Who’s Watching You Online?

Who’s Watching You Online?

According to a 2012 infographic from Go-Golf.com, Americans spend 32 hours per month on the internet.  Do you know that when you shop, research, surf and socialize online you may have several third-parties watching your every move?  There are ways you can reduce the ability of these “stalkers” to follow you.  Most importantly, be sure your firewall and anti-spam software is up to date and the internet privacy settings are appropriate for your needs.

An article in this month’s Money magazine* offers a few additional tips to cut down on internet stalking:

1. Cut the cookies. In your browser’s privacy settings, block third-party cookies to make it tougher for marketers to keep tabs on you.  While there, check the “do not track” request, the online equivalent of a do-not-call list, says Joseph Lorenzo Hall of the Center for Democracy & Technology.

Here is a picture of my settings in the Mozilla Firefox browser after choosing Tools>Options>Privacy:

You may also set it to “never save your history” and remove cookies often.

Following are the steps for other browsers, from Business Insider:

Chrome: Chrome> Preferences> Settings> Advanced Settings> Privacy> Content Settings> Click, “Block Third Party Cookies and Site Data.”

Safari: Safari> Preferences> Security> Accept Cookies> select “never.” You might also want to consider browsing privately so your history and passwords are not stored, and thus accessible.

Internet Explorer 10: Microsoft’s latest version of Internet Explorer 10 will default to a “Do Not Track” position. The browser will send a signal to advertisers altering them that users do not want to be tracked.

2. See who’s watching. Visit a single site and you might pick up dozens of tracking tags that tail you on the web.  The free browser extension Ghostery lets you see them and decide which to nix. For shutting out third-party ads, Peter Eckersley of the Electronic Frontier Foundation suggest the free AdBlock Plus extension.

3. Get an email alias. Finding you online via your email address – obtained from your loyalty card, perhaps – marketers can link your online and offline behavior and solicit you accordingly. To prevent this, Stefen Smith of information security firm SecureForce advises setting up an email account solely for commercial transactions.

* “Shop Online, Unobserved” by Sarah Max, Money, July 2013, p. 22.

Tips and Tools for Managing Electronic Reading

Tips and Tools for Managing Electronic Reading

The information we can choose to read each day is growing at an enormous rate due to the availability of digital information.  Taking into account email messages and attachments, online articles and stories, information shared via networks and cloud systems, and the vast array of social media options, we can spend our entire day in reading mode.   In last month’s article, I discussed tips and tools for managing your reading materials that are in paper form.  This month, I promised to focus on ideas for managing your electronic reading information.

Steps for management of digital reading:

1. Acknowledge that you can’t read everything.  Unsubscribe from email lists that don’t provide you value.  Delete information that doesn’t apply to your personal or professional vision and goals. The more you can declutter, keeping only that which applies to your current values and goals, the less stress and overwhelm you will feel.

2. Categorize your information by type.

  • Is it necessary for a current project or training need (active reading)?
  • Are you keeping it for a future project or “just in case” you may need it (reference reading)?
  • Is it leisure reading, or perhaps a quick read that will either be deleted or stored as reference once you are finished (for example, an email newsletter)?

3. Determine how and where you will store your information.  This should depend on the type of reading as determined above.  For example, email newsletters might be stored in a “To Read” folder, or you might save them to your hard drive or an online system such as EvernoteDropbox or iPEP(the system I personally use, which allows me to forward emails and attachments directly to my iPEP online workspaces).  If a message or attachment is related to a current or future project, consider attaching it to your task or reminder system so it is available when and where you need it.

4. Regardless of where you store your electronic reading, it should be organized in a logical way that allows for easy retrieval.  Using good titles, tags and keywords will enhance your ability to search for information.  And, if your digital reading is stored in OCR (optical character resolution) format, your search program can search content within the document as well.  Programs such as Adobe Acrobat Standard or Pro allow you to scan and convert documents to OCR format.

Once you have decluttered, defined and categorized your digital reading materials, and you have developed a basic organizational structure for storage and retrieval, you can begin to enhance your structure with helpful add-ins and applications.  One of my favorites is Pocket, a free application for desktop and mobiles devices that allows you to save articles, videos, etc. in your electronic “pocket.”  If it’s in your Pocket, you can view it later on any of your mobile devices, with or without an internet connection.  Instead of using those free minutes to surf Facebook, catch up on some reading!  A helpful tool for email newsletters is Unroll.me, which is offered for Gmail and Yahoo email users.  Unroll.me allows you to roll subscription emails into a daily digest.  You can then review them at one time instead of being distracted by several throughout the day.

I’d love to hear what reading tools and apps you love to use!  Please share your favorites on our Facebook page.

The Amazon Finding System

The Amazon Finding System

Last week, I found myself channel-surfing at my local gym to find the right motivational show to watch while I worked out on the elliptical machine.  You may be surprised to hear that I stopped on a news story describing the inner workings of Amazon.com’s fulfillment centers (of which there are currently 80 around the world with the largest, in Phoenix, the size of 28 football fields).  While you wouldn’t normally think this type of entertainment would keep someone going as they work through various levels of interval training, something the reporter said kept me listening.  He said Amazon doesn’t care where its employees store the thousands of merchandise items that are put away each day.  In fact, Amazon expects its workers to store things where they fit best.  So if that means a box of golf balls is located next to a can of hair spray, so be it.

So how do Amazon’s Fulfillment Associates quickly find the Floating Bubbles Light-up Pen you just ordered for your child’s Christmas stocking?  They use a computer system, scanners, and a set of bar codes, one on the product and one on the shelf, to inventory and index each individual item.  Shelves do not need be labeled and re-labeled as products come and go.  In other words, even though inventory is constantly changing, the storage system remains static.  Think of the time and money Amazon saves with this system.

Now let’s take this down to a smaller scale – your own company’s warehouse or storage area, its central library, your own personal library, or your office files.  Amazon’s system of static labeling and electronic indexing can apply to all of these environments.  With an inventory model like this, it doesn’t matter where items are stored as long as they are labeled and tagged appropriately in an electronic indexing system.  One quick search will point you in the right direction in seconds.

As an example, let’s discuss how to apply this to your paper files.  First, label each file with a number (e.g. Reference 1, Reference 2, etc.).  Then, use one of the following systems to index these files according to the title and contents.

  1. A basic Excel Spreadsheet with columns for the file number, category (if applicable), title and keywords or descriptions of contents of the file.  In addition, you may customize the Excel workbook further by having separate worksheets for different information types (Action, Reference, Books, Binders, CD’s, etc.).  Excel’s search feature allows you to quickly find information by title or keyword.
  2. Take your indexing system a step further by using a software program built specifically for paper filing and office inventory, such as Taming the Paper Tiger Software.
  3. An additional option for indexing of paper and other information is iPEP (interactive-Productive Environment Platform).  In this cloud-based system, you can not only inventory your physical information but also store your electronic files, email, links, photos and other digital information.

Note: To learn more about each of the systems described or to learn if any of them is right for your needs, please contact Lori at Life Made Simple.

While your indexing system may not tell you exactly which path to walk to retrieve your items in the most efficient way, as Amazon’s does, it will go a long way towards creating an organized and productive environment where you can be comfortable knowing you will find what you need when you need it.

What You Need to Know About “The Cloud”

What You Need to Know About “The Cloud”

Whether or not you have heard of “cloud computing,” you more than likely work with cloud systems every day.  Every time you send or receive an email, you are sending information through the Internet and are therefore using the cloud.  If you take part in online banking, you are working within a cloud system.  When you upload and share your photos via Snapfish or Shutterfly, you are using a Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) cloud model.

Google Calendar, Gmail, iCloud and Evernote are all popular cloud-based solutions.  The various functions cloud computing software can provide, as well as the many options within these functions, can be enough to make you feel as though your head really is “in the clouds.”  Following are some basic tips to help you navigate this powerful and growing area of our lives.

Benefits of Cloud Computing
1. It is sold on demand and can be put in place in a matter of minutes.
2. You can purchase only as much of the service as you need.
3. You need only a computer (or mobile device) and Internet access to begin it.
4. There is a reduced need for IT services to maintain an internal server and software.
5. You pay monthly or annually — normally with no service contracts.  Therefore, it is more cost effective for many individuals and businesses.
6. Upgrades are automatic.
7. Storage space is virtually unlimited.
8. The ability to access information from any computer allows for greater mobility.
9. Flexibility and creativity are enhanced as you are allowed to choose different providers for each business need.  In addition, many cloud computer solutions can be as simple or as customizable as you want based on your technical abilities.
10. Disaster relief is more efficient.  For example, if a computer crashes, a laptop is stolen or there is a natural disaster, you are back to work immediately on another computer.  No data is lost.

Risks of Cloud Computing
As you can see from the above list of benefits, the rewards of cloud computing can be tremendous, but it is vital that the risks are evaluated and managed.
1. Security: It is important to ask and understand the data management and hiring practices of the cloud provider you choose.  Look for providers that are SAS 70 Type II certified.  Or even better (and more current), look for SSAE 16, SOC 2 and/or SOC 3 certification. Providers continue to learn how to put better levels of security in place to prevent online hacking of information and data.
2. Data loss and recovery: Data on the cloud is almost always encrypted to ensure security of the data. Corrupted encrypted data is harder to recover than unencrypted data. Know how the provider plans to recover your data in a disaster scenario and how long it will take.
3. Provider strength and lifetime: What happens to your information if the cloud service provider is acquired or closes its doors?  How easy will it be to transfer data if needed?  Consider this risk and review the provider’s policies for data ownership and retrieval.
4. Regulatory and legal requirements: It is vital for organizations to consider any regulatory or legal requirements regarding the storage of information.
5. Data access: Individuals and businesses must ensure they have the ability to apply security at the appropriate levels.
6. Flexibility: While flexibility is a cloud computing benefit, it also carries the risk of having too many systems to manage and coordinate.  It is important to consider how data and information will be synchronized, shared and managed between multiple systems.

Cloud computing is not going away.  I believe that in the next 5 or 10 years, it will be the solution of choice for most, if not all, information storage and function.  It is vital that we understand this technology in order to choose the most ideal solutions for our organization and productivity needs.