Easier Way to Collecting Data

I use Microsoft forms and Google forms a lot. A lot. I have to usually collect information from students that I teach or collect customer or contributor information for various projects. It’s not terribly difficult to use either of these products, but sometimes I just wish I could have someone else do it for me.

Jotform is one solution for my tendency to use out-of-the-box solutions.

Other than the benefit that it is free to use, Jotform integrates with many of the apps that I use on a daily basis. Another tool in the belt for freelancer, WFH, contractor, or whatever label you choose to describe yourself. Happy tooling!

Jotform integrations

Using an app, software or useful home office equipment and want to share why you like it? Leave a message with details and we’ll put your idea in the blog queue and spotlight you for sending it. Let’s share ideas!

Get Your Lost (or Stolen) Stuff Back

Thieves don’t like to be caught, and the worst ones usually aren’t. I was traveling in Europe one summer and a thief grabbed the bookbag of one of the students traveling with my group. Nobody saw the thief or heard anything and the bag’s owner (another college student) only put it down “for a second” before it was stolen. The police never recovered his property and he had to buy another bag, some water and tourist maps.

Fortunately, the student did not have anything irreplaceable in his bookbag, but many others have not been as lucky and have lost computers, credit cards, cash and other valuables. Sometimes items are not stolen, but are simply misplaced or lost by the owner. However, thanks to Bluetooth tracking technology, lost no longer means forever.

How it works

Source: How to Geek, Joe Fedewa, September 15, 2021

From the highlighted article above, the tracker lies dormant while they are in proximity to the owner (the mothership) and are activated when they are out of range. Depending on the company, the data about the tracked object is supported by a shared network of mobile phone users who opt in. (Hmnnn, Seems rather public. Wonder what are all the things that could go wrong in this scenario…)

Bluetooth trackers rely on a network of mobile devices,

If you are shopping for a tracker, check out PC Magazine’s reviews of various trackers and reviews by How to Geek. I have been considering buying one of the higher ranked devices but stopped short after I read the mobile app store reviews. It seems that the phone apps are not as reliable as I would like.

Well, I will keep window shopping. In the meantime, send me an email message and let me know how your Bluetooth tracker and app are working for you. Personal reviews are always welcomed. Let’s share ideas!

Big Brother is Watching

Depending on your age and perhaps, the politics of your local school board, the first time you probably read or heard the phrase, “Big brother is watching” was in the book (or the movie!) by George Orwell called 1984.

In the movie, the citizens were being monitored by the government to keep everyone in their place, under control, and contributing to the greater good of society. Ever since #WFH became a hashtag, this phrase has become ever more relevant.

Almost a year ago, I first blogged about companies monitoring their employees working from home. After reading a recent article about the new ways that managers are monitoring their employees and surveillance software privacy issues, I thought it deserved a second look.

I cringe at the thought of an employer watching me during the day as I work, exercise at my desk and eat my snacks—along with seeing the crumbs dropping or liquids staining my shirt. Or, listening to me and my family members talking about private matters not related to work. In this scenario, the home office is no longer a private space.

According to Top10VPN, surveillance software demand has increased by nearly 60%. Given the likelihood that remote office work is here to stay, what are we—some whom have always worked from home—to do if we are concerned with privacy?

Cover the camera with masking (or other) tape

I have always blocked my computer camera, whether my personal computer or a work device. I don’t always look my best when I’m working, from the angry bird faces I make when something goes wrong, to the attire mishaps already mentioned above. The keystroke monitoring software will track my actual input, so I challenge why my face would need to be visible.

Use headphones with a mute button

Wear headphones when talking to colleagues, vendors and customers during work hours. Mute the headset and leave your workspace when you need to go to speak to someone on your cell phone or in your home. Make sure your private conversations are truly private.

Stay on task

Start and “leave” the office at the required times. Schedule your work and your breaks according to employer/client policy. It is important that to provide the service paid for, no question.

Get a different job/gig

If your client/employer does not respect your privacy, then maybe it’s not the right job or gig for you. Stay skilled up and network to find new opportunities. If you are a skilled professional your work will speak for itself and perhaps the logical consequence is that the monitoring will be deemed unnecessary.

Privacy is not given in the new work environment. Make sure you discuss the requirements before you accept a work offer, and get to know the privacy invasion laws in your state. Protect yourself and your information. Your employer certainly is doing the same!

What are you doing to maintain your privacy in this ever blurred work/personal-home lines? Let’s share ideas!

Do you speak Tutnese?

Hashesquatlulo! Wackelulcashomume tuto Tutwacko Tutalulkuck LulPubSus!
“Hello! Welcome to Two Talk LPS!” in Tutnese
Enslaved Black Americans created a coded language called Tutnese

When I was elementary school, I dreaded the Black history lectures, even though they were short. Most of the lectures were limited to slavery and civil rights, and I felt small and insignificant until the topic turned to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Very few of my teachers, many of them African American like me, went further than the short book paragraphs to describe the people behind the word slave, or my preferred term, enslaved Black American.

The history books from K-12 never went into detail about the diaspora of Black Africans turned Black (North, Central, South and Caribbean) Americans who had suffered the worst atrocities imaginable—had also created a language.

Recently there has been some buzz online about a language called Tutnese, or Tut, which is a language created by enslaved Black Americans. It is a language based on phonetical spelling wherein each consonant letter is replaced by a phonetic sound. The language was coded in order to prevent white slavers, oppressors from understanding their communication. The way they structured it also helped them learned to spell, and later read and write—a courageous act that was illegal and often punished by death.

It is a fading language. Very few people speak it because there is no longer a life-or-death need for it. It has not been passed on by all families, perhaps out of the desire to assimilate by only speaking English. This is a phenomenon shared by immigrants who choose not to teach their children the native tongue.

Gloria McIlwain, likely relatively unknown in recent years, is hopefully signing publishing contracts to reissue her text, Tut Language, the only text that I have found on the topic. [8/25/21update: I am unable to determine Gloria McIlwain’s current status or location]. The existence of the Tutnese language helps all of us understand that enslaved Black Americans were highly intelligent people who were denied the rights to the American dream. It supports the importance of Critical Race Theory, which “critiques how the social construction of race and institutionalized racism perpetuate a racial caste system that relegates people of color to the bottom tiers.” It also reminds me that I should never have been ashamed of my ancestors’ plight through the period where it was legal to buy and sell human beings. The shame has never been mine; instead, it belongs to the oppressors—those of yesterday and today.

As we live through what is referred to as the Black Lives Matter era, we recognize that Black Americans are still facing oppression from policing, racism and lack of economic access. I am grateful that there are non-Black Americans who, though they do not share our plight, understand it and are working alongside us as allies. I hear people say that anything done to lift up Black Americans will lift America. I think they are right.

Black Lives Matter protest

Two Talk LPS will begin holding free Tutnese language learning and practice sessions beginning in September 2021. We will practice communicating in the language and also share Black History topics. Interested? Sign up today!

Turn the darn phone off!

I have been working home, long before the Covid-19 pandemic made it a requirement for many office workers. In the past, I struggled with productivity when working on multiple projects. At some point, I realized that mult-tasking was a euphemism and nothing more. I learned to focus on one task at a time for an extended period of time before moving to the next task.

Recently, I have found that my devices (‘tronics) have been more of an interference than productivity tools. However, this week I was extremely productive. I focused on several client projects and also made time for my volunteer translations. I was not ovewhelmed and I checked off everything on my list (well almost).

My secret? Every day, I silenced my mobile phone for the entire day. No news alerts sounding off. No phone calls from robocall central. No text messages with smiling or laughing yellow faces. O-F-F off. The result? Blissful completion of work, including a project with an important deadline.

Set the gadgets aside for focused, productive work.

But I didn’t stop there

It’s not just the phone that is clamoring to to take my attention away. I also get alerts from my PC. So I silenced the desktop alerts, too. No pop-ups for news, notifications about computer health, and no Outlook calendar alerts. I know my schedule. No need to remind me every hour about something I know I have to do.

Say No to Social Media and Other Apps

It’s not part of my daily work so unless I am taking a break, I close the social media apps. To get really extreme, I also close the Internet browsers. I even shut off Slack and Teams, too, unless it is required to be connected to my colleagues. Yes, I do sing the praises of office technology—technolo-gee is why we’re here, right?—but sometimes it just gets in the way.

Check in at Scheduled Times

There is no reason to keep my eyes on the email inbox. No incoming email is so important that a reply sent within a few hours is not acceptable. I schedule breaks into my day to read email. Depending on the day, I also go outside and walk around the yard, hop on the treadmill or bike, and practice my musical instruments (and I could always use more practice!).

Other Necessary Inputs

I am a natural night owl. It is painful for me to go to sleep before 10:30 p.m.—literally, because I will wake up at 3:30 a.m., not be able to fall asleep again. My entire day will be ruined and it can take two or three days to recover. Nevertheless, going to bed at a relatively early time, and sleeping for at least seven or eight hours, is essential to having a productive next day.

Sleep is a key ingredient to productivity.

On the next morning, I start my day with some Bible reading, prayer, light exercise, and breakfast in that order. My morning routine centers me and prepares me for whatever is heading to my desk.

And finally, a little about my desk. My workstation is conducive to focused work. I typically stand when I work but I also have a comfortable chair if I want to sit down and work. I use two monitors and a (mostly) reliable wi-fi connection.

With all these good practices in place, productivity is pretty much guaranteed!

What are your productive working habits? Send them to me in an email and I will update this list. Let’s share ideas!

Zoom keeps things interesting

I bought a new mobile phone a few months ago and yesterday was the first day I watched the “what this phone can do” video. Pretty impressive Motorola phone and I will keep it for at least five years (yes, I do keep my mobile phones that long).

If you are like me (and most people), then you are not using anywhere near 100% of your mobile phone’s capability. Or, for that matter, any of your computer or application capability.

After getting to know my phone a little better, I decided to poke around in my email app and my browser. Then I went to Microsoft Word (always something new there) and before my half day virtual conference, I spent some time checking the profile and general settings in Zoom.

Personalizing the experience

Zoom was probably one of the first applications to customize reactions to allow skin tones. This is an inclusive feature that I appreciate.

Zoom skin tones

But did you know that Zoom does facial grooming too to help you look your best on camera? Okay, well not really but you can use Studio effects to touch up your appearance.

There are shaped eyebrows—in your favorite pencil color—and lipstick in your preferred shade that digitally “glue” on your face. There are also beard and mustache options.

I did not think much of the idea until I tried it. It applied nicely trimmed eyebrows (as long as I did not move my head too quickly) and lipstick that did not end as part of my lunch when it rubbed off while I ate.

Zoom Studio Effects (Beta)

Download the Beta Studio Effects within the Zoom appl. It’s great once in a while to say, “Gee!” Technologee.

Bias in the Machine

Can technology really be racist?

Twitter’s image cropping program that automatically focuses on white faces and ignores black faces

Google labeling Black people as primates

Facial recognition algorithms that misidentify Black images

Bank loan software that penalizes Black and brown credit applicants

Industry accepted terminology such as “black list” and “white list”

Technology can be as biased or as neutral as its designers and leaders.

How can a machine, app or software be racist? Well, look no further than the people who design and build the technology. It is coded into the technology. Racial hiring disparities and exclusionary tendencies in the tech industry magnify bias.

This article puts Google on blast

In June 2020, Google announced that it would be (again) taking steps to increase diversity in its ranks of employees, which at the time consisted of 0.7% Black people. However, rather than embrace the diversity that will improve its products (and consequentially, customer relations), Google leaders have opted to terminate employees who challenge their status quo. A prominent AI researcher, a woman of color, was also fired, in addition to a diversity recruiter. Google also recently settled a $MM lawsuit for gender and Asian discrimination.

So why are things so bad at Google? After, all Amazon posted results of 7.2% Black employees and 9% at Apple.

How many Black engineers does it take to bring change to a team of biased developers?

One might conclude that Google’s leadership is not interested in hiring and cultivating a workforce inclusive of Black people. If true, then they will continue to distribute products that both exclude, and afflict BIPOC.

If Google’s managers are truly making efforts in this area, yet are failing, maybe it is because they have the wrong people working on the problem. The people who created the problem cannot fix it, especially if they are not committed to fixing it. As with any organization that attempts to solve its problems from the inside (think Office of Congressional Ethics, Internal Affairs), Google needs some outside help.

Have you ever met dentists who drill and fill their own teeth? Sarbanes-Oxley requires external auditing for public companies. Similarly, companies like Google need some outside auditors, shareholder demands and public policies that will hold their leaders accountable. Or, perhaps We, the Customers need to start our own commissions and oversight boards to hold them to the task.

Although Google is a major player, and a highly competitive one at that, someone must remind them that they are not the only game in cybertown. I think it should be all of us. But I suppose I will have to close my Gmail account first.

Data Purge: Tech as a Partisan Tool

I first read about voting data purges in 2018. It is an tactic to remove legally registered voters form the polls in efforts to, in theory, clean up records of people who have moved to different addresses. In practice, it prevents infrequent voters from voting and it attempts shape the electorate in order to ensure that those who would vote in favor of other candidates will have a difficult time voting, if they are able to vote at all.

Data purges are led by state officials, in the case of Ohio, the Secretary of State. The reason this administration has given for the undertaking is to remove names of people ineligible to vote. However, given that the process and the data system has had errors—up to 20% in 2019—, it is surprising that officials have continued to commit these actions, which hinder 14th and 15th Amendment rights.

As diverse as we are, American citizens have one thing in common—the right to vote. No elected official should impede that right.

The Columbus Dispatch reported in January 2020 that Ohio’s Secretary of State purged over 460,000 registrations, some in error. Many of those people found out when they got to the polls that they could not vote. At that point, it was too late. In August 2020, a list of over 100,000 soon to be removed registrants was published by the Secretary of State. In January of this year, a list was published of 98,000 additional voters scheduled to be purged. According to one report, registered Democrats were purged at disproportionately higher rates.

Ohio is not the only state where this has or is happening. Wisconsin is among many with elected officials that have taken steps to purge voters. Going further, state elected officials are enacting legislation that places further restrictions on voting freedoms, primarily because of the false narratives of voter fraud promoted by the previous president.

There is > 1 Way to Identify Ineligible Voters

There are many alternatives to deletion from a database. One method would involve a requirement to cross reference the state taxpayer database, and/or the IRS database before purging. Employment and tax address data is accurate and can easily be cross-referenced with SQL queries. But really, leaving voters’ data in place is the best option. With all of the voter ID requirements in place (state issued ID, utility bills, etc.), anyone misrepresenting an address will be caught. It calls into question the true motives.

Fight Back with an Old School Tool: Communication

Anyone who is online, knowledgeable and able to search for registration status will not be harmed by voter purging. The concern is instead for the populations who have no access to newspapers, transportation, computers or Internet, or are not able to view their status for any reason.

All of us in the tech community can help. First, register to vote if you have not done so already. Then, get online to verify that your Secretary of State lists you as an eligible voter, months ahead of any scheduled election. If you’re in Ohio, visit the Ohio SOS site.

While you’re checking your own status, verify the status of any relatives, neighbors and friends. Call them, or visit them if safe, and let them know you are checking for them. Teach them how to check for themselves.

If you are looking for a way to flex your tech muscles, volunteer! Check in with the local League of Women Voters, MoveOn.org and other voting advocacy groups to attend meetings or volunteer. Every bit of support will help. Let’s share ideas!

This post is political in nature and I normally do not wax political. However, the fact that elected officials have committed to data projects like this is disturbing. On a personal level, I will look to vote for candidates who work in everyone’s best interests, and who demonstrate that they want every eligible citizen voting age to be able to vote. The current officials have proven to me that every vote does indeed count—and they don’t seem to want it to.

Don’t help the scammers!

Have you ever received a collections call about a credit card that you have never used? Have you received a court order for an unpaid loan for a car that you have never driven? Or, has your bank contacted you about purchases you did not make?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, then chances are you have been a victim of identity theft. And, if you have, you might wonder how it happened. Those who are posting TMI (too much information) online should not be surprised when it happens.

A recent phenomenon that follows years of social media addiction is the posting of Covid-19 vaccine cards on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram. According to the Better Business Bureau and the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP), posting images of vaccine cards online is an invitation for ID theft crime.

The vaccine cards contain information that by itself, may not provide a complete data file. However, your full name, date of birth, can be combined with your current and former home addresses, family member names, current and prior employers, and your school and college—all readily available in an internet search—to create a full data file.

If you have been fortunate enough to have gotten an early vaccine dose, keep it confidential.

The vaccine card is not a badge of honor; it is personal health data that falls under the United States HIPAA laws and should be treated as confidential. Don’t give away your data (no regales a los estafadores tus datos)!

What have you seen family or friends reveal on the Internet and how do you discourage this behavior? Let’s share ideas!

Social Media Market Take-down

If you don’t already know about the furor over the gang of day traders at Reddit, then you have been asleep since the capitol riot.

I think VOX explained it best:

An army of traders on the Reddit forum r/WallStreetBets helped drive a meteoric rise in GameStop’s stock price in recent days, forcing halts in trading and causing a major headache for the short sellers betting against it and banking on the stock falling. It’s a captivating David vs. Goliath story, where David — at least on some fronts — appears to be winning.

So using social media technology, thousands of day traders took over for a few days, making purchasing and logging their activity on Reddit, shaking up the markets and forcing the hand of experienced investors and firms.

They selected a few undervalued stocks and “pumped” them up 200% or more percent. As a long-term investor it was unnerving and I reacted uncharacteristically to what was viewed as an attack on the market.

For one, I had purchased AMC at $2.00 several weeks ago, with the goal of watching it gradually rise. When the price rose to $21, then dropped, I reacted to the unexpected volatility and sold my shares. I actually felt violated because that was not my plan at all.

At the same time, I am intrigued by this class of investors, their solidarity and ability to influence financial markets. For just over six weeks, I have been trying my hand at day trading. For whatever reason, I have been unsuccessful at getting translation and training contracts so day trading was the next easiest thing (full transparency: my daily profit equates to wages of a typical day job).

Since the uproar, I have joined Reddit and am active on the WallStreetBets page. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

How did this latest technology event affect your day/week? Let’s share ideas!