demonstration of Batteriser’s effectiveness.

First he ran tests on two “dead” AA batteries with a power meter. The batteries read 1.3 volts each. He then put the batteries inside a Bluetooth keyboard and connected the keyboard to a Mac. An onscreen display reported the batteries were toast. Such is the heartbreak of old-school battery tech. It’s been this way since 1947.

Next he slipped the batteries inside two Batteriser sleeves. He ran the metering test again. The same ostensibly dead batteries read 1.5 volts. He then slipped the batteries—now ensconced in Batteriser jackets—into the keyboard. Voila: The Mac reported the battery level at 100 percent.

Shocking? It shouldn’t be. Again, the basic concepts behind the voltage boost have been employed for years. Batteroo has simply scaled down the requisite hardware to a practical formfactor.

The Batteriser looks fragile, but the sleeve is surprisingly sturdy to the touch. It would never survive deliberate abuse, but it doesn’t feel like wispy metal foil in the least. Batteroo says compatibility testing shows Batteriser works with a wide variety of gadgets including wireless keyboards, game console controllers, TV remotes, digital scales, blood pressure monitors, toys, and (of course) the ubiquitous flashlight.

Granted, simple devices like flashlights will continue to work with alkaline batteries that dip well below 1.4 volts. They’ll just lag and sputter—consider that incredibly dim flashlight that’s on its last breath. But Batteriser promises to keep these devices “topped off,” if you will. Roohparvar says the sleeve will also work with 1.2 volt rechargeable batteries, boosting them up to 1.5 volts.

The Sunnyvale-based company has also verified its technology with the physics department of San Jose State University. “We tested the Batteriser sleeve in our lab and we confirmed that the Batteriser taps into 80 percent of energy that is usually thrown away,” said the university’s Dr. Kiumars Parvin in a statement.

batterizer toy car
Batteroo says toy cars are a perfect application for extending battery life.

Squeezing energy from the bottom

To explain how Batteriser works, Roohparvar uses a toothpaste tube analogy: If you buy a new tube of toothpaste and only squeeze from the very top, you’ll extract just a small portion of the paste in the tube. However, if you squeeze from the bottom and keep pushing upward, you’ll extract much more of the toothpaste—or in Batteriser’s case, energy—that you paid for.

It’s important to note that while “dead” batteries typically have 80 percent of their energy remaining inside, Batteriser doesn’t suck these cells completely dry. So how, exactly, does Batteriser increase battery life by a factor of eight? Let’s do the math.

Let’s say you buy a new battery. You use it for a month and its voltage drops to 1.4. It’s now ostensibly dead at 1.4 volts, but if you slip on a Batteriser, its output increases to 1.5 volts for another month. That’s already a 2x increase in battery life.

Eventually the battery’s natural, unboosted output drops to 1.3 volts—but Batteriser keeps it at 1.5 volts for another month. Now you’ve realized a 3x increase in battery life. And so on, and so on. Roohparvar says Batteriser can continue to deliver a 1.5 volt charge in batteries that have discharged down to 0.6 volts. There are more than eight 0.1 volt steps between 0.6 and 1.5 volts, so, in grossly simplified terms, the Batteriser can extend operational battery life somewhere around a factor of eight.

And here’s an interesting tidbit in Batteroo’s patent: Voltage drops aren’t linear, and this plays to the consumer’s advantage:

“The time it takes for the battery voltage to drop by 0.1V is longer at lower voltages versus at higher voltages. That means that if a constant current was drawn from the battery, it would take the battery a lot longer to discharge from 1.2V to 1.1V than it would from 1.5V to 1.4V. This means that the extent to which the battery life is increased could be even higher.”

Reducing costs and saving the planet

Disposable alkaline batteries aren’t glamorous. They’ll never out-sexy the Apple Watch or Surface Pro 3. But they’ve become staples of modern life, and if there’s anything that presents recurring costs ad infinitum, it’s a household staple. To this extent, the Batteriser has the potential to not just disrupt but practically detonate an industry that has a stranglehold on so many household appliances.

Count the number of active alkaline batteries in your home. I counted 17 cells across two TV remotes, an Xbox controller, a Withings WiFi scale, a Simplehuman automatic trashcan, and a Remington hair trimmer. Now consider what it would mean to replace these batteries eight times less frequently. The cost and convenience dividends add up.

This is my collection of spent alkaline batteries. Maybe it’s a good thing I never recycled them—with Batteriser I may never need to buy another battery again (barring leaks, of course). To wit: A four-pack of Duracell AAs costs $4 on Amazon. Slip those AAs into a $10 set of Batterisers, and the circuit boosters will pay for themselves after three typical battery life cycles. Then, after that, you’ll theoretically get another five cycles of free battery life. And after that, the batteries themselves will be dead, but the Batterisers will live on to boost the lives of new batteries.

Clearly, the cost savings are significant, but Roohparvar is also quick to remind us that batteries are an environmental disaster that Batteriser can help mitigate. His company says only 2 percent of spent batteries are properly recycled, and the rest are thrown away, leading to soil contamination. “15 billion batteries go into landfill every year,” he says, “so we can help avoid that.”

How Batteriser gives your batteries 8 new lives

Old/Used BatteriesNick Cunningham, a battery market analyst with the Freedonia Group, told me that as “high-drain” devices use more and more rechargeable lithium batteries, the use of alkaline batteries will slow over time. Nonetheless, he estimates the US alkaline battery market was worth $3.4 billion in 2014, and that was up from $3.3 billion in 2012.

Clearly, we Americans are buying a lot of disposable batteries, and while our thirst will diminish, we’re not giving them up anytime soon. So why, then, hasn’t Big Battery come up with technology like Batteriser on its own? Are Procter & Gamble (owner of Duracell) and Energizer Holdings (the bunny people) outright dumb or simply greedy? Roohparvar says Big Battery has been looking in the wrong direction.

“The battery manufacturers have been focusing on the chemical characteristics of the battery rather than looking at it from an electrical engineering point of view,” Roohparvar says. “I asked the ex-CTO of Energizer, ‘How come nobody thought about this?’ He said, ‘Because we’re chemical engineers, and we weren’t thinking about power management.’”

Using power management instead of chemistry, Batteriser hopes to have a solution that Big Battery couldn’t think up.

I didn’t share Batteriser details with Cunningham of the Freedonia Group, but I did ask him if battery manufacturers are working on any solutions that do for standard batteries what CFLs did for light bulbs. His answer: “I don’t think so.”

“Battery companies understand that alkaline batteries are not going to be used for items such as tablet computers and laptops, but are still trying to improve the performance of alkaline batteries to make them attractive in applications such as portable electronics, flashlights, and clocks,” Cunningham said. He cited Duracell’s Quantum, which claims to be the longest-lasting alkaline battery of all, and includes an on-board power check meter.

You can keep your money

Roohparvar doesn’t rule out bundling Batteriser with alkaline battery packs from Duracell, Energizer and the like, but he’s already resisted influence from the battery industry: A VC firm rich with cash from one of the big battery companies was interested in investing, but Batteroo shut the door when it discovered the money trail. “We want to make sure this technology will stay around for people to enjoy it,” Roohparvar says, “and not have someone else own 33 percent of the company and try to dictate how we run the business.”

So, for now, the Batteriser is an independent effort. The next step is an Indiegogo campaign in late June, and then delivery in late September. Only independent testing will prove out all of Batteriser’s claims. For instance: Will it work in all my gadgets? Will its circuitry survive eight typical battery life cycles and beyond? And, most importantly, will it deliver the extended battery life that Roohparvar claims? Nonetheless, everything we’ve seen so far looks very promising.

Alkaline batteries definitely don’t inspire gadget lust, but when’s the last time you heard of industrial spies breaking into Google or Apple? Indeed. Clearly someone thought the Batteriser was hot enough to go to jail for.

Note: The San Jose Police Department confirmed the break-in occurred on October 29, 2014, and provided me with a case number. Roohparvar has also provided the following image of his busted-in office door.

The Most Unique Mac games you need to play from May 2015

Variety is the spice of Mac gaming, if last month’s top releases are any indication. Sure, tactical action, space shooting/exploration, and point-and-click adventures are all tried-and-true gaming concepts. But have you ever played a first-person cat simulator wherein the goal is simply to knock everything over? How about a game in which your actions as a housekeeper might help decide the fate of a civil war?

Needless to say, Mac gaming is more diverse—and exciting—than ever, and we’ve picked some games from May that grabbed our attention. Whatever your tastes, you’ll surely find something interesting and unique to play in this bunch.

Audiosurf 2

Audiosurf 2Audiosurf is gospel amongst music gaming fans, as it’s able to transform your entire music library into a seemingly endless array of rhythmic challenge stages. And now, after a lengthy Steam Early Access period, the sequel is fully available to purchase and enjoy.

What’s new about Audiosurf 2 ($15)? True, it maintains the same general approach: Each song you play is transformed into a rollercoaster-like track full of beat-matched icons to collect with a hovercraft. However, along with a nice visual upgrade, it’s been made very mod-friendly, with an array of game modes, graphic options, and other tweaks provided by the community. It already has more than 500 free mods to try out, so if you have a big music library and a lot of time, Audiosurf 2 can satisfy for ages.

Sunset

Sunset Video GameYou’ve probably never played anything quite like Sunset ($20). Inspired by the idea of what innocent bystanders experience in the worlds of first-person shooters, this adventure game puts you in the role of a housekeeper in a fictional South American country in 1972 following a military coup.

Once a week, for an hour at a time, you clean the apartment of a wealthy, powerful man who starts leaving crucial intelligence in plain sight. Do you breach his privacy by going through his belongings and sharing information with revolutionaries? Is he intentionally trying to send you a message? Will you play a role in the downfall of Anchuria’s dictator, or let history run its course?

Catlateral Damage

Catlateral DamageCats are wonderful, but let’s face it: Cats are also sort of the worst, especially if you’re not around to pet them 24/7. But rather than scream at your furry friends for their indiscretions, why not try seeing it through their eyes? That’s where Catlateral Damage ($10) comes into play.

Truth be told, there’s no sympathizing to be found here: You’ll simply play as a cat and try to knock everything onto the ground in each room you explore. It’s a first-person game, but you’re armed only with your two paws—and power-ups found around each area. Catlateral Damage looks and sounds superbly silly and stupid, but that’s obviously the point. It’s time to get in touch with your feline side.

Vertiginous Golf

Vertiginous GolfCheck out the game’s official description: “Vertiginous Golf ($20) is a dystopian steampunk mini-golf adventure game set in the skies above an alternate world where life on the ground is enveloped in permanent smog, constant darkness, and never-ending rain.” Yeah, hard to beat that description!

In other words, it’s no Tiger Woods—or even Hot Shots Golf. And it’s a weird one, indeed. You’ll play on courses suspended in the clouds and draped with Victorian design influences, with an array of unique power-ups available to manipulate your ball towards its destination. And you can even create and share your own custom courses. If you like golf but don’t love realism or nature, Vertiginous Golf might satisfy.