Science and Technology
You don't have to be a rocket scientist to help astronomers learn about the Universe. You don't need a degree in biology to help track bird populations. Interested in what whale songs mean? You guessed it—you don't need to be an oceanographer to help scientists figure it out. All it takes is an interest and computer access and you can join the growing ranks of Citizen Scientists. Most projects provide tutorials or clear instructions on their websites. You don't even have to be an adult!
Serial readers of the Tech Answers blog probably know that I would recommend either an iPad Mini or a Google Nexus 7 for an eReader tablet and that, though they are very pretty (the devices, not the blog readers, who could be pretty, but I wouldn’t know), I would guide most away from retailer-specific hardware like the Kindle Fire or the Barnes & Noble Nook. But that overlooks one very important buying category: Cheap Tablets. These are sub-$150 and often sub-$100 devices that you’ll find at convenience and drug stores.
If you own a Nook, Sony, Kobo, or other non-Amazon e-ink (black and white) eBook reader listed here and you’ve checked out eBooks from CRRL, chances are you’ve had the misfortune of dealing with Adobe Digital Editions, the gateway between most copy-protected eBooks and reading devices. If you’re planning on giving or receiving one of these toys this holiday season, you’ll want to read on. Adobe Digital Editions is poorly designed, non-intuitive and relies far, far too heavily on keyboard shortcuts and buried menus. Even with its recent, underwhelming 2.0 update, be you tech “dummy” or “genius," it’s a pain. Sadly, it’s what we’re all required to use in order to get our eBooks from the Internet to our devices. Read on to learn its secrets.
The iPad mini is awesome. You can read on if you like, but just know that this is a tech purchase you probably will not regret. With its slim size, diminutive weight, and full-sized iPad technology, the iPad mini is a winner with few drawbacks.
Philosophically I approve more of Google’s open source Android than I do Apple’s closed-off iOS. I also am not a fan of iOS devices’ lack of centralized file storage and exploration. But really, there’s no denying that Apple knows how to build a tablet that overcomes these issues. The mini is 0.28 inches thick, 7.87 inches tall, 5.5 inches wide, and weighs only 0.68 pounds. The front of the mini is entirely glass with a diamond-cut edge that fits snuggly into an anodized aluminum unibody that comes in both slate and silver. The left and right bezel of the device have been narrowed significantly; at times this can make holding the device in portrait mode slightly awkward, but not as much as you might think thanks to its surprising lightness. Apple is king when it comes to rolling out devices that are a pleasure to hold and the mini is no exception; you will not believe how light and thin it really is until you hold one.
Updated November 2013: After a year of living with much of this tech, I have some new insights that should help you decide if you want to settle for slightly older hardware at cheaper prices when shopping for the 2013 holiday season. I have also provided links to the updated versions of the devices that were listed in 2012 as alternatives to the standard Apple/Amazon/Google/B&N devices.
Here’s the hard truth: your password, well, it’s no good. Does it include a word found in the dictionary, a name, a date, or even numbers that look like letters (e=3, I-1, o=0, etc.)? Yup, no good. Do you use the same password for some or even all your websites? Tsk, tsk. The practice of password cracking has never been easier thanks to a number of landfall events for hackers, namely the release into the public of numerous huge password databases from hacked websites and the development of more advanced and specialized tools. What’s worse, the security of your password isn’t always wholly dependent on you but on the websites you use. I know it’s hard; you have trouble remembering your passwords, etc., and I’m sorry, but in today’s world those excuses just aren’t acceptable. Practicing good password hygiene isn’t a suggestion if you want to survive online, it is now a requirement. Please read on!
You wouldn’t know it by the state of things, but Adobe Reader isn’t the end-all, be-all of PDF. Standing for "Portable Document Format," PDF is a file format used to maintain the uniform appearance of a document no matter what type of hardware or software is being used to view it. You will see it used frequently for government documents such as IRS and court forms, job applications, ebooks and more since it looks the same everywhere. Adobe may have created the PDF format, but they made it a free-for-all file format in 2008, resulting in software for reading and creating PDFs that rival Adobe’s own.
You might be asking yourself ,“Why would I want to switch from Acrobat Reader?” Over the years Adobe Reader (once known as Acrobat Reader) has become a horribly bloated program that takes entirely too much space on your hard drive and, in my opinion, an unacceptable amount of RAM to use. It’s slow to load and slower to use. Furthermore, Adobe is constantly releasing updates for the program; it seems like every other time I turn on my Windows 7 computer there’s a notification for an Adobe Reader update, and I’m growing tired of it.
Leave it to Cory Doctorow, author, blogger, and technology activist-extraordinaire, to weave a story that successfully blends coming-of-age woes, homelessness, national politics, copyright law, cooking, gadgetry, love, overcoming homophobia, civil disobedience, film-making, mashups, public speaking, the judicial system, beer and coffee brewing, cryptography, and oh so, so much more into a wonderfully geeky, heart-wrenching, page-turning bang-up novel that people of all ages should read. This book is full of such big, exquisite ideas to learn about that you’ll be Googling your fingers off through the entire story and I mean that in the best way possible. You will learn reading Pirate Cinema and you will love this as much as you love the characters.
Open Culture is one of the best free cultural and educational media sites on the Internet. The website was founded in 2006 by Dan Coleman, who is the Director and Associate Dean of Stanford University’s Continuing Education Program. Though Open Culture is not affiliated with Stanford, it seems to be well suited to providing intelligent, relevant information. In keeping with the theme of relevancy, Open Culture can be followed on Twitter, Facebook and you can subscribe to the site to receive regular updates through email as well.
Free. Everybody likes free. I mean, what’s not to like about free? It’s free! Free, free, free - use the word often enough, however, and it begins to lose its meaning. “Free special offer (some rules and restrictions apply)!” “Free entree (with purchase of equal or greater value entree)!” “Free ski trip (after we badger you into investing in a timeshare over the course of an eight-hour 'seminar')!” Free just isn’t what it used to be, and nowhere is this more evident than the world of electronic games. Users are steeped in phrases like “free-to-play” and “freemium” to a degree that free really does start to sound like a four-letter-word. Free they say? Nonsense, we say. Let’s take a look.