Welcome to this week's edition of the Computer Kindergarten Newsletter.
Today is Sunday, May 19, 2013
To observe the unofficial Beginning of Summer, we will not be publishing this newsletter next week. Have a happy and safe Memorial Day weekend!
In this Issue:
Special Feature: Beware of Utility Company Scams
Special Series: Twenty Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web: Validating Identities Online
This Week's Topic: The 21 Worst Tech Habits—and How to Break Them
Special Feature: iPad Basics - iCloud Features
Websites of Interest: Memorial Day
Special Feature: Beware of Utility Company Scams
By Sid Kirchheimer of aarp.org
During hot or cold weather, scammers increasingly pose as utility company employees and other "energy savers" to try to get your money or valuables or sensitive information for identity theft.
The Shutoff Swindle
In the most common utility con, which happens every winter and during peak air-conditioning season, customers get phone calls warning that their service is about to be shut off because of unpaid bills.
The callers claim to be billing representatives from your utility company but are actually crooks looking for a quick payoff. They tell you that to avoid an immediate shutoff, you need to settle an overdue bill by providing them with your credit card number or a prepaid debit card.
In recent weeks, utility customers from Connecticut to Hawaii have been targeted in this longtime scheme. But this past winter, some utility impostors have been demanding payment for several months' worth of purported unpaid utility service, not just one, as had been the custom. They can be convincing. They may use "spoofing" software that lets them falsely display the name and phone number of your utility company on your Caller ID. But you should know that most utilities will mail at least one, if not several, past-due notices before terminating service. If you get a cancellation notification (especially by phone), always verify it by dialing the customer service number on your utility bill. Don't give any information to the caller.
Special Series: Twenty Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web: Validating Identities Online
Many of us these days depend on the World Wide Web to bring the world’s information to our fingertips, and put us in touch with people and events across the globe instantaneously.
These powerful online experiences are possible thanks to an open web that can be accessed by anyone through a web browser, on any Internet-connected device in the world.
But how do our browsers and the web actually work? How has the World Wide Web evolved into what we know and love today? And what do we need to know to navigate the web safely and efficiently?
“20 Things I Learned About Browsers and the Web” is a short guide for anyone who’s curious about the basics of browsers and the web. Here’s what you’ll find here:
First we’ll look at the Internet, the very backbone that allows the web to exist. We’ll also take a look at how the web is used today, through cloud computing and web apps.
Finally, we’ll look ahead to the exciting innovations in browsers and web technologies that we believe will give us all even faster and more immersive online experiences in the future.
Life as citizens of the web can be liberating and empowering, but also deserves some self-education. Just as we’d want to know various basic facts as citizens of our physical neighborhoods -- water safety, key services, local businesses -- it’s increasingly important to understand a similar set of information about our online lives. That’s the spirit in which we wrote this guide. Many of the examples used to illustrate the features and functionality of the browser often refer back to Chrome, the open-source browser that we know well. We hope you find this guide as enjoyable to read as we did to create.
The Google Chrome Team
Validating Identities Online
In the physical world, you can see the people you share information with. You talk to them face-to-face, or meet them in a trusted place like a bank branch. That’s how you make your first judgments about giving them your trust.
But online, it can be hard to tell who’s behind any website. The visual cues we normally rely on can be faked. For example, a phony webpage could copy the logo, icon, and and design of your own bank’s website — almost as if they had set up a fake storefront on your block.
Fortunately, there are tools to help you determine if a website is genuine or not. Some websites have an extended validation certificate that allows you to determine the name of the organization that runs the web site. The extended validation certificate gives you the information you need to help ensure that you’re not entrusting your information to a fake website.
Here’s an example of extended validation in action in the browser. On a bank’s website that has been verified through extended validation, the bank’s name is displayed in a green box between the lock icon and the web address in the address bar:
On most browsers, the extended validation indicator can be found by looking for the name of the organization in the green section of the browser’s address bar. You can also click on the indicator to see the website’s security information and inspect its digital certificate.
To receive extended validation certification, a website owner has to pass a series of checks confirming their legal identity and authority. In the previous example, extended validation on bankofamerica.com verifies that yes, the website is from the actual Bank of America. You can think of this certification as something that ties the domain name of the web address back to some real-world identity.
It’d be wise to share sensitive information with a website only if you trust the organization responsible for the site. So the next time you’re about to perform a sensitive transaction, take a moment to keep a look out for the website’s security information. You’ll be glad you did.
In our next edition: Evolving to a Faster Web
Today's Topic: The 21 Worst Tech Habits—and How to Break Them
By Christopher Null of pcworld.com
We all have bad habits in real life. Why can't technology help cure them? While technology should help us break bad habits, all too often it makes things worse.
Are you guilty of a bad tech habit? Here are 21 of the worst technology-oriented habits, plus potential fixes for all of them.
1. Leaving equipment in plain sight
Someone can easily take your gear if you leave it sitting unattended.
The typical gadget isn't stolen by thieves who've done lots of planning. No, most gadget heists are conceived and executed in seconds, and probably because you left the item unattended. That cozy window corner at the café is great until you need to run back to the counter for a refill. A thief can pop in, grab your device, and be gone. Gadgetry is also commonly snapped up from airport security conveyers (sadly, sometimes by TSA agents themselves) while you’re waiting for your body scan. Your locked car isn’t safe, either. An eager crook will happily smash your window and grab the laptop bag from the passenger seat, even in broad daylight.
Fix: Don’t leave laptops and other gadgets unattended. Yes, that means you must either take them to the bathroom or leave them with someone you trust. At a café, it doesn’t hurt to ask the staff if you can leave something behind the counter for a minute. In any case, skip asking, “Can you watch this for me?” and pointing at your PC across the room.
2. Oblivious gadget usage
Here’s how street hoods steal your phone. They lurk at the top of the stairs as you emerge from the subway, or sneak up behind you while you’re lounging at an outdoor café. Either way, you have no idea they’re there, because your nose is buried in your smartphone’s Facebook feed. Next thing you know, you’ve been punched in the face, and the thieves are dashing off to a getaway car. Can you identify the suspects? No, because the last thing you saw before it happened was a picture of a puppy.
Fix: Everyone uses phones everywhere, so it doesn’t feel risky to break one out on the train or while walking home in the dark. But electronics remain some of the most easily fenced items on the black market, and it pays to keep your wits about you when using them in an unknown situation. Make it a policy to limit mobile device usage to areas where you’re completely certain you won’t be the victim of a smash-and-grab attack. That goes double for using your phone while you’re driving. Don’t become another statistic!
3. Using your devices with dirty hands
Anyone who has ever handed a cell phone to a child knows that the device will come back covered in a crust of dirt, crumbs, chocolate, and sneeze spray.
But you aren’t much better. Playing Bejeweled while downing a burrito won’t leave your phone looking fresh, and holding your phone against your face to talk may leave an oily shadow behind.
This isn’t just gross, but brings health risks, too: The old adage that your keyboard is dirtier than your toilet applies to your phone, as well.
Fix: Keep an electronics-cleaning vial on your desk in plain view. Clean your phone, tablet, and other touchscreen devices daily. Add a quick wipe-down any time you see visible grime.
4. Not cleaning your equipment
We covered the problem of filthy touchscreens in the #3 item, above. But what about everything else?
Literally everything in your high-tech arsenal is vulnerable to damage from dust and dirt. Grime seeps in through any crack and crevice, but machines such as desktops, laptops, and even printers, which have air-intake vents for cooling, are the most affected. Dust generally won’t damage electronics, but it can clog fans, optical-drive mechanisms, and other moving parts, which can lead to component failures and overheating if the fans stop working properly. Dust in scanners and printers can affect the quality of your printouts, too.
Fix: Cleaning your equipment isn’t hard, but it’s important to do so regularly before things build up too much. Once or twice a year should do it. Can’t remember? Try cleaning out your PC at the same time you replace the filter on your furnace or air conditioner, or whenever you get the oil on your car changed. A calendar reminder on your PC can help, too.
5. Sitting with bad posture at the computer
The posture lessons, cautionary tales, and ergonomic gadgets of the past 30 years have apparently taught us nothing, and as a result, carpal tunnel syndrome is the most common form of neurological syndrome called entrapment neuropathy, affecting 5.8 percent of the population. The typical treatment, even for moderate cases, is surgery. And all because you were too lazy to sit up straight.
Fix: Fixing this problem requires a proper work environment. Keep your chair at a height so that your knees bend at a 90-degree angle; also keep your feet flat on the floor, your monitor directly in front with the top of the screen at eye level, and your keyboard placed so your wrists are parallel with the floor.
6. Not taking breaks
Most parents have no trouble limiting their children’s screen time, but they find it harder to put down their laptops or smartphones when work demands action.
Breaks are essential to good health. Your joints, muscular system, circulatory system, and eyes all benefit from a change of scenery once in a while. Remaining in a seated position for extended periods of time can cause blood clots (sometimes even fatal ones). And staring at a screen for hours on end can cause eyestrain that may affect your vision afterward and make it dangerous to drive home.
Fix: Fortunately, programs, mobile apps, and Web browser plug-ins can remind you to step away from your gadgets, stretch your legs, get a drink of water, or call it a day on your computer time.
Another easy way to remedy the problem is to keep, at all times, a very large glass of water at your desk (the solution for another bad habit: failure to hydrate). Sipping a gulp from that glass of water regularly will force you to take an occasional break to the bathroom.
7. Working with your laptop on your lap
A laptop on your lap can mean bad posture and problems from its heat.
Yes, they call it a laptop, but you weren’t supposed to take that literally. Using your laptop on your lap can lead to a whole host of problems, many caused by the heat that most laptops spew from their undersides. The maladies can range from simple skin dryness and discoloration to—the jury’s still out on this one—cancer.
Heat isn’t the only problem. Placing a heavy object across your thighs for hours on end can cause neurological damage, particularly when coupled with the typical laptop-on-lap posture: hunched over, legs outstretched, neck craned. Arthritis can also develop over time.
Fix: Fixes aren’t easy unless you want to move your desk into the living room so you can watch Game of Thrones while you work. Instead, start with a lap desk that shields your thighs from heat, and follow the break-taking tips outlined in item #6. Periodically shifting your laptop from one leg to the other can help. Avoid working on your laptop with your legs outstretched on the coffee table, too. Your nervous and muscular systems will be in better alignment if you keep your knees bent and your feet on the floor.
8. Failing to back up data
Stop me if you’ve heard this one before. Everything is zipping along just swimmingly until one day it suddenly isn’t. Maybe it’s a hard-drive crash, maybe it’s a malware infestation, maybe it’s a stolen laptop. One way or another, your data has abruptly vanished, and you’re left crying that you should have been backing up your data.
The excuses for not backing up your data are becoming increasingly thin. Any number of online backup services will sync your files automatically with a cloud-storage system, whether you use a PC, a tablet, or a phone. Don’t be lulled into thinking that you have nothing important on that device. Whether it’s a forgotten baby picture or a game save on the verge of hitting 100 percent completion, you’ll feel differently once it’s gone.
Fix: With most backup systems now, you don’t need to do anything except install an app and set it up.
9. Reusing passwords over and over
We are all guilty when it comes to this bad habit. How are you supposed to remember your 100th different password for the latest social network you’ve joined? You take the easy way out and reuse a password that has worked for you time and time again.
Password “strength” is a bit illusory. All it takes is one website that doesn’t store passwords securely and gets hacked, or one old and unencrypted hard drive that’s sloppily disposed of, to bring the whole house of cards tumbling down, no matter how many numbers, uppercase letters, and special characters you use.
Fix: The solution involves coming up with a system to build a unique password based on each website where you use it. Build from a base phrase and, for each site, add something unique to it. Take, say, Flurpb&rgl3r as a base and add fb8 to the end for Facebook, or tw7 for Twitter. (In this example, the numerical component of the end tag is the number of characters that the site name has.)
Presto: a password that you won’t forget but is virtually impossible to crack.
10. One account, multiple users
A parent’s typical move, when giving a child his or her first computer, is to hand it over and hope for the best. Mom then wonders where her address book went, and her boss wonders why she sent him 20 email messages full of gibberish.
Fix: Setting up multiple user accounts on Windows isn’t difficult, and it’s an incredibly prudent precaution if more than one person is going to use the machine. Never mind the privacy issues—accidents happen, even among grown-ups sharing a PC. Having two people working on different files called “resume.doc” can only end in heartache.
For children, security and safety are bigger concerns. Setting up kids with Standard User accounts (instead of Administrator) is the wise thing to do to keep unwanted software from being installed, and it’s the key to letting you configure parental controls on the computer, as well. So next time Junior wants to use your PC “real quick, just to look something up,” tell him sure, and give him his own account.
11. Failing to update
Software published today is updated on a near-constant schedule. If you have a few dozen apps on your smartphone or tablet, you’ve probably become accustomed to downloading updates on a daily basis—unless you’re one of those people who never update anything.
Software updates are released for a variety of reasons. The application’s developers add features, fix bugs, and plug security holes. Installing updates upon release—particularly operating system updates and security software updates—is essential to keeping your device stable and secure.
Fix: Every application has to be updated, so it’s forgivable if you don’t want to deal with the constant nagging to install, reboot, and repeat every day. Automatic updates take some of the hassle out of this operation, but most software updates today still have to be manually installed. There’s no easy solution to this. If immediately installing updates when they appear in the system tray or on your handset doesn’t fit with your computing habits, make it a weekly event to update everything all at once—perhaps after you take out the trash.
12. Printing anything
Save paper and don’t print anything. Your documents are (or can be) archived online.
You’ve seen the request at the bottom of so many email messages: “Please consider the environment before printing this email.” Is that really necessary in 2013? Who is not considering the environment? And more important, who is still printing out their email?
In an age of $75 terabyte hard drives and endless cloud storage, why does anything that starts out in digital format, such as email, ever need to go back to paper? Even utility and bank statements are archived online (often for years), much safer as backups than the ones sitting in file cabinets in your house.
What legitimately needs to be printed? The only thing I can come up with is mailing labels for products that have to be physically shipped somewhere, and maybe the packing slips or receipts that are included with those packages. Also arguably acceptable is the occasional printed photograph that you’d like to frame and put on the wall.
Fix: Unplug your printer and stick it in a closet for a week. See if you can’t go paperless, cold turkey.
13. Faxing, ever
As bad a habit as printing is, faxing is infinitely worse. Here, you have the opportunity to break the paper cycle, but instead you’re continuing it, indeed worsening it by duplicating the paper and possibly racking up long-distance telephone charges in the process.
No disrespect to the fax machine. It was a critical piece of apparatus in American business for years, but now it is an outdated relic on a par with the dial-up modem. Yes, technology has improved—you can even send color faxes now—but quality really has not. Most faxed documents are still difficult to read, still come out askew, and are often incomplete, cut off by a paper jam or a problem with the phone line. Many people resort to faxes when they need to send a signed document to another party, but in many cases a fax with a signature may not even be legally acceptable.
Fix: Fortunately, for most people, faxing is a fairly easy habit to break. Just staring at the pile of junk faxes that most businesses continue to receive is impetus enough. While your fax machine may be attached to an otherwise useful all-in-one printer, you can simply unplug it from the phone line, and save a few bucks a month if you’re paying for a second line for it. Plenty of free or cheap services can let you send a digital fax, should you really need to do so.
14. Throwing computer equipment in the trash
If you’ve been a computer user for any length of time, you’ve probably accumulated dozens of old peripherals, outdated or broken laptops, ancient cell phones, and gobs of cables. What do you do with that mountain of telephone wire that came with every modem you ever bought? What about all those old red-white-and-yellow A/V cables bundled with the VCRs of yesteryear?
Much of this material unfortunately ends up in landfills. Some, like telephone wire, isn’t exactly hazardous, but anything with a battery or a circuit board in it probably is. (Modern electronics typically aren’t as toxic as older stuff, but that isn’t what you’re throwing away, is it?)
Fix: The good news is that you can fairly easily recycle most of this junk, even broken cables and defunct printers. E-waste events are common in many neighborhoods, and both Goodwill and Best Buy will take just about anything off your hands for reuse, resale, or recycling.
Don’t forget to scrub personal data from any hard drive or flash drive you recycle.
15. Not reading the FAQs
When trouble arises online—as it always does—the knee-jerk reaction is to open a support ticket or call the help desk immediately. Then you’ll spend half an hour on hold waiting for someone who probably can’t do much to help you.
Fix: Make it a habit to remember the FAQs. Companies love to create Frequently Asked Questions pages because they really do answer a lot of common concerns. While some FAQs are more thorough than others, they’re always worth a quick spin to see if you can’t find a quick answer to what you believe is a unique problem. Use the search feature on your browser to scan a large document for your trouble keywords.
16. Oversharing on social media
It’s good news that you finally resolved your bunion problems. We got a kick out of that picture of the syrup puddle on your breakfast waffles. And the story about the squeaky dog toy you bought was also a gem.
Yes, complaining about banal stories, photos, and comments on Facebook and other social media sites has become a First World Problem of the greatest order, but considering how intertwined social media and the business world have become, the person likely to suffer the most is the one who does the blathering.
Fix: If you’re at all concerned about your appearance in the world, try to keep comments unique and unexpected. Dutifully copying the latest “Follow these instructions or else!” post on Facebook is no better than mailing chain letters to all your friends. Restrict social media chatter to a few posts a day. You can post the rest of your conspiracy theories ad nauseam to your blog.
17. Texting at the table
Texting at the table when someone is talking to you should be a no-no.
Really? It’s that important? We all love our smartphones, but using them in the company of others, particularly at mealtime, is just plain rude. (It’s also gross. See item #3.)
What about the phone-in-the-lap trick? Not kosher. Even Emily Post says so. And that goes for any kind of social situation, whether it’s school, work, or a simple conversation with someone else.
Fix: If you must deal with another conversation, voice- or text-based, take it to another room or outside. And be sure to make the “no phones at the table” rule apply to everyone in your household, including yourself
18. Using your phone or tablet without a case
How will it end? Eventually your phone or tablet will die. The battery may explode. The CPU may melt down. Cosmic rays may fry the RAM. But realistically, you will probably just drop it.
No matter how sure-handed you are, and no matter how carefully you treat your devices, one day they are going to slip out of a pocket, or simply fall to the ground when someone’s elbow bumps against you.
Fix: The only solution is to enshroud your gadgets in cases—thick, sturdy ones. The flippy Smart Cover for your iPad is useless when a preteen fumbles it to the tile. Go for a thick rubber or silicone case that covers every corner of the device, such as the Otterbox Defender. A thinner, plastic case may do the job, but replace it when it becomes damaged.
19. Failing to pick up the phone
A blanket policy of ignoring your incoming calls may not make sense.
The phone rings. You look at the number and don’t recognize it. You let it go to voicemail, and that little red light blinks all day until you finally get around to playing the message.
Technology has given us a half-dozen ways to communicate with one another—virtually all at the expense of the fastest and most expedient, the telephone. It’s easy to understand why we don’t answer the phone anymore: We likely don’t want to talk to a solicitor, a pitchman, or a robotic telemarketer.
Fix: We’re not talking about breaking the rule against texting at the table (item #17), but a blanket policy against answering the phone may not make sense. Consider how much faster it would be to answer a simple question via voice than to read and respond to a long email message. Imagine that your $500-an-hour attorney is the one who is calling. Do you really want to force him to spend 10 minutes writing an email to you when he could have told you something on the phone in 30 seconds?
20. Failing to silence your phone
These days, just about every public performance begins with an entreaty to the audience to mute or turn off their cell phones. Thirty minutes later, the unmistakable jingle “Marimba” makes its presence, and its clueless owner, known.
Cell phones that erupt at the most inappropriate times are a cultural epidemic, and ironically it’s likely because we have heard so many commands to shut our phones off that we simply don’t hear them at all anymore.
Fix: While you likely can’t fix the behavior of the person sitting next to you, at least you can ensure you aren’t part of the problem. Simply make your default setting “ringer off.” Turn the ringer on only when you know you’re going to need to hear it ring—that is, any time it’s not in a pocket and out of arm’s reach.
21. Never rebooting
For all their advances in reliability, our gadgets remain incredibly susceptible to minor bugs of all kinds. Memory leaks are still rampant in Windows applications, flooding your RAM to make it unusable. Numerous applications still require reboots after they’re installed or updated, and the app will be stuck in limbo until that reboot occurs.
Every operating system—whether desktop or mobile—benefits from an occasional reboot. Think of it as a good night’s sleep for a device: A reboot lets it start fresh, free of digital baggage. A reboot may improve your device’s battery life.
Fix: Build rebooting into the natural downtime of your day, typically when you go to bed. Reboot your device to give it a refresh. Better yet, turn it off completely and save energy.
In our next edition: Fix These Bad Email Habits
Special Feature: iPad Basics - iCloud Features
When you sync with iCloud, you gain access to several different features for a wide variety of tasks, including Photo Stream, Backup and Restore, Documents in the Cloud, and much more. You can take advantage of these features on your iPad, and also your other devices.
Most of iCloud's features are designed to work with a specific app. For example, Photo Stream works with the Photos app on your device (or iPhoto on your computer). Documents in the Cloud works with the iWork suite, including Pages, Keynote, and Numbers.
Photo Stream is a great feature that gives you access to your most recent photos on every device you own—even your Mac or PC. That means you can take a photo on your iPhone, then view it instantly on your iPad or home computer.
Photo Stream will sync your photos automatically anytime you're connected to Wi-Fi, so there's no need to transfer files back and forth. It will also store your photos in the cloud. It's not intended to be permanent storage; it only stores the photos for 30 days. However, you can save the photos you want to keep onto any of your devices.
To use this feature, you'll need to enable it in your device's iCloud settings. You'll also need to set up the app on your computer if you have a Mac or PC.
Music, TV Shows, Apps, and iBooks
One of the best features of iCloud is iTunes in the Cloud. When you purchase music on your iPad, it'll be pushed to all of your other devices automatically (and vice versa). It'll also be stored in the cloud, so you can download it again if you need to.
You can even download your purchased TV shows and movies to any device.
iCloud also stores your purchased mobile apps and e-books, and pushes them to your other devices. To read your e-books, you'll have to download the free iBooks app from the App Store.
To use this feature, you'll need to enable it in your device's iCloud settings. You'll also need to set up automatic downloads, so your media syncs automatically.
iCloud can also store and sync your Calendar, Contacts, Mail, and more. That means all of your important information will be with you when you need it, no matter what device you're using. You can even view and edit your information at iCloud.com if you don't have your device with you (as in the example below).
To use this feature, you'll need to enable it in your device's iCloud settings.
Find My Device
If your iPad, iPhone, or Mac is ever lost or stolen, Find My Device can help you find it. All you have to do is sign into your account at iCloud.com. There, you'll be able to pull up a map that shows you where your device is. Or, if you've simply misplaced it in your home or office, you can tell the device to play a sound that will help you find it.
To use this feature, you'll need to enable it in your device's iCloud settings. You'll also need to make sure you have Wi-Fi turned on (that's what Apple will use to locate your device).
Backup and Restore
In addition to your files and apps, iCloud backs up all of the settings on your iPad and other iOS devices, and stores them in the cloud. This also includes your text messages, ringtones, the layout of your home screen, and more.
It's important to note that this doesn't happen automatically. To use this feature, you'll need to enable it in your device's iCloud settings.
Documents in the Cloud
If you edit a document with Pages, Keynote, or Numbers, Documents in the Cloud will immediately update it on all of your other devices. You can also access your documents from any computer that has an internet connection by going to iCloud.com, and signing into your account.
To use this feature, you'll need to enable it in your device's iCloud settings. You'll also need to buy at least one of these apps for one of your devices.
If you have Apple TV, you can stream your purchased music and TV shows, view your Photo Stream, and more, right on your TV. You can also buy TV shows from your Apple TV (or any device), and they will be pushed to all of your other devices.
In our next edition:
Syncing with iCloud - Hardware and Software Requirements
Websites of Interest:
Memorial Day was originally known as Decoration Day. Learn more about the history of the holiday and Americas wars at the History Channel website.
Visit this website to take a look at the history of Memorial Day and the changes over the years.
National World War II Memorial
The World War II Memorial is the first national memorial dedicated to all who served during the Second World War.
A collection of Memorial Day recipes.