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Tech Savvy: Spooky Safety

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TECH SAVVY Technology giving us a fright during haunting season

Scary good technology

BY JESSI PIERCE

I should preface this by stating that while I wouldn’t necessarily say that Halloween is my favorite holiday (the pressure of what costume to be gets me everytime) I will admit that I love being scared. The adrenaline rushing, heart-pumping thrill of going to a haunted house or scary movie, not knowing what’s going to pop out or be around the next corner invigorates me. And as technology continues to advance so does the way people can give those bone chilling frights.

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So put away the sheets and move over that plastic skeleton, there are some new gadgets in town that are sure to add extra screams to any haunted platform.

• Night Frights’ Scary Mary Mirror (starts at $1,699.99) is by far my favorite. Who has never gone into the bathroom and said the cursed chant of “Bloody Mary” terrified that something might actually show up. Now with this mirror, it actually does. The mirror uses a hidden LCD screen that plays back a number of creepy faces, that will change the reflection of the person looking into. It could be a zombie woman, killer clown or screaming ghost and you can bet it will leave your guests terrified. Of course the cost can be just as scary as the actual mirror itself but if you have some extra cash on hand and want to put it into your night of fright, I think it’s worth the investment.

• A much more affordable option is Uncle Milton’s Radio Control Tarantula. The extremely lifelike gadget (it gives me chills just looking at it) is controlled via a R/C controller that the owner can operate. For $17.45, you’re bound to get some people moving away from the candy bowl with this guy creepy crawling around.

• Another great way to scare those brave enough to knock on your door is the Corpse Door Knocker ($12.99). A motion sensor activates the severed hand while grunting “let me in.” All that is needed to operate this tech device are 3 AA batteries. Simple, yes. But equally chilling, absolutely.

There are plenty more spendy options out there, but these are just a few of the fun ones we came across in our hunt.

Happy Halloween and safe trick-or-treating!

JESSI PIERCE, Staff Writer, may be reached at 855-5859 or at jessi.pierce@brainerddispatch.com. Follow her on Twitter at www.twitter.com/jessi_pierce (@jessi_pierce).

Spooky Safety

By PHIL SEIBEL

As a father of three kids, safety has become one of those things that comes second nature. It seems that for everything that they can do, or participate in, there is some unseen “parent” danger. You know, Parent Danger, the kind of peril that you only notices after you’ve become a parent. Halloween is certainly no exception.

While every parent worries about sugar overload, sharing with siblings and preventing them from eating their “stash” all in one night, there are some real concerns to consider. Stranger danger, tainted sweets, traffic, and just keeping track of your little ghosties can present very challenging hurdles for parents.

Here are some tips and tech to help you from losing your mind (to zombies presumably) this Halloween.

Visibility. Whether you’re navigating street corners or trying to distinguish your kid from the other 20 pumpkin costumes, they will not only need to be able to see but be able to be seen. Costumes have come a long way in ensuring that the wearer has a full field of unhindered view but it doesn’t hurt to give your costume mask a once over and make sure that your child will be able to see clearly out of it. Having a clear line of sight will help your child avoid not only traffic but also anything in their walking path they might trip over. Don’t forget, too, that visibility is a two way street — other people need to be able to see your costumed offspring so they don’t bump into them or run over them. Of course there is the old standby of Duct Tape, and even to a tech guy Duct Tape is often the solution to anything (I am still a guy). However, new battery and lighting tech now offers us actual lit solutions. There are myriad choices for LED clip on lights, glow sticks or other options that will last an entire night of treating now and many that are designed to compliment your costumes. Whichever option you choose, make sure visibility is a part of your Halloween plan this year.

Location, Location, Location. Know where you are and where you are going. Seems simple enough but start driving around in the dark and you’ll find in a hurry that you may not recognize your surroundings. That neighborhood across town that you know like the back of your hand during the day suddenly becomes the Land of Oz. So, what do you do? One option is to map our your route, whether you have a four hour tour de force of treat gathering or if you’re just hitting up your co-workers and friends, knowing where you will be is always a good idea. You can also share this with your spouse or family so in case there is an emergency they will know where you are and how to get a hold of you. You can use mapping sites or apps to track your progress and make sure you have your cellphone with you in case you have car trouble or become lost. All smartphones (Android and iOS) have GPS capabilities that are directly linked to mapping programs and can help you identify where you are. Of course, given the hype around Apple Maps, you may want to take your location on that with a grain of salt.

Take a Picture. This is something really simple that you can do that may make the difference between having a regular, fun-filled Halloween and having a terrible night. Before you head out treating, use your phone to take a picture of your kids in their costume. That way, in a worst case scenario, if they do go missing you will have a current picture of them and in a costume that can help identify them. If they have a mask, make sure to take a picture with it off so you can see their face! Take the picture close enough that you can see facial details and any other information that will help people identify your child — eye color, hair, etc. The great thing about this technique is that you can always delete the picture later if you need to free up space on your phone. And c’mon, who doesn’t want a cute picture of their kid in their costume? Another Tech Tip, use this trick anytime you go somewhere public — the waterpark, beach, mall, zoo — you may never need to use it but if you do you’ll be glad you prepared.

Panic Button. What about your tweeners or young adults? Eventually your kids will grow up and will want to do these things on their own and you might not be able to be with them all the time. So, how can you help them stay safe if you can’t be there with them? There is a growing number of apps directed at children, young women and people participating in activities on their own (like jogging) that act as a “panic button” to summon help if they run into trouble. Trick or Tracker (Android, $4.99) is an app that is basically “a where are they now” app. It needs to be installed on the parent’s phone and the kid’s phone, but when it is each can find each other with the touch of a button. The parent can also set up the app to have regular updates based on their child’s phone GPS and sent on their location. It also comes with a couple of neat add-ons, one of which is called Guards Up. What this add-on does is allow you to set a geo-fence, that if that phone leaves that area, you are sent a message. If your kids are going to a certain neighborhood, or a party, you can set the parameters and be notified if they leave that area and you can contact them and confirm that it’s OK.

Another app, that is geared a little more towards adults is called OnWatch (Android and iOS, free and paid versions) which is also an emergency notification app. This app lets your store emergency contact information into the app and then use it different ways to ensure your safety. The two basic ways that you can use the app is either interval check in or panic mode. With Interval check in, you set up regular intervals that you need to confirm your well being (by pushing a confirm button) and if you don’t a pre-recorded help message is sent as a customized message with a GPS pin on your location at that time. This is useful for joggers, people on a blind date or any time that you may be concerned about your safety. The other method, panic button, is just that. Imagine this — as you’re leaving your Halloween party you notice that you’ve managed to park at the back of the dimly lit parking lot and you’re not sure if you will make it safely. Odds are you’ll be OK, but why take the risk if you don’t have to? So, you pull out the OnWatch app and bring up the panic mode where you literally have your finger on a button and if you push it the customized message is sent out or it can dial 911 directly.

Halloween is a really fun time of the year and who doesn’t like getting a pillowcase full of Kit Kats? But that doesn’t mean you can let your guard down. Stay safe this Halloween, and be a little techy while you’re at it.

PHIL SEIBEL, Digital Manager, may be reached at 855-5862 or phil.seibel@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pseibel(@pseibel).

In Case You Missed It

Mini Me

Apple announced that iPad Minis are available for pre-order! The 7.9-inch devices will feature the same resolution as the full version and there is already buzz about all the new accessories. Note — they will also be using the new Lightning connector that the iPhone 5 uses. I actually saw one enthusiastic fan saying they were ordering an iPad Mini just for the extra power cable for their iPhone 5 (facepalm). I hope they were just kidding.

8 Times the fun

Windows released information that their new Windows 8 OS is out as well, initial reviews have claimed that it is the best OS of the decade but others have said it’s a confusing mess not to be given second thought. I’d love to hear your opinion on it if you get a Windows 8 machine.

Your Robot Overlords are coming….

Check out this video showing how robots can be programmed to communicate each other with basic AI: http://youtu.be/i3ernrkZ91E they are provided with a process to complete basic tasks based using solutions.

IMHO

By PHIL SEIBEL

I just saw an article about how kids that have typically been trending towards an alarmingly sedentary lifestyle are being “saved” by the iPad because it promotes interactivity rather than just using TV as a babysitter. It goes on to say how the mentally stimulating activities that are available (music apps, reading apps, etc) give kids more opportunity to learn rather than just sit. While I wholeheartedly agree that the interactive experiences kids can have nowadays is getting better each day and that we have the opportunity to teach our children more using these resources, get outside. Put down the tablet, turn off your TV and go outside and play. Enjoy some family time outside of Words with Friends. Instead of flinging Angry Birds, throw some snowballs. Instead of teaching your kids piano on a virtual keyboard, take them to a symphony. My point is, use technology to enhance your education and lifestyle, not to replace it.

PHIL SEIBEL, Digital Manager, may be reached at 855-5862 or phil.seibel@brainerddispatch.com. Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/pseibel(@pseibel).

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Phil Seibel
I've been in the Brainerd Lakes Area for the last 6 years, currently in Baxter with my wife and two little girls. We really enjoy all the activities and places to see in the Lakes area and particularly enjoy going to the beach and walking out at the Arboretum. I grew up in western MN and went to school at the University of MN, Crookston.
(218) 855-5862
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