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Open platforms like Android unlock potential

As a scientist, educator and businesswoman, my goal is to engage as many young minds as possible to get them excited about science and technology. That’s why the explosion in affordable technology over the last few years has been so exciting for STEM evangelists like me. Technology is no longer available only to the affluent and the privileged; instead, computers, tablets and smartphones are in the hands of individuals across all income levels. Reaching such a diverse audience is critical to our society’s ability to design the next generation of digital technologies and train the workforce of the future.

As a professor and the founder and Chief Technology Officer atZyrobotics, a company that develops interactive STEM games and learning tools for children, I want our company’s educational programs to be available to the greatest number of people in order to have the greatest level of impact. In order to be successful, companies like mine need to reach kids where they spend their time—on their tablets, phones and other electronic learning devices. That means we want our apps to be compatible with as many devices as possible, and it’s why we’ve chosen to use Android’s open platform for our development. I’ve been able to reach far more people by building upon open platforms like Android than I ever could by teaching in a classroom.

As an app developer, I’ve benefited from Android’s ease of use, open coding platform, and popularity within diverse segments of the population. We've been able to expand our reach to all audiences, particularly those in disadvantaged communities. Many lower-income people (and many in developing countries) rely on more affordable or older Android devices, and because Android lets us update apps on older-model phones, we can ensure we’re providing the best experience to these users. Open platforms are also the main reason why most of our apps, including those that teach young children to code, are free.

Zyrobotics would be far less successful without the app stores housed on Android and Apple and the number of users we are able to reach through those platforms. Both Google and Apple’s app stores have been especially useful in helping us maximize our apps’ exposure to the children and parents with whom we want to connect, and helped us introduce important STEM concepts to children as early as five and six years old through30 STEM-focused apps and games, such as our award-winning Turtle “Learn to Code” app.

The United Statescontinues to lag behind other industrialized nations when it comes to preparing our children for STEM careers, and thattechnology workforce gap is partly a result of a lack of early engagement in STEM. Reaching children when their interests are just beginning to take shape is vital to building a more vibrant, diverse and successful STEM workforce for the future. Android helps us do that. I support smart regulation of technology companies that helps ensure that today’s technology be made even more widely available, accessible and unbiased.

The benefits of technology to educate and empower the next generation are immeasurable. Open platforms create opportunities—for companies like mine, and the people we serve. Let's keep it that way.

Ayanna Howard, Ph.D., is Chief Technology Officer (CTO) at Zyrobotics, an educational technology company, and the Linda J. and Mark C. Smith Professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Her artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and assistive technology research has resulted in more than 250 peer-reviewed publications and a number of commercialized products.


Finding my way back to Antarctica with the help of Google Earth

Editor’s note: This guest post comes from Conrad Anker, a rock climber and adventurer who used Google Earth to aid his quest to explore Antarctica's remote Queen Maud Land with other athletes from The North Face team.


Nearly twenty-two years ago, my late friend Alex Lowe, Jon Krakauer and I huddled over a stack of tattered Norwegian maps from the“International Geophysical Year, 1957 - 58.” These were the first maps of Antarctica's remote Queen Maud Land, a stark glacial landscape dotted with impossibly jagged granite spires protruding from thousands of feet of ice. As we scanned the only detailed account of this faraway land, the complex and cryptic landscape made it blatantly obvious why these were some of the last unclimbed peaks on earth.

Back in ‘98, our paper maps were a static window into this dynamic land. We peeked in with trepidation, knowing that once we arrived on the ice cap, our lives would depend on rough estimations and ballpark figures, which still left a lot to chance. How many days would it take to reach the towers from our base camp? What if a storm pinned us down? What if we were unable to cross a dangerously crevassed part of the glacier?

Two decades later,  the same thirst for pushing limits in the face of the unknown is calling  me back to Queen Maud Land. This time the adventure began with my family in the comfort of our living room in Bozeman, Montana—our paper maps are replaced with smartphones and laptops. With Google Earth, my family was able to explore Queen Maud Land with me before my boots ever touched the ground. Together, we flew over snow covered glaciers and found our way up the massive granite walls I hoped to scale with my fellow teammates who are climbing with me as a part of an expedition put together by The North Face. We understood the complexity and enormity of the expedition together.

I always tell my family that the most important part of the mission is coming home—a goal that requires obsessive preparation, planning and training. Google Earth allowed us to drop pins on potential landing zones suitable for the fixed wing aircraft we were going to travel in. With the ability to visually assess the landscape in 3D, we could better see hazards and challenges before embarking on the expedition. Climate change has dramatically altered the landscape of the Antarctica I explored in the nineties and looking at up-to-date satellite imagery helped me come up with a new approach to navigating the terrain.

When we finally touched down on the ice, my fellow climber Cedar Wright aptly mentioned that “it was pretty surreal to recognize a place you had never physically been by your time spent exploring it remotely using Google Earth.” And he was right. After we got our bearings, we were able to confidently and strategically explore dozens of never-before-climbed peaks in this lunar landscape. The challenges of climbing in the frozen landscape were ever present, but the gift of being able to successfully put up so many stunning new climbs with a team of this caliber was an unforgettable privilege.

Conrad Anker working his way up Ulvetanna, “The Wolf’s Tooth,” in the Drygalski Mountain Range, in Antarctica. Photo by Savannah Cummins.


On expeditions like these we are reminded of why we explore. They’re a physical and mental challenge that demonstrate how we are capable of succeeding in places we never before thought possible. The spirit of exploration is alive and well across our society–and technology like Google Earth opens up even more possibilities to explore ... so, what will your next adventure be?

Learn more about the expedition and check out all of the photos and videos from The North Face expedition to Antarctica.


Titan M makes Pixel 3 our most secure phone yet


Security has always been a top priority for Pixel, spanning both the hardware and software of our devices. This includes monthly security updates and yearly OS updates, so Pixel always has the most secure version of Android, as well as Google Play Protect to help safeguard your phone from malware. Last year on Pixel 2, we also included a dedicated tamper-resistant hardware security module to protect your lock screen and strengthen disk encryption.

This year, with Pixel 3, we’re advancing our investment in secure hardware with Titan M, an enterprise-grade security chip custom built for Pixel 3 to secure your most sensitive on-device data and operating system. With Titan M, we took the best features from the Titan chip used in Google Cloud data centers and tailored it for mobile.



Here are a few ways Titan M protects your phone.

Security in the Bootloader

First, to protect Android from outside tampering, we’ve integrated Titan M into Verified Boot, our secure boot process.

Titan M helps the bootloader—the program that validates and loads Android when the phone turns on—make sure that you’re running the right version of Android. Specifically, Titan M stores the last known safe Android version and prevents “bad actors” from moving your device back to run on an older, potentially vulnerable, version of Android behind your back. Titan M also prevents attackers running in Android attempting to unlock the bootloader.

Lock Screen Protection & Disk Encryption On-Device

Pixel 3 also uses Titan M to verify your lock screen passcode. It makes the process of guessing multiple  password combinations harder by limiting the amount of logon attempts, making it difficult for bad actors to unlock your phone. Only upon successful verification of your passcode will Titan M allow for decryption.

In addition, the secure flash and fully independent computation of Titan M makes it harder for an attacker to tamper with this process to gain the secrets to decrypt your data.

Secure Transactions in Third-Party Apps

Third, Titan M is used not only to protect Android and its functionality, but also to protect third-party apps and secure sensitive transactions. With Android 9, apps can now take advantage of StrongBox KeyStore APIs to generate and store their private keys in Titan M. The Google Pay team is actively testing out these new APIs to secure transactions.

For apps that rely on user interaction to confirm a transaction, Titan M also enables Android 9 Protected Confirmation, an API for protecting the most security-critical operations. As more processes come online and go mobile—like e-voting, and P2P money transfers—these APIs can help to ensure that the user (not malware) has confirmed the transaction. Pixel 3 is the first device to ship with this protection.

Insider Attack Resistance

Last, but not least, to prevent tampering, Titan M is built with insider attack resistance. The firmware on Titan M will never be updated unless you have entered your passcode, meaning bad actors cannot bypass your lock screen to update the firmware to a malicious version.

With the Pixel 3, we’ve increased our investment in security and put industry-leading hardware features into the device, so you can rest assured that your security and privacy are well protected. In the coming months, the security community will be able to audit Titan through its open-source firmware. In the meantime, you can test out Titan M and all of the smarts Pixel 3 brings, when it goes on sale on Thursday, October 18 in the U.S.


Tru Biz: A conversation with Deaf artist Jessica Flores about sign language, stickers, and more

Gboard, Google’s on-screen keyboard, is a tool that helps people communicate exactly the way they want on a mobile device. Gboard supports over 400 languages, thousands of emoji and stickers, and an endless number of GIFs.


Part of helping people communicate is making sure Gboard is accessible for all people, and the languages they speak. One language not supported by Gboard, however, is American Sign Language. ASL isn’t a written language, so it’s not suited for a typical keyboard. However, ASL is one of the most expressive languages, and similar to other languages, has its own slang and regional variations. This makes it perfect for a visual communication format like stickers.


We collaborated with Jessica Flores, a Deaf artist, advocate and popular YouTube creator, to design a series of animated stickers for Gboard that feature ASL. We talked to Jessica about her background, her experience creating the stickers, and how she hopes people might use them.

Ryan: How did you get started doing YouTube videos?


Jessica: I started my YouTube channel about two years ago. At the time, I was working at a coffee shop, and a lot of the customers would ask me the same questions about my hearing loss over and over again, which I totally don’t mind. But once I started noticing this, I began to wonder if there was a way I could educate a much larger audience, instead of just one person at a time.


Ryan: What feedback have you received from other Deaf or Hard of Hearing people on your work?


Jessica: I grew up being the only Deaf person I really knew, so I felt very alone and isolated. When I started my YouTube channel years later, I thought there was only going to be a few people who could relate to my content, but boy, was I wrong! I get messages and comments all the time from both Deaf and Hard of Hearing adults and kids telling me they can relate to my videos. Whenever I get these messages, it’s hands down, one of the best feelings in the world.


Ryan: How do you typically use expressions like stickers/GIFs/emoji? What do you like/dislike about this experience?


Jessica: I use stickers, emojis, and GIFs really often. Some might tell you, too often or, more-than-one-normally-should often. (Insert wide eye, straight big smile emoji here)


Personally, a text message just doesn’t allow me to fully express what I am trying to say, or how I am feeling. I probably feel this way because I am a very animated person. Whenever I sign or talk, I feel like I always need to use all of my facial expressions and body language to express what I am trying to say. Even if it is just something simple like, “Hey can you pass the salt?” it ends up being very animated.


Ryan: What was your vision for these stickers? How did the end product compare to your vision?


Jessica: At the beginning of the project, I had no idea what direction these stickers were going to go in. I thought for sure the stickers would feature one character signing all the words.


But after looking at all of our sketches, I realized I wanted a sticker set that would help spread Deaf awareness and expose American Sign Language to more people, even just a little bit. I knew that if we designed a character for the stickers who signed, only those who knew ASL would know what the signs meant, and those who didn’t know ASL might end up ignoring the set completely.


We settled on the perfect solution: making the words become the characters. Now, if you know ASL, you will understand the whole set, as well as the slang. And if you don’t know ASL you will still be able to follow along with most of the signs their meanings.

Ryan: Were there any challenges you encountered as an artist creating the stickers?


Jessica: A lot of people don’t realize that, in sign language, a simple change in facial expression or body language can change a sign’s meaning completely. Just like how a tone of someone’s voice will allow you to figure out if they are mad at you, or if they’re asking you a question.


So when I had a word like “No”, I had to think about what kind of “No” I wanted to sign. Did I want it to be a sad “no”, a happy “no”, a sarcastic “no”? Then, if I picked sad, I had to ask myself, “How sad is it? Is it so sad it’s crying or is it just bummed out sad?” There are so many ways to sign and say “no” that it was hard to pick just one.


Ryan: How do you hope people will use them?


Jessica: I hope it will inspire people to start learning basic ASL or the other many different types of sign language: Mexican Sign Language, British Sign Language, Filipino Sign Language, etc.


My other hope is that the set will encourage people to start learning about Deaf/Hard of Hearing history, community, and culture. People still have a lot to learn about Deaf people. And the faster we can all learn about each other, the faster we can work towards making the world more accessible for one another.



Schools in London give new life to old computers

Replacing aging computers with new devices can be a strain on school budgets, which means that schools often find themselves with out-of-date hardware sitting in cupboards, collecting dust. However, there’s a way to give old devices new life—by replacing their current operating system with one that’s easy to use, manage and is ready for the cloud.


We’re partnering with London Grid for Learning, a nonprofit organization focused on improving schools’ access to technology and Neverware (creator of the CloudReady operating system), to help schools across London extend the life of their old devices. LGfL has committed to purchasing CloudReady licenses for over 85 percent of London’s schools so they can transform their slow, older hardware into fast, nimble devices that run just like Chromebooks. As CloudReady is based on Google’s Chromium OS, it perfectly complements a cloud-first digital approach, such as using G Suite for Education.

At Connaught School for Girls in East London, pupils and teachers were struggling to use old and slow machines, especially once the school started integrating more digital tools, including Google Classroom. Tight budgets hindered replacement of the devices. The school saw Neverware as a budget-friendly way to revive its old laptops for the Google Classroom adoption, without purchasing a fleet of new devices or paying for laptop disposal.

The results were transformative as the students started using the devices more. ‘’In the last academic year, the devices were booked four times. Now the laptops are booked 21 out of 25 periods per week, creating better access to IT for our students,’’ Silk says. “The beauty of Neverware is that it just works and your older devices are no longer a liability; they can be an asset again.”   


Given current budgetary pressures and compliance demands, it’s more important than ever to find practical solutions that increase secure, affordable access to technology in schools. By partnering with London Grid for Learning and Neverware, Google for Education is improving access to education technology in London schools, whilst also contributing to the sustainability of older technology. If you are an LGfL school, visit go.neverware.com/LGfL to learn how you can use CloudReady by Neverware to refresh your underperforming or underutilised devices. All other schools in the UK can check out CloudReady directly at their website.