Thursday, April 29, 2010

Google Chrome

Featured: Google Chrome

For those of you out there who, like me, have the mentality: "if it's not broke, don't fix it." This article is for you. For years I have been an avid Firefox user, but recently made the complete switch to Google's Web Browser, Chrome. I had always figured that since Firefox was working "good enough", that there was no need to change. A few months back I decided to give chrome a try, and I was so impressed that I made the switch from Firefox on 8 different computers in 24 hours! I would recommend making this same switch to everyone out there, due to chrome's speed, minimalistic feel, and security.

Here is a listing of my favorite extensions:

Google One Number - Gmail, Reader, Voice, & Wave Notifications.
LastPass Manager - LastPass password manager, featured here.
Xmarks - Easily sync your bookmarks, featured here

Here is a listing of extensions and useful tools I have worked on:

Profanity Filter - Replaces vulgar and distasteful words with clean substitutes which are enclosed in brackets "[]". To install, simply open in Google Chrome. After allowing it to be installed, it will work as an extension.

Quix - A powerful master bookmarklet, featured here.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Xmarks

Featured: Xmarks

Xmarks is a bookmark syncing tool that helps keep your bookmarks the same and up-to-date on all of your computers and browsers. Before I used Xmarks, I never really found bookmarks to be very useful, because I would bookmark something at home, and then would want to access it while at work or school, or any other number of variations. Today, I use my bookmarks countless times a day, and wonder how I ever got along without them. Xmarks has extensions to integrate with all major browsers directly for painless synchronization; a must have! They also provide a website with an online version of all your bookmarks so you can have complete access even when you are away from your personal computer, or on a browser/device that is currently unsupported.

Reasons to use Xmarks:
  • Keep all your browser's bookmarks in sync with each other.
  • Have access to your entire collection of bookmarks anywhere through the My Xmarks site.
  • Xmarks makes a backup with each change that you can view or revert back to when those little accidents happen.
  • Xmarks also makes it easy to share your collection of bookmarks (or select ones) with friends through email, rss, or a webpage.

TIP - One cool way to use your new and improved bookmarks is to set your browser to show its toolbar, make a copy of your most used bookmarks onto it, and then modify the new copies by removing their names. This leaves you with only the "favicon" (The little picture that usually shows up on the tab or by the address bar, describing the current site.) showing, and allows you to have many, many more bookmarks available to you with just a simple click.

Small Favicon Bookmarks Bar

Sunday, March 28, 2010

LastPass - Password Manager

Featured: LastPass

Whenever I come across a service that offers to store ALL of my passwords for me online, I see several red flags pop up in my mind! For those that may not know, a password manager is a tool that stores you credentials (usernames and passwords) for as many sites as you like, and is locked by a single master password. That way, you only need to worry about remembering a single, (hopefully) very secure password. I know there are many other password managers out there, but LastPass is the first one I have felt comfortable using, and recommending.

If you would like to do your own research on their service, there are some great resources right there on their site about the security they use, or respected sites/organizations that endorse them.

If you have decided to take the plunge and give LastPass a try, they have great browser add-ons or extensions that will work with all major browsers. Once installed in your browser, its just life like usual, mostly. The program will wait for you to log into a website, and once the login process is completed it will ask if you want LastPass to remember that particular password. Very simple! If you are planning to migrate from a different password manager, LastPass has a great way to import the information so you don't have to recreate it.

Now, a word of caution. Even though I have great faith in LastPass security, I would still recommend keeping really important information, such as credentials to financial institutions, solely in your head, because bad things do happen (thanks Murphy!). If you are still not convinced, or would just like to see what LastPass can really do for you, read on.

Here is a list of my favorite features and ways to use lastpass:

Functionality Features:

  • Identities let you keep work, school, and personal credentials separate and organized.
  • Give specific instructions on what to do on certain pages. Actions include: Auto-Fill, Auto-Login, and reprompt for LastPass password.
  • Access to your stored credentials through the LastPass website; great for computers with which you have limited rights to.

Security Features:
  • Remember ONE secure password instead of several "simple" passwords.
  • Includes a tool to generate secure passwords for new or existing logins.
  • Save secure notes with each entry. Perfect for sites or information that you don't use often (for example, after providing a password a site may ask a security question, or for remembering things like a personal PIN when filing a FAFSA that only gets used once per year.)
  • Share credentials with friends and colleagues while keeping the actual passwords secret even to them by simply providing them with a link.
  • Customize security level based on what you would like. It can be so secure that for any action it will re-prompt you for the master password! There is also the other extreme, only asking for it once to login. I prefer a setting somewhere in the middle most of the time.

My LastPass Vault:
By logging into the LastPass website, you can view your stored information anywhere you have internet access. While in your LastPass vault, you can view any of your credentials, notes, or make any changes that you need to. If you are using it on a public computer, they even have a virtual (on screen) keyboard to provide a more secure way to log in (bypass potential key-loggers etc, that may be running on the system). Once logged in, you can simply select your desired page, and LastPass will take you to that page (in a new tab by default) and fill in your credentials AND even log you in automatically! No interaction needed!

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Dropbox

Featured: Dropbox

If you don't have one, get one, or two, or three... Dropbox is a cloud (online) based service that stores data for you so you can access it anywhere you have internet access. I find it to be particularly useful for documents, school assignments, photos, and really anything else you can think of storing! The other really cool feature Dropbox provides is its client program, available to Linux, Mac OS X, & Windows. It will keep your files synchronized across as many machines as you link to your account, eliminating the need to email yourself copies of a "document-in-progress".

Here are some of the most useful features I value from Dropbox:

  • Synchronizing school work and/or projects.
  • Keeping an off-site backup of important files and documents. (They even hold onto a copy of files you delete or modify for 30 days!)
  • Sharing specific files publicly with everyone, even those without Dropbox accounts.
  • It has a great Photo Album feature to share your photos with family and friends.

The free Dropbox account comes with 2GB of space, but each person you refer will grant you an additional 250MB of space! (Note: up to an extra 3GB for a total of 5GB.)

But what if that still isn't enough space? below are instructions on running multiple instances of the Dropbox client simultaneously:

Linux:

  1. mkdir /home/username/new-dropbox-folder
  2. HOME=$HOME/.new-dropbox-folder /usr/bin/dropbox start -i
  • To run Dropbox(es) automatically at startup, Edit the file: '/etc/rc.local' as root and add this line at the end of the file: 'su username -c "HOME=$HOME/.new-dropbox-folder /usr/bin/dropbox start"' repeat as needed.
  • Or, if you would like to run it on demand, enter this command in the terminal: 'HOME=$HOME/.dropbox-alt /usr/bin/dropbox start'.

OS X: The method for OS X is similar to linux, but is documented in full here.

Windows: Doing this in windows is not very practical in my opinion, but here is a tutorial on setting it up.

Note: This would be a great time to use the alias trick documented in my gmail post. By making an account with an email alias, you can increase security by keeping your username different than your original email address, this trick will also allow you to open multiple Dropbox accounts using a single email address!

Monday, March 22, 2010

Gmail

Featured: Gmail

Gmail has to be one of the most powerful tools on the web to date. I would strongly suggest to anyone out there that does not have an account to make one, even just to take it for a test drive. I am sure most of you already know and love gmail, so I will skip over most of the basics; lets just dive into my favorite features!

Favorite Lab Features:
  • SuperStars - Tired of handing out Gold Stars? Add Variety!
  • Right-Side Chat - Easy concept, VERY useful!
  • Mark as Read - Handy if you like to make several messages as read at once.
  • Send & Archive - For those messages you want to reply to and never see again.
  • Undo Send - Forgot to mention something? Can specify time interval in the "Settings->General" page
  • Title Tweaks - Shows your new message count first! Great for tabbed browsing!
  • Google Calendar Gadget - A quick way to see what is on your plate for the day.

Tips and Tricks:
  • Aliases: With gmail, it is easy to create aliases, or another name, for your own email address. To create an alias, simply add a '+' to the end of your email address along with a descriptive word or phrase, like this: 'emailaddress+phrase@gmail.com'. You will still receive these emails like usual in your inbox, but they will be addressed to your alias address. Here are some of the advantages & uses that I have discovered:
    • More Secure Credentials: If you use an alias to make a login name for a website, malicious individuals would need to know your email, the added word or phrase, AND your password!
    • Easier to track emails: Be able to track who is sharing your email address with customized phrases, like these examples: 'emailaddress+school@gmail.com', or 'mailaddress+websitename', which would tell you if a website shared your email address, or if you were introduced to someone who had your "school" address.
    • Filtering Emails: This can also help you make filters for incoming messages based simply on who they are addressed to. For example, say you created an alias for spam: 'emailaddress+spam@gmail.com', you could simply make a filter to send any emails addressed to that address to the trash.
    • Multiple Usernames, One Email Address: Sometimes I have had the desire to make multiple user accounts with a specific site, but don't want to create a new email account just for that new account. Well, here is another alias application! On websites that will allow the '+' character, simply make your email address "unique" by adding the '+' followed by a new word or phrase, even something as simple as adding a number!
  • The '.' Alias: Did you know, that if you have a '.' in your email address, like 'firstname.lastname@gmail.com', you can login in to your google account with: 'firstnamelastname@gmail.com'? You guessed it... another alias! There are some sites that do not permit the '+' symbol thus making the above tips useless. But virtually every site allows the '.'! Though not as powerful, you can still use it to take advantage of the ideas above.
    • More Secure Credentials: 'em.ai.la.dd.re.ss@gmail.com' or any other combination of '.'!
    • Tracking and Filtering: Just like the above example, you could make a spam alias by sticking with a convention like: e.mailaddress@gmail.com, or share your email address with an individual or organization you wish to track with one or more '.' strategically placed in your email address.

Other Useful tid-bits:
  • Shortcut Keys: Activate these in the "Settings -> General" page. For helpful list of shortcut keys, press "?" (They also correlate well with other Google Products.)
  • Force HTTPS: This option should be enable by default for all users now, but check just in case ;) "Settings -> General".

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Quix Bookmarklet

Featured: Quix

To use my customized quix bookmarklet, simply drag "Quix" to your bookmarks bar. For a list of available commands and functions, please read quix help, or simply type "help" in the quix textbox after opening the bookmarklet.

Today I am going to introduce you to Quix, a singe bookmarklet with multiple functions. For those who are unaware as to what a bookmarklet is, it is a snippet of javascript code that is typically stored in a bookmark (or favorite) that can be used simply by opening that favorite. These bookmarklets can perform many tasks to enhance your web-browsing experience, such as: Toggle radio buttons on the current page, count the number of characters you have entered in each text box, serve as a shortcut to search things; in short, just about anything you can imagine that has to do with web-browsing.

Quix is handy because it serves as a command line of sorts, allowing you to perform many tasks with only 1 javascript bookmarklet. Quix will work on any browser that can interpret javascript, thus making it usable on just about any platform, even the iPhone/iPod Touch!

Quix also has the feature to allow others to add to its functionality by including a specially formatted text file into the bookmarklet, as I have done with the link at the top of the post. For more information on how to add your own customizations and functionality, please read the quix customization page found on their website.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Welcome to my Technology Blog!

I am going to be keeping track of the interesting things that I come across in my travels through cyber-space.  I will also document How-To's that I write as I work through problems.  Happy Reading!