All posts by Bethaney Wallace

Bethaney Wallace co-owns The Social Robot, an online marketing and content production company. When not blogging or scouring new technology, she can be found drinking tea and maxing out her library card. Read more from her at http://thesocialrobot.com

What are the Long-Term Effects of Electronics?

controllerAs more and more generations learn to use computers, phones, and GPSs from a young age, the population is beginning to see an array of negative medical results. With electronics around every corner and the ability to access them at virtually any time of the day, more and more are seeing the onset of technology-educed pain and disorders. No more are older folks catching their first glimpse of carpal tunnel after retirement, and the same goes for hunched backs and vision issues. Now it’s happing as young as one’s teens and early 20s.

However, as trends continue to progress, those ages may actually decrease. Schools now regularly include computers and tablets into their lessons, and items are coming with kid-friendly apps and accessories. Because kids are introduced to more electronics younger and younger, the side effects will only continue to increase.

The Effects

From minor aches and pains to diagnoses that require serious treatment, new and existing issues are steep a strict increase. And of course, the treatment depends on the cause. For instance, those who spend multiple hours typing or fidgeting with controllers each day are wearing wrist braces, doing arm stretches, or seeing chiropractors or physical therapists to try and reverse these effects. However, depending on the sheer number of hours spent in a static location, the typers may experience carpal tunnel, arthritis, shoulder and back pain, or even numbness throughout the arms.

Another growing condition is that of “Gameboy back,” caused from excessive hunching. Often seen in teenage boys who play video games on a regular basis, this condition can affect one’s posture, cause pain, and even bring tension within the muscles. Items like specialized chairs or being aware of how one sits can greatly reduce the chance of “Gameboy back” taking root by creating an ergonomic environment.

Other electronic-related injuries include headaches, neck pains, and eyesight issues, which occur from reading too-small text on bright screens. Regular phone or tablet readers have reported cases of obstructed eyesight, to damaged retinas, caused from reading excessively in the dark.

From aches and pains to more serious conditions, electronic devices are causing medical issues in their most frequent users. To avoid falling victim, be sure to take the proper precautions before logging in for long periods at a time. Or, if you’re already experiencing technology-induced conditions, talk to your doctor to find an effective treatment regimen.

Why Facebook Ads Need Quality Control Approval

facebookIt’s no secret that Facebook, the social media giant, hands out its users’ information to third parties. So long as an advertiser is willing to pay, the site will ensure only the most relevant viewers see their ads. Whether targeting specific audiences or opting for the sidebar approach, thousands of companies have gained business with their interest-based consumer outreach.

With Facebook’s newest newsfeed update, however, came the addition of centrally located ads. Now, users see posts directly within their newsfeed, right between their friends’ pictures and musings for the day. And while some are still less than thrilled about the post interruption, the website has done its best to insert only the most interesting of ads, depending on the user. Not only does this entice viewers to click, it allows for the highest success rates for future sales.

The problem? The ads have about a 50/50 shot at working correctly. Most of these errors are seen in mobile versions, in which multiple pages are offered, but don’t load. (Users are generally enticed with an article or slideshow of facts that falls within their specific age group and demographic.) Sometimes the user is stuck on an ad, sometimes arrows are ill placed and users click on banners rather than content itself, and sometimes the pages simply don’t load. Users are met with an ad – after being promised a slideshow of some kind – and left at a dead end.

Reflection of Brand

These errors were certainly acceptable at first, but now, months in, age is no longer an excuse. But who’s at fault? Facebook or the sponsors? Since it’s been seen across the board, it’s likely that the errors are on Facebook’s end – specifically their mobile site. So why aren’t the advertisers pushing for a working version? Or if they are, are they getting a discount in the process? Either way, constant errors reflect badly on both Facebook and the advertisers themselves. Not to mention users will soon quit clicking – if the article only has a 50% chance at working, why even take the risk?

But overall, it’s the consumer that’s really suffering. Not only are they using an inferior website (which may or may not allow them to read said articles), their newsfeed is still cluttered within the process.

Hopefully, Facebook engineers are working to find solutions to these ongoing errors. In the meantime, users can continue to take their chances, while advertisers will likely see a downfall in clicks.

10 Facts You Need to Know About Netflix

netflix logoIn its short lifespan, the entertainment mogul, Netflix, has been able to accomplish a great deal. They’ve twice drug themselves out from the doldrums, created their very own type of entertainment viewing platform, and now the company even accounts for a large portion of online traffic.

In the process of creating this well-loved monster, they’ve reunited (or introduced) customers with thousands of films and TV shows. Without it we wouldn’t have terms like “Netflix bomb,” we might never know what it’s like to finish an entire season in two days, and there may never have been a House of Cards.

So, what makes this rental company stand out from the competition?

10. Netflix has nearly 30 million customers.

As of mid-2013, stats sat at 29.2 million subscribers and/or renters. That’s more people who live in the entire state of Texas.

9. Half of users stream via a game console.

While the other half is used by smartphones (6%), tablets, computers (42%), computers hooked to TVs (14%), smart TVs, and Internet-capable DVD players.

8. As much as 30% of Internet traffic in the U.S. can be attributed to Netflix.

7. Netflix turned 16 last year.

Though it wasn’t on consumer radars until early 2000s, the company was founded back in 1997.

6. Customers can sign up for streaming internationally.

Including North and South America, the Caribbean, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Northern Europe, Norway, Sweden, and the United Kingdom. However, DVD rental is only available in the U.S. (likely due to storage center fees and compliance of pre-marked postage envelopes.)

5. There are 58 Netflix distribution centers for DVDs, the locations of which are top-secret.

Employees are even sworn to secrecy (and probably the U.S. Postal Service).

4. Netflix’s DVD rental side accounts for 35% of all disc-rental expenditures.

3. The Average customers spends two hours streaming each day.

2. Only 36% of users view both TV shows and movies via their streaming/rental account.

1. Netflix made $1 billion in the first quarter of 2013, $3 million of which was profit.

Not bad for a company that almost split services just two years ago.

From subscribers to titles on hand, it’s safe to say that Netflix has some impressive stats. Whether you’ve jumped on the bandwagon or are standing safely on the sidelines, they’re continuing to take on the way we watch TV single-handedly.

Holiday Gift Guide 2013: 5 Stocking Stuffers for the Tech Lover

folding keyboardsThis time of year, companies of all specialties and sizes are coming out with new products. From those that make gadgets run more smoothly, to those that keep them protected, shoppers are sure to find something for every tech lover on their list. Check out this list of top-rated products to not only make the electronically inclined happy, but to keep their stockings filled with something other than new socks this holiday season.

5. Portable Phone Chargers

Though battery lives are lasting longer and longer, it seems as though we always find ourselves low on juice – in the worst possible times. With a portable charger, however, phone users can re-boot on the go. From those that offer an entire second battery to those that use solar power to work, look to portable chargers to give the gift of extra phone power.

4. Gift Cards

It may not be the most personable of items, but gift cards are a great add-on to any present. Choose from music or app stores in virtual form, or opt for actual brick and mortar companies, like Best Buy or Radio Shack. No matter the location, a gift card allows for an extra bit of self shopping, even after the holidays have passed.

3. A Roll-Up or Projector Keyboard

When on the go, these small, yet fully functional, keyboards pack a big punch. Not only do they offer full-size capabilities, they roll, shrink, or turn off to easily fit into a backpack. Great for the avid typer or email-er on the go, these versions are a practical addition to any tablet or smartphone.

2. Pedometers

Exercise buff or not, pedometers allow users to keep track of more movements than ever. Whether in app or electronic form, techies can keep track of movement, average steps, weekly goals, and more. Fancier models, such as the FitBit, even come with software to analyze progress. Consider one of these electronic pedometers for daily movement motivation.

1. Extra Digital Storage

It may not sound like the most exciting of gifts, but external storage can open an entire string of possibilities. Techies are constantly gaining new programs and software, and external storage means an easier transfer between computers. They can also restore or check for bugs by removing a platform without deleting it. And if you’re still not convinced, look for a quirky or stylish model for an added layer of techie nerd-dom.

The Next Gmail Change: Pictures Shown Automatically Via Email

gmailFor anyone with a Gmail account, you know just how annoying it can be when, every time you log in, you’re asked which senders can and can’t show their pictures (whether attached or embedded). A feature since the mogul’s begging, this practice is still in effect years after ongoing overhauls. They’ve changed their look, opted for a new way to write emails (in the bottom of the page, so that one can still view previous messages), and created a labeling system to better point out spam and phishing schemes.

Not to mention the change from Google Talk to Hangouts, and Docs to Drive. And just as we get used to a new set of features, it’s as though they’re throwing over the next round of email accessories.

Next on their list? Automatically displaying pictures in every email – even without the user’s permission. With all the new security features put into place, Google is able to identify spam (for the most part) before it even hits the inbox. So to bank on these growing features, they thought they’d save us a few steps. No more picture approval, just email opening and a visual aspect that’s waiting to be seen.

Why the Change is Long Overdue

When was the last time you were given the option to display pictures from an email you didn’t want? (Or at least didn’t know the sender?) Half the time, it’s the display that lets us know whether or not the email is worthy in the first place. Yet, time and time again, we’re forced to click our link of approval, just to see whether or not the mail is legit.

Besides, even if there was spam sending us photos – how would it harm our computer? If anything, it’s acting as a “spam flag” alerting us all the quicker that questionable content is in the mix. With the added step taken out, we can more quickly identify crap emails and get them reported to the proper authorities.

Why there’s no telling why Google – the Internet king – waited so long to make this ancient change, it’s high time we take advantage of its new feature. Whether looking for spam, cleaning out an inbox, or searching for legitimate content, the upgrade offers a new realm of freedom.

Look to your inbox for this and more upcoming changes in your Gmail account.

Cell phone use may be allowed on airplanes, says FCC

phone on planeNow that flyers of all destinations can enjoy their virtual books through turbulence, landing, and even the seatbelt speech (though, for everyone’s sake, they shouldn’t), travelers are on the verge of one more flight-changing decision.

Just a few weeks after the announcement that eReaders are now safe for airplanes – from start to finish – comes the possibility of one more technology making the cut. The Federal Communications Commission now says cell phone usage just may be the next item allowed on flights, in every step of the process. Whether this comes after receiving a high amount of praise for the addition of eReaders, or has long been a process in the works, it’s obvious that flight regulations are steadily changing to keep up with growing technology.

But that doesn’t mean the public is happy about it. Just hours after the announcement, news sources such as CNN and the Huffington Post began running opinion articles about the proposed new law. The latter even went as far as to include a poll. The results show that nearly half (49%) of flyers aren’t on board with the switch, while 20% were undecided. That leaves just 31% wishing to make calls in-flight … if it’s deemed safe, that is. In addition, 63% said they would want texting to be allowed, with 22% opposing that as well.

What the Law Could Mean

It’s easy to see why many would oppose this law – planes are crowded enough. With the addition of cell phones, those we’re packed next to could be jabbering the entire time. Hopefully fellow travelers wouldn’t be that rude, but anyone who has ever sat next to a less than desirable seatmate knows that, unfortunately, that isn’t the case. And how would such cases be handled? There is nowhere for annoyed travelers to go; they must simply sit and wait it out. At least, as is, everyone is in the same boat – which is to say without the ability to chat mid-flight.

While there’s no decision as of yet, news sources and frequent flyers alike are making their opinions known on the possible addition of cell phone usage to flights. Whether undecided or strongly against, it seems as though the majority is voting for a veto, even before the law is put into place.

For more information on the upcoming FCC in-flight changes, head to their website at FCC.gov.

The Latest on Amazon’s Drone Delivery System

droneAfter crushing the competition and creating a new standard of online shopping, mogul retail company Amazon continues to reach new heights. To keep up with their growing sales demand (and to cut back on delivery costs), the company announced it’s looking to drones, a flying delivery device. Rather than a delivery truck stopping from house to house, these small drones carry each package, cutting back on labor, manpower, and transportation resources. Money saved by Amazon, and quicker deliveries for customers – a win-win.

But drones? The devices, which will be known as Amazon Prime Air, are the same flying robot-types used in the military, only less deadly and programed to stop at your front door. Sure it’s creepy, but is it all that inefficient? Packages will likely show up quicker, a giant truck didn’t have to travel miles to deliver a single package, and no more awkward greetings from the delivery guys.

The Timeline

In theory, one could order a package and have it delivered to their door by these robotic devices. The technology is there, all it needs is a shove (and the equipment) to get it going. Legally, however, the plan is a different story. Unmanned aircraft systems – or UAS – are illegal for commercial use. The FAA currently hosts a universal ban across the country.

Thankfully for Amazon, it doesn’t look to stay that way. Just a few weeks ago, the FAA released its plan for allowing UAS for commercial use. By September of 2015, their laws must be put into place, which is a legally bound deadline. In theory, that leaves the world less than two years of computer-delivered goods. And considering those UAS rules apply to all businesses, other companies could enlist their help as well. Pizza deliveries, car parts to stranded motorists, locating lost hikers – the possibilities rely solely on the yet-to-be-determined rules.

For now, it seems as though Amazon has a few safety issues to work out. For instance, making sure their drones don’t land on peoples’ heads. Other areas, such as timelines, battery life (the eight-chopper design takes more power to run), etc. are also being looked at. Which is why they’re happy to have the head start.

Within just a few years, however, it seems as though drone delivery systems could be a reality. Flying boxes, quicker packages, and a giant leap into futuristic technologies.

The Rise of Holiday Light Shows

houseJust a few years ago, the world was in awe as the first creative light show was set to music … at someone’s home. There was music, lights, and a steady beat that meant we couldn’t turn our eyes away. One creative family decided to put a little more effort (and pizzazz) into their regular Christmas light showings, and the idea took off like wildfire. A few news stories, millions of YouTube views, a huge increase in traffic, and now its an ongoing trend. Companies are now creating products to help make the timing easier, and businesses and commercial properties are charging fees to see their own snazzy versions. Like this one on Saks Fifth Avenue that comes with three dimensions.

Years later, and the trend doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Now folks are able to synch the music with car stereos as they drive past. (While some opt to play a local radio station.) Patterns are becoming more complex and intricate – even integrating 3D projectors, such as the video above. Lights are coming crisper and clearer, and with the right tools, they can even play to a new song by mimicking the beat. All it takes is a little know-how and the right tools to make it work.

The Equipment

In order to create your own holiday light show at home, a few pieces of equipment are needed, such as light-controlling software, a computer, speakers, extension cords, and the light controllers themselves. Depending on the size and set up, this could easily total into hundreds of dollars, though DIY equipment is also available at a smaller sum.

For those who are less electrically inclined, however, entire kits can now be purchased with everything one needs, such as channel amp controllers, software, and the instructions to make it all work. One of the more popular companies, Light-O-Rama offers these packages in varying sizes so light shows of all intensities can get a solid start.

Whether you create the light show from the ground up, or enlist in the help of a kit to get you started, there’s no doubt the neighborhood will appreciate the efforts. From small-time home shows to elaborate routines plastered on the sides of stories-high buildings, these light shows offer a technology-based bit of holiday cheer. Check out your options today to get started on this growing winter trend.

Need to Contact Facebook? Good Luck

contact usWith the incredible growth Facebook has seen in past years, it’s understandable that a few people may need to get a hold of the company. Whether for legal reasons, personal interest, or just needing to get some information, the site is surprisingly hard to pin down. Of course, it’s hard to blame them – even Apple doesn’t have a 24/7 support system without fees. (Users are required to purchase support timelines, after shelling out for the pricy products.) And contacting each of their users with an issue would likely cost millions. But when you’re raking in the dough, at what point is it an investment to stay available?

Rather than offering phone lines or even a message system (yep, you can’t even send in a rogue text query), Facebook has created a list of very specific scenarios — more than 150. Much like following an “if your answer is this, follow this,” map, where each instance is met with a pre-determined outcome. This goes for legal teams, individuals, concerned citizens, and almost any other form of social media user.

Don’t fit into the site’s molds? Too bad – you can either lie, or send a random email, hoping the site will get back with you. Spoiler: their response is unlikely.

Making Their Own Rules

Because Facebook is such a mogul, it’s safe to say they can do what they want. If they don’t want to be contacts by their billion users, they don’t allow it to happen. Sure it might up their public image, but when you’ve got more followers than any other social media network, why spend the extra time and funds?

Just because it’s the status quo, however, doesn’t mean it’s winning them any points.

What do users do when they have an actual problem? It’s insulting to be given a list of scenarios to sift through, but what if you don’t meet any of them? Why is a catch-all statement a cover up for poor customer service? Perhaps this mindset stands because Facebook profiles are free of charge, but even free services won’t last if customers aren’t happy.

For the most part, Facebook users seem to be plenty happy with their options, but for the few who do need to reach the site, their abilities are few and far between. As the site continues to grow and add even more users to the mix, let’s hope they donate some funds to letting others contact them. After all, customer service is a small price to pay for keeping customers happy – they’re the glue that keeps the entire operation in motion.

Looking for a Good Deal on an iPhone? Head to a Retail Store

By now it’s nothing new to see smartphone kiosks throughout Target, Walmart, or any other chain store. To optimize user experience and to make the wait time much shorter, phone companies have teamed up with these moguls to greatly increase the locations in which consumers can purchase their next phone. And considering the shorter lines, the increased customer service (an aspect phone providers are seriously lacking), and cheaper prices, shoppers are seeing the value as well.

For example, Target sells the new iPhone 5C for $50 on-contract, regardless of carrier. The store also offers a trade-in value or store credit for the user’s original phone. The iPhone 4S could net $105 in good condition, leaving more than enough leftover for a case, accessories, or whatever else you need from Target. In comparison, walk into the cell carrier’s store and an iPhone 5C is $99 on top of an $88-ish trade-in value, for the same phone.

iphone-5c

So why would anyone go to a carrier store, especially when they’re likely spending time at retail stores anyway? Users can save money, avoid the lines, and pair it with their regular shopping in the process.

Is There a Catch?

This makes us wonder what the carrier stores are getting out of it (such as Sprint, AT&T, or Verizon). They offer a shamble of a “deal” in comparison, yet they still seem to be thriving, in both corporate status and in company branches. The only real perk is that business phones have to be bought through the carrier no matter what. Are they making enough off these company phones? Or is service so incredibly profitable that it can pay the bills on its own?

Then again, maybe Apple, Motorola, HTC, Samsung, etc. just charges them more, knowing they’ll pay whatever fees they set.

No matter the reality behind these varied prices, it’s safe to say that retail stores offer the better deal for new iPhones and trade-ins. While a traditional contract (and upgrade date) is still needed, it’s a great way to bypass some paperwork while saving a few dollars along the way.

The next time you’re ready to venture into the latest iPhone, remember that a carrier store isn’t the only option. In fact, trying something new just may get you a better deal.