iPhone 6 and 6 Plus offer calls via Wi-Fi

Of all the features of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, the one that’s the most important — in some locations — is its ability to make calls via Wi-Fi. That’s because no carrier has 100 percent cellphone coverage and there will always be dead spots that require a “plan B” for those who need to make or receive calls or text messages when they don’t have cellular coverage.

It’s also handy when you’re out of the country because it means you can make and receive calls and texts for free on your regular phone number as long as you have a Wi-Fi connection. That sure beats paying roaming charges as high as $3 to $5 a minute in some countries or going through the hassle of buying and installing a local SIM card and requiring callers to dial a new overseas number instead of your regular number.

Another advantage to Wi-Fi calling is that — with most carriers — it doesn’t count against your number of minutes or text messages since you’re not using the carrier’s network to make the calls or send texts. There is also no data limit as has always been the case when connecting a phone to a Wi-Fi data network.

My adult son Will and his girlfriend both have T-Mobile accounts and when they visit us in Palo Alto, they wind up using our house phone to make and receive calls because our house has spotty T-Mobile coverage. The only good thing is that we get more of their attention because, even if they wanted to, they couldn’t reliably text during dinner.

But that’s about to change. T-Mobile set me up with a test account that I’ve been using with an iPhone 6 Plus and an LG Flex and, thanks to Wi-Fi calling, I’m getting great voice and texting service not only where I live, but whenever I’m in range of a Wi-Fi network. For example, I was in a building on Facebook’s Menlo Park campus last week where T-Mobile coverage happens to be a bit weak, but that didn’t bother me once I logged onto the company’s guest network.

T-Mobile has long offered Wi-Fi calling, but last week it rolled out its next generation service that, among other things, takes advantage of Voice over LTE (VoLTE) to seamlessly handoff calls between Wi-Fi and its high-speed LTE data network that is now also able to handle voice traffic.

Unlike using Skype or other voice over Internet apps on your phone, carrier-supported Wi-Fi calling enables people to reach you via your regular number and, when you make an outgoing call or text, they see your number appear on their screen. You make the call using the same dialer you use for cellular calls. It’s as if the carrier put a cell tower in your house.

Right now T-Mobile and Sprint are the only carriers to offer Wi-Fi calling across their entire network, but AT&T and Verizon are in the process of rolling it out over the next year or so.

Wi-Fi calling doesn’t work with all phones, even if the phone is able to access other data services (like the Web, email and connected apps) via Wi-Fi, though T-Mobile says that all phones sold in its stores from here on will be Wi-Fi calling compatible.

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print currently supports 18 phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the soon- to-be-released Galaxy Note, but not the iPhone 6 or any other iPhone.

There are also different flavors of Wi-Fi calling. Some phones support Wi-Fi calling, but don’t support VoLTE. Other phones, including the Samsung Galaxy S5 and the LG Flex, support both Wi-Fi calling and VoLTE, but aren’t able to hand off a call between Wi-Fi and LTE, which means that if you are on the phone at home and leave the house, the call will drop as soon as you lose your Wi-Fi signal.

Still, they do work as long as you stay within your Wi-Fi network as I experienced with the LG Flex that T-Mobile loaned me.

And then there are phones, like the iPhone 6, that support Evolved Packet Data Gateway (ePDG), which, among other things, allows for the seamless handoff between Wi-Fi and LTE.

I tested a T-Mobile iPhone 6 Wi-Fi to LTE handoff with an iPhone 6 Plus on my home Wi-Fi network and at a local coffee shop and, in both cases, I was able to establish a call from the Wi-Fi network and keep the conversation going over the T- Mobile LTE cellular network as soon as I left the building.

The service works with any Wi-Fi router, but T-Mobile is offering its customers use of a free “Personal CellSpot” router (built by Asus) that prioritizes voice calls over other traffic so if someone is streaming a movie on your network, it won’t interfere with call quality. The router also has a particularly strong Wi-Fi signal, which, unlike the router it replaced, is able to broadcast a signal to all parts of my relatively large two-story house.

While Wi-Fi calling solves the problem of not being able to use a phone in a dead spot where you have access to Wi-Fi, it’s of no use while you’re on the move so it’s still important to pick a carrier with good coverage in the places you’re likely to use your phone.

 

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T-Mobile Wi-Fi Hotspot Hands-Off Coverage for iPhone 6

I do a lot of international traveling and I’ve been seriously thinking of switching to T-Mobile for its low-cost international roaming rates that include 20 cent per minute calls from abroad and free data and texting from 120 countries.

But I don’t travel all the time, and the reason I’ve never been able to use T-Mobile is that I happen to live in a near T-Mobile dead-spot, even though I’m in the middle of Silicon Valley. But now I have a T-Mobile “tower” in my home. Instead of spotty coverage, I now have an extremely strong signal.

T-Mobile had introduced Wi-Fi calling a number of years ago, but it just improved the service for customers who have Voice Over LTE (VoLTE) phones such as the new iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The company is also offering a free router that improves voice calls within and near your home.

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The phone allows you to make and receive calls and texts from a Wi-Fi network (any Wi-Fi network, even public ones such as in hotels and cafes) or through the T-Mobile network and, for compatible phones like the iPhone 6, if you’re in the middle of a call and walk away, the call is handed off to the cellular network. Likewise, you if you’re on the phone and walk into your house, the call gets handed over to your Wi-Fi router.

T-Mobile said that “100% of new smartphones in T-Mobile stores will be Wi-Fi calling and texting capable,” and the company is offering a trade-up plan for customers who wish to purchase Wi-Fi enabled phones.
I tested the service using an LG Flex and it did a great job handling Wi-Fi calls from inside and around my house. it worked right out of the box with my existing router but when I connected T-Mobile’s “Wi-Fi Cellspot Router” (built by Asus), the service improved for two reasons. First, the special router (which is available for free to T-Mobile subscribers with a $25 refundable deposit) prioritizes voice calls over other traffic so if someone is streaming a movie on your network, it won’t interfere with call quality. And second, the router has a particularly strong Wi-fi (a/b/g/n/ac) signal both at 2.4 Ghz and 5 Ghz which, unlike the router it replaced, is able to broadcast a signal to all parts of my relatively large two story house.

The service works with your existing T-Mobile service for incoming and out-going calls and sends out caller ID with your T-Mobile number.

Unlike the iPhone 6, the LG Flex is not able to make the hand-off between WiFi and the cellular system so, if you walk out of the house while on a call, the call will terminate. My iPhone 6 arrives on Monday and I plan to test the continuity aspect of the service and update this post once I get the new phone.

T-Mobile also announced that its phones would be able to send and receive texts using GoGo’s in-flight network.

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High school kids show strong support for First Amendment

by Larry Magid

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News  -- the newspaper of Silicon Valley

This post first appeared in the San Jose Mercury New

Let me start out by admitting my bias. I’m a strong supporter of the First Amendment. With very few exceptions (like child sex abuse images and yelling “fire” in a crowded theater), I believe that free speech is an absolute right for people of all ages and it makes me feel good when I learn that others, especially young people, tend to agree.

The reason I love it when young people support free speech is because they are our future.

If people grow up believing in something, they’re more likely to continue to hold those beliefs as they get older. So, I’m especially pleased that high school students are even more supportive of free speech than adults, according to a new survey from the Knight Foundation.

The foundation conducted a national study of 10,463 high school students and 588 teachers to coincide with the celebration of Constitution Day, which took place Wednesday. Several of the questions were identical to those of a Newseum Institute survey of adults, which enabled researchers to compare results across age groups.

What the study found is that students are more supportive of free speech rights than adults, with the heaviest consumers of social media showing the strongest support. The study found that only 24 percent of students agreed that the “First Amendment goes too far” compared to 38 percent of adults who responded to similar questions. This is a major shift from most previous surveys such as in 2006 when 45 percent of students felt that way compared to 23 percent of adults.

The study also found that today’s students are more likely to agree that people should be allowed to express unpopular opinions with 88 percent agreeing this year compared to 76 percent in 2007 and 83 percent in 2004. There is also increased agreement that “newspapers should be allowed to publish freely without government approval of a story,” up from 51 percent in 2004 to 61 percent this year.

I was fascinated by the finding that students who more frequently use social media are more likely to support people’s right to express unpopular opinions. Among those who use social media more than once a day, 62 percent support other people’s rights to express unpopular opinions compared to 54 percent who use it just once a day or several times a week and 49 percent of youth who use social media weekly or less often. More than 7 in 10 students who read news online more than once a day support other people’s right of speech, compared to 53 percent of those who read online news weekly.

Of course, correlations don’t prove causation. There could be other factors at play, but the fact that social media use does correlate to first amendment support is encouraging, considering how many young people are using social media.

The study looked at such issues as free speech, surveillance and privacy. There is also a correlation between studying about First Amendment rights and support for free speech. Since 2004, the percentage of students who say they have taken First Amendment classes increased from 58 percent to 70 percent, according to the report.

In an interview, Eric Newton, senior adviser to the president of the Knight Foundation, said that interviews with journalism faculty confirmed that “what’s really important is news and media digital literacy being taught more significantly in high school. Just mentioning the First Amendment in a social studies class isn’t’ enough.” He said that “the flip side of freedom and responsibility is that you need to not ban digital media but actually teach students all about digital media in school. How to create it, how to navigate it and how to use it.”

When it comes to free speech at and about school, students are more than twice as likely than teachers (61 percent vs. 29 percent) to support the right to “express their opinions about teachers and school administrators on Facebook without worrying about being punished by school authorities for what they post.” The same percentage (61 percent) of students feels that “high school students should be allowed to report on controversial issues in their student newspapers without the approval of school authorities,” compared to 41 percent of teachers.

The survey also had some interesting findings about students’ attitudes toward privacy. On one hand, students are less worried than adults with 28 percent saying they are very concerned about “privacy of information you give out on the Internet” compared to 48 percent of adults.

But, 83 percent of students agree that their electronic communications “should not be subject to government surveillance or tracked by businesses.” The Knight results confirm other studies from Pew Research that, while students may not have the same sensitivity to information being out there as adults, they are far from insensitive to the issue. For youth, it’s less about privacy than it is about control. They’re more willing than adults to share information as long as they get to decide what they’re sharing and who gets to see it.

It’s customary for every generation of adults to worry about the values of those who follow but — based on this study — I’m optimistic.

 

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High school students care about free speech

A study by the Knight Foundation found that high school students are more supportive of free speech rights than adults and that there is a correlation between social media use and support for the first amendment.

Details here

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UN bringing child rights into the digital age

By Larry Magid

Attendees at the UCRC day of discussion listen to recommendations

Attendees at the UNCRC day of discussion listen to recommendations

In 1989 the United Nations passed an important human rights treaty. The Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) was ratified by all countries in the world except Somalia, Southern Sudan and — believe it or not — the United States.*

Rights and protections

And even though this document was written before kids started using the Internet, it spells out protections and rights of freedom of expression and access to media for children around the world. Some have defined the rights as the 3 P’s: protection, provision and participation. But, as several attendees pointed out, the UN has mostly focused on protection (see Anne Collier’s analysis).

Living document and day of discussion

Just because the UNCRC predates the commercial Internet, it doesn’t mean that it can’t be applied to the digital age, just as the more than 200-year old American Bill of Rights has been interpreted to guarantee freedom of expression and privacy rights for Internet users in America.

The UNCRC is a living document, subject to modern interpretation. But, just in case there is any doubt about its application to the digital world, the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child, an 18-member international body that monitors the implementation of the convention, convened a “general day of discussion on digital media and children’s rights” at the UN’s sprawling Palace of Nations complex in Geneva.

The day of discussion took place at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva

The day of discussion took place at the UN Palace of Nations in Geneva

My ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I participated in that meeting, along with about 300 other attendees representing governments, non-governmental organizations (non-profits) and human rights groups from around the world.

After a brief introductory plenary session, attendees divided into two working groups. One focused on children’s equal and safe access to digital media and ICT (information and communication technology) and the other on children’s empowerment and engagement through digital media.

After several hours of discussion, rapporteurs from both groups summarized the discussions and made some recommendations to be considered by the Committee.

The recommendations — summarized below — were divided into four categories: empowerment, access, digital literacies and safety.

Empowerment

  • Empowerment of all children should be founded on a balanced approach between protection and participation where children are the drivers of a safe and participatory digital world.
  • Give children digital literacy and promote digital citizenship.
  • All stakeholders need to understand their responsibilities with the respect to the rights of children in digital media.
  • Different stakeholders need to play different roles: States, parents, families, teachers, civil society, NGOs, private and public sectors and children themselves.
  • Any approach to limit the risks of harm that children face in their digital lives should be balanced against the enjoyment of other rights, including the freedom of expression, right to participation and right to association.

Accessibility

  • Ensure equal access to digital media and ICT by technology infrastructure ensuring free or low-cost access that is targeted for different groups of children, particularly girls, children with disabilities and other vulnerable groups of children.

Digital literacy

  • Provide digital education to all children, parents, teachers and all those working with and for children and ensure it’s good quality.
  • Include online education methods in school programs including children with disabilities.
  • Ensure training in social behavior online — social literacy.

Safety

  • Ensure awareness-raising for children and adults of all the risks and harms.
  • Provide training for law enforcement and others working with children.
  • Ensure legal and self-regulating mechanisms to guarantee safety on the Internet.
  • Develop technological solutions for prevention and protection.
  • Ensure availability of assistance and support, including child-friendly complaint mechanisms, helplines and compassion for victims.
  • Children should play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers against harm.

My takeaways

I was gratified to see that the Committee and fellow working group members were sensitive to the importance of rights as well as protection and that there was a general agreement that online access and free expression are critical rights. I was also pleased about the recommendation that children be empowered to “play a key role in protecting themselves and their peers” along with the concept that “children are the drivers of a safe and participatory digital world.”

As other attendees pointed out, the discussions were a bit vague on specifics and how these rights might be implemented and there was no consensus on how the vast cultural, political and legal differences between countries should apply to these rights. For example, there are several countries that filter the Internet for all users — not just children. And even in the United States and Western Europe, it is common for schools to block social media, which I interpret not only as vehicles for free expression, but also freedom of association as guaranteed in the UNCRC. Another limitation of both the UNCRC and the day of discussion was the lack of differentiation by age. The UNCRC defines “child” as people under 18, but as any parent knows, there is a vast difference between toddlers and teenagers and any discussion of rights and protections needs to take these differences into consideration.

*As per the United States — even though we haven’t ratified the Convention (scroll down in this document from Amnesty International for the why), freedom of speech and assembly are guaranteed in the U.S. Constitution and there is nothing in the Constitution that says these rights are applicable only to adults. Still, the U.S. has a longstanding tradition of giving parents control over their children and giving schools “in loco parentis” controls while children are at school. While no one would question a parent’s right and responsibility to supervise their children and protect them from harm, there are families in the U.S. and elsewhere where parents are interpreting those rights in an arbitrary manner. I worry about LGBT youth whose parents are not supportive of young people who are exploring religious or political views that might differ from their parents’ beliefs.

Next steps

The recommendations of these working groups will be studied by the UN’s Committee on the Rights of the Child and then passed on to member states. Some, I suspect, will embrace them while others are likely to ignore them. Most, I’m pretty sure, will interpret them according to local laws and customs, which means that — even if adopted — not all of these recommendations will be implemented. Still, it’s an important step toward updating the interpretation of the UNCRC so that rights that are guaranteed offline are also applied online.

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Internet Governance Forum topics include human rights, network neutrality and child protection

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As we have for the past several years, my ConnectSafely.org co-director Anne Collier and I are attending this year’s Internet Governance Forum (IGF) to talk about child protections, child rights and digital citizenship, including children’s’ access to social media and other Internet resources. The ninth annual IGF takes place in Istanbul, Turkey, September 2nd through the 5th.

The IGF is what the UN calls a “multi-stakeholder” gathering, which means it’s not just governments that attend IGF, but also representatives from industry (mostly tech companies), non-profit organizations and academia. Numerous U.S. officials are here, including Catherine Novelli, the State Department’s Under Secretary for Economic Growth, Energy, and the Environment, NTIA Administrator and Assistant Secretary of Commerce Lawrence E. Strickling and FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn.

Network neutrality

There will be several sessions on Network Neutrality, which has become a major topic in the United States, but also around the world, including in Europe where the European Parliament has voted to limit Internet service providers’ ability to charge for special services or faster access to content providers.

In the U.S., the FCC is pondering new network neutrality rules after the District of Columbia Circuit Court overturned nondiscrimination rules that the FCC had enacted in 2010. The proposed FCC rules would ban blatant blocking of competitive content, but would allow ISPs to enter special agreements with content providers, causing some to fear that this could lead to a less open Internet where rich companies have an unfair advantage over those without the ability to pay ISPs for enhanced access.

Censorship

Open access has long been a theme at IGF, with most participants agreeing that the Internet should be open to all ideas and not censored by government or ISPs  As always, there will be  sessions on freedom of speech, including one entitled Online Freedoms and Access to Information Online.

But any discussion of free speech has to include a critique of countries that have restricted access to some parts of the Internet including the host country, Turkey, which for a time early this year banned access to Twitter and YouTube. Those particular sites are once again accessible but, according to Turkish Internet rights activists Yaman Akdeniz and Kerem Altiparmak, “Between May 2007 and July 2014 Turkey blocked access to approximately 48,000 websites,” based on a recently updated law. Akdeniz and Altiparmak added that “Although the law is ostensibly aimed to protect children from harmful content, from the very beginning it has been used to prevent adults’ access to information.”

Ungovernance forum

Akdeniz and Altiparmak will be boycotting the IGF but will be participating in the Internet Ungoverance Forum that will take place in Istanbul on September 4th and 5th “for people who demand that fundamental freedoms, openness, unity and net neutrality remain the building blocks of the Internet.”

Child protection and youth rights

There are several workshops on child protection including the ones that Anne Collier and I are speaking at.  Anne is moderating a workshop entitled Empowering Global Youth Through Digital Citizenship with the goal of moving beyond protection towards a better understanding of youth perspectives, including ”how they use digital tools and spaces to promote and support causes, make change and participate in civil society or even political life.”

The panel I’m moderating, Protecting Child Safety AND Child Rights, focuses on how adults can help young people remain safe online without jeopardizing their rights of access, free expression and participation.

Also see, Protecting children online needs to allow for their right to free speech.

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Protecting children online needs to allow for their right to free speech

I’m writing this column on a flight to Istanbul and then on to Geneva for two United Nations conferences.

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News  -- the newspaper of Silicon Valley

Istanbul is the site of this year’s U.N. Internet Governance Forum (IGF), while the Geneva meetings will focus on digital media and children’s rights per the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, which has been ratified by nearly every country in the world, except the U.S. and Somalia.

The IGF is an annual event where “stakeholders” from governments, industry, nonprofits and academia discuss a wide range of Internet policy issues. Anne Collier and I are representing ConnectSafely.org, the nonprofit Internet safety organization where we serve as co-directors. (Disclosure: ConnectSafely receives financial support from some tech companies, including Facebook, Google and Yahoo.)

The workshops I’m participating in (www.connectsafely.org/igf2014/) focus on child online protection, protecting child safety and child rights, and empowering youth through digital citizenship.

I organized the child safety and child rights workshop because I want to explore how to protect children against potential online harms in ways that don’t take away their free speech rights or their right to explore all the amazing resources available online. In a way, it’s a perfect segue to the Geneva conference about digital media and the rights of the child. Article 13 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) states “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of the child’s choice.”

Clearly, “any other media” includes the Internet, which means that by international treaty, children have codified rights when it comes to what they can read and what they can say. And even though the U.S. hasn’t ratified this convention, Americans do have First Amendment rights which, as far as I can tell, apply to everyone, including minors.

Yet, in the interest of protecting children, we sometimes deny them the right to access material and express themselves.

Many schools in the U.S. and other countries employ filters that restrict access to some websites or apps. These types of filters have been around for a long time and were first mostly used to block pornography and, over time, have evolved to also block sites that advocate or depict violence, the use of alcohol or illegal drugs or promote self-harm such as cutting or anorexia. A purest interpretation of the First Amendment or the Convention on the Rights of the Child could be used to argue against the use of these filters for any purpose, but I think most people would agree that parents have the right to protect young children from potentially harmful or disturbing content, and that schools, even public schools that are run by governments, have a right and responsibility to keep kids from accessing certain content within their facilities. But such filters are not just used to block porn, violence and self-harm.

Depending on how they are configured, filters can also block access to social media sites, which is common in many schools in the U.S. and other countries. They can also be used to ban sites that officials in some countries simply don’t want students to access. Ironically, Turkey — which is hosting this year’s governance forum, filtered the Internet for all of its citizens, blocking Twitter and YouTube, for a while earlier this year for what appear to be purely political reasons.

I’m particularly concerned about schools blocking social media. While it’s certainly fair to argue that students should be focusing on their studies while in class, it strikes me that a wholesale ban on social media sites raises some troubling free speech issues.

Social media is where people exchange information and ideas and it’s frequently used for political, cultural and religious expression, not unlike what’s printed in newspapers or discussed in hallways. And, while some schools block social media, teachers at other schools encourage its use and incorporate it into their curriculum as a way to encourage kids to express themselves, broaden their horizons and share learning resources with peers and others from around the world.

I’m also troubled by the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act (COPPA), a well-meaning federal law that has the unintended consequences of preventing kids under 13 from expressing themselves on most social media platforms unless they lie about their age. Millions of kids have lied to use these services, often with their parents help.

Of course there are risks in social media, but there are also enormous benefits. Sports can be risky, but that doesn’t stop most schools from encouraging kids to participate. If schools treated sports the way they treat social media, they would ban baseball, football and soccer on school grounds and deny their students access to safety equipment, rule enforcement, coaching and camaraderie associated with school athletics, knowing full well that kids would still play those sports when they are away from school.

Whether you’re a decision maker at home, for a school or an entire country, protecting children from harm will always be a major priority. But avoiding harm also means protecting children’s rights, including the right to access media. It’s a delicate balance that requires thought and, most of all, respect for children and their rights and it’s not too much to ask.

This column first appeared in the San Jose Mercury News

 

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Jawbone measured sleep disruption from Napa earthquake

Chart shows sleep impact by distance

Chart shows sleep impact by distance

Jawbone, which makes the Jawbone Up fitness tracker that measures sleep patterns, release aggregate data on its users in and near the San Francisco Bay area when the Napa earthquake hit at 3:20 AM Sunday morning.  The results were reported in a company blog post.

Napa, Sonoma, Vallejo, and Fairfield — town that are less than 15 miles from the epicenter showed the biggest impact with 93% of the product’s wearers waking up suddenly at 3:20AM when the quake struck. As you move away from the center, the impact lessens. Just over half (55%) of San Francisco wearers, which is about 40 miles from American Canyon where the quake was centered woke up. Almost no wearers in Modesto and Santa Cruz woke up according to the company

And the quake’s impact on sleep lasted all night. According the Jawbone, 45% of wearers less than 15 miles from the epicenter never got back to sleep.

The company said that the study was based on thousands of UP wearers in the Bay Area who track their sleep using UP by Jawbone. All results are statistically significant. All data is anonymized and presented in aggregate.

 

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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.

Earthquake.gov 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.

Phones

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

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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 ConnectedLearning.tv 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 (www.1sb.com), 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.”

snap

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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