Tech resources for before and after an earthquake

Quake was centered about a mile from the Napa airport

Quake was centered about a mile from the Napa airport

Parts of the San Francisco Bay Area were rocked by a 6.1 earthquake centered near Napa. For ongoing coverage tune into San Francico’s all-news KCBS radio on air (740 AM or 106.9 FM or online.

Information resources

For general earthquake information, visit the USGS website. The City of Napa‘s website is being updated regularly with information affecting that community. provides good general information on what to do before, during and after an earthquake.

rcThe American Red Cross has an Earthquake App for iOS and Android with alerts and notifications when an earthquake occurs with tips to prepare your family and home, find help and let others know you are safe even if the power is out. Unlike your desktop PC, you may be able to use your smartphone immediately after an earthquake, so it’s a good app to have.


FEMA urges area residents to use phones only for emergencies. Send text messages if possible.

If you have a landline, make sure you have at least one corded (not cordless) phone, which will work as long as the phone service works even if the power is out.

Of course, there is always the possibility that any communications systems will also fail during a quake or other disaster and that includes landlines, cable lines and even cell phones (which depend on land-based stations) so always keep a portable radio handy with fresh batteries.

Important things to have

Obviously batteries and flashlights are important to have on hand. It’s a good idea to have at least one flashlight that can be powered by a crank or pull-string so it will work even if the batteries are dead.  The $20 Solar Wind n Go has a crank and a solar recharging system. There are also solar and hand-crank radio and LED light combinations.

A portable cell phone charger is great to have in an emergency

A portable cell phone charger is great to have in an emergency

Also, it’s a good idea to keep your cell phones charged and have one or more portable rechargeable phone chargers on hand. These are basically backup-batteries that can keep a phone or tablet going long after the internal batteries have died. If you want one with maximum staying power, consider the Jackery Giant. It’s bulky but it has dual output ports and 12,000mAh for lengthening mobile device battery life up to 500% for smart phones.There is also an LED flashlight that’s rated to last upto 700 hours.

An “uninterruptible power supply” (UPS)  can keep computers and other devices running for at least a few minutes after a power outage.  f you have a laptop, keep it  fully charged but also use a UPS to power up an Internet cable modem or DSL device, router and phone adapter so you can access the net and make Internet phone calls.

If your power goes out because of a quake or for any other reason, try to unplug TVs and electronics so they won’t be damaged when the power comes back on if there is a power surge. The risk is small (so don’t stress over it if you’re not home) but if convenient, it’s worth doing.




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It’s time for schools to upgrade both technology and pedagogy

by Larry Magid

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News


Teaching methods, in some schools, haven’t changed much since this picture was taken (Creative Commons License)

As students return to school, it’s time to think about absolute necessities like pens, paper, school clothes, a laptop or tablet and, of course, a learning network that enables them to interact with fellow students and teachers.

OK, that network may not yet be mandatory. But an increasing number of teachers are flocking toward “connected learning,” which involves changing not only educational methods, but also some fundamental assumptions about the nature of education.

Connected learning

An infographic at offers up a definition that refers to connected learning as a model that holds out the possibility of “reimagining the experience of education in the information age.” It goes on to suggest that the power of technology be used to “fuse young people’s interests, friendships and academic achievements” through hands-on production, shared purpose and open networks.

That’s a refreshingly forward thinking definition of the term. For many educators, “connected learning,” simply means using the power of the Internet to make it more efficient to bring resources into the classroom. It reminds me of a presentation I saw a few years ago at an International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) conference, in which a smart board vendor demonstrated her product by modeling a teacher-dominated geography lesson, using the smart board in almost the same way teachers have long used chalk boards to display information in a top-down fashion. It struck me at the time that much of today’s so-called “technology in education” is nothing more than using 21st century technology to enhance 19th century pedagogy.

And that brings me back to “reimagining” education by finding ways to disrupt the processes and power relationships that have so long defined students as both the consumers and products of the educational system rather than co-creators and collaborators.

Student networking

Not all companies are thinking of ways to reinforce old learning models. 1StudentBody (, a Palo Alto startup run by serial entrepreneur Mandeep Dhillon, is leveraging the power of networking to help students help themselves and their peers.

Mandeep Dhillon

Mandeep Dhillon

Dhillon views “peer-to-peer connections” as a powerful way to connect students within and among schools to collaborate in the learning process. His just released app, NoteSnap (initially available only for iPhone and iPad, with an Android version coming), enables students to use their smartphone to take notes in class and, by default, share them with other students. The app lets students use the phone’s camera, for example, to take a picture of the classroom’s whiteboard to share the content with others in the class. The app automatically cleans up the image to improve readability and immediately shares it with others. It also allows students to ask questions, and there is the option of asking anonymously if you “don’t want people to think you’re clueless.”


Notesnap for iOS and soon Android

I asked Dhillon why students would want to use the app. After all, schools are often competitive, and sharing with other students helps them, but not you. His answer was aspirational. The product is not simply designed to appeal to the lowest common denominator of getting a better grade, but reflects his philosophy that learning and work will be increasingly collaborative.

It makes sense to me. In the real world, you’re rewarded not for what you know, but how you’re able to leverage your knowledge, skills and talents for the benefit of others. Not only are companies increasingly encouraging workers to share their knowledge among colleagues, but there is also a growing open-source movement that encourages competitors to share some aspects of their intellectual property for the benefit of the entire industry and the world at large. In the real world, success is not a zero-sum game where your success depends on other people’s lack of success.

I grew up at the tail end of the industrial age and got to live through the information age which, said, Dhillon, is about over now that information has become a commodity. “We’re now in the networked age,” he said, where what you know is far less important than your ability to use networks to obtain whatever it is you need and share it with others.

Other apps and services

There are, of course, other apps aimed at students and educators, including Edmodo, a network of 37 million teachers, students and parents designed to help teachers manage coursework and encourage all users to collaborate. Another app, ShowMe interactive whiteboard lets you use an iPad to create “whiteboard-style tutorials.”

Evernote isn’t specifically for students, but it does allow users to take notes, snap pictures, save and share Web links and organize and share bits of information.

And, for the more animated students and teachers out there, there is GoAnimate for Schools that lets users create amazing animated videos by dragging and dropping and adding audio dialogue, complete with lip-syncing. One of my favorite features is an animated whiteboard that lets you type in text for your character to write on the board.


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Why Google (And Facebook) Should Admit Kids Under 13

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As Ferguson Struggles, Georgia Teens Create App To Rate Police

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Tech can make driving dangerous, but also safer

By Larry Magid

(Updated with news of proposed government rule on vehicle to vehicle communication systems)

A lot has been written about how technology can make driving more dangerous, and it’s certainly risky to text, fiddle with your phone, configure your GPS, mess with your radio or even speak on the phone while driving.

But tech can also make us safer. For example, my car is equipped with a rear-view camera, which will be a requirement starting in 2018. According to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), 210 fatalities and 15,000 injuries per year on average are caused by “backover” crashes, and about a third of the victims are children under 5. It’s rare that I spot a person in my rear-view camera, but it does help prevent me from bumping into parked cars while trying to shoehorn my way into a tight space.

On occasion, I’ve even used that camera while driving on the freeway to make up for my car’s blind spot, which makes it hard to tell if someone is passing me from behind as I change lanes.

Lots of carmakers have a feature that will automatically park the car for you and an increasing number are offering collision avoidance systems. Audi, for example, has what it calls Pre Sense that, depending on the model, uses radar and cameras to anticipate a possible collision. It not only can automatically tighten safety belts and close windows and the sunroof, but also can warn the driver that an accident is likely and, if the driver doesn’t respond quickly enough, can apply the brakes.

Other automakers, including Ford and GM, have similar features in some cars. Last year Ford showed off a test car that can automatically steer and brake to avoid collisions.

Other safety-related technologies to consider, according to USAA insurance company, include adaptive cruise control that slows you down when you approach traffic, adaptive headlights that help drivers see better as they round a curve, backup sensors that beep if you’re about to hit something or someone and side-view assist that can detect a car in your blind spot.

Toyota’s Pre-Collision System with Pedestrian-avoidance Steer Assist uses radar, a stereo camera, and a near-infrared ray projector that can detect vehicles, stationary objects and pedestrians and, like Audi’s system, can warn the driver, apply the brakes and tighten the seat belts,

After-market solution for your car

Most of these systems require that you get a new car, and typically an expensive one at that. But there are also aftermarket products that you can add to existing vehicles.

Jerusalem-based Mobileye, for example, has a product that can add what it calls “artificial vision” to any vehicle. The device, which costs $849, plus installation fees, employs a vision sensor mounted on the windshield and a display and audio signals that warn you about a likely forward collision, not just with another car, but with a pedestrian, bicycle or object. There is also a lane-departure warning that alerts you if you start to veer without having used your turn signal to tell the system (and other drivers) that it’s a deliberate lane change. It can also read speed limit signs and let you know if you’re going too fast.

Mobileye develops some of the technologies used in carmaker-installed safety systems and is also working on technology for self-driving vehicles, according to its website. The company went public this month and, as of last week, has a market cap of over $1 billion.

The U.S. government is encouraging not just the development of new technologies, but consumer adoption of what’s already available. The NHTSA operates the website that recommends that people purchase cars with lane-departure warning systems and rearview backup cameras, and says that automatic crash notification (that alerts first responders to a crash) and frontal pedestrian impact mitigation braking “may improve overall vehicle safety.” The website also has some low-tech safety advice, including how to use child seats and how not be one of the nearly 11,000 tire related annual U.S. crash victims.

Motorcycle tech

You don’t need four-wheels to get the latest safety technology. Skully has raised nearly $1 million on Indiegogo to develop “the world’s smartest motorcycle helmet,” which provides a heads-up display on the face shield with a 180 degree rear-view camera that helps eliminate blind spots. It also gives you visual and audio GPS navigation and the ability to answer your phone. The company is taking pre-orders for the Skully AR-1 at $1,399, which it expects to ship by the middle of next year.

Update — Government proposes “Vehicle to Vehicle Communications technology

On Monday August 18th, the NHTSA proposed  a new rule “supporting comprehensive research report on vehicle-to-vehicle (V2V) communications technology” that would warn drivers if another driver was about to run a red light or turn into their lanes. The system would require that both vehicles be equipped with the technology and could be further enhanced if communities incorporated it into their highway systems. By warning drivers of imminent danger, V2V technology has the potential to dramatically improve highway safety,” said NHTSA Deputy Administrator David Friedman. “V2V technology is ready to move toward implementation and this report highlights the work NHTSA and DOT are doing to bring this technology and its great safety benefits into the nation’s light vehicle fleet.”

The agency said that left Turn Assist (LTA) and Intersection Movement Assist (IMA) – could prevent up to 592,000 crashes and save 1,083 lives per year.  So-called V2V communications use on-board dedicated short-range radio communication devices to transmit messages about a vehicle’s speed, heading, brake status, and other information to other vehicles, according to NHTSA.

In a readiness report, NHTSA estimates that V2V equipment and supporting communications functions ( would cost approximately $341 to $350 per vehicle in 2020.

Don’t expect anything to happen quickly. The agency’s goal is to issue a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking by 2016, and that’s just when they plan to propose the rule, not when they expect automakers to comply.

All of these technologies make you safer, but not completely safe. There is always the possibility of something going wrong, usually as a result of human error or carelessness. Even Google’s self-driving cars — which take the human out of the driving equation — can get into crashes because they share the road with other cars that are driven by people.

Safety technology is advancing at a very rapid pace, so it’s only a matter of time before our vehicles become safer. Humans, however, evolve very slowly, so if your car did have a sensor that detected human error, it might put up the following warning message: “PEBSWAS” — problem exists between steering wheel and seat.

This article is adapted from a colum that first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News


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GoAnimate can turn almost anyone into an animator

GoAnimate lets people create their own animations

GoAnimate lets people create their own animations

I don’t have a fraction of the animating skills of the late William Hanna or Joseph Barbera and I certainly have no intention of ever producing cartoons for TV. But there are times when I want to whip up a short animation — perhaps to enhance a presentation I’m making or create a lesson about online safety or privacy, as part of my work at

Until now I had to hire a professional if I need an animation, but — with a couple of hours of practice — almost anyone can become a pretty decent animator using a service called GoAnimate.

micListen to Larry’s 1 minute CBS News Tech Talk segment on GoAnimate, featuring COO Gary Lipkowitz


The service enables you to pick a scene, grab some characters and have them come to life. You can even speak in or import voice and the characters will mouth your words with really good lip syncing.

One of my favorite features is an animated whiteboard that lets you type in text for your character to write on the board. It looks a bit like what Saul Khan does in his great training videos at Khan Academy.

Although you can try it for free, GoAnimate is a fee-based service with plans starting at $39 a month. If you’re an infrequent user, you can join, create an animation, suspend your account and start up again when you need to create a new animation (it’s OK with them,   I checked) which is still a lot cheaper than hiring a professional animator.





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IAC’s buys and hires a safety officer to stem bullying, which is owned by IAC/InteractiveCorp., has acquired, a Latvia-based question and answer site that has come under criticism because of past incidences of bullying. The site, which allows people to anonymously ask questions of others, is widely used by teenagers who — in some cases — have been known to be less than civil.

As part of the acquisition,’s founders are leaving the company and it will now be managed by CEO Doug Leeds. Ask also reached an agreement with the Attorneys General of New York and Maryland to establish a safety center and hire a chief trust and safety officer. That person is Catherine Teitelbaum, former director of global safety and product policy for Yahoo, and a well respected advocate for online child safety. The company is also working with former federal prosecutor and former MySpace chief safety officer Hemanshu Nigam, who currently heads up SSP Blue – a safety, privacy and security consulting firm.

As part of the agreement with the attorneys general, IAC has also pledged to maintain a user-initiated reporting mechanism on the site for reporting concerns about misuse, harassment, inappropriate content and misuse by children under 13. They will also remove users that have been the subject of three complaints and take “reasonable steps to block those users from creating new accounts under different user names.” The company also plans to work with non-profits to address issues such as suicide prevention and online safety and register with the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children (whose board I sit on) “and comply with all reporting requirements of sexual exploitation images.”


Safety is good business

In an interview, Leeds said that safety is not just the right thing to do, but also a good business decision. “In order for this site to become something bigger than it is today and hold a significant place in the pantheon of accepted social media sites, it had to put safety and the perception of safety as one of the very first things that it cares about.” Nigam agrees. “People who go to engage in interaction with others in a social media setting are not going there to be hurt, not going there to be bullied, they’re not going there to experience an unsafe environment. They’re going there to enjoy themselves, to learn and grow.”

Leeds said that he reached to the Attorneys General because he wanted their input before taking over the company.

Social media ‘flipped on its head’, which was launched in 2010, has 180 million registered users and 42% of them are under 18. In describing the site, Leeds said, “It was flipping on its head” the push model of social media where people post that they think might interest others and instead “created this pull model where you post those things that other people want to know about you.” In other words, instead of my posting something that you might not care about, you would ask me a question that you do care about and I would answer it.

Anonymity isn’t necessarily bad

The site does allow anonymity, which means it’s possible for someone to ask questions without revealing their identity. The good news is that only the subject of that question will see it unless he or she chooses to post it, but it can still lead to some very hurtful interactions if people ask things like “why are you so ugly.” Although the site’s new administration will strive to reduce these types of hurtful questions, they do plan to maintain the ability for people to post anonymously. Teitelbaum said that “the option to ask questions anonymously is super important.” She pointed out that anonymity is not new to social media. There are numerous historical examples of anonymous authors and social benefit from other anonymous interactions such as tips to law enforcement. “It has an important role particularly for teens as they explore their identities and who they are going to grow up to be,” added Teitelbaum. As I wrote on a CNET post in April, Anonymous isn’t synonymous with ominous, there are lots of legitimate reasons for people to post anonymously ranging from whisteblowing, to exploring sexual identity to simply not wanting to forever be held accountable for what you’re thinking at the moment.

Shared responsibility’s efforts – and those of attorneys general and other law enforcement agencies – can help make things safer and more pleasant for users of all ages, but no matter how hard companies and cops work to protect users, the ultimate responsibility for safety remains with the user online just as it does in the physical world. People need to be aware that what they post affects others and themselves. Self-respect and respect for others along with engaging people in a civil manner (even while disagreeing) goes a long way towards creating a social media environment that we can all enjoy. The non-profit that I co-direct,, has plenty of tips and advice on how to safety navigate social media and mobile services but — at the end of the day — it’s pretty simple. Be nice, respect others and remember that there is no such thing as an “eraser button” when it comes to online media.

This post first appeared on

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Like Rodney Dangerfield, Microsoft is successful but ‘can’t get no respect’

'Microsoft by the numbers' reveals some interesting factoids

‘Microsoft by the numbers’ reveals some interesting factoids

Sometimes it feels as if Microsoft is the Rodney Dangerfield of technology companies. “It can’t get no respect.” But — like late comedian, it has had plenty of  successes, including some that may surprise you.

(Disclosure: Microsoft provides financial support for the U.S. Safer Internet Day project, which is coordinated by, where I serve as co-director)

For example, its Windows Phone operating system — which has won praise from numerous reviewers — is way behind both Apple’s iOS and Google’s Android and some people say you should shy away from it because there aren’t enough apps.

But, according to CNET News,  the Windows phone store now has more than 300,000 apps including most of the leading ones. It’s a small percentage of Apple’s 1.2 million apps but as long as you can get the apps you need, it shouldn’t really matter.

CNET took me to a page I hadn’t seen called Microsoft by the numbers that lists some pretty interesting statistics about the company, including:


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Massive data breach shows skills of Russian hackers

No need for Russians to come ashore. They can invade through cyberspace (from 1966 movie "The Russians Are Coming. The Russians Are Coming."

No need for Russians to come ashore. They can invade through cyberspace (from 1966 movie “The Russians Are Coming. The Russians Are Coming.”

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

by Larry Magid

I grew up during the Cold War and, like most people at the time, was conditioned to fear the Soviet Union, which many people simply referred to as “Russia,” even though it included several other Soviet republics. Worry was so strong that the title of a popular 1966 comedy film said it twice: “The Russians are Coming, the Russians are Coming.”

Well, the Soviet Union is no more, but our concern about Russia remains strong. Not only are people talking about Russia’s meddling in Ukraine and possible involvement with the shooting down of a Malaysian jetliner there; they’re also talking about Russian hackers and cyber criminals like the ones who, according to news reports last week, stole 1.2 billion passwords and user names.

What’s particularly interesting about this story is how the thieves used a series of techniques to amass the data. According to Hold Security, which uncovered the breach, “the gang acquired databases of stolen credentials from fellow hackers on the black market,” and then used that data “to attack email providers, social media and other websites to distribute spam to victims and install malicious redirections on legitimate systems.”

Then, according to Hold, they altered their approach to get access to data from botnet or “zombie networks” of computers owned by innocent people whose machines were infected and enlisted for this purpose. The botnets were used to identify vulnerabilities on websites people visited, and that yielded a treasure trove of data from more than 400,000 websites large and small. It’s a criminal version of “big data.” The more information you have access to, the more you’re able to infer based on what you already know.

In other words, like the Russian experts who challenged the U.S. during the Cold War, these data thieves are extremely sophisticated and multifaceted, willing to use a variety of different strategies to achieve their ends. But instead of promoting an ideology, they’re seeking financial gain.

Last week’s story was just the latest of many reports about hackers operating from Russia or other former Soviet republics. Last year, for example, it was disclosed that five Russians and a Ukrainian, over a period of seven years, were able to steal more than 160 million credit and debit card numbers, according to the U.S. Justice Department. “This type of crime is the cutting edge,” said U.S. Attorney Paul J. Fishman. “Those who have the expertise and the inclination to break into our computer networks threaten our economic well-being, our privacy, and our national security.”

It reminds me of that 1966 movie, but instead of hapless Russian sailors arriving at the New England coast in a submarine, the Russians invading us now never need to leave the motherland. Because the Internet has made it possible for cyber criminals to enter your living room without having to physical step on American soil, perhaps it’s time for a new movie titled “The Russians Are Here, the Russians are Here.”

Depending on what report you look at, Russia is almost always among the top four cyberthreats. U.S. government officials worry a lot about state-sanctioned cyber-espionage coming from China, and other countries worry about cyberattacks from the United States, both because of government spying and the fact that many U.S. computers have been infected with malware and recruited into botnets. Even if the hacks are orchestrated elsewhere, the actual attacks may come from U.S.-based systems.

“American machines can serve to disseminate it, but the command and control is in Russia and Eastern Europe,” according to Tom Kellermann, Trend Micro’s chief privacy and security officer.

In an interview, Kellermann listed some reasons that the Russians are so good at hacking. Chess is the national pastime and many Russians are strategically savvy. And when the United States won the Cold War, “we dropped the religion of capitalism,” including to folks who had been trained by computer scientists from the Soviet intelligence community. The third reason, said Kellermann, is “an unspoken agreement” between the hackers and the regimes that “you never target a corporation or government agency in your own country and if you find something interesting, you will share it with the government.”

Kellermann said that the Russians are the world’s best hackers, but he also has respect for the hacking talent in other former Soviet republics. “You have to pay your respects to the adversary here that’s playing chess with us.”

Of course, there are plenty of tech-savvy Russians doing productive, beneficial work including those who work for Moscow-based Kaspersky Lab and other Russian security companies. I’ve been to Russia and have met with some of these security professionals and, even though they are paid for their work, they are motivated to do the right thing. Which reminds me of the title of yet another 1960’s movie: “From Russia with Love.”


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Google to reward sites with HTTPS security in search rankings

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