Monthly Archives: July 2011

10 Concerns About Pay-As-You-Go Internet Service

Pay-as-you-go Internet service isn’t a new idea; versions have been available for years. One of the attractions of the method is that there are no contracts necessary, another is that the consumer doesn’t pay for unused service. Pre-paid service, like telephone calling cards, may also work well for people who travel a lot. There are a number of concerns about pay-as-you-go, however, and some of those are presented here.

  1. Cost – In general terms the average home-user will find that pay-as-you-go plans are much more expensive than other plans, though people who don’t use the computer much may actually benefit from pre-paid plans.
  2. Hostage Situation – There are legitimate concerns about ISP’s virtually forcing a more expensive service down the throats of unwilling customers by cutting back on unlimited service offerings.
  3. Price Hikes – Some of the plans now offered by ISP’s have pricing structured so that any over-usage results in dramatic price increases, and customers may not be aware of extra charges until it is too late.
  4. Tracking Usage – Keeping up with cell phone use is difficult enough, but trying to track how many gigabytes a customer is using is nearly impossible for the average user.
  5. Netflix – Publicly, Netflix says it has no problem with caps on use plans, but they do say the rates in Canada, where Netflix hopes to be a major player, are often prohibitively high.
  6. Politics – Consumer advocates point out that ISP’s stand to profit handsomely at the expense of consumers, while ISP’s defend their right to turn a profit, and claim that consumers are actually being given more options than ever before.
  7. Conflicts of Interest – As with Comcast ownership of NBC Universal, service providers and content providers may exist under a single umbrella, which could lead to serious inequities in what the customer is paying for.
  8. Constraining Trade – Broadband providers may use capped services as a way to cripple competitors; Netflix, for example, will have to go up against ISP’s that provide similar services.
  9. Heavy Users – The people who benefit the most from unlimited plans are those who download a lot of music, movies and videos, or people who use the net for hours every day, and these same people are the ones who will most feel the crunch of capped plans.
  10. Shooting oneself in the Foot – The very people who stand to gain the most from charging by the gigabyte could suffer, too. It may not be long before pirating bandwidth becomes as much of a problem as pirating copyrighted materials.

There is little public support for ISP’s moving to per gigabyte pricing, but that may not matter much to those who stand to profit from such plans, and there may not be much the public can do about it.

The 10 Essential Emoticons Everyone Should Know

I probably don’t need to tell you what a headache it can be to have something you’ve written be misread or taken out of context – the back-pedaling, the awkward explanations, and then explaining the explanations. Yes, communicating online is a tricky thing.

Since the creation of emoticons, thankfully, we’ve had some visual cues at our disposal to help convey feeling or intent more clearly. Emoticons, or icons that indicate emotion by the use of keyboard characters, have become an integral part of our online lexicon. As a textual shorthand for everything from instant messaging to text messaging, there are 10 essential emoticons you need to know:

  1. :-) The Smiley Face – This one is the grand-daddy of them all, the first-born of our “iconic” lingo. It tells the reader that whatever is said in association with it is intended to be read in a friendly/jovial/non-threatening tone.
  2. ;-) The Wink – Another versatile character, this emoticon expresses anything from playfulness, flirtation, to a sort of “just between you and me” confidentiality. It’s also frequently used, as is the smiley face, to say “just kidding”. Careful with these two. Use them too often, and it becomes obvious to the recipient that you’re really not just kidding.
  3. :-( The Frown – Expresses sadness, disapproval, sympathy, or “I just figured out that you really aren’t just kidding”. I told you to be careful.
  4. :-D  The Laughing Face – Self-explanatory, but context is important here. You’d like to know, after all, whether you’re sharing in the laugh – or being laughed at.
  5. :^* The Kiss – When you’ve moved beyond the simple smile or flirtatious wink, it’s time to pucker up with this little number. This can be used to maximum effect when combined with:
  6. ( ) The Hug – A parenthetic embrace, the hug conveys affection or empathy. Additional parentheses can be used for emphasis, but use this one sparingly, lest it lose its charm. Also, as in the case of all emoticons, the hug is not recommended for business correspondence. You could be labeled a suck-up … or worse.
  7. <3 The Heart – Another emoticon for saying ‘I love you’. When used in conjunction with the kiss and the hug, now you’re really getting sappy. Easy does it. You can’t take these things back, you know.
  8. :-O The Surprised Face – This one expresses shock or dismay, as in:“I can’t believe you just e-mailed hugs to the GM, you suck-up”. Combine this with the laughing face when someone shares a bawdy joke or story.
  9. :-/ Confused Face – Bewilderment, apprehension. “How am I going to explain those hugs to all my co-workers, and what the heck was I thinking using Reply All, anyway?”
  10. { } No Comment – Empty brackets indicate that you’ve got nothing to say in response. You probably should have learned the difference before replying to that office email from the GM.

10 Features We Wish Twitter Would Add in 2011

We are at the half year mark, but Twitter has time to catch up with a few things.  There is always room for improvement, and Twitter is known for turning potential customers away by its lack of initial user friendly instructions.  It seems to be set up for the computer savvy, and Social Media people in the celebrity and business world who are hungry for a following, more than just checking on friends from the past.

  1. More John Q Public friendly. We are not bothered by that, everyone needs an outlet; and if it is working for the business world more power to them.  However for those who have turned themselves away from using twitter for countless reasons let us offer some suggestions to Twitter.  Speaking out works you know.  So if they still want users, let’s see what happens after these hits the Internet.
  2. Often 140 characters Twitter limits its member base in making posts, is just not enough when what needs to be said may take more like 280 to 480.  This would encourage more Facebook people to come on over and join the club.
  3. Using photos, Twitter only allows one link per post.
  4. There are no sending direct messages to more than one tweeter at a time.  This could stand some improvement.
  5. Unable to post Videos, other than linking to a U-Tube video.  This is a drawback to many would-be tweeters.
  6. It would be wonderful for Twitter to consider introducing autocomplete when typing a message.  It would help speed things up to have a word completed before you get to the end of the word.
  7. Whereas Facebook is allowing for advertisements, Twitter has kept its network free.  While this is a good thing for some, there are others who would love to make money on Twitter.  The closest we have is promoted tweets (still not open to everyone).
  8. One aggravation of Twitter is its block function.  A user should have the ability to block any tweeter from showing up on their page; however it appears that any blocked tweeter can still read your tweets.  This needs to be corrected pronto.
  9. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PN2HAroA12w is a twitter cartoon you may enjoy.
  10. This is unlike us to allow someone to finish my list for me.  However we have come up with some good suggestions, but we have the feeling you may want to add your own.  So for #10 leave us a comment and we will see what you would add that did not come to us.

10 Reasons Terrorists Stay Off the Internet

The gun-waving terrorist, on horse-back, or in a jeep, or, maybe, on top of a tank, is an image we are all familiar with. Terrorist groups scramble all over each other to take “credit” for attacks, real or imagined, so we think all terrorists crave the spotlight, the way a Gaddafi (more than 100 different spellings of “Gaddafi” have appeared in various news releases) revels in publicity, or did. However, even for terrorists, there are downsides to having an Internet presence, and here are some of them.

  1. Anonymity – While many terrorists adore the limelight, and like to put out videos a la Osama Bin Laden, others prefer to work in secrecy.
  2. Security – Online chatter can give away terrorist plots, and locations of terrorist cells and suppliers, so some groups stay away from Internet communication.
  3. Assessment – The more information a terrorist group has out on the Internet, the better able is the opposition to determine the viability of the terrorist organization.
  4. Internet No Substitute for Reality – Experts say that effective terrorist attacks, such as the 2008 assault on Mumbai, would not have worked if attackers had not had real-world training, and had, instead, relied on instruction via the Internet.
  5. Confusion – Along with the proliferation of terrorist websites has come a bevy of “false” terrorist websites; sites whose purpose is to lure unwary “wannabe” terrorists into traps.
  6. Disinformation – False and/or misleading information has been disseminated through terrorist groups that maintain an online presence.
  7. Two-Way-Street – Terrorists love to hack into sensitive computer networks, but when they do, they leave themselves open to cyber-attacks as well.
  8. The Personal Touch – Charisma is difficult to translate into a virtual world; for a terrorist to whip a crowd into a frenzy, or to strong-talk a recruit, it usually takes a hands-on approach. Once enrolled, the recruits will respond to virtual leadership, but they must first be won-over in-person.
  9. Follow The Money – Terrorists raise money on a world-wide level, and when they do so using computers, counter-terrorists can often track the source of the funding, which can stop the flow of money, and give away other key information.
  10. Demographics – Counter-terrorists are able to mine data recovered from terrorist use of the web in order to help predict where and who recruitment efforts will be focused on. In the same way retailers use demographics to target consumers, terrorist groups use similar data to determine who is most likely to “buy-in” to the terrorist ideology.

The vast majority of terrorist activities have, at least, some connection to the cyber-world, but the ones who must be feared most are the ones flying below the Internet radar.

10 Ways the NSA is Working with ISP’s to Stop Cyberattacks

Spy v spy is nothing new; Nathan Hale and Benedict Arnold were both spies during the American Revolution, and today’s cyber-world carries on the tradition. Disinformation, misinformation and sabotage are alive and well. Cyber-spies and agents provocateurs are hard at work trying to upset enemy apple-carts, and efforts to suppress these activities are largely unsuccessful.

America is constantly under attack, and the National Security Agency (NSA), America’s top intelligence network, has been working with Internet Service Provider’s (ISP’s) in attempts to foil cyber-attacks. Here are some of the ways the agency and ISP’s work together. Some ISP cooperation has been voluntary, but in many instances ISP’s have had little choice in the matter.

  1. Existing Cooperation Between NSA and ISP’s – AT&T and Verizon have been handing the NSA voice and data traffic for years; once illegal, laws have been changed to allow the practice. The Foreign Intelligence Security Act (FISA) of 1978 paved the way for greater government utilization of civilian companies and, eventually, ISP’s.
  2. CALEA – In 1994, Congress enacted a program called the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcements Act (CALEA), a program that required all providers of Internet service, including phone companies, ISP’s, colleges and even coffee shops to install equipment that would allow the government to monitor almost all Internet activity.
  3. The Patriot Act – In the fallout from the 9/11 attacks, warrantless surveillance was introduced, and even though opposing voices were raised there was enough fear of additional attacks that the program was enacted without effective judicial review, and the Bush administration titled it the Terrorist Surveillance Program.
  4. Recent Developments – In May of 2011, it was reported that defense contractor Lockheed-Martin had come under cyber-attack, and, in a novel move, the defense industry, ISP’s and the NSA joined together to launch a program that would enable the NSA to utilize data sets to identify malicious programs that had been slipped into data streams received by Lockheed-Martin and others. ISP’s would then be able to disable the threats before they reached company servers.
  5. Unknown Threats – Right now, the NSA technology and the ISP’s ability to filter Internet traffic is only effective against known threats, and work is under way to develop methods of detecting threats that are more ambiguously presented.
  6. LulzSec and Anonymous – LulzSec and Anonymous are a pair of hacking groups that have declared a virtual war on manifold targets like media companies and mega-corporations; these are among the types of threats the NSA and ISP’s hope to neutralize.
  7. Civil Liberties – Any time a government begins to monitor its citizen’s personal or business communications, there is a very real threat to the civil liberties of that citizenry.
  8. Technology – The NSA, which employs more than 40,000 people, is at the forefront of many aspects of Internet security technology, which makes partnership with ISP’s possible.
  9. Data Bases – ISP’s control incredible data flows, and their ability to monitor vast amounts of information makes them indispensable in any credible attempt to disable cyber-attacks.
  10. What We Don’t Know – In a cyber-world infused with secrets, we may never truly know the depth of interactivity between ISP’s and government agencies like the NSA.

More threats are inevitable, and continued cooperation between the NSA and ISP’s is truly needed.

10 Reasons Netflix Should Cover Customers that Hit Bandwidths Caps

Netflix, without fanfare, has taken steps to address the problems of users who hit bandwidth caps while streaming videos, and that is to lower the quality of those videos. Customers are offered a choice of video quality; the lower the quality, the less bandwidth is used. Recognizing that different users had different data caps available to them led Netflix to adopt a more flexible program. However, Netflix didn’t really want to emphasize that they were offering a lower quality product; hence the under-the-radar approach. It does make sense for the varying programs, and here are some of the reasons for that approach, and other related issues that Netflix faces with bandwidth limitations.

  1. Data Caps – ISP costs, for the consumer, can skyrocket when caps are reached, and HD videos can really take up a lot of that room.
  2. Canadian Customers – North of the U.S. Border our Canadian neighbors are used to low bandwidth caps from their cable ISP’s; if Netflix hopes to survive in the Great White North different programs need to be made available.
  3. Battle with ISP’s – With a triangle of interests that involves end-users, ISP’s and Netflix, the folks at Netflix don’t want to be seen as the bad guy when prices escalate. The ISP’s make an easy target to paint as the greedy side of the triangle, especially since many of them are lowering available data caps and charging astronomical sums for over-usage.
  4. Congestion – Depending on where a consumer lives, upload and download speeds can vary significantly, and this is an area of major concern for Netflix.
  5. Different Companies, Different Capabilities – Netflix realizes that different companies offer different qualities of streaming, and Netflix needs to take necessary action to ensure that the weaknesses of those companies are addressed in its own offerings.
  6. Home Use Issues – Netflix has to “compete” for bandwidth use within the sphere of the home user. If other programs or computers in a household use up a lot of available bandwidth, it is in the interests of Netflix to provide various performance levels.
  7. Too Big? – Particularly in the evening “prime-time” hours, Netflix takes up what many consider to be an inordinate amount of available bandwidth, as much as 30%, and this causes great concerns.
  8. Legal Problems – If the Netflix percentage of bandwidth continues to rise, it may force the government to step in and impose limits, which Netflix most definitely does not want; an in-house approach to the problem would be preferable.
  9. Net Neutrality – One of the problems Netflix faces in helping to maintain Net Neutrality is its own success; it has grown to the point that many feel it will upset a delicate and precarious balance among all users of the Internet.
  10. Good Neighbor – In a world of almost-instant trends, Netflix will have to do more than try to picture others as villains in “bandwidth” wars; this means Netflix will need to be in the vanguard of new technology, even to the point of overcoming weaknesses in ISP’s and home-use computers.

Bandwidth, as it is now configured, is finite, and may be nearing limits. Companies like Netflix that strive for continued expansion will have to do better than lesser-quality offerings if they hope to avoid falling-by-the-wayside as technology continues its inexorable advance.

10 Internet Classes That Should Be Taught in Grade School

A good education should prepare its students for those tasks and issues that they are most likely to face in their adult lives. We know that computer literacy has become an essential part of that preparation in the 21st century. We can probably also agree that these digital natives – a generation born in cyberspace – face some unique challenges. So I say it’s time to revamp their curricula. Let’s introduce some coursework that better suits their needs and fills a few gaps, shall we?  I give you, dear reader, 10 internet classes that should be taught in grade school:

  1. Microsoft Word Training – If for no other reason than to develop clerical skills, this staple of office tools is a must-have for our future workforce. Something as ubiquitous as Microsoft Word – indeed the entire Office suite – should be required learning for our kids.
  2. Dave Ramsey Financial Peace University – You don’t have to look far nowadays to see the economic fallout that results from financial ignorance. It isn’t too early for grade school kids to receive a scaled-down primer on fiscal responsibility, and  to learn how to handle (invest and save) money.
  3. Social Media Etiquette – Like it or not, Facebook, Twitter, online forums and chat rooms, and other social networking sites have become fixtures of 21st century social interaction, and we need to teach our kids how to use them. This particular course is geared toward college students, but a version aimed at adolescents who are already active on social media sites just makes sense.
  4. Poetry Classes – Poets are the conscience of society and the blacksmiths of language. What better way to enhance the minds and hearts of our future than exposure to an art form that can expand our children’s vocabularies and promote artistic and articulate self-expression?
  5. Cultural Diversity Training – There are numerous courses and webinars available to corporate clients who wish to educate their workforces in cultural diversity. I say it’s time to start this training earlier, and instill tolerance and respect in our youth before they graduate to adulthood.
  6. Fitness/Nutrition – With childhood obesity at epidemic proportions, it may be time to include some education on fitness and nutrition while Junior’s already sitting on his keister at the computer.
  7. Sex Education – This is a lightning rod issue for most parents, and there is anything but a consensus as to the proper timing and approach. Some even question whether the responsibility lies with schools rather than at home. The reality is that sex is already in our kids’ faces far sooner than it should be, via popular cultural and media. How they respond to the messages they’re getting has far-reaching consequences which can neither be left to chance nor for a later date to address.
  8. Internet Safety – As our children learn to interact, research and surf online, there is no more important prerequisite than an education in internet safety. This needs to be required learning for both grade-schoolers and parents.
  9. Environmental Awareness – A curriculum that makes it fun as well as informative to “think green” is long overdue for all of us. Let’s start with the generation who will inherit this planet.
  10. Conflict Resolution – The importance of learning how to settle disputes peacefully, as with this lesson plan, cannot be overstated. This should be part of every grade school’s curriculum.

The grade school years are when children begin to develop socially, and establish their sense of self. It seems disingenuous to delay the kind of education we’ve discussed here until afterward. Parents and teachers need to re-examine what children need – and when they need it – in order to best equip them for adulthood.