Fax Online for the Sake of Efficiency

Fax Online for the Sake of EfficiencyEvery day, new ways of using the Internet are being discovered. When people first started using the Internet, they used it to find new pieces of information that weren’t easily available in books at home or at the local library. As time has gone on, we’ve learned to use it for everything from seeking out bargains to finding directions to communicating and connecting with other people. Give it a few more years, and we might well wonder if there’s anything the Internet won’t be able to do.

Sometimes, we can even use the Internet to extend the usefulness of external technologies — such as sending text messages to our friends’ cellphones from our home computers. You can even fax documents to your customers with the help of a service like RingCentral. What is nice about this service is you can do it from anywhere without using a fax machine. This means that even you if you are at the beach or inside your hotel room during your vacation, you can still fax those important documents to your customer by using your computer or even your smartphone. Just make sure there is a strong Wi-Fi or Internet connection where you are located.

When you fax your documents to your customers, you can do away with asking for a fax tone before you can begin sending documents. What is important is that your customer’s fax machine is online. Just click on the Send as Internet Fax button and your document is off to your customer’s fax machine. If you feel the need to send another copy of the document, just click on the same button again. Unlike when you are using a fax machine, you don’t have to re-insert the document or documents in the machine to fax again.

What many businessmen like about sending fax through the Internet is that it’s cost efficient. If there is something you’d have to pay for before you can send a fax through the Internet, it would be just the fax service. The amount you’d pay for the fax service is such a small amount compared to what you’d have to spend for a fax machine or for its repair if it were to break down. (But if you happen to have a fax machine, I would suggest that you still keep it where it is. You may find it still handy just in case something happens to your Internet service!)

Speed is another reason I find sending fax through the Internet much better than using a fax machine. Documents travel faster through the Internet because it makes use of digital or electromagnetic signals, which travel faster. Don’t you find it boring to wait for the fax machine to finish scanning the documents before they’re finally sent down the telephone wire? The reason data travels slowly down the telephone wire is it’s in the form of analog or electrical signals.

These are just a few of the reasons that make sending fax through the Internet more economical and practical compared to using the fax machine. But even though this method of sending faxes is gradually gaining popularity, a lot of people still use the fax machine — especially if they are in a hurry to send documents that have no electronic copies or have yet to be scanned.

Do you still have a use for an old-fashioned fax machine, or do you rely on the Internet to do the job? Please leave a comment below and let us know!

Image: FAX and VHS — How Old Skool by schatz

Finding Internet Content the Easy Way with Soovle

Finding Internet Content the Easy WayFinding content on the Internet can sometimes be a challenge. There are people who will read this post who may be involved in writing articles for a blog, newsletter, or other publication that struggle finding topics that will interest their audience. While we can choose popular services such as what is offered by Google, Yahoo!, or Bing to search, each of these search engines are problematic.

Many people, when searching for a product, immediately head for places like Amazon, eBay, or Buy.com looking for the best price. In addition, people also check the retail websites to obtain product information for items that they may wish to purchase. Sometimes people just peruse these websites to read product reviews from those who have allegedly purchased a specific product or service.

We now have available to us Soovle, one simple-to-use search vehicle that will utilize the power of the following websites at once:

  • Google
  • Wikipedia
  • Amazon
  • Answer.com
  • Yahoo!
  • YouTube
  • Bing

To use Soovle is simple and straightforward. You only need to type in a search item, phrase, product, or service as you would during a normal search. As you type in the search term you wish to locate, each search service will start to provide the term for which you are searching. From this listing, you can then choose which search engine has the best results.

I have been testing Soovle for over a month and I have enjoyed the results Soovle has presented. I am using Soovle, set as my default search engine, for the Chrome browser without any problems or issues.

Soovle has a feature that I believe you will enjoy. If you wish to add or replace any of the standard search engines once you open Soovle, just click on Engines in the top right corner. You can control which engines best complete your searches and suit your needs.

Give Soovle a try and let us know what you think.

Comments are welcome.

Source: Soovle

Internet: Could It Really Become a Language Killer?

Internet: Could It Really Become a Language Killer?As a child, I can remember when the Catholic Church performed its mass in Latin. At the time, Latin was also offered, at least in parochial school, as an elective in foreign language studies. Since that time, however, Latin has basically been delegated to the ancient languages category that is only offered in specialized fields of study.

However, when this was occurring, I didn’t think much more about it aside from how wonderful it was that I didn’t have to learn something I would never use. Today, however, I can see some modern languages also dying as the Internet creates an arena that does not encompass some 60 or so different languages, or dialects, specific to certain regions of the world. This scenario is even more likely as Web providers, like Google and Siri, begin to offer more and more services intended to translate webpage data for the reader into a vast variety of popular languages, such as English. In fact, one can even find sites that offer translation services controlled through speech command.

Which languages are threatened? In a recent report from the European organization META (Multilingual Europe Technology Alliance), soon-to-be extinct languages could include Icelandic, Latvian, Lithuanian, and surprisingly, could even include German, Italian, Spanish, and French in the future.

META also took a hard look at language technologies, including software, that were specific to a limited number of languages such as:

  • Spell check
  • Grammar check
  • Siri, Robin, and other voice-to-speech applications
  • Navigation systems
  • Google Translate

Using these features, META found that some languages, such as Icelandic with only approximately 300,000 users, were not supported. In fact, META’s research concluded that there is an ever-widening rift between languages that are commonly used on the Internet and those that are smaller and used less frequently online. Perhaps, not surprisingly, the report also concluded that by the year 2015, Chinese would replace English as the dominant language on the Internet.

However, the Internet is not the only factor in languages dying. The fact is that the European Union has, for the most part, lifted its interlocking boundaries with fellow Union members and now they share a common currency. This open access between the European countries has allowed a free exchange of goods and services, but is still hampered by one glaring difference: the barrier of language. To make trade and communication easier, some in Europe are proposing a common language, but many countries in the European Union have been vocal in opposing this proposal.

Being of Italian heritage, I can understand the reluctance to accept a common language that would eliminate some of the cultural differences between countries. Each of the regions in Europe is unique and proud of who they are. Besides that, change is hard as was shown in the United States when it made an effort to convert over to the metric system. This changeover supposedly began decades ago, but met with such resistance that it still has not completely replaced the older standard US system that uses inches and feet. To prove this, I only need to look inside of my tool cabinet to be reminded that I own both SAE and metric-designed tools. In fact, one of the tools I bought just last year was a Sears wrench designed to fit both SAE and metric bolts.

Going back a little, you might ask why I suggest that the Chinese language may become the primary language of use on the Internet. First, remember that many of our technology companies have moved to China and that the Chinese are majority stockholders in many other new and upcoming companies. With that being said, a recent UN report on broadband use stated that by the year 2015, the majority of users on the Internet would be Chinese.

Does this mean that English could eventually become a dying language? I don’t have an answer to that, but then I am sure that the people of Latvia and Iceland didn’t believe, just a century ago, that they would ever have to teach their children a different primary language. How many foreign language sites do you visit in a day? Are you helping to kill these less frequently used languages? Please share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

Source: META

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Vectorportal

Internet Use Shortens Attention Span – So?

Internet Use Shortens Attention Span  --  So?Internet use shortens attention span. Nicholas Carr has a lot to say on this subject, but we will get to that in a moment — you can wait, can’t you?

I ask you to wait, knowing that a one-second delay in page load time results in 11% fewer webpage views. No one is willing to wait to see anything. If it is not immediately available on demand, we go elsewhere. This is true, but is it the same as having a short attention span? And, if so, is a short attention span a bad thing?

To answer that question, we need to first define attention span. Wikipedia points out that the length of an attention span depends on the definition being used: focused attention or sustained attention. Focused attention is a very brief response to some unexpected stimulus. This might be what we are using when surfing for new pages. Sustained attention is what you give to an interesting book or movie over an extended period.

The squishiness of this distinction should give one pause before inferring that Internet users suffer mental decline. Attention span seems to be one of those concepts that everyone understands intuitively, but when looked at in more detail, is sufficiently poorly defined as to be almost useless. In 2011, Virginia Hefferman writing in the New York Times referred to The Attention-span Myth, and she gave several examples of why we should be wary of assuming an overall decline in attention span, whatever it is.

Perhaps one unusual product of the mythical decreasing attention span is the flash mob. Time magazine ran an interview with the person who supposedly invented flash mobs. After watching the phenomenon of flash mobs grow, he came to the reasonable conclusion that he did not invent anything at all. Although he does not say so in the interview, it seems that the original flash mob mentality was probably fed by the same desire for immediate response as the search for quick webpages. Then flash mobs morphed into something else.

Certainly the planning that went into that video did not represent a decrease in brain power or lack of attention span, but it does provide some immediate entertainment for the audience.

But what about the evidence that rapid surfing can cause measurable changes in the interconnections of a human brain? Is shortening attention span related to ADD (attention deficit disorder)? Nicholas Carr has shown convincing evidence that surfing causes measureable changes in how a brain operates. But is that good or bad (answer: yes)? We also have good evidence that the invention of writing changed how literate people organize thoughts and even think. But there have been many further technical advances between clay tablets and iPad tablets. Each of these advances has had an effect on how people think or organize data. I have often referred to the tremendous change in attitude brought about by the proliferation of railroads; these, along with their accompanying telegraphs, were the first Internet, and they changed society just as much as our Internet changes us.

We often overlook the similar importance of typewriters. The spread of affordable typewriters also had an often overlooked change on society. One example of this we also owe to Carr. He points out that the philosopher, Nietzsche, slowly went blind and found it difficult to write his books longhand, so he bought a typewriter and taught himself how to touch type. This enabled him to continue his work, but had a subtle effect. The way he constructed sentences and arguments after he became an accomplished typist differed from his earlier works. This seems to be a real effect and not just the result of maturing. Using the tool of typing affected how he constructed his thoughts.

Two other examples of technology that have changed how we think are the movies and television. Look at any movie made prior to about 1945. Note the length of the shots and how transitions are made. Then look at any current film. They have many more rapid cuts, often with the sound from one scene carrying over to the next in a way that would have been unintelligible to our great-grandparents. Storylines often have more intertwined sub-plots than were included in early movies. Perspective changes are frequent (see East of Eden for some early examples of the transition).

Television carries this trend even further simply because, with the addition of cable, many channels are competing for your attention. By hooking you into a rapidly changing story, they hope to keep you from flipping. This trend peaks with MTV-type videos.

Then you add in at least a generation that has grown up playing rapid response video games, and I doubt that Nietzsche, even with his typewriter skills, would have the proper inter-neural connections to follow the actions of an avid gamer. Hey, I’m a senior and I cannot do it!

So we have scientific proof that activities requiring rapid response affects the way our brains are organized, and we can trace a continual decrease in likely average attention spans from the attention of sailing boat captains to freeway drivers, from cuneiform writing to cloud storage, from Renaissance painting to MTV. Still, I do not believe we have a very good definition of attention span and what it means. All I know is that if I spend too much time on something, I lose inter…

Image: illustrationsof.com

Dear Candice, I’m Sorry About the Internet

Dear Candice at 15,

Hey, what’s up? Just wanted to check in and see if you were still brazenly penning moody poetry into a tattered black-and-white composition book. Years from now, your grandmother is going to still have that thing and hand it back to you when you’re about 21 or so. You’ll flip through it for a few minutes and groan over how dramatic of a teenager you were and toss it in the waste bin. You may have always felt you communicated best through written word but, let’s face it, some of those words should’ve been kept in your head.

You’re still using America Online, aren’t you? Yeah, I’m sure of it. Typing at a blinding speed and thinking that your version of the Internet is the best it will ever be. A tiny, silent community of everyone just observing and yet not meshing together fully. We had just become so entranced with having information at our fingertips and nobody really contemplated the full possibility of what that would mean for our futures. For you, back in the mid ’90s, the Internet didn’t mean a whole lot to you. The majority of its wealth rested behind the windows of your AOL account and Internet Explorer windows and you really had no reason to think it’d ever extend beyond that. You couldn’t reach out and touch strangers unless they were in your tiny little dial-up community and let me tell you, sweetheart, there is so much more.

As a writer now, I can tell you that you have experienced your fair share of conversation with the Internet at large. You’ve written about everything you’ve ever tasted, felt, smelled, and heard and you’ve done it with a song in your heart. You’re not the only one, though, because that’s what we’ve done by putting a computer in every home: we’ve given the world a voice. People share everything at an almost alarming rate and in that same tone, they will destroy just as much as they build. That Internet you know as a small, quiet place for socializing and making friends will become everything you know. It will be where you make your living, where you meet new people who will become best friends and lovers, and even reconnect you with your long-lost father.

Yeah, Candice. You’ll find him again. You won’t be happy about what you find, but you’ll find him.

You’re probably at this part and you’re excited, but I need you to be careful because it sounds so warm, crisp, and exciting. Tangling your fingers in beautiful glowing lights and sounds that mean fully embracing the possibility of such connection. We wanted that for the Internet but the second you open the flood gates, you stop having the potential to stop the tide. Potential turns into disaster because nobody can police free will and that, Candice, is what the Internet has become: Digital Free Will. Fully realized. Fully in bloom, gorgeous and volatile and ready to slap you right upon your precious pink mouth if you dare step out of line.

I’m telling you this because you are going to become a part of it.

By the time you reach my age, you will have interlocked all of the pieces in such a way that you are almost living in a symbiotic relationship with real life and a digital one. Your every move will become documented, not just by others, but by yourself and all without even realizing it. You’ll take stylized pictures of your food, pinpoint your every location, and release limited blurbs of consciousness into the public without a second thought. Remember when you used to ponder if anyone cared about these things? Remember when you wondered what it would feel like to get out of your head?

There’s no going back in now, baby.

What I said up there about the Internet and how everyone is here now, displaying their feelings, their day-to-day habits, and without any sort of filter, there’s no stopping it. The mob mentality that we studied so much in high school that fascinated you? It’s at an all-time high now. Remember when you studied emotional conditioning via the Stanford Prison Experiments? Think of the Internet as one huge prison experiment. In the span of 15 years, you have bounced back and forth between prisoner and guard more times than you can imagine and it’s nothing I’m proud of, but something I need you to be worried about constantly. We all have the potential to be hateful, cruel commentators on the world around us and we sometimes do it with such ease that it’s disgusting. We gladly swig the soda that we were told will keep us wide awake, we play our music on our cloud-streaming systems (yeah, no more CDs. Weird, right?) and have Internet wirelessly beamed into our computers. Why? Why do we have all of this beautiful technology? What do we do with it?

The majority of us are reckless with it, gnashing our teeth into anything we’ll feel an emotion for because we’ve become so desensitized over the width and scope of what we see before us. When you can read about, watch, or hear about literally any topic in the world, you start realizing that nothing is forbidden any longer. We are no longer restricted to the soft-skinned, dew-eyed body that we were raised with and there is something devastating about knowing you have that kind of power, Candice.

I write this because you will receive a rather angry, hateful comment on an article you wrote. It won’t hurt your feelings because you know better, but it will make you think about how far you’ve come, how far we’ve come, and just from what. The people, our generation, quickly built ourselves up to be cold and clipped and we embrace anything that is sweet, innocent, and darling because of how rare it is now. I need you to promise me that you won’t ever look at the world like that and that you will continue to write to the point of distraction. Even when the Internet starts building up its stone walls around you, begging to close you in and extinguish your voice amongst billions of small, angry ones, don’t stop. Don’t become part of the reckless thousands that boot up and log in just so they can destroy the light that others cast off in hopes of connection.

By the way, they released that Duke Nukem game you were hoping for. It sucked. I figured it was best to let you know now rather than deal with you being hopeful for the next decade. You’re welcome.

In closing, embrace the Internet as only you can — but be so careful about letting it embrace you back. You never do anything halfway, but you will gain and lose more relationships, friendly and/or otherwise, because of how murky the waters can be there. When you gain anonymity for free, it is usually others who pay the cost and you will witness that firsthand. Be good.

Always,
Candice at 31

How Google Has Helped America’s Brick and Mortar Businesses

Surprising statistics indicate, according to Google, that Internet searches are actually contributing to the bottom line of brick and mortar businesses around the globe. In fact, Google’s statistics suggest that the average American alone will spend some $2000 a year, contributing to some $500 Billion in annual sales at an offline marketplace after first researching the desired product or service via the World Wide Web.

How Many People Who Look Online Buy Offline?

It is estimated that this strategy, which I have occasionally favored, is used by approximately 97% of Americans. However, in my case, I buy from brick and mortar businesses only when it is cheaper, faster, or the business offers an incentive. In other words, when it comes to my personal choice of when and how to make a purchase, it all depends on what we are looking to purchase. For example, my family has taken advantage of Groupon deals. These deals are offered online by local businesses, for limited time periods, in an attempt to promote their products or services. In addition, we have also researched and/or ordered many online products through Walmart.com and, while some of these could have been shipped to our home, there have been many others that we had to purchase or pick up at our local Walmart store. In fact, this happened just this last week when I wanted to purchase a Samsung II Exhibit cellphone for the T-Mobile network. As I surfed the Internet to find the best deal, I discovered that, while Amazon wanted $198.00 for this particular phone, I could purchase the same cellphone at a brick and mortar Walmart store for $175.00. It was enough of an incentive to get me into my car and make the five-minute drive. However, my shopping preference, in most cases, is to buy using my Prime account from Amazon.

How Will the Internet Change by the Year 2016?

How Google Has Helped America's Brick and Mortar BusinessesSince the first domain was registered back in 1985, the Internet hasn’t stopped growing. In fact, it is predicted that, by the year 2016, the following additional changes will take place:

  • There will be three billion people using the Internet, which is about half of the entire world’s population.
  • The Internet economy will have expanded, with the G-20 countries ranking as the fifth largest economy in the world just behind the US, China, Japan, and India.
  • The expansion of the Internet could be the biggest global explosion in individual consumer and business wealth since the Industrial Revolution.
  • Mobile devices will account for about four out of five connections to broadband Internet services.

If one were to read into this last prediction, it could prove to be a death knell or, at least, a nail in the coffin of a dying PC market.

How Easy is It to Get Your Business Online?

So, as people scurry to find the most cost-effective means to market their products and services, how difficult is it to get your business set up with an online site? To address this issue, and to make it easier for consumers and businesses to get online, Google has set up a website in conjunction with a host of other businesses to get you up and running quickly. In fact, after studying what GYBO (Get Your Business Online) had to offer, I can see no reason why any business would be unable to get online, especially when made aware of how it could potentially help to increase foot traffic at a brick and mortar business.

Here is what GYBO has to offer for business owners:

  • Easy-to-follow instructions.
  • Free Web hosting.
  • A free custom-designed domain name.
  • Free training and free tools for you to use.

However, before you just dive in, you need to know some of the ins and outs of what is required in order to get these freebies. Here is some of what you will need to set up your free website:

  • You must either register for or have a Google account.
  • You must provide a valid credit card number. This is set up to identify who you are in case someone tries to pirate your domain name.
  • After the first year you will be charged $2 a month for the domain name and $4.99 a month for Web hosting.
  • Only the first 30 days includes free email support.

As I glanced through all of this information, I decided to see what percentage of businesses were not currently represented by an online presence. To do this, I went through the business directories, provided from a dozen different states, and was surprised to learn that over 50% of businesses have no Web presence. This truly amazed me, since one would think that any business in today’s economy, even the mom and pop variety, would recognize the importance of offering products online. In fact, it seems to me that not to have this presence tells consumers, albeit by omission, that the business doesn’t need them. Remember, especially in a larger town, these consumers may not even know that a business that chooses not to have a website even exists. If a business isn’t listed, it could very well lose the opportunity to make a sale or to provide a service.

I do understand that cost and training is always a concern, but if you own a business and you use GYBO, you should be able to market your product and perhaps increase your sales enough to afford the future cost.

Comments welcome.

Source: Google Blog

Source: bcg.perspectives

Source: GYBO

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by SEOPlanter

Print is Dead – Long Live the Web

Print is Dead -- Long Live the WebLast week something happened in the journalistic community that basically went unnoticed by anyone with Internet access. While the Nexus 7 was making news, rumors were swirling about an Apple iPad mini, and Amazon said it would be coming out with a full-sized tablet, no one seemed to notice or care about one lady who made a job-hopping decision.

Her name is Kimberly Kelleher, and she has been called a superstar of the print industry. In 2011, she received the Ad Ages Magazine Publisher of the Year award. Her credits include a stint at Time, Inc., in which she was promoted to worldwide publisher of Time. She brought Time magazine into the digital age and was credited with bringing big advertisers to the magazine and bolstering the reputation of the company.

So why did the queen of publishing head for the magazine exit and become a tool for bloggers? The answer to that question is best described as her ambition to take a mediocre company and make it a stellar company. SAY media is such a company that is looking for a spark — a spark that will ignite the company from the current 400 employees and $100 million in revenues into a blogging machine that would make Rupert Murdoch at News Corp. envious.

SAY media now consists of two dozen or so blogging outlets that cover everything from technology to food, fashion, and lifestyles. But what makes blogs so different from print is the interaction that takes place between bloggers and readers.

How Good is This Interaction Between Bloggers and Readers?

We here at LockerGnome strive to answer and respond to all of the comments that are made and to share our expertise. What always amazes me is how much I learn in this exchange of information, thoughts, and experiences that readers share with us. With print, user comments sent by email are not printed nor read for a week or up to a month later. By the time one reads the printed comments, the subject matter has lost the readership’s interest.

Blogging also offers opinions on products, the latest and greatest operating systems, and what new ideas are coming from the technology industry. As an example, during the past three weeks, we have all read the articles written about Google’s first tablet computer, the Nexus 7. This pint sized 7″ tablet has received rave reviews and one could speculate that Google has built a winning product. As with the Apple iPad, these stimulating writings and accolades help consumers make an intelligent decision when buying a product.

Is Everything Perfect in Blogging Land?

Of course not, but neither is the world of print. There are some bloggers who fudge the truth and try to make a story where no story exists. However, their intentions may be more to entertain than properly inform. What comes to mind are all of the rumors circulating in reference to a possible iPad mini tablet, new designs for a future Kindle Fire, and, of course, the very popular iPhone and its next future model.

Having someone like Kimberly Kelleher come to the blogging community adds a bit of style and panache to the blogging trade. But more than that, she adds what some of us already knew, and that is: The future is blogging, not print. Today, as I glanced through my printed copy of Time magazine, my first thoughts turned to my tablet computer. I looked at the printed magazine, wondering to myself how much longer print will be around. How much longer will it be until all of our information will be gleaned digitally and not with ink and paper?

Most of us who are computer geeks have already stopped consuming print media and now depend solely on the Internet for our daily consumption of information. The variety of information being dispensed from millions of websites can be overwhelming. But for the technology crowd, we here at LockerGnome sincerely hope that we are providing you with a valuable service. We also hope that the technology information that we are providing will be considered, by you who read this, as our honest opinions backed up with the facts as we deduce them and presented in a concise package. This package includes not only our blogs, but video presentations and, we hope, useful advertising that keeps the lights on.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Sigfrid Lundberg

Source: Ad Ages Media News

Source: Denver Post

USB Internet TV and Radio: Does it Work?

Have you ever wished that you could receive all of your favorite TV channels for free? I know that I would love to find a way to do so. So, when I saw an advertisement promising such an opportunity, I couldn’t resist the urge to investigate further.

With this in mind, I then contacted my son-in-law who is knowledgeable about available electronics. He told me that, when he came to meet us this past weekend, he would bring a gadget he had bought. The gadget he had was not the one in the advertisement, but appeared to offer the same free access to TV shows. This particular gadget works via a USB Internet connection. The fact is that I had personally never known such a device existed until my son-in-law showed me what he had bought. The device on a USB stick, sold for $6.90, was purchased from what I can best describe as one of those free throwaway ads that we constantly receive courtesy of the USPS. What the advertisement claimed was that by inserting this USB stick into any computer, one would be able to access over 5,000 television stations and over 2,000 radio stations from around the world.

My son-in-law further explained that the device he was showing me claimed that there was no need to install any software onto your system because this amazing device apparently contained everything that one would need to access this incredible amount of entertainment. The only requirement it did have was that one needed a high speed Internet connection to locate and access all of the TV and radio stations that the ad claimed were available for free on the Internet. What gave me pause, however, was that this particular device had no brand name printed on it, making me question who was marketing it. The only sticker that was affixed to the device claimed that the USB stick was manufactured in China.

Wow! What a deal! But does it work?

Since everything, it seems, is now manufactured in China, I wasn’t too surprised by this, so I decided to see how it worked. Once the USB dongle was plugged into the PC, the preinstalled software asked us to select from one of a dozen different languages before we could continue. We selected English and the device started to load. In general, I felt like the software appeared to be something from the era of Windows 98. The video quality of the TV stations that we found were in standard definition and, for the most part, were fuzzy, blurry, or faded in and out. We had similarly poor quality results when we attempted to access one of the promised radio stations. In other words, if you expect to get network TV stations or local radio stations using this particular USB device, you will be disappointed.

I took a look on the Amazon website and found a similar USB stick selling for $16.73. However, like with the device we tested, most reviewers claimed that the device performed poorly and offered poor channel selection. Among the complaints:

  • Doesn’t work.
  • This is a piece of junk.
  • Waste of money.
  • Not what you want.

Over all, the reviewers were extremely negative, however, I took one piece of advice and performed a Google search for free software. I found one piece of software, over at CNET, that looked promising. This software is called Readon Free TV and Radio Player, and was rated a four out of a possible total of five by 10 reviewers. I downloaded the software and took it for a spin.

The software installation was clean and without issues. However, like many websites, the software is ad-supported and takes up a portion of the screen with commercial banners. Since I know that this is just a part of using any free software, this is not an inconvenience for me. Another factor, if you are into design, is that you may find that the GUI is not very attractive. However, since the price is right and since one should be concentrating on functionality rather than display design, it should be easy enough to overlook this small defect.

Upon firing up, the GUI will start in TV mode but can easily be changed over to radio or sports mode. Whichever of these you choose can then be searched to find your favorite programming choice. One issue I did find disturbing, though, and one you should be aware of before trying the Readon Free TV and Radio Player, was that some stations may request that you install a download or plugin to access the desired program. If you choose to do so, the software program will install the download or program automatically but may require you to then restart the program.

Once installed, this particular software will also allow you to configure the program, from a list of presets, to fit your lifestyle and listening pleasure. The presets include specific categories that include Country, TV/Radio settings, Movies on Demand, Live Sports, and several other features.

My experience with this software was positive in comparison to the software I had tried on the USB stick. The variety of channels was actually impressive and, over all, the Readon Free TV and Radio Player worked fairly well. I also found the software easy to use and the video quality was actually quite good. Some of the links don’t work, but the program includes a dead link reporting system.

In my opinion, I would not recommend the current USB sticks. If anyone has a different opinion or recommendation for a USB stick that works, please feel free to leave a comment.

Comments welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Maayan Alexander

Should You Use 4G over a Wired Broadband Connection?

Most of us who are fortunate enough to have access to 4G services have already surmised that 4G is a lot quicker than 3G or older connections. Some of us have discovered that, for surfing the Internet or checking email, 4G speeds may suffice and the need for a wired broadband access from cable or DSL may no longer be needed. But there are some questions and issues that you should be aware of before you rush out and buy a new 4G cellphone. In this article I am going to compare various services, provide information from a recent Nielsen survey, and provide you with my own real life experience comparing 4G to my cable broadband service.

According to a recent survey by the people at Nielson, a well-respected company in the TV industry, young users are the ones most considering the use of 4G in lieu of wired broadband. Nielson also stated in its report that satisfaction is very high for users of 4G; some 86 percent are satisfied with their 4G smartphones. Nielson also provided the following chart that indicates, by age group, which age group would be most likely to switch entirely to 4G for all of their connection needs:

Depending on where you live, the type of phone you have, and also the carrier you currently use, this will determine just how well 4G will work for you. PC World recently did what it defined as real-world testing of different carriers and determined (and provided) the following chart listing how well each carrier rated:

Chart courtesy of PC World

Before you can connect (tether) other devices to your cellphone, you may need to check with your carrier and purchase a plan from it that allows tethering. I am currently with T-Mobile and have a tethering plan, and I have found that using two free Android applications, FoxFI and PdaNet 3.50, provides me with the best tethering experience and connection for multiple devices.

I am also a cable broadband user with service being provided through Suddenlink. My current plan is for 10 Mbps and this level is plenty fast for surfing the Internet, checking email, downloading software, and most important for me, streaming video from Netflix or cable channels via the Internet.

I don’t have any sophisticated equipment in my arsenal to test either my 4G or cable connection and merely relied upon the speed testing tool provided by CNET. As CNET states on its website, the speeds represent the current throughput, and factors such as network congestion can affect the speed rating. I ran the speed test on both my cable connection and 4G connections from various devices and obtained the following speeds:

Cable: 5.6 Mbps to 12.7 Mbps download.

4G: 2.2 Mbps to 5.8 Mbps download.

What surprised me was that my Amazon Kindle Fire recorded the lowest speeds and my Windows 7 laptop computer the highest speeds. Testing my wife’s Apple iPad ranked second highest speeds and my Chromebook came in third, just ahead of my Fire tablet. But how different are these speeds and is the difference noticeable?

For simple surfing and emails, either works well and there is no noticeable difference. But when it comes to streaming video from Netflix or other online cable TV stations such as TNT, A&E and so forth, 4G does not perform as well a faster wired broadband connection. What I observed was that when using 4G, my streaming experience resulted in choppy, slow playback.

If you are not interested in streaming video or downloading large files, 4G could be the perfect answer to cutting the cord with your cable or phone company. I would make sure the smartphone you select and the carrier of your choosing provides reliable and solidly performing download speeds that meet your needs. I would ask your family, friends, co-workers, or anyone else who is using the carrier you are contemplating what their personal experience has been.

In addition, there is one more significant issue that you need to be aware of when buying a 4G-enabled smartphone. When using a 4G connection to tether to, battery life on your phone is diminished quickly. I usually keep my phone on its electrical charger while using the phone as a hotspot.

Source: Nielsen

Source: PC World

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Mike Saechang

Surf the Internet from Any Computer Without Leaving a Trace Behind

Surf the Internet from Any Computer Without Leaving a Trace BehindIn this day and age when having a constant Internet connection has become akin to having air to breathe, we don’t realize how important the Internet has become until we don’t have access to it. On a recent trip, the hotel where I was staying was having wireless trouble and I was unable to establish a connection to access the Internet. In the hotel lobby was a hard-wired public computer, but I was reluctant to use it to log onto an account I needed to store an article I had written. I was also out of cellphone range of my carrier, so tethering wasn’t an option. It was at that time I wished I had a DVD or USB drive to have used on the public computer in order to not store any information where prying eyes could see it.

Have you ever noticed that it is always after the fact when you discover a solution to a problem and rarely before it happens? Or am I the only one who sits out in their garage trying to come up with an idea that would emulate the successes of garage pioneers like Apple, HP, and many others? I digress. In my searching around the Internet I discovered a software program called Tails, which meets the requirements of having the ability to surf the Internet without fear of leaving anything behind.

What I found is a Debian-based Linux version of a program called Tails. This is a free download available to anyone and it provides the user with the following:

  • Tails uses Tor to provide an anonymity network that can help to protect your online privacy. Tor is a free program that can help to defend against any type of network surveillance, and it also provides security.
  • Tails doesn’t use the operating system that is installed on the computer that you use. Tails is installed on a DVD or USB drive, which actually boots the computer system and loads the operating system. No information is stored on the hard disk and all information only uses RAM.
  • Tails does allow you, if you so choose, to store information or documents onto the USB stick. These files and documents can then be used later as you see fit or deleted off of the USB drive.
  • Tails also uses what the company describes as “State-of-the-art cryptographic tools” to further protect your sensitive data and information from prying eyes.

To get your free copy of Tails, just drop by the link below and download the .iso image onto your computer. You can then burn the image to a DVD that will create the Tails operating system to replace your operating system at boot. Depending on how your computer is configured, you may have to go into the BIOS and change the order of boot. I changed the boot order on my system from the hard disk to the DVD drive in order to get the system to boot from DVD. On the Tails website, the company has provided information for both Windows and OS X users to assist you in properly creating the image.

After the image is burned to disk and the BIOS have been properly set to boot from DVD, everything else on the Tails DVD is fairly straightforward. Once you restart your computer, you will be presented with the following desktop screen:

Surf the Internet from Any Computer Without Leaving a Trace Behind

For those of you who have used Linux before, you will immediately notice that the desktop uses Gnome. If you are new to Linux, I would highly recommend that you read the documentation that Tails provides on its website since there is an expectation that you are familiar with Linux.

Tails uses the browser Iceweasel, which is a variant of Mozilla Firefox — a browser with which you may be familiar. If you haven’t used Firefox in the past, the Tails website offers an excellent mini-tutorial that I would also recommend you read.

The Tails website also has easy-to-use instructions for you to clone the Tails operating system from the DVD over to USB drive. I followed the directions as the company described and the process worked flawlessly. I was able to boot from the USB drive without an issue after I changed the BIOS boot order.

So how good is Tails?
I found Tails easy to use and configure. I was able to setup my Internet connection without any problem and connected immediately. The Iceweasel browser is also easy to use and does work like Firefox. Here’s one note that you need to be aware of (some who have used TOR will already know this): Connecting to a TOR and surfing can be slow at times. Other than that, everything else seemed to work very well.

I did have one observation that I believe will help you in using Tails. I did follow the Tails website instructions and made a USB boot drive from the DVD I had created from the .iso image. What I found was that the USB drive was more responsive than using the DVD. Therefore, I believe using a USB drive is recommended, plus it’s more convenient to carry with you than a DVD disk.

Do you have favorite software that you like using to surf the Internet without leaving a trail of crumbs? Let us know what you recommend.

Comments welcome.

Source: Tails

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Ulleskelf

What is IPv6 and What New Equipment Will You Need to Use It?

What is IPv6 and What New Equipment Will You Need to Use It?During the past few days, weeks, and months, we have heard quite a bit about IPv6 Internet protocol. My goal with this article is to clarify just what IPv6 is and what equipment we will need for taking advantage of this new Internet protocol.

First, it must be understood that IPv6 is not a brand-new concept, but one that builds on the IPv4 that has worked very well since the Internet was in diapers. The goal with the new protocol is to fix one minor issue in the previously accepted IPv4 Internet protocol. This minor flaw is related to the number of IP addresses that were believed to be limitless under IPv4. However, this thinking has changed as the Internet has grown into what it has become today with billions of devices including smartphones, tablets, music devices, laptop computers, and desktop computers connecting to the Internet daily. With all of these devices now relying on a connection, the realization has struck that we will one day run out of IP addresses. In a nutshell, IPv6 is to be the IPv4’s successor.

So Why is IPv6 Important to All of Us Who Use the Internet?

IPv4, a 32-bit protocol, creates approximately 4.3 billion IP addresses. With that being said, it is obvious to even the most casual observer that, as the world flocks to buy more electronic devices and as businesses expand their services over the Internet, it will only be a matter of time before we run out of available connections. With that in mind, the developers of the IPv6 protocol made it a 128-bit protocol, which will make available approximately 340 trillion unique IP addresses.

How Do I Know if My ISP Supports IPv6?

You can contact your ISP by phone or by email and ask them if they currently support IPv6.

Will My Desktop, Laptop, Tablet, or Smartphone Support IPv6?

This will be determined on an individual basis, with each of us needing to experiment with our systems, in order to determine if our computers, tablets, or smartphones will function properly using IPv6. One of the easiest ways (thus far) is to use Test your IPv6 connectivity. The report you receive will provide you with the following information:

  • What your public IP address is on the public Internet for IPv4.
  • What your public IP address is on the public Internet for IPv6.
  • If your browser will work on the machine that you are testing when IPv6 is launched on June 6, 2012.
  • Whether your browser supports IPv4 only.
  • Whether you connection supports both IPv4 and IPv6.
  • Whether your ISP supports IPv6.

Is This the Only Testing Site Available?

No. I did a search of IPv6 websites available and found these additional sites you can try:

How Accurate Are These Tests?

I don’t believe that any of these sites are currently 100% accurate. In other words, they should only be viewed as a ‘general’ guide as to how well your system may work using the new protocol. I base this statement on some of the comments I received after testing the protocol on my personal computer. These statements included the following:

“You appear to be able to browse the IPv4 Internet only.”

“Your DNS server (possibly run by your ISP) appears to have IPv6 Internet access”

The word ‘appears’ in the reporting process doesn’t instill a lot of confidence in me. I am a black and white, yes or no type of person. That means that the words ‘could be,’ ‘maybe,’ or ‘appears,’ are OK if one is playing tiddlywinks, but wouldn’t cause me to feel confident in regards to gaining access to the Internet. Since I rely on it to make my living, I need to know, without question, that this connection will not be distorted or become non-functioning.

When Will IPv6 Become the New Normal?

There doesn’t appear to be a definitive answer to that question, since there are a lot of variables at play and millions of Web pages that need to be changed over. For now, however, I believe we may safely say that it could take five years or more (some say not even by the end of this decade) before the changeover occurs and IPv4 is fully replaced with IpV6. Therefore, without the benefit of my crystal ball that is in the repair shop, I am unable, with any certainty, to answer this question.

What New Hardware Will You Need?

This all depends on your current equipment. If your broadband modem and broadband router are compatible with IPv6 or if there is a firmware upgrade available from the manufacturer, you will be set to go. If your current equipment is not compatible, you will need to replace the modem and/or the router.

Modem: If your ISP supplies the modem, the company will need to replace it with one that is IPv6 compatible. If the modem belongs to you, and is not IPv6 ready or cannot be upgraded, you will need to bear the cost of purchasing a new modem.

Router: The same applies. If your ISP provides you with a router, they should replace a non-compliant router with a new one or with an upgraded model. However, if you own your own router, you will need to bear the cost of replacement.

That means that, since I own both my modem and router and neither are IPv6 compliant, I will have to bear the cost for the replacements.

Where Can I Get More Information on IPv6?

I took a look around the Internet looking for websites that appear to have the best and most accurate information in reference to IPv6. In my search, I came across the DSL site which, I personally believe provides the most concise information on the topic. This site should provide you with answers to your questions with many of them being found in its IPv6 FAQs section. The link for the DSL Report and the source for this article is linked below.

Source: DSL Reports IPv6 FAQ

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Yogesh Mhatre

Five Web Apps to Engage Your Mind and Spirit

Most of us download applications to our computers, tablets, or to our smartphones in the hope that they will provide a means to perform some type of task or another that we deem necessary. Thanks to these apps, we get the benefit of Internet alerts, weather information, bus schedules, happy hours, GPS data at our fingertips — and taking notes, snapping photos, and uploading information about where we are and what we’re doing (whether or not anyone else cares) has never been easier.

Many of us have gotten so used to the convenience that these apps afford us that we feel naked leaving the house without our smartphones or portable computers.

However, some of the applications that we download (like Angry Birds) are intended solely for entertainment purposes. Whichever of the reasons you download applications, I want to share with you five applications that I believe will engage your mind and your spirit.

ifttt (aka If This Then That)

ifttt is a simple application that will alert you, via email, when an event is occurring (such as a scheduled appointment or road closures due to snow). The application itself is simple to use and can be associated with a number of commonly used Internet applications. Here are a few of the programs that the application can associate with a specific task:

  • Gmail
  • Facebook
  • Craigslist
  • Delicious
  • Evernote
  • Feed
  • Google Calendar
  • Google Talk
  • Twitter
  • Weather
  • WordPress
  • YouTube

The great thing about this application is that, in addition to using it with your computer, you can also program your cell phone to receive an automated message when a programmed action occurs. In my case, I was directed, via a phone message that included a PIN, on how to activate my account. During this process, I completed what is called a trigger. The purpose of this trigger was to notify me when my account was activated. While doing this, I was also able to set up additional triggers that would notify me through my Gmail account when an action was completed. One such trigger sends me an email notification when Chris Pirillo, head Gnomie here at LockerGnome, posts a new video. These are just a couple of the helpful triggers that ifttt can do, and while it may take a little trial and error, most of us will be able to get ifttt to do our bidding without a problem.

thinkery

Five Web Apps to Engage Your Mind and Spiritthinkery is an application that’s sort of like what I’d consider to be an Evernote that lets you focus on the important things in your life. The great thing about thinkery is that it instantly lets you take notes and access your store of information no matter where you are at work, at home, or at play. Just think about it: Even when you have a senior moment, if you place your thoughts in thinkery, you can always get access to them later. In addition, thinkery also allows you to store:

  • Videos
  • Hot links
  • Images
  • Favorite songs
  • Favorite articles

Any of these, or other items of your choosing, can be saved for viewing later at a more convenient time and location. Before using thinkery, I was always sending links from technology or news sites to my Gmail account, but later when I viewed the links, I couldn’t remember what interest the item held for me. However, by using the thinkery application, I find that I am better able to organize my thoughts and behavior, thus making it easier for me to keep track of important items and events in my life.

Aherk!

Aherk! is a goal-motivated software application that is currently in the process of being beta tested. During this testing process, one may experience some quirks or hiccups, but it basically works by having you set a goal for yourself. The goal is up to you, but once you set the goal, the application is designed to help you achieve it. Whether Aherk! helps or hinders your climb towards your designated goal probably depends on how you’re best motivated; for the most part, Aherk! is similar to some diet programs that target your failures rather than your successes.

Aherk! works through Facebook, so to function properly, Aherk! requires that you give the application permission to access your Facebook account. Then it uses this information in cross-referencing your data and your set goal with your friends on Facebook. If you fail to reach your goal (your friends on Facebook decide if you have been successful or not) in the specified time period, Aherk! will place a photograph of you (something embarrassing works best) on your Facebook account. Given that, this program may motivate some of you, but I would rather not have something negative made public. It’s up to you.

SimplyNoise

All of us experience those nights when, no matter what we try, we are unable to get a full, restful night’s sleep. The cause of our sleeplessness could be due to the inability to turn off our minds as we rehash the day’s events, think about something that could occur in the future, or agonize over a dreaded forthcoming event. At other times, we’re stuck trying to fall asleep in noisy environments that just aren’t conducive to relaxation — like motels adjacent to airports or train tracks, for example.

SimplyNoise is an application that we can download to help us mask our thoughts and/or the noise from the outside environment. Here are some of the features that SimplyNoise employs:

  • White noise.
  • An oscillation feature.
  • A timer that is built in to turn off the application after a specific time. (The free version limits sound to 60 minutes.)
  • Applications are also available for your Apple products via iTunes or for your Android devices via the Android Market [$.99]
  • The application for your computer system is free.

sleepyti.me

sleepyti.me will calculate what time you should try to fall asleep, depending on what time in the morning you want to get up. I can already hear people saying, “I know what time I should go to bed and what time I should get up! Why would I need an application for that?” But there’s more than one way to solve a problem, and timing your sleep accordingly is one such problem. As an example, if you wish to arise at 6:30 a.m., sleepti.me offers the following information:

  • It normally takes an average of 14 minutes for the average person to fall asleep.
  • Wanting to wake at the specified time, sleepyti.me suggests falling asleep at 9:30 p.m., 11:00 p.m., 12:30 a.m., or 2:00 a.m. These are the times that you should fall asleep, and not when you go to bed.
  • sleepyti.me uses the above times to calculate sleep cycles, which are approximately 90 minutes.

So why are the times important? According to the sleepyti.me website, if a sleep cycle is interrupted during the 90 minutes, you will wake up groggy and tired in the morning. I haven’t tried this formula, but it does seem to make sense.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Why RSS Readers Suck and the Best Alternatives

RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication (or RDF Site Summary, depending on who you ask). If you hear someone talking about an “RSS feed,” this is something that many websites offer (including LockerGnome) that contains a list of their articles in one place — or excerpts from those articles — and is usually updated instantly upon adding new content. You can subscribe to these feeds using an RSS reader, one of the most popular being Google Reader. This allows you to read the content of all of your favorite websites without visiting each site individually.

According to BuiltWith, 7,776,687 websites use RSS at the time of writing this article. It certainly isn’t an unpopular feature.

Why RSS Readers Suck and the Best Alternatives

I’ve tried many RSS readers and have never been completely happy with the experience that they provide. They’re only pleasant if you subscribe to a few small blogs. However, if you’re subscribed to many large blogs, it’s easy to have thousands of unread posts pile up — many of which you aren’t interested in reading anyway. I’ve begun to rely on RSS readers a lot less because of this. There needs to be a change. There needs to be a way to discover which content within your RSS feeds that you’d be interested in reading. The ideal solution would be a Pandora-like experience, in which you thumbs-up and thumbs-down posts, and it learns what you like.

You can improve your RSS reading experience a bit if you’re using Google Reader. I recommend that you look at “Trends” in the side bar. It will let you see the activity of each feed and how many posts you’ve read from each feed. This will help you unsubscribe from feeds that you don’t read often and that are just cluttering your screen. I also recommend that you download the PostRank extension, which is available for Chrome and Safari. It will help you filter out unpopular posts, so that you can see the content that others are interested in. Google Reader also has a “recommended items and sources” feature, but it rarely contains anything I’m interested in, so I tend to ignore it.

Luckily, there are alternatives to RSS readers. They’re not the perfect solution, but they’re what I rely on for now. I hope that RSS readers will offer the Pandora-like experience that I’m looking for in the future.

RSS Reader Alternatives

StumbleUpon: StumbleUpon allows you to select topics you’re interested in and then stumble upon content related to those topics. You can thumbs-up or thumbs-down content and it learns what you like. This is close to my ideal RSS reader solution, but not exactly the way I’d like it to work. StumbleUpon does not let you limit the content sources or set a specific time range. The content you find will not always be new. Also, due to my dog fascination, at least 50% of the content I stumble upon is photographs of dogs. It’s hard to resist thumbing-up a cute puppy picture.

Twitter: Many Twitter clients, such as HootSuite and TweetDeck, allow you to filter your stream. An easy way to find interesting content is to add a filter that only displays tweets that contain links by using these as keywords: “.ly,” “.mp,” “.com,” “.net,” “.org,” etc. The short link extensions will likely return the most results. This will display all of the links that have been posted by the people you follow. Keep in mind that if you automatically follow back everyone who follows you, the content that you find using this method may not be content you’re interested in. I recommend that you only follow people you’re interested in and who share content you like.

Flipboard: If you enjoy skimming magazines, you’ll love Flipboard. It allows you to add content sources, such as LockerGnome, Twitter, and Facebook, and then displays them in the style of a magazine. While it does not learn what content you’re interested in, it does allow you to quickly skim through everything to find stuff you like. I usually flip through the pages until I find a picture that gets my attention. Flipboard is only available for iOS, but I hope that in the future it will be available on more platforms. I haven’t used it in a while because I sold my iPad and iPhone and switched to Android. It’s definitely on my list of apps that I miss.

Pulse: Like Flipboard, Pulse makes it easier to skim by displaying images for each article (if an image is available). The interface is much different, but it accomplishes similar tasks. Pulse also lets you save articles for reading later, send them to bookmarking services such as Evernote and Instapaper, and sync the sources across all of your devices. I use Pulse almost every day. It’s my favorite way to keep up with tech news from my phone. Pulse is available on iOS and Android.

Paper.li: Paper.li allows you to create an online news paper based on the links shared by the people you follow on Twitter, tags on Twitter, RSS feeds, and posts from Google+. I only have one paper and it is set up to display “Me and the People I Follow” on Twitter. Not only is this a great way to find interesting content, but it’s also a great way to find things worth retweeting.

Reddit: Reddit is a website where people up-vote and down-vote content, allowing you to find what people have found to be the most interesting content of the day. You can subscribe to different topics (subreddits) to view the content being shared about those topics from the homepage. It’s a great way to keep up with the most interesting tech news, but prepare to see a lot of memes.

Digg: I think of Digg as Reddit with less memes. I prefer Reddit because there are many different subreddits (topics) to choose from, unlike Digg, which only gives you a handful of topics to choose from. However, the community is much different than Reddit’s community, so you might want to try both of them out.

What has your experience with RSS readers been like? Do you think they need to improve? Would you enjoy the Pandora-like experience that I have described? On what other services do you rely?

Would You Invite a Predator into Your Home to Have Dinner with Your Children?

If the answer to the above question is “no,” why would you let your children surf the Internet unsupervised? In other words, your job as a parent is a full-time job and means being involved with your children to the point of protecting them from Internet predators. You may believe that the software installed on your computer will do the job for you, but unfortunately there are now so many devices that allow them access to the Internet you need to monitor each and every device that your children have access to. These devices may seem as essential to their well-being as air and include such items as cellphones (so you can reach them and insure their safety), tablets, and gaming consoles (for entertainment while traveling or while you cook dinner), or HDTV with Internet access (meant to access educational channels for home-schooled children).

Today’s technology has, indeed, made our once seemingly simple solution to Internet access much more complicated since we can no longer simply set an administrative password to prevent children from logging in at will. However, even if we incorporate the most advanced software to filter out unsavory sites, such as porn sites, while strictly monitoring our children when they are home, we cannot monitor them in public libraries, schools, or cyber cafes. Besides that, our children are being so well-instructed in computer skills that they are now savvy enough to circumvent most parental safeguards and possess the know-how to erase their tracks. Additionally, parents are now expected to respect their children’s privacy, meaning that they are poised with the added burden of determining how to confront a child about inappropriate Internet surfing without letting the child know that they have been snooping.

Would You Invite a Predator into Your Home to Have Dinner with Your Children?Social networking sites are another area that can create yet another challenge for parents since it is an ideal place for predators to disguise themselves as anyone they choose to be. When I say predators, I don’t always have to be referring to sex perverts. For example, a predator can come in the form of another person, be it an adult or a fellow student, who chooses to use the site to defame, embarrass, or otherwise bully your child. As a parent, you must also be aware of the dangers that can arise from your tween or teen sexting via cellphones. This type of communication between young people has become much more common than you think and can lead to your greatest nightmare.

So, while all of these examples lurk somewhere outside of our control, we need to be as vigilant as possible to minimize these particular dangers. However, I personally find it more disturbing that these devices seem to be resulting in our children losing the essential art of old-fashioned verbal conversation. I have personally witnessed this in our church’s youth group when I watched two kids sitting next to each other texting (to each other) instead of talking. When I mentioned to the staff here at LockerGnome my intentions of writing this article, Jake Ludington wrote me a response that I want to share:

You might want to take this a step further and include info on monitoring cell phone usage, including texting. I know Chris Burgress, who spoke on the Gnomedex stage about bullying, mentioned that he and his son had an agreement about being able to check the phone for text messages specifically, so that he knew who his son communicated with. Burgess seemed to think it helped keep his son safe.

I gave this some thought and wanted to confirm my suspicions before I ventured further. You see, I believe that if I were a juvenile and I wanted to text someone, without my folks knowing, I would just use someone else’s phone. Given my suspicions, I conducted an unscientific survey by posing the question, “How would you text or contact someone without your parents knowledge?” to the youth group at church. I wasn’t surprised when the majority responded that they would just use a friend’s cellphone or find a public computer that would allow them to surf where they pleased. One enterprising youth even stated that he used his own savings to purchase a throwaway cell phone to use for his private texting, saving his parent-provided cellphone for safe conversations that his parents could monitor. That way he didn’t have to worry about getting caught. Others in the group commented that they felt that parents contributed to the problems of cellphone texting by purchasing unlimited plans that they could not possibly have the time to filter through.

So how can you protect your children from online predators and unsavory Web sites? I believe the answer is simple. Sit down with your children and speak with them about your concerns. Explain the hazards you believe they may encounter and why you want them to be safe. It is basically the same thing a parent does when they give their young teen the keys to the family chariot. Parents can tell their teen they will take away the car keys if they are caught drinking (especially while driving), or driving with other teens in the car, and while this is sound advice that we hope and pray that the kids will listen to, we all know that they are going to do what they choose. This happened just last year, when four teens were killed after a drinking teen driver lost control of the car and ran off the road. His parents had given the teen the same talk, which seemed like a million times to them, but the child chose to ignore their warnings and advice.

Here are a few tips on how to protect your kids online:

  • As a parent, educate yourself and learn the newest cyber threats directed towards children.
  • Set guidelines for your kids as to the amount of time they can spend surfing after their schoolwork is done.
  • Get the computers out of the bedroom. As I am writing this, our grandson is surfing the Internet via a laptop computer in our living room.
  • Check the browsing history to see where your child has been.
  • Check the child’s text messages. Have an agreement with your kids that this is a rule not subject to discussion.
  • Most important, talk to your kids and discuss your concerns. Do this because you love them and not because you want to cramp their style.
  • If you suspect that your kid has become a victim, call the police. Most cities or states have some type of cyber crime investigation section that can help.
  • Talk with your kids. Ask them questions and learn if anyone is picking on them — by cyber bullying — online.
  • Talk to other parents and see if their kids have been victims of any inappropriate online behavior.
  • Stay alert and vigilant to what your kids are doing online.

So, will trying all of these suggestions keep your kids 100% safe? Of course not, but it will help you keep the lines of communication open and establish a better trust relationship between you and your teens as you explain your concern for their safety and well-being. Some of you may disagree with my suggestions and think that I am harsh in my recommendations about spying on your kids. If you are one of those parents, you may find yourself being one of those feel good parents who believes your kids should be free spirits. if that is the case, I wish you well in raising your children. For the rest of us who believe that a little discipline, along with trust, love, and understanding is a better way to raise our children, take the time to try these 10 recommendations.

Comments welcome.

http://youtu.be/h4pAQAWj8hg

Decide.com: Can This Site Help You Make an Informed Electronic Purchase?

Recently, Kelly Clay wrote an article in which she explained why waiting until after the holidays to purchase certain items is a smart move. I agree with her assessment, not only for the five items she mentioned, but for other items that retailers are hoping to clear from their stock — such as excess holiday decorations. Any of these items, or even just excess inventory items, could potentially see drastic price drops in the coming days. To alert me to these sales, I started using Decide.com in mid-November of 2011 with a specific goal in mind. I wanted to make sure that, when I bought my next electronic device, I would get the best price available.

Decide.com: Can This Site Help You Make an Informed Electronic Purchase?Of course, I have other options, including surfing every electronic website daily until I find the best possible price; however, by using Decide.com, I am able to let someone else do the searching for me. Once the search is completed, the site will then alert me when it finds the best price available or when it predicts that the item will reach its lowest price point. In fact, my family members are currently watching this website in the hope that they will be able to locate the best price on a specific HDTV that my wife would like to purchase to replace the old SDTV that we are now using in our guest bedroom. However, when I made the decision last month to give Decide.com a try, it was to see if it would notify me when specific laptop computers were at the best possible price and, as I stated in a recent article, I made a super purchase this month of a new Windows laptop computer.

Here is how Decide.com worked for me:

I signed up for an account to use Decide.com to alert me when prices dropped on a specific piece of electronic equipment (a Toshiba laptop with quad-core processor, minimum 6 GB RAM, 600 GB hard disk or larger, Blu-ray player + DVD recorder, HDMI, and a video card that supported HD). The most important requirement I set for the search was pricing, which I wanted to be under $600. Given my search criteria, I didn’t expect an immediate find, but about three weeks after I submitted my request I received notification from Decide.com that a product meeting my criteria had been located at Staples and was currently on sale for $529.99. Obviously, I purchased the unit immediately. You can read the article I wrote, Six Reasons Why I Am Sticking to a Windows-powered Laptop, that explains my decision to stick with Microsoft Windows and a laptop computer.

Due to my positive experience with Decide.com, I contacted Michael Paulsen, who is the VP of Product and Marketing at Decide, and he was kind enough to answer my questions concerning his company.

What distinguishes Decide.com from others such as PriceGrabber, Nextag, FreePriceAlerts, etc.?

Decide is the only shopping service that predicts when to buy consumer electronics with no regrets. Since we launched in June, our price predictions have been 77% accurate, and when we’re right, we save consumers $54 on an average product purchase. We also predict the release of new product models and aggregate news and rumors on product releases from tens of thousands of sources across the Web. We’re also different in that we’re committed to transparency. The 77% accuracy closely matches the confidence of our predictions. We’re not always right, but we’re up-front about how likely we are to be right on any given prediction.

Put another way, Decide is (to my knowledge) the only shopping site on the planet [that] has every told anybody to “wait” at the moment of purchase.

What does your company eventually hope to accomplish in assisting consumers in finding the best possible pricing for an item?

Our aspirational goal is to eliminate buyer’s remorse. Helping consumers save money is a very important step toward that goal, but there are lots of ways to approach the problem and multiple dimensions of buyer’s remorse that need solving. We know that finding the lowest price is critical, but it’s only a part of what we do and what we plan to do.

Currently the items your company tracks is limited. Are there plans in expanding what items will be included?

Decide makes predictions on 34 product categories, covering the most popular consumer electronics hardware and video games, so we’ve come a long way since our three launch categories. At the moment, we are focused on saving consumers money and helping solve buyer’s remorse in electronics, and this may include experimentation in answering questions beyond “when to buy.” Looking to the future, it’s fair to say that we intentionally chose a consumer-friendly brand name (“Decide”) that applies across categories because it reflects our larger ambitions. Considered broadly, buyer’s remorse clearly exists in all categories and we think that big data can be applied in helpful ways to help solve it. We get lots of feedback from our customers on this topic and it’s fun to hear all the things they want us to tackle next. Stay tuned.

I find it amazing that this company can offer this service free of charge, but since it is the same company that started and sold Farecast to Microsoft for some $115M, maybe it isn’t that far fetched, after all. If you aren’t familiar with Farecast, it advised consumers on the cheapest airline flights and has since been incorporated into the Bing search engine.

Give Decide.com a try and see what you think.

Comments welcome.

Chris Pirillo’s take on electronic purchases: