Do Online Virus Scanners Really Work?

Do Things Like Bitdefender's 60-Second Scanner Really Work?Those of us who are locked into the Windows operating system ecosystem are keenly aware of the importance that anti-virus, anti-malware — anti-whatever — software plays. In fact, every morning when I start my Windows 7 laptop, I patiently wait as my protection software loads up and eventually updates the virus definition files. But as we all know, or should know, no one protection software will guarantee you 100% protection, 100% of the time.

I have written about this before, but I feel it is worth repeating: do not depend on any one software for protection. What I mean by this statement is that you should be running one of the online scanners periodically just to confirm that your computer is bug-free. I usually plan on completing an online scan at least once a month or so and never use the same online scanner twice in a row.

Bitdefender’s 60-Second Virus Scanner is a product that I believe is designed as a supplement to your current anti-virus software and not a full-fledged replacement for whatever software you currently use. With this in mind, I took Bitdefender out for a test drive and here is what I found.

The software requires installation on your system in order to function properly. This explains why the software can scan your system in 60 seconds, while other online scanners take considerably more time to finish a scan. Bitdefender also claims that its program will work with all other anti-virus programs as well. During my test I was using the latest version of avast! free version and noted no issues or problems during the scan by the Bitdefender software.

After downloading and installing Bitdefender onto my Windows 7 system with SP1, I scanned for any critters lurking on my hard drive. Though the scan started with a 60-second timer, the scan stopped clocking the time about halfway through the process. The first scan took about two minutes or so. When completed, the software confirmed what I already knew: that my system was bug free. Subsequent scans finished in less than 30 seconds.

So here is my take on Bitdefender and other free scanners that are available online for free. I personally believe that these scanners are worth trying on your system and here is why I feel this way. As I stated above, no single software can guarantee you 100% protection forever. There is always the possibility that a piece of malware can sneak by. I will stick to my original advice and run different scanners, along with my installed anti-virus program, just as an added measure of security.

What do you think? How do you protect your Windows based computer? Do you use online scanners? Share your thoughts with us.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: Bitdefender

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Tahoe Sunsets

Virtual World: Get Ready for Physical Interaction

Virtual World: Get Ready for Physical InteractionDo you remember the time when children came home from school and could not wait to go outside and play? Do you remember overnights where kids played board games or watched movies together? What about those times when adults planned times to socialize since they had not visited for a while?

Well, it appears that not only our children but we, too, are finding ourselves drawn into the web of social networking. While not bad in itself, it does appear that it has created a void where person-to-person contact that was once important is now thought of as unnecessary. Even email, once thought to be the epitome of communication, has ceased to have the same measure of importance as people are tending to lean more towards skyping, tweeting, or facebooking their friends. However, as new technology avenues open up to us, we find that many people are admitting that they have become obsessed with sharing their minute-to-minute routines with their friends. That brings up the question of what these people will do when another element is added to our vast array of chatting choices.

One such choice, as proposed by Tachi Lab, is purported to add a surreal opportunity for physical interaction. If our world does get caught up in this new media option, I can’t help but wonder if it will result in our spending even more time online and what the consequences of this will be in regards to our social contacts and / or our family connections.

As one looks at virtual reality technology, it is obvious that it has the ability to make our real world activities take second place. Thankfully, however, physical human interaction online is currently in its infant stage, but the fear is that not only can it make the user feel awkward at times, but that it may also lead the naive to venture into a possibly dangerous, online, vicarious social life.

If perchance this technology unfolds as quickly as it could, the human species may find itself in a quagmire of emotional need since human beings are dependent on interaction with other human beings. This is seen in babies who suffer from failure to bond due to lack of one-on-one eye contact with the person responsible for nurturing them. However, it is not only children that require this contact, since all of us need those hugs, squeezes, and signs of affection to supplement our other basic needs of food, shelter, and water.

I am not saying that social networking sites, such as Facebook, are bad. In fact, in some ways they have proven helpful by providing us with a means to locate and re-establish former relationships. However, Facebook cannot duplicate the human touch that is essential to our survival.

It does seem that, despite these reservations, physical contact online is about to become a reality rather than just a theory, which brings up the question of how much more time will we be spending online. If one thinks back a decade ago, the amount of time we spent on the Internet was minimal and our contact with others was basically limited to our interactions on forums or from emails we sent and received.

Today, we are in constant contact with others from our computers, tablets, and cellphones, which means that we are already consumed by the Internet. What touch and feel will add is a way to make emotional contact with a person. For parents who have to travel on business or are separated from a child due to divorce, this may actually be a blessing since one can even imagine how a slap on the back, a hug, an embrace, or just old-fashioned horseplay could make the child feel more secure. In fact, I can even see romantic encounters taking shape as the lonely seek affection from online strangers.

However, remember that this new touch and feel technology could be dangerous if it were to trap a lonely person into becoming the victim of a predator. Sadly, it seems that we are reminded daily that such evil exists as pedophiles and other predators stalk our existing social networks, forums, and other online sites.

Thankfully, however, the technology being proposed by Tachi Lab does not include any activities of a sexual nature. In fact, the company plans to limit the experience that users share to those that one would encounter in their day-to-day activities.

The program works as a typical virtual reality game setting. First, a vest is fitted over the user’s chest. Then the sender can send a hug through their vest to the receiver’s vest. On the negative side, what emotional impact would it have on someone wearing the vest who did not receive a hug all day? How about not receiving a hug all week or possibly never? This could take a lonely person and chip away at their already low self-esteem, causing even more emotional problems.

Then, too, one must wonder how effective the hug will be. Will it produce the emotional stimuli that the wearer needs, or will it be the equivalent of getting a pat on the back? Since this technology is so new, we cannot yet know if the vest will produce a hug like one would receive from grandma or one reminiscent of an excited lover. With this being said, this problem could be solved, I guess, if the final product were to incorporate the use of an excitement button that would control the strength of the hug.

So what do you think? Can you see yourself wearing a hugging type vest and seeking hugs online?

Comments welcome.

Source: Tachi Lab

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by sherifer22

Shopping Online is Easier with Deal Drop

Shopping Online: Can It Get Any Easier? Yes!I must admit that I am an online shopping junkie. For the past five years I have been an Amazon Prime member and love having the ability to do my shopping from the comfort of my home. In what I would have to describe as a rare occurrence, my wife was ill and I had to go and shop at our local Walmart. I hate this type of shopping!

First, I struggled with the items on the shopping list because I couldn’t find them. I looked high and low until I finally found the two types of iced tea (sweetened and unsweetened) that my wife wanted. Once I returned home, she asked if I bought the tea from the refrigerated section of the store. Huh? Refrigerated section of what store? I found the tea on a shelf next to the sodas and I was told I bought the wrong tea. Next, I bought the wrong garbage bags. But the ones I bought were on sale and were cheap. I was told that they were junk and ripped easily and would need to be returned. Tomorrow I will be returning to Walmart to buy the right goods.

Shopping online, however, is not always so simple and easy to do. There are a few website aggregators that do a fairly good job rounding up a few decent deals. However, I have never been overly impressed in what these companies locate and the so-called ‘deals’ sometimes are not so hot. So when I discovered an application called Deal Drop, my curiosity was piqued and I decided to take the app on a test drive just to see how good — or bad — the app is to use.

Saving money is not always easy online, especially if we are not aware of the best and lowest priced deals. One can search individual websites one at a time, but this is a time-consuming process and we still may miss a real deal on a product we are looking for. Deal Drop is a great application, though it is little known, and it allows you to browse many of the most popular sale websites on the Internet. The application contains sale websites such as Woot, 1SalesDay, Newegg, Amazon, and many other highly ranked websites that are used by many consumers.

Deal Drop can display all of the websites you wish to view and present them to you in an orderly fashion. Each of the products is presented in a list that includes an image of the product, the website where it’s located, the price, and a short description of the item. This makes browsing multiple websites easier and quicker for me. Once I click on a product, I receive a more detailed description. But what makes Deal Drop even better is that I do not need to visit the website in order to receive this information.

Another great feature of this application is that it is completely free and without annoying advertisements and other distractions. Deal Drop is available from both the Apple iTunes store and also from Google Play. I highly recommend this application and I personally believe that you’ll enjoy using it as much as I have.

So what do you think? What application or software do you use to make shopping online easier?

Comments, as always, are welcome.

Source: Deal Drop

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by Daniel*1977

The Day I Let My Kid Have a Facebook Account

The Day I Let My Kid Have a FacebookFacebook, to be honest, is something I ruefully enjoy. In fact, about a year or two ago, I cancelled Facebook and only came back after several months when I felt it was “safe.” Clustering just my friends and family together, it eventually amassed to a few hundred people that, even though I knew them, they didn’t really know me. Frustrating as it was, I eventually whittled away at 300+ people to just a little over 60. Sure, the numbers grow little by little, but the numbers are kept down to family, close friends, and people I write with.

That’s me, though; I’m an adult (that could be up for debate, really) and I can decide who I add, what kind of content I look at, and just where it is being shared throughout Facebook, and, well, the Internet. As an adult, I’m responsible for what I upload to Facebook, be it status messages, pictures of my goofy face, or even when I share other people’s goofy faces. That’s all on me, you know?

About 11 years ago, I created a smaller version of myself. One could consider it cloning except she came out far superior and vastly more intelligent and I dub her my “Monkey.” With big, heavenly brown eyes, an infectious laugh, and a thirst for all things dealing with technology, my Monkey seemed to be quick to want her own Facebook. You can imagine my surprise when I realized this, but then took a look around at everyone she knows and how each and every single one of them have a Facebook account.

I remember that it was a Tuesday.

The conversation leading up to it was one of mild irritation — and mostly on my part — as she perched at the kitchen table and glanced over my open laptop, idly scrolling about the bits of nonsense.

Can I have one?” she asked, never lifting her eyes from the pictures I had posted of her that my privacy settings had kept mostly everyone away from.

And this is when I had to decide just how closely I could monitor my child’s experience without taking away the enjoyment she sought in it. Sure, she’s 11 and really, what does an 11-year-old need with Facebook, but it was all quite innocent. Her church group has an open Facebook presence, as does her family who shares quotes, pictures, cute stories, and everything — there for all to see. I had to ask myself if I thought my child was responsible enough to handle an open forum like that and just how comfortable I was that my child’s face would be on the Internet at all.

Then, well, I looked at my own Facebook page and realized I had been exploiting her cute little Monkeyface all over my private space. So why shouldn’t she get to, as well?

Upon setting up the account, we went over some rules and regulations to having a Facebook account and just what safeguards would be in place for her and, recently, I found the notes I jotted down for both of us when we were discussing it; I thought I would share them.

Rules for Monkey and Her Facebook Account

  • All settings will be private. This means that only friends and family members will be able to view her profile. (A parent can set these features up for their child to assure that they can’t accidentally go in and undo the deeds.) This is to safeguard others from looking her name up on the Internet and trying to add her, based on the information given, and exposed.
  • Absolutely no personal information shall ever be shared in a status update. This means phone numbers, addresses, or even private, personal experiences that others might not understand and take out of context. Sure, it was hard to use the potty one time, but I doubt everyone on her Friends list needs to be aware of it or how we fixed it, right? We also don’t need a bunch of her school chums giving us a call on the old telephone to check in on that potty situation, right? Exactly.
  • Friend requests will always be OKed by an adult — preferably a parent and/or grandparent. We know who is best for her to be speaking with and if it’s someone who she doesn’t know and neither do I, chances are that they have no business on her Facebook.
  • No spamming! This rule was added after the horrific “CatSpam 2011” incident, where we have had to make certain issues very clear. When she posts something to her status update — it goes out to everyone’s news feed. Posting repeatedly will spam updates on top of other people and it gets rather frustrating. So, when she sees a cute kitty website and wants to show them off to the world, she should refrain, choose one or two, and only post those.
  • Apps and games will be approved, as well! Sometimes, games and applications on Facebook aren’t meant for children or even younger viewers at all, so it’s up to the parent to safeguard her from those things. Games in which the player documents someone’s suicide drop off of a tower or where she takes pictures of her face and makes it look dead? Not really the most appropriate for a child. She must talk to her parent before a new app or game is to be utilized. She should remember the spam rule, however, and choose requests carefully.
  • Pictures must be approved before uploading. She’s a kid and, as such, she’s not really aware of the world around her and what might be considered inappropriate to some folks. While she might think nobody will think twice about her in her pajamas on Facebook, some people might think it “scandalous.” She must always run pictures by her parent!
  • Language, little one! Just because she may see other people posting language that isn’t intended for her doesn’t mean that she has the right due to the open world of the Internet. She is to be held to the same guidelines, language-wise, as she would be in front of her grandparents. She must keep this in mind.

Facebook is a great place for children to keep up with their family, their sports teams, church groups, and so on, but it’s just like most activities and it’s best done when very, very highly supervised. As it stands, my child has an adult check on her Facebook page nearly nightly and, if it’s not me, it’s her grandmother (Nonnie represent!) and I think that helps keep an eye out for anything Monkey might not see.

As an adult who was brought up in the age of the Internet, I know that I never wanted to be kept away from something that was growing so massively important, but I needed to be educated about it. If your children are of the age that they want to take part in the same social media circus that they see you’re a part of, let them know the boundaries and the reasons they may or may not want to, as well. Educate them on the boundaries that are put up to keep them safe, but never keep them away just because; that’s a one-way-ticket to rebellion that will have you finding an uneducated little monster with a secret Facebook page filled with curse words and scary pictures. After all, that might be what they think Facebook is for, you know?

What it all comes down to is this: I had to take the strong and attentive parenting style that I hold in my everyday life and apply it to the Internet, as well.

Do you let your children use Facebook? What boundaries do you have set up and if you haven’t allowed your children to use it, what age do you think you might? What about other social media sites like Twitter, Reddit, etc.?

Online Dating? Technology Can Save You from a Bad Date

Online dating seems like the ideal way to get to know someone before actually risking a one-on-one encounter with them. In fact, this extremely popular method of dating is touted by the companies presenting such services as a way to potentially meet your soul mate. With that in mind, it appears that no matter what a person’s age, their occupation, or their passion, online dating has something for everyone. Unfortunately, the anonymity of online dating also allows people to portray themselves in any way that they choose from lying about their age to hiding a criminal background. Frighteningly, these lies often don’t surface until the parties agree to a physical meeting.

So what do you do when the person you are meeting and have been communicating with online is not the person you thought they were? In some of these situations, for safety reasons alone, one may need to escape the situation. With this in mind, this article is being written to provide you with some vital information about applications that can be used in such situations to keep you out of harm’s way.

In this scenario, assume that you finally get up the nerve to make a date with a person that you think could be the right one for you. You decide to meet for a meal, a walk in the park, a movie, or whatever and, from the very start, you realize that you have made an awful mistake. Hopefully, this is nothing more than the fact that you and he / she have nothing in common and you are bored to tears. Since it is impossible, at this point, to flee to another planet, there are applications designed to help you. The first set of these applications is My Call Alibi for Android users and Bad Date Rescue for iPhone users. Both of these ingenious little applications are designed to rescue you by sending you a fake message. This message will appear in your phone’s window showing where the call is originating. The program can be set up to display the name of whomever you want.

When you answer the call, you then get to be an actor or actress and pretend you are speaking to the calling person. If the displayed caller shows that it is from Mom, you can make up anything you want that will enable you to leave. However, especially if you are a woman, I would avoid using any scenario that indicates that one of your parents has been taken to the hospital, since many men would think it chivalrous to suggest that they accompany you.

The program’s developers must have been on disastrous dates in the past because they even built in a feature that allows you to set the application to call your phone at a predetermined time. This is a great feature on a blind date since it gives you the option to duck out of the date or stay if things are getting interesting.

If, however, you choose to endure the date, but are still unsure if this is a relationship you want to pursue, then don’t give the person your real phone number. Instead, provide them with a disposable phone number that you can change whenever you want. You may balk at this suggestion thinking that it means that you will be forced to buy a disposable phone, but don’t worry. Developers have applications for just this situation. For iPhone users, there is an application called Burner, and for Android users, there is an application called Extra Phone Number. The downside is that neither of these applications are free. There is a cost associated with both applications, so only you can decide if your privacy and safety is worth the price.

Some membership-only online dating sites actually state that they provide background checks into clientele, but even if they do, one needs to be aware of several factors that could skewer background search results. First, as I am sure most of you are aware, anyone who is online can provide false information. For all the agency knows, Charles Manson could provide the name Jack Kennedy or give a different date of birth. That is how easy it would be for one of the many charlatans out there to use one of these sites to prey on unsuspecting victims. Sadly, the more devious the predator, the more built-in safeguards they may have built into their computers, thus allowing them to safely stalk victims while keeping themselves secure from discovery. In less dangerous situations, it could merely be that they are trying to cover up their marital status. However, in either case, I seriously doubt the accuracy or benefit of a background checker.

With this being said, one can still perform a presumptive background check of a potential date before meeting the individual. If you are looking for free applications to perform this service, you are in luck. It appears that there is a free application available for both Android and iPhone users called Background Checker. However, this free version offers limited results but, of course, there is a paid option that will provide a more detailed background check that you can opt for that is available from within the app itself.

Just want safety advice versus another application that needs to be downloaded to your phone? Here are a few of the red flag warnings you should be aware of:

  • Overexplicit sexual description in username or profile description.
  • Photographs that are out of focus or grainy that make it hard to view the person.
  • Items in the person’s photo that give you a hint of what the person likes or dislikes.
  • Watch for the words “separated” under marital status. This could definitely be a deal breaker.
  • The overuse of humor could be used as a distraction. However, since most of us have trouble describing ourselves in a profile, realize that some humor is OK.

I hope that some of these suggestions help you in your quest to find your perfect mate. For those of us who have already found the love of our lives, we know how fortunate and blessed we are. For those of you who are still searching and trying to find someone to share your life with, I wish you well and I hope that these applications and suggestions will keep you safe.

Comments, as always, are welcome.

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by couscouschocolate

Source: Digital life on Today

Source: Techilious

Is the Government Doing Enough to Protect Us Online?

Is the Government Doing Enough to Protect Us Online?Scams, identity theft, and cyber-theft currently abound, all courtesy of the Internet. Is there anything that can be done to stop it and to protect us when we are online? What about the government; is it doing enough to protect us? Should it step up and provide us with more protection, or will the government just bog the Internet down with its senseless red tape? These and other questions need to be answered and, in my opinion, they need to be answered soon or take the risk of cyber-terrorism finding a way to hit our shores.

I know, and I agree, that to allow government any more control over our everyday existence is a thorn in our communal side, but sometimes its interference is a necessary evil. So think about the following facts and then decide for yourselves if this may be an instance when we need its control.

  • We have allowed too much of our lives to be controlled by computers, including railroad crossing gates and prison doors.
  • Today, the masses are dependent on the Internet for not just keeping informed, but also commerce, accessing health records, and much more.
  • 400 million people are using Google email and 50 million are using Dropbox to store files.
  • Millions of consumers around the world now use online banking accounts, pay bills online, trade stocks, and/or store some type of personal data in the cloud.

How Safe Are We Online?

I don’t believe that the online information companies are privy to is that safe at all. In fact, it is amazing to me just how many millions of accounts have been hacked into over the past decade. Access to these files is, for the most part, no one particular person’s fault but rather a leak in a company’s security system. That being the case, then we, too, must hold a measure of accountability in this leak of information since we have chosen to depend on companies to provide their own security measures to protect our data, information, and online storage. Unfortunately, the trust that we have placed in some of these companies has been misguided and the fact remains that millions of accounts have been hacked over the past decade. This hacking has, in turn, led to some people’s credit card information, identification, and/or other private information being compromised. Some of this information will fall into the hands of hackers who just want to see if they can break the code and prove that current security procedures are just a sieve that can be easily breached by outsiders. However, in other cases, the hackers want to do serious damage to corporations or government entities. So then the question becomes: If we can’t depend on companies to protect our private information, how do we protect ourselves?

What Can Be Done to Make the Internet a Safer Place?

There is currently a virtual tug-of-war going on in the halls of Congress between those who favor and those who do not favor a new cyber-security law. The anti-cyber-security folks claim that the government has no right to force companies to adhere to a set of guidelines while the pro-cyber-security folks suggest that it is the government’s responsibility to provide these protections in the name of our common defense.

However, I believe that the government could potentially put pressure on companies to comply with security standards without enacting any new laws. One such way is to go after the computer manufacturers and software developers’ bottom line. This would be relatively easy since the government is one of the largest purchasers of both computer hardware and software and, as such, it could put pressure on computer companies to improve the security measures sold with their products. These security measures could include demands that the government wouldn’t purchase any product from a company until its operating systems, server software, or other computer devices adhere to a set of standards meant to protect the system from hacking. Then, if a company didn’t wish to adhere to the guidelines, it could opt to forego a sale and would lose a rather large client. This alone would encourage a company’s compliance without instituting any new laws or penalties for non-compliance.

Unfortunately, like the current trend on Capitol Hill, cyber-security seems to be debated by a group of individuals who are determined to stand tough and to avoid any compromises even if it is for the good of the country. However, in this case, part of the problem is that neither private business nor the government have done anything to garner the other’s trust. To see this, one only has to look at the consistent lies and illegal activities that have surrounded the current economic crisis. That being said, it goes back to the same question: Whose responsibility is it to protect us against cyber-attacks and do we want any more governmental controls?

Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer. So what do you think? Are more government controls warranted, or should we trust the business element to provide us with protections? Share your thoughts with us.

Comments welcome.

Source: CNN

CC licensed Flickr photo above shared by DaveBleasdale

Why Can’t Americans Vote Online?

Why Can't Americans Vote Online?Over the years and with lots of experience under my belt, I have learned the truth behind this old adage: “Don’t discuss religion or politics.” It seems that these hot topics are even more volatile during campaign seasons as people, locked into their religious beliefs and/or political affiliations, try to change another’s opinions, beliefs, or indoctrination. Unfortunately, these initial discussions can begin as an attempt to garner support for a particular candidate who shares one’s views on a subject of importance to them, but in fact, then leads to an argumentative confrontation.

When I presented this topic to Chris Pirillo here at LockerGnome for his perusal, he supported me in my decision to write the article, but pointed out that it was a hot topic that needed to be handled in a sensitive manner. To do this, I knew that it would be necessary for me to present this topic with the pros and cons specifically spelled out.

Our right to vote, guaranteed by the US Constitution, has undergone many changes over the years and today, with social networking sites affecting almost one billion of us, we find ourselves interacting in the world arena in unprecedented numbers. For many of us, staying constantly connected to online political updates, financial news, or keeping up with social networking sites has taken on the status of electronic survival. For others, it means that one device isn’t going to be enough to stay in touch with family, friends, and associates, and these individuals have, therefore, found it necessary to surround themselves with one, two, or three electronic devices (in my home we have eight of these toys).

In addition, high-speed Internet connections are paramount if we are to be successful in our quest to communicate important events quickly. While I firmly believe that all Americans should have the right to pursue liberty, we must acknowledge that at times this liberty is going to come at a cost. For those of us on the Internet nearly 24/7, we all need to be aware that any information put out there is basically open for the world to see. This information is a collection of data about our habits, our personality traits, our surfing habits, and our family lives that we may have unwittingly made available for anyone — good or evil — to access via the big computer in the sky.

It is this problem — the accumulation of data about you and me — that is perhaps the main objection to allowing online election voting. Those in the against camp tend to adhere to the following beliefs as to why online voting should be banned:
Why Can't Americans Vote Online?

  • Security is the paramount reason for those who are opposed to online voting. They are of the opinion that any system can be hacked and that no security system is 100% secure.
  • With millions of computers already compromised by viruses and in the hands of unscrupulous individuals, these controlled systems could actually alter voter results to gain political office for a candidate of their choice.
  • Opponents of voting online further offer that using HTTPS connections cannot be trusted since they can also be breached in an attempt to manipulate voters.
  • One such form of these viruses occurs when someone clickjacks your input. We know that this happens on common issues, but when it comes to voting online, an entire election could be controlled from behind the scenes as your vote is hijacked and you vote yes for no and no for yes without your consent.
  • Last, opponents are quick to point out the cost of adding new equipment, training voting personnel, and tabulating the results. They know, as do we all, that with tax revenue being down from federal to local governmental agencies, there is already an economy toll being taken as we strive to work under the newest budget cuts.

While opponents of online voting present a solid set of reasons as to why online voting should not be allowed, proponents present an equally compelling set of reasons as to why online voting should be allowed:

  • First on the list is the belief that online voting is an economically wise choice when compared to the traditional voting methods. Advocates state that, with this method, there would no longer be a need for a vast array of polling places or for a multitude of paid voting officials.
  • Green effect. The advantages to the environment are obvious since there would no longer be a need to print millions of ballots, millions of registration cards, millions of absentee mailing forms, or ballot initiative information (sometimes in multiple languages).
  • In addition, since voters could stay at home, the green effect would also be felt in the saving of gasoline.
  • Last, they purport that online voting would make it easier for the elderly, the disabled, the disenfranchised to participate from the comfort of a Wi-Fi cafe or their own home. This could mean that the election would more clearly result in the wishes of the people rather than in the wishes of the rich minority. This factor alone could be critical in local elections where the passage of a municipal bond or school bond proposal may require a certain percentage of voter support.

Why Can't Americans Vote Online?In my personal opinion, until security issues can be dealt with, I don’t believe that online voting is a practical alternative to our traditional methods. My concerns are most likely due to my being recently contacted by my credit card’s fraud department. During the conversation I learned that someone had made a charge, in the amount of $1,040, to purchase women’s clothing from an out-of-state mail order service. Thankfully, the people in the department were on their toes and caught this before my card was used to purchase additional items.

However, while this was frustrating, I know I am only one of the millions who will have their credit card information compromised. That being said, the most disturbing thing to me was the nonchalant attitude displayed by the issuing credit card company. It seems that it is making so much money off the retailer and consumer that it is not taking this problem seriously enough.

But how would any of us feel if our right to vote was stolen? Would we take such a casual approach? Until we can be guaranteed that our voting rights will not be compromised, I personally believe voting online cannot become a reality. However, if and when we can be assured that our security and privacy will not be jeopardized, then — and only then — online voting may become a reality.

What do you think?

Comments welcome.

Save Money and Protect Yourself with Your Online Purchases

Following the theme of my last LockerGnome article on saving money with tech, How to Save Money with the Best Light Bulb, I continue that theme with this article on how to save money and protect yourself with online purchases using virtual credit card numbers.

Virtual Credit Card Numbers
This is a feature of many credit cards that hardly anyone knows about. I’ve been using them for seven or eight years. They are fantastic! “Virtual accounts” is a free service available on many credit card Web sites. Some may even have an app you can install on your desktop. I don’t know of any mobile apps that support this, but please, if you’re aware of one, let us know in the comments — that would be a game changer! If your credit card supports this feature, you can use either its Web interface or its app, if it has one, to generate a new credit card number on the fly at the moment you need it.

So, suppose you want to buy something from say, Amazon.com (or anywhere else, for that matter, even catalog orders on an 800 number, or your utilities… any card payment by phone works, too). When it tells you the total, you generate a new credit card number, and here’s the cool part: you enter a maximum amount that can ever be charged to that number and you can also enter an expiration date as short as two months from now or as long as your real card’s expiration date.

This comes in really handy when your vendors attempt to charge more than the agreed upon amount. This happens more often than you think and from places you’d think were reputable. For example, when I purchased an upgrade to Quicken, I was charged 50 cents more than the agreed upon amount and the transaction was blocked. You may have to call the vendor to find out the total amount because sometimes they won’t give it to you until after you give them your credit card number. You actually need to know the total when you generate the virtual card number. As a workaround, you can generate a number for $1 (the minimum on most virtual cards), move through the order process (but don’t complete it) to get the total, then you can increase the amount on the virtual card before you submit… as soon as you find out the real total.

Once the vendor charges your card and the max value has been consumed on that virtual card number, that number will no longer accept any more charges. You can, however, increase the amount if you need to. In any case, you don’t have to worry about hackers stealing that vendor’s database and stealing your card number. As an example, here’s a virtual card number I just created:

Virtual Credit Card
Real Life Virtual Credit Card Number

Yep! That’s a real credit card number! But only $1 can be charged to it, and I also just “closed” that number, so not even $1 can be charged to it anymore. It’s now a dead number. It was a valid and active number for about five minutes.

How Do You Get Started with Virtual Credit Card Numbers?
First, you have to find out if your credit card supports it. This will not be easy, because most credit card employees have no idea their company offers such a feature. Feel free to call first and ask. You might get lucky and the employee that answers your call actually knows, but don’t give up even if they say “No, we don’t.” I wish I could give you a list of cards that do support this, but I can only guarantee for certain that Citi MasterCards have this feature. If you have a Citi Card, go to citicards.com, log in, open the “Tools & Services” menu, and choose “Get a Virtual Account Number” and follow the directions there.

I believe the PayPal Visa card also supports this. If anyone knows of any others, please share it with us in the comments below.

You can also search the Web for credit cards that support virtual credit cards. I highly recommend starting with groups.google.com, the best kept secret of the Internet. If you can’t find the exact answer, at least you’ll find posts in groups related to it, then you can join that group and ask your question and usually get an answer within hours (depending on how active that group is).

Here’s a run down of the benefits of using a virtual credit card number:

No one can overcharge you.

It doesn’t matter if hackers get a hold of your vendor’s database with your credit card number in it. Once your vendor charges the full amount to it, the card number is useless.

You can disable any virtual card number at any time.

You can prevent services from doing automatic charges or “renewals” monthly or yearly, like Xbox Live and XNA Developers Club! When you’re done with a subscription, just disable the card. No need to bother with going through the mess of trying to convince a hard salesman in the cancelation department that yes, you really do want to unsubscribe. All too frequently, they’ll keep you on anyway.

Have a separate credit card number for each purchase.

Have a separate credit card number for each merchant.

Works with all online credit card purchases and all phone orders… anyplace that doesn’t require physical access to your credit card.

By the way, I’m not promoting Citi Cards. Actually, if you can find another card with this feature, you might be better off going with it. Citi tends to have higher interest rates.

Have you used this feature? Are you aware of other cards that support this? Let us know in the comments below.

Shopping Online for Tires Can Save You Big Bucks

Shopping Online for Tires Can Save You Big BucksI own a 2009 Nissan Rogue SL AWD and I never cared very much for the OEM (original equipment manufacturer) tires that came with the car. In my opinion, the OEM tires did not handle very well and the ride was harsh. I knew I wanted to buy a set of Goodyear Assurance ComforTred Touring tires and was looking to buying a new set towards the end of 2011. That came to a quick halt when my wife accidentally ran over a rake in our garage that split the sidewall on the front passenger side tire of the car.

Friday evening I contacted AAA and had the donut spare affixed to the vehicle to replace the unrepairable front tire. While I was doing this, my wife called our local tire shop that wanted $221 plus tax for a replacement. This is when I started a search online, and I wanted to share with you what I learned.

The TireRack had the Goodyear tires I wanted for $164 a tire, but it would cost about $54 to ship to me or to the tire shop of my choosing. This would make the total for a set cost $710. I would still have to pay to have the set unmounted, new stems added, balancing, mounting, and a disposal fee. I estimated this would cost me about $100 or more, bringing the total to $810. I knew tires were expensive and knew my size tires, P225 – 60 – 17, were not cheap.

So I tried something on a whim and went directly to the Goodyear Web site. The same Goodyear tires were $161 a tire, but there was a flat fee of only $68 that covered everything: stems, balancing, and mounting, plus disposal fees. Taxes were additional. So I booked an appointment online for Saturday at 10:00 am with a total estimate of $712 plus tax. I arrived at the scheduled appointment time and was presented with an estimate of $830. Interesting. But I chose not to say anything about the charges until the work was completed.

As I was getting ready to pay, I spoke with the manager and showed him the online price I had received from the Goodyear Web site. He immediately credited my bill and adjusted the price back down to the original $712 plus tax. On the tires I bought there was a $80 rebate and he asked me if I wanted to double the rebate to $160? Sure! I filled out a credit card application and was immediately approved and the tires were placed onto the new credit card. The credit card also came with an interest free rate for the first six months so the tires could be charged basically interest free.

My final cost was $712 plus $50 for taxes, totaling $762, minus the $160 rebate. Though $600 still seems expensive to me, it could have cost me even more had I not shopped around.

Comments welcome.

Google Docs – Just How Good is It?

I have been using Microsoft Office since you had to install the program from floppy disks. I recall using Windows 3.11 and having to insert and remove about 20 floppies or so [the exact number I do not recall], just to install MS Office on a computer. These were the days before the Internet became popular and there were no product registrations or updates. What was on the floppies is exactly what you got and nothing more.

The reason I mention this is to show that I have been using Microsoft Office for many years. For the most part I have enjoyed the various versions I have used, up to and including Microsoft Office 2010. When I received the Google Chrome Cr-48 I was forced to use Google Docs in order to create written blog posts on the go. Since about mid-December, Google Docs has become my main writing tool.

Like many of you have expressed in previous comments, cloud computing may not be your cup of tea. Many of you distrust Google or other companies who offer cloud computing and storage of your precious documents in the cloud. For me, I do not much care if my writings are looked at before, since most of what I write ends up being view publicly.

Google Docs reminds me of OpenOffice. There are plenty of features to keep most of us content and many more features that will go unused. There is one feature that saved my bacon this morning. I was using my Google Chrome Cr-48, with Google Docs open as I wrote a blog article. I wanted to copy the document over to our LockerGnome article submission form. Unfortunately instead of hitting Control key+C to copy the text, I must have hit something else, because all of the text disappeared on the screen. Thankfully, all was not lost. I hit the Undo key and presto, my document was back on the screen.

For those of us who are using smartphones, tablet computers, or the first generation of products from Google using the Chrome operating system, Google Docs will be your main source to write and save documents in the cloud. To me, the benefits far outweigh the privacy concerns many people have. I can access my documents online from any device and work on the document until completion. I don’t need to worry about a hard disk failure since these new devices have no hard disks, per se, to store documents.

But here is the best part. I can download or export my documents if I wish. Google Docs works for me and will replace my using Microsoft Office. Will I change my mind sometime down the road? Maybe. The first time I either lose a cloud document or I am prevented from accessing a cloud document, it may annoy me enough to return to MS Office. But until that happens, Google Docs is my tool of choice.

Comments welcome.

Two Budget Audio Setups

Audio is the most important thing to get right no matter what kind of multimedia content you are producing. If you’re doing a live show with a camera pointed at you, a pre-recorded audio podcast, or even machinima, poor audio is the one thing your audience will have a hard time forgiving. Even if your visual content is outstanding and your bumper music flawless, the majority of your audience will appreciate and positively respond to quality audio.

No matter what operating system you use, your sound is directly impacted by your hardware and software choices. Analog audio running through a PC’s integrated audio card microphone jack has so much going against it that it’s almost impossible to get broadcast-quality results. An audio card is faced with static caused by traffic going through the board and various buses, pops and cracks from slight jack movements during recording and more. The absolute best first step towards making a positive difference in your audio is getting off analog connections and using digital hardware.

USB 2.0 and firewire both work very well with digital audio interfaces. Some of them can be very complex, which is one of my next topics, but today we’re going to cover two setups that require a minimum investment with great results.

Below are two audio setups that I have put together and used on a personal level. These rigs are designed to work both on Mac and PC.

1. Economy Basic – $25
This setup is intended for a broadcaster on a tight budget. While your results may not impress a professional sound engineer, they will get the job done and keep your program on budget. As an example, I’d recommend this setup to a high school or college student doing commentary over a game of Call of Duty for posting on YouTube.

The Logitech 350 is a solid and clear option for anyone wanting to achieve good audio without dropping a lot of cash. Because the mic is so close to your mouth, it’s important to remember to keep it out of your line of breath. In other words, if you put your finger against the mic and breathe out through both your mouth and nose, you shouldn’t feel it. If you do, move it away slightly to avoid having puffing noises on your recording.

Audacity is a free quick-and-dirty audio recording software that lets you do some noise cancellation and compression on your audio to make it have more of that radio broadcaster sound. It’s important to give 10 seconds of silent recording with the mic on before you start speaking to allow the noise cancellation to work properly. Remember, audacity is only going to be a benefit to you in post-production.

2. Economy Premium – $65
This package gives you a great clear sound without the need to wear a USB headset. It’s a bit pricier than the basic, though the addition of a condensor mic allows you to have a more powerful vocal presence in your recordings. Below are two options of USB condensor microphones, each with its own pros and cons.

If you’re not a fan of the Snowball design, as they can be quite bulky, Samson makes a very good USB condensor microphone called the “C01u” and a higher level version named “C03u“. Their microphones are solid and very clear, though their level of support doesn’t quite have as stellar a reputation as Blue in terms of keeping their drivers and software up to date on various operating systems.

I’m a big fan of this setup, and have used it myself (with the Samson option) for several years to do web-based radio. Not having to have a tiny microphone in front of my mouth has also been a benefit when I need to clear my throat. I recommend strongly getting a pop filter if you’re not comfortable talking to the microphones from a 45 degree angle and keeping it slightly to the side.

Having good audio can be the difference between a dead audience and a growing one.

Do You Use Daily Deal Sites? I Do And The Savings Are Worth It

Like many of you, going out for dinner or maybe shopping online at a discount, is an enjoyable experience. I subscribe to many of my favorite restaurant web sites and receive discount coupons that I do use. The fact is that more and more of us are subscribing to what are being referred to as ‘deal sites’, providing bargains to consumers and also bringing more customers into business establishments.

An associate professor at Rice University has studied deals of the days and Utpal Dholakia believes that  change is coming.

According to one recent article it states that:

What is going on in the social coupon industry reminds me of the dot-com days: Everybody is jumping on this bandwagon,” he said. “Facebook is getting into this. It’s just insane.

But not everyone is happy with the promotions they receive. Some consumers complain that many of the deals being offered to them are for services that they do not use nor want. Then there are companies such as Groupon that are doing a land slide business and are now valued at some $15 billion in just two years. But there is one problem that Groupon needs to address. The company mainly services large metropolitan areas and not smaller areas like where I reside. Though the major city next to where I live boasts a population of 150,000, Groupon does not offer any discounts for the area.

The offerings I subscribe to are for the major restaurant chains such as Applebees, Ruby Tuesday, Red Lobster, Texas Roadhouse just to name a few. I also subscribe to deals for Big Lots, Ashley Furniture, Best Buy and Amazon as well as others.

Whether you are trying to save on wine purchases, spa treatments, restaurant dinning or electronic purchases, checking out deal sites may be beneficial in saving you a few bucks.

I have also found that by doing a Google can turn up some local deals as well.

So what online deals and steals do you subscribe to? Let us know.

Comments welcome.

Source – siliconvalley.com

Most Americans Research Products Online

There should be an image here!Today in news some might consider painfully obvious, we find evidence that more people are researching products before buying them. Thanks to the Internet for that. But what about the prospect of 58% of Americans using online resources to checkout whether or not a paticular product is worth owning. Personally, what I find painfully sad is that we are talking about a weak 58%.

How is it that we live in a country that only has roughly half of its population using the tools available on the Internet ensure that the products folks buy, are not crap? This is amazing to me. While I can understand allowing some numbers for the elderly, poor, etc. How are THAT many people not relying on some common sense to make sure they are getting the biggest bang for their buck?

Call me someone that is immersed in a world of tech that I cannot see how others live, but it pains me to see people complaining about products after buying them…when more often than not these poor reviews were available before the product in question was first obtained. Just seems rather silly to me. Maybe this will change over time. Perhaps with greater broadband penetration, we will see people “waking up.”

Facebook Live A Bit Short On Viewers?

There should be an image here!If I didn’t know better, I’d say that Facebook Live either had a massive issues with its video metrics or perhaps with its ability to attract an audience who cares. Speaking for me, I find myself leaning with the latter as streaming live video is more on par with YouTube, Ustream, or other related services.

Still, it seems that this article raises the question and points out that it could go either way.  The sad part is they even Facebooked the event and still no one outside of some 300 or so viewers showed. Maybe the issue is just poor timing. After all, Friday afternoon for an “all about Facebook” kind of thing is hardly that exciting.

Finally, the last possibility for the low numbers comes down to it being a possible bug. Not unreasonable, if you stop to think about it. But regardless, Facebook has had a substantial history of bugs in its past. What do you think? Is Facebook Live simply a snoozefest with no takers? Perhaps, instead, the problem is with the metrics counting the viewers?

[Photo above by _Max-B / CC BY-ND 2.0]

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The Fallacy of Search Engine Marketing Only

There should be an image here!Allow me to offer a pre-emptive caveat — I own a successful search engine marketing company. Like most businesses, we are constantly trying to expand our client base — primarily through using the same search engine and Internet marketing methods that we deliver to our clients. A quick search on terms such as “search engine optimization company” or “Internet marketing company” on Google will demonstrate that we practice what we preach. As I write this, on a “clean machine” (one with all browser settings reset and cookies removed), my search engine marketing company ranks number 1 on Google for both of these phrases and the plural forms of the phrases. Based upon your past search tendencies, your specific location, and whims of the Google Gods, your mileage may vary, but you should find us near the top of the SERPs for those and hundreds of other related terms.

The Value of Integrating Different Internet Marketing Methods

The point here is not to boast — these results are due to the collective efforts of my expert team, not solely my own expertise. The point is to back up my contention that we practice what we preach and that the vast majority of our leads come from the Internet marketing methods we apply to our own site. However, there has been much debate over the years in the search engine marketing community about whether it is proper or even hypocritical for a search engine marketing company to use other forms of advertising unrelated to Internet marketing. The naysayers generally have a common argument: a quality search engine marketing company “shouldn’t need” to engage in any forms of offline marketing. Depending on the goals one has for their search engine marketing company, this may actually be true for some. A smaller boutique firm or an independent consultant may have all the leads they ever want from their Internet marketing methods. They may even be turning business away while they make blog posts about how companies such as mine shouldn’t need to look offline for additional business opportunities.

However, this again relates directly to goals. If a search engine marketing company has capacity even after they maximize their online leads, and their business plan calls for maximum growth, what is the issue with engaging in other forms of marketing? As long as other marketing channels provide an acceptable ROI, I do not buy the argument that you “shouldn’t need it,” no matter what your situation.

The metrics are obviously what are important. It has been our experience that our own Internet marketing methods provide us with, by far, the highest ROI of any of our other marketing efforts. However, this does not mean that the ROI from our online marketing efforts constitutes the baseline for what is ACCEPTABLE in terms of a return. In fact, we have done the math, and we know that we can afford to pay much more per lead.

Or, to look at this another way, we often work with companies that are embarking upon online marketing for the first time. These companies almost always already have successful offline marketing campaigns in place (after all, they are successful businesses). They are obviously delighted when they discover that their cost per lead or cost per sale with Internet marketing is much lower than their other marketing efforts — but does this mean that they decide to shut those other successful channels down? Of course not.

And do we, as a responsible search engine marketing company, advise them that they should shut down those channels and put all of their eggs in the online basket? Of course not. We just enjoy the fact that our Internet marketing methods provide the best bang for their buck.

Nobody can deny that the advent of various Internet marketing methods has been a game-changer. Some forms of traditional advertising may even be on their last legs. Trade show attendance is down. Magazines and newspapers are in decline. I can’t remember the last time a door-to-door salesperson came up to my house* (except those selling a particular religion — but that’s a different story).

However, some channels, in our experience, still can provide exceptional returns. Direct mail, done properly, still works for us. Channel partnerships with offline marketing businesses can be profitable. Offline PR, when done properly, provides our search engine marketing company with exceptional exposure and returns. As long as we are achieving acceptable margins on these endeavors, we will continue to use them. And I will continue to stand incredulous when I hear from those who tell me that we shouldn’t.

*Unless you count Girl Scouts peddling cookies.

(C) 2010 Medium Blue

About the Author

Scott Buresh is the CEO of Medium Blue, which was named the number one organic search engine optimization company in the world in 2006 and 2007 by PromotionWorld. Scott has contributed content to many publications including The Complete Guide to Google Advertising (Atlantic, 2008) and Building Your Business with Google For Dummies (Wiley, 2004), MarketingProfs, ZDNet, Organic Rankings, WebProNews, DarwinMag, SiteProNews, ISEDB.com, and Search Engine Guide. Medium Blue serves local and national clients, including Boston Scientific, Cbeyond, and DeKalb Medical. Contact Medium Blue now to see how we can help you achieve your online marketing goals.

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