Technology Advice in Plain English

Choosing a Blogging Service


With the demise of JournalSpace two weeks ago and news of cutbacks at LiveJournal last week, blogging has been a hot topic lately. There are literally millions of blogs on the internet, ranging from simple online diaries to cute and crazy animal sites to news and commentary sites. People around the world use blogs to discuss anything and everything with friends, family members and anyone else who happens upon their blog.

Have you ever thought about starting a blog? It may seem like a daunting task, but it can be a really fun project. To begin, you just need an interesting topic to discuss or a niche to fill and a few ideas for blog posts. But once you’ve got a clear idea of your blog’s purpose, and you’re ready to start, where should you create your blog? There are a dizzying array of sites out there vying for your blogging business!

If you’re just starting out, you’ll likely want to find a free or low-cost blogging service that hosts your site for you. That’s what I did for my first blog (my personal site, Life in Amsterdam). These services are great because they don’t require much (if any) knowledge of HTML coding or any special software, they offer a number of great features and add-ons, and they can produce surprisingly professional-looking results. Plus, free and low-cost blogging services are a great way to try out the blogging medium without much financial commitment.

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Learn to Spot Phishing Messages


Most of us have spam filters to help shield us from the junk that spammers send us via email, and I really hope that by now everyone knows that those Nigerians needing help “freeing” their funds are really just looking for naïve people to scam. But how well do you think you can spot “phishing” messages?

“Phishing” is an illegal method of tricking someone into providing very personal and sensitive information (like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and etc.) to people who are not who they say they are. Phishing typically happens through email or instant messages, and these messages may have real business names, real logos and/or legal-sounding language requesting immediate action. The messages often include forms to fill out and return by email or links to fake websites with online forms to fill out.

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Social Networks – Friend or Foe?


I’ve gone back and forth on social networks for years. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, Friendster, Flixster,, Classmates—the list goes on and on. I couldn’t decide if there was really any value in them for me, and what about my privacy? Most of the social networks’ privacy policies are difficult to read, and many appeared to actually give the companies ownership of my information. Why should I agree to that?

In 2005, I decided to give one a try. After all, millions of people must be using these sites for some reason. I joined LinkedIn, mainly because my husband had joined and found it useful for keeping up business contacts and networking. I made a profile, but because of my fears about privacy and my general wariness, I gave LinkedIn the absolute minimum amount of information I could. Not surprisingly, I wasn’t contacted by (or linked to) anyone, and I saw very little value in it. My husband, however, filled out a detailed profile and linked to a number of respected friends and colleagues, and he began receiving messages from recruiters with job possibilities.

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Tips for Taking Better Photos


One of my favorite tech writers, David Pogue, wrote an article for The New York Times this week, offering five tips to take better photographs. The really great thing about the article is that it’s intended for average people using average point-and-shoot digital cameras. I thought tip number 3, instructing photographers to force their flash when shooting outdoors, was a great one that I often forget.

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Internet Explorer Security Issues


I’m always surprised to see how many people around the world still use Internet Explorer as their web browser of choice. I think there are much better browsers available to people, but I guess I can understand why people stick with it. Internet Explorer (or IE, as it’s often referred to) comes pre-installed on the vast majority of computers, and it’s a bit of a hassle to find, download and learn to work with a new browser. But if you are one of those people still using IE, please consider this compelling reason to switch…

Microsoft and IE made the news this week, and not in a good way. Hackers have exposed serious problems with all versions (new and old) of the browser that Microsoft has not yet addressed. The browser has a flaw which can expose your usernames and passwords to others when you visit “infected” websites. From what I’ve read (see below for links), your computer can be attacked as soon as you visit one of these “infected” websites.

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