Brian's Take on Tech

Bringing you info about technology, and how it impacts your life for better and worse.   -Brian K, Community Partnerships Supervisor


Take a simple quiz to pick your candidate

Nonstop ads, finger-pointing debates, and 24/7 opinion news. You may feel bombarded and confused by the endless noise. You may begin to doubt the candidate you've selected because now it sounds like he might not be the best choice. And with all that "information" rattling around out there, can you be blamed for not knowing that one of the candidates for president is a woman?

Image: I Side With logo

Find out which of six presidential candidates best shares your worldview by taking the ISideWith.com quiz. That's right, six candidates. In addition to the two you already know, there's Libertatian candidate Gary Johnson, Green Party candidate Jill Stein, Justice Party candidate Rocky Anderson, and Constitution Party Candidate Virgil Goode.

Image: Presidential candidates

The quiz offers several yes/no questions in eight categories: social issues, environmental issues, economic issues, domestic policy issues, healthcare issues, foreign policy issues, immigration issues, and science issues. In addition to your yes or no answers, you can also opt to "choose another stance," which offers various conditional responses to the question. You can also select how important each question is to you. When you're done, ISideWith.com does some thinking, and will let you know which candidate is most closely aligned with your responses.

Image: Sample question

The site isn't funded by any corporate or political interest--in fact, you'll find requests for Paypal donations all over the place. The about page is kind of amusing. According to the site, ISideWith is the product of work by two friends with different political views whose goal with the site is to increase voter turnout. Does that mean it's trustworthy? That's not too difficult to fact check. You can take their quiz and then go investigate the candidate(s) who show up in your results. Do some research, pick your man or woman, and then install earplugs for the next couple-three weeks. This will be over soon.

I Think I’ll Go for a Walk Outside

One of the (many) issues I have struggled with over the years is the fact that I tend to get too excited by new, shiny things. So consider yourself warned that this might well be one of those shiny but insubstantial things. You be the judge.

Recently Google released another app for its Android Operating System. Like many applications this one takes advantage of the fact that most smart phones have location hardware embedded into them. Google Fieldtrip is what is known as a discovery tool. You don’t have to know exactly what you are looking for you simply tell your device the type of thing you are interested in and it will give you information on the location as you near it.

Here in Appleton I could see using this to create virtual historic tours for instance, if all the historic homes in the 3rd Ward were in the system information on each one would automatically be pushed to your phone’s screen as you passed it. If you were curious and wanted to learn more you could then go to your local library to do some research with the help of their intelligent and helpful staff.

For businesses, we’ll use a restaurant as an example, you get a synopsis of the type of food the establishment
serves, their price range and their Zagat score with a link to the full review. The app has many categories you can set in your Interests. You can focus on architecture, historic places, offers and deals, food and unique locations.

I can see this application being really useful to people who are traveling in new locales as well as people looking to develop a better understanding of the history of their community. Of course not everything is perfect. The key problem with the app at this point is simply lack of content. FieldTrip relies on users to input data and because it is so new there are many gaps, hopefully these will be filled as people begin using the app.  

Dads, Get Your Geek On!

So anyone who knows me knows I like technology. It doesn’t take much to impress me either; I grew up in the days of Atari 400s and Commodore 64s in my grade school. The fact that my iPad has the processing power of the room sized computers used to make the Apollo missions happen makes my brain hurt, but in a good way. What you may not know is that I take my responsibilities as a dad pretty seriously, most days I even like being a dad. As a parent you have lots of responsibilities but you also have a captive audience to share all the things you love with! And boy howdy I love to torture my kids with all the geeky things I enjoy.  There’s that time when you get to share Star Wars with your kids for the first time (that low when your oldest daughter doesn’t get it, the jubilation when you son does).  There’s getting to buy Legos under the guise that they are actually for your kids.  

So if you are a dad (or a mom, but I really don’t feel qualified to speak from that perspective) and you have geek tendencies you might want to check out the Wired magazine Geek Dad blog. It’s free. You don’t really need to be a geek to enjoy it, but it helps. Geek Dad is edited by Ken Denmead with contributors from all over the country. The topics are broad covering things like what order to run the Star Wars movies in to board games and of course the latest in technology products. The blog talks a lot about the Maker Movement and often links to projects you can do with your child.

So I know it's Friday Fun day but to be serious for just a moment I have to say this blog appeals to me in two important ways. Obviously it deals a lot with technology so that’s cool. More importantly it talks about dads engaging their kids in real ways and actually doing constructive projects with them. It also focuses quite a lot on STEM learning which is important in today’s educational setting, so in my book it is an all around win.

Check out Geek Dad (http://www.wired.com/geekdad/), do some of the activities with your kid(s) and tell me that it was a waste of your time, I dare you.  Finally, since I am doing this on the library’s dime I should also tell you that there are several Geek Dad books available

Tools You Can Use: Unsocialize

From Unsocialize for Firefox page

Hat tip to MakeUseOf for pointing out this useful browser extension. They touted Unsocialize's availability on Google's Chrome browser, but you can also add it to Firefox.

Have you seen an update on your Facebook page about an interesting article one of your friends has read only to click on it and be redirected to a social reader app so thatt Facebook could now announce to all of your friends whenever you read an article? And so you don't read the article because you're afraid that others will find out about your tendency to read all things Bieber?

Unsocializer takes you to the article and bypasses the "install social reader for Facebook app" pop-up. It adds a right-click menu option called Unsocialize, which will open the article in a new tab when clicked. It also avoids Facebook's tracking and metrics--your reading will not be counted and turned around on you for marketing purposes.

If this sounds like something you could use, here are the links you need to find it for Chrome and Firefox

Friday Fun: Life on Mars

 Image: Comparing Conglomerate Rock on Mars and Earth

Yes, this big news is everywhere or will be by the time you get home and watch the evening news (unless you're out at License to Cruise tonight...well, I suppose if you go to any Octoberfest this weekend, you could miss or forget this news entirely). Anyhow, the Curiosity rover, the Indiana Jones of robots adventuring on and exploring Mars, has found conglomerate rock!

If you're like, "Hey, it's been awhile since high school/college geology class," I've saved you a step be getting that Wikipedia link for you. If you're fine with short explanations, conglomerate rock is the sort of rock that forms over geologic time when river beds dry up and the sediment in the bed cements together and becomes packed under layers of sediment. If you think about the stones in the bottom of a riverbed, you know there's finer sediment under larger rounded stones--which are rounded thanks to being beaten up in and by the water. In the image you can see the mix of sizes of rounded stones cemented together as found on Earth on the right and on (squee!) Mars on the left.

Why squee? The idea is that water is necessary for life to exist--it's less idea than practice, really. So if we find evidence of water on Mars, the possibility of life having existed there is increased! In a college geology class field trip, I traveled around Arizona and on one of the stops examined an exposed layer of rock that was under water millenia ago. The stones and sediment in this layer were mixed with fossils of shelled animals. How amazing would it be if the Curiosity found fossils? To find life on another planet suggests the possibilty of life on other planets, which would then make me want to be cryogenically frozen and revived at a later time when we've figured out commercial space travel.

Not so fast, day dreamer! This rock was formed from a stream that long-flowing stream scientists estimate moved at 3 feet per second and was deep enough to cover somewhere between your foot and your whole leg. What does that mean for finding evidence of life in this particular rock? From NASA's announcement, "A long-flowing stream can be a habitable environment," said Grotzinger. "It is not our top choice as an environment for preservation of organics, though. We're still going to Mount Sharp, but this is insurance that we have already found our first potentially habitable environment." I'll just have to find ways to occupy myself while Curiosity makes its slow advance on Mount Sharp then.

By the way, apologies to geologists for any oversimplification and avoidance of technical language--I'll let the curious learn about matrix, clasts, and things I've left out on that Wikipedia page.

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