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This Week in Tech – August 1, 2017Monday, July 31st, 2017

Every week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech.

Neal: Greetings my fellow earthlings!

Ken: Hey Neal, I hope you had a good week!

Let’s get right to it today. Have you ever heard of a company named Amazon? I know you didn’t want to talk Amazon in this week’s blog again, but, as Mugatu said in Zoolander “Amazon is so hot right now”.

Ken: Ha! Yeah, Amazon has definitely not been keeping a low profile the past few weeks. But that’s a good thing. The fact that it’s a household name says a lot about what they’re doing and what people expect from them.

Neal: Amazon made the headlines again this week when it was reported that the e-commerce giant was getting into the Healthcare field – which is a $3 trillion dollar a year industry. Amazon has dubbed this new lab ‘1492’. Health care seems like an easy shoo-in for them, it’s ripe for improvement, and they already have the resources to create some awesome things. Think about it, Amazon already has data and server space up the wazoo, they are heavily invested in artificial intelligence and machine learning, if those are applied to healthcare, the possibilities are endless.

In the near future, I wouldn’t be surprised if the Echo (Amazon’s in home speaker assistance) could take a pin size sample of your blood, quickly analyze your DNA and that jazz, then Alexa would say to you “Ken, you glucose levels are low, eat some sugar. Also, it looks like you might have cancer, I’ve set up a doctors apt with the best cancer doctor in Philadelphia, your blood results and health history have already been transferred to her”.

Ken: Loving the technicality of those statements. What you described would be awesome, but I don’t think any of us know if that’s the direction they’re going to go in. I think if they start with making people aware of their choices and help us all live better lifestyles, that would be a tremendous start. Especially with the acquisition of Whole Foods, I guess we shouldn’t be as surprised about the report regarding this secretly rumored ‘1492’ team. Of course, just as people are concerned with privacy and HIPAA compliance, Amazon will definitely have it’s cards laid out if they want Alexa to ready your blood samples. If people are concerned with Alexa listening in on their conversations, I don’t think they’ll be keep to submit DNA.

Neal: I agree with your point on making people aware of their unhealthy lifestyle patterns and what steps you can take to not only feel better in the short term, but also, what you can do to prevent future illnesses. The healthcare industry as a whole needs to do a better job at preventive care, not just curing you when you are sick, or giving you drugs that do nothing to fix the root cause of the problem.

Let’s do a complete 360 now and talk about something that we can also use our magic ball to predict. The future of a fan experience at a live sporting event. A Huffington Post article gave their thoughts on how sports tech can improve the fan experience. As a sport and rec major at Temple, we often chatted in our classes about the future of live sports. Let’s face it, with jacked up ticket prices, super HD tvs, instant replay, and the comfort of being at your own house, it’s going to take some really cool innovations to get fans to want to shell out their hard-earned dollars to continue to support their team in person.

I’m going to throw the magic ball at you now (DUCK!), as you have a knack for blending current tech trends with the future. What do you think can be done to improve fan experience at stadiums?

Ken: Stadiums – especially MLB for example – have implemented features in their mobile apps that let you order food from your seat and have it delivered to you. Some might call that lazy, but if you paid $x for the ticket, why would you want to go wait in line for 25 minutes while the game is going on? I think other things – such as the huge super HD screens at stadiums (even surrounding them in a basketball or hockey arena) are helpful, but somewhat primitive. I think forcing technology into the stadium experience should be done with caution. It’s a hard balance, because on one hand you don’t go to the game to play on your phone or other smart device. While I obviously love technology and integrating it where appropriate, there’s a time and a place for everything. It’s an intriguing dilemma: the at home experience is as good if not better in many cases than the in person experience.  I think the focus should be – what can you do at home that you can’t do at the stadium? Lay sideways on a 3 person couch? Well that’s not really feasible with crowds of 50k people. I think part of the issue is that the in stadium experience is immersive. You go to the stadium for that event, but, at home you are likely doing something else. I’m sure not many people sit in one place for 3 hours from start to end. In my opinion, technology isn’t the inhibitor here.

One interesting concept will be to see if stadiums begin to use Augmented Reality (AR) as a way to hook fans in while at the stadium. If you’re unfamiliar, augmented reality is basically showing digital objects on a screen that don’t exist in real life. For example, sometimes it’s not easy to find out how fast the last pitch was or how many timeouts are left on the screens at the stadium. With AR, you could use your phone to get that information displayed on the screen on top of the live action. Of course, this technology is still being expanded – and fans don’t want to go to a game and put on a bulky headset or look through their phone camera just to get info they have on a TV screen at home – but I think AR has a lot of potential to blend technology and improve the fan experience.

Neal: You read my mind. There’s always the possibility that one day Virtual Reality (VR) get’s so good, you can actually be on the field with the players like you are fully suited up.

That about wraps it up for this week. Steadfast, until next time!

Ken: Looking forward to next week!

This Week in Tech from Front RushMonday, July 10th, 2017

Each week, Ken Whittaker, Director of Engineering, and Neal Cook, Director of Support at Front Rush, review recent tech news, offering analysis and banter about changes in tech that affects college coaches.

Neal: Hello, Ken! I’m very excited to start our co-authored blog this week. Coaches have seen our blogs before, but never together, and you know what they say, one is the loneliest number!

Ken: Two can be as bad as one, but let’s give this a shot. In case our readers haven’t noticed we try to bring them some updates on the coolest news coming out of the tech world. It’s our job at Front Rush to bridge that gap and try to make technology seem less scary and throw in our opinions and hope people actually agree with us.

Neal: Ah, to add to the pessimism, technology can be quite scary with all the talks of robots taking over jobs and your smart machines listening to your every word, but let’s proceed!

Speaking of being scared, a subject that has always been close to my heart is smartphones. To be precise, how glued each and every one of us seems to be to our mobile phones. Adam Greenfield, from Radical Technologies, wrote a lengthy piece on “The Sociology of the Smartphone,” and when I say lengthy, I’m not kidding. Before you chime in, yes, I did force you to read this article, and I apologize for the excessive use of adjectives. But to sum it up, smartphones ARE TAKING OVER THE WORLD. They are the first thing we check in the morning, the last thing we check before bed. Even when we think we are safe in our homes, if we are connected to our phones, our data is still being gobbled up and sold by the apps and web services we use.

All humans want to feel connected. Interaction designers know this, that’s why we are quick to read a breaking news notification, smile when someone likes our photo, rush to open up a text message. But, Ken, have smartphones gone too far, or am I overreacting?

Ken: The (lengthy) article definitely started off by making a terrific point: smartphones are often the last thing we see before going to sleep and the first thing in the morning. As someone that develops mobile applications for a living, you might be surprised that I do agree that smartphones have gone a little far. It’s important to set boundaries so you can take a step back and appreciate things. I’m not going to get all sappy here, but it’s true. Think about the last time you went out to dinner. Did you play on your phone the whole time? How about check your email or respond to a text? For me – the answer is an absolute no. My wife and I decided years ago not to have phones during meals at home or out to eat, and I’ve got to say – I don’t miss it. How fun is it to talk to someone who’s head is down in their phone? While smartphones offer us everything we need at our fingertips, they can definitely take away from human to human interaction.

Neal: I can’t agree more. Though, I should, since we are supposed to be bantering. But, it’s safe to say, we both appreciate the convenience of a smartphone, but like everything in life, we need a balance. That’s why I never wake up and look immediately at my phone. Even if I’m eager to read my Bumble message, I make sure to get up, make some coffee and take some deep breaths before diving into the chaos.

On to our next piece of news. I’m sure you’ve heard about Amazon’s $13.7 billion takeover of Whole Foods. I don’t think anyone was prepared for that news. I certainly wasn’t. There’s been a lot of articles written about the acquisition since. And it’s fascinating to see how companies are taking the news. The stock price of many grocery stores went tumbling down, fearing Amazon would eventually disrupt the $800 billion grocery industry as it’s done with brick-and-mortar retail business.

One fear of those working at Whole Foods, and for fans of human connection, is that Whole Foods will eventually replace most of the workers with, you guessed it, robots.  Stacy Torres, of the New York Times, writes that what’s good for business (reducing labor costs) is not always good for people (less opportunity to interact with others). I can’t agree more. I worked at grocery stores throughout my teenage years, and I’ll never forget the customers I helped, especially the elderly. Looking back now, it’s odd that the smiles and chit-chat with your cashiers could become a thing of the past. What do you think?

Ken: The idea of a robot taking over jobs is always a fear people have. Look how many movies are centered around this simple idea. I think the important takeaway here is that – this type of automated or “convenient” lifestyle is for some people. On the way home from work, if you want to stop by the grocery store and pick up fresh lettuce – sometimes it makes sense to grab it, pay, and go – so you can get home quicker. I think having the option to do a speedy checkout is nice to have, but I think it’s far from being able to replace humans. How many times have you used the self-checkout and heard “Unexpected item in bagging area. Please stand by, help is on the way” when you did exactly what was asked of you? I think it’s hard to say – people just need to be patient. Sometimes we do end up behind someone who is paying with quarters, and we just don’t have time to put up with that. Or what if the small chit-chat is actually offensive, or the employee is in a bad mood? This might sound dark, but sometimes those interactions put people in a worse mood. My point is, I think we are quite a ways away from robots “taking over” these jobs – but they might be pushed into our lives sooner than we’d like. I do agree that it is often too easy to get caught up in this sense of urgency and demand perfection.

Neal: Great point. I think you summed up both of the topics today: there is good and bad in everything in the world. Smartphones and robots do have the abilities to bring joy into our lives, but, left unchecked, they could also rewrite history as we know it.

Alas, we’ve come to an and. Have a groovy week!

Ken: See you next time!

Are Our Devices Actually Smart?Monday, June 19th, 2017

by Ken Whittaker, Front Rush

You probably hear about smart devices all the time: smartphones, smart TV, smartwatches and fitness trackers, smart lightbulbs etc. So when did all of our other devices become dumb and these new devices become smart? And what exactly is the criteria for something to be considered smart? In my opinion, the bar is set pretty low. As you may recall, I have previously written about smart speakers (http://dantudor.com/mini-talking-robots/) – the Amazon Echo and the Google Home. These devices communicate with a network to listen to your commands, process your speech, and provide you with a result. Okay, that’s pretty smart. A tiny speaker can answer something I don’t know in a few seconds. But what about these other devices?

Smartphones are probably the most common example of a so called “smart device.” Thinking back to the wee old days of landlines, brick phones and flip phones, there’s no doubt that we’ve come a long way. Apps are a click away to solve all the world’s problems, the entire device is a screen in many cases, and it seems there are less physical buttons each year. Smartphones are smart because they allow you to interact with your phone in a much different way. In a sense, a smartphone isn’t really a phone. It’s more like a computer that has the ability to make calls. So we’ll rack one in the win column for smart devices.

Smart TVs are gaining in popularity, and allow you to interact with apps and services on your – you guessed it – television. A true smart TV has these capabilities built in, although some may argue that using streaming devices such as Amazon FireTV, Roku, Apple TV, or Chromecast can make any TV a smart TV. Not by my standards. That is an extra peripheral used to give you access to more things. Plugging in a mouse to your laptop doesn’t make your computer any smarter, it just allows you to use it in a different way. I’m not denying that these streaming devices are cool, but they don’t make a TV a smart  TV. A true smart TV, as I mentioned, has these streaming capabilities built in – for Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, etc. The idea is you have one remote and the ability to switch from regular TV programming to streaming content seamlessly. It’s great.

But, is it smart? Often, you can only focus on one app at a time. Although there is some disagreement if multitasking actually is smarter, I think we can all agree that a smart TV should probably be able to handle more than one thing at a time. In my opinion, a smart TV would revamp the TV experience. How many times have you wanted to watch a sports game and change the commentators (or mute them) but still have some other audio (crowd, different broadcast, in helmet speakers) instead? Or what about those clunky score boxes on the screen. What if I want that off the screen to start a big play? Does it really matter to know that an NBA team has 5 timeouts at the start of the game? A truly smart TV, in my opinion, would allow you to tweak the broadcasting networks features, and also allow access to the content many of these streaming devices provide. Doing simple things like glancing at the temperature, ordering a product you see in a commercial – from the commercial – among other things seem like natural progressions. Let’s refuse to be fooled by the current iteration of smart TVs. We’ll rack this as a loss for smart devices.

Smart watches are great – and even fitness trackers such as Fitbit – can even be included in this category. I’ll keep this section brief, as some of my colleagues have already written about Fitbit (http://dantudor.com/the-fitbit-evolution/), wearable tech (http://dantudor.com/wearable-tech/), and some of our employee preferences at Front Rush (http://dantudor.com/iphone-vs-android/), but smartwatches are basically digital watches that have the capabilities shared by your smartphone. It would be neat if they could operate more independently from a phone, but I think we’re close to seeing some more products like that. Plus, anything aimed at improving your health by giving you stand up reminders, or tracking your workouts is a win in my book. For those keeping score: smart devices are 2-1.

To round out the discussion, we’ll combine everything else into our last category. Smart light bulbs, smart cars, smart thermostats, oh my! In my opinion, these devices are just too overpriced for what they currently offer. Smart bulbs often require a hub, and then you have the added cost of equipping your home with these bulbs. Plus, if someone flips a light switch off – your bulb isn’t very smart anymore. Smart cars are worthy of their own blog. They are definitely a product to marvel at, and are smart, but I would love to see more: better mileage, auto driving capacities, etc. I’ll be harder on smart cars because they are (in my opinion) the coolest in the smart category. Smart thermostats, smart smoke detectors, and every other smart device out there are all “smart” in their own way. But as I mentioned, they are costly, which is a deterrent for many buyers right now. Cost doesn’t make them any less smart, but I think some people want these devices to do more, have easier installation, or have more features before they outfit their home with these devices.

So our final score, for this brief overview of smart devices is 3-1. Not bad, but as you coaches know – losing is never acceptable. I’m excited that companies continue to open up development to third parties – as that will allow for some of the greatest iterations of these products to be built. Also, with more companies entering the game – the competition increases and the standard of “smart” will inevitably go higher. I may have been a bit harsh at times in this article, but it’s up to us – the consumers – to come up with what the word means. Does improving the technology on a device that’s been around for years make it smart? Sometimes, but can it be smarter? Always.

Everything a coach needs to know about notificationsSunday, June 4th, 2017

by Neal Cook, Front Rush

Occasionally in support, we’ll get questions from coaches about enabling notifications on their iPhones so they can receive notifications from the Front Rush app.

With more and more iPhone apps prompting you to allow notifications (Android devices automatically opt users into receiving notifications), it’s worth it to go through your Notifications on your device to make sure you are receiving the ones you want and removing the ones that just annoy the living soul out of you.

Here’s how to update your notifications:

  1. Click on the Settings app from your home screen.
  2. On the Setting screen, select Notifications. From here you will see all of your apps that can send you notifications about their services (NYTimes, Uber, GrubHub, Front Rush, etc.).
  3. Scroll down and click on the app you wish to update.
  4. Make sure the ‘Allow Notifications’ button is turned on if you wish to receive notifications. Turning this off will remove all notifications for this app.
  5. Depending on the app and what they offer, you’ll see some different buttons:Show in Notification Center – this is where all of your notifications and alerts are stored. You can access this by dragging down from the status bar (the top of your phone).
    1. Sounds – some apps make sounds when they notify you. You can turn these off.
    2. Badge App Icon – these are the little red dots with numbers that tell you how many in-app notifications or updates you have. Facebook does this to show you how many unread updates you have, Mail does this to show you how many unread emails you have, Front Rush does this to show you how many unread text messages you have. You can turn these off if they bother you (turning off my Facebook notifications was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made).
    3. Show on Lock screen –  this is what shows when your phone is in locked.
  6. If you want to make sure you are receiving alerts when using your phone, make sure that either Banners or Alerts is selected under ‘Alert Styles When Unlocked.’

 

Preserve the Open InternetSunday, May 21st, 2017

Neal Cook, Front Rush

With the constant bombardment of news, you may have missed the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) vote last Thursday to reverse the net neutrality rules that were put in place during the Obama administration.

When I say “net neutrality,” you probably yawned. It’s not a sexy term. But the implications of net neutrality are severe.  Net Neutrality is the principle that your Internet Service Providers, also called ISP’s (like Verizon and Comcast), should provide access to all content and websites on the web, they should also never throttle or slow down sites that don’t pay more money for ‘faster service.’

Think of the internet, as we’ve known all of our lives, as an open road. All companies can freely travel down the same road, at the same speed, and no one is stopped and told to go back. Every website has the same chance to reach their end destination (your eyes).

Now instead of an open road, think of a smaller, suburban street and the highway above it. If your ISP’s had their way, they would be able to charge companies more money to have their website appear on the highway. If you were a smaller company or didn’t have the budget to pay for the highway, your website would be delegated to the slower, suburban street. Meaning, your website would be slow, and the visitors of your site would have slower service.

Maybe you’re a competitor of the ISP’s themselves. If the ISP’s don’t like you, they don’t have to offer you a chance to ride the local road or the highway. They’ll turn you around and say ‘no.’ So your company or website would be wiped off the internet.

The internet is the pathway to knowledge and change. No company should be able to limit the sites that you wish to access, or slow the speeds. Small businesses should not suffer because they do have the funds to pay for faster access.

By voting to rollback the net neutrality rules, the FCC, which is newly run by Ajit Pai (who is ironically a former Verizon lawyer), they are ceding to the lobbyists of these major corporations and pointing two middle fingers to the American people.

If you are passionate about the websites and the tools that you use online and do not wish to see these slowed down or blocked in the future, you can file a complaint on the FCC’s website here. You can also read up more at this site. Staying vigilant is one way we can preserve our freedoms.

Were you hacked last week?Monday, May 15th, 2017

Neal Cook, Front Rush

It’s a dreary feeling; knowing you’ve fallen for an online SPAM attack.

Were you one of the million or so Gmail users who were hacked last week? If you were, don’t be embarrassed. This was a sophisticated attack that fooled a lot of people.

The hack started with an email, sent from a known contact, that invited you to click a link to view a Google Doc they shared with you. Google does send an email when someone shares a Google Doc, so it would appear legitimate.

After you had clicked on the link inside, you were sent to a Google Apps page. It asked you to authorize an app called “Google Docs” to read, send and delete emails (which is common with some legitimate Google Docs). The problem here was that this Google Docs was not a real app, the hacker controlled it.

When this all began at the Front Rush office, I’m not going to lie; I was really concerned. We received about 100 emails from real coaches, and not knowing the severity of the attack, we jumped into an ad hoc meeting to try to find the root of the issue and to see if we were the only ones getting hacked (never a fun feeling).

After some digging and googling, we discovered this was a worldwide issue that was affecting individuals and companies. Needless to say, we breathed a sigh of relief.

If you were one of the million-plus users who did click on the Google Docs email during the one-hour before Google shut it down, make sure you go through the Google Security Check here and make sure the apps under “check your account permissions” are indeed the apps you want to share your information with.

So how do you make sure you don’t fall for the next hack?

It’s easy. Don’t trust anything. Don’t click on anything that you are not supposed to click on. For this latest SPAM attack, the email was sent from a trusted contact and it looked legit. But, ask yourself “Am I expecting a document from this person?”.

If you’re not, contact them and ask them if what they sent was real. By reaching out, you’ll allow them to quickly check if they’ve been hacked or not and take preventive measures.

You should also make sure you have an antivirus downloaded and running on your computer.


The last time I visited my aunt in Miami I had to use her computer to look up directions to the zoo. When I clicked on her web browser, I noticed the buttons looked a little different, and there were banner ads in the toolbar that should never be there. Popup ads were appearing left and right.

I yelled to my Aunt Cathy, “DROP THE MEATBALLS AND GET OVER HERE…PLEASE TELL ME YOU DON’T CLICK ON RANDOM THINGS ON YOUR COMPUTER”. She dropped the meatballs, and she did indeed just click things (remember, don’t trust the internet).

Older adults are more susceptible to hacks. It’s nothing against them, they are just more trustworthy of the internet and the scams, and don’t have as much familiarity with what is real and what is fake.

Young or old. Mac or PC. It doesn’t matter. Make sure you have an antivirus running on your computer at all times. I’m a huge fan of Avast. It’s free, and it works wonders (just ask my Aunt). You can download it for free right here.

You can also check with your IT department and ask them to double check your computer to ensure you have an active antivirus running on your computer.

Competition on the Rise in the Wireless MarketMonday, May 8th, 2017

Mike Vizzoni, Front Rush

It’s 2017 and we are all glued to our phones. Constantly checking our favorite apps and social media platforms, most millennials spend more time on their phone then they do on a computer. So much time spent on our phones means that they need to function properly and we need the best connection as possible to keep up with all of our streaming, posting, and messaging. With such a high demand for a good wireless network the competition between the big wireless companies is more extreme than ever before.

As it stands, there are three main wireless companies that dominate the consumer space. Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have been around for quite some time and all three are still doing very well. For a while these three companies operated in a rather similar fashion. They all would lock customers into contracts (usually 2 years) each offering a different combination of services that would fall under said contract. This model proved to be successful and is what most consumers are accustomed to. That is until about a year ago when T-Mobile really started the stir things up.

T-Mobile made a very bold move in 2016. They started tearing down the conventional walls that had been set up when it came establishing wireless plans. They got rid of contracts, who needs contracts if you like the provider you are paying for. Any new customers that came to them while in a contract with another wireless companies did not have to worry about paying to get out of their contract.  T-Mobile would cover your costs to get out of your current contract. This was huge. It drew millions of people to T-Mobile and was the start of their renaissance. T-Mobile later introduced the device payment plan. This allowed customers to slowly pay off a new device they bought through T-Mobile. This made buying new phones much more affordable for many. Lastly, more recently T-Mobile said goodbye to data caps. They re-introduced the idea to have unlimited data. Data caps have been in place for years across the board on all major wireless companies. It was a great way for them to monetize data. They would set a per month price based on the amount of data you would like to use. This was thrown out the window when T-Mobile supported an unlimited data plan.  T-Mobile now has no contracts, device payment plans, and unlimited data.

Needless to say, T-Mobile has added over 2.5 million new subscribers and their stock grew 50% in the last year. This all seems great for T-Mobile but what about the other two major wireless companies and all of their subscribers? Well this is the great thing about competition between companies within the same market. Once T-Mobile began introducing these revolutionary plans and services the other companies had to react. Verizon and AT&T started to release their own versions of no contract deals, device payment plans, and unlimited data. It was incredibly interesting to see these two companies completely change their pricing models simply to keep up with T-Mobile and to prevent losing more of their own customers.

This worked out great for us consumers and really goes to show how important competition is within marketplaces. Especially in tech.

Is Your Data For Sale?Monday, April 10th, 2017

Neal Cook, Front Rush

There’s been a lot of talk the past few weeks about President Trump’s repeal of Obama-era broadband policy rules, which were intended to protect consumers from their ISP’s (internet service providers) such as Comcast, Verizon, etc.

This article will break down what is going on now and what has changed.

What law was repealed? And has anything changed yet?

Currently, anytime you surf the web, or use any web-connected apps (such as email, youtube, etc.), your ISP collects data on everything that you do. Since they manage all of your web traffic, they have access to a vast majority of your personal information. This is true for your phone as well.

There are no rules outlining how ISPs can store and sell your personal information to advertisers.

The law, passed by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2016, requires ISPs to obtain your consent before using precise location, financial information, health information, children’s information and web browsing history for advertising and marketing.

This was to go into effect as early as December of 2017 but has since been repealed, which is a huge loss for those concerned about their internet privacy.

Is there anything my ISP cannot see?

ISP’s know any website that you visit. If the website uses HTTPS encryption (like Front Rush), ISPs can see that you visited the site, but they cannot see anything inside the site you are on.

You can easily see what site is encrypted with HTTPS encryption by looking at the URL bar at the top of your browser. If all you see in the URL is www.website.com, the site is not secure. If all you see is http://website.com, the site is not secure. If you see https//website.com, the site is secure.

You would think that most of the websites you browse are secured. However, you’ll come across a few during the day that are not (visit WedMD, New York Times or Fox News).

Does private browsing help keep my information safe?

Yes, and no. Private browsing prevents your browser from storing your searches and cookies (small data files websites store on your computer). But your ISPs still have access to everything that is not encrypted.

What can I do to keep my data safe?

#1 rule is to make sure that any website you visit, that you don’t want anyone knowing about you, (ie. what you are searching for on webmd.com), is secured with HTTPS.

Those very serious about their data privacy can pay for something called a VPN (virtual private network). VPNs encrypt your data which is shared over the internet and keeps it private by building a secure tunnel between your laptop/smartphone and your ISP, ensuring no one can monitor your online activity.

There are some free VPN services available. But they are not recommended as they are not entirely secure. Paid VPNs generally cost between $5 and $10 per month.

Become A Smarter Online ReaderMonday, April 3rd, 2017

Neal Cook, Front Rush

Last week I asked you “is the internet making us dumb?”.

To summarize that post, by reading so many articles online, quickly, while being distracted (by the outside world and things on your screen), without reflecting or focusing on what we just read, the things we read online might not be sticking in our brains as we would wish them to.

One tool that has helped me “declutter” the articles I want to read online, and help me manage my time, is a nifty little browser extension called Pocket.

Pocket is a free service that allows you to save articles to your List, allowing you to read them when you are ready to read them.

In the age of the 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to be bombarded with things to read online. The amount of quality, well-written news articles and blogs available for us to read on a daily basis is outstanding.


But when reading online, we need to be sure that we are 100% focused on the article in question, as if reading a book.

Think about it.  You don’t just randomly read a book that someone shares with you on Facebook, or you see in an email.

When we read a book, we are making a conscious decision to set aside time to focus solely on that piece of literature.


The same should be done when reading online.

Pocket can be used on the most popular browsers: Chrome, Firefox, Safari and Internet Explorer.

To install in the browser you are reading this on right now, click here.

Once you do that, you’ll see this little Pocket button appear on your toolbar (this will appear to the right of your URL bar where you type in websites to check out).

When you come across an article or link that interests you, simply click the pocket button, and it will be saved into your custom List to read later.

Now to the fun part, reading your articles. When you are ready, go to www.pocket.co and all of your saved articles will be sitting nice and neat, ready for you to enjoy.

The real impressive thing about Pocket that helps you focus and stay engaged in the article, is that they display all of the text in something they call “Article View,” which strips out all unnecessary ads and information, leaving you only with distraction-free text to read.

Once you are finished reading your article, if you really liked it, you can click the star symbol in the top left to mark it to your favorites. Then, click the checkbox to remove that article from your unread List.

Once you sign up with Pocket, they’ll also start to send you a daily email with some of the most interesting and mindful articles (which I end up saving to my Pocket to read when I have time).

I’m pretty bad at wrapping things up, so I’m taking the easy road out with a Mark Twain quote. “It is what you read when you don’t have to that determines what you will be when you can’t help it.”

Is the internet making us dumb?Monday, March 27th, 2017

Neal Cook, Front Rush

The internet is a beautiful thing. But is it making us smarter?

Kabir Sehgal, author and former vice-president of J.P. Morgan doesn’t believe so, saying ‘“While the Internet gives us access to more information than before, paradoxically, we are becoming dimmer and more superficial as a people.”

One of his reasonings is that by reading articles online, which is commonly done by searching, clicking, quickly scanning, being distracted by the ads, pictures and hyperlinks, we are only retaining our “working memory,” and not our “long-term memory.” The long-term memory is where we store “schemas” that help us organize our thoughts and concepts.

So, by reading an article online, our mind doesn’t take in the full meaning and point of the article. Therefore, it doesn’t connect the information learned to our previous memories/thoughts. You could argue that reading online is a waste of time.

Reading a book on the other hand, since you are focused and not as stimulated, can lead to retaining longer-term memory.

From first-hand experience, this is true. I read an average of 15 articles a week, but, when a week later I try to recall the purpose or argument of an article to a friend, I’m at a loss for words as to the actual point of the article.

A typical article I read online follows this timeline:

Hmm..this article sounds fascinating…let me click on it and read it

Starts reading for 10 seconds

Eyes focus on the banner ad on the top of the page

Continue reading

See a reference link in the article, click on that link, skim it, click back to the original article

Continue reading

My iMessage sound goes off, even if I don’t want to read it, my mind is already distracted

I don’t check my iMessage, but continue reading

My New Mail sound goes off, again, I don’t read it, but I’m distracted

Resume reading

Finish the article

Reflect on what I read for about 3 seconds

Then check my iMessage and Mail and move on to the next “thing” in my life

No wonder I can’t recall the fundamental point behind that article to my friend. I vaguely remember the summary of the reading.

But when I read a book, I’m immersed in that book. It has 100% of my attention and focus. It sticks with me, and I can recall quickly what the book was trying to convey.

So, how can you and I become smarter when reading articles online?

I came up with these three tips. I’d love to hear if you have any tips or how you deal with reading online.

  1. Only read articles during a particular time of the day

Next week I’ll share with you the app I use to save all my articles to read at a later date in a clean, ad-less format. But for starters, when you see something interesting online DON’T READ IT RIGHT AWAY. Don’t click on it, however tempting it may be. Instead, only commit to reading articles online during a certain period of the day (i.e., an hour after breakfast, a half hour during lunch, after dinner). By doing so, your brain is not skimming and forgetting what you are reading multiple times a day.

  1. Turn off wifi when reading an article online

Once your article fully loads, turn off your wifi or put your computer/phone on “airplane mode.” You’ll still be able to read the entire article, but you won’t be distracted by text messages, annoying sounds, notifications, and even if you are tempted to click on another link/picture, it won’t work when you do so.

  1. For every article you read – reflect for 60 seconds

There are so, so many articles/studies that show the immense benefits of reflecting multiple times a day. After you finish an article, think about that article. Ask questions. Do you agree with the author? Did you learn something new? Does this change your beliefs? Are you more interested in this subject? Was it worth your time? Do you feel smarter after reading? Or dumber?

Think about it. Remember it. And it will stick in your long-term memory so you can recall that information when it’s needed (or when you get the chance to play Jeopardy).

Next week I’ll share with your the app I use to store articles I want to read.

If this article made your dumber, I apologize!!!

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