Off Topic

The Russian Government wants to Block Zello, But Can It Really Do that?

NOTE: This is another off-topic article: it has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, you might want to skip this one.

This is a follow-up article to the one I wrote about Zello, the free walkie-talkie emulation software for cell phones, a few days ago at http://bit.ly/2H9TWjw. Zello is a great app that gives users excellent one-to-one and one-to-many communications capabilities. Now the Russian government thinks that Zello is an evil thing. Well, it is evil in the eyes of a repressive government. The Russian government wants to block all usage of Zello. It seems that Zello is another example of the type of secure communications service which the Russian regime is determined to stop its people from using.

The regime of President Vladimir Putin sees apps like Zello as being a threat rather than a vital communications tool. That is because apps of this nature are frequently used by opposition groups to coordinate protests and opposition to the Putin regime.

There is but one problem: blocking all Zello users within the country will be a difficult, maybe impossible, task.

The Zello App Can Help Save Lives During Major Storms and Has Many Others Uses Also

NOTE: This article is off-topic: it has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy articles, you might want to skip this one. However, it is something that I believe all cell phone users should be aware of. The online app called Zello could save your life. It is also a great way to communicate with groups of people, such as relatives or members of a search-and-rescue organization. I have been using Zello for non-critical communications for a couple of years now and would hate to be without it.

Zello converts your Android or Apple iOS or Blackberry cell phone or your Windows computer into a general-purpose walkie-talkie. It is sort of a high-tech replacement for CB radio except that Zello converts your cell phone into a free 2-way radio with worldwide range. I have used the free Zello app to talk with friends and relatives in North America free of toll charges while I was walking along the streets of Singapore as well as when I was in New Zealand. I have also used it to talk with communications hobbyists in South America and in the Sahara desert while I was driving in my automobile in Florida.

Zello also was recently used in the Houston area, New Orleans, all over Florida, Puerto Rico, and in other Caribbean islands during the recent hurricanes when wired telephones and emergency two-way radio towers (police, fire, ambulances, and others) were destroyed by the hurricanes. Cell towers also were sometimes knocked offline during the hurricanes but usually were the first communications systems to be restored to operation once the winds subsided.

Perhaps the greatest story of all was the use of Zello by the “Cajun Navy” during Hurricane Irma. According to Wikipedia:

Happy New Year!

Steve Morse Creates a New Online “Applying 2016-2018 Tax Brackets” Calculator

NOTE: This article has nothing to do with genealogy except that Steve Morse is famous for his “One Step Genealogy” web pages at https://stevemorse.org/. Steve is now branching out into other topics, helping to simplify the use of complex information.

Steve Morse created his “One Step Genealogy” web pages that have since become standard reference pages for millions of genealogists. He also created the “Viewing ObamaCare Health Plans in One Step” several years ago. Steve hasn’t been standing idly by as more complex information is becoming important to every American.

The so-called tax reform bill looks like it is about to be passed by Congress and signed by the president. Indeed, it is complex and has many, many changes. Some taxes will be lowered while others will be raised. Steve apparently decided to help simplify the information.

The new online “Applying 2016-2018 Tax Brackets in One Step” uses the tax brackets for various years to compute the federal tax for any income up to one million dollars. The years covered are 2016, 2017, and 2018. There are two 2018 calculations — one is based on the tax brackets under the old tax plan and the other is based on the tax brackets under the new tax plan.

A Family Tree that is Out of This World

This isn’t a pedigree chart drawn to strict genealogical standards, but it is amusing. With the new Star Wars: The Last Jedi movie being released this week, this is is a “must have” for any genealogist who is also a Star Wars fan.

You can see the Star Wars Family Tree at http://images.amazon.com/images/G/01/video/stills/star-wars/sw3-famtree.l.jpg

Microsoft Office is Now Available on Chromebooks

This article has nothing to do with genealogy. However, I have written often about Chromebooks, the inexpensive laptop computers. (See http://bit.ly/2zNe4HY for my past articles about Chromebooks.) This is a follow-up to the earlier articles.

Perhaps the most common question about Chromebooks is, “Can it run my favorite Windows (or Macintosh) programs, such as Microsoft Word?” The answer was “No.” However, that is changing.

Chromebooks are designed to be used with the cloud and run programs that are stored on servers in the cloud. There are thousands of such programs available. See https://play.google.com/store/apps?hl=en for a list of the available apps that run on Chromebooks. The genealogy apps may be found at: https://play.google.com/store/search?q=genealogy&c=apps&hl=en.

HOWEVER, Microsoft has now released versions of Microsoft Office (including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, and OneDrive) written especially for Chromebooks. The Chromebook versions have most of the functionality of the Windows and Macintosh versions, although a few features may be missing.

Nokia Security Report for 2017

Are you concerned about malware (malevolent software), such as viruses, keyloggers, and trojan horse programs? If so, you might want to read a new report from Nokia.

The Nokia Threat Intelligence Report examines malware infections found in mobile and fixed networks worldwide. It provides analysis of data gathered from more than 100 million devices by the Nokia NetGuard Endpoint Security solution. The new report details key security incidents and trends from the first three quarters of 2017. Amongst the findings:

  • Devices using the Android operating system were the most likely to be infected this year, according to Nokia research.
  • Android was the #1 target for Malware, about 1% of all Android devices will be infected, an increase from 2016. This means 0.94% of all Android devices were infected, slightly above Google’s 2016 Q4 estimate of 0.71%.
  • Out of all infected devices, 68.50% were Androids, 27.96% ran on Windows, and 3.54% used iOS.

Buy a New Samsung Chromebook for $99

This article has nothing to do with genealogy. Instead, it is about one of my other interests: low-cost computer hardware. If you are looking for true genealogy articles, you might want to skip this article.

UPDATE: This was obviously a very popular sale! Most BestBuy stores are reporting they have now sold out of this model. However, you still might check with a BestBuy store near you to see if that store is one of the exceptions and still has a few left.

If not, keep your eyes open. Similar sales on other models of Chromebooks do happen, often in the $100 to $150 price range.

I have written many times about the advantages of Chromebooks, low-cost laptop computers that are web-oriented. I have a Chromebook and love it. The cheap laptop has become my preferred laptop for traveling. I know that laptops are frequently stolen from airports, train stations, bus stations, restaurants, coffee shops, libraries, and other public places. While I would hate to have my Chromebook stolen, I would feel much worse if my much more expensive Macintosh laptop was stolen! That is one of the reasons why I travel with a Chromebook: reducing the risk of financial loss. The other reason is the Chromebook accomplishes everything I need to do when traveling.

I also use the Chromebook frequently at home when watching TV. Chromebooks are designed to run applications “in the cloud” although they are also capable of running a few programs internally.

To find my past articles about Chromebooks, start at: http://bit.ly/2m3fGXz.

Now BestBuy is offering a basic Chromebook laptop for $99 US. That’s not a refurb nor a product by some manufacturer you never heard of. Instead, it is for a brand-new Samsung model XE500C13-S03US Chromebook with a one-year parts and labor warranty. To see the Black Friday sale, go to http://bit.ly/2AjZS4W.

Hallowe’en in 1875

The Online World is Going Mobile

This article has nothing to do with genealogy, other than many genealogists are sensitive about changes in the world around themselves as well as what the worlds of their ancestors were like. Indeed, the world is changing rapidly today.

If you are looking for true genealogy articles, you might want to skip this one.

Are you mobile?

It seems the current trend of the online world is moving to small, handheld devices. Sales of laptop computers are stagnant while sales of desktop computers have been dropping for several years. Yet the sales of tablet computers and so-called “smartphones” is exploding. I admit that I spend more time on the Internet and with email with my smartphone than I do with the computer with a 27-inch monitor that sits on my desk back home.

Why You Perhaps Should Not Retire at Age 65

Consider the changes in retirement between you and your grandparents. When the national retirement age of 65 was established for the Social Security Act in 1935 (82 years ago!), the average American lifespan was 61.7 years. The age of 65 was chosen at that time because it was beyond the average life expectancy for Americans. While there certainly were exceptions, most Americans of 1935 aged 65 or more were in poor physical condition and were unable to earn a living. In fact, the average 65-year-old American of those days was… DEAD!

Again, I am talking about averages. We all know of exceptions, but financial planning by the actuaries at the Social Security Administration is based on averages.

NOTE: Actuaries are the individuals who determine the rate of accidents, sickness, death and other events, according to probabilities that are based on statistical records. Actuaries then use trend information to predict future averages.

Today, we still think of retirement age as 65, but the average lifespan of Americans is now 78.74 years — 17 years more than it was when Social Security started. The impact is enormous.

An Update on my Status in Orlando

Some newsletter readers know that I have a winter home in Orlando and have asked if I was OK and if my house was OK after Hurricane Irma passed through. I’ll post a brief note here to let those who care know about my status.

Luckily, I am safe and sound and dry in Massachusetts right now.

My Orlando next-door neighbor just called me. He says my home appears to have minor damage. The damage appears to be limited to some siding blown off the back side of the house, probably easily repaired. We may have to first rip out some insulation that may have been soaked by the rain after the siding was ripped off.

Considering the damage other people sustained, that’s trivial.

The Lenovo Chromebook is Now Just $129

NOTE: The following article has nothing to do with genealogy. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this one.

I have written a number of times about the usefulness of the low-cost Chromebook laptops. (My past articles about Chromebooks may be found by starting at: http://bit.ly/2pm21Iu.) I use my Chromebook more or less daily. It also has become my primary traveling computer and I also often use it from the living room couch whenever that is convenient.

While Chromebooks are cheaper than most any other laptops, WalMart is now offering an even lower price than I have seen before: $129. The Lenovo N22 Chromebook isn’t a used or refurbished system; it is brand-new and comes with a full warranty. The WalMart web site doesn’t say anything about a sale or a “special price” so I assume this is the regular price. Other web sites sell it for $150 to $200.

If you were thinking of picking up a Chromebook for yourself or for a family member, now might be the time. You can have it shipped to you or you can pick it up in person at a nearby WalMart store.

A Wasted Telemarketing Phone Call

This has nothing to do with genealogy. However, I found it amusing and decided to share it.

First, I have mention that I am a “snowbird.” That is, I spend about six months of the year in the cool climate of Massachusetts and the other six months in the sunbelt of Orlando, Florida. Next, I only have one telephone number. I disconnected my old-fashioned, wired telephone years ago and use a cell phone as my only phone.

The cell phone has a Massachusetts number but I answer it from wherever I am located. It seems to work well and I can answer calls whether I am in Massachusetts, Orlando, Singapore, Reykjavik, or other places where I am traveling. However, when callers see the Massachusetts phone number and do not realize it is a cell phone, many of them assume I am in Massachusetts.

This morning, the cell phone rang as I was driving down a street in Orlando. I answered (with hands-free Bluetooth) and almost instantly realized it was one of those obnoxious telemarketing calls. A very excited lady on the other end launched into a sales pitch. She sounded as if she was so excited that she was almost out of breath.

“I’m calling to inform you that you just won a one-week, all expenses paid vacation to Orlando!”

Selecting an Online File Backup Service

I have written several times about the need for genealogists and most everyone else to make frequent backups. I strongly recommend that everyone make at least two backups of every important bit of information: one backup should be kept very near the computer where it is conveniently available when needed plus a second backup should be stored a long distance away for use in case an in-home disaster destroys both your computer and the local backup. Such disasters include fire, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, and more. The second backup might be a file storage service in the cloud or simply a CD-ROM backup stored in a desk drawer in some distant location.

Actually, I believe everyone needs MORE THAN TWO BACKUPS to be stored in more than two different places. But I’ll leave that discussion for another time.

I wasn’t planning to write any more articles about backups but a newsletter reader today asked what is probably the most important question of all:

Might Dick or someone have advice on the best on line or cloud back up service

I did answer the question but decided to also copy my answer here in the newsletter in case others are wondering the same thing.

Why You Might Want to Use a Secure, Virtual Credit Card from Privacy.com

NOTE: The following article is “off topic.” That is, it contains no genealogy information. Instead, it describes a new credit card service that I have been using for a while. If you are looking for genealogy-related articles, I suggest you skip this one. If you are looking to save money and to add security to your online shopping experiences, you may be interested in this article.

virtual-credit-cardMore than 205 million Americans – more than half the population – uses online shopping. While all of these online shoppers apparently are comfortable with the security, a few others are still nervous about using credit cards online. That’s sad as millions of people prove every day that online shopping is safe.

Federal laws specify that you’ll only be liable for up to $50 of any bogus transaction. However, the credit card companies exceed this legal minimum; they will reimburse you for the first $50 as well as the remainder of the charge.

However, if someone needs a bit more assurance, a virtual credit card may be just what they need.

The Best Laptop for Traveling Is One You Can Afford to Lose

laptop_stolenThis is not a genealogy-related article. However, I wrote an article that describes a problem and a solution that I think every person who is contemplating purchasing a laptop should read. I won’t publish the article here but will mention that it is available at https://goo.gl/CvYS4i in case you would like to read it.

Will Checks Soon Disappear?

Here is another change in lifestyles that is happening around us. In the 21st century, what could be more ridiculous than checks? A paper check is a little piece of paper upon with incredibly sensitive information printed in a font from the punch-card era of computing. Anyone can easily steal money from your checking account if he or she can obtain the numbers printed along the bottom edge of your checks.

checkIf you pay by check anywhere, anyone who touches the check has access to the routing and account numbers, they are encoded on the bottom of the check in magnetic ink. It’s called the MICR line. When you pay your mortgage payment, your electric bill, or any other bill by check, a dishonest employee in the company’s mailroom can easily copy the numbers printed along the bottom edge of your checks and then have new checks printed that he or she can use to empty your checking account.

Luckily, paper checks for paying bills are fast disappearing. As genealogists/micro-historians, should we be recording this change in our lives? Our descendants will probably be fascinated that we used paper “I.O.U.s” in the good ol’ days, I.O.U.s that promised payment if given to a bank.

Happy New Year!

glowing-happy-new-year

One Year of Unlimited Amazon Cloud Drive Storage for $48 (Down from $60) Today

Today seems to be the day for “flash sales” on cloud-based file storage services. (See my other article at http://wp.me/p5Z3-4cY). Amazon announced this morning it is offering UNLIMITED storage space in Amazon Drive for one year for $48, a big reduction from the normal price of $60. However, this is a one-day sale: today only (Monday, December 5). I suspect it is for U.S. customers only although I do not see anything in the announcement about that.

amazon-cloud-drive-offer

According to the Amazon announcement, “When you upload a file or photo to Amazon Drive, you’re saving a backup copy in Amazon’s secure servers. There’s no limit to how many files you can upload, and we’ll never change or reduce the resolution of your images.”