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The Ways to Conquer the Great Grammar Divide

My daughter actually wrote a paper for school – on her phone. I. Can’t. Imagine. I struggle with a simple text. Zeros become 9s, Ps are Os, and forget the backspace vs. M battle. Middle-aged eyes and letter keys that could fit under a chocolate chip? Not a good match. Yet, for this generation, texting and social-media posts are more comfortable than actual conversation. Forget emoticons and all-lower-case entries for a moment. Let’s not concentrate on spelling. (Although another of my kids once texted, “we picked up meet at the grocery store!”) Grammar – the framework of writing – is taking a hit. What role has social media played in this slow-burning yet seismic downgrade of grammar?

The Grammar Police

To let your grammatical guard down among friends is one thing. But what if your words represent a brand? Readers once pounced on typos in local morning newspapers. Now, some people read with similar scrutiny blogs and social media posts. They search and destroy brands who post updates with errors of grammar and spelling. Quick to grill a company for missing commas? Consider this: Brands that relate to their audience succeed. Brands such as Sephora, ThinkGeek and Cincinnati’s Contemporary Arts Center convey personality. They connect not because of impeccable grammar, but with messages that resonate. Friends and contacts like and share content that resonates. They also frequent their content, and buy their products.

The evolving language of communication

There’s always a moment. Your grandmother sends btw in an email. Your own father uses 4 for for and 2 for too in a text. Chances are, they’d stop for a moment if they saw these deviations in ad copy for luxury cars or cereal. So why use it themselves? Corporations, small businesses and bloggers must weigh the cost of hardline grammatical compliance. Is striving for perfection best? Or is there value in a conversational tone that evokes genuine connection? Could it be that we place far too much emphasis on the written word? Our smartphones give us a free pass. We use disclaimers such as please excuse any grammatical errors, sent from my mobile device. If only we could tag this to social media posts, email and pick-up lines, too, right? Grammar sets us off, but it’s not the only evil of the English language. Blogger Mandi Castle, of Cellulite Looks Better Tan, summarized the struggle. She wrote a post titled Things You Should Have Learned in Grade School but Obviously Didn’t, In it, Mandi laments gaffes of a lot and cannot but also it’s and nother and literally and figuratively. “Feel free to share this on Facebook,” Mandi writes. “As I’m certain 99.7% of people who use it daily should have had to sit through Mrs. Lawrence’s third grade grammar lessons because they still say ‘should of.’”

Literally (or figuratively?) the final word

A teacher friend recently graded third-grade grammar quizzes. “I fear for the future of interpretable communication," she told me in a Facebook post. "Yikes.” Kids, though, have jacked up the English language for generations. We often consider it adorable, with backward letters and everything. On the surface, the divide seems sharp: Either you’re a stickler, or you wing it. There’s a lot of rules, though, and even stickler status doesn’t guarantee expertise. It’s unofficial. It seems, though, the key to forgiveness for all writing wrongs is simple: How do you feel about the person or entity who made the mistake? A fan of your favorite team can bust the “you’re-your rule” in exuberance over a victory. You’ll likely thumbs-up the comment, no questions asked. A member of an opposing political party forgets to capitalize Boise, and he'll have upon him a literary wrath of biblical proportions. It’s about how the words make you feel. Unless you’re in the grammar police. Then, you must ask yourself, has the slip-up spoiled the message? Good grammar doesn’t guarantee compelling prose. Imperfect discourse isn’t wholly deemed unfit. A messy cookie is likely more desirable than broccoli fixed to perfection, right? Maybe. I’ll text my kid and ask about that.

3 websites to boost your grammar

GRAMMAR BOOK | This site promotes a book, The Blue Book of Grammar and Punctuation, by Jane Strauss. It offers quizzes, a newsletter and a list of grammar rules to follow. LOUSY WRITER | It’s a free online resource to strengthen your writing overall. It includes how-to guides to many parts of speech, as well as tips for writing everything from a thesis to a screenplay. PURDUE ONLINE WRITING LAB | Purdue University hosts this site. It covers grammar and mechanics, job search and professional writing, and popular writing vidcasts.

Mobile & Wi-Fi

Heart, Smiley Face, High Five: Our love affair with emojis

This year, with the iOS 10 update, Apple users got new emojis – some long awaited, such as the middle finger or two-gender options for dancing twins and Sherlock Holmes – and others, upgraded, such as robot and cat emojis. Every day, worldwide, users send 6 billion emoticons on phones or mobile messaging apps. In 2016, on World Emoji Day, Twitter released data on which emojis are the most popular in each country. The U.S. uses the weary face most; France sends out the heart emoji more than any other. Where did they even come from? A guy named Shigetaka Kurita created the first emoji. He worked for a Japanese communication company, and wanted a way for mobile users to send pictures without using lots of data. Thus, the emoji was born. It became popular in the U.S., when Apple added it to their products. Did you know emojis are regulated? A nonprofit called the Unicode Consortium serves as the Sorting Hat for emojis, and they always get the final say. Wait, why do emojis need regulation? The consortium was established 24 years ago to develop standards for translating different alphabets into code. It also regulates and develops standards for software internationalization. They make sure tech products, services and codes can be adapted to different languages and cultures. The consortium gets hundreds of new emoji proposals annually. It reviews them carefully, and approves a few for the public. But some people don’t think it should be up to a high counsel to tell us what emojis we should use. They’ve discussed this at the world’s first ever emoji conference, Emojicon, in San Francisco in Q4 2016. But the consortium was like “Imma let you finish,” but here are 56 new emojis we’ve approved for 2017, and you don’t get a say. Why do we love emojis so much?     Aside from being adorable, they also help us express things we can’t always find the words for — such as during awkward or sad moments. Dr. Owen Churches is a professor of psychology at Flinders University in Adelaide, South Australia. He conducted research that found we react to emojis the same way we do to the human face. They also help make users more likeable, or soften the blow of what they might be trying to say, and make you more popular on Twitter. From NBA players who tattoo them on their arms, to bedspreads and pillows, emojis have become mainstream. Plus, you can also now read classic literature translated into emoji. (Emoji Dick and Yolo Juliet). Meanwhile, English majors everywhere weep.  



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3 Tech Tools for a Happy, Bright Holiday

I couldn’t wait to get the Sears catalog when I was a little kid. In my preteen years, I moved up to Target fliers that I waited for with as much anticipation. In those pages I’d find dozens of gifts I wanted under the Christmas tree or stuffed in my stocking on Dec. 25. (I estimate 98.9% actually made it there.) That air of anticipation made magic out of ordinary catalog pages. Holiday Anticipation, 2016 style, is a little different. My kids can make wish lists online. Forget visions of sugarplums. Children sneak a tablet into bed and track Santa’s progress online. I wouldn’t be surprised if they could check up on St. Nick on Snapchat. Even before Thanksgiving, Christmastime seems to be here. So why not get a jump start on the season? Here are three online holiday tools for those who just can’t wait for Christmas to get here.

Online Wish Lists

I circled the NFL jackets and Star Wars ships I wanted in catalogs. Kids now can establish a registry, as you might for a wedding. A child can share his or her wish list through Facebook – which increases the chances a family member will pick up the  Wow Wee Coji with Remote at the top of the list. Giftster| For desktop or mobile, register the whole family for gift-giving perfection. Toys R Us | Sign up on the toy giant’s site for all the toys. WishMindr | It’s the app that lets you add gifts from any site – right on your mobile device.

Santa Online

For generations, kids hand-scribbled their wish list to Santa. Today, they can fill out an online form. promises the Jolly Old Elf will reply to letters submitted immediately. (Now that's customer care). Kids can also color Christmas pages on the site. NORAD Tracks Santa | Starting Dec. 1, check out St. Nick’s progress in his global expedition. Reindeer Cam | Watch Chris Kringle feed the reindeer three times a day. Capture the Magic | It’s the place to get pics of Santa in your living room. How? Magic. (Parents send photos in of living space as it will appear on Christmas Eve. In return, they get a photo of Santa making his rounds in the room.)

 Appy Christmas

Parents herd the kids in to watch Charlie Brown shows for Thanksgiving and Christmas. Why? Their parents herded them in to watch Charlie Brown shows for Thanksgiving and Christmas, that’s why. Now, there’s an app for that. A Charlie Brown Christmas ($5.99, iTunes) | It’s interactive! Christmas Crystal Ball (Google Play, free) | It’s a virtual snow globe for your mobile device. Red Stamp (Google Play, iTunes, free) | Design Christmas cards to have printed and sent. These online resources can help kick off your digital Christmas. You’re on your own for the eggnog.


Halloween Inspired Tech Gadgets You Have to Try

Trick-or-Treat Tech

Skeletons, costumes and bags and bags of candy. Halloween is here. And while kids and adults alike are scrambling to pull together last minute costumes and party decorations, we’re here to tell you that there’s more to Halloween than killing it at the costume game—check out these tech gadgets for a spooky and safe Halloween.

Keep track of your tiny Trick or Treaters

Family Signal Want to give your kids the freedom to Trick-or-Treat with their friends, but still keep track of where they are? FamilySignal, a location sharing app, will let you do just that. Just check out the visual map to see where they are on their quest for candy and rest easy knowing they can hit a panic button to alert you and the authorities if anything goes wrong. Glympse Another location based app, Glympse lets your kids send you “Glymses” of where they are or you can request one from them as they are on-the-go. On Halloween night you can set the app to “active” for a certain time period, then have your child select you as a “check-in” recipient through their phone. That way you can see their whereabouts while they’re Trick-or- Treating.

Spice up your desk with these spooky skulls

Skullhub USB Make Halloween great again with the Skullhub USB charger. It’s creepy and effective and you can put candy in it. The skull has 4 USB ports for iPhones and other compatible devices. Skull Speaker This small blue skull packs a punch. Great for blasting beats at a Halloween party or at work, it has a rechargeable battery, 4 hours of playback and includes a USB charging cable and audio cable. Skull Stickers Keep Halloween going all year long with spooky themed computer decals. From a vampire Snow White to skull and sugar skull decals, you can keep the spirit of Halloween alive even after October 31st.

Take your Halloween high-tech this year.

Glowy Zoey LED costume You might have seen the video of the dad who turned his toddler into a glowing LED stick figure. Well now you too can be a Glowy Zoey stick figure and the hit of Halloween parties everywhere. Choose from adult, kid and toddler costumes that boast 150-190 LED lights that can be seen from a mile away. Order yours here, in various colors and throw in some LED slap bracelets to complete the costume. Spooky Lightbulb Decor A light-bulb that plays music and is also Bluetooth capable? The future is here my friends. The Sengled Pulse Dimmable LED Light Bulb can make your porch scarier than ever. Download a freaky playlist, screw in the lightbulb on your porch and hit play from your phone. The neighborhood kids will be running away in no time, saving you plenty of candy for yourself. Vortex Tunnel Absurdly expensive, but fascinatingly fun. Might be good for a corporate Halloween party, or if you own, say, a theme park. Walk into a literal tunnel across a bridge that makes you feel like you’re spinning through time. See if “The Ultimate Tunnel Experience” is right for you.


Mobile & Wi-Fi

3 Cash-Back Apps to Make Your Wallet Happy

The words cash back activate my inner skeptic. This especially applies in the world of mobile-phone apps. I can’t give up precious storage space on my Android to apps that could act as malware and not a money-saver. Let’s concentrate on the positives first. A worthy cash-back app should live up to its name. It should … give cash back. Its user should also not need an advanced degree in quantum physics to operate it. That’s golden. Check out these notable cash-back apps. They're worth a little home-screen territory on your phone while they help you to stockpile a little green while you shop for necessities

3 cash-back apps to check out

1. Checkout 51

Free | iOS | Android How it works: Match your grocery receipts with current offers available on the app. Certain offers specify what brand you must buy. Others are non-specific, or go for general purchases, such as bananas or milk, no matter what store you shop for them. What you receive: A check, once your account reaches $20. Does it pay? On the app’s site, The Vancouver Sun is cited as calling Checkout 51 “new-age couponing.” This app makes it a snap to gain back a little spending money on your purchases.

2. Receipt Hog

Free | iOS | Android How it works: Enter photos of grocery receipts to win coins and slot-machine spins. It’s a game, with possible payouts. What you receive: Pay Pal payment, or gift cards. Grocery and drug-store receipts can translate to coins you can use to cash out or trade for gift cards. Big-box and department store receipts earn a user slot-machine spins? for bigger savings. Does it pay? Receipt Hog accepts super-center and membership warehouse receipts, with no stipulation that you purchase food at the time. Receipt Hog keeps your personal data, but you can opt out of them having anything specific. It’s a simple way to build up your Pay Pal balance.

3. Snap by Groupon

Free | iOS | Android How it works: In Spring 2016, this app changed from cash back for product-specific purchases, to retailer-specific promotions. It features more big-ticket items, such as clothing and housewares, than groceries. What you receive: A check, once your account surpasses $20. Does it pay? Groupon’s known for discounts on goods, services, and restaurants. Snap by Groupon won’t fund your country club dues, but you could gain a little spending money.

Tips to avoid dangerous or fake apps

Not all apps on the Play Store or iTunes have undergone rigorous legitimacy tests. Actually, few have. Here’s how to stay safe.

1.      Read reviews

User reviews come by the star system, 1 through 5. The average rating means little. Dig in and read. Why are the 1s so unhappy? Chatter of data usage or text messaging ballooning as a result of this app should get your attention.

2.      Dig into the developer

It’s listed under the app name. Scroll to the bottom of the app page. Locate a link to the developer’s website, and hover over it. Does it lead to a legit website? Also, be on the lookout for a blue diamond icon on Play Store apps. That indicates a Google Top Developer. That’s a good thing. The Google Play editorial staff designates such status based on a developer’s cumulative work creating high-quality and innovative apps.

3.      Install a scam detector

Some apps are designed to steer users away from malicious apps. Some of those apps, however, are themselves malicious. The best scam detectors turn out to be phone savers. The worst among them do nothing but cause the problems you’ve hoped to avoid. On the Play Store, Scam Detector is legit. (There’s a version for iOS too).


3 Odd New Drones That Will Amaze You

When you think of drones, the U.S. Military might be the first thing that comes to mind. Or perhaps you remember Amazon’s bold claims of drone delivery. Commercial drone use is on the rise, though, and with new technology, they’re more accessible and affordable than ever. You’re probably thinking, “What would I ever use a drone for?” If you’re a photographer, videographer, blogger, tech nerd or even in real estate, drones come with tremendous benefits. Not only do drones take fantastic aerial shots for homes, weddings or sporting events, they can also help you stand out on social media platforms. Plus, they’re really fun to fly. Three new drones have recently made headlines for their size, foldability, cutting-edge technology and sleek design. They also mark the next step in the commercial drone market.

GoPro Karma

After much anticipation and delays, GoPro released its latest drone, Karma. It’s small! It’s foldable! It will fit in your backpack! And it looks like something out of a Sci-Fi film. A video game-like device sporting touchscreen technology controls the drone. Plus, with the GoPro Passenger App, you can watch what you’re filming, or let friends check it out. Karma doesn’t have a built in camera - rather it was built so you can attach a GoPro. The drone’s 3-axil stabilizer also serves a dual purpose - it detaches from the drone so you can put it on the “Karma Grip,” to take smooth camera shots on the ground. Available for pre-order, the Karma officially hits the market Oct. 23, 2016. It’s priced at $800. When bundled with a Hero 5 Black Camera, it comes out at $1,100.

DJI Mavic Pro

DJI and GoPro were once partners. Although now there seems to be bad blood between the two, and the companies have parted ways, but not without a few pointed tweets. Less than two weeks after GoPro unveiled Karma, DJI presented the world with the Mavic Pro. Who says competition doesn’t breed better products? The DJI is similar to the Karma, or maybe vice versa. That is to say, they’re both foldable and compact. The Mavic Pro is lighter (1.65 pounds to Karma’s 2.22), and comes with a built-in camera, and the capability to track and follow users on the move, as well as snap high-altitude selfies. The Mavic Pro costs around $1,000, available for pre-order. Shipping begins Oct. 15.

Yuneec Breeze 4K

Just want awesome selfies at a more affordable price than the Mavic Pro or Karma? The Yuneec Breeze 4K is the way to go. Although it doesn’t fold up the way these newer models do, it has cool features for sharing video and photos, and an app you can download to control flight straight from your phone. Plus, once your drone is back on the ground, the app lets you download your photos and videos straight to your phone to post to social media. And it’s still small enough to fit in your backpack.

Something more affordable

If you’re not a professional photographer, there are plenty of drones on the market for less than $100. Geek Wrapped has compiled a list here. If you want to learn the basics, grab a cheap drone, head to open space, and practice. Watch out for trees and power lines, and bring extra batteries. You’ll dominate the air in no time.



Crush Your Sleep Time with These 6 Tech Tools

Rewind to those first few weeks after bringing baby home from the hospital. I couldn’t distinguish a.m. from p.m. And I'm just the dad. As if any distinction made a difference. I got two weeks off work to acclimate a baby to our family. It became a blur of interrupted REM sleep and inadequate nutrition. For me, not baby. She did fine; she nursed on demand, slept on demand, cried on demand … Mind you, this happened 18 years ago. A two-channel baby monitor qualified as the techiest apparatus in a young couple’s apartment. The universe needs an element to hush us to sleep and an equal to prevent us from slipping into ill-timed Zs. Here are three tech solutions to help you drift off – and three more to delay your approach to dream land.

Lullaby and good night: 3 tech tools to help you sleep

Why up your sleep game? You’ll gain a healthier appetite, brain and quality of life, for starters.

1. BluBlocker glasses | $25-$75 We shouldn't while away late waking hours on Twitter, or feasting on episodes of Friends, experts say. The National Sleep Foundation says 95% of Americans stare at a screen in the hour before bedtime. Amber-colored glasses shield blue light, which disrupts our sleep patterns. Blue-wavelength light slows melatonin production, which makes falling asleep more difficult.

2. Philips HF3520 Wake-Up Light with Colored Sunrise Simulation | $137.99 A stationary unit leads you to sleep with gradual light dimming and gentle sounds. It also introduces natural light 30 minutes before alarm time to ease you into the day. The light lifts you out of sleep with a choice of five calming, natural wake-up sound, or the radio. No smartphone or apps required. The replaceable halogen lamp doubles as a reading light.

3. 2breathe Chest Strap | $179.95 It’s one thing to practice deep breathing (a tremendous stress reliever) while awake. What about when you sleep? The 2breathe sleep monitor aids in breath regulation while you fall asleep. It measures respiration rate and reports to an app. It plays tones through your phone to aid deep breathing. The device, which straps to the user’s chest, even turns itself off when you fall asleep.

Alert! 3 tech tools to keep you awake

Need a lift when it comes to cramming for a test or a shift as hotel night auditor? You can tech up here.

1. Anti Sleep Driver

Google Play | free The same blue light you want to avoid when trying to fall asleep? That’s what’ll keep you alert during a late-night road trip. Add a shining blue light from this app that can also boost your alertness for study sessions or the night shift. Just shine the blue light from the app, and keep on trucking. Drivers: Don’t forget to take a 20-minute break for every two hours on the road.

2. Vigo headset

Vigo | $99 Combat those 3-o’clock-doldrums or drive-time droopy eyes. This Kickstarter company's device detects your weariness. It jolts you back among the awakened. Vigo tracks the user’s blinking patterns and head movements that signal drowsiness. Pick your drifting-off poison. Vigo will wake you with audio/sound alerts, flashing lights, or vibration.

3. Cat videos

Everywhere | Free I tried this one. I drifted off finishing this post as midnight approached. A cat video saved the day – or actually, the night. Cat video fans polled in 2015 claimed that watching these feline antics lifted energy levels. The videos promote oxytocin production, which sharpens feelings of emotion and trust. When humans interact with animals, it nullifies production of cortisol. That's a brain chemical associated with illness. Who has time for that? There’s more cute cats video to watch.


View Popular Health Search Terms by State

The Shortcut team has been gathering data on the most popular health-related terms that people search for in different parts of the US. If you've ever wondered how your hypochondriac fears compare to the rest of the country, take a look to find out. Launch the tool >


Hack Attacks: Why Me?

“They hacked me!” It’s not just what Steph Curry or Dwyane Wade might yell out during an NBA game. It’s also what you might see from someone you follow on social media. It happens to actors, the common man, even to college football stars right before the NFL draft. Some celebs take a lighthearted approach after the fact:

What’s the point of hacking a social media account? Aren’t there bitcoin to steal, hacker types? Why bust into someone’s Facebook or Twitter to spread spam or distribute drivel? Hackers might also delete contacts or add them in bulk. If you’re lucky, the unwanted posts and activity isn’t profane in nature. This is especially a relief if your mom is in your contacts list. One study says two in three American adults have had a social media account hacked.

Why they do it

1. To force shares

When social-media users see a contact has tagged them in a photo, curiosity kicks in. Is it from the company happy hour or afternoon at the ballpark? Fight in the all-night diner? It’s possible the share isn’t any of those. Rather, it's a site loaded with malware they’ll activate with a single click. It might end when you change your password. It might not if you activated a virus from a rogue app link. These malicious links install apps on your Facebook account to spam your account with – you guessed it – more malware.

How to prevent it

Don’t click on shares that don’t fit a contact you know. Is that your science professor hocking high-dollar sunglasses on Facebook? That’s not likely her - and not at all link you’ll want to click.

2. To mine data

The attack might not come on the account hacked. LinkedIn and MySpace accounts aren’t usually targets. A hacker can commandeer data, too. A user’s birthdate or mother’s maiden name can aid in compromising another account. Worse, the hacker might use data from these accounts to access bank accounts or cloud storage. They could also buy things on Amazon or bid on items on eBay. Their intent might be to steal, or just to embarrass the person they’ve hacked.

How to prevent it

Don’t use the same password on more than one account. It’s easy to recycle an easy-to-remember password. Remember, though, easy-to-remember also becomes easy-to-hack.

3. To force/delete follows

This might be the most stealth attack listed here. Hackers might sneak in to add follows for fake accounts that look like legit ones you follow. Are you down with clicking links from your favorite clothier? One that looks like it won’t likely raise your suspicion. A less malicious but inconvenient agenda might be to disconnect followers. It could be a personal vendetta, or just for kicks. That stinks, especially if a user’s taken a while to cultivate a following.

How to prevent it

Manage your contacts. There’s not much valor in piling up followers if it leaves you vulnerable to such an attack. Vet your contacts list. If you find some you don’t remember following, delete them, and change your password.