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This week, a look at the new range extender from TP-Link, and new research indicates that kids benefit from learning to print and write cursive. But first, it’s time to forget everything you were led to believe about creating strong passwords.

Guy who created all those password rules apologizes, admits they are no good

You can forget all those password rules that have been drilled into your brain.

Mixing up upper and lower case letters, using numbers and symbols and making the arrangement of the characters random is, it turns out, a waste of time.

The guy who came up with those requirements, Bill Burr, told the Wall Street Journal, “Much of what I did I now regret.”

It turns out that those rules made it so difficult for people that most of us have not really followed them, which has made things easier for the hackers.

The new standards eschew mixed-up, random characters for long, easy to remember phrases.

In Burr’s defence, there wasn’t much research on the vulnerability of passwords when he came up with his document back in 2003.

Since then there have been dozens of data breaches and millions of passwords have been leaked, which has provided insight into the passwords that people use.

Not to mention the basic math behind it all clearly demonstrates that phrases of words are harder for computers to crack than are passwords made up of mixed up characters.

This idea was captured six years ago by Randall Munroe in his online comic xkcd.com.

All we need to do now is get all the companies out there to change their password rules. How long do you think that’s going to take?

TP-Link top notch range extender boosts wireless networking performance in larger homes

I’ve been using a TP-Link router since last fall. The Archer C3150 supports multiple users and automatically switches to the band that is ideal for the device connecting to it.

My home WiFi has gotten even better in the past couple of weeks because I’ve augmented the C3150 with the TP-Link AC2600 RE650 range extender.

The device plugs into a power outlet a couple of rooms away from my router. The extender actually helped me find the best place to put it with a built-in signal light.

Not only does the RE650 boost the range of my WiFi, but it also give me an ethernet port that I can plug other devices into, which gives a more robust connection that just wireless alone.

And I can select specific devices on my network that I want to prioritize, and the RE650 will send a specific signal to that device with what TP-Link calls “beamforming technology”.

TP-Link home networking devices are great because they perform well and are priced cheaper than those from other manufacturers.

And they are more available because Walmart Canada has started stocking the devices. The AC1900 dual-band gigabit router from the company is only $130 at Walmart, and the RE450 AC1750 range extender, a slightly less powerful device than the RE650 I’ve been using, is $120.

Why kids need to learn handwriting, too

Occupational therapists and child development specialists have found a link between infant crawling and the ability of older children to print and write. It turns out that there’s good reason for kids to continue learning how to communicate with pen(cil) and paper.

Research being conducted in Seattle at the University of Washington, and referenced in the Washington Post and Quartz, indicates that kids communicate faster, using more words and more ideas, when printing or using cursive when compared to keyboarding.

It seems as though writing engages our brains differently and is related to better information retention.

Not to mention being able to sign a legal document.

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This week, all you need to know about the upcoming solar eclipse. But first, a look at Lego’s new Boost building kit and the Cozmo robot companion.

Lego Boost is a great way to help kids have fun building while learning some basic coding

Last week I wrote about a new product, Lego Boost.

It’s a building kit that comes with 847 bricks that can be turned into one of five pre-designed models, which can then be programmed to interact with the builder and its environment.

Developed for 7 to 12 year olds, it’s a great, fun way for anyone to learn the basics of programming, which I believe is an essential skill for the future.

Cozmo is a programmable robot with personality

If your kids are into robots, check out Cozmo. It’s a small device that looks kind of like a bulldozer, but it’s designed with sophisticated artificial intelligence, so it can learn the environment to better navigate. Cozmo even learns to recognize familiar people.

Equipped with a screen to communicate, Cozmo has about a thousand animations that it can use to respond, to you and to situations it confronts. It is through these reactions, and the corresponding vocal responses, that Cozmo is able to show its personality. It it really does have a personality.

The robot comes from Anki, a company started by three graduates from Carnegie Melon’s Robotics Institute. While Cozmo can operate on its own, you can also control it. You can explore the world through it, using a tablet to operate it and see what it sees. And you can also program it with Code Lab, which is based on the Scratch coding language develped at the MIT Media Lab, which uses simple blocks to enable powerful programming.

Cozmo is priced at CAN$250 and is available in Canada exclusively at Best Buy.

A solar eclipse is happening soon and here’s how you can watch it, safely

I’m going to start with a reminder: Never look directly at the sun. Your eyes may not hurt if there’s no glare, but the radiation you can’t detect could be cooking your retinas. Learn more about eclipse safety from NASA.

Having said that, with proper equipment you can witness the solar eclipse that will happen on Monday, August 21.

There’s a list of approved manufacturers of eclipse viewing products curated by the American Astronomical Society. And your local science centres and museums will have certified products on shelves.

But be wary of anything sold online, particularly at Amazon, where there is no way to verify if the glasses you’re getting actually meet the international standards.

The path of totality of the eclipse cuts across the middle of the United States, including northern Oregon. I know a bunch of people from the Vancouver area who are traveling to Salem, Oregon to witness the event.

In the Lower Mainland of B.C., 90 percent of the sun will be blocked by the moon. Calgary will be about 80 percent, Winnipeg about 75, and Edmonton closer to 70.

The video below shows the path of the shadow, and is from NASA.

The eclipse becomes visible at just after 9 a.m. Pacific time. The totality hits the Pacific coastline at about 10:16 and passes over the Atlantic coast at South Carolina at about 2:50 p.m. Eastern. Total time is about two and a half hours.

Astronomy clubs and science organizations everywhere will be doing something on eclipse day. Here are some free events taking place in the major cities in western Canada. A full list has been compiled by the Royal Astronomical Society of Canada.

Victoria

Vancouver

Edmonton

Calgary

Regina

Saskatoon

Winnipeg

Keep in mind that if it’s a cloudy day and you wouldn’t normally see the sun, you won’t be able to see the eclipse.

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A new building kit from Lego aims to give kids the chance to construct fun, motorized models that they can control.

In a video briefing, Simon Kent said that the special hardware and sensing technologies that are part of Lego Boost will allow builders of any age to “bring their creations to life”.

Kent is the lead developer on Boost, which became available on August 1 and is priced at CAN$200. He explained that the new system is the “baby brother to Mindstorms,” Lego’s robotics kit.

While programming Mindstorms is relatively complex, the coding language for Boost, which was developed for ages 7 to 12 years old, is simpler, and kids learn it progressively. Within five minutes of opening the box they have constructed something and have a basic understanding of how to code movement.

The first build is Vernie, a robot, and the sequence is quite deliberate: do some construction, learn a bit of coding, have some fun and play. Kids never spend too much time doing only one thing.

There are five models for which designs are provided:

  • Vernie the robot
  • Frankie the cat
  • Guitar4000, a playable instrument
  • M.T.R.4 vehicle
  • AutoBuilder, which can be coded to assemble Lego bricks

But as with all Lego, you can also create your own models out of the kit’s 847 bricks. And you can use other Lego bricks to supplement your creations.

At the heart of all of this is Lego’s knack for instructional design. Using only cleverly designed pictures and step-by-step instructions, kids in every language and culture around the world are able to construct intricate models from hundreds of tiny pieces of plastic.

With Boost, those instructions are served up on a tablet, which is a required accessory. The screen is a perfect way to deliver Lego’s instructions, it turns out, because you can rotate and scale the image to better see how the model is coming together.

The tablet – not a smartphone – is also used to code movements and actions in the Boost models, and the system uses both the microphone and the speaker from the tablet.

Built into Boost are sensors that are used to gain an awareness of the environment. Among them are a tilt sensor also detects impact, and a combination sensor which detects colour and distance.

And while the basic Boost coding language is simple, as with all code it can become as complex as you want. The system is flexible so you can create your own code blocks that can be saved, and then assembled to result in some complicated movement and behaviour patterns.

With Boost, Lego has delivered another product that will have kids learning while playing, something the company does very well.

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This week, evidence that drones can be a force for good, and why we can’t make fun of Jawbone anymore. But first, a bit of jealousy from Apple Carplay users as Waze gets Android Auto integration.

Android Auto users get Waze integration

The Waze traffic and navigation map is getting better for Android users. The service, which combines map information with real-time data on traffic from multiple sources, including drivers on the road, has now been integrated into Android Auto.

What that means is that Android Auto users can get the Waze functionality on the console screens of their vehicles, and use steering wheel buttons and touch screen controls to use the app. Not to mention voice commands.

Android Auto is available from almost all of the major auto manufacturers as well as in aftermarket stereo systems.

I’m a fan of Waze, and am patiently awaiting news that it has also been integrated into Apple’s Carplay. But Waze is a Google product, so that might take longer to happen.

Jawbone, which made the Bluetooth headsets we love to mock, is folding

It was only around 10 years ago that we were all making fun of a stereotypical business executive who was fond of talking on a mobile phone using a wireless device stuck into one ear.

Those in-ear headsets were at the forefront of wireless transmission using Bluetooth. They were prominent: you couldn’t miss them sticking out of our ears. And we were so arrogant, seeming like we were having conversations with ourselves, pointing to our ear when passers-by looked at us in disgust.

Well, Jawbone, the company that developed those earpieces and established a market for them, is shutting down.

The story is that this is all a result of Jawbone transitioning from Bluetooth headsets and speakers to connected health products. It also likely has something to do with the fact that Jawbone and Fitbit have a protracted legal battle going on around alleged patent infringement and theft of trade secrets.

Sometimes drones aren’t so bad

I’ve been known to rail about people using drones to do stupid things like chase wildlife and spy on others.

I’m even more concerned that so many people are purchasing and using the damn things without giving a thought to things like safety and privacy.

And don’t get me started about the slippery slope that is drone warfare. Hasn’t Call of Duty taught us anything?

But occasionally I’m reminded that, when used for good, drones can have a place in polite society.

The video below is footage from a drone that was flown – by a professional UAV pilot and with permission from the Monticello Dam – over a bell-mouth spillway constructed in Lake Berryessa, a reservoir in Napa County, California that provides electricity to the San Francisco Bay area.

The spillway is an overflow mechanism, and this spring was the first time since 2006 that there was sufficient water in the reservoir for the “glory hole” to be used.

If you’re wondering, the diameter of the spillway is 22 metres (72 feet) at the opening, and it narrows to 8.5 metres (28 feet) at the bottom of a 61 metre (200 feet) drop.

At the bottom of it all are turbines and other equipment to generate electricity, one good reason the pilot didn’t fly into the middle of the falling water.

Just imagine what some of the people you see flying drones would do.

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