Privacy Pitfalls as Education Apps Spread Haphazardly

Digital learning aids have long been on the market, but the latest learning apps are getting cleverer – cheap to download, easy to use and marketed directly to teachers without the hassle of being approved by school boards. In this age, schools have no control, and often no idea of what teaching and learning aids are being used in their classrooms, posing a huge risk for the students. Not only is the students’ learning often unmonitored, their personal records are often available for public access. Recent data breaches in several school districts have frightened teachers and parents alike. Many school districts are privately testing and often banning some of the most popular teaching apps, but the multi-billion dollar industry is not taking a hit. Most of the companies are offering teachers free access to apps that excel in adaptive learning, tailored to each individual student; for the teachers, the pros simply outweigh the cons.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Natasha Singer:

At school districts across the country, the chief technology officers responsible for safeguarding student data are tearing their collective hair out. Scores of education technology start-ups, their pockets full from a rush of venture capital, are marketing new digital learning tools directly to teachers — with many offering them free to get a foothold in schools. That has enabled educators nationwide to experiment with a host of novel ‘‘adaptive learning’’ products, like math and foreign language apps that record and analyze students’ online activities to personalize their lessons. But the new digital tools have also left school district technology directors scrambling to keep track of which companies are collecting students’ information — and how they are using it. more

At hotels, a trend for day-only vacations

In a super-fast, super-busy world with little time for rest, forget relaxation, the latest in holidaying is the “daycation”. More and more hotels are offering day rates for 6-8 hours in a room and access to the hotels’ pools, spas, saunas, etc. While useful for business travelers, sex workers and backpackers, the tactic mostly benefits hotels themselves. Standard overnight rates and check in times leave unoccupied rooms languishing, while the daycation concept allows unoccupied rooms to be used to the fullest extent. A true innovation in a trembling economy.

Read an excerpt of the article written by ELAINE GLUSAC:

f the ‘‘staycation’’ was the travel industry’s response to the Great Recession, the ‘‘daycation’’ is perhaps another sign of recovery from it. Rather than hotel overnight stays, daycation deals sell travelers access to a hotel — sometimes to a room, other times to amenities such as pools or spas — on a short-term, usually daylong, basis. The website and app HotelsByDay, introduced in February, lists hotel rooms in Chicago, Los Angeles, Miami, New York and Fort Lauderdale, Fla., that are available for six to eight hours at less than standard overnight rates. more

Aids for the Indecisive, When Options Abound

Indecision is supposedly a vice, but the indecisive amongst us have a reprieve – a new generation of decision making apps are coming to our rescue. One of these, ChoiceMap, uses an interactive interface in conjunction with decision making algorithms to allow us to make the most rational choice in every possible situation. Decision Buddy takes the concept one step further to include group decisions. On the other hand, Decide Now takes the math right out of it, acting more as a digital 8-Ball. Simply ask the app what to choose, and it’ll tell you – no deliberation required.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Kit Eaton:

For the indecisive among us, help is on the way. A new generation of apps meant to help with day-to-day decision making is here. Assuming you can decide which to use, these apps may help bring some order to your life. Perhaps the smartest decision-making app I’ve used is ChoiceMap, because it’s easy to use and it makes it feel as if your decision has been intelligently considered by the app’s algorithms. ChoiceMap, which is free for iOS, tries to make the process as smooth as possible. To start, you describe a choice to make or use one of the app’s many templates on diverse topics, like choosing baby names or which phone carrier to use. more

A watch that tries to slow things down

Time is a fast depleting commodity, especially in the corporate world. Corvin Lask, and Chris Noerskau have founded ‘Slow Watches’, a watch company with a unique design. Slow watches have no minute arm or ticking sound, but a single arm on a 24 point dial. The idea is to destroy the idea that “every second counts” and instead, remind the wearer to slow down and look at the bigger picture. The business itself is run in a slow manner, away from retailers and industry fairs, selling only online. John Sean Doyle, a professor of positive psychology at North Carolina State University endorses the product, claiming that slow watches are a brilliant way to remind the body to dial itself back and enjoy time.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Jake Cigainero:

PARIS — No minute hand, no ticking second hand to sound the constant passing of time, and no declarative logo to mark the wearer. Just a single hand on a 24-hour dial points to the time on the modern, minimalist, Swiss-made Slow watch. Making just one full rotation every 24 hours, the solitary hand moving at half the speed of a regular analog timepiece is intended to serve as a reminder to the wearer to slow down. With 12 noon in the standard position, and the midnight hour directly south on the round watch face, each tick mark between the hours indicates a quarter hour. Creating Slow was a way for Corvin Lask and Christopher Noerskau, the company’s founders, to take control of their own time. Before introducing the watch, Mr. Lask worked in digital marketing and Mr. Noerskau in brand management and licensing for Puma. more


U.S. schools turning to propane-powered buses

In this article, Diana Cardwell writes about the growing use of propane-peered buses by U.S. schools. they believe that such buses are healthier, cleaner burning, cheaper and much quieter than the diesel option. The fuel is becoming popular for use in smaller motorized equipment like lawn mowers, especially at golf courses near residences because the lower noise allows work to start earlier. With the school buses, that relative quiet may offer a different benefit, helping to the children, and the ride, more orderly and easier to manage.

Read an excerpt of the article written by Diana Cardwell:

For many Americans, propane is that stuff from the home improvement store that fuels backyard barbecues and patio dinners. But in a growing number of cities across the country, it is what gets children to school. Of the top 25 school bus markets, 19 have propane-fueled vehicles in their fleets, including New York, Chicago, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia and Phoenix. Boston just bought 86 of the alternative-fuel buses for the fall, while in the Mesa County Valley district in Grand Junction, Colo., administrators recently signed a five-year, $30 million contract that includes 122 propane buses. more


3-D printers are transforming medical care

Are 3-D printers transforming medical care? Karen Weintraub writes that they offer doctors the huge advantage of practicing operations beforehand. Such 3-D-printed models are transforming medical care, giving surgeons new perspectives and opportunities to practice, and patients and their families a deeper understanding of complex procedures. Though there has been little research so far into the benefits of 3-D printing or surgical simulations, Department of Veterans Affairs researchers have shown that teamwork exercises in operating rooms reduced patient deaths or injuries by as much as 18 percent. ‘‘Solve one problem, remove one error, identify one latent safety threat, save one life,’’ and it will reduce both personal and financial costs, Dr. Weinstock said.

Read an excerpt of the article written by KAREN WEINTRAUB:

The surgeon held a translucent white plastic eye socket in each hand. Gently moving them away from each other, Dr. John Meara showed the distance between Violet Pietrok’s eyes at birth. He slid the sockets closer to demonstrate their positions 19 months later, after he had operated on her. Violet, now nearly 2, was born with a rare defect called a Tessier facial cleft. Her dark brown eyes were set so far apart, her mother says, that her vision was more like a bird of prey’s than a person’s. A large growth bloomed over her left eye. She had no cartilage in her nose. The bones that normally join to form the fetal face had not fused properly. Her parents, Alicia Taylor and Matt Pietrok, sought out Dr. Meara at Boston Children’s Hospital, thousands of miles from their home in Oregon, because the plastic surgeon had performed four similar operations in the previous three years. Before he operated on Violet, Dr. Meara wanted a more precise understanding of her bone structure than he could get from an image on a screen. So he asked his colleague Dr. Peter Weinstock to print him a three-dimensional model of Violet’s skull, based on magnetic resonance imaging. That first model helped him to decide what might need to be done and to discuss his treatment plan with her family. Three more 3-D printouts closer to the surgery allowed Dr. Meara to rotate the model skull in directions he could not manage with a picture and would not attempt with a patient on the operating table. Then he was able to cut and manipulate the plastic model to determine the best way to push her eye sockets more than an inch closer together. Such 3-D-printed models are transforming medical care, giving surgeons new perspectives and opportunities to practice, and patients and their families a deeper understanding of complex procedures. Hospitals are also printing training tools and personalized surgical equipment. Someday doctors hope to print replacement body parts. ‘‘There’s no doubt that 3-D printing is going to be disruptive medicine,’’ said Dr. Frank Rybicki, chief of medical imaging at the Ottawa Hospital and chairman and professor of radiology at the University of Ottawa. He is the former director of the applied imaging science lab at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, a few blocks from Boston Children’s. ‘‘It makes procedures shorter, it improves your accuracy,’’ said Dr. Rybicki, who uses 3-D printing in his work with face transplants. ‘‘When bioprinting actually hits, it will change everything.’’ For now, the printer extrudes a layer of liquid plastic instead of ink. It adds a second layer, and then another, and a skull or rib cage — or whatever the surgeon dials up — slowly emerges. The same process can also print layers of human cells. So far, researchers have also printed blood vessels, simple organs and bits of bone. A Utah boy’s life was saved last year by a 3-D-printed plastic splint that propped open his windpipe. Dr. Weinstock, director of the Pediatric Simulator Program at Boston Children’s, sees 3-D models as part of a larger program to improve surgical craft. more

Apps for ringing in 2015, and locking in resolutions

We live in a tech-savvy world, where even 4-year-old kids operate the latest apps. And there are never enough apps, that every year we welcome dozens of them. There are apps that even give us live feed of the New Year countdown at Times Square, that contain maps through which we can watch all the different time zones switch over as the clock strikes 12, that track your workout, bike rides and many more!

Read an excerpt of the article written by Kit Eaton:

It can’t be New Year’s Eve without a fair selection of apps to get you to 2015. But first: the party. The celebration in Times Square is one of the most famous in the world, and, of course, there’s an official app. The Times Square Official Ball App connects you to a social media feed about the party, plus a live stream for the ceremony in which the ball drops at midnight. The app has a countdown timer built in that allows you to know when the new year hits New York City. There’s not much more to this well-designed app, but it’s free for iOS and Android. For a more global take, there is the New Year Countdown app by Part countdown clock, part global timekeeper, it is great for explaining to children how time zones work. The app’s main page shows a countdown for key places in each time zone, starting with Christmas Island/Kiribati. There’s also a map view where you can watch all the different time zones switch over as 2015 arrives. It’s very simple, but charming, and it’s free on iOS. New Year’s resolutions are notoriously hard to keep, but there are apps to help you build and stick to a habit. My favorite of these is Lift, which promises to help you ‘‘Get fit. Get thin. Get rich. Get promoted. Get happy.’’ The motivation comes from the community of Lift users and some coaches. You can chat with any of these people, for advice or cheerleading. The app can also prompt you with reminders. It’s so easy to use that you won’t waste energy trying to figure it out. It’s free for iOS and Android. ...Read more