Why not try Lightbeam?

I have just downloaded and taken a quick look at the new Mozilla add-on called Lightbeam.

I am an UBUNTU user myself, so I don’t know if this will work for other systems, but I would like you to help me decide if it’s an interesting tool either way.

I have always heard that companies share your information. So you go on one site and they share your habits with other organizations. Well Lightbeam shows you who they are sharing your information with.

One thing that I should say is that I do not know what the information they are sharing actually is. If anyone does know I would love to hear. So that is job number one for you down in the comments below.

The actual view that you are presented with when you open this program is very nice. A series of connected triangles that drift around the screen, all tied together like one of those kinnect toys that my kids play with. Some of the triangles have website logos on them, others are blank. It’s almost a snowdrop kind of effect.

Mozilla Lightbeam

Mozilla Lightbeam screenshot

The lines are either white or blue, the blue depicting that the sites use cookies. Probably half of them do.

And it makes a nice little educational game. As you visit another site it joins the page with its connections, the entity wobbles and bounces before coming static. Many of these connections are the same, creating a central mass, but some sites do not share with anyone that the others do, and live in their own little detached bubble.

I was surprised to find that ebay UK is not connected to any of the other sites. It has 3 satellite sites but they are all ebay subsections. I would have to draw the conclusion that ebay do not share your information. Job number 2, correct me in the comments below please.

The Weather channel divulge to another weather channel and 3 or 4 others, CNN and the BBC are about the same. TECHNOLOGY BLOGGERS DOES NOT SHARE WITH ANYONE! Read it and weep and respect where it is due Christopher. My employer the Bassetti Foundation are linked to Twitter, and nobody else.

Oh and guess who is in the middle of the blob, tentacles everywhere, yes of course, Facebook. I have not visited the site but they appear through the mist to take centre stage. No wonder profits are up!

Without understanding more this add on is just a toy to me, but I am sure if I was a bit more savvy it could give me a lot of insight into the dark and murky workings of the web. I think it might also present an opportunity, as we can now see who is prostituting our information and who is not, and maybe we should put more trust in those that keep our data in their own hands, and some others a little less.

Definitely worth a look I would say.

Oh on a final note, I went to Microsoft, Ubuntu and Mozilla. Microsoft share with 10 satellites, 5 of which use cookies. Ubuntu and Mozilla do not share with anyone. I visited 15 sites in total during my research, and that meant that I unwittingly connected to 76 third party sites.

Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology

Last month the Northwestern University in the USA published a national survey entitled Parenting in the Age of Digital Technology. The report is available for free download through the Parenting CC Portal , but here I would like to take a quick look at some of the findings and questions raised and see if we can provoke some debate.

Multiple Screen Viewing

Multiple Screen Viewing

The study explores how parents are incorporating new digital technologies (iPads, smartphones) as well as older media platforms (TV, video games, and computers) into their family lives and parenting practices, and it gives an idea of how parents use and view this technology.

We should point out that this is a US based survey.

The 10 key finding could be seen as the following:

1 While new media technologies have become widespread, a majority of parents do not think they have made parenting any easier.

2 Parents use media and technology as a tool for managing daily life, but books, toys, and other activities are used more often.

3 Parents still turn to family and friends for parenting advice far more often than to new media sources like websites, blogs, and social networks.

4 Parents do not report having many family conflicts or concerns about their children’s media use.

5 There is still a big gap between higher- and lower- income families in terms of access to new mobile devices.

6 Parents are less likely to turn to media or technology as an educational tool for their children than to other activities.

7 Parents assess video games more negatively than television, computers, and mobile devices.

8 For each type of technology included in the survey, a majority of parents believe these devices have a negative impact on children’s physical activity, the most substantial negative outcome attributed to technology in this study.

9 Many parents report using media technology with their children, but this “joint media engagement” drops off markedly for children who are six or older.

10 Parents are creating vastly different types of media environments for their children to grow up in, and, not surprisingly, the choices they make are strongly related to their own media use.

Some other interesting points arise, such as that 40% of families are described as media heavy and spend more than 11 hours a day in front of the screen. Half of all families surveyed have 3 TV’s or more in the house. 40% of 6 to 8 year olds have a TV in their bedroom. 70% of parents state that having mobile devices has not made parenting easier with 40% stating that they have a negative social skills effect upon the children.

The conclusions are in some ways surprising though as the authors demonstrate evidence that parents are still more likely to resort to traditional means of entertainment as rewards and punishment, and they are convinced enough about the educational possibilities offered by so called new media to not worry too much about their negative effects.

An interesting read if you have half an hour, but comments and debate about the summary above would also be educational.

Can you recondition an old computer?

There are many ways to deal with old computers. One popular way is to get rid of it. This is because old computers have no value, are slow and take lots of physical space.

The other way to deal with them is to sell them for a super low price so that you can buy a new one without paying too much. However, second hand electronic stuff does not really have any value. For instance, you probably ended up selling a graphic card for $50 that you bought for $200-$300 originally.

So why not keep your old computer and make good use of it.

How to rebuild an old PC

1. Format your hard disk to ensure you have completely remove all the data in it – remember that even formatting your disk might not remove all your data.

2. Install an new Operating System. If you are looking at Windows, XP might be a good choice for an old PC, however 7 also handles low spec hardware pretty well, so is also worth considering. There are several reasons why I think Windows XP is no longer the best choice:

  • License rarity – Windows XP is 3 versions behind the current Windows operating system, meaning few firms still stock XP licenses
  • Support has ended – Microsoft have officially announced the termination of the support for Windows XP in 2014
  • Malware issues – Windows XP is prone to more security risks than more current operating systems, simply because it has been around longer; this means you are likely to need a better antivirus software to keep the PC safe

If you don’t want to go down the Windows route, I highly recommend is the Ubuntu, which is a free Linux OS. There are several free Linux operating systems out there but so far, I think Ubuntu is one of the popular Linux distribution and probably easiest to use.

What is the requirement to run Ubuntu? According to the official site, these are the requirements.

  • 700 MHz processor
  • 512MB of RAM
  • 5GB of hard disc space
  • VGA capable of 1024×768 screen resolution
  • Either a CD/DVD drive or a USB port – or both

I bet you have a better PC than Ubuntu requires 😉 Ubuntu

Uses for an old computer running Ubuntu

No matter how old the computer, it always has uses. Here are some of my suggestions:

  1. Use it for regular web browsing. With a lightweight operating system (which won’t suck up your RAM and CPU usage) your old computer can still perform pretty well for simple web browsing
  2. Use it for data backup. You can always transfer all your important stuff into an old computer, and use it as a backup machine, so you can keep your files safe and access them easily
  3. Home surveillance system. If you buy a webcam or two and install them into your house you could use your old computer to run your own home surveillance system!

So now, if you have an old computer lying around or burred in your storeroom why not dig it out and start making good use of it?

If you have any good idea on how to re-use your old computer, why not share with us below?

Is updating Java really important?

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What do you know about Java? If the answer is not much, then you are not alone. In this article I am going to explore exactly what Java is, and why it is so important that you keep it up to date.

Java or JavaScript?

Java and JavaScript are completely different things, however many people confuse them as one and the same.

JavaScript
JavaScript is a scripting language (like PHP and HTML) that is used in browsers to help render websites, and is also now used to create [relatively simple] desktop games.

We use JavaScript on our blog. One example can be found in our comment form; if you don’t tick the box to confirm you have read the comment policy and click Post Comment, a box comes up reminding you that you have to tick it to proceed – that works via JavaScript.

You can disable JavaScript, but so many websites use it nowadays, your browsing experience would be significantly affected.

Java
Java is a programming language, which is capable of doing far more than JavaScript. Java can be used to create new programs and applications that run virtually on their own, or via a browser.

Most computers come pre-loaded with Java, as do many other devices, including some cars, printers, parking machines, ATMs and more. A printer doesn’t use JavaScript, as it is a browser based language.

Malicious Java

It is possible for someone to gain access to your computer via Java. All you would need to do is visit a website with malicious Java code on it, and unknowingly to you, you could be being hacked. Some websites allow you to add your own code to their site, (like forum’s for example) so it might not even be a malicious website you are visiting, just one page which contains malicious code.

Oracle's Java logoWhen you visit a page with a malicious Java application, your browser will usually start to run the code, which will open up a direct link between your PC and the hacker – remember browsing the net is a two way process, every time you request data from a server, the server can request something back.

On face value, a page with malicious Java could look completely normal and trustworthy, as you wouldn’t be able to see the code – your browser would render it for you.

Malicious code can give a hacker almost complete access to your machine, via the internet. They could potentially browse through your files and open applications, and even receive feedback from input devices like a webcam and microphone.

Java Update

When Sun Microsystems (who are now owned by Oracle) developed Java, they didn’t plan for it to be used maliciously, and still don’t. Like with most code, hackers exploit loopholes and flaws in the language, to enable them to perform malicious activity.

Oracle's logoLike with any software, to combat malicious activity, when flaws are discovered, developers create patches and launch new versions to protect uses against their installation being misused.

Many of the know ways Java can be used to gain access to your computer are preventable, if you have the latest version installed.

It is important that you not only keep your computers version of Java up to date, but also your browser’s version. Many browsers come with a Java plugin, and this can become outdated, even if your system version of Java is up to date.

You should check to see if your browser’s extensions and plugins are up to date ideally once every week. If you have Premier IT Support, or your computer is updated by an external provider, you shouldn’t need to update Java, as that should be taken of care for you.