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Boxes on boxes in boxes. Wikimedia Commons

My memory of Toys ‘R’ Us now consists mostly of big empty boxes. While I don’t remember many of the toys I got for Christmas as a child, the image of clumps of wrapping paper and piles of discarded cardboard is forever imprinted in my brain.

Now, Toys ‘R’ Us is leaving us with much bigger empty boxes—but these won’t be as easy to throw away. On March 15, the company announced that, without a Hail Mary influx of cash, the beloved chain will be closing, leaving its 800-odd American storefronts vacant.

The beginning of the big box stores

Founded in 1948 by Charles Lazarus, Toys ‘R’ Us was the model of a post-war business. Most notably, it transformed the children’s toy industry from a seasonal market to an everyday luxury. By its peak in the mid-1990s, Toys ‘R’ Us had cemented its reputation as a “category killer”—a brand so dominant in a single market it snuffed out all competition. But much of Toys ‘R’ Us’s success hinged on its retail space: the big box store. Unfortunately, its downfall may have been brought on by the very same thing.

For millennials and younger generations, big box stores have always existed as part of the country’s landscape, but at one time they were a radical invention. Instead of keeping most of the inventory sealed off in storage, big box stores put the wares—all of them—on display.

It’s difficult to pinpoint the origins of this architectural style, but experts point to 1962 as a watershed year, with the first Walmart, Target, and Kmart stores opening up within a few months of each other. To fully promote their wares, these companies required voluminous and largely undivided retail space, with high ceilings that allowed stock clerks to stack seemingly endless supplies. Outside, they needed big parking lots to fit all their customers, and easy access to highways, to keep car-centric shoppers close.

For decades, these big box retailers thrived, gobbling up smaller stores that couldn’t compete with the diversity and abundance of wares. But the rise of online retail has changed all that. Instead of driving to a big box store, our purchases come directly to us. As a result, 2023 saw a record-breaking 6,700 store closures, including big box stores like Kmart and more speciality retail outlets like Teavana. The Toys ‘R’ Us shutdown shows things are only getting worse for big box companies.

Now, architects, urban planners, and activists are asking: What becomes of these big, empty storefronts and their sprawling parking lots now that the companies inside have closed down or moved on?

Two-story boxes! Wikimedia Commons

Finding purpose

“It’s a fork in the road,” says architect Roger Lewis, professor emeritus of the University of Maryland’s school of architecture. In some cases, he says, new companies of similar size may seek to fill these spots. That could well be the case of Toys ‘R’ Us, as a recent report from business magazine Bloomberg suggests Amazon, the very company that killed the category killers, is interested in buying select Toys ‘R’ Us carcasses for Amazon-branded brick and mortar stores.

But even a company the size of Amazon can’t buy every store it puts out of business. (Probably. Hopefully.) There are 10,379,714,043 square feet of retail space in the United States, or 32.5 square feet of retail per person, according to a 2023 report. And the parking lots for each of these retail centers is even bigger. Together, American retail stores and their parking lots equal an area roughly one-third the size of Delaware. That means repurposing vacant box stores requires a little more vision. “One [option] is to tear it down and build something anew,” Lewis says, “and the other option is to repurpose it.”

While it’s not necessarily the preferred option, depending on the circumstances, demolition may be the most practical. “A lot of these big box structures were very cheaply built. They were constructed with off-the-shelf materials and structural systems and mechanical systems. Their lifespan was not really meant to be more than 25 or 30 years,” Lewis says. Walmarts have been torn down all over the country. In some cases, they’ve been swiftly replaced by new, even bigger Walmarts. In other situations, the land has been sold for other purposes and the building parts recycled.

But William Leddy, of Leddy Maytum Stacy Architects in San Francisco, is a proponent of the second option: adaptive reuse, which refers to the process of repurposing existing architecture for a new purpose. Leddy acknowledges the limitations of big box stores, but still believes vacant storefronts are still brimming with potential.

“These cavernous volumes are so adaptive to so many functions,” he says. “You could imagine a new and lively semi-urban environments starting to develop.” Just one idea? Turn ghost stores into vibrant housing. “You’d have to start poking holes in the roof to bring the light in the air in them,” Leddy says, thinking aloud. “The volumes are such that you could probably fit two or three floors of housing and then create courtyards between them.” He’s working toward a day where light rail—or driverless carpool initiatives or electric buses—connects numerous box store apartment communities to one another.

Julia Christensen is an artist and author of the book Big Box Reuse. The book, which was published in 2008, documents the ways 10 communities transformed their own empty box stores. In old Walmarts, Christensen found churches and community centers; in old Kmarts, courthouses and museums. Though not included in the book, one of the most famous big box reuse cases is the McAllen Main Library, which turned an abandoned 124,500 square-foot Walmart in Texas into a single-story library with plentiful community and educational spaces. The McAllen project cost $24 million, according to an interview with Strong Towns, $5 million of which went to buying the abandoned Walmart facility.

Though Leddy sees big box stores fitting into an increasingly urban vision of American life, Christensen says that repurposed boxes will continue to factor into suburban and rural life, too. “In the sites I documented, people enacting the reuse said that community members wanted to drive to church (or school, or the museum), rather than walk,” she told PopSci over email.

Of course, even when a community has a vision for adaptive reuse, it’s not simply a matter of buying an old Toys ‘R’ Us and giving it an extreme makeover. Many adaptive reuse projects fall victim to old zoning laws. While those can be rewritten, Lewis says it’s an uphill battle. “In every one of these situations, almost without exception, when someone comes in and wants to make a change—whatever that might be—there are going to be some people who fear change, oppose change, like it the way it is and are going to fight it,” he says. “This stuff doesn’t go anywhere unless there is political support for it.”

Still, adaptive reuse is gaining ground. In recent years, experts have learned the true size of construction’s carbon footprint and worked to reduce, reuse, and recycle whenever possible. “The greenest thing you can do is reuse an existing building, because the carbon is already embodied in the building,” Leddy says. As a result, he tells his students to see the future of architecture with the keen-eyed gaze of a scavenger, trained to find what’s good about what’s already been built. “The idea of getting an empty piece of land and building from scratch—that opportunity is diminishing,” he says.

Christensen, for her part, hopes for a future where reuse isn’t about giving a second life to an existing building, but rather baked into the cake from the moment of conception. “The best solution, to me, begins long before abandonment—it begins with design,” she writes. “The trend of constructing single-use buildings with no future adaptability in mind has led to [this] immense issue.”

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The Way We Take The Pill Has More To Do With Religion Than Science

This is because standard combined oral contraceptive pills—such as Loestrin, Ortho Tri-Cyclen, or Yasmin—are designed to be taken for 21 days, followed by a seven-day break, during which time the woman doesn’t take the pill and experiences vaginal bleeding. Pill-taking women therefore have what seems like a “period” every month.

But this “period” is far from necessary. Shortly before his death in 2023 I attended a lecture given by Carl Djerassi, the “father of the pill”. He remarked that the seven-day break, and resultant withdrawal bleed, was designed into the pill in the late 1950s in an attempt to persuade the Vatican to accept the new form of contraception, as an extension of the natural menstrual cycle. As is well known, this did not succeed: Pope Paul VI forbade artificial contraception. Despite this, the seven-day break has remained as a component of the combined oral contraceptive pill.

This is a problem. The seven-day break is a hazard that may increase the risk of pregnancy while taking the pill. This is because the level of contraceptive hormones in the body is the crucial factor in turning off ovulation, without which pregnancy cannot occur. It takes approximately seven daily doses of contraceptive pill to reach sufficient levels to turn the ovaries off. But the seven-day break allows these levels to fall again. If pill-taking is not resumed by the ninth day after stopping, ovulation will occur.

Missing an occasional pill is unlikely to cause hormone levels to drop to a level which would risk ovulation. But taking a deliberate seven-day break lowers hormone levels to a point after which further missed pills, either before or after the break, may allow ovulation to happen.

The seven-day break is therefore an inbuilt hazard. Many women accidentally prolong their pill free week by forgetting to restart the next packet on time, or by missing pills in the first or last week of the packet. The reduction of hormones in these circumstances can lead to unexpected ovulation, and, if intercourse has taken place, to pregnancy. But by shortening the pill-free interval (from seven to four days) and reducing the number of times a year that the woman is prompted to have a pill-free interval, the risk of accidental ovulation, and therefore unwanted pregnancy is reduced.

New patterns of pill taking

As a result, many clinicians now favor extended or continuous pill regimens where three or more packets of pill are taken consecutively and only then does a woman have a pill-free week, or a shortened pill free interval of four days. These less frequent breaks are sufficient to avoid continuous stimulation of the womb’s lining, which can cause unhealthy overgrowth of the tissue (endometrial hyperplasia). They also prevent inconvenient “breakthrough” bleeding which eventually occurs if the lining is not allowed to shed.

Some women already “tri-cycle” 30 microgram (standard dose) or 20 microgram (lower dose) pills in this way, running two or three packets together before taking a break, often to reduce the side effects of hormone withdrawal, such as migraines. But for more extended continuous pill-taking, use of lower-dose pills containing 20 micrograms of oestrogen is recommended to offset the increased yearly dose of oestrogen when fewer breaks are taken. This is because the total dose of oestrogen over time may be associated with the small, but well known, increased risk of breast cancer.

Using established contraceptive pills in this way is “off license“, meaning that the prescriber, not the manufacturer, will bear legal responsibility for harm due to their use. Nonetheless, extended or continuous pill use, off license, is professionally acceptable, and newer pills are being developed and licensed by pharmaceutical companies which are meant to be taken in an extended way, with fewer pill-free intervals.

Light or absent bleeding

As well as providing fewer opportunities for ovulation to occur, these extended regimens also mean that a woman has fewer bleeding days. One review found such regimens to be both safe and effective.

But many women express concern that not bleeding every month may be harmful to their health or fertility. Beliefs that menstrual blood “builds up inside” if bleeding does not occur or that the body needs to “cleanse” itself every month are common. This may be due to a misunderstanding about why bleeding does not occur with some hormonal contraception.

In a natural menstrual cycle, the lining of the womb builds up over the first half of the menstrual cycle under the influence of oestrogen, reaching its peak thickness at the time of ovulation. It is then maintained for 14 days by progesterone, after which, if no pregnancy occurs, it is shed through the opening of blood vessels within the womb’s lining, and the woman experiences a period.

In most contraceptive methods which cause a lack of vaginal bleeding, the supply of continuous low-dose progesterone greatly reduces the thickening of the lining, so that there is no need for it to be shed. In continuous long-acting methods like the IUS or contraceptive injection, women experience greatly reduced or no bleeding because the lining is largely dormant. With the combined oral contraceptive pill, lighter bleeding is experienced because the thinner lining sheds as a result of withdrawal of hormones, not because of a need to shed a proliferated lining.

Many women and girls welcome the reduction in bleeding days and the lessening of social disruption, and missed school and work days menstrual periods can cause. With the increased recognition of “period poverty” and the problems some women face in paying for menstrual protection, reduced bleeding days may also be financially beneficial for some.

Ultimately, the decision to bleed or not to bleed should be one made by individual women, in accordance with their lifestyle needs. Cleaving to a 21/7 pattern of pill taking, which was instituted for social not medical reasons, on the grounds of either tradition or unfounded health concerns, should no longer be the default position in regard to contraceptive pills.

Susan Walker is a Senior Lecturer in Sexual Health at Anglia Ruskin University. This article was originally featured on The Conversation.

What Are Smart Washers And How Do They Work?

Without a doubt, everything is become “smarter” now. By adding sensors and Internet connection to a device, it suddenly becomes a “smart device.” Smart washers are among the new class of smart devices that link to your mobile device to have data transmitted about the washer’s operation in real time.

What Is a Smart Washer?

A smart washer is a laundry appliance that adds features with connected appliances through the Internet or a smart home network.

Smart washers operate differently from the usual digital appliances, as they send you notifications to your phone for several purposes. These include alerting you whenever a load is finished and needs to be transferred to the dryer, using smart tumble features, diagnosing issues, and using your voice or phone controls to adjust settings.

Most of the latest washers at your local store will have the usual features such as full-color touchscreens for customizing your wash cycle, but few have the option to add more capabilities by connecting to your Wi-Fi network.

If you struggle with leaving your clothes in the washer long after the cycle completes, you’re probably preoccupied with other things or just tend to forget – a smart washer helps with that.

It keeps your clothes in good form so they don’t take on mildew or get wrinkled, so you don’t have to redo the laundry to get rid of the smell or iron every last garment to remove the wrinkles that come with leaving it in your dryer too long after it’s done.

How Do You Use a Smart Washing Machine?

A smart washer gives you more control alongside convenient extras and notifies you when your laundry load is done.

When you give a command from your smartphone or with your voice, the washer will lightly tumble your clothes every couple of minutes for air to flow through until it detects you’ve come back via the Wi-Fi link in your home.

Many washers and dryers allow you to delay cycles, but smart washers go further and let you even choose the most convenient time you’d like your laundry done.  This will help you multitask more efficiently, especially if you need to do some other urgent things before you fold the clean laundry.

Some smart washers have features that allow you to key in details about the clothes you’re washing – for example: the colors, fabrics, stain details and more. This way, the washer is able to recommend the best cycle for your laundry load.

Another feature available with some smart washers is the monitoring of any problems with the machine and recommending maintenance steps you can take at that time.

Some smart washer manufacturers combine both washer and dryer into the same machine to both wash and dry your laundry. Although an all-in-one smart laundry unit fits snug in a smaller space, it can be expensive, sometimes as costly as buying a washer and dryer separately.

Do You Need a Smart Washer?

Do you really need to put more money down just to get a few added features from a smart washer?

Depending on your lifestyle and budget, a smart washer can be a necessity or a luxury altogether, so it’s a matter of personal preference.

Price and repairs are the most common concerns people usually have about smart washers. Depending on the brand and model, the price of a smart washer can be within the range of $800 to $2000 or more.

Repairs of smart devices also aren’t significantly more expensive than the regular traditional washer, at least not until you have to deal with the extra sensors, which raises the total cost of repairs. They also need frequent updates and are vulnerable to network security vulnerabilities.

Thankfully, smart washers and other smart appliances have self-diagnostic features that can alert or notify you about parts that will soon need replacement or repair and recommendations on what to do. This is likely to save you some money in the short and long term.

Smart washers come with a level of convenience over the traditional setup, but most people would be scared off by the price difference alone, along with potential risks and costs of repairs. If you are not interested in smart washers, there are several other robots that are more than a vacuum cleaner.

Elsie Biage

My passion has always been to share every bit of useful information I find on tech, with the ultimate goal of helping people solve a problem.

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What Are Surety Bonds, And How Do They Work?

For small business owners, surety bonds are a useful tool. They’re a legally enforceable guarantee that allow one party to recoup payment if another party doesn’t fulfill an obligation. Surety bonds have varied applications in the marketplace, like contractors making bids or license requirements. Here’s a look at the most common surety bond types applicable to small business owners, along with how they work and how to tell if you need one.

What are surety bonds?

Surety bonds are legally enforceable three-party written agreements that guarantee compliance, payment or performance. 

There are many surety bond types, but for small businesses, generally, a neutral third party (the surety), acting as the bond’s issuer, guarantees that one party (the principal) will perform the terms of the contract for the other party (the obligee). 

If the principal doesn’t fulfill the obligation, the obligee can file a claim. If the claim is deemed valid, the surety will pay damages, and then the principal will repay the surety. 

A surety bond’s three parties

Here are the three main parties involved in a surety bond:

Principal. Purchases the bond that guarantees they’ll fulfill an obligation for compliance, payment or performance.   

Obligee. The party that requires the principal to buy the surety bond to guarantee the obligation’s fulfillment. The obligee can be the principal’s client or customer; a court; or a local, state or federal government organization.

Surety. The insurance company or surety company acts as a neutral third party in the transaction. The surety guarantees that the principal will perform the obligation and sends a bond certificate to the obligee. If the principal fails to deliver and the obligee files a claim that is deemed valid, the surety company will pay out the claim to the obligee. 

Surety bonds and how they work

Surety bonds help small businesses win contracts by providing the customer with a guarantee that the business will complete the work, according to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA). Many public and private contracts require surety bonds, and the SBA guarantees surety bonds for certain surety companies. This allows those companies to offer surety bonds to small businesses that might not otherwise meet the criteria to get a surety.

Aside from strict financial guarantees, some surety bonds are used with contractor agreements, providing guarantees on compliance with permit requirements and licensing on the local, state or federal level. 

Other contract surety bonds required by many project owners and government agencies guarantee that a project or service will be completed as per the agreement’s stipulations and with all required payments made to subcontractors or suppliers.

The SBA guarantees contract bonds but not commercial bonds. The agency explains: “Contract bonds ensure the terms of a specific contract are fulfilled. Commercial bonds ensure all applicable laws and regulations are followed. Government agencies require certain companies or individuals to obtain commercial bonds, which protect the general public against things like fraud.”


Besides surety bonds, contractors should ensure they have the right contractor insurance policies to protect them.

Major types of surety bonds

Just like there are different types of insurance policies, there are also various types of surety bonds. According to the National Association of Surety Bond Producers (NASBP), these are the most common surety bond types:  

Bid bonds. These bonds guarantee that a contractor has submitted a bid in good faith, will honor the bid’s terms, and will provide the required performance. Bid bonds are usually 5%, 10% or 20% of the amount bid. Bid bonds are a way to prevent contractors from submitting low bids to get a job and then raising their prices.

Performance bonds. Performance bonds protect a business owner from financial loss if the contractor fails to perform the contract in accordance with its terms and conditions, including its specifications and plans.

Payment bonds. A payment surety bond guarantee assures that the contractor will pay specified subcontractors, laborers and material suppliers associated with the project.

Other surety bonds

These are some other surety bonds used in small business projects and operations:

License bonds (permit bonds). Local and state governments often require license bonds when a contractor or business offers a service to the public. This type of bond guarantees the business owner will conduct their business in compliance with all local, state and federal regulations. License bond costs are typically 1% of the total bond amount. 

Construction bonds. A construction bond, or contractor license bond, is a type of license bond required to start a construction project. It provides assurance that the contractor will perform in accordance with the construction agreement.

Completion bonds. These offer assurance that a contractor will complete a project on time, within budget and free of liens. Otherwise, a claim can be filed to compensate the obligee.

Payment bonds. Payment bonds guarantee that the principal will pay for all associated work in connection with the contract, including subcontractors and all required materials and supplies.

Ancillary bonds. Ancillary bonds guarantee that the principal stands by its work and will provide maintenance or corrections in a timely manner.

Did You Know?

Insurance companies often write surety bonds, but surety bonds don’t perform like policies you’d get from the best liability insurance providers, where an aggrieved party files a claim. After a principal buys a bond, the insurance company doesn’t assume the risk. The principal still holds all the risk and has to repay the surety if the company pays out a claim related to the principal not delivering upon the agreement.

Who needs a surety bond?

Various small business types will deal with surety bonds. Some surety bonds fulfill a professional license (under commercial surety bonds), and some enforce construction terms (under contract surety bonds). 

In general, any business that works under a contractual agreement with another party, or provides a public service, could be required by the obligee to obtain a surety bond. 

According to providers, common surety bonds (commercial surety bonds) used within professional industries to meet certain obligations, such as obtaining licenses (other than construction as discussed earlier in this article) include the following:

Auto dealer license surety bonds

Real estate broker surety bonds

Credit repair service surety bonds

Mortgage broker and loan originator license surety bonds

Public insurance adjuster license surety bonds

How long does it take to get a surety bond?

The time it takes to get a surety bond depends on the entity providing the bond. However, applicants that use online providers with quick quotes and streamlined applications can apply and get approved on the same day if they have their documents ready. They can receive the surety bond as soon as the next day. 


When applying for a surety bond, be sure you know what bond the obligee is requiring, as well as the name of the business, the number of years in business, and the names and addresses of the parties in the agreement. Also make sure you have your Social Security number on hand.

How long does a surety bond remain valid?

A surety bond’s validity period depends on the specific bond needed. Many surety bonds have a set term period with an expiration date, which can be renewed for another term with a reevaluation of the principal and credit risk. This is common for surety bonds needed for professional licenses or permits. 

Typically the set time period ranges from one- to two-year terms for these types of bonds, and the premium could increase or decrease upon reevaluation of the principal. 

With contract bonds, the principal must renew the bond until the obligee releases them, usually at the job’s satisfactory completion. Upon renewal, there’s generally no reevaluation of the principal. During renewal, the principal must pay the premium, or the account could end up in a collections department. After the bond is renewed, it’s active for 12 months.

How much do surety bonds cost?

Although prices may vary, the surety bond’s premium is usually a percentage of the bond’s coverage amount. Once underwriters review your application, they’ll assign it a risk category with an associated premium amount. 

Surety Bonds Direct says its final premium amount is determined by several factors:

The coverage amount required by the bond

The type of surety bond

The applicant’s credit score

The applicant’s financial history

Several bond providers note that quoted contract bond rates usually reflect the bond’s size and the contractor’s financial stability, experience and reputation. Typically, contract bonds cost between 1% and 3% of the contracted amount or, for larger bonds, are tiered based on the size of the bond.

Surety Bonds Direct estimates that commercial license and permit bonds have a statutory amount (coverage) that usually ranges from $5,000 to $100,000. According to the bond provider, contract surety bonds typically range from about $50,000 to several million dollars based on the size of the construction project to be bonded. The states with the most surety bond requirements are California, Florida and Texas.

Finding a surety provider

To help you find a surety provider, the NASBP offers the online Surety Pro Locator, where you select your state or country to find bond producers near you.

Also, the SBA guarantees contract surety bonds for private surety companies. To learn more and find out if your small business qualifies (up to $6.5 million for non-federal contracts and up to $10 million for federal contracts), visit the SBA surety bonds page, where you can also find authorized agents. 

When searching for a surety bond provider, consider the financial health of the company providing your bond before making a purchase. AM Best Rating Services is a great place to find surety bond ratings. Bonds with an A++ or A+ have superior financial health and the ability to meet their obligations. 

Why Do We Need To Learn Powershell?

PowerShell Tutorial

Suppose you know a little bit about Linux, which provides a very rich command interface. Because of Linux rich command, Linux was a preferred platform for software development. On the other hand, windows was mostly used for UI-based uses for non-development purposes. So finally, to control all these issues, Microsoft released PowerShell version 1 for the first time in 2006. The main goal of PowerShell was to provide command rich interface to developers where developers will be able to write scripts and automate various jobs. So initially, they developed PowerShell for Windows only, but after version 6, it started supporting macOS and Linux as well.

Why do we need to learn PowerShell?

In Windows, it has DOS cmd, But if we need to do complex scripting and if we need to write any heavy scripts jobs, then the existing cmd is not good enough. PowerShell allows developers on Windows to write a script with controlling one computer to multiple remote computers at once. DOS is just a shell where PowerShell is a powerful scripting language that is completely based on .NET and is mostly used by my administrator to handle Networks and servers. On Windows, if you use DOS as cmd, you will be only checking ipconfig and some basic things, whereas by learning PowerShell, you will be a complete programmer. Because of its rich commands and object-based approach, it is a powerful tool for scripting.

Below are some points why we should learn PowerShell.

Consistency: The biggest benefit of PowerShell of the current version is that it is available for all Operating systems. So, for example, if you are developing the script on a computer X and after successfully testing your script on your computer X, you can share your script with another person who is going to run your script on his computer Y, which will work perfectly from the version 6 because PowerShell is available for all OS, ie. Windows, Linux, and macOS. So a script will work on different architecture as well. Other than Architecture, PowerShell also provides automation to administration tasks with better performance .

Interactive and scripting environments: The Powershell of Windows Prompt gives us a very interactive tool to access the command-line interface for scripting.

Object orientation: As it is totally written over the .NET, it will give us a complete Object-based approach to implementing it. So we are not just writing a command. It allows us to explore more.

Applications of PowerShell

It will be very useful for administrative management with PowerShell admin to delete, add and update users. We transfer heavy files from one computer to another to multiple network computers at once. If Admin has some task that he will run repetitively, then the Admin can use PowerShell to create a script and put it into job cycles where it will run at given intervals.


Suppose, In PowerShell, we want to see the process with name “nginx” and “node.”


You can install Powershell by MSI, and you should only need to learn the basics of programming like, if, for loops and variables and it’s an available rich set of commands. Even if you do not know much programming you can directly start with PowerShell.

Target Audience

Developers: A developer can have requirements to develop a tool where he may change his data for a running application regularly. For example, on any e-commerce website, we want to show the best-selling products. So the developer will write a script that will fetch data daily and update top-selling product details so that top-selling products will be visible to end customers.

Administrator: The administrator can write a script for automation of updating, deleting, and performing certain tasks on all the users regularly to avoid repetition of the same tasks.

Do We Love Our Smartphones Too Much?

If it hadn’t been so crazy expensive to use Google Maps on my Apple iPhone 3GS while I was in the UK, I might never have met Elizabeth. I probably wouldn’t have made it to that charming inn/pub high up on the hill, either. And my trip would have been a bit less rewarding as a result.

We do all sorts of things with our smartphones–until we take them overseas. That’s because rates for data roaming (and voice calls) can add up faster than a heavy lunch at Harrod’s food court.

Let me give you just one example.

How Quickly Can You Burn 20MB?

Before leaving home, I signed up for AT&T’s $25-per-month global data roaming package, which includes up to 20MB of data usage.

I could have opted for other plans, such as one offering 50MB of data for $60 per month, but I was on a budget. To save money, I’d decided to use my Samsung 120 netbook for e-mail, Web surfing, and VoIP calls in my hotel room. I’d also bought a cheap GSM mobile phone and SIM card to avoid AT&T’s $0.99-$1.29-per-minute international voice roaming charges. I planned to use the iPhone only to find my location on Google Maps and get directions when lost.

Folks, how quickly do you think you’d burn up 20MB of data using Google Maps on an iPhone? I suspected it might take two or three days of moderate use. But I was surprised that in just one afternoon of extremely limited Google Maps use–to get and then follow directions from my current location to a museum–I’d eaten up 19MB of data. I had 1 MB of my budgeted amount left–and this was just the second day of a three-week trip.

So I had a few options. I could use Google Maps on my iPhone whenever I was unsure where to go (which was often)–and end up spending hundreds of dollars in data roaming charges. I could try to find my way with the Nuvi, which wouldn’t cause me to incur charges but would exact an emotional toll. Or I could revert back to what I used to do: Carry a map, rely on my own deductive logic, and in the spirit of one of my favorite playwrights, depend upon the kindness of strangers.

Getting Around Like a Local

Before long, however, I’d learned to live without the blue dot. I was hopping onto the Tube and climbing aboard red double-decker buses with growing assuredness. I was learning how to move about London like a Londoner.

Would any of this had happened if the Google Maps blue dot had been a direct path to red ink? I suspect not. And frankly, I’m grateful for that, for being forced by economic necessity to abandon my iPhone, to give up some control, to see where life–rather than a blue electronic dot–might lead me.

Mobile Computing News, Reviews, & Tips

Finally, MMS Comes to iPhone: AT&T says it will make multimedia messaging service (MMS) available for the iPhone 3G and 3GS beginning September 25. MMS has been available for years on most other mobile phones and smartphones.

Third Android in the U.S.: The HTC Hero ($180 with a two-year contract) will be the third Android OS smartphone in the U.S. when it debuts October 11 on the Sprint network. The Hero features a 3.2-inch multitouch screen, a 5-megapixel camera, and zippy 528-MHz Qualcomm processor.

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