Internet Facts (Take Them with a Grain of Salt)

Internet Facts (Take Them with a Grain of Salt)

The best thing about the Internet is that anyone can write anything on any topic and be heard around the world at the click of a button. Of course, that’s arguably also the worst thing about the Internet. 🙂

The “Wild West” nature of the web can make it challenging to find unbiased information on a variety of subjects. Your friends on Twitter say one thing, Facebook friends maybe another. And that guy on that forum? He thinks they’re both wacky. Add a few Google searches on top of it and who knows what to think?! That’s the Internet, for better or for worse. But at least we’ve got options, right?

If you’re having problems navigating through your research online, try a few of these ideas. They just might help you uncover a treasure trove of information.

  • Use multiple sources:

    Don’t put all of your eggs in one basket by only reading one website for information. Find 2, 3, maybe even 20 sources… whatever it takes to get as many angles as possible. From there you can make up your own mind based on everything you read.

  • Do offline research:

    Newspapers, trade magazines, encyclopedias; sometimes in our digital world we forget that reference books and periodicals exist. (Or dare we say, the library!) They may seem like a a dying breed, but you can still find them all around your town, and they’ve got lots of information you can use. And most of the time they’ve been edited, unlike the Internet. (Haha)

  • Ask an expert:

    Local colleges, professional organizations, and government offices usually have an information desk of some kind. If you’re looking for information on something in a particular field, see if you can find a human expert who will help you out, or at least point you in the right direction. It’s better than going it alone.

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Getting Started with Internet Safety.

Getting Started with Internet Safety.

As parents, the topic of Internet safety isn’t always one that’s always easy to navigate, but it’s certainly one of the most important things to integrate into our lives. For many of us, computers and the Internet aren’t things that were ever-present while growing up; at least not like they are today. These days it seems like every kid in Kindergarten knows how to access the web, and most teens have some kind of Facebook or MySpace account.

Because it’s tough to know where to start, we’ve got a few suggestions to help make the process of making the Internet a safe place to visit (at least in your home) an easier task. While this is by no means an exhaustive list, it’s a good starting point to use or modify to fit the needs of your family.

  • Keep Internet-enabled computers out in the open:

    Allowing a computer to be used in private isn’t necessarily a bad thing, but it’s not necessarily a good thing, either. Whether or not your kids are viewing inappropriate websites or their chat/email conversations are getting out of hand, keeping computers in an open space allows you to periodically check up on your children to make sure they’re handling the responsibility of Internet usage properly.

    We suggest that you keep any computers that can access the Internet to be in plain view of everyone. Bringing a laptop to the kitchen table, setting up a desk in the living room, or anything else that will keep the screen of the computer easily visible are all good starts.

  • Set times limits for casual Internet usage:

    It’s a good idea to set time limits for children to be able to check their email, IM with friends, or update their Facebook pages. Time limits ensure that your kids get to have a bit of fun, but not get so wrapped up in the Internet that things like homework or family time get pushed aside.

    Whether you set up limits on daily usage (e.g. no more than 2 hours per day), or whether you set up a specific block of time (e.g. between 7:00PM and 9:00PM), a schedule helps everyone understand when the appropriate time to surf the web is, and to schedule other events around it. It also ensures that you know when you’ll be able to check your Facebook page, too. 🙂

  • Verify browser settings and check their history:

    Setting up an appropriate browsing environment is especially important for younger children, but even teens and young adults can benefit from some added safety settings. Make sure that the security settings on your browser aren’t set too low, making it easier for malicious software (“malware”) to get onto your computer. Also make sure that the browser history is left intact so that you can periodically review where your kids have been browsing.

  • Know who your kids are chatting with online:

    Just like you want to know who your kids are friends with in real life, the same should go for their online friends. Who they are and what they talk about are important pieces of information for a parent to know.

    More than likely their friends are other family members or kids from school, but the Internet is a big place, and not everyone is who they say they are. Things to check for should include sending photos of themselves to strangers, arranging to meet anyone they don’t know in real life, and inappropriate chat/email conversations.

  • Talk to your kids about Internet safety:

    Above all, make sure that you sit down and talk with your kids about Internet safety, your expectations, and what is appropriate and inappropriate for your kids and your family to view or search for online. Curiosity or accidentally clicking on a bad link are one thing, but actively searching for illicit materials or engaging in dangerous or inappropriate behaviors are another. Set firm boundaries so that there are no questions regarding what’s OK and what’s not OK.

If you have any additional tips or suggestions, or even how you’ve set up a safe Internet environment in your home, we’d love to hear from you. Just leave us a comment below and share your story.

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10 Online Safety Tips for Kids and Families.

10 Online Safety Tips for Kids and Families.

You don’t need us to tell you how important online safety for your family is, especially if you have kids still living at home. Local and national news sources help illustrate this point almost every day with stories about online scams, Internet perverts, and worse. But today we’re going to help you prevent any more of those stories by giving out some basic online safety tips for you and your family.

With the proper guidance, you can help make sure that you’ve done everything you can to help your kids surf safely on the Internet. Take a look at the list we’ve compiled below and see if there’s anything here you haven’t tried yet.

  1. Always sit with younger children when they’re online. Keep a few bookmarks that they can easily access to get to kid-friendly web sites.

  2. Help your kids create fun online nicknames that don’t give away personal information.

  3. Keep any computers that are connected to the Internet in an open area where your children can be easily supervised.

  4. Ensure that your kids aren’t sharing personally-identifiable and/or sensitive information with people they meet online. Examples of info to keep private include:

    • his/her real name,

    • the physical address of their home,

    • whether or not their parents, guardians, or other responsible adult are home,

    • any phone number (home or cell), or

    • passwords.

  5. Let them know that it’s not OK to use the Internet to gossip, cyberbully, or threaten anyone online, even if they mean it as a joke.

  6. Let your children know that it’s OK to tell you if something (or someone) on the Internet makes them feel uncomfortable or threatened.

  7. Make sure they know it’s never OK to meet an online friend without parental permission.

  8. Set clear rules for appropriate Internet use. Things you should consider are the types of web sites that are off limits, specific Internet hours, and what (if any) information can be shared online.

  9. Talk to your children about what web sites they visit and who they’re chatting with.

  10. Talk with your kids about computers and be open to their questions.

The online safety tips we’ve listed above are a good starting point for any family with children who are old enough to use computers, but they are by no means an exhaustive list. Monitor how much your kids use the Internet, see what’s working and what isn’t, and stay involved.

If you think we’ve missed anything, or if you have a story about how your family talks about online safety, please leave a comment below. We’d love to hear from you.

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Bionic Passwords: Better, Stronger, and Faster.

Bionic Passwords: Better, Stronger, and Faster.

OK, we can’t get your passwords to become faster, but certainly we can give you tips on how to make them better and stronger (read: harder to break). Our last post on passwords gave a lot of information on how good passwords can be easily created, and we’ve come up with more ideas for you to secure your passwords.

A strong password is the first line of defense against anyone who would want to break into your account, so the tougher you make it on them, the less likely it will be that they get what they want. Use these tips to create a bionic password that will make it tougher to crack.

  • Get creative with words:

    You can get a lot of traction out of one word if you can figure out different ways to use it in your password. For example the word “crystal” is pretty clear (pun intended), but you can muddy it up a bit by doing things like removing all vowels, changing how it’s spelled, or reversing certain letters. Examples include “crstl”, “krYs+al”, and “ltsrc” (the first one, only backwards). Mix that up with another word to increase the length of the password and you’ll be good to go.

  • The same word, only different:

    Maybe you like birds, and your favorite bird is the Pine Grosbeak bullfinch. Well, as we all know (sarcasm) the genus for those birds is “Pinicola”. Maybe you also happen to love Coca-Cola. You take out the “cola”, insert “Coke”, and now you have a 2-word password that’s easy to remember: “PiniCoke”. Substitute some of the characters to something like this: “p1niCok3” and you’re good to go.

  • Don’t use common number patterns:

    Your phone number, street address, even your jersey number from the high school football team… these are all very bad things to use in a password as they are. If you plan on using one of them, be sure to mix things up. If you live on 1313 Mockingbird Lane (Quick… what TV show is that address from? The first person to comment on the blog with the right answer gets a free year of StopSign.), you could use the street number like this: “+h1rT3en13”.

  • Mix it up:

    Using only alpha-characters or only numbers isn’t a very good idea for a password at all. Your password is a digital cocktail. Mix. It. Up. If a decent password is made up of 8 or more characters, you should try to use at least 2 numbers and one non-alphanumeric character (a hash symbol “#”, an exclamation mark “!”, etc.).

  • Use multiple passwords:

    Ideally you should have a unique password for every account that you have. Your home email, work email, computer login, bank account, Twitter… any account you have that requires a user name and password should have its own unique password.

These suggestions are not the end-all, be-all and we don’t necessarily advocate using every single password tip listed. But they can be food for thought when devising a new password. You’ve seen my repeated suggestion to mix things up, and that’s a big thing. Keep things fresh, get creative, and you’ll be far and away ahead of the pack when it comes to creating a strong (and difficult to crack) password.

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7 Tips for Better Email Etiquette.

7 Tips for Better Email Etiquette.

In today’s world, email is as much a part of our lives as any other tool, and knowing the proper etiquette to use when writing an email can be the difference between looking like a professional or looking like a fool. Today we’ll go over some basic email etiquette that’s generally considered to be the norm.

Every form of communication has some general guidelines, and email is no different. Whether you’re drafting professional correspondence or writing an email to your family across the country about your kid’s latest school play, following these simple rules when emailing will keep those who read your email engaged and interested.

  1. What’s the subject?

    In your excitement to get your message out there, don’t forget to add a subject line to your email. Without it the reader is hard-pressed to tell the difference between your email and run-of-the-mill spam. Short, but descriptive text regarding the heart of your email will give those on the To: list more incentive to open it and read it as soon as possible instead of missing it completely or marking it as spam.

  2. Who’s your audience?

    Your email should be properly addressed to the correct person or people. Make sure that the email addresses you use are correct, current, and valid. Without a valid email address your message could get into the wrong hands, and depending on the sensitivity of the email, could make you look foolish at best, or compromise your data at worst.

  3. Don’t SHOUT it out!

    The use of CAPITAL, or upper-case, letters should be kept to a minimum, just like any online messaging medium. (Including online forums, blog posts, IMs, text messaging, etc.) Proper Internet and email etiquette dictates that you may use all caps, but only in moderation, and generally only for emphasis. You don’t want to start out like Oprah did her first day on Twitter. Turn off your caps lock key before you start typing.

  4. Keep geek-speak to a minimum.

    Using too many slang words, Internet acronyms, or overly “techy” terms (“URL” vs. “website”, “ping” vs. “[Internet] response time”, etc.) can damper the effectiveness of your communications, especially of the recipient of your email doesn’t know or understand their meaning. Keeping everything in layman’s terms casts a broader net of comprehension and will get your point across much better.

  5. Brevity is the soul of wit.

    Nobody wants a digital version of “War and Peace” in their inbox, so keep emails short and to the point. Not only will you get your message out there faster (because it won’t take as long to write), but keeping the content distilled to the it’s basic essence will help ensure complete understanding of what you’re trying to get across.

  6. Keep things light.

    Have you ever noticed how anything written online “sounds” different than it might be if said aloud? That’s because without a human voice behind the words, none of the inflections or tonality used in normal speech are present to let the reader know things like humor, sarcasm, or irony. As such, you should always strive to have a light, non-confrontational “voice” in your digital communications. Without it your content may seem more heavy-handed than you intended.

  7. Who are you?

    You may have your email address in the From: of your email, but not leaving a closing “signature” is not only a little rude, it’s a wasted opportunity to thank the reader for reading, and maybe even to add a link to your website or alternate communication method such as a different email, phone number, or office location. We recommend that you close an email just the same way you would a hand-written letter. Additional details or contact information optional.

Keeping these email etiquette tips in mind when writing will not only make your emails look more professional, but they’ll also be sure to keep those who receive them from losing interest in your messages.

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