One of the most enjoyable parts of a vacation is planning.
That might be hard to believe when you consider the planning part usually involves negotiating destinations and dates with your family, saving money for the big trip, and ultimately packing half of your belongings into a minivan.
When my family planned a vacation in the 1970s, we relied on brochures from travel agents and customized AAA Triptiks that mapped each step of the journey.
Twenty years later, we used MapQuest to download and print directions.
Fast-forward another two decades and our travel planning now consists of a laptop and some incredibly useful apps.
AAA Triptiks. One of my most memorable travel planning tools from my youth got an upgrade. The foldable, page-flipping travel guide from the ’70s is now an app, with more features than you’d find on a printed map.
The AAA TripTik Travel Planner (via the AAA Mobile App) includes trip-planning maps and traveling directions. You’ll find more than 59,000 AAA approved and “diamond rated” restaurants and hotels. Use the booking feature to make your reservations and get discounts at more than 164,000 locations.
Best feature: Share your travel plans on multiple devices. Start on a laptop and access your plans later via the mobile app.
DuoLingo. If your trip will take you to some place a little more exotic than Dayton (no offense, Dayton), preparations might include learning the basics of a new language. Whether it’s Spanish, Swedish or Swahili, DuoLingo is one of the best apps for language development. And it’s one of the most downloaded for iOS and Android devices.
How long will it take you to learn the basics? According to DuoLingo, 34 hours on the app is the equivalent to a semester-long elementary language course.
Best features: First, it’s free. Second, DuoLingo is one big, language-learning game. The short lessons start with the basics and then move into useful topics such as numbers, places and distances. Get an answer right, earn points and level-up.
Waze. The social GPS app has grown-up since I first wrote about it in 2014. If you’re unfamiliar with Waze, the Google-owned app is like most GPS devices, offering detailed maps and directions.
Waze makes it social by connecting fellow drivers through its interface. If you’re friends with fellow “Wazers” on Facebook, connect with them on the app by sharing destinations, estimated arrival times or “beeping” (e.g., Facebook “poking”).
Best features: First, once in a while, I drive fast. Not too fast. Still, the “slightly” controversial police notifications are helpful.
Second, Waze occasionally offers celebrity voice guides. Over the years, we’ve received pithy travel updates and quips from stars like Stephen Colbert, Morgan Freeman, and my favorite, Ed Helms. When you download a celebrity voice on Waze, keep in mind they’re usually only around for a short time.
Dan Middleton, better known as DanTDM to millions of adolescent fans around the world, performed at the Akron Civic Center last Friday.
My two oldest daughters asked for tickets. They don’t ask for much. They’re not boy band fans. Our big entertainment expense usually involves a Sunday afternoon trip to the movie theater.
So when they pleaded for DanTDM tickets, I jumped at the opportunity for a parenting win, but not before asking, “What’s a DanTDM?”
“Not a what. A who. He’s a YouTuber,” my oldest daughter said. “He has millions of followers on his (YouTube) channel. You know? He does the Minecraft videos.”
“Oh yeah,” I replied half-knowingly. “OK, let’s go.”
When I posted to Facebook friends about Mr. TDM, they made it clear they knew all about him. “The YouTuber!” one parent proudly replied, but not before one of my more hip friends Brandon quipped, “Do you try to sound old, or is that just natural?”
Brandon was right. I was trying to sound old. I knew of DanTDM long before they asked for tickets.
Acting like I don’t know something is part of Adam’s Parenting 101 strategy. Once in a while I act like I have no clue what my kids are talking about to see how they’ll react.
My kids see this as an opportunity to teach something new to their know-it-all dad. I see this as an opportunity to connect with my kids.
They’re not fully aware of my little scheme, but my oldest daughter is catching on. She’s clever and skeptical, like her mother.
Before dropping $270 on three tickets (no, that’s not a typo; $90 per ticket), I did a little digging to be sure that: (A) this would indeed be an appropriate show for kids (I had no reason to suspect otherwise, but you never know), and (B) would this be even the slightest bit entertaining for a 40-something year-old.
At the show, we weaved our way through a sea of dazed parents and eager children to find our seats. When I made eye contact with parents and snapped them from their zombie-like trance, I’d ask, “Do you know what the ‘TDM’ stands for?”
“The Diamond Minecart,” one mom triumphantly replied.
I paused and asked her, “What’s a Diamond Minecart?” Too late. She was off to buy a $30 T-shirt.
The show included references to Minecraft and characters from his series that most parents wouldn’t know. But the kids knew every reference, as evidenced by the high-pitched squeals and excessive decibel levels.
The encore included a plea from DanTDM to not share online what we just saw. “Make it a surprise for everyone,” he said.
The real surprise, however, was something I shared with everyone online and in-person – that my children and I built some great memories, thanks, in part, to a world-famous YouTuber.
Some of my favorite childhood memories are of overnight camping trips.
Whether it was a fishing trip or church camp, those thoughts still make me smile.
After a day of swimming and catching fish, everyone huddled around a campfire to sing songs (mostly off key) and tell stories (mostly about fish we didn’t catch).
The stories I looked forward to the most were the scary ones, from someone who really knew how to tell a tale. Sometimes it was my Uncle John, a master storyteller in our family, or some wacky camp counselor who had clearly spent too much time outdoors.
Flash-forward 30 years and I still like to hear a good story. But if you’re at all like me – a job, raising kids, paying bills, household chores – I have very little time to read.
Life gets in the way of a good book.
So, I started listening to stories online. About 15 years ago, when I was still a webmaster, we called it “audioblogging.” It wasn’t until Ben Hammersley’s 2004 article in The Guardian that we had a name for it: podcasting.
Podcasting has really grown up since 2004, thanks in part to professional storytellers on series such as Planet Money and Radiolab. It’s the perfect blend of spoken word and investigative journalism.
Yesterday, the team behind successful podcasts This American Life and Serial launched a new, seven-episode series titled S-Town.
To be sure, there was a lot of anticipation for this series. This American Life and Serial have a huge cult following, so there was reason to expect this kind of reception for S-Town.
Brian Reed, host of S-Town and producer with This American Life is my new Uncle John, my new wacky camp counselor.
I just started Chapter 2 – “Has anybody called you?” – and I’m absolutely intrigued.
Early yesterday morning, starting at about 7 a.m., people started downloading episodes of S-Town to their mobile devices.
Twitter and Facebook were alive with S-Town listeners. Here is a sample of their comments: “@cearnett: So I definitely thought @stownpodcast was going to be about some tiny little town well south of me, not somewhere I drive through regularly”; and “@wplittle: The first 15 minutes of @stownpodcast have changed me as a person.”
I tweeted: “People will wonder why productivity is down for March. Blame it on college basketball. Not @stownpodcast. Shh ... no one will know better.”
If you didn’t guess, @stownpodcast is the official handle for S-Town.
What makes S-Town so successful, and why people like me flock to this kind of content, has everything to do with storytelling on budgeted time. I’m able to listen on my time schedule, on my commute to work, or while I’m exercising.
And if you’re going to tell me a good story, I might actually get on the treadmill and stay on just a little longer.
Fans own professional sports.
Sure, billionaire owners make deals and millionaire players sign the big contracts. But fans make choices every day about whether or not to care about sports.
Case in point: read the stories about the panic among NFL execs when TV ratings dropped this past season. Even the Super Bowl took a ratings hit.
Fans are distracted. There’s a lot of content from which to choose, and that content is on a lot of different screens. I just did a quick count of the Earnheardt house. We have 24 screens.
To attract distracted fans, the “Big 4” professional leagues (MLB, NBA, NFL, NHL) started investing more resources into their online platforms.
This past year, those investments started paying off.
It appears that at least two of the four big leagues found the sweet spot with their platforms: Major League Baseball and the National Basketball Association.
“I really like MLB’s At Bat and NBA Gametime,” said Terry Collins, a reporter for CNET News. “Both have really clean sites, and I can get my share of highlights and data without having to do a lot of searching.”
Collins is the jack-of-all-trades journalist at CNET News. He writes about sports, politics, health and social media. He spent six years covering major breaking news in the San Francisco Bay Area for the Associated Press.
When you think sports and technology, you probably think ESPN or Fox Sports and not CNET. Sure, CNET is probably best known for technology reviews. They get all the cool new gadgets and provide reviews, rankings, and how new technology can actually make our lives a little bit better.
But technology is ubiquitous, and one of the best examples of the pervasive nature of technology is sports. Take Collins’ endorsement of the NBA’s Gametime platform.
“I like [NBA Gametime] because of League Pass mobile and the third option for watching games with practically a courtside view,” Collins said. “It’s a much closer view of the action.”
Collins is a West Coast guy. So another feature he likes has to do with start times for East Coast games, something fans in the Pacific time zone have lamented for decades.
“I really appreciate it because I can catch some of the early games that start at 4 p.m. on the West Coast,” Collins said. “I’m often still at work when games start in the East.”
Collins also likes MLBAM (MLB Advanced Media), and thinks it will be running all major sports sites someday.
“MLBAM is really doing a lot of things, and they’ve become such a diverse entity by working on sites like the WWE,” Collins said. “No wonder ESPN/Disney wants to someday buy a full stake in [MLBAM].”
You can read Collin’s stories at cnet.com, and check out his recent piece on second chances for busted NCAA March Madness brackets.
Depending on where or what you read about WikiLeaks, or with whom you discuss its impact, you’re bound to get different opinions.
Those discussions often lead to questions such as “what is WikiLeaks?” Or the bigger question: “how does WikiLeaks affect me?”
The first question is easy to answer. The second question, not so much.
Reading the WikiLeaks entry on the other well-known wiki, Wikipedia, probably provides the most balanced description.
According to Wikipedia, WikiLeaks is a “non-profit organization that publishes secret information, news leaks, and classified media from anonymous sources. Its website claims a database of 10 million documents in 10 years since its launch. Julian Assange is generally described as its founder, editor-in-chief and director.”
That’s a fair and balanced definition. Even if WikiLeaks doesn’t like it, they can just hack in and change it, right?
However, WikiLeaks takes a more nuanced approach to describing what it is they do.
According to its site, “WikiLeaks specializes in the analysis and publication of large datasets of censored or otherwise restricted official materials involving war, spying and corruption.”
Releasing documents on war and spying bothers some people. Releasing corruption details is met with less resistance (except from the corrupt individuals and governments, of course).
In a Der Spiegel interview, Wikileaks founder Julian Assange said, “WikiLeaks is a giant library of the world’s most persecuted documents. We give asylum to these documents, we analyze them, we promote them and we obtain more.”
In essence, WikiLeaks positions itself as a window into in the deepest, darkest, and often illegal, corners of governments and corporations.
WikiLeaks made headlines last week by publishing a large collection of secret CIA documents. The ominously named “Vault 7” contains 8,761 pages of classified files.
In its press release, WikiLeaks promised this document dump to be the first in the “Year Zero” series. The series promises to focus on documents given to WikiLeaks that expose the CIA’s plan to gather information from digital devices.
So, the CIA has hacking capabilities. That’s not news.
So, the CIA can use security flaws in iPhones and Samsung TVs. That’s news. I’m not an investor, but I suspect that news didn’t help Apple or Samsung stock prices.
That’s what WikiLeaks is and does. They take secret documents, like those leaked to them from the CIA, and make them publicly available to be scrutinized and, to some extent, to shame government agencies and leaders.
As for that second question, how WikiLeaks affects you. I’ve had the “WikiLeaks make us stronger/weaker” debate, and the “we are safer/unsafe with WikiLeaks” argument, more than I care to count.
Even if the CIA isn’t spying on Americans, someone might be. Take the proper steps to protect your private information and, as always, avoid sharing those salacious secrets on social media.
I’m verified on Twitter.
I know this because of the blue verified badge that sits next to my profile, and because Twitter sent me a congratulatory email.
According to Twitter, this badge lets people know that my account is of public interest, and it’s authentic.
Verification on Twitter is the equivalent of a wedding band.
When I first got married, a good friend said the wedding band was as a seal of approval. “The wedding band makes you slightly more attractive because it shows that someone vouches for you,” he said.
My wife liked me enough to put a ring on it. So did Twitter.
The process of Twitter verification is not an automatic one. Case in point: the @Vindicator account. One would assume that Twitter would automatically verify our renowned, award-winning newspaper.
It wasn’t until a few weeks ago that the @Vindicator received the blue badge of approval, thanks to The Vindicator’s social media Sherpa, Sean Ferguson.
“The process was really easy and user-friendly,” Ferguson said. “Within two days, The Vindicator account was verified and there was a jump in followers, all due to that little blue (verified badge).”
Ferguson went to the verification form, entered some basic information, and voila, The Vindicator received Twitter legitimacy.
For media outlets, the process for verification is simple. For the rest of us, the process is a little more cumbersome, and it can take months. It took me a few shots before receiving verification, which really makes Twitter’s review process all the more genuine.
If Twitter denies your verification request, they require you to wait 30 days before submitting a new one.
To start the verification process, go to support.twitter.com and search “verify an account.” You’ll find a list of requirements for making your account verifiable.
Start with the basics. Your account must have a verified phone number, confirmed email address, bio, profile and header images, and website. You also need to set your tweets to “public” in the privacy settings.
If you’re verifying an individual account, have a copy of your government-issued photo ID ready to upload (e.g. license, passport).
That’s the easy part. The tough part is proving your account is of public interest. Regardless if you’re in music, acting, fashion, government, politics, religion, journalism, media, sports, business, or some other key interest area, you need to prove your worth.
Be ready to tell Twitter why your account should be verified. What is your impact on your field if interest? If you’re a company, what’s your mission? Next, find some URL’s that help express your newsworthiness or relevancy in your field.
Twitter also suggests the following:
Follow these steps and you’ll be on the path to that coveted blue badge.
Instagram is the over-achiever of the social media world.
Each week seems to bring new third-party applications for capturing, manipulating and sharing stunning images.
Last week, the photo-sharing platform introduced a new feature that gives users the option to upload multiple photos and videos in one post.
“With this update, you no longer have to choose the single best photo or video,” Instagram said in its announcement Wednesday.
“Now, you can combine up to 10 photos and videos in one post and swipe through to see them all.”
Adding multiple photos and videos is simple. To find the files you want to share, look for Instagram’s new icon. It resembles a picture of layered images, and at least for now, the icon reads “select multiple.”
“It’s easy to control exactly how your post will look,” Instagram said. “You can tap and hold to change the order, apply a filter to everything at once or edit one by one. These posts have a single caption and are square-only for now.”
Your followers will find it just as easy to navigate your multiple images. On the profile grid, the first photo or video of the new post will have a small icon, indicating there’s more to see.
Of course, this new tool is one of many to add to your Instagram arsenal.
Check out these additional tools for creating amazing images for your feed:
1. Font Studio (Android). If you’re looking to add quotes, artwork, and layers of different fonts, this app has it all. Font Studio has over 100 fonts, with more available for download. Rotate, enlarge, and shrink text to fit your image, or change the color of your text, alter the transparency, and add shadows.
Although the focus with Font Studio is on typography, you can adjust the brightness, contrast, saturation and blur of an image. When you’re masterpiece is complete, add one of more than a dozen filters.
It’s free in the Google Play store. Check out Font Candy for iOS devices for an app with similar features.
2. Slow Shutter Cam ($2.99, iOS). Before I pay for any app over 99 cents, I do my homework. This app is worth every penny. Slow Shutter Cam puts the power of a DSLR on your iPhone. For a free Android equivalent, check out Camera FV-5 Lite, or the pay $3.95 for the full version.
Slow Shutter Cam offers three capture modes. Motion Blur puts your camera in shutter priority mode for waterfall effects. Light Trail picks up on fast moving lights from cars and fireworks to create light stream effects. Low Light does just as the name suggests, picking up on every light source to create amazing images in the dark.
Other Slow Shutter Cam highlights include an unlimited shutter speed, real time image previews, freeze, blur strength and time-lapse controls.
I love a good science fiction book.
Thanks to e-readers and the Internet, it’s never been easier and cheaper to find a good book. My Kindle has a dozen or so books that cost a dollar each.
Still, some of the best e-books are actually free, including a few on Amazon. Some of the best online free books are available to anyone with Internet access. No Kindle required.
Online storytelling communities have become all the rage among writing communities over the last few years. Authors can post writings that run the genre gamut, from fiction to non-fiction, suspense to self-help, it’s all there.
Writings appear as articles, stories, and poems, either through a website or app.
To be honest, I found one of my favorite storytelling communities, Wattpad, through my daughters.
“I want you to read my story,” daughter number one said.
“Great, print it out, and I’ll read it,” I said, like I was still reading books in the 20th century.
“No, it’s on Wattpad, and you have to vote on it,” she said. I’ll explain the voting thing in a second.
“What’s Wattpad?” I asked.
The beauty of Wattpad is less about free access to good (and some not-so-good) writing, and more about a community of readers and authors sharing their work, asking questions, and providing critiques.
My daughters have posted several stories and receive regular feedback from their readers, most of whom are friends from school. They offer suggestions on possible changes to a character, subplot ideas, and alternate endings.
The best stories rise to the top through votes. A vote simply suggests the reader likes the story. Getting a lot of votes improves the chances of having your work read by more community members.
Readers can share their favorite writings on other social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Tumbler. Or you can simply share it with a friend via email.
Don’t be fooled. Wattpad is not just for kids.
Some very famous authors have made their way to Wattpad in hopes of gaining new readers, to get feedback on works-in-progress, and to tease other work yet to be released.
One of Wattpad’s more famous champions is Margaret Atwood, author of best-selling books like “The Robber Bride,” “Onyx and Crake” and “The Handmaid’s Tale,” the latter of which will be released as a television series on Hulu in April.
Atwood’s work on Wattpad is impressive. The opening to her 2015 book, “The Heart Goes Last,” is available for community members.
After spending some time with Wattpad over the last year, reading work from Atwood and the Earnheardt girls, it’s clear there’s a little something for everyone – from the new novelist to the seasoned storyteller.
Note: Atwood will deliver the YSU Skeggs Lecture on April 21 at Stambaugh Auditorium. Tickets are free and available at the Stambaugh box office.
“I’m done with Facebook,” a close friend recently lamented to me over a cup of coffee at Youngstown State’s Dunkin’ Donuts.
“I just can’t take the negativity anymore,” she said. “The political posts are overwhelming. And what’s worse is I agree with what most of my friends are posting.”
She held up her pointer and middle fingers in the air to make quotes when she said “friends.”
“You can’t just drop in with rant after rant, and expect me to want to stick around,” she said.
“They haven’t engaged me on a personal level. “
She asked me to get coffee to vent, but also to find some strategies for dealing with the seemingly endless political posts and the sea of disruption the world has been floating on since November.
OK, OK. I know. This all started long before November.
Still, it left us to wonder what happened to civility on Facebook. When exactly did it turn from cute baby pictures, pithy memes and inspiring quotes to picket signs and bullhorns?
“When did everyone suddenly become a loudmouth on a soap box in the town square?” she asked.
A few years ago, I wrote about my resolution to be a better social media user.
In that column, I noted our penchant for being better social media users. To be better, I opined, meant being a more “positive” social media user.
A coffee in one hand, and smartphone in the other, she scrolled through her Facebook newsfeed methodically unfollowing or unfriending anyone who posted even the slightest hint of a political opinion.
“I’m done with them all,” she exclaimed (a little loudly, I might add).
Clearly, she’s frustrated. She’s not alone.
If you’ve recently scrolled through your newsfeed, you’ve likely read posts from friends who claim they’re unfriending friends. Those who post anything political or don’t ascribe to a specific political ideology get the boot.
The fact is, there are tried-and-true strategies for dealing with unwanted posts. We’ve just forgotten them.
The first one begins with you.
Are you mostly positive in your social media posts?
“Be the positive social media change you want to see in the social media world.” No. Gandhi didn’t really say that, but I like to think he would have.
“Try this,” I told my friend, “let the first thing you post each day be something positive.”
Rather than respond to political posts with your own perspectives that perpetuate negativity, offer a positive retort.
Say something positive about someone in your life, post an uplifting picture, or find an inspirational quote.
It doesn’t mean that every post has to be positive and inspiring, just the first one. Positive posts are infectious. You can inspire others to be upbeat.
And who knows? Your positive posts may lead you to cultivate new friendships and mend broken ones.
When the ratings for Sunday’s Super Bowl rolled in, they were likely met with some disappointment in the National Football League’s front office.
Conversely, media critics and researchers weren’t surprised. Ratings for NFL games have been down all year.
Fox’s broadcast of the big game drew 111.3 million viewers, according to Nielsen data released by the network on Monday. It was the smallest audience for the NFL’s championship in four years.
To be clear, garnering 111.3 viewers is an impressive feat when you consider our entertainment options. With counter programming such as Animal Planet’s annual Puppy Bowl or the Hallmark Channel’s Kitten Bowl, it’s easy to understand why some people simply turned the channel.
It may be hard to understand why so many chose not to watch the Super Bowl. After all, it was one of the greatest games in NFL history. It had an exciting finish. It had the first-ever overtime in championship history. The winning team came back from a huge deficit to win.
Why did so many people turn away?
Some claim the game was, well, boring. So, they may have turned away early. When you consider that most people tune in before the game kicks off to view the pomp and patriotism, they were probably watching with an expectation that the game would be exciting.
Instead, the first half was a blowout, probably leaving many people to lose interest.
Some claim the lower numbers are a reflection of the scandals that continue to plague the NFL. Whether it’s concussions or domestic violence, some viewers are turning away in protest.
But don’t blame social media. The fact is the social media ratings were worse than Nielsen’s TV ratings. Yes, users were actively posting updates about the big game on big platforms like Twitter and Facebook. But even those numbers were down from previous championships.
For example, some 60 million Facebook users created 200 million images, comments and reactions (i.e., Likes) during the Super Bowl, many of which were posted during the Pepsi Half Time Show with Lady Gaga. That’s down 25 percent from last year, when 65 million people created 265 million posts.
Twitter users were far less active than the previous year. According to Nielsen, about 3.8 million U.S.-based users created just under 17 million tweets during the game. That’s a drop of about 33% from last year’s championship, which generated a little more than 25 million tweets.
In fact, Twitter’s response to the lower numbers was interesting. They noted that users generated over 27 million “global” tweets about the game.
Rather than respond to the decline in activity, they simply posted the numbers with highlights from important moments during the game.
You can see more on those numbers and tweets at blog.twitter.com.
Dr. Adam C. Earnheardt is associate professor and chair of the department of communication at Youngstown State University in Youngstown, OH, USA. He researches and writes about social media and technology, sports and fans.