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Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Tuesday - July 1, 2014

Videogames That Make You Cry

800px-Atari-2600-Wood-4Sw-SetThe television and movie industries (businesses) have long worked to elicit (get a reaction from) a viewer’s emotions (feelings), knowing that the more emotionally invested (feeling like you have something to gain or lose) or engaged (involved) in the story you are, the more likely you are to continue watching or to watch again. The video game industry knows that, too.

Long gone (no longer here) are the days when video games were just about shooting (using a weapon, like a gun) people and things to rack up (accumulate; add) points. Video games today, I am told, still cater to (are designed for) players’ desires to hunt (look for things to capture or kill) and hit, but that’s not all players do. For example, some games allow players to save and protect others from harm by using their own fighting powers and skills, letting players feel a sense of heroism (having shown bravery).

According to a video game research company, these are the types of games that gamers say are the most emotionally powerful:

Role playing games 78%
First person shooters 52%
Action 49%
Adventure 48%
Fighting 39%

Role-playing games that allow players to develop or assume (take on; adopt) the identity of a different person are particularly good at eliciting emotions, because of the complexity (many parts) of the story, the way the scenes (settings and situations) are introduced, and the musical scores (music used during a TV show, film, or game) that bring drama to situations.

Now, video game players want to find ways to read (detect) a player’s emotions and allow those reactions to help direct (set the direction of) the game.

Some of these new game consoles (devices that play different games) have devices that can look at players’ faces and read their reactions. Other devices being developed will be able to read a player’s physiological (related to the body) reactions, such as heart rate (how fast your heart is beating), breathing rate (how quickly you’re breathing), and temperature. Those reactions then change how the game reacts, which video game makers hope will make the game-playing experience more real and interesting for each player. (If you’re skeptical about (not believing) a computer’s ability to read people’s emotions, take a look at this report of a recent study showing that some computers may be better at interpreting people’s emotions based on facial expressions (how you move the muscles in your face) than humans are.)

I haven’t played a video game since I was 17 years old, which was, well, a very long time ago. I am of an age (old enough) that no one I know plays videos games, either.

Do you play video games? If you do, do you think games today are getting better at eliciting people’s emotions such as pride (feeling proud of yourself), anger, pity (feeling bad for others in bad situations), and horror (feeling afraid)?

– Jeff

Photo Credit:  Atari 2600 Wood fromWikipedia

Tuesday - November 19, 2013

Smarty Pants*

800px-Being_a_twin_means_you_always_have_a_pillow_or_blanket_handyFirst came smart phones. Now comes smart clothes.

According to a recent Time Magazine article, new on the market (available to buy) or soon to be on the market are clothes that will give us even more information about ourselves or about the ones we love. These pieces of clothing have sensors (devices that monitor or detect something) that help keep track of (check regularly) how a person’s body is doing.

The clothing isn’t just for adults. A new baby romper (one piece of clothing that covers the top and bottom parts of the body, usually with buttons or snaps between the legs), for example, monitors a baby’s breathing and body temperature, and sends an alert (warning) to the parent’s phone if there are problems.

For women, there is a new bra (piece of clothing women wear over their breasts) that is suppose to detect (find) breast cancer. Doctors have warned against relying on this type of technology and say that wearing it should not replace getting a mammogram (a medical test using X-rays to find signs of breast cancer), but this shows the direction that smart clothes may take in the future.

For people who exercise, there is clothing for both men and women that monitors heart rate (the speed of your heartbeat), respiration (your breathing), and calories (units of energy in your body) you burn (use). The information is sent to your smart phone as you exercise.

 Can you imagine wearing smart clothes? What do you hope smart clothes can do for you in the future?

– Jeff

* “Smarty pants” is a name people — usually children — call someone who shows how smart they are in an annoying way, usually by boasting (telling others how great one is) about their knowledge or abilities or by showing off (showing others one’s abilities in an obvious way).

Photo Credit: Being a twin means you always have a pillow or blanket handy from Wikipedia

Tuesday - November 5, 2013

Remember the Color of Your First Bicycle? Me, Neither.

Security_Questions_janetmckPart of living in an Internet world is dealing with (taking care of) security. Sure, you have to have good passwords, but for many websites, that is no longer good enough. In addition to a password, you often need to answer “security questions,” the answers to which only you would know.

The purpose of these security questions is to give the company that owns the website a way of verifying (making sure) that you are you, and not someone else trying to hack (enter illegally) into your account. If you lose your password or are logging in from a new device (computer, phone, tablet, etc.), the website may ask you one of these “secret” questions. And that’s where the problem begins.

For several years now, the questions asked have been pretty easy, such as:

  • What was your mother’s maiden name (her last name before she married)?
  • What’s your paternal grandfather‘s (your father’s father’s) middle name?
  • What was the name of your first pet as a child?

These and similarly easy-to-remember answers have been used for many years by banks and other institutions. In fact, the “maiden name” question was used by banks in Baltimore way back in 1906.

But the Internet provides many sources of information that can make it easy for other people to learn the answers to these “private” questions, especially when people post their personal information on Facebook and other social media websites. So government and business websites have begun to develop more difficult questions. And a lot of people have a hard time finding (and later, remembering) the answers to them.

For example, the government in many U.S. states now asks you to answer three security questions to sign up for the new health care plans. Even when given lots of options (in California, there are 30 possible questions!), people are having difficulty giving answers to them. Some people don’t know the answer to the question, and others have never been in the situation imagined (thought of) by the question.

Here are some that people have had problems with:

  • What was the color of your first bicycle?
  • Who was your favorite childhood (when you were very young) superhero (fictional character with special powers, like Wonder Woman or Superman)?
  • What was the name of the manager at the first job where you worked?
  • What is your significant other’s (wife’s, husband’s, girlfriend’s, or boyfriend’s) favorite color?
  • What is your youngest child’s birth weight?
  • Where were you when you had your first kiss?
  • What is your favorite vegetable?
  • What was the color of your first cat? (!)

Even worse than these are hypothetical questions, questions about things that aren’t even “real.” Here are some more examples from business and government websites:

  • If you could control (determine) your height (how tall you are), how tall would you be?
  • If you needed a new first name, what would it be?

Even if you can come up with (think of) answers to these hypothetical questions, will you be able to remember your answer a month from now? A year from now? In one study, more than 20% of the people forgot their answers to their security questions within three months – and that was with factual (real) questions and answers.

Have you ever seen any security questions that either you could not answer or (later) could not remember the answer to?


Image credit: Security Questions by Janet McKnight, CC

Tuesday - October 22, 2013

The First (Attempt at a) Smartwatch

Seiko_35ABy now, many of you have probably heard about the next big thing (something that is expected to become very popular): the smartwatch. A smartwatch is like a smartphone, but worn on the wrist (the part of the body that connects your hand and arm). As with a smartphone, you’ll be able to check your email, take photos, and make phone calls with it. At least three large companies have announced that they are working on a smartwatch or have already introduced early versions, including Samsung, Sony, and Qualcomm.

But did you know that the first attempt at a commercial (made for sale) smartwatch was way back (a long time ago) in the 1970s by Intel? At that time, Intel — the computer microchip (the very small, thin part in a computer that allows it to work) company — bought a watch company called Microma Universal, which made the first LCD — liquid crystal display — watch. (Liquid crystal technology uses light and crystals to make it possible for us to see the numbers of a watch in the dark.) The hope and plan of the head of Intel, Gordon Moore (known also for Moore’s Law), was to develop and add other functions to the watch. Sadly for Intel, the technology hadn’t been developed yet to make the computer chip small and powerful enough to do more than display the time on the watch.

Gordon Moore’s plans didn’t get as far as he wanted and the entire enterprise (plan for the project) was considered a failure. Moore says that he wore the Microma watch on his wrist for many years to remind himself to stay out of (not get into or enter) the smartwatch business, calling it his “$15 million watch.” That’s how much the company lost when it tried developing the first commercially-viable (successful in selling) smartwatch.

You can hear Gordon Moore talk about this attempt by visiting this site. The interview is subtitled (with the words appearing on the screen as you watch) and there is also a transcript available. To see what that first LCD watch looked like, go to this NPR story.

In this day and age (current time) when many people use their cell phones to check the time, do you still wear a watch? If so, why and what kind? Are you looking forward to seeing or owning a smartwatch?

– Jeff

Photo Credit: Seiko 35A from Wikipedia

Tuesday - October 1, 2013

If Your Password is “Password,” Read This

MonkeyEvery year a company named Splash Data publishes a list of the worst passwords of the year. Their list from 2012 shows that, despite all of the warnings about security on the Internet, many people continue to pick some really bad passwords. It is as if they were inviting hackers (people who illegally break into someone’s website or computer) to steal their information.

Here are some of the worst ones. If you use one of these, you might want to reconsider (rethink) your password, or stop using the Internet:

password – Yes, that’s right. Thousands of people actually use “password” as their password. It was number 1 on the list. I guess it’s easy to remember! More interestingly, some people have started to realize that “password” isn’t a very secure (safe) password, so they’ve started using something they think is much better: password1. (Seriously! It is number 25 on the list.)

123456 – No hacker would guess this one, I’m sure. I mean, what are the chances (odds; probability) that these numbers would occur (appear) together in the real world?

qwerty – These are the first five letters of the second row of keys on a standard English keyboard. In fact, we sometimes call the standard English keyboard a “Qwerty” keyboard.

monkey – This is an animal you find in a jungle (see photo), but I don’t really understand why so many people choose it as a password. There is an old expression in English, “Monkey see, monkey do,” used when someone does something just because he sees someone else doing it. Perhaps these people saw other people use “monkey” as a password and did the same thing.

letmein To let someone in means to allow them to enter, to go into somewhere. Here, of course, people are actually inviting hackers to go into their computers.

baseball – Baseball is one of the most popular sports in the U.S., and I personally think it is the greatest sport in the world (Go Dodgers!). This one was number 10 on the list of worst passwords. But what about “football”? Don’t worry, it also made (was on) the list, at number 20.

trustno1 – This is another way of writing “trust no one,” meaning you should not put your confidence in anyone. This is absolutely correct, which is why it is my favorite on the list. People who use it actually appear to trust everyone, since they have made it so easy for anyone to hack into their accounts.


Photo credit: Proboscis Monkey, Wikipedia CC

Thursday - September 12, 2013

Who Owns Your Email When You Die?

527px-Email.svgWhen we die, our car, home, jewelry, and personal belongings go the people named in our will, the legal document that states how our personal property is distributed or given to other people and organizations after we die. In our wills, we name (identify) an executor, who is responsible for carrying out (making happen) our wishes after we’re gone. (For people who die without writing a will, there is a process called “probate,” in which the government decides what happens to your assets (things you own that are worth money)).

But who owns our email, Facebook accounts, information stored in a cloud server (shared digital storage), blogs, online shopping accounts, photo-sharing accounts, and other digital information? Right now, in most states in the U.S., the companies that host them do, such as Google and Facebook.

Most of the digital information online is governed by (must follow the rules or laws of) the company that houses (provides space for) that information. The trouble is, there is little or no uniformity (being the same or consistent) across company policies. Only a few U.S. states — five so far — have passed laws to help clarify (make clear) what happens after death and there is a need for laws to catch up with (try to reach the same level or place as) changing technology.

Right now in the U.S., the Uniform Law Commission (ULC) is working to come up with a set of federal (national) laws that would help with this confusing situation. The ULC is not a part of the U.S. government. It is a non-profit (not intended to make money) organization with representatives from all 50 states, plus the District of Columbia (Washington D.C.), Puerto Rico, and the U.S. Virgin Islands. The ULC does not make laws, but it recommends language that legislators (lawmakers) can use to create laws.

Have you considered what will happen to your digital information after you die? Should your executor have access to it, just like your other personal things? Are there laws where you live to govern access to that information?

~ Lucy

Graphic Credit: Email from Wikipedia


Thursday - October 18, 2012

iPhone Killers

I pulled into the carport (a protected area with only a roof) at my mother’s house late one Sunday night last year, tired after a long difficult day. While driving, I had used my iPhone to talk to my brother who had left early that morning to drive home, almost 500 miles (about 800 km) away. After I stopped, I picked up my phone – leaving the earbuds (small headphone worn in the ear) in my ears – and opened the car door. As I got out, the earbud cord caught on the door and jerked (suddenly pulled) the phone out of my hand.

I remember thinking, “This is not going to be good,” as my iPhone flew several feet and fell to the concrete (hard material sometimes called cement).

I walked to where my iPhone had fallen, picked it up, turned it over, and had my fears confirmed (to show that something is true). The face (front) of my phone had shattered (broken into many pieces). Several long cracks (thin lines) divided the glass face into large triangles and, in the corner the phone had landed on, several small pieces of glass had already fallen out. My phone still worked, but that was the only good news.

I’m sure that many people have had accidents with their smartphones. Where do you think most of these accidents happen? In the car? In the house? And, if in the house, in which room? Who’s responsible for the accident? The owner? Or someone else?

The web site Squaretrade just released (published) the results of a survey about fatal (having a very bad effect) iPhone accidents. For this post, I’m going to assume that owners of other smart phones have had similar experiences.

The main finding (result or discovery) of the survey is that about 70% of accidents are caused by the owner. And about 50% of them happen inside, at home.

The most dangerous rooms for phones are the kitchen (21% of accidents), living room (18%), bathroom (16%), driveway (10%) and bedroom (8%). I’m a member of the driveway group.

Spilled liquids are responsible for much, perhaps most, of the damage to phones. Water (43%) is the greatest culprit (cause). Together, soda (19%), beer (12%), and coffee or tea (12%) account for (are responsible for) another 43%.

About 5% of phones met their fate (have something bad happen) when their owners put them in the washing machine, 9% when their owners dropped them into the toilet, and 6% when their owners put them on top of their car and drove off.

Fortunately, my story has a happy ending. Several months after my accident, I took my iPhone to an Apple Store to see if it could be fixed. The woman at the customer service counter (place where you pay or are served) told me it couldn’t, but that she could give me a new one. I’m not sure why she decided to do that, but, as you can imagine, I was delighted to walk out of the store with a new phone!

Have you had a serious accident with your smartphone? What happened? Was it fatal?

~ Warren Ediger – creator of Successful English.

Photo courtesy of TedsBlog used under Creative Commons license.


Tuesday - April 10, 2012

Art in the 21st Century

I’ve recently started reading a book by English historian Paul Johnson called Art: A New History. I confess (tell you a secret) that I don’t know very much about art, although I took a class in art history when I was in college in the Pleistocene era. One of the things that fascinates about Johnson’s book is his exploration of (discussion; investigation into) the ways in which people have made art across the centuries (over many hundreds of years). The Ancient Egyptians, for example, mastered (became experts at) the cutting of stone to make complex, highly ordered (following a pattern) art. The hieroglyph for “art” in Ancient Egyptian was in fact a borer, a tool used to make a hole into a piece of stone.

If we jump (move) ahead five thousands years, to our century, we find artists continuing to use new techniques and tools, some of which are barely (just) a few years old. One of these new tools is the computer, specifically the tablet computer, such as an iPad. Like a piece of stone or paper, the iPad can be used to make art, some of it quite amazing and beautiful.

Here at ESL Podcast, our very own webmaster (person who sets up and runs a website), Adriano Galeno, is one of those who has begun to use the iPad to make art. His work, all created on the iPad, has recently appeared on the cover (front) of a Canadian magazine, and has drawn the attention (received the notice) of people from all around the world.

Take a look at Adriano’s wonderful artwork on his website here. More of his amazing work can be seen on Flickr as well.

Congratulations, Adriano, on your creative and beautiful art!


P.S. Click on the picture in this post to see a larger, even more impressive version of it.

Art credit: Kiwi by Adriano Galeno, used with permission


Tuesday - October 4, 2011


Almost everyone on the Internet has heard of Twitter, a micro-blogging (a mini or small blogging) service where you are able to send short, 140–characters–or–less messages to people who “follow” you on the service. (We talked about it briefly here.) You can follow people by using a web browser and going to or by using a piece of software on your phone or computer. I first started using Twitter a few months after it began in 2006, although it really didn’t become popular until a few years later. Now, some people credit Twitter (say it caused or is responsible for) with helping spread both good news and bad about politics, culture, and even earthquakes.

Twitter, however, has its own particular language that you need to understand if you’re going to use it successfully. Everyone has a username (a screen name; a name that identifies you), but the special character @ is used before your username. So, for example, English as a Second Language Podcast has the username @eslpod.  When you use software for Twitter, clicking on a username will take you to that person’s page. Then you can read that person’s tweets (messages) if they are public, or request to follow that person so that you can read what they say.

A more interesting feature (characteristic) of Twitter is the use of the hashtag, a special character that looks like this: #. Similar to the tags that are used on regular blogs, a hashtag usually indicates a broader category or topic that the message is related to. So, for example, if I am writing about the city of Santa Monica, I would add to my tweet: #SantaMonica (notice that it is all spelled as one word). The advantage of this system is that when you click on something that has been “hashtag-ed,” you can see all the other messages on that same topic that have been tweeted.

Many people, however, have begun using hashtags to add humor (comedy) or additional commentary on their own messages. This often involves irony, where you say one thing but really mean another. If my tweet is, “Just saw a dog inside of a car with no owner,” I might add the hashtag: #ReallyBadIdea. The hashtag is what I really think about the situation, what some people referred to as meta-commentary or commentary about the commentary. Somewhat bizarrely (strangely; oddly), some people have begun to talk this way, using the word hashtag in front of words or phrases to provide a meta-commentary in real life. Earlier this year, a Canadian politician attacked the prime minister of Canada’s policies (ideas and actions) on crime, calling them “a hashtag fail.”

The ultimate (best or greatest example) in hashtag use is to cross the fingers of your hand together to form what looks like a hashtag before something that you say (see photo). I love Twitter, and I think hashtags are very useful, but I can’t see (I don’t think I will be) using them with my fingers.


P.S. Follow us on twitter at @eslpod.

Tuesday - August 30, 2011

Gadgets by Gender

A gadget is a small, often electronic device (machine) such as a cellphone or calculator. Gender usually refers to whether someone is a man or a woman. As things, gadgets are neither male nor female, but there is definitely a difference in how males and females use them.

According to a new study, women use e-readers like Kindle, Nook, and Sony Reader much more than men, with 61% of all e-reader users being women.  Men, on the other hand, like tablets such as the iPad; 57% of all tablet users are men.  Why this difference?

One article speculated (guessed) that women enjoy to read more than men, while men want something more powerful to use, something that can also be used for games or other applications (software programs; uses).

There are also differences in age when it comes to (relating to) gadget use.  More than half of all e-reader owners are over 45 years old.  Tablets are also increasingly popular among the over-45 set (people in a certain category), while their popularity with younger users appears to be decreasing.

I don’t know the answer to this one.  If you own an e-reader or tablet, why did you choose one and not the other? Why are e-readers and tablets becoming more popular among older users?


Photo credit: 1st Gen iPad, Wikipedia Fair Use