Monday, November 30, 2009

Boomers' Attitudes Toward Technology

I saw this great article about Boomer attitudes toward technology  by  Michael Rogers on the AARP web site. Yes, I want to scream when I think of being old enough to benefit from AARP's wisdom, but here I am.

Rogers concludes what I knew all along. Boomers' "technology habits are not frozen in time. Boomers are thoughtful adopters who are open to new technologies that add value to their lives." We don't see ourselves as slow at adopting technology. However, we do think that manufacturers produce products that are excessively complex and have poor instructions.

AARP found that our generation is interested in some very cutting edge technologies.
  • We would be willing to wear sensor-equipped exercise clothes, for example, to keep track of our physical condition and calories burned during workouts.
  • We are willing to have our health records encoded electronically and maybe even to have a chip implanted with our health history. 
  •  Boomers support online banking and are willing to see the mobile phone become both a credit card and cash equivalent.
  • Our generation will also adopt "green" technologies en mass.
To be clear, these conclusions were not drawn from a large sample. Only 60 plus "influencers" participated in gatherings during May 2009 in San Francisco, Phoenix, Chicago, and New York. All of the participants had broadband Internet at home and so may have represented forward thinkers anyway. Here is the link to the report Boomers and Technology: an extended conversation. 

One example in the report said that Boomers will demand better security online and will pioneer the idea of true online Internet IDs, the electronic equivalent of driver's licenses or passports.  I have great faith in the power of our generation not only to adopt new technologies, but to help influence them. And so I ask you, readers, do you think Boomers will continue to influence technology? Or will it pass them by?

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Taking a break-- Happy Thanksgiving

I'll be taking a break from this blog until after Thanksgiving. Time to settle in with family and friends and enjoy the holiday. I'll be back next week.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Do Boomers care about operating systems?

Do boomers care about computer operating systems (OS)? I didn’t think so until I heard from a reader that thought this was a relevant topic for this blog. He was speaking of the operating system Google is creating called Chrome. Chrome is not for your first computer. It's for that second one that you carry around with you on vacation. Don't tell me you don't do this. Most of my friends do.

Before you yawn, remember that technology is only good if it solves a problem. Google is trying to solve a number of little annoying problems that we ordinary PC users encounter every day.  If you are like me, you are upset that:
·         You have to wait for the computer to boot up after you turned it off and for all your programs and email to be ready to use. If your TV made you wait like that, you’d be mad, I bet.

·         Your computer runs more slowly than it did the day you first got it.

·         You forgot to backup your files and then your computer crashed.

·         You hate putting on a new disk drive, printer or web cam because it’s too complicated and then after all that work, the device doesn’t work.

When it first announced it would work on Chrome,Google said, “We hear a lot from our users and their message is clear — computers need to get better. People want to get to their email instantly, without wasting time waiting for their computers to boot and browsers to start up. They want their computers to always run as fast as when they first bought them. They want their data to be accessible to them wherever they are and not have to worry about losing their computer or forgetting to back up files. Even more importantly, they don't want to spend hours configuring their computers to work with every new piece of hardware, or have to worry about constant software updates. And any time our users have a better computing experience, Google benefits as well by having happier users who are more likely to spend time on the Internet.”

Well, good luck with that, Google!

There is a whole lot of tech mumbojumbo out there about how the Chrome OS differs from Apple's OS or Microsoft's Vista OS. Apparently Chrome makes it easier for users to do everything on the Internet. The catch is that most of your data will also be somewhere on the Internet too. PC World has a couple of nice little articles about why Google Chrome will succeed or fail if you are interested.

So, your disk drive won't crash any more, or you won't need a disk drive on the road. On the other hand, do you trust Google to keep your data safe? And as a savvy boomer, you always want to ask "What's in it for Google, anyway?" Will this make it easier for them to bombard me with ads? Will they use my data for their never ending quest to "to organize the world's information and make it universally accessible and useful."? Or are they as benign as they would have us believe? Do they just want us out there, Googling all day long?

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Birthday memories

Well, today is my daughter's birthday. Well, actually it was yesterday where she is in New Zealand. So while today on the Eastern seaboard is her birthday, it was yesterday in New Zealand. Is it any wonder that I'm confused?

I often forget birthdays and have for many years, as my extended family will attest. However, some boomers I've been talking to seem to be having problems with this for the first time. That is they are becoming forgetful for the first time in their lives. I think they are lucky.

Nevertheless,  I decided to look at the iPhone App store to see if there were any handy apps that could help boomers remember birthdays and avoid family fights. I did find a free one from a company called From|Ahead, simply called Birthdays.

The simple program provides lots of options. If you are a Facebook user, you can import the birthdays of your friends from there. You can get birthdays from your calendar or from an address book. Or, you can simply type them in to the program.

The program will notify you by email  if you want, or notify you via your iPhone. And you can choose how frequently you want to be reminded. Daily? Monthly? Weekly?

I think this little app is beautiful, clever and useful and is the kind of thing many boomers will appreciate. If my sister is reading this, here's the truth. I may still forget birthdays, but it will because I ignored the notifications this app sends.  I will be sorry, as always. I promise.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Going to the Louvre: There's an app for that

I've been to the Louvre, and I am an art lover, and I assure you that an Apple iPhone is no substitute for a  visit to a real museum. However, for fun, I thought I'd download a free application (offered by that venerable museum) that has been making the "Top 25" free list at the iTunes app store.  It turns out the Louvre Museum app is a good way to pass some time looking at photos of great paintings and learning something about them. It's an app I think other boomers will like as well.

The icon of the Louvre application is a picture of the Mona Lisa, arguably the most famous painting in the collection. Click on Mona, and you get a lovely picture of the museum at night, followed by a page that says "Artworks" with Mona in the middle. If you touch the picture of the Mona Lisa, the introduction to the collection begins. I touched the first artwork presented --The Lacemaker by Jan Vermeer, and a larger picture of the painting came up.

Touch the small star on the right hand side and you come to this page.

When I touched the "About the Work" tab, an explanation of the picture and its components appeared.

The "back" tab, took me to the menu where I could "See more detail." Here I was able to use the iPhone's stretch feature to make the painting fill the entire field of the phone's screen and turn the photo to the orientation that best fit the work. Turning the phone horizontally brought up the "back" button again, and I returned to the menu.

The "Technical information" tab is pretty much what it seems: information on the size of the canvas, what kind of paint was use, where the inscription is, how the museum acquired the painting, and so on. The "Location" tab shows a map of the location of the painting in the museum. If you were walking through the Louvre, you might want to use this iPhone application to find important works.

The application contains pictures and information on about twenty pieces of artwork. I haven't had time to look at each one, but I look forward to it, as free time allows.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Kindle for PC --No Kindle e-reader needed

I read an article in PC World that said that Kindle for the PC had just been released so I decided to give the program a try. The more places I can read my schoolwork, the better, I think. I've mentioned before that I am attending a masters program at Pace University and that I was given the Kindle as part of a beta test to see how universities can use the Kindle for texts.

Actually, you would think Amazon would notify current Kindle owners that this very useful download was available, but they didn't, so I had to find out via the trade press. Nevertheless,  I went on to the Amazon website, found the free program prominantly advertised, and downloaded it to my PC. The download was easy, the installation no problem, so I opened the program.

When I opened the program, book covers of all the books I bought (or were kindly given to me through my Pace University program) from Amazon were displayed as archived. I clicked on one of them, and the program loaded the whole book on to my PC in what seemed like seconds.

When I opened the book, it opened to the last page I had read! It really was amazing. The pages had retained all of the highlighting and notes I made in the book on the Kindle device, and the highlighting showed up as yellow! On the Kindle, highlighting shows up as underlining and is dark gray.

The PC version of the Kindle retains one of the most Boomer-friendly features of the device. Readers can set the type of the book to the size that is most comfortable for them. Any reader, however, will appreciate that the Whispersync technology used by Kindle keeps all versions of your books up to date. You will never have to worry that the book you are reading on your e-book reader is on a different page than the same book being read on the iPhone or the PC. Navigation between places in the book is still a bit awkward: you have to page through. But if you are used to a mouse, you can use the scroll wheel to quickly move through the book chapter. That's much better than the page turning function on the e-book device.

As I started to read my book, I ran into the downside of having the electronic book on the PC. The program has no way for you to highlight using PC keys. If you want to highlight, you have to do it on the Kindle device itself, not the PC. And the search function is missing, so you can't search for all the references to specific content. I'm hoping that Amazon will correct this and other shortcomings in the future.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Help for the Boomer Body--FoodScanner app

I recently heard about an Apple iPhone app that is a perfect fit for those boomers who want to lose weight or follow a healthy diet.  A lot of experts believe that tracking calories --writing down everything you eat-- is the best way to keep on a diet or even maintain preferred weight.

FoodScanner is an application that works with the iPhone camera to scan bar codes of foods in your pantry at home or packages at the supermarket. The amazing thing is that it is so easy to use --just point and shoot! You can use the app to figure the number of calories you've had for your meal, or maybe to decide if you'll buy a product that may be too many calories when it comes down to it. Of course, you have to be honest and report the correct number of servings! No fair saying you had one, when really you had two!

Before I downloaded the $1.99 ($3.20 including tax) app,  I thought long and hard about giving Apple and the folks at The Daily Burn my money. But I looked at reviews for FoodScanner and they were universally good. So I thought I'd give it a try. First I watched this demo video provided by the people who made the app. I want to congratulate them for a lucid video that showed me exactly how scan the packaging. After that,  I went over to my pantry and pulled out a box of angel hair pasta, opened the icon, pressed a little button that looked like a lightening bolt, and aimed my camera at the bar code.  As soon as I got the bar code within the limits on the application, the phone automatically took a picture of the code and converted it into this piece of information:
Then I was given the option to input how many servings I had of this item.

I selected two servings and hit the Next button. There I found this:

Pressing the little  arrow icon brought a screen that showed all the nutritional information for the package.

Maybe I'm easily impressed, but this little program will probably be very useful in my life. No, it doesn't factor in all of the fiber in this product, so you won't be able to use it to count points for programs like Weight Watchers. However, it should be a very good addition for those Boomers who want to know our calorie counts.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Hold on! I'm starting to get Twitter

I’m starting to understand Twitter, I think. This is the service ( made famous by Ashton Kutcher and other celebs who get really excited that they have thousands of people following their every move.

People post messages limited to 140 characters either from the web or from their mobile phones. The messages are broadcast to a list of followers. Posting is called tweeting. People can say anything they want, from the boring to the interesting, on Twitter. You won’t know which you are getting—boring or interesting-- until you try to follow someone who uses the service.

At first I thought this was a service for the self-absorbed. I mean, do we really need to know what celebrities are doing every moment of the day?  However, I’ve come to see it as a useful  way to get news about an industry, a colleague or even a cousin. People who tweet from industry trade shows, for example, post opinions about presentations or tweet industry  news boiled down to its essentials. Following them clues you in to stories you might have missed otherwise.

And that colleague, well, who knew she liked to cook and was testing recipes for a cookbook?  I’ve also enjoyed following one of the organizations to which I belong. Different people tweet for this organization, and the latest one reported on what a senator said to her. It’s a sound bite I otherwise wouldn’t have known and it gives the reader the feeling of being on the “inside.”  Of course, you have to realize that what is being tweeted is what people want others to know. It may sound spontaneous, but it really isn’t.

One of the key features of Twitter is the ability to “Retweet” by cutting and pasting. If you get some important news, you can cut and paste it into your “What are you doing box?” and send it on to everyone who follows you. In that way, messages like the sad, terrible, unthinkable, killings at Fort Hood this week, get out even faster than ever before. Marketers love this feature too, because word of new products, gimmicks, and giveaways, travel at lightening speed.

Do Boomers tweet? Oprah does, but the jury is out on whether this media will have a lasting impact on our generation.  Some media research from Pew shows that only 9% of Boomers actually use Twitter. However, I think Twitter has a lot of application for Boomers. For one thing, it is very easy to use. You sign up, and Twitter will ask your permission to look in your email account for people who are already on the service. You can choose to follow them. And maybe they’ll follow you. Right now, I concentrate on tweeting about what I’m working on for this blog. I don’t like getting too personal. I’d be interested in knowing how you are using Twitter, if you do, and what features you like or dislike.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Facebook, the good and bad

Right now, people my age are joining Facebook right and left. It seems as though the boomer generation is taking over this social networking site. Researchers, as noted in this Newsweek blog, are well aware of this phenomina.  In fact, some members of the press seem to find the boomer invasion somewhat subversive!When I joined Facebook, I announced to my young adult children that I was joining and told them they didn't have to "friend" me if they didn't want to. That being said, I was friended by the older two and I have enjoyed the experience.

When my son posts pictures of his various adventures --last year he went abroad for the summer-- I feel as though he is letting me in on a little piece of his life, and I'm thankful for that. I've also connected with a cousin in Chicago that I rarely spoke to before and have more frequent contact with some other relatives who maybe I'd forget to add to the email list when sending out that joke. My nearby friends keep me updated on some of their activities, and I do the same. In this way, Facebook keeps my community of friends and family closer together.

I'm certain that I'm not using the social networking site to its full potential. I haven't tried to reach out to elementary school classmates, for example. One of my friends actually has her gradeschool class pictures posted on the site!

What I don't understand about Facebook are some of the applications. Lately, I've been invited to a "pillow fight" many times over. I guess this is a way people reach out to each other, but is it rude not to respond when someone asks you to a "pillow fight?" The first time is OK, but it seems like a waste of time to keep throwing therapeutic pillows and comfy pillows at friends and relatives. Does anyone have an answer to this burning question?