Archive for the 'Technology' Category

Leave distracted driving in 2017


I had to see it for myself. A roadside warning sign in a new development in Boerne, Texas, USA. When my son first sent me an image of it, I thought it was a Photoshop special, an Internet hoax. Surely, it was a farce.

The sign read – not “Slow / Children At Play” – but “Caution / Children Texting.” A walking stick figure with its head down toward an apparent electronic device accompanied the written message.

Welcome to 2018, home of ubiquitous screen staring.

Somewhere in the madness, at least one of us has this resolution: Stop texting and driving.

“It can wait, Dad,” my kids remind me, borrowing a line from AT&T. “Stay alert, stay alive,” a highway department sign reads. “TALK TEXT CRASH,” states another public service message in shaky, haunted house lettering.

To help someone form the habit of buckling his mobile device in the backseat of his car, I offer my top seven reasons to quit driving distracted in the New Year.

Numbers 6 and 7 are self-evident and should be sufficient, but never underestimate a human’s ability to steal defeat from the jaws of victory.

#7. You could hurt yourself. A plea to self-interest seems to be an effective approach in this age. Some cars are self-driving, yes. Others still roll down embankments. Some still land in ravines.

#6. You could hurt someone else. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has plenty of research at that shows distracted driving is as bad as drunk driving. The only thing worse than injuring yourself would be to injure others and have to live with yourself.

#5. You might misspell your text message. Auto-correct is problem enough when trying to get your point across. Don’t add the distraction of seventy miles per hour. You might accidentally tell a client you hate her, or, worse, you love her.

#4. You might miss a beautiful sunset, a big buck or a billboard advertising your favorite cosmetic surgery.

#3. It’s hard to get a good selfie when you’re texting. There seems to be no limit to our culture’s self-absorption. Remember, remote friends once waited weeks for a mailed response. They can wait again. None of us is that important.

#2. It’s the law. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, forty-seven states including Texas have banned texting while driving. Fourteen states not including Texas have banned all handheld devices while driving. The City of Boerne instituted such a ban for its limits in 2015.

#1. And the number one reason not to text and drive? Drumroll, please…because everyone else does.

Here’s to a Happy (and safe) New Year! As I tell my sixth grade basketball team on a fast break, “Eyes up!”

Read more from Kevin Thompson at

A movie filtering service with promise

Shock and shame. That’s the mixture I felt in my local drugstore earlier this year. I had just picked up a prescription for a sick child and inadvertently walked down the magazine aisle on my way out. Sadly, we’re all fairly desensitized to what we might see there.

But on that day, the cover of an annual “swimsuit issue” made me sick to my stomach. Literally.

“These are the same people who put a kids’ sports magazine in my nine-year-old’s hands every month,” I thought. (It was a gift subscription from a grandparent.) And this is the same outfit that delivers news to millions of people every day: CNN / Sports Illustrated.

As a parent, you learn quickly that the entertainment and media industries are not on your side. Middle men and women can hardly be trusted either. If they could, my four-year-old daughter wouldn’t have to see spread bikini legs advertising the movie “Sex Tape” on her way in to see “Frozen” at our local theater. How confusing it must be to grow up in this age.

And how exhausting it is to try to protect our little ones from the onslaught. The filtered television versions of movies were a helpful alternative for a while until the commercials became excessive and unpresentable. Often, my family will forego media altogether rather than try to fast forward or mute at just the right time. The MPAA rating system is hardly helpful nowadays.

While solid alternatives like “War Room” (in theaters now) have come onto the scene in recent years, I have long wanted to enjoy the redeeming qualities of modern media without enduring the baggage. Enter Vid Angel, a streaming video service that allows you to pick and choose what you see and hear.

I found this company by simply searching for “TV versions of movies.” The Idaho-based group has a network of “angels” that watch and tag movies for profanity, substance use, sexuality/nudity/modesty and violence/blood/gore.

The angels record a brief description of each item tagged and then present you, the viewer, with the ability to turn on or off categories as a whole, or specific instances in part. The process really makes you feel like you’re back in the driver seat as a viewer and as a parent.

Presently, Vid Angel has more than 400 movies available, as well as a handful of popular TV shows including the record-setting Game of Thrones. The service streams through devices like Roku, Chromecast and Apple TV. There are also apps for viewing on Apple and Android mobile devices.

Vid Angel’s payment system is a little clunky but necessarily so. Under existing copyright laws, no one can alter or filter a movie they don’t legally own.

So, Vid Angel requires you to purchase a movie for $10 – $25, but then you can sell it back within twenty-four hours for $1 – $2 less than the purchase price. The net effect is you have viewed a high definition movie for $2 (standard definition for $1.50). These prices are comparable to other video streaming services in the marketplace.

The company is young and the technology is complicated, but I was thrilled that their product worked more or less as advertised. They “swore” that I’d love it and so far I do.

Follow Kevin Thompson at

Staying relevant in an evolving world

I had gone down to the hotel lobby for a bucket of ice. In one of the meeting rooms, all my banking seminar classmates were watching a movie that our instructor had assigned for the next day’s class. Somehow, I missed the memo – probably because there was never a memo, only a GroupMe message.

I figured it out four days later, after missing a handful of other class meetings and announcements. And I thought I was being progressive when I listed “text” as my preferred communication method.

I obviously had never heard of GroupMe. Consequently, my group never heard from me. I was, in a way, inconsequential. That is, irrelevant.

Of all the things I’d like people to say about me, “relevant” is on the list. I want to matter – to my kids, to my wife, to my customers, to my employer.

The more the world changes – and the faster it changes – the harder it is to feel relevant. Fortunately, my banking school schedule included a course on keeping bank branches relevant in an internet banking world. It was taught by Dave Martin, a retail banking columnist for American Banker magazine.

Martin said the average American visits a bank branch two or three times per year. That may or may not be the number of times your internet banking system requires you to change your password.

Anyway, what is the need for a physical bank branch when you can do practically every banking task from the confines of your underwear?

Good question, and surely one my employer considered before opening a not-cheap 4,500 square foot banking center for me to run last year.

Cavernous bank lobbies are a holdover from when lines of customers snaked to and fro waiting to deposit paper paychecks. Today, checks are nearly extinct. Less than fifteen years ago, fifteen Federal Reserve check processing centers scattered the country. Only one remains.

Evolution is happening in every industry, Mr Martin observes with both a comforting addendum and a prescient warning: “Evolution does not mean elimination, but failing to evolve guarantees elimination.”

According to Martin, organizational progress gets threatened by three types of people. “Snipers” shoot down every idea that might move an organization or a person forward. They have a form of intelligence but deny its power.

“Historians” remember when every idea failed before. Never mind that the landscape may have changed in a way that will now grant the idea success. Historians are stuck in the good ‘ole days which are “good” primarily because you know how they turned out. The past didn’t kill you so it seems safe now.

“Jetsons” are futurists who saw the answer to every perplexity last night on the Discovery Channel. If you would just buy a new technology system or adopt the latest production technique, your performance issues would be solved.

Relevant people aren’t snipers – they fail more, not less, than average. They aren’t historians – they don’t trip on things behind them. They aren’t Jetsons – they recognize that success stems from the consistent application of good habits, that everything is hard until it is easy.

Mr Martin believes bank branches can still provide a place for people to get straight answers from people they trust about financial questions. They can profitably serve as the human interface of the bank’s online operations. They can stay relevant.

And I can learn to use GroupMe.

Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Contact him at

Suffering from password overload

The email read, “We’ve had a security breach. We need you to change your password immediately.”

The message looked and acted official. It was from a company email address. It appealed to my friend’s authority in his organization. It piqued his sense of responsibility. And it presented a contemporary corporate catch-22:

Click the link and risk being labeled by IT as prone to “phishing.” Don’t click the link and be labeled as unconcerned about data security.

After quickly weighing pros and cons, my buddy clicked the link.

“GOTCHA!” the technology department wrote back in more diplomatic language but with no less twisted pleasure. He had indeed fallen prey to a manufactured phishing attempt, the nerds alerted, and they had just the online training he needed.

Of course, the online training required a password – which he didn’t know!

Anyone else suffering from data security confusion? How ‘bout password overload? My password list no longer fits on the Post-It note stuck to my monitor!

While I should have known shopping at Target could one day empty my bank account, who knew fifteen years ago I would one day need a password for Domino’s?

Password complexity is part of the problem. Upper case, lower case. Letters, numbers, symbols. 8 characters, 16 characters, 246 characters.

Some passwords can’t include your name or initials. Others can’t include any word in the English language! Just when I was getting good with pass “phrases:”

OopsIdiditagain. Myfavoritecolorisgreen. Cloudywithachanceofrain.

To survive in this technology age, we basically need a graduate degree in cryptology.

“Do not eat convenience store sushi.” becomes “Dn3C$S.” This abbreviation is “strong”, unless a password requires a minimum of 10 characters.

And then, there’s the dreaded password change requirement. The nerds seem to be in a race to see who can require a shorter cycle. Beware; the following message is coming:

“Six minutes have passed since you last logged in. It is now time to change your password. Your new password cannot include any digit in your account number. It cannot include any character on the QWERTY keyboard. We will be sending you a special wingding keyboard with 176 characters and emoticons to choose from. Please allow 7-10 business days for delivery.”

So much for technology’s promise of increased efficiency.

And how about this conundrum?

You want to log in to your online account. You need your account number to do so. Your account number is listed on your statement. Since you signed up for e-statements, your statement is securely locked down inside the online account you cannot access.

But just think how many trees you saved! Go sit under one to defuse.

And, finally, the equally dreaded security questions:

My favorite teacher? My best childhood friend? My first pet? If only life were so clean-cut and I could remember if I capitalized their names.

Part of the problem is that since each nerd is consumed by his particular system, he thinks we are, too. He can’t fathom the possibility that anyone would forget a password or security question answer to his masterpiece.

That’s okay. This password / security question era will pass soon. Fingerprint readers, retina scanners, breathalyzers, blood samplers. Something will save us from the ever-growing list of passwords and their ever-changing requirements.

Until then, h@n9in+her3.

Kevin Thompson writes a weekly column for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at:

Cutting the cable & surviving

It started with my friend, the software engineer. This man knows technology. He recently acquired his own 3D printer. He was hanging at out at Radio Shack before hanging out at Radio Shack was cool. (I know what you’re thinking; I’m trying not to call him a nerd.)

He could land a rocket on the moon (actually, he’s done work for NASA) and he could land a gig at any company in Silicon Valley. But his most inspiring achievement to me? He cut the cable.

Whether satellite or cable, TV is as essential to some people as electricity. It’s a perceived fundamental right of first-world living. Many bachelors would relinquish water and sewer before they’d forego unlimited action movies and 24-hour sports. The old UHF and VHF are as foreign as UFOs.

But let’s be honest. How many TV channels does one need? “I never appreciated home shopping networks 1 through 17, but that number 18…WOW!”

We have all experienced this modern media paradox: The more that’s on, the less there is to watch. You know “channel surfing.” Have you ever heard “channel landing?”

Traditionally, the primary benefit of cable/satellite TV was the reception. The weather affects it less than antenna-delivered TV. That seems to be changing with the advent of digital broadcast programming.

Back to my software engineer friend. Last year, he installed a high-powered 25-foot antenna across his attic. Because of his position in the hill country, he gets Austin stations as well or better than San Antonio stations.

So, when I realized I was paying $700 a year for a bunch of stuff that can ruin my kids’ lives, I cut the cable, too. My antenna now rests proudly in the same conduit where the satellite once sat. My wife thinks it’s a bit obnoxious. I think it needs Christmas lights.

After the switch, I get less irritated when I must scramble to sensor the previews that come on during football. At least I’m not paying for that gunfight or love scene.

And lest you mourn the loss of your DVR to record a show or to pause live TV, another bright friend reminded me of a solution. Microsoft Windows 7 comes with a program called Media Center that acts as a DVR for broadcast TV.

With most movies and sitcoms now streaming via the Internet, the loss of the traditional cable/satellite TV connection is not a huge burden. Even without A&E, Si’s wisdom still finds its way into our home.

Thankfully, the Internet is moving us closer to a pay-for-performance model that allows viewers to subscribe simply to the content they want, not the trash they don’t. It is more precisely picking entertainment winners and losers and hopefully calling both to a higher standard.

Cable/satellite TV still has a stronghold on sports. ABC has moved many games to cable-only ESPN (Monday Night Football, for instance). Major League Baseball awarded one of its league championships series to cable channel TBS. (Fortunately, Sunday’s Super Bowl was still free for all.)

Undoubtedly, these moves are making cable more indispensable for the mega sports fan, not less. Others of us are patronizing sports bars for the big game or discovering that life actually goes on enjoyably without it.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. Follow him at

Help kids reject high-tech lies

ImageWhat are kids learning from the high-tech world they’re growing up in? Lots of fascinating stuff, of course. But child development guru Dr. Kathy Koch ( has also identified lies or “misbeliefs” that Generation Y (aka the Millennials) are absorbing.

Unless these lies are gently refuted by wise and discerning adults, children are in for a long, hard journey. Tragically, the slog is sometimes cut short. According to Dr. Koch, suicide is the 3rd leading cause of death among 11-19 year olds. We must help kids re-interpret these false messages:

Misbelief #1: “The world revolves around me.” We’re all susceptible to this lie, but young people are particularly vulnerable. Everywhere they look, from targeted TV advertising, to customized banner ads, to personalized gear and accessories, it’s all about them. They desperately need a Galileo moment.

Misbelief #2: “I deserve to be happy all the time.” With movies and games that follow them from setting to setting and device to device, kids approach unhappiness like a global injustice. But they don’t need happiness. They need joy and contentment. Here’s the simple truth: What you’re in will bring you short-term happiness; what’s in you will bring you long-term joy.

Misbelief #3: “I must have choices.” No, you don’t, little one. You can adapt to what we’re doing. But tired parents (e.g., this author) often find it easier to give choices and make compromises to avoid fights. Many twenty-somethings are living at home because they can’t make big decisions that would limit their choices.

“You don’t have to turn ground beef into tacos, hamburgers and meat loaf,” Dr. Koch says. “Make meat loaf and let them go to bed hungry if they choose! Life doesn’t come with drop-down menus.”

Misbelief #4: “I need what I want when I want it.” Endless information and constant communication make the lust for instant gratification stronger. Kids are impatient, argumentative and demanding. It’s not necessarily their fault; it’s their culture. We need to teach the difference between needs and wants.

Misbelief #5: “Everything should be easy for me and I should always win.” The “participation trophy” generation has trouble (a) working hard to win and (b) losing graciously. There’s always been a manual for how to beat the video game. You get to “play again” until you succeed. Not in real life. Weak work ethic plus strong entitlement equals difficulty in life and relationships.

Misbelief #6: “Boredom is my enemy so I must multitask.” Dr. Koch says we’re “not so much multi-tasking as semi-tasking.” If kids are constantly entertained away from boredom, they’ll never discover what really lights their fire. Boredom sparks interest. An engaging parent can then fan the flame of passion.

Misbelief #7: “My friends determine who I am and who I will be.” Pleasing people online is so tempting because feedback is instant and widespread. “Friends” like or not like, thumbs up or thumbs down, tweet positively or negatively as soon as you say or do anything.

Therefore, young people will often say things polar opposite from what they said a short time before. Who they are is very much dependent on who they’re with. Dr. Koch calls this dangerous tendency “liquid identity.”

Misbelief #8: “Self-evaluation is unnecessary. Others will tell me how I’m doing.” Immediate and objective feedback from authoritative sources can be a powerful tool for growth. A teenager’s Facebook feedback may be instant, but it’s rarely objective or authoritative.

If we help kids review their own work and behavior objectively, then they can catch their own mistakes before major consequences arise. They won’t flap in the winds of socially mediated whims.

Misbelief #9: “I can solve most problems by ‘rebooting.’” My 10-year-old did this recently when he couldn’t get a DVD player to work. Whenever I make a physical (vs. digital) mistake, I’ll subconsciously reach for the “undo” key in my mind before I realize no such button exists.

Teens and twenty-somethings change jobs, romances, locales and lifestyles more often than previous generations. They are trying to auto-correct and Photo-shop life. Life doesn’t work that way. Behaviors have real consequences.

Misbelief #10: “I am my own teacher because I can find the information I need.” Young people feel powerful because of the data at their fingertips. They perceive non-techie parents and grandparents as clueless and out of touch.

But there is a difference between knowledge and wisdom, between information and understanding. Older generations shouldn’t abdicate their authority to train and guide younger generations, no matter how much data the whippersnappers may have.


More generations are alive today than ever before. Older generations have friendships, business relationships and marriages based on a commonality of beliefs. They have “belief-based relationships.”

Millennials have “relationship-based beliefs.” They believe things based on the people they’re around. That’s why they feel no dissonance about having one opinion around one group and another opinion around a different group.

This doesn’t mean they don’t have values. The Internet has shown them how broken the world is. They desperately want to improve it. They are innovative, entrepreneurial and creative in their approaches. Dr. Koch says if we help them discern their passion, if we give them a purpose, they will live through the heartache they see in the world around them.

Specifically, how do we enter into relationship with them? Dr. Koch recommends two simple steps: Have (1) digital-free days and (2) digital-free zones (e.g., the car). Kids will enter them kicking and screaming, but they will emerge thrilled by how exciting checkers can be with a parent of undivided attention.


Kevin Thompson writes weekly for The Boerne Star in the Texas hill country. He can be reached at

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