Manage Your Multimedia Multitasking


If, like most technology users, you’re convinced that you’re a successful multitasker… you’re probably wrong. Multiple studies have shown that multitasking leads to slower and worse performance, and that we simply aren’t as good at it as we think we are.
 
While it’s now almost universally accepted that texting while driving is often as, if not more, dangerous than drunk driving, many of us still allow ourselves to be distracted by our phones and web browsers when trying to accomplish other tasks.
 
Whether you’re trying to get your work done, study for an exam, or just getting in some good time with a book, focusing can help you get it done better and faster. Here are some tips for staying on task:

 
Disable Notifications:
Does your phone buzz at you every time you get a text, tweet or Facebook message? Just turn it off. Disable the social media notifications, and set your phone to Do Not Disturb. Or just silence your cell and put it out of sight.
 
Close Your Email Client:
Resist the urge to check your emails. Set aside a specific time to go through your inbox, rather than dropping what you’re doing as soon as you see something arrive.
 
Clean up:
A desktop full of open tabs, notifications and windows can distract you from the task at hand. Close all programs you aren’t using, and refrain from opening up web pages to read “later.” In fact, if you don’t need to, don’t open your web browser at all.
 
Set Timers:
There’s always the option of setting a good old-fashioned egg timer, and forcing yourself to work on whatever you’re doing until it goes off. If your self control doesn’t allow for a solution that simple, try one of these applications:
  • For Mac: Self Control – Enter in a URL and Self Control will prevent you from accessing it for up to 24 hours. Uninstalling the app won’t disable the timer, either.
  • For Chrome: Nanny – Block specific URLs, or set timers to restrict how long you can be on a site.  You can also have certain sites blocked on just weekdays or during work hours.
  • For Firefox: LeechBlock – Like Nanny, you can block sites or create timers. LeechBlock will also keep track of the time you spend on your “block” sites, so you can better see where you’re getting distracted.

With these tips, you can minimize the distractions and get that work done – leaving you plenty of time to catch up on Facebook guilt-free!

The Definition of Broadband Is Outdated – Let’s Change It


Recently, several Internet service providers have balked at the idea of broadband service being reclassified as 10 Mbps by the FCC. Socket is not one of them.
 
Under current FCC definitions, broadband in the United States is defined as 4 Mbps. Any ISP seeking to build out a broadband network using government funding or subsidies must therefore provide speeds of at least 4 Mbps to the users they plan to serve.
 
Socket received funding through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 to build a fiber network to the underserved residents of rural Boone and Callaway Counties. This network currently provides speeds of at least 100 Mbps per household (25 times faster than the minimum), with faster speeds available to business customers. And we’re hoping to push that speed even higher.
 
Technology marches faster than anyone ever predicts. Just four years ago, the definition of broadband was a mere 768 kbps – that’s kilobits. The idea that those speeds would be adequate for people working from home or taking online classes today is unthinkable. So what will that threshold be in 2020?
 
Building new networks is costly and time consuming, and as a result, any company hoping to do it will need significant funding. It was true of both our power grid and our landline telephone system, and those networks have provided an immeasurable benefit to our nation as a whole.
 
Using these funds confers a responsibility to provide a broadband network that will have an equally beneficial effect – one that will last for decades to come. A 4 Mbps network does not meet those standards. In fact, a 10 Mbps network may not, but it’s at least a step in the right direction.
 
Add your voice to the conversation – learn more about what other ISPs are saying, and check out the full FCC proposal here.

September 10th is "Internet Slowdown Day"


If you see a lot of loading icons on September 10th, it’s not a problem with your connection – and your favorite websites aren’t actually running any slower. But it is an example of what could happen if the FCC fails to pass comprehensive net neutrality rules.
 
Many websites will be displaying prominent loading icons on September 10th in order to create awareness of the threat to Net Neutrality, including Reddit, Vimeo, KickStarter, Etsy, Imgur, Mozilla (creators of Firefox), and Foursquare.
 
One of the proposals being reviewed by the FCC would allow for cable and Internet companies to prioritize service to paying websites, a move that would create Internet “fast lanes.” Rather than all websites being treated equally, service providers would get to choose which sites customers could access at a reasonable speed – a frightening prospect when many service providers also own or have stakes in large websites.
 
For a more in-depth explanation of Net Neutrality, check out our past blog post on the topic – Socket remains committed to the principles of a free and open Internet. And to learn more about “Slow Down The Internet,” check out the campaign’s website here.

Protect Your Data on the Cloud


While experts still aren’t quite sure how hackers accessed a slew of compromising celebrity photos, the source of the photos is clear – Apple’s iCloud storage service.
 
Cloud services can be extraordinarily useful, but like any technology, it’s important to understand how it works and how to protect that data. Here are some tips on preventing someone from seeing what you’d prefer they didn’t:
 
Get two-step authentication:
This is something that most online banking accounts require, and it’s easy enough to set up. When you try to access your accounts from a new device for the first time, you will be sent a code or pin number to an already-registered device – usually your cell phone or desktop computer.
 
If a hacker manages to guess your password, they would still need to go through this verification, since they wouldn’t be logging in from your computer. Visit Apple’s guide or Google’s to set this up, depending on your device.
 
Don’t Use Guessable Security Information:
If your password is an English word, or your security questions can be answered by viewing your Facebook page, they’re not safe. Some of the simplest password-cracking programs just run through the dictionary until they find a hit. And if someone is specifically targeting your account (as happened with many of the celebrity photo leaks), knowing a birthday and favorite pet’s name can get a hacker pretty far.
 
Check out our post on secure passwords for more tips.
 
Beware of Phone Backups
Because of automatic cloud backups, things you delete off your phone may not actually be gone. Double check your settings to make sure you’re not saving things you don’t want to be saving.
 
Remember that these features are meant to be helpful – in the off chance that your phone or device is lost, these backups allow for data recovery and syncing to a new device. Keep these risks in mind before you disable the service.
 

Google Drive:
If you have an Android device or Chromebook, chances are your documents, pictures and data are being backed up to Google Drive. Check any Google apps you have (Google Photos, Google+, Google Drive) to see if there are any documents or photos that you did not intend to upload. If you have linked your device to a Gmail account, it’s probable that there’s at least one app syncing something.
 
To disable auto backup, check Google’s guide for your particular device.
 
iCloud:
Users with an iPhone, Mac or other Apple product may not realize their information is being backed up to iCloud. To check, follow this guide from Apple to manage which apps automatically back up data.
 
Keep in mind that iCloud also keeps music, data and updates synced between a user’s multiple devices, so disabling all features may prevent the user’s devices from updating. For instance, if a user purchased an iTunes album on their desktop Mac, it might not be accessible through their iPhone until the devices are allowed to sync.

 
With the amount of data we share, keep, and consume, it’s inevitable that most people will need to use a cloud storage system at some point. But a little bit of knowledge (and caution) can do wonders for keeping your data safe.

What is Cyberbullying?


What is Cyberbullying?
 
Cyberbullying, like bullying, is the repeated use of threats, intimidation, humiliation or violence to cause harm to another. However, unlike regular bullying, cyberbullying can happen when the victim and perpetrator are separated, and at any time – day or night.
 
Because the use of texts, IMs, and social media are often beyond the sight of adults, it can be harder to notice the abuse. At the same time, it’s often easier for the abuse to spread, due to the ease with which online communications are shared.
 
There’s no easy answer when it comes to preventing bullying, cyber or otherwise. However, like most things, instituting basic guidelines and keeping an open line of communication can help kids stay safe and keep adults aware of abusive behavior – on their child’s part or another’s.
 
Check out the following resources and tools for more information on cyberbullying:
 
UMatter, a website put together by Columbia Public Schools, offers facts and advice on dealing with bullying and cyberbullying, for both students and parents. Learn more about warning signs to look out for, as well as ways to deal with cyber-harassment, on their blog.
 
“Halt”, a free app currently available for iPhones, allows parents to see their child’s Facebook, Instagram and Twitter posts before they go live. Parents can then allow or block posts, or review them to keep updated on their child’s activities – like what they’re saying, and to whom.
 
Tina Meier, founder of the Megan Meier Foundation, will be appearing at Kid City to speak to parents about the dangers of cyberbullying. Tina’s daughter, Megan, was the victim of cyberbullying – her death prompted the passing of Megan’s Law, criminalizing abusive communications.
 
Kid City is this Saturday, August 23rd, from 9 AM – 3 PM at the Holiday Inn in Columbia, MO.
 
StopBullying.gov is geared towards informing adults about bullying and cyberbullying behaviors in children. It also outlines when such behavior should be reported to law enforcement. The statistics it highlights can be a good way to start conversations with kids about their experiences with cyberbullying, as well.
 

How to Disable In-App Purchases


While this "My Little Pony" game is free to download, the "gems" used as in-game currency are sold in packs for up to $30 each.

If you have children who use your mobile devices to play games, it might be a good idea to double-check your system settings.
 
Many mobile apps aimed at children include the option to purchase in-game perks and points for real-life money. In fact, there's allegations of many "free" games purposefully luring kids into doing this. Parents can be completely unaware until a large charge appears on the monthly cell phone or  credit card bill - and by then it may be too late to get any of that money back.
 
While lawsuits have been filed against Google, Apple, and Amazon over unauthorized charges made by minors, the easiest way to avoid accidental payments (and having to jump through hoops to get your money back) is to disable in-app purchases entirely.
 
Here's a quick guide for Android and Apple devices - however, if your device is more than a few years old, you may want to look up a specific walkthough.
 
Android/Google Devices:
 

  • Open “Google Play.” At the top of the page, there is a menu button (resembling three horizontal lines). Select this, then select “Settings.”
  • Depending on the version or device you’re using, there’s either a “Use Password” or “Use Pin” option for purchases. Select whichever option you’re given to activate it. If you don’t have one yet, the device will request that you create the password or pin.
  • There is also an option to set the password/pin to only trigger every thirty minutes – in other words, if you enter your password to buy an app, you won’t be asked to verify any purchases made for thirty minutes afterwards. Make sure this option is set to "always ask for password/pin."

Apple/iOS Devices:
 

  • Open the “Settings” screen. Select the “General” menu, and then select “Restrictions” (near the top of the page).
  • Select “Enable Restrictions” – the very first option at the top. You will have to create a 4-digit passcode. Enter it twice to confirm.
  • Disable “In-App Purchases” by selecting it, which will un-check that option. You may also wish to disable “iTunes Store,” “iBooks Store,” and “Installing Apps” in order to block all purchases entirely.

Pandora Tips and Tricks


We’ve already gone over how Pandora builds customized stations in a previous post – so how can you make the most of the Music Genome Project?
 
Check out the tips below to create a station you’ll love:
 
Create stations from songs, not artists:
 
Any particular artist could have a plethora of styles and musical genomes represented. For example, take the two following songs that could easily play back-to-back on a Beatles station:
 
 

I Want To Hold Your Hand -
 
 
Come Together -

 
 
Building a playlist off of “I Want To Hold Your Hand” will trigger The Beach Boys, Louis Armstrong, and The Turtles. “Come Together” will trigger Aerosmith, Cream, and The Rolling Stones.
 
Building a playlist off The Beatles as a whole? You’ll get all of them, and in no particular order.
 
Conserve your “skips”
 
Normally, you can skip six songs per hour when listening to Pandora. However, switching to a different station doesn’t count as a skip. You can go back to your original station after three to four minutes (however long the song would have kept playing had you stayed).
 
Use the thumbs up button sparingly!
 
Keep in mind that the “thumbs up” button broadens your song selection each time you use it – liking any particular track will add all of its associated genomes to your station. “Thumbs Up”-ing five songs on a single station will make it hard for Pandora to focus. Add a dozen? You might as well hit “random."
 
If you love a song, but it doesn’t really match the profile of your station, just create a new station using the track as a base. Save the thumbs up for songs that you not only love, but also match your station.
 
Use the thumbs down button sparingly too!
 
Same rationale as above – using this button will remove genomes from your station profile, so using it too much will reduce your station to looping the same few songs over and over.
 
Additionally, “thumbs down”-ing two songs by the same artist will remove that artist entirely from your station. If you’re just not in the mood for a certain track, hover over the album art and select “I’m tired of this song.” It will remove it from the playlist for a month.
 
Want to listen to all the songs an artist has available on Pandora?
 
Normally, the artist page is only accessible while a song by that artist is being played. However, there’s a way to search for individual pages though Google.
 
Copy and paste the following into your search bar: site:pandora.com inurl:artist
 
Replace the word “artist” with the name of the artist you’re searching for. For example, let’s say we’re looking for The Beatles. Our search would look like this: site:pandora.com inurl:Beatles
 
This first result happens to be the one we’re looking for (if there are multiple artists with similar names, you might have to check the URL). This will bring us to Pandora’s artist page, where you can browse their entire discography, as well as listen to 30 second samples of all their songs.

Have any favorite stations or your own Pandora tips? Let us know!
 

Internet Safety Tips for Kids


It’s hard to believe we’re more than halfway through summer break!

With the school year fast approaching, your child may need to use the Internet for homework or research. And like any other activity your child does, you cannot be watching every second. That’s why it’s vital that children understand some basic safety rules, instead of just specific things they can or cannot do.

Before letting them go online, talk to your child about these concepts:
 

  • Remind your child to question all information. Emphasize that people can lie about their names, ages and genders online.
  • Tell them to never give out personal info. Show them a simple Google search of yourself to prove how easy it is to gather information on just a name.
  • Place the computer in an open, visible area. Don’t hover or spy, but do let your child know that you can see what they’re doing.
  • Ask broad, non-invasive questions about what sites your children are on and what they like to do online. Keep an open dialogue - you don’t want your child to try and hide what they’re doing.
  • Make sure kids know to never give out passwords to anyone - not even to friends.
  • Remind your kids that everything online is permanent. This is especially important for older children that are starting to use social media networks. Screenshots, caches and other tools mean that even deleting a post or comment won’t make it go away. Tell them to pause and think through every post.

Finally, make sure that they know to come to you if anything online should upset or bother them. Once you establish trust and some ground rules, you can rest knowing your child can surf online safely.

How Does Pandora Work?


With over 250 million users, Pandora is by far the most popular Internet radio service in the world. However, it works differently than most other online music services, which can be confusing for new users.
 
Pandora is part of the “Music Genome Project” – a massive undertaking to classify thousands of tracks based on their musical attributes. Each song that Pandora plays has been analyzed by a musician (a process which takes at least 20 minutes per track), and classified using over 400 different “genes.”
 
For example, let’s take the song “Let It Be,” by The Beatles. The “genes” selected to represent this track include…

 

  • gospel influences
  • interweaving vocal harmony
  • prominent organ
  • the subtle use of a horn section
  • an electric guitar solo
  • intricate melodic phrasing
  • an emotional male lead vocal performance

…among dozens of others. So when creating a station based off of this song, Pandora isn’t necessarily playing Beatles music. Instead, it’s playing other songs that match this musical genetic profile. (Of course, the Beatles happened to record dozens of songs similar to "Let It Be," so it may seem like Pandora isn’t doing much at first).
 
Unlike most other online radio stations, the songs Pandora plays for you have nothing to do with what other people have liked. Instead, the “like” and “dislike” buttons on tracks just add to the genome profile of the station you’ve built.
 
So, let’s say our “Let It Be” station plays “Imagine” by John Lennon next. But we’re not a fan of the song. While the two tracks share many “genes”, here’s a few that “Imagine” doesn’t share with “Let It Be”:

 

  • mellow rock instrumentation
  • political lyrics
  • folk influences

Disliking the track removes other songs that highlight these attributes. Over time, and with enough feedback, Pandora should be able to fairly accurately pick songs you’ll enjoy.
 
Of course, this is a very simplified explanation - the Music Genome Project is organized by complex mathematical formulas that remain a trade secret.
 
Are you a Pandora listener? Has Pandora’s genome system worked for you? Let us know!

Crowdfunding - How Does It Work?


In its simplest form, crowdsourcing is simply generating ideas or work through the power of a crowd – usually enabled by the Internet. Wikipedia, for example, is one of the largest crowdsourced works in the English language, comprised of over 4.5 million articles submitted from all over the world. (See the image below for a visual representation of Wikipedia's size in printed books).
 
The latest evolution of crowdsourcing is crowdfunding; collecting (often small) donations from a massive number of people. Charities, naturally, have benefitted from this type of funding scheme. However, quite a few for-profit projects have gotten off the ground this way too.
 
Kickstarter and Indiegogo, two of the most well-known crowdfunding sites, take a small percentage fee off successful campaigns. Unsuccessful campaigns (those that do not hit their initial fundraising goal met by a deadline) have all money returned to donors. Usually campaigns also have “reach” goals – additions to the project that are dependent on how far past their fundraising goal they can go.
 
Here’s some fascinating examples of crowdfunding projects that worked:
 
Bring Reading Rainbow Back: After being cancelled after a 23 year run on PBS, host LeVar Burton brought children’s show Reading Rainbow to tablet devices as an educational app. In order to make the show available on the web, as well as creating an app for classroom use, Burton created a Kickstarter with an initial goal of one million dollars.
 
The Kickstarter blew through this goal in less than 12 hours, prompting Burton to set a new stretch goal to fund apps for mobile phones, video game consoles, and to provide the app for free to disadvantaged students. The campaign raised enough for this goal too – at its close, the Kickstarter had brought in $5,408,916.00. Additionally, Seth MacFarlane (creator of Family Guy) made a matching donation of one million dollars, bringing to total to over six million.
 
Let’s Build a Tesla Museum!: After falling into disrepair, and even being used as a hazardous waste site for a time, the former laboratory of scientist Nikola Tesla went on the market for nearly 1.6 million dollars.
 
Fearing a new developer might raze the building in favor of apartments or condos, a local librarian started reaching out to Tesla fans about the property. After web comic artist Matthew Inman (known as “The Oatmeal”) posted this plea to his website, donations started pouring in to an Indiegogo campaign to purchase the land. After 6 days, the campaign raised over $850,000 – enough to receive a matching grant from the state of New York to buy the property.
 
Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk recently made a one million dollar donation to help fund the restoration and construction of a museum on the site.
 
Canary Home Security: Lacking the funding for production costs, tech start-up Canary proposed their idea for a standalone home security unit on Indiegogo. The unit they envisioned was about the size of a soda can, and contained heat, movement, noise, and humidity sensors, as well as a camera, microphone and accelerometer. Anything triggering the unit would prompt a text message to the user’s phone, allowing them to ignore it, access the camera feed, or set off an alarm.
 
Canary asked users to preorder the unit for $200, allowing them to raise $100,000 for production. The campaign ended up raising nearly two million dollars, and the first commercial units will be shipped later this summer. That’s a lot of purchases for a product that hadn’t even been made yet.
 
I’m Making Potato Salad: This one is a bit of a mystery. With a campaign goal set at $10 on Kickstarter, the description reads: “Basically I'm just making potato salad. I haven't decided what kind yet.”
 
At the moment, over 4,500 people have donated a total of nearly $70,000. And the campaign is still going. If you’d like your name carved into a potato to be used in the salad, it’ll only cost you a $20 donation.
 
Know of any cool campaigns that could use some backers? Let us know in the comments!

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Who is Socket

Founded in 1994, Socket is a Missouri-based telephone and Internet service provider with the largest service area in the state.

Socket is a privately held company that provides families and businesses a choice for local and long-distance phone and Internet service. We combine the highest quality customer service with in-depth technical knowledge.

Our network serves more than 20,000 residents and businesses in more than 400 Missouri cities, and our customers enjoy simple billing and quick, friendly service.
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