Across the U.S., the pandemic has forced students to attend virtual school to prevent spread of the coronavirus. But the more we rely on technology, the bigger the consequences when gadgets or internet service let us down.
Technology being technology, all sorts of things can go wrong. Your internet service may be inadequate for all-day videoconferencing or simply overstressed. Hardware and software can be confusing, can break, and sometimes just fails to work. There can be unanticipated consequences from turning on a new video camera in your home for school lessons.
Here are answers to some common questions from parents now forced to manage their kids’ virtual educations.
Q: We don’t have a computer/enough computers/fast enough internet service for online school. What do we do?
A: This affects millions of people, and there are no perfect solutions.
It’s possible to use smartphones as hotspots for computers, but that’s an imperfect solution at best. Not all plans let you run hotspots off your phone, and if you can, you probably face data caps — which makes it impractical for all-day online school.
Some cable companies are offering low-cost service for eligible families, although those programs are typically limited to areas the companies already serve, often provide only minimum broadband speeds and frequently aren’t available to former customers who owe the cable company money.
Schools may provide internet hotspots or free internet at home for families without good service. Get in touch with the district or talk to a teacher about how to get help from your schools. They may also be able to send computers or tablets to kids, although there’s a shortage of education-style computers at the moment.
Q: Our service slows way down when several people do video calls at the same time. Are there simple ways to fix that?
A: Talk to your internet service provider. It may be time to update your modem or router, and some offer Wi-Fi extenders to improve the network. ISPs can also try repositioning your existing equipment to improve the range and strength of Wi-Fi connections.
Other options include “mesh” style Wi-Fi networks that let you position several base stations around a large house, giving you a stronger signal most everywhere. If necessary, it may be time to pay up for higher-speed service.
You can also try talking to teachers and co-workers to reschedule calls to go easier on the network. Turning off your own camera during video calls can help, too. Sometimes teachers can record lessons and send them to kids to watch later if live streaming isn’t possible.
Q: Virtual-school programs and computers can be hard to figure out. Gadgets break. Then what?
A: Some districts have set up tech-support phone lines or live chats to help students and parents. Chicago Public Schools, for example, has phone help available in English and Spanish and a website where you can open a ticket for help. But there may not be much schools can do if there’s an issue with your own computer or the cable company.
Q: My kids are anxious about seeing themselves on camera and get frustrated in constant video meetings. What can I do?
A: Keeping video cameras on is one way teachers try to ensure kids are paying attention and not beaming out to play video games, but not all kids react well. Discuss any anxieties with teachers to work out solutions — for instance, your kid might not need to keep their head in frame at all times. If a child definitely needs to be on screen, practice being on video calls with family members, said David Anderson, a clinical psychologist at the Child Mind Institute. Exposure to the scary situation helps children get used to it.
Another option: Services like Zoom let you remove your own image from your screen while keeping your camera on. Zoom explains how to do that online.
Kids frustrated by having to sit in front of a computer all day and missing their friends may act out, sighing loudly or disobeying the rules, Anderson said. Instead of issuing punishments, try to come up with coping plans — offer breaks and activities they enjoy in return for participating in virtual school. For older children and teens, give them room to do the activities they love independently. “Remind them what they’re working toward and what they can look forward to,” Anderson said. “Build up coping thoughts for kid to get through the rougher part of the day.”
Q: How do I hide the contents of my house from my kids’ teachers and classmates?
A: Many video services let you choose a virtual background — the Rocky Mountains, a field of flowers, the Death Star — that obscures everything but the person on the screen. Sometimes you can also just blur the actual background. Otherwise, situate your kids in a neutral space you all feel comfortable showing to the world — maybe somewhere they’ll sit with their backs to a wall — and have them wear headphones to limit both distracting noises and the possibility that unrelated family conversations might broadcast into the virtual classroom.
NEW YORK (AP) — By TALI ARBEL AP Technology Writer.
GM teams up with Microsoft on driverless cars
General Motors is teaming up with Microsoft to accelerate its rollout of electric, self-driving cars.
In the partnership announced Tuesday, the companies said Microsoft’s Azure cloud and edge computing platform would be used to “commercialize its unique autonomous vehicle solutions at scale.”
Microsoft joins General Motors, Honda and other institutional investors in a combined new equity investment of more than $2 billion in Cruise, bringing its valuation to about $30 billion. Cruise, which GM bought in 2016, has been a leader in driverless technology and got the go-ahead from California late last year to test its automated vehicles in San Francisco without backup drivers.
Auto companies have been joining forces and bringing technology firms on board to try to spread out the enormous costs — and by nature, risks — of developing self-driving and electric vehicles.
Honda is in on the Cruise project with GM, Volkswagen and Ford have teamed up with Pittsburgh autonomous vehicle company Argo AI, and Hyundai joined with Fiat Chrysler last summer in a deal to use Waymo’s driverless car technology.
Toyota and Uber are also working together, while Amazon skipped over the automaker part of the equation and last summer bought self-driving technology company Zoox, which is developing an autonomous vehicle for a ride-hailing service.
Mass adoption of driverless vehicles — and profits — are still a ways off, said industry analyst Sam Abuelsamid of Guidehouse Insights.
“The reality is that the automated driving landscape is taking much longer to mature that had been anticipated a few years ago,” Abuelsamid said. “It’s probably going to be mid-decade before we start to see significant volumes of these vehicles.”
Abuelsamid added that the importance of adding a company like Microsoft to the mix is its cloud computing power and the ability to analyze data from the vehicles to improve the technology.
“Microsoft is a great addition to the team as we drive toward a future world of zero crashes, zero emissions and zero congestion,” said GM Chairman and CEO Mary Barra. “Microsoft will help us accelerate the commercialization of Cruise’s all-electric, self-driving vehicles and help GM realize even more benefits from cloud computing as we launch 30 new electric vehicles globally by 2025 and create new businesses and services to drive growth.”
General Motors has been aggressively revamping its image, saying the industry has reached a history-changing inflection point for mass adoption of electric vehicles. The 112-year-old Detroit automaker this month unveiled a new corporate logo to signify its new direction as it openly pivots to electric vehicles. It wants to be seen as a clean vehicle company, rather than a builder of cloud-spewing gas-powered pickups and SUVs.
GM scrapped its old square blue logo for a lower case gm surrounded by rounded corners and an ‘m’ that looks like an electrical plug.
Shares in GM jumped more than 9% in afternoon trading, to $54.58.
SILVER SPRING, Md. (AP) — By MATT OTT
Cybersecurity firm: Booting hackers a complex chore
Efforts to assess the impact of a more than seven-month-old cyberespionage campaign blamed on Russia — and boot the intruders — remain in their early stages, says the cybersecurity firm that discovered the attack.
The hack has badly shaken the U.S. government and private sector. The firm, FireEye, released a tool and a white paper Tuesday to help potential victims scour their cloud-based installations of Microsoft 365 — where users’ emails, documents and collaborative tools reside — to determine if hackers broke in and remain active.
The aim is not just to ferret out and evict the hackers but to keep them from being able to re-enter, said Matthew McWhirt, the effort’s team leader.
“There’s a lot of specific things you have to do — we learned from our investigations — to really eradicate the attacker,” he said.
Since FireEye disclosed its discovery in mid-December, infections have been found at federal agencies including the departments of Commerce, Treasury, Justice and federal courts. Also compromised, said FireEye chief technical officer Charles Carmakal, are dozens of private sector targets with a high concentration in the software industry and Washington D.C. policy-oriented think tanks.
On Tuesday, the security software company Malwarebytes announced that it was among the victims — and said it was compromised through the very Microsoft email system the FireEye tool aims to button down.
The intruders have stealthily scooped up intelligence for months, carefully choosing targets from the roughly 18,000 customers infected with malicious code they activated after sneaking it into an update of network management software first pushed out last March by Texas-based SolarWinds.
“We continue to learn about new victims almost every day. I still think that we’re still in the early days of really understanding the scope of the threat-actor activity,” said Carmakal.
During a Senate confirmation hearing on Tuesday, national intelligence director nominee Avril Haines said she’s not yet been fully briefed on the campaign but noted that the Department of Homeland Security has deemed it “a grave risk” to government systems, critical infrastructure and the private sector and “it does seem to be extraordinary in its nature and its scope.”
The public has not heard much about who exactly was compromised because many victims still can’t figure out what the attackers have done and thus “may not feel they have an obligation to report on it,” said Carmakal.
“This threat actor is so good, so sophisticated, so disciplined, so patient and so elusive that it’s just hard for organizations to really understand what the scope and impact of the intrusions are. But I can assure you there are a lot of victims beyond what has been made public to date,” Carmakal said.
On top of that, he said, the hackers “will continue to obtain access to organizations. There will be new victims.”
Microsoft disclosed on Dec. 31 t hat the hackers had viewed some of its source code. It said it found “no indications our systems were used to attack others.” On Tuesday, Malwarebytes said it had determined that “the attacker only gained access to a limited subset of internal company emails” and said the conduit — Microsoft’s Azure cloud services — are not used in its software production environments.
Carmakal said he believed software companies were prime targets because hackers of this caliber will seek to use their products — as they did with SolarWinds’ Orion module — as conduits for similar so-called supply-chain hacks.
The hackers’ programming acumen let them forge the digital passports — known as certificates and tokens — needed to move around targets’ Microsoft 365 installations without logging in and authenticating identity. It’s like a ghost hijacking, very difficult to detect.
They tended to zero in on two types of accounts, said Carmakal: Users with access to high-value information and high-level network administrators, to determine what measures were being taken to try to kick them out,
If it’s a software company, the hackers will want to examine the data repositories of top engineers. If it’s a government agency, corporation or think tank, they’ll seek access to emails and documents with national security and trade secrets and other vital intelligence.
BOSTON (AP) — By FRANK BAJAK
Prada intros anti-uniform during all-digital Fashion Week
No traffic jams, no rush to the next venue, no front rows — not even socially distanced. Milan Fashion Week is unfolding entirely on computer screens and social media platforms this round for the first time ever, as the persistent virus resurgence dashed any hopes of even a handful of physical shows.
Luxury is in an enforced period of evolution in this new world order of rotating lockdowns, where virtually no one has anywhere to go. So it was a mostly captive audience that flocked to social media by the hundreds of thousands (and counting as the shows live on virtually) to watch Milan designers unveil new menswear collections for next winter, which, vaccines willing, may see a return to in-person shopping.
In its digitally conceived preview, Prada on Sunday introduced the new anti-uniform that speaks to our new intimacy in our ever-tighter circles: luxury long-johns.
The first menswear collection by the Miuccia Prada-Raf Simons collaboration announced almost a year ago was unveiled on a runway traversing spaces clad in soft faux fur in purple, celeste and scarlet. Skinny men in tight knit union suits in graphic architecture-inspired patterns grooved in outtakes spliced into the runway show.
The union suits emphasized both the human body and freedom, elements fundamental to the collection, the designers said in notes. They were worn tightly under oversized coats and huge V-neck sweaters, or as a layer of comfort under a work suit, should the occasion arise.
“It is not often we find in fashion something that’s so flexible, with so many facets,” Prada said in a video conversation with international fashion students. “With one piece you can express so many things, leaving open many possibilities.”
The designers said their still-new collaboration was based on the principle: if the other didn’t like an idea, it gets dropped. Or the other is won over, which was the case with Prada accepting pinstripes she has long loathed. “What I think is good, is the possibility to change my mind,’’ Prada said.
The show, like others, was broadcast on a maxi-screen in the heart of Milan’s shopping district. But with the city and region around it plunged into yet another partial lockdown on Sunday, the previews attracted little notice. What energy was missing from the streets of Milan was recouped on social media.
Fendi, Etro and outdoor brand Kway intended physical shows with guests, but had to scale back to closed-door runways. Dolce&Gabbana canceled, saying the restrictions in place wouldn’t have allowed the necessary conditions for them to show.
Fendi’s collection, designed by Silvia Venturini Fendi, featured quilted pieces made for easy layering, in the spirit of comfort and cocooning. Etro’s paisley took on a casual flair, in silky tops or baggy trousers paired with crossbody bags and baseball caps. Kway’s rain slickers, trenches and parkas got their fashion cred from streaks bright color and varied silhouettes.
Now, more than ever, as people have more time at home to consider how they want to present themselves to the world, fashion is less about trends, and more about individuality.
“Everybody should follow themselves,” Prada said. “That for me is crucial, and fundamental. Clothes are an expression of your idea, of your personality … The clothes are at the service of your life, of the person.”
MILAN (AP) — By COLLEEN BARRY
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