On Computers

In lists, top item often nabs 1st choice, study shows

Here's a wake-up study for election time: Recent research shows that we trust the Internet -- maybe too much. In a test of undecided voters, the name and favorable information about any candidate that came in at the top of their search results made them likely to switch to that candidate.

We decided to test that out ourselves in a very simple broadcast email. Joy sent a survey to the members of her woman's club. The survey asked them to choose from a list of possible speakers at meetings. Sure enough, the speaker at the top of the list received the most votes. Cue in the Twilight Zone music.

The researchers Robert Epstein and Ronald Robertson of the American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology were amazed to find they could get any results they wanted, just by favoring one candidate over another at the top of a search page. Over 4,500 people were tested. A surprising number were more than 20 percent more likely to vote for the candidate at the top of their search page.

Looking back at the institute research that prompted this test, the people who were the most aware that the search results were skewed toward a certain candidate, were still likely to switch to that candidate. They figured that the search engine knew something they didn't. For those who want to pursue the implications of this further, the research was published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.

The Windows 10 Calendar

We love Google's calendar app for Android and iPhone, which keeps us up to date on our phone when we're away from our computer. Windows 8 and the new Windows 10 also have calendar apps.

Set up the calendar app in these systems by clicking the start button, "all apps," and then "calendar." When we did this, we immediately saw all the dates we'd entered into our Google calendar, so we didn't have to re-enter anything. Unlike the Google calendar, the Windows calendar puts all your Facebook friends' birthdays right on the calendar. This can be amusingif, like us, you have Facebook "friends" you hardly know. We even saw birthdays for friends who aren't on Facebook, whose birthdays were unknown to us. We suppose they were drawn from information in their Google accounts, but we're not sure. Very mysterioso.


• "15 animals that want to be man's best friend." Google those words for some amazing video clips. We saw an otter playing dead on command, an armadillo playing with a squeeze toy, a baby elephant playing soccer, and a cat playing fetch and panting like a dog.

• CuriosityStream.com claims to have the world's best documentaries from the BBC and other channels around the world, plus original programming. The first month is free, then it's $3 a month if you want to continue. But you have to give them a credit card for the free trial -- and we never like that.

• Smithsonian.com has an article about a 32-acre test track being used for driverless cars. "MCity" at the University of Michigan has fake obstacles, railroad tracks, shops, gravel roads, paved roads, roundabouts, signals and even a robot pedestrian named Sebastian who never looks both ways. He has yet to be run over.

• "Colorblind man sees purple for the first time" is a remarkable YouTube video you can find if you search on those words. A friend surprised him with a special pair of sunglasses that correct for colorblindness. He weeps with joy at all the colors he's seeing for the first time, shouting to a friend, "Your car is pretty." The sunglasses start at $350 from EnChroma.com.

The 100 Best Free Android Apps of 2015

The July issue of PC Magazine reviewed the 100 best Android apps of 2015. Besides the usual suspects, we saw some we'd never heard of. Such as...

• "Circle of 6" helps you get help in a dangerous situation. It sends a request to be picked up, along with your GPS location or asks your friends to contact you. You might ask friends to contact you because you're talking to a boring person and you need the interruption.

• "Plume for Twitter" gives you more power over your Twitter messages. This free app gives you a menu under each tweet. Mark it a favorite, share it, call it spam, reply to it, read the replies to it, or mute it.

• "RedPhone" lets you make encrypted calls to users of the free app "TextSecure," which secures your text messages.

• "Sleep Bot Sleep Cycle Alarm" will track your sleep movements, if you take your phone to bed with you, and really, who doesn't? (We don't, actually. We can hardly remember to take it with us when we go out.) The alarm will only wake you when you're in the lightest sleep cycle. (But what if it's an emergency, like a buddy telling you what he saw on TV last night?)

• "Transit" gives you schedules for buses, trains and ferries in 87 American and European cities.

The Numbers Report

StatisticBrain.com/reading-stats has some remarkable numbers about readers -- or perhaps we should say non-readers. Thirty-three percent of U.S. high school graduates never read another book after high school. Forty-two percent of college graduates also never read another book. Seventy percent of adults haven't been in a book store in the last five years.

A friend on Facebook recently made the observation that a hundred years ago we taught Greek and Latin in high school; now, we teach remedial English in college.

Building Your Own Website

Joy has created six websites, using Wordpress, Yola, and Microsoft's Expression Web. All of those can get complicated. So if she were to build a new website today, she'd try the latest version of Xara Web Designer Premium.

The 30-day free trial of this $100 program opens with a sample website. Start by substituting their photos and text with yours. Then try their other suggestions, all displayed on the sample website itself. Select what you like and your website is ready to publish.

Some of the impressive new features include the ability to make something on the screen stick in place as the rest of the web page scrolls by. The program also has new animation effects that come to life when the user's mouse rolls over them. A new slideshow widget adds slideshows. You can choose your type style from 600 fonts.

Bob and Joy Schwabach can be reached by email at bobschwa@gmail.com and joydee@oncomp.com.

SundayMonday Business on 09/07/2015