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New Connected Device for Seniors at Home

seniorsAround the world populations are getting older. In the United States alone 70 million post-World War II baby boomers will be retired by 2029. There isn’t any way we will be able to build enough retirement homes or assisted living facilities to house everyone who needs a place to live, so “aging in place” with seniors staying in their own homes will be critical (see my post The Internet and a Graying World).

I’ve written before about the need for connected devices to keep seniors connected and not isolated (see: Elderly Need Super-Simple, Phone-like Skype). A commenter on a recent post brought awareness to me about a new startup with a tablet called Claris Companion, I checked it out and was initially very enthused!

The Claris Companion is a tablet device for seniors which can be managed by family members and is a simple device for seniors to use with a lot of great features. They say the average age of their users is 86 years old with “little or no computer experience” and I buy that premise. I can attest to the fact that, in my experience, it is extremely rare to find anyone tech-savvy over the age of 65. 

But is this the right device to get for your senior parent or older loved one?  [Read more...]

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Is it Time to Buy LEDs?

cree-bulbQuite often I’ll get in to debates with friends and family about energy and we end up in conversations about why we choose to be a three Prius family and why I’m so hot on the Internet of Things and my investment in SmartThings‘ technologies. Where it gets tough, however, is justifying why we are replacing our incandescent light bulbs (and even compact fluorescents (CFLs)) with LED light bulbs since the costs of LEDs are still a bit high.

That LED bulb cost makes the return on investment (ROI) a little tougher to justify for purely economic reasons, except when you consider that one LED will last for ~25,000 hours and an incandescent for only 750-2,000 hours.

LED costs are coming down but, like my friend Eric said to me just last Friday, trying to time the purchase of doing a wholesale incandescent lightbulb replacement in your home is like “catching a falling knife.” Buy too early and you get hurt since the break-even will take too many years, though I’ll argue that the time is now to begin replacing incandescents (and CFLs) with LED bulbs.

For my wife and I it’s not just about cost, however. We strive to do our bit to minimize our energy footprint and try to positively impact human’s effect on the climate in a myriad of ways such as recycling more than anyone in our neighborhood. Our lightbulb replacement adventure is just starting but will add to our objectives of minimization. Every little bit helps.

So let’s take a look two examples of bulb replacement in my own home to give you a sense of what I’ve already done and what the results have been so far. Hopefully this will help you determine whether or not the time is right for you to “catch the knife” and replace your incandescent bulbs with LEDs. 

[Read more...]

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Become a Free Agent Now

If you haven’t recognized that work is quickly shifting toward free agency and away from longer term employment, you really must understand what is happening to the nature of work if you hope to perform it and make any money going forward. Depending upon whom you read, the last several decades have seen an accelerating shift to an information, knowledge or creative age. However you choose to term it, they all mean the same thing: humans are moving toward ever-higher value work and away from more rote, assembly, industrial or lower value effort.

The difference now is that the internet and our tools (e.g., mobile devices, Wifi, collaborative web and app tools, etc.) has made it easier than ever before for us to work when, where and for whom we want.

The concept of free agency came from professional sports (via Wikipedia): In professional sports, a free agent is a player who is eligible to sign with any club or franchise, i.e. not under contract to any specific team. The term is also used in reference to a player who is under contract at present, but who is allowed to solicit contract offers from other teams. In some circumstances, the free agent’s options are limited by league rules.

free-agent-nationThat free agency concept was built upon by the author Daniel Pink (a guy whose books I embrace) but with a twist: sports free agency means a player can consider offers from other teams while the business concept means that one is essentially doing work for multiple companies, organizations or individuals.

The term free agent for business is believed to have been coined by Pink, author of a 1997 cover story in Fast Company titled “Free Agent Nation” and his subsequent book by the same name. From a Wikipedia article on business free agencyIn business, a free agent refers to someone who works independently for oneself, rather than for a single employer.These include self-employed workers, freelancers, independent contractors and temporary workers, who altogether represent about 44 percent of the U.S. labor force.

Besides the internet, there are other influences catalyzing the shift to a new, free agency age. For instance, the Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”) is being looked at by many in the venture capital community and elsewhere as potentially one of the biggest catalysts to entrepreneurship ever (see Obamacare & the Coming Entrepreneurship Boom and Affordable Care Act Could Be Good for Entrepreneurship). The latter article points to this report (PDF) that says the number of self-employed people is expected to rise by 1.5 million as a direct result of the health care overhaul. Good news to anyone who is still stunned by the lack of hiring going on in the U.S. even today.

You might already be participating right now as a free agent. Many of my colleagues and peers are and they vary in age from 28 to 64. You may also be thinking right now, “OK Borsch…I get it that work is transforming and that I should be doing something about it. But what exactly?

Thought you’d never ask.  [Read more...]

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Intel on Internet of Things

It seems like everybody-and-their-brother are talking about the Internet of Things (IoT). Companies like Cisco, IBM, Intel, Philips and many others around the world are leaping on this emerging category.

Can’t tell you how excited I am personally about this category and that it’s going to change how we all interact with the world…just wait and see. But many of the companies above—and so many others that are smaller—are trying to position themselves as platform plays in IoT.

I’ve been trolling through videos looking for ones which portray the IoT opportunity in the best way. Bonus: One of the key people interviewed in it is the CTO from Digi, Joel Young, who is a neighbor of mine.

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Why Apple’s Lightning Connector is Perfect

lightning-connector

When Apple first released the lightning connector to go along with the introduction of the iPhone 5 last year, many people were very upset they would have to replace all of their 30-pin connecting cables and devices with this new “Apple standard” connector.

Since I was just compelled to buy new lightning accessories when I received my new iPhone 5S last week, I hadn’t given this much thought until now. But then I read this today and thought, “Seriously Europe?“: 

Apple may be forced to drop Lightning connector for MicroUSB
European law makers may force Apple to drop the
Lightning connector for charging the iPad and iPhone in Europe 

A microUSB connector. You can see it's smaller on one side and larger on the other making it more challenging to plugin correctly.

A microUSB connector. You can see it’s smaller on one side and larger on the other making it more challenging to plugin correctly.

MicroUSB sucks. Apple did the right thing and the connector is amazing and here’s why:

  • Inserting a MicroUSB isn’t easy. It can only go in one way and all the microUSB devices I have usually take at least a couple of attempts to plug it in. The lightning connector can go in either way and I can plug and unplug it in my sleep in the dark (which I never could do with a microUSB device)
  • It’s too simple to choose the wrong power supply. If I had a dollar for every time a family member or friend plugged in the wrong power supply to charge a device just because it was USB or microUSB—choosing one with the wrong amperage or wattage which would have fried their device—I’d have at least 50 bucks  ;-)
  • There are dozens and dozens of third-party microUSB power supplies. Some are cheap, many are rock-solid, but it’s a crap-shoot on what you get when buying. As we’ve seen with Apple being compelled to mitigate the risks with these sorts of devices (see Apple Takes Charge of 3rd-Party Charger Problem With Special Offer) and so many people I know completely clueless about what to buy, Apple is clearly ensuring that these incredibly sensitive devices (i.e., iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch) aren’t inadvertently destroyed by plugging them in to God-knows-what.

My $.02 for today.

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Sleep Makes You Creative

One of the things I love is the acceleration in what brain scientists are learning about what makes us tick. With fMRI and other methods neuroscientists are really pushing the knowledge envelope and uncovering all sorts of cool stuff about how that mass in our skulls works and allows our minds to function (or not function, if one has a mental illness). One of the findings presented in this video is that yes, sleep enables your brain to be more creative when you’re awake but sleep does a lot more for us. 

This GoogleTechTalk is with Matthew P. Walker, PhD, who is an associate professor in UC Berkeley’s Psychology Department Sleep and Neuroimaging Laboratory. He covers topics such as the impact of sleep on human brain function, especially in learning and memory; brain plasticity; emotional regulation; affective and clinical mood disorders and aging. 

This video is a bit long but worthwhile if you have an interest in this topic like I do. NOTE: Usually I watch these using my $99 AppleTV box and its YouTube app. Since I’ve subscribed to this GoogleTechTalk “channel” on YouTube I can simply select it and away I go. Much better than sitting at my computer for over an hour!

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Prius Racing!

Yeah…many people love tweaking those of us who drive a Prius:

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The Yin and Yang of Prius

two-priuses

My wife and I decided to give our son the 2009 Prius (for him to use both for college and for work) or otherwise we’d be driving him everywhere. That meant I needed a new car and pronto since college has already begun. 

After much deliberation—looking at Prius, Chevy Volt, and several other hybrid types—I decided on another Prius. For me, the car perfectly hits the sweet-spot of mileage, technology, cost and pretty decent performance. On my 2009 I would routinely get 48-50mpg in nice weather (around 42mpg in winter) but this new one people are achieving 52mpg on average in nice weather (don’t have numbers for winter).

Opinions run the gamut on the Prius from joy (like I have) to ones like this from the Minneapolis StarTribune gossip columnist C.J. to whom I’m connected:

Sorry CJ…I could care less what anyone else thinks about what car I drive. In fact, at least 25% of the time I’m at the Costco gas pumps I’ll have people ask me what kind of mileage I get, especially if they’re driving something like a Cadillac Escalade, Chevy Tahoe, or some other large SUV.

Here is the type of encounter I have often at the Costco pumps:  [Read more...]

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Obamacare: $500 More?

laughing-execsHealth insurers were likely howling with laughter in their executive conference rooms when they came to realize the windfall coming their way due to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (i.e., “Obamacare”). 

Though many of us have been eagerly anticipating the overhaul of the healthcare system to drive down the spiraling-out-of-control healthcare costs nationwide, it’s unlikely it will do that (at least initially) and will almost certainly cost us all more money every month as well.

It’s going to cost my family and I approximately $500 more per month starting in JanuaryLet me give you my real-world example:

  • WHAT WE PAY TODAY: As a self-employed couple, my wife, son and my healthcare coverage costs us $1,173 per month (for a high, $5,000 per year deductible each). I should also note that this cost has gone up since our health insurers have been slowly ratcheting up costs, undoubtedly because they can “grandfather” in any cost increases before the healthcare marketplaces kick in this January. 
  • mnsureWHAT IT WILL COST US IN JANUARY OF 2014: The Minnesota marketplace called “MNSure” is coming online January 2014 and their website has this calculator. Based upon our ages and household income level, it estimates* our payments to be $1,667 per month!   (*The calculator estimates since the State of Minnesota DOES NOT YET KNOW what the premiums will cost. Seriously? MNSure comes online in just over four months and you can only ballpark the cost!?!).

That is an increase of $494 per month in our monthly premiums for a “Silver” plan — a 42% potential increase! There will be three tiers of plans: Bronze, Silver, and Gold. A Bronze level plan will cover roughly 60% of the costs of services MNSure offers. Silver will cover roughly 70%, Gold will cover roughly 80% percent, and Platinum will cover roughly 90% of the costs of the benefits provided.

OBAMACARE FACTS
A website that explains much about Obamacare called Obamacare Facts had a section on Health Insurance Premiums was enlightening but useless as far as anticipating (or even calculating) what we (or you) will write checks for coming in January.

Here is the punchline and why you can absolutely be guaranteed your healthcare premiums will increase come January:

Some insurance companies are using the confusion over ObamaCare to raise premiums on unsuspecting Americans in order to capitalize before more protections are put in place, grandfathering people into more expensive plans. This is in response to protections going into effect in 2014 and the need to cover more high-risk Americans. If this has happened to you, please tell us who your insurer is and give us some other background so we can continue to investigate who is behind this.

Note On Health Insurance Premiums: Your provider can “grandfather you in” by upping your premium now and keeping it that way once the insurance cap protections kick in in 2014. They can also grandfather you into plans that don’t provide coverage options that are required under the Affordable Care Act until 2015.

Sigh. We’ll have to see what benefits Obamacare actually brings but even I, a former cheerleader for heathcare reform, have put my pom-poms down and I’ve sat down on the bench.

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Amazing at the Time: Dad’s First Calculator in 1973

Adler 81 calculatorA few weeks ago my sisters and I held an estate sale at my father’s house since he had passed away in March at the age of 87 (a tribute site to him is here). One device didn’t sell and I should never have put it into the estate sale in any event: Dad’s first calculator.

In 1973 my Dad brought home an amazing device: a small hand-held electronic calculator called the Adler 81. We were stunned that it could do addition, subtraction, multiplication and division and you could (sort of) slip it in to your pocket or purse. He showed it off to the neighbors, brought it out at a party mom and dad had at our house to “wow” their guests, and everyone else he showed it off to were suitably impressed.

Until they found out the price, that is: At the time it listed for $175 and his company bought it for him for $150 dollars in early 1973. To put that into perspective in today’s dollars (using the Consumer Price Index as a measure) the relative value of that $150 in today’s dollars would be $775!   [Read more...]