Better Choices Through Technology

Can augmented reality technology finally make it easy to do the right thing? Last week was huge for a young technology called "augmented...

Can augmented reality technology finally make it easy to do the right thing?

Last week was huge for a young technology called "augmented reality"-and that's important even if you're not a nerd, because it should revolutionize the way we approach social causes. Sure, many current examples of augmented reality are trivial, but hear me out.Augmented reality allows you to see, in real time, data about your surroundings. It's different from having the internet on your phone-you don't actually have to look anything up, and you don't actually have to know exactly what you're looking for. Augmented reality is more like a having a sixth sense-and a seventh and eighth sense-that makes data a natural, passive part of how you see the world.So how does this work? Last week, a Dutch company, SPRXmobile, introduced the first-ever augmented-reality browser platform for a smartphone. It's fairly simple to explain. The software uses two basic features found on smartphones-a compass, and a GPS system. From there, it knows exactly where you are-and, just as important, which direction your phone is pointing. And this is where things get interesting. Armed with that knowledge, SPRXmobile unveiled a rack of applications-including apps to find a nearby ATM, bar, or shoe store; figure out if a company nearby is hiring; identify houses around you that might be for sale; and even research the on-court action at Wimbledon. (Take a second to watch SPRXmobile's amazing demo video.) So far, the app is only for phones running the Android operating system but it's coming to the iPhone soon as well. (That's why it was so important that the newest model, the 3G S, included a compass.)This makes deep information about your surroundings available whenever you have your cell phone without you having to look anything up. When you let that possibility sink in, augmented reality's massive promise becomes clear. If you were to boil a number of social causes-from depleted fisheries to carbon reduction-the central problem is that getting the right information to consumers takes so much money and effort. And consumers themselves have to spend too much time translating that new information into action.With augmented reality you can download a program, and be presented with all of its stored wisdom just when that wisdom is relevant to what you're doing. It then becomes vastly easier to imagine social causes translating into individual action on a large scale-the effort to learn about those causes and about discern what you should drops enormously when you have a cellphone that does the sifting for you, at the exact time that you need it.Imagine the following scenarios. You're in a new city. You'd like to skip on a rental car, and save the cash and the carbon. So you use an app on your phone to find the low-carbon alternatives. It guides you from your current location to the nearest public transit option, letting you know exactly what the schedules are-and, if you're in a city with "smart" bus stops like Portland, even telling you, in real time, how far away the next bus is. You don't have to be tethered to the bus station, hoping that things are running on time.Or lets take another example: depleted fisheries. You walk into a fish restaurant. You point your phone at the door; it knows where you are, and it provides you with a list of fish that are the most environmentally friendly.That's just the beginning. Imagine you're commuting to work, but you don't have a car, and public transit isn't an option out where you live. You boot up an app that alerts others in your car-sharing network where you are, matches you with a ride, and leads you-and your potential ride-to a meet-up point. It may sound unreal, but this technology is already being developed by Avego, among others.Things really start to get nutty when you factor in another technology, QR codes. These function like barcodes that your cellphone can scan. You've already seen the codes popping up on shipping labels and such. Phones with QR-reading functionality will follow soon-in fact they're already common in Japan (of course). When you snap a picture of a QR code, the image directs your phone to download information set by the code's designer.What if all the food in your grocery store was marked with a QR code-you could compare the carbon footprints of two batches of produce. Builders could use specialized apps inside a Home Depot to figure out how materials choices might translate to energy savings.As I've written before, convenience is king when we're talking about making better transportation choices. But that also applies to any worthy cause, if it's ever to become truly mainstream.Personally, I've long been a pessimist about our ability to meet challenges like climate change. Augmented reality has me more optimistic than I've ever been. Granted, it still takes a baseline level of interest for someone to take the time to download an app for a social cause. But compare that effort with what you'd otherwise have to put in to get involved with an issue like fisheries. There's no contest. Augmented reality is the best chance we have to speed crucial information about our world to the people living in it.\n
via The Howard Stern Show / YouTube

Former Secretary of State, first lady, and winner of the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election, Hillary Clinton, sat own for an epic, two-and-a--half hour interview with Howard Stern on his SiriusXM show Wednesday.

She was there to promote "The Book of Gutsy Women," a book about heroic women co-written with her daughter, Chelsea Clinton.

In the far-reaching conversation, Clinton and the self-proclaimed "King of All Media" and, without a doubt, the best interviewer in America discussed everything from Donald Trump's inauguration to her sexuality.

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Offering parental leave for new fathers could help close the gender gap, removing the unfair "motherhood penalty" women receive for taking time off after giving birth. However, a new study finds that parental leave also has a pay gap. Men are less likely to take time off, however, when they do, they're more likely to get paid for it.

A survey of 2,966 men and women conducted by New America found that men are more likely to receive paid parental leave. Over half (52%) of fathers had fully paid parental leave, and 14% of fathers had partially paid parental leave. In comparison, 33% of mothers had fully paid parental leave and 19% had partially paid parental leave.

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Bans on plastic bags and straws can only go so far. Using disposable products, like grabbing a plastic fork when you're on the go, can be incredibly convenient. But these items also contribute to our growing plastic problem.

Fortunately, you can cut down on the amount of waste you produce by cutting down on disposable products. And even more fortunately, there are sustainable (and cute) replacements that won't damage the environment.

Coconut bowls


Who says sustainable can't also be stylish? These cute coconut bowls were handmade using reclaimed coconuts, making each piece one of a kind. Not only are they organic and biodegradable, but they're also durable, in case your dinner parties tend to get out of hand. The matching ebony wood spoons were polished with the same coconut oil as the bowls.

Cocostation Set of 2 Vietnamese Coconut Bowls and Spoons, $14.99; at Amazon

Solar powered phone charger


Why spend time looking around for an outlet when you can just harness the power of the sun? This solar powered phone charger will make sure your phone never dies as long as you can bask in the sun's rays. As an added bonus, this charger was made using eco-friendly silicone rubber. It's win-win all around.

Dizaul Solar Charger, 5000mAh Portable Solar Power Bank, $19.95; at Amazon, $19.95; at Amazon

Herb garden kit

Planter Pro

Put some green in your life with this herb planter. The kit comes with everything you need to get a garden growing, including a moisture meter that helps you determine if your herbs are getting the right amount of food to flourish. All the seeds included are certified to be non-GMO and non-hybrids, meaning you can have fresh, organic herbs right at your fingertips.

Planter Pro's Herb Garden Cedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazonedar Planter, $39.00; at Amazon

Reusable Keurig cups

K & J

Keurig cups are convenient, but they also create a ton of plastic waste. These Keurig-compatible plastic cups are an easy way to cut down on the amount of trash you create without cutting down on your caffeine. Additionally, you won't have to keep on buying K Cups, which means you'll be saving money and the environment.

K&J Reusable Filter Cups, $8.95 for a set of 4,; at Amazon

Low-flow shower head


Low-flow water fixtures can cut down your water consumption, which saves you money while also saving one of the Earth's resources. This shower head was designed with a lighter flow in mind, which means you'll be able to cut down on water usage without feeling like you're cutting down on your shower.

Speakman Low Flow Shower Head, $14.58; at Amazon

Bamboo safety razor


Instead of throwing away a disposable razor every time you shave, invest in an eco-friendly, reusable one. This unisex shaver isn't just sustainable, it's also sharp-looking, which means it would make a great gift for the holidays.

Zomchi Safety Razor, $16.99; at Amazon

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