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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 safecar.gov 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.
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
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 ConnectSafely.org.
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.
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.
Ask.com, which is owned by IAC/InteractiveCorp., has acquired Ask.fm, 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, Ask.fm’s founders are leaving the company and it will now be managed by Ask.com 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’
Ask.fm., 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.
Ask.com’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, ConnectSafely.org, 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 Forbes.com
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 ConnectSafely.org, 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:
Microsoft has provided $6.5 billion in cash and software to nonprofits worldwide since 1983
Office 365 Home Premium has 3.5 million subscribers and growing.
1.5 billion people use Windows every day
More than 1.1 billion people use Office. That’s 1 in 7 people on the planet.
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.”
As CNET News explains, five teenagers and “one mature adult” have built an iPhone app called Push for Pizza that lets you order pizza without having to pick up a phone or even visit a web site. Whether it’s excess or a major necessity is, I guess, in the mouth of the beholder.
I recently set up a new home office, which not only involved countless trips to Ikea, but also having to deal with ergonomics — something I hadn’t thought much about since the last time I set up an office.
Merriam Webster’s online dictionary defines ergonomics as “a science that deals with designing and arranging things so that people can use them easily and safely.” But like many things in life, it’s really part science and part art. While there are guidelines for such things as keyboard and monitor height, lighting and how you’re seated, it is not a one-size-fits-all proposition.
For example, the proper height of your keyboard or monitor depends not just on your overall height, but on the size of your torso and the length of your legs. The lighting in your office depends on the position of your monitor and even the type of computer you’re using. Even the acoustics matter. A noisy fan can affect your mood, even if you don’t notice it.
Even though I spend a lot of time using my MacBook Air, I’m one of those people who still has a desktop PC. But regardless of whether you use a laptop or a desktop, it’s important to have it at the right height and be sitting in a good chair. Having said that, I admit that I sometimes use my laptop at coffee shops, the kitchen table or even on a couch, where my posture and position is far from optimal. But even when you’re away from your usual work area, and regardless what kind of device you’re using, it’s still a good idea to think about ergonomics.
Most dining room tables and even traditional “writing” desks are too high for the average computer user. For my work area, I set up a desk that’s about 27 inches from the floor because that height seems appropriate for the length of my legs and torso and the position of my chair.
The federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration warns that “when keyboards are too low you may type with your wrists bent up, and when keyboards are too high, you may need to raise your shoulders to elevate your arms.” OSHA recommends that you “adjust the chair height and work surface height to maintain a neutral body posture” and suggests that elbows be “about the same height as the keyboard and hang comfortably to the side of the body,” with shoulders relaxed, and wrists not bent up or down.
It also recommends that you position your computer monitor directly in front of you, and not farther than 35 degrees to the left or right. And don’t squint. If the type is too small, you can adjust it within most programs (Microsoft Office and popular browsers allow you to zoom) or within the operating system.
Rather than buy a desk or computer workstation, I picked out a table top at Ikea along with four adjustable legs that I could position at any height. The legs cost $15 each and the top about $30, so the entire desk (made of fake wood with a rather nice looking veneer) cost about $90. I actually set up two identical desks in an L formation so I have plenty of room for two monitors, my laptop, a printer and the gear I use for my CBS News and KCBS radio broadcasts.
There are plenty of other ways to customize your work area. You could, for example, lay a door over two small filing cabinets, as long as the cabinets aren’t too high. If they’re too low, you can raise the height of the door or table top with pieces of plywood. I noticed that my desk was a little shaky when I typed so I put a matching 25-inch-high cabinet under the desktop and made up the difference using shims (small pieces of plywood) so it now helps support the table top.
Even if you don’t use your home office as a broadcast studio, you might still want to dampen the noise a bit or get rid of any echoes. For that I went to the House of Foam in Palo Alto and bought foam for the walls, which I then covered in decorative cloth that I picked out at FabMo, a Mountain View organization that lets people pick up designer fabric in exchange for a small donation. You can also use a foam mattress (about $20) or hang a rug on the wall.
My office chair has an adjustable seat height and tilt and, because it’s not quite firm enough, I added a lumbar support that helps my lower back.
Of course, equipment is only part of the solution. It’s also important to sit up straight, not slouch and be aware of your posture when you’re using a laptop or tablet away from your desk. And if you search for “cellphone ergonomics,” you’ll also get advice on how to use a cellphone without straining your neck.
My parents gave me good advice by telling me to watch my posture and sit up straight. But back then they couldn’t have anticipated how our work would shift from those old writing desks in today’s on-the-move technology-immersed work styles.