February 16, 2012

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David Michael
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Testing The Journal on updated alsplace.info

I’ve just upgraded this WordPress blog from version 2.1.3 to the current 3.3.1.  I hope to add the logon to my “The Journal” software so that I am able to do posts on the fly.

It was amazing that the same theme works in this latest release as did it in v2.1.3.  I should mention that I need to check the configuration as there is a column of widgets missing– although the column is still available.

There is much to review and configure in this upgrade and I’ll get to it as soon as possible.  The reason that I bothered researching doing such an upgrade and implementing it is that I shall be reinstalling my main computer shortly and there is much newly discovered software that I have just installed on my recently purchased laptop.  I hope to do posts of the more interesting software as I do the install.

Now to clean up my notes and post them to my database and then to do a backup of the site after this upgrade.

See ya soon!
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July 3, 2011

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to See

“…The new system will let you use the screen in conjunction with your TV to give you a new interactive window into games.”

The 2011 Electronic Entertainment Expo wrapped up in early June and like every year, it was filled with excitement for the video game industry and its fans. If you missed this year’s show, not to worry; photos, trailers, demos, and more are available to watch from the comfort of your own home, safe from the crowds and the noisy show floor.

In this Tech Tip, I’ve chosen Five Things From E3 2011 You Have to See!

Bioshock Infinite:

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to See

(developer: Irrational Games, publisher: 2K Games) The third entry in the Bioshock series is not due for release until some time in 2012, but if the trailer debuted by Irrational Games is any indication, it will be more than worth the wait. The first-person shooter’s setting is the floating city of Columbia and the latest trailer showed off the city’s Skyrail system; a cargo transit system that you, as the player, can use to move throughout the city. Riding the Skyrail has the look and feel of hanging off a roller-coaster, and with the added elements of the chaos and combat you see in the trailer, you definitely get the sense of being on an explosive thrill ride. A comforting line at the end of the trailer reads: “This trailer was made entirely from in-game footage”, so you know it’s not just pre-rendered cinematics; that is what the game will look like.

Sony PS Vita

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to See

Sony’s next portable console, the PS Vita , was announced in January as the “NGP – Next Generation Portable”, months before E3, but the hardware, along with its new name, made its debut in the physical realm for the first time at the expo. The Vita boasts front and rear multitouch screens, high-quality graphics, WiFi and optional 3G connectivity, and PlayStation 3 integration, which Sony promises will be a seamless transition from home console to mobile and back. The PS Vita has a similar look to the original PlayStation Portable, but incorporates modern technology and is competitively priced starting at $249, roughly the same price as Nintendo’s 3DS.

Nintendo Wii-U

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to See

Nintendo’s Wii-U , the successor to the Wii, takes the Wii-mote design a few steps further, giving you a controller that is a 6.2-inch 16:9 touchscreen tablet. The new system will let you use the screen in conjunction with your TV to give you a new interactive window into games. The Wii-U also makes the jump to full HD (1080p) output, something the Wii lacked, and will be backwards compatible with all existing Wii peripherals. The new system will be released in 2012 and will feature entries from popular franchises like Nintendo’s own Mario, Smash Brothers, and Pikmin as well as other entries from well-known franchises by third party developers.

Three Big Threes:

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to See

It’s impossible for me to choose which of the next three titles is a must-see for you, so I have some conditions:

If you own a PlayStation 3, Uncharted 3: Drake’s Deception is your exclusive must-see game. The game looks fantastic and there are some minor updates to the game play that add to an already excellent franchise.

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to SeeIf you own an Xbox 360, Gears of War 3 is your exclusive must-see game. At the expo, the game’s lead designer Cliff Bleszinski showed off some co-op play with musician and actor Ice-T and announced that the game would support up to four-player cooperative play.

If you have both systems or you don’t have a system preference, your must-see game is Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3. If you’re a real Call of Duty fanatic, this installment of the game will launch with a service called E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to SeeCall of Duty Elite, subscription-based service that provides extra features like downloadable maps (which are usually sold separately), an online community, and stat tracking. To see more of these games, head to their respective websites.

The Sims Social for Facebook

E3 2011 – 5 Things You Have to See

(publisher: EA) Electronics Arts (EA) announced The Sims Social for Facebook during their press conference. The Sims has been an immensely popular franchise and The Sims Social brings the experience to your browser for online play and lets you interact with your Facebook friends in the game. Unfortunately, due to the few details available, there’s nothing to see yet, but just think about it: The Sims on Facebook. It’s a chocolate-peanut butter situation.

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July 28, 2009

Dealing with Identity Theft

Dealing with Identity Theft

By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, July 12, 2009

It starts off innocuously enough. A few small purchases that you don't quite remember making appear on your credit card or debit card statement. They look plausible, but you're busy and will check them out later.

Then the real fun begins. Someone racks up a credit card bill of several hundred dollars in a state you've never been to. You get a phone call wanting to confirm the purchase of a laptop computer for someone overseas. A bank or finance company starts calling you about payments on a car loan or mortgage that you know nothing about.

Welcome to a club that has several million members in the United States alone. If something like that's happened to you, then you're the victim of identity theft.

If it hasn't happened to you, then you might want to read this TechTip for advice on how to protect yourself from identity theft.

Just what is identity theft anyway?

As its name states, identity theft (also called identity fraud) involves someone assuming your identity. Their reason for doing it is pretty easy to understand. They want to get hold of your money (or worse). They want to defraud companies. They want to accumulate cash and goods, on your dime, for personal gain or satisfaction.

The key point, and the key danger, of identity theft is that someone is pretending to be you in order to commit a crime. They're using your name, your Social Security Number (or the equivalent in wherever you live), and maybe even your own financial accounts to do illegal deeds.

And identity theft isn't just limited to taking your money or using your name to defraud. Some perpetrate identity theft for spying, blackmail, drug trafficking, or money laundering.

The different forms of identity theft

Most cases of identity theft fall into two categories. The first, and best known, is financial identity theft. This involves someone accessing your bank, credit card, and investment accounts. From there, they gradually bleed your money away or just snatch away outright.

The other category is criminal identity theft. That's when someone becomes you. It might be a criminal on the run, or someone who is trying to make a clean break with their past. They assume your identity – including your education and work history – in order to find legitimate work or to build a new life for themselves.

How the identity thieves can sting you

There are a number of ways that this can happen, both offline and online.

In the online world, one of the most popular of these is the use of fraud emails. Some of these emails will alert you to a situation with an account – for example, at a bank, with eBay, or with PayPal. Of course, the email includes a link. You click that link and you're taken to a Web page that's a better-than-decent facsimile of a legitimate site. Once there, you're expected to enter your account and personal information. And you can imagine what happens after that.

This sort of thing is easy to spot (as you'll see soon), but a lot of people do fall for it.

Another way identity thieves can catch you is by hijacking a legitimate online merchant's payment page. You know the one, where you enter your address and credit card information. Unfortunately, that page is one the identity thieves have set up and your information becomes theirs to toy with.

In the offline world, it can be quite easy for someone to get information from you. Sometimes, all it takes is a phone call. Many people don't think twice about answering certain questions.

It can be an easy matter for someone to lift documents that contain your vital information. More than a couple of unfortunates have been stung by simply tossing bank statements or pay slips into their garbage or recycling. Some bold thieves will actually steal mail from mailboxes. It's amazing what information people can glean from your bills or even a letter from the tax man.

And let's not forget about someone lifting your wallet. Far too many people carry far too much identification with themselves, making their wallets a treasure trove of personal information that an identity thief can use.

Don't become a victim

There are a number of ways in which you can protect yourself from identity theft. The most important of these is to keep your wits about you. If you're vigilant, your chances of getting taken are reduced.

If you're disposing of old documents – like pay stubs and bills – don't throw them out or recycle them. If you can, shred those documents using a cross cut shredder. This type of shredder doesn't cut paper into strips, but turns it into confetti. A number of these types of shredders can also grind up old credit and bank cards.

When at an ATM or making a purchase with a debit card, shield the keypad with your hand or with your wallet. You never know who's looking over your shoulder.

Speaking of wallets, try to lighten your load a little. Don't carry all of your ID with you. If possible, take only what you need.

When doing a secure transaction online (or one that you think is secure), look in the bottom right corner of your Web browser window. You should see a padlock icon. If you double click that icon, a smaller window will open that shows you the security information for the page and site.

One way that many Web sites ensure their security is by getting a signed digital certificate. Most sites get their certificates from certificate authorities. Two of the best know certificate authorities are VeriSign and Thwate. In fact, most Web sites use them; you can generally trust sites with certificates from either firm.

Earlier, I talked about fraud emails. The easiest way to not be taken in is to read those messages carefully and not to click the links. If you do click a link, remember to check your Web browser's address bar. The URL won't be one that you'll recognize; it will probably be a strange, long, and convoluted address.

Remember: if in doubt, don't click any suspect link or give out your information either online or over the phone. Check the source out. Recently, a friend of mine got a new credit card. He received a strange phone call purporting to be from the bank that issued the card. The call was to confirm an online transaction he'd made. My friend wouldn't confirm anything, and he called the bank immediately to check this out. It turns out that the call was legitimate. It could have gone the other way, though.

What to do if you're a victim

Even if the identity thief has only made a few small, illicit purchases, contact your local or national law enforcement authorities. Get a copy of their report and, if possible, the case number. You may need this information for the next steps.

Next, contact your bank, financial institution, or credit card company. Close any accounts that have been compromised. If the identity thief has opened any other accounts in your name, close them if you can.

Then, contact all of the credit bureaus in your area. In North America, there are three: TransUnion, EquiFax, and Experian. Let them know that you've been the victim of identity theft and that a fraud alert should be applied to your accounts. By doing this, the identity thief will not be able to open a new account; a representative of the financial firm will have to contact you first.

In the United States, a key piece of government-issued identification is the Social Security Number. Many other countries have something similar – like the Social Insurance Number in Canada. An identity thief can do a lot of damage if he or she gets hold of that information. In the United States, contact the Social Security Administration (or the equivalent department in your country) to report a theft.

If the identity thieves have really been active, it can take a long time for you to clear up the mess. Your credit rating could be damaged, even just temporarily. You'll face a lot of stress, and probably a number of collection calls and letters. And there's a good chance that you won't be able to discount viagra online prosecute the thief. That person may never be caught.

Where you can go for more information

If you need more information about identity theft and what to do about it, there's a lot of information available from government departments around the world.

In the United States, check out the Web sites of the Federal Trade Commission and the Department of Justice. The Canadian Privacy Commissioner and Minster of Public Safety also have more information.

For some reason, Europeans seem to be less susceptible to identity theft. Even so, you can get information on this subject from the European Anti-Fraud Office.

Australia has an anti-fraud awareness week, and in New Zealand identity theft is rare but the government has at least one Web page discussing it.

Do you have any tips about avoiding identity theft? If so, feel free to leave a comment on this TechTip.

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Learning Languages: Online, and on Your Own Time

Tech tips 219

Learning Languages: Online, and on Your Own Time

By Scott Nesbitt – Sunday, May 24, 2009

pullquoteLearning a foreign language seems to be on the to do list of a lot of people. And their reasons for learning a language are as varied as the languages many of them want to study.

urduWhile there's no denying that being able to speak a foreign tongue is beneficial, would-be language learners often run into a few obstacles. They might not have time to attend formal or informal classes. They might not be able to afford language tutoring. Or classes for the languages they want to learn might not be available where they live.

Though the Web can help you get around those problems. Using any of the many sites out there, you can learn the basics (or more) of a foreign language online and on your own time.

Getting going

Effectively learning a language, like picking up anything else, depends heavily on mastering the basics. It's not always fun, but it is essential. These sites can help you.

One of the better known language courses is the one developed by the Foreign cheap viagra Service Institute to teach American diplomats, government agents, and consular staff the rudiments (and a bit more) of the languages of the countries in which they'll be stationed. You don't have to be employed by the State Department to take advantage of these courses. Nor do you need to spend hundreds of dollars to get the home edition. You can download public domain course textbooks and audio files that you can play on you MP3 player or iPod of lessons from the FSI Language Courses Web site.

The site contains over 30 courses, with more being added. Not all courses are complete. Some are lacking all of the MP3 files, while others only have the texts. On top of that, some of the references in the material are dated – remember that these courses were originally developed in the 1970s and 1980s. However, the day-to-day vocabulary and grammar hasn't changed in that time.

englishSomething a little more modern is Mango Languages. The service is completely Web based – you can use it anywhere, and all you need is a modern Web browser and speakers or a set of headphones. Mango Languages breaks its lessons down into chunks that are easy to memorize. The lessons start out simple. For example, the first lesson covers the basic greeting in the language that you're studying. The lesson then builds on variations of the basic greeting. You're not only learning something useful, but also accumulating vocabulary that you can use later.

Mango Languages also offers grammar and cultural notes, quizzes that are interspersed in lessons to help you remember the content, and help with pronunciation. There's a lot packed into Mango, but it comes at a price – a three month course costs $160.

Lying somewhere between FSI Language Courses and Mango Languages is Travlang Language for Travelers. As you've probably guessed from the name of the site, it offers basic vocabulary and phrases that someone traveling to a particular country will find useful. The vocabulary and phrases are divided into the following categories: Basic Words, Numbers, Shopping/Dining, Travel, Dates and Times, Directions, and Places. All of it is easy to learn and useful.

You get not only the words/phrases in your languages and the foreign languages (say English and Portuguese), but also audio. The site also offers quick quizzes to test your knowledge and help you remember what you've learned.

Getting social

Studying on your own is tough. It's hard to maintain your motivation and to test your skills if you don't have any interaction with others who speak or are learning the same language that you are. That's where Livemocha comes in. It's a free site that's billed as Social Language Learning. Livemocha encourages you not only to learn, but to practice.

frenchHow? First, you go through the various lessons for the language or languages that you want to study. The lessons are a mix of audio and visuals that give you a grounding in the basic vocabulary and grammar. Then, when you feel confident, you can post written and/or spoken exercises. The exercises are short, but they let you practice what you've learned. The social part comes in when you ask others to critique your exercises. Usually, the comments are quite constructive. They'll point out your glaring mistakes, and usually encourage you to keep at it. You can also arrange text and voice chats with other Livemocha members to get some live practice.

Even with online social networking, you'll find that from time to time you'll need to have face-to-face interaction with another person. If you don't have friends or family members who speak the language that you're studying, then you might want to check out Meetup.com.

Meetup.com blurs the lines between the physical and the online world. On one hand, it's an online community for people with similar interests. On the other hand, members of the site have regular gatherings called meetups (hence the name of the site). As you've probably guessed, there are Meetup groups in most major cities, and smaller ones too. And there are groups for speakers and learners of various languages. Even if you can get out only once or twice a month, a Meetup group is a good way to practice you budding language skills.

Becoming one of the pod(cast) people

Podcasting is an interesting phenomenon. Some people call it blogging out loud. It's a great platform for presenting reviews, ideas, opinions, and polemic. MP3But it's also tailor made for learning languages. And, as you've probably guessed, there are a lot of language learning podcasts on the Web. One of the great things about language learning podcasts is that you can download them to your desktop computer or laptop computer, or carry them around on your MP3 player or iPod.

Arguably, the best known language learning podcast is ChinesePod, put out by a company called Praxis Language. ChinesePod, as you might have guessed, is for learning Chinese – specifically Mandarin. There are episodes that are aimed at learners of all skill levels: from outright beginners to advanced students. Best of all, the folks behind ChinesePod have fun with the material. That makes learning fun, too. ChinesePod offers free lessons, and a range of subscriptions. The subscription plans offer more, obviously, like PDF transcripts, review audio, and study tools.

ChinesePod has been so successful that Praxis has created a number of spin offs, including SpanishPod, FrenchPod, and ItalianPod. They follow the ChinesePod model, both with content and pricing.
Some other popular language learning podcasts include Learn French by Podcast, JapanesePod 101, Fumetti (for learning Italian), and Pukka German. You can find a long list of language learning podcasts here.

How effective is this?

It all depends on you. If you're motivated, then the sites discussed in this TechTip can help you get a grasp of a foreign tongue. It will be a lot of work, and to be honest they're not a perfect substitute for language classes or for regular interaction with others who speak or are learning the language that you're studying. But if you don't have time to do that, working with these sites (and others like them) are the next best thing.

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