Websites I Can’t Live Without

Websites I can't live without.Please forgive the hyperbole in the title “Websites I Can’t Live Without.” The truth is, yes, I can live without them. However, I use them so frequently that not having them at my disposal would create a void.What are the websites you can't live without? Click To Tweet

Google: I use Google for all my Internet searches and online research. I launch it from my toolbar in Firefox, which takes me to Google for the search results. I can quickly zero in on the exact information I need and only seldom get distracted.

TheFreeDictionary: For online dictionaries, this is my favorite. If I’m writing anything, there’s a good chance that I have this site open. It allows me to quickly verify the correct usage of a word, as well as point to synonyms. (Random trivia question that was recently posed to me: “What is a synonym for euphemism?”)

IMDB: For all my movie, television, and actor information, I immediately go to imdb (“Internet Movie DataBase”). I tend to spend too much time there: I suppose that it is my guilty pleasure—no, wait that might be…

BibleGateway: This is a great site to read or study the Bible. Search by verse, key words, or topic. Plus it has lots of related tools and resources. It also has more Bible translations than I knew existed.

The Weather Channel: Yes, I’m fixated on the weather and is my go-to source. Though lately, I’m more inclined to use their app.

Amazon: As a writer, it seems I’m often looking up books and checking authors. Though I’m not there every day, it’s close.

Social Media: I’m often on Twitter, FaceBook, LinkedIn, and GoodReads.

I use these sites most every day that I’m online—which happens to be almost every day.  I suppose that I could live without them—but why try?

Wordsmith Peter DeHaan is a magazine publisher by day and a writer by night. Check back each week for updated content, and look for his upcoming book, Woodpecker Wars.



What If There Was No Mail?

On Monday this week (in the United States) we had no mail delivery because of Veterans’ Day.

To miss mail for one day is not a problem, but what if this occurred on a regular basis? What if Saturday delivery was omitted or we only received mail three days a week? (These ideas are considerations to help the USPS — United States Postal Service — save money.)

I could deal with that, too.

But what if all deliveries stopped? Looking at what I receive via US mail, what would be the contingency plan?

  • Magazines: I like my magazines but would not start reading them online (at least not how it works today). I guess I’d go without — and that would give me more time for other activities. (Of course this would be a problem for those in the magazine business.)
  • Bills: More and more companies send invoices and statements via email. This allows me to move one step closer to paperless bill paying.
  • Checks: My business receives some checks via mail. But payment could be made by credit card or electronic funds transfer instead.
  • Formal communication: Invitations and thank you notes, as well as cards are typically mailed. If need be, they could go online as well.
  • Shipments: Although the USPS is sometimes the least expensive option, it’s far from the only one.
  • Ads and junk mail: I could do without this category of mail, but I supposed they’d go online too and start spamming me.

The USPS isn’t likely to stop all mail delivery anytime soon, but if they did, we could get by.

Which Internet Browser is Best?

I’ve been a long-time advocate of the Internet Browser Firefox. Lately I’ve been rethinking that.

I first switched from Internet Explorer (IE) to Firefox because IE was slow and clunky. As a bonus, Firefox had many neat features that IE lacked. I kept IE around, but only used it when I was forced to. IE v9 is supposed to be a lean and quick browser, but one of the cloud-based providers I use says their service won’t work with IE 9.

Now Firefox is slowing down and becoming clunky. More significantly, I am increasing running into websites that won’t work on Firefox, so I need to use Chrome and sometimes even IE for them to function. But most annoying is Firefox’s frequent updates and the side effects each one causes with add-ons that no longer work.

So, although not excited to give Google one more view into my online existence, I recently switched to Chrome. Chrome has a clean interface and is fast. It has a couple of features Firefox lacks, but also lacks what Firefox has. I used Chrome for a month and when compared to Firefox, what I gave up overshadowed what I gained.

I’m now back to Firefox, but not too happy about it. Firefox is like a comfortable old chair that you want to replace, but can’t find anything better.

Some may ask, what about Safari? I’ve tried that too, but never warmed up to it. Plus Xmarks won’t synchronize my favorites with Safari, where it will with IE, Firefox, and Chrome. Some of my friends assert that Safari is tops, but they all run Macs and I do not.

I have all four browsers on each of my three computers (each running a different version of Windows). This gives me lots of browser options to test my websites — and lots of headaches.

I Get a Kick Out of Kickstarter

The website Kickstarter is a funding platform to help creative people finance their projects.

I’ve been wondering if Kickstarter might be a viable vehicle to help me self-publish a couple of books I’m pursuing. I’ve also experienced Kickstarter from the other side: providing financial support on two projects.

The first was for a friend, a most talented musician, who wants to take his recording career to the next level. He raised most of the funds himself and then turned to Kickstarter for the final ten grand. He got off to a great start and then donations reached a plateau, with things looking iffy as the 30-day funding window began to close. But a last minute surge put him over the top. He will soon leave for Nashville to record his next album.

More recently I jumped on board a project to help an author who is using Kickstarter as a litmus test to show there is interest for his upcoming book. His goal was more ambitious: 40k. He has a large following of readers and a great social media platform. He didn’t need 30 days to reach his goal; he didn’t even need one; it took about 3 hours. (Presently he is at five times his goal and still has 26 days remaining.)

Regardless if a project is funded quickly or takes a while is not the point. The point is Kickstarter is a viable way for people to support artistic projects they believe in and the creative people behind them who dare to dream big.

When these projects are complete, I will receive a CD and a book (plus some other rewards), along with the knowledge that I helped two creative people advance their careers. And that gives me a real kick.

Tantilizingly Close

In the ongoing saga of running fiber optic cable to my home (for high-speed Internet, digital telephone, and video services) things moved one step closer to completion this week.

I watched with excitement as a third construction crew showed up in our neighborhood and then began running the fiber optic cable though my yard, from the distribution canister to my house.

Then I realized they were just taunting me. Although the cable is now run to my house, it is merely leaning against the outside wall of my abode — they did not install an interface box.

Apparently, another crew will need to do that. I don’t know when that will be or if that will mean they are ready to connect me — but I am certainly ready to be connected.

As the saying goes, “Good things take time.”

The Reality of a Rural Fiber Ring

I was ecstatic last summer when it was announced that a fiber ring would be installed in our rural area.  I was also quite surprised, given that I thought fiber rings were only feasible in more populated areas that possess a sufficient population density to warrant the costly installation.

However, glad that higher Internet speeds — along with digital phones and video — was soon to be a reality, I gave it no further thought.

This spring I attended an informational meeting about the project.

It turns out that my fiber ring is a result of stimulus money.  With an installation cost in the millions, averaging an astounding $10,300 per house, there is no way this project would ever be economically feasible without a grant to cover the installation.

The stimulus money had to go somewhere and I am glad to a direct beneficiary of it.  What dismays me is that this is a three-year project.  This means that much of the project’s money is yet to be spent, therefore delaying its impact on the economy.  If this slow disbursement of the stimulus money is common, that might explain why the recovery is so slow.

Regardless, with my connection to the fiber ring scheduled for September, I do thank everyone who paid taxes, thereby providing me with access to high speed Internet.

By the Numbers

Being a numbers guy, I want to share some stats about this blog:

3 years, 1 month: the amount time I’ve been blogging
457: the number of posts
123,300: the number of words written (enough for a decent sized book)
1,272: average number of posts viewed per week (the most was 2,954)
14,718: the number of views of my top read post

Some things I’ve observed:

  • Posts receive most of their traffic within a week of being posted, but some are still being read a year or two later.
  • Most traffic is not a result of followers, subscribers, or newsfeeds, but of search engines.
  • Of traffic in a given week, most is not for recent posts but older posts.
  • Despite all of the traffic, the Google ad to the right generates only a few pennies of income a month. (Google ads are worthwhile on my Websites, but they’ve been a bust on my blogs.)
  • Soon after this blog was setup, I turned off the “track back” feature. Aside from never fully grasping it’s purpose, I was receiving thousands of spam track backs for every legitimate one.
  • Recently, I also turned off the comment section. The ratio of spam comments to real comments has escalated, now being at over 100 to one.

How Much is a Million?

How much is a million? Really, how much?

Apparently, not much. Just ask Google. In August of this year, Google ceased development of their much-hyped Google Wave (a real-time collaboration tool). They gave it a year and reportedly had one million users, but citing a lack of interest, they pulled the plug. Apparently, one million users is not enough.

Although I was encouraged by many people to check out Google Wave, I never did. And given this news, I’m glad I didn’t invest the time. Incidentally, this also gives me pause about depending too much on Google Voice. I must wonder it they might similarly give up on it and leave their users hanging?

Today, I received notice that Xmarks was pulling the plug on their service as well. Xmarks synchronizes web browser favorites and logins between multiple computers and the top browsers. They claim two million users. Their problem was that it was a free service and they were unsuccessful in figuring out how to pay the bills. Their initial goal was to monetize the data they collected, aggregating user bookmarks to make the basis for a pure, spam-free search engine. But when they couldn’t make that work and couldn’t sell the company, they decided to shut the doors. So as of January 10, 2011, Xmarks will bite the dust.

Although synchronization tools exist for each of the major browsers, none of them will sync with their competition. I, for one will greatly miss Xmarks; I am willing pay an annual fee for this service, but that will not be an option.

Apparently, two million users is not enough.

How Secure Are Those Security Questions?

In general, I am appreciative of the lengths that financial institutions go to in keeping my account — and the information behind it — safe from hackers.  These steps include multi-page sign-in procedures, displaying a personal phrase, and requiring that a random security code be entered.  Yes, it is a hassle, but it is a hassle I will endure in order to reasonably protect my information.  What perplexes me, however, are the security questions — they are either too simple or too hard.

Some security questions are in the category of too easy, such as what high school I went to.  This and other basic facts can be reasonably uncovered online.  Similarly would be my favorite food.  Anyone who reasonably knows me, would be aware that the answer is pizza.  Plus, I am sure that this fact has been mentioned in public, appeared in an article, and written in a blog on more than one occasion.  My mother’s maiden name is another such question that is not all that secret.  If I have the choice I skip those security questions, as I question their security.

The other category is the impossibly hard questions.  First, are the ones with multiple answers.  For example, what street did you grow up on?  What was your favorite pet’s name? Or what color was your first car?  For each of these, I have two equally valid answers.  I moved while growing up; among scores of pets, two dogs tie as my favorite; and as far as my first car — I had it painted.  Should I note the starting color or the ending color?

Other hard questions are those that change over time.  Examples include my favorite color, my best teacher, my preferred type of ice cream, my all time favorite movie, or my favorite TV show.  Then to compound the whole issue, I need to spell the answer correctly (challenging for my dogs’ names) and remember if I capitalized any of the letters (“School” or “school”) or used abbreviations (such as “W” or “West;” “Ave” or “Avenue”).

However, I think I have a reasonable solution for all this.  I will simply make up an answer, random and completely secret, that I will use for every security question.  For example, I might pick “Davenport45” as my answer.  Then:

Q: What’s your favorite food?  A: Davenport45
Q: What color was your first car?  A: Davenport45
Q: On what street did you grow up?   A: Davenport45
Q: Is your security question really secure?   A: Davenport45

Is Your Website Working?

There’s a local coffee shop that I frequent, which given that I don’t drink coffee seems a bit strange.  Even so, it is a great place for meetings and I generally find myself there at least once a week.

A few weeks ago, I noticed a free newspaper there.  Actually, calling it a newspaper is generous; “news sheet” might be more accurate.  It was a single 11 x 17 piece of paper, printed on both sides and folded twice.  On each side was a center column of random news trivia, with a column of local ads on each side.  Presumably, they had not sold all the space, as many ads were repeated on both sides, along with a couple of “your ad here” fillers.

Ever curious, I checked their Website and was treated to a “Website coming soon message.”  Assuming the site was down, I called them only to learn that they were still working on it.  The owner was not embarrassed by this fact, but was rather nonchalant.  Even today, three weeks later, the site is still “coming soon.”

You would think that if your site was still under development you would not prominently advertise it.  That does not send a positive message to potential advertisers.  It would be like publishing a phone number knowing it was not working.  What right-minded business owner would do such a thing?

Upon further investigation, I found that the content of the “news sheet” is syndicated and distributed to local, exclusive franchises who sell ads and distribute it.

How do I know this?  Because the franchiser’s website was working.