Real Alarms, False Progress, OCR and a Bitcoin Bust

WAKE ME WHEN IT’S OVER

A horrible time is upon us. Tax Season? Allergy season? Hunting season? No. Sunday, March 9 is Daylightrsz_girl-sleeping Saving Time, where many people will lose a much-needed hour of sleep. In addition to causing most people to mangle the time-altering process by calling it Daylight Saving Time, it’s linked to spikes in heart attacks, suicides and car wrecks

Not to mention school and work tardies. Waking up at 5 a.m. versus 6 a.m. is a difference most bodies don’t take a shine to. Give yourself a morning boost with these (fingers crossed, hoping against hope that they work for me) alarm apps.

Cool Mom Tech recommends the Alarmy Sleep If U Can app. ($1.99 on iTunes, free for Android on Google Play, updated Feb. 19.) Billed as the “World’s Most Annoying Alarm App” it goes beyond having to solve a math problem, puzzle or remembering a code to silence the alarm. You have to physically get your bedraggled self up and go to a predetermined site — upstairs, downstairs, outside — and take a picture of something that matches one you’ve already designated your target pic. Cussing is optional.

A gentler path might be the popular Sleep Cycle app ($ .99 itunes, updated Jan. 9; for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch). It claims to observe your sleep cycles and rouse you in the lightest cycle that’s closest to your desired  wake-up time. So, if you want to wake up at 6, and you’re sleeping lightly at 4:45, it will wake you at 4:45. The app provides sleep graphs so users can see their sleep patterns.

Normally Social Media is associated with shamelessness, but for the niche group that is motivated by both Social Media and shame, there’s OKITE (Free for iPhone, iPad and iPod Touch).  It’s an oldie from 2011, but you have to love the oh-so-Japanese premise. Every time you cravenly hit snooze, a random, embarrassing tweet is sent so that all your Twitter followers know what a lazy lump you are. The shame factor is somewhat mitigated by the fact that the tweet is in Japanese, but still … you will have questions to answer.

 

SHOW ME THE LIGHT

Cuerpo_humano_jaqaruDo you frequently find yourself in the [insert name of any room of the house here] trying to recall why you’re there? Do you have Alzheimer’s gunning for you from any of the branches of your family tree? Goodness knows, I do, so I’m always on the lookout for ways to increase my brain power. Scratch that, maintain my brain power.

Enter Lumosity, hawked as “a gym for the brain.”  It offers brain training via online games in speed, memory, attention, flexibility and problem solving. The company expected boomers to be the main users but were surprised by the number of twenty- and thirty-somethings signing on.

I’d ignored Lumosity’s commercial pleas until the story How to Get to 50 Million Users: 4 Tips from Lumosity in the Dec. 2013/Jan. 2014 issue of Inc. magazine led me to give it a try. The initial free testing included three areas: speed, memory, and …. what was that last one? .. ah, yes, attention.

On the plus side, my mind is really fast. Like a cheetah fast. Where it’s running, nobody knows. My memory is baaaaad. Like 40% bad. I will also share with you, dear readers, that my attention span proved …  Wait, what were we talking about?

Detractors such as Medium Difficulty, a site that offers “critical analysis of games and their place in a larger cultural context,” says Lumosity is using basic gaming strategy to bogusly convince users of their improvement. Medium Difficulty’s The Doubt of the Benefit: Fake Progress and Lumosity’s “Brain Games” raked the company over the coals in 2012. Many other critics have done likewise.

Plan pricing runs from $5-$14.95 per month. Does it really train your brain? I have no idea. What methodology are they using to generate their comparative data? It’s unclear. Are they gaming us? Probably. But it’s fun. And it probably can’t hurt.

 

OCR EASY AS ABC

Not everything is digitized yet. But here’s to trying. Sometimes you have paper with text and you need that text to be editable and searchable — a jpeg image of the page/s just won’t cut it. You need Optical Character Recognition (OCR), and now there are a number of OCR apps to choose from for your phone or tablet.

Four good ones mentioned frequently in articles are: Image To Text (free); Perfect OCR ($3.99); TextGrabber ($5.99) and Prizmo ($9.99) — all for iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. Features vary with things such as different language support, various text to speech support, and so on. Among the paid apps, features are frequently updated, so the app remains competitive.

With the free offering — Image to Text —  the OCR process is performed on a remote server, which means there is some turn-around time. If having your text go through a remote server is an issue for you, select one of the other options. At this time, Image to Text only handles English.

They all work. I happen to like Prizmo as it has a both a clean interface and useful options. You can always start with the free Image To Text, and work from there. If you could use an OCR app,  look at the features of these four, and make your choice.

 

CLOSED FOR BITNESS

You may not have noticed the most recent economic collapse. In February, Tokyo-based crypto-currency Bitcoin-coinsmonolith Mt Gox inexplicably closed its doors leaving millions of bitcoin users in the lurch.

Much like the banking collapses in the Depression years, users — many of whom had a fortune in bitcoin currency — have been left with nothing. (Unlike the widespread effects of the Depression, the bitcoin bust hit users who are overwhelmingly white, male and affluent. See Think Progress.org for more on bitcoin user demographics.)

What IS bitcoin? It’s e-money. Unregulated, universal, e-money. Users amass electronic currency by “mining” that they can then use to “pay” for real products or services. They agree that it has value therefor it has value. Which seems unicorny and ridiculous … until you realize it’s the same premise behind paper money. Or any money for that matter. Try not to think about it too much or panic will set in. For solace, see Investopedia’s brief History of Money.  (I’m still hoping for a currency base of shoulder massages.)

Mt Gox, the Enron of bitcoin, has filed for bankruptcy and taken with it $400 million of client funds. The company recently opened a call center to answer client questions. Though what they say other than “Yes, we lost your money,” is anybody’s guess.

 

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