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Pillar is the blockchain built for average folks, not ultra tech nerds

(TECH NEWS) Pillar is a next-level blockchain wallet that will help you keep your digital life in order without the hindrance of having to rely on someone else.

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New and exciting

I’m excited today. In tech, you only get to say the following phrase so often and really mean it. This is new.

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Meet Pillar, which aims to be an equal and opposite option to the present digital trends at work in finance, security and the distribution of economic power.

Use it, don’t own it

If you’re an entrepreneur, a businessperson, a power user of any kind of technology – really, if you’ve interacted with currency and/or tech in the past ten years – you know the prevailing paradigm is “X as as service.”

Everything from public transport to Peggle has been reimagined as something you use rather than something you have.

The resources necessary to functioning in society belong to someone else and are implemented by millions of someone elses, a workforce of service professionals often employed on a contract rather than traditional salary or wage-benefit basis. Them’s the breaks in This Modern World. Ownership is so 20th century.

Pillar says otherwise.

World changer

We’ve talked about blockchain at American Genius. Here’s how it could be a huge deal for tech security. Here’s a great primer on what, you know, it even is. The short version is that a blockchain is a secure, anonymous way to buy goods and services, built on high-end cryptography and the basis that nobody ever has all the information, all the time. Bitcoin’s the one you’ve most likely heard about, but there are all kinds of others.

Pillar would be another, “cryptocurrency” to use the (silly) word, but with a vital addition: it’s actually built to do something.

Bitcoin and its kindred represent a new transaction paradigm, an approach to buying and selling that removes public and private middlemen of all kinds. That’s a big deal by itself – in theory. In practice Bitcoin and its kindred have stayed curiosities. They haven’t put an offer in the world that appeals to anyone outside a core community of early adopters and various fringes. I say it with love: it’s hipster money. By comparison, Pillar claims, direct quote, to be “a world changer.”

It could be.

Pillar as a pillar

Unlike Bitcoin and friends, Pillar isn’t just a blockchain-based currency. It’s an implementation of blockchain-based currency, a means of making it do things that actual people need their money to do. The titular Pillar is a core of information available only to you, accessible through an AI assistant with access to various carefully demarcated parts of it for the services you use it to pay for. It’s a blockchain wallet.

To paraphrase our primer, at present blockchain appeals primarily to people who need or want their transactions to be private.

Frankly, that was a reasonable concern when the biggest security holes in the modern money system were credit card numbers and talkative bank tellers.

As more services are digitized, things get less secure. Honestly, now: how many of you out there use the same password for more than one thing? I do, and I literally do this for a living.

Blockchain security

How many of you trust important data to a service that may or may not exist in ten years? I’ve got a half-terabyte of stuff on someone else’s cloud server and 175 games on Steam. Either one goes belly up, and all that information wafts away like a summer breeze, along with the not inconsiderable amount of money I spent on it.

How many of you centralize with one service for convenience, in spite of what seem like weekly breaches, leaks and hacks?

I swear to Insert Deity Here, right now I am writing this on a Chromebook, in Google Docs, with one eye on a big file I’m uploading to Drive.

Not to be alarmist, but the plain fact is, that’s information you don’t control. It lives with somebody else, and by accident or malice something untoward could go down. It’s the downside of the digitized world: only big companies own the infrastructure to implement day to day services like transactions and identity protection.

Pillar and its $50 million ICO (that’s Initial Coin Offering, since obviously they’ll be taking investments in blockchain currencies) intend to see that changed.

It’s the first serious effort I know of to implement blockchain as a consumer proposition, offering blockchain security with the tools necessary for an ordinary person to actually use the functionality blockchain provides.

Pillar’s paradigm is the opposite of how things are done right now. More often than not, that means it’s nonsense, a geek pipe dream that will never hit the big wide world.

New, but not

But blockchain is already hitting the big wide world. Pillar’s offer, in essence a take on Bitcoin and other blockchain-based currencies that work for the average consumer and have a reason for existence other than Sticking It To The Man™, might well be enough to make it the next step forward in the digital marketplace, “like Uber, but for shifting beyond the Uber paradigm to owning your own dang stuff again.”

That could be a thing.

#Pillar

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.

Tech News

Tired of transcribing screenshots? Put this Chrome extension to work

(TECH NEWS) This new Chrome extension takes out the tedium of transcribing all your necessary screenshots into your writing and does it for you.

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Logo for Docsumo, a transcribing Google Chrome extension

My favorite part of being a writer is getting to interview people from various walks of life. My least favorite part of being a writer is transcribing those interviews.

Slightly easier, but still annoying, is transcribing information from a screenshot, photo file or PDF. Sometimes you have to get this information in a rush and retyping all of it slows you down.

Docsumo is making that process into a breeze. The tool allows for users to grab text from a screenshot for easy copy and paste.

So how does it work? First, it has to be downloaded as a Google Chrome extension. Once it’s part of the browser’s extension, it can be put to work.

A video on Docsumo’s website demonstrates the easy transcribing process. The developer does a Google image search for a shipping label as they need to quickly copy and paste an address. When the necessary label pops up, they click the Docsumo tool that allows them to drag and select the part of the label they want to transcribe (the movement of the mouse is similar to taking a screenshot on a Mac computer).

Then, the text that they’ve highlighted is transcribed into a box where it can be copied and pasted. Simple!

In addition to copy and paste, users can extract, edit, and share data. After that, all of the related information is removed from Docsumo’s server. Examples of when this tool is useful include: Invoices, bank statements, insurance documents, bills, and tax forms.

The tool is made possible through Optimal Character Recognition (OCR) which, according to Ducsumo’s developers, is something that comes in handy in many situations.

“Organizations often receive crucial information and data in image form of documents. These images can be a photo of a document, scanned document, a scene-photo, or subtitle text superimposed on an image. The real challenge for the operation team is to be able to extract information and data from these photos. It can take hours to manually pull out this data and assemble it in a structured way for record-keeping and processing. This process is hugely error-prone too.

OCR technology comes to rescue in this situation.

Optical character recognition or optical character reader (OCR) is the electronic or mechanical conversion of images of typed, handwritten or printed text into machine-encoded text. This technology is suitable for photos of text-heavy documents and printed paper data records such as passports, invoices, bank statements, receipts, business cards, and identity verification documents. OCR technology is the way of digitizing printed texts so that they can be electronically edited, searched, and stored more compactly.”

In a world where pen-to-paper has slowly been fading away, Docsumo is here to give it another push further away.

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Tech News

Scoring productivity: Is this Microsoft tool creepy or helpful?

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft launched a new tool that helps monitor user data, but it’s not a work monitoring tool – it’s trying to judge productivity.

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Black and white data screens monitoring productivity.

Just recently into the work from home movement, Microsoft launched their new tool, “Productivity Score”. According to Microsoft, this tool helps organizations understand how well they are functioning, how technology affects their productivity, and how they can get the most out of their Microsoft 365 purchase.

But to do all of this, the tool will keep track of how each employee is using Microsoft products. For instance, the tool will monitor how often video or screen sharing is enabled during meetings by employees.

It will keep a metric of how employees are communicating. It will show if employees are sending out emails through Outlook, sending out messages through Teams, or posting on Yammer. It will also keep track of which Microsoft tools are being used more and on which platforms.

So, Microsoft’s new tool is a scary work surveillance tool, right? According to Microsoft, it isn’t. In a blog post, Microsoft 365’s corporate Vice President Jared Spataro said, “Productivity Score is not a work monitoring tool. Productivity Score is about discovering new ways of working, providing your people with great collaboration, and technology experiences.”

Spataro says the tool “focuses on actionable insights” so people and teams can use Office 365 tools to be more productive, collaborative, and help make work improvements. And, while this all sounds good, privacy advocates aren’t too thrilled about this.

Microsoft says it is “committed to privacy as a fundamental element of Productivity Score.” To maintain privacy and trust, the tool does aggregate user data over a 28-day period. And, there are controls to anonymize user information, or completely remove it. However, by default individual-level monitoring is always on, and only admins can make any of these changes. Employees can’t do anything about securing their privacy.

So, user data privacy is still a large issue on the table, but privacy advocates can breathe a sigh of relief. Yesterday, they got a response from Microsoft they can smile about. In another blog post, Spataro responded to the controversy. “No one in the organization will be able to use Productivity Score to access data about how an individual user is using apps and services in Microsoft 365,” he said.

Although Productivity Score will still aggregate data over a 28-day period, it will not do so from an individual employee level. It will do it from an organizational one as a whole. Also, the company is making it clearer that the tool is a “measure of organizational adoption of technology—and not individual user behavior.”

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Don’t want FB getting access to your texts? Try out Signal instead

(TECH NEWS) Elon Musk tells Twitter followers to “Use Signal” after WhatsApp announces new Facebook data-sharing policy.

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Signal app product display on two mockup phones, set on a blue background.

With just a two-word tweet, Elon Musk popularized messaging app, Signal at the beginning of this year. “Use Signal,” the tech mogul tweeted on January 7. Musk urged his followers to start using Signal because of WhatsApp’s updated privacy policy announcement, which raised concerns among people.

On January 6, WhatsApp users received an in-app alert informing them about the company’s updated data-sharing policy. The message asked users to accept the new terms and conditions where they gave WhatsApp consent to share their information with Facebook. The updated policy would be effective starting on February 8, and users who didn’t agree to the changes would no longer be able to use the app.

WhatsApp’s new privacy policy reads, “As part of the Facebook family of companies, WhatsApp receives information from, and shares information with, this family of companies. We may use the information we receive from them, and they may use the information we share with them, to help operate, provide, improve, understand, customize, support, and market our Services and their offerings.”

The policy verbiage is concerning, but this isn’t the first time WhatsApp has shared some sort of data with Facebook. The company has been sharing data with Facebook since 2016. Back then, the companies announced sharing data would help “improve your Facebook ads and products experiences.”

But, Facebook’s data privacy practices are ones that have been controversial over the years and don’t garner much trust. Musk is recommending people to start using Signal because it offers two key things.

The app offers end-to-end encryption on ALL messages. It protects all text, video, audio, and photo messages, which can only be read by the sender and recipient. If a message is intercepted by anyone else, all they will get is gibberish.

Also, other than your phone number, the free app does not store or collect any other user data. The company is a nonprofit and relies on grants and donations to support development. It isn’t owned by any tech companies and doesn’t have any ads.

“The smallest of events helped trigger the largest of outcomes,” the app’s Executive chairman Brian Acton said in an interview with TechCrunch. “We’re also excited that we are having conversations about online privacy and digital safety and people are turning to Signal as the answer to those questions.”

In a Tweet, the company posted screenshots of app installs jumping from 10 million to 50 million. With Musk’s tweet skyrocketing Signal’s downloads, Acton does have a very good reason to be “excited”.

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