Thursday, October 15, 2015

10 Personal rules for the Internet

Back in the day, there was no internet.  Being on a computer meant trading disks and installing programs and the most widely used word processor in the world had a blue background and straight up text.  The concept of the internet or a network of interconnected computers was more or less science fiction.  We all thought it was possible, but we didn't really know how.  Thanks to the US government for giving us the framework for the internet and industry for embracing it, now we have communication on a incomprehensible level.  When I say incomprehensible, what I mean is that we more or less don't have the capacity to understand it beyond what it means to us individually.  The internet to each of us is our email and our social media sites and youtube.  That's about it.  Some of us use it for more than that, but not much.  The rest of what the internet is doing in the background, that we don't pay attention to, is really big and has to do with all of us.  When Edward Snowden released the NSA documents on what they were doing with our information it started with a bang and fell down to a whimper.  The problem wasn't that it was very serious what the NSA and other 'alphabet' organizations were doing, the problem was that there was so much information there that the public at large was too impatient to pay attention for a long period of time and the information gets to be so overwhelming everyone just assumes that it's what we have to deal with.  Of course it's not true, but the NSA is the benefactor of our own intellectual sloth.  Well all of that being said, I've devised a list of 10 rules I try to follow when using the internet and my computer.  You might like some of them.

- Incognito for travel/purchases - This isn't a rule as much as it is good advice.  Incognito mode is a way for your browser to not keep history or leave cookies for where you are browsing.  The benefit to this is that some industries know that you will use your browser to shop for lowest price for whatever it is you are looking for and will attempt to find and use cookies you get from other websites.  Example.  You are looking for a plane ticket to Otumwa Iowa.  You go to a travel site and search for your best deal of a ticket.  It looks ok, but not quite what you were looking for.  You go to the next site and the prices seem strangely familiar even though you are looking at other airlines.  The more sites you look at the less competitive they appear to be.  Every price seems to be within 20 dollars or so of the others.  That's because they are looking at your cookies to see what you've been looking at and are making sure they stay competitive but aren't giving away the store.  If you turn off the cookies via incognito mode, every site will assume their site is your first visit and will have to give you a price they hope will keep you from looking further.  This of course is just an example.  I couldn't tell you if that's the way that specific industry works, but I know that each website has the capability to look at what you've been doing to adjust their advertising so when you are shopping, be a secret shopper.

- 2 factor as much as possible - This is the world of passwords and password management.  2 factor is the process of establishing 2 separate verification's that make it virtually impossible for someone to hack your account.  The most simple example is when a website asks you for your password and then asks you to enter the code that they will text your phone.  That second verification makes it very difficult for anyone to be able to assume your identity for that website.  In the world of hacking nothing is impossible, but it doesn't mean you should make it easy for them.

- open source for a better tomorrow - Are you looking for software that will let you do things like create a spreadsheet?  Draw a wireframe?  Nearly anything you need software for has an open source counterpart.  What is open source you may ask?  Open source is generally software that does not cost anything AND will allow you all or limited use right for the software code.  That means if you are of a mind you could change the software for your own use.  You don't get to change the open source software without going through a community that maintains the codebase.  For the rest of us, open source software has a couple of advantages over private software.  The code is evaluated in public for weaknesses and flaws.  This means that the more people that look at it, the better the code gets.  All that and the code is free.  The best way to find open source software is of course to use your favorite search engine search for open source and the software you would like. The other good search terms would be 'open source alternative microsoft word' to search for a microsoft word open source alternative.  There are lots of them.  Don't like windows?  Linux is free, and surprisingly easy to use.  Drawing?  Database?  Chat?  You name it, open source has it.

- Nothing replaces local backups - Lately you are hearing about the 'cloud'  for backing up your files.  I have nothing against online backups, but what happens if somehow you are not allowed to access your cloud files?  You still need to have local backups.  Getting a couple of inexpensive hard drives that you can back up your data files onto in rotation is really as much as you need.  Some people advocate keeping a drive in a safe deposit box and a drive at home and one more drive that you are doing your backups on.  every week or so you rotate the drives so your backups are never more than a week old.  I believe that all you really need is 2 drives, one in your office and one in the garage.  Yes natural disaster could take both drives out, but I submit that if that's the case, you have bigger fish to fry.

- You might forget, but the Internet will remember - Once again with social media, but the internet in general.  There is no real such thing as privacy.  Between hackers and governments, everything you do is very likely to be public information at some point.  Behave that way.  If you are on social media, watch what you say.  Businesses are not above looking at everything you do online to see if you are a 'right fit'.  Of course you are not ashamed of what you have posted on the other hand you might be.  Just be careful out there, on the internet, you ALWAYS leave a lasting impression.

- Avoid your ISP through proxy.  Tired of your Service provider snooping what you are doing?  If you don't know what I'm talking about, your ISP (internet service provider) is Comcast, Qwest, etc.  If a company is providing your internet, they basically have the ability to look at anything that you are doing online.  If you don't like their eyes, you can search online for High Speed proxy.  What a proxy service does is provides a secure gateway that goes through your ISP to another address and behaves as though you are originating from there.  Yes, who you use as your proxy service can then see what you are up to, but it's not your ISP.

- Mostly they just want your money - Remember, they are tracking you so they can get your money.  That's not all bad.  As capitalist consumers, we have an innate sense of ads and what they mean.  From gradeschool, we are taught how media advertisements manipulate us into favoring one product over another.  The internet plays no small role in this now.  Before you put your luddite hat on and leave the interwebs forever think of this.  Never before has advertising had the power to focus only on things you want.  I don't mind that at all...usually.

- Your friends friends are thieves - Social media time again.  This has to do with your vacations.  When you are going out of town or just across town to an event.  People have a natural tendency to post what they are doing on line so their friends can see what they are up to.  Well, if your friends can see it, it's likely that their friends can see it.  Your friends picked you as one of their friends.  That's because they have good taste.  Those other people your friends have as friends?  They are at best hangers on looking for some kind of connection to humanity, at worst they are con artists looking to take advantage of all of your friends friends.  That means you.  They see that you are out for a grand night out, they understand that you are probably not going to have anyone in the house for the next 3 hours or so.  That's more than enough time to take the best stuff out of your house.  So, if you have homeowners insurance, right now, before you do much else, take that fancy cellphone and video your various rooms in your house and catalog some of your more irreplaceable treasures.  Do that every so often and you will be prepared to make an accurate claim when insurance is paying you off.

- LastPass is your friend.  - LastPass is a password manager that works specifically with your online accounts.  It remembers your passwords for you and puts them into websites as they request them.  It's fairly easy to use and then you only have to remember your one password for getting to LastPass.  When you do it that way, you can store longer and more complicated passwords instead of the fort knox of passwords 1234.  Once you have that, make sure your password to LastPass is VERY long.  It's the only one you'll have to remember.

- Never 'win' other peoples posts - You are on your favorite social media and you see some post you don't agree with.  You decide to log your displeasure.  That's fine.  The poster then rebuts your well worded dissent with points of their own.  Unless you have something genuinely new to offer the discussion.  Do not reply.  Do not try to win the post by having the last word.  It's rude.  You want to further the argument, make you own post and see how people react to your thoughts.  Don't cook your barbecue on someone else's grill.

Well, there it is.  My internet rules and advice.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

10 Things you dread on a vacation

Vacations are fantastic.  Of course I don't have to tell you everyone knows this.  They are the chance you have to get away from your daily grind.  Even if you love your job, you need a break from time to time.  Well often we trade one stress for another when we go on vacation.  These are some of the concerns rational and otherwise that we face when we go on an extended vacation.

- Am I breaking some kind of law? - Depending on your vacation you wonder if through ignorance you might be breaking some kind of law.  Most of the time this happens around the boarder or at customs.  They ask questions and you don't think you are doing anything wrong, but you feel like there are wrong answers. Well there are.  Don't even THINK about joking about anything.  There are NO jokes at customs.  This feeling gets worse when the country you are in speaks a different language and you don't.  Everything starts feeling like you are early in some film noir and a jack booted official is asking you for 'papers'.

- My pets are dying! - If you have pets you probably think of them as your furry children.  Well vacations don't usually look too kindly on animals although I HAVE seen 'service' animals that don't do much more than sit there for their owner, just like the non-service animals and get to accompany their owner on vacation.  Unless you can get a doctor to diagnose you with PTSD your pets are left in the care of someone or put in the kennel.  Putting a pet in a kennel is kind of like sending your kids to summer camp.  You hope they are making friends and having fun, but you suspect they are miserable.  If you get some kind of house sitter to take care of your animals, it only serves to take the edge off.  You are still wondering if they are being nice to your little furry friends.  Just remember, when you come home your animals will probably be very excited to have you home/mad at you.  They probably had an O.K. time, but they are happier that you are back home.

- I left X on - Just like being the last one out of the house, but completely puffed up to gargantuan proportions.  There are SO many things to take care of with an extended vacation that by the time you leave, you are certain you are forgetting any number of things.  These things include but are not limited to.  Cancel Mail, Lock doors, Turn off water, turn on Email notification at work indicating you are out.  Of course the classic is the leaving the gas stove on.  If you aren't sure of most of these things, you will find yourself constantly reminded of things you can't verify but probably took care of.  Here is a tip.  As you take care of things you are likely to ulcerate about, take a picture of it with your phone.  Then you will know exactly what you remembered and what you didn't.

- I'm going to get ripped off! (vacation scams) - This gets worse the cheaper you are.  If you are a real skinflint, you will really have a horrible time on your vacation because you have NO idea of the relative value of the goods and services you are getting.  Since you are a tourist, you can safely assume that you are probably paying an out of town surcharge, but besides that, you need to turn the scrooge off and enjoy the vacation.  Understand that taking time in another place is costly, but you are there primarily for a good time.  If you can't bear the thought of paying rack rate for anything, then you might like camping better since you don't have to deal with much of anyone and you bring your own food.  The best thing about camping is it reminds you why you live in a house away from nature.

- I've forgotten my passwords! - This is more an indicator that you really enjoyed your vacation and you didn't do that idiotic 'just check in with work'.  If you are checking in at work, then you work for idiots because they haven't duplicated your work processes so they can let you go on vacation without worrying about if the company can survive. If they are requiring this, you need to look for future employment because either they will burn you out or they will fail so spectacularly due to lack of planning that the company will suddenly look like a scout car wash.  You just get back to work and you realize that your hands no longer know the passwords to your regularly used applications.  You just sit there waiting for your hands to type out the patterns that you would have NEVER guessed you would forget.  Congratulations, you had a good vacation.

- Where are my passports?!? - This is a fun game related to the I left X on above.  This is where you take all of your reservation numbers and documents you need for your travels.  Chief among these are the passports.  Lose these and you can't get replacements easy.  In fact, if you lose them you are in some deep water.  You are constantly feeling for them in your pockets or purse.  Every time they aren't there,  You quickly start off with 'Where are the passports?!?'  This is followed by 'Didn't I give them to you?!'  Usually this closes with 'Oh that's right they are right here.  This also happens if you are carrying large amounts of bags with several people.  You are constantly looking and taking count.  You aren't even sure what you are carrying in them by now, but you know you need all of them.

- Will I be sufficiently entertained? - This one is really stupid.  I am guilty of this one.  I often arrange media players, portable games, and e-books are available to make sure that my every moment is filled with some sort of diversion.  Of course I use exactly 10% of the things I've prepared.  It's a waste of time and space.  Just take your number one device (usually your cellphone) and it will do just fine.  the rest of the stuff is probably just a some kind of traveling work out.

- Criminals are at my unprotected door! - This is like leaving stuff on, but it's worse.  Sure you've locked your door, but you don't know if someone is scouting out your house for theft.  The longer you are away, the better the likely-hood that you are going to be robbed.  Of course where you live has a lot to do with it, but for the most part your chances of being robbed are not very high.  One way to help that is to not advertise your vacation on social media before you embark.  Your friends might not rob you, but their friends might.

- I'm going to look stupid - Tourists by definition look stupid.  Don't worry.  Nobody expects you to look like a local and honestly why would you want to? Sure you are worried about thieves picking you out, but what can you do about it?  Nothing.  Don't be a rube, ask for instructions if you find yourself lacking direction, you'll save time and grief.

- No internet connection? - Some people are afraid of not being connected while they travel.  When cavemen first started using facebook, they weren't as attached to it and found they could leave it relatively easily.  As history progressed and other social media websites became prevalent it became harder and harder to leave the internet alone.  Just remember the war of 1812 When the British tried to disconnect the American troops from their Dial up connections.  Never have American's fought so valiantly.  Sheesh.

None of these things are worth not going on a vacation.  Get your plan together and GO.  Don't sit there and not go because you are a home body.  Have an adventure once in a while, it's something to talk about when you are at home.