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May 19, 2011

How Far Is That?

Before I blog about the subject at hand, I wanted to mention that you can subscribe to this blog by email or RSS feed.  On the right side towards the upper part is a "Subscribe Via Email" link.  On the bottom of the page is a "Subscribe to Blog" tag.  By clicking on Posts, you can select the RSS service you wish to link this blog to.

Recently I went running out of town and could not get my GPS to work for me to know how far I ran. By using Google Maps, I later was able to map out the route and determine how far I actually ran instead of guessing the distance. The days of driving your car  to determine that distance of the route is in the past.  Further it does not work well where there are one way streets involved.   Note a few weeks ago I did a post about Google Maps.  I did not include this feature as it deserves its own space.

First you need to set up a Google account if you already do not have one.  Once that is done, go to Google Maps.  In the top right there is in red "New!".  Select this option. Find the option "Distance Measurement Tool" and select "Enable".  On the lower left of the map itself is an icon that looks like a small ruler. Once you have zoomed in on the map to your desired starting point click on this small ruler with your mouse. Then go to your starting point and click here with your mouse.  Click at the first turn and all subsequent turns.  If you make an error select the option on the left side to "Delete last point". While you are mapping your route the total distance to this point shows on the left side.  When you are done, the distance I just mentioned is now the total distance of that run, walk, or bicycling that you have done.

I used this to measure the distance of a run I already did.  You can of course it to plan a path for running, bicycling, walking, etc.  It is a tool that can come in handy. However the next time you tell someone that it is a short walk to wherever you want to walk with them to, they can check if it really is a short walk later on.

Using the Internet to Expedite a Claim in the Event of a Disaster

A good friend of mine recently lost her home to a fire that destroyed her house and personal belongings. While old keepsakes like pictures, family heirlooms, etc are priceless and can never be replaced there are items that can be replaced in the event of a loss.

We have taken pictures of our home and belongings to document what we have in the event we are ever unfortunate to have a loss whether it be a fire or otherwise. Not only are these pictures stored on our computer they are also stored on an online photo site. You can set the privacy settings where only you can see them. You can store the pictures on a photo sharing site such as Google Picasa. This way we will be able to get access to them on a timely basis without having to depend on being able to get to where our backups are stored offsite.

When dealing with insurance companies documentation is important. Receipts for purchases can be destroyed in a fire. We have scanned receipts which are backed up and also saved as picture files like other pictures. These are also put on our online photo site should we ever need them. It is also a good idea to have a written list of major purchases such as furniture and televisions in the event of a loss. A good site for this is Know Your Stuff. Your data is stored on their site so in the event of a loss, your data is not on your computer which could be lost when disaster strikes. While this is not a blog on how to handle insurance claims, insurance adjusters have told me to also take pictures after the damage before you begin to cleanup.

Hopefully you will never need these pictures but if you do and also do what my wife and I do, your documentation will help to more favorably expedite your insurance claim.

Windows Live Hotmail

To paraphrase, this is the web based email service formerly known as Hotmail and Windows Hotmail. With approximately 360 million subscribers, it is one of the larger email services and is owned by Microsoft.  While I was not able to locate the maximum amount of storage using Windows Live Hotmail (Hotmail) they advertise as "ever increasing storage." Last year the website showed a maximum storage amount of 500gb which these days might be considered unlimited. You can attach up to 25mg to an email message which is currently the standard for most email providers.

One of the advantages of Hotmail is the ability to change the interface and look of the webmail page very easily.  You can set up your reading pane to preview messages before opening it. A lot of people like this ability as you can see the message and delete it without opening it.  The preview pane can be on the right side or bottom. Another feature is the "Sweep" function.  This can be a great function for cleaning up a cluttered mailbox and is a very useful tool. With this function you can select a message or message group to clean up.  You can delete all or move to a folder.  There are more options and the choice is yours. Further if doing a sweep by email address, you can easily set up a filter for all future emails from that address.

Like Gmail, you can also view messages by conversation which keeps all messages on the same subject together in an email stream. 

There are concerns mainly with the contacts list which is used with many an email message.  Using the contact list is not the most user friendly.  When importing to Hotmail, I found that I needed to go to each email address and edit the address so it appears like it did prior to importing.  You also cannot delete all of your contacts at 1 time.  At most, you can delete 25 contacts at a time.  While your Gmail contacts cannot be deleted all at once, you can delete up to 100 contacts at a time.  I did not find the import feature too friendly when importing your contacts file.  I needed to search for the way to do this.  Same goes for importing Yahoo contacts.  You may be better exporting your Yahoo contacts as a .csv file then importing that file into your Hotmail contacts.

In addition to what has been noted, having a Hotmail account gives you access to other features of Windows Live. It may work for you. 

May 18, 2011

Facebook Privacy Settings

As you likely are aware, Facebook has had privacy issues that seem to pop up from time to time. You always need to keep on top of privacy issues that come out through the media or otherwise. Below are some security settings you may or may not be aware of.  By using these you will further be able to have your Facebook profile and activity seen only by those you want to.

If you wish that a particular person not be able to access your profile or even see that you have a Facebook account, there is a "Block Lists" in the privacy section (note that all unless otherwise noted require going into the privacy section). Just enter the name of the person you wish to block. Note that for this that the person can log on under another ID that would enable him or her to access your profile according to your privacy settings.

Under "Customize Settings" in the privacy section there is a section "Things Others Share". This is what others can share about you. Make sure to edit these to your choosing.  In particular "Friends Can Check Me Into Places".  This is one that you will likely want to disable.  For "Photos and Videos I'm Tagged In" you will likely want "Friends Only" or "Only Me" which is under "Customize". For "Suggest Photos of me to Friends" I would suggest you disable this. Friends can tag you without suggestions.

Be very careful about sharing contact information. I would not share phone numbers and addresses with anyone within Facebook. Those settings should be set to "Only Me". Personally I did not enter any information for them. For email addresses if I was to share I would only share with friends. Unless there is a business reason I would not share beyond. If you have a website, you can share that with everyone. Anyone can see the address of this blog as well as my Twitter account. For Twitter the privacy setting is under "IM Screen Names".

You also want to be careful about what Apps and websites share about you. In the "Apps and Websites" section under "Info accessible through your friends" I would suggest under "Edit Settings" you keep all unchecked. For Public Search, you need to determine whether you want your profile to be found when a search engine is used. Select as you see fit.

Facebook is a great site for social connections and for reconnecting with old friends. With the privacy issues that Facebook has had and will likely continue to have, you need to keep on top of your privacy settings.  As always, be careful of what you put out there. You never know who will see it. For starters divorce attorneys have been known to go through Facebook profiles to aid in their cases. I heard a story of a divorce attorney friending their clients estranged spouse in an attempt to get incriminating information. Now of course the estrange spouse should never have friended the attorney but that is another story.

May 8, 2011

What the Internet Has Made Free

Since the internet, there are things that are now free that you used to pay for.  Some of these include items where a savings has made it free. An example is writing a letter that costs $0.44 to mail but sending an email is free as you have no postage.  So here are just a few things that used to cost but are now free online:
  1. Skype - you can videochat with anyone who also has a Skype account anytime, anywhere for free.  No more tracking message units, long distance phone calls, etc.  Yes there are other videochat sites.  I am using Skype since it is so well known.
  2. Newspapers-  yes more and more newspapers are moving to a paid service online.  That said, there are still many that you can access for free.  
  3. Directory assistance - at one time this was entirely free then for local calls a charge was added.  You can access sites like and to get phone numbers for free.
  4. Paying bills - most banks allow to to pay checks online for free.  No postage costs or paying for checks.  Plus you can set up automatic payments that save you time.  The checks are automatically written at a time interval you specify.
  5. News, weather, sports - no more calling a 900 number or other number for which you were charged.  This up to date information can be obtained on the internet.
  6. Dictionary and Thesaurus - this also saves on space.  You can access definitions and synonyns at sites like or
  7. Your personal phonebook - can be put on sites like Gmail, Yahoo, etc.  No need to buy a phone book.  Further, you do not need to worry about losing your phonebook and losing all contacts.  You can access it anywhere you have internet access.
  8. Trip planning - Get routes on google maps.  Purchase and print tickets and boarding passes. Flight status is online. You used to need to be a member of AAA to get their triptik online.  Now you can go to their site and download a triptik at no charge which you can print even if you are not a member of AAA. Further you can get quite a bit of travel information online that you used to have to pay for.
  9. Photo sharing - no longer need to pay for extra pictures for friends and relatives.  You can send pictures via email or photo sharing sites like or  
  10. Historic weather data from the Farmers Almanac
  11. Encyclopedia - and have made that encyclopedia collection your parents had just about obsolete and a lot less expensive.  Plus they free up space around the house for other things.
  12. is a great source of reference for which a lot you previously had to pay for. 
  13. Sales tax - although this is changing, depending on where you live you may save sales tax by ordering something online.
  14. Shipping & handling - see sales tax above.  Due to online price comparisons, companies may waive shipping charges on certain items or if an order is greater than a certain amount.
  15. Movie showtimes - the cost was either a newspaper or a phone call.  Now free online along with reviews.
  16. Accounting software - GnuCash is a free accounting software program for small business usage. QuickBooks has a basic program that is also free.
  17. Money management - 
  18. Ecards - rather than buying and mailing birthday cards, anniversary cards, etc you can now send someone an ecard.  There are still those that are free plus you also save postage.  I would not send a sympathy card as an ecard but this post is about things that are now free not how to do a card on the cheap.  
I am sure there are other things that the internet has made free that you at one time paid for.  Any additions to this list are welcomed and if I get enough will publish them in a future blog giving you credit.  

May 5, 2011

Using the Internet for More Meaningful Travel

One of the advantages of the internet is how much closer it has bought the world.  I enjoy travel and have used various internet sites to book my travel and plan an itinerary.

One benefit I can think of is how we can book our travel online without a travel agent.  This enables us to price compare for plane tickets and hotels.  We can book our own travel packages without going through a travel agent. Some good sites are Travelocity and Priceline.  I have gotten good rates booking on both.  When booking where it more advantageous not to combine airfare and hotel(s), I have used Kayak.  This is an aggregator which compares hundreds of travel sites for the best rate.  I have used this individually for airlines and hotels.  In addition you can book a car rental or a cruise on these sites as well. 

Speaking about airlines, these days you can print your tickets and boarding pass.  In addition, just about all the airlines allow you to check in online up to 24 hours before your flight is scheduled to depart by going onto their website.  This eliminates waiting in line to check in at the airport and in this day of heightened security checks is one less thing to worry about at the airport.

There also are good sites to review hotels.  My preference is Tripadvisor. The hotels are ranked by reviews and I have found the reviews to be very useful in deciding which hotel to book.

There are also some good sites to plan an itinerary while travelling of places to see and do.  As mentioned previous, I use Tripadvisor to help plan.  Another good site is Virtualtourist.  The reviews are mainstream travellers for the most part.  Real people with real experiences.  You can get everything from museums, off the beaten path places and getting around.  The sites also offer forums to post and answer questions.  Another good site is Wikitravel.  You can get some real good information about the places you are going to on this site. There are also other sites to choose from.  They include the standard Frommers, Fodors and AAA.  Lonely planet and Igougo are 2 relatively more recent ones. It is a matter of your own personal preference.  As an aside, Igougo is an aggregator similar to Kayak.

Further if you do not use a GPS while driving, you can map your trip.  Google Maps will give you door to door directions.  You do not need to be a member of AAA to get an online triptik that you can download. To do this go to the AAA website.   Select in the online section not mail order section TripTiks.  Select your starting point and destination. Then select "Get Maps & Directions" After this completes, select on the left hand side "Print TripTik". When "Print Options" is displayed select "AAA Exclusive TripTik" and then "Create Print Version".  Your triptik is now complete.  You can print and/or download.  Further whether or not you are a member of AAA you can create an online account to save your triptik. Mapping your trip even if you are using a GPS can be useful in the event your GPS fails to work. 

Last but not least, you want to have an idea of what the weather will be like on your trip. and Wunderground are just 2 sites to help you pack for the expected weather  on your trip.

Following these tips will help you to have an enjoyable vacation.  After you are done, you may want to give your own review and perhaps upload your own travel photos.  One of mine is the featured picture for Yahoo travel New York

Enjoy your trip.

May 3, 2011

Password Protection

Just like you want a good lock to protect your home and valuables from unwanted intruders, you want a good password to protect your financial and other personal data from prying eyes both online and offline. A good strong password will allow you safer online transactions.

A few years ago, a computer professional using the name of John P. wrote how quickly he could crack a password based upon the password length and types of characters used while on a computer. For 3 characters it was 0.86 seconds using all types of characters (uppercase, lowercase, numbers, characters) and .02 seconds using only lowercase characters in your password.  For 8 characters the times were 2.10 centuries and 2.42 days respectively. The assumption is that you were not using a word in the dictionary. Going from 8 to 9 characters increased the time to 20 millennia and 2.07 months respectively.

That said, certain websites financial websites in particular have a protocol that must be followed when setting up a password on their site.

A good password includes upper and lower case letters, numbers and symbols and has a minimum of 8 characters. There are password checkers out there to check the strength of your password.  A good one is  

“Whisper32” is a freeware password manager program to download.  You can store passwords on it.  You need to have a password to open your saved file.  Click to open Whisper32 download.

You also should NEVER use the following as passwords as they will make it easier to crack your password:

a.      Your name & other personal information like birthday, spouse’s name, SS#, etc
b.      Sites name
c.       “Password”
d.      Dictionary words in any language
e.      Sequences or related characters – 123456, abcdef, 222222

While we are on the subject of passwords, it is easy and convenient to enable the option to remember passwords.  This will enable anyone using the computer being used to log into the site without knowing your password.  Especially when using a laptop, you should disable this option whenever it is given.  It is another layer in staying secure. Needless to say always disable when you are on a public computer.  Also when you are on a public computer, before you leave and you are still using the web browser remember to delete all browsing history, cookies, etc.  In Internet Explorer 8 select the Tools option from the menu.  Then select "Internet Options" and then "Browsing History". Select "Delete" to delete. 

By following the above, you will make your internet browsing much safer and secure from hackers and intruders.

May 1, 2011

Computer Must Knows

When you own or use a computer, there are several important things to keep in mind. Some of these are basic common sense that we sometimes forget. Whatever, they all are very important to know.

1.Use a surge protector to protect your computer and peripherals from voltage spikes that may occur due to lightning or another cause. While during a lightning storm it is best to unplug, most of us do not. In the event of a surge your equipment can get destroyed. Think of having a garden hose and too much water goes through at one time putting too much pressure on the hose. The result is a hose that bursts. A good surge protector prevents this from happening.

2.With 2 exceptions, do not turn off your computer with the power switch. Shut your computer down by going into the start tab and select the "Shut Down" option. The 2 exceptions are if you computer freezes and after selecting the "Shut Down" option, the computer is still on 10 minutes later. Using the power switch can result in lost data or windows files. The computer needs to go through a sequence of things in order to properly shut down.

3.As noted in a previous blog, backing up your data is a very inexpensive insurance policy in the event of a hard drive or other computer failure to minimize any data loss. The link to my blog on backing up is There are several ways to approach this but failure to backup is a recipe for losing all of your data in the event of a failure. A recent study by Symantec indicated that 80% of computer users do not have backup software installed on their computer.

4.Less and less computers these days come with a recovery disk. Perform a Recovery Disk Creation as soon as you can. Go to control panel/system and security/create a system recovery disk (if not there “create a system repair disk) and insert 1st disk. Will need about 3-5 DVDs which are preferred over CDs for this exercise. Click the start tab which is usually in the lower left of your computer;then type “repair” in the search bar and choose System Repair Disk. Follow instructions. In the event you ever need to reinstall your system, this will come in handy. Make sure you keep these disks in a safe and secure place.

5.Anti virus software and anti spyware are a must. Microsoft Security Essentials is a good free program. If you are purchasing an internet security program, Norton and McAfee offer good protection.

6.If you have a wireless internet connection, it MUST be password protected. An open connection enables outsiders to access your internet service. Personal information of yours is compromised. In addition, any illegal activity done on your internet connection is traced to it.

7.DO NOT give out information on the internet or otherwise when you are solicited for it. You may get an email along the lines of "there is an issue with your account. Please supply (your password, social security number, date of birth, etc)." On the internet, most sites have a policy where they will NEVER ask you for personal information online. When in doubt, call the bank or other financial institution in question. This is not only on the internet but anywhere. When I get a call where the caller says there is a security issue regarding a credit card of mine, I immediately hang up. It could be a ploy to get personal information of mine to steal my identity. I refer to the back of the credit card in question and call that number. If a voicemail message is left with a phone number to call I never call the number they say to call at. It may be a true and legitimate issue but why take the chance? Also avoid scams where you have to pay money to get money.

8.NEVER unplug peripherals from your computer when it is on. This can short out the connector socket or motherboard. When using a USB drive or similar there is an option usually on lower right hand side to safely remove hardware. Click this and select what you wish to remove. When OK to remove message is shown then it is safe.

9.I am guilty of this one but keep food and drink away from computer, mouse, keyboard and any other electronic device. Crumbs, soda and juice spills can cause sticky keys. Liquids on or in electronic devices can ruin them.

10.And last,when using a public computer make sure you log off your email accounts and any other site you have been to that required you to log in using a user name and/or password. On more than one occasion I have accessed a public computer and noticed that the previous user did not log out of their email account. Your email account is open to that person and at that point belongs totally to them. They can if they wish send nasty messages to a friend, significant other, etc. As an aside here, for those having Flickr accounts. Flickr is a photosharing company owned by Yahoo. If you log into Flickr and then logout, you need to go to your Yahoo account and log out. I do not know why this happens. If you go into your Yahoo account and log in, your Flickr account is not affected.

By following the above tips, you will make your computer safer to use and less likely to breakdown. You also will be using the internet in a safer manner.