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This post describes the new courses and exams that make up the 2014 version of the CCNP Security Certification from Cisco Systems.
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The essential ingredients that have enabled successful remote work in the past year arguably come down to four Cs: cloud, collaboration tools, connectivity, and cybersecurity. By the look of things, remote work is not going away anytime soon. Organizations of all sizes now realize that at-home workers remain productive, and many are planning to let them stay the course, in some cases, permanently.
It's something of a double-edged sword, though. The increase in cloud usage translates to a larger attack surface that businesses must contend with. According to a March report by Cybersecurity Insiders (registration required), 86 percent of 287 IT professionals surveyed said they intend to support their remote workforce even after the pandemic is officially over.
Despite this large proportion, however, three-quarters of respondents noted that they still had serious concerns regarding the security risks of their remote workforce. Topping the list of most pressing remote work security concerns were user awareness and training (57 percent), Wi-Fi network security (52 percent) and the potential leaking of sensitive data (46 percent).
Remote work remains a work in progress, especially where security is concerned. Once organizations got through the basic operational challenges of moving people out of the office, IT had to contend with people relying on home networks to get corporate resources running in different locations and clouds.
Employee-owned devices also created a 'wild west' environment for administrators, who struggled to establish some endpoint security standards.
Fast-forward a year, and most organizations feel that they have built a better security posture, thanks to the use of secure VPNs or new secure access service edge (SASE) technologies. But other research reveals that many IT organizations remain concerned about the security risks introduced by remote users, cloud resources, and SaaS apps.
The ongoing work-from-home model means that the traditional, 'hardened perimeter with firewalls at office locations' model is dissolving rapidly. Remote access is no longer an edge case; it's the primary case, and the importance of secure remote access management has never been greater.
Business owners agree. "The first thing I did after COVID hit and we moved to a remote environment was to secure our identity and access management,'' says John Ross, CEO of Test Prep Insight, an online education company. Ross deployed a platform that uses multi-factor authentication to ensure that users who log onto the network are who they say they are.
"It is not cheap, and it is a little more cumbersome for employees when logging into our network," he adds, "but it gives me peace of mind at night."
Ross also updated the company's security policies to require that all employees use two-step verification for certain software programs, and to mandate that they never use public Wi-Fi. "It may be a little paranoid, but I also feel that cybersecurity risks are greater than ever,'' he says.
Without the protection of office-based security protocols such as firewalls and blacklisted IP addresses, home-based workers are exposed to far more cyberattacks targeting VPNs, phishing schemes, and attempts to crack passwords, says Ouriel Lemmel, CEO and founder of WinIt, an app that lets drivers manage and dispute parking/traffic tickets.
Employers have little control over the devices remote workers use or where they use them, he adds.
To minimize the risks, Lemmel suggests mandating that only workplace devices be used "and no company information should be accessible without two-factor authentication. Policies also need to be applied regarding the handling of company information in public places and the accessing of non-work-related websites or third-party services," he says.
In some cases, the remote work model has necessitated bringing in third parties to augment security. Robert Johnson, founder of woodworking company Sawinery, also sees a rise in phishing attempts since the pandemic began.
"Companies must create and invest in a competent IT group … to scrutinize and oversee [their] cybersecurity,'' Johnson says. "This means that installing firewalls is not enough... These security measures must be available to all employees working online or outside working premises."
Charles Edge, CTO of Bootstrappers, which invests in early-stage startups in the Midwest, recalls a latest conversation he had with a CISO that got him thinking about constant, repetitive attacks. "His point was that we all know the basics, and those looking to exploit our systems haven't necessarily gotten more sophisticated. But they have gotten more persistent,'' Edge says. "And so a small, even temporary, lapse in best practices can result in a breach."
Even before employees were sent home, many cybersecurity practitioners had been working toward a zero-trust model of security, he says. "But the past year has only hastened those types of implementations for every system we use."
At this point, everyone in the company must be granted the least amount of privileges they need, Edge says. Access management solutions must verify – every time – that systems are in the appropriate state and that connections are secure. It's important to adjust access privileges and protocols based on where and how the user is accessing company resources, too.
And it can't be said enough: Employees remain the weakest link, and organizations must remain vigilant about training.
"Unfortunately, the best technology available cannot provide protection for data where personnel have not properly implemented the technology, fail to comply with policies, or have not been trained about key threats,'' says Kimberly Verska, managing partner and CIO of the law firm Culhane Meadows PLLC. "With respect to the first two, personnel need clear written rules… Best practices dictate that each person agree in writing once the policies have been adopted by the firm's management."
In part 2 of this story, we'll focus on what happens when businesses transition to hybrid models, with workers coming into the office some of the time. Stay tuned!
The latest Ring security system has a built-in Wi-Fi 6 router, works with almost every type of add-on you can imagine, and provides internet backup (for a fee), as well as the option to add up to 24 additional hours of backup power in case of an outage.
*At the time of publishing, the price was $300.
Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Works With Ring
The strength of the Ring Alarm Pro, in addition to all of the sensors and accessories it can support (including a wide variety of cameras), is that it includes a built-in Eero Wi-Fi 6 router. That means you can replace your standard router, depending on your service, or create a mesh network to Improve your Wi-Fi’s speed for security cameras and other smart-home devices around the house. It also creates a cellular backup web connection when your power or internet goes down (with a Ring Protect Pro plan). The easy-to-use DIY security system offers the best bang for your buck when it comes to professional monitoring ($20 per month or $200 per year). It has almost every add-on you can imagine, including a few options for door and window sensors, smoke and carbon monoxide detectors, and several types of hardwired and battery-operated doorbells and cameras. It does allow for self-monitoring, but the original Ring Alarm would be better for that (although we don’t really recommend self-monitoring anyway).
Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Works With Ring
If you already have a mesh network or don’t want one, we recommend the original Ring Alarm. This easy-to-use DIY security system works with all the same add-ons as the Ring Alarm Pro, including the optional Ring Protect Pro monitoring plan for $20 per month. You can also use it as a self-monitored system for no extra cost, or add video storage for as little as $3 per month (although Ring just announced a $1 increase in the monthly price of the Ring Protect Basic plan beginning July 1, 2022). Unlike the Ring Alarm Pro, it doesn’t offer internet backup or work with external battery packs, but the base station provides 24 hours of battery backup, and the Pro plan includes a cellular connection.
This SimpliSafe kit is affordable and easy to install and use. Its optional monitoring plan is slightly cheaper than that of our top pick, although it doesn’t provide video storage.
Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Google Assistant, August Smart Locks
SimpliSafe is another easy-to-use DIY security system, with add-ons such as indoor and outdoor video cameras, a doorbell camera, a smart lock, and smoke and other sensors. Its 24/7 professional monitoring fees are competitive with those of other DIY systems, though The Essentials kit also has a self-monitoring option. Unfortunately, outside of smart speakers, the only non-SimpliSafe devices it’s compatible with are August locks. Still, for anyone who wants a reliable system that’s easy to use, works with voice-control systems, and offers a good selection of add-ons, the SimpliSafe setup is still a great option.
Compatible with: Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, IFTTT, Z-Wave, Zigbee
Abode is for the person who wants a security system that can integrate with smart lighting and thermostats, voice-controlled speakers, and other smart-home devices—and doesn’t mind going through the steps to create that setup. Abode supports both Zigbee- and Z-Wave–enabled devices, as well as Amazon Alexa, Apple HomeKit, Google Assistant, and IFTTT (If This Then That). That type of support comes at a price: We found Abode starter packages and most accessories to be more expensive than our other picks.
Disaster recovery (DR) refers to the security planning area that aims to protect your organization from the negative effects of significant adverse events. It allows an organization to either maintain or quickly resume its mission-critical functions following a data disaster without incurring significant loses in business operations or revenues.
Disasters come in different shapes and sizes. They do not only refer to catastrophic events such as earthquakes, tornadoes or hurricanes, but also security incidents such as equipment failures, cyber-attacks, or even terrorism.
In preparation, organizations and companies create DR plans detailing processes to follow and actions to take to resume their mission-critical functions.
Disaster recovery focuses on IT systems that help support an organization’s critical business functions. It is often associated with the term business continuity, but the two are not entirely interchangeable. DR is part of business continuity. It focuses more on keeping all business aspects running despite disasters.
Since IT systems have become critical to business success, disaster recovery is now a primary pillar within the business continuity process.
Most business owners do not usually consider that they may be victims of a natural disaster until an unforeseen crisis happens, which ends up costing their company a lot of money in operational and economic losses. These events can be unpredictable, and as a business owner, you cannot risk not having a disaster preparedness plan in place.
Business disasters can either be technological, natural or human-made. Examples of natural disasters include floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, landslides, earthquakes and tsunamis. In contrast, human-made and technological disasters involve things like hazardous material spills, power or infrastructural failure, chemical and biological weapon threats, nuclear power plant blasts or meltdowns, cyberattacks, acts of terrorism, explosions and civil unrest.
Potential disasters to plan for include:
Regardless of size or industry, when unforeseen events take place, causing daily operations to come to a halt, your company needs to recover quickly to ensure that you continue providing your services to customers and clients.
Downtime is perhaps among the biggest IT expenses that a business faces. Based on 2014-2015 disaster recovery statistics from Infrascale, one hour of downtime can cost small businesses as much as $8,000, mid-size companies $74,000, and large organizations $700,000.
For small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs), extended loss of productivity can lead to the reduction of cash flow through lost orders, late invoicing, missed delivery dates and increased labor costs due to extra hours resulting from downtime recovery efforts.
If you do not anticipate major disruptions to your business and address them appropriately, you risk incurring long-term negative consequences and implications as a result of the occurrence of unexpected disasters.
Having a DR plan in place can save your company from multiple risks, including:
As businesses become more reliant on high availability, their tolerance for downtime has decreased. Therefore, many have a DR in place to prevent adverse disaster effects from affecting their daily operations.
The two critical measurements in DR and downtime are:
Once you identify your RPO and RTO, your administrators can use the two measures to choose optimal disaster recovery strategies, procedures and technologies.
To recover operations during tighter RTO windows, your organization needs to position its secondary data optimally to make it easily and quickly accessible. One suitable method used to restore data quickly is recovery-in-place, because it moves all backup data files to a live state, which eliminates the need to move them across a network. It can protect against server and storage system failure.
Before using recovery-in-place, your organization needs to consider three things:
Also, since recovery-in-place can sometimes take up to 15 minutes, replication may be necessary if you want a quicker recovery time. Replication refers to the periodic electronic refreshing or copying of a database from computer server A to server B, which ensures that all users in the network always share the same information level.
A disaster recovery plan refers to a structured, documented approach with instructions put in place to respond to unplanned incidents. It’s a step-by-step plan that consists of the precautions put in place to minimize a disaster’s effects so that your organization can quickly resume its mission-critical functions or continue to operate as usual.
Typically, DRP involves an in-depth analysis of all business processes and continuity needs. What’s more, before generating a detailed plan, your organization should perform a risk analysis (RA) and a business impact analysis (BIA). It should also establish its RTO and RPO.
A recovery strategy should begin at the business level, which allows you to determine the most critical applications to run your organization. Recovery strategies define your organization’s plans for responding to incidents, while DRPs describe in detail how you should respond.
When determining a recovery strategy, you should consider issues such as:
Management must approve all recovery strategies, which should align with organizational objectives and goals. Once the recovery strategies are developed and approved, you can then translate them into DRPs.
The DRP process involves a lot more than simply writing the document. A business impact analysis (BIA) and risk analysis (RA) help determine areas to focus resources in the DRP process.
The BIA is useful in identifying the impacts of disruptive events, which makes it the starting point for risk identification within the DR context. It also helps generate the RTO and RPO.
The risk analysis identifies vulnerabilities and threats that could disrupt the normal operations of processes and systems highlighted in the BIA. The RA also assesses the likelihood of the occurrence of a disruptive event and helps outline its potential severity.
A DR plan checklist has the following steps:
An organization can start its DRP with a summary of all the vital action steps required and a list of essential contacts, which ensures that crucial information is easily and quickly accessible.
The plan should also define the roles and responsibilities of team members while also outlining the criteria to launch the action plan. It must then specify, in detail, the response and recovery activities. The other essential elements of a DRP template include:
A DRP can range in scope (i.e., from basic to comprehensive). Some can be upward of 100 pages.
DR budgets can vary significantly and fluctuate over time. Therefore, your organization can take advantage of any free resources available such as online DR plan templates from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. There is also a lot of free information and how-to articles online.
A DRP checklist of goals includes:
The plan should, at the very least, minimize any adverse effects on daily business operations. Your employees should also know the necessary emergency steps to follow in the event of unforeseen incidents.
Distance, though important, is often overlooked during the DRP process. A DR site located close to the primary data centre is ideal in terms of convenience, cost, testing and bandwidth. However, since outages differ in scope, a severe regional event may destroy both the primary data centre and its DR site when the two are located close together.
You can tailor a DRP for a given environment.
Testing substantiates all DRPs. It identifies deficiencies in the plan and provides opportunities to fix any problems before a disaster occurs. Testing can also offer proof of the plan’s effectiveness and hits RPOs.
IT technologies and systems are continually changing. Therefore, testing ensures that your DRP is up to date.
Some reasons for not testing DRPs include budget restrictions, lack of management approval, or resource constraints. DR testing also takes time, planning and resources. It can also be an incident risk if it involves the use of live data. However, testing is an essential part of DR planning that you should never ignore.
DR testing ranges from simple to complex:
Your organization should schedule testing in its DR policy; however, be wary of its intrusiveness. This is because testing too frequently is counter-productive and draining on your personnel. On the other hand, testing less regularly is also risky. Additionally, always test your DR plan after making any significant system changes.
To get the most out of testing:
Disaster recovery-as-a-service is a cloud-based DR method that has gained popularity over the years. This is because DRaaS lowers cost, it is easier to deploy, and allows regular testing.
Cloud testing solutions save your company money because they run on shared infrastructure. They are also quite flexible, allowing you to sign up for only the services you need, and you can complete your DR tests by only spinning up temporary instances.
DRaaS expectations and requirements are documented and contained in a service-level agreement (SLA). The third-party vendor then provides failover to their cloud computing environment, either on a pay-per-use basis or through a contract.
However, cloud-based DR may not be available after large-scale disasters since the DR site may not have enough room to run every user’s applications. Also, since cloud DR increases bandwidth needs, the addition of complex systems could degrade the entire network’s performance.
Perhaps the biggest disadvantage of the cloud DR is that you have little control over the process; thus, you must trust your service provider to implement the DRP in the event of an incident while meeting the defined recovery point and recovery time objectives.
Costs vary widely among vendors and can add up quickly if the vendor charges based on storage consumption or network bandwidth. Therefore, before selecting a provider, you need to conduct a thorough internal assessment to determine your DR needs.
Some questions to ask potential providers include:
A DR site allows you to recover and restore your technology infrastructure and operations when your primary data center is unavailable. These sites can be internal or external.
As an organization, you are responsible for setting up and maintaining an internal DR site. These sites are necessary for companies with aggressive RTOs and large information requirements. Some considerations to make when building your internal recovery site are hardware configuration, power maintenance, support equipment, layout design, heating and cooling, location and staff.
Though much more expensive compared to an external site, an internal DR site allows you to control all aspects of the DR process.
External sites are owned and operated by third-party vendors. They can either be:
During the 1980s, two entities, the SHARE Technical Steering Committee and International Business Machines (IBM) came up with a tier system for describing DR Service levels. The system showed off-site recoverability with tier 0 representing the least amount and tier 6 the most.
A seventh tier was later added to include DR automation. Today, it represents the highest availability level in DR scenarios. Generally, as the ability to recover improves with each tier, so does the cost.
Preparation for a disaster is not easy. It requires a comprehensive approach that takes everything into account and encompasses software, hardware, networking equipment, connectivity, power, and testing that ensures disaster recovery is achievable within RPO and RTO targets. Although implementing a thorough and actionable DR plan is no easy task, its potential benefits are significant.
Everyone in your company must be aware of any disaster recovery plan put in place, and during implementation, effective communication is essential. It is imperative that you not only develop a DR plan but also test it, train your personnel, document everything correctly, and Improve it regularly. Finally, be careful when hiring the services of any third-party vendor.
By Kim Wetzel and Jenny McGrath
The ever-expanding list of smart home products — security systems and smart locks and lightbulbs and ovens and smoke alarms and baby monitors – presented us with a unique problem when we set about choosing winners for the 2017 Home Awards: How do we compare the latest appliances to products like Wi-Fi connected vacuums or BBQ grills? Does a better dryer beat a connected egg timer? What if it’s a really great timer?
In the end, we opted to focus on the one thing that makes all the products on this list award-worthy: innovation.
Our 2017 Home Awards recipients are game-changers in their respective fields. They don’t just Improve on their predecessors, they change our expectations entirely.
Digital Trends writers put oodles of products to the test, ranging from pet vacuums to washing machines, slowly whittling a long list to one winner and two runners-up in six categories – Cooking, Entertaining, Home Care, Sleeping, Grooming, and Home Security. In some cases, making the winning choice was difficult. Other times it was easy. After all, who can argue with the fact that the Monolith Guru BBQ has completely changed the way we cook food outdoors forever?
These are the home devices that used technology to rewrite the rules in 2017. And a few of them might even belong in your home.
This refrigerator isn’t just another pretty face. There’s so much to like about this product, from its slim profile (for a fridge) to its peek-a-boo tinted window that you can knock on to see what’s inside.
The LG InstaView fridge spent months inside our test kitchen, where it withstood a lot, and we do mean a lot. The smudge-proof stainless steel worked well, with minimal annoying fingerprints to mar the silk finish. Those permanently left-over leftovers didn’t stink up the fridge, thanks to a high-powered and efficient air filter.
We loved having the ability to push a button on the right door handle to open the sub-compartment for quick beer grabs, and the crisper drawers were sturdy and rolled out smoothly, even after months of use. While the fridge in our testing kitchen measured counter-deep, we didn’t feel like we were pinched for real estate. Having an ice maker that we could kick into turbo came in handy. And finally, someone got wise about the water dispenser, creating space large enough for a pitcher to catch water underneath.
The InstaView is in a new class of refrigerators that have upped the game in terms of smart technology, with corresponding apps to help you plan meals and track what’s in the fridge without opening a single door.
A combination of a smart pan and a smart induction burner, the Hestan Cue can entirely change the way you cook certain foods. Not only does the burner heat up lightning quick, but it communicates with a sensor in the pan. You can use an app to set the parameters for a steak you’re cooking — how thick it is and your preferred doneness — and the pan and burner will keep in communication via Bluetooth to hold a consistent temperature. Pretty soon, you’ll wonder how you cooked using high, medium, and low instead of exact degrees.
Those who have debated between a food processor and a blender might want to check out the All-Clad Prep and Cook. It’s definitely closer to the size of a food processor, but it includes a heating element. That means its list of functions is very high — cooking, slow cooking, steaming, stir frying, mixing, stirring, kneading, whipping, crushing ice, and chopping nuts — and it explains its large footprint and high price tag. You’ll be able to do all those functions just by pressing a button, and there are 300 recipes included to supply you a feel for the appliance’s capabilities.
The Monolith BBQ Guru doesn’t look like your typical charcoal BBQ. That’s because it’s not.
This device is both beauty and beast, with a sleek, heavy-duty black ceramic base and steel legs. From afar, it could pass for a tiny version of the mechanical spider from Wild Wild West. It’s a BBQ for the serious chef – one who wants the ability to grill, smoke, bake, sear, or roast any food the imagination can create. And to feed a crowd, the reason we picked the Monolith as our winner for Entertaining.
The Guru comes with various tools, including a pizza stone for that wood-fire taste at home. A wood-chip feeder system on the base lets you add a touch of hickory or apple smoke to your meal – even last-minute, if you desire. The Cyber Q Cloud Temperature Controller with Wi-Fi lets you track and control the heat of your meat by adjusting the temperature level inside the base via vents.
We tested it out by slapping some rib-eyes on the grill, adding some cherry wood pellets in for good measure, and using the Cyber Q to monitor progress. The result was impressive: evenly cooked, juicy, melt-in-your mouth tastiness. The Monolith has truly upped the game in the BBQ world and is a must-have for anyone serious about outdoor cooking.
Where to honor the latest version of the device that is helping reshape our homes? Does it belong in the category of cooking because it shows us risotto recipes? Does it belong in the sleeping category because it sets our alarms? Do we include it in the home security category because it can lock the front door?
In the end, we decided the Echo Show sits in entertaining, because while the device is multi-functional, it also serves as a news screen, a streaming music device, and even a place to hear Alexa tell jokes. The Show’s screen puts it a step above the other home assistants on the market.
Making your own soda water at home can definitely help you cut down on bottles and cans, especially if you’re an addict. But most machines warn you against trying to carbonate anything other than water. The Drinkmate has a special cap that helps you control the release of the gas so liquid doesn’t foam all over your kitchen. Fancy a bubbly wine or fizzy juice? The Drinkmate can deliver both. It’s not going to turn ordinary chardonnay into champagne, but it can re-carbonate your flat soda.
When a crowdfunding campaign catches the attention of Tim Cook, you know someone’s on to something. Nebia is an easy-to-install shower head that atomizes water into a mist instead of the streams you’re probably used to. It’s a bit like those sprays of water that occasionally turn on in your grocer’s vegetable section. The nozzles break up the water droplets, increasing the surface area covered but reducing the amount of H2O used by up to 70 percent.
A typical shower uses 20 gallons of water; the Nebia uses only six, according to the company. You can easily slide the shower head up and down, which is especially nice for couples with a significant height difference. The system also includes a handheld sprayer that you can turn on and off, and the shower head itself has two settings. If you get too close to the nozzles, the spray can feel a little pokey, but otherwise it’s like walking through an immersive fog. It does a fine job rinsing out shampoo and getting rid of soap, but it can be hard to remove wet hair stuck to slippery skin without the typical shower stream. It might take some getting used to what feels like a spa feature in your own bathroom, but the water savings and radical design are incredibly impressive.
If you’re a dog owner, you dread the pet bath. Do you use your bathtub, where your furry friend will splash like a drunk elf and clog the drain with her hair? Or do you use a hose outside and hope hastily-slung soap made a dent in that dirty fir?
Enter the Bissell BarkBath, a cleaning system for your dog. The BarkBath uses a vacuum-like device with a 48-ounce tank of water to get Fido clean without the mess. You put the shampoo on your dog, turn on the device, and use the nozzle to gently pull dirt from your dog’s skin and hair.
Blue light gets a lot of flack for keeping people up at night, but it does have some benefits: You might have seen it used at your dermatologist’s office, for instance. At specific wavelengths, it can destroy acne-causing bacteria. The Espada from Foreo is an at-home version, so it’s not quite as powerful as what your doctor has. It won’t shrink your zits overnight, but it will help curb inflammation and redness by killing bacteria before it can cause those effects. You’ll need to use it regularly, as with the rest of your skincare routine, though.
For years, appliance companies have been making washing machines and dryers with larger and larger capacities. What they weren’t considering all that time was our favorite sweater or our child’s stuffed animal. What to do with those?
Both the Samsung FlexWash and FlexDry give us the answer in the form of flexibility we need. They’re simultaneously both large capacity and small capacity: The appliances have dual chambers for big and small loads.
When these things arrived in our test laundry room, we were impressed for a couple of reasons. First, they’re huge and beautiful in an impressive way. Second, they gave us flexibility in washing and drying our clothes with all kinds of impressive settings, including a steam feature. The FlexWash has two washing zones — a larger one on the bottom for typical loads, and a smaller compartment on top for things you don’t want to get lost in the main compartment, such as delicates. Just use that smaller compartment to wash your favorite sweater before heading out for the night.
The FlexDry brings the same concept as the FlexWash. That sweater you just washed? Now you can put it directly into the “delicate” dryer compartment located on the top of the machine for a quick dry, while your towels tumble in the big drum below.
Part vacuum, part security camera, part toy, the LG Hom-Bot isn’t your typical robot vac. Sure, that’s the primary function, but it’s helped along by an app and a couple of cameras. Using the app, you can drive the Hom-Bot to a specific spot (even if you’re out). From there, it can use motion sensors to spot bad guys or actually do some cleaning. Thanks to its low profile, it gets under a fair amount of furniture, and it’s good at extricating itself from the usual gambit of cords and other debris you forget to pick up before running a robot vac.
Fans and space heaters both go into storage for part of the year, but Dyson solves that problem with its fan-heater combinations. The Dyson Pure Hot+Cold Link adds another dimension of functionality with the device’s purification capability. It will cool you down in the summer, keep you toasty in the winter, and remove 99.97 percent of allergens as small as 0.3 microns all year round. Thanks to a bladeless design, the Dyson is also quiet about it.
The Kuna is such a remarkable idea that we’re surprised no one thought of it sooner. A front porch light that looks like a simple floodlight, but with a camera, siren, two-way intercom, alarm, and motion sensor? Sign us up.
During testing, we were surprised with how quickly we received notifications on our app regarding movement on our porch and in our yard. The motion sensors detected everything, including the neighbor’s pesky cat, which gave us comfort while we were not at home. We loved that we were able to communicate with solicitors without having to answer the door. The barking dog feature was incredibly clear but did not sound like a recording, which is good. The siren was loud, and you never know when you’ll need to use it.
The security device includes HD live and recorded video, a wide-angle camera, Wi-Fi, and Bluetooth. And the camera/floodlight combo can be controlled via Amazon’s Alexa.
The floodlight is attractive as well, with several different looks to choose from. No one would recognize that the device is a high-powered camera from afar. By the time a would-be thief gets close enough to notice, they’re already being recorded. The company is continuously improving the app and the product, announcing this year that its AI will allow the device to determine whose car – a stranger’s or your teenager’s — is pulling into the driveway.
The Almond is innovative in that it features a touch screen — a first for a router that can also be used as a range extender. It also does not require a PC or a Mac to set up: Simply connect it to DSL or cable. In fact, set-up took our tester only five minutes.
The device is compatible with Amazon Alexa so you can control your devices and monitor the safety of your home. Smart devices like lights and thermostats can be controlled through the Securifi Almond, and you can also block unwanted devices.
You can put anti-virus software on your computer, but what about your connected security camera? Or smart lightbulbs? These devices can provide an access point to everything using your Wi-Fi, but they’re not always easy to lock down. The Dojo Pebble keeps tabs on all the devices on your network, then lights up green, yellow, or red to let you know if there’s unusual or malicious activity so you can take action.
Among the first Alexa devices not from Amazon, the C by GE Sol lamp looks futuristic and is a bit more functional than the average Echo. For $20 more, it can do almost everything the smart speaker can do, plus it’s a functional LED light. With a halo sticking out of what looks like a taller Amazon Dot, the Sol can be your Alexa assistant, answering trivia questions, giving you weather updates, and sharing the news with you. That kind of functionality makes it a good fit for the bedroom, since Alexa can work as a backup alarm. The ring is also a clock, with the red light in the hour position and the blue at the minute mark.
But the real reason we put the Sol in the sleep category is the lamp’s ability to go from bright white to mellow yellow. You can use the light’s app to set scenes like “wake up” and “bedtime,” and the LED will adjust to the appropriate shade. In addition, the Sol has access to Alexa’s 20,000 skills, and she can help control your smart home. Asking your voice assistant to lock your door and turn off all the lights from bed is the smart-home owner’s dream.
There are apps, devices, and even whole beds that claim the ability to Improve your sleep. With the Beautyrest Sleeptracker, you don’t have to sleep next to your phone, wear some awkward device, or spend thousands on a smart bed. Slide the Beautyrest Sleeptracker under your mattress, put the monitoring device next to your bed, and the next morning you can get details on your heart and breathing rate and whether you got light, deep, or REM sleep. While the SleepTracker won’t Improve your sleep, tracking patterns does educate you on how you sleep — invaluable information you can then use to fix your bad habits.
Infants require lots of attention, especially in the middle of the night. The Snoo Smart Cradle, a rocking cradle that you can control from an app on your phone, helps everyone get a little more shut-eye. The bassinet rocks at various speeds and emits white noise that mimics the sounds of the womb. When your baby wakes up, you can turn on gentle rocking from the warmth of your own bed. Of course nothing replaces human touch, but our new-parent testers were impressed with the product, telling us the Snoo did a good job “replacing the need to rock the baby to sleep for 30 to 60 minutes in the dead of night.”
Placentia, Calif.; and Totowa, N.J.
The first clue to this library’s offbeat lending habits sits inside a tall glass display case near the entrance. Sprinkled amid storybooks, atlases, and a globe are a remote-controlled drone, an electric balloon pump, a DJ mixing board, and a Nintendo game console.
And those aren’t the strangest items available to borrow. A few steps away – past a Lego dinosaur and a pair of hulking automated checkout towers – an open binder lists more than 100 nonbook offerings, from bounce houses and hedge trimmers to a ukulele, a popcorn maker, and a $585 cheese warmer.
The Dewey Decimal System never saw this coming. It’s called “the library of things,” and Placentia’s collection is part of a nationwide movement that is reshaping public libraries and how they serve patrons in the digital age.
More than half of America’s 9,000 public library districts now lend nontraditional objects, says Maria McCauley, president of the Public Library Association. Many have also revamped their event calendars to include such programs as punk rock aerobics, speed dating, cow milking demonstrations, and indoor miniature golf.
These and other innovations reflect the ingenuity of librarians in adapting to changing community values and needs. “Libraries all over the country are doing creative things like this,” Ms. McCauley says.
The beyond-books trend began, depending on who is asked, either a decade ago in Sacramento, California, or in the 1800s, most notably in Braddock, Pennsylvania, a Pittsburgh suburb whose library featured a boxing ring, eight billiards tables, a swimming pool, a bowling alley, a game room, and a 964-seat music hall with cushioned opera chairs.
The Sacramento model has spawned a wave of copycats, including Placentia’s public library. Its 19th- and 20th-century predecessors are largely forgotten, says author Wayne Wiegand, a professor emeritus of library and information studies at Florida State University.
“History holds thousands of precedents for what’s now called a movement. The problem is librarians don’t generally know much or care about their past,” he says.
Balancing the books
“It was one of those middle-of-the-night things,” says librarian Lori Easterwood, recalling the 2013 inspiration for Sacramento’s pioneering library of things. After waking up with the idea and the name, she checked Google, saw nothing, and jotted a note. “I used to keep a pad of paper by the bed,” for overnight thoughts, she says. “Eighty percent were inexplicable the next day.”
This brainstorm wasn’t completely out of the blue. For several years, Ms. Easterwood and colleague Jessica Jupitus, a branch supervisor who moonlighted as a roller derby queen, had been experimenting with various “harebrained schemes” to attract new clientele and keep their library relevant.
They launched “zombie survival aerobics” classes, hosted “bad art” craft nights, sponsored “haunted stacks” tours in which the “ghosts” of historical figures recounted their gruesome deaths, and organized truck rallies with Brinks armored cars, drag racers, and SWAT vehicles.
For Ms. Easterwood’s library of things concept, the duo successfully applied for a $55,000 state grant. “Sometimes people don’t just need a book about sewing – they need the sewing machine too,” the application said. To decide which products to add, they set up a website for patron suggestions.
As part of the grant, library employees also received customer service training from the Ritz-Carlton luxury hotel chain. It would come in handy.
In early 2015, when Sacramento’s things collection debuted, the atmosphere was a little bit crazed. “It became very popular very quickly,” says Justin Azevedo, who managed the lone branch that offered the program. “We had huge waitlists.”
Storage was a challenge. Checking in books and DVDs is one thing; checking in guitars and lawn mowers is trickier. “We had sewing machines under people’s desks,” Mr. Azevedo recalls. But eventually, the kinks were ironed out, and staffers even mastered skills not normally taught to library science majors. “I learned how to replace a sewing machine flywheel and how to restring guitars,” Mr. Azevedo notes.
By the end of the first year, the library of things branch reported a 9% jump in customers and a 25% increase in attendance at adult programs.
That and a spurt of media attention led to the next hurdle: fielding a (still steady) stream of calls from other towns wanting to emulate the concept. One of the inquiries came from Placentia’s century-old library, one of only 11 independent library districts in California. Overseen by an elected board, the library predates the city, a bedroom community near Disneyland originally known for oil, citrus, and – in the late 1800s – a quirky colony of vegetarian spiritualists.
“We worked with Sacramento to create our liability form and rules,” says Placentia library director Jeanette Contreras. Borrowers must be at least 18 years old and agree to pay for cleaning, repair, or replacement costs if an item comes back in worse condition than it left. To underscore that caveat, Placentia’s things catalog includes the price of each entry. The podcast kit clocks in at $508.86, for example, and the KitchenAid commercial mixer is $541.
“People have been pretty good,” Ms. Contreras says, with the exception of an MIA violin and several crashed drones.
Since launching with a $5,000 budget in 2017, the collection has grown to include mobile Wi-Fi hot spots, a rechargeable leaf blower, and a snow cone machine, all based on patron input. In April, the library added day passes to state parks, courtesy of a California initiative to Improve access to nature.
Kaitlin Uthus, a mother of five, recently tried the library’s outdoor movie projector and screen after stumbling upon the catalog while returning books. “I was amazed by all the things you can get,” she says.
Eight-year-old Amyra Diwan, who lives in Cypress, California, discovered the things binder while she and her mother were waiting for her brother to finish a saxophone lesson nearby. “With my mom, I’ve borrowed the ukulele, this really cool art kit, and the park pass” for a Father’s Day trip to Crystal Cove State Park, she says.
Santa suits and Roomba vacuums
When the pandemic hit, it knocked the wind out of things programs all over the nation. Placentia converted a meeting room into a sterilization chamber in which masked employees wiped down returned items and quarantined them for two weeks, Ms. Contreras says. That kept books and DVDs in circulation, but the library of things went dark – except for laptops – until July 2021.
At the same time, COVID-19 spurred some U.S. libraries to start or expand things collections, says Ms. McCauley of the Public Library Association. Branches that didn’t lend laptops or hot spots, for instance, began doing so when patrons could no longer come in to use desktop computers, she says. (Similarly, sidelined Los Angeles County public libraries beamed their Wi-Fi into parking lots, so customers could still enjoy free internet access.)
“Libraries are intended to help people live their very best lives,” says Ms. McCauley, who also serves as director of the Cambridge Public Library in Massachusetts. “Nontraditional items broaden that mission.”
Each library seems to put its own stamp on the concept. In Brunswick, Maine, patrons can check out Tibetan singing bowls and meditation cards. Mississippi’s Bolivar County Library System stocks Santa Claus costumes. And the library in Telluride, Colorado, circulates Roomba vacuums and check-engine light code readers.
Some libraries pair their items with seminars or special events. The Guilderland Public Library in upstate New York teaches “cut the cord” lessons to go with its “try before you buy” assortment of cable TV alternatives: Amazon Fire TV Sticks, Apple TV boxes, HDTV antennas, and Roku streaming devices. And New Jersey’s Borough of Totowa Public Library celebrates its stockpile of cake pans with family cake-decorating nights.
Such customizations are about “making sure we offer what people need,” says Ms. Jupitus, the Sacramento book maven who now helps run the public library in Tempe, Arizona.
In 2014, Dallas librarian Melissa Dease distributed donated prom dresses at a neighborhood branch in a low-income area. “People came from a hundred miles away,” she says. “It was kind of heartbreaking to think they might not have been able to attend their dances otherwise.” Today, the prom initiative boasts nearly 1,000 dresses, along with shoes from Neiman Marcus and a smattering of suits.
“The importance of amusements”
Although all of this might sound new and unusual, the history of American libraries isn’t as bookcentric as many assume. “I trust you will not forget the importance of amusements,” steel magnate Andrew Carnegie declared at the 1889 dedication of Braddock, Pennsylvania’s amenity-laden library, the first of nearly 1,700 public library buildings he bankrolled over the next 30 years.
Most of the structures were far more modest, but Carnegie’s blueprints always included a community room, says Mr. Wiegand, the library historian. “For decades, public librarians used these rooms for myriad purposes, including sewing classes, kitchen instruction for farm housewives, health clinics, and hundreds of other ‘things,’” he explains. But eventually, many of the rooms were converted to storage for more books and their original mission faded from memory, he notes.
Even before Carnegie, libraries commonly housed art galleries, conversation parlors, and rooms to play chess and checkers.
Some also lent nonbook materials. In 1894, St. Louis patrons could take home tennis rackets and board games, says Mark Robison, a University of Notre Dame librarian who co-edited “Audio Recorders to Zucchini Seeds: Building a Library of Things.”
Other early precedents for today’s smorgasbord of borrowable objects include framed paintings (1904 in Newark, New Jersey), piano rolls (1907 in Evanston, Illinois), and stereoscopes (1909 in Portland, Oregon). In 1936, the Los Angeles Public Library added 7,126 used toys to its catalog, according to Mr. Wiegand’s book “Part of Our Lives: A People’s History of the American Public Library.”
Like their modern counterparts, librarians of the past worried about staying relevant, especially to younger age groups. In 1945, a library basement in Santa Monica, California, was transformed into a “young people’s room” where a radio played constantly and a social worker presided instead of a librarian, Mr. Wiegand says. (Teen spaces are now common in libraries around the United States.)
During the 1960s, libraries hosted jazz concerts, talent contests, movie nights, and anti-poverty programs. Denver’s public library held a 1973 multicultural series – with such titles as “Black Awareness” and “Viva Mejicano” – that drew up to 3,700 people per event, dwarfing an appearance by novelist James Michener that pulled in just 350, Mr. Wiegand reports.
In some locales, the emphasis on reaching new audiences grew so pronounced that, in 1975, The Wall Street Journal ran a story headlined “With a Little Luck, You May Even Find Books in the Library.”
“Over the generations, librarians have tried all sorts of things to get people to use them,” Mr. Wiegand says. “I applaud that.”
The fine print
But there can be pitfalls, says library scholar Michael Gorman, a former president of the American Library Association and retired dean of library services at California State University, Fresno. “Public libraries have limited physical, financial, and staff resources – and have had to make trade-offs in latest years,” he explains. “I am not against libraries providing any needed social service,” but their primary purpose should revolve around books and “the human record.” As long as other activities don’t undercut that central mission, “I’m all for all of it,” he says.
The funding for things collections typically comes from property taxes, grants, philanthropic gifts, or even – in the case of Placentia – revenue from an in-house passport services office. Some libraries also accept donated objects.
In 2012, shortly before Sacramento started plotting its things program, a backyard astronomers’ club in Michigan gave a set of telescopes to the Ann Arbor District Library. The district, which had been lending framed artwork since 1969, added the night-sky equipment to its “Unusual Stuff to Borrow” catalog, which also listed home energy monitors (to gauge the efficiency of appliances) and “science to go” educational kits, according to The Ann Arbor Chronicle.
The telescopes proved so popular that the collection soon expanded to include music synthesizers, models of the human brain, and outdoor games, says Rich Retyi, the library’s communication and marketing manager.
Although Ann Arbor began building its nontraditional storehouse first, Mr. Robison and other observers credit Sacramento’s public library with inspiring the nationwide explosion of copycats. Two factors set Sacramento’s effort apart: the breadth of its offerings and the patron survey on what objects to lend.
Ms. Easterwood, who now runs the public library in California’s infamous prison town of Folsom, says the trend also taps into the “sharing economy” movement that gave rise to the likes of Airbnb and Uber.
Ms. McCauley of the Public Library Association agrees: Being able to borrow pricey, rarely used tools and gadgets “reduces consumption and waste,” and gives financially strapped families access to technology and gear beyond their budgets.
Will the concept last?
Absolutely, predicts Mr. Robison. As Google searches and Kindle e-books continue encroaching on traditional library turf, things collections help attract new crowds, he says.
Meanwhile, librarians keep devising new categories of items and activities. Six years ago, for example, when Mr. Robison was working on his handbook, he found few libraries lending passes to museums, zoos, parks, and other attractions. Now, such passes are ubiquitous, according to the Public Library Association.
Educational kits are another staple. In Northern California, the Solano County Library system created social justice tote bags (with materials to spur family conversations and action on such issues as Indigenous rights and immigration) and multisensory kits to help trigger memories for people with Alzheimer’s, says Ms. Jupitus, who had a hand in developing some of the items.
Placentia’s kit list ranges from “World of Bugs” to “Learning About Money.”
Clever marketing is also important. Sacramento’s library used to hold winter holiday craft-making nights that invariably drew just “10 to 14 older women,” Ms. Jupitus says. On a whim one year, she and Ms. Easterwood rebranded the event as “Broke A$$ Holidays” – and 80 people showed up. “The content was identical,” Ms. Jupitus says. “We just called it something different.”
The next big thing could be pet care products, Mr. Robison suggests. Libraries looking to diversify into the animal arena “should consider the kinds of expensive items that pet owners use only occasionally, such as travel crates, harnesses, cooling mats, and yard stakes,” he says. The field appears wide open. While researching this story, the only pet object uncovered was a dog training agility kit at the Middle Country Public Library in Centereach, New York.
Everything should be fair game, Mr. Azevedo advises.
After Sacramento unveiled its initial batch of things in 2015, nominations poured in for future items – many of which sounded unworkable, he says. When people asked for weed wackers and cake pans, he recalls, “I said, ‘No way.’” But now the library carries both, he notes. “I’m curious to see what we’ll have in three years that seems impractical now.”
How technology is transforming primary care
While we can now bank, socialize, and shop online, most of us still interact with our doctors the old-fashioned way: on the telephone and with pen and paper.
But that may be changing soon. Our latest survey of 660 physicians found that 37 percent now keep patient records entirely electronically—up from 24 percent in our 2007 survey. And though about half of the 49,007 Consumer Reports subscribers we surveyed said their doctor only looked at paper medical records, one in four said their doctor used a computer or hand-held device, and 22 percent said they used a combination of paper and electronic record-keeping.
Moreover, billions of dollars in incentives provided as part of the federal stimulus package might motivate more doctors to finally take advantage of the technological advances made in the past 20 years, and that other industries have already adopted. To qualify for those incentives, medical practices have to use systems that can supply patients secure access to their electronic health record. This year, eligible doctors who use electronic prescribing with appropriate Medicare patients at least 25 times during the year will receive an incentive payment of 1 percent of their Medicare payments. Starting in 2012, physicians who don't participate will be subject to a financial penalty.
Some health-care providers have already fully embraced the high-tech office. One medical group in New York, for example, uses a small camera to scan the irises of patients as they enter, streamlining the check-in process, and is testing a thermal imaging camera to screen patients for fever so they can separate the sick from the healthy.
But a good electronic-health record doesn't have to include such slick technology. Its main goals should be to Improve care and prevent errors, in part by facilitating communication among doctors. For example, it should allow a primary-care physician to instantaneously share test results and medication lists with certified and even doctors in a hospital or emergency room.
Here are some of the other tools that might be coming soon to a doctor's office near you:
E-prescribing. An e-prescribing system can access your health-insurance company's formulary to determine your out-of-pocket cost for each drug option. You and your doctor can then choose the most affordable among medically appropriate treatments. And by screening for drug interactions and allergies, it can also help reduce medication errors and adverse events. In 2009, 18 percent of prescribed drugs were being routed electronically, according to Surescripts, a company that operates the nation's largest e-prescription network.
E-mail and e-visits. Only 9 percent of the subscribers in our survey said they had e-mailed their doctor in the past 12 months. That's not surprising. Many consumers have concerns about privacy, and doctors have rarely been paid for online consulting. But insurers are testing new reimbursement models for paying doctors to conduct e-visits with patients. And some doctors now offer password-protected encrypted e-mail or e-visit formats, making communication more secure.
Doctors and patients are also getting a better idea of when e-mail makes sense and when it doesn't. "Some things can be done over the phone, and some things can be done over the Internet," says Ronald Epstein, M.D., director of the Center for Communication and Disparities Research at the University of Rochester Medical Center in New York. E-mail consultations aren't a good option if you're a new patient, have a serious new symptom, or have a medical emergency, for example. But if a doctor is familiar with your history, an e-visit can be an efficient way to respond to requests for prescription refills and referrals, or to provide consultations about ongoing chronic disease management, like type 2 diabetes.
Web portals. Some doctor groups have taken e-mail a step further and developed secure websites that allow you to make appointments online, get test results, view your medical history, pay bills, and set up self-care management reminders.
Personal health records. Google has introduced a tool that allows you to store and manage your health records online, and share them with any provider you choose. Microsoft's Health Vault can also obtain results from certain medical devices, like blood-pressure and glucose monitors, to track your vital signs. While those and similar tools from other companies are potentially very useful, they don't yet adequately integrate information from doctor's medical records and translate them into personalized and in-depth action plans, according to a commentary in the Jan. 19, 2011, issue of the Journal of the American Medical Association. And while security is getting better, there are still some concerns about medical information stored online or sent via the Web.
Our consultants say that while online personal health records still have a long way to go, they might help you keep your medical information organized. They might be worth considering if you're technologically savvy and are not overly concerned about online privacy.
Health-assessment software. These are online questionnaires about your personal and family health history that you can fill out before you go to a doctor's office, saving time when you get there. Some might also ask you to describe the issues you're most concerned about and what you expect from your doctor. Used properly, technology can be an effective tool for "getting from patients what really matters to them," says John Wasson, M.D., a professor of community and family medicine and geriatrics at Dartmouth Medical School, and a consultant on our Consumer Reports survey. He has developed assessment software that is available to patients and practices free, at www.howsyourhealth.org.
Mobile devices. Doctors can use smart phones like the BlackBerry and iPhone, and tablet computers like the iPad, to access electronic health records, lab tests, and images, or to look up reference materials for themselves or their patients. Of the approximately 17,000 smart-phone health-care apps available, 43 percent are for medical professionals, according to the mobile research firm Research2Guidance. They include reference tools like Epocrates and mobile versions of medical journals such as the New England Journal of Medicine.
An app from the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality allows clinicians to input their patients' characteristics and risk factors to identify recommended screening tests and preventive measures. Physicians (and patients) can also set up alerts from the Food and Drug Administration about recalled drugs or from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about the flu, public-health emergencies, and more.
Bottom line. Finding a doctor who embraces electronic health records isn't always easy, especially if, like most people in the U.S., your primary-care doctor doesn't belong to a large group practice. Our poll of primary-care physicians found that 65 percent of doctors in solo practice kept only paper records compared with just 15 percent of primary-care groups with 10 or more doctors.
And even when you can find one, switching to a more technologically savvy physician or group won't necessarily translate into better care. "Infrastructure is really important, but it does not substitute for a trusting relationship between a patient and a physician," Epstein says.
In the end, "technology is the form" says Kevin Grumbach, M.D., professor and chairman of the department of family and community medicine at the University of California at San Francisco, but "the function is good communication." If the office picks up the phone when you call, someone can help you after hours, and you can get your lab tests mailed to you in a prompt fashion, then a low-tech office can still be in your best interest, he says.
In 21st century classrooms, blackboard chalk is on the endangered list, the pop quiz has been replaced with clicker questions, and bowling alley technology (overhead projector transparencies) has disappeared, thanks to digital projectors and document cameras.
But if you’re going to point to any aspect of the classroom that still hasn’t covered much ground on its trip into the 21st century, it has to be the textbook. This ubiquitous accessory has been beset by editorial controversy as we have seen recently in Texas; has seen consistently high price increases of an average of six percent per year; and still inspires parental derision for the outdated information often portrayed.
And then there’s the matter of weight. The heft of textbooks was the subject of a 21-page report written in 2004 in California for the state’s board of education. According to researchers, the combined weight of textbooks in the four “core” subjects (social studies, math, reading/ language arts, and science) ran, on average, from eight pounds at the first grade level to 20 pounds at the 11th grade level. Legislation to mandate weight limitations quickly followed in that state.
As this comparison of two school districts on opposite sides of the country and economic spectrum illustrates, in a world rich with alternative methods of delivery of content exemplified by digitized conversation, Google books, the Kindle and iPad, the textbook is the next classroom object worthy of transformation.
“Everyone has a different 1:1 approach,” says Gary Brantley, chief information systems officer for the Lorain City School District. “Ours was to eliminate the books.”
Lorain City Schools is located in a city 35 miles from Cleveland. The district has 18 schools and 8,400 students. By moving to digital delivery of textbooks Superintendent Cheryl Atkinson saw an opportunity to address several larger district challenges than simply replacing outdated texts. A majority of families are low-income; its schools were struggling to meet yearly academic progress measures; and the district had just come out from under a state-mandated “fiscal watch.”
And, recalls Brantley, Atkinson was sincerely concerned about the weight of the textbooks being hauled around by the kids in her schools.
That was the atmosphere under which initial discussions began, he says. The district quickly realized that adopting a 1:1 program with digital textooks at the heart of the initiative could reduce textbook expenses and help bring students into the 21st century. “We’re an inner city school district,” says Brantley. “We saw this as a way to level the playing field for our kids and supply them equal access and opportunities with technology.”
After a pilot program in 2007 and 2008, the district went after a federal grant to partially fund a full rollout to 9th and 10th graders for the following year. In January 2009, the district used federal Title 1 and Ohio state educational technology grant funds to lease Dell Inspiron 910 netbooks. The following year that program was expanded to 6th, 7th, 8th, and 11th grades, and the district switched to Acer Aspire One AOD150-1577 netbooks. This fall the district hopes to add 12th graders to the program.
The publishers the district is working with on the program are the traditional ones: Pearson Prentice Hall; Holt McDougal; and McGraw-Hill/Glencoe. They have provided versions of the texts, Brantley says, that go beyond simply being a PDF of the book. “It’s interactive. For example, if you have someone like Martin Luther King or John F. Kennedy in a history book, you can click on a picture, and it will tell you information about [that person] or [you can] do a search from the book to get more information about that particular person.”
Brantley is quick with numbers. He says that for 2,600 math books—the number of texts needed for grades nine through 12—the cost was going to be about $182,000. That’s $70 per book. The e-book edition for that same math book was about $15,000. The savings on that one text alone covered a large part of the expense of that first rollout of digital textbooks. The savings don’t stop there. An English textbook was priced at $163,673.05 for 2,475 books—about $66 per book. The digital version of the same volume was a fourth of the cost—$36,554.45.
Explains Brantley, Superintendent Atkinson “was very persistent” that the district find a content supplier for the program, even if it wasn’t one of the three or four big textbook publishers. The publishers were willing to try the program in pilot mode. “A lot of trust was built on both sides to make this happen,” he says.
Now, says Brantley, students don’t have to travel to labs to gain access to computers. “Basically, there’s a lab in every classroom. Every kid is using that netbook as a textbook and as a computer.”
Brantley knows the technology is making an impact. “I think it’s pushed us a long way. It’s allowing the students to become a lot more creative in what they do and how they do it. It’s also leveled the playing field. A lot of these kids don’t have computers or internet access at home. Because the books are loaded on the hard drive, [Superintendent Atkinson] has given kids the ability to work on things they’d only have access to in a limited time within the classroom or in the lab.”
Although Brantley says student testing scores have gone up, he can’t confidently point to quantifiable results tied directly to the digital textbooks. “We brought different pieces of technology into the district in the same period, so we have to let the program run for a little while,” he explains.
The Campbell Union High School District, next door to San Jose in California’s Silicon Valley consists of six sites, five of which have been designated by the state as excellent. During the 2009-2010 school year, they performed a pilot program to experiment with the replacement of textbooks with e-readers. Director of Technology Charles Kanavel and his IT team of five distributed 270 Sony Reader Touch model PRS-600s into English classes across the district’s sites.
“These kids get technology. They go home and look at YouTube all day. An e-reader isn’t that hard for them,” Kanavel explains. The goal of the pilot was to get a “true sense of what’s it like for the everyday student to use one of these things in terms of wear and tear and what they wanted to see on the device.”
The effort was spurred by the Williams Settlement, Kanavel says. That California statute calls for California schools to have sufficient educational materials and conditions to meet curriculum standards. In order to meet standards of currency, textbooks need to be replaced every seven years—an expensive proposition in a district with 8,000 students. “It’s $180 for a biology textbook. That’s just one. With e-readers and how ubiquitous they’ve become,” Kanavel recalls asking, “Why do they need to carry 80 pounds worth of books around, when we have the technology to do this differently?”
But that initial test might never have come about if Kanavel hadn’t persisted in trying to woo Sony to participate in the proof of concept, a process that took seven months. The Campbell director focused on Sony because of its durability, price, and open platform. “Kindle, if you drop it, it’s game over,” he says. “With the Nook you have to buy everything from Barnes & Noble. The [Apple] iPad with 32 or 64 Gb, that’s $600 to $800. With one iPad, I can get four e-readers from Sony at around $200 each.”
But persuading the manufacturer to pay attention to education’s needs wasn’t an easy sell. Kanavel, who has a background in investment banking, studied the company’s financial reports and figured out how many e-readers had probably been sold through its nearby Silicon Valley area store, the largest Sony store in the United States.
When he approached the company about doing a test, it replied, “Yeah, yeah, yeah, interesting. But why do we care?” In response, he used this argument: “You sold 14,000 at the Valley Fair store in a three month period. Those are respectable numbers. But realistically, our district is 8,000 kids. You’d sell me 8,000 units. Then I’d have to buy a quarter of that every year forever. Once I start on it, I can’t get off.” He also pointed out that Campbell was only a medium-sized district. “Take San Jose Unified —55,000 students right next door. That would make your store numbers look like nothing. And there are 32 districts in Santa Clara County alone. Think of the entire country. Then they started caring.”
Once Sony was on board, the next hurdle was the textbook publishers trying to safeguard the pricing model, according to Kanavel. He estimates that a single school might have 300 copies of a particular book. On average the textbook will cost $120 on the low side and $180 on the high side. That’s a total outlay of $36,000 to $54,000 for a single textbook in a single school in the Campbell district.
For English classes, however, many of the books contained classic works of literature that are now in the public domain and available on various digital book websites. “Shakespeare is Shakespeare. The guy’s not writing a new version,” Kanavel says. He has been able to make a deal with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for some digital textbooks in PDF format; but others—particularly novels —came from the Sony Reader Store; on Project Gutenberg (a good source for Shakespeare, he says); and via the OverDrive School obtain Library.
The challenge faced by textbook publishers, he points out, is that they have to change their business model. Kanavel wants to set up a site license with the publishers, but so far those negotiations are still on-going, and, besides, many still have to convert their textbooks into the epub format.
But the financials, as this former numbers guy points out, still work out nicely for the district. “For example, historically we have paid $9 a book for paperback copies of Macbeth and 70 to 80 percent of them come back unusable at the end of the year. Now with the e-reader, that replacement cost goes to zero.”
On average 15 out of every 100 books in the district need to be replaced because they’re damaged, lost, or stolen. Often, the same student loses multiple books when he or she loses a backpack. “If you’re a parent, you have to pay to replace all of those books. If your student loses a history book, biology book, math book, and English book, that’s about $600,” Kanavel says. “If they lose an e-reader or it breaks, you pay for the replacement cost of the e-reader —$200 -- then we just obtain the content.” This, he adds, “has long-term implications for budgeting and funding.”
So far, Kanavel says, the pilot has been successful with students. “They’ve taken good care of them. I’ve only had three break out of 270, which is pretty good.” He plans to add an additional 200 e-readers to the district for the next school year. “One thing I’ve been very focused on with this pilot is offsetting the cost of textbook replacement with this device and making it easier on the kids.” He believes the district is on the right track.
Teachers and students are discovering other advantages. The e-readers have built-in dictionaries. If a reader has a visual impairment, text can be upsized quickly. Users can annotate, draw, and take notes—something that’s forbidden with traditional textbooks. When the year is over, the kids will return the devices, and that added material can be wiped from the hard disk.
But e-readers still aren’t perfect, he adds. First, not every book is available in a digital format. He cites a high school classic, Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, as an example. Many textbooks have already been put on CD, but those are designed to be used in a PC. Publishers haven’t made huge inroads into converting their materials into the standard epub format that works with the major e-readers. But Kanaval is hopeful those gaps will diminish with time.
With the expected expansion of the pilot, negotiations with Sony continue. “We’ve proven that the kids can take care of them. The technology does work,” Kanavel says. “The next thing is to get Sony to build something bigger—an eight and a half by 11 inch format. And there are a lot of features that we don’t use. We’ve given them feedback on those things. There may be ways to cut cost by eliminating feature sets that can help them balance the cost of manufacturing.”
So given the experiences of these two districts—and others—how does a standard textbook stack up against an e-book? If a publisher needs to repair the mistakes introduced in the text, as happened with math books issued in Sacramento County in spring 2010, it won’t have to arrange to destroy the outdated books and incur shipping costs for the new ones; it can correct the errors and electronically distribute new versions of the content. In the face of a quickly evolving business model, publishers will be forced to adjust their pricing schemes—no doubt, to the advantage of the districts. In the matter of weight— well, the Acer netbook comes in under three pounds, and the Sony device is a little over 10 ounces. Those are metrics anyone can use no matter how much digital content sits on the devices.
In order to have a successful 1:1 implementation, you need hardware, bandwidth, content, and teacher professional development and buy in. But each district will be unique in its approach to implementing each aspect and the entire program. The question of when in implementation a district allows connection to the internet is a case in point. Campbell Union High School District in Silicon Valley wants students to stay on task as it implements e-books. Therefore, the Sony Reader Touch devices being used there don’t include web access. Although Sony does make a model of its e-reader that includes WiFi, according to Director of Technology Charles Kanavel, the decision to leave that feature out helps simplify the transition teachers have to make in integrating the device in the classroom.
“If I’m a teacher and I have these new devices in class, it affects my lesson planning,” he explains. “Without administrative control of access to the internet, some smart kid will make the thing text another e-reader. Then once that kid knows, all the kids will know. In class, instead of reading, they’re texting each other, surfing MySpace, and doing everything else. Have I just disrupted an entire class with this device? So let’s get the adoption in first. Let’s get the hurdles out of the way surrounding usage of content, usage of technology, and how it integrates into your standards in the classroom. Once that’s outlined, then we’ll figure out how to do WiFi.”
That absence of web access has also streamlined professional development. The district had 270 devices, which it handed out in English classes spread fairly evenly across its six sites. To ensure that the pilot wouldn’t get put on the back-burner by teachers uninterested in using the ereader, Kanavel had the principals at those sites nominate teachers to participate who were a “little bit tech savvy.”
From there, his IT team called teachers in for a demonstration of the Sony product they’d be using with their students. “That was it,” he says. “Maybe 30 minutes of Q&A with teachers, and off we went. The devices aren’t that complicated. You turn it on, pick your book, turn to the page, and that’s it.”
To make sure the program is on track, Kanavel has been doing evaluation of it in “real time.” “It’s not something we threw out there and said we’ll come back to you in six months. Every couple of weeks I’m pinging these teachers. They have direct lines back to me. As they’ve noticed things, they’ve emailed me.” Along with that, device maker Sony has put out surveys for the users too.
What complicates implementation of digital content in a 1:1 program is when the device being deployed is used for other purposes too. That’s the case at Lorain City School District in Ohio, which has distributed Acer netbooks to 9th, 10th, and 11th grade students. The goal there is to supply its students access to technology and the wider world it can deliver. Many don’t have computers or an internet connection at home. Therefore, Chief Information Systems Officer Gary Brantley has chosen to implement WiFi on the devices.
The devices, which cost about $300 with software and maintenance, are loaded with a gigabyte of RAM, a 150 Gb or 160 Gb hard drive, an Intel Atom processor, a webcam, Windows XP Professional, Microsoft Office, a couple of calculators, 802.11 b/g WiFi, and, of course, digital textbooks.
Teachers have an interest in educating students about social networking, so, although access to the internet is filtered, the devices do allow access to sites such as Twitter, and Facebook. But that, says Brantley, “is being carefully monitored.”
Also, connectivity is necessary for implementation of CompuTrace, a program from Absolute Software that provides a service for tracking down lost, stolen, or missing devices. “We were finding that we were spending a lot of money replacing textbooks,” Brantley explains. “Now, we actually are spending less. If CompuTrace doesn’t find the netbook within 60 or 90 days, they pay for it. I can tell you they have found every single one.”
To simplify operations, the district uses only two images for the netbooks. Every middle school book in use is on every middle school netbook; and the same with all high school books. That approach, says Brantley, makes IT’s work easier since they don’t have to worry about granular inventory or “fool around” with what books any given student should be able to access.
The district has tackled the challenge of teacher acceptance from multiple sides. First, there was a teachers’ union aspect. Would it promote the change in teaching approaches necessary for success? To gain support, Brantley took the head of the union to a 1:1 conference to show her what could be done. After that, he says, “She came on board for the professional development piece.”
The next aspect was putting together programs and teams for professional development. Since the district has an “early release” day once a week, “that’s the block of time that increasingly is being dedicated to helping teachers learn how to integrate the technology into their classes. Gaining traction in that area is a longer haul,” Brantley admits. “It takes a while to get teachers on board with this.”
Next up for the Lorain district: implementation of a teacher recognition program and some type of graduate credit to motivate the teachers to try out new methods of instruction.
An area where Brantley has seen success is having the kids teaching the teachers. “That’s one thing that we’ve been trying to push,” he says. “Don’t be afraid to let the kids show you something as well. It becomes a collaborative effort.”
Challenges have surfaced in two IT areas. First, the sheer number of new devices has put a strain on Brantley’s department, which has 10 employees. “We’ve doubled the number of computers in the district but didn’t add one staff member,” he says. Second, IT has to be able to supply technical support to students in a timely manner. “Turnaround can’t be longer than a day. Even though we have spares, we still have to turn around these machines really quickly, so kids aren’t left without their books.”
But these burdens aren’t slowing down the district’s dreams. Brantley says eventually the netbook and digital textbook program could be expanded to every student in the district, from the fourth grade up.
TAIPEI, July 6, 2022 /PRNewswire/ -- In response to rising demand for increased bandwidth of network traffic, NEXCOM, a leading supplier of network appliances, has released a compact single-port 200GbE network interface card (NIC). NL 110FM-OS leverages the award-winning NVIDIA® ConnectX®-6 Dx SmartNIC silicon and a PCIe Gen4 interface that doubles the speed of data transfer, compared with the previous generation PCIe standard. The network connection is enabled through one QSFP56 port to utilize double-bit PAM4 data transmission, and the NIC card is compatible with NEXCOM's latest rackmount network appliances.
The sheer volume of data traveling over the IT network leaves service providers no other choice but to adjust to the new reality. One of the ways to solve the problem is to increase the number of servers and another is to migrate to more compact solutions based on the latest technologies. The first method will require purchasing additional servers, leading to maintenance personnel expansion and energy consumption growth, whereas the second method is simply to increase the bandwidth of existing network nodes. This latter option provides a greener solution and should be preferable for all CSPs whether or not they have environmental concerns in reducing their carbon footprint.
NEXCOM's 200GbE NIC card increases the overall speed of a node on the network. NL 110FM-OS features one QSFP56 port to enable double-bit data transmission via a new signal modulation format called PAM4. This allows 200 gigabits per second of data traffic in each direction using a single 4-lane copper or fiber cable. The NVIDIA ConnectX-6 Dx SmartNIC provides more value-added features, including advanced networking and security to accelerate mission-critical applications. Thus, NL 110FM-OS is perfectly fit for security, virtualization, SDN, NFV, big data, machine learning, storage, and network performance testing and emulation.
"By adopting the latest 200GbE NIC card powered by ConnectX-6, our customers can significantly increase the throughput of their servers and pivot to massive data processing without much effort," said Matthew Liu, CTO of Network & Communication Solutions at NEXCOM. "We have a long history of working with NVIDIA on the adaptation of previous generation LAN controllers and are looking forward to our next successful joint projects."
"Data centers are being transformed by the growing demands of next-generation architectures required for massive hyperscale clouds and AI workloads," said Eunice Chiu, VP, Sales and GM Taiwan at NVIDIA. "NVIDIA's networking platform equips innovators such as NEXCOM to supercharge networking performance for the next wave of breakthrough data center applications."
Founded in 1992 and headquartered in Taipei, Taiwan, NEXCOM integrates its diverse capabilities and operates six global businesses, including the Network and Communication Solutions (NCS) unit. NCS focuses on the latest network technology and helps to build reliable network infrastructure, by delivering professional design and manufacturing services for customers all over the world. NCS's network application platform is widely adopted in Cyber Security Appliance, Load Balancer, uCPE, SD-WAN, Edge Computing, Storage, NVR, and other network applications for businesses of all sizes.
View original content to obtain multimedia:https://www.prnewswire.com/news-releases/nexcom-accelerates-data-throughput-with-nvidia-smartnic-silicon-enabled-301580080.html
The COVID pandemic—and in much of the country, smoke-filled air caused by rampant wildfires—has renewed interest in a formerly sleepy sector of the gadget universe: the air purifier. The best models can not only remove odors from the air, they can protect your health by cleansing the air of harmful vapors and particulate matter.
To find the model that’s right for your needs, you should first consider the size of the room you want the appliance to treat. These are our top picks according to general room size. If you’d like to take a deeper dive into this category of product and see some of the other factors we take into consideration in our reviews, scroll down the page a bit.
Updated August 1, 2022 to add a link to our Nuvo Traveler mobile air purifier review. While this device really is small enough to fit in your car’s cupholder, it doesn’t have much in the way of an air filter and relies instead on a UV light to zap viruses in the air it pulls through its cylindrical design.
This powerful air purifier provides up to 1,200 square feet of coverage, and it will fit into your smart home ecosystem, too. It uses four types of filters to clean your air–three of which can be washed and reused–and its CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rates) of 332 to 369 cubic feet per minute are best in class. You can connect this smart appliance to your Wi-Fi network and control with voice commands, but NuWave’s smartphone app merely duplicates the touch controls on the device itself. We’d like it even better if we could program it to operate on a schedule.
MSRP: $458.00 (plus shipping)
The Jya Fjord is rated to clean the air in rooms up to 667 square feet, with a CADR (Clean Air Delivery Rate) of 265 cubic feet per minute. A small OLED touchscreen displays a small amount of information, but you can use the SmartMi Link app on your mobile device to get additional details and to control this excellent air purifier. This appliance is unusual in that it supports Apple’s HomeKit ecosystem in addition to Amazon Alexa and Google Assistant. It’s a very good value, especially while it’s for sale at its introductory price of $319, including a free air filter, but read our in-depth review for all the details as to how we suggest you purchase one, if you’re of a mind to.
Coway’s Airmega 150 a pretty ideal air purifier for modest-sized spaces. Its minimalist design blends with any decor, and it is intuitive to operate right out of the box. While it doesn’t offer app control or integrate with other smart appliances, it also doesn’t have any of the attendant connectivity and interoperability hassles. The fact that it accurately monitors and responds to changing air quality, so you’re always breathing your best, is another reason for us to supply it a strong recommendation.
Here’s a guide to some of the key operational features in the category. You might also want to check out our buyers’ guide to stand-alone air-quality monitors, which can keep you informed of the quality of air inside your home. Since most air purifiers are best deployed in a single room, you can easily move a less-expensive air quality monitor from room to room to track the quality of all the indoor air you breathe.
In latest years, however, the EPA has reported that the typical air quality indoors (where we spend about 90 percent of our time) is much worse than it is outside, with some airborne pollutants two to five times more concentrated in the home than outdoors. These pollutants include combustion byproducts, pet dander, mold, pesticides, ozone, natural gasses like radon, and the all-encompassing category of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), which include everything from formaldehyde to trichloroethylene to chloroform. (These gasses can be 10 times higher indoors than outdoors.)
And none of this stuff is healthy to breathe.
Do air purifiers protect you? The experts (including the EPA) say that HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Air) filters are effective at reducing airborne contaminants of all types—including viruses—but are careful to note that on their own they are not enough to protect you from viruses and bacteria, and that you should still practice the standard battery of safeguards even if you have a great purifier on hand. That said high-quality air filters are effective at reducing (but not eliminating) indoor pollution.
While we don’t have the facilities to scientifically test the pollution-reduction claims of each purifier, we do report on the manufacturers’ specifications on that front.