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Google will show you how busy a store is in real time before you go

(TECH NEWS) This is a fantastic value add for Google services in general, and a straight-up blessing from your deity of choice for the holidays.

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Avoid the crowd

In their ongoing and so far successful effort to involve themselves in a pleasant, helpful fashion in every single activity of your digitally-enabled day, Google has added a new feature called Popular Times to Search and Maps.

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What does it do?

Popular Times does precisely what it says on the nonexistent box: tell you how busy a given place is likely to be at any time of day. And any day of the week. Oh, and if you’re curious about a place that provides multiple services with different time frames, say how long the pharmacy stays open at your favorite grocery, or when the kitchen closes at the gastropub down the street but you can still grab a pint? Got you covered on that, too.

Not enough? OK, Popular Times says, rolling up its sleeves. It also runs service metrics to help you plan your visit. My local Kroger? “People typically spend 20 mins here,” I am helpfully informed. Dinner at my favorite Mexican joint tonight? Not a bad idea. Looks like they’re pretty chill on Wednesdays – they get their peak crowds Sunday afternoon. Turns out my neighborhood is big on post-church fajitas. Who knew?

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Perfect timing

But I tease because I love. Popular Times is a fantastic value add for Google services in general, and a straight-up blessing from your deity of choice for the holidays. I know you don’t need to Google anything to know Black Friday morning at Walmart or Target will be a nightmare consumer mosh pit that will have you seriously reconsidering the merits of Communism before you make checkout.

But what about Saturday, or Tuesday afternoon? When is it worth spending your lunch at your favorite big-box instead of Chipotle, getting a month’s worth of shopping done in half an hour because this is when the lines aren’t?

Three cheers for Google

As is their wont, Google’s got you covered. They may or may not be taking over the world in the process, but for real, if it means never again having to stand in line long enough to get three stars in an Angry Birds level – I have three stars in every Angry Birds level, no one over eight should have three stars in every Angry Birds level, that’s how much I hate standing in line – I’m up for the Googleocracy.

#GooglePopularTimes

Matt Salter is a writer and former fundraising and communications officer for nonprofit organizations, including Volunteers of America and PICO National Network. He’s excited to put his knowledge of fundraising, marketing, and all things digital to work for your reading enjoyment. When not writing about himself in the third person, Matt enjoys horror movies and tabletop gaming, and can usually be found somewhere in the DFW Metroplex with WiFi and a good all-day breakfast.

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Taskiness is the note taking app for those who ditched the last one

(TECH NEWS) We all love trying new note-taking apps but for some of us we just end up reverting to to old habits. Taskiness is here to change your habits and keep it that way.

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In the great realm of to-do apps, there are lots to choose from: heck, I’ve even made a hobby to write about them – but what makes them so popular is that people have a hard time adapting to a system. With so many solutions, there are so many to try!

Startup, Taskiness, hopes to solve that by being the first note taking system that uses natural language processing – where you take notes and it then it pulls tasks out.

Over 1300 people have already signed up, and Taskiness hopes to keep all those people off the to-do list app rotation and give them a more permanent solution. Feature wise, Tackiness is fundamentally made of two components:

Notes – the “place for the thoughts” where you take notations and comments.

Taskiness boasts four key benefits to this functionality, which basically looks like a standard notepad:

– You can organize the notes how you want (much like you can on a pad of paper) rather than being forced to work in the confines of the app.
– Easy input – as easy as writing into old school MS notepad – so no field form entry, no awkward forms/templates
– “Natural language” – basically, this is the largest feature of the app, it recognizes how you write to pull tasks from notes and to better utilize your note taking. This is especially important as it helps with the natural feel of the app.
– Synchronization across all platforms – which is a must feature and you should never use an app that doesn’t have cloud functionality – this isn’t 2004.

Tasks – the place for “action” where your to-do list is extracted from your notes. Most of us some kind of to-do list, and Taskiness hopes to keep you hooked by emphasizing:

– Focus – where it highlights tasks that are relevant to you immediately (as to avoid getting bogged down by the list).
– Snooze – where you can use those alarm clock skills you’ve been developing since junior high to snooze tasks and avoid your to-do list from becoming an inventory list of things never to be finished.
– Rich text – that uses that natural language to pull deadlines and priorities and “much more” – this is perhaps the advantage of the app. This keeps you from having to spend time organizing your to-do list so it becomes more of a passive partner than just another thing to do.

Taskiness currently has a backlog for registration, and is most likely not going to be free – but it looks like a promising app. It was recognized by Betalist as one of the most popular startups of October – and both it and fellow Medium call out “Iris” look like a promising to do solution.

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Five inexpensive VPNs to keep you all sorts of secure

(TECH NEWS) If you work on public internet or are just looking to beef up your internet security VPNs could be your answer. Here are five worth looking into.

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We must speak, as we so often do, of l33t h4x0rz.

Let’s get blunt. We have reached the point in the evolution of technology where access to your personal data is equivalent to access to everything you own. Data security breach, which involves fewer twentysomethings with improbable hair and more Russian state actors than 90s movies led me to believe, can be the end of a business, especially a small one.

Frustratingly, the mainstream market hasn’t really produced perfect solutions for that. At present, you really have two options.

Option one, you roll with AppleFacebookGoogleSoft. Different companies, same model: hand your data to a giant organization with an affirmative interest in keeping it confidential. That can work! It can also, y’know, not. A lot.

Option two, full infogeek. Pull together All The Information and put it behind tight security you control. We’re big fans of this. On the other hand, we’re geeks. Doing this successfully requires knowledge, specialty tools and changes in behavior that may not be practical for you.

Ain’t exactly optimal, those options. So for the love of the white hat, what’s to do? Where’s the middle ground between “put it in a big sack and hand it to HugeCorpCo” and “lock every 0 and 1 in a painstakingly handcrafted box?”

Meet your friend, the VPN. Virtual private networks aren’t just the irritating things you have to sign into before another constructive day on the cube farm. For any entrepreneur or freelancer who isn’t into a rad Linux solution, a VPN is a straight-up necessity. They’re how you Internet without people keeping logs (your ISP does), tracking your activity (everybody does), or carrying off your innocent data to the dark web or the Kremlin.

Better yet? There are lots of good ones that are inexpensive, reliable, and only a Google away. Here’s 5. Unranked, because every VPN is a beautiful snowflake.

IPVanish wins at efficiency. They own 100 percent of their resources, rather than outsourcing any work to third parties. That means high speed and optimal security, since their commitment to keeping zero information on their clients can’t be undercut by nosy contractors.

NordVPN has tech wizardry going for it, with double encryption and even an optional kill switch that automatically disconnects you from the Internet if anything goes amiss with the VPN. Nord also wins at most devices per subscription, and will happily wrap up to 6 of your robots in the warm embrace of infosec.

Private Internet Access, in addition to winning the Most Straightforwardly Named Product Ever award I just made up, is great for power users, with unlimited bandwidth and a subscription allowing up to 5 devices. It’s also super simple, designed to run in the background while you go about your digital day, so for folks who aren’t looking for bundled apps or a shiny interface, this is your guy.

PureVPN gets compatibility cred, since it’s usable across Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, Windows and even provides proxy workarounds for Chrome and Firefox. It also has a frankly enormous server network, which is good news for speed freaks.

TunnelBear, in addition to being adorable, is extremely user friendly. It’s kind of the anti-PIA, with a rich interface and lots of shiny features. Those features include neat security tricks like Intellibear, allowing users to selectively VPN into particular sites, and Vigilant Mode, which makes like Nord and blocks Internet traffic in case of outages.

Snowflake jokes aside, the list really isn’t ranked, and for reason. Your VPN will be your gateway to the Internet. What works for you is totally contingent on what you do and what you need. There are only two definitive rules.

One, never free. A free trial is fine. “Free VPN” is online shorthand for “place all your information in this bucket, which I will then steal, seal and sell to the Internet’s many, many buyers of evil buckets of data.”

Two, it’s a numbers game. There are countless choices for VPNs on the market. The entries on our list offer substantially similar services to dozens of others. What makes our 5 special?

Twelve bucks. The maximum cost of each of the 5 VPNs above is less than twelve dollars per month. Most cost less: spring for a subscription and you can get the average cost down to 2 or 3 dollars monthly. But month to month, no obligation, even the most expensive entry on the list – that’s a tie between NordVPN and PureVPN – costs you less than twelve dollars a month.

Beat that for peace of mind.

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Disruption vs destruction and AI’s use of both

(TECH NEWS) Contrary to popular belief, Google Cloud’s chief scientist believes that the addition of AI and robots in the workplace won’t have the effect everyone believes.

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Is AI really the job destroyer it has been pegged to be? Perhaps, but maybe that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.

At Startup Grind Global Conference, Google Cloud’s chief AI scientist, Dr. Fei-Fei Li, discussed artificial intelligence as part of a keynote chat. Naturally the discussion of AI as a job destroyer came up, and she shared some of her thoughts based on her experience with the AI world.

In doing so, she makes a strong counterargument to the notion that artificial intelligence will permanently cripple the job market due to decreased demand for human labor.

She starts by pointing out that automation technology can create new jobs in certain cases. For example, she notes that after ATMs were implemented at banks, the number of teller jobs increased.

The reason for this, according to Dr. Li, is that “humans have a tendency to create more, different jobs, to make the service better, to make the product better, to reach deeper into the needs of consumers.”

To use bank tellers as an example she points out their focus on “higher-level” tasks; instead of processing checks, they can turn their attention to creative problem solving and challenges that require empathy and social awareness to overcome.

To follow up on that, Dr. Li uses this rational to challenge the notion that the job market is a zero-sum game. Instead, she says AI will grow the size of the proverbial pie, and that the challenge is to understand where it grows to point people in the direction of their slice.

Still, she does acknowledge that for this to happen, democratization of AI technology is essential. She opens her remarks by noting that her goal in working with Google Cloud was to contribute to that democracy of AI. The cloud, “is one of the biggest computer systems mankind has ever built,” to the point where more and more people can access it.

By creating this level of commonplace access, and by encouraging people to utilize these opportunities, the world can make a significant difference in how to assimilate AI without alienating people from the workforce.

Based on these remarks, Dr. Li touches on a common thread that will determine how AI will impact human society and jobs, and that thread is empathy. Through democratization, education and a focus on valuing the human elements of work, AI’s disruption doesn’t have to be destructive.

This story was first published in October of 2017.

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