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6 Adventurous Apps That Encourage You to Get Outside

Technology and nature seem like an incongruous match. After all, when youre urging your kids to go play outside, its usually in an attempt to distract them from the allure of the Internet and their devices, not an effort to engage them in yet another online activity or app.

But don’t be too quick to dismiss technology. While it’s fun, outdoor exploration is also an informal educational pursuit, and the Internet offers a wealth of information that can help match difficult concepts like biology and astronomy with real-life examples in nature, creating a solid foundation for scientific curiosity and inspiring new knowledge on a daily basis.

Turn a tablet or phone into an instrument for inquiry with nature apps to make the great outdoors with your family even greater. Below are some apps to get you started.

Source: Leafsnap

Leafsnap: Identify foliage in a flash with this interactive field guide developed by Columbia University, the University of Maryland and the Smithsonian Institute by taking a photo of leaves, fruit or bark against a sheet of white paper. Currently the database only contains trees in the Northeastern United States, but the guide is spreading its roots and growing. Leafsnap is free in the app store and is coming soon to Android.

Source: Merlin Bird

Merlin Bird ID: Magic is for the birds with this fun app that asks five easy questions to help guess which bird has been sighted and then offers tips, resources and additional information including sound clips from Cornell Labs Macaulay Library. This free app opens up a whole new world of possibilities for burgeoning birders and is available for iOS and Android devices.

Source: Geocaching

Geocaching.com: Treasure meets technology with geocaching, a hide-and-seek activity thats fun for all ages. GPS coordinates lead players to hidden caches of tokens and small items in this satellite-led scavenger hunt. With over 2.5 million spots listed globally, the free Geocaching.com app on iOS, Android and Windows devices can help you find local loot.

Source: Star Walk

Star Walk: Explore the universe with Star Walk, a real-time astronomy guide that augments reality to show constellations, planets, stars and satellites in their actual place in the sky above. A time machine feature allows users to see a map of nights in the past or future, and a calendar of events ensures youll never miss anything interesting. Star Walk is a paid app available on iOS, Android, Kindle and Windows devices.

Source: Plum’s Photo Hunt

PBS KIDS! Plums Photo Hunt: Kids are encouraged to take a closer look at the world through a new lens with scavenger hunts out in nature. Photo missions include quests like finding signs of animal life, taking a weather-related photo or searching for patterns in nature. The app also includes a field journal so little explorers can organize and analyze their findings, as well as a photo editing app to add characters to their shots. Plums Photo Hunt is free and only available on iOS devices.

Source: Project Noah

Project Noah: Go out into the field with your citizen scientist and submit photos of nature to help with actual research missions and to earn virtual patches for participation. The community can help identify findings and the constantly growing field guide is informative. This app is recommended for ages 10 and up due to the social component but is best used as a family activity anyway. The Project Noah app is available for free on iOS and Android devices.

Kids have a natural curiosity that leads to a desire to learn, and often make discoveries about life and the world they live in through the simple act of playing in the dirt or sitting in a tree. While its true that technology isnt necessary for good old-fashioned outdoor fun, its possible to turn screen time into green time with educational apps that explore nature in a way thats interesting, social and scientific, too.

Ashley McCann writes for eBay about her life as a mother of two young boys. Rather than fight their attraction to electronics, shes found ways to embrace it and purchase affordable options online.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.


6 Adventurous Apps That Encourage You to Get Outside

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How to Protect Your Photos and Files from Natural Disasters

If your home is unexpectedly hit by fire, floods, a hurricane, a tornado or even a crashing tree, will your photos and important papers be safe?

If you take some smart precautions before disaster strikes, you can minimize your losses and save yourself a lot of worry, too. Here’s what to do:

1) Digitize photographs. If you still maintainphoto albums that are important to you, be forewarned that they are heavy, bulky and if you have a lot of them, probably too voluminous to move quickly. If you don’t have time to evacuate before a disaster hits, you could lose them all. The solution is to digitize your photos while you have the time and peace of mind to do so. Get an inexpensive scanner and set it up next to your computer screen. Go through your albums, but don’t scan every single image. Most albums show multiple pictures from the same scene. Pick one or two that are most representative, scan those, then file them into folders you can easily sort through and retrieve. The initial scanning process will take time, but once it’s done, you will breathe easier knowing your photos are secure. You can also create a list in Word or other word processing file to remind yourself what pictures are where.

2) Digitize documents. Scan insurance policies, last wills and testaments, passports, bank records, birth certificates, your mortgage and any other documents you wouldn’t want to lose in the event a natural disaster occurs.

3) Set up a back-up hard drive. I have an external hard drive that constantly backs up my files. When I scan a photo, it not only goes to a file on my laptop, it also ends up on the backed-up hard drive. The hard drive is light and portable, so in the event of a disaster, I could easily carry it as well as my laptop out of the house. NOTE: Some people back up to thumb drives, and of course, this works and is better than nothing. But I have a tendency to lose thumb drives or get them confused. The hard drive keeps everything in one place and nicely organized.

4) Back up to “the cloud.” Even though I have a back-up hard drive in my home, I also back up my computer constantly to a secure file in the internet cloud. I had this lesson reinforced a couple of years ago, before I had my own external hard drive back up. I decided I would back up everything to the cloud “just in case.” The day after the back-up was complete, a massive electrical storm in my area completely fried my computer. When I replaced the computer, the backup files were easily re-installed from my file in the cloud, with nothing lost. Companies like Carbonite.com offer good cloud back-up services.

5) Store original documents in a safety deposit box or in a fire-proof bank vault. If you have original documents at home, even after you’ve scanned them, you might want to secure them in a secure safety deposit box in a safe place ora fire-proof bank vault. If you had a lawyer draw up your will, or you have a financial adviser who helps with investments, both of them should also have copies of these documents; check to make sure they’re taking proper precautions.

6) Use the photo back-up options available on your phone. I have an Android phone, so the photos I take on my phone frequently and automatically back up to my Google photos folder. You can do the same on a Mac. By the way, using this feature is also handy in the event your phone is stolen.

7) Store documents and photos on your second floor or higher, if you have one. This is an especially good precaution if you live in an area that is prone to flooding.

8) Identify the most valuable documents, images, files and records to protect, recommends Polygon. Most of us have far more files than we need. Know which ones you need to keep, and which ones aren’t of primary importance. Winnowing out the extras has an added bonus: it will reduce clutter.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security offers useful guidance on how to prepare for natural disasters generally here.

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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How to Protect Your Photos and Files from Natural Disasters

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What is Dirty Electricity and is it Harmful?

Dirty electricity is a growing issue that can be easily misunderstood due to its complexity.

To help clear up any confusion, here are some answers to common questions about dirty electricity.

What is dirty electricity?

Electricity enters homes and other buildings at a constant frequency, typically 50 or 60 hertz (Hz,) depending on which country you live in. This is considered clean energy as it enters your home.

The problem starts when the electricity reaches appliances, computers or other electronic devices. Many of these devices require a transformer to convert the voltage and/or current, which disrupts the flow of electricity.

These power disruptions create irregular, high frequency surges of dirty electricity that travel along a buildings normal wiring, which should only contain 50 or 60 Hz electricity. The surges are also known as high frequency voltage transients.

Is dirty electricity harmful to our health?

Electrical wires and any devices that use electricity emit electromagnetic fields (EMF), also known as electromagnetic radiation (EMR). These fields will easily pass through most common materials. They are strongest close to the source and diminish with distance.

A growing body of evidence is showing that EMF exposure can be linked to various health conditions. And the stronger an electrical frequency is, the stronger the EMF will be. Thats why the high frequency transients associated with dirty electricity are of particular concern.

The World Health Organization has recognized that there are potentially both short term and long term health risks associated with EMF exposure.

Also, in 2012, a group of independent scientists, researchers and public health policy professionals, called The BioInitiative Working Group, published the BioInitiative Report. Their goal was to give an overview of whats known about the biological effects of EMF exposure. They reviewed over 2,000 scientific studies and concluded that there is substantial scientific evidence showing that even low levels of EMF have biological effects.

Laboratory studies showed that EMF exposure was linked to genotoxic effects, including DNA damage, as well as adverse effects on immune function, neurology, human behavior and melatonin production. There were also various population studies that found connections between EMF exposure and brain tumors, acoustic neuromas, salivary gland tumors, leukemia, Alzheimers disease, Lou Gehrigs disease and breast cancer.

For instance, one study published in the American Journal of Industrial Medicine looked at a cancer cluster in a southern California school exposed to high frequency voltage transients in their electrical system. The researchers found that a single year of employment at this school increased a teachers cancer risk by 21 percent, and teachers there more than 10 years increased their risk by 610 percent. They concluded that these high frequency transients may also be a universal carcinogen, not isolated to a single school.

What EMF levels are safe?

Despite the growing research showing the health risks of EMF, a challenge arises when governing agencies try to determine what levels are actually safe.

There are many different aspects of EMF to consider, such as the electrical voltage, frequency and pulse variations, as well as the duration of a persons exposure and any cumulative exposure over time. All these factors make it difficult to set exact safety standards for EMF in our homes.

Currently, most safety regulations only consider levels of EMF that are high enough to increase the temperature of an object. This is also known as ionizing radiation, such as x-rays.

Any lower energy frequencies that are considered non-ionizing, or do not heat objects, are assumed to be safe to use. These are the types of frequencies we are regularly exposed to from dirty electricity and were found to have detrimental effects in the BioInitiative Report.

In fact, The BioInitiative Working Group feels there may be no lower limit where exposure does not affect us. Until we can find a lower limit where its proven that bioeffects do not occur, they recommend limiting exposure to EMF whenever possible.

How can you avoid dirty electricity?

You have many options for reducing your exposure to dirty electricity and EMF.

There are meters you can buy that measure the levels of EMF in your home. EMF is typically measured either in milligauss (mG) or microTesla (T), depending on your country.

You can also download a phone application that will measure EMF, either for an Android or iPhone.

Some main sources of dirty electricity are:

Television sets
Cordless phones
Entertainment units
Energy efficient lighting
Energy efficient appliances
Dimmer switches
Power tools
Arcing on power lines, caused by loose wires or tree branches touching the lines

Try measuring the EMF levels near any of your suspect appliances, computers or other electrical devices. Replace any of these devices where possible, such as replacing cordless phones with corded phones, or energy efficient lighting (compact fluorescent or LED bulbs) with incandescent or AC halogen light bulbs.

If youre finding high levels in your house, you can install one or more dirty electricity filters. These are available from various online companies. Electrical filters have been shown to control high frequency currents in home electrical systems, but do your research to make sure the company youre buying from is legitimate.

You can tell if the filters are working when you have an EMF meter because you can take before and after measurements.

Many cities also have professional EMF consultants who can come to your home to measure EMF and suggest ways to reduce your exposure.

Dirty Electricity, by Samuel Milham
Public Health SOS: The Shadow Side of the Wireless Revolution, by Camilla Rees and Magda Havas
Overpowered, by Martin Blank

5 Gadgets That Can Slash Costly Vampire Energy Use
Is Your Cell Phone a Health Hazard?
Shocking State of the Worlds Antibiotic Resistance

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are solely those of the author and may not reflect those of Care2, Inc., its employees or advertisers.

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What is Dirty Electricity and is it Harmful?

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The Shiny New "Sharing Economy" Is Sure Starting to Seem Awfully Old-Fashioned

Mother Jones

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Brian Fung writes today about Amazon’s new package delivery scheme:

Flex, Amazon’s new on-demand delivery service, promises to get your packages to you even sooner by hiring independent drivers to bring them to your house. As a lot of reports have pointed out, Flex is basically Uber for Amazon packages.

But, speaking of Uber, how will Amazon’s leap into on-demand logistics affect the rest of the sharing economy?

….Amazon Flex says it will pay its delivery drivers $18 to $25 per hour. They can elect to drive for two-, four-, or eight-hour shifts. In exchange, they need to supply your own car, a driver’s license and an Android phone so that they can install Amazon’s driver app….Compare that to ridesharing services whose drivers get to maximize their flexibility but whose income is more variable. For some, this trade-off may be worth it.

….Amazon Flex is betting that as the economy improves, there will still be people who are willing to work in the sharing economy rather than returning to full-time jobs….Research from PricewaterhouseCoopers predicts the sharing economy will become a $335 billion business by 2025 — up from $15 billion a year today.

Let’s slow down here. What exactly is the “sharing economy”? Originally it was sort of like renting. Time rhapsodized about it in 2011: “The true innovative spirit of collaborative consumption can be found in start-ups like Brooklyn-based SnapGoods, which helps people rent goods via the Internet. Or Airbnb, which allows people to rent their homes to travelers.”

Then it morphed into “Uber for ____” companies. Uber, of course, doesn’t really allow you to share your car with other people. It’s your car and you’re the only one who drives it. Rather, Uber provides infrastructure and scale that allows you to become an on-demand taxicab whenever your schedule allows it.

Now it’s apparently morphed even further. In some sense, Uber allows you to “share” your car with your passengers. That’s a stretch, but Flex doesn’t even provide that. The only thing you’re doing is “sharing” your car with the packages you’re delivering. By that standard, all of us are part of the sharing economy, since we “share” our bodies and brains with employers in order to accomplish tasks that our employer gives us.

In this case, Amazon is doing nothing more than hiring drivers as independent contractors so that it doesn’t have to pay benefits and doesn’t have to pay them if there aren’t any packages to deliver. (You can pick your own shift, but only if a shift is available.) The only real innovation here is that Flex might1 allow you to work odd hours here and there, which is convenient if you have other commitments that prevent you from working a normal schedule. Mostly, though, it’s just Amazon taking the 21st century mania for scheduling workers on a day-to-day basis and instead scheduling them hour-to-hour.

In any case, it now seems as though the “sharing economy” is any job that’s somehow related to a scheduling app and provides workers only with odd bits and pieces of work at the employer’s whim. In other words, sort of like manual laborers in the Victorian era, but with smartphones and better pay. No wonder PricewaterhouseCoopers thinks it will grow to $335 billion over the next decade. By that standard, I’d be surprised if it didn’t break $1 trillion.

1I say “might” because it all depends. Maybe jobs really are first-come-first-serve. Or maybe Amazon will start to favor workers who regularly take as long a shift as Amazon wants them to take. Or perhaps Amazon will start to push offers out to workers, and downrate those who don’t accept them frequently enough. Who knows?

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The Shiny New "Sharing Economy" Is Sure Starting to Seem Awfully Old-Fashioned

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Does Donald Trump Send His Own Tweets? An Investigation

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump tweets a lot. He’s pretty good at it too! Personally, I love his Twitter account. It’s a mix of insanity and self-promotion and insanity and, well, self-promotion. But it’s endearing!

I’ve always assumed that Trump sends his own tweets. This is not because Twitter is a holy place and everyone sends their own tweets, but his account tweets so many weird things that I figured he couldn’t have a professional ghost tweeter at the helm. That person would never let him send half the things he sends. But then a few weeks ago my colleague Ian Gordon pointed me to a Washington Post profile of his media handler, Hope Hicks, which had me in tears:

On his plane, Trump flips through cable channels, reads news articles in hard copy, and makes offhanded comments. He’s throwing out his signature bombastic, sometimes offensive tweets. Hicks takes dictation and sends the words to aides somewhere in the Trump empire, who send them out to the world.

Dictating is still tweeting in a sense, but it really isn’t the same. This means he’s not scrolling through his timeline, checking his mentions, having the full Twitter experience. He’s broadcasting.

Last night, however, the Wall Street Journal said that Trump is, in fact, tweeting:

Mr. Trump doesn’t use a computer. He relies on his smartphone to tweet jabs and self-promotion, often late into the night, from a chaise lounge in his bedroom suite in front of a flat-screen TV.

Now it’s possible that it’s a combination of both: Sometimes he dictates, and sometimes he tweets.

While this is an answer, it begs a new question: How much of his tweets are his? To figure this one out, we put on our social-media detective hats and took a trip to Twitonomy.com.

Since April 23, @realDonaldTrump has tweeted 3,197 times. (Twitter’s API limits how many tweets analytics tools can access, so we can’t go further back than that.)



A majority of those tweets (1,707) have come from Twitter for Android. Another 1,245 have come from Twitter.com. Ninety-nine have come from a BlackBerry, and another 99 have come from an iPhone.


From the above WSJ article, we know Trump doesn’t use a computer, so Twitter.com is out. Those are being done by someone else. The question is: What smartphone is Trump using? Once upon a time, Trump made his dissatisfaction with the iPhone very clear when he demanded that Apple manufacture a larger screen. This is something Apple ended up doing with the iPhone 6 and the still larger iPhone 6+. It’s unclear if this enticed Trump back into the fold. There are some massive smartphones out there! Maybe he has a Galaxy Note 5.

An email to the Trump campaign was not immediately returned. But a second Washington Post article tells us that Trump does in fact tweet from an iPhone.

So, if that is accurate, only 3 percent of Donald Trump’s last 3,197 tweetsat mostactually came from his fingers. (Possibly less if one of his aides also uses an iPhone.) The rest were apparently dictated or, in the case of the Nazi image, sent out by an intern. He’s obviously a busy person (and old, at that), so I understand why he doesn’t send all his own tweets. But still, it takes some of the magic away.

Below are some more charts from Twitonomy about Trump’s tweets:






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Does Donald Trump Send His Own Tweets? An Investigation

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Rand Paul: Troll Me, and I’ll Track Your Phone

Mother Jones

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Rand Paul’s campaign established itself as the cool internet campaign early when it hired Austin-based GOP digital hipster Vincent Harris to run a small social media empire heavy on memes. But the campaign’s latest effort to appeal to the youth seems mostly like an invitation to troll the struggling candidate—except that it’s also kind of creepy.

Paul took to Twitter this afternoon to announce the launch of his new official campaign app—available for free in Apple and Android stores—which promises the latest “insider” Rand Paul news and event listings, as well as “fun” features like a tool to take fake “selfies” with Paul and a hidden Space Invaders-style game in which Paul’s logo shoots at the logos of other candidates. (Sound fun?)

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Rand Paul: Troll Me, and I’ll Track Your Phone

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Donald Trump Gave Out a Senator’s Cell Phone Number. So He Doused the Phone With Lighter Fluid and Torched It.

Mother Jones

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Lindsey Graham learned the hard way on that you never give your phone number to a petty billionaire. But even though Donald Trump’s public read-out of Graham’s cell phone number to the entire country on Tuesday led to a slew of random calls, the Republican senator from South Carolina is responding with a sense of humor.

First he joked on Twitter that he needed a new phone thanks to the flood of calls, asking his Twitter followers on Tuesday afternoon what kind he should get.

Now Graham is trolling Trump in a video for IJReview, a conservative news site. Using fire, a toaster oven, a golf club, a cleaver, and other fun but totally unnecessary methods, he destroys a bunch of flip phones—and one unfortunate blender. “Or if all else fails, you can always give your number to The Donald,” Graham says in closing, before hurling one last phone off screen “for the veterans,” a dig at Trump’s attack on Sen. John McCain’s time as prisoner of war.

Someone may eventually want to tell Graham this isn’t actually how phone numbers work, but we’ll take the videos for now.

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Donald Trump Gave Out a Senator’s Cell Phone Number. So He Doused the Phone With Lighter Fluid and Torched It.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 24 October 2014

Mother Jones

We’re a little late with catblogging today, but that’s not bad under the circumstances—which partly include all those meddling doctors with their tests and pills and questions, but are actually mostly technological. For the most part, the Windows tablet and the new phone have been godsends in the hospital. The Windows tablet, running standard—and fully synced—Firefox, allows me to blog with no trouble, unlike either my iPad or Android tabs. Windows OneDrive gives me access to every picture I’ve ever taken of the cats. And the hotspot on the phone is fast and reliable, unlike the hospital WiFi system.

Unfortunately, I don’t have Photoshop installed, and probably never will since it’s now astronomically expensive and available only by subscription. Even the simplest image editing is a trial with only MS Paint to work with, so any post with a picture is sort of torturous to publish.

But I’m a professional, and nothing is too much work for my loyal readers. So here you go. That’s Hopper on the right, grooming a slightly bemused Hilbert, who joined in a few seconds later and turned both cats into blurs.

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Friday Cat Blogging – 24 October 2014

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The Washington Post Wants Google to Invent a “Secure Golden Key”

Mother Jones

A couple of weeks ago Google announced that Android phones would soon have their contents encrypted by default. The encryption key would be set by the user and Google wouldn’t keep a copy. This means that if police get a warrant to search a cell phone, they can’t get the encryption key from Google. The owner of the phone will have to cough it up.

This is how search warrants work in every other walk of life, but law enforcement agencies were nonetheless frustrated over Google’s new policy. The Washington Post sympathizes with their frustration, and yesterday they mounted a fairly standard defense of the law enforcement position. But then they ended with this:

How to resolve this? A police “back door” for all smartphones is undesirable — a back door can and will be exploited by bad guys, too. However, with all their wizardry, perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key they would retain and use only when a court has approved a search warrant. Ultimately, Congress could act and force the issue, but we’d rather see it resolved in law enforcement collaboration with the manufacturers and in a way that protects all three of the forces at work: technology, privacy and rule of law.

A “secure golden key”? Seriously? Did they bother talking to anyone more technically savvy than their publisher’s nine-year-old grandkid about this?

If you’re going to opine about this stuff, you owe it to your readers to do at least a minimal amount of reporting and research about what’s possible and what’s not. Otherwise you sound like an idiot.

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The Washington Post Wants Google to Invent a “Secure Golden Key”

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Am I the Only Person in the World Who Thinks Windows 8.1 Is Great?

Mother Jones

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The AP reports that Microsoft is prepping a Windows update: “Just one year after the Windows 8 launch, Microsoft issued a free update to address some of the gripes. The system now lets people run more than two apps side by side, for instance, and its Internet Explorer browser lets people open more than 10 tabs without automatically closing older ones.”

Atrios comments: “Whenever I read about Windows 8.x I just shake my head.”

This is something I’d usually address in a weekend post, but I was busy this weekend and I’m curious about something. I apologize in advance to the millions of you who couldn’t care less about this.

Here’s what I’m curious about: why is there so much griping about Windows 8.1? (I’m talking specifically about Windows 8.1 here, not the original Windows 8 release.) I ask about this as someone who’s used both an iPad and an Android tablet extensively, and was surprised at just how much I like the Win 8.1 tablet I bought last month. I mostly got it as a lark, but it’s been great. The tile interface is really nice: smooth, clean, and functional. The menu interface, which brings up menus by swiping in from the sides, is very handy. And if you don’t like the tile interface, you can just boot directly to the old-school Windows desktop and never see it again.

Now, I’ll admit that I haven’t used Internet Explorer for at least 15 years, so I didn’t know about the tab thing. That’s kind of dumb. And getting rid of the Start button on the desktop—probably the single biggest source of complaints—was mind-bogglingly stupid. Still, you can fix that with a third-party add-on in about two minutes. It’s really not worth whining about.

This isn’t to say that Windows 8 doesn’t have issues. There are some annoyances here and there, and the app ecosystem is anemic compared to Apple and Android—though, to my surprise, I managed to download very nice apps for every single application I care about. But overall, I’ve found it to be the best tablet OS I’ve used. The tile apps I’ve installed are mostly excellent; performance is good; I like having both a real file system and a real copy of Office; and it allows me to install a full desktop browser, not a stripped-down piece of junk that chugs along like a Model T. Practically the first thing I did when I got the tablet was to install Firefox and hit the sync button. That was great! A browser that actually does everything I want; supports all the add-ins I like; allows me to write blog posts without compromise; and has great performance. Android can’t touch that, and it drove me nuts on my Asus tablet.

Obviously my reaction is based on the limited set of things I personally happen to do on a tablet. I don’t listen to music or play games, for example, so I have no idea if it’s any good in those areas. But I’m curious to hear from other folks who are using Win 8.1 on a tablet. Do you like it? Or does it really have lots of serious drawbacks that I just haven’t run into?


Am I the Only Person in the World Who Thinks Windows 8.1 Is Great?

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