When 2016 could have been like 1984

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Apple standing up against the pressure of FBI is a critical moment for our future

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. Mar 2, 2016

Flash back to New Year’s Eve 1983, when Apple released one of the most monumental and memorable commercials to date. The ad depicted a heroine charging at a Big Brother-like figure, an homage to George Orwell’s dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, with a hammer. The heroine ends up throwing the hammer at the figure and the figure erupts, and then words appeared on the screen: “On January 24th, Apple Computer will introduce the Macintosh. And you’ll see why 1984 won’t be like Nineteen Eighty-Four.

We all celebrated.

On February 16, 32 years after the commercial aired, Apple CEO Tim Cook wrote a letter to his customers, raising a lot of concerns and showing how close we were to losing our privacy, just like the characters from Orwell’s fiction. The technology company was receiving external pressure from the US government to build a backdoor to customers’ personal devices. This backdoor would enable government officials—under specific protocol and significant measures—to access data by bypassing security. In another word, the FBI would have been able to access your iPhone if they were “suspicious” of you.

Cook wrote in his letter that such a backdoor does not currently exist, and that they don’t intend to build one, despite the government’s pressure—and pressure from many fearful citizens. The risk is far too great. The slope is far too slippery. One thing will lead to the next and before you know it, the government will have access to all the data we keep in our devices. We keep a lot of data in our devices.

Creating this backdoor is undoubtedly a knee-jerk reaction to the countless terrorist attacks that have taken place on US soil recently, because terrorists use the same technology we do and need to communicate with each other to orchestrate attacks. However, to simply give up our rights to privacy within our personal communication channels would be a victory for the terrorists. They want us to take extreme measures. They want us to turn the lens upon ourselves. The world does not become safer because of heightened monitoring. It becomes more paranoid.

I remember years ago when cameras in public places was a big controversy. Now, it is the norm. But those cameras are stationary. They don’t travel with us. They are not an extension of who we are. We don’t share our intimate moments with those cameras. Our devices, on the other hand, are in a sense our other hand, and to have the government forcibly hold it wherever we go is a scary thought. It’s what Apple vowed not to do when they aired that commercial. It vowed not to turn our world into a dystopian place ruled by a mistrustful administration, and it is holding true to its word.

While the answer is not to build a backdoor, I do believe there is a solution, one that requires thought and careful calculation, and one that does not compromise the security and privacy of law-abiding citizens. We just need to think about it differently.

Smartphones and dumb phobia

Sooner or later, you’ll have a smartphone

By Elliot Chan, Opinions Editor
Formerly published in The Other Press. July 3, 2014

One in five people currently owns a smartphone on planet Earth. That is quite remarkable, since five years ago I was convinced that I might never get one. I personally didn’t want to be a slave to my phone. But once I felt the sleek design of the iPhone 4 and engaged with the user-friendly interface, I knew that I wasn’t going back. I’m not sure if I’ve gone to the dark side or not, but my life has gotten significantly easier with a smartphone in my life.

Embrace technology. Believe it or not, we’re already slaves to it. We rely on technology for every little thing in our lives, from making a cup of coffee to saving people from traumatic injuries. Technology is the hammer and nails that built our houses, as well as the app that tells us how to get to our friends’ houses. It’s true that hammers can be used maliciously just as the Internet can be, but as long as the number of good uses is greater than the number of bad, we can’t really argue with it.

As mobile devices and wearables get more advanced in our society, it’s important for us to utilize it and learn as much as we can. The sooner we know how to operate it, the better off we’ll be. Technology does not have to be an addiction. Technology can also be a good habit to help you live a better, healthier life.

Have you ever seen a child operate an iPad more proficiently than their parents or grandparents? It’s cute, but that bar is also being raised every day. Soon we’ll be the inept parents and grandparents, unable to update to the next version of iTunes on our Google Glass. We’ll be asking our kids and grandkids to help. While that might seem like the inevitable passing of the torch, I don’t believe our generation will suffer that fate if we continue to progressively learn and use new technology as it comes along.

Sure, it doesn’t make sense for software and Facebook to change every few months for no real immediate purpose, but we shouldn’t judge technological leaps upon their inception. While many designers, engineers, and manufacturers are still working out the kinks for wearables, such as smartwatches and Google Glass, we should be excited for these new innovations—disruptive as they are.

Everyone will have a smartphone one day, because it will become the standard as innovations continue to make strides. If you’ve been resistant to new technology for so long now, you probably won’t be convinced by me, but I’m just saying that the longer you go without it the more handicapped you’ll be should smartphones be imposed on you one day.

Farm At Hand is the Modern, Technological Solution to Traditional, Antiquated Farm Organization

There is a common misconception about farmers that Farm At Hand cofounder Kim Keller wants to wipe out.

“[Farmers] are just people like everyone else,” said Keller, who grew up on a 12,000-acre farm in Saskatchewan and continues to farm to this day. “They use their phones for banking, news, Facebook and Twitter. They are on all of that everyday, because they obviously have lives outside of farming.”

Farm At Hand sprouted from the idea that farmers needed a new solution for managing their inventory, field activities, calendar, deliveries, contracts, equipment and storage. But the problem was that there wasn’t anything out there. So the farmers resulted to the primitive solution: pen and paper.

“On the farm each piece of equipment will have a notebook where the person operating it will have to write everything down,” Keller explains the complications that farmers deal with. “Chances are they didn’t write it down, or if they did write it down it doesn’t make any sense to the person who actually has to read it. Notebooks get lost, get covered in water, coffee, whatever. It’s a matter of not having information for record keeping and it ends up costing a lot of money in mistakes.”

The goal for Farm At Hand is to streamline the management process by creating a single point of data entry for the famers and a single point of access for agriculture businesses. Whether the farmers are tracking the growth of a potato or the pesticide spray in an acre of crop, the optimal results can only be reached when the work is communicated and tracked effectively.

“We have a lot of record keeping and data that comes into the program,” said Himanshu Singh, co-founder of Farm At Hand, “but actually turning it around and supplying summary of the data, providing summarized report of the end of seeding and things like that is what makes the application valuable.”

“When farming operations gets large with so many different people around, farmers need to make sure that task are completed,” added Singh. “[Farm At Hand] is just a better way of visualizing that information.”

Farming jobs change depending on the seasons and so does the way farmers use Farm At Hand features. During the growing season, the field planting and spraying features are used predominantly. Then as farmers approach the harvest season in the fall, they begin to use the storage features. In the winter, the equipment, contracts and sales features are used. Farm At Hand is built with farmer’s various workloads in mind, understanding that at any given time of the year certain jobs will shift and so must the usage of the application.

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations by 2050 farmers are required to produce twice as much food to feed a growing population. It might seem like a long time from now, but the day is fast approaching. While more farmlands and farmers may seem like a plausible answer in the next 35 years, Farm At Hand believes that the real solution is in managing and organizing the system we already have for increased efficiency.

“I’m not sure if things are changing quickly,” said Keller, “or if people realize how important their food source is now, but agriculture is earning a lot of interest and farmers know they need something better.”

New Canadian App Encore Helps Concert Fans Relive Memories Of The Epic Nights

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The bass drop, the drum beat and the roaring applaud and cheers of the crowd, urging the band back on stage for just one, maybe two more songs: those are the fleeting moments of a concert.

Those moments are what Toronto-based Encore is hoping to save for fans and concert lovers all across the world. The new app will act as a storage bank containing photos, videos, set lists, past and future shows and other sharable content, as well as the convenience and accessibility to purchase tickets and invites friends.

According to Encore’s Summer 2013 Survey of concertgoers between the ages of 18 and 30, 72% will take pictures, 49% will post it to Facebook, 41% will film videos, and 35% will tweet about it. Concerts are spectacles that fans will wait months and years for, and there is little doubt that it is worth remembering.

“We know everyone needs a good concert app,” Nicholas Klimchuk, co-founder at Encore told Techvibes. “We know what a good concert app entails. We don’t think people have designed it well. What makes Encore different from other concert apps is that we don’t just focus on upcoming shows—we focus on the past.”

“Users add every concert that they’ve been to and we suck in all the photos and videos, so you have a time capsule of the experience,” he continued. “And then it’s really cool to see a profile of every concert you’ve been to.”

Nostalgia is an important element of being human. The ability to recall the past and feel the warmth of a memory is something unique to us. But people evolve too and habits change. There was a time when concertgoers would keep their ticket stubs and place them with their collection after the show. They would keep it all in a box, an album or make a collage, frame it and hang it on the wall—some still do that, but most have transitioned into the digital age… and Encore is embracing them.

Yes, gone are the days of raised lighters, sign of the horns and peace signs, instead people are holding up recording mobile devices during the performance. Although the percentage shows that the majority is behaving this way, the act itself is still a little irritating to other attendees.

“It is kind of annoying that you have an iPad in my face and I can’t see the artist,” said Klimchuk. “There are ways to do it where people get used to it or it’s less annoying. But I think it makes a great beginning line for Encore, because people click through things they hate and people hate phones at concerts. Even if you don’t like the product, this will get people to click through.”

Encore puts the photo taking pressure on someone else. We have all tried getting the perfect shot through the crowd and even if we are competent iPhone photographers, the result may be a little disappointing. Sure, we put a higher value on the photos we take, and Encore is not trying eliminating that, what it is doing is sourcing the crowd and collecting the images and videos from the audience as a whole, allowing you just to enjoy the show in the moment, and the pictures after, should you choose.

“If you look at the past seven Beyoncé concerts, all the different angles and photos, they all look the same,” said Klimchuk. “I can a take a photo from the England concert and say it was the Toronto concert and no one would be the wiser. But the interesting thing is that people prescribe a higher value knowing that that is the Toronto concert and I was there.”

We continue to anticipate concerts and reminisce about them long after it’s over. It’s not just about the music, the venue or the artist, but the memories we share with the people we went with. If you live in a big city, odds are there is a concert you would like to attend every other day; this leaves a lot of possibilities. Whether you end up going or not, Encore knows that we all need a moment now and then to recollect our thoughts, think about the good times and prepare ourselves for the next one—whether it is the opener, the headliner or the encore.

It’s Time to be More Concerned About Our Eyes and Less About Our iPhone

If you are a hardworking technophile like me, you may want to start addressing the fact that you are working too hard, relying on too much on technology, and staring at a computer/iPhone/Kindle screen for too long.

Odds are, you’re not reading this in a paper form, but on a screen—even though this is your break from work. News, entertainment and correspondence all happen on a computer screen; there is no avoiding it today.

But just because the zeitgeist has changed, does that mean our strained eyes are doomed as well?

Computer vision syndrome has proven my mother’s worries to be accurate: I might not go blind from watching a Mad Men marathon on my iPad but exhausting my vision and causing it to labour intensively over hours of work is not healthy.

Vision loss is often associated with aging and computers screens are not linked to any permanent damages to the eyes, but Canadians are still burdened by the financial weight of vision correction. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, $2.7 billion is spent annually on vision care. There are laser-eye surgeries and “retina” displays, but I believe it won’t technology that saves our vision, but rather our own habits in areas of work, play, and sleep.

To avoid straining your eyes and exhausting your ability to work, I introduce “the three B’s” to aid you in your seeing endeavours and to keep your eyes in “peek” condition.

BLINK

It’s been proven that those staring at a computer screen for a period of time will have longer intervals between blinks. This effect will cause the eyes to feel dry and irritated. Blinking lubricates the eyes, and that is a good thing regardless of what level you’ve achieved in your mobile game or how many typos you’ve found in your Word document.

Blink regularly while working; you may need to consciously remind yourself to do so.

BRIGHTNESS

It’s a balancing act; the amount of light in a room versus the brightness of your computer screen versus the extraneous light and glare seeping in through your office, home, or coffee shop window. Having a balanced lighting can reduce the strain and fatigue your eyes feel.

You want your computer screen’s brightness to match the brightness of the room. So move away from the window when you are on your computer. Extraneous light and glare will force your eyes to work harder than they have to, thus exhausting them faster. Consider drawing the curtains at various point of the day or purchasing an anti-glare screen filter.

BREAKS AND COMFORT

Taking breaks are important because the human eye is not built to stare at a screen for many hours. Experts recommend that workers take a 20 second break every 20 minutes by staring at something 20 feet away; this is known as the 20/20/20 rule. Find an object in the distance, maybe a tree or a painting and just check up on it occasionally. Who knows? Perhaps you’ll find inspiration in it.

While you are taking these breaks, consider your comfort and make sure your working environment is as ergonomically pleasing as it can be. A few things to note are the monitor’s height and distance. The best height is five to nine inches below your horizontal line of sight. Or in another word, you should be able to look right over the screen. In regards to the distance, if you can sit back in your chair and touch the screen, you are sitting too close.

No matter how hard working you are, neglecting your health is never okay; after all, an office job can be lethal. Sometimes you’ll just need to rest, and if your friends and family can’t convince you to take a break once in awhile and get away from the screen—well, hopefully your eyes can.

Ottawa’s Powerstick Keeps Your Smartphone, Tablet, and Life Fully Charged

Although a double espresso might get you through the latter parts of your day, your smartphone and your tablet are not always as easy to re-energize.

We all dread watching those last few percent on the battery bar tick away as we hastily finish off an email or an important phone call. We have all gone hunting for power outlets and been prisoners to the cord, but now Ottawa-based Powerstick is freeing us from the restrictions of limited battery life.

Since 2011, Powerstick has been innovating the way people recharge their mobile devices. From humble beginnings to award winning products, Powerstick is constantly looking for new ideas from conception to results.

The first generation of the Powerstick was the size of a stick of gum and could charge most mobile devices. It won the CES Award for Best Innovation and is also available as a 2GB, 4GB or 8GB portable hard drive. From there, Powerstick received numerous upgrades and awards. The company took an inventive route and started developing different models, including the Powertrip, a heavy-duty charger that has a wall socket, USB port and a solar PV panel, perfect for situations such as long distance travel and camping. The Powertrip has enough energy to fully charge three smartphones and certain models are able to hold up to 16GB of memory.

Nigel Harris, CEO of Powertrip originally fashioned the portable charger for its practical uses, but he quickly discovered that his product was a terrific tool for branding.

“When a corporation like Google or Ford or an organization like that wants to launch a new product or new service they like to give gifts to promote,” said Harris, “So we brand our product with Google’s name or Ford’s or whoever and they give them out to clients as free gifts. It is wonderful for us.”

Powerstick prefers to steer away from the bottom prices, extended terms and guaranteed sale-through of big box retailers; instead they deal primarily with promotional distributors. But as popularity grows and public demand rises, Powerstick is now offering online sales capability for those who want to purchase products in smaller quantities on their website.

As technology continues to evolve, battery life remains ever more important. Even though innovations have been made, all battery will still inevitably die.

“Every couple of months you’ll read in the newspaper about how so and so somewhere has come up with a brand new technology that will revolutionize battery storage,” Harris told Techvibes. “But it never actually gets brought to market. We are going to be stuck with the same battery technology for practical purposes.”

Whether it is with new companies, new technologies or new geographical areas, Powerstick is in a position of infinite opportunities. They will once again be entering four new products in the CES Awards and will also be attending the PPAI Expo in January with great intention of promoting to distributors worldwide.

“We are in a really cool spot,” said Harris. “We are conceiving and executing on brand new products all the way from concept to the production units inside of five months and it is very very exciting. We are winning awards and we are this little Canadian company.”

Canadian App ‘Get to Know’ Puts Outdoor Adventures in Palm of Your Hand

In 1999, famous Canadian wildlife artist Robert Bateman introduced an annual art contest dedicated to getting youth out into nature and experiencing the wonders of the wild.

Six years later, the Get to Know program took what Bateman started and transformed it into a digital format that is more accessible to the public. The new “experiential program” blends the environmental with technological creating a platform that engages and educates the public.

Joining forces with organization such as Parks Canada, US Forest Service, Canadian Wildlife Federation and others, Get to Know has developed a game for iOS and Android that puts the users in scenarios where they have to physically explore and connect with the environment. Targeted for an audience ages nine to 14, Get to Know plays like a scavenger hunt where answering trivia and uncovering clues earns experience points that advances the players in rank and progress them through national parks, zoos and other natural sites.

The first test drive of the app took place in the Calgary Zoo, using QR codes to trigger clues and achievements at various areas. “We are finding that kids enjoy the context of pretending to be spies when seeking for QR codes,” said Andrew Munroe, program coordinator of Get to Know. “Because the storyline of the app is about joining a spy agency, they feel it is little more of a spy-like activity.”

“In national parks you cannot install anything new,” Munroe told Techvibes. “You have to use what is already there. Eventually we like to do away with QR codes altogether, because there is the issue of maintenance and vandalism, and getting permission to install a small post can be a huge undertaking.”

Although QR codes are effective in the game play, Get to Know is hoping to move forward into using Bluetooth low energy beacons that can be buried in the ground and has battery life to last years.

Get to Know is consistently adding new features into their game and expanding to different natural locations. Currently the team is planning to introduce the game to Mount St. Helen’s National Volcanic Monument in Washington in September. Other sites they are aiming to include in the near future are Vancouver, Kelowna, Los Angeles, and even Cumberland, Wisconsin.

“We want to create a value-added proposition for people who are already at the site,” Munroe explained. “With this app we are more focused on bio-diversity so it is really about the species we are profiling. So we plant a code in front of known grove of red cedar in Stanley Park and then we can get people to engage with the red cedar in a way that is other than just looking at it.”

Get to Know is currently a work in progress, but with the strong goal of focusing on app and game development specifically targeted for socially conscious, active living-based clients, the possibility is infinite. Currently Get to Know is working in collaboration with Taking it Global and Heritage Canada to develop an app celebrating the 150 anniversary of Canada, which is coming up in 2017.

“That will be another location-based, educational app that we are pretty excited about,” added Munroe.