Moment of Silence

On December 21 at 9:30 a.m., this website will go silent for five minutes in memory of those who lost their lives at Sandy Hook.

The Last Free Upgrade

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on April 24.

With the news of Verizon’s decision to begin charging $30 for phone upgrades effective April 22, I’ve realized that I need to stop dragging my feet and upgrade my daughter’s phone. Verizon is following the lead of AT&T and Sprint, both of whom already charge $36 for upgrades.

We have three phones on our family account, and have three very different needs. I have an iPhone. I resisted a smart phone for a long time, thinking that it was unnecessary and not wanting to pay for the data package. Now I cannot imagine life without it. I never knew what a convenience it would be to check email while I was on the run, or pull up a recipe at the grocery store so I’d know what to pick up for dinner, or check TeamSnap to find out where the soccer game is now that I’m already on my way there. I’m not even sure where my “real” camera is anymore!

On the other hand, my dad is 84 and lives alone. He keeps his cell phone with him all the time “just in case.” Dad’s not the most patient person when it comes to new technology, so when his cell phone died, the option of learning his way around a new phone was not ideal. A Jitterbug, with its large, easy to use and read buttons and simple design would be a great option for him. Jitterbugs are available for a very reasonable monthly fee with no contract — but then I’d be paying for double service as we’re locked into our current contract with his cell phone. My dad wanted to stay with the same phone, but it is no longer available through our carrier. That’s when eBay came to the rescue. I was able to find a new phone identical to the phone that needed replacing. Dad took both phones to the store, they transferred his contacts over to his new phone and he was back in business. Of course, he got a flat tire during the time when he was without a phone!

My teenage daughter would like a smartphone, but I’m just not ready for that yet and she doesn’t want one badly enough to pay for the data package herself. However, there aren’t many basic phones out there that meet the “cool” expectations of a teenager. Usually your carrier will offer more choices online than in the store, but keep in mind that you are not confined to the choices on your carriers website. That doesn’t mean you can go to a competing carrier site and get a phone, but you can get a phone from another source such as Costco. This time we found a great option for $9.99 at Costco, significantly less than it sells for elsewhere.

If you’re considering changing plans, Costco is a great option. They don’t charge activation fees for new service, which can become pricey as you add more lines to your account. Costco offers plans by AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and T-Mobile and they also offer free shipping and free accessories. The accessory bundle varies depending on the carrier, but generally includes a case and vehicle charger. Costco partners with Wireless Advocates, so if you purchase online you don’t need to be a Costco member (you leave the Costco site to make your purchase). I do recommend that you know and be familiar with what you are purchasing. If you want to go to the warehouse and look at cell phones, you’ll need a Costco membership.

Finally, a word about insurance for cell phones. Check into the actual replacement cost for your phone when making the decision about insurance. Upgrade phones are frequently offered for much less than the retail price — but if something does happen, without insurance you may find yourself paying full retail for the replacement. On the other hand, if the phone costs less than $100, it’s probably not worth the cost of the monthly fee for insurance along with the deductible. Deductibles vary depending on the carrier and the phone, ranging anywhere from $39 to $130, so read the fine print. The number of claims per phone per year is also limited. Insurance doesn’t cover water damage, so if you are among the 19% who have dropped your phone in the toilet, having it insured would not have helped anyway!

Do you have any great tips for saving on your cell phone bill? Are you loyal to your cell carrier or would your throw them down in a hot minute if a better deal came along? How do you manage your upgrades — do you upgrade at the earliest opportunity or “save” them for emergencies such as lost or broken phones?

Rite of Passage for Teens and Boomer Parents: Setting Up Social Network Accounts

This post originally appeared in the Huffington Post on April 19.

Last week my daughter turned 13. She’s been using a sub-account on my email address for the last two or three years. In fact it was very sweet, she chose to use her late grandmother’s username as a tribute to Grandma for her email address.

Now she is 13 and raring to go with her own identity. Thirteen is a magical age on the Internet, largely due to the Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act. At age 13 kids can legally have Facebook accounts, Google accounts, and Twitter accounts, just to name a few that have made it to the majors.

My daughter started by setting up two Gmail accounts — one using her actual name, and a second using a name reflective of her interest in sports, which will be her primary account.

Then came Facebook. I’ve had a hard and fast rule that she was not allowed to have a Facebook account until she turned 13. That was a little tough for her since many of her classmates have already been on Facebook, some since the fifth grade. I’ve always maintained that allowing her to lie about her age set the wrong example, thus no account.

Apparently this rule was too tough for her to follow, or I missed some other object lesson about lying. About three months ago, looking at the drop-down menu on her web browser, I accidentally discovered that she’s had a Facebook account since the start of school last year. “What’s this?” I asked. “And who is ‘Jane Doe’?” (The name on the account was not Jane Doe — but it wasn’t my daughter’s name either.) She immediately corrected my mispronunciation of her fake last name.

Really? For the record, I have spent quite a bit of time educating my daughter about some of the things she will need to do once she does finally have a Facebook account. Yet there was our address posted on her profile page, set to “Public.”

“But Mom! I really tried. I thought I had it locked down!” she exclaimed. To her credit, she did do some things really well, including having a photo of a picture she’d painted as her profile photo, rather than a photo of herself. But her confusion is understandable: Facebook has seven settings just for the General tab, and another eight tabs off to the side on Account settings.

Facebook’s privacy settings are tricky. In fact, many of my Boomer generation friends have requested my help with their Facebook account and privacy settings. Facebook’s settings also require a lot of monitoring, because the site seems to change things fairly often.

Facebook also has a habit of making its settings more on the invasive side. For instance, “Instant Personalization” in the site’s privacy settings currently has eight partner websites. By using Instant Personalization, you give Facebook the authority to share your information with a variety of websites and they in turn, will “make these sites more fun and useful the moment you arrive.” At least that’s what Facebook’s explanation says.

I question whether all that fun is worth giving Facebook my personal information. If you agree, follow these steps: To get to Instant Personalization, click “Privacy,” then “Apps and Websites,” and you’ll see it third down on that list. Click on it and then click “learn more.” Eventually you end up on a page where you have to UNCHECK the box. (Just one example of why users complain about the opt-out process on Facebook.)

Once we finished Account Settings, we moved on to Privacy Settings. First up: “How You Connect.” We set most of the settings to “Friends,” with the exception that “Friends of Friends” will be able to send Friend requests. (That way we won’t preclude that great person she meets at a friend’s house.)

From there we worked our way through “Timeline and Tagging,” which took a little more thought, discussion, and time. Here’s the shortcut: Set “Friends” at the very broadest setting, and turn reviewing options on so that your child can see what others write before it shows up on their wall.

We made quick work of Apps and Websites, agreeing that games will not be played on Facebook. (With eight hours of soccer per week not including travel time, there just isn’t enough time for games as well as homework.) Here, just “disable” all the apps. Another good reason to avoid games on Facebook: Some apps require that you provide them an alarming amount of data in order to use the app. (See the Wall Street Journal article “Selling You on Facebook” and click on the tab for their interactive graphic for an eye-popping visual on how much data is gathered about you.)

Like many parents, I worry about my daughter using social networking sites. I also know I can’t make her live as if she were in a convent for the next six years, and for her to want to stretch, grow and make friends independent of me is an important aspect of her development. The best thing that I can do is to arm her with information and tools she can use to develop a responsible online persona. That includes a lot of face-time between the two of us.

How about you? Are you concerned about your teen’s privacy online? How did you deal with it?

5 Apps And Websites To Beat Traffic

Note: this post originally appeared in the Huffington Post April 9, 2012.

“Americans will put up with anything provided it doesn’t block traffic.”  - Dan Rather

It’s been raining here in Northern California. And with the rains come slick roads, which in turn can cause crashes. And while we hope that none of those crashes are of a serious nature, even a fender bender is often all it takes to create some serious traffic congestion.

 Many of us (most?) have GPS in our cars now, but what if you want to know the traffic conditions before you head out the door? Here are five websites and apps to help you get where you’re going  – without being blocked by traffic.

 One of the most widely available sites is 511. You’ll have to perform a search for it because its precise name varies depending on where you live. The easiest way to find it is to search for “511 traffic” and then see what’s available for your area.  Some sites are hosted by local government, others by a private company. Many of the 511 sites are transit-friendly, integrating all available modes of transit into their trip planners including rail, bus, cycling, and walking. They even include ferries in some regions.

 If there isn’t anything for your particular area, just search using your city, state or zip code, followed by the word traffic. For example, if you search for “Texas traffic” you’ll find a good sample of traffic sites for Texas, some geared to specific metropolitan areas.

 A quick word about apps. The descriptions are written to deliberately make every app sound like you might as well just give up if you don’t have that app and to make it even more irresistible, it is FREE!! (Or 99 cents – or some other number ending in 99 cents.)  Yet deal that it is, take just one minute and look at the reviews for any app before you download.  And while you’re at it, check the release date and the date of the last update — especially when looking at traffic apps. It doesn’t take long for roads to change these days. Search for “traffic apps” or “best traffic apps” and you’ll find lots of suggestions.

 My all-time favorite traffic app is  “CHP Traffic.” This is about the best use for 99 cents that I’ve ever found. I like this app so much that I have actually gifted it to people. Based on information accessed directly from the California Highway Patrol  (CHP) it uses a live feed from their dispatch center, which can also be viewed on the CHP website.  While there is not an Android version of this particular app, the CHP has added a mobile version of their traffic site, so you do have that as an option. There is even a handy glossary to help you decipher any police codes you may encounter under the drop down menu on the top right corner of the page, labeled “resources”.

 Another decent traffic app available for multiple platforms (iPhone, Android, Blackberry and Windows Phone 7) is Inrix – but beware.  While it starts out as a free app, if you want to use the routing function to figure out how to go from point A to point B, its going to cost you a hefty $24.99 for the upgrade. On the other hand, the “incidents” function, which is part of the free app works great, provided you know how to get around the reported incident.

 Topping the charts right now is Waze, a “social GPS and traffic” app available for all smartphone platforms. Waze is easy to use and has good tutorials. The downside for me was it wanted me to check in on Facebook and Twitter, telling people where I am and where I’m going. I sometimes think people just don’t need that level of detail about my life.

 Finally, we have Beat the Traffic, which is free with lots of ads, or for $3.99 you can dump the ads and just watch the traffic. This is also available for all smartphone platforms as well as having a web site. Once you’ve downloaded it go to settings and set it up the way you’d like it. I think one of the most pertinent settings is listed last, that of “incident severity,” which has settings for low, medium and high.

How about you? Do you have a favorite website or app that helps you get where you are going more quickly and with fewer, if any delays?


URGENT INFO FOR ALL MAC USERS

MAC users – you need to run this URGENT update to avoid vulnerability that is allowing a botnet to be created on your computer. A botnet is a group of computers that are infected with malicious software and are being controlled remotely. The update does not even need a reboot so you have no excuse for not doing this immediately!

Here is a link to an article from Ars Technica about the bot: Flashback trojan reportedly controls half a million Macs and counting

To run the update:

  • Click on the little apple icon in the upper left corner of your screen.
  • Click on software update.
  • Click on show details.
  • Select the java update.
  • Click on install.

Thanks to David Grant for the tip on this.

 

 

What is “the cloud” and where can I find it?

A good friend, Laura Z. wrote and asked me, “Can server farms for the cloud be anywhere? Is there a Serverfarmville in some low-rent state?” It’s a good question. The term “cloud” is a metaphor, and the cloud is actually a service, rather than a specific location.

 The cloud is one of those topics that starts out seeming fairly simple, and ends up looking something like the Winchester Mystery House by the time you look at all the components. Having space for our computer files is kind of like closet space – we just keep filling up the space we have and then need more. First we purchase bigger hard drives, then we purchase external drives for even more storage. In addition, we want our files backed up so that if anything happens to them we have them in another location – which creates another need for space. When using the cloud for storage, we are able to purchase as much or as little storage as we need, and smaller units are often available for free to individuals, paid for through advertising. Some clouds specialize in the type of content they store. There are clouds designed for email storage, clouds for digital photos, some are small operations and some are huge.

Another important component of cloud storage is redundancy. At the risk of getting too basic here, redundancy means that if one system fails there is another system ready to kick in and take over. So in the case of cloud storage, the data is stored in multiple places – not just one. That way if the power is off in one place, you can still access your data. For security purposes, the exact location of servers is generally not something that is advertised or made public. (Sorry Laura! I guess today is not the day we will learn Serverville’s exact location.)

Chances are good that you already use cloud storage whether you’ve thought of it that way or not. If you store your photos on Picasa or Flickr – you’re storing your photos in the cloud. If you use Hotmail or Gmail or any of a number of web-based mail servers, you are storing your e-mail in the cloud. Google apps and Google docs are also stored in the cloud.

There are several benefits to using the cloud. Cloud computing is good for the environment. It saves money on hardware, software, and energy consumption. Cloud computing strengthens a company’s ability to offer telecommuting – which in turn means more of us sitting around in our jammies working from home rather than driving by ourselves in our cars to work each day.

Given all the positives, what is the downside of cloud computing? In short there are two major concerns: privacy and security. With respect to privacy the question is: who has access to that information? Are your files encrypted? Are you the only person with access to the information? Are you sure some bored employee working for the cloud host isn’t reading your files while on the midnight shift? On the security side there are a number of questions. What happens to your data if the company goes out of business? What happens if they fall behind on their bills and the site where your data is stored is compromised in some way? How secure is your data from hackers? What about natural disasters? Did you realize your data was in a flood zone? Since cloud storage is relatively new, there are not any hard and fast answers to any of these questions.

Cloud storage is big business, with billions of dollars being pumped into the industry. According to a study commissioned by Microsoft, cloud computing is expected to create 14 million new jobs worldwide by 2015. Susan Wilson does a great job of summarizing the data in her article on BLORGE.

I suspect soon we will not even differentiate between what we call “computing” and “cloud computing.” It seems to me that it is technical evolution taking place at an accelerated pace.

 

 

Where’s Waldo??

Or more specifically, where has Lori been? I’m sorry guys. I’ve been under the weather for the past couple of weeks. I’m also learning as I go with this blog, and one of the biggest lessons that I’ve learned (albeit a tad on the late side!) is “don’t launch your blog without at least a week’s work of back-up posts.” I’m working on a post about cloud computing, so stay tuned. I hope to have it up with the next 48 hours.

There’s also something brewing that I can’t talk about just yet – I don’t want to jinx it. Suffice it to say that it is great news for both me and this blog! You’ll be among the first to know when I’m able to talk about it. In the meantime, thanks for your support and for checking in. And since I’m busy working on that stockpile of “back-up” blogs, if you have any topics you want addressed let me know! Thanks again for stopping by!!

Do you still have a landline telephone?

A couple of months ago I reviewed the bill for my landline telephone and internet service, which was running slightly over $100 per month. (Not anymore!) I came back to a question that has been nagging me recently, which is: Do I need a landline telephone? Having spent a good part of my adult life in emergency communications, I have always believed that a landline telephone would afford me the best communication in an emergency. And living in earthquake country, I know it is inevitable that one day communication will be knocked out – at least I think it will.  (I also just realized that I have lived in the shadow of  the possibility of a large earthquake hitting this area for my entire life.  The quake in 1989 didn’t count as it was just “pressure release.”)

Since starting this blog post, I’ve done a 180-degree turn from my original position. When I started this, I really thought that I had the answers and was working from an informed point of view. As it turns out – my point of view was outdated, and unfortunately, it will now be another ten months before my wallet catches up to my new point of view.  A Pew Research study conducted in 2010 says that 62% of American households think it is important to have a landline telephone. Compare that to 42% stating that it is important to have a television.­­­  And here I thought we were trailblazers by not having traditional television in our home. That said, I would not rely solely on a VOIP service (voice over internet protocol) as that requires that two systems be functional – electrical power as well as internet service.

What are some of the reasons you think you might want to have or keep your landline telephone?

  1. Because I have always had a landline telephone.
  2. So that emergency responders can find me.
  3. To send faxes.
  4. All of my friends know my phone number.
  5. I like to donate money to major corporations rather than to worthy causes.
  6. It is impractical to have only cellular telephone service on my estate. For example, I do not expect my kitchen staff to use their personal cell phones to deal with the caterers for my next big bash.

Reviewing the list, it appears that we can probably eliminate items 1, 4, and 5 as not particularly practical reasons to keep a landline, leaving us with emergency responders and faxes. Item six, while written tongue in cheek, actually does make sense so it stays on the list. Realistically the estate could be downsized, the kitchen staff could be the nanny or au pair, and it applies to a larger segment of the population.  Along the same lines,  keep in mind that  some alarm systems rely on your landline connection.

9-1-1

It used to be that if one called 9-1-1 from a cell phone the person answering the phone did not know where you were. Times and technology have changed. Even the stalwart Consumer Reports now says “dropping your landline and using your cell phone ‘is generally a safe bet.’”  When  9-1-1 is called from your home landline telephone or using VOIP, the address you are calling from is automatically displayed. So the one major advantage of your landline over your cell phone in that case would be if you were unable to speak for some reason, such as being physically incapable or due to the presence of an intruder. And in most places, if you call 9-1-1 from your cell phone, they will know where you are. It is probably worth testing this before you disconnect your landline. If you’re worried about calling 9-1-1 when it’s not an emergency, just call the 7-digit phone number to your local emergency center and tell them that you’d like to test your phone by calling 9-1-1 and ask if it is a good time to do so. That way you won’t be interrupting anything major and it is less likely they will have to put the person calling in their spouse’s heart attack on hold to answer your call. (Of course, chances are you are asking the same person who answers the 9-1-1 lines that very question. But checking first is usually considered an appropriate thing to do.)

Don’t forget that if you use a cordless telephone in your home it won’t work if the power goes out. Since I live in an area where it is not unusual for the power to go out when bad storms hit, I still have an old wall phone hanging in my kitchen. I keep the ringer turned off and while it’s not programmable, I only use it when the power goes out so I can just hit redial to reach the power company.

Ultimately, I think landlines are going to go the way of telegraphs and teletypes. Cell phone numbers are now portable, meaning if you go from one carrier to another you can take your number with you. In fact, since long distance calls are included in most if not all cell phone plans, there really isn’t much reason to change your cell number even if you move across the country. My teenager has a cell phone, all of her friends have her number.  It’s likely that she will keep this number for a long time. Cell phone numbers have already taken the place of home phone numbers in our society.

Faxing

If you do a fair amount faxing, it may be more practical to keep your landline as a dedicated fax line. On the other hand, you could sign up for an online fax service where you could send and receive faxes. Here’s a site where you can compare fax services: http://www.faxcompare.com/  The one feature that would be of concern to me is referred to as “users in plan,” which limits the number of email addresses that you can send faxes from as well as the number of recipients you can set up to receive the faxes. On the other hand, if you seldom need to fax things, you might be ahead to just dump your landline and go to your local UPS store when you need to send a fax!

Last but not least

A couple of points on technology.  If you know someone who lives in another part of the state, country, or world, you need a Skype account. To use Skype, after setting up your account, all you need is your computer with a high speed connection, such as DSL or cable. In most cases you won’t even need a headset, although I prefer wearing a headset to cut down on the background sounds and to give me a little more privacy. You can find a pretty good deal on a headset on the Skype accessories page. And finally, the person you are planning to communicate with via Skype also needs to have a Skype account and you can talk for free! I’ve been able to talk with a friend who lives in Cambodia using technology that didn’t exist ten years ago.

You may have heard about Magic Jack on television. They had it available the last time I was at my timeshare in the mountains, and it worked fine, although it has had some pretty bad reviews. But now they have come out with Magic Jack Plus, which received a pretty good review this week in the San Francisco Chronicle. Since already dumped my long distance plan on my landline, I went ahead and ordered Magic Jack. I’ll let you know how it works out.

There is another device celled OOMA now on the market that works much like VOIP. This is a pricier alternative at around $200. They claim that you don’t need a computer, but you do have to plug the device into your high speed internet. Why would you have a high speed internet connection and not have a computer?  Once connected, you just pay the taxes and regulatory fees, which amount to about $3.50 per month. You are also able to port your number to OOMA.

And finally, do the math. Don’t forget that if you have services bundles, such as landline, internet and television, you may have to pay more for whatever is left after you take out your landline. If you are locked into a contract like I am, you should look at the fees for early termination. Sometimes it is best just to wait out the contract.

What do you think?

What are your thoughts on landlines? Have you considered dropping yours? What has made you keep it? Or if you did drop it, do you miss having it? Leave your responses in the comments below.  And please, feel free to forward this far and wide!

UPDATE – April 13, 2012

I promised to get back to you about Magic Jack Plus. I ordered it using their free trial, which incidentally if you want the free trial period you must order through their website. It was easy enough to set up. They advertise that with Magic Jack Plus no computer is needed. That could be misleading for some people. The original Magic Jack only worked when your computer was turned on, and that’s no longer the case with Magic Jack Plus. But you DO need to have a high speed internet connection, and I can’t imagine why you’d have that without having a computer! I also ran into a slight issue connecting it and had to contact their customer service folks – which again requires a computer because the only way to talk with them is via instant messaging. They were going to escalate the issue and said they would get back to me, “Okay?” to which I responded, “I guess I don’t have much choice.” At that point I received a canned message that said something to the effect that if I was not going to cooperate with them they would have no choice but to end the call – and before I could blink they had terminated our chat! I believe that may have something to do with why I have seen it called “Magic Jack Unsupport,” in more than one forum. Ultimately I figured out the issue on my own and it was my own mistake. One of those things you’d rather not tell anyone, let alone admit to in your own tech blog! (I have two different cordless handset telephones, and I inadvertently switched the handsets with the base sets, so they were incompatible.)

All that aside, functionally Magic Jack was disappointing. I found that it dropped calls pretty routinely somewhere around the 12 to 18 minute mark. If you don’t have calls that last that long, no problem! But I talk to my dad on a regular basis and found myself on several occasions chattering away and not getting any feedback from him. As it turns out, the call had dropped, but there was absolutely nothing to indicate it had dropped. Unlike cell phones that beep and say “call failed,” Magic Jack Plus gives you the impression you’re still on the phone. In fact, the minutes and seconds on my handset continued to tick away long after the call the had dropped. Sound quality was generally all right, but I did have to hang up and call back a couple of times due to popping on the line. So today I shipped the Magic Jack Plus unit back to them. For now I think I’ll just use my cell phone with the very cool retro handset made by Native Union that plugs into my cell phone.

 

The Week in Review….

There have been a couple of items of interest this week, some on sites that I find always have something of interest.

The Qwerty Effect

First – who knows what “qwerty” is? It’s the name given to our keyboard. Who knows why it is called “qwerty?” Anyone? Look at your keyboard and find “q.” What letter is next to it? And then what letter? “QWERTY” is what the first six letters on your keyboard spell. Wired Magazine is reporting that scientists have discovered that we apparently attach warmer, fuzzier feelings to words typed on the right side of our keyboard, hence words typed using our right hand. Words typed with our left hand using the left side of our keyboard tend not to produce those warm fuzzy feelings. The theory behind this pop science is that we like right-handed words because they are easier to type. (I don’t know how many south-paws they included in their study, but they do say that being right or left-handed seemed to have no effect, so I guess it is irrelevant.) There are also fewer letters on the right side of the keyboard, so in theory the words are shorter because we don’t have as many letters to choose from. And without going into detail, there appears to be an implication at the end of the article indicating that this phenomenon holds true for words typed in other languages as well.

The QWERTY Effect: How Typing May Shape the Meaning of Words  by Dave Mosher, Wired Magazine, March 7, 2012

The new IPad

Clearly the biggest story of the week in tech is the arrival of the new iPad. It will be available in stores on March 16, you can pre-order now on the Apple website. If you check Apple’s website, even though the release date is March 16, they are now saying “ships by March 19″ regardless of which combination of the new iPad you choose. So if you are truly anxious to have a new iPad, I guess you should head on out to the brick and mortar store.

Interesting. When I was researching how Apple is referring to the latest generation iPad, i.e. should I spell out the number three or use numeral 3, I discovered that Apple doesn’t make any such distinction. They are simply calling it “the new iPad.”  They do however use the numeral 2 to identify the predecessor of “the new iPad”.

From what I’ve heard and read, if you don’t have an iPad and have been considering getting one, now is the time. If you have an original iPad, this is a good time to upgrade. If you have an iPad 2 – the changes are probably not significant enough to warrant the purchase. And last but not least, there are some deals to be had on the iPad 2. PCWorld has a good article that you can check out if you want to get a deal on an iPad2.                                                       iPad 2 Deals: Where to Buy it for Less

If you are going to get an iPad, regardless of generation, I highly recommend the  Zagg folio, which is a stand, keyboard and cover all rolled into one. Please note that the current Zagg is made for the iPad 2, not iPad 3. But I’d be willing to bet there will be a Zagg on the market by March 16 for the iPad 3.

NPR Music

What? What does NPR Music have to do with tech? And I thought NPR was a talk radio program? Things have changed. NPR has a website that showcases music that you may not find elsewhere. They also have free apps for your mobile devices here at NPR Mobile. For example, as I’m writing this I’m listening to some classical music composed by Anthony Hopkins. Yes, as in Hannibal Lechter/Oscar-winning Sir Anthony Hopkins. He’s now adding composer of classical music to his resume.

NPR Music has concerts, music news, interviews, music blogs and music programs. There are also tabs for specific types of music ranging from classical to hip-hop. (Who knew? Hip-hop on NPR!) They will also offer a live webcast and broadcast this Thursday, March 15, of Bruce Springsteen presenting the keynote address and playing a bit of music with his E Street Band at the SXSW Film and Music Interactive, in Austin Texas. Tune in at 3 p.m. PDT ( noon (CT)/1 p.m. (ET).

Last, but not least, if you don’t have a dock for your mobile device so that you can play the music through some real speakers – get one. There are many available, it’s worth it to pay a little more and get something that has good sound. Otherwise, it will just sound like the speaker on your mobile device being amplified. And as an added bonus, it will charge your device while you’re listening!

HTTPS Everywhere and Collusion: great add-ons for your Firefox browser

It’s great that we now have so many options for web browsers. We are no longer stuck with just having Internet Explorer. Netscape is long gone, but we do have Firefox by Mozilla.org , Google offers Chrome, and Apple has Safari, which you may not realize comes in a PC version as well as the better known Mac version. I tend to use Firefox most of the time. Every now and then I switch over to Chrome. – for no particular reason other than it looks different. The primary reason that I use Firefox  is for the add-ons and extensions that you can add to customize your web-browsing experience. And by the way, add-ons are free!

A quick word about add-ons for those who don’t already know. To install add-ons, go to the “Tools” tab on the Firefox browser, and then select “Add-ons.”  You can then either browse through the add-ons , or if you know what you want, go to the search box in the upper right corner of the add-ons page and type in the name of the add-on.

Https EVERYWHERE

You may recall that you’ve been told never NEVER enter your credit card information on a site that does not have an “s” (meaning secure) at the end of “http” in the web address, thus making it “https.” The first of the add-ons I want to tell you about is “HTTPS Everywhere.”  HTTPS Everywhere was developed by the Electronic Frontier Foundation.  (And in the name of  full disclosure, that’s where I work . EFF has been working on digital privacy issues since the early 90′s. The founders had great foresight, recognizing the potential impact that computers could have on our privacy. ) Firefox  offers a couple of great add-ons, both having to do with internet privacy.  An updated version  was released  little over a week ago, on February 28.  The new version is also available in a beta version for Google’s Chrome browser.

The new version of HTTPS Everywhere by EFF will warn you when there is a security hole. ” What’s a security hole?” you ask. Those of you using Internet Explorer have no doubt encountered the little notices that pop up from time to time saying that you need to update IE with what they call a “security patch.” In very general terms, a security hole makes your computer vulnerable to an attack by a third-party, meaning that they may be able to take over an existing program on your computer, or somehow give an outsider access to your computer and ultimately mess up your data or the way your computer operates. Security holes can exist in any browser, they aren’t exclusive to IE. What you want is to ensure that your browser is always looking for potential weak spots and finding ways to fortify its means of  protecting  you.

Pretty much everything that HTTPS Everywhere does for you it does behind the scenes. You won’t even know its doing anything, but it is always there, working for you.

Update:  My new friend Al (who I became friends with as a result of this blog!)  pointed me to a blog in “The Economist” that also has a great write-up about”HTTPS Everywhere. And hopefully now that I’ve explained it to you, the blog in the Economist will answer any questions you may still have about why you should be using HTTPS Everywhere. “Certifiably secure” Economist, March 9, 2012

COLLUSION

Collusion is another add-on that I want to tell you about. I have to admit that I just installed it this morning – but it was just released on February 29th, so give me a little break. Collusion provides you with fascinating audio and visual effects  of how much of your information is tracked. When you first install Collusion, you’re given the option of having sounds when cookies are set. I recommend clicking the box  – at least for the first few sites you visit. You may find that it quickly becomes a bit overwhelming to hear sounds constantly gushing from your computer. In that case, just go back to the add-on and uncheck the box and turn off the sounds.

The other piece of Collusion is the fantastic visual it gives you of how your cookies are being distributed. In order to see this, once you have installed Collusion, you’ll see a small icon on the lower right hand corner of your browser page. It looks like a white dot ringed with an inner ring of red and an outer ring of brown. Click on the ring and it will take you to a graphic visualization of all the sites that have set tracking cookies on your browser.

PERSONAS

Lastly – a fun and easy add-on, especially if you are new to Firefox, is  called “Personas.”  Personas are themes that you can use to personalize the look of your browser. There are a multitude of categories including nature, sports, music, fashion and causes, to name just a few.

If you find you don’t like either of the add-ons (or any others you may have used) just re-visit the add-on page and click on disable on anything you no longer wish to use.