Searching Anonymously

Lately, I have been reading a lot of posts about how to keep sites and services from tracking your internet activity.  Though many of us have nothing to hide about how we use the internet, it may still be disturbing to know you are being tracked and to have personal information about you sold to the highest bidder.

Here at the library, we use Google Analytics to get information about how people use our site.  Our only reason for doing this is to help improve the user experience in our online locations.  Knowing which of our pages get the most hits helps us tune in to the content you want and need.  We do not sell this information.  Nor do we use it for targeted advertising or nefarious purposes.  Unfortunately, I cannot say the same for the many of the other sites out there tracking their users’ visits.

If you would like to turn off tracking in your browser, you can set this in the preferences/settings area of most browsers. Those browsers that do not currently support turning off tracking have pledged to implement support by the end of the year, according to this c-net article.  Personally, I use a browser add-on called DNT+.  This browser add-on/extension advertises that it goes “far beyond what built-in private browsing modes offer” with a link to this list of concerns not covered by your browser’s private mode.  DNT+ also allows me to pick and choose which sites I allow to track my movements.  For example, I allow libraries, schools and government information sites to track me because I know it will help them to improve their services, and they won’t sell my information.  I do not allow commercial sites to track me because I do not have confidence that they will use the information in an entirely constructive way.  This is all a matter of personal preference, of course.

Even with tracking blockers in place, search engines may still gather information about how you are searching.  If this gives you the creeps and you are looking for a non-tracking alternative browser, check out these suggestions by How-to-Geek.

Do you have privacy concerns you’d like me to cover here?  If so, please note them in the comments and I’ll work up a post.

That reminds me – it’s time to double-check my Facebook privacy settings, too…

Storing and Sharing Files in the Cloud

Have you ever wanted to share a video with a few friends without making it publicly available?  How about sharing a set of photos that are too large to email?  What about accessing a file on your laptop from a smartphone?  These and many other needs can be met by storing and sharing your files in “The Cloud.”

The simple definition of the cloud is a place in cyberspace, not on your local machine, where files are stored.  For example, if you have Gmail, Yahoo Mail, or Hotmail, your emails are stored in the cloud.  Technically, they are stored on the servers at Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft.  But, from the user’s point of view, they are living out in cyberspace, not stored on the computer/tablet/smartphone where they are being viewed.  The advantage of storing files in the cloud is that your files are accessible from any device in any location with an internet connection and the right username and password.

I had been working on a post that would highlight services that allow users to store and share files in the cloud.  As it turns out, Richard Byrne recently did a great job listing and describing the most popular tools in this post on the Free Technology for Teachers blog.  However, it should be noted that two services mentioned in that article, File Stork and Go Pileus, are no longer available at the time of this post.  One excellent free resource left out of that article is Skydrive, Microsoft’s cloud solution that is integrated into Office 2010.  However, you don’t need Office 2010 to enjoy the benefits of Skydrive.  You only need a Windows Live ID.  Also, Google Docs (mentioned in the article) has expanded into Google Drive, which is similar to Skydrive and is accessed with a Google ID.

My favorite cloud storage and sharing sites are Google Drive, Dropbox and Skydrive.  What are you using?  If you use a service other than those mentioned in the blog post I mentioned, please post it in a comment.  Thanks!

Highlighter Tool

HighlighterHave you ever been reading an article online and wished you could highlight a passage?  Even better – share the highlighted portion with friends?  Awesome Highlighter lets you do just that in several different colors!  After you highlight text/pictures on a web page, you can add a note or just click done. (There is a 2000 character limit.)  Next, you are given options on how to distribute this information, including creating a short link automatically, emailing, copying to clipboard, or sharing via social media sites.  The parts you’ve highlighted are the only ones that show up on the share.  How cool is that??

The Name Engine

I don’t know about you, but I have a really hard time remembering names.  If I have to read a complicated-looking name without having heard it?  Forget it!  Thankfully, I found a site called The Name Engine [link].  They have pre-recorded the correct pronounciations of the names of locations, brands, athletes, entertainers, politicians, newsmakers, and more!  If you saw the word “Kyrgyzstan“, how would you pronounce it?  Click the word to see if you were right.

Happy Computing!

What Is My Computer Doing?

Have you ever used a computer that was running suspiciously slow?  This is a notoriously difficult problem to diagnose.  If you’ve been keeping up with your regular maintenance, then it’s probably not just a matter of a cluttered browser or hard drive.  Chances are, there is a program running behind the scenes that is consuming your resources.  It could be an anti-virus scan, or it could be something more sinister.  How can you tell for sure?

1.  Windows Task Manager:  If you are on a Windows PC, hit control-alt-delete (three keys at the same time).  On the resulting screen, select Task Manager.  The Process tab is the most telling.  If you click CPU (top of the column), it should put the process using the most memory at the top.  If not, click it again.  DO NOT stop a process without knowing what it does.  This can cause major damage if the process is necessary for normal computer operation.  Instead, look up the process name on a reliable site like ProcessLibrary.com.  The site will give you an idea which program is associated with the process, what it does, and whether it can be shut down safely.

2.  If the Task Manager doesn’t tell you what you need to know, try What’s My Computer Doing.  It’s free software that gets more in-depth than Task Manager.  The paid version will dig even deeper.

Happy hunting!