All posts by Dallas

25 Sources of Free Public Domain Books

Do you have an eReading device and are looking for a way to expand your personal library of digital books?  Spotted over at the website Ebook Friendly is an article listing 25 Sources of Free Public Domain Books.  Some of the Library’s favorites are listed (e.g. Project Gutenberg, Digital Public Library of America) as well as some more obscure (the sparse website: Projekti Lönnrot which provides public domain Finnish and Swedish books).

Public domain books are titles that have entered free use by the public due to their age.  They may be freely and legally copied.  Many are classics and due to the amount of storage space an eBook utilizes, can be easily kept on a device’s Library to beef up your personal reading selection.

Be sure to check the comments at the end of the article to see other readers’ suggested sites beyond the 25 in the article.

Laptop Security and Recovery

We’re all aware how much the cost of portable computing devices hits our wallet.  Cellphones, tablets, and laptops can be very expensive.  This also applies to the data they hold.  You can have all your personal identity saved away that would be easy to use for identity theft.  What options would you have if your device was lost or stolen?  There are frequent news reports of people tracking down a stolen phone or laptop and being able to call the police with proof.  These services usually cost an annual fee that can be quite prohibitive.  Now a security company has a FREE solution that let’s you track, monitor, and remotely control you devices through a website.

The website is “preyproject.com“.  After downloading the software and installing it on your device, you’ll also register with their site.  The site allows you to set options or activate items on the remote device.  You can do neat things like taking pictures through your device’s camera, getting a picture of what’s on the screen, showing the GPS location of the device, etc.  If someone is using your device, you can gather information and evidence.  Prey Project also offers a Pro version with more options, but the Free version is enough to pinpoint where your laptop is, take pictures of through the camera, see what the person is doing with the computer.  Once you have the location and evidence, you can contact the police and let them attempt recovery.

Developing a Password Strategy

One large caveat of the Internet is that many websites require an account in order to utilize their functionality.  It seems as if a month cannot go by without hearing a website report that their users’ accounts have been compromised.  Couple this information together and you’ll start to feel paranoid.

I hate to break it to you, but you should be tad paranoid. You should also have a password strategy to protect yourself and your information.

One of the first things you should do is classify the websites where you have accounts. These classifications can be broken down to Critical, Important and Non-Critical. In the critical category, you would find things like your bank accounts; Facebook, LinkedIn and other social networking sites; and your e-mail.

If a website is tied to your finances or would allow someone to impersonate you, it is Critical. Important category items would lean toward web services that you use like Netflix, Hulu, iTunes, etc.  These are types of sites that have a higher level of importance that you also use frequently. At the Non-Critical level you’ll find websites that you go to infrequently.  Once you have an idea of what websites fit into which category, you’ll need to come up with some Strong passwords.

Strong passwords are not able to be easily broken or guessed.  They’re not words that you would find in a dictionary or encyclopedia.  A strong password is made up of 8 or more characters consisting of uppercase, lowercase, symbols, and numbers.  The larger the number of characters, the better the security.

Try a website like Password Strength Checker to get an idea of what makes a password Strong.  Once you have an understanding of what makes a password strong, you can come up with a strategy for coming up with the combinations.  The easiest is the use of a pass-phrase.

The end result looks complex but will be easy to remember after typing it several times.

By using the first letter of each word in a sentence, the characters are randomized sufficiently but still can be retained in your memory.  Add a number sequence and a symbol or two and the password will be strong.  Having this sentence written down would be confusing as well since the password has nothing to do with the city where you were born.

After that, try following these tips:

Critical Websites –  These sites should receive their own unique password.  The passwords chosen should be at the strongest level that you can still remember in a pinch.  About every year, change the passwords so that each site has a new unique and strong password.

Important Websites – These sites can receive a password that you may share with other important sites.  The passwords chosen should still be strong, but because you may use these sites frequently, you might want to have a password that you can recall quickly.  Once you have it memorized, start rotating in other passwords until you have about five rotating passwords at the same time.  Just be sure to change up the passwords as well as dropping old passwords for newer ones.

Non-critical Websites – These sites can receive a password that is usually shared with lots of other non-critical sites.  The passwords chosen does not need to be necessarily strong, but should be easy to remember and at least have a letter/number combination.

By having a strong password and a strategy behind their use, you will help protect your information and online identity from being an easy target.

Hurricane and Tropical Storm Tracking

If you are traveling or cruising through the Caribbean or Gulf Coast during hurricane season, you might want to check out the National Hurricane Center’s website to see if there might be a storm on the horizon.

National Hurricane Center is part of the National Weather Service and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  They track Tropical Storms and Hurricanes as well as monitor potential storms.  You can check storm or hurricane’s projected paths, see potential upcoming storm probabilities, and check various radar and atmospheric imaging and other tools.

Using these tools, you can see how far a storm can travel in a day and what areas will be affected.  There’s even the capability to see what storm systems could be forming on the other side of the Atlantic ocean.  Those systems might be weeks away from the Caribbean.  If you’re going on a cruise, this will give you a heads up to check with your cruiseline’s website for more detailed information.  It will allow you to be better prepared if your ship has to take a detour or skip a scheduled port.  For a land-based vacation, you might want to have a contingency plan in mind.

What Font Is That?

Ever been in a situation where you need to identify what font was used for a document or design?  You can use the Identifont (http://www.identifont.com) website to find the answer.

Using a step by step visual quiz about different letters, numbers, and symbols, Identifont can eventually figure out what font was used by comparing answers to their database.  You can also search by keyword, name, similarity, and even designer if you know more about the typeface.  Once finished with your search, you’ll be presented with a sample sheet of the font, information on the design and company as well as to obtain or use the font.

I Want My (Streaming) Music Video Apps …To Actually Work

Every once in awhile, I miss my old school MTV.  Remember that?  The one that had actual music videos that were sandwiched between some commercials and anecdotes from VJs like Martha Quinn and J.J. Jackson?  I miss that.  Well flip forward about 30 years and now, surprise, there’s an app or three trying to get me back into the music video feel.  But which one?

First up, when thinking streaming video on the Internet, the mind should think YouTube.  One can always find lots music videos on YouTube.  You can also find cringe-worthy covers, lip dubs, unofficial low quality copies, uninspired slideshows, parodies, and maybe, just maybe, the actual video released by the artist.  Navigating and finding the right video can take awhile.  Worse still, the YouTube App on my device requires high quality streaming (sounds nice) through my slow bandwidth internet connection at home (well, it sounded nice).  Unfortunately, my home connection allows me to mostly get to see the first five seconds before my iPad or iPhone gives up.  I avoid the YouTube App as much as possible for this reason.

Side Note:  If you MUST watch a video on YouTube on a mobile device, use their mobile website ( http://m.yahoo.com ) instead of launching an App.  Their website actually lets you turn down the video quality which prevents the stuttering and stops that a low bandwidth connection causes.  Once you find a video you want to watch, just tap the “HD” icon.


You’d think that MTV would be able to create an App that would give you that MTV experience.  They didn’t think.  Just as MTV cannot be defined easily as Music Television anymore, they chose to not just define one App.  Instead, they’ve created a swarm of MTV branded apps that have narrow focuses on TV shows like Jersey Shore, News, or Beavis and Butthead.  Nothing is clear cut to provide a video watching experience.  Most are just meant to augment their programming.  If MTV is a must, get the MTV News and “MTV Watch With.  Skip the rest unless you’re a fan of a specific show.


While other apps I’ve looked into are very niche to a particular artist or album, a reoccurring company kept popping up…VEVO.  VEVO is a partnership of media companies Sony, Universal, and Abu Dhabi.  They also also license content from other media companies.  While you get a lot of artists to select from, be warned that a few may not be in available.  VEVO also makes their own App.  Using a minimal and elegant interface you can quickly hone in on a particular video or artist of interest.  Music videos will begin buffering in the background as trivia snippets or a quick advertisement appears.  Even on my slow connection speed, I was able to get very high quality streams on my iPad with no skips and stops like Youtube’s built-in app; Quick response, great quality, perfect playback.  You can also find tour dates, interviews, and making of videos.

And that’s that…download Vevo.  Use YouTube’s mobile site for anything not on VEVO.  And rely on MTV’s Apps only if you must.

Allrecipes.com – Find those old family recipes and even some new ones

So you’re at this dinner party and your hostess has served this great dish.  You’ve simply got to have it since it will be perfect to make for another function you’re attending next month.  You ask for the recipe but, instead of taking it as a compliment and saying they’ll write it down for you later, you receive a coy “it’s my aunt’s secret recipe, I can’t give it out” in response.  Aside from excusing yourself to go to the restroom and doing a stealth visit to their kitchen to rummage through their recipe cards, what can you do?  Well, their closely guarded secret might be have already been divulged on allrecipes.com.

The allrecipes.com website is a mixture of a comprehensive database of recipes with a dash of user ratings and reviews.  Recipes can be searched for by name, category, or even by some key ingredients.  This last option can let you find out what dishes you could make with what you have available at the moment.  I have personally found it difficult to not find a recipe that fits exactly what I’m searching for; this includes certain people’s secretive aunts.

Once you find a recipe you like, you can adjust the quantity in case you need to prepare more or less than the standard recipe serves.  Printing recipes is straight forward and can be formatted for different sized recipe cards or booklets.  Make sure you read the comments to recipes since they offer great tips or offer some reasons.  Some people have suggested tweaks to recipes.

Using allrecipes.com doesn’t require a logon,

but you can set up a user account.  With an account, you can save a list of favorite recipes and also participate in reviewing.  You can also build, organize, and share your recipes.  If you try a recipe onsite, even if it isn’t yours, you can show off your pictures of the finished dish.  Who knows, you might even find a recipe that you’ll have to tell a certain friend is a “family secret.”

FTC Mandated Free Credit Report

By law, the Federal Trade Commission requires the three credit reporting agencies to provide free access to your credit report on an annual basis.  Unfortunately, these companies have used the promise of a free credit report as lure to charge consumers for additional financial products.  You’ve seen the commercials on television and the advertisements on countless webpages.  What should have been a free report ends up costing money if you go through the websites they advertise.  Don’t fall for it!

Via the FTC’s Website, you can find a link to the proper site:

annualcreditreport.com

After going to that site and starting the process, you will be asked for to fill out a form. After submitting that form, you will receive instructions on how the steps will proceed through the three credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax).  Each site will ask a few questions pertaining to your banking history, financial history, and/or place(s) of residence to verify identity.  Once verified, the site will the present you with your credit report and you will be given the opportunity to print it.  You also have the opportunity to learn about correcting mistakes, disputing entries, etc. with that company.  When finished with a site, you click a button to let annualcreditreport.com know you are ready to proceed to the next agency.  After you’ve gone through all three…you’re done.  Please be aware that the sites can still try to sell credit score reports and other services to you BUT purchasing these products is not required to get your report.

Learn Just About Anything at Khan’s Academy

In the beginning, Salman Khan, was simply trying to help his cousin learn mathematics over the Internet.  Soon others began seeking his help and he started posting Youtube videos.  The popularity of his videos grew and seeing the large amount of people in need, he decided to create the Khan Academy website as a way to consolidate the lessons.

Starting from the topic of mathematics, Khan Academy has branched into the sciences and humanities.  The site is recognized as a valuable educational resource and has received several grants and other donations from notable sources.  You can go through some in-depth training in higher level mathematics, bank practices, or settle into some art history.  Available worldwide, all for free.

Another Tool For Your Garden – Smart Gardener

February is the time to start planning our Spring gardens. As a novice gardener, I’ve been browsing my seed catalogs and envisioning those fresh vegetables but still remain clueless how much I need to plant, where to plant it, and what I need to schedule for plantings and cultivating. Luckily I can fall back on Smart Gardener for help.

Smart Gardener is a web-based tool for planning your garden.  It will ask a couple of questions such as people being fed from garden, geographical location for temperature zone/frost calculations, etc.  You then layout your square footage, pinpoint north for sun exposure, pick your plants, and it will calculate how many plants you will need and create the best arrangement for compatibility/other concerns.  Once your layout is done, you’ll have access to a calendar showing when to prep soil, start seedlings, transplant/direct sowing, and when to expect your veggies to appear.  This way you can maximize your growing season through both Spring and Summer as well as maximize the number of vegetables you’ll have on your dinner table.