Free ISPs, Please

July 30, 2009

I’ve been a long-time member of Internet service provider (ISP) Netzero (and their sister company Juno). Basically, since my days out of college to today, I’ve had them in my bag of tricks. In the early days, I had upgraded to the “premium plan” and used dial-up as my primary way to access the Internet. Those were sad slow days, but they were also cheaper days than with the cable company plan that I have now.

However, after I upgraded to a real connection, I did keep Netzero around. Why? Because they have a free service available for dial-up. It serves as a wonderful back-up if I’m at a hotel or visiting family that doesn’t have Internet access and I need to get my fix.

I was reminded of this when I saw a blog post from makeuseof.com for all-free-isp.com. The way this site work is basically as a search engine for dial-up spots in any give city or area code. You type in the data and it will spit out a list of free ISPs in that area, what systems they are compatible with, and even reviews of the services. It’s a pretty useful site.

The other option is to try and find free wi-fi in your area. The best site for that is http://www.wififreespot.com/. I’ve used this site a few time to help people who needed to get to wi-fi quickly. Unfortunately, it basically only provides a list of location. While this is useful, I’d love to see this implemented on to something like Google Maps.

On this site, you simply click on the state that you want and out pops a list. You are probably best off using the find function on your browser to type in the city that you are looking for, and then you’ll find a list. While it isn’t the most technically advanced site, I’ve found the information to be pretty accurate and helpful. The site claimed on its blog that it has increased its database by 5,000 hotspots in just the first half of 2009, so it has a pretty impressive collection.

Anybody have their own tricks for getting on the net? Let me know in the comments.

Note: This post is coming out early this week, since I’ll be out of town this weekend. This will probably happen a couple more times this summer, so I hope you won’t be too upset with the break up of continuity.


Yale and Berkeley at a Techeap Price

July 25, 2009

I loved getting my college education, however, I did not love (and still don’t love) paying the bills for it. So what’s a good way to get some of the benefits of a college education without cashing out for thousands of dollars?

On-line lecture series. (Isn’t it interesting that the plural of series is series? No? OK, then.)

There are a variety of sources to get on-line lectures, with the most obvious being at Youtube. My favorite, however, is AcademicEarth.org. The site is very well-designed and easy to navigate. You can search for a particular topic you are interested in, or browse through a series of different subject areas, schools, or professors.

The most impressive part of the site is the quality of the instruction. Professors from Yale, Berkeley, MIT and more have entire courses available for you to listen to or watch.

This is where another great design move pays off. They have RSS feeds of the lectures in both video and audio format. You can just pop them into your everyday RSS reader and just pull off the next lecture as you finish the previous one. The organization is stellar and I found a breeze to get through the technical part of using the site to the actual content.

I listened to the class on economic game theory from Yale’s Benjamin Polak, and was very impressed. How much you get out of the class. of course, depends on what you put in. I did not, however, buy the books or do any out of lecture reading assignments. I basically just listened to the lectures and thought about them during the day.

I found an amazing amount of applicability to this particular class in my every day life, though. For example, there was a leak in the ceiling of my apartment.  I would call the superintendent every couple of days to see that it would get fixed. For weeks this went on and nothing happened. It was only when I started calling and visiting his family every day, or to use the economic terms, when I added costs to the delay of fixing my ceiling and improved his payoffs, that he actually came to fix it.

While this is a pretty simple example, if you decided to listen to this particular course,  I think you’ll find a lot of application in your life like I did. It is pretty friendly to people who are uncomfortable with math. There isn’t a lot of it in the course, and in the lectures, you can safely ignore or skip over the sections that deal with the theory behind the examples.

So for a college experience that may not be so different from what many graduates actually did in college, check out AcademicEarth.org.

If you have any great sites for learning or education, just throw them in the comments.


Birthday Greetings

July 19, 2009

I suspect this will be a shorter post than usually as I am just coming off a birthday celebration yesterday. I did think that this would be a good time to discuss free on-line tools related to birthdays.

There are a lot of sites that claim to offer free on-line birthday cards, but I find the one that works best for me is 123Greetings.com. The only thing you really need to have is an e-mail address, and you can always use the temporary one that I’ve suggested previously here on Techeap.

There is advertising on the site, but all of the cards are available. There are a number of sites that only offer a few cards for free and charge for the rest. It’s disappointing to have your heart set on the perfect card and then realizing it is going to cost you some money to actually send it.

My other suggestion for you is a reminder service, so that you can actually send those e-cards in time. I’ve tried Alerts.com, which didn’t exactly me floor me with the service. Amazon also offers reminders with items attached that you may want to get for the person’s birthday.

Another possible service that may work for you is Facebook. When you sign-up, one of the pieces of information usually included is a person’s birth day. Facebook will remind you when a person’s birthday is coming up, but that requires that both of you be members and friends with each other.

Another option, of course, is using a calendar service like Google Calendar and inserting your friend’s and family’s birthdays in there.

Do you have any other ideas or tools for birthdays? Let me know in the comments.


Gmail Gone Gold

July 12, 2009

Well, it’s now official. Gmail is out of beta. Now, for you and me this probably means very little. I’ve been using the service for years and been very satisfied with it. This transition is more for large business, which Google hopes they will be able to hone in on now.

With this news hook, I thought I would talk about some of the advantage and a few tips and tricks that I use on Gmail to make it worthwhile for me. First, if you want a great mini-course on using Gmail, check out their page on becoming a Gmail ninja. I found it both good for a laugh and very informative. I won’t go over everything they have there, but there are a couple of things worth highlighting.

I really like the labels system. Many online e-mail services offer folder, and I really didn’t understand the difference between the two at first. Until one day, I had an e-mail that was related to both my job and bills I had to pay. Normally, I’d have to choose one folder or the other, but with labels, I can stick it in both and call it a day.

Another useful thing about Gmail is that it offers a more secure https: connection, if you are checking it on public wi-fi. While this may not be the end all of security when on a public Internet connection, it does help. You can access that on one-time basis at https://www.gmail.com or you can clicking on settings in the upper-right of Gmail, scrolling to the bottom of that page and clicking the radio button for “Always use https.”

There a lot of helpful settings in that area of the site, and if you are a heavy Gmail user, its worth some time to go through each page and make the settings are setup to make the most effective use of them.

One other tool to mention in the settings is the filters tab. I used to do a lot of eBay shopping, and would get a lot of e-mail from them. Mind you, I wanted this material, but it was clogging the front page of my inbox when I was looking for other material. The solution which worked for me was filters. This is very similar to Rules, if you use Microsoft’s Outlook. You set certain parameters, like who the e-mail is from, or e-mails that contain certain words and tell Gmail what to do with it. For this eBay problem, I simply had Gmail label them and archive them. This took them out of my inbox and put them in a place where I could look at them at my convenience.

This is a very powerful tool, and if your e-mail service is missing this, it might be worth considering a change.

The last thing I want to mention is Gmail Labs. These are add-ons to Gmail that are in testing. Some of them are a little crazy, like having to solve a few math problems before sending an e-mail late at night. (In order to prevent drunken e-mails) Some of them though seem really useful like tasks, which gives you a convenient to-do list in Gmail. These are in testing, so you definitely have to confident about your browsing experience before you go to far into the most experimental ones.

How about you? Do you like Gmail? Do you think its over-hyped? Are you worried about privacy issues?

Let me know in the comments.


Write Rightly

July 4, 2009

I’ve been thinking about my writing on this blog lately and wondering if I’ve been writing on appropriate level. My goal is to write clearly that a person not into technology in general can get something out of any given post if the topic is of interest to them. However, I also want those who follow the field, who I suspect are at least a good portion of readers here, to not be bored.

I wondered if there is any (free, of course) way to objectify some of these goals. At about that time, I found an interesting list of writing tools for bloggers and other writers at a publication I wasn’t familiar with, Smashing Magazine.

One that seemed of particular interest to me was Advanced Text analysis. Back when I used Windows ’95 (Yikes!) and Microsoft Works (Double Yikes!), one of the features that I liked was a readability grade. It gave you an idea of how complicated a text was by analyzing how many long and multi-syllabic words were used in your document.

The folks at UsingEnglish.com are giving you that tool and many others, but most of them require that you be registered.

Here are some of the results of the analysis of my last 10 blog posts.

Readability:

Overall Sampled Calculated Grading
Hard Words: 538 13
Long Words: 1,046 21
Lexical Density: 26.56 % 68.91 %
Gunning Fog Index: 12.38 12.30 Hard
Coleman-Liau Grade: 17.85 9.29 9th Grade
Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level: 9.40 8.31 8th Grade (3 years)
Flesch Reading Ease: 64.06 70.82 Fairly Easy: 6th Grade
ARI (Automated Readability Index): 15.69 8.55 8th Grade
SMOG: 11.03 11.06 11 Years (Some high school)
LIX (Laesbarhedsindex): 40.91 37.48 Standard

In some ways, I’m happy to see that my writing is not too complicated, but it seems that I might consider upping the bar a little bit. As a point of reference this article describes the writing level of various publications.

The thing that really struck me though were the values of different words used.

General:

Overall Sampled
Characters (all): 29,174 641
Characters (words only): 22,988 507
Words: 5,106 119
Different Words: 1,356 82

With over 5,000 words generated, I had only used 1,356 total words. That’s a pretty staggering figure to me. It may mean I need to vary my word choice a little more, or that I should talk about some different topics.

This is really only the beginning of the analysis on the site, and you can find lots of interesting and frankly not so interesting pieces of data about your writing.

Hopefully, you won’t find this analysis too self-indulgent, but if you are fellow or blogger or doing writing somewhere else in your life, it might be worthwhile to put your text through the analyzer and see what you get.

If you find some interesting results, let me know in the comments.