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The free (to consumers) Nixle service has been around since 2007, but I only heard about it last week. Once I checked it out, I signed up immediately!

I can’t describe Nixle any better than the site’s own Resident FAQ does, so here’s their answer to the question, “What is Nixle?

Nixle is a Community Information Service dedicated to helping you stay connected to the information that matters most to you, depending on your physical location. You stay connected to your local police department, your children’s schools, your local community agencies and organizations, and the important information from other locations throughout the country that are relevant to you.

Our service is built on the most secure, reliable, and high-speed distribution platform, ensuring that you receive trusted and immediate, geographically relevant information. Information is immediately available over your cell phone by text message, by email, and over the web. Your account can be customized so you receive the information that matters most to you. Whether it is where you live, work, or have friends or family throughout the country, the information is immediately available to you over your mobile phone, email and computer.

What messages would I receive through Nixle?
Only authenticated agencies and community organizations can securely publish information. There are four types of messages; Alerts (many would refer to this as an emergency type alert), Advisories (less urgent need-to-know information), Community Information (day-to-day neighborhood to community-level information), Traffic (very localized traffic information).

Can anyone track my location by using the system?
No. Nixle does not track users. See our Privacy Policy for more details.

What do you do with my contact information? Will third parties contact me?
Information shared by users with Nixle is stored on a secure server in a secure facility. The company does not sell personal information to third parties. The privacy of your personal information is extremely important to us.

 

My Experience With Nixle So Far
When you sign up you can choose whether to receive Nixle alerts via email, text message or both. I only signed up for email alerts. You can also choose to login to the Nixle website and view your messages there.

In the week since I signed up, I’ve received email alerts about a traffic accident in my neighborhood, the arrest of a suspected violent offender in my town, an all points bulletin from my local police department asking for the public’s help in locating a local man suspected in a recent homicide (including name and photo), and a report about street closures in my neighborhood related to utility vehicle activity.

The service is totally free to consumers, but it probably supports itself with fees paid by businesses and local government agencies that use the service. I really like getting information that can help me work around local traffic snarls and stay up-to-date on matters of community safety.

 

Click here to sign up for Nixle’s free service. Note that I do not receive any kind of fee or other compensation for sharing the Nixle service with my readers, it’s just something I recently discovered that I feel is very helpful and can recommend.

 

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I first posted that There’s No Such Thing As Online Privacy way back in March of 2013. But with the recent hack of Ashley Madison and International Business Times reporting that anyone with an online dating or online adult site profile has probably already been exposed as well, it seems not everyone got the message. So here’s that post again, to remind everyone that THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS ONLINE PRIVACY.

It’s been said that nothing posted or sent online ever goes away. That’s an exaggeration, but it’s not MUCH of an exaggeration.

The fact that you deleted an email, a Facebook post, a tweet or an Instagram photo online does not mean it’s really gone. For that matter, nothing you delete from your computer’s hard drive or any other device with a hard drive (like an iPod, for example) is really gone either, unless you use a special software program to “scrub” the drive. Furthermore, anything you send or post online is being copied multiple times as it makes its way across the web, and you have no way of knowing who may be doing what with those copies. There’s no need to panic, but before I get into the nitty gritty on this topic let me just say this:

NEVER, EVER post or send anything online you would have grave concerns about if it became public. Never. Ever.

 

Online Privacy vs. Online Security
With online security, we’re talking about stuff like encryption: the technology banks, online stores, government agencies and some other businesses use to protect sensitive data before it’s sent anywhere. Encryption basically works like this: the sender’s encryption software scrambles the data, making it sort of like a coded message, and the recipient’s de-cryption software has the “key” that’s needed to unscramble the data. Online security that employs encryption is very sophisticated and trustworthy, so don’t worry that I’m about to tell you your online banking or credit card information isn’t safe.

Online privacy, on the other hand, is a totally different subject. Online privacy has to do with limiting access to stuff you send or post online. For example, when you send an email you can specify the recipient(s), and you can also “copy” (or “cc”) certain people and/or “blind copy” (“bcc”) certain people. Your expectation is that nobody who hasn’t been included in one of those three lists will receive, or have access to, the email.

Another good example is the way Facebook allows users to specify visibility of their posts, photos and other site content by marking it “Public”, “Friends Only”, “Friends of Friends”, or “Custom” (which allows the user to grant visibility to specific people or groups, or conversely deny visibility to specific people or groups). Here again, the expectation is that if you specify a given photo should only be seen by a handful of specific friends whose names you’ve chosen from a list, nobody else will ever be able to see it.

If it’s crucial that your boss, co-workers, significant other or family members never see it, don’t post it on Facebook.

 

Expectation vs. Reality: Who’s Driving the Online Privacy Bus?
Well, it’s certainly not YOU.

On every site you visit, there’s software that controls how the site looks and what you can do on the site. It’s the software that controls privacy, along with everything else on the site. This is why you’ll see a story in the news every so often about a bunch of users’ private messages being accidentally exposed on sites like Facebook and Twitter. Anytime the site software changes, the potential is there for a bug or human error to accidentally “turn off” the privacy restrictions users have set.

More than a few people have lost their jobs, significant others or dignity when a software glitch suddenly and unexpectedly exposed their so-called Private Messages or photos to the whole internet.

So I will say it again: NEVER, EVER post or send anything online you would have grave concerns about if it became public. Never. Ever.

 

There May Be Copies of Your Online Posts, Emails and Photos Literally All Over The World
Right about now, many of you may be anxious for me to wrap this up so you can immediately head over to Facebook and Twitter and start deleting potentially damaging messages and pictures. I’m sorry to tell you this, but deleting them won’t really make them completely disappear; this is because of all the copies—copies that most people don’t even know exist.

The internet is also known as the World Wide Web for a reason: it’s made up of a global network of very powerful computers, or servers, that are constantly relaying data back and forth to one another. As I described in another, recent post, when data (like emails, photos, Facebook status updates, et cetera) leaves your computer or other device, it’s moved across the internet to its destination by being passed from server to server until it reaches its destination. That Facebook status update you just typed in may have hit as many as a dozen servers before it was received and processed by the Facebook site, and chances are, every server along the way made a copy of it.

This is because servers are typically set up with “striping” or “mirroring”, which automatically makes copies of anything that comes to the server, as a safety precaution. That precaution ensures that if a given piece of data fails to make it to the next server down the line for any reason, there’s another copy available to be automatically re-sent.

Twitter can be a real stoolpigeon; it seems some public figure or other is getting fired, or having to apologize, for something he or she tweeted every other week.

Many server operators retain their servers’ copies indefinitely, they may not EVER manually delete ANYTHING. It’s not uncommon to set up a server so that it only deletes stuff when more space is needed, and in that case it will usually delete the oldest stuff first. Since servers can have terabytes of storage space (one terabyte = 1,000 gigabytes), copies can hang around for YEARS before more space is needed.

 

How Server Copies Can Become A Problem
While most server operators are reputable and do not make any attempt to view the files on their servers, there is no guarantee. The server operator may have a sketchy employee or two, and plenty of intimate photos people thought they were sending or sharing online privately have found their way onto porn sites because a sleazy I.T. person grabbed illicit copies and shared them. It seems hardly a week goes by before some celebrity or other has nude photos leaked. This is one of the ways that happens.

A totally honest and trustworthy server operator may still end up seeing files the senders thought were personal and private, through no intent or fault of his own. If the server is running poorly or malware is suspected, the server owner may have to start examining individual files to root out the problem.

 

Merely Deleting A File Or Piece Of Data Will Not Really Get Rid Of It
Before I can tell you why this is so, I need to explain how your computer stores your files and data.

Norton Utilities includes a tool for data scrubbing, so files you want to delete from your hard drive really will be obliterated. But this won’t help you with online content.

You’re used to storing your files in certain folders on your computer, according to some organizational scheme you’ve set up. But on your computer’s hard drive, bits and pieces of a single file will usually be scattered across the drive’s “sectors”, or storage areas. This is because over time, sectors can become “bad”, or no longer capable of storing anything. When you save a file to your computer, the computer skips over any sectors that are bad or already in use as it “writes” the file to the hard drive.

If you were to look at the actual computer code for a given file, you’d see that each piece of the file ends with a placeholder that says where the next piece can be found on the hard drive. When you open the file, your computer works its way across the drive, locating and picking up all the pieces of the file and assembling them so that it looks like a single file to you.

So what does this have to do with deleting files?

When you’re looking at all your files in your File Manager, Finder, Explorer or whatever, what you’re really looking at is a set of “pointers”. When you save the file, a pointer, which is a sort of bookmark, is saved to indicate where that scattered bunch of data begins on the hard drive. When you click on a file name to open a file, you’re really just activating the pointer, which goes to the location where your file begins. From there your computer assembles the file and presents it to you.

 

When You Delete A File, All You’re Really Deleting Is The Pointer.
All those scattered bits of data are still on your hard drive, you just can’t find them anymore because you deleted the pointer. But a forensics expert can easily locate and re-assemble the data, which is how many white collar criminals have been caught.

You can buy certain software programs that truly do delete the data, and not just the pointer. But most people don’t have that software, because most people don’t know how their hard drives work. Most people assume that deleting a file means…well, deleting a file, and all the data that file contains.

When you delete something from Facebook, or Twitter, or your email account, unless the owner of the site server has it set up with special data-scrubbing software (and most DON’T), you’re only deleting the pointer. Without the special scrubbing software, that status update, photo, email or whatever is still on the server’s hard drive, just the same as if you’d deleted it off your own hard drive.

 
So say it with me now: NEVER, EVER post or send anything online you would have grave concerns about if it became public. NEVER. EVER.

Please share this post far and wide: spread the word that THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS ONLINE PRIVACY.

 

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Fire Tip of the Week: For Movie Nuts, Fire Tablets & Fire TV Make A Terrific Pair!

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A New Kind of Fake App Review

Posted July 28, 2015 By Mom
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Legitimate App Reviews Are VERY Hard To Get, But That Doesn’t Make This Sort of Thing OK
As my regular readers know, in addition to being a tech blogger I’m also an Android app developer. I know from firsthand experience how difficult it is to get legitimate reviews, and I’m solicited on a weekly basis by companies offering to sell me a guaranteed block of 100 or more 5-star reviews for my apps. I simply delete those emails, but it’s obvious to me that many other app developers are buying reviews.

Now that many consumers have gotten wise to such tactics (bought reviews are pretty easy to spot because they’re usually very short, very general, and go overboard with the praise), unscrupulous app developers have found a new way to get 5-star reviews that are technically legitimate, but still totally dishonest.

They make a challenging game app, then provide little or no help and offer the user a “free” walkthrough in exchange for a 5-star review. Like these (click or tap on image to view an enlarged version in a new tab or window):

There are MANY more of these “5-star” reviews for this app, and the reviewers clearly state they are only giving a 5-star review because they wanted access to the walkthrough. But consumers who just look at the overall review rating of 5/5 stars will never know that virtually ALL of the 169 5-star reviews this app has received were posted only because the app developer required them in order to view a walkthrough.

Notice also how every one of those reviews has been marked as “helpful”; this is also fishy. Is a review in which the reviewer openly states that he’s only rating the app 5 stars in order to get access to a walkthrough strike you as “helpful”? Me neither. I’m sure it’s the app developer and his/her friends who are marking these reviews helpful.

This same developer has about a dozen similar game apps listed in Amazon’s App Store, and they ALL have very suspiciously high average review ratings, ALL propped up by 5-star reviews that were given in trade for access to a walkthrough or detailed help files.

 

Don’t be fooled by a high average review rating: get in the habit of reading at least a few of those 5-star reviews to see if they’ve been earned, or bought.

 

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Welcome To Free Music Monday!

Today I’m sharing two Green Hill Samplers. First up: the Green Hill Jazz Sampler, from Beegie Adair & Friends. This album has an average review rating of 4.5/5 stars across over 140 reviews, so jazz fans: check it out!

 

 

The Green Hill Jazz Sampler includes such standards as Shine On Harvest Moon, A Pretty Girl Is Like A Melody, You Made Me Love You and Alexander’s Ragtime Band.

Next is the Green Hill Celtic Music Sampler. I’ve shared this one before but it always gets a positive response, so here it is again for those who might’ve missed it before.

 

 

The Green Hill Celtic Music Sampler has an average review rating of 4.5/5 stars across over 650 reviews, and includes tracks like The Girl From Donegal, Myst on the Glen and My Wild Irish Rose.

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FreeApp Friday for 7/24/15

Posted July 24, 2015 By Mom
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Here are some of the top 100 most downloaded AND highest-rated apps (4/5 stars or better) from Amazon’s Android App Store as of this writing. Note that where a given app has already been included in a Free App Friday post, a different one (still with a minimum 4/5 star rating) will be subbed in. Remember that free apps may include in-app purchase (IAP) options or be ad-supported, but given that these apps have been given very high ratings by MANY consumers, where IAP links or ads are present they must be pretty unobtrusive. Descriptions below are from the apps’ product pages.

AlphaBetty Saga – Journey to exotic lands in this top new word game and puzzle your way through over 100 cheesetastic levels of letter-linking fun!

Bingo Cats – Collect all of Lucky Cat’s feline pals in this purrfect journey through 10 different Bingo boards.

Candy Crush Soda Saga – Candy Crush Soda Saga is a brand new game from the makers of the legendary Candy Crush Saga. New candies, more divine combinations and challenging game modes brimming with purple soda.

Blendoku – Blendoku is a puzzle game that will challenge your ability to distinguish and arrange colors.

20 Clues – Clear the board by guessing 20 words. Use photos as clues.

Video Poker Casino – Video poker casino allows you to use skill to beat the house. Play this popular game just like in Las Vegas.

Zen Pinball – Zen Pinball HD is the premiere pinball experience on mobile devices, featuring an amazing selection of pinball tables. The Sorcerer’s Lair table is free, Marvel Pinball series and other tables available as in-app purchases.

Transformers: Age of Extinction – Your mission is to take down DECEPTICON enemies as you run, dash, and change forms through fast-paced missions with your formidable cast of AUTOBOT heroes.

3D Chess Game – Play Chess against the computer, in 3D! Human vs AI, AI vs AI, Human vs Human!

Adventure Escape: Time Library – Travel through time to complete 9 chapters – all FREE – each with unique escape challenges!

 

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