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Nine Technologies That Will Change Your Future

by Kiplinger
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
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For 88 years, subscribers have relied on The Kiplinger Letter for insights into emerging technologies that will change the way Americans live and do business. Examples of "you read it first in Kiplinger" include the rise of commercial air routes in 1927, the early development of television in the 1930s, electronic office machines in 1953 and mobile phones in 1983.

What will be the tech breakthroughs of the next decade? Here are nine we're following.

Biometrics on the Move

Banks are increasingly turning to biometric authentication for mobile and online clients. Fingerprint, voice and face recognition systems will soon become commonplace as banks seek to heighten security for the rising tide of on-the-go transactions.

Customers are accepting such security measures more readily these days. Many smart phones are already outfitted with cameras and only need a face recognition application; in a few, fingerprint scanners are embedded as well. They're already in some laptops, and Microsoft's (NasdaqGS: MSFT - News) Windows 7 operating system contains the needed recognition software. Citibank (NYSEArca: PCO - News) intends to test the waters first in Australia with voice recognition. Look for the trend to spread quickly to other banks as well as to other countries.

Self-Driving and Folding Cars

GM's (NYSE: GM - News) prototype EN-V (Electric Networked Vehicle) is just a third of the length and weight of today's average car, thanks to an all-electric, rechargeable power system. There's no bulky engine, transmission or braking system, plus it has built-in smarts to navigate on its own and avoid hitting other vehicles.

The all-electric CityCar (seen here), developed by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, can squeeze its eight-foot length into a more compact five feet, allowing it to fit in teeny urban parking spots.

[See the Most Stolen Vehicles in the United States]

Personal Bar Codes

A digital code on your business card could soon let folks you meet scan contact information directly into smart phones or other mobile devices on the spot, ensuring correct spelling and phone numbers.

There are plenty of marketing uses for bar codes as well: On property listings — to allow prospective buyers to download info. Postings at restaurants let patrons peek at menus and specials or tip off friends to their whereabouts. For retailers of all stripes, bar codes provide a chance to interact with consumers, making a digital connection.

Genetically Modified Critters

Uncle Sam's OK is expected soon for the first genetically modified food animal — no, not this pig — but for farm-raised salmon with a gene from a wild chinook salmon. The gene-jiggered fish is engineered to grow at twice the pace of its unaltered farm raised progenitors.

Next up: Meet "Enviropig," a porker genetically altered to make the manure it produces less polluting, with phosphorus levels 30%-65% lower than normal. Also in the works: Cattle that are not susceptible to mad cow disease. The animals lack the protein that mutates, so they don't get the disease and can't pass it on.

Farm-Raised Pharma

A better understanding of genetics is also leading to changes in other sectors. In agriculture, scientists can tweak genes to make disease resistant animals. Plus they're using genetically altered animals — cattle, for one — to make antibodies to fight diseases such as botulism and anthrax.

Eventually, the isolated antibodies may be approved for injection into humans to protect against those diseases. Researchers are also using genetically altered swine to grow pancreatic tissue that can be implanted in human diabetics to restore their ability to produce insulin.

New Cancer Treatments

Genetic advances go way beyond a few drugs. Consider Oncotype DX, a test developed by Genomic Health. It can identify whether breast cancer in a specific patient is aggressive and likely to recur. That gives doctors and patients more information when considering whether chemotherapy is a good move.

Similar tests may do the same for colon, renal and prostate cancers. Dako, the global diagnostic company, is developing a test to select patients with metastatic stomach cancer who may benefit from Herceptin, a breast cancer drug. If the test shows chemotherapy won't help, doctors and patients can decide against it, avoiding unnecessary pain, and saving $15,000-$20,000 in medical costs. That scenario could be replicated for scores of other treatments.

New Drug Therapies

Genetic testing is revolutionizing medicine, offering doctors and patients more-educated choices. Using personal gene info, doctors can match patients with the therapies most likely to prove successful.

The Food & Drug Administration is on the cusp of approving a promising drug for lupus, Benlysta, from Human Genome Sciences and GlaxoSmithKline. Gene mapping will also make drug development faster and cheaper. All this could mean big savings in health costs as well as better results.

Power Up on the Roof

On the horizon: A novel solar roofing system with appeal for homeowners. Dow Chemical will soon roll out shingles with embedded solar chips. Other companies, such as Lumeta, SRS Energy and SunPower, offer similar power generating shingles and tiles, but Dow's have a difference: They can be installed by any roofing contractor. An electrician is needed only for the final plug-in. Others require wiring each shingle.

Solar roofing systems offer big advantages over more conventional solar panels: In addition to being less bulky and more attractive, they offer more flexibility and can cover entire roofs, including irregular spaces, to capture more power.

[See Energy Steps to Take for a Less Pricey Winter]

Time for Your Pill

Half of all Americans don't get prescriptions filled or take prescription medicines when they should. Such negligence contributes to higher costs as people get sicker instead of better. Pharmacy benefit managers can help. Medco Health Solutions, for example, has pharmacists reach out to patients who don't seem to be heeding doctors' orders.

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One tech solution: A pill bottle cap that lights up when it's time for a dose. The GlowCap, made by Vitality Inc., emits a pulsing orange light, followed by a beep that becomes increasingly insistent until the bottle is opened. No response will prompt an electronic phone call or e-mail.


How to Protect Your Digital Privacy

Tips to Help You and Your Family Stay Safe Online

As more and more of life is played out online, there's more and more risk of identity theft to users. But there are steps you can take to help secure your and your family's digital identity, finances and privacy.

(Getty Images)

If you have a wireless network in your home you need to password protect it and take a few other steps to keep your personal data locked down. In an effort to keep this process simple, I am outlining the basics in the hopes that people take action to protect their data.

The specifics of turning the router password on are best learned in the manual or through an online guide for your specific router. But we'll outline the concept, and once you understand the big picture, it should be easier to deal with the specifics for your router.

The problem

Wireless Internet networks broadinformation and can give strangers access to the data on your computers. If you don't enable encryption on your Wi-fi router you are vulnerable.

What's a wi-fi router?

If you can use a laptop to wirelessly go online in your home, then you have a wireless router or wi-fi router. Internet comes into your home through a cable modem or a DSL modem. The wireless router is usually a separate device that connects to the modem and broadcasts its Internet signal to connect laptops, phones or other wi-fi enabled devices. Sometimes your DSL or cable modem has a built-in router to broada wi-fi signal; it may an all-in-one device.

How do I lock out the bad guys but maintain my wireless access?

All wireless routers have encryption that scrambles data as it's being transmitted in the air. It can only be deciphered if the wireless device (e.g. the laptop) and the wireless router have the same password. WEP encryption is the best choice for home users. It comes in most routers and to enable it you go to the router's settings, turn WEP encryption on and then tell your laptop what the password is.

Where are the settings for my router?

The wireless router is configured through your main computer. You probably had to go through this configuration set-up when you initially installed the router. In the manual for the wireless router you will see either an address you enter into your browser (for example or there may use the software you installed during installation to set the router up.

I can access the wireless router settings, now what?

Look for a tab or option that says "security" or "password." Turn on WEP encryption at the very least and preferably use WPA as it is tougher to crack. Warning: this password is IMPORTANT, don't lose it. It's not ideal but you could put a piece of scotch tape on the bottom of your router and write the password on it. Anyone in your home will be able to access your wi-fi network, but we are trying to protect you from external snoopers. This scotch tape solution is real-world advice, not perfect-world advice.

Now my Laptop doesn't have Internet access...

Your laptop doesn't know the wireless router's password. You have to configure the laptop's wireless settings by going to the network sharing center or network preferences in your computer. When you see the wireless network click on "properties" or "advanced" and in the password field enter the password you just set up for your wireless router. It can be more complicated than this, but this is the basic idea. Use the manual for your wireless router or ask a geeky friend for help, but it's well worth doing.

So now my other laptop doesn't have Internet access.

All wireless devices (even phones that access wi-fi, gaming devices, streaming media devices) will need the router's password entered into the wireless network settings.

Am I safe now?

This is a good start. You should also be running an antivirus program like Norton or AVG to make sure you don't download malicious code (viruses) that broadyour data out onto the Internet; much further than onto the street or into a neighbor's house. I welcome comments below of better practices and more rigorous security measures. But this is the baseline set of practices to secure your home wireless network.

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Warren Buffett sees housing market bouncing back by 2011
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States Take Lead in Efforts To Fight Climate Change

By Wendy Koch

Now that 2010 has gone down as one of history’s hottest years, many states are choosing not to wait for Congress to tackle global warming and are taking their own steps to slash greenhouse gas emissions.

States are increasingly adopting stricter, energy-saving building codes; spending more money (partly federal) on energy efficiency; and prodding polluters to cut heat-trapping emissions.

“This is groundbreaking work the states are doing to provide leadership,” says Kevin Kennedy of the California Air Resources Board, a state agency that approved rules in December to cut the state’s carbon dioxide emissions 15% by 2020. This month, California began to require new TVs be more energy efficient, to phase out incandescent light bulbs (one year ahead of the national phaseout) and to enforce a green building code.

These efforts come as last year’s Democratic-controlled Congress failed to approve a climate change bill and the new Republican-led House of Representatives seeks to stop the Environmental Protection Agency from regulating emissions.

States nearly doubled their spending on energy efficiency from 2007 to 2009, and twice as many—now at least 20—have proposed or adopted energy-saving building codes since 2009, according to a study in October by the American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy, a non-profit group.

States are acting individually and collectively:

  • Massachusetts announced last month that it will cut greenhouse gas emissions 25% from 1990 levels by 2020. “It’s very doable,” says Richard Sullivan, the state’s secretary of energy and environmental affairs. “When you focus on energy efficiency, you can go a long way.” This year, the state will help fund ultra-efficient retrofits for some homes and give them a miles-per-gallon type of efficiency label. It’s working to allow auto insurers to base their rates partly on a car’s annual mileage.
  • Three regional groups, representing at least 22 states, agreed last year to work together on “cap-and-trade” programs. The programs cap total emissions but allow businesses that pollute a lot to buy emissions credits from those that pollute less.

The regional groups include the Midwestern Greenhouse Gas Reduction Accord, signed by 10 governors, and the Western Climate Initiative, in which California, New Mexico, British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec are slated next January to begin a cap-and-trade program.

They’re following the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative (RGGI). Since 2009, 10 Eastern and Mid-Atlantic states have required power plants to buy allowances for emitting CO2, raising $777 million and reinvesting 80% of that in clean energy.

“You can reduce greenhouse gas emissions without having a significant impact on ratepayers,” says Jonathan Shrag, the group’s executive director, noting the average monthly bill rose 73 cents.

RGGI’s consumer costs will escalate when carbon dioxide cuts are fully phased in, says David Kreutzer of the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He says such programs will slow economic growth and raise energy costs—arguments that helped torpedo Congress’ cap-and-trade bill. Kreutzer calls state efforts to cut greenhouses gas emissions “anemic and sporadic.”

Some states, notably Texas, are bucking the EPA’s efforts to regulate emissions, and several new governors, including Susana Martinez, R-N.M., have balked at cap-and-trade plans.

States, emboldened by Congress’ inaction, will increasingly pick up the slack, says Dale Bryk of the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group. She predicts, “We will see a lot more action this year.”

(c) Copyright 2011 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.

Read more:

Pending home sales rose 2% in December, marking the fifth gain in the past six months, according to the NATIONAL ASSOCIATION OF REALTORS®. NAR’s Pending Home Sales Index measures home sale contracts, which typically turn into home sale closings within one or two months.

NAR chief economist Lawrence Yun credits the rise to good affordability conditions and economic improvement. “Modest gains in the labor market and the improving economy are creating a more favorable backdrop for buyers, allowing them to take advantage of excellent housing affordability conditions. Mortgage rates should rise only modestly in the months ahead, so we’ll continue to see a favorable environment for buyers with good credit,” he said.

“In the past two years, home buyers have been very successful, with super-low loan default rates, partly because of stable home prices during that time. That trend is likely to continue in 2011 as long as there is sufficient demand to absorb inventory,” Yun said. “The latest pending sales gain suggests activity is very close to a sustainable, healthy volume of a mid-5 million total annual home sales. However, sales above 6 million, as occurred during the bubble years, is highly unlikely this year.”

Regional pending home sales

The PHSI in the Northeast increased 1.8% in December but is 5.3% below December 2009. In the Midwest, the index rose 8.0% in but is 5.1% below a year ago. Pending home sales in the South jumped 11.5% and are 1.7% above December 2009. In the West, the index fell 13.2% and is 10.7% below a year ago.

Source: NAR


Foreclosure Procedures Undergo Reviews

By Stephanie Armour

Recent revelations about mortgage lenders filing possibly faulty court papers to foreclose on homes has sparked a public outcry and called into question tens of thousands of foreclosures. Here’s a look at the issue and its impact.

Q: How did this come to light?

A: Lawyers for home owners fighting foreclosures took depositions from officials who prepare legal documents to get court approval to foreclose. The document signers—who have now been dubbed robo-signers—said they signed thousands of affidavits without reviewing the supporting papers or having the affidavits signed in the presence of a notary. Both are supposed to be done before foreclosure papers are submitted to courts in about 23 states that require judicial approval for all or most foreclosures. Some lawyers allege there were instances of fraud, too, including backdated documents and forged signatures.

Q: What’s happened so far?

A: Some major banks have suspended foreclosures while they review their procedures; others are proceeding while doing their reviews. Bank of America has suspended foreclosures in all 50 states. GMAC Mortgage has suspended evictions and foreclosures in the states that call for a judge’s approval and is reviewing foreclosure practices in the others. PNC Financial Services and Litton Loan Services are reviewing their practices. JPMorgan Chase suspended foreclosures in 56,000 cases in the judicial approval states and is reviewing its practices in a handful of the other states.

Q: Who is investigating this and what could be the outcome?

A: State attorneys general have launched a joint investigation. The Justice Department is reviewing the matter. The Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, which regulates the nation’s largest banks, said Friday that it is examining banks’ foreclosure procedures, and the Federal Housing Administration is conducting a review. The Senate Banking Committee has scheduled a Nov. 16 hearing.

Possible outcomes include civil penalties, criminal prosecutions, the creation of an independent monitor to oversee foreclosure practices and legal settlements under which lenders agree to do more to get struggling borrowers into mortgage workout plans to help them avoid foreclosure.

Q: What about a national moratorium on foreclosures?

A: Some members of Congress have called for one, but the Obama administration has rejected that idea out of concern that a blanket halt to all foreclosures could damage the fragile housing market’s recovery and, with it, the economy.

Q: Why is this controversy important?

A: Lawyers and consumer advocates for home owners say that if banks are found to have acted illegally, courts could see a wave of challenges in both current and past foreclosure cases. It could lead to title claims in courts, where former home owners who lost their homes in foreclosure actions assert they still own them, even after the homes have been sold. Banks say that even if procedures were not followed correctly, there’s no mistake that the home owners are in default and that the banks have the right to foreclose.

Q: What impact could this have?

A: Foreclosures already take a year or more to complete in some states and could slow further as judges review documents more thoroughly and banks tighten procedures. That could keep some home owners in their homes longer, but might also postpone the sales of homes that have been abandoned or that banks have repossessed, keeping them vacant longer.

Delays could be costly for banks and taxpayers, because banks and government-owned mortgage giants Freddie Mac and Fannie Mae all must continue to pay maintenance and other expenses on foreclosed properties they can’t sell. Freddie and Fannie own or guarantee more than half of all first mortgages.

Q: What could this mean for the housing market?

A: If foreclosures are delayed significantly, economists say the housing market recovery could suffer.
Significant delays in completing foreclosures could mean it will take longer for prices to recover, economists say. About 30% of all house sales now are foreclosures or other distressed properties that sell at substantially lower prices than homes whose owners aren’t in financial difficulty. That pulls down market prices overall.

The longer home prices stay depressed, the longer millions of home owners will be underwater, owing more on their mortgages than their homes are worth. About one in four properties are underwater, making it difficult for the owners to sell their properties or refinance their mortgages.

Q: Should I buy a foreclosed home?

A: Real estate experts say buyers shouldn’t avoid foreclosures. But you may want to buy a title insurance policy to protect against a claim stemming from a previous foreclosure, says Guy Cecala of Inside Mortgage Finance.

Lenders generally require title insurance before they’ll approve a mortgage.

Short sales—where lenders agree to let owners sell houses for less than they owe—should not be affected by the foreclosure controversy, says Rick Sharga of RealtyTrac.

Christopher Immel, a lawyer at Ice Legal, a Florida law firm that represents home owners challenging foreclosures, says prospective buyers of foreclosed properties should examine court case files for missing documents and incorrect dates.

He recommends hiring an attorney to review the file.

(c) Copyright 2010 USA TODAY, a division of Gannett Co. Inc.

A service of YellowBrix, Inc.


Home Security Systems: Make the Smart Choice

Understand the pros and cons of home security systems and choose the system that protects your property, safeguards your family, and fits your budget.

A house is burgled every 15 seconds in the United States, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, costing homeowners an average of $1,900 in personal goods and possessions with each break-in.

Home security systems can provide a powerful deterrent. They send the message that yours isn’t the weakest house on the block and give crooks a strong incentive to target another place.

You’ll pay about $35 to $75 a month in monitoring fees for that peace of mind, but home security systems also save you money: Insurers will shave 5% to 20% off your premiums every year you own your home. With an average national premium of $800, according to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, that means a basic security system can pay for itself in as little as three years.

Before you call a pro

Sign me up, you say. Not so fast. Before you call an installer, take the time to give your doors, windows, and other entry points a thorough once-over. It doesn’t pay to install new security equipment if you need to upgrade your doors and locks. Once you’ve completed your security audit and addressed the places where your house is most vulnerable, it’s time to get estimates from security companies.

Security system basics

Home security systems typically consist of a keypad mounted in the entryway that communicates with smaller contact sensors and motion detectors attached to doors and windows around the house. The brains of the system—the control panel—is installed in the attic or utility room.

If an intruder breaks a window or kicks in a door, the sensor sends signals to the control panel, which in turn uses your phone line to contact an off-site monitoring station staffed by security personnel. (It also sets off an ear-splitting siren.) Staffers ring the house right away and prompt you or your family members to provide a password. If there’s no response, or if the person who picks up the phone gives the incorrect password, they’ll notify local law enforcement.

System setup and monitoring costs

Equipment costs vary widely, from around $250 to as much as $700, depending on the options you choose. Some security companies may offer a basic package at a deep discount, or even for free, just to get your business.

After all, they make their real money on the monthly monitoring fee, which ensures that someone is keeping an eye on your home 24/7, even when you’re not around or out of town.

Choosing an installer

You may have a choice between hiring a national firm or a local company. Do you want the monitoring center to be in an entirely different state or just around the corner? The national firms boast that their call centers are fully redundant, which means if a center in OshKosh loses power, the center in Vancouver can pick up the slack.

Nevertheless, some home-security pros, like Chris McGoey, of Los Angeles-based McGoey Security Consulting, think it’s better to go with local installers, who may have more experience with the equipment than a representative of a large national firm.

“Choose someone in your area who’s been in the business at least 10 years,” he says. If you go local, however, it’s smart to quiz your provider about what provisions it has made in case, say, a blizzard shuts down power or a bug going around your local schools sidelines half their staff.

Wired or wireless?

Installing a basic system usually takes a pro about three hours. If you’re building a new house or an addition, you have the luxury of running the wires through open walls. Retrofitting an older home takes more time, because the installer will have to snake wires for the keypad and control panel though existing walls. (Sensors can be wired or wireless.)

A typical approach is to run all wires into the attic or utility room, and tie them into the main electric box and the local phone company line. A battery backup is usually available in case you lose power.

Another option is to go completely wireless. In this case, every component of the system, including the keypad and control panel, houses its own AAA or lithium battery that provides just enough power to enable it to communicate with a remote cellular network. If you’re a mobile-only family without a hard-wired phone line, have a VOIP phone, or if you live in an older house, you might be a good candidate for a wireless system. You’ll need to check if this technology is available in your area. If it is, you may pay slightly more to install it.

A world of add-ons

Sensors or detectors can be added to the system to address just about any household danger, from fire to flood to carbon monoxide poisoning. Elderly homeowners can even get a wearable “panic button” that will communicate with the control panel in case they fall or need assistance.

“Consumers want these extras,” says Bob Tucker, a spokesman for ADT Security, an industry leader. Just bear in mind that each add-on will up the cost of the system and push your monthly monitoring fee toward the top end of the range.

The weakest link: You

Burglars don’t defeat security systems; homeowners do. If you view the system as a nuisance, or only use it when you’re away on vacation, you’re more likely to forget how to operate it and inadvertently trigger a false alarm. That can result in fines from your local law enforcement agency. Resolve to learn how to arm your system, use it daily, and teach your kids as well.

Report your new installation to your insurance company to claim your discounted premium. And don’t forget to affix stickers and signs broadcasting your new system in your windows and front yard. “That’s 90% of the deterrent right there,” says McGoey. “That sign in your yard tells an intruder that he could potentially set off an alarm.”

Joseph D’Agnese is a journalist and book author who has written numerous articles on home improvement. He lives in North Carolina.

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