Off Topic

January 25 is Robert Burns Day So Let’s Eat Vegetarian Haggis

The great Scottish poet Robert Burns was born January 25, 1759. In celebration of his birthday, Burns Suppers range from formal gatherings of esthetes and scholars to very informal dinners throughout Scotland and in restaurants and the homes of Scottish descendants worldwide. Most Burns Suppers adhere, more or less, to some sort of time honored form which includes the eating of a traditional Scottish meal, the drinking of Scotch whisky, and the recitation of works by, about, and in the spirit of the Bard.

NOTE: American and Irish liquor producers spell it as WHISKEY, while Canadian, Scottish, and Japanese producers usually spell it without an “e”: WHISKY.

Almost anyone can enjoy a Burns Night celebration. All that’s needed is a place to gather, plenty of haggis and neeps to go around, a master of ceremonies, friendly celebrants, and good Scotch drink to keep you warm.

How to Turn Your Smartphone into a Wi-Fi Hotspot

NOTE #1: This article has nothing to do with genealogy but I will suggest that all owners of cell phones should be aware of the hotspot capabilities of their phones.

Note #2: This is an update of an article I published about 18 months ago. The cell phone business has changed since then and some of the information in the old article was no longer accurate. I updated the information to make it current and am republishing it now.

Would you like to access the web with your laptop or tablet computer while at a library or archive or most any other location? If a wi-fi network is available, that is easy to do. However, what do you do when you are not in range of a wi-fi connection? If you have a cell phone, there is an easy answer: tether the cell phone.

Tethering allows sharing the Internet connection of the cell phone with other devices, such as laptops.

How to Safely Send Secret E-mail Messages

“Don’t send your credit card number in an e-mail message!” How many times have you heard that statement? Many times, I hope.

tutanotaI have written an article entitled How to Safely Send Secret E-mail Messages that provides suggestions. Since it is not a genealogy topic, I won’t publish it in this newsletter. However, if you have an interest in email security, I would suggest you read the article in my other online publication, the Privacy Blog, at

Use Dropbox on Your Chromebook and Add it to File Manager

I have written a number of times about Chromebooks. Click here to find my past Chromebook articles. These low-cost laptop computers are great for many purposes even though they do not have many genealogy apps. Chromebooks can save files and documents in any of several cloud file storage services or in the Chromebook’s internal hard drive or in a Secure Digital memory card or in a flashdrive or other external storage device that connects via the USB connector.

The Chromebook’s default is to use Google Drive for storage. Many people prefer Dropbox. Of course, you can always use Dropbox’s web interface at but now there is an easier way.


File System for Dropbox is a free Chrome app that integrates your Dropbox files right into Chrome OS’s file manager. I just installed it on my Chromebook and found it is easy to use, faster than using the Dropbox web interface, and it quickly finds files by using the Chromebook’s SEARCH option.

Future Facts of a Wireless World in 2025

Karma_logoKarma has published an interesting article that predicts the future of telephones, cellular phones, the Internet, wireless data, cable television, and more. In fact, the article predicts that all these things will combine into one service that includes all those services and more. The prediction also claims that prices will be much, much cheaper in ten years than they are today. I tend to believe that as cell phones and high-speed Internet connections are much cheaper today than they were ten years go.

Admittedly, Karma is a bit biased as the company provides very low-cost cellular phone and data services today. Even so, I found the article to be interesting reading.

Some of the ideas offered include:

Microsoft Skype Simplifies Group Video Chats

Want to have a “family get-together” online or a meeting of the Board of Directors of your genealogy society, even if the participants are separated by long distances? Skype has offered group video chats for some time but it was always a bit awkward to set up such a chat and to invite others to join in. Now the process has been simplified.

Skype for Windows, Skype for Mac or Skype for Web users can generate a unique URL and send it to others, enabling them to join a group and start chatting. The recipients don’t have to be Skype users; they can receive the URL via email, Messenger, WhatsApp, Twitter and/or other channels.

The new chat-invitation feature enables group instant-messaging chats, voice chats and/or video chats.

An Easy Way To Send Confidential Information Online

One of my interests is security and today I wrote An Easy Way To Send Confidential Information Online. However, it is not a genealogy article so I will not publish it in this genealogy newsletter. If you have an interest in sending secure email messages, you might want to read my article in the PrivacyBlog at

Avoid Advertising Email Messages with 10 Minute Mail

Did you ever give your email address to a web site in order to retrieve some information and then the site bombards you with advertising messages for weeks? Yes, me too. There is one rather unique tool that will reduce the filling of your in-box: 10 Minute Mail

10MinuteMail is a secure, temporary email service. This means that it lets you have a private email address that anyone can send mail to. The email message and the address both self-destruct in 10 minutes, so you don’t have to worry about SPAM or anything like that.

Never Pay For Mobile Phone Service Again

Note: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy and history articles, I suggest you skip this one. However, this article reflects one of my other interests: telecommunications, especially low cost or no cost telephone services. I feel that we are being “ripped off” by telephone companies and by cell phone companies. A few smaller companies offer much cheaper services that work just as well as the service from the big conglomerates. If you are interested in reducing your present telephone expenses, you may be interested in this article.

Scratch Wireless is a new start-up that claims to be offering free mobile phone service. In fact, it will be free for many people but I would prefer to call it “free or low-cost” mobile phone service (after purchasing a $99 mobile phone). Let me explain…

The Scratch Wireless service uses Wi-Fi whenever possible. Scratch refers to that as “Wi-Fi First.” However, if there is no Wi-Fi around, the mobile phone will (optionally) use the Sprint nationwide cell phone network as a back up. The phone only uses cellular to fill the gaps. Even then, the use of cellular connections is optional: the Scratch Wireless customer may elect to fall back to (paid) cellular service or to only use free wi-fi connections.

Use a Secure (and FREE) Computer for Banking and all other Finances

If you have been reading this newsletter for some time, you probably already know that I am very concerned about online security and privacy. If you are also interested in similar topics and especially if you want to keep your banking, credit card, and stock brokerage transactions private, you might be interested in an article I wrote entitled, Use a Secure (and FREE) Computer for Banking and all other Finances. Since it is not genealogy-related, I published the article on my other blog, the Privacy Blog, at

Lost in the Fifties – Another Time, Another Place

How many of these things do you remember?

(I like that Thunderbird!)

If the above video did not display in your web browser, go to


Free or Nearly Free Cell Phone and Wi-Fi Telephone Calls

Earlier this week, I published a brief article in this newsletter (at about a new cell phone service from Google. I mentioned that I thought it was overpriced at $20 to $30 a month or more. For more than two years, I have been using a similar service from a small-time cellular service provider that provides essentially the same service. I usually pay $10 a month for unlimited voice minutes and text messages but occasionally upgrade to $25/month for a week or two when traveling and expect to use the wireless data plan frequently. When I return home, I then “downgrade” to $10/month again. The service has proven to be very reliable and I am happy with it.

I also found this to be a great tool for placing free calls back home when traveling internationally, instead of paying the normal, outrageous international roaming charges often associated with using cell phones when traveling in foreign countries. I used this cell phone several times last week while in England to call back to my family in the U.S. at no charge.

Google’s new Project Fi: A low-cost Cell Phone Service

As rumored for months, Google today announced its new cell phone service. At first glance, it looks good and is very low-priced compared to the major U.S. cell phone providers. However, a comparison shows that several of the low-cost cellular providers already offer better deals.

Google’s new cell phone service, called Project Fi, is not yet available to everyone. It is available only in an invitation-only basis. Next, it works only on Google’s (expensive) Nexus 6 Android phone. It will not work with any other cell phone. Service will be made available through both the Sprint and T-Mobile networks.

The big advantage of Project Fi is that it marries together normal cell phone networks and wi-fi networks. When you’re connected to wi-fi, for example, all of your voice and data activities will use that network. If you are not in range of a wi-fi network, the software in the cell phone automatically switches the call and data to Sprint’s and T-Mobile’s networks. The service costs $20 per month for unlimited voice minutes. If you want data, you will be charged an additional $10 per gigabyte that you use.

In other words, it works just like the cheaper cell phone service that Republic Wireless has offered for more than two years now.

Why You Need a Temporary Credit Card Number

This may not be a genealogy issue but it certainly is important for security and peace of mind.

One of the things I detest about many web sites is that when you sign up for a subscription and pay with a credit card, the site automatically renews your subscription when it expires. Some web sites will automatically renew without even the courtesy of notifying you in advance. They keep on billing, and you cannot easily shut down the offending vendor.

Of course, you could cancel the credit card itself, but that usually isn’t convenient.

Another risk, although rare, is that someone might obtain your credit card number surreptitiously and make illegal charges against it. While all online charges are insured by the credit card companies so that you will never lose any money, going through the process of filing a claim and getting your money back can be inconvenient, at best. I think it is better to stop such an illegal transaction BEFORE it occurs.

Luckily, these problems are easily prevented if you take appropriate steps in advance.

I thought I had seen all sorts of “real estate” advertisements, but a new one caught my eye this week. This online real estate service advertises very small plots of land for sale. Very small.

Many people own cemetery plots that are no longer needed or wanted. If you contact the cemetery office, you probably receive a reply that they do not repurchase cemetery plots. Why should they? After all, the cemetery’s owners probably have more plots of their own still for sale.

Today is Pi Day

March 14, 2015 can be written by North Americans as 3.14.15. That is also the digits used to represent the Pi: 3.1415. (Most other countries would write today as 14.3.15 so let’s just ignore everyone else, OK?)

In fact, today is the one and only Pi Day in the next 100 years that will actually reflect the first five numbers in everyone’s favorite irrational number, pi, which is 3.1415. The next time pi lovers will see such an event will not be until March 14, 2115.

Ooma is now Available at the Lowest Price Ever

Note: This article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, I suggest you skip this one. However, this article reflects one of my other interests: telecommunications, especially low cost or no cost telephone service. Then again, genealogists do make many phone calls in pursuit of relatives and information. If you are interested in reducing your present telephone expenses, you may be interested in this article.

I fired the local telephone company years ago. I replaced the old-fashioned telephone service with a VoIP (Voice over Internet Protocol) telephone that connects to the Internet router in my home. There are no telephone lines connected to my house. The VoIP system works well, providing crystal-clear voice calls and also works perfectly with security alarms, FAX machines, and more.

Over the years, I have experimented with a number of different VoIP services. Back in the “old days” when VoIP was new, making phone calls meant leaving your computer powered up and online 24 hours a day and wearing headphones when you wanted to talk on the phone. Thankfully, those days are over. Almost all of today’s VoIP providers use normal telephones, such as those you purchase at the local computer store or department store.

Happy New Year

Buy a Chromebook and Receive 1 Terabyte of Free Google Storage for Two Years

Are you thinking of storing a lot of files in a cloud-based file storage service, such as Google Drive? Here’s a deal for you: buy a Chromebook.

Google is now offering one terabyte of storage FREE of charge for two years to anyone who purchases a new Chromebook laptop computer and redeems the offer by January 31, 2015.

Get your calculators out and do the math: one terabyte of storage on Google Drive normally costs $9.99 per month. Multiply that by 24 months for a total of $239.76. Let’s round that up to $240 for simplicity’s sake.

Seattle Mayor Pardons “Tofurky”

This has nothing to do with genealogy. However, since I am a vegan and won’t be eating turkey on Thanksgiving, I had to smile when I read about Seattle Mayor Ed Murray’s proclamation at City Hall on Friday. He proclaimed, “I, Mayor Murray, pardon Braeburn the Tofurky.”

Mayor Murrary pardoned the tofu turkey and challenged the Seattle City Council to a food drive.

“Only in Seattle,” tweeted the Washington Secretary of State office.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 10,837 other followers