A Non-Technical Parents’ Guide to Digital Tools for Kids Online Classes

Laaija's Desk

A new school season has started, and schools are moving online for the classes. There are lots of changes, and they are happening real fast, and all-at-once. Not all parents are ready to switch to a new lifestyle so fast, but we have to.

Schooling is going to be an entirely different experience for everyone involved — students, parents, teachers, and schools. It is not just about transitioning everything that happened offline in schools to the online world. It is a totally different approach, new thinking, and the eventual “normal.” Everyone involved will have to treat this in a new way — by the schools, teachers, and parents.

Today, I will try to focus on just a small piece of the more significant change — tools that will help kids be part of the new learning paradigm.

The Room, Space, and Lighting

You should try to have a separate space or a room dedicated to your kid to be part of the classes. The better lit the room is, the better. Try to have the light facing your kid — liting up her face and not from the back. A better option is to have sunlight coming in from an angle that is not too bright to the eye, but enough to light up the face. Try to avoid the sunlight shining directly onto the screen/monitor.

If you need artificial lighting, then a LED light lamp should do just fine.

Search for;

  • LED lamp
  • studio lamp

Devices

This depends a lot on the activities your kid will be involved in. Will it be just listening to the teachers, or will she be presenting at times, talking, and discussing with her friends and doing other digital activities during the classes? Let’s assume that the events will be a bit of all and better prepare for them than stand short when needed.

If your kid already has a device, use it and gauge the device’s performance before spending money on upgrades. Look for performance degradation of the quality of audio and/or video. It is always better to have much better quality audio than video.

New Device / Computer

Apple MacMini

If you have to buy new devices, and unless portability is crucial, invest in a desktop computer instead. Desktop computers allow for easier upgrades, have better performance, and are usually more economical.

I would personally suggest for a 16GB of RAM, and an SSD (Solid State Drive) instead of hard drives that have mechanical spinning parts. Don’t worry too much about the size of the SSD, a minimum of 200GB+ is suggested. You can always have a cheaper external drive for more storage. The other components will be good enough when you try the above particular configuration. If you are already thinking Intel, AMD, etc., then I believe you already know what you need.

If you’re more of a Mac Family and find it more comfortable, the cheapest MacMini would do just fine. If you can get an earlier generation MacMini or a refurbished one, it will still be suitable for a less expensive investment.

My daughter uses a 2012 MacMini with an upgraded RAM and SSD replaced drive. Well, Apple’s 2012 MacMini model is the last easily upgradable model. Please be advised that Apple hardware are tightly coupled and integrated with their software that an 8GB RAM might just work great.

Search for

  • Laptop with 16GB Ram, 256GB SSD
  • Computer with 16GB Ram, 256GB SSD
  • Laptop with 16GB RAM
  • Computer with 16GB RAM

Microphone

Even if you use a Laptop with a built-in microphone, I can guarantee you that they are not the best. Most software has become really good these days to filter out echo and other noises. However, a decent microphone goes a long way and will really help.

Here is my suggestion, in order of preference;

  1. Pop Filter Microphone with a stand, either on the desk or clipped/screwed to the table.
  2. Lavalier Microphone that can be clipped to your kid’s top/shirt.
  3. The last option is an audio headset (speaker + microphone). However, they come in the way of your kid studying or listening to the teacher.

Search for

  • Microphone kit
  • Lavalier Microphone
  • Headset
  • Microphone with Stand

Speaker

If your device or computer comes with a speaker, stick with it. Otherwise, any desktop speaker should do the job. If you have already invested in a Headset, then a separate speaker may not be necessary.

Search for

  • Desktop Speaker
  • Computer Speaker

Webcam / Camera

Video is needed but not as crucial as a Microphone. Your kid can get away with a not-so-good video, but her voice/audio should be the best possible. So, depending on your budget get for something you can afford. If your kid has a Laptop, stay with the built-in webcam but invest in the external microphone and audio setup.

Search for

  • Logitech Webcam
  • 720p Webcam
  • HD Webcam

UPS

Invest in a entry-level UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply). A UPS is used to protect hardware such as computers and other electrical devices where an unexpected power disruption could cause data loss, or damage to the devices.

Software

Besides the usual software that she will need, as suggested by the school, try to get some additional life-skill software-tools that will come handy. Some of the basics include but not limited to;

  • A calendar. Teach your kid to schedule class video calls, homework submissions, peer-to-peer meetings, etc. You should also have access to it, so you can help when needed. Google Calendar is a pretty good option.
  • A TODO app. Try to stay with the basic simple listings and not overwhelm them. A lot many people have wasted countless hours trying to hunt for the best TODO app, the best ways of using it. So, just stick to simple listings and checking items off. Better yet, stick to the physical Sticky / Post-it Note.
  • A Password Manager. It is high time to teach your kid to use a Password Manager. Some of the good ones are 1Password (paid), Keepass (free, open-source), Bitwarden (free, open-source, paid)

Upgrades

The next best upgrade after the basics are taken care off, would be, to separate their activity/study computer from the video device — have a device such as an iPad, a Tablet or a Phone just for the video calls/classes and a desktop or a laptop or a Raspberry Pi as their study computer.

Vulcan Mind Meld for Locked-In Syndrome patients

Anybody who read the classic American tale Johnny Got His Gun has a slight comprehension of what it’s like to live trapped within your own body, incapable to move, nod, speak or even blink. The mind reels; the body does nothing. Unfortunately, this form of communication-stripped torture isn’t a fictional tale but a reality for many with Locked-in Syndrome (it was featured in the House episode with Mos Def guest starring), which is why the new functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) scanner, Brain Bee, that can translate brain waves into words — is a big deal.

This new system empowers fully paralyzed and ‘locked-in’ people to mentally select letters of the alphabet in their brain, which are recognized and typed out on a screen, serving as a brain-based, non-communicative communication system for those unable to speak, sign or blink to indicate their needs. Researchers are able to recognize letter-based thought patterns by using characteristic blood flow patterns.

Before you conjure up images of telepathy or Vulcan mind melds though, this technology is a little more difficult than that to use. In order to ‘think’ of a letter, the technology divides the alphabet into three rows, nine columns, and 27 squares (26 letters of the alphabet plus the space bar). Each row is assigned a mental task, a motor-imagery task, a mental calculation task, and an inner-speech task, that the subject must perform to select the row. The letters then cycle through and the subject selects the correct one by performing the task as the letter appears on the screen. It is a time-consuming process but the technology is rather easy to learn, with test subjects learning it in under an hour.

The system has passed the theoretical and initial testing stages and has become a concept system. Although it is still in its initial phases — it has already shown promising results.

Guys — Want a Gadget that’ll tell you when your girlfriend is pissed off?

Girlfriend

Just imagine walking into the home every day after work wearing a pair of O2Amps, glasses that can warn you of your wife, girlfriend’s, female roommate’s, sister’s, mother’s emotions. Most importantly you can detect her emotion BEFORE you say the wrong thing. Brilliant no? By increasing our perception of blood physiology 2AI Labs have come up with the O2Amp glasses, which amplify whether a subject’s blood is oxygenated or deoxygenated, and pooled or free-flowing–or in layman’s terms determine the general emotions of their viewing subjects.

Millions of years of evolution (sorry Scientologists) have already given human beings the ability to interpret blood signals into emotions and overall states of health, like rosy cheeks for overall health, blushing for embarrassment, green for nausea, and yellow for fear — or jaundice. Now, like Viagra and boob jobs, scientists have improved on mother nature again.

Mark Changizi, director of human cognition at 2AI Labs and evolutionary anthropologist explains how the glasses work with human evolutionary features, “our eyes have been optimized to sense spectral changes in skin color. It turns out you can do even better because other parts of the spectrum that we perceive in the skin are just noise. If you get rid of the noise, you’re amplifying the signal”. The technology behind the glasses is based on Changizi’s color-perception research.

O2Amps

O2Amps from 2AI Labs

The O2Amp glasses come in three flavors, each with their own designs that filter light in unique ways: ‘vein-finders’ that distinguish between oxygenated and de-oxygenated blood, that will help medical professionals find veins; ‘hemo-finders’ to find pools of blood or areas drained of blood, which will obviously be used for zombie finding; and ‘health-monitors’ that can distinguish between red and green and/or yellow and blue skin, which will help doctors diagnose blood-related conditions.

The ‘health-monitors’ is the most hyped ones (although personally I am excited about the ‘hemo-finders’ given the impending zombie apocalypse I keep hearing about) as they are the pair that will help people read emotions and detect health.

“If you’re angry, you get red. When you’re showing weakness, the opposite is true — your blood becomes deoxygenated and your skin appears greener,” says Changizi. “Yellow is associated with fear because the blood gets pulled out of your extremities and flows into your organs. The opposite of being yellow with fear is being blue, which your skin exhibits when you’re sedate. These are the kinds of things that are being signaled with these color signals. And whereas muscular facial expression signals can be faked, it’s harder to fake actually being red in the face with anger, or feeling weak.”

The glasses are currently sold solely to medical distributors, but they will hopefully reach the general public sometime next year. 2AI Labs are in talks currently with Oakley — so expect a decent price tag… and polarized lenses?

Next stop — X-Ray glasses!

Move Over Instragram — ForensicaGPS turns crappy photos into 3D Renders

Rarely are thieves, animators and illustrators frightened by the same technology — but all of the above should be on the lookout for Animetrics’ new software – Forensica GPS. This new software-based technology is able to turn low-res photos into stunning 3D renders.

While my mind is reeling with the possibilities, Animetrics specifically designed their software to help police investigators track down subjects — without the time-consuming sketch artist process. This automation process is able to capture distinct facial features like that of the trained eye of a sketch artist, but being a machine it can do it much quicker (and cheaper?).

The software is based on the growing technology of the facial recognition software movement, and uses facial recognition techniques to turn 2D images into 3D visualizations. Forensica GPS is able to best some of its 3D competitors and 2D counterparts by capturing small changes that make up definition, with things like lighting, tattoos and makeup.

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Business Intelligence with Retailigence

Retailigence

Peter Christianson’s resume, as he tells it, is like a who’s who of NASDAQ success stories – so when he lent his talents to new startup, Retailigence, people paid attention.

Retailigence and its founder, Jeremy Geiger, are leveraging Peter’s thorough portfolio of skills: business development, revenue growth, supply chain management, operations research, statistics, management consulting, business-process re-engineering and mathematics; skills Peter is using to help turn Retailigence into the next big thing. Retailigence is a hodge podge of all those skills, mashed together to create a data-driven, traffic-management platform that connects the 3 prongs of the retail sector: retailers, brands and developers – all without an app or search engine.

If you want to know just what that means, read our interview with Peter below:

Can you give me the quick, elevator pitch for Retailigence?

Retailigence is a hyper-local marketing platform that drives qualified foot traffic into local retail stores. Retailigence does this by distributing a brand or retailer’s product availability information via a network of location-based application partners, used by consumers who are close to finalizing their buying decision, as well as through thousands of publishers in the form of digital advertising, to drive high-value ‘action’ (in-store sales).

You have a three-pronged approach to connecting online retail participants—including retailers, brands and developers, what inspired this approach?

With the explosive growth of online shopping, it is important to realize that over 90% of all purchases are still completed in brick-and-mortar stores. If retailers want to maintain this balance, they need to have a way to leverage the ever-growing population of smart phone users who use their phones to research before purchasing. Unfortunately, the mobile app development community is extremely fragmented. Our platform approach makes it easy for retailers or brands to get immediate visibility in many applications at one time, and makes it easy for app developers to immediately get access to multiple retailers at one time. We feel our unique approach of bridging these three areas addresses this new opportunity to provide shoppers with hyper-local product information.

What advantages do users and businesses have by participating in Retailigence?

With Retailigence, retailers get more motivated shoppers into their stores at the time they’re most interested in purchasing. The in-store shopping experience is also changing; smart-phone customers are now demanding easy access to detailed information about the products in front of them. Retailigence helps make this type of information available to customers when an employee is not available to help them.

What is your educational and work background? 

I have a successful track record in starting up new markets and building businesses at an accelerated pace. As Founder, Managing Director and Board Member of Real-Time Technology Asia-Pacific (subsidiary of RTT, a public company), in 3 ½ years, I grew revenue 1000% and built the organization from 0 to more than 50 employees. Earlier in my career, I held a variety of management positions in NASDAQ-listed CDC Software including VP of Business Development, General Manager and CEO for the Business Intelligence division.

My first experience in a start-up was with LA-based Supply Chain Management company Adexa, where I was involved in the founding of multiple new country operations. When I left Adexa, those regions accounted for 50% of Adexa’s global revenue. I started my career in Management Consulting, advising clients on Supply Chain Management, ERP software and business process re-engineering on behalf of PriceWaterhouse (now IBM Global Services) and KPMG.

I hold a Bachelor degree in Mathematics (with an emphasis on Operations Research, Computer Science and Statistics) and an Executive MBA from Sasin (associated with Kellogg School of Management).

What are your biggest challenges as an entrepreneur?

I’d say the biggest challenges are the 4 “P’s”: pacing, product, pivot and personnel. The early life of a startup is not a sprint, but a very fast-paced run. Too fast and you burn out, too slow and you miss the opportunity. You also need to have a good product which takes many iterations. You must be willing to pivot when necessary, and you have to be able to attract and motivate excellent personnel.

What are your plans, hopes and marketing ideas for the future of Retailigence?

Retailigence will become “the” platform powering the increasingly important online to offline (O2O) commerce market.

What are some of the mistakes and/or failures that you learned from while starting up?

In looking back over the life-span of Retailigence, I see several decisions that could be viewed as mistakes, but were good decisions at the time. As a fast-growing start-up in a “hot” space, we are continually being presented with offers for partnership and investment. What is more critical than making the right decision is to make a decision and act on it. If that decision turns out to need adjustment, then make the change and keep on going. Action will win over deliberation in the long haul.
 

What were and are the challenges that you face(d) starting up?

I faced the usual challenges: finding the right team, securing funding, and early on, fine-tuning the message so it was easily understood by retailers, application developers and end-users.

How have you personally changed since you started?

When we started, we were focused on the concept of Retailigence, which was a new concept at the time. These days, I need to spend much more attention on execution and metrics (both internal and for our customers).

What has been the biggest surprise been as an entrepreneur and business owner?

One of the biggest surprises has been the topic of international. Before starting Retailigence I started-up 12 different new country operations for 3 different software companies. International growth was expected and it required starting-up from first principles.

These days with the internet and with the visibility that Silicon Valley start-ups get, we are seeing huge demand from international markets, far before I would have planned such expansion. Also related to international, I learned early on, that many Silicon Valley venture capitalists are still wary of international markets. I’m seeing a very different perspective on international expansion then when I was in the trenches leading such efforts.

What development, event, or new understanding since you started has had the most impact on your original plans and how have your plans changed in response?

Retailigence had traditionally focused on serving brick & mortar retailers exclusively. When some of the biggest brand advertisers in the world started reaching out to embed “Point of Purchase” information in their advertising campaigns, we started to see an important value-add that we could provide to them too. The great thing is that this development has come back to benefit our retail customers too.

What sacrifices did you have to make in order to focus on your startup?

I had to make a decision to give-up my well-paid position in a fast-growing public company that had many perks including continuous international travel.

Which do you think is most important and why: the right market, the right product, or the right team?

Obviously all 3 are critical. But without a market, there is no need for the other two.

How did you lure your first customers?

Retailigence doesn’t lure customers, we engage them. Our first customers were forward-thinking people who saw the emerging possibilities resulting from the explosion of ecommerce, and understood the need to bridge the retail experience of yesterday to the retail experience of the future. Most retailers quickly see the value proposition of Retailigence. After developing their own app, they start to realize that there must be other things they can be doing in mobile marketing, especially as part of the explosion of 3rd party apps.

If your company tanked tomorrow, would the experience have been worth it?

Absolutely. I believe the journey is what enriches all of us, not just the end goal.  Having started so many new subsidiary P&L divisions before, I know I can make a successful business. The experience of working with some of the world’s leading venture capitalists has been a fun and interesting new experience.

What made you first think that starting a company is right for you?

I’ve always had an internal entrepreneurial spirit, and with Retailigence, the market timing was just right. Even in the mid-90’s when I was a supply chain Consultant at KPMG, I envisioned the need for a solution to solve the “last mile” in supply chain management — connecting consumers with local retail stores.

Was there anyone/anything who inspired your managerial style and defined the culture of your company?

Every culture is different. The culture and management style I use in Japan or Australia or Singapore or Denmark or here in Silicon Valley is very different. I learn and adapt from what I see around me.

Kenyan Entrepreneurs use technology to boost Trade Opportunities for Low-Tech Farmers

It’s been known for quite some time that the Global South’s, and its people’s, biggest hindrance is not legacies of colonialism or anesthetizing malaise but a lack of substantive trade opportunities caused by an inability to access global markets on any meaningful scale. So when we hear about endeavors like M-Farm, where developing-world entrepreneurs use available technologies to create meaningful trade opportunities for themselves and their compatriots — we should damn well pay attention.

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Mobile Phones – A Catalyst for the Future in Education

Along with million other uses of mobile phones, the latest upcoming advantage of this device is, it is going to create a revolution in education. Mobile phones are going to have the power to digitally impart education globally. Even the most tech-savvy person would have never dreamt in her wildest dreams, that such a possibility would ever come into being.

A unique partnership between Aptech & Hungama has led to the formation of Aptech Hungama Digital Education.

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Microsoft’s Patent power-grab

So, Microsoft spent over a billion dollars to out-bid Google on a bunch of patents from AOL. But WHY? AOL isn’t exactly a major player in the game anymore and the bulk of their patents haven’t been put into practical use for years.

Many in the industry are assuming that Microsoft did it out of their usual trying-to-beat-Google-to-the-punch philosophy, but it turns out that Microsoft (finally) had an ulterior motive (especially since Google never officially announced an interest in the patents).

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Tech Startups get much-needed Funding Boost with JOBS act

Tech startups just got a much-needed boost in processing power, with the new JOBS legislation passed in congress. The Jumpstart our Business Startups (JOBS) initiative currently being legislated into the US economy passed by a landslide and will vastly alter the startup entrepreneurial and investment landscape.

This new legislation, passed with a vote of 380-41, will remove some of the ridiculous red tape that startups are currently forced to endure when seeking funding. It will also allow young and small companies to go public sooner and allow for crowd-sourced funding, enabling startups to gets funds from small internet-based investors. Track the entirety of the JOBS legislation.

JOBS Act

Under the JOBS act companies looking for funding will no longer need to do so under cloak and dagger, nor contrary to advice from their lawyer. Funding-seeking companies will now be able to post information about their crowd and other funding efforts on their websites and social profiles.

Opponents to the new law object on grounds that opening up very public opportunities for investment in startups will open the public up to increased risk in consumer investment and increased vulnerability to fraud via unmanaged crowd-sourced funding.

Investment fraud and scams may pop up on both sides of the fence though. Small-scale internet investors could be ripped off by investing in risky, possibly fraudulent investments, while at the same time funding-seeking businesses may be taken advantage of fraudulent funding opportunities — especially now that their lawyers will have backed off on legal advice, now that public funding is no longer a legal matter.

Pffft Forget BUILDING your House; D-Shape 3D Printer can PRINT it

3D printers have been growing in both popularity and scope. Just a short while ago I wrote about 3D printers being used to reproduce human bones with a 3D-printed jaw bone replacement. In typical technological-growth patterns the technology is improving in folds, rapidly — something predicted long ago by Moore’s Law.

What nobody predicted in the near future though was that the home-building industry would get a MAJOR upgrade, to Home Printing. Yup, home printing. Thanks to the fast growth of 3D printing in additive manufacturing technology it is most-recently being applied to home manufacturing. Thanks to the inventive genius of Enrico Dini, founder of Moonlite UK and inventor of robotic building system D-Shape, we have entered a new era, where printing just got a LOT bigger.

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